"It's not easy for me to talk about," Harry said.
He was suddenly conscious of the way Hermione was staring at him. They were sitting on opposite ends of a couch that he had to admit was actually more comfortable than the ones in the Slytherin common room.
Hermione smiled encouragingly, but that only made it worse.
Looking down at his hands, Harry said, "Things have been happening to me for a long time...since before I came to Hogwarts."
"The visions," Hermione prompted.
Harry shook his head. "In a way. I wasn't entirely truthful."
"I could tell," Hermione admitted. "I've known you for years, Harry, and every time this subject comes up you get all tense and angry looking."
Harry frowned. He hadn't been as good at concealing his emotions as he'd thought. It hadn't been very Slytherin of him.
"I doubt anyone else would notice," Hermione rushed to say, "After all, you're usually pretty tense. It's just that you get...more tense than usual."
She'd been watching him; it made Harry wondered what other things he'd been telegraphing to whoever was observant enough. Was someone in Slytherin making regular reports to their Death Eater parents?
Or was it that he tended to let his guard down around Hermione, too much so sometimes?
"I've had a secret that I've kept for a long time," Harry said. "One that I've only ever told to Dumbledore, and that only very recently."
She stared at him expectantly and didn't say anything. She leaned forward, as though she thought he was ready to blurt it out.
Harry sighed. "Dumbledore thinks that when Voldemort tried to kill me as a baby, part of his soul attached itself to mine."
Obviously that wasn't remotely like what she'd been expecting to hear from him. Harry had no idea what she was actually expecting. She'd been working with limited and inaccurate information, so there was no telling what kind of scenarios her fertile mind had come up with.
"He'd been using really dark magic to anchor himself to the world, using pieces of his soul placed in objects. When he tried to kill me, his soul was fractured enough that part of it split off and lodged inside of me."
Hermione looked up at his scar. She stared at it for a moment before looking back down at him.
"What does that have to do with the ability to see the future?"
"You remember the prophecy," Harry said. It was a statement and not a question. The prophecy was something that every Wizard in Britain knew and even some who didn't live in Britain. Harry had been asked about it by some of the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.
Hermione nodded. She knew all about the prophecy; she'd probably been studying it since they'd become friends to find a way to get him out of it.
"Neither of us can die," Harry said. "Not until certain conditions are fulfilled. As long as the pieces of his soul are out there, Voldemort cannot truly die. As long as I am connected to him, I am anchored here as well."
Hermione was silent for a long moment. Glancing at her, Harry thought she looked as though she was choosing her words carefully.
"Are you saying you are both immortal?"
Harry remembered what the horcrux had told him. Could they both become immortal simply by refusing to kill each other? He wasn't sure and he was afraid to ask Dumbledore for fear that Dumbledore would think he was faltering in his resolve.
"In different ways," Harry said. "If his body is killed, he floats around like a disembodied wraith until he can find a new body to inhabit. What happens to me is somewhat different."
Hermione leaned forward even further, far enough that Harry wondered if she was going to fall off the couch.
Harry took a deep breath. There wasn't any way to sugarcoat what had been a fact of his life for more than half the time he had lived.
"I time travel when I die."
Harry stared at the floor. It was difficult enough to talk about without looking at her.
"If I die, my spirit travels back in time to an earlier point in my life. I wake up with memories of what happened in the future."
He glanced over at her.
She was staring at him as though he'd grown two extra heads.
"Are you sure that you aren't just having really vivid visions of the future?" Hermione asked. "Like what you told me in the first place?"
Harry shook his head. "There aren't any Seers in the Potter family line. Even if there were, that's not how prophecy works. They get flashes of images; a lot of times they don't even get to remember what they have said. I remember every last detail."
"It's not how time travel works either, Harry!" Hermione said. She scowled. "I was offered a time turner in third year, but I decided it was irresponsible to use it just to take more classes."
He'd convinced her that neither divination nor muggle studies would be worth her time that year. She had since thanked him for it; she would have hated both classes from what Harry understood. Divination seemed mostly like a fraud, and Muggle studies was so full of inaccuracies that she'd have pulled her hair out.
"Time travel is dangerous Harry," Hermione said. "There was a woman who actually erased people from the timeline just by walking around a few centuries back."
For a moment Harry considered asking her how they'd even figured that out; she'd have certainly looked it up. However this wasn't really the time; he'd have to remember to ask her later.
After all, if the Unspeakables could really know when the timeline had been changed and how, wouldn't they have come after him already?
"It's not like I have a choice," Harry said. "It just happens."
"Dumbledore agrees with this interpretation?"
Harry nodded. "He was the one that explained it to me. I had no idea why it was happening; I just knew that it had."
She was silent for a long moment.
"How many times?"
"What?" Harry asked, although he had a suspicion about what she wanted to know.
Hermione looked away from him, staring into the fire. "If you've died before, how many times has it happened? Once...twice...?"
"Ten times," Harry said. "And there were some close calls on top of that."
She didn't speak, but her hands tightened on her lap. She looked away from him and she didn't speak for a long moment. Her entire body looked tense.
Harry frowned as he thought back. "I've been stabbed a couple of times, thrown under a train, crushed by a troll's club, been crucio'd and avada kedavra'd, had my intestines exploded, killed by a basilisk, crushed to death by a crowd, blew myself up...oh...and decapitated."
"How can you be so casual about it?" she asked."You talk like it's nothing!"
"It's been happening to me since I was ten," Harry said. "And I've been getting better at keeping it from happening."
Harry glanced down and saw that she was twisting her robes in her hands, which were tense enough to be almost white.
"And you remember everything about it?"
"And it hurts?" she asked.
"Every time," Harry said. "Except for the Avada Kedavra. That actually wasn't as bad as the others."
Hermione laughed; the sound was a little hysterical. She sounded shocked, and she still hadn't looked back at him. Harry found himself wondering just what she was thinking.
"I guess asking which way is best to die isn't just an academic question for you," she said.
Harry shrugged. "I keep hoping for in my sleep, of old age, but it doesn't feel like I've ever going to get there."
"How much time?" she asked.
He knew what she was asking immediately. "Two years, near enough. Sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's an entire school year."
She stiffened and finally looked at him. "Is that how you keep getting ahead of me?"
Harry found himself grinning at her. It was so much like her; in the middle of talking about death and resurrection she was outraged about grades.
"I knew you had to have something; you just aren't that smart!"
Hermione seemed to realize what she'd just said, and she put her hand to her mouth.
"It's not that I don't think you are smart...it's just that you always seem to know everything even before the teachers teach it. Nobody is that smart."
Tom Riddle had been; that was why Harry had to work twice as hard to be half as good. His only chance was to keep working to catch up until he finally did.
Frowning, Hermione said, "So you've been reliving the same times over and over again...doesn't it get boring?"
Harry nodded emphatically. "You think history of magic is bad the first time? Try going through it over again. Even McGonagall class and Flitwick's can get pretty boring, and they're the best teachers."
"It'd drive me crazy," Hermione admitted. "I love school...I'd hate to be stuck in class going over things I've already mastered months ago."
"There's ways to stay occupied," Harry admitted. "Adding things to transfigurations while McGonagall isn't looking, changing spells, working on my wandless spells...a lot of it feels like I'm wasting my time though."
"I always wondered why someone who didn't seem to like school that much was so good at it."
Harry sighed. "I'd really rather be like Neville or even Ron Weasley...not a care in the world, able to just enjoy school and have fun and never worry about anything."
Hermione looked down at her hands. "I can't believe that I always thought you were just being paranoid. The things you worried about just didn't seem...real."
"I'd been through some of them, and I had enough experience to know what kind of things could happen," Harry said. He hesitated, then admitted, "Of course, sometimes I really was paranoid, but you can understand why."
She was silent, and didn't say anything. Harry wondered what she was thinking. He found himself wondering when he'd see the Look...the look he'd been dreading. He didn't want her pity...her understanding would be enough.
Lunging at him, Hermione had wrapped her arms around him before he even had a chance to go for his wand. It took him a startled moment to realize that she was hugging him.
It felt awkward; Harry hadn't been touched by the Dursleys except in anger. Teachers had never touched him, and Dudley had ensured that he had never gotten any hugs from other children.
Being touched was a rare think for him, and he wasn't sure how to respond. Where were his hands supposed to go? Was he supposed to hug her back?
It took him another moment to relax and realize that it actually felt rather nice. This wasn't like being kissed by Fleur; it was something that friends did, but in many ways it meant more to him that Fleur's kiss.
After all, Harry suspected that Fleur probably had no problem kissing people, but he'd never seen Hermione hug anyone other than her parents.
Awkwardly his hands crept up her back, and he began patting it like he'd seen Vernon do when hugging Aunt Marge. The hug seemed to go on for a lot longer than the hugs he'd seen between Vernon and Marge though. Those were short, almost embarrassed moments that Vernon seemed to think no one should comment on or think about.
Given that it was Aunt Marge, Harry did his best not to think about it.
Finally it ended, and when Hermione pulled away, Harry was alarmed to see that her eyes looked wet. She sniffed and wiped her eyes with the edge of her robe.
"So what are we going to do about it?" she asked.
"Well," Harry said slowly. "There's not a lot we can do right now. Unless we can figure out where those anchors are we can't do anything."
The last thing he wanted was to get her involved in the horcrux hunt. After all, he'd already been decapitated once and killed by a giant basilisk. How much more dangerous would the search for the others be?
Hermione frowned. "And there isn't anything you can do to find them?"
"We're trying to figure something out," Harry admitted. "But we haven't come up with anything yet."
It had the benefit of being true while being somewhat misleading. Harry didn't mention the fact that the diary had been a horcrux, or that they'd already destroyed another one. Telling her that would only encourage her to want to be included.
He didn't need her anywhere in his life where she could get hurt.
Telling her he was a horcrux was even less viable. After all, Harry doubted that Dumbledore would have told him at all if he'd lived in a universe where he didn't reset. Only the knowledge that Harry was intimately connected with death and was older than he looked had made it sensible to tell him.
Harry understood that. He wondered if Dumbledore knew that he understood what it really meant. After all, he'd been killed by Voldemort once already, using Quirrell's hand, and another time by Quirrell. It was likely that he wouldn't be able to actually die until the last of the horcruxes was gone.
It was also likely that he would have to die for real in order for the last horcrux to be destroyed. Harry hadn't asked Dumbledore about the odds that he'd be able to survive because he hadn't wanted to know how poor they were.
He suspected that he'd actually been a little depressed about it, although he tried not to think about it too much. It was like that mythological sword he vaguely recalled hearing about, the one hanging over someone's head by a string. No matter how he tried not to think about it, it was there in the back of his mind.
Looking at Hermione, she looked a little depressed too.
"I'm getting stronger," Harry said. "Practicing every day, and I'm catching up. At the rate I'm going I'll catch up to him eventually."
It would only take about a hundred more deaths, but Harry didn't say that to her. After all, she was looking depressed enough.
"So what can I do?" Hermione asked.
Harry frowned. He wanted to keep her away from danger, but she'd never accept that unless there was a real role she could play.
"Research," he said. "Find me spells I can use to defeat the Death Eaters. Be careful about asking questions though...people can tell what you are looking for by the questions you ask."
The last thing he needed was for her to start looking for Horcruxes and be murdered by a Slytherin out looking for favor from the Dark Lord.
"I can help find the...anchors.." Hermione said hesitantly.
"No!" Harry said. At her expression, he said, "I don't want you to be in danger."
He might as well admit it.
"And it's all right for you to be in danger?" Hermione asked. She stared at him challengingly.
It occurred to him that she really was pretty, even now with her hair frizzy and not made up. She didn't have the makeup on, or the beautiful dress, but somehow she was still beautiful without it.
The fact that she hadn't looked at him with pity made him even more beautiful.
Harry shrugged."I'm immortal more or less. You aren't."
"And what happened if You-Know-Who finds out about all of this?" she asked. At his expression, she stopped. "He knows?"
"There was a thing that happened..." Harry said. "He took my blood to recreate his body and he got taken along for the ride."
"Harry!" Hermione said. "If he knows you are in more danger than ever."
Harry shrugged again. It wasn't anything he could do anything about, and considering that he had been in danger from the day he was born it didn't really seem to matter much.
"He won't kill you," she said. "He'll maim you...cut off your hands and your tongue and then he'll stash you some place."
The fact that she'd jumped directly to this conclusion was a sign of the influence he'd had on her. First year Hermione could not have imagined anything like that.
Harry couldn't decide whether to feel proud or sad.
"I've already thought of that," Harry said. "There are measures."
Obviously her mind was going to the same place as his, because the color drained out of her face. "Harry..." she began uncertainly.
"It'd be a last resort," Harry said. "But there really are worse things than death, at least for me."
He could still remember what it had been like to be crucio'd.
"There had to be another way," she said.
He nodded. "Yeah...don't get caught. That's my main plan. It's been working fairly well so far. I've only actually been captured twice."
That was mostly because he'd been murdered on the spot all the other times, but Harry didn't mention that.
Hermione shook her head as though she was trying to dislodge an unpleasant thought. For all he knew she was.
"I want to help you look for the anchors," she said.
Harry's mind raced. The last thing he needed was for her to blunder around asking questions that would get them all caught. On the other hand he knew her; she wasn't going to let this go. Besides...she was in the library all the time anyway. No one would question if she was suddenly interested in history.
"How about this," he said. "Find Ravenclaw's Diadem for me."
There was a flash of light, and a moment later a door appeared in the wall. It wasn't the door leading back into the hallway outside, and it was open into darkness.
He and Hermione stared at each other, wide eyed.