Disclaimer: Harry Potter is property of J.K. Rowling.
Characters: Harry, Draco, Hermione, Ron, Ginny
Summary: "Blink but a little and you will be transported to an alternate of this time and place." Harry accidentally inhales the fumes of a premature potion that transports him into numerous alternate worlds. Brought to light are the issues of his 'bigger picture'. AU, H/D, H/Hr, H/G.
Author's Notes: Thanks to SlicedBread and LogicalQuirk for beta reading this fic for me. And thanks to Ellybelle, who first saw this fic over a year ago. Yes, it's up now :).
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. 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 tightly.
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.
"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.
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 gained so far.
Harry resigned to listening intently at the sound and character of the noises to determine exactly who 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 do 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–"
"You were a girl?"
"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.
Harry snapped. "Yes. And then I was with Malfoy." He heard a gasp shoot out of Hermione's 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 roared with laughter, 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, expression 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 stood up 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!" Harry and Hermione 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 grudgingly, 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, unsurprisingly, to the bigger picture.
And what a 'bigger picture' it was! The alternate worlds had actually given him a perspective on his life that he would otherwise not have known. 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."
A/N: Thanks for reading! (last edited 7FEB2010)