1. After the Battle.
The dried blood was cracking on his skin and his muscles ached; he hadn't noticed while the battle had raged. It was over now, though. Voldemort was dead. Neville had something he wanted to say to Luna. He eased himself down to sit on the step next to her. They both stared ahead in companionable, exhausted silence for a couple of minutes. He should tell her now. It wasn't like he'd used up his entire store of courage in decapitating Nagini.
Suddenly Luna spoke and what she said was unexpected: "I wish my mother was here."
Neville clenched. Every nerve in him chilled. His love for his parents doused every other love and hate in him. It was an unrequited love and it had been for as long as he could remember. Neither of them had any idea of who he was. What did it matter if Voldemort was dead, if Bellatrix LeStrange was dead? The horror might have ended for some, but for him the greatest nightmare would always remain. This was a time for righting wrongs, but his own tragedy could never be corrected. He couldn't turn back time.
Yes he could. His year as Resistance Leader had seen him in all sorts of strange nooks of the castle. He knew the place better than anyone and he remembered a small room he had passed once. He had noted it then, thinking that it might come in useful in the future. That time had come. He rose. Luna didn't notice.
However, from her seat in a dark, damaged section of the Hall, Hannah Abbott did. She was sitting in a silent row of Hufflepuffs: all shocked at the situation and stunned at themselves and the courage they had somehow dredged up to fight the battle they had just helped to win. Ernie looked round as she stood; she smiled at him and he said nothing. She followed Neville out of the Hall, along a back corridor and up narrow stone stairs.
They just missed passing the Golden Trio as they made their weary way back into the castle. Ron supported Hermione with an arm round her shoulders and she leaned her head on his shoulder. They stopped and stood still for a moment, surveying the grieving and the devastation.
Ginny spotted them and ran towards them, away from the rest of the Weasleys who were gathered about Fred's corpse. When he saw her, Harry looked up; his shoulders slumped. She caught him just before he fell and he clasped her tight, laying his head on her shoulder and finally relaxing.
Ron and Hermione backed away to give them space. Hermione looked up into Ron's face.
"It's over," she said.
Ron looked over to the place where his family were gathered together. He swallowed. Hermione followed his gaze.
"Shall we go over there?" she asked.
Ron shook his head. "Sorry," he said. "It's been a long day... I'm not... I can't..." He took a deep breath. "Not yet."
"You were brilliant," she said.
"So were you."
"I know, I know, but I don't just mean in the ways I'm used to you being brilliant."
He looked into her face and grinned. "You never mentioned me being brilliant before."
"That's because you're also a complete arse." She smiled shyly. "Go on, say something in Parseltongue again."
"You think all that hissing's sexy?"
"Not per se. But it's clever and clever is – you know – very attractive."
"Say 'sexy' and I'll think about it."
"Ron!" She slapped him on the arm.
"Tell me I'm sexy. Do you think I'm sexy?"
"You say it first!"
"I'm sexy." He chuckled. Then he put on his most serious face. "You are really fucking sexy, Hermione Granger. Kiss me again."
She blushed like a Weasley to the roots of her hair and looked down at her feet. "Ron!" she said breathlessly. "All these people."
"They don't care."
"Well I do." She sat down abruptly on a pile of rubble and looked up. "Oh!"
Hermione pointed over Ron's head at the wall. He stopped looking at her to turn round.
"Where that stone's been blasted out, there's a piece of parchment. Look. Do you see it sticking out?"
He did. He reached easily with his long arm and pulled it out. It was rolled into a tight tube. He sat down next to his girlfriend (that word made him smile to himself) and let her unroll it.
Help! I'm in February 1978. I followed Neville but I can't find him. I can't get the Time Turner to take me back again. Get Hermione to explain it all to you then come and get me. There's a cupboard full of Time Turners halfway up the little staircase behind Advanced Charms. Thanks from,
"Why is it addressed to you?" Hermione asked suspiciously.
"That's your first question? You read this note and that's the first thing you ask?"
"I don't know! I don't understand anything about it." Ron paused. "I suppose we'd better go and find that Time Turner cupboard."
"Well, yes. It looks like a bit of an emergency, don't you think?"
"There's no hurry. Whatever time you leave here – even if it's next week or next year – you'll arrive there at the same time."
Ron's brow furrowed as he considered that. "I suppose so."
"You should go and see your mother first."
Ron looked over to his family again and a knot of dread twisted his stomach. He swallowed.
"You know what, Hermione, I could do with some time to get used to Fred's– to everything myself before I do that." He looked at the note. "And it doesn't matter what time I go, I'll come back now and she'll never know – Oh!" He looked over to the doorway of the Hall where a very familiar figure had just walked in. Ron squeezed Hermione's hand as he watched himself turn towards them and give a little wave, before squaring his shoulders and facing the direction of the huddled group made by his family. The Ron in the distance took a deep breath and walked over to his mother.
"I think you'd better go," Hermione said. "I don't think you should both be in the same room at the same time. Paradoxes." She stood up and pulled on his hand. "Be quick about it, because I've got a lot to explain to you about Time Turners and I want to get back here quickly so I can support you over there." She jerked her head at the other Ron, the one consoling his mother.
Ron gave himself an appraising glance as they left the Hall. "I don't know how you can deny that that's sexy," he said.