Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any character or location that was created by J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series. I do not currently earn or plan to earn money by these stories, and I make no profit from writing these stories other than my own enjoyment. Any character or location appearing in these stories that was not a creation of Rowling is a product of my own imagination and is not meant to represent her works in any way.
All the poetry appearing in this trilogy is my own writing, unless otherwise credited, and therefore belongs to me exclusively. Do not use these poems, reproduce them, or print them without my express permission. (Feel free to do what you want with the otherwise credited stuff, I got it off the Internet myself.)
The Wise One
Set the Stage
The world is become a stage;
We put the pieces into place.
We need a little time to age—
We ask for one more day of grace.
We line up when told stage left;
The search for props now starts.
We act with souls bereft,
We play with darkened hearts.
The things we've been and seen—
(The things we now are seeing)
Not just a stage small and mean,
It's our lives and we are being.
"The question, O me! so sad, recurring— What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse."
~ O me! O life! ~ Walt Whitman ~
It would be so easy to walk away, to forget, to go somewhere and simply live. He had tons of money and a comfortable familiarity with both worlds. He flapped his powerful wings, thinking on how easy it would be to let them carry him higher and farther, until his bright eyes lost sight of the city, until they took him so far away that he could pretend it didn't exist.
It would stop hurting, after a while. The pain of being alone was only sharp for a short time, then it would fade into a dull ache, then he would forget what it was like to love someone. Then he would be free. Truly free, not trying to get high on this illusion of freedom that soaring through the night represented. That desire for freedom—from responsibility, from obligation, from the feeling that his entire life had been written before his birth and he was only reading the script—was like an ache in him. It was like an injury that you could ignore unless you flexed the wrong muscle and aggravated it. But it would stop hurting if he kept flying. Just kept going after he passed the landmarks that said he'd been out long enough.
A dog barked, far below him. It made memories intrude on his careful, wishful thoughts. Memories of a big black creature streaking across a starlit Chilean landscape. Of that same animal being joined by another, in a dark forest, an even larger dog whose smell screamed "danger." Swooping low to tease, a quick flick of his wings to dodge the swipe of a paw, a doggy grin and his own screech of amusement. The memories made him adjust his flight and turn. The pain of being alone might only last for a while, but the guilt of abandoning them would never fade.
Besides, he'd only held Hermione's hand for the first time last week, and he'd be damned if he was going to walk away from something he'd started again.
"Morning," Harry said casually, hiding his smirk behind his cup. The two people who comprised his family were entering the kitchen with identical slit-eyed, stubbly-chinned, zombie shuffles. Remus was usually up earlier than Sirius, but he'd been at work pretty late. Apparently, assistant managers at Muggle restaurants got crap hours. Remus had mentioned that once or twice. But the awful shifts did nothing to detract from his joy at steady work, despite it being in the Muggle world. They were a lot nicer about medical situations that took you away for two or three days each month, if you call piling on work the next week "nicer." Asked less questions about it, at least, than a wizard would.
They both headed for the coffee pot, which Harry had brewed as usual, then spent the last fifteen minutes staring at, tempting himself with it. Since they were out of bed, Harry got the waffle batter he'd made out of the icebox and started cooking it. He'd been asking Molly Weasley's advice on several cooking charms, and she'd made sure to give him a witches' cookbook in thanks for saving Arthur—so it was no trouble for him to slice a few pieces off the loaf of grain bread he'd picked up yesterday and toast them without burning the waffles. He did give the waffles a melancholy look before spreading his all-natural fruit preserves on the toast and taking a bite.
Sirius finally noticed that he was drinking juice, not coffee, and was not happily pouring syrup over what was on his plate.
"Harry? What's going on?"
"Mmm?" he said through a mouthful of surprisingly good sugar-free preserves.
"What did you do to the coffee and the waffles?" Sirius asked sternly, suddenly far more awake. He held his fork like a weapon, pointed at his plate. "You put a potion in it, didn't you?"
Remus jerked and raised his coffee, sniffing at suspiciously.
"I didn't," Harry protested, scowling. "That's nice, you automatically think the reason I'm not eating waffles is because I poisoned them."
"Not poisoned, just . . ." Sirius glared at him. "What's in these?"
"Eggs, flour, m—"
Sirius cleared his throat.
"Nothing," he insisted. "I'm not eating it because I'm detoxing!"
"You're what?" Remus asked, the look in his eyes saying that Harry had grown extra limbs, at least.
"Clearing my system of all the junk, you know? I drink too much caffeine, and I've got all these preservatives and saturated fats floating around. I wanted to start eating healthier. I mean, what good do the workouts do me if I'm just going to ruin them with what I eat?"
Both men eyed their waffles.
"But you'll feed it to us?"
"When did you say you wanted to detoxify? You'd have killed me if I didn't make coffee."
"So what you're saying," Remus said slowly, "is that you didn't put anything weird in the waffles. They're just bad for us already."
The two men looked at each other, shrugged, and resumed eating.
"This sudden interest in your health . . ." Sirius said.
"Is because I'm planning to live for a very long time," Harry said firmly. "So I'm going to take care of my body."
"You should have just said Voldemort came knocking again."
Harry pretended interest in the pulp at the bottom of his glass of orange juice.
"What did he say this time?"
"You're kind of overreacting to 'nothing much,' don't you think?"
Harry grimaced. Yeah, he probably was. And he shouldn't even let it get to him like this, Voldemort had been trying to goad him all summer. But it really just pissed him off that someone could get into his brain.
Remus, who was closer, put a hand on his shoulder.
"I know you got a raw deal with this, but we're proud of you," he said.
"Thanks," Harry muttered.
When he stood up to put his dishes in the sink for Kreacher, Sirius stood up, too, and dragged him into a hug. Harry fought him for a minute, but Sirius wouldn't let go.
"You might not think so, but you're doing great," he said softly. "I love you, kiddo."
Harry sighed. "I'm still not going to drink coffee for a while."
"Oh, you love me, too? How nice."
Harry chuckled and pushed away. "Okay, okay, I do. Eat, so you can get cleaned up."
"Oh, that's right. The lovely Miss Granger is coming over this morning. I'll be sure to be on my best behaviour."
Mollified, Harry put away the bread and jar of fruit. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sirius hang his tongue out of his mouth and begin panting, dog-like. Harry glared at him, and the tongue disappeared, but Sirius winked at Remus.
"Not my time of the month, Padfoot, afraid you're on your own," Remus murmured.
Harry tried not to giggle. That just sounded so wrong.
"What?" the two men said in unison.
Harry just shook his head. "It might be time for you two to start dating. Women," he added with a smirk.
They both tried to tackle him at once. Harry slid out of his chair, under the table, and was out of the room before they'd figured out he'd moved.
Sirius looked at Remus and grimaced.
"He's probably right."
"I'm not the one who's paranoid about leaving the house just in case Harry decides to try to get himself killed again."
"He'll be fine," Sirius decided. "We're going out tonight."
"I have to work."
"Only until ten! It's Saturday!"
Remus just laughed. "I think we're quoting ourselves word-for-word, from a conversation we had at the age of nineteen."
Sirius fixed him with a glare. "No changing the subject. We're doing it. Now let's get ourselves cleaned up so Harry's girl doesn't think we're a bunch of barbarians."
"But what about a will?" Hermione frowned. "If you leave such an object to another in your will, would they actually, legally, take possession of your soul?"
"No, because you wouldn't actually, legally, be dead," Harry countered. "This is the faked-death scenario. The will wouldn't stand up in court if the person was still alive."
"Oh, right. But say you were to—"
Harry shoved the book across the kitchen table and groaned. Loudly. They'd been studying what information they could gather on Horcruxes for several hours, and coming up with increasingly unlikely scenarios so that they could be sure they understood every possible situation under which one might find a Horcrux. He was worn out with studying.
"We've got to quit," he begged her. "Just for today."
"Pay up," Sirius murmured to Remus down the hall in the study. "He broke first. Told you."
Remus grudgingly handed over the Muggle pound note that Sirius was so fascinated with. They'd been betting on who'd tire of studying first. Remus had just been hoping it happened to one of them before he had to leave for work and take Sirius' word for it.
Hermione gave Harry a look of consternation. "But we have to figure out—"
"Hermione. The nature of Horcruxes has not changed since we sat down this morning. They'll still operate by the same rules tomorrow, and we can finish understanding how they work then. Now come on," he pleaded softly. "I've got you for a whole day, and we have to do something fun." Like not be worried about Voldemort for a few fucking hours . . .
"Fun? Like what?"
Harry shrugged, trying to think. "We could go see a movie, or go to Diagon Alley and poke around. Go out to eat. See if there's any good concerts. I could take you flying."
At that, Hermione shuddered. "I hate flying."
"Okay, no flying. Let's do Muggle stuff."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean all the stuff that Muggles do! Let's take the tube, and we'll go to a museum, and then we can go visit Remus' restaurant for dinner."
Hermione perked up at that. The word museum was practically an enlivening spell on her. Museums were nice. Better yet, they were not Horcruxes, at least he hoped not, so they could get away from books for a few hours. He loved doing research, but she was ten times worse than him.
"Come on, it'll be fun to try to guess which paintings were done by wizards at the National Gallery."
Thus tempted, they set off, telling Sirius where they were going. Sirius was going out to pick up a couple of books for the coming term at school, anyway, so he just checked that they had their wands and told Harry to remember his training.
"What did he mean by that?" Hermione asked Harry as they headed for the nearest tube station. "Remember your training?"
"Know where all the doors are. Pay attention to where people are in a room, and where their eyes are. Watch them move, judge who knows how to fight. Stay on guard."
Hermione frowned. "That doesn't sound like a good way to enjoy a museum. Harry, there won't be Death Eaters there. Do you really have to be like that?"
Harry shrugged. "It doesn't even require effort, anymore. I'll be able to enjoy the museum. Unless it's really crowded," he amended.
"Do you do that at school?"
"I do it all the time," he said, giving her a smile to take away the strangeness of what he was saying. "It's almost second nature. Miguel, my training master, used to jump me at really weird times just to make sure I was paying attention. Even snuck into my room while I was sleeping a couple of times. I've been sleeping with one eye open for a long time and checking the exits everywhere I go."
They descended the stairs and fed Harry's Muggle coins into the machine to purchase their tickets. Hermione was obviously thinking about what to say. But when Harry turned to face the automated gate system and saw how many people were down here, and how shortly he would be in the middle of them, his eyes began roaming and he became very tense. He marched Hermione forward, feeding their cards through, and began to march toward their platform.
Hermione ran her fingers down his arm, catching his attention and loosening the fist he'd made of his hand. She slipped her fingers through his.
He looked down at her with a little smile quirking his lips. "You're not going to say anything? Like, 'you're a freak, knock it off' or something?"
"I don't think you want to hear that I'm sorry for you, and I doubt you'll listen if I tell you to turn it off, nobody's going to attack us. But I can remind you that I'm with you, at least."
Harry squeezed her hand. "Not sure what I did to deserve having a pretty girl stand by me, but I'll take it."
Hermione gave him a scolding look. "You've done plenty, so stop that. Now, let's go. I plan to enjoy myself very much, and you'd better enjoy yourself with me."
"Yes, ma'am," he laughed, and they stepped off the platform and onto the car. Taking care to mind the gap between, of course.
"You know, this place is a breeding ground for Dark creatures that prey on travelers," Hermione said brightly. "I'm almost certain that's why they started making that announcement."
Harry chuckled and squeezed her hand again.
He shook his head.
"I doubt you'll listen if I tell you to turn it off . . ." he teased.
She removed her hand from his so she could properly smack him on the shoulder. "It's an interesting theory!" she huffed.
He captured her hand and kissed her fingers. "Yes, it is. Sorry."
She had stiffened at the kiss. He carefully let go.
"Sorry," he said again.
"No, I am," she murmured. "This isn't fair to you Harry, you should have a girlfriend who can let you do that. I know you're just trying to be affectionate. You should date someone who can appreciate—"
"Stop," he said firmly. "Obviously you do appreciate it, since you know exactly what I meant by it. And I don't care about fair, or about other girls. I'm not interested in them. I'm interested in you. Even if you come with a few problems. Not like I don't have a few of those, as well."
As he spoke, Harry pulled her in to his side, putting his arm around her. She snuggled against his side. This, for some reason, she didn't mind. But then, they'd been able to hug all this time. It was the really romantic gestures, the kisses and the glances at her body, that bothered her. He rested a hand in her hair and breathed in the smell. She always smelled like flowers and a little bit like ink. If this was what she'd give him, he'd take it. She fit very nicely right there.
"I don't deserve you," she whispered.
Harry just smoothed her hair.. "I plan to enjoy myself very much today," he said in a teasing voice. "You'd better enjoy yourself with me."
She laughed, and he experienced the absolutely pleasant sensation of having it resonate through him, since she was pressed against him. He resolutely tried not to think about what he really wanted to think about. "Yes, sir," she answered.
Their determination to have fun and relax eventually melted away and became actual feelings of fun and relaxation. They browsed the gallery until it closed, then went to the restaurant where Remus worked so they could get dinner. For teenagers in the midst of a war, fearing they wouldn't live through it, they managed to have quite a good time.
"You can't tell me that Dumbledore doesn't know all this," Hermione said, her face set. "You're lying to me, or omitting something, which is just as bad."
Harry sighed in frustration. "I'm not. I never said that Dumbledore didn't know, I just said I had to find out on my own."
Hermione's hands were on her hips. She'd gotten up from the table because she was mad at him, and he wished she'd just sit down. "That's still omission. What's going on?"
Harry gestured at their books. "This is dangerous stuff, Hermione. Foul, Dark stuff. And Dumbledore doesn't really know me that well."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that for all he promised to, I don't think he was planning to share all his information with me. He doesn't trust me with Horcrux lore. He probably thinks I'll use it."
Hermione gave him a careful look. "Would you?"
Harry looked at their notes and cracked old book, spread out over the table. It was tempting. Very, very tempting. The idea was a little bit thrilling, and the arcane ritual of it was fascinating. Dumbledore might be right about him.
"Are you sure?"
"Very sure. The type of sacrifice that this requires . . . I'm not a murderer. I won't kill for any reason. Especially not simply for my own gain. It's interesting, academically. But I would never do this. And I would never share this information with anyone unless I knew for certain they wouldn't, either. Having the knowledge of it is a power all its own."
"You're sure about me, then."
"Yes, I am," he said firmly. "Sit down."
She did. "You really think Dumbledore doesn't trust you?"
"Well, I think he knows I'm reliable. He knows I mean to see things through, that I'm fighting on his side. But I'm sure he finds me dark enough to at least think about using this knowledge. He seemed a little bit panicked when I told him I knew what the diary was, and he said he was too busy to talk."
"Why would he think that about you?"
"Because I am dark enough," Harry said with a bitter smile. "Why do you think I cling so closely to you and to my family? You guys keep me from doing anything stupid. So long as I have people I care about more than myself, I'll remember why I don't do this kind of stuff. Merlin help me if I lose all of you and don't have anybody to care if I live, die, or become immortal."
"You're stronger than you give yourself credit for," Hermione said sternly.
"Probably. I have very clear ideas about right and wrong. I just worry that I could forget them one day. Like if the Elder Wand was in front of me," he mused. "I think it's a bad idea, but would I take it, if my family wasn't there to stop me? Would I be enticed by the power?"
"The Elder Wand?" Hermione snorted. "The Deathstick? That is such a load of waffle, I can't believe you think it's real!"
Harry shrugged. "I don't really know if it is or if it isn't," he said calmly. "There's a lot of literature out there about it, so it's obviously based on something true. Maybe nothing more than the reputation of a fantastic dueller who thought it would boost his fame to claim his wand was unbeatable, and started a trend. But if there is something like that, I could totally see it tempting me. After all, I'm a lot more sure about what I'd do with it than what some other guy would do with it."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione moaned. "I didn't think you were so gullible. It's a fantasy, propagated by weak wizards who want to believe they could become great."
"So are Horcruxes," he said.
"Horcruxes are real!"
"So might this wand of power be real, then."
"If it was real, someone would have it," she sniffed. "I haven't heard anybody claiming it."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe they got wise when they saw the hundreds of years of bloody history and thought they'd keep it to themselves so they wouldn't get challenged for it." It's what I would do . . .
"Can we stop talking about silly old legends and get back to our studies?"
"Oh, fine. But I'm going to ask Dumbledore if he has any thoughts about whether or not the Elder Wand is real."
"If he doesn't want you to know about Horcruxes, what makes you think he'll talk to you about the Elder Wand?"
He sighed. "Good point. Well, good thing I like reading." He glanced up at the clock. "Oh, we'd better put the books away. I promised to make lunch for everybody, remember?"
Hermione was looking at him with narrowed eyes. "I still think this is an elaborate hoax, somehow. You are a sixteen-year-old boy who likes to read, cook, and keep house, and doesn't mind taking a relationship slowly. You are a figment of my imagination. That is the only explanation."
Harrry began poking around the icebox, trying to figure out what to cook. "The real explanation is kind of a long story, so that'll have to do. Stop talking like I'm perfect, I've pissed off the Dark Lord. And I leave the toilet seat up."
"What's the long story?"
"The way I was raised. Sirius and I had to take care of each other, so I just got used to taking turns making dinner and cleaning the bathroom. I already knew quite a bit about cooking and cleaning from when I lived with my mother's relatives, the ones I never talk about because they were awful to me. Reading was all Sirius's fault. He made me read until I liked it, let me read until I loved it, and now . . ." He sighed with great drama. "Now it's sort of an obsession. There's just so much to know out there. Like all about the Elder Wand," he said pointedly, putting aside his playacting. "I'm going to read up on the legends about it. Especially the ones that say there were three objects that all went together. There was the wand, and something else I don't remember, and a cloak. I remember hearing a story about them, probably from Sascha. The cloak was supposed to be a completely invincible Invisibility Cloak. That would come in handy."
"There's no such thing as an unbeatable invisibility cloak," Hermione scoffed, taking on the task of cutting up the fruit he'd gotten out for fruit salad while he went to work on slicing turkey and cheese for sandwiches.
"James had a pretty good one," came a voice from the hallway. They turned to see Sirius in the process of leaning against the doorjamb. "I don't know what happened to it, come to think of it, but your dad had this absolutely amazing Invisibility Cloak. We used to use it all the time, to get into trouble at school and then to do some of our work for the Order. Wonder if it got donated somewhere, a lot of their stuff did. You don't remember seeing it in those boxes in your vault, do you?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I don't. Oh, well. I doubt it's the legendary one, anyway."
"Oh, you guys aren't talking about that Deathly Hallows crap, are you?" Sirius said, rolling his eyes. "It's just a fairy tale, number one, and I think this Horcrux stuff is far more important right now, number two. How's your research on that coming?"
"I've got a very good grasp on what they are and how they work," Harry answered promptly, although he was filing away the term Deathly Hallows in his brain for future use. "What's left to do is find out how many he has, since he obviously has more than one, and what they are."
"Oh, just a day's work," Sirius scoffed. "How do you propose we find that out?"
"Convince Dumbledore that I'm not going to make my own so he'll talk to me about them," Harry muttered.
Sirius frowned. "He's not actually refusing to compare notes with you, is he?"
"Not yet, but I haven't pushed him."
"I'll talk to him. And rack my brain for what I remember about Voldemort to see if I have any knowledge about his Horcruxes lurking in there."
"Don't talk to him," Harry said. "I will. Soon. But feel free to rack your brain."
"All right. Since your research seems to be coming along just great, how's lunch coming?"
Harry flicked his wand and sent a stack of plates zooming out of the cabinet toward him. "Faster, if you set the table."
He smirked at Sirius, and went back to work on the sandwiches, but his mind was elsewhere. It was on his loved ones. On how much they meant to him.
Don't ever leave me, he thought, looking around the kitchen as Remus joined them and began pouring drinks. The three people in this room meant more to him than anything. They were his real reason for being who he was. I don't know who I'd be without you.
His mind flashed to the snake-like face that had picked at his dreams this summer, and he shuddered.
Not him. I'd never be him.
A/N: Aaaaand I'm back! Fair warning to you all: lots of stuff is going to happen, and the plot will advance fairly quickly, but as should have become obvious, this is a Harry/Hermione fic and there will also be plenty about their relationship in here. Now, since the Hallows and Horcruxes existed before Harry was born, they are still an integral part of the story, but I'm not planning to spend a ton of time on them, since we all know what they are, etc. Some major events are still going to be the same: There is still a Horcrux hunt. Voldemort still wants Dumbledore and Harry dead. Harry is still a teenager who doesn't always know what's going on. But hey, at least Sirius is alive. :-)