Disclaimer: Don't own the Harry Potter franchise. Don't make a penny off of it. Don't plan to.

Introduction: Now this is a curious thing. Being gripped by the mood for yet another excursion into fanfictional territory, I was actually considering to finally get started on a bigger project I've had in mind for quite a while now, but somehow, for all the notes and ideas I had already collected over time, that decisive, perfect approach eluded me and I just didn't get around to write that damned first word that always gets you started on the journey.

Naturally unsatisfied, I made up my mind to just write another modest short piece instead, and what we now have here is the result of that decision. The idea is simple, the execution hopefully enjoyable for readers inclined to give it a try.

As is always the case with anything I write within this particular universe: You probably won't find much to like if you are not to some degree devoted to that which Harry and Hermione could've, should've, would've been, if only they'd had their...

Eyes Wide Open

Harry was leaning against the wall opposite to the door to Professor Hobbes' classroom for Muggle Studies, waiting, as he did so every Friday afternoon, for the course to reach its timely end. And indeed, through either miracle or schedule, it finished precisely at four o'clock, just as it did every Friday afternoon. And since no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish, the latter seemed to be the more probable explanation.

The wooden door swung open and out came the bustling crowd of students, eagerly stepping into the weekend break they had been yearning for since Monday morning. Harry fleetingly glanced over the lot, nodding at a few who greeted him, and instantly realized that this apparently was one of those not too unusual occasions when the one person he was waiting for would actually be the last person to leave the classroom. Well, maybe second to last, counting Professor Hobbes himself.

Harry remained unperturbed, however. He was, after all, used to it. It was all part of their routine. A routine that not only left room for some variables to be somewhat flexible – Harry had once waited for nearly half an hour, even if twenty-five of those thirty minutes had merely served to obstinately prove a point –, but a routine that was of such a kind that you didn't take for granted, but didn't question either. It was, quite simply, one of those many comfortable routines that had developed between the two of them.

For all his patience, though, Harry could not deny being relieved when she finally stepped out through the door barely two minutes later. Or maybe it was less relief and more of something else he could not really put a name on. Be that as it may, there she was – and that fact alone brought a smile to his face.

"Sorry," Hermione began apologetically, involuntarily returning his smile nonetheless. "I just needed to ask one little question."

"Sure you did," Harry acknowledged playfully, naturally taking the book-filled bag off of Hermione's shoulder. "Wasn't it Voltaire who said one should judge people by their questions rather than their answers? Well, either way – and I'm sure Monsieur Voltaire would have agreed – you're awesome."

Hermione rolled her eyes at him, her widening smile undermining her apparent annoyance as they walked side by side along the corridor.

"Anyway," she gently dismissed his flattery with a sideways glance at him, her smile still lighting up her eyes. "Today's lecture was actually quite interesting. Professor Hobbes called it veneficus venefico lupus est."

Harry furrowed his eyebrows, struggling with his inner Latin dictionary that left annoyingly much to be desired. "Somebody is… a wolf? Something about a Ficus? There's a wolf in the Ficus!"

"Close," Hermione said ironically. "It means a wizard is a wolf to another wizard. The lecture, strangely enough, was basically about how Muggle Studies is a misleading name for the subject, since the real object of interest is human nature itself, be it of the magically talented kind or not, and about the undeniable fact that Muggle and Magical society are fundamentally the same, for they are both established by man. One of them just has a harder time saying goodbye to the Middle Ages."

Harry looked impressed, and most fittingly revealed: "I'm impressed."

"That's not just you," Hermione concurred enthusiastically. "That new teacher really knows his stuff. Maybe I won't have to take it upon myself to rework the whole faculty one day after all."

"Excellent. That'll leave more time for S.P.E.W. then," Harry quipped, yet still carefully pronounced every single letter of the abbreviation.

Hermione pursed her lips in what was supposed to be an affronted gesture, though it mainly served to suppress her smile. "We're awfully funny today, aren't we, Mr. Potter?"

"Excuse me? Are you implying I'm normally not funny?" Harry asked, giving an exaggerated performance of indignation. "I'm all kinds of fun."

Hermione laughed out at that and barely managed to stretch out a hand in front of Harry, who's attention was all on her rather than the direction he was walking into, before he would have collided with a small person in front of him in the middle of the hallway.

"Whoa! Hey there, little one," Harry greeted the young girl he had nearly run over. "Sorry about that. Wasn't watching my step there."

The girl, barely reaching up to his chest in size, stood motionlessly before him, looking up at him with wide, blue eyes. Harry waited for any sign of a perceivable reaction, yet none came. Looking for help, he turned to Hermione.

"I didn't hit her, did I?"

Hermione silently shook her head, watching the scene unfolding in front of her with increasing amusement.

"Hey, are you alright?" Harry asked the girl and put one hand on her shoulder, genuinely concerned by now.

The little girl turned her head ever so slightly and looked at Harry's hand on her left shoulder out of the corner of her unblinking, even wider eye. Harry abruptly withdrew his hand again, believing to have done something wrong. Adding to his increasing insecurity was the stifled laugh he heard coming out of Hermione's vague direction, yet before he could turn to her the girl finally chose to say something.

"You're Harry Potter!" she exhaled dramatically.

Harry let out a deep breath he'd been holding in his lungs for the last twenty seconds, clearly relaxing. It had finally dawned on him what was transpiring here, and of all the things he could have imagined, this was certainly a lesser evil.

"Yes," he confirmed. "That's my name."

"That's not just your name," the girl corrected him solemnly. "You're the Harry Potter."

"Yeah, well…" Harry desperately searched for a quick way out of this particular topic of conversation. "What's your name?"

The girl seemingly needed a moment to process the question, or maybe it was more the fact of who was asking it that was troubling her.

"I'm Alethea," she finally mustered to say with visible effort. "Alethea Rose, but everyone just calls me Allie. But that's not important."

"Hey, don't say that," Harry told her caringly. "You are no less important than anybody else."

Allie just looked at him uncomprehendingly.

"You're in Hufflepuff, aren't you? First year," Hermione chose to join in, clearly coming to Harry's aid.

For the first time during the whole incident, the girl's attention switched to Hermione – to a rather surprising effect. After she had just regained at least some of her composure facing the Harry Potter, her eyes now instantly grew round again.

"You're Hermione Granger!" she stated, apparently not believing the workings of the world anymore.

Hermione looked utterly perplexed in response to that most unexpected turn of events and needed a moment to gather herself. Harry, not even trying to conceal his smugness at this development, looked at his best friend expectantly.

"Well," she said. "That's new."

Harry looked back and forth between the two, grinning from ear to ear, fascinated by the chance to see such a scene from the audience's point of view for once. He was pretty sure Hermione gave quite a commendable performance in the role of the awkward, uncomfortable focus of attention.

"Why," he then slowly said, savoring every second of the moment. "That really is Miss Hermione Granger herself. The brightest witch of her age; the backbone of everything people make Harry Potter out to be; the very reason he's still alive."

His voice had become more serious while he spoke than he had initially intended it to be, and the slightest hint of red was now glowing on Hermione's cheeks.

"Harry…" she tried to dismiss his disturbingly honest presentational speech, but it was Allie who instantly cut her off.

"But he's right," she said emphatically. "It's true. Everyone knows it."

Both Harry and Hermione turned their attention back towards the little Hufflepuff girl.

"Knows what?" they asked in bewildered unison.

Allie nervously looked back and forth between the two young adults. Somehow, the limelight had suddenly turned to her and it made her legs feel a bit shaky. How had that happened, anyway?

"I… I…" she began stammering, then decisively gathered her courage and continued with a voice in which there lay only the slightest hint of unsteadiness. "I mean the two of you, obviously."

The two of them threw quick, uncertain glances at each other.

"What about the two of us?" Harry voiced their wordlessly communicated question, wondering where the girl was going with this.

The way young Allie sighed wearily in response to his question did nothing to lessen his puzzlement.

"Harry Potter and Hermione Granger!" she said pointedly, and somewhat exasperatedly. "You are… like… the epitome of everything two human beings could ever hope to be. Yes, that's how I've read it in that one book, I think."

"Pardon me?" said Harry.

"What book?" asked Hermione.

Poor Allie was more than a little overwhelmed in face of this verbal crossfire, but she bravely stood her ground.

"The Power He Knows Not, by Jenna K. Rollins," she chose to answer Hermione's question, for she didn't really know what to do with the one Harry had asked.

"I don't believe I have read that book…" Hermione uncharacteristically had to say. "What exactly is it about?"

"Well… about you, basically," Allie revealed. "It's about the power He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named doesn't know. The power that has brought about his downfall once before and will again."

Two intense, highly confused gazes met her eyes.

"Love?" she asked in a manner as if she were stating the most obvious.

"Right," Harry instantly said, nodding wildly in agreement.

"Of course," Hermione concurred.

"What else would it be?" Harry offered.

Little Allie looked at them with her lips drawn into a line, shaking her head disapprovingly.

"Anyway," she unwaveringly continued to explain. "Miss Rollins describes how the one crucial advantage of Harry in his struggle against You-Know-Who is exactly that: love. He once received it from his parents, and he now has it deep within and all around him. Those who follow him and stand by his side do so out of love, loyalty and trust, not out of fear, desperation or an alleged lack of alternatives. You-Know-Who does not understand that. The whole concept of love eludes him, and thus the magical power that grows only out of true, unconditional love will never be his to wield.

"And the strongest of all these connections, the one truly unbreakable bond – and Miss Rollins makes this unmistakably clear throughout her book – exists solely between Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. The book lays out the inner workings of what is generally known as soul magic, and how you actually grow stronger through it, as is the case with the two of you, as I thought you would surely know.

"You two complement each other; you amplify each other's magical power and abilities. You are, each of you, in fact, the primary source of the other's strength. And most importantly, to both of you the other is the most important thing of all. You would willingly and without hesitation give your life to save the other. Neither of you could really be without the other.

"And all of that is, in essence and according to Miss Rollins, the reason why you, Harry Potter, will ultimately be victorious over You-Know-Who. Because the two of you are the embodiment of the power he knows not; because you are everything he cannot understand, everything he fears; because Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are the twofold union, the strongest nexus of soul magic of our time."

When Allie had finally finished her captivating speech, she paused for only a brief moment before she rather breathlessly added: "And don't ask me what a nexus is. I'm mainly quoting the book here."

Harry and Hermione appeared to be equally dumbfounded, both of them unable to either speak or move. It was Allie's turn to sheepishly look back and forth between the baffled duo, wondering what was wrong with them and if she had done anything she shouldn't have. She'd just wanted to explain the book to them, right?

"I'm gonna have to read that book of yours," Hermione stated flatly. "Like very soon."

The sound of her voice seemed to wake Harry from his stupor and he cleared his throat in embarrassment, then went forth to scratch the back of his head for good measure.

"Yes," he simply said, drawing quizzical looks from both girls around him.

Instantly feeling very self-conscious, he cleared his throat yet again.

"I mean," he began, drifted off and found something to say in another flimsy trail of thought. "It sure sounds like an interesting read. Sure does."

An awkward silence ensued, in which Harry and Hermione still tried to comprehend what they had just listened to and Allie tried to understand what Harry and Hermione were behaving so strangely for.

"What's wrong?" she finally asked when she couldn't stand the silence anymore.

Again Harry seemed to wake from a deep slumber, startled at the sound of the little girl's voice.

"Oh, uh… well, you see," he clumsily began talking before thinking about what he wanted to say. "It's just that… how can I say it? Hermione? You know what I mean?"

She looked at him with a befuddled expression, brows furrowed and eyes narrowed, moving her head in a motion of indecision between nodding and shaking.

"Of course," she chose to confirm a statement that was never made. "Yeah, sure."

Allie observed them attentively, her eyes squinted suspiciously.

"What's the matter?" she virtually repeated her previous question.

The persons in question turned back to her.

"Well," Hermione spoke first, carefully choosing her words. "It's just that… Miss Rollins seems to have some rather… wild theories about… stuff, be they interesting as they may. Isn't that right, Harry? Can I say that?"

Harry was surprised to find Hermione looking at him with what he could only interpret as worry. There was trouble in her eyes he did not fully understand.

He cleared his throat yet again, even if there was nothing left to clear by now.

"Totally," he agreed, looking at her intently for a second and then nodding his head at Allie, who was still watching them disturbingly closely. "That Miss Rollins sure likes it wild. In her theories, I mean. Very, uh… alternative ideas."

"One might even call it avant-garde," Hermione added.

"Yes," Harry agreed as a matter of course. "That's exactly it."

Allie looked outright sulky by now, her tiny hands clenched into tight fists.

"What are you talking about?" she exclaimed angrily, surprising both Harry and Hermione and disrupting their charade. "Are you trying to tell me the two of you are just friends, or something? Don't look at me like that! I'm not stupid!"

"No one in his right mind would get that idea…" Hermione tried to soothe the little girl's rising temper, being completely honest nevertheless. This was most clearly not a stupid girl…

"So are you?" Allie challenged them both, unwilling to let them off the hook.

"Are we what?" Harry asked, and he wasn't consciously teasing her. He simply didn't know where his head was anymore. Intentional or not, though, they had now officially surpassed the little Hufflepuff's boiling point.

"Now you two listen to me," she said determinedly, and somehow seemed to be much older than she actually was. "And listen closely, 'cause I'm not quoting from a book here. If the two of you are just friends; if you look at your relationship as something casual; if you even so much as dare to take it for granted; if you don't treasure each other more than anything else in the world; if you don't need each other; if you don't depend on each other; if you don't trust in each other; if you don't find completion and comfort in each other; if you don't see what you truly ought to be; if you don't want to spend the rest of your lives at each other's side; if you can imagine something else, someone better, someplace nicer; if you are blind and deaf and stupid; if you, of all people, are just friends, then there truly is no more to be had than friendship in this world. If Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are not in love, are not a manifestation of love itself, then there is no hope for all the rest of us who dream of it and yearn for it. The two of you are what we believe in, what we look up to. And if you are telling us that it's all just one big delusion, well… then to hell with you!"

And with that, twelve year old Alethea Rose stomped off along the hallway with angry tears in her bloodshot eyes, pushing past two petrified listeners and leaving behind the unheard echoes of her words in a pervading silence.

Seconds passed uncounted. Nothing seemed to move in a world only shared by Harry and Hermione. Sounds from other places seemed to drop to hollow noises. Time might as well have stood still, for there was nothing to account for its passing. There was nothing.

And then there was something.

Slowly but surely, Harry and Hermione simultaneously turned to face each other, every inch seemingly taking an eternity to happen. When the motion of their bodies finally came to a gentle halt, they raised their eyes to look upon each other. And when their piercing gazes through eyes unveiled locked, they truly beheld one another completely and utterly for the very first time, for only now were their eyes wide open.

~ The Beginning ~