Falling Leaves

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

September 1996

The delicate yet unfrivolous teacup stopped midway to Professor McGonagall's lips. The older witch scrutinized Hermione's face over the rim of her oval spectacles, her wrinkled yet graceful right hand poised in the air as they sat on opposite sides of her office desk. The same office that was covered in red carpeting, wallpaper, and curtains – even though Hermione strongly suspected the Professor's favorite color was, in fact, green – and into which Hermione had stepped many a time before to request extra assignments, far more so than any other student at Hogwarts that didn't get sent there, if she wasn't mistaken. It was also the one where Hermione had received both her first window of access and the means to tamper with the past, regardless of how near to the present in comparison it had been, all from the very hand which had frozen at her question. Not once, in all these years, had the room been so awash in oppressive silence.

"Excuse me?"

Hermione flinched despite the fact that those two words were not shouted nor did they bleed malice or wrath of any sort. In the end, it was the pitch of disbelief mingled with vexation imbued in the words that did it, running over her body like a bolt of electricity.

The thing was, she should have expected it.

Hermione lowered her own cup, afraid the persistent tremble of her hands would draw her Head of House's attention if she kept hold of it - that is, if she hadn't slushed some of its contents already. It wasn't fear that caused the tremor, but there was a peculiar kind of trepidation that overtook her as though, if she didn't keep her lips as still and shut as possible, her mouth would run off and she might unwittingly unveil a secret, confess to things the same way a young child would do under the stern gaze of a parent, perhaps even akin to the adorable manner they did so, spouting the unbidden confession as a denial. Except Hermione doubted very much that a blurted out 'I'm not wrecking time' on her part would ever be received with a positive, humorous response. Yet keeping her lips sealed was hardly the solution since she owed the Professor an explanation of sorts, and so Hermione tried her best not to let slip any admissions of guilt.

Instead, she wrung her hands, hoping the action would divert the manic voice in her head that kept telling her to apologize and flee. "I know it's terribly invasive, Professor, but would you mind so very much telling me about it?"

The befuddlement remained, plain on the slackness of the Professor's mouth, and in the backward cocking of her head, her chin tilted so low that it threatened to topple the hat on the top of her head.

"Of all the questions, I never expected you to ask me such a thing. The war I would understand, it's no use to believe you and your friends are perfectly safe within the walls of this castle when you've proven time and again that your abilities to seek trouble far outweigh ours to keep you from it. After the incident before the summer holidays, that was made abundantly clear. And as far as I'm concerned, any knowledge regarding it might prove useful to you." Professor McGonagall said, lowering her teacup to its saucer as well. "But love, Miss Granger?"

"Well, yes, Professor. You see, I happen to find myself in a predicament. There's this Gryffindor..." And that wasn't even a deception - there was a Gryffindor, after all, that she was in love with. Just as she happened to also find herself in a predicament that related to said Gryffindor - several at this point, if you added the fact that she was involved with someone from the past whose adult version was around somewhere doing God knew what on top of wishing to change the past for his, or rather their, sake. Hence a Gryffindor and a predicament. Beneath that excuse, however, her motives had little to do with asking for the romantic advice of her favorite Professor.

Her words drew a small smile from Professor McGonagall. "Only you would call being in love a predicament, my dear. But as much of a fine young man Mr. Weasley might be, I don't believe you're well suited for each other."

Hermione had been so prepared to argue and defend her relationship with Remus to anyone that might put it into question that she forgot for a moment that she had never revealed his name and that that wasn't her goal. Her lips had already parted when the words registered in her mind. "What? Oh, it's not Ron! It's… It's someone else."

"Ah. Well, go on, ask whatever it is that you wished to."

And her next question could be either very well received or very poorly so. And faced with it, Hermione wished she had been the one to win the vial of Felix Felicis instead of Harry during the last Potions class. A little liquid luck - or maybe even some liquid courage - wouldn't go amiss. "Have you ever been in love, Professor?"

"I may be old, Miss Granger, but I'm far from heartless."

Hermione could feel her face scrunching up, and she looked anywhere else but at the professor to try and sound the tiniest bit more eloquent. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply… Would you mind telling me about him?"

There was a moment of silence, during which Hermione regretted dearly her decision to enter the office this time, and while she contemplated a suitable apology and an excuse to remove herself from it, Professor McGonagall spoke. "I wouldn't do so, usually, but I've never known you to ask foolish questions. It happened a long time ago, so bear with the faulty memory of an old witch. My first love was a man called Dougal..."

Perhaps she didn't need the Felix Felicis after all.

Her self-assigned mission had proved far more daunting than Hermione had previously believed, and she was hardly one to underestimate any task. It had sounded fairly simple to claim she would change time, yet tackling an undertaking as complex as twenty years of changes was a different matter entirely. From choosing where to begin her study of the First War and the time that followed it until the battle at the Ministry – should she opt to do it chronologically? And if so, from beginning to end or in reverse? But perhaps a nonconsecutive approach focused on the major events to then draw the connections between them and the smaller ones in between would prove more useful – and how to go about it – by the newspaper articles, bibliographical research, personal accounts, or even a combination of all three all at once – she found herself flustered by the first time when it came to learning. It was supposed to be her own safe harbor, the thing she could always rely on, and yet... Perhaps because this time her essays would involve a brittle, fiddly subject, completely leaving the realm of academic theory and mere curiosity to guide concrete action, and, adding to all this, she had no teacher to read and mark them.

Any mistake or unreliable source could ruin lives instead of merely her grades. As she mulled over her options – sometimes debating pros and cons with Remus to exhaustion as they tended to the plants in their garden – Hermione decided she needed some insight. And insight came through a conversation with a mentor, someone she hoped would clarify things while remaining unmindful of the truth.

She had heard the rumors regarding the Transfiguration Professor's love life over the years. Hermione was far too clever to believe them in their entirety, however – school gossip tended to grow outlandish and morph into a Frankenstein of truth and tale sewed together, as she knew by experience, though the accounts about the Professor's love interest dying in a Death Eater attack was much too ghastly to be invented.

After the Professor's portrayal of the facts, however, Hermione's dilemmas only grew in number. Not only was she dealing with the research and documentation methods of the matter at hand, but also with the scope of her actions. Should she endeavor to save only those that lost their lives to Voldemort and war, or should she try to prevent all the deaths?

Her conversation with Professor McGonagall was a clear example. Their chat had pointed not to one preventable death, but two. One a mere accident, while the other caused by the very thing she set out to change. Because while Dougal McGregor, a Muggle farmer that had been Minerva McGonagall's first love, had died along with his family during a Death Eater attack, Elphinstone Uruquart, the wizard she had married a long time following McGregor's death, had died of a Venomous Tentacula bite.

A bite she could prevent, as well as all the other accidents. Not to mention the deaths by illnesses she could put a stop to by giving Remus the now known cures. And for a moment she felt as though she was playing God, choosing who would get to live and whom she would let die. Or at least being faced with an ethical conundrum that couldn't possibly be less theoretical.

Ultimately, the answer to it came through both brutal honesty with herself and concern. Twenty years was too long a time and the death toll too large a number for even her to tackle, and though she wanted to save them all, she knew it to be unfeasible. Besides, she didn't wish to turn Remus' life into a hell of not-living in order to keep others from dying.

With that decision made, the other two seemed far too small to concern herself with. She would research and then decide, and change methods if the need arose. Over the course of the next few weeks, Hermione pulled everything and anything she could find about the first war. Newspaper clippings, books, Auror reports - no piece of information or possible source went undisturbed. When Harry and Ron asked her what the bloody hell she was doing - and tauntingly questioned if she was trying to catch up to Harry in Potions - she claimed to be studying Voldemort's past actions - again, not a lie, and as someone who had considered herself a liar by omission before, she was now the expert of half-truths. It also served the purpose of shutting the boys up.

As soon as she could, she ordered a custom journal from Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop imbued with as many protection and secrecy spells as they had available and keyed in only four people. Three of them who would know and be able to read every information contained in the journal, the category in which she herself was included, and someone who, in the worst-case scenarios possible - one, or all of them, dying; Hermione ceasing to exist; her assumptions about perceptions being downright wrong; or her present being completely different; and she had to remind herself to breathe or she would pass out from the enormousness of it all - would be able to either continue their work or destroy it.

And then she set out to work.

June 18th, 1996

He had spent all morning and most of the afternoon sitting on the edge of the bed in his room at Grimmauld Place, the yellowed, worn-out parchment in his hands as he read it one last time, time and time again. When the signal from Dumbledore came, it was followed by Sirius bursting through the door, face ashen and shoulders held in a tense manner, announcing that the children had fled the castle and gone to the Ministry and that the entire Order was being called forth. That this was finally it.

Remus rose to his feet, his body feeling as if gravity had changed or as if the years were finally taking their toll, and stopped only for one last measured breath before Apparating to central London and taking up formation beside his friends and fellow Order members, the letter left behind on top of his bedding.

There was no room for anxiety or terror, only the sort of detached clear-headedness he had mastered over the last war. But an insidious, heinous feeling soon wormed its way into his chest, bringing a coldness with it when he failed to find her wand raised in battle as Remus had expected, her face alight by the colorful spells as he had seen countless times in a past so distant it felt rather like a dream. And when, in between attacking and defending, he spotted her on the ground, when realization sank in that, while she too was fighting for her life, Hermione was warring inside her own body, battling the effects of a spell rather than a masked opponent, that feeling took hold.

That was not right. That could not be happening.

And he still fought to the best of his ability. Hardened himself for the expression on Sirius' face when he crossed the arch to the World of the Unliving. Held Harry away from the Veil's call with all his might, but all of it was done to get to her. And when he did, Remus sunk to his knees beside her unconscious body, tears sliding freely down his face as he took in her injuries. As his breathing sped and his thoughts twisted and turned in a dizzy spell no wand had cast, he knew he could not wait for Dumbledore, couldn't wait for anything anymore and he gathered her in his arms and Apparated to the gates of Hogwarts.

They were wide-open as he arrived and he thought not to question why, his feet tripping over themselves and over mounds of dirt as he tried to cover as much ground as possible without jostling Hermione too much. His breaths grew harsher under the sunlight and over the distance but he forced his legs to keep advancing, to keep going until they reached the castle's walls and felt the impact of each of the staircases' steps on his sore feet until they reached the Hospital Wing at last.

He called for Poppy - howled at her, for all he knew, he certainly couldn't tell, and what difference did it make anyway, when he was laying Hermione's unmoving body onto the nearest cot? He had never before felt such an inescapable sense of wrongness and impotence in all his years. And when the Mediwitch finally came, and Hermione trashed about, he felt every bit the rabid werewolf he was.

Only when Remus watched as Madam Pomfrey raised the potion to Hermione's lips, coaxing her to take it and her eyes closed almost immediately as she sagged on the arms of the Mediwitch, did he draw breath. He couldn't help but enter the small room sectioned off by the rest by thick white curtains, the propriety he had been keeping all these years meaningless in the face of her injuries. It was only after a moment or so that he noticed they were in the same room he had occupied after the incident with Snape, and having witnessed her suffering, the white bandages covering her shoulder turning pink as her blood oozed through due to her struggling had snapped his already non-existent restraint in half, and he stood at the side of her cot, taking her hand in his and pushing her hair off her face as he had done once upon a time.

She was hurt and almost killed, and it was morbidly ironic just as much as it was unacceptable. When Madam Pomfrey had finished her diagnostic spells and finally noticed his presence there, Remus expected the usual chiding, but something in his expression must have given away his worry and despair, for she held her scolding words and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"She'll live, and likely recover with few or none aftereffects, Severus is concocting a treatment as we speak. You may stay, but no longer than thirty minutes."

In the end, she allowed him far more than that. It was only when Dumbledore came to him that Remus noticed the time. Evening had fallen, but the Headmaster of Hogwarts made no mention of it.

What he did ask was, "Are you supposed to be here?"

"I'm not." Remus had to swallow through the knot in his throat before continuing. "She wrote that we would catch a glimpse of each other, but never more than that. Something's wrong. We must have changed too much, or overlooked that part..."

And the worst thing about it was that he didn't remember. And he didn't believe he could ever forget something like this.

"I'm sorry, my boy, but have you considered that not divulging it was Miss Granger's choice? And you know the consequences if you stay." Few times over the years had Remus feeling the urge to revolt and scream at Dumbledore. Now was such a time. And Remus wanted nothing more than to scream that she would have told him - BECAUSE WHY WOULDN'T SHE? - but he knew the old wizard would take his screams as he had likely taken Harry's already, and it still wouldn't change anything. And it wasn't until Remus reached that reasoning that Dumbledore placed a hand on his back and spoke, "Come. We have plans for tonight."

A/N: And things are starting to unfold… :)

I meant to upload this chapter earlier today, but we had municipal elections today in my country, so… but it's Sunday here (hopefully also where you all are at).

Share your thoughts with me if you can, and I hope you enjoyed it!

Tooth Splintering Strong Mints to hrtlss-grl, Chantal9, 00unfortunate00, xXMizz Alec VolturiXx, szaboalexandra1991, PaleandBroodingsGirl, badadder1, caprubia for the reviews. And to beyondthefairyring1 and XritaskeeterhatersX for following the story.

You. Are. Lovely. People.