Chapter 5: Confrontations
Thoughts of Pudding by Brian64.
Chapter 5: Confrontations.
Sunday 23rd June, 1996.
The train had barely pulled into King's Cross station, yet the platform was already crowded with students eager to begin their summer holidays. In one compartment, however, the occupants had barely even thought about disembarking.
"Hermione, I don't know how many other ways to say it. I'm sorry, alright? I really didn't mean to have a go at McGonagall, but with everything that's been going on the last few days and her… Well, anyway, it just came out! I'll tell her I'm sorry when I next see her."
Hermione was a little confused. She had been incensed at Harry's description of his blow-up in her favourite professor's office. That he had seemed almost proud of his outburst had led to her berating him soundly until, eventually, she'd run out of steam.
The strangest thing was that Harry almost seemed to relax as she was doing it. Oh, he wasn't enjoying the telling-off, she could see that, but there was something going on in his head. Then it occurred to her. He was grateful that she was laying into him as she normally would, instead of treating him with kid gloves and letting him off because of it.
It was Neville that responded to Harry's latest apology attempt. "Sounds good, Harry. I reckon that'll do it. Won't it, Hermione?"
Surprised at Neville's comment, Hermione just nodded. Since when had Neville developed a stare like that?
Harry sighed. "Well, that's good. Right, come on then, let's go. The train should be mostly empty now, and we can't sit here all summer."
Luna finally disentangled herself from Harry's arm and stood up with the others. She watched as Harry lifted her trunk from the storage rack and placed it next to her, before he started retrieving the others. As Luna grabbed the end handle, she was glad Hermione had conjured wheels on the ends of everyone's trunks, as it made them much easier to drag around.
As she led the way off the train and onto the platform, she stood to the side as her new friends followed her off and then joined everyone else in looking around for familiar faces and family members.
Neville was the first to notice the stuffed vulture hat moving in their direction, and he smiled as his grandmother walked up to them. He introduced her to Luna and made sure she still remembered the others from when they'd met at St Mungo's.
Augusta Longbottom looked intently at Harry as though making up her mind about something, and then gave him an awkward hug. "Thank you for all you've done for Neville, young man. You've helped him become more like his father was. If you ever need anything, you be sure to remember you're a friend of the Longbottoms."
Turning to her grandson she asked, "Have you got everything, Neville? Well, let's be off then."
She waved her goodbyes and was about to leave when Harry blurted out, "Mrs Longbottom? Uh, well, I don't know if Neville has mentioned it, but it's my fault his wand was broken. And, umm, I'd really like to buy him a new one."
She gave him a faint smile before replying. "Thank you, but it's something I should have done a long time ago." At Harry's disappointed nod, she seemed to think for a second. "Well, perhaps you could buy him a wrist holster for his new wand instead?"
Harry shared a smile with her and nodded before she and Neville made their final goodbyes and walked off.
Hermione shook her head in resignation; that boy wasn't happy unless he took responsibility for everything going on around him. She looked around and nudged Ron. "Judging from the number of redheads walking this way, I think your family is here."
Luna piped up. "Would you say we have a plethora of redheads heading this way?" she asked Hermione.
Caught off balance, Hermione asked, "A what?"
Hermione considered the odd word and eventually remembered where she'd heard it used in a movie. She gave Luna a funny look. "Yes, El Guapo, we have a plethora of redheads heading our way."
Luna beamed at her reply, practically bouncing on the spot, and Hermione wondered how much of Luna's 'odd' behaviour was due to loneliness and imagination. There but for the grace of God go I, she thought, and wondered idly whether being attacked by a troll in her first year was actually the luckiest thing that had ever happened to her, instead of one of the scariest.
She was startled out of her thoughts as Hurricane Molly swept in, dispensing hugs and comments in equal measure, often to the embarrassment of the recipients.
"Oh, Ron, look at you; you must've grown at least an inch! And, Harry, you've shot up like a weed; those robes will never do for next year! My goodness, Ginny, your hair is absolutely gorgeous! Who cut it for you? Hermione, you've certainly filled out since Christmas, dear. And... Oh, this can't be Luna, can it? I haven't seen you since before Ginny started at Hogwarts. Come here, love, you give the best hugs."
Hermione had been so busy blushing furiously from Molly's comment that she hadn't heard her parents come up behind her, and was consequently surprised when her mother whispered in her ear, "Well, she's right about that. We'll go shopping soon, okay?"
Hermione spun around and hugged her mum, and then her dad. The next few minutes involved a flurry of introductions as everyone shook hands, or hugged, in the case of the two women.
"Wotcher, Harry, got a mo'?" a new voice asked.
Harry looked around. "Oh, hey, Tonks. Uh, sure." He turned to the others. "I'll be back in a tic." Harry followed Tonks over to a group of three people he recognised, not really noticing that Arthur was following as well.
His former third year Defence professor was the first to step forward. "Hello, Harry, how are you?"
"I'm fine, Professor Lupin," he replied, shaking the offered hand.
"It's Remus, Harry, or Moony, remember?" Remus gently rebuked.
Harry nodded, and turned to the next person who'd stomped over to him. "And while we're at it, I better not get any 'Professor Moody's' from you either, especially since I never got to do any actual teaching. It's Alastor, alright? Or I suppose you could use 'Mad-Eye', as long as you've got your wand in hand and you're feeling lucky."
Harry nodded, and swallowed nervously as he turned to the third member of the group they'd approached. "Professor McGonagall, I'd really like to apologise for–"
"Apology accepted," McGonagall interrupted. "Although having had some time to review some of the things you've said, I must say I'm surprised that you managed to hold it all in as long as you did. I doubt I would have managed to do the same if our positions had been reversed. I suspect I would have blown up around fourth year when everyone was wearing those 'Potter Stinks' badges." She paused and mused for a moment. "Yes, definitely during fourth year, I'd say."
She brought her attention back to the present. "And now, Harry, I would like to offer you my own apology and ask for your forgiveness. I'm afraid to say that with age doesn't come any great wisdom, or if it does, then it blinds us to the possibility that those much younger than us might have some wisdom of their own. I've finally come to realise, with your prompting of course, that I've let you down many times, and for that I am very, very sorry. In my own defence, however, I wasn't always given the freedom to act as I would have liked, but ultimately the choice to do what was right, instead of what was easy, was always my own. I do intend to start making the right choices from now on."
Harry, thoroughly embarrassed at receiving such a lengthy and heartfelt apology, could only nod before eventually muttering, "Of course, Professor."
"Thank you, Harry. Now, if you will please excuse us, we have some business to take care of."
Harry could only nod and stare as she, Remus, Moody, Tonks and Arthur Weasley walked off. He headed back to where he'd left the others, his thoughts whirling.
"You alright, mate?" Ron asked as Harry re-joined them.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied automatically, looking back over his shoulder at McGonagall and the other Order members he'd just been speaking with.
"Oh, no!" he gasped, as he saw their destination. He was about to run after them, when he was restrained by Molly's firm grip.
"It's alright, dear, they're just going to explain a few things to your… your relatives," she said, distaste dripping from her tone at the last word.
"Mrs Weasley, you don't understand – it won't work! It'll just make things worse!"
Molly turned him to face her, hands on his shoulders now. "From what I've heard, I'm not sure it could be any worse, dear," she said sadly.
Face flaming, he turned his head and couldn't face anyone. He could see Hermione's parents whispering to her, but she was shaking her head, dismissing their questions.
He could hear his Uncle Vernon's indistinct shouts from where he stood, and then Tonks yelling fiercely back at him, surprisingly joined by McGonagall's angry-sounding Scottish brogue as well.
Harry started to think of the possible repercussions. He was still underage, so he couldn't use magic. His cousin outweighed him by at least a four-to-one ratio, and had taken up the 'noble sport' as his Uncle Vernon called it. He came to the realisation that he didn't stand a chance.
His gloomy thoughts were interrupted by the feel of a warm hand sliding into his own, and he looked over to see Luna's smiling face looking at him. "It'll be alright, Harry. Really, it will."
He stared at her, wondering how she could be so confident of that. Then his face started to relax, and he found himself responding to her smile.
His contemplation of that smile was interrupted by Mrs Weasley. "Come on, Harry, it looks as if they've finished." She started leading him over to where the other group was standing near the platform's exit, and everyone followed. Harry noticed that Hermione, Ron, and Ginny had moved closer to him and Luna. He appreciated their support.
As they walked up en-masse over to where the Dursleys were standing, Harry heard Moody's last growled instructions, "You better not forget what we said, Dursley!"
Before Vernon could reply, Moody turned to Harry. "If we don't get an owl from you every three days, we'll be along to find out why."
Tonks joined in. "Of course, you can write to us sooner if you feel like a chat."
While Harry digested that bit of news, Arthur stepped up to shake his hand. "Bye then, Harry. We'll be along to pick you up as soon as we can." He turned to his family. "Right then, Weasleys, time to go."
A confusing mixture of handshakes, waves, and well-wishes ensued before the group of redheads left the station.
"Get your trunk–" Vernon stopped short for a quick second. "We're leaving!" He spat out. Harry filled in the pause after 'trunk' with 'boy', even if Vernon hadn't said it.
It was only when he went to accept a goodbye hug from Hermione that he realised his left hand still held Luna's. Guiltily, he released it so he could hug his friend back.
Hermione gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You take care of yourself, Harry, and remember we're all here for you. You won't be by yourself for long." She let him go and stepped back as Luna stepped in for her own goodbye hug.
"I'll see you soon, Harry," she said, giving him a kiss with her hug as well.
Harry nodded in appreciation at both of them, grabbed his trunk, and trudged off behind his relatives.
Once he'd left, Hermione turned to Luna. "So, Plan B, then?"
Luna nodded, her eyes still following Harry.
Hermione looked thoughtful for a second as some pieces fell into place for her, and then she smiled. "Alright, Leia, you take good care of our scruffy-looking Nerfherder."
Luna winced. "He caught me by surprise while I was pinning up my notices. I was just trying to distract him from them."
Hermione nodded. "You know, he must be the only Muggle-raised boy in Hogwarts that's never seen The Empire Strikes Back. It's sad that he's missed out on so much."
"Well, we'll just have to take care of that, won't we?" Luna replied.
"Of course. Let me know if you need any help."
"Of course I will, Hermione."
"When will you–" she began.
"Best we don't talk about that, I think," Luna interrupted, and Hermione nodded her understanding. What she didn't know, she didn't have to lie about to meddling headmasters.
Hermione's parents had been hanging back to give the two a chance to talk, but as the platform was now empty except for the four of them, they stepped up. "Luna, are your parents coming to collect you?" Emma Granger asked.
She shook her head. "No, Daddy will still be working at the Quibbler for hours yet. I usually catch the Knight Bus home."
Emma shared a look with her husband before turning back to Luna. "Well, if you don't have anywhere you need to be for a while... Would you like to come with us? You can catch the Knight Bus from anywhere, as I understand it, and apparently it takes almost no time to get from place to place from what Hermione's told me."
Luna nodded and smiled brightly. "That's right, and yes, I'd be very happy to join you." She grabbed her trunk, moved to stand next to Emma, and took hold of Emma's right hand. "I'm ready now," she said.
A little surprised, Emma nodded, and they all walked off towards their car.
Harry sat in his usual cramped seat behind Vernon, while Dudley, seated behind Petunia, somehow managed to take up more of the back seat than he needed.
Dudley kept looking over at him as though torn between wanting to ask him something, and wanting to rip into him because of the things those 'freaks' had said to his father. Harry had no difficulty reading Dudley's moods now. Having had to grow up around him, he'd had to learn how to do so, or else he might not have grown up at all.
Curiosity evidently won out.
"How did a freak like you manage to get such a fit-looking girlfriend?" he finally blurted.
Girlfriend? Harry wondered. "What are you on about, Dud?" he asked with some annoyance.
Before Dudley could say anything, his aunt interrupted him. "Now, Duddikins, just let him be–"
Dudley wasn't listening to her. "I s'pose you had to cast a spell or something to get her to hold your hand, right?"
"What are you talking about, Dudley?" Harry replied, getting more irritated now. He was starting to wonder if it was his lot in life to be the whipping boy for every git he came in contact with.
Vernon, trying to head off what he thought was Dudley's jealousy, waded into the discussion. "Now, Dudders, I'm sure you'll find a much better looking girlfriend. I don't think that blonde girl was all that attractive, what with her straggly hair and all. Besides, you wouldn't want a frea– uh, I mean, you want a normal girl."
Harry, having now had a map drawn for him to work out the conversation, felt an overwhelming urge to defend Luna. "She is not my girlfriend, and she is very attractive!" he said angrily, not noticing a slight blush rise in his cheeks as voiced his opinions on Luna's appearance. "You don't even know her, so don't talk about her as though you do!"
He turned to Dudley. "And you better keep away from her if you know what's good for you! I won't have you bothering my friends!"
Dudley looked as though he wanted to argue the point, but something in his cousin's eyes changed his mind, and he decided to spend the rest of the trip home looking out the window instead.
Trying to work out whether he would rather be furious at Vernon for slighting Luna, or Dudley for… for… What was he angry with Dudley about? He stared out the window in some confusion.
Hermione was sitting at a table with Luna, trying to work out how to ask the question she was burning to ask her. Her parents had decided to stop off at a café for some afternoon tea, and they were both up at the counter placing the orders.
"She died when I was nine," Luna said, breaking the silence and correctly guessing Hermione's thoughts. Her tone was matter-of-fact, as though talking about the chance of rain the next day.
"Oh, Luna, I'm so sorry," Hermione said, feeling a twinge of guilt and sadness for her friend.
Luna shrugged. "It's okay, Hermione. She was an extraordinary witch, but she did like to experiment, and one of her spells got away from her. I didn't know what to do – except tell her that I loved her, of course. We do keep extra Floo powder on hand now, though."
Hermione's eyes glistened at the thought of a nine-year-old Luna sitting with her mother while she died, and scooted along the booth so that she could hug her.
"Oh, it's alright now, Hermione. It was horrible at the time, of course, and I do still get sad sometimes. But I've still got Dad, and some wonderful new friends to love now."
Hermione just hugged her and tried to maintain her composure, while Luna patted her back. She'd suspected something, but it was much worse than she could have imagined.
Hermione let go of Luna and looked at her sadly, wiping at her eyes. "Does anyone else know?" she asked.
"Well, I think Mr and Mrs Weasley do. They used to look after me a bit afterwards, but I don't think they told anyone. Ginny never said anything, and I think she would have if she had known about it."
Hermione nodded. That made sense to her as well.
"You look a fright. Why don't you go to the bathroom and freshen up before your parents get back?"
Hermione nodded again and left the table. Not long afterwards, the Grangers brought over the trays of cakes and drinks they'd purchased. Hermione returned as they were being handed out.
"What's this?" Luna asked, indicating the cake in front of her.
"Oh, that's Tiramisu. You'll love it, Luna!" Hermione said, digging a fork into her own serving and taking a bite.
Luna took a bit of the dessert herself, and marvelled at all of the strange tastes – so different to anything she'd had before, but still quite nice. She supposed she could get quite used to it if she drank coffee.
The afternoon tea passed in quiet conversation. When they were ready to leave, Luna thanked them for inviting her to join them, and for her tea, and told them that she would catch the bus now.
Dan Granger looked around at the busy street and frowned. "From here, Luna? Isn't it a little exposed? We don't mind taking you somewhere if you'd prefer."
"It's okay, Dad, none of the Muggles will notice anything," Hermione said. "Well, other than you two of course, and that's only because you know about magic and are expecting it. Everyone else will ignore it."
Luna smiled, took out her wand from her pocket, and held it out.
With a loud bang, the violently purple, triple-decker bus stopped in front of her. Luna hugged Hermione and Emma while Dan got Luna's trunk out of the car and brought it over. He was rewarded with a hug of his own from the young blonde.
"Well, come on, come on. We 'aven't got all day," Stan urged, lugging Luna's trunk on board as she made her last farewells. She stepped on board and not long afterwards the Knight Bus rocketed around the nearest corner and disappeared.
"Where you 'eaded?" Stan asked her, once they began moving.
"Little Whinging, Surrey. And can I have a purple toothbrush, please? I haven't got one that colour yet. You can keep the hot water bottle, though; I don't want it."
"That's still firteen Sickles, miss," Stan said, handing over a ticket and a purple toothbrush in exchange for the coins.