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Dancing Through the Dark

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September 14, 2019, Part 1

“Alright, cupcake.  Tell me something that only Harry Potter would know.”

Harry winced, shaking his head.  “Hermione, you know it makes me all frazzled when you call me cupcake.”

Hermione smirked half-heartedly and threw up a hovering bauble imbued with the area-of-daylight spell she’d invented, making their immediate environs as bright as it might be on an overcast day.  She did not lower the wand she had leveled at him. “Yes, well, Harry Potter is far from the only one who knows that .  And last I saw him, he hadn’t gotten a trendy new haircut.”

Harry huffed a long-suffering sigh, supposing it was good that her Auror training and the lessons of the war were still firmly ingrained in his best friend’s behavior. “You made me finish your run of dance lessons you’d already paid for with you when you and Ron called the wedding off.  Muggle studio, Thursday evenings, twelve weeks. Swing and ballroom. Sworn to secrecy, almost made me make an unbreakable vow. And one time when we were working on lifts your skirt got caught and-”

“Yes yes that’s fine,"  Hermione scowled. “Cupcake.

“See, everyone else has let me live that down, so I don’t need further proof it’s you.”  Harry shot her a wry grin, shaking his head and starting to walk from the Apparition point into the storm.  “Anyway. Thank you for coming, Hermione.”

“I take it you called me about this storm everyone’s been worrying about?”

He nodded. “The radius of this thing keeps expanding, and communication, both Muggle and magical, in and out of Orkney and Shetland down to… well… here, so Inverness-ish?... has gone dark.”  He paused, holding a whippy pine bough aside to let her pass with a little bow and a flourish before continuing. “Brooms won’t work, either.”

“Why?” Hermione asked, continuing into the wood.  “Wind too strong? It’s frightful even down here on the ground but the trees look ready to go discuss storming Isengard.”

“Nah, magical flying craft forget all the charms on them, everywhere they’ve been tried to get into the gyre.  Standard portkeys aren’t activating, and no one can Apparate further north than… well, about fifty yards south of where you came in, now, it looks like.”  Jogging up beside her as the woodland path widened, he shook a small, hand-drawn map of the British isles with what looked like a meteorologist’s colored diagram of the storm pulsing and growing over it on it.  “This is how I’m tracking it - it’s rough, but seems to be working, even inside.”

She paused, taking the offered map and looking it over.  “You’ve been reverse engineering the Maurader’s Map, haven’t you?”  She shook her head, smiling slightly as she ducked beneath a creaking oak branch.  “Clever work, Harry.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I’ve also come up with some charms that will work like my mobile when I’m in high-magic areas, too., trying to cobble… something useful.”  He shrugged, stepping carefully as the path took a turn downhill, becoming rockier.  

“Wizarding GPS?  Harry! You should write a paper, Harry, or a book.  Apply to the Office of Magical Patents and Publishing. Not that I expect you will.. .”

“Professor Granger, would you please stop trying to assign me inches?  Tell you what, though-” he said, waggling his eyebrows at her and holding out his glasses.  “You cast one of those keeping-glasses-dry charms for me, and I’ll tell you how it works as we walk and you can put the knowledge out there, Ms. Wizarding Wikipedia.”

Hermione scoffed.  “I teach you how to do this charm at least once a year.” 

“And yet!” he grinned, tripping a bit as he tried to walk on despite everything more than three feet away being a blur. “Mine never hold a candle to yours.”

Shaking her head, Hermione whispered an impervius over the specs in question with a small tap of her wand, handing them back.  “Flatterer.” She sighed as he delightedly put the glasses back on, wondering how he ever went anywhere without her.  “Anyway! Speaking of my little encyclopedic project, just before I headed up to meet you I had to suspend all edits to EWE until I can get George and Lee to stop vandalizing the articles.  They keep attaching rude drawings to the entry on Salazar Slytherin and adding… colorful and uncited adjectives... to the article about Snape.” She smirked. “Think they’ll notice when they can’t get around it with another alias incantation in the morning?”

“Hermione!” Harry gasped in not-altogether- mock -horror, walking more confidently backward to face her now than he’d walked forward without glasses a moment ago.  “What do you think those two will get up to, now you’ve taken their favorite toy away?”

“Oh, pish.” Hermione rolled her eyes, pushing wet hair off her face.  “They’re creative. They’ll think of something.”

“And that doesn’t worry you?  We’re likely to be out here at least a full day, and they know where both your office and your flat are.  Your wards are keyed to let them in.”

Hermione paled slightly, her eyes widening. “They would not. I’m hardly Umbridge.  We’re adults.

Harry just looked at her. “I think the other thing that happened to distract Ron in the middle of the Great Wheezing Expansion may have made a lasting impression?”

Hermione gave a little growl, stomping ahead more quickly through the puddled forest.  “Fuck.”

Harry’s eyes widened and he stopped a moment before hurrying to catch up.  “You… you use that word now, huh?”

She snorted at him, walking quickly and not bothering to hold aside the next springy pine bough for him.  “It’s become something of a favorite, along with some of its four-lettered friends. Let’s get this over with and you can help me check everywhere for boobytraps after.  With any luck, other colorful additions to my personal lexicon will make themselves known in the process.  Fuck!  Couldn’t they just make a new sort of snackbox?  Can’t I get to be smug over keeping the hentai tentacle monster pictures out of the Devil’s Snare article for just a couple days?!”

Spitting wet pine needles, he rushed along behind her.  “But you have to admit that paragraph on Peeves was insp-”

“No.  No, I do not.”

“Oh, fine .”

She plodded along quietly for another few minutes before speaking again.  “Also, the thing with Ron was a mutual sort of heart-shattering - as you well know.”

Harry glanced over at her, seeing the tight set of her shoulders and her familiarly clenched hands. “I… I do.  Sorry, Hermione.”

“He was the prat who left but he was also the prat who put his life on the line alone, again and again in the dark, in the winter, to find us. ” She sighed and scrubbed the rain from her face ineffectively with her increasingly damp sleeve. “He deserved mutual understanding and shared goals, and he could never even seem to grasp that I wasn’t raised expecting to be a parent in my twenties , let alone my teens.”

“Didn’t mean to dredge it up.”

“I’m more or less over it, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t again.”

Harry stepped ahead, jumping down into a small troth before turning to lift her down after him.  “You know, I believe I saw some changes to the name on his jersey in his article’s photo, too… Weasepee?”

“Huh.  Imagine that.” 

“Unusually subtle work for George and Le-”

“Oh do shut up.”

Early October, 1991, Hogwarts

“For Godric’s sake, Harry, where does that little nightmare get off?”  Ron seethed as they walked out of the double Potions, still scratching at the place where their thoroughly botched Scouring Draft had spilled on his arm.  “ Oh, you had to go one and a quarter times widdershins, not one and a half !”   he mimicked, his voice a shrill falsetto.  “I’ll give her one and a quarter times my …”

Harry tuned out, more tired of both their inability to make headway under the stern tutelage of the great greasy Potions master and of the itch he was fighting not to scratch across his splashed hand than of Ms. Granger’s unerring ability to pinpoint exactly where they’d cocked things up.

As Harry and his best friend topped the stairs and rounded the corner down the passage to the great hall, he vaguely noticed that Ron’s tirade was continuing, now with rude gestures.  He had found a more interested audience in Seamus, who Malfoy had started calling “the eyebrowless wonder,” which Harry could admit to himself was funny without letting himself laugh aloud.  Harry decided to excuse himself and pause for a moment of peace to calm himself to give Ron the continued opportunity to let off steam out of range of his own jangling nerves.

Only half-planning his destination, Harry found himself walking toward a small courtyard he found soothing.  He almost never saw other students there, and he enjoyed the small stone bench under the ancient copper beech growing there when he needed to gather himself.  Why couldn’t anything go right?  This new life, it was supposed to be his chance to be himself - to leave the Dursleys and a childhood he was becoming increasingly aware had been abusive behind him.  And it was better, certainly, but also fraught with things others assumed he’d know, skills they’d assumed he’d have, weighty expectations, and this overhanging air of foreboding he couldn’t shake.  

Harry was on the brink of stepping out of the archway and into the late morning light when he stopped, hearing a quiet sniffling.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Sure, Hermione, try and help people after everything’s ruined, you’ll make tons of friends that way.  God, you useless idiot!”  Harry’s jaw dropped as, from the shadowed doorway, he listened to his bushy-haired classmate excoriate herself.  

Sitting and hugging her knees on the same stone bench he himself had been headed for, Granger sat shaking her head as quiet tears rolled down her face.  Gone was the smug know-it-all, and in her place here sat a painfully familiar mirror of the loneliness he had felt for most of his life.   

He couldn’t bring himself to approach her, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave her there by herself, either.

Harry stood in silent solidarity and sympathy just out of her view, torn, for several minutes.  Finally, she took several deep breaths, scooted her feet off the bench and back down to the ground and stood, shoulders taut, hands curled into fists so tight her knuckles whitened.  

When Harry looked down at his own hands, he noticed that, as they so often did, his hands were doing the same thing.  Quickly, he shook himself away from this thought, flexing his hands open for good measure, and jogged down the hall to round the next corner before she could see him standing there.