Harry stood with his eyes closed, enjoying the feel of the warm sunlight dancing on his skin. Strange, he thought, how I've never noticed how wonderful the sun was before now. He opened his eyes and wondered idly how he arrived at his current location. He certainly didn't remember coming here.
The young wizard set off down an old dirt road, marvelling at the beauty around him. The road itself was a reddish colour, and though is was a dirt path, he left behind no footprints. Lining the road on either side were rows of trees, all different and beautiful in their own right. There were apple trees, pear trees, willow trees, holly trees entwined with vines, maple trees, and many other trees that Harry couldn't name. The sight was breathtaking.
How is it that I've never seen such beauty before? He breathed deeply and listened to the sounds around him as he walked. Why didn't I know that a bird's song is so enchanting? Why didn't I know that grass smells so sweet? Why didn't I notice all this before now?
Harry pushed his strange thoughts away and walked on. He couldn't explain it, but he felt a tug of familiarity. It was as if he had walked this road before, and yet Harry knew that he had never done such a thing. He looked up and saw a figure in the distance. From so far away he couldn't tell who it was, only that they were clad in a gown whiter than anything Harry had ever seen before.
Walking closer, he could make out brown hair. His steps came faster. She had her back to him, but he knew that hair. There was only one person with hair as untameable as that. On and on he walked, until at last he stood behind the white clad figure. It was Hermione, perched on a nearby rock. She looked quite comfortable sitting there.
Harry took a moment to look his friend over. She was wearing a blindingly white robe with a golden cord tied around her waist. Her brown curls where as untamed as ever and looked as if they were being moved by the wind, though there was no breeze.
"Hello Harry," she said softly. "I'm glad you came. I've been waiting for you for some time now."
"How did you know it was me?" Harry asked quietly.
Hermione turned and looked at him, a small smile on her face. "I know you, Harry. That's how," she replied cryptically. "I've come to guide you. Choose which one you will take," Hermione said, gesturing to two paths Harry hadn't seen before. One path, the path to his left, was much like the path he had travelled on to arrive at the crossroad he stood on. The other road, to his right, looked far less pleasant. It was overgrown with tree roots, weeds and vines, and there was very little light to be seen. All in all, it reminded him of the Forbidden Forest.
"I don't know, Hermione. Which way do you think I should go?" He asked. Hermione had never led him astray before. Surely the path she chose was the right one.
Hermione shook her head. "I can't tell you that, Harry. This is your choice, and your choice alone. I'm only here to keep you company."
Harry frowned. "Can't you help me a little Hermione? Please?"
The young woman sighed. "The things I do for you, Harry." She shook her head. "I can't tell you very much, because it's against the rules." Hermione bit her lip. "But I can tell you to listen to your heart," she reached up and set her hand lightly on his chest. "Not your head," Hermione set her other hand on his jaw, her thumb lightly stroking his cheek before she pulled away.
Harry looked at both roads. He wanted to go down the left path. It looked so peaceful. And yet… the other road tempted him as well. Though life had been unkind to him, it have given him a taste for adventure, and he wanted to see what lay beyond the rugged path to his right. But was curiosity enough? He looked to his left and felt the pull of simplicity and a strange sense of familiarity. Everything had been so difficult for him. Would it really matter if he decided to take the easy way out, just this once?
"That one," he said after a brief debate with himself.
Hermione smiled in satisfaction and nodded. "Right it is, then. Let's go."
The young hero swallowed thickly as he moved towards the right path and stepped into the shadows. He took one final glance back at the left path then continued into the darkness.
"How are you, Hermione?" He asked softly, almost afraid to break the stillness. "I mean, you've been gone a long time."
Hermione nodded and smiled at him. "I'm fine, Harry, really I am. Actually, I'm better than fine, I'm," she sighed in contentment. "I'm doing wonderfully."
"I missed you," Harry said softly as he ducked under a low - hanging limb.
"I missed you, too. I didn't want to leave." Hermione replied, pain reflecting in her voice.
Harry nodded and skirted around a puddle. "I know you didn't Hermione. I just never pegged you for a quitter, that's all," he regretted his bitter words the moment he said them. "I mean--"
"It's alright Harry, I understand. I would have felt the same way." Hermione was silent for a moment. "This won't make any sense yet, but I didn't mean to leave you. I thought I was coming back to you, but I ended up going the wrong way, I guess. I made the wrong choice."
Harry nodded, even though he didn't understand what she was saying. "So," he changed the topic. "Where are you taking me?"
Hermione grinned mysteriously at him. "I'm taking you home."
In the back of his mind, Harry knew there was something strange about what she had said. He didn't have a home. Godric's Hollow was destroyed, and even if it hadn't been, Peter Pettigrew had never told him where it was. The secret had died with him. Grimmauld Place would always be Sirius' home, and Privet Drive was nothing more than a nightmare to him. No, he had no home, but could not bring himself to think on it. If Hermione said she was taking him home, then she was taking him home.
Harry climbed over a fallen log and reached out for Hermione, only to find she was already waiting for him on the other side. "Come on. It's not that much further," she said. Harry could hear a bit of excitement in her voice. Hermione nodded ahead of them, bringing a distant light to his attention. "We're nearly there. See? This wasn't so bad, now, was it? Nothing is ever as bad as it seems."
The pair continued on down the dark path until at last they stepped into the light of day. Harry looked around in awe. This place was a veritable paradise. He was standing on the dirt road again, but this time the trees were scattered about in a lush valley. He had never seen greener grass in his life, not even on the well - watered lawns of Privet Drive. What struck him the most was the sense of peace that blanketed everything.
To his amazement, he found he was standing beside the Burrow. He grinned. Hermione said she was taking me home, and she led me to the Burrow! He took a step towards the rickety house.
"Not here, Harry. Your home is a ways off, yet. Oh, hello Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said as Mrs. Weasley's head suddenly appeared over the fence. "How are you?"
"Wonderful, dear. I'm just getting everything ready for when Arthur and the children come home. It's lovely to see you again. And you, Harry, you're here!" The older woman wiped her hands on a towel and brushed some of the dirt off of her gardening clothes. "How are you dear? Well, yes?"
"I'm great, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said with a grin.
Hermione shared a look with the Weasley Matron. "I was just taking Harry home."
"Ah!" Mrs. Weasley smiled, a knowing gleam in her eyes. "Well then, don't let me keep you." She turned away, humming a nameless tune as she went back to tending to her garden.
"Come on, this way," Hermione said, pointing ahead of them.
Harry took one last look at the Burrow and turned away, walking down the road again. It seemed like they had only take a few steps when Harry heard a familiar voice. "No, like this dad," the person talking was facing the wizard he was talking too. "It's called football for a reason. You can't use your hands." The person turned around. "Harry!" Dean Thomas yelled. "Going home?"
Surprised to see his former classmate Harry stood for a moment before he nodded. "I see Hermione is taking you. She brought me here too, you know." Dean grinned at his father then shared a knowing look with Hermione, much as Mrs. Weasley had. "Well I won't hold you up anymore. See you, Harry."
"See you, Dean." Harry turned to Hermione. "Does everybody know something I don't know?"
"Yes," Hermione said with a small smile. "But you'll understand soon enough. Let's keep going."
In the back of his mind, Harry thought he should be angry. He didn't like it when people kept secrets from him. But Hermione said he would understand soon, and he was content to know that everything would eventually make sense. Besides, he thought, all of this waiting will just make home even better.
"Heading home, Harry? You must be pretty excited about it, eh?" Harry turned to see none other than Cedric Diggory hovering behind him on a broomstick. "I just, uh, I just wanted to thank you Harry, for what you did for me. So, thanks." Cedric grinned. "You go on home, Harry. You deserve it. Besides, everyone's waiting."
Harry watched Cedric fly off, unable to speak. He didn't even have the chance to say 'you're welcome' or 'I should have done more' or even 'it should have been me, not you'. He shook his head and turned back to Hermione, who smiled at him and continued on. Distantly, Harry knew that something strange was happening. He should not be talking with dead people, and everyone he had met so far was…
"I'm dead, aren't I?" He asked as they walked.
Hermione nodded. "You put so much of your energy into killing Voldemort in the last battle that you didn't leave enough for yourself. I was wondering when you would figure it out. You actually figured it out much quicker than I did. When I first came, I thought it was an elaborate plot to get me to reveal your secrets. It took me some time to figure out that I was really dead." Hermione blushed. "I gave my Guide a great deal of grief. I even threatened to hex the poor man. I would have told you the truth, but I'm not allowed, being a Guide and all."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"If I had told you that you were dead it would have affected your choice of paths, and that is strictly forbidden. Like I said, it had to be your choice, and your choice alone. I wasn't allowed to say anything until you were out of the forest, or you may have turned back." Hermione shrugged.
Harry nodded and walked in silence, deep in thought. There had been two paths. The left road must have lead to the afterlife, and this path, he decided, must lead back to his body. Hermione said she was taking me home. It would make sense for her to take me back to my body so that I could be alive again. Everyone I've met must be here to see me off before I go, I guess. He felt a small pang of regret at leaving.
"Hello Harry. It's good to see you again." Harry whirled around to see none other than a younger looking Remus Lupin, his wife Nymphadora Lupin nee Tonks, and a little boy, playing at their feet.
"Hey Remus." Harry smiled, glad to see one of his mentors. "It's good to see you again as well, both of you. Who's that?" Harry asked, indicating the boy.
Remus grinned. "This is my son, Samuel. Darling Dora here was pregnant when…they came." His grin faded but came back in full force. "We're all together now though. And Samuel here decided he didn't want to be a baby and grew up!" He laughed as the young boy smiled up at him. "I even decided to make myself younger, that way I won't look so worn around the edges."
"He was fine other way though," his wife said with a wink. Tonks looked up. I guess it's Dora now, though, isn't it? She grinned at the pair. "Well don't just stand there! Don't you have other people you need to see? We'll be along later, so we'll meet you at the end of the road. You two go on."
Harry shook his head as he and Hermione set off again. This certainly was a strange place, but he couldn't help but want to stay. I always have to do things the long way, don't I? If I had chosen the other path, I bet I would already be with my parents and Sirius. If I'm lucky, I'll get to meet them before I return to the living. Harry felt a shiver of excitement but suppressed it, afraid his luck would run out if he said anything.
He found himself anxiously awaiting his return if only for the chance to see his parents again. He was pulled from his thoughts when he heard a familiar voice. "Calm down, Buckbeak! I'll find you some more ferrets to munch on, just give me some time. They're around here somewhere, I know they are."
Harry's heart leapt into his throat. Sirius! He knew it was his godfather, and with Buckbeak no less.
"Perhaps, Sirius, you should try summoning them. It's a rather ingenious idea suggested to me by a rather intelligent young man. It didn't work at the time, but this time I think it might, since there is no magic to stop it," another voice said.
It couldn't be…
"Brilliant idea, Albus! Why didn't I think of that?" Sirius spoke again, laughing.
"Sirius! Professor!" Harry called out, trying to find where their voices were coming from. Suddenly the two men he sought stepped out from a small group of trees.
"Harry? Is that really you?" Sirius said, laughter in his voice. "I can't believe it! It's so good to see you!" Sirius pulled his godson into a tight embrace. "I'm sorry, Harry, that I couldn't do more for you. If I were a better godfather, I would have taken care of you instead of going after Wormtail."
"Sirius, it was my fault. I should--"
"No, Harry. It wasn't anyone's fault. Sometimes, it's just your time and, well, it was just my time. It wasn't anyone's fault, Harry, you remember that." Sirius said firmly, still holding the young wizard tightly. Harry smiled and nodded, feeling a great weight lift off of his chest.
"Hello Harry, it is good to see you again. All is well with the world, I trust?" The headmaster asked.
"Voldemort is dead, yes," Harry replied.
Professor Dumbledore sighed. "I am sorry, Harry, for the burden that was given to you and all that it cost you." The twinkle in his eyes was notably absent.
"I'm not," Harry said with a shrug. "I mean, it had to be done, didn't it? If I didn't do it, more people would have died. And people die in a war. I know that," he shot a sad glance at Hermione.
"Hey," Sirius grinned. "Why the long face, Harry? You're going home! Here," he gestured to Buckbeak. "Our favourite hippogriff missed you, Harry. I bet he'd love it if you rode of him for the last leg of your journey."
"That's against the rules, Sirius. You know that he has to follow the tradition and walk!" Hermione said, slightly put out.
Harry grinned and bowed to Buckbeak. "What, are you going to tell on me, Hermione?" Buckbeak bowed back and Harry approached his old friend. He stroked the hippogriffs feathers, much as he had days before Buckbeak had died defending Hagrid. Harry pushed his dismal thoughts away and climbed onto the hippogriffs back. "I won't tell if you--" Harry reached down to help Hermione up, only to find that she was once again gone.
He felt a pair of arms settle around his waist, then turned to find Hermione sitting behind him. "Of course I'm not going to tell. I don't have to," she grumbled. "Let's go. I'll tell you where to land."
Urging Buckbeak into flight, Harry grinned, feeling as if he couldn't stop smiling in this place. If the journey was almost over, he should get to see his parents before he was brought back to life. Laughter bubbled up inside of him as they flew. Buckbeak had decided to take the scenic route it seemed, flying high in the sky to give Harry a view of the most beautiful place he had ever seen in his life…or afterlife, as the case may be.
"There," Hermione pointed to a house, a mere speck from where they were in the air. "We need to go there."
Harry didn't speak, he simply nudged Buckbeak in the direction of the house. He could feel his excitement building. My parents, he thought. I'll get to see my parents before I return to my body. Sadness mixed with his excitement-- he didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay here, but he had chosen the wrong path, he was sure.
Buckbeak descended quickly and Harry soon found himself looking at what could only be his parents house in Godric's Hollow before it was destroyed. After all of his waiting, Harry found he couldn't move. What if this wasn't his parents home? He had never seen their house, not even in the few photographs he had. He couldn't be sure.
He was startled when he felt Hermione take his hand. "It's okay Harry," she said in a soft, understanding voice. "I'll be with you. Let's go." Harry licked his lips and nodded. Still clasping Hermione's hand in his, he walked towards the door, confident that Hermione would never lead him astray. He raised his hand to knock, but Hermione caught his wrist. She looked at him in amusement. "Just go on in, Harry."
Setting his hand lightly on the doorknob, he turned the handle and pushed the door open. He hesitated a moment, drew in a deep breath and stepped inside. Harry felt an immediate sense of familiarity that soothed his nerves. Smiling he walked in with more confidence.
"James, is that you?" A feminine voice called from another room. Harry's smile turned into a full - blown grin as he followed the voice. Just as he was about to turn down another hallway, a woman rounded the corner. "James I thought I told you… Harry?" His mother said in a whisper. "Is that really you?"
Harry nodded, unable to speak at first. "Yes Mum. It's really me," his voice was hoarse. Mother and son could only stare at each other for a long moment simply taking the time to look the other over. "I missed you Mum," Harry said at last. Four simple words opened the floodgate.
"Oh Harry, my Harry," her voice was choked as she cupped his face in her hands. "Oh, I've missed you, so very much my little Harry. But you're not little anymore, are you? Now my baby boy is grown and I've missed all of it." Lily drew in a shaky breath. "I didn't want to leave you," she whispered in his ear, holding him in a tight embrace as if afraid he would leave if she let him go.
"I know Mum, I know. Everything's okay now." Harry held his mother close, unwilling to give her up. He didn't want to go home now. He wanted to stay here forever. He wanted to be with his family. Why didn't I take the left path?
"Harry?" A new voice said softly. Mother and son turned to see James Potter standing in a nearby doorway. He laughed weakly. "You're here!" A moment later James was embracing his wife and son, his hold as tight as theirs. He laughed again, stronger this time. "I cant' believe it. Has that much time really passed?" James pulled back and looked Harry over. "You've grown into a fine young man, I see." He looked at his son in awe. "I still cant' believe it." James laughed disbelievingly.
He pulled back and shook his head. "You look just like me. I can't believe it." He laughed again, unable to contain his joy at having his family whole once more. "You're home, son, you're home!"
Harry was puzzled. "I'm… I'm home? But I thought--"
"You chose the right path, didn't you?" Harry nodded. "Then you're here to stay, son. The left path leads you back to the Waking world. The right path lead you here, to rest." James hugged his son again. "You've come back to us, Harry. You're finally home."
Harry felt a sense of peace settle over him. He was home. He was with his parents, he was with Sirius, and he was with Hermione. Excited, he turned to Hermione, only to find her walking away. "Hermione!" He called. "Where are you going? We just got here."
Hermione turned and walked back to him, smiling sadly. "I have work to do, Harry. I'm a Guide, remember? I have Charges to look after." His face fell. "I'll be back, Harry, I promise. I still have a few things to tell you." Hermione gently touched Harry's face. "You won't even know I'm gone."
Harry rested his hand on hers, holding it against his cheek. "I bet I will."
"Charmer," she smiled. "You're home now, Harry. You should rest, you've certainly earned it. Until then…" Hermione gently kissed Harry on his other cheek and pulled away.
Harry reluctantly released her hand then watched as she walked away. Part of him thought he should be angry that she was leaving him again so soon, but another part was content to know that this time she would return to him. He felt an arm settle around his shoulders and looked up into his mother's eyes.
"Come on, Harry, she's right. You've earned a rest. Let's go sit outside so we can talk. It's beautiful out." His mother leaned over and kissed Harry's forehead as his father came up on his other side and clapped a hand on his back.
Harry smiled and looked around. "I'd love that." Everything was wonderful. He had his family back. There was no Dark Lord looming on the horizon, there was no dreaded prophecy. He could rest. He finally everything he had both wanted and been denied in life.
Harry stepped outside into a small garden with his parents and smiled in contentment.
A/N: I know, I'm horrible. I should be working on Time, Interrupted but this idea would not leave me alone! I tried to work on my other story, honest, but the idea just wouldn't leave me alone until I did it. It has literally been haunting me.
So here it is, part one of two. I know that I left a lot of things open in the first part, but part two will answer most, if not all, of your questions if you should have any. I hope it was original. I've never read anything like this, but I'm very selective about what I read so I may overlooked something.
I'm sorry for the delay in updates, but an old friend of mine has come for a visit. We haven't seen each other for a few years, so we're playing catch up. When he leaves, I'll finish up this story and begin working on Time, Interrupted again.
That said, I've never written anything quite like this before, so I would appreciate it if you would please read and review.