Beta'd by Alix33
For some odd reason, you asked for it. And for completely obvious reasons, I complied.
From this point on, the story before Harry and Harley, the origin point that made Harry and everyone else in his world different from canon, will be in a separate series. Personally, I don't want everyone to just look at the drastically different Harry I made in Harry and Harley and just assume that I made up a bunch of random shit and made him look like a bad-ass. I mean, I did, but there's a back story that's also a bunch of random shit. So please, read the story that somehow got our favorite wizard to Gotham.
A Very Special Thanks to Morgan Patrick Sullivan, Alexander Simpson, Matthew Morrison, AtomicStryker, and Alex Matthews. Thank you for your patronage.
The Pre-Veil Saga, Chapter One - Harry and Hermione
"...I was actually running from my dear cousin and his equal-minded friends when I had the sudden urge to disappear. I closed my eyes really tightly, and when I opened it, I found myself on the roof of the school." His lips quirked with amusement. "But before I could stop myself, I stumbled and fell off the bloody roof. It was a one-story building, but I was six at the time, so I doubt I would have survived, or at least have been critically injured. I screamed, and I didn't even close my eyes when I appeared on the roof again. It was... a strange sensation, disappearing for the first time like that. I've done it quite a few times since then, but it's disorienting, to say the least.
"So, that day, I was testing it on the roof; just popping from one side to the other. And when I decided to pop to the ground, it was night time. I still didn't have a full grasp of it. I knew I wasn't ready. So, naturally, I left. Not just the school, mind you; House Number Four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging. I don't know when I left Surrey exactly, but I did get pretty bloody far. From there, I traveled, trying to teach myself new tricks. I learned a lot those few years. I conned con artists, learned how to conjure knives, and eventually, when I stole one, guns, and I regularly used shields to protect myself during sleep. I'd say the shield charm is still the fastest spell I've ever conjured. None of my friends can do it, but I can shoot a shield out of my hand and knock people to the ground with it. When the people got wise of my reputation, I went somewhere else. Throughout my visits, I made a few friends, and I was invited to a few rugby pickup games on occasion. I found out I was rather... gifted. I had quick feet. Very quick. A time before that, I never played sports when I was in school with my cousin, Dudley, so I never really knew if it was my magic that did it subconsciously for me. But I didn't have any way of testing that. I'd like to think I did it on my own merit. I had to do a lot of running when I lived on my own."
"I found out pretty quickly that the easiest place to live during the day was at a local library. As long as you're taking books and reading them, and find a nice secluded corner, you're generally left alone. For the first few times, I used it as a prop to sleep. Then, after a rather rude librarian woke me up, I started pretending to read, and then I found myself immersed in the book. After that, I read a lot of books, to a point that I didn't even bother to sleep anymore. It started with fantasy, of course, but I soon found that I enjoyed nonfiction; Architecture, neuroscience, some basic math, history. It was very fascinating.
There was one book I discovered on psychology; how to clear your mind, and to organize thoughts. So, I learned the art of Mind Magicks. I now have near-perfect recall of all of my memories. I have the option to suppress, or even delete, the memories I don't want, and protect the ones that mean a lot to me. Incidentally, I also learned to protect my mind from outside threats. Wizards call it Occlumency. The opposite of that – reading minds – is called Legilimency, and that's an even rarer gift. I don't have that. The range of my complete memory goes back to when I was about a year old. I can easily, as if it were ten minutes ago, recall the last six months of my parents' lives."
"I won't bore you with the details, but I had figured out why my parents died. That's when I first discovered they were wizards. I was always told by my aunt and uncle that they died in a car crash. What really happened was the Dark Overlord I was telling you about. And I heard a magical prophecy, that as I discovered later, wizards fully believe in, because psychics actually do exist. They've never said the full thing in front of me, but I got the gist of it. He kills me or I kill him. No one else can. Not that anyone's bothered to try. This time around, at least."
A feminine voice cleared her throat. "I'd say we've been doing a pretty bloody good job, Harry."
"Not without our hurdles. And that was before Voldemort was ever in the picture."
-October 2, 1989-
Harry, far too engrossed in his book, jumped a little in his chair, and looked towards his intruder, who had stepped back in response. "Oh. Sorry. Hello."
"Hi," she said meekly. "I'm terribly sorry for intruding, but I just wanted to ask you if you were done with any of those?"
Harry looked over at the pile of books in front of him, stacked neatly by the category he found them. He flushed. "Sorry," he muttered embarrassingly, "I didn't know the pile had gotten that high."
"It happens to us all," she smiled. "Well, me. And you, I suppose. Do you really read all of them?"
Harry nodded. "Usually by the end of the day."
"Really?" She looked interested. "All of that? Those are some rather thick volumes."
"Eidetic memory," he informed her curtly, knowing that it was a believable, somewhat, stock story in comparison to him telling people about his powers. He had read more than one novel about a protagonist who runs for their lives after revealing their unknown powers.
He was not going to be probed.
The girl's eyes brightened. "You do? That's a real thing? I've read that there isn't a proven case of that yet."
Harry nodded with interest. He hadn't dealt with someone who actually knew what eidetic memory was. They'd assume it was relating to photographic memory, and leave him be. "That's the only rational explanation I have for why I can flip through pages and know every word."
"Oh," she gasped in understanding, "so you weren't just scanning the pages?" Harry could tell she was genuinely curious; not mocking him, as someone would usually do when they see a small boy flipping through a Dickens novel.
"No, I've been reading. It's been a while since I've gone to the library, and…" his eyes glanced over the stacks. "I picked up whatever's new to me. I tend to get the bigger books out of the way." He looked over to the girl. "I haven't checked any out; they're here to take if you want to read one."
"Oh, no," she shook her head. "Miss Bryan just wanted me to ask you to put up the books. I'll tell her that you're still reading."
"I'll put them back in the right place," Harry promised, and she nodded gratefully, before turning and walking away, down the fiction aisle.
He went back to his book.
He had barely gotten two pages when a small tap distracted him, and he looked up once more to see her apologetic brown eyes. "Let me guess," he said dryly, "she wants me to put up the books right now?"
"It's policy," she muttered defensively, "and we can't have everyone taking all the books they want for themselves and make a fort out of them. Two books at a time."
Harry sighed. "That seems reasonable, I guess." He eyed her carefully. "So, are you the librarian's daughter or something?"
She shook her head. "I wait here after school for my parents to pick me up from work. Miss Bryan looks after me."
"So, you wouldn't object to helping me put up the books?"
Again, she shook her head in the negative. "Sorry, but she doesn't want me to help you. She wants me to make sure you put them all in the right place."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "A bit demanding, isn't she?"
"She's teaching you a lesson," she defended, with a touch of anger. "You did break the rules."
"I broke protocol and regulation, not the rules. I've read the pamphlet when I came in here, and it said nothing about the amount of books I can remove from the shelf at the same time."
That gave her pause. "It doesn't? Are you sure?"
"I trust my memory."
She looked lost for a moment. "Are you sure?" she asked him again.
Harry sighed. "If you can find it in the rulebook for this library, then I'll return all the books; I promise."
"B-but it's a courtesy!"
"You are the librarian's assistant – it's also a courtesy to help others when they ask for it."
She shook her head defiantly, her bushy brown hair swishing against her shoulders. "The librarian's word is final. Rules or not, she enforces them."
"Exactly." Harry's eyes went back to his book. "Not you."
The little girl stared at him, incredulous at his blatant disregard of her presence and the rules set before him, before she huffed and stalked away.
When the brown-haired girl returned, the librarian keeping up with the little girl's pace, he was gone.
"Are you still mad at me for that?"
"I'm more embarrassed; Not a good first impression I've made."
"Still, it was a good precursor for things to come; giving you headaches since the very day I met you."
"Harry, of all the things you give me on a basis, a headache doesn't come to mind."
"Ironic," Luna pointed out as she lay against the cushion, "considering when you get a headache, nothing else comes to mind except for the headache."
-November 15, 1989-
"Excuse me, but…" she gasped. "You!"
Harry winced and lowered his book. He knew this library looked familiar; he never bothered reading the names of them. "Oh… hello, again. How have you been?" he began uneasily.
"Where did you go?" She scowled at him.
"I was hiding in the nonfiction section. This whole time."
She narrowed her eyes. "For eight weeks?"
"Fine, then; the religion section. I was trying to find sanctuary, so I wouldn't be yelled at."
She was aware that he was joking, so she refrained from spouting that they didn't have a religious section. "Every book was in its right place on the shelves, and I was gone for half-a-minute at the most. How did you do that?" He wasn't sure if she was angry because he had escaped her clutches, or because she couldn't figure out how he did it.
"You scare me that much," he said dryly. Seeing as she wasn't in a laughing mood, he decided to give her a serious, never-the-less, false excuse. "My memory helped me out. I remember where every book goes, and I just went back through the shelves, putting them back."
"That giant pile? In less than a minute?"
Harry nodded. "It's not like you're gonna believe anything else."
She silently conceded to his point. She slumped as the fight left her, and gave a tired sigh. "At least you don't have a pile of books around you anymore," she noted with a hint of relief.
Harry again nodded. "In case I run into people like you."
She crossed her arms. "It's not right. In the library, you don't hog all of the books to yourself. You just don't."
The green-eyed boy shrugged. "Alright."
She stood awkwardly. "Alright?"
"Alright; I won't do it again. So, will we have any trouble from here on out?"
"I never wanted any trouble."
"I was never looking for it. But I'm willing to forget about it if you are."
She looked hesitant. "This isn't how I imagined this meeting would go."
"Build-up of anticipation for eight weeks does that for you," he teased, and she blushed prettily. "Harry," he grinned, and held out his hand.
She reached for it with a small smile, her overbite complimenting her smile, in his eyes. "Hermione."
-April 23, 1990-
"What school do you go to?"
"Were you looking for me at yours?" He wondered, his book forgotten. That happened a lot recently.
"Of course not," she huffed indignantly, her cheeks pink. "I just haven't seen you in uniform."
Harry was aware of the hideous green school uniform, and had once considered copying the boy's version to blend in, but ultimately decided that he could never do that. Even he had standards. "I don't go to school."
"You're homeschooled, then?" she reasoned logically.
"I wouldn't call it that."
"What do you mean?"
Harry shook his head. "Nothing. I've just been moving around a lot."
"And that affects your homeschooling?"
"Not really. I just don't live anywhere."
She gasped. "Really?"
Harry put a finger to his lips. "We're in a library, you know."
"How do you not have a home?" she whispered urgently, her eyes showing a sense of alarm, and it could have been a trick of the light, but she looked sad at the prospect.
The boy shrugged. "Wasn't really my choice. My relatives… hinted that they prefer me as far away as possible. I didn't argue."
"For how long?" she asked incredulously, her mind reeling at the boy in front of her, not living under a roof.
He looked pointedly at her, his green eyes searching. "A few years. No point in calling anyone about it, now."
He could see the battle warring on in her features. He knew that if he had ever told her, she would call for help. In the few months he had spent with her, she had gone from absolutely worshipping authority figures, unquestionably obeying them, to admitting that the librarian could be a bit harsh 'sometimes'.
He didn't have much faith that she wouldn't immediately run to the librarian.
However, she surprised him with her hesitant nod. "How are you living day-to-day?" she asked him, her eyes roaming him over like it was the first time ever seeing him. He looked down at his own Nottingham Forest shirt that he had seen in the store, and it looked clean and new.
He looked back up to her and grinned. "I get by."
Harry nodded unabashedly. "I can't get a job, now can I?"
She crossed her arms. "And that's your excuse."
"It's the one I'm sticking to."
"Do you feel proud of yourself? Taking from hardworking people?"
He narrowed his eyes. "Most times, yes. It's amazing how much I can get away with."
Hermione fidgeted, and he inwardly smirked as he realized that she remembered when he had eluded her the first time they met, months ago. "Could you do me a favor?"
Harry nodded, unsure.
"Don't get caught." Her eyes pleaded with him. "Please."
Harry wasn't intending to. And now, looking into her eyes, he made a solemn promise that he wouldn't.
"You know," Harry remarked, "you took that pretty well, considering. And you didn't ask many questions about it."
"Harry, I know you can't believe it, but there was actually a time where you weren't a social person. Even if I asked, I couldn't get the right answers out of you. And my mind was working far faster than you give me credit for. You may recall that I found your last name a few days later because I looked you up after that very moment."
"I'm almost surprised you didn't find me under the name 'Freak the Bastard Child', to be honest."
"...I'm glad they're dead."
"You know, there was a time when you were happy to go to Hogwarts. Remember when you got your letter?"
Hermione had a wistful look on her features. "Yeah, there was a time. I was naïve, certainly. One thing I'll always cherish, though – the look on your face when I told you about it. When you realized that you could tell me everything."
"And that was when Hermione Granger broke her first rule," Luna smiled, her eyes closed. "Before she even read that Harry was a celebrity, she had already made the choice to tell her best friend that she had gotten an invitation to Hogwarts."
"Are you falling asleep on me, Luna?" Hermione asked the blond resting on her chest, amused.
"I was listening, you just have such soft pillows," Luna purred, and Hermione blushed.
"Moving on," the brunette murmured, purposefully ignoring her boyfriend's chuckles and the others' muffled laughter, "I got the letter, and I thought logically about it. It seemed that Harry certainly qualified for having magic, what with the adventures he's told me about, and the things I've seen him do, and I reasoned that he would likely be getting a letter had someone known where he went."
"That was around the time I finally mastered Occlumency, and the memories started to come easier to me. I was sorting out my memories bit by bit for organization – a little each day, as the book suggested. I woke up one day knowing what my parents look like, the same day Hermione got that letter. She showed me the letter, and I told her... well, everything, really."
"You wouldn't shut up," Hermione muttered, her lips curved upwards. "It was sweet. You spilled out your soul to me, secrets that you've never told anyone other than Luna. Your trust is, even now, rather sacred."
Harry flushed at her high thought of him. "Well, you didn't have to say it like that," he murmured embarrassingly, "some things are hard to talk about, is all. Besides, you broke a rule for me; a rule with almost unimaginable consequences, just because you had a hunch about me."
"Harry, I wouldn't have gone without you," she said defiantly. "I told you before I told my parents, because I didn't want to be pressured into going. I had almost no idea if you were magical or not. I'd already made up my mind; if I couldn't bring my only friend, then I wasn't going to Hogwarts."
"Hmph. You had friends before we even got on the boats, Hermione."
"Yes, and I wonder whose charm can be blamed for that? Certainly not mine."
"You're not giving yourself enough credit. I think we were both rather popular in the carriage."
"You're jumping ahead, Harry."
"So I am. Nothing much happened anyway, except for Sirius."
"Because that's something worth glossing over. Honestly..."
-September 1, 1991-
The dark brown-haired boy stepped off the boat and held his hand out.
"Such a gentleman," she remarked, giggling as she jumped off the boat, their hands linked.
Harry shrugged. "Not really. I got you those shoes; I don't want anything happening to them."
He smiled. "No, I'm just cheap."
"You didn't even pay for these!"
"I'm really cheap."
She laughed again. He had always liked that laugh. "Sure. You did it because you're cheap."
"I can't think of any other reason," Harry said slyly.
"Oh, get a room you two," Daphne muttered, climbing awkwardly out of the boat. Harry quickly went to her assistance, and she gratefully smiled. She watched as Harry held out his hand for Susan and Cho as well.
"Any chance you could get me a pair of shoes, too?" Susan smiled sweetly, fluttering her eyelids.
Cho tilted her head over to the brunette. "I don't think she would like that."
Hermione rolled her eyes. The three had been teasing them the entire train ride, ever since they walked in on her sitting on Harry's lap, reading a book. It was something they had done for a while, at this point, and it was completely innocent, but they all found it quite funny. "Let's go. Harry, I think the sorting will start soon. You won't get another chance alone."
Harry glanced around at the children who were otherwise distracted by the magnificent sight that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the first time in their lives. He saw Hagrid, who was corralling the boats onto the shore. "I suppose it's as good as a time as any." He shook his head wildly, the long locks of chestnut hair spinning loosely.
"What are you – oh!" Susan squeaked, now getting a good look at his hair. The brown hair was now black, the glow of the lanterns floating around them all making it easy to see the slightly changed colouring from a close distance.
"A Glamour charm?" Daphne inquired, and Harry nodded. "Why?"
"I'm trying to keep a low profile – it's something Padfoot taught me a few weeks ago. I can hide my scar easy, but people would still notice."
"Your… scar?" Cho said slowly, enraptured by the boy's bright green eyes that she was just positive wasn't there before.
Susan gasped. "Harry? Harry… Potter?"
The Boy-Who-Lived held his finger to his lips and winked.
"You're supposed to be missing, or dead," Daphne whispered, shocked that she was standing near him, let alone talking to him for the past few hours on the train.
"I am," he explained sagely. "I've been allowed by the 'beings that are' to visit Hogwarts for one day, to see how my life could have been, with the best company I could find."
Hermione swatted his shoulder. "They've already seen a ghost. You don't need to spook them."
"So when you joked about breaking your Godfather out of jail…" Susan whispered, her skin white.
Harry shook his head. "It was a joke. He was also completely innocent. If I didn't know for a fact, I wouldn't have broken him out."
"You really did break Sirius Black out?" Cho urgently asked him, her voice pitching, her volume low. "But you just said you were joking!"
"Oh, no. I wasn't joking about that. I was referring to the security system of Azkaban."
Susan looked ready to faint, and Cho looked primed to drop soon after. Daphne, however, had a wide grin on her face. "You are not what I expected you to be."
"Last I checked, you expected me to be dead." He raised his hand. "Hope I'm doing better than that. Harry Potter."
She immediately shook it. "Daphne Greengrass. Pleased to meet the Boy-Who-Lived-Then-Died."
He frowned. "My friends just call me 'Harry'."
"I didn't know I was your friend," she feigned shock, fanning herself with her other hand.
"I'm calling you my friend, not my concubine," he said cheekily, and chuckled when her cheeks flushed.
The redhead of the group took a deep breath. "I'm Susan Bones. Nice to meet you – again." Harry gently released Daphne's hand in favor of shaking Susan's outstretched palm.
"If I may ask," Cho asked hesitantly, "Why isn't he exonerated if he didn't commit a crime? Why tell us that he didn't do anything if you didn't tell anyone else?"
Harry shrugged. "More fun this way to have it revealed when we get the real guy. Sirius is a bit of a prankster."
"We?" Cho muttered weakly.
"Harry and I," Hermione chimed in, "will be catching him. We've already seen him on the train. He's absolutely powerless and helpless right now. Especially seeing as he doesn't have a wand."
"Sounds interesting," Daphne admitted. "I hope to see you still alive when it's all said and done."
"If there's a guarantee I'll live, it wouldn't be as fun."
Hermione swatted at his arm once again, and he dodged it. "Prat!"
"This…" Susan started, as she saw the brunette chase her friend all the way to the castle, "…is going to be an interesting year."
"Certainly more interesting than last year," Cho breathed, "and I don't know if that's good or bad."
"If you knew, it wouldn't be as fun," Daphne mimicked, her grin refusing to go anywhere. "I hope he lets me tell Tracey about this!"
"I think he will," Susan speculated. "And the twins. We were all in the same compartment."
There was a small pause as they began the trek towards the school, leaving Hagrid and the gang of first years behind. They had a relative guess as to where they were headed.
"Is anyone else going to point out that he knows what a concubine is?" Daphne wondered innocently, drawing looks of recognition.
"Black is an ancient and noble house," Susan shrugged, "so I'm sure Harry's read some books. What intrigues me is the fact that he specifically asked you to be a concubine."
Daphne tilted her head towards the pair of obvious misfits, who were now struggling to out-tickle each other. "I think the role of anything higher is rather taken at this point."
Cho looked scandalized at the thought. "They're first years!"
"First years that broke a wanted man out of the maximum security ward of a prison that has never been broken out of. Your point?"
Susan giggled at Cho's fish imitation. "In her defense, I don't think they know that they like each other yet."
Cho looked over to Harry's high-pitched laughter as he was tickled mercilessly by Hermione. He hugged her close to him to lock her arms, and they fell to the ground, laughing. "It's funny," The pretty Asian girl noted. "They're in front of the most amazing castle I've ever seen, and they didn't take a second glance at it."
Susan stopped. "I didn't even take a second glance at it." She looked at the school, the glowing magnificence, well aware of the history this building represented. And she looked back at the couple; Hermione had her hands locked behind her back as Harry grinned at them, his chin resting on her shoulder.
"Caught her," Harry said happily, completely ignoring his captive's squeals of laughter. Hermione made no real attempt to escape his clutches, instead moving to whip her hair around, continuously slapping his face with her wild bushy brown hair. Harry winced every time, but he held firm, his grin wide.
"I've said it before – get a room," Daphne chuckled, watching their flushed cheeks burn with exertion. "For someone trying to be low-key, don't you think you'd try to be… low-key?"
Hermione slung her hair over to her other side once more, then craned her neck to Harry. "I blame you."
Harry grinned and blew a small breath onto her neck, and she gasped and shivered. "It's not too late. We've got an impression to make."
Unthinkingly, Hermione craned her neck and kissed his cheek. "Let's go, then."
-September 12, 1991-
"You know what? I think I'll keep it."
Harry glared at Malfoy, who tossed the glass ball in the air with little caution. "Can't afford one on your own, then? Have to take hand-me-downs from someone you like to call a Squib?"
The blonde sputtered. "Shut it, Potter! You want it back? Come take it." Without a word, he sped off into the sky.
After glancing towards Hermione and Parvati, who looked deep in conversation about how useless a remembrall was if it couldn't even remind you of what you forgot, he turned back to a grinning, floating, ponce. "You know what? I think I'm good down here."
Malfoy laughed. "What? Scared, Potter?"
"It's not my remembrall; Neville seems like an okay guy, but I wouldn't literally fly through hoops for him."
The boy scoffed. "This is what your Golden boy is, everyone! Scared of ruddy heights!"
"That's not a bad name," Harry muttered to himself, before he yelled back up, "At least you've accomplished one of your lifelong goals; high and mighty over everyone else!"
Draco looked indignant as the small crowd of children laughed at him, including a few Slytherins. "I'll show you, Potter," he whispered, before he tightened his legs around his broom, and pushed himself forward.
Towards the ground. Towards Harry.
The ebony-haired child looked at the boy speeding towards him incredulously. What would he mean to accomplish if he crashed into him? It would probably hurt Draco more. Was he planning on only getting a fright out of him, pulling up at the last minute? He hoped he realized he was going far too fast to stop at that pace.
On second thought – no. He hoped Draco didn't realize that at all.
The children immediately around him scattered, but he stood his ground. This was Harry's true first impression. And he liked leaving a mark.
He slid his wand out of his back pocket, marveling at how easy it's been since using the frail object, before pointing it skywards. "Protego!" he chanted, casting a simple shield charm.
The boy's eyes could only widen in surprise as the small wave of energy shot towards him, and hit him in the shoulder.
He was unconscious before he fell off the broom, his body twisting and turning as he tumbled thirty feet to the earth.
He had barely fallen ten feet when Harry swooped under him, catching him with both arms as he balanced himself on his broom.
The kid was uncomfortably light, but Harry figured that – the frail boy's best friends were practically body guards, and for good reason.
Though, he wasn't sure how well they were faring if they were getting paid, because they were currently staring up at him dumbly, simply watching as Harry returned their keeper to them and dropped the boy three feet into their quick-to-respond arms.
He floated back to Hermione, who had ran forward to greet him, shaking her head incredulously. "I thought you were going to keep your powers a secret?" She asked him, exasperated.
"I just shot a shield charm – incantation out loud and everything. It's got to be second year at the most, isn't it?" Harry guessed, figuring that spell wasn't all too complex to learn for anyone, really.
He really needed to start reading the titles of books instead of rushing right through the material.
"Fourth year," Hermione corrected him, "and as far as I've read, nothing suggests that it can be used as anything other than a shield that wraps around you. You can't throw it."
"But… I just did," Harry pointed out.
The brunette huffed, but he could see the corners of her lips turned upwards. "So you did. Imagine everyone's surprise when they find out they can't."
Harry shrugged as he hopped off the Cleansweep broom. "I'm sure if they put their minds to it – "
Harry winced at the sound. "Haven't heard her like that since the Sorting."
Hermione remembered as well as he did, and she was sure she'd never forget the look on everyone's faces when they saw the once feared dead Boy-Who-Lived. "Hopefully, she won't force you to explain what happened this time in front of everyone."
Harry sighed. He had decided, after he was practically forced to tell a far more dramatic tale of his upbringing to the enraptured public, that he wasn't going to be pushed to explain anything about his life after the Dursleys. Especially with Dumbledore watching. Just looking at the elderly man gave him a headache.
"I'll be back after class," he muttered, handing her a spinning glass ball, turning away to follow the irate Scotswoman, and his best friend nodded, expecting nothing less.
McGonagall's eye twitched. Not once did she consider that he might say no to her deal. "Pardon?"
Harry set his eyes upon both Oliver Wood and his professor with firmness. "I didn't agree to join the Quidditch team. We never even talked about it. I've barely been here a week! I can't add practices and games to my schedule." Not to mention how Hermione might respond if he had more time taken away from her. And, with her birthday coming up soon, he didn't want anything interrupting what he had planned.
Still, looking into their eyes, he could tell that they weren't intentionally forcing him into the sport, and were genuinely hurt by the thought that he wouldn't even consider it. "I don't want to go to practice. I just don't have the time nor patience. And I don't even own a broom."
"You can own as many brooms as you want, Mister Potter," the professor informed him after regaining her composure. "Your father was the chief investor in Nimbus."
Harry's eyebrows rose. He certainly wasn't told that when he had gone to Gringotts. He made a mental note to see what else he hadn't been told. "Still, I won't have the time. I've heard horror stories about your training schedule, Wood. I want no part of it."
The fifth year student, to his credit, didn't flinch. "You'd be the only first-year to be on the Quidditch team in at least a century, Potter. You sure you wouldn't at least try to go for the reserve? If you're anything like your father, I'd try anything at this point."
Harry winced at the abstract memory, of his father sneaking him onto a broom and flying him all across London for a day.
He didn't know how his mother found out, but she did. It was not pretty.
"What would I have to do in Reserve?" He wondered, half-feigning interest.
"Show up for one of the practices once every two weeks, and only the minimum time. According to Professor McGonagall, you seem to be the best as a Chaser, but I'd like to test you on that myself. I just want you to come to the rehearsal trials."
Harry weighed his options. "I'll have to think about it," he finally decided. "I've seen the bulletin. I'll tell you by next Saturday if I show up or not."
Wood seemed to breathe a sigh of relief – it was as good as he was going to get at the moment. "Alright. I'll be in the fifth year dorm if you need anything. Thank you, Professor." He nodded once, and after being dismissed, walked back into class.
The Deputy Headmistress looked like she very much wanted to say something, but the emerald-eyed boy looked firm in his decision. A part of her would be pleased to note that she may have inadvertently stolen a Ravenclaw student from Flitwick – willing to think ahead and focus on studies rather than sports. "Thank you for indulging me, Mister Potter. You may return to class."
"Can I go back in a moment, Professor? My classmates are expecting me to be expelled, or worse, by you right now. I want to make them squirm a bit. Draco all but cancelled class for today."
McGonagall caught herself from smiling. She'd be even more pleased to taunt Severus with the thought that the boy in front of her could have been a Slytherin. "Very well, Mister Potter. Shall I interest you in a biscuit? Lunch is next, anyway."
Harry gratefully accepted, and the two walked to her office, McGonagall subtly explaining the rules of Quidditch, and the heart-breaking tale of how the Quidditch Cup hadn't been in her house's hands in a decade.
That streak would end that very year.
-October 30, 1991-
"So," eleven year-old Harry muttered awkwardly, skimming his fingers alongside the brick walls of the corridors, "I'm aware that I'm a celebrity, but I'm starting to find this a bit creepy."
No one responded. He didn't expect her to.
"Or maybe you're not a fan," he said slowly, "maybe you just find me attractive. If it helps, I find you attractive. But I honestly have no idea how that relationship would work. You can't exactly take me to Hogsmeade without raising a few eyebrows, can you? I mean, it's conceivable, in a year or two, but for now, it'd only be a pipedream. So I could understand why you want to follow at a distance."
His free hand dug into the pocket of his robes for a moment, before he pulled out a small sheet of plain, normal paper. "I keep your secret, and you keep mine, okay? I can see you – I always have. My mum showed me this once. Apparently, I giggled at the dots moving randomly around the paper, and it never failed to put me to sleep. The Marauder's Map, they called it. That's what my dad and his friends called themselves. You work for a man who practically raised them – You should ask about them sometime. They're a fascinating bunch; bullies with good intentions. Just like the guy you report to. Am I right?"
Silence. Harry paid it no mind as he poked the paper, watching as the animation came to life. "They all had one; it was a bit of a competition to see which one made it the best. His friend Moony won, but he got it confiscated soon after. He never tried to go after it – after all, they had three more. Filch never knew what he had. Don't tell him I said that, okay?"
The Boy-Who-Lived watched his specially-made red dot blinking on the paper, and the two dots in close proximity. "Of course, the one mum showed me went with everything else in the fire, but as soon as I remembered it, I made one of my own before I even got here. You have no idea how bloody useful this thing is. Hermione's got a copy, but I can't give it to anyone else – not until I get Wormtail." He spied the abnormally tiny red 'X' on the paper and groaned. "You'd know him better as Peter Pettigrew, I'd imagine. But right now, he's in a form that makes him harder to catch – for me, anyway."
He snapped his head sideways, towards a dark corridor, and a figure jumped back. Harry grinned. "You can come out now," he said placatingly, leaning alongside the wall and sliding down to the floor. "You've been following me all this time; you're going to have to work with me if you want this to continue. I can get away from you anytime I want. You've only been allowed to see the things you see because I want you to see it. Now that I've got it all planned out, it's time to return the favor. It's much more valuable than reporting on a kid doing nothing, isn't it?"
Yellow eyes pierced from the darkness, curious. "You don't want to catch a rat for me? I'd say he's worth quite a few meals."
The black cat padded silently and slowly towards the kneeling boy, her nose wriggling cutely.
She stopped a few feet away. Harry slowly pointed to the spot on the map.
"I imagine you've got this place mapped out in your head. You've been here enough years to know exactly where this is. On the third floor, next to the painting of the knight riding a unicorn into battle. There's a small room behind the painting. There, you'll find the fattest, juiciest rat you'll ever see. If you get him, come back to me with the head. That's all I want – the head."
Mrs. Norris eyed the map with great intensity, her ears flickering back and forth, twitching excitedly. Then, without warning, the small cat shot forward, brushing past his leg, and quickly paced down the corridor, hissing menacingly.
Harry stood up when the cat drifted around the corner, tapping his map once again. He smiled to himself as he pocketed the folded sheet.
"If you want your cousin to be proved innocent, I'd hurry. No time to report to Dumbledore. Time is ticking, Ms. Tonks. We'll talk tomorrow at that spot, this time. No one'll know you're missing – it's Halloween, after all. A time for celebration."
Harry walked on, smiling slightly as his sensitive hearing picked up a whispered curse.
-October 31, 1991-
Hermione breathed raggedly, her voice in hiccups. "H-Harry?"
"'M alright," the boy slurred, struggling to get to his feet. "Ah!" he gasped, and fell back to the ground. "Bloody – my leg hurts like hell!"
"Don't move it!" she said urgently, forcing herself to move from the corner; she scrambled forward, pushing the rubble out of her way as she reached her friend. "Hold on," she frantically whispered, moving to his side and giving him a once-over. She flinched as her eyes locked onto the awkward way his left leg was bent. When she looked back at his face, his eyes were closed. "Speak to me, Harry," she muttered brokenly, her voice raw. She reached for his wand arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. "Please."
"I's sorry," he slurred again. "Gettin' you in this. M' fault."
"It's not your fault, Harry. You know that." She lifted him slowly, making sure he could lean on her. "I've got you. Let's get you to the Hospital Wing."
The battered, broken child didn't seem to hear her. "How could you say it's no' m' fault?" He was angry, now, and she wasn't sure if he was angry at himself or the entire situation. "You don't deserve this. None of it."
She hooked her arm behind his back. "Harry – look." She waited patiently until Harry lifted his weary head to look at the giant carcass before them, the beast's headless body still. "This is not your fault. It is this – this thing's fault! Not yours! Don't blame yourself for this."
"You… you almost died tonight, 'Mione. You almost died because you followed me into this." He looked over to her, seeing her teary face. "I… I can't – "
She leaned over and gave a quick, gentle kiss on his lips. "Shut up, Harry," she whispered. "You talk too much."
Harry was silent as his best friend led him out of girl's bathroom, stumbling slightly. They were halfway down the corridor when he spoke again. "I'm still sorry."
Hermione gave a weak chuckle. "I'm not kissing you again. Not until you're checked out by Madame Pomfrey."
"Worth a shot." He was silent for a moment. "How the hell did a troll get into the school?"
The brunette bookworm shrugged helplessly. "Maybe Nymphadora didn't catch Wormtail?"
Harry shook his head. "I checked the map this morning – she has him. He's still in rat form, too."
"I'll meet with her," Hermione told him, leaving no room for argument. "Tomorrow. We'll take Pettigrew and Owl him to Madame Bones."
"Not safe enough," Harry grunted, lifting his damaged leg high and holding more firmly onto Hermione, in favor of hopping at a more rapid pace. "And not trustworthy enough. The school owl will eat him. I'd need to transfigure a cage."
"I'll do it, and don't argue."
Harry chuckled weakly. "Fine. We still need to figure out who did this."
"I don't think Dumbledore would've done it," she wondered, pacing to keep up with Harry's stride. "We'll have to ask Snape about it – he might know something."
"Hope this meeting goes better than the last."
Hermione noticed that his grunts were getting steadily louder. "Harry? How's the pain?"
He shook his head. "It hurts, but it's starting to fade."
She went still. That wasn't a good thing.
Quicker than a flash, Harry was hoisted into her arms bridal style, earning a yip from the Boy-Who-Lived, and she paced faster down the corridors. "Hermione!"
"I'm not letting you lose a leg for me, Potter!" She growled, her eyes staring straight forward. Faster than she thought her small, slim legs could carry her, the bookworm rushed towards the moving stairway. "Emergency!" She yelled loudly, and the staircase quickly lined up for her, leading to a more-or-less direct path to the floor she wanted.
She made a mental note to read Hogwarts: A History more.
Harry was silent for a few seconds, helplessly hanging onto the girl's neck. "I'd lose a lot more for you," he whispered, his eyes closing.
Hermione could practically feel him start to lose his strength, and shook him roughly as she hopped up the stairs. "Come on, Harry! Stay with me! I need you to be awake!" She had seen him fall nine feet from the troll's back to the tiled floor, head-first, and without missing a beat, summon a knife and jump on the beast's back once more. It was imperative that he stay conscious, or he might suffer a concussion, and she didn't know what cure there was for that, or if Wizards even knew what those were at this point.
Plus… she didn't know what to do. She felt as much fear now as she had facing a troll about to club her into oblivion.
Harry was jolted awake by the brunette's shaking. "I don't think you're supposed to do this to someone injured." It came out as a protest, but his voice was weak, and his breath shortened as he spoke.
More tears streamed from her eyes as she made it to the top of the staircase, and without stopping, turned left. "Please, Harry. Stay with me." Her voice was just as soft. She didn't think it would be fair to scream at him again as long as he listened.
"I'm not gonna die, Hermione," he said forcefully, and her eyes lowered to his pale skin for a moment, dubious.
She couldn't understand why, but she could feel Harry's life draining away in her arms – the danger was over, but the impending doom that had surrounded them, for some reason, stayed.
Harry had, at the most, a concussion, a cut on his cheek from a broken marble sink, and a disfigured leg that could probably be fixed with a bit of skelegrow.
But, for some reason, Hermione had the overwhelming feeling that if she didn't get him to the Hospital Wing right now, he would die.
She shook her head, slowing down minutely, her left leg beginning to cramp. This was ridiculous. She didn't even know what to tell Madame Pomfrey when she got there. 'Madame Pomfrey, please help us! We were attacked by a troll! Yes, we know we were supposed to be in our dorms, but Harry had to come get me! How the hell was I supposed to know that the name Eugene belonged to a troll? It was a dot on a map to me! I was just trying to get to Quirrell, before he went into the Slytherin's dorms. I just wanted to ask him about a man he seems to be… close to. I don't judge, it's just… it's complicated.'
She'd rather avoid the entire conversation. She didn't want to reveal the map, or any of the answers to questions that may come with it.
Working with Harry was a chore – she had known that since she followed him to Azkaban and helped him break out Sirius. He had protested the idea every step of the way, of course.
But when he finally woke up, he would never hear the end of how honored she felt being by his side.
Her eyebrows furrowed – where did that slip come from? When he woke up? – and she looked down.
Harry hung limply in her arms, his jaw hanging lethargically, his hands slowly sliding off her shoulders. She could only see the whites of his wide-open eyes.
"Y'know, I've never killed anyone before that. I mean, I've held guns..." he scoffed mirthlessly. "I've made guns. Whenever I was in trouble on my own, I've fired the gun, and my force-shield charm went behind it. I've never had to use a bullet. Though I've met a lot of people who deserved them. But when that Troll went for Hermione..." his eyes went unfocused, before he quickly shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Hermione hunted down one of our professors, and explained what was going on. With his help, she wiped the school nurse of her memory and took me to his chambers instead. He was really the best person we could've gone to either way – he brews the potions that the nurse, Madame Pomfrey uses. Hermione didn't trust her, and we had every right to trust Snape. He, err, owed a favor to my dad, and by proxy, me."
"I never read that pamphlet."
"Huh?" Hermione asked eloquently from the chair next to him, looking through her new favorite book. The amount of things she discovered about the school were fascinating. She made a note to tell Harry about the more useful details, like the idea that every founder left a piece of themselves behind with a hidden room / private study. Just the idea of a large room of books collected by Rowena Ravenclaw tantalized her to no end.
"That pamphlet," Harry muttered again. "I never read it." He shrugged weakly - as much as he could, lain in a medical bed. "Just assumed that's what it said. I mainly wanted you to leave so I could get out unnoticed. I couldn't have an adult looking into who I am."
Her mind's eye showed a vivid recollection of her first conversation with the boy in front of her. "Harry – I already knew that. I tried looking for one after you left. We didn't have an informational material of any kind at that library."
"Oh." He laid there, staring at her blankly. "Thanks for not hating me."
She smiled softly. "Who says I didn't hate you? You're the bane of my existence, Harry. I've been waiting until this very moment to take you down when you least expect it."
Harry closed his eyes. "Make it quick, then."
"My pleasure," a voice sounded behind them, and they both jumped. "If only that was a command," the thin, pale man intoned silkily, looking down at them over his hooked nose. "Ah, to dream again… I highly doubt it was, so I suppose I still find myself a peon to the Boy-Who-Lived."
The small boy smiled weakly. "Good to see you too, Snape."
He frowned at the lack of respect, but otherwise ignored it. "A troll, Mister Potter? You skipped the feast so you could go fight a troll? If there was ever a banner for Gryffindor…"
Harry sighed. He was going to go against his word on giving Severus free speech one day; he just knew it. "No, Snivellus. Hermione went to meet Tonks to pick up Wormtail. I was preoccupied dealing with the most annoying boy in the world. He seemed quite gleeful at the thought that I lost my parents ten years ago today. Remind me to kill his parents when I'm feeling better."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "An eye for an eye, Potter? Well, I suppose it's always worked before…"
Harry's fingers twitched. At the very least, he would one day make sure he couldn't speak in sarcasm. "Enough, Snape. How am I?"
He started without further encouragement. "You don't have a concussion, and you seem as normal as you could be."
Hermione seemed pleased, and hugged Harry gratefully. "You're alright," she whispered, her lips pressed against his cheek. Harry wrapped his hand tightly around her back, and the two shivered at the touch they felt.
Their eyes opened, and Hermione jumped back.
"W-what was that?" Hermione gasped fearfully. Harry sat up, glaring at Snape, who held his hands up placatingly. He looked back to Hermione, who seemed to be trembling, lost in her own world. "Hermione?"
"I see v-visions," she whispered frightfully, visibly shaking, and sweat broke out on her forehead. "Harry, help me," she whimpered. She looked around frantically. "Where am I? I've never – " Her head whipped around to a dark corner in the chamber. "Who are you? What – Ah!"
Harry scrambled out of bed as he saw his friend's head whip back.
Harry dodged the spell, and without thinking, sent his own stunning spell back. Severus wordlessly dropped to the floor. He ran to Hermione's side, and his magic pulsed in his fingers as he grabbed both her arms. "Hermione!"
"Help me," she whimpered again, not really looking at him. "It's dark. I can't see anything." Without warning, she started struggling to escape his grip, and Harry squeezed her to himself as she thrashed around.
She screamed something, and Harry, with a thought, stunned her in his arms. She fell limp against him.
Harry collapsed to the floor, his rear hitting the green carpet, holding Hermione close. He looked over to his professor, meters away from him, lying on his side as he was blown back from the spell.
He looked back to Hermione, then to the professor, and it clicked for him. Snape was trying to knock Harry out so he wouldn't get to Hermione, because she began getting the… visions, or whatever she had, when they touched.
He looked down to Hermione's peaceful face. He brushed the sweat from her brow, and kissed her forehead.
He spent the rest of the night, rocking back and forth, cradling her head in his lap. When Severus finally awoke, that was the sight that greeted him. With Harry's command – or rather, plea – he forewent carrying her to the transfigured medical bed, and cast the appropriate charms on her right there, with Hermione's head in her lap.
He couldn't find anything; absolutely nothing. She seemed to be perfectly normal, mentally.
Harry was about to fall asleep, when she whispered something unintelligible.
Well, mostly unintelligible. He was able to hear the tail-end of the statement.
Severus paused and looked away from the image projections his wand gave him. "What? Who is Dudley?"
"My cousin," Harry said, confused. "I've never told her his name. She knew about the Dursleys, but I never told her Dudley's name. His name was never in the search report for me."
Snape was silent. "The troll; is he dead?"
Harry nodded. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Severus sighed heavily, and for the first time in his life, he felt something akin to sympathy for a Potter. "Everything. She has developed a knack for Legilimency. Suddenly, she seems to be at your level of proficiency. Her mental barriers before were menial, at best. Now, her shields are impenetrable for even the Dark Lord. And she knows something that you've never told her." He allowed the boy a moment to absorb the information, before moving over to his desk and picked up a small black book with empty, well-worn pages.
The book crashed on the floor in front of Harry, and he looked up in surprise at the frowning professor, who now stood in front of him. "Tell me, Potter," he said silkily. "You seem to know many things – things you aren't supposed to know, things that even I have yet to find out. What do you know about Horcruxes?"
"I'd lose a lot more for you," she whispered brokenly. "I'm not gonna d-die, Hermione…"
-November 4, 1991-
Harry caught himself as he almost slammed forward onto the business end of his fork.
"You okay, Harry?" Parvati asked worriedly, putting her quill back in the inkwell next to her essay, her half-eaten meal forgotten. She eyed him carefully. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"I'm alright, Pad," He slurred, "was just up a bit late. No problems."
She frowned. "Is it about Hermione?" she asked softly, eying the Great Hall for any onlookers.
"Hermione?" Susan wondered, sitting across from Harry. "Is she alright? I assumed she went to class early."
Parvati shook her head. "There was a family emergency – she had to go home for the weekend. That's what Lavender told me, anyway."
"Oh," Susan gasped. "Harry, do you know what happened?"
He shook his head, not trusting himself to speak, considering that it was a cover story he had convinced Lavender to spread. Hermione, physically, had gotten better, but she still wouldn't awaken. It was the only thing he could think of, and had been thinking of for the past three days.
He had told her a lot of things that had happened at the Dursley home, and his journey abroad, but now, she knew… everything. She knew the worst of the worst, now.
Harry didn't know if he would ever tell her about 'Harry Hunting'. He didn't think he would ever explain that while Dudley got bored of any new toys he had very quickly throughout his lifetime, his favorite toy, that lasted for an astonishing three months, was the fire-poker, that was only discarded when it was far too bent – of course, Harry was to blame, for not being fragile enough. He never wanted to tell Hermione about the breaks, the snaps, the internal bleeding that he had to endure on his sixth birthday, when he innocently asked his aunt what day it was, literally not having a clue as to what day it was.
But if there was one thing that he had promised never to tell anyone, it was the ruddy cupboard.
He honestly didn't know what point he had stopped worrying about his friend's well-being, and started worrying about his own secrets revealed to her, and he felt ashamed of himself for it. But it didn't stop him from worrying, never-the-less.
He still felt her lips on his four days ago – their first kiss. It was out of nowhere – and, for a moment, he thought it was truly just a ploy to get him to shut up. But he knew her.
However, it now seemed that she knew him better than anyone else. Maybe she knew that he wanted a kiss? Could she have done that just to appease him? Could it have been pity? A spark of emotion, generated from his soul half in her body? Could anything she try to feel in the future simply be an extension of his own emotions? Could she never have her own feelings expressed again, and she would be nothing but a vessel?
His mind had been in turmoil for the past three days with these pressing – exasperating questions. And now, on a Monday, he had to deal with classes.
He had ordered Snape to go on sick leave, so he could spend all of his time on looking over Hermione, but it would be suspicious if both Harry and Hermione were conveniently skipping classes.
On the plus side, he finally had confirmation from Tonks – The rat was flooed to Madam Bones the previous night. In a matter of days, Sirius would be free. He seemed to be relatively comfortable inside Potter Mansion, but Harry was sure he'd like the idea of stretching his legs a bit. Maybe get a place of his own. Sirius, bless him, could never be much of a father figure. Harry had been more of the parent in their relationship during the times he wasn't walking Padfoot, or when Hermione was at school and he needed a friend to play with.
Perhaps it was best if Sirius went off and lived his own life – the life he was never allowed to have. He seemed particularly pleased when he read that he was merely a national criminal.
Harry Potter – all alone, once again. As it probably should have been from the beginning.
"You're not alone, Harry."
He didn't bother to react. He had been hearing Hermione's voice all night, in short statements, once or twice an hour, and he resolved to himself to take a dreamless sleep potion tonight.
"Harry," Parvati said quietly, and he lifted his head weakly to meet her brown, curious eyes. "Would you rather take the day off? I'll take your notes for you."
He wanted to shake his head, but it was far too heavy to put it in such a motion. So he just stared.
She bit her lip nervously. "You and Hermione have the highest marks in our year so far. I don't think they'd mind if you played hooky once."
Susan, unbeknownst to Harry, had gotten up and stood behind him. "Let's take you back to the common room," she said gently. Harry, unable to do anything, allowed Susan to lift him to his feet. He swayed a little, before Susan caught him, and he righted himself. He quickly decided that having someone carry him everywhere was not something he wanted repeated anytime soon.
He wildly shook his head and sleepily thanked Susan, before stumbling towards the doors of the Great Hall, ignorant of the murmurs and whispers around him.
The Fat Lady's portrait was finally in his sight when he noticed that Susan and Parvati was behind him – and he only noticed when they began talking to a third person.
"Are you sure you should be with us right now?" Susan said carefully, her eyes glancing back and forth between Daphne and Harry's faltering walk.
The platinum blonde had her arms crossed as she eyed the boy in front of him. "They won't be a problem. Is he alright?"
Parvati shook her head. "He called me Padma earlier. He must be out of it."
Daphne tried not to show her surprise. Sometimes, even she got the two confused, when not looking or listening for the tells, but Harry had never mistaken one for the other – he made it look easy. "Does this have to do with Hermione's absence?"
"Word spreads fast," Susan admitted. "So you know about her family emergency?"
She frowned. "Makes more sense than what I heard."
"What did you hear?" the redhead inquired.
"I heard that she was injured when she and Harry battled that troll together."
The two girls were in a shocked silence when Harry murmured the password to the Fat Lady ("Lionheart."). He carefully leaned against the swinging portrait passageway and turned back to the girls. "Thanks," he muttered tiredly and awkwardly. He had no idea what they were talking about, but he assumed it was something big by the way they were looking at him.
"Did you…" Susan tried to phrase her words carefully, knowing how private he and Hermione were about some things. "Is Hermione okay, Harry?"
Even through restless eyes, he could see the sincerity in hers. "She's better," he promised, yawning as he did so – not bothering to cover his mouth.
The girls took no offense, but they did look concerned. "You should get some sleep, Harry," Parvati said gently, but firmly. "You look a wreck."
"I am," he promised again, before he promptly fainted dead, not hearing their shrieks of surprise and worry.
"You're never alone. We'll take care of you."
The sound of a baby's cheerful laughter was the first thing that penetrated Harry's senses when he awoke. Absently reaching for his glasses, he squinted as he sat up.
The laughter stopped, and soft cooing noises began to gurgle forward. Harry's eyes stared blankly ahead, numbly aware that even without his glasses, he could see the shelves of books before him very clearly.
The plain white books on the plain white shelves, in a vast expanse of whiteness. Plain whiteness.
He turned his head towards the sight, and choked back a gasp.
Hermione Granger was there, smiling as radiantly as she had always been, as if she herself didn't know what happened to her. Her two front teeth bit into her bottom lip with anticipated glee as he noticed her, and Harry found himself, just a little bit, forgetting about the previous days he had to endure.
But, oddly enough, it wasn't his best friend that his eyes had dwelled on first. It was, rather, the small baby shifting backwards and forwards in her cradled arms. "Dada!"
Hermione had a preciously nervous grin as Harry looked on in wonder. "Hello. Dada."
Harry slowly stood up, disjointed to say the least. He couldn't even see the white floor he was standing on, it blended so well into the rest of the nothingness. "Hermione? Is this another dream?"
"I asked myself that when I got here." She looked down at the baby in her arms, reaching for his 'father'. "Even as I lived your life, I tried thinking that it was all some sick nightmare." She gently removed her hand and cradled the child with the other, and held her finger up. The little one, easily, reached out for the dangling finger. "At first, it was your parents. Context aside, I'm really glad that I met them. It was short, but it was lasting." She watched the tiny child suckle on her finger with a serene smile. "Then it was them. I won't say much. Nothing you already don't know."
Harry felt himself tremble as he stepped forward, towards the illusion, unaware of the robe wrapped around him. Even as she talked so plainly about the Dursleys, smiling at the young infant, she looked distant – cold. Trying to detach herself from her emotions.
The baby began to cry. Hermione was quick to begin rocking the infant, whispering encouraging words into his ear. "Shhh; it's okay, darling. Mummy and Daddy are here. You'll never have to worry again. You'll never have to be afraid. You'll never be forced to be alone. You'll never yearn for love again. I promise you." Tears fell from her eyes, the salty wetness dampening her smile.
Harry tenderly pressed his palm against her cheek, and it sent a shock through him as he felt her skin – it was so real.
"Am I…" He cleared his parched throat. "Are we in purgatory?"
She looked up and her smile now looked genuine. "That was my very second thought." She leaned into his hand. "My parents were Catholic – notwithstanding the concept of witches, they tried to raise me the same. I kept myself firmly in the realm of logic – meaning, I couldn't really decide what decision to come to, for my sake or my parents'." She stepped closer, and the child, enveloped in a gray blanket, had since stopped crying, and looked to both with curious eyes.
Deep pools of curious green eyes.
"At this point," Hermione muttered, looking down into the beautiful orbs, "I still don't know what to believe in. I'm not dead – my body is adjusting, I think. To your presence. Your Horcrux. So I came to see you. It wasn't too hard to find you. You were always right next to me." She motioned towards the teething baby boy. "And then I found… a shriveled, grotesque, spawn of a child. It was hideous. It was deformed. It was almost unbearable to look at.
"But," she muttered, almost to herself, "above all else, it was suffering. It was abandoned. It was in pain. Had I known beforehand what it was, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. But I'm so glad that I did. And even after I found out that this was once a piece of Voldemort, I didn't regret it. I just took it in my arms, and it stopped wailing. And then… it changed. Into this." She gently plucked her finger out of the newborn's mouth, before cradling it with two hands again. "And then," she sniffed, "he called me mummy."
"Mummy!" The baby repeated on cue with enthusiasm, wriggling in his blanket, his beautiful green eyes attached on the flustered girl.
Harry had tears in his eyes as he saw the happiness in Hermione's – the eyes that he had thought, for a moment, that he would never see again. "It seems that he likes you."
The infant remembered the other person in the room. "Dada!"
Harry felt a wave of emotion hit him, and his eyes clouded over. "Dada," he repeated softly.
"Dada!" the child reiterated, smiling brilliantly. His messy brown hair was smoothed over gently by Harry's fingers as he stroked his head tenderly.
Hermione was gleaming as she watched the two interact, before she suddenly frowned. "You're going to be woken up soon, Harry. He's trying to get into your mind. Don't trust him."
Harry nodded, feeling a small ache at his temple, but ignored it for now. "Can… can I hold him?"
Hermione slowly handed the newborn over, and Harry felt awkward as he cradled the infant in his arms. He had never held a child before, but some part of him felt that no matter how he was holding it, it felt – right.
Harry didn't have a particular religion in his life – his relatives were church-goers, but he wasn't going to go by their standard for anything – but, seeing the child swaddled in his embrace, and the girl in front of him, he was sure that while he hadn't prayed, someone had answered them.
"Fate, Harry," Hermione whispered, even over the pounding in his head. "Maybe even some type of destiny. We've already connected in the spiritual sense. A divine intervention?" She wiped her sleeve against her eyes, and grinned a happy grin. "I don't want to question it. Just don't think for a second that I like you any less than before this all started."
Harry desperately wanted to believe her – and surprisingly, he did.
"Good," she muttered, gently gripping onto the now-sleeping baby and holding it against her. "I imagine we're going to have a lot to talk about when I wake up," she grinned.
Harry smiled back over the splitting headache. "I just might look forward to it."
She tenderly hefted the child so the chin could rest on her shoulder. Tentatively, she leaned forward to kiss the ebony-haired wizard, and Harry could only respond by kissing back. It was chaste, much like their last and only kiss before, but they were both excited about the things to come – their future together.
"Embrace it, Harry," she whispered when they parted. "And… it might be too late. For the actual Horcrux from Voldemort. But while we can – we can embrace it. See what it has to teach us. See if it can be changed. Molded, somehow." She nodded towards the baby. "You'd be surprised what can happen when you realize you're not alone."
Harry gave her a quick kiss, and grunted over the blinding pain. "Especially," he breathed, "when you're with someone you love."
With a snap, he felt his mind put together again, and into place. And he was gone.
His eyes fluttered open, and he groaned.
"Are you okay, my boy?" The first thing Harry noticed was the kindly smile. The second was a pair of twinkling eyes over half-moon spectacles.
Harry's head began to throb again, and he quickly focused back on the nice smile.
"I must say, Harry, you gave us all a fright. I hope you had a well-deserved slumber."
"Thank you, Headmaster," Harry muttered in what he deemed a grateful tone. "What happened?"
The wizened wizard stroked his impossibly long beard. "Why, you fainted, dear boy. You've been out for a couple of hours. Your vitals read normal, but we were still concerned at the prolonged hibernation."
Harry refrained from snorting. They had it far easier than he had it in the past few days. "Where am I?"
He made a show of looking around. "The Hospital Wing. I imagine that this is your first time here, yes?"
Dumbledore's hand waved, and the curtain pulled open from around them. Naturally, Harry was more focused on Dumbledore's other hand, behind his back. Still, he made a show of looking around as well, mimicking Dumbledore. "You will find that Madame Poppy Pomfrey is the best medical healer around, even if," he chuckled to himself, "the medicine is not quite as appealing in taste as one would hope. But very effective, so I would hope you can down them all." He motioned towards the headstand next to his bed, and Harry sat up to look at the four small bottles of heinous looking fluid. "Take your time, Harry. Now, do you mind telling me what happened for you to faint? Do you remember anything?"
Harry's mind was working hard for an excuse, and threw caution to the wind. "I don't know, sir." He absently reached for his glasses, and realized with a start that he could see perfectly well. Still, his face didn't betray him, and he nonchalantly slipped his glasses on. He eyed the headmaster curiously, marveling at how the glasses blurred his new vision spectacularly. He had no idea how truly blind he once was. "Much better."
Dumbledore's whiskers glinted in the light as he smiled. "The guardian of the Gryffindor Tower – you may very well recognize her by her other endearing title, the Fat Lady – warned me as soon as she saw you collapse. Miss Patil and Miss Bones graciously escorted you to the Hospital Wing, with a rather impressive use of the Floating Charm." His eyes twinkled in Harry's direction, and Harry felt a niggling in the back of his mind. "Poppy had a fit – she thought they would drop you. I am proud to say, however, that nothing of the sort happened."
Harry outwardly breathed a sigh of relief, while mentally thanking the girls, and making a note to personally thank them. "So, is that it? After the potions, I'm free to go?" He was very, painfully aware that Dumbledore had not yet even tried to call for Pomfrey, and even probably disabled the wards from alerting her when he woke.
Albus frowned minutely, knowing this private conversation was over, as what Harry was aiming for. "I'm afraid that you will have to inquire to Madame Pomfrey about any other tasks she needs to perform on you." He flicked his wand again, and while Harry wasn't ready for it before, he noticed it now; Dumbledore's magic flared as he reenacted the ward, and the immediate pulse that flared confirmed Harry's guess of the ward announcing to Pomfrey that he was now awake.
"Some advice, my dear boy," Dumbledore murmured sagely. "Please eat. And it is imperative that you get a good night's sleep every so often. You're still a growing lad, yet. Miss Granger will be back soon enough. You two have been inseparable ever since the first day of school, and I admit, that may be because you knew each other far before." He began to stroke his beard again. "I also admit; you are far different from what I expected you to be, Harry Potter. Ever since you ran away from your family, everyone looked for you, and you did a very good job at staying hidden." He saw Harry visibly wince at the word 'family', and refrained from mentioning any future summer plans to the boy. It was best to wait until after the potions fully kicked in, which could be in a matter of days. "I'm just happy that you're safe and alive, my boy. Perhaps, you could regale me with your adventures abroad sometime?" His eyes sparkled merrily, and Harry had to give him credit – the man did not seem to give up when it came to getting information.
Harry nodded. "Of course, Headmaster." Harry needed to work on his improvisational story-telling anyway. He would be the perfect test. "Anytime. If Hermione would like to, I would prefer her to come with me."
"Of course I would, Harry." She spoke from the doorway; even Dumbledore looked back in surprise, not expecting her to be there. "Greetings, Headmaster. I have returned. Please send along my thanks to Professor Snape for allowing me a few days absence."
"I will pass on the message, Miss Granger," he murmured, slipping back into his impassive face. "Just please, contact your head of house first if there is an emergency."
She nodded. "I will keep that in mind, Headmaster. But it was rather urgent, and he was the only professor I was aware of with a fireplace I was tempted to use the one in the Common Room, but I knew I had to inform someone first." Her chocolate brown eyes turned to Harry, and the gleam in her eyes was a sight that Harry welcomed openly. "Parvati told me what happened. Are you alright?"
Harry only grinned in reply, not really sure if he was still dreaming again, as the matriarch of the Hospital Wing bustled into the room, and her eyes roved over Harry's relaxed form before she breathed a sigh of relief.
"I only hope to see you in this bed once this year, Mister Potter," the motherly matron said in a clipped tone. "I've seen you play Quidditch. This does not need to happen out there, with the stunts that you do." Her frown softened. "It's nice to see that you are alright, and you were merely famished. Please come to me if you find yourself unable to eat more than a few small portions of food a day. I estimate that you'll be able to eat normally in a few days…"
Harry was half-focused on Pomfrey, more focused on Hermione's grinning visage. Nothing else mattered. All was right with the world.
It was only minutes later that he found himself alone with his best friend. She sat by his bedside, holding his hand as they sat together in silence. She twiddled with her thumbs in concentration, and while Harry had so many things to tell her, he would wait until she said her peace.
Finally, she said something – it was quiet, and Harry almost asked her to repeat it, but his logical mind quickly caught up to her mumbled words.
"I love you, too."
Hermione squeaked in shock as Harry hugged her to him, barely noticing him even moving out of the bed, and she tightened her arms around him.
She smiled against his neck as she breathed deeply. "Sorry for scaring you."
Harry shook his head. "Sorry for making you think you had to apologize."
She laughed heartily and kissed the side of his neck. "Apology accepted." She stood against him, and gently pushed him away. "Now go apologize to those girls for trying to push them away when they were trying to help you."
Harry awkwardly rubbed the back of his head. "Want to come with me? They'll be happy to see you."
Hermione slipped her hand in his. "Of course." With a quick spell behind her, the bottles of murky fluid were all empty. She winked, and Harry chanced a quick peck on the cheek, before the two walked on, oblivious to the next drastic shift in the fabric of reality.
The two went to search for Parvati, Susan, and Daphne, their lives unknowingly changed more extraordinarily than they ever thought it would.
Author's Note: Expect at least six chapters, since Year One is cut in half, and the rest of the chapters should cover each school year.