Act Two - A Black Comedy
Chapter Seven - Memory Mismanagement
“The forest?” Although he tried to hide it, the muggle’s eyes flicked toward said forest, and a tremor ran through him. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but it’s all nonsense. There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Nah, there’s nothing there,” came the slurred voice of a woman protesting a little too strongly. One hand held her own drink, and the other thrust forth a frothing pint freshly obtained from the barman. “Now why don’t you tell me about yourself, Handsome.”
“Yeah, Old Man Agron was found out in Burim’s Meadow a couple weeks back bleeding out. Someone stabbed him a few times in the neck or something but got scared off before he could bury the body or whatnot. Weren’t nothing supernatural about that. Looked emaciated, though. Thought he’d been taking better care of himself than that.”
No one wanted to admit it, but the forest surrounding the village was haunted. Muggle or not, they knew, and they were afraid.
How wonderful! Xenophilius ‘Xeno’ Lovegood thought to himself. If he was right, there was a wraith nearby and had been for many years.
After buying a local map, Xeno set out on today’s search of the forest as twilight slowly edged into night. Once he was far enough away from the muggle village, he drew his wand.
Soft blue light filled the forest as small balls of cold, blue fire drifted out of Xeno’s wand. The flames spread out around him, slowly burning away the gathering fog. With almost no moonlight, it was all he had to guide his way. Anything more might frighten his target, skittish creatures that they were.
The night pressed on as Xeno explored. Bugs leapt and flew out of his path, grass rustled, owls hooted, and wolves howled. On occasion, a bat swooped down to snatch a fleeing insect.
Xeno frowned. Something was wrong.
Why is there so much fauna? Xeno knew there was a wraith here. The hushed stories from every nearby village and the rumours on the wind all spoke to that fact. The forest, however, told a different tale. Even if it didn’t show itself, mundane animals should flee from a wraith’s presence.
Starting his hike from the infamous Burim’s Meadow, Xeno had cut a large swath through the forest. He should have run into a section lacking wildlife. He’d been walking for hours now, and he’d been at it every night over the past week.
Xeno glanced up at the sound of a bat’s screech. He noticed it was on a near collision course with him. He did so dislike it when bats became tangled in his hair. Twice in his life was more than enough, thank you. He stepped aside.
The bat followed.
Xeno’s eyes narrowed.
The bat swooped closer still.
Xeno jumped back as a tree branch overhead crashed to the ground, his ears ringing from the explosion above. He barely heard the thud of feet hitting the ground beside him. Immediately, he rounded on his opponent. A silently conjured shield popped into existence, and he shouted, “Confringo!”
An enormous fireball grew right in front of Xeno. The concussive force of it threw him back. He landed a good deal away from his assailant unharmed and on his feet. Unfortunately, his foe looked only mildly singed, although the angry hissing came through loud and clear.
In the lull in the fight that followed, Xeno examined his enemy. Short yet pointed ears, long fangs, claws instead of fingernails, eyes glowing in the night, pallid skin – vampire. And now that he had a moment to notice, it was a female vampire, too – how unusual. The females rarely hunted for themselves unless they were alone. The thought occurred that she’d been the one to kill ‘Old Man Agron’.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to go on a diet of donated blood?” Xeno tried. He rather doubted his request would be taken up, but he felt obligated to put forth a token effort. Some vampires could be convinced to be civil.
As expected, the vampire lunged forward far faster than anything on two legs had any right to be.
Xeno swung his wand toward the earlier fallen branch and banished it into the vampire’s path. He swore as she jumped atop it; one thrust of her foot slammed it into the ground, barely interrupting her charge.
For a moment, Xeno considered simply apparating away; he was an average fighter at best.
Instead, however, Xeno apparated a mere good distance behind the vampire. He regained his bearing a second later and took aim. Silently, he cast lumos solem. A brilliant, narrow beam of sunlight shot through the forest. The screaming hiss of pain that followed let him know he’d hit his mark, if only briefly. The vampire shot off behind a tree, wrapping her cloak about her as she did.
A splintering crack roared from the vampire’s direction. The tree the she’d hidden behind slowly fell toward the ground. Then suddenly, it spun forward toward Xeno, destruction following in its wake as it tore its way through the forest.
With as much magic as Xeno put into his spell, the banishing charm overcame the sheer force the vampire had put into the tree.
With a second casting, the tree picked up speed and shot back toward the vampire as fast as it’d been leaving before. Xeno saw her eyes widen as she gasped.
Poor thing. Must be a muggle-turned vampire. No former witch wouldn’t have seen that coming.
Taking advantage of the opening, Xeno fired off another lumos solem. With that as a distraction, the vampire proved unable to dodge, and the tree crashed into her.
Xeno apparated forward. He aimed his wand as quickly as he could; this close, accuracy was of little importance.
“Lumos solem maxima!”
Only once the screaming had ceased did Xeno cancel his spell. Buried beneath the tree, he found the scorched vampire.
The bolt of red light slammed into the vampire. If she’d not already been unconscious, she was now.
Although they would probably not hold the vampire, her strength being enough to kick, throw, and break trees, Xeno bound her in thick ropes anyway. Every little bit helped.
Xeno sighed as he considered his options.
I need to be back in London tomorrow to pick up Luna from Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. No sign of the wraith anywhere this past week, just stories…
Sighing once more, Xeno decided it was time to head home. The next time he went looking for crumple-horned snorkacks, he’d stick to Sweden. He would have gone there this time, too, only he’d been so sure that he’d seen a wraith consume a crumple-horned snorkack last year. Tracking a prey species by where their predators appeared had seemed like a logical approach, only it’d borne no fruit on this particular expedition.
I suppose those muggles mistook a vampire for a wraith. It happens. Still, that was too easy. If I were a vampire, I’d have learnt a bit more about my powers in the… What was it? Ten, eleven years she must have been here? I feel like I’m missing something important.
Oh well. I’ll have more luck next time, I’m sure.
For now, Xeno had a vampire to deliver to the Albanian ministry.
Hermione lied, Harry thought with a smile. Not that her mum gave her a chance to say otherwise when we left for the store.
Harry slipped on the latest in a long, long line of shirts. All Hermione wanted to know was if they fit or not: efficient and practical, but also not assuming. That plan had been derailed, re-railed, and derailed again throughout the day, much to her annoyance. This t-shirt promised much the same; Harry had no memory of it himself, so it was clearly one of Emma’s choices, not Hermione’s. That meant it had to be shown off.
Grinning, Harry stepped out from behind the curtain and found Hermione, who would just love this choice. “Well? How do I look?”
Before he even finished, Hermione slapped a hand to her forehead. “You look like you want aurors to arrest you.”
“Oh, but couldn’t you just imagine the Boy-Who-Lived, the living magical miracle, walking down Diagon Alley in that?” Emma asked. At least she liked it and appreciated the irony.
“Fred and George would love it, too,” Harry added.
Hermione groaned. “That’s not a good thing, Harry. You haven’t even read the book.”
Harry glanced down at the very lovely imagine of an old wizard on his chest with the caption ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards’ beneath. “Still seems great to me.”
“You know,” Emma said appraisingly, “I think I like this one even more than the Monty Python one I found.”
“Vetoed!” Hermione said again, this time stamping her foot.
“This wizard kind of looks like the headmaster, actually,” Harry said. “I bet he’d feel very flatt–”
“Vetoed! Vetoed! Vetoed! I refused to let you make people think I regularly turn you into a newt, and I refuse to let you make yourself a target for aurors in a bad mood. Put. It. Back.”
Harry managed to keep himself from laughing until he made it back into the unsoundproofed privacy of his changing room. It’s just too easy with Emma as support.
“Mum!” Harry heard Hermione hiss, which was really too bad. He and Emma were breaking new ground in discovering just how flustered Hermione could become, and he’d just missed their latest findings. Such a shame indeed.
Oh well. At least Hermione is having fun, too. She complained about how awful he and her mum were, but on occasion, Harry caught her smiling when she thought no one was looking. Really, he suspected those two were just trying to make this experience enjoyable for him, given clothes shopping’s reputation among males. If so, it was working.
“Harry, how many shirts do you know fit? Not counting the two.”
“Eleven,” Harry answered through the curtain separating him from his chaperones. “Is that enough?”
“That’s more than enough, Harry. Why don’t you grab those and meet us at the till?”
“Alright.” Harry heard Hermione grunt after he agreed, likely as she was lifting the huge pile of other clothes they already had. Soon after, he heard the sound of footsteps walking away as well as the muffled voices of both Hermione and her mum.
Looking in the mirror at himself, Harry memorised the words at the bottom of the shirt he wore as well as those on its back. Hermione had mentioned they came from a book. He’d have to ask her which one later; it might very well be worth reading. Either way, I have to remember this line. It’s too perfect to forget.
Harry posed in front of the mirror with an imaginary oaken staff; a proper wizard’s hat, unlike Hogwarts’s caps; and billowing robes. “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards,” he quietly boomed, his voice stern, “for they are subtle and quick to anger.” He nodded to himself. Yes, that was a quote to remember.
As tempted as he was to purchase it in secret, Harry shrugged off the novelty wizard shirt and set it aside. He dug through the pile of other clothes for the shirt Hermione had lent him this morning. Slipping that one back on, he picked up all the others that fit – regrettably minus the two Emma had picked out – and left the remainder behind.
At the till and despite his protests, Emma paid for all of Harry’s clothes, not even accepting exchange-fee-free galleons in return. Once the were away, she gave him a very strange explanation that he considered more of an excuse or a way to pull a fast one on him than anything based in actual truth.
“Dan and I make a quarter million pounds together every year. We own our house and aren't interested in a larger one. We let our practice pay for itself. We have more than enough for retirement, even ignoring that Hermione would likely be able to simply magic us anything we’d need. We go on extended vacations every year. All that, and we still don’t know what to do with the rest of our money sometimes. Welcome to the world of the rich, Harry. Just accept the gesture, and we’ll do the same some other time.”
Harry suspected that what Emma meant by ‘some other time’ was something a bit further off than next week or even next month.
Worse was when Hermione pulled him a few steps away to whisper, “For every galleon you give us, we'll give two to Malfoy.” That had left him glaring at her back as she skipped ahead, laughing.
Harry supposed he would get used to it.
Besides, the elder Grangers, at least, seemed fine with fully utilising the things he and Hermione had bought in Diagon Alley regardless of how they’d split the bill or not. Emma had plans to read a number of the books, and as Hermione had alluded to last night, Dan was already eyeing their pile of potions supplies.
“Mr. Potter,” a man called out from behind their group just as they were about to enter their sedan and depart for Hermione's house. Harry quietly groaned but still turned to face the man. He had hoped that whilst in the muggle world, no one would recognise him.
The man walking toward them moved quickly, yet he still managed to hold an air of dignity in his stride. His slightly mousy face did his appearance no favours, however. He had sun-bleached, light-brown hair, and despite his somewhat portly appearance, a hint of muscle showed on his arms beneath his robes. No one paid the slightest bit of attention to his robed attire besides one very perplexed woman who, Harry supposed, was likely a squib. More interestingly, this was the first magical – besides Hermione last September – that Harry had ever seen with a tan. All together, it spoke of an easy life in the tropics.
“Yes?” Harry said, trying his best to remain polite. He was resigned to this. Or at least that was what he told both himself and Hermione.
From his pocket, the man withdrew a box much too large to have fit in it. Harry made a note to have either him or Hermione learn the undetectable extension charm as soon as they had the magic for it. That spell was rapidly rising to the top of his list of overpowered enchantments.
“I have a package to deliver to you,” the man said, holding out the box with both hands. If he noticed that Harry was hesitant to take it, he was polite enough not to comment.
If he wanted to hurt me or kidnap me, he’d have just done it, Harry thought to himself. This should have fallen under the category of ‘do not take candy from strangers’, but with no wards here preventing apparition or blocking a portkey and him having but two years of magical education, he knew there was nothing stopping anyone who wished him harm and could find him from doing so. I should probably ask for one of Hermione’s emergency portkeys. He felt Hermione subtly push something small into his hand. Although she probably just gave me hers.
“Thank you,” Harry said, “but you could have just owled it to me.”
Hermione poked Harry from behind, drawing his attention. She whispered, “You’re not keyed into the owl post.”
Oh. “Er, nevermind,” Harry said. Now that it’d been brought up, he supposed an owl ward of some variety or his lack of a public address was probably the only reason letters and gifts hadn’t suffocated him with their sheer volume when he was a toddler. It did make him wonder how much of Dudley's stuff had actually been gifts for him, though. “Who’s it from, if I may ask?”
Shrugging, the man said, “No idea. I just make the deliveries.”
That set off a few warning bells in Harry’s head, but he told himself he was just being paranoid. He blamed Hermione for forcing him to accept his Slytherin side. Slytherin and paranoia, after all, were inseparable concepts. Still, he planned to levitate it across the ward boundaries of Hermione’s house before he opened it or even touched it. If nothing happened, then it was probably safe.
“Just toss it in the boot, if you would,” Harry said, glancing at Emma for permission. She nodded.
After his package was somewhat safely stored away, Harry said, “If there’s nothing else, then…”
And with that, they made their escape. Thankfully, when they arrived back at Hermione’s house, neither she nor Emma questioned his precautions. Despite the minor annoyance, they briefly stopped at the kerb to unload the box with a hover spell. Hermione even gave him an approving nod when she retrieved it from her doorstep. Apparently, she was satisfied that he was at least trying not to ask trouble to, as she had put it, follow him around like a lovesick schoolgirl.
The first thing Harry did after unloading his new wardrobe, naturally, was to run up to the guest bedroom and change out of Hermione’s clothes.
After that, then, the three of them joined up with Dan, who had returned home from work, and the now group of four set out again, leaving the box behind unopened for the moment.
Most of the remaining afternoon was spent on furnishing the TARDIS, as Hermione insisted on referring to their potions lab. The proper term was ‘portable lodgings’, but it made her smile, so Harry shrugged and went with it. And really, it was becoming more of a proper home than a mere intended brewery. It already held a small library’s worth of books, all his clothes, and a pile of assorted potions ingredients. Before they were done, it would have lab space, a fully stocked storeroom, a sitting room, a kitchen and dining area, and a couple of spare rooms and halls, one of which Harry secretly planned to convert into a runes workshop. They might as well throw a bed in one of them while they were at it, so they did.
Magic was absolutely brilliant.
Harry did note, however, that at some point both he and Hermione really needed to learn the muggle repelling charm. Finding places in the middle of Crawley to have bulky furniture disappear into the TARDIS without notice had proved difficult, to say the least.
At some point, Dan brought up the issue of plumbing, gas, and the very definite absence of electricity. That meant another trip to Diagon Alley tomorrow due to their lack of foresight. By the time they finally returned to Hermione’s house, ate, and organised the TARDIS somewhat, Harry felt almost too tired to leave. He could beg off. Hermione would give in if he pled long enough. Still, it would be unfair to do that to her. Instead, he approached the front door with a heavy feeling in his chest. Dan and Emma trailed behind him.
“Are you sure you don’t need a ride?” Dan asked.
Harry shook his head. “I’m going to take the Knight Bus. You’ve both been wonderful. I won’t ask you to waste an hour of your night.”
“It would hardly be a waste, and I’m sure Hermione would jump at any chance to spend more time with you.”
“No, it’s fine. Thank you, though. The bus should only take a minute, and it’s cheap, right?”
Emma shrugged. “Cheap enough for short trips, but certainly more than mundane busses. The trip to London and back is fairly expensive, though.”
“We’ll expect you sometime around breakfast, then?” Dan asked. After Harry nodded, he asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to open your package here?”
“No, I’ll open it at the Dursleys’. There are more wards there, and I’d feel less bad if I blew up their house than yours.” A flicker of something passed over both Dan’s and Emma’s face, but it left as quickly as it came.
“Harry,” Emma said, “before you go, there’s something we’d like to give you.”
As Emma moved toward a table with numerous storage drawers beneath it, Harry said, “You don’t have to–”
“It’s not anything valuable,” Dan interrupted. “Not really.”
“Of course,” Emma said, taking over as she returned, “we had this made before we found out about your ‘legal loophole’.”
Harry glanced away, which was probably more incriminating than anything else he might have done.
“We might have picked something different to enchant, otherwise,” Emma continued, “but from what we’ve seen and heard of you, we don’t have any reason to change our minds.” Before he could object again, she then said, “Catch!”
Something shiny flew through the air, and Harry reached out and grabbed it without a thought, even though Emma had tossed whatever it was very poorly and fast.
“Wow, he is good,” Emma commented. Perhaps, then, she’d tossed it exactly as desired.
An unfamiliar, bumpy feeling in his hand, Harry uncurled his fingers. “What? I can’t–”
“Just take it,” Dan said. “Even with wards, we don’t like leaving the door unlocked, and both of us and Hermione tend to lie in during the summer. Believe me, you don’t want to wake up a Granger woman before she’s – ow!”
Emma withdrew her hand from behind Dan, smiling innocently in the exact same way Hermione did on the rare occasions she got into a mischievous mood. He glared, but Emma paid him no mind and took over the burden of conversation.
“If you ever need a place to go, you’re always welcome here, even if we’re not around.”
Harry felt his breath hitch. He didn’t trust himself to speak, so he resorted to a weak nod. As though it might fade away otherwise, he curled his fingers tightly back around the key to the Grangers’ house.
Lastly, Dan added, “It’s also a portkey, Harry. Just say 'vanilla’ and then the name of the sixth planet in an emergency, and it'll take you somewhere safe. The words don't necessarily have to be sequential, but they are time sensitive, and anyone can trigger the portkey. If someone takes it from you, do send them away. If you forget, the activation phrase is engraved on it.”
Figuring that not knowing where he was going was part of the safety, Harry nodded. He pocketed the key outside his mokeskin pouch where it would do some actual good in an emergency.
“Hermione!” Emma called out up the stairs. “Come say goodnight!”
A faint, “One sec,” came floating back down into the vestibule. Definitely more than a second later, Hermione came thumping down the steps. She was clearly hastily dressed for bed but with a set of unfastened casual robes thrown on top. At her hip was her mokeskin pouch with who knew what in it, and on her other side, she clutched a pillow and a sleeping bag.
Even before her parents could say anything, Harry immediately said, “You’re not coming to the Dursleys’.”
“Just for tonight,” Hermione said as much to Harry as to her parents. “I’m not going to get any sleep if I’m up all night worrying that something went horribly wrong. I just want one night. And I’ll be wearing your cloak to bed, of course, and when we arrive and leave. I’ve got everything I need, and I packed some cereal for myself to snack on, since I know you only have that sugary mess you like with you. Please?” It was hard to tell who exactly she was begging now that she actually asked permission.
Dan and Emma looked to each other while Harry was busy trying to find it in him to turn her plea down. “One night,” Dan said.
Hermione let out an excited cry of success, and with parental approval backing her, Harry grudgingly gave in to her demands. She opened the front door as she slipped on her flip-flops and then looked at him expectantly. Sighing, Harry found his new trainers and did the same.
“One thing, Harry,” Emma said as he and Hermione were just about to leave. “No being a gentleman and taking the floor. She’s made her bed and will lie in it.”
Not having a response to Emma preempting his offer long before he even made it, Harry kept quiet while she next turned her attention to Hermione.
“Hermione, if Harry doesn’t listen, sleep on the floor anyway to make a point.”
Hermione actually smiled at that and said, “Naturally.”
“Also, no being stubborn to the point where you two end up sharing the bed.”
Harry and Hermione both blushed and looked away from each other.
“At least not until you’re older.”
“Mum!” Hermione said, clearly mortified.
Equally unamused, but not embarrassed, Dan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Emma, at least let them be older before you start at them like that.”
“Oh, fine,” Emma huffed.
Ignoring his wife, Dan said, “In all practicality, why don’t you two just take the TARDIS? If Hermione is going with you invisibly, you don’t have to worry about it being confiscated or broken.”
When Hermione looked to Harry, both of them still blushing, he shrugged. While he went up to fetch their portable lodgings, Hermione took the opportunity to store everything awkwardly hanging off her inside her pouch.
With that very embarrassing moment behind them, a period of hugging proceeded. Goodbyes followed, and after walking out to the kerb, Hermione held aloft her wand to call the Knight Bus. Within moments, a bus that looked an awful lot like a repainted Routemaster with an extra level faded into view down the road, but not before honking twice and waking up two or three neighbourhood dogs.
Not exactly subtle, Harry commented to himself. I wonder how many spells this bus needs to avoid breaking the Statute of Secrecy every few seconds.
As the bus came to a stop, a somewhat roguish looking man standing on the steps up said, “Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. My name is Stan Shunpike” – the man pointed at a tiny, unreadable nametag on his chest, not looking up from the parchment he was reading off of – “and I will be your conductor for this evening.” Only now did this Stan character put away his cue card and look up. “Oh, if it isn’t the Granger girl. Leaky Cauldron again?”
“Not tonight, Mr. Shunpike. Privet Drive in Surrey, please.”
“Right then. Five sickles.” He printed off a ticket and handed it and twelve sickles change to Hermione in exchange for a galleon. Five of those sickles she passed off to Harry before stepping up into the bus.
“Same place,” Harry said, holding out his hand.
“Now who’s all this, then?”
“My friend, Harry,” Hermione answered for him. With any luck, the lack of a last name would go unremarked, as would his scar.
“Well hop aboard, then, Harry.”
And with that, they were away. The trip took barely a minute, but even that was long enough to notice that Stan Shunpike was a bit of a storyteller, if one put it nicely. One could also accuse him of lying or simply making up whatever happened to come to mind. He was, however, somewhat entertaining in his own way, even if his plans for becoming the next minister for magic were clearly a flight of fancy.
The trip itself was everything that Hermione had described it as. The Knight Bus ducked and weaved through traffic, occasionally flattening itself horizontally to slip between lanes, and all at the speed of a jet. Harry, however, was already used to the much worse rides to his vault in Gringotts, so the journey was relatively tame in comparison – not that Hermione looked any less queasy or her knuckles any less white when they stepped off the bus onto the edge of Privet Drive. From there, it was a short walk to Number Four, the least pleasant place in the world.
Before they set out, Harry handed over his invisibility cloak and the TARDIS. Then he and an unseen Hermione set off for where they would be sleeping tonight, as much as neither one really wanted to.
Harry paused on the Dursleys’ doorstep. The Grangers’ house key in his pocket felt a thousand times its weight as he drew his wand to unlock the door. He could hear Hermione’s frown.
I’m not a helpless little boy anymore. I have a wand. I have friends. I have galleons. I have a place I can run away to. I don’t have to put up with anything anymore.
Harry breathed deeply then proceeded.
“Alohomora.” Harry would never forget that spell, and it served as well now as it had first year. The door to the Dursleys’ house opened, and he stepped inside. Hermione tapped him on the arm to let him know she had, too.
After manually locking the door, Harry turned around and made his way toward the sitting room where, if they were still awake, he would surely find at least his male relatives watching the tele.
Please be asleep. Please be asleep.
Harry knew they wouldn’t be. Life was never so kind. And really, he had to at least announce himself, or things would become far worse whenever he next ran into them. His steps slowed as Hermione brushed up against him.
I’m the one that’s normal. How I’m treated is wrong. It won’t be pity; it’ll be sympathy.
Merlin, but Harry wished Hermione would just go away.
As Harry looked for his relatives, the Dursleys found him. He was barely through a doorway when he spotted the larger whale of a man, Vernon, coming at him with a cricket bat. His wand shot up in reflex. “Protego!”
That proved to be almost unnecessary, however. The bat still struck Harry’s shield, but Vernon stopped his charge as a look of recognition came over him. The moment passed as that recognition turned into a triumphant smirk. “Petunia!” he called out. “It’s just the freak!”
Right… Knocking is important. Especially at night.
Harry heard the faint sound of the kitchen phone being replaced before Petunia called back, “How did he get in?”
Vernon stared down at Harry with that evil grin still on his face. Harry took a half-step away before running into Hermione’s invisible hands on his back preventing further retreat.
“That’s a good question. How did you get in, Freak?” The way Vernon asked made it clear he already knew the answer, and realising that, Harry understood just why he was so happy. Harry remembered then to cancel his shield spell.
“I unlocked the door with magic,” Harry said weakly. He silently cursed himself for it, but when he went to speak again, all that came out was, “I didn’t think you’d want anyone to see me waiting on your doorstep. Or that you’d want to bother opening the door for me.”
Petunia came into the room then, and she said, “Well?”
“The boy got himself expelled for sure this time. He’s flinging his freakishness around like the dullard he’s always been. Stealing clothes, too, by the look of it.”
“Harry,” Hermione whispered in his ear. Her hands moved to his shoulders, and she held him steady despite his attempt to shrink into nothing. “You’ve faced a dark lord and a basilisk. Don’t let these…people bother you.” Harry clearly heard her toying with calling the Dursleys freaks before deciding otherwise. “You can do this. I know you can.”
“Well, Boy? Where’s your trunk? We’ll burn that straight away and be done with this nonsense.”
Gulping, Harry said, “No.” Before Vernon could start yelling, Harry heard Hermione quietly cast a silencing spell just off to his side. Thus emboldened with his uncle unable to say a word and Hermione watching his back, he continued, “I can do magic anytime I want now. Just leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.”
That had to be the most pathetic thing Harry had ever heard.
No, no, no, no… I can do better than that. I know I can do better. I have to. I’m not this bad. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.
But you are.
I’m not. Even if I were–
Stop it! I can't let Hermione see me like this. She’ll think–
“The wards,” Hermione whispered. Would it not have given her presence away, Harry would have thanked her for refocusing him before he could really start berating himself.
“I’m here for my safety, but I’m here for yours, as well. I know you know that. Don’t – don’t you dare try to hold that over me unless you want to end up like my mum!” Slowly building into a righteous fury, Harry continued, “I’m going to sleep here because I have to, and that’s it. I’ll be gone the rest of the day or otherwise stay out of sight, so don’t expect me to do your chores for you. I never was and I refuse to be your bloody slave!”
Vernon’s face had turned puce halfway through, Harry’s rant. His hands were curled into fists, but he’d yet to take a step forward with Harry’s wand trained on him.
In the magically enforced silence that followed, Hermione grabbed hold of his free hand and coaxed his own nails out of his palm. She leaned into him and whispered, “Language.” Harry blinked. It was such a disconnect that he stopped clenching his teeth and had to fight not to smile just a little.
Moreover, upon reflection, it was likely that Hermione had just stopped this from coming to blows. Vernon looked angry enough to lash out, purpled as he was, and Harry would gladly have returned the favour tenfold with his wand.
Maintaining his indignant bearing as best as he could, Harry moved toward the stairs and his room, if one could call the junk-infested storage room his. “I’m going to bed. See you never.” At the top of the stairs, Harry cast a finite in Vernon’s general direction, not really caring if his aim was true; the silencing spell would wear off eventually on its own with or without a counterspell.
The door to Harry’s room opened itself, or rather, Hermione opened it and stepped inside. She went to close the curtains while Harry closed the door and both silenced and locked it with magic. He next did the same to his window, ensuring that if anyone non-magical wanted in, they would have to knock down a wall.
Not that Harry would put that past the Dursleys, especially Vernon.
“Well, that went well,” Hermione said oh so very wrongly. That had been adequate at best. She pulled off the invisibility cloak but kept it handy while she pulled everything else she needed from her pouch.
Still, Harry gave Hermione a brief smile before collapsing onto his awful bed. If he were being honest, the floor might actually be preferable had they not brought what was literally referred to as portable lodgings with them. Hermione set down the TARDIS and expanded it before stepping inside.
Once they had both settled in, unpacked, and Harry felt as at ease as he could expect to be in this house, he said, “We may have to fight our way out tomorrow morning after all that, you know.”
“Ha! I’d like to see them try.” Hermione soon broke the silence that followed her challenge, asking, “Were they really worse than that before, Harry?”
Hermione had barely seen two minutes of his home life, and every second of them was one Harry wished she would just forget and pretend had never happened. Talking about it years later or in vague, general terms was one thing. Letting her witness it in person and in real time left him with an aching, empty feeling whenever he looked her way. She was not that kind of girl, though. Answering honestly, if quietly, he said, “Yes.”
Thankfully, Hermione kept whatever else she wanted to say to herself. Harry was nowhere near in the mood for further discussion on the matter, and he doubted he ever would be. She did, however, say, “We don’t live that far apart, you know. I wish we’d have gone to the same primary school or that we’d bumped into each other at a park somewhere. Mum and Dad’s practice is even closer.”
“That would have been wonderful, but we might not have become friends. No troll and all to get us together.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, wandering off toward the open kitchen. “I think your cousin counts,” she said as she opened the pantry. “Besides, I hardly think either of us is so bad that we need a troll to do our introductions.”
“Well, we’d at least need some accidental magic, say, sticking our hands together for a week.”
“You prat. Next you’ll be saying we’d have needed to be stuck with each other with a soul bond.”
“What’s that?” Harry asked, figuring it was probably another one of those things that everyone knew about and never bothered to mention.
“It’s a romanticised medical condition. When two people with similar enough magical signatures get too close, their magic entangles, and they can’t get too far apart from each other for the rest of their lives. They do share their magic, though, which gives them twice as much available, so there's that.” Then on a completely different topic, she asked, “Where did we put the granola bars?”
“Bottom shelf, I think.” Looking at it from a less cynical point of view, or perhaps just recognising that there might be a cynical reason behind the illusion, Harry said, “It makes some sense to do that, actually. Romanticise it, that is.”
“Aha!” Hermione cried. The sound of a wrapper tearing soon followed, and she reappeared, leaning on the kitchen counter, snack in hand. “How so?”
“Well, if I wound up magically stuck with someone forever without choice, I’d much rather be thinking it was ‘meant to be’ than that I was really unlucky. It’d at least make first impressions less rocky. Maybe even help long-term.”
“Yes, or it could ruin everything by making you believe that you don’t have to be friendly and caring to the other,” Hermione countered. A moment later, the sharpness left her tone as she said, “But point taken.”
“Hey, toss me a chocolate one, would you?” A few moments later, Hermione lobbed a chocolate granola bar across the room to where Harry was lounging on the couch. “So how did you end up stumbling onto a medical condition, anyway? Is there anything I should be worried about?”
Hermione froze for a moment. Then sounding decidedly uneasy, she said, “Um, at our age mostly just dragon pox. I was just doing a bit of research on magical bonds. Like the weird connection you have with Quirrelmort where your scar hurts around him on occasion.”
Harry sat up to look properly at Hermione, who was gnawing on her lip and staring at the floor. In all honesty, he wanted to find out what her real reason was, but she looked awfully uncomfortable about it. Maybe some other time she would be more willing to talk. Running with her evasion, he asked, “Did you find anything?”
Hermione shook her head, and Harry caught her sighing to herself – so very suspicious. “Nothing at all matched. Sorry. Headmaster Dumbledore didn’t know, either.”
“Oh, I forgot to mention that. He said he thinks Quirrelmort transferred some of his powers to me – accidentally, of course. That might have something to do with it. I don’t know where in my family tree parseltongue would have come from otherwise.”
“Dorea Potter née Black, your paternal grandmother.” Harry gave Hermione a strange look at how quickly she came up with that answer. “What? You heard Susan's story, too. The Blacks are infamous for their marriages. They've obtained a huge library and practically every inheritable magical gift through them, which probably includes parseltongue. Tonks’s mum is a Black, you know. Well, a disinherited Black, but still a Black. That’s where Tonks got her metamorphic ability from. Did you forget you’re related?”
Harry flumped back down onto his back. “I really need to learn more about my family, even if all I can get is superficial facts.”
“It couldn’t hurt, but only if you’re prepared for what you find there.”
“I hesitate to ask.”
“You know how Tonks is your second cousin once removed?”
“Yes?” Harry said nervously, drawing the word out.
“So is Draco Malfoy.”
After the shock ran through his system, Harry said, “Hermione?”
“Do you know how to obliviate someone?”
Hermione’s laughter said everything for her. “No, but I can help you take your mind off it, perhaps. You’re a parselmouth. Do you happen to have any other fantastic abilities that you know of which you’ve been waiting to reveal at a moment of dramatic climax?”
Harry quirked an eyebrow. “If I did, I’d be saving them for said looming hypothetical climax, now wouldn’t I?”
“Well, yes, but I’d much prefer the revelation to be for our foes, not me.”
Shaking his head, Harry let out an amused snort. “Do you count the ability to flee hospitals and infirmaries four times as fast as average?”
“I would, except I think that would fall under your already revealed astounding stubbornness rather than a magical healing ability.”
“Like you’re one to be talking.”
“Ah, excuse you. I was out of the hospital wing this year so quickly because I listened to Madam Pomfrey and asked nicely.”
Harry scoffed and shoved the rest of his granola into his mouth.
“At any rate,” Hermione said, “you, at least, need to get practising the patronus charm right now. I won’t feel very comfortable sending you off next week with just a shield.”
That almost sounds like “you’re not coming with?”
Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “Do you want me to? I’m still not for this, you know. And it seems like something you usually want to be alone for. Whatever else he is, Sirius Black is family. Literally, even.”
“What happened to ‘every step of the way’?”
“Harry, be serious. Do you want me to come with?”
Harry could appreciate the idea of getting Sirius Black alone, especially in the small, tiny chance he was actually innocent or with a wand and no supervision otherwise. But this seemed like one of those moments when it made entirely more sense to have someone less emotionally invested and more levelheaded nearby. Hermione certainly qualified on both accounts. No one would accuse Harry of being the sensible, cautious one. Plus, as she said, she was firmly entrenched against this to begin with, so she would be more sceptical of anything they heard – good or bad – than he would be.
“It’d be nice to have backup when confronting dark wizards for once, if you wouldn't mind. It’s not like we’re in a rush or only have one ticket to Azkaban.”
“If that’s what you want, Harry, I’ll gladly accompany you to make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”
“We still need to practice tonight, though. It’s not like we can magically sum our patronus experience together to get a working one.”
“Let’s not. I don’t know about you, but I’m never going to get it to work here.” Harry accompanied his words with a wide sweep of his arm, gesturing toward the door out into the house proper. Hermione looked appropriately apologetic but not particularly tired yet. With how late they’d awakened today, he was unsurprised. He suggested instead, “We could get started on legilimency.”
Hermione’s face brightened immediately. “Alright. You first or me?”
“Well…” Harry said, thinking about it for a moment. “You said you think you’ll do well with legilimency, and you think I’m somehow better at occlumency than you.”
“Harry, you described yourself as pants at occlumency. I can’t even claim to have that level of skill. I’m rubbish. Incapable. Abysmal.”
“I’m sure you’re not that bad.” Although he said that, Harry quietly laughed to himself at the description. “Still, if we can get at least passable at one skill, we can teach each other better. Sound reasonable?”
“Well, it might be better to break routine once in a while, and we should try both before we commit to one, but otherwise that sounds fine.” Hermione flicked her wrist to draw her wand as she crossed the room to join him on the couch. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Harry looked Hermione in the eyes and held his gaze there. She drew her wand between them, and a single word was all it took before flashes of his own memories and strange sensations flooded his thoughts.
Fragments of memories blurred together and flew by through Hermione’s mind in utter chaos. She caught a vivid image of a blue-haired teacher before the scene lurched to the taste of an absolutely awful primary-school-issued blueberry muffin. Then all she could think of was how good the eggs at brunch today were, except she only had bacon, pancakes, and a fruit salad. That, in turn, brought up the curious thought that Hagrid might not have replaced the Hogwarts roosters yet, and–
“Argh!” Hermione felt her probe crash into the mental equivalent of an immovable wall. The good news was that after at least a dozen repetitions of the same, she felt less disoriented this time, and the pain coursing through her head had lessened. Or that could just be wishful thinking. Or brain damage.
While Hermione was hunched over and busy nursing her head, Harry groaned and massaged his own forehead with both hands. “You okay, Hermione?”
“Yes.” Or she would be in a few moments. “This is harder than I thought.”
“Then work harder, not smarter.”
Hermione groaned this time. She picked herself back up, sitting up straight, and then said, “The snark is not appreciated.”
Harry was strangely silent while Hermione worked herself back into shape, but he soon turned to humming. Then when he was done with that, he said, “Sorry. I can’t think of an appropriate snarky follow-up.”
“Good,” Hermione said, drawing her wand up again. “This is frustrating enough already.”
“You know, you can try peeking at my thoughts instead. Those are supposed to be fragmented and choppy, and some of them crept in on that last try.”
“That’s exactly the problem,” Hermione huffed out. What were once her high hopes for legilimency being not too difficult were now shattered and broken, but she refused to give up doing this properly and develop bad habits in the process. “I wouldn’t be able to tell if I’m doing it right or not, then. Not really.”
Harry shrugged. “You had a little success pulling thoughts earlier.”
“We don’t know that,” Hermione retorted, “and only by accident. I can't even tell if I'm looking at a thought or a memory most of the time. I can’t even tell when I’m about to run right into the edge of your mind and crash! Besides, you’re just saying that because you managed to kick me out that time.”
“Yes, somehow, but I didn’t stop a single thought from getting to you. That’s not a successful defence of any kind.” Harry held up his hands at the frustrated glare Hermione sent his way before she could stop herself. “Just making an observation. If your translation was right – which I’m sure it is – you have to be able to focus and completely comprehend what you find in real time and follow the right links through the mind. Thoughts should be easier. Or you could try going into the part of the brain processing touch instead, or smell, or hearing, or whatever; there’s not much to them.”
“No. I swear I held that image of…Mrs. Johnson, was it? Your year four teacher?” Harry nodded, so a little less frustrated now for the minor success, Hermione continued, “I swear I held that memory fragment longer than usual. Or it was clearer, at least. I think I even caught a glimpse of where I should have gone to get to the next fragment. And her blue hair – that was accidental magic, right?”
Nodding, Harry said, “Wait till you see the time I accidentally trapped Dudley in an exhibit at the reptile house. I got locked in my cupboard when we got back, but it was worth it.”
“If you say so. Still, I hit the right kind of memory. That counts for something.”
“If you say so,” Harry echoed back.
“I do.” Hermione whipped her wand back into place. “Now let’s try again. Legilimens.”
The pleasant thought of reading in Hogwarts’s library passed in an instant only to be replaced with the thud of a mental probe colliding with a mental wall. A groan escaped Hermione as she rubbed small circles along her aching forehead. This was really starting to hurt, much like a particularly intense – if brief – migraine.
That had to be my shortest attempt yet. Urgh…
Suddenly, the memory fragment Hermione had gotten from Harry more fully processed in her mind.
“Shut up,” Harry said.
“Don’t you dare say a word!” Harry said more strongly.
Putting his hands over his ears, Harry said, “I can’t hear you. Whatever you’re saying, it never happened.”
Pressing through the snickers escaping her, Hermione said, “You actually read The Adventures of the Boy-Who-Lived!”
That was it. Hermione was defeated. She collapsed into a laughing fit, unable to control herself. A dizzy feeling struck her as she started wheezing for air, but the giggles never ceased. One look at the blush coating Harry’s entire face set her off all over again just as she was about to recover. It got so bad that she even accidentally rolled herself off of the couch.
“It was an engaging read,” Harry said in his terribly feeble defence.
“Uh-huh. Which book was that? The one with the–” A snicker escaped Hermione, but she managed to press on despite it. “–the unicorn princess or the sparkling vampires?”
“The…the unicorn princess,” Harry admitted. After a second, his eyes narrowed. “How do you know about that?”
Admitting nothing, Hermione started listing names. “Brown. Patil. Ginny. Spinnet.”
“Stop,” Harry said, his head buried in his hands. “Can we just pretend you never saw anything?”
Hermione quirked her eyebrows.
“Okay, how about this? You never speak a word of this to anyone before I start getting into your head, and then we’ll just mutually hold blackmail material over each other unto the end of time.”
“I can agree to that.” Hermione brought her wand up. “Legilimens.”
The terrifying feeling of not knowing where he was or how she got there faded into an adrenaline high as he brushed a pair of fingers through the cool cloud bank above Hogwarts, but that jerked into a feeling of weightlessness as he nose dived toward the ground during a quidditch match, which blurred into a suffocating feeling of being squeezed through a pipe and stretched out in a way no seven-year-old boy should ever be.
And then there was the familiar pain of a cannonball smashing against his thoughts, for lack of an actual body part to cry over, as Hermione unintentionally attempted to leave the boundaries of Harry’s mind.
“You know,” Harry said, frustratingly getting used to the feeling of Hermione’s legilimency probe imploding, “maybe you should work on your exits first.”
“It’s not like I’m not trying!” Hermione snapped.
Harry looked to Hermione. He could see the frustration ever growing within on her face; failure was a word she used to describe others, not herself. She was still rubbing her head, too. Some part of him wondered if they were accruing actual brain damage, but nothing in the legilimency book Hermione had copied nor any occlumency book had warned them as such.
Harry sighed. It was getting late. Hermione was clearly growing tired and testy. It felt weird being the responsible one, but he resolved to keep an eye on the clock and get them both to bed before the hour was out.
Wand flying up without a further moment’s delay, Hermione said the word for the fifty-something-plus-oneth time. “Legilimens.”
Snakes could talk. Somehow, despite how crazy that was, it also felt right. Harry’s thoughts drifted back to the snake he’d met at the reptile house a week ago as he sought out the little garden snake living in the backyard. If no humans wanted to be his friend, maybe a snake would. When he finally found it and started up a conversation – if not a very intellectual one – his elated feeling mixed with a strange sense of triumph.
And then Harry’s memories churned wildly and out of control following any train of thought but the one they were supposed to. They skipped about at random until, finally, as was her ultimate fate each and every time, Hermione crashed into the edge of Harry’s mind.
Hermione screamed in frustration and slammed a foot against a cushion, which knocked her off the much heavier couch onto her back, her legs trailing behind above her. “I had it! I had it!” She slammed her other foot against the same poor cushion, and it endured without complaint. In the magical world, that should never be taken for granted.
“I had it,” Hermione murmured. Harry’s memory of trapping his cousin in an exhibit with accidental magic had been within her grasp, just one step away, and her elated feelings of success had taken it from her. “I got excited and lost control!”
Before Harry could say more than her name, Hermione shot to her feet, twirling in place with her arm swinging out. At the top of her lungs, she screamed, “Legilimens!”
“Promise not to laugh?” Hermione nodded her head and when that wasn’t enough for herself, she said so aloud. Then the her across the room covered in sawdust said, “Opposites. I’m usually not…poetic–”
The scene shifted as one memory lurched into another.
“Books and cleverness. There are more important things: friendship, and bravery, and…” And there was an overwhelming curiosity to know how Hermione had been going to finish that. It would be a nice thought to think it might have been love; no one had ever said that to her that she could remember. Having someone care for her like family should would be a dream come true.
The scene shifted back with all the grace of a rampaging nundu as Hermione twisted her probe back the way it’d come.
Hermione – or was it Harry? – shook herself by the shoulders, desperate to get her attention and calling out her name. Accidental magic – on the rare times it happened – got worse as witches and wizards got older and gained more power. Everything about the room was only floating right now, but the signs of something more stirring were in the air.
And then came the inevitable crash.
Collapsing forward in the real world, Hermione let out another cry of frustration. At no point had she expected to learn legilimency in one night, but this snail’s pace was more embarrassing than her continual failures with the patronus charm. At least there it was simply a process of finding the right memory and mood: complete trial and error, nothing to worry about. But this – this was like being slapped in the face over and over again with a whole pile of bad reports.
“Why.” Hermione hit her head on couch. “Am.” Again, her head went up and came back down. “I. So. Bad. At. This?” Each word was punctuated by a cushioned blow to the forehead. It was far from painful, but it helped get the feelings of failure out, much like punching a pillow.
“What!” Hermione whipped her head up to look at Harry.
“I… Um…” Twiddling his fingers nervously, Harry said, “About what you just saw…”
Hermione quickly searched through the fragments of memories she’d witnessed. Thankfully, she was getting complete sentences from memories that had associated words now, or at least dependent clauses, so it was easier to process and deal with the choppiness. One in particular stuck out as something that could make Harry uncomfortable.
Argh! On instinct, Hermione stomped on the sudden urge to tell Harry everything he wanted to hear exactly as he wanted to hear it. Merlin, but she loathed life debts. It’d been so quiet for so long now; she’d almost forgotten how to deal with it. She briefly thought about lying or otherwise brushing the topic off, but lying now would only come back to bite her later when Harry inevitably stumbled onto a related memory of her own.
“I was. I do,” Hermione said brusquely. “Not the storge that you were looking for–”
Hermione noticed the confused look underneath all the other emotions bubbling up onto Harry’s face and tried again.
“That is, not like a brother – not that I have one to compare to – but it’s probably not far off from the kind of platonic affection you were looking for. I’m sure Ron would say something similar if you could get him to talk about his feelings in any meaningful sense.”
That done with, Hermione brought her wand back up for another go at legilimency. The only problem was Harry’s eyes weren’t meeting hers.
“What? Do you want to hear me say it? I love you. You’re a great friend. There. Let’s get on with this.”
“I… Hermione, I think you’d use your time better sleeping right now and trying again in the morning.” Before Hermione could protest, Harry quietly added, “Your parents wanted us to go to bed at a reasonable time, too, and yo – it stopped being reasonable a half-hour ago.”
Crossing her arms, her wand tapping against her shoulder, Hermione harrumphed. She supposed Harry had a point, as furtherly frustrating as that was. Going to bed sort of on time would be the responsible thing to do.
But legilimency! She was so close to a breakthrough. She could feel it! It would only take a few more tries, surely. It would only take a few more attempts to fix her problems. She knew exactly what she was doing wrong – probably.
But no, her sense of responsibility won this day. “Fine,” Hermione said. She levitated her sleeping bag and pillow within reach and quickly found her way into them while, kicking Harry off the couch in the process. She only then remembered to slip off her robes and then threw them across the back of the couch. Finally, with the invisibility cloak covering her just to avoid arguing with Harry over the pointlessness of the act, she said, “Goodnight.”
With a flick of her wand, Hermione was dead to the world. After all, the sooner she went to sleep, the sooner she could wake up.
Harry watched from where Hermione had pushed him onto the floor as she magicked herself asleep. Not that he could see much with her underneath his cloak, but the cushions moved, and there was a very definite flump after she said the incantation.
A minute passed as Harry gathered his thoughts from every direction they’d run off in. It seemed fitting, somehow, that the first person ever to hug him – his parents excluded, presumably – would also be the first person to openly admit to loving him, even if it had been the absolute terror of a girl that was a stressed and frustrated Hermione Granger. He supposed they’d both heavily implied it this morning, but hearing it explicitly was another thing entirely.
Harry breathed deep and kept himself from doing anything silly like crying or, far worse, something burningly shameful like freaking out and shoving away a girl trying to give him a mere thank you kiss on the cheek. The list of people he was fine having extended contact with had apparently still only included Hermione at the time. That probably was still true.
He really should apologise to Susan again sometime.
Instead of running away, Harry scooped up Hermione and, after a short yet exhausting trip, deposited her on the TARDIS's bed. Since there was both another one nearby and a couch, that technically allowed him to keep both of their promises about their sleeping arrangements.
Still, sleep would be a long time coming, he knew. Rather than even trying, Harry turned his thoughts onto the very practical matter of their legilimency and occlumency practice.
Harry could admit that he understood Hermione's frustration. Every time she launched an attack, he could tell what she was doing. He could feel the paths she was weaving through his mind, as frenetic as they were.
After Hermione’s initial entry, which he still had no clue how to deflect, every fragment of a memory, thought, or sensation she called up had dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of links leaving it to something related. The mind employed what the untidy usually referred to as ‘organised chaos’ to store information. There were no neat, sequential pieces of data. No, the mind rejected that idea in favour of scattering it all about wherever there was room. If a memory needed five fragments to be recorded, it settled into the first five available ones, wherever they were. Links were then added between two memories whenever they were accessed together or simply if they were similar enough.
The drawback of that scheme, of course, was that finding something specific without somewhere to start looking was a nightmare. The human brain solved that problem with an absurd amount of parallel processing, or so Hermione claimed her books claimed.
The major advantage of that scheme, however, was that it avoided the difficulty of having to keep things sorted and the impossible task of determining what it would actually mean to physically sort memories 'adjacent’ to potentially thousands of others by time, subject, distantly related concepts, and any other category one cared to name. Trying to imagine that in anything more than the most abstract sense gave Harry a headache. He much preferred to stick to the much more easily visualised realm of three or less dimensions.
The task of the legilimens, then, was to follow the right links from memory to memory to assemble the whole book of information from the scattered, randomly placed pages, to use Hermione's own wording. Thoughts and sensations were only different in that there was only ever one correct link that allowed the legilimens not to veer off into a memory.
It was a simple task on paper.
The occlumens’s job was the exact opposite. Unlike the legilimens, whose role was to overcome any deception, the occlumens was left with plenty of room to get creative, if he possessed enough skill. If the legilimens was welcome, he could guide her probe down the right paths. If not, then there were a variety of ways to take care of the intruder.
Harry’s ultimate goal, the best technique, was to pretend to be someone else until the attack was over or defeated – if one let a probe in to begin with, of course. One could guide the initial probe into the part of the brain that handled imagination and, from there, provide dummy memories. Further, if the occlumens was good enough, and that was a big and rarely satisfied if, then the legilimens would never notice the difference.
At the moment, the method of occlumency Harry was attempting was to trick Hermione into going down the wrong paths and have her probe follow a dead link to crash into a part of his mind that was just not there. It was inelegant, and it hurt them both, but it worked, and it was simple.
Or it worked against Hermione, at least – possibly. He doubted he could fool a master legilimens that way. To be honest, Harry was less sure that he was doing anything at all than that she was just crashing on her own. He always gave her some time to practice before trying to evict her, and on more than half of her attempts, she crashed unaided all on her own.
The chief difficulty he had right now, Harry decided, was practising with an inconsistent partner. He suspected that once Hermione managed to master the very basics of legilimency, his own task would become much easier to complete.
Sighing, Harry abandoned his thoughts on occlumency as a lost cause. There was little he could do with Hermione asleep. That, and he really wanted her out of his mind for the near future. He needed time to let his thoughts and feelings settle. Not that he’d had much luck with that so far. He’d known, abstractly, going into this that he’d signed up for what amounted to zero privacy and no secrets between himself and Hermione, but knowing that made the exposure no less intense.
Interrupting another sigh, Harry's gaze fell on the package he’d received earlier today and forgotten about. That, perhaps, would serve as a distraction from all these feelings. Hermione would probably tease him for being a 'feelings are dumb boy’ if she found out, but he could deal with that easily enough.
Harry crossed the room, picking up his gift along the way, and sat down at the small dining table next to the kitchen. Lacking a box opener or scissors – and really not knowing where he was supposed to open the box – he forwent attempting a counter spell and retrieved a bread knife from the kitchen. If the box did pose a threat even here at the Dursleys’ inside a truly inspiring number of wards, it would probably be less likely to trigger from using mundane and unexpected means to open it, or so he hoped.
Inside, at the bottom of the box, lay a small loosely bound paperback book – paper, not parchment. Atop the book, which had no title or author on the cover, was an envelope simply addressed to Harry Potter. Shrugging, he opened that first.
Harry Potter, the letter within read. Although unintended, you have done me a very great service this year, and it has never been said that I do not pay my debts. Enclosed, you will find information I've, let's say, gathered on a subject that will surely interest you. Take great caution in any action you pursue, and be even more careful in who you reveal this to. Tom Riddle may be your prophesied foe, but unless I have erred in my judgement, he is not your destined opponent.
Enjoy your summer.
The letter was unsigned. Harry scrunched his brows together as he read it, utterly lost. Then, only moments after he finished, his eyes shot back to the one word he absolutely did not want associated with himself.
“Shite!” Harry leapt to his feet and slammed his hands onto the dining table, sending his chair flying in the process. He really doubted this was a prank, and if it were, it would not be funny. “Of course there’s a bloody prophecy! Why did I let Hermione convince me otherwise?”
So what? came the little voice of reason in the back of Harry’s head. It sounded an awful lot like Hermione. How does this change your course of action?
Harry froze as he tried to rebuff that question. Really, what would he be doing differently? Hermione had already talked him into preparing for the worst, and even if he had the magic and the skills to do so, he would hardly go on an assassination spree to remove any support Quirrelmort had or would receive.
I’d still have to kill him.
But really, what was one more death? He had enough blood on his hands already; he doubted he would notice any more.
No, that’s not true. That’s just guilt preying on me. Hermione would kick my arse if I thought like that.
And speaking of whom, Hermione herself had already committed to the danger of being his friend and partner, plus or minus Ron next year. Trying to push her away would only result in her growing ever more stubborn and irritated.
And besides, Harry had no idea what the prophecy actually said, or even if there was, in fact, a prophecy. If so, maybe it said something utterly camp but simple, like Quirrelmort being unable to stand the power of love and that he would die if Harry and Hermione kissed in front of him.
Harry quickly shoved that thought aside into the deep recesses of his mind where Hermione would likely never tread. Stupid hormones, he grumbled.
So what? Harry found he was having a surprisingly difficult time answering that question. There probably was an answer, but given how non-obvious it must be, maybe he was overreacting. At least he had a goal now. At least he knew why Quirrelmort had destroyed his family now. At least he knew there was a reason for everything terrible in his life now; he was no longer a cruel cosmic joke.
At least he had hope now.
As maddeningly roundabout as it was, that was the logical conclusion. If there was a prophecy that made Quirrelmort take action, Harry was a threat to him somehow. That he acted, of course, meant that Harry was almost certainly not guaranteed a victory, but at least there was apparently a real chance of one. Harry would try to keep that in mind; some optimism would do him a world of good.
As soon as Hermione woke up, though, he had to tell her. While Harry doubted she would back off or run away, he owed it to her to let her make an informed decision.
Harry slumped onto the next chair over, leaving the one knocked down where it lay for the moment. His eyes fell onto the one innocent little piece of paper that contained such a terrible secret.
What was it that it said about a destined foe? Harry picked up the letter and read through it again, skipping over the dreaded P word. Okay, it says destined opponent. Same thing. I don’t get it. He turned his gaze to the box that had started all this, within which was a book that hopefully contained nothing nearly as shocking. As he held it in his hand, however, he noted that there were an awful lot more pages than the singular little slip of paper the letter had been. Each and every one could be just as terrible or worse. Maybe this was a bad idea.
Harry opened the book. Bad idea or not, it was done.
“What on Earth is all this… Maps? Transcripts? Runes…I think? Wards, maybe?”
The deeper Harry ventured into the book, the more confused he got. Little of it made any sense to him, and what did still lacked enough context to fully comprehend. About the only unambiguous thing was one single map, which despite being littered with other notes, contained a clearly labelled town nearby: Wendover – wherever that was.
“This is a bloody treasure map, isn’t it?”
There was no X to mark the location of a secret pirate cove, haunted burial site, hidden ruins, or the like, but the remainder of the book probably had that in word form in some manner. The rest must have been at least a partial list of magical defences placed around the ‘treasure’, whatever it was.
Harry flipped through the book again for a name to put to this joke, and when he came up empty, he tried the usual tricks. The very few relevant revealing spells he knew did nothing. Holding it up to a fire did nothing. Reading down the line of first characters in the letter and book produced gibberish, as did the last ones and the diagonals.
“No, don’t be helpful or anything, whoever you are,” Harry muttered. “It’s not like I’m twelve and don’t know the first thing about breaking wards and fighting, I don’t know, zombies or something. I certainly wouldn’t want you to just give me whatever bloody prize this is all for. Noooo.”
The worst part, though, was that ignoring this tripe would probably come back to haunt him soon enough. It was as if another Dobby had appeared, but this year Harry's mysterious new ‘friend’ had decided to be possibly the slightest bit helpful, slightly intelligent in going about being helpful, and a thousand times more annoying.
Sighing, Harry tossed the book back into its box. He glanced at the letter with that P word he was deliberately not thinking about on it.
“Nope. I’m done. Hermione had the right idea.” After gathering the blankets and pillow from the bed outside, Harry laid down on the couch and promptly magicked himself to sleep.
Oh no! Oh no! Hermione frantically thought to herself. Curled up in the darkness of her sleeping bag with the end firmly sealed shut beneath her own weight, she was alone with her thoughts – for now. What on Earth did I say last night?
No. No, it’s fine. There’s no way that would have scared Harry off. If anything, it’d make him ask for more than I could give him. I mean, I probably wouldn’t say no if he asked to go on a date; I’d at least give it a try for him, never mind the drama. Not that I'm – no, not being Lavender Brown. But Harry still needs to get his head out of the past. He’s still far too interested in what might have been instead of what is. Although it was a good sign to hear him thinking about the future seriously, even if he’s only just starting out.
No, I'm getting off track! If I’m remembering his memory correctly, Harry was thinking in terms of siblings, or cousins, or whatever. Family. Surely the only way he could’ve taken what I said wrong was if he thought I was just telling him what he wanted to hear, that I didn’t really mean it. Sure, I was exhausted and vexed beyond belief, but I did mean what I said. I don't think I can say something I don't mean when I'm like that. I know have a one-track mind when I'm so frustrated; everything else I just sort of shove out of the way as quickly – and bluntly – as possible. Like when exams come up… Not exactly something I'm proud of…
But really, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. There’s nothing I should be embarrassed about. Emotions are nothing to be ashamed of. It’s Harry’s problem if he makes something of this.
Oooooh, but it’s so soon after he really opened up to me. What if I’ve gone and made him feel too awkward around me to be that relaxed anymore? What if I’ve ruined all of our summer plans?
Argh! Why does everything always find a way to come back to this? It's like we're cursed. Doomed to forever be a ship tease to everyone around us. And Harry is bloody oblivious to it, that prat! My life is supposed to be a magical adventure, a high fantasy, not a frivolous romantic comedy.
No. No, I’m overthinking things. Those are obviously worst-case scenarios. I shouldn’t freak out. If I’m a mess, how can I expect Harry to be any different? Right. Just be casual, Hermione. You’ve done nothing worth mentioning. This is exactly the kind of thing that you prepared yourself to deal with when learning legilimency. You know Harry is going to find out you’d once taken a fancy to him. You know he's going to find that memory of injuring your eye with a rubber duck while naked. You know he's going to find out that you really don't like Ron. You're going to see that kind of stuff and far worse besides in his head, too.
The best you can hope for is hiding your sorting. And the mirror. And the life debt. Hermione groaned at the futility of it all. Even if you could hide all that, you know how this sort of story goes. He’ll either find all that right away, or he’ll find out at a critical moment where every second counts, and his doubts will get him killed in some sort of foolish noble sacrifice to make amends for something he never needed to, and then you spend the rest of your life mourning him, and great! Now your life debt is flaring up and urging you to be genre savvy and tell him everything. Good going, Granger.
Hermione sighed as she forced herself out of a ball within her cocoon.
Maybe I should just get it over with all at once. If I threw everything at Harry in the span of two minutes, maybe he’d be so confused that nothing would happen.
Heh. Wishful thinking…
Sighing again, Hermione fell back on her original plan to simply act as casually as she could. The rest she could procrastinate on if for no other reason than to spite her life debt. Even so, she still found herself unable to leave the security of her snug, comforting cocoon.
And despite her conviction to be casual about this, Hermione still let out a small eep whenever she heard a sound from somewhere else in the TARDIS, real or imagined. And admittedly, most, if not all, were probably the latter.
Come on, girl, Hermione rebuked herself. You're just being silly now. You're acting like Ginny. Practically jumping at shadows! Really, at that point, enough was entirely enough. Hermione felt embarrassed just watching Ginny make a fool of herself; she refused to let the comparison last a moment longer. Besides, Harry was likely in another room, anyway.
Hermione snapped upright. Taking in her surroundings, she realised that she was not on the couch she knew she’d fallen asleep on. Instead, it appeared that Harry had relocated her to his bed, even after her mum had explicitly told him not to give it up and after Hermione had insisted on those terms as well.
“You prat,” Hermione mumbled. Sighing, she forced herself out of bed and got up to face the day. She could shower and change at home, so after quickly pretending her hair was brushable, she made her way out into the main room of the TARDIS. If Harry was awake, she would be having words with him.
The first thing Hermione noticed, although only barely, was that Harry was, in fact, not awake. Apparently, he thought that lying on a couch with a ratty sheet and a rag that sort of looked like a pillow qualified as an acceptable sleeping arrangement. Sighing, she debated the merits of attempting to levitate him into his bed versus just carrying him. In the end, she decided that at her age, it was safer and more reliable to just carry him; he was still short and as thin as a twig despite having developed some muscle, so it was hardly an ordeal.
That done, Hermione closed the door to the bedroom and silenced it behind her on the very off chance she made too much noise. Harry was completely out of it, and she expected him to wake up in no shorter time than an hour no matter what might happen.
Back in the dining room, Hermione nearly stumbled over a chair lying on its back on the ground. “How odd,” she said as she righted it. Harry was not much inclined to messes, especially not when it involved just a single object.
The package Harry had received yesterday and then completely forgotten lay on top of the dining table, now very definitely opened. And while the box still contained a book of some variety, an envelope and letter that must have once been inside rested right beside it. Curious, Hermione assumed that Harry would have put everything away or thrown it out if he wanted to keep it all to himself, so she grabbed hold of the letter.
You realise that’s a huge rationalisation, right? Hermione asked herself.
Good. As long as we recognise that.
Hermione read through the short letter.
And then she read through it again.
Oh, I hate being wrong. Gnawing on her lip, Hermione pondered the odds that whoever wrote this letter had no idea what they were talking about, were making things up, or found it amusing to be deliberately misleading. Not high… she admitted. This would be an awful lot of effort for a prank.
That was yet another task to add to Hermione’s absurdly long list of things to do this summer: verify the existence of a prophecy. Lady Bones would be a good person to ask when they saw her on the thirtieth. If anyone would know where to find a record or a copy of a prophecy, surely it would be the head of the DMLE.
I wonder if the book this letter referred to has a transcription of it.
Not that that’s any of your business, you nosey witch.
Whose side are you on, anyway? Hermione asked herself. Not that the other part of her mind was entirely devoid of a point. This was Harry’s business to share with her if he so chose. She knew he probably would, and he had left everything out where she could easily find it. And he did know how curious she could get.
I am totally rationalising again, aren’t I?
Hermione plucked the book from its box and started reading. Well, reading might be too generous a word. Rather, she started interpreting.
What on Earth is all this…
Hermione shrieked as a pair of fingers snapped in her face. The atlas in her hand nearly went flying as she jumped in her seat at the kitchen countertop. The other reference books spread out down the line fared little better in their treatment.
“You know,” Harry said, “one of these days, it’ll either be your focus or your curiosity that gets you killed.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny.” Hermione was having a hard time deciding between a glare and a rather sheepish look. On the one hand, she had been caught red-handed, as it were, but on the other, Harry was so very irritating.
As he pulled up a chair to the other side of the island, Harry asked, “So did you figure out where the treasure is?”
“Somewhere near Wendover…”
Harry rolled his eyes, but now that Hermione actually looked, there was a rather nervous air about his bearing. That brought her earlier panic back to mind, but she forced it down during his predictably sarcastic response. “Yes, I figured that out already. Not that I know how we’ll manage to get to it, let alone if it’s worth the effort or even legal to do so.”
“Well, between the two of us, I doubt we’d find it a financial hardship to hire a team of professional curse-breakers and warders.”
From the blank look on his face, Hermione could only assume that the thought had never even occurred to Harry. She pushed down her laughter and placed a pitying expression on her face. She pulled one of his hands across the table into hers and patted the back of it with her other.
“Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry I even suggested that. Don’t worry. You can be the star of our little summer misadventure, too, and stumble blindly into danger while nearly dying.”
“Ha, ha,” Harry said, echoing Hermione’s earlier words. “Very funny.”
“Honestly, though, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get whatever it is that ‘will surely interest you’.”
“If you say so.” Harry fell silent for a few seconds and stared down at his hands. “And the prophecy?”
Ah. So that was what was bothering Harry so much. Better over that than over what Hermione had said last night. “If there is one and if Quirrelmort has been acting on it, then there must be a paper trail of some sort somewhere. Besides the literal one.” Hermione gestured at the letter resting back over on the dining table. “I’d suggest asking Lady Bones when we see her if she can help us. If there’s a copy or information on it available at the ministry, she would probably know.”
After Hermione had endured a bit of a searching look, the tension visibly left Harry’s shoulders. “Do you think if we asked the headmaster, he would tell us? He must at least know of it, considering that he specifically sent my parents into hiding with me. They weren’t the only people with children fighting, after all, nor the only ones being targeted.”
“No occlumency, no secrets.” After pausing a moment to consider it, Hermione added, “And maybe not even then, for whatever reason. Not that I think there’s a real reason to keep the information from you at that point. If someone had the time and opportunity to launch a full legilimency attack on you and win, they might as well just lop off your head while they’re at it and be done with it.”
“Yes, because I needed that imagery, thank you.”
Hermione grinned. “Happy to be of service. And think of it this way. If they don’t quite get your head all the way off, you and Sir Nicholas could form a nearly headless hunt. He does always look so sad when the properly headless hunt goes off and plays their games without him, you know.”
“And I think we’re done here,” Harry said. He got up, walked around to Hermione’s side of the counter, and started pushing her toward the door. “I never thought I’d say this to you, but we have studying to do, so let’s get going already.”