The Owl and the Pussycat *
The young Runaways enjoyed their few weeks of freedom together in Diagon Alley immensely, and Harry gradually became used to the exhilarating sense of liberation. It had been very weird at first, being able to eat whatever he liked, wake up whenever he wanted - which was usually whenever Hermione wanted - and go wherever he wanted.
They were both sorely tempted to explore a bit of Muggle London too as Hermione wanted to show Harry all of the loveliest bits of Muggle life that Harry had missed while living with the Dursleys, and London had many of the finest examples of it, Hermione assured him. But they restrained themselves, knowing that a dangerous mass-murderer was on the loose who seemed to have it in for Harry.
“...Besides, I did tell the Minister I’d stick around Diagon Alley for my own safety,” Harry told Hermione, sighing. “After he emancipated me, he said that it was ‘strongly advisable’ that I stay close to other wizards while Sirius Black is at large. And I really don’t know any fighting spells yet, so I said I would.”
“I suppose it is for the best!” Hermione nodded sympathetically, reluctantly agreeing. “As much as I’d love to explore London with you - it would be very irresponsible of me to encourage you to leave the wizard world at the moment. And you’re right, neither of us really knows any proper defensive spells.”
“That reminds me Hermione, I was thinking we really need to learn some sort of spell to retrieve our wands,” Harry muttered. “After Riddle disarmed us in the Chamber of Secrets...”
“...we were both really vulnerable. I agree Harry,” said Hermione eagerly. “We can look it up when we get back to Hogwarts. I think there’s a summoning spell which is usually taught in Fourth Year Charms. We don’t have Fourth Year books, but Professor Flitwick is sure to have a few spares in the Charms classroom...”
“...and if not, we should be able to find some in the school library. Brilliant, Hermione!” Harry concluded with a grin.
Neither Harry nor Hermione wanted to spend their nights alone, and they stole to each other’s rooms in the evenings, being much more careful than they had the first night not to be seen coming and going out of the same room together. They cuddled on their little settees in front of their crackling fireplaces, reading, laughing, and chatting.
Harry was very pleased that Hermione had brought some storybooks, which they read aloud to each other before drifting off to sleep, carefully lying on opposite sides of whichever bed they were sleeping in - Harry in his pyjamas and Hermione in her nightie.
They both felt more than a bit shy and awkward about it at first, because they instinctively knew that sleeping in the same bed together in an Inn, really wasn’t the same as spending nights comforting each other in the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts.
After getting over their initial embarrassment from the mishap of their first night together in the Leaky Cauldron, Harry and Hermione ate breakfasts in the Pub. Their days were spent lazily browsing through the shops of Diagon Alley, and gradually picking up school supplies. But they made time to study in the afternoons at the outdoor tables of the little cafes and read all of their new schoolbooks. The only one they didn’t manage to read was The Monster Book of Monsters, which neither of them had worked out how to open without getting bitten.
Florean Fortescue had quickly taken to the young couple studying at the little table outside of his ice cream parlour every afternoon, and he wouldn’t take even a knut for the ice-cream sundaes he kept bringing them. He had spotted Harry and Hermione both going over Harry’s History of Magic essay about Wendelin the Weird and began regaling them with his own quite prodigious knowledge, much to their delight.
“I wish you were our History of Magic professor instead of Binns, Mr Fortescue,” said Harry with a grin as Hermione eagerly nodded in agreement. “The subject and the books are really interesting, but Binns always puts me to sleep in class!”
“Haha... that old blighter?” Florean chortled. “He could make the sinking of the Lusitania seem about as exciting as falling out of a paddleboat in a pond!”
“Oh!” Hermione gasped. “Do you know a bit of muggle history too then?” she asked, her eyes sparkling happily.
“Yes indeed! I have a bit of muggle blood on my mother’s side,” Florean said proudly. “I wanted to know everything about the history of both worlds...”
The next morning, after a visit to Gringotts, Harry’s pockets were freshly bursting and jingling, and Hermione looked a bit ill from the cart ride again. Harry also thought that Hermione appeared to be feeling a bit guilty still after seeing his vault; he assured her that there was at least enough to get them both through the next five years of Hogwarts, if absolutely necessary, and a good bit more besides.
“Really Hermione - it’s enough to see us both off to a jolly good start at life! My mum and dad obviously weren’t super-rich... But now I’ve had a proper look at what they’ve left for me, without feeling rushed, and there's a lot more than I thought. As long as I spend it responsibly, we could live really comfortably on what’s in there even for a few years after school until we get jobs we like, if we wanted to!”
Harry let out a sigh of relief and smiled when Hermione nodded shyly and blushed, taking his arm as they departed the bank.
For all that Harry managed to admirably restrain himself from buying everything in sight that caught his attention, he was sorely tempted when he saw the latest racing-broom on display in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies. A number of children too young for Hogwarts had their noses pressed against the windowpane, gawking at the sleek gleaming broomstick with their parents.
“The Firebolt... Wicked!” gasped a tousle-headed little boy.
“It’s the fastest in the world!” squeaked a little girl who appeared to be his sister, her eyes wide.
“The shop-owner said that Irish International’s put an order in for seven...” Harry heard an awed, well-dressed wizard remark to his elegant wife hopefully.
“Maybe next year after we look at our budget dear,” she replied firmly, giving her husband a gentle pat on the arm.
Harry knew that if even these rather well-to-do looking wizards had budgetary considerations, that the Firebolt was well out of his league, and he put it out of his mind at once. He was very happy with his Nimbus 2000; it had never failed him. The House Quidditch matches had resumed after the Basilisk had been killed not long after Easter and Oliver Wood had wept for joy when Harry led them to a flawless victory over everyone - including the Slytherins on their Malfoy purchased Nimbus 2001’s.
But when it came to Hermione, Harry felt far less restraint about spending money. When Harry said that it was about time that she had her own animal, Hermione squashed her urge to argue, sensing strongly that it would upset him if she refused to let him buy her a pet.
“You can get an owl if you’d like Hermione,” said Harry cheerfully when they entered the Magical Menagerie. “Or whatever else strikes your fancy. I’m perfectly happy to share Hedwig with you!”
“Thank you Harry!” squeaked Hermione with a teary smile as she peered at all of the animals around the shop. “I’d been thinking I should get an owl this year, but maybe...”
Hermione’s eyes gleamed when she spotted a fat and fluffy, ginger tabby cat which looked a bit like a tiger with a squashed, almost grumpy face. It was yawning, stretched out lazily on the shop counter next to a cage with several tap-dancing black rats who didn’t seem afraid of it in the least.
One of the rodents winked at the others and sauntered over to the edge of their cage. It reached through the wires of the cage with one of its little hands and tweaked one of the cat’s whiskers. The cat seemed to grin and it batted playfully at the sleek black rat, purring in contentment.
“Oh Harry...” Hermione whispered, as her breath caught.
“Well... I suppose if the shop-owner doesn’t mind!” Harry grinned, thinking that the cat looked a bit funny himself. But he rather liked cats, and he wanted Hermione to have whatever made her happy.
“His name is Crookshanks,” said the friendly witch behind the counter when she spotted Harry and Hermione both stroking the fluffy purring beast as it flicked its bushy tail languidly. “He’s for sale if you like him.”
“He’s half-kneazle, that’s why he’s not in a cage,” the witch continued brightly. “They’re very intelligent - can converse with, and get on well with other common Familiar animals - they understand human speech - and they’re excellent judges of character...”
Hermione peered at Harry pleadingly, her eyes shining as she bounced on her toes.
“We’ll take him,” Harry chortled happily without hesitation. The witch behind the counter was really pleased.
“Poor Crookshanks has been here for a good long while,” beamed the witch as she rang Harry up. “Most people think he’s a bit too funny looking - and I swear, I’d have to say that he was waiting for just the right person!’
Hermione joyfully carried Crookshanks all the way back to the Leaky Cauldron. When they arrived outside of their rooms, Harry opened his door to drop off some of the other school supplies that he’d picked up for them that morning. Crookshanks jumped out of Hermione’s arms and followed Harry into his room, peering around in curiosity.
He purred and rubbed his head against Harry’s leg while Harry opened his trunk. Hedwig’s big amber eyes widened. She fluttered her snowy white wings and flew across the room, lighting upon the floor next to the large furry orange feline.
“Oh no... Crookshanks!” Hermione anxiously squeaked, biting her nails and hoping that her new pet wasn’t going to fight with Harry’s.
For his own part, Harry wasn’t too perturbed. He’d seen how well the half-kneazle had got on with the other animals in the shop, and it was Hedwig who had taken it upon herself to approach Crookshanks first. Nonetheless, Harry held his breath as he regarded the interaction between the two animals.
Hedwig quickly preened her feathers and batted her eyelashes, cooing softly at Crookshanks, looking for all the world like she was curtseying. The fat fluffy ginger beast coiled himself affectionately around the large snowy owl, purring loudly. The Owl and the Cat danced gingerly together in circles as Hermione gasped and darted into Harry’s room, shutting the door behind her.
“They like each other!” squealed Hermione delightedly, as she wrapped her arms around Harry, kissing him several times on the cheek.
“I knew they would,” Harry grinned and hugged Hermione back. “Let’s leave them to it in here then - I’m feeling a bit hungry. Why don’t we get some lunch and do a bit of studying? They’ll be fine together...”
As the end of August approached, Harry and Hermione kept looking for signs of the Weasleys, running into a number of other students picking up their school supplies. Parvati and her sister Padma couldn’t stop giggling when they discovered that Harry and Hermione had been spending the last few weeks at the Leaky Cauldron in rooms across the hall from each other.
After that, they both carefully avoided discussing the details of their current living arrangements when they came across Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas ogling the Firebolt in the window of the Quidditch Supply shop. Harry nervously eyed Neville’s formidable looking grandmother when he and Hermione ran into them one day, hoping that she never found out that he’d been pretending to be her grandson when he’d fled Number 4 Privet Drive.
Each morning, whose-ever bed they had been sleeping in, Harry and Hermione would find themselves closer together than they had been when they’d gone to sleep. And on the day before they would have to leave for King’s Cross, Harry woke up with a start, feeling Hermione snuggled right up against his back, her arm curled around his waist, her warm breath caressing the skin of his neck, the scent of her toothpaste intoxicating.
Harry swallowed nervously, suddenly wide awake, his heart pounding, aware that this was the closest he had ever been to Hermione in a bed which wasn’t in the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts. It was still dark and moonlight poured in through the window. Harry peered at the clock on the mantelpiece and realised it was still really early. It wasn’t even 4:30 am yet.
Harry heard the fluttering of wings and he glanced back across the room towards the window. He caught the eye of Hedwig, who was perching on top of the polished oak wardrobe, just about to settle down for a nap after a nighttime prowl. Crookshanks pounced up from the open windowsill, apparently having just returned from prowling too. The ginger cat curled around the white snowy owl and peered back at Harry, purring in the moonlight, almost daring him to say something.
Harry grinned and began to relax again. Feeling comforted in Hermione’s slumbering warm embrace, he let out a contented sigh and soon drifted off back to sleep.
“Harry... HARRY!” someone yelled cheerfully.
Harry looked up and beamed when he saw Ron grinning at him, looking more freckly than ever. Ron suddenly noticed there was a girl with bushy brown hair that he’d recognise anywhere sitting at Harry’s little round table, eating lunch with him, when she turned to smile at Ron.
“Hi Ron!” Harry waved, grinning back at him.
“Hello Ron - how was Egypt?” asked Hermione, her face glowing as she pulled her chair a bit closer to Harry to make room for Ron.
“Hello Hermione,” said Ron, looking a bit surprised to find her in Diagon Alley with Harry. Ron recovered quickly and the grin returned to his face as he sat down at the table. “Egypt was smashing - loads of fun!”
“There were these mummies...” continued Ron. “You should have seen them. Mutants - with extra heads... I wrote to Harry about them earlier this summer...” Ron turned to Harry. “Anyway, we got here a while ago - we looked for you in the Leaky, but they said you’d left earlier this morning, and I didn’t see you in Flourish and Blotts or Madam Malkins...”
“We got most of our stuff weeks ago,” Harry explained. “We’ve already given our new schoolbooks a read-through...”
“Oh yeah!” Ron nodded at Harry as light dawned. “Of course - I knew you were here already because Dad told me. I heard you were in trouble again for blowing up your Aunt...” Ron sniggered loudly and Hermione shot him a reproachful look. “I didn’t realise you’d been here the whole time since then though...”
Suddenly, Ron became aware of the strange way that Harry had said “we,” and he turned back to look at Hermione with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Er... so when did you get back from France then Hermione?” he asked.
“I... er... we didn’t go...” Hermione gulped awkwardly, all of a sudden at a loss for words.
Harry squeezed Hermione’s hand comfortingly under the table, and jumped in to try and save her from having to explain her own painful situation.
“Hermione’s been keeping me company,” Harry said quickly. “I didn’t feel like being alone in Diagon Alley, so I got her a room at the Leaky Cauldron to stay in as well...”
There was a flicker of some emotion that Harry didn’t quite recognise in Ron’s features, then Ron just looked bewildered again, forgetting all about being interested in why Hermione hadn’t gone to France.
“Blimey!” muttered Ron, “So you’ve both been here for a few weeks...” He shook his head and smirked. “Bet you’ve both got all your homework done already - like usual.”
Ron was grinning again now, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief that Hermione hadn’t had to relive her terrible row with her parents. Hermione looked much brighter as well; she squeezed Harry's hand gratefully under the table.
“Anyway...” Ron continued, “I forgot to tell you Harry, Mum didn’t really give me a hard time about having a new wand or ask me what happened to my old one. I’m not really sure why though...”
Harry suspected that it might have something to do with the fact that Mrs Weasley was just happy that all of her children were alive after the end of the Chamber of Secrets business, but he didn’t say anything as Ron went on.
“...and Dad just seemed really pleased... especially after having to buy all my new schoolbooks. So anyway what happened with the Ministry Harry? Dad didn’t say if they’d given you another warning or not.”
“You’re never going to believe this Ron,” Harry began excitedly, feeling a fresh thrill of freedom coming on. “I still can’t believe it really! ... I didn’t get in trouble at all. In fact, I can do magic anytime I like now - as long as I’m careful around muggles...”
Harry excitedly told Ron everything that had happened, and about how the Minister had emancipated him. Harry didn’t even notice the odd flicker of emotion in Ron’s features again as he regaled Ron with what Cornelius Fudge had told him. By the time he’d finished, Ron just looked stunned and a bit frightened.
“Bloody Hell! So you’ve got another murdering nutter on your case then!” Ron gasped.
“Yeah! But what else is new? I’m used to it!” Harry said with an easy grin, glossing over his own pang of anxiety. “At least I don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with the Ministry anymore... I just need to study really hard so that I can learn plenty of useful magic.”
Hermione had been mostly quiet as Harry and Ron caught each other up, but she grinned herself, and let out a little squeak of happiness.
“Harry’s taking Ancient Runes with me,” she beamed. “We’ve given the course-book a really good overview, and there’s lots of stuff that should be really useful for defensive magic!”
“Er...Wow! Runes? You?” Ron gaped at Harry, his eyes flickering towards Hermione. “That sounds bloody hard Harry! Glad I’m not taking that class! Anyway... I really should be getting to the Magical Menagerie so they can have a look at Scabbers - He’s been looking really peaky since we got back from Egypt!”
Harry and Hermione spent the rest of the afternoon with Ron. They admired the Firebolt in the window of the Quidditch shop and eventually stopped in the magical pet shop to look for some rat tonic. The friendly witch smiled at Harry and Hermione when she saw them again, then turned to Ron.
“Alright dear, bung your rat on the counter and let’s have a look then,” she said kindly. “Oh dear... he really has been through the mill, hasn’t he!?” The witch frowned pensively as she peered closely at Scabbers. “How old is he then?”
“Dunno really,” Ron shrugged. “My brother Percy’s had him for a few years before he even started at Hogwarts - and this is his last year - and I’ve had Scabbers since I started Hogwarts two years ago...”
“Well, that doesn’t make any sense!” the witch muttered. “Rats don’t generally live more than three or four years at best - this one should be long gone by now...”
Harry felt a sudden chill and he glanced at Hermione; she had the same dark look in her eye.
“Look, is there anything that can help him or not?” griped Ron, suddenly exasperated.
What did it matter if his rat was at least ten years old? All he cared about was that Scabbers was ill. The witch found Ron a bottle of rat tonic, and he was feeling a bit more cheery by the time he got back to the Leaky Cauldron with Harry and Hermione.
“So we’re spending the night here too,” Ron said with a sudden grin. “We can all go to King’s Cross together tomorrow - Mum and Dad will be pleased to see you both. So where’re your rooms then?”
“Right down here, I’m Number 11,” said Harry. “Hermione is over there - she’s Number 10. D’you want to see then?”
“Yeah, alright!” said Ron.
Harry opened the door and Ron wandered into his room. It was nearly spotless, the various oak and mahogany pieces of furniture polished to a fine sheen, the four-poster bedclothes as neat as a pin. The only thing that seemed slightly incongruous was the frilly long dressing gown on the bed. Harry stifled a groan and Hermione drew a sharp intake of breath.
“That looks almost like what Ginny wears over her nighties before bedtime,” Ron sniggered. “Bit girly for you isn’t it Harry?” Suddenly a look of recognition crossed Ron’s face. “Hang on... I’ve seen that before! Hermione was wearing it in the Hospital Wing at Christmas when she was half-cat...”
Ron’s jaw dropped as he stared at his two red-faced friends, not sure what it meant. Scabbers poked his head out of Ron’s pocket to see what all the fuss was about. There was a sudden hiss, and the next thing Ron knew, he was under attack by a yowling, spitting ball of orange fur and claws.
“CROOKSHANKS NO!” shouted Hermione, grabbing her cat and pulling him off Ron.
Ron dove to catch Scabbers who had squirmed out of his hands and was darting across the floor towards the doorway in terror. There was a loud hoot and a great flapping of wings as Hedwig flew after the running rodent. Harry cut Scabbers off and managed to grab him before Hedwig could reach the rodent with her talons and beak. But holding the struggling rat proved to be a great difficulty, as Scabbers sank his sharp little teeth into Harry’s fingers twice when Harry passed him to Ron.
“Ow! Scabbers bit me!” Harry muttered, peering at his bleeding fingers. “That’s the thanks I get for saving him from Hedwig?”
Harry gave Hedwig and Scabbers both a glare and Hedwig flew back to her perch atop the oak wardrobe, looking slightly sheepish. Harry frowned when he caught Hedwig looking apologetically at Crookshanks too - who was still hissing in Hermione’s arms. He wondered what that was all about; Hedwig had never gone after Scabbers before.
“What the Bloody Hell?” Ron roared at Hermione. “Is that Monster yours then?” he asked crossly as he stuffed his trembling rat back into his pocket.
“I’m sorry Ron! He didn’t mean it!” said Hermione in a panicky voice, glancing at Harry darkly, neither of them entirely sure if that was true. “He’s a cat!”
“Blimey! What the hell did you get a cat instead of an owl for, Hermione?” grumbled Ron. “You know I’ve got Scabbers!”
“Well Crookshanks will be in the girl’s dorm with me, won’t he?” squeaked Hermione, still looking anxious.
“Look Ron, you can’t expect everyone to get only pets that you approve of,” Harry pointed out perfectly reasonably. “We had no idea that was going to happen - the cat was perfectly fine with all of the rats in the pet shop. And Hermione said she was sorry...”
Ron peered at Hermione’s trembling lower lip and pooling eyes. Crookshanks had calmed down and was purring now that Scabbers was safely tucked away.
“Yeah! You’re right Harry!” Ron sighed. “I’m sorry too Hermione!” Ron then gave Hedwig a quizzical look. “I suppose your owl just joined in because of all the excitement Harry!?”
“I expect so. I’m sorry about that as well Ron!”
“Alright, why don’t we see what’s for dinner in the Pub then? I’m starving...” said Ron, feeling mollified and having forgotten all about Hermione’s dressing gown sitting on Harry’s bed.
As the three young wizards left Harry’s room and shut the door behind them, Crookshanks leapt from the mahogany dresser with the mirror to the very top of the oak wardrobe. Hedwig shared a look with Crookshanks and uttered a little hoot, ruffling her feathers a bit.
Crookshanks shrugged, then purred and rubbed himself affectionately against Hedwig's chest, curling his bushy tail around her. The owl and the pussycat both sighed and settled down for a nice long nap before their nightly prowl under the moonlight together.
*My regards to Edward Lear! ;-)
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