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At the Crossroads to Forever

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The next morning--the second morning after the battle, the second morning after so many of their friends died--dawned bright and glorious. Hermione blinked and sat up in bed, her old bed in the girls' dormitory at Hogwarts. Ironic, she thought, pushing her hair out of her eyes and looking around, that the sun should shine so brightly. Her heart heavy for their losses, she pushed the covers back and slid over the side of the bed.

She could have slept in the boys' dorm, with Harry and Ron, but just as they were all getting ready to sleep, Dean, Seamus and Neville came trudging into the room. Their faces held the dual emotions of elation and despair, relief and shock. They all fell into Harry's bed, piling on top of him as only boys can do to express joy at seeing their mate alive and whole. Plus, they all were in desperate need of showers, so Hermione decamped even though Ron had tugged at her hand, entreating her to stay with them. “No,” she said shyly, watching Seamus pulling his grimy t-shirt over his head. “I think I'll go take a shower in the girls' dorm.”

“Can you come back here in a little while?” Ron had asked in a low voice. “Stay here with us...with me?”

“There'll be plenty of time for that,” she had replied. “Besides, I've the feeling they need to talk. I'll just be in the way.”

And she had pulled away from him, even though in her heart she really wanted, needed to stay, to share with them their experiences. But truth be told, she would have been a hindrance to the emotional honesty that boys have in the presense of just other boys. Or, so Ron had told her once.

Hermione looked around and found that no other girls from her year had stayed the night. Lavender Brown had been badly injured and was in the infirmary. She thought perhaps Parvati might have come back, but her parents had come to fight at the last moment with the residents of Hogsmeade. Obviously, she hadn't been able to talk them into letting her and her twin, Padma, stay at the castle after the battle. No matter. It was nice to have the large room and lav to herself; she indulged by taking another shower.

She dressed in clean trousers and blouse she recovered from the depths of her magical beaded bag, and slipped on one of Lavender's Gryffindor robes. She rubbed the soft fabric of the black and red robe; it felt right to wear a wizarding robe again after so many months. And it was in that instant that she saw herself sitting in the classroom again, listening to Professor Flitwick's squeaky voice lecturing on a particularly vexing spell. She felt the drag of the quill across parchment, and the wetness of the ink on her fingers where it splashed minute droplets in her haste to record every nuance of the spell. In that instant, she knew she had to return to finish her education, finish her final year, take her N.E.W.T.s to become a fully qualified witch. The clarity of this thought, of her need, hit her so hard she nearly stumbled down the steps to the common room. Yes, she thought. This is the only way.

Her thoughts turned towards Ron and Harry as she entered the sunlight-dappled room with its dark oak and faded red tapestry chairs. A low fire burned in the grate. There were some books strewn about but mostly, surprisingly, the room was neat and undamaged. On the sideboard under the large stained glass Gryffindor window sat a large spread of breakfast foods and pitchers. “Oh my!” she exclaimed. “Are the house elves still here?”

Hermione knew, of course, that the Hogwarts elves were intensely loyal to the castle's residents, but she was nonetheless surprised since they had fought so bravely during the Battle that she assumed....well, that they would've left to pursue a life free from servitude. As she loaded a plate with steaming scrambled eggs and bacon, she breathed a low “Thank you,” grateful for those who remained.

“Hey, look at this!” Dean cried as he entered the common room, jumping the last two steps. “Hermione, what is this?”

“It's breakfast, of course,” she replied, sitting on the sofa in front of the fire.

“This is great! Hey! Com'ere and eat!” Dean called out.

The rest of the boys came down the stairs, including Harry. She turned and surveyed him critically. He looked, for once, well-rested, though he was still a little pale and the circles under his eyes were still too prominent. But he moved with a lightness she had not seen from him in ages as he shoved Seamus, playfully trying to get to the pitcher of pumpkin juice. She smiled around a bite of eggs. Harry loved pumpkin juice; it was the one thing he complained about not having during their many months of camping whilst on the hunt for the Horcruxes.

She looked around, but didn't see the final Gryffindor seventh year. “Where's Ron?” she asked.

“Still asleep, but Seamus hit him with a tickle charm as we were leaving the room,” Neville said, as he sat in the chair opposite.

“Oh, no!” Hermione said, rising. “Seamus, how could you?”

“Oh, don't worry, Hermione,” Harry said. “I stopped it after just a few minutes. I reckon he's up now.”

As if on cue, Ron came through the stairwell arch, dressed in dirty jeans and a too-small t-shirt probably borrowed from one of his friends. “You sodding gits. Thanks a lot for that. Ooh! Food!”

The boys all laughed and shoved Ron to the end of the line. Hermione watched their joshing, the joy of their just being here rising in her chest and threatening to overflow.

“You all right, Hermione?” Harry asked as he sat at her feet, his plate piled high.

“Of course,” she said, and covered up her emotional response by playfully nudging him with her foot.

Harry smiled.

*~*

“It's just awful. Awful!” Minerva McGonagall said as she surveyed the damage to the castle.

Hermione, Ron, and Harry came upon the distraught Headmistress as they were on their way to Hogsmeade. “Professor, are you all right?” Harry said.

“Oh, Mr. Potter,” the elderly witch said, patting his shoulder as he came to stand beside her, “the western side of the castle is damaged severely. And we cannot direct the repairs unless we have the plans and spells that the Founders used to build the castle all those centuries ago.”

“Surely the castle can rebuild itself,” Hermione said. “I read in Hogwarts, A History that the castle constantly repairs itself, the mortar and window panes and other parts, especially the seals around the window in the Slytherin common room.”

“That is true, Miss Granger, but those are very small repairs. Wholesale destruction of entire parts necessitates having the plans so that we wizards can direct the re-building.” Professor McGonagall wrung her hands. “We must have the original construction spellbook in order to re-weave the magical protections of the building, or else the building and our students will be vulnerable.”

“Aren't those items kept in the headmaster's office?” Harry asked.

“No. Everything of historical import was kept in the archives, which was on the west side of the castle on the sixth floor.” She pointed to a large hole where the west side of the castle used to be.

“Oh, no!” Hermione cried. She clutched the Headmistress's hand in dismay. “The archives is gone!”

“Yes, and part of the library with it,” Prof. McGonagall said, daubing at her eyes with a handkerchief. “I am afraid the castle may never be the same.”

The four of them stood staring at the pile of rubble and rock and ruin. Hermione, with Ron and Harry trailing behind her, walked up to the pile. “I wonder if there's anything that could've fallen out of the archives when it was blown up?”

“Hermione, everything burned,” Harry said, looking around. “There's nothing but charred wood from the infrastructure of the building.” He looked up, shielding his eyes from the sunlight. “And if anything survived, surely it's blown away by now.”

“Yeah,” Ron said, kicking several stones that uncovered more charred lumps. “Too bad no one thought to move all that shit before up to the Headmaster's office.”

Hermione wiped away a tear. All that history! All that information about their beautiful, ancient castle. She thought about the few times she'd been able to enter the archives—only with the permission of the Headmaster—and read through the castle's spellbook, staff minutes, student rolls. The leather-covered ledgers were beautifully kept, preserved in the archives that magically maintained the environment at the correct temperature and humidity. She looked through the rocks, even levitating some of the larger ones, hoping against hope to find some of the larger books, but it was all for naught.

If only the archives had been located more centrally in the building, she thought. If only there had been copies. If only....

“Too bad we can't go back in time and get this stuff,” Ron said, kicking another rock.

“Go back in—Mr. Weasley, you are a genius!” Prof. McGonagall exclaimed from behind them. “Oh, that's exactly what needs to happen! You three, come with me!”

*~*

“Now, you know what you need to gather up, yes, Miss Granger?” Prof. McGonagall admonished. “Make sure that the large parchment rolls are placed in this tube and place a stasis spell on it.” She handed Hermione a long leather tube with a strap on it.

“I know exactly where they were, Professor. And I'll get all of the photographs I can find,” Hermione said.

They stood in front of the hole in the wall in the western end of the library where once the archives of Hogwarts had been. Sunlight shone in brightly.

“There are two big boxes of them, as I recall,” Minerva said. “Goodness, but it's been such a long time since I was in the archives. I'm not sure if Professor Dumbledore moved things around or not last time he was there, about a year before his . . .well, untimely demise.”

Hermione was moved by the elder woman's grief, still evident after all these months. “Surely you could've asked him if he had.”

“Oh, his portrait is as maddening as he was in real life,” Minerva said with a small smile. “I don't think he'd even remember.” She smoothed the front of her robes. “Now, you three know where to go, yes? And we are straining the limitations of this Time Turner, Miss Granger. Going back anything beyond--”

“--twenty-four hours is dangerous. I remember,” Hermione answered.

“Hermione, do you want me to step out?” Harry asked. “I don't need to go if it's--”

“No, it's not the number of people, but the time,” Minerva said, placing her hand on Harry's shoulder. “We're going quite a bit beyond twenty-four hours. It's now eleven fifteen in the morning. You need to be at about eleven fifteen the day before yesterday. That'll put you squarely in the shank of the evening and before everything—before--” She paused. “Before everything went to hell. Now, do not try to bring everything with you. And do not, under any circumstances, leave the area around the archives or allow anyone to see you.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“You all must remember that any change to the timeline may have serious consequences. It is imperative that you do not do anything except retrieve the records. Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley.”

Ron's face held many emotions; Hermione knew he must be thinking about how he could save Fred from the blast that killed him. “Ron,” she said compassionately, “do you--”

“No, I understand,” he replied quietly.

She watched as Harry and he exchanged glances; Harry gave him a resolved smile. “He knows, Hermione,” Harry said.

“All right.”

Hermione looped the long golden chain around the shoulders of the three of them. “Ready?”

“Is this gonna feel weird?” Ron asked.

“No,” Hermione said as she stared at the sparkling, gold-encased hourglass in her hand. “Now, shush, so I don't lose count.”

She and Minerva had calculated that it would take thirty-four and three-quarters times to get to ten forty-five, thirty-six hours and some from their present time. Students would be abed or in their common rooms; Madam Pince would be in her personal quarters at that hour. “We shall clear away some room for you here.” She handed Harry and Ron canvas bags. “Shrink everything and place them in these bags.”

“Yes, Professor,” they answered.

Hermione counted down the turns: “Five...four...three...two...one...and three-quarters.” And she spun the Time Turner.

She watched it roll; around her, she perceived the passage of day to night to day to silence to an earth-shaking blast to silence again. The Time Turner stopped.

“What time is it?” she demanded as she unlooped the chain from them.

“Um...” Harry looked around, towards the main desk and the clock above it. As predicted Madam Pince was not about. “It's 11:20.”

“Damn,” Hermione muttered. “We're late. When did we arrive here at Hogwarts?”

“Earlier, but we were busy,” Harry said. “Look, let's just get it done.”

“Hey!”

Hermione and Ron whirled around. “Who's there?” Ron said, his wand at the ready.

A young girl, wearing Ravenclaw colours, looked wide-eyed at them. “Who are you?” she demanded.

“What is she doing out of her house?” Ron muttered.

“We don't have time for this,” Hermione whispered frantically.

Petrificus totalis”, Ron muttered as he waved his wand. The young girl stiffened and fell against the stacks, knocking an entire row of books to the floor.

“Dammit,” Ron said. He and Harry rushed over to lay the girl on the floor. “You recognize her?”

Harry shook his head. “Nope.”

“Right,” Ron replied. “Ok, let's get this stuff and get out of here.”

They entered the darkened room of the main archives, and retrieved, Shrunk, and moved bound volumes and boxes. Hermione joyfully slid as many of the large architectural drawings into the leather tube as she could manage.

Suddenly, the building shuddered around then.

“Oh, no! What time is it?” Hermione cried. “We must have been wrong about when the west wall fell. We have to get out of here.”

Harry grabbed the two bags on the floor and looped the tube around his body. “Hermione, get the Time Turner going.”

They stood in the place where they had originally come, huddled very close together, with Ron's long arms around Harry and Hermione, and Harry shielding Hermione's head. Another blast shook the library, and books fell from the higher shelves.

“Hurry up, Hermione,” Ron said. “It's getting dodgy!”

“Seven—six--five--”

Another huge blast. The corner, not more than ten metres from them shuddered and cracked.

“--four--three--two--one--”

Another sizzling blast sounded around them, and books rained down on them. “OW!” Ron cried. “Hermione!”

“--three-quarters!” And she spun the Time Turner--

--just as the archives was obliterated in the empty night.

*~*

Hermione coughed and spluttered as time stabilized around them. “Are we back?”

“Where have you been?” Minerva cried as Hermione removed the chain from around them. “You should have returned over an hour ago.”

“We arrived later than we thought on battle night, too,” Hermione said, as she shook dust and other detritus from her bushy hair.

“But did you--”

Harry pulled the strap of the leather tube from around his body. “Hermione stuffed it full, Professor. I think she got almost all of them.”

“And the spellbooks?”

“Right here,” Ron said, holding up the bags. “We worked pretty quickly and were able to get a lot of stuff. There wasn't a lot left.”

“Which is why we didn't find much on the ground,” Hermione added.

Professor McGonagall looked like she was about to cry. “You have done—have done a great service to the school, Miss Granger. And you too Mr. Potter, Mr.---” She stopped, realizing what she had just said. “Well, yes. Just one more thing you three have done to save the school. And the wizarding world.”

She reached out and hugged Ron, who was closest to her. “Thank you, Mr. Weasley.”

The tips of Ron's ears turned red as his eyes grew comically wide; he awkwardly patted her back. “Um...really, it wasn't any trouble.”

Minerva hugged them all, and bustled off with the records in her hands.

*~*

Hermione hugged her knees to her chest. The sun was just starting to go down in the western sky, just visible through the trees, and from the sixth floor of the castle, it was breathtaking. In some ways it was a shame that this side of the castle had very few windows. Probably why the library and archives were placed here, she mused. The gaping hole in the side of the building let sunlight into a part of the library that had not seen the sun, ever.

“Hey,” she heard. Ron sat down beside her; Harry was on her other side.

They sat in companionable silence. A warm breeze, uncharacteristic for early May in northern Scotland, whistled through the spruce.

“So, I reckon I ought to go home,” Ron said. “Mum sent another Owl today.”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, you should. Your family needs you.”

“What of your parents, Hermione?” Harry asked.

She shrugged. “What they don't know—well, at some point, yes, I'll have to go collect them.”

“I'll go with you,” Ron said.

She smiled. “I think we can wait a little while longer. Right now, we need to be here for your family, Ron.”

Harry murmured his acquiescence.

Hermione finally allowed herself to think about everything that had happened over that past 48 hours, how much her world had changed. Voldemort and his followers--a constant, heavy, oppressive threat that had hung over all of them for nearly four years--were gone. Harry was safe. Ron was safe. So many friends had fought so bravely. Many magical beings had helped them. Harry was safe. Ron was safe. So many friends had died so that she would be safe.

So many friends died—Fred, Remus, Tonks, Colin. Dobby. So many died.

But Harry was safe. Alive. Sitting next to her. Breathing. And yet, he had been dead.

A chill swept through her, causing her to shiver. Ron and Harry moved closer to her. “It's cold here,” Ron said.

“No, it's not that,” Hermione said, looking up at him. “We're alive.”

Her simple declaration hung in the air. Until Ron snorted, “Well, yeah. Just figuring that out?”

She hung her head. “No, Ron,” Harry said, “we're alive.”

Ron hung his head. “Yeah.”

Hermione felt her eyes pricking with tears, tears that came from deep inside. “We're alive,” she whispered. “Harry's alive.” She looked up at him. “And you were dead.”

“Just for a little while,” Harry replied, leaning over to touch his forehead to hers. “But in the words of the great Monty Pythons, 'I got better.'”

“Who?” Ron's voice breathed in her ear.

Hermione huffed a laugh. Then, she giggled; she looked at Harry who had a very silly grin on his face, and she laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Then, she stopped. “Yes, you did,” she said and she leaned over and kissed him.

It was a soft, lingering kiss. She intended to pull back, she really did. But here he was, alive, and warm and breathing and he was kissing her. Kissing her. Alive.

Then, he pulled back. His eyes were wide, and so green. He licked his lips. Nervous. His eyes slid away from hers to look beyond him. She turned and looked at Ron. “You know, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. We watched it at my parents' house that day,” she said.

Ron never broke his gaze with Harry. “Yeah. Yeah, now I remember,” he said. A few heartbeats later, he looked at her, then tipped over and kissed her.

Hermione closed her eyes as Ron's tongue rolled through her mouth, still a little tentative, as were his hands on her waist. But then Harry's joined his on her back, and Harry's chest pressed to her side. Ron ended their kiss all too soon, but then she felt him reach across to pull Harry's head to his. She looked up to see them staring at each other, and then embrace. “Glad you're still here, mate,” Ron said softly.

“Me, too,” Harry said. His hand caressed Ron's cheek. “Me, too.”

For a full minute they simply touched each other's faces, rubbing their thumbs over noses and cheeks, lips. Until Harry's eyes fluttered shut, and closed the minute distance between them to brush his lips across Ron's. It was brief, and Harry pulled back, and looked at her, his eyes wide.

“Oh, I...erm..” he stammered, and he tried to untangle himself from their embrace.

But Ron had another idea. He pulled Harry back to him and crushed his mouth to his. Hermione gasped. She didn't think Ron and Harry felt...that way about each other, but as their kiss continued, it made perfect sense. Perhaps they'd been moving towards this, towards each other, all along.

They parted, panting, but smiling. Then, they turned to her, kissing her cheeks, her eyes, her mouth, but did not relinquish their hold on each other. She felt herself falling backwards, but she didn't despair, knowing she was safe in their arms. Their legs tangled, all three of them; she felt the hardness of their passion pressing into her hips on either side. She wanted so badly to stroke them, but this moment they were caught up in, with their hands and lips was so new and fragile and perfect and so right that she didn't want to do anything to shatter it. There would be time for other explorations, but in this perfect moment, it was all she—they—needed.

While Ron laid his head on her shoulder, Harry tried again to pull away from them. But Hermione and Ron reached up to keep him near. He resisted slightly, but Ron said, “We can talk later.”

Harry stared at him for a handful of heartbeats then relented and laid beside Hermione again. He sighed and buried his face in her neck and hair.

Hermione pulled a hand from each into hers, reveling in their nearness and their warmth and their. . . love. They stayed like that, exchanging small kisses and hugs, until the sun slipped behind the mountains. And watched as a new day, a new world, dawned.