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Quiet Corner

Follow Me Home (Alternate Version)

This is an earlier draft.

Hermione was at the bottom of the ocean. Everything felt heavy, black, endless. Consciousness slowly curled tendrils towards her, bringing with it the first inklings of pain and memory. She ignored them at first. The nothingness was peaceful, a refuge. However, she felt herself being tugged to the surface of consciousness. As she broke the surface, her body took a huge, gasping breath, as if taking in air for the first time. With that breath, full awareness and the memory of the last moments slammed into her with the force of an icy wave. Harry!

 

Hermione tried to leap up to run to him, but her body would not obey. A cacophony of pain sprang to life inside her, making it difficult to move. She looked across the cavernous dungeon and saw Harry’s crumpled form, motionless on the stone floor. A shot of adrenalin flooded her veins. She was at his side in seconds. She reached for his hand and was shocked to find it ice cold. “Harry!” Her voice echoed around the chamber, but he didn’t respond. She looked for a pulse in his wrist, but couldn’t find one. Trying not to panic, she felt for it in his neck. For a moment she couldn’t breathe. After much too long, she felt a sluggish pulse and with it let out the breath she was holding. He might not be conscious, but at least his heart was still beating. She tentatively placed her hand on his chest, to reassure herself that he was breathing. The rise and fall of his chest was slow and shallow, but at least it was there. She bent close to his ear and whispered, “Harry, can you hear me? Wake up!” Harry lay limp and unresponsive, as firelight from torches on the walls danced on his pale skin in a mockery of color and movement. I won’t lose you now! she thought.

 

Hermione reached into her robes and was relieved to find her wand still there. However, the moment she touched it, she knew it wouldn’t work. The familiar faint hum of energy she always felt when she handled it was gone. She muttered, “Lumos!” just to be sure, but nothing happened. In the Final Battle, the very last spell Harry cast was the magical equivalent of an electromagnetic pulse, wiping out all magic in the immediate vicinity. The blast had finished Voldemort, but it had also knocked everyone else there completely out. Harry had warned her it might come to that, but they hadn’t had time to work out what would happen if it did. She hoped he would regain consciousness soon. She wasn’t sure what, if anything, she could do if he didn’t.

 

Content for now that Harry was at least alive and would stay that way for the next few minutes, Hermione went to check on the others. Ron wasn’t far from Harry, having been at his side every moment of the Battle. Hermione was profoundly grateful to see he wasn’t hurt too badly, but was only out cold like everyone else.

 

Hermione surveyed the scene. The dungeon was strewn with unconscious forms, some friend, some foe. Many of the DA were there, along with most of the Order. The Death Eaters took the worst of it, the majority of them dead. Unfortunately there were losses on the good side as well. Hermione only allowed herself a few tears for the fallen, and forced herself into survival mode. There were those that she could help, and she needed to keep herself together to do so.

 

She finished checking everyone else, staunching wounds when needed, using strips torn from robes. She was glad of the muggle first aid training her parents insisted she had. Unfortunately, Hermione was still the only one conscious. She wished she could have rennervated some of those who were not as badly hurt. Someone needed to send word that the Battle was over, and those with more serious wounds needed to be evacuated. She didn’t want to leave everyone there unconscious and alone, and she was hoping they would all begin to come to soon. There wasn’t much Hermione could do now but wait.

 

She walked back to Harry and knelt down next to him. Needing to touch him, she took his hand in hers, and slowly leaned over him to gently kiss his forehead. Her lips brushed his scar, and it was as if she’d unwittingly touched a portkey. Everything began to spin and became a blur. The stone floor seemed to drop away, giving Hermione the sensation of being suspended mid-air. As suddenly as it started, the spinning stopped and everything went black. She still had the unsettling feeling of nothing beneath her feet. She couldn’t see anything, and was extremely disoriented. She groped blindly for her wand, but as her fingers brushed it, she knew it was still useless. She felt panic start to grip her, but she fought it down with the only weapon she knew she had: logic.

 

Think Hermione! Four tasks immediately became clear. She needed to figure out a way to see, and where she was, if she was safe, and how to get back to Harry as quickly as possible. Hermione tried to look around in the total darkness, but it was difficult without any reference to what was up or down. In the back of her mind, Harry, light… Harry,  light… played an urgent refrain. Several more frustrating minutes dragged by as she kept trying to see, and get her bearings. Then something small and indistinct, like a little point of light, flickered into her vision. Thinking it might be just her imagination or wishful thinking, she was relieved when the object seemed to steady and stay in focus as she looked at it. She wanted to move closer to it, to see what it was. It seemed to be growing bigger. She felt a very odd sensation, as if somehow she had shifted her place in time and space, yet she knew she hadn’t walked anywhere; especially since there wasn’t any ground under her feet to walk on. The light, which now seemed to be a softly glowing, ivory colored orb about the size of an apple, was bouncing around about level with Hermione’s face. She got the distinct impression it was trying to tell her something. Her intuition was telling her to reach for it, touch it, but trusting her intuition was still not exactly second nature for Hermione. Throughout the last year she had followed Harry into some extremely dangerous situations during their quest for the Horcruxes. She had learned that “trusting her gut,” was often the difference between life and death. However, when presented with a problem, she still was most comfortable diving into a book to look for an answer. Right now was yet another time she very much wished she had some sort of reference for the current situation. However, there wasn’t much she could do now except take a deep breath and hope for the best. She slowly reached out for the orb, which was now dancing around excitedly.

 

The orb felt soft and tingly, like a small pocket of warm air charged by a thunderstorm. The moment she touched it, she knew that the orb had not gotten bigger; it was Hermione that had moved towards it. She also knew that simply her wanting to go to the orb had somehow brought her right to it. It was as if the orb was communicating with her by instantly registering information in her mind. It was disconcerting, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by the efficiency of it. As soon as she started to wonder if the orb could hear her thoughts, she was answered with the knowledge that it could hear whatever she wanted it to. There were so many things Hermione wanted to know, it was difficult to make herself focus on one particular thing at a time. Amazingly, the answers to her questions were immediately there in her head. However, if Hermione asked the orb something it didn’t know, she was out of luck.

 

With the orb’s help, she now at least had a source of light and a place to start. As far as she could tell, the place was sort of like an empty pensieve. It was more of a mental and emotional plane, rather than a physical one. Hermione wondered if everything was black because there were no memories in it. She also wondered how she got there, and how on earth she would get back. It seemed that touching Harry’s scar brought her here. Harry…

 

Thinking of him anew brought a fresh pang of emotion. The hardships of the last year had brought them closer than ever. She and Harry and Ron were beyond just a team. The trio worked seamlessly, each complimenting the others’ strengths and weaknesses. They functioned without thought, communicating with each other on a level beyond words.

 

Throughout that year, Hermione had not wanted to do anything that would upset the equilibrium between them. She thought maybe attraction to either Ron or Harry would tip the balance one way or another, and possibly damage their unity as friends. Harry had left Ginny behind, sacrificing his own happiness with her to keep her safe. Hermione hardly thought it would be fair for her and Ron to have one another in that way, even though she knew Harry would have insisted he was fine with it. He wouldn’t have wanted them to make that sacrifice just because he had.

 

The truth was, in some ways she had wished she could be with them both. After everything they’d been through together, at times it was hard to know where one of them stopped and the other began. The three of them had an intimacy that could only have resulted from the shared trials they had endured. It seemed impossible someone on the outside could comprehend what it was like. It also seemed impossible for three to be divided into two. Together, Harry and Ron were her everything. How could she be with anyone else? How could she be with just one of them?

 

So it went on they each made sure that as close as they all became, certain lines were never crossed. As playful and physically affectionate as they were with one another, and as deep an intimacy as they all shared, it was never sexual. And then…

 

Dawn was breaking over a battle scarred night. The three of them had returned to Grimmauld Place after a hard fought battle over one of the few remaining Horcruxes. Ron fell asleep almost immediately. It never ceased to amaze Harry and Hermione how Ron could always eat or sleep under any circumstances. The two of them, however, were still wide awake. Harry looked at Hermione, and tilted his head towards the stairs leading to the roof. Hermione smiled and nodded. They went up onto the roof to watch the sun rise. Sitting side by side, both with their legs drawn up and their arms around their knees, they sat in companionable silence. It was wonderful, Hermione thought, how so often they didn’t need to speak to communicate.

 

It was a bit chilly in the predawn, so Harry motioned for Hermione to sit in front of him. She nestled in, as he put his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder. Everything felt so peaceful. There was evil out in the world still, but for now it could wait. Hermione wished she could freeze this moment, this feeling of warmth and quiet, with the beauty of deep copper and rose beginning to streak across the eastern sky.

 

She was sure she was dreaming. Without knowing how it began, she and Harry were kissing. His lips were so soft and warm, his kisses deep and sweet. Hermione sank into them, giving herself completely to the moment, to Harry.

 

As if thinking of him had conjured him, Harry appeared before her in the blackness, and Hermione was jolted back to the present. “Harry!” She went to throw her arms around him in a flying tackle sort of hug, but wound up hitting and bouncing off of, what? He was in a sitting position, legs crossed, staring out into space. She tried again to touch him, but there seemed to be some sort of space around him that she couldn’t get through, almost as though someone put an Imperturbable Charm on him. She called out to him again, but he didn’t seem to hear her. His eyes were eerily vacant, like an abandoned house with all its lights still on. Hermione felt a sob of anger, frustration, and sadness welling up in her throat. She resolutely pushed it down, and instead focused on getting through to Harry.

 

Silence. Stillness. Void. Numb. Had it always been this way? Did it matter? Time at once stood still, yet stretched on into infinity in all directions. What was direction? Up and down were only tricks we played on ourselves in order to stay upright. Drifting was peaceful, easy, painless. “Harry…” the thought bobbed on the edge of his awareness like a leaf at the edge of a rippling lake. “Harry…” That used to mean something. His existence seemed to blur around the edges and was beginning to fade into the infinity around him. It would be so easy to dissolve into nothingness…

 

“Harry!” Something was tugging at him. The vague notion that his attention was needed buzzed in his mind like tiny gnat. He ignored it, yet it grew more insistent. Something was nudging him, but he didn’t want to move, he didn’t want to be. He was content to let himself be lost, safe from pain, safe from everything…

 

Hermione watched horrified as Harry’s form began to blur and fade. Panic gripped her as she screamed his name and beat against an invisible wall she couldn’t even feel. She felt a comforting brush on her cheek. The orb was fluttering next to her. Hermione knew there had to be a way to reach Harry, and that getting hysterical was not going to help. The orb’s presence was soothing, and also bolstering.

 

Hermione took stock. Time was short. Before long Harry might disappear completely. Whatever she did, she would have to act almost immediately. Magic was no good. Physicality was no good either, since the normal rules of physics didn’t seem to apply. What did that leave? Will. It was her need for the light that brought her attention to the orb, then her desire to examine it that moved her to it. Maybe… she thought, and took a deep steadying breath. As she exhaled, she focused all of her energy on wanting to get through the barrier. In a blink, the barrier was gone and she was at Harry’s side. “Harry!” Hermione’s thrill at having gotten through was quickly extinguished as Harry sat, still vacant and unresponsive. She reached for him, but her hand passed right through him. “No!” she cried. Harry was becoming increasingly blurry and indistinct.

 

The orb was pulsing, trying to get her attention. Hermione reached out her hand, and the orb settled into her palm. His scar… Hermione reasoned that it had been her contact with Harry’s scar that transported her here. Maybe if she tried touching it again… She moved her hand to his forehead, but again she simply passed through him. Concentrate, WILL it to happen. Hermione tried again, this time wanting with all her heart to touch Harry. This time, her fingers met solid skin.

 

He felt himself on the brink of infinity, ready to dissolve. Letting go was the beginning of unending bliss. But he was not alone. A presence appeared before him, and it was trying to hold him back. He felt a pull where his forehead would be, that is, if he were still solid and had a forehead. He was mostly just energy now, with only a vague memory of his body and who he used to be.

 

He tried ignoring the pull, but he soon realized the presence would not be ignored. He would have to free himself before he could move on. Reluctantly, he fixed his awareness on the presence. It solidified into a human female form. He had to force himself to try to make sense of it. There was sound coming from the female. He realized she was speaking to him. The sounds had no meaning.

 

At Hermione’s touch, Harry began to solidify. “Harry, can you hear me? It’s me, Hermione.” His eyes shifted to her, but remained distant and unfocused. His expression was odd, as if he’d never seen another person before and was trying to figure out what she was. Afraid he would start to fade again if she let go, Hermione kept her fingertip on Harry’s scar. “Nod if you can understand me.” He didn’t move.

 

Hermione sighed, disappointed. It seemed every step would be a struggle. One thing at a time, baby steps… Again she gathered her will and focused on her desire that Harry understand her.

 

A pulse of energy centered in his forehead invaded him. He felt jolted somehow, drawn back from the comfort of his previous state. Someone was touching him. Touch… an odd sensation, something from another world he used to inhabit. The female was touching him. He could see her more clearly now, a young woman with brown eyes and brown hair. “Who are you and would you please move your finger?”

 

Hermione couldn’t decide if she wanted to laugh or cry. She withdrew her finger and was relieved when Harry stayed solid. “It’s Hermione.”

 

Hermione… That name carried with it the echo of something deeply beautiful and sweet, something he knew he ought to remember, but that evaded him like dispersing smoke.

 

She took his silence as lack of recognition. “You don’t remember, do you?” she asked, crestfallen.

 

He was irritated, irritated at being pulled back from the brink of release, irritated that this young woman stirred something in him he couldn’t ignore, or worse, remember. He looked at her, for the first time really taking her in. She stood before him, with the look of someone toughened through hardship, strong and ready for anything. Yet, there was also something very vulnerable, something heartbreakingly sincere. He tried to grasp what it was in her expression that was reaching out to him on some deeper level. The harder he tried, the more it eluded him. As he struggled, he saw a mixture of sadness and hope on her face, and in her eyes, her beautiful, coffee colored eyes…

 

Love… Seeing it there in her eyes, so strongly, was more than he could take. It set off something deep within him, tripping emotions like landmines exploding in his soul. Love and pain were inextricably mixed. Love, pain, death… His emotions felt like white hot pain inside him. He cried out, doubling over.

 

Hermione rushed to try to help him, her voice strained with urgent concern. “What’s wrong?”

 

At her approach, the pain intensified immeasurably. Still doubled over, Harry reflexively pushed her away with one hand. “Get away from me!” he yelled. Hermione backed away from him, tears starting to run down her cheeks. As she moved farther away, his pain seemed to ease somewhat. He slowly straightened up. He spoke without looking at her, “Please go.”

 

It was all she could do not to lose it completely and start sobbing. Her heart was shattering. The thought that he didn’t want her was worse than a thousand hexes. All she wanted was to bring Harry, her best friend, her everything, back to her, back home. She felt the soft warmth of the orb near her hand. Don’t give up. Believe in your love for him, and in his love for you. Go slowly. Remember you can use your will. She also wouldn’t forget her old companion, logic. “Please let me stay,” Hermione said as calmly as she could. “I’ll keep my distance, if that helps.”

He slowly turned his head and looked at her. He relaxed a fraction when no jolt of pain struck. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. Things are odd here. I can’t seem to remember things, or at least, when I do…” He shrugged. “You kept calling me something. Harry. That’s me?”

 

Hermione nodded. She was still incredibly sad, but hopeful now that he at least let her stay. His eyes no longer looked so strange and unfocused. However, there was a distance in them that sent fresh ripples of sadness through her when she looked into them. She battled the feeling by staying focused on figuring out where they were and how to get out. She hoped maybe Harry knew something that could help. “Do you know where we are, or how to leave?”

 

Harry thought for a moment before answering. “No. Not exactly. I was about to leave, but…” He wasn’t sure how to describe the state he’d been in. “It wasn’t that I was going anywhere, I was just going.” He looked away, anger at being brought back there, and at his emotions for plaguing him, seeped back into him.

 

Hermione wanted so badly to reach out to him, but was afraid she might set him off somehow. It was difficult for her to see him wanting to disappear. Maybe if she could get him out of here… “I have an idea,” she said. “In this place, we can will things to happen, if we try hard enough. I think if we both concentrate, we can get back.”

 

The gaze he turned on her was unfathomable. “Back to what?” There was an edge in his voice. “Pain? Suffering? Loss? Death?”

 

Hermione was stunned. She bit her lip not to start crying again. “It wasn’t all like that!” Hermione’s voice shook. “There were good things. Friendship, love…”

 

“Only to be lost!” he yelled. “I was about to go somewhere, away from pain. Away from everything. You forced me back!” His eyes flashed with hurt and anger.

 

“You were about to cease to exist!” Hermione was livid now. “I can’t believe you would run away from the people you love, who love you!”

 

Harry looked as if he was going to shout something back, but stopped himself. He steeled himself for a blow of pain and moved to Hermione, inches away from her. He looked right into her eyes. The suffering and longing, and also now guilt she saw there was too much. She wanted to turn away but knew she mustn’t. He whispered to her, “If you love me, let me go.” She shook her head mutely. His eyes continued to hold hers, pleading. “It’s agony for me to be this close to you, and it’s clearly agony for you to be near me now. I’m begging you, for the sake of whatever it was we had…”

 

Harry screamed. Hermione had grabbed his wrist with all her force. Pain seared through him. With her other hand, Hermione touched his scar. The pain stopped. “If it’s a battle of wills you want, Harry, that’s what you’ll get! It might be your will to run away, but it’s my will that you won’t leave until you truly understand exactly what it is you’re leaving.” Her eyes flashed. “Your pain is gone because of my strength of will. I’m going to show you some things Harry, and if by the time I’m done you want your pain and want your escape, you’re free to have them both!” They stared at one another, their breath coming hard and fast.

 

“Fine.”

 

Hermione took her finger away from Harry’s head, then eased her grip on his wrist, but didn’t let go. “Walk with me,” she said.

 

Harry began to protest, “But there’s no ground…” his voice trailed off as he looked around and realized they were no longer in a black void. Suddenly he felt wet sand beneath his now bare feet. They were on a beautiful beach, with soft sand and a gentle shoreline that stretched on farther than they could see. The air was balmy with sea breeze, and the water soothing. The sea was a deep aquamarine with frothy white foam on the breaking waves. Hermione smiled slightly to herself, pleased with the environment she had created.

 

There was no need for the orb’s light now. As Hermione held it in her palm, she realized she knew what, or rather who the orb was. It was part of herself, her intuition. Her logical side had needed a way to tap into her intuitive side, to guide her and light the way, and in this place, it was able to manifest itself externally as the orb. The orb fluttered happily at Hermione’s realization, then with a soft pop! was gone.

 

Hermione pointed to the sky and said to Harry, “Look.”

 

He looked up and saw what he realized was a much younger version himself, Hermione, and a red headed boy. Hermione leaned towards Harry. “That’s Ron, your best mate,” she said softly. The scene played out across the sky. The three of them were in school together, talking and laughing. Harry watched as he and Ron saved Hermione from a troll, then as Ron and Hermione helped Harry through a series of challenges in order to outwit a dark wizard and protect a blood red stone.

 

Harry and Hermione walked along, watching scene after scene unfold. He watched as he and Hermione and Ron helped one another out through their years at Hogwarts. Harry let himself start to remember along with the scenes, but still kept his feelings at a distance. Towards the end of their sixth year, Harry tried to hold back, but couldn’t. All the grief he’d been holding back since losing Sirius and Dumbledore washed over him. Tears ran freely in silent release, his shoulders shaking.

 

No longer gripping his wrist, Hermione realized she was now holding Harry’s hand. Somewhere along the way, his hand had slipped into hers and their fingers intertwined. She had saved the best memories for last. Instead of in the sky, she sent them, orb-fashioned, right into his mind. She watched Harry as he relived all their intimate moments, from their first kiss, to the first time they made love - passionate, yet tender and sweet - to their coupling before the final confrontation with Voldemort, when they thought it could be their last, and to all the times in between.

 

When he looked at her again it was with unutterable tenderness. Tears now of joy began streaming down both their faces. He gathered her in his arms, and began kissing her, at first softly and sweetly, then more deeply and passionately. The kiss went on for a very long time. She felt his hands begin to move, stroking and caressing her. He felt so solid and good. Solid! She opened her eyes, then broke their kiss. “Mmph?” Harry said, then opened his eyes. They were once more in the dungeon, standing in the aftermath of the Final Battle. There were fallen friends to honor and grieve, but that could wait just a bit longer. For now, there was life and love to celebrate. Harry looked at Hermione and smiled, his gratitude plainly evident. She smiled in return, took his face in her hands, and let him know just how welcome he was.

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