Hermione Weasley stared at a plain concrete wall, trying to calm her nerves.
In every respect the wall was perfectly ordinary - painted white and unadorned save for a large curved crack running across it. The crack, though, was not. It was several inches wide, and behind it was only bright, impenetrable white light. And it was growing bigger. To Hermione, it looked rather like a jagged frown, stern and forbidding.
Behind her, the bustling crowd of her research team had quieted. The essential three spellcasters had gathered in a triangle around her. Everyone else had retreated to the edges of the large, bare room. The building had been a small Muggle gym, but as soon as the crack appeared the Ministry bought it off and turned it into a research facility with one subject: the crack. Now, months later, everything was ready. All the preliminary spellwork had been done. It would only take one spell to propel Hermione into a different universe, and a team of researchers were waiting for her to give the order.
Her colleague and good friend, Hannah, tapped her on the shoulder.
"Here's your bag," she said. "It's got everything you asked for."
“Thanks,” Hermione said, and shouldered it. It was a large camping backpack, and it was heavy. Inside was everything she would need, and then some. Food, water, maps, a tent, and other various odds and ends, all crammed in there. Hermione wished she could have used her little handbag instead. But since they didn't know if magic would work where she was going, it was better to use purely Muggle means. She did make sure her wand was stowed inside her pocket, though. No point in going without, in case magic did work.
“So, this is it, then."
Hermione turned to face Harry and Ginny, who had come up behind her unnoticed. She had already said most of her goodbyes, but these last few would be the hardest.
“Yes, we’re ready to start.” She was glad to hear that her voice was fairly steady.
“Just – don’t get into trouble, okay? Be careful out there,” Harry said.
“You know me – I never do anything stupid, just incredibly risky.” The joke felt forced, the words dead in her mouth.
“Good luck,” said Ginny.
They both gave Hermione a quick hug, then moved out of the way for Ron, who was waiting behind them.
“You don’t have to do this, you know. There’s plenty of people who’d be willing,” Ron said.
“Ron, we’ve had this discussion. I’m the leader of the research team, I need to be the one to go. I have to see if my researchers are still alive.”
"But what if you can't get back?" Ron protested.
"Once I find them, we should be able to open the crack again together. It'll work out." Hermione knew she was trying to persuade herself as much as him.
“I s’pose I can’t stop you then, can I?” Ron said with a small smile.
“You wouldn’t dare try,” Hermione laughed, and pulled him into a hug. He held her there for a long moment, and she rested her head on his shoulder. I will see him again. I will. She kissed him before they broke apart.
“Take care of Rose. Y’know, if –,” she broke off, not wanting to say it.
Ron just nodded.
“Now go," Hermione said with a small smile. "I promise I’ll come back.”
“Okay,” said Ron. “You know I love you, right?”
“Yes, I do.” Hermione said tenderly. “And I love you.”
She watched Ron as he retreated to the limits of the circle, joining everyone else. Her parents were there, as well as most of the Weasley family. Hermione gave them one last wave. Then she turned to face the crack.
“I’m ready.” she said. “On my mark…now.”
The wizards and witches raised their wands and uttered the spell. The crack stretched wide, a yawning, malicious mouth. Hermione steeled herself and went right up to the edge of the crack. The white light was blinding. She screwed her eyes shut and and took the step into the abyss.
Hermione felt as if she were skydiving from space without a parachute. Something pressed against her on all sides, forcing the breath from her lungs and choking her. The sensation was similar to that of Apparition. Panic rose inside of her, but she forced it down. She was about to pass out when the pressure released her, and she fell face-first onto a floor.
She pushed herself up and swiveled around, only to meet blackness. She couldn’t see where she had come through. As she fumbled in her pocket for her wand, and pulled it out. Would it work?
“Lumos,” she whispered. After a tense moment, the tip of her wand flared to life, and she squinted against the sudden brightness. That’s a relief, she thought. Probably means there’s some sort of Wizarding World here as well. Now, if I can just find the others, maybe we can all get home again. Assuming they’re still alive.
Hermione made her way across the room, wand held high. The room seemed much the same as the one in her universe, except instead of scientific equipment, it held exercise machines crammed in rows and shelves of weights in the corner. It was probably the storage room for the gym. Now that she thought of it, hadn’t that been what the room in her universe was used for, before the Ministry bought the entire place?
Hermione climbed the stairs and walked down the hallway, which also had the same layout. Hermione couldn’t be sure, but she thought everything looked exactly how the Muggle gym used to look. The Ministry here – if there was one – must not have discovered the crack. The lack of equipment also meant that the crack probably hadn’t been deliberately made by this side. Which could only be a plus, but then who or what had caused it?
Hermione entered the lobby to find it empty. According to a clock on the wall, it was 10:17 pm, long after closing time. She quickly slipped out a side entrance. She didn’t want to be caught trespassing.
"Nox," she muttered, extinguishing her wand light. Better not to risk it in a Muggle town.
The street was deserted except for the streetlamps, pools of light on an otherwise black night. Even this late, it was warm, and the humidity pressed down on her. She could feel her hair starting to frizz. There was no moon and no stars – clouds must have obscured them.
First things first. She needed transportation. She stuck her wand out, hoping to summon the Knight Bus, but nothing happened. She hadn't expected it to work anyway. She would have to take a Muggle bus to London. At least those ran at all hours.
Hermione made her way to a larger road. It wasn’t hard, as all the streets seemed perfect analogues to her universe. They had known from their observations that this world was similar, but Hermione hadn’t expected it to be identical.
When she got there, she found it was nearly deserted, except for a few people on late-night errands. She saw a middle-aged woman waiting to cross the street. She didn’t look too unfriendly, so Hermione decided to ask her for directions.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Can you direct me to the nearest bus station? I’m new in town,” she added, hoping to deter suspicion.
“Haven’t you got a phone?” the small, petite woman asked.
“It’s dead,” Hermione lied.
“Oh. Well, if you take a left from here and walk down the road, after a bit you’ll cross some train tracks. Turn left at the next road, then walk down that a ways until you get to Wood St. The bus station is right down that way – you can’t miss it.”
“Thank you,” Hermione said. “Do you know if there are any buses that would take you to London?”
“At this time of night?” the woman frowned. “I suppose so, they run at all hours, but that’s a three, four hour trip. Why not just wait until morning?”
Hermione hesitated. “It’s complicated, but I’ve got to get to London as soon as possible. Thanks again for your help.”
The walk only took about fifteen minutes, but Hermione wished it was much shorter. The night was eerily calm, and with only the sparse streetlights to guide her, it was hard to see. She stopped briefly to take a torch out of her backpack, which helped some. Every so often, a car would blast by, leaving her blinded by the headlights. One car slowed to offer her a ride, but she shook her head, not wanting to risk it.
Soon she wished she had accepted the offer. As far as she could tell, she was the only one on the road. But as she continued, she kept hearing little scuffles of gravel and soft footsteps. Each time she spun around, but saw nothing. She tried to tell herself it was all in her head, that it was only a fear of the dark manifesting. But Hermione had never been afraid of the dark, and she couldn’t shake the urge that something sinister was dogging her footsteps.
At last, she reached the bus station, having suffered no trauma other than being repeatedly blinded by headlights. She hurried in and checked the timetables. There was a bus from Cardiff to London leaving at 11:15. She bought a ticket for that, glad that her money passed inspection, and settled down to wait, as it was only eleven o’ clock.
She boarded the bus without incident and relaxed in her seat, getting some trail mix and pumpkin pastries out of her overstuffed camper’s backpack. The ride would give her plenty of time to plan her next move. She needed to contact the Ministry of Magic here, or whatever wizarding government there was. They could help search for her researchers.
She couldn’t send a Patronus or an owl, since she didn’t know who she was sending it to, but everything here was so similar to her universe that it seemed logical that the entrance points to the Wizarding World would be the same. She decided to check the visitor’s entrance to the Ministry first, then the Leaky Cauldron. It was a flawed plan, but worth a try.
Oh well, she thought, eating another handful of trail mix. If worst comes to worst, I’ll just do some flamboyant magic in front of Muggles and hope the Ministry is as paranoid here as it is in my universe.
When the bus pulled into the station at four in the morning, Hermione rejoiced. By her time, it was past midnight, and she’d been up all last night with Rose, despite Ron’s attempts to help. She already missed the little terror. She wondered how Ron was faring without her.
Hermione and a few other sleep-deprived travelers straggled off the bus near the edge of London. Hermione found the nearest hotel, checked in as fast as she could without looking at the price, dragged her backpack upstairs, and collapsed on the bed. It was odd not to have Ron in the bed with her, and despite her exhaustion Hermione wished she could be with him, rocking Rose in a futile attempt to calm her.