Hermione opened her front door, greeting Harry and Neville at with the same enthusiasm she’d expressed upon arriving at their place, a mere week earlier.
But this time, rather than spread as excitement and curiosity, her enthusiasm had the reverse effect, filling both boys with apprehension. When Hermione had called to invite them over, Harry had tried to argue her out of it, to entice her to come over to their place instead. He’d even offered her first go on his broom.
But the idea of flying didn’t have quite the same effect on Hermione as it did on the boys. Yes, she definitely wanted to try flying –one day– but not today. Today, she wanted them to come over to her place; she couldn't wait to show them her new toy pram.
So here they were.
Lily had dropped them off, but instead of coming in, she was waiting in her warm car, at the end of the drive, for them to cross over the threshold.
She’d told them to give her a call when they wanted to go home, and the boys had shared a look, almost giving into the temptation of asking her to take them straight home, right there and then. But after a moment’s hesitation, they’d mustered their courage, stepped out of the car and walked up the drive.
Now, hovering at the threshold, Neville nudged Harry through the door ahead of him, and turned back one last time, to wave at Lily, before stepping into the house himself. They could handle one game of House, couldn’t they? It would hardly be the first, and it always made Hermione so happy when they gave in and played what she wanted to.
Still, even after handing over his coat, and stepping out of his boots, Neville found himself looking for ways to stall. Glancing about the Granger’s immaculately kept entrance hall, he asked, “Where are your parents?”
Maybe Hermione’s mother was making biscuits for a change and...
“Mother’s in her office, as usual,” Hermione answered, dashing Neville’s hope for a distraction, “and Father had to go into the surgery for an emergency tooth extraction. Shall we go up to my room? Annie and I were waiting for you, to start our tea party.”
Stifling a sigh, Neville nodded and followed meekly as Hermione led the two of them up the stairs.
As they passed her mother’s office, with its half open door, he couldn’t help pausing to peek through the crack. Despite the number of times he and Harry had visited, they’d never been inside, and usually the door was firmly closed.
He caught a glimpse of Hermione’s mother on the phone, her back to the door. “Yes, end of July, that’s right.”
“Neville, are you coming?” Hermione called down from the top of the stairs.
Neville jumped back from the office door.
“Coming!” he answered, all thoughts once more on dreading the tea party that awaited him at the top of the stairs.
The scene he found wasn’t quite what he’d expected.
Hermione had set her reading lamp on the ground near her bed, moved her bedside table to the middle of room, and set four sofa pillows on the floor around it. Annie sat on one of the pillows, and Harry on another. The table was set with four cups and saucers, and in the middle of the table sat a tea pot –a real one– and a plate of biscuits.
A shadow of a smile crept onto Neville’s face, as he plopped onto one of the remaining cushions. Had Hermione's mother baked after all? Despite her aversion to all things sweet…
“The biscuits are left-over from a hostess gift that my parents received at our New Year’s party. And Mother made us some camomile tea; she says we’re too young for Earl Grey,” Hermione explained, gracefully lowering herself onto the last pillow. “You should drink it before it gets cold. The cups here aren’t charmed to keep things warm.”
“Whoever made the biscuits did a really good job. They're almost as good as Mum’s,” said Harry, stuffing a second biscuit into his mouth and talking around it. “The tea’s actually pretty good too. Do you think we can get Mum to make us some too, instead of plain milk, the next time the grown-ups have a tea party?”
Neville shrugged, “I didn’t know we were having a real tea party, Hermione.”
“Of course we’re having real tea,” Hermione giggled. “It’s time for afternoon tea. Usually we have it downstairs, but Mother let me bring mine up to my room, since you were coming over. And she said we could have the biscuits too, even though they’re sweeter than she likes, before they go to waste. We can play House with Annie and my new pram after we’re done here.”
Neville couldn’t help it; he groaned.
“Aww, come on,” Hermione entreated. “Don’t be like that. It’ll be fun. I’ll be the mummy, and Annie will be the baby, and you can be the daddy, and Harry can be the family dog.”
“Why do I have to be a dog!?” Harry objected jumping to his feet, cup still in hand, causing the last of his tea to slosh threateningly.
“Careful,” Hermione reprimanded. “If we break something, or make a mess, this’ll be the last time Mother lets us have a tea party in my room.”
“Fine!” Harry drained the last of his tea, then sat back down as abruptly as he’d stood up, “but I’m still not going to be a dog.”
“Okay, you don’t have to be a dog. We’ll think of something else,” Hermione promised. She lifted the nearly-full tea-pot in an attempt at a peace-offering. “Here have some more tea. It always makes me feel better.”
Harry sighed, but held out his cup; it was pretty good tea... And he was feeling better, more relaxed, than he had been before drinking the first cup...
He was halfway through his second cup of camomile tea, when Hermione set down her cup abruptly, and exclaimed, “I got it! You can be the nosy neighbour who makes a nuisance of herself and spies on me, and Neville, and the baby.”
Harry took another sip of his tea, and nodded agreeably, his mind drifting to Mrs Taylor, who lived three houses down, and was really nosy, and annoying, always prattling on, and pinching cheeks, and ooh-ing, ahh-ing, and coo-ing. He could do nosy. Being the nosy neighbour was way better than being the family dog.
Still Harry did his best to drag the tea party on as long as possible, as did Neville, sipping at their tea as slowly as they could manage, and nibbling at the biscuits. Anything to put off the impending game of House…
But they could only put it off so long.
The moment teapot, and each of their cups, was completely drained, and the last morsel of biscuits polished off, Hermione stood abruptly. She waved away their offers to bring the dirty dishes down to the kitchen –her mother didn’t trust them to carry the tea set down the stairs– switching straight into authoritative mode. “Neville, you and I will take Annie for a walk in her pram. Harry, you go out into the corridor and pretend to lay in wake on the street.”
Harry nodded, a half-baked plan to emulate Mrs Taylor, already forming in his mind.
Not waiting to watch Hermione place Annie in the pram, he headed out into the corridor, looking for the perfect place to stand in wake. Finally, he chose an obtrusive spot near the end of the corridor, smack in front of Mr and Mrs Granger’s room, where Hermione and Neville would have a hard time avoiding him.
He didn’t have to wait particularly long. A short minute later, Harry caught sight of Hermione’s toy pram –which to his unpractised eyes looked very much like the pram Mum used for Heather, except slightly smaller –poking out of the door to Hermione’s room, followed closely by Hermione pushing the handle, and Neville strolling quietly beside her.
When he judged that they were close enough, he called out, “Oh hello, Mrs Granger, Mr Granger!”
Then, without waiting for them to acknowledge him, Harry walked up to the carriage and leaned over it, not bothering to ask for permission. “Is that your new baby? She’s so cute. Let me pinch her cheeks,”
He reached down, about to pinch Annie’s cheeks, when Hermione forcefully swatted his hand away, not letting him touch the doll. “Don’t you dare touch my baby! Your hands are filthy!”
Puzzled, Harry looked down. Sure enough, there were brown smears, from one of the chocolate biscuits that he’d eaten, on both his hands.
But, like Mrs Taylor, he refused to be deterred. Putting on his best snooty voice he answered, “Oh dear, how ever did that happen? No matter...”
Hands clasped behind his back, he leaned over the pram once more, “Oooh, aren’t you a perfect little angel, coochie–”
“Leave my daughter alone!” Neville grabbed Harry by the shoulder, pulling him firmly away from the pram.
Harry jerked free, returning to his former position.
And so it continued...
Hours later, when he and Neville went over their day, they had to admit that they’d had fun. Had they really been worrying over nothing? Playing House wasn’t so bad, when they relaxed enough to have fun and let their imaginations run with it...
In fact, it was a lot like playing Aurors and Dark Wizards, but without the violent bits, or rather, without most of the violent bits... He and Neville had almost come to blows at one point, in keeping with their respective characters.
Of course, it helped that Hermione had been a lot less bossy than she usually was when they played House... Or was it that she was less bossy because they’d been co-operating better instead of fighting her every step of the way…?
A/N: I’d like to thank my mother for her unwitting contribution to this chapter through years of serving my siblings and I camomile tea (or “tea for children,” as she referred to it). I’d also like to thank my beta Arnel for her help on this chapter.