Disclaimer:Harry Potter is the property of JKRowling who kindly allows others to play in her universe.
Part One of A Step to the Right Series
Please note that this is the first story in a series. The rest of the series is NOT written yet and it may be some time before I return to it. While my view is that this story is complete in and of itself (although yes, it sets up the rest of the series and what is to come), your view may vary, particularly if you hate WIPs (A/N update 30.05.21).
Alternate Universe based on the idea that life goes very differently from canon Harry and Hermione post the end of the war.
Pairings: Harry/Hermione is the main pairing. Mentions of past canon pairings such as Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione.
Tropes/Cliches/Fanon: Fanon concepts of Ancient and Noble Houses, Potter and Black wealth and status, Super!Harry.
Content warning of references to child abuse (neglect, emotional - Harry; physical, emotional - Sirius) in early parts. Please consider your personal triggers and keep yourself safe.
Reviews welcome. Cross-posted to AO3. Previously posted in a Rough Trade Challenge.
Harry Potter – A Step to the Right
His alarm goes off at six.
Harry wakes up unwillingly as he does every day. His hand reaches out and smacks the snooze feature on the alarm clock. He turns over and burrows back under the duvet for another ten minutes of dozing.
It's September. His nose is cold and the old radiator in his bedroom is making noises which signal it needs bleeding again. He snuggles further into the duvet.
The alarm goes off again.
He shuts it off, forces himself up and out of the bed. He shivers as cold air hits the bare skin outside of the boxers and t-shirt combo which has become his typical nightwear. He applies a wordless, wandless heating charm to the room to compensate for the radiator.
He hopes the hot water has fared better as he stumbles from the room and into the small bathroom in his flat.
The bathroom doesn't have enough room to swing a cat but it does the job. Harry sets the shower to run while he makes use of the facilities. He drops his clothes into the laundry bag on the hook behind the door and steps into the spray.
He stands for a moment letting the water run over him, down the back of his neck, across his shoulders. He lifts his face and begins to wash with efficiency. He's never quite lost the habit of the three-minute showers his aunt had imposed on him through most of his childhood. He rebelliously spends another minute in the shower just because he can before getting out. A quick shave charm and two minutes of dental hygiene later, he steps out with one towel slung carelessly around his waist as he towels dry his hair with the other on his way back to the bedroom.
Ten minutes later he's dressed in old jeans, a long-sleeved grey Henley under a burgundy t-shirt. New glasses are perched on his nose; stylish frames Hermione had convinced him to buy for his birthday. His trainers are not new but they're in good condition and they're comfortable. He makes coffee and toast and eats standing up tucked into the corner of the counter between the cooker and sink. He washes up swiftly – another ingrained habit.
He checks he has all the books and papers he needs for the day in his knapsack, shrugs on a warm jacket and a cycling reflector waistcoat over it. He heads out of the flat. His bike is on the landing and he carries it down the narrow flight of stairs to the communal lobby.
The retired milkman who lives in the flat below him, opens the front door just as Harry reaches it. Harry steps back and lets the older man and his black Highland terrier into the building. The dog immediately shakes his coat.
Harry hops out of the way but reaches down to pat the dog who wags at him happily and pushes his cold wet nose into the warm palm of Harry's hand. "Hello Mister Higgins; Blackie."
"Harry." Higgins takes off his flat-cap and runs a hand across the wild white hair revealed. "Wet day out there, lad."
Harry nods. "Guess it's the end of the Summer."
"It's almost October, lad." Higgins huffs. "Summer ended a while ago. When was the last time we saw a glimmer of sun?" He tugs on Blackie's lead. "Have a good day, lad." They head down the corridor.
Harry takes a moment to put on the cycling helmet before he tackles the door and getting his bike out of the building. He surreptitiously applies an impermeable charm to everything as he carries the bike down the front steps and onto the pavement.
The square is peaceful in the grey light of morning and its haze of drizzle. It's early still and there are a fair number of cars lining the road. The small park in the centre is hidden by the wrought-iron railings and tall green spiky hedges. The old townhouses are mostly populated by locals – families in the unconverted properties, professional couples and retired folk in those which have been made into flats. The rent is too high for most students here and Harry knows he's an oddity, but he likes the quiet; likes having his own place.
Harry grimaces at the sky but he clambers onto the bike and sets off. The bike ride is almost meditative; he focuses on the rush of the wind, the speed of the bike, and the turns of the road. The closer to the university he gets, the heavier the traffic becomes, and Harry has to concentrate to avoid uncaring motorists and unobservant pedestrians.
He arrives at the university's library right on schedule, locks his bike up and heads inside. He heads for the small alcove he'd found on the first day of Freshers' week, half hidden behind a book stack. He settles in and does the reading for his first tutorial.
University isn't where he'd expected to end up after the war. He's not sure where he'd expected to end up but then he'd barely expected to survive it. He almost hadn't. Harry pushes the thought away in favour of international law.
He breaks at ten, quietly gathering his things and heading to the small café down the side street next to the library. The muggle downstairs is always busy, but the magical upstairs rarely has anyone.
Harry orders one large pot of tea for two, a slice of the chocolate cake and one of the blueberry muffins from the house elf in charge of the counter. He takes the tray back to the usual table, sets everything out and props the tray up next to the wall by his chair.
He's just done when Hermione arrives right on schedule. Their daily get-together is a comforting habit for Harry.
She shoots him a smile and slides into the seat opposite him. She immediately shuffles out of the heavy black wool coat she wears but keeps the hideous yellow scarf (a Molly Weasley special) wound around her neck. It looks effortlessly stylish teamed with the simple blue sweater and jeans she wears, but Harry knows Hermione isn't all that interested in fashion.
She also barely pays attention to her looks despite turning into a stunningly pretty woman. Her wide brown eyes are framed with sooty lashes, set in a heart-shaped face with high cheekbones flushed a natural peach. Her curly caramel hair is mostly tamed but typically caught back in a messy bun with tendrils escaping.
He blinks, not even consciously acknowledging the suppression of his thoughts of 'Hermione, beautiful, attractive,' and 'Ron is an idiot,' it's so automatic. Instead, he reaches into his knapsack and brings out Hermione's present and card.
"Happy birthday." Harry says with a genuinely warm smile.
Hermione brightens visibly and she gives a large smile. "Thank you, Harry."
"You haven't opened it yet." Harry points out.
He plays Mum and serves the tea while she painstakingly opens the card. There's a picture of Monet's Water Lily Pond on the front. It had been left blank inside originally so Harry's messy scrawl takes up the entire space with the simple 'happy birthday' message and 'love Harry.'
Hermione shoots him another smile and places the card on the table as she tackles unwrapping her gift. It's not a book because that would be too unimaginative but as she reveals the simple handmade wooden jewellery box he wonders if he's gone too much in the opposite direction. She's smiling though at the cat carved into the lid; it's a good approximation of Crookshanks. He lives with Luna these days as kneazles are banned from muggle areas now, but Hermione is still ostensibly his owner.
"Open it." Harry encourages her and picks up his tea.
Hermione glances at him questioningly but he motions at her to continue. She pries the lid open carefully and gives a gasp at the modest pearl pendant inside.
"You're only twenty-one once." He says primly.
Hermione half-stands, leans over the table and Harry follows her so she can kiss his cheek. She immediately sits down and unwinds the scarf so she put the necklace on.
Harry swallows hard because it's so trusting of her just to put it on. She hasn't even checked it for charms. Which if she had would have revealed he's imbued the pendant with protections against most things short of an Unforgiveable.
"Thank you." Hermione says. "I love it." She closes the box wraps it back up in the paper and pops it into her bag. "You're still coming out tonight, aren't you?"
"Wouldn't miss it." Harry assures her.
It's a small gathering of their wizarding friends. It'll be fine.
Hermione beams at him, takes a sip of her tea and starts unwrapping her blueberry muffin.
"What else did you get?" asks Harry.
Hermione shrugs. "A lot of cards so far." She smiles again but it's smaller and sadder. "You're my first present."
Harry wants to ask about her parents but Hermione's relationship with them has been difficult since she restored their memories after finding them in Australia after the war. He tactfully changes the subject and asks her advice on his latest essay.
Her smile brightens again and they debate happily until the pot is empty and their baked goods no more than crumbs on the plates.
Hermione breezes out a few minutes later. She has classes which will keep her busy for the rest of the day. Harry promises to meet her at The Three Broomsticks and heads out too.
Two lectures, a first draft of his paper and a wet bike ride home later, Harry finds himself contemplating his meagre wardrobe with a frown. He showers, changes and heads out in shades of black; well-worn jeans, a button-down shirt which he leaves open at the neck leaving a few of his chest hairs to peek out, and a leather blazer. He holsters his wand on his right forearm and holsters a knife to his left ankle. His emergency kit is in a miniaturised wooden chest dangling on a thin strap of leather. He ties it around his neck. His broom is shrunk and stuffed in a pocket. Sturdy boots complete the outfit.
Harry apparates straight from his flat to a side-alley in Hogsmeade.
It's only a short distance to the pub but he feels the difference between Oxford and Scotland immediately. He regrets his decision not to go with a woollen coat. He mutters a charm to stave off the chill and hurries into the pub.
It's warm inside and busy.
Harry almost winces at the loud chatter of voices but he takes a deep breath and looks for…
Neville waves to him from a booth at the back.
Harry weaves his way through the crowd, ignoring the wide-eyed stares he gets as someone notices and realises who he is. He's rarely in wizarding enclaves since the Wizengamot ruling.
He hugs Hermione who has also changed clothes. The burgundy woollen dress, scoop-necked and long-sleeved suits her. It's quite long and she's teamed it with knee-high black boots. He's pleased to see she's still wearing the pendant.
Ron nods at him from behind a large tankard of beer. Luna waves at him with a brightly coloured cocktail. Neville clasps his shoulder as he pushes Harry into the booth beside Hermione.
"Drink?" offers Neville.
"Just a butterbeer." Harry says. "Thanks, Nev."
Neville motions around the table, taking mental note as the others respond with requests before wandering off to the bar.
"Good to see you, mate." Ron says.
Harry nods. "How are you?"
"Eh." Ron shrugs. "Joke shop is doing OK. George is thinking of expanding again."
Harry tries not to react to the news; he's still a partial owner in Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. George had refused to buy him out or let him out of the agreement he and Fred had set up. He's also made it clear he won't accept Harry gifting his share to Ron. Which means Ron's not an owner, but a salaried employee and that distinction has caused more than a few arguments between the brothers and a lingering resentment from Ron about Harry's continued share.
"And the rest of the family?" Harry asks politely. "How's Arthur and Molly?"
"Good." Ron shrugs. "You know what they're like." His eyes land on Harry. "Ginny's seeing Joe Woods now." His tone is more than a little accusatory.
"They've been going out a while, haven't they?" Harry replies mildly.
He and Ginny occasionally do communicate although the sting of their failed romance makes it awkward for them both. They'd imploded as a couple long before Harry had been forced out of the wizarding world. Maybe the Summer after the war hadn't been the best timing to attempt another go at being a couple, but they'd realised as much as they cared about each other, they'd grown apart.
"Almost as long as me and Lav." Ron notes, sliding a cautious look at Hermione.
Hermione rolls her eyes expressively. "Honestly, Ron, I've told you I'm happy for you both." She waves a hand at the table. "She would have been welcome to join us."
Harry nudges her knee with his because he knew Hermione had been hurt when Ron had moved on. Hermione's relationship with Ron had always been volatile – they'd been off again, on again for a long while before Hermione's decision to attend a muggle university along with Harry had apparently been the last straw for Ron.
Ron is happy with Lavender though and she's far from the flighty girl she'd been at school. The war has taken its toll on them all.
Neville arrives back with the drinks, and there's a flurry as they shuffle seats and Hermione's presents are set on the table. She opens each with the same care she'd opened Harry's; cooing over Luna's gift of a magical hairbrush and thanking Neville for the beautiful journal he has bought her. Ron's present is a set of hair ribbons all in different colours and it's obvious Lavender has probably had a say in the gift.
"Mum, uh, also sent a present." Ron says awkwardly. He delves into his wizarding robe and brings out a square box slightly crumpled around the edges.
"How thoughtful of her." Hermione says cautiously. She and Molly have had a fairly frosty relationship since she and Ron broke-up.
She opens the box and pulls out a crystal ball.
There's a moment where she's clearly flummoxed because Hermione is in no way interested or skilled in divination. Harry makes the mistake of glancing at Neville and they both have to hide their smiles in their butterbeers.
"It's traditional." Ron explains a little haltingly.
"Mothers usually pass down the crystal ball to their daughters on their twenty-first." Luna jumps in. "You're supposed to look into it at midnight tonight and see your future husband."
"Right." Hermione rallies and asks Ron to pass on her thanks to Molly.
Luna frowns at the ball as Hermione sets it on the table. "You may want to take it in for a spiritual cleanse. I can see fog in the glass."
Ron shoots Luna an offended look. "That's my Grandmother Honoria's crystal ball!"
"Honoria was your Weasley grandmother, wasn't she?" asks Hermione interestedly.
"Yeah. Well, Mum's is going to go to Ginny, of course." Ron explains. "No girls in the Weasley family for yonks though, right? So there's a whole bunch of balls up in the attic. Mum thought it would be nice to give you one."
Hermione repeats her thanks which has more of a genuine edge. She tucks the ball into her handbag, shrinks the rest of her packages and picks up her wine. They toast to her advanced years.
There's a disturbance by the door and Harry glances over and sighs as he sees the red robes of two Aurors looking around the room; one older and a younger partner who is unfortunately very recognisable to Harry seeing as they were at school together. He refocuses on his butterbeer. Maybe if he ignores them…
Unfortunately, he's not that lucky. They make a beeline for the table.
"Mister Potter," the older Auror begins as they stop in front of him, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave the premises."
Madame Rosmerta bustles over before Harry or any of the rest of the table can speak. "Auror Linley, what's going on here?"
Linley draws himself up and looks down his sharp nose at the owner of the pub. "We had a complaint."
Neville shoots disappointed looks around the room and Harry sees the old couple in the corner glaring back at him defiantly.
"He hasn't done anything!" protests Ron hotly. "He's just sitting with us having a drink to celebrate a birthday!"
Harry sighs and shakes his head as Rosmerta begins to protest. "It's alright. I can leave."
"You shouldn't need to, Harry." Rosmerta gives the Aurors a dirty look. "The terms of the ruling allow him to occasionally visit wizarding enclaves for social, economic and medical appointments. He's perfectly within his rights to have a drink in my pub and if anyone else doesn't like it, they can leave!"
"The ruling also states that if there's a complaint from the public Potter has to remove himself." Zacharias Smith shoots Harry a triumphant look.
Harry tries hard not to roll his eyes.
"A valid complaint and his title is Lord Black." Hermione stands up. "The Wizengamot may have been able to suspend him from ever taking up the seat but he has the title and you should refer to him respectfully."
"Or what, Granger?" Smith retorts. "It's not likely that they'll pay any attention to you!"
Hermione flushes and Harry reaches to take her hand to prevent her getting into trouble, but he's not quick enough to stop Ron from reacting.
Ron's on his feet, red in his face and anger heating up his eyes. "Oi!"
Neville is up like a shot and physically shifts to stand between Smith and the table. "They will, however, listen to me."
Smith turns an unhealthy shade of red.
"That's enough, Smith." Linley says, wresting control back. "Lord Longbottom, I don't believe there's any need for this to…"
"I'll be making a complaint of my own." Neville cuts in, his gaze hard and fixed on Smith for a long moment before flickering to the old couple and back to Linley. "There is no valid complaint here. Harry hasn't done any magic since he entered the pub and he's done nothing but sit and converse with friends."
"I can vouch for that." A wizard states from the neighbouring booth.
"Me too." A witch stands up across the room.
Unfortunately, although they mean well, Harry knows the disturbance is now enough for the complaint to be upheld even if the sequence of events is in his favour. Between Harry's exile, Kingsley short stint as Minister, and the legislation imposing tighter restrictions for muggleborns, they'd learned in short order after the war that the corruption in the Ministry was still rampant. Neville and the other young Lords are trying to change things, but Harry's too realistic to assume it'll mean anything positive for him any time soon.
He stands up bringing the litany of support for him to a stumbling close. "Thank you everyone. Rosmerta, Hermione, it's been lovely, but I think I should probably head out."
Rosmerta nods understandingly although disappointment flickers through her eyes. "I understand, Harry. It's been lovely to see you and you're welcome back anytime. Your drink will be on the house."
Harry smiles crookedly and pushes his glasses up. He turns and finds Hermione and the others gathering their outerwear. "Hey…"
Hermione shakes her head furiously as she shrugs into her black wool coat. "No, Harry. It's my birthday and I want to spend the evening celebrating with my closest friends and that includes you. We'll go to my place."
She lives across town from Harry in a small studio apartment. The laws have made it difficult for the muggleborn to own or even rent property in the wizarding world.
"Fish and chip supper then, right?" asks Ron excitedly.
Hermione rolls her eyes at him but she smiles her agreement as Neville and Luna also turn to her with beseeching eyes. "Sounds good to me."
Linley clears his throat. "Apologies for disturbing the birthday celebrations."
Neville is still positioned between the Aurors and the group. He shakes his head. "I'll still be complaining, Auror Linley."
Linley steps on Smith's foot when he tries to say something. "I understand, Lord Longbottom. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
Hermione hooks her hand through Harry's elbow and they walk out together, Ron and Luna in front of them, Neville bringing up the rear.
They apparate into a telephone box which can only be seen by magical people near to the fish and chip shop.
Hermione squeezes Harry's arm comfortingly as they step out into the night air again. "It'll get better, Harry."
"Not with ponces like Smith." Ron grumbles.
Neville sighs. "We're gathering more support but it's not exactly easy."
Harry shrugs. "Let's just…forget it. Tonight's about Hermione."
They all echo their agreement and fifteen minutes later they're carrying steaming packages of food through the rainy streets back to Hermione's place.
Hermione suddenly stops and frowns. She pushes her carry-bag of food over to Harry as she dives into her handbag. "Something's humming…" she mutters and pulls out the crystal ball which is glowing. "Oh!"
The ball suddenly flashes a brilliant white…they blink… and there's a slap of pure magical power which sends them tumbling…
Harry blinks the spots away from his vision and stumbles to his feet.
The ball is floating above what looks like a whirlpool only it's in the middle of the road. Hermione is being pulled towards it although she's desperately trying to pull away from it, hands reaching out…
Harry immediately lunges and tries to grab her hands…
But it's too late.
Hermione gives a scream and the whirlpool swallows her up.
Harry doesn't even think, doesn't even hear the others call out to him or the way Ron tries to stop him – Harry dives into the whirlpool after his best friend.
There's too much light and sound and…
He tumbles down and down and down…
His stomach revolts…his skin burns…
There's a moment of silence.
He's spat out of the sky, crashing through the canopy of a tall tree, boughs breaking his fall as his body hits one after another until there's just a drop between him and the snowy ground below.
Somehow Harry manages to mumble out the words for a cushioning spell Oliver Wood had taught him when he'd started playing Quidditch.
There's still an audible thump as he finally lands on the invisible cushion; he bounces.
And manages to slide off to stand on wobbly feet.
Above him the whirlpool is still there in a mid-day sky; an ominous crackling hole in a cloudy blanket over a pale sun. He lifts a trembling hand and is surprised to find his glasses perched on his face; apparently they do live up to their sales pitch to never fall off.
A scream shatters the silence.
His wand slaps into his hand. He breaks through a bush and into a clearing…
His spell lashes across the air and impacts the large wolf which was mid-leap in its attack on Hermoine who is desperately scrambling along the ground away from it. The cleaved body of the animal falls bloody into the snow-covered forest floor near to Hermione's abandoned handbag.
Harry hurries over to Hermione. She's shaking and clutching her arm to her. There's a bump and scrape on her forehead and it's bleeding freely. The rest of her face is a stark white mask; her eyes are shocked and glassy; she stares at Harry uncomprehendingly.
"Harry…" Hermione sobs. "I…my arm…" she tries to blink back her tears. "I can't stand, there's something wrong with my ankle."
"It's OK." Harry soothes her. "We're going to get out of here."
Harry checks the sky. The whirlpool is still there, high above them. He takes out his miniaturised broom from his pocket, ignoring the cold and the flutter of fresh snow which begins to fall. He resizes it and sets it to hover.
Hermione shakes her head. "I can't fly." Her voice is thick with tears and edging towards hysteria.
"It's OK," Harry says again as he packs up her handbag and passes it to her, "I'm going to fly, you just need to hold onto me."
He carefully picks her up and she gives a muffled cry of pain and grabs his shirt tightly with her good hand. A second later she's a dead weight in his arms and he realises she's passed out. He settles on the broom and nudges it to begin its ascent; as fast as he dares.
He keeps tight hold of Hermione as they weave through the trees and…
they're almost there…
The whirlpool disappears with a clap of thunder and the crystal ball falls through the air.
Harry reaches out with one hand and snatches it to him as he nudges the broom to hover. It's not glowing anymore and is back to the dulled glass Hermione had received for her birthday.
Harry shakes his head and carefully stores the ball in the handbag Hermione has somehow tucked on her lap.
The whirlpool is gone and it's snowing.
He needs to get a badly injured Hermione help; he needs help himself.
But…where the hell are they?