A/N: Remember, per the summary, this is an AU. Alternate Universe. Things will be different than they are in the books and/or movies. It's Harry/Hermione. It's rated M. People you like might not be the way you like them.
My thanks to Katmom for putting up with me. Not just here, but basically through everything I've ever published.
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Legal Statement for this story: This is a work of derivative fiction and I make no claims of ownership upon its contents. I have many copyrights in the world, but this is not among them, nor will it ever be. All things Harry Potter are the property of J.K. Rowling and to all whom she has given license. I'm only here for my own amusement and, perhaps, yours.
31 July 1994
"…So, you're free? No criminal record? You don't have to live in a cave anymore?" Harry could hardly believe it. His godfather, Sirius Black, was cleared since they got Peter Pettigrew to confess. Joy and the taste of freedom danced in Harry's chest and on his tongue. "Does that mean I can come live with you now? Like we planned?" He wanted to shout, he was so happy. He gripped Hermione's hand and squeezed.
She squeezed back, her support of him and happiness for him rushing up his arm like all the best feelings in the world. "Oh, Harry. That would be wonderful! Not to have to go back to—"
"Them!" Sirius was grinning as well. Harry drank in the sight of him. In the past month, Sirius had been with healers and tailors and the goblins at Gringotts and Harry could hardly believe that the man in front of him—well turned out in fine black robes from Twilfitt and Tattings, his hair clean and waving to his shoulders, teeth healthy and white and strong in his face, gray eyes sharp and clear—was the same man who had frightened and angered him in the Shrieking Shack not long ago.
But so it was. It had been Ron and Hermione's familiar who had managed to stop the rat, Pettigrew, from his escape attempt—
"What? I'm good at catching rats," Ron had said, sneering at his erstwhile pet whilst Crookshanks licked his whiskers and growled at the Animagus.
—and in so doing, they'd changed everything. Pettigrew had been interrogated and tried, being found guilty of murder, of breaking his Secret Keeper's oath, of conspiracy to commit murder. Well, all manner of things. The trial was over, though, and Harry felt as if his world were a thousand percent better.
Headmaster Dumbledore, eyes twinkling with a brittle light, cleared his throat. "Well, we're thrilled, of course, that Sirius is proven innocent, Harry my boy. Of course. But you must return to the Dursleys. The wards, you know," he added in an undertone, smiling as if imparting a bit of good news.
Harry stiffened and he felt Hermione's fingers go cold in his. She wrapped her free hand about his arm and took a breath. He knew she would champion him; she always had. No one was more on his side than Hermione Granger.
"Headmaster, that makes no sense. Sirius is Harry's godfather. I've researched, you know, and I know that in the Wizarding world, that's a bond. A sacred one. Sirius Black should be able to be Harry's guardian. The Dursleys are—the worst, sir. The worst."
Harry hadn't told her everything, but Hermione was smart. She inferred much he'd hidden in silence. He knew that. Nodding, he held her even more tightly next to him, because he saw a look in the headmaster's eye that meant trouble.
"Miss Granger, you are a credit to your age. Indeed, it is a bond, but there are many details that need sorting. Sirius will have to prepare a home for our Harry, of course, and make sure it's ready for him."
Nothing Sirius had could possibly be worse, Harry knew, than the Dursley home at 4 Privet Drive. "Sir," he said, nodding encouragingly at Sirius, who seemed overwhelmed even as Remus Lupin stood at his side, hand on his shoulder. "A cave with my godfather would be better than that house. Please, sir."
Sirius cleared his throat and moved to embrace Harry in a tight hold. Hermione's hands slipped from Harry, but he hardly noticed as he gave himself up to his godfather's healthy, strong presence. "Harry," the man murmured, "he has a point. Let me get affairs settled. Get you a home to come to, right? By next summer, we'll be sorted and I'll make damned sure you won't have to spend another week with Petunia."
It hurt, but Harry took comfort in the promises, too. "Will you come see me?" he asked, hardly daring to hope for an affirmative.
Sirius pulled back, his eyes alight with laughter. "Of course! Wouldn't miss it. Oh, Petunia knows me. We've met. We'll meet again." He tossed a glance at Hermione and stepped back. Hermione immediately reclaimed Harry's hand and Sirius grinned mischievously before saying, "All of us will, I think, eh, Miss Granger?"
"I always stand by Harry, sir," she said, her voice strong and presence warm beside him.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders for a moment. "She's the best, Sirius. Can she come visit as well? When you do?" Having Hermione with him would be brilliant, but neither of them could use magic outside of school and Harry didn't entirely trust that Hermione would be safe with the Dursleys.
"We'll make it happen, Harry. I swear it!"
Dumbledore stood to one side and took it all in, silent but resolved. He'd gained his purpose, but it seemed that his victory would be temporary.
. . . .
31 March 1996
"I can't get it Harry. It's so frustrating!" Hermione was all but pulling at her hair as she and Harry sat in Gryffindor common room. "I've been practicing, so I can help you tomorrow."
Harry smiled, feeling a bit smug—he was only human—and also sympathetic. "Just because you're—what did Remus call you? The brightest witch of your age?—doesn't mean you have to get each spell right off, Hermione. It's okay. We'll—I'll—still be able to teach it tomorrow."
She bit her lip and her eyebrows shot up and down as she held some sort of internal conversation with herself. Harry waited it out; Hermione was marshaling her thoughts, lining them up in orderly rows that would make sense when they made it out of her mouth.
Her mouth . . . He found his gaze lingering on it just a bit as she worked out whatever was bothering her. Maybe she just had to come to terms with not being able to do something. That wouldn't be easy, but he'd support her no matter what. Just as she supported him. But just at the moment, supporting her was not uppermost in his thoughts. A strange question bolted through his mind:
She's not crying; I bet it wouldn't be wet if I kissed her. If we kissed. If Hermione kissed me.
"So what do you think, Harry? Will you? Please?"
Harry had no idea what she'd asked, but he answered without thinking. "Of course, Hermione. Whatever you need."
"Oh, thank you!" She pushed herself up from the sofa and was all but bouncing on her toes. "So! To the Room? Should we go there?" With a twist of her lips, she cocked her head. "No one will be there right now, I don't think."
Standing because she did, Harry still had no idea as to what they were going to the Room of Requirement for. "I don't reckon so. What are we doing again?" His skin heated as he realized he'd been staring at her and she hadn't noticed. Merlin, what was the matter with him?
Hermione approached him, taking a stride to stand close enough that he could see the golden flecks in her eyes. "Are you all right, Harry? Ron's said that you've had problems sleeping this year. Do you need to take a kip just now? My little, er, Patronus Tutorial can wait."
Oh, was that what he'd agreed to? Right. Perfectly reasonable. Harry shook his head but made sure to smile for his friend. "I'm fine, really. Ready for the tutorial. Though, you know, it really is okay if you can't get it before tomorrow. Not everyone can cast a Patronus Charm. Lupin told me that and I'm telling you."
"Come on, then," she said in counter, moving past him toward the portrait portal. She was relieved when he followed without more discussion. In truth, she was embarrassed that this, out of all the spells she'd learnt in her time at Hogwarts, was the hardest ever and Harry had mastered it when they'd been in their third year.
He was a powerful wizard, though, and she supposed she shouldn't take exception to not being able to be on his level every single time.
They chatted about inconsequentials all the way up to the seventh floor, where they didn't even have to search out Barnaby's portrait any more. They knew where they were going without these visual clues.
I need a place to learn and practice casting a Patronus, she thought sincerely, pacing rapidly in front of the wall that would open for them. An iron-laced wooden door materialized next to her and she smiled in triumph. Magic. It was still amazing.
Harry pushed past her to open the door first. "Dunno what you've got waiting for us!" he teased, making an exaggerated study of the room.
It was smaller than it often was for the D.A. meetings—about the size of the DADA room, but with a much higher ceiling. "Will it do?" Hermione asked, sounding a bit smug. It was a quality of hers that was not endearing, but he usually couldn't argue with it, as she had proven right even against his own judgment far too often. "I didn't imagine we'd need it too large tonight."
"Looks great, as you well know," he said. "All right," he continued, moving to the center of the stone floor. "Show me what you've got, Miss Granger."
All feelings of self-satisfaction melted away as she withdrew her wand from a pocket. "All right, then." She turned to face the northern wall, pointed her wand, and called, "Expecto Patronum!" She grimaced, feeling really horrid as a mere ball of light flickered out from the tip of her wand. "See?"
Harry, the git, just laughed. "Hermione, that's wonderful! You got something, anyway, yeah?" He studied her for a moment and then pushed his glasses up his nose and stiffened his shoulders. That made her nervous, but she had privately promised herself to obey him however he instructed her, because he was clearly the expert in this particular lesson. Harry had always been more gifted in Defense than she was, by virtue of sheer power. "C'mere," he said, beckoning with his wand hand. "What you might need to do is work on your breathing and presentation."
He chuckled, his ears going a bit red at their rims. "Your breathing and presentation. What I want you to do is get behind me, like so," he directed, moving and using one hand to nudge her to his back. "Good. Now," he went on, "watch how I'm pointing my arm and hand, see?"
"Straight out, but, oh! Your hand is overt, not inverted."
"Er, right." She heard him gulp in a breath. "Now, put your arm around me. Either one, so that you can feel how I breathe and speak. On my chest," he clarified when she hesitated.
"Right." She did as he instructed, wrapping her left arm around him, her hand over his heart. It started thumping away very fast at that moment and she almost asked him if he were quite all right, but she refrained because her own heart wasn't behaving, either. "Like, like this?"
He nodded, his hair brushing her face. "Exactly. Now feel my breath and voice, Hermione, all right?"
He inhaled deeply; she could feel his ribcage expand against her forearm. His voice vibrated, almost buzzing into her flesh when he said, "Expecto Patronum!" His Patronus, Prongs, leapt from his wand into the room, alight with magic and all good feelings.
"Oh, he's so beautiful, Harry."
"Handsome. He's handsome."
She laughed self-consciously. "Handsome, then. What memory do you use, if I may ask?"
Turning, he was holding her hand that had been on his chest before. He smiled into her eyes and she could see the joy of the memory reflected in their bright green depths. "The moment Sirius opened the door of the new house and said, 'Welcome home, Harry.' That's what I remember. It was better than flying the first time, that feeling."
Her throat felt clogged. "That's a wonderful memory."
She glanced away from him, for he felt very close all of a sudden and she liked that feeling too much to move away from it, but her stomach was unexpectedly jittery as well. "When I discovered I was a witch, when Professor McGonagall made her home visit to me and my parents. It was a sunny afternoon, and there this woman was, dressed like someone from the 1960's, you know? But she looked right at me and—"
"You're rambling." He squeezed her hand, the one he was still holding, and she glanced up at his face once more. "I get it, you know. You need a new memory."
Her breath came fast as he got that look in his eye—the look he got when he'd figured something out and was going to try a challenging task. The look that had been there before the Third Task, as well. "Yeah." Then, he leaned forward and she knew exactly what he was going to do, all at once.
He closed his eyes, but she kept hers open, not wanting to hit his glasses inadvertently. The touch of his lips against hers was surprising both in the jolt of pleasure that went through her chest as well as how madly perfect it felt. He only lingered for a moment before resting his forehead against her own and she trembled with a terrible fear. "Harry?"
He still hadn't opened his eyes. "Yeah? Was that, was that okay?"
"Did you just try to give me a better memory or something or was that—"
"Er, no. I mean, if I did, then great, but no." Then, he looked at her and she could feel his sincerity all the way to her center, which was unnerving. "I've been thinking about that for a bit, actually."
"But now that you bring it up, would it?"
She cocked a brow, but that didn't work too well as their foreheads were still touching, albeit carefully. "I don't know, Harry. You'll have to try harder."
He laughed, right there, the warmth of his breath brushing her cheek as he moved a little. "Will I? Well, let's see if I can help there, Miss Granger." With a very deliberate glint in his eye, he removed his glasses and tucked them in a pocket. She reminded herself to retrieve them so he didn't break them, later. Then, she didn't think of much at all as Harry James Potter, her best friend in the world, wrapped both arms around her and snogged her until she couldn't breathe anymore.
Neither could he, apparently, when he eased her out of his embrace and stood behind her, one arm around her ribs and one hand smoothing down her right arm. "Try again," he whispered over her ear, making her shiver. He pressed his hand just under her breasts, close enough that he wasn't touching them but that she thought maybe she wanted him to, which was pleasantly embarrassing. "Feel my hand here and speak firmly enough to move it. And don't forget the wand motion."
Nodding, she set herself to ignoring the fact that Harry hadn't released her. Indeed, it seemed that he might have moved a bit nearer. Because that wasn't distracting at all. Focus, Hermione, she admonished herself. Focus. "Expecto Patronum!"
She barely heard him say her name because she was in shock. "It's a bear," she whispered. "A bear."
"A fully corporeal Patronus, too," Harry said, both arms around her now and his chin on her shoulder. "Look at him."
Her heart was pounding and, this time, it was due to the large beastie that had erupted from her wand. "Concave between eyes and nose. Doesn't look too ferocious, does he?"
"I bet he'd terrify a Dementor."
She laughed softly and the bear rose up on its hind legs and stretched its snout into the air before running toward the wall and vanishing. "Oh, Harry. He was beautiful."
She turned in his embrace and settled her arms around his shoulders. "My Patronus and I say beautiful. Perhaps my bear is female." She quirked a smile at him. "You're a very good teacher."
"You're the top student at Hogwarts."
Later—much later—she was able to find pictures of the various bears, and came to the conclusion that her bear was a brown bear, common in many parts of the world. The black bear was a hunter, but it had a different snout. Her bear liked fruits and fish, and was a good mother. She also discovered that the bear was a Native American totem animal, and the Magic Legends of North America stated that it symbolized "Industry, instinct, healing, power, sovereignty, guardian of the world, watcher, courage, will power, self-preservation, introspection, and great strength."
Ron heard her recitation at the D.A. the following night and snorted. "But does it keep a color coded study planner on hand, is what I want to know!"
Feeling buoyant, still, at her success in summoning a Patronus, Hermione merely rolled her eyes. "Only in the spring, Ronald."
Ron pretended to be frightened. "Run, Harry. Run away!"
Harry pulled Hermione next to him and nuzzled her hair, right there in front of the entire D.A. "Not on my agenda, Ron," he said. "I need her," he whispered next, just so she could hear him.
Her heart soared.
And it was the last good thing she felt for quite some time, for Dobby appeared just then and informed them Umbridge was on the way.
. . . .
18 June 1996
It was madness, all of it. The whole night seemed shot through with bright curses reflected through broken glass. Screams. Epithets. Threats and promises of death echoed off every flat surface that survived the carnage.
They'd been separated, too, so only Harry and Neville were with Hermione in the Time Chamber. "Time-Turners," she whispered. "I thought they—"
"Shite!" The three of them stumbled over each other, falling heavily to the stone floor.
There at the Ministry only because Harry needed her—needed all of them—Hermione was locked in the chaos of the Ministry of Magic's Time Chamber. Death Eaters shot curses from their wands and all of her own defensive knowledge was strained.
She had to protect Harry! The Death Eaters kept spouting hexes and she was terrified they'd let free with an Unforgivable, so she cast a Silencing Charm toward one of them and turned to see if the other was attacking.
He was! The metallic mask concealed the man's identity but then Neville cast toward him in a powerful sweep of magic that Hermione could almost see.
"Did you think to save Black, Potter?" the unidentified man asked in a rasping voice as his mask fell off.
Harry seemed to panic, rolling up on the balls of his feet and looking this way and that. "Sirius!"
The Death Eater's shield protected him and Hermione felt even more desperate. "Harry! Go! You have to make sure Sirius is safe!" she shouted. "And find the others!"
"Hermione!" The look he directed at her flared with fear and desperation.
"Go!" She pushed him toward the door and stood between him and the Death Eater as Neville dashed to her side. "Give him a minute and then we follow," she told Neville.
He missed and a wand flared with a horrible purple as the Death Eater screamed something she'd never heard before.
"Neville!" she shouted as he leapt in front of her. "Neville, no!" Protego! Protego! she cast silently, pushing the force of the shield out, out, to stop the new purple curse that bladed toward her.
It wasn't enough, though, and her last thought was filled with despair as the dark curse cut through her shielding. Harry, did you get to Sirius in time? Was this all for nothing?
"Harry . . ."
Pain cut through her, a pain so fierce and hot that she managed to take only one sharp breath before she knew no more.
"Sirius. I thought you'd died!" Harry sobbed into his godfather's lapels, feeling utterly shattered.
Long arms encircled him and his godfather's deep voice penetrated through his relief and the competing devastation he was feeling that he'd been lured into a trap. Hermione had known, hadn't she? "Got too much to do, pup, to die that easily. We can talk about all of this," he said, leaning back and studying Harry with stern concern, "after you've rested. Merlin, pup, you must have flown all the way from school."
Harry nodded, glancing about to avoid Sirius's too-worried look. Aurors were milling about, asking questions, taking notes. Lupin had seen to the rest getting back to Hogwarts, but Harry hadn't managed to tear himself away from Sirius's side. "It was a nightmare."
Sirius chuckled a bit and pulled him close for another hug before disentangling himself. "I'm sure. Come. Let's get you back to school, now. We've got all summer, don't we?"
He nodded, breathing in and out and taking in the wreck of the Ministry. "Wait, where's Hermione?"
"Don't know, lad. Come on, I'm sure Remus got her back to school."
Dread washed over Harry's skin anew, making him a little ill. "No, she would have waited. Waited for me. She always—"
Sirius ruffled his hair a bit whilst guiding him firmly from the tiled room with the broken glass, smears of blood, and pieces of broken wands. Harry barely noticed until his godfather asked, "She's a good girl, your Hermione?"
He could see her as if she were standing in front of him. "The best, Sirius. So smart, and she knew this was a trap. I—I didn't listen to her though."
With a sigh, Sirius draped an arm over his shoulders. "Maybe you should, next time. Is your girlfriend the type to say, 'I told you so'?"
Harry blushed. "Yeah." But then, she'd kiss his cheek and put her hand over his heart the way she'd taken to doing lately in lieu of public displays of affection. Hermione was a private person in that way.
Sirius snorted; an incongruous sound given the circumstances. "Let's get on with it then. The pair of you will feel better." They both heaved a breath, met one another's eyes, smiled sheepishly, and paced in sync. Sirius moved as if determined not to be distracted by the wreck and ruin around them. Harry tried to imitate his godfather, but guilt dogged his every step. How could he not feel responsible? The electric after-sense of powerful magic still tingled in the air around them—how many had been hurt because of his inability to see the trap? Candles and bluebell lights illuminated rooms with broken fixtures, a few lost shoes, blood spatters, and he thought he could see astonishment in the magical portraits that followed their progress.
Nymphadora Tonks was waiting in the Atrium. "Wotcher, Harry. Lupin told me to wait for ya. C'mon then, I'll get you back to Hogwarts." She offered him a thin smile under uncharacteristically sober black hair. "He said you might want to hurry a bit, Remus did."
Harry's heart thumped in his chest and his mouth went dry in fear. "What—?"
Auror Tonks caught Sirius's eye. "It's about his friends, Cousin. He should get back."
"Let's go, Harry," Sirius suggested, nudging him none too gently toward the Floos. "Nymphadora?"
"Tonks, damn you, Sirius. I hate that name."
Sirius smiled and Harry reminded himself that his godfather was not dead. That was something. Something important.
They emerged from the Floo in the Headmaster's Office. Dumbledore was there, Fawkes perched on his shoulder, drooping a bit. "Harry," the old wizard said. "I'm glad you made it."
"What happened, sir?"
"Lemon Drop? Perhaps a Calming Draught?"
Harry felt terror well up in him again. "Tell me!" he demanded, shoving himself from Sirius's protective arm. "What happened?"
"It was Mr. Longbottom and Miss Granger, lad. Hermione was hit by, well, we don't even know what it was, to be honest. But we couldn't heal her. We had to send for her parents. And Neville, well, we couldn't heal him either."
Harry felt dizzy; a sound like water rushing over his head and through his ears suffused his entire awareness. Swaying, he fell against the Headmaster's desk and gripped its worn corner hard. "No. No. No, no, no, no. It can't be. Not her. She didn't even want—"
"Harry, oh, Merlin, lad." Sirius caught him before he fell, wrapping his arms about him again that night. Harry didn't hear anything his godfather was saying to Dumbledore, though. He just heard the pushing sound of his own heart trying to beat out of his body to find . . .
To find Hermione. A thousand memories filled his thoughts. The way she'd practically hopped in her seat to answer questions. The devastation in her eyes when Malfoy'd hit her with that Densaugeo Curse. How earnest she'd been in defense of him so many times. The way she'd looked at the Yule Ball, with the pretty blue dress and shy smile for him. And the hugs. So many of them. From a little girl and then a young woman, and Merlin, he'd been glad for school robes this past year.
And when he'd kissed her in the Room of Requirement, she had rocked his world. Entirely. Just before everything seemed to spiral out of control.
Sirius pushed a phial of something toward his lips and, angry, Harry grabbed it and swallowed. A soothing sort of warmth pervaded his chest and he was able to breathe without crying, look around without flinching, and hear the words of others without hearing the imagined cry his girlfriend might have made when she was killed.
"Come, lad. Let's get you back to the Tower."
Headmaster Dumbledore halted their exit, though. "Harry, lad. I know this has been a shock, but—"
"Not now, Albus," Sirius said, his voice stiff and unyielding. "Not. Now. Let us pass."
In Gryffindor Tower, the common room was deathly still when Harry and Sirius entered. No one met Harry's eye, no one hindered him or tried to speak as he stood at the bottom of the stairs that led to the girls' dormitories.
Lavender appeared, her eyes red-rimmed. "Oh, Harry," she whispered. "She's, she's gone. Her parents took her things, as well. She—"
Sirius held up a hand. "We know. Thank you, Miss, er . . ."
"Brown. Lavender Brown."
"Thanks, Lavender," Harry whispered. He turned and, accompanied by Sirius, trudged up to his own dorm room.
He didn't know that, as he and his godfather sorted through his gear, Hermione Granger was being treated in London, at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
No one but the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall knew she had survived.