Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 25 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Watching Draco slide a hand down his face and hunch over, Hermione almost thought she'd turned the clock back to their sixth year. He'd been fine when she'd seen him on New Year's Eve—all smiles and snark. What had changed in the past month to make him look like that haunted boy again?

Draco started and stopped a few times before finally forcing out the words. "Did you know how to brew Wolfsbane when you were twenty?"

Oh. Hermione's thoughts raced as fast as her pulse. Remus had been barely older than Scorpius was now when he'd been bitten—a punishment doled out to his father by Greyback. She'd never met Lyall Lupin, but she knew quite well how caustic and disagreeable Draco Malfoy could be.

"I was familiar with the process and the formula," Severus said. "I'm certain I could brew it, but I have no memory of ever doing so." His cheeks coloured slightly. "The ingredients were… somewhat beyond the means of most wizards. And as I'm sure you know, the Dark Lord was fond of encouraging the werewolves allied with him to embrace their condition."

Draco's gaze connected with Hermione's. For the space of that knowing, shivering glance, she was back in Greyback's unforgiving grip, her arms pierced by his long fingernails, his putrid breath on her neck as he told Ron how much he wanted a bite.

"I know," Draco said, staring at the cold flagstone floor. "I tried brewing it on my own. I don't know what I did wrong. I followed the instructions exactly, but the smoke was the wrong colour."

"Why do you need it?" Hermione asked.

Again, Draco took his time in answering. When his reply came, it was in the form of a pushed up shirtsleeve. Jagged, deep teeth marks sliced through the faded evidence of his former allegiance to Voldemort. He was a Healer, so the wound was as well-tended as it could have been, but it was still ugly—infected and dark. The cost of this wordless confession showed itself in the rigid set of his spine.

"Oh, Malfoy," Hermione whispered, not caring whether he rejected her sympathy.

Severus studied the blackish red lines with a dispassionate air. "Potter mentioned he'd been chasing a werewolf who'd gone around biting people."

"Yeah. I treated the idiot last night. The wolf, not Potter. Wolfsbane is provided by the Ministry now, but that arsehole came in on a full moon without taking any, knowing what he was, because he'd broken a finger. Some of my coworkers got him subdued and restrained him to wait for Potter's lackeys to collect him, or it would have been… much worse. I managed to hide that he'd bitten me and worked the rest of my shift."

He'd carried on working with a fresh werewolf bite? The imaginary turned-back clock in Hermione's mind shot forward again, as far as possible from the Hippogriff scratches and death sentences of their third year.

"I love my job," Draco said, pacing to the lake window and back again. "I'm good at it. I'm fucking brilliant at it. They don't have any reason to sack me, but if I sign up for the Ministry's Wolfsbane programme, they'll find a reason. A former Death Eater and a werewolf? No one is going to want me to be their Healer."

"I will," Hermione said softly.

Draco let out a scoffing sort of laugh. "Steady on, Granger. My first day as a wolf, and you already have that gleam in your eyes."

"What gleam?"

"The one that says you want to rescue me and get me a doghouse and some chew toys."

"How about we start with me teaching you how to brew Wolfsbane, and we'll discuss chew toys later?"

Severus could, of course, brew a perfect batch of Wolfsbane on his first try, but helping Draco would give Hermione some time and space to think. More importantly, it would give Severus time and space to finally learn how to say the words I'm sorry to her.

Severus eyebrows shot up. "You can brew it?"

"I can. You taught me how a few years ago."

"Why?" Draco asked, his face going even paler than normal. "Is Lupin's kid—"

"Your cousin is not a werewolf, no. I was just interested in the process and curious to see if I could do it." And, perhaps, the tiniest bit eager to prove to Severus that she was that skilled. "Given who my teacher was, I know the potion's quirks and where the widely available instructions fall short of perfection. You should be able to manage it, Malfoy. If you can't, I'll brew it for you. Come on. We'll use my office."

On the silent walk up from the dungeons, Hermione's thoughts drifted away from Draco's problem and back to her own. A vindictive itch pestered at her to use Legilimency on Severus, to read his buried thoughts the way he'd read her scribbled words. Not that she harboured any delusions that she could shatter his Occlumency shields again. She'd only managed it that one time, when she'd seen his memory of proposing to a woman who loved him. Hermione had never discovered how she'd broken through.

If Severus actually was a Seer, then that proposal could have been… No, she wasn't going to let herself follow that train of thought.

Would Severus have read her journal if he'd been himself, with all of his memories intact? If he'd suspected her of something, then possibly. More likely he would've tried to trick her into confessing something incriminating. Of one thing she was certain: he would not have admitted the invasion of privacy the way the current Severus had. If she told the 50-year-old Severus that she could forgive him for nearly anything, he'd chuckle that deep chuckle of his, maybe imply she was naive, and then change the subject.

It was true, though, what she'd said about the two of them forgiving each other a lot over the years. He'd forgiven her when she'd invaded his privacy. Eventually.

Hermione should have shown him that memory ages ago.

Severus was fucking Granger. Draco was sure of it.

Well, not at that precise moment. Right then, Granger was too busy critiquing Draco's stirring technique for anything of that sort, but in general, yes. Severus and Granger had orbited one another for years, coming close but never quite touching. Draco had never been able to work out who was the planet and who was the sun.

Severus had sent Draco the Pensieve memory of one of his mysterious dreams with a double silver aura—not that Draco had been able to provide any answers. In the dream, Severus had barely been able to return Granger's embrace when she'd all but thrown herself at him. Now, though, Draco would wager it was quite another story. Granger had been a powerful enough Occlumens at age 18 to keep Aunt Bella out (and, honestly, thank Merlin for that), but her body language gave her away where Severus was concerned.

Good for Severus. Draco couldn't see the appeal, but Severus deserved to get what he wanted. So much so that Draco didn't even file the information away to use against either of them.

Astoria would only scold him if he did. Draco didn't need the headache.

He did need something to hold against Granger to keep her quiet, just in case. Nothing involving Severus; there was that whole Life Debt thing. Technically, Draco supposed he was placing himself squarely in Granger's debt as well. Not that she would see it that way. Her bleeding heart leapt at any chance to do a good deed. It was why he'd let his secret pour out in front of her. Being an underdog (ugh, emphasis on the dog in this case) was a surefire way to get Granger on one's side. His reputation would need all the help it could get in the coming months. And with Granger's opinions on discrimination against werewolves, it was almost like Draco was doing her a favour—making her feel useful and giving her a cause to get all riled up and Granger about.

Draco's skin prickled. No, he couldn't tolerate owing her anything. Her thoughts on the matter might change if she one day needed something he didn't want to provide. But what could he give her? A book from the Manor's library? Was that enough to repay her for teaching him how to brew his own sanity? All of the truly valuable items were in the garden shed, but there was nothing in there that was Light enough to appeal to the likes of her, unless she wanted some broken Time Turners to study or a vat of Veritaserum to use on cheating students or a pair of Father's shoes to wear. Father wouldn't part with the latter.

Hmm. McGonagall had surprised the hell out of Draco by asking him to find a place for Severus on the grounds of the Manor when the memories started coming back so intensely that Severus could no longer function. It made sense; the Manor was secluded enough to protect others from any outpouring of magic that happened when Severus's memories finally snapped back into place, and Draco was more than capable of seeing to Severus's care. Draco could take Granger to Severus's bedside. She would want to hold Severus's hand and fret pointlessly and get in Draco's way.

No, Severus would vanish the Life Debt by killing Draco if that route was taken. Placing her in any amount of danger, no matter how small, would be inexcusable in Severus's eyes. Draco would just have to find something else she wanted.

"You know," Draco said, because he couldn't resist, "you could have saved me quite a few Galleons if you'd tapped into that legendary Gryffindor courage a bit sooner."

Granger rolled her eyes. "That isn't the motivation you seem to think it is. OK, see how it's starting to smoke? Keep a close eye on it. The exact second it turns purple, add the Wolfsbane."

Draco obeyed with a sigh. His wolfy secret was going to get out eventually. The best he could hope for was some sort of damage limitation. He dreaded the next time his wife's cousin decided to drop by for a visit—even more than he usually did. Rita had been so much more entertaining when she had just occasionally popped up at school to terrorise Potter and Granger.

"Good," Granger said as the smoke shifted to blue. "Ten more anti-clockwise stirs. Perfect. I think you've earned yourself that chew toy."

Draco snorted. "Fuck off, Granger."

"Tsk. Keep that up and you'll get your nose smacked with a rolled up newspaper."

"I really wish Severus had his memory back."

Granger's expression shifted from teasing amusement to something soft and sad. "Me too."

Tobias would have bought her flowers. Or, more likely, he would have nicked a wilting bouquet of carnations from a garage forecourt. Severus had witnessed it often enough—the downcast looks, the vows of devotion, the promises to never again do what he'd done a hundred times before. It had always been effective. Apology accepted, back to normal.

He wasn't his father.

Rubbing his temples in an attempt to vanish his growing headache, Severus tried to guess what his older self would do. He wouldn't humiliate himself by threatening to sleep outside her quarters until she heard him out, that was for certain. The only emotions he found sinking into the pit of his stomach were the same things he would have felt at age 20: love-struck panic, frustration, and a sickening sort of certainty. Hermione would leave. They would never live out all of those double-framed dreams. Except, of course, the dream of Draco asking for help and the rerun of Hermione's donated memory.

Severus blinked. That wasn't exactly true, was it? Hermione had reenacted one of the dreams after she'd viewed it in the Pensieve, waking Severus up with her wandering hands and breathy voice. Even the citrus scent and the metallic jab in the small of his back had been the same.

He'd dreamed about kissing her beneath mistletoe in the staff room; the kiss that had been the start of them had taken place in that exact location. And Severus had certainly kissed a path down her bare skin—whenever he could, in fact—but he had been particularly thorough about it the first time they'd been together. No shower sex as of yet, but that was the odd one out. And there had been the night he'd read her journal. Not a dream, that time, but a vision she'd insisted hadn't been true. He'd seen himself brushing his lips against Hermione's in her bed at the cottage. He'd proceeded to make exactly that happen.

Was he a Seer? He didn't feel like one. He didn't even know the past, much less the future.

Crossing to the Pensieve, Severus compared and contrasted dreams with reality. The dreams were quick, hazy things with muffled sounds and too much silver. The longest among them was thirty seconds, if that. But in every case, he managed to find a moment from his waking hours that was identical—something he had lived and remembered.

Perhaps they would eventually find themselves in his shower after all.

Severus's stomach swooped as if he'd fallen from his broom. Bathing with Hermione… One of the first memories he'd received had featured his younger self eavesdropping on her in the Prefects' Bath. The more annoying of those Patil women had given it to him. During Hermione's sixth year, Severus had stood frozen next to the statue of Boris the Bewildered, fear forming a lump in his throat as he'd listened to Hermione screeching a song she would sing at Spinner's End over a decade later.

Had he known, even then? That same year, he'd lied to Hermione about his reasons for teaching her Occlumency. Severus still didn't know why he'd truly done it. The only other person who might have been able to shed some light on the subject had been silenced with a hateful jet of green from Severus's own wand.

The portrait version, however, was still available. Severus squirmed.

Upon forcing himself to leave his quarters to seek an audience with said portrait, Severus found his employer kneeling on the ground with her arse in the air. Just when he thought his life could not possibly get any stranger. A Gobstones board had been sketched on the floor in white chalk. Classic Game; Minerva had eight Gobstones remaining to her opponent's nine. Across the circle, George, Ernie, and a handful of Hogwarts professors watched Minerva take aim.

"Severus!" Eileen's portrait shouted. "Close me, please. I can't see."

Dazed, Severus obeyed. A chorus of cheers and groans rose up when Minerva missed her target. The loudest of the groans came from Eileen.

"Evening," George said to Severus with a grin. "Sorry, did we disturb you? I owed your mum a game."

"I should have chosen a different proxy," Eileen grumbled. "Minnie, you need to flick your wrist more. Like this, see?"

The chuckle that shook George's shoulders made his hair shift to reveal the gaping hole where an ear had once been. At the sight of it, Severus toppled backwards into a vision.

The surroundings were almost the same: the dank, faintly lit dungeon corridor outside his quarters, with Sophia's portrait in place of Eileen's. Years somehow both lifted from and piled onto George's face. His laugh lines weren't as pronounced, but his haunted expression belonged on a much older man. Severus hadn't known George was capable of something so far from a smile.

"What is it you want, exactly?" Vision Severus asked.

"I want you to… I don't know." A shake of Vision George's head brought his injury into view. "Teach me how to block it all out and pretend everything isn't fucking horrible. At the rate I'm going, I'll lose my business, too. Looking miserable all the bloody time isn't exactly great for luring customers into a joke shop."

Guilt and Severus were old friends, but the sensation of sympathy welling up and searching for a fissure in his defences was less familiar. Had the vision come to him during his first week without his memories, he might have struggled to identify the feeling.

"Weasley, in all your years of being my student, did I ever look anything other than miserable?"

Vision George exhaled a sour imitation of a laugh. "Fair point."

Clasping his hand behind his back, Vision Severus considered the request. "I have one condition. If, by some miracle, you manage to develop strong shields, you will drop them when you are not working. I'll not have your mother kicking down my door when you fail to deal with your loss in some suitably over-dramatic Gryffindor manner."

As George's face registered surprise, the vision collapsed back into the present.

Bloody typical. Severus himself had given George the key to resisting Veritaserum by teaching him Occlumency.

The real George moved to take his turn at the game. Like Minerva, his form was all wrong. It would be a long time before one of them managed to knock seven of the other's Gobstones out of the circle. Rupert Smith scratched one of his wrists as he moved next to Longbottom to get a better view. Severus resisted the urge to scowl.

"Minerva," Severus said. "Might I use your office? I had a recovered memory of my year as Headmaster; I would like to verify it with the portraits."

It was as good an excuse as any. Armed with Minerva's password and accompanied by Ernie, Severus made his way to his former office.

"Headmaster," Phineas Black's portrait said with a slight bow.

"Not any longer," Severus said. Steeling himself, he looked up into blue eyes that still held that irritating twinkle. "Dumbledore."

Dumbledore beamed. "I was wondering when you would finally come speak to me."

"Do you recall the circumstances that led to me tutoring Hermione Granger in Occlumency?"

"Oh, certainly. It was your idea. You came to my office and said you thought Miss Granger might be able to succeed in teaching young Harry where you could not. I don't believe she did, in the end."

"I see." Severus's younger self had told Hermione that the lessons had been on Dumbledore's orders. "And you never discovered my true reasons?"

"Dear me, Severus." Dumbledore chuckled. "Are you implying that you might have hidden something from me? How shocking. I always believed you to be such an open book."

The portrait was not the person, but still. He was one to talk about withholding information. Could Foe-Glasses work on animated canvas as well as flesh and bone? Knowing it to be an exercise in futility, Severus flipped open the cover on his faux pocketwatch.

Dumbledore's portrait didn't appear among the shadows clouding the Foe-Glass, but someone else did. Rita Skeeter's smirking face was almost as clear as it had been at Malfoy Manor. She was in the castle.

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 25 of 29

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