Chapter 36: Status Differentials

Wrench­ing di­s­ori­en­ta­tion, that was how it felt to walk out of Plat­form Nine and Three-Quar­ters into the rest of Earth, the world that Harry had once thought was the only real world. Peo­ple dressed in ca­sual shirts and pants, in­stead of the more dig­nified robes of wiz­ards and witches. Scat­tered bits of trash here and there around the benches. A for­got­ten smell, the fumes of burned gasoline, raw and sharp in the air. The am­bi­ance of the King’s Cross train sta­tion, less bright and cheer­ful than Hog­warts or Di­agon Alley; the peo­ple seemed smaller, more afraid, and likely would have ea­gerly traded their prob­lems for a dark wiz­ard to fight. Harry wanted to cast Scourgify for the dirt, and Everto for the garbage, and if he’d known the spell, a Bub­ble-Head Charm so he wouldn’t have to breathe the air. But he couldn’t use his wand, in this place...

This, Harry re­al­ized, must be what it felt like to go from a First World coun­try to a Third World coun­try.

Only it was the Zeroth World which Harry had left, the wiz­ard­ing world, of Cleans­ing Charms and house elves; where, be­tween the healer’s arts and your own magic, you could hit one hun­dred and sev­enty be­fore old age re­ally started catch­ing up with you.

And non­mag­i­cal Lon­don, Mug­gle Earth, to which Harry had tem­porar­ily re­turned. This was where Mum and Dad would live out the rest of their lives, un­less tech­nol­ogy leapfrogged over wiz­ardry’s qual­ity of life, or some­thing deeper in the world changed.

Without even think­ing about it, Harry’s head turned and his eyes darted be­hind him to see the wooden trunk that was scur­ry­ing af­ter him, un­no­ticed by any Mug­gles, the clawed ten­ta­cles offer­ing quick con­fir­ma­tion that, yes, he hadn’t just imag­ined it all...

And then there was the other rea­son for the tight feel­ing in his chest.

His par­ents didn’t know.

They didn’t know any­thing.

They didn’t know...

“Harry?” called a thin, blonde woman whose perfectly smooth and un­blem­ished skin made her look a good deal younger than thirty-three; and Harry re­al­ized with a start that it was magic, he hadn’t known the signs be­fore but he could see them now. And what­ever sort of po­tion lasted that long, it must have been ter­ribly dan­ger­ous, be­cause most witches didn’t do that to them­selves, they weren’t that des­per­ate...

There was wa­ter gath­er­ing in Harry’s eyes.

Harry?” yel­led an older-look­ing man with a paunch gath­er­ing about his stom­ach, dressed with os­ten­ta­tious aca­demic care­less­ness in a black vest thrown over a dark grey-green shirt, some­one who would always be a pro­fes­sor any­where he went, who would cer­tainly have been one of the most brilli­ant wiz­ards of his gen­er­a­tion, if he’d been born with two copies of that gene, in­stead of zero...

Harry raised his hand and waved to them. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t speak at all.

They came over to him, not run­ning, but at a steady, dig­nified walk; that was how fast Pro­fes­sor Michael Ver­res-Evans walked, and Mrs. Pe­tu­nia Evans-Ver­res wasn’t about to walk any faster.

The smile on his father’s face wasn’t very wide, but then his father never was given to huge smiles; it was, at least, as wide as Harry had ever seen it, wider than when a new grant came in, or when one of his stu­dents got a po­si­tion, and you couldn’t ask for a wider smile than that.

Mum was blink­ing hard, and she was try­ing to smile but not do­ing a very good job.

“So!” said his father as he came strid­ing up. “Made any rev­olu­tion­ary dis­cov­er­ies yet?”

Of course Dad thought he was jok­ing.

It hadn’t hurt quite so much when his par­ents didn’t be­lieve in him, back when no one else had be­lieved in him ei­ther, back when Harry hadn’t known how it felt to be taken se­ri­ously by peo­ple like Head­mas­ter Dum­ble­dore and Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell.

And that was when Harry re­al­ized that the Boy-Who-Lived only ex­isted in mag­i­cal Bri­tain, that there wasn’t any such per­son in Mug­gle Lon­don, just a cute lit­tle eleven-year-old boy go­ing home for Christ­mas.

“Ex­cuse me,” Harry said, his voice trem­bling, “I’m go­ing to break down and cry now, it doesn’t mean there was any­thing wrong at school.”

Harry started to move for­ward, and then stopped, torn be­tween hug­ging his father and hug­ging his mother, he didn’t want ei­ther one to feel slighted or that Harry loved them more than the other -

“You,” said his father, “are a very silly boy, Mr. Ver­res,” and he gen­tly took Harry by the shoulders and pushed him into the arms of his mother, who was kneel­ing down, tears already streak­ing her cheek.

“Hello, Mum,” Harry said with his voice wa­ver­ing, “I’m back.” And he hugged her, amid the noisy me­chan­i­cal sounds and the smell of burned gasoline; and Harry started cry­ing, be­cause he knew that noth­ing could go back, least of all him.

The sky was com­pletely dark, and stars were com­ing out, by the time they ne­go­ti­ated the Christ­mas traf­fic to the uni­ver­sity town that was Oxford, and parked in the drive­way of the small, dingy-look­ing old house that their fam­ily used to keep the rain off their books.

As they walked up the brief stretch of pave­ment lead­ing to the front door, they passed a se­ries of flower-pots hold­ing small, dim elec­tric lights (dim since they had to recharge them­selves off so­lar power dur­ing the day), and the lights lit up just as they passed. The hard part had been find­ing mo­tion sen­sors that were wa­ter­proof and trig­gered at just the right dis­tance...

In Hog­warts there were real torches like that.

And then the front door opened and Harry stepped into their liv­ing-room, blink­ing hard.

Every inch of wall space is cov­ered by a book­case. Each book­case has six shelves, go­ing al­most to the ceiling. Some book­shelves are stacked to the brim with hard­cover books: sci­ence, math, his­tory, and ev­ery­thing else. Other shelves have two lay­ers of pa­per­back sci­ence fic­tion, with the back layer of books propped up on old tis­sue boxes or two-by-fours, so that you can see the back layer of books above the books in front. And it still isn’t enough. Books are overflow­ing onto the ta­bles and the so­fas and mak­ing lit­tle heaps un­der the win­dows...

The Ver­res house­hold was just as he’d left it, only with more books, which was also just how he’d left it.

And a Christ­mas tree, naked and un­dec­o­rated just two days be­fore Christ­mas Eve, which threw Harry briefly be­fore he re­al­ized, with a warm feel­ing blos­som­ing in his chest, that of course his par­ents had waited.

“We took the bed out of your room to make room for more book­cases,” said his father. “You can sleep in your trunk, right?”

You can sleep in my trunk,” said Harry.

“That re­minds me,” said his father. “What did they end up do­ing about your sleep cy­cle?”

“Magic,” Harry said, mak­ing a beel­ine for the door that opened upon his bed­room, just in case Dad wasn’t jok­ing...

“That’s not an ex­pla­na­tion!” said Pro­fes­sor Ver­res-Evans, just as Harry shouted, “You used up all the open space on my book­cases?

Harry had spent the 23rd of De­cem­ber shop­ping for Mug­gle things that he couldn’t just Trans­figure; his father had been busy and had said that Harry would need to walk or take the bus, which had suited Harry just fine. Some of the peo­ple at the hard­ware store had given Harry ques­tion­ing looks, but he’d said with an in­no­cent voice that his father was shop­ping nearby and was very busy and had sent him to get some things (hold­ing up a list in care­fully adult-look­ing half-illeg­ible hand­writ­ing); and in the end, money was money.

They had all dec­o­rated the Christ­mas tree to­gether, and Harry had put a tiny danc­ing fairy on top (two Sick­les, five Knuts at Gam­bol & Japes).

Gringotts had read­ily ex­changed Galleons for pa­per money, but they didn’t seem to have any sim­ple way to turn larger quan­tities of gold into tax-free, un­sus­pi­cious Mug­gle money in a num­bered Swiss bank ac­count. This had rather spiked Harry’s plan to turn most of the money he’d self-stolen into a sen­si­ble mix of 60% in­ter­na­tional in­dex funds and 40% Berk­shire Hath­away. For the mo­ment, Harry had di­ver­sified his as­sets a lit­tle fur­ther by sneak­ing out late at night, in­visi­ble and Time-Turned, and bury­ing one hun­dred golden Galleons in the back­yard. He’d always always always wanted to do that any­way.

Some of De­cem­ber 24th had been spent with the Pro­fes­sor read­ing Harry’s books and ask­ing ques­tions. Most of the ex­per­i­ments his father had sug­gested were im­prac­ti­cal, at least for the mo­ment; of those re­main­ing, Harry had done many of them already. (“Yes, Dad, I checked what hap­pened if Hermione was given a changed pro­nun­ci­a­tion and she didn’t know whether it was changed, that was the very first ex­per­i­ment I did, Dad!”)

The last ques­tion Harry’s father had asked, look­ing up from Mag­i­cal Draughts and Po­tions with an ex­pres­sion of be­wil­dered dis­gust, was whether it all made sense if you were a wiz­ard; and Harry had an­swered no.

Where­upon his father had de­clared that magic was un­scien­tific.

Harry was still a lit­tle shocked at the idea of point­ing to a sec­tion of re­al­ity and call­ing it un­scien­tific. Dad seemed to think that the con­flict be­tween his in­tu­itions and the uni­verse meant that the uni­verse had a prob­lem.

(Then again, there were lots of physi­cists who thought that quan­tum me­chan­ics was weird, in­stead of quan­tum me­chan­ics be­ing nor­mal and them be­ing weird.)

Harry had shown his mother the healer’s kit he’d bought to keep in their house, though most of the po­tions wouldn’t work on Dad. Mum had stared at the kit in a way that made Harry ask whether Mum’s sister had ever bought any­thing like that for Grandpa Ed­win and Grandma Elaine. And when Mum still hadn’t an­swered, Harry had said hastily that she must have just never thought of it. And then, fi­nally, he’d fled the room.

Lily Evans prob­a­bly hadn’t thought of it, that was the sad thing. Harry knew that other peo­ple had a ten­dency to not-think about painful sub­jects, in the same way they had a ten­dency not to de­liber­ately rest their hands on red-hot stove burn­ers; and Harry was start­ing to sus­pect that most Mug­gle­borns rapidly ac­quired a ten­dency to not-think about their fam­ily, who were all go­ing to die be­fore they reached their first cen­tury any­way.

Not that Harry had any in­ten­tion of let­ting that hap­pen, of course.

And then it was late in the day on De­cem­ber 24th and they were driv­ing off for their Christ­mas Eve din­ner.

The house was huge, not by Hog­warts stan­dards, but cer­tainly by the stan­dards of what you could get if your father was a dis­t­in­guished pro­fes­sor try­ing to live in Oxford. Two sto­ries of brick gleam­ing in the set­ting sun, with win­dows on top of win­dows and one tall win­dow that went up much fur­ther than glass should go, that was go­ing to be one huge liv­ing room...

Harry took a deep breath, and rang the door­bell.

There was a dis­tant call of “Honey, can you get it?”

This was fol­lowed by a slow pat­ter of ap­proach­ing steps.

And then the door opened to re­veal a ge­nial man, of fat and rosy cheeks and thin­ning hair, in a blue but­ton-down shirt strain­ing slightly at the seams.

“Dr. Granger?” Harry’s father said briskly, be­fore Harry could even speak. “I’m Michael, and this is Pe­tu­nia and our son Harry. The food’s in the mag­i­cal trunk,” and Dad made a vague ges­ture be­hind him—not quite in the di­rec­tion of the trunk, as it hap­pened.

“Yes, please, come in,” said Leo Granger. He stepped for­ward and took the wine bot­tle from the Pro­fes­sor’s out­stretched hands, with a mut­tered “Thank you,” and then stepped back and waved at the liv­ing room. “Have a seat. And,” his head turn­ing down to ad­dress Harry, “all the toys are down­stairs in the base­ment, I’m sure Herm will be down shortly, it’s the first door on your right,” and pointed to­ward a hal­lway.

Harry just looked at him for a mo­ment, con­scious that he was block­ing his par­ents from com­ing in.

“Toys?” said Harry in a bright, high-pitched voice, with his eyes wide. “I love toys!”

There was an in­take of breath from his mother be­hind him, and Harry strode into the house, man­ag­ing not to stomp too hard as he walked.

The liv­ing room was ev­ery bit as large as it had looked from out­side, with a huge vaulted ceiling dan­gling a gi­gan­tic chan­de­lier, and a Christ­mas tree that must have been mur­der to ma­neu­ver through the door. The lower lev­els of the tree were thor­oughly and care­fully dec­o­rated in neat pat­terns of red and green and gold, with a newfound sprin­kling of blue and bronze; the heights that only a grownup could reach were care­lessly, ran­domly draped with strings of lights and wreaths of tinsel. A hal­lway ex­tended un­til it ter­mi­nated in the cab­i­netry of a kitchen, and wooden stairs with pol­ished metal railings stretched up to­ward a sec­ond floor.

“Gosh!” Harry said. “This is a big house! I hope I don’t get lost in here!”

Dr. Roberta Granger was feel­ing rather ner­vous as din­ner ap­proached. The turkey and the roast, their own con­tri­bu­tions to the com­mon pro­ject, were steadily cook­ing away in the oven; the other dishes were to be brought by their guests, the Ver­res fam­ily, who had adopted a boy named Harry. Who was known to the wiz­ard­ing world as the Boy-Who-Lived. And who was also the only boy that Hermione had ever called “cute”, or no­ticed at all, re­ally.

The Ver­re­ses had said that Hermione was the only child in Harry’s age group whose ex­is­tence their son had ever ac­knowl­edged in any way what­so­ever.

And it might’ve been jump­ing the gun just a lit­tle; but both cou­ples had a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that wed­ding bells might be in the offing a few years down the road.

So while Christ­mas Day would be spent, as always, with her hus­band’s fam­ily, they’d de­cided to spend Christ­mas Eve meet­ing their daugh­ter’s pos­si­ble fu­ture in-laws.

The door­bell rang while she was right in the mid­dle of bast­ing the turkey, and she raised her voice and shouted, “Honey, can you get it?

There was a brief groan of a chair and its oc­cu­pant, and then there was the sound of her hus­band’s heavy foot­steps and the door swing­ing open.

“Dr. Granger?” said an older man’s brisk voice. “I’m Michael, and this is Pe­tu­nia and our son Harry. The food’s in the mag­i­cal trunk.”

“Yes, please, come in,” said her hus­band, fol­lowed by a mut­tered “Thank you” that in­di­cated some sort of pre­sent had been ac­cepted, and “Have a seat.” Then Leo’s voice al­tered to a tone of ar­tifi­cial en­thu­si­asm, and said, “And all the toys are down­stairs in the base­ment, I’m sure Herm will be down shortly, it’s the first door on your right.”

There was a brief pause.

Then a young boy’s bright voice said, “Toys? I love toys!”

There was the sound of foot­steps en­ter­ing the house, and then the same bright voice said, “Gosh! This is a big house! I hope I don’t get lost in here!”

Roberta closed up the oven, smil­ing. She’d been a bit wor­ried about the way Hermione’s let­ters had de­scribed the Boy-Who-Lived—though cer­tainly her daugh­ter hadn’t said any­thing in­di­cat­ing that Harry Pot­ter was dan­ger­ous; noth­ing like the dark hints writ­ten in the books Roberta had bought, sup­pos­edly for Hermione, dur­ing their trip to Di­agon Alley. Her daugh­ter hadn’t said much at all, only that Harry talked like he came out of a book, and Hermione was study­ing harder than she ever had in her life just to stay ahead of him in class. But from the sound of it, Harry Pot­ter was an or­di­nary eleven-year-old boy.

She got to the front door just as her daugh­ter came clat­ter­ing fran­ti­cally down the stairs at a speed that didn’t look safe at all, Hermione had claimed that witches were more re­sis­tant to falls but Roberta wasn’t quite sure she be­lieved that -

Roberta took in her first sight of Pro­fes­sor and Mrs. Ver­res, who were both look­ing rather ner­vous, just as the boy with the leg­endary scar on his fore­head turned to her daugh­ter and said, now in a lower voice, “Well met on this fairest of evenings, Miss Granger.” His hand stretched back, as though offer­ing his par­ents on a silver plat­ter. “I pre­sent to you my father, Pro­fes­sor Michael Ver­res-Evans, and my mother, Mrs. Pe­tu­nia Evans-Ver­res.”

And as Roberta’s mouth was gap­ing open, the boy turned back to his par­ents and said, now in that bright voice again, “Mum, Dad, this is Hermione! She’s re­ally smart!”

Harry!” hissed her daugh­ter. “Stop that!”

The boy swiveled again to re­gard Hermione. “I’m afraid, Miss Granger,” the boy said gravely, “that you and I have been ex­iled to the labyrin­thine re­cesses of the base­ment. Let us leave them to their adult con­ver­sa­tions, which would no doubt soar far above our own childish in­tel­lects, and re­sume our on­go­ing dis­cus­sion of the im­pli­ca­tions of Humean pro­jec­tivism for Trans­figu­ra­tion.”

“Ex­cuse us, please,” said her daugh­ter in a very firm tone, and grabbed the boy by his left sleeve, and dragged him into the hal­lway—Roberta swiveled hel­plessly to track them as they went past her, the boy gave her a cheery wave—and then Hermione pul­led the boy into the base­ment ac­cess and slammed the door be­hind her.

“I, ah, I apol­o­gize for...” said Mrs. Ver­res in a fal­ter­ing voice.

“I’m sorry,” said the Pro­fes­sor, smil­ing fondly, “Harry can be a bit touchy about that sort of thing. But I ex­pect he’s right about us not be­ing in­ter­ested in their con­ver­sa­tion.”

Is he dan­ger­ous? Roberta wanted to ask, but she kept her silence and tried to think of sub­tler ques­tions. Her hus­band beside her was chuck­ling, as if he’d found what they’d just seen funny, rather than fright­en­ing.

The most ter­rible Dark Lord in his­tory had tried to kill that boy, and the burnt husk of his body had been found next to the crib.

Her pos­si­ble fu­ture son-in-law.

Roberta had been in­creas­ingly ap­pre­hen­sive about giv­ing her daugh­ter over to witchcraft—es­pe­cially af­ter she’d read the books, put the dates to­gether, and re­al­ized that her mag­i­cal mother had prob­a­bly been kil­led at the height of Grindelwald’s ter­ror, not died giv­ing birth to her as her father had always claimed. But Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall had made other vis­its af­ter her first trip, to “see how Miss Granger is do­ing”; and Roberta couldn’t help but think that if Hermione said her par­ents were be­ing trou­ble­some about her witch­ing ca­reer, some­thing would be done to fix them...

Roberta put her best smile on her face, and did what she could to spread some pre­tended Christ­mas cheer.

The din­ing room table was much longer than six peo­ple—er, four peo­ple and two chil­dren—re­ally needed, but all of it was draped with a table­cloth of fine white linen, and the dishes had been need­lessly trans­ferred to fancy serv­ing plates, which at least were of stain­less steel rather than real silver.

Harry was hav­ing a bit of trou­ble con­cen­trat­ing on the turkey.

The con­ver­sa­tion had turned to Hog­warts, nat­u­rally; and it’d been ob­vi­ous to Harry that his par­ents were hop­ing that Hermione would trip up and say more about Harry’s school life than Harry had been tel­ling them. And ei­ther Hermione had re­al­ized this, or she was just au­to­mat­i­cally steer­ing clear of any­thing that might prove trou­ble­some.

So Harry was fine.

But un­for­tu­nately Harry had made the mis­take of owl­ing his par­ents with all sorts of facts about Hermione that she hadn’t told her own par­ents.

Like that she was gen­eral of an army in their af­ter-school ac­tivi­ties.

Hermione’s mother had looked very alarmed, and Harry had quickly in­ter­rupted and done his best to ex­plain that all the spells were stun­ners, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was always watch­ing, and the ex­is­tence of mag­i­cal heal­ing meant that lots of things were much less dan­ger­ous than they sounded, at which point Hermione had kicked him hard un­der the table. Thank­fully Harry’s father, who Harry had to ad­mit was bet­ter than him at some things, had an­nounced with firm pro­fes­so­rial au­thor­ity that he hadn’t wor­ried at all, since he couldn’t imag­ine chil­dren be­ing al­lowed to do it if it was dan­ger­ous.

That wasn’t why Harry was hav­ing trou­ble en­joy­ing din­ner, though.

...the prob­lem with feel­ing sorry for your­self was that it never took any time at all to find some­one else who had it worse.

Dr. Leo Granger had asked, at one point, whether that nice teacher who’d seemed to like Hermione, Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, was award­ing her lots of points in school.

Hermione had said yes, with an ap­par­ently gen­uine smile.

Harry had man­aged, with some effort, to stop him­self from icily point­ing out that Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall would never show fa­voritism to any Hog­warts stu­dent, and that Hermione was get­ting lots of points be­cause she’d earned ev­ery, sin­gle, one.

At an­other point, Leo Granger had offered the table his opinion that Hermione was very smart and could have gone to med­i­cal school and be­come a den­tist, if not for the whole witch busi­ness.

Hermione had smiled again, and a quick glance had pre­vented Harry from sug­gest­ing Hermione might also have been an in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous sci­en­tist, and ask­ing whether that thought would’ve oc­curred to the Grangers if they’d had a son in­stead of a daugh­ter, or if it was un­ac­cept­able ei­ther way for their offspring to do bet­ter than them.

But Harry was rapidly reach­ing his boiling point.

And be­com­ing a lot more ap­pre­ci­a­tive of the fact that his own father had always done ev­ery­thing he could to sup­port Harry’s de­vel­op­ment as a prodigy and always en­couraged him to reach higher and never be­lit­tled a sin­gle one of his ac­com­plish­ments, even if a child prodigy was still just a child. Was this the sort of house­hold he could have ended up in, if Mum had mar­ried Ver­non Dursley?

Harry was do­ing what he could, though.

“And she’s re­ally beat­ing you in all your classes ex­cept broom­stick rid­ing and Trans­figu­ra­tion?” said Pro­fes­sor Michael Ver­res-Evans.

“Yes,” Harry said with forced calm, as he cut him­self an­other bite of Christ­mas Eve turkey. “By solid mar­gins, in most of them.” There were other cir­cum­stances un­der which Harry would have been more re­luc­tant to ad­mit that, which was why he hadn’t got­ten around to tel­ling his father un­til now.

“Hermione has always been quite good in school,” said Dr. Leo Granger in a satis­fied tone.

“Harry com­petes at the na­tional level!” said Pro­fes­sor Michael Ver­res-Evans.

“Dear!” said Pe­tu­nia.

Hermione was gig­gling, and that wasn’t mak­ing Harry feel any bet­ter about her situ­a­tion. It didn’t seem to bother Hermione and that both­ered Harry.

“I’m not em­bar­rassed to lose to her, Dad,” Harry said. Right at this mo­ment he wasn’t. “Did I men­tion that she mem­o­rized all her school­books be­fore the first day of class? And yes, I tested it.”

“Is that, ah, usual for her?” Pro­fes­sor Ver­res-Evans said to the Grangers.

“Oh, yes, Hermione’s always mem­o­riz­ing things,” said Dr. Roberta Granger with a cheer­ful smile. “She knows ev­ery recipe in all my cook­books by heart. I miss her ev­ery time I make din­ner.”

Judg­ing by the look on his father’s face, Dad was feel­ing at least some of what Harry felt.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Harry said, “she’s get­ting all the ad­vanced ma­te­rial she can take, now. Her teach­ers at Hog­warts know she’s smart, un­like her par­ents!

His voice had risen on the last three words, and even as all faces turned to stare at him and Hermione kicked him again, Harry knew that he’d blown it, but it was too much, just way too much.

“Of course we know she’s smart,” said Leo Granger, start­ing to look offended at the child who’d had the temer­ity to raise his voice at their din­ner table.

“You don’t have the tiniest idea,” said Harry, the ice now leak­ing into his voice. “You think she reads a lot of books and it’s cute, right? You see a perfect re­port card and you think it’s good that she’s do­ing well in class. Your daugh­ter is the most tal­ented witch of her gen­er­a­tion and the bright­est star of Hog­warts, and some­day, Dr. and Dr. Granger, the fact that you were her par­ents will be the only rea­son that his­tory re­mem­bers you!”

Hermione, who had calmly got up from her seat and walked around the table, chose that mo­ment to grab Harry’s shirt by the shoulder and pull him out of his chair. Harry let him­self be pul­led, but as Hermione dragged him away, he said, rais­ing his voice even louder, “It is en­tirely pos­si­ble that in a thou­sand years, the fact that Hermione Granger’s par­ents were den­tists will be the only rea­son any­one re­mem­bers den­tistry!”

Roberta stared at where her daugh­ter had just dragged the Boy-Who-Lived out of the room with a pa­tient look upon her young face.

“I’m ter­ribly sorry,” said Pro­fes­sor Ver­res with an amused smile. “But please don’t worry, Harry always talks like that. Aren’t they just like a mar­ried cou­ple already?”

The fright­en­ing thing was that they were.

Harry had been ex­pect­ing a rather se­vere lec­ture from Hermione.

But af­ter Hermione pul­led them into the base­ment ac­cess and closed the door be­hind them, she’d turned around -

- and was smil­ing, gen­uinely so far as Harry could tell.

“Please don’t, Harry,” she said in a soft voice. “Even though it’s very nice of you. Every­thing’s fine.”

Harry just looked at her. “How can you stand it?” he said. He had to keep his voice quiet, they didn’t want the par­ents to hear, but it rose in pitch if not in vol­ume. “How can you stand it?

Hermione shrugged, and said, “Be­cause that’s the way par­ents should be?”

“No,” Harry said, his voice low and in­tense, “it’s not, my father never puts me down—well, he does, but never like that—”

Hermione held up a sin­gle finger, and Harry waited, watch­ing her search for words. It took her a while be­fore she said, “Harry… Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall and Pro­fes­sor Flitwick like me be­cause I’m the most tal­ented witch of my gen­er­a­tion and the bright­est star of Hog­warts. And Mum and Dad don’t know that, and you’ll never be able to tell them, but they love me any­way. Which means that ev­ery­thing is just the way it should be, at Hog­warts and at home. And since they’re my par­ents, Mr. Pot­ter, you don’t get to ar­gue.” She was once again smil­ing her mys­te­ri­ous smile from din­ner­time, and look­ing at Harry very fondly. “Is that clear, Mr. Pot­ter?”

Harry nod­ded tightly.

“Good,” said Hermione, and leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

The con­ver­sa­tion had only just got­ten started again when a dis­tant high-pitched yelp floated back to them,

Hey! No kiss­ing!

The two fathers burst out in laugh­ter just as the two moth­ers rose up from their chairs with iden­ti­cal looks of hor­ror and dashed to­ward the base­ment.

When the chil­dren had been brought back, Hermione was say­ing in an icy tone that she was never go­ing to kiss Harry ever again, and Harry was say­ing in an out­raged voice that the Sun would burn down to a cold dead cin­der be­fore he let her get close enough to try.

Which meant that ev­ery­thing was just the way it should be, and they all sat back down again to finish their Christ­mas din­ner.