Of Ticking Clocks & Beating Hearts
Chapter 1: Formulating a Plan
"Excuse me?" a soft voice asked of Hermione Granger, breaking the silence of the library. Hermione looked up, peering at the young girl standing in front of her in surprise. She was maybe a first year student and looked terrified to be addressing a sixth year student.
"Can I help you?" Hermione asked, pasting a smile on her face and pretending that the interruption wasn't an inconvenience.
"Erm… are you Hermione Granger?" the little Hufflepuff girl asked her, her cheeks blooming a becoming pink with her nervousness.
"Yes, I am," Hermione confirmed, frowning a little now wondering what the little girl possibly wanted.
The girl's fearful face smoothed into an expression of relief.
"Oh good. I've been looking for you. Professor Dumbledore asked me to deliver this to you when I was on my way out of the Great Hall after lunch. I asked all my friends and they all knew who you were but we didn't know where to find you. Eventually a fourth year boy overheard me asking everyone where I could find you and he told me that you're usually in the library."
"Ok. Erm… well thank you," Hermione said, frowning as she took the rolled up scroll of parchment from the girl.
"That's ok. I'm sorry it took me so long. And I think Professor Dumbledore said it was rather urgent, so maybe you might want to go and see him now…." The girl said, "Well…. Goodbye."
With that she skipped away and Hermione could tell the little thing was pleased to have successfully completed her task. Shaking her head fondly as she remembered her own time as a first year, Hermione unfurled the scroll of parchment, wondering what Dumbledore wanted.
Dear Miss Granger,
I hope this finds you well. Please report to my office as a matter of some urgency at your earliest convenience. Be aware that this meeting may take up a rather large amount of your evening and prepare for this before arriving.
Professor Albus Dumbledore.
P.S. I am particularly fond of sugar mice.
Hermione stared at the note of summons for a moment before sighing as she glanced back at the Defence Against the Dark Arts essay she had been working on for Snape that was due tomorrow.
There was no way she was going to get it finished in time. Not if she was expected to spend any great amount of time with Dumbledore. What was wrong with the greasy git anyway? Who in their right mind would set a two thousand word essay on Dementors and their effectiveness as the guards of Azkaban Prison due one day after issue? Hermione knew she was one of the only students in the year likely to be able to submit anything of worth, and yet Snape insisted, even after she had protested, that there would be no extension on the time allowed.
Glaring at the half-written essay, Hermione waved her wand to pack up her belongings and carried the books she intended to check out over to the pinched librarian.
What in Merlin's beard could Dumbledore want with her that would take a while anyway?
Grumbling under her breath, Hermione stuffed the books into her bag before Banishing all of the belongings to her bed in the sixth year Gryffindor dormitory. She strode quickly through the halls, rolling her eyes when she strode past Lavender Brown giggling with Parvati about something. When she reached the entrance to Dumbledore's office Hermione gave the password and watched the gargoyle spring aside to reveal the staircase that led to the headmaster's private office and quarters.
She knocked when she reached the door and waited until she heard a call for her to enter before she opened the heavy door and strode into the office.
"Professor Dumbledore?" Hermione called, seeing no movement in the office aside from Fawkes who trilled a greeting at her from his perch, "Hello Fawkes, is Professor Dumbledore in?"
The phoenix blinked at her and a moment later Hermione heard the soft voice of the Headmaster.
"Good Evening Miss Granger," he greeted her warmly.
"Hello Professor. You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, I did. How are you?"
"Sir?" Hermione asked, taken aback.
"I am enquiring after your health my dear. It is the polite way to begin a discussion, and I have much I wish to speak to you about this night." Dumbledore replied, smiling gently as he slipped into his high backed chair behind his desk.
Blushing Hermione nodded, "I'm well, sir. And you?"
"Troubled, I'm afraid," he told her, waving a hand at her to have a seat while he settled himself into the chair behind his desk, "Would you like a spot of tea?"
"Erm… if it's not too much trouble Professor," Hermione said to be polite. She watched in fascination as the man waved his wand and a tea tray with cups, saucers and all the other things needed for tea levitated over, the ingredients and utensils taking care of their own brewing and pouring. When Hermione looked back at the headmaster she found him watching her over her half-moon spectacles.
"Your studies are going well I trust?" he asked conversationally, sensing her discomfort.
"Yes, sir," Hermione confirmed.
"And I trust that Mr Potter has been keeping you informed on the goings on within my meetings with him?"
"He has, sir," she nodded.
"You are also aware of the work of the Order of the Phoenix and the dealings with Lord Voldemort?"
"To some extent, sir," Hermione replied, shifting in her seat, "Is everything alright, Professor? You haven't called me here to tell me that something's happened to my parents or anything, have you?"
"No my dear, as far as I am aware your parents are quite well," He smiled softly, reassuring her that they must be fine.
"Then if you don't mind my asking, sir, what is it you wanted to discuss with me?" Hermione said, "I don't mean to be rude or blunt, but I've an essay I need to finish for Professor Snape that is due tomorrow and I've barley just begun it."
"It seems unlike you to leave things until the last minute," he commented.
"He only set it in class this afternoon, sir," Hermione explained, "A two thousand word essay on the effectiveness of Dementors as the guards of Azkaban Prison. It's due by the beginning class tomorrow."
Professor Dumbledore frowned at that.
"That seems an unreasonably short amount of time to complete such a task."
"I suggested that to him sir, but he just snapped at me and took five points from me for back-talking him," Hermione explained.
"I will perhaps have a word to him. That's much too short a time for anything of worth from any but the absolute best students…. He has never been an easy man to deal with, but this is preposterous," Dumbledore mused and Hermione blushed to hear a teacher speaking ill of another teacher.
"It is actually Severus that I wanted to speak to you about Miss Granger," Dumbledore continued, "I trust you are aware that Severus is a spy for the Order, working to gather information and lay false trails for Tom Riddle regarding Harry and the movements of the Order?"
"What Harry will not have told you as he is unaware of it, is that it was Severus who overheard the Prophecy that exists between Harry Potter and Tom Riddle and passed that information on to Voldemort before he joined our side many years ago."
Hermione opened her mouth in surprise, knowing exactly why Dumbledore had kept that particular nugget of information to himself. If Harry were to ever learn that it was because of Snape that Voldemort had begun hunting his parents in the first place Hermione wouldn't be at all surprised if Harry killed the man.
"A very unfortunate turn of events, one that Severus tried to rectify and caused his change in allegiance when he realised he had inadvertently doomed James and Lily Potter, causing their needless deaths, among the many others that were lost during the First War…."
Dumbledore was quiet for a while after that and Hermione picked up the tea cup that had drifted over to rest on the desk in front of her in order to have something to do, sensing that Professor Dumbledore was trying to gather his thoughts and meant to continue. And that he didn't want to hear any comment on Hermione's feelings about Snape for what he had done so far in the past.
"More than once these past thirty years there have been moments when I think to myself, 'if only there was some way we could do it again and do it differently'…" Hermione lifted her eyes to stare at Dumbledore and wondered about the twinkle in those blue depths.
"It does not do to dwell on 'if onlys', Sir" Hermione murmured softly, frowning at the words of the Headmaster.
"Quite so, Miss Granger, for usually there is little that can be done to change the cast of the die once they are thrown…" he mused.
Hermione sipped her tea, wondering what any of this had to do with her.
"Do you recall your use of the Time-Turner during your third year Miss Granger?" he asked suddenly.
"Of course, sir. I used it to attend the many classes I was taking and to save Sirius and Buckbeak from being wrongly executed," Hermione replied immediately.
"Indeed," He murmured, "You recall all the rules that surrounded you being given permission to use a time-tuner, do you not?"
"I do. No using it to change anything more than twenty-four hours in the past, no using it to wreak havoc where there does not need to be any, and do not allow yourself to be seen."
"Miss Granger, there are a great many things I must share with you this night, things you must share with no one else. Do you understand?"
"Yes Professor," Hermione said, frowning now at the higglty-pigglty mash-up of his train of thought and the way he kept hopping between topics.
"Very good…. the first thing I must share with you, is that I am going to die before the year is out."
Hermione stared, silently shaking her head in denial.
"It is true my dear," he said ruefully, lifting his hand and displaying a nasty, withered looking appendage, "A nasty curse I encountered that was designed to kill quickly upon contact. It has been contained, but it is slowly killing me. In any case, were it not true, I would still die."
"But Professor you're our best hope against Voldemort," Hermione protested.
"No my dear, Harry is our best and only hope…. Harry, and perhaps you."
"Unfortunately I cannot share everything with you. What I brought you here to discuss Miss Granger, is the upcoming war. You know of the Horcruxes created by Voldemort, and I suspect you know that Harry will be in need of your help next year when he searches for them in the wake of my death. I hope he will be successful in getting all of them, however there is still the prophecy to contend with."
Dumbledore paused and glanced at Hermione as though to make certain she was following his train of thought.
"There is a very real chance that Harry will soon face Lord Voldemort on the Battlefield, and that when he does, he may die," Dumbledore announced, "And should Harry fall, all hope will be lost to the darkness, for no one else will be able to ever kill Tom Riddle. That my dear, is where I am hoping you will come in."
"Sir?" Hermione asked, completely confused and somewhat distressed by the idea of Harry dying and Voldemort winning.
"A back-up plan, if you will…," Dumbledore began, "I want to discuss with you the possibility of sending you back in time in the event that we lose the war Miss Granger."
"I don't understand," Hermione said, completely bewildered by what he was trying to tell her.
"You are one of the very few witches in the world to have ever experimented with a time-turner Miss Granger. As a last resort, should we lose the war, I would like to have in place a plan to rectify the situation. And while I thought about that idea, I kept coming back to my original wish…. If only there was some way to go back and fix things."
"But Sir, there is so much to fix," Hermione said. Dumbledore nodded.
"I have found a way to achieve my wish Miss Granger," He confided, leaning forward in the manner of one sharing a juicy secret, "I have in my possession a device that would allow me to send a single person back in time by a maximum of thirty years. I have no guarantee that you would survive the journey, however I know it is in fact possible to send living things back so far and have them live, as I tested it by sending back several Nifflers and leaving myself a note from thirty years in the past that the creature was sent from this time. Anything more than thirty years is unachievable unfortunately."
"Sir what are you saying?"
"I'm saying Miss Granger that should Harry fail, I have a mission for you in order to rewrite history," Dumbledore told her, "I'm saying I have found a way that we can keep all this from ever coming into being. It is a radical and drastic measure, but a necessary one I believe."
"And what would my task be going back that far?" Hermione asked, trying to grasp the situation.
"My plan would be to send you back to the first year Severus and many others that you know of -Remus and Sirius and James and Lily- arrived at Hogwarts. My plan would be to give you a De-Aging potion upon arrival and have you attend Hogwarts again as a student in their year. Your task would be to get yourself wilfully Sorted into Slytherin house, where you would befriend Severus Snape and several other students, a list of whose names I will give you shortly. Your task would be to attempt to sway them from the Dark Arts and from being such easy prey for Voldemort."
"How would I do that, sir?" Hermione asked, baffled now and wondering if Dumbledore had been drinking or perhaps spent too long in a small room breathing in the smoke, spores or essences of well-known illicit herbs.
"Many of these students, namely Severus, were ripe for the plucking by Voldemort and easily swayed to the Dark cause. They came from broken homes and unhappy backgrounds, many had no true friends in life and disturbing family backgrounds, so when they encountered Tom -who can be incredibly charming- they were easily swayed with a few kind words and the promise of power, of belonging to something, of creating a better world where those who believed themselves downtrodden and unappreciated would be popular and loved."
"You want to send me back in time thirty years to save some misfits?" Hermione asked incredulously, "Not to… I don't know, stop all the horrors from befalling people like Harry's parents or the Longbottoms, but to befriend people like Snape?"
Dumbledore watched her for a moment, "Well from right now it would be twenty-six years, but yes. However, you are not yet seeing the entire picture Miss Granger. Befriending people who turn to a monster because they have no one else could mean the difference between winning and losing, not just the second and upcoming war, but the first war. It could mean that Voldemort would be defeated many years ago and there would be no more death or fear any more. You would pass on vital information to the past me, information that would allow myself and many other members of the Order of the Phoenix advantages and a way in which to defeat Voldemort. I would know of the Horcruxes and the location of many of them. I would know that in order for him to be defeated we must find and destroy these Horcruxes. I would know to hide the Potters and the Longbottoms, to make sure the prophecy could never come into play. I would know to be Secret Keeper myself, rather than allowing James, Lily and Sirius to put trust in Peter Pettigrew."
He paused to take a breath and Hermione wondered if she had ever seen the headmaster so animated.
"Don't you see Miss Granger? We would be able to prevent such awful things. We would be forewarned."
As understanding finally dawned on Hermione she gasped, her eyes going wide.
"Professor…." She began, her mind racing ahead, "Why would you want to wait until this war is lost to do this?"
"I beg your pardon?" he asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
"Well, if so much could be changed; could be fixed; then why wait until we really have gone to hell in a hand-basket? Why not send me now? Today?"
"Miss Granger you don't understand. I could very well send you today, but you would be years and years in the past. Everyone you know and love would not be the same, many would not yet even exist. You would be giving up everything. I meant to send you should the war be lost only as a last resort as many, if not all of the people you love might very well be dead or dying by then. To send you now, you would have to wilfully and knowingly give up your friendships, your family and life as you know it."
Hermione stared at him as she thought about that, wondering again at the twinkle in his eyes. Could she do it? Could she give up everything? Her friends and family, everything she loved; everything she held dear, would be gone. There would be no Harry or Ron or Ginny, no parents to write to when she was sad, no one to call friend and to depend on in any way. She would be utterly alone but for Dumbledore.
On the other hand, the things she could achieve…. James and Lily could survive to raise Harry. Sirius would never go to Azkaban or die in the Department of Mysteries. Remus wouldn't be left alone and friendless in a world prejudiced against him for his condition. Neville's parents would never be tortured by Bellatrix LeStrange… so many other countless deaths, both magical and muggle, would never happen if she could influence the right people. Dumbledore and the first Order of the Phoenix could battle against Voldemort, forewarned of his plans and the people he would target.
"But it would be worth it, sir," Hermione whispered finally, "It would be hard and confusing, stressful even. But think of the changes we could make….. I am no one all that important Professor; just a muggle-born witch who became friends with an important and famous wizard by chance. No one would know me so there would be no cause for concern of ever running into myself, and even if I did when I was born and came to Hogwarts, I would not know myself, so there would no risk of me going mad, and though I would miss being with Harry and Ron and Ginny, and the Weasley's and my parents….. Professor, think of how much better I could make everything for them. For Harry and Neville…. They could have real parents who could love them and take care of them. The Weasley's would be happy and healthy and would always stay that way."
"Do not be so quick to throw everything you hold dear away for the Greater Good, Miss Granger," Dumbledore cautioned her, "The price may be higher than you think. I myself once believed that sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and I paid the price."
Hermione deliberated for a moment.
"Would you do it, Sir?" she finally asked, "If you were me, would you go back as soon as possible to change things."
"That is not a fair way for you to judge the decision Miss Granger. I am an old man, one who has lived a long and fulfilling life. You are young, you have friends and loved ones whom you would always remember and would compare to the same people upon seeing them in the past. Were it me, yes I would. But you are not me. The decision must entirely be yours. I am happy to wait until after this war plays out before even considering sending you back, if that is what you choose…"
"My happiness is not worth more than the lives I could save and the happiness I could bring to others Professor," Hermione told him, her mind racing, "I will do it. Today. Is that possible?"
"There are things that we must prepare first Miss Granger, such as a collection of my own thoughts and memories and knowledge that I must extract and conceal within you, to pass onto the past me. You must also prepare, for yours will be a long and lonely task. You will remember everything you know of this life. Even when given a De-Aging Potion and returned to the age of eleven or perhaps twelve, you will still possess all the knowledge and mental maturity of a seventeen year old witch. It will be quite a shock to your senses, not just the journey, but the differences in the knowledge and technologies and ways of doing things that you know of now but have yet to come into being in the past. You will also need to gather anything you wish to have with you in the past, as mementos of your life here if you wish them. I would also recommend you pack anything of value to you, we will transport it with you in this."
He flicked his wand at one of the empty tea cups, transfiguring it into a purple beaded bag.
"I will put an undetectable extension charm on it to allow you to fit your belongings. I recommend things that will remind you in a non-obvious way of your life here. Perhaps the collection of jumpers Molly Weasley knitted for you. You will be able to fit into the old ones again when you take the De-Aging potion… As for your cat, I have sent back Nifflers in the past but I do not wish to risk having something malfunction, so I recommend asking Miss Weasley to mind him for you, in the event that this does not work.
I want you to understand Miss Granger that while this is in theory and in creature-testing a capability we possess, there is a very real chance that it will not work and you will die or become addled in the attempt," He finished gravely.
"I understand Professor. I would like to take the time to say goodbye to my friends, and to my parents. Is there any chance I can slip away to Hogsmede to take the Knight Bus?"
"I will make the arrangements," Dumbledore said softly, smiling gently at her bravery, "Be sure to make it memorable Miss Granger, not for them, but for yourself. You will never know and love them the same way as you do now. I will be sending Severus to accompany you to ensure your safety while you visit your parents. If I were you, I would use that time with him to try and have him reveal any information you think might be useful to you when you travel to the past in order to befriend the eleven year old boy he once was…. Come back to my office when you are ready."