20th February 2001
Hermione Granger was packing; she had been packing for weeks. With a glance at the parchment in her hand, she picked up a small golden cup from her desk, nodded and put it into her shoulder bag. Then snatching her quill from the inkwell, she scratched a mark on the scribbled list she held.
Her usually immaculate office was almost unrecognisable – judging from the towering piles of books on her desk and the stacks of boxes and personal effects that covered the floor in one corner, it looked more like Ron's study than her own. She looked back at the list.
'Diary …' she murmured, tapping the feathered end of the quill against the parchment as she scanned the teetering book tower that covered most of her desk. Locating the small black-bound book, she threw it into the satchel and marked the list once again.
She heard the back door slam downstairs. Muttering 'Damn it' under her breath, she pulled her wand from her jeans pocket and flicked it: the cupboard on the opposite wall sprang open and the hinges of her old Hogwarts trunk creaked a little as the lid opened.
'I'm home!' Ron's voice called.
Another flick of her wand and all her books, boxes, notes and miscellany flew towards the cupboard, ordering themselves as they began to land in the trunk.
She pulled the elastic band from her unruly hair, shaking her head to untrap the curls from their ponytail prison. She was meant to be having a day off, and tied-back hair was an all-too-obvious indicator to Ron that she had been working; she didn't want to raise his suspicions. Her trunk closed with a thump and the office was comfortably tidy once again. She shut the door behind her and started down the stairs.
'I decided to close up for the day because the weather is so terrible, Diagon Alley was deserted.' Ron's voice calling up the stairs suddenly lowered as she came into view. 'Not that I blame them,' he went on, 'it's bloody freezing out there.'
'Yes,' Hermione said, thinking that Ron really seemed chirpy this afternoon - she had almost forgotten he possessed such an emotion. 'I've been watching the children from next door chasing each other around in the snow all afternoon,' she added, matching his upbeat tone.
As Ron kicked off his snowy boots and hung his cloak on its peg, Hermione kissed him on the cheek and moved into the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, 'Are you hungry?' Food would certainly help to keep him in his unusually cheerful frame of mind. Maybe they could have a proper conversation.
He followed her into the brightly decorated kitchen and sat himself at the small table.
'Sure, thanks,' he said, his face falling back into the familiar lines of worry. Maybe not.
Once he had a bacon sandwich in front of him she asked, 'Did you see your Mum today?' Perhaps Mrs Weasley was a little better and it had briefly elevated Ron's mood.
'Nah,' Ron said 'I'm gonna go round tonight and see them.' He picked up the sandwich and took a bite, his eyes downcast. 'What did you do today?' he asked mechanically.
It was as though he was forcing himself to be polite. Hermione breathed an internal resigned sigh; she really shouldn't get her hopes up so easily. 'Ginny came round this morning - she's still pretty down, Harry's having real trouble at the Ministry.' She said.
'I know, I had lunch with him yesterday. He's wrecked.'
Hermione watched sadly as he chomped on his sandwich. Gone was the boy she had fallen in love with; sometimes she saw him shining through, but it was only ever for a moment, a brief spark, and then it vanished as quickly as it had come. They were living a charade. Both of them knew it, but neither acknowledged it.
In the three years since the war, the stress of rebuilding had driven the two of them in opposite directions. Ron had taken to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, the joke supply shop that his twin brothers Fred and George had opened. After Fred had fallen during the final battle, George was really not capable of dealing with the place and all its reminders of his lost brother. Quite understandable of course.
Ron had shouldered the responsibility of keeping it running very well. The twins' extensive notes were kept in the flat above the shop and he steadily worked his way through them, adding new products to the inventory of the business. He wanted it to be as successful as it had been before the loss of Fred, ready for the day George could cope again.
That day was looking less and less likely as time went on. On the rare occasions that he did show up, George would barely manage an hour before being set off by something, and would either break down, or shout at Ron for not doing things the way Fred would. This would be followed by him storming from the shop and drowning himself in the nearest alcoholic drink he could find. In fact, George spent most of his time soaking away his troubles in whichever inn was closest, which troubled Ron very much. He knew his brother had the right to grieve but it seemed to be moving from grief to selfishness in his opinion.
Mrs Weasley was in a similar state, and although she did not require a shot of Firewhisky to get her out of bed in the mornings, she might as well have. She functioned, but that was it. Cook, clean, sleep was about all she managed on a daily basis. It had begun because of the loss of Fred, but with George's steady decline she became worse; her grandchildren brought her some happiness when Bill or Percy came by, but it was always fleeting.
Adding to Molly's worries, her daughter Ginny – who had married Harry the previous summer –was struggling with married life. It was never easy when a couple married young but Ginny spent more time at the family home than at her own, mainly because her husband was never home.
While Harry had been in Auror training, Ginny had managed to handle the limited free time they had together, and Harry's almost-dismissal of her. She stuggled through those years, thinking that once he was qualified and able to help properly his desire to make up for the events - things he saw as mistakes he'd made - during the war, would diminish.
Ginny had been wrong. Harry was at the Ministry constantly, and when he came home he would sit up writing list after list of every wrong decision he'd made and its consequences. Harry's anger at himself also heaped more stress onto Mrs Weasley. When he was forced into their company by Ginny, he struggled to look Molly or Arthur in the eye. It was almost like losing another son.
Ron was the only one he would really talk to. Their friendship was not as strong as it had been at Hogwarts, but for some reason Harry believed Ron didn't blame him for any of his "mistakes". Why he wouldn't accept that from anyone else was a mystery.
Then of course there was the fame that came with defeating the most powerful dark wizard of all time. At heart, Harry believed he had failed at his task – that it had taken too many lives and too much time to conquer Riddle – yet he was forced to smile and act proud of his achievements for the wizarding public, all the while dwelling on everyone that had been killed because he had been too slow.
Over the last few years, Ron had found himself in a difficult role: the peacemaker, the motivator, the only one with enough time to deal with all of these problems. His father was head of the Muggle Relations Department - a very time consuming position, considering what the muggles had witnessed during the war. Ron's older brothers Bill and Percy both had little children and full-time jobs, and Charlie was too far away to be of any real use. Ron – formerly the least emotionally-aware 15-year old Hermione had ever met – was now the patchy spellotape holding the whole extended Weasley family together, and the effort had drained all of his enthusiasm for anything else.
Hermione on the other hand had thrown herself into her work at the Ministry. With her status after the war, she'd basically had her pick of any department, but there was only one thing she could have ever imagined herself doing with her life: the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
There was a whole generation of werewolves bitten by Fenrir Greyback during the war, children who needed to be protected and educated so they wouldn't follow in their sire's footsteps. There were currently six werewolves at Hogwarts – all of course given Wolfsbane Potion; Hermione had almost singlehandedly pushed through the law that allowed them to attend, though her close friendship with the Minister certainly helped. Shacklebolt was a very useful person to have on your side. She really enjoyed her work, and was glad to be able to make a difference in these children's lives - she just wished they didn't need her to.
Ron and Hermione's romantic relationship had suffered because of their different ways of coping. Times were tough, but she didn't mind in the long run - she knew that once they got through it, Ron would be back to himself and they could pick up where they had left off. She was determined to stick by him; she was happy to be his friend until he was ready for more again. Well, that's what she had thought in the beginning anyway. But as the years had passed and nothing seemed to get better, she began to wonder if she would ever get him back.
She had almost lost hope of having the boyfriend Ron back, but when the friend version began to slip away too, she had doubled her time spent on her research. What had seemed like a mad idea when it crossed her mind three years ago was now a reality. She hadn't shared it with anyone. All her friends were so wound up in their own dilemmas she didn't think they would listen anyway. She was going to cut the cause of all the trouble off at the root - and she was nearly ready.
14th May 2001
It was four months since Ron had come home fleetingly cheerful on that snowy afternoon, four months of continued research, list-making, and covert packing. Hermione felt guilty for all the times she'd swept her work away from Ron's depressedly unobservant gaze, but this morning she was spectacularly excited. She was finally prepared. She was leaving today.
She really didn't know if she should have told Ron or not - as cowardly as it made her feel, she didn't want to have to say a proper goodbye. If she told him the truth he'd just worry, and what was the point in that? Well, that was what she told herself anyway. She'd told him that she needed to visit a laboratory in Istanbul for her private research (she'd had to come up with "research" that would sufficiently bore him to death so there wouldn't be too many difficult questions, so Ron thought she was working on potions to prevent the effects of the Imperious curse) and that she would be gone for a week. Thankfully he had accepted this without blinking an eye, wished her luck, and left for work as usual.
With her fully packed bags beside her in the hallway, she checked her list for the hundredth time.
'Right,' she said aloud, 'stop procrastinating'.
Her Hogwarts trunk had been transfigured to look like a set of muggle luggage - cream leather with navy blue edging and large gold buckles, fashionable in the early eighties. She had dressed in very fitted jeans that had belonged to her mother at university – they were so faded they looked almost white, and a lot higher waisted than she was used to - and compensated for that tightness with an overly large peach shirt and belt also courtesy of her mother's old wardrobe. Looking at her reflection in the long mirror at the end of the hall she laughed under her breath - At least my hair will fit in!
With a disillusionment charm, she and her luggage vanished from the mirror. Taking one more long look around the flat she and Ron had shared since they left school, Hermione stepped outside and locked the back door behind her with a tap of her wand, then apparated to the point in London she had decided on – a small alley just down from the Leaky Cauldron.
She pulled the Timeturner from her handbag. It was so illegal that even with who she was – Hermione Granger, one of the Famous Three, friend of the Minister for Magic and all round do-gooder – she would still end up in Azkaban if this was found in her possession. It had taken three years of research, many tests and trials and different combinations of ingredients before she had discovered the key – it was the sand.
The sand was made from specific minerals that when all forced together in the pressured environment allowed the possessor to move through time. Her one however, was even more special. Her modifications meant that one turn equaled one year instead of one hour, in either direction, future or past. There was a limit to its stability; a quarter of a century was as much as it could cope with and still carry the hitch-hiker safely. Conveniently, that was enough.
She checked the surrounding area - deserted. She looped the chain around her neck and gripped her luggage tightly, then began to turn the little bronze hourglass backwards in her hand. One, two, three ... eighteen, nineteen, twenty. She held her breath.
Sporadic flashes of light and dark engulfed her, the shape of the dustbins in the alley next to her blurred, the air itself seemed to swirl around her, what sounded like voices were roaring in her ears. It seemed to go on forever, longer than any other time she had used such a device. She began to panic; indistinct figures were rushing past her, in and out of focus, she could barely draw breath –
And then it stopped.
The rumbling of the road at the end of the alleyway seemed quiet to her ears after the colourful sonorous roaring. She steadied herself on her pile of luggage, slightly woozy after the disorientating blur. The cars passing the small gap of the alley mouth, were old models that looked brand new, the business frontages she could see across the busy road were different … it had worked – she had done it!
A/N: Chapter title taken from a brilliant and fitting tune by The Black Keys.