Title: For the Thirteenth Time of Asking (but who's counting)
Beta Reader: scatteredlogic
Summary: History repeats itself. History repeats itself. HisHistoryrepeatsitselfory repeats itself.
"This had better be serious," Lucius said. "Because otherwise the only punishment appropriate for such a heinous sin as dragging me out of bed at six o'clock in the bleeding morning is Avada."
It may have been early, and Lucius may have been dragged out of bed by a twitching house-elf - clearly more scared by Severus than any death threats his master could utter – a mere fifteen minutes earlier, but he had still found time to tidy his hair, cast shaving charms, and slip into something silky and heavily embroidered with matching slippers.
"You said that last time," Severus said. "And the time before. It's amazing how predictable you are. And the way your language edges into the gutter when you're tired and cross."
Lucius arched an eyebrow and declined to address the unfortunate slip into vulgarity, choosing to focus on the more interesting question. "Before? I don't recall saying anything like that to you before, because if you had ever woken me at this time in the morning, you would already be dead."
"Before," said Severus, and twitched. "I think you really started getting peeved when I began turning up here before nine. You were unconscionably awful when I arrived before eight, but I think that... I think that earlier than seven and you haven't woken up enough to start hexing. Or maybe I'm getting better at explaining things."
Lucius snapped his fingers to summon an elf, the second best brandy, and two glasses, one of which he filled halfway full and passed to Severus, keeping the other, fuller glass for himself.
"And what do you have to tell me that's so interesting?" Lucius said.
Severus took a long swallow of the brandy, gave a shocked wheeze, his eyes watering. "About the Time-Turner. And Granger. And the way this day keeps getting worse and worse."
Lucius managed to knock back his glass with rather more aplomb. "How many times have you explained this to me?"
"About ten, I think. I'm losing track a little. It took me two iterations before I came to see you for help."
"Help with what?"
"As it turns out, not bloody much," Severus said, wearily pushing his hair back behind his ear. "Though Granger has stopped hexing me. I suppose that's something."
"Begin at the beginning," Lucius said. "And leave nothing out. This all sounds fascinating."
"Only if it's the first time you've heard it," Severus replied. "But I'll give you the bare bones. You will remember that a couple of months ago, I noticed Hermione Granger."
Lucius nodded. "I recall you mentioning something about her, yes. Something of a coup de foudre if that term can apply to a realisation some 30 years after you met some female that you want to form a closer acquaintance."
"Indeed." Severus' tone conveyed a wealth of meaning.
Lucius smirked and raised his glass in a mock salute. "Do continue."
"If you've finished critiquing?"
"We were on good enough terms to use first names, and to swap copies of Alchemist's Monthly. She has a nasty habit of finishing the crosswords before handing them on. She doesn't always appreciate the marginalia on returned copies. Still, a basis for friendly interaction had been established, and it was time to move onto the next stage."
"It didn't go well," Lucius said. "Or you wouldn't be here for the umpteenth visit."
"It did not go well. She laughed. In my face. And she couldn't stop laughing long enough to even have the courtesy to say no." Severus scowled at his brandy, gave the glass another swirl, and took another swallow.
"So? I know you didn't leave it there."
"I did not. I thought about it long and hard, and it came to me. I could ask her what her ideal man would do or say to get her to say yes to dinner – see if she wanted smooth and suave, or honest, or flowers, or chocolates, or... whatever it took to get her to say yes."
"Or, at least, not laugh," Lucius put in.
Severus' scowl darkened. "And then I thought about Zabini. He's always going on about how much he owes me for ...." Severus cast a glance at Lucius, and then added, "Er,... stuff. And it turns out that he's working as an Unspeakable trying to make new Time-Turners."
Lucius nodded encouragingly.
"He wasn't very helpful at first. Kept going on about how I shouldn't use it for anything important, and that nothing good would come of it if I tried to rewrite fate and prophecy. He got very upset about that, but he calmed down when I explained what I wanted it for. To find out what Hermione wanted, go back in time and then see that she got it. It's not rewriting history, just trying to get a dinner date."
"So what went wrong?" Lucius leaned forward in his chair, hands on his knees, looking like a child begging for more of his bedtime story.
"Nothing, not on the first trip. It was easy enough to steer the conversation round to Weasley and what he had done wrong, and then work out whatever she wanted would be the opposite of that."
Lucius' lips twitched, but he retained enough dignity to be able to ask, "That sounds as if it might work. A little creepy, but some women like that sort of thing, think it shows their man is keen."
"She hexed me."
"She turned bright red, slapped my face, and then accused me of using Legilimency on her. She went absolutely McGonagall about it, all righteous indignation and fury, threatening to report me to the Aurors, saying how disappointed in me she was, and the next thing I know I'm being chased out of her office by a flock of killer canaries.
"It was not," Severus said heavily, "my finest hour."
"Indeed." Lucius coughed, then coughed again until he brought his urge to laugh under control. "So what next? You didn't leave it like that with La Granger, did you?"
"I did not." Severus took a deep breath and let it out in an explosive sigh. "I laid in wait for myself, using the Time-Turner to go back to the time before I arranged to meet her in the office."
"Oh Merlin, what did you do?"
"I hexed myself in the back and stuffed myself in a broom cupboard in the Ministry."
Lucius made a suppressed snort. "I hope you left a note for yourself explaining what had happened."
"I did not see the need. According to Zabini, I would cease to exist at the point our timelines crossed, and so there was no me to get the note. Probably. He's a little hazy on the concept. Apparently, it's really difficult to gather experimental data on the problem."
"I can't think why."
"The alternative theory is that the universe splits into two every time you use the Time-Turner. So that's twelve universes by now. And in none of them does Hermione agree to go out for dinner with me."
"You have so much in common though. I can see her stopping in the middle of a personal crisis to wonder precisely what the theoretical underpinnings were to a complex piece of magic."
"She would, wouldn't she?" Severus smiled fondly.
"So what went wrong?"
"I hexed me, and hid me in the cupboard to await whatever happens to someone in a short-circuited timeline. I went to Hermione's office."
"Did she laugh this time?"
"She did not. I took so long to get to the point, that she was called away to a meeting."
"Oh dear. So you tried the whole process again?"
"I thought that it was time to get a second opinion, so I came to see you for the first time."
"And what did I suggest?"
"And she thought I'd been hexed with some dark curse and tried to take me to St Mungo's."
"It was disappointing, overall. But her chosen method of persuasion was to snog me stupid, until I'd have done anything to get my hand under her jumper."
"She must be a talented at distraction."
Severus smirked, and nodded. "It was inconvenient, having to break out of the Janus Thickey Ward, because the buggers just wouldn't accept that I was perfectly fine, thank you, and kept insisting I needed to be kept locked up for my own good."
Lucius blinked. "Er, they won't be turning up here to retrieve you, will they?"
"Obliviation. That, and several other iterations following that debacle mean it never happened, no matter what universe we're in."
"I'm relieved." Lucius took another swallow of brandy, paused, considered, then another. "So what did I advise next? You did come back for another consultation."
Severus nodded. "I did. And when you stopped laughing, you suggested chocolates."
"She assumed it was down to lust potions and tried to pack me off to St Mungo's again."
"No progress, then."
"I wouldn't say that. I persuaded her that lust potions could only emphasise feelings that were already there, and managed to get her jumper off before she decided to be moral and take me to hospital."
"That's...encouraging," Lucius managed to say.
"I thought so." Severus nodded, and swirled the remnants of his brandy in the glass, looking at his host meaningfully. "So did you. You suggested poetry the next time."
Lucius topped up his guest's glass and then his own. "How did that fail?"
"She accused me of being an impostor. Of capturing the real Snape and holding him somewhere for my unspeakable ends, and threatened me with the Aurors if I didn't release me immediately."
"She clearly knows your personality very well."
"I could spend all my time reading poetry for all you know," Severus said, sulking slightly.
"Only to laugh at it. The nearest you've come to poetry is to write rude verses about Black."
Severus grinned. "Well, maybe. But if it's obvious that I'm such a cultural desert, why on earth did you suggest poetry?"
"I know you, Severus. I don't know the girl. Girls like flowers and chocolates and poetry. Apart from La Granger, who likes books."
"That was the next suggestion."
Lucius didn't even bother asking what went wrong, just waited expectantly.
"She burst into tears and said she was fed up of being treated like a know-it-all bookworm. Then you said I should sweep her off her feet, and I walked into her office, swept her into my arms and started kissing her?"
"She hexed you?"
"No, her secretary did. I got the wrong woman."
Lucius took a long, shaky breath. "Lingerie? Did I suggest that?"
"She turned bright pink." Severus shuffled in his seat. "I lost my nerve, and ran for it before she could start hexing, and then you gave me a strong talking to and sent me back to try again. I've no idea what would have happened, because before I could even give her the box I came bursting into the room wand at the ready."
"You tried to hex yourself, in front of Granger?" Lucius put an unsteady hand to mouth, trying not to laugh.
"So I tried again! Only I muffed up the timings because I was so flustered and dashed into the room to find me there already, and my wand sort of went off in my hand."
Lucius finally succumbed to fits of giggles. Every time he managed to bring himself back under control, he looked up at Severus' face and started all over again. "Oh, Merlin, Severus," he said eventually, mopping his eyes. "Right, so we can deduce that lingerie worked the best of the tactics employed so far, as long as you don't start hexing yourself, which is encouraging. Given another fifteen or sixteen attempts, you might get somewhere."
"Bugger that! I want to get it right next time. Zabini sent me a note, pointing out that his department had noted the temporal flux and were beginning to get suspicious, and could I get a bloody move on. I have to hand the Time-Turner back soon, so I've got one more turn, perhaps two, and I have to get it right."
"I think we'll all be grateful when that thing ends up back in safer hands than yours. For the good of the Wizarding World, and my nerves."
Severus mumbled something unflattering under his breath about Lucius' nerves, and the good of the Wizarding World.
"So, let us think what we know. Granger knows you well enough to know when you're acting out of character, likes you enough to share reading materials, but doesn't want you to think of her as anything other than a woman. The lingerie has the most favourable reception. She's also not averse to looking after you, so she cares. What next? What next?" Lucius cast a long, speculative eye over his companion. "I have it!"
"What?" Severus looked up with hope in his eyes, and a slightly manic expression.
"Just remember, you asked for my help. I think the only answer is to cut the Gordian Knot."
Severus opened his mouth to object to whatever was about to be suggested, but was abruptly, wandlessly, Stupefied.
He slumped to the carpet in an untidy heap with a look of surprise on his face.
"You'd never have been caught out like that if you'd been in your right mind," Lucius said to his unconscious friend, searching his pockets for the Time-Turner. "The sooner we get this sorted out the better."
He summoned an elf, ordered Severus to be put to bed in the best Guest bedroom, and despatched two Owls, one returning the Time-Turner to Zabini, and another with a missive for Granger, before returning to his room to dress to receive guests.
Severus returned to consciousness with a sense of relief.
In the first place, being hexed unconscious was something he was used to dealing with, as opposed to romance which carried wholly new and unplumbed depths of horror. In the second place, being naked, he could tell that the Time-Turner was an issue of the past, and not the sort of past that was going to be doubled back to.
He scratched lazily at his bollocks, and wondered quite what had made Lucius snap, and what evil plan he had in mind to punish Severus. So far it included nothing more dastardly than being stripped and put into a soft bed with silk sheets for a bit of a rest, but with a man as devious as Lucius that could be the first step to some hideous torture.
"Oh, you're awake."
Severus shifted his hand to the left and pretended he'd been scratching his hip all along. He pulled the sheet up above his nipples with the other hand. "Er, yes," he said. "What on earth are you doing here?"
"Lucius sent me a message saying you'd been taken ill," Hermione replied. "I was ever so worried."
Hermione nodded and patted the hand clutching the sheet.
He looked at her hand, then back at her slightly flushed face. "I want to be very clear about this," he said. "I am not unwell at all. Lucius hexed me in the back and put me here in a ploy to gain your sympathy. The hex has not affected my mind. I am not Polyjuiced. I have ingested no potions. I am, in short, in full possession of my faculties."
Hermione blinked at him.
"Now. For Merlin's sake, say that you will go out for dinner with me, so I can kiss you."
"Er, yes," she said. "To dinner. And the kissing."
She leaned towards him, ready to be kissed.
"Just one thing," he said.
"If you turn out to be a Polyjuiced Lucius, I will poison all your cognac."
"I'm not Lucius!"
"Did you accept anything to drink from him, anything that could have potions in?"
"He didn't hex you in any way. God, it's not Imperio, is it? I know he hates early mornings, but that's going too far."
"As if I'd cross the threshold of Malfoy Manor without casting protective charms, or let that ponce draw a wand on me." Hermione shifted her hand lower on the covers. "The only thing he said to me was that if someone wanted something they should grasp it with both hands, and not find excuses to miss out."
She grasped what she wanted, making Severus go cross-eyed with pleasure.
And then he took Lucius' advice, and Hermione.