A/N: There are tidbits of canon that I will be incorporating, where I feel it is appropriate, despite the otherwise AU nature of this fic. I wanted to warn you before anyone starts pointing out the non-canon aspects. Anyways, here is the next installment, where everyone has been wondering if Albus will return to us. Hope you enjoy! ~RedArt
He knew she wouldn't have left him to this fate. She had been there with him, he knew it, knowing she would be there had helped him fight, she had to be there. He needed to believe she was with him, or else… well, the thought of the alternative was more frightening than the whisper in his ear.
But she isn't!
Albus growled. He hadn't been freed from his prison alone. That damn voice had followed him, taunted him, let him see what he most desired before ripping it from him, laughing at him with his own twisted face.
On a level he knew it was his voice he heard, all distorted and mangled until it barely sounded like him anymore, his own doubt and fear, yet he didn't want to admit it, he wanted to suppress it, conquer it. And here it mocked him.
He had been left in peace for a time, free from the laughter, and he was sure he had felt her presence during his reprieve from his unwanted companion. But it had drifted away, the feel of her near him fading as he felt his dream dissolve, leaving him faced with his tormentor once more.
He, the one who found pleasure in his pain, had tricked him into imagining she was there numerous times, letting him believe she stood by him, her brown hair escaping the intricate coif that tried to confine it as it framed her face in defiant tendrils, her warm, soft hands taking his, planting light kisses on them that made him want to reach out and touch her and make sure she was real, and the dream would suddenly fracture and he would see her for what she was, that damnable dark mirror image of himself, grinning at him as it grabbed his hand, refusing to release him as his laughter rang in his ears.
Not her, oh no… never her. Just me. Just US. Ha ha!
He'd try to break free and this corrupt form of himself would hold on tighter, fight as hard to keep him fast to him as much as Albus fought to push him away. Make him vanish.
But he never did.
"Yes, Albus, it's me, Hermione."
Like before, he could feel the dream of her slipping but he didn't want to let her go.
Perhaps calling to her would keep her with him a moment longer, before he came, before he tore it all away. Her name could be his armor, his anchor. Even as her name left his lips he felt the fuzzy comfort of his dream lift and slowly his eyes opened and panic struck him.
"No, no…" He always reigned here, in the lightless expanse he had been trapped in so long, like a moth was drawn to a flame, his fear couldn't resist the dark, the one small piece of his prison that even bodily freedom could not escape. "No dark. NO!" But his pleas fell on deaf ears, for he wasted no time in seizing control.
No, she can't stay. You know I couldn't let her have you. No… I'm here. Whenever you find comfort, I'll be here to take it from you! Just us! Ha ha!
Albus pushed him away, flailing his arms out to force him as far from him as he could and screamed. "NO, NO TRICKS, NO GAMES!"
Oh, but you can't push me out dumbles!
He laughed again and his image shifted into one of Hermione, his beautiful Hermione, her face wet with tears. Her lips parted to speak and that devil had the nerve to use her voice against him, to drive the knife in his heart deeper.
You wouldn't push me away, would you Albus?
His heart twisted painfully as he felt soft fingers on his arm, rubbing, like his dear Hermione would. It was a cruel game and he wanted it to end.
"NO! Not again! Stop deceiving me!" He torn his arm from his tormentor as Hermione's sweet face twisted and shifted until hislaughing face replaced it. Albus pinched his eyes shut against this round of torture, doing his best to block out the onslaught of taunts and jeers. "No, no, no!" It felt like an eternity passed before he felt him pressing his face to his, his voice low as he grabbed a hold of either side of Albus' face.
Fight. I can fight as long as you can. Fight, Albus, I will win. I…
He drew closer and Albus tried desperately to shake him off.
I will win.
And it was like an invisible barrier came crashing down around him, shattering into millions of glass like shards as a warmth pressed against his lips. A soft, wet, warmth that conveyed everything he wasn't- love, compassion, hope.
The warmth spread through him like a raging fire and all feeling of his treacherous demon's presence vanished with the shattering realization that it could only be one person, the only one with daring enough to ignore propriety, the only one whose warmth and touch he craved, he needed before he completely lost his mind.
He slowly parted his lips and felt her deepen the kiss with a passion that surprised him as he ran his hands up her arms until he felt the fuzzy wisps of hair that had escaped her nightcap, quickly taking a hold of her, his thumbs behind her ears, his fingers feeling wisps of hair and soft cotton under them as he held her to him. Tears formed in his eyes, half with overwhelming joy and half in fear of losing this most incredible of dreams. For if this was a dream, he didn't want to wake, he wanted to get lost in it.
But that inkling of fear dissipated as her hands ran down his cheeks and then tangled in his hair with a determination and commanding presence unexpected in her sex that could only mean it was indeed his Hermione.
Her lips were soft and salty, from tears he knew, but who's he didn't care, it was the sweetest taste he had ever known as her tongue met his, caressing it. Every texture where they met seemed more real, more emphasized, from the smooth hardness of her teeth, to the warm soft brush of their tongues, to the plumpness of her lips as he took her upper lip between his and suckled it softly. There was an intimacy in the way they explored each other he never thought possible in a seemingly simple kiss. But then, this wasn't simple, it was passionate, heated, and his entire body was reacting to it.
The warmth of it spread from where their lips met through his chest where he felt her against him, to further down where a tightness was building in his abdomen that stirred in him an urgent need his body seemed to understand while his mind didn't. Though never kissed before, he acted without thinking, letting the sensations fuel the need that guided him. His hands moved of their own accord as one came to circle his fingers on the nape of her neck, the other running down the back of her nightgown where the heat of her skin radiated through the thin cotton of her nightgown. His tongue slowly grazed across her teeth before dipping into her mouth to find hers, and he swallowed her sighs with a hunger he didn't know he was capable of.
Moments passed before their lips parted enough for them to draw a deep, gasping breath. Albus dared to open his eyes and brushed a lock of brown hair from in front of her face as he whispered the name he had called so often without answer. "Hermione."
She gave a tearful chuckle and wiped some moisture from his cheeks, her eyes scanning his face before locking gazes with his. In her eyes he could see that she was ready for him to disappear at any time, for him to suddenly change right before her and it confused him. "Hermione?" he asked, worried by her unease.
"You do know it's me, right?" she asked, fear evident in her tone, her eyes welling up as they searched his.
Now he chuckled, glad that he could alleviate her fears. "Who else would have the audacity to do as you just did?"
A smile that warmed him even more spread on Hermione's face. "I wasn't alone."
Tucking more of her delightfully messy hair behind her ears, he grinned and gazed at her with amusement in his eyes. "You have been a corrupting influence."
Another light hearted chuckle and she was seated beside him, her torso crossing over his chest, her head nuzzled into his right shoulder as she wrapped her arms around his waist. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around her in return, wishing to keep her close to him as long as he could. She had been his lifeline and only now could he finally hold on to it and never have to release.
And it was in this sweet, comforting silence that they remained, warm in each other's embrace, his head leaning against hers, her nightgown clad legs against his own blanket covered ones as he felt her glorious weight rise and fall with his chest with every breath he took.
Sometime later he felt a warm and wrinkled hand brush the hair off his forehead and Albus groggily eased his eyes open to find his father looking down on him as the bright morning light poured in from the large windows to his right.
"You've finally returned to us I see."
Albus gave him a puzzled look and then noticed he was alone on the bed. Bolting upright, he looked around the room, panicked. "Hermione? Where is she? She is here, right?" It couldn't have been a dream, it was too real! Her hair, her voice, her warmth… her kiss.
His father smiled and put a hand on his shoulder saying, "Yes, she is." He then pressed him back against the pillows. "Rest my boy. I had Toddles return her to her bed once you both fell asleep." There was a knowing look in Percival Dumbledore's eyes that bore into him from over his half moon glasses that made a small shiver climb up his spine. "I must say, I had a feeling she would play some part in your recovery, yet I had never imagined the means by which she would accomplish it."
"You saw us?" He knew the answer, but found himself asking in the small hope he was wrong. A simple nod was the reply he got. He swallowed slowly. "I… I'm sorry father, I should have stopped it. I just, you see…"
And his words left him as he saw his father smile weakly. "Albus, do not worry yourself. I imagine Miss Granger has come from a time where social propriety is defined differently, based on all I've learned of her through Professor Price and yourself." His head tilted slightly as he leaned back in the chair beside the bed. "Perhaps that is why it worked. You've been delusional since the curse on you was broken and nothing we did would allow you to believe we were truly with you."
Albus nodded and felt his cheeks color with his admission. "I thought she had been there many times, and you, and Aberforth, but you would always change back into… into my tormentor. I came to not trust my eyes, my ears. But then the moment our lips touched I knew she was real. I never would have thought her capable of doing something so forward, it couldn't have been my imagination. It was like I finally broke free."
A nod and his father stood, placing a hand on his shoulder once again. "Then I am forever grateful she acted as she did, for it gave me back my son." He squeezed his shoulder tenderly. "Now, rest a bit longer and I'll have some lunch brought to you. Later, Fidget can help you dress to join us. Your brother is rather anxious to see you."
"Yes, father," he replied, relaxing as he watched the burgundy robed figure exit his chambers, closing the door silently behind him. Once alone, he turned and stared at the warm sunlight pouring in, a smile on his face as it brought back the memory of the warmth that set him completely free.
Fidget just couldn't believe he was full.
"Honestly, I could not stomach another bite. I've not had anything to eat in nearly a week or more, you said as much yourself." Already he amazed himself by having fit a bowl of beef broth, a small cucumber sandwich, a poached pear, and two cups of tea. By his calculations, if today was Christmas Eve, he had been kept on nutritive potions for weeks, eating as much as he did with a shrunken stomach was a miracle. Was Fidget trying to stuff him to the gills?
The house-elf that had know him since his birth tilted his head and gave Albus the pleading, watery eyed look he usually did when trying to get the young wizard to do something. Unfortunately for the house-elf, Albus outgrew that little ploy years ago, but he hadn't the heart to disappoint him either. At least he knew how to avoid doing so without making himself physically sick.
"Alright," he sighed, reaching across the tray suspended over his bed for a small muffin, "but just one thing more." Fidget smiled. Albus began to lift the muffin to his lips and paused. "Oh, would you be so kind as to get my black sack coat, gray trousers, favorite white shirt, black cravat, and crimson waistcoat?"
"Not your robes, young Master?"
At home, he normally dressed in the traditional manner, like his father, in layers of medieval cut robes, but he thought of Hermione and how the muggle dress of his time was an adjustment for her. The last thing he wished to do was make her become accustomed to him in wizard garb as well.
"No, Fidget. I'll dress as I would for school."
As he left to fetch Albus' clothes with a slight frown, Albusquickly set the muffin on a corner of the tray, grabbed his wand from the nightstand where Fidget had set it, and transfigured it into a small pastel pink dinner mint he promptly popped into his mouth. No sooner than it hit his tongue and began to dissolve in sugary, minty goodness did Fidget return, quickly laying the garments over the arm of the chair beside his bed and Albus made to swing his legs over the side to get up.
"Oh no, Master Albus. Master Dumbledore ordered me to dress you and take you to the study in a wheeled chair. Your muscles aren't fully recovered yet."
"Ah." Albus eyed the tea pot, realizing now why it had tasted slightly off. Leave it to his father to ensure he took his potions without rebuke. Sighing, he nodded, adding "Just not the cravat." He winced and wrapped a hand around his throat with the recollection of the one, and only time, he made the mistake of letting the house-elf put that on him.
Fidget agreed and with a snap of his finger, the clothing vanished from the chair, leaving Albussitting on his bed fully clothed save his cravat and shoes. As Albus swung his legs over, the house-elf handed him his cravat and while Albusbegan to tie it around his neck, Fidget snapped his fingers once again and a chair, that looked much like one of the velvet upholstered chairs in the drawing room only it bore two large wheels on either side of it's arms and a small one that stretched out from the footrest that had been added to the bottom, appeared alongside the bed waiting for him. When Fidget went to wave his shoes on him, Albus held up his hand.
"I am fully capable of putting on my shoes." With a small frown, the house-elf held them out and Albus bent over, gripping the leather tab at the back of his congress gaiters as he slid each foot in, taking a small amount of pleasure in doing simple tasks he had taken for granted. A moment later and he was lifting himself off the bed and onto the chair with shaking arms, much to Fidget's disappointment.
He couldn't imagine how a mugglewithout restorative draughts would fair, muscularly, after weeks of confinement, when he was still this weak with potions to aid him.
The trip to the study was slow, with Fidget walking before his chair to change stairs to ramps and open doors with a wave of his hand as the chair wheeled itself obediently behind the house-elf. Having to be escorted everywhere would become annoying after a time. He'd have to make alternate arrangements with Fidget, who seemed to not like the idea of Albus no longer being the young boy he chased after in the nursery.
Entering the study, he found his brother curled up in the window seat, his back to the cold stone of the wall, his arm pressed against a window pane as he read from a book laid open in his lap. His father sat at his desk, a pile of parchments before him as he wrote diligently on one. It had been a long time since they were last all together in that room. It bothered him a little that it would take his being cursed into a month long limbo to bring them here.
His chair wheeled itself further into the room, coming to stop beside a chair that sat across from his father's favorite wingback. The two original occupants must have been deeply engrossed in their activities, for they didn't notice his arrival until Fidget disappeared with a pop.
There was a loud bang as his book was slammed shut and Aberforth leaptto his feet, dashing across the room to give Albus a hug that brought a smile to his face. Long ago such shows of affection were deemed too childish for them, but he didn't care at that moment. He could tell by his brother's reaction that he had been scared and there was but one thing Aberforth did when scared, he sought out Albus. He could image how his being afraid for him had made it more difficult for the younger Dumbledore.
As their father cleared his throat, Aberforth pulled away. "I thought Hermione could help. You only calmed when she was there, well… most of the time."
Albus' thoughts ran wild. Hermione hadbeen there? He hadn't imagined her? He had been right all along? And when had Aberforth begun addressing her informally?
His brother leaned in, a grin on his lips, and whispered mischievously, "never thought she'd kiss you though!"
"You saw us too?" he exclaimed, feeling embarrassed now that he learned his entire family had witnessed his first real kiss. He felt his cheeks redden brighter than his hair and his grip on the arms of the chair tightened.
Percival Dumbledore took a blotter to and set aside the parchment he had apparently been writing on, stood, and crossed the room to take his seat across from Albus, crossing his legs under his layers of robes as he leaned back into the plush velvet back. "Yes, Aberforth, it was an unusual means of bringing Albus back to rights, but we needn't mention it again. I do not wish to embarrass Miss Granger, or your brother, further, understood?"
Aberforth lowered his eyes, his grin instantly gone. "Yes, father."
"Now, would you please see about the carriage, we've some shopping this afternoon and Albus will not be up to Apparating just yet."
"But father, I wanted to see if Albus…" An eyebrow raised on their father's face and Aberforth caved. "Yes, father."
"Good. Albus will be here when you return."
His father sat silent, watching as Aberforth left, the heavy door closing behind him. Once they were alone, Albus knew a serious discussion was coming, otherwise their father would not have found a reason to send his brother on an errand.
"You know I have the utmost trust in your judgment Albus," there was something in his words that made Albus a bit uneasy, something his father rarely did without a purpose. "And though I have come to feel that Miss Granger is not only indeed the brilliant young witch you described, but a very respectable one as well. Any concerns I may have had about her adjustment to our period have been unfounded."
Albus felt his heart rate begin to slow in relief, for a second at least.
Reaching over to the small table that stood next to his chair, his father pulled a wooden box closer to him, opened it and pulled out a thin, long pipe that he began to stuff with a sweet smelling tobacco as he continued. "I also have sensed the growing… tenderness between you."
Albus had found it hard to correspond with his father without mentioning her and Percival Dumbledore was known for his ability to glean more from the written and spoken word than was considered normal. He read body language even better. Albus didn't want to think about what his current lack of comfort was telling the eldest Dumbledore at that moment, for it couldn't have been good. His thoughts, however, still didn't prepare him for his father's next words.
"That being said, I must ask what, if any, intentions you have towards Miss Granger?"