Rites of Passage
Harry staggered down the steps of the garish purple triple-decker bus almost as soon as it came to a screeching halt in front of the Leaky Cauldron. Never had he been happier for his feet to touch solid ground.
The pimply grinning young bus-conductor dragged Harry’s trunk to the steps, leaped down them himself, and grunted as he lifted the heavy trunk off the bus and set it on the wet pavement. The elderly bus driver passed Hedwig’s cage and Harry’s broomstick down the steps and the scruffy boy bus-conductor set them on top of the trunk.
“There you go Neville - it was right nice meetin’ you...”
“Er... thanks Mr Shunpike...” Harry said awkwardly. The bus-conductor began sniggering loudly.
“Guess wot Ern’...” the conductor shouted up the steps at the bus driver, “ Neville ‘ere thinks I’m respectable enough to be a Mister...” He turned back to address Harry, “I’m barely outta ‘Ogwarts meself - and only the professors ever called me Mister... Stan’s good enough for me Neville...”
“Neville...? ” queried a new voice making Harry and Stan both jump out of their skins. Neither of them had noticed the worried looking portly figure in a pin-striped cloak and lime green bowler hat approaching from the front door of the Leaky Cauldron. “No, no... This is Harry Potter...”
Stan Shunpike gawked at Harry for a moment then yelled gleefully back up the steps of the bus at the wizened old bus-driver.
“I knew it Ern! I toldja ‘e looked like ‘Arry Potter... ‘e’s got the scar an’ everyfing!”
“Yes... yes!” muttered the Minister of Magic as he glanced up and down the street anxiously. “There’s no need to advertise - we really must be getting inside... come along Harry. Never mind about your things - Tom will see to it...” And sure enough, Tom the Barman - owner of the Leaky Cauldron - appeared in the doorway of the Pub with a cart.
“Er... bye Stan!” said Harry glumly as Cornelius Fudge led him into the wizard Pub.
Harry was certain that he was in loads of trouble now, as he miserably followed the Minister down a corridor to a private parlour. Harry was stunned when Fudge closed the door and beamed at him cheerfully.
“Well, Harry - thank goodness you have arrived safely! And I must say, that was a jolly good spot of quick thinking on your part not to use your real name... Dumbledore is absolutely right about your sharp wits!”
“I’m not in trouble!?” gasped Harry as his jaw dropped.
“Trouble? Good Heavens no!” The Minister regarded Harry with the expression of a very concerned, kindly uncle, “Quite the contrary - I’ve been worried silly that something might have happened to you...”
“But I blew up Aunt Marge...” Harry interjected in bewilderment.
“Yes... yes! Quite... but not to worry. The Accidental Magic Reversal Squad are seeing to her,” said Minister Fudge, his half cheerful, half worried demeanor suddenly turning into a scowl. “I’m frankly far more concerned that your real Uncle and Aunt saw fit to ignore the spirit of the warning Amelia Bones sent them about your mistreatment at their hands.”
“Really? You sent them a warning?” Harry’s puzzlement and incredulity continued to grow in leaps and bounds.
“Oh yes... yes indeed!” the Minister replied firmly. “After Dumbledore explained the situation to me - after the incident with the Basilisk - and confirming it with that poor wretch of a house-elf... well, let me just say that it simply couldn’t stand, despite the Ministry’s general hands-off rule regarding Muggle guardians...”
“You’re the Boy-Who-Lived after all. It simply won’t do to have you badly mistreated by your muggle relatives - many in the wizard world would be up in arms if they knew! The Ministry cannot allow things to get out of hand... especially given the current situation...”
“The current situation?” Harry’s head was spinning as he tried to make sense of everything. He wished Hermione was with him for the hundredth time since he’d left platform nine and three-quarters at the beginning of the summer with the Dursleys.
“Er... yes!” said Minister Fudge, looking uncomfortable. “I... well, it might be better for someone closer to you to explain things if you don’t know. Perhaps Dumbledore... in any case, all I can say for now, is that it is very likely that Sirius Black may be seeking you out...”
“You mean the escaped convict?” Harry gasped, “The one who killed 13 people...?”
“Yes, indeed! I assumed you’d already seen the Daily Prophet!”
“On the bus - the conductor showed me. He told me all about it.”
“Well then, you know how dangerous Black can be!” the Minister exclaimed. “I had thought... well anyway - as I said - it was a wise decision for you not to use your real name. And all things considered, what with your muggle relatives - and with the dangers you continue to face in the wizard world, you are caught in an untenable situation. I agree with Dumbledore completely... You must be allowed to defend yourself without risking expulsion from Hogwarts every time you are forced to use magic outside of school! And Madam Bones agrees...”
“That is why - on my Authority as Minister - I have decided to grant you emancipation Harry. As of this moment, you are now legally an adult in the wizard world. You may use magic whenever necessary... in or out of Hogwarts...”
“Are you joking?” squeaked Harry. He felt faint, unsteady on his feet, as the biggest shock of all washed over him.
“Not at all - not at all my dear boy! Please... sit down! Have a cup of tea, quickly...” Fudge guided Harry gently to a comfortable armchair and passed him a steaming teacup.
“In any case,” the Minister continued as he pushed a plate of buttery crumpets towards Harry, “you will still need to be very careful regarding the laws against the use of magic in front of muggles who are not acquainted with wizards. Don’t forget that!”
“But... you will no longer be in violation of the laws regarding the Restriction of Underage Magic outside of school. You may use magic whenever it is appropriate... and when you are at home... at Number Four Privet Drive...”
“I never want to go back there again,” Harry muttered darkly as he took a sip of tea. “But I know I have to.”
“Er... indeed!” Cornelius Fudge nodded sympathetically as he watched Harry take a bite out of a crumpet. “I am already stretching the limits of my Authority as Minister as it is - and Dumbledore assures me that it is unfortunately still necessary for you to reside there for at least part of each summer until you are 17. I’m not certain that I entirely understand everything, but it seems to have something to do with protecting you from You-Know-Who!”
“It’s alright sir!” said Harry beginning to feel much better with some tea and a bit of crumpet in his stomach. “Dumbledore explained it all to me at the end of First Year. I’ll be careful with the magic, I promise! And if my relatives know that I’m allowed to use magic, things should be a bit easier - they’ll probably back off now... And I don’t have to stay there past my birthdays...”
Harry was suddenly thunderstruck by the realisation that it was still his 13th birthday. He blinked and swallowed as his pulse started to race, wondering where he could stay after his birthdays. He didn’t want to put the Weasleys out every year. He knew they’d be happy to take him in - but their budget was tight because they already had a load of children still living at home, and they would never accept even a knut in compensation from Harry.
“Er... I’m just not sure where to go after that!” Harry muttered.
“Well, you can always take a room here at the Leaky Cauldron if one is available. It is an Inn after all... I’ll see if Tom has one ready for you yet.”
Harry had never really noticed that the Leaky Cauldron was an Inn as well as a Pub. He followed Tom the Proprietor up the gleaming mahogany staircase and down a narrow corridor to room Number 11.
“In you go Mr Potter,” Tom said loudly as he turned the brass handle and pushed open the polished to a sheen oak door. “I already brought all your things up for you...”
Harry was about to step into his room when he heard a door open and a squeal on the other side of the passage. He turned around and gasped in shock when he saw a bushy haired girl with a cute overbite staring at him.
“Harry!” squealed Hermione again as she dashed across the hallway and threw her arms around him, nearly bowling him over. “It IS you! I couldn’t believe it when I heard your name...”
Tom grinned toothlessly at Harry and took his leave, giving him a wink as he departed.
“Hermione, what are you doing here?” Harry wheezed, trying to catch a breath as Hermione clung to him tightly.
All Harry could see was the top of Hermione’s tawny-brown hair as it spilled over his shoulder. But he could hear muted sniffles and felt his shirt growing damp. He shut his door and guided Hermione to sit on the little burgundy coloured velvet settee by the crackling fire. Harry heard a baleful hoot and looked up to see a snowy owl peering at them both in concern from the top of a glossy oak wardrobe.
“Hi Hedwig,” he said quietly, before turning back to Hermione. He stroked her bushy hair and waited for the sniffling to subside. Finally Hermione leaned back and loosened her grip on Harry.
“What’s wrong Hermione?” he asked, tenderly brushing some stray strands of hair from Hermione’s glistening lashes and wet cheeks with the back of his fingers.
“M...my p...parents!” she stammered. “Well, m...more my father - but Mum seemed to be supporting him for the most part... s...so... so I ran away!” Hermione paused and Harry waited. But she seemed to be having difficulty speaking so Harry spoke up gently.
“But why Hermione?”
“Daddy...” she began haltingly. “He wanted to p...pull me out of Hogwarts - and Mum was agreeing... th...though, she seemed more reluctant! Mum finally asked me what had been going on at Hogwarts when I got back for the summer. I... I t...tried to make it sound not so b...bad, and I d...didn’t tell them everything. B...but I couldn’t bring myself to lie to them...”
“I didn’t tell them that I helped fight the Basilisk, but I... I suppose what I told them was bad enough. Even though I told them that we weren’t in too much d...danger, because y...you were so smart, and so brave, and that you killed it - that you saved everyone.”
“All they seemed to hear was that I had turned part cat for a bit, and that there was a m...monster snake on the loose - Daddy s...said I was to never go back to Hogwarts again! I tried to reason with him...”
“I t...told him about B...Beauxbatons in France, even though I’d rather stay in Hogwarts with you. B...but he t...told me he didn’t want me to have anything to do with the wizard world anymore!”
“He was going to break my wand!” Hermione concluded shrilly, before bursting into tears again.
Harry cuddled Hermione until her crying ebbed once more. His jaw and chest tightened; he felt a flare of rage in the pit of his stomach at the thought of Hermione’s father trying to break her wand - and especially at the thought that he might have never seen her again.
Hermione was his best friend - much more than that really. But even though everyone kept calling her his girlfriend, they had never really talked about that. Harry just knew that whatever he had with Hermione, he never wanted it to end. She meant more to him than anything.
Harry thought back to the events following the killing of the Basilisk. Everyone had waited in the Chamber of Secrets for Snape to return with Cornelius Fudge. Dumbledore had shown the Minister everything, including Tom Riddle’s Diary - Fudge already seemed to know that Riddle was also Voldemort - and the corpse of the Basilisk.
Fudge had spoken to Harry and Hermione and Ginny, and he had seemed satisfied that Dumbledore had told him everything that he needed to know. Fudge had been utterly blown away that Harry had been the one to kill the Basilisk, and that Harry had once again been forced by circumstances to face the earthbound Shade of Voldemort attempting to return completely to the world of the living.
When they had returned to the castle, Madam Pomfrey had taken Ginny Weasley to the hospital wing, and Professor McGonagall had gone to Gryffindor Tower to tell the Weasley boys what had happened to their sister. Harry and Hermione had followed the Minister and Dumbledore back to his office where they had confronted Lucius Malfoy and shown him the diary.
Mr Malfoy had been furious that he couldn’t send Hagrid to Azkaban or sack Dumbledore now that the situation had been resolved.
“But you haven’t caught the culprit I see,” Mr Malfoy had sneered.
“Ah, well... as I have already explained,” Dumbledore had begun with a twinkle in his eye, “it was Voldemort, possessing an innocent young girl through the means of this diary... all that remains is to discover who planted it on young Miss Weasley...”
Mr Malfoy’s face had twisted into ugliness as he peered at Hermione in disgust and glowered at Harry, and he had stormed out of Dumbledore’s office as Minister Fudge watched in discomfort.
“Come Dobby,” Lucius Malfoy had snarled as he kicked the house-elf through the doorway, causing Cornelius Fudge to wince and Hermione to gasp in horror. “We’re leaving now.”
Harry had wondered why Mr Malfoy had brought Dobby along, and assumed that Mr Malfoy just liked having a slave to beat up whenever he got cross. As the bile rose in his stomach, Harry had had an idea. He had yanked off his shoe and pulled off a sock.
“Sir, can I borrow the diary for a moment?” Harry had asked the Headmaster.
Dumbledore had nodded, his clear blue eyes sparkling. As he had run up to Mr Malfoy, Harry had folded the pages of Riddle’s diary around the sock.
“You forgot something sir - I believe this is yours!” Harry had said, thrusting the diary into Mr Malfoy’s hand.
“Hah! Nice try Potter!” the elder Malfoy had sneered as he tossed the diary at his house-elf, “But no Cigar today!”
“Dobby is Free!” the delighted house-elf had squeaked, opening the diary and pulling out the sock.
“WHAT?” Mr Malfoy had barked, staring at his house-elf in shock. Lucius had thought he knew what Potter was up to, but clearly the boy had something else in mind altogether.
“Master has presented Dobby with clothes, Dobby is FREE!” the house-elf had gleefully repeated. Enraged, Lucius Malfoy had whirled around to face Harry again.
“You cost me my house-elf Potter!” Malfoy had spat venomously.
He had reached for his wand to curse Harry, then suddenly remembered that Cornelius Fudge was watching. Lucius had glanced back at the shocked faces of Fudge and Hermione, and the serene features of Albus Dumbledore and thought better of it.
“Watch your back Potter - you and your little Mudblood girlfriend!” Lucius had hissed quietly. “One day you’ll both meet the same sticky end as your parents!” And with that, Mr Malfoy had turned on his heel and stalked out of Hogwarts.
Harry had found himself under a dual attack. Hermione had flung herself on Harry, trapping him in a hug as bone-crushing as Hagrid’s, peppering his face with little kisses as Fudge and Dumbledore glanced sideways; Dobby had wrapped himself around one of Harry’s legs, sobbing in delight.
“Harry Potter has freed Dobby!” the happy little house-elf had wept. “Dobby is always believing that Harry Potter is being a great wizard, but Harry Potter is a greater wizard than even Dobby knows.”
Dumbledore had recovered himself somewhat and approached the house-elf, gently taking one of his hands and peeling it away from Harry’s thigh.
“Come with me Dobby, I think it’s about time you met the Minister,” Dumbledore had said quietly. “Harry, perhaps you and Miss Granger can stop by my office after dinner to tie up any loose ends.”
Harry and Hermione had visited Ginny in the hospital wing and both given her hugs, assuring her that they didn’t blame her one tiny little bit for being possessed by Voldemort. Madam Pomfrey had insisted on giving them both another once over before allowing them to leave. Ron, Fred, and George had all slapped Harry on the back and thanked him and Hermione profusely for saving Ginny - while Percy had shaken their hands like a pleased President of a foreign country.
Finally Harry and Hermione had escaped from the hospital wing and found a quiet place under a willow tree near the lake to spend the afternoon far away from everyone. And after dinner they had met the headmaster in his office to cover any last details they wished to address.
It had been a shame. Harry had rather hoped that the Basilisk venom would have done in the bit of Voldemort’s soul that had attached itself to Harry’s when Voldemort had tried to kill him and failed. But apparently he hadn’t received a big enough dose.
“I am afraid Harry, that the amount necessary to dispel the inadvertent piece of Riddle within you, would have also finished you,” Dumbledore had sighed. “When Fawkes’ tears healed you, it would appear that they prevented most of the venom which was flowing through your arm from reaching your brain before it killed you. And for that, I am very grateful.”
“I am too Harry!” Hermione had squeaked as she threw her arms around him.
Harry had been quite happy about it too for the most part as the comforting warmth of Hermione’s embrace filled him. But that had led directly to some mixed feelings. If it would mean that Voldemort could be killed... then Hermione might be safer. Dumbledore had seemed to sense what Harry was feeling as they peered at each other.
“Sadly, there are always others ready - eagerly waiting in the wings to take Voldemort’s place and do great evil to the ones we love,” Dumbledore said softly.
Draco Malfoy and his father had immediately sprung into Harry’s mind and he knew that Dumbledore was right. Hermione would be no safer with Harry and Voldemort both gone. Harry had held Hermione a bit closer to him, and decided that he would never give in without a fight.
Harry felt Hermione hiccup twice, and the present re-insinuated itself. Hermione seemed able to talk again.
“Thank you Harry!” she sniffed, wiping her wet face with a hanky. “I’m sorry to keep crying all over you like that.”
“There’s nothing to apologise for,” Harry replied softly, gazing at her with his opalescent green eyes. He leaned forward and gave her a little kiss on her cheek, hoping it would cheer her up a bit more. She blushed and smiled shyly.
“You can cry all over me anytime you like,” Harry grinned when he saw her little smile. “Anyway, how did you actually end up here?”
Hermione’s eyes flashed, and he could see her burning resolve. She took a deep breath and began again, her nostrils flaring with anger.
“I was really cross, and crying my eyes out when Daddy said he’d snap my wand in half, so I ran and locked myself in my room.” Then Hermione gave a little shiver and a frightened look flickered across her face.
“He started shouting and banging on my door so hard...” Hermione almost whispered, and Harry could see her confusion. “I’ve never seen him so angry! I thought he was going to break my door down...” she paused and then continued on, a bit louder as the steely look returned to her eyes and the anger returned to her voice.
“Mum managed to finally stop him - told him to let me be - that we’d sort it all out later. I waited until it was really late and I knew they’d gone to sleep... I think it was almost 4 in the morning before I felt sure. I always keep my school-things in my trunk on a little cart anyway... I just threw a few clothes in my trunk and trundled it down the road, then I stuck my wand out for the Knight Bus...”
“You knew about the bus?” Harry gasped. Hermione raised an eyebrow; Harry slapped his forehead and grimaced. Of course Hermione knew about the bus.
“Let me guess - there’s a book or pamphlet about Magical Public Transportation,” said Harry, turning red, embarrassed that he’d never even considered that wizards might have more than a school express train as a means of public conveyance.
“Er... anyway, how did you afford it? It cost me 13 sickles,” he murmured. “Did you have a bit of wizard money left over from last year? ”
This time it was Hermione who blushed in embarrassment.
“No! Whatever was left over, my parents had,” she said in a small voice, “I... er... sort of batted my eyelashes a bit at the boy-conductor on the bus and said it was an emergency, and that I’d pay next time. He and the nice old man that drives the bus said not to worry - that ‘it would be an honour to help out a lady in distress’...”
Harry felt so bad for Hermione, knowing how guilty she must feel, that he hated to ask her the next most obvious question and left it unspoken, hugging her instead.
“I’m sorry Harry!” she squeaked as she cringed in his arms, biting her bottom lip so hard that she made it bleed, “When I got here yesterday morning, I told the nice old Innkeeper that my parents would pay whenever they arrived to buy things for school.”
“I... I knew that you would show up eventually... probably with the Weasleys. I swear Harry... I’ll find a way to pay it all back - I promise!” she concluded as tears welled in her eyes again.
“Don’t be silly Hermione!” Harry said gently as he held her even tighter and kissed her bushy tresses. “Of course you don’t have to pay me back. I love you!” he said without thinking. “I’ve got enough money in my vault for the both of us!
“And your parents will come around eventually - I know they will! They love you too,” Harry continued, nearly whispering. “You’ll see them again at Christmas or next Summer and you’ll all make up!”
Hermione was trembling in Harry’s arms now, wondering what Harry meant when he said he loved her. She could almost feel his heart beating next to her own and sighed, melting into his warm embrace.
“Thank you Harry,” she finally whispered back. “I love you too!”
Hedwig cooed softly and fluttered her wings. Harry glanced at her and smiled. It had been a very weird, terrible-wonderful birthday indeed. As a free wizard, he knew that the Dursleys would be very unlikely to harass him badly ever again. And with Hermione to cuddle, no strange black dogs, or mysterious escaped mass-murderers out to get him could penetrate his happiness.
Sunlight poured through the window and Hermione woke with a start, realising in shock that she was still in Harry’s room and that she had fallen asleep in his arms. Hermione suddenly remembered that she had left the door to her own room wide open when she had flung herself on Harry last night.
“Oh no! ” she murmured, flushing crimson in embarrassment, wondering what the Innkeeper must be thinking.
Harry felt Hermione stirring, and sighed contentedly, wondering what the bright light was. He blinked a few times, then his eyes widened in panic. Hermione had been in his room all night.
“Tom the Barman!” Harry groaned, looking at the clock on the mantelpiece, knowing instinctively that Inn staff always woke early to prepare for their guests.
Hermione sat up and they both stared at each other with red faces. It wasn’t the first time that they had cuddled and fallen asleep together. They had done that plenty of times in the hospital wing. And they weren’t even on a bed this time, just a velvet settee in front of the glowing embers in the hearth. But this was the first time that they were certain that they had been caught at it by grown ups.
But they didn’t pull apart either. Hermione bit her lip and smiled shyly as Harry turned even redder and grinned awkwardly, scrunching up his eyes.
“In for a penny, in for a pound eh?” he laughed nervously.
“I did rather pounce on you last night when you got here,” said Hermione with an anxious giggle.
“Well, there’s nothing for it,” sighed Harry with a sideways smile. “We’ve got to get some breakfast sooner or later.”
“I suppose we should just get it over with - I’m famished. ” Hermione giggled again. “I’d better go back to my own room to get showered and changed though!”
“Yeah, me too,” said Harry with a proper grin. “I’ll see you in a few minutes then.”
Half an hour later, the pair of them, clean and freshly dressed, made their way down to the Pub for breakfast. Sure enough, Tom the Barman and Innkeeper was smirking and winking behind the counter, chortling and whispering to the waitress as he washed some dishes. Embarrassed, Harry and Hermione fled through the back into Diagon Alley to find a little cafe to eat breakfast at instead.
“Blimey!” said Harry after he washed down his last bit of bacon and eggs with some tea, a worrying thought popping into his mind. “I hope they don’t tell everyone... Technically I’m a legal adult now.”
Hermione nearly snorted her tea out of her nose.
“What?” she squeaked.
Harry thought back to the last moment he’d seen Hermione. The last few months of school after they had killed the Basilisk had been blissfully, gloriously peaceful for a change - even Draco Malfoy had stayed far away from them both, alternating between fearful looks and scowls. And when it had finished, Harry had hated saying goodbye to Hermione at King’s Cross Station.
“Maybe your aunt and uncle will be nicer to you when they hear what you did this year,” Hermione had said hopefully as they joined the crowd thronging toward the magical barrier between the wizard world and the Muggle world.
“Nicer?” Harry had snorted sardonically, “Yeah right! You must be joking! All those times I could’ve died, and didn’t manage it? They’ll be furious...”
Hand in hand, Harry and Hermione had passed through the gateway to the Muggle world.
As Harry’s reminiscence picked up after they’d hugged warmly and said their last goodbyes, he told Hermione everything that had happened since.
“The Dursleys locked up all of my school things as usual in the cupboard under the stairs the moment we got back....” Harry began. He told her how he had been forced to creep down the stairs in the dead of night and pick the lock as George Weasley had taught him, and then lug all of his schoolbooks and homework assignments up to his room.
“So you managed to get it all done early this year?” Hermione interrupted Harry, beaming.
“Yeah, it was brilliant! I could only do my homework after bedtime, but as long as I didn’t get ink spots on my sheets, they didn’t have to know I was studying magic,” said Harry with a grin.
“I managed to get everything finished by my Birthday more or less - I got my History of Magic essay done the night before - remind me to learn a flame freezing charm by the way, just in case the Dursleys ever try to burn me at the stake...” he continued. “They were already in a bad mood because Ron tried ringing me up on the telephone about a week in...”
When Harry told Hermione how dreadfully that had turned out, Hermione rolled her eyes and groaned.
“I’m sorry Harry, I wanted to call myself, but I was afraid of getting you in trouble. And even if I’d wanted to get my parents involved against your wishes, it was already too late for...”
“Forget it Hermione,” Harry interjected. “Apparently someone - Dumbledore mostly I think - had already intervened, but I didn’t know it at the time. Fudge said that someone from the Ministry - Madam Bones I think - she must be related to Susan - had sent them a warning...”
“I suppose that must have done some good though, because Uncle Vernon didn’t thump me this year, like he did after the Pudding Incident last year - Dobby must have known how Uncle Vernon treated me, because Fudge said something about ‘confirming it’ with him.”
“Oh...” said Hermione sadly, “I had an awful feeling that’s where your nasty bruises had come from last year. I know you didn’t want to tell anyone... but I’m really glad that Dumbledore found out somehow and did something.”
“Yeah, me too actually,” Harry responded, surprised at himself, and wondering when Hermione had spotted the bruising and welts - perhaps while changing his shirt when they were staying with the Weasleys. “Mind you, that didn’t stop the bloody Dursleys from literally trying to starve me to death again... I managed to make it to my 13th birthday alive though...” Harry beamed.
“And thanks again for the broomstick servicing kit by the way - that’s a lovely birthday present. Much better than one I got from the Dursleys - a visit from ‘Aunt’ Marge...” Harry’s demeanor darkened as he told Hermione everything about the visit from Uncle Vernon’s sister.
“She called your Mum a bitch to your face?” Hermione squeaked in horror. “That’s awful...”
“And then she went on repeating the horrid lies that Uncle Vernon would always tell - as if they were true...” Harry fumed, “that my mum and dad were unemployed drunk layabouts who crashed their car while drinking...”
“I didn’t even use my wand - I was probably delirious from lack of food. I mean, I’ve put up with worse before without losing it, but I don't really know why... I just lost control of my magic...”
“I didn’t mean to turn her into a bloody balloon - I swear it Hermione!” Harry’s expression had gone from furious to guilt-stricken in an instant, and it broke Hermione’s heart. She could almost see Harry calling himself a Freak in his mind.
“She deserved it Harry!” Hermione said forcefully, her nostrils flaring angrily. “What a nasty, horrid woman...”
Harry peered at Hermione, momentarily confused.
“She is alright isn’t she?” said Hermione.
“Well... yeah! Fudge said that getting her back to normal was easy for the Magic Reversal Squad...”
“Then she got nothing worse than a bit of a nasty scare, which is nothing more than she deserved!” Hermione stated firmly as she took one of Harry’s hands in her own and gave it a comforting squeeze.
Harry’s agitation began to abate. Feeling grateful for Hermione’s presence, he took a deep breath and continued. He told her about storming out, angry and terrified, seeing a large scary black shadow which he was certain must have been an enormous dog of some sort, and of catching the Knight Bus by accident.
And then he repeated everything that Fudge had told him and finally got to the good bit, and why that was making him anxious about her being in his room at the Leaky Cauldron all night. Hermione was torn between being frightened for Harry, and thrilled for him, but she couldn’t help giggling.
“Well Harry, you may legally be an adult now, and I’m not - but technically I’m an older woman. I’m ten months older than you... I’ll be 14 this September.”
Hermione felt a wave of relief when she saw Harry’s last bit of anxiety melt away and his face light up again.
“Yeah, you’re right Hermione,” Harry chortled. “I knew that... but I never thought of it that way!”
“And you’re not to get me anything more for my birthday Harry!” Hermione said adamantly. “You’re already paying my way for the next few weeks and buying my school things for me. And being here with you is the best early birthday present I could possibly have.
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