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Less than a memory (More than a feeling Part II)

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Chapter 1

June 5th, 1999

Radiant daylight was illuminating the Gryffindor girls’ dorm room when Hermione Granger awoke with a splitting headache. It was clear Ginny and the others had long since departed to have breakfast in the Great Hall, but Hermione wondered why her friend hadn’t woken her. Usually, Hermione was the first one to open her eyes in the morning and was dressed and finished with her morning routine and already pouring over a book by the time the others in the dorm room rose from their beds. Maybe Ginny hadn’t wanted to interrupt her sleep?

Hermione touched her pounding temples and swung her legs out of her bed. She felt as if she had partied all night, although she hadn’t gone out for months. Her N.E.W.T. exams started in June and Hermione was determined to get an ‘Outstanding’ in all of her subjects. Every ‘Exceeds Expectations’ would be a bitter disappointment, and that was enough reason for her to keep her nose buried in her textbooks most of the day.

So why did her head feel like she’d had three bottles of firewhisky last night? Maybe she had studied too long for Potions last night? Hermione couldn’t quite remember when she had gone to bed, but it certainly had gotten late before she had retired to her bed. With a yawn, she shuffled to the bathroom. If she hurried now, there was a good chance to still get a few bites of breakfast, even though she didn’t feel hungry.

When Hermione stood in front of the mirror twenty minutes later, brushing her stubborn, bushy strands, she felt a little better already. Nevertheless, she decided to see Madam Pomfrey after breakfast to get something for her headache. She had a lot to do today and didn’t want to waste any of her time. Hermione cast a quick glance at her study schedule and dropped her brush in shock. Why was she still reviewing Transfiguration? Today was the Fifth of July and according to her plan, she was supposed to have started studying incantations for Potions the day before yesterday.

Hermione blinked unbelievingly when she glanced at her schedule again. How hadn’t she noticed before that she was ten days behind! Since when had she been so negligent? Hermione checked her schedule for possible charms but she didn’t find anything unusual. Which subject had she focused on yesterday?

No matter how hard she tried, Hermione couldn’t remember any spells she had practiced or any books she had read the day before. Had she simply forgotten what had happened during the last few days? Maybe due to the revenge of that sulky Slytherin she had rebuked the other day in her position as a Prefect? However, Hermione did vividly remember a discussion she had had with Ginny on their way to Defense Against the Dark Arts. They had argued about a book from the Forbidden Section that their professor had recommended them for their N.E.W.T. preparations. While Hermione had been quite upset about the inappropriate recommendation, Ginny had been a lot more relaxed about it. “Learning for the N.E.W.T.s is never fun, no matter where the books come from.” Ginny then had asked her if she would like to go to Hogsmeade with her in the afternoon, but Hermione had declined because… because… well, why had she? Probably because she had intended to study for her exams.

Hermione put her brush back on the table with a frown. The idea that she had to catch up on all her subjects in the next few days intensified her headache immensely. With a sigh, she reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled three hairpins out of it to tame her bushy strands. When she fixed the pins with a charm she noticed from the corner of her eye that a piece of parchment had slipped out of her pocket. Maybe a piece of scratch paper when she had written down some incantations for Potions?

Hermione carefully bent down, sparing her head from quick movements, and picked up the paper from the floor. Indeed, she recognized her own handwriting on the parchment but there weren’t any incantations for Potions. Agreement was written in thick letters above a short note. We, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, hereby declare that we both have agreed to end our relationship and break our engagement. We both think it is better this way. If we still love each other in a few years and still want to get married, we will resume our relationship.. Beyond the note were their two names, both of them signed in their own handwritings.

Hermione numbly sat down on her bed. Ron and her had broken their engagement? What on Earth was going on? Of course she would marry Ron! Well, she hadn’t really brought herself to finally say ‘yes’ yet, but this was only because she doubted more or less everything these days. In less than three weeks she would hold her graduation certificate in her hands, and then she would have to set the course for her future. And one of her points would be marrying Ron.

Very likely, at least. Hermione didn’t feel ready to make such a big decision right now and she felt the same with the rest of her life. Regarding her career, for instance, she was interested in so many different fields, and yet there hadn’t been anything where she felt a wholehearted ‘yes’. Something was missing, and with Ron it was similar. She loved him but something was missing with him, too. Maybe it was because of the stress with the N.E.W.T.s, or maybe it was because of the pure horrors she had experienced last year.

Hermione still dreamt about the war against Voldemort almost every night, and every day she noticed how much that time had changed her. A lot of things she had valued before felt insignificant and useless now. And other things she had barely noticed before suddenly had become very important. How was she supposed to make any decisions in this kind of state? At the moment, she neither felt ready to accept Ron’s proposal, nor did she feel ready to say ‘no’. But even if she had blown off their engagement in the spur of the moment, she couldn’t remember anymore, Ron would have never approved of her decision.

So what was happening here? Why would someone fake her handwriting and plant this document on her? Hermione’s head hurt too much to think about this further and she decided to go downstairs to the Great Hall for breakfast. There would certainly be a chance to send an owl to Ron during the lunch break and they could hopefully sort this out very soon.

Hermione swayed slightly when she rose from the mattress. She felt like staying in bed all day but she was too far behind with her study schedule to allow herself to waste any more time. So she carefully walked down the stairs and unobtrusively sat down next to Ginny in the Great Hall.

“Hermione?“ Ginny turned towards her, a concerned look on her face. “Oh, Merlin, what’s going on with you? Are you alright?“

“I’m okay.“ In slow-motion, Hermione reached for a dry toast. “I’ve felt better, to be honest.“

“I was going to bring some breakfast back to the dorm for you.” Ginny stroked Hermione’s back sympathetically. “Maybe there’s a stomach virus going around, McGonagall looks really pale as well.”

Hermione raised her head and looked at the staff table. Indeed, Professor McGonagall looked a lot like Hermione felt right now. Her normally vigorous movements seemed tired and slowed, and even from the distance Hermione could see dark shadows under her usually vibrant eyes. Hermione watched the Headmistress straighten her shoulders to hide her condition and it seemed her staff didn’t notice anything. But Hermione could sense the heaviness surrounding her former Transfiguration Professor, and suddenly she felt the urgent need to cross the hall and take her into her arms to comfort her.

Hermione choked on her dry toast when a clear image emerged inside of her where she gathered Professor McGonagall into her arms and kissed her forehead. “I think you’re right, Ginny” she croaked, her eyes watery from coughing. “Maybe I’d better go back to bed.”

Something was really, really wrong, but Hermione felt too miserable to find out what it was. Was she losing her mind? She didn’t have any fever so why would she start hallucinating?

“No, I’d better take you to Madam Pomfrey,“ Ginny decided and pulled Hermione up from the bench. “You look awful.”

Hermione didn’t have the energy to protest and let Ginny guide her out of the Great Hall. When she turned around to pass the benches, Professor McGonagall raised her head for a second and looked at her. Hermione couldn’t say anything but the look went right through her. Her knees buckled and she had to reach out for the table to support herself. What the heck was going on with her? Professor McGonagall seemed kind of shocked too, but maybe Hermione had just imagined that.

“Are you okay?“ Ginny linked arms with her. “It’s pretty obvious you’ve caught a virus. You’re white as a sheet.”

 

* * *

 

Two hours later, Hermione sat next to Ginny on one of the wooden school benches, trying to concentrate on Professor Flitwick’s elaborations. Madam Pomfrey had given her a potion that had cured her pain within minutes, and Hermione felt fit enough for the Charms lesson. But although she was feeling better now physically, she still felt worn out and depressed. Her thoughts constantly revolved around the previous days which had mysteriously disappeared from her memory, and around the document in her pocket. She had thoroughly checked it out, and without doubt it was her own handwriting on the parchment. The words had been written in haste, as if she had been in a hurry. If somebody had wanted to fake her handwriting, they probably would have made a greater effort.

“Hey.” Ginny discreetly pushed her elbow into her friend’s ribs. “Did you understand the spell? Flitwick’s hand movement looks exactly like the one used for casting the Confundo spell.”

“What?” Hermione guiltily raised her head. She had missed at least the past ten minutes of the lesson. “You have to perform the movement less expansive, only the swing at the end is more pronounced.” She showed Ginny the movement under the table.

Ginny looked at her with a worried look. “It’s not just a stomach virus, is it?” she asked sympathetically. “There’s something bothering you…”

Hermione reached into her pocket and slid the piece of parchment into Ginny’s lap. Her friend peeked under the table, trying to act as if she was intrigued by Professor Flitwick’s explanations. “Merlin’s Beard, what’s that?” she whispered. “Did you write that?”

Hermione shrugged. “I found it in my pocket.”

“Does Ron know about this?”

“I’m going to send him an owl during lunch today.“ Hermione raised her hand, trying to pretend she was attentively following the lesson. Professor Flitwick wouldn’t pick her anyway since many students had to improve their grades before entering the N.E.W.T.s. Indeed, the short Professor called on Seamus Finnigan, who usually rarely uttered a word in the classroom, now got the chance to answer a question even a First-Year could have answered. Like Hermione, he had to repeat the seventh year, not for having been away for so long, but rather because the Carrow siblings had punished him so severely that he hadn’t been able to go to classes for several months.

“That’s really weird.” Ginny’s face was sprinkled with red spots. “Did you have a fight?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“You don’t remember anything about this?” Ginny sent Professor Flitwick a charming smile when he looked at her disapprovingly.

“Sometimes in the practical part of the exams students confuse their hand movement with the Confundo spell.” Professor Flitwick hopped from his pile of books. “I recommend you practice the Homenum Revelio charm diligently, so that you won’t confuse the examiner instead of making a concealed person visible.”

“Hermione, look…” Ginny pointed at the window a few inches above Professor Flitwick’s head. “Isn’t that Ron’s owl?”

Now Hermione saw it, too. An excited Pigwidgeon hovered in front of the window, impatiently bouncing against the pane. When the class started to giggle, Professor Flitwick turned around and opened the window with a swish of his wand so that Pig, who had just started another attempt to dash against the window, whooshed into the classroom like an oversized bullet and eventually crashed onto Hermione’s table where he remained lying motionlessly for several moments.

“It would be nice if Mr. Weasley’s owl would also stick to the prohibition of mail delivery during class,” Professor Flitwick stated disgruntledly before he continued his demonstration. Ginny had picked up the small animal to examine it for injuries, but as soon as Pig lay in her hand he angrily started to flap his wings and hopped on Hermione’s lap.

Hermione, who felt embarrassed for interrupting the class lesson, removed Ron’s message from Pig’s small leg. When she unrolled the parchment under her table she realized that it was the same document she had found in her pocket this morning. There was a short note attached to the parchment: I found this piece of parchment in my pocket. Do you have any idea what this is about? I’ll drop by at Hogwarts tonight, so we can talk. I’ll be at the gate at 6:30 pm. Ron. P.S. Harry will join me. He misses Ginny.

Hermione handed the note to Ginny under the table. She grinned happily when she read that Harry would accompany Ron. “We’re going to leave for the gate right after dinner,” she whispered, helping Hermione tie a quick response to Pig’s leg.

Hermione gave Ron’s owl a gentle pat before it flew back through the still open window with loud clamor. Professor Flitwick closed the window without another comment. Of course he hadn’t missed the whispering at Hermione’s table, but since she usually was his most attentive student he seemed to give her a pass on her lack of attention today.

The fact that Ron had found the same message in his robes made this issue even more mysterious. It didn’t look like a simple schoolboy prank. Ron was in London where he was completing his Auror training together with Harry. How could it be that he had found the same document in his pocket?

After Charms, Hermione and Ginny went straight to the Gryffindor common room and inspected the two documents more thoroughly. “The two parchments are completely identical.” Ginny rubbed her strained neck when she straightened her back again. “I’d say, one of these is the original, the other one is a copy.”

“It’s undoubtedly my own handwriting.” Hermione massaged her temples with both hands. Since their Charms lesson, the hammers in her head had returned. “You can’t just fake it like that.”

“Exactly.” Ginny took the document that Ron had found. “You usually write like this when you’re in a hurry.” She pointed at a few hastily spelled consonants.

“Let’s wait for Ron and Harry,” Hermione suggested, putting both documents back in her pocket. “I can’t think straight anymore and need to see Madam Pomfrey again.”

When Hermione reappeared at the Hospital Wing so shortly after her first visit, Madam Pomfrey recommended her to stay at the infirmary for the next 24 hours, but Hermione declined. The sooner she got some answers to her questions the sooner she would get better. In part, her headache might have to do with a nagging concern that had crept up on her during the day. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that she still hadn’t consented to Ron’s proposal. Maybe it actually wasn’t a good idea to marry him. Hermione often used to shake her head when other students told her about romantic evenings at the lake, about passionate kisses and butterflies in their stomachs. It seemed that it just wasn’t like her, not to mention like Ron. Ron was simply Ron, and you had to accept him as he was.

Basically, there wasn’t any urgent reason to make a commitment so early in her life. Hermione was just about to get her N.E.W.T.s, and who knew what life still had in store for her. How valuable was her engagement if a simple document could unsettle her like that? Involuntarily, Hermione thought of the moment at breakfast when she had suddenly imagined wrapping her arms around the tired Professor McGonagall. She had felt such tenderness for the Headmistress that the image alone warmed her entire body. Apparently, the examination stress was too much for her nerves, now she was fantasizing being a close friend to the Headmistress. Maybe even more than that.

From her first day at school, Hermione had been developing a secret crush on the strict Head of Gryffindor which she had come to accept as a simple school girl crush. But today it had been different from the usual. It had felt so real, so… authentic. Hermione shook her head again to get rid of the image. The most important thing was that she started to learn all the subject material she had failed to study for whatever reason. Therefore, she spent the afternoon bending over her books without being able to really concentrate on them. The hours crept by, until it was finally evening.

Hermione avoided looking at the staff table during dinner and focused on her soup and the upcoming meeting with Ron and Harry. In her mind, she had already made a list with questions she wanted to discuss with them.

“It wouldn’t hurt if Harry showed his face here more often.” Ginny wiped her mouth with a napkin. “He only drops by when something’s up.”

“Ron wrote that Harry misses you. He could have stayed in London instead, you know,” Hermione cheered her up and wondered at the same time why she didn’t feel like Ginny did. She had never wished for Ron to come more often. She was happy when she saw him, but when he stayed in London, she was usually so busy that she didn’t think much about him. Was this normal? Maybe they just weren’t the newly enamored couple anymore since they knew each other for so long. Harry and Ginny on the other hand, hadn’t seen each other most of the time in the previous year.

Ginny sighed deeply. “Auror training is so much more exciting than boring, old school. No wonder the boys don’t think much about us.”

Hermione felt she had had enough excitement for the rest of her life and was quite content with the hardly varying school routine. Studying distracted her from her memories of the war, and it felt safe and familiar. But Ginny wouldn’t understand that. Yes, she also had had a very difficult time after Fred’s death, like all Weasleys, but Ginny wouldn’t keep herself grounded with studying.

“Let’s go outside,” Ginny suggested. “The sun is shining, and we’ve spent the whole day in these cold walls.”

On their way out of the Great Hall, Hermione accidentally bumped into Professor McGonagall of all people, who had left dinner early as well. The Headmistress faltered and Hermione grabbed her arm to keep her from falling.

“Miss Granger.” The apologetic look the Headmistress cast at her caused small waves in Hermione’s stomach. “Please excuse my inattentiveness. I was lost in thought.”

“Me too.” Hermione gave her an encouraging smile. When Professor McGonagall mirrored her gesture, a heatwave shot through Hermione’s body and she hastily stepped back. “Have a nice evening, Professor,” she said quickly and turned to go.

”You too, Miss Granger. Enjoy the evening sun.”

Ginny had followed their interaction open-mouthed. “Enjoy the evening sun?” she repeated in a whisper, following Hermione to the heavy oak doors of the entrance hall. “What’s going on with McGonagall? First, she doesn’t see you, now she encourages you to appreciate life? Maybe she’s got a virus, too?”

Hermione avoided Ginny’s gaze. “I think it’s warm enough to be outside without jackets,” she said, striding on the grass. It was a beautiful, mild spring evening, almost summer, and the two friends sat down on a big stone near the gate to the grounds of Hogwarts.

“I hope Ron will bring us the rest of Mum’s banana cake.” Ginny lazily blinked into the evening sun. “She invited some friends last week, and I’m sure there’s some cake left.”

“Molly’s banana cake is the best,” Hermione agreed. “But her rhubarb pie is even yummier.”

“Don’t tell her that,” Ginny grinned. “Otherwise, you will drown in rhubarb pie for the next year.”

“I can imagine worse.” Hermione was glad to hear that Molly Weasley had started inviting people to the Burrow again. After Fred’s death, she had secluded herself from her friends and didn’t want to have anything to do with other people. Yet, she had started to return to life eventually and had taken up old habits again.

A loud pop interrupted their conversation and a second later Ron and Harry stood in front of them. “You look like two mermaids waiting for their mermen,” Ron greeted them, giving Hermione a kiss on her cheek, while Harry took Ginny into his arms.

“I prefer wizards like you.“ Ginny pressed a kiss on Harry’s lips.

“You too, I hope,” Ron turned towards Hermione. “This weird agreement must be a cheap joke.”

“That’s what I told Hermione,” Ginny agreed. “Did you ask George if he had anything to do with it?”

Ron nodded. “It’s not his style, but I asked him anyway. He assured me he didn’t do anything.”

“I have to show you something, Ron.” Hermione pulled both parchments out of her robes. “I found the same document in my pocket this morning.”

Ron stared at the two parchments with wide eyes. “Do you have a suitor somewhere who wants to separate us?” he asked, shaking his head. “Looks like somebody pulled a bad prank on you.”

“It’s clearly my handwriting,” Hermione explained worriedly. “Somebody is either very good at forging, or they made me writing this down.”

“And then they cast a memory charm on you?” Ron frowned skeptically.

“In that case, they had to cast one on you too, Ron.” Ginny pointed out. “Obviously, you also signed this document but don’t remember it either.”

“Maybe we should find out if Hermione copied the document herself,” Harry mused. “It would make it more likely that she was also the one who wrote it.”

“Are you speaking of Prior Incantato? Hermione hesitated. “I thought about that too, but…”

“Are you guys out of your minds?“ Ginny rolled her eyes. “You do realize we’re learning for the exams at the moment, don’t you? Hermione’s wand casts more than a hundred spells every day. How do you want to figure out which ones had to do with the exam preparations and which ones hadn’t?”

“The order will help us.” Reluctantly, Hermione pulled out her wand. “It’s kind of an effort, but I think we’ll be able to detect if a spell doesn’t match with the others.”

“Have fun then,” Ginny scoffed and lay down on her rock, pointedly sunbathing. “This could take a while.”

Unlike an hour ago, Hermione suddenly felt a surprisingly weak motivation to get the bottom of her amnesia, but Harry and Ron insisted. They didn’t have many options to find out the truth, but this strategy could at least help them to find some kind of clue. “Prior Incantato”, Harry said loudly, and all three of them stepped back as Hermione’s wand moved back and forth. It looked as if it were dancing while it revealed every spell Hermione had performed over the last few days in the reverse order.

“Being your wand is pretty tough,” Ron muttered. “It never ever gets a break…”

He choked on the rest of his sentence when Hermione’s wand performed two Obliviate spells in a row. Hermione had also paled. She couldn’t remember the majority of the spells, and the two memory charms were a mystery to her, too. Afterwards, a series of Transfiguration spells followed and then charms for other subjects Hermione had apparently practiced, but she couldn’t remember any of those either. Obviously, she had indeed been studying for the last few days, but it had all vanished from her memory as if it had never happened.

Hermione had barely recovered from her shock when the wand performed several memory charms again. Four, to be exact. And directly afterwards it danced the Geminospell they had been looking for. Even Ginny widened her eyes in surprise when the doubling charm hissed through the air. Had Hermione actually made the duplicate of the agreement herself, or had she made a copy of something entirely different? And why had she performed six memory spells over the last few days?

When Hermione’s wand started to perform all charms that were required for the Defense Against The Dark Art exams, Harry intervened and cancelled the procedure. “Okay…,” he said slowly. “Something is definitely wrong.”

“Why did you use all these memory spells and don’t remember them?“ Ron asked, confused.

“That’s obvious, isn’t it?“ Hermione responded, irritated about his slow-wittedness. “Because somebody else cast the Obliviate spell on me. Something must have happened that obviously nobody is supposed to remember.”

Harry sat down on the rock next to Ginny. “So we’re dealing with at least seven memory charms here. Six of them were cast by Hermione. But only the two last of the memory charms seemed to have been performed yesterday. The other four date back further behind, as well as the doubling charm.”

“Ginny,” Ron turned to his sister. “Have you noticed anything unusual about Hermione lately?“

“No.” Ginny shook her head. “Only that she looked as if she hadn’t slept for a week this morning. But she had caught a stomach virus, so…” She went quiet. “Well, if it was a virus,” she added thoughtfully.

“And the days before yesterday?“ Ron probed.

“I don’t know.“ Ginny shrugged, slightly irritated. “You can’t expect me to remember every tiny little detail. I have to focus on my exams after all.”

Her remark made Hermione look up. “An important side effect of the memory charm is that you forget you have forgotten something,” she explained. “One gives vague answers and subconsciously avoids thinking about the issue any further. An amnesia of the amnesia Professor Flitwick called it once.”

“Are you saying I could be one of the people you cast the Obliviate spell on?” Ginny asked in surprise.

Harry walked to his girlfriend. “Tell us about your last couple of days in detail. What do you remember?”

“Have you been together with Hermione the whole day?“ Ron asked.

“Look who’s talking, Ron,” Ginny scoffed. “You found the same document as Hermione after all. So it’s pretty obvious you two must have met somehow.”

Ron looked at Harry, who looked at Hermione. “Ginny’s right,” Hermione said eventually. “We all should try to track back our last few days.”

“Yes, the three of us should check our wands, too,” Harry agreed. “I know it’s a lot of work, but it’s the only way to get more information.”

They spent the next few hours checking each of their wands with the Prior Incantato charm, without any resounding success, though. At least they knew now that none of the other three had performed a memory charm, and that Ron had cast an Accio spell several times without remembering it. That had however been at least three days ago.

When they went over to back track their last couple of days, it was already getting dark and they had to lighten their wands as they wrote down all of their memories from the last few days. It turned out that Ron, Harry and Ginny were able to describe the previous day entirely, but Hermione couldn’t.

“I remember you told me yesterday that you had to go to the Hospital Wing,” Ginny said suddenly. “You said you were taking care of someone there.”

“At the Hospital Wing?” Ron raised his eyebrows. “Then we should pay Madam Pomfrey a visit.”

Hermione felt a strange resistance against Ron’s suggestion which told her they were on the right track. “Yes, we should,” she agreed. “I’m wondering if there had been a day when the four of us had been at Hogwarts. And whether it was the same day when Ron performed those multiple Accio charms he can’t remember.”

Harry ran his fingers through his thick black hair which looked even messier than usual. “It’s likely that the three of us received Hermione’s memory charm. But what about the other three?”

Hermione looked at him in horror. The idea that she might have cast a spell on her friends dismayed her. Even though she probably had had a good reason for it, it made her feel ashamed.

“Do you think there’s a connection between Hermione’s visits at the Hospital Wing and this mysterious issue?“ Ginny asked.

“Of course, otherwise she would remember what she did at the Hospital Wing.” Ron stepped to Hermione who stared dead ahead, deep in thought. “I think a patient from the future visited Hogwarts and turned Hermione’s head. That’s why she wrote that agreement. And when he returned to his own time she cast an Obliviate spell on all of us so that we wouldn’t remember anything about the future. Before the guy traveled back, he cast an Obliviate charm on Hermione as well.” He put his arm around Hermione in an effort to comfort her. “Luckily, she’s back in her right mind now.”

“That doesn’t explain why you signed the agreement, too.” Ginny made no secret about how far-fetched she considered Ron’s theory. “And it doesn’t explain why Hermione doesn’t remember anything she learned for the N.E.W.T.s. in the course of the last days.”

“Exactly.” Harry nodded. “Actually we don’t know anything. Except from the fact that we obviously shouldn’t remember something that might possibly be associated with something that happened at the Hospital Wing. Or maybe it wasn’t.”

Ginny stood up and hugged her dejected friend. “There’s no reason for you to feel guilty,” she told Hermione. “I’m sure you had a good reason.”

“We should ask Madam Pomfrey next.“ Ron rolled up the parchment where they had written down their memories of the last days. It was dark by now, and Hermione and Ginny had to go back to their dorm.

“Was there anyone else who behaved somewhat strangely in the last couple of days?” asked Harry who wasn’t ready to give up yet.

Immediately the tired face of Professor McGonagall came to Hermione’s mind, but she knew better than to say that aloud. Her heart beat faster as she put her wand back into her robes, trying to think of something else.

“McGonagall“, Ginny responded with a look at Hermione. “She seemed unusually distracted recently, but it was even worse today. During breakfast, she was pale as death.” Ginny giggled. “Maybe it was just a stomach virus, though.”

“Then we should not only pay Madam Pomfrey a visit, but Professor McGonagall as well,” Harry decided.

“I don’t know, Harry.” Ginny slid her small hand into his bigger one. “If it has anything to do with the future, maybe we shouldn’t investigate further. We didn’t get our memory charms for nothing.”

“Are you kidding me?“ Ron protested. “This crap is responsible for the fact that my fiancée suddenly felt the need to break up with me! Or I with her, whatever. I want to sort this out once and for all, otherwise it will stick with us forever.”

Hermione felt torn between Ginny’s and Ron’s arguments. She felt a strange fear to get to the bottom of this, but like Ron, she knew the document would always linger between them if they didn’t know what had led to it.

Eventually Hermione’s curiosity won out. She hated not to be able to understand something. Even though it would mean a big fat rebuke from the Headmistress, Hermione needed to know what had happened within the last several days that had had such an impact on her life. It wasn’t just about the agreement, it was also about her reaction to it. Why was she so easily shaken by this? And why couldn’t she get rid of the feeling that something meaningful had happened that she couldn’t remember? “Ginny and I have to go back,” she said to Ron and Harry. “Can you come back tomorrow evening? Then, we can go to the Hospital Wing and to the Headmistress’s office together.”

“We’ll be there as soon as we finished our training,” Ron promised, kissing her cheek. “Don’t worry so much, Hermione.”

“Easier said than done.” She kissed his cheek back.

When the four friends said their goodbyes, Hermione had already counted the hours till they would meet again to continue their research. Thanks to Madam Pomfrey’s potion, the headache had almost subsided, but she still had a restless night ahead of her nevertheless.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

 

In the end, it wasn’t Hermione but Ginny who had a restless night after their meeting. “I don’t know if we should do it,” she said as soon as Hermione opened her eyes in the morning. “I thought about it all night. Of course, I’m curious too, but maybe we shouldn’t interfere with fate.”

Hermione rolled on her other side with a groan. “I don’t intend to interfere. I just want to know what’s going on.”

“You’re kidding yourself, Hermione,“ Ginny warned. “As soon as you know something that will happen in the future, it will affect you, no matter what. It will affect the way you think and the way you act.”

Hermione rubbed the sleep from her eyes and kicked back her blanket. “What would you do if you suddenly discovered a note from yourself claiming you wouldn’t want to marry Harry?”

“I don’t know.“ Ginny stretched her limbs, but quickly pulled them back when she got a cramp under her left foot. “If you actually wrote this document you deliberately broke the law and now you get the consequences. One violation leads to another, and many more could follow.” She started striding up and down the room, trying to get rid of her cramps, and collected her undergarment on the way.

“You sound like our professors,” Hermione muttered, sitting up on her bed. Her headache was better than yesterday but still present. “Usually I would agree, but in this case…”

“I know, I know,“ Ginny interrupted her, fishing for her bra with her right foot. “I would feel the same if I were you. I’m just trying to be the voice of reason which you usually are.”

“Don’t worry, that job will be fully covered by McGonagall this afternoon.” Hermione reached for her towel.

“In her current condition? Don’t be too sure.” Ginny made a snorting noise. “Did you notice the way she looked at you when you bumped into each other yesterday?”

“No, how did she look at me?” Hermione quickly lifted her towel. Ginny didn’t need to see her face.

“Well… I don’t know… it was kind of strange.” Ginny tucked her underwear under her arm and threw a pair of socks on a pile of dirty laundry. “As if she saw you for the very first time…”

“You’re just imagining things, Ginny.” Hermione found it high time to escape to the bathroom. “And I don’t want to talk about the note and stuff today. I need to focus on my studies.”

 

* * *

 

Hermione’s hope that it would be easier for her to concentrate on her books if she didn’t talk about the note in her pocket was shattered already in their first lesson. Usually she didn’t let anything distract her from her studying but today her thoughts constantly drifted back to the recent events.

Was it actually a good idea to talk to Professor McGonagall? Obviously, the Headmistress would share Ginny’s opinion and she would make sure Hermione and her friends didn’t continue their research. Yet, there was a small chance they might elicit some important detail from Professor McGonagall if they acted carefully.

“Why don’t we go to the Hospital Wing right after lunch?” Ginny whispered to Hermione during their Transfiguration lesson. “You could talk to Madam Pomfrey about your headache and casually ask her about her last few days.” Professor Montgomery had instructed the class to transform some white mice into parrots, and all of the students had scattered in the classroom while practicing. Not only the constant murmuring of incantations, but also the squawking of the parrots and the terrified squeaking of the mice increased the noise in the classroom so much that Hermione and Ginny could freely talk to each other without being overheard.

“I thought you didn’t want us to continue our investigations?“ Hermione carefully pulled a white mouse out of its cage. The poor animal was so terrified that it didn’t even try to defend itself.

“I don’t, but I don’t want to be a spoilsport either.” Ginny quickly pulled back her wand when her mouse morphed into a blue budgerigar. In panic, the animal spread its wings and immediately tried to escape towards the window.

“Just skip the last two sentences on page 76,” Hermione advised while the red shimmering parrot on her arm cocked its head and looked at her curiously. “It works better that way.”

Ginny had a hard time catching her budgerigar so that she could transform it back. To her surprise, a loudly squawking parrot sat in front of her at her second attempt. “You’re a genius, Hermione!” Ginny enthusiastically stroked the animal’s blue-yellow feathers. “How do you know these things?”

“It’s kind of obvious if you have also read page 77.“ Hermione transformed her parrot back into a mouse and put it back into its cage. “The newest edition of the book is full of errors. I have no idea why Professor Montgomery doesn’t notice them.”

“McGonagall would have spotted them immediately,” Ginny agreed with her. “But since she’s become the Headmistress, she doesn’t have time for her former subject anymore.”

At the mentioning of the Headmistress Hermione’s heart skipped a beat. For some odd reason she was afraid of the upcoming encounter with Professor McGonagall. But an appointment with the Headmistress was inevitable. No one was as well informed as she was, and a mysterious patient at the Hospital Wing would have hardly escaped her knowledge. And maybe the encounter with the Headmistress would at least have the nice side effect that Hermione finally stopped thinking about her twenty-four seven. She had never felt so intensely drawn to someone and it confused her deeply. A confrontation with reality could only be a good thing.

The double lesson in Transfiguration dragged on painfully slowly, and Hermione wasn’t the only one sighing in relief when Professor Montgomery finally declared the lesson over. The following lesson at the greenhouse was a lot more distracting, especially because the plants seemed to love their new apprentice, Neville Longbottom, and showed their affection for him in very entertaining ways. The class nearly cracked up when Neville was dramatically prevented from leaving the greenhouse by two Abyssinian Shrivelfigs at the end of the lesson. Professor Sprout needed all her authority to rescue him.

The sight had been so funny that Ginny was still giggling on the way to the Hospital Wing. As a precaution, Hermione had put a painful expression on her face and tried to recall her hammering headache from the previous day. Her grimace seemed to be convincing since Madam Pomfrey cast a worried glance at her as soon as they entered the Hospital Wing. “Are you still not well, Miss Granger?”

“The headache didn’t wear off,“ Hermione lied. Hopefully Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t just send her away with an even stronger dose of that bitter potion she had given her yesterday. “I really don’t feel well. Could you please examine me again?”

“Of course.“ Madam Pomfrey instructed Hermione to lie down on a bed and then started to draw her wand over her body without actually touching her. “I can’t find anything unusual,” she said, putting away her wand. “Except that you’re pretty tense, my dear.”

“That’s because of the exams.“ Hermione rose from the bed, grimacing as if she was in pain. “Did any other students tell you about any symptoms?”

Madam Pomfrey stopped short. She went quiet for a while as if she didn’t know how to respond. “Not to my knowledge,” she said eventually.

“That’s a relief.“ Ginny gave Madam Pomfrey a charming smile. “So nobody had to stay here overnight lately?“

Madam Pomfrey darted a surprised glance at her. “I…,” she said hesitatingly. “I… don’t think so…, no.”

Hermione exchanged a look with Ginny who had also noticed the strange choice of words. “Fortunately, there are less people sick during the summer,” Hermione said conversationally. “How many patients did you have here within the last few days?”

Instead of responding, Madam Pomfrey walked to another room and actually came back with the same bitter potions she had given Hermione the previous day. “Why do you want to know that?”

“Oh, I just would be happy for you if you could take a breath for a change.” Hermione smiled disarmingly. “Maybe that way you could take care of other things…”

“Well, I have…“ Madam Pomfrey interrupted herself and went quiet. “I can’t exactly remember right now, but everything was well,” she added in a slightly harsh tone.

Madam Pomfrey’s voice made it unmistakably clear that she considered the matter closed, but Ginny wasn’t ready to give up yet. “There’s a rumor at the Gryffindor tower that an unusual patient had been here lately,” she dared to advance. “But we’re going to tell the others that it’s just a rumor, right?”

“Of course, it’s just a rumor!“ Madam Pomfrey’s voice reached a dangerous pitch. “I would certainly know if something unusual had happened here. Believe me, Miss Weasley, there’s nothing I haven’t seen in my life.” She gave the potion to Hermione who took it obediently. “A quick recovery to you, Miss Granger.”

 

* * *

 

”She’s definitely affected by a memory charm,” Hermione stated as she and Ginny went back to the Gryffindor common room. “The more concrete our questions were, the more vague her answers became.”

“Yeah, we could have skipped that,“ Ginny sighed.

“Well, I found our visit quite revealing.” Hermione lowered her voice when they stopped before the portrait of the Fat Lady. “We now have another clue that something must have happened at the Hospital Wing, otherwise Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t be under the influence of a memory charm.”

“Of your memory charm you mean,“ Ginny corrected her with a grin. “Evidence suggests that you were the one who erased the incident from her memory. She could be the fourth of your six.”

“Bat spleen,“ Hermione said loudly before climbing through the open portrait hole. “We don’t really know that, Ginny,” she clarified as the portrait hole closed behind them. “If I could only check the wands of all professors with the Prior Incantato charm, but of course they would never let us do that.”

“Let’s focus on McGonagall for now.“ Ginny dropped on the red sofa in the common room, indicating with a gesture that Hermione should join her. “She’s for sure the toughest nut to crack.”

Again, Hermione’s stomach fluttered at Ginny’s mentioning of Hogwarts‘ Headmistress. The closer their encounter came, the more nervous she felt. Why did she feel so drawn to her? And why did she fear their encounter so much at the same time? It didn’t make sense.

Of course, she had always been a bit afraid of Professor McGonagall, and her former Transfiguration professor hadn’t been her Boggart in her third year for nothing. There hadn’t been any other person in the world Hermione had longed for appreciation from so much, or from which she had enjoyed praise or any kind of sympathy so much. But what she was feeling now, was distinctly different. The previous night, she had had a steamy dream of herself and the Headmistress, which she preferred not to think about right now. Hermione quickly lowered her gaze as her cheeks started to burn.

“So what do we do now?“ Ginny put her legs over the armrest of the sofa and made herself comfortable.

“Study until dinner.“ Hermione encouragingly patted Ginny’s thigh when her friend pulled a face. “You don’t have to join me if you don’t want to.”

“I know,“ Ginny moaned. “Unfortunately, you’re right though.“

Hence, they took their material for the exams from their dormitory and focused on their studies for the next three hours. Every now and then, Ginny darted a frustrated glance at Hermione, who was grimly absorbed in her books.

“What’s the matter?“ Hermione asked, slightly annoyed, when Ginny rammed her elbow into her rips.

“Time for dinner.” Ginny closed her book with a demonstrative thud.

“Is it this late already?“ Hermione looked at her watch in shock. “I think I’m going to skip dinner today. I’m not hungry anyway.” She was determined to read at least two more chapters, and there wouldn’t be any time for that after dinner.

“Okay, I’ll fetch you something,“ Ginny offered generously. It wasn’t the first time Hermione skipped dinner, nor was it the first time that Ginny smuggled a sandwich out of the Great Hall for her. “Let’s meet at the gate at seven o`clock.”

Ginny kept her promise and offered her friend a big slice of bread with cheese when Hermione appeared at the gate just in time.

“Thank you, Ginny.“ Hermione let the bread disappear under her robes. She still didn’t feel hungry. “I’m afraid it’s not a very good idea to bother McGonagall this late.“

“Ron and Harry couldn’t make it sooner, so we didn’t have much of a choice.” Ginny settled on the big rock she had sat on the previous day. “And we will be a lot more convincing with Ron being there as well. After all, he’s involved in this, too.”

A familiar pop interrupted their conversation, announcing the arrival of Harry and Ron. “We shouldn’t waste any time,” Harry said after the friends had greeted each other. “The later we appear at McGonagall’s door, the grumpier she will be.”

“What do we tell her?“ Ron asked on their way to the Headmistress’s office.

“The truth, of course.” Hermione shot a surprised glance at him. “You know it usually ends badly when people try to lie at her.”

“But there’s no way she will help us.“ Ron made a repulsing move with his wand when Peeves tried to throw a watermelon at them. The melon crashed loudly into a knight’s armor without any of them paying attention. All four of them knew it was a lot more difficult to get rid of Peeves if they paid attention to him in any way. “Wouldn’t it be better to trick her a little bit?”

“That’s useless with McGonagall.“ Ginny jumped light-footedly over two honeydew melons that Peeves had rolled into their way. “Telling the truth is definitely more promising.”

“We’re going to send Hermione ahead first,“ Harry decided. “McGonagall’s always had trouble saying no to her.”

“That’s not true,“ Hermione objected, blushing furiously. “Why can’t anyone of you talk to her?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” Ginny patted Hermione’s shoulder when they stopped in front of the gargoyle.

“Does anyone know the password?” Ron scratched his head. “Hermione, do you know it?”

“Silver Quaffle!“ Peeves cackled from the ceiling.

“Golden Snitch,“ Harry said loudly, and only seconds later the gargoyle actually started to give way. “Thanks, Peeves,” Harry grinned as they stepped on the stony spiral staircase which carried them upwards to the Headmistress’s office.

They hadn’t arrived yet when the heavy oak door opened, and Professor McGonagall appeared in the door frame. “What are you four doing here?” she asked with a frown.” Do you realize what time it is?”

“Good evening, Professor.“ Harry went to the Headmistress, shaking her hand. “We’re sorry to bother you so late.”

“Well, come in,“ Professor McGonagall responded brusquely. “I’m afraid I don’t have much time, though.” She gestured at a sofa near the fireplace while she sat down behind her massive desk. She looked a lot more petite than Dumbledore, but every bit as graceful. “What can I do for you?”

Everyone waited for Hermione to say something, but she just stared mutely at Professor McGonagall. The Headmistress had taken off her typical teacher gown and was now wearing a white blouse with a green, velvet shimmering skirt which was held in place by a broad black belt. The casual clothes made her look softer and years younger. She just looked gorgeous.

When Ron coughed pointedly, Hermione finally regained her composure and took a step towards Professor McGonagall while her three friends sat down on the sofa. “Apparently, some strange things have happened at Hogwarts recently,” she started cautiously. “Ron and I are greatly interested in…” She faltered when her eyes met the green ones of the Headmistress. “… in…”, she stuttered, “… in finding out…”

“We are greatly interested in finding out what actually happened,“ Ron finished for her from the sofa.

“Strange things?“ Professor McGonagall face darkened. “What are you talking about, Miss Granger?“

“Didn’t you notice anything, Professor?” Harry asked curiously.

“No, I didn’t notice anything, Mr. Potter.” Professor McGonagall didn’t seem to like it that Ron and Harry had interrupted her conversation with Hermione. “But I’m sure you will explain to me what you think I was supposed to have noticed.”

“What did you do last week?“ Ron asked plainly while Hermione secretly rolled her eyes. She doubted the Headmistress would tell him anything.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Mr. Weasley,” Professor McGonagall said coolly. “Please, answer my question.”

“We think that something out of the ordinary happened at Hogwarts recently and that you would certainly know about it. So, it would be great to know how you spent your past couple of days,” Ron explained while Hermione, embarrassed by his bluntness, lowered her eyes to the floor. “If you don’t remember your last few days very well, it might be possible Hermione cast a memory charm on you…”

“I am usually very busy, Mr. Weasley.” Professor McGonagall pierced Ron with her green eyes. “And I don’t think I have to answer to you about all the things I did this week. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“But you know that a memory charm also causes amnesia of the amnesia, don’t you, Professor?” Ginny supported her brother.

“So we’d like to ask you whether you could check your wand for all the spells you performed within the past five days or so,” Harry added.

Professor McGonagall rose from her chair, appearing threateningly tall as she walked over to Harry. “What on Earth gave you the idea something out of the ordinary happened at Hogwarts?”

Finally Hermione got her voice back and positioned herself in front of Harry. “Professor, would it be possible that I talk to you one-to-one for a moment?”

Four pairs of eyes turned towards her in surprise. Eventually, Professor McGonagall walked to a door opposite to the sofa. “Would you please make yourself comfortable at my living room for a little while,” she said to Harry, Ron and Ginny. “One of the house elves will offer you something to drink.”

When her three friends passed her, Hermione’s stomach revolted unwillingly. It hadn’t been the plan that she would face the Headmistress alone, but now there was no way back.

As soon as the door had closed, Professor McGonagall turned to Hermione. “Well?” she asked in a matter-of-fact tone. “What do you wish to tell me, Miss Granger?”

Hermione blushed deeply without knowing why. “May I tell you what happened yesterday?” she asked, unusually shy.

“Be my guest.“ Professor McGonagall pointed at a chair in front of her desk and sat down behind it once again. “If anyone else behaved in my office like the four of you just did, I usually would have long since ushered them out. I hope you realize that, Miss Granger.”

“I’m really sorry, Professor, but we’re all very upset.“ Hermione obediently took a seat. “It‘s so confusing.”

“Obviously.“ Professor McGonagall smiled, taking a tin out of her drawer and offered Hermione a biscuit. “So please, enlighten me.“ Piles of parchments and files, neatly sorted on her desk, were probably the reason for Professor McGonagall’s curtly manners at the beginning of their encounter, but now she had seemingly decided to make some time for Hermione.

“Yesterday, I awoke two hours later than normal,“ Hermione started after she had taken a polite bite of the biscuit. It tasted of ginger and was surprisingly delicious as if it had just jumped out of the stove. “I had a hammering headache and felt totally worn out without knowing why. Then, during my morning routine, a note fell out of my pocket. It was an agreement, written in my own handwriting, announcing that Ron and I had agreed to separate and cancel our engagement because we both had come to the conclusion it would be better that way.” Hermione looked up briefly and noticed Professor McGonagall was listening attentively.

“A few hours later I got an owl from Ron. He had found the same document in his pocket. Like me, he didn’t remember any of this,” Hermione continued with a little more confidence. “So Ron, Harry, Ginny, and I met yesterday evening in order to find out what was going on.”

“I’m aware of that,” Professor McGonagall nodded.

“You are?“ Hermione paused, surprised. “But…“

“As Mr. Weasley pointed out, I need to be informed about everything going on at Hogwarts,” Professor McGonagall explained with the hint of a smile. “Of course, I knew that Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley were entering Hogwarts’ grounds. Did you find out anything?”

Hermione was relieved the Headmistress finally took their matter seriously. “We tried to find out whether the documents were just a stupid prank, or if the agreement was genuine,” she continued. “Well… if you get a document about yourself announcing you shouldn’t marry the man you love… that’s quite important, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.” Professor McGonagall leaned back in her chair and put her glasses next to the biscuit tin. The evening sun behind the window made her green eyes sparkle like the waves of the Pacific, and Hermione promptly lost her train of thought. “And?” Professor McGonagall probed. “What’s your question for me?“

Hermione pulled herself together. “We used the Prior Incantato spell to find out if I performed a doubling charm recently,” she said hastily. “It turned out that I actually did cast a Gemino spell on something, although we still don’t know if it was the agreement or not. And we also found out that I performed six memory charms.”

“Six Obliviate charms?“ Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “And you don’t remember any of them?”

“No.“ Hermione shook her head. The Headmistress was surprisingly understanding towards her, so Hermione hesitatingly revealed the next, unfortunately necessary, detail. “There’s something else, Professor,” she said carefully. “We believe that whatever happened in the previous few days had something to do with a time turner.”

“Probably, yes.“ Professor McGonagall nodded, apparently not surprised at all. “Why else the many memory charms?”

“Yes, exactly.“ Hermione almost didn’t dare to ask the next question. “Would you help us nevertheless, Professor?“

The Headmistress fell silent and looked absent-mindedly at the neglected piles of parchment on her desk. “You know I can’t, Miss Granger,” she said eventually. “It’s ethically unacceptable.”

“What am I supposed to do then?“ Hermione asked desperately. “There’s no reason not to marry Ron except… except this document and its duplicate.”

“I understand your situation, Miss Granger.” Professor McGonagall rose from her chair and walked towards the window. “But as I said before, there’s not much escaping my knowledge at Hogwarts. The fact that neither you nor I remember this incident, whatever it was, indicates that I am under the influence of the Obliviate spell as well. It would at least explain why it is difficult for me as well to remember my past few days.” Her eyes were fixed on the treetops of the Forbidden Forest where the sun was slowly going down. “I hadn’t thought about it much, but that’s probably caused by the spell itself. Only the helpful comment of your friend Miss Weasley made me realize my amnesia.”

“So you share my theory?“ Hermione asked anxiously.

“Yes.“ Professor McGonagall turned back towards her. “But that doesn’t mean I support your plan. If I accepted the memory charm of my own volition, which I assume I did, I was obviously convinced that it was the right thing to do. And it would be wrong to decide differently now.”

“I however seem to have considered it important enough not to follow the law,“ Hermione objected bravely. “And Ron didn’t follow it either. It was a mutual agreement, he signed it, too.”

“What prevents you from following the document’s advice then, if you found it so important to break the law?” Professor McGonagall pointed with her wand at the fireplace and immediately, a comforting fire started to warm the room. “Which I don’t approve at all, by the way.”

“I can’t do that as long as I don’t know why and in which context this document was written.“ Hermione became more and more desperate. Professor McGonagall wouldn’t support them, that much was obvious. Wasn’t the Headmistress at least a tiny little bit curious about what had happened at Hogwarts? She just had to be. But anyway, she wasn’t willing to help them. So how could Hermione find out now what had really happened? She couldn’t just leave things the way they were.

“May I ask you a question, Miss Granger?“ Professor McGonagall’s tone was suddenly very different and Hermione felt her heartbeat quicken immediately.

“Yes, of course, Professor.“

“Why did you want to talk to me alone?“

Hermione averted Professor McGonagall’s gaze and looked at the crimson ball hovering above the Forbidden Forest. She had wanted to speak with the Headmistress alone because Ron had been on the verge of ruining the whole meeting with his insensitive questions. But there had also been another reason that she realized only now.

“Is there something you haven’t told me yet?“ Professor McGonagall stood very close to her now and Hermione felt a hot wave burning through her veins.

She took a deep breath. “Do you… do you feel… maybe… kind of different somehow… since yesterday, Professor?” she asked hesitantly.

“I felt unusually tired yesterday, to be honest,“ Professor McGonagall responded. “But I’m feeling better today.”

Hermione nodded mutely.

“But that’s obviously not what you meant?” Professor McGonagall looked at her attentively.

“No.“ Hermione turned bright red. “What I meant was… Do you feel differently about me?”

Professor McGonagall hesitated. “That’s a strange question,” she said eventually. “Why do you want to know that?“

“Because I feel differently about you.“

There. Finally. She had said it. Hermione didn’t dare look at the Headmistress, but she felt her presence and heard her breathing.

“Differently?“ Professor McGonagall asked quietly. “In what way?“

“I want to kiss you all the time.“

Professor McGonagall abruptly turned around and walked back to her desk. “Miss Granger,” she said sternly after she had sat down again. “As I just told you, I don’t approve of any further research and I expect you and your friends to abide by the law.” She spoke calmly and deliberately, but Hermione heard the trembling in her voice. “You wouldn’t be in this situation if you had observed the rules regarding time turners before. It is all the more important you do it now.”

Hermione nodded without lifting her gaze from the floor. Why did it hurt so much what Professor McGonagall was saying? Hermione hadn’t expected anything else and she was angry at herself as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

“I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything different, Miss Granger.“ Professor McGonagall’s voice sounded almost pleadingly and all of a sudden, Hermione understood the situation the Headmistress was in. Of course, she wasn’t allowed to support their investigation, but that didn’t mean she didn’t know what Hermione was talking about.

Hermione raised her head and the look in Professor McGonagall’s eyes made her shiver. Ginny had been right. Minerva McGonagall saw her with different eyes, too. But she would certainly never admit that to Hermione, and maybe not even to herself.

Hermione gave her a quiet smile and opened the door to the next room. “Come back in, we are done here,” she told the others.

All of her friends held a glass of lemonade in their hands when they returned to the office. “And?” Ron turned to Hermione immediately. “Will she help us?“

“No, she won’t,“ Professor McGonagall responded, now the strict Headmistress again. “I ask you to let the matter rest, even though the temptation might be strong.”

“But Professor,“ Harry protested. “We…“

“Mr. Potter, you are certainly aware that I have to punish Miss Granger and Miss Weasley if they oppose my order,” Professor McGonagall interrupted him, her eyes flashing dangerously. “Every violation has to be reported to the ministry and believe me, I won’t hesitate to do that.”

Harry went quiet. Obviously he noticed that their plan had reached its limit. “We better go now,” he told the others. “Thank you for your time, Professor.”

“Thank you for your trust, Mr. Potter,“ Professor McGonagall nodded. “I know it’s difficult to deal with a conflict like this.”

They had barely arrived at the gargoyle when Ron blurted out: “So we’ll do it without McGonagall’s help.”

“I’m with you,“ Harry agreed.

“Me too,“ Ginny said immediately.

Ron nodded with relief and looked at Hermione. “All we need is a plan, and that’s usually your responsibility.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

It turned out that continuing their investigation was a lot more difficult than Hermione had thought. The approaching N.E.W.T. tests took up all of their time, and Harry and Ron had to pass intermediate exams in line with their Auror training in London as well. Furthermore, nobody at Hogwarts seemed to have noticed anything unusual during the time Hermione was not able to remember.

While Ginny had asked around among plenty of other students Hermione had talked to the professors. Nobody could provide any useful information except that Professor Slughorn told them he had brewed a potion to stabilize a patient’s circulation at the time in question, but he didn’t know for whom it had been. That didn’t necessarily mean that this had anything to do with the mysterious patient but they couldn’t completely exclude it. After talking to Professor Slughorn Hermione had again spoken to Madam Pomfrey but as with her previous attempt, she hadn’t gotten any answers. Hence, the only person able to help them was still Professor McGonagall who refused to cooperate with them.

So their investigation started to go in circles, and five days before the N.E.W.T. exams they still hadn’t found out anything new. Especially Hermione and Ron were frustrated with the situation which was probably the main reason why they clashed in a heated argument. Hermione asked Ron to put their relationship on a hold till they knew for sure on which basis the agreement had been written while Ron insisted on maintaining their engagement as long as they didn’t find a solid reason against it. Their emotions boiled over so much that Harry and Ginny eventually intervened, separating the two squabblers. Hermione and Ron had agreed on a truce but they hadn’t talked to each other since then.

Concurrently with this, it became increasingly obvious that during the timespan Hermione didn’t remember, something must have happened concerning herself and Professor McGonagall. There was definitely a new quality in her feelings for the Headmistress, and she could see that Professor McGonagall was confused, too. But Hermione didn’t get the chance to talk to her because the Headmistress had been avoiding her since their conversation in her office.

For the first time, Professor McGonagall didn’t deal with a situation with her usual poise and that only increased Hermione’s suspicion. On the one hand, the Headmistress avoided talking to her, on the other hand, Hermione often felt Professor McGonagall’s eyes on her when she wasn’t looking.

Two days before the start of the N.E.W.T. tests, every Seven-Year was summoned to the Headmistress’s office in order to do the necessary formalities for the ministry. Hermione was the only one who hadn’t received a time for her appointment yet, and when Professor Flitwick walked towards her after the Transfiguration lesson, she was convinced Professor McGonagall had found some far-fetched excuse to let her deputy handle the formalities with Hermione. To her surprise he gave her a note instead. “Miss Granger, you are requested to come to the Headmistress’s office at five o`clock,” he told her with a cheery smile.

A sharp screw seemed to pierce into her gut while Hermione tried to reciprocate Professor Flitwick’s smile. “Thank you, I’ll be there.” Now that she thought of it, talking to the deputy seemed a lot easier than speaking to a Headmistress as cool as an iceberg. But there wasn’t anything Hermione could do. The appointment was necessary to be formally admitted to the N.E.W.T. exams, and so Hermine arrived right on time at the Headmistress’s office.

Unlike Hermione had expected, Professor McGonagall let her in with a warm smile. “So the time has come for you to leave our school, Miss Granger,” she said leading Hermione to the visitor chair at her desk. It was positioned next to the desk now, probably because they could take a look at Hermione’s records together that way. “It’s not easy to let a student like you go but I’m happy for you. Now you can meet new challenges.”

Hermione swallowed hard as she sat down on the chair next to the desk. With one single sentence, Professor McGonagall had summarized all the things that gave her a constant headache. The end of her time at Hogwarts, the approaching decisions about her professional future, the farewell to all students and teachers, especially to her former Head of House. “Will I see you again?” she asked quietly.

Professor McGonagall reached for a thick file, which Hermione identified as her own. “Of course,” she said, pulling out a parchment and putting it on the desk for her to sign it. “As you know, I’m a guest at the Burrow every now and then.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Hermione ignored the parchment and looked straight at Professor McGonagall. “I know, as a student it isn’t my place to…” she started, but Professor McGonagall interrupted her.

“Please, get the formalities done first, Miss Granger. The ministry requires an official registration for the exams, which means you have to sign two documents.” Professor McGonagall pulled a second parchment from Hermione’s file and presented it to her as well. “The first document is the official application, the second one is about accepting the examination conditions. Please, take your time to read both documents thoroughly and don’t hesitate to ask any questions.”

Hermione bent over the two parchments and started to read. They were dry juridical documents only a lawyer could come up with. “If the texts consistently included the female gender I’d be more pleased to sign them,” Hermione commented while signing both papers.

“I’ve been nagging the ministry about that for years,“ Professor McGonagall stated with a smile. “But you know how tedious the change of legal texts can be.”

Hermione nodded and gave the two documents back to her. “Are there any other formalities to take care of?”

“No.“ Professor McGonagall rose from her chair and walked over to a tall bookshelf. “I have to confess something to you, Miss Granger,” she said pulling a violet booklet from the shelf. “Against my better judgement, I checked my wand with the Prior Incantato charm, which I had originally denied you and your friends.”

Hermione stared at her in disbelief. Professor McGonagall had intentionally and without any need disobeyed a rule? That was like Hell was freezing over. “And?” was all Hermione could say.

Professor McGonagall stepped at her side, the booklet in her hand. “Like you probably guessed, I also cast a memory charm during the time in question.”

Hermione nodded. “On me?“

“Maybe.“ Professor McGonagall set the open book on the table. “You probably haven’t heard about an extension of the Prior Incantato spell yet. A wizard from Switzerland invented it ten years ago, but it’s still underexplored and doesn’t always work. However, successfully performed, it allows one to identify the exact time when a previous spell was cast.”

Hermione pulled her wand out of her pocket and put it into Professor McGonagall’s outstretched hand. She knew what the Headmistress intended to do.

Professor McGonagall reached for her own wand and then started to wave both wands with complex moves. ”Prior Incantato duo tempora.

Only seconds later both wands were performing the same, swinging move: The Obliviate charm.

“When did this happen?“ Hermione asked softly after the movement had stilled.

“At July 4th, 04:32 p.m. and 24 seconds.” Professor McGonagall closed the violet booklet. “Our wands performed the memory charm at exactly the same second.”

Involuntarily, Hermione put her hand to her chest. She suddenly felt dizzy and closed her eyes for a moment. “You’ve guessed that, haven’t you?”

“Yes.“ Professor McGonagall gave Hermione her wand back. “There is every indication that we cast the Obliviate spell at each other…”

“… to prevent a certain knowledge from affecting our actions.” Hermione’s mind was spinning from a thousand thoughts in her head. “And yet I wrote a document, apparently in consultation with Ron, in order to evade the memory charm.”

Professor McGonagall sat down behind her desk again. “I’m not telling you this to make you ask more questions. I’m doing it because I want you to end your investigation. Both of us, you and I, obviously decided it was important and necessary to not remember something particular. You should accept that.”

Hermione looked into the Headmistress’s pale face. It was so familiar to her like almost no other, and at the same time she always felt as if she was looking at her for the very first time. “Something happened back then, didn’t it?” she asked quietly. “You feel it, too, Professor.“

“Please, Miss Granger, let it rest.” Hermione recognized in Professor McGonagall’s eyes the same fear she had felt when she had started her investigation. Right now, it wasn’t the Headmistress sitting in front of her but the woman, Minerva McGonagall. Concerned, torn, vulnerable.

“Ron thinks I wrote the agreement because I fell in love with a patient from the future,” Hermione said gazing at the floor. “But I believe…”

“Hermione…“ Professor McGonagall covered Hermione’s hand with her own. “Please.“

At the mention of her first name, Hermione abruptly went quiet. She looked at the slender hand now resting on her own and swallowed down the three words on her tongue. “Will I see you again?” she repeated her question from the beginning.

“No.“ Professor McGonagall shook her head. “Only at social occasions.”

“Why not?“

Professor McGonagall loosened her hand from Hermione’s and leant back in her chair. “I’d like to be honest with you, Miss Granger,” she said eventually. “You are not only an extraordinary student, but an extraordinary human being as well. I admit that I often thought about suggesting you to maintain our contact after your graduation. But now…” She lowered her gaze at Hermione’s file. “Considering the recent events, it’s better we don’t see each other.”

In spite of the thick lump in her throat, Hermione obediently rose from her chair. In her view, the recent events were even more of a reason to maintain their contact, but she couldn’t force Professor McGonagall to do something she didn’t want.

When the Headmistress noticed her expression she got up and walked around her desk. “I wish you all the happiness in the world, Miss Granger,” she said, giving her a warm embrace.

Hermione couldn’t help herself but reciprocate the embrace. She felt the delicate shoulder blades under her hands, the straight back and the slender waist. The protective arms surrounding her felt so good and Hermione instinctively snuggled closer. Never again would she be this close to Professor McGonagall. The thought caused a new wave of sadness in her, and Hermione buried her face into the soft, fragrant neck, unbidden tears running down her cheeks.

They stood like this for a long time, until Professor McGonagall broke the embrace. “Good luck for the N.E.W.T.s, Miss Granger,” she said, caressing Hermione’s damp cheek. “You will find your way, I’m sure of it.”

Hermione nodded, not able to say anything. Against all of her instincts, she took her wand and left Professor McGonagall’s office. Moving downwards, the constant grinding of the circular stairs hurt her ears. There was no way she could marry Ron now. She would lose Ron and she would lose Professor McGonagall. And she would also lose her home, Hogwarts. What was left for her except from an uncertain future?

Hermione wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand. She shouldn’t think about this now, otherwise she wouldn’t make it through the N.E.W.T. exams. One more week she had to pretend everything was perfect. Only after she had received her certificate, she could hide away in a hole and maybe never come out ever again.

 

* * *

 

The following week was one of the hardest in Hermione’s life. Her iron will helped her to concentrate on her studies, but the end of the exams hung over her head like the sword of Damocles. The ink of her last test hadn’t dried yet when she apparated to London and broke up with Ron for good.

Several days later, the results of the exams were announced. In spite of the delay at her study schedule, Hermione’s grades were hard to beat. With the exception of Arithmancy, where she had got an Exceeds Expectations she had gotten an Outstanding in every subject. Hermione could hardly be happy about it, though. Mainly, she was relieved that she had lived up to her own expectations more or less and that she didn’t need to worry about her N.E.W.T. results anymore.

Professor McGonagall had insisted that the graduation ceremony would take place outside on Hogwarts grounds close to the tomb of Albus Dumbledore. Thus, the ceremony started with a moment of silence for the teachers and students who had been killed during the war against Voldemort. Afterwards, several speeches were given and Hermione felt lonelier than ever in her life. Everybody around her was proud and happy to finally leave their school years behind.

“Goodbye, Hogwarts,” Ginny sighed from the bottom of her heart. “From now on I can do whatever I want.” She had applied for the sports column of the Daily Prophet to write about Quidditch games, hoping they would hire her. Luna, who sat on the other side of Hermione, also seemed to be glad to leave the narrow scope of the school. She had signed up for an advanced class of Care of Magical Creatures and considered writing a book about invisible creatures.

Hermione still hadn’t any idea yet which professional path she should choose, and the future was stretching out before her like a big black hole. But she didn’t want to mope around at the ceremony and made every effort to show a happy face. The spirit among the graduates became friskier every minute and nobody was listening to the boring speeches anymore. Only when Professor McGonagall walked to the speaker’s desk the crowd went quiet. Everybody knew that the presentation of the certificates was about to begin.

After some introducing words about the special features of this class, Professor McGonagall started to call each student to hand them their certificates accompanied by loud applause and cheering of the audience. Because of her surname, Hermione was called relatively early and walked up to the podium with wobbly knees to get her N.E.W.T. certificate. Professor McGonagall said a few appreciative words to her but Hermione was not able to pay attention. Her ears were buzzing and she didn’t see anything but the movement of Professor McGonagall’s lips and her warm eyes. Then she received her certificate and walked back to her seat while Daphne Greengrass was called up.

It was over.

Several hours later, Hermione sat next to Ginny on the Hogwarts Express and couldn’t stop crying. During the whole trip, tears were streaming down her cheeks. She thought of all the people who had lost their lives during the war against Voldemort, of her own recent years which should have been innocent child years, of the separation from Ron, of the conversation with Professor McGonagall, and of Hogwarts where she had felt right for the very first time in her life.

“If the farewell is so difficult for you, why don’t you become a teacher?” Ginny suggested sympathetically. “Neville will do so, too.”

“No, that’s not for me.“ Hermione searched her robes for a tissue.

“Why not? Because of McGonagall?” Luna handed Hermione her own handkerchief.

“No, why?“ Hermione was glad she could hide her face blowing her nose.

“I saw the way she looked at you today.” Luna wiped a dead beetle from the seat next to her. Some student seemed to have found it funny to transform every ant on the train stealing the passengers’ food into a beetle. “She certainly would have liked you to stay at Hogwarts.”

“No.” Hermione shook her bushy curls. “The war is over, but there’s still so much injustice in the world. Werewolves are still discriminated, house elves don’t have enough rights, and there are still so many prejudices against Muggles.” She tucked the rumpled handkerchief in her robes. “Something must be done about all this, and Hogwarts is too far away for that.”

“What do you want to do then?” Ginny asked with a shrug. “Become minister of magic?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

 

In the end, Hermione indeed applied for an apprentice position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement of the Ministry of Magic to advance the legal and social changes she considered long overdue. The owl she had sent to the ministry to deliver her application returned on the very same day, with a kind invitation to a job interview.

At first, Hermione had some difficulty settling in at work, especially because the ministerial bureaucracy was much too slow for her agile and alert mind. But after she had more or less accustomed herself to the leisurely pace at her department, she liked her job much better than she had expected. Kingsley Shacklebolt had successfully made a number of changes to turn the Ministry of Magic into an independent, effectively working administration. Those changes were also affecting the employees, and usually the work climate was nice and friendly.

Hermione now benefited from the time she had spent with the members of the Order of the Phoenix during the war against Voldemort. Kingsley was already familiar with her abilities and gave her important tasks early on which put her in a relatively influential position. Hermione realized, a little surprised, she actually liked to structure sociopolitical processes and she plunged into her work with great enthusiasm.

Her relationship with Ron was still pretty tense at the beginning because he wasn’t ready to accept the end of their engagement. But like Hermione, he didn’t want to give up their friendship either and so they slowly started to rebuild it. Soon, Hermione was a regular guest at the Burrow again, but she was careful not to be at the Weasleys’ when Professor McGonagall was invited as well. The daily challenges at the ministry had helped Hermione to distract herself from her grief, but she knew that an encounter with the Headmistress would immediately trigger her memories of her last weeks at Hogwarts again.

Although the work at the ministry took up all of her attention, Hermione didn’t give up her investigation of what might have happened during her “lost days” last spring. She wasn’t surprised that all traces seemed to have been erased. It was quite likely that she herself and Professor McGonagall had been the ones to make sure that nobody would find out what really had happened during those days. No matter who she had asked, the people at Hogwarts had either not noticed anything, seemed to have forgotten about it, or they had been liable to a vow of silence. To the latter belonged the house elves and the Headmaster portraits in Professor McGonagall’s office.

Since the Headmaster portraits were linked with Professor McGonagall in a magical way, Hermione didn’t have any hope getting information from them. Interrogating the house elves, however, seemed to be a bit more promising. The house elves were of course bound to Hogwarts but maybe some clever, innocent questions would elicit information from them.

At Hermione’s request, Kingsley had delegated the task to her to draft a law to improve the situation of the house elves. She had learned from the experiences with Dobby’s colleagues that there wouldn’t be any positive outcome if she didn’t include the beings concerned in the process. Therefore, she met with several house elves every now and then in order to discuss the draft for the law with them. The latter proved difficult since the elves weren’t used to uttering their opinion, let alone think about their situation.

Hermione usually visited the house elves in their own environment except for the elves of Hogwarts, who she summoned to the ministry to avoid an encounter with Professor McGonagall. For the upcoming meeting, Hermione sent an owl to the Headmistress, asking for permission to invite Winky to the ministry. It was the very first meeting in the little elf’s life and she sat shyly at the long table, fiddling around with the Hogwarts emblem on her dish towel and only said something when Hermione addressed her directly.

After only a few minutes Hermione already regretted having put Winky in this situation, but now she couldn’t send the house elf away without humiliating her. In order to make up for her invitation, Hermione gave Winky an old article from The Quibbler at the end of the meeting. Luna had given it to her several years ago and Hermione hadn’t had the heart to throw it away. House elves of Hogwarts – on the trail of indispensable assistants, the headline of the article read. Below, there was a picture showing Albus Dumbledore sitting at his desk, a cup of steaming hot chocolate in front of him, and next to him stood Dobby who apparently had just conjured the beverage on the table. His snapping finger was still moving back and forth on the photograph as if he wanted to wave at the reader. “I’m going to lend you the article as long as you want to,” Hermione said, trying not to put Winky in the dilemma to accept a present.

The elf wiped her moist eyes with her dish tower. “That’s too kind of you, Miss Granger, Ma’am,” she said, choking up.

Hermione nodded, relieved. “I’d like to ask you something, Winky,” she said, smiling when Winky timidly looked at her with her big eyes. “It’s nothing bad. It’s just that I’d like to know if the food menus are stored at Hogwarts or if they are usually thrown away at the end of the day.”

“Of course, the house elves keep them, Ma’am.“ Winky looked at Hermione as if she had asked her whether she could cook. “Winky can list the menus of the last two hundred years, if Miss Granger wishes it.” She suspiciously narrowed her big eyes. “Does Harry Potter need to conquer an enemy again, Ma’am?”

“No, fortunately, he doesn’t.“ Hermione asked the elf to climb on the conference table so that they would be on eye level. “My question is of a private nature. It would be great if I could get the menus of May and June 1999. Or are the menus a secret?”

“Not at all, Ma’am.“ Winky snapped her fingers and with a loud thud, a pile of parchments landed on the meeting table. “Miss Granger can have a look at the lists, Ma’am.”

“Thank you, Winky.” Hermione curiously started to browse the papers. Judging by the different hand writings, at least three house elves were commissioned to document the food of each day. The symbols next to the meals referred to the place where the food was provided to. Naturally, most of the food was conjured to the Great Hall but also to teacher meetings or to the private chambers of the professors. “Is this the symbol of the Hospital Wing?” Hermione pointed at a hat that looked a bit like Madam Pomfrey’s bonnet.

Winky bent over the parchment, her pointed ears tickling Hermione’s forehead. “Yes, that’s the food for the patients,” she confirmed.

Hermione was mostly interested in the first days of June and had to flip through the pages for a while until she had found them. Upon closer inspection, she noticed a dish she had never heard of before. “Unicorn Pudding?”, she wondered. “What’s that supposed to be?”

“It’s a dessert, Ma’am, composed of yoghurt, cream, fruits, chocolate chips, and marshmallows,” Winky explained, hopping back on the chair. Obviously, being on eye level with a human being was not her thing.

Hermione hastily flipped through the pages. This dessert had been provided to the Hospital Wing every day between the end of May and the beginning of June. On June 4th it had been served the last time, which was the day when Hermione and Professor McGonagall had cast the memory charm on each other. “Who ordered this dessert?”

Winky lowered her eyes. “Winky is not allowed to say that to an outsider, Ma’am.”

“I understand,“ Hermione softened her tone. “I was just wondering who would order such a dessert. It doesn’t seem to have any healing effect.”

Winky’s expression made clear that she considered her a total failure in the kitchen. “Miss Granger forgets the healing effect of certain food on a child’s spirit. This dessert isn’t called Unicorn Pudding for nothing,” she said in a slightly lecturing tone.

“On a child’s spirit?“ Hermione almost dropped the pile of parchments in her hand. The mysterious patient had been a child?

In shock, Winky clapped her hand over her mouth and started to whine. “Miss Granger can’t ask anything anymore! Winky mustn’t say anything!“

“I’m sorry, Winky.“ Hermione wanted to comfort the little house elf but Winky flinched. “I won’t ask any more questions, Winky, I promise. Believe me, you didn’t say anything wrong,“ she hurried to assure her. “You only showed me the menus, which was allowed, wasn’t it?”

Her words didn’t seem to have any effect on Winky though, as she had pulled her legs to her belly, shaking violently, while wet tears streamed down her face.

“Everything’s okay, Winky,“ Hermione repeated, conjuring a few cushions, just in case the elf would start beating her head against the back of the chair. “You did nothing wrong. You just made a general remark about nutrition.” She gently put the article with the picture of Dobby into Winky’s hand that she had given to her earlier.

Winky hugged the picture to her belly, starting to sway back and forth. It seemed to calm her eventually. “Thank you for showing me the menu lists.” Hermione got up, indicating the house elf was free to leave. “I’m sure you’re already missed at Hogw…”

Before she could finish her sentence, Winky was gone with a pop, including the article and the pile of parchments.

Hermione stared at the empty chair where the house elf had just stood. A child? The patient had been a child? But why?

Winky’s statement definitely disproved Ron’s theory that Hermione had fallen in love with a patient from the future. Or had somebody accompanied the child? According to the small menu, the kid had been at the Hospital Wing by him- or herself, though.

But could Hermione even be sure that her separation from Ron had anything to do with the mysterious patient at the Hospital Wing? Hermione had always assumed there was a connection because a memory charm didn’t usually erase entire days but rather what was associated with the content to be deleted. Since Hermione had forgotten both the agreement and the patient, there seemed to be a connection between the two things. Hermione had no idea what it was, though. Neither did she have any idea what all of this had to do with her feelings for Professor McGonagall. There had to be a connection however, otherwise she wouldn’t have forgotten these memories, too. Hermione was sure she was overlooking something, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. What was it?

 

* * *

 

In the following weeks, Hermione tried to get more information from some other house elves she summoned to the ministry but they didn’t tell her anything. A visit at Hogwarts would have probably been more promising, yet Hermione still wanted to avoid that.

A year passed and Hermione had successfully avoided meeting her former Headmistress again. Only when an owl with a wedding invitation from Harry and Ginny arrived at her apartment, Hermione knew there wouldn’t be any more excuses this time. Ginny had already asked her to be her maid of honor several months ago, and of course Hermione had happily agreed.

Like with everything she approached, Hermione placed importance on perfection in this regard as well. She wanted Ginny to be satisfied with her and she had a lot of fun focusing on her new task. Hermione and Ginny spent a wonderful day together, looking for her wedding dress, while Harry headed out with Ron. After they had checked more or less all respective shops, Ginny settled for a lime green, shimmering dress that made her look like a ginger-haired elf from Lord of the Rings.

Afterwards, they found a nice dress for Hermione as well. It was an almost floor-length, dark red gown with thin straps. Only now, Hermione realized how long ago it had been that she had dressed up for a nice event and she actually started looking forward to the wedding.

At the beginning of June, the wedding preparations were in full swing. Molly Weasley left nothing to chance when her only daughter got married and seemed to have her eyes and hands everywhere. Because of Harry’s popularity, many international guests had announced themselves, and every morning Arthur Weasley was seen in the backyard of the Burrow, trying a new extension charm for the tent. More than 250 guests had already agreed to join the wedding, and every day new owls arrived. Ginny stayed surprisingly calm in spite of it all, but Harry was hopelessly overwhelmed with his duties. More than once he retreated with Ron to practice Quidditch rather than participate in the preparations like de-gnoming the garden.

“Men.“ Ginny sighed while arranging a pile of white chairs around the tables with a hovering charm. “But the main thing is he’ll be there when the wedding starts.”

And Harry was. When he appeared at the ceremony with his dark blue suit, he looked very handsome and Hermione was incredibly proud of him. Even his stubborn black hair had morphed into a kind of hairdo and Ginny’s eyes widened when she, accompanied by Arthur Weasley, walked towards the altar. Harry and Ginny were such a beautiful couple that Hermione almost forgot to give them their rings at the right time. But everything went smoothly and soon Harry and Ginny could open the party as a newlywed couple.

During the feast, Hermione was glad that she, as the maid of honor, was allowed to sit with the family. Early in the morning, she had walked along all tables and checked the name cards. Somewhat reassured, she had noticed that Professor McGonagall would sit at a table further in the middle of the tent, together with other professors and members of the Order of the Phoenix. Nevertheless, Hermione knew she couldn’t avoid at least a quick greeting. Everything else would be severely rude.

After the first hunger was stilled and all speeches were given, Ginny and Harry opened the reception with a spirited waltz. Harry had practiced hard for the dance over the last few weeks and moved much more elegantly across the parquet than Hermione had given him credit for. He seemed to be surprised himself and proudly beamed at the crowd when the last beats of the waltz faded.

Meanwhile, several other couples had entered the dance floor, and before Hermione knew what was happening George pushed her gently on the dance floor. “May I have this dance?” he asked with a grin, already starting to lead her across the parquet with long steps.

“Wow, George…“ Hermione had had no idea that the Weasley twin had been such a good dancer. “You’ve got some hidden talents.”

“You should always have a card up your sleeve,” he said dryly, leading her into a quick turn.

Hermione hadn’t been dancing for such a long time that she had forgotten how much fun it was to move in time with the music with a skilled dancer. George didn’t let her go at the next song and just continued dancing, chatting unconcernedly, while he maneuvered her through the crowd.

“You’ve been looking so sad lately, so I wanted to cheer you up a little,“ he said while Professor Slughorn and Professor Sprout danced past them. “And since you don’t fancy joke articles too much….“

Hermione had to laugh. “Well done, George,” she smiled appreciatively. For a brief moment, all worries seemed to vanish into thin air, but Hermione’s easiness came to an abrupt halt when Neville appeared next to them with Professor McGonagall in his arms. Since their Yule Ball at their fourth year Neville had evolved into a talented dancer and he led his former Head of House so confidently across the dance floor as if he would do it every day.

Many pairs of eyes were following them admiringly and Hermione couldn’t look away either. She wished so much to be in Neville’s stead. That she would be the one so close to Professor McGonagall. When the Headmistress unexpectedly looked up their gazes met and for a split second, Hermione had the impression, the older witch thought the same. But she had surely only imagined that.

“We should do that more often,“ George suggested after he had guided Hermione back to their table. “At least when dancing we fit well together, don’t you think?”

“Yes, who would have thought.“ Hermione gave him an appreciative look. “Ginny and Harry had to get married first to find it out…”

A slight cough made her pause and Hermione felt her knees get weak. “I’m sorry, Mr. Weasley,” she heard Professor McGoangall’s voice behind herself. “But may I abduct your lady for a little while?”

“Of course, Professor.“ George bowed gallantly. “If you bring her back to me in one piece…”

“I will,“ Professor McGonagall promised before turning towards Hermione. “I hope you don’t mind, Miss Granger?”

Hermione shook her head in confusion. Obviously, Professor McGonagall intended to speak with her in private. But about what? “Will you please watch my drink?” she asked George. “Ron just took away my glass of pumpkin juice because he thought it was his own.“

“Don’t worry, I’m going to defend it with my life.” George gave her a thumbs up.

Hermione felt like her head was full of cotton wool as she followed Professor McGonagall to the outermost edge of the garden. What could the Headmistress possibly want from her? She had made it quite clear that she didn’t want to be in contact with her anymore. “What can I do for you, Professor?” Hermione asked, leaning her back at a tree trunk for support.

“Minerva,” Professor McGonagall corrected her. “Your school years have ended, Hermione, so I think it’s time to leave the formalities aside.”

The sudden closeness to the person she had avoided to meet for more than a year made Hermione mute and vulnerable. She scoured her brain for some trivial topic to compose herself, but her head seemed to be completely empty.

“How are you, Hermione?“ Minerva leant against the opposite trunk tree and looked at her attentively. “Kingsley is very happy to have you at the ministry. He says you are a great asset to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

Hermione lowered her gaze and fell silent. So Minerva was here because Kingsley had sent her. Obviously the Minister of Magic was worried about his employee and had asked the Headmistress to talk to her. A conversation from woman to woman, so to speak. But what was she supposed to say to her?

Minerva hesitated. “I’m sorry, if…”

“I get to work in the mornings and come back in the evenings,“ Hermione interrupted her brusquely. “You can tell Kingsley that.”

“I… I’m worried about you, Hermione.“ Minerva’s voice now sounded very different from earlier in the tent. “You’ve lost so much weight…”

“I work a lot.“ Hermione didn’t feel like justifying her lack of appetite.

“You are still young.“ Minerva pushed herself from her tree trunk and took a step towards Hermione. “You should…”

“Go out? Have fun? Get involved? Thank you, no need.“ Hermione tried to get past Minerva but the Headmistress grabbed her shoulder.

“Don’t waste your best years, Hermione,” she whispered. “You will regret it later.”

Hermione laughed bitterly. “I’m not the one wasting her time. But the person I want to spend it with…“

“Hermione, please.” Minerva immediately withdrew her hand from Hermione’s shoulder. “You have to let me go.”

“Why?”

Minerva was quiet for a while, apparently not sure how to respond. “Whatever happened a year ago, it must not control your actions,” she said eventually. “And much less so your feelings.”

“And what about your feelings?“ Hermione defiantly lifted her head and looked straight into Minerva’s eyes. “What do you do about those?”

“Are seriously asking me that?“ Minerva took a step back. “You’re a former student of mine. I could be your grandmother!”

Hermione crossed her arms and stared at her feet. She knew very well that it was kind of strange to fall in love with a person so much older than her, but it wasn’t that she hadn’t tried to fight her feelings. Every morning she tried to tell herself to forget the Headmistress, and every night she fell asleep thinking of her. It was as useless as teaching a toad the human language. “Something happened between us, Minerva. And you know it.”

“Hermione…” The Headmistress shook her head. For a while she just stood there, then she enlarged a pebble-stone into a big rock and sat down on it. “When you’re young you think feelings are all that counts,” she said, inviting Hermione with a gesture to join her. The rock was broad enough for Hermione to keep a certain distance when she reluctantly sat down next to the Headmistress.

“But it’s about so much more,” Minerva continued. “It’s about seeing another person the way they really are and accepting them. Without idealizing them and without the masks we all wear in our everyday life. It’s about being with each other on equal terms, on eye level, and appreciating each other. It’s about being ready to adapt your life to another person without losing yourself in the process, and without keeping the other person from being themselves. It’s about growing together, supporting each other. For all this, one needs more than just strong feelings.”

Hermione listened to Minerva with incredulous wonder. She had been so sure Minerva didn’t waste a single thought about what might have happened last year. Obviously she had been wrong.

“You only know me as your teacher,“ Minerva said seriously. “I have been responsible for you for eight years. It’s impossible to just redefine such a relationship and everything’s fine.”

Hermione nodded. Of course, she knew what Minerva meant, even though she didn’t want to hear it. While Minerva had already survived three wars, Hermione had just grown out of her schooldays. Minerva talked about an equal, evenly matched partnership, and she was probably right that Hermione couldn’t give her that. At least not yet. “So I should wait until more time has passed?“

“No.“ Minerva cupped Hermione’s cheek. Her fingers were warm and soft. “Life is too precious to waste it with waiting. You are too precious. You are a brilliant witch and an amazing person. Every single day of your school years you made me proud. Don’t waste your potential.”

“But all I want is you,“ Hermione said quietly.

“It won’t stay that way.”

“You don’t know that.” It hurt that Minerva considered her feelings so short-lived. Hermione felt in the depth of her heart that Minerva and her belonged together. She couldn’t logically explain it but she knew it was the truth. “Since you don’t want me to travel to the future, we’ll probably never find out,” she said, more frustrated than defiant.

“That would be totally useless anyway.” Minerva had taken her hand away and her fingers rested in her lap now. “You don’t know the time this patient came from, nor do you know the place where they came from, nor do you even know who the patient was.”

“I know it was a child.“

“What?” Minerva paused. “A child? Are you sure?“

“Yes, a child.“ Hermione hesitated before she continued. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know if you wanted to know.“

Minerva didn’t respond to that, obviously not quite sure what she wanted to know.

“I don’t have to travel to the future, by the way,” Hermione interrupted the heavy silence between them. “Traveling to the past will do.”

Minerva raised her head, alarmed. “You want to travel to the Fourth of June?”

Hermione nodded. She was grimly determined now. “I won’t find any peace as long as I don’t know what happened. I just need to know.”
“You will get into a vicious cycle, believe me,” Minerva warned. “Last year, we obviously thought it important not to remember what had happened, otherwise we wouldn’t have cast a memory charm. It’s only an illusion that more knowledge will get you some peace. In the end, only more questions will rise and your restlessness will get stronger. Put it out of your mind for your own good. Please, Hermione.”

Hermione noticed she was about to get a headache. Whatever she did, Minerva wouldn’t approve. It didn’t make sense to continue this conversation. “You’re not in the position anymore to forbid me anything, Minerva. Of course, you need to do what you think is right. But I need to do what I think is right.” Hermione rose from the rock and offered Minerva her hand to help her up.

“Here you are!” Both women startled when suddenly Ginny ran towards them, her wedding dress gathered up. “Hermione, I looked for you everywhere…” Ginny stopped abruptly, looking back and forth between Hermione and Minerva. “I’m sorry, Professor, I…”

When Minerva noticed that she was still holding Hermione’s hand she instantly withdrew her fingers. “No problem, Mrs. Potter. I was on my way back to the tent anyway.” Before she left, she turned to Hermione again. “Please, give it some thought, Hermione, I beg you.” Then she changed the rock back into a pebble stone and left Hermione alone with Ginny.

Ginny looked after her former Headmistress, her mouth agape. “What was that all about?” she asked with surprise. “If I didn’t know better you two looked like…” Ginny interrupted herself when she noticed Hermione’s gloomy expression. “Are you alright?”

“I need a time turner,“ Hermione muttered grimly. “As fast as possible.“

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “Is this still about last year? Does McGonagall really have something to do with it?”

“Yes.“ Hermione could hardly resist her need to elaborate her response, but that would only lead to more questions.

Her friend, however, was much too curious to settle for Hermione’s taciturnity. “Come on, let’s look after Harry and Ron,” she said, linking arms with Hermione. “If this is still bothering you so much, we should do something about it.”

When they came back into the tent, Harry was dancing with his mother-in-law and looked so awkward and weedy next to her that Hermione pitied him. As soon as he spotted his bride, he whispered something into Molly Weasley’s ear and fled from the dance floor. “I’ll never get married again,” he groaned as he walked towards them. “That doesn’t mean I don’t like it to be married to you.” He tenderly kissed Ginny on her cheek. “You guys have a weird look on your faces. What’s up?”

“We need to talk to you and Ron.“ Ginny pointed with her head at her older brother who was busy piling up empty champagne flutes together with the already drunk Percy. When they had just reached the seventh row the pile collapsed and all flutes clashed back on the table. The other guests fired helpful Reparo spells at the heap of shards, but the uncoordinated magic caused the shards to bounce on the table like crazed super balls.

“It’s time to get him out of this,“ Harry grinned and pulled his best friend away from his table. “Listen, Ron, we need to talk to you,” he explained, guiding him to Hermione and Ginny.

“What’s the matter?“ Ron carefully pulled out a few pieces of broken glass from his white shirt.

“No idea.“ Harry shrugged. “But I’m sure Hermione will tell us.“

Three pairs of eyes turned expectantly towards Hermione. “I need a time turner,” she repeated. “I need to know what happened last year.”

“I’ll come with you.“ Ron stood immediately at her side. “After all, this affects me too.“

“We will all come with you, of course.“ Harry and Ginny nodded affirmatively.

Hermione felt bad for rebuffing her friends since they all meant well. “That’s really nice of you, but I’d like to travel on my own.”

“That’s out of the question!“ Ron protested indignantly. “I want to know why we signed this weird agreement. I have the right to know. Everything was fine between us before that!”

Hermione was about to say something when Ginny responded for her. “Hermione wants to travel alone, Ron. Didn’t you hear her? Maybe she doesn’t want you to be present when she travels to the cause of your separation.”

Hermione cast a grateful glance at her. “I just don’t know what to expect. Can you understand that?”

“Yes,“ Ginny and Harry said with one voice.

“No,“ said Ron.

“Well…“ Hermione nervously straightened her elegant dress. “I need to get a time turner first anyway. And I can’t do that alone.”

“That’s true,“ Harry confirmed. “The safety precautions at the ministry are so high that it’s impossible for one person to get a time turner.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “If you want to break into the Department of Magical Transportation, why don’t you ask Percy?”

“Percy?“ Hermione pricked up her ears at the name of Ron’s brother. “Doesn’t he cover for an injured colleague at the Portkey Office at the moment?“

“Exactly.“ Ron crossed his arms with a satisfied grin. “And the time turners are in the Department of Magical Transportation.“

“I don’t know…“ Ginny furrowed her brow skeptically. “Percy, of all people?“

“He has a lot to make up to Harry,” Ron reasoned. “Besides, he doesn’t seem to be himself right now. Percy usually never drinks alcohol.” He pointed with his head at the table where Percy was busy picking up the shards of the champagne flutes, swaying dangerously each time he bent down. Usually, a simple spell would have quickly cleaned the mess but his blood alcohol level made a precise incantation impossible.

“Now?!“ Hermione asked, flabbergasted. “We’re in the middle of celebrating the wedding of your best friend and your sister!“

“I think it’s the perfect time,” Harry sided with Ron. “The ministry is practically empty right now since its employees are either attending our wedding or have finished work. And nobody expects us of all people to leave the party.”

Harry actually had a point, but it was absolutely crazy. “No way!” Hermione objected. She would never spoil her best friends’ wedding!

“Oh, I think it’s a great idea.“ Ginny patted her husband’s shoulder. “Well done, Harry.”

“I just started to get bored anyway,“ Ron nodded.

“And I will get a rash if I have to dance one more time tonight.” Harry put on a painful expression.

”You’re all crazy.” Hermione shook her head about her loyal friends. “You would accompany me to the ministry, even though I wouldn’t take you with me on the time travel?”

“Hermione, we’re your friends!“ Ginny seemed almost offended.

“Hold on a second,back in a flash.” Harry left the tent and returned only a few minutes later. A small piece of fabric stuck out of the pocket of his dark blue wedding suit and Hermione already guessed what it was. “An extension charm in your pocket?” she asked with a smile.

“What you did with that bag two years ago was just brilliant,” he grinned. “Since then I like to hide my Invisibility Cloak in my pocket.” He went to the long table to collect Percy from the floor and promptly bumped into Ron’s father in his way back.

“Hey, take it easy, Mr. Groom.” Arthur Weasley’s eyes widened when he noticed the piece of fabric sticking out of Harry’s pocket. “What’s going on here?”

“We will leave to the mmmini…ssstry,” Percy slurred. “Youwannacomewithus?

“Now?“ Arthur Weasley darted a nervous glance at his wife who was trying to dance with Professor Flitwick. “What do you want at the ministry?” he asked under his breath.

“Hermione and I need a time turner,“ Ron explained so matter-of-factly as if he wanted to fly shopping. “And now is the best time to get one.”

“Now?“ Arthur repeated even more nervous. “At the wedding of your sister?”

“Exactly.“ Ron discreetly pointed at Kingsley Shacklebolt who chatted animatedly with the department chief of the Auror Headquarters. “It won’t get any easier than today.”

“Why do you need a time turner?“ Arthur snorted. “It’s not like you can just grab it from your office or something.”

“It’s about the end of our engagement,“ Hermione stepped in. “I need to know what induced us to write that document.”

“Me too,“ Ron added. “So, will you let us go now?“

Arthur scratched his head. “I won’t let you go on your own,” he said eventually. “You are not an old stager like I am at the ministry and I don’t want to have five arrests on the wedding day of my daughter.”

Ron exchanged a look with Harry and Hermione. “Alright, Dad,” he said generously. “You can look out for Percy. He can hardly stand on his feet anymore.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

 

Ten minutes later, Hermione, Harry, Ron, Ginny, Percy, and Arthur Weasley stood in the sixth floor of the Ministry of Magic. As employees, it was relatively easy for them to get into the building through the toilettes, and the security official at the desk greeted them cordially. Colin Fletcher was a tall, lean wizard with a hooked nose and bushy eyebrows. Hermione knew he was about to retire by the end of the year but he still did night shifts at the ministry. Mr. Fletcher told Harry several times that he would have loved to join their wedding party if it hadn’t been his shift today.

Harry and Ginny assured him they wouldn’t hold it against him and Ginny quickly conjured up a plate with a piece of their wedding cake which she handed him with a charming smile. Harry told him they just needed to get something from Percy’s office, but the security official was so distracted by Ginny’s kind gesture that he didn’t really pay attention to Harry’s lame excuse. He only waved at them and wished them a nice evening.

“Wwy… are we on the ssssixth floor?“ Percy slurred as they stepped out of the elevator and into the empty corridor. “Here’ssss mmy offffice.”

“That’s exactly why we took you with us, smartass,” Ron grunted. “The time turners are somewhere in your department.”

Arthur Weasley linked arms with Percy so that he didn’t lose his balance. “I was wondering why you wanted to go to Percy’s office,” he said after he had guided his son to the wall. “The time turners were stored here during the renovation of the Department of Mysteries, but last month the renovation was completed and since then only the administration stayed here. The devices were brought back to the Department of Mysteries.”

“What?!“ Ron planted himself in front of Percy. “Why didn’t you tell us?“

“You didnnnn’t… ask.“ Percy yawned loudly and Arthur hardly kept him from sitting down on the cold floor to have a nap.

At the mention of the Department of Mysteries, Hermione felt an unpleasant grumbling in her stomach. The last time she had been there she had almost died. Harry and Ron didn’t look pleased either and Hermione wondered if she should cancel the entire venture. They had gone through so much together, but it had always been about preventing Evil from winning. This time, however, it was only about Hermione’s selfish wish to get her life back together. Things couldn’t stay like this, she knew that. But was it too much to ask of her friends?

Ginny saved Hermione from the decision. “Do we need a key or something?” she asked, not bothering about her friends’ gloomy faces.

“No.“ Percy pointed downwards where the Department of Mysteries was somewhere on the ninth floor. “ID cards.”

“I’ll get you some information.“ Arthur let go of Percy and walked back to the lift. Instead of activating it, he stopped and a few seconds later a lilac memo started to circle above his head. He grabbed it and started reading the note. His expression didn’t bode well when he came back to them. “You need seven ministry workers to enter the room where the time-turners are stored,” he explained. “At least one of them has to be an Auror, and at least one of them has to work at the Department of Magical Transportation. Otherwise, the door won’t open.”

“How are we supposed to do that?“ Ron groaned, running his fingers through his ginger-red hair. “We have an employee from the Department of Magical Transportation and we also have two Aurors in-training. But where do we get two more ministry workers?“

“Maybe we could ask some people at our party,“ Ginny suggested. “You might be able to persuade two nice colleagues.”

“Forget it!“ Ron pulled a face. “They would never do anything behind the back of the minister.”

“And what about Mr. Fletcher?” Ginny probed. “He seemed nice, didn’t he?”

“No way.“ Ron rolled his eyes. “He is a nice guy but he’s security guard for a reason. He would rather die than help getting into the Department of Mysteries without authorization. He would hand us over to Kingsley right away.”

“Maybe we don’t really need two ministry workers but only two ID cards for now.” Hermione took off her high heels so that she could walk barefoot. “If we get two more IDs we can ask Neville to help us.”

Percy raised his glazed eyes and started to roar with laughter when his dull gaze landed on his companions. They all looked totally misplaced and especially Ginny didn’t fit into the sober atmosphere of the Department of Magic Transportation in her beautiful wedding gown. She had taken off her shoes as well and carried them in her hands like Hermione.

Harry ignored Percy’s laughter. “So we need two more IDs of ministry workers, plus one person,” he summarized. “And Polyjuice Potion for two people.”

“Oh, you have some potion with you by accident?“ Ginny scoffed.

“No, but I know where the ministry keeps it.” Harry made a move with his wand and in the next second a key fell on the cold stone floor. “That’s the key for the cabinet where the potions for the Aurors are stored.”

”We should split up to save time.“ Hermione picked up the key and handed it to Harry. “Ron and Harry get the Polyjuice Potion from the Auror Headquarters, Ginny and I gain entry to the Ludicrous Patents Office, Arthur looks after Percy.”

“Why there?” Percy rubbed his eyes in surprise.

“I’m pretty sure that office is the least well protected,” Hermione explained. “Kingsley always forgets to mention it when he talks about the Ministry of Magic. But the office must be full of ID cards from people who applied for a patent.” She rubbed her bare arms. It was a lot cooler inside of the building than outside. “Besides, they not only store patents there but also the certificates of the awarded people - usually with their signature and a drop of their blood.”

“But they’re just copies,“ Ginny objected. “We need the originals. And the owner of the IDs and certificates have to be employed at the British Ministry of Magic.”

“Well, yes, the IDs are just copies,” Hermione admitted. “But the certificates were always presented in duplicate. Usually, the awarded person gets one of them and the other one goes to the ministry.”

“So we don’t only need two ministry workers who got a patent for their magical invention, but they also had to be awarded for their invention at some point?” Ginny frowned. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to look for allies at our party?”

“If they grass us up, we will all get fired,“ Ron objected. “But if Hermione’s idea with the Polyjuice Potion works, we can at least ask our friends for help.”

“I don’t have any other idea,“ Hermione admitted. “Attacking a security official, is out of the question. I don’t want to do any harm, I just want to quickly borrow a time turner and then bring it back where it belongs. And then we’ll return to your party as fast as possible.”

“I agree,“ Harry nodded, who apparently didn’t see a reason to question Hermione’s plan. “Arthur and Percy will stay here until Ron and I will get them.” With his head, Harry pointed at Arthur Weasley who had conjured up two chairs in the corridor. It was hard to tell whether he wanted nothing more than to go back to the wedding of his daughter, or if he secretly enjoyed the adventure. “Let’s go,” Harry decided. “We’ll meet again at the Department of Mysteries.”

Hermione and Ginny instantly headed for the seventh floor and couldn’t believe how easy it was to break into the Ludicrous Patents Office. After Hermione had deactivated some Stealth Sensoring Spells that had been placed around the door, a more complex Alohomora spell was enough to open the door. Like Hermione had guessed, the ministry didn’t seem to pay much attention to this office although the file cabinets were full of personal data. Hermione and Ginny found eighteen ring binders with data and ID cards. Five of them alone were filled with ludicrous patents from Fred and George – Fred would have been proud if he had known about that. The other thirteen file folders contained documents from wizards and witches from all over the world. Every now and then Hermione and Ginny found a ministry worker who had gotten a ludicrous patent, but none of them had gotten an award for their invention.

“That’s because you’re a bunch of bores at the ministry,“ Ginny complained. “Not even a spark of creativity.”

“No, we are not!“ Hermione triumphantly pulled two papers from the last folder. “Benjamin Quirkle”, she read. “He works at the Goblin Liaison Office and got a patent about a duck with five wings in 1987. Two years later, he got the Ludicrous Design Award for it.” She showed Ginny the certificate.

Ginny curiously reached for the documents. “He looks okay, I think,” she stated with relief. “I don’t want to morph into a fleabag, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”

Hermione thoughtfully stared at the copy of the ID card, trying to remember a charm she had read about in an Australian journal several months ago. It had been some kind of a reversed doubling charm. This one didn’t create a duplicate from the original, but an original from the copy. It wasn’t the real original, but it manifested a large part of its characteristics. Hermione hadn’t tried the spell yet but she vaguely remembered the moves. Onimeg! she said distinctly and startled when a puff of smoke rose from the card. Had she accidentally burned the copy? It took a while until the smoke vanished, but then there were indeed two ID cards on the desk: a copy and an identical document that at least looked like the original ID card.

“Hermione, you’re a genius!“ Ginny put the copy back into the file folder then, she scraped away some of the dry blood on the certificate and poured the particles into a flask they had found on a desk. With several hovering charms, they put the file folders back into the cabinet and headed for the exit.

“Ginny?“ Hermione pointed at the desk chair in front of the table where they had taken the flask from. There was a long black cloak with a violet hem hanging over the back of the chair, probably belonging to the employee who usually worked here. “Maybe you should borrow this for a while so that Benjamin Quirkle won’t ruin your wedding dress?”

“You’re right.” Ginny quickly reached for the cloak. “We’ll bring it back later,” she whispered while she closed the office door. “But we still need another ID card. I can’t believe we found only one awarded ministry worker in eighteen file folders.”

“Your father works at the Ministry of Magic too and he’s one of the most creative people I know, considering what he puts together in his garage. But he has never applied for a patent.” Hermione gently pushed Ginny into the lift and pressed the button for the ninth floor. “We should postpone our enterprise to another day though,“ she spoke directly into Ginny’s ear to drown out the clattering noise of the lift. “We won’t get anywhere with only six IDs. Let’s return again when we have a better plan- and when it’s not your wedding day.”

“If we do this again, Percy won’t join us,” Ginny reminded her. “He’s only with us because he can’t think clearly enough to remember his own name right now.”

Unfortunately, Ginny was right. They would need two more employees for a second attempt, which didn’t make things more promising. When the lift came to an abrupt stop and the doors opened, Harry and Ron were already waiting in the empty corridor. Several torches were burning on the black walls, their sight reminding Hermione unpleasantly of their last visit. “Where are Percy and Arthur?” she asked, handing Harry the ID card.

“Over there.“ Harry pointed at a group of three chairs. Arthur had sat down on one of them while Percy was peacefully snoozing on the floor. “How did you get the original?” Harry asked, surprised.

“It’s not the original,“ Hermione enlightened him. “But it’s got its basic characteristics.”

“Wow.“ Harry cast an appreciative look at her. “Let’s hope the scanner can be fooled.” He gave the ID to Ginny. “And where’s the second ID?”

“We only got one,“ Hermione admitted contritely. “Let’s postpone our operation to another day. We’ve already missed half an hour of your party.”

“Did you get the Polyjuice Potion?“ Ginny asked, raising her flask with the blood particles.

Harry pulled a vial out of his pocket and showed it to her. “Here.”

“Looks disgusting.“ Ginny pulled a face at the sight of the brownish-grey brew. “Where’s the door we have to enter?”

“Probably the seventh door on the left side.” Harry pointed at a black door. There was a sun with seven rays on it, and at the end of each ray glowed one eye that probably scanned the ID cards. The identification of the people belonging to the ID cards seemed to be executed by a sun on the ceiling above. It also had seven rays.

Ron walked down the corridor and started to examine the door. “Definitely seven rays,” he said when he came back to them. “There’s nothing we can do. We either need one more ministry worker, or Neville and a seventh ID card.”

“At this hour there are only security officials in the building.” Ron pulled out his wand. “Let’s have a look if one of them has dozed off.”

“No way!“ Arthur Weasley jumped up from his chair. “You won’t steal anything from one of our colleagues!“

“Luckily, that won’t be necessary.”

The friends spun around and Hermione almost lost her balance when she recognized the person behind her. In the middle of the corridor stood Minerva McGonagall, tall and graceful as always. But how had she managed to get here? It wasn’t possible to apparate inside of the building for security reasons. But before Hermione could ask a question, Minerva walked to Harry and Ron.

“Pro… Professor…“ Ron stuttered. „We… we only wanted to…“

“I know what you wanted, Mr. Weasley.” Minerva pulled a piece of paper from her robe. “You need a seventh person.” She handed Harry the paper.

Flabbergasted, Hermione lurked over Harry’s shoulder. The paper was undoubtedly an identification card of a ministry worker. It had been made out on October 1st 1954 and Hermione’s gaze fell on the slightly yellowed photograph, showing a very young and drop-dead gorgeous Minerva McGonagall. Below the picture, in cursive handwriting, stood: Minerva McGonagall. Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Ministry of Magic, Great Britain.

“For some reason, the ID card has never been reclaimed.” Minerva put the document back into her robes. “And I haven’t had a cause for complaint yet.”

“So… you’re… you’re not here to hand us over to Kingsley?”, Ron stuttered.

“Since all of you, except from your sister, are regular ministry workers I don’t see any reason to assume you’re here without authorization, Mr. Weasley,” Minerva stated as if it was the most natural thing in the world that six dressed-up people were roaming the empty corridors of the Ministry of Magic, two of them barefoot, at 10 pm on a Saturday. “I did not expect to see you here though, Arthur,” she added with a disapproving look at Ron’s father.

Arthur Weasley blushed. “I only wanted to prevent my children from rushing headlong into disaster,” he justified his presence.

Hermione looked back and forth between Arthur and the Headmistress, trying to understand what was happening. Why was Minerva here? Not even half an hour ago, she had literally begged Hermione not to travel to the past.

Minerva turned back to Harry. “We should hurry up before your guests will miss you at your nice party, Mr. Potter.”

Harry was so surprised he was unable to move. Eventually, Ginny took the initiative. “Exactly,” she said, pulling up the snoozing Percy from the floor. “Obviously, I’m the only one now who has to drink that awful potion.” She took the flask with the Polyjuice Potion from Harry’s hand and disappeared with the black cloak over here arm in the restrooms.

While Harry looked after his wife in confusion, Ron took a step towards Minerva. “Excuse me, Professor, but this isn’t a trick, is it?” he asked suspiciously. “You don’t want to con us, right?”

“Mr. Weasley, I wouldn’t leave an important event where I was enjoying myself very much to con you,“ Minerva responded coolly.

Ron nodded, not really reassured, but he obviously didn’t dare to ask any more questions. Hermione felt much the same way. She had a thousand questions but didn’t want to ask them in the presence of her friends. “Wait!”, Arthur stared at his memo with a frown. “I forgot to tell you that you have to register first to get into the room.”

“I already did that.“ Minerva pulled a small shred of paper out of her robes that looked like sort of a ticket. “Did you really think I would break the law, Mr. Potter?” she asked the dumbfounded Harry. “I filled in a form to register the time traveling, or do you prefer to set off the alarm?”

Arthur Weasley looked at her, bewildered. “What kind of reason did you state for the time traveling?” he asked, frowning.

“I stated reasons of health,“ Minerva responded, her gaze on Hermione and Ron. “This is about the peace of mind of two people, isn’t it?”

Hermione still didn’t understand why Minerva wanted to help them, but she wouldn’t have occasion to ask her anymore. No matter what, the Headmistress had just changed their secret mission into an officially registered operation, and Hermione felt a lot lighter now. Of course, it still wasn’t legal what they were doing. They had broken into an office, had taken away the copy of an ID, Ginny was pretending to be somebody else, and Minerva had probably taken a very broad interpretation of the truth when she had stated the reason for time traveling in the form. Yet, none of them would be thrown into jail anymore if their operation failed, and especially Arthur Weasley looked quite relieved.

Ron however exchanged worried looks with Harry. They still didn’t seem to be sure if they were dealing with the real Minerva McGonagall and Hermione couldn’t blame them. Usually, not many people insisted so strictly on the observance of rules as the Headmistress, except for maybe the dozing Percy, or Hermione herself. So Minerva had to be here for a very good reason.

Eventually, the door of the restroom opened and Ginny, or rather Benjamin Quirkle, walked out. She had wrapped the black coat around her whole body and looked like a human parcel. “Why didn’t you tell me how disgusting this stuff tastes?” she ranted, but Harry didn’t leave her much time to complain.

“Let’s go!“ He quickly walked to the door with the sun, his wand in his right hand and his ID in his left hand. “Make sure the sun at the ceiling can identify you, too.”

After everybody had held their ID card in front of the eyes at the end of the sun rays, things were actually very easy. The iron door opened immediately and they stood in a hall with about fifteen different time turners in individual glass cases. The gold of the devices glistened brightly and it was visible that each of them was crafted with love and care. There were several different sizes but they all had the shape of an hourglass. “What prototype do you need?” Ron asked, walking along the vitrines.

“I need to travel back more than a year.” Hermione curiously read the different descriptions floating in the air in front of every glass case. Eventually, she stopped in front of a time turner that looked like the one Minerva had given here in her third year, so she knew this one would work. “Maybe this one?” She looked quizzically at Minerva. “Or should I take one that is able to cover greater distances?”

Without saying anything, Minerva raised her wand. Immediately the vitrine in front of Hermione opened and the time turner floated directly into Hermione’s hand.

“Hey, this one looks familiar.“ Harry curiously walked closer. “Is this the one we used back then?”

Minerva darted a surprised glance at him but didn’t ask any questions. “That’s the follow-up version of the device I gave Miss Granger in her third year,” she explained, pointing at a disk under the hour glass. There were five clock-hands attached to it, each of them had a different size. The hovering description of the time turner, which had politely gotten out of the way, told Hermione that it was possible to adjust the exact time with the clock-hands. “While using the preceding model, you had to imagine the time and the place and combine it with the turns of the hour glass,” Minerva explained in a voice that Hermione remembered all too well from her Transfiguration lessons. “In most cases the device worked well, but if your mind was distracted while you were adjusting the time, the device didn’t work precisely. The time or place was sometimes wrong and people complained about unpleasant side effects. Thus, you can additionally adjust place and time by hand with the follow-up model. It increases the precision and the safety.”

“Why do you know so much about time turners, Professor?” Harry asked, puzzled.

“You have to be up to date in my profession,“ Minerva said simply. “I went to a course about time turners last February.” She turned around and pointed at two glass cases at the very right that Hermione had mentally put on her short-list, too. Apparently, Minerva hadn’t missed that. “The two models over there appeared on the market only a year ago. They’re able to cover greater distances but have the disadvantage that you can’t automatically travel back to your starting point of your journey. While you travel with one of these types, time passes in the present so that you need a special formula to calculate the bygone time in the present. Since the technique is relatively new, the formula is still rather unprecise. So I recommend you use the one in your hand. It only covers smaller distances and while it’s not as comfortable as the newer devices, it will take you back safely.”

“Safety first,“ Ginny agreed. “And we don’t want to be away from our wedding party for too long.“

Hesitatingly, Hermione looked at the small time turner in her hand. If she really did this, it might change her life forever. What would she find if she really traveled to the past? Thinking back at the day after her amnesia, it could hardly be something pleasant. Hermione had woken up with a splitting headache and had felt as if she had been run over by the Hogwarts Express.

But her friends had taken such an effort to help her, so she couldn’t just duck out now. And she really needed clarity on this. It felt as if time had stood still since spring before last year, as if something inside her had stopped being alive. She couldn’t tell what it was, nor could she tell why. But one thing was certain; she couldn’t go on like this.

“Well… see you later then.” With trembling fingers, Hermione set the time: June 4th 1999, 3:30 p.m. While she was tweaking the settings, the place she was thinking about appeared like a photograph on the disc: Hogwarts, Astronomy Tower. “You won’t even notice that I’m gone.” Hermione gave her friends a reassuring smile.

“I will accompany you.“ Minerva stepped at her side.

Hermione startled so much that she almost fell against the empty glass case. “I don’t get it,” she whispered so quietly that only Minerva could hear it. “All the time you wanted to keep me from doing this…”

“And I’m still strongly against what you are doing,” Minerva whispered back. “But I won’t let you travel alone. Time traveling can be very dangerous if you travel long distances. You can get caught in a time vortex or fall into holes if you don’t know what you’re doing. Your experience is limited to journeys of several hours.”

“Wait a second!” Ron intervened. “McGonagall can accompany you but I can’t?“

“Please, Ron.“ Hermione laid a soothing hand on his shoulder. “We’ve already talked about this. I will explain it to you when I’m back.”

Ron rolled his eyes but stepped back obediently. Harry didn’t seem to like this situation either. “One moment, Professor!” He planted himself in front of Minerva, his wand brandished. “You don’t seem to be the Professor McGonagall we all like and know,” he declared, pointing at Minerva’s chest with his wand. “What did Hermione say to you when you caught us with the Mountain Troll in our first year?”

“That you and Mr. Weasley only came to her rescue because she had thought she could defeat the Troll on her own. Of course, that was a lie.” Minerva pulled out her wand, but Harry was quicker.

“Finite incantatem!“

A loud bang rent the air and for a few seconds heavy fog blocked their view. When the fog cleared up Minerva still stood in front of them, unaltered. Benjamin Quirkle, however, had changed back into a rather miserable looking Ginny, sitting on the stone floor and holding her aching head in her hands. Harry’s Invisible Cloak oozed out of his pocket now and he picked it up from the floor, visibly embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Professor, but I had to be sure,” he apologized and handed his Invisibility Cloak to Hermione. “Good luck, Hermione.”

Hermione turned around to say goodbye to Percy and Arthur Weasley but Ron’s older brother had dozen off again and his father stood in front of the oldest time turner of the collection with shining eyes. It had to be from the times of H.G. Wells and emitted a regular clicking which sounded like the ticking of a muggle watch.

Determined, Hermione put the golden chain of the time turner around herself and the Headmistress, but Minerva took the device from her hands. “Let me handle it,” she said in a voice tolerating no dissent. “Any other objections?” she asked everybody around.

Harry and Ron shook their heads, but Ginny, who had managed to pick herself up from the floor, gave Hermione a fierce hug before she let her go again. “Take care,” she whispered when she broke the embrace. “I’m crossing my fingers you will find what you’re looking for.”

“Are you ready?” Minerva had put her hand on the hour glass.

“Yes.” Hermione closed her eyes as soon as Minerva began to turn the hour glass of the time turner. She wasn’t afraid anymore. With Minerva at her side, nothing bad could happen to her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

Minerva’s experienced hand movements indicated that she knew what she was doing. One second later everything became blurred around them and Hermione instantly remembered how uncomfortable time traveling felt. A dragging pain went through her limbs as if her body was ripped apart. She felt like flying backwards very quickly while indefinable colors, forms and shapes flashed past her. Her stomach did somersaults and her head felt as if it was squeezed into a vise. An invisible force tried to catapult her into nowhere, but Minerva’s firm grip on her arm prevented Hermione from leaving her side. Then, suddenly, it was as if someone pulled on a leash with all their might, and Hermione found herself on the hard stone floor of Hogwarts’ Astronomy Tower.

Her head was still spinning when she carefully straightened her upper body. Right next to her Minerva struggled on her feet. “The Astronomy Tower was a good choice,” she stated while she helped Hermione to stand. “There’s nobody here at this time of the day.”

“That’s what I thought.“ Hermione brushed the dust off her elegant dress and looked around. Everything seemed ordinary. Had they really traveled to the past?”

Minerva checked the time turner’s display again before she let the device disappear in her robes. “It’s the Fourth of July, 3:34 p.m.”

Hermione cast a skeptical look at Harry’s Invisibility Cloak which would be a little too small for Minerva and herself. Maybe an Extension Charm would help? Engorgio,” she whispered, but nothing happened.

“This Cloak won’t be affected by a common spell.” Minerva murmured something, swung her wand and did the same move Hermione had just performed. ”Engorgio.”

Hermione couldn’t see any difference between hers and Minerva’s charm, but the Cloak did indeed grow to a sufficient size. “What did you do differently?” she asked curiously.

“First, you have to repress the unique magic surrounding this Cloak before you’re able to enlarge it. The magic flows back afterwards.” Minerva’s last words sounded muffled because she had already slipped under the Invisibility Cloak. “So the spell won’t last long,” she warned. “Mr. Potter’s Cloak behaves differently from other material.“

Hermione had no idea what Minerva had meant by repress, but as much as she would have liked to ask her about it, now wasn’t the time for lectures. The idea that the Cloak would suddenly shrink to its normal size again, making them visible for everyone around, wasn’t very comforting. “How long will it last?” she asked, joining Minerva under the Cloak.

“Probably about two hours, but we will hopefully be back by then.” Minerva followed Hermione heading for the stairs. They had to stay very close together to remain fully covered by the Cloak.

It was hot and musty under Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, but it wasn’t the lack of oxygen that made Hermione dizzy. Under the Cloak Minerva was so close to her that their shoulders were touching, and Hermione’s heart was pounding so fast that she was afraid the noise would betray her.

They went downstairs and then snuck through the corridors, constantly careful to immediately stop if one of them noticed any sound. Hermione hadn’t had the time to tell Minerva where they were heading but when the gargoyle came into view, the question became superfluous. “Why didn’t you choose the Hospital Wing?” Minerva whispered but was distracted by two students running past them, constantly giggling. “I knew Johnson and Woodcock were cutting History of Magic.” She angrily watched the two boys. “Upset stomach… as if!“

Hermione stopped in front of the gargoyle, hoping Minerva would still remember the password from that time. “We’ll go to the Hospital Wing afterwards,” she explained in a whisper. “First, I want to know where you are and where I am. In about an hour we’ll be casting a memory charm on each other.”

Minerva’s face darkened. “But we will only go to my office, not my private chambers,“ she straightened out. “Queerditch Marsh” she added distinctly.

The gargoyle hesitated as if it wasn’t sure what to make of it, yet eventually it made room for them and let them step on the spiral staircase. “Of course,” Hermione promised, holding her breath while the stairs were carrying them upwards. “But if you are not in your office, would you please check your private chambers?”

Before Minerva could respond, voices reached their ears, clearly coming from the Headmistress’s office. “We have to apparate soundlessly,” Minerva said under her breath and grabbed Hermione’s arm. “It’s the only way to enter the office unnoticed.”

Hermione knew that Headmasters were able to apparate inside of Hogwarts, but she had never guessed that it would feel differently from the usual apparating. Instead of the familiar feeling of being forced through a very tight rubber tube she felt like being pulled up at her head and thrown into the sky. But against her expectation, she landed softly and without the usual pop on the other side of the door. Only a wisp of wind betrayed their presence but the two women in front of the fireplace seemed to be too occupied to notice them.

Hermione’s stomach fluttered nervously when she saw her hypothesis actually verified. Indeed, a younger version of herself sat with a younger Minerva in the armchairs in front of the fireplace. A tea set was placed on the low table next to them but the beverages seemed to have cooled long ago. The two witches sat unusually close to each other and talked so quietly that it was difficult to make out their words.

Hermione gave Minerva a sign that she wanted to get closer to the armchairs and so they soundlessly snuck a few steps forward. Under regular circumstances, the Headmistress’s cat instincts would have noticed them, she didn’t seem to be quite herself that day though. Minerva McGonagall looked defeated and exhausted, and Hermione had dark circles under her eyes, too.

A queasy feeling crept up on Hermione under the Cloak. Did she really want to know what was going on here? Their two younger versions looked so sad that she could hardly bear it. Maybe it would be better if she didn’t learn the truth. But before Hermione could change her mind, Minerva bent forward next to her and Hermione couldn’t help but follow her movement to keep the Cloak from slipping off.

Simultaneously with Hermione, her younger self bent closer to the Headmistress. “What can I do?” she asked, visibly concerned.

The Headmistress covered her face with her hands for a moment, then she put them back in her lap and stared at the floor. “I can’t let the child go,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t.”

Hermione noticed Minerva tense under the Cloak. She was probably asking herself the same question: What was it with this child that the Headmistress couldn’t let it go? And why did she seem so desperate? Were their two younger versions talking about the child at the Hospital Wing? Was its condition so bad? Hermione regretted now that they hadn’t gone there first, like Minerva had suggested. That way they might have overheard what it was that made the farewell so difficult for Minerva.

With a mixture of curiosity and horror, Hermione watched her younger self gently reaching for the Headmistress’s hand. The gesture felt inappropriate, considering they were a student and a professor. But the older witch didn’t seem to find it strange in the slightest. “It’s difficult, isn’t it?” the younger Hermione said softly, stroking over the back of the Headmistress’s hand with her thumb.

The two seemed so well acquainted with each other. Hermione couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This was Professor McGonagall over there, who never let anybody get close to her, much less so a student. And yet the two witches sat so closely together, and the Headmistress didn’t make any attempt to distance herself. What had brought these two together in such a minimum of time?

“Would you do it?“ The Headmistress raised her head and Hermione was shocked to see tears in her eyes. Minerva McGonagall was crying? Hermione had never seen her cry, not even after Albus Dumbledore’s death. Under the Invisibility Cloak Minerva seemed similar shaken and she surely regretted that she hadn’t kept Hermione from her traveling.

“Of course,“ Hermione’s younger self responded, although she didn’t look as determined as she apparently tried to sound. “But wouldn’t it be better for the peace of your soul if you said goodbye to her, Professor?”

To her? The patient was a girl? At first, Hermione thought she might have misunderstood but Minerva’s surprised reaction next to her indicated that this wasn’t the case. So far, Hermione had always thought of the patient as a boy or man. For some reason it had never occurred to her that it might be a girl.

“I won’t remember,“ the Headmistress responded. Her voice sounded hollow and resigned.

So it was true. Minerva McGonagall could only be talking about the impending memory change. Which finally proved that Minerva and Hermione had cast the Obliviate charm on each other.

Hermione’s younger self hesitated, though. “You really want us to erase our memories?”

“This is not about what I want,“ the Headmistress sighed. “But we have to do it. We already know far too much about the future, and that’s never a good thing.”

Hermione could hardly believe that her theories had been so close to the truth. It was astonishing, how similar their behavior in the past was to theirs in the present. What would happen if they came to the same conclusion after their journey? They would need to repeat the memory charm once again, even though it might lead to an endless loop.

“But I don’t want to forget that I will love you,“ the younger Hermione objected quietly. “That I love you,” she corrected herself.

Hermione almost lost her balance under the Invisibility Cloak and Minerva breathed in deeply next to her. The younger Hermione had uttered the words so naturally as if it was a long known fact and Hermione’s revelation didn’t seem new to the younger Minerva McGonagall either.

Maybe they had found out they would be in love sometime in the future? Was this the knowledge they were supposed to forget again? But Hermione’s younger self hadn’t just talked about the future, she had also included the present. When Hermione listened to her inner voice with today’s knowledge she knew that she had always loved her Gryffindor Head of House. Even though it had begun with a childish crush, it had grown, had changed and deepened in the course of the years, and had led to a mature, complex feeling. Similarly to Ginny, who had already had a crush on Harry as a child, and was such a mature and equal partner to him now.

“You shouldn’t have broken your engagement with Ronald Weasley,“ the Headmistress said, gazing out of the window. “You’ve already taken action because of a knowledge you shouldn’t have.”

What?! Hermione leant forward so far that she almost fell over. All of her questions seemed to answer themselves within a few minutes and her mind almost couldn’t follow. Yes, she had suspected that her feelings for Minerva had been the reason for breaking her engagement, but to actually hear it now was something else entirely.

Yet, there were still so many unanswered questions. Why were the two witches so sad? The Headmistress actually seemed desperate. Would their future be so horrible? Was this the reason why Minerva McGonagall had insisted on the memory charm?

Hermione wished she could reach for Minerva’s hand under the Invisibility Cloak. It was so bizarre standing so close to her and hearing all these things. If Hermione only mastered Legilimency and could read what Minerva was thinking right now. Was she completely horrified or rather glad about the news? Hermione at least, could hardly bear how close those women in the armchairs were while she herself felt so far away from Minerva in spite of being physically close to her.

“Sooner or later I would have done it anyway,” Hermione’s younger self explained and her actual self could only agree to that statement. She hadn’t been ready to admit it to herself back then but in the end it had only been a question of time. “The past days were just some kind of a… catalyst.”

These words put a quiet smile on the Headmistress’s face, even though it didn’t last long. “It’s strange to imagine that…” She suddenly fell silent. “Well… that…”

“… we will be a couple?”

Hermione and Minerva both caught her breath under the Invisibility Cloak. Those words resolved all doubt and every other explanation. Hermione and Minerva wouldn’t just have feelings for each other in the future, they would be a couple!

Hermione dared a careful glance at Minerva whose eyes were stiffly focused on her younger self. The Headmistress in the armchair looked at her student for a long time and in her gaze was so much tenderness that Hermione started burning up under the Cloak. How much she had longed for Minerva McGonagall to look at her like that. The fact that she had actually done it and Hermione had only forgotten, was deeply confusing.

By now, Hermione felt so shaken that she couldn’t really listen to the words of the two witches anymore. She felt so incredibly happy that she feared it would blast the Cloak. And at the same time there was a heaviness in the room that didn’t seem to fit her feelings. Spellbound, Hermione looked at the intertwined hands of the two witches. They were so close and yet they seemed to be so unhappy. What could be the cause of that? Would they lose each other? Would one of them die soon? What had their younger versions seen in the future?

“How long will it take until I will understand?“ the younger Hermione asked with a sigh.

“It will be sooner for you than for me for sure,” the Headmistress said dryly. “You’ve seen how stubborn I can be.”

Hermione had to suppress a giggle under the Cloak, and her younger self smiled softly as well. “I knew that already,” she said and took a deep breath. “I have a request of you too, Professor.”

The Headmistress lifted her head. “Which is?”

“I want a kiss.”

Minerva pulled back under the Invisibility Cloak, as startled as her younger self in the armchair, and Hermione had to make a quick move to hold on to the Cloak. “Miss Granger!” The Headmistress withdrew her hand from Hermione’s as if she had burned herself. “You are still my student!”

”Please, Professor, consider we will have forgotten everything in less than an hour.“

Hermione knew it would be a lot wiser to leave the office immediately but her legs refused to move. She just had to know if it really happened. Had Minerva actually allowed her student to kiss her?

“That’s absolutely out of the question!“ The Headmistress abruptly stood up, apparently trying to get some distance between herself and her student. “We have to abide by the rules like everybody else.”

It was typical of Minerva McGonagall, but her protest sounded weaker than she probably had intended. At least, Hermione’s younger self didn’t seem very impressed.

“I do understand that, Professor.“ Hermione rose from her chair too and walked towards the Headmistress. “But I ask you to take the following into consideration.” She pulled a small, round object with a golden chain out of her pocket that looked a little like a necklace of a Muggle. The little ball shimmered golden when light fell from the window on its surface. Could it be a time turner? Hermione had never seen something like that. It didn’t have the shape of an hourglass.

The eyes of the younger Hermione were also focused on the round object in her hand. She took a deep breath before she continued. “Shortly, I will go to our daughter and help her to travel back to her own time. I would have liked to do this with you because I don’t know from where to take the strength to do this…”

Daughter??? Hermione felt Minerva next to her toppling backwards and instinctively outstretched her arm to keep her from falling. She could only just prevent them both from landing in the fireplace, along with the Invisibility Cloak. Minerva made a hasty move, and in the next second they stood outside of the office in front of the gargoyle.

Hermione whipped off the Invisibility Cloak, gasping for breath, while Minerva numbly leant against the wall. She looked white as a sheet and her cheeks were suspiciously damp. Hermione conjured up a tissue and gave it to her. “Do you regret we came here?” she asked quietly.

Minerva blew her nose without looking at Hermione. “You will have a daughter,” she said tonelessly.

”We will have a daughter,“ Hermione corrected her softly. “How do you know that she’s mine?”

“Of course, she is.“ Minerva wiped her eyes. “Let’s travel back… I… we are not supposed to know this…”

“No.“ Hermione blocked her path. “Our daughter is in the Hospital wing and I need to know how she is doing.” Without waiting for an answer, she threw the Invisibility Cloak over herself and Minerva. “We both were so sad. I hope it’s nothing life-threatening…”

Minerva was still too shaken to offer resistance and so they snuck through the empty stairway to the first floor. It was strange to be in the thousand year old building again that still felt more familiar to Hermione than her own parental house. She could skip the magic steps in her sleep, yet today everything felt far away and unreal.

When they eventually stood in front of the Hospital Wing Hermione’s courage left her. Would she be able to deal with what she would see inside? In what condition would she find her daughter? But before she could say anything, Minerva touched her shoulder and only a moment later they stood on the other side of the door.

The silence in the room was almost spooky and only one bed was occupied. Madam Pomfrey was nowhere in sight but it wasn’t unusual that she was summoned to a classroom or roaming through Hogwarts’ grounds collecting fresh herbs.

Hermione’s heart hammered against her chest as they tiptoed closer to the occupied bed. The patient in it didn’t look sick at all. She sat on her bed and seemed to be a little bored. On her bedcover was a small wizard chess game that she regarded thoughtfully. Obviously she was playing against herself. The girl was about twelve years old and her young face was framed by brown, bushy hair. Her mouth, her forehead and also her eyebrows looked quite similar to Hermione’s, but her eyes had the same emerald green like Minerva’s. The shape of her face was more similar to Minerva’s as well, and also her slender fingers.

Hermione was suddenly overcome by such a wave of love for this child that tears welled in her eyes. She wanted to run to the bed and reveal herself. She didn’t need any evidence that this was her daughter. Her heart was absolutely certain.

Hermione dared a cautious looked at Minerva. At the same instant, the child raised her head, looking curiously in their direction. Had she noticed them? But when the girl’s eyes didn’t find anything suspicious, she turned back to her chess game. While the girl delved into the game again, she wrinkled her forehead in the very same way Minerva did when she concentrated on something.

Hermione caught her breath when she finally realized what it meant. But how could that be? Was this really possible? Minerva seemed to have made the same conclusion since she was deathly pale. Suddenly, the door swung open and Hermione’s younger self entered the Hospital Wing. She seemed nervous and tense but walked to the young patient with brisk steps.

“Jean Ginevra McGonagall,“ Hermione said strictly. “You’re not even dressed yet.”

The girl jumped from her bed and threw herself into Hermione’s arms. “Where’s Mum?” she asked after breaking the embrace.

“Unfortunately, she sometimes has important meetings she can’t postpone. But we can’t postpone your journey any longer, my darling.” Hermione led the girl back to the bed and sat down beside her on the edge of the bed. “You urgently have to go back to your own time. I’m sure your mothers are already awaiting you longingly.”

Jean Ginevra McGonagall. The words sounded like music in Hermione’s ears and she tried to burn them into her brain forever. How could she have forgotten that name? Never would she agree to a memory charm again!

Before Hermione could step closer to the bed, she felt Minerva’s hand on her shoulder, and then they stood in the corridor again. “Why did you do this?” Hermione protested under her breath. “I need to know if everything goes well on her journey.“

Minerva didn’t respond but pulled Hermione into an empty classroom. “We’ve seen more than enough,” she whispered as soon as she had closed the door behind her. “Far too much.” Her hands were shaking when she pulled off the Invisibility Cloak.

Hermione leant against the door, exhausted and in a complete turmoil. “I’m so glad I’m here,” she said after a while. “And that you’re with me. I’ve always been so afraid of the future. But now I know that it couldn’t be more wonderful.“

“Do you… do you think the child is from… from both of us?” Minerva’s voice was trembling and she spoke hesitantly.

“Most certainly.“ Hermione was absolutely sure. “Who knows what will be possible in the future?“

A single tear freed itself from Minerva‘s eyelashes and ran down her cheek. “I’ve never would have guessed that… I’ve always wanted a child… but…”

Hermione cautiously put her arm around Minerva. “But you didn’t think you would get involved again?”

“No.“ Minerva’s emerald eyes were shimmering. “Much less so… with a former student.”

Hermione smiled happily. “Does that mean I’m allowed to love you now?“

“No.“ Minerva ran her hand over her forehead and remained almost two minutes in that pose. “No, it doesn’t mean that.” She closed her eyes to compose herself. “You left this school only a year ago. We need time, Hermione. Both of us. So that something new can grow.”

“But it has already grown.” Hermione forced Minerva to look at her. “I know what you mean, but the past three years weren’t like normal years.” She involuntarily swallowed as she thought of the most horrible time of her life. “I’ve grown up during my seventh year. We were on the run for eight months to search for the Horcruxes. Every day I thought I wouldn’t be alive the next morning. And when Hogwarts was rebuilt after the war I worked side by side with you for days. I stopped seeing only my teacher in you long ago, and you stopped seeing only your student in me long ago…”

“I don’t deny that.“ Minerva made a distracted gesture. “But you can’t just strip off your childhood…“

“I know, but…“ Hermione searched for the right words. “While the accidental look into the future might actually have accelerated some things, they were already there under the surface… The encounter with Jean only made them more obvious.”

“Exactly,“ Minerva insisted. “If it wasn’t for the confrontation with the future, the two of us wouldn’t be here. Our time hasn’t come yet.”

“Yes, maybe.“ Without thinking, Hermione reached for Minerva’s hand and pulled it towards her chest. “But we saw what we saw. I feel what I feel. You can’t just turn back time.“

“No, but we live in our own time, Hermione. Not in this one, and not in the one our daughter seems to come from.” It was noticeable in Minerva’s voice that she had a hard time containing herself. The things they had heard and seen didn’t align with to her rules and principles.

“But I want you, Minerva,“ Hermione whispered. “I want you so much. I can’t do this anymore.”

And then she kissed Minerva. She just couldn’t help herself. All those news, her thoughts, her feelings, it was simply too much and too overwhelming. In her heart, Hermione felt so much love - for Minerva, for their daughter, and for those two brave witches they had just observed. Minerva couldn’t reject her anymore. Not here. Not now.

“Hermione… no…“

But in spite of her protest, Hermione felt Minerva’s hands on her cheeks. At the touch the last barriers fell and Hermione kissed Minerva with all the passion she felt inside. Finally. Finally. Finally! Minerva’s lips on hers, her hands in her hair, her soft skin under her fingers.

The world faded and a hot burning ran through Hermione’s body when Minerva’s lips reacted to hers. So many years she had waited and the past half hour under the Invisibility Cloak had been like hell. Watching all those things, observing the closeness between them, the love they felt for each other that was readable in their faces – and at the same time having Minerva so near next to her without being allowed to touch her. It was more than she could bear. But suddenly Minerva pulled back and Hermione stumbled, groping for the wall. “I love you, Minerva,” she whispered out of breath. “I love you.“

“I’m sorry, I…“ Minerva’s cheeks were flushed and her lips swollen and her pupils were so dilated that Hermione could barely control herself. “I shouldn’t have done this…,” Minerva whispered, gasping for air. “I…” She fell silent and let the rest of the sentence hang in the air.

Hermione leant heavily against the cold wall, trying to get her breathing under control. “How much time is supposed to pass?”

When Minerva didn’t respond Hermione looked up and the deep turmoil reflecting in Minerva’s face startled her. She had never seen the Headmistress so upset. “We will see…,” she said, struggling to regain her composure. “We will meet… every now and then… and get to know each other… Not as student and Headmistress but as Hermione Granger and Minerva McGonagall… Only when we know who we really are… when we are on equal terms… we will go a step further… It has to be that way, Hermione... You know it has,” she added with a pleading voice.

Sighing, Hermione sat down on one of the school desks. Of course, she remembered Minerva’s remark at Harry’s wedding party. She wasn’t the little pupil anymore who admired her teacher from afar, but she couldn’t yet be the partner Minerva had been talking about in the garden of the Burrow. She was no longer the former, and not yet the latter. She was something in between.

Hermione wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead and tried to focus on her mission again. “Will you let me go to the Hospital Wing again?” she asked, knowing very well that Minerva wouldn’t approve. “I need to know if Jean will arrive safely in the future. Considering what you told me about time traveling of greater distances, all kinds of things could happen to her.”

Minerva shook her head. “To know for you that she will arrive safely, you have to travel to the future yourself. I warned you. You get answers if you travel to another time but also so many more questions. It’s a vicious circle.” She buttoned the top button of her green robe and smoothed her hair. “Let’s travel back.”

“No.“ Hermione remained sitting on her bench. “I need certainty. Only one more journey.”

With a sigh, Minerva picked up the Invisibility Cloak from the floor and handed it to Hermione. “You don’t even know where to go. You don’t know the time, nor the place.”

“That’s easy to find out for a change.“ Hermione slipped under the Cloak and opened the door of the classroom. “I’m going to be back soon.”

Before Minerva could do anything, Hermione was in the corridor and snuck back to the Hospital Wing. As quiet as possible, she opened the door and slid back into the room whose scent was still so familiar to her from her schooldays. She had spent several weeks here after she had accidentally thrown a hair of Millicent Bulstrode’s cat into her Polyjuice Potion, and she had lain here even longer after the Basilisk’s gaze from the Chamber of Secrets had petrified her.

Hermione took a relieved breath when she saw the young patient and her younger self still standing in front of the bed. So the girl hadn’t left yet. She was wearing a Gryffindor uniform now, as Hermione registered proudly, and held the small device in her hand that Hermione’s younger self had pulled out of her robes. So it actually was a time turner.

Hermione sneaked forward on her toes to catch a glimpse at the time turner. It was almost funny how her younger version just tried to do the exact opposite, although she certainly was at least as curious.

Hermione had to get very close to the child to be able to read the letters on the time turner. It was so hard not to touch her daughter at least once. September 11, 2019 11:10 a.m. indicated the device. Below the numbers, the Quidditch field of Hogwarts was visible.

The girl seemed anything but keen to start her journey, but she did what was expected of her. She then turned around so quickly that she almost bumped against the Invisibility Cloak. “Everything’s set, Mummy.”

The loving title made Hermione’s heart swell. Someday she would be allowed to hold this child in her arms. To rock her, to feed her, to love her. Someday the girl would take her first steps and say her first words. She would learn how to write and to read and start her school years at Hogwarts, and she would support Jean Ginevra McGonagall on all these stages of life, as much as she could.

It took all of her effort to tear away from the sight of her prospective daughter and sneak back to the door. How much more difficult it had to be for her younger self? Mother and daughter were so familiar with each other, it was visible that they had bonded and developed a close relationship over the past couple of days. Hermione understood now the deep sadness she had noticed in the Headmistress’s office.

Her heart was bleeding when the child suddenly threw herself into the arms of her prospective mother, begging her that it could stay. Jean seemed to be really afraid of her journey. Fortunately, the younger Hermione managed to comfort her and to cheer her up. Eventually, Jean let go of her, touched the time turner with her tongue and then tipped a certain spot Hermione couldn’t see. She had barely touched the spot when Jean disappeared as if she had never been here.

The room was deathly silent now and the younger Hermione stared at the spot where her daughter had stood just seconds ago. Under the Invisibility Cloak, Hermione felt equally paralyzed and she was almost glad she couldn’t leave the room unnoticed right now. So she waited patiently until her younger self had removed all tracks and eventually left the Hospital Wing with a heavy heart. Only then Hermione dared to sneak out of the room as well.

Minerva quizzically raised a brow when Hermione came back into the empty classroom, the Invisibility Cloak over her arm. “And?”

“September 11, 2019 at Hogwarts,“ Hermione reported while closing the door. “So Jean Ginevra McGonagall will probably be born around 2007.”

“Oh God!” Minerva covered her face with her hands. “We know far too much. It will haunt us forever.”

To her regret, Hermione couldn’t deny that. “We will think of something,“ she promised even though she didn’t feel any impulse to do something about it. “But first I will travel to the year 2019 to make sure that Jean arrived home safely. So will you come with me or not?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

Of course, Minerva didn’t let Hermione travel through time on her own, much less so over such a long distance. Since their time turner wasn’t adapted to long journeys, they had to make several intermediate stops until they finally arrived on Hogwarts’ Quidditch pitch on September 11th, 2019. When they landed on the field, Hermione felt so sick that she had to throw up right away.

Minerva was pale as well but stood still upright and supported Hermione as she emptied her stomach. “Shame about the pastry from Harry’s wedding,” Hermione muttered while Minerva helped her up.

“Maybe there will be some leftovers when we’re back.” Minerva carefully brushed a brown strand from Hermione’s face.

“Thank you, I’ve had my fill.“ Hermione took a few deep breaths, waiting for the world to stop spinning. It was a sunny late-summer day and the first leaves of the Forbidden Forest started to turn yellow. The grounds of Hogwarts looked like on any other day and Hermione checked the time turner just to make sure everything went well. The castle would probably look exactly the same in a hundred years. Yet, the golden display didn’t leave a doubt that they had indeed arrived in the year 2019.

Minerva quickly pulled Hermione behind one of the huge pillars when a grayed Hagrid appeared at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He didn’t seem to notice them though. His gaze was focused on the ground as he sluggishly trudged to his hut. Hagrid was limping slightly and Hermione wondered what had happened to him. Maybe an argument with a giant or a Centaur? Fortunately, Hagrid’s injuries usually healed quickly so that Hermione wouldn’t have to worry about him too much.

From the distance they heard voices. “The break has just started.” Minerva pointed at a bunch of students pouring out of the Entrance Hall. To avoid any risk, she cast a new extension charm at Harry’s Invisibility Cloak before they stalked closer to the castle. “There is Jean,” Minerva whispered suddenly. “That means she will arrive too early. Since she has to travel such a long distance, she’s probably using one of these devices where you don’t automatically arrive at the starting point of your journey. Jean would have needed a formula to calculate the exact time that had passed in her own time while she was away.”

“She obviously doesn’t know that, otherwise her other self wouldn’t frolic around on the school grounds.” Hermione darted an anxious glance at the Quidditch pitch where Jean would arrive in a few minutes. “I thought you told your prospective daughter everything about time traveling while she was at the Hospital Wing…”

“I’m sure I did, but I didn’t know that new technique last year,“ Minerva defended herself, frowning. “Let’s go back to the Quidditch pitch.“

“Right, but where to exactly?“ Hermione looked around. “The area is huge…” She hadn’t finished her sentence when she noticed a movement from the corner of her eye. Before she knew what she was doing, she lifted her arm and shouted ”Molliare!”

Only a second later Jean Ginerva McGonagall landed softly on the ground of the Quidditch pitch. Without Hermione’s cushioning charm, she would have had a hard landing and Minerva gave Hermione an appreciative smile.

Puzzled, Jean looked around. She seemed to neither feel sick nor dizzy, but apparently she realized something had softened her landing. When she didn’t find the cause of it, she turned around and headed for the castle.

“We don’t have a choice,“ Hermione whispered. “We have to show ourselves to her.” She pushed the Invisibility Cloak aside.

Jean spun around when she heard Hermione’s footsteps and started to beam as soon as she recognized her prospective mother. “Mummy! You came with me!“ she cheered. Then she stopped short. “Why are you dressed like that?“

Now Minerva removed the Invisibility Cloak too and Jean yelped of delight. “Mum!” she shouted, running towards Minerva. “I thought you had an important appointment!” She hugged her mother fiercely, until she noticed that Minerva wasn’t dressed less festive than Hermione. “What’s going on?” she asked skeptically.

Hermione stepped to Jean and kneeled in front of her. “Don’t worry, Jean. We are your prospective mothers, but we didn’t come from the year 1999. We came from the year 2000 because we wanted to be sure you arrived safely in your own time.”

Jean looked back and forth between Hermione and Minerva. “But… why…?”

“It’s a long story,“ Minerva said in her typical teacher voice. “After you traveled back to your own time, we had to alter our memory so that we wouldn’t remember you anymore.“ She put her hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “But your impatient Mummy here insisted on traveling back to the year 1999 in order to see what had happened during the time she didn’t remember anymore.”

It was hard to say if Jean understood anything of what Minerva was telling her. She looked so confused that the Headmistress eventually took the child in her arms. “All this must feel very weird to you,” she said, tenderly stroking her daughter’s forehead. “It’s high time you get back to your parents.”

“Speaking of your parents,“ Hermione continued. “As you know, it’s usually not allowed to show yourself when you come from the past or the future. But unfortunately you arrived too early. When exactly did you travel to the past?”

Jean looked at her with wide eyes. “Well… we were having a special class lesson about time turners. Thus, I told the device to take me back to the break before the lesson starts. I thought I would just slip back into the classroom.”

“That was really smart of you, Jean,“ Hermione smiled. “But your type of time turner seems to utilize a technique where a certain time passes in your present time while you go back to the past. So you should have given the time turner a different time.”

“If you travel back to your starting point with this type of time turner, you accidentally alter the course of history,” Minerva added. “You undo what has happened in your own time while you were gone.”

Jean plopped down in the sand. “That’s too complicated for me,” she groaned. “Just tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it.”

“It isn’t that simple, unfortunately.” Hermione picked up the Invisibility Cloak. “We have to find out the exact time when you started your trip. And we need to know how much time has passed during your absence.” She turned towards Minerva. “You stay with Jean, while I join her class lesson.”

“That’s Uncle Harry’s Invisibility Cloak!“, Jean yelped enthusiastically when Hermione pulled the Cloak over herself. “Where did you get it?”

“Harry leant it to us,“ Hermione explained, well aware that Jean couldn’t see her anymore. “Where does your class lesson take place?”

“In the… Great Hall,“ Jean stuttered into nowhere.

Hermione left Minerva and her daughter on the Quidditch pitch and headed for the entrance of the castle. All students had gone back to their classrooms or to the Great Hall so that Hermione could run across the empty grounds without being seen. Only when she arrived at the big Oak gate of the Entrance Hall, she slowed her steps and snuck past a group of students who loudly discussed the right performance of the Leg-Locker curse.

Hermione cast a Silencio charm on the door of the Great Hall so that, maybe for the first time in several hundred years, the door didn’t creak when she opened it a tiny crack and slipped through it.

The noise level in the Great Hall was unusually high for a class lesson. Obviously several classes had been summoned to the Hall since it was crowded with students of various ages. Professor Flitwick stood on a huge pile of books at the head end of the Hall, where usually the teacher table was placed, and vehemently knocked on the highest book board with his wand in order to make himself heard. In front of him, Hermione could see a long table with ten glass vitrines containing different types of time turners. A bald-headed man stood next to the table and gave a lecture about the unique features of each device. Since he spoke with a French accent it was pretty difficult to understand him. Every time he started to talk about one of the devices, he opened the associated vitrine with an elegant move of his wand, lifted the time turner up and explained its features.

The lesson seemed to just have started and Hermione spotted Jean in the middle of a group of second-years. She talked to a ginger-haired girl next to her, who looked very much like Ginny’s and Harry’s daughter might. The high noise level helped Hermione to sneak to the glass cabinets unnoticed. She quickly detected the device that would catapult Jean into the past, but to her horror there weren’t any descriptions or user guides hovering in front of the vitrines. How could she get the special formula Jean needed to travel to the right moment of time?

Almost a little bored, the French scientist took one time turner after the other out of the glass cabinet and there were only two devices left until he would talk about Jean’s time turner. So Hermione sat down on a bench and listened to the speaker’s elaborations. He explained quite interesting facts and Hermione had to be careful not to be distracted by his teaching.

Eventually, the speaker freed Jean’s time turner from the glass vitrine and started a lecture about its features. However, he didn’t say anything about the time that passed while using it. With wide eyes, Hermione watched him handing the device to a student. He told him to hand it to his neighbor and everyone else in the room so that all students could have a look at it.

Hastily, Hermione looked for an animal in the Hall. There were a few ants on the floor but insects wouldn’t be sufficient for her plan. Finally Hermione’s gaze fell on Mrs. Norris. The old cat of Mr. Filch was so perplexed that she didn’t even make a protesting sound when Hermione’s nonverbal Accio charm pulled her under the Invisibility Cloak. She quickly recovered from her shock though and immediately tried to escape from Hermione’s arms. But Hermione had already cast a Silencio charm on her so that she couldn’t make a sound although she opened her mouth as wide as she could. Because of her experience with Crookshanks, Hermione knew exactly how to hold Mrs. Norris to keep her from jumping from her arms, but it wasn’t easy to hold the cat and perform the correct spell at the same time.

So far Hermione had only succeeded a few times with transforming an animal into a human-like being, and the hexed animals had never been capable of speaking a human language. But the transfiguration spell would only need to work for five minutes. With another Accio charm, Hermione took away a paper and a quill from a student and quickly scribbled a question on the paper while holding Mrs. Norris in a headlock with her other hand. Then she tapped with her wand three times on the head of the puzzled cat and murmured “ Vera verto homo femina”

Only seconds later, a young girl with freckles and grey, straggly hair stood in front of Hermione. She put the piece of paper into the girl’s hand and pushed her forward to the French speaker. He politely thanked her as he took the paper from the girl, who didn’t deign to look at him and quickly walked back towards the benches. Immediately, Hermione gave her a sign to duck and hide between the benches. The girl darted a very angry glance at her before she disappeared behind the benches. A moment later, Mrs. Norris betook herself with a disapproving hiss.

Hermione held her breath when she looked around, but the students’ attention was thoroughly focused on the time turner they would hold in their hands very soon. Nobody seemed to have noticed the cat’s transformation. Hermione was about to lean back with relief, when her blood ran cold. Minerva McGonagall had just entered the Great Hall and looked in her direction. Had she noticed the cat’s transformation?

While Hermione snuck past the benches and headed for the door as quickly as possible, Professor Flitwick touched his neck with his wand and made himself heard with a Sonorus charm. “Quiet!” he shouted with his high-pitched voice. “Just about now the Headmistress has joined us to attend this important lesson.”

Minerva, who was crossing the Hall with grand strides, stopped abruptly and gave Professor Flitwick a polite smile. “Please, don’t let me disturb you, Monsieur Foucault,” she said to the French speaker. “I noticed the unusual high level of noise and wanted to make sure everything was alright. Today’s topic deserves the students’ full attention.”

Indeed, it was completely quiet in the Hall now and Jean had also stopped talking with the ginger-haired girl next to her. Satisfied, Minerva made a gesture towards the scientist, asking him to continue.

“I was asked to say something about the formulas of this time turner.“ Monsieur Foucault raised the piece of paper he had taken from Mrs. Norris. “The technique is quite complicated, I must say.” He started a long-winded elaboration about the history of time turners which was so tedious that some students started to whisper again. Most of them seemed to be a lot more interested in the time turner wandering through the rows than in the elaborations of the speaker. “We all feel time as linear,” Monsieur Foucault explained. “But it is actually curved and its behavior depends on space.”

Hermione waited eagerly for Monsieur Foucault to say the needed formula, but he didn’t seem to find it necessary. Hermione had carefully stopped behind a pillar and a quick glance at Jean told Hermione that it wouldn’t take long anymore until the time turner would arrive in her row. She was just about to sneak towards the exit when she saw a tabby cat with a particular pattern around the eyes coming towards her. She knew very well that the Invisibility Cloak wouldn’t fool this cat.

The animal stopped in front of her, lifting its nose up in the air. Hermione instinctively backed off and pressed her back against the cold pillar. Without doubt, the cat would recognize her scent. When Minerva changed into her human form, Hermione didn’t see any other way out than the flight forward. Without making a sound, she pulled away the Invisibility Cloak and put her index finger in front of her lips.

Minerva seemed to understand and told her with a gesture to pull on the cloak again. With an astonishing casualness, she strode to the exit of the Hall while Hermione followed her under the Invisibility Cloak. The Headmistress looked as beautiful as always although a few silver strands had mingled with her black hair.

As soon as they had left the Great Hall, Minerva felt for the Invisibility Cloak and pulled it off. “Hermione?” she whispered, visibly concerned. “Why are you so young?”

Hermione showed her the time turner she had used. The Headmistress startled when she saw the device. “Why are you here? Is something wrong?”

“Everything’s fine,“ Hermione tried to reassure her, obviously not very convincing. But if she actually told Minerva why she was here, the Headmistress would storm into the Great Hall and drag her daughter from the class lesson. And that would alter time forever. “Can you explain to me what Monsieur Foucault just said?” Hermione asked instead. “How do you find out how much time has passed in your own present while you’re away in the past or in the future?”

Instead of responding, Minerva raised her hand and brushed a stubborn strand from Hermione’s face. The touch was so tender and affectionate that Hermione involuntarily closed her eyes. This Minerva didn’t distance herself from her anymore and in her green eyes was so much love and warmth that it almost made Hermione cry. Why couldn’t the Minerva of her time look at her like this? Why weren’t they allowed to touch like this?

When Minerva noticed Hermione’s reaction, she quickly withdrew her hand. “From which time do you come from?”

Hermione lowered her gaze in embarrassment. “From the year 2000.”

“Oh…” Minerva blushed. “I’m sorry, I…“

“Don’t be.“ Hermione smiled shyly. It would be so easy to kiss Minerva now. This Minerva surely wouldn’t reject her. She wouldn’t talk about morality and time and about right and wrong. This Minerva had slept with her. Many times probably. They had built a life together and they had a child together. How had they done that anyway? Hermione wanted to ask so many questions but she knew much too much already. “Are we happy?” She couldn’t help asking at least that.

Minerva’s green eyes lit up. “Yes,” she said softly. “Very much so.”

“Good.” Hermione nodded, trying to regain her composure. She had a job to do after all. “Would you please tell me about the curvature of time again? I need the formula.”

Minerva cleared her throat before she responded. “There’s a precise formula that hasn’t been known yet in the year 2000. Monsieur Foucault discovered it himself.” She raised her arm and suddenly held a book in her hand, probably from the library. On the Traces of Time and Space was written on the green spine. “The time that passes while you are traveling depends on where you are going,” Minerva explained. “The closer the location is where you are heading, the less time passes during your absence.”

“And if I stay at the same place, will the time run with the same speed like in my own present?” Hermione delved into the formula on the page Minerva had opened.

“No. We never stand still in the universe, so you have to calculate it again every time.” Minerva pointed with her wand at the first part of the formula. “The new time turners calculate the passed time automatically so that you don’t have to do it on your own. But if you use an older device, you still have to calculate.”

A loud murmur went through the crowd in the Great Hall and Hermione quickly glanced at the clock in the Entrance Hall. So Jean disappeared from her present at 11:37 a.m. Instantly, Hermione calculated the days she had missed in the spring of 1999 and transferred it to the formula. If she was correct, in Jean’s present three days and six hours had passed while she had been in the past. Which meant that Jean had arrived three days and six hours early.

“You’re probably not allowed to tell me what this is about,” Minerva said, sending the book back to Hogwarts’ library. “I know we traveled through time in the year 2000, but I don’t remember what happened.”

Hermione paled. The fact that the older Minerva didn’t remember her time journey could only mean that Hermione and Minerva had indeed cast a memory charm on each other again after their trip. So she would forget everything once again. And not only that, Jean’s parents would be worried sick for the next three days.

Hermione knew very well that she was about to violate the law in the same way she had already done it in 1999, but she couldn’t help herself. The idea that Minerva would be really terrified broke her heart. Thus, she asked Minerva for a parchment and a quill which the Headmistress mutely handed her. Hermione leant the parchment against the wall and wrote in big letters Everything will be fine. H. Then she gave the parchment and the quill back to Minerva. “Are you ready for the memory spell?”

Minerva looked at the parchment in distraught. “Of course,” she said, straightening her shoulders. “Let’s get it over with.”

Hermione slipped back under the Invisibility Cloak and raised her wand. “Obliviate!”

 

* * *

 

When Hermione ran back to the Quidditch pitch, it took her a while to find Minerva and Jean. They sat at the edge of the field behind one of the pillars, their backs against the wood and their bare feet in the grass. Minerva had wrapped an arm around Jean and was just telling her with vivid gestures about her time as a Quidditch player.

With a wistful smile on her face, Minerva explained what tactical maneuvers she and her team had used against the Slytherins. In her last year at Hogwarts, the Gryffindors had practiced particularly hard and they had prepared themselves for the match against Slytherin for months. Because of their intense training, they had been far in the lead at the last game for the House Cup. But then, out of the blue, a Slytherin player had fouled Minerva so horribly that she had fallen from her broomstick and had woken up in the Hospital Wing hours later with a severe concussion and several broken ribs. While she had been unconscious, her team had been outmanned for the rest of the game, which the Slytherins had used mercilessly against them. In the end, the Slytherins had caught the golden snitch and won the House Cup.

Hermione had never heard Minerva talk about that time of her life and instead of brushing off the Invisibility Cloak, she sat down in the grass and listened to the Headmistress’ stories. She could still hear the sadness in Minerva’s voice as she explained to Jean that this had been her last game as a Quidditch player. Her injuries had been so severe that she hadn’t been allowed to ever play again.

Hermione felt a big lump forming in her throat as she watched Minerva with Jean. How brave and strong she was. Hermione had already met three Minervas on this journey, and she loved them all from the bottom of her heart.

A suppressed sigh betrayed her presence and Minerva immediately stopped her story. “Hermione?”

Hermione finally stood up to make herself visible. “I’m sorry you had to wait so long but something came up,” she apologized.

“Came up?“ Minerva frowned and Hermione felt like a stupid student again.

“Unfortunately, your older self noticed me,” she explained sheepishly. “But in the end everything went well,“ she added quickly before Minerva could ask a question. “I cast a memory spell on you - which you had agreed to.”

“A memory spell?“ Minerva eyed her suspiciously. “Without any backdoor?“

Hermione blushed. “Well…,“ she admitted. “Not quite.“

“Not quite?“ Minerva abruptly stood up. “What’s that supposed to mean? Not quite!” she asked, noticeably upset.

“Weeell….“ Hermione said reluctantly. “I might have put a tiny little piece of paper into your robes, with a note that everything will be fine.” She raised both of her hands when she noticed Minerva’s horrified expression. “I just couldn’t bear the idea of you suffering so much,” she defended herself. “I know it wasn’t right. But I don’t regret it.”

They turned around when they heard a giggling behind them. “You are exactly like my mums,” Jean grinned. “But in the end, you always make up with each other.”

“Do we?“ Minerva’s eyebrows shot upwards.

“Yes.“ Jean nodded. “Because you love each other.“

“Oh well.“ Hermione looked at Minerva triumphantly. “There’s nothing to be done about that.“

“Fine, then,“ Minerva sighed. She seemed to know when she had lost a battle. “What did you find out, Hermione?“

“Jean arrived three days and six hours early.“ Hermione told them about the complicated formula Minerva McGonagall had given to her. “Jean would change time, if she returned to the Great Hall now.”

“My parents must be so worried.“ Jean lowered her gaze gloomily. “I bet they are pretty mad at me.”

Minerva took Jean in a comforting embrace. “You didn’t travel through time on purpose.” She patted Jean’s cheek. “And maybe the imprudent message of your mother will help them a little.”

“I’m sure it will.“ Hermione gave Jean an encouraging smile. “Your mothers aren’t stupid, you know.“

Jean shyly reciprocated her smile. “Will you take me back?” she asked timidly.

One look between the two witches and it was decided. “The fourteenth of September is a Saturday,” Minerva mused. “Would you be at Hogwarts then?”

“No, I would be with my parents,“ Jean responded immediately.

Hermione looked at Minerva quizzically. “And where’s that?” she asked, turning to Jean again.

“We own a Cottage in Hogsmeade.“ Jean pointed at the roofs of the old village. “My parents need to live close to the school because Mum is the Headmistress of Hogwarts. Mummy however has to apparate to London every day, but she says she doesn’t mind.”

“And what is it your Mummy doing in London?” Hermione asked spontaneously and promptly got a reproving look from Minerva.

“Mummy is the Minister of Magic.“ Jean startled when Minerva laughed out loud. “Mum says she’s the best one the ministry ever had,” Jean defended her mother, but that seemed to amuse Minerva all the more.

“Hermione, Hermione…” she said, shaking her head. “I should have known...”

“Are you serious?“ Hermione’s heart skipped a beat when Jean nodded proudly. She would actually become the Minister of Magic? At once, a hundred things she had always wanted to change crossed Hermione’s mind and she felt a little dizzy thinking that she might do exactly that in the future.

Minerva was still laughing when she turned to Jean. “We need to use our time turner to do it so that no time will pass in our present,” she explained and lifted the Invisibility Cloak so that Jean could slip under it. “As soon as we arrive, you will be our guide.”

“We have to travel to the 14th of September, 5:27 p.m.” Hermione adjusted the time on their device and handed it to Minerva.

Once again, they were pulled into the stream of time and Hermione’s stomach complained with each journey more. She felt violently sick when they arrived in front of the door of the Cottage. It took a while until the surrounding stopped spinning and Hermione could take a look around. The Cottage was beautiful and seemed to be in a good and very neat condition. It was placed a little faraway at the edge of Hogsmeade, surrounded by high trees.

Hermione wanted to take a closer look, but Minerva shooed them forward. The door of the house was ajar so that they could simply slip inside. Jean, who knew the house perfectly, took the lead and guided them to the living room. The biggest room of the house was furnished quite cozily and Hermione instantly recognized some of her belongings. Her mother’s old chest of drawers that got jammed from time to time, and her father’s desk that was actually a little too big for her. Yet, she loved both pieces of furniture so much that she wouldn’t give it away for anything in the world. The set of armchairs next to the fireplace were clearly Scottish and the tartan had the pattern of the McGonagall clan.

Close to the fireplace, on the sofa, they found Jean’s mothers. Minerva sat upright, her legs crossed, and was delved into a book, while Hermione leant against Minerva’s upper body. The younger witch let her feet dangling over the side rest, while she was reading the Daily Prophet. Compared to Minerva, she had clearly aged more. There were some silver strands visible in her brown hair and in only a few days she would celebrate her 40th birthday. She seemed to have gained a little weight too, which looked surprisingly good on her.

While the two witches were absorbed in their reading, Minerva’s fingers absent-mindedly ran over Hermione’s forehead and hairline in rhythmic moves. It was such a tender, self-forgotten gesture that Hermione melted under the Invisibility Cloak as if she would feel the touch herself. When Hermione’s older self turned the page of the newspaper, a ring flashed on her hand. Only now Hermione noticed that the older Minerva was wearing a very similar ring. They weren’t just a couple, they were married!

Jean pushed her elbow into Hermione’s ribs under the Invisibility Cloak as she stared at the couple they would be one day. An entire swarm of butterflies was fluttering in her stomach and she could hardly breathe. What a prospect! An indescribable, deep feeling of happiness flooded through Hermione that was only clouded by the gloomy mood of the two witches on the sofa.

After a while Hermione’s older self lowered her newspaper. “I have to read every sentence three times,” she sighed. “It’s useless.”

“Same here.“ Minerva pressed her temple against Hermione’s head. “This uncertainty is killing me.“

“Did you contact Monsieur Foucault again?“ Hermione closed Minerva’s book and snuggled into her arms.

“Yes, several times. He says there’s no way to find a trace of Jean. She has to come back herself.” Minerva sighed deeply. “I just don’t understand why I didn’t notice Jean’s disappearance. I was there in the Great Hall, but for some reason that I can’t remember I left the room for a few minutes.”

“I can tell you the reason.“ Hermione pulled a crinkled piece of paper out of her pocket. “You were distracted.” She flattened the paper on her thigh. “There is this note that I can’t remember I have written. And you don’t remember why you left the Great Hall. So you might have had an encounter with a Hermione from the future who knew that we shouldn’t worry. Of course, she had to change your memory afterwards.”

“That’s completely absurd, but you are definitely capable of doing something like that.” Minerva kissed Hermione’s cheek. “And it wouldn’t be the first time, as we both know.”

The older Hermione turned around and kissed Minerva, while Hermione under the Invisibility Cloak tried to discreetly look in a different direction. But she couldn’t keep herself from hearing the tender sounds the two witches made and wished it wouldn’t affect her lower belly so much.

Eventually, they fell silent again. “It doesn’t change anything though,” the older Hermione said softly. “I’m worried sick. I sent notes to all international experts but nobody could tell me how to find Jean.”

It was hard to see them suffer and Hermione sighed in relief when Minerva gave Jean a sign to show herself. Jean seemed to have longed for that moment because she got rid of the Invisibility Cloak in lightning speed. “You don’t have to worry anymore, Mummy,” she said with her silver voice.

Hermione and Minerva startled on their sofa. Then they jumped up and pulled Jean into their arms, beaming with joy. Both mothers cried and laughed at the same time and hugged Jean again and again, as if they couldn’t believe that their daughter was actually back. After a while, Minerva put her hand on Hermione’s shoulder under the Invisibility Cloak. It was time to leave.

Since their time turner couldn’t travel the distance of twenty years, they had to make intermediate stops again. They stopped at a rainy October day in the year 2014, stumbled into a snowstorm in January 2009, stopped on Hogwarts’s grounds at a blazing heat in August 2004, and finally arrived in July 2000 on the hard floor of the Ministry of Magic.

Indeed, their friends didn’t seem to have noticed that they had even been gone. “It’s not working, is it? ” Harry asked when Hermione falteringly opened her eyes. “Is anything wrong with the device?”

“No, it worked.“ Minerva freed Hermione and herself from the golden chain and put the time turner back into the glass cabinet.

“And?“ Ron immediately stepped to Hermione. “What happened?“

“Would you please give Hermione some time, Mr. Weasley?” Minerva asked him, closing the glass vitrine. “It was a long journey.”

“Sorry.“ Ron nodded but his curiosity got the better of him. “Are we together again?” he whispered as Hermione leant against one of the vitrines, completely worn out.

Arthur Weasley cleared his throat and pointed at his Muggle watch. “I think it’s high time to go back to the wedding party.”

“Exactly.“ Minerva waited until Percy had successfully gotten up from the floor and then closed the door after them. Hermione cast a quizzical look at her but Minerva avoided her gaze. “We separate here,” she said to everybody. “I need to deliver a report about the journey, but we will see each other in a bit.”

“How did you get into the building anyway, Professor?” Ginny asked curiously. “It’s impossible to apparate inside of the Ministry of Magic.”

“It wouldn’t be the Ministry of Magic, if it didn’t have any secrets left, Mrs. Potter,” Minerva responded cryptically and Hermione wondered why the Headmistress didn’t insist on a memory charm. It wasn’t like her to postpone something like that. But the Headmistress turned around without looking at her again.

“See you, Professor, and thank you!“ Harry linked arms with the yawning Percy and they quickly walked to the elevator. While Harry and Ron brought the rest of the Polyjuice Potion back to the Auror Office, Hermione and Ginny went to the Ludicrous Patent Office to hang the cloak back over the chair of his owner. When they arrived at the Atrium of the Ministry, their friends were already waiting for them.

Hermione was very grateful to her friends for not asking her any questions on the way back. She still felt unusually dazed which had less to do with the side effects of the time journey than with the disorganized thoughts in her head. What was she supposed to do now? How could she live a normal life with the knowledge she had gained? Was there any other way than erasing their memory again?

“Are you alright?“ Ginny darted Hermione a worried look.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Hermione smiled at Ginny, wondering how long she would be able to keep from her that she soon would have a pretty daughter with Harry, and that her own daughter would carry Ginny’s name. “I still feel a bit nauseous from the journey.”

A few minutes later they stood at the entrance of the tent again, where people danced wildly to old pop songs from the 1980’s. Minerva already sat on her seat next to Kingsley, and Hermione didn’t even try to understand how she managed to look as if she had never been gone. Again, she tried to make eye-contact with Minerva, and this time the Headmistress met her gaze. With a barely noticeable nod, she signaled she would come to Hermione soon.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

 

With a subtle gesture, Hermione let Minerva know she would wait outside in the garden. As soon as she had stepped out of the tent, she took a deep breath. She wished so much she could keep everything she had seen and learned on her journey. The wonderful girl she would have one day, the affection she had seen in Minerva’s eyes, the brief, hurried moment in the empty classroom - all of these memories and then some. She wanted to store them in her heart for all eternity.

Yet, she had to let her knowledge go. She understood now why Minerva had insisted on the Obliviate charm last year. Hermione had found so much more than just the small piece of a puzzle on her journey. She had found a whole world and she had to forget it as soon as possible.

Slowly, Hermione strolled to the rear part of the garden where no torches lightened the darkness anymore. The candles from inside the tent didn’t reach that area either, only the moon sent a pale light on the trees and Hermione could see the silhouette of the hills in the distance. Feeling exhausted, she ran her hand over her face and closed her eyes for a while. Her inner clock told her it was about 5 a.m., although it was not even 10 p.m. Her body longed for her soft bed, but as Ginny’s maid of honor she couldn’t leave the party that early.

“Hermione! There you are!“ she heard Ron’s voice behind her. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

Hermione turned around, suppressing a sigh. “I needed some time for myself,” she explained when he went towards her.

“Yes, of course.“ Ron nodded sympathetically. “What did you see?“

“Ron.“ Hermione gently stroked his arm. His white shirt was hot and soaked with sweat. Lavender Brown had wanted to ask him to dance for hours and she had apparently taken the chance to draw him on the dance floor. “We won’t be together again,” Hermione told him with a soft voice. “But hopefully we will always be friends.”

“Okay.” Ron kicked his foot into the grass. “What did you see? Everything was fine before.”

“I can’t tell you, Ron. And if it makes you feel better, I won’t remember it myself in a few minutes.“ Hermione gently squeezed his arm once more before she lowered her hand. “Minerva and I have to alter our memory again because we now know too many things we shouldn’t know.”

Ron’s eyes reflected his fear. “Is it that bad?” he asked and his long arms dangled helplessly next to his lanky body.

“No, it’s just…“ Hermione hesitated. “I will spend my future with a different person.“

“Because you have to or because you fell for someone else?” Ron pushed his hands into his pockets. “Who is it? Anyone I know?”

Hermione shook her head. “Please, stop asking me, Ron. If I learned something on this journey, it’s that we should let our future in peace. It will come to us soon enough, or we to it, depending how you look at it.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “You sound just like McGonagall.“

“That’s because it’s true,“ a familiar voice said behind them.

Startled, Ron stepped aside. “Professor… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s okay,“ Minerva interrupted him brusquely. “But I’d appreciate it if you left me alone with Hermione for a little while. We have some issues to talk about.”

“Yes, of course.“ Ron put his hand on Hermione’s shoulder as if he had to protect her from something. “I’m in the tent,” he said. “You can always count on me.” Then he turned around and went back to the tent.

After he was gone, Minerva pulled out her wand and an old garden swing appeared between the trees. “I can’t stand any longer,” she admitted, taking a seat on the swing. “We will have to have our conversation while sitting.” She raised her wand again and laid a Muffliato charm onto their surroundings.

“Fine with me,” Hermione agreed and sat down on the soft cushion. Several huge Pink roses were printed on the surface, and the cushion exuded a sweetish scent of perfume which reminded Hermione of visits to theatres with her parents many years ago. “This swing seat doesn’t even squeak,” she stated appreciatively, running her hand over the soft surface.

“I borrowed it from a muggle garden,“ Minerva told her with a smile. “And it has to be back on the patio on time before its owners will come back from their evening at the opera.”

One light push was enough to let the garden swing softly swing back and forth. The movement was calm and peaceful and stood in strong contrast with Hermione’s inner turmoil. She closed her eyes for a while, falling deeper into this blissful calmness, and she didn’t let her surprise show when she felt Minerva’s hand on hers. She knew why the Headmistress allowed herself the touch. They had returned to their own time but their knowledge kept them from actually being here. They were pending somewhere between the times. They weren’t anymore who they had been before, and they weren’t yet who they would be one day. They were stuck in a world in between with no rules to hang on to.

For several minutes, they quietly swung back and forth, their gaze directed at the starry sky above while subdued party music reached their ears from the distance. Feeling exhausted and confused, Hermione leant her head against Minerva’s shoulder, wishing, she would never have to leave this place again. She didn’t want to make decisions, didn’t want to think about what they were supposed to do. She just wanted to sit here, next to Minerva, and shut out everything else.

“We will have a very cheerful, smart daughter,“ Minerva interrupted the silence. “And she will be beautiful, too.”

“And a Gryffindor,“ Hermione added proudly. “I noticed it in the Hospital Wing.“

Minerva smiled, not really surprised. “Did you expect anything else?” She put Hermione’s hand in her lap. “My little Minister of Magic.”

“It’s incredible, isn’t it?“ Hermione suppressed a giggle. “I still can’t believe it.“

“You better not think about it too much,“ Minerva warned. “We’ll have to forget it anyway.”

“It’s Groundhog Day all over again, isn’t it?“ Hermione sighed deeply. “If we cast a memory charm on each other, I will knock at your door again tomorrow, trying to find out what really happened.”

Minerva nodded gloomily. “And as far as I know, you will be pretty tenacious about it.”

Hermione gave the swing a gentle push before she asked the question she had thought about for hours. “Why did you help us get the time turner? I thought you were strictly against our mission?”

Minerva seemed surprised by the question. “Hermione Granger, I’ve known you and your friends since you were eleven years old. Nothing has ever stopped you from doing something if you have set your mind on it,” she said with a serious voice. “When I saw you leaving the tent, Mr. Potter with his Invisibility Cloak in his pocket, I instantly knew what you were up to. If I hadn’t joined you at the Ministry, you would have found another way to travel through time. All I could do was to keep you from traveling alone or with someone without any experience. Besides, I could turn your illegal enterprise into a legal venture. If anyone had caught you in the Department of Mysteries, all of your careers would have come to an abrupt end. Not to mention the other punishments...”

Hermione thought of the moment during their time journey when a vortex had almost pulled her into nothingness. “I’m glad you took care of me,” she said gratefully. “Yet, before we start to erase our memories,” she added reluctantly, “we should try to minimize the factors that bothered me after my last memory loss and which will bother me again tomorrow. Maybe that way I won’t try to travel again?”

Minerva thought about Hermione’s idea. “Which factors are you talking about?” she asked after a while.

Hermione pulled one leg onto the cushion and turned towards Minerva to have a better look at her. The starlight cast a pale light on her beautiful face which seemed to be so unaffected by time. Actually, she now looked exactly like the Goddess she had been named after, and Hermione had to pull herself together to not gawp at her like a lovesick teenager. “I’m mainly talking about three things,” she responded, noticing that the previous year felt almost like ten years ago. “For one, I was utterly worried because my study schedule for the N.E.W.T.s had been completely crushed. All of a sudden, I was several days behind without any idea how it had happened.” Hermione remembered very clearly how upset she had been at that time, but she also remembered that she had felt a lot calmer after she had received her graduation certificate. “Fortunately, I am not in the middle of the N.E.W.T.s anymore. Besides, Harry, Ron and Ginny know about our memory charm this time.”

“That definitely comes to your advantage,“ Minerva said with a frown. “But what about the second factor? I assume it’s the agreement to break off the engagement of you and Mr. Weasley?”

“Yes.“ Hermione admitted with a blush. “And this factor will unfortunately remain. It’s difficult for Ron to accept the document.”

“No wonder. He doesn’t remember it.” Minerva was still holding Hermione’s hand and Hermione couldn’t believe how happy this simple gesture made her. And yet there was a very obtrusive part in her, difficult to ignore, that wanted so much more, and that could hardly bear sitting so close next to Minerva and only be able to hold her hand. All the things she had seen on her journey scurried around in her head and caused a heat she could barely control.

Hermione closed her eyes to focus back on their conversation. The swing swung back and forth a few times as she tried to gather all her courage. Over and over, Minerva had rejected her and she would certainly do it again this time. “Which brings me to the third factor,” Hermione said bravely and her voice trembled suspiciously. “No memory charm in the world would be able to erase what I feel, what my body feels, and what my soul has finally understood…” She looked down and fell silent. There was so much to say but she couldn’t utter another word. During their journey, it had been so hard, not to give in to her feelings, not to touch Minerva while they had been learning the truth about themselves that it felt as if she hadn’t any resistance left. Desperately, Hermione fought her tears and it took her a long time to be able to turn towards Minerva and look into her face.

Minerva had also turned towards her and looked at her in a way like never before. For the first time, she didn’t contradict Hermione. “I know what you mean,” she said quietly. Her watery eyes shimmered in the dark and Hermione understood they both craved the same thing.

Without thinking, Hermione took Minerva’s other hand and pulled it under her red dress towards her panties. They were so soaked that Minerva uttered a strange, surprised sound when her fingers touched the fabric. “And what do I do about that?” Hermione whispered.

Minerva didn’t respond, but she didn’t pull away either. “I don’t know,” she said eventually and her voice sounded hoarse as if it didn’t fully obey her. “I really don’t know.”

Silently, the swing swung in the wind while both women on it didn’t move anymore. They just looked at each other, Minerva’s hand still under Hermione’s dress, their faces close together. And at some point, after hours, days, or weeks, Minerva closed the last distance and kissed Hermione. Slowly, tenderly, almost shyly. And Hermione held her breath, inwardly prepared for Minerva to suddenly draw back like she had done in the empty classroom. But it didn’t happen. They stayed in the world in between, not young, not old, without rules, but filled with all the emotions and longings they had brought with them from their journey.

Eventually, Hermione dared to respond to the kiss, timidly at first, then more bravely and more demandingly. Hot tears welled in her eyes as she pressed her core into Minerva’s hand. Minerva gasped for air in surprise but didn’t break the kiss, nor did she take her hand away. Hermione kissed her again and again like there was no tomorrow. Something salty reached her tongue and she realized she wasn’t the only one crying. Her hands wandered to Minerva’s face, to her hair and then loosened the strict bun. The long hair fell on Hermione’s arms and she heard Minerva making a soft sound as she buried her hands into the heavy hair. It took Hermione’s breath away when Minerva’s finger started to move over her panties while her other hand touched Hermione’s neck. At first, she considered it an accident, but then… “Oh God,” she whispered.

It was intoxicating and overwhelming, being so close to Minerva. Hermione felt Minerva’s arousal like her own and couldn’t believe that it was actually her who caused those feelings in Minerva. Without realizing it, her hand had wandered under Minerva’s robes to her breasts. They felt round and soft in her palm and she heard Minerva sighing quietly. Everything in Hermione felt hot and swollen, hungry and ready, but the Headmistress didn’t make it easy for her. Minerva’s touches stayed gentle and slow and Hermione’s arousal increased with every second. “Why… now?” she breathed.

Minerva took Hermione’s right hand and led it to her lap. Hermione’s eyes widened when she sensed how hot it was. Minerva had to be as wet as she was. “Because I can’t hold it together anymore, and you can’t either,” Minerva whispered. Her answer ran like a blazing fire through Hermione’s veins and she pushed herself into Minerva’s hand. She wanted it to slide into her panties, to be inside of her, but Minerva’s hand stayed where it was. “No,” she whispered and Hermione heard her breathing heavily into her ear. “We will save that for a moment we will remember.”

Hermione couldn’t think anymore. Her core burned and she pushed herself rhythmically against Minerva’s hand while her own hand ran over Minerva’s most intimate spots. Only for a second she was afraid that somebody could find them here, but she couldn’t stop it anymore. Everything inside of her wanted Minerva, wanted her lips, her mouth, her hands, her skin. She heard Minerva’s heavy, fast breathing in her ear, until they both started trembling in each other’s arms. They had to cling to each other to not fall from the swing and it took a long time until their breathing calmed down again. “We could have such a wonderful time together,” Hermione whispered into Minerva’s neck.

Minerva stroked her back tenderly. “We will have a wonderful time together,” she stated. “But first, we have to forget what we saw and really arrive at our own time.”

“If we do that…“ Hermione tried to find a useful thought in her still foggy brain. “… everything will start all over again tomorrow.”

 

Minerva sighed into Hermione’s hair and reluctantly sat up. “So what could keep you from starting your research all over again?”

Hermione moaned with resignation. “That I know what I know now.”

Minerva nodded knowingly. “You are a hard nut to crack, you know that?“ she said and Hermione thought of the moment when she had called Minerva McGonagall A hard nut to crack herself, back then when she had tried to find out what had happened during the time she hadn’t been able to remember. Maybe they were equal when it came to stubbornness.

“How about my trick with the note?“ Hermione suggested cautiously, bracing herself for the expected thunderstorm.

“Again?!“ Minerva asked, horrified. “Haven’t you done enough already?“

“You can’t deny that the note helped Jean’s parents quite a bit,” Hermione justified her idea. “And the announcement was also kind of useful. Without it, I would be married to Ron by now.” She took her wand and gave the swing a little push, before she leaned back again. “Do you have a better idea?”

Obviously that wasn’t the case since Minerva didn’t respond. “Well then,“ she said after a while, conjuring a piece of parchment with a disapproving look. “We will write something down and see if it could be useful.” She pulled a green quill out of her robes. “I suggest you choose the words yourself.”

Hermione snuggled against Minerva’s shoulder and started to dictate the words. Although she didn’t touch the quill it moved effortlessly on the hovering parchment and changed Hermione’s words into her handwriting.

“Dear Minerva, dear Hermione“ Hermione dictated. “In May 1999, there was an incident you had to erase from your memory with a mutual memory charm. However, several things were different after the days you now can’t remember anymore. Eventually, on Harry’s and Ginny’s wedding day, you two traveled into the past in order to learn what had happened back then. It turned out that you had met a person from your future and learned facts you shouldn’t know yet. Nice things, but they belong to a different time.” Hermione hesitated. Now for the hard part... Therefore… you decided to perform another mutual memory charm on each other… And that’s the reason why you – again - don’t know what had happened about a year ago… but we… which means you… ask you to leave things as they are… The future will come soon enough and…” Hermione fell silent when she couldn’t continue. The idea to say farewell to her memories made her throat constrict.

“What’s left,“ Minerva continued for her and the quill immediately changed its handwriting. ”… is the certainty that you will find the way to each other one day, even though it might take a while until the time is right…”

Hermione abruptly lifted her head from Minerva’s shoulder. “You really want to write that?”

“How are we supposed to keep you from starting your next journey?“ Minerva grabbed the parchment and the quill and put them into her lap. “You were right. Memory charms change the knowledge about facts in the first place. They don’t really affect the feelings of a person. And with this note, we have at least an explanation that will hopefully keep you from traveling through time all over again.”

Hermione promptly placed a wet kiss on Minerva’s cheek. “Thank you,” she said from the bottom of her heart. She knew what this admission had cost Minerva.

As soon as they both had signed the document, Minerva performed a doubling charm and handed Hermione the original while she took the duplicate. “It’s time then,” she stated, raising her wand.

“No, wait…“ Hermione involuntarily touched Minerva’s arm when the truth hit her with all its might. Only a few moments separated them from forgetting everything. “Just a second… please…”

“Why?“ Minerva skeptically raised an eyebrow. Of course, she looked right through Hermione who tried to postpone the inevitable.

“Please, dance with me,“ Hermione said suddenly.

“Pardon?“ Minerva lowered her wand.

“Dance with me.“ Hermione gave her a pleading look. “I want to dance a tango with you before we will forget everything.”

“A tango?” Minerva looked at her uncomprehendingly. “Why in Merlin’s name do you want to dance with me all of a sudden?”

Hermione’s face went scarlet. “When you danced with Neville earlier, I wished I could have been in his place.”

“Earlier…“ Minerva shook her head. “Earlier feels like an eternity ago.“

Hermione knew what Minerva meant. This day felt like three days already. But unlike Minerva, she wanted to do everything so that it would never end. “Will you?” she asked shyly. “Will you dance with me?”

Minerva’s frown reminded Hermione very much of her lessons in Transfiguration, but then the Headmistress’ expression relaxed. “We should quickly put the spell behind us…,” she said weakly. “We really should.”

“You would never dance with me then,” Hermione pleaded. “During our fourth year, at the Yule Ball and also at the dance lessons before, you danced with many students, male and female, but never with me.” She tried in vain to keep the bitterness and hurt from her voice.

“Yes, I know.“ Minerva sounded sad and tired. “I… You were so beautiful… I… just couldn’t dance with you…“ She stared into the dark starry sky and was silent for a while. “Alright then,” she said eventually. “One dance. And no more excuses after that.“

They reluctantly stood up from the garden swing and Minerva sent it back to their rightful owners. With another spell, she put her hair back into a bun while Hermione tried to remove Minerva’s lipstick from her mouth. They both needed a little help from their wands, until they were decently dressed enough to go back into the party tent. Soon, the beats of the music were audible again and also the loud voices of the guests who tried to talk to each other in spite of the noise.

Ron noticed Hermione’s presence immediately, and Ginny and Harry sent her a quizzical look, too. “They are your friends,” Minerva whispered to her. “Without their help, you wouldn’t have traveled anywhere. Don’t you think you owe them an explanation?”

“Would that be okay for you?“ Hermione didn’t expect Minerva to give her time for that, but when the Headmistress wordlessly joined Kingsley Shacklebolt, Hermione wriggled herself through the crowd of dancing couples.

“You’ve been gone for a long while,” Ron greeted her with noticeable jealousy. “What did you talk about?”

Hermione lowered her head, hoping he wouldn’t read in her face what they had done aside from talking. “We needed to discuss a few things we had seen on our journey,” she explained. “And we decided that another memory charm is the only possible way to deal with it.”

“I don’t get it.“ Ron rolled his eyes. “So the whole trip was useless.“

“I’m sorry, I underestimated the consequences.“ Hermione’s gaze fell on to Harry and Ginny who would have a beautiful daughter in a few years, a witty girl who would be friends with her own daughter. “You don’t only see the things you’ve wanted to know. You see all kinds of things that will happen in the future.”

Ron started to say something but then seemed to have decided against it. He apparently understood what Hermione tried to say. “Tell me only one thing then,” he whispered into her ear. “Who is the person you will spend your future with? Tell me his name.”

“I can’t, Ron.“ Hermione pushed her index finger in his chest. “All I can say is that I’m glad you are my friend. And I will always be grateful for your help. I couldn’t have done this without you and I know I can always count on you.”

“Of course you can.“ Ron wrapped his long arm around her shoulders. “It’s just not fair that you know more than I do.“

“Not for much longer, I can assure you.“

“How stupid is that.“ Ron pulled a face. “We could have lost our jobs and our freedom. All of this just for the next memory charm.”

“Are you fighting again, or did you just make up?” Ginny asked when she and Harry joined them. “It was hard to say from our table.”

Ron crossed his arms in front of his chest. “She will fall for somebody else. I knew it.”

“Really?“ Surprisingly enough, Ginny didn’t ask any further questions. “Come on, let’s dance again,“ she said instead, turning to her husband.

“Are you crazy?“ Harry put on a painful face. “Can’t you dance with someone else?”

“Hey, I just married you!“ Ginny laughed cheerfully. “But if you don’t want to, I’ll ask Ron.”

“No way!“ Ron jumped backwards in horror. “I’m your brother!“

“Men…” Ginny sighed and linked arms with Hermione. “Will you dance with me then?” she asked her best friend, leading her to the dance floor. “When I practiced for the Yule Ball back then, I always had to be the man,“ she grinned. “I’m actually very good.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second.“ Hermione smiled, pulling Ginny’s arm on around her waist. She trusted her best friend completely. Right now, the band was playing a Viennese waltz and Ginny started dancing past the other dancing couples like a little tornado. Even an excellent dancer like Neville, who almost seemed to take-off with Luna in his arms, darted an appreciative glance at them. “Thank you for not asking me any questions,” Hermione said after Ginny had led her into a sweeping twist. “It’s not that simple, you know.”

Ginny danced with her past Professor Slughorn and Professor Sprout, who had danced together the entire evening. “I’m your best friend,” she said. “And I’m not blind. Unlike some other members of my family.“

“Is that so?“ Hermione turned scarlet, glad that Ginny was busy trying to maneuver them past Hagrid and Olympe Maxime, while all the other couples quickly sought shelter. They eventually slowed down when the music was fading and Ginny took a bow in front of Hermione. Suddenly Minerva stood next to them. “May I steal your partner for the next dance?” she asked Ginny with a polite nod.

“Of course.“ Ginny gave Minerva an unusually cordial smile and left her friend to the Headmistress. Promptly, the first notes of a tango were audible.

“What a coincidence,“ Hermione chuckled as she laid her hand on Minerva’s shoulder. “You didn’t accidentally…”

“No magic. Just simple muggle style.“ Minerva wrapped her arm around Hermione’s waist and took the promenade position. “I politely asked the band to play a tango.”

“Very smart.“ Hermione secretly told her wildly beating heart to stay in her chest. She had longed for this dance since forever.

The tango was fast and snappy, exactly like Hermione had pictured it. Minerva had to pull her very close to her body to be able to precisely lead her. Together with other couples, they strode across the dance floor, did spins, rock turns, side steps, promenades and swivels, and Hermione felt a little dizzy when Minerva’s leg slid so intimately between hers. Their moves clearly belonged to the dance, so nobody saw what they were doing – or feeling - except for Ron, who stared at the dance floor with an open mouth, and probably Ginny, who tactfully looked the other way.

“The bride looks really pretty,” Minerva said, leading Hermione into a swivel. “But, as always, you’re the most beautiful woman in the room.”

Hermione didn’t have time to accept the compliment because Minerva suddenly changed direction and walked with her across the dance floor, then changed direction again and Hermione had to abruptly turn around her head. “Wow…” Hermione’s cheeks were already burning and she was sweating everywhere.

“You wanted a tango.“ Minerva led her into another promenade.

“Yes, but I didn’t expect it to be like sex,“ Hermione whispered out of breath.

Minerva laughed quietly into her ear. “Don’t you think a woman of my age has had enough sex for today?” She gave Hermione a second to breathe, initiating several open reverse turns.

“That’s where you are wrong. It will never be enough with you.” Hermione smiled when the shudder running through Minerva’s body spread to her own. There were so many things they could look forward to.

“Are people looking at us?“ Minerva asked straight-faced.

“No, we’re just dancing, aren’t we?“ Hermione let her gaze wander over the other guests, wondering why everybody seemed to be so self-absorbed. Was it just a coincidence or intentional? “Only Ron is staring at us, and Ginny has her own thoughts on the matter.”

Minerva turned her head slightly to look over at Ginny. For a brief moment, their gazes met, then Minerva turned to Hermione again. “Molly’s daughter has always been a smart girl.”

They stopped talking for the rest of the dance, they just swept over the dance floor as if this could stop time and Hermione felt as if she was floating. What they had to do in a few minutes was inevitable. Yet, whatever would happen tomorrow, they had laid a trace, outside and inside, which couldn’t be wiped away anymore.

“Thank you,“ Hermione whispered as the tune faded away. Without a word, Minerva left the dance floor and Hermione followed her to the exit of the tent. Once again, they walked to the empty edge of the garden and then stood in front of each other like in a duel.

When Hermione looked into Minerva’s usually so composed face, she saw so many emotions that it almost made her cry. Her body was still burning from the dance and from the garden swing and she wondered how she would explain all this tomorrow. Just to be on the safe side, she quickly felt for the piece of parchment under her dress, noticing that Minerva involuntarily did the same. One day the future would be their present.

Hermione ignored the burning pain in her chest and as if pulled by an invisible thread, she and Minerva both raised their wands.

“Obliviate!“