Bound by Fire
Harry became aware of several things at once. First, he was suddenly, inexplicably wet. Second, there was a distinct hissing as the water rapidly converted to steam all around them, which served as a backdrop to two other sounds: Hermione's coughing and sputtering attempts to remove the water from her lungs, and muffled voices coming from somewhere to the right. Harry held Hermione protectively against his chest as his eyes flew to the foot of the bed where a livid Madame Pomfrey was brandishing an empty bucket and glaring daggers at them, while Dumbledore spoke softly into her ear.
Instant, raging humiliation.
Followed by a rapid desire to expire on the spot.
He heard Hermione make a soft whimpering sound in her throat. In the split second it took to train his eyes on her face, he watched her complexion fade to white and then jump to carmine. All of the considerable amount of hair that normally surrounded her face was plastered to her skin. Her eyes had grown huge, trying desperately, no doubt, to see something, anything, that was not what was directly in front of her. Harry read two thoughts in her expression: hide and flee. She'd been comfortably tucked against him, but as he'd watched she seemed to oscillate between those two instincts. One moment she half-pulled away, the next she buried her face between his shoulder and neck and froze completely. Just as Harry was about to ask for a moment, he realized Dumbledore was already gesturing Madame Pomfrey out of the room. With a quiet "I'll be back in five minutes" he closed the door and they were gone.
Before Harry could say a word, Hermione let out a sob and scrambled out of his lap, hiding herself under her blankets and pillows. Watching her, he felt an ache deep in his chest. He was also bloody furious. What the hell was wrong with them? Who throws fucking water on people? Moving back to his bed, he saw a robe lying at the foot of it. Hermione's had one too. He put his on and then moved around to where she'd hidden, garment in hand. Kneeling beside the bed, Harry started to rub her back in small soothing circles, but that only served to remind him of their activities mere minutes before. He stopped abruptly. At least the lack of shaking led him to believe she wasn't crying, a fact for which he was eternally grateful.
"Hermione?" he called softly. He felt her give a heavy sigh and saw one eye peek out from under the pillow. He held up the dressing gown so she could see it. In a rush of movement, she sat up, pushed her soaking hair out of her face, and grabbed the robe.
"I cannot believe they threw water on us. I mean- I just- I can't believe it. I'm speechless," she ranted as she stood, pulled it on, and fastened the tie. "How unbelievably rude."
"Yeah," Harry replied, distracted, as he looked around the room. They weren't in the Hospital Wing, though these beds looked like they belonged there. It was just a spacious room with the two beds in it and a few doors leading off. "Where are we?"
Hermione looked around, her angry, jerky movements slowly giving way to stillness. She attempted to push her hair back out of her face again, shaking her head.
"I don't know."
Harry walked over to the only window. He could faintly see the Quidditch pitch in the distance. It was mostly forest over here.
"I think we're somewhere near the Hospital Wing. I can see the Quidditch pitch from here". He turned to look at her, only to find she'd joined him by the window. Their eyes met. And held.
"You okay?" he asked her quietly. A lot had happened.
"Yeah." She sounded breathless.
He pushed an unruly lock of frizzing hair behind her ear, wishing he could know what she was thinking. Her eyes closed and she leaned her cheek against his fingers. His heart squeezed in a kind of painful hope only the hopeless know. When she looked at him again he must have seemed sad, because her worry lines appeared between her eyebrows and she moved to wrap her arms around his neck. He pulled her close and held her there, just breathing in the sweet scent of her hair and trying hard not to think about anything but that moment.
Hermione mentally cursed when she heard the door open, causing Harry to pull away from her.
"Good Morning, Harry, Hermione," Dumbledore greeted them. "I imagine you have some questions, but first I'd like to apologize for our initial greeting this morning. Please, take a seat and I will explain what I can."
Hermione took one look at her soaking wet bed and moved to sit on Harry's. When she moved the blanket back to make room she found a shirt. It explained why he was shirtless. Without looking, she held it out to him and took a seat by the pillows. Harry sat next to her, nearer the foot of the bed. Pulling a pillow into her lap, she readied herself for some much needed explanation.
"Poppy has gone to fetch you some breakfast," Dumbledore began as he dried Hermione's bed with a flick of his wand and sat opposite them. "The first thing I need to know is the last thing you remember. It will let me know where to begin."
"I remember talking to you in the Hospital Wing," she answered promptly. "I remember you asking us questions so we could figure out why I was burning Harry without meaning to."
Dumbledore nodded. "That's the most recent time you remember being conscious?" he asked.
Instantly, images of fire and light appeared before her eyes. Ghost sensations danced across her skin, her lips. Hermione could feel her cheeks grow warm.
"Well, no. I woke up after that," she said with a furtive glance at Harry.
"Yeah, we were awake for a little bit at some point after that. I think it was morning. You were there," Harry replied.
Hermione's eyes shot to Harry's face. Dumbledore had been there?!
"I wasn't certain you would remember that. Alright. Perhaps if I explain what I, personally have witnessed thus far, things will become more clear to you. After you and I had our brief discussion, Harry, I returned to speak with Madame Pomfrey. You'd both been unconscious for more than thirty-six hours at that point."
Hermione felt her stomach go hollow. What?
"We were monitoring you both very closely. You, Harry, were fluctuating between various temperatures humans aren't meant to be able to survive. Hermione," he said, turning to her, "at first, we couldn't understand why you weren't resurfacing to consciousness. You weren't feverish, as Harry was. We used a number of spells, incantations, etc in our search to diagnose the two of you and every one came up with, if not extraordinary results, certainly abnormal ones. Harry, you were emitting heat at a level your body doesn't have nearly enough chemical energy to be generating. Hermione, your body was absorbing heat of shockingly high levels with no apparent side effects. When you two were physically near to each other for a prolonged period of time, without actual contact, your conditions drastically worsened. However, once contact had been established, progress was seen immediately.
"That came about as a bit of a fluke. You see, kept moving toward one another. The first time I saw you stable since Monday was when the two of you ended up on the floor together. At first I was concerned, but when we checked on you, you had both balanced out. Where before you had been extremely fitful, Harry, and deathly still, Hermione, now you both just seemed to be sleeping. It was strange to say the least.
"I endeavored to return you to your beds but you instantly showed signs of deteriorating, so I made the perhaps flawed decision to keep you together. Everything we've seen since then does lend credence to the idea that you just needed one another to heal.
"So what does all this mean? In short, based upon what we've witnessed thus far, the two of you have somehow been bound together. For whatever reason, your well being, each of you, seems to be dependent upon the other's."
Hermione closed her eyes, her mind moving at lightning speed, jumping from memory to memory faster than thought. Bound to Harry?Harry's disappearance lately. Harry's face whenever Ron touched her. That one extra second at the end of each hug. The feel of touching him. Sensing each other's presence. What happened in the fire... She opened her eyes, calmer than she thought maybe she ought to be. She looked at Harry. He was scowling down at his fidgeting fingers. She rested her hand on his leg and he took it without looking up, unconsciously it seemed. She wasn't certain if that should make her happy or concerned. When her gaze returned to Dumbledore, she noticed his resting on their joined hands.
"Leaving behind what we have seen with our own eyes, we can only move through the foggy realm of conjecture. To my knowledge, there is no magic that works in this exact way. There are minor linking spells. There are practices one can use to interpose details of one existence onto another, but again nothing on this scale or in this manner. And none of them, so far as I know, involve fire."
Fire. Harry bursting into flames. The feel of them around her, against her. The almost musical sound they made as the roar filled her ears. His hands this very morning...
"Do either of you remember the fire in the Hospital Wing?"
He asked so calmly. Hermione didn't know how to acknowledge what may have been the most spiritual, emotional, and- let's face it- erotic experience of her entire life. How were they supposed to explain that to someone? To anyone? It was so much more that just what it was. Bound, he'd said. Yeah, Hermione figured, wherever this may have begun, it was certainly finished in that fire.
She looked at Harry. He'd been looking at the ground, but turned as she did. Like he knew before she had that she was going to. At first she couldn't read his expression, but then his eyes brightened for just a shadow of a moment and her words from earlier came back to her, clear as day: Your fire feels amazing...
"Yeah, we remember the fire," Harry murmured, turning back to Dumbledore.
"Well. That fire is why you were drenched this morning. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid it was necessary. You see, when you two become... involved, shall we say, you literally can't hear us attempting to make contact with you. Or you're both very convincing actors. One or the other."
Hermione covered her eyes with her free hand. In the back of her mind the panic and shame were there, flitting about, waiting to claim her again, but for the moment confusion was taking precedence.
It was Harry who spoke. He sounded strained. She didn't want to know what her voice sounded like.
"Yes. You both burst into flames in the middle of the wing, first thing in the morning and no matter what we did we couldn't get close to you, you couldn't hear us, and the fire was seemingly unquenchable. It burned everything. That is until you were unconscious again. Then it receded and eventually died out. All of this happened in a matter of minutes. However, you two, as you can see, were completely unscathed. So you can understand why, when we walked in this morning and you again showed signs of being oblivious to that which you shouldn't have been, dear Madame Pomfrey just reacted. I think she thought if she could douse the fire before it started, then we stood a better chance. As it worked, I'm hesitant to disagree with her."
Hermione buried her face in the pillow. How long had it taken to get their attention? What had they seen, heard? She felt nauseated. Why couldn't they hear them? Thinking back, she remembered music in the fire. But there hadn't been fire for very long today, so that didn't account for it. All she could remember was Harry. How very present he was, being completely caught up in him, absorbed. It shouldn't effect her hearing though...
Harry awkwardly cleared his throat. For a moment it seemed like he was going to say something, but then he fell silent. Hermione lifted her face from the pillow and looked at him. He was about as red as she assumed she must be.
"So, you're telling me, we... blew up... the Hospital Wing?" Hermione asked, finding her voice.
"Yes. What is happening to the two of you seems to be causing your magic to simply flow into the world, unchecked. Like a child in the height of emotion, it is just released without the structure our kind has spend thousands of years learning to institute. It feels very powerful, with a wildness to it that is more reminiscent of magical creature than human. It has all the ferocity and unpredictability of a force of nature. I think that's why it took me so long to see that something was happening to you. It did not occur to me that the earlier signs I'd been seeing could be related to a human problem."
"So what do we do?" Harry asked. "How do we stop our magic from 'flowing into the world'?"
"Honestly, I was hoping the two of you would have some input. Anything you might know about where this is coming from, or why it is happening could prove extremely helpful."
Hermione's drew a blank. She hadn't been anywhere near magical creatures in ages. No one had cast any spells on her that she was aware of. Not since...
"What about the last battle?"
Hermione felt cold, despite holding Harry's hand. Harry responded first.
"Yeah, we had countless spells flung at us. Not to mention whatever the hell happened when we killed him..."
"Yes," Dumbledore replied, "that had occurred to me. If that is all that we have to go on, I'm afraid it will mostly be guess work from here. Knowing so little, and with this situation is so unprecedented, there isn't a set answer to turn to. We're going to have to figure this out as we go. As the most disruptive aspects surface when you two are together, my initial reaction would have been to separate you."
Hermione's stomach dropped.
"No. No, please, you can't."
Dumbledore looked at her, really looked at her, his blue eyes searching her face. She didn't, in this moment, feel ashamed. She knew that they could not possibly go back to no contact after what had happened.
"It would have been so, were it not for the mutual dependence you also displayed. So now we have a bit of a dilemma. How do we keep you together without destroying the school and potentially hurting people? That's where this room comes into the equation," he said, gesturing. "This room has been specifically designed to be a safe place for your interaction. Everything in here is, to varying degrees, fireproof and heat resistant. You can have physical contact here without risk of hurting others or the castle."
Hermione just stared at him. He was talking like... like it was a medication you took twice a day. Like touch was something so simple. She was only allowed to touch him here? In this room? No... She looked to Harry, shaking her head in denial. No. How were they only supposed to touch in a special room that was supervised? She thought about his fire, about how much she wanted to feel it again. No...
Harry could feel Hermione's eyes on his face. He was rubbing his temples, trying to grasp the life Dumbledore was describing.
"There's so much we don't yet know about the exact details of your bond. Why did your touch burn Harry, Hermione? Especially when you, Harry, have been the one to show a propensity for heat and burning? Why was it only sometimes? I witnessed you heal him with the very same hand that had marked him to begin with, less than an hour after doing so. By endeavoring to understand your bond, it is my hope that you will learn to control it. Otherwise... Otherwise, I fear it will consume you."
So no pressure then.
Harry lay back on the bed releasing the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He'd had literally minutes. Minutes with her. Stolen moments. And he hadn't kissed her this morning, when she'd clearly wanted him to. Acute regret washed through him.
"It's not a permanent situation, of course. It is my hope that by working with you, I can help you figure out either a cure or a healthy way to work around it," Dumbledore continued.
Harry froze. A cure? What on earth did that mean? Not wanting her? Or just not being able to sense her, etc? He supposed that was really what they were trying to figure out. How much of what they were going through was magic? Did he only love her, at least in this way, because they'd been bound? He sat up, looking at Dumbledore, and not at all feeling well.
How many times had he cursed fate that he'd fallen for her, wished and hoped that it would just go away? And now that that prospect sat before him, all he felt was horror.
"Shouldn't we try to figure out more about it before we try to undo it? Sometimes things happen for a reason."
Hermione. For an instant, he was filled with that same joy he'd experienced holding her. That same longing hope. Then he thought, Is she on the same page as me because she is or because she's magically linked to my page... and with that all hope faded.
He stood up, needing to not be still, and dropped her hand to do so. At once, his vision blurred for a moment as his world tilted sideways. He caught himself using the bedpost as that same familiar burn raced, screaming along his nerves. This would have made more of an impression on him, if he hadn't heard the sound that came out of Hermione.
He turned back to her right away. Her face was flushed and she was doubled over. He read pain in her eyes, in how she bit her lip, the hunch of her shoulders. He reached for her, to soothe or comfort, only to realize, a millimeter from her skin, that touching her was what had caused it. He jerked away and looked down at her, appalled, before backing away until his back hit the opposite wall. He turned and punched it. Just as his fist hit the stone, flames flickered and vanished around it, there only for a second. He almost wasn't even certain he'd actually seen it. There was only so much more Harry could take before he reached his breaking point.
Dumbledore had moved to Hermione. He was examining her hands, which Harry noticed were shaking now. The left one looked red and irritated from here. That was the one he'd been holding.
"I thought we were done with this part," he said. His voice sounded hollow, even to his own ears.
"What happened?" Dumbledore asked, his tone quietly urgent. "What changed between your earlier physical contact, and this time?"
"I- I don't know," she gasped, wincing. Harry's heart turned over.
"Harry? Anything different on your end?" Dumbledore called.
He wracked his brain. What was different? He looked at his hands, at the angry red color. He thought back to his theory from when she'd found him after slapping him, that it had been worse because of how she'd felt when she did it. He'd felt hopeless, defeated, done. And then he'd let go. He looked at her face. He wasn't sure if it was worse for her because it actually was or because she wasn't used to it. Dumbledore was mumbling over her hand, but seemingly to no avail. He touched his cheek. She'd healed him simply by wanting to. Maybe...
He crossed over to her. Dumbledore, possibly sensing his intentions, stood and stepped back. Harry knelt in front of her. Her breaths were shallow and she was cradling her hand. He felt so guilty. He kept hurting her. Taking a deep breath, he tried to clear his conscience. Her eyes never left his. Even through the pain, he could see her trust. It didn't reassure him. It terrified him.
"I think," he said, not breaking eye contact, "if I feel the right way when I touch you, it will help." He let out a shaky breath, not moving. He looked down at her hand, which she held out for him. He still didn't move. "The problem is... I don't think I can control what I'm feeling long enough to not hurt you more."
His eyes searched hers, begging her to understand.
Hermione didn't even blink, willing Harry to know that it was okay. That he could do it. She didn't trust herself to speak. She wasn't at all certain that her own feelings wouldn't interfere, if it even was their emotions doing it. He's been feeling this for literally months, she thought. How did he stand it? He looked so scared. She just hoped whatever he saw in her eyes was enough to convince him. Her hand was throbbing, sending pulsing, stabbing pains throughout her body. Finally, he just shook his head, expelled the air from his lungs and reached for her hand.
The second he touched her, the pain magnified, changed. It wasn't a stabbing anymore, but more like she'd dipped her hand in boiling water. However, inside the pain, through it, she could sense something crucial, vital to her, hovering, lost somewhere in there. She did everything she could not to react. She released the breath she'd been holding and attempted to blank her face of all emotion. He couldn't know he was hurting her more or he'd give up.
It took a fraction of a second to feel the difference. She could sense the sickening fear in him fade, confusion moving forward as he tried to read her reaction. The pain lessened considerably and she could feel the vitality grow stronger. On pure impulse, a genuine smile spread across her face. He could do this. Before the message from her brain reached her eyes, telling them to open, Harry's reaction to her smile became apparent.
Joy. A penetrating relief that was only partially physical radiated throughout her body followed by a sweetness so profound she felt lost to it. His emotions. Physically manifested in me. It was astonishingly intimate.
"I can feel you," she said in a poor attempt to convey what was happening. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to Dumbledore.
"It's very difficult to describe. It honestly feels like I am physically experiencing whatever he's feeling emotionally."
Dumbledore nodded, silently as Madame Pomfrey emerged on the other side of the room. Hermione turned back to Harry. He was still staring at her. She turned her palm up to grasp him, since he had yet to move away.
"You were brilliant," she said, just to him. "That was really brave."
Harry just snorted and moved to sit next to her on the bed again. This time, he didn't try to let go. They ended up facing each other, cross-legged as Madame Pomfrey set a tray on each of their laps. Hermione was about to point out that this was somewhat awkward when Harry covered her hand with both of his and then removed the inconvenient one. He was volunteering to eat left handed. She gave him a squeeze before digging in. Somehow, in all the fuss, she'd managed not to noticed how hungry she was.