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SIYE Time:3:22 on 15th December 2017


Splinters
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Albus Dumbledore, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, Sirius Black
Genres: Drama, Romance
Warnings: Death, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 278
Summary:

In the secret mists of time, a truth has been shattered. The path to victory has been cursed with despair... and nobody realizes it.

It is 1995 -- the summer of their discontent. Sequestered within the grimy walls of Grimmauld Place, Harry and Ginny begin having strange dreams of an era long past and events yet to come. Are the dreams somehow real? Is fate taunting them with tragic visions of doom, or are they being granted a precious chance to survive... and fall in love?

Note: this story presumes canon until Chapter 4 of OotP... beyond which things begin to go haywire.


Hitcount: Story Total: 40392; Chapter Total: 1858
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

Martin was skeptical last chapter that I could wrap up the story in one more and, indeed, he proved correct. Always good to have readers who know these things better than the authours themselves!

Oh, and while I'm thinking of you Martin -- I don't know if you get sentimental while reading, but if so then you 'might' want to have a handkerchief available for one segment about a third of the way through this chapter. Sorry, but it had to be that way.

RighT3rantZ previewed this already and his comments highlighted to me something that I already knew in my heart -- that it's a bit unusual to have Hettie have such a pronounced subplot of her own so close to the end of a Harry/Ginny tale. C'est la via. I never anticipated Hettie Gravener last summer at all, when I first started to diagram out the wacky concept of Splinters, but when I resolved to make Hermione (rather than Duff) the primary supporting role, I needed a future version of her, and... who would have guessed that this clumsy, age-mellowed, insecure yet intrepid young lady would be so fun to write? Anyway, when the final plot points began to converge, it was clear she had to be there to be that source of goofy fortuitousness that I couldn't ask of either Ginny or Harry.

Finally, astute readers (i.e., most of you) will note that not all plot threads are tied up yet. No major angst after this chapter, but a few resolutions remain. And to MollyandArthur I promise you will see more glimmers of a Ron whose fifteen-year-old self is continuing to mature.

Enjoy!





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Chapter 18. Many Unto One (a few more minutes on August 16, 1995)

Ummm, where…?

It took Hettie Gravener the better part of a minute to figure out that she was gazing obliquely at a ceiling… a cracked and peeling Edwardian ceiling that was no more than two feet from her face.

The ceiling represented progress of a sort. It was only vaguely illuminated, but this meant that it was somewhere where the darkness was no longer quite so absolute. Despite the hints of dust and a few spider threads dangling from the plaster, there was no musty smell or creepy dampness. Hettie had no real notion of where she was, but it was at least quite obvious that she had left the old sanctuary beneath York Road Station…

Or had she?

Okay, perhaps it wasn't quite so obvious. Hettie realised that there were no certainties about where she was or wasn't. After all, she still didn't know how the brooch really worked. Did it truly spirit her away over space or time, or just give her bizarre dreams?

Good question. Or was it?

Arrghh! Scratch that too.

Perhaps a more immediate issue right now was why had the brooch arranged for her to be staring at a ceiling? Was something about to happen to (or near) said ceiling? Was she supposed to do something about it?

Hettie again groaned in frustration as several dozen other unruly queries attempted to swarm her brain. Too many questions; too few answers.

Yes, well thank you very much, Mr. Duff, for having prepared me so well!

True, Hettie had to admit that she knew Duff had been in a hurry that afternoon, but it was still beginning to gall her to realise just how much more he probably could have explained about what she would face and what she was expected to accomplish. The thought that his knowledge was probably now lost to her forever did not improve her mood. Nor did the vague sense that she might never meet anyone else who would be able to help her to grapple with some of these very pressing questions.

Arghh!! Ambiguity!

Hettie disliked ambiguity as much as she hated darkness, and things were far more ambiguous right now than her illustrious schooling had prepared her for. She was a dedicated student and a perennial overachiever, but had never been the most creative or intuitive learner in her class. She could work wonders if there were right or wrong answers to be found in a library (or listening to a professor or tutor), but being forced into completely independent improvisation without any reference felt… unsettling.

Fortunately, despite preferring situations that played to her strengths, Hettie's mind had broadened quite substantially recently. One did not chase a mysterious young man halfway across the globe over a strange tale of imminent magical peril without bending one's perspective a bit, right?

Well, however much creativity and intuition Hettie might have gained recently, it was about time to grow some more. Quickly! Fate had seemingly given her a second chance to achieve something almost unachievable, and Hettie was determined to not fail twice.

In the past when Hettie had been confronted with little life challenges, she had often found success by putting things into the context of a school project — identify the problem, posit a decent solution and map out a path to proceed from problem to solution. Unfortunately, since Hettie couldn't tell whether her current situation (hovering in the air a bit below an unidentified ceiling) was closer to the problem (undefined) or solution (even more undefined), the old strategies seemed a bit lame.

After floating around ineffectually for a while, she reformulated her mindset in a different context. She decided to view things as a game of some sort.

The first round, she reflected, had been akin to a role-playing game — she had been tasked with inhabiting someone else's body, trying to figure out what she needed to do to win, and then act accordingly. That round had been a bust — by the time she'd recognized the winning strategy (keep the strange winged horse-monster thing alive?) it was already too late (winged horse-monster was dead).

This time, the rules were clearly different. For starters, Hettie was not really in a place into which anyone could hope to lead a winged horse-monster (too small — the ceiling was no more than twenty feet long or twelve feet wide) and, more fundamentally, she was no longer actually inhabiting someone else's body. Indeed, she seemed to exist as something of a wraith — a status that seemed rather disturbing (she had begun to worry whether she might have died and returned as a ghost), but also potentially useful (might she not be subject to human frailty?).

Given all of the strange uncertainties in her situation, Hettie decided to imagine herself playing a fairly challenging variant of the game 'Twenty Questions'. Rather than having someone answer questions for her, she would have to resolve everything on her own, through observation, trial and error.

In a gesture of slightly forced pluck, Hettie smiled to herself. Putting everything in a framework like that made matters sound a bit less daunting. She would simply do the best she could to map out the objectives, rules and strategy using her powers of observation (superior!), her deductive reasoning (quite solid), and maybe a little bit of good luck (errm…?).

Okay, she would rely on observation and reasoning then.

So, first question…

Uhhh, can I look at anything other than this ceiling?

Experimentally Hettie tried moving. Her transparent arms and legs didn't seem to accomplish much but, after a little while, she realised that she could navigate by consciously willing herself to. Consequently, she began to rotate herself down toward the rest of the room, with a mind to exploring her surroundings.

As soon as she had tipped downward about thirty degrees, she knew that she was in a bedroom. It was nothing extraordinary — the room was of normal dimensions; it had two desks, two chairs, two twin beds on opposite sides of a stone-paneled floor. It may have looked a bit shabby, but was by no means wretched.

Definite progress! So, what sort of people live here?

Hettie's eyes narrowed. Even in the low street light filtering in through the ragged draperies, she could make out one rather unusual feature of her surroundings. This particular room had a distinctly split personality, divided straight down the middle as if it were two different chambers bound by the same set of walls.

One side of the room was delightfully jumbled, with bright posters tacked unevenly on the walls; clothes, shoes and books strewn randomly about… clumsy, happy and welcoming. The other side was spare, spartan, immaculately structured — clothes stowed; books neatly stacked; nothing out of place.

Hettie wondered what sort of comedic dynamic might play out between any two people who could divide a room so markedly. She smiled for a minute as she imagined silly clashes and controversies, but she pushed the amusing diversion aside.

Questions, questions… What do I need to find out?

She immediately castigated herself. In the game of 'Twenty Questions', overly generalised queries gave ambiguous answers. Rather, she knew that the only viable path forward was to take baby steps — to look around for little clues and hope she wouldn't waste too much time in following them.

Hettie drifted down toward one of the desks (the more orderly one) in order to examine all of the items that the distant street lamps had illuminated enough to recognize. She saw a small ornately embroidered chest, an open journal, several ink bottles, and several real feather quills. Hettie's heart surged; The only person she had ever seen using a quill before had been Rob!

Oh oh oh! What can I find out about this quill-writer?

Settling into the chair; her eyes carefully scanned the last completed journal entry:


August 6, 1995,

The anxiously longed-for (but also half-dreaded?) arrival has finally come to pass. Harry has been rescued from his annual nightmarish exile to Little Whinging — an incarceration whose reasons (Harry's security and well-being) are getting ever more dubious now that the inevitable signs of privation have been further compounded by news of Harry's terrifying brush with Dementors.

Unsurprisingly, Harry has shown little inclination to speak much of either. I wish he would trust us a bit more to help him work through his worries and pain, but this time I can hardly blame him for any reluctance. What frightfully poor friends we must have seemed all summer! If I could have done it all over again, I wonder if I should have bothered sending him any letters at all?? Why torture the poor boy with atrociously censored drivel, bearing no answers, no insight, little humour, and barely any comfort?

Sadly, I can understand the reasons. It's true that we're in a state of siege, and it's equally true that candour and common sense will always be among the first casualties of war. Thankfully, the wounds inflicted on our friendship should pass. Harry has accepted our explanations and apologies, and seems prepared to move on.

So, please please, let now the healing begin!

Please let us forget our quarrels and stand together.

Please let Harry find the means to be happy again.

And please world, be kind to the kindest hearts!

Such as Ginny.

My word, how terrible I felt tonight after finally recognising how much raw anxiety Ginny has been harbouring. I wish I had seen it sooner, but she does a tremendous job of concealing her worries beneath all that dry wit and feisty energy. I should still have guessed, though. She has always been blessed (or cursed?) with selfless empathy and, of course, this is Harry Potter that's she's worked up about!

I wonder if Harry has any idea what a loyal, supportive and caring friend Ginny could make? Not that I would dare to push him toward anything romantic (especially now that Ginny is, theoretically, over him), but surely he could use another good confidante to tide him through those rare times when I'm obsessing over my studies and Ron is being a prat. Yes, rare times indeed — surely no more than three months out of any given year, right?

Is it possible to wilt parchment from too much sarcasm?

To be honest, last year was abominable, wasn't it? I wonder sometimes why Harry never simply scrapped us and went off to find new friends?

Loyal to a fault?

Oh dear! Is it because Ron and I are so unremittingly demanding, and Harry feels that denying us would be betrayal? Or maybe in attending to our constant demands, he just doesn't have the energy to seek out new ties?

Is it time for big sister Hermione to pull some strings? Open his eyes for him?

Perhaps. But not tonight.

I see that Ginny is fast asleep now; hopefully Harry is as well. Rest well, my dear friends — little sister, little brother.

Oh how I hope they can both be happy and whole again soon!

And oh how weary I am. If I don't turn extinguish the light, I will collapse on my quill…


Hettie hummed to herself quietly, thinking about what she had read, and letting her mind wander through free associations. The date struck a chord (August 1995 — Good times. Would have just played Hamlet's Ophelia at St. Cuthbert's College…), as well as the word 'Dementors' (Shiver! ), but the various names puzzled her (Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione … All vaguely familiar, but why can't I place them? Are they from dreams? ).

She reached unthinkingly for the small chest on the desk but, in her disembodied state, she couldn't raise the lid. Still curious, she drifted up from the disk and resumed wandering around the room.

It was then that she noticed, to her belated surprise, that both of the beds were occupied. The occupant of the near bed was too wrapped in a blanket to recognise, so she drifted toward the second bed, and… her breath caught.

“Gemina?”

The sleeper (a young, red-haired teen with that pretty face Hettie would recognize anywhere) did not budge.

Hettie longed to gently rouse the girl, to finally speak to her — to meet the real life form of a young heroine whose courage Hettie so admired…

And Hettie could ask her if Rob was around here somewhere… if Rob was okay… alive…?

Hettie sighed. She would never win this crazy game of Twenty Questions with distractions like that. What to ask instead?

If I woke Gemina and spoke to her, what would I say?

It had been obvious from Rob's accounts that Gemina had been very active with the resistance movement, and Hettie's own goals were probably (as far as she could guess) interlinked with that struggle, so maybe opening a general dialogue would help.

Hello Gemina. I'm from several years in the future, when the war has already been lost. Is there anything I could do to try to change that outcome?

The problem with that approach, Hettie realised, was that it didn't seem to ring true. The journal entry, despite revealing a strained society where mail was deemed risky, did not yet use the hard scrabble language of life poised upon a perilous edge. The phrase 'candour and common sense' being 'the first casualities of war' was cautionary but not yet dire. Furthermore the way this girl decorated her room (in the low light, Hettie could make out rock band posters, pictures of odd looking fluffy animals, and photos of athletic young women posing with brooms or flying past spectators) seemed incongruous with the image of a battle-hardened revolutionary.

Besides, in Hettie's wraith-like state, she wasn't even certain that the girl would be able to even detect her presence, let alone hear her questions.

Hettie shrugged. Nothing ventured, nothing gained... She took a deep breath. “Hello Gemina. Can you hear me?”

No response.

Hettie hovered beside the bed. As she studied the peaceful expression on the girl's young, pretty face, Hettie's thoughts turned back to the brooch, and to the question of what it might be trying to achieve by…

Brooch?

The brooch was in still in Hettie's hand!

In shock, Hettie stared at (or actually 'through') her own diaphanous fingers, astonished to discover that she had somehow carried the magical object with her from York Road. Perhaps its was an odd trick of the dim light but, inexplicably, as Hettie gazed at the brooch in her hand, the ornate silver seemed far more real, more substantial, than the fingers clasping it.

Hettie's gaze darted back and forth between the sleeping girl and the brooch, then inspiration hit. The brooch appeared real, the sleeper looked real, but she, Hettie, seemed decidedly imaginary. That could only mean...

Hettie stared a long moment into dark far corner of the room, then she nodded to herself, speaking in sudden certitude. “This must be for you, Gemina.”

Slowly Hettie extended the brooch toward the red-haired girl's placid hand. “This is a powerful magical object that sent me back in time to meet you. I have no idea what it's supposed to do, but I think perhaps it brought me here simply to deliver it to you." Hettie frowned. "That would make sense, right? Surely you would know far better what to do with it than I would?”

The sleeping girl made no move.

Hettie reached across the final several inches, so that the brooch was (or should have been) touching the girl's hand. But of course it was not.

The illusion of a minute ago had fallen away and now, placed in direct conjunction with a real person, the brooch seemed every bit as aethereal and unsubstantial as Hettie herself was. The girl on the bed showed no recognition; her hand didn't so much as twitch as the brooch bordered and then overlapped her finger.

Hettie frowned in confusion. She was beginning to withdraw the brooch, when she jumped at a sudden noise behind her, and a voice…

“What the?? What in Merlin's name are you?”

Bewildered, Hettie swung around and came face to face with…

Herself?!

Hettie stared, agape, at a face that might as well have been framed in the Gravener family album. The person in front of her seemed to be a bit bedraggled from sleep, and could probably have benefited from knowing the wonderful benefits of Keratin-based hair-straighteners… but was otherwise, most definitely, herself.

But she couldn't be.

Again, the scenario obviously failed to ring true — Hettie was certain that she had never been in this bedroom before, and she knew that in August of 1995, she was studying at St. Cuthbert's private school in Epsom, New Zealand — a place that was not known for cracked Edwardian ceilings. Finally, all logic told her that however much empathy she felt for the person known Gemina Wilsey, there was no evidence that their life trajectories had ever crossed. And they had surely never shared a bedroom.

Hettie frowned to herself in consternation, then looked across to see the rumpled version of herself wearing a face of perplexity so nearly identical to her own that for a moment Hettie thought she was staring into a mirror.

The strange symmetry broke when the rumpled girl reached to her night table for a stick of some sort and brandished it. “Who-whatever you are… move away from Ginny.”

Ginny?

Based on the limited number of options, Hettie guessed that rumpled girl wanted her to move away from the bed, from the sleeper, who must be… Ginny?

Not Gemina??

Disinclined to argue with an agitated (and possibly armed) version of herself, Hettie drifted obediently several feet to the left.

“Are you a ghost? But you look like me, which is not poss…” A deep frown creased rumpled girl's brow. “Is this... is this a dream?”

Excellent question… but unfortunately it was one to which Hettie had no answer. So she shrugged.

Hettie's shrug, and the associated jostling of her diaphanous hands, caught the attention of rumpled girl. Her gaze drifted down to Hettie's hands… and locked in on the brooch.

Rumpled girl squinted at the brooch for a moment… then, in rapid succession, her eyes darted from the brooch, to the sleeping girl (Ginny, apparently), to Hettie and back again.

A very strange look crossed rumpled girl's face; she raised her left hand reflexively toward her head, winced slightly, and her eyes went very distant.

Everything fell silent for a long tense moment, then the stick in the girl's hand quivered slightly.

Hearing a sudden click, Hettie glanced toward rumpled girl's desk in time to see the lid of the ornate box spring open.

Hettie watching in fascination as a variety of small objects floated out of the box. In the glimmer of distant street lamps, she saw various pieces of jewelry, a pair of old watches, some old sea shells and stones. Finally, from out of an old, threadbare piece of cloth, slipped something made of gleaming silver.

Hettie gasped.

It was the brooch!

Confused, Hettie looked at the one in her hand, then back to the one emerging from the box to confirm that they seemed identical, except for the fact that the 1995 version looked much more solid and real.

Still bound in some sort of strange trance, rumpled girl swept her stick in a small arc, seeming to pull the brooch across the room, steering it smoothly, inexorably, toward the sleeping Ginny's hand.

Hettie watched with amazement as Ginny, without waking, opened her hand somewhat, and clasped the brooch.

The instant the sleeping girl's fingers made contact with the 1995 brooch, Hettie felt a jolt from the transparent object in her own hand. The room lurched and began to swirl disconcertingly. In the ensuing fraction of a second, Hettie caught glimpses of a wild commotion unfolding — Ginny leaping from her bed; a sharp cry ("NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! "); a sickening thud.

If Hettie was baffled by the confused bedroom drama… if she had hoped to leisurely sort it into a logical discourse and learn whether or not she'd won her game of Twenty Questions, then she was in for a sore disappointment. There would be no time to come to grips with any of that because, yet again (again!) everything in her world had been turned upside down, shaken, and sorted into something completely unrecognisable!

Beset by sudden daylight; by a barrage of metallic clangs, cries and shrieks assaulting her ears; flailing bodies of barbaric soldiers streaming past; a ghastly grey sky smelling of blood, smoke and iron… beset by all that, Hettie groaned.

What now...?

Jostled about by chariot wheels bucking over uneven ground; struggling to grip one-handed to a rain-slickened railing, Hettie squeezed the brooch to confirm that it was still clasped tightly in her other hand. Fearful of dropping it amidst the havoc, she shoved it hastily into a fold within the tunic she now found herself wearing, not even noticing that... she was not the first person to have stashed a brooch in there.

Harry gazed once again around the chaotic, but still-frozen, Great Hall. For roughly the hundredth time in the last few minutes, his wary glances confirmed that nothing was happening. Whatever strange magical ability Ginny somehow had to arrest time in this scene seemed to be holding perfectly well… despite the fact that she had gone into (and was still fixed in) a deep trance.

Holding her hands tenderly, Harry drew his eyes away from their surroundings and gazed down to her placid (beautiful) face. He nodded to himself resolutely, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. Letting himself drift into darkness, all of his normal waking senses faded away, except for the feel of her warm hands, the vague sense of her pulse and a faint (nearly subliminal) sound of her gentle breaths.

Finding Ginny this time was far easier than the arduous earlier search across the void. Harry sensed a low pulsing light nearly immediately, and was able to bring it into clear focus fairly quickly. Relief surged through him. “Ginny?”

“Harry!” “Harry?”

Huh? A stereophonic response??

His eyes widening in surprise, Harry strained his senses and soon found himself focusing on an array of sparkling glimmers that emerged near the pulsing light, resolving themselves into…twin pairs of sparkling eyes.

Two Ginnys?!

Mystified, Harry found himself in front of them. One of the girls — Harry was certain that it was his own Ginny — clasped his left hand, gazing lovingly up to him. The other 'Ginny' (practically identical, but with many tiny care lines about her otherwise radiant face) reached for Harry's right hand, regarding him with a mixture of curiosity and awe.

After studying him for a long moment, as if still trying to confirm that he was real, the more careworn version of Ginny finally smiled. “Hello, green-eyed boy.” She seemed to glow with a profound admiration. “I've been waiting for you a long time.”

Baffled by the surreal gathering and greeting, Harry closed his eyes and slowly, deliberately, reopened them.

Both girls were still there; the double-vision remained. He gazed from one Ginny to the other, then laughed — dumbfounded, speechless, but… happy.

Both girls laughed too, though Careworn Ginny's mirth faded fairly quickly into quiet contemplation. She stared deeply into Harry's eyes, dwelling there, wearing an odd expression that Harry thought he could read. It conveyed an element of… savouring — as if the girl was making the most of a long-awaited, yet inevitably short-lived, opportunity.

Careworn Ginny sighed; her tone heavy with a subdued blend of affection and regret. She lowered her eyes and squeezed his hand. “I guess this is it, yeah? Gravener's done her thing; the path is open for you to mend the rifts… and now I suppose it's time for you to go.”

“Go?” Harry cocked his head curiously. “Go where? Do you mean it's possible for us to return to the refuge now?”

“Right.” Careworn Ginny nodded. “But only you two. Merlin, how I wish I could be there to help; to see things through, but, well… I can't.”

“You can't?” Ginny's felt an empathetic ache in her chest at the soft sadness in her other self's voice.

Careworn Ginny shook her head. “It wouldn't work. I think the only reason we're able talk like this, across completely different histories and all, is because something in time got shattered. Cause and effect got all scrambled, and so regardless of our own unique existences, you and I are equally possible. When you fix things up again, we'll each go back to our separate realities.”

Ginny stared; her lips slowly shaping themselves into the letter 'o'.

Careworn Ginny sighed. “The many must return to one. At that my duty shall be done…” She paused for a moment, then grinned. “Hey, that rhymes, yeah?” A bit of cheer sparkled in her misted eyes.

“Bravo!” Harry winked. “Iambic tetrameter!”

Things went silent. For a pensive moment, Careworn Ginny stroked the back of Harry's hand with her thumb, then she released him. Assembling a brave smile, she pulled both Harry and Ginny into a quick hug. “Go save the world, Luvs. Makes things right. Kick some arse for old Gemina!”

There was a final fleeting instant in which the mysterious young woman's vibrant eyes burned themselves one final time into Harry's memory… then he and Ginny were hurtling across the centuries, clasping hands, steeling themselves for their chance (and imperative) to make things right.

Ginny seemed to fly straight from the placid darkness, into a blur of plants and trees. Flung by her momentum, Ginny stumbled; her ankle wrenched, and she toppled headlong onto a soft, sloppy mess of wet leaves and humus.

Lifting herself from the ground, she was greeted by several noises in succession.

“Errr… are you okay?”

CRUNCH!!

“Oops…”

Ginny sat up. Despite having to wipe away a face full of sodden organic matter, she was grinning at the clumsy, chaotic welcome. “Hermione, did we just drop dear old Madam Crabby Claws?”

There was a long pause. “Uhhh, maybe? Sorry.”

Ginny laughed. “No worries! Why should I be the only one around here to get dropped on my head all the time?” She picked up her wand and got to her feet. “Datgelu!

Ginny looked around and saw the young woman who looked like Princess Heanua (whom Ginny assumed was Hermione, but was actually Hettie) standing a short distance away, gazing somewhat sheepishly toward a clump of pine saplings bent beneath the weight of the mishandled, stunned queen.

Ginny glanced appraisingly at their dropped burden and nodded. “She's probably just scratched up a bit. I'll take care of that later.” She pointed her wand toward Boadicea. “Codi!

The queen rose quickly from the tangle of saplings and began to hover forward toward the broadleaf glade. Hettie watched with a frown and hastened to follow. “So you're G-… Ginny? Right?”

Ginny nodded.

“Ginny, do you know what we're supposed to be doing here?”

“Not exactly.” Ginny shook her head. “We'll do a bit of improvising, but much of what we see will probably unfold the same way as last time, so we need to remember our mistakes, and take care of everything that went wrong the first time.”

“Ah. Mistakes.” Hettie pursed her lips uncertainly. “So we learned, for example, to not let the horse-monster-thing get killed?”

“Errr…” Ginny paused, giving Hettie a sidelong glance as she digested the un-Hermione-like terminology.

Feeling increasingly nervous, Hettie began to fret over how on Earth she would manage to explain to Ginny who exactly she was… but Ginny opted to give Hettie the benefit of the doubt and answer her question. “Yes, the Thestral. Saving him is definitely a part of the plan.”

Ginny paused for a moment to target a direct path upwards toward the refuge. Catching her breath, Hettie nodded. “Okay good. And so how do we accomplish that?”

Ginny shrugged. “We have to stop stupid people from doing stupid things. Not counting the two of us plus Harry, everyone we're likely to encounter up here is probably an idiot or a crook or both, so we just won't let them set the agenda. We'll disarm them, restrain them, stun them — whatever it takes to keep them under control this time.”

Ginny stopped to free the queen's mantle from rose thorns, and sighed. “And this time I have to be bloody sure I know which wand is in my hand before I cast any spells.” Ginny glanced at her hand, reflexively, to confirm the presence of LanossŽa's wand. “Hey 'Mione, if you think of it, would you please keep an eye on me please? That Coritani wand is remarkably sneaky, and I never know when it will come to me or what it will do.”

Hettie nodded again, but her eyes were not on Ginny's wand, but rather on the stick in her own hand — the stick that the other young red-haired woman (the one she'd seen here before Ginny had suddenly appeared) had attempted fruitlessly to convince Hettie to use.

With uncharacteristic impetuousness, Hettie tried waggling it at random. A blue spark shot out, incinerating a clump of moss.

Eep!

Ginny glanced over at the sudden noise, and raised an eyebrow at Hettie's guilt-ridden expression. Whatever minor chicanery was afoot, Ginny chose to ignore it — there were more important things on her mind; in particular, time, which she wished she had more of. Tearing the last corner of Boadicea's mantle clear of the thorns, Ginny raised the woman a bit higher and redoubled her pace up the hillside.

Several minutes later, despite the hard exertion, Hettie attempted a question. “G-Ginny what's the… the other p-part of the...” She gagged, unable to speak, breathe and race her way through the thick undergrowth brush all at the same time.

Noticing her companion's pulmonary distress, Ginny slowed to a halt to let Hettie catch her breath again. Ginny spent a moment gazing around the woods for any sign of Harry (or any intruders) then turned to her gasping companion. “All right, so you were going to ask what the other part of the plan was, beyond saving the Thestral?”

Crouching forward; leaning on her knees, Hettie nodded then straightened up again.

Ginny resumed walking, albeit more slowly. “Well, the most nettlesome issue is that we need to eventually figure out how Malfoy is interfering with time and stop him.”

“M-malfoy? This, er, is… all his doing?” Hettie had no idea what they were talking about, but this seemed like a good time to begin learning. “Do you know how he's, er, interfering?”

Ginny shook her head soberly. “Not a clue. Maybe if we're all observant, we can catch a few hints and…” She froze at the sound of a branch swishing. “Harry, is that you?”

Quick footsteps came to a half about fifty feet away. Harry materialised and waved. “Gin', Hermione — all well? Status quo?”

Ginny nodded. “I think so. No problems on the way; I would estimate we're all about five minutes quicker getting here this time.”

“Great!” Harry gave Ginny a quick hug. “We'll have a bit more time to try to pry the staff loose from the queen's talons before company arrives.”

“Right.” Ginny smiled. “But we should get ourselves into the refuge first?”

Harry nodded. Without further discussion, he joined Ginny in shepherding first Hettie and then the queen past the wards, then they once again all congregated around the Publican's blanket.

Setting the queen down onto the fabric, Ginny regarded the staff with distaste. “Harry, am I going to try to take it from her, or are you?”

Harry equivocated. “I suppose if I'm asking you to try to tame the Coritani wand, then it's only fair if I try to confiscate the staff.”

“Thanks.” Ginny grinned appreciatively. “But I shouldn't be so spineless. I know — let's try working together. You were thinking 'Expelliarmus' ?”

“Ha — what else do you expect from me, right?” Harry chuckled. “But yes, in this rare case, a disarming spell probably makes the most sense, and I doubt that even the Publican can top mine.”

“I agree.” Ginny leveled her wand. “So we'll cast together?”

Harry nodded and met Ginny's eye. They both took quick breaths. “Expelliarmus!”

The red flares from the two wands met in mid-flight and surged toward the queen's staff. But in less than a second, both could tell from the profile of the pulsing power that it would fail. Although the spells enveloped the staff, the power breezed around the magical wood without latching on, and the staff remained rigidly bound in her hands.

Harry and Ginny canceled their spells and gazed in consternation toward the queen.

Hettie frowned. “Do you suppose that it would work any better if one person tried it alone?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I very much doubt there would be any spell cancellation. Much more likely that the staff-makers of this era knew a charm to prevent simple magical disarming spells, but…” He stroked his chin for a moment. “Such a charm would extend to the staff but not the wielder. So…” He raised his wand again. “Relashio!

The magical force streamed straight toward Boadicea's white-knuckled grip… the queen's arm trembled, but did not release.

Harry terminated the spell, grumbled something under his breath, then turned to Ginny. “A bit of an effect there, but still foiled. And that was with the Publican's magic too.”

Ginny chewed her lip. “Yes, I assume it's the same sort of resistance that...”

The queen leaped to her feet. “Canslo'r! ”

Harry, Ginny and Hettie had barely enough time to dive to the ground, avoiding the fierce pulse of brutal power that swept outwards, canceling the wards. Even as the three teens were bailing out, however, their wands were out, with Harry attempting to hit the queen with a combined Relashio, just as Ginny attempted a jelly-fingers jinx.

All to no avail — in the course of its prodigious outburst, the forces emanating from powerful staff merely swept the spells aside.

The instant that the orange wave had passed, Harry was on his feet. “Praemonio!

In a flash, Ginny was at his side. She tucked LanossŽa's wand into her belt, and extended her right hand toward the queen. Unbidden but not unexpected, the Coritani wand emerged from the queen's tunic and rushed out to embrace Ginny's grasp.

It was unclear if the queen noticed the wand's flight. Her eyes were fixed on the misty woods to the west, preparing to face the old Druid whose mounted arrival Harry estimated to be mere moments away.

Harry glanced at the wand in Ginny's hand, then caught her eye. “Good — you got it! Thank you, Gin'.”

Ginny nodded grimly, then turned to watch the Druid's slow, dramatic approach through the mist.

The grey-cloaked rider closed in upon the queen, raising his right hand. The coarse wooden staff glowed a menacing reddish hue in the gloom. His breath sounded heavy and impatient as he glowered down at Boadicea. “I have come for what is mine. Return the wand, as per your solemn vow!”

“I humbly bear your wand to you, o' Coritani Druid.” Ginny stepped forward, struggling to quell any quavering from her voice. “Please accept our solemn apologies for the lateness of return.”

The Druid began to turn toward Ginny, with a split-second look of surprise illuminating his face. He opened his mouth, to…

BANG!!

A blast of white lightning tore from the queen's staff as she rounded on Ginny. “Insolent daughter — how DARE you?!! That is NOT your wand to give!”

“…!!” Ginny sputtered in inarticulate outrage, incredulous over the queen's hypocrisy. Yet her searing eyes needed no words; the glade tensed and bristled as the two women locked in a battle of deathly scorching silent glares.

“Your majesty…” Harry summoned every available shred of the Publican's most judicious mien. “Through your daughter's hand, this wand has served you well, and aided you in the recovery of the Staff of Scavo. Every last member of your family stands before you, bidding you to accede to the Druid's just request.”

The Druid cocked his head curiously. He held the Thestral back, content for the moment to await the outcome of a debate he had not anticipated.

Strange glimmers of emotion traced across the queen's face. Her skin inflamed from the fierce pressure of the roiling irrational anger within. Yet another emotion also showed in her eyes as they drifted from Harry to Ginny. The queen seemed torn, and ever so slightly humbled.

Boadicea's fingers trembled, clasping the staff, taut as if in great fear or anguish… yet sparks of anger leaped sporadically from the staff's copper grip, which had still not quite shown it's hidden serpent.

Harry silently willed the Publican's shield outwards to encompass Ginny at his side and to cover Hettie in back. He then took another careful step forward and gestured toward the Druid. “Mighty queen of the Iceni, those who would resist Rome must stand together. There will be dark days ahead, that can be faced only with the strength of inter-locking alliances. Do not forsake the strength of your northern neighbour over old and petty grievances. Permit your wise daughter to return the wand.”

The hot flushed complexion drained away as Boadicea stared — at Ginny; at Harry. Angst writ upon a bit of thin lip pinched tight beneath the queen's teeth, Harry wasn't the least bit sure that the woman was even breathing as she turned away. Yet somehow Boadicea must have opened her mouth, for everyone there heard her tense yet measured voice.

“So this is your will, daughters of Boadicea and Prasutagus?”

“Yes.” Ginny's tone was low but clear. Hettie's voice failed her, but she nodded her quiet assent.

The woods went utterly still — the Druid's odd expression of intrigue as he sat atop the quietly grazing Thestral; Harry and Ginny standing with nearly identical looks of wary disbelief. In the background, Hettie extended her wand the way she'd seen Ginny and Harry do it; her eyes intently focused on the queen, hoping in vain to somehow help her colleagues… but hard-pressed to expect anything better than disaster.

In proud profile, facing obliquely away, the queen stood silently… silently… Then spoke in a low voice. “LanossŽa, give him the wand.”

Ginny and Harry exchanged a glance and nodded to each other. Together, they took a small step toward the Druid.

The Druid's eerie, inscrutable eyes shifted a fraction from the advancing pair, to the queen and back again.

Silence. Nobody moved.

Ginny and Harry took a second step; a third… Ginny raised the Coritani wand up toward the mounted Druid who began to lower his hand in cautious reciprocation.

Harry glanced to his right, toward the queen, whose countenance he could just now glimpse again — her skin glistening from mist or perspiration; tense, pale; a slight tremor in her lips… and a single track of deep crimson blood trailing down her chin where she had bitten through her lip!

“Gin', look out!!”

Slowly, ominously, Boadicea began turning to face them; her staff raising up.

Prepared for anything, Harry pulsed more power into his shield.

Startled, Ginny spun abruptly from the Druid, accidentally sending the princess's brooch clattering to the ground.

The queen faced her; eyes wide and demented; blood now pouring freely from her pierced, throbbing lip. She angled her staff forward.

With no time to trade instruments, Ginny flicked the Coritani wand into her palm and felt a shock course through her arm as power from the wand surged back toward her own magical core.

Queen and Druid alike watched in rapt fascination.

Ginny paid no heed — her sole attention in that split second was locked in an instantaneous negotiation… with the wand.

She clutched its handle. You will serve me!

The wand sparked erratically. Prove yourself.

As the barest, most fundamental of answers, Ginny flicked the wand tip at Boadicea, lashing out a sharp stunner before her lips could form even the 's' of 'stupefy'.

The spell crackled with raw power.

But so did the queen. In the span of several quick seconds; without moving her staff so much as an inch,

Boadicea parried Ginny's stunner…

Mistaking Hettie's reflexive flinch as a threat from the rear, the queen whipped a heavy branch into the older girl's face…

With a nod to her right, the she blasted flame at the startled Thestral who reared in panic, staggered back, leaping into the skies in a torrent of shattered branches and swirling leaves…

Glancing at Harry, she threw up a mighty shield to counter any advance from his direction, then…

her face seething with psychotic wrath, she turned back to the person she believed to be her daughter.

The staff head — now fully evident as a writhing serpent's maw — spilled out the lurid gleam of a killing curse…

In the sharpest flicker of time, Harry stared at the awesome shield; at the vile green unforgivable welling up behind it.

There was no magical recourse…

So Harry dropped his wand.

With no regard to consequences, Harry leaped between Ginny and the queen. His open outstretched hand reached across, blindly but unerringly, and clasped itself over the flaming, twisting jaws of the green-glowing asp.

For a single horrifying second, everyone saw the foul green ejaculate pulse outward from the defiled staff, diverted through Harry's hand, racing up his arm, aiming for his heart…

Emaculo!

With the perfect precision borne of unthinking desperation, Ginny and LanossŽa both poured untold energy through the Coritani wand, striking Harry, full in the chest, with their most powerful healing spell…

From centuries of healer testament, it is common knowledge that healing spells do not work proactively. They heal the wounds that manifest, but are of no value in preventing a wound in the first place.

Furthermore, in treatment of dark curses, the benefits of healing spells are marginal at best.

Be that as it may, the combined powers of two formidable young witches radiated across from their point of impact — a shimmery white wave coursing through Harry's flesh. Just past his shoulder, the white clashed with green.

The appalling surge of magical venom slackened… and ceased…

Harry blinked.

Chalk boards… desks… gothic windows… ?

Harry blinked again, trying to reconcile his mind to the unexpected backdrop of the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom.

He also tried to reconcile his lack of pain.

A moment ago, his arm had felt as though it had been thrust into boiling oil, but now — nothing.

Harry, finally, tried to reconcile the peculiar pose in which he found himself — standing tall; arm raised; hand outstretched, poised on the verge of grasping the horse head grip of the mighty, wholesome Staff of Scavo which was suspended in the air above him.

Harry frowned in bewilderment… then heard the sound of clapping.

The grinning face of Remus Lupin moved into his line of sight. “Well done, Harry!”

“Why, it's the Staff of Scavo, isn't it?!” From somewhere behind Harry was coming the excitable voice of Professor Flitwick. “Marvelous! Astonishing! Absolutely brilliant! Whoever would have thought he would retrieve such an object!”

“Nobody ever benefits from underestimating our young Mr. Potter.” The profile of Albus Dumbledore drifted in front of Harry; the old man's eyes fixed appraisingly upon the staff. “A remarkable piece! This will make a powerful tool in our struggles with Lord Voldemort.”

“Most certainly!” Lupin edged closer, examining the horse head grip, though not actually touching it. “This is truly an historic moment. It's my understanding that no wand in the last nineteen hundred years has demonstrated such power. Not even the Elder Wand.”

“So Albus…” Flitwick was gazing up at the object, still suspended in mid-air well above his head. “Should we remove it for further study before attempting to make use of it?”

“Should we remove it, Filius?” Dumbledore shook his head. “Ah no, I should not presume any such thing. The staff was retrieved by Harry, and with Harry it should remain.” Dumbledore finally turned to meet Harry's eyes, offering a smile that was much like the kind smiles he had once bestowed on a younger Harry Potter.

Rather similar… but something was missing. Something about the eyes. A certain lack of twinkle.

Dumbledore gestured open-handedly toward the staff. “As Remus most aptly phrased it, that was very well done Harry! None of us expected you to locate such a powerful artifact, but the fact that you have done so, may finally tip the balance in our favour.”

Harry stared at him in confusion.

Dumbledore began to move away. “Very well, then. Harry, why don't you take the staff and come along with me so that we can begin to figure out its powers and applications.”

“Sorry sir if I-I seem a bit shaken up, but things seem a bit off, and…” Harry gazed fixedly but bewilderedly at the staff, still hovering in front of him, inches from his outstretched fingers. He frowned. “Sir, I think that the staff is cursed.”

“Oh heavens no, Harry.” Dumbledore's voice was receding. “Don't you think that Filius, Remus or I would have long since detected a curse if there was one? All of these years battling Lord Voldemort rather instills a bit of wariness, you understand.”

Harry's breath caught. “Lord who?”

Silence descended.

Lupin was frowning. “Is something the matter, Harry?”

Harry glanced at his good friend and mentor, then angled away, his eyes searching the classroom in vain for the Headmaster. “Professor Dumbledore, what exactly is Tom Riddle the 'lord' of?”

Lupin shook his head. “Relax Harry — it's merely a manner of speech.”

“No it's bloody well not!” Icy adrenaline tore through Harry's veins. “That name is an abomination!”

“Easy. Easy now, Harry.” Flitwick was gazing up at him. “Pay no heed to the Dark Lord's filthy tricks. Focus on the staff.” His tiny hand gestured urgently. “Take it!”

Faces swam in front of Harry's face. “Take the staff Harry!”

Dumbledore, Lupin, Flitwick — looking upon him sternly, insistently. “Take the staff Harry!”

The 1981 photograph of doomed Order of the Phoenix members - hovering in his eyes. “Avenge us Harry. Please take the staff!”

Cedric Diggory — his eyes boring into Harry's soul; his final dying words escaping into the dank air of a darkened graveyard. “Please take the staff, Harry. It's our only hope.”

Harry's fingers trembled, a hair's breadth from the pulsing silver grip. A strange mist began to sweep across his eyes…

It was swept back by the image Ginny Weasley, her face streaked with grime and tears. “Damn it Harry, let it go! Drop the staff!"

"Huh?" Harry stared at his distraught beloved, straining to sift through the surreal chaos, seeking the one truth.

Ginny seized his shoulders, shaking him. "The hex is over, Harry! You saved me, now just BLOODY LET GO…” A terrible sob convulsed through her and she collapsed onto his supine chest, whimpering, “Please let go of it. Please come back to me…”

Draping his left arm around Ginny and burying his face wearily in her hair, Harry consciously willed his right hand back from the staff.

Harry instantly felt the wave of cool relief flood across him, through his trouble mind, heart and limbs. Except for his right arm — something was wrong with it. It didn't seem to respond when he tried to lift it from his side to join his left arm in embracing his girlfriend.

And he never heard the staff clatter away.

“Harry? Ginny? Are you all right?” Hettie mopped her face with her sleeve, trying not to bleed on her two friends as she knelt beside them.

Ginny nodded and began to lift herself off Harry. Half way to her knees, Ginny tensed. She clutched her hand to Harry's left rib cage, waited several breathless seconds, then whimpered softly in relief. “He has a pulse.”

Harry groaned and nodded. “Not dead yet.” His gravelly voice sounded like someone who had known better days, but was still prepared to make a go of it.

He opened his eyes to see Ginny grinning at him, overjoyed to hear his voice. Her face grew quickly sober though. “I have the princess's healing herbs, Harry. Brace yourself while I roll you onto your back to check your arm.”

Harry pursed his lips; his right arm (the one beneath him that Ginny presumably planned to examine) had no pain, but he nodded obediently.

Working carefully but quickly, Ginny extracted LanossŽa's herb pouch and proceeded to roll Harry gently onto his back. Then she gasped. And Hettie let out a choked cry.

Harry looked in dread at the girls' blanching faces. “Uh… is there a problem?”

Ginny took a deep breath to keep herself from hyperventilating. “Uh, well, it's nothing we can't, uh…”

Hettie's face collapsed into her hands. “Oh, Harry! Your arm is… oh god!”

Harry stared at her, then turned his focus back to Ginny. “Gin'?”

Ginny nodded, still taking deep measured breaths. “Okay…” She swallowed. “Perspective please.” She swallowed again and wiped her eyes. “So the bad news is that seemingly, for some reason, your arm and the staff somehow… destroyed each other, but… that was technically not your arm, Harry. It belonged to the Publican and, well, hopefully this will have no effect on your own 1995 body…”

“Huh?” Harry looked aghast. “What will happen to the Publican?

Ginny sighed deeply. “Well, my best guess is that he is going to need the princess's best healing skills for a long… long time. Oh Harry!” Ginny bit her lip hard, winced and looked away.“ All he ever wanted was to go back into the woods with LanossŽa and have a quiet, peaceful life!”

Harry reached up with his left hand and gently stroked Ginny' distraught cheek for a while until she was ready to meet his eye again.

When Ginny finally did turn back to him, she found that he was smiling.

“Don't you think, Gin', that the Publican is still going to find his way happily back to that quiet life with the woman he loves?”

“Personally, I would not count on that,” said a most unwelcome voice.

Ginny and Hettie turned around slowly, shifting just enough out of Harry's line of sight to give all three of them a clear view of someone they had nearly forgotten about. Harry scowled. “Malfoy.”

Wand trained on all three of them, the gaunt, silver-haired wizard had an eyebrow raised in amusement. “Hands where I can see them.”

Ginny and Hettie both raised their empty hands, and Malfoy nodded in satisfaction. Turning his attention to Harry's single raised hand, however, he frowned. “Ever the contrarian, Potter? That curse was meant to kill, not maim.”

“A curse?” Desperate for information, Harry fabricated a confused expression. “Really? There was a curse on the staff?”

Malfoy's face spread into an unpleasant grin to see the alarmed faces of his nemeses. “Silly boy! There were actually several curses — more than I'm interested in telling you about, but suffice it to say that there was an Imperius-like subjugation for anyone who attempted to use the staff, and a fatal curse upon anyone who loses it.”

“Anyone who loses the staff?” Harry stared in shock. “The queen??”

“Is already dead, yes.” Malfoy shrugged. “Oh, don't feel so badly, Potter — she was bound to die today anyway, so what difference does it make to you if you killed her?”

“What?!” Hettie sprang from her place beside Harry. “He didn't kill anyone, you swine! You're the one who set the curse — you just admitted it!”

“That must be Granger beneath the blonde hair, eh?” Malfoy sniggered. “Draco always said you were tediously pedantic… but how very apt of you to coat your face in mud-blood for the occasion.”

Hettie trembled. Her cheeks turning deep red; she had no real idea why she felt such a sudden fury overcoming her, but she seized stout broken branch, reared back, and…

Expelliarmus! ” Malfoy deftly caught the branch, tossed it aside and grinned at Harry. “You're not the only one with a quick draw, Potter. Now sit your bloody tail down Granger!” He pointed to a spot next to Ginny. “Right there!”

Hettie glared for a moment but, now bereft of any weapon more potent than bare hands, she could think of few practical options. Gritting her teeth, she began lowering herself onto the ground, when…

“Ai!” Hettie sprang up several inches and reached beneath herself. Puzzled, she reached beneath herself and retrieved… a brooch.”

“Oh!” Ginny felt inside the now-empty fold in her tunic. “That must be the one given to LanossŽa by the Publican. I dropped it when the queen went berserk.”

“That's strange…” Hettie reached inside Heanua's garment, and began to pull out…

“Stop!” Malfoy went suddenly inexplicably pale; his voice raspy. “Give me that brooch, Mudblood!”

Hettie's eyes narrowed as she watched Malfoy's wand tremble.

Noticing Malfoy's intense distraction, Harry's left hand furtively felt around within the undergrowth beside him for something he remembered having discarded.

Hettie, meanwhile, was glowering at Malfoy. Locking onto his eyes and making no effort to comply with his demand, she instead continued to slowly extract…

Accio brooch!

Praemonio!

Malfoy's summoning spell fell flat against Harry's left-handed shield spell.

“Faster than you, even with my wrong hand, Malfoy!" Harry grinned, showing the wand that he had retrieved from the ground. “Now, what has you so spooked, ferret-man?”

His wand shaking like jelly, Malfoy barely even heard the question. His eyes remained fixed on Hettie's slowly emerging hand. “Give me the brooch, Granger, or I'll kill you!”

Hettie shook her head.

Malfoy reached out a second hand, attempting to steady his shaking wand. “A-avada… '”

“You'll never cast an unforgivable, shuddering like that, you dope,” Ginny scolded. “Now, let's see what you've got in there, 'Mione?”

Putting drama aside, Hettie pulled out a brooch with her right hand and examined it. “This must be, umm… Ginny's brooch from 1995, I think?” She transferred it to her left hand, where it matched perfectly with LanossŽa's fallen brooch.

Hettie reached back into her tunic.

Malfoy's eyes bulged; he thrust his wand forward like a rapier. “Stupefy!”

Hettie smirked as Malfoy's spell vapourised on the Publican' shield. Unabated, she withdrew yet a third brooch. She thought for a moment, then grinned broadly and defiantly. “Brought to you by Henrietta Gravener, York Road Station, 1998.”

The unfamiliar name and location completely lost on him, Harry stared at the assemblage of silver, scratching his head. “Huh? How in Merlin's name did we get one from 1998?”

Hettie half pointed at herself; half shrugged.

“They're all identical.” Ginny gazed with a puzzled look on her face. “Three brooches; all are the exact same magical object, but each one is from a different place and a different time.”

“Three magical objects, all from different places and times, all brought here to the same place and time.” Harry's eyes flickered from Hettie's hands to her face. “Strange coincidence, wouldn't you reckon?”

“Strange?” Ginny stared at Harry. “Don't you suppose it may be a bit unstable too? Magically, I mean?”

“Unstable!” Malfoy snapped out of his shock, suddenly nodding feverishly. “Very unstable! Get those things away from each other, Granger — you'll kill us all!”

Hettie glanced at Ginny who gave the agitated wizard a dismissive eyebrow and turned her focus back onto the contents of Hettie's left hand.

Ginny pointed toward the nearest brooch. “Harry, have you ever examined the ornate craftsmanship? Did you notice how the wings and jewels are raised on top, but there are similar indentations on the back? It looks like a perfect negative image.”

Harry examined the brooch, then he stiffened. His eyes went distant for a moment, then he opened his mouth and what emerged was the Publican's full, matured voice, issuing a clear and simple instruction. “Stack them!”

“Granger, don't be an idiot!” Malfoy flailed his arms, whinging. “Drop them! Save yourself!”

Hettie shook her head, calmly turning the brooches over in her hand; eyeing their identical shapes; their protrusions and extrusions. Finally, she looked to Harry. “Stack them?”

Harry nodded.

Hettie met Ginny's eyes.

Ginny nodded.

Quietly, carefully, Hettie brought together the three identical brooches — the strange confluence of a perilous past, a catastrophic future and a tenuous present — and clasped them together.

The brooches gleamed for a moment, then everything — the faces, the ground and trees, the dim, drizzly sky — all turned blindingly, immaculately white.

“Mr. Weasley, I would ask you to please calm yourself, and set Miss Granger down gently.” Dumbledore finished conjuring a stretcher and set it, ready and levitating, in the middle of the anxious group. He raised his eyes to meet Ron's. “I apologise for having acceded to Miss Granger's foolish request to take the brooch. It was a dreadful mistake for me to let her handle a dangerous magical object of such magnitude.”

Ron's eyes, partly visible over Hermione's hair, went wide. “Let her handle?! You put the bloody thing in her hand without even… oops!”

Sirius lunged to stabilise Hermione. “Here, let me help you, Weasley.” He cast a levitation on Hermione's legs and helped Ron to steer her onto the stretcher.

“Yes, well perhaps that was the more fundamental mistake.” Dumbledore nodded contritely.

“Yes, well, if you've hurt Hermione or-or the others, then I'll… I'll…” His face throbbing red, Ron sputtered to a halt and a whimper escaped him. He squeezed his eyes shut in anger, frustration, or… or something else.

“It's okay Ron.”

Ron's eyes flashed open and they stared wildly about the room looking for the source of the whisper. The sound had been so soft that it took Ron (and everyone else) a moment to realize that the whisper had come from the stretcher.

Ron fell to his knees. “Hermione? You okay??”

Hermione nodded.

“You're certain you're all right dear?” Molly hovered close over Ron's ear. “Do you know if… I, uh, well suppose you probably wouldn't, but… Ginny and…?”

“They're okay… I think…” Hermione coughed slightly. “I'm a bit confused…”

“We're okay.”

Everyone whipped around at the sound of Ginny's voice. Standing at the bottom of the steps, her hand found Harry's as he, a bit unsteadily, descended the final step. He seemed almost surprised by the feel of Ginny grasping his right hand; he flexed it experimentally, then smiled weakly to the assembled crowd.

Pandemonium erupted. A blizzard of questions and exclamations swept the room, to which Hermione merely closed her eyes, while Harry and Ginny stood politely, patiently silent.

“… go back in time to Christmas 1988, just before we hit Percy with a tinsel bomb, because…”

“… and without you to cook breakfast this morning, we had to eat burnt mash, or at least that's what I think it was…”

“… or likely headaches and a low grade fever, but unless your throat is scratchy it probably means…”

“… but then I thought to myself, say, has anyone noticed that none of you are actually saying anything at all? Or did you say something and I missed it?”

Silence suddenly took root… Golden silence.

Quietly Ginny raised her hand.

Everyone stared, expecting her to say something.

She didn't.

Ready to fill an uncomfortable lull, George opened his mouth to make a jest of some sort… but instead his jaw froze, gaping.

Wandlessly, soundlessly, through some unknown influence of Ginny's hand, the pocket of Dumbledore's cloak tugged. The headmaster jumped and grappled in momentary panic, but not in time to prevent his wand from rising up into the air and sailing straight into Ginny's grasp.

Now everyone was gawking. Except (of course) for Ginny, Harry and Hermione.

Ginny ignored them. Pensively, she held the wand aloft toward the light from the tall front windows. Slowly, she rotated the wand, examining the dark surface and its elaborate patterns. Grasping the handle, she weighed it thoughtfully in her palm for a moment, then casually traced out a glittering outline in the air above her… Suddenly the bright shape of a horse formed, reared on its hind hooves, and galloped soundlessly out of the room.

A smile in her eyes as she watched the apparition disappear, Ginny nodded to herself. She crossed the room and handed the wand back to her shocked headmaster. “Your wand has a very interesting history, sir. I am guessing that it very likely has an equally interesting destiny, especially now that it has been healed.”

“Healed?” A perplexed frown on his brow, Dumbledore examined the wand for a long moment, then his eyes widened. “Oh! The strange fracture has vanished.”

Harry stepped forward. “There is a long strange tale in this, Professor. Ancient curses, wrought from the future by people who don't yet even know that they would ever perform such magic. Scars far deeper than cracks in the alder wood have been healed.”

“We believe, sir…” Ginny appeared at Harry's side and took his hand. “We believe that nobody now will ever be able to wreak such havoc.”

Harry nodded. “The curses are no more.”

For the first time in weeks, Dumbledore met Harry's eyes. Two pair regarded each other for a long moment, then Dumbledore gazed thoughtfully at Ginny and lowered his head. “There is a great deal in this that I would be most fascinated to learn from you. Would the two of you be willing to share some of your experiences and insight? Or perhaps the three of you?” Dumbledore nodded to Hermione, who had lifted herself to a sitting position.

The three teens glanced at each other, somehow reaching a silent resolution. Harry cleared his throat. “Yes sir, we would be prepared to fill you in…” He took a deep breath. “Provided you are prepared to listen.”

“Yes my friends.” Dumbledore sighed; his backbone sagging under a weight of regret. “I do hope at this stage that I am finally beginning to learn to listen. But if you find that my attention ever strays…” He gazed from Harry to Ginny and then settled his suddenly twinkling eyes on Hermione. “Then I expect we'll find Miss Granger quite prepared to rap my knuckles soundly.”

Hermione did not smile.

Harry stole a peek at the expressive peak of Ginny's eyebrow, wondering whether anyone else in the room might be ready to apply appropriate disciplinary measures…?

Dumbledore saw fit to not press the joke. Reassembling a serious expression, his focus shifted to Ginny. “Lastly, Miss Weasley, there is the matter of the Peuerellius brooch… ?”

“Of course.” Ginny turned to the girl on the stretcher. “Hermione, do you still have it?”

Hermione nodded. She raised the hand in her lap to reveal the brooch still in her grasp.

Ginny exchanged quick glances with Harry and Hermione then turned back to Dumbledore. “I think we all agree you can have it, Professor.”

Startled glances swept the room, but Hermione shrugged and offered it, without protest, to a distinctly puzzled Dumbledore.

Gazing around the room and seeing numerous mouths poised, yet again, on the verge of a tempest of inquiry, Harry raised a peremptory hand. “I have something important to say.”

As wide eyes fell upon him, Harry gestured toward the kitchen. “Ginny is hungry. So am I, and I wouldn't advise waving any edible in front of Hermione either. Anyone who wishes to join us for a late breakfast is welcome.”

Some cheers went up from the Weasley brothers. Lupin and Molly shrugged. Sirius grinned as he and Ron helped Hermione to her feet. Professor Dumbledore, however, looked around awkwardly. He was just in the process of opening his mouth to speak, when…

THUNK!!

Everyone whirled around to stare at the front door.

Hermione's hand popped over her mouth. “Oh dear! I never thought to cancel the wards on the door.” She pulled out her wand, then stopped, momentarily uncertain…

Dumbledore turned to Hermione with a kindly look. “Miss Granger, I am almost certain that if you unbar the door, we will find nobody more threatening than Arthur Weasley, hoping to come in. Meanwhile I remain on this side, still desiring to leave.” He smiled apologetically. “I believe that if you were to kindly cancel the rather impressive barrier on the entrance, none of us grateful souls would ever consider reporting you for underage sorcery.”

Hermione gave him the briefest of sharp glances, then completed the wand-work to free the door.

The ornate metal knob turned, and in stepped Arthur. He blinked in surprise to see so many people looking at him. “Well, er, I got out of a meeting early and was fancying a bite to eat, so…” He gazed around at the various silent faces. “Er, so why do I get the impression that there's an interesting story somewhere behind all of this?”

Ron nodded dumbly. “Dad, you don't know the half of it.”

“Ah?” Arthur seemed pleased to finally hear someone speak. “I'm sure I don't. Would you care to fill me in then?”

Ron shook his head emphatically. “No, don't ask me. I doubt I even know the tenth of it!”

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