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HP stories following Canon after HBP >> Chapter One - Beyond Friendships & Chocolate Frogs by Jeograph

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Chapter One
Beyond Friendships & Chocolate Frogs

Harry sat still in the warm beams of light passing through the beveled panes of the window seat near his bed in the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory. He casually brushed a finger along the breast feathers of his owl, Hedwig, through the open door of her cage next to him. His thoughts were a whirl—too much to process, and he felt no resolve to do so.
He had been so sure of everything right after the funeral. Sure that he had to break it off with Ginny, sure that he couldn’t support the Ministry, sure that he had to go off alone to fulfill his destiny. But then Ron and Hermione had set him straight on that account. They were not about to let him go off alone, and he knew that despite his fears for them, there would be nothing he could say to dissuade them.

They had had, surprisingly, a good time together in the half hour or so after the funeral, walking around the lake, not talking about the future but reminiscing on their six years together at Hogwarts, their adventures, and their memories of Dumbledore. They even found laughter recalling memories of Seamus Finnigan’s every attempt at spell casting going explosively awry during their first year. That laughter had let loose a tidal wave of happy memories. They fell into a comfortable ease that defied the future, and afforded them a brief respite from the concerns of the world as they walked in the grass and the sunlight.

Somewhere along the way Harry had suddenly noticed that Ron and Hermione’s hands were together, the fingers firmly intertwined, as they walked casually. He had stopped, a huge smile spreading across his face. “Finally” he blurted out.

Ron and Hermione stopped. Harry could see them both look down at their hands in unison. Harry wondered for an instant if they had even been aware that they were holding hands. They both stiffened as they suddenly disentangled their fingers and pulled apart. Hermione spun around, and she was flushed pink with embarrassment. Ron turned more slowly, and hesitantly, his cheeks were flushed crimson and he look more guilty than embarrassed.

“Don’t try and tell me that was an accident,” Harry exclaimed. He pointed at them, his finger wagging, gesturing to the moment that had already passed. “When are you two going to come to you senses?” Harry sighed, still smiling at his two best friends.

“Harry,” Hermione laughed in exasperation as she stepped towards him. “What is that supposed to mean?” She stood staring at Harry whose smile was widening into a stupid grin. “And wipe that grin off your face,” she demanded, feigning anger. She was clearly too embarrassed to do anything other than grin.

Harry looked at Ron who had not moved and was swallowing hard. He seemed cemented to his spot, and Harry knew that he had interrupted something unplanned and un-discussed. Harry glanced back at Hermione. She was one of his best friends and he knew that caught in this situation, embarrassed, she would revert to frustration and anger unless the moment was defused. Harry turned his eyes to Ron again and raised his eyebrow as if to say, I’m sorry, but now or never mate.

Ron had swallowed yet again and nodded very slightly. He stepped forward hesitantly and spoke in a timid, stammering voice, “Hermione.” She had turned to face him, her eyes widening, the corners of her mouth curled worriedly. “I… I…“Ron looked down no longer meeting her gaze.

Harry’s heart sank in his chest. He wanted to yell at Ron not to miss the moment, but he knew that Ron had to do this by himself, and he felt, sympathetically, just how hard it was for him.

Hermione seemed to know this too as she had reached out and taken Ron’s hands in her own. This small contact seemed to give Ron just the right nudge. Harry thought he heard Ron swear under his breath and he raised his head again looking Hermione straight in the eyes.

Harry heard Hermione’s breath catch, and he was suddenly aware of the intimacy of the moment, and how much he was the intruder. But, these were two people he cared for as family, and he couldn’t pull himself away, he had to witness this, he had to be sure that it was really happening.

“I‘ve been a complete git,” Ron’s voice was steady and clear, “And I have to tell you how I feel.”

Hermione’s mouth twisted into the lopsided smirk of a smile that Harry knew was a sign of pure delight. “And just how would that be?” Her eyes sparkled with the question.

Ron glanced sidelong at Harry for an instant. Harry could see the resolve in Ron’s face and he nodded encouragingly. “You are my best friend in all the world,” Ron continued. “Well… except for Harry,” he tipped his head in Harry’s direction, “but I have wanted to be more than friends for a long time.” Ron paused, as if he were preparing his next words. Hermione leaned in closer. “Hermione… I would like you to… I… would you be my g-girlfriend?” Ron blurted out.

Harry wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Hermione blushed even pinker. In a rather serious tone she said, “Why on Earth has it taken you so long to pluck up the courage?” Then she threw her arms around his neck, “I’ve just been waiting for you to ask.”

Harry realized he had been holding his breath. He could see Hermione biting her bottom lip in anticipation, and Ron leaned in closer, his face moving near to hers. She craned her neck back and glanced at Harry suddenly. Ron turned his head then too, his face flaring red, and he said, “Um... Harry mate... would you mind turning around for a moment?”

“Oh... Yeah... of course,” came Harry’s halted response.

Harry could hear Hermione giggle as he spun on his heels and shoved his hands into the pockets of his robe. Searching for a distraction he pretended to examine a passing butterfly, trying in vain, to not be aware of his best friends in the entire world sharing their first kiss some few meters behind him.

He felt his resolve about Ginny dissolve suddenly as he thought about Ron and Hermione. And he wondered if there really was any way to truly protect her—If denying himself Ginny’s company, and she his, would really achieve anything. As he thought it to himself a fear gripped his heart. He felt in that instant that it was an irrational fear borne of his history of lost loved ones. The realization struck him that, as with all his fears, this one too must be dealt with before he could face his future, and he smiled to himself as he felt then the sense memory of Ginny’s hand clasped in his own. He would have to think about this some more.

“Eh hem,” Harry cleared his throat. “I’m gonna turn back round now.” He slowly spun around to see a smiling Ron and Hermione coming toward him, Ron’s arm draped comfortably across Hermione’s shoulders and her arm around his waist.
“I suppose we should be getting back, don’t you?” Ron said. “Everyone will be looking for us, ‘cos the Express is supposed to leave soon.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry mumbled.

Harry looked round slowly taking in the moment, realizing that he wasn’t sad, but happy; happy that his best friends had finally figured it out. Happy that the three of them were together, that the day was so beautiful, that there was life all around him, and happiest because he knew deep down that this was what Dumbledore would most want for him; to be able to feel happiness in spite of everything. He smiled to himself.

“Harry, are you alright?” Hermione’s concerned voice penetrated his thoughts and brought him back to reality.

“Yeah,” he replied wistfully. “I’m good... really good.” She held out her free hand to him and he took it.

“Come on then,” she said, and together the three of them made their way back along the lake path toward the castle.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

When the threesome came back into view of Hogwarts, they could see that most of the crowd had disappeared. There was no sign of the Ministry delegation and the elaborate Beauxbatons’ carriage was gone. A small gathering of students was shuffling around near the entrance, mostly those who were Muggle born. They were waiting with their trunks for the carriages to come take them to Hogsmeade station. Harry, Ron and Hermione headed immediately for the courtyard and slipped back into the castle. Winding their way through familiar hallways, they were off toward Gryffindor tower to retrieve their trunks. Turning a corner they saw Ginny who noticed them immediately and ran toward them.

“Ron,” she called, “Mum and Dad are furious.”

She reached them and paused to breathe. Harry thought he detected a motion of her hand toward his, but if it was so, she retrieved it a mere instant after it moved.

“Well... I think maybe scared, actually,” Ginny continued. “When you three disappeared after the funeral Mum thought you’d been kidnapped or something, she’s been trying to get professor McGonagall to start a search.” She breathed again, concentrating her words on her brother, obviously avoiding eye contact with Harry.

She continued briskly, “Hagrid announced that the train has been delayed a little to allow students a bit more time, but we are all supposed to be gathering with our stuff already.”

Ginny paused again, no longer looking at her brother’s face, but rather his hand, where Hermione’s was still clasped tightly within it. Her eyes widened and she smiled slightly. “You... You two?” she stammered.

“Yes,” Hermione answered softly.

Ginny exhaled loudly. “Finally!” was her only response.

Ron and Hermione both broke into a subdued laugh, looking over at Harry. He smiled slightly, understanding their laughter and appreciating his “ex” girlfriend’s response as identical to his own. Ginny looked at him confused. He shrugged his shoulders. Ginny shook her head forcing her thoughts to more pressing matters.

“Well,” she stepped forward grabbing Ron’s free arm. “We’d better find Mum and Dad and tell them you haven’t been taken by Death Eaters, or something.” She pulled him into motion. “I think they want to Floo home.”

Hermione, still holding Ron’s hand, was pulled into motion as well, but turned to Harry quickly. “Don’t worry, Harry, we’ll take the Express with you. We’ll be up to the dormitory in a minute to collect our trunks.”

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

“You up here, Harry?”

The sound of Ron’s voice from the stairs jerked Harry from his daydream review of the past hour’s events.

Ron entered the room, crossed directly to his four-poster, grabbed the small owl cage with Pigwidgeon in it, and his trunk. “We gotta go Harry; they’re waiting on us out front.”

Harry clasped the door of Hedwig’s cage and dropped the cloth cover. Hedwig cooed knowingly. He stood, lifting the owl cage and grabbing his trunk. He followed his friend down the stairs to the common room. Hermione was already down from her dorm, Crookshank’s carry basket slug over one shoulder, and her own trunk in tow. The three glanced around the common room for a moment, each wondering when, and if they would ever see it again, none voicing their thoughts. They turned and, levitating their trunks with a flick of each wand, left the tower.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

The Hogwarts Express seemed nearly deserted compared to its usual packed condition. The aisle was quiet as most of the students had chosen to stay in compartments near the front of the train. Harry, however, had opted to move to the back of the train, the last compartment of the last carriage in fact, to distance himself from possible questions and curious gazes. He had been disappointed to learn that Ginny had Flooed back to the Burrow with her parents, but felt he understood. After all, he had just broken up with her.

Ron and Hermione had settled their things into the compartment with Harry but some twenty minutes later were off to check on the other students, being the only prefects on the train. They had been gone now for nearly an hour. Harry wondered if perhaps they had checked the whole train quickly and now had found a quiet compartment somewhere where they could engage in a proper snogging session now that they were officially a couple. He smiled at the thought, feeling happy for them. This line of thought made him miss Ginny again. He felt the creature inside of him stir uncomfortably, as if it wanted to sleep a bit longer before being awakened, and he did his best to banish the longing from his mind.

He stood up and pulled his trunk down from the luggage rack, popped it open and rummaged through the contents retrieving a comfortable, worn, gray sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. He clicked the lock on the compartment door, drew the blinds, and quickly changed out of his robes and school uniform, tossing them carelessly into the trunk. He began to close the trunk, but hesitated. Reaching back in, he retrieved the false Horcrux from his pants pocket. He held it up by its chain, really examining it for the first time since retrieving it from where it had fallen from Dumbledore’s robe pocket. It was truly nondescript, not a visible mark on it. It twisted on its chain, and Harry couldn’t help but think of the terrible price that had been paid to retrieve it.

Just then there was a knock on the compartment door and Ron’s voice called out, “Harry, you alright in there?”

Hermione’s voice joined Ron’s with what sounded like a slight bit of panic in the tone, “Harry?!”

Harry turned quickly, flipped the lock, and slid the door open. “I was just changing,” he offered as explanation. The faces of his friends shone with relief.

“Good idea,” Ron chimed, stepping in and pulling down Hermione’s trunk, followed by his own.

Harry, unnoticed, tucked the locket into his jeans pocket and stepped out into the aisle, watching the landscape slip past as the train rumbled along.

Hermione emerged from the compartment with a selection of neatly folded clothes and slipped into the adjacent compartment, drawing the blinds as she did so. Ron stepped out a minute later dressed much as Harry in Muggle jeans and a sweatshirt, though his was the orange color of the Chudley Cannons Quidditch team.

“You and Hermione getting on okay?” Harry asked casually.

“Magnificent,” Ron smiled in return, his ears reddening slightly, his eyes showing a momentary far off look.

They stood silently for the few minutes it took Hermione to return from the other compartment. She was also now dressed in jeans. Though, rather than a sweatshirt, she wore a light pink zip fastening jumper, with a matching singlet beneath. She smiled at them, but, Harry thought, mostly at Ron. She was carrying her carefully folded robe and uniform, obviously to be packed back in her trunk. Harry thought of his own clothes tossed unceremoniously into his trunk and knew that Ron’s had been packed no better. He suppressed a chuckle.

Suddenly Hermione’s expression changed from a smile to one of urgency and fear. She raised a hand pointing out the window behind Ron and Harry, her neatly folded clothing falling to aisle floor.

“What?” cried Ron, stepping toward Hermione, reaching out in concern.

Harry spun to look out the window.

“There was something, I don’t know, something flashed past the windows,” Hermione sputtered, one hand clasped tightly to Ron’s, the other pulling her wand from her pocket.

Harry pressed his face to the glass trying to see what she had seen. Suddenly it happened again, a streak of red swooped into sight flashing past the windows and up out of view.

“There it was again!” Hermione screamed.

“I saw it!” Ron yelled. “Did you see it Harry?” Ron called at him, but Harry was already moving toward the back of the carriage.

“Harry!” Hermione yelled at him. “Where are you going?”

Harry was already at the back of the train and pulling open the door. As this was the final car a waist high gate was locked across the outside of the passage. Harry flung his head out the opening to look. Ron and Hermione rushed to his side.

“What is it?” Ron asked as they reached him.

Harry stepped back from the opening holding the door open as a large scarlet and gold plumed bird landed easily on the gate rail.

“It’s Fawkes,” he said excitedly. The Phoenix trilled loudly and tipped his head at Harry.

Harry reached up to stroke the Phoenix’s back.

“He’s got something there,” Hermione pointed out gesturing to Fawkes’ beak.

“Looks like a bit of metal,” Ron added.

Harry held out his hand and Fawkes dropped a small rectangular piece of what appeared to be pewter in his palm. Having delivered his gift, Fawkes nudged Harry’s hand with what seemed genuine affection, trilled quietly again, stretched his wings, and let the wind carry him majestically away from the train in a sweeping arc. He quickly disappeared from view amid the surrounding forested hills. For a minute no one said anything, they just stared in wonder at where Fawkes had been.

“What is it Harry?” Hermione broke the silence.

“I don’t know,” Harry replied, looking at the object in his palm.

He turned it over in his hand examining it. It was a simple bit of pewter, a clean rectangle two centimeters thick and about eight long. There was a narrow slit across what had to be the top. On one side, as he turned it again, was the name Albus Dumbledore, in raised letters across the front of the otherwise smooth object.

“I haven’t the slightest idea, Hermione,” Harry said.

“I do,” said Ron excitedly. “I know exactly.”

Ron turned to rush back to the compartment. Harry looked at Hermione with an inquisitive expression, and she returned a look that told Harry she was as confused as he was. They followed to the compartment where Ron was digging through his trunk hurriedly tossing clothes and books every which way.

“Ron,” Hermione called, a hint of exasperation in her voice, “What are you doing?”

Ron stood up and turned. He was holding a small tin, which Harry recognized as his Chocolate Frog Card collection. Ron smiled. “That bit there is a collector’s display base, mate.” Ron’s voice was excited, giddy, making him sound a few years younger. He tore off the tin lid, tossing it in the seat, and began rummaging through his cards. Harry looked at the piece of pewter in his hand and understanding dawned on him.

“Ron you’re brilliant,” Hermione exclaimed. She had obviously understood as well.

“Dumbledore is the brilliant one,” Harry said calmly. “This base has got to be enchanted. Got a Dumbledore card Ron?” he asked anxiously.

“I’ve got about six, mate!” Ron smiled. His fingers were quickly ruffling through his cards. He stopped, his smile broadening. With a victorious sweep of his arm he presented Harry with the desired card. Harry took the card, glancing at the image of Dumbledore, which smiled and quickly turned to step away, disappearing into shadow. Harry moved to the back of the compartment where there was a narrow drink ledge beneath the window. He set the base down on the ledge, crouching down so his head was level with it. Ron and Hermione came close behind him bending as well to look at the base. Gingerly, he held the card up, holding his breath as he positioned it over the small groove.

“Here goes,” Harry breathed as he dropped the card into the slot. For a second, nothing happened. Then the photographic figure of Albus Dumbledore stepped back into view, looking curiously as though discovering a forgotten window. It peered out from the small card and a delighted expression of recognition spread across the small face.

“Harry, my boy,” came the familiar voice. “What’s wrong?” Dumbledore asked concernedly.

Harry realized that thick warm tears were sliding down his cheeks. The sniffle behind him told him that Hermione was having a similar reaction to the animated photograph of their recent Headmaster.

“Nothing sir...” Harry sniffed. “I’m just very glad to see you.”

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