"Ron, wait for me! I don't want to get lost down here!"
Hermione panted as she tried to catch up to her best friend. The maze of tunnels, some already collapsed, others hardly passable, scared her and just thinking about losing Ron in all this haste made her stomach grow cold. Unlike her, he had already been down here, many years ago, in the company of Harry to rescue his little sister Ginny from the monster lurking in the Chamber of Secrets. It had been a God-given idea to come down here to get one tooth of the now dead basilisk, that would still hold its poison, a poison strong enough to destroy a Horcrux. What was more, Ron had actually been able to repeat the words spoken in Parsel that Harry used a long time ago to open the chamber.
After Harry had left them, they had been unable to sit still and do nothing. All around them, the battle of Hogwarts was in full force. The Death Eaters, led by Voldemort himself, had broken their way into the castle grounds. The fact that finding the Horcrux alone would not be enough had just then been the catalyst of that very idea which led them deep down underneath the castle.
Ron stopped in front of another door with many snakes. Hermione caught up to him. She shortly struggled with the time turner she had found back in the headmaster's office. It somehow had freed itself from inside her clothes during their run.
"I remember this gate. We need to open it with Parsel, too." Ron rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Let's hope it's the same words. I don't remember any other."
Mesmerised, Hermione watched as her friend once again opened his mouth to form those strange hissing sounds, which had already opened up the tunnel back in the toilet of Moaning Myrtle. To both their relief, the snakes started to move and the gate swung back. What lay behind took Hermione's breath away.
An enormous hall, dark and gloomy, illuminated only by an ominous green light that was enough to reveal large statues. At the far end of the hall there was a puddle of water and in it lay the dead basilisk. Without hesitating, Ron ran towards it, but Hermione, who saw all this for the first time, trailed behind.
She studied the lithic snakes, let her gaze glide over the high ceiling, searching for the source of the green light – until something caught her attention. There, just to her right, at the back of one of the snake statues, totally out of place in this grand hall, was a painting with a golden frame. Curious, Hermione stepped closer. One quick glance to Ron told her that he was just now carefully inspecting the dead basilisk.
Only a few steps away, Hermione discovered that the painting had to be some kind of portrait, hanging about as high as her own head. She took another step towards is, but stopped in her tracks, taken aback, ice cold fear rushing through her veins. In front of her, smiling and winking, the hair neatly done in a bun, was herself, obviously wearing a Slytherin school uniform.
Unable to form any coherent thought, she dared to move closer to touch it, test whether this strange painting actually was real.
As soon as her fingers touched the cheek of her own painted face, Hermione knew she had made a mistake. The time turner again stuck out of her blouse and started to spin uncontrollably. Aghast, Hermione stared at the little golden thing while it still spun faster and faster.
After what felt like an eternity, the little hourglass stopped and a quiet clicking told Hermione that it had reached the intended time. The room around her now started to spin. She knew exactly what was happening, but could not to do anything to prevent it. The painting of herself was the last thing she saw, winking at her and smiling encouragingly. Everything turned blurry and the all too familiar feeling of traveling through time consumed Hermione.
A sharp pain shot through her breast, followed by her own scream. The dizziness subsided, the time travel obviously finished. Still feeling sick, Hermione noticed that she lay on a cool stone floor that definitely was neither wet nor rough. She was no longer inside the Chamber, but instead found herself in the bathroom of Moaning Myrtle.
"Miss?" A male voice sounded through the door. "Are you in need of assistance?"
Hermione was sure she recognized that deep voice, but at the same time she knew that it was totally foreign to her. But that did not matter at the moment – how could anyone be so calm during a battle? The question had to be the dumbest she had ever heard. Shaking her head, she sat up.
"Obviously not!" she yelled back. She did not really care about the strange man on the other side of the door. Nervously, she fumbled for the time turner on her breast. Another scream escaped her lips when she discovered what exactly had caused her pain. The time turner had melted and cut deep into the sensitive flesh of her bosom.
"Miss, I would really like to be of help. Will you allow me to enter the bathroom?" the annoying male voice forced her attention away once again.
Annoyed by the unnecessary politeness, Hermione rolled her eyes, but fear and confusion were still dominating her, so she was thankful for any kind of help. "Yes!" she shouted.
Slowly, the door opened and Hermione, who was still sitting on the floor, first noticed a boot that was visible under a heavy wizard's robe. Her gaze turned upwards, tracking the robe, noticing the auburn beard and from there instantly jumped up to the face of the man.
In front of her was no other than Dumbledore. Dumbledore as he would have looked over fifty years ago, presumably. Dumbledore, who had been murdered a year ago by Snape.
As if it was the most natural thing in the world to see a girl in jeans and a jumper sitting on the bathroom floor, he stepped closer and kneeled down. His eyes instantly found the reason for her pained screams, but instead of helping her, he glanced up and took her gaze captive with his own. "I am not mistaken if I assume this object was once a time turner, am I?"
Helplessly, Hermione nodded. The melted gold on her breast still hurt, she was at a place she should not be – and in front of her stood her beloved professor, who really should be dead.
"What year do you think it is?" he asked quietly, his voice full of sympathy.
The fact that he obviously suspected the same thing she did only deepened Hermione's panic. "1998."
She could see his eyes lit up with surprise and curiosity, but his voice was sad when he answered, "It pains me to tell you that we are currently in the year 1944."
Trembling, Hermione sat on a chair, fingers clasped around a cup of tea as if it could soothe her mind, while she was trying to fight the panic. Dumbledore had cut the remainder of the time turner off her chest before healing her. The molten lump of gold now lay in front of her on his wooden desk. The light streaming in from the huge window behind Dumbledore made the gold sparkle.
"That painting of you has activated the time turner," Dumbledore mused, his gaze fixed upon something far away outside the window.
Even though she knew he would not see it, Hermione nodded. That made no sense. Why had there been a painting of her in the Chamber of Secrets? Why the Slytherin uniform? How could the time turner have sent her back in time on its own? Was it even possible to travel back almost fifty years? Every question that formed in her mind only led to more questions, and Hermione had to fight to stay sane.
"I need to go back," she whispered. "It's war. They need me. I have to go back."
Silence loomed over them as Dumbledore was still deep in thought. It was obvious to Hermione how serious he was on this matter, because the familiar twinkle in his eyes was nowhere to be seen. A small voice inside of her told her that it was a good thing that she was here with him. Dumbledore knew of her problem, Dumbledore would help her.
Dumbledore was dead.
Hermione's eyes stung, but she forced herself to not let him see her cry. She still had no idea what had happened, but her brain told her that she could not tell this man anything about the future. She was not allowed to warn him about his death. She was not allowed to tell him that she was alive when he died.
"I am deeply sorry, Miss Granger," Dumbleore said at last after turning back to her. "I own a time turner myself, but as the term itself indicates – it is an object that can turn back time. It is impossible to use it to travel to the future. It is possible to go back in time, but impossible to go forward."
Hermione slumped. Of course she had already known that. Back at Hogwarts during her third year, when Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall had explained everything about the time turner so she could take several classes at once, this had been one of the basic things they had emphasised over and over again.
She was stuck.
"The problem is even greater." The concern in Dumbledore's voice made Hermione tremble again. Of course, she, too, regarded her situation as something very serious, but there was more in that tone. She tilted her head inquisitively.
"Time travel is serious business. Even the pure existence of a human being in the wrong time can have an impact. You, as I am sure, are aware of the fact that under normal circumstances, a time travel only lasts for several hours, a few days at the most."
Hermione nodded, her body now completely tense. What was her old – or future – headmaster playing at?
"The common way to get back into one's original timeline is to just return to the exact spot one has started from."
Again Hermione nodded. She remembered all too well how she had been running through the whole castle, Harry at her side, to get back to the infirmary after rescuing Sirius and the hippogriff. Every time she would leave her own timeline, spend a few hours in the past and then return to the now changed life from the starting point.
"That is one of the reasons why, as of yet, no one has travelled too far back. At least no one we know of, who survived and could tell us about it. If you travel too far back, you cannot return to your starting point without the people who knew you noticing the difference in appearance." Dumbledore stood up and started pacing back and forth in his small office, hands crossed behind his back. "Even if you would now live fifty years and reach that point in 1998, you would be an elderly woman, not a school girl. It would be impossible to continue your newly created timeline as it normally is intended."
Hermione got that point, but she still did not understand why Professor Dumbledore sounded so sad saying those things. She wanted to cry, because everything seemed so helpless, but his behaviour awoke the suspicion that there was even more to the problem than she saw. Her grip around the cup of tea tightened.
"Time is not just a linear construct which extends from point A to point B, Miss Granger," Dumbledore finally explained. "Time is more. Perhaps there is more than one present. Perhaps once the future existed before the past that you know. We only know one thing for sure: Regardless of all efforts and scientific endeavours of many generations of witches and wizards, it has never been possible to freely travel back and forth through time." He stopped, placing both hands on his desk. "Time turners are very powerful, very rare objects. Their extensive usage can hurt or even destroy them, as you yourself so painfully experienced. It appears as if time itself fought against us playing with it or changing it. Time itself does not tolerate time travel."
An icy lump formed inside of Hermione's stomach.
"Traveling back a few hours or even days might be tolerable. The time spent in the past is short enough to be tolerated. But a longer stay, time will not allow. There is exactly one occasion." Dumbledore emphasised that by raising one finger. "One occasion we know of where a longer time travel was attempted and the account is not positive."
"Just tell me what this is all about," Hermione demanded, her body tense, her fingers clenched around the cup. The panic she had been able to control in the beginning now returned with new force, fed by very different sources.
"A wizard travelled back two years. At first, everything seemed to go swimmingly, he was able to find friends and allies in the past, who knew about his time travel. "His gaze was fixed on her, staring intently at her without blinking. "But then … well, time does not tolerate intruders. Time does not allow anyone to stay for a longer period. Anyone who does not return to his starting point in a sensible amount of time – dies."
Hermione's face lost all colour while all she could do was stare at the bearded man in front of her.
"One year. Perhaps not even that long. That is the amount of time you will be able to spend here, Miss Granger. If you do not find a way back into your own time before that, you will die."