1. Meetings and Memories
Harry Potter climbed the stairs to his dormitory with every intention of finishing packing his school trunk before boarding the Hogwarts Express, but with every step he took, he became more certain that the train ride home was something he definitely did not want to expose himself to. For starters, in the few days that had actually passed since the murder of the school's Headmaster, it had become common knowledge that Harry was with him, partaking on some adventure outside of the school grounds. Whether or not they believed him to be the "chosen one," no one doubted the fact that this was a story they would love to hear.
Hearing a noise behind him, Harry turned to see his two best friends, correctly guessing that they had silently followed him all the way up from the school grounds. They had pledged to follow him on his quest to destroy the remaining horcruxes left behind by Voldemort, but Harry was not entirely sure if he wanted them to accompany him on this journey. He kept thinking the people that helped him had a bad habit of ending up dead. He had dissolved his short, but blissful relation with Ginny over these same fears.
Harry looked at his best friends. He could see the fear seeping out from behind Ron's eyes. He knew it would take death to hold Ron back from coming with him, but the nervous twitches in his eyes gave away his inner thoughts. Sliding his gaze to Hermione, Harry couldn't help but notice the difference in her look from Ron's. Just staring into her eyes made Harry believe he could actually win this war, as long as he had her helping along the way, by his side.
"Harry?" Hermione asked. Apparently he had let his staring get a little out of hand.
"Are you okay? You looked like you forgot to blink for a minute there."
"Sorry, I was just thinking."
"About what mate?" Ron always had a tendency to ask the most obvious questions possible.
"I was just thinking. I'm not so sure I want to take the express back. In fact, I'm not going to. I'll just Apparate to the station in a few hours. Vernon won't even notice, being that the can't cross the barrier."
"But Harry," Hermione had a look of concern in her eyes "Why not take the train? And what are you going to do with your trunk? You can't really Apparate with it."
"I probably could if I tried hard enough, but I have an easier solution, just don't ask. You won't like it."
Ron's eyes lit up at this statement "Well then you have to tell us!"
"I don't think I should."
"Fine. I'm going to have Kreacher pop it over to the station just after I leave."
A very conflicted look passed over Hermione's face "You know he's not you own-"
"Actually, Herms, he is-"
"Ronald, don't you dare ever call me that name again, and you don't even know what I was going to say-"
"Sure I do, you were going to say he's not Harry's servant, but he is. It's not his fault he owns a house elf, but since he does, why not take advantage of it, right Harry?"
"It's not like that Ron. Look Hermione, you know how I feel about Kreacher, but there is no way I can actually set him fee. He knows too much, and as it stands, I've really only given him two commands the entire time I've been his master, so it's not like I'm pushing him around now, is it?"
"Well, first I told him to come and work here, and second was when I had him tail Malfoy for us."
"Fine, but even if he brings your trunk, what are you going to do until then? You'll be stuck here for at least another four hours."
"Yeah mate, are you sure Flitch won't kick you out of the castle?"
"I figure I might try to go and…" Harry's voice got the better of him, and a few tears found their way down his cheek.
"Harry," Hermione came over and placed her hands on his shoulders, "You want to try to talk to his portrait, don't you?" He nodded.
"Do you think McGonagall would make us a portkey? If she could I'll stay with you."
"No. I can't see her being much of a rule breaker. Those things are supposed to be pretty restricted, I think." He was forcibly reminded of the time Dumbledore had made a portkey for him in front of the Minister of Magic. "Fudge nearly wet himself when Dumbledore made me one the night Sirius died."
Ron started laughing, "That must have been a great sight."
"I don't know Ron, I was still getting over what had happened."
There was an audible gulp as Ron realized Harry was being forced to remember being possessed by You-Know-Who.
Hermione looked like she was about to burst into tears. "Oh Harry, I would stay, but I don't know if I can Apparate that far of a distance. It might not be safe for us all to try such a big jump, and neither of you two had you license . . ."
"I could always side-along Ron, seeing as he hasn't quite gotten the hang of it, and I'm sure there's no way we'd get in trouble, so long as none of us get splinched."
"No offense mate, but I think I'm just going to take the Express. In fact, I suggest we all just go down to the carriages now, so we don't miss them entirely."
"Either way, we should get our trunks downstairs, right Harry?"
"I suppose so. Are you already packed Hermione?"
"Yes, and I can see you are." They both looked at Ron's bed, covered with what appeared to be everything he had brought with him from the Burrow. He looked down for a moment, looking like his mother had just scolded him.
"Well, I suppose I'll just finish up here, and meet you two in the common room."
Harry looked up as Hermione's trunk landed softly beside his. She was still looking at him with eyes full of concern, like he was about to boil over with emotion any second.
"Are you still thinking about not taking the train?"
"I already decided. I just thought I'd let you two know why I wasn't on board."
"Harry, you really should reconsider. It could be very unsafe to try and go that long of a distance, let alone trying to side-along somebody. Hardly anybody can do that, even with a child, and here you are thinking you can just pull Ron along with you like it's nothing-"
"There really is nothing to worry about."
"How can you be so sure?"
"When I left with Dumbledore, we Apparated away. All the way down the southern coast."
"But he was right there with you-"
"But on the way back, after he had drunk all of that foul potion. He was barley alive Hermione. I had to carry him out of the cave, then Apparate us both back to the Hog's Head."
Her hand immediately covered her mouth. "But Harry, that takes so much power; and control. How could you manage?"
"I had to. He needed help, and that was the only way to get it to him. If you are still worried about the distance, I could help you along the way."
He could see the conflicting emotions on her face. She probably had expected to spend a nice comfortable train ride with Ron, and now he was asking her to give that up so he could try and talk to a picture that might not even talk back.
"Okay. Let's go see McGonagall."
As they approached the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance, Harry had a sudden realization. "I don't know the password."
"But I thought she brought you here that night?"
"She did, but she didn't even give a password. Probably because it was he first time in her new office…"
They both simply stared at the guard for a moment, when Hermione appeared to have a sudden brainstorm. She stood up very straight, and in a very official tone said "Could you please stand aside so we could have a word with the Headmistress?"
After the gargoyle's response (silence), Harry collapsed to the floor trying to hold back as much of the laughter as he could, shoving his fist in his mouth causing a strange gagging sound to come out.
Hermione, still dismayed from her plan backfiring, mistook his collapse for something far more sinister. She let out a shriek and tried to rock him out of an attack he wasn't suffering, only succeeding in driving him further over the edge. It was at this moment that Headmistress McGonagall emerged from the staircase to see one of her favorite students smothering the other in the middle of the hallway.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Hermione let out another shriek, and they both scrambled to their feet. When Harry finally caught his breath, he looked into the older woman's eyes, and his smile quickly faded.
"Sorry. There was just something funny, and I kind of fell over laughing, and Hermione fell on me for some reason-"
"I thought something was wrong! You collapsed! What did you want me to do!"
Realizing that he had the two women who knew him best both glaring at him like he had something stamped on his forehead. "What'd I do?"
Hermione softly tutted, and turned to their Headmistress, "Harry and I decided not to take the Express this year. We'll just Apparate back to the station in a few hours. I believe Harry wanted to come by here to see if he could have a word with Professor… With his portrait, but neither of us knew the password to get past the gargoyle."
"And this was all funny to you Mister Potter?"
"Only when Hermione decided to politely ask the gargoyle to stand aside." He could have sworn he saw both of their gazes warm slightly. It had been a while since anyone in the castle had anything to laugh about.
"Very well, please come up, I have something for you Harry."
As Harry entered the office, he heard Hermione let out a squeak as she noticed the portrait of their former headmaster on the wall.
"How long has that been there?"
The other two people in the room both looked to her.
"Since that night it… Happened…" McGonagall croaked out.
Harry realized something. "Have you ever actually been in here Hermione?"
"Well I guess I never broke quite as many rules as you…"
Harry was sure the temperature was quickly rising in the room as he looked over to the Headmistress.
"Well Miss Granger, a portrait of each Headmaster of the school appears as soon as their tenure at the school ends. For whatever reason…"
"Quite correct Minerva."
The three people in the room all looked up to see the portrait of Albus Dumbledore smiling down on them.
"Good afternoon professor."
"Ah, good afternoon Harry, Hermione. I am not quite sure you need to address me as 'professor' anymore, given my current situation, though I realize that old habits are quite hard to break. Judging by the mood in the room, am I to assume that my body has been laid to rest?" The three all nodded. "Well then, I would you advise you all to get on with the rest of your lives. I'm sure the last few days have been quite miserable, and I don't like the idea of being responsible for everyone being in such a foul mood."
Hermione let out a series of small sniffs, while McGonagall merely looked on with quivering lips. Harry looked up and let out a small chuckle. Leave it to Dumbledore to make jokes about his own funeral. "That's the spirit Harry…"
"Well, Harry," said the Headmistress, "since you are here, there is a parcel for you. I was planning on delivering it to you at your relatives' house, but I suppose you've saved me the trip." She pulled out a large box wrapped in very plain paper. Taking the package, Harry looked up.
"Do I have to wait to check what's in here?"
"Oh no, feel free to open it whenever you wish," the portrait answered.
Harry pulled off the wrapping, and opened the box. Inside were two smaller boxes resting inside a large stone basin. Harry carefully pulled out the contents and placed them on the desk. He opened the first of the boxes two find close to three-dozen glass phials, each containing a silvery substance. Individual memories from the greatest wizard of the age. The second box contained two items, first a large gold ring with a cracked stone, and second, a tattered old diary with a large hole in the cover.
"Sir… I can't accept any of this."
"Harry, Professor Dumbledore left me very clear instructions to make sure you accepted this parcel, and I do not intend to go back on a friends final wishes." Professor McGonagall slightly winced as she finished.
"Quite right Minerva. Harry, this package is one I made sure to prepare for you each and every time I had to leave on one of my special 'errands' over the course of the last school year. Rest assured, I packed that box several times, and every time, I was certain you needed everything in it. Harry, do an old friend a great service, and use what you have been given well. Finish our quest, and do what you have to, to live."
Through slightly misty eyes, Harry looked into the portrait of his mentor. "I will. I will finish it." Next to him, Hermione was now openly sobbing. Harry pulled her into a hug, letting her tears wash into the shoulder of his robes, not noticing the warm glances coming from the current and former masters of the school. Hermione continued to cry for several minutes, and Harry almost wondered if the only reason she let up at all was because she simply ran out of tears. Still holding her gently, he asked Dumbledore, "Sir, how did you get the diary back?"
"Well, Harry, I believe you have your friend Dobby to thank for that. It seems his former master saw fit to toss the book aside at the gates of the school, and Dobby, who really left just a few minutes later to pursue his freedom" – Hermione seemed to involuntarily tighten her grip on Harry with the reminder that he had set the quirky elf free –"found the book, and kept it for something of a keepsake. When he came to the school a year later, looking for employment, he offered me the book. I believe, since he knew what happened the last time the diary was inside the castle, he did not trust himself with it."
"I'm actually surprised Dobby didn't give it to me."
With a sudden pop, the small elf was standing next to them, smiling brightly up at Harry, "Harry Potter sir called Dobby's name. Does Harry Potter need anything from Dobby?"
Hermione lifted her head long enough to see the eager look in the elf's eyes, only to bury her head back in Harry's shoulder giggling furiously.
"No Dobby. Professor Dumbledore's portrait was just explaining how he ended up possessing that old diary."
"I see, Harry Potter sir, but sir, why is you still here? Should you and your Hermy not have been on the train with the rest of the school?"
Hermione, after being addressed in a way normally reserved for giants, decided to speak up, "No Dobby, Harry and I decided to stay a little while longer. We're just going to Apparate to the train station in a few hours."
"What about your Wheezy?"
"Well, Ginny can't really Apparate yet, so she had-"
"No Hermione, he meant Ron. He doesn't like to pop over to places Dobby, so he took the train too." A sudden realization it Harry, "Professor McGonagall, my house elf has been working here all year, but I can't really take him to the Dursley's-"
"Kreacher is a bad elf who doesn't serve his master well!"
"Dobby really, it's okay-"
"Kreacher received an order from his master and didn't do his job. He is a bad house elf!"
Harry was quite sure he didn't want the little elf telling McGonagall that he'd been having students tailed by his elf, no matter what the reason, luckily, Hermione came to his rescue.
"Actually Dobby, could you do us both a favor?"
"Anything for Harry Potter's Hermy!"
She slightly winced at the repeated us of the name, but charged ahead, "Do you think you could wait for us to leave, and bring our luggage to platform nine and three-quarters for us?"
"Of course Dobby will help! Just call for me when you is leaving and Dobby will help however you want!"
Everyone in the room smiled down on the excited creature, and Hermione put her hand on his shoulder, "We'll let you know when we're leaving then. By the way, nice hat."
He smiled sheepishly up at her before popping back out of the room.
"Well Mister Potter, I believe you were asking me something before your little friend decided to visit?"
"Yes Professor. Do you think my elf could remain here, working with the rest of the staff? I would just set him free, but Professor Dumbledore advised against it, since he knows so much about the Order…"
She seemed to consider a moment, and after getting a small nod from the portrait, "Of course he can stay. I couldn't imagine a greater folly than going against Albus' wishes. Is there anything else that I can do for the two of you? I'm afraid I am quite busy currently, but I want you to realize my door is always open for any assistance you may require, along with the rest of the staffs' I'm sure."
Harry considered for a moment, then remembered something he meant to ask Dumbledore about, "There was one thing," he turned his attention to the portrait. "When we were on our little trip, and you found the opening to the cave… How did you do that? I just have this feeling that I'll need to know that sometime soon."
McGonagall looked somewhat questioningly at Harry, not quite knowing what he had just said, but Harry had been purposely vague just because of that.
The Dumbledore in the portrait smiled sadly down on, "Harry, I must take this chance to apologize-"
"Don't… Don't say you're sorry. You have no reason to be… Everyone here knows you did more to help us win this war than anyone else… You're being sorry does us all about as much good as us sitting around grieving. Like I told you over the summer. When these things happen, it doesn't do any good to shut everyone out, or crack-up. I know what I have to do, and if I'm still around after I get it done, well, then we'll all have time to mope about whatever we want."
Hermione rounded on him, "What do you mean if you're still around? There is no way I'm letting you come out of this thing in any worse shape than you're in right now!"
While Professor McGonagall was discreetly wiping the tears away, Dumbledore's likeness grew a wide smile. "Well said, both of you. About what you asked, Harry. There was a 'rather thrilling tale' that I never got around to fully regaling you with, but I have included it in the package of memories. Simply enter the one labeled 'the ring' and I believe your questions will be answered, if not, I believe you know where to find me."
"Of course, sir."
"Harry please, call me Albus."
While the two women resumed their sniffing, Harry smiled up and replied, "Maybe next time." He carefully repacked the box, and had to take Hermione's hand to make her realize it was indeed time to leave the office. "We'll see you later then Sir; Headmistress."
"Don't forget, either of you. My door is always open."
Hermione smiled back at her, "We won't. Thank you both for all your help."
With one more slightly sad smile to the portrait, they made their way back to their common room.
Upon entering Gryffindor house, they were greeted by a rather unusual sight. Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl was sitting on the arm of the sofa, glaring at its two occupants, Dobby, and Hermione's cat Crookshanks, both of whom it appeared were trying to guard the two trunks sitting next to them. When Hedwig saw them enter, she flew over to Harry's shoulder, and hooted in annoyance.
"Hey girl, I guess it's a good thing there's nobody around to try to get into our things. The guards seemed to have fallen asleep." The owl seemed to nod a bit as Harry and Hermione sat on the sofa opposite the cat and elf.
Hermione looked over to Harry as Hedwig perched on the top of the sofa, "Harry, how's Crookshanks getting back? Is it safe to carry him while Apparating?"
He thought for a moment, "I'm sure it is. I mean, Dumbledore brought me along when I had no clue how to do it, I'm sure between the two of us we can manage him."
"As long as you're sure it's safe…"
"No worries. I'm sure the worst that could happen would be his legs would come out a little straighter on the other side." He received an almost-to-hard-too-be-playful slap for that.
After sighing quite deeply, Harry once again emptied the parcel he had been given, carefully setting the diary and ring aside, still not entirely sure why he needed to have them. He set the pensieve on its base in front of them and started sifting through the memories. Many of these were simply names of towns or people he had never heard of, presumably leads Dumbledore had followed of his search. Hermione, looking at the phials Harry was setting aside noticed these seemingly random names, "Why do you suppose he left you all of these? I don't even recognize half of these names, do you?"
"No I don't… I think they may be people who he already questioned about the Horcruxes, or maybe even other people's memories about Voldemort."
"Why would you assume they are other peoples'?"
"Well, this one is labeled 'Slughorn' with the date last April. It has to be the one I got from him."
"Oh, well that makes sense." She was looking rather intently at the pensieve now, "I thought you said it was supposed to be full of the same kind of silvery stuff as what's in those tubes."
"I think I only saw it when it was full of his memories. It seemed the more you added to it, the more things it could show you connected. Kind of like this," Harry put his wand to his temple and pulled a thin silvery-white strand away from his head, then carefully let it slide down into the pensieve. He repeated this process a few times before setting his wand aside. Much like Dumbledore had done more than two years previous, Harry picked up and swirled the basin before setting it down on its polished wood stand. Hermione let out a small giggle as her twelve-year-old self appeared in front of her saying, "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things -- friendship and bravery." The image immediately shifted to the two of them standing over an already collapsed Sirius, desperately trying to fend of over a hundred Dementors. She watched horror stricken as she saw herself fall to the ground, and Harry's last-ditch attempt to save them all failed. Seeing one of the Dementors lifting up Harry to administer the kiss, she convulsively grabbed Harry's hand, and chocked back a sob just as everything in the basin turned a brilliant white, and a massive stag galloped over the water saving them all. The scene shifted again to the two of them flying on Buckbeak's back, counting the windows until they came across one with a sullen-looking Sirius on the other side. Deciding that was enough of a demonstration, Harry tapped the surface of his thoughts, returning it to its swirling silver state.
Hermione just started at the pensieve for a moment, "That's amazing Harry. Does it erase the memory from your mind when you pull it out?"
"Oh no, I still remember everything fine, it's more just for organizing your thoughts, not storing them."
"So either one of us could put something in here, and just watch it like a round television?"
He had to chuckle at the comparison. "It's more that that. Much more, watch this." He withdrew another thread from his head and placed it with the others, then prodded the surface with his wand. A Hermione looking identical to the one on the sofa was staring resolutely ahead saying "Could you please stand aside so we could have a word with the Headmistress?" With another prod Harry let her fall back in with the remaining thoughts swirling below her, and looked over to see the real Hermione glaring severely at him.
"And just how long am I going to have to suffer before you let that go?"
"Not too much longer, I promise. But there is one other way to view memories in a pensieve."
"Really? How? All you ever talked about was looking in on Dumbledore's, I mean it's not you can enter in and see it through the person living it's eyes, can you?" She seemed genuinely perplexed by the idea.
Harry had a wicked glean in his eyes, "Even better. You can enter in and be standing next to the person whose memory it is, being able to look all around seeing everything they saw, even if they didn't realize they saw it. The first time I fell into this, I ended up watching the original Death Eater trials while sitting next to Dumbledore, that is until the real Dumbledore came in after me, and I was sitting in between the two of them."
"So what you're saying is that you could put your memory from say, the Chamber of Secrets in there, and I would be walking along next to you, watching you do all the things you swear you only got done by being extremely lucky? How come when you came back after the third task you just didn't put your memory in here and show it to Fudge? That pompous moron would have had to believe you if he saw it then!"
Realizing she was starting to get a little too worked up, Harry decided to cut her off, "Not really Hermione. Any memory can be adjusted, or possibly even faked. You just need to see it that way in your head. The original one Slughorn gave Dumbledore had all these spots where everything got cloudy; you could tell he was repressing what really happened, but the only way to get the truth out of him was for him to remember it, and want to give it to us. Anything we would have shown Fudge would have been brushed off as some school-boy's fantasy."
"I know, but that's just the way he was, and you know it. Now, I suppose it's just a matter of time before you ask me to show you the trip I took with… him… to the cave." She gave a small nod, knowing how bad it really would be for him to have to relive the experience so soon.
"Harry, really, it can wait."
"No. It's all right. If I can't totally share this with you, then no one else has a chance of ever finding out…."
"You could always tell Ginny…."
"No I can't. Not anymore… I broke it off with her."
Hermione sat in a stunned silence for almost a minute, "Why? You seemed so happy to be with her."
"I was, while it lasted, but lets face it. Any relationship based on a childhood crush can't last forever. As much as Ginny wants to be treated as an adult, she has a really hard time acting as one. Sometimes it's almost like she stopped growing up after the chamber, even though something like that really should have forced her to grow up a lot faster."
"Speaking from experience?"
"Too much of it."
She put a comforting arm around his shoulder, and any momentary doubts Harry had about what he had done were washed away in a surge of warmth. He gently squeezed her hand in thanks before they were interrupted by Crookshanks jumping up into Harry's lap, seeming to want to be pet in repayment for being woken up by their conversation. Hermione smiled at her cat, and told Harry, "See, he even feels a little sorry to hear about all of this."
"No, he's just mad we woke him up, right Dobby?"
They both looked up to see the small elf wringing his ears, dreadfully afraid he was in trouble. "I's sorry, Harry Potter sir! Dobby no mean to overhear about Harry Potter and Miss Wheezy, Dobby just wake up to hear about Professor Dumbledore's shiny bowl and not able to stop listening!"
Harry, knowing his little friend's mood well, had to intervene before he began punishing himself, "It really is okay Dobby, I trust you not to tell anybody about anything you overhear Hermione and myself talking about."
She chimed in, "Of course we do Dobby, and with as much as you've helped Harry in the past, we can't really keep secrets from you. We both trust you."
Harry's green eyes were met by Dobby's, and he gave his little friend a small nod, which seemed to cause a complete mood reversal, where the elf was previously close hurting himself in retribution, his eyes now exploded in a shower of silent tears. "You… Both… Trust Dobby?" With another nod from both of them, Dobby launched himself over the table separating their sofas, nearly knocking the pensieve off its stand, "You make Dobby so happy! Anything Dobby can do, just ask!"
"Don't worry Dobby, we will," Hermione said as she helped peel him off Harry, "but right now, I believe Harry and I have some more things to talk about before we need to leave."
"Of course, I leave so you can talk in private"
Harry, finally managing to free himself thought of something, "Actually Dobby, there is one thing. When you bring our trunks along to the train station for us, is it possible for you take Crookshanks with you?" The cat looked up at Harry with a look close to fear in its eyes.
"Of course Harry Potter! Dobby can also bring along his Hedwig if he wishes." Hearing this, his faithful owl let out a hoot of annoyance before gliding over to a chair across the room.
"No Dobby, I think she'd rather fly herself to my Aunt and Uncles… Now, Hermione, are you okay with Dobby taking care of Crookshanks for you?"
She looked between her cat and the elf, "Of course I am, now why don't you two get to know each other a bit before we all have to leave." She scooped up a very grumpy cat and handed him over to Dobby, who went back to the other sofa. "Now, Harry…"
"Now you want to see it… Are you sure you're ready?" Harry felt her gaze as she looked deep into his eyes, as if she were reaching down into his heart to gauge how much pain he was really in.
Hermione intertwined her fingers with Harry's once more, "Only if you are."
After taking several deep breaths, Harry pulled a thread almost as long as his own arm and placed in the basin. They both looked over top to see Dumbledore seemingly walking alone along the path away from the castle.
"Harry, where are you? What do we do now?"
"I'm under the cloak, right next to him. Now… This might sound a bit strange, but trust me. Just stick your head in the bowl."
Hermione gave him a slightly uncomfortable look, "Just dunk my head in?"
Harry nodded, "Trust me. It will be a bit cold as you get sucked in, but everything will be fine."
"How do I get back out?"
"I'm coming in with you, and I'll bring us back out when it's over. Just go ahead, I'll be right behind you."
Now Hermione let out a massive sigh, and in one sudden movement dropped her face to the pensieve, and in a flash, she was gone from the sofa. Harry looked over to Dobby, "This might take a couple of hours so please, just make sure nobody disturbs this bowl, okay Dobby? It's okay if you watch through the top, just make sure no one touches."
The elf stood and for once looked very serious, "Of course Harry Potter sir, Dobby will guard Harry Potter's bowl with his life."
Not wanting to leave Hermione along any longer, he gave a quick "Thanks" before touching the surface himself. As soon as he felt his feet touch the ground, Hermione came right over and reclaimed his hand.
"What took you so long?"
"Sorry, just asking Dobby to keep the pensieve safe while we're in here. It was a pretty long thought I put us in…"
They followed along behind Dumbledore and the invisible Harry as they made their way towards the Hog's Head, and Harry heard Hermione click her tongue before saying, "I still don't see why he would ever go to this pub, it's disgusting!"
Harry looked over at his friend, "You mean you haven't figured it out yet?"
"Figured out what?"
"The bar man in the Hog's Head. It's Aberforth. This is his brother's pub." A look came over her face that Harry knew to be her realizing she had come to a greater understanding just as Dumbledore in front of them disappeared, and everything around them lurched and shifted, leaving them standing on a cliff overlooking the sea.
Hermione almost fell over from the shock of this, but still found it in her to mutter, "What the hell was that? Is that normal?"
Harry smiled to himself, "Well, we had to follow along as we Apparated somehow. Come to think of it, we end up doing a bit of swimming here; I hope we don't have to get wet. That water is freezing."
"Well, maybe we can just walk along on top of the water, I mean since none of this is real anyway, maybe we just have to believe we can do it, and it will be. What is Dumbledore pointing to over there?"
"He's pointing out the cave that we are heading for, and you know, we can get a bit closer, it's not like they are going to hear us."
Harry pulled her up along side the occupants of the memory just as they began their decent down to the water. Hermione let out a small squeak as the Harry from the memory pulled off his cloak to reveal himself only inches away from herself, and watched in amazement as Dumbledore launched himself into the water and began swimming toward the rock face in front of them. "Well, Hermione, time to test your theory." Harry stepped off the ledge focusing with everything he had on landing on a solid surface, instead of in the icy water, and immediately let out a sigh of relief as he took a few steps away from the ledge, walking on the water. Hermione, with her eyes tightly closed followed closely, reaching out for Harry to guide her. He took her hand and pulled her along quickly, trying to catch up to the swimmers ahead.
"Please Harry, not so fast."
"Since when are you so afraid of a little water, besides you already know you're standing on top of it, so just open your eyes already, we need to catch up before the door closes."
Slowly she opened her eyes, but when she noticed they were standing a good thirty feet from any land, she launched herself back into Harry's arms. He let out an exasperated sigh before saying, "Look, this would be great if we had the time for me to make jokes, but there really is a door coming up here that we need to make it through. I don't want to take the chance of being stuck until we make our way back out." She relaxed a bit and let Harry lead her along at a brisk pace, and it was then that Harry realized that even though he knew exactly where the chain of events they were following led, he didn't feel at all anxious about it, which he could only attribute to the fact that his best friend was next to him, even if he seemed to be giving her more comfort than the other way around.
They caught up with the pair in front of them just as they emerged from the water, and Hermione, clearly not thinking as much as usual, tried to perform a warming charm on the shivering Harry in front of her, causing the other one to hold his sides chuckling. "Honestly Hermione, did you think that would work?" She looked down at her own shoes with a look of shame, clearly not up to her own standards, before Harry lifted her chin back up to look her in the eyes, "But I do appreciate the thought." She turned quickly, and in a higher-than-normal voice asked what Dumbledore was looking for on the walls.
"He knows some way of finding concealed magic, which is something I need to learn as soon as I can."
"We, Harry. We need to learn it, and we will."
Harry could hardly contain the feeling of immense gratitude he felt as he looked deep into her bright brown eyes, and for a fleeting instant it felt to Harry as though something was swelling inside his chest, until Hermione let out a shriek looking over Harry's shoulder. When he turned he saw Dumbledore swinging down his knife into his arm, spurting the rock face with drops of his own blood. Hermione started wide-eyed as the opening in the rock appeared, "I guess this is the door you mentioned?" And without waiting for Harry to answer, she followed into the chamber, only to have him wheel her back around.
"You need to be warned. You see that lake there?" She nodded, seeing water with the green mist floating in the center. "It's loaded full of Inferi, and we are going to have to walk across it. Twice." She looked back over, shivering. "And the second time, you're going to get a really good look at them, so, are you sure you want to follow? We could just wait here for me to bring Dumbledore back."
With a trembling hand, Hermione reached out for Harry's, and quickly followed along behind their query, only giving pause when Harry tried his summoning charm, causing one of the ghastly bodies to jump out of the water. They followed along in relative silence, Hermione obviously listening to everything Dumbledore had been telling Harry, and after another nervous walk over the water, she watched in shock as Dumbledore began downing goblet after goblet of the horrid green potion before them all. By the time Harry was forcing the potion down Dumbledore's throat, they were both openly crying; Harry from the memory itself, Hermione having fully realized what her friend had been through. When Dumbledore screamed "KILL ME!" Hermione finally lost all control and buried her head in Harry's shoulder. He decided it would be best to begin heading back to the shore just as the water all around them began churning, and the Inferi came to the surface. Hermione was petrified with fear, Harry presumed she had once again forgotten that they were safe from harm, but he really couldn't blame her given what was happening all around them. "Don't worry," he said while trying to rub some of the tension out of her shoulders, "Just watch Dumbledore. He's about to save us both, again…" Just then the ring of fire surrounded them all, and Harry brought Hermione along inside it all the way back to the shore, where he found himself carrying Hermione along the path in a similar manner as the version of himself from the memory was supporting Dumbledore.
They walked along side as Harry swam both himself and Dumbledore back across the icy seawater, Hermione crying even harder every time Harry tried to reassure the visibly weak Headmaster that everything was going to be all right. When Dumbledore replied "I am not worried Harry, I am with you," She once again lost all control she had, and Harry had to scoop her up in his arms and carry her the rest of the way back. She seemed pull herself back together just in time to see Harry Apparate himself and Dumbledore back to Hogsmeade, only to resume shivering when she looked up and saw the Dark Mark hovering over the castle.
Harry, having spent the last few minutes fussing over Hermione, failed to notice himself and Dumbledore take off on their flight to the castle, so he was as surprised as Hermione when everything dissolved around them, only to reveal the top of the astronomy tower as the two riders set down. Harry sat near Dumbledore as he was giving his final instructions to the Harry under the cloak, Hermione, not fully knowing what was going to happen, but noticing the miserable look in Harry's eyes, simply curled up into his lap and watched with a heavy heart as first Malfoy then an entire squad of Death Eaters appeared on top of the tower. They silently watched as Dumbledore casually conversed with a group of people that wanted him dead more than anything. They watched as Snape emerged, as Dumbledore pleaded with him, and as Snape shot the curse that ended the life of the greatest wizard of his age.
Hermione watched as the attackers fled down the stairs, followed moments later by Harry, tearing off his cloak with a look of pure hatred in his eyes, felling one of the Death Eaters before he even made it to the staircase. She buried her head into Harry's shoulder, crying harder than he had ever seen anyone cry before. Harry was about to suggest they return to their common room, when with one last lurch, they found themselves sitting on the front lawn as Snape and Malfoy fled, Harry hot on their heels. Hermione watched as Hagrid's hut was set on fire, and as Harry tried to send curse after curse at Snape, only to be parried away. She let out a scream as one of the other Death Eaters on the lawn hit Harry from behind with the Cruciatus curse, and watched with a growing look of disgust as their former potions professor started to fight back against Harry, only to be assaulted by Buckbeak.
Once Snape had made his final flight from the school, Harry decided it really was time to go. Without a word he took hold of Hermione's arm and brought them both back to the common room. As soon as Hermione realized they had returned, she collapsed back onto the sofa, bringing Harry down with her. Neither one realized that their Headmistress standing next to the table, wiping the constant string of tears away.
Harry was too concerned with his best friends welfare to care about anything else. "Hermione I am so sorry, I never should have let you see that. I knew it would be too much, I'm so sorry…"
"Harry…" She sobbed into the handful of his robes she was clutching, "Don't you dare trying to apologize… You warned me, and I asked for it… It's not you fault… My fault… My fault…"
"Harry Potter sir!"
"Dobby please not now. Please just give us a minute."
"But you have a guest," there was a definite tension to the little voice, which is what cause Harry to finally notice Professor McGonagall looking down on them with tear-filled eyes.
"I am sorry to interrupt you Harry, Hermione. I was simply coming by to do a year-end inspection of the dormitories. I had assumed the both of you would rather spend your time waiting perhaps in the Three Broomsticks, rather than up here."
Hermione was still in no state to talk, and Harry was suddenly very nervous. Dumbledore had made a point not to tell anyone about what he had been doing all year, now McGonagall had possibly seen his entire trip to the cave. "How much of that did you see?" The tone of his voice was more angry than curious, and it was Dobby who spoke up.
"The Headmistress only came in after you's showed back up in town, Harry Potter sir, and Dobby tried to make the Headmistress not watch. He was about to make the Professor leave, even if it cost him his job at Hogwarts, when you's came back into the room."
"So, Professor, you really didn't see where we were before we returned to Hogsmeade?"
"No Harry, I did not, but there is no doubt in my mind of how bad it must truly have been if Miss Granger is still in the state that she is." She had drawn her lips together in a manner she usually reserved for telling off students, but continued, "And I must say that I would like nothing more to know what you and Albus were doing away from the school, he must have never told me for a reason, and I realize you are just obeying his wishes… He did give you permission to inform Hermione?"
Harry meekly nodded. He could only imagine how put out McGonagall must feel. She had obviously been close to Dumbledore, yet he had not trusted her enough to be a part of the search, and Harry was free to tell his two school-age friends. "He wanted me to be able to have someone to talk over everything with, and gave me permission to tell Ron and Hermione, but they are the only ones who know the whole story. Please understand Professor, I've always trusted you, but Professor Dumbledore had to have had a reason for you to not know, and if I had to guess, it was for your own safety." Harry couldn't help but smile a little, "We both had a little bit of a 'saving people thing' I guess." He could almost swear he felt Hermione give a small chuckle into his chest.
The Headmistress sniffed back a new surge of tears, "Very well Harry. Dobby, thank you for allowing me to view what I did. You still have a couple of hours before the train will arrive in London. Feel free to stop by my office, the password is 'tabby cat,' and do be sure to make sure they get something to eat, Dobby."
"Yes Ma'am, Dobby will take care of them."
"Well then, if I do not see you again, enjoy you holiday Harry, Hermione." Hermione managed a weak nod before McGonagall exited through the portrait hole.
"Are you alright Hermione?" Harry asked, not really sure what to do. Hermione had stopped crying, but he almost wondered, again, if she had simply run out of tears.
"No, I'm not Harry. This is all my fault. Everything, he could still be alive. If I'd only listened to you, we could have stopped Malfoy from ever fixing that cabinet, Dumbledore would still be here." Harry could see the emotions brewing behind her eyes; he could see the same self-loathing he had felt upon returning from the Department of Mysteries a year earlier.
"Hermione, this is in no way your fault. I know exactly how you feel-"
"How could you possible know? You've never been responsible for somebody else's life! You don't know the feeling that something you didn't do ended up with somebody dead! It's MY FAULT! I DON'T DESERVE OUR FRIENDS! I DON'T DESERVE TO BE HERE! AND I CERTAINLY DON'T DESERVE YOU!" Dobby, who had been watching intently from the other sofa, shot Harry a very nervous look before disappearing.
Hermione was screaming into her own fists, balled up in front of her face, and Harry was sure that if he let her go on like this they would both be showing up in King's Cross sporting multiple bruises. "Hermione, please listen to me for a minute, just listen, then if you still feel this way, fell free to take as much of it as you can on me…"
She had another onslaught of tears pouring out onto her face, but there was a fierceness to her that gave Harry a very nervous feeling, that no matter what he wanted to say, it wasn't going to appease her. She slowly sat back in her seat, and nodded for him to proceed.
"I told you about fighting Riddle at the Ministry last year, and how he possesed me after Dumbledore had fought him to a standstill. I suppose I could show you all of that later, if you wanted, but when I was possessed, it hurt so bad. Worse than the Cruciatus curse ever had, and I wanted to die. I remember thinking; almost hoping that if I could just manage to snuff it, then I could go off and join Sirius, and the emotion behind wanting to be with my recently deceased Godfather was enough to drive him out of me. When we got back to his office, I was in a rage. I wanted to hurt somebody, mostly myself, since I was sure I had just gotten my Godfather killed. I tried to storm out of his office, but he sealed the door, so, I started destroying all of those little silver things he kept all over the place," Hermione let out a gasp at the thought of Harry wrecking the Headmaster's office, "He told me that the rage I felt was a good thing, the fact that I was feeling it proved I was human. I just yelled back that I didn't want to be human, and flipped over a table. I didn't care about what he had to say then, just like you probably don't care a lot about what I have to say now.
"He told me the prophecy that night, and there was another part that I never got around to telling you or Ron. It says that I am supposed to have a 'power the Dark Lord knows not.' Dumbledore was sure that power is the love I have for others. He told me there is a room in the Department of Mysteries that is kept locked at all times where they study love, probably the room that broke my knife when we were there, and I have such quantities of love in me, that it caused Riddle serious pain that night. My point is that I think Dumbledore had it a bit wrong that night. There really is no way I can have an excess of love in me, seeing as how I spent a good decade of my life without it. The power has to be love; there really is no other option, but I don't have anymore in me than you. I realized over the summer that I had to move on. I tried shutting myself away and it made me miserable. Sirius wouldn't have wanted that to happen. It was the love I felt for him that pulled me up then, that and knowing that we all deserve a chance to live, just for myself, I have to get rid of a Dark Lord first.
"Look, I'll never tell you to ignore, or push away the pain you feel, because Dumbledore was right about it being what makes us human, but you need to work through it, and use the love I know you have in your heart for people like your parents to get your head back where it belongs. Sorry if what I just said doesn't make much sense, but it's the best I could do on short notice, and I need to get you straightened out. I'm no good without you."
Hermione sat for a full minute after he finished, almost as if she were waiting for him to finish, when she finally half-whispered, "But you tried to find Sirius. It wasn't your fault; there was nothing else we could have done. I couldn't be bothered to listen about Malfoy. I did just what Dumbledore warned us about two years ago. I picked the easy way, not the right one. I did nothing, and he died because of it."
Harry sighed heavily before going over to his trunk and extracting a square mirror and a note. He wordlessly passed them over to Hermione who just stared at the mirror before finally reading the note and gasping, "Harry, when did you get this?"
"He gave it to me when we stayed with him over Christmas. I didn't open the package until the night of the leaving feast last year. When he gave me the package, I was sure whatever was inside would get him in trouble, so I never opened it. When I finally saw the mirror, I tried to call out to him through it, almost convinced he had his on him when he fell through the veil. When it didn't work, I got pissed and smashed it in my trunk. Didn't get around to repairing it until September. I didn't try everything. I had the mirror, and if I would have just used it, he would still be here. It's as much my fault as anyone's." She jumped up and pulled him into a tender hug.
"Oh Harry, you've had so much of this in your life. How do you survive? I didn't know Dumbledore half as well as you, and I'm about ready to jump off the Astronomy tower."
Without even thinking about his answer, Harry blurted out, "It's what they all would have wanted. None of them died so we could sit around being depressed, they died so we could live. It's the least we can do for them."
Without any warning, Hermione kissed Harry full on the lips, and pulled him into an even tighter embrace, "When did you get so smart?"
Harry, blushing furiously for some reason could barely manage to get out, "You're the smart one here," before the warm stretching feeling returned to his chest, effectively taking his breath away.