Warning: Rated M for explicit language, violence, and sexual content. This story is Canon Divergent. For further disclaimers and warnings, make sure to read my profile.
A/N: My magnum opus. The Debt of Time is the first creative thing I ever really finished, and thrust me into the fanfiction community which has changed my life so much for the better. I've spent the past two years since finishing this story working behind the scenes with a team of betas to perfect it as much as humanly possible. Over 100 people volunteered to help with this story, whether they heavily edited 1 or 153 chapters, I am forever grateful for their contribution (and a list of their names will be added to the final chapter.)
This story is also currently being uploaded to Archive of Our Own. As the Ao3 version is uploaded, the corresponding chapter here on FFN will be edited to reflect an adherence to FFN's rules for explicit content (so if you want to read the smutty stuff, you'll want to hit Ao3 from here on out). The goal is to have the story fully edited and available as a downloadable eBook (due to frequent requests) by August. The plan for updates is about 5-6 chapters each week, updated 2-3 times until complete. To know whether or not you're reading the updated version on FFN, the latest updated chapter will have a [Updated on _] with the date in the Author's Notes. I appreciate every single review, and I do encourage you to please let me know if you find ANY error (whether spelling, grammatical, or continuity issues) because I am still rewriting the back half of the story, and I want to make sure that the final PDF and ePub versions are as perfect as possible.
Thank you all so much for sticking with me on this insane epic of a story. Those who have read it through to the end are troopers. Those who have read it more than once are absolutely insane, and I adore you.
The Debt of Time
The Life Debt
The Life Debt Ritual
July 2nd, 1997
"Harry, his funeral is today," Hermione tried to reason with her best friend once again. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, but we need to focus on the future and destroying Voldemort. That's what's important." Her tears had been threatening to spill over for some time now. The look on Harry's face kept her in perpetual grief; more so on his behalf than her own. "It's what Dumbledore would have wanted."
Their headmaster, the greatest wizard who ever existed, was dead. Though the rest of the world seemed all too ready to embrace grief and move forward, Harry Potter was determined to find a way around it. Hermione knew he blamed himself for Dumbledore's death, regardless of how often she and Ron insisted otherwise. The fault rested in the hands of the Death Eaters who had broken into the school, Draco Malfoy for letting them breach the protective wards of Hogwarts, and the murderer himself: Severus Snape.
It almost felt obscene to be at school after everything that had happened, but shortly after the funeral, they would be getting back on the Hogwarts Express and heading home to an uncertain future. While the professors and house-elves prepared for the funeral, most of the students were happy to be outdoors now that the weather was decent enough. As gloomy as the castle felt without Dumbledore at the helm, the majority of students could not stop themselves from embracing the typical excitement that came from preparing to go home for the summer. Either that or they were nosy and wanted to watch as funeral guests arrived.
Gryffindor Tower was empty save for Harry and Hermione. However warm it was outside, the common room felt cold even as embers continued to dance in the fireplace. Ginny, holding her head high after her breakup with Harry, had abandoned last minute packing in favour of one final pass around the Quidditch pitch. Ron had been all too eager to accompany her, leaving Hermione to "fix" the angry and desperate look in Harry's eyes on her own.
"You can't know what he would have wanted, Hermione," Harry stubbornly contended. "Can't you just . . . ? There must be something in the library; the Restricted Section, maybe. You could use my cloak to go. No one has to know about it. Can you look? For me?"
"Harry, you can't bring back the dead," she said, hoping to put an end to the outlandish idea. "Snape used the Killing Curse. No one survives that!" The immediate expression on Harry's face made her regret her choice of words.
She recoiled at his volume but still placed a gentle hand on his arm. "You are not to blame. Just because you survived the Killing Curse does not mean anyone who is killed is more deserving of being spared from it than you." She lowered her tone to something softer as she saw his eyes begin to glaze with tears. "Besides, you didn't die and come back, Harry. You repelled it. There's a difference."
She hoped he would finally allow himself to grieve and move on. Dumbledore was dead, and there was no bringing anyone back from the dead. They had been taught that lesson entirely too well over the past few years.
July 9th, 1997
One week later, Hermione sat in Ron's bedroom at the Burrow, a book on Horcruxes open in her lap. It was one of the tomes that she had summoned from Dumbledore's office prior to leaving Hogwarts, and while there were things in the texts that she would have rather never read, she had other chapters saved with several bookmarks for later perusing. The subject of death had become something of an obsession for her. There was definitely no coming back from the dead. However, in-depth research of Horcruxes had shown her the concept's grey areas; a far cry from the black and white demarcations that Hermione had previously believed about life and death.
One thing was certain: there was no possible way to bring back Albus Dumbledore.
Nevertheless, something in the book called out to her.
After skimming a few paragraphs, Hermione perused the rest of the volume with great interest. If they were going to hunt and destroy the things keeping Voldemort connected to this world, she wanted to know as much about life and death as possible, so as to take down the Dark Lord without losing anyone else in the process.
There was an informative chapter on the Killing Curse that went into detail on how to use it and its physical effects before and after death. While there was no mention of survival, there was a small, handwritten note at the bottom of one page. In the script she had come to recognise as the hand of her former headmaster, read: Sacrificial Love: Lily Potter, 1981.
Eager to avoid the reminder of how and why they had ended up in this situation, Hermione snapped the book shut. Chores needed to be tended to. While she had been able to avoid most of the Weasleys thus far—especially since they were walking on eggshells around her after discovering that she had Obliviated her parents—it was time to face the rest of the world.
Hermione stood, adding the volume to a stack that continued to grow in the corner of Ron's bedroom. All the books she had brought from her home and Hogwarts were heaped on top of one another in organised piles, waiting to be either set aside or packed for the Horcrux hunt. When she made to leave the room, the books tumbled onto the floor behind her. Letting out an exasperated sigh, she turned to clean the mess, noticing as she did that the volume she was just reading had fallen open. The chapter title on display caught her attention, and she narrowed her eyes:
Pulling the text back into her arms, she scanned the words carefully.
A magical bond formed between a wizard or witch and the person whose life he or she saved. The one who owes the debt to the saviour is one day obliged to repay the deed by performing something beneficial to or for said saviour. Such a bond can be formed between even the worst of enemies, regardless of whether either of the involved parties desire it. As this bond is magically binding, the indebted could commit the act of repayment without acknowledging it or even against his or her will.
Because the magical binding of a life debt is so resolute and impossible to resist when called upon, most witches and wizards in such a debt offer to repay it immediately and without hesitation.
The life debt ritual itself is a spell that calls the debtor to settle their account by use of Blood Magic and sacrifice. This powerful magic flows through the pair so strongly that, once enacted, the debtor is bound to the saviour. Life debts were often abused in times of war, when a Dark wizard would purposely endanger the life of a witch in order to save her and indebt her to him. He would then use the life debt ritual to bind the witch to him against her will, most especially if a proposal of marriage had already been refused by the witch and her House.
The ritual itself was banned—though never specifically outlawed—in 1242 after the wizard Cadmus Peverell was thought to have endangered and subsequently saved the lives of six daughters of a rival House with the intent to use the life debt ritual to bind them all to him. Peverell used the leverage over the rival House patriarch in order to gain the marriage of one daughter willingly as opposed to six by force.
When his betrothed perished before their wedding, it is rumoured that Cadmus intended to use the life debt ritual to call her from the grave but was unsuccessful. When performed correctly, the life debt ritual, as detailed below, can extend through time and space. Though it is powerful enough to pass beyond the veil, death by Killing Curse is the one exception to this ritual.
"Exactly what I told him. No one comes back from the Killing Curse." Hermione shook her head in mild frustration as she recalled her argument with Harry before Dumbledore's funeral.
With a deep sigh, she closed the book again and reorganised her stacked archive, but not before placing a red ribbon between the pages. Though unrelated to the Horcrux search, life debts had always been something of interest to her, and it would not hurt to keep the page marked for light reading later on.
She had already known a bit about life debts from casual reading, though nothing about a ritual had been mentioned to her before. She could only imagine the lengths that greedy wizards would go to in order to hold power over others. Hermione was confident that she owed a life debt or two to plenty of people. Harry for certain, though he owed her just as many himself, if not more. She smiled, thinking how grateful she was that this ritual was, for the most part, unknown. Hermione knew that Severus Snape had owed Harry's father, James Potter, a life debt for saving him from a werewolf attack during a full moon. The thought of Harry's father purposely binding Professor Snape to himself in order to call in a life debt was almost laughable. From what she had heard about James Potter, he was not one to be that cruel. Sirius Black on the other hand . . .
Hermione stopped in her tracks as the colour drained from her face. She darted back to the stack of books, almost tripping in her haste over a Quaffle at the foot of Ron's bed. Flipping open to her bookmark, she re-read the passage.
When performed correctly, the life debt ritual, as detailed below, can extend through time and space. Though it is powerful enough to pass beyond the veil, death by Killing Curse is the one exception to this ritual.
"Powerful enough to pass beyond the veil." She stared, eyes wide at the words, her hands shaking. "Oh my God."
July 21st, 1997
After almost two weeks of intense research that involved two trips to the Hogwarts library, courtesy of the Floo Network in Professor McGonagall's office, Hermione had a plan in motion. Unfortunately, she was not the only one:
Mrs Weasley had a demanding plan regarding a rather large wedding for Bill and Fleur. The Order had an intricate plan relating to the removal of Harry from Privet Drive. Ron had a lazy plan on how to tell his parents that instead of returning to Hogwarts for their seventh and final year, he, Harry, and Hermione were going to traipse around Great Britain in the hopes of discovering severed bits of Voldemort's soul wrapped in shiny packages like rings and lockets.
Everyone had a plan.
Hermione's plan, however, required immediate action before the ability to enact it became limited by the Ministry, the Order, and the Weasleys. It did not help that she felt she had to keep both Ron and Harry in the dark. However, she needed to tell someone.
While Mrs Weasley was outside tending to the garden and Ron was upstairs sleeping in late, Hermione threw Floo powder into the fireplace under the guise of heading out for a last minute trip to Diagon Alley for school supplies. She waited for the green flames to erupt before shouting, "The Den!"
On the other end of the Floo, Hermione stepped out of a shallow fireplace and into Remus and Tonks's cottage, also known as "The Den." Coughing, she dusted the soot off her robes before clearing her throat and calling out, "Remus? Tonks?"
The couple had only been married for a few weeks, so Hermione stayed put, unwilling to creep about their home and accidentally walk in on the newlyweds in a private moment. She smiled, gazing around the comfortable drawing room. It looked lived in and warm, like the Burrow, but not nearly as cluttered. It felt quiet and peaceful, like Remus—subdued in nature, if a room could be such a thing. However, the bright splashes of colour here and there—in addition to the Auror robes that were flung over the back of a chair—made it very clear that Tonks lived here.
"Wotcher, 'Mione!" Tonks said as she entered the room from the small, adjoined kitchen.
Hermione winced at the nickname that Ron had given her. She detested nicknames and had been vocal about it from the beginning. The only person allowed any deviations from her full given name was Grawp, because how exactly does one argue with a giant? Correcting anyone who called her anything other than her name became a futile mission, and she had given up when it became apparent that her friends were either ignorant of her wishes or too lazy to say more than three syllables.
Tonks's bright, bubblegum-pink hair shone even in the shadows of the dimly lit room that was kept dark by the curtains closed against the rising sun in the distance.
"Sorry. Full moon was last night," Tonks mumbled with a tender smile before opening the drapes. "He gets headaches sometimes the morning after."
Hermione waved off Tonks's apology and returned the smile. "It's good to see he's being well cared for."
Despite the momentary lack of faith she once had in regards to her former professor years ago in the Shrieking Shack, Hermione had always felt a strong sense of concern when it came to his well-being. She chalked it up to her empathetic nature when it came to all beings despised by the pureblood supremacists in the Wizarding world. Muggle-borns, werewolves, elves, goblins, giants, and centaurs: all unworthy of magic. Though she, as a witch, would be given far more opportunities than the others, the unfairness of it made her want to strive for their freedoms all the more.
"I would have come to help if you needed it."
"It's not a problem," Tonks said. "Got to learn how to deal with him on my own."
"Is he well?" Hermione quietly asked.
"Much better, thanks to a fully stocked potion cabinet." Tonks's smile took a slight mischievous turn as she added, "Plus, I slipped him a Sleeping Draught yesterday at breakfast and forced him to rest up."
"Are you sure you were a Hufflepuff? That sounds terribly Slytherin of you," Hermione teased. "You're a good wife, Tonks. I'm glad he has you."
Hands on her hips, Tonks blew a strand of hair out of her face, feigning exasperation. "Well, I'm kinda stuck with the big beast now, aren't I?"
A dishevelled Remus Lupin yawned as he entered the room, a warm-hearted look directed at his wife. As he kissed her cheek, he asked, "Weren't those your wedding vows?"
Hermione's smile brightened. "Good morning, Remus!"
Her voice drew Remus's attention, and his face briefly lit up. He inhaled, squeezing Tonks lightly around her shoulders before offering a calm smile in greeting. "Hermione, you're looking well."
Hermione watched the subtle way that Tonks leant into Remus's touch, the sight tugging a bit at her heartstrings. "And you. Marriage looks like it agrees with you, Remus."
When he inclined his head in agreement, she could see a faint blush creep up his cheekbones. It was a delightful sight compared to the sickly pale he developed during the week of the full moon.
"It's 'cause he's got such a fit, young wife," Tonks boasted, teasing her husband.
Remus barely flinched at the mention of their age difference, a startling contrast to his behaviour only a month or so prior.
Hermione smiled thoughtfully. "'Youth is wasted on the young.'"
"Oscar Wilde," Remus said with a knowing grin.
He chuckled, gently correcting her, "Wizard."
Eyes wide at the revelation, Hermione asked, "Really?"
"Who?" Tonks raised a brow in confusion at Hermione's excitement. "I swear I never know what you two chatter on about. Might as well be speaking Mermish for all the good I get out of your conversations." She laughed, throwing herself down in a large, fluffy armchair. "So what brings you by, 'Mione?"
Hermione's smile faded, and she began wringing her hands together. "Actually, I need your help with something of serious importance," she said, choosing her words and the emphasis of those words deliberately.
While Tonks's expression implied that she was oblivious to Hermione's tone, Remus's jaw twitched slightly, and his brows raised a fraction of an inch.
"Is it about Harry?" Tonks asked.
"In a way, yes, but not directly," Hermione tried to explain. "I need, first, for you to trust me. And then I need your assistance in something dangerous and . . . possibly illegal." She spoke the words softly, waiting for either of them to shove her back into the Floo. When neither Tonks nor Remus made a move, she continued, "I need to get into the Ministry of Magic."
Remus's mouth pinched in trepidation, a concerned expression growing on his face. "Again?"
"Don't frown; you'll get wrinkles," Hermione chided him automatically without thinking, something that only made his frown deepen. "No, not like last time. Security is different, which is why I need an Auror." She cocked her head at Tonks. "I'm aware that Minister Scrimgeour is making a grand declaration tomorrow morning."
"Yeah," Tonks confirmed. "Some big press conference to remind the world that the Ministry knows what they're doing." Her eyes rolled, changing in the process from a deep brown to a bright blue. "So you want to go to the press conference?"
"No." Hermione shook her head, taking a deep breath to steel her nerves. "I want you to get me in the door, and then," she said, turning to Remus, "I want you to come with me to the Department of Mysteries."
Remus's brows retreated to his hairline. "Are you serious?"
"Interesting choice of words," Hermione said carefully. "And yes, I genuinely want to go back there. It's important. I've made a discovery, and I need to test it out. I don't know when else I'll have the chance to. I know the Order believes that the Ministry will soon be infiltrated if it hasn't been already. Currently, there's enough confusion that I can get away with what I want to attempt. If Voldemort takes over the government, there may not ever be another chance. What I need right now could be destroyed at any point in the future, and I'm not willing to let that happen before I can test my theory."
Tonks looked more than pleased to help, which was surprising, considering the fact that she had absolutely no idea what exactly Hermione was planning.
Remus, brilliant wizard that he was, seemed to be in tune with Hermione's thoughts somehow, or perhaps it was something more primal than that. His intense gaze made her feel like he was looking for a quality in her that she did not possess; as though the way she breathed around words and held her posture when speaking was missing something crucial. To be found lacking made her want to look away in shame.
"All right," Remus agreed after a long moment of contemplation. "I trust you."
"Thank you." Hermione breathed a sigh of relief, her shoulders losing a bit of the tension she had been carrying. "I have everything I need ready to go. Shall we meet here tomorrow morning, say six?"
"That will work," Remus said.
"Are you sure? Do you need more time to recover?" Hermione inquired, a worried look in her eyes.
He smiled kindly at her. "I'll be fine, Hermione, thank you. Six is good."
"Sounds good enough to me," Tonks echoed. "Big speech is set for seven since Scrimgeour is an early bird pain in the arse. That'll give us enough time to get ready to Side-Along to the Ministry. I can get you through during the commotion. Security's only going to be tight in the main Atrium where the Minister will be. I can take you in through the Auror entrance in the back; we've got a private lift. How long do you think you need to do whatever it is you're gonna do?"
"I'm not sure." Hermione winced, the tension in her shoulders returning as she thought back over the details of her plan. "Do you know if the Department of Mysteries is active right now?"
"It might be. They put a lot of effort into repairing the damage you lot caused last summer." Tonks's words were tinted with mirth and admiration as though she were applauding the destruction that had been caused during the battle against the Death Eaters. "'Course, I threw a few good hexes myself," she said smugly, settling back in the chair as though it were a throne. She doubtlessly did not want anyone to overlook her part in the fight, especially considering she had ended up unconscious by the end of it. Battle scars were like badges of honour to Aurors who had been trained by Alastor Moody.
"Will they be there tomorrow?" Hermione asked. "The Unspeakables, I mean."
Tonks snorted, shaking her head as she answered, "Unlikely. Whole bloody building will be set up for the Minister's big speech. Scrimgeour's just trying to make the Ministry look like they're all one big team on this. Bloody nonsense."
"I agree." Hermione reached into her pocket and removed a small Galleon, handing it over to Tonks. "Here."
Tonks grinned, rolling the coin back and forth between her fingers. "Late wedding gift?"
"Communication," Hermione explained, bouncing on her heels. "I created them a few years back when Umbridge took over Hogwarts. The defence group Harry created needed a way to communicate so we would know when and where to meet. I put a Protean Charm on these Galleons. When I charm mine to send a message, yours will grow hot, and then you can read it. I used to charm the numbers to change to a specific date and time, but I've been trying to adjust them to send short phrases. When Remus and I are done with my mission, I'll send you a message so you know we're ready to leave, and we can exit."
"Wicked!" Tonks exclaimed as Remus snatched the Galleon out of her fingers.
"You said you created this a few years ago?" Remus asked, examining the coin with a familiar curiosity as though he had seen one like it before.
"Yes. I got the idea from Death Eaters, actually," Hermione said with a nervous laugh. "The Dark Mark, I mean. It's not Dark Magic, but I figured I could use a Protean Charm to mimic the type of spell I think is used."
Remus nodded in understanding, quickly burying his previous expression to instead smile at her. "It's extraordinary, Hermione."
"Right," Tonks said, "so you'll heat up the coin, and I'll come and fetch you out. If you're done in time, we could probably slip out with the rest of the media. I could transfigure your features, make you less noticeable."
"No," Hermione objected right away but then reconsidered after a moment. "Well, maybe transfigure me a bit, just in case. If I'm successful, we'll need to leave back through the private entrance and Disapparate as fast as possible. Here, preferably, if you don't mind," she said, gesturing to their home. "I would suggest Grimmauld Place but—"
"But we don't know if Severus alerted the Death Eaters to its existence," Remus finished her thought with an understanding nod. "Good thinking."
"Thank you. So, we'll meet back here tomorrow at six and go over everything again before leaving?"
"Sounds like a plan to me." Tonks stood up quickly and embraced Hermione. "Can't wait. I love surprises," she said with delight. "You will eventually tell us what you're planning, yeah?"
Hermione smiled nervously. "If it works, I won't have to."
"Go on then." Remus gestured to the fireplace. "I can't imagine you've told anyone else about this plan of yours, which means you've lied to Molly about your current whereabouts." His eyes flashed with mischief for a moment, and both Tonks and Hermione grinned a little, though the latter flushed with embarrassment. "Better get back before she catches on. Tonks will owl later to ask for your help with something tomorrow morning. Something for Bill and Fleur's wedding, perhaps. I imagine that'll put Molly at ease with letting you out the door."
Hermione chuckled. "Might be the only thing that would do it. If I were one of her children, she wouldn't let me set foot on the front porch unless I was there to sweep it." She hugged Tonks once more and then moved to embrace Remus, who looked hesitant to return the affection at first. As he gave in to her hug, it felt as though he were holding his breath. "Thank you both so much."
"All right, safe trip back, Hermione," Tonks said as she moved toward the kitchen, stopping to turn and level a teasing glare at her husband. "Remus, get in here and eat some bloody breakfast! You're still much too skinny for your own good. I like a wolf with some meat on his bones." She winked at him before leaving the room.
Hermione smiled as Remus turned—an embarrassed blush on his cheeks—to offer her a look of apology on behalf of his irrepressible wife before retreating after her.
Stepping toward the fireplace, Hermione reached for the Floo powder when her beaded handbag fell from a pocket in her robes. She cringed on instinct, wondering if Remus and Tonks would have heard the sounds of shifting objects as the illegally-charmed bag tumbled over itself on the ground. The Undetectable Extension Charm had been essential considering all the necessities packed inside of it for the Horcrux hunting trip. She made a mental note to put a Sticking Charm on the bag as well so she would not be in danger of losing all of their supplies.
As she leant down to retrieve the bag, she overheard Remus and Tonks in the kitchen. Though she was not one to normally eavesdrop—especially on her friends—she could not help but be a little curious when she heard her name spoken. Desperate to know whether or not they were genuine about wanting to help her, Hermione listened.
"I'm sorry about that," Remus muttered. "Sometimes Hermione can just—"
"No need for that," Tonks insisted in a loving tone. "We've been through this for a year. Ever since you told me the truth. It's nothing to be ashamed about. It's definitely nothing I need to worry about."
Hermione could hear the smile in Tonks's voice. For some reason, it filled her with ease despite not knowing the specifics of the conversation.
Remus's tone, however, was tense and worrisome as he asked, "You're certain?"
"As certain as I am that I'm your mate," Tonks said firmly. "You think she's going there to get the—?"
Remus sighed. "It's possible. Though I doubt her reasons are the same as mine."
"But you're sure that it's close?"
"Close." Remus sounded uneasy. "If we survive this war, then maybe. Only time will tell, I suppose."
"You worry too much."
"You know I love you, right?" Remus asked with quiet fervour.
"I know," Tonks replied. "It's okay, love. There are some things you can't help, and this is absolutely one of them. You didn't plan how all of this turned out. We can't help how we feel."
"But you know I love you, right?" he asked again.
Tonks laughed. "Yes, Remus, you love me, you'll never leave me, I'm your mate; I get it."
Hermione could tell that the conversation was something that had occurred more than once. At the sudden silence coming from the kitchen, she blushed as she realised that she was intruding on a very private moment between the couple. Stepping into the fireplace, Hermione tossed the Floo powder and whispered, "The Burrow," before disappearing.
"She was still here," Remus informed Tonks the exact moment he knew that Hermione had vanished from the cottage. "Probably heard every word we said."
Tonks flicked one of his ears teasingly. "You and that lupine hearing."
She left his side, opening up the cooling cabinet and staring at it with an intense glare as though she could intimidate it into making breakfast for them. When nothing happened, she shrugged and grabbed a plate of leftover roast that Molly had sent over at some point. She set the food down in front of Remus—still cold because she had yet to even manage Warming Charms when it came to cooking without burning the food—and smiled sweetly as he took a bite without hesitation.
"So, has she always been a terrible snoop?"
"You have no idea what that girl is capable of," Remus said with a tired chuckle. "And right now, neither does she."