Author's Note: Sorry for the long delay, you know how it goes.
Harry could barely comprehend the words as they left the ghost's mouth. Too many stray thoughts and assumptions were fighting for attention when the jumble of words hit him. His mind seemed to grind to a halt while a string of empathy jerked at his emotions upon seeing her silver tears. Slowly but surely his subconscious was catching him up as words began clicking into place. Lost, History, Hogwarts, Key?
He stuttered while trying to form a response, "I-I'm s-sorry?" That isn't going to help much if I'm going to get to the bottom of this. Taking a deep breath he began again, "I'm not sure I understand, but you're really saying this is a key to Hogwarts somehow? ... Why would a castle need a single key, or doorknob for a key? What is it used for and is this The Key we're talking about?"
"You know so little, yet you carry so much..." The Grey Lady shook her head while wiping away her tears, "No. I shall not accept this affront as the rest seem to. I shall give you one warning. Do not abuse the privileges and secrets you have found, or you will not be welcomed back next year." She swept away in a beautiful glow of silvery mist.
Harry stammered, "What? - Wait, why? Isn't, this a school? Shouldn't you help teach students instead of threatening them?"
His words froze the Grey Lady's drifting movement while her dress seemed to sway with indecision. She turned around to stare at Harry, searching for something in his eyes he could only guess at. Finally coming to a decision, she nodded, "Wishing to learn is one trait you show that even I can sympathize with. So be it. I shall answer your questions, if your answers to mine are worthy."
The noncommittal response prompted her to begin, "What is more important, the story you are told, or the story you create?"
"A riddle? Hmm." It didn't sound like a regular riddle to Harry. He hesitated before beginning, wondering what a Ravenclaw ghost could want to hear. Some witty reply? A technically correct response? Or a meaningful thought revealing his character? Her intent expression made him guess the last but he choose a mix of the three. "If you forced me to choose one or the other, I would say it's the story I create. But the truth is more important than either."
"Yes... sometimes you must reject all known answers and seek another. - Second, what is the nature of all existence?"
"Forty two? Er - I mean, that's a little harder than a normal riddle..."
She aimed a severe glower at him, demanding the correct answer. Taking more time than the last question, he tried to guess her motivation. Ghosts must be more than stored knowledge and complex responses like portraits. They emulate emotions or possibly even have them, meaning they hold values. If they're magical impressions of real people then they might value what people of their time valued. For a Ravenclaw that should still be wit, wisdom, and of course, learning.
"I could make any number of guesses, but frankly, I don't know. Yet I would like to find out."
Hesitating a moment, she nodded in acceptance, "Yes, you must admit your lack of knowledge before seeking answers. - Finally, Who are you?"
Harry looked at her with a wry grin, mumbling at the absurdity of it all, "These keep getting better. I am me."
She cocked an eyebrow at him, expecting more. "Tautologies are not an answer."
"I'm guessing you don't want my name then either..." Realizing he might screw up any chance of an explanation, he took another deep breath, and thought it over, then shrugged. "I am my past, I am the chemicals that make up my body, I am part of nature, I am who I decide to be."
A hint of a smile curled up her lips at last, "That is sufficient." She began to float away yet again.
"Wait!" Harry protested, "Please. You said you would answer my questions..."
Her progress halted once more and she returned to face him, "So I did. Pursuing the truth in the face of defeat is the answer to the question you will never be asked. You have passed." She crossed her arms in reluctant acceptance, "The Key, you so casually toss about was created by the designer of Hogwarts. Crafted to lock and unlock the secrets of this castle for one able to understand its purpose. Hogwarts itself chooses the owner, as the owner chooses its shape. In the past it was coveted by those wishing to see the castle harmed, by those seeking power, and others chasing mysteries. None have found it by design, and few have been granted the privilege at all. Ages have past since the last owner, and fact seems to have faded to legend. However I shall reiterate my last warning, as I did for her. Do not abuse this gift, or you will lose it."
Another tear began to form in her misty eyes as she set her jaw to emphasize the gravity of her statement.
"How, how do you know all of this?" Asked Sue, trying to appear calm.
"I was there." With one last glance at Harry, the Grey Lady fled through the nearest wall.
Harry sat gazing at the spot she vanished, trying to blink away his confusion.
"What the hell Harry? Where did you even get that?" Padma poked him, trying to get his attention when he didn't respond. That's when Hermione finally entered the library and took a seat beside them.
"Sorry about that, Professor McGonagall was grilling me about my transfiguration progress recently, and for some reason asking about how much time I spend with you, Harry. Did you tell her something...?" She looked around at her friend's peculiar expressions, becoming curious. "What happened, it looks like you saw a gho- I mean, a grim?"
Harry finally nodded in response and picked up the doorknob to examine it, "Something like that, yeah."
January passed by quicker than ever, between weekly dueling practice, excessive homework, catching Sue and Padma up with work in the disappearing room, and researching the key to Hogwarts. They made progress on all but the last. Because curiously, not a single book, scroll, or tome in either official library or their private one in the disappearing room contained so much as a passing reference to the key of Hogwarts. Neither did they catch sight of the Grey Lady again or talk to another ghost who seemed to know anything. Harry was hesitant to bring up the topic again with Dumbledore, being afraid of how he might react. It all made Hermione wonder if the story was some kind of inside joke or strange Ravenclaw prank taken way too seriously.
Yet the other projects were easy by comparison.
With Tonks advising them during dueling club and assigning special practice with a series of spells she wanted them to practice, most of which they already knew, she began planning how to tutor them privately. Homework only delayed them long enough to make the appropriate appearances in the Ravenclaw library, before they escaped to the disappearing room. Often meeting the Weasley twins on the way there or finding them waiting in a nearby hallway, planning something. Padma and Sue were both impressed by the amount of books that were organized, the items collected, and the potions lab the twins set up, yet were more interested in Harry and Hermione's moke skin pouches than anything in the room. They were promised, along with Fred and George that they could help check the traps to find more.
One problem arose early on though, which grated on Harry's nerves more than anything else. Lockhart. After his bumbling introduction to the class, he seemed slightly humbled enough to attempt teaching out of their original book. But that didn't last a single day, not after finding out that the famous Harry Potter was attending this year. Every class from then on was filled with questions, invitations, and offers of advice for Harry. All the while Lockhart told stories of his travels, how he dealt with this monster and that one from multiple books he brought in, blatantly trying to impress whoever could stomach paying attention to him.
It took three whole weeks of direct refusals and one day with eight denied requests for Harry to join him at the front of the class, before Lockhart finally seemed to get the hint. None of which endeared Harry to other students and only seemed to fuel a dislike from others. Personified by Lavender's increasingly petulant glares aimed his way, and some feeble attempts to trip or bump into him whenever he walked by.
What bothered him to a lesser degree was that others seemed to ignore it all, as if there was nothing to be done. Like he should accept what happened when he spurned advances from admirers and simply suffer through. While he did get many sympathetic looks from his friends and even Parvati at times, Hermione took it even worse than he did. Looking guilty and distressed, as if Lockhart and the others were her fault.
Trying to confront the problem only made Hermione avoid the subject, Lavender ignore him, and Lockhart appear confused, then offer him more advice. So Harry relented and put up with it after that, assuming no one else had an answer either and it would go away with time.
It appeared to work, for a while.
That is until February came around and the topic of discussion turned to Valentines Day. Harry was sitting in Potions class, expertly mashing up mistletoe berries for their forgetfulness potion when Hannah, his usual partner mentioned it.
"What are you and Hermione going to do for Valentines day Harry? I hear Professor Lockhart has something big planned." She seemed so cheerful and innocent despite bringing up such a serious topic in such a dismal classroom.
The buzz of conversation around them dwindled as attention was drawn their way, yet somehow Snape appeared not to notice the change in atmosphere, which he was usually quite adept at interrupting. For all the protests Harry might give, or excuses he might offer in the face of such a blunt and presumptuous question, he knew it would be utterly useless. Even though there were no accurate rumors or eyewitnesses to any incriminating actions they'd taken, it was still commonly known that Harry and Hermione were 'together,' basically being confirmed by sitting beside each other in the Great Hall throughout the winter holidays. He resigned himself to the torments that would ensue at being the only first year couple, but tried to downplay the idea without resisting and making it worse.
"I don't know, haven't decided."
"Oh, come on! You've got to have something in mind. What is it?" Hanna tugged on her single long braid in enthusiasm.
"Yeah Harry, what have you got planned? Share." Padma echoed beside him, wearing a impish grin. With his real problems starting to fade away, she seemed to take that as a sign she could return to teasing him.
Harry shook his head in mild amusement, as Lisa and Susan turned around in front of him. "We can help if you don't have any ideas?" Offered Susan, trying to be helpful.
"That's okay... I can manage."
"I'm sure you're just dying to tell us all, aren't you Potter? Going to have a wedding in the Ravenclaw library I bet." Zachariah Smith oozed with sarcasm. Although this was apparently the wrong thing to make fun of, because every single girl within earshot suddenly impaled him an icy glare. He flinched as if physical hit, and turned away quickly.
"Don't worry Harry, I'm sure you'll think of something nice." Continued Hannah as if her housemate hadn't spoken.
A screeching chair interrupted any further conversation and Snape swept out from behind his desk to the front of the classroom. He pulled a greasy stand of hair out of his face and eye'd Harry. "If there is this much talk going on, I assume you are all done with your potions and ready to hand them in. You have one minute to get a sample on my desk."
Quiet groans could be heard around the classroom as Snape beat the chalkboard with a thick piece of chalk, detailing their homework for the day. Harry and Hannah hurried to put in their last ingredient even without the proper stirring, like much of the class. Hoping it was at least passable, they all filled up vials and deposited them on the rack. Harry brought his up near the end of the line, not wanting to be shoved in the process if anyone was blaming him. But upon getting close, he noticed an unpleasant but familiar smell. Troll.
The entire line of vials exploded in his face. Throwing him and another person back into the rows of desks, tipping over cauldron after cauldron and spraying leftover forgetfulness potion everywhere. Screams erupted through the classroom and died again just as fast when more forgetfulness potion spilled over to erase the memory of what was happening. It soon started up again as the less affected students began registering the scene before them.
Harry lay slumped under some fallen desks with shards of glass and crystal embedded everywhere, intermixed with a dozen splotches of differently colored potion. The Potions Master was off to the side, sprawled face first in a puddle of milky white liquid, more unfinished forgetfulness potion. While Ernie and a few others who were at the back of the class began frantically trying to clean off everyone and everything in sight.
Padma was helped up by Sue as they dazedly read the words on the chalkboard, 'Forgetfulness Potion essay,' and then saw Harry. With one look between them, Sue ran out the door to find a teacher while Padma cleared a path towards Harry, starting to cry on the way there. Just then a house elf popped into the room, followed by twenty more.
Most of the students only lost a day or two of their time at school, some lost a week, while the unlucky ones lost more. Professor Snape only forgot a few hours, due to his size and a tolerance against potions people guessed. Harry on the other hand, lost everything.
He lay in a hospital bed gazing up at the ceiling, trying to place where he was. The old white stone didn't ring any bells and he couldn't see past the white curtains surrounding his bed either. By the light filtering through the windows, it looked to be near evening. Guessing that he must have been hurt because his face stung slightly, he tried to remember the last thing that happened. It was all too clear, the moment he waved his new wand and a tree grew out of a table. Did it collapse the roof down on top of us like Olivander warned? Or was that all a dream? It seems so unbelievable now... Maybe I finally cracked from all the secrets, and this is some psychiatric hospital my relatives threw me in?
No. That's only my fear talking. It all made sense when he explained the story. The... giant? Something that starts with, an H? Ha? Hur? Whatever. I'm probably in some wizarding hospital since the wooden furniture and architecture looks old and worn like that shopping district, kind of. OK, what are you supposed to do when you wake up from an injury? Check everything over.
Harry sat up slightly and lifted his hands to his face, feeling for injuries but came up with nothing substantial. He itched a little at a sore spot on his cheek, and somehow poked his finger. Trying again, he used two fingernails and pulled out a tiny sliver of glass. Did the ceiling in Ollivander's have a sunlight? No, must have been the windows or something. Patting himself down and testing out all his limbs, he found nothing else that hurt. Even his glasses were gone, yet he could see perfectly, better than he could ever remember. This has to be a wizard hospital if they could fix my eyes.
Alright, time to test the skills.
With the slightest of effort he levitated the sliver of glass in the air, made it dance around, and set it back down. That seems almost too easy... Did claiming two wands enhance my power somehow? Who knows, but I don't have them now. None of my possessions are even in sight, but I'll worry about that later. Don't want to risk sending thoughts to anyone after the indecent in the vault, so I'll skip that for now.
Forcing lightning to crackle out from the tips of his fingers was easier as well. That left only the one more.
With a deep breath Harry pushed open his sixth sense, and was flooded with a buzz of static and the feeling of unusual people everywhere, at a distance he'd never reached before. He pulled back quickly, with the oddest combination of emotions he'd ever felt. Annoyance, respect, amusement, admiration, disappointment, longing? And... lo-liking someone?
What the bloody hell happened?
Ever so slowly, he tried to reach out again, easily ignoring the buzz to find one person that he felt something more than a simple attachment to. He found her, close by, next to a few others that felt familiar as well. How do I know it's a her? It's definitely not my aunt, and none of the others feel like anyone I know. Except... I do. They all feel strange, like the mailman, and... everyone in that shopping alley! Of course, they must be all witches and wizards, but, why do I feel so close to them? Especially the one. Some kind of spell? Crap, here they come. Pretend to be asleep? No, they're wizards, they could probably tell. Pretend to... nothing. I'm lost and alone in a different world here. Have to be on guard but not act like a nutter. That's all I can hope for.
The curtain swung open to the charitable face of an older woman in an archaic nurse's uniform. Not the girl he felt, but right behind... She swung the curtain back further after seeing he was awake. Revealing three other people, two young girls and one exceedingly old man with a long white beard in strange blue robes. All of them seemed familiar through his power, but not his memory. Then the nurse stepped out of the way of the fourth person, a cute bushy haired girl putting on a brave half-smile. Their eyes locked together.
She looked on the edge of tears, appearing to have already cried through more than her fair share already. He couldn't help but feel sorry for her, and much more. Half of his brain was telling him they knew each other, but the other half was trying to question every assumption the first half made because he couldn't remember why. He made himself smile slightly, hoping that would help somehow. But it didn't. She broke into tears and ran to him, wrapping him in a tight hug and crying onto his shoulder. Mumbling something about pictures and memories in his ear. Although he knew nothing about her, he couldn't help hugging her back. The pleasant scent of her hair felt like it reminded him of something, but he couldn't tell what.
The old man smiled reassuringly and ushered the other girls to the opposite side of the bed. Taking a position at the foot, he spoke evenly. "How do you feel Harry?"
He knows my name, how? Did the giant tell him? Can wizards simply find your name? Is this all a trick? Maybe, but unlikely. This is all pointing towards something I don't like the thought of. He's expecting an answer, going to get worried if I don't reply soon. "I... I don't know." That brought on more crying from the girl hugging him, but she lifted her head to look at him through watery eyes. Then buried her face in his shoulder again, hugging him tighter.
"What's the last thing you remember Harry?" Asked the Asian girl beside him.
Damn. Fuck! I knew that's what this was. How could I have lost my memories of all these people!? His mind reeled but somehow kept an even tone when he spoke, "I'm not sure... what's the date?"
"It is February, Saturday the eighth. You are in the Hogwarts hospital and have been asleep for two whole days." The bearded man seemed nice to Harry, not pressuring him too much, but clearly concerned.
"...The year?" He managed to croak out.
"Oh god!" The crying girl shivered beside him.
"Nineteen ninety two, you have been attending Hogwarts for five months now. You have lost your memory in an accident during potions class. Normally the effects are treatable, to an extent, but with the amount and variety of different unfinished forgetfulness potions that you were exposed to, might make things more complicated. Could you perhaps help us discover how bad your memory loss is?"
Harry used his free hand to cover his eyes and sighed. He felt slightly better now that he knew, but a sinking sensation in his gut began to steal the breath out of his lungs. The girl hugging him was somehow keeping him grounded enough to not lash out and destroy something, but his feelings for her began to make him feel uncomfortable. She pulled away when he didn't answer. He could feel her eyes on him, and hear the other girl that hadn't spoken yet walk around to her and try comforting her.
The crying girl tried to speak between her sobs, "Why aren't you saying anything, Harry? - Do, - do you not remember us?"
It was obvious by the crack in her voice that this was one of her worst fears turned real. He wanted to lie to her, to pretend it was all OK, but something held him back. He tried to wipe the sleep or tears out of his eyes, buying time to think of something to say or do. But it was useless. He was lost now more than ever.
"No." He answered, condemning the last shred of hope to die.
Walking forward, the nurse put a hand on his shoulder and handed him a glass full of something to drink. "He just needs some time to process it, is all. To rest and recuperate. Don't worry, they were only forgetfulness potions, we should have him back in no time."
Harry opened his eyes to see the scared look on the crying girl, supported by the two other girls as they tried to slowly lead her away. "I'm sorry." He breathed as they left his line of sight.
With a delicate wave of his hand, the white haired man steadied the glass in Harry's grasp through magic, keeping it from tipping. "If you need anything, simply ask Harry. Before I go, I would like you to know that I am someone you trusted, with the force of your past." He gave Harry a small wink, and a nod at shared secrets. Then left when Harry didn't respond.
The nurse turned back to him. "Drink that up when you can, and try taking another nap. If you're no longer tired I have some entertaining books on hand that you can read. But you'll have to do without eating for a bit while the drought does its work. Alright?" Harry nodded and she left to another part of the room.
Ughhhhh... I lost more than five months of my life! Knowledge, memories, friends... He made a first and smacked his forehead with it a few times in frustration.
This couldn't be some elaborate plot to manipulate me, could it? But who would care enough and what could they gain? Nothing, that's likely common paranoia. Even if I'm supposed to be famous, the chance that someone would know my secret about imitating the force and could train girls my age to pose as extremely convincing, forgotten friends is absurd.
I guess I didn't really lose them though, or my feelings. But could it possibly be the same? Can anything be the same? Will I still like them, or will they still like me? Maybe I can get the memories back... through magic? Or, are they still there...?
Closing his eyes, Harry banished his worries and doubts that threatened to overwhelm him. They didn't leave completely, but it was enough. He entered his memory palace and his whole world was gone. His life destroyed. Most of the shelves and floor space in the entryway was empty. Devoid of any thought of life or memories he had placed there. Yet it almost felt as if he could reach out and touch the lost knowledge, pulling it back into existence through sheer force of will. He tried, grabbing for empty space on a table, willing a memory to appear, to bring it back to life, but no. It was like reaching through a cloud. He could tell something was supposed to be there, could almost see the shape it might have taken, but it slipped through his fingers.
Thoughts and memories of the distant past tried to replace the emptiness, filling up the room again like it used to be back at the Dursleys. He shook his head in refusal, discarding them once more. He would find it all again and replace what he lost, he already decided that before even thinking about it.
Peering around the living room showed old furniture moved slightly, different shaped cabinets, his favorite desk chair changed to an strange multicolored recliner, and a bookshelf gone from beside it, replaced by hazy and empty frames. It was a corner of the room he pretended to sit in and think, surrounded by his favorite books and things with his thoughts on them. That's when one frame caught his eye. It wasn't empty. Looking closer revealed someone, in a grey knitted cap, smiling happily in the wizarding shopping alley. Diagon Alley. It was the same girl. The one he felt connected to. The crying girl who hugged him. Hermione.
Wait! How did I know that? Did I catch her name then? Did her parents say it in passing? Did I just do something to remember? How do I do it again?
Cold liquid dripped onto his shirt, catching him off guard and he was back in the hospital. He gently wiped at it and began sipping at the grass flavored concoction still in his other hand. A lump in the bed that wasn't there before caught his attention. He tapped it with a fingertip, revealing a hard object, rounded under the sheet yet it didn't roll away. Pulling the white cloth back revealed, a brass doorknob of all things. But stranger still, engraved in the front was the same image of Hermione, smiling up at him.
It wasn't until the next morning that Harry was allowed visitors again, but this time it was only one at a time. Hermione arrived first of course. She appeared composed this time with her hair combed and eyes dried, carrying a few books and a pouch on each hip. He sat up with an encouraging smile for her.
She returned it bravely, "I'm glad you're okay, but you don't have to pretend for me. It's okay if you don't remember me right now. It was only, a shock yesterday. Everyone else only lost a few days or so, a month at the most. I just wasn't expecting... No matter, I wanted to help answer any questions you might have and bring you some of your things." She set down the books and unstrapped one of the pouches, laying it beside him.
"I'm sorry about yesterday too, but I do remember you, Hermione, in a way."
Her eyes flew open in surprise, but she tried to keep herself restrained. "How... much?"
"The first day we met, in Diagon Alley." A frown touched her lips but was gone in a flash, "I remember more somehow, but don't understand why. Madam Pomfrey told me forgetfulness potion is supposed to erase everything for a small amount of time, depending on the amount consumed or exposed to. But it didn't remove, my feelings. - It's kind of weird being a little annoyed and amused when thinking of, Padma? Or feeling respect and appreciation for Sue." Hermione looked eager again, but was containing her joy, "I asked Madam Pomfrey for their names... haven't remembered that much. But with you it's even more... I mean, I'm not sure, ah, how close of friends we were?"
"Oh. Oh, of course! That's, great Harry! I suppose it might be a little, confusing, to feel something for people without remembering why. You're probably wondering why I hugged you and was crying so much... We were good friends, and, ahm," She was blushing profusely now, turning a bright scarlet while looking around the room for prying eyes, "We - kissed... once, or twice. - But of course I wouldn't expect you to still feel that way about me with your memory gone. I don't want to make you uncomfortable at all, so I can leave if you-"
Harry grabbed her hand before she could turn away, which interrupted her words, "Maybe we can just talk, for now?" She nodded, "Then, could you tell me how close we were? - How much I've shared with you?" He tried to ask calmly, as a million thoughts rushed through his brain. WHAT? How is that possible? Is this a joke? Did someone use magic on me to make that happen? I've never even thought about a girl like... Okay, I've thought about them, but I... never thought... I got to kiss her? And I FORGOT about it? Bloody hell. She's cute when she blushes... but how could she even like me? I'm not normal.
"Well... we do tend to spend most evenings studying together after school, with Sue and Padma mostly. We never decided on a, label, but some people assume we're... except it shouldn't matter what other people think... - You, ah, told me about how Star Wars helped develop your ability with," She leaned closer to whisper, "Wandless magic, and your occlumency training."
Blinking a few times, Harry tried to process it all. Wondering how he could ever feel so trusting with her and some old man, having bottled up his secrets for so many years. It was almost more mysterious than having kissed her. Almost. His feelings explained a lot though. "Occlumency?"
"Oh, it's defending yourself from mind reading." She breathed conspiratorially, "Headmaster Dumbledore, the one who visited yesterday, was teaching you. You began teaching me during the holidays, but no one is supposed to know."
"I see... I'm glad I had someone to share things with."
Hermione grinned, "Luckily I didn't make you get rid of any of these. They aren't much, and they're a bit embarrassing, but you seemed to like them." She pulled out a cracked wand and waved it over the pouch beside him, then reached in, pulling out a large stack of photos and handed them to him. They moved. Most were of her, reading, blushing, organizing books, casting spells, flying on a broom, wearing a fox costume, and a few others. Some of her eating at a giant table, sleeping in his multicolored recliner, along with one of her pulling off a sweater, accidentally lifting her shirt part-way up as well.
This time it was his turn to blush, as he hurried to hide that one behind the rest. Was I really so... mesmerized by her? He flipped through more that included other people, many were of their study group she mentioned, a group of students that seemed to be dueling, Christmas themed ones, what looked like a New Year's party, and a few in a classroom setting, almost all of which included Hermione as well, if not centered on her. Yep, it appears I was. Does she realize how obsessive this makes me look? Probably...
"Padma took this one a few weeks ago, but I asked if I could keep it." She picked a single one out of her own pouch, and handed it over. In it, he was laying down on a long multicolored couch, resting his head on Hermione's lap as they read a book together. They both looked up in embarrassment at the camera but tried to hide it. "She's taken more since, but we haven't developed them yet. I'm sorry they aren't of more important things to help you remember."
It's true then. "It's okay. I think... wait, where do these colourful pieces of furniture come from? Are they sold in Diagon Alley or something?" Harry sat up at attention.
"Mm, I don't think so. They're all one piece we alter, and we found that in the disappearing room near the end of December. Why?"
"I remember it! How much have I told you about my memory?"
Hermione's eyes lit up, "You mean your memory palace? You tried to describe and show me how it works but we got distracted practicing other stuff in my mind. Do you really remember this exact chair?"
"I think so. Wait, what? We, practiced... in your mind? ... what did we, practice?"
Another blush touched her face with an embarrassed smile, "Nothing like that. I guess it's reassuring that you still think the same way, but no." She leaned closer towards Harry to whisper again, "That's when we were practicing occlumency, different ways to protect my thoughts. You can use legilimency, mind reading, to enter my mind and you somehow showed me a room in your memory palace once or twice. - I was thinking maybe when you feel up to it, you could try again. That way I might be able to show you my own memories of this year. But never mind that for now, what were you saying about remembering the puffskein chair?"
I was able to read minds... sure, why not. She trusted me to enter hers to teach her something, and still trusts me when I forgot everything? That's... promising. I only hope I didn't have some creepy shrine of her in my mind. No, of course I did... the wall of photos. In a second he was back there, beside the multicolored chair and seeing almost half of the frames filled with the photos he was just looking at. All of her. The chair appeared more detailed now too, with the fuzzy patches of fur covering it.
"It's working. Somehow the chair was already in my memory palace before I saw these pictures, and so was a single picture of you. That's how I remembered your name, I think, but now I kind of remember seeing the others, or at least I know where they fit in my mind. Do you know what that means?"
She shook her head but was still smiling brightly, "Not exactly, although it does mean you didn't lose it all, and if it's coming back-" Jumping up, she wrapped him in another hug, then slowly pulled back again. "Sorry... I'm a bit excited."
"I ah, don't really mind." Harry couldn't help but grin back after the warm embrace. No wonder I like her so much, "I was scared at first, and confused at how I felt, but it feels almost natural, being around you. I really, really hope I get everything back, but the idea of experiencing some things for the first time again, isn't bad either..."
Her face was still flushed from the past, yet he could tell it was increasing again.
"But that can wait. There's something else I found yesterday that doesn't make much sense." He picked up the doorknob to show her, "Do you know what this is? It just appeared next to me after I remembered your name and that picture of you."
Frowning in confusion, Hermione looked it over, "It... It looks exactly like the key to Hogwarts you discovered, except, there was a symbol of a raven on the front. Hmm, but I think you did say the owner picked it's shape, maybe that's why?"
"Weird, but OK. I guess that's not important now either. Oh yeah, Madam Pomfrey said I could go back to classes in a day or two if I'm feeling better, but I don't want to be completely lost if I do. Could you help me get up speed somewhat? At least so I can understand the general terms and ideas involved?"
She perked up again, "Definitely! I was actually working on that last night. I had Fred and George, other friends of ours, make a few copies of some pictures and enlarge them. Then I labelled everyone in our year and a few others with notes. Next I created a small reference notebook for describing common knowledge you might have forgotten and also wrote up a summary for what we've learned in each class so far, along with the books you've read and spells you've practiced or mastered. I'm hoping they won't be too hard for you to relearn since you managed to already." She paused to take a short breath while pulling the papers out of her pouch and continued, "There's a lot of... secret stuff that I didn't feel comfortable writing down, so we'll have discuss that later in private, but I've got all the basic topics to cover planned out. Just be careful not to reveal anything to other students or teachers. Some of it could be, problematic."
I think this is going to happen a lot, realizing how amazing she is. "Wow. That's impressive. You're not going to turn out to be my long lost sister are you?"
Rolling her eyes, Hermione gave a soft snort, "You better not even mention, let alone suggest that I should wear a metal bikini this time. Because even if you were just injured, that doesn't mean I won't hit you."
Harry laughed in surprise, "I'm guessing I made that joke before, ... but I didn't think I would be so, forward."
"Oh I'm pretty sure you've picked up Padma's bad habit of teasing people for fun. Except you seem to save it just for me."
"Ah, sorry. Maybe you should hit me when that happens? I've never been the best people person."
"Already tried that, didn't work." A friendly smirk curled her lips, "But I've learned to deal with it all the same. Since you are worth the effort."
They spent many hours together, going over the basic concepts of magic, a few important secrets that couldn't wait for later, and some personal details that Harry wanted to know. Interspersed with all kinds of questions that he was curious about and other points of interest Hermione kept remembering to write down or tell him about. Madam Pomfrey stopped them at lunchtime for Hermione to go eat and Harry to take another dose of grass flavored memory restorative.
Sue took over for a few hours after that, apologizing that Hermione couldn't visit as well, but they had agreed to take turns so as not to pressure him to remember anything specific. She had her own list of topics to discuss, but they were much like Hermione's. They talked more about the history of magic, different creatures he used to be interested in, and Hogwarts, how it worked, where things were, and what they'd already discovered. Then she answered more questions he had, and new ones thought up along the way.
Padma arrived after dinner to simply talk. They discussed students and teachers, subjects he was interested in and ones that interested her. The events that happened through the year so far and things that might happen soon. She caught him up on his relationship with most people, how some girls liked him, but not as much after Hermione and him became serious. How they all spent time with Hagrid and his lessons with Dumbledore. How Snape picked on him at the beginning of the year but not anymore, and how he refused to have anything to do with their temporary teacher Lockhart. Then she warned him about the bullies like Malfoy, how Harry so oddly diffused the situations or sometimes made them worse. Finally wrapping it up by explaining how inseparable and 'lovey-dovey' he had become with Hermione, appearing to enjoy how much she could make him blush.
Near the end of the day Hagrid popped in to visit, bringing with him the presents Harry gave him, and telling him stories they had together. Hoping to help him remember things and see how he was faring. Yet he excused himself early, to let Harry get more rest. Or at least that's the reason he claimed, as he seemed occupied with other thoughts.
During the down time between visits Harry explored the books and notes Hermione brought, but especially the magically expanded mokeskin pouch Hermione had to explain. She warned him about the incredibly rare and expensive invisibility cloak he owned, that might get confiscated if revealed, mostly because of past trouble he talked her into. The pouch also included his broken watch that Hagrid gave him, which was damaged in the explosion, but not the communication mirror underneath; the cleaned set of robes that held a silencing pin on them, brought from his room by Sue; various gifts, potions, trinkets, and furniture he'd amassed from friends, past purchases, and a magically disappearing storage room they found; along with as many books, scrolls, and notes that Hermione could think of to include. Almost everything was included, except his wands. Which were being held by Madam Pomfrey, due to past incidents with memory altered patients and his own wand causing trouble. Although he was assured they would be returned when he was discharged, he had difficulty convincing her that it should be the next morning.
She relented only after seeing an illustration of how miserable he would be if left alone all of Monday, by way of the most pitiful frown, cringe inducing puppy dog eyes, and sympathetic sniffle he could possibly pull off. It looked like she'd seen better, but she shook her head and agreed all the same. He thanked her profusely and promised he wouldn't be a bother again, to which she simply sighed.
Harry communicated this news to Hermione over the novel communication across mirrors, and promptly drank a sleeping potion, welcoming and dreading the next day equally.
Snape stalked past the closing doors, twirling gadgets, and hanging portraits leading to Dumbledore's desk, arriving to stand in front of it with an indifferent expression. "You asked to see me Headmaster?"
"Please, if you would sit Severus. I was curious how your investigation into the accident is proceeding."
"You mean, if I could scrape up any residual evidence after the bumbling house elves attempted to clean it all in an instant?" Dumbledore nodded sagely in reply, "Nothing seems out of the ordinary, except for how any student could possibly brew an exploding forgetfulness potion. Although over my years of experience teaching, I wouldn't put it past a first year Hufflepuff. - More to the point, I haven't found any trace substances that may have caused such a reaction, even from the student's cauldrons it might have been brewed in."
Raising an eyebrow the Headmaster cleared his throat, "Could something have been added to a vial by accident, or without a student's knowledge?"
"They are strictly instructed to cork their samples before walking around or even getting up, to avoid similar scenarios, but anything is possible. Increasingly so with-"
"Yes. That will be quite enough criticism on the quality of our students. Can you think of anyone in that class or the previous one who might have caused this incident, willingly?"
His eye twitched in irritation, "Not that I can conceive. There are the usual classroom taunts and insults thrown about, but none so drastic that might indicate a violent propensity lurking beneath. Will you finally explain your reasoning for suspecting foul play now?"
"The coincidence that Harry and you were the only ones affected by the blast is suspicious-"
Snape sneered in disdain while interrupting, "The boy attracts problems more than dragon dung attracts flies. Every other week I seem to hear about some new incident he's involved in."
"As I was saying, that is merely the tip of the giant's nose. Combining the improbability of such an accident occurring exactly when Harry stood in front of it, with everyone's untimely memory loss rendering a pensive useless, is added to the resulting outcome. Making the event highly suspicious. The outcome, as you may or may not have heard, was the complete loss of Harry's memories during his time attending Hogwarts. Shocking that merely being exposed to a variety of first year potions could achieve that, but what is more, his recovery has not been improved by the multiple memory restoratives he has taken."
That seemed to actually surprise the dour Potions Professor, by a twitch of his eyebrows. "I assume your aren't complaining about the strength of healing potions I stock, but rather suggesting that a first year student planned this all out and was able to brew a permanent, little known, and illegal nullifindium potion? I might believe that less than I do the tales Lockhart spews. Considering that the only other likely perpetrator is absent from the castle."
"A strange coincidence indeed." Dumbledore stroked his beard in contemplation, "Yet I would appreciate any further time you could dedicate to the subject, and possibly any research you might find on cures for such an unlikely occurrence."
Snape nodded in grudging compliance, coiling out of the chair and left the same way he came.
A few moments passed before another voice spoke up over the din of whirring instruments, "We all know how much you trust that man Dumbledore. We agreed with you in the past when he was obvious in his sincerity. Yet even the most stubborn and persistent individuals can change their mind with time. Do you suppose he lost all desire for power, forgot every wish for revenge, or any passion of darker knowledge?"
"No, I do not Armando. But I have always believed there are stronger motivations that are not so easily given up, even when lost."
"Harry, wake up..."
"Hmm? Later..." Harry rolled over and pulled the covers past his head.
"You'll miss breakfast if you're too late Harry. Then you'll be hungry all morning during class." The voice was soft, gently persuading him wake. "Professor McGonagall and Flitwick are here to see you too."
Something about that voice made him smile, partially waking him up. Harry pulled back the covers and turned to face it, reaching out an inviting hand. Then opened his eyes. Hermione stood several feet away looking slightly embarrassed in properly dressed robes, glancing between him and someone else at the foot of his bed.
With a sudden rush of adrenaline, Harry sat up quickly, running a hand through his hair and reaching for his... non-existent glasses. With things finally coming into focus he shyly looked around at the two unusual adults in front of him. One excessively short man, sporting a shock of white hair around his genial smile and tiny cap, while the other looked nearly his opposite, a towering older woman wearing a prim expression with dark black hair, pulled tight under a large pointy hat. Both wore different shades of green in unusual patterns, somehow making them look like the oddest married couple he could imagine. Harry wiped the sleep out of his eyes, trying to match names to the faces in the pictures he was shown yesterday.
"Is there something wrong?" He asked with a hint of caution.
The dark haired woman spoke first, McGonagall was her name, "No, Mr Potter, but we wished to discuss something with you before you decided to attend classes today."
"Okay..." He looked to Hermione in question, receiving a barely perceptible shrug.
"You may go now Miss Granger. This is a personal subject, but thank you for giving Harry a familiar person to wake up to." The tiny man, Flitwick, nodded to her politely.
She locked eyes with Harry in a meaningful look, and turned to go.
"Wait right there Miss Granger," Ordered McGonagall, glancing between the two students suspiciously, "I asked you to accompany us for another reason as well. I would like an honest answer before you leave. Did Harry teach you nonverbal magic?"
This appeared to surprise Flitwick, but Hermione's shocked expression of being caught red handed almost made Harry laugh. She had told him that they discussed revealing exactly that to their teachers, but that he was against the idea for some reason. She wanted to tell McGonagall at least, to get extra work like he got in transfiguration, but was willing to wait until he remembered more before discussing the topic again. Now the issue has been forced, and she seemed to crumple in on herself, not knowing what to say.
"It's okay Hermione, you wanted to tell them anyway." Harry looked to the teachers, "She explained it to me yesterday. Apparently I let on with too many hints and some suspicious behavior. So I taught her what I knew, and she was able to do it too. I didn't want to tell anyone, probably so we didn't get in trouble, and convinced her it wouldn't help anything. I'm sorry." It was easy for Harry to apologize about something he didn't remember and take the blame, as he doubted they would punish him. Although Hermione didn't seem to like him taking all the responsibility.
She looked up to face the consequences too, "That's not completely accurate. I worked it out of Harry as he tried to keep the information from me, but he didn't want to risk me learning on my own, so he had to explain. We had a small problem, but found the solution and decided not to tell anyone for multiple reasons. Harry cared more about it causing a problem for me than avoiding trouble."
Both professors studied Harry and Hermione, then exchanged serious expressions with each other. McGonagall began again, "I hope you both realize that is extremely dangerous behavior, and should never be repeated in any manner." Hermione looked crestfallen, biting her lip at the other hidden secrets. "But now that we know, we should have this talk with both of you present. Come, sit, I will have breakfast delivered so we can discuss this in private." She waved her wand, conjuring multiple chairs and table around Harry, then transfigured his bed into a chair while he was in it. She called out a single muffled name, and an oddly skinny creature in a tea towel appeared beside her to receive more orders.
It took almost all of a substantial breakfast for them to explain the dangers of wandless magic, the common limitations, and how it should be dealt with around other students and teachers. It wasn't much different than how Hermione explained, but with more detailed questions and much stricter warnings.
They left with Hermione in tow, letting Harry get changed to begin his first day, once again.
Receiving his wands from Madam Pomfrey made him nearly feel whole, even with his memory gone. In departing his known world of the hospital ward, Harry was greeted by Sue and Padma outside the doors, ready to escort him to classes so he didn't get lost. From then on, the rest of the day was filled with strange looks his way or concerned questions from unknown students. His friends and fellow Ravenclaws helped him here and there, some treating him like an injured kitten, others scoffing at what a fuss was made over him.
To Harry it felt completely surreal, from the moving staircases to talking portraits, and real ghosts to magic spells. At multiple points in the day he almost expected some stage crew to pop out from behind some tapestries and yell 'Cut!' But that never happened, neither did his daydream of a spaceship landing outside the classroom windows to take him away to somewhere that made sense again.
Luckily, he wasn't expected to perform any spells or answer any questions by concerned teachers, all of whom seemed to fit the feelings he had about them. Some nice and friendly, others, not so much. That was the one reassuring feature through the day, his sense of those around him and the knowledge of his original magic. Hermione and his friends couldn't always be close, but they helped him feel connected to a strange world that he had to discover all over again. No matter what though, he assured himself that the awkwardness would pass and his ability to learn quickly would let him keep up. It also didn't hurt that he could practically feel his memory returning as he made the same connections over again, putting things back into place one piece at a time.
Even so, the day seemed to last forever. One class blending into the next with so many words and meanings he barely understood. His only reprieve were the breaks between classes with friends and classmates, helping to pass the day. Meals surprised him pleasantly at every turn, with dinner marking the end of school and his suffering. After which the famous red headed twins came by to say hello, and whip up some mischief.
They entered from the opposite side of the Ravenclaw library as Harry was led to sit down beside Hermione, Sue, and Padma.
"Would you look at that, Harry's been surrounded by girls all day long and they still aren't leaving him alone."
"Almost makes a wizard wonder if the rumor of multiple girlfriends is true after all. Didn't tell you about that one yet did they Harry?" One of the twins rose his eyebrows suggestively.
"As you probably guessed Harry, this is Fred and George." Hermione turned to the twins with a stern expression, "You two better not be here to make trouble, now's not the time."
"Now's the only time! We couldn't live with ourselves if we let you three convince him the wizarding world was all unicorns and rainbows." They both pulled up chairs beside Harry.
"Yeah, it's filled with ravenous werewolves, deadly dragons, and crazed girls trying to spike your pumpkin juice with love potions."
"Especially this time of year. Better watch out Harry."
"...if they haven't already got you!" One cackled with laughter as Padma swatted his shoulder.
"Don't listen to them Harry. Most love potions barely influence emotions, often only directing your attention towards someone, and you can usually tell if you're being affected. You just can't help feeling that way, like a drug or spell." Sue explained, "Not to mention that the stronger ones are often illegal and extremely hard to make."
Harry glanced at Hermione's agreeing nod.
"Besides, we wouldn't be so nice if we were simply using you." Stated Padma, giving a hint of a smile.
"But that's the whole point! You're pampering him with so much kindness and attention that you'll turn him soft." The other twin complained.
"Exactly. Harry needs to be alone in order to perfect his dark and brooding charisma. If he doesn't have that, what else is left?"
"The rich and famous playboy with a genius level talent in magic? That's a Knut a dozen around here."
Hermione merely rolled her eyes, "Would you two stop, we're not letting you abduct him to help with some new prank you brewed up. You can go play in the disappearing room, since I know you figured out how to get in by yourselves last month."
Both the Weasleys were taken aback, partly in mock insult and partly in real surprise. "You wound us, fellow housemate. We were only going to share some secrets that he might like to know, but if you insist on hearing as well... Maybe we should begin with when he snuck into a broom cupboard with a girl during new years... or how he spent the whole night with the same girl before that... or what about-"
"Enough!" Demanded Hermione, as her face glowed a bright red. "That's not how it sounds." She tried to look at Harry, but couldn't, and even Sue and Padma were giving her appraising looks. "We didn't-"
She stopped mid sentence as Harry grabbed her sweltering hand. He smiled in happy reassurance, "It's fine. You don't have to explain to anyone." Taking a few deep breaths, Hermione's blush started to recede and she returned his smile. "Except for me. You definitely have to tell me everything." She dropped her head in defeat with her hair cascading around her. Harry shook her hand playfully, "I'm kidding, only kidding. How about we move onto another subject now?"
"How about Valentines Day?" Offered Padma with another wry smile.
Despite the torments inflicted upon each of them in turn, the rest of the night was filled with talk, teaching, and tales of adventure. Making Harry thankful for his decision to leave the hospital that morning, and looking forward to the future.