Chapter 3. Today is the Day
Ahhh… Hettie is settling into the reassuring feel of a warm hand on her arm, when-
"Huh?!" She jolts; her eyes flashing wide. Glancing around, she is surprised to see, not a dark moonlit woodland, but rather the russet evening glow through the trees of Puriri Drive.
The fog of her odd daydream takes a moment to lift; as it does, she realises she must have just nodded off.
“You all right, Hettie?” Withdrawing his hand, Rob is at her side, eyeing her curiously.
“Am I all right?” A flurry of half-processed emotions flicker past.
In truth, part of Hettie feels far better than 'all right'. Any chance at life seems glorious to someone who, so very recently, was facing dissolution of her entire past, present and future into eternal white nothingness. However, another part of her is worried that acting too happy could seem a bit selfish, given how Rob's whole life has been defined by a slow-spreading loss of everyone and everything he loved. Yet a third part of her notices that he is, nonetheless, offering her a shy smile. So she opts for the same. Accompanied by the hint of a blush.
“Sorry Rob.” Hettie sighs. “I'm okay, but what a piker you must think me for drifting off on you. What were you saying?”
“Nothing useful. I was just wondering if it could be amnesia?” Rob’s forehead creases. “In nearly six weeks on the boat, I never managed to figure out what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it. I’ve had this piece of paper with directions for how to find you, and that worked out okay, but now that I'm here, I've no clue what I’m supposed to do or say.”
It is Hettie’s turn to frown.
Rob is changed.
He is changed. The circumstances are changed. The day is shifted by months. Why is everything so 'different' from what I…
Of course, ‘remember’ is not the right word. Hettie has checked her watch twice now (surreptitiously, as she would not wish to make Rob think he bores her) to verify that today is Sunday, December 7th, 1997. It is very nearly two months before that notable day when she first met Rob… in February, 1998.
First met? She rolls her eyes at the follies of using linear concepts to describe semi-circular time.
Let’s try this again.
Hettie carefully reviews her odd biography — how sometime early next school term, she will be summoned from class, will get swept away on the wildest adventure of her life, only to be deposited (two months earlier) into a rather dull swotting session, back home at the Frances Compton library…
Well, admittedly yes, the library is practically her home. Hettie smirks at how dull her life would seem to anyone (i.e., basically everyone) who isn’t aware that she periodically pops back to the past, ahead to the future, and off into alternate universes to save the world from frightful devastation.
She almost giggles… then her eyes widen.
Past… future… Oh oh oh?!! I know all the questions and answers to Wednesday’s Maths exam!!
But wouldn't that be, errr, cheating??
She shakes her head. The exam is irrelevant. What matters is that, armed with exquisitely detailed memories, she is back home just in time. For today is the day she begins a new adventure!
New? She nods to herself. Presumably yes. This caper can hardly be expected to unfold much like the last one, given circumstances that bear so little semblance to the way things started before (or after, or whatever).
For starters, Rob is not quite so mysterious and masterful.
No, Rob is mostly just confused.
Of course, it doesn't help much that she's surely giving the poor lad a complex — snoozing off in mid-conversation, dithering in dopey interminable pauses every time he makes a pained, heartfelt admission…
Sweet murphy, will you FOCUS, Henrietta?!
She reaches across and grabs his hand, eliciting a blink. She suppresses the urge to smile, and instead forces a solemn look onto her face and thinks back to what he was actually trying to tell her.
“Amnesia.” She nods seriously. This would also explain some confusion. “Okay, let’s get a handle on that, shall we? Can you tell me the last thing you recall before leaving the safe house?”
“You know about the safe house?” Rob stares at her in surprise. “I didn’t think anyone knew, other than… Oh, I suppose Dunbar would have told you? Errr…”
Hettie bobs her head ambiguously, restraining that itchy little smirk that keeps trying to dance onto her face. It is the same smirk that sometimes gets her into trouble in class when she keeps correcting her professor’s grammar.
Meanwhile Rob has pushed aside his own query and is concentrating on hers.
Such a charmer, he is!
Suddenly Rob’s eyes flash wide; a wave of anguish sweeps over his face. “She’s dead!”
Hettie’s proto-smirk vanishes. She's dead? She thinks back and recalls… a quirky yet touching obituary… and Hettie knows instantly that Rob's attempt at recovering his memory has stumbled upon a most painful juncture.
"Gemina?" Hettie finds Rob’s other hand, dropping her voice. “Oh, I know, Rob. I’m so very very sorry.”
Rob’s face is pale and for a moment he trembles in emotion… then he settles.
“Can you still talk us through it?” Hettie squeezes his hands. “I'll understand if it's too painful, Rob. But telling me what you remember may help us both understand why you’re here.”
Rob tenses for a moment, pausing to steel his emotions in case of other harrowing images. After an awkward cough, his voice issues — deep and slow; almost robotic.
“November 1. Woke up pre-dawn at the safe house. Morning ops reports were just coming in. Neill and I had just heard a-about my sister’s death. Everyone was shaken; Pearce was weeping openly; Dan Thomson was shattered — poor bloke was assigned to go on the Allesley run too, but splinched on the way. Lost two toes, but that was nothing next to the guilt…”
Rob pauses for the better part of a minute, seemingly trying to recall what happened next. Hettie’s thumb patiently rubs the back of his hand.
“Yes, well the last bit involved Dunbar.” Rob's brow wrinkles uncertainly. “Er, you do know who Dunbar is?”
Hettie nods matter-of-factly. In truth, she knows little about the leader of the British magical resistance, other than that he was a school Headmaster, and was responsible for secretly obliviating vulnerable families (including her own) and spiriting them out of England.
“Of course you would.” Rob nods. “So Dunbar whooshed through the Floo, looking… terrible? Scared? Shocked? I-I don’t know, Hettie. I’ve never seen him act so spooked. Anyway, he pressed a manila folder and a freighter voucher into my hand and started talking really really fast; telling me all about, uh, stuff.”
Hettie arches her brow. “Stuff?”
“Sorry.” Rob hangs his head. “Here's where I still don’t remember a bloody thing. I can see his mouth moving, but there’s no words. Whatever he said, though, it must have made an awful impression, because I left the house straight away with barely more than the clothes on my back, travel vouchers, and some written directions.” Rob fishes in a pocket and hands her a small scroll.
Hettie scans the details (ship passage from Tilbury; bus connections up from the harbor), then sees at Dunbar’s attempt at a physical description:
‘Henrietta Gravener. Age 18. Medium height; brown hair. Would be quite comely, but for buck teeth and bushy hair…’
What?!! Hettie may have been willing to cut Dunbar some slack for exiling her, for taking away her memories, for denying her a chance at a magical life before it even began, but… buck teeth?!
“Uh?” Rob looks at her with concern. “You okay, Hett?”
Shallow ignorant troglodyte patronising lookist poof!
“Hettie? You, uh, seem a bit pale?”
Sod your absess-befouled Victorian era dental squalour! You think the daughter of Auckland’s two best orthodontists goes around gnawing trees like some rabid limey pom BEAVER?!
"Aghh!" Hettie pulls back her hands and, to ease her agitation, ends up subconsciously winding a finger through her prettily straightened tresses (glossy; with appropriately medium-body) as she taps her lips (equally pretty; not straining to cover any oral deformities). She forces a smile. “I’m fine.”
She is indeed fine. She is concentrating. Not distractible. Not losing sight of Rob’s dilemma. She turns to him with a deep breath. “So… you spent six weeks on a ship, without ever knowing why?”
“Well, not exactly.” Rob shakes his head earnestly. “I was on the ship so I could find you. That’s reason enough, right?”
Hettie’s jaw drops. In the back of her mind, it occurs to her that it’s a damned good thing she’s completed all of those skilled orthodontics corrections, as she’s certainly putting it all on display.
Yet more immediate in her mind is an impulse to utterly RAVISH the fellow — right there in full view of the Rugby Club car park…
But most immediate still is the mature, responsible voice issuing from her throat, saying, “Well, I hope I can live up to that.”
She renews her smile. It is full and genuine, but fades to sobriety. “But you’d also mentioned a manila folder? Oughtn’t we have a peek through that?”
It is Rob’s turn to gape. He breathlessly mouths something that Hettie decides is ‘You’re brilliant’, then digs feverishly into his pocket, retrieving a tiny envelope and a stick.
It suddenly occurs to Rob that he is brandishing the stick in plain sight.
“Go ahead — use your wand.” Hettie glances around casually. “We've a fine music program here; people will just fancy you're a conductor.”
Rob looks puzzled for a moment, then shrugs. He resizes the envelope and begins to hand it to her, explaining, “This isn’t an ordinary envelope. The inside is…”
“Really, really big. I know.” Hettie nods. Taking the folder from his hand, she deftly unwraps the string and peers inside, trying to not show that bit of childish awe she feels every time she beholds such paradoxical magical spaces. Pushing aside some clothes, papers, clothes, a few bottles, a clumsy fake-looking bezel-set ring, and other oddments, her eyes flit about seeking one key item…
“Aha! There you are.” She reaches in and pulls out the old Wilsey family photo album.
Curious, Rob watches as she flips knowledgeably to the one page she relies upon for answers.
But page 34 contains only a photo of a moody Highland vista. Nothing more.
Hettie stares. Leadening disappointment is about to sink through her, but then-
Skitter, clatter, BANG!
“Oi!” Red hair wild about her face, Gemina Wilsey teeters into view. Steadying herself on the frame, she stares straight over Hettie’s shoulder. “Rob Rob Rob — it’s you! I could kiss your manky, scruffy…”
Gemina’s eyes narrow as they register Hettie's presence. A flicker of recognition is almost perceptible on Gemina’s face, but also puzzlement. “Eh, Rob? Who’s the perky little birdie?”
For a moment, she thought she was speaking to Ginny. Or someone very like Ginny.
But that was obviously an exhausted mind playing tricks. In reality, Hermione is still in the torch-lit Great Hall; still holding Ron.
Through the haze of the last few minutes, she vaguely recalls Voldemort’s voice having boomed ominously, magically, through the chamber — some sort of decree requiring Harry to march down to the Forbidden Forest and turn himself in. Her pulse spikes, remembering that she left Harry in a corridor off the Entrance Hall.
Ooh! I hope he’s not gone. He promised to wait!
Of course, Hermione has no idea how long she’s been dozing. A part of her is cursing her weakness for being too loggy to rouse herself when the decree first issued but, well… even now it’s very difficult to budge any muscles. She has to admit that 30 or 40 straight hours of nonstop action takes a toll.
A part of her is trying to argue that she may have imagined Voldemort's edict. After all, there’s little evidence of frenzy or panic. The hall is still filled with mourners, still mourning. The various Weasleys are still weeping over Fred…
The only Weasley whose demeanour has changed noticeably is Ron, and that change is for the better. He has stopped shivering; his eyes have closed.
Hermione strokes his face gently. He does not startle. A breath issues; a precursor to a snore. Hermione smiles sadly.
Poor dear — he’s utterly exhausted too. No surprise, given everything terrible that has…
For a precious little while, the horrors had faded. Her little slumber had woven a soft veil of forgetfulness, but now the ghastly, inexplicable debacle begins to stream back without mercy.
In an instant, Hermione is reminded how they had all woken on a sparklingly beautiful Monday morning less than two weeks earlier. It had been the first school morning after Easter break. Despite post-holiday grogginess, they had been jesting and grousing amiably on their way down to breakfast… only to be confronted with a Daily Prophet spelling out a bracing shock.
WHITEHALL — Last night, shortly before midnight, hundreds of militant supporters of Lord Voldemort seized control of the entire Ministry of Magic complex. The Dark Lord himself, previously assumed to be in exile in the Channel Islands, summoned the press to announce that he was assuming the title of Minister of Magic, in place of the Rt. Hon. Rufus Scrimgeour, now deceased. All Ministry staff and current or former cabinet members have been ordered to appear for an all-hands meeting, to take place at…
In subsequent days, the situation has only worsened. Rapidly.
Hermione knows she’s heard only a fraction of the atrocities, but at a certainly point the incessant beat of bad news became intolerable.
Then, as if to prove that the ‘worst’ can get even worse, they have learned that Dumbledore, unexpectedly, is dead.
No, it was not a sudden assassination like Scrimgeour's; the tale is far stranger than that. For Hermione, this dystopic collapse of all sanity began in earnest two mornings ago as she and Ginny followed Harry into the Headmaster's office.
‘Professor McGonagall?? We're, uhh, here for our meeting with Professor Dumbledore?’
Harry's words could hardly have sounded more awkward, but who can blame him? None of them had expected to see McGonagall (rather than Dumbledore) labouring haggardly behind the Headmaster’s desk.
Merlin, what an awful look (Bewildered? Pitying?) McGonagall had given them. After a halting, stilted and baffling exchange, she had finally managed to convey that, according to basically everyone (i.e., hundreds of witnesses), the Headmaster was dead. He had perished atop the Astronomy Tower. In June of 1997. Nearly a year ago.
Hermione recalls several ensuing conversations with random (increasingly skittish) people up and down the grand staircase, all of whom had confirmed McGonagall’s version of history. Even Ron agreed with this bizarre alternate reality. And two days later, Hermione still has no plausible idea why she, Ginny and Harry should be the only ones to have remembered all of the promising, hopeful, happy things that had happened over the past year. Only the three of them knew perfectly well that Dumbledore had been unquestionably alive and well, not only throughout the past year, but even mere days ago!
Does nobody remember his address to the student body, inviting their families to take refuge in the castle?
How he promised amnesty to all children of Death Eaters, if only they would vow to eschew the conflict?
Does anyone at least recall his silly supper speech before Easter break?
No, apparently not. To discuss any of this is to invite stares of shocked incredulity.
Yet Hermione, Harry and Ginny all shared the same memories of Dumbledore’s last weeks; everything large and small; aggravating and assuring; funny and sad. Most critically, Hermione, Harry and Ginny all vividly recalled that evening in early April; that last evening before the first hints of madness began to drop; the last meeting when all of their plans were still converging perfectly.
Ron and McGonagall were there, but it's difficult to convince them of this.
Dumbledore was there but he, apparently, is long dead.
Yet Hermione, Harry and Ginny all remembered.
Seriously, how could anyone forget?!
“We have him trapped,” Dumbledore had said. “Four weeks from today, we shall make Riddle an offer he cannot refuse. Four weeks from today, the threat will be forever ended and victory will be ours.”
Four weeks from April 4th. Without looking at a calendar, Hermione knows that four weeks from that day lands on today, May 2nd, 1998.
Today is the day it all shall end. But although it is still so very early, and the predawn sky is still utterly dark, she cannot muster much hope for a celebration.
How could we be such FOOLS!!!
She begins to quake, enraged how they were so daft to believe it would all be so easy. How could it be, in such a scrambled, confused world? And even now that they have all been taught life’s bitterest lessons, they are no better than stupid children, because they still have no clue how everything got so scrambled, and how they’ve become so confused!
Now all is doomed. All hell has broken loose, the world is broken and there’s no putting it back together unless she can start learning something (anything) about what went wrong; unless Harry can find his feet again; unless they can somehow find Ginny and…
It is incredibly difficult for Hermione to grasp that she is gone.
Drifting across Hermione’s tear-stained field of vision are memories of her best friend laughing, playing Quidditch, hugging Harry. So many memories.
Ginny. Awesome, fearless, irrepressible. Ginny flying. Ginny scoring. Ginny helping a discouraged first-year. Ginny shrugging off another Snape detention. Ginny dueling. Ginny blasting down doors at Malfoy Manor…
The swirling montage of ‘all that is Ginny’ is overlaid upon a backdrop of spreading, clutching, rapacious, murderous…
Hermione’s spine goes bolt-stiff. The vision is gone.
Something in the deep recesses of Hermione’s mind had sparked at the superposition of ‘Ginny’ and ‘flames’. It was the faintest flicker of an image, real or imagined, of Ginny rushing toward a horrific blaze.
Hermione is almost certain that she never personally witnessed a scene like that, but…?
Hermione shifts Ron's comatose form, carefully setting him to rest upon the tatters of an old tapestry. She touches his face one last time, then pulls back. She loves the boy, but right now she is suffocating in this den of blood and anguish, and she absolutely must escape; must find somewhere she can think. Alone.
Or with Harry?
Hermione nods. Alone, or with Harry.
She begins walking away.
Nobody gives her a second glance.
She breaks into a run, desperately scanning the corridor where Harry would (of course) have long since given up waiting.
Harry, Harry, Harry! Where have you gone?!
Hermione turns heel, sprinting back through the Entrance Hall.
Harry, I-I… I may finally be onto something!
With all of the ‘real’ memories that never happened, and so many ‘surreal’ ones that did, Hermione is suddenly wondering if someone has meddled with time? Could it be a fiendishly devious plan to spring Voldemort from their 'perfect' trap? Hermione's mind races past the earlier (failed) plot to corrupt history and eliminate Harry’s existence. Perhaps now someone has found the means for something simpler and subtler? To degrade his life into devastating torment and futility…?
And the capstone of such a plan would logically be to target…?
Hermione stops. Standing on the castle’s front steps, frozen in the darkness, glimmers of a distant bonfire flicker in her eyes. She gasps.
Bloody hell! Voldemort!!
She bursts into a mad sprint across the grounds, crying out, “Harry! Harry, please tell me you didn’t listen to him?!”
No answer. Blindly, Hermione runs off in a random direction, with only instinct to steer her.
Harry, Harry, Harry — please hear me.
Don’t go to the forest; don't give yourself up!
“Harry, are you out here?”
Harry, we'll think of a better way — I'm sure of it…
We’ve got to find GINNY!
One moment, Harry had been walking mournfully in the moonlit woods of Roman Gaul. The next, he finds himself back on the Hogwarts grounds, reeling over the wounded student that he had recently (Weeks ago? Seconds?) helped to stabilize.
Bracing himself to stop the spinning, Harry takes a breath.
He gazes down at the girl, seeing that she has slipped back into unconsciousness. Noting the peaceful look on her face; the lack of apparent pain, he reaches tentatively for her wrist and exhales in relief.
Not dead. She has a pulse; reasonably strong.
He considers levitating her to the castle, but is feeling too pressed for time. Still shrouded beneath his invisibility cape, he shouts for help, hoping that people will come for the girl; hoping they won’t recognise his voice.
He seems to be rewarded on both counts; his hoarse rasp is practically unrecognisable, but still loud enough to summon rapid footfalls.
Satisfied; he adjusts his cape, and hastens back on his way down through the main gate.
He has gone no more than a hundred yards, when he hears a voice calling.
It is a voice he knows very well.
“Harry, are you out here?”
Harry slows for a moment, torn between loyalty and urgency. He dabs away a bit of moisture from his cheek, then sighs. His voice is a mere whisper, audible to no one.
“Hermione, I'm sorry. I have to go.”
And with that, he slips away into the night.