A/N: Hey everybody! This is the first chapter of a challenge I accepted on the forum on HarryLovesHermione(dot)com. As you may or may not know, in very early drafts of Sorcerer's Stone, JKR had the Potters living on an island and none other than Mr. Granger discovered Harry among the wreckage of the Potters' home. So what would have happened had this been the real beginning of the series? Just a warning, this is already posted on FF(dot)net, and has been for about a year now. I have a lot of ideas for this story, but I don't plan on messing with it until Fulfilling Obligations is completed. AKA…do not expect an update for this one anytime soon. I just had to right the opening though and randomly decided to go ahead and post it here. I hope you guys enjoy it nonetheless, and tell me what you think! Oh, and I hope all you Americans went out and voted today!
Chapter 1: An Alternate Beginning
"A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before."
- Jean-Francois Lyotard
To Benjamin Granger, nothing to him was quite so soothing as the pattering of rain on the tin awnings of his family's home. Although adding a steaming cup of tea, a good book, and a beautiful wife holding their sleepy, barely two-year-old daughter certainly amplified this pleasure.
It was Halloween, and although Ben usually quite enjoyed the holiday (if not for the candy and costumes then for the dentistry bill that usually followed), he was even more thrilled that the multitude of trick-or-treaters had stopped mercilessly banging upon his door. He could only guess that the less frequent visitors had to do with the spread of he and his wife Katherine's reputation among their neighbors - after all, how many children would expect their dentists to willingly hand out candy? He and Katherine had even taken their daughter to a few doors, but Hermione had quickly grown fussy with the strangeness of the continually changing and unfamiliar faces and houses.
The rain started soon after the flow of children had abruptly stopped, immediately coming down in torrential sheets. Now an hour had passed, and the rain continued to fall as strongly as ever.
He looked up as Katherine said his name, peering over the rim of his glasses.
She tilted her head downward at Hermione, who seemed to be fighting tooth-and-nail to remain awake. She was blinking furiously and was continuously jerking her head upwards as it drooped towards her tiny chest.
"I'm going upstairs to put Hermione to bed…might watch TV in the room for a while. Are you coming up or are you going to read for a bit longer?"
"Bit longer," Ben said, but he stood up as Katherine did so he could kiss his daughter good night. However, no sooner had he pressed his lips to the crown of Hermione's soft brown hair than a brilliant green light flooded the room, shortly followed by a explosive bang that seemed to shake the house with its power.
Ben dropped his book to the floor as he dashed over to the window, his heart thumping wildly. He pushed his glasses farther up his nose as he peered cautiously out the window, expecting another…whatever it was…at any time.
Katherine was next to him a moment later, also staring into the gloom. Hermione was perfectly awake by this point, and she too gazed at the rain-streaked glass curiously, wondering what had both woken her up and excited her parents so completely.
"What was that?" Ben breathed, his breath fogging the glass.
"I-I don't know," Katherine responded quietly. "Maybe…maybe it was lightning?"
"Since when is lightning green?" Ben responded.
"Well, it is Halloween," Katherine said, her voice growing stronger as her resolve thickened. "There are all sorts of people out there playing pranks. Perhaps some kid has a green…a green flashlight or something. Pointed it into our window just as it thundered."
Ben nodded vaguely as he continued to stare into the darkness. It wasn't that far of a stretch, he admitted to himself. He stood like this for several moments, his hands on the windowsill, and had just convinced himself his wife was correct when an actual bolt of lightning lit up the sky. Through the crackling flickers of light, he was astonished to see a thick cloud of smoke curling up and blending into the ominous clouds above.
Ben pressed his face so closely to the window that the rim of his glasses cut into the bridge of his nose. His breathing quickened and he gripped the windowsill more tightly to prevent his hands from shaking.
"What? Ben, what is it?" Katherine said, looking from him to the window and back again.
"It's…the island…something's happened out there."
"The island?" Katherine said incredulously. "What could've happened?"
"I don't know. All I know is that something's on fire over there, and whoever's near it might be seriously hurt."
"Well we should call the police then," Katherine replied, already moving towards the phone.
Ben had no idea what made him cross the room and rip the phone from her hand.
"No," he said. "No. I'll…I'll go to the police station myself. It's just a few blocks from here."
"But it's raining…it'll be much quicker to just call."
"It's Halloween, Katherine. The phones are probably ringing off the hook from ridiculous pranks. They'll take the information more seriously if I go there myself."
Katherine still seemed hesitant by his explanation, but nodded nonetheless, wrapping her empty hand once more around Hermione.
"Fine," she said. "But please hurry."
Ben smiled as he pulled his wife and daughter into a hug. "It'll be fine, I promise. I'll be back soon."
Then before Katherine could say more he strode from the room, only breaking into a run when he was out of her sight.
I am such an idiot, Ben thought as the rain drenched him to the bone within seconds. Whatever was skewing his actions was doing a very thorough job, because instead of turning right and running along the street to the police station, he sprinted straight towards the water, where the waves crashed furiously against the rocky shore. When he reached the dock where his boat was tied, he eyed the small wooden vessel speculatively before letting out an involuntary groan for his own stupidity.
Before he could talk himself out of it, he lowered himself into the boat and cringed as his feet sank into three inches of water.
"Such a bad idea," he muttered. But nonetheless he pulled the oar from beneath the seat and untied the rope from the dock, steeling himself for, at best, a very uncomfortable journey…at worst, a very dangerous journey.
When he pushed himself away from the dock and plunged the oar into the dark water, it became almost instantly obvious that the half-mile stretch between the boat and the island's shore would be torturous. The waves tossed his small boat around like a rag doll, and each small increment of progress he managed was met by being pushed off course twice as much. He was forced to stop three times along the way to bail water, and the wind that whipped at his cold, water-soaked skin felt like physical blows, making his face sting horribly.
But, bit-by-bit, he managed to force his way across the ocean. What would have taken fifteen minutes on a normal day took him over an hour, and when the boat finally skidded to a stop on the slippery rocks, he had to pry his frozen fingers from the oar, gasping as his blisters were pulled from the wood.
Breathing heavily, he pulled himself from the boat, as well as a flashlight, and staggered away from the water before falling to his knees. His vision flickered, and he closed his eyes as he drew deep lungfuls of cold, burning air into his lungs.
When his head had cleared enough for him so stand up, he searched along the shore for the sight of smoke he had spotted earlier. For a few horrible moments, he wondered if he had imagined the whole thing. But then, just as before, a streak of lightning lit the sky and the smoke was perfectly clear against the night sky.
Ben wearily wiped the rain away from his streaked glasses and trudged along the copse of the trees lined along the shore, slipping and stumbling along the rocks despite the feeble beam from his flashlight. When the smoke appeared to be almost directly above him, he took a deep, steadying breath and burst through the trees.
What he saw almost caused him to fall to his knees.
The house that had stood in the clearing had been blown apart. Shingles and splintered chunks of wood were scattered over the ground, blackened by the force of whatever had occurred here. Some of the pieces still burned, the fire persisting stubbornly despite the rain that sought to quench it. Ben saw that only a small corner of the house still stood, and he blinked away the rain from his eyes as he moved forward.
He sincerely doubted anyone could have survived such a horrible explosion, but he knew he had to look. He squared his shoulders determinedly and pushed back his sopping bangs as he walked into the ruins of the house, picking his way carefully through the rubble. Each step he took caused his throat to constrict further and further, knowing each step could be taking him closer to something he didn't want to see.
And then, finally, he did see it.
As he stepped into what he assumed had once been the hallway, he found a man's body lying on the ground. Ben began to shake uncontrollably as he stared at the man's vacant brown eyes, which were facing the exposed sky sightlessly. The man had black hair, and the wire-rimmed glasses on his face were knocked askew. One of the lenses was broken, and a spiderweb of cracks spread across it. Ben had never seen the man before, but he immediately felt a strange kinship to the young man. Bending down, he slowly closed the man's eyes and straightened his glasses. Then he hurried past, unwilling to look at the man any longer.
However, a worse sight met his eyes when he entered the next room.
A young woman was in this room. She was lying face down on the floor, and a curtain of long auburn hair covered her face. Ben hurried forward and knelt beside her. Reaching an increasingly shaky hand towards her hair, he gently brushed it from her face, and tears spilled over onto his cheeks as he saw her eyes. They were a vibrant emerald green, an intense shade that he had never seen before, but her eyes were just as lifeless as the young man's, whom he assumed was the woman's husband. He imagined that mere hours ago, before whatever happened, those eyes had been more full of life and kindness than most people could ever strive for.
Ben too closed her eyes, and just as he stood up, intent on leaving the house, he heard a small whimper from the opposite corner of the room. He whirled towards the source of the noise, and was dumbstruck to see a small infant lying on the floor, shivering and crying soundlessly. Ben immediately went and picked up the baby, trying to provide as much warmth as he could. A dark tuft of thick hair covered the baby's head, but it was as wet as his own due to the rain.
Turning the flashlight around the room, he realized that the baby had been sitting in the most undamaged part of the house. Strangely, it seemed as though whatever explosion had occurred had been formed within the same room. Even more strangely, the explosion didn't seem to have radiated outward in a circular path, but in one single direction. On the unharmed wall, he saw a picture of the smiling couple cradling the baby between them. They appeared to be at a park, and the sun shown just out of frame, illuminating their faces brilliantly. Ben reached forward and plucked the picture from the wall and tucked it into his jacket pocket.
But Ben didn't ponder the situation any longer, for the baby needed to get warm as quickly as possible. He wrapped the baby into his coat and made sure he was blocked from the rain before trudging past the bodies of the baby's parents and out of the house. However, before he made it from the house, he did see a piece of stationary among the rubble. It was partially blackened from the rubble, but he could just make out the name emblazoned on the top of the paper: Potter.
Once he was out in the furious wind again, he moved as fast as he could back to his boat without jostling the baby too much. Keeping the baby within his jacket, Ben sat in the boat and pushed himself once more into the ocean. Adrenaline invigorated his movements, and he rowed with a vitality that he would have though impossible half an hour before. The pain in his hands was furiously ignored, as well as the bitter cold, and before long he pulled into the dock on the opposite shore, wearily retying his boat in place before using his remaining strength to jog back to his home.
When he finally stepped into the house, dripping water all over the floor, Katherine was in his face within moments.
"Where have you been?" she hissed, tears glinting in her eyes. "You had me worried sick! You were supposed to have gone to the police station four hours ago! What -"
She was suddenly stopped in her tracks as Ben pulled open his jacket to reveal the shivering infant. Her mouth opened and closed wordlessly like a fish out of water before she finally emitted a soft gasp.
"Ben," she breathed. "Where did…where did you find him?"
"O-on t-t-the island," he said through his chattering teeth. "T-t-take him - he n-needs to g-get warm."
Katherine immediately plucked the baby from his arms and brought the infant close to her own body. With one hand, she deftly removed the baby's clothes until he was in only his diaper and entered the living room.
Hermione was sleeping on the couch, and Katherine placed the baby on the rug so she could quickly change him.
"You found him on the island?" she said, her voice forcibly calm.
"Y-y-yes," Ben said, removing his own sodden coat. "I r-rowed out there."
"Could you be more of a moron?" Katherine sighed. "And go change - I don't need you dying of pneumonia after surviving all that idiocy."
Grateful, Ben dashed upstairs and changed into a dry set of clothes. By the time he had returned to Katherine, his shivering had subsided somewhat and the baby was wrapped in a warm blanket. He saw that Hermione had woken up as well. She peered at the child with open astonishment and curiosity, as though he were a completely different species from herself even though no more than a year probably separated their ages.
Hermione reached out a tiny hand and gently touched the baby's face, and when he turned his head to look more closely at her, Ben saw that the infant's irises were just as vibrant a green as his mother's had been. Hermione smiled in delight at the baby's curious expression.
Katherine turned to Ben. "He seems to be alright now. Still a little cold, but he only has a small cut on his forehead."
She then brushed the dark hair from the boy's forehead, and Ben saw a thin cut that was quite peculiarly shaped.
"A lightning bolt?" Ben said, cocking his head.
"Yes, I thought it was unusual as well," Katherine said. "But that's not what's important. What happened?"
Ben bowed his head as he ran a hand through his damp hair. "I…I went over to the island and found his house. It was…god, Katherine, it was horrible. It was completely destroyed. Practically flattened. I went in and I…I found his parents."
A grim sadness entered Katherine's eyes as he lapsed into silence.
"Did you…know them?" Katherine asked timidly.
"No," Ben said, running a hand tiredly over his face. "I didn't recognize them. I think their name was Potter, though."
"Potter…" Katherine said quietly as she looked at the infant in her arms. She turned her eyes back to her husband. "It's amazing he doesn't have more than the cut."
"I know…" Ben said.
"What do you think happened?"
"Who knows? Gas explosion seems most likely, but…" He refrained from mentioning the odd explosion pattern.
Katherine smiled as she watched Hermione flutter her fingers by the baby's hands, which he clasped in a tight fist.
"Hermione seems to like him."
Ben nodded vacantly as he watched the interaction, and then he felt Katherine's eyes boring into him. He met her eyes, which were filled with a terrified uncertainty.
"What do we do?" she said.
Hermione suddenly looked up at him with more confidence than he had ever seen.
"I'll take care of him," she said, laying her tiny hand protectively on the baby's head.
Ben couldn't help the broad smile that crossed his face or the laugh that soon followed as his daughter continued to look at him determinedly.
"Well, that just solves everything, doesn't it?"