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Chapter 4 - Connecting Again
It was warmer that evening in Swansea than it was at Hogwarts, but in early December that’s not saying much. The Apparation point was next to a covered walkway that led into the kitchen, so even in inclement weather, guests could arrive without too much exposure. The entry at the kitchen was called their “back door” but almost no one entered through the grander “front door” that opened into a foyer before the great room that was used for everything the other rooms couldn’t accommodate. I remember that I’d helped Neville plan the small formal garden by the kitchen; no matter the season, there was always something that was fragrant – that night it was an especially hardened Locust tree that had been cajoled to blossom year-round.
The door was unlocked, but I felt a slight tingle in my hand before I turned the door’s lever. None of the outside doors at the Potter’s house had the typical knobs found on most doors. The only light on in the kitchen was the light under the ventilation hood above the stove. If Harry was following his normal routine that meant that he was still awake. I wasn’t at all sure what I would have done if the kitchen had been dark. I suppose I was making all this up as I went along.
I could see firelight in the living room, so that’s where I headed. Harry met me wordlessly at the door, first taking my cloak, and then enveloping me in a very welcome hug.
“I’m glad you came,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper. “I was expecting you.”
Only then did I notice a side table set with a tea service and biscuits, including some of my favourites. I chuckled – a sound I hadn’t made in quite a while.
“What?” Harry asked as he poured me a cup of tea.
“It’s so difficult to surprise you, Harry,” I said.
“I had help on this one,” he replied. “Ginny left a note.”
“That I’d be here tonight?”
“Then you know why I’m here,” I said – not quite as a question.
He raised an eyebrow in reply.
“I’ve had enough time wallowing in the dark,” I said.
“So is this the part where we discover the raging passion we’ve always had for each other, you propose and make me an honest woman?” I asked.
That query got two eyebrows raised in reply.
“I don’t think I have a lot of raging passion in me right now,” he finally said, reaching out to pour more tea in his mug.
“So it’s entirely out of the question?”
“For tonight, yes,” he said, smiling at last.
“We’ve been friends since we were eleven, how are we supposed to fall in love?” I asked.
“I’ve loved you for years,” he said.
“I know that, but I mean – I mean the other type of love, the sweaty kind,” I said, strangely flustered.
“I guess we start by taking care of each other,” Harry said, giving me a conspiratorial wink.
“That’s a start,” I said, kicking off my shoes and placing my feet in his lap.
Taking care of each other – it seemed so simple when you put it that way. Over the next few weeks, we spent time together – a lot of time together. When I was at Harry’s, I’d pull his calendar together – he could do the financial books for the farm in his head, but for some reason he was almost helpless when it came to juggling everything into his datebook. When Harry visited me at Hogwarts, he’d often help me correct papers – a necessary evil when you’re a teacher – which then gave me time that was free for other, less academic pursuits.
Being a little too old for Hogsmeade weekends, courting in my forties didn’t resemble dating in my teens at all. I thought I knew all there was to know about Harry, but when we spent time together, it became obvious that I didn’t.
Harry and I played what I called ‘the question game’ in which we’d ask each other questions – the type of questions that would probably not ever come up in mundane conversation. We each had the right to ‘pass’ on answering, but if Harry ever passed, I can’t recall it. One particular early answer particularly floored me.
“Harry, what was it like being married to Ginny with the dragon bond?” I asked.
Harry gave me a quizzical look.
“I guess the answer is ‘I don’t know,’” he answered. “The bond died when Voldemort died.”
“But,” I sputtered. “Ginny, she always knew…”
“The bond we formed at the end of the summer died when I died,” Harry explained.
“How long were you really gone?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“I’m not sure – probably three years or so, I don’t know if the years then were as long as the years now,” he replied.
“You died?” I asked. I remember years ago Harry explaining something about time travel and dragons and burning up Voldemort’s essence as the two of them were flung backwards in time. Why hadn’t I followed up on this?
Harry looked at me in reply to my question, giving a shy nod.
“You died?” I asked again.
Harry chuckled. “The answer is not going to change, dear Hermione, no matter how many times you ask the question.”
“Died as in physical death?”
“Died as in my body was burned away – all that was left was a disembodied spirit – don’t ask me to explain the how of it, I don’t know how it worked,” he said calmly.
“But you came back with a body,” I protested.
“Yes, and a decent body it’s been,” he said, pausing to point at his forehead. “No scar – Harry Potter version 2.0 – a tribute to sound genetic engineering.”
You can guess where the rest of that conversation went – I was torn between correcting my notions of Harry’s life post-Voldemort and launching an inquiry into the nature of time and mortality. I suspect that I didn’t make a whole lot of progress on either front.
Fleming said it first – nothing propinks like propinquity. It didn’t take me long to look forward to the time we’d spend together – and I began to feel flutters that I hadn’t felt since I was a school girl. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
It was a well known fact that Harry was the executor of Ron’s estate, so when he first showed up at Hogwarts, no one thought much of it – no one, that is, apart from Harry’s rather sizable fan horde at Hogwarts, some of whom were jealous of me, and others who thought that Harry could do so much better than a run-down widow cursed with a sharp tongue and an impaired sense of humour. Neville alerted me to the storm of gossip triggered by Harry’s three appearances at Hogwarts within the space of a week.
If there’s anything constant about Harry, it’s his love for privacy. The gossip spooked him - he didn’t “show up” at Hogwarts for the rest of the year. This, of course, prompted another round of conflicting and mutually exclusive strands of gossip to explain the disappearance. Those too died down within a week.
We put our heads together on how we could publicly spend time together without the Wizarding world at large (and our respective families) intruding. After a great deal of discussion, I reluctantly agreed to try Harry’s suggestion.
I remember it as a Thursday – I had no duties at school after my morning class, so with the Headmistress’ permission, I left the grounds, walked to Hogsmeade and took the Floo to Diagon Alley, where I met an old friend, Dora Lupin, known in her previous, single life as Tonks. If anyone had followed us, they would have seen two matrons sharing lunch followed by a spot of shopping. At the end of this adventure, we carried the assorted bags and parcels to Number 12 Grimmauld Place, which had for years been rented to the Lupins for the sum of a Galleon a year, payable on the first day of the year. Dora grabbed two of the bags and excused herself to her bedroom.
An entirely different woman came out of the bedroom, a tall, muscular woman, blonde with flat grey eyes. I heard a voice behind me before I felt familiar and very welcome arms wrap around me from behind.
“Very nice, Dora,” Harry said.
The woman smiled briefly and then assumed the pout favoured by fashion models. She turned and strutted back and forth, looking for all the world as if she were displaying next year’s fashions. In a way, I suppose she was.
“I can’t wear heels like that,” I objected.
“But Hermione, darling, it’s part of the look,” Dora replied in a posh drawl.
“I can’t, and I won’t,” I said resolutely.
Dora looked to Harry, who nodded. She then looked down for a moment, her face twisted in concentration. Before our eyes her legs began to stretch, adding another three inches to her height.
The height did a lot to what was already a very formidable figure.
“You find that attractive?” I asked Harry.
“Not particularly – she’s good looking, but not exactly my type – what’s important is that she’s flashy and unforgettable,” he replied.
Dora smiled. Harry let go of my waist and walked forward, placing a thin gold chain around her neck. Dora purred “Oh, Harry” as his fingers brushed against her cheek.
“Quiet, you,” he replied.
“Just trying to keep in character,” she said huskily.
Harry stepped back – the necklace glowed with a fierce red light that flared and then winked out. Dora reached behind her neck and undid the necklace, handing it silently to me. The necklace was a sophisticated bit of mixed magic that managed to pull together a constellation of transfigurations similar to what Dora could do since she was a child. She called it “Metamorphagus in a can.”
Standing before the mirror without a stitch of clothing, I wondered to myself what Harry saw in me. I looked like a tired, middle-aged mum who’d given birth to two children and raised them, more or less successfully, to adulthood. Shrugging, I closed my eyes and snapped the closure on the necklace. The only way to describe the feeling would be that, for a moment, my bones were on fire. If this was what Dora felt when she morphed, I was at a loss why she didn’t scream every time. The only reason I wasn’t yelping was that Dora had warned me ahead of time that it would be ‘a bit uncomfortable – no, make that bloody unpleasant.’
When I opened my eyes and looked into the mirror again, I was looking at the tall, muscular blond model.
“Oh, my goodness,” I said, turning to the clothing laid out on the bed. This was suddenly exciting, a grown-up version of playing dress-up at a friend’s house.
I was glad I’d insisted on wearing flats – it was hard enough to walk with longer legs and a different centre of gravity. The new shape had a bit more bust than I was used to, but smaller than I’d been when nursing my children.
I opened the door a little harder than I’d intended – it smacked into the wall with a clang, which ruined my dramatic entrance, but I made the best of it, striding out into the room. Dora and Harry gave me polite applause.
Harry came up to me, slightly surprised as he placed his hands on my waist. In flats I was a good three inches taller than he was. He leaned forward kissed my cheek.
“I greatly prefer the original,” he whispered.
“Thank you,” I replied.
That was the first time he’d kissed me in this chapter of our lives – later that night I thought about it and it rankled – he could kiss the blond, but he hadn’t (yet) kissed the brunette. I put my resentment down to a bit of ancient bimbo-envy.
And so we began a long-running operation to convince the world that the previously reclusive Harry Potter was now making selective appearances with a woman who was referred to in a broad spectrum of terms, ranging from ‘an elegant unknown’ to ‘the Amazon princess.’ Dora was particularly proud of that last appellation.
It was surprisingly liberating to be able to appear with Harry without anyone knowing who I was – the public believed me to be a woman named Greta Englebrecht, but try as they might, the background of the mysterious Miss Englebrecht yielded precious little in hard facts. Whether it was this sense of liberation, or the growing infatuation I was experiencing with Harry, I didn’t know and didn’t care. The only difficult aspect of this was not blabbing everything like a manic idiot when I was back at Hogwarts garbed in the dowdy form of Hermione Weasley, academic and widow in mourning.