Wow. It's been awhile. These past three years have been hellish and I don't even know if anyone still reads these clichéd angsty time travel fics, but unfinished stories are painful. I thought I'd try to get my confidence back with some fanfiction. I'm not going to make any promises this time, because we all know how well that worked out last time, when I was healthy and had the best of intentions. I hope you enjoy it anyway!

"Oh God," was all Michelle said, and really it wasn't much more than a whisper, but she sounded so quiet and raw with horror that the Quidditch conversation stopped at once anyway. "Oh my God."

Face white and hands trembling, she held a letter so tightly that the parchment crinkled. Her eyes roved across the words so fast that they seemed to blur—or maybe it was the building tears that blurred them. The post owl gave up on Michelle's bacon, too large and heavy for it to eat, and flew away.

Michelle raised a hand and pressed it against her mouth, as if that could stop the sobs welling up in her. "Alice-" she started to say, but her voice broke with a heavy sob, and she tore out of the Great Hall.

Harry looked from Cassie to Lily, both of whom looked just as confused and concerned as he felt. "Anybody know what that was about?" he asked. Lily fished the letter out of the syrup bowl that Michelle had half-dropped, half-thrown it into. She wiped the syrup off and squinted at it.

Cassie bit her lip. "Alice is her niece, but she's really little. I don't think she's even five years old. She can't be- I hope she's-"

"Cursed," Lily said, still perusing the letter. "Little Alice has been cursed." Forehead crinkled in concern, she put down the letter and gazed at the doors to the Great Hall, which still swung a little from the force with which Michelle had sprinted out. "She's at St. Mungo's."

Heart thrumming in his ears, Harry got up and ran after Michelle. Cassie and Ginny were already ahead of him.

Dah da li do – Dah da li do – Da dot dot – Da da

McGonagall looked a little overwhelmed when all the seventh year Gryffindor girls, plus Harry and Ron, demanded to go to St. Mungo's immediately. She made a cursory effort to only let Michelle go, but Cassie scowled at her for even suggesting it and Michelle looked as though she would fall over if it weren't for Lily's stabilizing arm, so in the end she made a portkey for them all.

The story came in fits and starts. Death Eaters wanted some sort of powerful artifact from Michelle's parents, as near as Harry could make out from the shouting match between Alice's father and grandparents. The older couple refused to hand it over, or even say what it was, no matter what vitriol their son screamed at them, no matter that it might cost a five-year-old's life or that might attack again. No one was allowed to see little Alice yet, but harried healers kept running in and out of her room, many of them yelling and tense. Michelle came back from talking to her brother, Alice's father, and said that Alice's memories drained out of her by the hour. She couldn't hold on to them, and soon wouldn't recognize anyone or know anything except the scorching pain from the curse.

The healers came out after what felt like a lifetime, and admitted they could soothe the pain and make her cogent, but not much else. The curse had already progressed too far to save her, and she would pass away before the sun set. A blonde woman with a pointed nose and fitted green robes burst into tears at that, and Michelle's brother held her. By now, Alice's whole family had arrived, each of them trying their hardest to put on brave smiles as the healers ushered them in, a few at a time, to see Alice.

When Michelle's turn came, it seemed to Harry that she summoned her courage—lifting her head, drying her tears, and squeezing the hand that Ginny had given her to hold—and then slipped into the room to see the little girl.

At Hermione's prodding, Harry and the other Hogwarts students went to fetch large amounts of tea and biscuits, and then shoved them into the hands of any wide-eyed, lost-looking relative. There wasn't much they could do except be there for Michelle, so they tried to stay out of the way, silent but supportive.

By the time they made it back to Hogwarts, they'd already missed an entire day of classes, but Cassie glared at anyone who pestered them with questions and hexed the few undeterred. Michelle went straight to bed, and Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny made their excuses before heading to the Room of Requirement, where they dueled away their frustrations, anger, and feelings of helplessness.

Dah dee doo Dee doh Dee doo Da dot doo

Between lending Michelle support, running the Imperius lessons (Snape had invented a formula for a potion that would mimic the effects of the curse to a lesser degree, but brewing it required both of them to work around the clock), and navigating Professor Lois's defense class (she was asking more and more of the time travelers with each class, putting them in increasingly difficult tactical situations to see how they would handle them), Harry was tired, stressed, and maybe even happy.

They bonded together in the face of the tragedy, routinely making Michelle participate in snowball fights, exploding snap games, and long, quiet talks by the fire. Under the guise of camaraderie, they made sure that she ate and did her homework and saw the sun.

Harry dragged Lily and Hermione to help him with the potion of Snape wasn't going to be there, and bantered cheerfully with the dour Slytherin if he was.

Against his better judgment, he felt a thrill of vindication when the girls cursed the Marauders on his behalf after they had vanished his backpack and any other belongings he'd left in their dorm.

Da doo di Da doo di Da di Da

Da di Da

"Alice was—" Michelle began, on a blistery cold day when the sun shone brightly but the wind drove them all inside. Harry, Ginny, Lily, Cassie, and Michelle were on the way to the kitchens for some warm food and drink to chase away the cold. "I mean, she could always—"

Harry looked at her and waited, because for the first time Michelle had started to talk about it of her own accord and he didn't want to scare her off. It wasn't like he knew what to say, anyway, and he'd probably put his foot in his mouth if he tried.

Cassie wasn't so patient. "Yeah? What was she like?"

Kicking at the ground and not meeting anyone's eye, Michelle tried again. "Happy. Bubbly. Always had a smile, you know?" Lily reached for her hand and tried for a small reassuring smile, but Michelle didn't see it because she was staring at the ground as if some important secret were scrawled on the stones. "And she could always make me smile, even when I was hopelessly pining over Frank and he barely knew I existed, or when I failed Ancient Runes and thought my parents were going to kill me. She was so innocent, and sweet, and I don't understand how anyone could—" She stopped as soon as her voice started to break under the weight of the sobs welling up all-too-obviously in her chest, shaking her shoulders and making her breath ragged.

"And she couldn't even remember me," she whispered when still no one else had spoken. "They made her forget."

"Then we'll just have to remember it all for her," Ginny said, in that gentle and understanding way that she had. Harry reached for her hand.

"Yeah. I know. I was thinking— It sounds silly now, to say it aloud, but I was thinking..." Michelle swallowed. "They tried to destroy her, make it so she never existed, but they didn't. And they can't. I— I won't let them, not ever. I thought I might change my name to Alice so that she's not-"

When the tears choked her off once again, Lily wrapped her into a hug and murmured something that sounded vaguely soothing against her temple.

Dun di dun di da doo di da doo dun dun dun

Dumbledore supervised the next Imperius class. Or, more accurately, after he gave a brief lecture on law and morality, he sat at a desk in the back of the room with a humongous tome open in front of him-nevermind the fact that he didn't so much as glance at the words, but instead sat back in his chair, put his feet up on the desk, and laughed heartily at the students.

Snape took the students who still couldn't recognize the effects of the Imperius curse and gave them the potion he and Harry had been working on, which mimicked the effects of the curse as best they could approximate (forty-two hours sleep deprivation, a jelly-leg-inducing deep tissue back massage, and an alcohol-like impairment to critical thinking). He varied the dosage, slowly building the intensity of the effects so that the students could build up their resistance. Each student under the effects had to continue the debates with a more sober classmate, which led to slurred words, name calling, and no small amount of snoring.

Frank, three Hufflepuff seventh years, and a set of fifth year Ravenclaw and Slytherin twins were on their own, casting the Imperius Curse on each other. Every few minutes, someone from that corner would start singing a God-awful rendition of the opera, trying his hand at ballet or miming or Shakespearean monologues, or professing her undying love to Dumbledore and asking for his hand in marriage.

Harry dealt with the students who just plain weren't stubborn enough. They could recognize the curse as it washed over them and put up an initial resistance, but failed to summon the strength of will to throw the spell off. These students he set to meditating with an old Occlumency exercise that Dumbledore had recommended, which caused the student to glow when performing it properly. The goal was to maintain the glow while everyone else did his absolute best to distract you.

Which is how Harry got to this point.

Ron sat in the old armchair, his eyes scrunched tight in concentration and his lips mouthing the Latin enchantment. As the tension between his shoulders loosened little by little, a soft golden hue settled around his hands and pulsed in time with his breaths. Each time he exhaled, the gold grew brighter and pushed further until it had reached his elbows, his shoulders. Finally, his whole body was wrapped in the golden glow—still throbbing and swirling with every breath Ron took—and Harry signaled the start. Hermione and Ginny, both of whom had come over from Snape's group specifically for this, whispered together for a moment more, giggled, and then set to work.

Hermione rubbed Ron's shoulders and brushed a lock of hair out of his face. The glow didn't waver. She crouched down so she could suck on his earlobe and breathe softly on his neck, while her hands maintained the steady, firm massage on his shoulders. When she pressed her lips against his, Ron's breath quickened and the golden glow crept up to his knees, away from his feet. He just clenched his hands into fists and fought for control until the glow encased his entire body. His face and ears radiated heat, and may as well have been glowing red.

Over both of their heads, Harry and Ginny exchanged amused grins, but didn't even try to hide the fact that they were impressed.

Hermione ignored them both, intent on her task; the challenge of it made her brazen in a way that Harry had never seen her before. But then, he figured, it would be for a class that she sacrificed her usual poise and self-restraint. She settled herself on Ron's lap and wriggled back and forth, back and forth, while she murmured in his ear, making the glow flicker once, twice, before going out altogether. No sooner had her eyes lifted in triumph, though, than had the gold come back, its glow twice as bright as before.

She tried to get back at it, but Ginny pulled her off. They conferred for a moment, and Harry noticed with amusement that the tension was back in the hunch of Ron's shoulders now that he didn't know what to expect. Hermione demonstrated a wand movement for Ginny, and then the two of them conjured spiders that they dropped down the back of his robes.

As Ron squirmed, the glow dimmed and grey-green streaks appeared in it, swallowing the light from around them.

"I hate you," he announced to Hermione and Ginny, or maybe Harry, or maybe just the room at large. His voice held steady and calm, like he was discussing the weather rather than facing his worst childhood fear while maintaining his hold on a difficult spell. "I hate you both, and I hope you die bloody and horrifying deaths. You're supposed to distract me, not bloody torture me."

The glow wavered on the word deaths, and then faded on the word torture until the grey-green light-swallowing streaks stood out more than the golden glow. Ron shut up and focused.

Time was up, but Harry waited until Ron had managed to rebuild the golden glow before calling Euen to take his turn. He clapped Ron, whose face was flush with exertion and triumph and excitement, on the shoulder. "Take a break, mate. Get a drink or go for a walk if you need one, and then go join Frank and the others."

And if Hermione took that break with him… Well, there was a lot going on. Harry couldn't really be expected to keep track of everyone, could he?

Doo Di Doo Di Da di doo di dah-ah-ah

Shorter than previous chapters, but still—something posted. I'd really appreciate some reviews. As I said above, I'm trying to get my confidence back after a rough couple of years, so any constructive comments would be much appreciated. Hopefully, I'll be back soon.