Hermione Granger has had an extraordinary day.
After nearly a week of whispering, her parents sat down to breakfast that bright summer morning and showed Hermione the odd letter they had received, a letter that explained how their daughter was far more special than they’d ever imagined.
The three of them headed to a very interesting corner of London to follow the shopping instructions in the letter. The day was a whirlwind for Hermione, trying to take in this wondrous new world, a world that felt unbelievable, and yet so very right. They got home late, had Chinese take away for dinner, and though her exhausted parents went to bed early, Hermione was too excited to sleep. She sat on her little window seat in the study, poring over the letter from the mysterious Hogwarts school and twirling her new wand between her fingers.
That night, she had the strangest dream.
She must have fallen asleep in the window seat, she reasoned, because the room suddenly echoed with an odd grinding noise as a blue box slowly materialized beside the family bookcase. She watched with wide eyes as a door opened on the side and a tall man stepped out, waving around a funny metal wand of his own.
Mustering her courage, Hermione rose from the window seat and asked, “What are you doing in my house?”
The man looked down at her and smiled. He waved his wand once more before stowing it in his pocket. “Hello there,” he said cheerfully. “I’m the Doctor, and I’m here to ask for a favor.”
The dream only got stranger from there.
“So let me get this straight,” Hermione said, her head spinning, as the man waited calmly for her to piece it all together. “You travel around in a magic box and help people, but today you want my help. Is this a test? Did someone from my new school send you?”
“It’s actually advanced alien technology, but such things can be easily confused with magic, so we’ll let that slide for now,” the Doctor said, patting the side of the box. “And no, they didn’t. I suppose congratulations are in order,” he added, smiling down at her. “I’m told it’s a wonderful place.”
“But why are you asking me for help?” she asked, still rather at sea. “If that box can take you to see anyone, anywhere-“
“Exactly!” he exclaimed, beaming, as if she’d finally found the answer. “It can go anywhere, and it has taken me right,” he did a little spin, “here,” he finished, pointing at the spot where he was standing. “And I believe things will work out quite nicely. I still see the doubt in your eyes, but you are just the person I need to talk to, because you have just what I need, and what I need,” he paused, looking rather serious, “are happy thoughts.”
“Thoughts?” she asked, brow furrowed. “Like in Peter Pan, when he taught the Darling children to fly?”
“Something like that.”
“So you want to know something happy? Well, we had a nice time in London today, and last month at the aquarium-“
“That’s not quite how it works.” He pulled the device from his pocket and pointed to her wand. “Using both of our…wands, we’ll pull a few memories from you and your parents’ heads so I can go and deal with a problem I’ve been having, and in exchange I’ll take you somewhere amazing.” Glancing at the bookcase, he murmured, “And I think I know just the place.”
Hermione gazed down at her wand in wonder. “It can pull thoughts from my mind?” She shook her head. “But I can’t just give a stranger our memories-“
“But that’s the best part!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms wide. “I only want to borrow them. When I’ve handled things on my end, I’ll bring them back. You have my word.”
That seemed fair to Hermione. And since this was a dream, what did she have to lose?
“It won’t hurt, will it?” she asked, and he shook his head.
“Not one bit. How about we practice on you, then you can go get some from your parents and we’ll be off.”
“Where will we put them?
“Never fear, I always come prepared,” he said, pulling a china tea cup from the pocket of his tweed jacket and placing it on her parents’ desk. “They’ll be perfectly safe in there.”
Tiptoeing down the corridor, tea cup in hand, Hermione wondered when her life had taken such a bizarre turn.
It had been surprisingly easy, pulling memories from her mind and dropping them into the little cup, where they swirled like fog. The Doctor assured her that there would be no angry phone calls from the school about using her wand without permission, as his presence would throw off any magical detection. After making sure she understood the process, he waved his little device at the tea cup and sent her off to find her sleeping parents for a few more memories.
She took five from each, thinking it only fair, and smiled as she watched flashes of them appear in the cup: holding her steady during her first bike ride; jumping through waves last summer at the seashore; smiling and laughing in full wedding attire, their faces smeared with white frosting. That should do the trick, she thought, and darted back into the study, mindful of the tea cup in her hands.
The Doctor’s face lit up when Hermione returned, and he beckoned her toward the box. “Fantastic! Now let’s be off, and I’ll bring you back the same moment we left.”
“That’s incredible.” As he ducked into the box to properly stow the tea cup, Hermione inched closer to the door, suddenly nervous. “Is it quite safe?”
“Most of the time.” She peeked in and was shocked to see him throwing levers in the middle of a large room filled with gizmos and flashing lights. “That should do the trick!” He turned, beaming, and did a double take when he realized she wasn’t at his elbow. He beckoned her in, and she cautiously stepped inside to join him.
“Just a quick look, mind you, and I’ll have you home in no time,” he said, watching a dial marked with symbols she didn’t understand. “Well, perhaps some time,” he amended, “but less time than you’d think.”
The lights around them flashed, and the whirring from the center console grew louder. “What should I do?” Hermione asked, looking around apprehensively for something to hold on to. Didn’t this contraption have seat belts?
There was that funny grinding noise again, and the whole room trembled; Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and gripped a sturdy-looking post, willing the whole thing not to shake apart. Not a minute later, the room fell silent. She slowly opened her eyes and faced the door. “Are we… here?”
The Doctor bounded over to the door, stuck his head out, and beckoned her over with a grin. “We are indeed. Have a look.”
He opened the door fully and moved aside. Watching her step, Hermione made her way over and walked out into a vast room. From the light of the box and the device in his hand, she could see a pale, curved ceiling stretching into the distance, swinging chandeliers, and stern marble busts. Dark furniture ran down the center of the room, but on either side, oh, on either side… wooden shelves reached from floor to ceiling, as far as the eye could see, and were entirely filled with books.
“Come on, then, let’s go exploring. I assume you’ve never been to Boston?”
She shook her head, her eyes huge on her small face.
He smiled brilliantly at her (had she ever met anyone who smiled so much?) and gestured grandly toward the room at large.
The next morning at breakfast, Hermione had trouble focusing on either her eggs and toast or the new Transfiguration textbook she had propped up in her lap.
“Dad,” she ventured, “Do you remember our trip to the shore last year? Wasn’t that fun?”
“Of course I do, we had loads of fun, didn’t we?” He smiled across the table at her. “And the weather was perfect. More toast, Darling?” He held the plate out to his wife, who shook her head and took a sip of orange juice.
“A bit like the weather on your wedding day, wasn’t it?” Hermione asked, trying again.
“Goodness no!” her mother said with a laugh. “It rained on and off the entire day. Although I’m told that’s rather lucky.” She grinned at her husband. “How do you think we’re doing so far?”
He smiled back and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Laughing to herself, Hermione pushed the memory of her strange dream aside, determined to focus on the matter at hand. School was about to start, and she had a lot of reading to do.
For a moment, Luna thought she was dreaming.
She backed away slowly from the corner of the dungeon that glowed with a strange blue light, pinching her arm as she went. A grinding noise filled the room, and after realizing she wouldn’t be waking up, she stood still and tall and waited to face whatever was coming.
There was an odd blue cabinet in a corner that had previously been empty. When a man pulled open the door and stepped out, her eyes became impossibly wider.
He paused in his inspection of the room, and his bright smile faltered. “I beg your pardon?”
She shook her head, as if to clear it. “I’m sorry, Sir. For a moment you reminded me of someone else.”
He stared at her, utterly flabbergasted. “Do you know someone else who has a box that travels through space and time?”
She shrugged. “I think it’s the eyebrows.”
Said eyebrows shot to his hairline, but he continued gamely, "That's neither here not there. Anyway. I'm the Doctor, and I've brought you something."
Luna tilted her head. "Why?"
He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Well, I can't help you escape from here, because that would get a lot of people in trouble, wouldn't it?"
"And I'm not in the habit of doing nothing, so I came to tell you to hang on a bit longer, because things will work in your favor eventually."
She frowned up at him. They heard a sharp thud from overhead; Luna barely flinched. "How can you know that, Sir?"
"Because I've spoken with an acquaintance of yours, someone who's led a strange and fascinating life, and I know he won't give up until you're safe. Here's something he gave me, so you know I'm not fibbing." He pulled a gleaming gold coin from his pocket, and Luna's jaw dropped. She accepted the coin with a shaking hand, her eyes filling with tears.
"Things are bad now, but as long as you don't give up, they have a chance of getting better," he said softly. "Your friends need you to be strong, so that you can help them when the time comes. Keep that with you to remember that you're not alone."
"Thank you," she whispered, her eyes on the coin. "I won't forget. I'll be strong... for them."
A hand squeezed her shoulder, but when Luna looked up again, the man and his strange blue cabinet were gone. He'd left a cloth bag on the floor, in which she found two sandwiches and a jug of fruit juice.
She and Mr. Ollivander savored their feast that night, eating slowly so as not to make themselves ill. When Luna curled up on the pile of blankets that served as her bed, she held the coin tightly with both hands, and as she drifted off to sleep she could almost imagine it growing warmer.
He couldn't remember a more miserable Christmas.
Every holiday of Ron's childhood had been full to bursting with people, presents, food, and laughter. Here, there was nothing but bitter winds and stinging sand. The echoing emptiness of Shell Cottage was jarring: Bill and Fleur spoke in low tones most of the time, and often fell silent when he entered a room. Being left alone had been a mercy at first, but that left him stuck in his own head, spinning through the same whirlwind of emotions: frustration, fear, despair... he'd gaze out at the the endless gray ocean as the final conversation with his friends played over and over again in his mind, each word like a knife to his heart.
After a simple dinner, for which he had hardly any appetite, Ron went out to the edge of the water and sat in the sand, moisture seeping into his jeans, as he considered, not for the first time, chucking the Deluminator into the ocean and being done with it all.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Ron nearly dropped the thing in the sand as he whipped around to see who was speaking. The man clearly wasn't dressed for a walk on the beach: taking in his leather shoes and the bow around his neck, Ron assumed he was a Muggle, although how and why he had wandered over to this bleak corner of the seashore was anyone's guess.
Ron narrowed his eyes as the man sat down next to him. "Are you lost, mate? There's not another house for... I don't even know how far."
The strange man gazed out at the water, a small smile on his face. "It's rather nice here. A bit windy, but peaceful."
Ron frowned at him. "If you say so." He sighed, following the man's gaze to the water. "It's driving me barmy, actually. And since you haven't asked for directions or tried to kill me, I think I've finally lost my mind."
"Why are you out here all alone?" the man continued, as if Ron hadn't spoken. "Christmas is a time to be with family, and friends. Preferably indoors, in weather such as this," he added, frowning thoughtfully at the sky. "It looks like rain."
"Alright, Mr. Hallucination," Ron said, "if Christmas is about coming together and all that, why are you wandering around by yourself?"
"I'll be seeing my friends soon," the man said, "just had to make a few stops first. They know I'm on my way." He took a deep breath and let it out in a contented sigh. They sat in silence a moment more as Ron waited for his instincts to kick in, for his nerves to sing at the sign of danger, but for whatever reason he didn't feel the least bit threatened by the man at his side, odd as he appeared.
"What's the best Christmas you've ever had?" the man asked cheerfully, sounding as if he were actually curious. "Mine has to be a tie between the time we fought off flying sharks, and the one where we brought a missing father home from the War and stopped a sentient forest from melting. Now that was an outing!"
Ron nodded slowly. "Alright then." Deciding to humor him, Ron replied, "I s'pose mine would be when I was eight, and I got my first broomstick. I helped Mum decorate cookies, and we drank cocoa round the tree..." He scrubbed a hand over his face. "My first Christmas away at school was nice. My friend got a cloak that turned us invisible..." He shook his head, a bitter smile twisting his mouth. "I'll have no more holidays like those, that's for sure. They all hate my guts now." He folded his arms over his knees and rested his chin with a sigh, half expecting the stranger to vanish at any moment.
"Yes, sometimes I have to go away," the man continued, as if there had been no detour in the conversation. "For days, or weeks, or... longer. To places far stranger than this, more often than not." He smiled, but this time it didn't reach his eyes. "I have been late on occasion." He stood and stretched, swinging his arms in the misty wind, a faraway look on his face. "But I always make it back eventually. And my dearest friends have always been willing to wait.
"Anyway, I'd best be off. I just came over to say that I had one of those once, and it got me out of a tight spot." The man dusted off his trousers with a flourish. "Do be careful. It'd be a shame to lose it."
The man then strode off in the direction from whence he came. If he hadn't left footprints in the sand, Ron would have thought he'd imagined the whole encounter. Staring down at the Deluminator in his hand, he bit his lip, thinking hard, as dusk settled around him. Having come to a decision, he took a deep breath and clicked it on one last time.
Ignoring the uneasy chatter around him, Neville dipped a rag in a basin of cool water, keeping his face carefully blank. As he gently wiped the blood from Seamus' face, he saw to his relief that most of the cuts were superficial. Head wounds always bleed the most, he thought grimly as he rinsed out the rag. His friend's arm, however, was in bad shape, and Neville sincerely hoped it wasn't broken. Setting down the rag and reaching for a bandage, Neville felt a rush of gratitude for the Room of Requirement: a sling had materialized on a table to his left.
As the world around them fell apart, Neville found himself more appreciative of every little bit of luck that came his way.
"Stop fussing, I'll be fine," Seamus grumbled as Neville helped him situate the sling; when they were done, Seamus gave him a grateful smile, which made his battered face look even more grotesque.
That night, when he let his own brave face slip away, Neville started to wonder when their luck would run out.
He was having the strangest dream. He thought he remembered getting up for some restless wandering, but it had to be dream, because there among their shelves of supplies was a tall gangly Muggle looking rather lost. Scratching his head as he turned this way and that, he gave Neville a tentative smile when he saw him approaching.
"I thought for sure I'd gone to bed. Do you know where we are?"
Neville tilted his head to the side, assessing the stranger. "We're somewhere safe. I thought I was sleeping, too."
"Huh." The man looked around again. "I wonder... is this your dream, or mine?"
Neville shrugged, leaning against the nearest shelf with a sigh. "I don't suppose it matters, but probably mine. This room can change depending on what you need, so maybe it thinks I need to talk to you."
"That is fascinating." The man looked around with newfound interest, poking at the contents on the shelves. "I'm the Doctor, by the way. What do you think we should talk about?"
Neville shook his head. "Nothing you'd want to hear. Everything's gone from bad to worse, and I don't know what to do. I'm not sure how long we can hold out."
The Doctor tapped a finger against his lips. "I'm sorry to hear that. What exactly are you waiting for?"
"For our friend to come back and set things right. And people are starting to wonder if he's coming at all."
The Doctor nodded, looking thoughtful. "Do you think he's coming?"
Neville stood up straighter, his eyes flashing. "I know he'll come," he said with feeling. "He's been on a mission for months, getting things sorted, and he'll never give up. And he wouldn't want us to give up, either."
The Doctor nodded again. "Then that's what you do."
"Don't give up."
Neville huffed out a humorless laugh. "That's easier said than done."
The Doctor shrugged. "Most things are." Sensing Neville's frustration, he continued, "I've found that a few inspirational words can do wonders for morale."
"They don't need more words, they need reinforcements, and healers, and a leader," Neville groaned. He ran a hand through his hair, wincing as he hit a fresh bruise. "They need Harry."
"Well, they may not have him, but they have you," the Doctor cut in. "And you've gotten them this far. That's got to count for something, right?"
Neville woke the next morning to the sounds of his classmates shuffling around and getting ready for the day. He sat up in his makeshift bed, watching the brave, tired faces around him, thinking hard. Finally, he stood, straightened his clothes, and called out, "Good morning, everyone."
The other students fell silent, looking over curiously as he stepped forward. "And it is a good morning, because we're still here. We're still together. And we're still fighting."
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, meeting as many eyes as he could; all around him, students straightened up, shoulders back, heads held high.
"I know you’re hurting, and I know you’re scared, but one day help will come, and all of this madness will come to an end. But to get to that day, we have to make it through this one." The room was full of exhausted faces, but here and there he saw a flicker of understanding, a spark of hope. "So we stay strong, stick together, and take things as they come. We can’t lose if we don’t give up.”
Pulling out his wand, he asked, "Now who wants to practice Shield Charms?"
The rain began to let up and the sun was threatening to make an appearance as Harry ducked into an alley and sprinted toward the back of the building. At least the weather's improving, Harry thought, an explosion shaking the ground beneath his feet. Working in London was always nicer when it wasn't pouring.
Drawing his wand, Harry shot Stunning Spells at the three masked men approaching the rear door, ducking back around the corner as their spells pitted the stone of the wall. Two Aurors ran up as the men fled, following in hot pursuit. Ron darted over to Harry, looking him over quickly in search of injuries; finding none, he clapped his friend on the shoulder.
"You were right, as usual. Bold move, them trying to rob the place in broad daylight." He glanced around, sharp eyes searching for more members of the gang of thieves. "You sure you can't tell me what they're trying to steal?"
Harry smiled apologetically. "That's classified."
Ron rolled his eyes, but couldn't help smiling back. "It always is with you."
"Go check on your team, and I'll see how close they got to the vault," Harry said, and Ron nodded, jogging off in the direction of his men. Checking for bystanders, Harry hurried over to the back door, wand raised, and slipped inside.
It was pandemonium. Muggles in morning coats and floral dresses were moving frantically toward the right side of the room, jostling art displays and hors d'oeuvres tables as they went. A massive tapestry had been wrenched off the wall and lay puddled on the floor, which the fleeing party guests tripped over as a large wooden door on the left quivered, stretched, and broke apart. Three carved panels separated from the face of the door and twisted into snarling creatures, their wooden fingers long and sharp. As Harry rushed over, waving the Muggles back, a man leaped forward, waving something in his hand at the approaching creatures, and cursed when one took a swipe at him. He stumbled back, dropping the item in his haste, and grabbed a candlestick off a table to swing at his pursuers.
Once he reached the center of the room, Harry raised his wand, uttered the spell needed to slow them down, and pulled a coiled piece of metal from his pocket. With another wave of his wand, he levitated the coil, and the moment it touched the wood above the doorknob, the creatures moved back, returning to their places on the door.
In the ensuing silence, the man threw back his head and groaned, "Why did they have to be wood?"
As more Aurors came on the scene to adjust the memories of the Muggles and assure them that their auction could continue, Harry beckoned the man over, stooping down to pick up whatever he'd dropped.
"Careful, there," the man said anxiously as Harry handed it over. He watched curiously as the man checked it over for damage before stowing it in his tweed jacket.
"Is that some sort of laser?" Harry asked, and the man looked up sharply.
"Not exactly," he replied. "I wouldn't expect you and your friends to know about that sort of thing."
"I was raised by normal, technology-using people," Harry said, "and I'd like to know what you and your device are doing here."
"Alright then. I'm the Doctor, and I'm here to protect what's behind that door. Although the last time I was here, that door wasn't," he added, scratching his head.
"My name is Harry Potter," Harry said, enjoying the novelty of introducing himself, although as they shook hands he thought he saw a spark of recognition in the other man's eyes. "I work for the government, keeping this sort of thing contained and quiet. My predecessor added that door, actually," Harry said in a low voice. "We had a lot of... security issues back then. But we haven't had any problems in years. I'm still not sure why our friends in the red masks are trying to break in. They can't know what's down there."
"That's actually why I'm here," the Doctor said, watching Harry closely. "When this lesser rift was triggered, their boss was able to sense its power, as was I. It seems we share a mission: keeping it away from prying eyes."
Harry frowned. "Lesser rift?"
The Doctor nodded. "Some are old, like this one. Others appear at random. And now that this one is secure, I need to check on the main rift and figure out what's causing the energy levels to fluctuate." He grinned suddenly, his eyes shining. "Would you like to come along?"
Harry blinked at him, just shy of gaping. "I suppose I should," Harry said, eyes darting between the Doctor and the Aurors across the room. "Just let me tell my friend I'm following up on a lead."
The Doctor beamed. "Excellent! Meet me by the blue box outside the Monmouth Coffee 'round the corner, as soon as you can get away."
Stepping out of the strange blue box, Harry looked around, eyebrows raised.
"Sure," the Doctor replied cheerfully, ruffling the woolly head of a passing sheep. "Rather perfect, actually. It's so obvious, most people don't even give it a second thought."
As they strode across the grass toward the ancient formation, Harry felt a sort of tension in the air; it continued to build as they made their approach, making his ears ring."
"Do you feel that?" he asked. The Doctor nodded.
"If all was right with the world, you wouldn't feel a thing."
They reached the stone circle, stopping just short of the center, which was shifting restlessly. The Doctor pulled out his device and pointed it at one of the stones, which glowed in a peculiar pattern.
"Strange readings," he murmured, waving the device and glancing down at it, brow furrowed. "This will require further investigation, but for now, I just need to make sure that the gateways are properly sealed. Shouldn't take but a moment."
"Let me know if you need a hand," Harry said, hovering awkwardly at his shoulder.
"Keep an eye out for danger, that would be most helpful," the Doctor replied, tapping at the stone, which flared brightly.
"My children would love to hear about this," Harry said wistfully, glancing around as the stone continued to flash. "The hardest part of this job is keeping all of these amazing things to myself."
"How many children do you have?" the Doctor asked.
Harry smiled. "Three. My wife and I were only children, so we enjoy having a full house."
"Full of excitement, I'm sure," the Doctor said, grinning back. "I think I've put everything to rights; once it's sealed up we should be all set." He frowned at the stone's pulsing lights. "But something seems to be keeping the gate from closing."
The ground rippled, and a massive thorny vine punched through the turf, spiraling ten feet above their heads. The two men staggered back, Harry pulling his wand from his robes.
"Something like that." Casting a nervous glance at his new friend, the Doctor croaked out, "Your turn."
As they trooped back down the hill toward the blue box, the Doctor told Harry, "I can drop you off in London, if you like. It's the least I could do after all your help."
Harry nodded. "Much obliged."
After the Doctor set his strange machine in motion, Harry dug around in his pockets, producing a single Galleon. A photograph fluttered out after it, of Harry and a smiling woman with long blonde hair, which he quickly tucked away.
"When I was in school, I used special coins to communicate with people I trusted. All of my closest friends have one just like this." He spun it in his fingers, then held it out to the Doctor, who accepted it it solemnly. "If you ever need to talk to someone in the magical community, show them that and tell them it's from me. My friends will know what it means."
The Doctor held the coin tightly for a moment before stowing it in a compartment on the control panel. Turning to shake Harry's hand, he said firmly, "I will use it well."
It was a small house on a quiet street, with a sensible car parked out front and neatly trimmed hedgerows all around. As she stood on the sidewalk in the bright sunshine, birds chirping and children laughing all around, Hermione could feel her heart breaking all over again.
Through the front window, she could see them: a man and a woman on the sofa, books in hand, pausing now and then to share an interesting passage with one another. The scene was painfully familiar.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked the Healer, sitting between Harry and Ron in the woman's office. Ron gave her hand a squeeze.
The Healer smiled sadly. "Your spell casting was very thorough, Ms. Granger. It will be very difficult to reverse."
Hermione leaned forward in her seat. "Difficult, or impossible?"
Shuffling through the scrolls on her desk, the Healer selected one and handed it to Hermione. "Without a few seed memories from which their pasts can regrow, it may well be."
The pair of them closed their books and headed for the kitchen; it was time for dinner. Hermione stared into their living room long after they wandered off; it took her a moment to notice the strange grinding sound that filled the air. A familiar blue box appeared to her left on the sidewalk, and a moment later a familiar man stepped out, smiling when he saw her.
"You're real," she said faintly.
"Everything's taken care of," the Doctor exclaimed, looking exactly as she'd dreamed him seven years before. "You have my undying gratitude. And before I forget..."
He reached into his tweed jacket and somehow produced a teacup with a matching saucer placed over top of it. "Now that my work is finished, I'm returning what I borrowed, so now we're square."
She carefully accepted the teacup and lifted the saucer, gasping as she saw the swirling memories hidden underneath.
"This... this is..." she stammered, looking between the cup and the Doctor, who continued to smile calmly before her.
"Thank you," the Doctor said, placing a steadying hand on her shoulder as she began to sway. "You've been a real help, and I wish you all the best."
"You, too," Hermione said faintly. With a parting nod, the Doctor stepped back into his box, which slowly vanished before her eyes. Blinking, she stared at the spot where the box had been, then looked down at the teacup in her hands. Squaring her shoulders, she walked slowly up the front walk, stopping in front of the door.
She took a deep breath.