The Birthday Party


Story Summary:
It's Harry's seventeenth birthday, and Hermione invites her parents to the party. The Grangers are in for a surprise and a shock - her daughter has been rather economical with the truth.

Chapter 01


The Birthday Party

I still can't take it all in, all that happened tonight. A birthday party, Hermione had said. Well, it had been a party – of sorts. But not just a party. My word, what an evening it turned out to be! It was certainly an evening of surprises. I think I learned more about Hermione and her friends and that school of hers in a couple of hours than I had done in six years. I don't know - maybe there are times when it's better not to know things. Had we spent too long in ignorance? Perhaps an ignorance of our own choosing? But it was also a case of knowing what sort of questions to ask – and we hadn't asked the right ones, obviously.

And it also turned out to be an evening of farewells. But farewells, I hope, not goodbyes. I still can't believe she's doing this.

Helen's gone off to bed now, which is probably very sensible. Me – well, I'm staying down here until I finish my glass of whisky – or bottle, which is more likely. Not sensible, I know – but at the moment I don't care. I can see the sky outside is beginning to lighten now - another dawn, another day.

A birthday party, Hermione had said. What could be more innocuous than that? Or so we thought when she mentioned it, about a week ago. Hermione had spent most of the summer with us this time, instead of with her friends from that school. We never saw her during term, and hardly ever in the holidays – she was always off doing something. But this summer was different - she'd been staying at home almost all the time.

Mind you, we knew something was afoot - it was obvious that she'd been hiding a lot ever since she came back from that school last July. Oh, Hermione will never tell you an untruth – but she's good on the arts of misdirection and omission. As I said, I think we found out more tonight than we'd found out in the whole of the previous six years.

You see, that was the trouble with that wretched school. We could never go and visit it, or talk to any of the teachers, or even just walk round it. You would want to do that with any school your child was going to – and this one more so. We got reports at the end of each term – but half the time we couldn't make head or tail of them. Herbology? Care of Magical Creatures? What did it mean to us? And as to everyday life, so to speak, at the school, all we had to go on was what Hermione told us. Oh, I suppose it's the same for all those other parents at other schools – but this wasn't just any other school, was it?

She'd brought home pictures at the end of most terms – apparently there was a boy in her house who was really keen on photography, and Hermione would get him to take pictures of herself with her friends. Of course, for us, one of the more unusual things was the way the people in the pictures would move - I remember particularly one where her friend Ron would keep on sidling out of view. They'd had a row or some such. She seemed happy enough in the pictures, and there were so many other things to look at as well. Hermione with this enormous bloke Hagrid. We'd met him once before when we'd gone to buy Hermione's school things. Hermione in a ball gown. Hermione standing next to some creature which she told us was a hippogriff – whatever one of those was. Well, you get the picture. Sorry, no pun intended.

So, up to then, we hadn't really regretted sending her there. But this last holiday, things seemed different somehow. She was certainly more subdued. She told us that something had happened to their headmaster – what was his name ... Dumbledore? She didn't go into detail, but it was plain she was upset. But there was more to it than that. She'd got herself an owl, of all things, and was sending messages back and forward to her friends all the time. I mean, she'd done that sort of thing before – but not like this. Message after message. And we could just feel there was something wrong, Helen and I – we couldn't put a finger on it, but Hermione was being secretive about something. Perhaps a boyfriend, we rationalised. And teenage girls did get secretive. I'd spent the last four years listening to the saga of our receptionist's daughter going off the rails – and the annoying thing was that she'd then say, “But aren't you lucky, having a daughter like Hermione!” And I'd agree, and tell her about Hermione's scholarship to a boarding school in the country. Then later realise that at the time I'd really meant it. Not supposed to mention Hogwarts to other 'Muggles', were we? In fact, we weren't allowed to. It was only after I'd walked away that I would think: 'Boarding school in the country? What was that all about?' Then I'd remember I was talking to another 'Muggle'.

Anyway, one evening last week, she sat down at dinner, and just as we were finishing, asked if we'd like to go to a birthday party with her.

“Who's, dear?” Helen asked.

“Harry's. He's seventeen, so it's a coming of age party as well. And he's moving into a new house, so it's a house warming at the same time.”

I still hadn't got my head round the idea that seventeen was the legal age for those people. Those people, I was calling them now. And my daughter was one.

“A new house?” Helen asked.

“He's not living with his aunt and uncle any more, and he was left a house by his godfather. It's in a bit of a state, but it's liveable, if you see what I mean.”

“Will we be the only Muggles there?” I asked.

That word - 'Muggle' - was beginning to leave a rather sour taste in my mouth. There were Hermione's friends, and then 'the Muggles'. I wasn't sure I liked been known as a 'Muggle'.

Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment. “Probably,” she admitted.

“Hm. Who else is likely to be there?”

“Oh, the party won't be that big, I wouldn't think. The Weasleys will be there, of course. They're enough of them to make up a party by themselves. You've met them before, of course.” I nodded. “Then there'll be Professor McGonagall and Hagrid from Hogwarts. Professor Lupin, who used to teach us. Some friends from school – Neville Longbottom, certainly. Luna Lovegood – she's a bit batty, but okay really. And us.”

“No other parents?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Well, the Weasleys, of course ... but Harry's parents are dead, so they won't be there.”

Well, that didn't sound too bad. We'd met the adults before, and if the others were friends from school ... I looked over at Helen and she gave a slight nod. So that was settled. Actually, it seemed quite a good opportunity to meet some of these people – we'd heard so much about them by now. And we could talk to her teachers for once.

So, we'd said we'd go, but Hermione hadn't said where it was or when it began. Nine o'clock start, she said, when I asked. Where was it? East London, somewhere. I frowned a bit – not the nicest of areas, particularly late at night.

“I've worked out the route from my A to Z. It's not too far.”

Typical Hermione. I could imagine she'd worked out the timing for the journey, down to the last set of traffic lights.

“Is it safe to leave the car there?” asked Helen.

“I can put some locking charms on it. And make the windows unbreakable. If the paintwork gets damaged,” - she shrugged - “well, I can fix that when we get home.”

We both stared at her. Then I remembered when McGonagall had visited us, six years ago now, and conjured an armchair out of a newspaper. Magic. Could be useful, I suppose.

“You're of age now, aren't you?” I asked her. She nodded. “So you can do magic at home now?” She nodded again. “You haven't been,” I observed.

“Well, I have up in my room,” she admitted. “But down here – it didn't feel quite right.”

“But you can?”

“Oh, yes.”

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to ask for a demonstration or not. I glanced over to Helen, but she was keeping a studiedly neutral expression on her face. It was one of those moments when you want to ask, but you're afraid of the answer you'll get.

So, Friday evening, we set off. Hermione navigated from the back seat, very competently. And when we did get there, it turned out that it certainly wasn't a nice part of London either. Distinctly seedy and run down. I did wonder how Harry's godfather had come by the house in the first place, but there were so many other questions, I didn't know where to start.

Hermione was looking at her watch as I parked.

“We'll have to wait a couple of minutes.”

She'd obviously allowed too much time for red lights, or the evening rush hour, or whatever.


“Well, you see, there're various security charms on the house. Harry's going to relax them for us. Until we're in, that is.”

“Security charms?” asked Helen.

“Well, apart from anything else, it's hidden from Muggles.”


“And I've got to put some charms on the car as well.”

We got out and stood in the hazy evening sunlight. I took another look around the square, taking in all the shabby houses. Which was Harry's, I wondered. Then I remembered we 'Muggles' couldn't see it. The car seemed very conspicuous parked there, all new and gleaming among a lot of wrecks, some of which looked as though they hadn't moved for a very long time. And I was prepared to bet that very few of them had tax discs, either.

Hermione drew her wand from a pocket, looked round quickly, then tapped the car and started muttering things.

“Will the keys still work?”

“Oh, yes. But if someone tries to break in, they'll find they can't.”


What else could you say? I mean, you had to take it all on trust, didn't you? I looked around again. There was some very smelly rubbish piled against one front door. Most of the front doors looked as though they hadn't seen a lick of paint for years.

Then Hermione took us along the pavement. I didn't like the look of any of the houses in the square, and I was about to ask Hermione which one it was, when I heard a gasp from Helen. A house was, well, appearing from in between the others. Not that it seemed any improvement on the rest. It looked sinister, even to me. The windows all seemed boarded up, and like the others, it could do with a good coat of paint.

“Come on,” said Hermione briskly. She hurried up to the front door, and tapped it again with that wand of hers. There seemed to be a lot of clanking noises and rattling of chains, until finally the door swung open. It looked very dark inside.

Hermione turned and ushered us in. She still seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, and she scanned the street quickly before slamming the door again. There were more rattlings and slamming of bolts. Harry appeared from a room off the hall, and gave us all a smile. Hermione rushed forward and threw her arms around his neck. Helen gave me a slightly startled look. But then another girl came out – a Weasley, by the look of her – and Hermione disengaged herself from Harry and threw her arms round the girl instead.

“You're both all right?” Hermione asked rather breathlessly.

Harry nodded, obviously a little amused. “No problems.”

“That's good. So we can go ahead?” Harry nodded. “You can put the wards back now,” Hermione added, then turned back to us. “Mum, Dad – this is Ginny Weasley.”

We all smiled at each other. She seemed a pleasant enough girl. Harry was doing something by the front door. Hermione noted a bare patch on the wall and nodded at it.

“You got rid of it then?”

Ginny pulled a face, then nodded. “Got Bill onto it in the end.”


Harry had obviously finished doing whatever it was he'd been doing, and came back. “Sorry. Just been ...” and he waved a hand towards the door. Just what he'd been doing, I had no idea, but I smiled politely. The rest of what they'd been talking about made no sense either, but I assumed it was just part of the usual teen gossip.

“Oh, happy birthday, Harry,” said Helen.

Harry smiled. He did seem quite a nice lad. I'd also noticed that he was holding hands with Ginny now, so the greeting had obviously just been Hermione's over-exuberance. Not that it was like her to be that exuberant in the first place.

“Thanks,” he said, “but it's actually at midnight. My birthday's tomorrow, if you see what I mean.”

“Of course. What a nice idea!”

“This place is yours, Hermione was telling us.” I was doing my best to make polite conversation.

Harry looked round. He didn't seem enthralled by the place. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “It's ... well, it's a useful base.” He seemed to realise he'd been a little ungracious, because he suddenly smiled and said, “Come through and meet the others.”

But before we could follow him, Hermione turned to us and hissed, “Mum. Dad. Just don't go off wandering round, okay?”

We looked at her slightly bemused.

“We wouldn't dream of it,” said Helen. “It's Harry's house.”

“No, I don't mean that. It's just that there're ... things around which you have to be careful of.”

We both stared at her.

“What Hermione means,” explained Harry, “is that there're quite a few objects with magical charms on them, and if you don't know what they are, it's not a good idea even to try picking them up.”

There was a long silence, then Helen said, “Well, of course. Thanks for the warning.”

I was wondering what sort of charms he was talking about. I didn't like the feeling of this place.

“Come on – everyone's in here,” said Harry, waving us through.

It was quite a big room, and a good deal more cheerful – it was much brighter, for a start - and there were quite a few people there already ... including a lot of Weasleys, by the look of things. I saw Mr Weasley's face brighten at the sight of us, and I sighed a little. He'd want to talk to the 'Muggles'. Fortunately – Molly, wasn't it? - came over too. She wasn't quite such hard work.

Hermione said hello to the Weasleys, and then went off to talk to some of her friends. Arthur pressed drinks into our hands – Helen had volunteered to drive back, which was just as well. I felt I needed a stiff drink, and listened to Arthur with one ear, whilst looking round the room. It seemed to be a very odd collection of people. Or a collection of very odd people. But then, I was a 'Muggle', wasn't I? I suppose Muggles seemed just as odd to them.

As we were chatting, I saw another of the clan come in: the tall one. Ron. The one who'd been in all those pictures. His face lit up at the sight of Hermione, and when she turned, I saw the same expression on her face. Oh, oh, I thought. You got it wrong. Not Harry, but this one. Well, the family seemed decent enough, even if Mr Weasley could bore for Britain. No, that's a bit unfair. It's just I wish he'd talk about something other than plugs or batteries. I'm still being unfair. Perhaps to him, they're as exotic as ... well, wands to us. But I still wish he'd shut up.

Hermione jerked her head sideways at us, and Ron turned, saw us, and went bright red. Not the best poker player, this one. Hermione went up to him, took his hand rather ostentatiously – the boy went redder still, if that were possible – and dragged him over to us.

“Mum, Dad, you've heard me talking about Ron,” she said, slightly ingenuously.

“Of course,” I said. I held out a hand. “Good to see you again.” The poor boy muttered something semicoherently, and I could see his Adam's apple bobbing up and down nervously. “Hermione tells me you play in the Gryffindor Quidditch team.”

I hope I got that right. I obviously had, because his face immediately brightened.

“Yeah. We had a fantastic season. And Harry and Hermione bought me a season ticket for the Cannons for my birthday.”


“Chudley Cannons. Quidditch team. I'm a supporter.”

“Oh, right. Many teams, are there?”

“Oh, yeah, loads ...”

But the poor boy was interrupted by Hermione. “Don't you remember, Dad – we went off to the Quidditch World Cup two years ago?”

“Oh, yes, right.”

Helen had obviously caught the signals by now, and turned her attention to Ron. I caught Molly's eye and motioned her to one side.

“Are Ron and Hermione ... well, serious?”

“I think so,” she said. “They spend half the time rowing, half the time making up, and half the time ... well, I'm not quite sure what. Sorry, too many halves, I know.”

“Bit on the stubborn side, my daughter.”

“Bright, though. And a good witch.”

“Really?” I suppose it was supposed to be a compliment.

She nodded. “Oh, yes. She's good with a wand. And knows all the theory, too. Ron's not bad, but too slapdash and too lazy. Harry, now – he's got it inside him. Intuitive, if you see what I mean.”

I did. I suppose it's the same with everything, really. “And you say they're serious about each other?”

“Oh yes.” Suddenly her eyes started filling with tears, and I felt distinctly uncomfortable. “Sorry,” she said, after a moment, dabbing her eyes. “It's just – well, Bill was married last week. That's why he's not here. He's off in France with Fleur on their honeymoon.”

“Oh, that's nice,” I said rather meaninglessly.

“And after what happened to him.”


“The attack.”


She looked at me, slightly surprised. “Hermione didn't tell you?”

“No.” I remembered her going off to the wedding, but when it's people you've never met, it doesn't mean a lot. “What happened?”

“Bill was attacked – rather savagely – during that business at the end of last term.”

“Er – business? End of last term?”

Now she really was taken aback. She looked at me, slightly shocked. “The attack on Hogwarts?”

This time, it was my turn to be concerned. “She did tell us there'd been some trouble, and that the headmaster had died, but not much more. And it's always been difficult for us – knowing what questions to ask, if you see what I mean.”


I didn't like the way she said that.

“You mean she's told me the truth, but not the whole truth?”

“She does seem to have left some gaps in the story. Snape?”

I frowned. “Snape? The one who teaches Potions?”


“What about him?”

“Or You Know Who?”

“You Know Who?” I was beginning to sound like a parrot.

She was obviously steeling herself for something. Eventually: “Voldemort.”

“Ah.” Some comprehension dawned. “He's the one going round causing trouble?”

“You might say that.” She was looking a little grim now. “I think you need to have a word with your daughter. I think there are some things she needs to tell you.”

“You think so?”

“I do indeed. And if I were you, I'd make sure I had a word with her tonight.”

“Why?” I asked, curious.

She shook her head. “She needs to tell you that herself.”

I stared at her. “There's something going on, isn't there?”

“Talk to her yourself. I'm saying nothing until you've talked to her.”

I was a bit flummoxed. Truth to tell, I wasn't sure what to make of the woman and her tales. But it did seem as if we needed a little talk with Hermione. And Molly had said to do it tonight.

Easier said than done, though. Hermione was in a little group of boys and girls, all obviously from school. Helen was in the corner, with that enormous gamekeeper fellow. I thought I'd better go over there and join her.

Only to find the topic of conversation was – Hermione.

“Great girl, she is,” Hagrid was going on. He was sitting on the floor, leaning back against the wall, and clutching something that looked rather larger than a pint glass – it was difficult to tell in those huge hands – and even sitting down like that, his head was higher than mine.

Helen, of course, was lapping all this up. Mind you, if someone's going on and on about how wonderful your daughter is, it's not surprising if you sit and lap it up. And Hagrid seemed particularly expansive that evening. Unless he's like that all the time.

Then McGonagall came over, and the Hermione Appreciation Society acquired another member. But I kept on picking up undertones in the conversation – or perhaps I had just become more aware of them – which worried me. McGonagall referring to 'the recent events', 'the recent tragedy', and so on. Another fellow called Remus came over, and it turned out that he'd taught Hermione too. It was all very flattering, but at the same time I was becoming more and more uneasy. I hope I didn't seem too rude.

Eventually I got the chance to pull Helen on one side. I was fairly blunt.

“There's something wrong.”

“What do you mean, dear?”

“Hermione's been keeping things from us. And there's an odd atmosphere here tonight. I think we need to get hold of her – have a word with her.”

Helen nodded. “I've been picking up vibes too.”

Hermione was still with her group of youngsters, all laughing about something. I took Helen's arm and we went over.

“Mum. Dad. Come and meet everyone.”

I put several faces to names I'd heard about for some time. Then, probably rather rudely I suppose, I said, “Sorry to break things up, but we'd like a word with Hermione just for a moment.”

Everyone nodded politely, and I drew her to one side. “Is there a room somewhere we could go for a quick chat?”

I could see Hermione wasn't entirely surprised. We went out back into the hall, and she said, “There's a room over here.”

She opened the door and we peered in: it was pitch black inside. Nonchalantly, she reached for her wand, muttered something, and a few lamps flickered into dim life. Helen and I exchanged glances. It's one thing knowing your daughter can do these things, and another actually seeing her doing them.

The room was fairly dirty and dingy. It had the same seedy atmosphere as the rest of the house, but fortunately there were a few chairs which didn't look too filthy. I waved Hermione towards one, and the three of us sat down. I tried to do my stern parent act.

“Hermione - I've been talking to a few people, and I don't think you've been telling all that's been going on, have you?”

She looked as if she'd been expecting this. “No. I'm sorry, Daddy.” She hadn't called me that for years now. “If I had told you everything – well, I don't think you'd have let me go back to Hogwarts at the beginning of last year.”

“Why not?”

“Things have been happening out there – in the wizard world. And they've been getting nastier.”

“This fellow Voldemort?” Hermione nodded. “Okay, then. Start at the beginning, and tell us what's been happening.”

I think it took her half an hour or so to explain it all. And even then she didn't tell us everything – it wasn't until three years later that we discovered she'd spent weeks Petrified in the hospital wing. Half of it I didn't understand anyway, and by the look on Helen's face, I don't think she did either. She was just winding down when there was a voice outside.


The door opened, and it was that boy Ron. He looked at us uncertainly, then Helen said, “Come on in and close the door.”

He walked towards us rather slowly, looking a bit worried.

“Hermione's just been telling us about things,” Helen said quietly.


“About Voldemort and so on.”


He looked uncertainly from Hermione to Helen.

“Hermione has been keeping us rather in the dark,” I told him.

A light dawned on his face. He looked down at Hermione. “You said you were going to tell them everything ages ago,” in a slightly accusing tone.

“Yes. I'm sorry – Ron, Mum, Dad.”

Ron pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. There was something in the way he was looking at her, and I could tell Helen thought so too. I could see her looking at the two of them, how close they seemed to be sitting, the way Hermione had taken his hand. They seemed very intimate.

Helen's voice was suddenly very sharp.

“Ron, Hermione - have you two ... ?”

Helen didn't have to finish. Hermione and I knew exactly what she was getting at.

“No, Mummy, we haven't.” Then her chin went up a little, and, in an attempt to shock, “Not yet, anyway.”

Ron suddenly cottoned on and went brick red. I felt a little sorry for him. Hermione also had the grace to look a little ashamed by that last remark.

But I had a feeling that there was more to all of this – more than just past history – that there was something else Hermione hadn't told us about. They were planning something together.

“You haven't told us everything yet, have you?” I asked her.

“What do you mean?”

“There's something else going on besides what you've been telling us – and why have you saved your story up for tonight like this? Why not sometime before we left home?”

Ron looked at her again, and the way he did so gave something else away. They really were up to something.

Slightly to my surprise, Hermione looked at her watch. “Can I tell you in twenty minutes time?” We looked at her, slightly baffled. “Because it's midnight in twenty minutes, and Harry'll be cutting the cake. Can I tell you after that?”

“If you like. But could we have a word with Ron by himself first?”

Hermione nodded and stood up – meanwhile, the poor boy looked terrified. Left alone with us, he glanced rather helplessly from Helen to me. I could tell Helen's temper was up; she could be formidable at times. That's where Hermione gets it from. But she gave both of us a surprise.

“Ron,” Helen began, “we need some advice from you.” The boy blinked, obviously a bit baffled. “All this – about Voldemort and so on – Death Eaters – what's it all about?”

Ron suddenly looked relieved that he wasn't going to be quizzed about Hermione. “I don't know what Hermione has told you, but whatever she said – well, you can take it that the bloke's a nutter. Trouble is, he's got these people who think like he does.”

“How do they think?”

“Well, first off, there're those who think we should have nothing to do with Muggles. And that includes people like Hermione – because her parents aren't wizards. It's barking, really, because there aren't many people who haven't got Muggles in their past.

“But him – you know, the one you were talking about -” I noticed Ron didn't want to name him either “- he's barking in a different sort of way. Wants to become a sort of dictator, if you like. He's into Dark Magic in a big way.”

I didn't like the sound of 'Dark Magic'.

“So how do you stop him?”

“There are ways. Cos, you see, it's not like fighting people with guns and that. It's how you use your magic that counts. And Hermione is really, really good. And Harry – well, he came up against him – You Know Who – before now, and got away.”

“Getting away isn't the same as winning.”

“No – but it shows that he has weak points, if you like. That's what we've got to find – those weak points.”

Helen looked at me and I looked at her. We were still just as baffled as when we began.

“You'll look after her, won't you?” Helen asked quietly.

“Sometimes I think it's the other way round.”

That small joke helped break the tension a little. Then Hermione put her head round the door.

“They'll be starting in a couple of minutes.”

The other room was quite crowded now. We shuffled in and found a place against the wall. Someone jostled me from behind, and I heard a grunted apology. I turned, and I suppose I must have gasped something out loud.

He must have been quite old, and his face was battered and scarred like no face I'd seen before. But it wasn't the face. It was the eye. One was quite normal, and fixed on me with what looked like amusement. The other – well, it was much bigger, but it wasn't looking at me. It was spinning around madly in all directions, stopping from time to time, then swivelling round again.

“Don't worry about the eye. Frightens everyone first time. I'm Alastor Moody, by the way. And you are?”

“Er – I'm Hermione's father.”

“That's why I don't know you then. Not surprised you're here, though.”

Why was I once again getting the feeling that there was something going on no one had told me about?

“Look ...”

But before I could say anything else, everyone started clapping. Harry was standing in the middle of the room. The door opened, and a table came floating – yes, floating - in. Behind it was a tiny creature – I supposed I must have made some sort of noise again.

“House elf,” Moody grunted. “Quite harmless. Usually.”

I suspect his idea of 'harmless' and mine were different.

The – whatever it was – directed the table to the centre of the room and lowered it. On the table was an enormous cake, and everyone began clapping, shouting, whistling. Harry held up his hands for silence, and gradually the room subsided.

“Thank you all for coming – and for the presents,” he began. “I remember my first ever birthday cake, brought to me by Hagrid, exactly six years ago.”

More stamping and shouting. I could see Hagrid in the corner, raising his enormous mug in salute.

“Although I'm sure Dobby's done an excellent job, I'm not sure whether it'll taste as good as Hagrid's did.” Cheers. “Thank you all for being here tonight. Because, as you probably all know, there's something else I want to say.”

The room suddenly stilled, and I felt the shift from celebration to seriousness. I could also see that Harry was nervous now. His fingers were plucking at the edge of the table, and he was staring down at the cake. Then he looked up and looked round at everyone.

“The events at the end of last term were a shock to us all,” he said quietly, and there was a murmur of agreement around the room. “But Professor Dumbledore had given me a lot of useful leads before – well, before ... anyway, we now know quite a lot.”

He stopped, obviously thinking of what to say next. He stared down at the cake for a moment or two before looking back up and round the room again.

“Voldemort sought safety by dividing his soul. Well, we've got to go and find those fragments, and deal with them. We've some ideas as to where they are, and so tomorrow we begin our search.”

He was looking across to the young Weasley girl now, and I suddenly understood her mother's fear. Then he looked across to Ron and to Hermione, and I suddenly understood something else. My daughter was going with him as well. I almost laughed. Four teenagers – up against a madman, a madman who wanted to conquer the world. But there was nothing I could do now. I could hardly jump out from the crowd and seize my daughter and carry her away. I looked at Helen; she caught my eye, and I knew that she too understood what was going on.

“But tonight, we're going to enjoy ourselves.”

There were more cheers and hoots and whistles as Harry started cutting the cake, and pieces were now being passed around in an atmosphere of great jollity. I could see that everyone else apart from us had been anticipating the announcement. It was no surprise to them.

I turned to Moody.

“What are their chances?”

That eye began revolving round faster than ever. “Chances?” He grunted again. “Anyone's guess. Depends how they go about it. No use tackling him head on. They're going about it the right way. Cut him off bit by bit.”

“And you think he'll stand there and let them do that?”

“Oh, no. Oh, no. That's where the rest of us come in, y'see. Creating diversions. Putting him off the scent, that sort of thing, if you get my meaning.” It did make some sort of sense. “She hasn't told you, has she?”

He'd picked that one up quickly enough. “No.”

“Don't be too cross with her.” He looked over to where she was standing with her friends. “Perhaps she just wanted a last few days with you – in peace, so to speak.”

I stared at him. He could be right there. Still didn't make it much more palatable.

Before I had time to say anything else, Helen had seized my arm and dragged me over to Hermione.

“We need to have another chat!”

I'd never heard her so angry. I could see all the other youngsters taking a step back, while Hermione went red, and bit her lip. She glanced at her friends and back at Helen, then nodded. Without a word, she made her way to the door, Helen close on her heels, then across to that dark dingy room again.

“Don't tell me,” Helen hissed, more furious than I'd ever seen her, “that you're part of this mad scheme?” Hermione just nodded, not looking at her. “Four teenagers – up against some homicidal maniac?”

“Something like that – but it's not just us ... all the people you saw tonight – they're going to be backing us up.”

“That lot?” I exploded. “Half of them don't look as though they could fight their way out of a paper bag.”

She lifted her head and looked at me. “You don't know what you're talking about, Daddy.”

We stared at each other. It was one of those moments where, if we weren't careful, we'd end up have a thundering row and walking out on each other. And that wouldn't help in the slightest.

“Okay, then, tell me.”

“It's not what you look like, it's what you can do. You know, I've never done magic in front of you at home, so you don't really know what it's like.”

“So what is it like?”

There was a sound like the snapping of a twig, and Hermione disappeared. I blinked. No, she was the other side of the room. Snap. I blinked again. And she was back in front of us.

“That's elementary stuff,” she said. “I can't really show you the spectacular stuff in here.”

At any other time, I would have been really impressed – but at that moment I couldn't give a damn if she turned herself into a ten foot monster.

“All right, so you can do all that stuff. But I thought that You Know Who fellow was supposed to be one of the best around?”

“Oh, he is. But with magic, it's not so about what you can do, but about how you do it, or when you do it, or picking the right spell.”

“It's still a stupid idea, and you're putting yourself into danger when you needn't do.”

“Someone's got to do it. And besides, if his lot do get themselves where they want, it's people like me that'll suffer.”

“Why's that?”

“To them, I'm not a proper witch, because my parents aren't magical. They despise me. Or worse.”

There was, in a way, nothing we could say. We weren't going to stop her. Indeed, we had no way of stopping her. We couldn't lock her up – I suspected she'd given us that little demonstration to prove her point.

There was a rap at the door, and a boy's voice. “Hermione?”

The door opened – I was expecting Ron again, but it was Harry. He stood there, uncertain for a moment, looking at us, then he spoke to Hermione.

“Can I have a word with your mother and father?” She nodded. “Alone?” Hermione bit her lip, and nodded again. Harry stood to one side to let her pass, then closed the door behind her.

He walked towards us, not quite looking at either of us.

“I didn't want them to come,” he said suddenly. “The others, that is. I thought I'd be better off by myself. But ...” he shrugged “... if I didn't let them join me, if I just went off by myself, I knew they'd try and follow. And that would be worse for all of us.”

He had an odd, surprising, self confidence.

“What exactly is it you're going to do?” I asked him.

“Difficult to explain, but – we're not going to do anything stupid like tracking him down and trying to fight him. There's a lot to be done first. You see – he's been trying to conquer death.” He suddenly smiled. “Sounds stupid, doesn't it? But he's managed to split off bits of his soul ...” Helen gave a sudden whimper “... and conceal them in things. They're hidden away. What we're going to do is to try and track them down. They're safe enough to handle, but they may well be protected. Charms and the like. That'd be one of Hermione's strengths – puzzling them out, so to speak.”

“But getting these things – that could be dangerous?”

“Oh, yes. But the great thing about Hermione is that she isn't impetuous. Ron or me ...” he suddenly grinned “... would just make a grab for them. Hermione would figure it all out first.”

“Harry,” said Helen, “promise me one thing.”

“Yes?” he said, rather cautiously.

“You'll look after her?”

“With my life.”

And I believed him.

Harry left us after that, and we sat, not knowing what to say. Eventually Helen reached out for my hand.

“Come on,” she said. “We'd better go back in.”

I nodded. I had an idea.

Back in the other room, I looked round for Molly Weasley. She was talking to a girl in her mid twenties, and we made our way over. She did introduce us, but I had too much else on my mind.

“Molly, can we have a word?”

“Of course.”

The girl had the tact to take herself off.

“You knew what they were planning to do?”

Molly gave a big sigh. “Yes, I knew. I've been spending the summer arguing with them, but short of locking them up ...”

“The worst thing would be not knowing. Could you keep in touch with us – let us know what's going on?”

“Of course. I can come over and see you any time – I know it's more difficult for you.” She looked at Helen. “I promise you – anything at all, and you'll be the first to know. And I'll pop over from time to time even if there's nothing to report. It always helps to have someone else to chat to. It would help me as much as help you.”

“Of course.”

“I'm sorry she didn't tell you earlier.”

“That fellow Moody suggested that perhaps she wanted a few days at home in peace – no arguments, if you see what I mean.”

“Makes sense. We've done nothing but argue all summer. Then, a week ago, I realised I was getting nowhere, and just shut up.”

“When are they going?” Helen asked.

“Tomorrow morning. They've picked up some clues. And they're taking Mad-Eye.”


Molly pointed, and I nearly laughed. What better name?

“He's getting on a bit, but he's one of the best there is. And paranoid to boot. Which is just as well. He'll stop them jumping in at the deep end.”

“Harry said something like that about Hermione.”

“Did he? Well, he's right. She's more commonsense than the rest of them put together, and a pretty good brain too.”

Then the most extraordinary thing happened. Molly threw her arms round Helen and burst into tears.

I'm not very good at that sort of thing, and nor is Helen. Ron saw what was happening, and came over, but wasn't much use either. “Mum,” he moaned. “Get a grip.”

Less than helpful.

Fortunately Arthur came to the rescue, and he and Helen took Molly to one side. I glared at Ron, who shuffled his feet. Another fellow who'd been one of Hermione's teachers – Remus? - came over.

“Molly's taking it hard,” he said quietly. “And it can't be much fun for you two either.”

“You can say that again.” I looked at him – he seemed a sensible sort of fellow. “Are they doing the right thing?”

Remus shrugged. “Who knows what's right? Their plan is as good as any.”

“Is it ...?”

“Dangerous? Yes. But we're all living in danger these days, secret missions or not.”

“As bad as that?”

Remus nodded slowly. “As bad as that.”

I struggled for words. “But – I mean - why?”

A heavy sigh. “Tom Riddle was his name. Before he got ideas, that is. He's a classic psychopath – but one with brains and talent. The trouble is, he can persuade people to follow him. They think they're the elite – saving the purity of the wizard world and all that – but they're nearly as mad as he is.”

“So what chance have you lot got?”

Remus looked at me. “We're not going head on at him. That would be a waste of time. No, we've got to weaken the foundations first – and that's what Harry and the others are doing.”

“Fair enough.”

“Bet you weren't expecting this six years ago when McGonagall or whoever came to see you.”

“Not really.”

“She is good, you know – Hermione, that is. I mean it when I say she's the best student I've taught.”

“Thanks. That's some reassurance.”

I looked over to Molly and Helen. I think they were both crying now. After all, it wasn't every day you sent your daughters off to war.

I glanced at my watch – it was getting late now. Half past one. Thank Heavens it was a Friday night, otherwise I'd have had a lot of disappointed patients in the morning.

“Here, have another drink,” said Remus, pressing a glass into my hand.

“Thanks. I need it.”

This one was a real drink, and I spluttered a bit as I took a sip.

“What is it?”


“Right.” I took a look at the stuff – it looked more innocuous than it tasted.

Almost everyone had gone now – certainly all the youngsters. Hermione had disappeared somewhere. Harry was slumped on a sofa, looking exhausted. Mad-Eye – what an appropriate name – stumped in and came over to us.

“Weren't expecting this, were you?” he growled at me.

“Not this. Something, yes. We knew she was keeping stuff from us – but no, we didn't expect this.”

“I'm going with them tomorrow,” he said.


“To be honest, this one seems to be fairly straightforward. But you can never tell. Tricky fellow, our Mr Riddle.”

I didn't really know what to say about that, so I just nodded. Over the other side of the room, Molly Weasley was being taken away by her husband. Helen came over, looking rather wan.

“It's late, dear.”

“And you're driving.”

She looked at the glass in my hand. “Probably just as well.” She looked at Mad-Eye. “Take care of them.”

Mad-Eye grunted something and nodded.

“Right then.” She held out a hand. “Car keys?” I passed them over. “Do you know where Hermione is?”

I shook my head.

“I'll go and find her,” Remus offered.


A minute or so later, he put his head round the door and beckoned to us. In the hallway were Hermione, Ron, and Harry, standing in a little huddle, half defensive, half defiant. Remus reached out a hand.

“We'll keep in touch.”

“Thanks,” I said, grateful for the offer.

“Happy birthday, Harry,” said Helen, with a slight break in her voice.

“Thanks, Mrs Granger. And thank you for coming to the party.”

“Well, yes.” She suddenly pulled him forward into a hug. “Best of luck with – well, with whatever it is you're doing.”

“Thanks, Mrs Granger.”

Helen released him, and I put out a hand. Our eyes met as we shook, then he turned and left.

Ron was standing rather awkwardly just behind Hermione.

“Ron,” said Helen.

“Yes, Mrs Granger?”

“Come here.”

I think the thought of being hugged again scared him more than the thought of whatever it was they were going to do, but he submitted with a good grace. Then he and I shook hands rather solemnly.

We looked at Hermione.

“I'll come out to the car with you,” she said.

It was just as well she was there - there was no way we could have opened that front door ourselves.

Once outside, I looked round the dingy square. Who would have expected a place like this was hiding a house like that? I turned to look at it, but it had already disappeared. I shrugged. Helen and Hermione were standing by the car.

“I'll leave the Unbreakable Charm on the windows,” she said. There was a slight catch in her voice.

I nodded. “Fine.”

We stood looking at each other for what seemed like an age, before Hermione flung her arms round Helen, then pulled me into the embrace. Finally she drew away.

“Take care, dear,” said Helen. Hermione nodded, her eyes shiny.

It made it sound as though Hermione was visiting some friends for the weekend. But what else could she say?

Helen unlocked the car and we climbed in. I wound the window down. Hermione stood on the pavement for a few more moments, then waved, and started walking back. Half way down, she just disappeared ...

Helen started the car, and pulled out. Given the hour, the streets were almost empty. It hardly seemed to take a moment before Helen was parking the car by the front door. We hadn't said a word along the way.

Going back into our own house seemed odd after where we'd just been. I switched on the hall light.

“I'm going up to bed,” said Helen.

I nodded. I recognised the tone of voice. She wanted to be by herself. Fair enough. There was certainly enough to mull over. I watched her walk upstairs, then went into the front room and poured myself a stiff drink. I felt I needed it.

On an impulse, I rummaged in the sideboard and pulled out an envelope. I emptied the contents out onto the coffee table. I could see the faces in the photographs, all the people waving at us, bright with the energy of youth. How many of them would be coming back?