Harry ignores the festive decorations and the very large tree that takes up most of the entrance foyer.
Somehow he isn't surprised to see Professor McGonagall nor that she falls into step behind him. He does note subtle differences; her hair is short and styled into a sharp grey bob; there's no hat; her black robe is open and not buttoned up displaying a stylish grey tweed suit with a matching green blouse. All he knows for certain is that the Minerva McGonagall who occasionally drops in for tea at his flat is not the woman stalking behind him.
There's no sign of the students on their route but Harry figures they must have locked the common rooms down when Dumbledore realised Harry and Hermione had entered the wards. Or maybe there are no students staying over at Christmas – there never had been that many.
Harry mumbles a featherlight charm under his breath as they get to the staircases. Hermione isn't heavy but walking with her all the way to the infirmary isn't easy. He's just pleased that this Dumbledore has allowed them entry as they make the familiar journey.
They clear the infirmary doors and Harry automatically makes for a bed. He carefully places Hermione down gently.
Harry looks up in surprise at not hearing Madame Pomfrey. She's a step behind the witch who asked him the question. A Healer, Harry realises, taking in her green robes and the way she's competently running a set of scans.
"She fell from a height." Harry says cautiously, not sure how much he should share. He probably won't get out of telling Dumbledore, but he's learned to be wary about confiding too much in too many people. "When I got to her, she was conscious but disoriented. She has a concussion, broken arm and some heavy bruising to her right side. Her ankle has a bad sprain. We had to sleep rough last night in the forest so she's pretty exhausted and cold."
"Is the broom yours?" asks the Healer gesturing back at the door where the broom is hovering.
Dumbledore's eyebrows rise.
Harry coughs. He had forgotten about the broom. "Ah, yes. Mine." He whistles and the broom shoots across the room. He shrinks it and puts it back in his pocket.
"I don't believe I've seen that model on the market before." McGonagall comments. The gleam in her eye suggests she's as Quidditch mad as the Minerva McGonagall he knows.
Harry hums but focuses on the Healer. "Is she OK?"
"Yes." The Healer says briskly. "We'll need to keep her sedated while the skelegro takes effect but the rest will do her good." She turns and looks over her shoulder. "Poppy, please can you get her situated and administer the treatments I've specified." She produces a piece of parchment from her pocket, taps her wand against it and hands it to Madame Pomfrey.
"Yes, Healer Dumbledore." Pomfrey replies.
Now he's heard the name Harry can see the resemblance in the nose, chin and the shrewd blue eyes which land on him.
"What's the young lady's name?" Pomfrey asks.
Harry swallows; he can lie but he figures he should be truthful where he can. "Hermione."
The Healer steps away from the bed and focuses on Harry. "You, young man." She waves her wand at Harry and frowns. "You're in considerable amount of pain. Take a seat, please." She motions for him to take the bed next to Hermione and Harry sighs and steps back, glancing anxiously at Hermione as he does.
Pomfrey smiles at him. "She's in good hands, Mister…"
"Harry. You can call me Harry." Harry replies.
A moment later the curtains are drawn around Hermione's bed and Healer Dumbledore is encouraging him onto the bed to at least sit while she does her examination.
"I'm reading a litany of historical issues but the current damage is consistent with a bad fall." Healer Dumbledore reports crisply. "Mostly you're in need of a good meal, a warm bath, and some rest along with a lot of pain potion and bruising balm. You haven't taken any potions since you were injured according to my scans."
"Hermione needed it." Harry says, unaware that his chin has taken on a stubborn tilt.
"Ariana, I would appreciate some time alone with our visitor. There are a number of questions to ask him." Dumbledore interrupts.
It's confirmation that the healer is his sister which boggles Harry's mind for a moment – he really wishes Hermione was awake.
"I'd prefer it if he was clear-headed for our discussion." Dumbledore continues.
His sister pins him with a sharp look. "Healing comes first in this infirmary, Albus. We've had this discussion."
"It's fine." Harry says.
Ariana looks at him searchingly before sniffing and turning back to Dumbledore. "You have fifteen minutes, Albus, and then he will be under my care and you'll talk to him again at my say-so."
Dumbledore simply nods his head. There's no twinkle or sly smile – nothing but calm authority and acceptance.
Ariana huffs and heads back behind the curtain to Hermione.
Dumbledore and McGonagall approach Harry.
"I'll erect a privacy bubble if that is acceptable." Dumbledore says matter-of-factly.
Dumbledore sketches a spell with his wand and in a second the bed and the two professors are surrounded by an viscous bubble distorting everything behind them.
"As we have limited time, perhaps you could tell us exactly what happened to bring you here." Dumbledore says.
Harry nods again. "Yesterday…well, yesterday for us was Hermione's birthday, September nineteenth."
Dumbledore's expression doesn't flicker but McGonagall is visibly surprised.
"We went out to celebrate with some friends and Ron gave Hermione a present from his mother. It was his Grandmother's crystal ball."
"Ah, the tradition of matrimonial Seeing." Dumbledore murmurs.
Harry guesses she also shares the hatred of divination with her counterpart.
"We were walking back to Hermione's flat when the ball started to hum and glow. Hermione took it out of her bag and…" he shrugs, "there was a bright flash of light, a power surge which knocked us for six. Hermione…she called out for help and when I looked at her, there was a whirlpool in the middle of the road."
McGonagall isn't hiding her scepticism.
"She was dragged into it before any of us could grab hold so I followed her." Harry continues.
Dumbledore's gaze seems to sharpen at that.
"The whirlpool tossed us out over the Forbidden Forest…"
"The what?" asks McGonagall.
"The forest?" Harry gestures out towards the window and the forest beyond. "Maybe you call it something different?"
"Minerva," Dumbledore intercedes, "I rather think he has a very good reason for calling it a different name."
"You can't possibly believe this tale!?" McGonagall says bluntly.
"I believe him to be telling the truth." Dumbledore confirms. He holds up a hand to prevent her from speaking. "You fell from the whirlpool above the forest?"
"I broke my fall with a cushioning spell. Hermione wasn't so lucky." Harry says. "We realised with the location and the change of time we'd been transported somewhere else. We just didn't know where. We tried to make it back to the whirlpool but it disappeared."
"And where do you think you are now?" asks Dumbledore intently.
"Another universe?" suggests Harry, scratching his stubble absently. "Another timeline? I'm not sure." His gaze darts back to the still drawn curtain beyond the bubble. "Hermione would probably know."
"And what makes you so certain this is an alternate universe?" questions Dumbledore.
Harry looks back at him and meets his eyes directly. "Because in my universe you've been dead for three years, Professor."
"Well, really!" McGonagall blurts out.
Dumbledore nods slowly though. "He's telling the truth."
"But how can his story possibly be true?!" asks McGonagall. "Travel between universes is not possible!"
"I'd quite like to know how exactly it happened myself." Harry says, running a hand through his hair. He's actually more bothered about how they get home.
"To work such magic is a difficult feat," Dumbledore admits, "but it is not impossible as clearly it has happened. Do you have the crystal ball?"
"Yes, but I'd prefer Hermione gave you permission before I hand it over." Harry says bluntly. "She'll want to examine it herself when she's recovered."
"Smart?" asks Dumbledore, his demeanour breaking for the first time with his visible curiosity and interest.
"Brightest witch of our age." Harry replies.
McGonagall lifts an eyebrow. "You're familiar with Hogwarts. I assume you both attended?"
Harry nods. "Same year; we sorted into Gryffindor." He sees the minute softening of her features as she realises they were in her house.
There's a chime and Dumbledore turns to the outside of the bubble where a blur of green can be seen. He takes down the bubble.
"Our time is up." Dumbledore turns back to Harry. "I don't believe you intend this school or students harm, but I think it would be best to limit your exposure to anyone until we have a better understanding of the differences between our two worlds."
Harry nods again because that seems eminently sensible.
"You and Hermione are welcome to stay, Harry. We will give you as much help as we can to return you home." Dumbledore states, his tone ringing with a finality which has McGonagall looking like she wants to sigh – or roll her eyes.
"Thank you, Professor." Harry says.
"Ariana, if you could alert me when Harry and Hermione are recovered enough for further conversation." Dumbledore requests politely.
Ariana nods her head. "It won't be until tomorrow at the earliest." She gestures towards the infirmary doors. "I'll set them up in a private room near my quarters. The students who remain with us for Christmas won't bother them there."
"Thank you, Ariana." Dumbledore says, and the warmth Harry has been expecting to hear when Dumbledore speaks to his sister finally bleeds through in his tone.
Dumbledore and McGonagall don't dally; they leave with nothing more than a nod of acknowledgement.
Harry is quietly but efficiently bundled off to a bathroom with a house elf. He soaks for a while in the medicinal bath salts Pomfrey handed him when he entered. He's almost asleep when the house elf pops in again with a robe and he's shown to a treatment room.
Ariana enters and nods at him with satisfaction. "The bath helped."
"Lots, thank you." Harry says. "How's Hermione?"
"Sleeping. Her injuries have been treated and we've dealt with the concussion. You did a good job with the splint." Ariana tells him. "She'll make a full recovery in a couple of days."
Harry breathes out, relieved.
She starts to scan him again. "You have some lingering bone density issues, possibly due to malnutrition in your childhood. I'll prescribe a potion for you to take to assist. You're also missing some standard vaccinations for dragon pox and magical measles. I'd like to administer those just to be careful."
Harry accepts with a nod.
"The scar on your forehead is a cursed scar." Ariana says bluntly. "You received this as a child?"
"I was just over a year old. A dark wizard killed my family and tried to kill me." Harry explains succinctly.
"I have some salve which will help it fade. It won't disappear but it will be less distinguishable." Ariana says briskly.
Harry looks at her surprised. "That would be great, thank you."
Ariana pauses the scan suddenly and lowers her wand. She catches his gaze firmly. "Your magic is unstable."
"Yes." Harry says, swallowing hard around the lump in his throat.
"You haven't seen a healer for the trauma?"
Harry frowns. "They told me nothing could be done."
Ariana raises her eyebrows. "They lied."
Harry absorbs that numbly because of course they lied. "When I was told there wasn't a magical treatment, I saw a psychologist – a squib who had been educated in the muggle discipline – on the advice of a friend." He admits. "They've helped." Hermione had been right that the psychologist he'd seen had been able to help Harry find a way to deal with his PTSD, and his magic had settled. But then it was rare he was somewhere it would be provoked.
"We'll set that to one side for now." Ariana says, not unsympathetically but with enough briskness Harry doesn't feel she's pitying him. "You're exhausted and your body is one big bruise. That needs to be handled before we determine anything further."
Harry doesn't argue with her diagnosis.
"I'll send Poppy in to provide your treatment." Ariana says.
He's too used to Pomfrey to mind much when she bustles in, treats his bruising, doses him with potions and forces him to eat two cups of beef broth. Once he's done, he's left to change into a set of plain pyjamas and he's shown to a private room.
Hermione is already washed and dressed in infirmary pyjamas, fast asleep in one bed. Harry takes the other.
For a long while he doesn't think he'll sleep, there are too many thoughts whistling through his head and competing for space in his brain.
He can barely believe they're in a different world, but they must be. Why else would Dumbledore be alive and be so different from the doddering grandfather persona his Dumbledore had assumed? This Dumbledore looks competent and assured; old but with all his marbles.
Harry sighs. He had a complex relationship with his own Dumbledore, and even with the war over for a while, he's not entirely certain he's come to terms with all the manipulations Dumbledore put him through. In the cold light of day, Harry knows his Dumbledore raised him to give his life for the wizarding world. His every decision with Harry had been to lead Harry along that path of self-sacrifice, of believing his own life held little value except for his role as The Boy Who Lived.
He hates that moniker.
He's not doing this, Harry tells himself firmly. He's not dwelling on Dumbledore's machinations and Snape's creepy fixation on his mother or losing Sirius…
He's spent too much time already since the war coming to terms with just how much he had been manipulated; how badly he'd been let down by the adults around him. Even Sirius who Harry loved despite only knowing his godfather a short time…or perhaps it's more truthful to say he loved the idea of Sirius; of someone who would take care of him, love him.
And Sirius had loved him for all his faults.
Harry knows that.
Sirius had loved him.
He blinks back the press of tears.
It's been a horrible, horrible twenty-four hours of surviving some kind of interdimensional whirlpool, barely managing to rescue Hermione and keep her well enough to find help.
That's all it is.
He rubs a hand over his face.
In truth, he knows he's due a meltdown.
Although really the last time he'd had a meltdown it had led to the whole banishment ruling and…
He knows Hermione thinks he's handled it all fine; the truth is he hasn't. But he'd told her the truth; it's nothing more than what he expected. Nothing more than what Dumbledore raised him to expect. The wizarding world's hero one day; it's villain the next. Exiled for most of his childhood and all of his Summers. What does it matter to Harry to be exiled again? At least he doesn't have to put up with the Dursleys anymore.
He hadn't even fought it.
He knows part of him thinks that on some level he deserved it, because he had put Malfoy and his cronies into the hospital.
That first night back at Hogwarts after the war, after the Summer. They'd gone back to finish their schooling. He'd been so angry at the sight of Malfoy. Sitting back at the Slytherin table. Sneering and haughty as though he hadn't spent the previous years cowering to a monster; as though he hadn't tried to kill Harry and his friends. Maybe he hadn't thrown them completely to his mad Aunt Bella when they'd been captured but…
Harry had lost control when Malfoy had tried to start up the same bullying as he always had; when he'd taunted Hermione about the word carved into her flesh when she'd been tortured.
Harry's magic had surged out of him like a tsunami and taken down Malfoy and his friends with a single blast of power. It had probably only been the fact that everyone hates the Malfoys and the Death Eater collaborators which had saved him from prison.
The Healer he'd seen in the wake of it had said there was no treatment.
Maybe they hadn't lied.
Maybe in Harry's universe there wasn't a treatment.
All he knows is his magic hadn't been the same ever since. He can feel it under his skin; he feels it with every move, every thought. Power at his fingertips and he knows the damage he could do with it.
He doesn't fool himself.
He and Riddle had had far too much in common for him to do that. One different choice, one different turn…he could have been the next Dark Lord.
Maybe it's for the best that he's exiled.
Out of the way of temptation to take that step into the Dark.
Although truthfully sometimes he thinks Hermione is the only reason why he hasn't ended up a Dark Lord.
He has a good life thanks to Hermione.
It's not just that she'd bossed him into getting muggle treatment from a squib. She'd sorted getting them a tutor to complete their magical education; organised for them to sit the exams in France to ensure they had an ICW recognised qualification to enable them to keep their wands. And she'd ensured they had learned everything they needed to attend the university too; cramming the years of muggle schooling they'd missed into a year of hell.
But they'd succeeded. He enjoys his law and social science degree. He's thinking about going into social work focusing on at risk children.
He has a future.
It's definitely not the future he'd seen for himself when he'd been younger and foolish enough to believe the wizarding world would be his chance at a happy ending.
It's not even the future he'd dreamed about stuck in the tent during the war; that had been nothing that special. Just a life of peace in the magical world without the threat of Voldemort. A family. A good job and a stable life. Something he'd yearned for. Something he'd thought he might never get.
Open me at the close.
He'd let go of that dream when he'd walked to his death.
And after…maybe dating Ginny had been his final attempt and that had gone up in flames. Literally. She'd set him on fire during their last argument. Magical fire which hadn't done anything more than tickled but fire.
Harry misses Ginny sometimes.
He thinks maybe she's a bit like Sirius in truth; maybe he just misses the idea of her more.
He shifts, changing position.
His back doesn't hurt as much now, he muses. He opens his eyes and looks over at Hermione. She's sleeping soundly, soft snores occasionally escaping her. He hopes she isn't in pain anymore. He had hated seeing her so injured. It brings back too many memories of the war.
There's a flash in his head; screams and blood and Bellatrix cackling.
He closes his eyes tightly as though he can shut out the image.
Harry has no idea how he would have survived the war without Hermione. She was with him every step. He knows if he had told her she would have walked beside him to Voldemort. She's been his comfort and his support in the muggle world.
He knows Hermione's choices have been made with him in mind. Yes, the writing had been on the wall with the revised Muggleborn Act, but before if anyone had asked him to place a bet on who would have a chance of succeeding despite the Act, Harry's money would have been on Hermione. Maybe if he had been stronger, if he'd kept control of his magic, he might have been able to have done something to fend off the law but he'd been exiled before it had all come to fruition.
He doesn't deserve her, but he'll hang onto her as tightly as he can for as long as she lets him.
He snuggles further into the duvet and falls asleep to the comforting snores of his best friend.
Something wakes him.
It's not Hermione although she's continued to snuffle in her sleep. It sounds like…purring.
He blinks and looks across the dimly lit room. There's a cat-shaped lump curled up behind Hermione's knees on her bed. It looks like Crookshanks.
Harry frowns but he's tired and Hermione is safe. He drifts back into sleep almost absently.
The sound of the curtains being drawn back wakes him next. He startles awake so suddenly the house elf gives a small cry and pops away.
Harry rubs a hand over his face and slides out of the bed. He checks briefly on Hermione but she hasn't stirred. He wanders out to the bathroom and follows his usual morning routine. When he gets out of the shower, he finds clean pyjamas waiting for him on the stool where he'd placed the discarded clothes. He goes back to the room, and finds Hermione beginning to stir.
He hurries over to her. "Hermione."
Hermione grimaces and opens her eyes slowly. She smiles at him before comprehension slams into her eyes. She takes a sharp breath.
Harry takes her hold of her hand quickly. "We're safe." He promises. "We're at Hogwarts and we've been treated for our injuries."
Hermione presses her lips together and swallows. He turns and pours her a glass of water, helping her to sit up and sip it.
"Thank you." Hermione says. She checks her previously broken arm. "It still aches."
"It's just healed." Harry says. "Hermione, do you remember when we got here at all?"
Hermione nods slowly. Her gaze meets Harry anxiously. "I think I may have hallucinated."
"You didn't." Harry tells her firmly. "That was Dumbledore standing on the steps."
"But…" Hermione's eyes widen. "Time travel?"
Harry shakes his head. "He's different. I think we travelled to another universe." He pushes his glasses back up his nose. "The Healer is his sister."
"Oh my." Hermione says. "That's…"
Hermione's mind is as always running ahead. "The crystal ball must have had some kind of spell attached to it. We need to examine it."
"I think Dumbledore had the same idea." Harry admits.
Her gaze returns to him and he reads the concern there.
Harry shrugs. "I told him about the ball, the whirlpool thing and how we got injured. I've used our first names only. He's agreed for us to stay here and help us get back home." He motions around the room. "He's asked we stay out of sight of the students and I think it's the Christmas holiday."
"You did the right thing." Hermione assures him.
There's a knock on the door and Pomfrey arrives. She scans Hermione, confirms she's well on the mend, and hustles her away for a bath and treatment.
Harry follows Pomfrey's departing order and gets back in bed. The house elf pops in again with a tray of food. It's a full English, with juice and tea.
"Thank you." He says to the elf who stares at him with oversized eyes, their ears flickering. "I'm sorry for startling you earlier."
"Kitsy doesn't mind." Kitsy replies a little timidly. "If yous be wanting anything, call for Kitsy." She pops out before he can say anything else.
He almost devours his breakfast, but forces himself to slow down and eat properly. He's mopping up the last of the fried egg with the last of his toast when Hermione appears.
She's escorted into the room by Pomfrey.
Hermione gives Harry a tentative smile as she gets back in her own bed.
Kitsy arrives with a tray of food; oatmeal with some stewed berries, some soft scrambled eggs on toast. The elf blushes purple when Hermione thanks her.
Harry waits until she's finished eating before he starts talking. "Dumbledore's sister says there's a treatment for the problem with my magic."
"I thought the healers said there wasn't anything." Hermione frowns.
Harry stays silent.
Hermione sighs heavily. "Why do I suspect the treatment doesn't just exist here?"
"Because you're even more cynical about the wizarding world than I am these days." Harry says.
She snorts but doesn't disagree.
"I hope it is that they just didn't have one back home." Harry's fingers worry the edge of the sheet. "She said she'd talk to me about the treatment later."
Hermione nods. "Good. If they have something to help you that's good."
Neither of them say that it won't make a difference to the ruling. Even if Harry is treated, when they return home he'll still be exiled to the muggle world.
"Hopefully we'll be able to stay until I get it then." Harry replies.
"I don't think that will be a problem." Hermione admits. "I have no idea how we're going to get home and even if we do get help…" she grimaces, "we could be here for some time. I mean, I had no idea there was any kind of magic which could displace us from our own universe."
Harry nods. "We should probably speak to Dumbledore and work out a plan."
"Professor Dumbledore, Harry."
Harry grins at her usual remonstration and her eyes narrow dangerously.
"What's so funny?"
Harry doesn't stop smiling at her. "I'm just really happy you're OK."
Hermione's expression softens. "Me too." Her hand reaches out across the gap between their beds and he takes hold of it, a little surprised at her fierce grip. "I'm really glad you're OK too, Harry." Her face sets with determination. "And don't worry, we'll get home."
"I'm not worried." Harry says truthfully. "I've got you on the case."
She laughs but he can tell she's pleased.
It's going to be OK, Harry thinks to himself; it's going to be OK because they have each other and they've already survived a war and an exile...interdimensional travel should be a breeze by comparison.
But maybe, Harry considers seriously as Ariana sweeps in to scan them again, maybe he shouldn't jinx them.