The Polyjuice Incident
After their brief foray into Slytherin territory in second year, thereafter known as the "Polyjuice Incident," Ron had immediately bolted back to Gryffindor tower, citing a wardrobe malfunction - whatever that was. Harry, though, had no concern but for Hermione, who had worryingly stayed behind. As he jogged back to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, he cursed himself for leaving without her. It was a poor decision made in the heat of the moment, and it had cost them dearly.
They had gotten lost in the dungeons trying to find the entrance to Slytherin. Hermione's near-encyclopedic knowledge of the castle could have spared them that detour. Once they finally arrived, their performance in the Slytherin common room was – to put it generously - poor. Hermione, though not a very good actress in her own skin, probably would have been able to smooth over some of their mistakes with general cleverness.
Then there was the simple fact that Hermione was his best friend and he'd left her behind. He shouldn't have let her protests keep him from checking on her. She could have had a severe problem with their amateur brew. The thought that she might have been hurt gave him a stomach ache that threatened to overshadow the pain of the Polyjuice wearing off. He just hoped she was alright.
As Harry reached the restroom that had housed their illicit potions lab, he heard Hermione sniffling from the same stall where he'd left her.
Hearing Harry's footsteps, the bushy-haired witch responded with a quaver in her voice. "H-Harry? Ron?"
Harry pressed his ear to the door and replied in what he hoped was a soothing voice. "It's just me. Are you alright? What happened?"
"Harry..." He heard a sniffle and a hiccup. "I have an odd request. Could you... could you get me some milk and your Transfiguration and Charms books? Please. It's important."
Harry slid the requested books under the door and assured her he'd be back soon with the requested milk. The raven-haired young man sprinted into the hall, nearly tripping as he set off in the direction of the Great Hall. He would sprint whenever he found himself alone, only slowing down when he encountered anyone who looked tall enough to be a teacher. Getting in trouble with them would completely defeat the purpose of his haste.
It was only after he'd been running for a minute that it occurred to him to wonder why on earth Hermione wanted milk in what he assumed was a moment of personal crisis. He never recalled her being especially comforted by milk before. Was milk an ingredient in some kind of antidote she'd been researching? He decided not to question it.
Approaching the Gryffindor table in the empty great hall at a haggard but still jaunty pace, he collapsed face-first onto the ancient wood, gasping the word "milk" in hopes that the table might grant him some. When he looked up after a moment's rest, it seemed the pitcher had been a foot away from his head the whole time. He took it and left at a jog, humming a tune Dudley used to hum while beating him up or climbing stairs – pretty much whenever he broke a sweat.
Harry found that beatings were easier to endure if one had a sense of humor about them.
Entering the forsaken bathroom, Harry came to a stop in front of Hermione's stall. Still worried for her health, he spoke. "I'll give you the milk if you come out and tell me what's happening. You're worrying me."
"Would it be alright if I drank it on the way to the hospital wing?" Hermione inquired, the quaver and sniffling now absent from her voice. "You can come with me and I'll explain there."
Hermione had already packed Harry's books back into his bag and, as Harry waited with bated breath, she opened the stall door and strode out with a very poor and very tight-lipped imitation of a smile. Harry looked her up and down, finding nothing wrong until his gaze reached her face. The first thing he noticed was that she was blushing furiously, and he suddenly realized that his inspection might have given her the wrong idea. Before he could open his mouth to stutter an apology, he noticed something else. Hermione was not merely blushing, her eyes and face were actually glowing! It seemed she had performed some very rough magic on her face, though to what end, he could not say.
The walk to the hospital wing was tense. Harry continued to try to work out the reason for the glowing around Hermione's face, while Hermione kept nervously adjusting her skirt and pawing at her hair in between sips of milk. She would give him a sidelong glance only to find him immediately meeting her eyes, seemingly hypnotized. After they had covered some distance, Harry noticed that the troubled witch appeared to be sniffing the air with a great deal of concentration. Finally, she asked Harry if he smelled something.
"No..." Harry replied hesitantly, suddenly struck by the terrible thought that Hermione might have gone mad.
Hermione continued to sniff as they walked, eventually zeroing in on Harry himself. She eyed him curiously. "Harry, are you wearing a new cologne or something?"
"New shampoo or soap? Anything?"
"Haven't changed a thing." Harry replied, now quite worried that he was covered in some offensive scent.
Hermione looked a bit surprised. "Hm. Well, whatever it is, I quite like it. Don't change anything."
When the two finally reached the hospital wing, Hermione led the way in. Noticing that the wing was devoid of students, the bushy-haired witch gave a sigh of relief, turned to Harry and favored him with a nervous smile.
This was the first time Harry had seen a genuine smile from her since this fiasco had begun, and he instantly noticed something off about it. It was the fangs, he decided. She had fangs.
That was new.
A lesser wizard might have panicked. Ron probably would have cast a reductor curse at the nearest chair and tried to pierce Hermione's heart with a bit of wood, assuming that Hermione was some kind of vampire, but Harry had worked out that Hermione's dose of Polyjuice must have been tainted with something, and knew that vampirism wasn't the sort of thing that would affect someone via Polyjuice. Between the fidgeting, the craving for milk, and the general aura of discomfort she'd exuded, it was likely her problems went beyond fangs.
Harry needed wonder no more, as Hermione finally took a deep, calming breath and began to explain. "I think I got a cat hair instead of one of Millicent's. I've got cat ears, slitted pupils, and these ridiculous canines." She gestured to her face with a grimace. "Other anatomical issues..." She muttered delicately, scrunching her face in the manner of someone trying to wiggle her ears. "I'm also just feeling a bit strange – though I think the milk helped with that – thank you." She offered Harry a gracious smile. "What worries me is that it hasn't worn off yet." Harry shared her trepidation - Polyjuice was only supposed to last for an hour - but on the other hand, he'd never had a problem that Pomfrey or a teacher couldn't solve. "I've got some theories on why it might be persisting, but I'll let you hear them with Madam Pomfrey."
As Hermione finished speaking, the woman in question emerged from her office at the far end of the wing, and, noticing she had patients, briskly approached them. "Hello Miss Granger, what's he gotten himself into now?"
Harry had the decency to look surprised and slightly hurt at her assumption. Hermione corrected her. "It's actually me, ma'am. I started feeling strange after potions this morning, and just a while ago I came across a cat in a corridor on my way out of the bathroom. I got a bit dizzy and thankfully Harry was waiting for me outside - he made sure I didn't fall. I was worried about people seeing me, so I disillusioned the tail and put glamours on my face to hide my eyes and the new ears." With that, Hermione waved her wand past her face and, with a finite, her face lost the glow and her new features faded back into existence.
As Harry watched the glow in her eyes flicker and fade, he realized that Hermione's newly-slitted eyes were quite nice to look at – a little unnerving, but a striking cinnamon brown. Then he remembered they'd always been that color - he just hadn't looked often enough. As he came out of his reverie, he realized that Hermione had just spun a fantastically elegant lie to keep the two of them out of trouble. It accounted for the presence of Polyjuice in her system (perhaps via contaminated potions lab surfaces) as well as her new feline qualities.
In a timid, but measured tone, Hermione continued describing her ailment while the Hogwarts Matron examined her. "I had a bit of a headache at first, as well as some trouble seeing, though that's all gone away. The ears and tail are blended right into me - it's not as if they're tacked on. I'm fairly certain my sense of smell is stronger and I had a craving for milk. Oh, and my hearing seems to be better."
Madam Pomfrey continued muttering diagnostic and healing spells, nodding and tutting at appropriate intervals. Harry had listened thoughtfully to Hermione's list of symptoms until she had reached the word "tail," at which point he went a bit bug-eyed. As she continued speaking, Harry's eyes darted downward, taking in the odd shape of the back of her skirt. He could just make out the tip of a furry black tail swishing to and fro around the hem of the skirt. He felt his face heat up and tried to divert his attention somewhere else.
As Hermione and Pomfrey discussed Hermione's new feline attributes, Harry considered how their peers might react to such a change in their classmate and cringed.
The magical community – especially its children – did not handle change or diversity well. Just as Harry was suddenly the heir of Slytherin, Hermione would suddenly be a freak or a beast. He could quite clearly picture what the likes of Malfoy would say if they knew about her condition. They would call her names. They would bully her even more. Malfoy already judged her for her lineage. Things would get much worse if he found out that Hermione was now not entirely human.
Overhearing something about chromosomes in relation to the duration of Polyjuice effects, Harry again drifted away from the conversation and back to Hermione. She would need to be protected. They could trust Pomfrey to keep the secret, of course, but the rest of the school was still a concern. The more obvious feline traits could probably be hidden. After all, the glamour charms – first attempts, he guessed – had hidden the ears and pupils. At this point, Hermione's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Harry, did you hear me?"
"Sorry, what?" Harry noticed that the Hogwarts matron had returned to her office, once again leaving him alone with his bushy-haired friend.
"I'm going to spend the night in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey wants to keep me for observation, and I can see her point. Professor McGonagall is going to have a go at fixing me tomorrow. She's ideal to help, really, being a cat animagus as well as a Transfiguration Mistress." She tried to keep her tone bright and hopeful.
Harry nodded along and tried to keep up with her nervous, slightly rambling report. She was genuinely and understandably worried and so was he. Remembering his lonely nights in the hospital wing, he was struck by an impulse to stay with her.
"Do you – do you want me to stay with you? Nights here aren't much fun when you're by yourself. I always wished I had some company..." He trailed off.
Hermione's eyebrows knitted together and her features betrayed surprise for a moment. She bit her lip. "Would you really like to stay?" She asked tentatively. "I would feel better with you here. I'd have someone to talk to, and you wouldn't be too far away. We'd have to ask Madam Pomfrey... I think I could convince her to allow it." Hermione was fighting back a grin at the possibility of Harry staying. "I'll ask her now." She turned and walked quickly down the rows of beds, seeking the office at the far end of the wing.
Harry's eyes again dropped to Hermione's skirt. The tail was rigid and no longer swishing around. It raised the hem of the skirt a bit and revealed an area of enticing cream-colored flesh he had never seen before. It dawned on him that Hermione's appearance had changed since last year - her hips had flared out a bit and she seemed more... curvy. More feminine.
Being in a tower full of teenage wizards, Harry had heard girls' looks being discussed before. He wondered why he had never heard Hermione's name brought up. She was certainly pretty – for some reason that was a jarring thought. Regardless, she was quite cute. He often had odd dreams wherein he would be flying with Hermione, guiding the broom as she clung to him from behind. Harry knew Hermione didn't like flying, but the dreams never failed to put him in a good mood. And she wasn't annoying and strange like some girls he knew in passing - the ones who would talk about nothing at all for hours on end. She was the smartest person he knew, and she helped him in his classes when she didn't have to. She helped him with a lot of things, actually. He really didn't know what he'd do without her.
Harry sat down on "his" bed. Over the summer, he thought he'd missed Hogwarts, but when he first saw them again, he realized he'd really missed Hermione and Ron. When he really thought about it, Hermione cared about him more than anyone else he could think of. Ron was alright, but, as he had recently proven, he was the sort of bloke who'd leave you in a dingy bathroom while he tended to his wardrobe malfunction.
Hermione found Harry perched on the edge of the bed, staring pensively at the floor. She approached with a bounce in her step, one hand holding her tail to keep it from twitching about and lifting her skirt, the other clutching a bundle of cloth to her chest.
"You can stay." She said with a grin, fighting to keep the excitement out of her voice. It wouldn't do to scare Harry off by acting strangely. She couldn't afford to make him uncomfortable. The idea of a sanctioned mixed-gender sleepover with her best friend on school grounds was oddly exciting for some reason.
Harry's head snapped up at the words, and since he was still seated, his eyes landed on the errant tail clutched in her fist. He couldn't hold back any longer, he had to ask the question. "Can you control the... the tail?" He had almost said 'your tail,' but thought better of it.
Hermione let out a nervous laugh and carefully sat next to him on the bed, placing the bundle Harry now recognized as pajamas between them. Her skirt pooled around her and the tail lay splayed over the blankets, sweeping a slow arc over the bed. "I think if I concentrate, I can, but it's a bit like fidgeting or yawning – it's involuntary. It moves quite a lot, but I think it depends on how I'm feeling."
"Can you really hear better?" Harry asked, eyeing the furry, cinnamon-colored ears pushing up through her kinky hair.
"Yes, I think so. Can you hear Madame Pomfrey dictating in her office?" Harry shook his head. "I can. She's making notes about me for tomorrow."
"Wow." Harry mumbled. "So... how do you feel about all this?" He asked hesitantly, hoping the question wasn't unwelcome.
Hermione gave an unladylike snort. "Alright, I suppose – considering."
"Is any of it bothering you much, besides just being there? I mean..." He trailed off.
"I think I know what you mean." She let out a thoughtful sigh. "It's really just the tail and ears that people would notice, and I can hide those. I think I could live with it. Glamour charms for the eyes are quite common, so I'm not concerned about that. The same goes for teeth – it shouldn't be too hard to conceal at all."
"It's a shame you'll have to hide the ears, they are quite fetching." Harry replied, looking into her slitted eyes and grinning.
Hermione giggled. 'That doesn't happen often.' Harry thought. "I'm glad you think so. You'll probably be one of the few who gets to see them." She smiled, unintentionally baring her new teeth. Absently, she pawed at her feline ears. She paused, her eyes widening in surprise. "Ooh, Harry they're soft! Touch them!" Giving him no time to protest, she took one of his hands and brought it to her head. Hesitantly, Harry began to scratch them.
"Oh." That was all Hermione said before her eyes fluttered closed. The corners of her mouth lifted to a lazy smile and she tilted her head toward Harry to offer him better access.
Harry, for his part, was a bit lost. Though his experience with touch was mostly limited to beatings courtesy of his cousin, he'd had some contact with Hermione before. However, this did not save him from the nervousness that struck him as soon as she had grasped his hand. This is different. He fought to keep his hand from shaking as he carefully stroked the soft, furry ears perched atop her head. He was consoled somewhat by the fact that she could not see how nervous he was – her eyes were still closed.
Hermione was quite content. She hadn't felt this good in quite some time, and silently congratulated herself on her months of work getting Harry accustomed to her touch. She soon lost herself in the sensation of his knuckles grazing the base of her ears. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a low rumbling seemed to climb from the base of her stomach, through her chest and finally to her throat. She was purring. 'Yes,' she thought. 'Little touches here and there, grabbing him when I'm startled, leaning into him when it's cold. It looks as if it's worked. He's even stopped shaking.'
Slowly, to give him some warning, Hermione rested her cheek on his shoulder. Trying to stifle the sound of her breath, she inhaled the young wizard's scent. He smelled of some sort of spice and broom polish. She'd never been more aware of the way he smelled and made a silent vow to enjoy it more often.
"That's quite nice." Hermione said, raising her head from his shoulder a bit so that she could speak. She rested her head again, letting out a contented sigh.
Harry was in a daze. Hermione's hair smelled fantastic – ancient books, pumpkin and flowers – and the nervousness he felt at being so close to her was rapidly being replaced by something he'd never felt before. It wasn't as if the act of scratching and providing a shoulder was tiring, but some force was weighing on his eyelids and making him feel as though he were full of lead. That same force saw to it that his cheek was soon resting against Hermione's head. All the while, he continued scratching her into oblivion.
"It's very relaxing." Hermione murmured. "I'm afraid it will put me to sleep." She said with a faint, wan smile.
Harry, too, was fighting to keep upright. In his trance-like state, he could think only of the moment and how to prolong it. "We could lie down and I'll keep scratching until you fall asleep." He suggested quietly.
Hermione mumbled her sleepy assent. She lowered herself onto her right side while Harry scooted back a bit and did the same. He resumed his work on the ears protruding from Hermione's bushy hair. It seemed hours had passed since they had discovered their new pastime, though in reality it couldn't have been more than ten minutes.
They fell asleep that way, the strokes coming to a gradual halt, the shared warmth sapping their consciousness until their minds fell blank. At one point, Harry felt Hermione shiver and unconsciously move into him and frowned in his sleep, his accidental magic banishing the blanket from beneath them to reappear over them.
Madame Pomfrey's occupants-per-bed monitoring charm had alerted her, prompting her to check that the anti-lust ward was still in place. It was. The staff betting pool on Harry and Hermione's romantic lives had been started up last week with McGonagall's bet that they would be seen holding hands before the spring of their third year. The healer shook her head and stifled a laugh at the irony. If only Minerva's bet had specified they'd be sharing a bed!
Meanwhile, in a quaint, slightly squalid cabin bordering Hogwarts' Forbidden Forest, Rubeus Hagrid's wager senses were tingling. He suddenly felt that, for a reason he couldn't quite remember, Professor Flitwick owed him a galleon.
Harry was flying. It was the same dream he'd had so many times before, but with one minor change – rather than feeling Hermione cling to him from behind, she was in front of him on the broom. His arms reached past her slender waist to control their journey. His mind had also updated dream-Hermione to reflect her new appearance. The feline ears were evident as he peered over her head to see where they were going. When their flight leveled out after a long dive, Harry found that he could feel a jittery rumbling through Hermione's back. Again, she seemed to be purring.
Harry felt as though the scenario had never been done justice in his past dreams. The Hermione in his arms felt more real, impossibly solid and warm. The scent of her hair saturated the chill wind whipping past them, making him wish for a giant's lungs – anything to let him take it all in and keep it.
Harry felt something tickle his chin. Hermione's tail swished back and forth, lightly touching him with every pass. She had turned her head to observe him with an impish smile. Harry looked down to find they were hovering mere feet above the ground. This was another change – usually in these dreams, Harry controlled the flight and Hermione was along for the ride. It appeared that dream-Hermione had taken some measure of control. When he looked up again, he was surprised to find that the young witch was now facing him on the broom, wearing one of her muggle shirts and her school skirt.
The broom fell away from them. Harry was dimly aware of his feet being planted once more on solid ground. Hermione's face was inches from his. The impish smile had been replaced by something he couldn't name. It was soft, but somehow also quite serious. It was timid - some of dream-Hermione's confidence had faltered. He wanted her to be smiling again. He never wanted to see her do anything else. She closed her eyes and bent her head forward, leaning into him. She rubbed her cheek against his, and after a suitable interval, fixed that same cheek with a gentle but firm kiss. Suddenly he and Hermione were on the grass, she in his arms, facing away from him. Again, every breath was essence of Hermione, and again, Harry could feel a fluffy tail tickle his chin.
Harry woke slowly, feeling warmer and more content than he could ever remember being. He inhaled deeply and released a sigh. Then, his eyes shot wide open.
Bushy brown hair. He performed a limb check. Moving his fingers, he found that his right hand was entangled in hair and his left was resting on a series of warm curves he dared not explore. They had fallen asleep together. He remembered how it seemed to make so much sense at the time. Did anyone see us?
He looked around, noticing dim light throughout the ward. It was before the time he would normally wake up. Breakfast was probably not quite being served in the Great Hall. He started to take a deep breath to calm himself, caught an intoxicating whiff of the young witch's perfume, thought better of it, and began breathing through his mouth to prevent himself from passing out.
At the other end of the wing, Madam Pomfrey pocketed her wand and eased her office door shut with a satisfied smile. Her discreet – and well-aimed, if she was perfectly honest – ennervate had done its job. Harry was awake with time to take stock of the situation before they were discovered. She would give him a few minutes to come up with something and then make some noise to spur them to action if he hadn't moved after a reasonable interval.
While Harry's mind churned and Pomfrey hummed a happy tune, Hermione was in another place. She was having a recurring dream of her own, and, much like the dream from which Harry had just returned, this one was especially vivid.
Hermione was reading Hogwarts, a History under a big tree by the Black Lake. Clad in an old pair of jeans and a sweater, she was truly comfortable and at peace. Usually in these dreams Harry would be lounging under the tree next to her. Sometimes he would sleep, back against the trunk of the tree, looking quite peaceful and cute. Other times he would practice his flying, rising to heights that Hermione pretended for his sake did not worry her and then diving to the ground, tearing past with enough speed to rustle the pages of her book, laughing the whole way.
This time, though, she could not immediately find him. He wasn't in the sky. He wasn't next to her. Then, as she returned to the book, brow furrowed with worry, she noticed the extra set of arms resting over her stomach and in her lap. Harry was holding her. She was nestled between his legs, leaning into his wiry frame. She smiled the same secret smile she allowed herself on the first day of every term when no one was looking. She scooted back, trying to wrap herself up in as much of Harry as she could.
After it seemed a long time had passed, Harry's hands moved over her stomach, spreading his fingers to transfer unbelievable heat through her jumper to her skin. His fingers brushed the wire of her bra over her sweater. He balled his hand up and snaked his arm around her, pulling her just a bit closer. It occurred to her that this was something she and Harry should do again, and turned to tell him so. Rather abruptly, Hermione found herself staring into the emerald green eyes of her best friend. They were lying face-to-face in a hospital bed, and it wasn't a dream.