(Book cover aesthetic by Acnara)
Hermione's breath was steady. Her hands did not shake, her heart did not race. It did not matter that it was a frigid day in late December, the temperature well below freezing as snow coated the ground.
Hermione Granger did not tremble.
This was something for which she had planned for far too long, and she had already executed the first part with perfection.
December 31st, 1926.
Yes, she knew it could damage her body irrevocably, though she had taken precautions. Yes, she knew it could have unforeseen consequences. Was counting on that, in fact.
After all, what did she have to lose?
Hermione's life after the war was a deterioration. Returning to Hogwarts to get her N.E.W.T.'s had resulted in a plethora of dramatic events, the most notable being her newly-born romance with Ron going up in flames, her estrangement from the Weasley family because of it, and, consequently, her friendship with Harry becoming distant and detached.
None of them hated her necessarily, it wasn't that—especially not Harry. Nothing could completely break Hermione's friendship with Harry.
It was just… isolation. And it had shocked her with its abruptness.
Before, Hermione had seen her life unfolding before her in what she thought would be a very happy and predictable path. She and Ron were supposed to get married, have children, be happy. She would go on to work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, carry on with S.P.E.W., maybe…
After she and Ron had broken up, everything changed. Those who were at Hogwarts with her in Hermione's final year had looked at her differently, when they looked at her at all. Ginny was no longer the warm, pleasant girlfriend she had known just days before. Even Horace Slughorn, who had once said, 'Miss Granger, continue on at the rate you are, and I'll bet you're running for Minister of Magic by the time you're thirty years old!', was more reserved around her. The rumors being spread made it seem like she had deserted Ron, like Hermione had done something wrong to become severed from the 'Golden Trio'.
Rita Skeeter always had always been excellent at painting Hermione in a horribly unflattering light, she would give the woman that.
The prospect of working in a Department where she would be in the same building as Ron all the time seemed unbearable, after those publications. Hermione's mind was only changed after she'd had a career orientation meeting with McGonagall, who, unlike everyone else in her life, had treated Hermione exactly the same after the onslaught of Prophet and magazine articles slandering her. Hermione had confessed that she, for the first time, was unsure of what to do with her life. Her former instructor and then Headmistress had slid a pamphlet across the desk towards her, telling Hermione to 'think about it'.
There was only a single word on the cover:
And the information within, scant as it was, had been enough to persuade Hermione. Suddenly, being an outcast didn't seem to matter anymore.
In opposition to all the passive-aggressive hostility Hermione had been forced to deal with was, surprisingly enough, Draco Malfoy. She would never call it a friendship, what had begun to develop between the two social pariahs at that point, but… Well, it was something. Instrumental, even. Hermione would never have even considered it, were it not for the initial encouragement and support of that conniving Slytherin.
'What if it ruins people's lives, rather than improves them? What if people in the present get hurt?' she'd asked in one of her weaker moments, questioning everything, remembering her third year and how it had almost fallen into chaos. Malfoy had shoved the sleeve up on his left arm, revealing the faded but still there, always there, eternally there Dark Mark.
'Show me yours,' he'd demanded in response. Slowly, she had.
Faded, but still there, always there, eternally there.
The last time she'd seen Harry—had it really been months ago, now?—Hermione had asked him about his scar. That infamous lightning bolt that marked him as an impossibility.
'Does it ever hurt you, anymore?'
'No.' Harry had smiled. 'It hasn't hurt me in years.'
…But Hermione still burned.
December 31st, 1926.
Hermione walked along a snow-covered sidewalk on the outskirts of London. It was already dark. She spotted the clock tower in the distance, which read half past nine. Just as she’d planned.
Finding the records for Wool's Orphanage, though it no longer existed in the year 2001, had not been as difficult as Hermione would have thought. Tom Marvolo Riddle had been born at precisely 11:00 pm on New Year's Eve. And if the matron in the memory's retelling was any indication, it had been a very quick, bloody birth.
Of course Hermione had seen the memories.
Dumbledore's Pensieve, as it transpired, had been bequeathed to the Department of Mysteries in his will, as well as all the memories it contained. It was kept in the Time Room, which was still undergoing repairs thanks to the battle which had ensued at the end of their fifth year.
Once Hermione had officially become an Unspeakable, just a few weeks after graduation (a process which involved an extremely unorthodox 'test' which she could not tell anyone about, due to magical constrictions, but had passed with remarkable 'scores'), she'd been unable to not take advantage of this.
She'd watched everything.
The first time was out of simple but uncontainable curiosity, but she watched them again after she and Malfoy had begun to congregate and plan.
And again, and again, and again.
Tom Riddle: orphan, student, manipulator, murderer.
Hermione had watched the story of the Half-Blood Prince too. Memories which had surprised her when she'd first come across them, because they did not belong to Albus Dumbledore. Then it clicked. Hermione recalled the night that she unknowingly had gathered those memories herself. Severus Snape, dying in the Shrieking Shack…
Harry must have broken into the Headmaster's office, somehow. He must have watched them, and then, at the end…
That was why he'd left them…
So much pain, so much suffering.
'We could prevent it, you know.' Draco Malfoy, his dangerous suggestions, and his time-turner which was not bound by hours. 'We could change the world, Granger.'
Hermione had merely considered it at first. Not agreed.
For months, she'd studied the case files of Eloise Mintumble. A witch who had been irreparably damaged when, in 1899, she'd traveled to the year 1402 and had been stuck there for five days. Once she'd finally been rescued and brought back to her present time, her body had aged five centuries. She died shortly thereafter.
The consequences of this experiment had been… illogical, as far as Hermione could tell. Twenty-five of her descendants vanished, having been unborn. The Tuesday following her death had lasted two and a half days, while that Thursday had lasted only four hours. Yet time carried on.
Twenty-five people had died in that experiment. Only one would die in Hermione's.
…Well, two, technically.
She's dying, anyway, Hermione reminded herself. Merope Gaunt is already dead.
Hermione took another steadying breath. With Draco's help, she had prepared accordingly. It was fortunate that Malfoy had an endless supply of galleons—the provisions needed to create a body-stabilizing potion strong enough to withstand time-travel hadn't been cheap. Not that she intended to be here for five days, by any means. Still, she was confident enough in both her own and Draco's potion-making skills that the brew she'd consumed should ensure she shouldn't fall apart completely.
Hermione knew there was no guarantee of such a thing. But again… What did she have to lose?
Draco had offered to be the one to come instead, or to at least come with her, but no. Hermione had insisted that she come alone. She knew far more about time than he did - she'd studied it in part as an Unspeakable - and besides, he would distract her. Draco Malfoy wasn't a killer.
Hermione Granger was.
She never told Harry nor Ron about it afterwards, but she had cast the killing curse. Once. She'd thrown it at Bellatrix Lestrange. Hermione had wanted to kill the witch that scarred her with her own wand, and when she'd uttered the words 'Avada Kedavra' with truest intent, the flash of green had been immediate.
Too bad the bitch was good at dodging.
It had been Hermione's one opportunity to kill her, and she'd missed. She knew she was no match for a proper duel against Bellatrix Lestrange, and the element of surprise was gone after that. If Ginny and Luna hadn't stepped in to help, she probably would have been killed.
But I'm not going up against Bellatrix Lestrange now. Hermione kept a watchful eye out, concealed by the shadows of an alley near the orphanage. I'm going up against a weak, desperate witch. Practically a squib.
Hermione swallowed thickly, recognizing what a horrid murder this was going to be—despite everything—to kill a pregnant woman. She was happy that she had not allowed Malfoy to come with her.
Hermione had, however, let him give her a giant leather bag full of galleons.
'In case everything goes to shit, and you do get stuck for five days or whatever,' he'd said.
'And how will gold help me, if that's the case?' Hermione had responded dryly.
He'd looked at her like she was a complete moron—a look Hermione Granger did not often have aimed at her. 'Enough gold can work miracles, Granger.'
Hermione could feel the weight of those galleons in her pocket. Oddly enough, she was glad that she had them, if only because it served to remind her that someone cared about her. She had one hand in her pocket while the other was to her chest, her fingers twisting around the chain of the time-turner in anticipation.
Any minute now, Merope Gaunt would come stumbling down that sidewalk, already in labor, on the brink of death. She would never make it to the doorstep of Wool's Orphanage, Hermione would see to that.
Finally, the peaceful scene of softly falling snow on New Year's Eve was disrupted by a woman's cries. Feeble and desperate.
Steeling herself, Hermione went to answer her call.
"Oh, thank… thank god…" The woman grinned painfully when she noticed what she assumed to be her savior. Hermione stopped short when she saw her face, illuminated by the ochre light of a street lamp.
It shouldn't have impacted her so much—Hermione had seen this woman in the memories many times, after all—but it did.
She was hideous.
"Help me," Merope gasped, her hands on her swollen stomach, shaking. When her knees buckled, Hermione instinctually went to catch her. "My baby, my baby…"
Hermione stared into the face of this dying woman, her hardened heart suddenly consumed with pity.
"Help me, I c-can't make it to… t-to the hospital…"
"I'm so sorry." Hermione retracted her wand. The street was deserted, the orphanage several blocks away yet. "I'm sorry, I… It won't hurt."
Merope's eyes, which had been looking in opposite directions before, focused singularly on her wand. Hermione didn't hesitate again. There were many spells which she could cast wordlessly, but the killing curse was not one of them.
Death demanded a declaration.
The reaction was instantaneous.
Hermione's wand went flying from her hand at the same moment that Merope Gaunt screamed—a bloodcurdling cry that ripped across the winter air. She clawed at Hermione's chest with a strength that should not have been possible from such a weakened, frail woman. Hermione's body froze. Whether it was from terror or the fierce brand of magic that was emanating from the soon-to-be mother, sensing mortal peril, Hermione was not sure.
Either way, she was powerless to stop what happened next.
"Witch!" Merope screamed, digging her nails into Hermione's throat and finding purchase on the chain around her neck. "Witch! Witch!"
Merope's fingers curled around the time-turner. She surely had no idea what it was, but that hardly mattered. The dying woman was looking for something, anything to use as a weapon, and she had found one.
With one horrifically brutal motion, Merope Gaunt gripped the time-turner in her fist and slammed it savagely into Hermione's throat. It shattered against her neck, bits of glass and gold piercing into her skin. Merope's scream abruptly ended. The snowy streets of 1920's London fell away, and Hermione was sent somewhere, elsewhere, nowhere.
Her skin was being peeled backwards, her bones were being cracked and twisted and cracked again. The scream that was resounding in her mind was unable to escape her bleeding throat, which burned, burned, burned.
Hermione was certain that she was dead. The last thing she saw before blackness consumed her was a plume of metallic dust and vitreous fragments, tiny prisms dancing behind her eyelids.
Death, she thought emotionlessly, is beautiful.
She exhaled blood and gold.