A/N: This story was originally written for Dacian Goddess in the 2010 round of the SSHG Exchange on LiveJournal. The original prompt was the following: 'Hermione is conducting research and experimentation to recreate and improve Time Turners. But are things going wrong or too right? Why is it she's been descended on by a surly fellow who calls himself The Doctor as well as Unspeakable Severus Snape?'
With thanks to my betas Refya and JunoMagic for their support, questions and grammar skills. This would have been a poorer work without your help.
Disclaimer: I don't own the settings or the characters.
No Favours Has He
Chapter One: The Visitor
"Just one more inch," Hermione muttered to herself, reaching towards the book—her goal—with her fingertips.
She was standing on tiptoes on top of an old, well-used stepladder. She'd been considering replacing it with a newer, higher and more solid version, but between her day job at the Ministry and her own research, she simply didn't have the time.
She took a deep breath, bit her lip and with a small push, managed to get hold of the book.
Unfortunately for Hermione, that final push was the metaphorical straw that broke the back of the camel; or, in this case, the stepladder, which toppled over, taking both her and the book with it. The bookshelf itself was, mercifully, attached to the wall and stayed put.
"Oww." Hermione groaned, attempting to shove the ladder aside.
Hermione turned her head towards the source of the voice.
A man was standing on the far side of the room, leaning comfortably against the wall. A man that felt, rather than looked, vaguely familiar, somehow. She was certain she hadn't seen him before; she'd have remembered him. Dark spiky hair, a glint of something in his left ear, sunglasses, black T-shirt hanging off his lean body, black jeans… yes, she'd definitely remember someone looking like that.
The man cocked his head, obviously waiting for an answer.
"Oh," Hermione said. "No, thanks. I'll manage."
She stood up and dusted off her trousers, swearing at herself silently for leaving her wand on the desk. "Who are you, and what are you doing in my home?" she asked, attempting to sound calm. He hadn't tried to attack her or curse her; until she could get hold of her wand, she thought it best to act as if having strangers turn up in her study was something that didn't faze her in the least.
The air surrounding the man rippled visibly as he removed his sunglasses, and Hermione found herself staring into a face far more familiar.
A face she hadn't seen for six years.
Unless one counted seeing it in dreams, or in nightmares.
The face of Severus Snape.
The castle had fallen silent; even the moans of the injured had quieted down as Morpheus had finally taken mercy on them and sent them into sleep, fitful and dream-ridden as it was.
Her biggest secret—the Time-Turner she had Summoned, together with the Horcrux books, from Dumbledore's office a year before—clutched firmly in her fist, Hermione made her way out of the castle, taking care not to stumble over the bodies, dead or alive, lying in her path. She hesitated only for a moment when reaching the Shrieking Shack; her mind had been made up hours earlier.
She chose the spot with care, picking a secluded area where she thought—believed—hoped no one would be waiting, ready to pounce. The chain of the Time-Turner slid easily around her neck. Taking a deep breath, she turned the little hourglass around. One, two, three, four, five… Enough times to go back to the moment, if her best guess was right, when Severus Snape, now hailed hero, was still alive. If barely.
Hermione felt blood drain away from her face.
Up until this moment, she hadn't been certain he had survived. She'd left the Shrieking Shack in a hurry, after dousing him with all the leftover potions she still had—dittany, Blood-Replenishing Potion, Snakeweed Solution. She couldn't risk anyone finding her there; not with the battle, in that timeline, still raging all around them.
And the next day, when they'd returned to the Shrieking Shack, Snape was gone.
"You…" she whispered. "So you survived."
"Observant as ever, Miss Granger." His lip curled in a familiar sneer.
Hermione noticed that the disguise—some sort of advanced glamour charm, unfamiliar to her?—had apparently only been applied to his face, as his clothing had not changed.
"Although I'm disappointed to see you so lax about security," he said. "You should always keep your wand at hand. Speaking of which, have you ever heard of a spell called Wingardium Leviosa? I find it quite handy when something is out of reach, amusing as it was to watch your efforts."
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment, willing her mind to calm. She stepped to the desk and picked up her wand.
"My home is protected from intruders," she said. "I don't need to be armed all the time. Those days are behind us. I don't know where you've been living these last several years, or what you have been doing, but surely you have noticed that some things have changed."
"Ah, yes. I did come across a few feeble layers of protective charms on your Floo." He raised an eyebrow. "Dismantling them was child's play, Miss Granger. I'd have thought that someone engaged in the kind of research you're doing would have more sense than that. Your work has caught our interest, and I'm quite sure there are other, less friendly people, who would be very keen on securing your results for their own use."
Her research? But—but that was top secret. She'd not told anyone about that. Not even Harry. Certainly not Ron. Ron was a darling, and she loved him dearly, now that they were back to being best friends and nothing else, but when he'd had a few pints, he was worse at keeping secrets than Hagrid. What could Snape, out of all people, possibly know about her research? And what did he mean by—
She shook her head, still a bit fuzzy from the fall and the shock of seeing Snape. In her home. Wearing jeans. Alive. In her home. Talking to her about— Ah yes, talking about her research, and insulting her skills at protecting her home. To be fair, he might have a point about that. As his presence in her study clearly proved. But then, this was Snape, not a wizard of average abilities, so of course he'd have managed what others would have failed at.
Right. Her research.
"You said 'our interest'." Hermione was determined not to lose her focus again. It had been years since Snape had managed to intimidate her. "'Our', not 'my'. Are there more of you—er, I don't mean more of you specifically, as I can't imagine there being more than one of you, but…"
Damn. This wasn't going well at all. And his sneer had been replaced by a smirk. Infuriating man.
Snape gave her what was clearly a scrutinising look. "Perhaps we should sit down, have some tea?" he suggested at last. "You clearly need a moment to collect yourself. I apologize; I shouldn't have shocked you the way I did, but considering my reasons for coming here, I felt it best to arrive in person."
"How did you know about my research?"
Snape sighed. "The short answer would be that it's my job to know about things."
"And the long answer?"
"That tea I mentioned. You'll need it. And I could do with a cuppa myself. Disassembling protective charms on the go, even simple charms, makes one thirsty."
Hermione didn't see any reason to argue, so she gave in. "The kitchen's through there." She pointed behind Snape. "But of course you'd know about that, since it's your job and all, so go right ahead. I won't be a minute." She certainly didn't plan to leave her study unprotected, not with Snape snooping around.
Had her head not been reeling from the fall and the shock earlier on, Hermione thought she'd have figured out the truth on her own: it only made sense. Snape was an Unspeakable. Of course, he hadn't actually said that. He had, however, implied that he was, most of the time, an Unseeable, which explained why he hadn't been seen for all these years.
Hermione hadn't heard about Unseeables before. "You weren't supposed to." He looked smug. "It's a new position, created specifically for those of us whose very existence the general public shouldn't know about. Developing various new disguises and glamour spells is a part of it; it's inconvenient to have to rely on Polyjuice at all times. Tastes vile, too."
Her brain was aflutter with questions, but Snape made it clear she would have to make do with whatever he decided to share. "You understand, of course, that I cannot actually speak about all of it," he said, comfortably seated at her kitchen table, with a steaming mug of tea in front of him. "However, my department has ways to, how should I put it... Ways to tell when something happens that isn't supposed to happen."
Hermione nodded, feeling gloomy. She shouldn't have expected that her experiments, even conducted safely within the walls of her private study, would not be noticed.
"And tinkering with time," continued Snape, "has not been supposed to happen ever since you and your little group destroyed all the Time-Turners that were kept in the Ministry. At least it's not supposed to be happening outside our department." He raised an eyebrow at Hermione's curious look. "Did you really think the Department of Mysteries would simply decide to give up on the idea of time travel once the Time-Turners were gone? Some of our best minds have been working hard to recreate the device."
He picked up his mug, inhaled the aroma and gave an appreciative nod. "You wouldn't have anything to eat, would you? Toast will do."
Ordinarily, Hermione would not have tolerated anyone bossing her around in her own home. But she was too curious to know what he wanted from her. Outrage would have to wait.
When she set out to prepare some toast, Snape went on. "If it had been work similar to what we're doing, we might not have found it too important at this stage. However, recently our systems detected a certain, ah, afterglow, which could only be associated with the use of a real Time-Turner."
"And that afterglow led you here?" Hermione asked, willing her face to remain calm. There was no telling yet how much they knew.
Snape snorted. "No. However, I was reasonably certain I knew who may have the last remaining Time-Turner in her possession. My memory of certain events might be vague, but there have been two annoyingly persistent images in my dreams ever since the night of the battle. Hair—a lot of hair—and a glimpse of something golden."
Hermione shrugged. "That could have been anyone. And anything."
"But it wasn't. If I wasn't sure before, your reaction upon seeing me confirmed it. You were—surprised, certainly, but not as shocked as most people have been when seeing me alive." Snape looked right at her. "Look, Miss Granger. You have already admitted to doing research, and the idea of anyone having an interest in it is clearly disturbing you more than a supposedly dead man turning up in your study. You might as well tell me about it. I'm going to find out about it, one way or another."
"Was that a threat?"
"Only if you choose to interpret it as such." Snape smiled. It was not a calming sight.
Hermione's flat, fourteen months earlier.
"Bugger!" Hermione glared at the Time-Turner on her desk. She'd tried every possible way to make it give up its secrets. Spells. Charms. Curses, both widely known and not. Legilimency. Soaking it in potions. Incantations so old the parchments they'd been written on had crumbled to nothingness when she'd finished reading them off the page. Transfiguration. Banishing the exterior. Disassembling the case with a sturdy screwdriver.
Nothing. It sat on the desk, shiny and whole and undisturbed, mocking her.
It only made her more determined. To figure it out, to get to know it, to recreate it. To improve it.
Endless days and nights later, Hermione had finally cracked it. How, she did not quite know. A combination of feeling it, letting her magic course through it, welcoming the flow of the magic imprisoned in its core into her—brain and body and soul. She had let it take charge; it had dictated the necessary steps to her.
"You do realise you owe me a life debt, yes?" Hermione asked. "If you figured out what happened that night. So threatening me won't work."
Snape shrugged. "I can't kill you. I can't put your life in danger. I'd be inclined to try and save you if someone else endangered your life. That's about it. There are other ways in which I could harm you, were I thus disposed. It's not really how we work, though—it's not how I work. I just want to know more about it. Both because it's my job and because I'm curious."
Hermione considered Snape's words. If she was being honest with herself, she had to admit it was a tempting opportunity. As much as she'd wanted to keep her work to herself, after all this time… Well, it would be nice to talk to someone about it. Someone who could—would—understand. She had planned to share her work with the Department of Mysteries anyway, once she had perfected it. And if they already knew…
She made up her mind. "If you're done with that," she motioned towards the tea and the toast, "you'd better come back to the study."
It had not been enough for her to stop at finding out how to make a working Time-Turner. That had been the first goal, and the more important one.
She wasn't sure why this mattered so much. Perhaps she still felt guilty over her part in their original destruction, even though they hadn't done it on purpose. Even so, having had a hand in such an extraordinary part of magical knowledge disappearing forever was not an idea that sat well with her.
She hadn't given it much thought at the time, but once those frantic days when nothing but Voldemort, and the war, and helping Harry and her maybe-relationship with Ron were all things of the past, the realisation of the havoc they had wreaked at the Ministry in her fifth year hit her.
"This is the original." Hermione pointed at the Time-Turner she had so carefully kept a secret all those years. "And this is what I've come up with so far."
Her working copy—a rectangular box with a few tangled tubes inside—bore no outward resemblance to the sleek form of the hourglass next to it. She figured there was no point in Transfiguring it into something smoother until she was quite finished. And she was close… so close.
"Before you ask—yes, it's fully functional. It does what the original does. I've tested it, although very briefly, in order to avoid creating paradoxes or running into problems. From what I can tell, both theoretically and in practice, it takes the user back to the past. I've also integrated some basic principles of Apparation; if you have a clear destination in mind, it will take you there."
"Impressive." Snape raised an eyebrow. "From my own brief experiences with a Time-Turner many years ago, I remember they could be quite moody. You could never be quite sure if you were taken to where you had been in the original timeline or if you stayed where you were when using the device."
He reached out, stopping just before his hand touched the new Time-Turner. "May I? I'm not going to test it."
Hermione nodded. "Go ahead, poke it all you like. It's stable."
Snape picked the prototype up and examined it from all sides. Hermione couldn't help but smile at his almost reverent look.
"Very impressive indeed," he said, once he'd spent a few moments with his eyes closed, holding the Time-Turner in his palm and appearing to concentrate in silence. "You have, on your own, managed something our team of time travel specialists have yet to crack."
"Luck and intuition." Hermione shrugged. "And a lot of hard work and frustration."
Snape placed the object back on the desk. "I have a feeling there is something else. I admit I may have misjudged your abilities when you were at Hogwarts, as I certainly didn't expect you to be able to do original research of this scale, but I also remember your drive and ambition. And if you've already come this far… You haven't stopped here, have you?"
The future. Hermione had grown up with plenty of Muggle sci-fi work surrounding her—books, TV, films, even theoretical articles in scientific and popular science magazines. And she'd always been fascinated by the idea of time travel.
Time travel into the future, to be exact. Well, the past as well, which was what had excited her the most about getting her Time-Turner from McGonagall: the idea of travelling to the past, even if it was only to keep up with her classes, was mind-bogglingly amazing.
But the future… That had been her ultimate dream.
"I'm still working on that part," she said. "I've been reading up on time travel. The Muggles have some interesting theories. I don't think I understand it all, as most of it is firmly based in physics and theory, and I don't think magic works quite the same way, but I've been having some ideas. Rather vague ideas so far, but I feel as if I'm getting close. I only need to work out how to incorporate travelling into the future with what the Time-Turner can already do."
"Anything I could help with?"
Hermione looked at him, surprised. "Why would you—wait, you're not planning to just find out in detail what I've done so far and am working on, so you could pass on the information, are you?"
"What do you take me for, a messenger boy?" Snape looked affronted. "When I said I'm working in the Department of Mysteries, I didn't mean my job was running errands for other people—or gathering information for them. No, I'm genuinely interested, and I thought we've been working towards the same goals, so it would be reasonable to join forces."
He sighed. "If you like, I could draw up a contract guaranteeing that you will get full recognition for the work you have done, including for any discovery, major or minor. Should you agree to accept my assistance, any future discoveries would of course be credited to both of us."
Hermione rubbed her temples, thinking. She hadn't exactly lied when she'd said she was feeling as if she was getting close. The trouble was that she'd been feeling that way for several months now, and she wasn't any closer at all. If anything, she was simply going around and around in circles. Getting another person to review her work with a fresh look might be just the thing she needed.
As much as it hurt her pride to admit that.