?

Log in

No account? Create an account
The Assassin's Apprentice

nightlight4833 in realreview

Title: Blink!
Author: nightlight4833
Genre: AU, Romance, Humour
Audience: [Most People]
Pairing: H/D, H/Hr, H/G (in alternate worlds)
Warnings: Slash, femslash, het
Length/Complete?: approx 8300 words. Complete. (Part 1 and 2 are in this post).
Summary: Harry accidentally inhales the fumes of a premature potion that causes him to be transported into numerous alternate worlds at the blink of his eyes. Brought to light are the issues of his "bigger picture".



Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Notes: Beta-ed. This fic is posted at FA.org. Well, the glitch got my fic and failed to be plugged with the Chapter Owls. bugger. So, here's the link: http://www.fictionalley.org/authors/nightlight/B01.html



Blink!

Part 1


It was probably common knowledge among his classmates that Harry did not enjoy Potions. For the most part, that was true - for obvious reasons, such as Snape and stuffing up his projects more than once in a while. But there was a little part of him that liked it. His secret indulgence in Potions stemmed from his hatred of it; his failing in it. His work, clearly not going as well as he would like, left no other choice but to apply his full concentration to the subject. And by concentrating, this meant focusing all his thoughts on it - and nothing else, like the pressures of performing as The Boy people expected him to be; the one Who Lived. So, dealing with Snape and the dreaded subject for a part of the day was not so bad when Harry put it in that perspective. As the years went by waiting for the inevitable, it became more and more relieving to spend a time each day when he did not have to think about his whole future. Only his 'passing Potions' future mattered during those lessons.

Harry caught his thoughts stretching outside the realm of Potions and shook his head to halt it. The heat in the dungeon was to blame, and the masks they now wore at every practical lesson. It made sense, of course, to protect themselves from the incomplete fumes that wafted purposefully to their noses as the source cooked in their cauldrons. But to block out the fumes with their masks also meant blocking out the air they needed to breathe. It seemed ridiculous when Harry thought of it this way. He poked, a little irritated, at the mask over his nose and mouth and attempted to scratch his skin through the cloth.

"Harry, stop that!" snapped Hermione, swatting his hand away from his face. "You're letting the premature potion in!"

"No, I'm not," said Harry in the same pitch then swatted back at her hand in mimicry of her manner. It was one of those days when baiting Hermione never failed to pull him back from thinking of the bigger picture. He sat back and waited to mock affront when her finger would predictably shoot up to gesture at him rudely.

Ron laughed out loud when she did this and attempted to place a consoling hand on her shoulder. She did not buy it, despite her unique fondness of him. She shrugged him off in a huff.

"Just don't even put a wrinkle in that mask, okay?" she said seriously. "Wrinkling creates small openings to your airways, Harry. And small openings to your airways allow the evil incomplete potion to get into your lungs and wreak havoc! Okay?" She returned to watching the cauldron intensely as Harry and Ron sighed in unison, exasperated.

After a while, Harry became irritated again by his mask and craned his neck to slip his fingers under the hem. Just a quick adjustment, he thought, as he yawned in satisfaction. But as his yawn turned into a coughing fit, he knew he'd been too careless in allowing the eager fumes race into his throat and nostrils. He doubled over as he heard Ron exclaim, "He's choking!" and his skin flushed with distress and heat that quickly consumed him.

Harry pleaded wordlessly for help. With teary eyes, he looked to Hermione instead of Ron, who was indecisively shifting from foot to foot at the sight of him, panicking. Hermione knelt on the floor beside Harry and aided him to crouch on all fours and then onto his cheek to be cooled by the stone beneath him.

"Harry!" she cried as she levelled her face with his. "Keep your eyes open, Harry! Stay awake!"

A chill spread under his skin as he strained to do what she had said. He let the rest of his body slump to the ground while he urgently thought: what was happening to him?

"Professor, please!" Hermione yelled as she squeezed his hand, shaking it frantically. "You'll be all right, Harry," she told him, then pleaded for the professor again.

"Now, now, Miss Granger," said Snape in an unaffected tone. His steps clicked on the dungeon floor at a leisurely pace. "Calm is the best kind of help right now; this will be dealt with soon enough. I will have the potion prepared to counteract this effect, of which I had explicitly warned you all about." He paused for a long moment during which Harry guessed he had eyed every Gryffindor who had surrounded them and then smirked knowingly with every Slytherin who had bothered to view the scene.

Harry felt Snape's breath on his cheek as the teacher crouched low to him. Harry frowned at Snape's polished shoes as the professor whispered, "Calm, Potter, is the key."

Snape stood up swiftly with a swish of his robes and continued his hiss to the students, though it was still mainly directed at Harry, who was now trying to summon calmness rather than the urge to retaliate. "To my disappointment, you will not die from this imbecilic act of yours. You will, unfortunately, live and be well as soon as you have been given the draught that will flush from your body those complicated fumes that I had commanded you not to inhale.

"For the moment, due to your unsurprising idiocy, you will, of course, suffer from its effects; that is, for an undisclosed period of time, you will be in a state of instability, where if you but blink for the merest of moments, you will find yourself in an alternate place where you or the beings around you may or may not change in behaviour, form, situation, etcetera. Do you understand me, Potter?"

Harry attempted to nod.

"No!" said Snape. "Don't, even for a second, think of rolling your eyes at me, dear boy. Believe me when I say: blink but a little and you will be transported to an alternate of this time and place."

Harry finished his nod, anyway, but refrained from then on to let his eyes stray from the light that reflected off one of Snape's shoes. Dolt, he thought, then complied out of grudging respect for the professor's authoritative position, and the wary assumption that he knew of what he was speaking.

Harry noticed that as he remained still and calmed himself his temperature levelled to normalcy and his breathing soon settled with it. His choking had just been an effect of the trespassing alien smoke, which had alarmed his body to activate their best last minute defence: coughing excessively.

Harry thought: this man would truly gamble with his life! The realisation of it still struck him harshly even though, without a doubt, he knew of this already. Snape would wait until the last minute to prepare that stupid antidote, delaying all help until Harry was in most need of it! He would wait for hours before he received the draught and, in the mean time, would suffer the potentially harmful effects of those stupid fumes from that stupid, useless potion!

His eyes, not having closed for a while, had begun to tear and his vision blurred beneath the liquid that veiled his eyeballs. The tears of one eye ran over the bridge of his nose to the other eye then rolled onto his cheek and onto the floor. He breathed slowly to make sure that his eyelids did not involuntarily bow, but as soon as he thought of it, they came crashing down, to the delight of his eyeballs.

"N-"

Harry heard the beginning of that negative word and was startled as it echoed eerily in his mind. Hermione's voice was silenced as soon as his eyes were shut and, in fact, the whole world around him was silenced too, as if they had all disappeared from his side. He dared not lift his eyelids yet, for fear of what he might encounter.

An alternate, Snape had said, of the time and place of his surroundings. So why couldn't he hear a word or a shuffle from any of the people around him?

Harry thought that perhaps he was in between the time and place of his alternates; that he was probably in limbo right now until he decided to enter the alternate world. He fervently hoped it wouldn't be too different.

He opened his eyes to a blurred figure.

"-O!" shrieked Hermione, eyebrows furrowed and face so close to Harry's that he was forced to lean back several inches.

"I-" he said, startling at her demeanour and scrambling to remain seated on the bench he was now on.

He blinked again.

"Don't blink, Harry!" said Hermione, still very close to him, but this time without the fury he had just seen in her eyes.

Harry opened his mouth to speak but he was lost for words. He tried again. "What...?"

"Are you all right?" said Hermione anxiously. "We moved you up here while you were unconscious. I tried to get you to open your eyes, but Snape told me it was probably best that you were off somewhere 'in between' because once you opened your eyes, Harry, you would have found yourself in an 'alternate' and then you would have been confused of your surroundings because things won't exactly match up with ours..." She gestured hurriedly with her hands as she spoke and Harry raised his own to interrupt her.

"I opened my eyes-" he began.

"Don't blink-!"

"To see this place and-" He looked around the dim room, at the dull grey floor and the benches that lined the dull grey walls. "Where are we, anyway?" he asked.

"Pomfrey's," Hermione answered, as soon as he recognised it. She held him by the shoulders and said, "Look, Snape's-"

"Not made the draught yet," he finished.

Hermione gave a small nod. "Snape's being really childish about this and Pomfrey has gone to pound it into him that he has a duty to help all students, including you."

Harry rolled his eyes in contempt and blinked.

"Don't-"

He heard Hermione's first word and then the silence that came after. The abruptness of it jarred his mind again and he wanted to take the blink back! But there was no other choice now; he'd have to meet his new alternate. He would just have to quickly blink again and that would take him back to his reality.

He peered at the darkened room. He felt a shove at his shoulders and Hermione's hands clawing at his cloak.

"You love me and so, you sacrifice Ron?" she cried, an accusation in the guise of a question. Her face twisted with anguish as she continued, "I hate you, Harry! And I loved Ron! I'll hate you forever, you bastard!" She shoved him again and he was knocked, unprepared for her full force.

He watched her storm away as his head slammed hard on the wooden surface of the bench, baffled at what he had just experienced.

Blink! He urged himself to do so and was met with brown worried eyes cast over his face - so very unlike the pair he had just encountered.

"There, there, Harry," said Hermione. "You fainted again when you didn't open your eyes straight away." She helped him sit upright with his back against the cold wall. "Don't close your eyes for too long, I think. And if you have to, just blink twice and it should be as if you'd never left here."

"Hmm," Harry agreed absently, still shaken by his encounter with the alternate-Hermione. He was determined not to meet her again and so he was determined not to close his eyes again. He glared up at the ceiling resolutely.

"So what happens here when I blink and go elsewhere?" he asked after a while, carefully glancing at his friend. "What happens here with you?" He observed with relief that she looked attentive and not menacing at all.

"Not much that I know of," said Hermione, curiosity mixing with concern. "I just see you blink and I try to stop you. And then you open your eyes again and here we are." She gave him an assuring smile.

"Huh, so nothing happens," said Harry. "As if whatever I see, wherever I go, that 'alternate' is the only one that exists for everyone else?" He looked up at the ceiling again and pinned his eyes on a spot near the chandelier.

So how does he know that this was his rightful world and not an alternate?

He attempted to answer his own question: For one thing, Hermione, here, was not a psycho. And for another, Ron, who could be heard chattering loudly outside, was clearly alive and well, and not at all what alternate-Hermione had implied.

And Hermione would never hit him like that, would she?

Harry looked at his friend again and saw that she smiled at him supportively.

"Don't you want to know where I went, then?" he asked her finally.

"Oh yeah, of course," she replied, eyes lighting up. "But I thought I'd better not in case I distracted you from your non-blinking state-"

The mention of it made him do it.

"Damn!" said Harry, as he heard the familiar echo of Hermione's voice. "Shit!" he added, as his eyes opened to an angry Ron.

"Fuck yeah, shit!" Ron shouted, advancing towards him into the dim room. "I could smash you right now, Harry! I really want to!"

"Please, no..." Harry said, cringing away. He had never seen Ron like this before. Why were his alternate friends so bent on hitting him?

He would have blinked just then if he had not been so curious of why this was so.

"Ow!" he cried, as Ron's fist collided with his jaw. "Ron, what the fuck?" He only managed not to blink as his hands flew to his cheek. He thought: now would be a good time to leave!

"That's for letting my girl," Ron replied shrilly, "go into that trap where you knew - YOU KNEW - she wouldn't have been able to survive by herself!"

Harry squeezed his eyes shut in the middle of Ron's accusations.

"Harry, you bastard! You can't even admit it! You can't even-"

Harry felt the wind of the oncoming boulder that was Ron's fist and then... nothing - silence - until he mustered the courage to open his eyes again.

Hermione's hand brushed his fringe aside from his pounding forehead. She sighed low.

"Harry, you're working up a sweat here. Are you running laps in the alternates?" she asked in a concerned tone that Harry was so glad to hear.

"I- I just got hit by Ron," he stammered, eyes wide and vowing to keep them that way.

"You what?" said Hermione. "But he's outside-"

"And- and I got hit by you, too, in another alternate." Harry let his distress show as Hermione helped him sit upright again.

"Ron and I hit you?"

Harry nodded.

"But why would we do that?"

He glanced at the spot on the ceiling and then looked at Hermione again. "I think," he said, careful not to blink, "the alternates are telling me something... about some issues... that I might have to deal with... in the future... I think."

"Issues?" said Hermione, sidling closer to him. "But we don't hate you, Harry. Do you... hate us? ...In a way that would provoke us to hurt you?" She glanced up nervously at the ceiling to share his view of the spot that he was glaring at again. "These alternates, Harry, they're just that. They're not real."

"Yes, but-"

Harry's concern for his best friends' alternate disposition caused him to blink.

"Not that the act is such an unusual thing to do in normal circumstance!" he muttered with restraint as he opened his eyes to a darkened figure that peered back at him. He drew back in bewilderment.

"No, not an unusual thing to do at all with such a target," gritted Malfoy. He craned his neck away from Harry and to a closed door, shouting intently, "And if I could, I'd do it again, Madam! Do you hear me?" He spat as far as he could in that direction, though it was impossible to actually get the door. "My fist would be on Potter's horrid face right now, had you not done this to me! By the Dark Lord, what is the point of this?!"

Harry looked down at Malfoy's unbound fists gripping the bench with much intensity. False threats, he thought as he rolled his eyes but stopping short of a blink - Merlin forbid anyone ever found out he was curious to see what was so alternate about this Malfoy. Grand promises with no execution dripped from the boy's threats. Harry deduced this was probably one Malfoy trait that even alternate worlds could not deflect from.

Harry thought, before he left this alternate, he might as well oblige the git with proper procedure. But as he summoned his quick reflexes to do his bidding, he found he could not release the bench from his grip - his fingertips remained pressed to its surface! Comprehension dawned on Harry and Malfoy turned to him with a smirk.

"Eyeing me with your stunned version of a Superhero Death Stare, are you?" He straightened visibly on his seat and looked down his nose at Harry. "Ability to speak: eliminated. Loss of blood: well... in time. What do you think, Potter? A thump on the head should do it?"

"As if things would come to you so easily," Harry retorted.

"Oh, but they do..." Malfoy glanced at a moving silhouette behind the door's window. A wolfish smile spread across his face. "Times up-"

"You two are dismissed. Finite Incantatem!" commanded Madam Pomfrey from her office. And, like bludgers speeding up to meet Harry, Malfoy's fists were on their way.

Harry blinked.

"Ha!" He laughed with some relief lining his smile. "Who's the superhero?" he asked the now absent alternate-Malfoy while Hermione looked at him in alarm.

"Harry, what...?" she said carefully as she peered closely. "What are you talking about?"

Harry leaned away from her scrutiny and let his grin grow wider. "I just bumped into Malfoy, in an alternate."

"And you're happy about that?" Hermione leaned back too, incredulous.

"I thwarted his assault, didn't I?" Harry said. "I blinked before he got me!"

"Oh," said Hermione, "well, that's... all right, then, I guess."

"All right?" exclaimed Harry. "Of course it's all right. I just 'Disapparated' before him and now he'll think I'm really one of those few who are allowed to Apparate in and out of Hogwarts!" He only just managed to contain his mirth to prevent himself from blinking.

"But there is no Apparating allowed within Hogwarts at all..." Hermione looked unconvinced.

It was at this expression that Harry decided he wouldn't bother challenging Hermione's theory, even for speculation's sake. So, he simply said, "Never mind."

"Just be careful next time, okay?" she said with intent. And Harry was tempted to roll his eyes in a very big way. "No, just... just don't wait until they're about to attack and then leave just because you have the power to 'Disapparate'."

"Hermione..."

"Just blink twice like I said earlier, Harry. Don't risk it. You've already been hit twice-"

"And it's done me no harm!" Harry huffed, to which Hermione grew silent. Her expression wavered as uncertain realisation dawned on him. "Has it... done me harm?" he asked in a smaller voice. And when Hermione didn't reply, he asked again, "Do I have a...?"

"Well..." said Hermione, narrowing her eyes to inspect his face, "now that you mention it..."

"Ugh," Harry turned away and glared at the ceiling.

"Just be-"

"Right."

"Blink twi-"

"Sure."

"Pomfrey will be here soon with that draught..."

"Fine."

Harry knew Snape would take his time, and more, just to own the satisfaction of knowing Harry suffered a little longer under his doing - these alternates certainly showed some issues that Harry had been churning over for the past few years.

Well, he thought wearily, the last alternate was really nothing more than a reminder of the hatred that already existed in his reality. But the first three were painful to have experienced; those torn emotions that occurred between himself and his best friends; the jealousy and territorial feelings they would sometimes place upon each other, thus unintentionally leaving one of them out.

Harry had felt left out lately. Now that it was common knowledge that Ron and Hermione were an item, he seemed to have become the odd number three of their once spacious friendship.

He frowned at the spot near the chandelier and blinked.

"You could've left me, but you- you didn't," said Malfoy, his profile hunched low on the bench beside a now bemused Harry.

Time seemed to have come to a standstill at that moment, as Harry fretted over other possibilities that might arise from the absence of a subsequent attack. He sidled away from the unusually soft-toned boy as he was, instead, informed of an escape from a Death Eater's home, whereupon seeing an injured Malfoy, Harry and his friends tended to him and then carried him back to the safety of Hogwarts with them.

Malfoy looked up at him earnestly and Harry strained not to move an eyelash. Had they started war here already?

Malfoy looked at pains to say something more and Harry held his breath and waited.

"Um," said Malfoy, hesitating. "I... thanks... Potter." He gave Potter a smile - to Harry's horror!

What the hell...? Harry frowned, eyes wide. But then, he managed a smile of his own-

What the HELL?!

His mind reeled at the act and went into shock. He imagined it pleading for resignation and he deliberated whether to follow.

He blinked instead, knowing that there was no place like his reality, where he would thankfully stare at brown eyes again, instead of grey ones.

He felt the need to wash his mouth out with soap even though he hadn't said a word to the scariest - no doubt - alternate Malfoy he'd ever meet. His returned smile to the boy tasted bitter in his mouth and that was reason enough. He rubbed the roof of his mouth with his tongue then spat on Pomfrey's dull grey floor.

"Harry!"

Hermione slapped him on the arm and he blinked in confusion. Had he gone back to that crazed alternate-Hermione?

He felt another slap on his arm as he opened his eyes, but this time it was more like a nudge, a friendly one. He breathed in relief and turned to his more amiable companion.

"Nice one, Potter," said Malfoy, nudging him again and grinning at him mischievously.

"Oh, for crying out loud," said Harry, then raised his eyes to the ceiling to keep them there.

It was just as well that this Malfoy didn't seem to want to hurt him, Harry thought, as he listened to Malfoy's irritating chuckle. He didn't plan to blink anytime soon and he would remain here until he figured out how he managed to visit two alternates in succession without returning to his own in between.

Or had he just made that rule up?

As the pattern went, the last one should have been his correct world and this - sitting here beside a disturbingly genial Malfoy - should be the alternate. So that would mean his next blink should bring him back to...

"What are you looking at up there?" said Malfoy, interrupting Harry's thoughts and sounding cheery.

"What?" Harry asked, annoyed, as he snapped out of his contemplation.

"What were you looking at up there?" Malfoy repeated. "And don't give me that look!" He scowled at Harry. "It was your idea in the first place! You skived off and I... but followed." His grin was sickening when it was set in place.

Harry scowled a little more at Malfoy, though he wasn't really paying attention to him anymore; he had gone back to working out the pattern of his alternate-blinking.

"Hey," said Malfoy, after a moment. He looked away from Harry's unblinking stare and broke his thoughts again. "The year's almost up. Do you think Mother will have a fit if I invited you to the Manor over the holidays?"

Get in line! Harry wanted to cry. He'd have a fit first before she does! But instead, he answered, "Er... yeah, she probably would."

"Brilliant!" said Malfoy. "I've been planning to show off the grounds to you ever since we met. But, oh yes, you were too good for me back then and so, you have me now, grovelling for a second time. Thanks a lot, Potter." He mocked a sniff.

Harry observed Malfoy's lively expression as he chattered on and was careful not to blink just yet, even though he had finally figured out the pattern of his alternates and reality. This alternate-Malfoy, though as frightening as the last, was a curious character and Harry, giving way to that same trait, was a little tempted to hold his eyelids up so he could have a little more time with the boy-

Harry startled at the thought and looked purposefully away from Malfoy. He chewed over the thought for a few more moments then he let his eyelids leap to their jobs. He blinked.

"What's up, Potter?" said Hermione in a strange tone.

Harry groaned in frustration and prepared to blink again.

"No, wait! Don't!" Hermione laughed, her hands waving at him at the last moment. "It's me! I was just-"

"Who?" Harry cut in, catching on to her joke. He turned it to his advantage and bestowed her with a blank stare.

"Wait a minute..." Hermione narrowed her eyes. "What's going on...Harry?"

There was no point in carrying on. "Yeah, got you back!" He nodded then laughed as he poked at her. He chortled even more, just relieved to be back in his own reality.

He barely noticed Hermione's girlish attacks on his chest; just aware that he felt like hugging her instead and smiling about it. The issue of being a 'third wheel' seemed almost silly now and the alternates that implied the worst of the situation were nonsense.

He now knew that: clearly, they still cared for him, or they would not be in the hospital wing with him, thus proving their reality would not bring them to any of those alternate situations. And, he also realised, there were so many others outside their circle with whom he could mingle. So, being a 'third wheel' could easily be remedied by extending his friendship to others besides Ron and Hermione.

He stilled Hermione's thrashing arms and hugged her as he closed his eyes. He heard Ron's abrupt, "Hey!" as it echoed in his mind before he opened his eyes again.


Part 2

Hermione's scent had changed. It still smelled familiar, but the person he was now hugging was definitely not Hermione. Another girl, Harry thought as he shifted his embrace slightly. He minded not to blink before he found out who it was, and he also took note that there were some advantages to this alternate-blinking. He smiled onto the girl's neck.

"Oh, Harry," said Ginny in a sugary whisper.

Harry startled back and looked at the door for any brothers who might come running in to tackle him. They were his friends, of course, but they were also Ginny's brothers, and he had knowledge enough to put two and two together.

"What? What is it?" said Ginny, pulling him back to her.

"Oh, um, nothing- Did you hear that?" Harry asked with false ease.

"Nope," Ginny shook her head, "no one; just you and me." She kissed him doubly on his cheeks, nose and lips. "Thank Merlin for that, or we'd never have time to ourselves! When are you going to tell them, Harry?"

He scoffed at her. "When?" he thought he'd say. Then, "You mean they don't know? Why don't you tell them? They're less likely to hit you." Harry didn't know why these words were coming out of his mouth. This was not his reality, but somehow it seemed not unusual to be conversing with Ginny in this way; that if they were actually together in his reality, their words would have been very similar to these ones.

"Oh Harry, you worry too much," Ginny contributed to the dialogue that Harry had predicted. "We're all friends, right? Ron wouldn't care - he's too busy with Hermione. Mum would be delighted, and Dad too. The others would probably pull a joke on you, but you know they mean well. And Percy would most likely write you a letter of thanks. So it's fine, Harry." She held him at arms' length and gave him a smile both assuring and appraising.

"You'll do fine," she added, pulling him towards her again, laughing. "We'll be together forever, Harry. It'll be great, you'll see."

Harry obliged to hug her back then blinked to where Hermione still hugged him.

He kept his eyes open and focused at the dim space ahead of him, past Hermione's hair as he held onto her tight.

So much expectation, he thought, from his friends in reality to that alternate-Ginny who seemed frighteningly similar to the one he knew. She had dug up one of many issues he had forgot about after experiencing in alternates and then resolving in reality the other issues that involved Ron and Hermione. Now, he was reminded again of dealing with Ginny; he hoped he would be able to deflect from that situation, too.

It wasn't really about Ginny, Harry thought in retrospect. He knew he was being too harsh about mainly pinning the matter on her, using her as a scapegoat when it came to finding a girlfriend or the one he would choose to become his family for life. It was just that ever since he was introduced to a group of people who eventually became his closest friends, there was always that unavoidable impulse to 'pair them off'. And since, by some force of nature, Harry and Hermione and the Weasley family became something of an exclusive group, it was unconsciously expected that Ron would most likely 'pair off' with Hermione, leaving Harry, of course, to 'pair off' with Ginny. It was just the way it was. Sorry Ginny, Harry thought with a twinge of shame.

And that was what it was all about! Harry reacted against that shame. He shouldn't have to feel guilty or selfish at all when Ginny's fondness for him was more than he could ever return. He was sure he wasn't some cold-hearted, numbed fool who refused to give Ginny his all; it was because he couldn't. He couldn't feel for her the way she or everyone else expected. He didn't love her that way, try as he might. And yes, he had tried, but to no avail. It was just not in him to give that to her. Harry would rather hurt her now with his rejection of her and see her with someone else who loved her more, than love her now at a stunted level and know that she was being deprived of what she - and everyone else - really deserved.

Harry knew, too, that he deserved that love. And it would feel a thousand times more beautiful with someone he could love in return. Ginny would have to look elsewhere, and it was his wish that he would too. Forget that restricting expectation; the others would just have to deal with it.

Harry nodded inwardly and worried at what other unspoken thoughts might be made solid in the next few alternates. He closed his eyes as he took a breath then opened them.

He was kissing someone. Or someone found his lips and was kissing him. Not hopeful pecks like Ginny's fluttering ways, but deep kisses like forbidden ones, chaste and unreal at once.

It was Hermione and... it was nice. But... wait! Hermione was meant to be with Ron! And... Harry had no right! And... he felt Hermione slip her hands under his shirt, onto his stomach and then slowly across his chest. It was a touch he'd never experienced before - it sent tingles down his spine and along the skin where Hermione's fingers now hovered. They stayed a while on his waist and then travelled down to his thighs, to his knees, then back up again under his skirt.

HIS SKIRT?

"AH!" Harry cried with much alarm, but it wasn't his voice that he heard. The voice had a higher pitch and sounded terribly - TERRIBLY - undeniably female.

"What... what?!" exclaimed Hermione urgently. She jumped several feet away. "I- I'm sorry! Did- did I...? Oh, I'm so sorry! I- I have to go. I... shouldn't have come... We... shouldn't have... Bye, Hetty-"

Harry watched her scurry out the door then blinked to forget it had ever happened, too.

"Harry!"

He turned to see Hermione's face too close to his own. He jumped back with all his might, his eyes very wide not only because he was startled by Hermione's cry.

"Where did you go this time?" she asked him, still very close.

"Step back, will you, Hermione?" he said as he tried to reclaim his personal space. "I just went to a very disturbing place. You were there and I don't want to talk about it."

Hermione clucked her tongue and purposefully pinned his eyelids back with her hands. "I told you not to blink, didn't I?" she said. "There, now don't move. I can stay here all-"

Harry swept her hands away. He blinked.

Grey eyes, this time, were slowly becoming obscured by their proximity to Harry's own.

"Hmph, hmph, hmph!" Harry tried to speak against eager wet lips, wide-eyed.

"Mmm, mmm, mmm, indeed," whispered his partner, boldly embracing him.

Harry tried very hard to escape this entanglement - oh, he tried! But at the same time he couldn't help enjoying this particular situation again. The last alternate, despite its extreme absurdity, had put him in such a mood for it.

He was keen not to blink for a while until he discovered with whom he was intimate. He tried to push the girl back to see her face in full, though not too far for fear of breaking their embrace or for the girl to become a complete blur - he had lost his glasses at the beginning of this Potions mishap. This person smelled nice anyway, Harry thought, so he might as well have some fun with the whole incident rather than endlessly sulking about it.

The darkness really did not aid his quest to discover who this affectionate creature was. And this affectionate creature was so busy planting kisses along his neck that no distinct clue could be heard from them.

Harry resigned to listening intently at the sound and character of the noises to determine who exactly this fellow student was. He also eyed - without blinking - the back of this student's neck, his eyes travelling to the school scarf and cloak - short-blonde-hair-Slytherin!

"Ah!" Harry cried, much like he had done when he was 'Hetty', but to his relief, he sounded very much like himself. The next realisation was a question of preference - whether he would have preferred to be 'Hetty' instead! For what met his own deep male voice was an equally masculine one, sounding just as alarmed as he had.

"What's the matter, Harry?" said-

Malfoy...?! Blink! Blink! BLINK!

Harry did so with all his might and every time he opened his eyes a different scene flashed before him. Still in the same room and on the same bench, but the figures that accompanied him varied and changed positions or locations around the room.

It felt like he was a spectator in front of a series of room-sized moving pictures, watching every image flip and change at his blinking will. Harry carried on that way for a few more moments, blinking away until his unsought-for shock of being intimate with a boy became more bearable.

Malfoy... of all people! He shivered - shuddered inwardly.

Not that he would have preferred another boy in his place!

Not that he would have preferred a boy at all!

Harry thought he needed to blink away several more darkened alternates before he finally stopped at his rightful reality.

"What the hell was that?" Hermione exclaimed. "What was all that blinking for? You know you're not supposed to blink at all." She huffed at him then attempted to pin his eyelids back again with her fingers. "Stop fighting me, Harry!" she continued. "I'm doing this for your own good - stop it!"

Harry soon gave up his swatting and folded his arms to his chest instead. Hermione held him with determination.

"You know how stupid we look, don't you?" he said resignedly.

Hermione raised an eyebrow and simply sighed out loud.

He sighed, too, just as loudly. Then gave her the most baleful stare he could muster.

"Oh stop it, Harry," she snorted. "Madam Pomfrey will be here soon with that antidote. And if anyone can get it from Snape, she can. She'll slap him silly and he'll comply if he knows what's good for him."

The sinister smile that spread across her face mildly amused Harry. But he didn't really want to comment on it at that moment - or anything else, for that matter - so he maintained his stare instead.

After some moments' observation, he finally noted, "I can see myself in your eyes," then added, "I'm all brown and curvy."

"Hmm," Hermione replied, "good for you."

"Can you see yourself in mine?" Harry pestered; the room had become more silent than he was comfortable with.

"No, I can't," Hermione said dismissively. "They're too light for my reflection to be seen."

"Well, maybe you've just discovered that you are, in fact, a vampire," he suggested.

"Oh, shush!" She tweaked his eyelids lightly before she conceded. "They're green - I can only see myself vaguely."

Harry nodded in triumph as she took a closer look, seemingly taken by his topic. But soon, he flinched as he was reminded of his alternate encounter with her, and by the thought of 'Hetty'.

"Er, well," he blathered. "If I had my glasses on you'd be able to see yourself on my lenses!" He paled noticeably as the details of their alternate intimacy ran amok in his mind.

"What's the matter now?" Hermione frowned with renewed concern. But to make light of it, she added, "You seem... a little nervous..."

Her attempted tease made Harry flinch again and, over her snicker, he quickly said, "It's not you! It's just... something-that-happened-in-one-of-the-alternates-I-visited."

"What happened?" Hermione's attention snapped back.

"It was nothing! ...I-kissed-you-and-you-kissed-me-"

"Oh..."

"And-I-was-a-girl-but-"

"You were a girl?"

"Yes, but-"

"Was I a boy?"

"No, you were... a girl too-"

Hermione burst out with laughter, calling for, "Ron, Ron!" at every interval. But before she succeeded in summoning him and carrying on, Harry cupped his hands over her mouth and did not let go until her remark, "Harry's got something to tell you!" was reduced to ineffective muffled sounds.

"DON'T let go of my eyelids," he whispered to her harshly as she moved to retaliate. Her eyes widened then narrowed as she scrunched up her nose in distaste. Then she stuck out her tongue against Harry's palms and was granted her request. Harry yielded with an, "Ugh!" wiping his slobbered hands across his robes.

Hermione didn't miss a beat taunting him with a mock leer. She said, "So how was I, then, Harry? No, wait - how was I from, um... girl-Harry's perspective?"

He was mortified by this question, but even more so by the confusing thoughts and emotions he had 'naturally' felt during that alternate time...

Could he keep his thoughts buried in his mind forever? Or should he just give Hermione the privilege of knowing it all... and the one after?

Well, the latter alternate would certainly shock her more than the one she knew of now; it would be entertaining to her, at least!

There was also the prospect of stewing over those alternates alone in the next few days if he did not voice them now, to someone else. He was already beginning to wonder if any of it was significant at all...

Of course not! They weren't significant in the least! These alternates - they meant nothing! Surely, what he felt during those times belonged solely to his alternate-selves?

"They were just alternates, Hermione," he repeated, more to himself than to her. He took a deep breath as he raised his chin, moving her hands up with him. He very much wanted to believe: "I felt whatever my alternate-selves 'naturally' felt. Whoever that alternate time expected me to be, I became."

"Yes - a girl," Hermione snickered unashamedly.

"Yes. And then I was with Malfoy." Harry smirked back, hearing the gasp that shot out of her mouth.

"As a girl?" she exclaimed. Then, after a moment, "Were you a girl with him, too?"

Harry was horrified at the thought!

"Oh! Was he a girl, too?" Hermione was relentless. It was too much for Harry to bear - she was, oddly enough, close to the truth.

Hermione laughed out loud with such abandon that he thought she might soon drop from the bench for not taking breath at all. Amazingly, she kept her hands in place atop his eyelids and he wasn't able to blink despite the wind of her laughter crashing onto his bared eyeballs. She continued to laugh as Harry's eyes began to tear.

"He would have made the prettiest girl though - right, Harry?" Her mirth subsided like the eye of a storm as she questioned him pointedly. "Prettier than that cow Pansy, I'm sure," she added with certainty. "Come now, Harry, you were with him - was he pretty?" And by the increasing shrugging of her shoulders, Harry knew she was about to dive into her second round of laughter.

He might as well tell her, he thought. She would either: laugh, choke on her gasps and die, or gasp, look surprised and die. Both scenarios seemed promising; he would tell her, she would die, and none would be any wiser. Harry sighed at his wishful thinking then resigned to the inevitable.

"No, he wasn't," he said, carefully blank. He wondered earnestly at Hermione's reaction as he mumbled, "We were both... guys, still."

Hermione brought her mockery down to a chuckle. Then, feeling the warm blush over Harry's cheeks, she eventually composed herself, ending her giddiness.

"So..." she said with a final cough as Harry watched her, guarded, "that must have been quite an experience..." She fought to keep her smile from becoming a grin again, though unsuccessfully. In a very small voice, she said, "How... how was he, anyway?"

"This does NOT leave this room, all right?" Harry half shouted his reply.

"No!" she said quickly, "No way!" Then she crumpled up clutching her side, unable to contain her amusement any longer.

"It hasn't anything to do with me!" said Harry defiantly as Hermione released his face. "It's not funny!" His eyelids came down immediately upon release, as they should have done ages ago.

"Harry, don't close your-!"

"...eyes are so green, though it's much too dark in here to really notice..." Malfoy sidled closer to him and Harry felt a trickle of hushed tones caress his ear.

Blink! He did so, quick as his heartbeat.

Brown eyes were a good sign, Harry knew, as Hermione stared anxiously into his eyes again.

"Are you back?" she asked needlessly.

"Yes," said Harry. And to be sure, he held his own eyelids up from his eyeballs.

"Ouch - that could do damage, you know," said Hermione, teasing him with a smile. "It's okay, Harry - even if I do say a word, it still won't be true. It was an alternate, as you said; nothing more."

"Just get Pomfrey in here already," grumbled Harry, resting his elbows on his knees.

"Fine," said Hermione, still amused, then left to do his bidding. "Love you, Harry," she paused at the door, "though not in the way where you and I were girls and-"

"Shut it!" shouted Harry.

"Or when Malfoy was your-"

"His what?" Ron chirped from outside. He persisted, "His what?"

"Nothing!" they both replied simultaneously.

"Nothing - it never happened," repeated Hermione to Ron, though she winked indiscreetly at Harry. He only managed to eye her meaningfully, limited as he was, and watched in relief as she pulled Ron away from his curiosity.

"Harry has the right to deny them all," echoed Hermione's answer to Ron's, "Tell me what happened!"

Deny them all... Hermione's words rang through Harry's mind as he pressed determinedly against his eyelids. Refuse to acknowledge the alternates...? Sure, he can! They never really happened - as she had said. Not the alternate with 'Hetty' and Hermione. Not the few others with 'unmentionable person'.

What in Merlin's beard was that stupid potion about, anyway? What in Merlin's robes were in those fumes that punished unassuming, obviously breathing students like him? Harry wanted answers, but knew it would be a pointless endeavour, since the damage had already been done. And mulishly, he also knew he should have paid more attention to the Potions Master, who had explained the technical reasons as to why the premature fumes gave such effects. He would have to ask Snape about it later - first and foremost: what kind of potion were they actually making? Harry cursed at his admitted incompetence for the subject. His resolve to fully focus in that class had given way, not surprisingly, to the bigger picture.

And what a 'bigger picture' it was! The alternates had actually given him a perspective on his life he would otherwise not have had if it weren't for the fumes. The first three, with alternates Ron and Hermione, had given him caution on how to deal with their friendship both in school and out of it, when the war began. The next few, with reality-similar Malfoy and Ginny, reminded him of who he was and the certain expectations they, and the rest of the world, had of him. Those alternates only saw him for who they thought he was and will be, already writing him off as an enemy to kill or a saviour for life. Like some opinions in Harry's reality, they were adamant about their values and not really willing to see if he might take another path or go against a typical route. Such expectations only repelled Harry more from obliging to them, though some, such as being the one to kill Voldemort and consequently becoming a 'saviour', were admittedly unavoidable.

Those earlier alternates, Harry understood. But the later ones, he could not fathom. Where had they come from? The depths of his thoughts had clearly been unknown to him until now. Kissing a girl as a girl, and then being with a boy as a boy; it was certainly true that those acts were not at the top of Harry's conscious mind. But to let it surface only now, when other matters became so much more demanding? How was bringing it to light going to help Harry and Dumbledore's side win the war? From all angles, he really didn't see the point.

However... Harry tried to push the oncoming thought back down, and cringed at what his mind was about to divulge next. However... he had felt a twinge of clarity when he was in those alternates. That clarity may only have been his alternate-selves' emotions, but as he recalled the feeling now, he was unable to distinguish his real thoughts from his alternate ones.

Were they really just alternates...? He questioned the motive of the premature potion fumes. Was there something in it that truly affected his mind in reality; had it altered his mind? As far as Harry knew, he did not prefer boys, nor did he want to be a girl... so, why these new sensations? Maybe it was his fervent wish to escape from others' crushing expectations that caused the alternates to simply take it to the extreme...?

At length, he guessed he would mull over those experiences in particular, long after he'd considered the rest. Mull and avoid 'unmentionable person', he deduced, for as long as wizardly possible.

"No, Miss Granger, I cannot dose him with Forget-Me nuts as well as this antidote," said Madam Pomfrey, striding into the room with Hermione and Ron in tow. "It would not mix well, I can tell you that." Harry sat upright on the bench with his hands still on his eyelids, his elbows pointing towards the approaching figures. He opened his mouth to receive the first spoonful of the blessed antidote. Then he received another and another, as Madam Pomfrey continued, "Mr Potter's mind has had enough to deal with that to meddle further would cause inexplicable damage."


--End--

Comments