Chapter 3: Waking from Nightmares
Ron had been remarkably understanding of Hermione's desire to rekindle their relationship slowly. He gave her a chaste peck on the cheek goodbye Sunday night and squeezed her hand before watching her Apparate home. Their second Saturday date was far more relaxed than the first – they went to the Muggle cinema. Ron's father had been jealous, naturally, as Molly did not enjoy spending time in the Muggle world.
Hermione stopped by the library Monday afternoon and checked out every book she could find related to time travel. It was a small selection in the end. Hogwarts' library may yield more information, if she could get into the restricted section.
By the end of the week Hermione had read all of the texts and returned them. The lure of the Hogwarts library tempted her to find another reason to visit the school. She had amassed another collection of rune-covered artifacts, and even though she was perfectly capable of deciphering the inscriptions herself, she was sure Professor Babbling would delight in taking a look at them.
The trip was made and Hermione was certain that she had become Professor Babbling's favorite student of all time by the end of their lunch meeting. The Hogwarts library, however, did not reward her curiosity or her thorough investigation of its shelves. There were just three texts that addressed time travel or magic related to time manipulation and none of them contained new information.
Hermione was not planning to use the Time-Turner to rescue Snape. She knew that she could not, but she felt compelled to know all the various ways and reasons it was impossible. Time theory was a fascinating, though fuzzy subject. Time-Turners were not new devices, and those like what she had used as a student were the only safe design. They did not allow one to go back more than four to five hours, depending on the model.
Those Time-Turners were all destroyed now. The only ones left in the world would be that such as Dumbledore had given her – a true Time-Turner capable of any length of travel backwards in time. It was perhaps one of the most dangerous magical artifacts known to exist.
Not that any were actually known to exist – some were rumored to have been hidden away by various lines of ancient pureblood families. Many of those families claimed to have destroyed the devices to prevent family rivalries from destroying their bloodlines and legacies. It seemed likely that at least a few true Time-Turners still existed somewhere in the magical world, which was a troubling thought.
Hermione's days were now consumed with learning all she could about time and the various ways magical folk had tried to manipulate it. It was maddening to wonder about time, when she worked for the Department of Mysteries, where if anyone knew more than what was written down, it was the witches and wizards above her lowly security clearance.
She did not talk to Ron or Harry about her sudden interest in time travel. They would think she had lost her mind, studying something she never intended to attempt and that nobody fully understood. They would not be interested in discussing the intricacies and paradoxes of the subject.
Hermione did not have any friends at work, but there was one coworker who sometimes exchanged more than the minimum of niceties with her. Gallus Grant was a soft-spoken, thoughtful wizard who always carried a satchel full of books with him. Hermione frequently saw him reading in the courtyard on his lunch break as his meal sat forgotten beside him.
Gallus was pale and brown-haired, a bit unkempt in his old jumpers and worn shoes, in a way that suggested he was too busy to bother with buying new clothing until it fell apart. He normally wore a plain black or grey robe designed to meet the bare minimum of professional wizarding attire at the Ministry.
On Thursday, Hermione took a deep breath and walked over to Gallus, carrying her lunch and her own book.
“Do you mind if I join you?” she asked.
He glanced up, eyebrows raised.
“Ah, sure,” he said, as Hermione sat down on the bench beside him. He returned his attention to his book, carefully flipping a page. Hermione pulled out her own book and took a bite of her sandwich. After a few minutes of silence, Gallus spoke.
“You are reading about time travel,” he observed.
“Ah, yes,” she said, glancing at him. His eyes flicked from her book up to her face, and then he returned to his own book once more. Hermione licked her suddenly dry lips.
“What are you reading?” she asked. He turned the spine of the book toward her.
“Rare Magical Creatures of the Deep,” she read. “It looks new.”
“It is,” he said. “Just published last month. Parsa Dennick has spent the past six years exploring the depths of the oceans, far past any previous signs of magical life.”
“Fascinating,” Hermione breathed, filled with interest. “I suppose she used some innovative magic in her exploration.”
“Indeed,” said Gallus. He gave her a small smile. “I'll let you borrow it once I'm finished, if you like.”
“I will take you up on that,” she said.
Gallus finished reading the last paragraph on the page and folded the book shut.
“How do you like working for the Ministry?” he asked. “Bored to tears yet?”
Hermione laughed and shook her head.
“I suppose you know all about my job... ah, yes,” she said. “I have managed not to cry into any of the artifacts thus far, but it's a tedious job. Moira Trunkett had a murky way of organizing things.”
Gallus nodded and said, “So, I've heard.”
“I suppose I can't ask you much about your work, so... ah, are you happy here?” Hermione asked.
“It's a job,” he said. “It can be interesting at times, dull at others.”
“Ah,” Hermione said, wondering how far she could push her questioning. She was insatiably curious about what actually went on above her head at the Department of Mysteries.
“Can you tell me anything about your work?” she asked.
Gallus sighed and said, “No. I wish I could. It gets old, all the secrecy. Much of it isn't strictly necessary. It's just the way we do things.”
He studied Hermione for a moment.
“I've heard you are the brightest witch to come out of Hogwarts in years,” he said. “You won't be stuck at the bottom for long.”
Hermione blushed and closed her own book.
“So they talk about me? These mysterious higher-ups I have yet to meet?” she asked.
Gallus chuckled and said, “I've not met all of them, either. Not sure anyone does. Yes, your name has come up a few times. They are keeping an eye on you.”
Hermione sighed and said, “All I'm doing is organizing things. I don't know how that will impress them.”
“You'll be given more important duties eventually. You only just got here,” he said.
“I suppose that's true,” said Hermione. “I'm not the most patient person, you see.”
They started eating lunch together nearly every day after that first conversation. Hermione was sometimes left alone in the courtyard when Gallus was mysteriously absent. He would never tell her why.
It was nice to have someone to talk to who preferred intellectual conversation to small talk. Gallus soon noticed her apparent obsession with time and related magic.
“Is there a reason for your strong interest in Time Magic?” he asked one day, giving a nod to her latest text.
“Oh, ah... not particularly. Sometimes I get stuck on a subject and feel compelled to read everything I can find on it,” she replied.
Gallus folded his hands on the table where they sat.
“I wondered if you were trying to send a message to the Department, always carrying something related to Time Magic,” he said. “If you want, I can casually mention your interest in that area... they sometimes take your preferences into account when creating new positions.”
“I see,” said Hermione, trying not to sound too gleeful that he had just told her something about the inner workings of the Department. “You could mention it, I suppose. It's a subject I find intriguing, if only because so little is known about it. Most of the research is purely speculative.”
Gallus made a soft humming sound and looked away. Hermione gasped.
“It's not? There's more that's known?!” she whispered, trying to keep her body language from revealing her excitement.
Gallus looked at her sternly and said, “That's enough on that subject.”
Hermione smiled despite herself.
“Fine,” she said. “Please do let them know about my... area of interest. If they ever see fit to speak with me, I'd be happy to let them know myself.”
Hermione left work that Friday feeling optimistic about her future with the Ministry. Her new goal was to learn all she could about Time Magic, and that included all the Department of Mysteries knew about it as well.
She and Ron had a date with Harry and Ginny that evening, dinner and drinks at their favorite Muggle bar. Hermione found it endearing that Ron and Ginny so enjoyed pretending to be Muggles. Harry preferred evenings in Diagon Alley, but was in a good mood nonetheless.
There was a strict no wands rule for the evening, though they all carried them as a precaution. After their childhood none of them would ever go out without a wand. It was a point of much consternation among the others that Hermione had learned to perform a bit of simple wandless magic and was able to get around the no wands rule.
As the night went on and her friends ended up much farther in their cups than she, Hermione played little tricks on them by waving her hand at their glasses and moving them just out of the way as they reached for them, or switching their meals with the flick of her fingers.
“Merlin be damned, Hermione!” exclaimed Ginny, as her glass evaded her hand once again. “You're cheating! This is not fair.”
Hermione laughed and said, “You could learn, too, if you wanted. It just takes practice and concentration.”
“I am in no state to... focus on... anything,” Ginny said. “You've been nursing tha-same drink this whole time, otherwise... neither would you.”
Hermione shrugged and grinned.
“I'm not much of a drinker. You know that,” she replied.
“C'mon 'Mione, drink up!” said Ron, playfully holding Hermione's drink up to her face. She cringed.
“Don't call me that,” she said, taking the glass and finishing it off. Ron helpfully tipped the bottom of the glass up for her. Harry and Ginny cheered when she set it back down.
The four of them took the bus home. Ron and Hermione stayed the night at Grimmauld Place, in separate rooms.
Hermione could not sleep, so she wandered downstairs sometime around four o'clock in the morning and made herself a cup of tea. She sat drinking it on the sofa, staring at the tiny particles of dust floating through the air in the bright light of the full moon.
She was not conscious of finishing her cup or falling asleep on the sofa, but she was soon dreaming of Hogwarts. This time it was not the final battle.
The castle looked serene, though it was eerily empty and silent. She walked through the corridor by the headmaster's office. The feeling of being followed made her turn around, just missing a black shape that disappeared into thin air.
“Who's there?” she asked, looking around the empty corridor. She turned back around to see Professor Snape walking away from her, halfway down the corridor.
“Wait! Professor Snape!” she called, running after him. He slowed, but did not stop. She began to catch up with him.
He whirled around, his long, slick hair flying through the air, his robes swirling around him. His eyes met hers.
Hermione screamed, waking herself up as she sat bolt upright on the couch and dropped her cup to the floor, where it shattered.
Professor Snape's face in her dream had been so bloodied and torn that the only recognizable parts were his dark, fathomless eyes.
Hermione shivered and curled her feet under herself as she caught her breath. The sound of feet on the stairs preceded a softly uttered, “Hermione? What's happened?”
It was Harry. Ron and Ginny shared a genetic predisposition for sleeping like the dead.
“Harry, I'm okay,” she said. “It was just a dream. Watch out – there's glass on the floor.”
Hermione took a deep breath and waved her hand at the mess and the broken pieces swept themselves together into a neat pile. Harry approached carefully and joined her on the sofa.
“I heard you scream,” he said.
“Yeah. It wasn't a good dream,” she said.
Harry grunted and made himself comfortable on the pillows, his eyes falling half shut.
“Go on back to bed, Harry. I'm fine,” Hermione said.
He nodded and grunted again, but did not move. His eyes closed completely and his face relaxed after mere seconds. Hermione smiled, watching him fall asleep. She gently scooted herself off the sofa and grabbed a knitted throw to cover Harry.
Hermione tiptoed through the house, got her wand, and cleaned up the mess on the living room floor. She returned to her room and stood in the doorway for minutes, willing herself to attempt sleep again. She still had the vial of Dreamless Sleep in her purse, but it would knock her out for far too many hours at this point.
Instead, Hermione crossed the hall and turned the doorknob to Ron's room. The door creaked and she winced, but Ron did not wake. She crawled into bed beside him, curling herself up so that her back just barely touched his arm, and fell asleep. She had no more dreams that night.
Harry did not mention her early morning disturbance the next morning. He was cooking breakfast for them when Hermione woke to Ron's typical late morning snoring and made her way downstairs. Ron always snored the loudest just before he woke up.
“Good morning, Harry,” she said, yawning.
“Morning,” he said, smirking at her.
“What?” she asked.
“I noticed your room was empty this morning,” he said, carefully looking at the eggs he was cooking.
Hermione just rolled her eyes.
“How observant of you, Harry,” she said. “Need help with anything? Shall I make some tea?”
“Sure,” he said. “Ginny should be down in a minute. I suppose Ron's still asleep?”
“Ah, yeah,” said Hermione. “I'll just... go wake him.”
She could feel Harry watching her as she left the kitchen. Hermione went upstairs and peeked in at Ron. He had stopped snoring and was stretched out across the entire bed, a pillow over his head, the sheets a lump on the floor.
“Ron?” she called, to no response.
“Ron... Ron! Wake up!”
“Hrm... huh?” Ron pulled the pillow off his head, squinting around the room.
“Hermione?” he asked.
“Yes, Ron. It's me. Harry's made us breakfast, if you'd like to join us.”
Ron sat up, yawning.
“Yeah, okay. I'm up,” he said.
“Okay. I'll see you downstairs,” she said.
Ron yawned even louder as she turned to go.
“Hey, Hermione...” he said.
She stopped and peered back around the door.
“Yes, Ron?” she asked.
He frowned and scratched his arm.
“Did we, ah... were you in here? Last night?” he asked, clearing his throat.
Hermione looked steadily at him.
“Ron, we both went to bed in our own rooms last night,” she said.
“Oh... right. Must've, ah... been a weird dream I had. I thought I woke up with your hair in my face at some point. Suppose I was just remembering... other times.”
“Right,” she said.
“Right,” he repeated. “Be down in a minute.”
Hermione helped Ron and George in the shop the next day. They held regular events for children at the shop, usually to promote a new toy or shipment of Puffskeins. This time, a famous storyteller would be performing a dramatic reading of the newest edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Soon it was time for Sunday night dinner at the Burrow. Hermione sat at home with Crookshanks wishing she could skip the meal. She had not slept well all weekend and was very much looking forward to taking a few sips of Dreamless Sleep and getting to bed. It was always difficult to leave the Weasley home early.
She managed to get away before ten o'clock. Ron walked her out to the edge of the property and they said goodbye next to the old bent gate that served no purpose other than to announce the start of the over-grown path that led to the house.
“I'd like to see you before Friday,” Ron said. “What do you say?”
Hermione smiled and asked, “What did you have in mind?”
“Nothing in particular,” he said. “Could I come over Wednesday evening?”
“Sure, Ron. I'd like that,” she said. Wednesdays had been their stay-in date nights, before.
Hermione Apparated home and promptly took her potion, falling into bed and was sound asleep within minutes.
Even still, she woke the next morning with a feeling of anxiety and the image of a somber, sunken-eyed Professor Snape haunting her memory.
Hermione continued to feel uneasy as she got ready for work, ate breakfast, and said goodbye to Crookshanks. On her way to the Ministry, she felt the same uncanny tingle of warning that she had experienced in her dream Friday night – the sense of being followed.
No matter how many times she surreptitiously surveyed her surroundings to verify she was alone, she could not shake the feeling. She even went so far as to cast a Revealing Charm, nearly being caught in the act by a wizard who passed her suddenly as he exited a nearby shop.
Unnerved, Hermione walked into the Department of Mysteries hoping to bump into Gallus before she was banished to her storage room. She often saw him before he disappeared into one of the doors in the first level corridor every morning.
She was about to leave the front office when Gallus entered. It was unlike him to be late.
“Good morning,” she greeted him. He avoided her eyes.
“I can't talk,” he said, pushing past her and disappearing down the corridor, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Hermione blinked in confusion. She turned to go off to the storage room and found Richard Goode blocking her path.
“Miss Granger,” he said, looking serious.
“Hello, Mr. Goode,” she said.
“Before you get started for the day, I need to speak with you in my office,” he said.
“Of course,” said Hermione, her pulse immediately climbing. He did not sound happy. She followed him across the front office, noticing the pitying look Margaret gave her.
“Please have a seat, Hermione,” said Goode.
Hermione did so with haste.
“It has come to my attention that you have a strong interest in the area of Time Magic,” he said.
“Ah, yes,” she said. “I do.”
“I have no doubt that you have learned much already through your own studies in the subject,” said Goode. “However, I must warn you Hermione, not to seek further knowledge from Gallus Grant or anyone else in this department. Your interest has been noted. Your inappropriate interest in what goes on above your clearance, however, has also been noted.”
Hermione felt her ears begin to burn with embarrassment.
“I – I apologize for overstepping my clearance. It will not happen again.”
Goode studied her for a moment.
“You have a bright future ahead of you, Hermione, whether it is with the Department of Mysteries, or elsewhere. If you wish to rise to a higher position within this department, I caution you to remember that we take our rules and our levels of secrecy very seriously. Remember, you have signed a waiver to work here that gives us the right to modify your memory if it is deemed necessary.”
Hermione nodded mutely.
“Gallus felt that he divulged too much accidentally while in conversation with you, and informed his superior. You have not learned enough to be in danger of memory modification, so relax.”
Hermione did relax a bit.
“Is there anything you would like to share with me about your interactions with Gallus? He says you are naturally curious and inquisitive and that he did not mean to tell you things you should not know. Is this what happened?”
“Yes,” she said. “Although, there is something else I need to tell you.”
Goode leaned forward.
“I believe I have found something that requires... further investigation,” Hermione said.
Goode's eyes did not leave her face, unblinking. Hermione took a breath.
“I have reason to believe my predecessor, Moira Trunkett, was replicating and hoarding valuable artifacts in the storage room. It might be why her, ah, system of organization is so out of order. She hid her treasures in the chaos.”
Good leaned back and folded his arms.
“What sort of artifacts have you discovered?” he asked.
Hermione listed them.
“They're in the storage room in a pile at the back corner,” she said. “None of them seem to be bewitched in any way, but they must be incredibly valuable. I'm sure many museums and collectors would pay a lot of money for them.”
Goode nodded and said, “It is possible that they already have paid handsomely for the replicas. If Ms. Trunkett was creating replicas, she must have been highly skilled, for no buyer has ever suspected her scheme.”
“Yes, it seems she was, er, talented,” Hermione agreed.
Goode was silent for a moment, then stood up.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will stop by in about twenty minutes to examine the artifacts in question. You may go.”
Hermione walked slowly out of the office and got to work. She did not get far before she was interrupted by Goode, who had Gallus and two other wizards in tow.
“Let's see these artifacts you've found, Hermione,” said Goode.
Gallus did not meet her eyes as they approached. Hermione led them to the pile she had amassed and watched as they inspected each item together. Gallus' job involved determining whether items were secretly bewitched, it would seem. One of the other wizards was an expert in Ancient Runes, and the other must have been Goode's supervisor. Hermione was not introduced to either of the wizards.
“Well, Hermione, you were correct,” said Goode, as the two unnamed wizards left. “These items are not replicas, and the only way they could be here is if someone sent a replica out in their place. That someone has to have been Ms. Trunkett, based on the dates these were catalogued. Well done.”
Gallus stood behind him, staring at the floor. Hermione smiled.
“Thank you. I'm glad I was able to catch her scam,” she said.
Goode looked back at Gallus and said, “Take a break, Gallus.”
As soon as he was gone, Goode addressed Hermione again.
“Gallus has been assigned to assist you from now on as you continue organizing the storage room. He will be here for a few hours in the morning every day. If you come across anything suspect, alert him as soon as possible so that he can ensure it is safe to handle. He will also be responsible for removing these artifacts and returning them to the appropriate department.”
“Oh,” said Hermione, her heart sinking. She was not keen to spend any more time with Gallus at the moment. “Yes, sir.”
Goode studied her.
“This is not a punishment, Hermione,” he said. “Gallus will be here to ensure your safety. You have already spent too much time handling artifacts that may be above your level of clearance, working without a spotter. As you know, anything that comes to our department has the potential to be highly dangerous and unpredictable. We rarely work alone in the Department of Mysteries. Welcome to your first level two assignment.”
Hermione smiled and asked, “Have I just been promoted?”
Goode laughed and winked at her.
“Don't expect more pay just yet,” he said. “But, yes, I suppose you have, perhaps faster than any other new hire I've managed.”
Work with Gallus got off to a rocky, awkward start the next morning. It took him all morning to speak more than a few words to her, and when he did it was to apologize.
“I'm sorry,” he said, as she handed him the heavy tome she had just found for inspection. “My supervisor asked me what we were discussing that day, and I thought he already knew I'd let on there's more to Time Magic than what's in your texts.”
Hermione stared at him and asked, “Are you allowed to say that?”
He examined the book for a few minutes in silence.
“That's all you'll get from me from now on,” he said, looking up with a slight smirk.
“Fine. I'll play by the rules,” she said, putting her hand over her heart. “I promise not to ask you anything about your job, or the department, or... anything. It's probably best we don't talk at all, actually.”
He looked upset at that thought.
“I'm kidding,” she said, laughing. “We can talk about the weather. It was muggy out today, was it not? Miserable... it's ruined my hair.”
“No, it hasn't,” he said. “Your hair looks the same as usual.”
Hermione could not help laughing again at his serious tone.
“Oh, thanks,” she replied. “Let me believe it's not always this bad, next time, okay?”
He looked confused and said, “It's not... bad. It's just your hair. Witches are strange.”
Hermione found herself blushing, for some reason.
“Well. I suppose I'll get back to my dusty shelf,” she said, disappearing around said shelf. She could hear him softly murmuring diagnostic spells.
It was nice to have someone to work with, she decided.