Harry stared at his best friend whom he had not seen in years in a stunned silence. Daphne still covered her mouth with her hand as she looked back and forth between Harry and Hermione.
Hermione looked from Harry to Daphne and back to Harry. Harry was still in shock. Hermione's mind was racing even though she was also in shock and she could tell that Harry was from his reaction. Finally she faced the blonde woman standing next to Harry, she was sure she recognised her from Hogwarts.
"Greengrass, isn't it?" she asked. "Daphne, right?"
Daphne simply nodded.
Harry looked at the name plate on Hermione's desk and then back at Hermione. "Who is Gianna Contadino?" he asked, and then continued with a garage of questions, "What are you doing here? The head of the Australian Department of Magical Creatures? Why didn't you ever write?"
Hermione took a deep breath. "I think we all better sit down. I'm sure we all have plenty of questions." She turned and glared at Daphne, who was surprised by the looks she was receiving from Hermione.
Daphne spoke up, "That sounds like a great idea. Got any fire whiskey to help ease the tension?" she added with a smirk.
Hermione just said, "No," in response to Daphne as she took her seat behind her desk. Facing Harry, she asked, "Why are you here? You're the one inquiring about griffons?"
Harry took a deep breath and waved his hand as he dismissed her question. "Later, I'll talk to you about that later. Tell me, 'Mione, how did you end up here, and what is it with this Gianna Contadino? You didn't get married did you?"
Hermione quickly realised that to get any further she needed to catch Harry up on what she had been doing. "Well, if you're not in a rush I suppose I could tell you." She glanced between Harry and Daphne, obviously uncomfortable that Harry was accompanied by someone; not just someone, but a woman; and not just a woman but a woman who was from the house of Slytherin. "And when I am done, you need to tell me how you ended up here in my office."
Hermione continued, "And please enlighten me as to your traveling partner and you ended up coming here together." Daphne was still feeling quite uncomfortable in the room.
"Fair enough," said Harry. He reached over to wear Daphne was sitting next to him and grasped her hand lightly. "Hermione, I would like to introduce to you my girlfriend, Daphne Greengrass. Daphne, I am sure you remember our classmate from Hogwarts and my best friend, Hermione Granger."
Daphne smiled at Hermione, feeling comforted that Harry had taken her hand and proud that she had been introduced as his girlfriend. She was trying not to feel jealous, but after all, she thought to herself, Harry's best friend for most of the past 9 years has been a girl. A girl who was now quite an attractive young woman she noted.
Hermione raised an eyebrow at the introduction of Daphne. She noted the tension in Daphne's face and shoulders release somewhat as Harry took her hand and spoke about her. She quickly understood that Harry was very comfortable around this woman. Hermione then looked down at the notepad which was just off to her right on her desk. "Well, where should I begin?" she asked rhetorically. "You know I was heading to Australia to try and find my parents the day we parted." She hesitated as she thought about that day, about where they both were at that time in their lives. She had just split with Ron, and Harry was dating Ginny. She quickly decided that this was not the time to ask about that. "I was scared to come here. Scared of what I would or would not find. Scared to be known as Hermione Granger, part of the Golden Trio, best friend to Harry Potter, the boy-who-lived, the Vanquisher-of-Voldemort. That's what they call you down here in the papers anyways. You've done a good job of staying out of the news lately."
Harry nodded again, "I try, really I do, despite what Draco claims."
Hermione made a mental note, she was surprised that he had referred to one of his enemies from their days in school by his first name. She wondered just how long had she really been gone from magical England.
"As I was saying, I didn't want the fame. Also, as my parents wouldn't recognise me unless I could reverse the obligation charm, I didn't really need to use my name. I had some help from the Italian Ministry of Magic as I made my way towards Australia. They found it oddly exciting to secretly have one of the more famous witches from England become a citizen of Magical Italy, and were more than happy to help out with identification for me under this assumed name."
Daphne looked at her name plate and then back at Hermione. "Where does the Gianna come from?" she asked. Harry just had a confused expression as he looked between the two women.
"Hermione Jean Granger," she said simply as that explained everything. Harry was still puzzled.
Daphne shook her head slightly and then gently squeezed Harry's hand to get his attention. When he turned to look at her again she quietly stated, "Jean, it's Italian version is Gianna. And Contadino is farmer. Granger and Farmer are similar titles or names in English." She turned to Hermione again and leaned closer, almost conspiratorially, "And no one here ever figured out that you are THE Hermione Granger?"
Hermione smiled at Daphne. At least Harry found a smart one, she thought to her self. She leaned towards Daphne, "With changing the name to Italian, having Italian paper work and changing the hairstyle, it seems I can fool quite a number of people."
Harry watched as the two women spoke as if they had long been best friends. A shiver ran through him as he considered the possible ramifications of such a friendship. He then cleared his throat to draw Hermione's attention. "So, did you find your parents?" he asked hopefully.
Hermione's face changed from a smile to a hard frown."Yes," she said, obviously frustrated, "but I have not been able to reverse the obliviation. I have tried a few times, I dare not try again." Harry noted to wetness forming in the corners of her eyes, but he had no words of comfort to offer her.
Hermione gave a forced smile as she turned to Harry, "So, why did you come all the way to Australia to speak with the Department of Magical Creatures? I'm quite sure that Hagrid did not send you on a mission to bring back some wild and exotic creature." Her smile slipped to an expression of concern, "He didn't, did he? By Merlin's Beard, I thought for a moment there you might be up to something foolish like that." Hermione started to smile. Then she noted that Harry was not smiling.
"I need the hide from a griffon. A golden griffon," Harry said calmly and with such seriousness it gave Hermione a chill. "Do you know where I could find one?"
Hermione looked to Daphne for confirmation of this request. Seeing nothing in Daphne's expression to give her any reason to doubt Harry's sincerity, she answered simply, "You need the hide of a griffon? And just how the bloody hell do you think you can get one?"
"You know me, 'Mione," he replied with a slight grin, "I tend to do best when I rush in without a plan. Improvisation. It usually works out pretty well for me."
"It's nearly gotten you killed more times than I want to remember," she said feeling a little horrified. "Why not just go attack a dragon while you're at it."
Harry didn't react to her comment other than simply saying, "Well, I'll be getting around to that. But I need the griffon hide first."
Hermione's mind raced as she tried to understand fully what Harry was saying. After all, he had come all the way to Australia, and he did not seem to be in a joking mood. He hadn't even expected to find her here. She briefly considered talking him out of this crazy idea. "Well, there are rumours of a griffon in northern Australia terrorising some locals. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet."
Harry looked to Daphne and smiled. Turning back to Hermione he spoke as a slight smile crossed his face, "Ms. Contadino, I would like permission from the Australian Ministry of Magic's Department of Magical Creatures to be able to hunt a griffon."
Hermione bit her lip. "You can't just go round killing creatures Harry, this department is set up for their protection." She felt torn as she gave the approved ministry answer to such a request, or at least her version of it.
Harry was surprised by the stock answer she had given him. "Can we at least go and investigate? You already mentioned that there were reports of a griffon terrorising locals. I would presume that there is some sort of clause that allows for the ridding of a magical creature that is causing harm."
Hermione never liked the idea of hurting another a creature and she had taken her post to help protect magical creatures, something she did not think she would really be given the chance to do back in England. She sighed as she considered Harry's point. "Well, yes, there is such a clause. But you can't just do this alone. You need to have a representative from the department with you. To document any claims from the locals and to make sure that policies are followed."
Harry's eyes twinkled slightly as he responded to Hermione, "So, how soon can you leave this little office to take us to Northern Australia?"
Hermione sighed, "I'll have to make arrangements for covering the office. Probably a couple of days to get everything in place."
Harry and Daphne returned to their hotel and retreated to their suite. They sat in silence for a few minutes and then Daphne spoke. "So, you found your best friend. I can hardly believe it." Harry turned to face her, but she was not looking at him, she was staring at a modern art painting hanging on the wall, avoiding Harry's gaze. "So, what does this mean for us, Harry?" she asked, her voice strained.
Harry sighed and he moved to sit next to Daphne, and gently placed his hand into hers. "What does this mean for us," he repeated her question, "it means nothing to us, it doesn't affect us. Hermione is my friend. You are my girlfriend and that is not changing."
Daphne turned and looked at him, she had tears in her eyes. Harry put is arm around her. "Daphne, you were there and walked into my life when things were pretty down for me. And that means so much to me."
Daphne wiped a tear from her eye, "But she was with you for all of your adventures, she was with you throughout the war. She's been your support for so much longer, since before we knew each other."
Harry laughed slightly, "I've known who you are since first year." He paused as he let that sink in for a moment. "But we did only start to get to know each other the end of last year. But that's fine, and probably for the best."
Daphne raised an eyebrow as she turned to face him. Harry continued, "We could not have been friends at school. Not with Draco and I antagonising each other so much. Not with the war brewing. Not with the house rivalries."
Daphne reached up and cupped the side of his face with her hand. She started to say something but Harry silenced her with a finger to her lips. "Hey, I'm not done yet," he added. "But I know that you're not with me because you're a fan girl, you're not with me because I am the Boy-Who-Lived. You're not with me based on some idealised school girl crush."
Daphne melted into his arms. "I don't know what caused me to doubt us," she sighed. She turned and gave Harry a quick kiss on his lips. "I did have several classes with her in school," she said softly, "it's not like we don't know each other at all. But with the house rivalries, as you pointed out, we really didn't talk much."
Harry hugged her gently, and then he said, "Let's go get some lunch."
The next day they met with Hermione at her office as she had contacted them at their hotel. She had arranged for them all to travel to Northern Australia. The reports her office had received indicated that there were multiple reports of a giant bird or flying beast in the MacDonnell range. The Australian Ministry of Magic was easily convinced by one Gianna Contadino of the importance of making the area safe, not only for magicals but for the muggles and the aboriginal tribes in the area as well. The department was supporting this endeavour and was supplying them with a Land Rover to take them into the area.
It would be at least a 2 day drive to get from Sydney to Alice Springs, the closest large town to Mount Zeil, which was in the area where the griffons were reported. Along the drive, Hermione and Daphne had the opportunity to speak and get to know each other better. Hermione also gave Harry a little more detail into her time spent in Australia. Harry wondered silently why she had never found a boyfriend while she was there, but he did want to get into her personal life if she was not about to offer such information on her own accord.
During the second long day of driving across the Outback, Hermione asked Harry what his plans were, just how was he planning to capture or kill a griffon. She had listened to Harry's explanation of what he had learned from studying in the secret library that he needed the hide of a griffon. But if it was so valuable due to how sturdy it was and how resistant it naturally was to magic, then how could Harry expect to capture or kill such a creature. Harry knew that he would have to have more of a plan than just to try develop one on the fly. He suggested various spells that might help it.
Blasting hexes — but these probably wouldn't work due to the inherent magical protection of the griffon's hide.
Stunning spells — again, impractical due to magical resistance, and it would still only leave you with a temporarily incapacitated griffon at best, a genuinely angry one at worst.
Slicing or cutting spells — either they would not be strong enough to injure the animal due to their natural protection or such spells would damage the hide which they need as intact as possible.
The killing curses — despite being illegal, they wondered if it would actually have any effect on such a creature.
Binding hexes — the trio theorised that these would only slow down the griffon at best or possibly anger it.
Harry and Daphne and Hermione shared ideas back and forth for most of the second day of their travel. Arriving in the town of Alice Springs, they checked into rooms at the Lassiter Hotel Casino. Harry had decided to stay there, assuming that the accommodations would be nicer than many of their other options. Harry was intrigued as he heard people talking about the upcoming Camel Cup that was to take place in July. While it sounded like a fun time, Harry truly hoped that he would be done with his mission here in Australia long before that would be happening.
They trio settled into the rooms they had arranged, and planned to get an early start in the morning. They took off, heading west towards Mount Zeil, the tallest mountain in the MacDonnell range and a common place for tourists to go hiking. As they drove across the red sand and stone of the desert leading up to the mountains, they continued to discuss what their options would be if they were able to find the griffon. As they got closer to the mountains they came across a small group of aboriginal hunters. Hermione explained that they were probably from the Western Aranda people. Harry noted that they carried a type of spear which also had a long thin stick that was used to launch the wooden weapon. He made a mental note of their weapons as they continued on into the mountains. The mountains were quite different from what he was used to seeing, as there were very few trees in the rocky desert terrain.
Eventually they pulled the Land Rover to a stop and they began to explore the area on foot. Hermione had a map that indicated where the various reported sitings of the griffons had been made. They would have to travel north along the ridges of the mountains for a couple of miles to come across the area where they had hoped to find the creatures. The trio started out on their trek through the desert hills, hoping that they would be able to find their quarry soon. They had walked for about one hour when they came down into a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine they found what looked to be a damaged and abandoned tent, and the campsite had been recently vacated. Looking around the area the three of them tried to find clues as to what had happened. Harry pointed out that the tent had several long gashes in the material. Hermione noted that the footprints in the dust seemed to be recent and they started to try and track what direction they had gone off in, and soon found a trail that wound around some rocks and towards a cave in the side of the ravine. It did not take them long to find a young couple who were terrified and hiding in the small cave. The young people were initially hesitant to explain to the three why they were hiding as they felt that no one would believe their story of a giant bird like lion that flew out of the sky and attacked had driven up from Sydney several days ago, and the creature had flown down and taken their small dog with it, and they feared that the dog was a small meal for the monster that had grabbed it.
Hermione looked at Harry. "Well, that story may be enough to persuade the ministry to allow you to do what ever you need to with the griffon. It has attacked muggles, and it will probably continue to do so until we stop it."
Daphne sighed, "But we still don't have a way to catch it yet."
Harry considered the situation. He turned to the young couple and he asked them if they noted which way the creature had flown off with their dog. They had indicated that it had headed north and followed the edge of the mountain. Harry looked to the two women with him. "Well, we head north and follow where it went."
Daphne looked at Hermione and that back to Harry. "We still do not have a plan."
Hermione shrugged her shoulders, "That small detail has not stopped him before."
Harry began to walk out of the ravine, heading north, when he replied smugly without turning back to face the two, "I'm working on it."
They walked for fifteen more minutes and they came across an area where they saw a cliff with an overhang. Harry pointed out the area ahead of them and wondered out loud if that might be where the griffon was nesting. The three started to make there way closer to the cliff when Harry suddenly stopped and held out his hand indicating for them all to be quiet. He turned slowly and he pointed to an area behind some large boulders. Hermione gave him a quizzical look. Harry spoke softly as he told her he heard something in the direction where he had indicated. The three stayed still but did not hear any further sounds. Harry decided to start heading towards the large boulders. As he turned the corner he was startled as he came across three Aborigine hunters. The men were carrying spears and seemed surprised to see Harry and his companions.
One of the hunters looked at them and spoke, "This is a very dangerous place, you should leave now."
Harry smiled in response. "I think we may be after the same thing."
The second hunter laughed, "But you do not have any weapons. You are foolish to be out here, unprepared."
Hermione stepped forward and explained that she was from the Australian Department of Wildlife and she was here to investigate reports of a large creature bothering locals and tourists.
The third man laughed at her now. "There are no drop bears in these parts. You really should not be here."
Harry looked at the three who seemed to be heading towards the cliff. "So, you plan to try and kill the griffon?" he asked boldly. "The one living over by that cliff," he added pointing to the side of the mountain behind where he was standing.
The first man seemed surprised by Harry. "You know of this and you come here unprepared. You are very foolish indeed."
"What do you plan to do with the griffon if you even catch it?" he asked the man, ignoring the statement.
"We plan to bring it back to our people, and have a feast," answered the third man.
Harry smiled at him, "I have a proposition for you. If we help you kill the beast, can we keep the hide, and you can keep everything else? Would that be fair?"
The three spoke amongst themselves in their native language then turned back to Harry. The first indicated that they would be okay with that.
Harry winked at Daphne, "I told you I was working on a plan."
The second Aranda spoke to Harry, "Just how do you think you can help us?"
Harry smiled, "You are planning to kill the beast with your spears. But the spears will not be able to pierce its hide."
The first nodded, "We have had several of our hunters try and kill it, but they have told us that. What can you do?"
"You have to aim for its head, or its eyes," Harry stated. "I can help make sure your spear finds the target."
The three men eyed Harry carefully, but said nothing further. They just started to continue their walking towards the cliff. After several minutes they were within 100 meters of the base of the cliff. There seemed to be a ledge underneath an overhang high up on the cliff. Harry and the others all presumed that the griffon could be nesting in that area.
The group looked at each other and then up to the overhang. Harry spoke to the group of hunters. "If you give me a moment, I can help make sure your spears will hit their targets. You need to aim for the eye of the griffon when it comes into range." They all nodded in agreement.
Harry waved his hand over the spears — performing wandless and silent magic. Hermione noted how he cast the spells and raised an eyebrow. Harry turned and spoke to Daphne. "We need to get the griffon to come out of hiding. Cast a blasting spell at the rocks above the cave up there, that might get its attention."
Daphne turned to Hermione, "Is he always a little crazy like this? Wanting to anger powerful magical creatures?"
"Usually he attacks them unarmed, or all by himself," she answered, "so this is about par for the course."
Harry spoke to everyone as he slipped his wand into his hand, "Everyone ready? Right, let's do this."
Daphne and Hermione drew their wands. The hunters prepared their spears. After a count to three, the two women shattered rocks at the edge of the cave with spells. The group watched as rocks and dust crashed down the side of the cliff. Harry tensed his arms as he awaited a response from whatever may be in the cave. After several minutes of no response, the group started to relax, as there was no sign of any activity.
"Maybe there is nothing up there," suggested Daphne.
"Maybe it was just scared by the blast," commented Hermione.
The three hunters stared at the two women and their wands. The one whom Harry assumed was their leader spoke. "Magic?" he asked.
Harry just nodded. The three hunters stepped a little farther away from Harry and the women as they muttered indistinctly. Harry realised that this may now complicate things if they have scared off the hunters. Harry tried to think of something to say to calm their fears. Hermione turned to look at the three men. She went to take a step closer to try and explain that they meant no harm to the hunters when she noted their eyes grow wide as they lifted their spears again. Hermione began to worry that they were mad at her, until she heard a loud screech behind her. Harry spun around and saw the griffon diving towards them, and he yelled at Hermione to duck. She dove into the dirt in front of her as a spear came flying over her head and bounced off of the chest of the massive creature.
Harry just stared at the massive golden beast, that appeared like a cross between a lion and an eagle. It reminded him a little of Buckbeak, except that it was larger and it seemed angrier than when Buckbeak attacked Draco. Daphne cast a shielding charm to protect the hunters, as did Harry. The griffon reached out with its talons trying to grab the hunters but it was unable to grasp anyone. It continued to fly past the group and circled to try again. It continued with its ear piercing screeching.
One of the hunters prepared his spear, and Harry quickly cast a spell on the spear. The griffon was closing in for another attack. Hermione had scrambled to her knees and prepared to cast another shield charm for the hunters. The hunter through his spear and Harry cast a spell at the griffon. There was a different cry, one of pain and groaning as the griffon was struck in its right eye by a spear and in its right eye by a blasting hex cast by Harry. The massive beast came to a crash on top of the hunters. There was dust thrown up into the air. When it had all settled the griffon was laying just behind the hunters, who had been saved from being crushed by the shield spells.
The hunters pulled themselves up and examined the griffon closely. Quickly they pulled out their knives which they had in their belts. They began to cut the hide off of the griffon, however their knives could barely cut through the thick skin. Harry wondered how they could possibly cut through the magically protected hide, but Hermione suggested that if they added spells to the knives then they may be able to cut through the skin. Quickly he casted several spells on the knives, including sharpening spells and durability spells. It did seem to help although the hunters did have a difficult time with the task, but eventually they were able to remove the hide. The work was slow and arduous, but after a couple of hours, the hunters had removed the hide and then they began to work on a plan for bringing back the carcass to their people. Harry reduced the hide magically and placed it in his pocket. Then he and the women apparated back tot he Land Rover, to begin their journey back to Sydney.
Two days later they arrived back in Sydney. Harry and Daphne returned to the same hotel they had originally stayed at, taking the evening to clean themselves up and relax with either a long bath or shower, followed by some time sitting in a jacuzzi next to the hotel pool. Hermione had returned to her flat, but promised to meet up with them the next morning.
Harry awoke and went to sit on the balcony that gave him a view of the city. Harry retrieved the notes he had made when he had been studying in the Hall of Secrets back at Pembroke College. He knew that the next stage of this mission would require finding the tail feather from a thunderbird. He had researched some on these mystical creatures and the only place he had found any writings about them was from the legends of native American indians. Harry wondered how it could be that these creatures he needed to find were so widely dispersed around the globe, when Merlin had written about them and the necessity of the various components for making the protective robe for facing a dragon. He ran his hand through is hair, which was not as unruly as it had been as it was getting longer. He let out a slow sigh as he decided he didn't have the time or the energy to think about how these creatures came to be located in such geographically diverse areas, and he returned to thinking about the thunderbird.
His concentration was interrupted as Daphne walked out onto the balcony and gave him a gentle hug from behind. Kissing him on the back of his head, she spoke quietly, "So, my brave Gryffindor, who has actually slain a griffon, have you planned out the next stage of our adventure yet?"
Harry smile and turned around to kiss her lightly on the lips. "No, my love, but I am working on it."
She sat down beside him and gently took his hand in hers. "Well, we all slept in quite late, the morning is nearly over."
Harry looked up at the sun that was approaching the middle of the sky. "So it is," he said acknowledging her comment. "Plans for lunch?"
"Actually," said Daphne with a slight smirk, "I do have plans." Harry raised an eyebrow. "I spoke with Hermione, and she and I are getting together over lunch." Harry started to open his mouth. "Just the two of us," she added. "Without you, Harry," she added for clarification.
His brow furrowed at the thought.
"You will be fine," she said with a grin, "and we will be fine. If she's your best friend, I thought I needed to get to know her better, so I asked her to meet me for lunch."
Harry was about to protest but again Daphne cut him off. "Finish up your planning the next step, order room service if you want for lunch, we'll see you when we get back." She gave him a quick hug, and then she left Harry as he felt a little bewildered by the sudden pronouncement of her lunch meeting.
"Have a nice time," he called after her half heartedly.
"We'll meet up with you back here at the hotel when we're done," she replied.
Hermione was waiting on Daphne in the hotel lobby. They greeted each other and then Hermione told Daphne about a nearby pub that had a reputation of having good food and a relatively quiet atmosphere. The two young women soon found themselves in a quiet booth having lunch together. There was an awkward silence between them as the perused the menus before they placed their orders. Once the waitress left Hermione looked at Daphne.
"You asked me to join you for lunch," she stated, "so what's on your mind?"
Daphne squirmed slightly in her seat, feeling rather uncomfortable. "Well, Hermione, ever since I started to get to know Harry, I really felt that I needed to get to know you. Everyone at school knew about you and Weasley and Harry getting into adventures or just plain getting into trouble. Even during seventh year, it was the three of you together who didn't come to school but showed up for the Battle of Hogwarts."
Hermione nodded, "So, what's the point of this? That's all common knowledge."
"Most of it is, yes," agreed Daphne. "But what isn't common knowledge is why you and Harry never hooked up together? Why did you date Ron? What is it about Harry that I need to know as his girlfriend?" Daphne looked away. "I am not even sure why I am having this conversation with you." She thought about her last statement and then she turned back to Hermione who was about to speak. "Well, actually I am sure. I am sure I need to know something, maybe the answers to the questions I already asked, maybe something more…" Her voice trailed off as she started to blush.
Hermione tilted her head slightly as she saw the emotion that Daphne was trying to hold back. This is definitely not the Ice Queen of Slytherin, she thought to herself. "You want to know why a guy and a girl can be best friends, or best mates, and if so, how can they do that if they're not shagging each other?"
Daphne was a little shocked by Hermione's reply and rhetorical question. "Well, you could put it that way."
Hermione gave Daphne a kind look. "So, the Ice Queen has a soft side after all," she stated. "Very well. I know that Harry shared with you a lot of the details of the adventures we had together in school. But let me explain a little bit about those adventures from my perspective. It all started back in first year, when Harry and Ron rescued me from the troll that Quirrel had released into the school on Halloween. Before that night, I never had any real friends. Not in muggle schools, not at Hogwarts. It probably didn't help that I cam across as a bossy know it all to everyone, but Harry is the one who came to find me. Harry is the one who jumped on the troll to protect me, even though he had no idea what he was going to do to the troll. And yes, Ron is the one who cast the spell that caused the troll to knock itself out, but it was Harry who came to find me, Harry who saved an eleven year old girl."
Daphne nodded as she listened. "As you must be well aware, Harry doesn't need fangirls. He hates that reaction he received, and he had no clue how many Harry Potter fangirls there were at school."
Daphne chuckled slightly, "He even had them in Slytherin," she added.
Hermione raised an eyebrow at that comment and then she continued. "Harry was always there for me as a friend, even during the times when I wasn't the best friend for him. You must understand he has this 'saving people thing' or at least that is what I call it. He always puts others before him. Why? I have no idea. Considering his home life, or rather the life he had living with his relatives, it is amazing he is a caring and kind person at all."
Daphne's attention clearly was piqued by the last comment. Hermione noted the slight reaction in her face. "Harry has not told you about his life with his aunt and uncle and cousin?" she asked. Hermione wasn't surprised to hear that Harry had not spoken about that with Daphne. "It is not my place to say anything more. The House of Slytherin may have actually been a kinder place to Harry back then," she added. Daphne was about to make a comment, but stopped herself when she noted the seriousness in Hermione's eyes.
"Why did I date Ron, you asked," continued Hermione. "Maybe because I thought I could never date Harry. The three of us were always together for most of our first five years. But Harry was different from everyone. Things happen to Harry that never happen to anyone else. The fates seem to enjoy messing up his life every chance they can get. Maybe I thought I wasn't good enough for Harry. Maybe I thought Harry was too much of a lightening rod for trouble. But mostly I thought of him as a brother, a friend who would always be there, no matter what. Not someone you want to snog or anything, someone you want to hold you when you are scared, hug you when you are sad, pick you up when you get knocked down." Hermione had a dreamy look in her eye. "And you knew, you always knew, that Harry would be there to do that for you, every time."
Daphne thought about the comments that Hermione had made. They sat quietly as the waitress brought them their meals. As the waitress left, Daphne asked more questions. "I get all that. I've been learning over the past several months just how special Harry is, but I still don't understand a few things. But can you tell me what happened…what happened between you when you broke up with Ron and left to come here to Australia. Harry didn't tell me much about that. He just said that you and Ron had a falling out over his archaic ideas of the roles of a wife and a mother, and then you told Harry you were leaving. I got the feeling that there was more to it than that."
Hermione sighed heavily as she remembered that week. "Let me ask you a few things first, then I will get back to that week," she said. Daphne indicated that would be fine and Hermione continued. "Tell me what was it that brought you and Harry together in the first place. You don't really run in the same circles, or at least you never did before recently. You had minimal contact with him at school. I had more classes with you than he ever did. And then of course there is all of the house rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin to keep you apart, not to mention your reputation of being so unapproachable. So, enlighten me as to just how the two of you could end up as a couple."
Hermione's tone was friendly, not challenging; thoughtful, not threatening. Daphne began to tell Hermione of her personal frustrations with life back in the fall. Her worries about the family business, her worries about the marriage contract, her worries about her younger sister. She told of her decision to go drown her sorrows in a muggle pub, the safest place she could think of to go to, a place where there would be no one around whom she could possibly know. Except for the simple fact that Harry Potter was drowning his own sorrows in the same muggle pub the same night.
Hermione smiled at the image. "I can understand a little about what led him to that pub, after I heard about what Ginny had been doing." Hermione took a moment to eye Daphne closely. "You're good for him," she said simply.
Daphne was surprised by the simple statement from Hermione. "What?" she asked, almost squeaking as she was shocked by the comment.
"You are good for him," Hermione repeated. "I see Harry is happier than I have ever seen him. Even when he is stressed, such as when we were battling the griffon, I can see it in the way he hold himself. He smiles more than I have ever seen him, especially when you are near him." There was again an awkward silence between the two young women.
Then Hermione continued, "The week before I left for Australia, I asked Harry if he would come with me to help me find my parents. He at first said he needed to think about it. The next day he gave me his answer, he said he would help me find my parents. He then told me he would let Ginny know, and ask her to be patient and wait for him to return. I knew he was dating Ginny, and I had my own concerns about their relationship, but I made it clear to Harry, that I only wanted him to join me if he came as more than just my friend."
Daphne's mouth opened and she quickly covered it with her hand.
Hermione made a crooked smile, "I know, some friend I was to ask him that. But I was confused, I had just broken up with Ron, and I knew I had to find out, could I be with Harry? Could we be a couple? And you know what? Harry did not answer me right away. He said he needed to think about it. We both needed to think about it." Hermione paused and took a sip of water. "He told me before he left that he would always be my friend, that he loved me, like a brother or a sister, or like he thought one would love a family member, but not as someone who would be special. He did not love me in a romantic way. But I realised when I took the time to think about it, that I didn't really love him that way either. I guess in a moment of weakness, when I was vulnerable, when I was emotionally raw after breaking up with Ron, I had my fangirl moment and saw him as something more than he was."
Daphne had to wipe a tear that was forming in her eye. "Why didn't you write to Harry after coming to Australia?"
Hermione laughed slightly. "Because I was stupid. I tried to leave that life behind, I changed my name when I came to Australia. I became Gianna Contadino, I tried to forget everything that happened over the years before I left England. It didn't really work. But I tried to separate myself from the pain. I found my parents and I could not bring back their memories. I tried to explain to them who I was and what I did, but it didn't bring back their memories. I became friends with them, but it became very awkward. I tried to escape from the painful memories of the life I had lost, family and friends, so I immersed myself in this life here."
Daphne asked a sincere question, "Well, did it work? Did it help?"
It was Hermione's turn to wipe away a tear. "No, not at all. I was so excited to see Harry again when I realised who it was who had come into my office. And I am really happy for the both of you, truly I am, as you seem to be so good for each other."
Daphne smiled and reached out and grasped Hermione's arm and gave it a light squeeze. "Thanks, that means so much to me."
"Do me a favour though," said Hermione with a serious tone.
"And what would that be?" asked Daphne.
"Don't ever tell me about snagging him, or shagging him, or anything like that," she said with a slight laugh, "I really don't want to know anything about that."
"I promise," said Daphne with a grin, "I won't tell you any of that."
The two women, now close friends, left the pub as they finished their meal. They returned to the hotel to meet up with Harry. Harry gave Daphne a quick kiss and then he turned to Hermione.
Hermione spoke first, "You have quite the young lady friend there, Harry. Keep making her happy. I am sure she will try to do the same for you."
Harry was startled by the comment and he reached out and drew his best friend into a tight hug. "Well, thanks," he said quietly into her ear.
Harry looked up at Daphne and he quickly broke off the hug and stepped away from Hermione. "Sorry Daph," he said softly, "I don't mean to make you jealous."
Daphne responded with a slight laugh. "Mr. Potter," she said with a playfully formal tone, "I cannot be jealous of your being friends with Hermione." She stepped towards him and gave him a gentle hug. As she stepped away from him, she said loud enough that even Hermione could hear, "Just remember, Harry, if you ever do anything that really makes me jealous, that will be the last you see of me," she warned. Then she leaned in and gave him a passionate kiss. "But in case you're wondering, I am not worried that will ever happen."
Harry blushed a deep red after the kiss broke off.
"Well, Harry," said Daphne, "have you planned out the next part of your mission?"
Harry gave her a big grin, "Yes, we need to head to the United States, to the western plains states, to find a thunderbird." He turned to Hermione as he asked, "Would you like to join us?"
Hermione looked at the couple who were embracing in front of her, and she knew she did not need to think long or hard about her answer.
"I think it sounds like a marvellous adventure," she said with an even larger grin than Harry was wearing, "I'd love to join you."