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Harry spent the rest of the trip to Hermione's house chatting to her and her parents. After all, Harry and Hermione had a lot of catching up to do. While Harry had spent most of the summer so far studying, Hermione had been keeping in contact with the Order. She updated him on everything she knew, even though it wasn't a lot. Harry hadn't been allowed to know anything before, as Voldemort could get into his mind at any time. Fortunately, his newfound determination after Sirius' death meant he had almost mastered occlumency. He had practiced several times a day and thought it must be working, as he hadn't had a vision in weeks, ever since the Department of Mysteries incident. After explaining this to a skeptical Hermione, she had reluctantly agreed to fill him in.
As soon as news of the wizarding world had been discussed, Harry brought up the wards around Hermione's house.
Oh, they're wonderful! she gushed, They've been placed around the houses of all Muggleborns. Dumbledore decided we needed more protection, as we don't have any full-grown witches or wizards to protect us. The wards are tied to Hogwarts and the Auror offices. If and Death Eaters penetrate them, the Order and the Aurors arrive. They repel a lot of dark magic as well.
Sounds great, Harry told her, A bit like the ones around my house.
They spent the rest of the trip discussing the wards in depth. Hermione's parents chipped in now and again, but were mostly lost by the conversation. The girl herself was surprised to find Harry so knowledgeable about the subject. She had spent years trying to get he and Ron to study more, and it seemed like Harry at least had finally taken her advice.
When they finally arrived in Oxfordshire, where Hermione lived, Harry became more and more excited. He was curious about what sort of house Hermione would have. After all, his only experiences with Muggle houses consisted of the abnormally normal Dursleys and the cat and cabbage infested house of his squib neighbour, Arabella Figg. Neither of these homes were what you would class as the average Muggle household. Hermione's family, however, seemed like good, decent people.
When they finally pulled up outside the house, Harry gaped at the huge building. The Dursleys' house was average and square, uniform in its shape. Hermione's house, though, was sprawling and quite a bit larger, with a huge garden at the back.
Do you like it? Hermione asked him.
It's great. I didn't realise you lived in such a big house! he told her.
Well, my parents are both dentists, they earn quite a lot of money.
I can see that, he replied.
Hermione's father drove the car up the driveway and parked it in the garage. Between them, Harry and Mr. Granger managed to haul his trunk out of the boot of the car and into the house.
Just leave it at the bottom of the stairs, Harry. We'll take it up later, he told his guest. Harry just nodded in reply.
Would you like the grand tour? Mrs. Granger asked him, to which he replied with a nod.
It took them a good half an hour to see the whole house. When Harry was finally settled in his room and left to unpack, he flopped down on the soft springy bed with a smile on his face. The house was great, spacious and clean, but not too large as to be impersonal. With a grin, Harry began to unpack his things, making a list of what he needed to get the next time he went to Diagon Alley.
That night, at dinner, the family and their guest discussed what they would do for the rest of the summer.
We'll have to go to Diagon Alley of course, Hermione said, excitedly, There's a new Transfiguration book that's just been published. I really want to get a copy. Some of the mammal to bird spells are revolutionary!
Can I borrow it when you've read it? Harry asked, much to the surprise of the young witch.
I don't see why not, Harry. Is there anything you need, apart from the years' schoolbooks, that is?
Yeah, I need some parchment. Sending letters to the Order every two days made quite a dent, and when you add my summer essays to that, it's left me without any. I had to resort to lined paper.
There's nothing wrong with lined paper, Mrs. Granger pointed out, In many respects, it's a lot more practical than parchment. And don't get me started on quills!
Mum's a little passionate when it comes to some wizarding things, Hermione explained, She thinks that Muggles have better solutions to some problems, and I have to say I agree.
What like? Harry asked.
Well, as she says, quills are a good example. I mean, it takes you twice as long to write something than with a Muggle pen, seeing as you have to refill the ink so often. And then there are the ink stains you get on your hands, and inkblots. Biros are so much more practical.
That's true. Not that I ever get to use biros. Dudley never gets them because he never writes anything. I'm not even sure he can
Don't be silly, of course he can! Hermione protested, to which Harry simply gave her a pointed look.
The conversation quickly deteriorated into an argument about the merits of Muggle inventions versus their magical counterparts. Eventually they compromised, saying that each had their strong and weak points. By the time dessert was finished, they had the rest of the holidays planned.
A week later found Harry awoken early one morning by a pounding on his door. He jerked awake in shock, expecting the gruff voice of his uncle to come drifting through the door. He was therefore pleasantly surprised when a much softer voice penetrated his fuzzy mind.
Harry? Are you up? We're leaving in half an hour, Hermione called from the landing.
Harry shook his head to clear it before remembering where they were going. Alton Towers. The best theme park in the country. With an unmanly squeal, he leapt to his feet and grabbed his clothes, heading straight to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later found him sitting at the breakfast table, munching happily on a slice of toast. He had never been to a theme park before. Dudley, of course, had been to loads, but Harry had never been allowed go along. He had always spent the day with Mrs. Figg. Hermione, after hearing this, had immediately decided that he would have to go at least once in his life. After all, most kids went to an amusement park at least once in their lives.
After much discussion, Alton Towers was the most logical choice. It was only two counties away and had some of the best rides in the country. Harry was really looking forward to it.
At nine o'clock, Mr. Granger set the newspaper aside and stood, a smile on his face.
Everyone ready? he asked.
Yes, Sir, Harry replied.
Right, we'd best set off then. The sooner we get there, the longer we can stay.
With a whoop of joy, the two teenagers ran to the car, and sat themselves down, ready to leave. Today would be a day to remember, they were sure of it.
It had to be the best summer day Harry had ever had. Normally he spent the holidays working in the Dursleys' house, being yelled at by his aunt and uncle, and being beaten up by Dudley. Today, though, for the first time he could remember, he felt like a normal teenager. He could act like a Muggle, and just be himself without the fate of the wizarding world hanging over his head.
As soon as they arrived, Hermione and Harry headed for the most popular of the rides. There were long queues, but they didn't care. They had all day to explore. Harry loved the rollercoasters and the waltzer the best, even though he did end up feeling slightly nauseous after his third candy floss.
By the time the end of the day finally rolled around, neither Harry nor Hermione wanted to leave. However, as is the way of things, all great things must come to an end. In the car on the way back, Hermione asked Harry something that had been on her mind all day.
Harry, did you have fun? I mean, not everyone likes theme parks.
Harry grinned back at her and pulled her into a tight hug.
Hermione, it was the best day ever. Thank you, he said. Hermione brightened and hugged back, pleased she had given Harry a good memory.
When Harry woke up on the morning of August 31st, he was filled with a sense of anticipation and joy. The next day, he would be going back to Hogwarts. Despite the pain he suffered every year at the school, he still considered it his home, and there was nowhere else in the world he would rather be. Of course, he enjoyed visiting Hermione, and loved to go to the Burrow, but it was at Hogwarts that he felt the most comfortable. It was home, and it always would be.
Leaping out of his bed, he dressed himself and used the bathroom, before beginning the short process of packing away his belongings into his trunk. The fact that he didn't seem to have that much reminded him that today would be the day he was to go to Diagon Alley to buy his school supplies.
After breakfast, Harry and Hermione spent the morning playing a few games of Trivial Pursuit. Hermione, as anticipated, won every single game.
You know, I don't know why I bother, Harry said with a groan after his third defeat, I'm never going to beat you.
It's not the winning, it's the taking part, Hermione scolded, Can you think of a better way to fill in the morning?
Well, we could play chess, but I'd lose at that as well, Harry admitted with a sigh.
Mrs. Granger calling them for lunch interrupted their fifth game. After their meal, the group piled into the car and headed for London. As parking was a problem, they left the car in the suburbs and took the underground as far as they could. When they finally made it to the Leaky Cauldron, Hermione and her family went first, Harry trailing behind them. Harry was a little nervous about reentering the wizarding world. After all, he had had no reason to go to Diagon Alley since the news about Voldemort's return was confirmed, so he didn't know what the general public would do when they saw him. Since the majority of them had believed him to be insane, he was expecting a lot of stares, whispers and comments. Fortunately, he made it through the pub and out into the back yard without incident. Taking out his wand, he tapped the bricks in front of him and opened the gateway into Diagon Alley.
The place was packed. It being the last day before the students were to return to Hogwarts, there were a large number of parents with children milling around. Harry took a deep breath before plunging into the crowd, heading in the direction if Gringott's, the Grangers right behind him. As soon as they entered the white painted building, Harry went over to one goblin to go down to his vault, while the Grangers had their Muggle money changed into galleons.
Just as he was about to enter one of the carts down to the vaults, Harry heard a voice calling out to him.
Harry! Harry, wait, it said. Looking around, a grin spread across Harry's face as he saw who it was.
Ginny, it's great to see you, he said, giving the younger girl a hug, Where are the rest of the family?
They're just coming. I heard you were kicked out of the Dursleys'. I'm really sorry you couldn't come and visit us, but it was Dumbledore's decision. Where did you go in the end?
Hermione's. She's over at the counter with her parents, changing some money. We were just going to go shopping. Is that why you're here? he asked. She nodded her head, but before she could reply, Harry was enveloped in another hug. When he was released, he turned around and grinned at Mrs. Weasley, before greeting his best friend.
Harry mate, how've you been? the redhead asked.
Not bad, you?
They continued their conversation all the way down to the vaults and back again. Once they reached the foyer once more, they met up with Hermione and her parents and headed back outside. As soon as they stepped foot outside the bank, there was an enormous explosion.
What was that? Ron exclaimed, but his question was answered by the appearance of two dozen Death Eaters in the middle of the crowd, firing spells back and forth.
Hide! Arthur Weasley yelled, pushing his wife, the Muggles and the children back towards the bank.
But we can help, Harry argued.
You have no experience, Harry dear, leave it to Arthur, Molly said, but the expression on Harry's face hardened.
I do have experience, and so do Ron, Hermione and Ginny. We can help!
Like you did in the Department of Mysteries?! Molly shouted back. Harry froze, a look of shock and pain on his face, before he scowled at the woman in front of him and turned to the battle. Some people in the crowd were resisting, but they weren't having much effect. The Death Eaters had cornered several families with young children, and when Harry saw three toddlers watch their parents killed in front of them, he saw red. Taking out his wand, he rapidly began cursing black robed figures left, right and centre. Behind him, he could vaguely hear Ron, Ginny and Hermione joining in. After all, they had learned a lot in the DA the year before, and despite their problems in the Department of Mysteries, they were doing well. Before they knew it, several members of the Order of the Phoenix had apparated in. Harry was relieved, as he had been backed up against one of the walls of Gringott's bank, four death Eaters closing in on him.
Harry! he heard, and looked up to see Remus Lupin running in his direction. The distraction, however, proved to be a great mistake.
Harry turned back to one of the Death Eaters at the sound of the spell, his eyes widening as it sped towards him. With reflexes gained from years of playing quidditch, Harry leapt to one side, rolling onto the floor. The destructive spell hit the wall right where he had been standing. Time seemed to slow for the young wizard. In the background he could see Remus and Tonks running towards him. His friends had also turned to look, dawning expressions of horror appearing on their faces. Above him, Harry could see the wall of Gringott's explode and collapse, tonnes of rock falling in his direction. The last he knew was the sound of several loud screams and an excruciating pain, before his final breath left his lungs and the world turned to darkness.