Harry takes a breath.
If there is one thing waging war has taught him it's that panicking never solves anything, or maybe it's the one thing his entire childhood has taught him.
He takes another breath.
He starts to look around, trying to find something familiar. There's a mountain range to the right; not very tall but significant enough that the peaks are covered by cloud.
Beneath him and for a fair distance in the other directions is a forest, the green peeking out behind the latest snowfall.
There's more snow-capped hills to the back of him, the sides devoid of vegetation.
He can see a lake edging into the front horizon.
A rush of wind washes over him and he shivers violently. It's bitterly cold. Icy. Hermione shudders against him.
In the absence of being able to get home and any visible help, Harry knows he needs to land and give her some first aid.
He adjusts their height so they're just above the trees and begins a slow steady flight in the direction of the lake. He figures it probably holds the best bet for some kind of settlement, and in the meantime he keeps watch for a place to land safely to take care of Hermione.
It's another ten minutes before a suitable spot appears.
He lowers them carefully and dismounts awkwardly. He clears the ground of snow, transfigures a rock into a bed complete with fluffy pillows and sheets even if they do remain grey in colour, and places Hermione carefully down. He sets up a fire for warmth and undoes his necklace to retrieve his emergency chest. He unshrinks it and dives in for blankets and medical supplies.
Hermione groans and starts to move.
"Easy." Harry says, unfolding another blanket over her.
"Harry." Her eyes fly open and catch his. "Ow." She closes her eyes briefly, her nose scrunching up with pain. "Hurts."
"I know." Harry says, retrieving a bottle of painkiller potion. He helps her sit up and drink the vial down.
Hermione looks around them and frowns. "We didn't make it back home?"
Harry shakes his head. "The tunnel thing disappeared. We need to deal with your injuries as best we can and try to find help."
Hermione grimaces. "Yay."
Harry smiles softly. "OK, so you know more first aid than me…"
"I have a concussion." Hermione begins, her normally confident tone is shaky but he can see her visibly trying to keep it together. "My vision is OK, but my head hurts," her hand flutters close to her bump, "and I feel a little dizzy and sick."
"You've got quite an egg," Harry confirms, "it's stopped bleeding I think."
"Hmm. Wash the blood away from the wound and cover it." Hermione instructs. "Then carefully check me for any other bumps. I don't really remember landing so it's likely I passed out or was knocked out."
Harry follows the order using a mix of magical and muggle techniques. They've substantiated the bump is the only head injury and Hermione is sporting a clean white bandage taped over the cut when they're finished. She's also covered in a faint sheen of sweat and still as white as a sheet.
"Shock." Hermione diagnoses. "Once you've handled the rest of my injuries, you'll need to keep me warm, keep track of my pulse and breathing."
Harry motions at her arm. "We'll tackle that next."
Hermione winces as they shift the blanket.
Harry carefully cuts the coat away from her arm. It's definitely broken but the fracture hasn't split the skin. It's horribly bruised already and swelling. He splints it and follows Hermione's whispered instructions to create a sling which immobilises the arm against her body; he does another anti-inflammatory spell and numbing charm.
A quick scanning spell diagnoses heavy bruising along that side of her body; her ribs are bruised, her hip, her knee the same and her ankle has a very bad sprain. They determine it's best to leave her boot on to give her support. She's also covered in scratches and scrapes which he cleans; one or two of the deep ones get their own bandage. He wraps the coat back around her and covers her with another warm blanket.
Hermione huddles into the warmth, blinking back more tears. "Sorry."
Harry shakes his head. "Nothing to be sorry about; you're hurt."
"What about you?" Hermione asks tiredly.
Harry does the scanning spell on himself and shrugs. He's bruised badly along his back and calves where he'd hit the tree branches; there are a couple of scratches – one on the back of his neck and one on the back of his hand which he hasn't noticed before but now that he has, they're stinging quite badly. He cleans them with another spell.
He reaches into the chest and pulls out some water. He carefully helps Hermione take a few sips. "I have some food…"
"I can't." Hermione presses her lips together tightly for a second. "You should…you should eat. You were hungry."
His stomach rumbles as though to agree with her. Harry shoots her an apologetic glance but he grabs a chocolate bar, eating it quickly and washing it down with some water.
There's an ominous howl.
Hermione jerks and grimaces with pain on the makeshift bed. "We should move."
"There's a lake. I think it's probably a good few hours of flight time." Harry says. "I'm going to head there."
Hermione nods. "OK. Pack my handbag in your chest?" She looks up at the sky. "At least it's still daylight."
"Where do you think we are?" asks Harry, trying to keep her distracted as he quickly takes a few things out of the chest he thinks they'll need and pops them into his pocket. He delves around until he finds the heavy suede winter coat he'd put in there one time and changes quickly. He has the rest of the chest packed up including her handbag, and shrunk back down in moments.
"I don't know." Hermione admits wearily. "It's not the UK or we would have had Aurors popping in already." She shoots him a knowing look. "Sectumsempra is on your banned list."
"Is it?" mutters Harry, avoiding her gaze. "I must have forgotten."
"Fuck them anyway." Hermione says bluntly. "The whole thing is a bloody farce."
Harry's shocked enough at use of profanity to look at her wide-eyed.
"You saved their lives and they've treated you like dirt," Hermione says, "I get so angry about it I could kill someone! Like that couple in the pub – you weren't even doing anything! You deserve so much better."
"Hey." Harry cups her cheek briefly. "It's OK."
"No, it's not." She retorts, but she takes a deep breath. "I've never understood how you've remained so calm about it all."
Harry shrugs and begins to set the broom up. "The wizarding world loves and hates me by turns, Hermione. It wasn't exactly a surprise that as soon as they got over the initial 'wow, we're all still alive' hysteria, they'd start looking at me as if I was the next Dark Lord on the horizon especially after the, uh, thing."
"You have PTSD." Hermione lectures. "It wasn't your fault it was triggered by bloody Malfoy and his big mouth."
"I didn't mean to but I did put him and his remaining cronies in the hospital with a dozen broken bones." Harry points out. "I'm lucky they didn't put me in Azkaban on trumped up charges."
Hermione huffs but she's clearly waning. "It's unfair."
Harry shrugs and picks her up. He changes the subject because rehashing the whole banishment ruling is a waste of time. "So if we're not in the UK…"
"It's…we obviously got transported somewhere else. It's probably America or Canada somewhere. There are time zones there which would be in daylight." Hermione suggests.
"Right. So hopefully they'll speak English." Harry nods as he straddles the broom and settles Hermione in front of him so she's sitting side-saddle; her back resting on his left arm so his right is free to navigate.
Her good arm snakes out of the blanket to grab hold of him again; her hand fisting into the toggles on the front of his coat. "I hate flying."
"I know but it's the only method of transport we have. We can't risk apparating when you've got a broken bone." Harry says matter-of-factly.
Hermione attempts a smile but can't quite manage it. Harry casts another spell to have the blanket wrap around her like he's swaddling a baby. She doesn't protest it.
He rises slowly, barely off the ground and sets off. While it would be quicker above the trees, it''ll be too cold. He expertly weaves them through the woodland, heading towards the lake. Hermione does her best to shift with Harry; to relax as much as she can on a broom.
"Do you think Molly knew?" asks Hermione out of nowhere. She's raised her voice a little so he can hear her.
"I don't think so." Harry says. Molly's a good woman at heart and Harry believes her gift was well-meant. He thinks back to the street and the moment it happened. "Ron was shocked."
"Thank you." Hermione says.
He dips his head a moment to look at her questioningly.
"For saving me."
Harry snorts. "If we kept track of who saves who, I think you'd come out ahead." He really couldn't imagine how he would have gotten through the past two years – hell, the past ten years without her.
Hermione hums and snuggles into him more. "Well, thank you anyway."
She slumps against him a few minutes later; asleep rather than unconscious since she starts to snore. Harry can't blame her. He's tired and achy but he needs to get them to safety.
It starts snowing again; a curtain of white snowflakes that make Harry decrease their speed even more as his visibility becomes compromised. He sets an impermeable charm to keep the wet off them as he carefully threads a path through the trees.
He flies for a over an hour before he calls a halt and stops for a rest. He sets Hermione down again, transfiguring a log into a bed for her. He goes to the bathroom behind a nearby tree before he sits on the edge of the bed, eats another chocolate bar and sips some water.
Regretfully he wakes Hermione from her slumber. They stumble through an embarrassing ten minutes as he helps her through a toilet break of her own behind another tree. She's breathless and in pain again when she's finished. He picks her up and settles her back on the bed. She accepts a small chunk of chocolate which she sucks on for a little while. She drinks down half a bottle of water and accepts another vial of pain potion without complaint.
"It's getting dark." Hermione frowns up at the sky. "Will we be able to get to the lake before sundown?"
"Maybe." Harry gestures out at the snow. His charm is keeping it off them but even with the tree canopy above them, the ground is beginning to get a deep covering of snow.
"This reminds me of Christmas and Godric's Hollow when we were on the run." Hermione murmurs.
Harry cocks his head as something occurs to him. "Do you…" he shakes his head, "nope, never mind."
"What?" asks Hermione.
"It's just…we went from night to day." Harry points out. "Maybe it's a time-zone thing or…"
"Or maybe we got transported in time." Hermione catches on quickly. "Maybe, but I think we were translocated as well otherwise we would have just landed back in the street."
"We would have been nearer help if we had." Harry begins to pack up. They can't afford any more dallying if they are to make it to the lake before dark.
Hermione curls up against him and closes her eyes. But this time she whimpers in her sleep as though her pain has followed her into dreams.
Harry flies without stopping until the twilight begins to creep into the dark.
Hermione doesn't argue with the decision to stop. She can't help much but she's patient while he constructs some shelter. It's not great – he's too tired but they have a bed so they don't have to sleep on the ground, there's a roof over their heads and there's enough of a wall around them to keep the worst of the weather away.
There's another bathroom break; some more chocolate and water before he settles them for the night.
He warms a rock to provide heat and clambers on top of the bed with a blanket of his own, careful to keep space between himself and Hermione because of her injuries. Hermione shifts closer anyway. Her good hand inches out to curl around his.
He smiles at her reassuringly and watches as she drifts off to sleep. He really hopes they find help in the morning.
His eyes are too heavy to keep open. He closes them.
There's a sound.
His eyes fly open.
It's still dark.
There's something by the heated rock.
He freezes as he takes the size and shape in, the black fur. It looks like a grimm. Like Padfoot.
Harry's heart beats rapidly in his chest.
The animal doesn't come any closer. It stays by the rock. It's not sleeping but lying like a sphinx as though waiting or guarding…
Harry's too tired, he aches too much…he closes his eyes again.
The sun is beginning to leech light into the dark when he opens them again. He immediately checks on Hermione. She's still sleeping. He slides off the bed and checks the rock; it's still warm. There's no animal tracks around it and he wonders if he imagined the grimm. He stretches and grimaces as every bruise and scrape makes itself known. A visit behind the tree later he misses his small bathroom and all its amenities. He does the shaving charm and the dental hygiene spell. It's easier than getting the chest back out to hunt for a toothbrush.
Hermione stirs and gives a small cry of pain.
Harry hurries over to her. "Easy."
"This blows." Hermione says roughly. "My arm is killing me."
"I'll get you some more pain potion." Harry promises as he helps her off the bed. She limps using him as a crutch until she's behind a nearby bush. He helps her enough that she can manage and then leaves her with her wand until she finishes and calls him over.
He helps her back to the bed and gives her another vial of pain potion. They really need food. His stomach is protesting the lack of a meal. He gets the chest out and hunts around for the ever-fresh box he'd packed in there.
Hermione watches with interest. "I never realised you had that."
Harry shrugs as though it doesn't matter. "I packed it the night I got the notice about the Wizengamot hearing."
"You were going to run?" asks Hermione intuitively, because she really does know him best.
"I wasn't going to let them send me to Azkaban." Harry says. "I've just…updated it every so often since. Just in case."
"You wear that necklace every time you're in the wizarding world." Hermione remarks as she accepts a foil package. She glances at the contents – bread and cheese – and takes a tentative bite. "I can't blame you."
Harry sits beside her and takes a bite of his own sandwich.
"My handbag's kind of bottomless." Hermione admits.
Harry glances at her.
Hermione tries a smile. "I started packing it with emergency supplies when I realised they were going to put you on trial and then…well, they passed the Muggleborn Act so…" she takes another small bite.
Harry nudges her shoulder with his very, very gently.
They focus on eating for a while.
Harry finishes his sandwich and drinks some more water. Hermione wraps the rest of hers up and accepts the bottle to drink down the rest while Harry stows the food away.
"I always meant to say thank you." Harry admits quietly.
"What for?" asks Hermione clearly surprised.
"For helping me." Harry says. "My plan was basically 'run for it.' You had it all worked out, the spell to bring us up to speed and sit our GCSEs and A Levels, and…getting the flats and navigating the university applications."
Hermione smiles. "Someone has to look out for you."
"I know it caused problems with Ron." Harry comments.
Her eyebrows shoot up and she winces because her head is still sporting an egg-shaped lump above her right eye. But he's not surprised at her surprise because he rarely ever says anything about her and Ron.
"That…it wasn't your fault you know." Hermione says quietly. "It was a lot of things."
Harry nods as he shrinks the chest again and reties his necklace. "I know, but I know the amount of time you spent helping me was part of it."
"It didn't help." Hermione admits candidly. "But Ron and I…" she sighs, "he asked me to marry him."
It's Harry's turn for his eyebrows to shoot up. Ron had never said…
"It was after the ruling and the Act was passed." Hermione explains. "He said if we got married, I wouldn't have to worry about school or a career so it wouldn't matter that the Act made it more difficult for me." She blinks rapidly and brushes tears away from her cheeks.
"Hey, we don't have to talk about it." Harry says softly.
"No, I'm just tired and hurting that's why I'm crying." Hermione accepts the handkerchief he hands her. "It's not…I mean, we were always a bit rocky and then…" she sighs heavily, "it was like he didn't know me at all!" She blows her nose noisily. "He's better off with Lavender. She wants to get married, have a family and be a stay-at-home Mum."
"I'm sorry." Harry says anyway.
Hermione takes a deep breath and winces again.
"Do you need some more pain potion?" asks Harry concerned.
"Better not." Hermione says. "We don't know how long it's going to take us to get somewhere."
Harry makes quick work of getting the broom ready and within minutes they're back in flight.
The next hour is spent flying with Hermione dozing on his shoulder.
It stops snowing.
Harry slows as the trees start to become tighter. He brings them to a stop as his eyes catch on a thin strand looped between two trees.
"What?" asks Hermione.
He quickly shushes her and points.
Hermione stiffens. "That's Acromantula webbing." She's careful to keep her voice low.
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Harry whispers.
Hermione clutches at him as he slowly starts to rise up. They can't go through the trees anymore. It's not safe.
"Close your eyes." Harry suggests.
"I hate flying." Hermione complains miserably.
"At least we know where we are." Harry says.
"Do we?" asks Hermione. "We can't just assume this is the Forbidden Forest because it has spiders."
"Maybe, maybe not." Harry says. "But if it is then we should be close enough to see across the lake to…"
"Hogwarts." Hermione says as they both spot the familiar sight of the school's turrets rising up in the distance.
Harry sets the broom's direction and sets off briskly.
"Harry," Hermione says urgently, "you can't go to Hogwarts. It's one of the prohibitions on your ruling!"
"Fuck them." Harry replies, shocking her into silence. "You're injured and it's not like McGonagall's going to turn us away."
"Professor McGonagall, Harry." Hermione remonstrates.
He smiles because it's such a Hermione thing for her to do. The flight is easier above the trees but Harry has to keep casting warming charms and it's not long before he feels Hermione shaking with cold against him despite her coat and blankets.
As soon as they're clear of the trees, he lowers the height again to almost ground level. They skim over the surface of the silvery lake and Harry thinks he catches sight of a merman below the surface watching them.
He clears the lake and hits the Hogwarts ward without slowing down.
He only slows when he sees Hagrid's hut.
As far as he knows, the hut was destroyed in the war and never rebuilt.
Hermione's eyes are filled with concern as they meet Harry's. But there isn't a choice; she's too injured for them to wait. He continues their trajectory to the front steps.
The large doors are already opening and…
Dumbledore stands on the steps.
Harry brakes sharply in alarm and Hermione clutches at him as the broom stops.
"Off!" She demands. "Off!"
Harry helps get her straight and she immediately throws up, vomiting badly over the gravel drive of the school.
Harry supports her but keeps a close eye on the wizard who wears Dumbledore's face.
It's not the same Dumbledore Harry knew though; the robes are a traditional black not the colourful garb Dumbledore liked to wear; his beard is shorter and trimmed close to his face. He's not wearing glasses and his eyes are shrewd and calculating; not hiding his intelligence or observation.
Harry shivers as the intent stare catches his. He knows Dumbledore's probably reading his mind but he can't bring himself to care; he's still pants at occlumency so it's not like he can stop him.
"Harry," Hermione says shakily, "I'm going to pass out now."
Harry breaks Dumbledore's gaze quickly. He barely manages to catch her but he does. His own body protests; too much flying, too many bruises and aches. He holds onto her though and sweeps her up into his arms.
"We need help." Harry says tersely as Dumbledore just stands there. He tightens his hold on Hermione. "Please."
Dumbledore seems to consider him for a long time but it's probably only a moment. "Follow me."
Harry carries Hermione over the threshold and into Hogwarts.