Disclaimer: I, abbyepic, do not own Harry Potter or any of its related characters, places, items, timelines, or situations.
A hero cannot be a hero unless in a heroic world.
~ Nathanial Hawthorne
At fourteen years and nine months old, I was still afraid of the librarian.
Though the library at Little Whinging had been renovated in the seven years since my family moved here, its staff had not changed a bit. I placed the stack of books I had picked out on the librarian's desk meekly, trying to make myself look unworthy of her scathing comments and harsh glares. Ms. Kelley was an older woman with steely gray hair and a lined face; her critical eyes matched her hair color, and she never tired of reprimanding library patrons on their softest noises and slightest mistreatment of books. My parents and young siblings liked to poke fun at this irrational fear, but I couldn't help it - grumpy old people intimidated me. It was always my preference to come to the library after lunch time, when the younger, nicer librarian came in - the one who smiled at everyone and made great book recommendations.
Unfortunately, today I had a time limit. At eleven o' clock, my younger siblings would be dropped off from their respective activities, football for my brother and karate for my sister, and I would be expected to be at the house to watch them until my stepmother came home from work at five. When my dad and stepmum had grounded them for breaking a vase (which, in my opinion, shouldn't have been left out in a house inhabited by two rowdy ten-year-olds, anyway), it hadn't occurred to either of them that they both worked from nine to five. Which, of course, meant that I would be spending the first week of my summer holidays as a jailer. I would be stuck at home for the majority of the first week of summer, when I would be making sure they didn't watch any television, use the phone, or go outside the fence around our house. I would only have two and a half hours of freedom, on Thursday - the one day of the week when both of them had practice.
And time was almost gone, meaning that I could not wait for the nice librarian and her friendliness to appear. I had to be home before Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Warner dropped off Devil Child One and Devil Child Two. If I wasn't, and my parents found out, I would probably be grounded myself.
So, I stood my ground as the creepy old librarian scrutinized me, then narrowed her eyes at the books I was trying to check out. Well, they were kind of a strange assortment: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pride and Prejudice,and Twenty-Five Terrifying Ghost Stories. Still, though, she shouldn't have been judging me on my eclectic tastes.
"Library card?" she demanded. I fished the laminated piece of paper out of the pocket of my jeans and presented it to her silently. She looked it over before skimming to my file. I would have thought that she would have known my name, as often as I went to the library, but I wasn't upset that she didn't. It made it less likely that she would hunt me down later. "The books are due back in two weeks, Miss Foster. Don't be late."
"No ma'am." I said softly. I took the books as she slid them towards me. "Thank you, ma'am."
I looked up at the clock above her desk. Crap, I thought in bewilderment, where did the time go? I now had ten minutes to get home; the walk usually took about eight. I mentally cursed at myself. I knew that I should have come earlier. I knew that I should have just picked a book, instead of taking five minutes to choose between Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. God only knew how much trouble Alec and Penelope could get in a few minutes.
I headed towards the door quickly, exiting the library's small entryway. Perhaps I should have stopped for a moment to look down. If I had, surely I would have noticed that my left shoe was untied, or I would have remembered the top step from the Little Whinging Library to the main set of stairs in its front. As it was, I hardly even noticed that I tripped until I tumbled towards the ground. I let go of my books unconsciously and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the impact.
Instead of feeling the pavement underneath my outstretched hands, I felt myself fall into something softer and warm. Something that felt a bit like a worn t-shirt. And I had a suspicious sensation that reminded me of an arm wrapped around my waist. My eyes snapped open and I found myself staring, not at all at the ground, but at the face of a boy around my own age.
He looked nearly as surprised as I did. The boy I was lying on top of was remotely familiar, thin and with slightly angular features. I would have guess that he was the same age as me, or maybe just a bit older. His round-framed glasses were crooked, and looked as if they'd been through the ringer. Just above them was a thin, jagged scar on his forehead, partially hidden by his wild black hair. After half a second of staring at it, I realized that it was shaped like a bolt of lightning. That was strange, but it was the almond-shaped eyes behind his beat up glasses that really shocked me. They were the exact color of summer leaves, a deep and vivid color at the same time. I had never known that it was possible for a person to have eyes in that shade of green.
For a moment, I was stunned into stillness. And then I got over it. I scrambled off of the boy, standing up quickly and feeling my face go hot.
"What exactly do you think that you're doing?" I demanded shrilly, brushing a lock of my brown hair behind my ear quickly. A random boy, one who I didn't know, had just caught me when I fell. His arm had been wrapped around my waist.
He adjusted his glasses with one hand, leaning momentarily on the other behind him. "I was trying to save you from falling." He stood up, still glaring at me.
"'Save me?'" I blinked in disbelief. Who was this boy? Then, I allowed my face to settle in what I hoped was a haughty expression. "Well, I hope that you don't make a habit of this saving people thing. You aren't very good at it."
He scowled. "Yeah, I know."
He sounded almost as if I'd hurt his feelings.
I sighed, dropping any attempts at acting tough. "Look, I'm sorry. You just surprised me, that's all. What's your name, anyway?" I asked. I wanted to know who this strange boy was. To be polite, I tacked on, "Mine's Kate Foster."
"Harry Potter," he said. I watched, almost dazedly, as he brushed his hair over his forehead. His scar disappeared from my sight completely, but he didn't move his hand fast enough for me to miss the brand-new red mark on the palm of his hand.
"Is your hand alright?" I asked suddenly. Both of us were surprised when I grabbed his arm by the wrist, turning his hand so that we could both see the cut on the inside. A web of red, angry lines was on the inside of his palm, tiny pieces of broken glass stuck in it. I noticed a broken glass bottle on the ground, shattered into hundred of pieces. This boy, this Harry Potter, must have fallen on it when he tried to catch me, and it must have broken and cut him. I felt instantly horrible. Here was this boy who I didn't even know who tried to help me - got hurt just to keep me from tripping down the steps - and all that I had done was act ungrateful.
He must have seen something in my expression that told him that I felt sorry, because he jerked his arm away from me. He rubbed the palm of his hands on the leg of his worn-looking jeans, leaving a reddish smear.
"It's fine," he said abruptly. "Goodbye, Kate."
"No, it isn't," I told him. "It's cut. It looks bad. You might even need stitches!" In all honestly, I was worried. I had never done really well with blood, and the idea that someone had gotten hurt over me only made it worse. "You need to go to the hospital, get it looked at. Or, my stepmum works at the doctor's office around the corner. She'll look at it for you if you tell her that you're my friend. "
"It's not that bad," he said, looking startled at my interest. "I don't need to go to the hospital or doctor."
"Well, you at least need to clean it and put a bandage on it. What if it gets infected or something?" I felt positively green at the prospect. "Please, if you won't go to the hospital, will you at least come to my house and let me give you a bandage?"
He looked at me as if I'd just suggested that we join the circus and perform blindfolded acrobatics together. It wasn't really that far off, in the minds of my parents; letting a boy into our house while they were out was practically eloping in their eyes. One of those weird post-puberty rules.
"No, that's alright, I-"
"Please come," I repeated. Something was telling me that I had to make it up to him somehow. "You got hurt trying to help me. The least I can do is offer you a bandage. I just live around the block."
Perhaps I was coming on a bit strongly, but I did feel as if I owed him. When I owed people, I always tried to pay them back somehow. Harry Potter looked at me considering for a moment, his eyes almost unreadable.
"Alright, fine. I'll come with you." He sighed, more to himself than to me. "It's not as if I have anything better to do, anyway."
Having better things to do reminded me that I was supposed to be home in a matter of minutes in order to baby-sit my brother and sister. "Great." I gave him a half-smile. "Thank you. Listen, though, we've kind of need to hurry up, I'm supposed to baby sit for my brother and sister at eleven."
I turned briskly and began to walk towards the direction of my house.
"What about your books?"
I stopped, remembering that I had come to the library. "Oh, of course," I said, quickly crouching to pick up the books. I smiled at him. "Thank you."
I half-jogged all the way home, checking every few minutes to make sure that Harry was still behind me. He looked increasingly wary as I led him down Magnolia Crescent, the street that my family and I lived on. Like most -if not all-of the streets in Little Whinging, it followed the basic pattern of two rows of two-story houses, each having around four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a nice little garage. The lawns were all green and trimmed, sporting seasonal perennials in the flower beds and the occasional garden gnome. When we had first moved here, I had found it nearly impossible to navigate this neighborhood; putting the white picket fence around our house made it nearly a thousand times easier to find my house.
A car was sitting in front of the house as we came close to it, and I saw my little brother climb out of the backseat. I watched as he waved at the car's occupants, opened the gate to the house, and walked up to the front door. He shook the handle, but couldn't get it open. He kicked the door in frustration. I laughed.
"That's my little brother, Alec," I told Harry, who was still dutifully walking behind me. He nodded, but didn't say anything. Perhaps he wasn't a talker, or maybe he just didn't like me.
In any case, I picked up the pace until I was waltzing through the front gate. Alec was sitting on the doorstep, glaring at me as I walked towards the front door. Alec and I both took after our real mother, who had died when Alec was three and I was barely eight years old. We had both inherited her straight brown hair and blue-gray eyes, and Alec had even gotten lucky enough to inherit her smile. But he had gotten Dad's freckles, a trait that I was often grateful that I hadn't, and had my Uncle Richard's shorter build. It all combined to make him look closer to seven than his actual age of ten. His football uniform was rumpled and wrinkly; there were grass stains on his white shorts.
"Pen's not home yet?" I asked him cheerily as I walked past him. I took the door key out of my pocket and stuck it into the lock.
"No," Alec said shortly. My darling baby brother had always been keen on getting straight to the point, another of his traits that had come from Mum. "Where have you been? And who's he?" He nodded towards Harry, who had just come in through the front gate.
"That's my friend Harry," I told Alec. He raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. Where he got his ability to detect all of my little white lies, I would never know. "He's just going to come in for a minute and get something."
"You aren't supposed to have boys over when Mum and Dad aren't home," came the a voice behind me. I turned just in time to see Penelope slam a car door closed behind her, and her friend's mother's luxury car slid away nearly as silently as it had come. She gave me a taunting grin.
Even though our parents had been married for five years, sometimes the fact that Alec and I weren't technically related to Penelope hit me like a ton of bricks. This was one of those rare moments. Pen's pale, wheat-colored curls were put in a ponytail, but a lock of hair escaped to hang in front of her mischievous eyes. She was already lightly tanned from the sun, despite the fact that summer had just begun. Her eyes were hazel and sparkly, and anyone could tell what she was thinking just by watching them. At the moment, she was wearing her white karate outfit, tied in the middle with a yellow-orange belt. Her cheery, impish face was a far cry from Alec's solemn one.
"Yeah, I know," I admitted, casting a sideways glance at Harry. Unfortunately, he was a male. I then shifted my gaze, so that I was looking back and forth between my siblings. "But the two of you won't tell on me, right?"
But I knew that sibling loyalty didn't go far with these two. "Well, we'd really hate to tell," Alec began slowly. A half-grin tugged on his lips.
If it weren't for the fact that they weren't blood relatives, I would have swore that the two of them had twin telepathy.
"But you know, being grounded is rather boring," Penelope continued for him. "There's really nothing to do. Nothing to distract us from that fact that you're breaking the rules."
"Nothing else to pay attention to." Alec sighed.
I understood exactly what they were getting at, and it nearly made me change my mind about getting a bandage for Harry. Was it really worth it, to make myself feel like a decent person? I was being blackmailed by ten-year-olds so that they could watch cartoons. Of course, I probably should have seen it coming.
Harry must have understood them, too, because he said quickly, "That's okay, I can just leave -"
"No, you're staying," I insisted. To my siblings, I said, "I could let you watch television in the living room while Harry's over. But only while he's here, and only if you swear that you won't tell Dad and Maria that Harry came over, or that I let you watch TV."
"It would certainly make it easier for us to forget your disobedience." Penelope grinned.
"So do we have a deal or not?" I asked warily.
"Deal," they chimed. They followed swarmed past Harry and I, opening the door and flying into the house as swiftly. I heard them cheer as the sound of cartoons suddenly exploded from inside.
"And you'd better hold your end up, because if I get in trouble I'm taking you down with me! I'll tell Dad and Maria about what you did to Mrs. Hill's favorite garden gnome," I called at them. Then, quieter, I said, "Come on in, Harry, the kitchen's just through -" I cut myself off when I saw something like a grin on Harry's lips. I hadn't even known that he could smile. "Oi, what are you smiling at?"
"Your brother and sister remind me of some guys I know," he told me. As I watched, the grin faded, turning into a scowl. It was a pity, I thought. He looked so much nicer when he smiled. "I guess that they're with all of the other friends who've been ignoring me this summer."
"Hmm," I said, not really sure how to respond. I stepped into the cool of the house, grateful to be out of the sun. "Well, come in, anyway. We keep bandages and stuff in the kitchen. You can sit down while I get it out."
I led him into the kitchen, which had clean white cabinets and flowery wallpaper, and gestured to the breakfast table. From the kitchen doorway, I could see Pen and Alec perched on the sofa, eyes glued to the television. I walked to one of the cabinets, taking out the first aid kit that Maria had brought home from work. I popped the little plastic box open, looking at the stuff inside and trying to decide what I would need to bandage Harry's hand. Maria was the nurse; she knew about this kind of thing. I was lucky that I knew where we kept the kit. I had no idea how to deal with a cut.
I took a deep breath, trying to think back to a first-aid assembly at my school. Well, you were always supposed to clean a cut, so that it would get infected, right? I grabbed a few of the individually packaged disinfectant wipes. Since the cut was on the inside of his hand, I didn't think that a band-aid would stick on correctly, so I grabbed gauze and roll of pinkish bandages from the box. I snagged a pair of safety scissors out of the junk drawer, then took all of the stuff over to the kitchen table.
He had put his hand down on the table, palm up. It looked strangely sticky, fresh blood mixing with drying stuff and combining with dirt on his hand to make some sort of red-brown goop. Gross. I felt squeamish and extremely guilty. This was my fault. I tried to tell myself that it probably looked worse than it was, but it didn't work.
"Just a warning: I've never done anything like this before," I told Harry. God, was my voice shaking? How embarrassing.
He looked at me with unreadable green eyes. "I can do it myself."
I shook my head stubbornly. "No." I tried to sound firm, even though I would have loved to take him up on his offer. "I'll do it. It's the least I can do." I opened one of the wipes, then met his eyes. "This has alcohol on it, so it's going to sting."
He gave me a strange, slightly bitter half-smile. "I promise that I've felt worse," he said.
Holding his left hand palm-up with my right (being ambidextrous had its perks), I tried to gently wipe off his cut. It was really freaking me out. I looked up at Harry. I saw one eye twitch just slightly, but other than that, he didn't even react to the sting of the alcohol. I was impressed, in an odd sort of way. I had always been a wimp when it came to pain; as long as I could remember, I always jerked or cried out at the slightest pain. I wondered if Harry had hurt himself badly before, or if he was just tougher than me (which was probably just as likely).
"So, you've felt worse?" I asked conversationally, without looking up from my task. "What did you do to yourself before?"
"You wouldn't believe me if a told you," he told me. His lip twitched when he said it, like his mouth couldn't decide whether or not to smile. I nearly ached to press him for details (after all, how could he say things like that and not expect me to ask questions?) but I thought that he would have explained if he wanted to let me know.
Once I had wiped it off, his cut didn't look half as bad. I didn't feel so guilty when I saw that it wasn't as deep as I'd feared. I took a deep breath. The part that disgusted me was over with. Next was the part that might be tricky. I stuck gauze on top of the clean (but still slightly bleeding) wound; after that, I took the roll of bandages and wrapped it around his thumb, over his palm, and around his wrist. I did it a few times, then got the scissors and cut the bandage loose from the rest of the roll.
It immediately unraveled, slouching into a loose spiral "No!" I cried mournfully. "Don't do that!"
Harry looked at me strangely. "Maybe you should try tying the bandage."
"Good idea," I said, dismayed that my first attempt had been unsuccessful. Darn, that meant that I would have to do it again.
So I did it again, this time making sure to knot the bandage firmly. When it didn't fall apart again, I grinned, feeling relieved and self-satisfied.
My grin faltered slightly when I looked up at Harry. Sure, he was a bit moody and sort of unfriendly, but something about him made me curious. We were probably close to the same age, but he seemed so much older than me. I had the strangest feeling that told me that the boy sitting across the table from me wasn't just some angsty, hormonal guy - despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe he was someone who had gone through a lot. I thought of the hurt I'd glimpsed when I'd scolded at him outside of the library, about his words about his friends and his comment about feeling pain. My dad had always told me that girls were suckers for a boy in pain. I'd always kind of laughed at him over it, but now I wondered if he was right. Maybe that was why I had such a sudden urge to make friends with some guy I had never met before.
"Do you want something to drink?" I asked Harry. "Water, milk, tea, lemonade, soda?"
"Er, lemonade?" He looked at me questioningly, probably wondering if I had some kind of mental disorder. Perhaps I did.
I stood up, walking towards the refrigerator, where I knew we had a pitcher of lemonade . "Erm, look, Harry," I said as I took two glasses out of the cabinet. "You must be thinking that I'm a really strange person, and I guess that I am a little weird. I mean, I yelled at you and then virtually kidnapped you." I poured the lemonade, feeling thoughtful. "And, well, I guess that I acted sort of ungrateful about everything. If you were really trying to help me, I could have said thank you."
"I was trying to help."
"Then thank you for trying to help," I said. Then I corrected myself. "No, thank you for helping me. And I'm sorry that you hurt yourself helping me. I know that you didn't have to, but I appreciate that you did." I handed him a glass of lemonade. "So, in order to prove that I'm a nice person and not a madwoman, I thought that I should try to be friendly. Offering a drink seemed like a friendly thing to do."
"Thanks," he said. He didn't seem to be filled with joy, but he did seem to be kind of sincere. "Thanks, Kate," he corrected himself.
"You're welcome," I paused. A smile stretched across my face. "So, now that I've given you a bandage and lemonade, do you think that we're even now?"
He looked at me for a long moment before he nodded. "We're even."
I grinned, and I was still grinning when my delightful siblings literally galloped into the kitchen.
"Mum's home from work," Penelope hissed frantically. "She's going to know that we've been watching TV."
"And that you let him in here," Alec added, nodding towards Harry.
For troublemakers, my siblings weren't very good of thinking up excuses on the fly, which was probably the reason why they were constantly in trouble. Looking past the kitchen doorway to the living room window, I saw the familiar silver car pull into the driveway.
I jumped to my feet. "Crap. She must have come home for lunch!" I looked uneasily between my siblings and Harry, then bolted for the sliding patio doors just behind the kitchen table. "Pen, go outside and see if you can stall her. Tell her about some kind of new karate thing, or better yet, show her something. Alec, go and turn the TV off. If she notices the channel, I'll tell her that I was watching it before you came home. Hurry up!" Both of them scurried off to perform their part in the plot; I heard the TV go off and the door slam. I looked at Harry pleadingly. "My stepmother's home. I can't let her know that I let a boy in the house or she and my dad will kill me."
"You want me to go out the back door." I wasn't sure if it was a question or a statement, but I nodded emphatically.
"Yes, please, and around the garage. She won't see you if you do. Please, Harry," I begged. With a sigh, he slid out of his chair and moved towards the open door.
"Oh, thank you so much," I said as I grabbed the sliding door. "Meet me at the park Saturday morning and I promise that I'll make it up to you." I looked behind me; the door was open, and I could hear Maria's familiar voice asking Penelope to please move away from the door. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Harry, goodbye."
I closed the sliding door swiftly and watched as Harry darted around the left side of the house. When his shoe disappeared around the corner and out of sight, I breathed in relief and sank into a chair. As I did, Maria walked into the kitchen and dropped her handbag on the table.
"Hello, dear." She smiled, then slipped past me to rummage through the refrigerator. "Adele was home sick today, so I thought I would come and grab a quick bite to eat with you and the little ones." She emerged from the refrigerator holding a package of lunch meat and a head of lettuce. "What have you been doing today, Kate?"
Maria was a version of what I thought Penelope would look like in twenty-five years: a tall, leggy blond woman with nice curves and a pretty face. She'd told me once that she used to have the same hair color Penelope naturally, but now had to highlight her hair every few weeks to get the same effect. Maria had a thoughtful, intelligent face and gray eyes, as opposed to Pen's greenish hazel pair. Like most days, she was wearing a practical pair of pants and a shirt with cartoon characters on it - the standard outfit, since she worked at the local pediatrician's office. She was so different from my real mother, at least appearance-wise, that sometimes it amazed me that my dad could have fallen in love with both of them.
"Oh, not much," I replied idly, sipping my glass of lemonade. I hated to lie, I really did, but I couldn't see any good coming o telling the truth. "I watched a show on the telly, then went to the library while Pen and Alec were gone. We just came in from playing in the garden."
Not such a bad lie. It could have been worse.
"So, nothing interesting happened?" she asked. She sounded slightly disappointed. That was the thing about Maria: she liked for things to be exciting.
I considered this. "Well, I met someone new at the library. He was interesting."
And he undoubtedly thought that I was insane.
Well, maybe I was.