The sun was sinking in a cold autumn sky as a large blue box ground into existence in a shadowy corner of Diagon Alley, standing out stark and bright against the darkened, papered-up shops. The door opened with a creak, eerily loud in the tense silence of the alleyway. A tall man with wild brown hair stepped out and was quickly followed by a petite blonde woman.
"Doctor? Where are we?" Her voice was quiet, spoken only to the Doctor, who was watching the area warily.
"The TARDIS insists this is London, late 90s—but if it is, it's no part of London I've seen." He glanced back at his companion. "You?"
She shook her head, blonde hair glinting in the late afternoon sun. "No, never seen it before. You sure about the year?" Her bright brown eyes scanned the few people in the street, whose subdued robes rustled quietly as they hurried about their business. Her hot pink hoodie and light jeans stood out like a rainbow against a storm cloud.
"Pretty sure, yeah. I'll go check again."
"I'm comin' with. See if I can find anything to cover up with in the wardrobe."
He glanced back at her. "What's wrong with what you're wearing? You look perfectly fine to me, Rose."
She gave him an amused look as she headed off down the hallway. "Dunno if you noticed, Doctor, but we weren't exactly fitting in, an' that place gives me the creeps. I'm changin'."
"Don't take too long!" His voice echoed down the corridor after her and he stood there, staring into space, before shaking himself and heading over to the monitors to look over the readouts again. The TARDIS was being frustratingly vague about their location, something that shouldn't happen with this era's stealth technology. He frowned at the console. "Is that what we're doing here, then? Anachronistic tech to sort out?"
The Doctor couldn't explain it, but he had a bad feeling about this place. The tension that'd been skittering up and down his spine since the Beast's prediction had tightened, and lately he'd been loath to let Rose out of his sight—not that he was doing much better with that before Krop Tor, what with the Wire's vile attack on her. He wasn't just talking about humans when he told Ida about the urge to fall. He'd been falling ever since "There's me", and he was terrified of the landing. He didn't much believe in deities (but oh, how he believed in her), but he sent a open prayer, a plea to the universe that he wouldn't lose her, that he could keep this one precious human by his side for as long as possible. His eyes didn't really see the monitors in front of him. Rose strolled back in wearing a floor-length grey cloak, and his focus snapped to her with a smile before a look of shock and dismay showed up on his face.
"WHAT is that, and why are you carrying it towards me?" She snorted eloquently and waved the long brown cloak at him, her lips pursed.
"This is a cloak, Doctor. You should know, it was in your wardrobe." She grinned a little at him, but a glance back at the doors seemed to sober her. "I think you should wear it."
"I've got no need to wear that! This look's a classic! Fits in anywhere!" He crossed his arms defensively across his pinstripes, uncomfortably aware that he looked like a pouting child that way. Oh, well. His pout generally seemed to work on Rose.
Not this time, apparently. She carried the long woolen thing closer to him, her brown eyes wide and pleading. "Please, Doctor. I've just got a bad feelin' about this stop, an' I'll feel better knowing we aren't stickin' out too badly before we figure out what's going on."
Now, that's not fair. He could never resist her doe eyes, and the fact that she didn't seem aware of that just made it harder. The Doctor scowled (okay, fine, he was pouting), but he put the cloak on before opening the doors again, his hand instinctively reaching for hers as they stepped out.
The few minutes in the TARDIS had allowed the sun to go down and the street was nearly deserted, occupied only by those too desperate to leave. Rose gasped as she spotted an elderly man in a tattered robe curled against one of the buildings, his thin form quaking as he rocked back and forth. He was moaning, a horrible, quiet, monotonous sound. The Doctor gripped her hand tighter, pulling her closer to his side. London wasn't supposed to be like this. Unless—he stepped closer to the papered-up windows, eyes flickering over the warnings and the wanted posters. A young man stared back at him, black hair messier than his own. There was a young woman with bushy brown hair on the poster next to him, her brow furrowed in impatience. They were both moving, shifting back and forth in their frames as if pacing. Their names were written in bold above their images, and the Doctor felt his stomach drop like lead. He knew where he and Rose had landed, now, and more importantly—he knew when. He stepped back quickly, intending to drag her out of there if necessary, but Rose had turned to the papers by then, and she gasped.
"Undesirable No. 1—Harry Potter?" She stepped closer, ignoring the Doctor's worried huff. "And is that Hermione? No way." She stared up at him, her eyes huge in the dim lamplight. "Doctor, are we where I think we are?"
He swallowed nervously. "Well, in a matter of speaking—yes. But they aren't just children's books, Rose. They're a history, told by one of the most respected biographers in the Wizarding World." He glanced around the alleyway. "And they're a history of a very troubled time." When he looked back down at her, his dark, intense stare hit her nerves like a live wire. "Stay with me, Rose. This place isn't safe, especially for you. And I mean it this time—you can't wander off, not here."
She nodded and looked around tensely. Something was off about this place. It'd been bugging her since she first stepped out of the TARDIS. Dread hung so thick in the air she was surprised she couldn't see it sitting there, roiling and oily. She pressed closer to the Doctor's arm, cuddling against its wiry strength. He tightened his grip on her hand absentmindedly, his eyes scanning the area for something, anything out of place. The more quickly they could solve whatever brought the TARDIS here, the better. Normally he'd be all for exploring such a dangerous place, but the Beast's prediction and his own more prescient senses had left him clinging to Rose, looking for the fastest way out.
Damn it, haven't I lost enough? I can't lose her, too. I just can't.
A subdued flash in one of the back alleyways and a muffled cry of pain and Rose darted off, yanking the Doctor out of his thoughts as she pulled him along with her. They rounded the corner in a tumble of nervous anticipation, the sonic screwdriver out and ready. A tall man with grey-streaked hair was stretched stiffly against the filthy brick wall, the pulse in his neck visibly pounding. The man facing him had a nasty grin on his face and a mad look in his eyes, and the dark wand in his hand was glowing a bloody red. He turned to glare at the Doctor, and his eyes widened in shock.
"Barty? But you're dead—that blasted old fool of a wizard let them kill you, may his miserable Muggle-loving soul rot in hell." He stepped closer to the Doctor, his foul breath rolling over them. "How in Merlin's name did you manage that?" The wizard's eyes darted to Rose and he leered, his gaze roving over her in disturbingly prolonged way. "Who's this little crumpet, then? Oh, you have been holding out on us, dear Barty."
Rose moved closer to the Doctor, her mind racing. What could they do? If magic was real—and by this point in her travels, she had absolutely no problem believing that—how could they defend themselves?
The wizard strolled around the two of them, though his eyes stayed on Rose the whole time. His grin was lecherous when he stopped in front of her, dragging a long, filthy fingernail down her cheek. "It isn't nice that you haven't learned to share your playthings, Barty."
With a lightning fast movement, the Doctor knocked his hand away from Rose and had him pinned against the opposite wall. The wizard's wand landed with a clatter on the ground, and Rose grabbed it and slipped it in her pocket as the Doctor slammed a hand up against a nerve in the wizard's neck and dropped his limp body to the ground. He turned to Rose and stroked her cheek, wiping away the faint scummy trail the man's dirty fingers had left behind.
His voice was soft when he spoke, "You all right?"
She nodded and turned to the man still trapped against the wall. He had been watching the whole encounter carefully, his grey eyes hooded. "Are you okay? How can we get you down?" He blinked at her, though his eyes constantly straying to the Doctor, who was tying up the unconscious wizard with a long rope of knotted handkerchiefs he'd pulled out of his jacket pocket.
"My wand should be on the ground somewhere. Rabastan didn't bother to pick it up when he caught me." The man's voice was gravelly and tired, and Rose noticed with a small jolt of surprise that he was actually far younger than his salt-and-pepper hair and weary face would first suggest. She found the slender wand next to a small package a few centimeters away, and pressed it back into his hand carefully. A muttered charm and the man pocketed the package Rose handed to him, only to level his wand on her and the Doctor.
"Now who are you, and what do you want?" He glared at the Doctor, who stepped carefully in front of Rose.
"My name's the Doctor, and this is Rose Tyler. We just wanted to help." He pursed his lips and glared cross-eyed at the wand in front of him. "Would you mind pointing that thing somewhere else?"
"Not until I get actual answers. You're dead. They buried you, this time after making sure it wasn't anybody else."
The Doctor sighed. "You think I'm this Barty fellow, too, I take it."
"You're almost identical." The man's voice was a low growl.
"Really? Huh. Didn't know I had a doppelganger running about. I can see how that would make things interesting."
"Hand me your wands, both of you. Slowly. I want to see your hands the whole time."
Rose piped up, stepping from behind the Doctor to his side despite his quelling glance. "Mate, there's a bit of a problem, there. We don't have wands."
The man's eyes narrowed, and he leveled a truly frightening glare at them. "Impossible. Accio wands!" The other wizard's—Rabastan's?—wand flew out of Rose's pocket, but nothing else joined it. The man blinked. "Impossible."
"Yeah, that word has a way of popping up around us." The Doctor's cheeky grin faded when the man's face darkened and he raised his wand again, now glowing a deep orange.
"I will ask you one more time, and one more time only—who are you?"
"He told you." Rose was feeling impatient by then, and she glared right back at the man they'd just helped, for God's sake. "The Doctor and Rose. That's who we are. Now either blast us or let us go, 'cause I gotta say, the threats are gettin' a bit old."
"Rose." The Doctor's voice was low, but his annoyance and amusement carried through loud and clear.
"What? 'S true."
"Maybe, but d'you mind not telling the man holding us at wandpoint to blast us? I happen to like this incarnation, and I suppose I'm somewhat fond of you as well."
Rose rolled her eyes before meeting the man's gaze without flinching. "I figured if he was goin' to do it, he'd have done it already." Her chin raised defiantly. "So what's it going to be?"
He'd been watching the both of them carefully, and lowered his wand a fraction to pull a small glass vial out of his pockets. The liquid inside looked like water, but from the way the man cradled it, it was something far rarer. "Here. Take three drops, both of you."
Rose glanced uncertainly at the Doctor, but he just cheerfully plucked the serum from the wizard's hand and dropped three drops on the tip of his tongue. His face twisted, and he stared into space for minute. "Veritaserum, I see. Long time since I encountered that, at least a couple centuries." He grinned at the man boyishly. "What d'you want to know? You'll have to be specific, I do know rather a lot."
The wizard just flicked his eyes to Rose, who'd been watching the Doctor nervously. "Her, too."
The Doctor's voice was hard, suddenly. "There's no need for that."
"Oh, I think there is." The men's staring contest was interrupted by Rose snagging the bottle from the Doctor with an exasperated sigh.
"Fine. I'll take it. Just nothin' too embarrassin', please?"
She dropped the required three droplets on her tongue and swallowed, surprised to find the serum free of any discernible taste. How did the Doctor—? Oh, well. She'd known his tongue was talented.
The Doctor's face was beet-red in the lamplight, and the wizard suddenly looked like he was fighting back laughter.
"Oh, bugger. I said that out loud, didn't I?"
The Doctor coughed and cleared his throat, nodding emphatically. The wizard looked amused, but he sobered quickly and raised his wand again, speaking to the Doctor.
"Once more, then. Who are you?"
"I'm not Barty Crouch, that's for sure."
"I didn't ask who you aren't. I asked who you are."
"I am the Doctor."
"That's not enough of an answer."
The Doctor's eyes flashed dangerously in the dim light of the alleyway, and he glared at the wizard. "You want my other titles? Fine. I am the Oncoming Storm, the Bringer of Darkness, Ka Faraq Gatri. I am Theta Sigma, Time's Champion, and the Keeper of the Legacy of Rassilon. I am the Last of the Time Lords, and I am tired of this question." The last was spat from behind clenched teeth, and Rose stepped closer to him, rubbing his hand until he loosened his fist and she could slip her hand in his.
The wizard looked slightly shaken, but he turned to Rose without pause. "And who are you?"
"I'm Rose Marion Tyler, daughter of Jackie an' Pete Tyler, former shop girl and now intrepid time and space traveler." The Doctor snorted out a laugh at that, and she stuck her tongue out at him. "Couldn't say it if it weren't true, now could I?"
He grinned down at her. "No, intrepid's a very good word for you."
"Time and space traveler… Time Lord." The wizard lowered his wand (finally) and stared past them into nothing. "Merlin."
"Yeah, I've been called that, too."
The man's eyes snapped back up to meet the Doctor's, and he spoke carefully. "The last of the Time Lords. I've read about you. There are glimpses of you all over wizarding history, the man who can change his face but will always fight against the Darkness."
"There tend to be glimpses of me in most of anywhere's history. Can't seem to erase my footsteps well enough, which gets annoying at times."
The man's face was suddenly desperately hopeful, his gaze intense. "Come with me. Please. We've been fighting a losing war for far too long, and we need your help."
The Doctor considered him carefully. "What was your name again?"
"Remus Lupin." He turned to Rose at her sharp gasp. "What? Have you heard of me?"
"I've always wished I could meet you. You seemed like an amazing teacher—" She slapped her hand over her mouth before she could say anything else, wary of Reapers attacking because of a stray comment.
The Doctor nodded approvingly at her and turned to Lupin. "Would you happen to have any Veritaserum antidote with you? We know a bit more than it's safe to say, and I'd rather there not be any paradoxes. They really aren't fun to deal with."
Lupin handed over another glass vial, this one filled with thick green sludge. The Doctor offered it to Rose, biting his lip against a grin at her grimace as she tasted it. She was still sputtering when she handed it over to him. "Don't look so amused. It's your turn, now."
"Don't need any. I just metabolized it." He grinned and rocked back and forth as she glared at him.
"Oh, that is just not fair." She spoke quietly as she glanced back to Lupin, who was performing some complex spellwork over the still-unconscious Rabastan LeStrange. "Doctor, what can we do here? I don't want to mess up Harry Potter, I'd have to take Queen Vicky up on that exile offer!"
"If we're careful, you won't have to worry about any of that. After all, you've read the last book. The Order is pretty much out of the picture after the trio takes off."
"So we can help them, then?" Her eyes were wide.
"We can help." He grinned down at her, laughing softly at her puppy-like wriggle of glee.
"Oh my God, Doctor, I love you." There was a sudden silence between them, and Rose found the floor of the alleyway incredibly interesting. She yelped a little and jumped back when a rat ran over her foot. The Doctor caught her before she could tumble over, and she met his eyes nervously. He seemed to be almost as shaken as she was by her slip of the tongue, and he was opening his mouth to say who knows what when Lupin rejoined them, dragging the bound and blindfolded Rabastan LeStrange behind him. He handed over the long rope of handkerchiefs with a small smile.
"Here. I need to put him somewhere out of the way. Hopefully he won't be discovered for a while, but I'd rather not take that chance. What say you to meeting here again in about an hour?"
The Doctor nodded sharply and Lupin dissaparated, taking the other wizard with him. The Doctor looked over at Rose, his mouth full of all the things he wanted to say, but what came out was "Shall we fetch the TARDIS, then?"
Rose nodded and looked down, fighting back the tears that were threatening to fill her eyes. She should've known, really. No matter the longing glances and the ever more frequent and extended embraces, the Doctor didn't do domestic. She knew he loved her—she'd have to be blind not to see it—but he'd never act on it. She looked up at him and smiled as they walk back to the TARDIS, her hand slipping into his. It was enough, though. She loved him and she loved this life, and she wasn't going to leave either for any reason less than—she determinedly shoved that out of her head. For any reason.