Chapter 7 : A Personal Invitation
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At a little after ten o’clock the next morning the doorbell rang just as Harry was coming down the stairs. He jumped the last couple of steps and opened the front door.
“Ron! It’s great to see you. Come in!”
“Hi, Harry,” said Ron, wiping his feet on the coir mat.
“Moody is outside under his invisibility cloak. He said he wanted to keep watch.”
“Oh, right,” said Harry, closing the door. “Hermione said you might be dropping by. She’s in the garden, but I wondered if we could have a chat before we join her. Come into the living room a moment?”
Ron looked at him suspiciously but followed Harry into the empty room.
“The thing is,” began Harry quietly, “Hermione seems pretty set on not going to the wedding. I think she’s upset about something, but she won’t say what it is.”
“That’s why I came.”
“Good. I tried to tell her that going to the Burrow would do her good, so maybe you can persuade her.”
“How have things been here?”
“About the same as usual,” Harry replied in an undertone. “At least there’s no Dudley this summer, and Hermione’s been good company.”
Ron nodded slowly, and Harry had the uncomfortable feeling that Ron was assessing him.
“Did she say why she preferred to come here rather than stay with us at the Burrow?”
“No, and I didn’t really ask. I suppose she made up her mind not to go to the wedding earlier than she let on.”
Ron sighed and said, “I’d better go and speak to her.”
“Ron, you’ll be tactful, won’t you? Hermione seemed very upset last night. Having a row won’t help, but a few kind words might just convince her to come back to the Burrow with you.”
“Yeah, well a good row might be what she needs,” Ron said darkly.
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t she tell you about her letter?”
“No. She did mention something about being afraid she’s upset you.”
They were quiet for a moment. Ron was clearly thinking hard and Harry was wondering what to say for the best.
Finally, Ron asked, “Is there anything you want to tell me, Harry?”
“I wasn’t very pleased when I found out that the two of you were staying here.”
“Ron, you were invited too, remember?” said Harry angrily, finally realising what Ron was intimating.
“So what? You had a convenient opportunity, that’s all. Anyway, I’m not blaming you entirely. I know it can’t have been easy for you staying here even if it is only this one last time.”
“Why don’t you just say it, Ron?”
“I think she started planning from the moment you broke it off with Ginny. Yes, there was a distinct coolness from then, even before the letters arrived.”
Harry just shook his head in disbelief.
“As far as I am concerned, Hermione has done nothing to deserve your mistrust,” Harry said through gritted teeth.
“So, nothing has happened?”
“No, but that can’t be much reassurance, can it? After all, if you think Hermione has some plan to seduce me, why wouldn’t the plan come to fruition later in the week?”
“You’re even beginning to talk like her, Harry. When did you ever say fruition before?”
“Stop changing the subject,” Harry said seriously, his voice growing louder. “All Hermione has done is act like a true friend. She’s put up with the dreadful treatment the Dursleys have given her and managed to help me through this. That’s not to mention-”
Harry stopped abruptly hearing a soft cough from the doorway. Hermione was standing there, looking like she would rather be anywhere else.
“Your voices were beginning to carry,” she said simply, before adding rather coldly, “Hello, Ron.”
“I’ll go and put the kettle on,” said Harry, saying the first thing that entered his head as he moved for the door. Hermione stood aside for him and he hurried out.
The door clicked shut as he reached the kitchen.
Harry didn’t bother to go anywhere near the kettle and instead headed straight outside into the back garden. They had been doing a little light weeding and as the back flower bed was as far as he could get without actually leaving the property, he settled on continuing with that.
He picked up the small trowel that Hermione had been using and began attacking the soil. He was quite determined not to hear any part of the argument that he was sure was about to reach his ears.
Gradually, however, he slowed. Not to listen, but to consider Ron’s words.
Although Ron was Harry’s best friend, he also knew him to be irrational; particularly when it came to girls.
Harry paused to reconsider this thought. No, he decided, that wasn’t entirely fair. Ron might have appeared to have acted irrationally in the past, but he was actually just reacting when his feelings were hurt.
From what Ron had just said, it was highly likely that Hermione had decided any romantic attachments would be put on hold for the foreseeable future. He wondered if his breaking things off with Ginny had really prompted this.
He supposed he couldn’t really blame Ron for becoming suspicious. After all, Moody had jumped to the same conclusion.
Harry shook his head slowly, feeling annoyed that Hermione should suffer such speculation about herself. After all, it was nobody else’s business, was it?
A shadow moved across the flower bed and he squinted up.
It was Hermione and she was alone.
“I’m afraid I asked Ron to go,” she said quietly.
Harry got to his feet and asked gently, “You okay?”
“I’ll be fine, Harry. I’m sorry to have embarrassed you like that.”
“Hermione, you have nothing to apologise for.”
“Yes, I do,” she said, pulling out a small lace handkerchief and refolding it. “I knew Ron would be upset, but I really didn’t think he’d jump to the conclusion that I was dumping him for you. I just wanted us to take things a little slower, that’s all.”
“I had the impression that you broke up with him,” admitted Harry.
“Well, we were hardly ever an item. It seemed foolish to describe it as a break.”
“Hermione, have you really been fair with Ron? Doesn’t he at least deserve a chance?”
“It would have been less fair to lead him on and let him believe he was the reason it ended.”
“Last night you claimed that Ron wasn’t the main reason you didn’t want to go to the Burrow,” began Harry.
“I’m not ready to share that with you, Harry, so don’t ask.”
“I wasn’t going to,” he countered. “I was going to say that Ron is bound to think he is the main reason. It’s going to be rather difficult for us to track down those Horcruxes if you two aren’t talking. Remember, only the three of us know what we have to do.”
Hermione looked down.
“You want me to go?” she asked tentatively.
“No, but we’ll both have to try harder to make Ron feel included again. Did he say when he’d be back?”
“He didn’t, but Tonks told me before that they planned to escort him back here Thursday morning.”
“Okay, so he’ll probably only be staying over the one night?”
“Well, yes, assuming we leave on Friday.”
“Oh, there’s no assuming about it,” he replied with a grin. “Come on, I want to read Dumbledore’s latest textbook. Have you read any of it yet?”
“No,” she admitted, as they walked towards the house. “I started but I couldn’t concentrate.”
“Good, we can read it together,” he replied.
“Harry, aren’t you worried what Ron might say?”
“I’m more worried that you’ll hog the only comfortable bit of the floor as usual,” he replied, earning himself a playful swipe at his arm. “Hey, you can see me out here now?”
Harry thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day. They spent most of the time lying side-by-side on his threadbare bedroom rug and reading Dumbledore’s heavy book. They occasionally tussled over when to turn the pages, but Harry became convinced that Hermione was just playing with him.
His suspicions that Hermione had in fact read most of the book were confirmed when she abandoned the last chapter and turned over to stare up at the ceiling.
Harry closed the book and turned onto his side. He had intended to lie back down, but he stopped at the sight of Hermione.
Her eyes were closed and she looked utterly relaxed.
The frown that had so often been directed at him over the last few months was nowhere to be seen. Her face had thinned ever so slightly too, but her nose and mouth were just the same. Her hair was, well, everywhere.
The sudden noise of beating wings at the open window made him jump and look towards the window. An unfamiliar Barn Owl flew into the room and onto the bedcovers.
Harry looked down again to see Hermione sitting up, brushing her hair back.
He wondered if she had seen him looking at her. He also wondered what he would say if she had indeed caught him.
Hermione reached out and untied the message from the owl’s leg.
“It’s from Alastor Moody,” she said. “He says he’s found Fudge and wants to arrange a meeting. The owl will take our reply back to him.”
Harry scrambled through the debris on his desk until he found a spare scrap of parchment to write his reply.
“Why not write on this?” Hermione asked, holding out Moody’s note.
“No, it might be intercepted. You never know do you?”
Harry showed Hermione his scribbled reply before tying it to the owl and carrying it over to the window.
He turned back to see that a slight frown had returned to Hermione’s face.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I should have thought of that, Harry. I mean, if they knew the question as well as the answer of course they would stand a greater chance of understanding the message.”
“Harry, I would have sent a reply back before even realising how risky it was.”
“It hardly matters, does it? Mad-Eye didn’t actually name Fudge, did he?”
“That’s only because he’s paranoid.”
Harry chuckled and nodded, but Hermione didn’t smile. If anything, he realised, she was looking more annoyed with herself.
“Hermione, don’t beat yourself up over nothing,” he said reassuringly. “I’m sure you would have realised before sending the owl off again. In fact, I’m more than just sure. You would have thought long and hard about your response, wouldn’t you?”
Hermione shook her head slowly and said, “I’d like to think that, Harry. I’m just not sure.”
He was about to say something more when she continued.
“I just haven’t been able to concentrate lately,” she said quietly. “Even Professor Dumbledore’s books haven’t grabbed me like they should have.”
“Hermione, you read each of them cover to cover,” he reminded her gently.
She looked up at him, and Harry saw something in her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” he asked in a whisper. “What’s eating at you like this?”
Hermione bit her lower lip, clearly wondering whether to tell him when there was a loud crack immediately outside the door.
Harry spun around and opened the door. Tonks was standing there, clearly taken aback at the two wands now pointed straight at her.
“I just can’t get used to Apparating inside this house,” she said. “That time was worse than ever. It’s almost as if the wards are growing in strength and resisting my coming in.”
“You could have just rung the doorbell,” suggested Harry, pocketing his wand.
“No, I didn’t want to be seen.”
“Why are you here?” asked Hermione.
“Well, Mad-Eye asked me to set up the living room. I understand you have a reluctant guest coming later.”
“Yes,” replied Tonks, turning and heading down the stairs. “I had the impression that Mad-Eye won’t be giving your guest much choice in the matter.”
They followed Tonks down and into the living room.
“Yes, this room ought to be big enough,” said Tonks, raising her wand.
“Just a minute!” called Harry. “What are you going to do?”
“Harry, Fudge mustn’t know where he’s being interviewed.”
“But he knows where I live,” protested Harry. “This address was read out at my hearing.”
“Harry, please give Dumbledore some credit. The Wizengamot and Ministry records do not show where you really live. Anyone trying to find you would arrive at a place controlled by the Order. Owls and the like are allowed to continue onto here only when we are satisfied the messages are safe.”
“You read my mail?” Harry said indignantly.
“No, we only make sure it isn’t hexed and such. Dumbledore did screen out your fan mail, though. You’ve had about a ton a year since you were three, apparently.”
“Can I please get on with this?” said Tonks, not waiting for an answer. With a long slow swish of her wand the room was instantly transformed.
They were plunged into darkness the moment the window vanished.
“Blast!” said Tonks. “I always forget to light a lantern before I vanish the windows. Lumos!”
The narrow beam of bright light scanned the rough stone wall where the chimney had been a moment ago until it found a torch bracket.
Tonks flicked her wand again and several torches flamed into life.
“That’s better,” she said, looking around at her handiwork with some satisfaction. “Oh, you’ll be needing a couple of chairs too.”
“How about a door?” asked Harry.
“Door?” asked Tonks, looking around. “Well a door would give away the fact that this isn’t really a damp castle cellar, wouldn’t it. You’ll just have to Apparate in.”
“So, what will stop Mr Fudge from Disapparating right back out again?” asked Hermione.
“Oh, Mad-Eye will have that covered. He won’t release him until you agree with a pre-agreed signal.”
“What’s the signal?”
“I’ve no idea? Would you like some torture instruments on the walls? How about a rack or a grate with red-hot pokers in?”
“No thanks,” said Harry dryly. “It might give my Uncle some good ideas about how he’s going to punish me for doing this to his living room.”
Tonks just grinned at him.
“Tell us how you communicate with the Dementors?”
Fudge is brought to a disguised Privet Drive where Harry quizzes him on the Dementors. They learn of a leader of the Dementors. Fudge gives them the creature's name and tell them how to summon him.
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