Harry wakes slowly.
Noise filters in first. The sound of a page being turned in a book, the dry brush of paper against a hand.
The feel of the bed is next; the familiar feel of Hogwarts' sheets against his skin; the comforting weight of a blanket.
The faint smell of jasmine perfume identifies Hermione before he opens his eyes.
He blinks back the usual blur and reaches for his glasses. They slide into his hand and he puts them on before he shifts and takes in the setting sun; the orange glow lighting up half the room.
"Water?" asks Hermione, already moving to pour him some.
There's a lingering cherry taste in his mouth and his tongue feels thick. He sips the water gratefully.
"Thank you." Harry grimaces at the rough tone of his voice, the rasp in his throat.
Hermione sits back down beside the bed and retrieves her book. "You can rest up for a while longer. Professor Dumbledore has arranged for us to eat in his quarters with Lord Black and Lord Potter."
"Right." Harry nudges his glasses up so he can rub his eyes.
"How are you feeling?" asks Hermione almost tentatively.
Harry drags a hand through his hair and considers it. His magic feels calmer; it doesn't crackle under his skin anymore. He can feel it still but rather than waves which battered against the inside of his skin, it feels more like the vibrant ripple of a running stream.
"Good," Harry admits out loud.
Hermione breathes in sharply, relief flooding her face and loosening the tension he hadn't realised she had.
"The books say an average treatment for an adult male is six treatments," Hermione tells him, "It may take longer if the wizard has above average power."
Harry nods. Ariana had explained as much to him. He had been taken aback by her estimate that he would take twelve treatments. He didn't think his magic was that powerful. He shook his head as though to clear it.
"Obviously you'll take more than the six treatments," Hermione continues, "according to the book, the first treatment is the only one which causes you to sleep. All the others should just be taking the potion."
Harry blinks at her and he realises she's read up because she's worried. "Healer Dumbledore explained it all."
"She didn't explain anything to me." Hermione's fingers clench white against the book. "You were really out of it, Harry."
Harry reaches for her hand and he's thankful she reaches back. "I'm OK."
"I know," Hermione admits, "and I know Healer Dumbledore doesn't mean you any harm, it's just…"
"You've been watching my back since we were eleven, Hermione," Harry points out dryly. "I know you've got my back here too."
Hermione blushes but her fingers remain tight on his. "Me too," she says. "I know you have my back, I mean." Her eyes take on a mischievous glint. "Although for the record I was twelve."
"You looked out for me on the train," Harry retorts cheerily, "I distinctly remember being told to change."
Hermione snorts in response.
Harry simply grins back at her; she gives in and smiles back at him.
Hermione squeezes his hand and lets go of him. She sets her book aside and nervously brushes the front of her top. "Talking of looking out for each other…we should talk about…" she blushes again, "about the whole being married thing."
"Right." His mouth is dry again and he reaches for the water. He sips some and places the glass back on the bedside cabinet.
Hermione fidgets with the edge of her sweater. "I just want…that is…"
Harry's eyebrows rise because he doesn't think he's ever seen her so tongue-tied.
Hermione suddenly seems to clue in too because she blows out a frustrated breath, gets up and throws up her hands. "This is stupid," she says as she paces to the end of the bed and back again. "We're adults. We should be able to have an adult conversation."
Harry just nods because he knows better than to poke her when she's in full steam.
Hermione sits down again. "Right." She sweeps a stray strand of hair back behind an ear and determinedly makes eye-contact with him. "This world has a completely different view of sex, magic and intimacy." She pushes at her hair again even though it's fine. "Professor McGonagall came to see me while you were asleep."
Harry's eyes widen in alarm.
"Don't worry, she was fine," Hermione says quickly. "Professor Dumbledore apparently called her into his office to tell her we were married, but she'd worked out we weren't…"
Harry isn't too surprised at that.
"…because she pointed out that I wouldn't have received a crystal ball on my twenty-first if I wasn't unmarried," Hermione continues. "Anyway, she came up with a way to explain that away – apparently crystal balls are a popular gift for newly-wed women here, something about showing them how many babies they'll have," she wrinkles her nose, "she convinced the Headmaster to let her talk to me about it all." She points at the stack of books on the table on the other side of the room. "She also brought me some books."
"So, it's not a sexism thing," Hermione explains a touch tersely. "Not all of it anyway." She makes an angry wave. "I mean, there's still a double standard where men are expected to be men and come to the marriage bed with experience, but women are meant to be virginal and untouched."
Hermione sounds disgusted with that and Harry hums his agreement in support.
She sighs. "The muggle world here is pretty much on target for the same historical period in our world, unmarried partners are now accepted there and women are becoming liberated with the introduction of the pill, but unfortunately as Professor McGonagall explained it to me, the magical world does have a good reason not to follow the same path."
She rubs her forehead and Harry waits patiently for her to continue.
"This family magic thing…" she sits forward, her eyes glowing with intelligence and passion, "all magic here is interconnected. They value the magic as a gift. The family lines are very strict about who is a part of their line because the addition of someone else's magic has an impact."
"Sounds a little like the whole pureblood nonsense," Harry mutters.
"Actually, new magic is considered a boon," Hermione says. "There was a period of history where wizards would steal muggleborn to raise in their own family lines."
"I must not have got to that part of the book yet," Harry says.
"It was outlawed by the Wizengamot in the early eighteen-hundreds," Hermione comments. "Apparently there was a plot to kidnap the daughter of the King and they realised they were seriously putting their world at risk."
Harry scratches his scar absently. It looks like the family magic thing had altered a lot of history.
"Anyway," Hermione says, pulling them back on topic, "Professor McGonagall explained that magic is considered to be a gift of the mother. Women are revered which unfortunately leads to a lot of overprotectiveness on the part of the men." She crosses her arms tightly over her chest. "Decades of overprotectiveness later and…it's still the tradition that women don't risk giving their magic away by being intimate with a lot of men."
"So not sexism?" repeats Harry.
Hermione sniffs. "Apart from the double standard, mostly no. Women have the vote and are accepted into the workplace here long before our world. They hold some really key positions. Griselda Marchbanks is actually Chief Witch; Professor Dumbledore gave up the position when he became a teacher here. Women here…we're respected," She sighs heavily. "But the whole sex before marriage thing? That's considered to be dishonouring their family magic."
Which really put into context how much of a scandal the whole Narcissa and Remus thing would have been if it had been made public.
Harry sighs and banishes the thoughts of the discussion he'd heard to the back of his mind.
"So, Professor McGonagall thinks we've made the right decision," Hermione says. "To, you know…"
"Stay together?" Harry supplies.
Hermione bites her lip but she nods. "That's probably a good way to put it."
Harry shrugs. "I don't mind if you don't." There's an odd feeling in his chest; a twinge of…something. Possibly an after-effect of his treatment.
"I don't mind," Hermione says quickly, another blush brightening her face for a moment.
She shakes that off though and Harry recognises the look on her face as the 'we need to get serious' now. She'd worn it just before reeling off her plan for them to go to university.
"We need a backstory," Hermione says. "How we met, first date, kisses," she blushes again, "everything."
He suspects she's worked it out while he was asleep. "Okay."
Hermione retrieves her notebook and flips to a section with a frown. "The Professor suggested we keep to the facts as much as possible."
"Sounds sensible," Harry says.
"I think we should leave our history the same until the moment we went back to Hogwarts after the war," Hermione looks down at her notebook. "That would only leave us having to rewrite what happened after the war."
"If only we could," Harry jokes.
She offers a brief sad smile before returning to her notebook. "I don't think we should tell them about the official exile."
Harry nods. They have no idea how this world would respond to that.
"I think we just say it became apparent your magic had been traumatised by the war and they'd recommended you return to the muggle world and live as much as possible without magic." Hermione taps her finger against her lips.
"Makes sense." Harry comments. That had been the advice. Even if it had come in the form of a trial and a banishment ruling.
"Of course, as your best friend, and as a muggleborn, I'm determined to go with you," Hermione says. "I think we just say…" she blushes again, "we say we got close and…we started to see each other as something more," She looks over at him. "What do you think?"
Harry thinks he can imagine it all too easily. But Hermione has never looked at him the way she'd looked at Ron. And Harry had never let himself go there because of Ron.
"I think that's believable," Harry says when he realises Hermione is waiting impatiently for him to reply.
"Good," Hermione says, "that leaves us with the details. I thought we could say…"
"What about my nineteenth birthday?" Harry interrupts, startling Hermione into looking at him again.
"My nineteenth birthday," Harry says, "we went for the weekend to Brighton, remember? Because you were appalled I hadn't really been to the seaside before except for Shell Cottage."
Hermione smiles, affection beaming from her eyes. "You were like a little kid."
"And at the end of the day, we went for that walk, picked up some fish and chips and ate them out of the wrapping down by the beach," Harry reminds her.
Hermione nods, still smiling. "It was a lovely day."
"So, what if we had our first kiss then?" asks Harry.
Hermione's eyes widen a touch before her smile turns into a grin. "That's perfect." She takes a quill out of her handbag and scribbles something out on her notebook. "It's much better than what I came up with." She looks up at him with an eyebrow raised in challenge. "What next then?"
"We date," Harry continues confidently, ignoring the heat on his own cheeks. "We have our coffee dates, go to the cinema, have dinner, meet up with friends…" he shrugs, "what we usually do."
Except they've done all of that as friends.
Hermione is nodding though and writing in her notebook. "Good. That's good. We don't even have to make up anything." Her eyes suddenly gleam with amusement as she looks over at him again. "How did you propose?"
Harry almost swallows his tongue. "Propose?"
"Yes, propose," Hermione reiterates. She smiles primly, her eyes alive with mischief. It's a good look on her.
Harry rolls his eyes at her. "Hermione…"
"Oh, come on!" Hermione says, gesturing at him. "You did really well with the getting together." She looks at him as though to say 'get on with it.'
Harry swings his legs around and sits on the edge of the bed facing her, thinking hard about what he should say.
"You remember the last night of Uni in June?" Harry says quietly.
Hermione smiles at him affectionately. "Oh God! That truly awful party!"
Harry nods. It really had been truly awful between the loud music and drunk students. Neither he nor Hermione had been comfortable. They'd ended up back at her flat. They'd drank cheap cider; had devoured a giant pizza together. They'd watched the telly, moaned over the nonsense of soap operas, and finally had clambered out onto the roof through the skylight.
Harry drags his mind back to the present. "We're up on the roof and…and I propose just after midnight."
"And I accept," Hermione says softly.
They simply gaze at each other for a long moment.
Harry clears his throat. "We're engaged so I guess the wedding's next?"
Hermione nods. She looks down at her notebook. "I have that it was a small wedding at my family church. Just friends and…" her eyes go shiny for a moment before she collects herself, "my parents were there."
"Of course they were," Harry says consolingly.
She sniffs and shakes her head. "It's stupid," she murmurs. "They hate me."
Harry slides off the bed and reaches for her. He pulls her out of the chair and into a hug. "It's their loss, Hermione. You're brilliant."
Hermione gives a muffled laugh but she hugs him back tightly.
Eventually she steps back and swipes at her eyes.
Harry hands her a handkerchief and rests back on the bed. She does the same and blows her nose noisily.
"We honeymoon in Brighton and I turn twenty." Harry nudges her shoulder gently.
Hermione looks at him gratefully. "That sounds good. We marry the day before your birthday; that's easy to remember." She takes a deep breath. "So, we're happily married for all of a month and a half and then…"
"Crystal ball and whammy into another universe."
Hermione breathes in. "Perfect."
Harry's pleased too. It's a good solid story. His heart twinges as though it skips a beat. He rubs at his chest and grimaces as he finally takes in how sweaty he feels under his clothes.
"I'm going to grab a shower," he says.
Hermione nods. "Good idea," she motions at the door, "I'll take one too. We should probably dress for dinner."
Harry sighs but she's right. He heads out and spends a glorious fifteen minutes under the hot spray in the shower. He puts on his glasses as he dries off. He shaves and looks in the mirror, examining his face to see if he's missed anything.
"You look good, dearie," the mirror tells him brightly.
Harry smiles back at the mirror and turns to take off his necklace and open the chest. He searches through his belongings pulling out a decent pair of dark grey trousers. He teams it with a shirt Hermione had bought him when they'd had to go to a formal dinner at the university. It was good quality and a deep maroon colour. He fastened the cuffs with another Hermione present from the Christmas before; magical cufflinks with the Potter crest on one and the Black crest on another. He puts on a tie of dark grey, pulls on socks and shiny black leather dress shoes.
He's dressed except for…
He reaches into the chest and pulls out a dark wool grey wizarding robe in an open style. He shrugs it on and adjusts the fit. He straightens up and looks again in the mirror to deal with his hair.
The mirror tuts at him. "Bit of a mess that."
Harry can't deny it. His hair has always been a bit of a mess. He just hopes it looks like a fashionable mess.
He makes another trip into the chest and takes out the box with his ring. There had originally been two; one from his father and one from Sirius. When he'd put them both on they'd merged and the result is a gold band, an onyx setting and an entwined etching in gold and silver of a griffin and snake curled around each other with a ruby eye. He slides the ring onto the ring finger of his left hand where it would be if he was truly married.
He's about to close when the chest when he stops. He reaches inside and pulls out another small box. He sets it aside, shrinks the chest and reties his necklace, adjusting to hide it under his shirt. He picks up the box and heads back to the room.
Hermione isn't there but her handbag is missing and he assumes that she's getting ready. The sun has set and the night sky fills the window. Harry looks out for a moment before he closes the curtains and lights the magical lamp on the cabinet.
He sits in an armchair, putting the box to one side, and picks up his abandoned book. He's barely read a chapter when Hermione comes back in.
She looks beautiful.
She's wearing the dress which complements his shirt; a deep maroon knitted dress with a scoop neck and long sleeves which clings to her curves before flaring, falling in soft folds to her ankles. She has matching maroon high heels which look incredibly flimsy. She's also got a matching dark grey robe over the dress, left open. Her hair is swept up into a complicated braid up-do. She's wearing the pendant.
Hermione fidgets as she finishes closing the door, setting her handbag onto her bed and Harry realises she's probably waiting for him to say something.
"You look beautiful," Harry says sincerely.
Hermione smiles as she brushes a hand down the front of her dress. "Thank you." She waves at him. "You look good too."
"I should," Harry teases, "you bought me the outfit."
Hermione rolls her eyes and takes the armchair opposite. "We should probably talk a little about the etiquette here."
Harry doesn't bother to hide his wince.
"Professor McGonagall says there is a certain decorum expected." Hermione lectures briskly. "You'll need to bow your head when greeting a Lord or his heir. It is not expected for you to shake hands unless they offer."
Harry nods because he knows he's not getting out of hearing the whole spiel.
It takes another five minutes before Hermione winds down but Harry has paid attention. He knows how to interact with who they're meeting enough he hopes that he doesn't let Hermione down.
"Do you really think my…James Potter will be there?" asks Harry.
"Professor McGonagall certainly seemed to assume he would be," Hermione says. "It would be unusual for a Lord not to have their heir involved in such an important discussion."
Harry swallows hard.
It's been one thing to peek at this world's James Potter, it will be another thing to meet him.
The thought hits him like a thunderbolt. If Lord Potter bring James, it's likely that Lord Black will expect his own heir to attend and that's…not Sirius.
Sirius's father maybe.
Harry almost sighs with relief. He has no idea what he's going to do if he sees this world's Sirius. James Potter had been his father and Harry has talked with his ghost but his love for James is childish, rooted in the want of a small boy for his father. But, Sirius…
Sirius had been flesh and blood. He had loved Harry in the all too brief time they'd spent together and Harry feels again the rush of guilt and pain which always accompanies thinking about Sirius. Sirius had died fighting to save Harry, and Harry has never forgiven himself.
He starts as Hermione slides a hand over his and he catches it before she can withdraw.
"Sorry," he says.
"I know it's going to be hard on you," Hermione says. "Seeing them."
"They're not the same people," Harry says.
Hermione simply squeezes his hand.
They sit for another moment before Hermione brushes her thumb across his knuckles and gives a tiny tug.
"It's almost time; we should make our way to the Headmaster's office." Hermione rises but Harry keeps hold of her hand.
"Just a second."
Hermione stops and frowns at him quizzically. "Harry…"
Harry gets out of his chair and retrieves the box he'd put on the cabinet. He turns back to Hermione and smiles crookedly.
"I know this isn't our world and our story is just that a story, but…" Harry opens the box. "They don't wear rings but we do and I thought…I would like you to wear this."
Hermione gasps and one hand flies to touch her lips as she gazes at the ring he's revealed. It's the female equivalent of his own; gold band, black onyx and the Potter griffin curled around a silver snake. It's more delicate than his; the only difference to denote the smaller and more feminine hand this ring is meant to adorn.
Her eyes fly back up to him. "Harry, I can't," she says, her voice rough with emotion. "You should save that for when you find the girl you want to marry."
Harry catches hold of her hand and squeezes it. "Who deserves it more than you right now? You're my best friend. You've saved my life a dozen times and you've always had my back. I want you to have this. It'll give you the protection of my house and of my wand no matter what's said tonight."
Hermione breathes in tremulously. "Harry." She searches his gaze and she seems to find what she needs there because she gives a nod. "How can I say no, Harry? You're my best friend too and…" she takes another quick breath. "I accept. I'd be honoured to wear your ring and be a part of your house for as long as you want me there."
Harry lets go of her hand just enough to retrieve the ring and cast the box aside. She holds her hand out and he slides the ring onto her finger. Harry grins at Hermione and lifts her hand to drop a chaste kiss on the ring.
There's a rush of magic which rushes over both of them and leaves them breathless.
"Is that usual?" asks Hermione.
Harry shrugs. "I don't know." He's pretty certain Hermione has a stash of books somewhere in her handbag which she'll interrogate for an answer at some point.
Hermione smiles at Harry. "Come on. We'd better be going."
"After you, Lady Potter-Black."
Hermione gives a low chuckle and drops into a curtsey. "Thank you, Lord Potter-Black."
They're both laughing as they leave the room.