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The Granger Defense
Chapter One: Defenseless Muggles
Prologue - Three Decisions
"Pen. Pen! Are you there, Pen?" No one called her 'Pen' except her brother, Paul.
She came walking out of her bedroom in the tiny two-and-a-half room flat and walked to the fireplace. "Paul, it's late. I have a meeting at a new Muggle orphanage tomorrow and I'm not going to get--"
"Pen, you need to Floo here immediately. I don't know what else can defuse the situation."
"What situation? Where are you?" She had been out with her friends later than usual on a work night. It was Gretchen Kanderby's birthday, and not only had she been out later than usual, she'd had two firewhiskies, one more than her usual before switching to butterbeer - when she had to drink.
"I'm at the Tattered Broom, two doors down on Knockturn Alley from Diagon--"
"The Tattered Broom! You know I wouldn't be caught dead there in the daytime; why would I come there at this time of night?"
"It's Specs. He's here and roaring drunk, or at least as roaring as the little mouse can roar, which is pretty loud tonight. He's who's going to be caught dead here in a few minutes. He just said things that have a few of the regular ruffians here about to Unforgiveable him, or something."
'Specs' was Paul's mildly insulting name for the only man she'd ever loved. He was the man who had promised her the world in a cauldron, and had left her following after his own ambitions. That was only partially true - she had left him because of the path of his ambitions, and he had not followed after her, like he had always done at Hogwarts when she'd led him towards the activities and decisions he'd always said had made him worthwhile to the rest of the world.
She said, "If he's streaming the quintessential bunkum he's proclaimed to the Daily Prophet this past year, I don't know who at that horrid place would be offended. They should be lining up to buy him drinks. Is that why he's drunk? Why do you keep going there? It's not safe for you, in the Auror Academy and all."
"We come here in a group and consider it part of our training. There're five of us and the crowd's a bit thin tonight. You'd be safe. But he's not 'streaming the quintessential bunkum' as you so quaintly put it. I wouldn't bother you with this but, well, I know you think... that is he's still... Pen, he's muttered your name a few times when he's not pontificating. No, it's no Ministry propaganda speech. He started with a toast to Dumbledore and has spent the last five minutes or more proclaiming the professor's virtues and those of Harry Potter. I thought that was the final turning point between the two of-"
"What happened between us at the end was only the last of many... Paul, I'll come through if you assure me it's safe." She turned from the fire.
"I'll just grab my bag. Fine. Stand back, I'm coming through."
She reached into a powder jar on her mantel and stepped into the fire.
She shouted, "The Tattered Broom!"
Penny was just in time. Had Paul called a few minutes later...
She grabbed his arm and stopped the next firewhiskey from following those that had gone before. The last one became his last. After taking the shot glass out of his hand, she used his arm to steer his line of sight towards her.
The three vicious looking wizards who were facing him on his other side, the ones with clenched fists and hands going for their wands, seemed to back away at her presence. Then she realized that her brother must be at her back, and surely his four friends as well, so she was not the cause of their shrinking away. But she would accept the respite from whatever quarter it had been given.
The man before Penny slowly turned his head to see where his arm had gone, as if wondering why it was not delivering the next mind-numbing, throat-biting blast to his mouth. He looked at her as one might look at a picture of a person, not the actual person. His spectacles were slightly askew - not just down on his nose where he constantly kept pushing them back up with his left thumb so as not to have to stop writing. Everyone else used their index finger or middle finger to push back their sliding glasses. Also, he insisted on calling them spectacles, while the whole world called them glasses.
His mouth was opened in a stunned look, exaggerated by the drink. His chin and lower lip quivered in unison, and he gulped his mouth shut. And then the deluge of words came - and the tears - he was a lousy, maudlin drunk.
"Oh, Penelope, oh, my angel! How I have fa-hail-hailed you-ho-ho-hooo," he cried, crying and sobbing. "I've failed yooouuu. I've failed my fam-leh! Aaa-haaaaa!"
He was disgusting this way, but all of her feelings - those she'd thought she'd successfully suppressed for the past year, came flooding back.
"The Minister said that I have failed him," continued her former beau. "But I told him, sniffff! I told him that all I did for him was drop the woman I still love, sell out my family, and Professor Bumdlebore, and Harry--Harry. Did I tell you, Penelope, that he saved Ginny's life her first year?"
"And I betrayed him - and asked his best friend, my brother, Ron, to betray him, too." He grabbed her arm and drew her face right up to his. "What kind of monster am I, Penelope?"
By this time, she and her brother had him out of the Tattered Broom, and almost to the Leaky Cauldron. They stopped on the way for Percy to be sick into a dustbin. His breath was rancid and he smelled of the sweat and vomit the drinking had caused.
But he had said that he still loved her.
Penelope Clearwater and her brother somehow contrived to send Percy Weasley through to his "posh flat in a better part of town" as he had put it. They flopped him on his bed face down, and still in his robe. Paul left her knowing that Specs would never take advantage of her.
She sat in the chair by his bed and made the decision regarding the question he hadn't asked.
She would help the man she still loved.
That morning, after the students had all left on the Hogwarts Express, the three had listened to the prophesy in its entirety. She'd been the first to speak after the headmaster had outlined the program. The other male present would have been the obvious one to speak first. She had jumped in ahead of the second, clearing her throat to reserve her place in the conversation, then she straightened her tartan skirt. None of them were in their official teaching garb. He was seething, if the tick in his left eye was any indicator, and she spoke, not only out of her concern for the Head's decision, but to allow him time to lower the blood pressure making his eyes bulge. A lowered blood pressure or a stroke - one would come soon based on the vein popping out on his forehead.
She said to the third person in the room, "Headmaster, the plan is well thought out, but this particular series of potions - are you sure? I remember the last time..."
"Minerva, the last time, you and Alan could not have made me prouder. You and many of your classmates wear the Order of Merlin in various grades because of the success of that potion series and the necessary program its administering demands. We know so much more now about how to manage and channel its side effects, which all have their benefits too, as you recall.
"Besides,' he continued. "I was also there the first time the series was administered. We knew little of the consequences and yet, we were able to accomplish so much."
"You were able to accomplish so much, and a few of your classmates. But remember Aberforth and the goat."
"A small anomaly from before the program back then, and who knows all of the truth of that matter - certainly not my brother. If that were the only problem to arise this time we would be truly..." The headmaster looked off to the mountain-view from one of his office windows completing the sentence, if at all, in his mind.
"But what of Philby, and Norton," she gulped and continued, "and what of Tom? Who knows how many this time will enlist from any particular--"
"The results we experienced with those three," the headmaster interrupted, something he rarely ever did, "are the reason we will expanded the staff to the size I have outlined. I will offer the opportunity to all that have qualified, and can qualify before next school year."
She knew she would never talk him out of this, and perhaps she shouldn't keep trying, but there was one more question begging to be asked, regardless of who it upset - present company included. 'Even those qualified from Slytherin?"
The silent - thus far - third person in the office leapt to his feet and began to speak tersely and with great vehemence before the headmaster could respond. "That's MY HOUSE you're speaking of, old woman!"
His last two words went a long way to ending his anger. He had never-- And he never would have-- But he had--
"Forgive me, Madam, Headmaster. Professor McGonagall, you know I hold you in the highest--"
"It's all right, Severus. I provoked you, and I knew I was doing so. I apologize to you, but you know there are, shall we say, extra dangers with a few of the family members in your house that might qualify for this program."
His gaze was nearly as fierce, but the rest of him was under control now, his words were evenly measured and well thought out, but the vein still throbbed its undeterminable warning. "Few, if any, who can qualify, and are from those families, will even consider joining this program. Mr. Zabini would be an excellent candidate perhaps, but.... Shall we say that I will interview and confirm the sincerity of each volunteer, whoever they may be?"
He looked down at his hands. They were gripping the arms of the chair as if trying to rip them from the their places. He relaxed them and his whole body.
The Potions Master turned his gaze. "Headmaster. I have the gravest of doubts - but I've expressed them before to no avail. Are you sure about him? He can't be the one... that is surely... and you know how this will only feed his ego."
He looked into the unmoving stony faces before him.
"I am as sure of him, Severus, as I am of you."
The younger man lowered his head and, after a long pause, made an uncharacteristic admission. His words surprised the other two, and was respected all the more because of his candidness. "Headmaster. Professor. I fear losing almost all from my house to... Neither of you can know... no one can help me. It is a decidedly Slytherin matter. But please allow me as many... whoever I can gather--" The long pause resumed as did the mutual silence.
He sat up straight as if making a decision. "I commit myself to this program. If Paladins are what you want, then Paladins I will endeavor to provide and help train. Ask what you will of me, Headmaster."
Potions master Severus Snape sincerely thought he meant every word.
He stared out the window at number four, Privet Drive, and saw nothing of the beautiful sunset or the sunrise the next morning, but he rarely blinked and did not sleep during the hours of the night. He had been there since they had arrived from the station. He had ignored the call for dinner, given to him once, but loud enough. The owl had flown out of that window immediately upon the opening of her cage, but she had not returned. But the parchment had been waiting on his desk for him.
Sometime after midnight, but before dawn, the parchment fell from his fingers. Its fall was no more noticed than the soundless electric clock in the kitchen, or the ticking of the mantel clock in the living room.
I trust your train trip and drive to the Dursley's home was pleasant and uneventful. Misters Crabbe, Goyle, and Malfoy were released from their "constrictions" and are safely home. I am grateful that you have such faithful friends.
Harry, I consider myself the oldest of your many faithful friends. I am also the one who has failed you the most - as I have served you and preserved you the most.
Most children grow up with loving parents, to some degree or another, and think them perfect, or infallible, or at least omnipotent. You grew up with no one loving you, and daily demonstrations of your aunt and uncle's imperfections - often gross imperfections.
Then you entered our world and heard of your dead parents' true lives and true fates. Within that same conversation, even before you learned of their fate, I believe, you learned of the wonderful Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts. What are Hagrid's words? "Great man, Dumbledore, great man." I believe that's how he expresses it.
You learned from Percy Weasley that first night that I am a bit mad, but brilliant. Since I have spent years using all of the tools and magic available to me as headmaster to promote and extend the illusion of greatness, you had come to expect that I was somehow faultless. Even the problem of Alastor Moody not being Alastor Moody in your fourth year did not dissuade you from my infallibility.
And now I have spent a year ignoring you, confusing you, and helping you in the most illusory ways. Finally, I tell you of my culpability in denying you the information you should have been told years ago.
Well, I am undone, and truly sorry, Harry.
And except for keeping you a little better informed the last few months leading up to your O.W.L.s exams, I would have done it all the exact same way, given the same circumstances.
I am fallible and will go on making mistakes. I wish that were not so, but it has been, is, and always will be so.
You will fight Voldemort, and I believe you will defeat him, if for no other reason than the alternative is unthinkable. Goodness has always ultimately triumphed over evil, but a lot of good men and women have lost their lives in the process. This is a timeless truth.
Few have known ahead of time that they were the deciding factor. You have been given the dubious gift and the magnificent burden of knowing you are the deciding factor - you will make all of the difference as to whether the world goes forward in darkness or light.
Now I must ask the nearly impossible from you - but not impossible at all. I have great plans for you and all of your fellow Hogwarts students, but most of all for you.
But there is a price that you alone must pay that they will never understand.
The price? You must trust me.
All of them learned of a parent's or guardian's failings at a young enough age, and in a simple enough situation, to have recovered from the discovery of the parent's human-ness, and be able grow through the shock with little ill effects.
You have been shown my failings late in your life, relatively speaking, and the effect of my failings have been to cause the death of your godfather and the traumatizing of your world view.
At fifteen, almost sixteen, you are perhaps more mature and world-wise than any other young witch or wizard in history, but:
...you are still too young to decide the most important things in your life all by yourself!
By that I do not mean you are incapable of deciding; no my dear boy. Nor do I mean you would not make the best decision that you could. I mean that you are less aware of all that bears on these cataclysmic decisions you face than someone older than you. I was in my nineties when I faced Grindelwald, and I still wish I'd known more before that battle.
I should have told your more about your life sooner - I have admitted that and confess that gross error again. But you have to trust me like you have in the past, at least about the decisions you must make over the next few days. Trust in proper authority - human and flawed as I am - is essential for you to go ahead with the best plans for your life.
I cannot try to sway your decision with additional information - good, bad, or indifferent.
You must do what I confess I would also find difficult - trust me without me telling you why.
To tell me that you trust me, and to activate the program for your life that is the best I can provide to help you succeed with your burden, please sign your name at the bottom of this parchment. It will activate all things necessary.
Once again, I am contritely sorry, Harry. Once again, I am proud of you. Once again, please trust me.
Yours most truly,
A. P. W. B. Dumbledore
The soon to be sixteen year old ate a lonely half breakfast/half lunch at 10:21 AM. He slept through the afternoon and ate a silent dinner with his wary relatives. He began another night of sightless staring out of the window.
And still the parchment lay on the floor unsigned.
Harry Potter fell out of the bed in his sparse room at number four, Privet Drive shouting "No! No! NO!!" at the top of his lungs.
It was later in the afternoon. Harry had been up all night staring out of the window at nothing. His Uncle Vernon was not pleased with this at all, but it was only two days after the "train station incident" as he called it, when he had to mention it. He hated and despised the humiliating circumstances of that event and its requirement to treat Harry better than ever before.
But even Vernon was frightened by the terror in Harry's voice. The very portly householder did not fear for Harry, but if he was being attacked up there, would the attackers leave after finishing off "that boy," or would they come down the stairs?
Dudley, the big, strong and very 'broad' Smeltings boxing champion, rolled out of his chair and hid behind it. The notion that parts of Dudley could be seen on either side of the chair at the same time had somehow eluded him in choosing this hiding place.
It was Aunt Petunia's action that was the most surprising.
She had been in the kitchen preparing dinner. When Harry began shouting, Petunia was just starting to cut vegetables with her sharpest knife. Like a race horse when the starting gun goes off, the horse-faced woman bolted out of the kitchen and was on her way up the stairs before Vernon could sputter, "Petunia?"
She had treated Harry with the most kindness of the three since his eventful homecoming. During the school year she had often pondered the questions: had Harry been telling the truth? Had he saved Dudley's life... er, soul from the dementors? Finally, in February, she had gone up into the attic when Vernon was at work and re-read the original letter from Dumbledore that had accompanied Harry's baby basket - the letter her husband thought she had destroyed.
With tears in her eyes, sheÕd come down from the attic that day believing Harry's story. Relatively speaking, she had been much more civil to Harry than before - she now was outwardly as kind as most people were to complete strangers.
Harry and Aunt Petunia nearly collided at the top of the stairs. Their hearts were already beating as fast as a machine-gun in their chests, and this near collision startled them even more. At the exact moment they both yelled, "What's wrong?" and a second later, after noticing the wand in his hand and the knife in hers, they simultaneously shouted, "Don't point that at me!"
Both took a deep breath and Harry said, "Voldemort is sending Death Eaters to attack the Grangers! I've got to warn them!"
"Who are the Grangers? Are they outside? How do you know this?" These were all good questions. All a bit disjointed, but the woman wielding the knife looked ready to fight, so Harry instinctively included her as a possible ally for the next few moments. (At random times over the weeks to come, he would think about the idea of Aunt Petunia fighting Death Eaters with her sharpest paring knife.)
"You stay up all night boy..." Uncle Vernon had waddled up the stairs fairly quickly.
"Please, Vernon! Now, Harry, who are the Grangers?"
"...you sleep all day..." Uncle Vernon continued, ignoring his wife's interruption.
"That's not helping, Vernon." Petunia's growing impatience was evident in her voice.
"...now you have a bloody afternoon nightmare..."
"SILENCE, VERNON! Tell me quickly, Harry."
For entirely different reasons, both Vernon and Harry were dumbstruck by this outburst. Dudley, still cowering in the den, hunkered down even more when he heard her outburst, squeezing more of himself out into view on both sides of the chair.
Harry spoke in short, rapid-fire sentences. "Hermione Granger is a classmate. Her parents are Muggles like you. They live...well I don't know where, but not too far from Oxford. They're both dentists. I just dreamed Voldemort was sending Death Eaters to their house and office to kill them."
"Boy! All this for a dream..."
"VERNON!" she screamed turning the knife she had been pointing at Harry towards him. He cringed and shrank against the wall with a whimper. That was the last sound he made, except for his ragged breathing.
"Do your dreams warrant investigation?" Harry was even more surprised by her calm, pertinent question. How to explain this?
"I have dreams that are just dreams. Also, Voldemort has used them to mislead me, but I also saved a life because I saw his evil actions in my dreams. True or false, I have to warn them of the possibility."
"How should we proceed? Do we call the police? Is there any way I can help?"
Who was this woman talking to him like this? "I...erm...the police will just be more people for the Death Eaters to kill. Muggles can't fight Death Eaters. I s'ppose I should go to Mrs. Fi... go where I can contact Professor Dumbledore or someone who can get Aurors or Magical Law Enforcement officers to the Grangers' as quickly as possible."
"Well then, go and save your friends if you can. If there's anything..." she trailed off.
"Thank you, Aunt Petunia!" he half-shouted as he ran out the door.
Harry ran towards Mrs. Figg's house to use the Floo network, desperately worried about his best female friend.
However, Harry had been wrong about one thing.
It was 4:58 pm. Ted Granger locked the door to his dental office turned to take the lift down to the enclosed car park below the medical complex. It had been a long day but the week was over and he and his family were going to spend the next three weeks on holiday in Germany. His daughter, Hermione, had come home from Hogwarts where her friends had proclaimed her the smartest witch of her generation.
He chuckled with incredulity that soon settled into concern. "My daughter, a witch," he mused. That phrase now meant something entirely different from what he had understood when he'd first heard it applied to her by the Hogwarts Letter. There had been odd relief at that time because finally there was a "logical" explanation for the inexplicable occurrences in their family. Until he and his wife had helped Hermione control her temper, they had noticed things breaking a lot, and other children skinning their knees quite often. She had always been able to get books off of top shelves when she wanted them, and she'd sworn she'd not climbed up to reach them. An awful lot of her childhood coincidences had suddenly made more sense.
She had always made 'Outstanding' on every graded test and assignment in primary school, with only two exceptions. Both times she'd made 'Exceeds Expectations' she'd viewed them as abject failures. Those two subjects were never in question again. Though he had been a very good student, always near the top of his class, his daughter had received her brilliance and her drive for top marks from her mother. Now she was the smartest witch of her generation. Not exactly how he'd always dreamed his little girl would excel.
But excel she had. She'd always enjoyed studying and school, but at Hogwarts it was as if she had found her reason for being. She'd come home that first year feeling like she had a destiny. Each succeeding summer she'd come home even more certain that she was where she ought to be. After her fourth year she had matured well past the youthful enthusiasm of previous summers. Since then she'd been a young woman, seemingly with a serious mission - which she would not share with her parents - until the day she'd arrived home from finishing her fifth year.
There had been one subject - not an academic subject - in primary school where Hermione had not been a star. Of course Physical Education was graded on a pass/fail basis and Ted Granger had no illusions that his daughter would take after him in that area. He had starred on every team in every sport in school except golf. In his opinion, any activity like golf, where overweight people could do well, couldn't be a sport at all.
Ted Granger had been a rarity - an athlete who had made very good grades. He'd been accepted to two good universities, and there had been talk of some financial assistance based on his athletic abilities, but he had shocked everyone when he went into the army in the ranks. Ten years later, having taken longer than he had expected, he'd left the army. He had slowly achieved a degree while in the military. Upon leaving, he'd enrolled in dental school and paid for it with savings from his soldier's pay, and with some academic scholarship help. He wanted to spend all of his time studying and not let his grades suffer by being required on the pitch for so many hours a day.
No, Hermione was never going to be an athlete excelling in sports as he had, but he was disappointed that she'd let her running lapse while away at school. For the last two years before Hermione had gone off to Hogwarts, she'd met him for the last mile and then two miles of his daily run. Ted had used the time to cool down and chat with his daughter. She'd enjoyed the running after getting over the initial difficulties. Now, she'd lost the physical edge that running had given her. She never had joined him for the strenuous exercises and training he did daily in the Grangers' basement.
Ted had run at least five miles, usually more, every day since the age of ten, except when military service had other activities for him, and except the day of Hermione's birth and the terrifying few days that followed. He'd spent those days alternating between crying for joy when he looked at or held his newborn daughter, and crying beside his wife's bed, not knowing if she'd survive the complications of a wretchedly difficult childbirth.
His wife eventually did pull through and regained all of her former vitality, but Hermione would be their only child. Ted could never be sad about it when he looked at his daughter. His only sadness regarding her had been that he did not understand her new world well at all.
That had all begun to change a few days after the battle of the Department of Mysteries.
It was standing practice at Hogwarts that when a student was admitted to the Infirmary over night, an owl post would be sent telling the student's parents or guardians what had happened. The Dursleys had sent word back by Harry that they did not care if he was injured or sick, so stop sending the owls unless Harry died or something worse.
The Grangers had received only three such notes in the five years Hermione had attended the school. The first two were from her second year. Her stay while she slowly transformed back from half cat after the Polyjuice Potion incident, had been written up as a school prank gone bad and glossed over by Hermione's accompanying letter.
The second notice that year had informed the Grangers that Hermione had been Petrified. Professor McGonagall had visited the Grangers within the hour of that owl's delivery. It had been a Saturday, the Quidditch match had been cancelled, and Dumbledore had insisted she go to the Grangers to help explain what had occurred. The Transfiguration teacher had been torn between staying at the school to protect her young lions and going to the Muggle parents who would be confused and distraught. The headmaster had made the decision easier for her.
When, in her fifth year, the third owl message had arrived telling of Hermione's injuries in the Department of Mysteries, it had been sent with two other sealed parchments. There had been a letter from Hermione herself, explaining that she was fine and improving, and trying to make light of the situation.
Dumbledore had sent the third missive with the official infirmary Notice of Extended Stay. He had outlined in some detail what had happened, and had told the Grangers that the school owl would stay with them if they wanted to respond with any additional questions or concerns. The headmaster and the parents had corresponded numerous times before the day they had arrived to pick up Hermione outside the barrier to Platform nine and three quarters. Their written discussions evolved from specific questions about the battle to broadly penned conversations regarding the conditions of the magical world at this juncture. The Headmaster had answered all questions concisely, but completely.
Her parents had said nothing about her injuries at the station or during the trip home, other than a quick 'are you all right,' just as she came off of the train. In the car they'd had an interesting discussion regarding Hermione's role as a part of the delegation that "encouraged" the Dursleys to improve Harry's treatment during the summer. That conversation with Harry's relations had occurred within earshot of the two dentists. Both parents were appalled at the scraps of home-life horror stories Hermione had pieced together over the years from Harry's brief comments to her and Ron.
When the three Grangers arrived at home, there had been the smell of baked chocolate in the air. Before leaving for the station, Mrs. Granger had set a large tray of walnut-chocolate biscuits in the oven on time bake. Arthur Weasley would have wanted to talk for hours about the concept of time baking, (he never would have guessed Muggles could do that to time) but that was not the discussion in their home that day.
Mr. Granger had taken Hermione's trunk upstairs, and in a few minutes she had come back down to the kitchen. The fresh baked goods were on a plate, ready for consumption, and the tea was poured. Her father said, "Please sit down, young lady. We've a lot to discuss."
Flashback to 1968 - -
"All right, you young pups. You've been in for a year and you think you're the big cocks in the barnyard. Somehow you've staggered through our initial training and now you're in the bleedin' SAS. You think you're ten feet tall, six inches off the ground, and bullet-proof. One of you's even the bleedin' enlisted knife champion of the bleedin' b'tallion.
"Well, I've picked up better stuff on the bottom of my brogans when I wasn't too careful in a back alley.
"You! The arrogant young pup with a pie-eatin grin on yer mug. Stand an' pull your blade."
Out of his left sleeve his right hand pulled a knife almost a foot long. It was a Fairbairn, a street fighting knife designed in the 1930's by a Hong Kong chief inspector of detectives for his men who fought the Tong gangs. The Fairbairn, legend has it, was the favorite knife of Major David Stirling, founder of the Special Air Service in WWII - the SAS. The sleeve knife holder was a lesser-known part of the legend of the knife.
The sergeant shook his head in disgust. "Ruination of our service to let you young snotties carry a Fairbairn, even if you are a knife champion. I comes along when a man had to see battle a'fore they lets 'im carry one. And in a bleedin' sleeve holder no less. Thinks he's soddin' Stirlin' hisself re-in-CAR-nate." He was muttering this tirade to himself, but with a raised voice so all could hear.
The young soldier was standing easy but wary. He was supremely confident in his abilities, but he was no fool. During initial SAS training, he had been surprised by his hand-to-hand instructor. The instructor had acted as if he had a head cold, and was six inches shorter and two stone lighter. The little sergeant had the young soldier on his back with his foot at his throat in less than three seconds.
That had been the first day of primary SAS training, but being caught unprepared had never happened to him again. He had learned from that first embarrassment and was now not only the battalion knife champion, but tops in all other forms of close-quarters combat.
Now, in advanced training, this sergeant was six inches taller than him, and had to be over three stone heavier. But he looked big and lumbering. And the younger man had his Fairbairn. He'd seen it in a pawnbroker's window and had to have it. It was WWII issue and had been well maintained. The sleeve holder had been six pounds extra and well worth it.
"Put a protective blade cover on your bleedin' toad sticker. I don't want you holdin' back." When the cover was in place the sergeant smeared axle grease on the blade cover. "There. Iffen you cuts me we'll all know." The sergeant's uniform was immaculately clean and starched.
"And I'll fight you with these." He pulled out a deck of cards. The whole mob laughed but the young soldier was still cautious. The sergeant shuffled the cards and made two card fans in his hands.
"Okay, prepare yerself. Five. Four. Three. Two."
The young knife expert tried to take a step back but the fanned cards were flung with such force into his face that he had three small cuts on his right cheek. The younger man took a step forward to slash at the big man, but the sergeant fell forward and stomped on the young man's foot. As the young soldier lowered his hand to comfort his toes, the sergeant knocked the blade flying with his left hand and punched him in the nose with his right. The punch did not break his nose, but there was blood. Instead of in the previous three seconds, the new knife expert was on the ground in seven seconds.
"You okay there, laddie?" The sergeant offered him a hand to stand. The young boy pivoted on the ground and was on his hands and feet and backing away in moments, standing when he was over eight feet away.
The sergeant roared with laughter. "That, lads, is the first youngin' to do that in fifteen years. He's also the first one to NOT be thrown arse over teakettle." He turned to the young man with his hand extended. "Truce!" A little closer, as they shook hands, the sergeant said in confidence, "You, last year at the championship, finest knife fightin' I've seen since I won it in '42."
The bloodied but vindicated young soldier took his place with the rest of the men. The sergeant paced as he taught.
"Here's what you must always remember in hand-to-hand when you face a better armed opponent.
"One. Close with the enemy. Two. Anything is a weapon. Three. Hurt 'em to distract 'em. Four. Hurt 'em to disarm 'em. Five. Kill 'em! This is war! It's you or them!"
"Now, repeat after me. One...."
The three Grangers had talked for over six hours. They had talked through the preparation and eating of dinner and still they had kept talking. At first, Hermione had spoken the most, with her parents stopping her narrative with a few questions to clarify a detail here or there.
Eventually, the conversation flow had become a general question and answer period. Hermione was not really surprised at the depth and perceptiveness of the questions they had asked. After all, she had to have received her intelligence from somewhere. They asked very specific questions about a host of related issues, but the most unexpected queries were concerned with actual Death Eater fighting methods and battle tactics. She remembered her father had been some sort of medical orderly or something in the army, but he'd never wanted to discuss it. Those experiences might be why he'd asked those specific questions, but her mother had also made inquiries of equal insight and clarity on the same subject.
"Now, Hermione," Madge Granger said with a bit of... hesitation, perhaps. "Are you sweet on one of these young men? Harry, maybe?"
"Mother, these two are the closet thing I've ever had to brothers. Although, Ron's belated interest in asking me to the Yule Ball our fourth year might.... But that's probably... over.
"And as for Harry.... Harry... he has so much to face.... I'm sure you've mistaken my concern for interest."
"If you say so, dear."
Then Ted Granger called her attention to Death Eater squad tactics, which he had to explain as a concept before Hermione could tell him that Death Eaters seemed to have no group action tactics that she'd seen.
The idea of romantic involvement with either Harry or Ron slipped far into the recesses of her mind, where they'd always been - but closer to the forefront than she'd admit.
Fighting Death Eaters was the all-consuming discussion point for the rest of the evening. Hermione knew that both of her parents were as inquisitive as she was. It never occurred to her that the questions posed by her mild and gentle father and mother could come from anywhere else but their curiosity.
Though his daughter did not know it, there was little that frightened Ted Granger. Initially, Hermione's description of the battle she'd been in had scared him to no end. In the summer before Hermione's second year at Hogwarts, the dentist had observed the fight at Flourish and Blott's between Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy. Mr. Granger had felt useless. He had held the impression that there was nothing he could do to help the red haired man he had liked immediately. Most Muggles, upon learning that the magical world actually did exist, assumed that everything they knew of magic from fairy tales and fiction was true. Much of it was, but quite a bit of it had been placed in Muggle lore and writings as disinformation. Most witches and wizards wanted Muggles to think that their world did not exist at all, so the outlandish was included to make its existence "impossible."
Now, war, actual fighting with serious wounds and death had touched Ted's daughter. And it had happened right here in England, not in some foreign jungle or rice paddy. The innate desire of a father to protect his family rose up within him. And the answers to those specific questions that night gave him hope that he was not as helpless as he'd feared. He'd tried to intersperse asking questions regarding fighting with inquiries on other subjects. His daughter was brilliant and keenly observant, and he took great pains to hopefully keep his biggest secret from her.
He would soon fail in that.
Harry ran out of the house and straight to Mrs. Figg's. He did not even consider using Hedwig because he felt for sure that if he had overheard a real assignment from Voldemort, the Grangers would be dead before the owl could reach anyone. It did not occur to him to call out to his minder. (Mundungus Fletcher had seen Harry fall asleep for the second afternoon in a row, so he'd "just nipped out for a quick cuppa," as he would later explain, hands wringing in contrition.)
Harry took the steps in one leap and started banging on Mrs. Figg's front door. He considered crashing through it. He hoped she had a Floo network connection or some way to communicate this summer. She hadn't the previous summer, and Harry had heard talk of "doing something about that" as Order of the Phoenix members had discussed his narrow escape from dementors right there in Little Whinging.
Mrs. Figg opened the door and started right in on her feeble cat-lady routine, but Harry barged right past her and into the sitting room, shutting the door over her shoulder. She quickly looked out of the windows and then pulled down the shades. She didn't want a neighbor to report to the police that "that terrifying child that goes to St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys" had forced her door.
She straightened a little from her hunched over state. "What is it, Harry, more dementors?" the Squib asked with genuine fear.
In record time he told her what had transpired and begged for some means of communication with someone, anyone, who might help. She had heard about the events leading up to the battle of the Department of Mysteries. She knew about Harry being deceived. "Harry, are you sure this isn't...?"
"AAUUGHH! You can have me locked away at St. Mungo's after we call for help. Seconds count! If I am right, and if you delay one more moment and the Aurors arrive too late, I'll hex you into the next time zone! This is Hermione we're talking about! What can we do?"
Mrs. Figg physically shrank before his verbal assault, but realized he was absolutely correct. She moved as quickly as she could. She wasn't playing a little old lady; she was a little old lady. She grabbed two jars from her mantel muttering to no one in particular, "Hotter than blue blazes but I keep this fire going just for...." She threw in an imprecise amount of the regular green Floo powder and then measured an exact amount from the other jar. "Now the Secure Floo Powder..." she continued to mutter.
When the green fire turned bright red, she stuck her head in the fireplace and yelled, "Twelve Grimmauld Place. Potter emergency! Come to Figg's!"
As she stepped back, almost right behind her tumbled out Kingsley Shacklebolt, Bill Weasley, and Remus Lupin. All three fell over each other onto the floor. Mrs. Figg barely dodged the sprawling bodies. Mad-Eye Moody stumped out of the fireplace and to the side of the entangled trio two seconds later. They were all up on their feet in short order. They all proceeded to verbally fall all over themselves asking her and Harry why they had called.
Moody slammed his walking stick on the end table near the couch, bringing instant silence. "Potter, what's wrong?"
Harry rushed to explain, and as had happened with Arabella, Remus Lupin asked, "Harry, is there any possibility that this is another trap set for you?"
This hurt Harry but he understood why he had to be asked. Moody spoke before Harry drew breath to respond, "We cannot afford to gamble that this isnÕt true. This is war! We are honor bound to go to their aid instantly. Where were they Harry? All at home or on holiday now?"
Harry did not think about how well informed Moody was. "Voldemort sent two Death Eaters to their dental office and two to their home, wherever those locations are. Hermione owled me that only her father was working today, and her mother was taking her shopping this morning. The two of them will be at home this afternoon and all three will be there this evening, packing. They leave on holiday in the morning."
Moody had a notepad open before Harry'd finished speaking. "Kingsley and Remus go to their home, at number thirty-seven, Beckett Court off of Beckett St. in Oxford. Bill, you come with me to the Manor Road Medical Center six miles east of Oxford. We will Apparate to the underground car park to the back west wall. It is dark there. Potter, any idea what time they will attack?"
"Voldemort said to coordinate their attacks at 5:00 this afternoon."
Moody had his pocket watch in his hand before Harry completed the sentence. He looked up at them and said, "5:02." All four Disapparated within two seconds of his last syllable.
Flashback to the Fall of 1977 - -
"Who is that crustacean two rows over, Madge?"
"Quiet, Meg, he'll hear you. Besides, he's rather fit, don't you think? He's not that old, and quite dashing, really."
"Are you daft? Look, he has gray hair! And his hair is so short. I bet he is retired military. He's at least late thirties." Meg's Irish accent came out stronger when she was joking and when she was angry. She was both right now.
The class ended and Meg and Madge walked out under the burden of their class assignment. Behind them they heard in a clear yet not loud voice, "Twenty-nine."
They stopped and turned. "I am only twenty-nine-years-old. I'm probably not more than eight or nine years older than either of you. I was in the regiment, but I de-mobbed after ten years service to become a dentist."
Meg did not like soldiers. Before her friend could speak, Meg was in high dudgeon. "The regiment. The regiment. What were you? Coldstream Guards?" The venom could be heard now as well as the Irish lilt. "The South Essex? Per'aps even the bloody SAS?"
Madge was 5' 8" and Meg was only slightly shorter, but the footwear of the time added two inches to both of the young ladies. He was 5' 11" but because of his parade-ground stance, he looked taller. Though he did have a very straight bearing, when she said "SAS," he, if anything, stood even more erect and proud. This was not going to work out as he had hoped.
"The SAS," Meg spat. "The bloody, bleeding, blinding SAS! Your kind killed my Uncle Caley! Why you are..." Meg's Uncle Caley had taught her how to swear and she honored his memory at that moment.
Meg dropped her books and ran at him, fists up. Of course he had been in the SAS, so this attacking female was easy enough to handle. Madge, standing open-mouthed and speechless, was surprised at how gently he held her wrists and turned her so her kicks were ineffectual.
As Meg softened into a puddle of tears and drooped in his hands, Madge came up and took her from him. As he turned to leave he quietly stated, "I'm sorry. I was never stationed in Ireland." Madge knew he meant his apology, but Meg wailed louder with his words, and their contact with him was over.
When they were next in a class together, he had moved as far away from Meg as he could, and likewise in all the other classes they shared. Dental School was not that big, and distance within a classroom was their only hope of not being near each other.
"Hermione, please move your wand to the table. I need the space on the counter to prepare dinner." Mrs. Granger realized that was one more strange sentence to add to the many strange sentences she had constructed since the summer of her daughter's eleventh year. And of course the conversations over the past twenty-four hours had been the most improbable.
She didn't know what bothered her more, her daughter's account of what sounded like a horror fantasy movie, or her husband's grim mood due to that conversation. Her husband had ignored her when Madge tried to comment on the idea of Hermione's romantic interest in Harry, or possibly Ron. It had worried her so much when she had seen Ted pull down his dusty old chest from their bedroom cupboard. But she had known he was right in doing so.
The summer after her first year, Hermione had initially kept her wand on her person at all times, just because she could. She had explained how she was not allowed to do magic away from school except in an emergency, but she also said that she felt funny without it. She had left it in her room more and more often as that summer progressed. After her second and third years she'd kept the wand in her room most of the time, but took it with her on their holiday trips.
After her fourth year, she had only been with her parents for less than a month, and she had her wand near at hand at all times. It had even been on the side of the water basin when she had flossed and cleaned her teeth.
This year, her parents had insisted that she carry it with her always. And that wasn't the only precaution.
Mrs. Granger was a runner like her husband, running not always as far but almost as often as he did. She did not go to their basement for further physical training as often as he did, but she was there with him several times a week. And she did a number of toning exercises during the day at the office and when she was at home. She had never forgotten her extensive training, none of it.
The doorbell rang and Hermione shouted that she would answer it. Mrs. Granger felt a fearful chill go up her back. Women's intuition or whatever it was, the shiver was instinctual, and Ted had taught her that feelings of foreboding should only be ignored after the situation had been checked thoroughly.
Author's Note - For those who do not know, the Special Air Service (SAS) of the British Army is one of the finest small unit, special tactics, fighting organizations in the world. They are the only organization that can rival the US Navy Seals in my opinion.
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