Harry awoke the next morning to the sound of shrieking – terrified shrieking to be precise. He threw his covers off, grabbed his wand and blearily pointed it in the direction of the noise. It was seconds before his eyes were focused enough to see that the screaming blur was his aunt, and that both Ron and Hermione were already pointing their wands at her.
“Aunt Petunia,” Harry said as his heart rate began to decrease. “Aunt Petunia, it’s all right. They’re my friends. They’ve come to stay with me until I leave.”
But she either did not hear him, or the sight of a half-clothed Ron and a nightgown-clad Hermione, both pointing their wands at her, had sent her into hysterics. Uncle Vernon and Dudley were now in the doorway, staring into the room with wide-eyed horror.
“What is the meaning of this?” Uncle Vernon bellowed, pushing aside his wife and entering the room with a beefy finger already pointed ominously at Harry. “How dare you bring more of your kind into my house?”
Harry located his glasses and put them on. He did not budge when his uncle’s finger found Harry’s bare chest and began to jab as the older man continued to rant. It had been the same ever since Harry’d been a toddler.
“They’re with me,” Harry repeated when Uncle Vernon finally ran out of steam. Ron and Hermione looked warily at Harry’s relatives. “They’re staying here until I leave.”
“No, they’re bloody well not!” Vernon yelled hotly. “I’ll not be supporting a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing freaks in my house!”
Folding his arms across his chest, careful to keep his wand clear of his body in case sparks decided to fly out of its tip, Harry levelled a challenging gaze at his uncle. He thought of the one thing that would entice the man to allow Ron and Hermione to remain with him. “Actually, Uncle Vernon, there’s not a whole lot that you can do about it. They’re staying until I leave in a couple of weeks. Which’ll be the last time I ever darken your door.”
The thought that a time would come when Harry would leave permanently had never seemed to occur to Vernon and even as he opened his mouth to reply, a strange, glazed look overcame him. Harry knew that the age-old battle of giving in to any of Harry’s desires was in mortal struggle with the idea of being rid of him – this time, forever.
“Fine,” he said sternly, his finger popping up to poke into Harry’s chest once more. “But you’ll have to find your own food. I’m not feeding this lot. And NO funny stuff.”
Harry wasn’t about to argue the point when he’d clearly not even noticed the magical modifications to his bedroom. They’d do as much magic as they needed, the irrational bigotry of his relatives be damned.
His uncle backed out of the room, pushing a still terrified-looking Petunia and morbidly fascinated Dudley with him, and closed the door.
There was a silent moment while all three of them stared at the door. Then Ron lowered his wand and shook his head. “Wake up like that every day?” he quipped.
Harry gave a half-hearted smile. “Not recently; it’s actually been lots better since I stopped sleeping in the cupboard.”
There was a small, shocked gasp from Hermione, but she did not comment on Harry’s ill-treatment. It was just something they’d never really talked about.
Ron flopped back onto his bed, still bare-chested and heedless of Hermione’s stares. “Glad we can do magic, though. It’s nice to know that we can hex them if we need to.”
Harry silently agreed. He sat on his bed and bent over to search for a shirt among the pile against the wall. He had just put his head through the hole of the over-sized red t-shirt when he froze. “Hey,” he said with a start. “How can you do magic here?”
Ron turned his head to look at him, a strange smirk on his face. Hermione was still staring at him. “What d’ya mean? We’re of age. Why wouldn’t we be able to do magic?”
“No, not that,” explained Harry, pulling his shirt fully over his torso. “I mean, the Underage Magic office doesn’t know you’re here. All they know is that Enlargement Charms and Conjuring Spells have been cast. How come I haven’t got a letter expelling me from Hogwarts already?”
Ron looked confused for a second before he sat up. “Oh, that. Well, Dad said that they pulled ol’ Hopkirk from her post to staff the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects. The under-aged magic detectors are working just fine, but there’s no one there to read the logs.”
Hermione seemed to come out of her trance and nervously smoothed her nightgown. “By the time they get to them, you’ll be of age, and we’ll be able to testify that we were the ones doing the magic at any trial they’ll want to hold. Besides,” she finished with an encouraging smile, “you’re going to defeat Voldemort; it’s not like they’re going to put you on trial first thing when you get back.”
Harry didn’t know why it was, but those particular words made him feel more light-hearted than he’d felt in days. It was not only re-assuring to know that his friends would be with him when he faced Voldemort, but that in the end, they were expecting him to win.
The days leading up to Harry’s departure were spent reading, playing chess with Ron, and avoiding the Dursleys at all costs. Uncle Vernon had not found the gumption to visit Harry’s bedroom since the morning he’d discovered Ron and Hermione, and that suited Harry just fine. His Aunt Petunia, however, regularly walked past their door with the excuse that she was taking laundry downstairs, or cleaning the bathroom for the third time that week. Harry rather suspected she was worried that Hermione and Ron’s presence would somehow corrupt Dudley, who would also lurk by their door from time to time.
Hermione had been exhibiting odd behaviour, too. While she did not stare at Ron as obviously as she’d done the first morning they’d spent together, Harry had caught her doing so when she thought no one was watching. Furthermore, he suspected that Ron was also aware of the extra attention because he always had a self-satisfied smirk on his face when she was nearby.
The day before Bill and Fleur’s wedding, a package arrived from Mrs. Weasley. Pigwidgeon delivered it just before it dawn.
“Knock if off, you little feathery git,” Ron chided as he attempted to catch the tiny owl. Pig was zooming around the ceiling, the package flopping back and forth from his leg. “Couldn’t you have waited a little longer to deliver this?” Ron asked as he stopped lunging after him and opted instead for a Summoning Charm. Pig instantly shot to Ron’s outstretched hand and hooted shrilly when Ron detached the package. “Six in the bloody... Hey,” he said, testing the box for weight. “It’s light. Too light.”
Hermione snatched the box from Ron, placed it on the bed, and tapped it with her wand. “Your mum must have added a Featherweight Charm on it.” Sure enough, when the charm was cancelled, the depression it made in Ron’s duvet doubled. “It’s been shrunk as well. Probably to make it so Pig could carry it.” She tapped the box again and it sprung out so that it took up half of Ron’s bed.
Ron tore off the wrapping and opened the package while Hermione took a note that had fallen to the bed. A fantastic smell filled the room. Eggs, toast, bacon, bangers, flagons of juice, and three mince pies were packed close together, along with a complete serving set for three people.
Hermione cleared her throat and began to read from the parchment.
I hope this is enough food for all of you. Mum was manic about making loads of food and was the one that charmed it while I wrote this note. Things are winding their way up for the wedding. Dad’s in a right state. He’s been asking for help from the Ministry to beef up security, but I don’t think they’re too keen to let anyone go seeing as how there’s a war on. Bill invited some friends from work to the wedding that are handy with curses, but they’re not Aurors. I just hope there won’t be any goblins here. Mum would go mad before the wedding march was played.
Take care. All of you.
They stared at each other, each thinking the same thing: No Aurors at the wedding wasn’t a good sign. A wedding like this would be sure to attract Voldemort’s attention, especially with Harry as a guest.
Harry, determined to not dwell on such thoughts, picked up a fork and pointed it at Hermione. “I reckon Mrs. Weasley knows you’re here.”
With a slight blush, she took the fork from him. “As long as she hasn’t told my parents...”
“Not much they can do about it,” Ron said and then stuffed a whole, fat banger into his mouth. “Mmm. ‘S good.”
“Why not? Don’t they have the right to know where she is?” asked Harry, who didn’t like the idea of Hermione leaving her family without their consent. It was one thing to tell them directly that she wasn’t going with them on holiday, but she’d left after concealing it for days.
“Because I’m of age,” Hermione explained, portioning out eggs to all three plates, the use of which Ron seemed content to forgo as he fingered a piece of bacon, still chewing on his sausage. “Look, it was painful enough to go through with them; I don’t want to rehash it with you two as well.”
Harry held his tongue, also keen to not argue on one of the last worry-free days he’d be able to enjoy for the foreseeable future.
Ron finally swallowed his banger, and shoved a whole piece of bacon into his mo