Ginny bit her lip to stop herself from screaming. This was too much like the time, three years ago, when Dementors had boarded the train to search for Sirius. The many colours of different spells glittered outside the window for a moment, lending a sickly tint to the light, and then everything went pitch black.
Scant seconds that nevertheless felt like hours later, the lights suddenly flickered back on. Bright sunlight shone through the window. Ginny rushed over to the window to peer out, accidentally stepping on Luna's foot, the hem of Hermione's robes and tripping over Ron's legs. There was not a cloud in the sky.
Harry joined her. "Strange," he muttered quietly.
"Just a few minutes ago, there were all these clouds in the sky. You see that field there?" He pointed. "I'm sure there were only sheep out there, but now there are cows. That house was much bigger, as well, and that one had smoke coming out its chimney. It doesn't now."
Ginny stared at the landscape before her. "Are you sure? We could have just moved quite a bit."
"No. Look back - there's that big bend in the track, with those trees next to it. We're almost doubling back on ourselves. I don't like this. Something's definitely wrong."
"It definitely is!" Ron said in a muffled voice from behind Ginny. "And the food trolley still hasn't come around yet! Where is it?"
Ginny turned to look and saw him scoffing down the sandwiches that Harry had opened earlier. She shook her head in exasperation and turned back to look out the window. Ron was always hungry.
"They would have become stale!" Ron protested, obviously having noticed the disapproving shake of Ginny's head.
Hermione sighed. "No, they wouldn't have, because Harry would have eaten them. You didn't even ask him if he still wanted them!"
"I don't mind. Let Ron have them," said Harry. He was still distracted by the scenery outside the train.
The compartment door slid open with a grinding clunk. Ginny turned and was confronted by a tallish, red-haired boy. He had to be a first or second year - Ginny knew she would recognise him if he were any older. He looked familiar, a lot like pictures of Bill or Ron when they were younger, but Ginny knew all of her first and second cousins, and most of her third cousins by reputation, at least. He could not be a Weasley, for all his resemblance.
"Yes?" Hermione got to her feet. "Can I help you?"
The boy looked a bit nervous. "I was wondering if you knew what caused the lights to flash off and on a minute or so ago?" He looked around the compartment, his eyes lingering on Ron and Ginny. His brow creased with puzzlement. "Do I know you two? You look awfully like some of my cousins. What're your names? I'm Billy Weasley."
Ginny froze. It couldn't be. It had to be a trick. "That... that wouldn't be short for anything, would it?" she whispered.
Billy rolled his eyes. "It stands for Bilius, after my uncle, but no one calls me that except Great-Aunt Dorothea. Most of the family seems to think it's wishing me ill-luck to call me Bilius, because they..."
"Think you might be visited by a Grim," Ginny finished.
With a smile, Billy nodded. "That's right! How'd you know that, anyway? Areyou my cousin?"
Ginny could not think of a non-incriminatory answer to such a loaded question. She reached into her pocket to take out the battered lunar watch that had been bequeathed to her as the only female descendant of Aurelia Weasley years ago. Wrinkling her forehead, she stared at the display, certain that it wasn't working. The planets were all in the wrong places....
Ginny looked up at Billy and took a deep breath. "I think we might distantly be related, and I'm sorry, but I don't know what was wrong with the lights," she said as calmly as possible. "Would you excuse me? I'd like to check something." She opened her trunk and rifled through it until she found her Astronomy book, and then opened it to check the star maps. Marking a page with a finger and looking up, she saw Billy had disappeared, closing the door behind him, and the other five staring at her silently.
"Do you have a current Almanac in your trunk, Luna?" Ginny asked, her voice rising to a squeak. Luna looked startled.
"I think so. I'll have to go and get my trunk to check, though."
"I'll give you a hand." Neville stood up, looking a little startled at his own daring. The two walked out of the compartment.
Ginny started fretting, looking back through her Astronomy book to double check her conclusion. It couldn't be true, it couldn't, Ginny thought. The watch must just have finally worn out and need parts replaced. A lot of parts. She pulled out a piece of parchment and a lead pencil she occasionally used to sketch with and started jotting down calculations and tiny star maps, hoping that she would find where she had gone wrong.
"Billy looked a lot like you did, Ron, when I first met you," said Hermione in a strained voice. "Is he a cousin or something? Do you know him?" She was obviously trying to fill the silence.
"I don't think so. Bilius is a common enough name in my family. And actually, he looked like Bill," Ron replied shortly.
"Ah." Hermione lapsed into silence again, staring at Ginny and her sheet of calculations.
Luna and Neville finally reappeared, hauling Luna's trunk between the two of them. They set it down on the floor. "Some of the younger students seem to have moved into the compartment where Luna left her trunk, so we decided to bring it back and save us worrying later." Neville swept his hair out of his eyes with the back of one hand, pushing her trunk over to one side with his feet.
Luna opened the trunk and lifted off the top robe to scrabble through the books beneath it. She found the book and obligingly handed it over. Ginny opened it and looked at a few pages, flipping to '1st September'. Flipping back to the cover to check the title and year, she closed her eyes, still unable to believe what she was seeing. Taking a deep breath, to keep getting oxygen to her brain, she opened her eyes and checked her lunar watch once more time, in the vain hope that it had changed (which it hadn't) and closed both books.
Ginny twisted her robe in her hands, noticing that it looked less faded than usual and replied, "Nothing, apart from the fact that it's 1976 and that really was just Bill in here. He's a first year."
* * *
Five minutes later, Ginny had shown her workings to Hermione and Luna, and they both agreed that the likelihood of the calculations being wrong was infinitesimally small. Hermione was trying to explain the numbers to Ron and Neville, who were both looking confused, and Harry was pacing, listing everything in the compartment that was different, starting with the initials on their trunks (RK, GK, LA, NP, HE and HP) and how much less battered Ron and Ginny's trunks looked, and going through to the watch on his wrist (now gold instead of black) and Luna's hair-ribbon (now with bronze eagles on the blue). Luna had investigated the contents of her trunk and found all her things to be similar to what she had packed, except the textbooks were all earlier editions, and her collection of recent editions of The Quibbler had completely disappeared. She was now reading a stack of letters from the holidays.
"Apparently Harry, we had a surprise party for you on your birthday just like the one Mrs Weasley threw for you," Luna remarked, scanning one letter, "except that there weren't Order members all on high alert, and it wasn't at the Burrow. Neville had his party the day before. It really seems that all of this stuff in the carriage belongs to us, except to an us born in a different time to different parents."
Ron snorted, and Hermione finally abandoned her explanations, frustrated that Ron and Neville could not grasp what she saw as a simple concept. Ginny rather thought that the important bit to understand was that the date was apparently different, instead of how she had arrived at that conclusion. Ron and Neville had certainly grasped that part. However, she would not say that to Hermione at the moment, since she looked ready to tear her hair out.
"You're serious? I wonder where the owners of these trunks are. They can't have all gone to the toilet or something - surely they'd be back by now?" Hermione looked worried.
"Mmmhmm." Luna said absently. "These letters are about people who sound remarkably like all of us. As to where they are - I don't know. Incidentally, it seems that the 'HP' trunk belongs to you, Hermione, and the 'HE' to Harry. The 'E' on Harry's trunk stands for 'Evans', and the 'P' on yours is for 'Puckle'."
"Wasn't Evans your mother's maiden name, Harry?" asked Hermione curiously.
"Oh, and Hermione's trunk's painted red now." Harry stopped pacing and enumerating his list. He turned to face Hermione. "I think it was my mother's family name, but apparently now it's also my father's surname or, at least, Harry Evans' father's surname." His voice was past incredulity and into unnaturally calm acceptance of whatever was happening.
Ginny started sorting through her own trunk. The clothing inside was rather less faded than she generally had, and there were an awful lot more bell bottoms and sparkles on the Muggle clothes than she'd ever seen outside of the Muggle Dress-up Clothing Bin in the second-hand robes shop. Opening one of her textbooks, she noted the name in the cover: 'Ginevra King'. Digging a bit deeper, she discovered a pink jumper rather like the sort her mother generally knitted for her, and a flat wooden box. The box contained the same style of dreadful poetry Ginny had written as a twelve year old, and the dates at the top suggested that this had been written at a similar age. It wasn't until she reached the very bottom that she discovered something really atypical - a diary, with a dark blue cover.
Pressing her finger to the lock on the front - the standard magical essence lock used on wizarding diaries to secure them, but that could be broken with a few minutes effort - the spell binding the diary closed unlocked, and Ginny could leaf through. The inscription on the first page read, "For Ginny, from her loving mother, 1969". Reading entries at random, she soon realised that there was a Never-ending Page Charm on the book. It looked like something to read through some other time, in order to work out what had happened in her past.
Neville clapped a hand to his pocket and turned out a toad that looked like, well, a toad. "Trevor!" he said happily. This Trevor, however, seemed to not be such an aspiring Houdini as the other one, and appeared quite happy to have been tucked away in Neville's pocket.
Neville finding Trevor led to a pet check by Harry, Hermione and Ron. Harry had another beautiful snowy owl who, as the small plaque on her cage cited, was called Elara. She looked and acted in a dignified manner, fondly nipping Harry's fingers as he stroked her, and glaring at Ron's owl, apparently called Maddie. The two cages were side-by-side, and Maddie kept trying to groom Elara through the bars. Elara cracked her beak at Maddie whenever Maddie got too close, but it did not seem to deter the cheeky owl.
Curled up in one corner of the compartment, on one of Hermione's woollen jumpers which he had snagged from her open trunk, lay an orange striped cat, not long out of kittenhood; the cat had a bottlebrush tail, a squashed face and distinct orange stripes. His appearance, Hermione's broad smile at the sight of him, and the way he responded to the call of 'Crookshanks' left no doubt in anyone's mind that the Hermione here was Crookshanks' first owner.
"How come he's lived so long?" Harry said, as he rummaged through his trunk for a packet of Owl Treats for Elara and Maddie, to see if they would calm Maddie down and distract her from annoying Elara.
"Cats can have quite long lives, living twenty or so years in some cases, and Kneazles have even longer life spans." Hermione squatted down and scratched Crookshanks behind the ears. "Crookshanks is half-Kneazle and very clever. He's likely to die of illness and old age, unless his curiosity gets the better of him."
"Does that mean that Mrs Norris will be around Hogwarts?" Neville looked worried at the prospect. Ginny was used to people disliking the old cat, because she got so many of them into trouble, but she still thought that Mrs Norris was quite a clever cat. It was just that Mrs Norris was generally on the other side in a Them vs. Us conflict. Ginny could, however, appreciate how annoying it was to be spotted by Mrs Norris when you were out of bed late at night - it had almost happened to her quite a few times.
Hermione sighed and nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. She could very well be around."
"Oh, she's not too bad if you stay out of her way on bad days. She likes fish," said Luna. "You just don't sneak around her, invisible or not. She doesn't like that."
"Do you mean we can bribe her with fish?" asked Ron, brightening up.
Ginny snorted. How like Ron to think of that possibility immediately. "No. Trust me, plenty of people have tried, and it doesn't work. Ever."
Ron looked crestfallen. "You had to crush the only sign of hope I've had in five years with that dratted cat," he said, using several more words to describe Mrs Norris that his mother would never approve of. "Plus, the food trolley still hasn't been past, and it looks like it's not ever going to."
Harry retrieved a box of Owl Treats and began feeding a couple to the owls. Elara daintily held hers in her beak, before swallowing it. Maddie just tossed hers up in the air and gulped it down as it fell into her mouth. After searching through his trunk, several robes and jumpers dangled over the rim of it and the handle of his broom poked out.
"Harry, check the trunk. What model's that broomstick?" Ron looked panicked, as if he'd just thought something terrible had happened.
Harry fished the broom out. "It's a Nimbus 1500, apparently," he said, peering at the golden writing on the handle. Ron groaned and banged his head on the wall.
"Damn! Your beautiful Firebolt, all gone... and there won't even be a better racing broom than that Nimbus 1500 on the market for another nine years!"
Harry looked curiously at Ron. "That's a very long time. Why on earth wasn't there a better one out sooner?"
"The war's going to get worse and drag in everyone and everything within the next two years," Ron explained. "The broom companies didn't have much of a reason to make new models during that time, as the Quidditch League was cancelled between 1978 and 1981. It wasn't until the market settled down after the war that they could afford to release new models - buying a broom during the war just because it was a new design was considered a waste of resources."
Harry looked crushed at that pronouncement. Hermione shook her head in disgust. "Boys! Always worrying about Quidditch and brooms, rather than more urgent things like 'what subjects are we taking'?"
A look of horror crossed Neville's face. "What if I'm down for Potions? I won't do it; I swear I'll drop it."
Ginny listened to Hermione reassuring Neville that he would be able to change subjects, then panicking about whether she'd still be able to take all the ones she had chosen. Holding the diary in her hands, she started trying to figure out what had happened. Where was the girl who this diary belonged to, the girl who had written it? It responded to her, yet it must have responded to the other girl, as well. It must hold the key to part of this mystery.
"Guys," Ginny's voice cracked. She tried again. "Everyone, I think we should just act normally when we get to school. Do everything we always do; walk into the Hall, sit down at our House tables, watch the Sorting, ignore whatever Professor Dumbledore warns us not to do, and listen to Ron complain about how long the food takes to arrive."
Ron and Hermione looked offended, but Ginny ignored them. Considering Harry, Ron and Hermione's current track record, she was surprised that the three did not just set out to investigate whatever the Headmaster had warned them not to go near, as the twins always had.
"Shouldn't we go and see Dumbledore and tell him what happened?" Hermione looked worried. "Wouldn't it be better if he found out from us?"
"No!" Ginny didn't realise that she had just shouted. "No, it wouldn't. What do you think you'd do if someone told you that they think they're from the future? You'd think them cracked. I think the best thing to do is just do what we usually do. We don't want to attract attention or mess anything up."
Hermione's eyes widened and she began panicking. "You're right! We can't tell anyone what happens - we can't change anything! What if we've already changed something?"
Harry shook his head. "That's what you said in third year, and if I hadn't cast that Patronus, we wouldn't be here today."
"Yes, but we can't directly interfere in anything that happens or tell anyone things. It's hard enough for the rest of us, but Harry, your life depends on no one knowing what's going to happen."
Harry stared down at the floor and mumbled something to himself, but Hermione ignored him. Ginny caught the last syllable, "...ill."
Neville looked worried. "What if someone directly asks us about something that happens in the future?"
"Then we lie," said Ginny matter-of-factly. "We lie and tell them that we don't know, or we say something incredibly vague. The only problem will be lying to someone like Professor Dumbledore - he can always tell."
Harry took a deep breath. "None of us are to look Dumbledore in the eye - that just helps his Legilimency. Don't let him touch you." He sighed.
"How much Occlumency do you actually know, Harry?" asked Hermione. "I need an honest answer."
"Not enough. I suppose we're all going to have to learn it, though. There might be books in the library about it."
"Only in the Restricted Section," Hermione said, disapprovingly.
Ron shrugged. "Then we break in and read them, or we get them out for something to do with Defence, or Hermione can suck up to the librarian and ask to borrow them in that breathy, fascinated voice she's so good at." Hermione elbowed Ron in the ribcage.
"Why don't we discuss this once we get to school?" Luna said calmly, looking up from her letters again. "Anyway, I've found more surnames! Mine's apparently Alderton, and Neville's is Puff."
"Puff, Neville? As in Hufflepuff?" Harry smiled.
"Don't tell me that you're the Heir of Hufflepuff, mate, and are the only person able to access, oh, the Knitting Needle of Doom that is hidden in some faraway corner of the school and is used to kill ghosts? Because that's just not on. The only Knitting Needle of Doom I know of is the one that makes me a maroon jumper every Christmas," said Ron. "But if there really is a ghost-killing Needle, could it get rid of Peeves? I'm sick of him dumping buckets of soapy water over the students, just to see if we'll melt, even though his test has failed the other eighty seven times he's tried."
Neville smiled broadly. "Sadly I'm not the Heir of Hufflepuff, as far as I know. If I do ever discover the Knitting Needle of Doom, though, I'll be sure to tell all of you about it."
"I wonder if it could sever Nearly-Headless Nick's neck. He'd remember you always!" Ginny imagined the delighted ghost at Hallowe'en, recounting his poem about how he died, with an extra verse on the end about the valiant Gryffindor who made him fully headless.
The rest of the train ride became a cheerful conversation full of laughter and jokes, as the six chatted like the friends and adolescents they were, for once not worrying about Dark wizards trying to kill them all.
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in posting this. I went away on holidays, then my official beta did, and then exams crept up on me. Thanks to Julie, Susan and Pauline for all their help.
A note on the timeframe of this story - the dates I'm using are not quite either of the generally accepted timelines based around the Weasley family. Charlie is eight and a half years older than Percy, placing his birth year as 1967. Bill is two years older than Charlie, and born in 1965. The rest of the family is normal. And also, because several people have already asked, James, Lily and co. are not in sixth year in this fic. They all started school in 1970, and are therefore glorious seventh-years.