Chapter Five: The Resolution
I'm tempted to do what I threatened and just leave those two idiots behind. Why do I always get tangled up in the affairs of humans? It's always the same; they mess things up, and I have to come in and save them. It's their luck that something ties me to this planet—and that I know its timeline. I've seen the end of this world. It's not supposed to happen now. Mankind has a brilliant—at times ugly and painful, but brilliant—future ahead.
It's my duty to see this through, and while I hate to admit this, I might yet need those two.
Back in the mercifully cool and fresh-aired interior of the TARDIS, the Doctor went straight to the control panel and flicked on the screen.
"London," he said.
Hermione swallowed. The images on the screen spoke for themselves: the sky, barely visible; swarms of Chronovores everywhere, their massive translucent white wings flapping; vehicles frozen mid-flight, with no one behind the wheel.
"New York." The Doctor flipped the switch again. "Harare. Moscow. Salto. Munich. Rio de Janeiro. Paris. Krakow. Beijing. Christchurch." He turned the screen off.
"It's happening everywhere," Hermione whispered.
"In all the main population centres," the Doctor agreed. "And once they've finished feasting where there are more people, they will move to the less populated areas."
The look on Snape's face was a mixture of disbelief and determinedness. "What are we waiting for? We have work to do."
The Doctor was hunched over some controls. "Here." He pointed at the printout the machine had spat out. "I know I said it before, but I think we have it, now."
He rushed to the central console and pulled a few levers. "Hold on!"
This time, Hermione was better prepared, grabbing hold of the nearest railing. No point in repeating the embarrassing, if interesting incident from earlier. Besides, what if Snape wasn't there to cushion her fall?
Travelling in this thing was almost instantaneous. She'd barely managed to steady herself on her feet when the floor rocked once more and the engines grew quiet.
The Doctor was half-way across the console room and to the door when he stopped and looked back. "Those tricks of yours—can you conjure some warm clothes out of thin air, too? If not, there's a wardrobe down that corridor."
"We'll be fine." Snape looked at Hermione, waiting for her confirmation. At her nod, the Doctor turned around and walked to the door.
"Come on, then!" He didn't wait for them to say anything but disappeared outside.
Hermione spent a moment considering whether to prefer clothes or a Warming Charm. Warm clothes, probably. No need to expand extra energy on keeping up the spell; they might need all their power later. She conjured a warm jacket, winter boots, hat and gloves, and was amused to notice Snape had done the same. She'd never seen him wearing a hat.
"Any idea where we might be?" she asked him.
Snape was inspecting his gloves—black, of course. "I did try to get a look at that printout, but it was in some alien language. Somewhere cold, I presume."
He held out a hand to Hermione. "Shall we?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow. Snape, chivalrous? Well, she wasn't about to complain.
She swallowed a giggle that was threatening to escape. All this—surely she'd have to be feeling horrified? Serious? Focused completely on the terrible situation at hand? On rushing out there, prepared to save the world?
It was all just—too bloody huge. It overwhelmed her. She felt disconnected; a sense of horror was constantly fighting with mundane observations, such as wondering whether the coppery branches above them were really made of copper or if they were some weird, alien trees, or how the Doctor's forehead crinkled when he was analysing the printout, or even how her conjured boots had the exact height of heel that she preferred.
She wondered if Snape felt the same way. He'd never admit it, of course, not even to her, but she was almost sure he was feeling the effects of this whole—thing—the same way, or similar to how she felt. Oh, sure, he'd tried his best to present a calm façade, to convey a sense of being in control… She had actually noticed, during their months of research together, how much better he was at that, compared to her days at Hogwarts, when she mostly remembered Snape as the one teacher prone to losing his temper at the slightest provocation.
But this was under normal circumstances, when he really was in control; she was ready to bet that right now, he was panicking inside.
It didn't matter. She took the hand he was offering her and smiled at him. "Let's go."
The Doctor was waiting for them outside. For the second time in less than an hour, Hermione had to take a step back and struggle to catch her breath—just that instead of smothering heat, this time they were met by freezing cold; the wind was sparkling, swirling around her, with millions of tiny ice crystals raking their sharp claws on her face.
She closed her eyes, wand firmly in hand, and focused her mind on the shape and texture of woolly mittens. As soon as her gloves had transformed, she added a thick shawl, covering her cheeks and nose and mouth, leaving only her eyes bare.
Snape, she noticed, seemed to make do with a warming charm. The Doctor—he'd seemed completely at home in the African desert, and he looked equally imperturbable now, still wearing nothing warmer than his leather jacket. She wondered what his biological makeup was like: he looked completely human, but his body obviously had a much higher tolerance for extreme temperatures.
"If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say we are somewhere in Antarctica," Snape remarked, his voice raspy with the cold.
"Well guessed." The Doctor gestured ahead. "The rupture is somewhere over there. I didn't want to park the TARDIS right beside it. The fabric of time is delicate, and even I cannot foresee every way in which the current instability might affect her."
He patted the ship—still looking like a dark blue police box on the outside—and closed the door.
"I should warn you that I've detected Chronovore activity nearby," he said. "I don't think there are many here, but some must be using the actual tear to pass through. Try not to, er, emit so much human energy. Thoughts and such. They're drawn to brain activity of higher life forms, and humans make a good snack."
"What about you?" Snape asked. "Would you not seem even tastier to them?"
"I'd be the ultimate feast," said the Doctor. Modesty was obviously not one of his better qualities. "The last of the Time Lords, with an infinitely longer life span than that of a human, with all the possibilities still ahead…" There was an odd glimmer in his eyes, but before Hermione could think about what it might mean, the Doctor turned around and strolled off.
"We'd better get after him," Hermione said.
Snape agreed, and they set off after the Doctor, whose long legs had already taken him far ahead. In the darkness that surrounded them, softened only by a distant glow beyond the horizon and the stars liberally sprinkled all over the sky, letting him disappear out of sight was not something she wanted to risk.
"At least it's not likely that we'll meet any lions here," Hermione said.
Snape's lips twitched. "Quite. Although one never knows."
"If there are Chronovores here…" Hermione wasn't sure how to voice her worry, but Snape had apparently been thinking along the same lines, as he picked up her line of thought.
"…then how will we avoid what we saw in London?" he asked. "Being immobilised, frozen in place?"
"Yes. If they can stop time for people, and we're not going to be near the Doctor's ship, thus outside whatever protective field it generates, how are we going to be able to resist, should we run into one?"
Snape didn't answer instantly.
"Perhaps being in the Doctor's company will help," he said, once they had walked in silence for a few minutes. "If he has some sort of control over time, it is possible that it won't affect him, as he implied earlier. We can hope that this extends further than his person."
Hermione considered this. It sounded possible, but still… "And if it doesn't work like that? Or if we get separated?"
"Then we shall die." Snape didn't even try to hide the obvious irritation in his voice. "Do you still have the prototype? It's also a time control mechanism; in spite of what the Doctor said in London, it's possible that it could protect us."
Deciding it best to just drop the subject, she quickened her pace. Snape kept up with her easily.
"I'm sorry." Snape's apology caught her off-guard; she stumbled on the uneven ice. He put his arm out to steady her. "I didn't mean to be so curt with you. We are in this together; if the Doctor has been telling us the truth, then we've caused this together. I don't particularly fancy dying here and now either."
Hermione looked up into his face. His eyes, glittering in the dim light, and the shadowy outline of his nose gave her an odd sense of comfort. "I know. I didn't really expect you to have a solution, anyway; I was just thinking aloud." She offered him a weak smile. "Apology accepted, in any case. And you're right—I also don't want to die here and now. We didn't win the war and survive just to perish now, taking the whole world with us."
Snape's shoulders relaxed. "Indeed."
The Doctor was crouching behind a large block of ice. He waved at them, indicating that they should approach carefully.
The reason for the caution was obvious as soon as they had reached him: not far ahead, perhaps a few hundred yards, a Chronovore was floating in the air. His—its? It was impossible to tell with such ethereal beings, for whom a physical form was only an illusion—back was turned towards them, wings spread. Hermione wondered briefly if the shape they took was coincidental or not; the resemblance to how humans had perceived angels for centuries was too striking for her to believe there was no connection. Then again, the Doctor looked entirely human, so perhaps there were some basic shapes that occurred time and time again all over the universe... She made a mental note to ask the Doctor about it, later, should there ever be a good time for it.
"Can it hear us?" She kept her voice low.
"They sense people. Brain activity is what tempts them. Sound doesn't matter much. Neither does movement, usually." The Doctor scratched his head. "I've set the sonic screwdriver on interference, which is why we should try and keep out of its sight. There's no reason to draw its attention to us if we can avoid it. With any luck, it will leave before it notices us."
"And we should just let it go somewhere else, with more people, so it could drain them?"
The Doctor threw Snape an annoyed look. "What do you suggest then, letting it find us? We are—well, I am—the only ones who can put an end to it."
"So the plan is to let it leave," said Hermione, "find the rip, and then…?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Improvise. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need your thingamajig, so keep it at hand."
Hermione exchanged a look with Snape. She wasn't keen on the idea of letting go of her prototype. "We'll get it back though, yes?" she asked. "I mean, we're going to need it to get back to our own time, and—"
"Fools! Haven't you learned anything?" The Doctor took a deep breath. "This thing of yours is dangerous. Dangerous! I cannot allow you to keep using an unauthorised time travel device, especially one that is so clearly unfit for its purpose. Tell me, do you know what year this is? Is this the time you planned to visit? Did you even get the century right?"
Hermione had to close her eyes and count to ten to remain calm. As much as she'd have loved to contradict the arrogant bastard, to tell him that yes, they knew exactly what they were doing—well, he was right, wasn't he?
She shook her head. Snape glowered at the Doctor but didn't say anything either.
"Exactly." The Doctor turned his attention back to the Chronovore, who was still at the same spot but seemed to flicker in and out of existence. "Our friend seems to be leaving. It must have located a suitable feeding area."
They waited until the Chronovore had disappeared. Once the Doctor was satisfied that they were alone, they walked out into the open.
Hermione revelled in the feel of her magic flowing through her, electrifying every nerve ending, her senses alert and her fingers itching around her wand. Battle instincts at the ready, she thought, a wry smile curving her lips. Even after all these years. Snape might have made fun of her once, months before, but now, when the danger was almost palpable—oh yes, those instincts were still there.
"We don't have long," the Doctor warned. "Another one, or even worse, a whole host of them, may appear any moment. I'm still keeping the interference running, but should they spot us… The Chronovores, like any of the Eternals, with billions of your years of experience, are hardly stupid enough not to recognise a snack when it's right in front of them."
"Why us?" Hermione asked. "If they're so all-powerful and ancient, what could the human mind possibly offer them anyway?"
"Oh, they'd go for the timelines of any intelligent life form." The Doctor's voice was grim. "In their own realm, they feed on the Lux Aeterna, the quantum foam—that's a simplification, of course, but close enough. It's enough for them subsist on, but imagine going through life on a steady diet of boiled cabbage. Timelines, even those of humans, are like dessert—tasty morsels impossible to resist. They get so few opportunities at such feasts that whenever a passage is opened, they will devour all of it, as they might not get another chance for millennia."
"Why isn't this place already teeming with them, if that is the case?" asked Snape.
"Who knows. They're rather independent, solitary beings, and the Six Fold Realm is immense. It's possible that many of them don't know of this pathway yet. And many have already passed through."
The sky above them crackled. Hermione tightened the grip on her wand but relaxed a tiny bit when nothing happened.
"It's here." She had to strain to hear the Doctor's voice, barely above a whisper and full of awe.
Hermione swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. The sight that met their eyes was not what she had expected—not that she had expected anything. "A rip in the fabric of time", "an opening into the time vortex"… those had been just words; words the Doctor had been reeling off his tongue as if they actually meant something.
If anything, she had expected the rip to be metaphorical.
Severus was standing very still. His eyes were affixed to the heavens above them—or, rather, the jagged, flashing, open wound reaching from the Southern Cross all the way to… He shook his head. Corvus? Could that have been it? He knew his stars at home, but this looked so different.
Why—? How—? They should have seen it from where they'd been hiding earlier, waiting for the Chronovore to leave. The whole world should have seen this! Or perhaps they had seen it, and there was nothing they could do. If there was even anyone still alive to see it…
Severus shuddered and closed his eyes.
He felt the light touch of a mittened hand on his arm. Hermione.
"Watch out!" There was an urgency in the Doctor's voice. "It's coming thro—"
All around him, time was stretching like treacle, thick and sluggish.
Severus saw the Doctor reaching for his pocket, dragging his hand through the air at an impossibly slow pace. He could count every drop of sweat burrowing a path downwards on his face, brightly lit in the glow of the white creature floating in front of him.
There was something—there had to be something—they had to do something. Before it was too late. If it wasn't already.
It hadn't seen them yet, the Chronovore. Or if it had, it was ignoring them. For now.
Severus flexed his fingers experimentally. To his surprise, they were moving relatively freely. Perhaps a trifle more slowly than what he was used to, but nothing that would hold him back.
Granger was grasping his arm, her fingers digging into the flesh even through his woolly coat sleeve. She was staring, unblinking, at the Chronovore and the Doctor; her other hand was gripping both her wand and their Time-Turner.
A moment later, she shook her head. "Come on."
Severus wasn't sure what she meant, at first, but when she let go of the Time-Turner, allowing it to hang freely around her neck once again, and adjusted her wand so that it pointed at the creature, he nodded to indicate his understanding. "Stupefy?" The question sounded absurd as it left his lips; what could a Stunner do against a being of unknown powers?
"Something stronger, I think," Granger responded, keeping her voice low. "The body we see may only be an illusion, but perhaps, if we try to focus our blasts at it, that will distract it enough to give the Doctor a chance."
This seemed like the most sensible course of action. "On the count of three?"
At Granger's nod, he started the countdown.
"Confringo!" Granger cried out at the same time as Severus blasted the creature with a Bombarda Maxima!—yelled out at the top of his lungs, as trying to remain unnoticed was hardly an issue any more.
The recoil from their combined efforts threw them down on the hard, icy ground. Blinded by the light and the pain in his left knee, Severus fumbled around, his fuzzy mind not even sure whether he was reaching for his wand or for Granger.
"Are you two all right?"
Hermione opened her eyes and blinked. Her field of vision was filled with bright, sparkling, jagged lights, but she made out the form of the Doctor, crouching next to her. "I… Uh, I think so." Her voice sounded unfamiliar to her ears. Had there been an explosion, too? "Snape?" she asked, trying to raise her head and look around.
"Here," came a voice from her left. "I'm fine. Mostly."
"What happened?" Hermione asked.
The Doctor stood up. "You blew up the Chronovore. Or its physical form, anyway. Oh, of course it's still alive—the Eternals cannot be destroyed that easily—but it was enough to break its connection to my mind and have it scramble off in a hurry."
He offered Hermione his hand and pulled her up. "I owe you thanks. Both of you," he said. "I resisted the invasion, but even my mental barriers would have given in eventually."
Snape had pushed himself up, too, but Hermione noticed he was favouring his left knee. "Twisted, I think," he said through his teeth. "If you could..."
Hermione thought quickly. Healing spells were not her particular area, but she'd brushed up on her knowledge after the events of her sixth year.
"Emendo!" she tried, reasonably certain that it wouldn't make things worse, at least. Looking anxiously at Snape, she asked, "Did it work?"
Snape shifted his weight around gingerly. "I think so," he said after a moment. "I'll need to see a Healer eventually, but it will do for now."
The Doctor, who had been following the exchange with a curious look, interrupted them. "We don't have much time. This Chronovore was disassembled, for now, but either it or another will soon be here. That contraption of yours—can I have it?"
Hermione hesitated. That contraption of theirs had just saved them all. But what choice did she have?
"Here." She held it out to the Doctor.
"Thanks." The Doctor looked at her. "I'm sorry. But there really is no other way."
He took a deep breath. "Let's hope this works." And with these words, he hurled the Time-Turner right up into the sky.
"Are you mad?" Snape demanded, his voice incredulous. "It will fall right—"
"No, it won't." The Doctor's grin spoke for itself. "Look."
"But how—?" Hermione blinked rapidly, wondering if she was still suffering from the effects of the temporary blinding. The sky… The sky was knitting itself together, the jagged edges of the tear melting into solid lines, which disappeared as if they'd never been there at all.
"I was counting on the time vortex recognising your gadget for what it was," the Doctor said. "And it did, so it was pulled up and inside, instead of me having to actually throw it all the way into the vortex. Once there, the time anomaly was gone and the fixing could start." He grinned again. "The time vortex is very good at it, really. Fixing itself. It's self-healing to an extent—if people, like you, didn't mess it up constantly, it could manage just fine on its own."
"That seems rather too simple," Snape commented. "Are you saying that this is it? That the rip has been fixed and...?"
"Yup. It is that simple." The Doctor took one last look at the sky, nodded, and started towards the TARDIS.
"Wait!" Hermione ran after him. "What about us? What about—what about all those people? And the Chronovores, are they still here?"
The Doctor stopped. "If I'm right, and I usually am, closing the passage forced the Chronovores to return to their own realm. We can take a look in the TARDIS, but I am quite sure they're all gone. They cannot exist here without that link."
"And the people?" Hermione swallowed, her throat dry. It was a long shot, but… Surely someone was still alive?
"I don't know." Even in the darkness that was surrounding them now, she could see that the Doctor's grin was gone. "If we're lucky—very lucky—then the rip being fixed may have fixed the timeline, too. And the individual timelines of the people who got in the Chronovores' way. With your device gone now, the anomaly is no longer present. I felt something, when the tear was repairing itself…" He shook his head. "Time turned back, but only by a few milliseconds. I don't know whether that was enough."
"The Chronovores froze the time around their victims," Snape said. "Would that have helped?"
"It may have. If we're lucky."
He resumed his stroll back to where they'd left the TARDIS. Hermione looked back to make sure Snape was with them; she doubted that they could find the Doctor's ship again on their own. Or even if they did, with Snape's unerring homing instincts (that he'd boasted about once or twice, apropos nothing, while they were toiling away at fine-tuning the Time-Turner), whether the Doctor would wait for them.
The Doctor held the door open for them.
"Are you offering us a lift back home?" Granger asked. "After everything…"
"I can hardly leave you stranded here, can I? You don't belong in this time." Not waiting for them to close the door, the Doctor was already busying himself at the controls. "And as I said, I owe you thanks for stopping that Chronovore."
"I suppose those silly sticks of ours are good for something after all." Granger's voice was dripping with irony. Severus resisted a smile; she was so—no, surely not adorable, but… interesting?—when all riled up. She took her magic very seriously.
"I never said they weren't." The Doctor turned around. "Of course, I'd still like to see what your blood is like, but I'm expected elsewhere. Another time, perhaps."
Granger offered him a fleeting smile. She was fidgeting again; there was something else on her mind. Probably the same thing he was thinking about. They couldn't leave, not without finding it out first.
Severus cleared his throat. "Could we just pop back to London for a moment?"
"Just for a moment," the Doctor reminded. "Don't go far."
They didn't need to. Even in the relatively secluded place where they'd landed, the bustle of city life surrounding them told them all that they needed to know. The hovercraft zooming and zipping above them; a trio of happy, laughing youths, far too obviously in love with one another, passing by (Severus averted his eyes; there were things he had never wanted to know about the habits of people living in the future); the smell of food cooking, wafting towards them from an open window further ahead…
He put his arm carefully around Granger's shoulders. "Shall we go?"
She looked up at him, her eyes shining. "Yes."
The Doctor was waiting for them inside the TARDIS, leaning against the console. "I don't know whether everything returned to the way it was. I doubt it. Some of these people here lost minutes of their lives; some lost years or decades. Some have lost whole timelines—chances of something that might have been but now never will. Just because it all looks right, don't think, not for a moment, that this makes everything fine."
He turned around and started punching some keys. "Your destination? London? About 2003?"
"2004," Granger corrected, her shoulders sagging. She provided the exact date and time of their original departure.
The Doctor dropped them off close to King's Cross.
"I trust you'll find your way back home from here," he said. "Can I rely on you to stop your experiments?"
Hermione exchanged a look with Snape. All their work… But the Doctor was right; this was a dangerous game they had played.
"With travelling to the future, yes." There was a roughness in Snape's voice that tended to become more obvious when he was emotional over something. "We shall not—cannot—stop the research into small scale time travel into the past. We had that skill before. We have—had—the instruments to achieve that. There is a whole department of people working on it; we couldn't possibly tell them to stop. Not without telling them about all this."
The Doctor considered his words. "Fair enough. Your past endeavours have slipped under my radar, so I suppose they're innocent enough. You have some basic rules in place, I suppose? Not changing the course of events; not allowing your past selves to see your future selves—all that?"
Hermione nodded. "Of course. And no one would be allowed access to a Time-Turner without a clear explanation of how to handle it. Few people have ever even been aware of them and the possibility. We don't just let anyone have one!"
Snape raised an eyebrow, which she ignored.
"What if someone else, in the future, works it out?" Hermione asked. "I mean—we did. It's only logical that others may have the same idea."
"I'll deal with that once that day comes. With luck, it won't happen for a long while yet. Perhaps it will only happen once your people are better equipped to understand and control that power." The Doctor had a haunted look in his eyes. Hermione thought it better not to pry.
"I guess that's good-bye, then," she ventured. She wasn't sure how she felt. "Thank you. For coming to help. I—I'm sorry. We really had no idea."
"All in a good day's work." The Doctor's grin was back, although his eyes still looked troubled. "Just don't make me come and rescue you again, eh?"
"No chance of that." Snape started to turn but stopped abruptly. "We keep our promises."
Hermione resisted the temptation to look back, as they were putting distance between themselves and the blue box, which looked as incongruous in their own London as it had on the icy fields of Antarctica. Maybe... She wondered if the Doctor ever got lonely. He had mentioned being expected somewhere else.
She had almost made up her mind to stop and run back, to wish him good luck, when the now-familiar groaning, wheezing sound behind them made it clear that it was too late.
She was surprised when she felt Snape's hand take hers. "You were sighing," he informed her in a mock-serious tone. "I didn't want you to lose your footing, in case your mind was elsewhere."
"You're welcome." Snape stopped, causing her to stumble. "Are you all right?" This time there was nothing mocking in his words or their delivery. "This… Everything that happened, today."
Hermione shrugged. "I think so. I can't help but feel guilty. I suppose that all ended well, but what if— What we saw… I guess it might give me some new material for nightmares, at least."
"Don't." He put his hands on her arms, holding her awkwardly. "Don't blame yourself. We're both to blame—if anyone is. Neither of us could know this would happen. And it won't happen again."
Hermione looked into his eyes, deep and dark in the waning light of the late summer night. No, it won't happen again. Because we've achieved our goal—we both know now how to make a working Time-Turner of the kind we had before. No more reason for evenings shared in research. No more reason for us to meet again.
Aloud, she said, her voice wavering only slightly, "Would you care to stay for dinner?"
Disclaimer: Hermione Granger, Severus Snape and the Harry Potter universe belong to JK Rowling. The Doctor Who universe and the Doctor belong to the BBC. Inspiration has been drawn from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, the televised Doctor Who stories Father's Day and The Time Monster as well as the novel The Quantum Archangel by Craig Hinton.