Chapter Two
Invocato Vita Debitum

July 22nd, 1997

"I told you, it's a surprise." Hermione smiled brightly. "Just let me do this, okay?" Her smile turned stiff as she faced a tired Ron in the living room at the Burrow. With Bill and Fleur's wedding fast approaching, Mrs Weasley was done letting anyone in the house have a lie in. "Tonks and Remus just got married, and she's got plenty of ideas on wedding gifts for Fleur, so I asked for her help." The lie came with ease, though inside, her stomach twisted into a large knot.

"I just don't see why she can't come here," Ron whinged, sighing in obvious frustration. "Everything that's going on . . . Hell, Mum hates it when Dad leaves for work every morning. It's not a safe world out there, 'Mione."

Hermione rolled her eyes in response. "Yes, well, I'll be with an Auror—"

"Who trips over her own feet," Ron interrupted.

"And Remus will most likely be with us. I'll be perfectly safe. Besides, speaking of safe," she said, giving him a reproachful glare, "you should take this opportunity to tell your mum what our plan is this year." When he cringed, her glare intensified. "Don't you dare wait until the last minute, Ronald Weasley." She poked a finger into his chest. "You will not throw Harry and me under the bus."

Ron cocked a brow, brushing away her finger poke. "Under the bus?"

Sighing in mild frustration, Hermione explained, "It's a Muggle expression. It means that you will not leave this for Harry and me to explain because you're too afraid of your own mother. Do it yourself, and I'll see you when I get back." She headed toward the fireplace, double-checking the Sticking Charm on her beaded bag. "I don't know how long it'll take—might be a few hours—so just in case, don't have your mum save me any meals. I might convince Tonks to make a girls' day of it."

Screwing up his face, Ron slumped his shoulders forward and groaned. "But you hate girl stuff."

"I do not." Hermione planted her hands firmly on her hips. "I hate Lavender and Parvati girl stuff, not Tonks and Ginny girl stuff. There's a tremendous difference," she clarified, giving him a contemptuous look that she hoped rivalled Malfoy's when Ron laughed at her in reply. "There's less giggling and squealing. Now stop stalling, and go talk to your mother. Write out a speech if you think it'll help."

Just after half six in the morning, Remus and Hermione approached the back entrance of the Ministry of Magic, led by Tonks in her Auror robes. Remus had not been transfigured at all, as he was known to wander about the Ministry from time to time to speak with various acquaintances, put in job applications, or visit his wife. Hermione, on the other hand, was too easily recognised. Before Disapparating, Tonks had transfigured Hermione's hair black, straightened her curls, and aged her a good ten years in the process. A pair of glasses and a set of secretarial robes later, and Hermione would not be recognisable to anyone except maybe Harry or Ron.

Remus found her new appearance disconcerting.

Tonks pressed the tip of her wand against a dirty-looking door next to a large skip, and it immediately opened onto a lift. It was not until they were fully inside with the door shut, plunging them into darkness, that Tonks reached for a protruding box, slamming her hand against it. A metal cover opened up, giving her access to a dimly lit panel of numbers. When she pressed the number nine, the lift jolted, and then began its descent.

Unlike the guest entrance into the Ministry of Magic, there was no overhead voice welcoming them in this lift, only the loud, echoing sound of gears grinding together. Remus looked at Hermione, noticing how on edge she appeared.

"You all right?" he asked. "Does the noise bother you?"

She looked up at him, forcing a smile that did not reach her eyes. "The last time I was here, we'd been following Harry into battle, and I was much too distracted, but now I'm wondering how the lifts run without electricity."

Chuckling softly, Remus offered, "I have a book on Muggle to magic engineering. It's old and likely outdated, but you might find a few chapters interesting."

Before she could reply, the lift jolted again, throwing them forward. He stopped himself from falling by catching his hand on the door, but Hermione stumbled into Tonks. She muttered quick apologies that were brushed off with an easy, "You get used to it."

As they descended, Hermione reached into her pocket and removed the Galleon. "You've got yours, right?" she double-checked with Tonks.

"Yup!" Tonks smiled, showing off the coin before stowing it back in her own pocket. "I'll be checking it from time to time just in case. I'm not scheduled to be at the front of the press conference, just lingering in the back, so no one will notice me. In fact . . ." She trailed off, concentrating a bit until her bright pink hair became the same sandy shade as Remus's, save for the flecks of grey his bore.

Remus rolled his eyes. "Lovely."

"Aww, you know you're beautiful, love." Tonks grinned at him, and Hermione stifled a laugh as he crossed his arms over his chest petulantly while his wife affectionately ruffled his hair.

The lift came to a halt, and the doors opened to the ominously dark corridor that led toward the Department of Mysteries.

"Right," Hermione said with a slight tremble, exhaling nervously. "This is us." She stepped slowly out of the lift when the grilles opened.

Remus followed behind, pausing only to kiss Tonks goodbye. "Be safe."

"See you soon," Tonks said. "Don't do anything stupid!" she added before the doors on the lift shut tight and carried her away to the Atrium.

Remus could hear the way that Hermione's breath quickened as she turned and looked around the area. "Take it slowly." He placed a calming hand on her shoulder, and she reacted by touching it, presumably using his gesture to ground herself.

"Thank you," she whispered before moving forward down the corridor, Remus close on her heels.

They walked in absolute silence before reaching the large black door at the end of the long hallway. Hermione closed her eyes, taking in a sharp breath before putting her hand on the doorknob. The door opened immediately.

"Seriously?" She shuffled back a step, her mouth falling open in astonishment. "It's not even locked. What on earth are they thinking? Six teenagers broke in here a year ago, and they can't even bother to keep the department locked—"

"Hermione?" Remus interrupted her with a wink. "Let's not look the gift hippogriff in the beak." He held his wand out, equally suspicious and ready for an attack just in case. It was not mere speculation that the Ministry had been infiltrated; the Order just lacked an exact count of which departments were corrupted by Death Eaters.

"You're right, you're right. Still, maybe I'll send an anonymous owl later," Hermione muttered under her breath, causing Remus to chuckle quietly.

Moving into the large room, she waved her wand. Suddenly, the darkness around them was broken by illuminated candles, the light revealing a number of large doors encircling the two of them.

"All right, close the door."

Despite being older and more experienced, Remus conceded, closing off their entrance and eventual exit at her insistence.

The moment the door shut behind them, Hermione aimed her wand. "Flagrate!"

A large, fiery line appeared across the door to mark their exit. Almost immediately, the wall began to spin around them, making them lose track of which door was which, save for the one she had marked.

Remus wrapped an arm protectively around her, and Hermione braced herself against him to stop from getting dizzy, though it only took a moment to assure herself that the floor had stayed steady.

Once the wall stopped spinning, she reluctantly let go of Remus and turned her attention to the door she had marked. "It won't last forever."

"How about we add this?" Remus pointed his wand at the flames and whispered, "Immobulus." The fire that marked the door froze in place. He smirked when Hermione huffed.

"How did I not think of that?" she grumbled. "It's in The Standard Book of Spells Grade 2, for goodness' sake. I've been using that charm since I was twelve."

He chuckled. "You're too bright sometimes. You think too big. Remember, it was all of those small charms in your earlier years that kept you alive when roaming the castle on Harry's heels."

"Please," she said with a roll of her eyes. "It's more like chasing after his heels. That boy can't help but run into danger."

"All the better that you're always there looking out for him," Remus said and quietly added, "For everyone."

Hermione smiled appreciatively up at him. "To be fair, Harry has looked out for me from time to time. Granted, he does tend to get me into a bit of trouble as well." Her gaze turned forward, and she took a breath. "Here we are."

"Which door is it?" he asked. "I can't remember, myself. When we arrived to rescue you all, it was a bit of a mess, and most of the doors were already open with people rushing about in here."

"I can't recall specifically. I suppose we'll just have to investigate." She sighed lightly, approaching a door. Upon opening it, she peeked in without stepping foot inside and blinked a few times. "Huh," she muttered. "What does that look like to you?"

Remus glanced within and cast a Wand-Lighting Charm, which had no effect on the darkness of the room. When he squinted, he could see lights glimmering above them. "The sky, I suppose."

"Space Room," Hermione said and promptly shut the door. "Not going in there. They have a variation of a Limbo Mist Charm on the ground. Harry faced something similar in the Triwizard Tournament. Ron, Ginny, and Luna got caught in here last time," she said, marking the door with a large circle to differentiate from the exit, and immediately immobilised it per his example.

Remus turned to the next door and opened it. The sight within caused his eyes to widen.

"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, stepping inside. "Be careful, I've seen first-hand what Time-Turners are capable of."

"You have no idea," Remus murmured, his heart racing as he stepped into the room, scanning every detail.

Hermione's sudden smile carried a surprised nostalgia. "I can't believe they were able to put it all back together."

"You destroyed it? Why am I not surprised?" He laughed quietly before his attention was caught by a particular object. A Time-Turner with blue sand inside a carefully constructed hourglass, wrapped in a silver casing with a thin chain hanging off it like a necklace. He reached his hand out and touched the piece with reverence and fear, looking at the bottom of it where he saw engraved a rune he knew meant "predestination."

A hopeful smile crossed his face.

"Death Eaters," she corrected him, her voice echoing off the walls and ceiling as she examined a large hourglass sitting on a shelf on the opposite side of the room. Huffing, mildly offended, she added, "I did not destroy anything. I know better than to mess about with Time-Turners. Then again, you know all about that."

"What?" Remus jumped and turned around, looking as though he had been caught with his hand in the biscuit tin. "Why would I know that?"

"Because I used a Time-Turner during third year," she clarified. "I've told you this before. When we saved Sirius from the dementors?" She raised a brow with a concerned look in her eyes.

"Oh. Of course." He shook his head. "Forgive me; I was lost in thought."

Hermione smiled and headed for the door. "Well, we're procrastinating."

"We're leaving?" Remus's forehead crinkled in confusion.

"Yes. I don't need the Time Room," she said quickly as she exited.

Remus hesitated, looking around the room. He glanced back at the Time-Turner with the rune marking. Reluctant to put his faith in destiny, he snatched up the device and slipped it securely into his robes before making a hasty retreat to the large circular room once again.

As the door shut behind him, Hermione marked it and moved along to the next doorway.

"Hermione, are you going to tell me . . . ?" Remus began as she opened the next door.

The look on her face silenced him immediately. He turned his attention to the inside of the room and let out a gasp, his nostrils flaring at the sight.

A large, dimly lit, rectangular room stood before them. Stone benches lined the walls on every side, descending like large steps toward the centre where a familiar pit held a large stone dais. On the dais stood a massive archway unsupported by any surrounding wall.

Remus could barely take his focus off the thing. His gaze on the heart of the room was so intense that he did not notice Hermione had stepped inside the door until she began to move down toward the pit.

"Hermione!" he called out after her in a panic. "What do you think you're doing?"

She turned back and glanced at Remus, a hint of remorse on her face. "This is why I came. I asked you to trust me," she reminded him. "Do you still?"

"I . . ." He wanted to, but the words caught painfully in his throat. "Hermione, please, please don't go near that thing. I can't . . ." The idea of losing her the same way he lost Sirius was unfathomable. He could not go through it again.

"If you won't come down with me, then guard the door."

Remus stood there, gobsmacked as Hermione continued to move forward, approaching the stone arch much too fast for his comfort. He had not had the time to observe the arch and veil closely when he had last been here. Now, he could barely stand to look at the thing. To the casual observer, it looked to be just a simple construction, though what lie beyond was indefinite.

This was a terrible idea. Remus had been positive that she had come for the Time-Turner. In fact, he knew that this specific Time-Turner in the pocket of his robes now was the sole reason for him being there. So why had she brought him into this horrible room of death and misery?

"I'm sorry that I didn't tell you everything, but I was coming here regardless of your assistance." Putting her wand down next to her, she knelt in front of the large archway. She pulled a small, beaded bag out of her robes and sank her arm into it up to her elbow.

He tried to reason with her as he made his way down toward the centre of the room. "Hermione, I can't imagine what you think you can accomplish here, but I beg you to get away from that thing. Please." His heart sank at the thought of the worst-case scenario.

"I'm not going through it, I assure you," she promised as she dug around in her bag.

She pulled out what looked to be a stained t-shirt, followed by a small black pack that Remus recognised as a field mediwitch kit, which generally held an assortment of potions. Finally, she picked up her wand with a shaky hand and stood, facing the arch.

"Hermione . . ." Remus moved closer, his gaze frozen. Terrified, he kept a diligent watch on her, taking note of every step she took. He was prepared to pull her away if she got too close to the veil. He had been unable to save Sirius. He had been miles away when Voldemort murdered James and Lily. He could not live with himself if he watched Hermione fall away.

"I appreciate your concern, Remus, I really do, but I need to concentrate or else we've come here for nothing." There was a note of irritation in her voice.

Remus shut his mouth in reply and breathed heavily through his nose, his heart beating hard within his chest.

"Invocato Vita Debitum!" Hermione shouted, waving her wand in a circular motion in front of her. Golden swirls hung in the air as she moved, and the hovering circle pressed forward at her gesture, floating toward the archway. "Aperi!" The golden circle pressed against the stone, engulfing it with light.

Suddenly, the flowing black curtain in the archway turned white, and Hermione and Remus fell back, shielding their eyes with their hands from the brightness of the veil.

Hermione reached for the t-shirt, which Remus could now see was stained with blood. He swallowed hard, hunching his shoulders and pressing his hands against the floor, not wanting to smell the air to find out whose blood it was. He did not want to know. She had not told him a thing about what she was doing here, and he was honestly petrified of the answer. A part of him was apprehensive about facing his next boggart, all things considered.

"By blood," Hermione whispered, regaining her feet as she set the t-shirt on fire, levitating the ashes into the air and pushing them through the veil. "And sacrifice." She held out her open palm and inflicted a light Severing Charm against her skin, cutting it just enough to bleed. Hermione squeezed her hand tightly, allowing the blood to pool in the palm of her hand before flinging it into the veil. "Do ut des!"

The veil grew brighter.

"I have come to collect! Debitum Naturae! Domum Filius Nigrum!"

Remus's jaw dropped as she spoke, all at once very clearly aware of what it was that Hermione was trying to do. He took in a sharp breath of worry and anticipation. It was not possible. How could she have found such a spell? He stepped forward, hands shaking, aching to reach out for her.

The light surrounding the veil burst, throwing them both backward again, away from the arch and into the back of the pit before the room fell completely dark.

Remus coughed, holding his bruised ribs. "Hermione . . ." he muttered, reaching out for her. "Hermione, what were you thinking?"

"Son of the House of Black," Hermione whispered, repeating the last words of her incantation, this time in English. She panted, moving to stand, and reached for the wand that had fallen from her hand.

Remus growled at her. "I know what you said!"

"Accio wand!" Hermione ignored Remus's roar as her wand flew into her hand. "Lumos Maxima!"

A bright light ignited from her wand, illuminating the entire room.

His focus fell to the arch, which looked as it had upon their entering the room, save for Hermione's beaded bag on the ground, the medic kit, and a large shaking figure lying in the centre of the stone dais.

"It can't be," Remus murmured as he stood, gazing at the body with trepidation. Long, black hair covered the face, but the sight of tattoos peeking out from the edges of burgundy robes had him sucking in a sharp breath.

"Sirius!" Hermione screamed, rushing toward the shivering form and placing her hands tenderly on his back.

The man flinched in response.

"Help me, Remus! Turn him over," Hermione instructed as she opened the medical kit, sticking her lit wand between her teeth. Before touching anything in the kit, she smeared dittany onto her bleeding hand, fumbling for potion phials as soon as the cut had stopped bleeding.

Dumbfounded, Remus moved without conscious volition, dropping to his knees next to her and staring at the trembling form in front of him. His hands shook as he grasped solid shoulders and pushed. The body rolled, and he stared, horrified, into the face of the best friend he had thought long dead. Yet there Sirius was as if he had been struck down by Bellatrix's curse but not pushed through the veil by it.

"He's . . . Sirius . . . Merlin, Hermione, how did you do it?"

"Life debts," she answered as she fumbled with the phial stopper. "Cast a Warming Charm." She tilted Sirius's head back and opened his mouth, letting the green liquid slip down his throat.

Remus reacted right away, casting the charm and watching quietly as Sirius's body stopped shaking. When his limbs relaxed, the chestnut wand that had still been tightly gripped in his hand fell free, clattering to the ground. Remus pocketed the item right away.

"Life debts?" he echoed automatically, wondering if he was going into shock as he watched Hermione administer a third potion.

"I saved Sirius, remember?" she answered quickly as she continued to rummage around in the kit, fumbling with the wand in her mouth. "Here, hold this." She handed her wand to Remus. "He would have been given the Dementor's Kiss. They were already on their way, and I broke him out of the classroom he was locked in. He owed me a life debt."

"Hermione, life debts can't bring people back from the dead!" Remus shouted, noticing his volume and wincing. "Sorry." He focused his attention away from her and rubbed his hands over his face.

She handed him a phial. "Here, have some Pepper-Up." With a shrug, she added, "I'm sure as hell not giving it to him." Her chuckle was nervous as she reached for the Calming Draught. When she poured the liquid into Sirius's mouth, she frowned in concentration. "And no, generally, life debts can't bring back the dead."

"So how did you—?"

"Unless they didn't die from the Killing Curse," she said and then hesitantly muttered, "and you use a life debt ritual."

Remus gaped, silently scolding himself for underestimating her. "Hermione, that was Blood Magic."

"Yes," she confirmed, not going further into detail.

"How did you get Sirius's blood?" he demanded, wondering how long she had been planning this mission of hers.

"I didn't. Not exactly. That was Harry's t-shirt. Malfoy broke Harry's nose on the train last year, and this was the shirt he was wearing. Glad I never took the stain out. I honestly didn't know if it was going to work." She laughed shakily, clearly depleted by the energy she had put into the spell.

"How did it work?"

"Harry is James Potter's son, and James's mother was—"

"Dorea Black," Remus finished her sentence, shaking his head as memories of the formidable witch flew through his mind.

Turning, he fixed his attention on Hermione. "That gold light. I've only ever seen something similar during bonding rites; Tonks and I had one at our wedding." He gave no further information as she considered him with an inquisitive gaze; it was the look that she always got when eager for knowledge of something new. When he turned the expression back on her, she shrank away from his attention.

"Right," Hermione mumbled. "Let's go ahead and not talk about that right now." She snatched her wand from Remus's hand and aimed it at Sirius. "Petrificus Totalus!" His body went rigid. Zipping up the mediwitch kit and sticking it back into her bag, she reached further in and pulled out something that shimmered silver.

"Not talk about it?" Remus eyed her with suspicion. "Hermione, did you accidentally marry Sirius?"

"Don't be ridiculous," she said with a shake of her head, handing him the fabric in her hand. "It's completely different, so stop talking and help me."

Remus grimaced as a migraine began to develop. "And you stole Harry's Invisibility Cloak."

"Borrowed," she corrected him. "I was doing some research for Harry and needed to get into the Restricted Section of the library. I'd meant to return it to him on the Hogwarts Express, but I had my mind on other things. Besides, even if I did steal it, I think he'll forgive me, don't you?" She gestured to Sirius before taking the cloak back and covering him with it. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the charmed Galleon, tapping it with her wand. "Now, levitate him if you will, because I barely have the strength to move, and we need to get out of here quickly."

"Is he . . . Is he really alive?" Remus asked her, not wanting to get his hopes up. "Hermione, he's my best friend, and he . . ."

She reached out, taking Remus's hand gently within her own. "He's alive."

Before she could take a step toward the exit, Remus wrapped his arms around her. He pressed his face into the crook of her neck and whispered, "You're brilliant," before kissing her temple, cheek, and then forehead. "Absolutely brilliant."

Hermione laughed, hugging him back, and beaming at the praise. She would have likely basked in it a touch more, but her attention refocused on Sirius, and she sighed. "Come on, Remus. There'll be plenty of time to celebrate after we get him out of here."

Minutes later, they reunited with Tonks outside the lift. Slowly, they made their way inside, Remus holding his wand out as he levitated an invisible Sirius ahead of him.

Tonks gave them a teasing grin. "Good trip? Bring me back anything?"

"You could say that," Remus muttered, removing a section of the Invisibility Cloak to reveal Sirius's face.

"What the fuck?" Tonks screamed, jumping backward and almost into Hermione's arms.

Unprepared for the attack, Hermione collapsed beneath the weight, and the two women hit the floor as the lift began to move upward.

Remus chuckled mischievously.

Shifting her focus up from the floor, Tonks saw the underside of Sirius's body where it was not covered by the Invisibility Cloak.

Hermione groaned. "You said you liked surprises." She removed her glasses as Tonks's transfigurations faded away, her straight black hair shifting back to honey-brown and winding back into bushy curls.

"Bloody hell," Tonks spluttered, looking up to meet her husband's eyes. "Is that—?"


"And is he—?"

"He is."

Tonks gestured to Hermione. "And she—?"

He nodded. "She did."

"Bloody hell," Tonks repeated, lifting the Invisibility Cloak once more to look at her cousin's body. After a beat—with Remus and Hermione anxiously observing her—Tonks flicked her wand and Disillusioned Sirius, muttering, "Just in case."

Once safely back at Lupin Cottage, Hermione let out a loud sigh of relief and collapsed into the large, fluffy armchair.

Lowering Sirius to the sofa, Remus removed the Invisibility Cloak, passing it to Hermione so she could secure it away in her bag and return it to Harry. He then released the Body-Binding Curse, watching as his friend relaxed into the cushions.

"I should go," Hermione said. "If I don't get back to the Burrow, they'll all come looking for me. The last thing I want is for anyone to show up before there's been a chance to explain. Certainly, not before things can be explained to him." She gestured to Sirius, kneeling down beside him and affectionately brushing the hair from his face.

The hollow, sunken cheeks he had upon their first meeting in the Shrieking Shack were gone, and his hair was no longer matted and hanging down to his elbows. He was the Sirius she had come to know over the last handful of years, not having aged a day since he had fallen through the veil.

As her hand brushed lightly against his cheek, his pale grey eyes opened and stared up into her face. "M-My . . ."

Hermione gasped. "Sirius?"

Remus and Tonks flew to her side.

"Pads?" Remus asked, leaning over Hermione's shoulders.

"My . . . My-uh," Sirius repeated, dazed.

"Do you think that it was the potions?" Hermione asked, worried, as she cranked her head to look up at Remus only to catch him sharing a knowing look with his wife. She didn't have time to question it; her attention was returned to Sirius when she felt him squeeze her hand.

He stared at her as though he were frightened. His free hand reached up, his fingers brushing against the softness of her face, tracing the outline of her jaw.

She saw the beginnings of tears in his eyes, and her breath caught.

His voice was shaky, but clearer, when his chapped lips parted, and he whispered again, "Mia?"