Even though spring had arrived several weeks ago, the nights were still cold and very dark, or at least as dark as London could get. The air was occasionally disturbed by the sounds of police sirens, also expected in the big city. Only up in one bedroom on the third floor of a house owned by sweet old Mrs. Turner did a single nightlight glow, and a young man’s hoarse voice told his sleepy godson a bedtime story.
“...and then your mum and dad, Harry, who were so amazing, knew that they couldn’t keep you safe where they were. They said to you ‘Harry, you are so, so brave, and so, so loved. Live well. Be strong. Be safe.’ And then, they gave you to me, and made me promise to take good care of you for them,” finished Remus, smiling to himself as he pushed Harry’s tousled hair from his closed eyes. “They’ll come back for us someday, Harry. I’m sure of it.”
October 18th, 1997
Harry didn’t really enjoy taking the Tube to and from school, but it really was the most affordable means of travel across the long distance in horrible weather on days like this. He and Remus had never had much, even though he knew that his godfather received a small sum of money every month from Harry’s parents. Most of that had gone toward things for Harry himself, such as glasses and new clothes - he was notorious for getting his jumpers caught on just about anything and unraveling them beyond repair.
The thought of his parents had always brought a mix of emotions over the years. Ever since he’d been old enough not to need bedtime stories, Harry had believed that his parents had either died or abandoned him, and Remus had just wanted to soften the blow with the stories he told about them being so magnificent. When he was a little kid, he dreamed that his parent were heroes, rather like a far-distant king and queen akin to those in the Disney movies everyone was so fond of. Now, however...
Now he knew the truth. Knew that James and Lily Potter were, indeed, still very much alive somewhere, but far from royalty. More than likely they were living in squalor, among the scarce few still strong enough to fight against the less-than-human being who had torn their world apart. Late at night Harry lie awake, wondering what his life would have been like if he had never been sent away, if this Lord Voldemort bloke had been finished off years ago. Remus had told him of the school - Hogwarts - he would have attended if he had stayed with his parents. It sounded like a wonderful place, a place of dreams and golden sunlit days.
But it wasn’t good to dwell on such things; Remus had told him that. The war in their world - their proper world - might not end for another thousand years, if Voldemort truly became immortal. Harry might never meet his parents. The hundreds of thousands of young witches and wizards hiding out in the real world - the Muggle world - would never know that they could have been so much more than the outcasts they became.
The train car shuddered and jerked, snapping Harry out of his reverie. He and several others swayed and nearly lost their balance when the train came to an abrupt halt. The lights went out to a collective groan from the passengers.
“Brilliant,” cursed a girl a few seats away.
It wasn’t completely uncommon for the trains to lose power in storms, but it was very inconvenient, and Harry had never been in a shut-down before. He straightened his glasses anxiously, glad no one could see him in the dark. Within a few minutes a retired soldier took control of the situation, asking for any sources of light to be turned on, please.
Several people pulled out tiny torches attached to keychains, already squinting against the light. Harry turned on his and heard a hiss of pain. He looked up to see the girl who had cursed before - a scraggly thing of around his age - rubbing her eyes against the onslaught.
“Sorry,” he said quickly. She nodded but didn’t take her hands from her eyes. They were trembling slightly. “Are you okay?”
In the half-darkness she lowered her hands to show darkly-outlined eyes. She must be one of those grunge-kids, Harry pondered for a moment. “I’m fine,” she insisted, though her voice was high, shaking, and her eyes looked scared.
Harry mustered a smile for her, wanting to at least be able to reassure someone else if he couldn’t be at ease. “It’ll be fine, this happens all the time,” he explained. “The conductor’ll have us up and running soon.”
She didn’t look entirely convinced, but dropped her hands all the way and smiled sheepishly. Her dark eyes sparkled in the glow from the dozens of keychain torches. Or, at least Harry thought they were dark. It was hard to tell when it was still so hard to see and the only source of light was faintly bluish.
“Do you want to come sit by me?” he asked, feeling a bit shy. “Then I can stop shining this light at you.”
A few of the older people in the train car exchanged knowing looks as the girl smiled again, sliding over to the seat beside him. He didn’t notice; he was too busy grinning unabashedly back. "Do you want to play a game?" he asked hopefully. "You know, to pass the time."
After a moment's consideration she nodded. "Yeah, okay."
After first trying to use inductive reasoning to figure out things about fellow passengers (Harry was rubbish, but his new friend was so frighteningly good at it that she was told off by their temporary mayor), they wound up playing some pre-teen sort of truth or dare called Never Have I Ever. They each held up ten fingers and took turns saying things they'd never dome before but the other might have, and if the other had done it they had to put down a finger, until one of them ran out and lost.
"Never have I ever looked at dirty magazines in the store."
The girl quirked an eyebrow at him and kept her fingers up.
"Never have I ever broken a bone."
Harry went down to nine. "When I was twelve, I fell off my bike and broke my arm. Never have I ever shop-lifted.
Hermione went down to seven, not even having the gall to look embarrassed. "Only once, on a dare. Never have I ever consciously eaten something that would make me vomit."
"Why would anyone consciously eat something that would make them vomit?"
"I had a cousin who was bulimic. Your turn."
"What, you think I'm bulimic?"
"Well, you are rather skinny - oh, never mind, it's your turn!"
"Never have I ever been sick in public."
She grinned and dropped another digit. "Fifteen. Two years ago, on top of the London Eye. Mum and Dad picked a really great time to decide they wanted to split up. Never have I ever had a girlfriend."
Harry laughed at the few indignant looks some of the other passengers shared as he dropped two fingers. "Two girlfriends, two fingers. Never have I ever had a boyfriend."
"Could've fooled me," muttered an old lady sitting opposite them.
Harry gasped, "Doris!" as the others laughed. It had been nearly two hours since the stop, and they were all getting along quite well. He turned back to the girl and saw her practically giggling; it was odd, for a girl who seemed so rough on (what little could be seen of) the outside, with her dark makeup and grungy clothes. She kept her four remaining fingers up. "What? You've got to be kidding me."
She shook her head. "Nope, sorry," she said, still smiling. "Does it surprise you?"
"Well, a little," shrugged Harry. "I mean, you're...well, a bit...perfect."
Even in the dark, he could see her expression soften considerably. "How do you know, if you can't even see me?" she asked in a hushed voice.
Suddenly they were in dangerous territory; Harry could tell by his thudding heart and the butterflies in his stomach. "I don't have to see you," he explained. "If anything, it's better that I can't, isn't it? It's like...it takes the dark to see a person for who they really are. You're funny, and smart, and kind. Who wouldn't be mad for you?"
She didn't reply for several moments, and Harry felt his face heat up in the darkness. "No one's ever said anything like that to me before," she softly replied, sounding very close suddenly.
He could see two tiny pinpricks of light reflected in her eyes, and suddenly wished he could kiss her. "Could I...?" he began, but was cut off when suddenly the train door flew open and a blindingly-bright torch was shining in their faces.
"Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," said the woman in the hardhat and reflective vest. "What do you say I get you lot out of here?"
There was a collective cheer from everyone but Harry and the girl, stunned into silence by the interruption. He didn't even know her name yet.
They were all gathered into a single-file line and ordered to hold hands with the people on either side of them, to make sure no one was separated in the dark. Harry was gladly sandwiched between the girl and Doris, more than happy to be getting out of the dark Underground, but none too pleased with separating from his new friend. He'd never seen her on the Tube before and was worried she'd never come this way again. As if reading his mind, she laced her fingers through his and gave a little squeeze.
It was still raining heavily on the surface, but they were squinting regardlessly against the daylight. The first moment his vision cleared, still holding her hand tightly, Harry pulled the now-damp girl round and got a good, proper look at her, and she him.
She was actually much prettier than Harry had imagined, with brown hair tied sloppily up, strong eyebrows, a pretty thin mouth, and dark eyes that seemed to go on forever. The green plaid button-up draped over her gray vest and baggy jeans hardly mattered. He drank her in greedily, and she seemed to appraise him just as eagerly. He hoped she liked what she saw, since he tended on the side of a scrawny, specky little nobody with astigmatism.
"So," she said loudly over the murmurs of the people jostling around them, looking pleased and a little surprised, "see something you like?"
He grinned, and closed his eyes. "Perfect, just as I suspect-"
Fighting the sinking sensation in his gut, Harry turned to see Remus rushing toward them, looking very pale and worried.
"So your name's Harry?" said the girl like some grand revelation.
He nodded quickly, cold drops of water sliding down the back of his neck. "Harry Potter, what's yours?" he asked, but it was too late.
"Harry, Christ!" his godfather practically shouted, forgetting for a moment that in another world he was a grown man and wrapping him in a hug. "You didn't come home, and then I heard on the Telly that a few trains had crashed in the blackout, and..."
Harry clapped him on the back a few times before gently prying out of his grip. "We're fine, Remus; we just had to sit in the dark for a few hours."
"It was actually rather fun," supplied the girl in a cheerful voice. Harry could see her subtly comparing Harry and Remus' facial features, deducing that they weren't related in any way, just as she did earlier to the other passengers on the train. "My name's Hermione Granger, sir. Are you Harry's father?"
"Godfather, actually," replied Remus, patting Harry on the shoulder once and smiling politely at the girl. Hermione...
She smiled at them both and held out her hand to the older man. "Well, he's a brilliant bloke," she grinned, shaking Remus' hand before turning and offering the same to Harry.
"It was really nice to meet you, Hermione," he said earnestly, tugging her slightly forward and kissing her cheek on a impulse.
She turned bright red despite the freezing rain and smiled a bit dazedly. "You too," she replied.
Harry and Remus hadn't even taken five steps before he heard Hermione's voice, soft as a whisper, directly in his ear, saying: "Oh, kiss me properly, won't you?"
"Um, Remus, I uh, I think I forgot something I, uh, need to get from Hermione," Harry stammered, trying and spectacularly failing to sound casual. "Be right back. Just um...wait here."
He turned back on Remus (who was smirking like he knew everything) and quickly snaked through the people who had filled the gap he left moments ago. "Hermione?"
She was standing right where he'd left her, eyes scanning the crowd shrewdly, and turned to attention when he called her name, surprise written clearly across her pretty face.
He grasped both of her thin calloused hands in his. "Your parents aren't here, are they?" he asked. When she shook her head, he leaned forward and kissed her. Properly. They were both flushed when he pulled back. "Can I call you sometime?"
Hermione bit her lip, now cherry-red and looking very kissable. "I don't have a telephone," she apologetically said, and then grabbed Harry’s face to plant a kiss on his frowning lips. "But I'll be on your train tomorrow-" she kissed him again, "and the day after that-" and again, "and the day after that-" and again, "forever, or as long as you’ll have me."
They beamed breathlessly at one another before Harry left one last peck of lips on her forehead and moved away, to rejoin his godfather in the downpour.