Chapter 1: In which Harry Potter grows a brain.
What I did on my Summer Holiday
By Harry Potter.
Before I even got into the car, while we were still in sight of my friends from school, I handed my aunt the form that would allow me to practice magic over the summer. I handed her a pen, too. She signed it. Excellent! As soon as we reached 'home', or the Dursley's house, I owled it off to the appropriate Ministry office.
Hedwig returned an hour later with my special permission slip and then I sent her away again to Gringott's requesting a full accounting of all my funds. She returned after a while and I gave her some owl treats from my trunk and I sat down to read the lovely ornate goblin calligraphy.
I had a lot of money. Really, a whole lot of money.
If I was dead it wouldn't be much use to me though. How much of this wad should I blow in an attempt to save my life?
...All of it.
First though, I had to decide if I was just going to take the money and run away to Brazil or stay here and fight. I decided my chances were perhaps slightly better if I stayed to fight. Slightly. Good enough.
I got out some parchment and wrote a letter to Remus Lupin offering him twenty thousand galleons to tutor me three days a week over the summer in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Apparating. Hedwig was still looking chipper. I gave her the parchment and sent her out again.
I made a list of who I might be likely to wish to talk with in the likely event of heinous evil doings happening in my general vicinity. About thirty, maybe forty people. Then I went downstairs to talk to Dudley and we wrote out a contract together. I promised him one thousand pounds plus expenses and costs for him to go and research cellular calling plans and phones and find me the best deal in Britain for buying phones in bulk. I wanted a bushel of phones, all with text messaging and all preprogrammed with each other's number and I wanted Dudley to program them all for me. He agreed for only a thousand pounds. Dudley's cheap.
Hedwig returned and scratched at the window. Remus Lupin had written me back. He was delighted to accept my terms. Hedwig looked tired. I decided that was enough for the first day.
I sent a letter to Hermione, Percy Weasley, Blaise Zabini and Luna Lovegood offering each one of them five hundred galleons to independently prepare for me a fifty page paper giving me an overview of the last three hundred years of wizarding history. I asked for Hermione to approach the history from the point of view of the Muggleborn, Percy to pay particular attention to the history as seen from within the Ministry, Blaise to give me the Pureblood point of view, and Luna to give me the complete conspiracy whackjob collection.
Dudley waved printouts at me and babbled at me about phones and tech and how much time it was all taking him. I promised him another thousand pounds and he went away.
My Dada lessons with Remus are really interesting so far. I practiced apparating with him as well, which, like flying, seems to be one of those things I'm naturally good at. I took myself to Diagon Alley, walked into Ollivander's with a box of Galleons and bought five more wands for myself. Some worked better than others, but they were all okay. I commissioned Professor McGonagall to transfigure them into objects I could unobtrusively slip about my person. Things like shoelaces and- well, other things.
I sent Hedwig to Professor Trelawney, asking for a private audience. I crossed her palm with silver to tell me what that stupid prophesy was. I've got it all written out here. I don't think it will help, but at least now I know.
I've been getting a lot of use out of that annoying dayplanner Hermione gave me. I have a lot of appointments. I have delivered and explained about twenty of the phones to my cohorts. They have been enjoying them mightily, which was not part of the plan, but what the heck.
Hermione didn't want to be paid for the history paper I commissioned from her, but I insisted. I read hers and the other three papers one after the other. They were interestingly different from each other, but in general the wizarding world seems ...shockingly stupid. Okay, then!
I bribed Remus another thousand Galleons to give me a complete unexpurgated history of the Potter Family and Friends and in revenge Remus suggested that I start up the Occlumency lessons again with Professor Snape. I badly did not want to do this, but I decided to write to him anyway. He was not easily hired. It cost me stupid money to get Professor Snape to come to my house and teach me twice a week, and we both hate every second of it, but I suppose it's working. The nightmares have slacked off anyway. I'm no longer spending the lessons on my knees, either.
I have to make a list of who I have to visit now to give phones to. Professor Dumbledore is on the list. After reading the history papers, I think I may have changed my mind about giving him one though. No, that would look too suspicious. I have to give him one.
Dudley claims if I could give him all information on the dates and times of Death Eatery appearances that he could run it through a computer and distill some useful pattern out of it. I think he's just angling for me to subsidize a software update for him, but I'll bite.
Maybe tomorrow I'll join a gun club.
I asked for more suggestions from everyone I knew, every Professor and every student. The ideas from the Weasley twins were easily implemented; they just wanted more cash. Neville's idea was eminently sensible, too. And no one will ever suspect that I- Um. Nevermind. Yeah, I reckon I'm as ready I can be.
Actually I can't wait.
Chapter 2: In which Dudley Dursley grows a personality.
What I did on my Summer Holiday
By Dudley Dursley.
A week ago Harry hired me to buy him phones for his posse. I've tried to talk to him, but he doesn't seem to care about the different specifications, so I'm picking out what I reckon will work best. More and more awful people are popping by. Sometimes they ring the doorbell. Sometimes they pop into existence in the upstairs hall outside Harry's room. My parents have threatened to leave me here alone with the freaks while they run away to Italy for their 20th anniversary. Fabulous. Can't wait.
The phones worked out well for Harry's posse, he let me help out with training people to use them and they all liked them, and Harry and I had a civil conversation for, I think, the first time ever. He's too tired to sneer at me these days; he just sat there while I outlined the possibilities of a good database of DeathEater events, times and locations, meeting some pattern recognition programs. "Why are you helping?" he asked when I was done talking.
"I reckon if you die, then my parents get killed too," I said and he accepted that without blinking. It was certainly one flavour of the truth anyway.
I'll write up a brief and an invoice tonight. I'll make it good; he won't be able to say no.
Record-keeping is not a wizarding habit, I suppose. Instead of sending me their government's DeathEater event database, they sent me a pretty girl with pink hair and a tatty scrapbook.
She clutched her scrapbook and peered inside our house. "Where's Harry?" she said. "I want to speak to Harry."
"Harry is having his lesson with Professor Snape and can not be disturbed. I can accept any packages for him in his stead. And if that's the newspaper clippings, then it's for me anyway."
She scowled at me and hugged her scrapbook. It was orange and said 'Tonks' on the front of it in pink glitter. She said, "Look, this was my own personal scrapbook project. It's private. I never thought I'd be donating it to science."
"Do you eat kittens? Or muggles?" I asked her.
"Great. Then I'm in no position to judge you. I eat kittens myself. Hand it over." The pink-haired girl handed it over, reluctantly, and I shut the door. Mum was hovering behind me when I turned around. "Who was that girl?" she asked. "Invite her in next time." My Mum has not yet noticed that not all the witches wear pointy hats and robes, and why make her even more tense by telling her that?
"Sure," I said. Yeah, that'll happen. Not.
Back upstairs I flipped through the scrapbook. The newspaper clippings were surrounded by stickers and glitter and really gross little drawings of death and destruction (Are all pretty witches so batshit freaking insane?), but the printed news articles shimmered and wiggled. No matter how hard I tried, I could not read them. I put the scrapbook down feeling seasick.
I knocked on Harry's door. "Harry, I got the articles, but I can't read them, they're locked. Do you have a crack for muggles? Or a secret decoder ring? Or something?"
Harry opened the door on his knees, sweat pouring down him. Professor Snape sat in a chair, eyes shut, smiling. Harry hauled himself up with the doorknob. "I'll send you Hermione. Give me five minutes and I'll call her." He turned, snarled, and slammed the door in my face.
Right. That'll be half an hour. At least.
An hour later Hermione knocked on my bedroom door, which I'd left open. "Hi. Come on in," I said. "What did you find?"
"I got nothing," she said, throwing her coat on my bed. "Non-magic folk do not get to read anything off the wizarding press, ever. The charm is built into the ink and no one has ever broken it. I'm here to do the data entry. Set me up."
I showed her the computer and the program, set the chair to her height, and watched her start pecking on the keyboard. She pecked slowly. Really slowly. Painfully slowly. It was torture to watch her. This was going to take three thousand years. "Um. I thought you were -uh- had non-magic parents. With tellies and computers and suchlike," I said. Which was why I'd found her the least strange of all of Harry's horde.
She looked up at me. "I do. I am. Why?"
"Don't get much typing practice at school? Read nothing but magic books all summer? All quills, all the time?"
She blushed. And then she showed me her big, sharp teeth and she started to snarl. What is with these wizards, they are all so aggressive. I interrupted her before she could start. "-Hey, not a problem. How about you read the information out loud, and I'll type."
She looked down at the keyboard with loathing. "Fine," she said, pushing away from my computer. I took her place and she sat down on my bed with the scrapbook. "Wow, the doodles in this thing are nuts," she said flipping through the scrapbook while I readjusted the chair.
"I noticed that. I'm ready. Start reading."
It took Hermione and me a few days to go through all the the dates, event details, and wizarding addresses. And then we discovered that the wizarding addresses could not be easily turned into muggle latitudes and longitudes. Hermione broke out her arithmancy books and we plugged equations into my machine for a week. Nothing worked.
"I suppose now we know." I said. "At least we tried."
"No!" She paged through her books again. "This should work! I know it should. This ought to translate right across. This should be easy."
"Easy. Right. Has anyone ever done anything remotely like this before? If not, maybe there's a reason for that," I said.
Professor Snape was standing out in the hall, looking in my open door, holding a bucket of water. "What's your power source?" he asked. Behind him I could hear Harry screaming quietly in his room as he usually did during Professor Snape's visits.
Hermione turned around to look at him. "Sir? What?"
"Power source. Mixing arithmancy and a muggle electrical device. What's your power source? Not muggle house current, is it?"
"...Yeeees?" said Hermione.
"No," said Professor Snape. "I'll be right back." He put the bucket down and disappeared right there in the hall. I didn't flinch at the popping. Or the screaming. I think I'm getting used to it. Five minutes later the professor returned. He looked back towards Harry's room; the screaming had changed pitch.
He handed Hermione a big black crock pot. "There you go. Don't open it. Here's the instructions," he said and he stuffed a wad of papers under Hermione's elbow and then ran across the hall into Harry's room with the water. I took the black pot away from Hermione and hoisted it up onto the desk. "What's in there? Lead?" asked Hermione. And then she stripped off the metal clips that had been holding the top on and she lifted the lid.
"Probably. It smells like a battery. A battery belched up from the depths of hell. Put the lid back on," I said. Instead Hermione poked her index finger towards it. I grabbed her wrist and didn't swear at her. "Okay. In that case, use a pencil," I said, putting one in her hand. She poked the pencil in. It melted. "Wow!" she said. "Stupendous!"
I looked at the the conventional looking plastic socket built into the lid. "I am not plugging my beautiful new system directly into that. It's going through a UPS first."
"Hmmm," said Hermione, looking at the blob of poison in the pot. She licked her lips. It smelled like a battery to me, but I got the impression it smelled like chocolate cake to wizards.
"I don't have a UPS. We'll have to go buy one. And I'm not leaving you here alone with that. You look like you'd eat it. Let's go. And I'm driving," I said as she pulled her wand out of her sleeve. "I'm not traveling that way again. That trip to the library was the worst experience of my life."
She looked insulted but she stuffed her wand back in her sleeve. "Fine, whatever."
I put her in the car and pulled out of the drive. "Why are you doing this, Dudley?" she asked once we were on the main road.
I considered making her ask something more specific, but I knew what she meant -Harry'd asked the same question only last month- and I didn't want to go there. "For the money," I said, hoping that would shut her up. It didn't.
She stared out the window. "Maybe I can't type," she said, "but I know the approximate worth of all those phones and equipment you've bought, and I know how much Harry paid you. I don't think he's even paying you your base costs. You are not doing this for the money. Harry's forced money down my throat for some stupid research papers and projects -and I'm his best friend- but you, you get to give him the gift of your time. You. Not me. Why?"
"Well. Harry and I are family-"
"-Can I be honest? Bollocks."
I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel. "Don't tell him, please. Let him go on thinking he's pulling one over on me."
"Oh." She turned and stared at me. "Maybe not bollocks? You'd be a Hufflepuff, then."
"Hufflepuff? Another wizarding fat joke? I've not heard this one yet. Do tell." Goddammit, I'd thought after a week of working together-
"-No! Hufflepuff is is one of the four houses at our school."
I looked at her sidelong. "I thought you had two, Gryffindorm and Slithering."
"Four. Hufflepuffs are the sensible ones. The type who'd make you put on your seat belt if you forgot." Which I had done to her when she'd got in the car. I looked back at the road. "Uh-huh. Sounds boring."
"No," she said doggedly, "They're all about family. And duty. And practicality. And you, with your family, with Harry-"
"-I wish," I said. "But, no. Look, we're here. Come on." I parked and got out.
She followed me and, perhaps only because the parking lot was filled with people, had the grace to stop verbally poking me. I could tell she wasn't done with what she had to say though. She's like a pitbull, rather pleasant unless you happen to be the focus of her attention.
I went out of my way to change the focus of her attention. By the time we left the shop I had her riffing on her theories of how that potted power source worked and she didn't shut up about it for several days.
Typing in Hermione's handwritten arithmancy equations was sort of like doing trigonometry while tripping out on acid. Not that I've ever dropped acid, but if I did and if I then did trigonometry, this is what it would feel like.
Harry's door slammed open and I turned around to see Professor Snape dragging Harry by the hands down the hall towards the bathroom. Harry was soaking wet and foaming green at the mouth. "I'm winning! I'm winning right now!" he said to us as he went by.
"You're delusional," said Professor Snape.
"Is he okay?" said Hermione to Professor Lupin, who was bringing up the rear of the bizarre parade in the hallway.
"Oh, we're coming along marvelously," said Professor Lupin. "Could you just keep your door shut for a while? We may be going back and forth in a bit of a state." And he pushed Hermione back into my room and shut the door.
Hermione went back to her book, some godawful thing about mind-reading or somesuch that she'd stolen from Harry's room. "A bit of a state? I don't like the sound of that at all," she told me.
I looked back at the equations I'd been tying into my coding, then peeked back at the door. Tendrils of green smoke curled under it.
"My concentration is shot. That's it for today," I said. I dropped the pages of equations onto the desk and saved and backed up my files.
Professor Lupin stuck his head back in my room. "Actually, could you evacuate the house? Just for an hour or two? I think we're going to need the air. Thanks." He slammed the door shut again.
I grabbed my wallet and keys, and then picked up the newspaper. I took a step towards the door, but before I could touch the knob, Hermione grabbed me by the belt and dropped me against the side of my car. She'd teleported me out to the drive. "Auugh," I said. I slumped against the car door, but I didn't throw up this time.
"You all right?" she asked, tucking her wand back in her hair. She was still holding her book. "I suppose. Either I'm getting used to this, or you're getting better at it," I said. "Give me some warning next time, eh?"
We got in the car and flipped through our assorted sizes of processed wood pulp.
"How about a matinee?" I said, "Would you rather your explosions flavoured with Tom Cruise or Jackie Chan?"
She looked down at her book, then up at me, at her book again, and then back up at me. "Jackie Chan?" she said.
"Good choice." I nodded at the book. "Is that working? Are you reading my mind?"
"I think so. Do you think Tom Cruise is a scifi-addled git who couldn't act his way out of a paper bag?"
"Everyone thinks that, so you could still be faking it. On the chance that you're not, I hope that reading my mind is really difficult and causes you a massive headache because I don't like the idea at all."
"Uh. No. ...No, you think it's kind of hot. And this seems to be one of those things I get to be naturally good at, like Harry is with flying. Which is nice because I got the good marks by studying my arse off, not by natural ability. I wonder if I can use this to cheat at exams. And now because I said the word 'arse', you are now thinking about my arse. And now you are indeed getting a little freaked- which feels painful, so I shall turn it off and not do it anymore and actually I do have a bit of a headache now. Is this film going to have a lot of loud explosions? Because now you're going to have to buy me something with some nice caffeine in it or else I can't go. Ow. Oh, ow."
She clutched her head.
"You're a bit of a show off, aren't you."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I want a soda."
I laughed and started the car.
Harry and the professors were still making horrible monster noises when we returned from the cinema. The green smoke was gone, but it seemed to have soaked into the carpet on the stairs, which looked terrible. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and called up to them, "I hope you lot will be done soon. My parents will be back soon."
Professor Lupin appeared, looking cheerful. "Almost done, but don't come up yet."
I took Hermione into the lounge. We sat down on the only piece of furniture not covered with plastic, a vinyl sofa. Hermione seems to be a nice girl; she looked but she didn't say anything about the plastic. My mother does not trust Harry and me to not destroy the house while she's gone, and considering the destroyed carpet on the stairs, I reckon Mum's got a point. The professors will certainly fix it before they leave though. They always do.
Except that right then there was a loud boom that shook the foundations of the house and it seems loud noises are scarier in a brightly lit room than they are in a dark theatre. Hermione squeaked and jumped half into my lap. "I thought they said they were almost done," she said, still staring up at the ceiling.
"You know, I'm not going to be able to save you from whatever's happening up there."
"I know that. I was just-" She let go of her clutch on my shirt.
I put my hand on her knee and stopped her from moving her leg as well. "Yes? You were-?"
"I- I was- just in case I needed to apparate us out of the house in a hurry again?"
"Uh-huh." If one has a teleporting girl on one's knee, does that mean she wants to be there? Or that she forgot that she can teleport? How do you test that? "Are you reading my mind?" I asked her.
She looked at my hand still holding her leg, and grinned. Is that my answer? "No. Do you want me to?" she said.
Last thing I want to hear right now is 'I have a headache.' "Definitely not," I said and kissed her. She put her arms around my neck and kissed me back.
If there was more destruction upstairs after that, I didn't notice it; all I noticed was Hermione's mouth on mine and her hands and her skin until, faintly, I heard someone calling my name and I looked up.
"Dudley!" My parents stood in the doorway, goggling at me and Hermione.
"What?" I said. Oh, right. My hand had wandered from Hermione's knee to her breast. I let go. Hermione looked mortified. To be caught, or to be caught with me?
She took her leg back and stood up. "MustbegoingthankshadalovelytimebyeDudley," she said. And she zipped past my parents and was out the door.
"Who was she? Where did she come from?" asked my Mum, looking out into the street after her.
She's a witch, a dangerous scary witch, just like Aunt Lily. Tempting, but why make Mum throw a fit when it's not necessary. "Her parents are dentists," I told her.
"Dentists!" said Mum, jumping up and down and clapping her hands. My father rolled his eyes.
I went out to collect their luggage. I looked up and down; my parents' cab was still pulling away, but Hermione was gone. "Don't get your hopes up, Mum. She did just run away after all." A teleporter is always exactly where she means to be. And it's not here.
"Oh," said my Mum sadly, looking at me. "Well." Then she looked up at the stairs. "What's that green stuff on my carpet?" she said.
Harry left at the end of the summer. He told me Hermione was busy before he left, that I shouldn't bother her unless it was important because she was out in the field. I didn't hear from Hermione all the while my computer finished processing all our data. It finally spit out an assortment of potential locations. I looked up the satellite maps for all the locations, labeled them with the muggle latitudes and longitudes and the arithmancy disapparating codes. I sent them out to be laminated and then they came back and then I couldn't put it off any longer.
I called Hermione on her cell phone and went to wait for her outside in the back garden.
She appeared and took the stack of highlighted printouts and maps out of my hands. "Good luck," I said as she riffled through them. She was wearing a tie and long robes and mud-covered wellies and a lot of potions ammo. The dim old electric lantern on the side of the house picked out copper lights in her hair and drew a line of gold down her cheek. I didn't move. And if my heart beat a little faster and if sweat broke out on my palms, it at least wasn't obvious in the dark.
She looked up from the printouts. "I'll call you," she said.
"Right." Uh-huh. Never in a million years.
"I will!" she said.
"Okay." Whenever you need tech support, honey, I'll be here.
She glared. "Oh, you're really annoying me now."
"This mind-reading trick you do is quite cool, if not entirely fair," I said, "How exactly-"
She grabbed me by the collar. "I. Will. Call. You."
"Yes. Don't get killed then," I said. She kissed me -for the second time, and hard- and disappeared.
Oh, crap. I suppose that was the right answer.
Chapter 3: In which Hermione Granger seizes the reins.
My team is so beautiful together; this must be why quidditch is so popular. I could do this all day. I move right and they step together with me to let me loose a volley; a finger in my ribs and I duck under the shield in the direction they tell me before my head gets hit. My snipers alternate raising and lowering their air pistols, taking turns on either side of me to load up with potions pellets and then fire. My shielders toss the energy wall back and forth between them, in perfect time with the snipers. My comm called up our backup- for practice really, we weren't going to need backup; we were going to finish this in the next thirty seconds.
I conjured a trampoline behind our target, somewhat at an angle. Our target let my sniper's pellets go on by him, thinking they'd missed him. The pellets hit the trampoline, bounced off, and struck our target in the back.
Dean was right; pool is a useful game to know.
Our target stumbled and fell. My team broke apart in exhaustion, but I waved them up again -our target might be faking it after all- and then we all trooped over the broken ground together to see if we had really gotten him. We had.
I pointed my wand at him one more time. "Enervate," I said, and Professor Snape regained consciousness. He pulled his stopwatch out of his pocket. "Three minutes. Took you even longer this time. You're getting worse."
I shook my finger at him. "We are not. We are even better. You have become accustomed to our style and we no longer have the advantage of surprise. And still we took you out."
"Mm. Perhaps. ...You didn't follow through and transfigure me. Sloppy."
I bent over him. "I would have, but you already look green. How many times have you done this today?"
Snape dropped his head back onto the mucky grass. "Eengh."
I checked my own watch. "Aren't you going to get up? Pansy's group has a new trick and they want a turn with you."
"Or, instead, I could have a nice cup of tea and you lot could rough up Lupin."
Professor Lupin, who'd come over to peer at our prone target, jumped. "I say!"
Snape opened his eyes and looked up at him from the dirt. "I think it would be only fair."
I jerked my head at my team. "Neville. Millicent. Pick him up." I pulled out my dayplanner. "Who else is on the roster? Moody's flaked out again..." I looked back at my team, who'd mostly caught their breath back. "Are you all still fresh? You want to take on Pansy's group?" I asked them.
Zach didn't look particularly thrilled to volunteer for this one, but Neville shrugged, Millicent and Dean nodded excitedly, and Luna smiled. Lavender, however, shot out a ray of amorphous viciousness that even a half-trained Legilimens like me couldn't miss. I had no idea who on Pansy's team she held a grudge for, but I looked her right in the eyes. "No pain," I told her. She looked at her feet. I said, "We disarm, we stun, we amphibify! Altogether now!"
Some of them sighed, but they chorused back at me obediently, "Frog them all and let Bill sort them out."
"Right. Belt up."
After practice I was so covered in mud that I had no choice but to wash my hair, which was the second day in a row I'd washed it, forcing me to hide in the dorms waiting for it to unfluff. Eventually a miracle occured; I had no more homework to do.
I dug out my phone and punched in numbers.
"Hermione?" he said. He recognizes my voice...
"I did say I'd call," I said. "So. Do you think Professor Snape's battery was built with lithium ions?"
"What? ...Did you nick my chemistry text?"
"Excuse me?" I said.
"You did, didn't you."
"I borrowed it. I'll give it back. It wasn't on your syllabus, so why do you care? How's uni?"
"Lots of work. But fun anyway, I suppose. How's the barmy army and he who must not be sane?"
"We are magnificent and, if you're speaking of Voldemort, his days are numbered."
"Are you looking up the locations we worked on?"
"Harry wishes we were pulling a Riki Tiki Tavi and running and finding out about each one instantly, but, sadly for him, first there's a lot of research. Our professors have switched from theory to practicals though, from defensive to offensive magic -and, boy, do I love offensive magic- but we're still very careful. We're sending in probes to each site and then we do a lot of sneaking around in disguises and then at last we send in the teams. And then, finally, it's like a scavenger hunt except with dynamite. We blow up everything we find. Best school practicals ever."
"You blow things up for school? I am almost a bit jealous. What's on your scavenger hunt list?"
"Oh, you know, household implements, ancient jewelry, evil beings, odds and ends. We blew up a giant snake, too, not because it was on our list, just on general principle- because it was there."
"I thought you were a tree-hugger. What's with the-"
"-Not at all, I love snakes, especially the small, stripey kind. Anything over forty feet long, though, is fair game."
"So it's a size issue with you."
"Forty feet long, Dudley. Picture that in your mind for a second. It preyed on cute gothy little magic flying horses. It needed to be taken down."
"Meh. Well, I suppose it's okay if you eat the game you kill. Was the snake yummy?"
"Oh, come on. It would have been snake steaks for the whole school for years on end. You know we didn't eat it. We blew up the building on top of it and made a century's worth of snake paté, which we also didn't eat. Although, gosh, ... now you've got me wondering. Do you think Voldemort tastes like chicken?"
And that took us on a fabulous, wild conversational tangent about biology and mutagens and magic until Dudley said, "When will I see you again? What with you being a teleporter and all, these ought to be some awesome excuses. Lay it on me."
"Erm. The school has apparition wards. I can't just pop away, I have to leave the school grounds first, which-"
"-Which you're not allowed to do-" "-During the week," I continued, "but I can at the weekend, and I do. Sometimes I like to visit my parents-"
"-But for the foreseeable future you can't visit me because..."
You're beginning to piss me off, bucko. "Because you haven't invited me and also because I'm at risk for splinching at the moment. They only recently put my leg back on and if I apparate, they're afraid it might fall off. It works fine though, doesn't hurt, but the colour still doesn't match. I'm trying to look on the bright side. I like mauve." "
You- You- and you're fine. Okay. I suppose this means you'll want nookie with the lights off now."
"Why? Don't you like mauve." Wait, what did he say?
"I can honestly say I've no idea. Mauve. I'm flipping through the dictionary right now. How is that spelled?"
"It's spelled dark lavender. Actually, it changes in the light. Make that pink. Purple? No, definitely mauve. If you have some kind of sad pathetic inhibiting problem with mauve, I'll cheerfully protect your delicate sensibilities by wearing long stockings. With garters. No chance of seeing the mauve."
There was a long silence and then he said, "Yeeeeah. I don't think 'cock tease' is in this dictionary. Is it in yours?"
I giggled and that only encouraged him. Oh my god, what is wrong with me, I sound like Padma.
"Uh-huh. What are you wearing right now? Please tell me you've got a pointy hat on. I love those."
My gales of laughter were cut off when I noticed Parvati and Padma lurking outside my bedcurtains with the Extendable Ears which they were supposed to be threading into the robot bats. "Victor?" said Padma to Parvati. "Percy?" said Parvati to Padma. "Tonks," Padma said, nodding knowingly.
Velvet doesn't slam, so I swashed the bed curtains closed and then swashed my wand around and made a Cone of Silence around the bed. My phone went, "Beeeeeep, bip, bip, bip," and switched off.
"Crap," I said and canceled my Cone. I put my pillow over my head and hit redial. Dudley picked up the phone instantly. "Sorry," I said.
"Glitch in the time space continuum?"
"Something like that. Speaking of space and time, can I post you a few more locations to feed into your computer?"
"...Oh. Right. Yeah."
"Stop it, Dudley."
"Mind-reading again?" he asked.
"Not at this distance; you're just obvious. You should invite me before the siege starts and I-"
There was a loud and disturbingly familiar boom. I jumped off my bed and looked out the window.
Chapter 4: In which Harry Potter speaks softly.
The evil was really good. It crunched and broke in to smaller and smaller pieces, reformed again, and broke apart. It disintegrated and remained entirely what it was. It rolled out and then in, and then it poured, down and down-
I woke up alone and unnerved in the dark of the hospital wing. I jumped up, dressed and ran outside, straight into a big strapping lass who was kitted out for bear. "Oof," she said.
"Hiya, Millicent. You guarding me?" Why the hell am I alone with her? I patted myself down and found my wand in one robe pocket and my glasses in another.
"Nope. And you're a tad arrogant to think you rate your own special bodyguard, eh?"
"Yeah? Oh. Well." Where the heck is everybody? I looked around and saw bonfires and people running. Tonight? How long was I out? "Are we doing the Patronus mining party now?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "I see your face is back on."
"Pretty much. Bit pickled, but it's all right. How's it look?"
"Somewhat less disgusting than the last time I saw it."
There were people walking the grounds in every direction I looked. Most of them had a drink in their hands. I relaxed a little and let go of my wand. "Great, great. That's high praise coming from you. So who'd I get last trip?"
"I'm not certain. Some Death Eater. Ask Weasley. Bill, I mean; there's Weasleys everywhere tonight. ...I've been wanting to ask, how on earth do you find our targets?"
Stupid girl, what a question to ask. I smiled at her. "Me? I'm not finding them. I just go where I'm sent."
Millicent still looked innocently curious. "Someone knows where to go though. How?"
"Uh." I looked down. I can't tell her it was Hermione's doing; that'd make Hermione even more of a tasty target. I must not tell lies. If I tell Millicent only those who need to know get to know, then, if she's loyal, she'll be insulted. And if she's another effing spy, she'll know I'm onto her. I must not tell lies. Well, sod that for a lark. I said, "McGonagall tried to explain to me how it was done, but I didn't understand a word. Too advanced for me. Maybe you'd get it if you talked to her?"
"McGonagall? Oh. ...She's pretty busy these days. Maybe later."
See, Millicent's not evil. Or maybe she's really smart. Could be either. Aren't those Slytherins into that discretion being the better part of valour thing? "What are you drinking tonight?" I asked her.
She blushed. Huh. Maybe she's noticed that everytime we go to the Three Broomsticks that our pint to toilet cycles are exactly synchronised. "Nothing," she said. "My team drew one of the short straws and we're on guard duty."
"Oh-ho. You were guarding me."
"I'm guarding this section of the grounds. You just happened to be within my assignment," she said primly. She put her hand in the center of my back and pushed and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. "Go on," she said. "Drink mine for me."
"Right." I went down the steps and then looked back up at her. She winked at me. "Yeah, I'm gone," I said and ran.
Bill and Fred and George were in the quad in front of the castle with a crowd of people before them. Ginny and Ernie stood in the queue together snogging, a sight that filled me with incredible indifference. I skipped past them to the head of the queue. "Who'd I bag last trip?" I said to Bill.
"Don't know, I'm still labeling and collaring the last batch." Bill, as our best curse-breaker, had been volunteered for clamping lettered iron circlets on the little wet legs of all our frogged Death Eaters, which was much more involving and dangerous than it sounded, and tonight he looked delighted to have a break from it. He happily filled cups with the potion for the Patronus mining and Fred and George handed them out with verbal instructions.
I grabbed a pint from the table. It looked like ordinary butterbeer. Tasted like it, too. Mostly. And there didn't seem to be any other liquor on offer. Oh well. "Where do I go?" I said.
"You don't have a number already? Ah... Ron and Hermione have the maps and are setting out the patterns. Ask them if they have any holes that need filling. Wait, didn't you just come from the hospital wing? Haven't you been taking-"
"Oh, it's been hours since I had anything. I'll be fine."
Bill looked at me doubtfully, "You're not supposed to mix this with any other potions, it can be a tad reactive unless blended by a professional. There can be side effects. Perhaps you should-"
Fleur walked up then, levitating a keg behind her. She cuddled up to Bill's side and he lost his train of thought and I escaped before Bill could fuss more at me. The butterbeer potion had a strange bitter aftertaste. I sipped it again anyway and strolled away across the grounds.
I caught the sound of Hermione's voice and followed it down to the source. She sat before a table covered in maps and rosters and timetables and phones and she had an Arithmancy homework on her lap and yet another phone to her ear and she seemed to be talking to someone who was not bored out of their skull by her.
"But how would that instance work?" she said, "Would it be continuously differentiable or infinitely differentiable?"
My ears had stopped ringing since my previous engagement and were now extra sharp; I could hear the response through her phone from two meters away. "Uh... I don't know off the top of my head. But I know where to look it up. Ask me again tomorrow," said whoever she was talking to. Victor? I'd always thought Victor a bit thick for Arithmancy. No Bulgarian accent, either. Probably Percy.
She seemed stunned. "You'll look it up for me? That's the most beautiful thing anyone's ever said to me," she said.
The bloke on the phone laughed at that one for ages, but Hermione didn't look like she was kidding. Maybe she was drunk-dialing. No, wait, she's on Millicent's team, no butterbeer for her. "Read me that bit about azimuths again," her caller said finally and Hermione paged backwards through her Arithmancy book.
If it was her book. Maybe she's stolen that one, too, the way she stole my Legilimency book.
I listened in as Hermione read aloud and as the bloke on the phone made suggestions. She curled around on her camp stool, giggling. "No, I will not set my phone to vibrate," she said. And at that lewdly technical comment, the penny dropped.
What is this? Do they all think they're going to die, so they've completely dropped their standards? What's next? Luna and Dobby? Firenze and Trelawney? McGonagall and the Giant Squid?
"You're talking to Dudley," I told her, no longer wondering.
She looked up and noticed me standing there for the first time, but she didn't blink. "I'm sorry, did you want me to nag you? I'm busy. Please come back later. Beeeep," she said and then she laughed again. "No, it's Harry," she said into the phone.
"Give me that," I said and I plucked it out of her hand. "What are you two doing?"
"The square root of fuck-all," said Dudley. "Now give the phone back to Hermione so we can continue."
Hermione hissed and reached for her phone, but I threw up the dome shield Lupin had taught me.
"Hold on a second, Dudley. I've always wanted to ask you: do you think it's normal to lock children in cupboards and give them used toothpicks for Christmas?"
"What? ...Are you expecting me to apologize? I didn't do that shit. I was a kid, why do you think I should say sorry for what they-"
"-I don't give a flying fuck if you're sorry. I'm trying to find out if you think Dumbledore purposely manipulated your parents' treatment of me in an attempt to grow his own pet Dark Lord, or if you think it was just an unfortunate coincidence that your parents happened to be evil, narcissistic sociopaths. Well? Which do you think? I mean, you were there."
I pressed my ear to the phone in anticipation, waiting to hear the answer. ...And the coward hung up on me.
Hermione beat her fists upon the air and screeched at me. I ignored her. I poked the redial button on Hermione's phone and waited; it rang and rang and rang and rang and rang. And, eventually, Dudley answered. "Hermione?" he said, his voice unsteady.
I tossed the phone through my shield to Hermione and she caught it. "Dudley?" she said into it, and she backed away from me with her wand in her hand.
And then I felt the curving shell of my invisible shield shatter and fly apart. I turned around and Remus Lupin smacked me on the back of my head with his wand. "If you want to be a proper evil overlord when you grow up, you need to attempt to keep your minions," he said and he sipped from a bottle of something foul-smelling, something that was not butterbeer. Snape was with him, looking amused- probably because Lupin had so thoroughly broken my shield. I need to study harder. And that looks tastier than this stupid butterbeer.
"I am not a minion!" I heard from somewhere off behind me and a small rock launched out of the darkness and bounced lightly off my shoulder. A rock? I'd forgotten to put my busted shield right back up like in training, but I wasn't going to go to the trouble for this.
"You throw like a girl," I yelled into the black.
"And I shoot like a sniper, you sod. This is restraint," she shouted back. Another rock sailed by and narrowly missed my nose. I edged around and put Snape and Lupin between Hermione and me.
Lupin swayed dangerously and Snape grabbed his arm. "Restraint? I shay we kill him," said Lupin. Snape eyed him. "We're working on it. Give me back my bottle."
"No, no, not Voldemort. Though we should kill him, too," said Lupin, "But I meant Lord Potter. Teasing his friends like that. Poor Hermione!"
"Poor Hermione? We can kill him for that? Oh, yes. Absolutely. You start." Snape laughed.
I glared up at them. "I'm still paying you people to teach me; you're not allowed to-"
"-Ahahaha! No. That's not how it works. Especially not tonight. Just ignore us. We're drunk," said Snape to me. He looked at Lupin. "Now that the old goat has karked it, do you really think we could take out What's His Face without the effing Chosen One?"
Lupin took another swig. "You're sho hasty. You could poison Harry after we've done with Voldemort."
"I tried poison once with the current Dark Lord. It just made him bald and scaly."
"That was you? Are you losing your touch?"
"It should have worked. Dark Lords react strangely. Not my fault," said Snape and he wrestled the bottle out of Lupin's hands.
Lupin let it go and whispered in Snape's ear. "He's got a bit of a pointy head. I don't know that bald and scaly would be a good look for him." And they both stared at me.
"Yes, poison's too unpredictable," said Snape and he took a drink from the bottle. "Suppose Potter tripped and fell and accidentally landed on a magic sword?"
"No one would believe that," said Lupin, "We'd have to make it look like a training accident. I know where we could get a squirrel and a five pound lodestone. Piece of cake."
Snape grinned horribly. "Oooh, nice one."
"Hit me," said Lupin, and Snape handed him the bottle again. Snape wheeled Lupin slowly around and they sauntered off towards the bonfire, which was a relief because I had been too gobsmacked to actually run myself away from professors contemplating how to kill me. I was alone again. Except that Hermione the sniper was still out there somewhere and she had rocks and possibly her sidearm and definitely her wand and potentially a whole team of completely sober people who enjoyed working with her and there was a small chance that I had seriously ticked her off. I scarpered away around the castle.
I found Ron in the back castle garden making X marks in the grass with a squeeze bottle of powdered chalk. "Ron, my only friend, you would never betray me, would you?" I asked him.
"What are you on about? Oh, wait. Is it the side effects? Bill said you might go all funny in the head. More than usual, I mean." He peered into my eyes. He put his hand on my shoulder, as if he might grab me by the neck and throttle me. I took a step away from him. Constant vigilance, as they say. "Ooo, and you look terrible, too," he said. "Go see McGonagall. She'll set you right."
"I don't want to miss the Patronus mining. I'm fine-"
Ron took another step towards me and I backed up again. Ron laughed. "We have plenty enough people, Harry. Afraid McGonagall will twinkle at you, offer you sweets, and then try to play you like a bloody chesspiece? Go on. Go up and see her." Ron jerked his thumb at the tower that had been Dumbledore's office.
Everyone knew McGonagall hated that office. "Why would she be up there?" I asked, but when I looked up the lights were on at the window.
"She has to be. She's setting the keystone spell for the Patronus mines. Her office is the center of the lines. Maybe you can help her with that," Ron said and he took another look at his map, which appeared to be in Hermione's handwriting, and he took a few steps to the left and he made another mark on the ground with his chalk.
Considering what Snape and Lupin were plotting, I thought Ron overestimated the value of bought loyalties. The professors had clearly been planning my immanent, painful death. McGonagall could be in on it, too. This could be her perfect opportunity to kill me. Or to let Dumbledore possess me. Who knew what else had I missed while I was unconscious.
And then I noticed the white ferret that lay draped around Ron's neck. It wore a little iron collar. I spluttered, "That's not- You never-"
"Oh," said Ron, noticing my trembling, pointing finger. "Well, yes. He wouldn't toad; must have had some sort of talisman on him at the time, but this worked all right. He's almost as good as a rat, so-" The ferret licked Ron's ear and then blew a raspberry at me. Ron petted it and raised his eyebrow at me. "No point in getting upset about it, Harry. McGonnagall transfigured him and he's not going anywhere till this is over."
"Him. Ah," I said. "Great woman, McGonagall," said Ron and he smiled. "Very good at getting things done. She called Bill earlier and told him she'd prepared the antidote for the Patronus mining potion. Not that this would concern you, because you're FINE-"
"-Shut it already, Ron. I'm going."
McGonagall sat behind her desk with her forehead pressed to the blotter and her hands over her ears. Fawkes bounced on his perch next to her desk and said, "I expected more loyalty from you."
"How do you stand it?" I asked her and she looked up from her desk. There was chalk all over the room and a big smudge of it smeared across McGonagall's cheek. I would have told her, but she wouldn't have cared.
"I take everything with a grain of salt. It counteracts many subtle mind controls, as you know. Not to mention counteracting tonight's screwy butterbeer. Here, have a crisp," she said and she pushed a bowl over the desk to me. I took a handful. Even just touching them, I could feel the salt sink into my flesh and the insane paranoia ebb.
Fawkes bobbed his head. "Awk. Disappointed. Oddment. Expected loyalty. Awk."
"Have you discovered out how much of him is in there?" I asked with my mouth full of crisps, nicely painful on my new tongue.
McGonagall glanced at Fawkes and sighed. "Not very much. I think he was was quite out of his head when he Imperiused Professsor Snape into making Fawkes into his own Horcrux. It shouldn't have worked at all, and all we've got here are the very dottiest bits."
"-If only you had trusted me, all would have been revealed in good time. Awk," said Fawkes.
McGonagall scowled. "Put a sock in it. Don't think I won't burn you in effigy myself," she said and Fawkes edged away from her on his perch.
"So was Dumbledore using mind control on other people?" Please let it be mind control and not that we're all just morons.
"Go, Gryffindor!" said Fawkes.
She looked embarrassed. "I go back and forth on that. I thought all sorts of things he did weren't remotely good ideas and yet somehow I got pulled in."
I sighed. "He told me that he loved me so much that he was forced to avoid me like a lurgy for a year, and I believed him. For a while. Sounds really stupid now. And then he dragged me off alone so I could watch him poison himself, even though he had at least twenty people who would have happily run back-up for him. Or even point. I mean, what the heck was that?"
McGonnagall rubbed her hands over her face. "Sugar-induced dementia?" she guessed.
"Awk. Trust me. Awk. Choices. Go, Gryffindor!" said Fawkes. McGonagall picked up a glass paperweight and tossed it at the big orange bird, which ducked adroitly. The glass paperweight shattered below Fawkes's stand, over a spikey carpet of bits and bobs and the wrecked remains of many delicate silver instruments.
"Suck," said Fawkes, "Lemondrops."
I stared down at the broken silver bits on the floor. Among them were chess pieces shaped like gnomes and goblins and house elves and centaurs... "I've just had a thought," I said. "That big fancy statue collection in the atrium at the Ministry. That'd make a great Horcrux. Let's blow it up."
"Yes, all right. I'll put it on the list." She pinched her nose. "I have to stay here for at least another hour," said McGonagall. "And I've just about emptied this desk of throwable objects. I don't suppose you've got some sort of charming student problem I can assist you with?"
I wonder if I'll ever give all those people who think I'm going to be the next Dark Lord a really good reason to kill me. "There's not near enough quidditch in my life," I said.
"Excellent," said McGonagall. She pulled a bottle out of her desk and two small glasses. She poured an inch and a half of amber liquid into each and handed one to me. "Tell me all about it," she said.
Chapter 5: In which Dudley opens packages.
Hermione answered on the seventh ring and I said, "Hi. How are you? I'll tell you how you are. I thought you were charming and eccentric, but it turns out you're just socially retarded."
"I'll always know exactly where I stand with you, won't I. I suppose this means the box has arrived. That was quick. And, hello, how are you?"
"I'm fine. I don't know if you've noticed this, but I am also exactly the sort of bloke prone to regifting. And I'm thinking the zoo will be the lucky donor today. Because what else do you think I'm going to do with this freaking monster?"
"You mean my cat? Is he all right?"
The cat poked its head out of the box and looked around my room. "Wow," it said, in a disturbingly deep voice.
"So it's a cat, then? As in felis domesticus? Because I thought it was a cougar, or a puma, or- I don't know, it's got spots on it! It's freaking huge!"
"Did he bite you?"
I jumped back a foot. "NO! Were you hoping it would? What the heck is wrong with you? ...Is this revenge for not inviting you last weekend? I told you why I couldn't. It was rare opportunity to hear those guest speakers. I thought you of all people would understand. Why-"
"-Dudley, I didn't send you the cat for revenge!"
"So it's just a present. Sweet. A big, ugly cat that reportedly bites. That's dead romantic, Granger. On Neptune. Next time send me chocolates."
"Let me talk to Crookshanks."
"Who? Is that its name? That's a terrible name. You should call it Grendel, or-" The thing was huge and round and yellow. "-call it Ra, or something," I said. But I stuck the phone out towards the cat and Hermione spoke to it.
The cat listened, looked me up and down, and then stuck out its paw at me. I reached out and it shook my hand like it was a dog. "Wow," it said, sounding totally unimpressed.
She sighed heavily. "Look, he's not exactly a pet. He's my familiar. I was going to call you and ask properly, but I had it on the Big List of Things To Do and the box was all prepared and my over-eager assistants have been whipping through the list and they sent him off before I could tell them to wait until I'd called."
"You have assistants?"
"Yes. Listen to me. The cat is not a pet, no one will ever even see him except you, and you won't see him unless you want to. You don't have to feed him, he'll eat the local mice. You don't have to let him in and out, he'll take himself in and out. The cat is letter transport in case communication fails."
"I thought you used owls."
"Our school owls are ...having a little trouble. If they think of a way to block the cell phones next, I need to have some alternate means of communication already in place. How soon will the next batch of results be ready?"
I looked at my computer, still chuntering quietly away. "I tweaked the code some more, but I need a better processor. It's still collapsing the indetermancies. A week? Two?"
"Right. If you can't reach me by phone whenever it's ready, just give the results to Crookshanks. There's a secret zipped compartment on the inside of his collar. It's very unlikely we'll need this; I'm just trying to calculate all the angles."
"Oh," I said. How's Harry? No, I'm not going to ask that. "How's the seige preparations?"
"Well, the Patronus mining went fabulously with only a couple of potion-drunk fights. If we ever get surrounded by dementors we'll be able to pop volleys of Patronuses up out of the ground on cue. Unfortunately we're having that umbrella problem where it looks like it's going to rain so you bring your umbrella and then it doesn't rain and you find out that what you really need is sunscreen, so the Patronus mines are looking a little moot at the moment. Can you give me any tips on making napalm? Apparently fire is what you use against a zombie army."
"Uh... What? Are you surrounded by a zombie army?"
"No, not yet, they're still on their way here. First they went to the Ministry and ate all the brains."
I laughed. "I suppose there wouldn't have been many brains at the Ministry."
"No, there were lots- oh, you mean the bureaucrats. No, all the bureaucrats were evacuated; the zombies ate the brains out of the tank."
The cat jumped off my desk and began exploring my room. I said, "The tank? Zombies? Brains? Brains in a tank? Am I really having this conversation?"
"Don't ask me; I don't do namby-pamby subjects like Philosophy. Now tell me your tips on making napalm. I'm afraid the boiling oil on the parapets won't have any effect on zombies beyond warming them up to a little above room temperature."
"The notes in the margins of your chemistry text seem to hint at indiscreet pyromaniac boyhood adventure."
"And here I'd thought to cultivate a wholesome reputation with you. Oh, well." I told her about napalm.
She wrote down what I told her and then she said, "Hold on," and I listened while she talked to other people. "I want two Halfblood-led teams to go out and pick up these components. Get McGonagall to let out the Muggle funds to buy the stuff. Here's my signature," she said to them, and then to me, "Ah, there's nothing like the approach of a zombie army to really make everyone willing to pull together."
"Where are you?" I asked.
"The dining hall," she said. "Don't worry, I have privacy to talk. Everytime someone comes over I hand them a scrap of parchment with errands on it just for them and they go away. I just sent our resident giant off to bake us some great huge rock-like treacle muffins, which are irresistible to giants. We shall turn them into Portkeys that lead to various locations in the Himalayas."
"Oh," I said. And then I asked, "Do you have air superiority?"
"I'm working on it. I've got three hippogriffs, four quidditch teams, Harry, who's almost as good as a Ukrainian Ironbelly, and maybe a dozen invisible, flying, carrion-eating horses. Oooo. Maybe the thestrals would eat the zombies. That would be convenient. I doubt the horses would eat napalm though. So I'll use the tasty edible magic fire first, see how the thestrals like that, and then I'll have the napalm and Harry in reserve. Great! That's the plan." And I listened to her scribble.
So Harry's okay. "You're really gung ho about all this," I said.
"Yes. I need Voldemort dead by end of term. I'd like to spend next term studying for my NEWTs. So, chop chop, as they say."
"Wow, you are one bloodthirsty witch, not that there's anything wrong with that. My friends love the sound of you."
"Are you telling people you're dating a witch?"
"I tell them, but somehow they hear 'bitch' and I'm lazy and I don't correct them. So we are dating? That's interesting- considering I haven't seen you in ages."
"Well, if you don't want-"
"-No, no, if you say we're dating, then we're dating. It's a tad epistolary though. I want an actual in-person date one of these days. And don't think you can get out of this by dieing in some exciting manner, either. I bet you'd make a really cute zombie."
"Bleaaaarhg. My soul would be so grossed out by being your zombie girlfriend that it would stick around and haunt you."
"I'd open a concession stand and sell tickets to the haunting. And then I'd spend the money on my new, live girlfriend."
"You are so mean. I'd possess your new girlfriend and make her bite you."
"Lovely. I don't get bit nearly enough. This cat is not biting me, either. I'm very disappointed."
"Look in the bottom of the cat box," she said.
"Why? Is there something else bitey or horrible in there?" I looked in and pulled out the contents.
It was a collection of parchment pages, penned in Hermione's clear hand, sewn together on the side with irregular stitches of white cotton thread. She'd copied out the interesting parts of her Arithmancy book for me. "Ooooh," I said. "Thanks. This looks illegal."
"You bet," she said, "And if anyone's hands other than yours ever touch it, it will burst into flames. Won't that be nifty!"
"Great. How very James Bond. I'll store it in an envelope marked tax records," I said. And then a photo dropped out from between the pages. It was of Hermione and when I touched her she moved. Two inch tall Hermione waved at me. "Oh. Oh!" I said.
"You found it, eh? The charm on the picture is less secure: it will only move for wizards or you, and it won't burst into flame for anyone. I was going to make that picture much more ...um, interesting, but then I reconsidered. I might want to run for office one day."
"Uh-huh," I said, not listening. I touched her again and she blew a kiss. Touch, wave. Touch, kiss. Touch, wave.
"All right, all right, back to the agenda. If your technomancy location results match with what my arithmancy results here are describing, then we'll have a hard time finding the entrance to Voldemort's Fortress of Eeeevil. I'm expecting What's His Face to have a local water supply that we could poison though. He'll notice magical poisons quickly though and be suspicious, but if it was a Muggle poison maybe he wouldn't be too suspicious. And maybe he'd send someone out to fix the water and, if we had the entire area filled with bugs and watchers, we could find his entrance. So, hypothetically, what would be an excellent undetectable-till-you-were-puking-and-half-dead Muggle poison?"
Is that something I can get in quantity? From a local shop?" she asked.
Hypothetically, my foot. "Er... No?"
"Useless, then. What can I get easily that's still horrible? No need for something with a Muggle antidote. I'd prefer not to poison Bambi and all the local wildlife, but if we must we must. We'll send in the unicorns after I suppose. If they'll talk to us again. I'm certain I can find some virgins somewhere at this school."
The cat looked up then and vanished under my bed. And then my friend, Gordon, burst into my room. I showed him the way out.
"Uh. Some bloke in the hall. He, uh, he tripped. He's fine," I said.
"Some bloke? You don't even know me now? Come on!" said Gordon. I shut the door in his face.
"So. Poison?" said Hermione.
"Uh... I'm a maths and computers person. Despite the whole napalm business I'm not all that up on chemistry, and you have my book. ...My friend Gordon will know how to kill Bambi. I'll ask him and call you later." I'll buy him a couple of pints, maybe he won't remember me asking him horrible, creepy questions.
"Thanks, Dudley. You're a prince."
"Riiiight. I think you're unclear on the concept. I can't believe it, but you're actually a bad influence on me." Gordon pounded on door outside. "And I have to go," I said.
"I have to go, too. I need to subvert the werewolves somehow. I'm thinking a potions co-op. Talk to you later?"
"Yup. Bye." I shoved Hermione's parchment in my desk, and grabbed my rucksack.
I left my room and locked the door. Gordon said, "We are going to be late, and you-"
"-Don't even start with me. And I've told you at least five times to knock first."
"Shut it." For that I'll buy you twenty pints and you can be sick all weekend.
Chapter 6: In which Hermione plays with fire.
After spending four hours destroying Inferi zombies, and then five hours watching Dementor reinforcements come sweeping in to blend their numbers with the zombies, and then half an hour eating dinner like he was actually hungry (I'd been too upset to do more than pick at my dinner), Harry had the nerve to say to me, "Sieges are boring, eh."
In a fit of pique I made him accompany me on a round of chocolate distribution. There's always someone who hasn't packed enough chocolate ration to cope with the unpleasant effects of being surrounded by Dementors, and I decided getting chocolate from the great and wonderful (bit of a git once you get to know him) Harry Potter would improve morale. Most everyone's morale was a little worse for wear after seeing all those Dementors roll in, and the sensible strategy of waiting until all the Dementors had arrived before sending them away with the Patronus mines was downright painful in practice. I just wanted them gone, gone so I could think properly and gone so I could risk sending the teams out to take on the Inferi again.
"I hate playing fucking mascot," said Harry when I shoved a bag into his hands. "Also the next batch of napalm is pretty much ready."
"Shut up and eat some of that chocolate yourself," I said.
We went up to the gate tower first to see Ron. Going by the ring of chocolate round his mouth, Ron was following standard procedure. In fact he'd eaten everything he had already, so we restocked his pockets. I attempted to pet Draco, who was crammed down the front of Ron's coat, but the little shit bit me. "Ow!" I said as Draco licked his bloody teeth at me. "Have you remembered to give him chocolate too, Ron? It might improve his temper."
Harry laughed balefully at that. "Won't help. He bites me all the time. He's been biting me for weeks."
I took a bite of my own chocolate bar to prevent myself from throttling the little beast.
"It's because you two are so grabby. You can't just walk up and poke people in the head with no introductions or hellos. It's not polite," said Ron, like he thought we were stupid. Ron, he's a ferret not a hippogriff.
Luna arrived then to take her shift with Ron. "I'd personally love to know what pleasantries Draco used to get into your robes," she said.
"No, see, he wasn't pleasant; I was pleasant, and I put him in there. I'm good with animals," said Ron to her, cluelessly.
"You're a bit too subtle sometimes," I told Luna as I dragged her away from the boys and filled her pockets and her hands with chocolate.
"Me? You think? Are you certain he has a pulse? Maybe he's a ferretsexual. Ewwww. Seriously, how do you attempt to seduce a boy whose got a rabid ferret down his jumper? How did you get him? I bet you used a love potion on him," she said, but then the chocolate I'd forced on her began to take effect and she smiled.
"I admit I never had to make my way past a rabid ferret, but keep trying," I said. "Those freckles go all the way down. It's quite worth it. And may I say, you're looking exceedingly fierce today."
She laughed and skipped back to Ron to start their rounds around the outer wall.
I collected Harry and we met up with Lupin on the stairs and together went on up to the south tower where Padma, Parvati, Ernie, and Neville were trading off sentinel duty, with Parvati currently taking her turn keeping her eyes on the crystal ball.
Padma was whining, which was not like her. Probably strung out by Dementors like Luna and everyone else and didn't even know it. "Why did we get shunted off to the night shift? It's not fair! There no way I'm going to be able to sleep during the day," she said, "And one more cold lunch eaten on top of this tower and I'll-"
"-Better a handful of dried dates and contentment with that than to own the Gate of Peacocks and be kicked in the head by an angry llama," said Parvati without looking up from the ball.
"Camel! You get kicked in the head by a camel! Not a llama!" said Padma.
"Says who? I bet a big llama could kick someone in the head quite as hard as a camel," said Parvati.
"Aaaaaagh! Camel, camel, camel, camel!" said Padma. I shoved chocolate into her hands and she absently ate it.
"Imagine getting kicked in the head by a hippogriff," said Neville, eyeing the feathery mounds curled up on top of the west tower. Neville doesn't usually tend to the morbid so I gave him chocolate, too, and Harry offered chocolate around to the rest of them.
Harry sat down next to Ernie and peered into the south tower's crystal ball with Parvati. It was linked to the spybats we'd spread around the treetops for miles around, and could scope out details all the way from the far end of the Forbidden Forest to as close as the shrubs and trees around the castle grounds. Parvati and Ernie started showing Harry how to move the view from bat to bat, and they passed round a chunk of Harry's chocolate.
Padma and Lupin and I were just getting down to a meaty theoretical discussion on the magical properties of the cacao bean when Harry shrieked and jumped away from the table and the crystal ball. He grabbed Parvati's shiny new broom and zipped away across the tiled roofs of the lower castle towers.
"What's he up to?" I said.
Parvati shrugged and twiddled the crystal ball towards me. "That's over by the rose gardens. Northwest wall," she said. I looked in to see a closeup of what I'd been watching in aggregate all afternoon: loads and loads of zombies and Dementors. Yick. These particular ones seemed fairly well-preserved, but otherwise they weren't especially- oh, how vile. It was Harry's mum and dad. And they were zombies. Shit.
"He's going down there!" I screeched, "Catch him!"
Ernie and Padma looked at each other, then grabbed their brooms from where they leaned against the wall, and they both dove after Harry. Gold and green flames, Harry's fire, erupted in the sky over the northwest wall. I looked back down into the crystal ball and watched Harry blow a ring of fire around himself and the Inferi. Not enough, Harry; you need more at your back than that. But he turned his attention to what was left of his parents and he burned the dark off of them until even their bones and all the air for meters around burned away.
It's a trap, Harry. The Dementors hidden amongst the zombies slid right through Harry's fire ring. Turn around, Harry. He didn't. They seized him and all his fires went out. They fought over him while he tried to get his wand arm free, and then the Dementor that won the right to eat him lowered its hood down over the top of his head. I watched the image in the crystal ball of Harry opening his mouth, teeth flashing over dieing flames, heard the sound of his scream as it echoed over the castle, and then Harry's image disappeared in silver light as Ernie and Padma's Patronuses combined, covered him and drove off the dark. Ernie and Padma arrived a second later and they grabbed Harry by the arms and hauled him back to the tower. Harry was a dead weight dangling from their brooms, not trying to hold himself on their brooms at all, and he slipped and fell from their hands as they got him back over the wall. Neville caught Harry before he hit the stone and held him up while we all gathered around to inspect him.
Harry was limp and silent, his eyes were open and his hair was sucked up into a bizarre point. It looked like the games you play in the tub while washing your hair when you're a kid, but his hair wasn't wet. Maybe it looked more like he'd been mauled by a miniature tornado. His hair was perfectly dry, held in place by static electricity or... something. I reached out and knocked my hand through it and his hair fell back down into its usual mess.
Parvati, who'd been studying mediwizardry in her spare time, stuck her wand in Harry's ear. "He's fine. They didn't have time to find his mouth. Get some chocolate into him. Fuck, if he's going to jump into the Dementors like that, we may as well just coat him with chocolate all over."
Not a bad idea. Harry blinked at me and seemed to wake up. I looked into his face, trying to get a bead into his eyes so I could take a quick Legilimency check to confirm Parvati's opinion that his soul was really still all in there, but I had no choice but to lean well back from him. "Whoof! It smells like you snogged Satan's rectum! Must you jump into every possible fight you see? And must you use the same technique to solve every problem? I'm trying to hold you in reserve!"
Harry laughed, hitting me with the remnants of his dragon breath again. "I," he said, "feel great. I feel- Whoooooo. Awesome." He sounded stoned out of his mind, but at least his mind was still in there.
I looked at him carefully. His clothes were not corroding. His lips were still attached. His tongue wasn't at all burned off. He really was fine. I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. "Reserve! Reserve! What part of reserve don't you understand?" His head bobbled back and forth satisfyingly.
Parvati peeled me off of him and peered into his eyes herself. "Don't scramble his brains any more, Hermione. So your head doesn't hurt, Harry?"
Neville reached out and delicately picked up Harry's fringe. "Where's your scar?" he asked Harry. My mouth dropped open as I stared at Harry. Neville was right. Harry's scar was gone.
Harry giggled. "They're free. I'm fine. I'm really, wonderfully, fabulously fine."
"Here," said Lupin, handing him a copper canteen. "It's hot cocoa."
Harry politely took a swig, which seemed to sober him up. He stared down at the canteen in his hand for one long frozen second. "You're all right?" asked Lupin. "Truly?"
Harry unsheathed his wand, silently sliced the whole top off the metal canteen, grabbed Parvati's broom again, and jumped off the parapet. Again.
Lupin regarded the crumpled neck of his canteen that had been dropped at his feet. "A thousand points from Gryffindor," he said.
"Harry!" I yelled and looked over the parapet after him.
Staying where we could easily see him, Harry flew down to the base of our tower, and out over the assembled hordes that surrounded us. They jumped and reached up their sticky fingers to him, but he kept out of their reach this time and flew sensibly, so Ernie and Padma stayed put. Harry singled out a Dementor, circled over it until it looked up, and dumped the contents of the sliced canteen into the Dementor's hood. It melted. It fell into itself, went transparent, and then spattered over the ground as smoking rain. Poof. Just like that. It did not reform.
"Hahah!" shrieked Harry and he flew up away from all the nasty, grabby hands and back towards us. He tossed the ruined canteen at our feet and looped and rolled over our heads.
"Is he on Luck potion?" asked Neville, next to me. I shook my head.
"How did you-" I started to say when Harry had landed and eaten more chocolate.
"Just a good guess," he said, grinning from ear to ear.
"Oh my god, let's get rid of all those Dementors right now, so everyone can actually get some sleep for tomorrow," I said, "Would you call Dobby?"
Harry called Dobby, and when I asked him whether he thought the Hogwarts elves would help us defend the castle he said, "Yes! Ah. Well. But trickings and sweepings doesn't exactly defend. Dobby's friends may only do what is theirs, if Harry Potter's friends sees what Dobby means."
"Would you cook for us? Big massive offensive cooking?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," said Dobby, hopping up and down excitedly.
"How much cocoa powder do you have in stores," I asked, knowing the house elves had stocked up for the siege.
"As much as Miss would like. Many years of supplies!" said Dobby proudly.
"Enough to cover the entirety of the Hogwarts grounds in a drenching rain of hot cocoa?" I said.
Dobby's eyes got as big as bludgers. "No. Not that much."
I pulled out my folded, spindled, personal map of the Hogwarts grounds that Dudley had laminated for me and I handed Dobby my wax pencil. "Show me. Draw me a circle that describes what area we could drench with hot cocoa." Dobby drew a circle, maybe the size of a bottlecap on my map, which was maybe the size of a quidditch field. Big, but nowhere near big enough to do the job.
"Ah," I said, "So much for the idea of destroying them. There's too many Dementors for us to chase every one down individually, we just can't take that much exposure to them. I suppose we'll just have to pop the Patronus mines, and hope the Dementors get scattered very far away and don't come back very quickly."
"Sorry," said Dobby.
"No," said Neville, looking over my shoulder, "Corral them."
"What?" I said.
"I walked the perimeter and the ley line through the castle with Flitwick," said Neville, "He showed me exactly how the triggering charms work and how they link to the keystone spell, and we don't have to go back out to the perimeter to fiddle with things; we could do it from McGonagall's office. The Patronus mines are currently set to expand outward from the castle in an expanding star pattern, to drive the Dementors out and away. But we could change the pattern in which the Patronuses pop up."
Neville pulled out his wand and started drawing in the air. I must get him to show me that charm one day.
"Suppose we popped the outer perimeter first and sent the Patronuses round in a circle. Then we we could pop each radius line individually all the way around until we had them all compressed into a skinny sliver of pie," he said.
"Muahahaha! It'd be like shooting fish in a barrel. What do you need to do this right away?" I asked him.
"Well, said Neville, "We'd need to wake McGonagall so she'd be ready to release the keystone spell, we'd need Professor Flitwick to adjust the deployment pattern, and we'd need me and at least one other person to hold up the sticky ends of the charms with him-"
"Me! Me!" said Parvati, "I'll do it!" Padma stared at her sister and then silently took Parvati's place in front of the map and the crystal ball. Parvati ran over to Neville.
"Looks like you have a volunteer, Neville," I said.
Neville seemed nonplussed. "Uh. I- Yeah. So, two people to hold the ends of the charms with Professor Fliwick while he tweaks them and to provide him some extra power while he does it. And then we'd need twenty or thirty people in the air to drop the cocoa. And we'd need lots of cocoa."
"Elves will make you bathtubs full of lovely, boiling hot cocoa!" said Dobby.
"How far can you go?" I asked Dobby, "Do we need a few chocolate-coated Quidditch teams to pour the hot cocoa on the Dementors, or can the elves do that?"
"Elves be delighted to serve hot cocoa to our guests," said Dobby with a little wriggle of joy. Dobby and Parvati put their heads together and started discussing details, and Neville called Flitwick.
The crystal ball chimed. I joined Padma as she bent over it and focused the image. "What is that? Is that a dragon?" she said. Lupin pulled out his phone.
Ernie and Harry went over and huddled around the crystal ball. "Um. Looks very much like one," said Ernie.
"Charlie reports no authorized dragons on the loose," said Lupin. I looked over at his old map.
"Can I leave you in charge of handling this?" I asked Harry. It was closing fast, had showed up on the edge of the Hogwarts map, and, according to its little moving dragon-shaped dot, was named Puckles.
"Thurrre, I can take a drrragon," Harry said around suddenly enormous fangs, and he grabbed Parvati's broom and climbed up onto the parapet. His hair grew longer and wilder, he hunched over the broom...
I seized him by the hem of his robe. "That method will kill it, right? Charlie would be upset." And if you keep breathing flames and acid like a dragon yourself, you'll blow off all your tastebuds permanently, you damn fool. I doubt you can yet hold your tongue for more than half an hour. And you're going with backup if I have to duct tape them to your arse. "How'd you like to take your team with you and let them get some practice in?"
"Rrrrrr," said Harry, but the fire in his eyes damped down to a smoulder and he reeled his hair and teeth back in. He jumped down off the parapet. "All right. All right. I'll call my team then. And I'll want Millicent and Lavender and Zach from yours. And Luna and a couple thestrals, and a lot of disillusionment charms. Professor Lupin, would you do the charms?" Lupin nodded and pulled out his wand. Harry pulled out his phone and called up Millicent, Parvati pulled out hers and called up the rest of Harry's team.
I leaned against the nice comforting stone and thought for a moment. If Voldemort had any grasp of strategy he'd send us another dragon right after we've engaged the first. Right? Middle of the night after we've spent the day fighting zombies, there couldn't be a more perfect time for Voldemort to bung everything he has at us. There's got to be more coming. And with the grounds covered in monsters, anyone who falls is toast. I should definitely clear the grounds now instead of waiting to see if all the Dementors have finished rolling in. And do the napalm on the Inferi right after. Maybe? Or would I be waking everyone for nothing and exhausting them for tomorrow? Aaaagh!
I called Ron for a sanity check. "Ron, we have an incoming dragon and Harry wants Luna for his team. Send her on up here. And tell me, if you were Voldemort, would this one dragon be it or would there be more coming?"
"Ahh... There'd be more. Lots more. I'll scramble my team, shall I? And maybe Pansy's?" he said. "Oh, and dibs on Bullseye Creevey for my team. Bye."
Harry's team started landing on the tower with their brooms and their air pistols and wands. Harry broke open the potions ammo stores and loaded them all up, and I watched him use Neville's trick to draw a moving picture of the strategy he wanted them to use. I hadn't practiced on a team with Harry in ages and his tactics all looked like Quidditch to me. It'd probably still work though. Lupin smacked them all with Disillusionments and they all jumped off the tower in a group.
I called McGonagall. "This is the head mistress's sue-yullar foon. Who the hell are you?" said some strange man. Was it... Mad Eye Moody?
"Give me that!" said Mcgonagall. "Yes?"
"Um..." I said. "Ah... Ma'am, we have a report of an incoming dragon. Harry and his team have gone to meet it, but we suspect more are on the way. We also have a plan coming together to rid the grounds of our assorted non-flying vermin and I think we'll be needing your assistance with the keystone spell. And I'd like to do it before any of our air forces take a tumble to the ground and get eaten."
"Oh, bother. All right. I'll get dressed and I'll be right up."
"Haha! You just told her you're naked," said Moody in the background.
"Er..." said McGonagall, "I'm certain I can count on your discretion, Miss Granger."
"I'm certain I have no idea what you're referring to," I said. "See you in a minute. We're on the South tower."
"Good girl," said McGonagall and she hung up.
The crystal ball chimed and chimed again.
Padma, behind me, said, "Hermione? Come here!" I looked up and the dragon was now visible in the sky over the grounds. It writhed and sparkled but the disillusionment charms meant I couldn't see Harry and his team. Padma screeched and waved me over to look at Lupin's old map. Harry's team, marked out in little green dots, surrounded the undulating large red dot that was the dragon. Harry's team seemed to be pushing it towards the lake. Fabulous, I don't think there are any Dementors in the lake. Just Inferi. And Squid.
"Not that," said Padma, "Here." She pointed to the far corner of the map, where a sprinkling of more red dots of all sizes was collecting into rows.
"Well, crap," I said and when at that Padma's face fell and Ernie began to look like he might panic, I said, "Oh, pull your socks up. I'd hoped for a bit more time and to run these plans one after another, but we can run them simultaneously. No problem. It'll still work." Did that sound convincing? And calm? Of course it did! They don't know Legilimency; I just have to LOOK like I know what I'm doing. How the fuck did my quickness at punching in phone calls land me this job? Where are my fucking assistants? "Okay, Ernie, Padma, I'll take over here. You two go scramble your houses. I want everyone on their assigned towers in two minutes. We're going to deploy the napalm in the next ten. Go."
Ernie and Padma grabbed their brooms and jumped off the parapets. Lupin was bouncing on his toes impatiently, so I gave him Parvati's forgotten broom and sent him off to scramble my house, and then I sent Moody down to Slytherin with Neville's. McGonagall was seized by Neville, Flitwick and Parvati, and after a quick conference they all ran back down to McGonagall's office. Dobby reappeared with news about the cocoa and I sent him after McGonagall's team.
I counted the gathering dots and rubbed my head. I need Snape. And some more Weaselys. And to tell Harry he can go ahead and take the brakes off. Too bad for Puckles. How many Aurors do we have sleeping down in the dining hall? I stabbed at the buttons on my phone again, as more teams assembled on the towers around me...
Chapter 7: In which Hermione is screwed, blued, & tattooed.
There'd been no warning in the front of Snape's Legilimency book. I penciled in my own:
May break you open in the heat of battle,
giving you the ability to see what your enemy's next move is,
which sounds incredibly useful,
but that doesn't mean you can prevent people from dying
and not only will you be blamed for that,
you don't get to stop reading people after the battle is over.
May cause complete knowledge
of exactly how all your so-called friends really feel about you.
May force you to see other's thoughts
that you'd really wish you hadn't.
May make you see right through
the cheap platitudes offered by people
who really don't give a shit about you.
May fuck up your life.
Ginny was dead, there'd been nothing much left of her when we'd dug her out of the insides of one of Voldemort's monsters, and Ron and Harry both thought it was my tactics, my strategy, my plan, my fault. Not that anyone had had a better plan. Not that they would say so aloud, or to my face. But they no longer had to, fucking Legilimency. McGonagall lips tightened and she gave me a tartan handerchief, starched. "Perhaps you can step out to Hogsmeade with your latest squeeze and relax a bit before you start on the Occlumency book," she said.
Because learning Occlumency had SO helped Snape to not become all bitter and nasty after he learned Legilimency. Right. Of course it had. The slimey git could have warned me before I ran off with the first book. I am so fucking doomed. And Hogsmeade? Puh-leeeeese. "I broke up with Ron ages ago, and also he secretly hates me now because I got his sister killed," I said, "Weren't you listening? My boyfriend doesn't attend Hogwarts; I'm not going to Hogsmeade. And I'm just not getting the impression that you are hearing the part about how everyone secretly hates me." Why did I bother? I wasn't going to look her in the eye again any time soon either; she thought I was daft for expecting people to be grateful for what I had done.
"Where does your boyfriend go to school?" asked McGonagall. I told her and she laughed. "Of course, of course. Fine. Take the weekend off. Go see him. Or your parents. Someone. Anyone. That'd be an order. Get out of here."
"You've done very well, but you're useless in this state, Miss Granger, or else you'd see that this is not all about you. And I've seen Albus deal with his own and other's Legilimency often enough to know how this works. I'll call you if we need you. I doubt we will; the clean-up is well in hand. Would you like an escort out beyond the apparition wards?" she said, and her tone of voice suggested that she might be willing to tie me to her broom and boot me out herself.
So, rather depressed, I scraped my face on the tartan and went away and three hours after that I was walking out of the railway station to see Dudley, who, when I'd called him up and asked him if he happened to be free, said, "God, yes," and when I offered to buy him dinner, what with me presuming so suddenly upon him, he said, "No. Absolutely not. I will be buying." And that was better than a sharp stick in the eye, which was what interacting with my friends had been for the last few days.
I followed Dudley's directions through the city, around the buildings, past the porter, up three flights of stairs, and to a door that I knocked on for ages and no one answered. It was locked, too. Well, I was a little early. I wandered down the hall to see if he was somewhere about.
"Go look, right now, or I will never lend you anything ever again. Or -give me your room key. I'll trash your room for you, if you like." Is that his voice?
"Waste of time. There's no way-"
I came around the corner and found what seemed to be a small common room. And there he was. "Dudley!"
He looked up, saw me, and moved. He was a lot faster on his feet than I expected, there'd been furniture between us, but it was like he'd apparated in front of me. And then he seemed unsure how to proceed, which, considering the kinds of things he's been saying to me on the phone, was just ridiculous. Oh, no, he's NOT going to shake my hand, is he? Unacceptable. I ignored his hands and stepped in to hug him and, just to make certain he understood, I kissed him on the mouth.
He put his arms around me and kissed me back and when I pulled away, he smiled and his blue eyes were like being being dropped into summer sky, for there were no battles in there, no pain, no fear, no anger- I grabbed his arms and attempted to not fall on the floor. Fucking Legilimency. Yikes. I dragged my gaze away, down, and tried to think of something casual, something snarky, something, something, anything...
"Nice tie," I said, and then I took in the rest of him, from his carefully combed hair to his pressed trousers. "God, look at you. I didn't realize we'd be playing the Clichéd Gender Expression Game today. I'll go put on a skirt, shall I?"
"You're already wearing a dress," he said and then he looked down at himself. "Wait- What were you expecting I'd wear to go out? Isn't this all right?"
"This," I said, running my hand down his side, "is great. And this here is a frockcoat, not a dress. See? Trousers under. Where can I change?" Thank Merlin for transfiguration. I can fairy-godmother my clothes into something more interesting until midnight. What had I told him on the phone so long ago? Stocking and garters? Oh, lordy.
The young man Dudley had been talking to before had left when I arrived and now he came back and put some cufflinks in Dudley's hand. "Here you go, mate. Do I get an introduction?"
"No. Clear off," said Dudley to his inquisitive friend. And to me, "You can change in my room."
Dudley's friend ignored the hint. "Hi, I'm Gordon. I hear you're a witch. Where's your pentacle?" he said. "Excuse me? I'm CoE. Occasionally. For holidays," I said. "And what is this pentacle rubbish, pray tell, Dudley?"
"Uh... Dunno. I think Gordon's schizophrenic. He makes weird shit up and then believes it. Let's not talk to him. Come on." Dudley stepped closer and tried to herd me away from his friend and down the hall as if he was a big collie dog and I was a sheep. I poked him and laughed, but I went.
Dudley's friend followed. "Do you do naked rituals and stuff? Smoke exciting things? Sacrifice small animals to various entities?" he asked while Dudley unlocked his door for me.
"Oh, yes. You bet. I'm one of the blessed and oily anointed ones who worship the mighty Asphalta, goddess of parking and three-point turns," I said. I edged into Dudley's room. "Dudley, what have you been telling people?"
"Nothing," he said, and then to his friend, "Go find your own girl to chat up before I punch you in the head." Gordon huffed and went away.
Dudley stepped into the room with me and began fiddling with his cufflinks, trying to get them in. I unbuttoned my coat and began to evaluate my clothes for transmogrification potential, but then Crookshanks bounded out from under Dudley's desk and jumped into my arms.
"Darling!" Now that's a proper greeting. I squeezed my beautiful, fluffy monster and cuddled him and got myself covered in cat hair. Crookshanks licked my face.
"Eugh," said Dudley. Hmmm. I fished in my bag, pulled out a box of chocolates, reached around my armful of cat, and handed it to him. Dudley took it and looked dismayed.
"What? You said I should give you chocolate, not ugly cats."
"I- I was kidding about that."
"You want me to take the sweets back?"
He actually looked at his feet and considered that one. "No," he said after a moment. "Um. Thank you."
"Yeah, good. I didn't feel like giving them to Gordon. I'm going to do something with my clothes now. Give me a minute alone, eh, Dudley?" I said. He nodded, grabbed his jacket, and went out the door.
It only took me a few minutes to turn my blouse into a dress and my trousers into stockings, and very shortly I was walking out with him into the street. "Where's your car? I thought you brought it with you," I said. Maybe he won't notice if I don't quite meet his eyes. Maybe if I'm obnoxious he won't want to.
"I did. I use it for part-time jobs. I'm renting a bit of drive behind someone's house about a mile that way. But all the restaurants are quite close and this way. You don't mind walking, do you?"
"No, I don't mind. I was just looking at all these cars and trying to remember if yours had a decent-sized backseat."
"I suppose it-" It took him a moment to parse what I might mean. "Are you- I mean, there's nowhere private to park in the city. You're not an exhibitionist or something, are you?"
"Good heavens, no. If I wanted to do you right here on the street, no one would notice; I'm a witch and my invisibility charms are quite good. No, I just like cars. Especially compared to brooms; wow, those things are uncomfortable."
"I- I'll go get my car."
Oh, oh. I forced myself to look away from him again. "I said IF I wanted to do you, Romeo. Oh, look, here's some restaurants. I'm hungry."
I sneaked a peek back at him. He giggled. "Right," he said, "And if you were hoping for intelligent conversation out of me, you can now forget it. I'd almost think you did that on purpose. Is it my imagination or are you just plain mean?"
"Heh. Is the steak good here? Or do they have venison? I could eat some cute little horny ungulates. I like my meat rare. Practically blue." I squeezed his arm.
"Funny. That place makes a nice vegetarian curry." He pointed across the street.
"Oooh. Is it made from real vegetarians?"
"I though you were a vegetarian."
"I was, but then Crookshanks kept bringing me his extra mice*, and I just couldn't resist. Give me meat."
"Mice. Okay. I have appalling taste in women. Who knew?" He shrugged and picked the French place. The waiters were snotty, they put us by the door where the draft blew over my feet, and Dudley, having seemingly decided I was exactly the witch I said I was, had indeed given up on trying for intelligent conversation and he just stared at me like I was an impressive bit of scenery that might as well be enjoyed before the fog rolled in. Our dinners eventually arrived and we chewed and Dudley stared and I stared back.
I've told him how Legilimency works; he knows, he just forgets, for unlike everyone else he is not the least bit afraid of me. So he looked and I found I could take it without falling over- while sitting down anyway. Those blue eyes are completely transparent, the insides are just as pink and golden as the outsides. This is too easy and too pleasant, I just can't help it, it's probably addictive. Oh, well.
He was perfectly happy to be eating dinner while staring at a girl, perfectly happy to let me look in, and, hell, it was a nice dinner.
"You," I said, "You, I like." He raised his eyebrows at me.
"Uh-huh," he said. I could see he didn't quite believe me, but he smiled sunnily at me anyway, willing to play pretend. And we did start talking as dinner wound down, easing into the way we talked on the phone, bouncing around from math to magic to the results of the program he'd set up for me-- and talking about that made him sit up and go through his coat pockets. "Here," he said.
I took the plastic case he handed me and opened it. A computer disc. "What's this?"
"That's the program I- we made. You said we were done, that you had everything you needed, that I could remove your battery thingie and set up my computer for my own coursework. So that's the program and a digital copy of the results, same as the printouts I sent you. And, uh-" He took a deep breath. "If you ever need to run the program again, I installed it and the battery on your parents' computer. I compiled a special version that runs on their system."
"You did what!? You did not!"
"Well. Yes. I did. Not a lot of dentists named Granger in your hometown, are there? They were rather easy to find. Of course, when I called them up to ask them what kind of computer and operating system they had and to arrange a time for me to drop by, I was just thinking about what a nice surprise it'd be to set that program up on a computer that you'd have access to all the time. It didn't actually occur to me that they were- well, your parents until your mum met me at the door-"
"Oh my god. Nooooooo! What did she doooooo?"
"She didn't do anything, I broke her tea cup. It was tiny; I probably shouldn't have tried to stick my finger in the handle. The handle broke in two, and the cup fell on the floor and smashed into pieces. Tea everywhere. I just about died."
"No worries, I can Reparo that if she kept the bits."
"Yeah. That's what your mum said. Word for word, even. Didn't make me feel any better at the time."
"Then what? Did she look in your mouth?"
"No. You're joking, right? She wouldn't have-"
"-My father must have been there. As long as my father is at home, she won't because he'll laugh. They're dentists; they're all about extracting things. I would have warned you away if you'd- What happened then? Did she pull out the photo albums? Did she interrogate you?"
"I was a bit rattled after breaking her teacup, but I defragged their drive and set up your program, and while I was doing that I suppose your mum did rather interrogate me. On everything. And she outright asked if I was your boyfriend. I said we talked on the phone a lot, and that you'd kissed me twice, but that was it. ...What are we at now, three?" He smiled.
"Oh, god. I suppose this means they'll stop asking me whatever happened to that nice foreign boy. I'd intended to never bring anyone by to meet them ever again after that. They grill everyone. They're just awful. I am so sorry."
He stared over my head. "Could be worse."
A welcome distraction, a change from the subject of awful parents, my dessert arrived. I started eating it. I was made of chocolate and so amazing it commanded all my attention. It made me feel a thousand times better. Maybe I'd gotten hit with some spell ricochet and hadn't noticed? Maybe sustained Legilimency had really taken it out of me? No wonder Dumbledore was always pushing sweets. No wonder Snape's teeth are so appalling. McGonagall should have given me chocolate. So simple. I should go back to Hogwarts and start kicking Voldemort's arse right now. I held out my spoon to Dudley. "You want some? I'll share."
I eyed him suspiciously. How could he refuse our secret weapon in the fight against evil? I said, "You're not going to eat those chocolates I brought, are you? They're not haunted. They're normal. I promise."
"You don't like chocolate?" I shovelled a spoonful in my mouth and then waved my chocolate-covered tongue at him. "Gimme a kiss."
"Eugh," he said. "Are you under the impression that's attractive? Stop it. This is a nice place. They'll throw us out of here," he said.
It seems I am completely my mother's daughter. How unfortunate. I swallowed. "Oh, gosh. Would we have to go somewhere else? Oh, no, please, not that." I took another spoonful and attempted to enunciate around it. "Kiss me. I'm in a French restaurant, eating French chocolate, and I want a French kiss to complete the set."
"Christ. Fine." He leaned over the table and kissed me, tasted me.
The kiss started out perfunctory, graduated past doubtful to exploratory, then Dudley pulled away and I half fell over the table. More. He looked at me and grasped my jaw and pulled me all the way over the table and licked every atom of chocolate out of my mouth. He kissed with his eyes shut, which was really just as well; my remaining brain cell told me that if I'd had to look into the blue at the same time as the chocolate and the tongue I might have passed out.
...They did eventually throw us out of the restaurant. Oui.
I told Dudley that witches become so intoxicated by chocolate that they are unable to apparate home immediately after eating it, so he'd have no choice but to let me go home with him and sober up. He feigned believing this, which meant that I could hang on him and look all I liked.
Gordon saw us come in. "I don't suppose she's got lots of cute friends," he said, while Dudley pulled out his keys.
"Tons," I said, "They're all boys. Or taken. Or the type who'd turn you into a toad."
"Story of my life," said Gordon and he wandered away.
Crookshanks had gone off somewhere. Dudley hung up our coats and dropped his tie on his desk and, while he wasn't watching, I charmed the door lock and sound-proofed the walls. "Would you like tea?" he asked me.
I sat down on his bed. "No. Would you like to snog for a while and maybe have it off?"
He froze. "Seriously? I thought you were just teasing."
"Given that there's a war on, are you really surprised that I fuck on the first date? And is this really our first date? How many films did we go see over the summer anyway? If you're not interested, just say-"
"No! I mean, yes. But I -um- wasn't expecting... I- I don't have any-"
"No worries, I'm on the potion. Would you like to read my paperwork that says I don't have any nasty transmittable diseases*?" I opened my handbag.
Dudley pulled my bag out of my hands and dropped it on a chair. "That is not how this is done. Kissing first, awkward conversation later," he said.
"Oh. Well, witches are proactive, we like to-" He leaned in and pressed his lips to mine, which meant I stopped talking, which was nice. Okay, so nevermind the paperwork. I pulled him down beside me. Still lip-locked, he ran his hands down my arms and my sides, the edge of his hand repeatedly skimming over the side of my chest. I picked up his hand and put it square on my breast. He squeezed and laughed into my mouth and started undoing my dress buttons. He slid his hand into my dress and under my bra and fondled me some more.
I went for his buttons, too, but somehow he got in the way. I let him get a good handle on my breast again and then I tried again. Nope. The third time he somehow blocked my groping, I said, "Speaking of how things are not done, this is supposed to be tit for tat."
"Hmm?" he said, lifting his lips from my neck.
"If you get to feel me up, I get to feel you up, right?" I said. He frowned and removed his hand from my breast. "No, I liked that. That's not what I meant." I gave up and just asked him. "You're not a virgin, are you?"
"No. Not at all," he said blandly, but he was looking right into my eyes and I heard him continue on in his head: I'm recently escaped from an all boys school and fat and ugly, so of course I am drawing upon my vast stores of experience here. Or possibly not, you stupid bitch.
Yow, he was as sarcastic in there as McGonagall. At least he hadn't seen me get anybody killed. "You're not ugly," I told him, "And I'm definitely not stupid, but I'll give you a free pass on calling me a bitch since that's more or less accurate."
He flushed. "I keep forgetting you can do that," he mumbled. He tried to roll away, but I had a handful of his shirt. Fucking unicorn bait. Why does this always happen to me. I pulled him back, but he still didn't look up.
"I don't mean to listen in," I said, "But then you stare right at me and shout silently. Maybe think quieter, eh? Or maybe I should just hurry up and master this Occlumency, because blue is my favorite colour and they're talking about making me sit out our next engagement. I'm useless like this."
He raised his head then, but it was my turn to look away. "I don't understand," he said.
Yeah, forget this. Not in the mood any more. I sat up a bit and leaned against him. "Legilimency. Mind-reading. It's great for offense, terrible for defense. If you send someone with Legilimency out onto the field, that's good because she can read tactics off the enemy. But if she doesn't have any Occlumency then that's bad because the enemy can pick all her plans out of her head. And then you have to possess dragons and make them eat the people who got bitten by vampires. It's all very unfortunate." Ginny, Ginny, Ginny. Is not a solid week of crying enough? How long am I going to have to mourn you? I should be empty of tears by now. Don't make me eat more chocolate, my teeth are done for. C'mon, Gin, I'll cry some more after I kill Voldemort for you.
"Oh, I'm fine. They gave me a book, 'About Occlumency'. I've read it before, but I get to read it again now. And it still makes no sense. Harry never made any headway at all with it, but he's safe now because he had a happy accident and caulked up his- Well, he's sorted."
"What's Occlumency?" asked Dudley.
I ventured to run my fingers over his chest; he watched my hands attentively. "The ability to not mind-read, or to prevent others from reading yours. I used have to consciously try to mind-read, but something happened during the siege, I was trying too hard or there were too many people I was trying to keep track off, I don't know, but something broke. And now I can't do either, can't help looking and can't shut others out. I've button-holed Snape and tried to get him to tutor me. I think he overdosed on teaching Harry; he won't- or can't manage to give me any coherent advice."
"How about the book then?" he asked. I stopped petting him and folded my hands, and he stopped watching me move around and he leaned back and relaxed. He looked up into my face again -oh, blue- and I settled in for a nice soak.
I started describing the book, the most fucking annoying book in the world, the most useless, vaguest, information-free, subjective piece of drivel ever written. And so very, very long. "And so, after trudging my way through the index, I checked my notes again and discovered that I had scribbled down absolutely NO spells, formulas, charms, incantations, potions or magic of any description at all. It was a thousand pages of blather. And now I have to read it again."
"How is Occlumency supposed to be done then? What, exactly, did it say?"
"It says nothing exactly. It's just something you do, that happens. You know. Like magic. Like breathing." What utter twaddle.
"Oh. Well. Then it's not magic. I mean, I can do that. It's like how some people can't be hypnotized, right?"
Yes. Look," he said. And then he threw me out of the pool. He was looking right at me and he didn't look away, but I was out, out of his head, staring at my own miniaturized reflection in his eyes.
I reared up and looked down at him. "Let me in."
"Aaaagh." I dropped my head in defeat and accidentally klonked my forehead on his. "Ow," I said.
He laughed. Seems both he and Harry have skulls carved from solid oak. Must be an Evans trait. Charming.
"Please, let me in," I tried.
He blinked and broke it. A bead of sweat ran down his temple.
I fell back in and sighed. "How- How did you-"
"It's... You just want to."
"Oh, brilliant. You master Occlumency without even reading the damn book and now you sound just like it. Why can't I do it?"
"You probably can. Have you had a reason to leave all the windows rolled open for a bit? Are you- airing things out? Hoping something will fly in? Er. I was crap at English. My metaphors need some work, maybe."
All the people I was trying to cover, to take care of, to confirm that they- "Ah. Yes. But you're not wrong. ...Which is very irritating."
"So sorry." He flipped up the hem of my dress and ran his finger over my stocking-covered leg. "Still mauve?" he asked.
"No, not really. I got better."
"That's good. ...There's a pretty girl on my bed."
Oh my god, could he be any more annoying? "Just noticed that, did you? I spent a whole summer sitting on your bed. I considered getting a little plastic button that said, 'Oi. There's a pretty girl on your bed', but I thought that would be too subtle."
"You like me."
"It was the way I stuck my tongue down your throat that tipped you off, wasn't it? I really need to be more assertive." Maybe I should date much older men? I thought of Moody and McGonagall. Ew. No. Obviously they're all the same at any age. I rolled on top of Dudley. "Rrrr. Enough talk. Give over." I wrapped my hand around his wrist and pinned his arm down to the bed.
He lifted his 'pinned' arm and me with it easily and laughed again. "Yeah, right," he said.
"Good god, man, where's your willing sense of disbelief? Even cats will pretend the toy on the end of the string is real. Work with me here." Play with me here.
"Willing sense of-? I suppose I can handle that. I'll clap my hands and tell you I believe in fairies if you want, too, but you better not do anything gay like turn into a boy then," he said.
That made me laugh. "My friend Ginny, or Jimmy, or whatever, got quite good at that spell. She could pull it off- or stick it on, as it were, mid-stroke. Amazing girl. Or boy, or whatever." I sighed deeply at the memory. Ginny had been so much fun.
Dudley was aghast. "I was kidding. You're not- You won't-"
"I didn't say I could do it." I didn't say I couldn't either, but he doesn't look like he'd enjoy it if I tried. Yeah, forget it. Maybe later. I leaned down and kissed him again. That worked. He certainly didn't kiss like a complete novice. Maybe he'd be a quick study.
"Okay," I said. "New game. Let's see if I can make you say 'yes'. How's that sound?"
"Enh," he said, squinting up at me skeptically.
"Hard to please already? You're very good at this. I transfigured this dress and these stockings up special. Do you like them?"
He tilted his head, trying to get a view past my undone dress buttons. "I don't know. I suppose. Your dress is pretty. I've not had a good look at the rest though."
"That's too bad, what with me going so completely out of my way to be a vision of grace and loveliness. Maybe you should stick your hand under my skirt and check, eh?"
He grinned at that. "All right." He ran his hand under my skirt and over my thighs and played with the lace at the tops of my stockings, but he wasn't really interested. He passed by the garters, pushed the skirt of my dress up and slid his hand around to cup my bum and there he stayed, riveted. An arse man; gosh, how rare and unusual. Maybe all his fancy talk on the phone was just that- talk.
I bit my lip and and writhed and rolled my hips under his big warm hands, but he didn't take the hint. I leaned over him. "Are you going to make me beg?" I asked.
His eyes were bright and wicked. "I might."
I glared. "You could have said no there. Could have earned yourself an easy point. Ever heard of a Pyrrhic victory?"
"No," he lied.
Bastard. I pushed against his hand until his fingers grazed my knickers. And after some more insistent wriggling on my part, he finally moved his hand under my crotch and found my knickers were damp and sticking to me. When he slid one inquiring finger under the fabric, I squirmed and captured his fingertip between lips already soaked. He stared at me, wide-eyed. "Give me more?" I asked. He said nothing, but he pulled out, added a second finger and I swallowed them to the knuckles. I rocked back and forth and my toes curled inside my shoes. "This might actually be better than chocolate. What do you think?" I said.
He still said nothing. His eyes were shut and his mouth open, gasping.
I looked under my elbow at him. He was grinding his hips into mine and he seemed to be pitching a tent in his trousers. Surely he'll say yes before long? Maybe I should cheat? I reached out, pulled his zip down and found my way through the layers of fabric and stroked his prick, swirling my hand around it. "Do you like this?" It was a terribly vapid question, but the rushing in my ears was making it difficult to think and I wanted to hear an affirmative and soon.
I let go of his erection. "I can't read your mind when you've got your eyes closed, and that pretty note you sang is a bit ambiguous. Perhaps I'm bothering you and you're just being extremely polite? Maybe I should stop? Let's try again," I growled. "Do you like this?" And I clamped my cunt hard around his fingers.
He panted so hard that I bounced up and down on his chest. "God, yes!"
"Yay, I win. Do you want more? May I take off your clothes and mine and put my hands all over you? May I bite you? May I kiss you and fuck you?"
"Yes, yes, don't stop, more, yes!" He wrapped his free arm around me and pulled me close, mashing me to his chest.
I curled my hand back around his prick and his whole body trembled under me. More. Yeah, I don't think so. Almost at hair trigger already. I nipped my way down his jaw and he turned his head and bared his throat to me. I licked him. He was lightly glazed in sweat and tasted wonderful. Oh, I love this game, especially when I'm winning. I bet he's not really listening. I whispered in his ear, "May I do a little magic thing to you?"
"Yes," he breathed.
I worked my finger inside his foreskin, over the slick velvet in there and pressed my fingertip into his slit. "You shall not pass," I intoned in my best Gandalf voice, and the magic zipped down his slit all the way to the base of his balls.
It was only a tiny little sealing spell, too delicate for a wand even, and I had practiced, but still he jumped and opened his eyes. "What did you-"
"You can come later," I told him, "When you say the magic word."
"What's the magic w-"
I slapped my hand over his mouth. "Don't ask. Don't say it. Not yet."
"-word? Say which?" he said from under my fingers.
"Shhh," I said, "We're all set now. Let's get started. Those trousers are going to have to come off."
He quit talking but he wasn't quiet. I'd been right to sound-proof the room.
Parvati certainly had a point about the particular pleasures of a boy with a bit of an oral fixation. I tried to ease my way out of the wet spot, but it was everywhere. "That's the biggest puddle I've ever co-created," I told Dudley. I gave him a squeeze. He was right drenched. "Were you a sponge in your last life?" I asked him.
"You can talk now, you know," I said to him.
"Mm-hmm." He snuggled into my shoulder, sighed, and fell asleep. Boys. Sheesh. I petted him absently and thought about what to do next. McGonagall, too, was right about the power of a grand night out to clear the head. After fucking my brains out, my brains were now coming back in as calm and clear as the castle's lake on a windless day. And in that clear, cold calm my brain counted everything up and decided that, all in all, that last battle had gone pretty well.
We'd lost a few people. ( Sweet Ginny. She'd tasted just like her brother. I'd remember her forever.) But we'd decimated Voldemort's forces. Our detective work had found us a whole lot of evil magic objects over the last months, and that had to have made him a bit cross. We'd turned most of his Death Eaters into frogs and toads, siphoning off his minions until he'd been forced to come after us at Hogwarts with only a few. And once there, his attempted siege had backfired such that it had seemed more like we'd ambushed him. My teams had been magnificent. We'd fried all his Inferi and Dementors. The dragons and vampires hadn't had a chance. His remaining Death Eaters and monsters had run away from the field.
What did he have left? Giants and werewolves maybe? A secret hideout with boobytraps? How bad could it be?
Dudley and I likely had mapped Voldemort's approximate location, and if Dudley was right I might have a new handle on Occlumency. We had sneaky little twin-built probes all ready to go, to pin Voldemort's location down exactly. And then we had cursebreakers, poison, TNT, our terrifying and practiced and well-armed teams- who were now blooded, and of course, Harry. And right now Voldemort's forces, having positioned themselves to attack the castle and been scattered by our extremely offensive defense, they might not yet be properly positioned to defend themselves. Whatever forces he had left might not be ready for us. This might be our last, best chance.
I just have to tell everyone it's time to go. They'll go.
I still had quite a few hours of mandatory leave before I could return to the school and begin though. I could go visit my parents for lunch tomorrow. And have breakfast with Dudley. And sleep. Oh, yes. Sleep.
I snapped my fingers. "Nox."
Chapter 8: In which Dudley takes a call.
Part Eight, in which Dudley takes a call.
It was beginning to snow and, even with the streetlights coming on, there was no one hanging about outside to notice that I was being followed by an enormous, spotted feline with a big mouse in his jaws. My phone rang and I stopped to fish it out of my pocket and answer it. Crookshanks caught up to me and dropped his mouse on my shoe.
"Hermione?" I said.
"I thought it'd be you. I think your cat can tell when you're going to call. He starts following me around with this expectant look on his face. You have got to come pick him up some time. He's getting desperate and he's trying to bribe me and I'm not having it," I said, kicking the mouse off of my trainer. "I can't believe you forgot him last time."
"Yes. Well, I'll certainly try to- to-" She trailed off into silence.
I frowned. Hermione is not usually either forgetful or equivocal when it comes to Crookshanks. "You all right?" I asked her. She said nothing, so I said, "What's going on? Where are you?"
"I- I don't know where I am exactly." Hermione was silent for a second and then she started talking, quickly, as if she needed to get everything in before her meter ran out. "We're in a- a big hole in the ground that I made myself. I suppose you'd call it a trench. We'll be here for a while. We're safe, I think. For the moment. Turns out I can't read Imperiused people within my own ranks after all, so our chocolate supplies got hexed to plasma right under my nose, and then it took us a while to tie down our unwitting plant, and we got surprised by Dementors while we were busy, so now I have the remnants of two teams and no more chocolate and we can't go back to get more because we need to stay here and wait for the signal, but-" Her voice was muffled like she had her hands cupped round the phone. "-my teams are not looking too good, and I can't think of anything else, my brain is chasing its own tail."
"Some kind of training exercise?" I asked, hoping hard.
She laughed bitterly. "Sorry. I shouldn't have bothered you."
I stepped out of the bracing wind, off the pavement and over to a park bench under a streetlamp. I dropped my gym bag on the bench and sat down. "No, no, it's okay," I said, "But what can I-"
"-A distraction. Anything. Just until- Just for a bit. Can you talk for a while? Look, just tell me a story."
"I don't know any stories," I said.
Her voice sounded strangled. "Okay. I'll-" No. Oh, no. She's going to hang up and call someone else.
"-that aren't true. Will that do? Can I say any old thing?" I asked. Crookshanks jumped up on the bench next to me and dropped his mouse on my knee.
"I'm just going to-" The phone crackled in my ear and then she said, "Can you hear me? Go ahead."
Right. What the hell am I going to say? Oh my god, there's a dead mouse on my knee. I picked Crookshank's mouse up by the tail and put it on my gym bag. Gym bag. There we go. "Well, uh. Here's hoping you like sports stories. I'm sort of in the middle of pulling a ringer. I haven't yet told the other people at the gym here about my boxing trophies, and they-"
She interrupted me, sounding slightly tinny and far away, "I'm sorry, boxing trophies? What? You're supposed to start at the beginning when you tell stories. And why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I thought you knew. I didn't talk about it because I didn't think vegetarian tree-huggers like you would be impressed by miniature aluminium totems to fisticuffs. They were right there behind my bedroom door at home. On a bureau. Couldn't really see them when I had the door open, and I suppose it usually was open when you were visiting, one foot on the floor and all that. ...Okay, so maybe I might have dumped laundry all over the top of that bureau... I'd sort of expected that Harry would have outed me though. He never mentioned it?"
"Harry doesn't talk about you."
"He doesn't?" That was vaguely disappointing somehow.
"Start at the beginning. How did someone like you even get into something like that?"
"What do you mean, 'someone like me'? I am not some effete intellectual like what you seem to- I mean, I'm exactly the kind of- Well, anyway, it wasn't even my idea. I got caught fighting in the halls one time too many and detentions didn't bother me, so finally they pulled me out of the regular gym class and sent me down to the boxing class with the intention that the older boys would beat the shit out of me and I'd learn my lesson and stop. They gave me the usual choice of standing up with someone right away to get my face pushed in, which gets your punishment over quickly in just one day and it's what most everybody there always chooses, or... I could do six weeks of hideous training with the boxing class. I had reason to get out of the regular gym class for a bit, so that's what I-"
"Usual choice, indeed. What a charming school. Reminds me of mine," she said. "Nevertheless, you're leaving things out. Why were you fighting in the halls? With whom? What was your reason to want to get out of the regular gym class."
"...You say that you can't read me over the phone, but then you do that, and you wonder why I don't believe you."
"So you are holding out on me."
I said, "All right, all right. Only two of my friends ended up in gym class with me, the default gym class for everyone who's not doing rugby or footie or cricket with the teams, while this arsehole joker, Jeremy, ended up with forty of his friends in the class. Jeremy was... um... a sex maniac? An exceedingly pathetic little pervert. Something like that. He decided that I had the closest thing to tits in the school -I was, uh, a lot heavier back then- and he started sneaking up on me and pinching me. I'm quite sure there was something seriously wrong with him, because I hit him a couple of times and shoved him in bins and such and he never learned, maybe he liked it, I don't know, he still kept on trying for me, thought it was funny. Finally I stopped waiting for him to tag me first before I'd retaliate, and I-- Is this doing any good, Hermione?"
"Yes. Please. Go on, Dudley."
She's either very persuasive or I'm just easy and like hearing her say my name. ...I wonder how much trouble she's really in...
"Okay. So I stopped waiting and I'd just belt him one whenever I was close enough to reach him. At dinner, between classes, in the toilets, whenever. Jeremy was faster than me and no one ever saw him start shit, but the teachers caught me messing with him several times and I always got the blame. And eventually I split his lip open and he was sent off to get stitches or plastic surgery or therapy or whatever, the poncy little shit, and I was almost expelled, but they sent me down to the boxing class instead, saying that'd serve me right. They had to swap around some of my other classes so I could do the whole six weeks detention, and blah, blah, blah. There you go. You happy? Can I get on with the bit that I like now?"
"I'm happy," she said around a muffled nervous giggle that didn't sound at all like her. "Go on. Don't skip ahead though. The boxing class is next."
"Christ, woman. Bossy much? Fine, the boxing class. I- You know, I'd quite liked the regular gym classes before. I wasn't so terrible that I'd get picked last, though I wasn't especially brilliant at anything either, but I was always up for having a laugh with my friends, tossing around a ball, doing something different every day."
"Restrain him before he gives us away. Here, use this." Hermione, sotto voce, and not directed into the phone. Not at me.
I pretended I hadn't heard her and said, "The boxing class was not a laugh. There were no fun ball games. They ran us back and forth, up and down, doing horrible, boring, very difficult exercises, and I was crap at running and I could not keep up with them at all. On the other hand that fucking arsehole, Jeremy, wasn't there and there were two coaches who were watching all the time, making sure it was all business, and it was all older boys who were too serious and intense to even look at me anyway. I could follow behind them and run until I couldn't move and no one would think that was a great opportunity to sneak up on me and- which was ...relaxing. Even doing crunches was rather nice and restful- mentally anyway."
Nothing but silence on the other end. I kept talking. "So six weeks later my punishment is done but I didn't go back to the regular gym class, I just kept going to the boxing class. No one noticed. So I'm still there eight weeks on, ten weeks on, I've learned their routines and I'm doing them on autopilot- badly, I still can't keep up, but no one's giving me any shit, no one's bothering me, I'm having quite a good time really, when I notice one of the coaches staring at me. We're doing one of those things where you run from one side of the gym to the other, touching the floor, changing direction, and I am miles behind everyone else. When I see that somebody's finally noticed I'm still there and I'm not supposed to be, I try to speed up and blend in with the ranks, but I don't manage to lose his attention, he's still watching me. And pretty soon I can't go anymore, I'm no sprinter, and I have to stop."
Nothing. Is she even still on the line? "Coach saunters over and jams his fingers in my neck. I'm too winded to tell him to get his fucking hands off me, or to shove him off, which is just as well, because he looks at his watch, he's just checking my pulse. 'Slow down,' he says, even though I've not been keeping up at all. 'Try to keep it a notch below terrified frothy racehorse, eh?' he says. 'Nice effort, though. Do we get to keep you then?' ...I don't know what to say to that. He starts telling me how all his heavyweights are in their last year and leaving school in a few months, all his juniors are lightweights, and he pokes me in the shoulder, shoves me hard and I don't move, and he has this odd, covetous look in his eye that I have never seen before and he keeps talking, and, and- you ever have your entire life redefined in a few words?"
"...Yes," she said. "I got a letter."
"Oh. Right," I said. "Lucky you, written down like that. I bet you still have that letter somewhere. I'll always end up paraphrasing to myself."
"I do have my letter still," she said. "Paraphrase to me. More," she commanded. And that sounded like her at last: bossy, insistent. Hungry.
More, I can do. More is what I am good at. I can run my mouth for forever. The phone had warmed up; it was a pleasant contrast to the chilly night air. I curled around it. Crookshanks, claws retracted, edged onto my lap.
I told Hermione how, after it was announced that I'd be allowed to stay, the older boys dragged me out to run two miles every morning with them. "The price of my joining them being that I had to do everything that they did, the afternoon workouts four times a week AND the morning runs, which were every morning, including weekends. I hadn't even known about that part. I'd not had to do the morning run as part of my detention, but I wasn't going back, so I had to do it. I- Well, I'll never be a sprinter. My stamina improved rather a lot though, they finally let me in to do some sparring, and it turned out the coach was right- I was built for the sport. Well, and he was a very good teacher, our coach was, too. Over the next few years I won quite a few trophies, lost a few more stone, won some more trophies, and then coach- uh- I think he got a little obsessed."
"By my last year I was the best on the team and pretty much the anchor of our competition efforts, and coach hadn't found any new boys to take my place, which was rather a pity because he wouldn't frigging leave me alone. I had things other than boxing on my mind: friends, computers, classes, revising, applying to uni, maybe finding some girls to talk to, all kinds of things, but coach had other ideas. He wanted me down to an average olympic level heavyweight fighting weight, wanted me to have a proper go. Coach had been right about everything before so I gave it a whirl for him. It was ...horrible.
"There weren't any more hours in the day for me to work out; coach's plan was counting calories. Jolly. I'd never done well on diets, and it was considerably worse while training full on, but I did as he said and gave it a proper go. I fell ill all the time, my temper was horrid, my friends were avoiding me, and once my school work started suffering I told coach I'd had enough. He accused me of malingering, piking out on him... and I quit. Right before this big important tournament, too. He was gutted. Think I broke poor coach's heart. I would have lost if I'd have stepped into the ring though, I know it. I'd lost more muscle and stamina than pounds, and I had no energy and no desire to do it anymore. Once out from under his thumb I slipped right back to what I thought my fighting weight was and then considerably past it before school was even out. And then I was accepted to uni, early, probably because the boxing on my application looked so good. And I still wasn't showing up for practice. Poor coach. He should get a dog, something nice and obedient that he won't find to be such a trial.
"So after a brilliant summer holiday spent programming and going to films with this odd but ever so pretty girl, I went off to uni. I had it in my head that I'd quit boxing, which was all very well until my housemates repeatedly caught me practicing combinations and footwork in the bathroom-"
"-Eh?" Hermione asked. "Caught you doing what?"
"Switching from right forward to left forward and back... Um. Shadowboxing. Jumping around by myself in front of the mirror. Or shop windows. Or -if things get really bad- anything mildly reflective. You can get away with making a fool of yourself once, even twice. People get busy. They forget. But you can't get away with it six times, twelve times, thirty times. I tried, but I just couldn't not- the baths are just too-- It's four meters of mirrored wall and plenty of space and it was mostly no one there and every time I walked in there I automatically fell into position and... and it looks really stupid, too. Augh. I couldn't help it. Just had too much energy to burn off or something. I gave it up and went and found the uni's boxing gym and joined in the hopes that'd make me too tired to embarrass myself continually in the baths." I was babbling. Maybe she wouldn't notice.
"Did it help?"
"Not really. Not until I started getting up earlier than everyone else so I could fit in two miles."
"You still run two miles every morning?"
"Enh. Yeah, took it up again. Kinda have to. Goes with the ensemble. It's not my favorite. Even now the only thing that will get me to run two miles every morning is the prospect of punching someone in the head later. ...Wow. That sounds even worse when I say it out loud."
I heard the sound of someone laughing, distant and tinny through the phone, and then Hermione saying, "Shush, Neville."
She had me on speakerphone? Since when did her phone have a speakerphone function? How many people have been listening to me? I felt my throat close up.
"Not you, Dudley. Go on. Please," said Hermione. Crookshanks looked up at me and sank his claws into my leg.
"Ow! Fucking cat! ...um. Yeah. Well. What's a few more people hearing this. Two teams you've got there, you said? Fourteen people who-"
"Nine," she said. "Nine left."
Fourteen minus nine is- "Oh. Sorry." Harry? She'd tell me if Harry-
"Nine is more than enough," she said, not to me.
What is she doing out there? I didn't wait for more prodding. I kept going.
I loved the uni's boxing club. It was crowded with newbies and only a small proportion of them were likely to stay on past a few weeks and meanwhile the coaches were running around desperately trying to prevent them all from hurting themselves, so beyond noticing that I didn't need any help, thanks, the trainers paid no attention to me. Very refreshing after that last year.
One of the newbies, a little tiny Asian chap who bounced up and down like a yappy little dog, still hadn't figured out how to tape his hands. The coaches kept overlooking him and his loose bandages and his wincing, and watching him splatter his knuckles made me wince too, so finally I went over and stopped him. I introduced myself, unwound him and started taping him up correctly. He said his name was Patrick. "You don't look like a Patrick," I said.
"You don't look like a Dudley," he said.
"Yes, I do. I couldn't possibly be any Dudlier."
"Oh. Well, in that case, I am the epitome of Patrickness." He grinned at me like a vampiric dingbat and I wasn't certain if he thought this was all very funny or if I'd insulted him.
I backed up and tried to be polite. "Uh-huh. What interested you in boxing?"
"Well, quite obviously I am meant to be a boxer. It is the sport of my people. Or so I have been informed. My family expect me to participate when I next go back to the old country."
"So you have been informed? Sweet family you got there. The old country... Would that be Ireland, Patrick?"
This was apparently an old chestnut of a joke to him and my using it caused him to tell me to call him 'Irish', and even worse, he started calling me 'English'. He also seemed to have got the idea that my squeamishness about watching people break their fingers meant that we were now friends. Ugh. He followed me around asking me questions after that, which made me feel like a chump because I was a newbie in that gym and had no cred there yet; he should have been asking the older guys but none of them paid him any attention. And he wasn't kidding, his family really were a slew of ferocious flyweights- he showed me the pictures. I got sucked into the project of seeing that he showed up well with them.
And he did have potential. The way he hopped up and down made me wonder if he'd be an inside fighter, but I didn't make bets on it based on his looks. I'd seen hot little energetic things turn all cold, deadly outside fighter in the ring, and everyone takes one look at me and assumes, wrongly, that I'm an outside fighter and far too slow to ever get inside someone's defense.
You just can't tell till you see someone stand up with someone else. And until I knew what sort of contender we had with Patrick, I couldn't advise him any further than the basics.
"Patrick stuck around longer than most of the other newbies, but unfortunately neither of us got to find out what style of boxer he was as there was no one in his weight class in the club and he couldn't persuade any of the almost-small-enough boxers to spar seriously with him. I couldn't blame them; it's no fun at all to stand up with someone that you outclass, even if they don't mind. I told Patrick he'd just have to bring in his own practice buddies. I told him if he was smart and wanted to win when he went back to the old country, that he'd pick out some partners at the very top end of his weight class. I kept my eyes open for him over the weekend, looking for students close to his size, but I didn't see any that weren't asthmatic little pushovers. I reckoned Patrick was shit out of luck."
"So much for my powers of divination. Next practice Patrick walks in with five beautiful Asian girls in tow, each one of them just a tad taller and heavier than him, all glowingly athletic. The entire club just stared. They had no idea what to make of girls in the gym. Regs had recently been changed so that girls could join, but no one expected that any girls actually would. But the girls were the exact right size for him and even if he could never have a legal match with girls, if they stuck around long enough to spar with him I could at least for once see what style Patrick was- and then we might maybe get somewhere with training, so I went over and helped Patrick set the girls up, showed them around, all that."
"Two weeks later we'd lost two of the girls who decided it wasn't for them after all, with only the runner, the tennis player, and the ninja left. Black belt. Brucella Lee. Whatever Hsu-li is."
"But the remaining girls claimed they like the training enough to try the sparring, so Irish- Patrick made the girls call him Irish, too- and I took them shopping for gear. Spending time with them outside of the gym environment, it became clear that Patrick had not miraculously found a bunch of women who were interested in boxing; he'd found a bunch of women who were interested in tearing him to shreds and so serious about it that they were willing to go to the gym four days a week, put in the two miles every day, and buy all the equipment. ...And he'd only known them for a few weeks. How does one inspire such passion in women? I had to know how he did it, it was certain to be very educational one way or another, even if it was a list of things to avoid. I watched them all very carefully in the shop."
"The girls were picking out mouthguards, going for the red ones. I wasn't going to say anything, I let Irish tell them that regulation mouthguards could be any colour but red and that if they wanted to participate in real competition bouts with other schools that they couldn't have red. They liked the red; they ignored him. 'Do I look like I've been feasting on your liver?' asked our ninja. Patrick told her that white would be more ladylike. 'Yeah. I'm having red,' she told him. But Hsu-li bought two, she secretly slipped a regulation one in with all the other stuff she was buying, and the other girls copied her."
"Right. So we finished shopping. I had Patrick in the front seat with their bags full of headgear and gloves all around his feet, and three incredibly gorgeous Asian girls, all wearing red mouthguards, crammed into the back of my car when-"
Hermione interrupted me. "-How absolutely fabulous, Dudley. And here I thought you were telling me a happy story." Her voice was dry and sarcastic, but she tossed the words out lightly, like the way you'd deliver a pitch to your best friend's little brother who'd never held a cricket bat before.
I was no rabbit, and after months of talking to her on the phone, I knew her style. I took her easy shot. "It is! It is a happy story! Oh. ...You mean for happy for you. Oh."
And the people there with Hermione broke up laughing. "You can really pick them, Hermione," someone said to her, but I had hit it- I could hear Hermione laughing, too. And then she stopped.
"Wait. Look. That's the signal," said Hermione and then the noises of the people around her stopped as well. The sound of her voice changed again, warmer and closer, as she removed the speaker-phone effect. "Right. That's it. Must go now. If I- Can you- Crookshanks?"
"All right," I said. "Yes."
"Okay. Thanks. For everything. Just perfect. Better than chocolate. Truly. I- I-" And she dodged in another direction and said, "I don't suppose you've got any last bits of advice?"
"Boxing advice? Much good that'll do you. Keep your hands up?"
"Haha. I'll keep that in mind. Well. Bye."
"Bye," I said.
"I love you," I said, too late, to the dial tone.
Crookshanks hooked a claw into my sleeve and pulled the phone down to his tufted ear. "Wow?" he said, and he sniffed at the phone and then turned his giant yellow saucer eyes up at me.
"Eh? Dunno what to tell you. We'll just have to see."
The cat howled. "Woe!"
I peeled his claws out of my thigh again. "Look, I'm sorry I forgot to give you a turn on the phone, but-"
"Woe! Woooooooooooooe! Woooooooooooooe! Wooooooooooooooooooooe!"
"Shush! You're not a kitten, you know. Try to act like it. Have some dignity, mate." Crookshanks ignored me and continued howling. "Shut it! She'll be fine! Fine!" I said over his shrieks.
Someone poked me in the back. I looked up. Patrick. Irish peered over my shoulder at Crookshanks- who wasn't disappearing as usual- and said, "Oi. What are you doing out here in the snow? We could use you inside. And what is that?"
I shut Crookshanks up by stuffing his mouse between his teeth. Patrick ran before me, shivering, as I carried the cat into the gym with me. The entire club stared at me when I walked in. Or they stared at the cat. Mostly at me. Their attention, variously smiling and interested and suspicious and annoyed, hit me like a brick wall. I glared back at them. "Mine. My cat," I said. "Don't touch."
I dropped my coat and stashed Crookshanks out of the way, but where I could still see him. I pulled out my gear and turned to see how far along in the practice we were. Crookshanks stayed where I put him, sitting in my gym bag, watching my phone. And nobody touched him. Nobody said anything. Like magic.
Chapter 9: In which Hermione goes to ground.
McGonagall had dropped an apparition block over the whole area which prevented Voldemort and his minions from escaping, and in response Voldemort had dropped an invisibility block over the whole area, which prevented us from sneaking up on his giants and touching them with the portkeys- their aim with rocks was too fast and too good for us to even get close. And, unfortunately, the giants were too stupid to be Stupified and too demented to mind the dementors that bloomed around their feet and too impenetrable to be affected by anything, from poison to explosives. Though we eventually chocolate coated the last of the dementors, nothing we tried enticed the giants to be drawn away from their piles of rocks- and what we assumed was the entrance to Voldemort's secret hideout. They were far too thoroughly possessed. Nevertheless, we were close enough.
I tested a couple of charms and illusions, and though all the invisibility-related spells were blocked, many others still weren't. I drew my teams back a ways, went to ground, called base, and asked for Plan C: Flitwick's idea. And then we just had to wait and, though out of chocolate and weakened by the dementors, my teams held up... well, not too badly after all- while the occasionally giant-propelled rock whizzed over our heads or bounced off our shields.
And it was only a few minutes later, not the hours it had seemed, when we got the signal and an illusionary Harry and his non-existent cavalry flew and flapped into the air overhead on brooms and hippogriffs and thestrals. Flitwicks illusions were two-way, thanks to the spybats that we'd set up all around the hill a month ago. Harry and his company, though ten miles away, were looking at accurate depictions of the giants and their launched rocks, and if those rocks did frequently punch right through one of Harry's flyers, perhaps the giants would believe they had somehow missed. The cavalry's rolls to escape looked urgently heartfelt and their ferocious screams were very loud and their flashy-looking curses that splashed all around were effectively drawing the giants attention.
However even the very stupidest giants would lose interest and turn their attention back to us when it eventually became clear that the illusionary flying cavalry weren't doing any damage (realistically, real flying cavalry had no chance at all against giants). And as soon as he realised the trick Voldemort would probably drop an illusion block, which would leave us at Plan M and I didn't like Plan M one bit. I hauled my team out of the trench and we charged, and all the other teams hidden all around the hill did the same. We illusioned ourselves up to look like tumbleweeds (not native to the area, but I was counting on the fact that giants don't tend to be botanists) and we ran up to the giant's feet (and Pansy's and my teams were first, we had made it the closest in after all) and we tagged them with our portkeys, magiced to send them to where they'd come from in the Alps.
The giants were all vanished away and then, as Voldemort's belated illusion block took effect, the screaming cavalry above us dissipated. The silence was abrupt. We stood in a group, surrounded by the other teams who had been only a few steps behind us, among the boulders on the side of the hill and it was still early evening and the snow hadn't even started to stick and there were lots of us left standing. It had worked.
After I got over the surprise, I nodded to Luna and she gathered up her teams and went back out around the hill to do the surveying. I sent Padma and Parvati out to triage and transport the spelled and wounded, left the point teams to poke around the door location, and took mine and Pansy's teams back down the hill to set up our temporary camp. And then I called base camp and told them we were ready, they could go ahead and send everyone in.
Arthur and Molly landed in their Ford Anglia, missing most of their escort. The windows were open to slits and the doors were spattered with soot. I ran over as Colin and Dennis got out of the back, air pistols still in hand. Arthur popped the boot and the boys started pulling out loads of little grapefruit-sized cauldrons, Snape's miniaturized battery pots, and then endless cardboard boxes.
Colin and Dennis opened the cardboard boxes, and pulled out our hired equipment: spools of spiked cables, and then plastic cubes labeled with brass plaques, 'Grunnings: Drills, Seismographs & Subsurface Imaging.' Colin plugged one cable into one of Snape's batteries and then tossed the other end to Dean, who was still in the back of the car and hooking his computer (loaded with geomapping algorithms) into his printer. I looked into the car and watched as Dean plugged in the cable, pressed a button and cheered as the computer booted up. "We have current!" he said.
I said, "Where's Seamus and the rest of your escort? They're supposed to help-"
"I know, I know, layout crew. But we ran into Puckles's brother. Maybe he heard what we did to his sister. He was not a happy dragon. Moody and the chaps are still dealing with him. They'll be along eventually," said Colin.
"Eventually? We're not doing this eventually; we're doing this now." I pulled my head out of the car, cast a five second Sonorus and yelled into the gathering night. "Survey team! Report!"
And very shortly Luna and Percy pulled into view with only half their team. "Where's the rest of you all? Did you set all the charges," I asked them.
"Almost. There were monsters first," said Percy to my dismay.
I said, "But we need to-"
"-They'll be done in a few seconds," said Luna, bending over her clipboard. She ripped off the top sheet, duplicated it, splashed each of her duplicated maps with a different coloured line, and passed around coloured-coded maps to the few members of what remained of my layout crew. She ended up with way too many maps left in her hand. "Any minute," she said to me. "Um. Soon," she said, peering up at the hill. I tapped my foot and waited. ...No one arrived.
"Aaaaagh. We're going now. We have to. No time. Did we train extra people for this one?" I asked.
Luna grimaced. "No, but we can split the pairs," she said, "Put each trained person with a volunteer. The cable-stomping is easy. The maps are obvious."
And that's what we did. It was mine and Pansy's teams who were volunteered for this one again, those of us who could still swing a leg over a broom. "I'm getting a big medal when this is over," said Pansy. "It'll be a big handsome platinum medal and I'll melt it down and make rude earrings," she said, but she took a map and a donut of cable and jumped on the back of Colin's broom with him.
I helped load and balance boxes and cauldrons onto everyone's brooms and watched them all zip off until it was only Percy and me left. "Pink?" he said.
I looked down at my duplicated map: Voldemort's hill marked with dots (the charges) and pencil lines (the destinations for our cables), of which one line was highlighted in a cheerful pastel pink. "Yep," I said to my default partner. I picked up the last coil of cable. Percy balanced precariously on his broom. The seismometer and battery cauldron (spelled and duct taped to stick on the broom before him) unbalanced him, but he settled it once I added myself and the cable behind him. " You all right?" I asked him. His arm and leg were both still mauve.
"It's held so far," he said presently. He took us up, briefly, and for a moment I saw the hill, swarming over with the survey teams still finishing off the last of the little monsters and my scrounged up volunteered layout teams galumphing over Luna's multicolored pastel survey lines. Since Percy had done the survey with Luna, he didn't need the map; he took us directly to the pink line.
Once we'd landed, Percy undid the spells and the duct tape on his broom. I handed him the end of my cable and then ran up the hill, following Luna and Percy's big pink painted line, unrolling my cable, and stomping the geophone spikes into the ground. I didn't meet any monsters and when I ran, panting, back, Percy had hooked together the battery pot, the seismometer, and his cellphone, and he'd done a 'Don't look at me' spell that made the stack of equipment look like a prickly shrub. We jumped back onto his broom and zipped back to the car. All the rest of the layout teams had returned before us, and they lay scattered around the car, their fancy brooms dropped in the dirt.
I nodded to Arthur and he pounded on the horn on the Ford Anglia and the unmistakable sound of the biggest goose in the world, spelled by Flitwick, a goose the size of a schoolbus, echoed off the neighboring hills. I watched the survey teams stream off the hill in response, some on brooms, some running, and I counted them and it was most of them. Just most of them. At least most of them.
"Do it," I said to Dean and Arthur. And Arthur touched the horn again and the giant goose counted down from five, four, three, two, one, and Dean pressed a button and an array of phone calls were sent and the charges buried around Voldemort's hill exploded and, one second later, Harry and Ron and their teams dropped 400 pounds of TNT from the sky directly onto what we guessed to be Voldemort's front door.
When the ground stopped shaking, I uncovered my ears and looked back at Dean. "Are we getting it?"
Dean shook his head. "Nope. No telemetry."
It was too much of a coincidence for all of the cellphones on all of our seismometers to fail all at once. I pulled out my phone and tried to call Harry, but my phone could find no signal. Voldemort had figured out how to block our communications. But the phone did still turn on and Dean's computer was still humming. It might take Voldemort much longer to stop out the seismometers and computer since they were powered by Snape's unfamiliar battery cauldrons, but we likely had only a few more minutes of electricity no matter how it was generated.
"Pick-up crews!" I screeched and my surveyors and layout crews reformed their teams and went out to go retrieve the seismometers by hand. I looked back in the car at Dean, still bent over his screens. "We'll have all the recorders back to you in a few minutes. How long-?"
"If it goes like our last tests, it'll be fifteen or twenty minutes," he told me patiently, for perhaps the fifth time.
"Right. Fly outside of range if Voldemort takes down the electricity. And check the outlying areas of the hill first. If you find any back doors, I want them blown up as soon as possible."
Lavender, detailed to fly up to Harry and Ron (so they could drop the explosives on the back door), awaiting Dean's directions, and looking into the car from the door opposite me, rolled her eyes. "We know, Hermione. We know."
Of course they did. We'd drilled everything over and over and over... "Yes, well. He's not getting away," I said, "Not this time."
Snape, returned from the hill and covered with the remains of sundry monsters, peered over my shoulder into the car, too. "Oh, yes. Because we want him backed up into a corner and fighting for his life. What an excellent plan. Is it one of yours?"
"It seems to be working better than bottling glory," I said meaningfully.
He sneered but shut the hell up.
"Send us in the map whenever you've got it," I said to Dean. "We're going in now. Point team! To me!"
"No need to yell. I'm right here," said Snape, "What is wrong with you?"
"I meant them, over there. And what's wrong with me is that I have to work with such obnoxious, stroppy people. Come on, you."
It took us a lot longer than I liked to move the rubble and unbury the entrance, and once we did we found a locked, warded door. We took a moment to have a very quick dinner, sandwiches flown in by broom, and then, since I didn't have a choice, I let them all continue having a nice sit down while Snape and Lupin had another go at the recalcitrant door.
We all jumped up though when we heard weird growls and Snape calling for help. The door was open and on the doorstep there was a large fluffy polar bear* sitting on a wriggling, growling wolf. Snape, transfigured, sitting on Lupin, transformed. I pulled out my wand and stepped forward and Snape yelped. "Don't turn me back human, you halfwit; not unless you're going to come over here and hold Lupin down yourself. Who's got that silver tape?"
Percy ran over with the duct tape and the rest of us peered into Voldemort's front hall. There were boots lined up by the wall and hooks with hats and cloaks, but no DeathEaters with a yen for transfiguration.
"That makes no sense. Lupin's changed out of season," I said. We'd started our slow, careful sneak-up on Voldemort's hideout the night before under the dark of the moon, the perfect time for sneaking up on people, and one day later it was still not yet werewolf season.
"Hmm," said Millicent. She unbuttoned her midnight blue frock coat and threw it over the round, white light fixture hovering in the middle of Voldemort's front hall, which was suddenly lit only by our dim witchlights. And Lupin slowly stopped squirming and grew less fuzzy.
"Nice job, Millicent," said Dennis.
Millicent grinned- until the miniature moon chandelier sparked, flared, and burned off her coat. "Well, heck. That one was my favorite." Millicent's former coat fell slowly to the floor as sheets of ash.
"Platinum earrings, my friend," said Pansy and she patted Millicent's shoulder. Snape and Percy wrestled Lupin, muzzle bound shut with tape, back out the door and out of reach of the light.
I said, "That's a really odd hall chandelier. Why on earth would Voldemort have a-"
And a horde of scary-looking men charged around the corner at us, were hit by the chandelier's light, and changed into werewolves. "Oh," I said and pulled out my air pistol.
In general I'd say that the amphibifying pellets in our paint guns worked fairly well on werewolves; we were soon surrounded by a plague of furry frogs. While we were taking down the moon chandelier there was another earthquake and a few rocks fell, but no one was hurt. I assumed it was the effect of Voldemort's back door being blown up and that was confirmed shortly when Harry and Ron arrived, panting, behind the teams, and then shouldered their way up front. "How's it going up top?" I said.
"Voldemort seems to have run out of dragons and McGonagall and Flitwick are taking turns with the apparition block. They're looking a bit worn out, but they're hanging on."
I was going to say something about how that hopefully meant that Voldemort was getting tired too, but then I noticed Ron. "What is that around your neck?"
Ron was still carrying Draco around. "I forgot. Whoops," he said.
"No help for it now. Do you have the map?" And Harry handed me Dean's map of the subsurface structure of Voldemort's hill. I handed it over to Snape. "Where are we?" I asked him.
Snape took the printout gingerly and turned it around and around, looking bemusedly at the blurry black and white blobs that were our seismic refraction results. "This is a map?" he said.
I stabbed at it with my finger. "This is where we came in. That's where we are now."
Ron poked at it helpfully. "That's the back door that we just blew up."
"Oh," said Snape. He turned the map around again. "Then Voldemort is over here. That way. I think. I've never come in the front door before. We always apparated."
I poured more potions pellets into my air gun. "Okay, everyone. Let's go."
"We're going to want to avoid that hallway," said Snape, still looking at the map.
"Alrighty, then. You can go first."
Harry went a little nuts when we got to the room with the zombies and Voldemort. Harry's booming green fire quickly took out all the zombies and also a lot of our nice flammable brooms, the ends of Luna's hair, a couple of Patronus grenades, and someone's bandoleer of potion-filled air pistol pellets--- and the explosion from that flew into the air and mixed with the curses that Voldemort had started shooting randomly at our heads and rained down on us.
Voldemort found that inspiring and he started aiming curses at our bandoleers. I was up front and had somehow got too far ahead of the shielders. I was hit and the volatile mix of potions and curses caused an unstoppable and frighteningly fast Engorgio. I exploded upwards like a mushroom-eating Alice. My head hit the ceiling and then I folded over, unable to move, squashing my teammates backwards, they couldn't even get around me to see Voldemort scrabbling at a panel on the far wall... and then Snape smacked my giant foot with the flat of his magic sword, which canceled my growth but nothing more. "He's getting away," I said. "Shrink me now!"
They tried, but it didn't work. And then Neville and Luna got together and transfigured me into a snake form, not a teeny tiny snake* like what I usually manage to transfigure into, but a giant stripey thing, meters long. Still, I was suddenly plenty small enough for them to pour around me after Voldemort.
And Harry's fire again flooded out of him, rolling over Voldemort who was forced to turn around and defend himself. Harry threw everything he had at Voldemort and Voldemort bounced all that fire right back at us. Despite all our excellent shielders our clothes smouldered and the air heated up until it glowed. I heard the pellets in our teams's bandoleers begin to pop. Lupin, seeing that the blaze was running away from us, slashed his wand around and captured into it all the oxygen in the area, which quite effectively extinguished all Harry's magical green flames.
It hadn't been too difficult back when we were practicing to explain to everybody how to make personal shields that held in the oxygen, but actually remembering and pulling off the trick in the field turned out to be beyond most of our forces. Three quarters of them fell to the floor in a dead faint.
Harry, though he'd had drilled endlessly with Lupin for just this tactic, had forgotten too and he fell to his knees choking. I was still surrounded by a blue nimbus of air. I slithered to Harry and wrapped myself around him. Ron, fallen at Harry's feet, found air there once I arrived, and he pulled himself up inside Harry's shield. Voldemort looked baffled and choked by Lupin's airless charm for a scant second, but then he performed an aeration charm I'd never seen before, and went on the offense again before Harry did- but Harry defended himself with his wand and the beams from their too similar wands crossed and foundered. Harry stuck his wand in his mouth, reconsidered, and handed his wand to Ron. "Here, hold this for a minute," said Harry.
"Oh, fuck me," said Ron, but he took Harry's wand. Draco's little beady ferret eyes contemplated the streamer sparking between Voldemort's wand and the wand in Ron's hand and Draco casually removed himself from Ron's shoulders, climbed down Ron's body and disappeared into the dust and fog that obscured the ground, roiling and whirling as Lupin poured the air back into the room.
Harry pulled another wand out of a pocket and attacked again with a solid Stupefy and everyone who could still stand followed course.
Voldemort skillfully fought off the effects of the mass of stunning spells the teams shot at him with one empty hand-- until Draco leaped up from the fog and bit Voldemort on the bum. Voldemort dropped his wand then, still uselessly stuck to the the opposing wand that Ron still held firm to, and he ran away and ducked into his escape tunnel.
"You certain you blew up the other end of that tunnel?" I asked.
"Oh, yesss," said Harry, in Parseltongue. He peered into the tunnel entrance.
"Don't go in there," I said. "Wait for him to come back out."
Harry tugged on his mane thoughtfully. "How about some fire in the hole then?" he said and he drooled green in anticipation.
I coiled nervously. "Maybe... Can you narrow the aperture? So we don't get hit by the backwash?"
"You're always on my back about these little details. How the heck do you narrow the aperture on fire?" Harry replied and he batted away a glowing curse that came out of the tunnel at him. Voldemort had discovered what we'd done to his escape tunnel.
"Try this," said Snape. He'd been hit by a stray curse and he rather awkwardly slid his magic sword over the marble floor to us.
Harry picked up the sword and it flashed in his hand. Harry looked down at it and grinned horribly around his fangs. "Oh ho ho," he said. "You cheater, Snape. Now I see how you do it." And Harry breathed a tightly focused laser-like beam of fire down the length of the sword and into the tunnel.
The echoes of high-pitched shrieks bounced out of the tunnel and a few seconds later Voldemort sailed back out and past us- in the shape of a golden snitch. Harry turned and ran after him, jumping vainly after the darting golden orb. The teams didn't have to be told, they scattered around the room and cut off all the exits with their shields. They would have given us a broom if they hadn't all been singed, too.
McGonagall arrived then from up top with Fawkes on her shoulder and saw us leaping after Voldemort's transfigured form. She took in our situation at a glance, ran up behind us and tossed us her hat. I caught it on the tip of my tail. "What are we supposed to do with this?" I said.
It was the Sorting Hat. "How about this?," said the Hat. Little fluffy wings popped out of my scaly back and then Harry grew wings, too. We flapped hard and stepped into the air. We scudded upwards and Harry pounced and caught Voldemort in the cage of his fingers.
The phones were working again. McGonagall called Flitwick, who was still maintaining the apparation ward that prevented Voldmort from popping away, down to consult. Flitwick arrived with Moody, the rest of the rear guard and remaining Aurors and they all came over to inspect the prize.
After a few hours the gleeful cackling stopped and everyone who had crowded around to call out suggestions eventually fell silent and then they all just stood there. Except for me, I lay there- Voldemort's curse had proven too strong for my teammates and I was still a giant snake. A few inches above the stone floor, I looked through the forest of legs at Harry, who knelt on the floor, staring at his hands, which still trembled as Voldemort attempted to escape. Everyone had tried, but no one could touch Voldemort in that form, McGonagall and Moody and Flitwick seemed to have no answers, and Harry could only contain him. And Harry looked tired.
Finally he found me looking at him from between everyone's feet, and he smiled at me a bit and sighed. And then Harry popped Voldemort into his mouth and swallowed- and he died. His face looked faintly surprised, what I could see of it mashed into the stone floor and before the crowd swooped on him and he disappeared from view.
Snape and Lupin were too far back in the crowd to have seen it themselves. Above me they rubbernecked and listened to the chatter in front of them. "He ate him? And he's what? Dead?" said Snape. "But Voldemort's dead, too?! Harry's supposed to- Wait, wait... I'm alive!" said Snape cheerfully.
"Don't worry, I'll kill you in a minute," said Lupin, and then paused. He wiped a tear from his eye. "Sorry. I'm not having a good day."
Snape looked at him in disgust. " Any day I end up not dead is a good day. Clearly I have much more reasonable standards than you and am much less high maintenance."
"I took a thousand points off him for Gryffindor, you know. It was one of the last things I ever said to him," said Lupin.
"You also threatened to kill him, which I thought was pretty funny. You do that a lot," said Snape.
Lupin cried harder.
"Oh, right," said Snape, looking at Lupin's still pointed ears. "You were recently changed. Werewolf hormones. Um. There, there, it will all be fine, he's gone to a better place, I'm certain they don't send even the nastiest little brats to the flaming pits any more. Much. Probably. They've got to be full up down there by now."
With Voldemort dead, his enchantments ended. Those who were stunned or transformed changed, woke, or stood up human. I folded in on myself, shrank, and turned back into a girl. I pushed my way through the crowd to to front. Draco the ferret, draped snugly around Ron's shoulders again, turned into a frog, and then into a boy, still slung over Ron's shoulders. Ron was staring down at Harry in shock and barely noticed as Draco delicately climbed off of him.
Harry indeed looked and felt quite dead, no heartbeat, no breath, but looking into his open eyes I could see that he hadn't gone very far yet. I pulled Ron down with me and put his hands on Harry's chest. Ron automatically started the spells Parvati had taught him, only breaking off for a moment to look wildly up at the people surrounding us. "Make sure she comes back!" he said to Luna and Neville, and they obediently stepped forward and took hold of me as I bent over Harry.
And I fell in.
Oh, god. Harry was right there. And he backed away from me. You again? Seriously, nagging people even beyond the grave? You've gone too far now, Hermione.
I still felt Luna and Neville's hands on me, but their touch faded when I stepped forward towards my friend. And Harry backed away from me and I stepped forward again and felt nails scrabbling faintly over my arms as Luna and Neville tried to hold me. And Harry kept moving off and I took another step in. Do you wish to see how far I'll follow, Harry? Do you doubt me? I ignored the enticing flutters in my peripheral vision and stepped forward again.
You're a real pain in the neck, you know that? All he had to do was turn around and he'd see what waited for him, but he hadn't yet. Or maybe he'd looked but couldn't see them. Or maybe it was because I was there with him and loud and bright and alive. I couldn't tell.
If you'd chew your food properly you wouldn't have these problems. Come on. He was angry but he didn't wriggle and he didn't look away from me and he let me tow him out. And it wasn't very far at all to go back out. And I felt Harry convulse and inhale and when he blinked at me I was at last released and I looked away from him gratefully.
The sicked-up snitch shimmered and shook green acid off its wings, preparing to fly off again. Dumblefawkes stopped squeaking moistly over Harry's head and eyed the golden orb. He grabbed it in his beak and tossed it down his gullet. And then the huge orange bird keeled over, stone dead.
Harry, resigned to being alive again, jumped up foaming green and made to pounce on the phoenix but Neville and I grabbed him before he could move. Harry growled and strained against our hold. "That was mine! Dumblefawkes! I'll wring his fucking neck!"
"Why?" said Moody. "He's dead. As in dead. We're done here. Can we go?"
Harry foamed green some more. "He's going to take all the credit. They'll make him another chocolate frog card. It'll be Dumblefawkes the Destroyer. But if it's an ugly enough corpse, it won't make a pretty card and no one will collect it. Gimme!"
"Honestly, Harry," I said, "Have some respect. He's dead."
Snape peered in over everyone's shoulders. "He's dead? Again? Really? Oh my god! The feathers of a truly dead, unresurrected phoenix! What an incredible potions ingredient. DIBS!"
Fwoosh! Everyone jumped back as the dead bird disappeared in a huge column of fire. And then Fawkes sat in the ashes of his former self as a large orange chick. He peeped.
"Well, crap," said Snape.
"Muahahahahaha!" said DumbleVoldieFawkes.
"Aiiiiiii!" I said. "Did we miss some horcruxes? He's still in there!" I watched everyone except Harry take a step back, gripping their wands with white knuckles. I stepped in front of Harry, ready to look in again, this time into the baby bird's beady eyes, and this time I was going to carry Voldemort down to Snape's imagined hell myself. Harry shouldered me aside.
And the orange chick was engulfed in another column of fire. Fwoosh!
Fawkes reappeared again, a bit smaller, but still cute and fluffy. "Muaha-" And the tiny, evil birdie laugh was cut off by another shaft of fire. Fwoosh!
"Gosh, how many horcruxes did he make?" asked Ron.
Fawkes said, "Mua-"
Fwoosh! Fwoosh! Fwoosh!
By teatime we had finished cleaning up and Fawkes had stopped Fwooshing and was only three centimeters tall. He was foisted onto McGonagall again and then we all went home.
"Awwwwww," said Moody. "He's adorable!"
"You want him?" said McGonagall, hopefully.
"No. I was taking the piss. He's your ex-student and your ex-employer and your ex-pet, and he is ALL yours. Enjoy. Haha!"
"Bother," said McGonagall.
The party was over, all Hermione's aunts and uncles and cousins had gone home, and even her parents had stopped peering out the windows at us. We were alone in front of her house. She pulled me down against the side of my car, plunged her chilly hands inside my coat and groped me thoroughly. I kissed her and gave back as good as I got. Eventually she let me go and we leaned against my car, panting. "They're going to give me a medal, you know," she told me.
"Platinum. Yes. So you've said." Repeatedly.
"I'll take you home now." She wrapped her arms around me again and then her knees buckled and she slid down my front. I caught her around the waist and she giggled helplessly. At least she was a happy drunk. But, considering that Ms. Contingency Plan had arranged to forget to have any Sobering Potion on hand, I suspected she was more nervous about the midnight ceremony than she was letting on.
"You can't even walk. Can you teleport like that?" I asked.
"You never know till you try."
"How about we don't try it. They'll be here to pick you up any minute anyway."
She woke up a little bit then. "Oh, but you can't drive. You drank much more than me."
True, although I wasn't that drunk; she was only a little bit of a thing and it wasn't hard to drink more than her. Lots more than her. Nevertheless... "We've already had this conversation. In the house, if you recall? I'm going to leave my car here and call a cab."
"Oh, yes." She nodded, remembering. Or pretending to remember.
"Call me tomorrow," I said. "Come get me. We'll go for a drive. I'll look at the map. There must be somewhere nice between your house and mine. I don't know. A picnic. Or what have you. All right?"
"That sounds lovely," she said happily and as if these vague plans might even stick in her head right through till morning. And perhaps in the morning I might find leftover turkey and things in my Mum's fridge and, if I hinted what I was about, Mum might let me take enough for two without much pestering.
There was a soft popping sound. "They're here," I said, but when I looked, it was my cousin Harry. And yet I wasn't wrong; I felt the air over our heads whoosh apart. The lift that Hermione had been awaiting emerged silently from above us. It seemed to be an invisible UFO except that the windows were unrolled and there were six or seven girls visible in the back seat. One of them called out the window, "No more room, Harry. Sorry!"
Harry smiled at them. "It's all right. I have the address, I'll meet you all there. I was just seeing that Hermione had a ride."
Hermione wasn't paying any attention to Harry. She kissed me one more time, disentangled herself from my clothes, and stepped over to the UFO. She pressed herself in with the other girls and the car rose a few feet in the air. The girl next to Hermione hung over her lap and looked down at Harry and me. "Is that him? Oh, my. I see what you mean," she said.
What has Hermione been saying about me?
"Um. Hi," I said.
Hermione's friend's dress shimmered and sparkled, stars winked in her hair. The beautiful girl turned gravely to Hermione. "Do you share?" she said.
"Millicent!" said Hermione and she raised her hand as if she might smack her friend, perhaps lightly on the hand. Unfortunately Millicent's hands weren't within Hermione's reach. Hermione contemplated Millicent's bum, which was, but then Hermione seemed to decide that was too dangerous and she put her hand down.
Millicent burst out laughing. "Your loss, Hermione." She waved down at Harry and me. "Bye, boys. It just wasn't meant to be. I'll have to go console myself with some Weaselys." Hermione shoved her back into the car.
Harry, next to me, said, "I can not believe Millicent, using a glamour like that on her dress."
"What does a glamour do?" I asked. "Make her dress all sparkly like that?"
"No, it makes her look like a goddess, like the most beautiful woman in the room. That charm is so completely over the top."
I surveyed him carefully. His owl had moved from his head to his shoulder, and my cousin looked mostly normal, not ensorcelled at all. "Eh? She just looks sparkley to me. Are you certain it's a glamour whatsit? Maybe you're in love. Is she nice?"
"Millicent? Nice? Not a bit."
"Yeah, I like the mean girls best myself, too."
"Oh, shut up," said Harry.
Hermione and Millicent managed to get the door shut and then Hermione leaned out the window. "Harry, take him home for me, will you." She jerked her chin towards me.
"What?!" said Harry.
Hermione widened her eyes at him. Harry sighed. "Fine, fine, whatever," he said. And then Hermione grinned at me, waiting to see how I'd react. Obviously she'd sobered up enough to get her twisted sense of humour back. She'd no doubt stop staggering and be just slightly relaxed by the time her wizarding celebration really got started in an hour.
I didn't mind taking a cab and I was in no hurry to go home, but I'd not seen Harry in months. I shrugged. "All right. I suppose." And Hermione and the girls rose up into the air in their UFO. They waved their arms out the window at us and faded away into the clouds.
I looked down and found Harry staring at me, narrow-eyed. He inched closer. "How does she pick you up? A leviosa? Does she make you jump up in the air?"
"Um. No," I said, backing away. "Look, maybe this was a bad idea. I can just call-," I said, but I was drunk and slow and Harry slipped under my arm, an inside fighter just like you'd expect, and he grabbed me- and he dropped me three feet and thirty miles onto wet grass.
It was the most unspeakable teleportation jump I'd ever experienced, worse than Hermione's earliest unpracticed attempt, worse than her sudden emergency grab that took me out of the house. I sank to one knee as excruciating stomach paroxysms bent me over, and I waited for my disorientated insides to catch up with the outsides.
"Ohhh, you are terrible at sidelong apparition. And I thought Hermione was bad the first time she tried it. You're much worse. Do you even have a license?" My entrails shook me into silence then while my brain kept on whirling and I thought it'd be rather too bad if my last words ended up being whinging about licenses. But I'd not been killed by being turned inside out and the pain started to recede and I took a deep breath. And another. Almost there...
"Get up, you faker." Harry shoved his knee against my shoulder and toppled my barely gained equilibrium.
I went down on my hands and knees and lost the last three hours of my evening, all the drinks that'd been handed to me, all the pretty little chocolates, cakes, and trifles- at which point I suddenly felt a whole lot better. I jumped up blazing angry and laid hands on Harry. He smiled. A familiar smile. The one I'd seen on my own face when I watched the taped videos of my championship matches with the chaps that I'd known I would outclass, but who hadn't yet had the chance to discover that interesting fact for themselves. Right. Cold sense returned and I let him go.
Emptied of sugar, alcohol, and adrenaline, I stumbled back and sat down on the low brick wall that surrounded the playground. "I should have called a cab. There's no way that the strongest wizard in Britain can be a worse teleporter than Hermione. You did that on purpose. I notice that you are fine."
Harry diffidently pressed his wand against my throat and then pulled it away and looked at it. "You, too," he said and he gingerly sat down next to me. "Meh. It's not like you needed to keep that- What was it? Raspberry torte? I did you a favour really."
"You did not. Gah." I wiped my mouth and then washed my hand off in the freezing wet grass.
"I thought you were trying to lose weight?"
I stared at him in disbelief. "I did. I have. I am. But now I'm on holiday, you fucking shit. And if my idea of a good holiday is being fed sweets by pretty ladies, that is my own fucking business. Before you showed up I'd been having a great time."
It had, in fact, been more than a great time. There had been dinner. And then Hermione and her mother and Hermione's aunts and assorted pretty cousins had spent another couple of hours passing around little flowered plates and pressing endless little crystal glasses into my hand. And there'd been stealing kisses with Hermione in the kitchen and the taste of the cordial on her lips had still been on mine when she'd gotten in that invisible car. All gone now. And, since I'd made it onto the boxing team, that meant six months till my birthday and my next lovely time.
"I hate you," I told him.
"Right back at you," he said, with such real venom that I was disconcerted.
"Why?" I said plaintively. "What'd I ever do to you?" Harry rolled his eyes at that, looking for a moment just like my father. "I mean, recently," I said. And then I gave up. "Enh. Nevermind."
My best coat jacket, which buttoned easily at the beginning of an evening and while standing, did not button so easily while sitting after a three hour dinner, even a dinner ruined by Harry Potter, and I didn't yet feel up to standing, buttoning it and walking off. I shoved my hands in the pockets, pulled the thin wool of my jacket mostly shut and shivered. Could have had a nice, quiet, relaxing, warm cab ride right to my front door, but instead-
"Are you cold?" asked Harry. The owl sitting on his shoulder said nothing.
"Nope,'" I lied. "Are you cold?"
"No, but that's because I'm a wizard. Best in Britain," he said.
Right, best except for your dodgy sidelong apparition talents. "Bully for you. Also, fuck off," I said and then noticed how our encounter had turned to complete hash. Which was not at all how I'd imagined it when I'd agreed to go with him. And it was all his fault. On the other hand, he hadn't left yet, he was still sitting there, glaring at me. I ignored his stink eye and said, "So... How have you been getting on."
As usual, pretending to talk civilly with him was all uphill. "Doing anything interesting these days?" I said.
He chewed the inside of his cheek and then said, "I'm having my biography written."
"Your biography? You're only seventeen years old. That'll be a quick read."
"No, it won't. The notes and transcripts alone are this thick." He held out his arms. "It'll have every detail, magically pulled straight from my memory."
"Every detail? That will be thick. Dear diary: today I used magic to wash my hair. Then I had dragon eggs for breakfast. I attempted to turn my essays in, but I'd accidentally used invisible ink, and I got sent sent to detention where I spent six hours rewriting essays and wanking under my desk. Then I had tea. ...Let's see, 24 hours in a day, call it 2500 days, that'd be sixty thousand paragraphs of magical hair-washing and wank. What fun."
"Well, of course I have an editor. Gilderoy is the best in the business and he'll make it much more exciting. ...You're in the story, by the way."
"Yeah? How do I die? In the exciting story version, I mean."
"You don't. It's all going to be true."
"Ahahaha. Even the part with DumbleFawkes? Brilliant!"
Harry winced. "Not that bit. For security reasons we'll be editing that bit out."
Security of your manly reputation, I reckon. "How much security? Do I get to read it?"
"I don't know why you'd want to. You don't die but you don't come off at all well."
I made a half-hearted attempt to brush some of Crookshanks' hair off my trousers. "I don't? So no mention of Hermione and me?"
He smirked. "None whatsoever."
"Any mention of Draco and you?"
"Any mention of WHAT?"
Ah. Still not out yet. "Forget it. ...Well, I imagine Hermione's battle scenes will be worth reading, assuming I can stand skimming through a minute by minute replay of my ickle cousin's adventures in puberty to get to them. When will your wondrous tome be available?"
"Do you really want to read it? Wouldn't it just make you jealous?"
"Oh, please. Why would I be jealous of you?"
"Because I've got magic. Obviously." The owl on Harry's shoulder dribbled white goo down his back, but the magical owlshit rolled down his magical coat and vanished into the grass behind him. Magically. Eeeeew.
"I'm not seeing the obviously. Do you think all trumpet players yearn desperately to play electric base? I'm very happy with the hand I was dealt, thanks. My life's great."
"But you were a fucking nasty bully and that means you must have been jealous."
I laughed. "You think? I could have been just a big, stupid kid with no empathy or morals who enjoyed being horrible for fun."
"That's worse. I was at least trying to make excuses for you. But if you insist on being evil, far be it from me to-"
"-I don't insist on it. How about you? You going to be the next Dark Lord?"
"Gah! Everyone asks me that these days."
"Do they really? And what do you tell everyone?"
"I say I haven't decided yet."
"How does that go over?"
"Not too well." He grinned. "What's wrong with not having decided? These things should be thought over carefully. They ought to be glad I have no plans. Yet."
"Wait a minute. Yes, you do have plans. I was going to give this to Hermione to give to you, but it wasn't the right... um, time." I went through my inside jacket pockets, pulled out Harry's plans, and handed them to him.
"Oh, yes! God, yes! Christmas is not complete until I've received my traditional crappy Dursley present. What the fuck is this? An electric bill you pulled out of the rubbish?"
The envelope was crumpled and stained with coffee grounds and actually I had pulled it out of the bin that very morning. "Open it," I said.
"It's already open," he said, but then he noticed that the grotty open envelope had his name on it. He shot me yet another dirty look. "You read my post?"
"Or," I said, "You could notice the part where I delivered your post. Come on, read it."
He pulled out the letter and unfolded it and read the results of the exams that he'd apparently taken some time ago. He stared at it and read it again. "What? How? When?"
"I can't imagine. I don't suppose you've got any particularly pushy, education-mad friends who happen to have access to timeturners and could make you level up like that?"
"Is this real?" He flipped the envelope over and checked the postmark, which was from four months back. I didn't know how the envelope had known to wait to arrive until I was home to rescue it, but the Charming style was rather familiar.
"Did you know that I've picked up Divination?" I waggled my fingers at him. "I see in your future a whole lot of untimely learning experiences. Hope you enjoy swotting. Those are some impressive marks you're going to earn. Ha ha!"
"Bloody hell! How did Hermione do this?"
"Never mind how. I want to know when she'll get the idea. Will she get the idea tonight? Or tomorrow when the envelope shows up on her doorstep? Is it cheating if it happens like that? Does she have to get the idea before her marks arrive or else cause some sort of time paradox? How many months do you suppose you'll be away in a time bubble revising?"
Harry glared balefully down at his letter. "I am so fucked. Truly, a used toothpick would have been a better present."
"Oh, I say!" I said, "You could apply to my school. We could-"
"I could introduce you to people. You'd like my friend, Patrick. He taught me to make curry. You could come over one night when I'm cooking. I've got the colour just exactly right, and the flavour is getting kind of close-"
"-You know what? You are seriously deranged. Or maybe you've been hit in the head a couple hundred times too many and your brains have turned to tapioca. Never. Never. Never in a million years..." And he went on in that vein for a while, but when you know a teleporting girl with a timeturner, 'never in a million years' means next month.
"Brilliant," I said. "So, curry night. I'll buy you a pint after."
He blinked at me. "No. No, you won't," he explained slowly.
"All right. Thanks for the lift. See you." I waved at him.
"Aaaaaagh! No! You! Won't! You will not be seeing me! Aaaaaaagh!" And then, poof, he disappeared.
I turned and walked through the park back to my parent's house, wondering what time in the morning Hermione would call and come pick me up properly so we could go retrieve my car.
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