AN. I've never posted anything before, and while I realise another time travel story is somewhat of a cliche, I had this scene in my head and though I might as well post it and get some feedback. With the exception of a couple of stories in highschool, I've never really had anyone read anything I've written, so any criticisms and advice would be welcome. I owe some of the inspiration for this to AkoyaMizuno's Fortune Favours the Damned, which I highly recommend, and most of the time travel/alternate dimension stories on my favourites list.
Disclaimer: Everything recognisable belongs to JKR.
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and beginning were always there.
Before the beginning and after the end,
And all is always now.
T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton in Four Quartets.
Louis Bancroft was bored. Overwhelmingly so. It had been a completely ordinary day. No-one, not one student – not even the Marauders – had had the temerity to do anything unusual or even the slightest bit interesting.
He'd always hated the day he to spend teaching duelling etiquette. Etiquette for god's sake – as if he was some prim and proper spinster who cared about manners in a fight for his life. He could just picture himself confronting some faceless criminal mastermind and berating them for improper manner. 'Oh, how insufferably rude. It's not that you just flung a few unforgivables at me, I just can't excuse the fact that you didn't bow! Everyone knows it's not the magic that matters! It's the manner, dear boy, it's the manner!'
Fortunately – usually – fate seemed to understand just how unutterably dull, how preposterously stupid, it was to teach etiquette and went out of her way to spice that particular day up for him. Last time he'd had to cover it, a brilliant student had managed to charm his classroom door so that it broke into a different song for every person who walked through it – and this was the brilliant bit – according to their current mood. He'd had a hard time keeping a straight face when a particularly maudlin pupil had entered the room to the strains of 'Don't let me be misunderstood'. It had been even more difficult when, after the shock had passed, the kid had seemed to commiserate with the lyrics, taking a seat with a woeful expression and casting his eyes heavenward in especially melodramatic fashion as he mouthed the words.
Louis sighed. Why, oh why, couldn't someone have been similarly inspired today? He gazed out at the Hogwarts evening feast sadly, not even pretending to hide his boredom. The day was almost over and it would have been wasted – no, ruined – by the unbearable combination of etiquette and tedium. Tedium, he decided, was like a fungus. A carnivorous fungus. It ate away at his day, sapping his energy and devouring every atom of interest from the world around him until everything was tainted by bitter, grey sludge.
It was, Louis thought, the worst possible torture.
It was with an expression of pure delight then, that he took in the formation of a strange patch of distorted air in the middle of the hall. It almost looked as if an unseen person had blown a giant bubble and filled it with some kind of iridescent vapour that danced, coiling and twisting on the strains of an unknown breeze. Louis couldn't help a kind of detached admiration for the beauty of the magic: whatever it was and however it had come to be, there was a brilliance to it that cut through the grey tinge that had thus far permeated his day.
Even when the forms of four people began to solidify within the not-quite-bubble and he found himself reacting precisely as the Hogwarts defence professor should – wand out, on his feet, face inscrutable – he couldn't help the part of him that was screaming with glee at having something interesting to do. Catching the gleam in the eyes of Professor McGonagall and one or two others on the teaching staff he noted that in this, perhaps, he was not alone. Thus, as the distorted air disappeared as unexpectedly as it had formed and four very real and bloodied people dropped to the floor of the Great Hall, he found himself thanking Fate and silently asking her forgiveness for ever doubting she'd leave him to suffer alone.
Assessing the strangers, he noted that while two of them, a brown haired woman and a red headed man, appeared to be unconscious – or dead – the two men still standing had all his senses racing. In appearance they were as different as could be, one dark haired with glasses, one tall and blond with decidedly aristocratic features. It was entirely apparent from the sweat, blood and grime that covered them, from the gashes on the brunette's arm and the blonde's crimson tinged hair, that they had been in the middle of some sort of battle. It was also apparent, from the curses spewing from the brunette's mouth, that this situation was as much of a shock to them as it was to the population of the Great Hall, most of whom were staring in open astonishment and not a little alarm at this interruption to their dinner.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, what the HELL was that, bloody friggin' Voldemort, where in Merlin's name are we..."
Louis almost laughed out loud at the instinctive expression of disapproval that crossed some of his colleagues' faces at the young man's vocabulary, before they came to their senses and realised that, all things considered, it really wasn't the issue here. After all, he thought, wouldn't you forgo decorum in their situation? Bloody wizards and bloody manners!
A cold hard voice cut through the exclamations of surprise, as the Headmaster pointed his wand at the intruders, his body and face set in unforgiving lines.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my school?"
The brunette looked up at his surroundings then, freezing in almost comical incredulity as he took in the shocked and silent faces in the hall and the far from friendly stances of the teachers facing him.
"Holy shit," he whispered and in the dead silence of the hall, it was enough to carry the words to every listening ear. "Draco. Draco!"
"I see them, Potter." The blonde kid – Draco?- was clearly tense, his face fixed into a hard and businesslike mask, his eyes calculating their position in this new and improbable setting. Only the faint undercurrent of hysteria in his voice and the taut lines of his body gave any indication that he was as nonplussed by their circumstances as his companion. Louis felt a certain professional admiration for his composure.
"Ron? Hermione?" The barely restrained tension in the kid's voice told Louis that whoever these people were, they were close, and this one, at least, was worried.
"Unconscious," Draco said softly, glancing behind him while Harry kept his eyes fixed on the frozen tableau in front of him and, meeting those eyes, Louis found himself re-evaluating the ragged young man in front of him. No matter that his face didn't show any of the composure of his friend, the wariness and intensity of that gaze told him very clearly that this kid was prepared for anything.
"What the hell just happened?"
"I don't know. Are we dead?"
Draco snorted at this. "Has the bloody Boy-Who-Wouldn't-Bloody-Die finally crossed to the other side, you mean?' As he glanced from Harry to the teacher's table to the rest of the hall, Louis heard him mutter, "Might have a point there. Though, why would we come here. I don't know about you, but school is not my idea of heaven."
Now what was that supposed to mean. Clearly, they both recognised some of the teachers, but rather than thinking they were anywhere familiar their first thought was that they were dead?
Harry made a rude gesture in Draco's direction, his gaze settling on the Headmaster, and Louis caught a hint of some unfathomable emotion in his face, before it was buried. Huh, he thought, this kid has more masks than he's letting on. This was proving to be more and more interesting. Just the memory of this one might make future etiquette days bearable.
Harry, on the other hand, was cursing whatever fate had conspired to further complicate their lives with this, this....well, whatever this was. Battling his fatigue and pain and staring at the living ghosts at the teacher's table, especially the one wearing the face of his long dead headmaster, he found himself almost irrationally angry at whatever sadistic bastard had caused this particular situation. However, the last couple of years had taught him a lot about dealing with circumstances ordinary witches and wizards wouldn't even conceive of and he'd begun to develop a fairly unique perspective on the downright bizarre events of his life. Warring with his rage at their yet again unusual circumstances was a pretty strong sense of amusement at the lengths fate had gone to this time. What were the chances, really, that he'd defeat Voldemort in pitched battle, finally taking the arsehole down, only to be hit by an unknown and probably mispronounced spell cast by a Hufflepuff, for fuck's sake. That, having let his guard slip - since, you know, he'd just undergone the most draining experience of his life - he'd stumble and fall onto his friends, accidentally taking them with him as the spell dragged them through some sort of magical maelstrom and spat them out into the presence of a bunch of dead people, total strangers and utterly impossible surroundings. If they were dead, it was a bloody convoluted way to go about it.
Seriously, a Hufflepuff Death Eater? Who else would that happen to?
"See if you can wake Ron and Hermione," he said to Draco, just as can't-possibly-be-Dumbledore visibly straightened, no sign of twinkling to be seen, and spoke again.
"I will repeat the question. Who are you and how did you get here?"
At this, Harry could see Draco, turning to look over at the other two, stiffen and felt himself tensing even more in agreement. Surely even a dead Dumbledore would remember who we are, he thought, resigning himself to the possibility that things were even stranger than they seemed.
"Bollocks," he said out loud. "You don't recognise us?"
'No." The reply was terse.
"Ah. That's worrying."
Louis felt his eyebrows lifting at this exchange, not only at the non-answer, but at the clear evidence that they were familiar with some of the people in the room, including, apparently, the Headmaster. Who, if anything, seemed less than happy with Harry's light tone and vague answer.
"Considering four unknown and dangerous looking individuals have just appeared in the middle of my school – something no-one is supposed to be able to do – covered in blood, you'll understand why I have little patience for evasive answers. You will tell me who you are, sir."
Harry looked at him silently for a moment, then said wryly, "Considering we've just been involuntarily transported from an unpleasant situation – as you can see from the fact that we're covered in blood – into a wholly unexpected, and frankly, impossible setting, you can understand why I might be hesitant to give up our identities." He heard Draco's amused snort behind him as he muttered, "Unpleasant? Unexpected? Way to understate it, Potter..."
Louis' estimation of the young man went up. He could see the faint flash of surprise that crossed the Headmaster's countenance at this response, but it was nothing to the bemused and unbelieving looks of his colleagues as they watched this young man, swaying on his feet from fatigue and god knows what else, answer an intimidating Albus Dumbledore with what looked like... amusement? He felt like high fiving the kid just for the novelty of seeing someone counter Dumbledore with such composure. He respected the Headmaster like no other wizard he knew, but god knows it was refreshing to see him having to work for something.
Harry held his gaze for a moment longer, then sighed wearily. "My name is Harry."
Oh, was that an unsatisfied tone in the Headmaster's voice? You go kid.
Fortunately for Harry, whatever Dumbledore had been about to say was interrupted by the sound of movement behind him as Ron, and then Hermione, joined them in the waking world.
"'Bout bloody time you two joined the party," Harry said lightly, feeling the tight knot of apprehension inside him loosen slightly with relief. Wherever they were, at least they were together.
"Harry?" Ron asked faintly, sitting up to gaze around him in utter confusion, "What's going on?"
"Weelllll," he replied, drawing it out and refusing to take his eyes off the increasingly impatient looking faux-Dumbledore, "I still say we're dead."
Feeling Draco looking at him in exasperation, he muttered, "I sure as hell feel like I'm dead."
"We're not dead, Potter! We're...somewhere else..."
"Oh yeah, well that's helpful," was the sarcastic response.
Hermione, who'd been taking in her surroundings as she struggled upright, hesitantly interjected, her eyes on something across the room.
"Uh, Harry. He's right. I don't think we're dead."
Harry followed her line of sight, careful to keep the head table in his peripheral vision. As he saw what she was looking at, his face morphed into blank shock for a split second, before it was gone, hidden again behind a veneer of carefully composed nonchalance.
"Bloody hell," he breathed, looking at what appeared to be a nearly carbon copy of himself, staring back at him with similar shock and sitting next to a very healthy, very young and very alive Sirius Black, Lily Evans, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew.
"So," he said conversationally, while his grip on his wand tightened even more. "Time travel then? Alternate dimensions? Voldemort induced hallucinations? Something else impossible?"
Draco and Ron, still staring at the younger versions of the Marauders, had no coherent answer to give. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise, Draco's gaze inched over to the supposedly-Slytherin table and found another familiar visage watching proceedings with barely concealed interest through a curtain of greasy black hair. This is bloody wierd.
While the rest of the hall was still staring at them in utter bewilderment, at Harry's flippant remark, Dumbledore's expression took on a look of comprehension, seeming to grasp a little of the familiar yet impossible setting these strangers were finding themselves in. Catching this, Harry was surprised and a little alarmed at the twinge of reassurance it gave him, at the comfort in the notion that possibly-Dumbledore might know what was going on. Bloody hell, I really must be tired, he thought, if I'm trusting the unvoiced theories of a stranger wearing Dumbledore's face.
Louis caught the faint flash of relief that in Harry's eyes as he noted Dumbledore's increasing grasp of the situation and wondered for the fifth time in as many minutes, just who these people were, that a man who only resembled someone they knew could offer such instinctive reassurance. Whoever they recognised in the Headmaster must have been someone they trusted intuitively, although the tightening of the kid's face showed that no matter what his instinctive response was, he too recognised the difference between that person and the one standing in front of him.
The young woman, he noticed, had taken this opportunity to stagger up behind Harry and was whispering urgently in his ear, her gaze flicking over her companions, no doubt cataloguing their injuries.
She was, in particular, noting just how tightly he and Draco were holding themselves together, recognising that they were both holding on through a combination of incredulity and necessity.
"Harry, we need to get out of here. I don't know what's happened to us, although I'm inclined to think some sort of time travel spell, but we need medical aid. Fast."
Harry nodded, shifting his gaze back to the Head table and the still wary Professors.
"Right. Be ready then, in case this turns ugly." These softly spoken words seemed to bring Ron and Draco out of their shocked stupor and with Hermione, they straightened, ignoring the pain. Their hands tightened around their wands and their eyes roved warily around the hall, finding potential exits as they positioned themselves behind Harry. Though they seemed to be unaware of it, the picture they presented – bloodied, wearied and fatigued, yet clearly ready to defend themselves – both alarmed and impressed their onlookers. Louis felt himself responding instinctively; readying himself for action and slipping even further into battle mode. He studied them all critically, realising by the way they carried themselves that while Harry and Draco seemed to be the most immediate threat, it wouldn't do to underestimate the other two either. In fact, he noted that all four of them had sent an assessing look his way and appeared to have singled him out as a potential threat. He felt vaguely gratified that they'd noticed, although he would have been amazed if they hadn't.
"Headmaster," Harry said, speaking clearly and without emotion as Professor Dumbledore focused on him. "Are you Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore?"
"Yes," answered the Headmaster shortly.
"Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards and defeater of Grindlewald?
"Right. Wasn't really expecting you to say otherwise, to be honest. This might seem a bit strange, but what's your favourite flavour of jam?"
Louis saw his own confusion at that question reflected in nearly every other face in the hall. Even Dumbledore looked bewildered for a moment, but answered calmly.
"Raspberry. Do you have any other questions about my culinary preferences, or might we go back to the problem of who you are and how you appeared in my school?"
"I'm getting to that, Professor." Harry showed no sign of being flustered by the Headmaster's increasingly dark tone. "This question's a bit more serious, if you like. Are you in any way associated with a man named Voldemort, if he even exists wherever this is? Do you follow him? Support him? Are you – this – some sort of deranged hallucinogenic creation of his?" He waved his free hand at the great hall and its inhabitants in a dismissive gesture that seemed to convey just how ludicrous he thought the whole state of affairs was.
Louis' eyes narrowed at the kid's casual use of a name wizarding Britain was beginning to fear unconditionally. Neither he, nor his companions flinched at the reference to the dark wizard, nor seemed surprised that Harry had asked what he did, although he noticed they looked vaguely amused at something. He wondered what they could possibly find to laugh at in such a topic, not hearing Ron mutter under his breath, "Voldemort, a mere man? Oh, he'd love that..."
Dumbledore was, if anything, regarding the four young people before him with even more astonishment and not a little bemusement at the notion that he himself was a hallucination.
"I am not."
Harry nodded, not really expecting any other answer and having to trust his instincts when they said Dumbledore was telling the truth. It would take a seriously weird turn of events to make Dumbledore support Voldemort, even if there was a chance he was an illusion.
All the same. "To be clear, you support the light? And stand opposed not only to Voldemort but also to the ideals he stands for and the methods he uses?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes."
Louis felt a slight tendril of approval at this young man's understanding of the difference between the evil of the man and the evil of the ideas he exacerbated and saw a similar appreciation in the Headmaster's eyes.
"So you're definitely not part of a plot masterminded by Snakeface to destroy our sanity or otherwise harm us using hallucinations or minions transfigured to represent all that we've lost?"
Louis snorted and saw the Headmaster look rather taken aback at this one. Harry could see Hermione rolling her eyes to his left.
"What?" he asked indignantly, "It's possible."
"For god's sake, Potter."
"Fine, fine. I just wanted to check." Looking at his friends for approval out of the corner of his eye, Harry went on, "If we were to assure you that we do not mean harm to any of the innocents in this castle, or anyone who stands against Voldemort, would you swear on your magic not to harm us and allow us the use of the school as a sanctuary until we figure out what in Merlin's name has happened?" He could see Ron, Hermione and Draco nod shortly in agreement as Dumbledore's gaze flicked over them questioningly.
Louis saw the Headmaster looking carefully at the young man speaking, noting again the way he held himself and his obvious designation as leader. There was a look in his eyes which said, quite clearly, that he was prepared to take on the entire hall if he thought Dumbledore was deceiving him, despite his obvious injury. Louis felt a slight chill as he struggled to comprehend what sort of experiences could create that kind of an attitude in one so young. He was beginning to think that maybe this whole incident was a wee bit too out of the ordinary.
Dumbledore seemed to come to some sort of decision then. "I would," he said in reply to Harry's query, ignoring the slightly indrawn breaths of his colleagues, excluding Louis. The defence professor rather thought he would have made the same decision. They were dangerous, yes, but these four young people didn't feel like they were a threat to Hogwarts. To be honest, despite some apprehension when he wondered about their background, he felt a kind of kinship with them, a sense that he might be able to relate to them. At the very least, he thought, looking at them, they'd be likely to have a similar intolerance for etiquette.
"Excellent!" Harry exclaimed, his whole face lighting up with an expression completely at odds with the seriousness of the conversation, although – and only Dumbledore and Louis seemed to notice this – it didn't reach his eyes, which were still as intense as they were before. "I hereby swear on my magic and my life that neither I nor my companions will intentionally harm those within this castle unless they have directly or indirectly caused harm to come to us first, or threatened our safety." As he spoke a faint swirl of power manifested itself around him, flaring up around his body in a white glow before receding. He stumbled, unprepared for the weakness that followed, coughing as he caught his breath, and missed the significant look Dumbledore exchanged with his defence professor at Harry's cavalier demonstration of power.
'Bloody hell," he swore, need to get out of here fast. Looking up at the Headmaster, he raised his eyebrows in invitation and waited expectantly.
"Very well," Dumbledore said, "I, Albus Dumbledore, as Headmaster of this school, do swear on my magic that I will not knowingly let harm come to any of you while you reside within this castle, provided you do not pose a threat to myself or any of those under my protection."
"Brilliant." Harry said, letting some of the tension run out of his body and noticing Ron and Draco subtly relaxing beside him. "Don't suppose you could tell us exactly where we are? And maybe what year it is?"
"You are currently in the great hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The year is 1978. March the 15th to be precise."
Despite expecting it, Harry felt the words hit him heavily, on top of everything else, and threaten to overwhelm his already barely lucid consciousness. Looking out of the corner of his eye, he could see the same understanding of the enormity of their situation in the faces of his friends; see it bearing down on them, seemingly insurmountable in their exhausted state.
"Right. Definitely not dead then," he muttered to himself as he gave into the darkness hovering on the edge of his consciousness and collapsed.
Draco looked at his prone body, swore, said something along the lines of "Ginny's going to kill us," and swiftly followed his friend into oblivion.
Louis Bancroft gazed at the scene before him, sheathed his wand and, relaxing his aching muscles, turned to the Headmaster, raised an eyebrow and remarked with a strange sort of satisfaction, "Well, that was interesting.