Content Harry Potter
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She’d never given any thought to Puddifoot’s when she was in school; the boys who thought that she was a girl at all didn’t think that she was the sort of girl to take to Puddifoot’s – instead, they believed the stories that she was the sort of girl who’d kneel before them in dark corners in the castle, whilst their trousers were bunched around their ankles.  More than one of those boys received hexings or a savage pummelling at her hands.  She’d heard about Puddifoot’s, of course, the lace, the confetti, the cherubs, and the doilies.  Grandmum was nutters about doilies, but personally, she regarded them as a waste of handwork.  Still, the hot chocolate was good, elevating her blood sugar along with her mood as she waited for the swot.  She was going to have to work extra hard to be nice today, which was a bit of a struggle, as her body was craving sleep, which was, as always, ironic, given what she did to get so tired in the first place.

She almost didn’t recognize her when she came through the door – somewhere along the line the swot had cut her hair into a close, round cut, which, truth be told, was probably much easier to care for, but not particularly flattering.  She caught her eye and nodded. 

“Hot chocolate?” she offered as the other woman slid into the booth.

Hermione Granger shook her head and then looked at her without speaking for a minute – if she didn’t know better; she imagined that the lass was trying to exercise Legilimency or something.  Ah, there was the familiar touch on the outer border of her mind.

“It’s considered a very hostile act to pry into someone’s head uninvited,” Millicent said, pushing back with her own powers.  Dreamweavers swam in other people’s psyches – Occlumency was like breathing or blinking, something she didn’t have to think about a whole lot.

“Where’s Harry?” Hermione growled.

“What’s the trigger to release the Storm Shield?” Millicent countered.

“Why should I tell you?” Hermione spat.

“Because I can get in and release him, whereas you can’t get in without fighting your way in – and out,” Millicent said calmly.

“How do I know you know where Harry is?” Hermione asked gruffly.

“Look, can we stop with the uber-bitch games?  I don’t like you, you don’t like me, but we have a number of enemies in common, and as an item of faith, I’m asking you to believe that there’s nothing I want more than for Harry to be back with the two of you,” Millicent said, hoping that she wasn’t going to brass off the swot too much.  “I don’t have any physical evidence – but I do know what you three have been doing.  The operative word is Horcrux – you’ve been hunting them down, and sometime within the last fortnight you broke one or more of them, using Dementors to suck up the ugly afterbirth.  For some fiendishly brave and noble reason, Harry had to be up-close and personal, so you figured out how to protect him with a Storm Shield.  Something happened, and you got separated.  When you went back to find him, he was gone.  How am I doing so far?”

Hermione smiled slightly.  “Adequate,” she said curtly. 

“Harry was picked up by Snape and Malfoy.  The little ferret wanted to turn him over to the Dark Lord, probably hoping that it would atone for his long string of screw-ups.  Snape, on the other hand, wanted to know how many Horcruxes you’ve managed to find and destroy.  Why he wants to know this, I don’t know, but he’s not nearly as eager to turn Harry over to the Dark Lord as his creepy little companion,” Millicent explained. 

“I thought you were part of Malfoy’s little posse,” Hermione said.

“I was, but that doesn’t mean much.  There are worse things in Slytherin than Malfoy’s motley mob,” Millicent said, enjoying the alliteration.

“So how do you know all of this?” Hermione asked.

“Snape wanted to know what Harry knew, but he didn’t dare try to lift the Storm Shield, so he paid me to find out the answers to a few questions,” Millicent answered.

“But, how could you get that information – unless – you’re not a Dreamweaver, are you?  That’s how you got my mobile number?”

“You’re as clever as people say you are, Miss Granger – or is it Mrs. Weasley these days?”

Hermione looked down and blushed a bit.

“Not yet,” she answered.

“In Harry’s dreams you two are happily married,” Millicent said.

“Yeah, well, consider the source,” Hermione parried. 

“So, while we’re on the couple-y topic, whatever happened between Harry and the Weasley girl?” Millicent asked.

“They, uh, had a bit of a falling out when we left school,” Hermione said.  She poured herself a cup of chocolate, looking hard at Millicent again.  “Why do you care?  Do you  fancy him?”

Millicent laughed – a loud, barking laugh.  “I reckon a lot of girls fancy him, yourself included,” Millicent said.  “Most of us are going to be disappointed; I have no illusions about where I stand with Harry.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Hermione asked, a curious smile playing on her lips.

Millicent leaned forward, drawing on the tabletop with her finger as she spoke.

~+~

It had been a long day of practicum, a day when Harry had almost been caught, due to a wandering attention span prompted by fatigue.  Millicent had stayed at his flat studying later than usual last night – she wanted to make sure that whatever Esther and her new boyfriend were up to, they wouldn’t still be at it by the time she came home. 

Millicent’s behaviour kept him a bit off-base – when they’d cross paths at the Auror Training Centre, she’d nod and smile – everyone at the Centre assumed that they’d been friends at Hogwarts.  They assumed wrong, of course.  Off campus she was sometimes the flirty woman he’d taken on that first date, and sometimes just a friend who used him as a ready, sympathetic ear.  On rare occasions they’d be friends who’d snog while standing up, usually at the end of a social evening together. 

Whatever shortcomings Millicent might have, the girl knew how to kiss. 

He had the sense, at times, that she was waiting for him to take the move.  If so, she was going to be waiting for a while.  He still wasn’t over Ginny, and knew that he would be pants at anything resembling a real relationship until it no longer hurt when he thought of her, or of how he’d hashed up the last day they’d spent together.

He shook himself – he didn’t want to relive that moment right now.

Too late . . .

~+~

He’d replayed this scene a thousand times.

~+~

“Why are you doing this?” Ginny cried.  “It’s either on or it’s off, Harry.  You can’t come sneaking back into my life only to disappear again.”

“I want you to be safe,” he protested.

“Then why did you come back?”

He wasn’t sure he knew the answer himself – perhaps it was to see her one last time before leaving on a long, long journey.

“Take me with you,” she said, the fierce look he knew all too well blazing on her face.

“I – I can’t,” he stammered.

“Then don’t expect me to be waiting for you if you return,” she said coldly.  “I’m not a bauble to be locked away for safety.”

“But, Ginny, we’ve been over this before,” he protested.

“Make a choice, Harry.  I’m in your life, or I’m not.  If I’m in your life, I’m going with you,” she said fiercely.

“You’re not,” he said, dreading the explosion he knew would come.

It never did – at least as far as he could see.  Instead, there was only stillness.

“Good-bye, Harry,” she said simply, turning away from him.

The door clicked as he pulled it shut behind himself; the sound of that click, in retrospect, was deafening.

~+~

When he looked up again, he was back in his neighbourhood – the walk back from the training centre having been consumed by his memories of that terrible night.  His head hurt – perhaps it was a storm front moving in.  Once in his flat, he kicked off his shoes and then put the teakettle on the burner.  A cuppa would be good right now.

~+~

He must have turned the kettle off, but here it was screaming again – or was that Mum, screaming as she did when he’d re-live the last moments of her life when the Dementors would come near?

~+~

It was cold – so very cold.  How long before the dawn would come?

~+~

He felt a gentle touch on his eyelids, fingertips running from the bridge of his nose to the corner of his eyes.

“I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good,” a voice said.

Harry opened his eyes, looking into Millicent’s.  “I didn’t hear you come in,” he said.

“Listen, Harry, we haven’t much time,” she whispered with some urgency.  “Do you trust me?”

“Of course, you’re my friend,” he said.

Millicent squeezed her eyes shut, briefly, as if pained.  “I hope you still feel that way when all of this is over,” she said as she opened her eyes. “Listen carefully.”

“Okay.”

“About a week ago, you destroyed some Horcruxes,” Millicent murmured.  “You were using the Storm Shield charm to protect yourself from the Dementors.”

“It was cold - dark and cold,” he replied, nodding.

“You got separated from your friends, and they couldn’t pick you up in time.  Snape and Malfoy found you; you’re in Wales,” Millicent said.  “Malfoy wanted to turn you over to the Dark Lord, but Snape wanted to know how far along you were in destroying the Horcruxes.  Your Storm Shield prevented him from using Legilimency, so he hired a Dreamweaver to find out what you know about Horcruxes.”

“So I’m not in Toronto?  What about Ginny?” Harry asked, his brow knit with worry.

“Like I said, you’re in Wales.  Ginny’s alive – and I don’t think she meant it,” Millicent said.

“Why not?” Harry asked.

“Because she’s not the type to give up,” Millicent said.  “Squeeze your right hand.  What do you feel?”

“My wand,” he replied.

“Good – in a minute or two, you’re going to hear some explosions.  You need to Apparate out of here,” Millicent said.

“Can’t, I feel the wards,” Harry said.

Millicent looked surprised for a moment.  “The wards will come down when you hear the explosions,” she assured him.

“Where should I go?”

“Somewhere safe,” she answered.

“Are you coming with me?” he asked.

Millicent shook her head.  “I have business with Snape,” she replied.

“So do I,” he said, his grin turning into a look of stern resolve.

Their conversation was cut short by a chattering series of pops, which, in turn, were interrupted by a room-shaking explosion on the left and then another on the right.

Harry clenched his fist, savouring the feel of his wand again.  He could feel Millicent beside him – they were on some sort of mattress on the floor.  In an instant he was in a crouch, facing a door as it began to open into the room.  Taking careful aim, he silently banished the doorknob, forcefully, which sent the door crashing shut, snapping someone’s wrist with a sickening crunch, followed by a high, piercing scream.

~+~

Hermione was fidgeting.  When her hair was longer, she’d chew on her hair at times like this, but living on the run for two years meant giving up a lot of things, including long hair.  Ron didn’t seem to mind, though.

Ron was across the valley at the eastern site – they’d borrowed a lorry-load of equipment from the twins.  Ron didn’t give it any thought at all, given the twins’ history with fireworks, but Hermione had recognized the tubes at once, even before wiping the grime from the plate that identified it as an M2 mortar.  The anti-Apparation ward had been brought down by a soft rain of almost-conventional fireworks that substituted elemental iron for the usual pyrotechnic charge; then came the mortars.  According to plan, they were using high-explosive rounds aimed to detonate close enough to the house to rattle the teeth of the occupants, but not enough to bring down the walls – at least that was the plan.

She peered through the Omnioculars, looking for any sign of movement within the house.  Harry and Millicent were supposed to Disapparate as soon as the wards were brought down, but she’d doubted whether Harry would be cooperative.  She heard a scream – not Harry’s and not Millicent’s - and then saw a series of flashes.  Time to switch to Plan B.  She clicked a button on her mobile, receiving a quick message in reply.  Ron’s mortar boomed first, the noise from the launch of the round being quickly followed by the detonation of the round on the eastern side of the house.  The small grove of trees would be suitable for planting as an herb garden by the time they were done, no doubt.  They fed rounds into the mortars, twiddling with the cranks and knobs from time to time to vary the impact points.  As diversions went, it was reasonably effective.  There was another scream from the house, and then a spray of yellow sparks from what was left of the front door. 

Millicent came through the door first, followed closely by a reedy, weed-thin figure she’d recognize under any circumstances.  Millicent pointed out her position to him, and then gestured to the other side of the valley.  Harry gave a hand signal and then Disapparated.  Hermione let out the breath she’d been holding and then pulled the plugs from her ears, giving the proper counter-sign in reply before she shrank the mortar and rounds to the size of doll-house furniture, treating the rounds with respect.  The gnawing mix of fear and hopelessness was gone – it was time to see Harry again.

~+~

Hermione Apparated through a short chain of safe spots, knowing that she’d probably not see either of the men of her life until she reached the end of the chain.  Apparating into Grimmauld Place was nothing like it had been in the past.  The portrait of Walburga Black was mercifully missing, and decades of grime and decay had been removed and replaced, thanks to the labour of a number of house-elves, under the direction of Dobby.  Harry was standing close to Millicent.  He caught her eye as she approached them, and then gestured towards the kitchen.  Whatever he was saying to her, it was obviously for her ears alone; they were surrounded by the familiar dead zone that was evidence of a privacy charm.  She nodded in reply, pushing open the kitchen door where she was welcomed, enthusiastically, by Dobby and then Ron.  Once she was in Ron’s arms, she didn’t care what Harry and Millicent were up to; it could wait.

~+~

“You were brilliant, love,” Ron exclaimed loudly after they broke their embrace.   

“Ron, you’ve still got your plugs in,” she chided gently.

“What?  Oh, so I do,” he said, grinning broadly.  He pulled the plugs from his ears and then pitched them into the fireplace.  “It’s a marvel my brothers aren’t deaf by now, playing with fireworks and motors all the time.”

“It’s mortars, Ron,” Hermione corrected, giving his shoulder a playful shove when she realized he’d mispronounced the word on purpose.

Dobby took their hats and coats with genteel efficiency, indicating a laver on a side table where they could wash the grime from their hands and faces.  Ron, of course, insisted on washing up at the same time, which was his excuse for standing close and splashing water on her.  That led to her discovery of a smudge on his face that needed cleaning, which led to another, longer embrace next to the laver.

“Dancing Dragons!  Get a room already,” Harry boomed as he pushed the kitchen door open. 

Ron pushed away from Hermione, slowly.  “So, is the hag gone?” he asked.

“Ron!” Hermione scolded.  “If it wasn’t for Millicent, we’d still be looking for Harry.”

Harry didn’t say anything, pulling up a chair at the table, taking the cup of tea proffered by Dobby.

“Good to have you back, mate,” Ron said.

“Good to be back,” he said in reply.

“Is that lipstick on the corner of your mouth?” Ron asked, a broad grin playing across his face.

Harry took another sip of tea.  “It might be,” he said.

“What about my sister?” Ron asked, his face going dark in an instant.

“Your sister, if I might remind you, Ron, told me in no uncertain terms that we were through,” Harry said with a weary tone.

“She didn’t mean it – she was just brassed off,” Ron said quickly.

“Yeah, that’s what Millie said too,” Harry said, putting his feet up on the table.  “She said I needed to work things out with Ginny if I could, and if I couldn’t …”

Ron sat down, slack-jawed.  “Millie?”

“So, what do you say we eat dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and then go to the Burrow tomorrow?” Harry asked, smiling for the first time since he’d arrived.

“Harry, not that I’m not thrilled with your suggestion, but what about Snape and Malfoy?” Hermione asked.

“They won’t be much of a threat,” Harry said blandly.

“And why not?” Hermione asked.

“Well, after a bit of a tussle, Severus and I had a heart to heart chat in which he was trussed up like a Christmas goose, and I had my wand under his chin, ripping everything he knew out of his mind through Legilimency as to where Voldemort is hiding these days.  After that, I Obliviated him – he won’t remember anything from the last month or so, I reckon.  And Malfoy?  I broke his wrist, you might have heard him scream,” Harry said with a smirk.

“I heard him scream twice,” Hermione added.

“Ahh - the second scream would be when Millie put all she had into kicking him in the stones,” Harry said, giving Hermione a surreptitious wink.  “After that, he was Obliviated too.  If they ever wake up, they’ll figure that something really bad happened, given the debris inside and out.”

“I thought she liked him,” Ron said.

“Millie?  No, she couldn’t stand him, but being a part of his little gang was useful, so she put up with him; typical Slytherin reasoning,” Harry observed.

“But Harry, why was Snape keeping you?” Hermione asked.

“We can talk about that over dinner, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather talk about something else,” Harry answered, reaching for a basket of rolls.  Dobby’s rolls were one of his favourites. 

“Right,” Hermione replied.  “But I want the full story tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Harry said. 

Ron was already piling his plate with roast beef.

It was good to be back together again – it was even better that they would be at the Burrow tomorrow. 

And the day after that? 

They’d deal with that day when it came.

++++++++++

Copyright © 2007 – J Cornell – all rights reserved

Thus ends our little story.  Going back and re-reading it carefully, you can tell, perhaps, what was real and what was not.  Gretel is Millicent Bulstrode’s given name – a name she shares with her late mother.  Millicent is her middle name.  Growing up, it was too confusing to address two people by the same name, so Gretel adopted her middle name as her common name, a habit she continued when she enrolled at Hogwarts.

Millicent is the Dreamweaver, a somewhat rare magical skill that tends to run in families.  After Dumbledore’s death, Millicent chose to end her formal education and spent the two years when the trio was engaged in the Horcrux hunt as an apprentice with her great-Aunt.  After finishing the apprenticeship, she hopes to enrol in a Healer program, depending upon how the war goes in England, but that’s another story, along with what happens the next day when the trio arrives at the Burrow.

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Author Notes:

As always, thanks to Runsamok and GardenGirl for betaing, and in the latter's case, for fine-tuning the gentle art of Draco abuse.

This story, and its companion, The Unexpected Horcrux, will be the last stories posted prior to HPDH.  Whether or not I'm inspired to write fan fiction after that will remain to be seen.  I am, however, collaborating with another author on a piece of original fiction, and charting out a short-story of my own, again, original fiction.

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