The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
This was not the story I had originally planned to write next, but this idea came to me as I was finishing up When Harry Met Hermione, and I couldn't shake it. It's sort of the alternative to that story – instead of Hermione having a bigger role in Harry's adventure, her role is eliminated entirely.
I struggled a lot with this one, which is part of the reason for the long time gap since my last posting (almost half a year!). It started out as a one-shot, but kept growing until I decided to break it into a separate chapter for each year. The first few chapters are relatively short, but some of the later ones ballooned to more than 10,000 words each. All in all, it looks like it's going to end up around 50,000 words total, making it one of my longer stories.
A common element in Harry/Hermione fanfics is his realization of 'How would I ever have survived/passed my courses/defeated Voldemort/etc. without her?' The way the books are written he would have had no chance at all. Even already back in Book 1 less than a month after the troll incident he muses how lucky he is to have her as a friend as he didn't know how he'd get through his homework without her. And it continues all the way through Book 7, where he pretty much sits back and lets her take charge of everything on the horcrux hunt.
But if she weren't there, it seems obvious that someone else would have had to step up and fill her role. Or at least, part of it. In this story he did receive additional help from other sources, and did manage to fulfill his destiny, but not all is well in his life.
The tale begins five years after the final battle.
I Need You
We used to laugh,
We used to cry.
We used to bow our heads then wonder why.
But now you're gone,
I guess I'll carry on
And make the best of what you left me.
Chapter 1, The New Professor
Harry Potter swept down the ancient corridor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his robes billowing out dramatically behind him as he made his way to the Headmistress's office. The young Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor reflected with wry amusement on the irony that this effect was the one useful thing he'd ever learned from Severus Snape. Not to say that the hated potions master had actually taught him this skill, just as he'd never actually taught anything else during his so-called teaching career. But Harry had learned it just the same, and the fact that he'd picked it up from a man he hated didn't stop him from using it. For one thing, he thought it was really cool! And for another, it intimidated the hell out of the students.
Of course, he wasn't intimidating anyone at the moment, since it was summer and there were no students in the castle. Not that he needed this showy display to intimidate them in any case. After all, he was Harry Potter! The Boy Who Lived! The Chosen One! The Hero of the Wizarding World! Not to mention one of the most powerful wizards of his time.
Unfortunately there was a price for all this intimidation and respect.
Harry Potter was a lonely wizard.
He really had no close friends, and a rather limited social life. He did attend the occasional obligatory social function, his escort for these occasions coming from a rotating group of female former DA members. The four of them were more than willing to accompany him on these occasions as a favor to him. But virtually everyone he encountered was awed by him, acquaintance or no, male or female. It had been that way pretty much the entire time he'd been in the wizarding world. Any women he might be interested in shied away from his reputation. And the women who pursued him for his fame were precisely the ones he had no interest in.
There were only a handful of exceptions to this behavior, among the females he'd met in this life, who had treated him more or less normally. But none of them were available for any sort of romantic relationship. One of them was fifty years his senior, his colleague and mentor, Headmistress McGonagall. One was a casualty of the war. Another was happily married, with a young daughter. And the last, or more accurately, the first … well, he hadn't seen her for ten years, ever since she'd left school after their second year.
Hermione Granger had been his constant companion for his first two years of magical schooling, but her parents had withdrawn her from Hogwarts that summer. He couldn't blame them at all, since she'd been nearly killed by a basilisk that had been roaming the halls of the castle that year, and had lain petrified in the infirmary for weeks before being revived at the end of the term. She'd continued her education abroad, at the Salem Witches' Institute. She and Harry had exchanged letters for a year or so after she'd left, but that had gradually fallen by the wayside. Occasionally he wondered what had become of her, and how his life might have gone differently if she'd stayed at Hogwarts.
He put those thoughts out of his mind as he reached McGonagall's office. She'd called him there to introduce him to the newly hired Muggle Studies professor. He wasn't certain, but he suspected that it would be a younger wizard, or more likely a witch, as his former head of house was always trying to get him to make more friends. To that end, she'd 'persuaded' him to show this new professor around the castle and help him or her settle in.
Entering the office, and deliberately avoiding looking at a certain portrait of a former headmaster, he gave a quick nod to his other colleague who was also present, Filius Flitwick. Then he turned his attention to the young woman talking with McGonagall. He estimated that she was indeed about his age, and immediately took note of her long and quite curly brown hair. Then she turned around to face him and he stopped breathing. No, it couldn't be!
"Hello, Harry," she greeted him, her brown eyes reflecting both eagerness and nervousness, promptly stirring up in his mind old memories of times when he'd seen that exact same combination of emotions on her face. "Remember me?"
"Hermione?" he managed to gasp. Her worried smile turned genuine at those words, and she nodded her head happily. Harry finally got his feet to move and took a step forward, but then grinned and held his arms out. Hermione needed no further prompting, and threw herself into them.
"It's really you!" he declared in amazement, relishing her enthusiastic hug as the ten years since the last one they'd shared seemed to disappear. "I can't believe you're here!" Feeling her nod again against his shoulder, he lowered his voice to a whisper. "I've missed you so much!"
It quickly occurred to him that, as familiar as this hug was, it was also quite different than the last one he remembered. That had been between a twelve and thirteen year old boy and girl; now they were a man and woman in their early twenties. But before he could analyze that information any further, she pulled back and looked at him again. This time the smile on her face was one of delight and surprise. "Really?" she asked.
Before Harry could do any more than nod in affirmation, McGonagall cleared her throat. Apparently she'd been trying to make a more formal introduction but had given up, since neither of the two young professors had heard a word she'd said. Upon finally getting their attention, she gave them a warm smile. "I'm quite certain that the two of you have a lot of catching up to do. I expect we'll see you in the Great Hall at dinner?"
Realizing that this question was in fact both an instruction and a dismissal, Harry grinned and agreed, leading Hermione from the office and down the revolving staircase. When the door had closed behind them, Flitwick turned to McGonagall and smirked.
"Why Minerva, I do believe that you have an ulterior motive here, beyond merely filling a vacant staff position," the diminutive professor teased with a twinkle in his eye.
"I assure you, my old friend, that Miss Granger is quite well qualified for her role," the normally stern headmistress shot back with a smug expression. Flitwick nodded, recognizing what his long time friend was trying to accomplish. Mr. Potter certainly deserved to have more happiness in his life.
As the two reunited friends emerged from the bottom of the stairs, Harry turned to Hermione and shook his head as though to make certain he wasn't dreaming. "This is so amazing," he proclaimed in a tone of wonder.
A faint blush blossomed on Hermione's cheeks. "I was worried that you had forgotten me," she admitted shyly.
"Not bloody likely!" Harry shot back. "You were the only one here who treated me as just Harry, without all the other baggage." Hermione nodded in understanding.
Harry smiled again and offered her his arm, which she happily accepted. "Now, I believe I'm supposed to welcome you to Hogwarts and show you around the castle," he informed her as they set off down the corridor. "I don't suppose you happen to remember where the library is, do you?" he teased.
Hermione laughed. "As a matter of fact, I believe I do. And I also remember where the hospital wing is, having spent so much time there, what with all the times you managed to injure yourself," she joked back.
Harry grinned. "I was one of Madame Pomfrey's most loyal patients, I suppose. We should stop by and see her and Madame Pince later. I'm sure they'll both remember you."
As they waited for one of the staircases to swing into place, Harry returned to the subject of her absence. "Things just weren't the same after you left," he declared. Hermione shook her head and shot him a skeptical glance. "No really," he insisted, "there were so many times when I had something I would have wanted to share with you, or needed your help with." Hermione remained silent, listening attentively as they descended the stairs.
Harry sighed. "Especially fourth year. I really could have used a friend that year." He paused, then added. "The next year too, for that matter. And all the years after that, really."
"Oh honestly, it couldn't have been that bad," Hermione objected, as her face flushed from the unexpected assertion. "After all, you did win the tournament without any help from me. And Ron was still here, after all." She was cut off by a dark look from Harry.
"No one believed me when I said I didn't put my name in the Goblet of Fire – including Ron!" he informed her tersely. "Even the ones who supported me thought I was clever to have got past the age line. If you'd been there …"
"I'd certainly have believed you," Hermione acknowledged as she added her other hand to the one holding his arm and gave a reassuring squeeze. "Anyone who really knew you should have known how much you disliked all the attention."
"Exactly," Harry confirmed. "That's what I thought. You'd have stepped up and supported me no matter what. And would have helped me in any way you could." Hermione nodded vigorously. "In fact," Harry added with a thoughtful glance at her. "You probably would have been willing to help me out with the Yule Ball, too. You could have been my partner."
Hermione's eyes widened at the implication. "Do you mean … you think we would have fancied each other by then?" she asked hesitantly.
Harry stopped and turned to her. He hadn't meant it that way, but now that he thought about it, she was certainly not an unattractive woman. But on the other hand, he'd had his eye on a certain Ravenclaw at the time. He smiled at his companion and shook his head gently.
"Sorry, that's not what I meant, although I suppose it's possible," he acknowledged quickly. "I was thinking we could have gone as friends. That's what I ended up doing, asking a girl who was a friend – or at least that's what I thought."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, trying to recover from the potential embarrassment of her assumption. "Who did you go with?"
"Ginny Weasley," Harry replied with a slight grimace.
"Oh. And she had that crush on you," Hermione noted. "I don't suppose she got over it, especially after you rescued her from the Chamber." She paused, then nodded. "Let me guess. You asked her as a friend, but she didn't consider it that way. For her it would have been her dream come true, her knight in shining armor come to carry her away into the sunset, her handsome prince …" she broke off and smirked as Harry's grimace turned into a full blown scowl. "So, what happened?" she asked as she took his arm again and continued along the next corridor.
"She decided that we were officially together, and would be for the rest of our lives," Harry groaned. Even though we never went on another date, she persisted like that for the next two years. I later learned that she threatened to hex any other girl I showed interest in. Finally, at the end of sixth year I told her, 'We are not together, we have never been together, and we never will be together!'"
Hermione shook her head. If she'd stayed at Hogwarts, she thought, perhaps she could have coached Ginny on how she should go about getting to know Harry as a person and not just as the hero from the stories about the Boy Who Lived.
"So, enough about my problems," Harry prompted. "Tell me about what you've been up to."
"Well, you know I went to Salem," Hermione replied, "and I graduated from there five years ago."
"Number one in your class, I presume?" Harry interjected. He grinned as Hermione's cheeks turned pink.
"Well, yes, actually," she admitted with a modest smile. "Mind you, it wasn't quite as … exciting … as Hogwarts," she added.
"No trolls, three headed dogs, basilisks trying to kill you every year, you mean?" Harry joked back as her smile grew.
"Exactly," she agreed. "Rather boring, I'm sure, compared to what was happening to you back here."
The two friends continued in this manner, both amazed at how easily they resumed the familiar, comfortable connection they'd once enjoyed. Harry asked Hermione how she'd got along with her classmates, and she related how her two years of friendship with him and Ron had taught her not to come across as such a bossy know-it-all, so that she'd done better on that score. She also admitted that she'd benefited initially when it got around that she was a close friend of the Boy Who Lived. Harry assured her that he didn't mind, and was happy that his fame had proven of use to her in becoming accepted at her new school.
After finishing Salem, she'd fulfilled a promise she'd made to her parents, to attend a muggle university. Accordingly, they'd returned to England (her parents had taken a year's leave of absence during what would have been Harry's seventh year, when things had become so dangerous for muggleborns and their families in Britain, and joined her in the United States) where she'd studied for a year in order to pass her GSCE exams. That had led to her studying for the past four years at King's College in London, where she'd just recently received her degree in History. Her honors thesis, she informed him with a twinkle in her eye, had been on the history of witchcraft in Britain and the public's changing attitude toward it over time.
"So, that brings us up to now," she concluded, turning to face Harry again. "I'd always intended to come back into the wizarding world. I contacted McGonagall when I was finishing up and she seemed pretty enthusiastic about bringing me to Hogwarts. She wants me to completely overhaul the Muggle Studies curriculum." Seeing Harry's approving nod, she added shyly. "Knowing you were teaching here was a big factor as well. I was hoping we could pick up our friendship again."
Harry chuckled. "Well, I'd say there don't seem to be any difficulties with that part of the plan! But I must say that Minerva is certainly the devious one. I've been urging her for years to do exactly that," he revealed. "Muggle Studies here has been a joke for generations, and I argued that it was critical for wizards to be more knowledgeable about the rest of the world if we're ever going to move forward as a society. But she never even hinted that she was bringing you here to teach it!"
By this time they had reached Harry's destination, the staff room. This, he explained, was actually the entrance to the living quarters for all of the professors. It had a large table surrounded by high backed but comfortably padded wooden chairs, used for staff meetings, and at the opposite end was an enchanted doorway. It was similar to the one used to get into Diagon Alley from the Leaky Cauldron, in that it required a series of wand taps to activate, but you also needed to include the name of the professor whose rooms you wished to access.
"Harry Potter." A door appeared and Harry stepped through. He immediately placed his palm on a smooth metal square embedded in the wall next to the door and stated, "Hermione Granger, full access," then beckoned Hermione to follow.
The new professor stepped through the doorway and looked around. "Full access?" she inquired.
"That means you can come into my rooms whenever you like," Harry answered. "Each professor sets it however they wish. Full access means you can get into any room. It's also possible, for example to only grant access to the sitting room."
Hermione thought about this for a moment, then raised an eyebrow. "How many other professors have you granted full access to?"
Harry shrugged and looked away, his face reddening. "Erm, none, actually. Everyone else only has partial access. It's just that … well, I expect we'll get back to being pretty close friends."
Hermione smiled and gave him a quick hug, then pulled away and resumed her inspection. Harry explained some of the details of how the rooms worked. They were the equivalent of a large suite in a luxury hotel, and could be furnished however the individual professor desired. A kitchen and dining area were included. Although most of the faculty took their meals in the Great Hall, they had the option of dining in their rooms. They could either cook for themselves, or be served whatever they wanted by the house elves – the equivalent of full room service.
There was a floo for communication and/or transportation throughout the castle, and a doorway from the office area of the suite directly into the classroom where the professor taught. All in all, it was a very convenient setup.
Harry called one of the house elves named Winky and introduced her to Hermione, explaining that she would help Hermione furnish her own quarters. Then he demonstrated the floo by contacting McGonagall. The headmistress was unable to completely hide her amusement that the two of them were in Harry's quarters rather than Hermione's or the staff room, causing Harry to protest that he only wanted to show Hermione a sample layout and how everything worked.
Soon they returned to the staff room, where Hermione turned back to the master doorway and tapped it with her wand to summon the entrance to her own quarters. "Hermione Granger." As soon as she stepped through she turned to smile at Harry as she touched the access panel on the other side. "Harry Potter, full access." Harry grinned back and joined her. She wondered if they had to go through the staff room in order to visit each other, but Harry assured her that once access had been granted they could use the doorway of their own room to move directly to any other quarters they wished.
They spent the rest of the afternoon arranging Hermione's rooms. Winky and a cadre of house elves would listen to Hermione describe what she wanted for a particular space, then bring in samples of furniture for her to choose from. Initially, Harry took charge of the kitchen and dining area while Hermione handled her bedroom, then they both worked on the office and sitting room. Harry teased her that there were only four walls, so there was a limit to how many bookcases she could have. By the end of the day, however, she was reasonably satisfied with the way everything looked.
At dinner in the Great Hall Hermione renewed acquaintances with Madames Pomfrey and Pince and with the professors she had taken classes from – Sprout and Sinestra – as well as meeting some she hadn't, such as Babbling and Vector, who taught Ancient Runes and Arithmency. And of course there was an emotional reunion with Hagrid, who Harry had told her had taught Care of Magical Creatures for several years before resuming his original job as groundskeeper.
Everyone made her feel extremely welcome, and all insisted that she address them by their first names (which she knew would take quite a bit of getting used to, especially for McGonagall and Flitwick). She soon discovered, however, that they all exhibited an inordinate amount of respect toward Harry. In fact, they seemed to be almost in awe of him. Only McGonagall called him Harry, the rest all referred to him as either Mr. Potter or Professor Potter. One comment that particularly struck her was when Poppy Pomfrey, when informing Hermione of how good it was to have her join the staff, exclaimed that she 'couldn't remember the last time before this evening that she'd seen Mr. Potter smile'.
They found themselves back in Harry's quarters after dinner, and Hermione prompted him to explain to her what was going on. Harry sighed, and after pouring some drinks and handing one to her, settled down next to her on the sofa.
"How well did you keep up with what happened here, with Voldemort?" he asked.
"As well as I could," she replied. "I know you defeated him." Harry nodded and shifted himself so he could look her in the eye.
"It wasn't just that I beat him, it was that I made it look easy," he revealed. Hermione's eyes went wide, but she didn't shy away, as he was afraid she might. Instead, she leaned closer and took hold of his hand.
"Did you really? Well, that's … that's wonderful, isn't it?" she stammered. But a look of comprehension flickered in her eyes.
Harry shrugged. "There are a lot of things that no one knows about … well, almost no one. But the bottom line is that pretty much everyone looks at me almost like a deity of some sort." Hermione only squeezed his hand and nodded, silently urging him on. Harry leaned back and closed his eyes.
"How often did you ever hear anyone call Dumbledore by his first name?" he queried. Hermione shook her head, indicating that she was aware of how uncommon that was. "The amount of respect everyone had for him was extraordinary," he continued. "It's sort of like that, only worse." He turned back to look at her again. "Dumbledore was more than sixty years old when he defeated Grindelwald. I wasn't even twenty when I killed Voldemort for the final time."
Hermione was beginning to put the pieces together. She could imagine the reaction of the wizarding population. Some worshiped him, some feared him, some resented him. Nearly all would envy him. And some of the witches, she realized after a moment's more thought, likely quite a few of them, would pursue him. Her one-time (and hopefully now again) best friend had been practically forced into a life of isolation, which was the absolute last thing he'd wanted. She moved even closer, taking his hand in both of hers and laying her head against his shoulder.
"Tell me all about it," she whispered gently.
"It's a long story," he warned her.
"That's OK," she reassured him. "We've got all summer."
A/N And so the scene is set. Already you have some indications (some less subtle than others) of how things happened differently. In the following chapters we will hear about how Harry's adventures were altered by Hermione's absence, one year for each chapter, intermingled with how the two of them renew their acquaintance in the present time.