Eight month necro update! BTW, this is where things start to change a bit more... rapidly.
You may wish to reread the previous chapters, but if not, here is the summary:
Harry Potter is not a time traveler. But that being said, other people may just be. Ron's acting a bit odd, Hermione's even more of a know-it-all, and Malfoy is almost... polite? So far, Harry's in a weird situation, but at least some of the other Gryffindors, like Parvati and Neville aren't time travelers too, right? Wrong, Neville has showed up and he's decided to confront Hermione and Ron. And what's up with REDACTED?
Even a genius could hate life. She could pretend to like life after Hogwarts, but in fact she hated every day and every single second of her existence. Her work was praised and lauded by everyone important in the Ministry and more importantly, the Department of Mysteries, where she helped to unlock the secrets of the universe.
If only she cared about any of it.
It took a few years before she realized the truth, because she saw them one day in the Alley. Harry and his lovely wife and his lovely children, bustling about shopping for the new school term. She was so full of spite and jealousy that her hand was on her wand and half out before she caught herself. And so she finally knew why she hated. But the revelation did not serve to sooth her woes or lessen her sadness; instead she was only utterly and completely depressed and lost. The work lost its meaning and soon she was told to take a "holiday" until she was back up to her former impeccable self.
The idea came when she was drunk off her arse in a pub in the middle of Muggle London. Some crazy story from a Muggle news story about bizarrely impressive advances in their technology, especially considering they were Muggles. Some of it seemed practically like magic. And so she began to wonder: Could it be possible that the Muggles had something useful after all? The Department was frightfully easy to break into, but the ideas were slim, until she recalled the old room of Time Turners. None still remained so many years after Harry and his stupid friends had destroyed them, and yet... If she could go back somehow, further than all theories suggested and magic allowed, could she change the past? Be together with Harry and show him they were meant for each other?
And Ginevra and Hermione and all the other little whores would just have to deal with it. Voldemort would be even easier with her new knowledge and capabilities; she was still no great fighter, but she knew that Riddle had used Horcruxes. It was a secret, but everyone in the Department knew about it. Horcruxes were dangerous, but there were ways around them. And she knew them all.
First there was the critical matter of going back in time. Magic did not hold the secret. But maybe Muggle science did? It was easy enough with mind-altering spells to push things in the Muggle world, manipulate politicians and scientists to pursue the ends she desired. Years passed until the breakthrough was discovered. A single theory, proven and disproven, Muggles first deciding it might work and then years later stating the opposite. But thirty years after the start of her research and forced collaboration with the Muggles, they found out how to travel through time.
A cylinder of unbelievable density, rotating at ludicrous speeds, if long enough could produce an effect of time going in reverse. It couldn't be done except theoretically, even with the final component needed: the cylinder had to be of infinite length. It was impossible; the Muggles could never create a cylinder that was anywhere near long enough to matter. But with magic it was a different story entirely...
It was another ten years before the cylinder was completed in the vastness of space near the Moon, close enough to flee to Earth just in case, but far enough that if she failed, the planet might still survive. Of course, if the time travel worked, bugger the planet. She waited there, protected from the harshness of nothingness with magic, driven nearly mad with her obsession. But this time the madness helped keep her focused on her goal. And so she completed her time travel machine, bent through time and space to rip a hole through reality.
When she stood before the event horizon as it drew closer to overcoming her, floating in the empty black of space, she saw what lay behind the curtain of reality. Time stretched in a way she could never have predicted, and the purity of the magic underlying reality pulsed and began to reach out to her. As she fell the precise amount of time backwards in time she had measured for, she couldn't help but see everything.
And her mind broke under the strain. It was no surprise when they found her that she would not awaken. Yet.
He had survived, so he should have been happy. And he tried, he really did. But it was hard for him, despite the happiness of others. Sure, Harry had survived the final battles with Voldemort, as well as a few others of varying levels of relevance. But every single member of the Weasley family had died, save one. They had all perished, even his twin - that one had perhaps hit the hardest of all. And for someone for whom family was life and had always been surrounded by five brothers and a little sister, it wasn't something you could just get over, despite all the "talks" he had in the years following the fall of the Dark Lord.
It helped that Harry needed him, a member of the family which Harry had admitted he considered his own. So the surviving Weasley kept it together for the sake of Harry, who had lost so much, including the girl he loved, and Hermione, who had lost Ron. It broke his heart to see Harry sad, so he did his best, trying to keep Harry smiling. But sometimes it just seemed like there wasn't much point to any of it.
Nothing changed much until one drunken night shared with Hermione where they shared their sorrows and worries for the future. It was a night that neither would forget. He never planned to betray the memory of his younger brother by falling in love with his girlfriend, and Hermione was no scarlet woman either. Harry seemed uncomfortable about it at times, but he said that he wanted them to be happy.
That was actually the worst thing Harry could have ever said.
For the survivor, only his relationship with Hermione kept him sane. They talked for hours about magical theory and endlessly mentioned Ron. Never would let themselves forget. Things kept going in much the same way as the world slowly healed. But the dead were still dead, and nothing could change that. Until one day Hermione retold the story about her third year and traveling to the past. That was the spark. It wasn't Hermione that had the insane idea to change time, but she liked it all the same. Two people working together can often achieve things neither could alone, and thus it was in this case.
In the end, it didn't take very long at all, and they planned to go through the Black Door into the worlds past gone at the time when the stars aligned and the planetary alignment was just right. Hermione had been in charge of half the summoning concepts, always writing her notes and sharing very little until it was absolutely necessary. She seemed to think no one else could handle the final spellwork. The survivor was fine with it, until the night before the Door, Hermione changed her mind. Worried about the possibility of erasing the people who survived, the people they knew. Worried that they would just get lost in the nothingness behind the Door. He tried to convince her, maybe to take Harry along if needed, but Hermione could not be moved.
And time was running out. If they didn't take the Door, it would a year or more before travel might be possible again. And he could not be that patient, not with his family waiting for him. But he couldn't summon the Door alone, not without the research Hermione had performed. The next day as the hours slipped away, the survivor drank himself near to death, despondent and feeling utterly hopeless. Perhaps it was the desperation coupled with the drink that made him do what came next. Or maybe he was only lying to himself.
It was easy enough to steal the notes, because by that point he knew Hermione very well indeed. Most people would have found it gibberish and useless. But for the survivor, despite the haze of alcohol, it clicked everything into place.
The Black Door stood there, waiting for him to pass through, if he had the courage.
Well, was he a Gryffindor or wasn't he?
One thought penetrated the cloud around his mind as he walked through the passageway. He'd probably need to make sure Harry stayed alive too. The kid would need all the help he could get.
Far Too Many Time Travelers
Chapter 4: Oh, Very Well!
As he slowly sat down, Harry looked between the tied up Ron and Hermione, his crazy friends, and Neville, who until now he had not thought of as crazy at all. But that was clearly just wishful thinking.
"So what's going on?" Harry asked, swallowing back a lump in his throat and hoping no one else noticed his trembling hands. "Why did you attack them, Neville?"
Neville smiled at Harry and leaned back in his own chair. "I had to be careful, Harry. I didn't know what to expect from these two." He then leaned forward and his face became quite serious. "I had to be sure, Harry."
"Oh come off it!" Ron said, rolling his eyes. "You're talking in circles!"
"He's right, Neville," Hermione said in clipped, enunciated tones. "Why don't you just go ahead and tell Harry the truth? Or shall I?"
Neville waved his wand in a casual, yet somehow dismissive manner. "No worries, Hermione. I'm just not used to explaining things. Been keeping to myself for a long time now. But you are right - Harry needs to know the truth, although it's clear neither one of you was going to do anything of the sort."
"I needed time!" Hermione insisted and looked sadly at Harry, although he had no idea what either of them was talking about. "Protecting things, worrying about Occlumency."
"What, you thought someone was going to read your mind?" Neville asked incredulously.
Hermione flicked her eyes to the side and then nodded. "Snape, of course. And Dumbledore."
Neville laughed. "And I thought I was paranoid."
"Hold on," said Ron slowly. "Hold on both of you. Are you... are you saying what I think you're saying?"
Hermione nodded, but didn't look Ron directly, and her eyes seemed a bit wet.
With a chuckle, Neville said, "I am saying that."
"What are you all saying?" Harry hissed, barely holding back a yell.
"Ah, sorry, Harry," Neville told him. "Got a bit lost there. We're time travelers, Harry."
"You are?" Ron asked in surprise.
"I knew it!" Hermione said softly.
For a few seconds Harry didn't say anything. And then he processed what Neville had said.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
"We are time travelers, Harry." Neville gestured to the two tied up Gryffindors. "All three of us. Although I actually think Malfoy is one also. And probably at least one other."
"So do I!" Hermione told him with a small grin. "But I had no idea you were also. You hid it so well."
"Yeah, well you three bollocksed quite a bit up, let me tell you," Neville said, rubbing his head. "Luckily it wasn't too bad. Snape seems to hate you, but he's actually fond of Harry. I don't know how you lot managed that, but it's more than I could've done, that's for sure."
Hermione made a scoffing sound. "I wish I had done it all intentionally, but quite a bit was by accident, let me tell you."
"I didn't think I was doing so bad," Ron muttered.
At this, Neville's eyes flashed and he jumped out of his chair. "You knew the troll was coming and just let it wander about! And then you led Harry there like a bunch of children, risking his life for no reason." He took a deep breath, visibly calming down. "Luckily I anticipated your failure," he continued. "So I took care of it."
"Bloody hell, you killed the troll? By cutting off its head?" Ron asked, his jaw hung open. "Neville, that's bloody impressive. Bloody impressive."
"Language, Ron," Hermione said distractedly. "Although he's right. How did you do it?"
"The Sword of Gryffindor," Neville said casually. "We're old pals."
"Ha!" Ron grinned at him. "That's brilliant, Neville."
By this point, Harry had given up trying to follow the conversation at all and just sighed. He was completely and utterly confused.
Hermione looked over at Harry and frowned. "Oh dear, Harry, this must be frightfully odd to hear all at once, isn't it?"
Harry nodded but didn't say anything, not feeling happy about being the only non-whatever in the room.
"Unless..." Ron cocked his head at Harry. "I don't suppose you're a time traveler too, Harry?"
"Don't be an idiot, Ron," Neville said with a laugh. "Harry's just good old Harry. There are enough of us without him getting involved."
"But hold on!" Harry interjected before the conversation could get out of control. "What do you mean you're time travelers? Like, from the future or something?"
Neville closed his eyes and rubbed his face. He took a deep breath and then nodded. "I don't know about these two, Harry, but I am from the future. About ten years from now, or so. Where all of you are dead."
"What?" Ron gaped. "That's impossible. In the future, you guys are the ones who are dead."
"Hermione?" Neville looked at her.
She bit her lip and then nodded. "It appears, somehow, that we are all from different futures. Although I'm not sure how that's possible."
Neville shrugged and twirled his wand around his fingers. "Don't ask me. You were always the brains of the gang. I was more about the practical side of things. Killing Death Eaters and so on."
"If you're from the future, why did you come back?" Harry asked. He scratched his chin. "I guess I could ask all of you that question."
Hermione gave him a very small smile. "My answer is relatively simple, although difficult to speak about." She took a deep breath, barely moving against the ropes that still bound her. "At the end of what should have been our seventh year at Hogwarts Voldemort and his monstrous thugs attacked Hogwarts. He had been resurrected years prior, you see, but I won't get into the specifics." Her eyes narrowed and she looked over at Neville. "He won't be getting the chance again this time around."
"If you're honest as my Hermione, we're agreed," Neville told her.
Ron made a snorting sound. "Of course she's honest. Why wouldn't she be?"
Neville laughed softly and brushed back his hair. "Ron, I am extremely curious to hear your tale when Hermione finishes hers. But until then, let's wait to ask questions until we're all on the same page, eh?"
"That makes sense to me," said Harry. "I'm confused enough already."
"Alright then." Hermione nodded. "So Voldemort had attacked the school, and you, that is, the Harry of the future, went off to face Voldemort for the last time. Harry believed he was the only one that could defeat Riddle."
"I believe the notion came from Dumbledore, who had been killed a year prior," Hermione continued.
"What?" Harry gasped. "That's horrible."
"It is," agreed Hermione. "But I don't plan to let that happen again, if Neville ever lets us go that is." She glanced at Neville, who didn't respond in any visible way. "But Dumbledore's plan, whatever it was, had failed. Harry was killed by Voldemort and that was the beginning of the end. We tried to fight back, but morale was... destroyed."
Ron opened his mouth and then closed it with a stricken look on his face.
"Casualties grew worse," Hermione said. "Neville and Ron survived with me for a while, but after only two years, I was essentially alone. Were there still pockets of resistance as the war continued in intensity?" She shrugged. "Naturally. But I had two options. One, attempt to take vengeance on Riddle, which seemed impossible, as he seemed incapable of dying. I tried a few times, but nothing worked. So there was the second option: fix it."
"By going back in time," said Neville with a smirk. "How'd you figure it out?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's ridiculously technical, Neville. The details are unimportant. What is important is that I came back to keep Harry safe and alive while also defeating Riddle once and for all."
"So Riddle... is that another name for Voldemort?" Harry asked.
"Oh, sorry, Harry!" Hermione grimaced. "Yes, of course, I expected you to know all about it already just like my… well you understand. Tom Riddle is the real name of Voldemort. His father was a Muggle and his mother was a witch that died shortly after he was born."
"Huh," Harry sat back in his chair, considering this new information. He hadn't realized that Voldemort was an orphan... just like him. It wasn't the sort of thing one liked hearing.
"You're not like him, Harry," said Ron in just above a whisper. When Harry looked over at him in shock, Ron gave him the barest of grins. "I knew the future you pretty well, right?" he said. "You've compared yourself to You-Know-You in my past, so I get the temptation. But you're nothing like him. You're a good person, Harry. You can take my word on that account."
Neville gave Ron a hard look. "And you, Ron? Does that story seem familiar to you?"
Ron sighed and looked down at the floor. "Yeah, 'fraid so. Except of course that in my future, you both had died and I was still alive. Hogwarts was basically destroyed, but I actually was able to hide out in the rubble for a long time. When I found Dumbledore's portrait, he walked me through the contingency plans and how to setup a secret gate through time. I didn't need to understand the theory, just needed to do what needed to be-" He choked on this last word and screwed his eyes open and closed rapidly. "What needed to be done. Bugger, I've been so overwhelmed with life here in the past, I've suppressed everything I've had to do."
"What did you have to do Ron?" Hermione asked, a catch in her voice and a worried look in her eyes.
"I dunno if you've heard of most of it," Ron said in what was nearly a mumble. "But the worst was something called the Xo Xibalba. I - I don't want to talk about it right now."
Hermione paled visibly and she looked over at Neville, who shrugged.
"Clearly sounds off, but I don't know it," he said. "But now that you two have told Harry your horror story from the future, let me tell one that's just a bit... happier. For one reason." He smiled in a way that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Because in mine, Riddle bit it."
"Well, that was quite a story," Harry said after Neville had finished, and then sat down, having forgotten he had stood up at some point during the tale.
"If it was anyone else, I wouldn't have believed it," Ron said, looking off at nothing at all.
"Are you sure you didn't get radiation poisoning?" Hermione asked.
"You mean after I traveled back in time?" Neville replied dryly.
Hermione winced. "Yes, well. Good point."
"Now that we're all caught up, I think we should figure out our next move," said Neville. "If you two really are who you say you are, you won't have any issues with a good old fashioned Unbreakable Vow."
Ron grimaced. "Do we have to? Can't you just use Veritaserum on us?"
"That's a potion that makes you tell the truth," Neville said to Harry, who smiled at the answer to a question he hadn't come up with yet. "But no, I don't think so. First of all, I don't have any. Second, I don't even know what it looks like if I wanted to steal it from Snape. Third, there are ways around it."
"Not without wands," Hermione started to say, and then paused and shifted her eyes to the side. "Well, at least for the most part."
Neville grinned. "For most wizards or witches, I'd agree, but powerful ones... there are ways around it. And I'd wager you both know a few."
Ron laughed. "Got me there, Nev. I hadn't thought about it, but I actually do know a few little tricks."
"And this Unbreakable Vow," said Harry. "I guess it's some sort of... unbreakable vow?" As he said this, Harry felt overwhelmingly stupid.
"Don't get bogged down in the details, Harry," Neville told him. "The only important thing is that if you break the vow, you die. Simple enough."
"There are loopholes for Vows, Neville," Hermione said softly.
Neville nodded. "Right, wording and such. I think I've got a decent way to word it. Yeah, and if you can outthink it, break the vow. If you dare." He chuckled. "But since I'm the one with the wand, I'll be the Bonder, and each of you will say the same vow. Agreed?"
Ron nodded, and after a moment, so did Hermione.
It seemed to take very little time to administer the Vow to Hermione and Ron, probably because all parties involved knew what to do. For his part, Harry just tried to figure out the bizarre mess he had landed in. Three different people, first years at that, all claiming to be time travelers from years off in the future. And from the sounds of it, not very pleasant ones. Even Neville's tale, with its triumphant but bittersweet decapitation that sounded violent but exciting, painted the picture of a world gone to Hell. Or whatever the Wizarding equivalent of that was.
So if they were liars, they were absurdly good ones.
Harry wondered if anyone else might have also traveled in time. He ruled himself out, of course. You'd remember something like that – unless Harry really was from the future but had changed his own memory for his own mysterious reasons. Or maybe he was actually Voldemort from the future with a different mysterious reason? Harry shook his head vigorously at that last thought. There was such a thing as too much imagination.
But who were logical candidates? Hopefully not Voldemort, come to think of it, or they'd be in trouble. Harry reviewed the people he actually knew. The other Gryffindors seemed normal, especially Parvati, who was becoming a real friend, shockingly enough. Harry considered that oddity; maybe she was only nice because was also a time traveler and pretending to be his friend for her own mysterious reasons. It was a distressing and depressing idea, so Harry pretended he hadn't considered it and moved on. He didn't really know anyone from outside the Gryffindor House, except for Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy. Snape seemed alright to Harry, certainly more than he was to the other Gryffindors. But then again, he was friends with Harry's Mum, so that made some sense.
And as for Malfoy….
Hmm. Actually, perhaps Draco Malfoy had been a bit odd too. It was hardly the craziest idea Harry had heard even that day, especially after the Quidditch nonsense. Although that brought up another possibility: what about the other team members? All relatively normal, except for Wood, who had absurdly brilliant strategies and had set the stands on fire.
Right. So if Wood wasn't a time traveler, he was just legitimately insane. Harry wasn't sure which one would be worse.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, breaking up his reverie. "Are you okay?"
"Um, yeah," Harry replied, starting to pay attention again. "So… are you done?"
Hermione crossed her arms and looked over at Neville with a mild glare. "I would think so, but Neville hasn't returned our wands yet."
"Yeah, Nev," Ron said, holding out his hand with a wide grin. "Fork 'em over."
Neville laughed. "Great choice of words, Wonnie. I guess I'm satisfied. Hope so, anyway." He reached into his robes and tossed back their wands. "Don't try to Stun me or anything to 'get me back'" he warned them. "I wouldn't care for it."
Ron made a face. "I'm not Ginny, Neville. I wouldn't hold a grudge for no good reason."
Hermione made a muffled snorting sound, then looked like she was shocked the noise had come from her.
Ron glared at her. "Laugh it up, Hermione. If you're anything like…" he stumbled slightly on his words before continuing. "Like my Hermione, you're no better."
"I'm a little better," she replied, sticking up her chin airily.
"Well, okay," Ron accepted with a chuckle.
"So what's our next move?" Neville asked. "Harry should get a say, naturally."
Harry blinked in surprise. "Thanks, but I don't really know. I mean, maybe we should find the other time travelers, if there are any others. And I dunno… isn't there someone trustworthy you can talk to? People you know from your first time through."
Hermione grimaced. "I don't know if there are any adults that fit that category, but as for the other temporally displaced individuals… the evidence seems to point towards Malfoy."
Ron frowned and then clenched a fist. "Of course! No wonder he's been acting so strangely."
"Also Oliver might be one," Harry added. "He didn't set anything on fire when guys were in first year the first time around, right?"
"Huh," Ron grunted. "That'd explain why the team looked so bloody good. Better than I'd remembered, but I thought it was just unclear memories."
"That's excellent reasoning, Harry," said Hermione, tapping her chin with her wand. "I wasn't really paying attention to Quidditch, as it's kind of unimportant."
"What?" Ron and Harry asked simultaneously, in equivalent amounts of horror.
Neville laughed. "I think she means when you compare it to trolls, Voldemort, and the like."
"Oh." Harry chuckled slightly himself. "Yeah, good point."
"I know you're not keen on the idea," said Neville to Hermione. "But I gotta side with Harry on this one. This whole business is just too big and too weird to handle ourselves; we need to bring in Dumbledore."
Harry nodded in agreement. Finally someone talking sense. Dumbledore would know just what to do.
Hermione bit her lip. "But can we trust him?"
Neville held up his hands and rolled his eyes. "Yes?" he said this with a touch of exasperation.
"I say we can," put in Ron. "I talked a lot to his portrait when I was doing my own time spell. Pretty sure we can trust him."
"But what if he tries to Obliviate us?" Hermione asked.
"He won't," said Neville with a shrug. "But if he tries, we run. Agreed?"
They left the room, with Harry pretending he also knew where they were going. It seemed like the time travelers just subconsciously assumed that Harry knew things only his future self would know, and although that was more than logical, Harry was already pretty sick of asking what they were talking about. If it was really important, he'd figure it out eventually.
It didn't take long before the four Gryffindors stood in front of a stone gargoyle - it wasn't much like any office Harry had ever seen.
"Is this it?" He asked.
"The gargoyle guards the entrance," explained Hermione. "But I can't recall the password. Obviously it's some sort of candy, but I never visited the Headmaster in my first year. I don't believe even you did."
"There are ways around it," said Neville slowly. "But I suppose it may be better to be polite and just ask."
Ron snorted. "You guys don't know Dumbledore's catchall password. And here I thought you were supposed to be smarter than me." He turned to the statue before Hermione could reply and said, "Argelfraster."
"What was...?" Harry started to ask, but then the gargoyle jumped aside, revealing a hidden staircase.
"Argelfraster?" Hermione asked with the hint of a smile.
Ron shrugged. "Dumbledore's portrait said he wanted it to be memorable but difficult to guess."
Neville laughed. "Not bad. Last time I just climbed through the window." He then turned away from them and began walking up the stairs, as if to forestall any further response or argument.
Harry hurried behind him, ensuring that at least it wouldn't seem like he was just following the other three. When they came to the top, Harry could see Dumbledore's office (which actually did look like what you'd expect a magical office to look like) although he couldn't see if anyone was there.
"Please, come in," came the recognizable sound of the Headmaster's voice, scratched, resonant, and slightly amused. "I am curious what brings four first years to my office so late in the evening."
Neville just walked forward as Harry stood a moment, startled and a bit afraid to move. Hermione, still holding her wand out, gave him a curious look and gestured forward.
A slap on the back jarred Harry back to his senses.
"Chin up, Harry," Ron whispered in his ear. "We've got your back."
Naturally, Neville seemed annoyed they hadn't come right after, while Dumbledore, sitting behind his desk, merely watched them with a raised eyebrow.
"So what is the purpose of this visit?" Dumbledore asked. "Is there some sort of urgent matter that must be attended to?"
"You might say that," said Neville, sitting on one of the chairs. He twirled his own wand around his fingers. "To start off, you probably have some sort of guess why we're here."
Dumbledore raised a white, bushy eyebrow. "There could be many reasons. Perhaps you are here about today's events, or maybe this is about something to do with Sirius Black?"
"Sirius Black?" Harry blinked, just now remembering the drama with the transforming rat. "Oh yeah, what happened with him?"
"It would appear that Mister Black is innocent," replied the Headmaster. "And instead Peter Pettigrew, posing as Ron's pet rat, was instead the criminal so many years ago."
Ron grunted. "We already knew that."
Hermione punched his shoulder. "Harry didn't!"
Dumbledore frowned. "Well now I must confess I am unsure what is going on."
"Sir, haven't you noticed odd things going on this year?" Neville asked in a relaxed tone.
The Headmaster chuckled, a pleasant, friendly sound. "Naturally. This is Hogwarts, after all, and odd things are our speciality."
Neville nodded. "Sure. And yeah, having a troll attack out of nowhere or Peter Pettigrew hiding out as a rat are odd. But consider." He pointed at Ron and Hermione. "Two students that are far too talented for their age."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Hermione sniffed.
"A troll decapitated by the Sword of Gryffindor."
Dumbledore breathed in. "And how do you know about that, Mister Longbottom?"
Neville grinned widely. "It's simple, sir. I'm from the future."
The Headmaster didn't say anything for a few seconds, as he looked between the four of them.
"An odd assertion," he said finally. "But I fail to see the humour."
"It's not a joke, Professor," said Hermione through clenched teeth. "It's quite true. We have traveled through time from the future - many years, in point of fact."
"Oh, all of you is it?" Dumbledore said lightly, although his expression seemed to say he wasn't enjoying the conversation.
"Harry isn't," Ron interjected quickly. "The three of us are."
"I don't suppose you have some sort of proof," Dumbledore said in a reproachful tone. Harry noticed that the Professor was now also holding his wand, although it wasn't clear when that had happened.
Ron smiled. "For one, I knew the catchall password."
"Which is?" Dumbledore prompted.
"Argelfraster," replied the redhead with extreme confidence, and the Headmaster looked very surprised for a moment, and then stroked his beard.
"Well now, there are ways around that," he said. "But that merely proves you know something you should not, not that you are from the future."
"Fine," Ron said vehemently, stepping closer, while Harry saw everyone else clutching their wands tighter. "Here's something that's proof, something your own portrait told me."
"Hmm, quite fascinating," said Dumbledore. "You've piqued my interest, Mister Weasley. What did the portrait say to you?"
Ron grinned, as though it was obvious. "Made me memorize this phrase: 'The answer to the ontological paradox is that metaphysics are subjective'".
Hermione laughed. "That's ludicrous, Ron! That doesn't solve the paradox at all."
But Dumbledore was clearly shocked, his mouth slightly open. And then he smiled, readily and calmly, and his entire posture relaxed..
"On the contrary, Miss Granger," he said. "It answers everything. And it proves Ronald is from the future, although it would take far too long to explain why." Dumbledore looked over at Hermione. "But how is it that you did not know of this if you are also from the future?"
"Ah." Hermione smiled slightly, a wicked sort of glee showering on her face. "Well, sir, we three are from divergent, mutually deterministic futures. So we each came back entirely separately, with three different mechanisms." She gestured at Ron. "From what I gathered, your portrait taught Ron some variant of aperture amplification theory through the corruption of the Xo Xibalba ritual."
Ron's jaw dropped. "You figured that out from just the name of the ritual?"
Dumbledore sighed and looked down. "If that is true, I am sorry you went through such a traumatic circumstance, Mister Weasley."
Ron dropped into a chair and sighed. "Yeah, that's what your portrait always said too. But it was the only way left I could do by myself. Or so you - I mean your portrait said."
"I hadn't even thought of such a dark, difficult procedure," said Hermione, leaning against the wall. "Not that what I did was much better."
"And what was that, if I may ask?" Dumbledore had put down his wand, which seemed promising. For his part, Harry was merely trying to commit everything to memory, to be reviewed later when he had access to a dictionary.
Hermione's mouth quirked up. "I was actually getting to that. You won't like it." She closed and reopened her eyes, taking a deep breath. "I broke the Lunar Compact and forcibly inserted a self-duplicating incantation to sever the probabilistic certainty. Modification of the old Deadman's Loop ritual to trigger the other side of the Moon."
Dumbledore got to his feet suddenly, his face alight with fury.
Harry was so taken aback, he forgot to be terrified. That would come later when he was asleep.
"Miss Granger!" the Headmaster thundered. "Do you realize what you might have done? What you assuredly did to that branch of possibility?"
"I know!" she shouted back, tears in her eyes. "How could I not?" She wiped her face with her robes. "But you were dead. Harry was dead. Ron was dead. And Voldemort..." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "He still lived. So I did what I had to do. That world no longer deserved to exist."
Dumbledore held his angry face for a long moment, and then he sighed, his entire face and body drooping. "But assuredly there must have been innocents and ..."
"Sir, please!" Hermione interrupted. "Would you have done any differently in my position?"
For a long, silent moment, Dumbledore said nothing. And then he sighed deeply and looked very tired. He sat back down and seemed a bit sad. "How old were you?"
Hermione blinked and then smiled slightly. "Twenty-seven."
Dumbledore shook his head. "My word," he said, his voice sounding amazed. "No wonder. You were so young." He chuckled. "Well, you are even younger now." He looked over to Neville. "I shudder to ask what awful technique or violation of reality you utilized, Mister Longbottom."
Neville shrugged. "I just stole an artifact from Riddle's corpse. Seemed obvious how to use it, but I have no idea what it was or where it came from."
"Ah, well, that is a positive development in comparison," the Headmaster said. "So each of you came from a different future to the same past. It would seem that Elzbar's Theory of Convergent Timelines is the valid conclusion after all. Most intriguing. It raises the question: What were the convergent endpoints?"
Hermione grinned and began pacing around Harry's chair.
"I arrived on the first day of the term near the Express; Ron and Malfoy were certainly there, so they must have been displaced at that point, if not earlier."
"Yeah, I came right before the Express," Ron agreed. He looked up at nothing and sighed. "The sight of that beautiful train took my breath away, I don't mind telling you."
"Mister Malfoy?" Dumbledore slowly stroked his beard. "Yes, of course. That would explain some of the aberrances in his behavior as well."
"What about you, Neville?" asked Harry, trying to be an active part of the conversation.
"Halloween," the heavyset boy answered. "I wonder if anyone else showed up at the same time as me. I tried to pick up on any clues, but if there was another one, I didn't notice it."
"Interesting," said Dumbledore. "Perhaps there is something about the day, being that it is a conflux of mystic seasons."
"Oh, right, Halloween derives from Samhain, doesn't it?" Hermione stopped pacing and looked at the Headmaster. "That's a magical holiday too, I remember reading. Hogwarts used to celebrate it."
"Not for many years," he replied with a shake of his head. "Centuries, I would venture. But the magical roots are still relevant, of course. Which could potentially imply further time travelling arrivals during the other confluxes."
"Beltain, right?" Hermione asked eagerly. "And Imbolg!"
"In this case, I believe the transitional spring Equinox and winter Solstice are more likely," the Headmaster said with obvious warmth in his voice and a touch of a scholarly reprimand. "They are more suited to acting as a conflux of time instead of space."
Hermione frowned. "I guess I don't really know much about those."
Ron gasped in an obvious, exaggerated way. "Now I know you aren't the real Hermione!"
She smacked the back of his head and Ron winced.
"Or maybe you are," he grumbled, rubbing the impact area.
"But Professor," Hermione continued, as though nothing had happened. "Why did three of us show up in August? There's no holiday then."
"Sure there is," said Neville. "Lughnasa, of course. But nobody celebrates it anymore. I remember my Gran talking about some people wanting to bring it back."
"Mister Longbottom is quite right," said Dumbledore. "In point of fact, the first day of the school year was tied to Lughnasa. Later on came Muggles copying the timing; the Express, of course came only a hundred or so years ago." He smiled. "Although there was controversy at the time of the use of a 'Muggle' conveyance, Before I was born, of course, but not by that much."
"But sir, that means," Hermione gasped. "That others might just show up at any of the other confluxed holidays."
Dumbledore nodded. "Indeed. We will need to stay vigilant and perhaps construct some sort of alerting mechanism. I have a few ideas."
"Like an echo trigger starting the night before?" asked Hermione, tracing something in the air.
"Well, that wouldn't really be feasible for everyone in Hogwarts, now would it?" Dumbledore chuckled.
Hermione frowned. "Oh, blast! You're right, of course." Then her face lit up. "But wait, what about..."
"Hold a moment," Ron interrupted. "Before we get to you two talking over our heads any longer, let's focus on what we can all contribute to." He gestured to Harry. "Obviously Harry's here because he's the only other person who knows, and because he deserves to know."
"Oh," Harry was surprised by this remark. "Um, thanks."
"We need to think about who else might be 'visiting'" Ron continued. "Malfoy, obviously. And maybe my brother Percy, he's been acting a bit off. Harry pointed out that Wood's weirder than he ought to be."
"I see," mused Dumbledore. "Yes, quite logical. Oliver certainly seemed to be acting a bit... extreme, I suppose." He smiled. "I believe we should get Mister Malfoy involved, as he has apparently been here as long as Miss Granger and Mister Weasley."
"But we can't trust Draco!" Ron insisted, coming to his feet.
"So you prefer we leave him be?" Dumbledore asked.
Ron grimaced. "Bugger."
"Your language is as bad as my own Ron," said Hermione with a small smile, moving a bit closer to him.
"I'm holding back my worst," Ron told her with a laugh.
Dumbledore had taken this interruption to scribble something down on a piece of parchment. He rolled it up and raised it to the corner. "Fawkes, would you mind taking this to Severus?"
At first Harry thought Dumbledore was talking to a portrait until a haunting, beautiful trill caught his attention. A majestic bird with impossibly red feathers flew over and grabbed the paper, and then vanished with a puff of smoke and a small explosion of flames.
"You know," said Ron with a raise of his eyebrow. "Professor, are you a time traveler?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "Only in the normal, forward only sort of way I'm afraid."
In a flash of fire, the beautiful bird reappeared, singing a musical whistle that sent pleasant goose pimples across Harry's skin. The bird hovered for a moment and then flew in front of Neville.
"Hello Fawkes, old boy," Neville said and held out his arm. Fawkes (which apparently was the bird's name) looked at the Gryffindor for a moment before landing on his wrist. Neville scratched it under the back of its right ear and the bird made a very happy sound.
"My word..." Dumbledore sat back with a look of complete surprise on his face. "Well, if there was any doubt of your foreknowledge, that has certainly settled the matter. I suppose you and Fawkes became quite close in your future, then?"
Neville grinned but his eyes had a tinge of sadness. "Phoenixes are hard to kill, sir. We two were a team near the end."
"Wait, that is Fawkes?" Harry asked. "You mean from your story?" He looked over at the seemingly normal bird - sure it was abnormally beautiful for a bird, and yes, now that Harry looked closer, there was certainly something magical about it. And that birdsong had been marvelous and Fawkes had also disappeared and reappeared out of nowhere - that was consistent with Neville's tale. "Ah," Harry said, and leaned back in his chair. "I guess it is Fawkes."
Ron burst into laughter. "Yes, well spotted Harry," he managed after he calmed down.
Severus stormed into the room. "Albus, what is the..." He stopped and looked over at the students, his face changing rapidly from confusion to horror and then to fury. "What is the meaning of this?"
Albus adjusted his spectacles and leaned forward. "Ah, Severus, so glad you could join us. There is something we need to discuss."
Later, as Harry collapsed into a comfortable chair in the Gryffindor dorms, he wondered what the others might be working on with the professors. On the one hand, he was intensely curious, but on the other, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know. Harry just wished that for once in his life he had someone normal to confide in.
"Harry?" A figure came forward, and it took a moment for a very tired Harry to recognize her.
"Parvati, what are you still doing up?"
She frowned and crossed her arms. "I could ask you the same thing! You vanished and then... nothing for ages! And not just you, but Neville too!"
"And Ron and Hermione," Harry added.
Parvati's eyes narrowed. "Oh, I see. What horrid nonsense did they have to do with this?"
Harry sat up and looked carefully at the dark skinned girl. She seemed fairly normal, all things considered. And she couldn't be blamed for being annoyed at the mental time travelers; after all, hearing about the terrible things in the futures they experienced, who'd blame them for being a bit mad?
He looked around the room, but it seemed that they were alone. "Parvati," he said in just above a whisper. "Come here a moment." He put up his fingers to his mouth to indicate silence.
Parvati perked up and she grinned widely, running over and sitting next to him on the floor. "Well then?" she asked with a glint of pleasure in her eyes.
"I'll tell you," said Harry. "But you must absolutely swear to keep it a secret... from everybody!"
Parvati held up a hand and she sat up perfectly straight. "I won't tell a soul!" she promised.
And despite strong temptations, she didn't say a word.
But as it would turn out, someone else did.
END OF CHAPTER FOUR - (The Third Conflux Part 1)
This chapter didn't quite go as I had planned, but I decided to take an alternative approach to the next one. The next two time travelers aren't even introduced in the primary story yet!
Thanks for hanging in there folks! Next up: More Mysterious Girl!