HEY. So sorry about the wait. Massive thanks to Ari (aribh1306), who made a fantastic cover for this fic that singlehandedly yanked me out of writer's block.
Thanks to reviewers; you guys are lovely:
Chipofmintchocolate, EmeraldGoddess52, Guest, Lance Murdock, mm811, shouldabeenadog, DumDumDum, Timeturner394, Beaufale, riddle1rave, totallyawesome96, Dinobunny, SamarKanda, Sethera, Zelma Kallas, HereToRead84, AvoidedIsland, Aribh1306, le-femme-cavalier, akeginu, Ijoan, NyteFyre, Aoi Dragon, Anguish is My Poison, Weird-Chik2, suckonthat, Jbjudson, summerful21, Shan84, Dr. Shanty, Dija, Lost O'Fallon Girl, ShimmeringWater, Alassea Riddle, YukiAndZero, Nerys, Darren Jaguar, Barryium, murtagh799, ugottalongway2go, Guest, gilderoys, PintoNess, Lost Soul Here, turningbackthetimeturner, seniorforayear07. An immense pleasure to hear from you. HUGS.
I went back and did a bit of posthaste editing on the two-Riddles scene, the two-Hermiones scene, and the George scene. Nothing too much has changed, but it should be a bit more comprehensible now. Ehehe.
On to the update. Hope you like it - long chapter this time around. All my love –
"Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to."
It didn't take long to find where the still-famous Harry Potter lived. Hermione had a feeling he would want to live in Godric's Hollow, and the hunch turned out to be correct. Depressingly enough, it took even less time to break into his house and disable the alarm enchantment than it had to find the place.
Hermione found herself immensely relieved that no one was home. Seeing the pictures on the wall was bad enough – the handsome elder Harry, the Ginny with wisps of grey in her hair, the three children on their wedding days …
Hermione half-wanted to stare, to take in every tiny detail. But she stopped herself. There wasn't time – and besides, it wasn't her right to intrude on this future. There would be time to appreciate Harry, Ginny, and their children for the rest of her life, but now, her goal had to be to give herself that opportunity. Get home.
And for that, she had to find the Cloak. They needed secrecy.
"Tell me why we're here," Riddle said as they crept down the carpeted hall. "What is this place? Who are these people?"
Ignoring him, Hermione pulled her wand from under her robes and wove it through the air. She'd never tried this spell before, but for some reason, Riddle's words snuck into the back of her mind, reassuring her: For those such as us, theory is practice. Such an arrogant concept, and yet it helped.
She let her eyes slip out of focus, fixing her awareness on the humming core of her wand. As she mentally reiterated the incantation – Zynyste Seht, Zynyste Seht – she trailed her wand counterclockwise, flicked … and faint silver lines flared up in her peripherals. Excellent.
The Potter household wore an omnipresent buzz of magic, from what looked like a Wizarding Wheeze in the depths of the closet to a knife that hovered absentmindedly over a wooden block, decapitating carrots. And now, every magical object wore a veil of silver, as long as she didn't look directly at it. The spell had worked. With half a triumphant smile, Hermione lowered her wand.
"An Unveiler," Riddle said. "What are you searching for? Answer me."
"We're pressed for time; I can't explain. If Bansherwold traces his way here – look, just do the spell yourself and help me look for any space that's concealed, would you?"
"I'm not about to assist you until I'm sure you won't pull out some weapon to –"
"I thought we'd established that our priority isn't hurting one another."
His lip curled. "Yes, because you've given me a hundred excellent reasons to trust you."
"Oh, Merlin! As if you –" She turned away, holding her breath in an attempt not to snap. Insufferable, that's what he was. Gritting her teeth, she stalked off down the hall. "Fine. I'll do it myself."
Harry's house was – thank God – of a relatively modest size, sleek warm wood and Gryffindor colors and low ceilings. Hermione traced one of the red curtains with an index finger.
Where would Harry hide his Invisibility Cloak? His most valuable possession?
Somewhere close to home. Close to the heart. A bedroom, probably … Hermione hurried up the stairs, a fuming Riddle storming up behind her. But when she arrived at the landing, she stopped so abruptly his skull smacked into her back.
She hardly noticed. Her hand had leapt to her mouth; she took in a sharp breath past her sweaty fingers. The wall opposite was a glow of silver, a collage of moving photographic memory.
Faces. So many faces. Remus, Tonks, Sirius. Harry had even managed to find a photograph of Dobby, which sat near the center of the wall – right beside the picture of Harry's parents.
Once the shock of seeing so many familiar eyes faded, Hermione frowned. This wall was a perfect shield for any sort of magic-sensitive charm, including an Unveiler. With every photograph developed under magic influence, the sea of silver before her obstructed any sort of view she might have had of the wall behind it.
She approached the wall in a haze. Her palm slid over the faded photograph of Harry's parents. They smiled.
Hermione flicked her wand, but the photographs wouldn't budge – permanent sticking charms on their backs, of course.
This wall was looking more and more likely.
"Is something behind there?" Tom said sharply.
"I don't know. Don't do anything rash, please."
He stepped up to the wall of photographs and folded his arms, his lip curling. An elf on this wall, amongst wizards? And was that a giant? Disgusting. So Gryffindorof these homeowners. "What do you expect to find?"
"An Invisibility Cloak," Hermione said, flicking her wand at the floor. "Diffindo." Three wide boards splintered. With three more incisions, Hermione cut a full hole and clambered in.
An Invisibility Cloak? Riddle glanced back at the wall with grudging and tight-lipped respect. This family had an Invisibility Cloak hoarded away in their house … perhaps they weren't as useless as his original impression had led him to believe.
"What's your last name?" he said toward the hole at his feet.
"I'm not calling you by your first, so it's this or 'girl'."
His disgust intensified. Filthy, common name – not unexpected, given the girl's untoward demeanor. What if she was half-blood, or worse, a Mudblood? Perish the thought. He thought he'd rather not know.
Riddle turned his mind back to more pressing issues. When Bansherwold had murdered Granger's older self, had he broken the Villinger's Bond? Certain types of charm magic and spellwork only worked in a linear direction; technically, Hermione Granger didn't exist anymore. At this point in time, she was dead. If the Villinger's Bond really was broken, couldn't he murder this girl and pursue Bansherwold himself?
Bansherwold, who had two copies of the Timeglass. Bansherwold, who had a double, one old and crafty, one young and strong.
As much as it disgusted him to admit it, Riddle likely needed some sort of ally in this situation. Bansherwold had, after all, already outfoxed him. Twice. And as far as motive went, Granger would be the closest possible option: She, too, was aiming to get back to her appropriate time period.
And if she kept digging up artifacts like Invisibility Cloaks? Well. Her usefulness was not to be debated.
Riddle heard something rustling behind the wall. "Anything there?"
"Yes. A safe, charmed shut."
Riddle lifted his wand to blast through the wall, but as if Granger had seen him, she snapped, "But don't do anything rash, Riddle. It's got an Absorption Ward, so the more powerful the magic around it, the more likely it is to trigger some sort of alarm. If I can just find the counterspell…"
A few more minutes passed. Riddle went back to surveying the photographs, his sharp eyes brushing over faces.
That Longbottom boy. The blonde girl off her rocker … the redhead. Recurring characters from Granger's life.
The Ron boy he'd threatened in the Chamber. Lots of photographs of him.
The two chattering girls who'd brought them to the Headmaster's office …
Older iterations of nearly all these people. And in so many photographs, a skinny man with black hair and glasses. This had to be Harry Potter … the Harry Potter.
Well, no matter. When he returned to his time, he would find Potter and exterminate him. It would be difficult – tampering with time always was – but it wouldn't be impossible. He could alter the timeline; he could prevent Potter's birth somehow. A comforting thought.
And if Granger did anything he didn't like, perhaps he'd prevent this Ron character's birth, too. The thought gave him a childish, vindictive pleasure. He nursed it for a moment.
Then a muffled crack.
Riddle cursed and hurried to the window. The sun, almost at its height, glared down at a pair of wizards in the middle of the street, close to where he and Granger had appeared. One was old and wizened; the other was young and handsome; both were familiar.
"Granger!" Riddle said, whipping back around to face the wall. "Is it open yet? Bansherwold's here, he's here. He and his old self, both."
"What? No, not quite –"
Damn incompetent teenaged witches – Riddle swept back to the hole in the floor, lowered himself in, and dragged himself forward on his forearms, trying not to fixate on the indignity of the situation. He flicked his wand, and every mote of dust coating his surroundings flew from him, repelled as if by a gust of wind. This wand, the one Granger had procured for him in Rome, wasn't particularly to his liking – it was a touch inflexible – but it would do until he retrieved the other.
Riddle's forearms ached, unused to the duress of supporting his body weight. Largely because it'd never been necessary until this idiotic debacle.
No time to waste lamenting the turn of events, he told himself, but part of him whined inwardly anyway.
The planks above him ended abruptly. He pulled himself to his feet and found himself uncomfortably close to Granger, crammed into a square meter of dark space. She let out a noise of alarm and jabbed her wand into his chest. A pulse of static energy darted through him, and he lurched back, cursing. "What in hell's name –"
"Sorry, you just, you were lurking!"
"Shut up. What spell has Potter used?"
Her eyes narrowed, but she lowered her wand and turned to the safe. It gave off a gentle golden glow in the dark. "From what I've read, it looks like a Lesmore Locktight. I've canceled the Absorption Ward."
"Right." Riddle leaned forward and brushed the top of the safe with the side of his palm. It was cool to the touch.
He lowered his wand to the safe and felt his way around the spell. If it was a Locktight – and indeed, it seemed to fit the parameters – they'd require a spell stronger than the original caster's to break it.
Riddle flicked his wand a few times, eyeing the corners of the safe. A combination ought to do the trick; doubtless Potter was a powerful wizard, but against multiple spells from the wand of Tom Riddle, who could hope to escape intact?
A smirk on his face, Riddle started weaving lock-breakers into place.
He didn't even notice the sound of the house's front door opening until Hermione whispered, "Oh, Merlin's beard."
Riddle closed his eyes and pointedly ignored her.
Hermione glanced at the safe, trying to quell her nerves. Four glittering strands of silver lay atop the golden glow, and Riddle's sharp features were set in concentration. She almost felt affronted that he'd presume to know how to break it already, but after a second, she swallowed her pride. Just a wall and a set of steps away, Gurdy Bansherwold was searching for them. No time for resentment. Not even against this evil git.
What the hell did Bansherwold want with them?
Hermione crouched, trying to stay breathing distance from Riddle – damn near impossible, given the cramped quarters – and crawled back into the two-foot-deep space under the floor. After a second's shifting, and one terrifyingly conspicuous creak, she opted to cast Silencing charms on the floorboards.
She shuffled forward a couple meters before reaching her impromptu exit. Craning up a hand, she pulled the damaged floor back into place and repaired the boards. Darkness settled over her, and she closed her eyes, fighting back a mild bout of claustrophobia. Okay. Get back to the safe.
She curled up and wriggled around until she was facing the other direction, then slipped back. When she returned, as if on cue, Riddle slashed his wand through the darkness. A trail of crimson sparks lit his face, lit his fierce expression, and for a second, Hermione's breath caught in her throat. For that moment, he'd looked startlingly like Harry, aiming a Stupefy in the Department of Mysteries, kindling a dim red fire in the depths of the Forest of Dean …
The safe clicked open and broke her train of thought, and a glimmer of silvery fabric from inside made her heart leap. She knelt, pulled the metal door wide, and yanked the Cloak out.
Footsteps creaking up the stairwell.
"I don't mean to rush you," Riddle said, clearly meaning to rush her. His voice was so soft it sounded almost like a growl. "But whatever you're planning, hurry the hell u –"
"I know!" she whispered hotly, yanking the Cloak over her shoulders. One corner in her hand, she reached around Riddle's shoulder. He tensed as her fingers brushed him.
He pulled the Cloak over his head. Under its shade, his eyes fixed on hers. Dark and unreadable as obsidian. "I'm assuming we're Apparating. Where exactly –"
She slipped her arm into his and turned on her heel.
They should have whipped into thin air, enfolded by tunnels of air and compressed space.
Instead, Hermione smacked right into Riddle's chest. His hands shot out and fastened around her shoulders as if to steady her, but the fury and panic on his face did anything but reassure her.
Her eyes widened as she realized. Anti-Apparition ward; virtually undetectable, of course … but how was Harry even allowed to have one, legally?
Her mouth opened slightly, but Riddle let go of her and smashed a finger to her lips, silencing her. His eyes cut, the intent clear. Make a sound and I will cut your throat.
"Cloak in your bag," he ordered with little more volume than an exhalation. His long fingers plucked the silvery cloth from where it had tangled them together. "We'll have to fight our way out."
She swatted his hand from her mouth, stuffed the Cloak into her bag, and drew her wand, training her ears. If they could pinpoint where the enemy was, they'd have the natural advantage.
But she couldn't keep her wand hand from shaking, which, frankly, embarrassed her. Honestly, the number of times she, Harry, and Ron had faced mortal peril, and her body still slipped into panic every time… silly, really. She mentally scolded herself, which had little to no positive result.
Then a voice. "Freeze, now! I'm warning you!"
Hermione stared at the wooden wall separating them from the landing. Was the voice talking to them? No, it couldn't be… and besides, that wasn't the voice of the young Bansherwold they'd met. It didn't sound anything like an old man, though.
A small click rang through the breathless silence. Almost … mechanical?
"It wasn't me!" burst out a voice, this time an old man's. "This fellow grabbed me on the street and suddenly we were out of London, I swear it! I had nothing to do with it!"
Riddle smirked. He could practically see the innocent look on the elder Bansherwold's face as he made his bold-faced lie. Accusing his younger self of kidnapping him … fascinating ploy; well-done.
"Yes. This man is my hostage," snarled the voice of Bansherwold the Younger, and the sounds of a small scuffle ensued. Riddle frowned. Interesting – so the Younger was playing along. What was his motive?
"Oh, God, don't shoot!" said the Elder, his voice cracking. "Please!"
Riddle's frown curdled into a sour bafflement. Shoot what? 'Don't shoot' … the phrase sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it …
He glanced at Granger, who seemed to be getting somewhat more from this exchange than he was. Her face, layered with darkness, looked tense. Creases lined her pursed lips. The familiar intensity of a frequent thinker.
"What do you want with the old man?" said the first voice. "Don't you lay a finger on him. We're authorized by the British government to fire at will when confronted with magical threat."
Everything clicked. That voice was a Muggle, wielding some sort of pistol or firearm. A Muggle – maybe one of those scientists they'd heard about, wanting to experiment on all things wizardly …? Did scientists carry guns? Maybe some Muggle thug sent to do the bidding of the scientists.
"If you come quietly, I won't shoot you," said the Muggle's voice.
"I'm sorry," said Bansherwold. "I'm actually only here to get reinforcements."
Reinforcements? Riddle thought. He realized what Bansherwold meant a split second before the wall separating them exploded.
Everything was fire and light and deafening roar. "Protego!" yelled Granger's voice from somewhere in the melee, and she yanked him close as if on instinct, pulling him to safety. The inferno curled around Granger's shield, threatening to buckle the thin barrier inward. Riddle flicked his own wand and staggered back, his eyes snapping shut against the blinding flame. His shield – a dark whirlwind – ate away at the flame until the explosion had burned itself to dust, an eternity later.
Riddle lowered his wand, opened his eyes. Not one but two Muggles stood there, pointing small silvery guns in their direction. They looked stunned, but defiant. The silence rang. A dangerous impasse.
Wind brushed Riddle's back. A hole had been blasted through the back of the house. Ash fluttered around them, a charred reminder. Riddle brushed his shoulders off.
"Don't move!" one Muggle yelled, fear plain on his pasty face. Riddle resisted the urge to smile toothily and say, Boo!
"Oh, God." Hermione's voice was a hoarse whisper, slight against the sunlight. She swayed slightly. "No, no. Harry's house. Merlin, all those photographs –" Harry's photograph of his parents… all he had left of them; he'd had it for over forty years now … and the photograph of Dobby, of Dumbledore, the wedding photos – irreplaceable. What had Bansherwold done?
Riddle couldn't help it. His concentration broke. "Photographs? Are you bloody insane?" he spat, rounding on her. "There are far more important –"
"Expelliarmus," said Bansherwold's voice. Riddle's fingers tightened on his wand convulsively, just in time to feel the wood tug at his grip. Hermione's wand flew from her hand, but Riddle grabbed his back; clutched it to his chest.
"Tom, Hermione," said Bansherwold the Younger, pocketing Hermione's wand. The wizard's own wand was still pressed into Bansherwold the Elder's jugular. "Glad to have you join us." His eyes flickered to the safe behind them. "And I see you've retrieved the Cloak. Wonderful."
Riddle inclined his head by way of greeting. His voice turned smooth once more. "I believe your prisoner has my wand."
"I never took no wand," the elder Bansherwold moaned. "I never."
"Don't be ridiculous," Riddle said. "You took the wand when I last saw you, in 2022, along with that of my … acquaintance, Ms. Granger. Though you were rather younger then. I believe the wands are still in your possession." He held out a hand, perfectly confident.
"Don't give him anything," ordered the taller Muggle. "Freeze, all of you! I will shoot!"
Riddle strongly resisted the urge to roll his eyes. They obviously didn't know who they were dealing with. Those feeble little Muggle toys couldn't possibly –
And then he turned sharply to face one of the Muggles, and an earsplitting bang rang through the house. Like the noise of Apparition, but no one disappeared.
And Riddle didn't even realize he was bleeding until he tried to lift his wand and a wave of hot pain rang up through his torso.
"What did –" He looked down and blinked at the dark wet stain blossoming across his robes. And a metal fist of agony slammed into his side.
He staggered and let out half a breath.
Before he could process what exactly had happened, Granger was at his side, supporting his weight, and he could feel the blood pulsing out of him and bloody Merlin he couldn't think –
His wand touched the spot lightly. The sodden hole in his robes. It had torn a chunk of flesh right out of his side, it must have –
And the Muggles were yelling –
"What'd you go and shoot him for? We're supposed to bring 'em back intact, you bloody great idiot!"
"I was showing them I'm not afraid to shoot! It wasn't fatal, was it, look, he's alive, isn't he –"
"Oh, God, oh shit, oh God," went the voice in his ear, Granger's voice, and he felt her buckling under his weight –
And above everything rose the calm voice of Alengurd Bansherwold. "Ms. Granger, my Reductory Exo-Flame has cancelled the Anti-Apparition ward. If you will put on the Cloak and Apparate to the Eiffel Tower, I shall meet you there and return your wands – your true wands. I shall then give you your next instructions."
"What's … Eiffel Tower –" Riddle said.
"Riddle, dear. Try and save your breath; you're well on your way to passing out soon." Bansherwold the Younger smiled. "As for the Eiffel Tower … I have a plan for France that I'd love you two to take part in." He drew the Timeglass from his pocket. Riddle and Granger alike went rigid. "There's also the issue of this, which you two seem to need."
Was this an attempt to blackmail the pair of them into being Bansherwold's henchmen?
Hot rage rose up in Riddle's throat. "You –" he choked out. "I will murder you."
"I don't see the fun in that, but feel free to try."
Well, since you asked so nicely. Riddle clasped his wand in his hand, conjured a voice past his agony, and snarled, "Avada Kedavra!"
The jet of green light reached the pair of Bansherwolds.
And it dissipated.
"Now, good, you've had your fun. Enough of that," Bansherwold said, tucking the Timeglass back into his pocket as if nothing had just happened. As if the single most powerful curse in the world hadn't just vanished in front of him like a faulty Patronus.
With a flick of Bansherwold's wrist, another Disarming charm flew toward Riddle, and Riddle's wand flew from his nerveless fingers.
He couldn't stop staring. His side was pounding. His mind was spinning and his vision was lurching and making him sick. What had just happened?
What was going on? What the hell was this control of magic the man had? How could he be more powerful than Tom?
"What if I refuse?" Granger said, her voice radiating strength. Riddle felt the sudden compulsion to look at her, and he found a reassuring fire blazing in her eyes. Even the bickering Muggles fell quiet.
Bansherwold cocked his head. "What?"
"I said, what if I don't follow your plan? What if I say to hell with you?"
"Then, Ms. Granger, your pride leaves something to be desired when it comes to prudence," said the wizard quietly, his piercing eyes digging into the girl's defiant stare. "If you don't agree, I shan't give you back your wand, and you won't be able to Apparate anywhere at all."
"You're not giving anyone anyone's wand!" yelled the taller Muggle, striding forward.
Bansherwold's pleasant demeanor did a terrifyingly rapid 180. He barely even glanced over and twitched his wand before the tall Muggle went silent, pawing at his throat in horror. "Now, as I was saying," Bansherwold said, eyes turning back to Riddle and Hermione. "I will dispose of this Muggle threat and you will Apparate with me in order to regain your wands. Or you will go with these men and face everything that it entails."
Bansherwold the Elder sagged back against his younger counterpart yet more, in counterpoint with Riddle's slipping body. Granger's hands were viselike on his shoulders. Didn't matter. He was going to pass out.
"No," Riddle managed to rasp. He held his eyes long enough to see hers lock onto his. Hazel. She was as terrified, as unnerved by what had happened with the Avada as he was. But she was masking it well.
Granger echoed his word, louder and stronger. "No. We're not doing a thing you want. You manipulative bastard."
"Really!" Bansherwold seemed almost pleased by the result. Hermione bit her lip. Did that mean they were playing into his hands? And every inch of her thirsted to lunge for him, wrest the Timeglass from his possession –
Hopeless. No wand. An enemy who could seemingly cancel magic at will. A wounded Riddle. (When would his arrogance stop getting him in trouble? You didn't make sudden motions around men with guns, for Merlin's sake –)
The only thing she had left was the ability to say no.
"No," she repeated, and for once, her voice didn't betray her. She sounded far more confident than she felt, and her larynx didn't suddenly decide to leap an octave up. "I'm sure we'll see you again. You seem to need us, for whatever reason."
One hooded eye flickered in a wink. "Very good, Ms. Granger. I'm sad you'll be missing this particular event, but we have all of time before us. At least, I do. I'll see you soon. Enjoy your detainment."
He turned on his heel. He and his seeming captive vanished with a crack.
Hermione could only sit there, wandless and helpless, as the still-silent Muggles bore down on them.
Hermione hadn't been to a Muggle hospital in a while, not since her father had broken his ankle the summer before fourth year. This didn't feel like a proper hospital, though – probably wasn't. Seemed like some sort of research institute, from the numerous labs and offices they passed. They were somewhere in London, obviously: Hermione had been bundled into the back of a car and locked in, but that hadn't stopped her from seeing the scenery pass by. Unfortunately, that hardly narrowed the field for potential locations.
The fact that cars hovered unsettled her. The line between science and magic was growing damn near close to indistinguishable.
As for Riddle, they'd taken him in an ambulance. She wondered who would have the unpleasant experience of facing his wrath when he woke up all bandaged together, but mostly she just wondered if they'd send him to the same place as her, eventually. What if Bansherwold went looking for Riddle only? What if they left her abandoned in 2036? After all, it was Riddle, not Bansherwold, who'd ended up bringing her along. She was incidental to Bansherwold's plan.
Though he'd seemed to have a disproportionate amount of interest in her choices at Harry's house. Maybe he'd started factoring her into his plots … not reassuring.
Now she sat in a white, sterile room, wearing nothing but a hospital gown, feeling exposed and more than a little terrified. Frankly, the science of magic fascinated Hermione; she wouldn't mind donating some blood or DNA to that cause at all. But if the rumors were true, and that wasn't all the tests entailed … if they treated wizards like animals, to be tested cruelly and unfairly …
She wanted to believe that wasn't true. But Merlin, she knew what awful things people could do. She'd seen it, and God knew she'd read about it.
Hermione stared at the eye chart on the wall and kept quiet.
They said they were going to ask her questions. Would it be a proper interrogation? Would they want information about places like Diagon Alley; Hogwarts? And most importantly, would they know if she lied? They didn't have Veritaserum, obviously, but Hermione knew rudimentary lie detectors had been developed in the Muggle world even back in 1998. They'd had a good forty years to perfect the design.
This wasn't looking good. She needed to get out, needed to get to a wand. The authorities – the Wizard Watch, as they called themselves – hadn't forcibly restrained her, as of yet. They'd just locked her into the car, escorted her from place to place, and now locked her into this exam room. They were still treating her like she'd volunteered to be here, which she supposed ought to give her comfort. Somehow, it failed completely in that respect.
But if she played the docile volunteer long enough, maybe she could lull them into a false sense of security.
The door opened. A woman walked in, her hair in a bun so tight her blonde hair looked part of her pale scalp. "Ms. Granger," said the woman, holding out a hand. "My name's Dr. Norris. How are you?"
"All right, thank you," Hermione said, shaking the doctor's hand. The door shut with a deep boom, and Hermione forced herself not to look at the exit longingly. "My, erm, about my … friend –?"
"Doing fine. The bullet went right through right above his hip, didn't hit any major arteries. We've discharged the Watch member who shot him."
Well, that was something. This meant they had some sense of human decency, right?
"I'm going to ask you a few questions," said Dr. Norris, taking a clipboard from where it had been tucked under her arm. Something hardened in her blue eyes. "I hope you'll cooperate."
"When did you first learn that you could control magic?"
Hermione half-smiled. "Well, I didn't learn that it was a controllable ability until I was eleven. But I first started exhibiting signs of it at a younger age. When I was six, I had a tantrum because I wanted the family cat to stay outdoors, and all the doorknobs in the house ended up disappearing, which wasn't particularly enjoyable."
Dr. Norris lifted one thin eyebrow and scribbled on her clipboard. For one horrible second, Hermione caught a strong whiff of Umbridge in the atmosphere. "Yes." Hermione cleared her throat. "And, erm, there was the usual anger-related stuff. Lightbulbs shattering, people slipping on perfectly stable ground. I was quite mild when I was younger, except once at school. I … A girl was making fun of the book I was reading. I got so angry …" Hermione's voice choked. She hated this memory. "Well, she ended up with a pair of scissors through her hand."
Again, the quirk of the eyebrow. Dr. Norris put down the pen. "Interesting. Anything else?"
"No, nothing notable."
"So, what happened when you were eleven? How did you come to suspect this was an ability, rather than, say, bad luck?"
Hermione floundered. They didn't know about Hogwarts? How did they not know about Hogwarts yet? Was this a test?
"I … I got my letter," she said. "A letter. From a very famous wizard, and he told me I was a witch." Vague, but serviceable.
Norris's eyes pierced. Hermione forced herself to stare into them. If she looked away, she'd look guilty. "How did he know?" asked the doctor.
"The Ministry can track movements of young … I'm sorry, but don't you know any of this?"
"You're only the fourth Pom we've had available for questioning in Great Britain. The others have been … significantly less cooperative." The woman's dark-painted lips quirked to the side, and again a sense of foreboding hit Hermione deep in the gut.
Norris nodded. "Well, P.O.M. – Person of Magic, of course. France has been able to get a hold of quite a few, as have Spain and Germany. Also, the United States has started doing raids, which I don't approve of. Such a violation of privacy. But we're rather behind when it comes to research; the British Poms seem to have non-magic-proofed themselves quite well."
"Muggle," Hermione blurted out.
"The word for non-magic people is Muggle."
"Hm." Norris took a note.
Hermione shifted on the exam table and tried not to stare longingly at the door. Merlin, she needed a wand. Going without one made her feel young, made her feel like part of her was missing. "Where are the other three you've found, then?"
"They were criminals," Norris said shortly. "Caught using magic to perpetrate their crimes. They've since escaped."
"Yes; obviously, we had them captive, so they could face justice."
"We have the Wizengamot for dealing out justice to criminals," Hermione said. "It's a Wizarding court."
Norris lowered her clipboard and pushed her glasses up on her pointy nose. "You have an independent system of government?"
Hermione let out a short laugh. "The others really didn't tell you much, did they?" God, this felt strange, broaching the Statute of Secrecy so flagrantly. Of course, knowledge was the only tool to combat fear: Muggles were more likely to be ignorantly frightened of wizardry if they didn't understand it. Wasn't this the best course of action, really? She bit her lip, sat up straighter, and her resolve hardened. "Yes. We've got a Ministry of Magic, headed by a Minister. Sort of like our Prime Minister."
"Who is that? Someone we can contact?"
Hermione cleared her throat. Rubbed the back of her neck. "I … I don't really know, honestly." Admitting she didn't know something physically hurt. "I'm not from this time period."
"I'm from 1998. Advanced time transport magic brought me here, and I've been trying to –"
"Magic can elicit time-travel?"
"1998 … So you were born … in what, the early eighties?"
"Yes. But I think you should know," Hermione said carefully, "that time travel isn't by any means normal. It's possible, but it's volatile and has potentially disastrous effects. Wizardry has as many hazards as Muggle science, and researchers and experimenters do just as much to attempt to ensure that magic is used responsibly as scientists do to ensure the responsible use of, say, weapons technology."
Norris nodded. A wisp of hair slipped from her bun, and she tucked it back into place immediately. "Naturally," she said, but mild relief softened her eyes. "So, if –"
The walkie-talkie on her belt blared suddenly. The sound was astonishingly clear, an urgent baritone. "Dr. Norris, turn on the nearest television. BBC One. This instant."
Norris's expression shut down, dead serious within a split second. She said, "Register. T.V.: On. Select: BBC One." In a flash, the television on the wall – massive, seemingly made out of a thin sheet of glass – flashed to life.
It showed a shot of two men standing beneath the Eiffel Tower. The elder Bansherwold's face appeared onscreen and swelled to fill the space. His overlarge nose, blistered with warts, was thrust into the camera's direct line of sight. The camera panned slowly to the younger, who stood nearly at the opposite end of the Tower's base, seemingly investigating its construction, with wand out. A flickering bluish bubble surrounded the Tower, keeping all else away. It was deserted.
The commentator: "The elder of these men has started a live broadcast on YouTube. He appears to be an innocent civilian held captive by the younger, streaming this information secretly. Here's the audio."
The screen went black, and the Elder's monologue came over the TV in a wheezy whisper. "I didn't want to say nothing, but I think he's gonna kill me, I think he's gonna kill me for what I know. If he sees me making this broadcast I'm dead, so I'll get to the point. My name's Allan and for fourty years I've been studyin' wizards, what they do, how they do it –"
"That's a lie!" Hermione burst out, suddenly on her feet.
"Sit down, miss," said Norris, voice hard as glass.
"But he's lying. His name's Alengurd Bansherwold and he's a famous Dark Wizard –"
Bansherwold said, "—and I've found a million pieces of conclusive evidence pointing to the fact that Wizards are dangerous, they hate non-magic folk, they're trying to –"
"But that's not true!"
"—take over the non-Wizarding population bit by bit, and if my research is correct then the way to stop all this is by evaluation of the Wizarding genome; there's an anomaly hidden somewhere in the sequencing –"
Horror roared in Hermione's mind, overriding even the rage. Was this true?
"—and if you find the difference you can create a biological barrier to Apparition, Wizards' most powerful tool . But that's not all. I've procured DNA from the most evil wizard of the last century, a genocidal maniac called Tom Riddle; I've analyzed it, and if you can find a wizard or witch to help you define the specific magical signature from the DNA strand, you can actually make the specific wizard's magic ineffectual when it's directed at you –"
Hermione's stomach twisted. The Avada Kedavra.
"—and that's why I'm alive, otherwise Riddle would have killed me. And I think I'm close to the breakthrough of being able to have an injectable cure for magic, the genetic opposite to the magical signature, a cancellation of their dangerous abilities –"
Her world turned upside-down.
And then another voice came on. The younger Bansherwold's. "What are you doing over here? Are you saying something? Who are you talking to?"
"No one," said Bansherwold the Elder. "I'm just scared, please don't hurt me –"
"You're recording," said Bansherwold the Younger, in a voice of revelation. A false voice, said Hermione's mind, and suddenly she was so angry she thought she might burst. How dare he? How dare he spread this lie for the world to see? What was he even doing?
"You filthy Muggle, you're recording something!" he yelled. And the BBC camera snapped back on just in time for the world to see a jet of green light hit the elder Bansherwold square in the chest. He toppled to the ground. Dead.
Hermione quivered in place. Obviously not a real curse. A jet of green light, and the Elder was playing dead – but no Muggle could possibly know that.
Dr. Norris's hands were clasped over her mouth. The room felt like a vacuum. Hermione couldn't seem to draw breath.
The younger Bansherwold snatched the tiny microphone from where it had been hiding in the older man's lapel. He held it to his mouth, and his voice rang over the television. "Here's my message to all you non-magical scum. You are feeble. You are inferior. And you cannot stop us."
He flung the microphone to the ground – the boom rang in Hermione's very bones – and thrust his wand into the air.
A shockwave blasted from the tip of that wand and ripped up through the Eiffel Tower. Fire followed it, a dragon's inferno. Then a white blast that tore through the metal as if it were paper.
Then everything was lost in chaos and flame.
"No," Hermione whispered. "No, no, no!" Her voice rose to a hysterical shriek. "You mustn't listen to any of that, not all witches and wizards are like that! The man's insane, you've got to believe me! You've got to believe –"
Her hands were shaking. Her fists were curled tight.
The television shattered. Dr. Norris let out a cry and stumbled back, a cut drawn open across her cheek.
"Oh, Merlin, I'm so sorry," Hermione said. "I'm so sorry – let me –"
"Get away from me! Get away!"
Then a great crack, and Alengurd Bansherwold swirled into life two feet from them. "Hello," he said to Dr. Norris. "Nice to see you've met my friend."
The scientist's eyes went so wide Hermione thought her eyeballs might try for escape.
Bansherwold strode to Hermione's side, took her arm, and said, "I think it's long past time we left, don't you?"
Before she could even open her mouth to reply, he spun on his heel. Hermione closed her eyes, and when her feet slammed back into solid ground, she opened them again. A small gray hospital room, with a single bed and a single dark-haired occupant.
Bansherwold reached into the bed and took the unconscious Tom Riddle by the arm, using the hand that held his wand. "I rather like him better in this state," he said.
He let go of Hermione for a second to reach into his pocket, and Hermione made a lunge for the wand. He sighed, flicked it, and her arms and legs snapped together in a Full Body-Bind.
"Stop it. You're being tediously repetitive," Bansherwold said. His eyes bored into her, blue and grey and green and unforgiving, and above all else, mischievous. "Just wait. Patience, Hermione Granger, is a virtue."
His voice sent shivers across her skin.
Then he drew the Timeglass from his pocket, put that arm around Hermione's shoulders, and a whine entered the air. Grew deafening. And then the release in a sharp bang that tore the world apart before her frozen eyes.
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Hope it was worth the wait! And I'm very sorry, by the way, about that wait. I got hung up in the middle of the chapter and then fell into massive writer's block. But I'm feeling better about the story now.
Thanks for reading, and as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!