Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related terms and characters are the property of JK Rowling. The use of copyrighted material is for non-profit entertainment purposes only, and in no way constitutes a challenge to the existing copyright.
A/N: I took this
challenge --a Super!Hermione challenge-- up from DarkPhoenix at to take up the slack and
absorb the frustration I felt while I pounded out Chapter 10 of 'More
Equal than you Know.' Chapter 10 of MEtyK will be up soon, and I hope
this will tide you over in the mean time.
The challenge guidelines were thus:
1) Set post DH but ignoring the epilogue.
2) Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny all return to Hogwarts to take their 7th year.
3) Must be an H/Hr story.
4) Harry and Hermione are Head students and share a common room.
5) A prophecy is made or discovered about a new threat (not Voldemort) to the Wizarding World and identifies Hermione as the only one who can stop it.
6) During the school year, Hermione develops wandless magic and other super powers.
7) Harry does not have any super powers.
8) It must be clear that Hermione is much more powerful than Harry is.
9) At some point in the story, Hermione duels Ginny and humiliates her.
I've pretty much followed suit on that. Harry will have no powers beyond the natural progression of what he has displayed in the books, as well as my interpretation of the Deathly Hallows. Despite Hermione's powers and the prophecy, this story is primarily from Harry's point of view.
I am trying to avoid several things while writing this story: Character bashing of any sort, immature relationships, inexplicable and ridiculous reactions from characters. This may be a simple challenge, but I view it as an attempt to add to the story that Rowling left us with in DH. The pace of this story is much slower than the one I set in MEtyK (where I am spanning years) and focuses much more closely on the Harry/Hermione dynamic.
While this story leads off of DH and starts on a high point, beware: I do not write happy stories. sometimes eats small words when it crunches the text on the upload, so let me know if any glaring errors appear.
The Sharing of Secrets
It was a summer of celebration and mourning.
Voldemort's defeat and the destruction of the Death Eaters heralded the end of the most corrupt Ministry that wizarding Britain had ever known. In an endless procession of funerals and ceremonies, the country said goodbye to the heroes who had died and paid homage to those who lived.
The greatest Honors went to Harry Potter: The Boy-Who-Lived, The Hero of Hogwarts. For the sake of his friends and their families, and in honor of those who fell, Harry accepted his accolades. He fought his black, messy hair down, donned the finest black dress robes with golden trim, and wore the Order of Merlin, First Class around his neck. The Ministry replaced the more traditional ruby that adorned the Order of Merlin with a large, flawless emerald to match Harry's eyes. He smiled and shook hands with the Wizengamot as his family name was honored with the prefix 'Most Noble and Ancient,' a title reserved for the oldest and most influential of pureblood families. This, he understood, was the doing of the Malfoys. This was the most profound apology that the family could make for their deeds as Death Eaters: A declaration of equality.
The medal was one of Harry's most treasured items, a symbol of his sacrifice and the sacrifices of those who fell to help and protect him. Etched on the back of the medal were the names of those who had fallen that he would truly miss: His parents, James and Lily; Sirius Black, his Godfather; Remus and Nymphadora Lupin; Alastor Mad-Eye Moody; Fred Weasley; the dour Severus Snape; and the revered Albus Dumbledore. With the medal was the Marauders' Map, and three of the most potent items in the wizarding world, the Deathly Hallows: his father's invisibility cloak, the fabled Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand.
Despite Harry's best intentions, the items would not, could not, leave his possession. The Stone, lost in the Forbidden Forest on the night of Voldemort's defeat, appeared in his hand the next day. The Elder Wand, returned to Dumbledore's tomb, also reappeared, resting comfortably beside his old holly wand as though it had always been there. Harry chose never to tempt fate by leaving his cloak anywhere; he understood the message perfectly. He was the Master of the Deathly Hallows.
Master of Death, Dumbledore had called him. Master of Death, but what did that mean, he wondered.
The sounds of the household brought Harry out of his introspection. August would pass far too quickly. Soon, He, Hermione and Ron would attend their final year at Hogwarts. It would be their seventh and final year, blissfully free of any responsibilities besides preparing for their future careers.
Already Hermione, her long brown hair frizzing and tangling as it was wont to do, was piling books knee-high around him to prepare him for his studies. The path of an Auror demanded that he finish his NEWT exams in Potions, Defense, Transfiguration, Charms, and Herbology. While the Aurors had already extended an invitation to enter their academy, Hermione had insisted that Harry finish his education, and enter the academy on his own merits.
Harry wholeheartedly agreed.
Harry's approach to his NEWTs was much more unorthodox that Hermione's rote memorization of textbooks. No one had looked twice at Harry while he rummaged through the books left behind by Dumbledore and Snape, and Harry had come away with some amazing finds. Mindful of Hermione's reaction to his use of outside material in his sixth year, Harry kept these studies to himself; there would be no question of his getting O's on all five NEWTs, and if some of the signature spells from Dumbledore and Snape found their way into his repertoire by the end of the year, all the better. He wasn't about to raise the ire of his overly studious friend in the process, though.
It also helped that the enormous burden that was Voldemort no longer existed, both literally and figuratively. For the first time in his life, he felt calm. Only now did Snape's litany of 'clear your mind' begin to make sense to him. Only now, did his legendary temper feel foreign and out of place. Harry couldn't imagine himself sitting calmly and reading a book on advanced magical theory from Dumbledore's library even half a year ago. It would have been Hermione's thing, not his.
"Not this year," he said to himself, smiling as he turned the pages. This year would be different, and he owed much of his new mindset to his birthday present from Hermione. She had given him three books on Bruce Lee, one of which was Lee's own writing on his martial art, Jeet Kune Do. Harry had never fancied himself a martial artist, but Lee's philosophies and his constant cry for simplicity appealed to Harry, so he read; and slowly, his exercises, Quidditch stretches, and methods of practicing spells adjusted.
No one noticed the changes, of course. Harry never practiced in the presence of anyone but Hermione, and Hermione was the most gifted witch he had ever seen. A variety of spells that defied understanding came off Hermione's wand. Any time that Hermione sat to practice, those who were present watched in awe as Hermione devoured book after book of magical theory, and cast spells of such complexity that even some professors might never attempt them.
There was a gleam in Hermione's eye that Harry saw some nights as they sat in the Burrow's living room, pouring over their books. Ron would be outside playing Quidditch or sleeping in his room. Hermione and Ron fashioned themselves boyfriend and girlfriend, and they kissed dutifully when they were near to each other. Other than that, however, Ron kept to his brooms, and Hermione kept to her books.
"It's all so fascinating!" Hermione said, putting down her fifteenth --fifteenth-- book for the day. With a wave of her wand and a complex incantation, Harry found himself in an open meadow with birds flying overhead and deer frolicking in the distance.
"Wow!" Harry said, a huge grin erupting on his face. "Where'd all this come from?"
"It's like the Great Hall," Hermione said as she pushed her hair out of her face. "Except I altered the spell so that it would affect the floor and walls, too."
"You're amazing, Hermione; simply amazing." Hermione kicked her feet in delight, reminding Harry strongly of their first year at Hogwarts together, when Hermione was all about learning. With barely a flick of her wand, the living room returned to normal.
"I'm going to go show Ron!" she said as she stood up, and she dashed through the house and pounded up the stairs. Harry just shook his head and leaned back into the couch, savoring the peace that he currently felt. It occurred to him that for the first time in his life, without any effort, his mind was clear.
"Has she gone to torment my brother?" a soft female voice asked from behind him. Small hands closed around his shoulders and began to massage with surprising strength. Harry bent his face back and smiled at the upside-down vision of Ginny that dominated his view. She leaned in to kiss him softly, and let her long red hair trail across his face. Harry smile became a smirk as Ginny 'accidentally' brushed both of her breasts against his head, too.
"None of that," he growled, playfully swatting at her hair. "I want to finish this before bed."
"Oh?" Ginny said as her eyebrows rose. "What book could possibly be better company? You usually can't keep your hands to yourself."
Harry grinned and flipped the cover over, letting Ginny see Dumbledore's name scrawled across the front. "A journal?" she asked, her own curiosity piqued. At Harry's nod, Ginny vaulted over the back of the couch and squirmed her way into Harry's lap, resting her head against his chest. "Read to me?" she asked, looking up.
Harry chuckled, and Ginny closed her eyes and listened to his voice reverberate through his chest as he began to read.
"Harry?" The call brought Harry out of his reading, and he looked to see Hermione standing at the edge of his light spell, obscured by the gloom. A quick glance at his watch told him it was well past midnight, and Ginny had long since fallen asleep on his lap, snoring softly against his chest. He carefully closed Dumbledore's journal and placed it on the coffee table, and then gently lifted Ginny as he stood, turning to lay her on the couch. He plucked his holly wand from the back of the couch where he had jammed it earlier, and extinguished the light emitting from it.
"Hey," he said as he walked over to Hermione, placing his wand in his pocket. Seeing the look of sadness on her face, he reached out to touch her shoulder. "What's wrong?" he asked. "You look like someone died."
"Will you walk with me, Harry?" Seeing him nod, Hermione gently took his hand and led him to the back door near the kitchen. Harry hid his surprise well as the lock on the door jumped open as Hermione approached, and the door opened silently, allowing them an easy exit. Hermione said nothing, however, so Harry kept silent. They walked out to the edge of the orchard that bordered the Weasleys' yard, and slowly wound their way through the trees.
Hermione's eyes glinted yellow in the darkness, an indication that she had augmented her sight to see better in the dark, and again Harry noticed the lack of a wand. Those are questions for later, he thought as he stepped over an exposed root. He couldn't help but chuckle when Hermione, with her enhanced sight, missed the root and tripped over it, avoiding a fall only due to Harry's quick reflexes.
"I can see that grin," Hermione said, scrunching her face into what Harry thought was the most adorable pout. Harry answered by kissing her on the end of her nose, drawing a surprised gasp from Hermione. With a smirk, harry turned and kept walking.
"I see that Ginny's loosened you up a bit," Hermione said as she caught up to him, reclaiming his hand.
"I guess," Harry said, shrugging. "I think it's a lot of things. A lot of it has to do with dying, and seeing my parents. A good chunk of it is Ginny, too, I'll agree."
"She's been good for you."
"Yes, Mrs. Matchmaker," Harry said, mimicking the singsong voice of a young student. Harry then proceeded to perform his best impression of Ginny: "Hermione told me to get on with life, maybe go out with other people, relax a bit around you…" Hermione's face colored deeply enough that Harry could make it out even in the darkness. The rest of his impression trailed off into laughter as Hermione began to look anywhere but him in her embarrassment.
"Well… honestly," she said, keeping her golden gaze firmly locked on what must have been a very interesting stump. "It worked, didn't it? I mean, she couldn't even speak around you, Harry."
"Yeah, she said that, too," Harry wheezed, his sides aching from mirth. "I didn't disagree, mind you: I called you a very smart girl for doing that. Still, it's coming on eight years now that pretty much every aspect of my life has been tweaked and adjusted by Hermione Granger." Her head whipped back around to look at him when he said that, but her look softened at his smile, and a hesitant smile of her own crept onto her face.
"That's alright, though, isn't it? I mean, that I wanted to take care of you. You… you always seemed like you needed it…"
"I did," Harry said, nodding. "Of course it's alright; I keep coming back for more, don't I?"
"Ron doesn't seem to enjoy when I do things like that…" Harry's scoff cut short her reply.
"Ron doesn't understand what he's got," he said forcefully. "Between you and Mrs. Weasley… You know more than anyone else does about what I've been through, Hermione. I think being doted on is one of the best feelings in the world. I don't know what I've done to deserve it, but by all means; I'll take all the attention you have to give."
Hermione walked over to him and enveloped him in a soft hug. "Thank you, Harry. I… I'm happy that you appreciate what I do. I'm sorry if it's overbearing, I just-"
"It's fine, damn it!" Harry said, tightening the embrace. "Stop beating up on yourself." Minutes passed as Hermione seemed to soak in his emotions. It almost felt as though that was exactly what she was doing; a slight tug at the edges of his consciousness drew his attention. The moment he focused on it, though, Hermione pulled away.
"We need something to sit on," she said, playing with her hair. The glow of her eyes increased for a moment, and soon a large couch appeared, similar in all aspects to the one in the living room of the Burrow. Harry's eyebrows rose along with his estimation of his friend. He found that rather than satisfaction, Hermione's shadowed face and golden eyes betrayed a hint of nervousness.
"That's what, the third time in the past half hour that you haven't used a wand?" Hermione's nervousness seemed to increase, and again Harry felt the sensation of something brushing against his mind. "Hermione… is that you?" The shock of discovery that Harry felt echoed in Hermione's expression, as her eyes widened and her head rocked back. Immediately, Harry blanked his mind, emptying his emotions as though he overturned a bucket.
In that instant, Harry could feel Hermione's presence in his mind. It was subtle, but pervasive. It stayed to the edges of his perceptions, though, as though afraid to venture too deeply. Hermione was backing off, now, looking as though she might run back to the Burrow. Taking a deep breath, Harry reached out with his consciousness, focusing on Hermione's presence, and drawing it closer to him.
He felt flickers of emotions that were not his, and Harry allowed his happiness and contentment from earlier to fill him again. He closed his eyes as he brushed back and forth against Hermione's mind, lost in the sensation of the emotions it gave off. More and more those emotions echoed his own: Happiness and contentment. Harry's eyes jerked open as he felt something warm and soft brush against his cheeks. Hermione had returned, and her hands cupped his face as tears fell from her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you, thank you…" For the second time that night, Harry held Hermione as she composed herself.
"What's going on?" Harry asked as he sat her down on her conjured couch. "Legilimency isn't exactly in the Hogwarts curriculum, and wandless magic of that magnitude is outright impossible for humans."
"I… don't know," Hermione said in a small voice. "Over the summer, things have been… changing. I found out that I needed a wand less and less, and now it's as if once I've done a spell with my wand, I never need it for that spell again.
"The Legilimency I was working on a little bit over the last year, hoping that I might understand more about the connection you had with Voldemort, and help you."
"Of course, there wasn't much you could have done with an eighth of Voldemort's soul jammed into my head," Harry quipped. Hermione gave a ghost of a smile, and nodded slightly.
"I've wanted to demonstrate what I can do for the longest time now," she continued, "but I've never had the courage to do it. You're right: It should be impossible for a human to use wandless magic of this magnitude. What's the focus, or the controlling factor? But I can, so… what am I?"
"Don't worry about that," Harry said, covering Hermione's hand with his own. "Keep going; why didn't you show us this earlier?"
"Not 'us,' Harry," Hermione said, shaking her head vigorously, which sent her hair all over the place. "I never planned on telling anyone but you, and maybe Ron. I knew that there was a good chance you'd be alright with this, but Ron… he's…"
Harry cocked his head to the side, waiting for Hermione to elaborate.
"… He's jealous, I guess," Hermione eventually said, rolling the words around in her mouth as though she hadn't decided that they were suitable. "It's as close as I can get. I've been in his mind a lot more than I've been in yours. No matter how much you hated it, you've had a lot of practice repelling mental intruders, so you're a lot harder an egg to crack. It was way easier to use Ron as practice material."
"Without telling him, naturally," Harry said. Hermione's look of worry slowly faded as she took in his grin, and the unspoken message that he, too, would have kept such practice a secret.
"Right. Well, Ron's always been jealous of the both of us, and you know most of it." Harry nodded, and Hermione continued. "What you probably don't know is that Ron believes that with enough time and practice, he will eventually surpass both you and me in terms of magical skill and overall recognition. It's his greatest goal; something he decided on when he came back for us."
"Um, what?" was all that Harry could manage as his face betrayed his confusion. "That doesn't sound right. Ron's what I might call… passively competitive. He likes to dream big, but he'll settle for what he gets. What brought this on?"
Hermione's eyes unfocused, her golden irises nearly eclipsed by black, as she looked back towards the Burrow. "I can see him in his room now, Harry. When I went to show him that spell, he barely commented on it other than to say that it looked nice. I could see the jealousy that blossomed in his mind, though; right now, he's practicing that spell, trying to get it right."
Hermione's eyes refocused on Harry. "He'll never get the spell right. I don't think that I could teach even you exactly how to do it."
Harry shrugged one shoulder at that; it was a spell he would hardly have spent time learning. Hermione's concerns about Ron registered as much more important. "So, if I'm reading between the lines properly here, we're witnessing the beginning of the end of your relationship with Ron." Hermione nodded sadly, and Harry leaned back into the couch, sighing deeply. "Are you going to try to bring him around, or are you going to end it?"
"Well, we've been friends for so long, and he's your best friend…"
"Don't bring me into this," Harry said quickly, cutting Hermione off. "I am fully capable of being your friend and his separately. If he can't deal with that, then he and I will have problems. This is about what's best for you."
"I … don't know what I want," Hermione said after thinking for a moment. "I came out here tonight to try and tell you about the things I've been able to do. I didn't really know what your reaction would be, and when you caught my attempt at Legilimency…"
Harry nodded, keeping his eyes locked to Hermione's as he thought. Having someone inside his head was disconcerting at best, given his experiences with it. However, this wasn't Snape rummaging around for painful moments, nor was it Dumbledore who looked for absolute truth. It was Hermione, and that made all the difference.
"I trust you," Harry said without looking away. "If you feel comfortable being in my head, I won't stop you. I don't think there's anything in there I wouldn't tell you about anyways. Just be gentle." Hermione looked at him with the most peculiar expression: Incredulity mixed with hope. Harry once again felt Hermione's tentative presence at the edges of his mind. Harry brushed his thoughts against it and couldn't help but smile. "That's better."
"Why are you being so … accepting?" she asked, matching Harry's smile. "I expected, well, something different from what I'm getting."
"A lot has changed," Harry said, motioning to the two of them. "Both you and I have been through a lot. I'm not really surprised it's not over, either." Hermione looked at him questioningly, and Harry slowly removed two items from his robe pockets, placing them into Hermione's hands.
"Harry… these are…" Hermione's eyes were wide and luminously bright as she focused on what she now held in her hands: The Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand.
"They won't leave," he said, adjusting himself on the couch to face Hermione. "The Stone came back to me the morning after we won. I woke up, and there it was, sitting in my left hand. On my nightstand, right beside my wand, the Elder Wand appeared. My cloak's on me right now; I keep it shrunk down, but it's always on me. It would appear that there's a little more than just a pretty story behind the Hallows."
"Oh, Harry." Again, Harry found himself resting in Hermione's soft embrace. "I don't know what to say. I thought that you were done fighting."
"So did I; I guess not, though. I figure that if wands are as, err, intelligent as Ollivander made them out to be, then the Elder Wand doesn't want to rest yet. That means there's more to do."
Hermione handed the Elder Wand back to Harry, and he twirled it absent-mindedly between his fingers. Hermione's attention remained focused on the Resurrection Stone still in her hands. Slowly, she moved her fingers up and down the crack in the stone, and the crack became smaller and smaller until the Stone was once again whole, the vertical line of the symbol of the Deathly Hallows once again visible. "Here," she said, handing the Stone back to him with the exuberance that she might hand in a finished school project. "I think I fixed it."
"I can't say I'm surprised," he said, grinning at Hermione's excited behavior. On impulse, Harry took Hermione's hand in his and rolled the Stone three times with his other hand, focusing on his parents and one other. If I have to keep the Stone, then there has to be a reason. Never before had he mustered the courage to summon the dead with the Stone, fearing that it would be an abuse of the power. Here, though, with Hermione and the abilities she had so easily mastered, he felt brave. Answers were what they both needed, and perhaps the dead would be forthcoming.
He wondered if there was a way that he could make the apparitions visible to Hermione, as he remembered Sirius saying that they were a part of him. She's in my mind already, so… Hermione's gasp was proof enough for him as Harry watched his parents approach, flanked by a much younger and stronger Albus Dumbledore. He swallowed reflexively as his mother approached him, her ethereal touch intoxicating as she embraced him.
"Hi Mum, Dad," he managed as he embraced his father as well, careful not to press too heavily, lest his arms fall right through the apparitions. "I wanted to introduce you to my friend, Hermione. She's helped me through everything I've done, and, I, well, I wanted her to meet you."
"I've watched the two of you grow," Lily said, her voice echoing and faint. "I'm so happy that you found someone to care for you so deeply." She turned to take Hermione's hand. "You have suffered so much, and you've given more than anyone could ask. Thank you for taking care of Harry." Hermione opened and closed her mouth several times, unable to utter a word. Tears sprang from her eyes and forged trails down her cheeks as she accepted the embrace of Harry's dead mother and father.
Harry mustered his will and focused his attention on his old Headmaster, who stood back slightly, his eyes glimmering in the dim light. "Sir, if you're alright with it… I have questions that your books don't answer."
"Are you going to ask me something so vague that I will be once again reduced to guessing,Harry?" Headmaster and student chuckled for a moment, before Dumbledore walked over and sat down cross-legged in front of Harry, and motioned for him to continue.
"I tried to return the Wand to you, sir, after Voldemort died. I didn't go looking for the Stone, either. The next day…"
"They came to you?" Dumbledore said with a knowing smile. "I cannot say for certain what has occurred, but as I've said before, you and Voldemort both have pushed beyond the boundaries of established magic.
"Perhaps it is a function of the items that their true master will never be parted with the Hallows before they deem it time to do so. Perhaps it is that you are so exemplary of what the Hallows stand for with your thoughts and deeds that they remain bound to you. Does it really matter?"
"It'd be nice to know if there was anything else coming along that needed my attention," Harry mumbled, eliciting quiet laughter from Dumbledore.
"Wouldn't everyone, Harry? I am convinced that both hypotheses are true: You are worthy in the eyes of the Hallows, and so they remain with you. You would be the first true Master of all three Hallows since their creation. You are the first person to win control of the Elder Wand without resorting to trickery or deceit. You are the first person to have control of the Resurrection Stone and not be tempted with any of its uses beyond things as benign as answers and reassurance. And the cloak you know all too well about."
"Alright," Harry mumbled, stifling a sigh of disappointment. "I've done alright so far, I guess I'll take this all as it comes. What about Hermione? She's been able to… well… break the rules of magic, as far as I understand."
"Is she?" Dumbledore leaned in, his eyes belying a hint of mischievousness. "Perhaps she's simply following laws of magic that we don't yet understand. After all, neither you nor I expected to be sitting here more than a year after my death, talking like peers about the nature of magic." Harry felt heat rising to his cheeks as he ducked his head. His blush increased in strength as he heard the laughter of Hermione and his parents, who were obviously paying attention.
Dumbledore's face grew more serious as he continued. "As much as I would love to give you an authoritative answer, my boy, I cannot. Miss Granger, too, is beyond the magic that I have experienced in my life, and death, while pleasant, does not impart upon me any additional knowledge with which to help the living."
Harry hung his head, not bothering to hide his disappointment. "Well, it was worth a shot. Do you mind if I bother you now and again? Your journals are a little… dense."
Hermione and Dumbledore answered at the same time. "You're going through my journals?" he said, delighted.
"You're going through his journals?" Hermione said, surprised.
"Yeah, yours and Snape's. I figured that there was stuff in there I could use in the long run."
"You're welcome to them," Dumbledore said, patting Harry's knee. "If you have questions, then by all means, both Severus and I are at your disposal. One of the reasons that the Resurrection Stone exists, I think, is for situations exactly like this one."
"We should go, Harry," James said from beside Hermione. "We're never too far away if you decide you want to talk again." Harry nodded, and hugged his parents and even Dumbledore before they faded away.
"Well, that was a lot more intense than I thought it would be," Harry said as Hermione's arms came around him from behind. "Still, I was hoping to get some answers, too. I'm glad…" Harry trailed off as he noticed Hermione's shoulders heaving behind him. With effort, Harry turned around in her embrace and wrapped his arms around her.
"Shh, it's alright…" A year ago, he remembered admiring Ginny for never crying around him. A year ago, though, he would never have so casually summoned the dead for a simple conversation. So much has changed, he thought. Hermione's crying no longer bothered him as it used to, however. His estimation of what, exactly, counted as strength now included most things that the young woman in his arms had to offer.
"This is all messed up," Hermione said, her voice muffled by Harry's shoulder. "I came out here to tell you my secrets, and end up introduced to yourparents… I… what's happening to us?"
"I am what I am," Harry said, stroking his hand carefully through her tangled hair. "What's happened to me is over; I just have some lingering responsibilities, I think.
"But I'll be here for you, whatever you're going through."
When Harry finally released her from his arms, Hermione turned to the couch she had conjured, and it vanished immediately. "We should get back," she said, sniffing and wiping the remaining tears from her eyes. "Everyone's still asleep. Even Ron's finally dozed off. I, err, made sure of everyone else before I came to get you."
Harry snickered. "Of course you did." Hermione smiled for a moment, but her face regained a more serious tone to it.
"Why didn't you tell me about Dumbledore's journals?"
"Remember the Potions book in sixth year?" Harry said, looking at Hermione pointedly.
"These journals make everything we do in class a joke; needless to say, I wasn't about to go through another year of 'that's cheating; no it's not' with you."
"Well, it was…" Hermione said, though her voice seemed tiny and contrite, and faded away under Harry's glare.
"Slughorn was an arse, and I could have handed in urine and gotten full marks. I refused to turn down advantages then, and I still do now. Live with it."
Hermione nodded, and they walked back through the orchard in silence. Harry's thoughts began to wander to his parents again, and the mysteries that seemed to plague both him and Hermione.
"When would you say that Ron and I started liking each other?" The question caught Harry completely off guard, and he looked at Hermione as though she were joking. Seeing the look on her face, though, Harry shrugged and ran through his memories of his years at Hogwarts.
"Sometime in third year, or maybe early fourth year, I think," he said. "It didn't become obvious until third year, because that's when you two really started to argue. Even then, I wasn't sure, because you could have either liked or hated each other.
"From fourth year on, though, your arguments were different. You were both trying to 'fix' each other to be more likable. It's…" Harry stopped and looked at Hermione, deciding that tonight was a night for full confessions. "Want to hear another secret?" Seeing Hermione's eager nod, Harry continued. "It's the reason that I chose not to ask you to the Yule Ball. I fancied Cho at the time, but you would have been choice number two."
"W-What?" Hermione stuttered, clearly not expecting to hear what Harry had said.
"Oh, yeah; I hadn't forgotten that you were 'a girl' or anything, but by then, you were trying to fix the way Ron acted, and I decided that I didn't want to be fixed.
"It's why Ginny and I get along so well: She doesn't take crap from me, mind, but she never tries to change me."
"I… I've been trying… to fix him?" Hermione's voice sounded lost, and her golden eyes betrayed her confusion.
"Don't get me wrong," Harry said quickly. "I meant what I said earlier. I enjoy being doted on, and you were never trying to do that to me. Your arguments with Ron were a lot different. The closest you came to that for me was with sixth year Potions and look where that went. If we had argued like that about everything, I don't know if we would still be friends."
"I guess," she said, looking at Harry with her head slanted. "You were always so very proud. If your heart hadn't been so kind…"
"…I'd have been a terror," Harry finished. "I know. I'm a lot different now, I think, but I still appreciate who I am. Ginny can 'Mrs. Weasley' me a little bit; as long as she doesn't push too far, we'll be good."
"I won't get after you about the books," Hermione said as they cleared the trees, and the Burrow came into sight. "I'd like to read them with you, if you don't mind." Harry nodded, and Hermione reached for his hand. "I'm sorry if I ever came across as trying to fix you, Harry. I never meant to do that, not for you or Ron."
"Don't worry about it," Harry said. "We've both come a long way from our time as students. It's going to be a bit of a change to go back to Hogwarts, come to think of it."
"It'll be fun!" Hermione exclaimed, swinging their arms back and forth. "I'd love the chance to sit in class, just for one more year; one more year to relax in the castle, before we have to worry about making our way through life. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, Harry."
"Yeah, I guess so. So, when do our Head Boy and Girl badges arrive?" Hermione stopped dead at his question, her face a mask of disbelief. "What?" he asked in mock defense. "Do you think they'd pass us up, with some lame excuse like it's not your year?" Hermione looked away, and Harry began to laugh. "You did! Good God, Hermione, think about it! I just killed Voldemort, right in front of McGonagall and Shacklebolt! Whom do you think they're going to make Head Boy? I'm not rooting for it or anything, but I'm not stupid, either.
"Do I even need to cite the reasons that I expect you to be Head Girl?"
Hermione shook her head and squeezed his hand. Harry let the matter drop, but the smile on his face conveyed his confidence that he was correct. They remained silent until they neared the back door to the Burrow.
"Thank you for everything tonight, Harry. I was worried about… well, you know. Thank you for sharing your own burdens. I appreciate that you trust me."
"Of course I trust you." Harry looked back towards the orchard, and then turned to Hermione. "I want you to keep the Resurrection Stone a secret. Not even Ginny knows about the Stone, and I don't want her to. They'd look at it as a way to keep Fred with them, and they'd hate me for not letting them use it."
"You wouldn't let them?"
Harry shook his head. "That's not what the Stone is for. Remember what Dumbledore said to me when he caught me with the Mirror of Erised?"
"It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live," Hermione whispered. "I understand, I think."
"Fred's gone, just like my parents, and just like Dumbledore. Bugging them now and again for answers is fine; using it every day to bond with my parents as if they were actually alive is unhealthy." Hermione began to nod at Harry's words, and he relaxed into a smile.
"It's been a good night," he said, hugging Hermione to him one last time. "If you need to talk, don't hesitate to come to me. I'll help you any way I can."
"Thanks," she said as she let go. "Have a good night." The door again opened silently to admit them, and closed and locked again. Hermione trailed towards the stairs, while Harry walked back to the living room, and knelt down beside Ginny, trailing his hand across her face.
Ginny stirred, and slowly opened her eyes. "Wha- Harry, what time is it?"
"Closing on 2 in the morning, love," he replied. "You should head up to bed." Muttering her reply, Ginny tiredly rose to her feet, and stumbled her way over to the stairs and up to her room. With a wave of his wand, Harry arranged the books scattered about the living room into neat, organized piles, and turned to follow.
As he reached Ron's room, he could hear the whispering voices of his two best friends.Arguing again, he thought sadly, as he shook his head. Hermione's presence remained in his mind when he searched for it; something that Harry thought was an amazing feat in and of itself. Emotions of despair and desperation were coming from Hermione, and Harry debated whether he should interrupt or not.
No, he eventually decided. They need to do this now; Hermione would take the chance to escape if I went in, best to leave them alone.Carefully retracing his steps, Harry returned to the living room and the couch he seemed to frequent so often, and flopped down. He instinctively curled into the warmth left from Ginny, and slowly drifted off to sleep.
Morning came abruptly as Harry awoke in a fit of discomfort. Towering into his blurry vision was Ginny, who apparently had decided that sitting on his stomach was an appropriate means of waking him.
"Morning!" she chirped at him, her legs kicking in the air.
"Sod off," Harry mumbled, rolling over to dislodge the diminutive redhead. Ginny landed on her feet nimbly, and grabbed one of Harry's legs, pulling him right off the couch. Harry's arms shot down to stop his fall, and he twisted and flexed his legs, scissoring Ginny at the thighs and dropping her back onto the couch. He quickly pulled both legs away as Ginny fell, placing them underneath him in a squat. Harry then stood and smoothed out his wrinkled shirt while Ginny harrumphed and stood up again.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that you're not supposed to win wrestling matches with your girlfriend?" she asked, poking him in the chest with her finger. Harry simply grinned as he opened his hand. His holly wand shot over from the coffee table, and Harry summoned his glasses. "How'd you do that?" Ginny asked as they both walked to the kitchen.
"Dumbledore's journals told me about it," Harry said as he began to prepare coffee for the house. "Apparently, when you've used a wand long enough, it can respond to you when you're in close proximity. I did that for the first time just before fifth year, when those Dementors attacked me. Dumbledore puts the time to develop that kind of a connection at about twenty years or so. I figure that my wand works that way because of what happened in the graveyard with Voldemort."
"Makes sense," Ginny said, shrugging. "It'd be nice to do away with wands entirely, but even that little bit helps." Harry simply nodded in agreement, hiding his smile at Hermione's flashy demonstrations of wandless magic the night before. The sound of more people coming down the stairs stopped any further conversation, and soon the sounds of breakfast dominated the kitchen.
Ron and George talked about the future of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes; Hermione and Mr. Weasley were engrossed in the discussion of muggle aerodynamics, and Mrs. Weasley busied herself with preparing food to replace what the family consumed. Harry discussed school with Ginny, taking more than passing pleasure in the fact that Ginny would be in several of his classes.
It was apparent that Hermione and Ron were avoiding each other; Harry knew those practiced smiles intimately. The only thing that remained would be to approach Hermione to find out what had happened, and what the aftermath would be.
Breakfast was interrupted by the arrival of several owls, each bearing Hogwarts letters. Harry snatched his from the owl before it had landed, and threw a piece of bacon in its direction. The owl caught the bacon with its talons and hooted in gratitude before flying back out the open window. Feeling the weight of the envelope and the lump that sat near the bottom, Harry smirked and tore the envelope open, keeping an ear out for Hermione's inevitable reaction.
The shriek nearly made him clap his ears, but nonetheless brought a smile to his face as he removed his Head Boy badge. The note that came with it, written by McGonagall, described the situation more or less the way he expected it: Whom else could they have chosen, after all?
"Harry!" Suddenly, he had to tense up to support Hermione's weight as she crashed into his side. "I'm Head Girl! I'm Head Girl! I can't believe it! Did you get it? Did you, did you?"
"Yes!" he said in a strained voice as he wrapped an arm around Hermione to help hold her up. "Just like I told you I would."
"I know," she said as Harry lowered her to the ground. "It's just so… exciting! We get our own dorm and common room! We're in charge of the Prefects! We- We need new robes!" she shouted, her tone changing from joy to horror. "Oh my God, we need pure black robes, just like first year! We can't show house colors as Heads!"
"And we can't just transfigure our current robes because…" Silence fell as Hermione began to color a most interesting shade of red as she digested Harry's words.
"Maybe I just want new robes," she mumbled, and the laughter echoed through the kitchen, Harry's the loudest of all.
"Sure, we can go later if you like," he said squeezing Hermione's shoulder before walking over to Ginny. "What do you say, a quick trip to Diagon Alley later?" Ginny smiled and kissed him, and plans formed around the table for a family outing later.
Hermione's false smile was gone, replaced by the jubilation she felt from her appointment as Head Girl; Ron, however, still had his in place. Harry swallowed his disappointment and geared himself for the battle that was sure to come.
Harry did not attempt to blend in with the Diagon Alley crowd. Clad in a black T-shirt, faded jeans, and running shoes, Harry looked more like a lost muggle than a wizard. His eyes and circular glasses gave him away though, and his black hair, cut shorter now than it ever had been before, could not hide his scar.
Harry kept his medal, the Stone, the Elder Wand, and his shrunken invisibility cloak in his mokeskin pouch, which he still wore in one of its smallest forms around his neck. His holly wand he kept strapped across his lower back, out of sight yet easily retrievable. More than one witch turned their eyes his way, their glances now going first to his toned arms before flickering up to his scar.
For two weeks, Harry had adjusted the way he flew his broom, turning it into a full-body workout. For two weeks, Harry had minded the amount of food he ate. Already he could feel an enormous difference in his body. The passing witches merely confirmed that he wasn't simply imagining things. He thought ruefully of the poor tree in the orchard that was his chosen target for his dueling spells. Oh, how that tree must hate him! Apparently, though, it wasn't all for nothing.
"I wish they'd mind their own business," Ginny growled from beside him, walking as close to him as possible. "You'd think you were single, with the fuss they're making."
"Be nice, Ginny," he scolded. "They can be as air-headed as they like; I'm happy where I am." Ginny continued to pout, but she couldn't keep a small smile from gracing her lips, which satisfied Harry.
Throughout their business at Gringotts, Madam Malkin's, and other stores, Harry paid close attention to Hermione and Ron. Hermione was far easier to keep tabs on; she shopped with Harry whenever possible, and stayed close enough that Harry was certain Ginny was going to snap at her for crowding them. Ron, however, kept his distance, and the game-face that he applied so well at home slipped into a grimace of discontent when he believed no one was watching.
Neither Hermione nor Ron attempted to speak to each other during the trip and that concerned Harry most of all. After they had talked last night, Harry half-expected Hermione to break things off with Ron. While that would have caused stress, Ron would have come to Harry for consolation. Ron was avoiding him just as much as he was avoiding Hermione, though, which pegged this as something different.
Probably the Head Boy thing, Harry thought bitterly. He remembered Ron's vision in the Mirror of Erised: Quidditch Captain, Head Boy, well developed and handsome. Of all those things, Harry would allow for well developed and handsome if girls thought so. Harry was Head Boy, though, and he suspected that the Quidditch Captaincy for Gryffindor would fall to him once again as well. While Harry looked forward to being Captain again, he felt more than a slight pang of guilt that it was his best friend that he was beating out for these positions.
Ron's silence continued at the Burrow, too, and spanned several days. Hermione acted as normal as she could, but it was clear that something had happened between them, and the entire Weasley family gave them as much space as they needed. More and more Hermione stayed at her parents' house, claiming to want to spend as much time as she could with them before school started.
Harry continued his now-daily routine of on-broom exercise, and practiced his dueling spells with equal fervor. Snape's flight from Hogwarts after Dumbledore's death still resounded in his memories, along with the potion master's admonishment: Close your mind and shut your mouth. Snape's ability to counter nearly every curse heaped on a third piece of advice to Harry: Get faster, much faster.
Alternating wands to develop a rapport with the Elder Wand as well, Harry applied as much of Dumbledore's, Snape's, and Lee's writings into his practical application as he could. Sometimes he would shadow box as well, but he focused on his spells the most. Ginny would sometimes watch, if only to admire and wolf-call when the heat forced him to take his shirt off. Occasionally, Hermione would join him, though she was more interested in talking about whatever new spell she had managed to perform wandlessly. More often that not, however, he practiced alone.
All too quickly, the evening of August 31 was upon him, and Harry packed his school supplies into his trunk before shrinking it and placing it in his mokeskin pouch, along with the Marauder's Map and the Hallows. Ron had begun to talk in more than three word sentences to him again, and the two traded jokes and Quidditch talk as Ron packed his own trunk.
As Ron was leaving to go to the washroom, Harry felt a pull on his mind. A vision of the orchard, the same location where Hermione and he had talked those few weeks ago, floated though his head. Understanding this to be a summons, Harry ran down the steps and jogged out the back door, hastily talking to Mrs. Weasley about an errand he had to do.
Once he was out of sight of the Burrow, he pulled out and enlarged his cloak. Comfortably invisible, Harry backtracked to the orchard at a jog, making his way to the clearing.
Hermione stood there, her eyes once again glowing golden in the pale light. She looked in his general direction, though something in her eyes told him that she was approximating based on her Legilimency. Harry pulled his cloak off a few trees away, and slung the silvery mass over his shoulder. Hermione ran to him and threw her arms around him, surprising him with the ferocity of the embrace.
"I'm so glad you came!" she said, emotion heavy in her voice. "I didn't know if that would work, and I really didn't want to go back to the Burrow to get you. Does anyone know that you're gone?"
"I told Mrs. Weasley that I was running an errand, so I'll probably need to cover for that, but we're good otherwise."
"Great!" she said, tightening her embrace. "Hold onto me!" Harry had barely locked his arms around Hermione before the scenery around him blurred and brightened, resolving itself into a bedroom. Judging from the piles of books, Harry assumed it was Hermione's room. As he considered Hermione's previous display of wandless capabilities, Harry decided to let pass any questions he had on the mode of transportation they had just used.
"Yes, it's my room you prat," Hermione said, stepping back and smacking his arm. "Just because I like books doesn't mean every book-filled room is mine!"
"All the ones I've seen so far have been yours," Harry answered with a wry grin. "And congratulations: That was the first time you acted solely on what I was thinking."
"Oh! I'm sorry-"
"I said it was fine, Hermione!" Harry said exasperated. "Did we or did we not talk at length about this? You have permission to be in my head."
"Yes, it's just… impolite to act on things that haven't been spoken." Hermione's look and tone channeled Professor McGonagall so well Harry nearly looked around for her. Rolling his eyes, Harry turned to look around the room.
"Well, you've brought me here for a reason, I guess. What's going on?"
"I found out something that you might like, and I wanted to offer before we leave for Hogwarts. You see, my father has bad vision like yours, and I was looking at his glasses, wondering if there was some way to improve them. You see, there are spells for--"
Harry placed a hand across Hermione's mouth, cutting off her explanation. "You're rambling, Hermione. I'll take the one-sentence explanation."
"I can fix your eyes!" she blurted, backing away from Harry's hand and grabbing it in her own. "It'll take me a few minutes, but I wanted to see if, well, you wanted your eyes fixed. It'd be better to do it now, before the school year starts, so that you can make your excuses."
"Get rid of these?" Harry said, holding his glasses up. "You're damned right I want you to fix my eyes. What do I need to do?"
Hermione's smile nearly took in her ears. "Nothing; just lie down and give me a few minutes. My parents are out for a night on the town, celebrating. My dad didn't have any problems after about ten minutes or so; we'll see how well yours go."
The moment Harry's head was on the pillow, Hermione's hands were against his eyes, holding them shut. He felt Hermione's power seep through his face like water through a strainer, and he was nearly overcome by the urge to itch his eyes.
Minutes passed, and Harry found himself intoxicated by the feel of Hermione's magic playing across his brow. He instinctively reached out for her, and ran his hands through her hair, eliciting a murmur of pleasure from Hermione. The power dancing in his head increased a little, and Hermione leaned closer to him as she worked.
"I told Ron that we shouldn't see each other anymore," she said after a time. Harry's hands paused for a moment as he took in the finality of that statement, before he resumed his ministrations.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he offered. "I'm not really surprised given what we talked about before, but it's too bad. Are you alright?"
"I'm okay, I think." Her magic pulsed in Harry's head as she talked, resonating with her voice. "Ron seems to be taking it much worse that I am, but then he's not just angry with me, either."
"I really want Ron to mellow out a bit," Harry said as he worked his way through the knots in Hermione's hair. "Can wizards be bi-polar, I wonder?"
"I'm sure," said Hermione, giggling. Making a satisfied sound, she removed her hands from Harry's eyes. "I'm done, I think. Take a look around."
"Amazing," Harry said, looking at Hermione. "You're quite pretty to look at, now that you're not a blur." Hermione smacked his chest, but blushed a little at his insinuation.
Then, to Harry's surprise, Hermione lay down across him, resting her head near his right shoulder. One of her hands made its way lazily through his short hair, gently stroking back and forth. Harry had a small flash of guilt cross his mind; this was a position that he and Ginny would often be in. To be here with Hermione...
Immediately he shut down those thoughts, mindful of Hermione's presence in his head. He was aware that she had not seen those thoughts; having her roam around constantly in his mind for close to a month had worked wonders on his overall ability in Occlumency. He could sense exactly 'where' Hermione was in his mind, and he learned to keep his stream of conscious thought well away from those areas to give him a chance to 'filter' any inappropriate thoughts, which usually included showers, trips to the washroom, and his more intimate moments with Ginny. Grudgingly, he admitted that while Snape chose the meanest way to go about it, the idea behind the sessions were sound.
He relaxed slowly into the moment, deciding that Hermione needed him right now more than he needed to worry about Ginny. His arms reflexively went around her shoulders, and Hermione nestled against him, sighing in contentment. Time passed unnoticed with nothing spoken between them. Any feelings that needed conveying did so through Hermione's Legilimency.
Hermione gasped as she heard a door opening downstairs, and Harry felt her power cascade outward in a palpable wave. He could almost feel the wake that he generated on either side of him, as though his magic was riding in the sea of Hermione's magic like a small craft. The door to the room closed silently, and Harry was certain that there was a locking charm applied as well. Hermione wasn't finished, however, and Harry felt her magic extend further.
The sounds of talking downstairs changed; while Harry couldn't make out their words, he knew well the sounds that were associated with coming home, and those associated with preparing to leave. As the former transitioned into the latter, Harry's eyes widened and a grin formed on his face. The sound of a door closing sounded through the floor, and Harry craned his neck to look at Hermione.
"You're bad, you know that?" he said, his grin as wide as it could get. Hermione couldn't help but giggle as her magic receded to its normal levels. "Seriously, your poor parents. Do they have any idea how much you do to them?"
"I don't think so," she said as she rocked back and forth across him-- a most pleasurable sensation, Harry decided. Hermione was a well-endowed girl, and if she was wearing a bra, he certainly couldn't feel it. These thoughts, too, Harry banished to a corner of his mind -- opposite to where Hermione currently resided in his head.
"It was really easy to adjust my parents' memories to forget me, and it was just as easy --easier in fact-- to bring them back. I just... well, it's easier than asking them to do things, and this way I don't have to answer questions about why you're here."
Harry laughed quietly, cupping his hands into Hermione's armpits and lifting her until her face was even with his. "Damn, I should have had you come around to the Dursleys; they could have used the attitude adjustment." Hermione looked lost, though, her brown eyes large and mysteriously deep. Harry was again aware of her breasts pressing against his arms, and her hands on his face and in his hair. Her legs squeezed against his hips slightly, and she began to bite her bottom lip. She wants this, he realized. She wants this with me.
What do I want?
Slowly, Hermione lowered herself to Harry, sitting against his hips and reminding him of his erection in a manner both pleasurable and painful. She rolled from her stomach to her breasts, slowly bringing each into contact with Harry, as though she wanted him to perform an inventory of her different body parts, before she brought her lips near to his own. She hovered there, a hair's breadth away from him, her eyes infinitely deep, and still biting her bottom lip in that infernally erotic manner.
A roil of emotions coursed through Harry's head, and he redirected all the positive ones towards Hermione. The negative ones, including the frustration he felt at her pause, he buried. There was a game afoot here, he knew; a test of some sort that he was facing. A seductive side to Hermione had never once crossed his mind before -- But that's part of the point here, isn't it, he thought.
There was a challenge present here as well: Who breaks first, and starts the kiss? Harry knew immediately that he would not. It made all the difference to him between being able to look Ginny in the face again tonight or not. If Hermione wanted to kiss him, he would oblige, but Harry would not initiate it. There was comforting a hurting friend and there was cheating, and to Harry the line was drawn in whose mouth moved first.
Hermione's lips brushed against his, almost, but not quite, kissing him. Her presence in his mind expanded greatly, searching for something. A merry chase ensued as Harry danced around Hermione's probe expertly; the only things he would let her see aside from the memories she already knew were there was his love for her, his happiness and his compassion.No, you silly girl. You can't dig for Ginny in my head. You can't make this an issue of my happiness. This is about you.
With patience and diligence, Harry settled into the routine of avoiding Hermione in his mind, never allowing himself to be cornered, using the rhythm of Hermione's potent magic to time his mental dance: He turned as she turned, rolled as she rolled, moved forward as she pulled back and pulled back as she surged forward. He had come a long way from his feeble attempts in fifth year; not once did he miss a step.
Slowly, Hermione gathered her wits, and her eyes sharpened into focus. Harry could see the guilt creep into her face, and it coursed through her Legilimency link, freezing it into immobility. "I'm sorry," she whispered as tears gathered in her eyes. "I'm so sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to do this, I just-"
"You're hurt," he said, not moving away from her. "You're hurt, and I understand."
"No," she said, closing her eyes to prevent her tears from falling on him. "It's not just that." She took a deep breath, and when her eyes opened again, they once again filled with courage and need. She again closed the distance between them, this time pressing her lips firmly against his.
Harry arched his neck and pushed back, tilting his head to the side as Hermione bit against his upper lip. At some point Hermione's tongue sought out his, and a feeling of completion exploded across the mental link, echoed by the both of them. They broke apart after a few moments, breathing heavily and giddy with the relief of the tension that had generated between them.
"I needed that," Hermione sighed, and Harry's slow laughter rumbled from his chest.
"I'm sure you did," he said, smiling down at the mass of brown hair splayed across him. Hermione squeezed him tightly, and moved to stand up, offering a hand to help Harry up as well.
"I'm sorry," she said again, her nervousness beginning to return. "I didn't --well, I-I... I don't have the words to explain what that was. I just... needed to."
"I told you I understand," Harry said gently. "It's alright." His smile widened into a smirk. "And you're quite the seductress, Hermione." Harry took pity as Hermione's look changed into one of absolute mortification, and drew her back into his embrace.
Hermione was much taller than Ginny was, he noted. His own height was nothing special, but Hermione needed only to stand on her toes to rest her head on Harry's shoulder, which was a very comforting feeling. He held her tightly, rocking back and forth on his feet until he felt Hermione's emotions calm.
The sound of the door opening downstairs once again drew the pair back to reality. "I should go," Harry said quietly, and Hermione nodded sadly. "I don't expect awkwardness about this," he admonished. "I can feel you in the back of my head; we're far too close for you to pull back."
"I won't, I promise."
"Good," he said, satisfied. "See you tomorrow, then?" She smiled and kissed him on the cheek, and suddenly they were once again in the orchard near the Burrow. Harry waved goodbye as he jogged through the trees, throwing his invisibility cloak on as he went. He backtracked to the place he had originally 'disappeared,' and removed his cloak, shrinking it and replacing it in his pouch.
He was horribly late, but Hermione had healed his vision, and that would be more than convenient enough an excuse. Opening the back door to the Burrow, he found himself immediately accosted by a visibly upset Ginny.
"Harry! You took so long; it's so late! Where were you?" Harry smiled at her and pointed to her eyes, enjoying himself immensely as her eyebrows rose. "Your glasses, they're... gone?"
"Don't need them anymore love," he said, kissing Ginny on the forehead. "It's a muggle thing, but I'll hopefully never need glasses again."
"Wow!" she whispered, taking in his face. "You look so different without your glasses. I like it." After kissing him quickly, Ginny dashed into the living room to spread the news of Harry's return and lack of glasses. Harry busied himself making a cup of coffee, feeling the need for caffeine after the events of the evening.
He managed three blissful sips, relishing the warm feeling in the pit of his stomach, before Ginny returned. "Everyone's so amazed!" Ginny said, sitting down at the table beside him. "Dad wants..." she stopped and sniffed at his shirt a moment, before looking back at him.
"Why do you smell like Hermione?"
Blanking his thoughts out, Harry put on a confused expression. "I do? What does Hermione smell like love? I really wouldn't know."
"It's a perfume she uses," she said, still sniffing his shirt. "It's... well, never mind." Harry shrugged at her and smiled, and Ginny quickly forgot about it, resuming her tale of her father's curiosity. Harry breathed an internal sigh of relief; Ginny worrying about him fooling around with Hermione was not on his list of fun things to experience. Harry nursed his coffee while he listened, interjecting where necessary as Ginny talked about her evening.
He couldn't deny that he was worried about Hermione. She was changing, and in very drastic ways. Her growing power aside, the old Hermione would never have pinned him to her bed... would she? For the first time, Harry rolled the idea around his head that perhaps he didn't know Hermione as well as he liked to think he did. Leaving aside her wandless abilities, and the near-miraculous healing of his eyes, perhaps the only real difference in Hermione's personality had been her showing interest in him.
Power hardly impressed Harry anymore. He had seen power in its rawest form with Voldemort; he had felt it course up and down his body in the form of unspeakable pain, and his heart had nearly burst at the sight of his mother, so long dead, walking towards him. At least Hermione's power would be gentle, he knew. She would never intentionally hurt him. Even now, defying all known limitations of magic, Hermione's mental probe still comfortably rummaged around his head; she was currently browsing his memories of the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry was happy to leave her to it without bringing those memories up.
What amazed him was that she had never before reacted in a sexual manner towards him, not even in times of stress during their sixth year or their hunt for the Horcruxes. She had clung to him for support, murmured her thanks when he tucked her in, but never, ever had she moved to kiss him.
Had Hermione's personality changed along with her power? If not, what had changed so much about him that would suddenly pique her interest, he wondered. After so many years of Hermione and Ron, Harry now pondered the concept of Hermione and him, and the inevitable comparisons that he began to make between Hermione and Ginny, as he sized them up in his mind.
At least there is one bright point to all of this, he thought as he settled into his bed later that night. There are two beautiful girls to dream about tonight. With an entirely un-innocent smile on his face, Harry slowly drifted off, taking immense pleasure in the deceptive simplicity of desire, and the lingering student's anxiousness he felt about boarding the Hogwarts Express tomorrow.
The steam from the Hogwarts Express filled the platform, roiling around Harry's feet as he walked towards the train. He was already clad in his school robes, a thin gold trim the most color allowed to show. His Head Boy badge gleamed on his left lapel. His pouch remained a shrunken totem hanging from his neck, and his wand holster had moved to his forearm, taking advantage of the properly sleeved robes he would now have to wear throughout the year. More than once people needed to do a double-take; first to confirm it was Harry Potter walking past them, and again to confirm that he was taller, better built, and without his glasses.
It brought him a measure of satisfaction to see real respect in the eyes of the adults and children around him. Before, he was an icon: A symbol of the previous war and a focal point for the new one. Now, his titles were not just a myth about his childhood, and the adults around him treated him as he expected they would a master duelist: With respect.
Those, like Luna's father, who knew about the Hallows and the real story behind Harry's defeat of Voldemort, were equally respectful. They understood exactly what Harry had won when he claimed the Elder Wand from Voldemort.
The Weasleys trailed in his wake, Ginny lagging behind to talk with her brother. Both she and Ron were in their Gryffindor robes, and Ron's reinstated Prefect badge shone against his chest. Hermione joined him silently halfway across the platform, her robes similar to Harry, if perhaps slightly more generous with the gold trim. While Ron's expression darkened, Ginny's broke into a grin as she bounced forward a few steps to speak with her best friend.
Harry nodded to Neville as he fell into step beside him, and Luna who joined slightly thereafter. Neville had always had Harry's respect, ever since the often-shy boy had stood up to him in his first year. Neville had changed much over the years, but now, after having pulled Gryffindor's sword from the Sorting Hat, a quiet pride shone from the young man's eyes; a feeling that Harry shared. Neville, like most others whose seventh year was last year's disaster, had graduated by taking Ministry-offered NEWT make-up exams earlier this summer. He seemed to be here to see Luna off, something that pleased the Ravenclaw immensely.
Luna occupied a place of affection so deep in Harry's heart that he ached when he saw her. He recalled all too well his face on the ceiling of her room, with the word "friends" linking his image to those of Hermione, Ron, Neville and Ginny. She had reached out to Harry during his fifth year, when he had been closest to breaking, and brought him back from the precipice. Her quiet faith in life after death echoed strongly from her father's belief in the Deathly Hallows; a belief that Harry now embodied.
Neville caught his eye, and he and Harry moved at the same time, lifting Luna from either side to sit between them on their shoulders. The look of pure joy on Luna's face as they did so was a soothing balm to the roiling feelings of injustice Harry usually felt when confronted with Luna. It was a small piece of happiness that he hoped would begin to repair so many years of mistreatment at the hands of Hogwarts students. Harry was Head Boy this year: there would be no stolen items from Luna's dorm. He felt Hermione's questioning probe through his thoughts as he and Neville paraded Luna around, and Harry happily directed her to his memories of Luna, and his thoughts about her happiness. Feelings of agreement and satisfaction resounded throughout Hermione's presence in his head, reinforcing his own.
Being of-age seemed to agree with most students. All around him, there were no signs of luggage, as every seventh year and student who knew one had their luggage shrunk to something pocket-sized, or at least lunchbox-sized. His only lament was that he would not be in a compartment with his friends this year, as the Heads kept the Prefect's compartment as their own. Hermione had read the rulebook forwards and backwards ever since her fifth year, dreaming of the day that she would be Head Girl. In her usual manner, Hermione battered Harry with all the information that he would ever need to function as Head Boy. The only difference now was that Hermione no longer had to speak to do it.
Kissing Ginny and Luna goodbye --Ginny on the lips, Luna on the cheek-- and giving Neville a one-armed hug before he left, Harry made his way to the front compartment with Hermione and Ron. He heard the two of them begin what he called their 'aftermath-banter,' the type of pointless talk that you forced yourself to spew when you were angry with someone yet didn't want to seem impolite. After so many years of arguments, the two of them had at least ten minutes of such talk in their repertoire, more than enough to fill any awkward gaps in between other conversations.
Soon, the other prefects piled into the compartment with them. Twenty-seven people, six prefects per house, in addition to Harry, Hermione and Ron, made for the repeated use of cooling charms as Hermione outlined the patrols, and listened to people's ideas for the school year. Hermione then looked to Harry, urging him mentally to say a few words.
"This year will be a year of celebration," Harry said quietly. He remained sitting, but his voice carried to all corners of the compartment, demanding attention. "No more fighting this year; not between people or houses. This year, for the first time in ages, I want us to have peace." The prefects were silent as they listened to Harry speak. Hermione, who looked slightly put out that Harry had not stood, nevertheless paid close attention, as Harry had never spoken to her of this.
"Would you like to know what caused Voldemort, more than anything?" he said, listening to the gasps of students who were still not used to hearing the name. "When Voldemort was still young Tom Riddle in Slytherin, he wanted desperately to stay at Hogwarts during the summer. His life was horrible, you see: He was stuck in a muggle orphanage that treated him very poorly. He gave good as he got, but what he really wanted was the one thing he couldn't have: a home.
"Every year, Tom would ask Headmaster Dippet if he could stay. Every year, Headmaster Dippet said no." The prefects looked wide-eyed as Harry related Riddle's history, and Hermione fought to prevent tears from forming. She could see his thoughts; she could see the memories of the Dursleys, of that cursed cupboard, and the room with the cat flap. He had succeeded where Riddle had failed: He had found a family and a home; he found people who would rescue him year after year. The scars still lingered, though, and they always would.
"If I had to choose one student in Hogwarts that would make a great Dark Lord, it would be Luna Lovegood, and you know why." He looked at the Ravenclaw prefects as he said this, and his irritation grew as all six of them looked away. "There will be no more of that this year. Not for Luna, and not for any student. I want you to do your jobs.
"Not taking points, not assigning detentions; I want you to smile and help the first-years. I want you to offer, not wait for them to ask. I want you to organize events for your houses that involve as many students as possible, and if there are any stragglers, who don't participate, find something to include them, too. Bring your ideas to Hermione or me but don't waste time. The first few days are when every student will decide if they like or hate school." He looked over at Hermione, images of their first unpleasant months together and the incident with the Troll running through his head. "Make them love Hogwarts; that's your job."
The prefects murmured amongst themselves, shaking Harry's hand before they left. Harry turned back to Hermione and Ron as the last of the prefects closed the door behind them, only to find them staring at him in wonder, while Hermione's quill still hovered in a circle above her hand. "Where were you in fifth year?" she asked gently. "We could have used that so many times. I can organize things to death, but I've never been able to command the respect that you can simply by talking. They looked so ashamed of Luna's treatment; I could feel how driven they were when they left. I can't tell you how different things would have been if you had been here three years ago."
"I was angry and scared that year," he said, making a dismissive motion with his hand. "I barely operated enough to teach the DA, and I still leaned on you for that."
"But you did so well," she started, but Harry cut her off.
"Did I ever tell you that Dumbledore deliberately turned me down for prefect in fifth year?" Looks of surprise greeted him from both Ron and Hermione. "He told me that I had more than enough to deal with, but I think that, after so many years of dealing with kids, he knew what kind of messed up arse I'd be that year." He turned to Ron. "So, he gave the prefect position to you, knowing that Hermione'd keep you in line, and tried to work out something else to keep me from blowing up. Of course, Umbridge killed all that."
Ron nodded in understanding, but Hermione frowned. "That's not exactly fair, though. If he had given you the Prefect position-"
"He would have put me right in Umbridge's cross-hairs, not that I didn't get there quickly enough," he finished. Ron looked slightly confused that the muggle reference, but Hermione's expression cleared as she acknowledged the point.
"I'd like to sit here and throw blame around, but the end of it is that I'm here, now, and I want this year to count." Hermione and Ron offered enthusiastic agreement; Ron seemed motivated, and that, more than anything else convinced Harry that his words had struck home.
Ron didn't stay for long, though. "I should go find Luna and Ginny," he said, leaving before Harry or Hermione could say goodbye. The door closed with an audible click, and Hermione sighed quietly as she looked back to her sheets, shaking her head. Harry didn't want to bring up the topic of Ron, so he remained silent.
"Ideally, we have this compartment to ourselves so that we can plan the year's patrols and fuss with other details like that." She looked sheepishly up at Harry. "I think I've finished all that, though."
A slight shrug and a smile was all Harry gave in return. "It's another of those things you go out of your way to do for me," he said after a moment. Hermione's face showed her surprise at his assertion before it settled back into a smile and she nodded. They passed the rest of the train ride in companionable silence, occasionally trading ideas back and forth about how to make their last year at Hogwarts as memorable as possible.