A/N: Revised as of September 15, 2009. I'm working on fixing some of the continuity problems, so I'm creating a timeline and noticed a mistake or two in this first chapter. It will definitely be a while before everything's fixed to my satisfation, but I do want to get it done. Thanks.
A brunette man walked out of the lift and down the lowest corridor in the Ministry of Magic. His strides were even, but there was a slightly obvious favoring of his left leg that caused a pronounced limp in his movement. His body was slim and muscular, as though he had once spent many hours working out, but was now in the process of getting out of shape.
The man walked through the halls with a purpose common for the department he was currently searching for – people who worked down in the deepest corners of the Ministry were always hurrying this way and that way. The hall was empty at the moment, but even normally when six or seven witches and wizards occupied the place at the same time, they merely brushed each other's shoulders in their haste, even if it was a person with whom they were very familiar.
He took a right turn, and ended up in another corridor, which was lined with numerous doors, all of which looked exactly the same, and all of which he knew were bolted shut with an armed guard at its entrance. Security around the Department, and indeed the Ministry in general, had upped in recent years, especially since a group of fifteen year olds and an evil Dark Lord had once managed to break in and destroy many prized collectables.
All of the door handles were charmed to test a person's intentions and clearance. If an unworthy person attempted to enter the knob would disappear, and an alarm would go off in the Auror department. There was something special behind the door the man was headed toward, hence the fact that it had no knob at all – simply a rectangular peephole, which was reinforced by metal. He marched up to the door and stood erect, raising a firm hand to the door and giving it three raps in quick succession.
It was silent for a long moment, but eventually a hesitant inch of the peephole opened. A deep brown eye appeared, narrowed at the man. "Drop your glamour," the voice, now obviously female, commanded.
The man looked about, making sure no one was watching, before he replied in the negative. "I can't," he said in a deep voice. "Not until I'm inside."
The rectangle had opened all the way now, and two eyes watched the man warily. "I can't let you in if I can't properly identify you. I'll have to think up a security question."
He spread out his hands in a placating gesture. "Ask away."
"Who was the second person I danced with at my wedding?"
A small smile appeared at the corners of his mouth. "That would be me." He didn't continue, expecting a follow up question.
"What did you say to me during our dance?"
"I told you I had never seen you look so beautiful. I said I was going to do my best to make sure you and Ron made it through the war alive," he said, features stiffening. A look of sorrow and defeat consumed him, and the woman's countenance faltered.
"And when Ron died? What did you say at the funeral?" she asked, in a whisper.
"I am so weary of toil and of tears, Toil without recompense--tears all in vain, take them and give me my childhood again." He recited the words with a deep sadness that only the person on the other side of the door could begin to understand.
The door opened.
As soon as he had passed the threshold and the door was securely locked again, the woman enveloped him in a firm embrace. Pulling away, she examined his unfamiliar face, but seemed to take something away from it.
"You haven't been sleeping," she admonished, brushing his hair away from his forehead. "Take down the glamour, there isn't anyone else here tonight."
He nodded his assent, and flicked his wand in a general way. His shoulders broadened, his femurs lengthening slightly, the muddy brown hair turning black, and finally the eyes changed back into their natural, brilliant green.
She turned away, moving further into the room, which was spacious and nearly empty. The walls were painted a dull white, and several work desks were laid out in a row across the far wall. She evidently occupied two of the desks, as she had only one chair between them. She sat on it and swiveled around.
"I haven't seen you in a while," she said softly. "I had thought…perhaps you were angry with me."
He followed her, pulling a chair from the next desk over. "I'm not angry with you, Hermione. It was my responsibility as much as yours. I hope you don't think I took advantage of you. If you do, I can only apologize."
She looked at him thoughtfully. "I don't love you, Harry, I think you know that. And I know you don't come anywhere near loving me. The two loves of our lives were freckly and had red hair. But sometimes, I feel like if I don't…If I don't hug someone, kiss someone, I'll die. I suppose you know what it feels like."
During her speech his eyes had become unfocused, but he snapped to attention. "I know what it feels like," he replied hollowly. "But I'm not an animal; I can control myself. If you don't want to work together anymore, I'll understand."
She rolled her eyes. "Don't be stupid, Harry. I wanted it as much as you did. When you didn't come by last week…"
"Kingsley had me out on a mission," he said. "He didn't want anyone to know."
"I figured," she replied, looking down at the floor. "But I wasn't being exactly rational. It was the first time since…Ron."
"It was the same for me," he reminded her. "I hadn't been with anyone except for Ginny."
"I miss them so much."
"Did I ever tell you we were trying for a baby? We decided right after Lucius Malfoy was arrested. And you know how that ended," he finished bitterly.
She smiled wistfully. "Ron wanted to wait a few years, until we were older, and until the rest of the Death Eaters were put away and Voldemort was dead. He said we had all the time in the world – and I believed the bastard."
"No one knew what was happening, Hermione. The fall wasn't executed the way we planned it."
"Of course not," she seethed. "Who could have predicted that little rat Draco Malfoy would be such an opportunist and betray us?"
"It doesn't do to dwell on it, Hermione. He as good as killed himself. I was there when he was tortured, you know. Voldemort thanked Draco for handing him the Weasley's, and then killed him for insubordination. Of course, the Killing Curse didn't come until dozens of the Cruciatus. By that time he was begging for death…"
His eyes were hollow again, just like they were nearly every minute of his life since the death of his wife.
"I know it's hard on you."
He shrugged. "I visit Arthur, when I can."
"I do too," she said, nodding. "He never did learn to cook…after Molly."
"What are we doing, Hermione?" he asked abruptly. "I'm not happy. You aren't happy. Arthur's whole entire family is dead, and he is wasting away. I live in the house of my dead godfather, wearing a wedding band which belonged to my dead father, and I wear this chain -" he ripped a silver chain from underneath his robes – "with the engagement ring my dead wife used to wear. I'm surrounded, 'Mione! I can't get rid of the stench! Everyone is gone and I have no idea what I'm still doing here!"
She rose from her seat. "What the fuck do you want from me, Harry? I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances. You yelling at me won't help us figure out the plan. Now," she said practically. "I can tell you what I know and you can shut the fuck up, or you can leave. I'm not in the mood."
He sighed. "What have you found out?"
"There are theories of how to achieve time travel."
His eyes lit up. "I can move through time?" he asked eagerly.
She cringed. "It isn't that simple, Harry. Movement isn't really…well it isn't as easy as all that. Howard thinks that the most practical approach is to send memories backwards. If you went back in your own body, like with a Time-Turner, you wouldn't be able to go back as far because of your mass. Well, I think you'd have too much…matter for the velocity to be as high as it needs to be to propel you back. Plus, you wouldn't be able to change things as much or as easily as we need."
"You said in your owl you made some sort of progress," he said, almost accusingly.
She hesitated. "Well, Howard and I were playing around with some figures, and we came along an idea."
"There's a school of thought that says your life is a kind of circle. Howard thinks, and I'm starting to agree with him, that if we flung your memories forward fast enough that they would eventually leave the parameters of the future, and end up in the past."
"How would you do it?"
"That's actually where Howard is most valuable. He did his internship in Spell Generation, and he has a lot of experience with Latin. He's been working on a spell that would send you back…or well, forward."
"But what about other 'time lines'? Couldn't I just go back further into the past and…I don't know…kill Tom Riddle before he becomes Voldemort?"
She shook her head. "Harry, you've never been to the nineteen-fifties, when Riddle was a child. It's all so terribly confusing.
"There are parallel timelines, theoretically of course, which would mean you would either vanish altogether from here and end up in the future. I think it's much more likely that your body will just become limp and unusable in this timeline.
"We're working with the foundation that you can send back memories of these years to your past self. As long as you stay within your own timeline, anything is possible. And this isn't really accepted in the world of time travel."
"Why isn't it?"
"There are a whole lot of other diagrams from what we're trying to do, and all of them are much more complicated than the diagram Howard and I have come up with. I can't imagine it really is that simple."
"What side effects do you imagine I would have?"
She flinched. "I'm not exactly sure. I reckon you'll mess up some things in the universe, sort of like a ripple effect. There will definitely be some fundamental changes now that you know the causality. We'll definitely have to have a game plan before we so much as attempt a spell."
"But Hermione, what if you're right, and my body becomes limp while my mind goes back in time – we were doing this for us. I can't just leave you behind in this hellhole."
"It may not even work the way I suspect. Perhaps this world will cease to exist the minute you go back." She looked doubtful.
"Your heart has been broken enough, my friend," he said softly, brushing his hand across her cheek. "I can't go without you, not if you'll be imprisoned here."
"I don't think we have a choice," she replied, closing her brown eyes. "Howard and I will barely have enough energy between the two of us to activate the spell properly. We were looking at it and still aren't sure it won't dry one – or both – of us up magically. That's why we haven't been jumping for joy."
"What if you send me back, and then Howard finds someone else to help send you back?"
She gave him a superior smile. "I'm not sure I'd trust anyone else with my memories. Anyway, I've told you the entire circle diagram is completely untested and most likely incorrect. I could risk starting time over again if I don't do it right."
"But what if it is a parallel universe?" he persisted. "Can you really handle being here all alone?"
She turned away. "I don't plan on being here long."
"Hermione, what are you thinking?"
"After you leave, I plan on putting myself out of my misery," she said firmly.
His emerald eyes widened. "Hermione, no! There's another way, I know it. There has to be a way for you to come back with me. Either that – or to verify that time will totally reset itself and you will be transported back yourself."
"I believe Howard when he says this timeline will disappear entirely. He is smarter than I am, and I can't really argue when I see the math he figures. It's my prerogative, Harry. If it starts over, you'll do your best to ensure my happiness, I know it. And if I'm stuck here I'll be comforted with the fact that my other self is your best friend again. And I'll be ridding myself of this burden. Every night, every day, every second without Ron is like a weight around my neck. It just gets heavier as I get more tired. I'm tired, Harry. I'm tired of being logical; I'm tired of being the brains. I'm exhausted from half a lifetime of unrequited love, and the other half mourning. I had three years with Ron, and I miss my husband.
"Say you'll do this, Harry," she pleaded, grasping his shoulders in her hands. "Say that if I can come up with a spell that works, regardless of what will happen to this timeline that you'll go for it, and save the world again. Only this time, you have to use this knowledge and save our family."
Choking back tears, Harry nodded. "You find the spell and call me. I'll be here."
"I was thinking…" she said hesitantly, pulling the white cotton sheet to her chin. "Well, I was more wondering about something."
Harry rose on his elbow, reaching over to stroke her cheek. "What is it? What are you thinking about?"
She responded by moving closer, and snuggling up against him. "I was wondering what you thought about having babies." She looked up at him, gauging his reaction.
His expression didn't change much; his brow furrowed slightly in bemusement, and his mouth perked up at the sides. "You want to have children?"
"Well, not at this exact moment, I don't. But I want to talk about it. Do you ever think about what it would be like to start a family? Do you ever want lots of little Potters running around? There would be James Sirius, of course, and Albus Remus, or Lily Molly – what about Lily Luna?" She giggled.
He closed his eyes, sighing in contentment at the picture forming in his mind. "That sounds wonderful."
"I think so," she whispered, rising up on her elbow so she could kiss him on the lips."
"Do you think we can get that – our future?" he asked in a low voice. His wife was the only person who knew the extent of his apprehension about the final confrontation with Voldemort. No one else knew he spent many a sleepless night tossing and turning and wondering if he would have the strength required of him to defeat the Dark Lord.
She hugged him fiercely. "Harry James Potter, I don't think we can have that future. I know we will have that future. I know it because you are the bravest, the most powerful, and the most dedicated man on the face of the earth, and you will not stop until we are all safe."
"I love you so much, Ginny."
She closed her eyes, savoring the words. "Sometimes I still have trouble believing you really mean me when you say that. I still wonder if someone else isn't in the bed with us."
"I don't want to share a bed with anyone else," he said passionately. "My bed, my body, my heart, and my love are all yours, forever."
"I love you too," she said solemnly. "Sometimes it's overwhelming."
"I know the feeling."
"So, about the babies," she said, grinning. "When do you want to get started on those?"
He bent down, nuzzling her neck. "Oh, I'd say right about now."
His one bedroom flat was barren. He and Ginny had barely moved in when she and her entire family were slaughtered at a family dinner at the Burrow. Harry and Hermione had both been absent – Harry working with Kingsley on some training exercises, and Hermione training as an Unspeakable. That day they had lost the loves of both their lives, and it had been a flood of grief.
Arthur was the only Weasley to survive, except for Percy, who at the time was still not speaking to his family. He had eventually been killed as well – when the Ministry had finally fallen to Voldemort. Riddle wanted a clean transition, and declared all blood-traitor, Muggle-born, and Half-blood personnel be executed immediately. Arthur had long since stopped going to work and was living at Grimmauld Place, but the Order hadn't had time to arrange for Percy's safety.
He still lived in the same flat two years later, though his original lease had been month to month. He and Ginny hadn't planned on living there long, just rented it as an in between until they started their real family.
And now he had no family.
Harry slumped on the sofa, preparing for another night on the couch. Since Ginny's death he could barely face their bedroom, and spent more and more time passed out on the couch.
Tonight he thought about the implications of his meeting with Hermione. Things had been odd since their encounter a fortnight ago, but he wasn't worried about their friendship. He knew it was an expression of their loneliness, and he also knew he couldn't have gained any comfort from anyone else. No one else knew what he was feeling – no one else had any comfort to gain from him.
If he knew Hermione, there was no use in arguing with her about her plans for after his departure for the past. She would do as she wanted anyway, and she was such a skilled witch that she probably had already concocted a million different scenarios in order to fulfill her objectives. He wished it hadn't come to this, but there was no way to cover all of his vases. If he wanted Ginny, and if he wanted Hermione and Ron to be happier together longer, there was only one thing to be done.
Harry knew he would have to make it back to the past, to Ginny, and to victory. Voldemort didn't exist anymore, which proved – and which at some points during the second war had seemed impossible – that Voldemort was not immortal nor invincible.
"I'm going to put you to sleep, Harry. We'll let you get comfortable and then do a brain scan. We'd rather do this while you aren't dreaming. Then, we'll cast the spell, and hopefully you should wake up in your other body. You might be a little disoriented at first, but we think you'll be able to get your bearings rather quickly."
He nodded his head, reclining on the scratchy cot underneath him.
"Remember, Harry, you aren't to use magic. You aren't to kill Pettigrew, and you aren't to do anything to provoke a failure of the wards around the Dursley home. The only people who can be in on the secret are Ron, Ginny, and me. Dumbledore should know too, I suppose. Practice your Occlumency daily; it's very important to keep Snape and Dumbledore from your mind until you're ready to reveal your secret."
"I want to tell you when we get to Hogwarts, but what if you don't believe me?" he asked, feeling nervous.
She paused, biting her lip. "Tell me John is the greatest Beatle," she grinned. "No one ever knew that about me. I've read Hogwarts, A History eighteen times in my life; not even Ron knew I loved the Beatles. If you tell me that, I'll believe you."
"I'll miss you, you know," he said. "It may be a while before I can actually be your friend again."
She smiled at him. "Everything will happen in good time. As long as you help Ron and I get together before we're seventeen, I'll be happy."
"It's a deal."
She looked over to the plain, brunette man standing on the other side of Harry's cot. "Are we all ready Howard?"
Howard looked over the notes he was carrying on a clipboard in his hand. He scratched the top of his head with his hand. "Everything looks perfect, but I can't really be sure exactly when we're sending him. If we had a more detailed map of the past…" He collapsed into a fit of incoherent mumbling.
Hermione rolled her eyes, mouthing, "Scientists," to Harry.
"Take the potion," she said, patting his arm.
She handed him the goblet, which held steaming ruby red liquid. He put it up to his lips and jumped when the liquid was not scalding hot as he had expected, but freezing cold. It tasted a little bit like leftover pumpkin juice, a cup of it that had been diluted with water. He grimaced at it, but downed the goblet anyway, earning a nod of approval from Hermione.
"Good bye, Harry," she said, a tinge of sadness creeping into her tone.
He was already feeling groggy; his limbs prickly and uncomfortable. His eyelids were beginning to droop, but he managed to glance over at Howard, who was turned slightly away from the cot, studying his notes, and flicking his wand in what Harry could only identify as practice. He looked back at Hermione, who was looking straight at him, her wand at the ready, too.
The last thing he saw before the Dreamless Sleep Potion kicked in was his best friend's face. He tried to smile back at her, but he couldn't manage it. A redhead invaded his thoughts, and he couldn't help but picture one of the last conversations they'd had together. I know we will have that future.
With that comforting thought, he fell asleep.
Hermione turned to her partner, raising her eyebrows. "Are you ready?" she asked, stroking Harry's forehead.
Howard nodded. The two pointed their wands at Harry, thought the nonverbal incantation, and then each of them stumbled. The drain on her magic was tremendous; Hermione felt like the very essence of herself, that part of her that had always been tucked away in her bosom, had been consumed by the magic.
"Is - is this supposed to happen?" she asked Howard, who was lying on his stomach beside her.
He raised his head tentatively. "I have a feeling we're about to be wiped off the face of the universe."
"I hope you had a good childhood, Howard," she said dryly. "It looks like its back to the past for us."
"I have a feeling we'll meet again sometime, Hermione," Howard said, smiling weakly.
"I have no doubt about that."
The world suddenly toppled, and the air was squeezed from Hermione's lungs. She gasped for air, but none was forthcoming. She smiled, happy she hadn't had to end her own life, and glad she trusted Howard's expert opinion. Just as a ten-year-old boy was waking up in a cupboard in Surrey, the world as she knew it swallowed her.
"Up! Get up! Now!" His aunt was outside the door.
Harry Potter woke up from another dream, but this one wasn't about a giant and a motorcycle. This one had also happened, and this one was something he most certainly could not wake up from. Stretching, Harry Potter looked down at his nearly eleven-year-old self and grinned. His Ginny was alive! His Ron was alive!
"Are you up yet?"
He felt like singing. "Nearly," he chirped.