Chapter Three: Whatever Else There Is
Waiting kicked his way through a pile of wilting red flowers in annoyance. His attempts to make his own blossoms had failed, but he had kept at it for hours. Now, he was irritated with his new friend--who could change blades of grass into multi-colored fronds and form bouquets with them, the show-off--because she would not even consider the suggestion he had just offered.
"No. That's absurd."
"Why? Why should it be? If you can grow all of this simply by wishing for it, then why couldn't you just will a doorway out of here?" Waiting asked, throwing himself down next to the exasperating girl.
Wondering groaned and pulled herself off the ground where she had been lolling comfortably. The soft grass on which she had been lying was bent into an impression of her form. And a trail of broken grass marked the progress of Waiting's pacing. With a thought, she had the fronds standing again, and was pleased.
"Because I just don't think it works like that."
"Have you tried it? I tried it, and now I'm here with you."
"But you wanted to leave."
Waiting seemed unprepared for her remark. "You mean to tell me that you want to stay here? Without people? Without, well, without whatever else there is?"
A dark emotion shuddered through her and she realized that she was frightened. "I don't think that there is--I mean to say that I don't think everything out . . . There is good."
"Havers! Weren't you yellin' for people a while back? I'll bet there are lots of other people, somewhere, just waiting. Yeah, just waiting, like me!"
"Wouldn't you rather I try and make birds again?"
Wondering's attempts to create the feathered creatures had succeeded in producing butterflies. At first, she and Waiting had been excited to see the delicate insects. Some of them were ornamented by silver filigree frosting green wings, while others had red wings traced by the glimmering of gold. But as soon as two butterflies of different colorations met in the air, they began tearing each other apart. The fighting had convinced Wondering that the insects came from the Outside, that she had not made them. It was an unsettling notion.
"Nah," said the boy. "I think I've had enough of this game."
"What do you mean?"
"I think I will try and find a door."
"Yeah, I think I should. I know that there is something out there, and I want it. I want to see it. . . . Don't you?"
She didn't know. She thought not. Periodically, strange waves of . . . magic wafted in from the place beyond the unmarked graves. The energy made her feel frightened, sick, angry, frustrated--it hurt to name these feelings as she experienced them--so she had drawn Waiting deeper into the Quiet by playing a game of Making. Unfortunately, her friend was not as adept at it as was she, and Wondering had begun to suspect that Waiting would belie his name at any moment and leave her.
She was thinking of ways to entertain him when she heard the sound of shoes scraping the trunk of a tree, and then "Goodbye, Wondering!" and rather a lot of leaves rained down upon her head. She sank into the grass and willed herself not to cry, considering as she did so that Waiting had grown the only thing he could in her garden: impatient.
"Come on, my dear, that's right--just one more big push. One more!" Poppy exclaimed.
"You . . . said . . . one . . . more, TWICE!"
"One more, dear."
"AGH, make up your mind, DAMN you. Don't LIE to me. How many MORE?"
"Oh, here's the head now!" Molly said excitedly, popping back to the head of the bed and taking Hermione's hand. "Squeeze as hard as you like, and really scream this time, dear--that always helped me.
"Push harder, my dear. You're doing so very well," Poppy added encouragingly.
They are entirely too cheerful. I must kill them. "OUT! OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWT!"
As the grass browned and receded and the flowers disappeared, Wondering pulled herself into a sitting ball and withdrew behind the curtain of her hair. She was scared to be alone, and she did not feel the springtime running through her veins anymore. Flashes of sound and pictures assaulted her, the most disturbing of these involving the waxy, frozen face of a boy who she knew was dead. She rocked herself and tried not to cry.
"I'm sorry, Cedric. I'm so sorry."
It did not surprise her that she was talking to someone she did not know, someone about whom she knew nothing. Such things happened all the time since Waiting had . . . stopped.
But of course she could not keep a friend--she knew that she did not deserve one.
"I must have done something really bad to you. I must be here as punishment," she whispered to the unknown boy, tears beginning to slide down her cheeks.
She was crying. He had made her cry.
"Perhaps I should not give her anymore of this particular potion," he said to Albus.
"Nonsense, Severus. It's working. You're bringing her closer to us."
The headmaster's words were not reassuring.
Hermione's screams were drowned out by the lusty first exhalations of a plump baby boy with a shock of red hair.
"Oh, Ginny, isn't he beautiful?" asked Mrs. Weasley. "Ginny? Ginny!"
"Don't mind her. I made sure to charm the floor so that it would not hurt when she 'left us'. She's looked a little green every since Hermione's water broke," said Poppy, taking the child to a small basin and gently cleaning him.
When the baby was swaddled, she brought him to Hermione, and Molly helped the young woman hold her son for the first time.
"Oh, you are Mummy's gorgeous boy, aren't you?"
Poppy beamed at the quieting boy. "He looks like he'll be a grand sleeper, my dear."
"That sounds like an excellent idea, really," the new mother replied.
She awoke to the sound of singing, a soft croon, a giggle, a snatch of song--the welcome noise was being made by the distinct shape of a plump little boy being swung by his arms gently between the less-certain, taller figures on either side of him.
"Hi!" the child exclaimed. "I've been looking for you for ages!"
"You have?" Wondering asked, rising slowly to her feet.
"Yes! Did you know that there were doorways into places filled with mountains of chocolate and other yummy things?"
She smiled, and replied, "That does sound very nice. Have you been eating sweets?"
The boy did a cartwheel away from--his parents?--and then landed in a cheerful pile at Wondering's feet. "I can eat anything I want to--after I clean my plate, of course. I can sail in boats and I can play pirates with Daddy and I can learn spells from Mommy and I can have lots of playmates, too!"
The figures behind the boy shimmered slightly, but remained difficult to see. From them, however, the young girl could sense only a calm joy. The boy radiated an aggressive happiness that she envied.
"And what's your name, then?"
He giggled. "Don't know--haven't picked one, yet. Mommy calls me her butter-tummy, and Daddy says that I'm a hero, but I think I might like to call myself Neville."
A thrill of recognition shuddered through Wondering. "I've heard that name before, I think."
"Well, good! I don't want to pick a name no one's heard of!"
"No, dear," a softly amused voice said behind the boy. "His name is Sedric, but it's spelled with a C."
"See? It's confusing! But that's okay because he knows you and he's a good pirate-fighter and he can fly in the air and he's my friend!"
"I am, Harry."
She turned to look behind her and saw the dead boy's face attached to a living body, a body that was steadily approaching her. "No!" she yelled, shrinking away from the distressing sight.
"Oh, wait! That's not right," said the little boy. "Mommy! I did it wrong again!"
The scent of incense trailed the maternal figure as she approached the living spectre of Wondering's memory. "Here you are, then. That's a love," the boy's mother said, passing a hand over the apparition's face.
"Harry? Can you see me more clearly, now?"
"Why do you keep calling me that?"
"Wasn't that one of the names you found?"
"Yes. . . . How do you know about--"
A happy litany interrupted the girl. "Ice cream! 'Nilla and chocolate and strawberry and toffee," called Neville, who was swinging between his parents again as they walked away.
Cedric laughed. "He's practicing. Little boys and girls usually try to make everything a sweet at first."
"But, but isn't Neville older?" she asked, beginning to remember that she had once known a boy by that name.
"Yes, and if I hadn't wanted you to recognize me, I'd look different. But Neville is where he's happiest, and he couldn't be bothered to switch."
"I don't understand."
The boy extended his hand, and said, "Come with me and I'll help you to do just that."
"Come with you where?"
"Do you trust me, Harry?"
Oddly enough, she did.
"Yes," she affirmed, taking his hand.
Tall bushes surrounded her all of a sudden, and her body . . . shifted. Suddenly, there was more to her on bottom, less on top, and she whirled suspiciously on Cedric, wand drawn.
"Where'd this come from?"
"Look," the boy instructed her, gesturing to a clearing amidst the maze.
And there she was, a he, with Cedric and a cup. The memories came so fast after that for Harry that he--she--it was all so confusing--found herself sitting in the middle of the path cradling her head in her hands and sobbing.
She had failed to notice that her breasts were back, and an older version of Cedric was holding her. When his age difference registered in her mind, she clung to it, rather than the scene of his death.
Because I was responsible for his dying, wasn't I?
"No, you weren't. No, Harry. You didn't kill me."
"It should have been me, it should have been me, it should have been me . . . ."
The light embrace of Cedric's arms hardened into a painful one, and it made her focus.
"Why are you so old now?"
He laughed. "I'm not. This is just the way I saw myself before I died. When you pass beyond the Veil, you take the form you've given yourself."
"Are you all right, then?"
Harry's voice caught in her throat. "Why do I have a girl's body, but a boy's name? Why was Voldemort trying to kill me? Why did you come and show me--"
"Shh," Cedric said, laying a finger on her lips. "Oh, I'm sorry, Harry. I thought that you'd remember if I showed you, but I guess that part's not up to me."
"I remember what happened with you, just not why," she said, feeling lost, but numb. "I don't understand any of this, Cedric."
He considered her a moment before replying.
"But do you believe that it wasn't your fault?"
"No," she admitted.
"Well, in that case . . . Harry?"
"I forgive you."
"Yes, I forgive you, Harry, and I want you to stop blaming yourself for my death."
"No. You have to stop because if you don't, I won't be able to ever completely leave . . . the place I was. All right? Promise me?"
"You know about the Outside?"
"Sure, I've been watching you there for a long time. . . . So, Harry? Do you promise?"
The boy's face was kind, his voice firm, and his body warm. She knew he really was Cedric, even though beyond the experience of his death she knew nothing else about him. But he was real. He was present. He was not asking her to do something unreasonable. She expected she could say yes and mean it, so she did.
Cedric smiled. "That's great, Harry," he told her as he stood up.
Harry stood, as well, and asked, "Do you know how I can find a door?"
"Where do you want to go?"
She was still trying to think of an answer to that when she realized that she was alone again--and she could not remember what the older boy had called her. But none of that really mattered, as she was yet standing in the middle of the maze and possessed with the certainty that she could trace her way out of it. Her path was clear--melting globs of ice cream formed a trail for her.
"Thanks, Neville," she called, beginning to find her way.
A child-like voice echoed in her ears, "Eat with your hands!"
She laughed and bent down to take a dollop of strawberry ice cream from the ground, and as she did, felt an inexorable pull in the pit of her stomach that dragged her down into a rich pink watery current.
She did not have time to wonder what was happening.
Hermione sat quietly next to Harry's bed holding her baby to her breast and examining her friend.
"He misses you, you know," she told the other woman. "He misses you, and it's killing him."
Albus Dumbledore walked slowly toward Hermione, so as not to startle her.
"Good evening, Miss Granger. How is Percy feeling?"
"Hungry," she responded, laughing. "He eats constantly."
"Weasley boys are as famous for their appetites as they are for their hair."
Hermione stiffened a bit, and her son whimpered.
"I apologize, my dear."
"There's no need for that."
"I know that it will be difficult for you. . . . I'll do whatever I can to make things bearable, until--"
Eyes filling with tears, the young witch detached her baby from her breast and handed him to the headmaster so that she could adjust her clothing.
"You've done more than I could have ever imagined, professor. There is no need for you to apologize."
"I might have seen it coming and stopped it, had I not had--"
"Other things on your mind? Like the work of the Order, Harry's destiny, the attacks on Hogwarts, the rise of a madman, the health of your . . . friend? That you've managed to spare a thought for me and Percy and Ro--that you've managed to--"
"I'm sorry, Hermione. I'm sorry that I did not prevent it."
The young mother took her baby from Dumbledore's arms.
"Merlin knows you're not a god, sir. I'll wait. And I'll be all right. . . . I understand what happens next."
Excellent, my girl. That is more than I can say for myself, Albus thought, smiling slightly at Hermione before taking his leave of her. "Try and rest."
"Of course, professor." I've plenty of time for that now, don't I?
When she surfaced, she found herself reclining in a bed and blinking into real light. Sunlight. No. Moonlight. Yes. She thought she remembered that there were moons. And one was spilling light into the room in which she found herself even now. It did not alarm her to find that there was a man standing at the foot of her bed, a tall man with longish hair and a short beard, and, from what she could see of his face from the shaft of light that spilled across it, he was deep in thought. Focusing on his eyes, which were closed, she was surprised to hear the echo of a thought--only she knew it was not hers.
"Happy birthday, Harry," a treacle-coated voice resonated through her mind.
Thank you, she thought back. Am I Harry, then?
The man's eyes snapped open, and a rougher version of that rich voice filled her ears. "Harry? Are you--have you? POPPY!" he yelled, coming around the end of her bed to sit beside her.
The man's face looked worried and ecstatic and angry all at once. Harry wondered how it was possible for one person to contain so many feelings. She was just getting ready to ask the man about it when he gathered her up out of the bed and embraced her.
You smell like tea, she thought, feeling oddly comforted. I like it.
The man pulled back abruptly, but laid her back on her pillows gently. "Harry--"
"Oh, you're awake at last!" an excited woman said, coming to sit on the other side of her bed and pulling the tie to her wrapper tight as she did so.
"What time is it?"
"What month is it, more like. Oh, Harry, I'm so glad you're awake," the woman said, beginning to examine her.
The man, Harry noted, had stood up. She tried to follow suit, but when she attempted to sit up on her own, the world began to swirl before her eyes and she fell back. She had to close her eyes against the dizziness.
"Don't try to get up, Harry. You've been in a . . . a healing trance since December. It's going to take you a bit of time to become reoriented to consciousness."
"So, I am Harry?" she asked, finding it difficult to think and becoming fascinated by the back of her eyelids. Pretty sparks. Follow the colors.
"Poppy?" the man asked. He sounded scared.
"It's all right, Severus. She's only just fallen asleep--into a true sleep."
And a healing trance isn't true sleep? was the last thing Harry thought before her thoughts stopped forming in her mind.
"I thought you might be back here," Harry said.
She had grown used to the fact that she had a boy's name, a girl's name, and apparently many honorifics. A bewildering number of people had come to see her in recent days, but none of them were as welcome to her as the tall, dark, taciturn man whose name, she had learnt, was Severus Snape. He had asked her to call him Severus, but it seemed . . . inappropriate somehow.
"Yes, Miss Potter?" he asked, turning away from the view afforded him by the large window at the end of the Infirmary corridor.
"Do you always look like a pirate?"
Snape snorted. "That is the second time in my life that I have been told I favored a pirate."
"Well, you certainly dress more like a monk than a buccaneer, but there's a little swash in your buckle."
Her comment took him completely by surprise, and Snape found himself actually blushing, but recovered quickly.
"Only a little?" he asked in a mock-offended tone.
"You're too subtle to be a pirate," Harry teased, laughing. "But wicked enough, I'd imagine."
His expression clouded, and she felt him withdraw on more levels than she could understand.
"Oh, I apologize. I shouldn't flirt, but I'm so frustrated! No one will tell me anything, except that I've had an accident that scrambled my brains, and that the best way to unscramble them is to just be patient."
"And you are not patient."
"You say that as though you know for sure. You must know. You do know me, don't you? You wouldn't come to see me if you didn't. What happened to me?"
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Fine, don't answer," Harry said, turning away from Snape.
"No, I am in earnest. Would you like to join me in my chambers for a cup of tea?"
"In your chambers? You'd like to drink tea in each one, or one in particular?"
Snape looked amused, and smirked at her as he said, "I had in mind drinking tea in my sitting room, which may be of interest to you."
"So I've made it as far as the sitting room, then?" she responded with an impish grin.
"Miss Potter, if you're to be a guest in my private suite, I expect that you'll be on your best behavior."
"Then you had better have chocolate biscuits, hadn't you?" Harry asked, taking Snape's arm.
"Yes Sir, Professor Snape?" asked the house elf after immediately popping up in front of the pair.
"Miss Potter and I will be taking tea in my chambers. Would you--"
Dobby disappeared and reappeared before Snape could finish his request. "Tea is all ready. Dobby has put out all of Harry Potter's favorite things--and yours, too, he has, Sir!"
"Very good, Do--"
But the house elf had gone again before the man could complete his sentence.
"He seems to like you," Harry remarked, tilting her head up so that she could see Snape's expression.
He was about five happy inches taller than she, which was only one reason that she had found to like him.
"Your memory will return to you one day, Miss Potter. When it does, you and I will have a great deal to discuss."
Not long after, the Potions master and Harry found themselves tucking into a rather thorough "tea."
"I suppose he's right," Harry said, swallowing a bite of a large ham and cheese sandwich.
"Who is right about what?"
"Dobby. You are on the thin side."
"The house elf is only doing what you told him to do."
"You asked him to take care of me before your . . . accident."
"Here," Severus said, handing the young woman a letter.
Harry put her cup down and took it, reading it quietly to herself. "Voldemort."
"Does the name mean anything to you?"
"Yes. This was your home for awhile. Is anything familiar?"
"Only you," she said, suddenly shy of him.
He sighed. I had hoped that--"
"Where did I . . . sleep?"
"You and I were not . . . lovers, Miss Potter. Because of my duties during the war, because of my . . . involvement with the person responsible for much of what happened to you, I looked out for you while you were a student here and before you began training as an Auror."
"Ah. We seem to have been good friends."
"We seem to have been."
"In truth, I haven't any idea what to call what we were--what we are--to each other."
Harry did not speak for a long time, and Severus began to wonder if it had been a mistake to tell her even as little as he had.
Considering the softness of the parchment that indicated it had been much-read, Harry asked, "Professor?"
"Yes, Miss Potter?"
"I imagine that when I get my memory back, we will have a great deal to discuss."
Neither of them could fathom what the other was thinking, to the great relief of both.
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