The Parting Glass
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call
Goodnight and joy be with you all
—“The Parting Glass”, Irish Traditional
Hermione Granger stumbled to the treeline of the Forbidden Forest, away from the smoking ruin that was once Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Her body ached as much from dodging curses as from those that had penetrated her defenses. Her fingers, still clenched in a death grip around her wand, sent shooting pains up her arm. Her temples pounded from the use of too much magic.
Yet all those pains were nothing next to the paralyzing anguish that rose from her gut, through her heart and into her soul. The Final Battle had been won. The horcruxes had been destroyed and Voldemort had been defeated, but at a terrible cost. Her life, her home, her friends, Harry, Ron — they were all gone, lost amongst the rubble. Lost. Gone.
Her numb legs gave out from under her. With low keen she slumped against the base of a tree.
She watched with a kind of detached calm as figures moved around the rubble and over the grounds. Magic flared in greens and golds, blues and reds in the late afternoon sunlight. Aurors and others who had fought and survived the battle were disarming and disabling the few remaining Death Eaters. The clean-up was methodical. Anticlimactic. With the toppling of the castle and the end of the Dark Lord, all the fight had gone out of his supporters. She was not the only one to have fled the collapsing edifice in a stumbling daze, but she hadn’t been in the thick of the fighting. No one from the Great Hall, no one who had faced Voldemort alongside Harry, had made it out alive.
A shock of short white-blond hair jarred her out of her stupor. Malfoy was moving alongside the Aurors and incapacitating fallen Death Eaters as if he hadn’t intended to join their ranks only a year before. Her mind rebelled at the injustice of it. Harry and Ron and so many others had fallen during the battle, but Draco Malfoy, that sniveling git of a ferret, got to live. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.
Dropping her wand, she clawed at robes that suddenly constricted too tightly. She tore the choking cloth away from her throat, gasping for breath. Her harsh sobs must have carried because Malfoy turned sharply in her direction, catching her wide-eyed gaze as she stared at him.
He started towards her, irritation flashing across his pointed features. She rose and scuttled back, unwilling to face any confrontation, any confirmation that this was the world she now lived in — Harry dead and Malfoy alive. Her fumbling fingers yanked painfully against a chain buried amongst the folds of her collar. She grunted as the links bit into the skin at the back of her neck.
Dazed, she pulled the tiny hourglass pendant from where it lay nestled against her breastbone. She had forgotten she was wearing it. It had been crucial in gathering the information they needed to find and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes. She had even begun to entertain the notion that Dumbledore’s somewhat reckless decision to let her use the device during her third year wasn’t reckless at all. It was foresight. It was training.
Following the trail of clues Harry had seen in the former Headmaster’s pensieve, she had travelled back in time again and again to carefully observe the events leading to Tom Riddle’s rise to power — never interceding, never changing them. The rules that had been drummed into her during that third year held firm. Intercession could be devastating. Change could lead to catastrophe. Brought back to the present by that thought, she looked in dismay at the destruction all around her. What could be more catastrophic than this?
She knew the moment Malfoy realized her intentions. His swift stride broke into a run and his harsh shout broke her from immobility.
Turning, she pelted deeper into the forest, mechanically twisting the hourglass in its casing. She could hear Malfoy crashing through the underbrush, calling her to stop. Ducking behind a tree, she clasped the primed time turner, closed her eyes against the inevitable disorientation, and pulled the pin.
There was the rush of a warm breeze tickling across her skin. Golden light flared behind her eyelids and a scent that she’d always likened to honey enveloped her. That was what travelling through time had always felt like to her — as if she were moving through sun-warmed honey.
The light and warmth and scent slid away and she opened her eyes to a view not much changed. The old forest was as wild as always, but the colors and scents were autumnal rather than vernal. She knew from long experience that she had arrived at her intended when.
Now to get to her intended where.
She reached for her wand, only to find the sheath at her waist was empty. She recalled dropping the wand at the edge of the forest. With a growl of frustration at the delay she turned and began stomping out of the forest and down towards the front gates of Hogwarts. Granted, she would have had to leave the grounds to apparate anyway, but now she’d have to find some other means of travel, steal a broom, or a wand — preferably the latter. The idea of channeling her magic through another’s wand was less nerve-wracking than the idea of flying.
But whatever the means, she had to get to Godric’s Hollow. She knew where the Potters were hiding; the magic of the secret keeper didn’t affect her. If she could get to them, could warn them of Pettigrew’s betrayal and tell them all she knew of the Horcruxes, then they could escape, tell the Order and defeat Voldemort almost two decades ahead of schedule. So many lives would be saved. Harry would never have to go through that torturous childhood with the Dursley’s. He wouldn’t have been made into Voldemort’s final horcrux. He wouldn’t have had to go into that final battle knowing that in order for Voldemort to be killed, he had to die.
Her breath hitched into another heaving sob and her swift walk became a hurried jog. Bugger prophesy. Fuck fate. It was in her grasp to stop it all, and she was damned if she was going to–
“And just where do you think you’re going?”
Hermione skidded to a halt, her shoes scrabbling in the dusty track that led through the gates of Hogwarts. Sitting beside one of the ancient stone lintels was the dark blue shape of a — was that a phone box? And leaning against it with studied ease was a man, a muggle, wearing a battered leather jacket and a patiently amused expression on his long face.
“I…who? What?” She glanced around, but except for herself and the strange man, the school grounds were empty. The sun was near to setting here, just as it had been when she left, and she knew she didn’t have much time to spare. Stamping down her confusion and natural curiosity, she began to move past the man.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to talk. I have something…something I have to do. Excuse me.”
“I said, no. I won’t excuse you. And I’m not about to let you do what you’re going to do, so you might as well just give up and come inside so we can have some tea and a nice long chat.” He had shifted so that he blocked her path, but he was still wearing that genial, understanding look. His blue eyes reminded her of Dumbledore’s and she felt the same tug of yearning for paternal comfort and approval that the old Headmaster had always inspired. But thinking of that reminded her that Dumbledore was dead, and that reminded her of what she’d come here to stop. She felt new anger rush through her, clearing away her hesitation.
“And who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” she challenged. The man’s eyes grew more stern, and some of his patience seemed to slip away.
“I’m a Time Lord. The last of the Time Lords. And we both know you are about to do something monumentally stupid. It’s my job to stop you.”
“Time Lord?’ She shook her head. The surreality of conversing with this stranger at the gates of Hogwarts almost a score of years in her past was causing confusion to nibble at the edges of her anger.
“Yes. I happened to be in the area, temporally-speaking, and I noticed a massive snarl starting right around here, by you. My people…” something flickered in his eyes, a minute hesitation, but it was something she recognized because she felt it so keenly herself. Loss. “My people monitor these things, clean them up or prevent them from happening if we can. So I came to stop you before you mucked with things you didn’t understand and ended up destroying the universe.”
“Muck with…” She gathered the scattered embers of her anger into a smoldering glare, “look, I don’t care who you are. There’s a war going on and I mean to stop it, once and for all.” He raised a brow, but it was enough to stay her when she moved to step past him.
“Before it ever started.”
“And save everyone who’s died. Everyone you’ve lost.”
“Yes,” her voice cracked slightly, and she realized that the tears she’d held at bay were welling up in her eyes.
“And the world will be a better place with them in it.”
“Yes,” she whispered. The tears were flowing freely now.
“How?” She closed her eyes, recognizing the trap in his question.
“I know what I’m doing.”
“No, you don’t. If you did, then you’d know it’s impossible.”
“I know what you’re doing. You’re grasping at straws because it’s too hard to face that they’re gone. But you can’t do it. You can’t go back and alter the events of a timeline so that the events that caused you to go back don’t come about. That’s–”
“Paradox,” she inserted, her shoulders slumping.
“Right. Either you don’t succeed because you didn’t succeed — usually because you died horribly trying — or you do succeed…and you don’t want to know what happens then.
“I can’t…” she whispered, wanting to deny his logic — what she knew, what she’d always known was true, “I don’t…oh, Merlin. They’re really…they’re all dead.” She broke into harsh, wracking sobs, but when she would have fallen she instead found herself wrapped in an embrace of dark leather and wool.
“I know,” he soothed as she cried, “I know.”
The sun had set and the autumn night was growing chilly by the time Hermione’s sobs had quieted to the occasional snuffle. Eventually she pulled away from an embrace that had shifted from comforting to awkward, but she was too wrung out to have honest remorse for dampening the stranger’s jumper. He shushed her half-hearted apologies.
“Perfectly understandable. A good crying jag’s just what you needed. Now that that’s over, fancy a cuppa? Amazing beverage, tea. Heals a multitude of ills. Puts the world into perspective. Fantastic with biscuits.” Again, his gentle cheer reminded her of Dumbledore; she half-expected him to offer her a lemon drop. Before she knew it, she found herself guided into the oddly innocuous blue box.
“It’s bigger on the inside,” she noted, not sure why she found this surprising. She’d been in wizarding tents before, but this strange man — he was a muggle, wasn’t he?
“You have no idea,” he chuckled, confusing her for a moment until she realized he was responding to her spoken comment rather than her thoughts. She followed him past the vaulted entry chamber and down a twisting set of corridors to a small, cozy kitchen. She sat at a solid, well-used table while he put together a tea tray, complete with chocolate biscuits. The normalcy of it all caused her stomach to drop, and she felt the aching void begin to creep up on her again. He put the tray on the table and began pouring out, but a glance at her face had him pursing his lips.
“Oy. No more of that. You’ve had your cry. You don’t want to overdo it. Tea’s what you need now.” He seemed to consider a moment before slanting her a soft grin, “or perhaps something a bit stronger?” He reached into a cupboard and pulled out a dusty bottle half-filled with amber liquid, pouring a dollop in her cup before sliding it over to her. Startled out of her downward spiral, she sipped from the cup. A warmth that came from more than just temperature began to blossom through her.
Manners came to her rescue when the silence that descended became awkward, “I’m Hermione, by the by.”
“Granger. Yeah, I figured as much. You were instrumental in ending the Second Great Wizarding War, and in the reconstruction afterwards. Though I suppose that next bit’s still to come for you.”
“You…you’ve heard of me?”
“Course I have. Smartest witch in your generation. Although, it doesn’t speak much of your contemporaries if you’re their shining beacon of intelligence.”
After his gentleness and compassion, the critical words and rebuke in his tone were a bit of a surprise for her. She gulped a bit too much tea and ended up managing a choked, “What?”
“Look at the mess you almost caused. Lucky thing I was around to stop you, but you should have known better than to even try. Don’t mistake me,” he held up a hand when she would have defended herself, “I’ve considered doing something like this, too. We all have at some point. You think to yourself ‘If I could just go back, tweak a little here, warn the right person there, then things would be…different’. But that’s the challenge of responsible time-travel, isn’t it? And you, missy, were about to be very irresponsible.”
“I…who are you?” she asked, realizing that whoever this man was, he was no muggle.
“Oh. I’m the Doctor,” he grinned at her, as if he hadn’t just been berating her moments before. “This here’s my time ship. She’s called a TARDIS, that’s Time and Relati–”
“You…you’re the Doctor? THE Doctor?” she interrupted, amazed to be in his presence. If he was who he claimed, then it was like a muggle physicist getting to have tea with Einstein. “The wizard who taught Wells the secret of making Time Turners?
“Alien. Not wizard. And I didn’t so much teach the bastard as he happened to nick a few parts from the console of my frankly magnificent Time Machine. Made a whole heap of trouble for me, that mess did. Thought I’d managed to find and destroy all the devices, or make sure they were in responsible hands. Guess I was mistaken.”
“I…” Though she’d registered the rest of his statement, she was still caught goggling over his first claim. Alien? He didn’t pause for her to keep up.
“Where exactly did you get that, anyway?” He nodded to the hourglass still hanging from its chain around her throat, “Who trained you in its use? Cause I have a few choice words for them–”
“For your information, this device was instrumental to winning the war, and I used it just fine for over a year,” she snapped defensively. He could reprimand her all he wanted, but she wouldn’t let anyone say a word against Albus Dumbledore.
“And then what happened? You just decided to go back to change things because the outcome of your little war wasn’t good enough for you? Endanger all of space and time because the price of winning was too steep.” He snorted with disgust, and the censure was back in his eyes, “You lot, you think you’re entitled to everything going swimmingly, like you’re the centre of the universe. You’re never satisfied with a successful outcome, it’s always more, more, more with you. You’d raise a fuss over a ploughman’s if it didn’t have the dodgy little pickle on the side, never mind that nobody ever eats it.”
“I lost everything!” she cried, “Everyone! My…they were more than just friends, they were my family.”
“But you won the war. Bad guy defeated. Your world’s still standing, just waiting for you to step up and rebuild. Why’d you want to go and jeopardize that?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she muttered.
“Yes. I would. You say you’ve lost everything? You don’t know the meaning of the word.” His censure had turned to a cold anger, and she could suddenly believe he was as alien as he claimed, “Losing everything is when your people, your planet, your entire culture is obliterated from the timestream so that not only does it not exist, but it never did.” She recalled then the loss that she’d seen in his eyes, the way he’d held her as she cried…as if he did understand. She recalled that he’d said he was the last. “I’d give anything — anything — to see my people again, and I didn’t even like most of them all that much. I’d even be happy to see my old enemies if it meant I wouldn’t feel this endless abscess sucking away at the center of my mind. But you don’t see me endangering all of creation to go back and change things because I know better.”
He held her gaze with his, boring into her the realization that he knew loss at a level she couldn’t grasp. She glanced away, suddenly ashamed of her outburst, her selfishness. She felt like a child who’d been shown by an exasperated adult just how small and safe and protected her world actually was.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. He grunted and crossed his arms, and she got the feeling that he wasn’t all that proud of his outburst either. Searching for a conciliatory gesture, her eyes lit on the dusty bottle between them. She nudged it across the table to him with a small smile, “ Here. You seem to need this more than I do.”
He hesitated for a moment, then relented with a shrug and an apologetic quirk of his lips, “It’s alright. I imagine it’s been a rough time for the both of us.”
He poured a generous measure into their empty teacups, then set the bottle aside and raised his in salute.
“Here’s to those we’ve drunk with, but never shall again,” he toasted solemnly, his accent brushing just south of Professor McGonagall’s
“Here, here,” she responded, raising her own cup.
“What? Call that a toast? Paltry. You can do better than that.”
“Doctor, I’ve been fighting a war since I was a child. There hasn’t been much opportunity to learn the finer points of drinking etiquette.”
“In my experience,” he pontificated, and she suddenly realized why others found her know-it-all attitude annoying at times, “fighting wars give you the best opportunity to learn those kinds of things. Now come on, you can’t toast off your friends with just a ‘here, here’.”
“Oh, fine.” Hermione raised her cup higher and dredged up a memory of her great-uncle and his regularly embarrassing behavior at family functions, “May the Gods keep the wolves in the hills, and the women in our beds!”
“Fantastic!” the Doctor nodded, and they both tossed back their drinks in one draw.
After she’d stopped gasping and her eyes had cleared from watering, the Doctor stood and offered her his hand. She took it and followed as he led her back through the halls of his ship to the entry room.
“Now,” he began flipping dials on the odd, mushroom-shaped console in the center of the chamber, “we’d better see about getting you back. You’ve got a deal of work ahead of you.”
“It’s alright, Doctor.” She held up the time-turner, “I can manage it myself.”
“Oh, no.” He flipped a lever and the blue column of light in the center of the console began pumping and wheezing, “I’m afraid you violated the restrictions on your learner’s permit. I’m going to have to confiscate your vehicle.” His eyes and voice were shaded with apologetic humor, but he still held out his hand resolutely.
Reluctantly, she pulled the chain from around her neck, fingers brushing over the hourglass. The golden sands seemed to sparkle in response to her touch.
“It’s a bit addictive, being able to travel back and forth through time like that,” she explained with a wry smile, before sighing and placing the pendant firmly in his hand.
He seemed to grow pensive as he hung the chain from a hook on the console. The blue column slowed to a stop, and he walked down to the door and opened it. Outside she could see the lintel of the Gates of Hogwarts. In the distance was the smoking ruin of the castle. She hesitated at the doorway, taking a deep breath to retain the sad acceptance that the Doctor had helped her achieve.
“You could come with me,” he said suddenly. He looked almost as surprised as she felt by his offer, but his surprise quickly became resolve. For all that the offer was impulsive, she could tell that he honestly wanted her to come. She wavered, but then shook her head and stepped out the doorway.
“No, you were right,” she explained, turning to soften her rejection with a smile, “I need to go back — to rebuild. I owe it to Harry and Ron and all the others. Besides, I’d hate to see what kind of world we’d end up with if I left it in Malfoy’s hands. But, Doctor?” She placed a hand on his arm and squeezed gently, “Do me a favor…do yourself a favor. Find someone to travel with you. You shouldn’t be alone.”
“It’s not that easy. There’s no one left. I don’t even have enemies to go back to. They’re all gone. I am alone.”
“That’s not true. If there’s one thing I learned from this war, it’s that the differences that divide us are just false oppositions we construct so we don’t have to risk being hurt. Gryffindor and Slytherin, Wizard and Muggle, Human and Alien — none of it matters. It’s only as real as we make it. We’re all just people, and we need each other.”
“It’s still not that easy.”
“It’s as easy as asking.”
“You think I haven’t tried? You’re not the first person I’ve asked, you know.”
“Well, then, you must be asking crazy people,” she reasoned as she began to move backward, “What girl in her right mind wouldn’t want to travel in time?”
With a smile of farewell she turned and began trudging up the road to her brave new world, leaving the Doctor muttering her final words under his breath.