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Stories from the Vault
The Phoenix Reborn - Chapter 4 - Lost and Found
A bit of explanation - I've been lucky enough to collaborate with a number of good writers. My long-time friend Mr.Intel proposed a story to me a while back - it was going to be his big
attempt at writing a H-Hr story. His premise was the Harry won the war, but at a high cost - All of the Weasleys are dead, except Molly. The Wizarding government is in shambles, and by
odd circumstance, Hermione ends up being selected to act as the caretaker in rebuilding the government.
Harry has gone into self-imposed exile - after defeating Voldemort, his magic was essentially used up. He travels for a while and then resettles in a town in Endland called, ironically enough, Potter's End.
This is chapter 4 from that collaboration
Lost and Found
I don’t believe the devil,
I ain’t gonna be his slave,
and when I’m finished dying,
I’m gonna bust out of my grave
Serving as Praetor was not all that different from being Head Girl, there were meetings, reports and an endless stream of owls, memos and fire calls. She'd intended to rent a flat of her own, close to the now rebuilt Ministry of Magic building, but Molly had entreated her to stay at the Burrow. One thing led to another, and two years after the war, after he'd turned up missing, she concluded that enough was enough. She talked quietly to her secretary and an appointment was made for her last meeting of the day. Feeling accomplished, she returned to the stack of message slips and parchments on her desk, falling into a now familiar rhythm. Lunch came and went, most days it was a sandwich at her desk, lovingly packed by Molly the night before. Hermione abhorred "working lunches" and the heads of various departments had learned to stop requesting them, as she usually came late and left early, eating nothing. On Fridays, Brigit, her secretary, would convince her to go out for lunch, usually something fast from the kabob shop or the Chinese restaurant in Muggle London, not far from the border between Magical and Muggle sections of town. As today was not Friday, she had the liberty of eating when it was convenient, although if she had not unwrapped her sandwich by 2:00, Brigit would begin to fuss.
Moey sauntered into the office, nodding at Brigit. There weren't many people who didn't know the quiet one-eyed Auror, one of the most senior to survive the war. Rather than taking a seat in the outer office, she fiddled with the window, shuffling through the false views until a facsimile of the view across from St. Mungo's appeared. She had no particular love of the false storefront, but if one looked to the left on this view, one could see not only the street, but the park across the street, which was a reliable indicator of daylight and weather. Moey hated surprises of any sort. A light winked out on Brigit's desk. She nodded at Moey, who pushed the heavy oak door open and walked into the office of the de facto Minister of Magic.
"You called for me, Madam Minister?" Moey said, her fingers unconsciously adjusting the strap on her eye-patch, dyed blue to match her robes.
Hermione looked up from her desk, bristling at the title. "We've been over this before, Miss Knight. I prefer Hermione, if you wish to be formal, Miss Granger will do or Praetor if you must, but I am not now, nor will I ever be the Minister of Magic," she said, pointing to the chair across from her desk.
"Well, now that we have the usual out of the way, what can I do for the Praetor?" Moey asked with a smile.
"My congratulations, for one - a very nice job rounding up the Young Dragons in Brighton; I'm also very pleased with your progress in getting the Auror Apprentice Centre on track. The Privy Council is no longer growling at me every month, for which I am truly thankful," she said, fussing with a Muggle biro on her desk.
"I'm going to assume that you didn't call me into your office to save time writing notes," Moey said. Hermione's notes were legendary within the Ministry - most every employee had received at least one over the past two years.
"No, I didn't. It's time, Moey. I need him back again," Hermione said, leaning back in her chair, rubbing her forehead. There was no need to specify which him she was discussing. Moey had been the case officer who looked into his original disappearance.
"Is that a personal need or a need of the Ministry?" Moey parried.
"Does it matter? I need my friend back. The ministry needs him, he could be a unifying force as we rebuild. He could teach at the Apprentice Centre," she said with a laugh.
"I don't think it's a good idea, Madame Praetor. He's somewhere, living under an assumed name. From what little the Goblins tell me, he made a sizeable withdrawal two years ago, and has made a few odd withdrawals and deposits since then, using several layers of cut-outs. He doesn't want to be found, goodness knows he's earned that right," Moey said.
Hermione stood up, standing behind her swivel chair. "Will you refuse the request?" she asked pointedly.
"When I can no longer serve my government in good conscience, I will tender my resignation, Madam Praetor. I don't see that happening anytime soon," Moey said. "There is one catch, however."
"And that is?" Hermione asked, her curiosity piqued.
"I'll find him, but I'm not bringing him in; that'll be your job, if you're up to it," Moey said.
"Fair enough. When can you begin?" Hermione asked.
"A day or so to wind up things at the Apprentice Centre, let's say a fortnight to find him. I'll need to work through Muggle channels, as he's most certainly not living in any of the Magical villages or settlements," she said.
"Excellent - the bursar will provide whatever you need - if you have need of anything the Ministry can provide, do not hesitate to call me. Brigit knows where I am most days whether I like it or not," Hermione said.
"Yes Ma'am," she said with a smile. "He's out there - I can find him, I'm sure of it."
Hermione nodded, remaining standing until Moey left her office, closing the door behind her. Looking at her calendar, she decided to call it a day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays she exercised after work, on nice days a run through Muggle London, on less than nice days, swimming laps at a private health club. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she Apparated to the Training Centre, where she would use the combat simulator. She'd raised eyebrows more than once when she regularly scored as high as, and often higher than some of the instructors. It was a pointed reminder to many of the paper-pushers that she'd been appointed Praetor in part because of her grasp of the minutiae of government, but also in recognition of her leadership in battle. She knew what many called her, 'the Iron Maiden' being one of the more complimentary terms. She neither craved nor needed affection from her colleagues, but respect was the coin of her realm. She touched the whisper patch on her desk, calling to Brigit. "Brigit, I'm going to the Training Centre, then back to the Burrow. Do I need to bring anything home?"
There was shuffle of papers on Brigit's end of the connection. "Molly wants a pound of tea and a new tin of Floo powder," Brigit said in a disinterested tone.
"P-G Tips okay, or should I spring for something nicer?" Hermione called back.
"Tips should be okay unless you plan on hosting the Queen this month," Brigit replied.
Hermione closed the whisper patch. "Not very likely," she said, pulling a face. It would be good to obliterate some targets today. It had been one of those days.
The next day at work she put the meeting with Moey out of her mind, confident that if he could be found, Moey would find him. The day assumed its normal rhythm, as did the days that followed. One day short of the fortnight, Brigit smiled broadly when Hermione returned from a meeting with the Exchequer. "Moey called," she said tersely. "She’s found him."
It was good to get out of the office, doing normal things that normal people did. Following Moey’s instructions, she Apparated to the regional airport and rented an automobile, not her first such transaction, but new enough that she read through all the paperwork very carefully. In the end, she supposed Brigit was right: bumf was bumf in both worlds. She was on the motorway for a very short time before she took the exit, looking for the restaurant Moey had named in her message. As she parked her car, she looked at her watch and smiled — she was five minutes early. Tapping her sleeve, she locked the car and stepped into the restaurant. Although she saw Moey’s distinctive dark hair above one of the booths, she scanned the restaurant before walking to the booth.
"How’s your mother?" she asked.
"All the rain’s been bad for her joints, but she’s otherwise tip-top," Moey replied, the countersign that the meeting was without complications. Hermione sat down, startled for a moment when she looked across the table and saw two eyes looking back at her.
"Is that what I think it is?" she asked pleasantly.
Moey smiled and nodded. "Madeye’s unit was a prototype. The third generation models come in a variety of colours and don’t wobble about as much. I only wear it when I’m in the field," she explained, pulling a large manila envelope from her satchel, pushing it across the table. "It’s all here," she said wearily, "home address, work address and my best guess as to his regular schedule. He seems to be playing house with a Muggle girl."
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"I don’t know what the relationship is — she may be his housekeeper for all I know, but they are in the flat together most nights. She’s a looker, but nothing like Harry’s girl," Moey reported.
"Well, that’s some comfort, I suppose," Hermione said.
"You two could be sisters — she’s maybe five years older and a stone heavier," Moey said, smiling slyly.
"I’m not scouting for rivals, Moey, I’m trying to find a friend, a friend our world needs again," Hermione said without much conviction.
"Yeah, right, whatever. I’d best be going before the Praetor sacks me for impertinence," she said, placing a bank note on the table to cover the cost of her coffee. "Do be cautious when you approach him — he’s likely to be very wary of any unexpected contact from our world."
Hermione nodded, opening the envelope. The waitress came by with her order, dropping it off wordlessly as she read the terse report and scanned the pictures. He’d filled out a little and his hair was definitely longer, but there was no mistaking him for anyone else. Her stomach cramped. What if he didn’t want to come back? What then?
Hermione shook her head before she entered the shop, hoping to clear her head; it was to no avail, her head felt like her stomach, queasy and unsettled. The shop was apparently a bit of a neighbourhood centre, hardware shop with luncheon bar. As she pushed the door open, a bell jingled. The shop was filled with sounds, a clerk pulling boxes of merchandise for a customer, murmured conversations and the sound of a coffee machine burbling its last gasp of coffee into a waiting carafe. The Muggle girl from Moey’s dossier was behind the lunch counter, wiping it down with a dish cloth.
"Can I help you, Miss?" she asked Hermione pleasantly.
"I don’t know, I’m looking for a bloke," Hermione answered.
"Well, while we do cater to most Do It Yourself projects, we haven’t carried blokes for years," the woman jibed. Hermione extracted an old photograph, one taken from a prior lifetime by the late Dennis Creevy, sliding it across the counter. She noted with some satisfaction the immediate look of recognition on the woman’s face. The woman did resemble her in a superficial way, Hermione thought, watching her face as she studied the picture. The woman pushed the photograph back across the table. "He’s not here. He’ll be up at the flat above the shop for dinner at 8:00, if you don’t have plans you can join us. My name’s Meghan, what’s yours?" she asked, extending a hand. Hermione gave it a perfunctory shake.
"Hermione, Hermione Granger," she answered.
"Oh, you’re the swot!" Meghan exclaimed with a smile. "James tells stories about you, you know. Said you were the cleverest woman in your year. Me, I didn’t do well in school — I was a messed up little bint in my teens. I’m what you’d call a late bloomer," she said, smiling at her own remark. "Come by the flat at half past six, I suspect that we have things to talk about," she said softly.
Hermione nodded and left the store, relishing the opportunity to do something spontaneous and pointless like browse the shops of a small town. The bell tinkled as the door closed.
A few bank notes and several hours later, Hermione parked her rental car down the street from the hardware store. The stairway to the flat above the store was beside the rear entrance on the alleyway. When she knocked at the door, she heard an intercom squawk, transmitting a tinny version of Meghan’s voice. "It’s open, come on in," she said.
The flat was wide, well lit, and once you closed the door, you wouldn’t know that it was a walk-up over a shop.
"If you need the loo, it’s by the kitchen," Meghan called out from somewhere in the flat. Hermione settled down in what she supposed was the living room. An every day tea service was set out on a low table next to the couch. Hermione put her purse down on the couch and poured a cup of tea.
"Can I pour you some tea, Meghan?" she called out.
"Please do," she replied, "sugar, no cream."
Meghan appeared from the back of the kitchen. She’d changed from the knit top bearing the shop’s logo into an ivory coloured tee shirt that stretched taut across her chest. She took a quick sip from her tea cup and then excused herself into what was obviously Harry’s bedroom, returning with a thin album.
"You’ve changed since school," Meghan said.
"Oh, not so much; I cut my hair, mainly," Hermione replied.
"I’ve watched James since I met him — certain women would catch his eye — redheads and bushy-haired brunettes. The rest of the female complement of the Kingdom is pretty much ignored," she said, tugging on her shoulder length dark blonde hair.
"I wouldn’t say that you’ve been ignored," Hermione said cautiously. "James was always a bit of an idiot about girls, but you made it, eh?"
Meghan’s face changed. "It’s not like it looks," she began.
"I’m not judging you," Hermione interrupted, hoping that she hadn’t ruined things entirely.
Meghan sighed and opened the album. "Fill in some pieces for me, will you? Who are these people?" she asked.
Hermione gasped as she looked at the pictures. Over the years, she’d assembled several albums for Harry, but this album was made up of copies, Muggle copies, of some of his favourite magical photographs. On the first page was a photograph from first year, a tiny Hermione wedged between petite versions of Ron and Harry.
"Is that you?" Meghan asked.
"Yeah, now you know why I had it cut," Hermione said with a chuckle.
"Who’s the other bloke?"
"That’s Ron, he was Harry’s best friend," Hermione said, hoping that she could stop the flood of emotions that was rising up within her.
"He’s dead. He died around the time we finished school," Hermione said softly.
Meghan turned the page. The main photo showed the common room during sixth year final exams. Ron was asleep on the couch, mouth open, and head thrown back. Hermione was using his lap as a pillow, a large book held out in front of her. Harry was standing in the background, his arms around Ginny. She sniffled as she remembered that in the magical version of this photograph, her two friends would steal a kiss when no one was looking.
"And this?" Meghan asked.
"That’s Ron, of course. He was always a sound sleeper. One afternoon he fell asleep before dinner. A few of my roommates decorated him liberally with makeup. We never let on that he’d been altered, so he made his way to the dining hall looking like a seven year old girl who’s been playing with Mummy’s makeup," Hermione said, glad to remember something light from dark times.
"And the bird," Meghan asked.
"Ginny, she was Ron’s sister. They talked of marriage after school," Hermione replied.
"Yeah, she died the same day as her brother," Hermione said.
"What, you guys in a war or something?" Meghan asked.
"It’s a long story — I’ll let James decide how much he wants to share."
"What did you call him then?" Meghan asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Everyone in town knows him as James Evanson, but there is no such lad in all of England. What did he call himself then?"
Hermione chewed her lip. She supposed that Harry had his reasons to assume a new name, but she was reluctant to breach his secrets, even those not entrusted to her for safekeeping. "I knew him as Harry," she replied after some deliberation.
"His folks still alive?"
"No, they died when he was just a bit more than a year old," Hermione said.
"When did you meet him?"
"When I was eleven, we met on the train going up to school before the first day of classes. We were friends for seven years before he left," Hermione said, digging into her purse for a tissue.
"Before he became James," Meghan observed.
"Yeah, before that," she replied. "So, how did you meet him?"
"I met him in a tavern before I almost got gang raped," Meghan said before looking away. "I’ve got a medical problem — when my chemistry gets out of whack, I go a little crazy - it’s like an alcoholic bender without all the liver damage, although I was doing a good deal of drinking then too, come to think of it. To make a long story short, I was fairly pissed and a bunch of louts were arguing over who was going to have me first when the tavern closed. I wasn’t terribly opposed to the idea, but I found the biggest lout to be a bit much. He started carrying me out of the tavern; James walloped him and took me off to his flat. When I sobered up a bit the next day I was a bit surprised," she said, looking up at Hermione.
"I’m not, James has always had this thing for saving people," she said.
"He ever save you?" Meghan asked.
"A couple of times — I wasn’t pissed though."
"Is that better or worse?" Meghan asked slyly.
"Worse — I didn’t have any good excuses other than my own stupidity," Hermione pointed out.
"So there I was in a flat I’d never seen before, tucked nicely in bed with a bloke I’d never seen before snoring away on the couch. I didn’t remember any black haired blokes with glasses chatting me up the night before," she said with a giggle.
Hermione giggled too. "No, he wasn’t the chat-up type. He was more of the storm the castle and rescue fair maiden type."
"Well, I hadn’t been a maiden for many years, but he probably saved my life that night. I didn’t have a place to stay, he helped me get dried out and back on my medicine, all the time I’m staying in his flat, wondering when he’s going to try to get into my knickers. I got right peeved after a while, wondering if I’d lost my touch with men," Megan said, uttering a hearty laugh. "I even went so far as to ask him if he was bent. I figured I could set him up with an old odd boyfriend or something," she said, rambling on. "He bought the shop from my grandmother, offered me a job and a place in this flat after we renovated it — said he didn’t want to live alone. Oddest living arrangement since Mum kicked me out of the house when I turned eighteen," Megan said with a sigh. "So that’s my sordid tale."
"So you’re not the girlfriend then?" Hermione asked.
Meghan laughed. "Not for lack of trying. We’ve shared a snog or two and I’ve spent a night or three in his bed, but he’s never done anything other than hold me," she said.
Hermione cocked an eyebrow.
"It was the nightmares. Did he have them before?"
"Yeah - they got pretty bad at times," Hermione said softly.
"The first few times I tried to wake him up — he about took my head off. One week he was going on for three nights running. In desperation, I just slipped into his bed. That quieted him right down. Don’t look at me like that! Of course I hoped that he’d wake up and we’d fool around, but most times he’d wake up before me. I’d find him making breakfast. It made for some awkward mornings, I can tell you."
"Do you care for him?" Hermione asked.
"It depends on when you ask. He saved me from myself, at a time when I was working hard on throwing my life away. He’s been a decent friend and I couldn’t ask for a better flatmate. I thought at one time that I loved him, but he never had any room in his heart for me. I think that spot’s still taken. Now I know," she said wistfully.
"What they had was special," Hermione whispered.
"How about you?"
Hermione let out a breath, as her emotions briefly surged to the surface. "I loved Ron, I really did, but I never thought we’d end up together. We fought too much. After he died... I’ve just been too busy. I’ve gone out once or twice, but nothing’s really clicked."
"So you came back for Harry?" Meghan asked.
"It’s not like that," Hermione protested. "Harry was part of my life for seven years, and the past two years have been a mess without him. I need my friend back," Hermione said, hoping that she sounded convincing.
"Fair enough," Meghan replied. "I knew he had a past, and I always figured that his old life would come for him — I’d watch him in the store — whenever certain people would come in, he’d give them the gimlet eye as if he were looking into their souls. He seemed disappointed more than once. Well, enough of that, I’m glad to meet you, and I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you again. I’ve got things to do in the kitchen to make sure supper is finished."
"Anything I can do to help?" Hermione asked.
"I’m not too friendly in the kitchen — I usually want people to stay out of my way — so no, I don’t need anything other than conversation," Megan replied as she turned into the kitchen, and began to open and close cupboards and drawers.
Hermione settled back on the sofa, digesting their conversation. Meghan was obviously fond of Harry, and he no doubt was fond of her, but chances were good that she could talk him into coming back if she played things right. She had to — she could not fail at this.
Meghan popped back in from the kitchen. "Can you set the table for three?" she asked pleasantly. "The flatware and plates are in the buffet next to the table."
"Sure," Hermione replied. Opening the likely drawers, she found the flatware, setting out the usual plates, cups, flatware and serviettes. "Now what?" she called to Meghan.
"Now we wait," Meghan replied. "Normally he’s as punctual as the Post — I’m the one who is always tardy for one reason or another; it always drives him batty when the shoe is on the other foot. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s kept me waiting, and each time he’s called ahead to let me know."
"If he does call, don’t let on that I’m here, I’d like it to be a surprise," Hermione said.
"He hates surprises," Meghan said doubtfully.
"Yeah, but I think this way is best," she said. Meghan nodded in reply.
A faint click announced his arrival. He entered the flat, tossing a satchel onto the floor next to the door, a coat onto a coat tree and hooked Meghan around the waist, kissing the top of her head when he froze, seeing the back of Hermione’s head. There was an instant of silence before he exploded into action, pushing Meghan under the table and tackling Hermione, straddling her with his legs while pinning her hands to the floor.
"James, what’s going on?" Meghan asked in a frightened voice.
"Meggy, you need to trust me on this — bring me a steak knife from the kitchen and a length of rope from my climbing bag in the wardrobe," he hissed.
"This is your friend, Hermione, James," Meghan protested.
"Please do as I ask. The real Hermione is dearer to me than life, but I’m not sure we have the genuine article here," he growled.
Meghan crawled out from under the table, fetching a length of rope and a knife. Harry calmly searched his captive and then moved her to a dining room chair, tying her torso to the chair, leaving her hands free.
"Meghan, look in her purse — you’re looking for a wooden stick, like a conductor’s baton," Harry growled.
"Sure, James," Meghan protested, "but I still don’t like this."
"I don’t like it either, but the old crowd played rough. If I’m right, I just saved both of our lives. If I’m wrong, I owe her one heck of an apology," he explained.
Meghan searched Hermione’s purse, bringing out a familiar looking wand.
"Yeah, that’s it — keep a hold of it for now. Under no circumstances can you let her have it until I say so, can you do that, Meggy?"
"All right. I trust you, James," Meghan replied.
"Thanks," he said, turning back to his prisoner. "Now, witch, we’re going to have a little talk. Hands flat on the table. I ask, you answer, and nobody gets hurt. Understand?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. She made a sour face as she remembered Moey’s warning. Looking up at Harry a chill of fear passed over her — his face was unreadable, he had on the game face, looking as he did that night two years ago when they lost everything. The questions began.
"What’s your middle name?"
"What did you say when you met me on the train?"
"Name our Defence teachers."
"When did you figure out Lupin’s disease?"
"Who gave me my first kiss and what did I say about it?"
"What did you say to Ron after the Yule Ball?"
Hermione answered each question calmly, and correctly.
"For the smartest girl in our year, you certainly took a risk popping in like this," he said, untying the rope binding her to the chair. Hermione relaxed, glad to be free of the restraints, a feeling not unlike the relief she’d felt when she finished her last N.E.W.T. "By the way," he whispered, "how was Ron in the sack?"
She snapped as the anger surged within her before she could restrain her impulse. It was as if someone else was moving her hand as she tried to slap Harry, someone else who spat in his face after he caught her hand, but it wasn’t someone else who collapsed into his arms, alternately raging and sobbing.
"I’m so terribly sorry," Harry whispered, as he held Hermione tighter. "It was the only thing I could think of to test for Imperius." Hermione’s sobs retreated into wet sniffles and she nodded. "Please forgive me?"
Hermione nodded again into his shoulder and slapped his other one, hard. "I forgive you."
"James, would you mind terribly much explaining just what the blazes happened?" Meghan asked.
"Harry, the statute," Hermione warned.
"Hang the statute," Harry retorted. "I’m sick of the lies," he sighed.
"Uh, James, or Harry or whatever your name is now, I have a little confession to make," Meghan said.
Harry turned to stare at her as if she’d just grown a third arm.
"I know what you are. You’re a wizard, she’s a witch. My Gran’s what you lot would call a Squib. I grew up on stories of wands and brooms and Quidditch," Meghan said sheepishly.
"When did you figure it out?" he asked.
"The second night I was sober in your old flat," she said meekly. "I found a magical picture and a couple of Galleons when I was rooting around in your stuff," she said.
"You never asked," Harry said in amazement.
"It wasn’t my business. You had your secrets, I owed you my life. Staying out of your secrets was the least I could do," Meghan said quietly.
Harry staggered over to Meghan, embracing her and planting a kiss on her forehead. "I’m sorry, Meggy," he said, turning to Hermione, sitting next to her. He took both of her hands in his own. "I’m sorry, Hermione. I’m sorry I didn’t leave a note, I’m sorry I never came back for you. You must hate me for this. Please forgive me," he said, tears beginning to stream from his face.
"I could never hate you, Harry," Hermione said, feeling a shiver of relief.
"Very touching, Harry, but I still don’t have a clue as to what just happened," Meghan said lightly.
"It’s time, I guess," Harry sighed. "Time for my sordid story. You can’t understand tonight unless you understand my screwed up life. My mum and dad were murdered when I was a tot, leaving me as an orphan. The same wizard who killed them tried to kill me, only something screwed up and he lost his power, leaving me an orphan with an interesting scar," Harry said, lifting his fringe. "I was raised by my Aunt and Uncle, who hated me, feared me, and never lost a chance to let me know that I was worthless. It wasn’t a total loss, however, as I learned how to cook, clean and do most anything in the garden, which has stood me in good stead over the years. I discovered that I was a wizard when I was eleven. I went to school, met Ron, met Hermione, learned a lot of magic, and then learned that Tom was alive and well, and bound and determined to kill me before I finished school. Oh, along the way my best friends fell in love and I fell in love with my mate’s sister. There was a war going on — dark magic against light, and I was at ground zero. The final battle occurred the night we finished school, during our leaving feast. It was awful. I lived, the bad guy died, Hermione survived, but everyone we loved was gone. That’s why I left. I lost Ron, lost my girl; I even lost my pet owl. Adding insult to injury, a day later I discovered that I’d lost my magic. I knew I couldn’t stay in the magical world — I’d go mad, so I left. I bummed around a while before I decided that â€˜Potter’s End’ was a fitting place to hide. My parents had left me a spot of money, so I settled and bought a business that didn’t involve cleaning or yard work. I’m sorry, Hermione. If I’d left a note, I would have lost the nerve. I had to get away," he said, placing his hand on Hermione’s.
"Harry, can I have my wand back?" she asked.
Harry nodded at Meghan, who returned it solemnly, grip first.
"Now, listen carefully, Harry Potter. There’s nothing wrong with my magic, and if you try to apologize one more time I’m going to let loose with two years of fury, do you hear me?" she said.
"Loud and clear, Ma’am," he said, giving her hand a squeeze.
"Okay, but can you explain why you jumped your best friend like she was some sort of ninja assassin?" Meghan asked.
Harry pulled a face, seemingly searching for words. Hermione interrupted. "In the magical world, things are often not what they seem," she explained. "There are ways of impersonating someone so accurately that for a short while, even a wife or mother couldn’t tell who was real and who the impostor was."
"Which, of course, is why the brightest witch of my year got asked an embarrassing series of questions that only she knew the answer to," Harry said.
"What about the last question?" Meghan asked delicately.
"Ah, that," Harry said. "There’s another bit of magic in which a person can be controlled, making them do terrible things that they would never do otherwise. That’s the Imperius curse. When you’re under Imperius, you’re kind of blissful — it’s almost impossible to get angry. It was the only thing I could think of on short notice that would make her either spit or cry, or both. I felt lower than a worm when I did it, if that’s any consolation," he said, glancing at Hermione. "I always did feel bad when I made you cry."
"Fascinating, simply fascinating, but are we going to eat any time soon? I’m hungry!" Megan asked in a childish tone.
Harry looked at Hermione before they both broke out laughing. "Yes, Meggy, I think we can stop telling tales long enough to feed your hungry tummy. What’s for supper anyway?" he asked.
"I thought you’d never ask — lasagne, fresh bread from Kallman’s, some steamed green beans and cobbler," she announced proudly.
"Wow, trying to impress our guest or something?" Harry asked.
"Something like that — I didn’t want her to think that you’ve lived on take-out for the past two years," she said with a smirk.
"You’re the best, Meggy," Harry said.
"Yeah, right; that explains the long line of suitors on bended knee," she said sharply.
"Meggy, we’ve been over that before," Harry said warily.
"Yes, dear, and good flatmates are as hard to find as good suitors, so I’ve come out ahead," she replied. Popping into the kitchen she brought out several dishes from the warming oven. "Let’s eat."
Supper was excellent. Meghan and Hermione seemed to have claimed an easy rapport, threading their conversation between numerous topics. Harry and Hermione seemed to have picked up their friendship as if they had been apart two hours rather than two years. Only one topic was never broached, until Harry raised it as they loaded the dishwasher.
"So, who’s left?" he asked.
"From our house and year, just us," Hermione answered sombrely.
"And the Weasleys?"
"Only Molly," she whispered, reopening old wounds for both of them.
"That was her greatest fear," he said, referencing the visions from the Grimmauld Place Boggart, "losing them all."
"She went mad for a while. I’ve been living with her, ever since I got out of the hospital," she said, not pointing out that Harry’s disappearance had hurt her almost as much as the deaths of her husband and children.
"I need to see her," he said resolutely.
"I want you to come back, Harry," she said plaintively. "To stay for good."
"I can’t," he said, avoiding her gaze.
Meghan’s voice rang out from her bedroom. "Harry?"
"I need to do laundry tonight, after that I’m turning in. Where’s Hermione sleeping tonight?" she asked.
"Do you have a room at the Bosworth Hotel?" he asked, reluctantly meeting her eyes. "It’s the only one near the village."
Hermione shook her head.
"You can have my room." he offered.
"I can’t do that." Hermione protested.
"How about my couch — it folds out into a fairly comfortable bed I’m told," he cajoled, pleading in his eyes.
"I can stay," Hermione said.
"She’ll be on the couch, Meggy," Harry called.
Minutes later, Meghan walked through, dragging a large bag of laundry behind her. When she returned from the kitchen, she tossed Hermione a flannel nightgown. "If you like them roomy, this should be just fine, I’m not that much bigger than you are." Turning to Harry, she said, "If you two need to talk very long, I need you to take it to your room. I need my sleep tonight; I’m opening the shop in the morning."
"Yes, Ma’am," he answered.
"And Harry?" Meghan interjected.
"If you’re, uh, sleeping alone, could you please leave your door open?"
"Right," he said, blushing slightly. Meghan beat a hasty retreat. When he looked up, he saw that Hermione was glowing a bright red herself. Harry opened the door to his bedroom, pausing for a moment. "Desk chair or bed? Meghan seems to think that you have pillow privileges with me," he said, trying to maintain a straight face. "What did you two talk about before I arrived?" he asked.
"Oh, you know, the usual. How we met, how you and she met, which bed she ends up in come morning, that sort of thing," she said lightly.
"I see," he replied.
"Harry," she said, moving close to him, wrapping her arms around his waist, "you haven’t done anything wrong. Meghan says that you’ve been a perfect gentleman. I didn’t expect that you’d pine away as a celibate monk all this time. You’re an attractive man," she said, giving him a squeeze before placing a delicate kiss on his cheek.
Harry pulled the desk chair out from the desk, turning it around so he could use the seat back as an arm rest. "I have," he said simply.
"Uh, the celibate part, not the monk part. I can’t chant and incense makes me sneeze, At least I think I’ve been celibate, there were some nights I don’t remember," he said with a nervous laugh.
"Well, Meghan says that nothing happened, so that’s the story I believe," Hermione replied.
"Is that important?" Harry asked.
"To me? No," she said quickly; too quickly. She kicked off her shoes. "Rub my feet?"
"I’m not as good as Ron," Harry protested.
"Hush. Consider this part of your penance."
"Yes, Mother Superior," Harry said with a snicker. He moved from the chair to the foot of the bed, manoeuvring her feet onto his lap, starting with the ball of her right foot.
Hermione let out a throaty purr. "Oh, that feels good," she exclaimed loudly.
"Could you say that again, a little louder, I’m not sure that Meghan heard you," Harry said semi-seriously.
"Oh mercy," Hermione moaned, "what would Rita say? â€˜Boy who lived in Squib/Swot Love Triangle," before dissolving into a fit of giggles. "That is heavenly. I’ll try to keep my appreciative noises to a respectable volume," she said, a broad smile appearing.
"How about â€˜Oi, Harry, nobody does it like you?’"
"No, that was Lavender’s line - she only did it to stoke Seamus’ ego, you know," Hermione said conspiratorially.
Harry worked in silence for a while. It had been years since he’d done this, for anyone. "I was pretty numb when I first met Meghan. I didn’t start to feel things for her until we moved into this flat. I had a lot of long chats with Ginny about it," Harry said, looking off into space.
"But Harry," Hermione said, trying to figure out a way to say it delicately, "she’s, uh... dead."
"I’m well aware of that. Some nights she comes into my dreams. I don’t know if it’s her, or just a very active imagination. Either way, it’s a lot better than the nightmares that come on the other nights," he said.
"Is it comforting?" Hermione asked.
"So, what did she say about Meghan?"
"Just the usual questions — you know how Ginny learned to do that from Molly. Did I love her? Meghan that is, Ginny knows that I never stopped loving her. Do I want to grow old with her? Do I want her to bear and raise my children? â€˜If the answer is yes, Harry, than by all means go ahead, I’m sure she’s willing. But if the answer to any of them is no, then you’re not ready yet, and you’d just be using her, and you’re not like that’," Harry said in a breathy replica of Ginny when she was lecturing him.
"Spot on, I’d say. Other foot now," she said comfortably, smoothing her skirt down. "So, what about the magic?" she asked.
"Gone, apparently; I tried a simple Accio the day after and it was like squeezing the last drop of toothpaste from the tube," he explained.
"But you still have your wand?" Hermione asked.
"Right here, in my desk drawer," he said, opening the drawer.
Hermione reached for the wand. Harry shrugged and handed it to her. On her third swish with the wand she was able to produce a feeble scarlet spark. "That’s about as good as I could ever get — Phoenix feather core was never compatible with my magic," she said, "I don’t think it’s the wand."
"Roll over and I’ll do your calves," Harry said quietly.
"Do that and I’m not going to leave this bed," Hermione moaned, rolling over slowly.
"Then I’ll sleep on the couch," he said, kneading the large muscles in her left calve.
"Mercy, that’s good, Harry. Does Meghan know that you can do this?"
"Uh, that would be a no. I’ve been trying to keep a lid on things with her. Unlike Ron, I have noticed that she’s a girl," he said, moving to a longer stroke on the left leg before moving to the right leg.
"What about me?" Hermione asked sleepily.
"I’ve known you were a girl for a long time."
"But you’ll rub my feet, but not Meghan’s" Hermione whinged. "That’s not fair."
"Ah, but you were liberally coated with â€˜girlfriend of best mate’ powder, which made you into a non-sexual sister figure," he explained.
"And now?" she asked, slurring her words slightly as she grew more drowsy.
Harry didn’t answer for a long while, watching for the tell-tale signs of sleep. When he was convinced that she was asleep, he answered her question. "Now it’s worn off, completely."