Act One - Best Friends

Chapter Two - Loose Ends and Missing Steps


Something poked Hermione’s cheek. Over and over again it poke, poke, poked.

Moaning, Hermione mumbled, “Stop,” swatting at whatever was bothering her, probably Lavender the Gossip Queen. That girl somehow always noticed when anyone went to bed after curfew. At least she never turned anyone in.

Then again, since Lavender never turned anyone in, the other four girls in the dorm felt obliged not to turn her in when she–

That infernal poking came again.

“Stop it,” Hermione said a little more forcefully, if still barely comprehensible. “Sleeping.”

“Hermione, wake up. We’re about to miss breakfast.”

Recognising the voice, Hermione cracked her eyes open just a bit. “Harry? How are you in the girl’s…”

This was not the girl’s floors. This was not even Gryffindor Tower, judging by the blue sky and the warm feeling of the sun. That explained the manual alarm clock instead of her magic one.

And then Hermione remembered last night. She remembered that Harry had promised to actually try applying himself academically. A warm, hopeful feeling that she might not have to bury her best friend grew in her chest. The thought of it alone took such a weight off her shoulders. For once in the past year-and-a-half, her mind and magic were at peace.

Rubbing her eyes, Hermione asked, “Why are we still here?”

Harry turned away, but the blush already on his face did not go unnoticed. “I think I fell asleep to a lullaby.”

Lullaby… Oh! Hermione’s hand moved about her chest until it bumped into a knut, one which – if memory served – had once been a blanket last night and a bow before that. Her gaze rising, she found the violin-knut in Harry’s hand, which he passed back right away. Somewhere there should be two more for two pillows. She looked about for a moment before deciding it was a lost cause. It was just two knuts, anyway, hardly worth the effort.

“Right. I didn’t want to–” A yawn interrupted Hermione. Stretching, she continued, “Sorry. I didn’t want to wake you up, and getting both of us to the tower without getting caught seemed…well, unlikely.” Mumbling mostly to herself as she searched her robes for her wand, she added, “Just let me take down the proximity ward.”

“Fair enough. It was nice enough to sleep outside today anyway.”

Yawning again, Hermione said, “You said something about breakfast? What time is it?”

“Half past eight.”

No hope of a shower before class, then.

“By the way, here’s your volatile wand back.”

Hermione eyed the rowan and unicorn wand in Harry’s hand for a second before replying. “Keep it. I need to make at least one more for us for the summer, and I won’t need it for a month anyway.”

Rather hesitantly, Harry said, “Alright,” to which Hermione just rolled her eyes.

Honestly, it’s not like a small nudge will set it off or something.

Their business there completed, Harry and Hermione departed the Astronomy Tower in haste, beginning the long climb down to the Great Hall to hopefully catch a quick meal. They took the stairs one or two at a time and walked quickly through the halls: no sense tempting fate with running.

Along the way, Hermione found herself unable to resist getting an early start on rescheduling her entire summer to include Harry.

“Oh, Harry, there’s so much that we need to get done before third year starts. Besides occlumency, I need to see where you are in muggle mathematics, and if necessary, give you a crash course through them for arithmancy.”

“Arithmancy, too?” Harry protested, almost whined, or even, one might say, whimpered.

“I’ve read through most of the third-year curriculum already. It’s really simple if you have a good muggle education. I can’t speak to the later years’ material, though. Do you know any basic number theory? Moduli and primes and all that?”

The blank look on Harry’s face that Hermione caught out of the corner of her eye was all the answer she needed. To be fair, it was the answer she expected. The ideas were intuitive enough once you knew them, but most primary schools never connected remainders with moduli. Halfway down another flight of stairs, she tried again.

“Algebra?”

“Er…”

Again, that was fair enough. Harry’s muggle education had likely abruptly halted at year seven, just shy of when algebra was formally introduced.

“That’s fine. Do you know what a variable is?”

“Vaguely,” Harry admitted rather hesitantly.

Hermione nearly paled as she realised she had a lot more work ahead of her than she’d hoped. She did not turn her head or otherwise react, knowing Harry would pick up on it.

“What is the last thing you remember learning in maths class?”

When Harry pointedly refused to answer, Hermione permitted herself a sigh. Really, this was all she could fairly expect to begin with given his home life. Besides, with an entire summer available, she could get Harry up to speed with ease. All he really needed for arithmancy was a passing familiarity with algebra and basic number theory, just enough to look things up for now. Actual understanding of the subjects could come later.

A small shiver ran through Hermione’s body. That thought made her feel more than a little unclean, regardless of its practicality.

“Okay, I think a lot of our summer might actually be dedicated to getting you a decent muggle… I hesitate to say education. It’ll be more of a broad outline of big important things that we can fill in the details of later, I guess.”

“Sorry.”

Hermione bit back the urge to sigh again, knowing the fight for Harry’s self-esteem would be an uphill battle for, quite likely, years to come.

“It’s not anything to apologise for or to be ashamed of, Harry. I’m lucky enough to have parents who are affluent and supportive, so I had more opportunities when I was younger. Anyway, we have nearly a month before we leave Hogwarts, so don’t worry about it for now. We should try to focus on spellwork as much as possible while we’re here and can use our proper wands.”

“Like what?” Harry asked. “I don’t have your memory, Hermione. It’s not like I can just memorise a hundred spells in a week the way you can. Well, I mean, I probably can, but I’d forget them just as fast.”

Hermione nearly tripped on a stair. The thought that Harry was unable to become, in his own words, a ‘walking encyclopedia’ had never really occurred to her. But now that she stopped to think about it, Harry was very much a man of action; goals and projects would be better motivation to learn and retain information than knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Give him a use for something, and he would remember it far easier and far longer.

“Well, what do you want to learn?” Hermione asked. “Being muggle-raised, I trust you actually appreciate magic. I mean, any half-decent witch can transfigure a few barrels of ice to oil, and voila, you have free, clean energy for a city for a day. So long as no one breathes the fumes in before the transfiguration wears off…”

Cutting herself off from what she suspected was about to turn into a rant, Hermione instead asked, “So what would you think would be fun or useful? Name it, and I can dig up something that does it!”

“Hmm… Well, actually, I haven’t slept this well in a while, stiff back notwithstanding. Ron and Neville snore like chainsaws.”

Hermione snorted, and pulled out her wand. “I’ll bet. Anyway, you want the silencing charm. The wand movement is simple. A semicircle, then a line downward tangential to the end the first movement, all rotated approximately five degrees from the vertical in your frame of reference.” Her wand moved in sweeping, dramatic gestures to demonstrate. “That particular angle works best with effectiveness dropping off rapidly, which is why it’s usually not taught until fifth year when students have built up the coordination.” She ran through the movements again, faster this time, culminating in the word, “Silencio!”

Satisfied that Harry’s mouth moved without making a sound, Hermione cast a quick finite on him.

“Have I told you recently how brilliant you are?”

“Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Potter.”

“I’m so lucky to have the smartest witch as a best friend.”

Rolling her eyes, but unable to help the smile on her face, Hermione cast the silencing charm on Harry again. “Remember, it’s ‘si-len-cio’. The emphasis is on the ‘len’.” She pointed her wand at Harry once more. “Finite. Go on, then. Give it a try.”

“Er, how about after breakfast?”

Hermione only now realised that they’d stopped moving in the fourth floor corridor.

“Oh. Right.” Walking off with Harry falling into step beside her, Hermione asked, “Besides the silencing charm, then, what else?”

“I always thought it might be fun to become an animagus like Professor McGonagall.”

“The theory for that is actually covered in the third year transfiguration curriculum. We can ask her to supervise us then, alright?”

Harry nodded, mumbling to himself, “What else…” Another floor down in the castle, and Harry finally said, “Enchanting, maybe?”

“Really?” For the most part, enchantments were rune-based, not something Hermione thought Harry would be interested in normally. Still, if this was what got Harry invested in runes, she would take it. “Why enchanting?”

“I thought it’d be fun to try making a broom.”

Ah, of course it’s about flying. I should’ve known. “Alright, all the more reason to take runes and arithmancy, then.”

“Hey, you’re not going to make me quit quidditch, are you?”

Hermione rolled her eyes, an act that went unappreciated as they walked. “You’re not even fazed by this morning exercise, so I can’t really complain about you wasting your time on some silly game when I’m wheezing a bit while talking.”

There was surely an evil grin on Harry’s face as he said, “So that means you want to try out for the team to get in shape?”

“Not on your life!” Hermione said, much to Harry’s amusement. Just having Harry alone dodging bludgers and flirting with the ground was more than enough exercise for her heart. Putting her too on a line segment a hundred metres in the air would kill her. “It’s not like you play quidditch, anyway. They put you on a fast broom and tell you to catch the shiny thing that almost always wins the game.”

Harry was unusually silent for a few seconds.

“Still fun, though.”

Hermione shrugged. “If you say so. What else?”

“I wouldn’t mind learning more offencive spells and just practising duelling in general.” Harry paused, then added, “It might get you in shape, too.”

Hermione backhandedly slapped Harry’s arm. “Prat. Don’t forget who wipes the floor with whom.” She heard Harry grumble something about a million spells being unfair in a duel, giggling to herself all the while.

“Maybe potions, too.” The words came out so quietly; Hermione almost missed them among Harry’s earlier complaints.

“Potions? I thought you hated potions?”

“I… Maybe. I wouldn’t really know, given the professor. I do like cooking, which is sort of the same thing. It’s relaxing. And…Mum was supposedly good at the subject.”

A small smile escaped Hermione. But as sweet as that was, she was fairly sure there was an ulterior motive to Harry’s tentative interest. Still, just last night she herself had used his disdain of the Dursleys to get him to do what she wanted. It’d be terribly hypocritical to stop him from trying to deal with Professor Snape’s harassment however he chose, especially if it was by being academically successful.

“Well, potions theory is still beyond us, so we wouldn’t be doing much different. I tried, but it turned into a huge time sink.”

Harry missed a step and nearly fell flat on his face. Still rooted in place, he asked, “You mean Snape is teaching the class properly?”

“Professor Snape,” Hermione corrected. Regardless of however much she disliked the man, he was still their professor. “And for students with a lot of other classes, yes. In a master–apprentice relationship, he’d probably start with theory, but that kind of dedicated study would never work at Hogwarts for a general education.”

They fell silent for a few seconds, walking while Harry digested that. Not wanting him to misunderstand her meaning, though, Hermione added, “Or at least he’s teaching the material properly. His professional behaviour and the learning environment it creates, not so much.”

“I see…” Harry mumbled to himself.

While he mulled that over, Hermione continued, “We can work on potions together if you want, though. Like you said, it’s like cooking. The more you practice, the better you get. First I’d need to go over what kinds of potions exist with you, but then we can start actually brewing at my house…maybe. No, there’s not enough room, and we have too many muggle guests. But then if we brewed with compatible muggle chemistry equipment…”

After thinking on it for a few seconds, Hermione shook her head. A lot of potions required a specific type of cauldron and were volatile at some stages of the brewing process. It was best not to tempt fate.

Besides, a better idea occurred to her. Harry had once mentioned he had a fair amount of money, if not access to it – something she was meaning to look into anyway – and her own parents were affluent enough. They could both pitch in to buy a TARDIS, or whatever Magical Britain called things with extension charms on them.

“Hey, Hermione?”

Broken out of her thoughts, Hermione hummed in response.

“I can't believe I’m saying this, but could you recommend me a history book? I don't know the first thing about…how I got my fame. None of the adults are ever willing to talk about it with me.”

Hermione hesitated to answer. She disliked the only truthful response she could give as much as she was sure Harry would.

“There's not one, really. The politics are still relevant, and you know a lot of people like Lord Malfoy bribed their way out of Azkaban. And no one really knows what happened on Halloween.”

Hermione turned her head to look at Harry, who was, as predicted, not happy with that answer. As they started down the stairs to the first floor, she said, “I can get you a few books to cross reference, and I can give you a summary if you want. Everything they say, though, you’ll have to take with a pinch of salt.”

“Just the books, please,” Harry said in a tight voice.

Frowning at the look on his face, Hermione wrapped a hand around one of Harry’s trembling ones and coaxed his nails out of his palm. She would be there if he needed her; that act alone was enough to remind him of that.

Near the bottom of the staircase, still taking the steps two at a time, Harry suddenly broke their silence. “Hermione!” He yanked her back by the hand, sending him forward down the stairs and scrambling to stay upright. Hermione, on the other hand, fell backwards onto her bottom.

Once she recovered from the shock, Hermione looked up and down the staircase, reaching for her wand. Then for good measure, she glanced straight up, down, and then off to the sides. As far as she could tell, there was absolutely nothing wrong.

Confused and more than a little sore in the rear, Hermione got back to her feet and walked down to join Harry at the bottom of the stairs.

“What?” Hermione asked to Harry’s gaping expression.

“This is the first floor staircase, isn’t it?”

Hermione nodded, but Harry’s question only left her more confused.

Harry’s mouth moved in perfect imitation of a fish before he managed, “How?”

“How what?”

“You – you just walked on a disappearing-step.”

Disappearing-step? Why does that sound familiar… Oh! “Bathilda Bagshot wrote about those in Hogwarts: A History, but they’re just a myth like the Chamber of… Okay, bad example, but they’re not real.”

Harry did his fish impersonation again before shaking his head. “They must’ve tripped me at least a dozen times, Hermione. They trip everyone at some point. How did you… This really is the first floor staircase, right?”

“Yes?” Just to test the theory, because that was what reasonable people did in the face of the unknown, Hermione walked back up the steps to where Harry had thrown her backward. “See, Harry? There's nothing wrong with the stairs.”

Harry, having rushed up the stairs to join her, said, “Move,” making a shooing gesture with his hands.

Hermione rolled her eyes, telling him that he probably just tripped on the edge of the stair. They were already nearly too late for breakfast, and she was rather hungry after weeks of petrification and only one meal since.

Still, Harry insisted they investigate. As much as she loved Harry’s curiosity on the matter, this was ridiculous. Even so, she trained her wand on him. With Harry Potter, taking a single step up a staircase could send them to Wonderland if his luck held true.

Clinging to the handrail as if his life depended on it, Harry put one foot through the step Hermione had vacated.

“Huh.” There really were no other words.

“See? I told you! How did you step on it?”

Frowning, Hermione cast a finite at the step. In the background, she registered Harry sarcastically commenting, “Yeah, no one has ever tried that before.”

“Probably just one of the twins’ pranks,” Hermione mumbled to herself. She first put her own foot back on the step in question. It was as solid as ever.

At Hermione’s expectant look, Harry mimicked the action. His face showed a mixture of smug pride and the remnants of his earlier surprise as his foot went straight through the step.

“You say it trips everyone?” Hermione put her own foot back on the step while Harry's was still through it, finding it perfectly solid.

“Ye – well, obviously not, but everyone I’ve ever walked to class with jumps this step.”

“Except me,” Hermione pointed out, “which means you weren’t paying that much attention.”

“Fair,” Harry admitted, drawing the word out. “Did you want me to watch your feet?”

“Er, well, no, not really.”

“Then it shall be as you command, My Taskmistress,” Harry said with an over the top bow.

Blushing a bit at that, Hermione reined in the urge to wipe that smirk off his face with an overpowered cheering charm. “You prat. I just meant you weren’t keeping track of who doesn’t jump, just noting that most people do.”

Ignoring Harry’s chuckling, Hermione found herself torn between investigating and getting on with her day. On the one hand, there was mystery and science to be had. But on the other, this was exactly the kind of distraction she was trying to cut out of Harry’s life.

But then her brain whispered a seductive line of reasoning to her. A selectively permeable object would be very useful for hiding in plain sight, not to mention all the half-mad offencive applications Harry would no doubt come up with. And you’ve always wondered how the portal to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters works; this might be the answer. Besides, this is a good chance to jump-start his creative reasoning.

Seduced by her own curiosity, Hermione started talking. “So it doesn’t trip me, and I infer it doesn’t trip Bathilda Bagshot, since she wrote that they’re a myth. Does it only – no, I think I remember other girls skipping steps on occasion, so it’s not a gender-based enchantment like on the girls’ staircase in Gryffindor Tower.”

While Hermione descended into mumbles and possible theories based on one-and-a-half data points, Harry interrupted, “Hermione, do you mind being a few minutes late to transfiguration?”

Deliberately late to class? Unthinkable! Still, Hermione asked, “Why?”

“If you go grab our stuff from our rooms and I grab breakfast, we can camp out on the landing.”

Hermione’s eyes followed to where Harry was pointing, a flat area at the top of another staircase with a perfect view of the one they were currently on. From there, they could easily see which students would be able to able to stand on the disappearing-step.

At first, Hermione wanted to scold him for even thinking about being late to class for so trivial a reason. There were plenty of times between other years’ classes that they could keep watch during. Alone, she knew her own eagerness and curiosity would overpower this objection and win her over to his side.

But no, Harry had another motive behind the admittedly tempting offer. It was rather obvious, really, but at least he was exercising that Slytherin part of him.

“Don’t think you’re getting out of talking to Professor McGonagall about your electives.”

Harry held his hands up in surrender. “Didn’t even cross my mind.”

Rolling her eyes at the obvious lie, Hermione replied, “Alright, but I swear, if Ron left his underwear all over the place again, you owe me.”


Harry sat quietly fidgeting with the sign-up sheet Hermione had finally deigned to return to him halfway through class, one which he’d pointedly scribbled out muggle studies on in front of her. She was completely daft if she thought any muggle-raised student needed to take the course, no matter how ‘fascinating’ the magical perspective might or might not be.

Surprisingly, he actually managed to talk her out of taking the course after telling her it was a waste of their time. Suffice to say, it was a strange feeling for Hermione to take his advice for once.

But now that he was faced with actually acting on what Hermione had talked him into, actually having to talk to Professor McGonagall, Harry was worried. Four electives in addition to normal coursework, the muggle schoolwork that Hermione insisted on, and whatever extra things Hermione came up with was downright insane. He’d have said it was outright impossible, except she’d pointed out that she was keeping up with almost all that herself already.

Of course, that was what Hermione Granger could do. What Harry Potter was capable of, Harry was less sure of despite Hermione’s insistence that he could manage the coursework. Already he could picture her face when she realised that the illusions she’d somehow built up about him were nothing more than just that: illusions.

The worst part was she would not be angry. Disappointed? Sure. Scolding? Probably. But angry? Never. In the absolute worst case scenario, she would just frown and walk away.

And yet there were parts of Harry’s mind that he usually tried to ignore, parts that whispered ever more terrible things which had only grown worse and worse since meeting the young Tom Riddle.

Hermione Granger was frighteningly intelligent. She was pointedly not interested in the Boy-Who-Lived, treating the magical world’s hero worship as at best an embarrassing quirk and at worst a mental deficiency. She operated almost entirely on facts and figures. She never lied – except for him, and boy did that make him feel guilty – even if she occasionally tried to blunt the impact of her usual frankness with all the grace of a rampaging nundu.

Surely, then, the illusion about Harry’s abilities was his own. That he could generate that train of logic spoke to that conclusion all on its own.

And that was even worse.

Tom Riddle – half-blood, male, war orphan, muggle-raised, unloved, anger issues, Slytherin, parselmouth, the headmaster’s favourite student, absolutely brilliant, although Hermione and the current headmaster disagreed on that point.

Harry Potter – half-blood, male, war orphan, muggle-raised, unloved, anger issues, Slytherin-offered, parselmouth, probably the headmaster’s favourite student, possibly absolutely brilliant, literally bears some unspecified part of Tom Riddle in him, according to the headmaster.

Merlin! Tom Riddle had even remarked that they looked similar, and Harry had to agree.

And now Hermione was pushing for Harry to work to become not only her equal, but to stand with her among the greatest and the most terrible, to very definitely check off that last little box on the similarities between him and Tom Riddle. Worse, she never put it in words, but her intent to push him into accepting the part of him that spoke of secrets, plots, and ambitions was as clear as day.

Harry was, after all, the closet Slytherin. Hermione was not that subtle.

This, Harry knew, was the moment in his life, the point where, looking back, he would say it had all gone horribly, terribly, irredeemably wrong. As he was, Harry Potter was a nonentity with a bizarre footnote in his life from when he was one. The world was safe from him.

Harry buried his face in his hands, ignoring the strange look Hermione gave him.

The fate of the world. Harry rolled his head so that the weight moved from one hand to the other. Hermione Granger’s friendship and peace of mind.

There was nothing more Harry wanted to do right now than to bang his head against a wall or on his desk to knock some sense back into him. He found Dumbledore’s obvious deflection running through his mind quoted word for word. Hermione would be so proud.

“You have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift, parseltongue – resourcefulness – determination – a certain disregard for the rules. Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”

“It only put me in Gryffindor,” Harry had replied, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin.”

Exactly. Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. If you want proof, Harry, that you belong in Gryffindor, I suggest you look more closely at this.” Dumbledore had then handed Harry the sword he himself had placed there and was already well aware belonged to Godric Gryffindor. “Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat.”

And at that point, Harry had realised that Dumbledore had absolutely nothing truly supportive to say, no words of wisdom to offer, because there was nothing to say. And so they’d fallen into a painfully long silence while Harry contemplated all the ways he was exactly like Tom Riddle. Then when it had grown too much for him to bear, Dumbledore had simply sent Harry on to dinner without another word.

It truly boggled Harry how that was supposed to make him feel better.

I only asked not to be in Slytherin because I really didn’t like Malfoy. I knew practically nothing about the houses. He just said I chose to be in Gryffindor – which I didn’t – therefore I was nothing like Tom Riddle. Hermione would laugh at such a leap in logic if she wouldn’t be so busy crying that the words came from – of all people – the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the greatest magical school in the world.

A small smile managed to work its way onto Harry’s face as he remembered Hermione saying she admired him for always doing the right thing, but it faded quickly.

Being a ‘True Gryffindor’, always doing the right thing, that would just make me the next Grindelwald instead, and he was worse than Voldemort. Harry paused to consider that. Or at least he got further along in his plans, not having a one-year-old Harry Potter to trip over.

“Harry, I’m going to go gather more data while you talk to Professor McGonagall,” Hermione said, not that Harry was paying much attention. She slipped him a note asking to drop muggle studies as she said it. Harry managed a distracted nod before she bolted from the room well ahead of the other students.

Ron came by next and asked after an early lunch, which Harry begged off on before sinking back into thought.

Why does my life have to be so complicated? Other students don’t have to worry about turning evil.

Harry let out a long-suffering sigh, collapsing onto his desk face-first. The headmaster got one thing right about him and Quirrelmort, though. It was their choices that defined them.

I need to learn everything about how Quirrelmort went wrong, then not do that. Hopefully, learning about the latest magical war would be the first step.

Harry let out another sigh. The worst part about all this, the absolutely most awful fact was that the Sorting Hat had been right; Harry very much did have a ‘thirst to prove himself’. The stares and hero worship he could ignore. Those he could complain about to Hermione, who would always listen with a sympathetic ear. Then afterwards, he could go on just being himself.

But the whispers and the usually silent accusations this year were another beast entirely, let alone that Hermione had been physically unable to play counsellor for him during the worst of it.

Hermione was right, as always. There’s never going to be a ‘Just Harry’ unless ‘Just Harry’ is more interesting than the Boy-Who-Lived and whatever rumour of the year is floating around. Slaying a thousand-year-old basilisk with only a sword is a good start, I guess.

Harry sighed again. It was becoming an epidemic. Maybe I should spread the story around. Take a few students down to see the basilisk. Ask the DMLE to come investigate; Quirrelmort might have left something important behind. Something like that…

“Mr. Potter?”

Snapping out of his thoughts, Harry lifted his head from his desk to come face-to-face with a frowning Professor McGonagall.

“Yes, Professor?”

“Class is dismissed. Please at least attempt to appear to be paying attention in class, exams or no exams.”

Smiling sheepishly, Harry said, “Sorry, Professor. Last night was… There’s a lot on my mind.”

Professor McGonagall’s frown lessened but did not fade. But then Professor McGonagall almost always had a stern expression on her face. What she had now was perfectly normal.

“Be that as it may, you are here to learn, Mr. Potter. I understand these past few weeks have not been easy for you, but I expect better from you.”

From me or the Boy-Who-Lived? Harry shook the thought from his head. It hardly mattered right now.

Chuckling, Harry said, “Yes, Hermione gave me a full on lecture on that last night.”

Harry reached into his robe pocket, where his fingers grasped the one little piece of paper that would change everything. There was no going back if he handed it over to Professor McGonagall; Hermione would never let him out of her foul clutches once he walked into them of his own free will, as Ron would say.

“Was there something else, Mr. Potter?” Professor McGonagall asked after he’d held his arm awkwardly in his pocket for far too long.

Biting his lip the way he knew Hermione did – perhaps there was some insight it’d bring him – Harry imagined the two futures he was choosing between.

Embracing everything that Hermione asked of him, that left Harry with a very real possibility of turning into the next dark lord. Hermione would scoff at the notion, but there were just too many similarities between him and Tom Riddle to ignore. His own evil obviously would not be killing muggles, muggleborn, and ‘blood traitors’, but there were more than enough dark lords with good intentions in history to think he would never find one.

But the other possible future sent shivers through him. Harry could tell Hermione he wanted to continue on as he had, and all dramatics aside, it’d destroy their friendship, one of the few both of them had.

Oh, they would still play the part of best friends, he knew, but it’d never be the same. Hermione would go right back to worrying and spending all her free time in the library alone, researching how to keep him alive, because she was a true Gryffindor and would never be persuaded not to waste her life on him of all people, despite how much he’d let her down. In all likelihood, he was going to get her killed, regardless of whatever fate awaited him.

That was not going to happen, not to the wonderful girl that inexplicably considered him her best friend.

Hermione was worth it.

“Yes,” Harry finally replied, “if you have a moment, Professor. I wanted to talk to you about my electives next year, if it’s not too late change them.”

Like flipping a switch, Professor McGonagall’s expression instantly turned into as bright a smile as was ever found on her.

“Certainly not, Mr. Potter!” Professor McGonagall moved to the front of the room and sat down at her desk before Harry could so much as move, and he swore that he saw her twirl as she did. “I have a full period and all of lunch before my next class. Please take a seat.”

Harry got up, rather nervous now, from his own desk and found his way to a much more comfortable chair Professor McGonagall had transfigured for him. He pulled out the sign-up sheet and handed it to her without a word, which she looked over immediately.

“Tch.”

Harry thought it best not to comment on whatever that meant. He also decided not to point out that Professor McGonagall’s usual frown was back in full force, although he had the feeling that someone else was the focus of her ire.

“Well, if I may ask, what brings on the interest to also take runes and arithmancy?” A slight hint of Professor McGonagall’s earlier smile came back. “And to, emphatically, continue not taking muggle studies?”

A small blush lit up Harry’s cheeks. Maybe, he considered, he should have gotten a clean sheet to turn into Professor McGonagall instead of the one he and Hermione had fought over with quills and ink as their weapons.

“Hermione was…” ‘Upset, occasionally crying, and worried I’m going to get myself killed’ hardly seemed like an appropriate answer, as true as it was. Harry eventually went with, “Insistent.”

Professor McGonagall quirked an eyebrow.

“Oh, that reminds me.” Harry dug around in his pocket for the other sign-up sheet Hermione had given him. “She wanted me to give you this.” He handed off the paper, to which Professor McGonagall nodded before placing it off to the side.

“Well, I must say I’m very happy to see Miss Granger has finally sunk her claws into you,” Professor McGonagall began. “I’d give her house points, but I’m not entirely sure it’d be appropriate.”

“Professor?” It almost sounded like Professor McGonagall had made a Ravenclaw joke, but surely not; she never made jokes, or at least not with her students.

“Nevermind. Now as much as I would like to simply accept your request, I’m afraid I would be remiss in my duties as your head of house if I did so. Firstly, do you, Mr. Potter, wish to pursue this change to your schedule, regardless of Miss Granger’s thoughts on the matter?”

Harry nodded before elaborating. “Hermione’s thoughts are pretty logical, so I guess I can’t really say that I’d have done this without considering them, even if I were really interested. Er, not to say that I’m not interested, now that Hermione’s got me thinking about it all, but–”

Realising that what he was saying was rapidly losing coherency, Harry simply said, “What I mean is I would like to try.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but your own choice of words brings up my other concern.” Professor McGonagall fixed Harry with penetrating stare that sent shivers down his spine. “You wish to try, as you said, but I neither want nor will permit you to set yourself up for failure. Eleven classes is a serious workload. To be honest, and don’t tell her I said this, I believe Miss Granger may be in over her head herself, although dropping muggle studies will help.

Harry shook his head. “Hermione does twice as much work as everyone else in classes, is picking up magical culture, and is keeping up with her muggle education. I’m sure she’ll find the time for a few more classes.”

For some reason, Professor McGonagall’s brow furrowed at that. “Mr. Potter, are you aware that divination and arithmancy have overlapping schedules?”

“Yes. I mentioned that to Hermione, and she just told me we’d ‘find the time somewhere’.” Harry paused to think back to the hushed conversation they’d held in class earlier. “In hindsight, I think she’s been putting one over on me.” Hermione had said something similar the night before, too, and with the same downright mischievous smirk.

“I see.” She continued to watch Harry warily, but Professor McGonagall at least stopped glaring. “Please inform Miss Granger when you see her that I would like to have a word with her.”

Harry paled, running back over his words for what he could possibly have said wrong. If anyone would get special treatment, of course it’d be Hermione Granger; that was no secret, nor would it remain a secret if it were. And no one who knew her could blame her for asking that her friends received equal privileges.

“Relax, Mr. Potter. Miss Granger is not in trouble.”

Harry let out the breath he’d been holding. Still, he was curious what he was missing.

Not giving Harry the time to suss out whatever secret code he’d unknowingly delivered, Professor McGonagall continued, “Now, you never addressed my concern. Not in regards to you, at least. Do you think you can keep up with – and more importantly, succeed in – eleven classes?”

Sighing, Harry replied, “I don’t know. Hermione thinks I can, and she’s usually right about…well, everything.”

For a few seconds, Professor McGonagall just stared at Harry, completely silent. Unlike before, this time he felt like he was being evaluated somehow, but for the life of him he had no idea on what it’d be.

“If you would, please tell the Weasley twins to visit my office after dinner as well.”

“Er… Sure.”

The question died on Harry’s lips as Professor McGonagall said, “Don’t ask.”

Right… On that confusing note, Harry pled his case once more with the very terms Hermione had given him last night. “Hermione drafted me into her summer studying, and she said if it doesn’t work out, we – that is, her and I – could rethink things. Would that convince you if I can keep up with her?”

“I don’t suppose I could convince you to drop divination? It is a woolly subject to begin with.”

Drop the easiest class? It hardly seemed like it’d have much of an effect on his schedule, and Harry said as much.

“Very well. In that case, we’ll return to this conversation after next year’s welcoming feast. Anything else?”

“No, Professor.”

“Off with you, then. Get to class on time from now on, and do attempt to stay out of trouble.”


Hermione panted, hands on her knees, just outside the Headmaster’s Tower. Harry would never let her hear the end of it if he saw her now, but she really did need to get in shape – just not with quidditch.

Still, she made it to her destination quickly enough. There were maybe fifteen minutes left before Harry finished with Professor McGonagall if he got the same lecture about time turners. Then after that, she had maybe fifteen more minutes before he noticed she was missing.

Really, it’d be fine if Harry knew she was here. She would likely have to give him a summary sometime anyway. Indeed, Hermione was resigned to the probability that after summer they’d have no secrets from each other. Still, Harry had that stupid hero slash martyr complex and would tell her not to go to the trouble, he was fine, which in Harry-speak meant he was currently not dying. Or if not that, then he would insist on coming along, and she was fairly certain he would be a detriment rather than a boon in the coming discussion, not that she would ever say that to his face.

Hermione walked up to the gargoyle that stood guard at the entrance to the headmaster’s office, now recovered and ready to get on with her task. Well, ready was perhaps a bit strong of a word. She was ready to make herself ready. Headmaster Dumbledore was no less intimidating now than he’d been at the beginning of the year, but this time she very much had Harry on her side, even if only in spirit. This time she would not find herself tongue-tied or feeling unworthy of his already thinly spread time.

“My animagus form is a bookworm,” whispered a completely mortified Hermione. She’d been here so often earlier in the year that Headmaster Dumbledore had given her her own password, one which she would be entirely too embarrassed to ever spread around.

If it turned out her animagus form was a bookworm, Hermione would just die.

The gargoyle stepped aside, and the spiral stairs behind it ground stone against stone as they spun and ascended to the tower above. Hermione placed her hand on the column in the middle of the spiral, then stepped onto the stairs proper. She jerked forward with them momentarily before regaining her balance.

Up and up the stairs rose until nearly a minute later when they finally deposited Hermione just outside the headmaster’s office. Why the founders thought it was a good idea to seclude the headmaster from the students, Hermione would never know, nor would she understand why each successor carried on the tradition.

If I were headmistress, my office would be on the ground floor and accessible to everyone. Well, Hermione admitted to herself, it’d be on the first floor next to the library, but just as accessible.

Two large braziers commonly found through Hogwarts roared to life as Hermione stepped forward and off the staircase. She blinked away the sudden change in light and approached the large, imposing door.

Hermione took a deep breath. You can do this, Hermione Granger. You’re saving Harry’s life. The headmaster is only human, just like the rest of us.

That said, Headmaster Dumbledore was also the chief warlock, and the supreme mugwump, and the defeater of Grindelwald, and a million other things. It was all a little much to handle.

But he was only human. I can do this. I can do this.

Straightening her back, smoothing out the ruffles in her robes, Hermione stopped just in front of the door. She raised her hand to knock, only for her fist to strike air. The momentum awkwardly carried her a half-step forward as a voice emanated from within.

“Come in, Miss Granger,” Headmaster Dumbledore called out. Looking up, Hermione found him seated at his desk with his arms resting on it in front of him, hands folded together. The moment her eyes found his, she immediately lowered her gaze. The headmaster was fair and just, but he was also obligated to report criminal behaviour. Just to be safe, she resolved not to look him in the eye if she could avoid it.

Now if only she could think of a way to do so subtly.

Fidgeting and less than satisfied with her undignified entrance, Hermione took a moment to recompose herself before stepping into the office proper. Thus emboldened, she said, “I’m sorry for coming unannounced, Headmaster. Could I please have a few minutes of your time?”

“I always have time for my students, as you well know.”

Hermione was unable to stop an embarrassed blush from spreading across her cheeks, nor could she stop the awkward skip in her step that resulted.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Miss Granger. You are a true and loyal friend to Harry, something he very much needs in his life.” The headmaster chuckled as he added, “As much as it would save my old ears were it not so, I hope that doesn’t change anytime soon.”

Hermione just burned a hole into the ground with her gaze, her face no doubt as red as it’d be after having been out in the sun too long. This was not going as planned; the headmaster was entirely too disarming. But at least she had a legitimate excuse now not to look the headmaster in the eye. That was something.

“Lemon drop?” Headmaster Dumbledore offered as he always did. When Hermione shook her head, he gestured toward a comfy looking chair just in front of his desk, one which she was glad to take and hide within its soft, overly plush depths. “Now then, what can I help you with this afternoon?”

Gathering all the Gryffindor courage she possessed, Hermione stated in no uncertain terms, “Harry and I are spending the summer together.”

“Miss Granger–” the headmaster began, his tone betraying a hint of how weary he was of dealing with Harry’s home life.

“We are!” Hermione interrupted with a whispered shout. That was happening, no matter who she had to go through or what precautions she had to take. “If he could go to school and escape to the park during the summer as a kid, we can see each other!”

Headmaster Dumbledore pinched the bridge of his nose. “Miss Granger, you know what kind of people the Dursleys are. They will not take kindly to you being so much as in their neighbourhood.”

“I don’t care,” Hermione replied, still just shy of whispering while staring at her feet. “I’ll wear Harry’s invisibility cloak if I have to. Besides, it’s not like they won’t cast him out when they’re not legally obligated to care for him anymore.”

Not without extensive use of highly illegal magic, that was; even the spells already there to keep the Dursleys somewhat decent were straddling both the legal line and what the blood wards would tolerate. In all honestly, sometimes Hermione wished Harry had just endured enough physical abuse and malnutrition to attract his primary school teachers’ attention. In some ways it’d have been better than the emotional abuse and neglect he primarily struggled with instead.

“You said the Tonkses won’t do.”

Harry was lacking in relatives, but he did have a few. Unfortunately, Hermione’s attempt to move Harry to his father’s mother’s grandniece’s custody had ended in tragic failure. Such was the nature of blood based rituals. Lily Potter had done something, but Headmaster Dumbledore was still scratching his head as to what exactly.

Trial and error had established that, if they were not the main purpose of the ritual Mrs. Potter had invoked, then there were at least side effects protecting Harry. That said, the headmaster had made it abundantly clear that they would not reflect or otherwise block the killing curse. Still, the protections were useful; it was just awful that Harry had to be around close relatives on his mother’s side – which consisted entirely of the Dursleys after the war – for them to continue existing.

At least Harry got to meet Nymphadora and the rest of the Tonkses out of the whole mess, if only briefly. That was something.

“So what’s the plan then?” Hermione asked, perhaps accused, if she were being honest. “When half the wards protecting Harry crumble, what then? And if there is a plan, then why not use it now?”

Hermione could feel the headmaster’s gaze levelled on her, and she flinched away from it before she could help herself. What she said had come out far more scathing than intended. Really, she was just frustrated, so very frustrated. And the headmaster was doing the best he could for Harry. Within reason, that was. There was no reason to take it out on him.

“The plan,” Headmaster Dumbledore began, “as you say, is to end this cold war before then. Miss Granger, if I cannot end this before Harry turns seventeen – sorry, eighteen for muggles – you should have no reason to trust me with his safety.”

A moment passed. Hermione really had no idea what to say to that. That was not what authority figures were supposed to say, especially not Albus Dumbledore of all people.

“I…”

Really, if she trusted the headmaster enough to put Harry’s safety in his hands now, she should trust him enough to believe him when he suggested he could be incompetent. Although in the event that he were, then it’d make no sense to trust him, but then the end result was the same, so it hardly mattered.

Hermione shook her head clear of the murky road it was heading down. She could think about it later and ask Harry for his input. She was here on a mission, and what the headmaster himself had said made it an all the more important one.

“We’re still spending the summer together.” Before the headmaster could voice any further protests, Hermione gave voice to her ingenious – if she may say so herself – cover story. “The Dursleys won’t be too upset. I’m the precious only daughter of two rich doctors, the right kind of people, who has a thing for bad boys. Harry is, after all, handsome enough in clothes that fit. And then there’s the fact that my parents are obligated to report neglect and abuse, and I can barely stand to be separated from the object of my affections.”

“‘Nevertheless, a prince should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he does not win love he may escape hate.’”

Hermione looked up at the headmaster, surprised. He had a hint of a frown on his face, at least until she asked, “Machiavelli?”

“Not all wizards and witches are ignorant of muggle culture, Miss Granger.” The headmaster chuckled with a distant look in his eyes. “My muggleborn students often gift me fantasy novels. Most recently, I find myself enjoying Reaper Man when I can find the time. A far more interesting Death than the magical world’s version in The Tale of the Three Brothers, if you ask me.”

Hermione made a mental note to look up both books. One only had to spend a few hours with the headmaster to understand that he often dropped important hints in cryptic nonsense and otherwise innocuous statements. In all honesty, Hermione found it obnoxious, but she would hardly begrudge an old wizard his quirks.

A frown returned to the headmaster’s face, and he adopted a far more serious tone. “Fear is a dangerous weapon, Miss Granger, and far too often it leads those who indulge in it down a darker path.”

Hermione gnawed on her lip at the reprimand, muttering a quiet, “I understand.” As much as they deserved whatever ill fate they got in the end, she could admit her thoughts toward the Dursleys were a bit more vindictive than righteous at times. They were awful people, and Harry deserved better, but justice was never personal.

“I’m not sure you do. Speaking from a Slytherin perspective, threats should only be employed when all else fails, for if they too fail, what then will it cost you to achieve your goals? What acts must you escalate to merely to maintain the status quo? Lord Malfoy’s recent expulsion from the Board of Governors is a prime example. When the justification for his public actions eroded, he was left to contend with eleven very angry, very powerful individuals, many of whom would have taken action in some way against me without coercion. He earned their enmity and so ensured disaster for himself.

“Indeed, the master Slytherin uses a light touch, taking only what measures he needs must to reach his ends. More importantly, he never oversteps the limits of what his opponent will tolerate in their dealings unless prepared to destroy his foe so utterly as to leave them without recourse.

“The Dursleys are on the edge of that tipping point. Vernon Dursley is an exceedingly proud, stubborn man who firmly believes a man’s home is his castle, yet he is forced to allow the unwelcome son of his in-laws to reside there to enjoy the protections the late members of the Evans family did not.

“Petunia Dursley’s fear and dislike of magic – and unfortunately Harry – stems from her jealousy of her sister, as well as her less than pleasant interactions with a troubled young wizard as a child. The mere sight of Harry arouses those feelings, and yet even more so than her husband, she understands the necessity of his presence.”

Headmaster Dumbledore paused for a moment, letting his lecture sink in, before adding, “Also, my own interferences in the household have often been heavy handed and, prior to Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, numerous. Miss Granger, the Dursley home is a powder keg of emotion waiting for a spark.”

Headmaster Dumbledore stopped there, his meaning perfectly clear: ‘do not interfere with the Dursleys in any way or incite Harry to defy them’. But his words might as well have gone in one ear and out the other. Regardless of how much it’d hurt Harry if Hermione refused to visit him and took back his rowan and unicorn hair wand, something inside of her would break if she backed out now.

“I don’t care,” Hermione mumbled, feeling both guilty and small as well as proud for doing what she thought was right. “We’ll be careful not to get…too on their nerves.” Some ruffled feathers were inevitable when Harry refused to waste his time with housework this summer.

Maybe we can just pay them to leave Harry alone. Mr. Dursley can’t be so proud that he wouldn’t take a bride as rent, could he? Not if Harry kept everything magical tucked away in his room.

A small little sigh escaped the headmaster. “Is there anything I can do to dissuade you from this course of action?”

Hermione, unable to help herself, gave the headmaster a look to which he merely chuckled in response.

“Yes, I suppose if you knew of something, you wouldn’t be insisting to begin with. Very well.”

Hermione sat up a little straighter and her eyes widened.

“However, I need your oath not to antagonise the Dursleys.”

“I promise!” was Hermione’s instant reply.

And,” Headmaster Dumbledore added, “to discourage Harry from doing so as well.” He fixed Hermione with a knowing gaze, and she had to wonder if he knew everything that had been said last night between her and Harry.

Surely not. He’d have given me a detention for being out after curfew if he knew, right?

Only halfway successful in fighting back a nervous gulp, Hermione said, “I’ll try…”

“No, Miss Granger. You won’t try. You will, or you will find other plans for the summer. If the blood wards go down, short of sticking him to my robes, protecting Harry from the multitudinous avenues of attack that magic provides a truly determined adversary will prove untenable. Do I have your word?”

Hermione’s gaze fell back down to her feet, and she felt herself only a moment away from drawing blood on her lower lip. Being able to harass the Dursleys back was a big part of what she offered Harry last night. She never put it in those exact words, but she more than suggested it. Going back on that – Harry would not be amused.

“I’ll keep him out of as much trouble as I can without letting them waste his summer,” Hermione finally promised, her voice quiet. There was a strange, empty feeling in her chest at making the promise. She got what she primarily came here for, yet even so, it felt like something had been lost at the same time.

“I suppose your intent is genuine enough. I will entrust to your honour that you keep to the spirit of your word.” After Hermione mumbled a brief thanks, Headmaster Dumbledore said, “Harry Potter lives at Number Four Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey.”

As soon as she heard those words, the knowledge suddenly flooded Hermione’s head. Of course Harry Potter lived there. He had told her before, had he not? After all, where else would he live?

Hermione’s thoughts ground to a halt for a second as she processed that. There was a kind of absolute certainty to that knowledge that nothing else had. “Fidelius?”

The headmaster nodded, now with his usual grandfatherly smile. “An excellent guess, Miss Granger. The secret is widely known, but the charm prevents someone from the magical world from finding Harry in the phone book just as well.”

As if a Death Eater would look or even think to look in a phone book.

“Don’t be too hasty to dismiss the possibility.”

Hermione let out a small squeak thinking the headmaster had read her mind. But since her eyes were looking nowhere near his, she concluded that he must have simply read her expression.

“I presume Harry has already told you Voldemort is muggle-raised,” Headmaster Dumbledore said. After Hermione nodded, he continued, “As much as he loathes his muggle heritage, Voldemort is not above pursuing alternative means where magic fails him.”

There was a hard look on the headmaster’s face that made Hermione not want to ask how he knew that. War stories from the last magical war in particular were horrifying. Grindelwald killed. Voldemort tortured until his victims begged for death.

A shiver ran through Hermione and she quickly shifted her focus to more relatively pleasant affairs.

“Um, do you know who’s in charge of Harry’s finances?”

Without missing a beat, Headmaster Dumbledore replied, “In the absence of Harry’s godparents, it would be the Dursleys as his guardians” – he held up a hand to forestall the protests that were already on Hermione’s lips – “however, as they are muggles, I was able to take control of his vault. Might I ask what brings this up?”

While Hermione had a few ideas for expensive purchases she would like to co-own with Harry, it really all came back to the same overarching problem.

“Harry’s life is awful, and sometimes throwing money at life’s troubles makes them go away.”

“And you want me to give him full authority over his finances?”

Hermione nodded. “Harry needs every advantage he can get. I refuse to bury my best friend.”

For the longest time – which may have been but a second – the only sound to break the silence was the whirls and chimes of the various devices scattered about the headmaster’s office.

“Miss Granger, speaking from experience, I know the lengths one will go to to avoid that very fate.”

Unable to stop her natural curiosity in time, Hermione said, “Who…” trailing off as her brain finally told her mouth that finishing that sentence was horribly insensitive and a very bad idea. “Sorry.”

“No offence taken. I’m an old man, Miss Granger. I’ve long since come to terms with my friend’s failings, as well as my own. Young Harry, however, has not.” Hermione could hardly miss the slight emphasis on ‘young’. “I don’t believe he is mature enough to have control over his finances.”

“Maybe not yet,” Hermione pled her case, “but he’s being forced to grow up fast. And you learn to be responsible by being given responsibility. It’s not something that magically appears when you turn seventeen.”

Headmaster Dumbledore leaned forward and levelled a calculating look at Hermione. Then with a strange twinkle in his eyes and an even stranger twitch of his wrist, a small golden key appeared held between his fingers. He placed the key on his desk not far from her.

Surprised that that had actually worked without further argument, Hermione hesitated only for an instant before reaching her hand out for the key. Things usually never worked out quite this well for her, let alone Harry.

“If you take that” – Hermione’s hand froze just shy of her prize – “it will be in trust for Harry as my proxy. You’re right that responsibility is learnt, Miss Granger, but we do, in fact, pick it up as we grow older. Harry is still not ready to possess that key, but I would be willing to allow you two to attempt joint responsibility.”

Hermione had to restrain herself from leaping across the desk to deliver a traditional Granger family hug. “Thank you!” she said, eagerly reaching for the key again.

“However” – again Hermione paused at the interruption, biting back a frustrated groan – “joint responsibility or not, you will ultimately be holding Harry’s pursestrings. Aside from the archetypical test of your own avarice, this is not a responsibility to enter into lightly. Gold has ruined more than one friendship, and certainly more than one relationship.”

“We’re not–” Hermione protested, but Headmaster Dumbledore held up a hand.

“Perhaps not, but the point remains. When I hold this key, I am the wise old wizard who knows best and only wants the best for my ward. When you hold it, you are his friend and peer telling him how he may or may not spend his own galleons. He will take that very personally, even should you justify your every decision to him at length.”

Hermione stared at her own outstretched hand and then at the key below it. I hadn’t thought of it like that… But even as she thought the words, her magic was urging her to take it.

“If you accept this responsibility, you must also accept whatever consequences its possession brings your way.”

Left to her own thoughts, Hermione found herself in a debate in her own mind. On one side was her own voice of reason, and on the other were the annoying urges fuelled by her own magic whose modus operandi was ‘anything for Harry, even if it might not be a good idea’.

Harry would never let this come between us, was the first volley fired.

Otherwise perfectly functional marriages have been torn apart by money, came the retort. The headmaster was right to bring that up. We’re just friends; what right do I even have to tell him no?

So just don’t say no.

That would be horrendously irresponsible.

Harry is responsible enough. I may be held accountable to the headmaster, but Harry won’t do anything that I’ll need to be held accountable for.

Hermione had no retort for that. Despite what Headmaster Dumbledore thought, she really did think Harry was responsible enough for her to give him carte blanche. Still, the headmaster was a lot older and had taught a lot of children; he was overwhelmingly more qualified to judge who was responsible enough to manage a couple thousand galleons or so.

So just take the key and don’t tell Harry you have it until there’s an emergency where we actually need it.

Harry would never forgive me if I kept something like this from him.

He might not forget, but he’ll forgive. He always forgives. Remember that whole self-esteem issue of his?

Hermione blanched that that disgusting thought had so much as entered her mind and immediately discarded the entire train of logic that preceded it.

So take the key and tell him the option is available if necessary, then, the voice arguing for said. He could hardly find fault with ‘emergency only’ access to his vault.

I’d still be lying to him…

An odd feeling of Hermione imagining throwing her hands up at herself passed through her head. Foolish girl. Just take the key. Whatever happens, happens.

That’s the kind of childish irresponsibility that makes the headmaster balk at giving Harry sole control of his vault!

Bah! The responsible thing to do is to take the key. The only thing staying our hand is–

Hermione tried to shut down that thought before it finished, but the meaning was already floating around in her head waiting to be put into words.

You didn’t even stop to think about taking the key before the headmaster gave his warning. Face it. You’re absolutely terrified of losing your only friend.

Ron is…

Hermione Jean Granger, we both know Ron is Harry’s friend, not yours. When was the last time you two said two words to each other that weren’t about Harry or Ron’s homework?

Susan–

Is just a lab partner that we get stuck with when Harry wants to sit with Ron. Even if she is good company. Same with Neville.

This was almost as bad as wearing the Sorting Hat again. In fact, Hermione glanced the hat’s way to make sure it really was off doing whatever talking hats do when not on students’ heads. As always, it rested atop a bookshelf, both out of the way and not moving.

This is to keep him safe. Hermione paused, rethinking her word choice. Well, to keep him in less mortal peril. You’re a Gryffindor. The rest will sort itself out. Take that key!

And Hermione almost did, but her thoughts ground to a halt as she realised something.

Wait, wait, wait. This is the same problem Harry has, the same problem we berate him for over and over again: always trying to do everything alone. I can just give the key to Mum and Dad. Really, when would I be at Gringotts without them?

When they’re busy at the surgery. Or when they make plans while you’re visiting Harry alone. Or when you wind up in Diagon Alley on one of Harry’s harebrained plans during the school year. Or when–

I get the point, Hermione complained to herself.

Really, that’s why we wanted to get the key from the headmaster to begin with. We don’t want to have to hunt down someone to access Harry’s vault.

Biting back a sigh, Hermione acceded to what she’d wanted to do to begin with and reached out with her hand, this time successfully retrieving the key.

“Very well, Miss Granger–”

Hermione jumped at being reminded the headmaster was still here, which elicited a chuckle from him, much to her chagrin.

“I will try to have the paperwork sorted out before the end of the term. If I cannot, I’ll send word to you. Until then, please refrain from using that key.”

“Of course! Thank you! I – I didn’t actually expect you to…”

Headmaster Dumbledore chuckled again. “Professor McGonagall trusts you with a time-turner. I see no reason why I cannot entrust you with a few galleons.”

It felt a bit like comparing apples and oranges to Hermione, but she could hardly complain.

“You will, of course, keep me abreast of any major expenditures?”

“Yes, of course! Um, actually, there was one thing.”

The headmaster raised an eyebrow questioningly, prompting Hermione to gather what courage she needed to suggest what could easily be construed as a frivolous purchase. After everything else, it was child’s play.

“Harry wanted to work on potions over the summer, but we’d need space and ingredients. I haven’t asked him yet, but I thought we could both contribute to…one of those tents that are bigger on the inside, but preferably not a tent. I know they’re expensive, but I’d bet Harry would want one in the future, anyway. My parents want one already, and I want one, too. They’re so…”

Hermione trailed off, blushing, having just then realised how close she was to going full Doctor Who fangirl in front of the headmaster of all people. Not that he was unamused.

“I have no issues with Harry spending money on educational opportunities, so long as anything he gets is used for school appropriate reasons.”

No, surely the headmaster was not suggesting…

“Which reminds me. Ten points to Gryffindor for excellent charms work, Miss Granger.”

Hermione let out a small, “Eep!” Then with a far worse blush than only moments ago, she stammered, “W-we – we didn’t do anything! We were talking, and Harry fell asleep, and there weren’t any astronomy classes last night, and…” In an even smaller voice, she asked, “How did you find out?”

Headmaster Dumbledore had a terribly serious expression, and his voice matched perfectly. “Rumours in Hogwarts are themselves rumoured to spread…unnaturally fast.”

“I see…” Hermione very much did not see, but the sooner the matter was dropped, the better.

“If I may offer some advice, Miss Granger. Never admit to a midnight rendezvous with a lover.”

“I said Harry and I aren’t like that!” Hermione protested, burning from cheek to cheek.

“Oh? Did I mention Harry?”

Hermione let out a strangled noise. “May I go?” she eventually managed.

“Of course. I enjoyed our little chat today immensely. Please give my regards to Harry.”

Hermione refused to dignify that with a response, instead rising from her chair and making her way to the door with all due haste. She was just about to open it when a thought struck her. For a few seconds she struggled against her curiosity before succumbing.

Still mortified, Hermione carefully asked with a controlled, level tone, “Headmaster? Do you know anything about the disappearing-steps?”

“A curious quirk of the castle. There are eleven known such steps spread throughout the castle, and by volume account for the overwhelming majority of school injuries. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” Hermione replied. Then because it was obvious and Magical Britain never did obvious, she asked, “Have you ever tried putting, say, a board above them?”

“Of course,” was all Headmaster Dumbledore said, smiling a mysterious smile.

Since the headmaster either knew nothing more or was not inclined to share, Hermione resumed her hasty retreat out the door, uttering a quick, “Thank you. Good day.”

“One last thing.”

Hermione paused halfway out the door and turned back inside. “Yes?”

“It should be sufficient for Harry to spend only the nights at the Dursleys, but he will have to do so the entire summer. I will monitor the blood wards more closely in the coming months and be in contact if I’m wrong.”

Smiling again, her blush and embarrassment completely gone, Hermione said, “Thank you. I’m sure Harry will be ecstatic to hear that.”

“I believe so, too,” Headmaster Dumbledore said with a small, almost sad smile. “Take care of him, and please exercise caution when out and about.”

After thanking the headmaster again and saying goodbye, Hermione had just stepped onto the staircase down from the Headmaster’s Tower when a horrifying thought occurred to her.

“People gossip with time-turners!”

The faint echo of deep, booming laughter emanated from the headmaster’s office.


“Harry?” Hermione tentatively said from behind him. He jumped in surprise before spinning in place.

“Hermione, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Sorry.”

“Professor McGonagall wanted to see you sometime, by the way.” Rather sheepishly, Harry added, “Probably my fault. She didn’t really say why, but you’re not in trouble, apparently.”

Maybe I need to drop muggle studies in person? For a moment Hermione actually thought about skiving off the meeting to keep the class, but that would be grossly inappropriate. Besides, Harry had, unfortunately, made surprisingly good arguments to not take the class.

“I’m sure it’s no big deal,” Hermione said. “Did everything go well for you?”

Harry waved a hand from side-to-side. “I’m on the same trial period over the summer with her as with you.”

A small smile tugged at Hermione’s lips. “So yes, then.”

“If you say so,” Harry said, shrugging. “Anyway, where were you?”

Hermione hesitated to reply. Harry was not going to be happy about the cease fire between him and the Dursleys she’d agreed to enforce. And there was the issue of his vault key, which while she was sure it would lift his spirits, she was still worried about. Headmaster Dumbledore’s warning still preyed upon her mind. But the promise of only having to spend the night at the Dursleys should make up for it all.

Deciding to open with something innocuous, Hermione said, “I asked the headmaster about the disappearing-steps.”

“That’s brilliant! I didn’t even think of that. Ah! I should’ve asked Professor McGonagall earlier.”

Hermione shrugged. “The headmaster said there were at least eleven of them, but that’s about it. He’s been here a lot longer than any other professor, so there’s probably not much known.”

“Probably,” Harry agreed. “Well, do you have any idea why you can step on it – er, them, I suppose?”

“Not really. Not yet, anyway. But there’s…more. While I was with the headmaster, I got permission for us to visit each other.”

Harry frowned at that. “Do you really think we need permission?” Unsaid were the words ‘to do what everyone else takes for granted’.

Trying a neutral response, Hermione said, “Better to ask permission and disobey than to be reprimanded later for not asking.” Before Harry could insert the usual joke at her breaking the rules, she added, “Besides, your house is under a fidelius charm.”

“A what?”

Hermione forced down a groan and raised the priority of giving Harry a crash course in the world’s big, important magicks in her mental schedule. She desperately needed to force him to read a magical encyclopedia or two no matter how much he would hate her for it.

“Basically, it keeps your home hidden from anyone who hasn’t been told where it is. I wouldn’t have been able to find it without Headmaster Dumbledore telling me the address.”

“No one has had trouble before…” Harry mumbled with a thoughtful, if confused, expression on his face. “No, there was that one time with the ambulance when Dudley broke his leg.”

“But, Harry” – Hermione tugged on the sleeve of Harry’s robe, drawing him from his reflections – “I had to promise to…keep the peace.”

It took a few seconds for Hermione’s meaning to work its way through Harry’s system. Confusion, realisation, anger, then resignation – each emotion in turn showed on his face.

“That’s fine,” Harry said, though his voice was obviously strained.

“Harry–”

“No. It’s fine, Hermione. Really. They were…fine last summer when they thought I could do magic at home. I can live with that. One little display and they’ll back off.”

Her doubt surely showed on her face, but Hermione let it go for the moment. They could return to it tonight or tomorrow after Harry had had time to process it.

“I do have good news, though, and even better news.”

Harry managed a smile and raised his eyebrows, silently asking her to continue.

Hermione withdrew the golden key from her robe pocket and held it out in the palm of her hand. “I got your vault key under the condition that I don’t let you spend all your money on candy.”

Blushing and now sufficiently distracted, Harry asked, “You heard about that?”

“Mm-hmm. You and Ron completely deserved the stomach aches you got your first night here.”

Harry groaned. Hermione could only guess whether it was from the memory or from her lack of mercy.

“Anyway, I take it I have to go through you now for expenditures?”

“So it seems, although technically it’s ‘joint responsibility’. I tried to get the key just for you, but the headmaster said you were too young.”

“He does know you’re only a year older than me, right?”

Hermione let out a chuckle or two. “I think the idea was that the only time we’ll agree to buy something is when it’s actually important. No fantasy libraries for me, and no state-of-the-art broomsticks for you.”

“How will we ever survive?”

“I think we’ll manage.” The smirk fell from Hermione’s face. “Is that okay? That I have your vault key? I can take it back.”

Harry cocked his head to the side. “Who else would we give it to? Draco Malfoy?”

“Heh. Nevermind.” Of course Harry would be fine with it. It was just money, after all, money Harry had no idea he even had until he was eleven. It was nice to have, but hardly what he really wanted. I’m an awful friend to have even worried.

“I do suppose it’s only proper that we finally make it official, though. How does forty galleons a week sound?”

“Huh? For what?”

“For your job, of course. Do you want me to call you Miss Granger or Governess?”

Hermione smacked a hand to her forehead. Stretching her face down as her hand fell, she mumbled, “You prat.”

“What? Not enough?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Of course it’s not. I want hazard pay.”

“I could hardly argue otherwise,” Harry admitted somewhat glumly. “Was that the good news or the better news?”

“The good. The better news is if you don’t flee the Dursleys’ halfway through the summer, the headmaster said you should only have to spend the nights there.”

Harry’s eyes widened immediately, all gloomy thoughts clearly banished from his mind. “Hermione, you are a miracle worker.”

Chuckling quietly to herself, Hermione said, “I try.”

“So what’s the plan for today?” Harry asked when they were finally done simply enjoying the moment. Good news was far too rare these days.

“Well, I was thinking about getting you started on charms review, but I think even before that, an in-depth tour of the library and a survey of magic in general is in order.” Over Harry’s groan, Hermione said, “None of that now. It’s not like I’m going to make you read. Not today at least.”

After sighing, Harry replied, “Lead on, then. I’ve come to terms with my tragic fate.”

Hermione shook her head at the ridiculous melodrama but still did as he said. There was a lot to do today, and Hermione was willing to bet Harry still had to do his homework for tomorrow, too.

As the pair entered the library, Hermione took in the wonderful scent of old books that filled the air, and her eyes scanned the shelves upon shelves of unread books. Truly there was no greater place in all of Hogwarts.

“Now then,” Hermione began, “the library is primarily organised by subject like a muggle library, but Ms. Pince’s idea of ‘subject’ gets a little odd at times…”