To say that Hermione was surprised by the owl bearing a Hogwarts crest that came crashing into her work station would make light of her near impenetrable lab in the bowels of the ministry, hunkered down in the Time Room. Taking a moment to blink owlishly at the animal that had skidded to a halt directly in front of her, gazing reproachfully at the many papers coating her desk making a smooth landing impossible, she reluctantly took the letter from the bird. Grateful that the owl didn't seem to expect anything in the way of treats, of which she had none on hand, Hermione took a moment to assess her work environment. Fred Phillups had left since she last surfaced from her research on the impermanence of time she felt comfortable enough opening the letter at her desk as she was the only one left there for the night. While she had fallen out of her war time habit of practicing the utmost secrecy of anything remotely personal, a bit of secrecy seemed to be warranted for Hogwarts to break ministry wards. Dragging her finger along the seal of the envelope she plucked the letter out.
I hope this letter finds you well. Dumbledore's portrait has been most insistent on having a visit with you to catch up with your illustrious career (I suspect he wants to study up on time to impress a portrait he has recently taken up with who is well versed on the subject). Regardless, it is high time we had tea together. Is tonight at 7:00pm acceptable? If so, no need to reply.
Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
"They've gone round the bend!" Hermione could not think of another single explanation that would cause her esteemed mentor to send an owl past ministry wards, let alone over the matter of Dumbledore taking a beau and wanted to brush up his theoretical knowledge to impress said beau. Shaking her head as she cast a quick tempus to check the time left Hermione sputtering. She had all of fifteen minutes to pack up and get to Hogwarts. A seed of panic began to grow as she hurriedly packed away her papers into her satchel that had been magically enhanced to the point she was vaguely surprised it didn't glow with magical energy. Surely McGonagall wouldn't contact her in such a way for something so mundane. No, this had to be something important. Perhaps, pertaining to her work?
Bustling out of her lab and making her way to the lifts left Hermione turning over what could possibly be the true reason behind the letter. After the fall of Voldemort there had been massive efforts to round up the remaining Death Eaters that hadn't fallen in the final battle. It had resulted in something of a witch hunt, rankling Hermione the way reasoned investigation had swiftly turned into a massive deluge of accusations against neighbors and anyone not in political favor. Harry and Ron had just started their Auror training at the time and had been called in for things far beyond their depth. Harry had confirmed that they were being used as poster boys for the stability of the new ministry as well as showing how committed they were to cleaning up the mess. However, it had been years since the final battle and the Death eater round-ups. Perhaps they needed her help in some capacity to catch some remaining Death Eater?
Shaking her head to clear it of her thoughts, she exited the lift making a beeline towards the Apparition room. Her heels clicked and echoed in the vast room, the sound precise and sudden. Without turning to make it obvious she was looking she noticed an unusually small amount of people making their way through the room. Pulling her cloak a little tighter she hurried on, aware that time was not on her side to make the meeting.
Apparating outside of the Hogwarts gates in the dead of winter was not her idea of fun. Cursing bitterly as her heels sunk into the snow that had not been swept away as there were precious few students remaining in Hogwarts over the winter holidays Hermione decided against transfiguring her shoes to something more suitable, instead casting a warming charm as she slogged on.
"Ah, Hermione. I'm very glad you could make it on such short notice." McGonagall called out, standing primly on the steps, shrouded in long chocolate brown robes with a cloak settled over top.
"Of course, Minerva. I wouldn't miss your tea for the world." Smiling warmly at the older woman Hermione shook her feet to dislodge the snow that had collected and hurried in the door that McGonagall had opened for her.
"It has been some time since we have been able to have a cup together. I hope work has not been keeping you too busy." The two witches walked together, robes sweeping along the floor as they went, warding off the winter chill that permeated the building.
Chuckling at her mentor's obvious care Hermione couldn't help giving her an amused look, "No more than schoolwork kept me busy while here. I'm afraid I'm a work-a-holic!" Privately, Hermione suspected the day she didn't go beyond what most thought was sufficient would be the day she died. While she enjoyed this trait about herself it had led to rather disastrous results with Ron and their relationship. It had been after several blazing rows that they had concluded that a romantic entanglement between the two of them was about as sustainable as a forest fire. They had settled back into their friendship rather nicely, she thought, once they had agreed to being purely platonic.
The rest of the journey to the Headmistress' office was filled with social niceties. Inquiring about the students Hermione was pleased to learn Hogwarts had ascended to its former glory with the numbers back up after the five year slump of parents not feeling safe sending their children there as well as the loss of life simply resulting in a smaller pool of students to send the letter to.
"Tabby cat." Minerva intoned, watching as the staircase appeared and ascended gracefully. Readjusting her satchel, Hermione followed the older women up and into the spender of the Headmistress' study. Portraits lined the walls, each moving and speaking but one drew her eye immediately with his jovial greeting.
"Hermione! How good it is to see you again!" Regarding the women, Albus wasted no time in settling himself more comfortably in his painted chair.
"Hello Professor, it's good to see you again." Seeing that Minerva had left the room, presumably to retrieve tea, Hermione set about shrugging off her heavy cloak and seating herself.
"I understand you are working for the Department of Mysteries now. That is quite the accomplishment." Dipping her head to acknowledge the compliment, Hermione waited patiently for him to continue. "I understand you are bound to certain restrictions with regard to what you can and can't say but it would be most beneficial if I could ask a few questions regarding time." Leaning forward in his chair Hermione got the distinct impression that he was fishing for something. Like a cat carefully batting a paw in water not to catch the fish just then but to maneuver it to where it wanted its dinner.
"Well, of course… I will answer what I can." Hermione had never had the innate trust in Dumbledore like Harry, however trust had developed by respect and admiration, carefully weighed against errors but always coming out in the old man's favor. While Hermione suspected he had more reason to want to talk about time than impressing some man she was willing to wait it out until he felt the need to tip his hand.
"Wonderful, wonderful. Now, I understand there are some theories being bandied about regarding time. Could you shed some light on them for an old man?" The painting tilted his head slightly, as if a quizzical child.
"Well, there are multiple theories. Some surmise that time is a constant, unchangeable and immovable. They point to the use of time-turners and how every action taken while using one perfectly fits together. An example to support that would be Buckbeak and Harry thinking he saw his father casting the patronous when in fact he saw the future version of himself. While this theory of time can explain short term time travel it is theorized that time is more of a flow. A river, so to say. It naturally wants to follow a certain path that everything that has happened before leads it to. However, it is theorized that if one could go back far enough, you could disrupt the flow in a major way. Hence, creating change that the timeline couldn't integrate into itself, like with time turners. Given this, the timeline would be very resistant to the agent of this change, much like a river wearing down a bolder that got in its way. The change would not only have to have a catalyst, it would have to stabilize in a way that catches the momentum of history in the same way. You couldn't change the river of time and expect it not to flow downhill." Recounting theories in time to the tapping of one long finger to the edge of her jaw she watched the painting's reaction. Noting that even the distinctive sparkle had been caught in the magical process of becoming a painted version of the deceased.
She was about to fire off another theory involving multiple strings of reality when the former Headmaster held up a hand to silence her, "Very good, Miss Granger. You are truly a student of time. Given this, do you think the timeline could be changed?"
Narrowing her eyes she pondered the question aloud, "Well, given everything we know about time it seems most likely. Both the Catalyst and String theories believe it to be possible. However, if one were trying to change what one currently has in the nature of reality it would amount to little difference. If someone was able to go back in time far enough to create a large enough variance in the timeline and could keep the stream steady it is feasible history could be changed."
Clapping his hands together Dumbledore seemed the very picture of joy, "That's wonderful, what a boon you are to your department, Miss Granger! I think it is high time Minerva joined us again." Nodding towards the doors that led to the Headmistress' chambers, a scowling McGonagall emerged, carrying a tea tray carefully arranged.
"Really Albus, I knew you wanted to talk to her alone. There was no need to lock me out of my own office." McGonagall was careful to give him a very unhappy look before setting the tray down and serving Hermione a cup of jasmine tea.
"One can never be too careful, my dear. Not to mention it's wonderful to be able to chat with such a brilliant mind one on one." Winking at said "brilliant mind" Hermione was careful to conceal the quirk of her lips behind her cup as Minerva continued to show her anger by pinching her lips together in a look that would have sent most students scuttling for cover.
"The tea is wonderful, Minerva." Hermione demurred, trying to defuse the situation, ever eager to get to the bottom of a mystery and this was turning out to be just that.
"Thank you, help yourself to some biscuits as well." The Headmistress looked over Hermione fondly as the girl did so. "Now, on to business. You have been keeping up with the papers, have you not?"
Swallowing the baked good down Hermione thought over the question, "Yes, between the Prophet and the Quibbler I try to stay up to date with what's going on in the world." Aside from the papers and her handful of friends Hermione's news was limited to what academic work had come out that pertained to her research or the occasional office gossip that she caught on the way to and from her desk. As she had sunk deeper and deeper into the world of academics, Hermione had instilled a half hour every day to catch up on news. It helped keep her abreast of social maneuverings as well as political undercurrents.
"Good, then you have seen the disappearances." Hermione had noticed small articles, sprinkled throughout that hinted that people were being taken though it was often under the guise of the individual suddenly up and leaving. While she had dismissed the first few cases as pure coincidence, by the fourth or fifth Hermione had been on pins and needles. Owling Harry the very next day to see if he could shed any light on the matter. "We have reason to believe it's happening again, Hermione."
Swallowing thickly Hermione had a terrible sinking feeling. As if someone had attached lead weights, picked her up, and tossed her in the lake with the giant squid. There was no need to say what "it" was. It was war. It was people being taken from their homes. It was back.
"When? How?" The rational part of her was mentally listing all the protective charms she would need to place on her home, who to inform, what to get, with everything becoming a list to be completed. The less rational part of her was wailing. Positively railing against the injustice of being in one war and then so soon being plunged back in to the fray. Realizing her fingers had begun to dig into her knees and her breathing had picked up speed, Hermione mentally counted down as she waiting for answers she desperately needed.
"It started about a year ago. We began to hear things. It originated on the outskirts. People going missing that no one would really miss. Those down and out, orphans, drug dealers, and that sort. Then, when we sent out some of our contacts from the Order, they vanished. We were more careful, making less overt inquiries. Keeping count and the location of where people were taken, where they were from. It started to add up. Then, they got bolder in the past few months. Taking people that would be missed. But, there's nothing solid linking any of the crimes. Nothing but a web that is constantly expanding. And then, a sighting. A child from Hogwarts was home for the holidays, there was a "disappearance." Everyone but the child who had been coming home was taken. He caught sight of him." McGonagall explained, sitting straight in her seat but her eyes were liquid with age and sadness.
Hermione was by nature a thinker, not one prone to action until the facts had been gathered and plans evaluated and rethought until they were perfect. As with the war, she could feel that part of herself being pushed out, wanting desperately to have the time to plan. Despite this, she could feel the old patterns of behavior coming back. This was a problem that wouldn't wait to be examined in painstaking detail. It would require decisiveness and while she was no Auror she could fight and that she would.
"Miss Granger, Voldemort is back." Dumbledore explained, taking her silence as a lack of understanding.
Raising her eyes from Minerva to stare at Albus she couldn't help but let some bitterness creep into her voice, "Of course, Voldemort was never that easy to kill. With everything he did to himself to stay alive we should have known he would have another trick up his sleeve." Thinking back to his consumption of unicorn blood and the ritual that had nearly cost Harry his life and had given Riddle a new body Hermione was loathe to think what it would take to finally kill the man.
"Yes, he is rather good at surviving against all odds and despite every hope to the contrary." Dumbledore whispered. "He has bided his time to come back. I am dead and so are much of the Order's prime researchers. He has waited until we once again became complacent to strike."
"But sir, Harry defeated him once, surely…" Twisting her fingers together Hermione did not miss the sad shake of Dumbledore's head at her feeble hope.
"Harry Potter is an amazing man but he is no theoretical Wizard. And, I fear we are running out of time. It would take months to get the Order back to fully functioning let alone devoting so many resources to understanding what it is Tom has done to himself this time. No, I'm afraid we need another course of action."
Hermione's mind was racing. Plans and contingencies formed themselves and were swept away as each was examined and found lacking. Surely, if anyone could figure it out it would be Dumbledore, which she said as much.
"Alas, I am a painting now. And while this shade of myself has everything I learned in life, I do not have original thought. I am very much the old dog that can not learn new tricks. No, as I am now I can't stop Tom though I wish more than anything else I could. However, are you familiar with the charming word mulligan?"
Nodding slightly Hermione only had to think back on the many card games she and the boys had played to recall the many times a player had been given a bad shake and been able to re-draw.
"We're simply going to have to do it again." Dumbledore stated it so plainly that Hermione was left to stare at him agape.
"Oh, that's all. We'll just ring Voldemort and let him know we got a bad hand so wouldn't he please let us have a do over?" She demanded, feeling a vein on her forehead pulse as she raged growing more annoyed by the nonplussed look the portrait was exuding. Even Minerva who had been quietly sipping her tea was giving Dumbledore a disapproving look.
"Well, if you think it will work…" Dumbledore shrugged as if considering the proposal. "However, I had something a bit more permanent in mind. Minerva, if you would."
Looking rather put upon, the Headmistress set down her tea in favor of rummaging around her drawer and withdrawing a large ornate hourglass. With care she placed it on the desk before Hermione, inclining her head slightly to show she could examine the item. Carefully grasping it, she ran her fingers over the engraved numbers on the four sliding bands circling the top. While Hermione had only worked in the Department of Mysteries for five years, she knew a time turner when she saw one and while it was far from standard the shifting sand and the very presence it exuded gave away the less than ordinary aspect to the hourglass.
"I've never seen one with this design before, and the bands, that's much more sophisticated than most time turners." Hermione didn't even bother to look up from the time turner for further explanation; instead she continued to trace the intricacies of the wood and metal.
"I would be rather put out if you had. My friend Nicolas Flamel and myself went to a great deal of trouble to create it. It can send one person back to a time of their choosing." Dumbledore chortled at seeing her face whip up to look at him, mouth parted slightly in shock.
"Oh, professor, this is an amazing breakthrough! This has been the subject of so much research and here it is, right in my palm. Ooh, Johnson would be green with envy." Examining the hourglass with renewed interest, Hermione couldn't help but think of her co-worker that was a right prat and had no problem using his many years of service to the ministry as a reason to bully the newer people into taking some of his workload. The idea of his long career being devoted to discovering what she had in her hands seemed to make up for all the hours she had slogged through his paperwork for him.
"Yes, he was rather proud of it. Wouldn't stop strutting around like a game-cock for days." Chuckling fondly at the memory the portrait seemed lost in time, reliving a moment of pure accomplishment and bliss. "However, as with many such things, there is a catch. It's only back and one shot at that. Should it be set to a time other than what is desired, there is no going further back. The hourglass will dissolve upon completing the journey." He advised.
"Who will be going back, sir?" Privately suspecting her brains would once more be put to the test on the theoretical aspects and the planning she was unprepared to hear McGonagall's throat being cleared while giving her a very pointed look.
"Hermione, Albus and I have been over all the Order members and there is no one we think more qualified for this than you." Holding up a hand to forestall her sputtering protests, she soldiered on, "You are uniquely positioned to be of use to both the theoretical and physical work that must be done. Your experience in time will aid in making sure the changes hold in the time stream, as well as having a host of other skills necessary to bind the Order together and get them going in the right direction."
Carefully placing the hourglass back on the desk, Hermione carefully turned the issue over in her head, "What exactly is expected? Am I to tell your previous versions I'm from the future? Would I be going on missions? Would I keep my identity?" Dozens more questions clamored to be asked, just there behind her teeth as she waited for her two mentors to explain the hefty task they were asking of her.
Shooting the portrait of Dumbledore a menacing look Minerva answered, "After much deliberation, we have concluded that it would be for the best if you assumed another identity and did not tell our past selves who you really are."
"Unfortunately, it would be far too tempting to know the future, no matter how fragmented. You know what has happened In its full scope so you will be in a better position to navigate between what is important to tell and what is better left unsaid." Dumbledore clarified, favoring Minerva an affronted look. Given her own personal knowledge Hermione suspected Dumbledore had originally advocated for her to spill the beans only to have Minerva shoot down the suggestion. Privately, she agreed with the sentiment of keeping the future to herself. Even her knowing what would happen would be hard to resist acting on while also being conscious of the changes to the time stream she would be doing.
"I agree. That leaves us with the problem of how I'm going to secure an identity in the past." Puzzling out the details was going to give her a headache, Hermione thought.
"Well, it is really a simple matter! 1980 is an ideal time, and there just happens to be an opening on staff. You would have lodging, an income, easy access to the Order, and have an entire summer to research!" Something seemed off, Dumbledore looked entirely too pleased and McGonagall was studiously ignoring her gaze. The solution sounded elegant enough, surely it would work.
"What's the catch?" She asked eyes narrowing as the portrait beamed.
"You'll be the new Divination professor!"
Here's the first chapter! I've been reading a lot of time travel fics recently and it occurred to me that there is a serious lack of fics that take place after the Mauraders have left Hogwarts and to my knowledge no one has ever stuffed Hermione in Trelawney's position. It should be an interesting ride, folks!