Disclaimer: Only original characters belong to me, everything else is the property of J K Rowling.
A/N: this story ignores the DH epilogue. I hope it has some semblance of believability - please enjoy. Thanks go to my beta, Demoness Mark, for sorting my grammar, and quizzing me on plotlines and characters. The whole of this story, plus a sequel are written so updates should be fairly regular. Your views are welcome.
A Risk Worth Taking
It was a cloudless afternoon in August 1998. The sun blazed down from an azure sky. The mountains around the Scottish highlands looked lush and green, their foliage abundant. The greenery was visible around the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the top of the forbidden forest, but that was where the serenity ended.
The rubble that had comprised the main part of Hogwarts castle lay in heaps among weeds and the foundation stones. Some parts of the building were still standing, precarious without any support, while others looked almost whole, an illusion that was shattered the nearer one got to the structure.
The two wizards who had been crouching over a heap of foundation stones that had once comprised the north tower stood up, breathing hard, both clutching wands in sweaty hands. It was no good, the tower simply wouldn't stand no matter what they did to it. They'd been at Hogwarts for two days, trying as many had done before them, to put right the foundation wards holding up the structure of the school. However their expertise, gained from many years in the building industry within the wizarding world, just weren't up to the task. The wards simply refused to cooperate.
"I just don't understand it, "Mustafa Ali, the older of the two, muttered despairingly in Arabic, "I've never had a problem re-erecting wards, but this lot are shot to pieces." He wiped a grimy hand across his forehead. His mouth turned down worriedly.
"You're not alone," his companion, Dawud Iqsa groused, kicking irritably at a bit of brick, "Our names will be dust with the Brits and the Egyptians. I just don't get it!"
Mustafa paced the rubble strewn site, weather-beaten face crinkled in thought as he swigged from a water bottle. "The rumours about the place must be true, it's the only explanation."
"What, that it's sentient?" Dawud's brows beetled with disbelief. "Come now, only the Egyptian pyramids are sentient, and we wouldn't be stupid enough to subject them to a battering like this place has taken."
"It must be, it's the only explanation. After all, Hogwarts has stood for 1000 years, it's not impossible, "Mustafa reasoned calmly. "The UK has just as long a wizarding history as us you know."
Dawud narrowed his eyes with displeasure though was unable to refute this argument. "Hmph, they certainly don't show it in the way they treat their buildings." He waved an angry hand at the ruins around them. "Look at this place, once so fine, embodying so much magical knowledge and power, one of the best schools in the wizarding world, now a wreck! Sentient or not, it's falling down now and there's nothing anyone can do about it."
Mustafa nodded gloomily in agreement, eyes sweeping the deserted landscape round them. "Let's do the test, come on. Only a few drops though, the last thing this place needs is more damage."
"I'm not sure about this, what if it collapses?" Dawud ventured looking with misgiving at the ruins. "This is only a last resort… fine mess it'll be if it sustains more damage due to the test."
"We've no choice, we've tried everything else," Mustafa responded coolly. "At least we can confirm it's sentient, then it's up to them what they do after that."
Dawud nodded though still looked uncomfortable as he eyed the tower before them with misgiving. This test though invaluable, had consequences he didn't think Hogwarts, in its present sorry state, could take.
Mustafa glanced round again, then quickly put up two privacy wards, it wouldn't do for anyone to see what they were about to do, it was after all a test that they alone had devised and could do. It was the reason they were so highly sought after throughout the wizarding world.
Both wizards took deep breaths to ground themselves. This test was simple, but the risks associated with it going wrong were tremendous. Once both were centred and calm, they pricked their fingers and dripped blood on to the earth beneath the bricks
They began chanting in unison in ancient Arabic as a thick blue smoke issued from their wands and quickly covered the area around them in deep mist. There was a crack as the blood began sinking into the ground, and as they watched with resigned expressions, the earth beneath began to crumble, leaving a pit so that the bricks toppled into it in a heap. At the same moment the smoke shimmered and coalesced to form four separate strands, red, green, blue and yellow. Then it began dispersing leaving a pile of rubble behind.
They looked at the mess around them, both relieved to see very little damage had been done to the earth. This test had brought down buildings in the past, hence their reluctance to use it today.
"The original magic's almost gone," Dawud said watching the last of the smoke disappear as he took down the privacy wards. "No wonder patching it isn't helping."
Mustafa nodded, eyes tracing the final wisps of the smoke. Conjuring some parchment, he pulled a muggle pen from his pocket and drew a rough graph. "There are four strains of magic here, all nicely intertwined, interesting. It's as good a weave as in our pyramid foundations, if not better."
"There were four founders I believe," Dawud put in thoughtfully watching the graph take shape. "We'll have to tell the Brits-"
The crack of someone apparating had both men turning to see who had interrupted their conversation so abruptly. Neither was cheered to see the British Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt, looking around hopefully. They would have to confess that even they, the best builders the magical world possessed, couldn't help him rebuild Hogwarts.
"So, any luck?" He approached the base of the tower. His face fell when he saw the rubble confronting him.
Mustafa pulled himself upright and shook his grizzled head. "I'm sorry, Minister, we've tried everything we know of and a few things that we shouldn't know, but nothing. The place is sentient; it needs a bit of its creator if it's ever to be resurrected. We've done the test to prove it." He showed Kingsley the grimy parchment he'd used to draw the shapes. "See, this graph shows that the amount of magic the creators left here is almost gone."
Kingsley laughed hollowly, glancing at the graph, then pocketing it. "That's difficult considering the creators lived a thousand years ago. Ah well, thanks for trying."
Dawud stared at Kingsley from under his wide brimmed hat, lip curling derisively. "You Westerners, you give up so easily."
"Hush, Dawud," Mustafa chided without heat, "It's up to them what they do. We're merely here to do our jobs."
Kingsley took a step towards the still sneering Dawud. "And how, pray tell do you suggest we rectify the situation?" His voice was polite though held a definite edge.
Dawud gave him an imperious look from slanting eyes. "I'd have thought it was obvious! Get the essence you need; a five year old could have told you that, minister." He leaned against an upright pillar and surveyed the wreckage disdainfully.
Kingsley Shacklebolt known for his calm disposition, even temper and level-headedness, wanted to throttle this man with his pretentious attitude and exorbitant price. Despair was making him light-headed but it wouldn't do to give in and thump the blaggard, even if he did deserve it. "Oh? And how would said five year old go about such a feat?" He drawled instead, looking coldly at the man.
Dawud laughed harshly. "Come now, Minister, you're an intelligent man; put the pieces together. How would one get magical essence from the past? Why, by travelling back to get it of course!" He widened his eyes comically at Kingsley.
Mustafa frowned in warning. "Dawud, leave them be. It's up to them what they do with their school, not us. Come, there's nothing more we can do here. Let's activate our portkey back to Cairo. If I'm lucky, I may get home in time for dinner."
Kingsley, however, wasn't listening, his eyes fastened on Dawud, an almost manic glint in them. "So the Egyptians have done this then? Travelled back to get essence from the past?"
It was Mustafa who answered, his expression a mixture of pride and defensiveness. "Only twice and even then as a last resort; it's too risky to attempt it more often due to timeline issues."
Dawud pulled a face. "We hardly had a choice, it was either travel back, or let the tomb of King Tut – Tutankhamun and the Step Pyramid of Djoser go to ruin." He shuddered in horror at the thought.
Mustafa nodded sagely. "That's inconceivable, a disgrace to even contemplate!"
Kingsley stood watching them, a calm expression on his face, while his heart raced. So the Department of Mysteries had been right, the Egyptians had risked going back for the sake of some of their eldest relics. He was sure that the Mexicans had done the same with the Pyramid of the Magician twenty years ago, which seemingly had been resurrected overnight, though it had been on the verge of collapse. The Mexicans had denied it vigorously when he'd tentatively approached the matter a few weeks ago.
How glad he was that he'd asked these Egyptian experts to look at the place. They were the only ones who knew how to do the test for Sentient magic, and finally they'd confirmed what everyone had suspected but never known for certain.
It hardened his own resolve. Hogwarts was a lot more precious than a load of pyramids and tombs, he had to save it at all costs. He'd exhausted every avenue known to man; it was time to take definitive action and sort this problem for once and all. If the Mexicans and Egyptians could do it without harm coming to them, then so could the Brits! Dawud's voice pulled him from his thoughts.
"I'll probably regret this later but... here," he thrust a piece of parchment on which he'd scribbled a name and address into Kingsley's hands, "Fahtima will be able to tell you more about how best to go about it. She did the thinking behind our latest trip back." He glanced round at the ruins, jaw working. "I hate to admit it, but Hogwarts is one of the best wizarding schools in the world, my Aunt came here in the 30's to apprentice under Herbert Beery. She's now one of our best Herbologists."
Kingsley accepted the parchment. "I can't thank you enough for all your help. Of course, as you know, this cannot be spoken of to outsiders ever."
Both men nodded and began gathering together their tools. Soon their portkey had been activated and Kingsley watched as they were whisked away back to Egypt.
Kingsley looked down at the grimy parchment he held and his heart swelled with hope. Fahtima Aqsa Julal, one of the Egyptians who worked with time, would be able to advise him on what to do in planning the mission back, and if he was lucky, lend him a time turner. He'd also speak to the portraits of the Hogwarts founders, currently stored at the Ministry, see if there was anything they could tell him about what had happened or not as the case may be. Then he and the unspeakables who worked in the Time Room would begin planning in earnest. He'd played it safe until now, but it was high time he put his money where his mouth was and arranged for someone to travel back to the time of the founders to get their magical essences. Hogwarts would be restored to its former glory once more, whatever it took.
"Technically, no one's supposed to meddle with time." Minerva McGonagall's voice trembled, worry lines etching her anxious eyes. "However, there are gaping holes in Hogwarts' wards and we can't repair them. Unless we do something quickly, the school will crumble."
It was mid-November 1998, and the small group were seated round a table in one of the private offices in the Department of Mysteries, faces illuminated by torch light so that they looked eerie. Both Kingsley Shacklebolt the Minister for Magic, and Minerva McGonagall, headmistress of Hogwarts wore looks of concern, giving their faces a tired and defeated look, so incongruent to their usually ebullient personalities. Arthur and Molly Weasley wore stoic expressions hard to read, nevertheless, the latter wasn't meeting anyone's eyes, a certain sign of turmoil.
From her seat beside Mrs Weasley, Hermione Granger sat watching them curiously. She had been asked to attend this top secret meeting, in itself a rarity, but so far, the reason for her presence hadn't been explained. They were discussing the problems with the wards protecting Hogwarts, but judging from their serious tones, the problem was far worse than had been publicised.
Since the start of the school term in September, lessons had been held in classrooms in an abandoned muggle school on the South Downs, which had been hastily refurbished. At the same time, the repairs to Hogwarts were being completed, reported to be soon. The wizarding population had accepted this temporary change even though it meant children had to go home of an evening, reassured that Hogwarts would be open again soon. However, the solution Professor McGonagall and Kingsley were proposing was at best mad and at worst, downright dangerous for everyone's existence.
Kingsley sighed deeply. "I don't think we've any other choice. At worst, things will still be the same, but at least the attempt will have been made. The building experts we hired from Egypt and Mexico have said the wards can't be re-erected unless magical essence from the original casters is put into them. This means there will be no way of educating magical children in the UK. That is unacceptable!"
"Why can't you continue to use Middleton school?" Hermione asked, already knowing the answer.
"Because it's not viable. It's costing a ridiculous amount to ferry children to and from their homes each day even if we're using the flu and port keys; we need somewhere they can board, and that is Hogwarts castle which was built for the express purpose of educating magical children," Kingsley said tersely.
Hermione spoke up unable to help herself. "But if someone does go back, the timeline may inadvertently be altered and we may not exist anymore. It doesn't take a lot to set off a chain of events which may change the course of time." She was finding it hard to believe Kingsley and McGonagall, two of the most intelligent people she knew, were even contemplating this mad course of action, for something which in the grand scale of things, in her view seemed trivial.
"Time can't be changed in terms of its fabric, so technically speaking, what we're proposing has already happened, and as we're all here, our existence isn't a problem," Kingsley dismissed. "We can't lose Hogwarts, we just can't!"
"But, Kingsley, it's conjecture, not enough is known about time and how changing one thing will affect something else," Hermione protested, the lectures Dumbledore had delivered to her on this very subject at the start of her third year ringing in her head.
"The main risk is that people inadvertently end up killing their past or future selves, but this won't be a risk for us as the person is going so far back," professor McGonagall stepped in to explain, her voice flat with weariness.
"Yes, but let's say the person does go back, they can't come forward again without harm," Hermione argued, a passage from one of the books she had read on time coming to mind. "They'd age as they came forward, which would be 1000 years. Yikes!"
Kingsley laughed indulgently. "Ah Hermione, I love your thoroughness. Our Egyptian colleagues who have kindly lent us a time Turner for this purpose, have incorporated a vacuum capsule into it. It's a marvellous invention; protects anything inside from time so that when you come out of the capsule, you aren't changed by time. Its how they managed to go back to the time of the Pharaohs to get essences for some of the pyramids which were crumbling."
"And who exactly will be doing this?" She tried again, still unable to believe they were even considering this mad scheme.
Kingsley, Minerva, and Molly and Arthur Weasley who had remained silent until now, all shifted in their seats. "Well now, it has to be someone young, who knows about Time Turners, who understands the complexities of changing timelines and who can blend in," Professor McGonagall listed, suddenly becoming very interested in a thread on her sleeve. "The person also needs to be able to absorb vast amounts of spells and charms information so as to be able to replicate the wards when they get back to this time."
Hermione felt a foreboding weight slide from her chest into her stomach and clenched her fingers together under the table to stop them shaking. There was only one person she knew who had these attributes – suddenly the reason for her invite to the meeting was Crystal clear. "Please no," she implored, looking around at their strained faces.
"Hermione, my dear, you're perfect. You understand how Time Turners work and are the right age," Kingsley said, patting her arm.
Hermione took a deep breath and willed the panic down. She was stronger than this; she had just fought in the worst wizarding war recorded for heaven's sake! "And if the founders find out? They'll probably kill me on sight due to how suspicious they were of unknown people during the 11th century. Anyway, I wasn't the only student to use a time turner at school; quite a few of the Ravenclaw students did so. Plus, I'm muggle born, Salazar Slytherin will just love that!" It was one thing to go back a few hours, but to go back a thousand years to Anglo-Saxon times? Even thinking about it made her mind boggle.
Professor McGonagall shook her head. "It has to be you, Hermione, no one else. The founders won't harm you. They'll be far too curious about you to do that, it is this curiosity that you must use to your advantage. When the time is right, explain the problem and what you need to know. Then, once you have the information on the wards, you can return and they can be reinforced. It's very simple really."
Kingsley sighed again. "The experts from Egypt and Mexico can't make any headway with re-erection of the wards. Hermione, if there was any other way, we would have taken it but we're desperate. The school's falling down; Hogwarts is world renowned. We need help and quickly or it'll crumble..."
"Then just reconstruct the wards, it's not a big deal," she protested shrilly. "The founders left records, even I know that."
"They only left instructions for the wards that needed to be renewed. They didn't leave information on how to reinforce the foundation wards. It's the sentient and blood magic that supports the foundations of the school, which is coming apart. It needs to be reinforced by the same wards and magical essence as before, to help its renewal," Kingsley responded coolly. "We don't have their magical essence to pour into the foundations, even if we did manage to reconstruct the wards."
Her eyes gleamed. "Ah, but, Kingsley, if this person has already gone back, then it stands to reason that they knew about the wards being destructed in our time, why didn't they leave exact instructions on how to re-erect them?"
His smile was pitying. "Because there was no point; they knew the person would have to go back to get their magical essences. That can't be preserved for a thousand years. Once we have this, someone else can do the actual weaving. We need the exact spells and enchantments that were woven into the foundations, plus blood and magical essence hence our problem."
"Then send someone else who was in my year or an adult," she interjected swiftly, "Maybe one of the unspeakables or a ward caster. They'd be better placed than me – for a start, they'd understand more about what to do and stuff."
"No, it can only be you, Hermione, it'll be easier to introduce a new student to the school than an adult, also it'll attract far less attention," professor McGonagall told her. "Besides, none of the others around your age knows about the devastation of the wards and we want it kept that way, so it has to be you." Clearly, this plan had been discussed thoroughly.
Hermione got up and wandered across to a filing cabinet opposite, her mind in turmoil. What they were proposing was insanity. She wasn't sure if she could do as Kingsley asked, to travel back to a time of which very few records, both magical and muggle had been kept, to get what they needed. There were so many things that could potentially go wrong. Thinking about these was making her feel queasy. What if she died while in the past? How would that work with time?
"It's too risky," she defended herself hotly. "We don't even know when the school was built or anything. This plan is worse than lunacy and you know it, Kingsley." She turned to appeal to him, in the hope that he would see sense.
Kingsley turned to look at her. "We know exactly into which year we'd be sending you. I've had a team of unspeakables working on it this last two months. Hermione please! We can't close Hogwarts; it embodies so much wizarding history, as well as being the only place we can educate magical youth safely and without prejudice to blood."
She felt her eyes fill with tears and turned away. What they were asking was cruel but at the same time, not doing it would mean the kind of devastation wizarding Britain just couldn't afford politically, financially or socially. Muggleborn children, those like her, would probably never know magic as there would be few places for them to learn – that thought made her cringe. Could she condemn them to that? As soon as the question entered her mind, she knew she couldn't, however mad she thought the plan.
"Will I be safe going back?" She asked in a small voice, her stomach leaden.
"Oh, yes, Hermione, You'll be looked after like a queen, I promise you that," Kingsley stated so emphatically that she wheeled round to stare at him.
"How do you know?"
His look was considering. "We have records Hermione, now will you do it?"
"What records? Do they say I went back? Do I come back safely? Was it successful?"
"The founders' personal records. You're named as the one who went back, and you do everything with wich you're tasked. You do return; more than that I'm not saying. It doesn't do to know too much about what shall happen."
"And I won't age as I return?"
"No, the Egyptians have been very thorough in their design of the vacuum capsule. I've spoken to the person who went back to the time of the Pharaohs, and he's no older than when he left them to return to our time."
She had run out of arguments, and other than her personal fear, couldn't think of any more reasons for stalling. The sag of her shoulders told everyone what they wanted to know. Kingsley gave a whoop of joy and next moment, he'd scooped her up into a rib crushing hug that knocked the breath from her.
"That's wonderful. Thank you, Hermione, you don't realise how important this is, not only to those of us who have fond memories of Hogwarts, but for future generations..."
Behind him, she could see Professor McGonagall trying but failing to stem her own tears of joy. Molly and Arthur Weasley wore pensive looks; she knew they at least were worried for her safety as much as for the state of the school.
Professor McGonagall wiped her eyes smiling broadly. "Kingsley, we need to plan!"