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Disclaimer:  Not my characters, no money being made, etc., etc.

 

 

Book 1: Knight Protectors of the Realm

Chapter 1 – Unexpected Meetings

Friday, June 1, 11:00am, Hogsmeade Station

“Wotcher, Harry.  Headmistress McGonagall needs to see you in her office.”

Harry Potter reluctantly opened his eyes.  He didn’t bother asking how Tonks found him in a notice-me-not charmed train compartment.  She was an Auror, and used to finding wizards who didn’t want to be found.

“Oh, Merlin!” he muttered. “The train will leave before I even make it back to the castle!”

“Imagine so. But I’m sure she'll get you to London somehow.”

The young wizard didn’t really want to meet with anyone, but lacked the energy to argue.

The Auror wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulder.

“I’ll let your friends know what happened, and see to it that Hedwig and your trunk make it to your Aunt and Uncle’s house.”

Harry frowned.  “If you can manage the cage, I think Hedwig might rather fly back.”  His familiar’s bobbing head indicated agreement as she was freed and launched herself out through an opened window.

“Wish I had that kind of freedom right now,” the black-haired wizard muttered, as he stepped back onto the platform and started the long walk back towards the castle.

oo00OO00oo

Dumbledore’s password still worked.

Harry found the Headmistress of Hogwarts sitting behind her large wooden desk, lost in thought and gazing out the window. Without turning towards him, she conjured a comfortable chair and asked, “Tea?”

“Yes, please,” Harry replied.  A portrait of the sleeping former headmaster caught his attention.

“He hasn’t woken yet,” McGonagall said, noting his gaze. “The other portraits tell me that it might take weeks.”

The young wizard let out a sigh and sat down.  There were so many questions to ask….

McGonagall interrupted his thoughts. “That said, he’s apparently still found a way to reach out to us.”

She picked up a piece of parchment and passed it across the desk. Harry immediately recognized the handwriting of his former mentor: 

Dear Harry,

There is someone you should meet prior to your return to Privet Drive. The sword will come in handy. More to say once I get used to this portraiture.

Regards,

Albus Dumbledore
Former Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

“The note was stuck on the portrait frame when I returned from the memorial service,” the Headmistress stated.

Harry frowned. “Do you think it could be a trap?”

“That was my initial thought,” McGonagall replied, “but even with Dumbledore gone I can not imagine how Voldemort could arrange to have a note written in Albus’s hand placed within this office.”

Harry thought about that for a second, then rose from his chair and strode towards the glass-encased sword.  “Also seems unlikely that Voldemort would ask me to bring the Sword of Gryffindor to our next get together.”

“Just a moment, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall asked. “While the note doesn’t mention it, I suspect that transportation has been pre-arranged.”

Harry's attention shifted from sword to Headmistress, then back again.  Finally getting what she was implying, he smiled for the first time that day.

“I imagine that you’re right,” he replied.  “But would you think it safe? I mean, not so much where I’m going, but how… the last thing I need right now is harassment from the Ministry for using an unauthorized portkey.”

“Well...” thought McGonagall. “I believe that the crime lies in the unauthorized making, rather than in the using, so…”

“So they’d have to ship the portrait off to Azkaban?”

The Headmistress glanced over at Dumbledore’s portrait and opined, “I dare say that the Ministry would find it easier to remove Mrs. Black’s portrait from the wall.”

She then walked around her desk and placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Do you have a few minutes before you go, Mr. Po….Harry?”

The young wizard nodded.  The older witch chose to lean against the front of her desk, so that she remained within reach of her student. She then took a few moments to compose her thoughts.

“They say that if you want to truly know a wizard you need to fly a mile on his broomstick,” McGonagall began.  “While I’ve always thought myself highly sympathetic to your situation, it is only within the past few days that I have fully appreciated your burden.”

“How is that, Ma’am?”

“Well, it’s just that…. Dumbledore’s dead, Snape’s betrayed us, Voldemort’s chasing after my students and Hogwarts could well close its doors for the first time in over seven-hundred years,” she replied.  “And in an emergency meeting earlier today, the Hogwarts Board of Governors removed the 'Interim' portion from my title.  Apparently, I am now their own 'Chosen One,' - the person who is supposed to keep the school going in spite of all that.”

The Headmistress stared down at the floor. “Frankly, I don’t feel prepared to meet their expectations. And yet I don’t feel I have any other choice but to try.  Does that sound familiar?”

“Yes Ma’am,” her student said with a grim smile. “That does sound very familiar.”

“Harry,” she continued, “over the past six years I doubt that anyone would characterize my interactions with you as maternal.”

“Oh don’t say that, Ma’am...unless you’ve bought a new broomstick for every new seeker on your house Quidditch team.”

“Yes, well, that was a happier time for all of us, wasn’t it? A time when taking the House Cup from Snape’s office was more important than…”

“Than taking his head from his shoulders?”

“Quite.”

The Headmistress took a sip from her teacup, then continued. “I raise this issue because of something I learned just this morning whilst rummaging through the Headmaster’s papers.”

“What’s that, Ma’am?”

“Well, it’s that…erm…Harry, do you know that the Headmaster of Hogwarts is your legal guardian within the wizarding community?”

“I knew that Headmaster Dumbledore was my wizard guardian, but…are you saying that the job is tied to the position?”

Minerva nodded. “Guardianship is automatically granted to the Headmaster or Headmistress of Hogwarts over any orphaned magical child raised in the Muggle world.”

“So that means that now you are Headmistress…”

“Yes, Harry,” McGonagall replied. “I am your legal guardian in the wizarding world.” She paused for a moment. “Which brings us back to my maternal instincts, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t start, Ma’am,” Harry replied. “You’ve been far more of a mother than Aunt Petunia ever has.”

“But not as much as Molly Weasley, I’m certain of that.  Or Miss Granger, for that matter.”

“Mrs. Weasley, I’ll grant,” said Harry, with a pause.  “But Hermione?”

“Yes, Harry,” said McGonagall, “Hermione.  Or have I been wrong all these years in assuming that she’s done a great deal to keep you on the straight and narrow?”

Harry thought back to all of the times that Hermione had made sure his homework was done, all of the times that she kept him from making rash moves, and all of the time she spent with him during his frequent trips to Madame Ponfrey’s infirmary. Even with everything that happened the past year, with their arguments over the Half Blood Prince’s potion book, and Malfoy, and Ginny….and Ron…

“Well, she’s tried to keep me out of trouble, at least,” Harry finally said.  “Can’t say that she’s always been successful.”

That drew a smile from the Headmistress’s face. “No, I couldn’t either,” she replied.  “But I daresay that neither of you would be alive today were it not for the other.  And it’s been a long time since I’ve ever seen two people in my House that cared more about each other.”

She was about to tell Harry that the last two were his parents, but thought better of it.  Which was a good thing, because Harry was wondering why she said what she did.  Surely she knew that he had been dating Ginny, and that Ron and Hermione had feelings for each other?

“Ah, but forgive me, I’ve gotten us off track again,” the Headmistress noted.  “I just wanted to let you know that the Order is in disarray right now, and that you shouldn’t expect its presence at your Aunt and Uncle’s.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Harry replied. “I was never quite certain whether those guards were there to keep Death Eaters out or to keep me in.”

“Yes, well…that doesn’t mean that someone won’t be there but… I talked with Miss Granger this morning and she told me that she and Ronald Weasley intend to stay with you at the Dursleys. I hope you let them. You might be underage, but they aren’t, and I’d feel more comfortable knowing that they were watching your back even with the blood protections in place.”

Harry nodded.

“Oh,” she continued, “and don’t be surprised if you see a tabby cat perched on their fence now and again. The Board  is going to wait until August to decide on whether Hogwarts will open this fall, so I might have some time even with my new responsibilities.”

“I’d like that, Ma’am,” Harry replied. “Am I’m sure that Crookshanks would enjoy the company.”

“Now, Mr. Potter!” she said with a sly grin. “Secondly – based on how Scrimgeour and his flunkies treated me this morning, you should worry about the Ministry.”

Harry thought for a moment. “Was there anything in particular that he said?”

“Nothing officially,” she said, “but it’s clear that they think they can roll over me in ways they never would have dreamed to attempt when Albus was Headmaster. Dolores Umbridge and Percy Weasley acting so smug – they probably now see as much opportunity to grab power as Voldemort does.”

Harry nodded. “This morning Scrimgeour asked me again to join forces with the Ministry.  He wasn’t too happy when I brushed him off by saying that I was still Dumbledore’s man.”

“Oh, dear.” she replied. “While I am proud of you, I’m afraid what that will mean…you see, there are some in the Ministry that believe that you are as much of a threat to the wizarding community as Voldemort.”

“I’m not surprised,” Harry stated. “But what can they do?”

“They can track your use of the floo network and owl post, and also come down hard on any legal missteps,” McGonagall replied. “You haven’t forgotten your visit with the Wizengamot, have you? Without Dumbledore’s help, they may make another run to break your wand.”

“No magic use until I’m seventeen,” Harry said. “I’ll try.”

“Well,” said the Headmistress, “I wouldn’t go that far.  You are not allowed to use your wand to cast spells outside of these grounds until you are seventeen.  I emphasize the phrase ‘use your wand;’ I do not think that those who fashioned the law ever imagined an underage wizard capable of performing wandless magic…Occlumency, for example. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes, Headmistress, I understand exactly what you mean.”

“Also, do not forget that there are very few restrictions on underage use of magical items.”

“Oh,” said Harry, “guess I never really thought about that, having being raised by the Dursleys.”

Headmistress McGonagall’s eyes suddenly lit up with inspiration.  With a smile, she pointed her wand across the room and an unmarked door opened. “Harry,” said asked, “would you mind helping me clean out the closets of my new office?”

When the young wizard turned towards the opened door he smiled.

“Why yes, I’d be happy to help out, Ma’am.”

The Headmistress reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a rucksack. “Well then, you might find this useful.”

Harry took the offered rucksack and walked into the closet, which was filled with items that had been confiscated by Filch.  Once he realized that the bag had a charmed never-full interior, he stopped trying to sort the items by usefulness, and took the lot. He quickly had a rather nice collection of portable swamps, Weasley whiz-bangs, and even a magical tent.

Swinging his rucksack onto his shoulder, he exited the closet and offered his thanks to the Headmistress.

“Suppose I should start on whatever trip Headmaster Dumbledore had planned for me?” he asked. 

“Be careful,” the Headmistress admonished, as he drew his wand and headed towards the sword’s case.

Harry grinned.

“Aren’t I always?”

Not waiting for a predictable response, the Boy-Who-Lived reached out and grabbed the sword’s hilt.  He immediately felt the all-too familiar hook in his gut sensation produced by an activated portkey. 

oo00OO00oo

Harry landed on a pine-needle covered ground within a small glade.  He immediately crouched into a defensive posture, but saw no threats.  Noticing a lorry traveling along a paved road some fifty meters distant, he ditched his robes in the main compartment of his rucksack, and sheathed the blade in an expandable exterior pocket, leaving only the ruby-encrusted hilt exposed for quick retrieval.   With wand still in hand, he cautiously walked towards the road. 

Looking down the lorry’s path, he noticed the pavement disappear around a curve.  Back up the road was a wrought-iron gate and guardhouse about 100 meters distant.   Two men dressed in dark suits and sunglasses stood on either side of the gate.  They appeared far too smartly dressed to be wizards in Muggle clothing, and held radios and clipboards rather than wands.

Taking a leap of faith in Dumbledore’s plans, Harry walked out onto the road. The men watched silently as he approached the gate.  When he got within a few meters, one of them called out, “You wouldn’t happen to be Harry Potter, would you?” 

Harry nodded. The man talked into his radio, and the gate slowly opened.  Gesturing towards a white Land Rover parked on the inside of the gate, he said, “This way, Sir. They are expecting you up at the castle.”

oo00OO00oo

It was a quiet ten-minute trip to the building that the guard had called “The Castle.” Frankly, it didn’t look like much of a castle to Harry, at least when compared to Hogwarts.  It was big, and built of stone, but only one tower rose from the main building, and its ramparts were only a few stories taller than the building itself.

The Land Rover pulled up to the side of the building, and Harry was shown inside.  The entry hall was bright and cheery. Large landscape paintings set in heavy wood frames hung on walls dressed in gold wallpaper and trimmed in white wood.  The furniture had overstuffed cushions upholstered in pastel floral prints, and several flower arrangements were set on tables and sideboards.  Although he had never been there, Harry imagined that the Hufflepuff common room could look like this, except for the fact that this was obviously a Muggle residence.  No creatures were bounding across the oil paintings of wooded landscapes, no fire was lit in the fireplace for floo travel, and the heads mounted on the walls of the staircase landing belonged to antelopes, rather than to retired house elves. 

He was led towards the tower he’d seen earlier, and climbed up stairs to a room whose decor looked much more Gryffindorish than Hufflepuffian.  Pieces of walnut and leather furniture were grouped in separate sitting areas. A large stone fireplace contained a modest fire that looked more ornamental than functional.  The unlit torches mounted within sconces also appeared decorative, given the brass floor lamps that were scattered about, and a large, ornate chandelier that hung overhead.

Long narrow windows set within the opposite wall allowed the sun to cast bright rectangular patches of light onto the ornate Oriental rug that covered the stone floor. A tallish man wearing a brown tweed jacket was looking out one of these windows, with his back turned to Harry. His escort cleared his throat and announced, “Your Highness, Mister Harry Potter.”

The man in the tweed jacket turned around, smiled, and strode across the room with his hand outstretched.

“Mister Potter, welcome to Balmoral.”

Harry instantly recognized the man’s face from a portrait that had hung on the wall of his primary school classroom. From all appearances, he had just been introduced to the Prince of Wales.

The young wizard cautiously held out his right hand and gave the man a handshake that was somewhere between firm and tentative in strength.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you…your… Your Highness.”

The middle-aged man took a step back, as if to allow Harry the chance to take his measure.

“Mister Potter, you likely have a million questions running through your mind right now, am I right?”

Harry, who in fact had only time to process a few hundred questions since his introduction, nodded his head.

“Well, my young man, given what I understand you have recently been through, I’m not surprised...and not in the least offended by your caution. Allow me to suggest that we have a seat by the fire.”

Harry was guided towards two high-backed chairs near the fireplace. His escort reappeared with a tray that held a silver pitcher and two glasses of iced pumpkin juice.

Pumpkin juice?” – that silent two-worded question jumped to the front of the line of the questions currently dancing in Harry’s head. 

“Please Mr. Potter, have something to drink,” said his companion. “I can’t promise that it replicates exactly what they serve at Hogwarts, but I’ve been told that my cook’s recipe is fairly close.”

Mention of the word “Hogwarts” put Harry immediately back on the defensive…just how would the Prince of Wales know anything about Hogwarts? He cautiously chose a glass, but made no effort to raise it to his lips. The man reached down and picked up the other glass, and took a long drink.  “Please, Mr. Potter, I’m not trying to poison you.”

Harry nodded slightly as he watched the man take another drink from his glass.

“If I were in your shoes, Mr. Potter, I would be desperately looking for the answers to a few key questions.  Namely, ‘Am I really the Prince of Wales and if I am how do I know about Hogwarts?’ Not to mention the question of why you are here and whether or not you can trust me. How am I doing?”

Harry maintained his gaze.  “Dead on the mark, Sir.”

“I see.” The man finished his drink and set the glass on the tray in front of him. “Mr. Potter, I wish I had more time to gain your confidence, but we have some critical issues to discuss before your departure for London. Allow me, then, to try to allay whatever fears you might have concerning my intentions.”

The man opened the left side of his jacket and very slowly reached into an interior pocket, allowing Harry to see the retrieval of a brown leather billfold.  He pulled out what appeared to be small, dog-eared photograph. As he passed it across, Harry saw a magical image of the Prince with his arm around the shoulder of a laughing Albus Dumbledore.

“Harry...your Headmaster had been a friend of my family for as long as I can remember, and I was proud to call him a personal friend to the handful of people that I could trust with that secret.” 

The Prince shifted in his seat as he pulled on the front seams of his trouser legs. He gazed into the fire for a few quiet seconds before reaching over and refilling his glass.  He then stood up and looked straight at Harry. 

“Mr. Potter, it is a tradition in my family that any glass used to make an important toast never be used again.” Harry realized what was being said, rose from his chair, and raised his glass.

“To Albus Dumbledore,” said the Prince. “If his presence enriches the next world even half as much as his life enriched our own, then it truly deserves to be called Heaven.” 

“To Albus Dumbledore,” Harry whispered. 

The thrown crystal shattered against the back of the hearth, and Harry’s eyes began to water.

And the man thought by most royal watchers to have all the warmth and compassion of your average puddle of mud stepped forward, and pulled the teen-aged wizard into a hug. 

“I know, Harry” he said softly. “I know.” 

oo00OO00oo

After a few minutes, the Prince led Harry back down to the main floor and out into a garden located at the rear of the building.  The fresh air and bright sunlight helped the two regain most of their composure. They walked down a limestone-block pathway, each with arms held behind their own backs.

“Harry,” the Prince asked, “over the years Albus has told me much about you, and your progress at Hogwarts. Did you know that he considered you to be the son he never had?”

The teen’s mind raced as he thought back to that awful night, as he stood immobilized and watched his mentor’s body tumble over the Astronomy Tower’s restraining wall.  He reached into his pocket and tightly grasped the fake locket for which Dumbledore had sacrificed his strength and his life.

“I too am trying to come to grips with Dumbledore’s death,” the Prince said.  “I wish I had been able to attend his funeral, but you can imagine the…the logistics… that would have been involved.”

Harry nodded.  “How did you know about the funeral…how did you know that Dumbledore had died?”

Without looking, the Prince reached into a coat pocket and pulled out a phoenix feather that he slowly twisted in his fingers. “I’ve been up from London for the past week doing some fly fishing and planning for Her Majesty’s summer residency.  Four nights ago I heard the cry of a phoenix, and then Fawkes appeared at my bedroom window.  And I knew.  As for the funeral, well, Harry…let me just say that many in your world would be shocked at just how much a few of us Muggles know about them.”

Harry’s eyes went wide as the Prince tossed out the word “Muggle” as if they were conversing at Hogwarts Castle, rather than Balmoral Castle.  How much did he really know?

“Muggles, sir?”

The Prince looked at Harry with a crooked smile. “Yes, I know about your world, and I know just what some in your world think of us non-magical folks….”

“And what is that, sir?”

The Prince paused for a moment, then asked, “Have you any idea how many titles I currently hold?”

Harry looked up and shook his head. 

“Wouldn’t imagine you would.  Frankly, I have problems remembering all myself… Let’s see.  I am the Prince of Wales, the Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, the Duke of Cornwall, Duke of  Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Earl of Chester, Lord of Renfrew, and…” 

The Prince look down at his fingers and counted as he mouthed through the list again.

"Oh yes, Lord of the Isles…although I sometimes also fancy myself Lord of the Dance, but only when I’m not in public.”

Harry laughed out loud as the Prince did a little jig.

“Ah, that’s more like it, son,” the Prince said. “But, I am also aware of the fact that I am heir to a kingdom with realms both Magical and Muggle. You have to admit, the word “Muggle” does trip off the tongue a whole lot easier than “non-magical” or “non-wizard.”

The Prince glanced down at his watch. “Oh, look at the time. Harry, you do need to be in London tonight.  Will you let me ramble a bit upon why you are here?”

The young wizard nodded.

“Right. Well, then...I know that you are fighting against a dark wizard. I know that if this dark wizard…Voldemort, correct?…that if this dark wizard and his forces win that the results would be disastrous not only in your world, but in mine.  I know that this war has already resulted in the deaths of many Muggles by events that have been misidentified as natural disasters, accidents, or terrorist acts."

"Harry, I’m not sure if you are aware of the fact, but the British Prime Minister has been in consultation with Scrimgeour, your Minister of Magic, concerning this situation.  However, from what Dumbledore shared with me, I suspect that your Ministry has severely underrepresented how dire things really are.  Frankly, Albus didn’t have much faith in your Ministry as a whole, and in this Scrimgeour chap in particular… an attitude that you share...am I right?”

Harry smiled in agreement.

“Well… Albus was convinced that the best hope for both our worlds lay not within the Ministry of Magic, but within your hands, and those of your friends. In fact, he had great confidence in your ability to rise to this challenge.”

Harry cringed.  He wasn’t nearly as confident as the Prince seemed to be.

“You must realize, my dear boy, that Dumbledore shared all this with me for a reason…he was certain that some key part of your success in the battle with Voldemort would come not by what you have learned at Hogwarts, but from what you might learn in the Muggle world.” 

Harry tried to imagine just what within the Muggle world might possibly help him battle Voldemort.

The Prince broke into those thoughts. 

“Harry, Dumbledore asked that I help you during your stay on our side of the fence. I am not certain how I can make good on my promise, although I have a few ideas.  Ultimately, though, that will be for you to decide. Also, Albus wanted any knowledge of my help be kept closely held.  You see, few in our government know about my family’s connection to the Wizarding World, and I’m not sure that the Prime Minister knows anything about you.  Unless, of course, your Minister of Magic mentioned your heroic efforts during their meetings?”

“Oh, I doubt that very much, Your Highness.”

“Right, then.  I’ll leave it for you to decide whom within the wizarding community you can trust.   On my end, I have asked a few close friends to provide their assistance on my behalf. Rest assured they will do whatever they can to provide you with whatever you need. And if they can’t help you for some reason, these might come in handy.”

The Prince handed Harry a small mobile telephone and a folded piece of parchment.  “The note informs the reader that you are on Queen’s business, and are to be provided whatever assistance might be available. Comes in handy if you want to skiv out of a traffic infraction, amongst other things.  Just keep it safe in your wallet.”

“Um…I’m sorry, your Highness, but I don’t have a wallet.”

“What? Well, then,” said the Prince, “take mine.”

He handed Harry a brown leather billfold.

“Oh, that’s quite alright, Your Highness, I can get one…”

“Really, Harry, just take it.  It’s not like you have lots of free time to go shopping, and Lord knows I seldom have the chance to use it myself…hard for me to just pop down to the pub to buy a few pints.”

Harried thanked the Prince and placed the note inside the wallet.

“You’ll notice,” said the Prince, “that I only have a few hundred pounds in there…but the charge cards might come in handy.  I’ll have you authorized before you leave today.”

“Thank you, Sir, but money is the one thing I don’t really think I need help with.”

“Ah, Dumbledore mentioned that.  But he also said something about the advantages of not having to run down to your bank whenever you needed a spot of cash.  He also feared that there may come the day when you were blocked from gaining access to your wizard money.”

Harry thought about the goblins, and whether they would ever be tempted to join Voldemort’s side, then nodded.

“The mobile has an untraceable number.  Don’t worry about going over on minutes, and if you need to contact me directly just hit Speed Dial 1 or text me.”

“I’m sorry, Sir, but what is speed dial? And how exactly would I ‘text’ you?”

The Prince laughed.   

“Oh my goodness…a teenager that doesn’t know how to text message? Harry Potter, you truly do live in a different world.”

 

Chapter 2 - Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Harry tightly gripped his armrests as the engines of the small jet he was sitting within roared to live.  While he did now about airplanes, and saw the fly over the Dursleys’s house all the time (as Little Whinging was not far from Heathrow), he (like Arthur Weasley), didn’t have the foggiest idea how they did so without using magic. He wondered if his magical powers were strong enough to levitate the entire jet, if need be, and wished that his Firebolt was with him, rather than packed in his trunk aboard the Hogwarts Express.

The Prince had arranged for the London-bound private flight from the airfield closest to Balmoral, and told Harry that the Durlsleys would be made aware of Harry’s travel plans.  Actually, what he said was that he would “take care” of them, and only smiled when Harry asked what that meant.  The young wizard was further informed that arrangements had been made for ground transport and dinner once he arrived in London.

The airplane’s interior was just as luxurious as some of the rooms in Balmoral.  There were a dozen comfortable leather seats, mahogany trimming, and a plush crimson carpet.  Although the cockpit door was closed, Harry had been promised a full tour by the flight captain once they were in the air.

The plane’s uniformed steward stopped next to the young wizard’s seat and showed him how to fasten his seatbelt. “Is this your first flight, then?” he asked.

“No…but it’s the first time that I’ve flown in an airplane.”

The steward used a smile to cover his confusion with this response.  “Well, then, just sit back and relax, Mister Potter, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Harry was tempted to ask the steward just how worried he would be if he were about to make his first flight on the back of a hippogriff, or a thestral, but thought better of it.

The plane taxied, then lifted smoothly off the ground and banked into a gentle curve. It felt strange to be flying through the air without the wind in his face and his feet dangling off of a broomstick. After a few minutes, Harry raised enough courage to look out the window and down towards the ground below. The view looked amazingly similar to what he’d seen perched high above Hogwart’s quidditch pitch - the green hills and valleys, the lochs and the forests. Harry wondered whether Hogwarts might be nearby.

The Boy-Who-Lived stopped looking for castles and started to look for train tracks. Somewhere down there, Ron and Hermione were aboard the Hogwarts Express. He wondered what they were doing right now, and if they knew that he wasn’t on board.  Harry hadn’t failed to notice Ron’s arm around Hermione after the memorial service, and he pondered whether they were using the time to sort out where they stood with each other.  His two friends had promised to stay with him at the Dursleys, but he really didn’t imagine how his Aunt and Uncle would allow that, and seriously wondered how Ron would survive more than a day or two in a non-magical household. 

Wishing to drift away from that topic, he turned away from the window, leaned back into the seat, and drifted off to sleep.

oo00OO00oo

A few hundred kilometers ahead, the Hogwarts Express snaked through the Yorkshire countryside while Hermione Granger snaked through the aisle of one of its carriages.  It was a far different experience than when she conducted patrols at the start of the school year. 

That previous autumn, the train was filled with the typical assortment of animated and excited students (except for the first years, who were, of course, terrified). Most of her time had been spent confiscating forbidden items that students were trying to smuggle into Hogwarts (by the end of the trip her bag of goodies would have done a fair job of stocking a branch location of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes).

This trip was, in contrast, quiet.  Extremely quiet.  The students all seemed to be aware that Hogwarts might not reopen, aware that they might not see their friends and classmates for a very long period of time, and (except for a few Slytherins) aware that Dumbledore’s death made their world a far more dangerous place. Once the train pulled out of Hogsmeade Station, it became readily apparent how this awareness was going to manifest itself.

One of the other Muggleborn students had nicely summed it up:

Terror-snogging.

On past trips home Hermione had seen (and been disgusted by) the frantic tonsil-tickling of soon-to-be-separated-for-the-summer couples.  But this went well beyond that, both in terms of frequency and intensity.  Nearly half of the upper-year students, and far too many of the younger ones seemed to be searching for comfort in the arms of another. Couples who had been together all year, couples she had never seen together before, even couples Hermione would never have paired in a million years. She was glad to have been assigned a car mostly filled with younger students – it would have been dreadful for her to have to get in between, say, Lavender Brown’s lips and those of Merlin knows who (or how many).

From an intellectual perspective, it was easy for Hermione to see why this was happening. She had scandalized some of the other prefects when she argued (during a hastily called meeting) that the snogging was actually therapeutic (up to a point).  From an emotional perspective, Hermione could see the need as well, and a small part of her longed for a bit of therapy herself. 

But there are limits to enforce,” she thought to herself, “and ‘snog-free’ zones to maintain, and Ron’s patrolling a different car, and Harry isn’t even on the train…..”

Hermione let out a small gasp when that last thought passed her mind. “Harry?  Why did I even think of him? He’s my best friend…he’s Ginny’s boyfriend. Okay, so he did break up with her this morning, but it was Ron who had his arm around me after the service, it was Ron I was so jealous over when he was snogging Lavender Brown, it was Ron, right?

It took her more than ten minutes to formulate a rationalization that could stand on its own legs. 

Why are the other students snogging? Because they were scared, and they needed to feel safe, and the easiest way to feel safe and secure was in another person’s arms.  But in her case, it was Harry that always made her feel safe and secure, even without the snogging.  Harry – the eleven-year-old boy that saved her life before they were even friends.  So, if Harry showed up in the same train of thought as snogging, it really didn’t mean that she wanted to snog her best friend.

Terror-snogging is to other students as Harry is to Hermione.

Yes.  Of course. That had to be it.

Hermione leaned up against a compartment door.  She was scared about what might happen that summer. She was terrified about what needed to happen that summer. 

She wanted Harry on that train.

oo00OO00oo

It was raining in Little Whinging.  Hard.

The rain beat down with an intensity that betrayed the new neighbors who had failed to properly clear their gutters. Vernon Dursley noted the ponding along their house's foundation with smug satisfaction, and wondered whether the two men were getting water in their basement.

“Would serve those poofters right,” he muttered, to nobody in particular.

And it was that lack of audience, rather than the weather, that was truly souring Vernon’s disposition. For once he wanted to bask, to bathe, to wallow in the rare differentness of Number Four, Privet Drive.  Oh sure, there had been the odd wedding party or two that had hired a fancy car to show off around the neighborhood.  But nothing close to the 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III whose running boards Vernon had one foot set upon, in what he imagined to be a dashing pose.

A white-gloved driver held a large black umbrella over Dursley’s head. Given the umbrella’s limited size and the awkward pose that Vernon insisted on striking next to the car, one white glove and a bit of sleeve were the only parts of the tuxedoed driver that weren’t getting soaked.  “All part of his job,” Vernon rationalized.

The front door of the house opened tentatively as a second well-dressed man attempted to protect both Petunia Dursley and her son Dudley from the elements.  As there wasn’t an umbrella in all of England big enough to cover the both of them, the man shuttled Mrs. Dursley to the car first, then returned to keep any rain from striking Dudley, his clip-on tie, and his soon-to-be-autographed boxing gloves.

The invitation to join the current European Heavyweight Boxing Champion for lunch had arrived two weeks ago. Vernon had been forced to call in most of his chits at work to get the day off on such short notice, and Petunia had given up her weekly bridge club meeting, but that was no matter.  Their son, the current All-Schools Boxing Champion, was to be personally congratulated and recognized for his success.  The car and driver were all part of the package.  The only bad part was the fact that they would have to swing by King’s Cross station after the event to pick up Vernon's cursed nephew Harry.

The thought of his nephew caused Vernon to scowl.  Just a few short weeks and they’d be forever done with the boy, done with his type, and done with all of the freakishness. But not before, of course, he earned his keep. The corpulent Muggle noted with some satisfaction that Harry’s list of summer chores was just as long as ever.  Even freakish clouds have silver linings.

Vernon looked despondently up at the clouds that were presently shedding rain, then up and down the street, searching for anyone who might be positioned to glimpse his family’s due.

An admonishing voice called out from inside the car. “Oh for goodness sake, Vernon, get in or we’ll be late!”

Dursley reluctantly ducked into the rear of the Rolls.  The two attendants climbed into the front, and the car began its journey towards London.

oo00OO00oo

Platform 9 ¾ was quiet as the Hogwarts Express pulled into King’s Cross Station...for security reasons, parents had been kept on the Muggle side of the brick-walled entrance. Once the all-clear was given, prefects allowed small groups of students to disembark in intervals.  Teams of Aurors quickly shepherded each group across the barrier and into the arms of their families. The process was streamlined through Ministry of Magic-arranged “Closed for Repair” signs, floor-to-ceiling tarps and some well-placed Muggle repelling charms.

Hermione, Ron and Ginny were amongst the last leave the train.  Siblings were grouped together, and prefects had to ensure that all within their houses were accounted for.

Neither Ginny nor Hermione were all that happy with Ron at that moment. Ginny’s ears still stung from his scolding…although Ron hadn’t actually caught her snogging, it didn’t escape him that she spent most of the trip thigh-against-thigh with Dean Thomas. Worse, she apparently hadn’t even looked for Harry, or realized that he had gotten off the train back at Hogsmeade Station. 

Hermione was ill at ease for a different reason.  Ron had gotten upset when she suggested that the prefects split up one per carriage to facilitate continuous monitoring; he had apparently expected to patrol hand-in-hand.  Hermione had thought this to be a tad presumptuous.  Sure, he had been there for her during the funeral, and hadn’t left her side from there to the Tower and back to the train. There had been, however, no discussion about how things stood between them…whether they were finally looking at themselves as a couple. It was as if Lavender had set the standard for warp speed relationship progression. 

“So what are you going to do now that Harry’s gone missing?” asked Ron, as another batch of students left the train.

“Besides sending my otter out to chew on his leg until he lets us know that he’s safe?” she replied. “I don’t know.”

“Could always stay with us,” Ron said hopefully.

“No,” said Hermione, as she sized up his intentions. “I might as well use the time to be with my parents. I’m still underage on the other side, and I’m going to have to coax a permission out of them to stay with Harry.”

“Yeah, well...don’t think that being of age will make it any easier for me to tell Mum that I’m not staying at the Burrow this summer, much less skiv out on seventh year.”

Tonks stepped into the car. “Your turn, guys.”

“Heard from Harry?” asked Hermione.

“Nothing yet,” the pink-haired Auror replied with a slight smile (for it had been the eighth time that the younger witch had asked).  “I’m going to get his trunk to his relatives, then pop back to Hogwarts.”

Hermione nodded, as she checked off the last three names on the Gryffindor roster, shooed Crookshanks into his travel box, and began to drag her trunk towards the head of the car.

“What are you doing?” ask Ron.  “Forget your age already?” He pointed his wand at his trunk and levitated it towards the car door.

“No worries you haven’t,” Hermione replied as she dropped her hold on her trunk handle and levitated both her trunk and Ginny’s. “You plan on grabbing anything other than your wand this summer?”

“Won’t need to with you around, I image,” Ron said, waggling his eyebrows.

Ginny’s trunk lost altitude and hit Ron behind his knees. He tumbled backward and ended up flat on his back on the trunk’s lid.

“But he’s so used to grabbing his own wand,” Ginny giggled. “Why should he stop now?”

Hermione’s smile at Ginny’s comment turned into a scowl as she turned towards Ron. She raised her wand towards him, ignoring Ron’s look of uncertainty, and cast a shrinking spell on Ginny’s trunk.  It shrank to the size of a paperback, which caused him to again fall, this time back flat on the floor.  Ginny and Tonks laughed as Hermione performed the same spell on her own trunk and placed it in the pocket of her jacket.

“Oy, what about mine?” Ron asked as he rubbed the back of his head.

“Oh,” Hermione replied sweetly, “I’ll leave that to you.  Wouldn’t want you to lose your touch.”

Ron let out an exasperated groan. He didn’t even try to shrink his trunk – he had yet to master that transfiguration charm and didn’t dare practice on something that contained most of his worldly possessions. He levitated his trunk again and guided it out onto an empty cart on the platform.

Hermione swore she could hear a loud maternal shriek even before she passed through the wall.

“Ron! Ginny! Come here you two!”

As Hermione walked through the wall she saw Mrs. Weasley smother her two youngest children using arms that looked as if they had been extended by one of the Twin’s products.

“Oh, and Hermione, give me a hug, too,” Mrs. Weasley said.  “I am so glad that you’re all safe and sound.”

“Not like you didn’t just see us this morning,” Ginny muttered.

“Yes, well, I wish you could have floo’d home with us, but what with the security and the lines at Hogsmeade…where’s Harry?” Mrs. Weasley asked, suddenly realizing his absence.

“Don’t really know,” replied Ron.  “Tonks said he was pulled off the train to meet with the Headmistress just before we left Hogsmeade.”

“Headmistress? Well, yes, I suppose so,” said Mrs. Weasley. She grabbed Ron and Ginny’s chins and asked, “How are you two doing?”

“Fine,” Ron and Ginny replied, in a tone of voice that suggested otherwise.

“Nothing some home cooking can’t improve upon,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Once we get home, that is.”

“Mom, don’t tease me, you know the train doesn’t have a dining car!” Ron whined.  He didn’t mention the fact that without Harry on board to pay that they’d been forced to let the snack trolley go by.

“We have to stop by St. Mungo’s,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Your father is trying to sort things out about Bill. Besides, once we use their floo connection we’ll be home quicker than if we had taken a car.”

“Why is Bill at hospital?” asked Hermione. “We saw him at the funeral…didn’t Madame Pomfrey released him from the infirmary?”

“Yes she did,” said Mrs. Weasley, with a sharp edge to her voice.  “But it seems that some busybodies from the Department of Magical Creatures have suddenly lost faith in her professional judgment.  They’ve insisted he stay at St. Mungo’s until the next full moon.”

“Oh, no!” said Hermione, “Fleur must be so upset…that’s what, ten days away? What about the wedding plans?”

“So did they decide to call it off?” Ginny asked, full of hope.

“Certainly not, Dear,” said Molly with an air of certainty.  “Nothing is going to stop their happiness…not that vile Greyback, or Scrimgeour, or anyone.  Besides,” she said trying to lighten her mood, “it’s not as if the groom does a lot of the planning, right?”

A call came from across the hall. “Hermione! Over here!”

The bushy-haired witch looked up to see her parents waving at her. “Excuse, me, Mrs. Weasley,” she said with a happy but puzzled look on her face.

“Yes, of course,” Molly replied.  “Don’t be a stranger to the Burrow this summer, Dear.”

Hermione nodded as she turned to Ron and said, “I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”  She then gave him an awkward hug and ran towards her parents. For some reason, they were wearing ridiculously oversized red-rimmed spectacles and were terribly overdressed; her mother was wearing an evening gown, while her father was dressed in a tuxedo.

“Mum, Dad, it’s so good to see you,” Hermione said, after a few necessary moments of smothering. “But really, you didn’t have to get all dressed up just for me.”

“And why not?” her mother asked with spring in her voice. “Like the latest trend in fashion eyewear?”

“Let me guess...they’ve got Muggle repellents set up and those glasses are what got you by them.”

“Right in one, Sweetie,” said Mr. Granger.  “It really is too bad that they’re collecting them at the exit. We’ve got tickets to see Sir Elton at the Palladium next month, and these are so Yellow Brick Road-ish.”

“Oh, Daddy, really,” said Hermione. “So you’ve explained the glasses, now what about the formal wear?”

“You’ll see,” said her father, with a grin plastered across his face.

oo00OO00oo

Hermione’s confusion was compounded once they left the station. Rather than cross the street to the car park, they steered her towards the taxi rank.

“Where’s the car, Dad?”

“Oh, it’s at home in the garage,” her father replied with a mischievous smile. Just then a black Bentley limousine splashed through the puddled remnants of a rain shower and pulled in front of the queue. The car’s boot door popped open as the uniformed driver got out and tipped his hat.

“Good evening, Miss Granger,” the man said to Hermione. “Do you have any trunks to stow?”

Hermione looked at both of her parents, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly.

“What?” Mr. Granger asked. “Can’t we spoil the greatest wit….greatest student of her generation once in a while?”

Mrs. Granger chimed in. “Erm…we should keep Crookshanks with us, Dear… where’s your trunk?”

Too surprised to be thinking properly, Hermione reflexively reached into her pocket and pulled out the shrunken trunk. She caught her breath when she realized what she had done, but, on a whim, handed the box to the driver with a smile. “They want to be cheeky, then so will I,” she thought to herself.

The unflappable driver didn’t miss a beat. “Very good, Miss Granger,” he said, as he took the box from Hermione and placed it in the boot. The evil grin she gave her parents produced some chuckles.

“Touché,” said her mother, as the driver held open the rear door and the Granger family climbed into the back seat. Crookshanks whined, but Hermione didn’t let him out of his box.  As the Bentley pulled out into traffic she decided to give up trying to pry any more information from her parents; words would have had a tough time getting past their Cheshire Cat grins. 

A small part of Hermione was bothered by how her parents were acting.  Although owls had been sent to all Hogwarts parents informing them of Dumbledore’s death and memorial service, they hadn’t mentioned it at all. But she certainly wasn’t going to say anything...it was too easy to give them the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that their antics were due in part to her long absence.  Hermione also knew that she wasn’t the typical boarding-school student home on hols; it felt more like a respite from a military tour of duty, and they were no doubt ecstatic just to see her alive.

That said, she was happy to be back with her parents - just not goofy-happy.  But if they wanted to be goofy-happy, she had no problem compartmentalizing her worries for a while.  It was something she had learned to do very well whilst standing by Harry’s side.

They tried to find things to talk about, but the conversation soon faltered. On other trips from King’s Cross the Granger family sedan was filled with stories about Hogwarts and Hermione’s world, but their Muggle driver put a damper on that type of discussion.

Hermione’s mother doled out bits and pieces of news about her cousins, the neighbors, and the school-aged children of their surgery staff. It was the same thing every year – cousin Barry just graduated and was going to uni at Nottingham, only one of the Thompson twins passed their driver’s examination on first go, her neighbor Lizzie just got her braces removed, and so on.

Her mother always hoped that these updates would strengthen the tenuous string that kept her attached to the Muggle world. Hermione, however, had long realized that the stories produced the opposite effect. Hers was, quite simply, a world turned upside down, and the stories only emphasized that fact.  Her “normal” was a world in which ghosts and goblins and Dark Lords ran about; it was the world of computers, and dental floss, and angst-filled pimply-faced teens that was unreal.

Well,” Hermione thought to herself as the car moved through traffic, “maybe the teenage angst part is the same.”

oo00OO00oo

In a different part of London the passengers within another black limousine were anything but goofy-happy.

The Dursleys had spent two hours waiting for Dudley’s hero. At first they were elated – they’d been taken to a ballroom at the Savoy, and it had all seemed so posh, so West End – Petunia had already exposed two rolls of film for bragging material with the neighbors. The elation had turned to frustration as time dragged on, however.  They hadn’t even been fed. And then came word that the meeting place had been changed, and that they needed to be driven to a different location.  Vernon’s face had turned crimson, and his neck bulged out against his shirt collar.

Only Dudley’s pleas to do whatever was needed for him to collect his autograph kept his father’s temper in check, at least until Vernon realized that the car they were now riding in was driving around in circles. 

“Alright,” he bellowed, with face turned puce,  “I’ve had enough of this. Take us back home.”

“But father,” Dudley lamented.

“But father nothing,” Vernon replied. “It’s clear to me that someone has played a nasty joke on us…Oy! Did you hear me up there, bring us back home!”

The man in the car’s passenger seat turned around to face Vernon. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, sir.  Just sit back, and you’ll be at your meeting in a few minutes.”

“Meeting with whom?” Vernon shouted. “I said, take us home…or are you holding us against our will?”

“Sorry, sir,” the man replied, “it will all be made clear at your meeting.”

“Meeting with whom, I ask you again!” Vernon cried out.  He stopped for a moment to wrap himself around a thought that turned his red face a bit paler.

“You….you aren’t those kind of people are you?”

The man looked at him questioningly.  “What kind of those people are you talking about?”

“You know,” Vernon replied, “one of those… Freaks…like Dumbledore…. you know…wizards?

“Wizards?” the man said incredulously. “You’re asking me if I’m a wizard?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

The man broke out into a laugh and turned towards the driver. “Hey Gerry, did you here that? This bloke thinks we’re bleeding wizards!”

He turned back to face Vernon with a sneer. “That’s right, sir, you found us out, …caught us with our wizard’s robes down, you did.  My name is Merlin and my friend over there is Tinkerbell.”

“Clap if you believe in fairies,” the driver said with a laugh.

Vernon turned red again. “I demand you return us to our home!”

“Alright, tubby, I’ve had enough of you,” the man said. “Sit back, and shut yer mush.” He reached into his coat and withdrew a handgun. “Or I might have to use my wand.”

Vernon quickly sat back in his seat.

“That’s better,” the man said as he holstered his firearm. Nodding towards a suddenly nauseous Dudley, he added, “Oy, Tubby…don’t go making a mess, we just got the upholstery redone.” 

Dudley whimpered, but managed to keep his stomach down. 

The Dursleys didn’t say a word for the rest of their trip.  They were too scared to see much either, else they might have noticed the black Beefeater hats worn by red-uniformed guards, as the car pulled off the road and through the gates of a military barracks.


Chapter 3 – Knight Protectors of the Realm

Hermione didn’t fail to recognize her location as saluting members of the Queen’s Guard allowed their limousine access through the main gates of Buckingham Palace.  From that point on she was in fairytale land. Doormen rushed to open the door of their car and Beefeaters sprung to attention as they walked up the Palace steps. Someone introduced herself as Crookshank’s hostess for the evening, and carried him off for some feline pampering. A separate escort led them through the obscenely ornate main entrance and up a red-carpeted staircase. Hermione found opulence wherever she looked.

“This is unreal,” she told her parents.

“Well,” said her father, “for a girl that has flown on a hippo-giraffe that is saying something, isn’t it?”

Hermione giggled. “They’re called hippogriffs, Daddy.”

But even her parents took a moment to take in their surroundings. The room they’d been shown into had gold-trimmed walls and was furnished with eighteenth-century antique chaises and ottomans trimmed in gold. Two chandeliers, each at least ten feet in diameter, hung from a gold-trimmed ceiling. The floors were carpeted in an antique Oriental rug large enough to cover the King’s Cross meeting hall. And the artwork was stunning even if it was static; life-sized portraits of kings and queens throughout the ages, along with what Hermione recognized as works by Rembrandt, VerMeer, and Reubens.

Their escort left them with word that someone else would be with them shortly.  Hermione walked into the room, expecting at any moment to have museum guards materialize and scold her for touching the furniture.  There was a fire within a marble-tiled fireplace set against the far wall.  Sitting next to that fire was a person whom at first glance didn’t appear out of place, given his formal attire.

It was the unruly mop of black hair that shook Hermione out of her "every-girl-wants-to-be-a-princess" mindset. 

The teen-aged witch tore across the room with a shout and tackled her best friend  as he stood to greet her. The force of this hug knocked him back down onto the chair.

Harry smiled; he’d been in worst places recently than lost in Hermione Granger's mass of hair.

“Oh, Harry,” she cried into his shoulder, “Where have you been? I was so worried about you when Tonks told us you weren’t on the train!”

The black-haired wizard tilted his head sideways to get a partial view of Hermione’s parents. With his arms wrapped around her, he had to blow a sizeable chunk of her hair away from his face in order to clear his throat. “It’s very nice to meet you again, Mr. and Mrs. Granger,” he said with a smile.

Hermione jerked her head off of Harry’s shoulder and looked at him crossly.

“Oh….nice to see you too, Hermione,” he said. The mock sincerity earned him a punch in the arm.

“Now Hermionikins,” her father laughed, as he walked towards the pair. “How am I going to be able to shake his hand if you break the arm that’s attached?”

“Shake it nice and hard, please,” she replied. “And maybe squeeze some sense into him before he tries to take off again without his friends.”

“Hermionikins?” asked a grinning wizard.

“Never you mind, Mr. Potter,” Hermione replied, as she pulled her friend to his feet.

“How did you get here, Harry?” Mr. Granger asked as he shook the young wizard’s hand. “Hermione told us you weren’t on the train.”

“I flew.”

“Flew?” Hermione asked incredulously. “In broad daylight?”

“Yeah, it was brilliant.”

“On a broom?”

“No, on a Gulfstream, silly.”

Hermione frowned. “A jet? How did you arrange that?”

“It was the...well, a friend of Dumbledore’s,” her best friend replied. “All in all much more comfortable than the Firebolt…pleasant meal, comfy nap, and I didn’t have to land every time I needed to use the loo. They even let me fly it for a bit.”

“They did?” asked Mrs. Granger.

“Yeah, well, once we were in the air and cruising. Funny, the pilot told me that I was a natural at flying.”

“Imagine that,” said Mr. Granger with a laugh.

Harry laughed as well. “I wasn’t too sure at first. Couldn’t even think about magic, or else I’d have probably fried all of the avionics. But they let me dive, and move the rudders, and they explained all of the instruments for me…Mr. Weasley would have thought he had died and gone to Muggle Heaven.”

“Harry,” said Hermione, “this is just too weird. Mom and Dad all dressed up with a car that takes us to Buckingham Palace, only to find you here in black tie after using an airplane to get home from Hogwarts? Will somebody please tell me what’s going on?”

“You’ll see,” said Harry with a grin.

“Now that’s just what we keep telling her, but will she listen?” asked Mr. Granger dryly.

The French doors opened at the end of the room and a well-dressed man approached them.

“Oh, Brian,” said Harry. “I’d like you to meet my friend Hermione Granger and her parents.”

He turned and grinned at Hermione. “Yes,” he teased wordlessly, “I’m on a first name basis with the Palace staff as well.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Hermione’s mother said, “but we’ve already met Mr. Willox.”

It was her parent’s turn to fall under Hermione’s evil eye.

“Good evening, Miss Granger, and welcome.” the man said to Hermione. “Your mother thought that after your travel you might want to freshen up a bit, and perhaps  - well, she gave us a few things this morning in case you might like to change?”

Hermione tried to articulate something but couldn’t manage anything more than an open-mouthed “Huh?”

“It’s okay, Hermione,” said Harry. “Just go with the flow…they did the same for me.”

Hermione’s mother grabbed her hand and led her out of the room. “Listen to your friend, dear, and flow with Brian and me towards the Palace powder room.”

Once they alone, Harry and Mr. Granger spent a moment walking around the room examining the artwork.  Harry felt more than a little awkward.

It was Mr. Granger that broke the ice.

“So how long have you known?”

“Erm, I don’t really know what I know, Sir,” Harry replied. “For all of the teasing I was giving your daughter, I don’t really have an idea what’s going to happen much past dinner. How long have you known?”

“We got the invitation about two weeks ago, and Brian visited this morning with some more details.” 

“Two weeks?” 

“Yes, does that mean anything to you?”

Harry paused for a moment. “Only that this visit was likely arranged by Dumbledore before he…”

“Oh, Harry,” Mr. Granger said, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Hermione’s told us how close you were to your Headmaster.”

“Thank you, Sir.” 

“Harry…there’s so much I’d like to ask you, but now is certainly not…”

“No, that’s alright, Sir.  As much as Hermione’s done for me, as much as she’s risked…you’ve risked…. it’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Mr. Granger replied. “I hope you don’t think I’m trying to go behind Hermione’s back, but she’s told us that owl mail can’t be trusted anymore, and she’s no doubt afraid we’d refuse to let her return to Hogwarts if she tells us too much.”

“I understand, Sir. She’s very lucky to have two parents that care so much for her.”

Mr. Granger nodded, then thought for a moment. “We were told that Dumbledore died during an attack on the castle by the Death Eaters…is it true that he was murdered by one of your instructors?”

“Yes,” said Harry, “our former potions professor, Snape.  Dumbledore trusted him, even though he used to be a Death Eater. He’d been acting as a double agent– spying for us as he was pretending to spy for Voldemort….only he wasn’t pretending.”

“Was Hermione involved…in the fighting….was he there?”

“Not really,” Harry said. “She was guarding a part of the castle away from the fight…stunned by Snape before she knew that he’d turned…and as far as we know, Voldemort wasn’t directly involved.”

“No, I’m sorry, I meant the one that tried to…well, the one that attacked Hermione.”

Harry winced as he realized that Mr. Granger was asking about the previous years’ attack at the Department of Mysteries – the night Sirius died and Hermione was almost killed by one of Voldemort’s Death Eaters.

“Dolohov wasn’t there,” he replied softly.

“Harry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean too…well I guess I should have expected that, and you should be proud tonight rather than despondent.”

“I don’t feel very proud right now, Sir.”

“Well you should, you know,” Mr. Granger replied. “Hermione’s proud of you, and we’re proud of the way that you’ve shouldered what life’s thrown at the both of you.”

“But it’s not fair that she has that burden,” Harry replied. “I was marked for this mission as a baby…it’s a destiny I can’t shake.  But she doesn’t have to…”

“Oh yes she does,” Mr. Granger countered.  “Hermione has made that quite clear to her mother and myself. Frankly, from all that I’ve learned about your world she’s always going to be safer by your side… if you hadn’t rescued her she’d have been a troll’s Halloween snack, right?”

“Yes, but it was Ron who clubbed the troll on the head…”

“Only after a very brave eleven year-old boy jumped on his back and stuffed his wand up the troll's nose, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“Enough with the ‘yes-buts,’ Harry,” Mr. Granger replied.  “Hermione’s told us Voldemort would kill all of the Muggleborn witches and wizards if he could…was she right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Then Hermione would be at risk even if she did nothing.”

Harry thought about what Mr. Granger said. 

“The girls will be back soon…let me just say that I hope that we get to see a lot of you this summer. And I hope that if there’s any way that Emily and I can help that you’ll let us. Fair enough?”

“Yes, Sir.  Thank you again, sir.”

They returned to their artwork inspections as Harry thought about what Hermione’s father had said.  It wasn’t as if Hermione hadn’t told him that she was proud of him before, but what did it mean for her to tell that to her parents?

Harry’s jaw dropped when Hermione returned to the room with her mother.

Mr. Granger whistled softly. “Emily, where did my little girl go, and who is this Velo on your arm?”

“They’re called Veelas, daddy,” Hermione, said as she walked up and kissed him on the cheek. “But thank you, anyway.”

It was déjà vu all over again for Harry…Hermione was wearing the same dress robes that she had worn at the Yule Ball. Except they couldn’t be the same…that was two years ago, Harry thought, and she’s grown taller since then, and…and filled out in ways school robes don’t show...

Hermione bore in on Harry’s reaction.

“So you remember?”

“How could I ever forget,” Harry replied.  All of the discomfort built up during his talk with her father melted away at his feet, and was replaced by a rather warm feeling.

“Erm…Mr. and Mrs. Granger, may I steal your daughter away for a minute?” Harry asked.

“You’ve had her for the past nine months and still need more time?” Mr. Granger asked with a smile. “Okay, you got a minute…just know that I’ll be looking at the most beautiful witch of her generation the whole time.”

"You and me both, Sir."

“Oh, stop, you two!” Hermione said, as Harry led her to a different part of the room and whispered.

“How did your mother, I mean, they shouldn’t have fit you, I mean…not that you’re bigger now...well you are…but in a nice way, but….”

Hermione put one hand on her hip, raised an eyebrow at Harry and smiled as he desperately tried to talk himself out of his mess. She finally came to his rescue. 

“They’re the same robes, Harry…Mum sent them to Madam Malkin’s last week hoping to find the same style in a different size, but they only needed a resizing spell.”

“Of, course,” Harry said. “I’m sorry, Hermione – I guess it’s hard…hard to talk when your breath’s been… erm, speaking as a friend…of course…did I ever tell you that night that you looked beautiful?”

“You didn’t have to,” Hermione said sweetly. “Your eyes said it for you, just as they are now…as a friend of course.  And thanks, Harry.”

“I’m just worried that Krum’s going to pop out of the fireplace and spirit you away…”

“Or that Ginny would show up?” Hermione asked.

Harry frowned, and Hermione kicked herself.  She had only been trying to play along, and let Harry know that he looked handsome in his evening wear as well, but Merlin! How stupid and insensitive could she be?

“Or Ron?” Harry asked. “Maybe he should be here meeting your parents instead of me?”

Hermione sighed.  “I’m sorry, Harry, I was stupid to say that.”

“No, you weren’t, especially now that you and Ron…”

“You and Ron what, Harry?”

“Well, just that…”

Hermione grabbed both of her friend's hands.

“Harry, you and I need to sit down and have a long chat about things.  But not now…Mum and Dad are looking at us, and there’s some flow we have to go with, right?”

“Yeah, guess you’re right.”

Hermione then surprised Harry by kissing him on his cheek. “If whoever set this up had wanted Ron here tonight he’d have been here.  But he’s not, and that’s fine, because there’s no boy I’d rather my parents get to know more than you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.  Now let’s head back over there and let Daddy dote on me some more.”

Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand as they walked back to her parents, who were trying (but failing) to act as if they wouldn’t have paid anything for a pair of extendable ears.

When dinner was announced they were led into a small but lavishly appointed dining room with a table set for four. Atop the table were the finest crystal, china and silverware that any of them had ever seen.  The meal served on this dinnerware was equal in its sumptuousness, with main courses of roast pheasant, braised lamb chops and poached salmon.

Harry told them about his day in between the fork selection lessons that Hermione discretely provided.  Not really knowing how much Hermione had told her parents about Hogwarts and Voldemort, he spoke in general terms. Harry did say that had arrived at the Palace about an hour before they had met. Hermione in turn talked about the train trip, and Bill's confinement to St. Mungo’s.  

Once they had finished eating, Household staff silently poured tea.

“I have to admit,” Harry said with a chuckle, “that this was a far better meal with far better company than what I had a right to expect for tonight.”

“No, Harry,” Hermione replied. “You had every right to expect more than the horrible treatment you’ve been given all of these years.”

“Speaking of horrible,” Roger Granger said, “we didn’t see the Dursleys at the platform this evening.”

“Our hosts took care of them,” replied Harry.  “You’ll see them in a bit, I imagine.”

“They’re here?” asked Hermione.

“Um, somewhere near here, I think...Brian asked me if I wanted them to join us for dinner, but I suggested that my Aunt and Uncle might prefer their own company.”

“That’s too bad,” said Mrs. Granger. “Hermione’s spoke of them…I would have liked to have seen if they really did sport cloven hooves and horns.”

“Don’t give your daughter any ideas,” Harry replied with a laugh.

“Now, son,” said Mr. Granger, “…erm, you don’t mind if I call you that, do you?”

Hermione looked at her dad with saucer eyes. “Dad!”

“No, Mr. Granger, I don’t.” replied Harry, smiling at Hermione’s embarrassment in an attempt to cover his own. “Although, it’s a bit of a surprise given how little you know me.”

“How little we know you?” asked Mrs. Granger. She chuckled.  “Harry, some day you’ll have to read the owl posts Hermione sent us during her first few years at Hogwarts. I’ve got them stored back home.”

“Mum!” said Hermione, turning a shade of red that Harry thought complemented her periwinkle robes quite nicely. “You didn’t!  You can’t!”

“Emily’s right, young man” Hermione’s father chimed in. “Took me three months into the first term before I realized that there were students at her school that weren’t named Harry Potter.”

“Arrrrgh…” Hermione exclaimed with exasperation. “What’s next…the photo albums?”

“Oh, no” Mr. Granger replied. “We’ve got those saved for when Harry comes to visit us.”

Hermione scowled.

Mr. Granger continued with gleam in his eyes. “As I said before, Harry, I hope we have the opportunity to get to know you better this summer. Hermione has never had any Hogwarts friends visit her at home, and I’d love to get the real story about what she’s been up to the past six years.”

“Dad!”

Brian entered the room before Hermione could be embarrassed any further and announced that it was time for the evening’s entertainment. 

As they left the table, Harry stepped back so as to give Hermione the chance to walk next to her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Granger, however, had different ideas, and shooed him towards their daughter and let the two of them take the lead. Hermione leaned back and raised her eyebrows, giving her parents the universal teenager sign for “Mom, Dad, stop embarrassing me!”   That didn’t prevent her, though, from turning towards Harry and grabbing his arm with a sly smile.

“Harry Potter,” she said, “if you aren’t going to tell me where we’re going or what’s happening next, then I’m going to insist that you lend me an arm for comfort.”

The black-haired wizard laughed, and replied, “Hermione...you know you never need a reason to ask for my arm.”

The teen-aged witch looked into Harry’s eyes as if to divine some meaning.  This kept her from seeing the smiles and knowing looks on the faces of each of her parents as they followed behind.

oo00OO00oo

Harry and the three Grangers were ushered into a lavishly intimate drawing room where a dozen chairs trimmed in gold satin had been placed in two rows. Brian directed Hermione’s parents towards the first row of chairs, and then led Hermione and Harry to spots facing the far wall a few feet in front of the Grangers. He smiled, wished them luck, and took a seat behind Hermione’s parents.

A hidden door opened in the wall in front of the two teenagers, and several men dressed in ornate crimson and gold suits entered. Behind them strode a matronly woman who stepped in front of Harry and Hermione and smiled.

“Mr. Potter, Miss Granger, allow me to welcome you and your guests to Buckingham Palace. We should be ready to start in a moment.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am, but start what?” asked Hermione.

“Why, the ceremony, of course,” replied the woman.  “Ah…but you still don’t know, do you?”

“We’re afraid not.”

“Well, then, apologies are in order. The Prince thought it might be a rather nice surprise for you.  I’m sure Her Majesty would have talked about it at dinner had it been possible.  You see, there was a state dinner with the King of Norway that had been planned for months, but the Prince thought it best if we proceeded directly upon your return to London.” 

Another member of the palace staff strode through the doorway and whispered into the woman’s ear.

“Right, then, here we go,” she told Hermione and Harry.

“But what are we supposed to do?” asked Harry.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Potter,” the woman replied. “Just follow Her Majesty’s lead. She’s done these things hundreds of times, you know."

The Queen strode into the room, followed by a large retinue of staff. She wore a long navy blue evening gown and white long-sleeved gloves.  Hermione looked like she was about to faint.  Harry, having already met the Queen’s son that morning, found it a bit easier to go with what was now a very royal flow.

The monarch stepped towards Harry and Hermione and offered them a welcome, and a personal apology for having missed the opportunity to dine with them. She then took a few steps back onto a small platform that four members of the Palace staff had placed down on the floor.

“Well,” she announced, “shall we begin?”

The Queen looked at Harry. “Mr. Potter, tradition holds that a knight candidate may choose the sword by which his or her title is conferred.”

The two teen-agers looked at each other with shock, having finally realized what was about to happen. Hermione turned to her parents, only to find them beaming smiles back at her.

An attendant approached the Queen’s side, holding a sheathed sword. “We use my father’s sword quite often,” she continued, one hand gesturing to her side, “It’s a very nice sword…perfectly adequate…but, perhaps, Mr. Potter, you might prefer a different instrument?”

Harry’s head snapped up slightly; the Queen was looking at him with the kind of sparkle in her eyes that he often saw in Dumbledore’s.  He stole a peek at Hermione; there was nothing stolen about the wide-eyed stare that bounced back. She looked like she was going to kill him, just as soon as the Queen was out of blood splatter range. 

Harry looked back at the Queen and smiled. “Thank you, Your Majesty. With no disrespect meant towards your father or his sword, I believe I do.” 

The black-haired wizard swung his rucksack in front of him and loosened the straps. He flipped the cover back to reveal the jewel-encrusted hilt of a silver bladed sword. 

Harry looked at Hermione with another smile; she was silently mouthing the words “You don’t – You aren’t! – You can’t!” in rapid-fire repetition.  His smile widened as he unsheathed the Sword of Gryffindor and offered it to the Queen.

The monarch grabbed hold of the sword’s hilt and gracefully swung the blade to one side in small waist-level arcs. 

“Ah,” she softly cooed. “It is magnificent. We have heard legends about this sword,” she said. She looked down at Harry. “Perhaps there will come time when a restored Lord Gryffindor will wield it?”

Harry looked at the Queen, gobsmacked by her statement.

“We believe,” she stated, "that it is time for the other witnesses to be brought forth.”

Harry and Hermione heard doors opening behind them and turned as the Dursleys were escorted into the room. They didn’t look very happy. Two large men prodded them towards the second row of chairs; one had what appeared to be a chopstick in his hand, and was waving it around with a manic grin.  Vernon eyes narrowed into tiny slits and his teeth clenched when he saw Harry standing with the Queen. The condition of Petunia’s teeth was indeterminable, as they were presently covered by lips fixed in an oval-shaped open-mouthed silent scream. 

The Queen smiled and announced, “We welcome all of you Buckingham Palace, and to this ceremony.  We are most pleased that while this is event is necessarily a non-public occasion that these two young people are still able to celebrate with those closest to them.”

Hermione gave Harry a disapproving glance as he looked back at his Aunt and Uncle and stifled a snort.

Still smiling, the Queen continued. “Mr. Potter, Miss Granger, please kneel.”

Hermione and Harry followed the command as a herald unrolled a lambskin parchment and read out:

Oye, Oye, Oye. Be it made known amongst those present, and throughout the land at such time deemed prudent, that Harry James Potter, son of James and Lily Potter, and Hermione Jane Granger, daughter of Roger and Emily Granger, have performed heroic acts in the defense of the Realm, and demonstrated loyalty, bravery and strength of spirit worthy of emulation for all across our lands. To honor these actions and their strength of character, Her Royal Majesty, the Queen, hereby invites them to join the Most Royal Order of Arthur as Knight Protectors of the Realm.”

The herald rolled up the parchment as two members of the palace staff lifted red silk hoods over Hermione’s and Harry’s heads.  Sewn on the outside of each elongate hood was a gold lion reared on hind legs.

As the hoods were being placed around their necks they heard a not so quiet “No!” shouted behind them.  They turned to see Harry’s Aunt and Uncle’s beet-red faces trembling with anger and confusion. The two men that had escorted them into the room clamped down upon Vernon and Petunia’s shoulders with ham-fists.  In addition, the man behind Vernon placed one end of his chopstick into the entrance of Vernon’s left ear. It was the last they heard from the Harry’s Aunt and Uncle during the ceremony.

Dudley was, frankly, too ill educated and oblivious to realize what was happening.  His little brain was wondering when the Queen was going to introduce him to his boxing hero.

“Today you are invited to join the Most Royal Order of Arthur,” said the Queen, in a clear voice that filled the room. “This is the oldest Royal Order within our Empire...and also the least well known. The Order was established in the earliest days of the Realm by those pledged to battle Evil as members of King Arthur’s Round Table. Over the centuries, members of the Order of Arthur have fought in the greatest battles never described by any historian.”

“At least,” the Queen said as she looked down at Harry and Hermione with a smile, “by those who wrote the Muggle history books.”        

The staff members who had given Hermione and Harry their hoods returned to the Queen’s side with two boxes. Within each were identical jewel-encrusted medallions fashioned in gold and platinum. The starburst-shaped badges bore crossed swords and wands within their centres.

“Of the many that sat with Arthur at his Round Table, twelve were both warrior and wizard. It is said that King Arthur created the Order as a tribute to these twelve and their loyal service, and that Merlin himself created its emblems. Unlike the badges of most other Orders, these emblems are returned once a Knight Protector passes on, so that they can in turn be passed along to a worthy successor.”

“Begging your pardon, Your Royal Majesty,” said Hermione, “but does that mean that these are two of the original twelve?”

“Yes, Miss Granger,” said the Queen, “these badges are more than 1,200 years old.”

Hermione looked at the relics with awe.

The Queen continued.  “All who are here today should understand that given the nature of the service performed by those within the Order of Merlin it is necessarily a secret society. We note with sadness that with Sir Albus’s passing, there is only one other living member.  Were he in better health, Sir Evan would have been here today to celebrate with you and your families. We hope that you will have opportunity to meet with him soon.”

Hermione and Harry looked at each other with astonishment, each wondering who this Sir Evan could be and what he had done to join an Order that included Albus Dumbledore.

The Queen raised Godric’s sword into the air. “Now for the fun part,” she stated.

Tapping the flat edge of the sword on Harry’s shoulders, the Queen said, “Harry James Potter, I dub thee Sir Harry, Knight Protector, Order of Arthur.”

The Queen then moved to face Hermione and placed three similar taps on her shoulders. “Hermione Jane Granger, I dub thee Dame Hermione, Knight Protector, Order of Arthur.”

The monarch then took a step back, and said,  “Arise, Sir Harry and Dame Hermione, and go forth into the Realm with certain knowledge of Our support.”

The Queen stepped towards Harry and returned the sword. She then shook their hands and said,  “We understand that you have had a long day, and we shan’t keep you any longer. Know that you will always find welcome in our presence wherever that might be.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” said Harry.

One of the Queen’s assistants gave her a third box, which she passed to Hermione. “We are also aware that there is a third who deserves Royal recognition, and who will no doubt be at your sides as you face the challenges that lie before you.  Were he here today, we would be bestowing upon him similar honors.  We hope that Mr. Ronald Weasley and those others who are...shall we say…fully vested in the wizarding world…might some day be publicly recognized by us without fear of repercussions.  In the interim, should you think it safe, we ask that you convey to Mr. Weasley our thanks, and on behalf of the Crown and our Government provide him with this token of gratitude.”     

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Hermione said. “We will.”

Mr. and Mrs. Granger were directed by the Palace staff towards the Queen. She shook their hand and congratulated them on their daughter’s accomplishments.  A photographer stepped up to take a few pictures of the Queen, Harry and the Grangers.

Petunia Dursley, totally forgetting that it was because of Harry that she was even in the same room as the Queen, rushed towards the monarch for picture proof.  The Queen glanced up at Petunia’s direction, but seemed to stare right through her as she turned and left the room. Petunia’s view was blocked by several members of the Household staff before her camera’s flash was fully charged.

Noticing that Petunia’s efforts had failed, Hermione broke away from her parents and walked straight up to Harry’s aunt. “I’m sorry, but were you hoping to bring home a souvenir?” she asked cloyingly.  “Here, let me help you.”

Hermione reached into her dress robes, discretely pulled out her wand, and flicked it towards Petunia. Harry look over to see what trouble she might be getting into and broke out into a laugh.  His aunt was throwing the quietest fit he’d ever seen from her, apparently thanks to a Silencio spell. Hermione had also managed to transfigure his aunt’s dress into a long white shift with flashing red letters on the front that read:

My nephew was knighted by the Queen and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

Harry walked over to Hermione and gave her a hug. Turning towards his Aunt, he took great pride in introducing her to the brightest witch of his generation.

Chapter 4 – Karma’s Little Helpers

The Palace had made arrangements for Hermione’s parents to spend the night in town at the Savoy.  Mr. and Mrs. Granger had amazed their daughter with their willingness to let her spend the night at the Dursleys. It had, in fact, been harder to convince Harry, as he had argued quite strongly that she should be with her family. He only relented after Hermione promised that she would spend the following day with her parents.

The Dursleys were not at all happy at the prospect of Hermione’s stay, but the Crown impressed upon them the fact that they really had no say in the matter. Vernon nearly popped the collar button of his dress shirt when he learned that Brian Willox, the Palace staff member that had coordinated the knighting ceremony, would also be staying with them.  Brian had noted that the Queen wished to ensure that Sir Harry’s stay wasn’t an “inconvenience.”

When Vernon made it clear that the Queen’s wishes alone weren’t going to hold sway, Brian quietly slipped the man a piece of paper.  Upon this paper was a list…a list of twenty people who all had connections to the House of Windsor. Four had been knighted, twelve had dined with the Royal Family, eighteen belonged to the same club as a Royal, three had children with royal godparents; one of them was even two-hundred thirty-seventh on the succession list.  These people all had one more thing in common, however.

Each and every one of them had the power to ruin Vernon’s career at Grunnings.

His supervising director, three members of the Grunnings corporate board, a half dozen board members from Grunnings’s corporate parent, and key decision makers from their eight largest accounts. And any of them could put Harry's Uncle on the curb.

Vernon Dursley was too stupid to be afraid of magical threats, but he was plenty smart enough to recognize why the list had been provided for his review. It was blackmail; pure, simple and effective.  Familiar as well; Vernon had been no stranger to similar tactics as he had climbed up the Grunnings corporate ladder.

He returned the sheet of paper to Brian very quietly.

With an eye towards getting the blood protections back in place as soon as possible, Aunt Petunia was asked to join Harry, Hermione and Brian for the trip to Little Whinging. Vernon and Dudley rode home in the back of a trailing van.

As they were driven towards Surrey, Brian Willox answered their questions in a straightforward, but slightly reticent manner, acting as if the details of his life should be unimportant to those he’d been assigned to serve. At the age of 38, he had just recently been awarded his twenty-year’s service pin as a member of the royal staff.  He was the latest in a long line of Willoxes to work at the Palace; his great-great grandfather Edwin had been a groomsman in the early years of Victoria’s reign.  Brian had started as a cook’s assistant in the kitchens, and after ten years had worked his way up to the position of associate chef.  In what he considered a beneficent stroke of luck, one of the Queen’s grandchildren had made it a habit to sneak into the kitchens, and over time had taken a liking to Brian. That relationship led to a position on the personal staff of the Prince’s family, where he had worked ever since. While Brian had no immediate family, he did know someone whose occupation no doubt had something to do with his new assignment…his younger sister, Christina, was a Muggleborn witch that ran a Wizard’s Bed and Breakfast in Coventry. 

“Oh my,” Hermione exclaimed, when she learned this news, “so that means you’re a card-carrying Muggle?”

“Yes indeed, Dame Hermione,” Brian said, as he fished a small card from his billfold and handed it to her.

Harry leaned over to get a glimpse.  At first glance it appeared to be a “Loyal Customer” discount card for a chain of Muggle home electronic stores.  With a tap of Hermione’s wand, however, the card morphed into a parchment containing magical images of Brian and his sister, their names and addresses, and the following text:

The Muggle bearer of this parchment is an immediate family member of a witch or wizard citizen of the United Kingdom of Magical Great Britain. As such, they may lawfully retain knowledge of the wizarding world and possess magical items in quantities up to those limits established by Exemption 13.B subpart (f) of Protection of Muggles Act and the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy.

Amelia Bones, Head
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
The United Kingdom of Magical Great Britain
 

“Wow,” said Harry, “I’ve never seen one of these before.”

“Really?” asked Hermione.  “That’s a bit odd.  My parents got their cards the day after I accepted my invitation to attend Hogwarts.”

They looked up at Petunia, who was trying desperately to feign ignorance of their conversation and its content.  “Yes, we received those cards as well,” she finally replied.  “About as easy to ignore as those blasted invitations.”

Harry wanted to ask Brian more about what he knew, and who else at the Palace was in the know, but hesitated with Petunia sitting across from him.  Hermione urged Harry to close his eyes for a few minutes’ rest.  Without asking, Brian took Crookshanks out of his travel box, placed the box on the floor and lifted Crookshanks onto his lap.  This freed up the bench space between Harry and Hermione, so that when Harry did close his eyes, and his head dropped to the side, it landed on her shoulder. Hermione looked at Brian and quietly offered him her thanks.  He smiled and nodded his head slightly. Crookshanks, who was getting the spot under his left ear scratched, looked up at Brian and purred his thanks as well.

It only took Petunia a few seconds to destroy the “one big happy back seat” vibe. Demonstrating that she lacked any of Brian’s reserve, she hissed out at Hermione.

“Are you Harry’s girlfriend? Because if you are, or if you think that even with the Queen’s favor I will allow you two to sleep together under my roof, then you are sorely mistaken.”

Hermione sat quietly for a few seconds, until she was reasonably certain that she could put Harry’s aunt in her place without waking him. When she turned towards Petunia, Harry’s head swung off her shoulder and into her lap. Without thinking, she removed his eyeglasses and cradled his head with her left hand as she launched into a response.

“Petunia, If I share a bed with Harry tonight it will be because somebody needs to be within arm's reach to get him through the nightmares and night terrors that he has suffered all of these years. Merlin knows he can’t count on you to do that.”

Petunia’s indignant reply of “Well I’ve never…” was immediately cut off by, “And that’s half the problem!”

“If I sleep next to Harry tonight it will be because somebody needs to watch his back," Hermione continued. "Somebody he can trust to be there.  To be there if or when the evil that killed your sister, and his father… and the evil that killed Albus Dumbledore last week...decides to come knocking on your door.”

Petunia gasped at the news of Dumbledore’s death.  Brian felt the air temperature drop precipitously and asked the driver to turn off the air conditioning.

“No, Petunia,” Hermione continued, “I am not Harry’s girlfriend. But I am everything else. I am Harry’s Guardian Angel, I am his comrade in arms and I am his devoted friend.”

Brian felt air moving against his face and was alarmed to see that Hermione’s hair begin to sway out as a breeze began to circulate around the cabin in a clockwise direction. Something was definitely wrong with the car’s ventilation system.

“I am his rock just as he is my shield. Get between us and you will get squished.” 

Brain noticed that Hermione's eyes were on fire and there was a silvery glow building behind her wind-swept hair.

“I am the mother bear protective of her cub. Try to separate me from him and you will get mauled.”

Brian began to compare his present experience against select scenes from various horror movies.

“From everything Harry has told me, you and your family have made Harry’s life a living hell for the past sixteen years.  Well, not this summer, Petunia…not this summer!  Because I am Lily Evans Potter, back from the dead, and your day of reckoning has arrived!”

Unsure if that kind of channeling was actually possible in the wizarding world, Petunia slid as far away from the young witch as she could. 

Hermione took a deep breath and paused. The storm that had literally been brewing in the back seat passed, and Brian noticed that the electric tension in the air had somehow been drained.  Deciding to punctuate her remarks, Hermione pulled out her wand and casually rested it on Harry’s side. Adopting a sweet, conversational voice that seemed all the more sinister when juxtaposed against previous comments, she added, “Oh, and Petunia, dear...in case you didn’t clue into the fact that we weren’t pestered by Ministry owls when I transfigured your dress, I am seventeen and an adult in Harry’s world. I am sure you realize what that means.”

Petunia’s eyes went wide and she tried to swallow the sanctimonious retort that she had been mentally rehearsing during Hermione’s scolding. Crookshanks relaxed and pushed his ear against Brian’s hand.  He got his wish, as Brian silently tried to gauge whether the witch who was sitting across from him was going to make his job easier or harder.

Hermione’s eyes moved towards the side window and out into the night, as she tried to figure out where the uncharacteristic passion and fury had come from, and where it went during Petunia’s dressing down.

Harry’s eyes stayed firmly shut.  He had heard it all, but understood far less. 

He had felt the magic straining to burst out from Hermione, and had feared what might happen if it went unchecked. With all of the concentration he could muster, Harry had tried to absorb that magic like a lightening rod.  He had no idea how he had done it, but he was certain that he had succeeded. 

How else could he explain the elation that was burning within him? It was if he had swallowed a river of Fawkes’s tears….his mind was racing, there was energy surging from the top of his scalp down to the tips of his toes.  There was warmth within him that was as extreme in its extent as the grief that had gripped him at the beginning of the day.    

It was Hermione’s magic that made him feel that way – that, or her fingers presently running through his hair. Harry felt guilty about maintaining the ruse, but was in too good of a mood to test an alternative hypothesis. 

He kept his eyes shut.

oo00OO00oo

It was half eleven by the time they pulled up to Number Four.  Harry reluctantly sat up and looked out at the house. He fully expected that the structural evidence of his childhood abuse would still be visible; as a precaution, he made Hermione promise to wait until morning before hexing his relatives into the next century.

Once Vernon opened the front door they almost tripped over Harry’s trunk, which had been placed in the front entrance.  The young wizard pocketed a small piece of parchment attached to the lid, then gave Brian and Hermione a quick tour of the house whilst the Dursleys searched the kitchen for some normalcy and a bite to eat.

Harry had expected Hermione to rage at the sight of the cupboard and his bedroom door, so her reaction took him by surprise.  She sobbed quietly as she poked her head under the stairs and tried to imagine spending a childhood there.  Tears filled her eyes as she opened and closed each of the four separate locks that could keep someone inside Harry’s bedroom but not keep anyone out. The tears trailed down her cheeks when she pushed the cat flap in and out and tried to imagine how anyone could be cruel enough to use it to feed their sister’s son. 

It was Brian that provided the outrage.  Terms like child abuse and criminal negligence were quietly hurled about amongst a heaping handful of invective.  That people could treat any child that poorly was criminal; that they did it to someone in the Queen’s favor was worse.  He was halfway to ringing the police before Harry took him aside and explained a few things.

Brian didn’t understand why Harry needed to stay with people who had treated him so badly; they could have been back to the Palace for a good night’s rest within the hour.  But he accepted Harry’s decision without question. They were staying, most likely for two weeks, and he would simply make sure that over that fortnight Harry would be treated far better than what he’d ever experienced previously under his Aunt and Uncle’s care.  And if that meant that over that same period of time the Dursleys had it worse than ever before – well, he had no problem being karma’s little helper.

He was given the opportunity to quickly discuss his plan with Hermione when Harry opened his bedroom window to let in a slightly flustered Hedwig. It didn’t take Hermione any time at all to warm up to both Brian and his ideas.

When Harry returned they walked back down to the kitchen and announced a house meeting. Vernon and Petunia sat silently at the kitchen table while Dudley whined about his desire to eat and go to bed. Hermione changed his demeanor and complexion to match that of his ashen-faced parents with the simple phrase “oink-oink.”

With the defenses of each of the Dursleys suitably softened, Harry witnessed Hermione and Brian deliver a withering shock and awe attack.

There were no survivors.

When the meeting ended, Brian positioned himself at the base of the stairs and adjusted his watch to timer mode. On his mark, Dudley dragged Harry’s trunk into his own room and then scavenged from his closet some clothes and as many potentially incriminating objects he could find. Petunia jumped up the stairs and rushed to the master bedroom to empty (as best she could) their closet’s contents into two trunks. Vernon ran out to the car to get Brian’s trunk, which he then dragged up into Harry’s old bedroom. Hermione and Harry watched the flurry of events from the living room sofa with bemused expressions.

Brian’s signal after three minutes time brought everyone together again.  On a request from Petunia, an extra fifteen seconds time was allowed to retrieve some bedclothes and blankets from the upstairs linen closet, which she used to make up the living room couch. There had been some thought to storing the Dursley’s trunks under the stairs before it was made clear that they might make the rotund boy’s bedtime fit even tighter.    

Brian, Hermione and Harry left the Dursleys to fend for themselves and retreated upstairs. 

The Queen's man took the guest bedroom for the night; neither Harry nor Hermione wanted him to sleep in Harry’s old bedroom room until Vernon had replaced the door.  Dudley had left his bedroom a shambles, but Harry wasn’t going to be sleeping anyway; he was still too jazzed from the day’s events and the ride home from the Palace. Hermione and Brian protested against Harry’s plans to stand watch for the night, but he said it was the least that he could do after what they had just done for him.  He expressed amazement that the Dursleys had surrendered so quickly and completely, and feared that there might be a reprisal.  Brian told Harry that he thought that possibility was remote; the Dursleys were bullies, and bullies became cowards when faced with the righteous use of power. But Harry insisted, and backed his intentions by dragging the chair from Dudley’s seldom-used desk into the hallway and taking a seat.

After Hermione told Harry that she’d take his place early in the morning, she went into the master bedroom, enlarged her trunk and unpacked her night clothes. When Hermione looked more closely at the bedroom furniture she noticed with amusement that the bed and dressers were knockoffs in the same style as the antique furniture she had seen and sat on at Buckingham Palace.

The young witch's hand recoiled when she reached to turn down the bed cover. There was a whiff of bleach in the air that matched the stringent, aseptic appearance of the room.  Did she really want to sleep in Vernon and Petunia’s bed? Not really, but if it kept them from being comfortable tonight then she would. Any chance that Petunia had changed the bed clothes when she was up here earlier? Shuttering at the thought, she raised her wand and cast a Scourgify spell on the sheets before she tucked in for the night.

She was asleep almost before her head hit the newly cleaned pillowcase.

oo00OO00oo

Harry had anticipated a Dursley counteroffensive that night.  He was therefore surprised when, not fifteen minutes after his watch began, it was a screech owl rather than his uncle making its way up the stairs.  The bird dropped an envelope at Harry’s feet and flew off before he had the chance to stop it.

The message was all too familiar.

Dear Mr. Potter:

We have learned that Finite Incantatum and Scourgify spells were used at twenty-three and twenty-four minutes past midnight within your Muggle-inhabited household.

Your wanton disregard for the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has gone unchecked far too long. Ministry representatives will call on your residence shortly to snap your wand. Any attempt to evade their efforts will be dealt with most severely.

Given your repeated violation of this Decree you should consider yourself expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the unlikely event that it opens this Autumn. Furthermore, you are required to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9am on July 30, where additional disciplinary actions will no doubt be levied.

Enjoy the rest of your evening.

Dolores Umbridge
Office of the Minister of Magic


 

Harry exhaled a scatological request, then reluctantly woke Hermione. 

“Oh Merlin,” she said. “I cast those spells on my trunk and your Aunt and Uncle’s bed clothes.”

“Thought as much,” Harry replied. “They detected magic use in the house and assumed that I was the only one here that was magical.”

“So couldn’t they just check our wands?” 

“Doubt that the echoes would be strong enough to show up resolved with Priori Incantatum…not that I expect they’ll take time to look. It’ll be Stupefy first and ask questions later.” 

They quickly identified their responses, both written and practical.  Hermione scrawled a quick reply to send off with Hedwig while Harry roused his relatives.

“What the blazes?” Vernon demanded. “It wasn’t enough for you to claim our bedrooms so now you claim our sleep?”

“Sorry,” Harry replied, “but there a strong possibility that we may be under attack in a few minutes and I thought you might prefer the relative safety of the upstairs lavatory.”

Petunia’s face went white. “But I thought Voldemort couldn’t hurt you while you stayed in our house.”

“That’s right,” said Harry. “You know that and I know that, but there’s no guarantee that the bad guys know that.  And even if they did, I doubt that my mother’s protection extends as strongly over your heads as mine.” 

The Dursleys didn’t wait to argue with Harry’s logic. 

Brian, who had been awoken by Vernon’s shouts, wanted to call the police; Harry refused, saying that Hermione and he could handle things themselves. He then suggested that Brian slip out of the house in order to keep the royal connection quiet.  The Queen's man reluctantly agreed, but said that he’d be watching from across the street with mobile phone in hand.

Harry took the rucksack that McGonagall had given him into the dining room and dumped the contraband onto the table.  He was tempted to grab the Sword of Gryffindor, but decided to try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum. Instead, three balls and a saucer-shaped item were tucked into his pockets, and his invisibility cloak tucked under his arm  On a bit of inspiration, Harry activated two pairs of omnioculars that had been within the bag and propped them up on a hallway shelf and the kitchen counter, so that they faced the front and rear entrances to the house.

Harry looked up as Hermione entered the kitchen.  She had changed into a dark jumper and black trousers, with hair up in a loose ponytail and her wand out and ready. 

“What happened to my little princess?” he asked.

“Laura Croft kicked her bum out of bed,” she replied with determination.

Harry snorted.  His bemusement was replaced by surprise when Hermione leaned forward and gave Harry a quick kiss on the lips.

"For luck," she explained with a smile.

As Harry tried to compose himself, Hermione ran down the hallway to take up a defensive position. He then ran through the kitchen and out onto the back porch.  Before closing the door behind him, Harry reached into a pocket and threw a ball marked “Swamp Surprise” onto the kitchen floor.  The thrown ball converted his Aunt Petunia’s spotless kitchen floor into muck.  The “surprise” came two seconds later, when a concealment charm turned the swamp’s surface into a perfect imitation of the original linoleum.

Harry then heard five distinct cracks as he circled around towards the front of the house. He groaned; it was a few more than they had hoped for. Harry ran around the side of the house, and took up a position near the front corner. Now hidden by invisibility cloak and shrub, he spotted a silvery otter as it scampered out the front door and sped off into the night.

It took a full minute for his guests to arrive; Harry noted with some satisfaction that the protective wards had forced them to apparate a good two blocks down the street.  There were six in the party.  Five moved with a purpose that screamed out “Auror in action,” while the sixth (who must have side-along’ed) trailed with a waddling gait.  As they approached the house two of the black robed figures silently split off to the rear of the house. The other three waited for the laggard, who chose a position on the street curb, well away from the house.

They didn’t bother to knock, unless you counted the Evanesco incantation that made the front door disappear. Two of the men lept into the doorframe and fired off stunning spells without any word or warning.  Harry thought he heard a Protego called out, but wasn’t sure it was done in time.

The Realm's newest knight reacted as soon as the stunners were released.  The first ball he threw burst into a cloud of dust that enveloped the three men into pitch-black darkness. The three figures turned and fired spells in Harry’s direction, but the Peruvian Instant Blackness Powder and Harry’s cloak kept them from aiming with accuracy.  When the second thrown ball broke, the men found themselves not only enveloped in darkness, but shoulder deep in the muck of a portable swamp. From the tenor of their voices they were not very pleased.

Harry yelled towards the front entrance.  “Hermione, are you okay?”

Panicked by the lack of a reply, Harry grabbed the portable door from his pocket and flung it against the house.  He then dove through the hole it had created and tumbled into the living room. His heart sank when he saw Hermione crumpled up against the coat closet’s door. Harry called out a second time, and was relieved when her eyes finally opened.  She rolled over onto her stomach and dove behind the closet door as a red beam shot out through the blackened front entrance.

“I’m fine, Harry,” she said, as she tried to loosen the sore shoulder attached to her wand hand.  The crash of a Reducto spell against the back door kept Harry from asking a second question.  He pulled the cloak back over his head and ran towards the kitchen.

Harry heard someone yell “Clear!” and reached the doorway connecting the dining room to kitchen just as a robed figure cautiously entered the house.  The wizard’s first step sent him tumbling face-first into the faux linoleum.  His partner, who’d stayed at the threshold to cover his back, swore as he tried to counteract the trap and guard against attack at the same time.  With attention focused in front of him, the Auror was caught completely unaware when an unidentified kick from behind (and to his behind) sent him sprawling into the swamp.  Harry only caught a glimpse of his black-clothed supporter before he disappeared back into the night.  He quickly focused on the two men in front of him, and their comic attempts to find solid ground.  With the immediate threat neutralized, Harry squatted down under his cloak, wand in hand, and waited.    

Meanwhile, Hermione had cast a Levicorpus spell at the first sight of fingers reaching out from the darkness and into the front entrance. The Auror sent head under heels cast the counterspell before remembering where he would land. Upon hearing the splash Hermione realized what had happened and modified her defense by casting a freezing charm down towards the front steps.  The swamp water quickly solidified, catching two of the three attackers with their wand hands encased in ice.  The third was so busy trying to thaw his partners free that caught the full force of the third Silencio spell that Hermione had cast blindly into the darkness.

With the threat of attack considerably lessened, Hermione cast a proprietary counterspell to the Peruvian Instant Blackness Powder that she’d helped the Weasley twins develop just two days prior (and two days after its lethal use during the attack on Hogwarts).  Three quick Stupefy spells found their marks before she ran towards the back.

Harry arm caught Hermione before she went for a swim, which forced her to cast an off-balanced Protego when the two assailants tried to fire off curses.  The mud-covered wand tips, however, rendered this defense unnecessary; the spells fizzled and dribbled out through the sediment.  Hermione nailed the two men with Stupefy spells before they had the chance to clean their wands.

It wasn’t until the Muggleborn witch had Accio’d the mucked-up wands that Harry remembered about Umbridge.  They vaulted back to the front entrance and aimed their wands out towards the street in search of a target.

What they found were two wizards sitting on a bench eating popcorn.

“Fred…George?” Hermione called out.

“Nope, just the cavalry,” said Fred.

“Nice show,” added George, as he threw a few kernels into his mouth. “We give it two thumbs up.”

“You really should have sprung for the Deluxe version of the swamp, though,” said Fred. “The crocodiles are worth every extra galleon.”

“We’re fine, thank you very much,” Hermione said sarcastically as she lowered her wand and carefully skated across the icy surface in front of her.  Harry followed closely behind, collecting three muddied wands on the way. 

“Didn’t happen to run into Dolores Umbridge on the way in, did you?” Harry asked.

“Oh, we’re on top of that situation,” replied George.

“Yeah,” added Fred with a grin, “wouldn’t want to be accused of sitting down on the job.”

As Hermione and Harry reached the street curb they saw that the twins were speaking with uncharacteristic literalism. The “bench” they were sitting on was, in fact, the rigid frame of the former Hogwarts High Inquisitor, levitated two feet off the ground.

“You two are too cruel,” Hermione said with a laugh, “but probably not too comfortable.”

“It’s not so bad,” said Fred, as he shifted on his seat.

“Just have to wiggle a bit to get around the lumpy parts,” added George.  “Popcorn?”

“Erm, no thanks,” said Harry.  “So did she put up a fight?”

“Dunno,” said Fred.  “She was standing stunned when we got here.”

“Must have caught a stray spell,” Hermione surmised, as she looked back at other three rigid bodies.

George tilted his popcorn bag in a futile hunt for popped kernels amongst the duds.  Giving up, he looked up at Hermione. “So can we play with your swampcycles?”

“No,” said Hermione impatiently, “playtime is over.  Don’t need the Muggle neighbors seeing any more than they need to.”

“Yes, mum,” was the sing-song reply, as the twins rose to help Harry and Hermione clean up. It only took a minute to banish the swamps, repair the windows and doors, bind the six rigid assailants, and levitate them into the living room.   

“How did you guys get here?” asked Harry, as they regrouped inside. “How did you know we were even here?”

“Didn’t you read the note on your trunk?” Fred asked.

“Erm, no,” Harry replied, fingering the unread parchment in his jeans pocket with some embarrassment.

“We drew short straws at dinner.”

“This was a Weasley operation?” asked Harry.

“Still think Charlie enlarged his straw,” Fred muttered to his twin.

“Yeah, not like he hasn’t had years of practice.”

“Anyway,” continued Fred, “we got here and the place was quiet, so we left the note saying we were at Arabella’s and to ring her on the jelly-phone when you arrived.”

“But I didn’t,” Harry said.

“I did,” Hermione interjected.

“When?”

“When I heard all of the apparations…thought it was time to ring Mrs. Figg’s for some help.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you were one smart witch?” asked Harry.

“Oh,” said Hermione with a grin, “I’ve heard that once or twice.”

Their banter was interrupted by McGonagall’s patronus, who lept into the living room and curled up around Hermione’s leg.

“Oh foo, playtime’s over,” said Fred.

“Yeah, the adults have arrived,” added George.

“Hey Harry,” Fred asked, “can we take a look at the toys spread out on that table?”

“Sure,” said Harry.  “Probably a good idea to put them away for the night.”

“We can take care of that,” George replied.

As Fred and George excused themselves to sort out the dining room mess Harry pulled the hoods back from the heads of their captives.  He immediately recognized two; Dolores Umbridge and a tough-looking, wiry-haired wizard that he’d had run-ins with before. 

“Good evening, Dawlish,” said Harry. “Assuming, of course, you are Dawlish and not some polyjuiced Death Eater.”

The auror rigidly raged.

“Oops,” said Hermione.  She counteracted the Silencio and Stupefy spells with Dawlish’s mouth mobilized in mid-rant.

“..care if you think you’re the greatest thing since butterbeer you’re going to Azkaban for this one, boy!” 

“Over a simple Scourgify spell?”

“No,” came the snarled reply, “for attacking an Auror and resisting arrest.”

“Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves?” asked Hermione from across the room. “Expect Headmistress to be here shortly.”

“To do what?” asked Harry, “laugh at their ineptitude? An entire Auror team, brought down by two Hogwarts students using little more than pranks from a joke shop?”

“You knew why we were here,” Dawlish spat out. “You got the owl…underage magic use…you resisted arrest.”

“No,” said Hermione.  “Well, actually, yes – we did get the owl message, but you should have gotten our reply, and in any event you can hardly claim that we resisted arrest when you made no effort to identify yourselves as Aurors in the first place.”

A flash of twirling light appeared behind them, out from which strode Minerva McGonagall and Gawain Robards, current Head of the Auror Department.

“Was her orders,” mumbled one of the other glum-looking men, before he realized that there were more ears listening.

“Really?” asked the tall Auror-badged wizard who had just portkeyed alongside the Headmistress. “And what exactly were those orders?”

“To collect and break the wand of this underage liar,” exclaimed Umbridge, as she pointed her triple chin towards Harry. “And to defend themselves if need be from any illegal and foolish attempts to resist enforcement of the rule of law.”

“Oh, shove it, Dolores,” said McGonagall, with uncharacteristic fervor. “Hermione, will you please explain to everyone what happened here tonight?”

The teen-aged witch quickly summarized the events of the previous hour; her Scourgify spell, the Ministry’s owl post, and subsequent attack.  Both she and Harry handed their wands over to the Head Auror for his review.  As Harry had predicted, however, the spells that had last been cast hadn’t been dark enough or strong enough to leave discernible residue.

Umbridge shrieked about the spells Harry had no doubt used that evening, while he denied casting any spell and Hermione tried to force Dawlish to admit that the Aurors hadn’t identified themselves before they attacked.  Instead, Dawlish claimed just the opposite, and accused Harry and Hermione of firing the first spells.  The other Aurors remained silent – they were in enough trouble as it was for their incompetence; they didn’t want to add insubordination to the list.

When Harry and Hermione accused Dawlish of lying, Umbridge told them in no uncertain terms to prove it…and if they didn’t want time added to their stay at Azkaban to immediately remove their bindings. Harry decided at that point that enough was enough.  He retrieved the two pair of omnioculars and handed them to the Headmistress and Head Auror. 

Hermione smiled when she realized what Harry had done. “You are so....”

“Busted!” Harry said simply.

The Headmistress and Head Auror looked into the omnioculars, then rewound and replayed what had previously been recorded.  Auror Robards looked over at Harry during his review.

“Where are the Muggles that live in this house?”

“They were hiding the entire time, upstairs in the loo,” Harry replied.  "Still there, actually."

The Auror nodded and traded omnioculars with McGonagall to gain the other perspective.  When he was finished reviewing the two recordings, the Head Auror walked over to Harry and Hermione and returned their wands. 

“On behalf of at least my little portion of the Ministry of Magic,” he said,  “I wish to extend a sincere apology for the abhorrent behavior displayed here tonight.  There was no excuse for it.”

“Erm, thank you sir.” Harry replied.

The Head Auror took a small card from a pocket in his robes, touched it with his wand, and handed it to Hermione. “Miss Granger, here is the contact information in case you wish to press charges against these men.  I’ve added my secured floo location information on the back if you have any problems with the paperwork.  Our internal investigation on tonight’s activity will be completed within the next few days, and I’ll make sure that you have a copy of the final report.”

“Thank you, sir,” Hermione replied.

The Auror then turned to Harry.  “Your Headmistress informs me that Miss Granger intends to stay here through the summer.  Rest assured, the detection of anything short of an unforgivable within these walls will be interpreted as having come from her wand.”  He jerked his head towards Umbridge.  “You will not be bothered by the likes of her again, if I have anything to say about it.”

He then turned towards the Auror team with their wands bundled in his outstretched hand.

“If we weren’t so short-handed I’d snap these wands myself.  Right here.  Right now.”

The five muddy and bound Aurors looked up with shock.

“As it is, we need every wand we can get, even when they are so poorly and unlawfully wielded…  Dawlish!”

“Yes, sir.”

“As of now, you and your team are suspended from active operations.  It’ll be desk duties for the lot of you while the investigation takes place.  But don’t wait for the investigation’s end to start packing your bags, because whether as guest or guard, you’re heading to Azkaban.”

The Auror’s shock was redoubled.

“And as for you, Dolores,” he said icily, as he turned towards her, “I have, unfortunately, no direct power over you.  Merlin knows what keeps you in power at the Ministry…however, on the way here the Headmistress described some allegations of unforgivable use and other illegal acts during your tenure at Hogwarts.  I will be investigating these allegations myself.  If they bear out you may plan on feeling the full fury of the Auror Department raining down upon your toady-little head.”

Umbridge’s retort was silenced by McGonagall’s wand.

“Thank you, Minerva,” the Auror said. “Now, I believe that your students have been bothered enough for one night.” 

He placed his wandtip on his Auror’s badge and muttered an incantation.  The badge started to flash on and off as he placed it down on the living room’s coffee table.  He then banished the assault team's bindings. The Aurors morosely reached down to touch the badge as their Head grabbed Dolores’s elbow roughly and did the same.  A second later, they vanished as the portkey was activated.

“I think it time for me to take my leave as well,” Headmistress McGonagall said. She handed the omnioculars to Harry.  “A very creative, if unorthodox, defense Mr. Potter.” She then turned towards Hermione.  “As for you Miss Granger, some fine spellcasting.  I have to ask, however, where you learned to cast a Levicorpus spell.  I don’t recall it being on the Hogwarts curriculum.”

“Erm…Professor Lupin taught it to me, Headmistress.”

“I see,” McGonagall said, with her eyes narrowing just a bit. “Please take care, Miss Granger, when casting spells not found on the Hogwarts standard list.  Mr. Potter might share with you the consequences of freelance spellcasting.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Hermione contritely replied.

“Headmistress,” Harry cut in, “how did you get Head Auror Robards to come with you…do you think he’s trustworthy?”

“Well,” said McGonagall, “let’s just say that Gawain is a friend of the family.  And yes, I believe that you can trust his intentions.  Whether he actually has the political capital to boot Umbridge from the Ministry is a different question, though.”

At the sound of a soft knock on the new front door, the Headmistress morphed into her animagus form and took her leave out the back.  Hermione and Harry heard a distinct hiss from the dining room as they opened the front door and let a relieved Queen’s man back into the house.  Brian’s reappearance reminded Harry that his relatives were still up in the loo; he went upstairs to give them the all-clear as well.

“We repacked your goody bag,” Fred said, as he handed back the rucksack.

“But not before we labeled everything that was ours or that we knew about, though,” added George.  “Hope you don’t mind, but there were a couple of items we didn’t recognize…wondered if maybe we could bring them back to the lab for a look-see.”

“Sure,” said Harry, “no problem.  While you’re at it, can you send me a few more swamps? I kind of liked playing with those tonight.”

“Consider it done,” said George, just as the Dursleys crept back down the stairs.

“Hello, there,” the twins said in unison. 

At the sight of Fred and George all three of the Dursleys recoiled, and Dudley broke out into a whimper.

“Nice to see you again, Dudley,” said Fred.

The chubby teenager jumped back up a few stairs and whimpered some more.

“What’s a matter, Dudley, cat got your tongue?” asked George.

“Or maybe you’re just a bit tongue-tied?” added Fred.

“Now boys,” said Hermione, “don’t scare our hosts.  They need to come down the stairs so that we can go back up the stairs and to bed.”

“Okay,” said Fred.  “We'll just have a sit on the front steps, then.  Don’t mind us.”

“They’re staying too?” asked Petunia anxiously.

“Erm, just for the night, as guards,” said Harry.  “Unless, of course, you’d like to see them more often?”

Three heads shook sideways with great vigor.

“Right then,” said Brian, “shall we try this once again?”

As the Dursleys set up again in the living room and Brian repaired to the guest bedroom, Harry walked Hermione to the master bedroom’s door.

“With Fred and George here you are going to try and get some sleep, right?” Hermione asked.

“I guess so,” Harry replied.

“Erm, do you want me to Scourgify Dudley’s sheets?” she asked.

“No thanks,” Harry replied.  Not that I don’t trust Auror Robard’s word, but why test things so soon?”

“Good point,” Hermione said, with a bit of nervous laughter in her voice.  “So…good night, Sir Harry.”

Harry smiled as he squeezed the young witch’s hands.  “Sweet dreams yourself, Dame Hermione.”

Chapter 5 – The New Neighbors

Saturday, June 2
Little Whinging, Surrey

Harry woke to the sound of Dudley pushing a lawnmower. It was going to be a good day.

He got up out of Dudley's bed and rummaged through the closet for an empty coat hanger, upon which he hung the black tuxedo and white shirt that he’d slept in.  He opened his school trunk, threw on some of the less heinous hand-me-downs, and headed out into the hall.  Harry had to step over his Uncle Vernon, who was struggling to remove the lowermost hinge pin from his old bedroom’s doorframe.

“Good Morning, Uncle Vernon,” he said.  “Sleep well?”

If looks could kill Harry would have had to dodge a curse.

He took the stairs two at a time and headed towards the kitchen, where he found Brian cleaning some dishes in the sink.  The Queen's man turned towards him and asked, "Feeling alright this morning, Sir Harry?”

The young wizard looked past Brian out through the basin window to see his clipper-wielding Aunt fight a losing battle against the hedgerow. 

“Brilliant, Brian.  Just brilliant.”

The Queen’s man filled a mug and pushed it across the counter as Harry took a seat.  “I was told that you take your coffee as black as your hair.”

“Hermione knows me too well,” Harry said as he took a sip.  “Speaking of which…”

“She popped over for Saturday brunch with her parents,” Brian replied.  “Asked me to have you call her when you woke up. Oh, and she left you the paper.”

Harry nodded as he glanced over at the Daily Prophet’s headline, “Ministry Thwarts Crazed Centaur Attack at Hogwarts!” Brian placed a plate in front of him laden with fresh fruit, a warm bran muffin, and granola-topped yogurt.

“Pardon my initiative,” Brian said, “but after taking a look at your Aunt’s pantry this morning I ran over to the market for a few things that weren’t so…processed.”

“Erm, no, no problem,” Harry replied, eyeing the yogurt with suspicion.  “Looks fabulous.”

“Eat up, then, Sir Harry – from the looks of your clothing they must have been starving you at school.”

Harry looked at Brian with a bit of confusion.  “Just the opposite, actually,” he replied. “Foods great at school…a little more traditional than...yogurt...but always plenty to eat.”

“So this stapled-stomach look is fashionable in the wizarding world?”

Harry furrowed his eyebrows, wondering why Muggles would want to have a staple gun anywhere near a stomach.  He looked down, saw his clothes, and realized Brian’s mistaken assumption.

“No, no…these clothes are Dudley’s hand-me-downs.  Pretty much all my Muggle clothes used to be his, except for the one good outfit that I wore yesterday...that was from Hermione.”

“Well,” Brian intoned, “to borrow a phrase from your friend, not this summer, Sir Harry, not this summer…we’ll visit a clothier’s this afternoon. 

“Oh, speaking of clothes,” Harry said, “I’ve got the suit and shirt hanging upstairs in the closet whenever you want to take it back to the Palace.”

“Take it back?” Brian asked, with incredulity in his voice.  “I’m terribly sorry, I should have been clearer yesterday afternoon.  The suit and shirt are yours, Sir Harry. You’re going to need them.”

Harry chuckled to himself.  “I really appreciate that, Brian, but I can’t imagine needing that tuxedo any time soon.”

“Only because we haven’t had time to discuss your engagement calendar, Sir Harry,” Brian replied.  “Of course, since your knighthood is secret and won’t appear on the Registry it won’t be as busy as it might be, but…you and Dame Hermione will have opportunities…I know for a fact that you’re going to be invited for a small reception at Windsor next week, and there’s to be a post-concert party with Sir Elton next month…”

“Hmmph,” Harry said with a tinge of chagrin.  “I don’t know why anyone would want to invite me to anyplace fancy.  Beside, Hermione and I need to do a lot of…studying…this summer, and a fair bit of travel.”  He looked back out the window as his Aunt wiped sweat from her brow, hedge shears in hand.  “But then again, we might be able to attend a few events…particularly if it gives a few people I know some twisted knickers.”

Brian followed Harry’s gaze and smiled.  “I see…so instead of a single swift blow from your magnificent sword it will be death by a thousand paper cuts?”

“Oh, no,” replied Harry.  “I’ve no plans to kill them….I’ll probably stop somewhere in the high eight-hundreds.”

The front doorbell rang, and Harry looked towards Brian.

“Sorry, Sir Harry, but I believe that is a friend of yours…a Miss Tonks?  Dame Hermione and the Weasley brothers vouched for her before they left…she’s been here most of the morning.”

The doorbell rang again.  Then again.

Harry thanked Brian for breakfast as he grabbed his coffee and headed towards the front entrance.  The already opened door provided a partial view of Tonks, who was kneeling on the front steps, eye-level with the door bell.

“Wotcher, Harry.”  She pressed the doorbell again. “These push-the-button-hear-some-bells things are funny aren’t they…wonder what’d it would be like to have one hooked up to the floo connection?”

“Careful, Tonks.” he replied, “You’re starting to channel Arthur Weasley.”

Tonks smiled as her hair turned Weasley red.  “Not a bad idea, Harry…maybe if there were two Arthurs running about one of them would occasionally get a word in edgewise with Molly.”

Harry laughed.  “So what brings you to the Dursley residence?”

“Business,” Tonks replied, as she restored her hair color.

“Erm…what kind of business?” Harry asked warily.

Tonks gave the teenager a grin. “Head Auror Robards ordered me to do the follow-up field investigation to the pantsing you gave Umbridge and Dawlish last night.  Figured you’d be less likely to slime an Auror that you already knew.”

Harry nodded, a twinkle in his eye.  “So does this take you off the security detail at Hogwarts?”

“Only temporarily,” she replied.  “With luck and a little cooperation from The-Boy-Who-Swamped I’ll be back there tonight.”

“The-Boy-Who-Swamped?” Harry asked.  “Don’t tell me that they are really calling me that at the DMLE.”

“Just the ones that either really hate Dawlish or really love him,” Tonks said with a grin.  “Of course, that’s pretty much the lot - he has a rather polarizing personality.”

Harry shook his head and sighed.  “So tell me, Tonks, which camp is Head Auror Robards in?”

“Don’t really know,” she replied, as she entered the house and began to examine a small scorch mark in the closet door.  “He plays things close to his robes.” 

“What can you tell me about him?”

“Not too much, really,” said Tonks.  “He’s a behind-the-scenes quiet type.  Never flashy, rose through the ranks based on his management skills…makes sense, really, since he sorted Hufflepuff.”

“Really?” asked Harry.  “I can’t picture too many Hufflepuffs becoming Aurors or Hit Wizards.”

“Well, Harry,” Tonks replied, “you need more than bravery and cunning to be a good Auror…or a good leader, for that matter.”

“Doesn’t sound at all like someone Scrimgeour would pick as his replacement.”

“Depends on what Rufus thought he needed, don’t you think?” Tonks asked.  “Talk to the rank-and-file and most will say that Scrimgeour picked him exactly because Robards didn’t seem that ambitious, or power hungry.  Gives Rufus more of a shot of staying in control at MLE as well as at the Minister’s office.”

“Never thought of it in that sort of way, I guess,” said Harry.  “Sounds like more of that political glad-handing back-stabbing manipulative rubbish that Umbridge seems to excel at.”

“I agree that Umbridge has gotten where she has because of her political skills.  But that’s exactly why those skills aren’t rubbish, Harry.  Without political savvy, the best-intentioned and brightest wizard will always get cut down at the knees.”

“Doesn’t seem very fair.”

“But that’s the way things are.  You know, it might be useful for you to learn more about that political rubbish…worked for Dumbledore.”

Tonks finished her inspection of the closet door and wrote a few things down on some parchment.

“Okay…I’ve finished in Hermione’s room and downstairs…just need to check your wand and those omnioculars that came in so handy last night.”

“Sure thing,” said Harry, handing her his wand.  “Be right back.”

As Harry walked upstairs he passed his Uncle, who had finally removed the door from its frame and was dragging it out as trash.  He quickly retrieved the two pair of omnioculars he’d stored in his trunk, and returned downstairs.

“Here, Tonks,” Harry said.  “Erm, can I get these back sometime soon? They proved to be rather useful.”

“Oh, I don’t need to take them with me…just need to download the recorded images.  Got a spell that preserves them in my wand.  It will only take a few minutes.”

Tonks placed the devices on the living room coffee table, flicked her wrist in a complex pattern and said an incantation that Harry didn’t catch.  She then placed the tip of her wand onto the lens of first one, then the other pair of omnioculars.

“So are these the ones you had around your neck at the last World Cup?”

“Erm, no,” Harry replied.  “McGonagall let me raid Filch’s stash of contraband yesterday morning.”

“That’s strange,” Tonks replied, “I’ve never seen omnioculars on any list of banned items…unless…” 

Tonks grabbed one of the omnioculars, put it up to her eyes, and pointed it towards Harry.  She turned various knobs and pushed different buttons, until one such adjustment produced a very un-Auror-ish giggle.

“Unless they’ve had some after-market…erm...capabilities added,” she concluded.

“Like what?”  Harry asked.

Tonks lowered the omnioculars.

“Hang on a second,” she said. She looked away from Harry, as if in thought, then morphed into a frighteningly accurate image of Dolores Umbridge.  Once the transformation was complete she handed Harry the viewing device.

“Aim it at me, then hit that red button by your left index finger three times.”

Harry followed her instructions, then let out a small scream as he dropped the device back onto the table as if it were on fire.

Tonks let out a good laugh.  “What’s the matter? Was a naked Umbridge too…hot for you?”

“That’s not funny…I almost cast my patronus!”

The teenager’s face then turned a deep crimson as he realized what she had seen when the omnioculars had been pointed towards him.

“I’m sorry, Harry, couldn’t resist pulling your….your chain a bit. Here, let me make it up to you.”

Tonks changed her appearance back to her normal, bubble-gum-haired form.

“Fair is fair.”

Harry became even more embarrassed when he realized what Tonks was offering.

“No thanks, Tonks.  I’ve no desire to have Remus kick my arse from here to Argyle.”

“And what are you implying, Mr. Potter?” the witch shot back, with a twinkle in her eye.

“Erm, nothing…just that yesterday morning it looked like Remus had finally realized how much of a daft git he’s been when it comes to your feelings for him.”

“Oh,” Tonks said a bit sheepishly, as it became her time to blush.  “Well, if you saw that, then it must have been really obvious,” she said with a smile. “Or else it takes one daft git to know another.”

“Hey, who are you calling a daft git?” Harry asked playfully.

“Know thyself, Harry Potter,” she replied, as she morphed once again, this time taking the form of the newest lady knight in England.  She picked up the omnioculars and handed them back to a confused-looking young man.

“Safe to look now…unless you’re flexible enough to kick your own arse.”

Harry was trying to decide between a witty retort and an angsty self-evaluation when the doorbell chimed once again.  This time, Brian came in from the kitchen to answer the door.

“Oh, Dame Hermione,” he said as he glanced at Tonks and Harry.  “I didn’t realize you’d returned.  Good that you’re here, actually.”

As Brian opened the door Harry whispered into Tonks’s ear.  “So what are we going to do now, 'Hermione'?”

“Have to play along,” Tonks replied. “He might be card-carrying, but that doesn’t mean he should know what I can do.”

“Great.”

“So why is he calling you Sir Harry?” Tonks asked. “And why is he calling me damn Hermione?”

“Erm, just an inside joke…tell you later.”

Brian brought two men dressed in business suits into the living room.  “Sir Harry, Dame Hermione, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Jackson and Mr. Wall.  They work Palace security.”

“Good morning,” said one of the men, “We’re sorry to disturb you, but we need your help.”  The other man opened a small black bag and placed a laptop computer onto the coffee table.  He opened the screen, pushed a few buttons, then cursed the lack of an expected response.

“What’s this then, Steve…blasted thing was working just before we crossed the street?”

The man’s older partner hunched over the computer keyboard and frowned.  “That’s what modern technology does for you, Wally…told you once, told you a million times, it’s the tried and true that you need to do.” 

Harry noticed that the computer screen was only a few inches away from the activated omnioculars.  He quietly reached down and pocketed the magical device. 

The older man straightened up and turned towards the two magicals.  “Dame Hermione, Sir Harry, my young technogeek partner and I are part of a security team established by the Prince to keep an eye on your respective residences.”

“You mean you’ve been watching this house?” asked Harry, with a bit of alarm.

“Yes, Sir Harry,” the man replied.  “As well as the Granger residence.   And it’s about that…” The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a photograph, which he handed to Tonks.

“Dame Hermione, do you recognize either of the two men in this picture?”

Tonks and Harry looked at the static image of two wizards poorly disguised in Muggle clothing. One man had matched top hat and tails with speedos and flip-flops; the other (whose attire was at least internally consistent) was wearing leather lederhosen.

“Erm, no, afraid not,” Tonks replied cautiously. “Where was this image taken, and when?”

“The picture was obtained about one hour ago.  Surprised you didn’t recognize where it was taken…the two men were standing across the street from your parent’s house.”

Harry and Tonks shot looks of concern at each other before she replied.   “Well, I’ve been away at school for so long, of course…guess they must have repainted the house, or something.”

“Brian,” asked Harry, “we need to talk to Hermione…I mean her parents…straight away.”

“Certainly, Sir Harry,” Brian replied, wondering why the Hermione in front of him couldn’t do that herself.  He fished his mobile phone out of his pocket and pushed a few buttons on its keypad.

“Hullo, Mr. and Mrs. Granger?  Brian Willox here…sorry to bother you but Sir Harry and your daughter need to talk with you…she’s what?” He looked at Tonks rather strangely. “Oh, I understand.  Yes, well, one moment please.”

He handed the mobile phone to Harry cautiously.

“Thanks, Brian,” Harry said, we’ll just be a minute.  He grabbed Tonks’s hand and ran up the stairs to Dudley’s room.  Having closed the door, Tonks cast a Silencio spell as Harry put the phone up against his ear.

“Hullo? Hermione?”

“Yes, Harry, it’s me.  Can you explain why Tonks is with you looking like me?”

“Erm, long story…that’s got to wait though.  We’ve got problems.”

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a couple of Death Eaters staking out your parent’s house.”

There was a loud gasp.

“Merlin, Harry…my parent’s house? So they plan on…but how did they find out where I live…How did you find out that they’re there?”

“The Prince has security people watching both our houses, and the ones minding this house showed me a photograph of the Death Eaters standing across the street from yours.  But what’s important now is…are you still at the hotel with your parents?”

“Yes, we just got back to their room after brunch.”

“Good.  Stay there, I’m coming to get you.”

Tonks interrupted the conversation.  “Harry, you shouldn’t go anywhere…you won’t be protected yet.”

“Is that Tonks, there?” Hermione asked. “Harry, give her the phone.”

The black-haired wizard reluctantly gave the mobile phone over.

“Hermione,” Tonks said, “I’ll have an Auror team there as soon as possible…wait, where are you? No, don’t answer that, who knows who might be listening in.  Okay, send me your patronus, no wait, don’t do that, they might catch that at the Ministry…”

Harry grabbed the mobile phone as if it were a snitch.  “Hermione, we’re going to find a way to get you guys back here safe…I want your parents here, where we can protect them…wards are up…might be best to use Muggle transport…yeah, I’ll make arrangements…call you right back.”

Britain's newest knight looked down at the phone keypad until he finally found the “end” button. “Tonks, don’t even start about using magical transport for them.  Hermione’s parents are Muggles, and they will be less likely noticed if they’re using Muggle transportation."

“Yeah, you’re right I guess.  Still think she could use an extra wand there just in case.”

“Fine, then, we’ll go downstairs and have them take you to Hermione.  And don’t forget you’re still Hermione for now.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.”  As she cancelled the silencing charm and opened the door she planted a kiss on Harry’s lips.

“What was that for?” Harry asked.

“Thought you might like to kiss Hermione for good luck,” she replied.

“I’ve already done that once this morning, thank you very much.”

“Really?” asked Tonks.  “Well what do you know…maybe you’re not such a daft git after all.”

oo00OO00oo

Harry and Tonks found the way downstairs blocked by one very hacked-off familiar.

“Hey Crookshanks,” Harry said as he reached down to scratch an ear. The half-kneazle ducked his head away from his hand and hissed at Tonks.  

“Wotcher, Crookshanks,” she said.  “Oh, I see.” Tonks said, as she realized what skin she was wearing, “You’re probably wondering why…” She quickly morphed back into her baseline bubble-gum colored hair form.  “See, it really is me.”

The half-kneazle glared at Harry, then back at Tonks, and hissed again.

“Erm, Crookshanks,” Harry said, “there is a perfectly good explanation why Tonks looks like Hermione, and why she and I were in…erm, in my bedroom…but we don’t have time to explain right now, ok?”

The familiar stared at Harry unconvinced.

“Look, Crookshanks, we really don’t have time…Hermione’s parents may be in danger, and Tonks and I have to go check things out....Hermione's with them, though, ok?” Harry said, a bit nervously.  “Now, while we’re gone we’ll need somebody to watch the Dursleys to make sure that they don’t do anything stupid…will you do that for me?”

Hermione’s familiar stared over at Tonks, who’d changed back to Hermione’s form.  He then looked back at Harry with disapproving eyes and slowly walked back into the master bedroom.

“Geezsh,” Tonks said as they headed towards the stairs, “Didn’t expect to have a chaperone around here.”

“Oh,” said Harry, “he’s just looking out for his best girl,” Harry replied.  “Speaking of which…”

Harry ran back into Dudley’s bedroom and poked his head out the window.  A quick scan revealed his cousin watering the backyard with his sweat, but no signs of Hedwig.

Guessing that his familiar could do a better job of taking care of herself than the Granger’s, he pushed finding Hedwig to the back burner and ran downstairs with Tonks.  With a street address of the Savoy in hand, the Auror set off on her own to join the Granger family, telling an understanding Brian that she could get there quicker than any Muggle transport.

Once Tonks disappeared the Queen’s man suggested that Harry meet the new neighbors across the street.

“Shouldn’t we be figuring out how to get Hermione and her parents out of danger?” the young wizard asked.

“Yes,” Brian replied simply, as he walked out the front door and crossed the street to Number Five.

Harry didn’t know quite what to expect from the two men that had apparently caused such a stir in the neighborhood. He was even more confused when the two Palace security men answered the door.

“Oh, come, in you two, come in,” said the younger agent (“Wally,” the young wizard remembered).

The downstairs rooms seemed normal enough to Harry.  The living room showed  signs of having been lived in (as opposed to, say, his Aunt’s aseptic aesthetic); throw pillows were laying haphazardly on the leather sofa and a matching club chair; magazines and a remote were spread out over the coffee table.

Brian and Steve, the older security guard, bounded up the stairs, leaving Harry alone with Wally in the front entranceway.

“So you guys really have been living here for the past month?” Harry asked.

“Yeah,” Wally said. “Not such a bad assignment, although Steve is a bit of a pig around the house.”

“And you guys aren’t really….erm, are you?”

Wally laughed.  “No, we aren’t a couple.  Steve’s not my type, and while I might bat from the opposite side he’s as painfully straight as they come.  We’re just partners on the job.”

Harry nodded, realizing that by answering a question Harry hadn’t asked Wally had answered the original as well.

“So why are you pretending to be, erm…a couple?” he asked. “I mean, if you’re trying to lay low and stay undercover…it’s not like you two blend in very well around here.”

Wally grinned back at Harry.  “No….you think?  It might be counterintuitive, but acting as a gay couple in this neighborhood actually helps us do our job.”

“How is that?”

“Well,” said Wally with a smirk, “we’ve got a job to do minding you, and some equipment to do it with that we wouldn’t want the locals to catch on to, right? This way, we haven’t had neighbors pounding on our door wondering when we’re handing out invitations for a housewarming party.”

“That makes sense,” Harry said as he nodded.  “And given the prejudice around here, they probably expect you having men running in and out of here all the time, and imagine you two spending all day lounging about snogging each other, so…”

“Yeah, so they haven’t caught on and wondered why we don’t leave home for day jobs, or why other agents come and go.”  Wally grinned at Harry. “Not bad, kid…makes me think that it wasn’t a fluke how well you handled your guests last night.”

“You mean you saw?” Harry asked with alarm.

“Yeah,” Wally replied, “where did you think Brian went while you and Dame Hermione were busy?”

“Wait,” Harry said, “if Brian told you about us, and our, erm…skills, then…”

“No worries, Sir Harry,” Wally grinned, as he produced the same kind of identification card from his billfold that Brian had shown him the night before.  “My brother’s a wizard, and Steve’s mum and sister are witches.”

“Merlin,” Harry exclaimed as he looked at Wally’s card, “does everyone at the Palace have one of these things?”

Wally laughed.  “No, Sir Harry, it just seems that way.  There’s really only a few of us in the know…we’re kind of a team, I guess you could say, that handles situations involving both our worlds."

“Wow,” Harry exclaimed. “I never realized that there were Muggles out there that didn’t always try to pretend that magic didn’t exist, even when they knew better.”

“Yeah,” said Wally, “there are a few of us that aren’t really bothered by the thought…sort of like there are some witches and wizards that don’t have problems living in the Muggle world, huh?”

Harry’s reply was interrupted when Brian and Steve bounded back down the stairs.

“Here’s the situation, Sir Harry, best we know it.” Brian said.  “Remote surveillance indicates that those two badly-dressed blokes are the only threats within a two block radius of the Granger residence.  We’ve got people both inside and outside the Savoy, and they haven’t seen anything…our perimeter here is also clean.  We’ll have on-the-ground confirmation of all this within the next ten minutes.”   

“Merlin, Brian,” Harry said as he shook his head with slight amazement, “you sure that all you did at the Palace was cook?”

Brian nodded his head and blinked in acknowledgement of Harry’s insight.  “Another time, Sir Harry…we need to make some decisions about the Grangers.”

Harry thought for a moment, then nodded his head.  “The woman that visited earlier today, Tonks?  She’s someone Hermione and I can trust with our lives.  She’s also an Auror….mean anything to you guys?”

All three men nodded their heads.

“Right then,” Harry continued, “in a perfect world we’d be able to trust every Auror with our lives, but the fact that our guests last night were also Aurors should kill that idea.”

Choosing his path and words carefully he then asked, “You guys know about Death Eaters?”

The nods from all three men were accentuated with eyes that narrowed and backs that stiffened.

“The two blokes in front of the Granger house are probably Death Eaters, or their stooges…no other reasons for wizards that we don’t know to be hanging around their house.  Pretty surprising that they’ve discovered where Hermione’s parents lived…we’ve got some hard work to do following up on that question, but I’m thinking that they’re just a couple of low-level scouts waiting for the Grangers to return from picking up Hermione at the station.”

“We were thinking the same thing,” Brian replied.

“If the Grangers hadn’t visited the Palace and stayed in town last night…I’m sure the plan was for those two to go get help once they’d returned…they probably could have attacked at the train station, but I imagine that it was pretty heavily guarded, and that the house would be a much softer target.  Much more of a statement, as well, if they were able to raise the Dark Mark there.”

“Dark Mark, Sir Harry?” Wally asked.

“Oh, sorry, keep forgetting…anyway, important thing is that they are still waiting to ambush the Grangers at their house.  Means, I think, that the Grangers haven’t somehow been tracked to their current location….you guys certain that there’s nothing unusual down at the hotel?”

Brian nodded.  “Given what you’ve just told us, and what we’ve already pieced together, we think that the safest thing to do is to move the Grangers from their hotel to a safe house…might not take long for the bad guys to figure out what’s happened and retrace their steps.”

“Agreed,” Harry said.  “Is there any way that you guys can quietly bring Hermione and her parents here?”

“Here, Sir Harry?” Steve asked.  “Not to discount the defensive skills you put on display last night, but if they know where the Grangers live shouldn’t you also expect them to know where you are right now?  Might just be placing the Grangers out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

"Normally, I’d agree, but let’s just say that there are some extra security measures in place around my Aunt and Uncle’s house…for the next eight weeks, at least…anti-apparation wards, for example.”

Harry recoiled when he realized that he might have broken some rules talking about apparation with muggles, but the fact that nobody blinked, or asked for an explanation, suggested that he hadn’t revealed information that wasn’t already known.

The three men silently looked at each other; after getting two curt nods from the security men Brian turned towards Harry.

“We can have them here safely within the hour, Sir Harry,” he said.  “Will there be others there to transport?”

“Just Tonks and Hermione, for now,” Harry replied.  “I ought to be there as well, but for reasons I can explain later I’m rather constrained when it comes to defending myself…or others, for that matter.  Tonks should be already there though, and I imagine she and Hermione aren’t going to be shy about having their wands at the ready, so….”

“Not a problem,” Brian said. “I’ll knock on their door myself.  It’ll add an hour or so to the arrival time, but it does sound like a prudent course of action.”

“Right, then,” Harry said.  “Sounds like a plan.”

“What about those Death Eaters?”  Steve asked.

“First things first,” Harry replied.  “I want to make sure the Grangers are safe before we figure out that problem.” Harry paused for a beat. “So Brian, you’re going to join Tonks and Hermione, while I probably should wait across the street at Number Four, so…”

“Want some company while you wait, Sir Harry?” Wally asked.

Harry, who been a bit worried about what the Dursleys might try if he were alone with them, nodded his head.  “Thanks, I’d enjoy that.”

“No problem,” Wally said with a wink. “Gives me a chance to dress down your Aunt for her heinous window treatments.”

oo00OO00oo

It was a painful two-hour wait for Harry, even with the amusing entertainment provided by Wally and his Aunt Petunia.  Had he been a normal Muggle teenager, he’d have probably spent the entire time on the telephone with Hermione, ensuring that things were still okay.  But Harry wasn’t used to the concept of accessible methods of communication that didn’t involve fireplaces, so his contact with Hermione had been limited to a single call after the strategy session had broken up.

The fact that Wally wasn’t showing a lot of concern was comforting for Harry, up until the point when the man's mobile phone went off.  After a brief conversation, he informed Harry that the Grangers would soon be there; he then left to work out some security arrangements with Steve.  Harry made his own welcome plans by grabbing his invisibility cloak and heading for the concealment provided by the shrubbery in front of the house.

It was typical weekend afternoon on Privet Drive; the only real difference Harry could detect was that the neighbors all seemed to all have their tellies set to a preliminary match for Muggle football version of the World Cup. With seemingly the entire neighborhood glued to England's eleven it wasn’t hard to notice when a large Land Rover with black-tinted windows rumbled down Privet Drive.  It slowly passed by, stopping only after it had reached the next intersection and turned around to face back towards Harry.  He then spotted a rather large truck as it turned the corner and headed towards him, with an identical black SUV just behind.  The second Land Rover pulled-up short as the lorry stopped in front of the house.  Two men dressed in gray overalls jumped out of the cab and quickly looked up and down the street.  The insignia embroidered on the backs of their coveralls matched the large advertisement painted on the side of the truck.

From all appearances, the Dursleys were about to get some furniture delivered from Harrods department store.

After about fifteen seconds, one of the men walked behind the lorry and opened the doors, while the second watched with one hand inside his jacket.  A metal ramp was extended from the trailer down to the street, and several people emerged from the back of the truck carrying pieces of bedroom furniture. They all wore the same overalls, but had matching caps that were pulled down low on their heads.

The man who’d opened the back door of the trailer walked up to the front door of the Dursleys and rang the bell.  A somewhat wary Vernon opened the door then stepped to one side, having been made aware of what was expected of him.  The mattress-carrying workers marched right into the house.  Had anyone been watching the work rather than the match, they may have thought it strange that four of the overall-clad workers who’d brought in the first pieces of furniture never came back out. 

It took all of ten minutes for the truck’s contents to be emptied, and for the trailer to be filled with what they were replacing.  Harry, who had been watching all the time from under the front window, could hear his aunt sob a bit as her faux-French colonial bedroom set was marched unceremoniously out to the lorry.

The swap-out completed, those men who’d finished the job packed up the van and drove off, accompanied by the two SUVs.  Harry, wand in hand, shed his cloak and stood out from the bushes.  He found Wally and Steve, who both gave thumbs-ups from their locations, and returned their gesture.  He then turned to enter the house, relieved to know that those whom he now considered to be his real family were safe and sound within his Aunt and Uncle’s house.

oo00OO00oo

Later that afternoon, Harry was lying on his new bed, flipping through the channels on a ridiculously large television set when his new mobile phone rang.

“Hey, what’s up Hermione?”

“Oooh, I’m impressed, Harry. You’ve figured out caller id.”

“Erm, no...just figured that you’d be the only one calling me.…so what’cha doing?”

“Nothing. What are you doing?”

“Nothing much…watching some Muggle telly.”

“Merlin, Harry, listen to us...we sound like a couple of teenagers.”

“Maybe that’s because we are teenagers, Hermione.”

“I know, but you know...it’s just that you don’t sound like the weight of the wizarding world is on your shoulders right now.”

“That’s only because I got all this extra support from my new mattress,” Harry replied. “But yeah, I know…feeling comes and goes, but…it’s nice.…erm, so how are your folks doing?”

“Amazingly well,” Hermione said. “I mean, here they are, in hiding, sort-of, with Death Eaters staking out their house, and they’re acting like it’s a walk in the park.”

“So what’s so bad about that?” Harry asked. “It’s not like they’re the Dursleys, with their heads up a blast-ended screwt.”

“Umm…I guess.” Hermione replied. “It’s just too weird and scary, though, having my parents suddenly involved in the fight with Voldemort, and seeing them take it all in stride. You should have seen them at the hotel, Harry…they were trying to calm me down. Not that I’m upset they aren’t cowering in fear, but…”

“But you don’t know whether it’s the parents that should be taking care of their little girl or the other way around?”

“Yeah, that…that actually makes sense….it’s like there’s this nexus between our world and theirs.”

“Erm, yeah…nexus.” Harry said. “That was the exact word I was going to use.”

“Oh stop it, you prat.” Hermione said tongue-in-cheek admonishment. “So…I was wondering…would you like to join us for dinner tonight?”

“Hmmm, sounds tempting…let me check my engagement calendar…Saturday…Saturday… Saturday…looks good…not scheduled to rescue the damsel in distress until Tuesday.”

“Damsel in distress?” Hermione asked. “So who is the damsel, Harry?”

“Erm, usual story.  Really pretty, lives in a tower, needs a brave knight to come rescue her from eternal boredom…”

“Don’t suppose I’m that damsel?”

“Oh…no,” Harry said. “You’re a Dame, not a damsel.”

“Oh,” said Hermione, “so what’s the difference?”

“The difference is,” Harry stammered.  “Erm….”

“Yes, Harry?”

“Difference is…damsels are pretty but helpless…they have to be rescued because they can’t save themselves.”

“And a Dame?”

“Dames? Well, I’ve only met one, mind you, but if she’s representative, then Dames are pretty and anything but helpless…more likely to save the knight’s sorry arse than him save her cute one.”

“So, Dames are pretty useful around the house, huh?”

“More like pretty protective of the house – got the video to prove it.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Hermione said, “Tonks was talking about your little toy…”

 “My little toy?” Harry asked, thinking back to what Tonks had seen that morning. “You do mean my omnioculars… right?”

“Maybe….so do you really think my bum is cute, Harry?”

“What?”

“You said knights have sorry arses and Dames have cute ones.”

“Oh….Merlin, I’m going to get hexed either way I answer.”

“Why would I hex you if you did think my bum was cute?”

“Erm…because that would mean I’d been looking at it close enough to tell.”

“I see….so have you, Harry?”

“Have I what, Hermione?”

“Looked closely enough to tell.”

“Erm……right…so…what time is dinner?”

“Seven, and check your closet. I picked out something for you to wear before I left.”

“Seven it is, then.” 

“Oh, and Harry?”

“Yes, Hermione?”

“I wouldn’t hex you if you looked.”

oo00OO00oo

An hour later, Harry left his Aunt and Uncle’s house and waved to Mrs. Number Seven as he crossed Privet Drive.  She looked just as shocked as his Aunt had been when he came down the stairs.  To be fair, though, it wasn’t every day that a teenager strolled out of Number Four dressed in Armani. 

Although it had been great sport to shock the Dursleys into thinking that their house was going to get even more crowded, there was never any intention for Hermione’s parents to stay at Number Four. Once they’d shed their disguises and showed their disgust at the physical signs of Harry’s previous care, the Grangers family had crossed the street to stay at Number Five with Wally and Steve.

Dinner was served in the backyard, on the patio. Standard security procedures frowned upon those facing death threats dining al fresco, but given the unprecedented combination of magical wards and muggle electronic surveillance devices, the only thing threatening them that evening were a few fluffy storm clouds.

The patio table was dressed in white linen. So was Harry (although his unlined linen suit was actually more of a taupe that complemented his white silk t-shirt rather nicely).

“So tell me,” Harry asked, in between bites of seared tuna, “how did you manage to select an entire summer wardrobe for me without leaving that hotel room?”

“Well, it was pretty straightforward,” replied Hermione, who was no less nicely dressed. “Once it became clear that we weren’t going to be taking you to the nearest shopping centre tonight, Brian suggested that we pick up a few things while we were still in the City.”

“You went out to clothing stores with Death Eaters on the hunt?” Harry asked.

“No, dear,” Emily Granger replied, “the clothing stores came to us.” 

“The concierges were wonderfully helpful,” Hermione added.

“I’m sure that they would been just as helpful had they not gotten a call from Windsor telling them to bill the Royal account,” Roger deadpanned.

“And they just showed up at your hotel room door with a rack of clothes?”

“Pretty much…yeah,” Hermione said. “Of course, we did have to give them a rough idea of your size, so that I didn’t have to do a lot of magical alterations once the fittings were done…”

“Fittings?” Harry asked, raising and eyebrow. “You know, I was about to ask how you’d done such a great job sizing me up blind.”

“Oh we didn’t do it blind, dear,” Mrs. Granger said with a smile.

“Yes, Harry,” her husband said, “I’d say that their eyes went quite wide open once Tonks provided them a dummy that was….how should I say it….fully representational.”

“She didn’t,” Harry said.

“She most certainly did,” Mr. Granger said.

“You mean Tonks morphed into me just to try on clothes?”

“Oh, yes, dear,” Mrs. Granger said, “It so much easier to see what colors looked good on you.”

“I can’t believe that you guys did that,” Harry said, with a hint of a smile and a resigned shake of his head.

“You’ve got a problem with Tonks pretending to be someone else?” Hermione asked. “Hey kettle, what color is the pot?”

“Yeah, yeah…least I didn’t ask her to...so about being fully representational…”

“Well,” Hermione replied with a smirk, “how else would we know whether the trousers would fit?”

Harry’s ears turned bright red and he stammered for a few seconds before Hermione and her parents burst out laughing at the joke. 

And it was at that point, the point where Harry realized that the Grangers were comfortable enough to tease him the same way that they teased Hermione, that he knew for certain that he’d been accepted as part of a very loving family.

It felt good.

oo00OO00oo

Once they’d finished off one of Brian’s signature desserts (Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Candied Ginger and Hot Buttered Rum Sauce), Hermione’s dad pushed back a bit from the table, took a deep breath, and smiled.

“You know, a bloke could get used to this.”

“I’m pretty impressed,” said Harry. “If it had been the Dursleys in your shoes they’d all be looking for a change of pants about now.”

“Well it’s a pretty low bar you’re setting if you’re comparing us with the Dursleys,” Mr. Granger said.

“Sure, but even against normal people…I mean, Death Eaters staked out in front of your house, waiting to kill you?”

“Balanced against a fine dinner on a beautiful summer’s night with our daughter and her best friend…I’m thinking that it’s a great day.”

“Really?” Harry asked. “Not to take anything away from Brian’s seared tuna and Hermione’s company, but…”

“Guess we see the glass more than half-full,” Emily replied. “Play the hand that’s dealt you, make lemonade from lemons, Carpe diem…that sort of thing.”

“Alright, who polyjuiced my parents?” Hermione asked, “and where did you hide them and their middle-of-the-road, can’t-be-any-more-conventional-than-dentists attitudes?”

Her parents laughed.

“Sweetheart, it’s all a matter of figuring out what is most important our lives,” Roger explained. “When was the last time you ate two dinners in a row with us? And what were the chances that we’d be doing it any time this summer before fate dumped us all on the Dursley’s door stoop?”

“It’s not that we aren’t worried,” Mrs. Granger added. “Of course we’re concerned; but why let that fear rule us?”

“The only thing I really fear,” Roger said, “is that they torch our house before we get a chance to rescue your baby photos.”

“Oh, Dad, don’t start that again.”

Roger laughed. “Frankly, as well as our protection has been, I’m a bit surprised we haven’t heard back from Tonks.”

“Well,” Hermione replied, “she did say it’d be hard to arrest them as it stood…the only rules they’re breaking right now are fashion related.”

“Might be best to leave them alone, unless you desperately need something from your house,” Harry stated.  “So long as they’re looking for you there, they won’t go looking for you here.”

“Ah, yes good point, Harry,” Roger said. “That brings us around to a question that Emily and I have for the two of you. It’s pretty clear that we can’t stay at the house, at least until Voldemort’s gone and probably even after that...”

“Oh, I feel so terrible, that house has always meant so much to you,” Hermione said.

“It’s just wood and brick, dear,” her mother replied, “and not at all important when it comes to our lives and yours.”

“And that goes for the surgery, as well,” her father added. “If they know where we live we have to assume that they know where we work.”

Harry started to count on his fingers. “So, we’ve got to find you a new place to live, and a new place to work, and provide security…”

“Hold on, son,” Roger said. “You’re getting ahead of yourself. Emily and I have been thinking about this, and talked with Wally and Steve…and, well…”

“Hermione, dear,” Emily asked, “how long do you and Harry plan on staying here in Little Whinging?”

“Why do you think that…”

“Hermione,” her father interrupted, “you were going to tell us that you would be staying with Harry this summer, right?”

“Not that we hadn’t expected you to,” her mother added.

“Well,” Hermione admitted, “I was going to tell you yesterday, but then we got diverted by the Palace, and then today the whole Death Eater thing sprang up...”

“I see,” her father said. “So, about how long are you two staying here?”

“If you’d asked me two days ago, I’d say for as little time as possible,” Harry said. “That would have been two weeks, to ensure that my mother’s protections were up until I turn seventeen on July 31.”

“But now…” Roger said, “Harry, you do understand that whatever it is that you two have to do to defeat Voldemort is far more important then worrying about Emily and myself, right?”

“If you fed me Veritaserum I’d probably be forced to agree,” Harry replied, “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do both at the same time.”

“Dad, why are your plans contingent on ours?”

“Because, Dear,” he replied, “we don’t want to hamper your fight, but if given a choice we’d rather be with you then holed up in some governmental safe house under assumed names.”

“And not just be with you,” her mother added, “but doing everything we can to help you.”

“So, you want to know if it would be okay for you two to stay here with us?” Hermione asked.

“Well, not with you per se,” Roger said, “but we’ve been invited to stay here at Number Five for as long as we like.”

“And not that your neighbors aren’t, erm, lovely, Harry,” Emily added, “but ‘as long as we like’ is only going to be only so as long as you and Hermione are here.”

“Sounds brilliant,” Harry said immediately.

“You and Dad, staying here?” Hermione asked. “Not that I don’t love you both, but what would you do?”

“Oh,” her Father said, “probably drive our teen-aged daughter and her boyfriend crazy…”

“Dad!”

Harry noted with interest that Hermione’s admonishment was delivered with a slight grin.  Hermione noted Harry’s interest…and didn’t stop smiling.

The patio door opened and Steve joined them.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got company.”

Hermione reached for her wand. “Friendly?”

“Well, the old woman and her cats seem harmless enough, but if looks could kill then the sweaty red-haired kid lugging a trunk…”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other before reaching the same conclusion. 

“Ron.”

They held each other’s gaze, as if neither wanted to break the spell that had enchanted the last couple of days.  It was Hermione who finally broke eye contact and left the table to meet their friend.

Harry looked down at his plate; dessert was long gone. He looked around the table, at the Grangers, at the sky…trying to savor, for one more fleeting moment, the feeling of being part of one big happy Granger family before joining Ron and Hermione out front. 

Nexus, indeed.

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