Act One - Best Friends

Chapter Six - Best Friends


Why on Earth would anyone make a pot that hops?

Hermione’s brow furrowed in thought. It seemed pointless, really. A pot that hopped was a pot that held nothing. Of course, pointlessness was hardly anything new in the magical world.

Shrugging, Hermione pressed on into her new copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard – the original and much more expensive version, of course, not the muggle hating one. She further snuggled into her family’s sitting room couch, burying her sore feet into the cushions. Exhausted from shopping in Diagon Alley and overfed from eating a late dinner in London, she intended to fully enjoy the many comforts of home.

In all honesty, it was nice being back in the muggle world, slow, restful. On the outskirts of Crawley, there was no danger, no surprises, no worries. The neighbours were rich, busy, and spent most of their time away in town or in London. Life was quiet. The worst that could happen would be a wild fox wandering out of the forest bordering the garden. How terrifying!

“Don’t cross the streams,” Dr. Egon Spengler said from the tele.

As promised, after her parents had left to do their own things, Hermione had sat Harry down, put Ghostbusters in the VCR, and lain back to enjoy his reaction; that was more than half the fun of showing friends a movie, or so she’d heard.

Hermione was not disappointed. As she peeked over the top of her book, she proved unable to help the smile that found its way onto her face. It was rare enough to see Harry laugh hard enough to snort and gasp for breath, but here he was, rapidly approaching his third fit just tonight.

“Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

“Total protonic reversal.”

“Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

“Hermione,” Harry said, poking at the sole of her foot currently residing on the couch next to him.

Hermione stopped pretending to be reading and not watching Harry’s expressions and nonchalantly lowered her book.

“What is it, Harry?” Hermione did her best to hide how much she enjoyed seeing him wheezing with his face flushed.

“You know that thing that happens when our spells hit each other?”

“It would be hard to forget.”

“We should call that a protonic reversal!”

Hermione chuckled to herself and let her smile show. “I was only making a joke at the time, you know.”

“But it’s still perfect!”

“Well, it could be more magical sounding. Maybe substitute protonic for a similar sounding word?”

Harry thought for a few seconds, his attention clearly split between the movie and his task. But then his face showed a flash of inspiration. “Spell-magic reversal!”

“Alright, Harry. So you say it, so mote it be.”

“Yes!”

It’s actually pretty good, Hermione thought as Harry's attention drifted back to the movie. Same number of syllables, rhymes, and isn’t a made up word like ‘spellonic’.

As the movie continued, Hermione went on trying to read her children’s stories on the headmaster’s cryptic recommendation while glancing up at some new expression Harry made every other second. Such futility it was. Really, the little snippets of magical culture were engrossing, but even Jane Austen would seem dull in comparison.

It took forever, but Hermione made it through The Wizard and the Hopping Pot. The lesson at the end boiled down to ‘help those in need’, which was fair enough, but the means of conveying that lesson to the protagonist were almost as bad as the original Grimm tales.

What kind of father leaves his son a device that mentally tortures him just to get a point across? Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump was much better. Hermione glanced up at Harry again to see an expression of unadulterated glee on his face. Then again, I could’ve just been paying more attention on the drive home.

Hermione turned the page to start the next story.

The Tale of – this is it! The Tale of the Three Brothers. As Hermione read the title, she frowned. Here eyes lingered on the curious illustration above the title. An equilateral triangle with an inscribed circle and the median drawn from the top vertex adorned the page. She swore she recognised that symbol from somewhere.

Shrugging off her sense of déjà vu – she was in no fit state to contemplate it now – Hermione dove into the tale as well as she could. Harry still posed a rather pleasant and constant distraction just across the couch, after all.


“Harry. Harry!” Hermione said with increasing alarm in her tone. She finally got his attention when she grasped his shoulder. He pried his eyes away from the tele to look at her. “Harry, I need to see your cloak.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow. “It’s in my trunk in the TARDIS.”

“Here!” Hermione said, shoving the book she’d been reading into Harry’s hands. “Read this!”

Before anything more could be said, Hermione vanished over the back of the couch and out the room. The thuds of her feet hitting the stairs came soon after. Curious, Harry glanced down.

What was she… Harry flipped a few pages back to find The Tale of the Three Brothers. The opposing page on the left had the most bizarre illustration he’d yet seen in the magical world, and he’d seen a lot. A cauldron with one human leg below it hopped around spilling who knew what while chasing a man around. What on Earth is that girl reading?

Turing back to the story Hermione presumably wanted him to read, Harry set to his task.

There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely road at twilight. In time, the three brothers reached a river too deep to wade through and too dangerous to swim across. However, these brothers were learnt in the magical arts, and so they simply waved their wands and made a bridge appear across the treacherous water. They were halfway across it when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure.

And Death spoke to them.

Harry sighed. This is going to be one of those stories. Two ironic deaths and a heavy-handed moral ahead. Huzzah.

Death was angry for some reason that the three brothers had chosen not to kill themselves by swimming across the river.

Sound logic, that.

Death congratulated the three brothers and offered them each a prize which would, presumably, lead to the downfall of the first two brothers but not the last, if Harry’s sense for plotlines held true. He could admit that Hermione ‘occasional reader’ Granger would have a more sure guess.

The first brother asked for a wand that could never be beaten in a duel.

Yep. So very dead. Poisoned or killed in his sleep. Maybe both.

The second brother asked for the power to bring people back to life and received a stone that would accomplish the task.

What was that story we all read in primary school… Ah, The Monkey’s Paw. Did that end with – no, they wished the zombie away. Hmm… Probably death by zombie here.

Finally, the third brother made his request.

And then Death asked the third and youngest brother what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death.

Harry snorted. Who would possibly think you can’t trust the personification of death not to kill you?

Putting the sarcasm aside, Harry read, So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Death. And Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of Invisibility.

Harry reread that last sentence.


Hermione flew into to the guest bedroom where Harry had placed his things. She ran over to a tiny blue police box, pulling out her rowan wand, and tapped the two together. The police box expanded to full size, and Hermione shoved the door open. Harry’s trunk was just inside in what would likely become a sitting room.

Book. Book. Jumper. Robe. Socks. Trousers. Jim-jams. Dressing gown. Hermione paused at that, not having thought Harry was shy enough to want one at school, but whatever. She threw it over her shoulder all the same. Burnable. Burnable. More socks. Cloak!

As delicately as she could be in a rush, Hermione pulled Harry’s cloak out of the trunk and found an open space for her to spread it out, which was easy enough. They still needed to shop for furniture tomorrow, so there was plenty of room. Her eyes ran over the outside of the cloak.

Nothing.

Hermione flipped the cloak over to inspect the inside lining. One glance, then two, and there was nothing to be found.

Except stitched into the intricate pattern of the cloth so as to pass unseen at a casual inspection was a stylised triangle, inscribed within which resided a circle with the vertical median drawn. The symbol became apparent only when one stepped back and took in the whole cloak all at once.

Hermione took another unsteady step back. Her knees having given out on her as she went from relief straight back into her previous frenzy. She had thought the cloak was a device of power but not something that had faded into legend.

Oh, Merlin, why do we have this? This is probably worth more than all the gold in Gringotts!

“Hermione, you don’t think–”

Hermione shot to her feet at the sound of Harry’s voice and spun toward him. Before he could so much as protest, she dragged him over and pointed out the symbol on the cloak.

“Harry! This is – it’s – you have – this is – it’s the Cloak of Invisibility.” Hermione had no idea if that was its actual name, but it sounded appropriate.

“Hermione, we don’t know if it’s really the one from the story. It’s probably just a practical joke by the headmaster or something.”

Shaking her head rapidly back and forth, Hermione said, “I researched invisibility cloaks. They’re rare, and they don’t last. Yours is an heirloom.”

“We only have… Well, I suppose the headmaster wouldn’t lie about that, even for a joke. Still, it could be a fake.”

“Even if it were, it’d be a really good fake and might as well be the real thing! This is like – like – like finding the Library of Alexandria intact and not burned down!”

Harry sighed and grabbed her hands. “Breathe, Hermione.”

“Harry, don’t you realise what this is? This is worth so much! Historically, magically, and financially! What if we’d ripped it, or spilt a potion on it, or–”

“Hermione,” Harry said forcefully. “Breathe. Your eyes are dilated.”

Which probably means I’m not thinking clearly. The thought completed even with everything else competing for scarce thinking time. Hermione forced herself to take deep breaths, only now noticing that her heart was racing and that she could feel the blood pulsing through her veins.

“Is everything alright in here?” Emma asked. Hermione looked over Harry’s shoulder to see her poke her head inside the TARDIS, although her concern failed to hide the absolute glee on her face at being inside something bigger on the inside.

“I’ve got it, Doc – Emma. Hermione is just overreacting to something she learnt.”

Hermione bit her tongue to keep from commenting on that and kept focusing on getting her heart rate back to something sane.

Emma hummed thoughtfully to herself, although at the moment, Hermione couldn’t think of what that meant. “Alright. If you need anything, let me or Dan know.”

“I’d like some more popcorn, if it wouldn’t be a bother.”

“Sure thing, Harry.”

Once her mum was good and gone, Harry started talking at Hermione. “Listen. That cloak was already irreplaceable to me. It was my dad’s, and presumably his dad’s before him, and his dad’s before that, and his mum’s before that, further and further back. It’s gotten snagged before without a problem; I don’t think it’s easy to destroy, let alone as fragile as you were implying. If it’s real and I wanted to sell it for some reason, who would be able to pay a fair price? It’s unsellable. The only thing I’ve ever worried over is someone stealing it, because I’m certainly not about to misplace it. Besides, what good is it if we don’t use it?”

That last question was actually directed at Hermione, even if it was rhetorical. In response, she said, “None.”

Harry smiled and let go of her hands. “Better?”

Nodding, a bit embarrassed, Hermione looked down to her feet. “Sorry for freaking out.”

“No problem. Although now, thanks to you, I have to figure out how to work the VCR remote.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at that petty complaint. She would take care of that for him if he turned out to be that inept with technology.

“Still, I’m surprised you’re this calm when you have a relic just lying on the floor over there.”

“I do have some self-control, you know,” Hermione said.

“Of course. Of course. Come on back downstairs for now, then, and prove it.”

Harry pulled on the sleeve of Hermione’s blouse and led her back through the house like an indignant, lost housecat. Upon arrival, they found that her mum had already left a refilled bowl of popcorn on the couch for them and had paused their movie. Hermione passed on more popcorn, so Harry sat down with the bowl resting in his crossed legs.

As Harry fiddled with the wrong remote, he asked, “Did you read to the end?”

“Hmm? Oh, the story? No. I only made it to the invisibility cloak. Why?”

“The second brother committed suicide.”

“Why? What happened with the stone?”

“Ah.” Harry finally figured out he had the wrong remote and swapped it for the VCR one. From there, it was easy enough for him to find the rewind button. “The second brother brought back his fiancée, but he realised it wasn’t really her. He was getting along just fine before, but apparently that was too much for him.”

“Well, it is a story with a moral in it. I thought he’d be eaten by a zombie.”

That got a laugh out of Harry. “I did, too! Anyway, not that I’m holding out any hope of finding it, but do you think the stone is real?”

“Hmm…” Hermione felt a little odd at trying to fish truth out of a children’s story, but they already had one artifact straight out of legend lying around upstairs. And the magical world did have a tendency to forget things over time when families died out, like how to build Hogwarts, or create the Sorting Hat, or how to construct literally every enchantment ascribed to Merlin. Most stories from the magical world were probably just fiction, but maybe, on occasion, they were a corruption of actual history.

“Probably,” Hermione eventually said. “The wand as well. I suspect it’s not terribly useful, though. The real stone probably just makes ghosts. Although…unless it makes a copy of everyone who’s ever died since it was made, it probably can only use your own memories to make the ghost, or something like that, hence the second brother realising ‘it wasn’t really his fiancée’. It would fit with the story if the wand and stone were imperfect relics while the cloak was perfected.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.” Harry let out a long sigh. “You know, no one bothered to tell me that ghosts and portraits weren’t, you know, people. Although, I suppose Binns should’ve made that obvious, since the only thing I’ve ever learnt from him is that goblins don't want to talk to you, and you don't want to talk to them, so make your business short.” Harry paused there like he was waiting for something.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“No Professor Binns?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Professor Binns.”

Smiling like all was right with the world, Harry said, “It wasn’t until we went to Sir Nicholas’s deathday party that I figured out something dodgy was going on. Half the ghosts that I’d just introduced myself to would forget me. Half of them only spoke a version of English I couldn’t understand. None of them are the vast reservoirs of knowledge you’d expect someone six centuries old or more to be. None of them could share any meaningful information that wasn't about their own personal life. They haven’t…haven’t changed, I suppose. They’re…static.”

“I can only tell you to read Hogwarts: A History so many times.” Though she said that, Hermione meant nothing by it. Now that she was older, she could admit it was a bit dry for most tastes.

Harry snorted as if the idea of him reading the book were a joke. “No, it’s like you said before, Hermione. No one bothers to tell us this stuff because they assume we already know it. I’m sure we do the same thing to them.”

“I’ve never actually thought of it like that, not explicitly,” Hermione said, feeling just a tad bit guilty. Daphne knew a fair amount about the muggle world, as did Susan to some extent, and so did the headmaster; those were the types of people Hermione tended to gravitate toward. But then there were others like the Weasleys, who were hopelessly lost when it came to muggles and often dismissive. The latter were probably in the vast majority on an unbiased sample of the population. “Ever since I found out I was a witch, I’ve always thought of Magical Britain as just another part of the UK, just with magic instead of electricity. I suppose that makes me just as bad.”

“No, you admit it. That makes you slightly better.”

“Thanks, Harry,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “Glad we got that all sorted out.”

“It’s not just that, though. I bet we do it to each other, too, just not often enough for it to matter or for us to notice. Like I had no idea you thought of yourself as a fiddler instead of a violinist. I knew you played but not what. I’d assumed that a well-to-do, intelligent girl like yourself would be more into the classics.”

Hermione picked her legs up and spun herself so that she was facing Harry on the couch like she had been earlier. “Is this your subtle way of saying you want to browse through all of my memories over the summer? I think some very unflattering things about you sometimes, you know.”

“No, no,” Harry said with a wave of his hand. “I don’t really have an opinion either way on that, although you probably don’t want to see most of mine. I’m sure you’d feel offended by some of my thoughts, too, though. Your work ethic gets to be really annoying at times. But I guess what I wanted to ask was do you think the stone could work?”

“Do you mean, ‘Do you think there’s an afterlife?’”

Harry shrugged. “If you want to think of it that way, sure.”

“Well, if you mean it more in the sense of if you could make a robotic or magical duplicate of someone, I don’t see why not. Humans are just a bunch of atoms stuck together. It’s conceivable the stone could be a perfected ghost-maker, like your cloak is a perfected invisibility cloak. But if you’re asking if you could conjure someone’s soul, or essence, or whatever from somewhere else, then no, I don’t think that could work. Mum and Dad would say the same, if you asked. It would be a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong, though.”

“That it would,” Harry agreed, nodding.

“I’m not sure what the magical world thinks, but what about you? I never thought to ask before.” Which I suppose is what Harry was getting at earlier.

After a few moments of silence, Harry said, “I know that at least some magicals think there’s an afterlife. The headmaster calls it ‘the next great adventure’.”

“And you?” Hermione asked again. It was only after she’d taken his near hand in both of hers and asked once more that he found his voice.

“Growing up with the Dursleys…” Harry began after a few moments, but he stopped there before trying again. His tone was uncomfortably detached and hollow as he spoke. “I was never part of the family. I honestly don’t even know if they’re religious. It’d be kind of silly if they were when they know any witch or wizard could easily replicate every miracle from any religion with enough practice, but I wouldn’t put it past them. So until I got to Hogwarts, no. It wasn’t even a concept in my head. I vaguely remember thinking I was dying when I was really young and being happy everything was about to be done forever.”

“Harry…”

Harry shook his head. Somehow, some of his usual warmth returned to his voice, if only for a moment. “Things got better. Especially these last two years. It’s over and done with.”

A moment passed in silence as Harry tapped his index finger against the rim of his popcorn bowl. Just when Hermione tried to say something, he continued.

“When I got to Hogwarts, I saw ghosts. Dead people just…floating around. I mean, they obviously weren't dead dead, since they were talking to me. I asked questions. Just – just not the right ones.

“I’d have said yes then. That I’d somehow gotten the wrong idea that death was the end. But now? No. After last Halloween, the only thing I had that was, as you would say, evidence for an afterlife went away. Ghosts weren’t actually lost souls wandering the earth. They were just…just chattering robots with a little bit of memory.”

Harry’s gaze fell into his bowl of popcorn and stayed there. His voice grew quiet as he said, “And…it hurt too much to keep thinking otherwise without a reason.”

No…

After a false start, Harry said, “I mean, if – if there was an afterlife, I was choosing not to go home to Mum and Dad. And just because I suddenly had friends I would miss, too. It’s not like I wouldn’t see you or Ron again, eventually, if there were. I felt so guilty and cowardly whenever I thought about it. I…”

Sniffing, Harry rubbed at his eyes, one after another. Hermione quietly mirrored the action, floundering for anything to say to that confession.

“Sorry,” Harry said, his voice barely a whisper. “I’m being depressing. I don’t know where that came from.”

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but she had no words. All she could think of to do was to squeeze Harry's hand as tightly as she could, refusing to ever let him drift away. When she did, he looked up from his popcorn with a small, grateful smile that almost broke her heart.

“I… Well… My turn.” Hermione fumbled with words while she decided on how to steer the conversation, because she still had no idea what to do with what Harry had confessed. It was a terrifying idea, really. If people knew there was something waiting for them after death, not just believed it, but actually knew, what then would the world be like? An old joke she half-remembered her dad’s friends making while playing some silly roleplaying game came back to her.

“We mortals know that when we die, it’s not the end,” Hermione’s dad’s friend had said. “We come and go with resurrection spells like we were going off on holiday. Hell, they’ve got a revolving door installed at the gates. That’s why we’re so cavalier with our lives. It’s different for you. When you die, poof, you’re gone for good.”

A shiver ran down Hermione’s spine as she thought back over the past two years, comparing this one to the previous. She had to wonder if some part of Harry still believed that death had little consequence.

No. Hermione shook her head. He wouldn’t still be here if he’d ever truly believed that. That’s why he’s still here with that sad, little smile on his face.

Adequately reassured, Hermione decided on her own question to pose. Talking about the future – a future that required a live Harry as a prerequisite – seemed like as good a choice as any. “Harry, we’ve never talked about what we want to do with our lives. I know we’re still young, but what do you want to do when you grow up?”

“I don’t know. I've been trying to be more responsible and mature, but that isn't something I've given much thought to. By the time Quirrelmort is gone” – Hermione smiled at the lack of an if in that – “I’ll probably be overspecialised in combat, so an auror or nothing, I guess.”

“Harry, after that much fighting, would you really want to keep on doing it? Keep risking the life that you managed to keep? It might be a right thing to do, but there are other ways you could make a difference, if that’s what you want. You’re rich, smart, and the Potter name has a lot of weight behind it, even though it's not a noble house. Your great grandfather, Henry Potter, served on one of the few non-hereditary seats in the Wizengamot, even. You could turn all that to anything you wanted, certainly something that would have a greater impact than a lone auror. Besides, we have long lifespans. It’s not like you couldn’t pick up something entirely new at twenty-five, or even forty or sixty or eighty.”

“That’s… That’s going to take some getting used to.”

“I know what you mean. I’m still struggling with the idea that people in Magical Britain expect to meet their great, great, great grandchildren, barring illness or war. It’s weird, isn’t it?”

“Definitely.” Harry nodded with the same far-off expression in his eyes that Hermione remembered once having herself. Even now, it was still a strange thought that dying at sixty or seventy was considered tragically early in the magical world. “Although…”

“Although what?” Hermione asked.

Harry rubbed the back of his neck, clearly nervous. “To be honest, I might actually enjoy the ‘or nothing’. I have the money to get away with just doing whatever for the rest of my life. Meet someone nice. Get married. Raise kids. Find a hobby. Hide from my fangirls. That kind of stuff.”

Eyebrows raised, Hermione asked, “You want to be a househusband?” Granted she expected him to want to have a family, but Harry had always acted more restless than the kind of peaceful life that would give him. It was hard to see him not going stir crazy. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but…you?”

“No, not particularly. I’m barely going on thirteen, Hermione. As I said, I haven’t really thought about the future. I was just saying I might enjoy it. Teaching might not be so bad, either, if I could get a job at Hogwarts.”

“Now that I can see. With Madam Hooch’s job, you could fly around playing all day and call it work.” Harry sent a glare Hermione's way. Having had her fun, her next words were more serious, if still teasing. “Hogwarts is probably one of the best places to influence the distant future, too, I suppose, given the type of children who attend it. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.”

Despite his earlier glare and Hermione's gentle ribbing, Harry actually stopped to think about that. “You know,” he eventually said, still lost to the world, “I really might enjoy that. Not necessarily flying class, but just teaching at Hogwarts in general.” His eyes refocused, and his gaze fell onto her with an accompanying grin. “I could teach your kids everything you don’t want them to know, too.”

“Don’t you even think about it.”

“Too late. I already did. If you want to stop me, you’ll have to get a job there, too, to fight the evil Professor Potter over them.” Harry then did his best impression of a maniacal laugh, which was really not that great. He needed to get past puberty to be taken seriously.

“You prat,” Hermione said through her giggles. “If that’s really something you think you might want to do, though, then you really should try your best to get your A Levels with me legitimately without magic. You could go to uni and learn how to teach, if you do decide to pursue a professorial position. I bet whoever is headmaster at the time would hire you on the spot.”

“Fair enough. I guess that means I can’t complain when you work me like a dog this summer.” Harry faked a groan, and Hermione rolled her eyes.

“By the way, what subject would you want to teach, if not flying?”

Harry hesitated to answer and looked away. “Do you promise to be mature about it if I tell you?”

“Only if it’s not nap time.”

“Well, there goes that idea,” Harry said, the sarcasm heavy in his voice. “No, Professor Binns can keep his job. I don’t want it. If I did get a position at Hogwarts, though, I think I’d want, well, runes.”

Hermione could hardly believe her ears. “Did you say runes?”

“Yes, I like the subject. Thanks for forcing me to sign up for it.” That topic could have been shunted aside more forcefully, but only with ten tonnes of explosives. Even so, a grin snuck onto Hermione's face as she considered how much fun she was going to have with that little admission. “Now what about you? What’s Hermione Granger’s grand plan for the world?”

“Oh, no, no, no. You don’t get to say that and just pretend it never happened.”

“You promised you were going to be mature about this,” Harry said adorably sullenly. Oh, it must be so awful to admit there was something about school he genuinely enjoyed.

Hermione put on an innocent smile. “I am. I won’t say, ‘Welcome to the bookworm club,’ or, ‘I told you so,’ or anything like that.”

“You mean besides just now.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hermione said with a songish lilt to her voice. She hoped it was as annoying to him as motivating Harry to do well in school had once been a chore for her.

“Uh-huh. Right.”

“Truly, I don’t. Now what is it that draws you to the subject? What is it that makes you long to spend all day in a workshop? What is it that–”

“Enough, Hermione.”

“Oh, fine. Take all the fun out of it.” Hermione slumped back into the couch with an exaggerated pout. “But seriously, though. Why runes?”

After a lot of grumbling, Harry finally deigned to respond. “It’s like the difference between being given a bin of Legos and a box of tools. The tools are nice, but by the time you’ve picked up your fiftieth slightly different hammer, they’ve gotten pretty annoying. The Legos have fewer distinct parts you can rearrange into anything you like if you only take the time to.”

“Which promptly falls apart the first time you use them as a hammer.”

Harry sent a glare Hermione’s way and said, “You know what I meant,” which only made her laugh. “Anyway, what’s your plan for the future, then, that you asked?”

“Well,” Hermione began slowly, deciding to spare Harry any further grief for the moment, “I do have to admit that teaching would probably be nice and relaxing. But unless I become a war heroine or reinvent the philosopher’s stone, I doubt a good school would hire me with the way things are now. Maybe Hogwarts, if Professor McGonagall or Professor Flitwick were in charge. I really like charms, and I think I might end up liking arithmancy and possibly runes even more, but I’m not sure how well I’d get on with teaching any of them. I’m not sure how well I’d take to reciting the same material over and over, you know. I wouldn’t rule it out, though.”

“Don’t forget that you’d have ready access to a library.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Yes, that too. I actually talked about this with Daphne a bit before the year ended. I think I’m going to end up in politics to try and make it less embarrassing to admit I live here. We really need some equal rights legislation. Muggleborn have it the most visibly worst right now, but when Quirrelmort and his Death Eaters truly fall, things should get a lot…well, not good. I’m not that naive. But tolerable.

“Every other species has it almost as bad or worse, though, and it’s not just a problem with influential blood purists in the ministry. Goblins can’t have wands. Centaurs are confined to the Forbidden Forest. Veela are so discriminated against here, their population numbers in the single digits. There are a lot more werewolves than veela, but they’re essentially unemployable with all the hate and fear. Elves are kept as slaves. Squibs are often treated as less than not a person. Muggles are more or less regarded as adorable animals, even by most people we’re friendly with. It’s awful, and except for Magical France’s bizarre acceptance of veela, it’s not any better abroad, as far as I can tell.”

“If that’s what you end up doing, you’ll always have the backing of the Potters and the Boy-Who-Lived. That should help a lot.”

Hermione paused for a moment, almost afraid to ask. “You’d do that for me?”

Harry shrugged. “I’ve accepted that I’m stuck in the limelight. I’m resigned to it. You were right about that. I don’t have a choice beyond if the world sees the extraordinary Harry Potter or the…um…ah, the statistical anomaly, the Boy-Who-Lived. If someone I care about wants to bask in that light as well, that’s perfectly fine with me. Heh. Maybe you’ll block everyone’s view.”

“Even then, thank you, Harry. That means a lot to me.”

Harry shrugged again as if to say it was nothing, which it very much was not. “Out of curiosity, what did Greengrass say about that?”

“Well, to be honest, I don’t think she really cared one way or another. She more or less told me to do whatever so long as I don’t destroy the world.”

“Blast! I’ll have to cancel my doomsday projects, then.”

Hermione merely snickered at that, trying to play the joke straight. “Oh, no, Mr. Potter, you need only place them on hold. Once we are victorious, we can then, as they say, trim the fat.”

“Ah, but of course,” Harry said with a strange and ridiculous accent. “An excellent plan, my dark lady. Excellent indeed. Once we first conquer the world, it shall then be ours to destroy at our leisure. Yes, a cunning scheme. One worthy of any Slytherin, even Salazar himself. Nay, it is beyond even him. No one before or after could ever hope to match our villainous genius.”

“Oh, Merlin, Harry,” Hermione said between laughs. “I can’t take you seriously when you talk like that.”

“Yes, that, too, is all part of the plan. Most unbalancing, is it not? My suave and immaculate demeanour confuses my opponents so that I might take them by surprise. I have long contemplated adding tie-dye or polka dots to my ensemble as well, but I fear it would be at odds with my rugged countenance.”

“Harry, stop! I can’t – it’s too much.”

“I cannot, my dear. I’ve fallen too far. And you shall join me! Succumb to the darkness, and I shall recreate those blackberry scones from Hogwarts you love so much.”

“Harry! Please!”

“A few days. That’s all it would take. A few days within my laboratory performing the darkest of experiments to sate your…lust.”

“Harry!” Hermione said, dragging the name out in protest as best as she could.

“Oh, very well,” Harry said. Hermione could hear him chuckling at her unceasing giggle fit. “It’s my turn, then, I believe. Hmm…”

Five handfuls of popcorn vanished while Harry pondered his question, four from him and one from Hermione, who had given into temptation after recovering.

“Alright, this is one that was making its way around my floor at the end of the year, except less…”

Well, it’s a boys room on the cusp of puberty, so “less crass?”

Harry blushed a bit and turned his head away. “Yes, well, some of the boys in our year are a little…”

“Superficial? Immature?” Hermione suggested. I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

“Yeah… Anyway, what kind of person do you see yourself ending up with?”

Hermione let out a quiet sigh of relief, glad that Harry hadn’t asked to whom she’d first taken a fancy or anything similar. With that worry behind her, she smirked. “I hope you didn’t say someone with large breasts and a nice bum.”

“Please,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “I’m not Ron.”

“You know, I can’t say I’m surprised he’d say that. He still has a lot of growing up to do.” A thought occurred to Hermione. “No, I take that back. I am surprised. The way he acts around me sometimes, I kind of expected him to still be in the ‘girls are icky’ phase.”

“No, not since he saw Alicia Spinnet–” Quoting Hagrid word for word, Harry said, “I shouldn’t have told you that.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” If there was any flaw whatsoever in the Gryffindor girls’ privacy, Hermione would find it and have it dealt with. “I’ll interrogate you about that later, I’m sure. But anyway, I actually gave this a lot of thought near the end of first year. I don’t necessarily need someone as smart as me or who likes learning and reading as much, but I can’t really see myself with someone who I can’t meet as an intellectual peer. I think I’d feel like I’d have to constantly filter my words to a lower level, even if I didn’t actually have to. Does that make any sense?”

Nodding, Harry said, “Yeah, I get it. Basically, you want someone who can contribute to one of your lectures and critique your thoughts. Or at least someone you can use as a springboard for ideas, right?”

“Yes, exactly! Fay Dunbar actually managed to pull me into ‘girl talk’ once this year, and I feel like she didn’t really understand.”

“She does seem more the well-toned muscles and chest hair type,” Harry said, idly eating another few kernels of popcorn. “Is that it?”

Hermione shook her head. “It’s the most important part, but not the only part. I think after that, the second most important thing is I’d want to be friends first, then lovers. Not necessarily chronologically, but… Well, I told you how I feel about friends and family. I don’t want to ever reach the point where I feel like the relationship and love is just expected to be there. Mum, Dad, and I all work hard to make sure we don’t fall into that kind of habit. I know they’ll always love me, but you should see the effort they go to to understand the magical world and me better. I mean, it’s magic. They’d have to be completely mad not to be interested, but still. I can actually talk with them, you know?”

“I think I’m jealous enough as is without imagining that, thank you.”

After first checking Harry’s expression to make sure he was just joking, Hermione smiled. “Besides those two, I think the only other thing that I really care about is that we have enough in common so that we’d always have something to do together.”

“So not Ron, I take it?”

“Ew! Merlin, Harry! How would that even make any sense? We’re at each other’s throats half the time.”

Harry shrugged. “I don't really get it either, but Mrs. Weasley described you two as ‘like an old married couple’.”

“Yeah, an old married couple six months away from a divorce. Relationships aren’t built on arguing, Harry. Honestly, where–”

Harry shoved a kernel of popcorn into Hermione’s mouth with a finger. Once she got over the surprise, she sent a half-hearted glare his way.

“Yes, I know. I’m just telling you what Mrs. Weasley said last summer. To be honest, I think she just wants you as part of the family. It's not hard to see why, even despite how little time you've spent in her presence.”

Hermione bit her lip to keep herself from saying anything too mean on impulse, no matter how insensitive and horrible Ron could be as such to her. She also added this latest bit of information to her mental list of alarming – and yet apparently unremarkable – facts about Mrs. Weasley. Bad relationship advice now had a spot of honour between publicly humiliating her children with howlers and hitting her children with a broom when angered.

For now, though, Hermione focused on the matter of Ron. Ten years from now, she would probably look back on this moment with regret if she let this opportunity go by. She was tired of Harry taking his social cues from Ron, and even though that was changing, far better it would be to nip this one in the bud right now – for both of them.

“Harry, can I give you a bit of feminine perspective in confidence?”

“That sounds very dangerous.”

Hermione nudged Harry with her foot.

“But go ahead.”

“Okay. I’m going to be very blunt here in the hope that, as a fellow boy, you can help Ron help himself without him really noticing. He barely ever listens to me, so it’s all on you.”

“I’m already regretting agreeing to this.”

Hermione forced her laughter down and focused on giving a delivery that would, with any luck, not put Harry between her and Ron any more than he already tended to be.

“I’ve already said that Ron has a lot of growing up to do, so maybe take this with a grain of salt, okay?” Once Harry tentatively nodded, Hermione continued, “From a romantic prospective, Ron is…not that great. He’s not especially smart. He’s not especially handsome. He’s not especially suave, although he is funny when he’s not disparaging others to be so. He’s not especially sensitive.”

Harry snorted in agreement at that, drawing a smile and a chuckle out of Hermione.

“He’s not especially talented at anything except chess, nor does he try to be. He’s not especially rich or filled with prospects. He’s never impressed upon me that he’d be an especially good father figure, but again, he has a lot of growing up to do. I can say that he’s very brave, but that’s not something that leads to an enduring relationship. To speak to his character as he grows, I’ve noticed that he seems to be getting over his jealousy issues–”

“His what?” Harry interrupted.

“I think,” Hermione began, choosing her words slowly and carefully, “that to other boys, it might just sound like the usual familial tensions. But to the Gryffindor girls, at least, Ron sounds very jealous of his brothers’ various achievements when he talks or complains about them. It’s not an attractive personality trait. It really doesn’t help that he attends a school with mostly well-to-do children and he’s…not. But like I said, Ron seems to be getting over that, probably because of the recognition he’s been getting from your misadventures. Granted we’ll have to wait and see how he reacts when the adventures end or when he can't be part of them, but–”

Harry held up his hand. “Sorry. Can you give me a couple minutes to…review?”

Hermione kept her smile off of her face. While she probably should have expected better of him, it still surprised her that Harry was taking this seriously and not dismissing it. “Of course. I am passing responsibility off to you, after all. Take all the time you need.”

“What did I agree to?” Harry said dramatically, shaking his head. After that, he sunk deep into thought. Popcorn disappeared as he idly pecked at it, but Hermione herself resisted further temptation this time. Finally, he said, “Alright. Continue.”

Shrugging, Hermione said, “There’s not much left to say. I could tell you about his horrible table manners, but that’s probably a lost cause until he starts pursuing a girl and she refuses to talk to him because of them. In all honesty, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Ron, provided you’re not me or a Slytherin, but there’s nothing particularly endearing, either. He’s the kind of boy a girl settles for. And that, dear Harry, is the unvarnished female perspective. Help him if you can, because I sure can’t.”

Harry sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Godspeed,” Hermione said, saluting Harry. “You’re a braver man than I.”

“Not terribly hard, that, is it?”

“No, I suppose I am rather lacking in a prerequisite.”

“So,” Harry said after he and Hermione were done laughing. He paused there until she looked him in the eyes. “I take it you’ve been trying, then?”

“Ugh. Not for any romantic interest, if that’s what you’re insinuating,” Hermione replied disdainfully, ignoring Harry’s teasing smirk. “If I was going to put that much effort into finding a boyfriend, I’d start with someone who I don’t constantly argue with.”

“Fair enough. I’ll check you for a love potion if you ever start crushing on him, then. Love potions exist, right?”

“In varying levels of potency, yes, but I really doubt Ron would ever do that. He’s a prat, but he’s not a rapist.”

Shrugging, Harry said, “I’m not saying it’d be him; I wouldn’t believe that, either. But I hear teenage drama is distracting. A few love potions here and there to get Hermione Granger to turn off her brain, and that’s me in a right mess. I outsource entirely too much of my thinking to you.”

Hermione giggled at the ridiculous mental images Harry had evoked. It was a very surreal picture to imagine herself pining after some boy with her head in the clouds, as was the idea of him literally outsourcing his thinking. But as silly as that was, Harry had brought up something that needed to be addressed. Teenage drama was distracting, as well as easily overlooked and dismissed.

“Harry, if I do get involved in any type of relationship, please do check me for every potion and charm you know of, regardless of who it’s with. Even if it’s you.” Hermione smirked as she further embarrassed Harry by adding, “I understand how much a boy enjoys kissing a girl, but do show some restraint.”

Obviously doing his best to be just as casual about this, Harry quirked an eyebrow and asked, “And you know this how?”

“Because it’s just as much fun for the girl.” Knowing exactly the quip Harry was no doubt about to send her way, Hermione added, “And no, I haven’t been going around kissing boys.”

“Tch.”

Hermione smirked, victorious, at having gotten ahead of Harry on that one. “But seriously, Harry, I’d be both devastated and mortified if I lost you to such a simple trick. Both of us need to be careful. The most insidious thing about almost all love potions is that you don’t care. Once you take one dose, you’ll gladly take another with a smile on your face. They're basically the imperius curse in a bottle.”

“Alright. I’ll force a bunch of antidotes down your throat when you start dating, then. But you’re not allowed to get mad or feel insulted when I do.”

Hermione thought about making a sarcastic remark in return, but she decided against it. She really did want Harry to take this seriously. Before Hogwarts’s rather brief sex-ed class, Madam Pomfrey took each girl aside – muggleborn girls, especially – as soon as she was old enough for the information to be relevant and both gave her a long lecture about avoiding sexual assault in the magical world and started her on the contraceptive draught – no exceptions. Between stunning spells, memory charms, love and lust potions, the imperius curse, compulsion charms, and more besides, there was no excuse for anyone who’d reached sexual maturity not to take basic precautions.

“I won't. Or if I do, or if I say I've already checked myself, then tie me down and double- and triple-check me.”

“That might send the wrong signal to your hypothetical boyfriend,” Harry said. After a few moments to process his meaning, Hermione blushed and buried her face behind her curled up legs. She should, perhaps, have chosen her exact words with a little more care. “I understand what you meant, though. You’ll do the same for me, too, right?”

“Harry, whether you like it or not, in a couple years or so, you will literally be the most eligible bachelor in Magical Britain. There’s no way I would ever let you date someone without first making sure your feelings were genuine.”

Shaking his head, Harry said, “I’m not even going to debate that. Talk about walking into an obvious trap. But alright. I’ll check you before you let your out of control hormones ruin your life.” Hermione delivered a much deserved kick to Harry’s leg, not that it stopped him. “Before the wedding, too, if applicable. And when I see you cheating to get Ron onto the Quidditch team, I’ll stun you and drag you off to the infirmary.”

Hermione rolled her eyes but, in her benevolence, kept her foot to herself. “Harry, if I ever do that, lock whoever that is away for an hour, because they're using polyjuice. I might…bend–”

“Break,” Harry corrected, earning Hermione’s best glare in her gratitude.

“–bend the rules when it’s important, but the only ‘cheating’ I’ll ever condone is that wand I gave you. Honestly. Me, cheating. Next I suppose you’ll suggest I’d start flinging ritual magic around just for the fun of it.”

Eyebrow raised, Harry said, “The sacrificial stuff?”

“Yeah. I’ve not read much about the subject, but it all sounds as dreadful as muggle fiction makes it out to be. Powerful, but dreadful.”

“Well,” Harry said, “if it were a choice between a dying friend and an evil virgin sacrifice…”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Just saying,” Harry began. “If I were lying on the floor next to you, dying, and the only way to save me was to sacrifice the person who’d put me in that state, I’d hope you’d find it a fair trade.

Hermione rolled her eyes again.

“Urk!” Harry collapsed dramatically onto his side, curling about his popcorn bowl. His hand, shaking, rose up pleadingly. “Hermione,” came his trembling voice. “Please. Save me.”

“Oh, honestly, Harry.” Hermione slapped the back of Harry’s hand, rolling her eyes one last time. “When did you ever become such a clown?”

“Hmm… Shortly after the rest of me caught up with my brain and realised you’re safe to have fun with.” Before Hermione could say anything, Harry added, “No, no. None of that. I’ve already been depressing enough for the both of us for tonight. That didn’t come out right, anyway. But is that it, then? We kind of got off topic, but no concern about looks?”

Once she’d recalled what they’d been talking about earlier, Hermione said, “Well, I won’t pretend good looks don’t help, but I’m not too picky. I don’t put any effort in there myself, and I’m not physically beautiful like Daphne, so I can’t really complain.”

“I’m sure you’ll grow into your looks, if that matters at all to you, much like I hope I do, too,” Harry said, holding out his honestly rather scrawny arms. “You look a lot like your mum, just smaller.”

Hermione passed on the opportunity to tease Harry about calling her mum beautiful, or pretty, or whatever he actually thought, especially since he was probably just being nice.

No. Not turning into Lavender Brown. Instead of letting herself wallow in shallow, frivolous concerns, Hermione asked, “What about you? What do you want?”

Harry shrugged. “I haven’t really thought about it much, to be honest. It wasn't that long ago for me that girls were just boys with longer hair and a mysterious obsession with giggling. I definitely know I don’t ever want to have to wonder if whoever I'm with is really seeing me, though. I can deal with the occasional Boy-Who-Lived moments from friends, but not with a lover. I think even one hint of that, and it’d be over.”

“Date muggle or muggleborn, then,” Hermione said. “You won’t have to worry about it at all that way. Leaving the UK might work, too.”

“Honestly, Hermione, dating muggle sounds…hard. You’d have to be so secretive until you got married, and then you’d suddenly dump magic on your partner. That could ruin everything then and there, and then you’d say, ‘Oh, by the way, our kids might all be magical and live in a world you’ll have a difficult time interacting with.’”

“They wouldn’t be.”

“Who wouldn’t be what?”

“Your kids. Unless you had kids with someone who turned out to be a squib, they’d all be squibs.”

Harry paused, clearly confused and wordlessly asking how she knew that.

“If you don’t believe in blood purism, you have to believe in something else.” Hermione bit her lip, thinking over that little fallacy. “Okay, you could just say you don’t know, but presumably you’d want a theory to prove the opposition wrong.

“Mum and Dad are both as disgusted with blood purism as I am, so they looked into it. To begin with, it’s clear that possessing magic is in some manner hereditary. At just a casual glance, a witch and a wizard produces a witch or wizard at least ninety-five percent of the time, and almost no muggles produce a magical child.

“Now, if blood purism is wrong, you’d expect to see two things. One, no correlation between a witch’s or wizard’s magical strength and their parents’. That’s not easy to test directly, however. There are a lot of variables that would have to be controlled for. But two, we expect to see a simple explanation for magical inheritance, rather than the more complex inheritance schemes blood purists support.

“As a quick check, Mum and Dad determined that they’re both squibs, not muggles. From a mundane, biological perspective, then, the obvious alternative explanation is that being magical, squib, or muggle follows a Mendelian pattern, and if you look at honest family trees, you’ll find that that is the case. We don’t know if it’s actually responding to the presence of physical genes, though.”

Interrupting her perfectly good lecture – thankfully without snapping his fingers in her face – Harry said, “Hermione, wait. I’m not following. A what pattern?”

Hermione bit back her sigh. “Do you know anything about DNA?”

“Not really. Just that it exists.”

“Remind me to add basic biology to the list of things to teach you. Okay, basically, you can get one ‘magic gene’ from your mum and one from your dad. If you get both, you’re magical. If you get one, you’re a squib. If you get none, you’re a muggle. A witch and a wizard always produces a magical child. Two muggles never produce a magical child.

“Of course, as I mentioned, beyond simply being magical, everyone has varying levels of magic they can…store, or access, or whatever, before ending up magically exhausted, so there’s something more going on somewhere somehow than just a single signal saying magical or not magical. That’s probably why blood purism isn’t dead and buried, unfortunately. But if you’re magical or not is very predictable. So, yes,” Hermione concluded, “if you marry a muggle, your children will all be squibs.”

Only now that her lecture was finished, Hermione noticed that Harry had a stunned look on his face. Chuckling to herself, she said, “Yes, it really is that simple, Harry. But to be fair, even muggles have only really noticed there were patterns like that in the last century. Everyone was breeding thoroughbred horses long before then, though.”

“Huh,” Harry said.

“Succinct,” Hermione replied.

After a suitably long period of reflection, Harry broke the mood by stuffing a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “What is a squib, exactly?” he then asked.

“Eh, they’re slightly-magicals, I guess. They’re not affected by muggle-repelling charms, which is the big thing. My dad swears he’ll successfully brew a potion one day, but every time he tries, he just ends up in the bathroom for an hour. I think he’s going to draft me one of these summers to find out exactly where the magic happens. Mum has had a lot more luck with her magical plants in the garden.”

“Hmm… Hermione, could you explain the blood purism argument to me? My only exposure to it is racial slurs and people ignoring how brilliant you are. I mean, shouldn’t Malfoy be trying to prove you’re secretly a muggle-raised pureblood?”

Chuckling, Hermione asked, “Harry, do you seriously think Malfoy is smart enough to realise that?”

“No, but presumably his father is. He should be trying to find your birth family to get into your favour and prove that all is right with the world.” Harry paused for a moment. “Well, I guess it depends on what their actual argument is. But the fact remains that he’s not. Why isn’t he, then?”

That, actually, was a very good question. Hermione had once before noted that no blood purist had ever even attempted to court her, but she’d never bothered to ask why. “I’m…not sure,” she admitted. Then so they could think about it together, she proceeded to answer Harry’s earlier question. “At its core, blood purism is the idea that strong witches and wizards produce strong children, and if you mate with muggleborn or, Merlin forbid, a muggle, you end up with weaker children, eventually resulting in everyone becoming squibs and muggles.

“Now, it’s not like they pulled that idea out of the aether just to discriminate against muggleborn. Genes do work that way sometimes. Tall parents generally have tall children. Short parents generally have short children. And if you have a tall and a short parent, you usually grow up somewhere in-between. That’s almost certainly not how magical strength works, since muggleborn in general rarely struggle with the actual casting of spells, but I can understand why someone might believe otherwise. Fear does strange things to people, and the idea of the magical world becoming non-magical has to be terrifying to someone who was born and raised in it.

But that doesn’t explain the Malfoys’ behaviour, nor any other blood purist’s at Hogwarts. There must be something we’re missing.” Although, it could always be the case that they did check and found out I really wasn’t adopted, or that my parents aren’t secretly magical, or–

“Wait,” Harry said, drawing Hermione’s attention away from her ponderings. Rather than continuing, he merely sat still with his eyebrows scrunched together.

“Yeeees?”

Slowly, Harry said, “There’s something on the tip of my tongue. It’s… The blood purists don’t want intermarriage. What other goals or beliefs do they have?”

“Well, in general, they just don’t want muggles or muggleborn in the magical world. They also think that muggleborn don’t deserve their magic. The less sane ones think that muggleborn somehow steal their magic from a pureblood. There’s so many holes in that idea that no amount of patching could make it float.”

“Argh. No, neither is what I was looking for, but the answer is right there. I know it. I’m still missing something.” Harry let out an exasperated groan. “There’s something more to this. Not every blood purist is as bad as Malfoy, and not everyone in Magical Britain is one, but muggleborn face discrimination from a large percentage of the population anyway. Why? I think that has something to do with why Mal–”

Harry slapped himself on the forehead. “We’re idiots, Hermione.”

Eyebrows raised questioningly, Hermione asked, “Would you care to elaborate on that?”

“It’s so obvious. We’re foreigners.”

“Yes? We didn’t grow up in the magical world.” That was hardly news.

Harry shook his head. “You’re missing the point. We’re foreigners. Like the ‘foreigners are ruining this country’ kind that people like my uncle rant about.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in understanding. “We don’t share their culture.”

“We don’t possess their mannerisms,” Harry said.

“We think they’re completely mad on occasion and aren’t afraid to say it.”

“And worst of all, we’re becoming more numerous.”

More numerous? Confused, Hermione asked, “What do you mean?”

“Think about it. You remember how we found out that the magical world’s population decreased sharply during World War II?”

Hermione gasped as she was once more struck with understanding. “The number of muggleborn and muggle-raised hasn’t changed; their birthrates weren’t significantly affected. There’s less of everyone else.”

“And according to Greengrass, the ministry is, and has been, underfunded, so their economy probably hasn’t been doing well for the last fifty years.”

“And we’re demanding changes to their society that – while much needed – aren’t things they would ask for themselves.”

“Mix all that with the background prejudice, and add a dark lord who made blood purism his hobbyhorse,” Harry began.

Hermione then finished the thought. “And you get an explosive political and social issue that probably hadn’t been very important before then.” Many things suddenly made much, much more sense. “Harry, you’re brilliant!”

Blushing, Harry said, “Yes, well, that is why both Malfoys just want you gone. You’re smart, and you’re obviously going to be an exceedingly powerful witch.” Hermione did her best not to blush at the casual flattery he sent back her way. “If the hoi polloi think you and your behaviour are to be respected and idolised, then everyone might as well be muggleborn. Thus the blood purists have no use for you.”

Hermione thought back to her tête-à-tête with Daphne. ‘You want to trample all over our culture like every other muggleborn,’ I think is how she put it. Why can’t anything ever be simple? Hermione slumped over onto her side, leaning heavily on the back of the couch. There, she sighed. “I’m going to have to change my approach to politics, aren’t I?”

“Probably.”

Hermione let out a long, resigned groan. That was another thing to add to the ever growing list of things to do. To be perfectly fair, however, studying magical law and customs was one of those things she probably should have already been working on more seriously anyway, considering her goals in life.

That, or I could just lead a quick revolt, Hermione thought to herself, mildly amused with the idea. Daphne would approve, no doubt.

“Alright,” began Hermione, “I think I’m done with that conversation for now, so it’s my turn to ask a question. Staying on the topic we were on before we got sidetracked – well, sidetracked again – what kind of children do you want? Magical, squibs, or mixed? Or adopted muggle, I guess.”

Not mixed,” Harry said with as much force as Hermione thought he could put into the words without shouting. “I don’t want to see my family members hate each other like Mum and Aunt Petunia.”

“I’m sure there was more to that than just the magical–mundane divide.”

Harry shrugged. Then after considering the question further, he said, “I think I’d want all magical. I don’t really see myself leaving the magical world, or not completely, at least, so I’d like everyone to be part of my whole life without the extra trouble that comes from a mixed family. I have enough problems as it is without deliberately creating more. You?”

The answer was obvious. “Magical, simply for access to magic and the lifespan” – Harry’s eyes widened momentarily, apparently not having thought of that – “but mostly muggle-raised, because I’d like my kids to have some sense in them.”

Suppressing his laughter for the moment, but not his smile, Harry asked, “Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?”

“Oh, probably. But even if saying so contributes to our problems, you have to admit that magicals don’t truly think rationally very often. Nor do they care that we have movies, and mass production, and computers, and can go to the moon, and–”

Harry pushed a piece of popcorn into Hermione’s mouth, which was no less annoying this time than the last.

“I get your point.”

“Still,” Hermione said, not quite satisfied with her interrupted rant, “it would be nice to have more than just a card catalogue and some basic library magic. Could you imagine having a searchable computer catalogue for Hogwarts’s library like in a muggle one? It would make research so much easier. I mentioned the idea to Ms. Pince first year, but she didn't even care.”

“To be fair,” Harry began, “I’ve never actually touched a computer myself.”

“We have one in the study, if you want to play with it later. There’s a few games on it. Or if you’re in the mood for mischief, we have a printer, too. You could type and print your summer homework and watch the fireworks come September.”

“Hermione! I’m surprised at you.”

Giggling, Hermione shrugged. “What can I say? You are a bad influence on me. Also, parchment is dumb.” Harry snorted at that last remark.

“Okay, okay. My turn. What is it that you most dislike about someone? Or just what is it that you hate most?”

“Bullying,” was Hermione’s instant response. Nothing else even came close. “All the way from the Death Eaters’ violent bullying down to knocking a little girl’s books out of her hands.” No further explanation was needed. “You?”

“I’d like to say fangirling, but Ginny isn’t that bad.”

Hermione rolled her eyes but smiled nonetheless. Ginny’s usual tactic of staring at Harry from around the corner before squeaking and running away when he looked in her general direction was a little ridiculous.

“Hmm, to be honest, bullying is pretty high on my list, too, but I think what really gets to me is when people abuse positions of authority.”

“Like Professor Snape and Lord Malfoy?”

“And my relatives,” Harry said sullenly.

“Not for much longer, there. If we can nick one of their signatures, we can magically duplicate it onto anything and effectively emancipate you.”

Harry turned to look at Hermione and then quirked an eyebrow.

Refusing to rise to the bait, Hermione said, “I’m not sure exactly how magical law interacts with mundane law, but I do know the ministry forges a lot of documentation. In any ordinary circumstances, we’d report your relatives and be done with it, but we can’t, so we’ll just have to bend the rules.”

For once, Harry passed on the opportunity to tease her about being a benign criminal and smiled. “I don’t suppose that would work on a Hogsmeade permission slip, would it?”

“Um… Maybe? I think the headmaster would give you an exemption either way if you just asked, though. He knows your guardians don’t actually have your best interests at heart. A permission slip waiving liability if something happened to you off-campus is more of a formality, anyway. Any attempt by the Dursleys to hold the school at fault would see them brought up on far worse charges, so they wouldn’t try.”

“Fair enough. I’ll have to remember to ask him later, then. Anyway, it’s your turn.”

“Hmm… What was it like when…” Hermione trailed off for a few seconds. “When you found out you were a wizard?”

Harry chuckled. “It was a surprise, and amazing, and all that, but far more interesting is how I found out. My relatives wanted nothing to do with magic, of course, so they kept binning or burning my Hogwarts letters one after another. After everything in the Dursleys’ house exploded with Hogwarts letters for me, the four of us went off to some island somewhere to hide.”

“As if that would work.”

“I know, right? I didn’t realise at the time, but a few weeks after the fact, it hit me just how absurd and inconsequential their attempts to keep me from magic were. If that was their best attempt at it, I almost feel bad for them.”

“Harry,” Hermione said with a faux scolding tone, “you shouldn’t make fun of them. It’s not their fault they have such small brains.”

After exchanging smiles and laughs, Harry said, “Anyway, imagine this. Hagrid, this huge giant of a man more than twice my size, just appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the night during a storm offshore. He knocked the door down, handed me a whole cake of all things, and then gave Dudley a pig tail that he had to have surgically removed.”

“Wait, what?”

Harry turned a look Hermione’s way that asked what was strange about that – beyond the obvious, of course.

“Hagrid isn’t allowed to use magic. Or he wasn’t. After this year, he might get his wand back. But that’s exactly it! He didn’t have a wand, did he?

After shaking his head, Harry simply said, “Huh.”

‘Huh’ was a good summarisation of Hermione’s thoughts, too. It was possible Hagrid had hidden a wand from Harry somehow, but what would the point have been? That he used magic at all would have gotten him in trouble with the ministry if it were discovered, and Harry had witnessed that. Having illegally bought a wand would only be a minor offence in comparison.

Come to think of it, maybe this is why Professor McGonagall was so sure we’d be fine with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest first year. Human transfiguration isn’t easy. Safe human transfiguration even less so. The pig tail might have been a charm, I guess, given how long it apparently lasted, but even so…

“Do you think Hagrid is just that good?”

“Huh?” Hermione looked up from where her gaze had fallen to while thinking.

“Maybe Hagrid cast a wandless, silent spell?” To Hermione’s sceptical expression, Harry added, “It’s possible.”

“I guess it’s not impossible.” Hermione made a mental note to ask Hagrid about the matter when she next saw him. While she was curious, the mystery of his spellcasting was not so very important in the end. It could wait.

Shrugging himself, Harry asked, “So what was it like for you? Finding out you were a witch, that is. I’d imagine finding out you were a wizard would be rather shocking.”

“Well,” Hermione began, a slight blush creeping onto her face, “I thought someone was playing a prank on me at first. I, uh… Nevermind. I’d experienced accidental magic before, of course, but…”

“A society of witches and wizards that have somehow managed to stay hidden for centuries until now even with how easy it’s becoming for muggles to copy and disseminate information came a little out of the blue?”

Hermione nodded.

“Who’s prepared for that, right?”

“I certainly wasn’t,” Hermione said. “It wasn’t until Professor McGonagall came to demonstrate that my parents and I believed I was a witch. But once I did…”

Hermione had, of course, for a while thought that being a witch explained why she was so different from everyone else and why no one liked her, but that had turned out not to be the case. When she thought about it, even now, she still found it strange that she’d been wrong, all things considered.

“You know the saying ‘knowledge is power’?” After Harry nodded, Hermione said, “Growing up muggle and hearing that, well, it’s true. A good education will take you far, and it’s more true in economics, and politics, and war, and such. But it’s not…not…”

Power,” Harry said. It was not a question; he knew perfectly well what Hermione meant.

Rather weakly, Hermione said, “Yeah. It’s just I’d been thrown into a world where knowledge very literally equated with power and respect. I was” – she faked a cough – “excited. It turned out that people are people, whether magical or muggle, but even so, that feeling is still there.” She rubbed one hand along her opposing arm and gave Harry a bashful smile, one which, thankfully, he returned. She refused to admit her worry to herself in words, but there had been a chance that the boy who ultimately just wanted peace, quiet, and good company would forsake her after she’d admitted that.

“The magical world is full of contradictions, isn’t it?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“That’s my question, then. What’s the daftest thing about the magical world you’ve found?”

That was a little off in subject matter from the other questions so far, but Hermione answered it anyway. She had ammunition to spare, after all. “Oh, don’t even get me started. If I must choose, I’d pick their family structure.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow.

“I suppose I should explain, shouldn’t I?”

“I’m not a legilimens yet, you know.”

“I’ll take that as a yes. So… Well, actually, explaining would take a long time. There’s this fascinating book called Founding Your House by Eustace Jones. It details everything a muggleborn needs to know about how the legal system interacts with families, marriage, and the like. It has a few stories in it showing just how barmy Magical Britain can be that I feel terrible laughing at but still do. You should really read it, too, now that I think about it.”

“In the future,” Harry rather tentatively promised. “I’m not accepting ‘read a book’ as your answer, though.”

“Yes, yes. Let me think…” After a moment, Hermione decided on something slightly less mad. “Okay, if you’ve been paying attention in history of magic, you’ll know this one.”

Without hesitation, Harry said, “Nope,” with an unrepentant smile on his face.

Hermione let out an exasperated sigh. “Anyway, imagine this. You have a magical MacGuffin–”

“A what?”

“A useless plot device. I mean, it has a use, technically speaking, but no one used it, and in the end, it was destroyed and everyone was no better or worse off for it. Think ‘holy grail’ from Arthurian legend.”

“Ah.” Harry hummed in thought for a moment. “Wasn’t there a story where Lancelot got grailed somewhere in Le Morte D’Arthur?”

“‘Got grailed’?” Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Hermione cut him off. “No, don’t. I’m classifying that alongside ‘Moldyshorts’.”

Harry grumbled his displeasure.

“As I was saying, you have a magical MacGuffin held at Mount Doom–”

“Where?”

“Oh, honestly, Harry! You’re going to read this summer if it’s the last–” Noticing Harry’s lips twitching, Hermione asked, “You’re having me on, aren’t you?”

“Well,” Harry said, “I don’t recognise the name, but I assume it’s a sufficiently dangerous place.”

After making a mental note to stuff Harry full of muggle literature, Hermione continued her story – again. “Okay, so there’s a MacGuffin held in the place that’s really hard to get to safely.”

Harry rolled his eyes.

Two sides are fighting over the MacGuffin in a shadow war. One side wants the MacGuffin, and the other side just wants to keep it out of the other side’s hands. They both spend a whole year with one side guarding it and the other trying to steal it. Lots of people get hurt, and some die. Then in the end, an otherwise uninvolved party friendly to the side guarding it gets a thought. ‘Hey, do you actually have any reason to keep this artifact of doom around?’ The answer?” Hermione held her hand out expectantly.

“No.”

“Congratulations,” Hermione said. “You’ve just pointed out the obvious. It took one second to smash the MacGuffin – an orb of some sort, I believe – on the ground and another second to vanish the remains. War over.”

Harry snorted. “And the lesson learnt is to never ignore the obvious solution.”

“Among many others,” Hermione added. “It was all so pointless. And that’s one of the many reasons I think the magical world is completely mad. Now what about you, then? What’s the most daft thing you’ve found?”

“That.”

“Doesn’t count.”

“Then the story Susan told us.”

“Also doesn’t count,” Hermione said.

“Fine,” Harry said, pouting. “Then the series of defence professors at Hogwarts. All of them, or rather just the general idea of them.”

Her head cocked to the side, Hermione asked, “What do you mean?”

“Bugger. I know something about Hogwarts that you don’t. Ron will never let me live this down.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and told Harry to get on with it.

“The defence position is supposed to be filled by a different professor every year. It’s been that way since Slytherin left Hogwarts, and even then, he supposedly brought in guest speakers often. But the last forty-some defence professors have all suffered ruinous public humiliation, unrecoverable legal troubles, permanently debilitating injury, death, or some combination of the above. And yet somehow the headmaster still manages to fill the position year after year. And half the time with people who know there’s something dodgy going on, too. It’s absolute madness.

“Huh.” Hermione wondered for a few seconds if anyone had tried to discover what was going on, but surely Headmaster Dumbledore would have done something if there was anything to be done about it. It would be tragically hilarious if all it took to fix the problem – if there was one – was a name change for the course. She really doubted that would work, but it was worth a try if it had yet to be attempted. It took almost zero effort. “Well, I know now how to get the evil Professor Potter away from my hypothetical kids. Just put him in the jinxed professorial position.”

Harry rolled his eyes but said nothing more about it. Instead, he said, “Your turn, then. That’s my question done.”

Hermione only had to think for a second before a question Harry had sidestepped earlier came to mind. Grinning, she asked, “Alright, what do you want to make most with runes?”

With perfect seriousness, Harry looked Hermione in the eye. “You're playing a dangerous game, Miss Granger.”

Hermione only grinned wider.


Barely awake, his thoughts sluggish, Harry shifted his head a bit, and something bushy and soft fell into the crook of his neck. As he was much more comfortable now, he thought nothing of it and let himself drift on the verge of unconsciousness.

“Why?” Harry could just make out a faint voice. It sounded muted and dull. “Just look at them. Aren’t they just precious?”

“I suppose so.” That voice was much easier to hear.

“Shh! You’re going to wake them.”

“They’re not a zoo exhibit, Emma.”

“They’re mammals, adorable, and I have a camera. Close enough. Did you hear them talking last night?”

“No, and it’s still not polite to eavesdrop.”

Funny, Harry lazily thought to himself. Here I am, eavesdropping. I think.

“They were speaking loud enough to hear on the veranda. It’s not my fault they were more interesting than my book.”

“If you say so. That still doesn’t explain why they’re down here.”

“Oh, that. I couldn’t bear to send them to bed with what they were telling each other.”

An indescribable amount of time passed in silence in the way only the half-awake could experience its passage.

“Which was…”

“I could tell you, but then you’d be eavesdropping.”

That logic sounded suspect to Harry, but then he was a wizard. Who was he to judge?

“They are so going to end up together, you know.”

They? Together? Wha…

“I don’t know. If they’re that comfortable together at their age, they’ll probably have a more brother–sister like relationship.”

Oh. Hermione and me. That’s silly.

“No way! Just look at them. This is clearly a textbook case of ‘first girl wins’.”

The sound of a hand smacking a forehead came followed by some words Harry couldn’t hear.

“No, no.” Emma said. “Harry is the first girl. Have some faith in your daughter.”

This produced some smothered laughter. Still knackered, Harry ignored this affront to his dignity.

“Yes, yes. Just so long as I’m not a grandfather anytime soon, either way is fine. Hermione is happy – glowing, even – and that’s what’s important.”

Ignoring any further fun being had at his expense, Harry thought back with a tired sluggishness to everything he and Hermione had discussed last night before sleep had taken them very early in the morning. The rest of the world faded away as he pored over the memories, and what he found surprised him. Or at least it surprised him as much as anything could at the moment.

It’s still silly. Even so, the idea bore further thought later, if Harry remembered, just not too much. Hermione would undoubtedly find those memories, otherwise.


There it was. It mocked her with its ordinariness. There was nothing special about it, it seemed to say. It was lovely to look at, sure, but nothing to take note of. Unless one wanted a blanket to snuggle into, no one would pay it any mind.

Hermione stared down at where she and Harry had abandoned the priceless historical artifact of untold power last night with a frown. It was the same velvet cloak it’d always been, and yet it was completely different.

I feel like… I don’t know. Something should change now that we know what this is, but… Well, it’s still just an invisibility cloak as far as we know.

Sighing in defeat, Hermione folded the cloak and replaced it neatly in Harry’s trunk before doing the same with all the clothes that were still scattered about from her mad scramble last night. She did leave the burnables out and threw them in a basket, however, and rooted around in the trunk for the rest of them. Harry had a pair of her jeans for today and one of her more androgynous shirts; this afternoon marked the end of him wearing his cousin’s oversized castoffs forever.

With a half-filled basket carried in both her hands, Hermione made her way downstairs and followed the smell of bacon into the kitchen. There she found Harry and her dad bustling about cooking what would pass for brunch while her mum went about setting the table.

“Good afternoon, Mum,” Hermione called out to the only person she had yet to see today.

“Good morning to you, too, Poppet. Your father tells me he already told you two to go to bed at a reasonable time from now on, yes?”

“Yes, Mum,” Hermione said, blushing a bit. She really had meant to get them both to bed, but she and Harry had kept talking and talking until they’d collapsed. Not that she regretted it. “Harry, do you want to take a break for a moment? I pulled all the kindling from your trunk.”

Harry looked to Dan, who said, “Go on, then. You’ve been more than enough help. I can manage things here.”

“Thanks!” Harry said. He handed off the pair of tongs he was using for the bacon and joined Hermione with a silly grin on his face.

“Emma, would you make sure they don’t set anything else on fire?” Hermione heard her dad say as they stepped out onto the veranda. Before they could hear Emma’s response, Harry and Hermione were out of earshot and in the garden.

“You know, Hermione, it hasn’t even been a day yet, but I have to say your parents are absolutely brilliant,” Harry said as they walked. “Your dad is great, and your mum is hilarious.”

“Yes, well, don’t let her go too far. Mum can get a bit too silly, sometimes.”

“That’s impossible,” Harry said, which earned him an unseen eye roll.

Honestly, boys! Dad never says anything, either.

Turning into a small clearing just past the edge of the forest bordering Hermione’s home, Harry spotted their destination and asked, “You have a fire pit?”

“Yeah. Dad likes to cook with it in the summer, and I admit I developed a bit of a weakness for s’mores on holiday in the States when I was younger.”

“Really? I’ve never cooked like that before. Do you think he’d let me try?”

“Let you? If you so much as suggest it, I’ll be eating shish kabob, rotisserie chicken, and steaks for the next three weeks.”

From how Harry was licking his lips, Hermione resigned herself to the doom of her dad’s culinary overenthusiasm. Not that he was a bad cook by any standards, but he did tend away from variety without the occasional kick in the bum. With Harry as backup, there was no hope.

Hermione sighed to herself. At least Dad will adore Harry.

Once they arrived at the fire pit, Hermione tossed the entire contents of the basket in her hands into it. She even briefly contemplated throwing the basket itself in for good measure, but it was a bit too big to fit. Instead, she went with the next best option. First putting the basket down, she flicked her wrist. Her wand then popped into existence and landed in her grasp.

“It’s only been an hour, and I still can’t believe I ever went without a holster,” Hermione said, a sentiment Harry agreed with wholeheartedly; they were just so convenient. Taking aim, she swept her wand through the appropriate motions. “Scourgify.” Then, again, she repeated the action. “Scourgify.” And just to make sure, she cast the spell one last time. “Scourgify!”

Harry chuckled next to her. “I think it’s clean, Hermione.”

“Hmph! You can’t ever be too careful.”

“Hermione,” Emma said, causing Hermione to yelp and jump in surprise. In one hand she carried a bucket of water and in the other a bucket of sand. “Should we be expecting aurors?”

Thankfully catching Hermione’s flushed and pleading expression, Harry answered for her. “No, Emma. Hermione found a loophole in the underage magic laws.”

Emma hummed suspiciously, obviously not quite buying that. Hermione noticed her mum eyeing her new rowan wand held incriminatingly in her hand.

“I presume I should assume I shouldn’t tell anyone about how clever my little girl is. Is that the case?”

Hermione stared straight down at the flip-flops slipped on over her socks and watched her toes wiggle and curl nervously within. After a moment to puzzle out her mum’s somewhat confusing words, she mumbled, “That would be wise.”

Chuckling, Emma said, “Alright. So long as your dad and I finally get to see some of what you’ve been learning, feel free to stick it to the man, as they say across the pond.”

In all honesty, Hermione was sure her face could not possibly feel any hotter than it felt right now.

“I think you broke her,” Harry said from behind his hand, but he entirely forgot to whisper if he wanted to make an aside to Emma. And as it happened, Hermione had been wrong. Her face could feel hotter.

Emma mirrored his behaviour, asking, “This is safe, right?”

“It should be, yes,” Harry said, expressing far more confidence about that now to Emma than he did when it was just him and Hermione. “Just make sure she doesn’t get up to any crazy experiments after midnight.”

“Harry!” Hermione said, forcibly changing the topic. “Do you want to do the honours, or should I?”

“I’ll do it.” Harry flicked his wrist, withdrawing his own wand from its holster. He carefully aimed at the fire pit, savouring the moment and in no rush. “Incendio!” A short jet of fire sprung from the tip of Harry’s wand into the pit. The old rags inside it quickly caught fire, and they grew within moments into a roaring blaze.

A few seconds passed as all three of them stared into the fire. Then once it was clear the flame was contained, Emma set her prepared bucket of water down. “I’ll leave you two to it, then. Brunch will be ready in ten minutes or so.”

Once they were alone, Harry said, “Hermione?” His gaze was still fixed into the flames.

“Yes, Harry?” Hermione asked, looking away from the pit to him. She noticed he was tapping his fingers quickly against his leg, so she pushed aside the giddy feeling of watching Dudley Dursley’s rags burn for the moment. There was no better sign that Harry was feeling tense than that steady rap, rap, rapping.

“Can I ask you a serious question?” Harry said. “I didn’t get a chance last night.”

“Of course.” Hermione hesitated to say anything further, but she sucked up her courage and went for it, completely ignoring the tight feeling in her chest. “I really enjoyed talking last night, you know. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to doing it again sometime. I’ve always wanted a friend I could share everything with, although some part of me always thought it’d be another girl.”

“Well, I am wearing girls clothes right now.”

“Consider yourself an honourary girl, then.”

“I’ll try to take that as a compliment.”

Chuckling, Hermione turned back to the fire and took a couple steps clockwise closer to Harry to be upwind of it. The burning cloth was really starting to smell, but it made the sight no less satisfying.

“Hermione, what is it that scares you the most?”

“I…” That was really testing the limits of ‘everything’, especially when one of her biggest fears was having to bury the one asking. Hermione gulped. “I don’t think there’s something that scares me the most, but some part of me is convinced I’m living a dream, that I’ll wake up and be the ugly little beaver with no friends but my books again.”

Harry let out a mirthless laugh. “Trade ‘ugly little beaver’ for ‘troublemaking freak’, and I know exactly how you feel.”

“It’s not a dream, though,” Hermione said. “The rest of my head knows that, but even then, it worries all the same. When it’s not busy worrying about you, of course.”

“Of course,” Harry agreed as if it were merely an unassailable law of the universe that Hermione Granger always worried about Harry Potter. A second passed. Hermione tried to keep her composure; she really did. She failed. She descended into giggles, and when she fell, Harry fell with her.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, recovering. “I really have to thank you for listening to me that night on the Astronomy Tower. I’ve felt less…high-strung ever since. I don’t know how I’d have fared next year alone.”

“I only did what I should’ve done all along,” Harry replied, brushing it off. “You’re right about most things, after all.”

Hermione chuckled as she asked, “Only most things?”

“Yes, you do seem to be confused about flying.”

Hermione chose not to reply to that and just let it go. Instead she asked, “So what is it that’s troubling you that you bring this up?” After what felt like forever waiting, she turned her head to see what was going on. “Harry?”

“I don’t know how to put this. We’ll be friends forever, right? Through everything?”

Deciding to be as clear as possible to leave no room for doubt, Hermione said, “If we were any other kids, the only honest answer I could give would be ‘I hope so’. If we were anyone else, we might have woken up one day and started arguing over the silliest things, or maybe we’d have made new friends or started dating and drifted apart. Maybe you’d have grown to resent my relative freedom and loving family while I got frustrated with you suddenly doing as well as or better than me in class as you mature. I am a year older than more than half of our classmates; I won’t pretend that doesn’t give me a significant advantage at our age, and I’ve grown very used to that.”

“And us?”

“As much as it pains me to say this, I’m a lot like my mum. Almost all of her friends have been with her for over a decade now, and most of those were from before her university days. When she makes a friend, it’s for life. You’re my best friend, Harry. If you look at Mum as a proto-Hermione and add in everything we have gotten and will get up to together, you tell me. Are you going anywhere?”

Harry heaved a long, heavy sigh, and it was far from one of relief. “Did you ever happen to read anything about Myrtle Warren?”

“Moaning Myrtle?” After Harry nodded, Hermione said, “No, not particularly. When I was unpetrified, everything was already over, so I didn’t bother. Why the interest?”

“After our impromptu camping trip, but before the year ended, I dug around in the library for scraps of Quirrelmort’s past to, I guess, learn what not to do. Myrtle was his first victim – or at least his first murder – so I knew what records to pull from the school archives: he was two years ahead of her. From there it was pretty easy to find more references.”

“I’d like to read those sometime,” Hermione interrupted, “if you’d point them out to me next year.” Not doing so herself had been a complete and total oversight on her part.

Harry nodded but otherwise ignored the request. “It turns out Quirrelmort wasn’t lying in the chamber. He really is a half-blood, and not only that, but a muggle-raised orphan. He was sorted into Slytherin, and he was, of course, a parselmouth. He got Hagrid expelled on really flimsy evidence simply because the then headmaster, Dippet, liked him. He was generally considered a genius, but there were rumours that his home life was not good. I still haven’t figured out where exactly he grew up, besides London. He definitely had lingering issues from it, though.”

Something about that description niggled at Hermione’s thoughts, but the source of that feeling eluded her.

“Myrtle Warren was sorted into Ravenclaw, and her grades were all excellent every year, even with Professor Binns in history. Muggleborn, of course. When I looked through old photos from the time, I knew I needed to talk to her ghost again. It took…a few favours I’m not terribly proud of, but I got her to tell me her life story. She really only had one friend during her time at Hogwarts. Most of the rest of the school teased her about her looks and her glasses. Although if her ghost is an accurate representation, her personality probably played some part in the teasing, too.”

That foreboding, niggling feeling in Hermione’s head got even worse. There was something on the tip of her tongue.

Sighing, Harry finally turned away from the fire to look Hermione in the eyes. “Imagine my surprise when I heard that Myrtle Warren’s best friend was Tom Riddle.”

And then Hermione understood, and she was not happy.

“Do they sound familiar?”

Hermione let out an exasperated sigh before plucking Harry’s glasses from his face. She put them on her own, and the world went absurdly blurry.

“Hello, Tom.” The world was too fuzzy to know for sure, but it looked like Harry cringed. “Do you want to turn evil?”

“No.”

“Do you want to kill me?”

“No.”

“Do you want to kill anyone?”

Harry shook his head but was cut off before he could say anything more on the topic.

“Do you even dislike muggles?”

“Only a few…”

“Muggleborn?”

“No.”

“Purebloods?”

“Just the Death Eaters.”

“Are you aware that while I’m taking your worries themselves seriously, their actual content is completely irrational and utterly ridiculous?”

It took a few seconds, but Harry eventually said, “Yes.”

“Do you want to stay friends forever?”

“Yes. Very much.”

Hermione removed Harry’s glasses and held them out for him in one hand. As he replaced them atop his nose, she smiled and said, “Thank you, Harry. I would, too.” Only after Hermione had received a smile in return did she ask, “So this is what scares you the most? Turning evil?”

“I know it’s just a phobia, but ever since I met the young Quirrelmort, I can’t help but worry about how similar he and I are. I mentioned it to the headmaster, but he just gave me some tripe about being in Gryffindor and making different choices that I didn’t really make.”

“Magical Britain isn’t exactly known for their mental health services.”

Chuckling, Harry turned back to the smoldering remains of his cousin’s clothes. A few embers could be seen from time to time, but they were almost all smoke and ashes by now.

“I don’t know why, Hermione, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m walking the same path. Like exchanging Dudley’s castoffs for real clothes makes me more like him. Like doing well in school would make me more like him.”

“It does.” The shock showing on his face, Harry turned back to Hermione. She shrugged and said, “So what? That’s an association fallacy, you know. I’m sure you and I both have a lot in common with Hitler, too. Quirrelmort is a terrible person; you’re not, not even if you come from similar backgrounds. And to be honest, I doubt he was ever really friends with Myrtle. What aspiring evil overlord wouldn’t want to recruit the lonely, talented girl if all it took was a few kind words?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “How do you know that’s not what I’m doing with you?”

A ridiculous question like that deserved an equally absurd response. “How do you know I don’t know you are and I’m not simply waiting to seize power from you?” Hermione smirked at the smile that managed to draw out of Harry and went one step further. “I won’t say anything silly like ‘because I know you’. That wouldn’t reassure me, either. No, it’s because I’m pretty sure I’m going to learn legilimency faster than either of us learns occlumency, so prepare yourself, Potter. I’m coming for your secrets.”

After Harry was done laughing, Hermione took on a more serious tone again as she spoke. “Harry, I told you I’ll be with you every step of the way not just in the years to come, but for our whole lives. If you need to be pulled aside for a spanking, I’ll do it. I expect you to do the same for me. I’m certain I’m nowhere near as patient or as forgiving as the character I’m named after.”

“What if we turn evil together?”

Hermione almost missed the upward twitch of Harry’s lips, but once she saw that, she immediately changed what she’d been about to say.

“Then all hail the dark lord Harry and the dark lady Hermione. I’m sure we’d have a perfectly valid reason.”

“Of course. How naive of me,” Harry said. He leaned down to pick up the bucket of water Emma had left behind and threw its contents into the fire pit. The remaining ashes and charred pieces of cloth hissed in defiance for a few seconds but soon quieted. The deed was done. A quick spell disposed of what was left.

“Hermione?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“I really enjoyed last night, too. I’ve really enjoyed the entire last month. I call you my best friend, but I don’t think I’ve been living up to that the way you have until now. I’m sorry.”

Hermione refused to lie to herself and deny how much she’d wanted to hear those words, but she also refused to rub Harry’s face in them. “Thank you, Harry, but there’s really nothing to forgive. Friendships need time to grow.”

“Well, then thank you. For everything.”

Smiling – though Harry probably missed it – Hermione walked a little closer to him than either usually felt comfortable with. “You’re welcome,” she said as they started back to the house. Though she would deny it, there was a bit of a skip to her step that she knew had never been there before. Dusty old mirrors might insist she already had her heart’s desire, but while technically true, there was no upper bound on happiness. Life could always get better.

After Harry put away their empty water bucket, he suddenly clapped his hands together. “Well then,” he said, “I think these girls clothes have been getting to me, so that’s brunch. If Ron is to be believed, you’re going to make my life miserable today. I like to believe I have a pretty high tolerance, so you’ll need all the time and energy you can get.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, mumbling, “You prat.” Even so, she still followed Harry back inside the house whilst humming a cheery tune.

End of Act One


And that's the end of the Best Friends act. This act ran a lot longer than I was expecting, but there was a lot to cover, and being stingy on setting the tone of and developing Harry and Hermione's relationship would be a disaster, considering that the story (and to some extent, the world) revolves around them.

Next act in Harry and Hermione Starring in: The Digital Revolution, A Black Comedy, in which opportunities abound. A mysterious benefactor provides a vital clue, an unexpected Lord Black sits within the Wizengamot, the transistor is unintentionally invented, and Harry and Hermione contemplate opening a sweets shop.