Chapter 6 : Inept
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Harry woke on the fifth day of Hermione’s visit feeling exhausted. Hermione had kept him talking long after Moody had left, keen to learn Professor McGonagall’s plans for relocating the school.
As a result, they hadn’t finished reading the latest volume of Dumbledore’s teachings until late into the night. Although he knew he had barely spent an hour with Dumbledore practising spells from the book, it seemed like hours has passed.
He had quizzed Dumbledore on the Dementors, but he had refused to answer any of his questions. Dumbledore just said enigmatically that Harry should make up his own mind about the Dementors and that his own experiences had probably coloured his views.
Volume Four lay beside him on the bed. He smiled and remembered how reluctant Dumbledore had been to allow him to have sight of this particular volume. This book covered Transfiguration which was Dumbledore’s favourite subject and it was clear he wanted to teach rather than just go through the exercises with Harry. However, Harry knew how disappointed Hermione would have been not to read the book.
In the end Dumbledore had agreed, but pleaded that Harry should not read even the foreword.
There was a quick tap on the door and Hermione peered into the room.
“Morning,” said Harry sleepily.
“Hi, Harry. It’s after nine o’clock, you know?”
Harry yawned widely and offered up the new book.
“Thanks, Harry,” she said stepping inside the room to take the book. “The bathroom’s free,” she added as she left again.
Harry relaxed back into his warm, comfortable pillow and was soon fast asleep once again.
Harry reacted instantly to the loud Crack! He threw himself out of bed and found himself pointing his wand at Hermione and three unexpected visitors.
“Sorry,” said Tonks, wearing a wide grin. “Nice pyjamas, Harry.”
Harry immediately grabbed a sheet, blushing deeply at the thought that at least three of them had been in his room apparently examining him as he slept. He assumed it was Tonks’ late arrival that had awoken him.
“Well,” said Professor McGonagall, “at least his reactions are normal.”
“Yes, nicely done, Potter,” agreed Mad-Eye. “I can lend you a detector to warn you of intruders sneaking up while you sleep, if you’d like?”
“That will hardly be necessary here,” said McGonagall.
“Oh, right,” said Mad-Eye, his blue magical eye suddenly darting towards Hermione who flushed red at once.
“I meant, Alastor,” said McGonagall with a touch of annoyance, “that Harry’s foes have no chance getting into this house.”
“Um,” said Harry. “Just what do you lot want and why is it necessary to discuss it here in my bedroom?”
Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow at him.
“I’m sorry, Professor, but I’d prefer to receive guests when I’m awake and properly dressed.”
“Harry, for your information it is gone two o’clock in the afternoon. We are here because Alastor and Hermione were concerned for you.”
“Because I overslept?” he asked incredulously making Tonks smirk.
“No, Harry!” said Hermione sharply. “You just don’t quite seem yourself.”
“Of course I am. Well,” he added pointedly, “apart from my embarrassment at being seen in Dudley’s old bedclothes.”
“Harry, we will retire downstairs,” said McGonagall calmly. “Please join us when you are ready. I’d like you to tell me about these memories of Dumbledore you are experiencing. Your Aunt is out shopping at the moment and I imagine you would prefer it if we were gone by the time she gets back.”
Hermione was the last too leave, mouthing, “I’m sorry,” as she went.
Harry washed and dressed quickly before descending downstairs. He entered the living room just in time to see Professor McGonagall repair one of Aunt Petunia’s delicate ornaments he guessed Tonks had just knocked off its shelf.
“I’ll get you some tea, Harry,” said Hermione at once.
“No need,” said McGonagall, flicking her wand at the tea tray on the small table between them. Instantly the teapot leaped up and poured fresh, steaming tea into a clean cup. The saucer picked the cup up carried itself over to Harry’s outstretched hands. The milk jug and sugar bowl hurried over and Harry accepted a splash of milk.
“Thanks,” he said before sitting down next to Hermione. “So, what is this all about?”
“Alastor told me you had asked him some questions when he last visited you,” said McGonagall. “Of course, he didn’t tell me what your questions were nor what his answers were.”
Harry lifted the frown that had been directed at Mad-Eye and mumbled, “Thanks.” Clearly his assumption that Moody would have shared everything with her had been wrong.
“What interested me, though, was his comment about you, Harry.”
“What about me?” Harry asked at once.
“Well, I,” began Moody uncertainly.
“It’s okay,” said Harry. “I trust the Professor and Tonks. You can tell them what we asked about.”
“Right,” said Moody. “Well, it was a couple of things, really. The first was you asking about the Mirror of Erised.”
“What about it?”
“Well, we’d almost forgotten all about it; whereas it was almost the first thing you thought about.”
“That shouldn’t be such a surprise,” said Harry at once. “Ever since I got back here I’ve been thinking about what we have. I mean, things that Voldemort doesn’t. When you add the fact that I’ve been thinking through about just about every conversation I ever had with Dumbledore, it really can’t be so unexpected that I should think of that mirror.”
“True,” said McGonagall slowly, but Harry was sure she was still wondering about him. “What was the second thing, Alastor?”
“Harry asked about Dementors and he specifically linked them with Fudge.”
McGonagall frowned slightly.
“Why,” she began to ask.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry firmly, interrupting her. “We can’t tell you why we wanted to know about Dementors.”
“No, I was going to ask why Fudge?”
“Well, he’s the only one I’ve ever heard of talking to the Dementors.”
“Well, he could communicate with the Azkaban Guards,” agreed Tonks. “I’m not sure he could speak to the others, though.”
“Others?” asked Hermione. “What others?”
“We don’t really know,” said Tonks. “For half a century, the only Dementors in this country were the Azkaban Guards. There were others out there, but we think they were a different family or tribe.”
“So, did the Azkaban Guards really desert the Ministry and join Voldemort, or could they have just fled?” asked Harry. “Maybe the Dementors that Voldemort has aren’t the old Azkaban Guards at all.”
There was silence a moment as they all considered this.
“That is a possibility I didn’t consider,” admitted McGonagall. “Although I fail to see what relevance it has. The Azkaban Guards were hardly friendly.”
“No, but they could be controlled; or at least that’s what Fudge thought,” added Moody.
“Very well,” said McGonagall. “Harry, with your permission I would like to send a delegation to see Cornelius Fudge. I think you two should have a private meeting.”
“Hang on,” said Harry. “I’m stuck here, remember? Besides, I want Hermione to listen to him too.”
“Agreed. We’ll have him brought here. Alastor, can you make the arrangements? He is to have no idea where or when the meeting takes place.”
“No problem,” growled Moody, a smile spreading across his face.
“I’m also waiting for you to explain, Professor,” said Harry.
McGonagall smiled at him and stood up. The others followed.
“Harry,” she said gently, “I just wanted to satisfy myself that you were alright.”
Harry was still sat silently fuming when Hermione returned to the living room with two fresh cups of tea.
“You could have woken me, or something,” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” said Hermione, sipping her tea. “The two of them insisted going up and seeing you.”
“Why, though? And, how come she went before asking me about those memories?”
“I think they wanted to see if there was any outward sign about what’s happening to you. When you are with Dumbledore, you sometimes repeat parts of your conversation with him.”
“How do you know?” he asked before remembering Hermione had been beside him the first time he’d seen the memory of Dumbledore.
“I overheard you, Harry. You cried out and I was concerned.”
Something told Harry she wasn’t talking about the first time. He sighed deeply.
“Well, at least I remembered to put my pyjama bottoms on last night,” he said dryly. “I only remembered after I had jumped out of the bed.”
Hermione sniggered into her cup.
“That was a wonderful meal, Mrs Dursley,” said Hermione. “Thank you. Please, let me put the coffee on and start the washing up.”
“I’ll help,” added Harry, jumping up from the table.
It had been a very strained dinner, all in all. Uncle Vernon had refused to speak to either Harry or Hermione. Normally, Harry would have considered this no bad thing as far as he was concerned, but Vernon continued to make his comments to Petunia.
These comments consisted mainly of his low opinion of Harry and how glad he was that he would be finally leaving.
Harry had heard far worse and was long past caring. Vernon may have realised this because he soon moved on to other, newer grievances. His comments on Dumbledore hit a nerve, but Harry still managed to retain control of himself. It was only when Vernon moved on to Hermione that he finally cracked and Hermione had needed to ask him to sit down. Harry had fully intended to march straight upstairs and get his wand to teach Uncle Vernon a lesson, promise or no promise.
Harry was amazed at Hermione’s self-control, although he thought her valiant attempts to make pleasant conversation all through the evening were pretty pointless.
Harry placed the dirty dishes on the kitchen top while Hermione closed the door.
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Harry said quietly. “You just need to ignore him.”
Harry looked up and was alarmed to see that Hermione was red faced with watery eyes. She was holding a hand over her mouth.
He immediately went over to her, placing a hand gently on her arm.
“Please don’t let him upset you,” he said in a whisper. “He’s not worth it.”
Harry was a little confused to see her shake her head. It was only when she lowered her hand that he realised she was crying with laughter. He smiled as she reached out to steady herself against him, apparently light headed from not breathing in an attempt not to laugh out loud.
Gradually, Hermione’s breathing steadied and her normal colour returned as she dabbed her eyes.
“You had me going for a moment there,” said Harry with a smile. “You okay?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said a little croakily. “Oh, we’d better put the coffee on.”
“I’ll do it,” said Harry, moving around the kitchen table to the cupboard where Aunt Petunia kept the filtered coffee. As he pulled out the coffee machine and began opening a fresh foil packet, Hermione started to do the washing up.
“Use the dishwasher,” suggested Harry as he picked out a fresh filter paper.
“It’s hardly worth it for these,” Hermione said lightly. “Besides, this might take longer.”
Harry snorted. He had no desire to hurry back to the living room either.
“You know?” continued Hermione, “I’m beginning to see what you’ve had to put up with all these years.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” mumbled Harry, switching the coffee machine on and picking up a fresh towel.
“I mean, no wonder you’re so socially inept if you were brought up like this.”
Harry caught Hermione’s reflection in the window grinning at him.
“Now I know, though. You clearly can only talk about Quidditch during dinner because you don’t know any better. Poor thing.”
Harry laughed at her last comment but said with mock indignation, “Hey, I talk about more than just Quidditch at meal times!” although he privately thought it was mostly true.
Hermione continued to tease him good-naturedly as they washed and dried the dishes until the very last saucepan was dry. Still chuckling, Harry lifted it up to its usual place high up on the wall cupboards.
When he turned back, Hermione was rinsing away the last of the bubbles and staring out of the window. He knew at once that her mood had changed in the split second he had been turned away from her.
The steaming coffee machine make a loud click, but neither of them reacted.
“There’s something I should tell you, Harry.”
They both turned towards the closed kitchen door as raised voices interrupted them. It sounded like Aunt Petunia had been rebuking Uncle Vernon for his rude behaviour during dinner.
Hermione tutted and brushed her hair back.
“Finish the coffee, will you Harry? I’ll try and calm things down.”
“Why not just leave them to it?” asked Harry, who was annoyed that Uncle Vernon had once again managed to spoil the only part of the evening Harry had actually enjoyed. Hermione was gone before be got the words out, though.
Sighing deeply and wondering what it was Hermione had wanted to tell him, he loaded a tray with coffee cups.
Harry woke in almost complete darkness, wondering what it was that had awoken him. He listened intently, his wand in hand under his pillow.
The house was completely silent.
He tried to decide what time it was and guessed it was around two in the morning. He turned to look at his bedside table and his luminous alarm clock read ten minutes to two o’clock.
Harry quietly pushed off his bedclothes and stood up from the bed, making sure that his mattress creaks were kept to a minimum.
Ordinarily, Harry would not have bothered to check the house. He knew that Dumbledore’s protections could be trusted. However, with Hermione staying as a guest he didn’t want to take any chances.
He stepped out onto the dark upstairs landing and listened again. He could hear Vernon’s faint snoring, but nothing else.
Harry crept downstairs, careful to avoid the creaking treads, and stood still before the front door. His eyes had become accustomed to the dark but the little light from the outside street lighting showed him the house looked completely normal.
He couldn’t adequately explain his unease to himself.
Harry wanted to dismiss his unease as simple paranoia, but the hairs on the back of his neck prickled.
There had been no sound at all, yet Harry knew with absolute certainty that someone was in the living room.
He approached the half-open door, wondering whether to storm in or enter with stealth. With his wand pointing into the darkened room, Harry raised his free hand to the door jamb and allowed his fingers to play over the surface.
Frowning, he pushed the door open a little further.
With no more thoughts of a possible intruder, he entered the room and went straight over to the chimney breast. Nothing looked out of place at all, yet he felt the presence of something.
Again he raised his hand, but this time didn’t touch the surface. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated upon the very tips of his fingers. It took him a moment, but gradually a mental picture of what he could sense built up in his mind.
Harry smiled to himself from within his calm, trance-like mindset.
He knew now that what he could feel was the residue of Arthur Weasley’s magic that he’d used to reconstruct the chimney.
He opened his eyes and found he could almost see the magical traces. Almost.
A noise behind him brought him abruptly out of his reverie. He turned and saw Hermione was uncurling herself from the settee.
“You okay, Hermione?”
She gave a half-shrug and a small nod before moving towards the door.
“Wait a minute,” he pleaded. “I was worried about you. I woke up just now and felt something was wrong.”
Hermione paused with her back to him. He could just make out her handkerchief balled up in her fist.
“You can tell me, Hermione,” he said gently. “What ever it is.”
Hermione sighed deeply.
“I just,” she began, her voice sounding strained and full of emotion. Harry crossed the room to her, but was unsure what to do for her.
“What is it?” he asked in a whisper.
“I could use some fresh air.”
“Let’s step out into the back garden for a minute then?” he suggested. “Um, we should probably leave the lights off though. Just in case.”
Hermione led the way out into the kitchen and Harry unbolted the rear door before stepping outside, deliberately blocking the door until he was satisfied it was quite safe.
He started to move aside to allow Hermione out but she rested a hand his shoulder to stop him.
“This is fine, Harry. I just wanted some air.”
Harry nodded, his eyes constantly scanning the deep garden shadows and his wand held ready. He felt Hermione relax a little and felt himself calm as the gentle night breeze cooled him.
“Actually, this may be a good way to talk about it,” said Hermione. “I’ve tried a couple of times, but if I don’t have to see your face, maybe I’ll actually do it.”
Harry frowned but didn’t turn.
“Why couldn’t you tell me?” he asked before he could stop himself. Somehow the idea that Hermione, of all people, couldn’t confide in him hurt deeply.
“It just didn’t seem fair, Harry. You’ve got more than enough to worry about without adding my troubles.”
“Hermione, in case you didn’t hear me before, I’ve been worrying about you.”
Hermione leaned towards him and rested her head on the back of his shoulder.
“First of all, I think Ron will pay us a visit tomorrow. He’ll want me to come to the wedding, but I’m not going.”
“Why not? It might do you good to get away from this mad-house for a couple of days.”
“No. Ron will have certain expectations. I just don’t think,” she said before hesitating. “Well, let’s just say that I don’t want to upset him on his brother’s wedding day.”
“But, I thought you liked Ron?”
“Of course I like him; I’m just not sure that I love him that way. Besides, I hardly think that now is the time to even consider a serious relationship.”
“Bill doesn’t seem to share that opinion, and nor does Tonks.”
“Yet you broke things off with Ginny, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Part of it was my fear that she would be murdered or worse because of me. So long as we are clearly not together, the risk to her must be less.”
“What was the other part?”
“Hm?” he replied. “Well, to tell the truth, I’m not sure we would have lasted. Ginny was pretty good about it, but I know she resented my not confiding everything with her like I can with you.”
Hermione squeezed his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m just relieved we managed to part and remain friends. Anyway, enough about me. How are you going to patch things up with Ron?”
“I’m not going to, Harry. I wrote to Ron spelling everything out.”
“Doesn’t he deserve better than that? Why not go to the wedding and see how you feel then?”
“Ron isn’t the main reason I don’t want to go, Harry.”
“Okay, so what is the main reason?”
Harry felt Hermione push herself away. By the time he’d turned around she was back inside and heading out of the kitchen.
He groaned and quickly came back inside, bolting the door and hurrying to catch her up. Although he was sure she would have retreated to the safety of Aunt Marge’s bedroom, he checked the living room just in case.
Hermione was standing with her back to him, facing the chimney breast just as he had done.
Feeling relieved, he entered the room.
“What were you doing here earlier?” she asked.
“Um, I was feeling the magic. Mr Weasley reconstructed this entire fireplace when he collected me to go to the Quidditch World Cup. You can even feel where the magic joined the lumps of masonry.”
Hermione shook her head.
“Here,” he said gently, taking her left hand. “Clear your mind. Don’t force it.”
Harry brought their hands up to the papered wall and held them around an inch from the surface. His fingers entwined with Hermione’s as he traced a stepped line where two clumps of fallen masonry had been reinstated.
Hermione gasped gently as she felt the sensation making Harry smile.
“Oh, Harry. This must be one of the things the protections suppressed in you.”
“No, Hermione. Dumbledore explained that Voldemort armed me. He marked me as his equal, remember?”
“How long have you been able to sense the after-effects of magic, Harry?”
“Um, just since I woke up tonight.”
“Did anything seem different?”
“Yes, now you mention it. I knew you were upset, which made me get out of bed. I also knew you were in the living room, although the chimney distracted me.”
“This is going to sound mad, but I can feel Dumbledore. What I mean is, I think I can feel his enchantments here. That’s why I felt so calm and collected before.”
“Yeah, well I’m a bit worried about you, so that’s why I’m feeling less calm and altogether less collected.”
Hermione snorted and Harry grinned at the back of her head.
He gently squeezed her fingers and said, “Tell me?”
To his consternation, Hermione shook her head and pulled her fingers from his.
“Not tonight, Harry. Goodnight. Get some sleep, won’t you?”
A Personal Invitation
“I wasn’t very pleased when I found out that the two of you were staying here.”
Ron arrives hoping to persuade Hermione to go to the Burrow for the wedding but leaves without her. Plans are made for Fudge to visit.
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