The Girl Who Hated
PART ONE: THE THEFT OF TIME
One thought kept echoing through her head...
What in Merlin's taint was the Harry Potter Fan Club?
"That is probably the ugliest I'd seen her in weeks," confessed Isla. She took another sip of her colorful drink and giggled. "But I hadn't the heart to tell the poor girl she might as well be trying to attract a troll in that getup!"
They all laughed, and Damara and Greta clinked their glasses together in a theatrical manner.
Marietta grinned and sipped slowly. "I haven't seen Kathryn since the Hogwarts days. Although I think she went by Katie then." She chuckled in her endearingly wicked way. "Although that's not what the Gryff boys called her back then."
It was fantastic to see the girls; they hadn't had a chance for a night out in ages. Marietta had been getting just a bit antsy without the ability to gossip with someone trustworthy. Her husband was a decent enough sort for that type of thing, but she really needed the girls around to feel complete.
"You are awful, Mari!" Greta teased, her motions a bit off from intoxication. "I wouldn't know myself. Back then, dating outside the House simply wasn't done!"
Damara nodded and then sighed. "Very true, Greta. But then we discovered soon after graduating that it was only the Slytherins who couldn't keep it up. Single-minded, that's us - racing to the finish line."
Marietta laughed loudly, drawing the attention of a few others in the Three Broomsticks momentarily. "I wouldn't know about that. Never been to the dark side," she whispered dramatically. "Other houses, though. I can tell you that the younger 'Claws were always eager to learn."
"I'll drink to that!" Isla crowed, and poured another drink for herself.
"Keep it coming," Marietta told her, holding out her own glass. Once everyone had been refilled, she held up her drink. "To the young boys of Hogwarts, always striving, but never quite making it."
"They do try hard," Damara said with a pout, biting on her long dirty blond hair, which was always in her face.
"Cheers!" Isla proclaimed and tipped back hers in one quick swallow. She smiled, her eyes a bit unfocused, then she suddenly frowned. "Oh bugger." Isla was a bit of a skinny girl that looked best when she smiled - at the moment, though, she had an ugly, angry expression on her face.
"What is it?" Greta asked in confusion.
"Just look who sashayed in the bar," Isla replied angrily, and pointed across the room. Instantly the other witches turned to see what had disturbed her.
"Oh, bugger," Marietta cursed softly.
Greta poked her. "What's she doing here?"
Of course, they had been spotted, and Marietta's old friend dashed over to see them. Cho Chang. Apparently she had finally come back to the country after several years traveling abroad. And annoyingly enough, she had aged extremely well. Marietta suspected all manner of magical enhancements liberally applied.
"Merlin and Nimue!" Cho exclaimed. "I haven't seen you girls in ages! Mari, look at you! You look amazing." She grabbed Marietta in a hug.
Marietta grimaced and tentatively returned the embrace. "Don't start with that," she said, trying not to sound too bitter. Going on about looking amazing... Marietta knew she looked perfectly fine, decent enough compared to others in her year. Although it was honestly hard to tell if Cho was being condescending...
Cho stepped back and looked Marietta over. "I'm serious, you look great! Oh, I heard you had gotten married while I was away. How's the lucky boy? A younger man, right?"
"Yes," Marietta grumbled. She tried to smile and managed it slightly. "It's great to see you, Cho. I had no idea you were coming back. We haven't spoken in years, it seems like."
"Damn, Chang," Damara said drunkenly. "Have you actually gotten more attractive as you got older?" She frowned. "Hardly seems fair."
Cho giggled and scoffed. "Don't be silly. Um, you're Damara Chubb, right? Slytherin our year?"
"It's actually Damara Cotton now," the soused girl said loudly.
"Brilliant!" Cho beamed. "So you didn't have to change your initials on anything important!"
Damara laughed. She nodded and pointed at Cho. "You know, I didn't remember you being so bloody funny at Hogwarts, Chang."
"It is still Chang, isn't it?" Isla asked pointedly. "Unless you found a boy with that name too? I suppose it's possible, after all."
Cho laughed. "No, nothing like that." She looked at Marietta and winked. "Just haven't been lucky enough to find the right partner yet."
Marietta felt an odd lump in her throat, but she gulped down some of her multicolored cocktail to settle the discomfort.
"Well, I really must be going," Cho said to them. "But we simply must catch up later." She turned and hugged Marietta again. "Owl me when you have a moment," Cho whispered in Marietta's ear. "We have a lot to catch up on." She straightened and waved again, then walked away in an almost flouncy manner.
"I hate that whore," Isla spat bitterly. "Thinks she's so much better than us, does she?"
"I thought she looked fabulous," Damara drawled, peering through the crowd in an attempt to see where Cho had gone.
Greta frowned and tapped Marietta on the shoulder.
"Eh?" Marietta jumped a bit. "What is it?"
"You all right, Mari?" Greta asked.
Marietta sighed. "Yes, I suppose so. Just a bit odd to see her after so long is all." She sighed. "That's all."
Marietta yawned and leaned back on the couch. Normally she'd read a bit of a favorite book, but she was a bit too tired and out of sorts from the night out to relax properly. Besides, her husband ought to be home any minute... But the pleasant light colors of her sitting room were soothing as usual. Marietta rubbed a hand on the plush fabric of the expensive couch and sighed. At least it felt luxurious, even if she didn't quite feel luxurious herself.
"I'm home, darling!" A familiar voice sang out, and Justin walked into the sitting room. He held out his hands and grinned widely. "And how's my favorite girl?"
Marietta laughed and got up, and they each kissed each other on the cheek.
"I am exhausted," Justin announced, and collapsed into his favorite chair, blowing forward his hair, which he had recently dyed a bright, glaring red. He leaned forward. "But enough about me. How were the Three Evil Witches?"
"Shut it," Marietta said with a laugh. "They were the same as always." She stopped laughing and sighed.
"What's wrong?" Justin asked with a frown. He then smiled and winked. "Come on, girl. If you can't confide in your entirely straight husband, who can you confide in?"
Marietta giggled despite herself. "Stop being such a fairy," she ordered.
"Oh you know you love it," Justin said in an affronted manner. "Now just between us girls, what's the problem?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Marietta admitted. "We were having a lovely night, chatting about various things, when... an old friend showed up."
Justin raised an eyebrow. "Don't leave me in suspense, Mari! Who was this mysterious 'friend' of yours?"
"It was Cho Chang," said Marietta. "Back from traveling."
"Really?" Justin whistled. "How'd the old girl look?"
Marietta scowled. "Bloody fantastic. Better than how I remembered her." She sighed heavily. "She just looked so... good. And something about the way she talked to me... and looked at me." Marietta shook her in head in confusion. "I'm just out of sorts about the whole business."
"Well, it's obvious to me," Justin said matter-of-factly. "I'm surprised you haven't picked up on it. You say you had a sort of interesting connection at the pub?"
"Yes," Marietta agreed.
"And she's still single, even after all these years?"
Marietta nodded. "She made that pretty clear."
Justin chuckled. "Well, then, there you have it. She still fancies you."
"What?" Marietta sat up in shock. "That's... what are you on about?"
"Not this again," Justin groaned. He glared at his wife. "Marietta, you've always fancied the girl, we both know it."
"I'm not a bloody..." Marietta trailed off.
Justin smirked. "Fairy?"
"Stop, that's not what I meant," Marietta said in annoyance. "You know I don't care about what you do or whom you do. That was the arrangement, after all."
"Yes, it was," Justin said seriously. "Marietta, we've been friends for years. You had the idea for this marriage nonsense in the first place." He looked at her meaningfully. "Our arrangement was that either of us could do whatever we wanted on the side, but our families wouldn't know any better. And yet... have you actually ever cheated on me?"
Marietta's face flushed. "Don't call it that! It's not cheating if we both agree on the terms!"
"Stop dodging, love," Justin scolded her. "Answer the question."
"I..." Marietta paused. "I suppose you're right. But I don't know... I'm not sure I'm that way about women."
"Think about this for a moment," Justin said softly and moved over to sit by her. "Think of Cho. How do you feel about her? About kissing her? About being intimate with her?"
Marietta swallowed. "Morgana... Justin, I don't know." She bit her lip. "Perhaps... perhaps you may be right."
Justin waved his hands in the air. "Like I said, you should listen to what I'm saying. Did she reach out to you?"
"Well," Marietta hesitated. She swallowed and then continued. "She did say to owl her. So we could catch up." She wrung her hands a bit. "But what if I'm misreading the signals? What if she doesn't feel that way?"
"I've got a bit of experience with this sort of thing," Justin assured her. "As you well know. Take my advice. Get together, talk about nonsense, reconnect. See how things are between you. Feel her out. If you're wrong, yes, you'll be hurt, but if you're right..."
Marietta smiled tentatively. "You do have a point there."
Justin grinned and opened his arms for a hug. "Right! Now who's the best gay husband around?"
Marietta laughed. "You are, Justin Finch-Fletchley. You're the best gay husband any closeted lesbian could hope to have."
Justin hugged her and then winked. "That's my lovely lesbian wife. I knew you had it in you."
It didn't take long for Marietta to fall into the same groove she had with Cho so many years back. After only a few drinks, they were chatting and gossiping happily. Cho seemed completely fascinated by the exploits of the British magical crowd she had missed while away, but also shared some fantastic adventures of her own.
Slowly, they began to open up a bit more, it seemed to Marietta. Sharing secrets like they had as young girls. When no one else in the world seemed to exist but them.
"So how did it happen?" Cho asked finally. "I always figured Justin for one of those types... you know what I mean."
"Well, actually he is," Marietta smirked. "But that was why things worked well for our little agreement. His muggle parents were ridiculously wealthy, but had cut him off until he got married." She shrugged. "I have to say, fabulous wealth is fabulous whether you're a muggle or a wizard."
Cho giggled and smacked Marietta on the shoulder playfully. "That's bloody awful! And you were all right with him... gallivanting about with whomever?"
Marietta nodded. "Those were the terms. Either one of us could sleep with anyone we wanted. We get along quite well besides."
Cho raised an eyebrow. "Except for the sexual attraction, of course."
"Of course," Marietta said teasingly and then laughed. "We can't have everything, can we?"
"Hmm," Cho mused. "You have become quite interesting, Marietta. Fake marriages with gay friends? I can only imagine how we'd gossip about that sort of thing as young girls."
"Speaking of interesting," Marietta leaned forward. She breathed in deeply to calm herself, trying to will herself to bring up the sensitive subject. But at the last moment, she couldn't quite manage it. "You simply must tell me how you've stayed in such bloody fantastic shape," Marietta said, a bit lamely.
Cho shook her head and smirked. "It's nothing like magical trickery. You know I never went in for that sort of thing." She paused and frowned. "Actually, it's mostly hard work. But I've been highly motivated."
"Really?" Marietta licked her lips, as they felt suddenly quite dry. "Motivated for what reason?"
"It's... it's a secret I've been hiding," Cho said hesitantly.
Could it be? Was Cho intimating what Marietta had been hoping after all this time together?
"Don't leave me in suspense," Marietta almost squealed. "You know you can trust me, darling!"
Cho looked down and took a drink in a visible attempt to steady herself. "I'm in a kind of... club, you could call it." She gazed back up at Marietta. "You know, maybe it's the right place for both of us. Would you like to come to our next meeting?"
Marietta frowned, deep in thought. Was this some sort of... lesbian club? Marietta had never heard of such a place, though in fairness, it wasn't like she knew much about that sort of thing. But yes, it made perfect sense.
Marietta looked back up to Cho's beautiful face, traced the contours of elegant cheekbones and gazed into bright, shining brown eyes. She felt her heart begin to race. "Yes, of course, Cho. I'd love to come."
It was a small group, with several girls of varying ages, although all within a few years. Marietta thought she recognized most from Hogwarts, although none by name.
Cho smiled nervously at Marietta and squeezed her hand. Marietta smiled back, albeit quite confused. Something seemed off about the whole situation.
After everyone had found a seat, one girl with a long plait in her hair bounced up and smiled to the group.
"Welcome everyone," she beamed. "It's great to see new faces." She nodded at Marietta. "We're always happy to see new people at the Harry Potter Fan Club."
A sudden, sharp jab of pain shot through Marietta's chest, and she could feel bile in the back of throat. What the bloody hell had the bouncy tart just said? The what Fan Club? It wasn't possible. There was no bloody way she had walked into some sort of club worshipping the damn Boy-Who-Lived. And wasn't the git married besides?
Wait... Cho was still hung up on the stupid kid?
Marietta paled and tried to hide her panic. How could she have so badly misread the situation?
Distracted, she missed the various girls introducing themselves until Cho prodded her.
"What?" She hissed.
Cho rolled her eyes. "This is Marietta Finch-Fletchley. We're old friends from Hogwarts."
"Wait..." The bouncy girl gasped. "You're the one married to Justin?" She smiled sadly at Marietta. "Ah, I see. Just figured out his sort of leanings, did you?"
"No," Marietta told her angrily. "I've always known. And it's none of your business, actually."
"Calm down, Mari," Cho said soothingly. "We're all friends here."
"Are we then?" Marietta grumbled almost inaudibly.
One of the other girls, a younger one with curly black hair and an impressive chin, cocked her head in an odd way. Marietta glared at her, but the other girl just smiled slightly.
"So tell us Cho," the bouncy girl said eagerly. "What happened when you spoke to Harry?"
Marietta whirled around to stare at Cho dumbfounded. "You spoke to Potter?"
Cho sighed. "Yes, and I tried to take your advice, Susan." She shook her head sadly. "But it didn't work. He said he didn't think about me like that any more, hadn't since Hogwarts. Something about how having kids made thinking of other women as distasteful."
"Oh, dear," Susan soothed. She walked over and hugged Cho. "We'll figure something out, don't worry."
Marietta clenched and unclenched her hands, wanting nothing more than to get out of this blasted meeting. But there was still more nonsense left, as she had to wait for the other girls to whine about their stupid juvenile crushes on a useless celebrity.
"I think we've all managed to get some things off our chests," Susan smiled at the group. "I've brought some snacks, so everyone dig in! Homemade, of course."
Fantastic... well, Marietta would try one of the desserts before sneaking out. The entire evening had otherwise been a complete waste of time.
As the girls ate and chatted with each other, Marietta took a pastry and walked to the corner, closer to the exit. She tentatively tried the pastry - actually, it was quite good. But hardly worth the pain of attending the horrid fan club.
"You don't look happy."
Marietta's head snapped up. It was the curly haired girl with the chin.
"Bugger off," Marietta growled.
"You're Marietta, right?" The girl's eyes narrowed and she grinned. "I'm Romilda, Romilda Vane."
Marietta rolled her eyes. "Great, now leave me alone. I don't have time for more groupie talk."
Romilda chuckled. "Marietta, I think you and I should talk. We have a lot in common."
"How's that?" Marietta asked bitterly. "You love Harry Potter to an unhealthy level. Whereas I hate the smug bastard."
"Exactly," Romilda said softly. "Except that I don't love Potter. I despise that fake hero and all his bloody theatrics."
Marietta blinked and swallowed a bite of pastry. "Really? Then why are you here?"
Romilda shrugged. "Same reason as you, I'd wager. Dragged here by a friend." She leaned in close to Marietta. "I thought this would be a different sort of club altogether, if you catch my meaning."
Marietta's eyes widened in surprise. "Um, is... is that so?" She stammered slightly. "What's sort of club did you think this would be?"
Romilda leaned closer and put her hand on Marietta's backside. "I think you know."
Marietta suddenly felt a bit flushed and unable to speak. She looked at the younger girl carefully. Romilda was pretty, certainly, with a very confident air about her. Deep, dark eyes unlike most of the other tarts. And not ridiculously skinny like so many witches, she had a real lushness to her. She wasn't close to Cho in looks, of course, but that avenue was now permanently closed.
"Why don't we leave this club for little girls?" Romilda whispered in Marietta's ear. "I remember watching you from afar for years back at Hogwarts. Always pined for you. But I had no idea you were like me..."
"I... I don't know," Marietta said slowly. She licked her lips and looked into Romilda's eyes. "I'm married, after all."
Romilda raised an eyebrow. "To a gay man, I understand?"
Marietta chuckled. "True. And truth be told, he'd approve of me... experimenting with someone else."
"Then it's settled then," Romilda grinned wickedly. "Let's go back to my flat. I'll bet there's all sorts of things you could teach me."
"Oh, I don't know about that." A cautious note entered Marietta's voice, as she pulled apart the remains of her pastry with nerveless fingers. "I haven't done this sort of thing before."
"Well, then," Romlida shot her a smoldering, predatory look. "Let me teach you a few things."
"Ah, hell," Marietta smiled and slowly licked the last of the pasty bits from her sticky fingers. "Why not?"
"Why do you hate Potter so much?" Marietta asked, leaning back in the bed. It seemed quite certain now for Marietta - she certainly was the sort to match her husband. Romilda had been very eager to show Marietta several tricks that she had not imagined were actually possible. But after several meetings, they eventually began talking in a way that began to replace her talks with Cho. Finally confiding in someone that she appreciated in a physical way, unlike Cho or her husband either, for that matter.
Romilda grinned and began to brush her hair. "I was wondering when you'd finally ask me that. I know why you hate him, of course, but Potter screwed up my life." She looked out her bedroom window and sighed. "It was a difficult part in my life. I didn't realize that I really liked girls. I basically propositioned him in a fairly public fashion, and he turned me down flat."
She turned back to face Marietta. "It didn't take long after that for his stupid cultish friends to ruin my life. And Ginny basically threatened to kill me if I ever was in the same building as Harry again." Romilda shuddered. "And I believed her, the crazy bint."
"Wait a moment." Marietta frowned. "You know why I hate Potter?" She tried to think about it, and then her head began to hurt slightly. "Actually, I don't know myself. I didn't realize I hated him until the stupid fan club. But then why?"
Romilda shrugged and smiled. "Simple jealousy at first, I'd imagine. Did you hate Cedric Diggory as well?"
Diggory... that was a name Marietta hadn't heard in a very long time. But Romilda had a point. "You're probably right," Marietta conceded. "I resented Cedric for a long time; I was even secretly pleased he died, although I didn't realize why at the time." She sighed and shook her head ruefully. "I can't believe it's taken me all this time to realize that."
"It's not easy to look back at our past mistakes," Romilda said soothingly. "You probably felt too guilty that you were glad Diggory had died to admit anything to Cho, but then Harry Potter comes along... and suddenly Cho is with yet another bloody false hero."
Marietta scowled. "Yes, that does make sense. But it's more than that." She frowned and patted her chin. "There's a dislike I have, something I can't figure out. Some sort of almost irrational hatred that doesn't make sense."
Romilda frowned. "I would've gathered it was that whole business with the DA Potter and his friends had - you know the whole 'Sneak' business."
Marietta blinked in confusion. "The what business? What is the DA?"
"You - you don't remember?" Romilda gasped. "Wait a moment - I need to check something." She rushed out of the room, leaving Marietta sitting on the bed in an addled state.
Finally Romilda came back carrying an old book and her wand. "Marietta, I need to check something. With your permission?"
Romilda waved her wand. "Reprehendo mentis."
An odd, prickly sensation washed over Marietta's head, and she blinked to clear it.
"Damn," Romilda cursed softly. "You've been Obliviated!"
"What?" Marietta leaped up. "Let me see that book." But sure enough, it was just a simple diagnostics spell - Marietta recognized some of the annotations, it was a fairly standard book on healing magic.
"I can't bloody believe it," Marietta said, slumping against the wall. "I hate Potter and I can't even remember why."
"Oh, I know why," Romilda bared her teeth and threw the book on the floor. "Harry did it! It was all over the school that he branded the Sneak scar on you."
Marietta rubbed her now clear forehead. "That bloody thing - I never could figure out where it came from. Didn't have any memory of it whatsoever."
"So you see," Romilda grabbed Marietta's shoulders and looked her dead in the eye. "Harry is truly the one who screwed up your life from the beginning. His fault - you never got with Cho. If he hadn't given you the scar and ruined your memory, who can say what might've happened?"
Marietta felt both a bit scared and yet slightly aroused at Romilda's wide eyed fervor. "But I can't change that now. You can't reverse Obliviation - at least not easily. And the past is the past."
Romilda's eyes glinted. "I think I have an idea. A mad, crazy idea." She grinned widely. "But perhaps it can get us both what we want."
"What do we want?" Marietta asked softly.
"You want Cho, and I want someone else," Romilda told her. "But there's something else we both want: Revenge."
Marietta looked up, feeling a bit excited. "What are you suggesting exactly that we do?"
Romilda smiled slightly. "Simple. We kill Harry Potter."
Of course, it was never that simple. Life was never that easy. Killing Harry Potter, beloved hero to his misguided fans would be damn near impossible, surrounded as he always was by his crazed friends. And it wouldn't help the situation with Cho at all... somehow Marietta doubted that killing Harry Potter would endear Cho to her that much.
Although Romilda's plan was utter madness.
"This will never work," Marietta yelled, and threw another book on the floor. "Time travel doesn't work the way you want it to." She glared at Romilda. "I don't see how changing the past would even help. I can't change Cho into finding girls attractive, even if we do somehow kill Harry."
"I think you're wrong," Romilda told her. "Cho cares about you, and you could convince her of that, given the right circumstances."
"Well, perhaps," Marietta allowed. "But still, everything we've researched in two bloody months just says the same thing: You can't change the past!"
Romilda sat silently for a moment, before pulling out a small, very old book with a pitch black cover. Emblazoned on the cover was a faded image, but Marietta could just make it out. A hand holding a still beating heart.
"I found this odd ritual earlier today." She flipped open the book, and it seemed to let out an almost sighing sound. She held it out to Marietta. "I think that perhaps it might be what we're looking for."
Marietta blinked but accepted the book. It felt suddenly cold in her grasp, a bit disconcertingly. But the words were easy to understand. "'The Doublet Theft'," she translated. "'This ritual utilizes the synchronized push and pull of two casters: One, the binder by magic and two, the killer of the sacrifice to steal the energy of another, doubled over to the doublet pair.'" She frowned. "This just seems like a typical sort of life stealing ritual. Dark business." Marietta briefly wondered about the idea that Romilda had just stumbled across the book. "Besides," she continued. "It has nothing to do with time."
"But according to Dee's Primary Precept, time can be a sort of energy, true?"
Marietta nodded, quite impressed that Romilda had heard of the obscure rule. "Well, yes, of course. You need that concept for any spells that slow or speed time effectively in an isolated fashion. But wait..." She looked down at the page and thought for a moment. "You think we could modify the ritual to steal time from someone?"
"Yes," Romilda said, looking more serious than Marietta had ever remembered. "And I know you can do it, darling. You're a Ravenclaw, after all."
Marietta smirked. "Doesn't make me a genius, though." She read over the ritual and considered. "Well, it doesn't hurt to try to work things out a bit. Although I might need a bit of research to work through the tricky bits." Something about it appealed to Marietta's pride, though, especially with that Ravenclaw remark. She felt a need to prove herself to Romilda and her own self-worth.
Romilda smiled and she licked her lips. "Whatever you need, love. Just let me know, and I'll do whatever you need to support your idea."
As the days went by, Marietta began to spend more and more time on the problem. She explained the absences to Justin as spending time with a girl she could share physical intimacy with, and he was happy to hear about it. It was partially true, after all.
In a way, it seemed a simple concept - merely replacing the life energy with temporal energy. It ought to work, as it was something built up over time in the same manner, but altering the ritual to fit it was fiendishly difficult. And of course, there was always the lingering issue that was always on her mind. Finally, Marietta couldn't stand it any longer and confronted Romilda.
"There's one thing that bothers me," Marietta told her still occasional lover. "For this ritual to work, we need to find someone to steal time from. And it will almost certainly kill them."
Romilda shrugged. "And I suppose you have a moral issue with it?" Her eyes narrowed. "Remember what we're talking about: the murder of a younger Harry Potter. This is just another life taken in pursuit of that righteous vengeance. And besides," Romilda smirked. "If it works, the past will change, right? And our little sacrifice will no longer have happened at all, right?"
"Are we sure about that?" Marietta asked worriedly. "Time travel is a tricky business. Nobody agrees on exactly how it works. We might change things in a cascading manner, or we might split off an alternate reality. Or we might just destroy the universe entirely - or just the two of us."
"Well what would you prefer?" Romilda spat. "Living a life with that bastard having screwed up everything for both of us? Never being able to be with the one you truly love?"
Marietta sighed. "Oh, I don't know." She frowned. "Wait, who do you really love?"
Romilda winced. "I'm not talking about me," she said uncertainly. Her dark eyes flashed and she glared at Marietta. "I was thinking of you, of course. I'm always thinking of you!"
"Um," Marietta ducked and hid her face from sight.
Romilda sighed, then walked over and put an arm around Marietta. "I know it's hard, love. It's a sacrifice that is necessary for us to finally get what we deserve. Don't forget that I'll be with you every step of the way."
Marietta nodded. "I suppose you may be right. It's hard to even fathom such a thing..." She tapped at her notes and an interesting thought occurred to her - perhaps a simple transformative runic matrix would be useful. But she couldn't be completely certain without the right research... "You know, I think I need to check the Ministry Archive for some books on a few things. But I'll have to be careful so they can't cotton on to what I'm looking for."
Romilda smiled in a distant way, and her eyes glinted a bit oddly. She leaned over and kissed Marietta on the forehead. "I have utter faith in you."
But there was an unforeseen problem. There was a familiar person manning the desk at the Archive.
"Why, look who it is! I haven't seen you in years."
Marietta tried to maintain a smile and swallowed slightly. "Hermione Weasley, what a pleasure to see you after so long."
Hermione looked over the list of requests Marietta had prepared. "Interesting selection you have here. Fancourt's notes on energy transfers. The Travails and Mistakes of Elladora Ketteridge. Two books on temporal dynamics. And most interestingly, Albus Dumbledore's old article on transfiguration displacement." She looked up at Marietta. "What exactly are you working on?"
"Oh, I don't know anything about the specifics," Marietta said nervously. Something about the Muggle-born set her on edge. "Just something I've been hired to look into, apply some calculus transformations here and there. Research into a better Portkey, I believe."
"Hmmph," Hermione nodded. "Well, the Archive is available for all registered voters, as is your right. It's a pretty slow day, so let me get these materials for you." She stood and nodded, then left into an office.
Marietta tried to calm herself, and pretended that there was nothing out of the ordinary. The Ketteridge and Dumbledore materials weren't relevant, Marietta had only included them as logical elements for the cover story of improved Portkeys. But Hermione had always been a clever little girl, although highly annoying at all times. And she made Marietta so nervous just by her presence, although Marietta wasn't quite sure why.
After about an hour, Hermione returned with a sealed box. "You can have the two recent books for a month," she said. "The older books and other materials must be returned after a week. However, you can probably use copying charms on the articles; those aren't protected against duplication. Sign here."
"Great," Marietta said, signing her name, and then taking the box carefully. "Thanks so much for your help, Mrs. Weasley."
"Have a good day," Hermione said, looking Marietta straight in the eye. "Please let us know if you need anything else."
"Oh, I will," Marietta said, trying not to cringe away from Hermione's gaze. But she grasped the box just a bit tighter than necessary.
"I'm worried about Hermione Weasley," Marietta confided later to Romilda. "She might think I'm up to something."
Romilda frowned. "Hermione works at the Archive? I didn't realize that." She cursed softly. "And her husband's a bloody Auror, isn't he?"
"What?" Marietta blanched. "He is?"
"Yes," Romilda said and nodded to herself. "We'll need to accelerate a bit, just in case." She turned to Marietta. "How much longer do you need?"
"Hard to say," Marietta replied nervously. "I've only just started reviewing the material."
"But the sacrifice... do you know whom it has to be?"
"Actually, I'm fairly certain," Marietta said in realization. "It only has to be someone the age of the time to be stolen. The ritual will steal the entirety of their temporal life energy. We've said it has to be 1995 for us to affect the past appropriately, somewhere near the middle of the term if possible. So we need a nineteen-year-old to travel back correctly."
"That's simple enough math even for me," Romilda laughed. She tapped at her chin in thought. "All right then, here's the plan. You figure out when the ritual will be ready to perform. I'll find a place for us to do it, and I'll bring the sacrifice."
Marietta gulped. "Are you sure? You can do that part?" She looked back down at her notes. "They can't be dead, of course. That, um, that has to happen during the ritual."
"I've got that part," Romilda said dismissively. "Trust me, I know how to find someone for this." A dark look came over her face. "And I know just the place."
Marietta breathed in and out, trying to calm her nerves. Romilda would be back at the ritual site any moment with their captive. The drafty, enormous warehouse hadn't been used in decades - as such it was ideal for their needs. It even had the right sort of ambiance, heavily laden with dust, broken glass everywhere, and seemingly permanently in the shade. The ritual space had been entirely prepared in the old abandoned warehouse, with all manner of spells and wards in place to discourage any accidental discovery. Although, if there was a concerted effort to find them, there wasn't much that could be done to prevent that - except completing the ritual first.
The ritual space was fairly simple, two circles with another larger joining them, and all in a perfectly drawn triangle. Various marks and old runes decorated the boundaries, initially taken from the old black book but altered in subtle ways to affect time instead of life. And in the center was the altar of black stone and pale bone, built by hand. The ritual knife was easy enough, as it could be simply purchased in any number of disreputable stores on Knockturn.
After the final marking was drawn and the triangle was closed, the air between the circles began to shift, gaining an electric charge in the air. This was expected, although it had taken Marietta quite a bit off guard at first.
She had managed to return the books to the Archive early, hopefully to stave any further suspicion from Hermione Weasley. But the look in the Muggle-born's eyes... it didn't sit well with Marietta, so she hurried through her work. Luckily the books and notes had been exactly what she had needed, and she was almost entirely certain that the ritual would succeed. There was a last minute concern that she had uncovered while reviewing her notes... but Romilda was still not back yet.
Wait... she heard a noise, and Marietta cautiously checked outside, then breathed a sigh of relief.
Romilda was walking up, leading a glassy eyed teenager. Marietta guessed the Imperius had been used; normally she'd be horrified, but they were planning to do far worse to the poor kid. Although if the ritual worked, it'd be like nothing had happened. So nothing morally wrong was in place.
As Romilda put the kid in place on the altar, Marietta paced nervously back and forth, although making sure not to scuff any of the drawn lines.
Finally she burst out, "Romilda!"
"What?" Romilda scowled. "I followed your list to the exact Merlin-damned letter! What's the problem?"
"I've just come across a possible issue," Marietta told her nervously. "The Wellsian paradox theory is what I've been using. If true, we'd merely replace our younger selves in place. But if the Barjavelian paradox is true..." She shook her head and couldn't speak for a moment.
"What about it?" Romilda demanded. "I don't recall that theory."
"If true, then we'd exist as younger selves, but they would be there as well. The doublet ritual would ensure we'd gain the double time doubled over, each of us younger and displaced in time. But we might have duplicates, the original versions of ourselves."
Romilda considered this and sat down. "All right, so how would we know if that theory was true?"
"Oh," Marietta thought about it a moment. "Ah, I know. If we find ourselves in the same physical place, that is, this warehouse, we'll know it was the Barjavelian theory. But we'll still have to deal with the paradox - the timeline won't allow two versions of the same person to exist."
"So what will happen? One version will vanish?"
Marietta shook her head. "No, no, I don't think so. It's not exactly something that's clear, although the formulas do work out in a logical manner. The universe will adjust in some way, eliminating one of the pair."
Romilda smirked. "Or we eliminate them first."
Marietta gulped. "Well, yes, I suppose that might work."
"All right then," Romilda nodded. "That's fine. You just leave that part to me, all right? I know you're a bit squeamish."
Marietta smiled gratefully, and the two continued their preparations. Finally, after hours of work, it was time to begin. They each got in place, the binder and the death - Marietta would hold the magical energy in place while Romilda performed the killing blow. Each step had been carefully practice and memorized, every incantation and movement carefully predetermined.
It became easy once they fell into their memorized rhythm, and before Marietta knew it, they had gotten into place for the last act, the final switch. Marietta would take the bindings and Romilda would kill the sacrifice - it helped not to think of the sacrifice as an actual person. The final switch had been added so that Marietta would not need to perform the killing blow herself.
But suddenly there was a commotion and an explosion sounded outside the warehouse. The wards!
"You in there, come out immediately!" A magnified voice echoed through the warehouse. "This is the Aurors! We know you have the kidnapped boy."
"Merlin's balls!" Romilda cursed. "Marietta, we don't have time! I know you were going to take the bindings, but we haven't enough time to spare. You have to kill the boy yourself."
"What?" Marietta screeched. "No... I can't. I can't do it."
"Mari, you have to!" Romilda yelled angrily. "This is it! We're dead or worse if you don't do this! If that's Ron Weasley, he'll never let us live after kidnapping his cousin."
Marietta started. "His what?"
Another loud bang came from the doors. The wards wouldn't hold much longer against that kind of assault.
"The blade is right there, Mari!" Romilda pleaded. "Please, you must! Do it for us! Do it for revenge! For your love of Cho!"
Marietta slowly picked up the knife and hesitated. She held up the blade over the still insensible boy. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. The knife hovered above the boy's chest, and Marietta breathed in and out slowly.
"Mari!" Romilda whispered urgently. "Hurry!"
The doors burst in, and Marietta could hear familiar voices. The time had come - she was out of time, in a sense. She screamed and plunged down the knife. The sound of horrified yells echoed around her, but then they suddenly stopped. And a wave of energy swept over her, wondrous, billowing life that permeated her every cell. It was the most pleasurable sensation she had ever felt.
And then came a bizarre feeling of being stuck in a hole, with someone pulling her from the other side. A tremendous pulling, building and building in pressure, until Marietta thought she would burst. But then, quickly and silently, came relief. The pressure ceased, and Marietta collapsed on the floor.
She opened her eyes cautiously. "Oh, no." They were still in the warehouse.
"What is it?" Romilda slowly got up. She seemed practically a child in comparison to how Marietta knew her... youthful down to every pore. Romilda looked at Marietta and grinned happily. "You look so young!" She ran over and grabbed Marietta in a hug. "Mari, you did it! We've gone back in time!"
"But look where we are," Marietta said worriedly. "The paradox - we're still in the warehouse, so we must have doubles."
"You leave that to me," Romilda said softly. "But first, let's head to Hogwarts. Let's wait in the Room of Requirements and figure things out."
Marietta nodded, her adrenaline still pumping from the mad journey through time. It had worked, crazily enough. Perhaps the plan could still succeed?
They could still kill Harry Potter.
And Cho would be hers.
"Nimue!" Marietta gasped once they arrived at the Room. Sneaking through Hogwarts had been surprisingly easy at night, as they still did look like actual students. "I had forgotten - we don't even have a plan to kill Potter!"
"Of course we do," Romilda scoffed. "Haven't we already gone over it?"
"Um, no," Marietta said slowly. "I suppose I got so caught up in the rush after the business at the Archive I forgot to even think about it. What's the plan?"
"Simple." Romilda smiled. "I'll grab our duplicates, Stun 'em, and toss in the Room for safekeeping. According to your theory, the universe will kill them itself."
"It's not my theory," Marietta pointed out. "It's Barjavel's - but that's not the point. Fine, you have a plan for the duplicates, but what about Harry Potter?"
Romilda scowled. "I can't believe you. I am certain we've discussed this."
Marietta groaned and held her temples. "Just explain again then, all right?"
Romilda took a calming breath and closed her eyes for a moment. "It's simple. You tell your Cho a lovely little sob story about how Umbridge is forcing you to work on a plan to frame Harry for kidnapping. She has some sort of dirt on your mum, and you are simply terrified of her. However, you couldn't bear the thought of what she has in store and are desperate for a way out. Then you run off, because Umbridge has a meeting with you and you're late."
"Oh yeah," Marietta said quietly. "You did say something about this while I was reading a few months ago. I think I assumed it was about the kidnapping of the sacrifice and just ignored it."
Romilda rolled her eyes. "Lovely. Well, I'll be brief then. The fake kidnap victims are me and Ginny Weasley - except I won't actually be Stunned, just faking it. You wait in the Room, hiding in the corner just in case he has backup. But when he comes to rescue me and Ginny, I'll take him out. Then we frame Umbridge for it. I'll say she did it, and we Obliviate Ginny to believe it too."
Marietta bit her lip nervously. "Are you sure this will work? You want to keep the other versions of ourselves in here too?"
"Yes, damn it!" Romilda hissed, then she blew the hair out of her eyes. "Well, maybe you have a bloody point. I'll think of somewhere else to stow them. Now, I need to go get the two duplicates, so you wait here until I'm done. We can't have two Marietta's running about. When I'm back, you can go find Cho."
"Wait..." Marietta held up a hand. "You want to do this... tonight? What if the timing is off?"
Romilda spat on the ground and glared at Marietta. "Damn it, girl, I did the math myself to find the right aged kid! We're at precisely the right time. After Cho and Harry start going out, but before they break up."
"Fine, fine," Marietta grumbled. "I suppose if we must do it now, we must. But you had better not be wrong!"
"I'm not," Romilda assured her. "Now stay here. I'll be back with our doubles." Without even a look back, she swept out of the Room of Requirements.
Marietta sighed and imagined herself a comfortable chair. It reminded her of her wonderful luxurious coach that Justin had purchased her in a different time. Suddenly Marietta felt nervous and she began to feel herself sweat. What was she doing? She had killed an innocent kid and was planning to kill another one?
Although the kid this time was Harry bloody Potter - and with that death, she could finally be with Cho. Perhaps it'd all work out. Marietta sat in the Room and yawned, leaning back with a stretch. Romilda would be back any minute, certainly. It was awfully late at night, though. Perhaps if she just closed her eyes for just a moment...
"Eh?" Marietta sat up with a start to see Romilda frowning at her. "Where are our doubles?"
"I had a better idea," Romilda said dismissively. "I Stunned them and stowed them in the old Shrieking Shack. It was a pain to get past the Whomping Willow, but I doubt anyone will think to look for them there."
"What time is it?" Marietta asked blearily.
Romilda sighed. "Too late for our little plan, I'm afraid. It's already past midnight. We'll have to postpone until tomorrow night. But let's be certain about the timing. I'll meet you here with an unconscious Ginny at, let's say, nine? Then you run to tell Cho. That work?"
"Hmm, I suppose so," Marietta said slowly and unsteadily got to her feet. "Then I'd better get to the Tower and get some sleep. I'm pretty sure I remember the way - hard to forget even after so many years away."
"Fantastic," Romilda smiled thinly and her dark eyes glinted. "See you tomorrow then."
Marietta dragged herself to the Ravenclaw Tower, then suddenly recalled the stupid way they always had to enter the dorm.
"Bloody hell," she cursed to herself. Well, though, how hard could the riddle be?
When she finally arrived at the entrance, she glared silently, waiting for the stupid thing to ask a question. Not the best security really, if you actually thought about it. At least the other Houses had actual passwords.
"I am out at night and snatched by day. I lie over the sea but never wet by spray. What am I?"
Marietta laughed at this - an easy one she was certain she had already heard years earlier. "The moon," she said confidently. Sure enough, the entrance opened wide and Marietta raced up to her old room. The other girls of her year were already there, fast asleep. Skinny Isla, looking even skinnier as a young girl. Ygraine, the annoying pale, redheaded girl they all hated. And Cho... looking utterly fantastic even while she looked disturbingly young - such smooth skin, still so short... Marietta felt a bit awkward thinking about a younger Cho in such a way, but she was still Cho - and at precisely the age when Marietta had first fallen in love.
Marietta slowly walked to her old bed, looking so familiar. She ran her hands down the familiar bright blue bedding, enjoying the sensation she hadn't felt in so many years. Marietta looked over to her dresser and although the light was scarce, she could easily see her precious photographs. She picked up one of her and Cho from the Yule Ball in what would now be a year ago or so. Cho had looked so bloody gorgeous, even if she was with that pretty boy Diggory at the time.
Marietta dropped the photograph, but she managed to catch it before it hit the ground.
"You're still dressed. Is something wrong?"
Marietta swallowed and turned slowly, trusting the darkness to hide her nervous features. "No, I just left something in the Hall, that's all... Cho."
Even through the dim light, Marietta could sense Cho smiling. "It's late and I don't know about you, but I need my beauty sleep."
Marietta giggled softly. "You and me both."
"Nonsense," Cho chided quietly. "You're beautiful, you know that. Have a good night."
Marietta stood there, frozen for a full minute, replaying Cho's words over and over again in her head. Perhaps Romilda and Justin had been right after all. Once Harry was out of the picture, Marietta knew that Cho would realize whom she really wanted.
Marietta was sure of it.
It was a bizarre, off-putting experience bumbling through a day of her younger self. She constantly worried about being revealed as an impostor, although it wasn't like she was actually a different person. Cho kept asking how Marietta was doing, which only served to make her feel increasingly nervous.
And then Marietta had a wondrous idea, one that would tie in perfectly with the mad plan to kill Harry Potter.
"I'm frightened," Marietta finally confided to Cho as they walked to the third easy and boring class of the day. Repeating classes she had completed had not been something Marietta had even considered; just another minor flaw in the time travel plan. But still...
"I'm in a bad place," she said finally.
Cho looked around them surreptitiously. "Are you in trouble?" She whispered. "Are you in danger?"
"I'm not sure," Marietta told her, filling the answer with all the uncertainly and worry she was currently experiencing. She looked into Cho's face and let herself feel that love she knew was a true thing. "I don't know if anyone can help me."
"You must tell me," Cho insisted with a fierce look, grabbing onto Marietta's shoulder. "Or if not me, Professor Flitwick. Or someone! You're not alone!"
Marietta blinked back a sudden wetness in her eyes. It was working perfectly, better than she could ever have hoped. She was certain that the same love was echoed in Cho's eyes that Marietta herself felt.
The minutes and hours seemed to drag horribly by, and Marietta could barely stand the wait. But the worst was at the evening meal, when Marietta had difficulty not glaring at Harry Potter with utter hatred. It'd look a bit out of place, certainly.
In the common room of the Tower, Marietta sat with a book in front her, pretending to read. She watched the clock and waited for a good opportunity. When the clock hit half past eight, Marietta could wait no longer and stood up.
Cho looked over from her homework. "Mari, is something wrong?"
"Um, I have to meet someone," Marietta said hesitantly. "I'll tell you about it after I get back."
Cho raised an eyebrow and she smirked. "I think I get what you're saying, Mari. You enjoy yourself."
Marietta nodded and smiled in a somewhat sickly manner. "Right, see you then!" She practically ran out of the Tower in her haste to get to the Room on time. Of course, she arrived fifteen minutes ahead of schedule and Romilda was nowhere to be found. Well, Marietta was a bit early, so that wasn't so odd. She conjured her favorite temporary chair and waited impatiently for the Gryffindor girl to show up.
Nine o'clock - and Romilda was still not there. Marietta felt that perhaps her watch was a bit fast - yes, that was it, certainly. Quarter past, nothing. Marietta began to bite her lip nervously. Half past, utter silence. She began to rock back and forth in her chair in worry.
Finally, when it was very nearly ten, a battered and bruised Romilda showed up, dragging an unconscious Ginny into the Room. Romilda's robes were ripped and torn, and a sickly purple bruise decorated half her face. She even walked with a pronounced limp, and gritted her teeth in a way that she clearly seemed in pain. But Ginny was far worse... her right arm bent back at an unhealthy angle, and her nose was broken and still trickling blood.
"What the hell, Romilda?" Marietta yelled at the younger girl. "I've been waiting an hour - and you show up, looking like hell! Did you fall down the bloody stairs with her?"
"Sorry to worry you," Romilda said in a quiet, almost dangerous tone. She stepped forward, and the light from a torch shone on her face, revealing that her right eye was entirely swollen shut. "But Ginny managed to hit me with a few spells before I could Obliviate her and take her down. I'm just fine, thanks for asking."
"This foolproof plan of yours seems worse and worse by the moment," Marietta groaned. "Are you even well enough to set up the fake kidnapping? It might be too late to tell Cho to send Harry here!"
"Nonsense," Romilda replied in the same soft, odd manner. "I've got it covered in here. You just send the hero in here. Just be sure to get here first to watch for any of his stupid friends." She waved a wand and conjured some rope, then waved again and two splintery, wooden chairs appeared.
Marietta nodded. "Right." She ran out of the Room, racing through the twisting, if still familiar corridors of Hogwarts, until she finally arrived at the Ravenclaw Tower, utterly out of breath. Then she scowled. "Crap, I need to answer another bloody riddle, don't I?"
"I am black. The more light there is, the more solid looking I am. I can not speak. I follow you wherever you go, but I cannot enter Darkness. I only follow you as long as there is light. What am I?"
"A shadow, damn it!" Marietta spat at the cursed entrance, which swung open. She calmed herself, and walked carefully inside. The common room was almost empty, but luckily Cho was still sitting working on something.
Marietta rushed over and knelt besides Cho.
Cho blinked in surprise. "What is it, Mari? What's wrong?"
"Oh, it's awful, Cho!" Marietta whispered. "I need your help. You have to tell Harry before it's too late!"
"Tell him what?" Cho asked in bewilderment.
"It's that damn Umbridge," Marietta hissed. "She's been forcing me to go along with her mad plan. But I couldn't take it any longer... I had to get away while I had a chance to tell you first!"
Cho scowled, somehow still looking beautiful even with the angry expression. "What did that awful woman do now?"
"She's kidnapped these young Gryffindor girls," Marietta said, trying to keep her voice steady. "She's planning something horrid - then she'll frame Harry for the whole thing. You need to get to the Room of Requirements to rescue them before it's too late! Umbridge went to get something in preparation, so we haven't much time."
Cho's eyes flashed and she stood up. "You leave it to me, Marietta. That horrid monster will pay for her insane crimes. I'll tell Harry to get there immediately." She looked down at her friend in concern. "But what about you? Are you going to be okay?"
"Let me head off Umbridge," Marietta said, getting a burst of inspiration. "I'll distract her long enough to get the poor kids rescued."
Cho smiled and then hugged Marietta suddenly. "You're a wonderful person, Mari. We'll get through this, I promise you that. Now let's go!"
She ran to the entrance and Marietta quickly followed. Cho ran off towards the Gryffindors' dorm, and Marietta raced as fast as she could manage to the Room. Her lungs burnt and her breath came in spurts but it was important - vital - that she get to the Room first.
When she slumped into the Room of Requirements to see Romilda and Ginny tied up together, Marietta nearly fainted in relief.
Romilda looked up from her feigned unconscious. "Did you do it? Did you pass on the message?"
Marietta nodded and slowly caught her breath back. "I told Cho that Umbridge was forcing me to help kidnap you and all that. She went to get him. I suppose I should wait in the corner in case his friends come." Suddenly a terrible though occurred to Marietta and she froze. "Merlin, I just realized! Romilda, what if Cho comes too? I can't hurt her!"
Romilda began to laugh then turned to face Marietta. "That won't be a problem, love."
Marietta frowned in confusion. "Why not? Is there another part of the plan I'm missing?"
"You might say that," Romilda answered with a shrug, and then her eyes glinted in that unsettling way they had been since arriving in the past. "The final piece of the puzzle." And then Romilda held a wand in her hand.
Marietta's jaw dropped and she fumbled for her own wand.
"Terminus Tardus." The spell rushed as quick as thought and knocked Marietta back against the wall.
She tried to move, but suddenly her limbs had stopped responding. Marietta tried to say something, a spell, anything - but her tongue wouldn't listen either.
The pain began as a dull ache, then turned to a slow, pulsating rhythm of angry heat. But it was nothing compared to the agony Marietta felt at the sudden betrayal. Marietta hadn't realized that she had cared so much for someone other than Cho... but clearly utterly misguided feelings.
How could she have been so foolish? Romilda had been unhinged all along - it was obvious now. Now that it was far too late. Marietta could only pray that Harry Potter showed up in time to reverse the curse, whatever it was. Or someone else, preferably - but if Harry saved her life, well... Marietta would try not to outwardly despise him.
Romilda adjusted herself and hid her wand somewhere. She closed her eyes and said nothing at all.
Marietta wanted to scream at her, to demand explanations, but her body only twitched and then a horrid chill began to come over her. After a few seconds, an awful itching began in Marietta's open eyes. With horror, she realized they could not close - she attempted to blink, applying all of her will. But instead they stayed frozen and open, as unbidden tears began to gather in her unblinking eyes.
Then the door slammed open and Harry Potter stormed in with a worried expression, followed closely by Cho, who if anything, seemed about to break into tears - and then Cho spotted her friend propped against the wall.
And then Marietta realized she was having trouble breathing.
"Mari!" Cho screamed and rushed over. "Oh no, what happened to you?"
"Who is it?" Romilda jerked up and looked around. "Oh, thank Merlin! It's Harry Potter."
Harry frowned and looked at the younger girl. "Are you okay? What's happened to you - um, sorry, what was your name again? You're a Gryffindor, right?"
"Yes, I am. I'm Romilda Vane," she answered in a panting voice. "I'm two years below you. Ginny was helping me with some homework when Professor Umbridge attacked us! She Stunned Ginny and knocked me unconscious."
"What the hell?" Harry stepped back, looking shocked. "Umbridge - attacked you? That's mad - she'd be arrested as soon as she was found out."
"Oh, I know!" Romilda sobbed, heaving up and down. "I didn't know what was going on at all!" She turned to Ginny and gasped. "Oh no, Ginny! Her arm! I think it's broken!"
"But what happened to Marietta?" Cho cried, tears streaming down her face.
"When I came to, I was tied up like this," Romilda explained. "So I pretended to still be out so I could hear what was going on."
Harry nodded and smiled. "Well done… er… Romilda, was it? Good show! Very Gryffindor of you."
Romilda seemed to suddenly grow an inch in height and a dazzling, lovestruck grin spread across her young face. "Thank you, Harry. That means so much coming from you."
Cho looked over and wiped her nose on her sleeve. "But what about Mari?"
"Calm down Cho," Harry told her in a soothing tone. "She's getting to it." He turned to Romilda. "Right?"
"Yes, yes, but do you think you could free us?"
Harry blinked then shook his head. "Oh, right, of course." He chuckled. "Should've thought of that, of course." He threw a quick Cutting spell at the ropes, then pulled them off the two girls.
"Whoa!" Harry leaned forward to grab the still Stunned Ginny before she fell onto the floor. He carefully placed her leaning back into the wooden chair.
Romilda rubbed her wrists. "Um, I couldn't see what happened next." She swallowed loudly. "But I could hear just fine. That older girl - Marietta, I think, was arguing with the Professor. She confronted Umbridge, told her she wasn't going to help her anymore, no matter what the old hag threatened to do. Then Umbridge cursed her with something - I didn't recognize it. She told Marietta she was going to frame you Harry! For her murder!"
Marietta tried to make a sound, but only succeeded in accelerating the lack of breath. Her vision was beginning to get blurry. Cho leaned down and held onto Marietta.
"Oh, poor, brave, Mari. What did that horrid woman do to you?"
"Enervate," Harry waved his wand at Ginny, who jerked into consciousness. "Ginny, are you all right?"
"Ah!" Ginny screeched and looked around in panic, but when she saw Harry she instantly relaxed. "Oh, it's you - I'm... I'm so confused! Harry, you won't believe it! That crazy bint Marietta Edgecombe attacked me!" She winced and held her injured arm. "Damn. I... I think my arm's broken."
Harry frowned. "But based on what Romilda overheard, Umbridge must've forced her to do this... maybe even the Imperius!"
Ginny gasped and then looked over at Marietta's shuddering form. "Are you sure?" She scowled. "Maybe she just told you that to trick you guys."
"Oh no!" Romilda ran over to Ginny. "Your arm! We need to get you to the Infirmary!"
Ginny looked over Romilda and shook her head. "I'll be all right, I'm sure. Madame Pomfrey can fix any broken bones." She turned to face Marietta and frowned. "Her I'm not sure about, though. Are we certain she's not at fault? She did attack me."
"You and Romilda?" Harry asked.
Ginny blinked and then shook her head to clear it. "Ah, yes, right. I forgot about that. Yes, Romilda was attacked as well."
Romilda smiled at Ginny and patted her on her uninjured arm. "You were helping me with my Charms homework, remember?"
Ginny scrunched up her face and frowned. "Oh... yeah. Bugger, it's all a bit blurry."
"Hold on a second," Harry said. "Romilda, I thought you said Umbridge attacked you two - then why does Ginny think Marietta attacked her?"
"Um," Romilda looked worried, then her eyes widened. "Oh, she must've been Obliviated while I was knocked out! Umbridge - I'll bet she was planning to incriminate Marietta as well to keep herself off the hook!"
"Well," Ginny said slowly. "My memory is a bit spotty. I suppose it's possible." She scowled. "And I guess I wouldn't put it past that disgusting woman to do something so underhanded and horrid."
Marietta shuddered again and Cho gasped.
"She's getting worse!" Cho said, her eyes beginning to water again.
"We'll get her to Madame Pomfrey straight away," Harry assured her. "And once Ginny and Romilda explain things to the Headmaster, we'll get that toad thrown in Azkaban!"
Cho frowned and blinked back tears. "What an awful beast!" She looked down at her injured friend and sighed. "Oh, Mari, what else did she make you do?"
Harry cleared his throat and slowly pulled Cho up to her feet. "If we want to find out, we don't have much time. Give me a hand, won't you?" He cast the Hovering Charm and Marietta floated above the floor and gestured to Cho, who steadied her and began to lead her out of the room.
Ginny followed them, with Romilda right behind, looking straight ahead. The crazy girl was saying something or doing something Marietta tried to make out.
But her vision was getting worse, and she could barely make out the forms - and all she could now hear was a dull grinding sound. And each breath was like a fiery horror in her chest. But as she faded away, Marietta swore she saw Romilda's smiling face collapse into an ugly countenance of hatred. But she couldn't tell whom Romilda was looking at... was it Harry? Ginny? Cho? Marietta herself? And then her vision faded entirely, and she saw only one gray, colorless blur.
As her final breath came and went, Marietta had only one thought: Why?
Excerpt from "Advanced Causal Loops: Experiments with Time":
René Barajvel's Theory of Time Travel came from his invention of the grandfather paradox. But scorn within the magical community forced him to escape to the Muggle world, where he became a fairly successful author of science fiction, many involving travel through time. After his death in 1985, some in the Magical community suspected him of figuring out how to change the past. But this was quickly dismissed, as it was argued that if he had, why would he have lived with the Muggles?
He is still considered a vital thinker in temporal philosophy, and his works led directly to the Barajvelian Paradox Theory, which was named in his honor.
One thought kept echoing through her head...
The Harry Potter Fan Club had worked perfectly.