Disclaimer: Harry Potter is not mine. Especially not the beginning bit, that's directly quoted.
A/N: This idea has been stuck in my head, preventing me from writing anything else. So, I finally gave in and wrote it. I'll be the first to admit, it's a bit freakish. And it's unlikely I'll do more unless reviewers like it. There are a /lot/ of directions this story might go, and I'm not really certain which it'll be, yet.
Just one moment of inattention.
Harry didn't have a clue what was going on. Dumbledore had turned on his heel and looked back as he reached the door.
"I am going to lock you in. It is ---" he consulted his watch, "five minutes to midnight. Miss Granger, three turns should do it. Good luck."
"Good luck?" Harry repeated as the door closed behind Dumbledore. "Three truns? What's he talking about? What are we supposed to do?"
But Hermione was fumbling with the neck of her robes, pulling from benath them a very long, very find gold chain.
"Harry, come here," she said urgently. "Quick!"
Harry moved toward her, completely bewildered. She was holding the chain out. A small noise distracted him, and he looked away for just a moment.
Hermione had thrown the chain around his neck, too.
"Ready?" she asked breathlessly.
"What are we doing" Harry said, still looking about, and not yet paying attention to Hermione.
In answer, she reached for a small device attached to the chain, and turned it. Harry saw only the flash of light at the edge of his vision, instinctively flinching away. As he moved, the fine chain strained for an instant, and the hourglass-shaped device slipped from Hermione's fingers, flipping up and over the chain, spinning wildly. The two teens looke towards each other fearfully. For just a moment, Harry's uncertain eyes locked with Hermione's resigned gaze, and then the chain snapped, Harry falling backwards with the chain still wrapped about his neck. As Harry's confused gaze ficked from the falling hourglass to the expression of surprise and horror on Hermione's face, blackness clouded his vision, and he knew no more.
A gasping breath and a pair of flailing arms pierced the darkness. The sensation of falling was stopped abruptly as hands slammed against the hard wood of the old, bleak end table. Harry Potter woke with a gasp from the odd dream to find himself on a cold, damp stone floor, no longer laying on the moth-eaten blankets he'd fallen asleep upon. It had been one of those sorts of dreams where you feel yourself falling, though it seemed a bit more frightening than the average dream of that kind. That could easily be explained by the current situation, however. After all, anyone might have odd and frightening dreams if they found themselves in a rickety old building on a small storm-beaten rock halfway out to sea. Which, as it happens, was Harry's current location.
It might have been almost exciting, were he alone. Had he been alone, he might've had more blankets to himself, and perhaps even been warm. Cold as he was, it was rather odd that he'd fallen asleep, especially as he always stayed up for his birthday. Glancing at his cousin's watch, which was conveniently placed on the end-table he'd found so abruptly, Harry realized he still had that chance. It was just twenty minutes to midnight. Something about his cousin bothered him, though. It was almost as though some part of his mind were telling him to 'get him now, while you have the chance'. Harry shook himself, thinking the stress of the last few days must really be getting to him.
Wrapping the pathetic excuse for a blanket around himself, Harry wandered to the dirty window. He rubbed a patch clean from the pane of glass, staring out towards the waves. The storm was terrible. The little boat they'd taken was being tossed about, coming perilously close to being smashed against the rocks. If the boat was smashed... Harry shuddered. Not only would they be stuck here, but the noise would likely wake his uncle. And if Uncle Vernon found him awake, the accident would be blamed on Harry. Lightning flashed, and Harry saw the boat lift, then the thunder crashed, and it sounded as though the boat had broken as well.
A moment passed, and then another flash came. No, the boat was there. Quite safe, still. But what if it had broken? The last time something had been blamed on Harry, he'd been almost glad of being locked in the cupboard for a week, so bad were the bruises and welts. No, he had to go get the boat, bring it in, put it where it wouldn't be harmed. Worried but determined, Harry gathered the blanket around him, and approached the door.
Quick as he could, Harry slipped the door open just wide enough to squeeze out, and pulled it shut behind him. He paused a second, his ear to the door, doing his best to listen over the roar of the storm. The reassuring sounds of his Uncle's and Cousin's snores met his ears, even over the rushing rain and wind. Breathing a sigh of relief, then shivering from the rain already soaking the blanket and his clothes, he made his way down the uneven path to the boat. As he picked his way downward, he spared a moment to be amused that he found a freezing, storm-ridden attempt to save a wretched little boat, infinitely preferable to the company of his relatives.
Honestly, if it weren't currently storming like none other, he'd be more than tempted to simply run away. Boat away, rather. He could hop in, paddle to the shore, and be miles away before they even knew he was gone. Harry smiled at that, it would be nice to be free of them. Free of the chores, free of the punishments, free of the ridicule. He shook his head, muttering to himself about the unlikeliness of such a thing, and foucused his attention on scaling the boulder in front of him. The boat was tied to a post that stuck out of the top of it. Were it dry, it would be reasonably easy to walk up to the top, but in the storm, Harry found himself scrambling with hands and feet on the moss-and-water slickened rock.
After a few moments of scrambling, he got to the top. Harry crouched carefully on top of the rock, grabbing the rope from around the post that was affixed there. Fortunately, the rock was still high enough above the crashing waves to keep him from being washed out to sea. Unfortunately, it wasn't so far as to keep him from the spray. Not that it mattered much, by that point; he was already thoroughly soaked through.
Finally getting the boat untied, he began pulling the freezing rope through his hands. Trying to keep his mind from the cold and the wet, he forced himself to think of somewhere warm and dry. An image of his relatives' house came to mind, but he flinched away from thinking of the cupboard as 'home', or even as warm and dry. Snorting at his inability to find a place he'd rather be, considering he was in the middle of a storm, Harry started listing off places in his head, everything from the grocery store to Vernon's car.
Carefully, he scrambled down the rock, rope in hand. He pulled tightly on the rope, waiting for a swell to bring the boat within reach, rather than jumping down the four-foot dropoff to the beach and chancing getting washed away. He amused himself by picturing the Dursleys' car, comfortably settled on the shore of this horrid lake. A huge swell finally came, and Harry pulled hard, bringing the boat quickly to where he stood, the water reaching nearly two feet up the short wall. He reached down, grabbing for the edge of the decently large rowboat, getting soaked again from the spray. He settled on the image of the Dursleys' car, to keep his mind off things. It was, after all, the most recent warm, dry place he'd been. /warm car, warm car/ he thought to himself /very warm, very dry, car; comfortable and safely away from here/. He gripped the edge of the boat, and prepared to heave the largish thing up to where he was.
Suddenly, a shout from behind caused him to start, thinking his Uncle had caught him. " 'Arry? What're ye -" A deep, booming voice called, stopping because of the scene before him. For Harry, startled by the voice, had flinched. Slipping on the slick, cold stone, he pitching headfirst off the rocks on which he'd been perched. He barely had time to register what was happening; in fact, he was still partly focused on his mental image of the Dursleys' car.
Which is why he was certian he was dead when he found himself seated in said car, moth-eaten blanket and all, just as he'd been imagining; warm and dry. Used to at least a certain number of odd occuences in his presence, for a moment he merely blinked. After that, he contemplated being afraid, but decided that either he'd hit his head and was dreaming (in which case he may as well explore, and wouldn't it be cool if he could control the dream?), or else a miracle had occured, and he was every bit as here as he'd been on the roof of the school last year (in which case, he'd finally managed to escape the Dursleys', and... surely he'd manage to get his letter, this time! All he had to do was manage to keep away from his Uncle until tomorrow's post, and he could find out what was inside of that envelope.
So, he decided, it was best to assume that this was, in fact, real; a miracle, perhaps, but real. Unfortunately, that meant that he had to get out of here before his relatives found him. But then again... it was warm here, in the car. Warm and dry. And not only were the Dursleys probably still asleep, but they were certainly unaware of his current location. Even if they discovered him missing, the storm would keep them on the island. No-one would travel in weather like this in that boat... the boat! The Dursleys couldn't come! When Harry'd been startled, he was quite sure he'd let go of the rope, and the boat was as likely to be on the far shore as it was to be anywhere near the island. Although, there was the owner of that voice to consider. Whomever had startled him might have fetched the boat tether before it was too late.
Still, there was little chance of finding any Dursleys in the car before late morning. Which meant that he could sleep here; dry, safe, and reasonably warm. They might catch him for it (and then he'd really get it; he'd likely still be bruised and starved when school started), but it was worth the risk. As far as they were from civilization, he'd have to walk miles in the dark and freezing rain just to catch a train out of here; and it's not like he had money for a train, even at that. Harry shrugged, sent up a quick prayer that he not awaken to find this a dream (or to find his relatives returning to their car), and, curling up on the rear seat, fell asleep.
The sunlight fell warm on his face in the early morning hours, bringing Harry from the most pleasant slumber he could remember. Blinking his eyes open, Harry sat up and stretched. The storm was over, the sun was shining, he was still in the car (so it had been quite real), and, best of all, there were no Dursleys in sight. Harry couldn't imagine anything better. /Now to get out of here/ Harry thought, dumping off the blanket and unlocking the doors. Stepping out of the car, Harry shut the door, and turned. Then he stopped, for a moment. Why should he let the Dursleys know he'd been there? And if they didn't know he'd been there... Harry grinned slyly. Normally, he was entirely opposed to stealing. But as he crawled back in the car and retrieved his Uncles' emergency fourty pounds (taped to the bottom of the drivers' seat, intended to pay towing fees and whatnot) he decided that, just this once, it wouldn't be so terrible. He'd been accused of stealing far more so many times, that just this once it'd be nice to deserve the punishment that would be coming. If they even noticed.
As he climbed back out of the car, Harry grabbed his moth-eaten blanket, checking to make sure he'd left nothing behind. It wouldn't do to give them reason to think he'd been there. Before he shut the back door, he locked it. When the Dursleys finally made it back to the car, they'd find it just as they'd left it; tidy, empty, and, most importantly, locked.
Feeling rich, optimistic, and hungry, Harry set off in the direction of the train station. If he remembered correctly, it was about ten miles back up the road from the seaside. By his best guess, it was around six or seven in the morning. He couldn't imagine the trip taking more than three hours or so, which meant that if he hurried, he might just get the chance to do a little exploring before... Hmm, before what? It wasn't as though the Dursleys would be overjoyed to find him waiting for them at Privet drive, and he certainly couldn't come back here. Ought he really run away, then?
Harry paused. Of course, he'd thought about running away several times, but one thing always held him back. How would he pay for anything? Granted, the Dursleys had never given him much, but there'd always been a roof over his head and clothes on his back, however begrudgingly given. Perhaps he could feign memory loss, and wander into a police station? But no, his relatives had often told him what orphanages were like; there was no sense in escaping the Dursleys if he was only going to find himself worse off. Better not to worry about it, just now. He'd explore, wait for his letter, and then he would figure it out.
Looking over his shoulder, Harry found that his musings had carried him out of sight of the car, and breathed a sigh of relief. He truly was glad to be away, at least for the time. He settled comfortably into the steady rythm of a long walk, allowing himself to enjoy the scenery as he watched the sun rise higher. As he walked, a feeling of unease grew. Something nagged at his thoughts, and he wondered if it was really such a good idea to travel alongside the road. If the strange man last night had alerted his relatives, they might well be back to the car at any time. Shrugging, he turned away from the road a bit, walking a few feet inside the edge of the treeline. It slowed him down a touch, but he could keep the road in sight, and still have a good chance of hiding if he heard the car coming. Not feeling any need to rush, Harry wove comfortably through the trees.
He kept the even pace, thinking about everything and nothing, moving on through the rest of the morning. Several times he heard cars on the fairly quiet, empty road, and ducked down low, staying still until they passed. Once he even thought he spotted his Uncles' car, though it was moving too fast to be certain. Around midday, he reached the outskirts of the town. Picking up the pace, now that he felt reasonably safe from being caught (there were a great number of people, and he doubted someone could pick him out from among them) Harry began to explore. Lunch seemed the logical first stop.
He chose carefully, wanting a treat yet not wanting to spend too much. In the end, he found himself tucked into a booth at a comfortable but modest family restraunt, munching his way through soup and a sandwich. Deciding that just a bit more wouldn't hurt anything, he picked up the dessert menu from the side of the table, and began eagarly flicking through. Better still, when he asked the waitress to bring the cheapest dessert, she smiled at him, winked, and said, "It's on the house. So, now, what would you /really/ like to have?" A minute later, she returned with a double serving of chocolate cake with rasberry sauce, crowned by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Feeling quite full and comfortable, Harry settled the bill and left. He was near enough to the train station to see it, but wanted to wait for that letter first. Perhaps it was a long-lost relative, wanting to claim him; that would settle everything. Harry decided to be careful with his money, he wanted to have enough to take the train straight there, if that turned out to be the case. So, turning away from the train station for the time being, Harry decided to explore the town.
He was staring at a window display of televisions when it happened. An owl, somewhat like the ones from Privet drive, settled down on his shoulder out of nowhere, and held out one leg. The only real difference between this owl and the others he'd seen was in its appearence; this one looked as though it had flown right through the middle of the storm, and it probably had. Harry reached up tenatively, having no desire to be bitten, and carefully took the envelope. Cream colored parchment, addressed to him. The address ended in "Hut on the Rock". Which was a tad odd, as he hadn't been there since last night. Turning the envelope over, Harry discovered another odd thing. Instead of the seal, he found another envelope, stuck to the first. This envelope was not addressed to him, but was messily addressed to an "Albus Dumbledore". "This one's not for me" Harry told the owl. But the owl simply shook its' head, hooted, and took off. Shrugging, Harry tucked the wrongly deposited letter into his jeans-pocket. He was far more interested in the letter that was for him. Grinning, he oh-so-carefully slit the envelope, trying not to damage the wax seal too badly.
What he found inside shocked him. Wizard? Him? Was this a joke? But then, if it were a joke, surely it wouldn't have frightened his Uncle so much. His Uncle. He knew. Always calling him "freak", he'd always known. So it was real then. Magic. The things he did, the freakish things, that sometimes even scared /him/, they were magic. But then, if there were more of him, a whole school for people just like him, surely he wasn't so odd as all that. Harry grinned. Here was the answer. He wouldn't need to go back to the Dursleys, he'd be in school. He looked to the second page, to the school supplies. And then it hit him.
Money again. School cost money. Especially a boarding school. That had to cost thousands. He doubted the remainder of the stolen note would buy him a tenth of his school list, let alone pay tuition for a year. And there was no way the Dursleys would pay for it. Surely, though, they'd known that; known he had no way to pay. In which case, it would have made far more sense for them to give him the letter, declare it proof that he was really a freak, and then told him there was no way they'd pay for it, and laughed at him for it. It was... their way. To get his hopes up, then dash them and laugh at it. Yet they hadn't.
Which, to Harry, meant there might just be a way. A way his Aunt and Uncle knew. And since he couldn't ask them, he'd do the next best thing, and read that other letter. If nothing else, it was meant for another wizard, and that person just might have the answers. Promising himself he'd apologize to the letters' real addressee for nosing through their mail, Harry opened the other envelope. Out fell a golden key, and a piece of paper.
Wondering at the key, and feeling more than a bit guilty, now, for opening the letter, he stuffed everything back in the envelope without reading the contents. He needed more information, sure, but he'd just had a better idea than poking through old mail. He was in a town, and on his own. He had all the time he needed, at least for now, and there had to be a library somewhere. Maybe they wouldn't have a book on wizards, but it was worth a look, at least. With a new sense of purpose, Harry began searching the streets. It took almost no time at all to find the library.
It was a huge building, obviously having been enlarged and added on to several times. The part that looked like the original building was made from natural-looking stone, the next section of roughly-hewn stone, and the rest was of grey or reddish brick of varying age. He walked through the glass doors of the entryway that was fairly modern, and found himself inside a rather cozy reception area. The lone librarian at the desk looked up from her book as he entered. "Anything I can help you find, dear?" she asked.
Suddenly Harry felt very foolish. /He/ may have just discovered that magic was real, but that didn't mean /she/ wouldn't think he was crazy. Or, worse still, point him to the fiction section. Clearing his throat, he tried "Uh, " ahem "I was, ah, looking for some books on, er, on magic, that is - on ... real, er..." oh, of course, he knew how to ask this! Starting again, Harry said "I need some books on magic and the occult for a school report."
The librarian looked at him, calculatingly. "To your right, near the old section of the library." she said, simply, and then seemed to be waiting for him to ask something.
"Er, thank you" Harry said, unnerved by her stare.
The middle-aged woman looked startled a moment, then smiled at him mysteriously "You might find some really interesting ones in the old section itself. But you may not remove those books from that part of the library. They are reference books; not for checking out, or for reading elsewhere in the library. Also, stay out of the blue section. You'll know which one it is, and I'll know if you go in there."
Harry thanked the woman again, and walked towards the back of the library. As he neared the back corner, a whole extra section of library came into view. Harry was quite sure that he should have been able to see the section from the front, but it had a ... /shimmering/ quality that suggested it wasn't meant to be visible to everyone. He could almost see the wall, adorned with paintings, that non-wizards would see. Harry grinned. /That's/ what had been going on, up at the front desk. No doubt, if one weren't a wizard, this part of the library would be invisible, both from the inside and the outside. So when she gave him directions, she was trying to determine if he'd seen the old annex. This library had a /very real/ section on magic, and she'd been trying to determine if he was magical or not.
Considering the precautions the library had obviously taken, Harry took a good look around before slipping throug the "wall". It wouldn't do for someone to notice him walking through walls, after all. Somehow, though, he felt they'd likely taken care of that, with magic, as well. On the other side of the wall was a main study area, squarish in design with a monstrous fireplace opposite. It was more than big enough for a grown man to stand in. Oddly, considering it was mid summer, a decent sized fire was blazing in the grate. To the right and left were isles of bookshelves, long clear isles that ended in a windowed wall to the left and a blueish haze to the right. The blue was obviously the area he was to avoid. In the central area, where he stood, were several study tables.
All in all, it was overwhelming. True, he'd be able to find everything he needed to know in this place, but where on earth would he begin? He was still staring dazedly towards the shelves when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, and met the dark brown eyes of a girl about his age.
"It is a bit overwhelming at first." She said, smiling at him, and he shook himself out of his little daze to smile sheepishly back at her. "Yeah, more than a bit." Harry responded, feeling he should say something else, but still not knowing where to start.
Fortunately, the girl understood "Did you just get your letter?" she asked, motioning to the Hogwarts letter that was now peeking out of his shirt pocket.
Harry started. Obviously, she had to be a wizard (or would that be wizardess? or witch?) as well, or she wouldn't be here. He knew that, but it was still odd to meet someone like himself. "Yeah, I mean, yes, I did... today, just now, a few minutes ago..." he realized he was rambling, but she only smiled.
"Oooh! So you're muggle-born, too?" she asked, then, without giving him time to answer "Has your family not had the visit from the committe of muggle-wizard relations yet, then?"
"The, er, what?"
"That must mean no. Soon, likely tonight, a group of officials from this committe will come and talk with your folks and explain all about the wizarding world. Oh! And, er, muggles are people that can't do magic."
Harry couldn't imagine anyone calmly sitting the Dursleys down to talk about magic. And even if they did, he wouldn't be there to hear it. "I doubt my Aunt and Uncle would listen to them." Harry said, darkly.
"Of course they will, I'm sure they'll understand eventually. My parents thought it was a joke, at first, themselves. And, sorry to pry, but why did you say Aunt and Uncle? What about your parents?"
Harry bit back a groan. Boy, she was talkative. Well, best to go with a half-truth, and see if she could tell him anything. "My parents, well, they died when I was very young. My relatives raised me, and they didn't appreciate my being a wizard. They, well, they sort of don't approve. Actually, they don't approve at all. I'm... on my own, from here."
She looked shocked, and then she spluttered for a minute. "But that's terrible! Whyever would they-" she paused, and collected herself. "Is there anything I could do?" she asked.
Harry smiled at her. "Well, actually, if you could tell me a little about, well, about wizards, and magic, and everything. I mean, this" he waved the letter of acceptance "isn't exactly a thorough explanation."
She grinned back. "That, I can do. I just learned this all myself, you know, not too very long ago. I only just got my letter this summer, but I discovered magic about two years ago, when I stumbled into this section of the library." she blushed "I've always spent a lot of time here. I'd be more than glad to help you..." she paused, waiting for his name.
"Harry Potter" Harry replied, holding out a hand to shake.
The girl turned white as a sheet. "H-h-h-har-ry P-p-potter? Did you say /Harry Potter/?" she whispered.
"Ah, well, yes. Yes, I did." Harry responded. "And you are?"
She shook her head as if to clear it "Hermione. Hermione Granger." She replied, sinking into a chair. "This is going to take a /lot/ of explaining."
Four hours later, Harry was still stuck on one key fact. "I'm famous." he repeated, again.
They'd shared their entire life histories, witholding nothing; both felt as though they'd know the other for /years/. Only by now, Hermione was exasperated with his obsession on this particular topic. "Yes, we've been through that. There's a lot more to cover, though. Like where you're going to stay tonight."
That got Harry's attention. It was hard to go from "boy-who-lived-under-the-stairs" to "boy-who-lived", but Hermione was quite right about the practical considerations. "Any suggestions?" he asked.
"My aunt runs a bed-and-breakfast just down the street. My parents are out of town for the week, and I'm staying in a room there. I bet she'd let you stay as well." Hermione offered.
"Uh, and how do we explain that I've no guardian in sight?" Harry wondered.
"Simple" Hermione grinned. "C'mon" and with that, she hoisted her bookbag over her shoulder, grabbed Harry's hand, and dragged him towards the front of the library again. The librarian smiled at them as they passed, waving to Harry. Just past the desk, Hermione made a sharp right, and then a left, bringing them to a halt in an out-of-the-way cubby with two payphones in it. Hermione winked at Harry mischieviously, and waved her wand, saying /vocus/.
Harry looked shocked "I thought we couldn't do spells out of school...
Hermione grinned, and then explained. Except that when she spoke, her voice came out sounding much older, and much different, than the one Harry'd heard before "That doesn't count until we actually start school. For now, as long as there aren't any muggles about, we can do a few spells for practice. Now, watch"
Hermione picked up the reciever, and dialed. Harry couldn't hear the other end of the conversation, but was amazed as he listened to Hermione talk. She explained that her "son" was on his way to visit his grandmother, and would be stopping in town for the evening, as she didn't want him traveling through the night. After a bit more talking, she booked reservations for him, mentioning that he would have the money on him to pay. Shortly after, she hung up.
/finite incantatem/ he heard her whisper, and then she grinned at him. "Done" she said.
"Wow. That was... " Harry grinned back, but then his face fell "I don't know if I have enough"
"Don't worry. She has lots of vacancies, and I managed to talk her down to twenty pounds for the night."
"Hermione. Great as that is, I've only thirty-eight left."
Hermione grinned at him "Don't worry so much. If you'd managed to get past the "famous" part, you would know by now that you're the richest wizard in Britan to go along with it."
Harry goggled at her "... I'm rich?"
Hermione groaned. "Oh, no, here we go again."
Harry laughed, "Nah. But, if I /am/ rich, I'm /so/ treating you to dinner."
And that is exactly what he did.
Had anyone known enough to question it, they would have wondered why two eleven year olds were acting so very mature for their age. Or perhaps, why two people who were all but strangers behaved like old friends. And anyone who knew Hermione would have been positively amazed to discover she had broken a rule, let alone lie, as she had to her Aunt in making the reservation.
If I get ten reviews, I'll continue this. Otherwise, back to my other stories!