October 31, 1987
He had no idea where he was, really. He wasn’t even sure how the shaggy-looking man had known to come to 4 Privet Drive when he had begun to realize his aunt and uncle were gone for good. He had never seen the man before today, but something in his manner and his demeanor made him take the stranger’s hand and follow him out of the house that held such awkward memories for him. And at the end of the journey, here he was, standing in front of an unfamiliar house in an unfamiliar village, in front of people he had never seen before in his life.
“This is Mister and Missus Granger, Harry,” he heard, and he looked up at the pair smiling at him. The Grangers looked like people he could trust, but he still had a growing urge to jerk out from under the shaggy man’s hands and make a run for it. Only two things stopped him from running away. The first would have sounded completely mad if he tried to explain it to anyone, but he wanted to trust the man because he had made a bus appear just by raising his thumb. Just like New York cabs in those movies he had watched surreptitiously from the stairs. The second, more practical reason was that he had no idea where he was, and the man seemed to be a trustworthy chap. So he did what the adults expected him to do and smiled sheepishly back at the Grangers.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Harry. You’ll be staying with us for a while, and I hope you’ll learn to fit in with our family.” Mr. Granger- or was that Doctor Granger?- leaned down and shook Harry’s hand. At least he had a firm handshake – unlike his uncle – and his eyes looked warm behind his glasses – also unlike old Vernon. Harry let a small bud of hope blossom in his heart. Maybe, just maybe, it would turn out differently with these two.
Harry cleared his throat, a weak, small sound. “Hello, Mr. Granger. Hello, Mrs. Granger.” He paused there, suddenly filled with uncertainty. What was one supposed to say at a time like this? ‘Maybe you won’t abandon me to go to America, like my previous family did?’
During his hesitant pause, Mrs. Granger stepped forward and took his hand in hers. As if she could read Harry’s fear of the unknown in his eyes, she smiled kindly again and led Harry into the house. The house was behind a very clean dentists’ Surgery, and it was nicely furnished. The living room had a huge bookcase that completely occupied one wall, and a piano occupied the other side of the room. The room (and the house) was not particularly big, but Harry liked it regardless.
“Harry, this is our daughter Hermione. I hope you two get along; she’ll be your classmate when you transfer to her school.”
Transfer? Harry thought. That clinches it. They are adopting me. That thought opened the gates to a flurry of emotions; fear, anger, joy, and even panic flooded his mind. So he did the only thing he could do, something he learned after years of emotional abuse from his relations- he forced his mind off of the matter, and instead looked at the daughter in question. Hermione was short and didn’t look athletic. She was dressed in nice, semi-formal clothes; it was obvious the Grangers had wanted to impress him.
She spoke first. “Harry Potter, is it? I’m Hermione Granger, and I hope you’ll like it here. I always did want a brother or someone that would live in the same house as me, so I would have someone I could walk home with together. Well, perhaps not exactly a brother but you know what I mean. I’ll do my best to help you get accustomed to the area. Do you like reading books? I think they’re marvelous.” She said all this very fast. She paused and looked at him for an answer, but Harry felt overwhelmed by the flood of words.
“Um.. well..” he said, flustered. The adults in the room laughed politely at Harry’s discomfiture. Mr. Granger laid a hand on Hermione’s shoulder.
“We’ll go to the kitchen and let you get acquainted. Come on, Remus.” The adults left Harry and Hermione alone in the room. As soon as the door closed, Harry moved immediately towards the wall next to the kitchen door, pretending to look earnestly at the family portrait that was on the wall. He strained his ears to see if he could catch any of the conversation within, to shine a light on who these people were. The door had been left slightly ajar and Harry could hear some of their words.
“—going on, Remus?”
“This is the son of an old friend of mine, James Potter. He was under the charge of the Dursleys, and they just.. left him. I don’t know exactly what happened, but a colleague of mine—”
“Wait—let me close the door properly, I’d forgotten the lock’s broken and leaves it open—”
Harry turned to move away from the door so that Mr. Granger could not see him snooping. He was surprised when he came across Hermione, who had moved right behind him without even noticing.
In a voice much louder than usual, Hermione said, “Yes, that is our family. I’m an only child, as you can see—and not too many aunts and uncles in England. But I do realize things could be quite worse than it is already.” Harry stared at her blankly until the loud click of the lock echoed into the room. He turned around and stared at the kitchen door, and then turned and looked at Hermione again. She had a serious expression on her face; Harry immediately decided it was an appropriate look for her.
“Umm..” Harry stammered. “Thank you.”
Hermione smiled, her face brightening. “No problem.”
Harry didn’t feel so out of place anymore.
The train to Cambridge came on schedule (for once), and Harry managed to get on it without any troubles. The train wasn’t very crowded, and people avoided sitting next to Harry when they took a look into his set expression. It was a very carefully practiced expression, made perfect by literally hours of practice in front of the mirror in the Slytherin common room. It was quite perfect for times like these, when a wizard just wanted to be alone.
Harry sighed. He had been so bewildered and out of place when he had met the Grangers—and Hermione, of course. He had looked at her and dismissed her for a bossy girl who talked too much. When she had immediately gone along – seen what he had wanted to do and followed suit, he realized she was quite more than that. And therein lay the problem. She was quite more than a lot of things.
Harry laid his head against the window and stared out at the scenery beginning to pass by. Things had gone quite tits-up, hadn’t they?
“He looked so lost when I first met him.”
“You know what, Hermione? I can’t really picture Potter as looking lost. Just can’t conjure it up in my head,” Lavender said.
Hermione smiled wistfully. “I know, doesn’t it seem that way? But we’re all more vulnerable when we’re younger, I suppose, and Harry hadn’t learned about Voldemort—” Lavender shuddered at the name, even though she had watched him die—“and he hadn’t been Slytherin. That changed him a lot, I’m sad to say.”
Lavender nodded. It was rather easy for her to picture Harry being changed because of his turning up to be a Slytherin. A Slytherin had been the salvation of the existence of the wizarding world, but prejudices born from generations could not be stamped out so easily. She looked at Hermione closely. “You know, you seem remarkably put together for someone whose best friend slash person who you’ve lived with for over 10 years told her he loves her.”
Hermione looked down. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know how I can face him after graduation is over—”
“Well,” Lavender said, “considering what he said to you, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about meeting him again.”
Hermione continued on as if uninterrupted. “I don’t know what I can do about what he said to me, and I don’t know what to do about—” She broke off suddenly and stood up from her bed. “Ron!”
Lavender stood up after her, somehow managing to look graceful while doing so. “Nice of you to remember your boyfriend. He’s waiting for you in the Common Room, and I say he doesn’t look very happy. Have you told him what Potter said to you yet?”
Hermione brooded over Lavender’s words as she walked out of her bedroom and into the Common Room. Ron was pacing in front of the fireplace; he had an almost ugly look on his face as he thought and worried. He looked up as soon as the door behind Hermione closed, and his face broke into a worried smile. He met Hermione halfway up the stairs and held her close to him.
“How are you feeling? Are you okay? Did he do anything to you?”
“What?” Hermione said and jerked away, shocked. “What do you mean?”
Ron’s face darkened again. “Potter,” he spat, making that single word a harsh epithet. “I was watching you two—and I know he said something or did something terrible to you. He did some sort of spell, I saw his hands moving that clever bastard. Just watch it, I’m going to pound him into the ground the next time I see him, that buggering—”
“Ron!” Hermione interrupted. She paused when he looked at her intently. She said, “Harry didn’t say anything mean to me, and he didn’t cast any sort of spell on me. He just—he told me something that was unexpected. That’s all.”
“What did he say to you?” Ron said impatiently.
Hermione blushed slightly and hoped furiously that Ron wouldn’t notice it. She said, “He told me that he wasn’t going to bother my parents anymore, that he got a flat somewhere else. He told me he’s not going to see me over the summer.”
Ron smiled. “Well, good riddance to bad rubbish. But that can’t have made you look the way you did. What else did he say?”
Hermione said in a forced-calm voice, “He told me that he was in love with me and that he had been in love with me for the last few years.” She braced inside for the anger that would no doubt erupt from Ron.
She wasn’t disappointed. Ron’s face turned many different colors, first pale, then gradually reddening until it matched the color of his hair. He sputtered for a bit, as if he couldn’t get the words straight in his mind. He paused a moment, gathered his thoughts, and spoke with an uncertain smile on his face.
“He must have been joking, right?” When Hermione didn’t smile back, he frowned. “But.. Potter’s a right nutter. You’re his sister, for Heaven’s sake!”
Hermione sighed. “I don’t know. He’s always been my best friend, and he’s always been there for me whenever I needed someone. But I’ve been thinking. He’s never called me sister, and he’s never called Mum and Dad anything but Mister and Missus Granger.” Ron didn’t look any convinced.
“That doesn’t change the fact that you two are as close as siblings! God, you and him would be like.. I dunno, Fred and George snogging.” He looked sick just at the thought of that. His eyes changed suddenly, and he asked, “Why have you been thinking? Surely you’re as sickened by his offer as I am?”
“You think I was expecting him to tell me that? Merlin!” Hermione frowned and poked a finger in his chest. “You know, I’ve avoided this talk for too damn long. Why do you hate Harry so? There’s no reason for it!”
“Oh, there are plenty of reasons.” Ron replied, and ticked the reasons off on his fingers as he went. “1. He’s a big slimy git. 2. He pretends to be so nice to you, but he isn’t good for you in the long run, I promise you that. There’s no reason why he would have been put in Slytherin otherwise—”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed, but he killed the Dark Lord himself—” Hermione interrupted, her voice growing louder and angrier.
“And 3, he makes Gryffindor lose sometimes at Quidditch—”
“Oh, sod your bloody Quidditch! I’ve lost a friend I’ve depended on for what seems like forever, and you’re sitting there holding a sodding grudge because of Quidditch? I’m so glad you have my interests at heart! I thank you for your interest, now you can just piss off!”
Ignoring the few Gryffindors who had been awake to witness their argument, Hermione stalked out of the Common Room and out the portrait door.
“Your ticket, sir?”
Harry handed the man his ticket without answering and without a smile, and he took the hint. As soon as he had verified Harry’s ticket, he handed it back and left the teenager alone to brood.
The problem really wasn’t what to do now; he had planned things out perfectly. He had a job lined up and a flat and even had enrolled on courses at the university nearby. He had researched and found (the thought that Hermione would have been proud flitted across his brain, and it didn’t hurt as much as it should have) a potion that would allow him to continually change his appearance. No one would be able to track him down.
Harry shouldered his bag and walked off the train station. He stared out at Cambridge, stretched out before him. The flat he had rented was only a few blocks from the university he had enrolled in. As he walked to it he ran into college students celebrating their impending graduation with the traditional beer, and more beer. It didn’t exactly fit Harry’s mood. If he had his way, he would have walked through blocks and blocks of dark and empty streets to his destination. Since he couldn’t, he settled for a set, angry expression that made the crowds avoid the brooding teenager. After a few moments, he walked along the shadows of the buildings; he felt more at ease there than in the street bathed by lights from the open doors of pubs.
Just his luck, the elevator was broken. Harry walked up the five flights of stairs without complaint. Four different sets of wards told Harry no one had entered his room in a month when he had rented the place. Harry reset the security charms after he entered. Some of the craziest Death Eaters were still on the loose, and Harry knew they were looking to avenge their fallen master.
He put his bags down in the middle of the living room, and looked around. He had nothing to do, nothing to occupy his mind. He had planned out the Disappearance too well; every possible outcome had already been so carefully prepared for he had forgotten about what emotional state he would be in after the Disappearance.
Ridiculous, Harry thought. I don’t even have a TV here or a Wizarding Wireless to idle time away. He couldn’t go out to buy supplies because he already stocked three months of food in the back. All he had left to do, really, was to sleep.
But though he lay in his bed, sleep seemed virtually impossible to him. When he stared up at the ceiling, he heard Voldemort’s crackling, sickly laughter echoing in his mind. When he closed his eyes, visions of his times with Hermione danced in front of him, mocking him.
Harry carefully weighed the options, and chose to close his eyes.
November 13, 1989
“So how do you like our town?” Hermione asked as they walked to school.
“It’s a nice place,” Harry replied. “Your parents have been lovely to me. I hope I can someday repay them for all they’ve done for me.”
Hermione waved the comment away. “I think they’ve always wanted another kid, but they couldn’t.” Harry didn’t reply, and they were silent for a block. Hermione suddenly turned to Harry. “Oh! Did you remember to bring the library books? They’re due soon, and I think we should get the next books in the series, and it’s always a good idea to return things early if you’re finished—”
“Yes I did, Miss Smartypants,” Harry interrupted, smiling.
Hermione shook her head. “Make fun, but it’s not good to break promises. The due date for a library book is an unspoken promise between the library and us, for us to return the books by that time and unharmed.” Hermione broke from her solemn image with a grin that showed off her braces. “And silly Harry, I can’t be Miss Smartypants.” She gestured to her uniform and her skirt.
“Fine,” Harry said, grinning mischievously, “then you’re just Smarty.”
Hermione reached over and roughed up his perpetually messy hair. “Okay, Scruffy.” There was a brief tousle as they tried to tickle the other and mess each other’s hair. Finally, they broke off with an unspoken agreement to let each other be (until next time). They began walking towards school once more.
“Really. Promise me you won’t break promises?”
“I won’t, Smarty. Ever.”
They smiled at each other and continued to walk toward the school in a comfortable silence. After a few minutes, Harry started to look around at the street, bored by the routine. He finally stopped to climb up a nearby fencepost. Hermione looked on with amusement.
“What are you doing?” She asked, with laughter behind her voice.
“Nothing,” Harry replied, and started to walk on the fence posts toward the school. A few moments passed with Harry walking on the fence and Hermione walking beside him on the street. Hermione walked up to him with hands raised.
“What?” Harry asked.
“Help me up.”
Harry spluttered. “But- but you’re wearing a skirt!”
”So?” Hermione said. “No one else is on this street right now, and you look like you’re having fun. I want to give it a try!” She stood on tiptoe and insistently pushed her hand toward him. After a moment, Harry grabbed her hand and helped her climb up. He watched her walk uncertainly in front of him.
“Cor,” Harry said, “you’re the greatest girl in the world, Hermione.” She smiled at him in response. They jumped off the fence together and ran the rest of the way to school.
“Are you all right, Hermione?”
“Did your brother send you to apologize, Ginny?”
“No, not quite. He does want me to tell you that he knows he was out of line. I chose to come here on my own.” Ginny carefully made her way through the dense plants to reach Hermione’s refuge. It was a secret place only a select few knew; Hermione had shown Ginny the place when she had broken up with Dean Thomas last year. It was a beautiful place; surrounded by exotic and (some) magical plants, light shining on the red marble steps in the middle. It was a wonderful place to relax.
Hermione was exactly where Ginny expected her to be. She was sitting on the second step, right next to the Seductive Fireflowers that Neville had given Ginny as a Christmas gift a few years back. Her hand was outstretched, and the blossoms of the flowers were slowly caressing and entwining with her fingers. It was a lovely sight, but Ginny noticed that Hermione’s expression was far from relaxed.
“You know he means it, Hermione.”
“I know.” Hermione sighed. “I know he means it every time we have a row. I once told him that he was the most insensitive wart I ever had the misfortune to meet. I love him, but he hasn’t changed a bit.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Ginny sat down next to her and put her arms around Hermione’s shoulders. “You avoided my question twice. Did Harry teach you that one?”
Hermione frowned and withdrew her hand from the blossoms gently. The blossoms let her hand go slowly, as if reluctant to leave her. They started to cry softly, something both girls ignored from experience. “No, I’m not okay. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe Voldemort is finally out of our lives forever, and that Harry might be too. I can’t believe Harry said..” Hermione blushed. She continued in a lowered voice, “that he said what he said.”
“Did he tell you he loved you?”
Hermione’s head jerked up. “How-?”
Ginny smiled wanly. “When you have a crush on someone for the better part of three years, you notice things. The way he looked at you sometimes when you weren’t looking..”
Hermione didn’t ask. “What am I going to tell Mum and Dad tomorrow at King’s Cross?”
“You can tell them the truth,” Ginny said, “that Harry’s being a prat and he’ll be back when he’s done having a good sulk.”
“Ginny!” Hermione said, half amused, half shocked.
Ginny shrugged. “What? We both know it’s true. Don’t you think Harry did this whole thing rather melodramatically? Defeating the evilest wizard in the history of evil wizards, then telling his best friend he loves her and then disappearing? I bet Harry researched in the Restricted Section for months to pull off that Disapparating from Hogwarts trick. Maybe he wanted to be noted in Hogwarts, A History so that he’d be sure of you reading up on him.”
They giggled together, and Ginny felt that her friend would come out all right from the debacle.
“Harry always did have a dramatic streak in him. Did I ever tell you about the time he tried to ‘defend my honor’ from a couple of bullies? He—”
The whole playground grew quiet. Not many in the class cared much for the bossy, too-smart-for-her-own-good girl. Few would consider Hermione a friend, but that was an insult harsher than most people would want to say to the girl. They all watched Hermione’s face grow pale from the insult, her eyes beginning to tear up. Matt Newhouse and his cronies started to grin at the sight; they were the typical British school bullies who reveled in the suffering of those smaller than they.
The four bullies did not notice the small, scrawny boy jump off from the swings across the schoolyard. The boy ran toward the five; instinctively, the rest of the schoolchildren started to circle around them looking for the fight, like hyenas gathering at a fresh kill.
Matt smiled viciously and opened his mouth to throw yet another jibe at the girl. He heard a cough from behind him, and as he and his group turned Harry punched him in the face. As Matt reeled back (more from surprise than actual pain) Harry leapt on him like an enraged alley cat.
It was really no contest from the beginning. Harry was small for his age, Matt and his goons were a year older than him, and to add insult to injury, they felt no remorse at beating on him at the same time. None of these facts stopped Harry from his attempt to maim Matt for life. Harry screamed obscenities at him; he rained down punches on his face, his chest, his arms; he tried to kick and knee him in the crotch repeatedly; he scratched, he bit, and he spat in Matt’s face. By the time teachers broke up the fight Harry was a complete mess—but so was Matt.
They were all—even Hermione—carted off to the principal in a rush. The teachers dragged them through the halls, simultaneously fussing over the injuries the boys had and scolding them for their clearly satanic behavior. The bullies were used to the lecture of course, having heard it countless times through the years, but Hermione and Harry had never heard the lecture before. They listened.
The teachers conversed with each other, then herded the larger boys in first. Harry and Hermione’s homeroom teacher waited with them outside for the principal to call for their appearance.
“I can’t believe you did this, Harry, you know better than this!” Mrs. Hanson said, fussing over the cuts and bruises that disguised Harry’s face. “There are better ways to get results than fighting, Harry, you shouldn’t do anything like this ever again.” He nodded mechanically.
“Stephanie? I need your help here a bit,” an office lady said.
Mrs. Hanson turned around and said, “Be right there, Emily.” She turned back to the children, and said, “you two stay here.” She walked toward her colleague, and left Harry and Hermione alone on the bench outside the principal’s office.
Hermione sniffed, and Harry turned and finally noticed she was on the verge of crying.
“Hermione, what’s wrong?” Harry asked rather obtusely.
Hermione hit his arm with all the force she could muster. “What do you mean, what’s wrong? Are you stupid? They destroyed your face!”
Harry’s face became a study of emotions warring to be the victor, and in the end, incredulousness and indignity won out. “But- but they said – Hermione-”
She hit him again, then hid her face with her hands. Muffled sobs came from her. Harry stared at her, bewildered.
“I – I-” He stopped. “I’m sorry, Hermione,” he said.