Time is the Fire
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, Hermione Granger or any of the characters found herein. I make no profit from this other than the satisfaction I get from writing it and seeing others review it.
Author's Note: I have a fairly clear picture of where this story is headed, even if it's not immediately obvious. I'm not expecting it to be terribly long (somewhere in the vicinity of sixteen chapters), but things are always subject to change. Reviews are humbly requested, as their presence is a source of great inspiration, encouragement and new ideas and their absence is fundamentally discouraging. I might not be able to incorporate every single suggestion into this story, but constructive criticism can only help make this story, and me as a writer better.
This is not a songfic—I'm always put off when jarring Muggle song lyrics show up again and again in fics. That said, music plays a big role in my creative process, and as I am a huge fan of movie scores, I happen to have the Harry Potter soundtracks handy while writing this out. For those of you who want a little background atmosphere to go along with your reading and have the soundtracks (or know how to search Youtube), I'll be listing the song or songs I listened to while writing each chapter that particularly matched its tone or theme.
Soundtrack Note: Opening, from the Half Blood Prince soundtrack, and Forward to Time Past, from the Prisoner of Azkaban soundtrack.
"The time is out of joint—O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!"
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Her movements were quiet but determined, the very definition of the word stealth. Her bones burned with an urgency that would have frightened her had she not already been numbed to it all. She had committed herself to this course of action, and now that she had finally overcome her doubts, nothing, nothing would get in her way.
Except for the night watchman, suddenly emerging from the black door ahead, his shoes clacking noisily on the polished floor. She froze, not even daring to breathe. The only light came from the blue flames of the candles against the walls at the end of the hallway, behind her, but her eyes had adjusted enough to the darkness that she could see him clearly. His manner gave no indication he knew she was there, hidden beneath the cloak as she was; he seemed bored, more than anything else, his expression, his body language that of a man who has made the same rounds night after night for years with nothing out of the ordinary ever taking place. She did not relax her muscles, though, did not allow a silent sigh of relief to escape her. She remained still as a statue, though her muscles ached, not trusting herself to do anything except wait for the guard to pass her by. Stealth. Stealth was key.
He looked right at her, or rather through her, as he walked past, less than a foot away. She could see his eyes through the invisibility cloak, blue and completely vacant of surprise or recognition. He could not see her. She still did not relax her body, but her mind began to calm, the wave of adrenaline rushing through her beginning to ebb.
The night watchman neared the end of the hall, and glanced back over his shoulder, a casual look back not in response to a noise or the feeling of a presence, but it nonetheless made her blood run cold until his head turned back to watch where he was going.
She breathed, a soft exhalation out of her nose and then hardly any inhaling at all through her mouth, just allowing her lungs to slowly expand and cold air to drift to the back of her throat.
He did a double-take.
She gripped the wand in her hand so tightly she thought she might she might splinter it. She thought he might have heard her breathe, but he was not looking at the empty space where her head should be but at the ground, right where she stood. Involuntarily, her eyes flickered down, though she refused to move her head to afford a better view. Stealth was key. The cloak covered her entirely; there was no phantom shoe sticking out the edge. So what then had attracted his attention?
"Who's there?" he called, his voice uncertain, his hand reaching for his hip, his eyes staring directly at her feet.
Abruptly, she understood. The floor was of black stone, so brightly polished that it reflected the dancing blue candlelight like running water. Except around her—the cloak showed what was on the other side of it, but wrapped around her as it was its base covered the floor as well. The result was that it showed the floor, but not the light that would have reflected off of it had it not been covered in the cloak. The guard was staring at a circle of shadow in the midst of a gleaming mirror of black stone.
"Show yourself," he called again, drawing his wand.
Stealth wasn't going to cut it, evidently.
Immediately the night watchman went rigid, his arms and legs snapping straight, and he toppled over slowly like a felled tree, the Full-Body Bind placed on him made all the more impressive by the fact that she hadn't bothered to say the incantation aloud. Already she was moving, not running, but hurrying to the door, her footfalls still quiet but no longer undetectable. She was running out of time.
Pushing through the door, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the bright light coming from the lamps that hung from golden chains on the ceiling. Her vision returned to clarity just in time to reveal two men staring at the door she'd just come through curiously, one an Unspeakable, the other dressed the same as the night watchmen she'd just encountered. The Unspeakable opened his mouth stupidly, to ask a question, but the guard was quicker on his feet, already reaching for his wand. He was able to block her curse even as the other man froze and fell, sending a jet of red light towards the door with a cry of "Stupefy!" even as she was already diving to the side. Her movements must have revealed an opening in the cloak as he sent a second Stunning Spell at her new location, this one too high, passing over her head and shattering the glass wall behind her. A roar of water sounded and suddenly her feet were soaked up to her ankles as the tank behind her was emptied, and she surged forward to avoid the angry tendrils already reaching around blindly for the source of the disturbance.
The distraction was all she needed to catch the watchman off guard with a quick "Expelliarmus!" The man flew back, his wand torn from his grasp, and she barely took the time to stun him into unconsciousness with a jet of red light from her own wand before she was on towards the next room.
She no longer bothered to remain quiet now, breaking into a dead run through the large chamber, running along the edge of the stone tiers leading down to the archway that stood in the center of the amphitheatre. She paid it no heed but was unable to ignore the sound, a low, near inaudible thing, like whispers of whispers. Unable to suppress a shiver she kept going, around the other side of the stone tiers and towards the door on the other side.
Voices called out in confusion, some yelling and barking orders as she made her way into the hall, the sounds of her impromptu duel having drawn too much attention. The place was not nearly as deserted as she had hoped it would be, this late at night. She was so close…
The next room was her destination. She did not even bother pushing the door open, blasting it to splinters with a wave of her wand and a wordless Reductor Curse.
The light, dancing and shining, took her breath away for a moment, but she forced herself to step into the room and focus on what she needed to do. Clocks lined the walls, gazing at the crystal bell jar in the center of the room that illuminated it all, with racks full of tiny hourglasses at the back.
Footsteps were coming now, and as she made her way to back of the room she pointed her wand behind her at the doorway and hissed "Silencio!" in an urgent whisper.
The witch that rounded the corner and leapt into the room thrust her own wand out and shouted something forcefully, but no sound came from her lips. Before her face could even complete a look of surprise the Body-Bind was upon her and she teetered to the ground noiselessly.
A wave of her wand cancelled the Silencing Spell, and footsteps could be heard coming down the hall, quieter than the last set but rapidly coming closer. She reached the rack of tiny glass timepieces, giving them a cursory examination as she looked for one that would suit her needs. The footsteps grew louder and she hurriedly plucked one of the larger ones out of the shelves and began placing it around her neck. The wizard to whom the footsteps belonged to reached the room and ran straight into the invisible wall of her Impediment Jinx, falling backwards as if he had been punched straight in the nose.
More footsteps announced the arrival of even more pursuers but they arrived too late. Invisibility cloak clutched around her, forgotten, she gave the hourglass around her neck a couple of quick flips, and abruptly everything… went away.
The newcomers leapt back from the door and jogged backwards back into the hall. The fallen wizard leapt to his feet and ran backwards after them. The witch reeled unnaturally back to a standing position and unfroze, drawing her wand back quickly from an attack pose before following her companions back out the door. Most unnervingly of all, her own echo, missing in parts where she did not emerge from the invisibility cloak, hurried backwards out the door, the shards of which flew from the ground into the air, coming together and taking shape, whole again.
Hours rolled back in seconds, but she did not let the Time-Turner come to a stop—rather, she kept flipping it, over and over and over again in her fingers, the door flying open and slamming shut rapidly as Unspeakables raced in and out of the room backwards, replacing Time-Turners of their own or walking in backwards circles around the glowing bell jar, examining it.
She had a long way to go, and though time was literally on her side now, her task was no less urgent, no less monumental. She knew that this could only end in one of two ways. He would be made to see reason, or she would stop him by force.
With a pang in her heart, she realized that if she had to, she would kill him.
The boy had to be protected.
But where to begin?
"So that's little Scorpius," her husband said under his breath. "Make sure you beat him in every test, Rosie. Thank God you inherited you mother's brains."
"Ron, for heaven's sake," she said, half stern, half amused. "Don't try to turn them against each other before they've even started school!"
"You're right, sorry," said Ron, but unable to help himself, he added, "Don't get too friendly with him, though, Rosie. Granddad Weasley would never forgive you if you married a pureblood."
Harry's son James had returned, divested of his trunk, owl, and trolley, and was evidently bursting with news.
"Teddy's back there," he said breathlessly, pointing back over his shoulder into the billowing clouds of steam. "Just seen him! And guess what he's doing? Snogging Victoire!"
Hermione had to suppress a grin at the way his face fell when none of the adults reacted with surprise. He kept at it though, trying to impress upon them the gravity of the situation. It was astonishing how much her godson reminded her of Ron when he was that young.
Evidently, Ginny agreed. "You interrupted them?" she said. "You are so like Ron."
Hermione turned her attention to her daughter as James continued to blather on, leaning forward and putting her hands on her shoulders. "You'll do brilliantly, my love," she whispered into her forehead.
"Thanks, mum," Rose whispered back. Seeing the tears in her mother's eyes, she grinned. "Don't worry, mum, I couldn't possibly get into half as much trouble as you did when you when to Hogwarts," she piped.
Hermione laughed, and pulled her daughter into crushing embrace. Rising, she watched Ron squat down and share a similar farewell.
"Love you, kiddo," he told her with an affectionate nudge.
"Love you too, dad."
"Watch out for Acromantulas."
"Dad!" Rose's jaw dropped in horror; both she and Hugo had inherited their father's fear of spiders, and had been told many, many times of his harrowing escape from Aragog's offspring.
"Are you trying to traumatize her, Ronald?" Hermione asked him dryly.
"That's good advice, that is!" he protested. "Never, ever go into the Forbidden Forest, 'cause that's where they live. And don't do anything to get detention for, either, 'cause one time in first year McGonagall sent Harry and your mum out there to help Hagrid as punishment."
"Did they see any spiders?" Rose asked weakly.
"Nope, not that time, the spider thing happened second year." He pretended to think for a minute. "Although, if it hadn't been for Firenze—he's the Divination teacher, you'll meet him third year—You-Know-Who almost nabbed Harry. Probably would've eaten him or something. That reminds me! If any of your professors wear a turban or any sort of rubbish hat and refuse to ever take it off, owl me right away."
Rose's expression was priceless. Hermione knew she ought to be cross with him, but honestly, she was trying too hard not to laugh. She knew for a fact though that thanks to her father's ribbing, her daughter would never, ever willingly commit a detention-punishable offense in her years at Hogwarts
"One last thing," Ron whispered as he gave Rose a big hug and kiss. "If there's an annoying little know-it-all boy in your class, and he's always telling you the proper way to pronounce incantations and quoting Hogwarts, A History all the time…"—and here he looked up at Hermione, a twinkle in his eye—"…you be nice to him and write home to mum and dad right away, because some day you're going to marry that boy."
Ron stood up and allowed Rose to say her goodbyes to Lily and Hugo. He took up position next to his wife, putting his arm around her shoulder, and she sighed appreciatively as she rested her head against him. As she watched Hugo envelope his big sister in a hug that was clearly overly-enthusiastically rib-crushing, to judge by the look on Rose's face, she felt herself getting a little misty-eyed again. She had promised herself she wouldn't cry, even if her oldest was going off to school, and forced herself to blink back her tears.
She looked up at Ronald as he made funny faces at Rosie and Lily, who was jumping up and down excitedly and clapping at something Rose had said. She knew he felt it too. Their little girl was growing up, becoming a beautiful young woman. When he saw that she was looking at him, he smiled and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"I wanna go to Hogwarts!" whined Hugo as he rejoined his mother's side.
"Me too! I can't wait!" cried Lily as she ran back towards her parents.
Hermione gave one Rose one last hug and kiss and saw her onto the Hogwarts Express. Taking her husband's hand in her own, the Weasley family strolled through a cloud of thick white steam over to their friends. Little Lily stood next to her mother, while Harry was crouching on the ground before Albus, speaking to him quietly. The doors were slamming all along the scarlet train, and the blurred outlines of parents were swarming forward for final kisses, last-minute reminders.
Albus jumped into the same carriage as Rose, joining his cousin, and Ginny closed the door behind him. Students were hanging from the windows nearest tem. A great number of faces, both on the train and off, seemed to be turned toward Harry.
"Why are they all staring?" demanded Albus as he and Rose craned around to look at the other students.
"Don't let it worry you," said Ron. "It's me. I'm extremely famous."
Albus, Rose, Hugo and Lily laughed. The train began to move, and they stood there waving, except for Harry, who walked alongside it, watching his son's thin face, already ablaze with excitement. They all kept smiling and waving, even though Hermione felt as though she was watching a piece of her heart being stolen away from her. She knew the others felt the same way.
The last trace of steam evaporated in the autumn air. The train rounded a corner. Harry's hand was still raised in farewell.
"She'll be the brightest witch of the age, just like her mother," Ron told her, smiling with his eyes but entirely earnest.
"He'll be all right," murmured Ginny to Harry.
He looked at her, lowering his hand absentmindedly and touching the lightning scar on his forehead. "I know he will."
Together, the four turned and made their way back towards the barrier to King's Cross station, Lily and Hugo running ahead.
Swinging her and Ron's arms gently back and forth, Hermione sighed in… something. Not loss, not exactly, but…
"I know exactly what that sigh means," Ginny said knowingly.
"However did you manage it when James went off to school?" Hermione moaned. "I feel like a piece of me is missing!"
"A piece of you is missing," Ginny told her. "But it'll write! And come home to visit at Christmas."
"Rose'll be just fine at Hogwarts, Hermione," Harry told her with a smile. "Because of you, and the way you raised her."
"I'd like to think I have something to do with that," grumbled Ron, but his eyes gleamed with amusement.
"I feel terrible. I don't know what I'll do without her!"
"You've got to let her grow up, have her freedom. You're not giving her up, just… letting her find her own way," Harry said.
"Yeah, you've got let go, accept that they're growing up and ready to begin a chapter of their life without us watching over them every step of the way," Ginny said, a sly grin beginning to form over her face. "Or you could be like Harry when James first went, and start making Defense Against the Dark Arts guest-lectures six times a month just to be close to his little boy."
Everyone laughed, even Harry. "I'm pretty sure that'll be bumped up to twelve times a month, now that Albus has gone too," he joked.
"Do you want to stop at the Leaky Cauldron for lunch, or should we try a Muggle restaurant?" Hermione asked them.
"Ooh, let's do a Muggle restaurant," Ron answered. "I want more practice driving a Muggle car."
"No amount of practicing will ever be enough," muttered Hermione.
"Ron couldn't even drive a wizard car without crashing it into the Whomping Willow," Harry muttered back. The two friends grinned at one another. Hermione was struck by how much his smile reminded her their time at Hogwarts.
"I was twelve years old!" Ron protested. Harry just stuck out his tongue cheekily, and they all laughed as they headed out for lunch.
Hermione thought about Harry's smile, and smiled herself. It no longer had the same effect on her it had had when they were all younger. She no longer even wondered what might have been, hadn't in years. She had the life that she wanted, and everything in it was the way she wanted it to be, Rose's absence excepted. Things were perfect, finally, actually perfect. She loved Ron, with all her heart. Teasing aside, they no longer fought, not the way they had before they'd dated or the epic rows they'd had before they'd married or before Rose was born. He was such a wonderful father. They had two magnificent children, and she adored being a member of such an incredible extended family—the Weasleys, and Harry and Ginny and their children. She loved James, Albus and Lily as much as she did Rose and Hugo. No, everything was just the way it was meant to be, and it had been years—nearly decades—since she had given thought, even in passing, to how else things might have turned out.
But Harry's smile still brightened her day in a way that Ginny's, or even Ron's, smile couldn't.
It must be because he had good teeth, she supposed. She was a dentist's daughter, after all, twice over.