A/N: Seriously, just look at the number of stories I have posted, and thus how rare it is I actually post something new. What are the odds that this one time I try ff net won't freaking let me? What are the odds, I ask you? Growl snarl grumble...

But anyway... success! (Finally!) Several days after I'd intended to post it and countless moments of sulking in futile frustration later, I have a new story up! *preens* And I think it's pretty good. Do you think it's pretty good? Great? Awesome? Absurd?

Original A/N: Something I only just learned while making a last fact check for this story: Dreamless Sleep potion appears to be a fanon invention. The HP Lexicon only mentions "sleeping draughts" and the Draught of Living Death... whodathunkit.


Harry Potter met Hermione Granger in a small compartment on the train to their first year of magic school. He hardly said a word; she talked enough for both of them, relieved to have found someone else new to the wizarding world. At Hermione's suggestion they spent most of the ride reading ahead in their textbooks.

The Sorting Hat sent Hermione to Gryffindor, and when Harry's turn came he tentatively wished to stay with the only familiar face in the grand hall. Well, you do have courage, it's right here in your head you know, the Sorting Hat whispered. Much the same as another lad years ago...

Classes were difficult. "Potter!" the Potions teacher snapped. "What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

Harry hesitated, while beside him Hermione squirmed in her seat giving him urging looks and finally started to raise her hand. Snape didn't give either of them time to answer. He sneered at Harry's ignorance and ordered them on to start their first potion. Hermione reluctantly set the injustice aside to focus and suggested to Harry – in a low voice, because Snape took points for talking too loud, "Why don't you get all the ingredients ready, and I'll add them to our cauldrons and stir?"

Harry nodded tensely and absorbed himself in his task. Whenever Hermione reached out for the next ingredient it was there, ground into a lumpless paste or powder or chopped into precise pieces. Then Harry ran into an instruction he didn't understand – mince – and stalled; Hermione bent her mind on it also to figure it out, and their potion came out imperfect.

While they put away their equipment and cleaned the workspace once class ended, amidst the jumble of other students hurrying to depart, Hermione quizzed him, "How come you didn't answer the professor's question earlier, Harry? They're the same plant, remember, we read about it on the train..."

Harry struggled to explain to her just as he had with Snape, but since she wasn't glaring like she already knew he would fail he was able to find words this time. "But there's two names," he worked out slowly. "So that's a difference. Maybe – from different times or places – or strains – I don't know."

Hermione considered his logic, then grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the professor's desk. "That's smart, we'll just explain to the professor–"

The professor wasn't interested in hearing explanations, and although Hermione huffed Harry wasn't interested in protesting or defending himself.

Whenever they were in the classroom Harry paid strict attention to everything, and soon practiced dicing and peeling and shredding when he wasn't. "You really like potions, huh?" Hermione asked him with some surprise considering their teacher in that subject.

Harry shrugged a little and muttered, "'It's like cooking." Since he liked it Hermione let him take charge of the cauldron during classes for practice with that part while she prepped ingredients for him, and Harry's white owl regularly delivered orders to replenish their supplies. Hermione tried asking Professor Snape if Harry could use the classroom whenever it was empty to practice brewing on his own, but Snape scoffed and wouldn't listen. Harry tried practicing in a corner of the Gryffindor common room, but the rest of their housemates complained about the smells and hazard.

"It's a big castle. We'll just find somewhere else," Hermione declared. But a suitable unclaimed room proved difficult to find. Hermione hit on the idea of asking the school caretaker, since he must know the whole place, but Filch was so surly both children hesitated to approach him.

Harry and Hermione had fallen asleep in a secluded window seat in their common room one night while stargazing for Astronomy when some little sound started Hermione awake, and she opened her eyes in time to see a strange little hobgoblin whisking away some scattered candy wrappers.

Hermione's yelp woke Harry and the creature bobbed and babbled as it explained that it was cleaning, that was what house elves did, and very sorry to disturb young master and missy...

"Of course, Mister Filch couldn't possibly manage the whole castle himself!" Hermione exclaimed, thrilled by the discovery of the man's staff since at least one member of it seemed nice. She posed to it their dilemma–

The elf almost fell over itself to help when she happened to mention Harry's name. "Nobsbod know just the place for the great Harry Potter sir and his friend! Nobsbod be happy to show!"

It looked much like the potions classroom minus the student cupboards, with a long trench table and stools at a perfect height for them, a convenient tap to fill cauldrons with water and burners ready to light. This was being the Come-and-Go room, the elf explained, because the things in it were always coming and going. Hermione frowned a bit, puzzled, but Harry looked around and smiled slowly. Hermione smiled when she saw his reaction and thanked the elf for its help.

Harry and Hermione soon adopted the room as a sanctuary from the rest of the school. They seemed to be the only ones who knew about it, and found it much easier to share a space with just one person rather than the dozens to hundreds outside, especially after having to spend time on less than favored pursuits.

Hermione got nervous as soon as the sign went up announcing the start of flying class. She combed the library for books that might have tips on improving her chances of doing well. Harry sat down between shelves with his eyes shut and seemed calm enough without reading anything.

Neither of them proved spectacular or disastrous. Harry drifted with the wind as soon he rose, prompting the instructor to shout at him, "Left, Potter, back with the rest of us!"

Hermione steeled her nerves and directed her broom higher until it was beside Harry's, then reached out and looped her arm through his without letting herself think about the height or their precariousness. Harry added to her stability, and Hermione directed both of them.

"You belong in water the way you float, not air," Madam Hooch told Harry when they were all back on the ground, shaking her head.

"And I'm for earth!" Hermione muttered to him as they trudged back up to the castle. He grinned a little at her.

Since Harry always focused on brewing, Hermione concentrated on the wanded subjects like Transfiguration and Charms so they could help each other study. Harry did very poorly with spells, but he never minded Hermione's patient tutoring like classmates she'd tried to help before did. And Hermione was genuinely interested in his endless minor experimentation with recipes even though she'd never have done it herself and most of his results just fizzled out.

Hermione was sitting across from Harry in the Come-and-Go room working on an Herbology essay when a new combination he tested exploded suddenly with great force. A house elf discovered them first and sent a frantic summons to the school mediwitch. The children were soon recovering in the hospital wing, but the accident prompted the adults to convene to determine the consequences.

"I'll take him in hand," Snape growled, cutting through everyone else without regard for their input.

Flitwick looked at him cautiously. "Given your record with Potters, Severus..."

"Given the boy is evidently a potioneer despite his blood, I won't see him die at it while under my instruction!" the Potions Master snapped.

McGonagall pressed her lips into a thin line and argued that Harry was just a boy and shouldn't be forced down the first path he showed interest in when he hardly knew what else was available to him. Snape glared at her.

"Never mind interest. You've all said he's yet to show ability in anything else."

McGonagall glowered but made no retort. Sprout decided against reminding everyone that Harry made a decent student of Herbology so far. Several others muttered along the same line as Minerva, but no one could dispute the obvious need for corralling the boy's activity before he hurt himself worse, so Snape got him.

Hermione was dubious at their professor's sudden change of heart. "Maybe he feels responsible," she reasoned, puzzling until she worked him out to her own understanding. "Maybe he just didn't realize you were serious before – though he could have looked," she added with a brief scowl out of loyalty to Harry.

Harry was sullen for a while at his sudden new restrictions once he got out of the hospital wing. Professor Snape forbid him to brew anywhere but the dungeons and anything unsupervised without his explicit permission, and not to even think of trying the slightest variation from a given recipe until he'd learned every single detail of every single element's interaction and potential reactions.

Harry shifted in place and twitched his mouth, on the verge of voicing a protest. Snape pinned him with a dark stare and finished, "Which will certainly take years," and Harry subsided, and took up residence in the dungeons under his teacher's severe eye as frequently as he was permitted.

Hermione went with Harry at first even though Snape scowled and muttered about Gryffindors being brave at nothing. Harry was quieter than usual for a bit while he worked and Hermione perched by the wall nearby with a book; then he murmured, "The Hat said I was brave like Peter Pettigrew."

Snape looked up from his desk but said nothing. Neither child noticed. "Do you know who that is?" Hermione asked.


Hermione searched her memory and came up blank, so she shrugged. "Well, any kind of courage is still courage."

Snape wasn't willing to spend nearly as much time supervising him as Harry had spent before brewing in the Come-and-Go room, which put Harry at a loss for what to do for a while. Paying more attention to his other subjects made little difference in them; he simply couldn't seem to manage spells like everyone else in his year. The Headmaster had Madam Pomfrey check him over carefully, and she eventually concluded that the event he'd survived as a baby had damaged his magical channels. Instead of flowing freely, she explained to Harry and Hermione, his magic had to twist and squeeze to find a way through to his wand, a bit like navigating a muggle obstacle course. He could do magic – just not easily.

Harry just nodded. Hermione figured hearing it didn't make any real difference, and tried to come up with something else to preoccupy him when he couldn't be doing what he wanted. They spent more time in the library before retreating to the Come-and-Go room, but it was at breakfast one morning that she had a flash of inspiration.

Harry always picked at his food. It didn't seem to matter what was served, he ate hardly enough to last him until the next meal, and then sometimes only if he were a bird. Nagging and serving him extra helpings of his favorites had no effect. Hermione had accepted it as strange but normal, until during idle observation of him her brain connected his behavior with an old comment.

"Harry," she said, putting down her fork with a bite of ham still on it, "you like cooking. Did you used to cook a lot at your family's house?"

Harry nodded slowly. Hermione beamed. "Then you must miss it here. Let's ask the house elves where the kitchen is next time we see one, maybe the chefs will let you help."

The house elves turned out to be the castle's cooks as well as cleaners, and after repeated assurances that the great Harry Potter sir really did want to cook showered him with all the equipment and ingredients he could possibly need. Harry cooked far more than he could possibly eat himself, but the elves nearly wept with joy to be allowed to share it, and Hermione watched with satisfaction as he then ate almost a normal meal for a boy his size. She was right – the upset in his routine had bothered him, even after so many months. The elves clamored invitations to return as often as he wanted. Harry rarely attended meals in the Great Hall after that.

In their second year Harry started suffering sudden bouts of ill ease and near-muteness. And he wandered. Hermione was concerned when she didn't always know where to find him anymore, but she only realized how bad it was when Snape collared her in a hall one day and irritably demanded to know where Harry was instead of down in the dungeon to brew.

"The – he likes sitting in the library," Hermione stammered, and went to check. She'd just come from the Gryffindor common and glanced in the Come-and-Go room so she knew he wasn't in either.

Snape hmphed as he followed. "The brat never opens a textbook."

"He doesn't have to," Hermione informed him stoutly. "The books tell him things."

Snape gave her a withering look that made her feel about half as tall as him, but she refused to succumb to it. Harry would sit in an aisle for hours, touching nothing, while she read at a nearby table, and he'd come away with an overview of the shelves' contents delving into almost exact quotes on occasion. She'd checked.

Harry wasn't in the library. Snape interrogated her on where else he might be, and Hermione was forced to admit that she didn't know. He wasn't in one of his default choices when no one had directed him somewhere – he usually otherwise tended to just stay where he was put.

Snape gave her a sharp look at that word choice, but said nothing. Now worried, Hermione went on and searched what felt like half the castle before she finally found Harry sitting with his knees pressed to his chest on top of the Astronomy tower. "What's wrong?"

He shrugged, looking tense and unhappy. Hermione sat down beside him and pulled a book out of her bag. For a while the only sounds were the rustle of pages turning and whatever drifted past on the wind.

"The walls are angry," Harry finally murmured.

Hermione blinked. "They are?"

"They whisper now – sometimes. They want to hurt people. They're hungry."

Books were one thing; somehow talking walls seemed distinctly more far-fetched. Hermione had never encountered anything in the wizarding world that could suddenly turn walls angry and hungry, but she had no doubt in Harry's belief. He shivered even though the sun was warm overhead.

She tried to think of something that would fit both their definitions of reality. "Maybe Peeves is playing some new prank?"

Harry just hunched even tighter in on himself. Hermione thought longer but couldn't come up with anything else, and Harry's tension spurred her to take action. She put her book away and jumped up. "Come on. We'll go ask the Bloody Baron to rein him in. It's not nice to scare anybody like that."

They wound up talking to all the Hogwarts ghosts. None of them seemed to know exactly what Harry's talking walls meant, but most of them acted like it was serious. Hermione wasn't surprised when Peeves denied all knowledge and involvement.

With Hermione's encouragement, Harry eventually told them everything he could, and Sir Nicholas later told the two that the ghosts had taken it to the Headmaster and were helping him deal with it. The walls stopped talking. Hermione was relieved to not have to pull Harry out of the strangest places where he'd tried to hide from the whisper anymore; Harry was relieved to be able to sleep without worry again.

Their next year started with Dementors on the train. One of them just brushed Harry before being driven away, and the touch seemed to knock all the bad memories in his head loose to rattle around. The Defense professor gave him chocolate. Hermione planted him in front of his cauldron in the dungeon with a pestle in one hand and stirring rod in the other and harried Lupin into agreeing to teach her the Patronus Charm. Harry wasn't capable of it.

Harry stopped sleeping in his bed when his thrashing started scaring his dormmates, and slept even worse for the lack. The Gryffindor prefects chided him to go to bed when he curled up in one of the common room chairs, and started frowning when he tried to hide underneath a sofa instead. The house elves somehow made everyone else forget the corner window seat existed and piled it with blankets and cushions for him. Hermione squeezed in there with him late every night until the common room emptied.

"Maybe you could try Dreamless Sleep," she whispered, wanting to comfort and feeling horribly useless.

Harry shook his head, eyelids heavy with exhaustion. "Dangerous for repeated use." Snape would never let him brew it anyway – would probably make him hand in a three-foot essay on why and how dreams were important and what damage that potion could do to the mind before he even let Harry try.

Hermione hugged him, the only reassurance she could offer in the face of his nightmares. The Patronus Charm was a monumental effort to master for a teenager, even as determined as she was. Lupin tried to tell her that no matter how hard she tried she might simply not be able yet.

When Harry started falling asleep in class the professors sent him to Madam Pomfrey. She made him sleep in the hospital wing for a week to monitor him, then started trying different treatments.

The Dementors still hovered outside Hogwarts' walls. Harry grew more and more haggard. He barely ate again, and stopped talking to anyone but Hermione. After two weeks without success in helping him Madam Pomfrey restricted him to the wing day and night. Hermione camped on the bed next to his as often as she could and tried to help him concentrate on homework.

"It's not just dreams," Harry finally whispered to her when the mediwitch was busy in her stillroom, leaving the two momentarily alone. He looked drawn and gaunt. Madam Pomfrey had offered to let him help her steep bruise balm. He'd declined. "My head hurts – a lot."

He pressed a fist against his temple, over the lightning bolt scar. "I keep hearing him laugh."

Hermione sucked in a breath and hugged him tightly, trying not to show how much the confession scared her. She struggled to carry it as a secret for a little while, while Harry withdrew more and more; then she nerved herself and spoke for him – told Madam Pomfrey.

The mediwitch called someone from St. Mungo's. For a while no one was allowed into the wing without permission, and Harry seemed to get a little better. He was quiet but almost collected when he told Hermione that they were going to move him to the hospital, he didn't know for how long.

"Hedwig can't come," he said, lips barely moving, "so could you keep her here, and then she can visit with letters..."

Hermione swallowed hard and nodded. "And bring yours back. I'll take good care of her for you."

Harry's face was pale as he caught her gaze for the last time before he stepped into the floo, but neither of them cried, and his letters informed her that his new residence wasn't so bad. Harry was a better writer than speaker; his essays had always gotten good marks, and words flowed from his quill much easier than they had from his tongue – possibly just because Hermione could read them all at once no matter how long it took him to put them together.

Breakfast is the same every day, he mentioned. I haven't seen any of the hospital's elves yet. Maybe they don't have them.

Try asking for other things if you're hungry, Hermione suggested, hoping into scribed quirls of ink that he'd eat enough. I can send you your telescope if you want (if you have a place to use it), Professor Sinistra told us in class today that there's supposed to be a meteor shower over Britain week after next.

None of the windows Harry found had a decent view of the real sky; apparently St. Mungo's was somewhere in London because if he opened a window and stuck his head out there were lots of buildings and smog around instead of the charmed images of clouds and gardens. Some of the patients in the long-term care ward were interesting though. Hermione was surprised, then pleased, to read that he'd met people he actually seemed comfortable around, even if they were mostly adults and not all mentally there. One of them apparently thought she was a dog. Another collected chewing gum wrappers and gave Harry all the cauldron cakes whenever a particular healer brought sweets for the residents of the floor.

I started twisting my wrappers together into a rope (she let me borrow some of her gum to keep them together), and now she's helping a little. We're trying to get enough to put up streamers around her bed, but the healer only comes by a couple times a week. Can you think of anything to do with pumpkin pasties? Nobody wants them so there's lots left.

Hermione stopped spending as much time in the Come-and-Go room once she was all alone there, finding she preferred the library. Madam Pince kept the students quiet and she could usually find an empty table near the big lancet windows overlooking the lake since most everybody else preferred seats where they could see the Quidditch pitch. Nott ruined his cauldron yesterday and Professor Snape sniped that "if he couldn't even pay half attention he'd be lucky to suffer Potter mediocrity." I think he must miss you a little. He's taking points off Gryffindors for breathing too loudly again. I found this Silly String stuff in a joke shop in Hogsmeade, maybe it will be useful. Do you want the next Sea Life Cycles or Defense Annals next?

Harry rarely wrote much about what the healers were doing for him or how he felt. Hermione hoped that he wouldn't have to miss any more school once the year ended, but when she visited him over the summer he mentioned that he wasn't even going home to see his relatives. He'd had a vision about him neither he nor the healers could explain, and they were still working on how to fix his scar.

Fourth year turned out to be less lonely than Hermione had expected even without Harry there. I know some French so I've talked with some of the Beauxbatons students about how different everything is, but most of the girls are more interested in the Durmstrang group, I suppose probably just because most of them are boys.

I heard some visitors talking about it. Apparently everybody in Britain who can't fit in the stands will be listening on wireless, Harry wrote back. We've got an old one here but Healer Strout said it will be on so many channels we're sure to find coverage. Even the portraits are interested.

Viktor gave me a pair of Omnioculars (apparently they're common at professional Quidditch matches) to record the Tasks on so you can watch them too, just send them back for the Second and Third Tasks and you'll have each as soon as it's happened. He showed me an old one of his first match with the Vultures and the quality is excellent, so hopefully you'll get a good view even though I'm not used to using one of these things.

Later in the year she admitted, I think he likes me. I'm not going to like him until you've met and you like him, of course, but I think he's going to ask me to the Yule Ball, and I think I'll agree.

Harry mentioned around Christmastime that with all the extra visitors wandering around the hospital his security had increased. Hermione suspected he spent most of the holiday in his room. The extra security eventually proved a blessing, though, when someone tried to break in to him with presumable malicious intent. I didn't even see anyone, but everyone's upset that someone was able to sneak into restricted areas without being noticed. At least a vial of my blood is missing from downstairs. I don't know if I was supposed to hear.

Only a day later Hedwig returned with another note that had only two shaky words: He's back. Hermione hugged the owl convulsively in disbelieving fear, then directed her to go right back even without a letter and stay with him. Harry clearly needed her more.

The visions got worse. Harry wrote less than ever explicitly, but it was unfortunately easy to speculate when mentions of headaches became common and his healers apparently started having tea with Unspeakables. Hermione couldn't help but wonder how much and how bad were the things he didn't tell her, but she didn't press him. Instead she focused more determinedly than ever on making her letters a small escape from his daily reality. She wrote about Snape's and Sprout's lectures and things she'd read in the library or heard from home and odd stories the house elves occasionally mentioned.

At the end of the year came a letter that told her, simply, that Harry was going to sleep for a while now. Healer Strout said an induced magical coma was the only option left that might protect him from the visions that had been proved real and that they still couldn't block or control. No one was sure how long he'd have to stay under. Keep sending books, please, even though I won't ask for them, he wrote at the end, in very small even letters she knew instinctively had taken much more time and effort than usual to form, so I'll have somewhere else to go if it doesn't work like it's supposed to.

Hermione swallowed hard, clutching the parchment as her eyes blurred briefly, imagining Harry trapped asleep for weeks in the Dark Lord's head. She wished she'd had another chance to visit first, and wrote saying so - then tore that letter up, and wrote instead: I'll send new books every week, I promise, no matter how long it lasts. Do you think you'd like to study a foreign language? I know I have several French basic phrase books at home and it'd be easy to get more...

She wrote about the year end tests and the finale of the Tournament and what was it like vacationing with her parents on the Riviera. She kept writing as usual even after he stopped responding, keeping him informed of her life and the general events of the world outside his hospital room. After a little thought, she sent every potions-related text she could find along with her letters, from Asiatic Anti-Venoms and The Encyclopedia of Toadstools to Moste Potente Potions, determined that at the least Harry could wake up with such a thorough knowledge of theory that Snape would have to let him start brewing as he wanted. Later she also started sending books in related subjects like herbology and alchemy, figuring the variety might help keep him interested.

The year passed for Hermione in a concentrated study for OWLs and letters. Harry's healers wrote her politely several times, when the books she sent started piling up so much in his room that they wanted to know what to do with them, and from them she got a few generic explanations of his condition (always the same) and their progress (essentially none). She visited over Christmas break, even though he wasn't aware, and got more answers from his healers in person.

All of them were reluctant to go into any kind of detail about his connection to the Dark Lord, and little more about his visions. That little was far from reassuring: somehow, due to whatever had happened that long-ago night, Harry had been soul-bound, and the Dark Lord's mind had begun dragging Harry's into his.

But Harry had not, apparently, been put to sleep solely to try to block that bond. One of the Mind Healers who'd been working with him had tried to teach him not only how to shield his mind from outside influence but something called "empathic Legilimency" to help him learn how to relate more normally to other people.

"As well, it seemed reasonable that learning some control over projection might help improve control of shielding," the healer admitted with a tired sigh as he ran a hand through his thinning hair.

"Does it need a spell?" Hermione asked, already apprehensive but trying not to react until she had all the information.

"Partially," the healer admitted soberly, and she winced and closed her eyes, bracing herself for the rest.

Harry struggled, at first, learning it - and then he'd somehow gone farther and deeper into it than the healer had imagined possible or been watching for - not with the healer, who he wasn't as comfortable with, but with some of the patients in the long-term ward. Healer Strout had found Harry lost in the dog-woman's mind, in a connection that apparently none of the healers had ever seen before or could confidently pull him out of. They were afraid (though none of them admitted it in such words) that the ability was related to his bond to the Dark Lord, and might deepen it despite all their efforts. He'd gone to sleep just a few weeks later.

Hermione spent a day sitting by Harry's bedside while her parents browsed in muggle London. He looked strange, face abnormally relaxed and aged; the figure on the bed seemed like just a placeholder for the friend she hadn't seen in so long. She told him the news in her latest letter from Viktor, and how his friends in the long-term ward seemed to be since he hadn't been able to visit in so long, and for his Christmas gift left him the afghan she'd made learning to knit after describing the color and pattern so he'd recognize it when he woke. Then she went back to school and letters, dividing her attention between her own studies and the unofficial curriculum she sent Harry.

In June she sat her OWLs and went home for a week to wait for her results and her parents' return from a dental convention-cum-holiday in Geneva. She'd hardly settled in the house long enough to unpack after the cab home from King's Cross when the doorbell rang. Hermione answered it, then stared, because Harry was standing on her porch looking back.

He was really older now - even though she'd seen him only a few months ago, he seemed to have sprouted suddenly from the boy in third year to a teen who should be about to enter sixth.

"You're out!" she exclaimed, half thrilled and half disbelieving, as a flurry of relevant questions tumbled about in her head to come out first.

He nodded, once, the motion a little abrupt and familiar. "Want to come with me?" he asked, hands shoved in the pockets of a pair of worn jeans. She only briefly spared the thought where he'd gotten them or the overlarge T-shirt.

Hermione blinked, considering, then grabbed her wand and made sure she locked the door behind her. "Where are we going?"

Harry shrugged - it was a little disconcerting, to see him taller and lankier, but he was still about the same relative to Hermione and she found herself easily slipping into her old place beside him.

They walked for quite a while, roaming through Hermione's neighborhood and those around it. Hermione got plenty of exercise just traipsing the castle from one class to another every year, and Harry must have been given some kind of strengthening potions during his coma, but when he seemed to start to tire while still looking searchingly around each street she asked, "Do you have any idea how far we've got to go?"

He shrugged again, then shook his head. Hermione patted his arm and pulled him to a stop on one corner. "Let's take a bus, then. Have you got any money?"

Harry checked his pockets, then shook his head again. Then he checked his pockets again and admitted, "Don't have anything."

"That's all right. I can get tickets for us both. Where'd you get the clothes?"

"Charity bin."

"They look nice," Hermione said firmly. "Are those shoes comfortable enough?"

He looked blank for a second, then nodded.

Hermione took charge of which buses they took until they got back to her house, where she ran in to collect the money her parents had left as a just-in-case fund, opened her window and Hedwig's cage so the owl could feed herself if they stayed out late, and put a few things Harry might want and some books in her school bag for the trip. Harry made lunch for them while he waited in the kitchen. As always before, he cooked more than just the two of them needed. Hermione packed the leftovers to take with them while he cleaned the dishes they'd used, and then they locked the house and left again.

Most of the day passed riding one bus after another, Harry staring intently out the windows at each street they passed, occasionally getting off abruptly when the bus turned away from whichever direction he seemed to want to go. Hermione read beside him when they were able to get seats together, which was most of the time, trusting Harry's apparent concentration even though he couldn't point to their destination on a map. He was a little less vocal and more abrupt, but still Harry.

Once she noticed him rubbing his scar and asked impulsively, "Are you all right? Better?"

He hesitated. His hand went still. "Sometimes I hear him," he murmured, and stared hard out the window again.

Hermione swallowed, and said nothing more to distract him from his distraction.

Late that afternoon Harry finally straightened suddenly, gaze fixed on an uninspired turn the bus was passing, and jerked on the pull cord to signal a stop requested. When he and Hermione got off he strode away immediately, searching both sides of the new street as they progressed down it.

Hermione fingered her wand in her pocket, not entirely comfortable in such a seedy-looking neighborhood, but the few people visible appeared to take no notice of them. Five houses down from the end of the street Harry turned onto a front walk, the set of his shoulders relaxing. Apparently they'd found what they were looking for.

"Do you know who lives here?" Hermione asked as they reached the porch.


Hermione relaxed as well. She didn't know why Harry needed to visit their professor, but Snape's house was greatly preferable to a stranger's.

Harry ran his hands over the door frame and then kicked the faded mat up. A grungy key lay underneath.

The inside of Professor Snape's house smelled musty, sunlight filtering through faded curtains onto walls of parchment-stuffed books and peeling wallpaper. Hermione flicked a light switch to see if there was electricity before looking for the kitchen to check the water supply, wondering how little time the professor spent there for it to have such an unlived-in feel.

Harry disappeared somewhere while Hermione telephoned home to see if her parents had gotten there yet. They'd left a message on the answering machine letting her know that they'd run into a couple old friends just as the convention ended and so planned to stay another couple days to catch up as long as she didn't need them. Hermione left a message in return saying that she'd be staying with a friend from school and to take all the time they liked, then disconnected and went to find Harry. She could always change it if he wound up staying with her at home.

Harry was in the cramped basement, which Professor Snape appeared to have converted into a potion lab. This floor seemed at least a little more frequented than the one above, since she saw no sign of dust anywhere and there was no stench of ingredients going off, but aside from the equipment collected around Harry neither did anything seem to be disturbed.

"Is Professor Snape home?" she asked.

Harry, already tinkering and to all appearances fully absorbed, didn't seem to hear her, so Hermione just explored the rest of the house herself. Upstairs held two small bedrooms and a bath that looked reasonably clean though it smelled as musty as everything else. Hermione wished she was a few months older so she could legally cast air-freshening charms, and settled for cracking open the few windows she could find that weren't painted shut.

No food in the kitchen except a few old boxes of baking soda and rolled oats confirmed Professor Snape's absence. Hermione wondered at it, but didn't worry. Of course the first thing Harry would want to do after getting out of the hospital would be to brew, and even if the potions master acted irascible, he was Harry's teacher and his house was probably the best place available outside Hogwarts.

Hermione ate a little of what they'd brought with them for dinner, left a little beside Harry that she doubted he noticed, and set to making the tiny house a bit more livable before nightfall. Searching out fresh bed linens led to searching for laundry detergent and then for a washer and dryer. Eventually she dug out a half-used pad of notepaper and went about making a list of everything the house needed. Then she had second thoughts.

"Harry," she asked, leaning down through the basement doorway, "do you think Professor Snape would mind us fixing up the place a bit while he's not here?"

Harry blew over a tube that contained some golden-sheened liquid and held it above a small flame, squinting in concentration.

"Right," Hermione said. "Maybe best to just start with the necessities and see what he thinks."

Dusk growing outside decided her against looking for a place to shop until morning. Instead she found a compendium of household potion recipes on one of the shelves in Professor Snape's living room and took it down to the basement to brew an EverFresh solution suitable for sheets, and made Harry stop what he was doing long enough to eat.

The ancient-looking thermostat cranked to heat produced no result, so Hermione piled all the extra blankets she could find onto the beds and lit the fire in the living room grate instead, and added more wood and tinder to her shopping list. Once she'd done all she could for the night she settled gingerly into one of the motheaten wingback chairs in front of the fire with another of Professor Snape's books to read until it was late enough to pry Harry away to rest.

Sunlight played on the page in front of her when she blinked and raised her head. Hermione set the book aside and rose, rubbing her eyes, to check on Harry.

He was still working, so slowly and obviously blearily that she wondered if he even knew what he was doing anymore. "Come on Harry, you need to get to bed," Hermione yawned from the top of the stairs.

He shook his head groggily. "Duhwanna."

Hermione yawned again and thought. "All right. Come up and have breakfast."

Though still reluctant, Harry let himself be convinced, and once upstairs Hermione settled him in the other chair in the living room while she went to the kitchen. When she returned his breathing was already evening out in sleep. Hermione smiled, satisfied, curled back up in her chair and joined him.

The following afternoon Hermione was reading again when a low chime sounded from somewhere, immediately after which the fire flared up green and Professor Snape's head appeared in it. Hermione jerked, startled out of the world in the book, and Snape's head jerked and his eyes widened almost comically.

"Granger?" In that tone her name sounded almost like an epithet. "What in Fey's name are you doing in my house?"

"Came with Harry," she answered dumbly, surprised by his surprise.

Snape's expression sharpened instantly. The next instant he was stepping into the room in front of the hearth with a single shake of his robes to divest them of soot. "Potter's here?"

"Downstairs," Hermione said, beginning to grasp the situation. "I thought-"

Professor Snape swept past her and disappeared into the basement. Hermione sat where she was for a few minutes, then stood up and carefully put the book back on the shelf where she'd found it.

A short time later Snape reappeared just long enough to instruct her, "No one is to know you are here. Have you contacted anyone?"

"I phoned my parents," Hermione admitted, "but I just said I was staying with a friend."

Snape nodded shortly. "How did you get here?"

"By bus."

"Knight bus?"

"No sir, muggle."

"How did you find my address?"

She shrugged. "I followed Harry."

Professor Snape frowned. But all he said was, "No one should look for Potter here. No one must find him here, no exceptions."

Hermione nodded, reevaluating several assumptions she'd made and forming several new ones. Professor Snape went back downstairs. Hermione surveyed the living room thoughtfully, then set about trying to return it to exactly the unlived-in state of when she and Harry had arrived.

Neither Professor Snape nor Harry surfaced for dinner, so Hermione divided the last of their food into three portions and took it down to join them. Both males appeared utterly absorbed in their work. The only notice her appearance got was a brief glance and bark from Snape not to bring that into his lab.

"You'd best get rid of it then," Hermione replied, setting a plate down on the other side of the table in front of each of them. The professor's resemblance to her friend at that moment made it easy to boss them both the same. "Is it all right for me to leave the house, Professor?"

Snape paused long enough to glare at her from his bent position over a set of beakers. Harry reached out for his sandwich without even glancing up. Snape smacked his wrist before the food could leave the plate. "Cross-contamination, Potter! There are hardly any sights worth seeing around here, Granger, surely you can't be lost for entertainment already?"

Hermione unfurled her grocery list. "Your pantry is empty, sir, and I didn't pack for a campout. Are there any shops nearby?"

Snape grumbled to himself for a moment while Harry ducked underneath the table, came up beside her, and started eating. "I'll go," the adult finally snapped. "Remember, you're not here. And while I'm gone see that he-" Harry remained unaffected by the thumb jerked in his direction, if he even noticed it, "doesn't touch the quicksilver or the erumpet fluid. I'll not come back to a pile of rubble."

"Harry's careful, sir," Hermione defended him.

"But unpracticed in their handling and the specialized safety spells," Professor Snape retorted. Hermione stifled her instinct to protest and handed him the list, along with the money she'd intended to pay for everything with - and then, as he started to leave, handed him his untouched sandwich. Snape stared down at it as though such a thing had never before come into contact with his skin.

"Don't forget the bacon, please," she said politely. "I'll make some pigs in blankets when you get back."

Snape stared at her for another second she refused to feel self-conscious during, then left. Hermione decided the best way to obey his edict was to get Harry out of the lab altogether. He had already paused brewing long enough to eat, but there wasn't enough food there to make a nap afterward logical. Instead she sat down beside him and asked, since they were alone, "Did you get checked out of St. Mungo's?"

Harry paused for a second, looked at her without actually meeting her eyes - he hadn't done that once yet, this older slightly stranger Harry she still believed was the same person. Then his gaze slid further away and, as she'd expected, he shook his head.

"How'd you wake up?" she asked quietly.

Harry hesitated again, but this time his expression was struggling. Hermione hesitated instead of immediately offering suggestions, since she didn't know enough about this situation to have any, and after a moment he found words on his own.

"Found a way out," he said just as quietly, and shrugged.

"I'm glad you did," Hermione told him. "Were the books useful?"

He nodded immediately. "Dittany distilled into essence - Chinese alembics - arrowroot. If I find how to put it together right..."

Hermione wondered how much more coherent the explanation would be if it was in one of his letters from the hospital, but appreciated it anyway compared to the lack of anything during his coma. She patted Harry's arm bracingly and put her own sandwich in front of him as he finished his.

"Well, you'll need more energy to get that done. Do you think you'll need any books while we're here? Professor Snape looks to have a very good collection..."

Getting Harry up to pore over the shelves of titles kept him occupied until Snape got back, loaded down with bags in a very muggle fashion and a very black look. Hermione immediately moved to help divest him of his load.

Harry and Snape then vanished into the lab again while Hermione organized the pantry and confronted the mystery of how to operate the stove. None of the knobs seemed to work until she finally realized she'd turned on the gas, but the burners were too old to light on their own. A sparking charm was out, so she dug out the box of matches for the fireplace she'd fortunately included on her list, and finally the promised pigs in blankets could cook.

The men were again too absorbed to be properly appreciative by the time she finished them, but Hermione was hungry enough to appreciate them on her own. A peculiar smell in the kitchen put her on alert when she went back to wash dishes, but it took her a few minutes to figure out what it was. Then she rushed to turn off the gas and breathed a deep sigh of relief that Professor Snape had no idea she might have almost burned the house down after all his dire predictions to mind Harry.

The next couple of days passed in much the same manner. Harry and Snape surfaced only when Hermione forced them out to take care of basic bodily functions, while she found herself at loose ends with only cooking and Snape's library to occupy her. She tried observing the men's work but even after studying potions on her own the last few years found that she didn't know enough to be able to follow what they were doing. Fortunately most of Snape's books focused on various potion topics.

Snape interrupted her self-study the second afternoon after he'd arrived when he poked his head into the second bedroom and cleared his throat irritably. Hermione looked up, startled, and blinked in surprise to see him out of the lab without prodding.

"I have to go out for a few hours," he said tersely. "Find something to busy Potter until I get back - that's not brewing."

He shut the door, and Hermione blew out her breath in exasperation. Easy for him to ask.

She found when she got downstairs that Snape had gotten Harry out of the lab, into the kitchen. But the way he was standing just staring at the pantry shelves did not indicate a busy mind.

Hermione sat down at the small table and cast about in her mind for a suitable recipe. "Do you think you could make me some crepes?"

Harry considered, then jerked his head in a nod and started searching the shelves for appropriate ingredients. Hermione wasn't sure they had everything he would need, but if they didn't at least that would occupy him longer trying to come up with substitutes.

"Why do you suppose Professor Snape had to leave?" she mused, mostly to herself. "We don't need much yet except milk and eggs, and I hadn't even told him that yet."

"Called to his master," Harry murmured in front of the stove, frying pan in hand.

Hermione blinked. "What master?"

Harry set the frying pan on a burner and tapped his forearm once with his other hand, then pulled out a match to light. Hermione stared.

"Harry," she said, "do you mean Professor Snape is a Death Eater?"

Harry hesitated, then nodded.

"Well why did we come here if Professor Snape is a Death Eater? Why didn't we - how can Professor Dumbledore not know he's a Death Eater, how can he let Professor Snape teach - are we safe? Harry?"

Harry glanced around at everything but her and shifted uncomfortably in place. "Forgot," he mumbled.

Hermione closed her eyes and took a very deep breath. "You forgot he was a Death Eater when you decided to come here?"

"Need to brew," Harry mumbled, defensively, in an even lower tone.

Hermione sighed, very slowly, and decided that Snape could never learn of this considering how low his opinion of Harry's self-preservation ability already was.

"Well," she said slowly, "he hasn't tried to hurt us or anything yet, so I guess it's all right. But... why... how is he a Death Eater? Since when?" She looked at Harry helplessly.

He shrugged. "He thinks Snape's his and has Dumbledore fooled. Dumbledore probably thinks so too."

Hermione took a very deep, quiet breath again, trying to gather her scattered thoughts. They weren't holed up with one of their professors, they were hiding from probably both the good guys and the Dark Lord's forces since Harry disappeared from St. Mungo's with, apparently, a double agent who for some reason didn't want either side to find them.

"What are you trying to do down there anyway?" Hermione asked.

Harry bit his lip. The frying pan crackled unattended for a moment. "Get rid of him."

Hermione sat quietly for a moment. Then she nodded. "Good. And Professor Snape's helping?"

Harry nodded immediately.

"Then I guess that settles what side he's on."

Harry turned back to the crepes. Hermione opened her book. When Professor Snape returned neither mentioned anything of their discussion.

The next day Snape once again appeared in her doorway. "Dumbledore's called," he said, looking very irritated about it. "I'll probably be gone a few hours."

"All right. If you don't mind, sir, why not tell Professor Dumbledore what you're doing?" Hermione ventured, honestly curious.

Snape fixed her with a penetrating stare for a moment before he answered. "Dumbledore has a tendency to form his own plots for everything and assume only his will work. Don't be seen."

Hermione nodded, and Snape sighed suddenly and ran one hand through his hair in evident frustration.

"We're losing too much time on this without a competent spellcaster monitoring Potter." Hermione tried not to feel insulted that apparently she didn't count, even though she'd mastered quite a few spells beyond NEWT level already. If he'd just told her what to learn... but she couldn't cast them yet. "We need someone else here. I have a compendium downstairs-"

"Of British potion masters?" Hermione guessed. Normally she wouldn't interrupt an adult but she couldn't help feeling a little annoyed. "I've seen it."

Snape paused and glared at her again. "Anyone could see you in the parlor from the floo."

"Harry left his important things with me at Hogwarts in third year," Hermione said quietly. "I have his invisibility cloak with me. I use it every time I go in there."

"Merlin forbid Potter touch it," Snape muttered, then said, "While I'm gone see if you can find the floo address for Hector Dagworth. Don't contact him - I'll see to that when I return."

Hermione said Yes sir as respectfully as she could since that was how Snape always acted, no reason to start resenting being treated like she was stupid now, and Snape left without any more of a farewell. Rather than bury him in books this time, Hermione went down to the lab with Harry and got him to help her start on more EverFresh to clean their bath towels and clothes. Harry didn't seem to have a problem with wearing the same shirt for a week solid - he'd done it often enough in Hogwarts just because he wanted to - but Hermione was getting tired of only having the one outfit. Perhaps they could ask this Hector Dagworth to bring some teen clothes with him if he came, since Snape was too paranoid to buy something so out of character.

Snape spent a long hour on the floo with the man when he got back, during which Harry and Hermione were banished upstairs on strict instructions to pretend they didn't exist, until the call finally ended and Snape knocked on their door.

"He'll be over in an hour," Snape said. "No, Granger, I did not make such an absurd request; just charm what you have."

"I won't be seventeen until September," Hermione said with a brief scowl at the inconvenience. "So unless you want a report of underage magic registered at your address-"

Snape growled under his breath.

"Never mind," Hermione sighed. Changing the look of the clothes she had now just wasn't the same as actually changing clothes. "So, this Master Dagworth is more trustworthy than anyone closer by? Do you know him?"

Snape's lips thinned, but he answered, "By reputation. He has no connection with or interest in the current political clime, and an aptitude for encouraging potion prodigies. He founded-"

"The Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers," Hermione finished, casting a proud smile at Harry, who'd dozed off earlier on the foot of the bed beside her. "And he's coming because of Harry?"

Snape nodded curtly. Hermione couldn't stop smiling for her friend.

She started to ask where Snape intended the newcomer to sleep, since there were only two bedrooms, then silenced herself since the three already there had yet to fall onto the same schedule and Master Dagworth would probably be able to floo home safely whenever he liked. She decided to see if she could go with him once or twice if that was the case to do some personal shopping with the last of the money she had from home.

She and Snape were still arguing about whether she could clean the house up a bit when the floo chime sounded and Dagworth arrived. Snape went down to greet him, and Hermione unearthed a couple ancient muggle cleaning products from the bathroom cupboard and started scrubbing because, no matter how important the project on which the fate of the Dark Lord depended, no one would stick around long if the only facilities didn't look perfectly sanitary.

She couldn't help but feel restless with so little to do. Hermione knew, intellectually, that without the enforced house arrest and Snape's paranoia Harry's life and by extension hers might be in danger, but there was no news available discussing the Dark Lord's activities, no shadowy shapes lurking in the grass outside at night, not even any more of Harry's screaming nightmares. It didn't feel like they were hiding for their lives. It felt like they were stuck in a tiny little house without any of the things she could have brought to keep herself entertained, and no way to get them. Annoying... and boring.

Hector Dagworth's presence helped with that. On first meeting he wasn't at all like the two potioneers she already knew - casually personable and confident with the social interaction, and, less relevantly, broader-shouldered and fairer haired. He shook Hermione's hand in muggle fashion and seemed genuine when he said pleasure to meet you, though in the lab he proved very much like her best friend and professor, instantly and wholly focused on what they were doing and asking all manner of detailed and penetrating questions. Hermione figured some things must be universal for those who chose such a career and resigned herself to the continued role of observer.

The following day she phoned home again, correctly figuring her parents had probably gotten back by then. She told them she and a friend were busy with an important school project and she wasn't sure how much longer it would take to finish. It seemed simpler than explaining that they were under self-imposed lockdown plotting to abolish a would-be dictator.

Her parents laughed. "Don't work too hard, honey," her mother told her. "You've got all summer. And you can't expect your friend to be able to go at your pace for long."

"Yes, Mum," Hermione agreed, wondering what their reaction would be if they knew Hermione was actually the one mostly just "along for the ride" on this project - not that the men would be getting very far on it without her keeping them fed and rested. Her mother told her to be sure to thank her friend's parents for having her over so long. Hermione dutifully promised.

"Although Professor Snape probably wouldn't notice if I told him," she reflected aloud once she hung up.

"Told him what?" Dagworth inquired from the kitchen counter. He'd come in during her conversation and quietly started making tea.

"Thanks for putting Harry and me up. It seems sort of unavoidable at the moment, but it can't hurt to be polite." I think, she added mentally, considering how prickly Snape was, but she didn't voice that.

Dagworth thoughtfully put the kettle back on the stove after pouring some of the water into the teapot. "You ought to consider telling them sometime, if you don't mind my advice."

"Tell who what?" Hermione asked, surprised, pausing mid-turn toward the pantry to see if they had any lemons.

"Your parents." He swirled the teapot gently, then poured the hot water out and added the tea leaves. "What you're doing."

Hermione hesitated, weighing their likely reaction and whether she wanted to continue the discussion. "They'd just worry about me. There's nothing they can do."

"Which is an understandable reason to be vague in this circumstance." He tilted the spoon he'd just picked up to give her the point. "I meant in general - they might not be able to truly understand magic, but in a few years, you may find that not talking to them much about it has led to not talking to them much at all. And parents are nearly irreplaceable support."

Hermione considered for a second, then sat down at the table. "How did you know I'm muggleborn?"

He shrugged. "I questioned Master Snape briefly before agreeing to join this venture." Hermione found herself nodding; that was only reasonable. "Your surname is Granger, is it?"


"Interesting. So is my mother's. I wonder if we might have some connection."

Hermione blinked as he set a teacup in front of her. "I know my father doesn't have any family left..."

"Granger is a matriarchal line, at least in wizarding society. Did your mother keep her name?"

"Oh... yes, actually." Hermione regarded her teacup with abstract surprise. "She and Dad were both already named Granger. They laugh about it sometimes." She ran through possibilities in her mind. She knew her mother wasn't magical; she'd never thought about extended relatives since her family wasn't very close to any. There had never been a reason to investigate before.

Well. While interesting, it wasn't very important now either. "Do you need help carrying that downstairs?" she offered, watching him assemble all the fixings on a tray around the teapot.

"Oh no, I wouldn't dream of taking it into the lab. Too much potential for accidents."

Hermione felt slightly guilty, but not terribly. It was hard enough getting the men to stop for meals without dragging them out of their lair too.

Dagworth smiled at her. "What say you coax your friend up, and I'll con Master Snape?"

Hermione grinned back. "You may have the easier part of that bargain." But with the idea in mind, she turned to the cupboards to see how many pastries she could find to add to the tray. If she could get Harry started eating, he'd probably continue for as long as she put more in his hand, and maybe once fed properly he'd let himself sleep. She understood something of the burning of genius, but he couldn't keep up his single-minded focus forever on catnaps.

Harry slumped against his chair with half-lidded eyes and obediently chewed and swallowed as much as Hermione could have wished, but refused to let himself slip into an obviously much-needed doze. Professor Snape was summoned away again in the middle of their tea and Hermione decided to take sterner measures. "If you've anything that needs doing at home, feel free," she told Master Dagworth with a polite smile. "Harry and I will be busy upstairs for a while."

Dagworth glanced at Harry's haggard face, then back to her and nodded. "As it happens, I do have a few errands to take care of. I'll see if I can finish in an hour or three?"

"Or five," Hermione said firmly. She would prefer eight or ten, or even more, but she didn't think any of the three males would allow that. "Come on, Harry."

Harry followed her docilely up and into the second bedroom, but hesitated when she closed the door and pointed toward the bed.

"Come on, Harry. You need sleep."

"Don't want to," he murmured, even though he almost swayed where he stood now that he was no longer in motion.

Hermione put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him gently forward. His resistance didn't quite extend to physically balking, but she could feel the tension in his frame under her palms. His eyes stayed wide open as she guided him onto his back on the mattress and pulled a thin blanket up over his clothed chest.

Harry grasped her hand when Hermione started to leave. She sat down on the bed beside him instead. "Slept so long," he whispered, not looking at her, but grip tight. "What if I don't find the way out again?"

Hermione swallowed and squeezed his hand back while she thought. "This is just a nap. If you don't wake up I'll... I'll pour water on you. That wakes up anybody, even if they're almost dead. Because it's instinct, your body thinks you're drowning..."

Slowly Harry's eyelids began to flutter closed. Hermione carefully stretched out beside him, leaving their hands joined, since her presence seemed to help, and stared up at the ceiling. It occurred to her that it was probably a good thing Viktor wasn't here to see this, as it could be easily misinterpreted. She wondered when and if she would get an opportunity to introduce him and Harry properly. Maybe once Harry didn't have to hide from his hunters anymore...

Snape was in a foul temper when he got back several hours later. Hermione's mood wasn't much better since he jolted Harry out of a sound sleep with his stomping up calling them to account for their lack of progress.

"Everyone needs rest sometimes," she snapped back, very little respect for his professorial authority over them remaining at that moment. "Harry's doing the best he can. Demanding an instant solution to your problem won't make it come any faster."

Snape glared at her. "You think you know what the stakes are in this, chit? How much is riding on-"

"You think Harry doesn't?" Hermione fired back. "Coming back and venting at him because of your master isn't productive or mature - Harry's probably seen worse of it than you anyway!"

It was a claim she didn't have any actual proof of, and after a second she realized was also a very foolish thing to have said. Snape went ghastly silent, losing what little complexion he usually had, and unfortunately turned his attention from her to Harry standing beside her.

Harry was paying attention to neither of them, body stiff and eyes staring at nothing as his lips barely moved, mouthing to himself. Hermione could read his words even though she couldn't hear them, since he'd started repeating the mantra whenever he wasn't involved in any attention-consuming task: Aconite, alihotsy, applegrass, arrowroot, asphodel, barlicorn...

"He's seen-" Snape's whisper was a horrible rasp. "He's connected to the Dark Lord? You idiot! One slip of thought-"

"Well you're not helping that either, calling him out to scold like a first year instead of letting him work," Hermione said tightly. She knew the danger, but it made her feel even worse to hear it spelled out while she was fighting. "You're back, in one piece, aren't you? Harry can do this." Keep helping him, she didn't quite beg.

Snape stared at her in silence for a taut second longer, then grabbed Harry and slammed downstairs. Hermione let out a slightly shaky breath and sat down with a thump on the edge of the bed.

Snape was probably going to push Harry even harder than before now - but a small, scared part of her mind she didn't want to acknowledge thought it might be worth it. Everything would be all right if Harry could just do... whatever it was he was trying to do. Hermione decided to ask next time they were alone. Then she decided she wasn't sure she wanted to know. It was easier to have faith in the idea of a sixteen-year-old boy somehow defeating the Dark Lord that terrorized a country into war twenty years ago if she didn't know how impossible the details of his effort really were.

When Dagworth returned Hermione quietly joined the men in the lab and just watched, not the actual work but all the safety spells and precautions they used. Maybe she couldn't legally cast them yet but she could learn them just in case of some emergency. Harry should be able to keep working even if both Potions Masters were somehow incapacitated.

Snape glowered at her presence, but Dagworth agreed. He lent her his wand several times during lulls so she could practice the movements and incantations.

Harry worked, steadily, with the two Masters' vigilant oversight and assistance, constantly varying his experiments when minor setbacks apparently proved one possibility unviable. Setbacks didn't faze him; he changed tacks without the slightest hesitation or loss of focus, the Masters following his lead or suggesting a slight variation. Hermione was quite familiar with getting so absorbed in a subject that the outside world faded, but she couldn't help but be impressed by Harry's stamina in keeping it up.

And finally one morning, just after she'd shambled out of bed to the kitchen and started brewing coffee, Professor Snape swept past through the hall into the living room and Hermione heard the fire flare followed by his direction, "Hogwarts, Headmaster's office!"

Hermione blinked bemusedly several times, trying to clear her sleep-fogged mind, and inhaled the aroma of caffeine. That helped. She turned to go see what had happened in the lab just as Dagworth emerged from it, at a much more sedate pace, and joined her in the kitchen with an expression like he'd just seen something holy.

Hermione mutely handed him a cup of coffee. He took it, then said in a low, awed tone, "He did it."

Hermione blinked again. She'd been expecting some kind of breakthrough, unless Snape's reaction was only another summons from Dumbledore, but-

"It's done?" she echoed, dumbly. "I mean... completely done? Harry did it?"

She'd thought plans of this magnitude took months, even years to actually complete. Harry had really found something...?

Just to be absolutely clear in her meaning, she added, "He's found a way to defeat the Dark Lord?"

Dagworth made a pssh sound, waving the hand not holding his mug dismissively. His eyes almost glowed. "What Dark Lord can ever hope to stand up to progress? Your friend, Mr. Potter..." His voice dropped to reverential again, "has just changed the use of potions in our world forever. I've taught talented students before, Miss Granger; some of the top classes in the art at the Polymagico. Harry Potter is no mere genius, he's a savant."

Hermione didn't know quite what to say to that. She was used to believing in Harry's talent in potions, but it sounded like she might have underestimated him. "What, exactly, has he done?" she asked diffidently.

Dagworth took a very long, slow breath. "Draught of Living Death," he whispered. "He's made it airborne. Without losing its effects."

For a moment Hermione didn't breathe. She wasn't entirely sure she blinked, either, or that her brain worked at all. Except that at the same time it was working as fast as a hummingbird, trying to grasp all the implications and logical repercussions to such an impossible feat. Harry had created a very, very effective weapon that no one would know to look for or protect against for quite a while. For a while there wouldn't be any real effective protection against it, and dark wizards would surely use it for themselves just as light wizards would use it against them, but it wouldn't be possible to keep it secret if it really worked to take out the Dark Lord.

"What are its limitations?" she murmured, not sure she wanted to know but needing to.

"Oh, it's quite limited at the moment. It disperses in a nonsealed environment, and gets less effective the greater the distance. We'll have to run tests to determine the exact ratio, control all the variables..."

Hermione let out a breath, very softly, and then breathed in again. It was dangerous. But soon someone - maybe Harry again, maybe any other potion master - maybe more than one - would work out a countermeasure. A thought suddenly struck her: maybe she would. It shouldn't actually be that hard - a variation on the Bubblehead Charm, maybe, to filter air... the Bubblehead Charm itself would probably work for individuals if not areas. Protections for the paranoid and rightfully cautious would become as standard as checking for poison. And the world would go on... changed.

"I understood what he was attempting; I wouldn't have come here if I hadn't thought the experiment would prove worthwhile. Novel, at the least. But..." Dagworth shook his head gently. "I find I didn't actually believe he could do it... until now." He started to gesture with the hand holding his coffee cup, and stopped when it sloshed over the rim. A few drops spattered onto the floor. "There's much work yet to be done, of course. The process is specific to the single potion at the moment; it will take a great deal more effort to find standardizations that can apply to spectrums-"

"Just a moment," Hermione requested, handing him her coffee mug to hold for her, and carefully descended the basement stairs.

Harry was at the trench table, brewing, but in a different spot than he'd been until now. Hermione studied the ingredients spread before him and his slow, precise preparation of them and smiled when recognition hit.

Quietly, without disturbing him, she retreated. Even Professor Snape couldn't protest his right to use Dreamless Sleep at this moment.

"So, you were saying," she prompted when she got back to the kitchen, reclaiming her coffee. Dagworth didn't seem to have swallowed any of his. She wondered briefly if he remembered it was in his hand.

"It would be my honor to host Mr. Potter in Milan if he would consent to come to the Polymagico," Dagworth told her earnestly. "Any number of sponsors will be delighted to associate their name with his, of course, but if he would prefer freer research, more time to simply study and experiment while refining this breakthrough... You should consider it for further study yourself. Your grasp of spellwork that I've seen is impressive; Master Snape indicated you're an exceptional student."

Hermione was smiling. She didn't know if Harry could go back to Hogwarts after missing two years of schooling; it would probably be contingent on his OWLs, and she didn't know if he'd be able to pass the requisite number with so little time to study. If he even wanted to.

"Ask him," she suggested, then added immediately, "tomorrow. It's up to him."

But it certainly sounded appealing to her. A place Harry might belong, without having to spend half his time struggling with spells he wouldn't use later anyway. And she could join him in Milan in just a couple years...

It sounded very appealing. She'd tell Harry about it as soon as he was fully rested - and maybe by then Snape and Dumbledore would have worked out a plan to use his discovery to incapacitate the Dark Lord.

Hermione felt a still-disbelieving smile tug at the corners of her mouth. Harry did it, more than anyone could have ever expected him to. A sixteen-year-old potions savant had revolutionized his field and, incidentally, provided the means for saving a country.

"To Harry," she said happily, raising her coffee mug.

Dagworth echoed the gesture, though since he was taller his mug raised higher. "To the future."

Hermione sipped, then realized she didn't really want the coffee anymore and set it down on the counter. She went downstairs to help Harry crush sopophorous beans instead.