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A Step to the Right
Harry P. & Hermione G. - Words: 48,213 - Rated: T - English - Adventure & Romance - Chapters: 11 - Reviews: 786 - Updated: 02-09-2018 - Published: 17-06-2018 - by CatsAreCool (FFN)

Chapter 4

Truthfully, Harry is surprised that Hermione follows Ariana's order and rests for most of the morning. It's probably a testament to how badly she was hurt which makes Harry's stomach tie itself in knots so he stops thinking about it.

He retrieves his own pyjamas from the chest, his reading for his latest essay and settles cross-legged on his bed while Hermione snoozes.

After their lunch of a warming Scottish broth, freshly baked bread rolls, and rice pudding for afters, Hermione has regained some colour in her cheeks and there's a familiar glint in her eye. She ties her hair back with a flick of her wand. She searches her handbag and comes up with a notebook and pen. She levitates the ball out of the bag and onto the cabinet between the beds.

She sits on her own bed, cross-legged but facing him. Harry mirrors her.

"Right," Hermione mutters, "first question: how did we get here?" She waves her wand and sets the pen to make automatic notes.

They both look at the ball.

"It seems the obvious causal factor." Hermione states. "The ball began humming approximately twenty minutes after we arrived outside of a magical enclave and into a predominantly muggle environment."

"You noticed the humming." Harry recounts.

"Yes," Hermione sighs, "and when I picked it out of my bag it was glowing yellow."

"There was a bright flash of white light and some kind of power surge." Harry remembers. "It knocked us off our feet."

"Not me." Hermione corrected. "The whirlpool opened up below me and I couldn't jump free of the pull." She frowns thoughtfully. "It reminds me of black hole theory; a fierce gravitational pull which is hard to break free from."

Harry nods in agreement. "You cried out for help and I tried to reach you but it was too late." He tries to keep his voice even, to hide how desperate and scared he'd been in that moment. "I jumped in after you."

Hermione smiles gently at him and her eyes warm with gratitude. "I managed to slow my fall when I fell out the other side."

"I did a cushioning spell." Harry says.

"That would have been better." Hermione notes, looking disgruntled she hadn't thought of it. It reminds him of a younger Hermione standing in the middle of a Devil's Snare and wondering how to make fire. "Anyway, I don't really remember the landing but when I came to the wolf was there and…" she looks over to him, "the next thing I know you run in and deal with it before it can hurt me."

Harry shrugs.

Hermione taps her fingers against her chin. "So, we know that the ball and our translocation to what is probably another universe are most likely connected." She looks hard at the ball. "Question two; what triggered it and will it be triggered again?"

Harry's eyebrows shoot up because he has definitely not considered that. "If it does trigger again, remember the cushioning spell."

Hermione lifts her eyebrow but concedes with a grimace. "We don't really know what triggered it, do we?"

"Well, something had to have triggered it because otherwise someone in the Weasley family would have ended up in another universe." Harry points out.

"That's right," Hermione says, "so what do we know about this ball when it was with the Weasleys and what changed?"

Harry can almost see her mind turning things over in her head.

"Fact," Hermione begins, "the ball belonged to Ron's grandmother, Arthur's mother."

"No stories of universe hopping with Ron's grandmother." Harry supplies.

"Before Ron's grandmother was a Weasley, she was a Honoria Crouch."

"And suddenly it all makes sense because that family was completely cuckoo." Harry comments dryly.

"Honoria's mother was Elspeth Gamp, but Elspeth's mother was Callidora Black." Hermione thinks out loud.

"How do you know this?" asks Harry bemused.

"Grimmauld Place." Hermione answers. "I was stuck there for weeks before you arrived. I spent a lot of time in the library talking with Sirius."

Harry suppresses the old hurt about that Summer, about Hermione getting the chance to spend time with Sirius while he had been forced to stay at the Dursleys.

"Anyway," Hermione says, "if the ball is handed down traditionally by mother to daughter, it is very likely that this ball has only ever been in the possession of a pureblood family."

"You're not blood-related to the Weasley family." Harry says.

"Exactly." Hermione says. "My genealogy is a difference."

"And you're muggleborn." Harry points out.

Hermione looks surprised at his suggestion, but she accepts it with a nod. "It's also very likely that the ball has only ever been in the wizarding world. There's a lot of ambient magic in the wizarding enclaves which does not exist in most areas of the muggle world."

"It's also not been used in a generation." Harry says. "Maybe it developed a fault or…something."

Hermione nods again. "I think that's a reasonable theory. We'll add that to the others." She looks at the ball again. "Well, if it was me who triggered it by being near it, I think it would have already triggered again."

"Or it just hasn't got the power to do it again yet; maybe it's charging." Harry notes.

She grimaces but accepts that. "If it's triggered by touch then we'll take the precaution of my not touching it."

"We can also ensure it stays in the wizarding world." Harry says.

"And if it is some kind of fault…" Hermione's brow creases, "actually I don't know how we'd mitigate that." She goes to rub her head but aborts just before her hand reaches where the lump had been. "I really hope it isn't down to a flaw or degradation," she continues, "if it is, it'll be difficult to replicate to send us home."

Harry nods slowly.

"OK," Hermione says determinedly, "let's work through each theory. Let's start with the last one – the ball degraded, was flawed in some way and it resulted in creating a tunnel between universes as a magical accident."

The pen in the notebook labelled the theory 'Accident.'

Hermione frowns. "We may not be able to ascertain whether it will trigger again or be able to replicate what happened, and we'll certainly not be able to replicate with any certainty of getting to our home universe rather than just another variant."

"I'm not liking this theory," mutters Harry.

"It's your theory." Hermione points out dryly.

"That's probably why I don't like it." Harry replies with a grin.

Hermione rolls her eyes at him. "Moving on, the next theory is that the ball was triggered by being in the muggle world for approximately twenty minutes. So, it was either deliberate or accidental."

"Deliberate?"

"Maybe something like an anti-theft spell." Hermione replies absently. "The ball was an heirloom." She grimaces. "Possibly it is an anti-theft spell and it triggered because I'm not in the Weasley line or it recognised I'm not a pureblood."

The notebook scribbles 'Anti-theft' with three bullet points under it denoting the three possible triggers for the spell.

"If it is a spell that would be help us be able to determine a way back." Hermione finishes.

"What if it wasn't a spell, it just reacted to being in the muggle world badly?" asks Harry.

"We're back to 'Accidental.'" Hermione brushes a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. "Right. We've covered the ball was flawed or the muggle world triggered it…that leaves us with genealogy or blood status."

"Wouldn't it need some of your blood to determine you're not pureblood?" Harry ponders.

"It could have just scanned me, that would explain the humming and glow, but that assumes there is some passive way of determining I'm not a pureblood." Hermione frowns. "I don't know of anything which would enable it to do that. Let's face it if there was such a way to test people for their blood status, Umbridge would have been using it during the war."

"She would have been using it at Hogwarts." Harry says.

Hermione gives a snort because it's true. "So you're right; it's probably not triggering because I'm a muggleborn but…maybe because I don't share DNA with the original owner of the ball." She points at it. "I picked it up and touched it. Sweat, skin cells…it might have determined my DNA from those."

"But that brings us back to some kind of anti-theft thing, doesn't it?" asks Harry, shifting a little to ease his muscles.

"Yes." Hermione says. "Or…or it was deliberately tied to me as a person."

Harry regards her for a long moment. "You asked me if I thought Molly had known."

"Did I?" Hermione blinks at him. "I don't remember that."

Her confusion is genuine and Harry sighs.

"You were kind of out of it," he notes, "but seriously, do you think Molly would deliberately booby-trap your present?"

Hermione deflates with a long sigh of her own. "No." She grimaces. "Not really. I mean, she hates that I broke up with Ron and I can't blame her taking his side because she's his mother."

"She's been fine with me." Harry says.

"That's because Ginny broke up with you." Hermione points out. "Molly's probably still hoping that you'll both get back together in the future."

Harry isn't sure that the horror of that isn't written all over his face.

"Anyway," Hermione says, "you're right. I don't really think Molly would booby-trap my present." She pauses. "Well, I think if she was going to do something it was probably charming it to show me Ron at midnight or something like that – not send me into another dimension."

"But if she's upset with you, why…"

"Because she hates Lavender more than she hates me." Hermione cuts in. "And she's always been concerned that I'll get in the way of Ginny dating you; marrying me off to Ron would take care of that."

Harry's not sure his eyebrows can creep any further up his forehead. "What?"

Hermione just looks at him pityingly and points her finger at him. "And that is the reason why she's never had to worry really. You're just oblivious about this type of thing."

He can't argue with that. "Getting back to the ball…"

Hermione shoots him a look which tells him she knows he's changing the subject but she's going to let him. "Right," she takes a deep breath, "there might have been some kind of booby-trap tied to me personally. Unlikely but possible."

The notebook writes 'Vendetta'.

"But if it was tied to me we should be able to investigate and determine a way home hopefully." Hermione finishes.

"So, what's our next step?" asks Harry, changing positions and stretching.

"Well, we need to do some controlled tests on the ball." Hermione says. "I'm a bit dubious about doing anything though until we're both recovered. If we trigger it again…"

"We need to be fighting fit to deal with another trip." Harry agrees.

Hermione nods. "Also, if they can help you with your magic…"

Harry doesn't have to say anything; they both know that any help would be appreciated.

"OK." Hermione says. "Until we're better, the ball goes in a box."

Harry slides off the bed, resizes his wooden chest and pulls out a container.

"Really, Harry, Tupperware?" Hermione wrinkles her nose.

Harry shrugs.

Hermione sighs and levitates the ball into the plastic box. Harry seals it with the lid and with a magical spell for good measure. She transfers it back to her handbag as he shrinks the chest down and ties the necklace back on.

"Next item on the agenda…" Hermione begins.

"There's an agenda?" mutters Harry as he clambers back on the bed.

Hermione simply raises an eyebrow. "What resources do we have?"

Harry sighs. "The contents of my Gringotts vault, the Potter family vault and the Black vault at the time of the ruling."

Hermione chews her lip. "So, a lot?"

"Enough that we don't have to worry about money." Harry confirms. Why they hadn't thought to do that during the war was beyond him.

"Didn't the bank fine you for the break-in?" asks Hermione bluntly.

"They did." Harry confirms. He's pretty certain the goblins had wanted his decapitated head on a stick but they'd settled for confiscating any goblin-made item in the vaults. Mostly the Black vault had found itself stripped of lots of useless but priceless items. Harry figures Sirius would think the whole thing worth it.

Hermione looks concerned.

"It's fine, Hermione." Harry says. "I have enough money." He'd accepted full responsibility for the break-in with the goblins and he knows Hermione's always felt guilty about that. But she'd had few monetary resources without her parents and Ron had little to his own name beyond the gadget Dumbledore had bequeathed to him.

"Well, I do have some money." Hermione says. "I had a small trust fund from my grandfather so I had most of that converted." She sighs. "The rest of my money is in Barclays back home."

Harry thinks about the student account he'd opened. There's not a lot in it – the money is a small amount to pay for his tuition and living expenses.

"Money sorted then." He says out loud.

"We have shelter." Hermione says. "But we're very lucky they've allowed us to stay here."

That they can't count on that hospitality being forever is left unsaid.

Harry pushes his glasses up his nose. "They're also feeding and watering us…"

"…and providing medical care." Hermione finishes. "We're really very lucky."

"We should probably offer to compensate them – rent or something." Harry says.

"Good idea." Hermione nods decisively. "We'll talk with Professor Dumbledore."

A strange look comes over her face as though she's weirded out by talking about a Dumbledore who isn't theirs and who isn't dead. He can empathise; he feels completely weirded out.

Hermione rallies because she's Hermione and she instructs the notebook to turn the page. "What do we know about here?"

Harry blinks. It makes sense to take stock; do a risk assessment. He hasn't though much beyond the immediate need to get help and to appreciate it.

"There's an acromantula nest in the forest." Harry blurts out.

Hermione doesn't spear him with her 'you're an idiot' glare which Harry takes as a sign she's still recovering. "That makes sense because it looks like Hagrid is here?"

Harry shrugs. "I only saw Dumbledore and McGonagall."

He can almost see her lips twitching with the need to correct him.

Hermione pushes her hair back over an ear. "I think I remember seeing his hut though."

"You did. We did, I mean." Harry confirms. He rubs his chin. "I don't think they call it the Forbidden Forest; they were confused when I called it that."

"OK," Hermione gestures to the notebook and the pen obediently writes it down, "what else?"

"Well, Dumbledore obviously." Harry runs a hand through his hair.

Hermione finally moves from her position as she reaches over and catches hold of his hand. "Are you OK?"

Harry's caught by surprise at the way his throat closes up suddenly and the press of tears, the need to just…

The glass of water on the table begins to rattle.

Hermione doesn't let go of his hand as she just closes the distance between them, clambering up onto his bed to envelope him in a hug.

He sinks into her arms for a long while. Breathes in the scent of her, the feel of her alive and warm. Lets the feel of her calm his chaotic magic.

Hermione inches back slowly and he lets her settle them both; sitting on the edge of the bed, side by side, her hand tight in his. She doesn't speak, just sits beside him giving him her strength as he follows his therapy methods; deep breaths, focusing on his senses.

"Sorry." Harry says eventually. He'd holding onto her hand and can't quite seem to make himself let go.

Hermione just squeezes his fingers lightly; enough pressure to tell him she's there with him.

Harry takes a deep breath. "Professor McGonagall looks different; her hair, clothes." He worries at the edge of his pyjama top. "She looked like she wanted to take my broom apart and see what made it tick."

Hermione's shoulder nudges his.

"Also I think she hates divination just the same as ours." Harry says.

Hermione raises one perfectly arched eyebrow in silent query.

"I told them about how you'd gotten the ball from a friend's mother." Harry explains. "Dumbledore recognised the tradition straight away. She was less than impressed."

"That doesn't surprise me." Hermione says. "Professor McGonagall is a very logical woman."

"She's Head of Gryffindor I think." Harry muses. "She seemed to soften a little when I said we'd been Gryffindors."

Hermione bites her lip. "They didn't recognise us?"

"No." Harry says. "I'm not sure…maybe we jumped into a different year? We definitely jumped dates."

"Maybe." Hermione considers. "Nobody knows how other dimensions work but it's reasonable to think that time might flow differently."

Harry presses his lips together. "You already know about Dumbledore's sister being the healer here, although Poppy's still the nurse."

"I remember our Poppy telling me that there used to be a healer." Hermione says. "When the last healer retired, the governors decided to do a deal with Saint Mungo's to send someone if there was a need instead."

"Ariana seems very competent." Harry remarks. "I think her personal history might be a lot different to what happened in our world."

"Makes sense." Hermione says. "Although if she did go through a trauma in childhood like in our world and they have a treatment here…"

"She could have been treated and recovered." Harry breathes in.

Ariana Dumbledore on their world had never recovered from the trauma to her magic when she had been attacked by a group of muggle boys. She'd ended up permanently injured; confused and unstable until the day she had taken a step into the spell-fire between her brothers and Gellert Grindelwald. But if she had recovered…

"Having his sister in his life could have made a huge difference." Hermione theorises matter-of-factly.

"He's definitely different." Harry gives in to the inevitable because he's going to have to talk about Dumbledore eventually. "His clothing isn't…odd. He hasn't got the whole grandfatherly thing either. He seems…normal. I mean, scarily intelligent but normal."

"That's…" Hermione scrunches her face as she searches for a word.

"Mind-blowing." Harry supplies.

Hermione hums. "I sometimes wonder if…" she breaks off before she finishes and Harry looks at her quizzically.

"What?" he prompts when she remains silent.

She moves to angle her body more towards him so they can see each other. "I don't want you to ever think I'm making excuses for him or condoning what he did to you."

His heart starts to pound because they never talk about it.

"He was wrong to do what he did to you, Harry." Hermione says passionately, her soft brown eyes filled with conviction. "He made decisions about your life, about you, all to win a war which he could have prevented years before we were even born. You didn't ever deserve the choices he made for you."

Harry focuses on the tight grip she has of his hand; the steadiness of her gaze. Hermione has been the one friend he's always been able to rely on; the one person who's ever truly been wholly and completely on his side.

Even when he thought she was against him – the horrible Summer after the graveyard when he just wanted his friends to talk to him, to be there for him – and telling McGonagall about the broom in third year – all of it had been to protect him.

He trusts her.

So maybe he can allow himself to believe that she's right; that the way Dumbledore had played with his life hadn't been right; that Harry hadn't deserved it.

"But…" Harry murmurs.

"But," repeats Hermione softly, "sometimes I think he knew what would happen after it was over. Sometimes I think the choices he made at least helped prepare you for that."

For living in the muggle world.

For living with the knowledge that he was feared and hated by many in the wizarding world.

For being on his own a lot.

Dumbledore's choices had left Harry with a lot of scars – many invisible compared to the lightning bolt on his forehead but they'd made him a survivor.

He takes a deep breath. Another. His hand holds Hermione's tightly.

"I think he knew because they'd done the same to him." Hermione continues. "So he hid his intelligence and power behind the façade of a grandfatherly persona, emphasised his eccentricity so they wouldn't look more closely than the colour of his robes. He hid." Her thumb strokes over his knuckles. "But they still turned on him when they didn't want to listen; when they were scared. And in the next breath, still expected him to save them. So, I think he knew."

Harry thinks she's right.

She's always more right than she's wrong, even when she's wrong.

"I don't think this Dumbledore is hiding." Harry remarks.

Hermione doesn't comment on his deflection; she just keeps holding his hand. "Well, maybe things are different here." She sighs. "We need to find out exactly what is different and what's not, especially if we might be here for a while."

"Maybe we could ask for some history books while we're stuck in here." Harry suggests.

Hermione positively beams at him. "That is an excellent suggestion."

Harry clears his throat. "Kitsy."

He doesn't need to look at Hermione to know she isn't pleased with him for using the elf.

"We'd like some history books from the library if we're allowed, please."

Kitsy's ears waggle. "Kitsy bes bringing you some books from the library." She pops away and almost immediately pops back with her arms filled with books.

Hermione finally lets go of his hand – and he ignores how he misses the warmth of her touch – and starts to sort through the books as Kitsy disappears after Harry's muttered thanks.

She clambers back onto her own bed with a thick tome. Harry picks one of the remaining books at random and lies back. His fingers skim over the gold lettering.

"A History of Britain: From Merlin to Modern Day."

He darts a look at Hermione but she's already enthralled in her own reading.

He wants to thank her; tell her he believes her about Dumbledore. Because he can see it. He can see clearly how Dumbledore had taught Harry the truth about the fickleness of the wizarding world; how the Summer exiles might have helped keep him enough in sync with the muggle world that he could return to it without too many issues. But he doesn't because Dumbledore might have done what he had thought best for Harry, but Dumbledore had also treated Harry as nothing more than a pawn, moving him about at his whim at the end of the day.

His heart beats fast again.

He can't think about it; can't allow himself to think about it. So, he pushes the thought away, opens the cover and starts reading.

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