AUTHOR'S NOTE: Something I forgot to mention in the last chapter: please read Crouch's lines in the voice of David Tennant. It is extremely rewarding. …Anyway, "Dalek" is for some reason still radiating an impenetrable shield of Writer's Block, but the good news is all that surplus writing has to go somewhere (that's… that's how writing works, right?…). Hence, this behemoth of a chapter. Which, incidentally, officially crosses the 200k words milestone! Yay…? …Anyway, hope you like it. As usual, thanks to those who Review, Follow or Favorite, and if you haven't yet, please consider doing any or all of those things! Particularly the first one, I really like reviews.

Chapter LVII: Present

'What…'

And her voice was caught in her throat.

No, scratch that. Her voice was fine. It's her throat that was gone.

Along, it seemed, with everything else. She looked down and saw nothing, felt nothing where her hands, her body should have been.

'What the…'

She shook herself — mentally shook herself, let the idea of shaking herself wash over her, but of course there was nothing to be really shaken in her state. What was her state? A state of mind, probably. She was dreaming. Something like that. Surely she couldn't be dead… surely… but the Fiendfyre — what if the protection had failed, what if her body had been destroyed along with Muriel Mulciber's ?… No. No. Now that she thought about it, she remembered the strange feeling of spitting fire, a glimpse of the old crone's body flying into smoldering ash… and then herself collapsing backwards as if hit by a Stunning Spell.

Wait.

Oh.

Yeah, that was probably what happened. A stray Stunner from one of the other two duels that had been going around her. Or perhaps it wasn't a stray spell at all; perhaps someone had seen a weird purple girl suddenly spit cursed fire, had considered that a Dark Wizard had set the Frost Fair up and might have hidden minions in the crowd, and finally had jumped to conclusions. Perhaps.

Regardless, she was fairly sure that you weren't supposed to be conscious when you were Stunned. For a start, that sort of went against the basic idea of the curse. And then, well, if that was how this worked, surely, out of all the people who had been Stunned throughout history, someone would have mentioned something, and then it would eventually have ended up inside one of her books. Wizards could be dense, but not that dense.

Unless—

Perhaps the Stunning Spell got you into such a state of mind that you were conscious, fully conscious, while under its influence, but once you were Rennervated, you couldn't retain it?

But then, if that was the case, then not long from now, Hermione would wake up and she would forget all of this. This was not a pleasant thought. It meant that who she was, right now, the person who remembered the reasoning she'd just carried out, would be gone. Dead. And what about all the people who had been Stunned, ever since the spell's inception? How many hours, in all of Time, of consciousness had been erased so?…

…Alright, so it wasn't very likely, but it was still a very disturbing line of thinking.

Fortunately, she pursued it no more when suddenly, a sort of whirrrrllll-ing sound rang through the spaceless abyss and lit it with gold, and one by one she saw, lighting up, that damn harpsichord she had seen on and off and on again for months… and a chair, and a desk, and a flat bed that seemed hard and narrow — and the outline of a window a little farther…

She looked down again, and this time she saw the form of her purple hands. They weren't really her hands, any more than the golden furniture was really furniture; they were all semi-transparent outlines shining through the darkness, like holograms, or ghosts, or—

Or—

She looked up, and there was a man standing in front of her.

"Professor Grindelwald."

Oh, she had her voice back, albeit a little echoey. Good.

She had apparently materialized in Hologram Nurmengard. …Less good.

"…How in Merlin's name are you even here," Grindelwald said, advancing towards her. "What… are you dead? Are you a ghost? But Nurmengard is warded against even that—no. Not a ghost. You— what is this?"

"Well, I don't know if this will be a comfort or make it all even more frustrating," Hermione offered, "I haven't the faintest idea. One moment you're breathing fire at a Death Eater, and the next, you're a disembodied spectre who teleported into the most heavily-guarded fortress on the Earth. What a world! Right?"

Grindelwald's eyebrows had jumped higher up on his forehead than should have been allowed by the laws of physics. When he spoke, however, it was more of a quiet, subdued suggestion. Oddly enough.

"I think, that I am going to need… some context."


So she told him about the Frost Fair, and the reveal of the Death Eaters, and the death of Master Flamel, and the lost Weasley child, and the Battle on the Ice. And she went back and she told him about Azkaban and Fiendfyre, and Rufus Grinch and his Dementor refugees.

"…Very well then," said Grindelwald, a look of sincere concern settling on his features. "Yes, Crouch is making his move. Young fool. Too soon. He lost at least one good servant. Perhaps more; you did not see the end of the battle."

"Hey, that's true," Hermione interjected, her ethereal face brightening. "I didn't. Perenelle and Crouch were still jousting back then. Perhaps he's done for already. Crouch himself, that is. Not just his cronies."

"I wish I could share your enthusiasm," shrugged Grindelwald, "but I doubt it. It is possible that Crouch may fail to kill Mme Flamel, but if he has any sense in him, then he will have arranged ways to depart unhindered if he senses the duel is going her way. You have not seen the last of him, no, I don't think."

"Oh." Her face fell. "…But then, maybe he doesn't have that sort of foresight. He did appear quite mad."

"Don't confuse madness and lack of sense," the old tyrant warned her. "They are two very different things. I should know, having suffered from one… but thankfully, never the other."

"Ah… I see," she accepted, remembering that since he had planned the Frost Fair all along, 'lack of foresight' did not appear to indeed be one of Bartemius Crouch Junior's defining character flaws. "I'll trust you. …Alright, so you've got all the context you could need. Let's see now. What am I?"

Grindelwald's spectral brow furrowed. He half-raised a hand towards his face, meaning to thoughtfully stroke a mustache that he had long since shaven. Resting on the harpsichord with his other hand, he lost himself in reflexion for a few moments.

It was, actually, quite amusing. When Grindelwald had to think, he did so in the most buffoonishly conspicuous fashion, as a pantomime character would. Dumbledore, fortunately for his reputation, thought in a much more conventional fashion — his blue eyes took on a faraway look, and before you knew, he had stopped listening to whatever you were saying. Only when concentrating on the deepest of problems would something a little more whimsical come out, as the Headmaster of Hogwarts began to hum to himself — not music, just a sort of low buzzing like that of a bumblebee. Hermione had observed it on a few occasions, and laughed about it with Minerva and the Sorting Hat—

"Bmmmmmmmmzmmmmmmm…"

…oh, great. Fantastic. He did it too, on top of everything else. Well. Whatever solved the mystery quickest.

"A-ha! Eureka! I have found it!"

"Great! Brilliant," she said. "But, erm, Professor…"

"Yes?"

"…How theatrical can you get?!"

Grindelwald blinked in confusion, but this lasted only a second. A knowing smile lit his wrinkled face.

"Oh, my dear Miss Granger, you have no idea," he answered, before taking a more serious tone. "Well, as I said: I believe that I have found the answer. Let me see if you can figure it out for yourself. Tell me, how often have these… visions of harpsichords… been troubling you?"

"Oh, now and then," she replied, evasive. She didn't really see his point, yet.

"But… never, I think, in the week-ends, or at night?"

"Nno…" she confirmed. "I say! You're right, that's odd. Wait… wait… of course!… Your lessons — intervals — I'm getting visions through Albus's Remote-Projector, am I not? Whenever you've switched it on on your end but its twin in Hogwarts is off — and of course, it happens in that order, you can't control the one in Hogwarts yourself so it's on a timer, you switch yours a few minutes early then you switch off a few moments after the original automatically — {sweet scales…}"

The 1994 Defence Professor was nodding his head in approval, beaming like a teacher satisfied with a student's progress — which was, in the end, what he was right at this moment, not officially in office though he may have been.

"But wait!…" she said. "Why is this happening? Why should I get such? And why am I now appearing only here as a purple shade? Speaking of which, why on Earth am I appearing purple even though everything on your end appears golden regardless of its true color? Actually, my robes are purple now, and they definitely weren't in real life… what-"

Grindelwald shushed her with a finger.

"So many questions…" he chuckled. "The first has a simple answer. You recall the circumstances of your young schoolmate Master Wilkes's interference in your first Regeneration, I presume?"

Her mouth rounded in a slight 'ooooh'.

Of course.

A few months ago, when she had regained a non-cursed body thanks to a Regeneration Potion, her adorably treacherous Slytherin minion Douglas Wilkes had been bribed by Helen Monroe to try to highjack the Potion for Grindelwald, which he had 'achieved' by dipping the Remote-Projector that transferred Grindelwald's image to Hogwarts in the Potion just before Hermione used it.

It had not seemed to have any particular effects at the time, but… why shouldn't there have been, in hindsight? It's not as though you could normally contaminate magic potions with any foreign enchanted artifact heedless of consequences. Snape threw a hissy fit whenever a Gryffindor let so much as a speck of dust find its way into a brew — though to be fair, Snape threw hissy fits about just about anything if it caught his fancy.

The point was, when she thought about it, the theory made sense. Each of the ingredients in the Resurrection Potion imbued its central quality to the new body. This was actually the reason she was purple — Orga's Acromantula's blood granting her new blood its own brand of magic. The Remote-Projector's main function was to project images of Grindelwald's room in Nurmengard onto another location… and combined with the Potion, this had resulted in these images being projected right into her soul.

Neat.

"Okay then," she said, as if challenging Grindelwald to tie up his all-but-proven theory, "why purple?"

"Remember, Miss Granger," the old wizard answered without missing a beat, "your ability to beam yourself to me is an echo of the setting of the Hogwarts Projector that allows it to show images of the classroom to me. And if the transfer happens in reverse…"

"…then the colors are reversed," Hermione finished. "So, purple instead of yellow. And if I happen to actually be purple, that's just a coincidence."

"Hmhm," nodded the wizard.

There was a pause.

"Yes," Hermione broke the silence, "that explains most everything, but it still doesn't tell me why I'm now existing only as a projection in your mind rather than being in control of my own body."

"Oh, simple!" Grindelwald laughed, "in previous cases, the connection was activated during the day, so it superimposed with your conscious experiences. Now however, I surmise your real body is unconscious somewhere, even though it is day; so there is no interference."

"I suppose that does explain matters rather," she said. "Thank you then. But… two last questions."

"Yes?"

"First, why was your Projector switched on?"

"Simple," he answered. "Luck and happenstance. You see, the Projectors are the fastest way to contact me that Dumbledore has. As soon as he heard about the Frost Fair, he informed me and asked for my tactical advice."

"He trusts you with giving him tactical advice?"

"Now he does…" he answered with a humble smile, "apparently, and I am deeply honored. This would never have happened even three years ago. At any rate, I gave him a… pointer or two on what I think a crazed, master-less minion might do… then he signed off on his end. For a few minutes I remained lost in thought, amazed at, yes, the fact that Albus had sincerely asked for my opinion on such a grave matter, that he had trusted me so… I didn't think to switch on my Projector, until suddenly, you appeared."

"Alright," she said. "Second question. How do I get back?"

Grindelwald looked a little embarrassed.

"I am not a god, you know," he finally admitted. "I deduced it faster than you, but this absurd connection is as strange to me as it is to you. Which means I have no special insight into its workings. As far as I know, all it does is allow your mind to spend its coma with me; there's certainly no 'Awaken Fraudulent Flesh Receptor's Body' button on my Projector that I could press, if that is what you are imagining. Either you wait here with me until your body is Rennervated back in England…"

"No, really, you're very kind but I'd rather not," she protested, not without awkwardness. "Talking to you is all very nice but… I'll only get distracted… I still have things to do when I get back. It could be that the battle is still raging on the Thames. I don't want to spend an hour having tea and crumpets with my Defence Professor until suddenly I'm thrust back into action. I'm still more or less in combat mode, so to speak, and I'd like to maintain it."

"Fair point," Grindelwald opined. "Then the best thing to do is — this."

Grindelwald did something — in the split-second that he bent forwards, reaching out for something unseen, Hermione guessed — he was going to switch off his Projector, returning her to her coma, and in, subjectively, no time at all, she'd wake up as herself —

Click

— and she knew no more.


'R…n…v…'

Huh?

"Rennervate!"

A jolt.

Oh!

So I'm back, then.

Becoming aware of her revived body, she shook herself vigorously, getting rid of some of the snow that she felt coating her body. That's right — it was snowing, now — she opened her eyes, squinting in the white light of a bright winter's day. A silhouette towered over her, a thin, relatively attractive young man with red hair and horn-rimmed glasses, who stood, perhaps, a little too straight; on his shoulder was a large, grey Post Owl, a screech owl if she wasn't mistaken.

"Percy Weasley!" she recognized. "Thank you. Er! What are you doing here? Last I heard of you, you were busy working with Barty Crouch — Senior, I mean, obviously —"

"You're babbling, Miss Granger," he remarked with a kindly, if slightly condescending, smile. "Judging by what I heard from Ron and Ginny, that's a good omen. …Yes, well, I may be Mr Crouch's secretary, but this is Christmas. I don't know what you've heard but we Ministry workers celebrate holidays too."

"Hoot," said the grey owl.

"Yes, Hermes, so do our owls," Percy granted, giving his owl a conciliatory smile.

"I… I don't doubt it," she said awkwardly, sitting up against the tent and wiping the last of the snow from her robes. "I… hh… Oh dear. I've been Stunned before, but it was never this bad…"

"I know!" said Percy, "Why, I had to Rennervate you twice! I think you must have caught one of Professor Flitwick's spells. He's an expert duelist, retired, but—"

"Yes, I know," interrupted an annoyed Hermione. "As I was saying, I know you must have holidays like everyone else, but I didn't see you earlier. And I had looked through the crowd for people I knew. If I had spotted you I would have said hello."

"Yyes…" Percy said awkwardly. "Well… I wasn't exactly mingling…"

"What do you mean?"

"I thought, I thought," Percy said, adjusting his collar, as even Hermes seemed to look away, "I assumed that such a large gathering would be a fine, to erm, promote… I have this campaign, you see…"

"Oh?" she said innocently. "A political campaign? Campaign for what?"

After looking round to make sure no one else was listening, Percy finally answered, in a very very small voice:

"Thicker cauldron bottoms."

…It was very hard not to laugh.

"I had this entire demonstration planned out, with two Collapsible Cauldrons," he continued, visibly contrite, pointing at a colorless, featureless little stand in the back where, indeed, there stood two apparently-identical cauldrons. "I meant to illustrate the dangers of thin cauldron bottoms by brewing identical Fungiface Potions in both, knowing that the second would rupture when the third step of brewing was reached. I still have all the ingredients right here, and the cue cards I meant to use… but when the Fair opened and I tried to get people to come and see, none of them, not a single one, would… erm…"

"I can't imagine why," Hermione said, making no effort to appear sincere. "And then?"

"Hah… then of course, the battle started."

"What did you do?"

"I am no great duelist," Percy said, trying to look as honorable as possible as he admitted his un-Gryffindorness, "and so, I decided it was best to make for a, erm, tactical retreat."

"Hoot, hoot, hooot," Hermes interjected.

"Yes, of course," Percy said quickly, "Hermes stayed, and fought courageously. Hrm."

"Looks like your Owl is more of a Gryffindor than you are," Hermione teased the sulking young man. "…Wait. You understand what he says?"

"Eh, yes, more or less," Percy replied, taken aback. "It's… it's nothing special. It just took a bit of patience and method… marking down the probable of meaning of certain hoots, certain yips… yes, I suppose I do understand Owlish more than the average. Not that I can speak it to any degree. I did try, but alack, I was met only with Hermes's hooting laughter…"

"Percy, Percy, Percy," Hermione said, all contempt dropped, "that's amazing. That's… that's… combined with the Babblebook, this could change the world!"

Percy quirked an eyebrow, nervously adjusting his glasses.

"I… really?… Wait, what's a Babblebook?"

"I'll explain later," she said. "Percy. Your Owlish-English correspondences. Have you put them in writing?"

"Miss Granger," he answered, "do you know me?"

"Good point," she said. "Well, if you can mail copies to me as soon as it is convenient…"

"Why, erm, of course… I…wl…"

"Oh, and, about those cauldron regulations?" she added, giving the timid young warlock no chance to let his tongue get its act together, "I'll see if I can drop in a word with Cornelius."

"Cornelius," Percy repeated, bemused. "Cornelius? Cornelius who?"

Then his eyes widened comically. His mouth fell open.

"Y-yes please! Please do!" he stammered in quick-fire, having finally caught up. "That-that would be, Merlin, oh God, th-that would be absolutely tremend-"

Unfortunately, Hermione was no longer listening. Instead, she had gotten to her feet and was looking around the ice-bank-turned-battlefield, still littered with broken tents and a few specks of blood. The people were gone, save for the injured, tended to by a few Medi-Wizards. (Looking a bit further, she caught a glimpse of a very bossy-looking Auror Withecombe-Greengrass ordering lower-ranking magical policemen about, and immediately resolved not to wander that way and say hello. )

Obviously, the Battle was over.

On the other hand, the injured were still being tended to, right here.

That meant it hadn't been a long time since it was over.

And these were the holidays.

And that meant—

"Percy, out of curiosity, your cousin, what was his name?"

"I — you mean —" Percy said, again taken aback, a great sadness washing over his brown eyes, "you mean the one the Crimson Heir—"

"Yes," Hermione confirmed. "Oh, and his name is Barty Crouch Jr. …Please don't start another You Know Who situation."

She turned towards the Medi-Wizards and law enforcement, though she knew none of them were paying attention, and added:

"…That goes for all of you!…"

She turned back towards the grief-stricken Percy just in time for him to mutter:

"…Wesley. Wesley was his name."

"Wesley?" Hermione mouthed off in disbelief. "Who on Earth names their son Wesley Weasley?!"

"Well, uncle Eric, apparently," Percy answered in the same derisive tone before catching himself. "Hermione! Stop being so… don't joke about him! He's dead!"

"Aw, no he's not," Hermione reassured him. "And it's Hermione now! Nice! I don't mind. …Alright. Hang on, brave Wesley Weasley, I'm coming to get you."

"That's - that's impossible," Percy spluttered. "Hermione! Hermione Granger! You can't save him! The Crimson- Barty Crouch Junior killed him!"

"Less then five hours ago," Hermione added.

But Percy just gave her an odd look.

She sighed.

"Oh for God's sake. Look around my neck."

It took a few more seconds, and then Percy's eyes practically doubled in size, overstepping the bounds of his glasses.

"Oh, and I'm going to need that Gillyweed you were going to use in the demonstration. And a watch"

Without a word, he handed both over.

"Thank you."


Funny thing, as she swam down beneath the ice an hour earlier, hidden from sight, Hermione barely felt the cold. She wasn't sure whether it was the Fiendfyre or the Acromantula blood, but it was definitely convenient.

Guiding herself based on the shadow-like silhouettes of the men above, treading on the thin but sturdy magical ice, she maneuvered to be just beneath Wesley, a few feet away from Bartemius.

She checked her watch, tried to hear what Crouch and Wesley were saying above…

'…do you say to that?'

'…'

'…Potter blew him up!…'

There it was…

'…'

'Then blown up it shall-'

Now!

A few seconds before Crouch cast his, Hermione cast a weaker Exploding Spell right beneath Wesley's feet — enough to crack the ice, and possibly singe his shoes, but nothing that could seriously hurt him. The little boy fell like a rock as the ground he was walking on disappeared; she grabbed his ankles and dragged him further down, despite his weak kicks of protest. Above, she heard the conflagration of Crouch's spell, which everyone thought had killed the child.

Not wasting a minute, she stuffed what was left of the Gillyweed in the boy's mouth. She shot him a glare and he swallowed it. Soon he'd grown gills and fins. He took deep breaths of water, then tried to speak; but of course, it still came out quite bubbly.

Hermione shushed him before taking his hand and leading him away. They swam and swam in silence, avoiding the crocodilian monster brought for the Fair and its smaller cohorts, until they reached the end of the ice. They made surface and swam to the ground.

Which, this being the River Thames, was crowded with gawking Muggles who pointed in disbelief at their fins, and his wizard's robes, and her inexplicable swimsuit, and her bared purple skin.

Damn it.

Hermione hated having to lie to Muggles.

Although… who said she'd have to?

After giving Wesley a quick look that told him to stay quiet as well as anything, she turned to the stunned onlookers and explained with an innocent smile:

"Don't mind us! We were just part of a masquerade!"

There. You couldn't say she'd told a lie.


A quarter of an hour later, rerobed and warmed up, the young witch and wizard sat in the living room of the Granger house, warming themselves by a chimney fire.

"You saved me…" Wesley repeated with a daft smile. "Hermione Granger saved me! This is so cool!"

Hermione could have just nodded politely, but on the trip back, she had had another idea.

"Actually… if you and your cousin Percy could… avoid mentioning my part in this…?" she asked the young Weasley.

"Anything you say, Miss," Wesley agreed with an attempt at a military salute. "But, er — why? I mean, aren't people going to ask questions? I really, really think they'll want to know how I survived the bad wizard's evil curse."

"I'm sure they will, Wesley," Hermione chuckled, "and that's the point. I hear you like Harry Potter. Well then… how would you like to be the new Boy Who Lived?"

Wesley gaped and then nodded enthusiastically (how could his response have been anything else?). Hermione gave a warm smile and, gazing into the fireplace, whispered:

"Merry Christmas, Harry."