At the time, instead, he had been distracted by the imminence of Draco's death, by Draco's obvious fear. He had been distracted by the impossible, impossible task Draco was asking of him. He had been distracted by the overly loud cries of the blonde bundle of limbs improbably named Luciana Harlow, whom Draco was telling, "Mum will come, she will, you'll see. She'll come and take care of you."
Severus hadn't given a damn about the child, about its mother, about anything other than the man who had sunk onto his floor. He asked, "What have they done?"
Draco shook his head, didn't look away from the child he was cuddling to his chest. "Some things can't be undone, not even with the most daring and illegal of potions."
"Tell me what they did."
Draco had let curses tumble harmlessly from his lips--some not even in Latin. He had laughed at what Severus knew had to be a look of complete horror taking over his face. "Severus," he said, "Severus, you have to keep her. You have to keep her until her mother comes."
Draco's eyes had flickered with something Snape had believed to be pain. That was when he hadn't known all the facts. When Draco had said, "You'll know her when she comes."
"No," Draco had said, and then there was no doubt as to the expression in his eyes, just pure, undiluted panic. "Don't ask questions, don't talk, don't-- Just promise me."
"Just a promise?"
"We have no witness, or believe me, I would insist on a Vow."
Severus had sniffed, "Luciana Harlow? Honestly, Draco."
Draco nuzzled his nose to her wrinkled, wet one. "She answers to Luc."
"Of course she does. How old is she?"
"Nine months, and I am not distracted." Draco might not have been, but Severus still was. It had been four years since he'd seen Draco, with good reason. It had been four years since he'd seen Draco, and he hadn't expected to see him again--had hoped not to see him again, not if it meant this. It had been four years, and he had no idea how Draco had found him. The Unplottable spells placed on his house were the least of his security measures. "You can't imagine she will be safe with me."
"She is not safe anywhere," Draco said. His voice trembled.
"There must be better options--"
"If I had any more time, any more, I would sit here and argue this with you. But I haven't. Promise me you will guard my child as best you can and accept that I judge it to be enough."
Severus thought about demeaning Draco's abilities as a father. Only, the infant was clinging to him with a force that should not have been possible in one so small and Severus could hear Draco breathing, loud and painful and too slow. It was not one of the last things he wanted to say to him. Instead he said, "I promise. I shall care for her."
"You should-- You should take her." At this, Draco's voice broke, the pain overcoming him for the first time since he had stumbled in the door. Severus knew the physical agony was probably a relief from the emotional. He had experienced moments like that.
"Not just yet," Severus had said, and waited, waited to take her for probably a long time past when it would have been best.
Draco had lied, though. Severus did not know Luciana's mother when she showed up.
He had begun to think she wouldn't. He had begun to think that whomever she was, she had been caught by the same spell as Draco, or something worse, or had simply decided she was better off without a child. Luciana wasn't much trouble, but she was an infant, and--by definition--high maintenance.
She had Draco's eyes and Draco's hair color and every time Severus thought about breaking his promise, handing her over to some perfectly respectable Muggle orphanage where she would be decently hidden if only partially cared for, he saw those things.
Her face, which was not Draco's face, was also familiar, but in a vague way. He had not managed to pull anything that matched from his mind.
Certainly it wasn't the drab girl who broke past every one of his wards to knock at his door. She was so non-descript that for a moment, Severus wondered if a Muggle had somehow managed to slip past those wards, to find his Unplottable plot. Then she said, "If I knew my husband at all, you have my daughter."
To his surprise, Severus was unwilling to simply let information of Luciana's whereabouts slip to this witch who, if nothing else, knew her Arithmancy and Charms. Probably a good bit of the defensive magics as well. "Why would this husband of yours have brought her here?"
For a second a glamour so tight that Severus hadn't even felt the cracks in it, let alone seen them, shifted, and standing before him was a harder, infinitely more familiar woman. The change in her appearance made him hesitate for a moment before confirming in his mind that it was, indeed, Hermione Granger. Then--so quickly that Severus was forced to acknowledge her power, if only for a moment--it slid back into place.
"I don't believe Draco Malfoy had a child with you, let alone married you," he told the utterly plain girl standing before him.
"Neither did he, I think, for most of it."
Severus scowled. "You are supposed to be dead."
"My husband is," she said softly, but not without considerable edge. "Will that do?"
Severus stood back, let her in. Without knowing why, he pretended not to see her quick release of breath, the ever-so-slight closing of her eyes in relief. She recovered soon enough, not even so much as acknowledging the slow ceasing of her shuddering. It was cold out, nigh onto freezing, and she wasn't wearing much. He doubted that between silently breaking his wards and maintaining a complex glamour she had any energy for a Warming Charm.
"If you haven't an immediate idea of what I can do to repay the debt, I'll take my child and expect to hear from you at some point when I can least afford to be distracted."
"I didn't take his name."
Severus shouldn't have been surprised. He was. "Did the child?"
"Luciana took other names."
It wasn't an answer, but Severus got the feeling she was telling him more than he knew, if only he could understand. "She responds to Luc."
He would have recognized her then, he thought, from the bent of her smile, the sardonic glint in her eyes. Or maybe he was just seeing Draco in her. It was hard to tell. "Only for Draco."
"He neglected to say."
"He brought her to you, I fear he might have been hopeful." There was fondness in her voice, amusement. Loss.
"Yes, interesting that a man dying a slow, curse-ridden death had to be the one to deliver his child to me."
She did not rise to the bait, not in the way he had hoped. "Tell me you quickened it. That he had someone who cared, then. At the end."
There had been no way to quicken it, not without causing more pain, even if it was for a shorter time. But Severus had cared, as much as he had ever cared about anyone outside himself, so he nodded.
"Right. One more thing to owe you, I suppose. Did you have something in mind?"
"You are an outlaw. A nominally dead one. What could you possibly have to offer me?"
"You were always creative."
Severus ignored the blend of insult and reluctant admiration. "Where will you take her?"
"I said I owed you. I did not say my daughter does."
Severus lifted an eyebrow. Granger did not so much as twitch. He said, "It is cold out there."
"I wouldn't have come for her if I couldn't care for her."
"You would have left her with me?"
"Draco did," she said, simply, almost without thought. Almost.
Which brought up another question. "How did you know? Was this foreplanned?"
"Because he trusted you."
"I was his enemy."
"My daughter is still here, safe."
"Fuck you." She swore without passion, and it was all the more believable for it.
"If I said that my price was you telling me where you are taking her?"
Granger drew in a slow breath. "I would remind you that, as I said a moment ago, it is I who owe you."
"Is that not somewhat disingenuous? Would she be alive now were it not for me?"
"Hard to say. There are others. Others that I, to be honest, would have preferred."
Severus looked at her.
She said, "Perhaps she does owe you. But until she is old enough to pay that debt herself, it is my debt you shall have to settle for. And I will not place her in the middle of you and me. If anything that is where I shall always stand, so long as I am able."
They were supposed to be on opposite sides of a conflict, a war, something that Severus wasn't even sure how to name anymore. They were supposed to be Slytherin and Gryffindor, wholly opposed to each other. They were not supposed to be standing in his hallway, staring calmly at one another. He said, "I am asking because it is cold out there."
"Has she come to care for you?"
"I am hardly--"
"Has she?" her tone was firm, insistent. Afraid. For the first time since she had shown up at his door, she let some of her fear slip.
"It has been nearly four months. And she is young."
"Why can you not simply say 'yes'?"
"I have not Legilimized your daughter, so my surety--"
"I will return."
"Yes, because that's considerably less risky than the temperature beyond these walls."
"There will always be dangers."
"And Gryffindors will always seek them out."
"I won't have anymore of the people she cares about taken from her. Not if I can help it."
"Then assume that returning here is counterproductive to that end."
"Yes," he said.
"Is it?" she asked him again.
"You are an utter, utter fool."
"And you have spent a third of a year keeping your enemy's child safe."
"If you return, I will have come up with a way for you to pay back the debt," he threatened.
"Careful," she said, "I still expect people to come through on their promises."
Potter had killed the Dark Lord, for all the good it had done him. For all the good it had done anyone. He was weakened in the aftermath of the achievement, and Bellatrix had reached him and taken her revenge. Granger and Weasley had in turn taken their revenge.
But Bellatrix was only one Death Eater, and a less respectable one, as it so happened. Most were of the sort that no Minister particularly wanted to oppose. Without a Dark Lord to rally against, the Wizarding World fell into an uneasy, silent battle ground with three sides. The survivors of the Dark Lord, the survivors of Potter, and everyone caught in between and around either side.
The Death Eaters weren't openly supported by the Ministry, but they weren't persecuted by it, either. Potter's acolytes were all but hunted as vigilantes.
Granger showed up again on the day Neville Longbottom killed the Carrows. The day Longbottom was killed by Jugson. She showed up with a different glamour--no less subtle--that slipped the moment she was inside. She showed up holding Luciana to her chest. She said, "Tell me my spells worked, and you are the singular occupant of this house."
"Is the blood yours?"
Granger looked down at where blood was seeping into her daughter's hair. "Has to be. Has to-- She wasn't there. I wouldn't--"
He took Luciana, prying Granger's hands open, but declining to use magic. She had silver rings on six of her fingers. He said, "You were on point?"
Greyback practically bred wolves for the purpose of protecting the Death Eaters. Severus made them potions to allow them to transform as they wished, regardless of the phase of the mooncycle.
She smiled with her mouth, her eyes were too tired to join. "I'm good at it."
"If I were to look, would I find teeth grooves in any of those wounds?"
"I said I'm good at it."
"Why would you come here? Why today?"
"I was in the neighborhood."
The Carrow killings had happened in Bulgaria. "If you expect me to watch over your child in order to allow you some recovery time--"
"I thought you might want to see her. I haven't been able to make it back before now. It's just bad timing, all right? And all I need is a sink. Unless that is too much to ask." She sounded as though she expected him to agree that it was.
He looked at her for a long moment. She was pale from loss of blood. "You need more than that."
"I've managed to keep myself and Luciana alive thus far." She didn't make it sound like a challenge, merely a fact.
She appeared not to have eaten in quite some time, and her clothing was not really suitable to the weather outside. Luciana, in contrast, was well-bundled and decently chubby. "Indeed."
"Do you truly plan to wash yourself clean and go?"
"I know my share of flesh-knitting spells as well."
"Snape," she said, her consonants sharp, even the sibilant ones.
"You could stay."
"Oh yes, that's a plan."
"Long enough to shower and sleep and eat," he amended. At her silence he added, "They won't look here. Not even if they knew of your daughter, of who fathered her, not even then would they."
She considered. "I suppose I can't really owe you more than I do."
"I have some Blood Replenishers on hand."
"That would be appreciated." She kept her gaze on him, eyes hard.
"Would you like her back?"
"Not up to cleaning her up?"
"I had her for four months."
"Then why are you offering?"
"Because you look like you need something to hold onto," he said, in the cruelest tone he could manage.
"Yes, well, unlike some, I do not lean on those weaker than I."
"That was less than clever."
"I'm bleeding quite copiously."
"Up the stairs, third door to the left."
He watched to make sure she made it up the stairs. She never once so much as stumbled.
She slept long past when Severus woke the next morning. She practically flew head first down the stairs when she finally did wake and for the first time in all of this, he saw fear in her eyes. "We have to go," she said.
Luciana was asleep, burrowed against his neck. "Something I should know about?"
She managed a look of disdain but actually began to answer. "There will be--"
"Don't tell me."
"--people expecting me." She held her arms out.
"Will one of these people be Weasley?"
She didn't say anything, just stood, waiting for him to hand her daughter back. He nodded toward the sideboard in the room. "If he is not, I imagine you know where to find him."
Her eyes strayed to the bottle he was indicating. She said, "It's not that-- Clearly you have some affection for my daughter. And Draco approached you first, so there weren't preconceived notions and I trust you with her, certainly. But I'm not just giving any potion you hand over to one of the few people I have left."
"It can't be easy for you to procure Wolfsbane, let alone self-brew."
She looked sharply at him. "What, you talk about these things among yourselves? Who turned whom? Who raped whom? Who murdered whom?"
"Greyback likes to brag. And Weasley is quite the prize, you might imagine."
She snarled and turned away from him, the shape of her shoulders indicating a visible struggle for calm. When she turned back she said, "I recognize that you had some fondness for Draco. That fondness is perhaps why he was kept safe for so long. And I appreciate that in lieu of that, you do your best to protect my daughter. Believe me when I say that I have no intention of taking your actions in regards to her for granted.
"But this is one line you cannot stand on either side of. Do not delude yourself into believing that I am unaware of what you do for them, what you provide to their forces. Even if it is simply enough to keep yourself safe, it is also simply enough to consistently diminish our forces.
"You have not been one of our targets due to Draco's insistence and the fondness I bore for him, Ron's later willingness to grant him favours. Since Draco's death the trend has continued partly out of respect and partly out of my unwillingness for Luciana to lose more people who might be able to recall her father.
"That does not make you our ally."
Severus said, "By your own admission, however, not precisely an enemy."
She spread her palms as if to say, well, here we are, aren't we?
"Weasley's willingness to grant Draco favours."
"Was it from friendship?"
"Something that resembled it."
"And before that? Why was Draco never sent back to us? Never left for dead, hanging from this line which you inform me I cannot straddle?"
"Why am I here?" she asked.
"According to my sources, because you were in the neighborhood."
"Why am I here?"
He knew what she was looking to have him say. Gryffindors paid their debts. He supposed a few of them did. Not all. He wouldn't have thought Weasley to be one of them, but perhaps Granger meant enough to him to forgive Draco's sins, or perhaps--for once in his life--Draco had found the humility to ask for help at the right moment, and Weasley's code of honor had dictated that he grant it. Severus couldn't say. He didn't know the other man well enough.
He knew he hadn't enjoyed listening to Greyback gloating. He hadn't thought much about the emotion at the time. Last night, with Granger asleep in a bed, one hand curled protectively over her wand, the other touching her daughter, he'd thought about it.
He still had no conclusions. But he had a bottle of perfectly good Wolfsbane brewed that would go to waste were she not to take it. The ones who followed Greyback never desired anything other than the stimulant, the potion allowing them to take the form as often as they wished.
He wondered if she would take it were he to answer her. He wondered if he was willing to give her anything more than the potion.
Luciana smacked her lips against the skin of his neck. Granger's arms were beginning to tremble, still waiting to be filled. He said, softly, "If Weasley protected Draco because of you, because Gryffindors protect those whom they owe, if that is the case, why did you speak for him in the first place?"
"He saved my life," she said.
"He raped you," Severus said. He didn't make it an accusation. Greyback, though, liked to brag. And he'd been there that night, the night that idiot of a Malfoy child escaped with the Granger chit after just barely proving his loyalty, after providing a show for all those there to watch. "He tortured you."
"And then he took me away, to safety and would have left again only I--"
"Thought that was poor repayment." She looked away from him. "Ron would have killed him that night, you realize? Either with his hands or by leaving him behind for your set to find and I was near out of my mind with pain but he was bloody holding me up despite my need to have his hands off me, anywhere but on me. I would have fallen otherwise, you realize? I would have and not that Ron would not have caught me, but it's that Draco wouldn't let me, so I told Ron that it was all right and not much else."
"And Weasley simply--"
"I think he suspected. I was useless and Draco was there and Ron isn't stupid. And he whinged and gave Draco the rather menial tasks and set him to guard duty a bit too often."
Severus said, "Luciana's too young to have been the product of that evening's events."
"No, that was later, when I was tired enough that Draco's concern for me seemed like love, or at least, as good as. She was born legitimate."
"And what did Weasley have to say to that?"
"Ron never said much after Draco managed to find us the resources to save Bill and Fleur's life. I told you, between them, later, there was understanding. Maybe more. Ron witnessed for our marriage."
He could have told her that Draco's love had been more love than concern. He could have told her about the way Draco had talked about his wife even as he descended into incoherence. He handed Luciana back to Hermione. "Take Weasley the potion. Reasons aside, he provided Draco shelter."
"I'll return," she said.
"I do not promise to brew it again."
"Does the line not get harder to cross?"
"It should," she said. "Shouldn't it? But then, so should your wards."
"Where did your wards disappear to?" Granger asked when she slipped into his sitting room nearly five months later, Luciana strapped to her back. "And what in the seven bloody hells happened to you?"
"She's getting too big to be carried around like that." Severus said, and rose to separate mother and child.
Granger took a step back. "She walks when we're not in enemy territory. What happened?"
"I brewed a potion incorrectly."
"You keyed me into your wards and this is what you choose to lie about?"
"Yes," he said.
"Surely there's some way to heal those." Her gaze followed the scores that could be seen on his hands, over his jaw, down to where his clothing covered the worst of it. She unstrapped Luciana and set her carefully down. "In fact, in conjunction with some sort of snake fangs and peppermint brew, a stitching spell or two ought to at least drastically reduce the damage."
"Weasley enjoys getting wild on occasion, does he?"
She rolled her eyes. "You're in a right nasty mood. Would you prefer I brew? You can keep an eye on her."
"While the offer to let your offspring blubber at me and cover me in bile is overwhelmingly generous, if you so much as imagine that I would allow you free reign of my personal lab--"
"Snape!" Luciana said.
"That is professor to you," he told her sternly.
She grinned widely at the attention and repeated, "Snape! Snape!"
"She takes after Ron," Granger said dryly. "Come, if you prefer to brew that's fine, I just thought you might be a bit sore."
"Even were I feeling in the mood to, your assumption that I would trust your healing capabilities--"
"Snape!" Luciana said.
"That will be quite enough, young lady!" Severus told her, rather harshly, as was his basic wont. She blinked at him in confusion and there was a slightly wounded air to her sudden retreat into her mother's leg. He managed to resist running a hand over his face but only through years of practice and the sure knowledge that movement hurt.
"Come," Granger said softly. She started toward the door, Luciana closely following her every step.
"I don't care what you did or you didn't do."
"I killed three people yesterday."
Severus hadn't known it was her, but he had suspected. There was a cleverness to her plots, and a sharpness to her execution that he had come to recognize. "Well done."
"Please," she said, in the same way she had said 'come', "I don't--" Her shoulders dropped, "Let me heal you."
"And if the punishment was, by your measures, deserved?"
"Then more the fool I."
"As ever," he said, low and as bitterly as could be managed.
She bowed her head. "Perhaps, but unless you've repeatedly lured me here for the end purpose of a slow afternoon of rape and torture shared with others, it was you who willingly keyed me into the wards."
"Do you always suggest such things in front of your daughter?"
"Healing is not my finest strength, but in a camp where we often must make do, I am regularly the person others come to for help. You must know how Luna looked when Draco and the others were finally able to steal her back. In a world full of curses and hexes, it's rarely words that are my daughter's enemies."
"Miss Lovegood survived, then?"
"If I said yes, would you let me heal you?"
"I don't know, your Occlumency has reached passable standards." Her Occlumency was in fact most likely better than his.
"That is one of my strengths," she said.
Before Severus could think to throw up appropriate barriers his mind was flooded by images he had never wanted to see in the first place, moving collages of a show he'd already viewed to his distaste. It moved further along though, and Luna Lovegood's broken bones healed, her skin responded to the treatments to piece it back together, her eyes calmed to no more insane than before the week she had been captured.
"Satisfied?" Granger asked. The question sounded raw, as if she had been screaming. She had never made a sound.
"An accomplished Occlumens can lie as well with her mind as she can with her mouth." Severus knew he didn't sound as convinced as he should have.
"Then you shall have to take my kindness on faith."
"And if I can't?"
She shook her head. "It hasn't gone that far yet, it can't have."
Things beyond them, things for him were well beyond that far, but for some reason there seemed no point to telling her that. There seemed no point to disallowing her the chance to brew a potion she probably brewed with fair regularity and assisting him with a healing process that took more than one wand. That there seemed no point may have been the very point, but for all that Severus asked, "Have you begun teaching her anything yet, or like all parents left her education as a second thought?"
"She's not even a year and a half old," Granger said.
"As I thought," he said.
"Come," she said again, "you can be the one to get her started."
By morning Severus was aware that there wouldn't be scarring, not much of it anyhow. He wasn't terribly surprised, he had felt the swirl of her magic as she had been performing the healing. He had felt stronger, but only in a few rare wizards. Only in the wizards that would later be read about in history books, for better or worse.
He had no interest in being grateful.
She had stayed the night, mostly because by the time she was done with both the brewing and the healing, it had clearly been all she could manage to keep her eyes open. When he went downstairs the next morning to brew some coffee and possibly scramble an egg or two he found Luciana there, still in the pyjamas Granger had transfigured for her, giggling at the photo of Draco, Gregory and Vincent.
"Where is your mother?" he asked her.
She pointed at the photograph. "Daddy."
Severus wondered if she actually remembered him, or if Weasley and Granger had taught her to recognize his likeness. "Yes, that was your father. Where is your other parent?"
She frowned at his evident lack of enthusiasm and went back to the picture. Severus sighed and moved past her, into the kitchen. A few lazy flicks of his wand later, the scent of coffee was slowly filling the area. He rummaged in the ice box for the eggs.
He took out two, then four, then five. While Luciana never looked less than plump--an odd look on any child of Draco's--Granger rarely appeared to have anything more than seven or so stone accompanying her bare frame of bones and surprisingly toned muscles.
Granger slid into the kitchen just as he was sliding the cheese into the eggs. She said, "Good morning. How are you feeling?"
"Have you fixed any part of my house your offspring may have destroyed whilst roaming unsupervised?"
"Better, then." She opened a cabinet and took out two cups. "I assume you would like some coffee?"
"How you could have come to that startling deduction will forever be outside my grasp."
"You realize Luciana's quite well trained? It's not really the safest life I lead, and I could leave her with my parents but I worry that she'd be found, them and her, and there's the fact that she's my daughter and I'm rather attached, so I choose selfishness over finding somewhere better for her. But she knows how to be quiet and careful. I wouldn't leave her to her own devices otherwise. I don't unless I can feel the wards around us, or I know someone else is there."
"You haven't the slightest idea who might be included in those wards."
"Well, I am, so I have some clue. Rather inconvenient, wouldn't it be, to have me walk in at an inopportune moment? Wards are mutable, and yours are more well-constructed than most." She handed him a cup of coffee.
"Does she remember Draco?"
"I think so. She asks for 'Daddy' sometimes, and she isn't asking for Ron. I tell her things about him so she'll know."
"What do you tell her?"
Granger shrugged. "That he liked to levitate her and call her his little snitch, that he liked the color green, but preferred bright green to dark green, that he had a funny chin. That he saved my life."
"He liked peacocks," Severus said. He couldn't remember planning to say it, was quite certain that the moment before he had been about to summon a plate--which he then did. "He wanted one as a familiar when he was a child, before he realized that they weren't magical. He fought against that fact quite ferociously, insistent that anything with that much color must be."
Granger laughed. "That explains. . . He once called me 'bird' and I became all offended, what with Muggle feminist politics at play regarding that word and he tried to explain about colors and prettiness and I let him have his way because he could be so bloody earnest when he was trying to tell me he loved me."
"Those being the memories I don't share with Luciana," she said, and swiped the two plates with smaller portions of egg from off the counter.
He'd meant for her to have the largest. He wasn't going to say that.
"Luciana Harlow," she called. Luciana came crawling in. Granger said, "Breakfast," set down the plate, transfigured a chair so that it was considerably closer to the table and offered better support. Then she swung Luciana up--evidently without effort--into the chair. "What do you say to the professor for making the food?"
"Thank you mister per-fessor."
Granger kissed the top of her daughter's head. "I suppose elocution can come later. Eat up, baby girl."
She sat down next to her daughter, flashed Severus a smile and said, "Thanks," before beginning to eat.
Severus wondered what it would feel like, his lips against the soft, fine strands of Luciana's hair. He hadn't dared take such liberties in any of the time she had been with him. He had held her to his chest and even whispered one or two firm, "shush"-like sounds into her ear, but never had he transgressed so far.
Even more criminally, he wondered what it would feel like to pull Granger from Luciana's side--not for long, certainly, not at all forever--and press his lips to hers, drag his fingers along the curve of her spine, have his way. Have her smile and laugh about it later, even if the smiling hurt just a bit.
Severus took a bite of his eggs, hating himself for the fact that they tasted better when eaten at a table with other people. He had always done just fine--better, even--when left to his own devices.
It was infuriating knowing that change was inevitable; knowing that inevitability was one of the many things he didn't have the strength left to fight.
Granger came around again less than two months later. She set Luciana on the ground, dug into her robes, and extracted a considerable number of sickles and a few galleons. "I know what the going rate for Wolfsbane is, and I know this doesn't meet it, but I could help, with the brewing. To cut down on time and effort involved."
She was even skinnier than usual. He stared at the money. "How many doses were you hoping to purchase with this scant offering?"
She blinked. "Just the one."
"The others do not get uppity at granting Weasley such privileges?"
"You once knew the leadership style of a man you were willing to grant such as well," she said. "I showed Luciana his portrait last time."
Luciana was gazing up between them, clearly unsure of how to behave. Granger knelt, "Want to go look at the pictures of Daddy?"
Luciana shook her head slowly. Granger ruffled her hair, "That's all right, you can stay with Mum." Without even looking in Severus' direction, she said, "I'll keep an eye on her, she won't touch anything she shouldn't."
Luciana did look up at him. "Good girl," she said, quite solemnly.
"Clearly your mother has filled you with tripe," he told her.
The confused look on her face was satisfaction enough. Severus very concertedly did not think about how anything more would have been too much, how he might have had to retract his statement. He turned to Granger and injected as much disdain as he could into the words, "Keep your money."
She paled. "If there is some other payment I can offer--"
"I didn't mean I wouldn't make the potion."
"Oh." She looked down at herself, robes clean but near worn through, fingers sharp in their reduced state. "I'd really prefer you took the money. There is already the life debt to consider and I somewhat enjoy what is left of my pride, so--"
"Why ask me, then?"
"Because short of Browning and D'eauville you're the best and neither of them is likely to be willing to help me out for the low cost of seeing Draco Malfoy's heir and humiliating me."
"And you couldn't possibly settle for anything less than the utter premiere."
"It's Wolfsbane, Snape, not Pepper-up."
"Wolf," Luciana said. "Uncle Wolf."
Severus smiled nastily, "I'd wager he loves that."
"He always had a better sense of humor about things than you did."
"Oh, I don't know, I imagine I found his incompetence in my classroom funnier than he did."
"If you aren't going to help me, do you suppose you could say, so I have time to figure out another solution to the problem?"
"What did you do before I offered?"
"Something we haven't the ability to do this time."
"What are you doing with the others?"
"Something we hope will work." Her voice was flat.
"How many are there?"
She didn't answer.
"I cannot help you without information."
"And I cannot chance you giving that information to anyone. You know I need one dose. That really does far exceed what I consider to be enough knowledge on your part."
Severus then did one of the lowest things he could ever remember doing, in a long lifetime of despicable acts. He knelt and swept Luciana from the ground and said, "How many wolves?"
"This many," she said, holding up six fingers and grinning at her accomplishment.
"Get your hands off my child," Granger said calmly. "Come, Luciana, we're leaving."
Luciana's grin crumbled, even as she leaned toward Granger's outstretched arms. Severus did not let go. Granger looked up at him. "I asked you quite politely to let go."
"You have the manners of a howling barbarian."
"Do not make me take her from you."
"That you think you could--" Severus broke off with a gasp as her hand connected with his arm, silent, clearly wandless magic bringing his body temperature down to near-freezing in seconds. Easily she took Luciana from his numbed arms.
"Thank you," she said.
"Granger," he spluttered, his already-warming vocal chords not as cooperative as he would have had them be.
"Occlumency is not the only thing I'm good at," she said, still walking toward the door.
"I know. What is the use in not allowing me to make the potion?"
She whipped around, hissing, "She is my daughter and I have done everything, everything to keep her safe of this, to keep her free, and you haven't any right to steal that, not even the right over my life. Do you understand?"
"Did you when you asked?"
He thought about lying. Luciana was just out of his reach; Granger was too, for that matter. "Yes."
"Keep your potion," she said, "we'll make do."
"You have so much left to you that you can afford to risk them over your pride?"
Despite the subtleness of the movement, he saw the moment her shoulders drooped. "No, but the pleasure of proving you wrong about me does beckon."
"For once, to be proven right would be something novel," he said softly, as he could not say, "you are better than that," or, "I'm sorry."
She nodded sharply and hugged Luciana more tightly to her side. "Do not ever do that again."
"The price of your trust?"
"Six phenomenally large pieces of it."
Severus turned and started toward his lab. She would follow. She and Luciana both.
She didn't show for the next month's dose, or the month after that. When she did come, England was heading back into winter, six "former" Death Eaters had gone missing the week before, and she did not have Luciana.
Severus asked, "Where is she?"
Granger stood in his hallway, breathing unevenly. "Safe. I left-- Ron has her."
"Yes, of course they are." One of them had been Samantha Avery. Severus had lost his virginity to her. He thought he could say that to Granger, watch her cringe under his moral judgment, even as she knew the hypocrisy of it. He didn't.
"Five of them."
"Carlisle slipped away. I haven't been able to locate him. I was afraid to lead him back, in case I was missing the obvious and he could see me--"
"So you led him here?"
"I threw a disillusionment over myself and walked around throwing off confunders for two days. Then I came here."
"Why?" Severus waved a hand as she opened her mouth. "They'll have moved on by now. You've no way to find them."
"It won't be easy," she amended.
"And when you said you walked around for two days, you meant you literally haven't stopped moving in almost forty-eight hours."
"It's a bit chilled out there. I wasn't dressed for it."
The wind was near to icy and she was in the same robes she was always in, ones that couldn't have been helped by the best warming charm in the world, not even had she been able to focus the full extent of her magic on it. He could tell she was doing so now, could feel the heat radiating from her. She was still pale, her lips chapped. "Tea?" he asked.
"Have anything to put in it?" she asked.
She nodded. "That will do nicely."
"You will shower before coming any further into my abode. You reek." Of fear and exhaustion, among other things.
"How you expect me to shower without moving from this spot is a bit of a mystery to me, which is beside the point, as other than Cleaning spells, there's nothing to be done with my robes, and they're at least a good half the problem."
"Leave them outside the door."
"Oh for-- I'll leave you one of my own. You can transfigure it to fit."
"I didn't come here for--"
"You came here because it was the only place you could think of to come that didn't mean certain death. Possible, but not absolute."
"I think there might have been other reasons," she said. At least, he was fairly certain that was what she said. She was yawning as she spoke.
"If you fall asleep in the shower, I will let you drown," he said without malice.
"Mm." She nodded. "As well you should."
"And if you take too long, I will drink your tea."
"Get out of my hallway."
"Yes, professor," she said, her look of complete and total innocence ruined only by the huge yawn. She nodded a little as she brushed past him, her robes ruffling slightly over his left hand.
It took more willpower than it should have not to reach out and grab the offending garment, clasp his fist around it and hold her to where she stood.
When she stumbled back into the kitchen, Severus noted the imperfect nature of his transfigured robes--more of a clue into her advanced state of exhaustion than any yawn. He poured the tea into a cup with brandy already waiting in the bottom, stirred it once and pushed it toward her.
She took a considerably sized sip, gasped and said, "Oh, smooth."
Severus narrowed his eyes at her. "Where did you learn to drink?"
"Somewhere. Maybe where they are. Does it matter?" She downed more of her tea.
"Suddenly, your secrets are no longer important?"
"Trust me, my secrets are perfectly safe."
"I have more brandy."
"Not enough. Don't you have those things? Those things that you would protect well beyond death?"
He looked at her.
"Oh don't. You're a grown man. Somewhere along the way there has been something, a mother, a father, a good friend, a lover, someone that you have done this for."
"Learned to hold my liquor?"
"Yes," she said, and did not smile.
"There is still the matter of the things you owe me."
"And the things you most want to know have to do with a band of ex-students roaming the countryside? Truly?"
Disgustingly, she had a point. Sort of. "Why the name? Luciana?" It was a bad move on his part, to move straight toward the thing he most wanted to know, the centerpiece of his curiosity.
She rewarded his lack of finesse. "Because Draco looked so bloody hopeful when he asked. And he wasn't often. Hopeful."
He wanted to sneer at her for giving the information up so easily, only he had actually wanted the answer and she had done precisely as she had said she would. Instead, he pressed his luck. "Did you love him?"
"Yes," she said easily, too easily.
Severus realized what he had done wrong. It took more effort than it should have to reframe the question. "Were you in love with him?"
She knocked her chin up a notch and said softly, "It wasn't as if I didn't want to be." She took the rest of her tea in one smooth gulp and pushed the cup out for more.
Severus obliged. "Why marry him? I can't imagine your set storing much by traditional propriety."
She looked away. "The thing is, though I sometimes pretend not to have realized it, he was in love with me."
Severus had already known that. Draco had lived long enough for him to more than understand that. Love was, perhaps, not a strong enough word for how Draco had felt about her. "You enjoyed his worship?"
"Don't make it dirty," she said, and managed to sound slightly angered through the blurred edges of her exhaustion. "He was in love with me, and I am not the kind of girl who believes in grand passion and happy endings. It was a good compromise. It was a great compromise."
"What kind of girl would that be?"
"I've known a few," she said.
Severus smirked. "Any successful in their seekings?"
"I imagine those sorts of myths exist for a reason." She shrugged. "You have one more question."
Severus raised an eyebrow.
"I can't stay awake any longer," she admitted.
"Why did you come here?"
"Because you haven't turned me away or given me up yet."
"And because it seemed like it would be warm here."
She nodded. "Warm."
Granger woke up, looked thoughtfully at the fire in the grate and asked, "You realized I was speaking metaphorically, yes?"
"What is a metaphor?" Severus drawled.
"Just making sure." She closed her eyes again, and let silence settle over the room. "You must realize, the man I married--"
"It was a boy who raped me. It was a man who took responsibility for that and helped me get away and saw me to safety."
Severus granted her the point with a tilting of his head. She couldn't see; her eyes were still closed. She brought a hand up to rub at the back of her neck. "My point was, Draco was rather emotionally accessible, and while I haven't any real problems at reading into things, I became a bit used to him. I don't always pay attention where maybe I ought."
"I haven't the slightest idea of what it is you are trying to tell me."
Her eyes slid open. "Only, I think you do. You’re as good at determining what isn't said as I am, if not better."
"I am not the one leaving things unsaid."
"No, you're not the one showing up at people's doorsteps at random hours with no hint of forewarning. That does not exempt you from the unending scrolls of words you haven't said to me."
"And you imagine these words to be?"
"There have been fewer and fewer wolves guarding you and yours."
The change of subject was so abrupt that Severus actually had to take time connecting the two sentiments. "I am not drunk, Miss Granger."
She smiled knowingly. "Did I not say you had those things which you would protect?"
Severus was not sure one's self counted. He stayed silent.
"Should I tell you I am sorry?"
"That they are dead, no. That you may have lost friends, people you cared for? Yes."
"I didn't say my apology would mean anything."
It did. Severus couldn't say how, but somehow, despite the fact that she would gladly go about persecuting the people with whom he was supposedly in league, they weren't just words and they both knew it. It shouldn't have meant anything that she regretted her actions--at least in his specific instance--but somehow, it mattered. He pushed the knowledge aside. "How will you find them?"
"Clever," he sneered.
She sat up, stretching slowly. "Yes, I am. Terribly so. As such, I have no question I shall find them. In order to do so, however, I should be on my way."
She was right, unquestionably, but if his calculations were correct, she hadn't eaten in nearly four days by this point, given the seventeen hours she had slept. "You should--"
She raised an eyebrow at the clearly cut off sentence. "I should what, exactly?"
"Have a cup of coffee. And lunch."
She stared at him for a moment. If she were to say anything, anything at all, he knew he would retract the offer. It was too much said. She was right about that aspect of him.
He rose. "I shall go and see what is available."
He heard her say, "Thank you," and did not respond, because it sounded as though she was thanking him for more than the meal, and he was not entirely certain there was anything to say to that.
Severus heated the stew he'd made a couple of nights earlier and doled out portions for both of them. She rummaged through his drawers until she found the spoons and handed one to him. His fingers brushed hers as he took it. Hers were rougher than his, her knuckles pressed more sharply up against her skin. It shouldn't have been enticing.
It was all he could do not to toss the bloody spoon aside.
She sat down and took a small bite. "Ow, hot."
Against all logic, common sense and decency, those two words represented the absolute boundary of Severus' restraint and he pulled her up from the chair, bringing her mouth to his. Her lips tasted of the intense heat and savour of the stew, and Severus wanted--more than anything--to press his tongue up to hers, to sweep it over the roof of her mouth.
She pushed at him. "No."
He said, "Granger--"
"Not no, no. Just, not like this."
"In the kitchen, standing up. I can be as dirty as you desire, but Draco and I rarely got to have a bed and it's something I've come to appreciate in my old age."
"You're not even twenty-five," he said, even as he remembered Greyback talking about what Draco had done to her that night, things that Severus wouldn't have credited Draco having the creativity to enact, but clearly he would have been underestimating his former student. He wondered if maybe her protestations were about more than a bed, but he wasn't about to insult her by being the one to bring it up.
Her palms were unwavering against his breastbone. A bed wasn't really an unreasonable request, only, he went back over what she had said and asked, "As I desire?"
She shook her head slightly, clearly amused. "Relax. My answer would have been no, no if that were the case. And might have involved the use of my wand." She leaned up on her toes and bit lightly at his lower lip. Then she let go. "I don't suppose you'd mind if I ate first? Not that I'm not anxious, I just think our relations might require a bit of energy."
It was only smart, he had to agree, but the choice to hesitate at all made him say, "Open your mind and tell me this isn't about the debt."
"Sexy," she said, and, "you wouldn't know if I had opened my mind or not."
"No, but if you said you had, I would believe it."
"That is sexy," she told him, and opened her mind. She was careful about it, that he could feel, but she allowed him to see the important things. There was too much there, even with the filters she had put in place, things that he didn't want to know: like how she had re-learned to trust her body, to share it; like how his house had seemed so much more than warm while she was wandering, alone and tired and cold, trying her best to keep the people she protected safe.
"Eat your stew," he said.
She sat down and spooned a bit up, blowing on it before taking a cautious sip. She nodded, "Much better."
Severus kissed her again once they were in the bedroom, and this time she let him, let his tongue swipe against hers, even pressed back, explored his mouth on her own. He didn't let himself question the wisdom of his next move, allowing her behind his mental shields just enough for his own interest to circle in her mind, his own eagerness.
It was unseemly and almost boyish in its urgency. It was simple and foolish and a host of other words that Severus never, ever applied to himself.
She said, "Oh," into his mouth and he couldn't regret the choice. He pulled them backward until they were at the bed. She dragged her mouth along his cheekbone, up to his ear, where she whispered, "Let's just--"
Severus wasn't even sure which spell she had used, or where his clothes might have gone to. He couldn't really be bothered to care.
She pushed him onto the bed, falling atop him. She wasn't graceful about it, but her breasts pressed up against his chest, the juncture of her thighs against his cock, and grace was irrelevant.
She asked, "What do you like?" He could hear her smile, even if he couldn't see it.
He murmured an accio and waited the second it took for the vial to connect with his outstretched hand. "As dirty as I wish?"
She rolled off of him. "Tell me what the ingredients are."
"Salamander blood, damiana, peppermint."
"I'll take it that last is not for taste?"
"No, but that's not an unpleasant side effect."
"No doubt particularly for the person kissing the drinker."
He held the vial out to her. She took it and drained the contents. "How long?"
"Not long," he said, careful to lean in, breath the words over the peak of her breast.
"Bloody Christ," she said. Severus smirked. The potion heightened sensation, nothing more. He knew very well that nothing else was needed.
"Sure you don't want to take some of that yourself?" she asked.
"I rather enjoy having you at my mercy."
"Is that what I am?" she asked, sounding entirely unconvinced.
Severus brought one finger in a circle around her clitoris. She said, "All right, maybe," and despite her near lack of breath, managed to still sound put together, as if she were humoring him. He caressed the spot a few more times before thinking the words of a spell that he did not allow her to hear and plunging one finger deep inside of her.
One finger spelled to the temperature of ice.
She arched off the bed. "Fuck!"
"Shall I make it better?" he asked, his tone lazy.
"Now," she told him, no room for argument in her voice.
Severus slid down the bed and pushed his tongue up her, alongside his finger. She whimpered. "Snape, just--"
He swirled the finger inside her, following, always, with his tongue. He used another spell to make sure that the latter never dropped in temperature. She writhed and cursed but she didn't order him to stop, didn't push at him with her hands. At some points she said, "Please, please," but never asked for anything specifically.
Occasionally, Severus would use his other finger--also spelled cold--against her clitoris, following with a comforting lick and press of his tongue. It was during one press that she grabbed at his hair and held his mouth tight to her clitoris and stiffened and made small sounds that never really reached past her throat.
When she had fallen back, muscles loose and breaths coming hard, she soothed her fingers over the spot where Severus' hair had pulled against the scalp. Severus slipped his finger from her and ended the spell. Then he brought the finger up to her mouth. She took it easily, a small smile curving at her lips. She ran her tongue along the underside of it.
He withdrew. She asked, "Is that what you want?" She let her eyes stray to his cock, sounding interested.
He shook his head and summoned another potion. "No."
She held out her hand.
"Not going to ask what is in it?"
"The first one worked out well for me."
"I will apply it."
She quirked an eyebrow, but didn't argue. He rolled her onto her stomach and soothed a hand down her spine. She shivered at the sensation, moaned a bit. Severus smiled.
He covered three fingers in the latest potion and used the first to circle the ring of her arse. She sucked in a breath. "I haven't done this."
"Let me use the potion. Then tell me if you still don't want to."
"I didn't say I didn't want to." She sounded like she was too overwhelmed by the physicality of it all to really disagree to much, though.
He circled the ring again and then pushed in. The potion had a topical muscle relaxant as well as a pleasure stimulant. It would be hard to find a stabbing painful if the sword was dipped in this particular brew. Granger said, "Oh, I definitely didn't say I didn't want to."
Severus added a second finger. She curled her fingers in the comforter and started in with the, "Please, pleaseplease," litany again. Slowly, he added the third. She pushed herself back onto him. Watching her spine lengthen slightly, the muscles in her back shift, was almost too much. Severus closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Then he pulled his fingers out.
"What--" she started, craning her neck to where she could see him covering his cock in the potion.
"Bloody hell," she whispered.
Severus moved down the bed where he could sit, his legs slightly spread and dangling over the edge. "Come here," he said.
She pushed herself up and crawled to where he was. He put his hands on her waist and pulled her to where she was straddling him. He positioned his cock at the entrance to her vagina, and pulled her down--none too slowly--over him. She grasped at his shoulders, her slight nails digging in, but he didn't mind, couldn't mind.
She whimpered as he bottomed out and he let her rest there for a moment before pulling her up--slowly, this time--and resettling her so that his cock was sinking into her arse. When she had settled all the way onto it, her head thrown back, her lips moving without sound, Severus wrapped his fingers around the back of her neck, brought her lips to his and said, "This is what I like."
Then he brought his hands back to her waist and continued with the rhythm--one stroke in her vagina, the next in her arse--continued and continued until well after she had come a second time, screaming quick, breathy, needy screams.
The sound brought him over the edge and he pulled her tightly, tightly down on him and came saying, "Yes, yes, yes."
He fell back onto the bed then. She came with him; once again sprawled coltishly over his body. She said, "I shouldn't be sleepy again."
He dragged them both up the bed and wrapped the comforter around them. "Maybe not," he said, and rolled over partially onto her with every intention of falling asleep.
It was almost predictable, the way Weasley showed up as they were eating breakfast the next morning. He was not keyed into the wards, and either had no interest in attempting to break them, or couldn't. Either way, the impact--clearly deliberate--of Weasley against them rung like a bell through the house.
Severus looked out the nearest window, and followed Granger's gaze. She said, "Let him in."
"The things I do for you."
"Yes, I'm positively bowled over."
"Tell me he's the only one who would have known how to find you."
Something in his tone, perhaps the softness of it, perhaps the dull quality of his consonants, caused her to look at him. "He only knows because he is Ron, and there isn't anything I don't tell him. I doubt even Luna knows."
"Why would Lovegood have any idea?"
"Because, in general, Ron tells her everything."
"Oh." Severus hadn't connected the two before now. Not that they seemed a terribly unlikely pairing, it had just never occurred to him that Weasley might look at someone who wasn't Granger or Potter.
"Please let him in?" She wasn't wheedling, just asking insistently.
Severus let down the wards with a visible spark and unlocked the door with a wave of his wand. Ron stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. Granger said, "Was this the first place you looked?"
"Luciana was fairly insistent. Kept saying 'perfesser' and hitting me. For someone with such tiny fists, she packs a wallop."
Watching her back, Severus could see Granger unwind just the tiniest bit at hearing that her daughter was with Weasley, and all right. He wondered how it must have been, all those months, suspecting her husband was dead, not entirely certain where her daughter had been left. She had only once betrayed the slightest bit of fear that first time. He wanted to reach out, to put a hand to her back, but it seemed to him that with Weasley standing there she might simply tense up again. That she might do so even if Weasley weren't watching them. Severus kept his hands were they were.
"My daughter is a genius," she said matter-of-factly.
Weasley's eyes wandered quickly over her form, took in her state of relative undress and asked, "Does it always have to be Slytherins?"
"Yes, the house colors drive me to unbearable sexual passion."
"At least Draco didn't want us all dead. Is it a danger kink? Because--"
"Luciana told you to come here, Ron. She told you to come here because I came here after four months and found her safe and well-fed and warm and cared for."
"She was Draco's."
"She is mine."
Severus noted, without really wanting to, the grief that flickered over Weasley's face with every mention of Draco's name. Everything else about his manner, even his accusations, were calm, made without all of the heat Severus remembered raging through the boy. Like Draco, however, Weasley was no longer anything but an adult. His stance was casual but familiar, and Severus knew that it would not take even a second for the man to have his wand in hand, a curse on his tongue. Presuming he even needed to use his tongue. Severus doubted it.
Weasley sighed. "And I suppose now I've found you here."
Severus could barely see the expression on her face. He knew enough to extrapolate that she was smiling. It shouldn't have made him happy; he shouldn't have cared in the least.
"Safe and well-fed and warm."
He noticed what she left out. He felt certain Weasley did as well.
After a long moment, Weasley smiled back at her. "I don't know why I bother with you."
"Someone needed to take on the role of the long-suffering martyr."
Severus watched as, between them--for a second--the memory of Harry Potter hung, thick and nearly solid. Then Weasley snorted. "Do you know where your robes are, or did you manage to lose them in all the fun?"
"You don't keep losing yours, you realize? Luna puts Disillusionment Charms on them."
Weasley's face went blank. "Really?"
"So you do know."
He grinned. "It makes her happier when she thinks I don't. And it makes her laugh when I act all excited to have found them."
Severus thought about what Granger had said about Draco, about not believing in grand passion and although he knew that had probably been the truth at some point, he also knew that it was a complete lie. She believed in grand passion. She saw it in front of her every day.
He thought, you were cared for, as well but he couldn't say it, not with Weasley standing there. Maybe not if it had been just the two of them. Probably not.
She laughed a bit. "Give me a moment to get dressed."
When she had brushed past Severus moving toward the bedroom and it was just Weasley and him standing, facing each other, Weasley said, "We appreciated the Wolfsbane."
And because Severus could not say, "you were cared for," to Granger, he said, "She asked," to Weasley.
Weasley smiled slightly and shook his head. "I won't say she doesn't have a way with you lot."
Severus would have snapped, he almost did, but the feel of her pelvic bones digging into his palms--of her moans wafting over his cheeks--came back to him and he knew that for all she had his ways with him, at times, he had his ways with her as well.
"See that she eats," he said, doing his absolute best to make it sound as if Weasley were still the neglectful, bumbling oaf he'd been as a child.
"Oh, yeah, sure," Weasley grumbled, but he was nodding his head in understanding as he said it.
She appeared again then, dressed in her own robes. She smiled at Severus and said, "I'll bring Luciana next time. She'll be mad to have missed a visit."
Severus wanted to see her, but he couldn't bring himself to mind her absence just this once.
Granger dropped in again months later with a Luciana who was now sporting pigtails and addressed him as "perfessor," before climbing him like one would a rung ladder.
Severus gave Granger a pointed look. "Verbal manners are only an accompaniment to more basic ones, you do realize?"
"Make sure she doesn't fall," Granger said, smiling as Severus not-so-reluctantly pulled Luciana into his arms.
"You are a wretched excuse for a young lady," he told her.
"Perfesser," she said, fondness lacing the word.
Severus sighed. Granger said, "We can't stay long."
"And you didn't come to see me," he said, despite the fact that Luciana was nestling her face in his neck, making contented noises at the juncture where his collar met his skin.
"As if I've ever come for anything other than the tea." Granger moved ahead of him, going toward the kitchen. She was limping slightly.
He followed. "Curse?"
"Werewolf," she said, without looking back.
His silence must have been indicative of his horror--either that or she was an even better Legilimens than he'd previously suspected--because she said, "Claws, not teeth."
His legs felt less sure under him than he would have preferred and his grip tightened on Luciana, who sucked in a sound. He looked down at her and she met his gaze, confused. He loosened his fingers and managed to ruffle her hair. She snuggled against him once more.
Granger eased herself into a seat. "You'll be thrilled to know it was carelessness on my part. There aren't so many wolves these days for it to have been numbers, really. Rumor has it that there's a wolf plague, but none of ours seem to have caught it, if so."
There were more than enough wolves for it to have been numbers, with Greyback desperate and feral and recruiting more by the day. He said, "None?"
She put a hand under his chin, forcing him to look into her eyes. "None."
He drew away and set Luciana down on a chair. She said, "None," with great meaning, but it was clear that she was just parroting the adults.
"Indeed," Severus said, dryly. He spelled the teakettle hot.
"You are one of those things," Granger said softly.
"I'm sorry?" he asked, quite sure he had heard her wrong, or interpreted her wrong. She was not a foolish girl. She was not a girl.
"You could tell me and I would never let them know, let them have you."
"Any of them." She smiled knowingly. "It wasn't always Draco protecting me. You must know that."
"I am quite sure not even most of the time," he acknowledged. "But then, you've lied to me on all manner of subjects, so the omission of truth regarding that one was hardly likely to register as some great sin."
"Have I?" she asked, cocking her head to the side.
"Does she like tea?" Severus asked, nodding at Luciana. He wasn't quite sure at what age children could be trusted with hot beverages.
"Best stick to milk."
He poured some from the ice box and set it in front of her with a stern admonishment not to spill. She nodded gravely, looking a bit concerned. Granger sighed. "It's all right, Luciana. Spills aren't anything that can't be cleaned up."
Evidently her mother's word overcame even his intimidation factor, as Luciana raised the cup to her lips. To her credit, she was careful and tentative in the motion. Severus hated that it made him feel proud.
Granger said, "That was almost subtle, but if you are to accuse me of lying, I really feel it would be most manly of you to follow that up with an example or two."
"Is that some sort of Gryffindor way of getting someone to tell you things he would prefer not to?"
"Always worked on Draco."
"I'm beginning to realize that he was a shame to his kith and kind."
"Not in front of her," Granger said. "She has not quite grasped irony and sarcasm as of yet."
"What makes you think I was utilizing either?"
"What makes you think I've ever lied to you?"
"The fact that you see Weasley and Lovegood every day."
She looked at him blankly. "I do believe you have managed to lose me entirely."
"I am infinitely quicker than you."
"Yes, so slow down and pull me along."
"Grand passion," he said, turning away from her, ostensibly so as to pour the tea.
She didn't say anything, not until he levitated the mug to her, not risking so much as an accidental brushing of their fingers. Then she said, "That wasn't a lie. I didn't believe in it for me."
"Evidently I was younger than I realized."
"I brought Luciana back here."
"You came for the Wolfsbane."
"I came at the time for the Wolfsbane because you're somewhat mercurial, as people go, and I wasn't sure-- I just wasn't sure."
He took a long sip of his tea--longer than he should have, given the temperature--and carefully thought, there is no plague.
She asked, "How's your milk, baby girl?"
"Very good," Luciana told her with the aid of a white-rimmed grin.
"Good," Granger said, and slid to the edge of her seat, so that her knees could press into Severus'.
Severus felt Granger come through his wards not even a month later, which was how he knew something was wrong. The timeframe would have given him pause to begin with, but she was always quiet in her entry, silent, even, against the magic that should have told him things.
She stood in his hallway, Luciana clinging to her neck, screaming. There was no sound.
He said, "Drop the Silencing Spell."
He almost regretted the command but he wouldn't have been able to hear Granger if it had continued. "What in the--"
"She's sick." Granger's tone was measured, so very, very calm. He had felt her come through the wards. She was terrified, probably past the point of thinking. She said, "I need--"
"Three days. Today is the first she hasn't vomited and I think it's only because there isn't even stomach left."
"You need a healer. You probably needed one three days ago. You haven't healers?"
"Dennis was killed three months back, and Susan was with the other cell. Even had I know her location, I wasn't in a position to leave," she said. Her eyes hardened and he knew that if she softened for just a second she would be screaming as loudly--if not more so--as Luciana. "And I can't-- They'll take her away, if any of us take her. I thought, maybe, a potion, maybe--"
"I can't just give her something, I've no idea the cause of the problem. You know better."
There was a long silence, and Severus thought she would argue with him or admit that she did know better, or anything other than to nod and allow tears to drip down her cheeks, silent and ignored. He said, "I can't take her to Mungo's. There will be too much suspicion."
Despite her curls and her baby fat, Luciana looked like a Malfoy.
Luciana's screams had been steadily fading, and now she whimpered a soft, "Mum."
Granger ran for the water closet. Severus followed, watching as Granger curled over her child, rubbing at her back, murmuring, "It's okay love, it's fine," even as Luciana's entire body arched and contracted, heaving nothing, not even bile anymore.
Severus said, "If you were to trust me, I could do something."
Granger looked up, her eyes incredulous. He nodded, "Yes, right."
He went to his floo, threw the powder in, and called, "Francesca."
A woman in her late thirties, with black hair and black eyes and a visage that always reminded Severus of a crow said, "Severus, how. . .lovely to hear from you."
"France has been good to you?"
"Better than England," she said with a wry smile.
"I need a favor."
"It must be quite desperate, to make you so abrupt."
"Quite," he agreed.
"You have need of my skills?"
"Stand back and allow me to step through. You do still have our floos linked for travel, yes?"
Severus stood back, but not so far that he could not catch her when she stumbled past the grate. International floo travel was absolutely wretched. She straightened herself, ran a quick cleaning charm over her robes and asked, "Where's the patient?"
Severus led her to where Granger and Luciana were still huddled. Granger looked up sharply. Severus said, "This is Francesca." Then, to Francesca, "The patient's name is Luciana."
Francesca placed a gentle hand on Granger's shoulder. "Please, I need to get to her."
Granger stood. "I'll just--" she motioned toward the hall and stepped out of the cramped space.
Francesca said, "Hello, Luciana."
Luciana made a noise that was not strictly a greeting.
Francesca asked, sympathetically, "Not feeling very well?" She brought her hands, practiced and professional, over Luciana's back, her wand running quick diagnostic spells even as she spoke. "That's all right, we'll have you better quite quickly."
It wasn't more than ten minutes before she rose, but with Granger still and silent beside him, all but hanging on the doorframe, they were an unending ten minutes. Francesca came to Granger and asked, "Is she around aconite often?"
"Wolfsbane. Somewhat regularly."
"She takes it?" Francesca's pitch rose infinitesimally.
"No, but, we live with others."
"Yes, Severus has always had a soft spot for the fugitives." Francesca snickered. Granger's gaze snapped to him so quickly he nearly missed it. Then Francesca said, "It’s a sensitivity. All you need do is give her a regular dose of something to counteract it that won't do its own damage, a herbal tincture, perhaps? That's really much more of a Potions expert's area. Severus should be able to find something without much of a problem. Was there anything else you needed?"
The question was clearly directed at Severus. He shook his head. "I shall owe you."
Francesca sniffed. "I think we both know the truth of that. I can see myself to the floo. Attend to the child. She really is quite sweet. Is her father still alive?"
Granger softly said, "No," and, "I am the one who owes you."
"Pity," Francesca said, as if she hadn't heard that last. "I always thought my cousin had some promise to him."
"He did," Granger said. "Have promise. And more."
"Consider that my payment, then." She kissed Severus on both cheeks and stepped past him, walking briskly to the floo. She called, "Au revoir," and stepped through the flash of green that arose from her pinch of powder.
"Cousin," Granger said.
"Frances Rookwood. Of late Francesca Demesnes. She married an old colleague."
"Supposed dead these last, oh, eight years?"
"I shall go find something for Luciana."
"Don't make a--"
"Don't make this less than it was. Don't make the people you save mean less than they do. Don't." She didn't sound angry. She sounded exhausted.
He touched two fingers to her chin. She bent her head to kiss them. He said, "I really must--"
"Be quick about it, yes?"
He would have done without being told.
It took nearly an hour of the two of them applying the palliating potion directly to Luciana's skin to get her to the point where she could ingest it. Once she had kept a reasonable amount down, Granger spoon fed her some broth and made her drink some water. She fell asleep lying between the two of them, one hand buried in Granger's robes, another in Severus'.
When Luciana was well and truly beyond waking, Granger carefully pried her daughter's fingers loose and tiptoed to the door, where she whispered, "Are you staying?"
It was harder than it made any sense for it to be, working the tiny fingers open and leaving the owner of them behind.
Granger made it easier by pressing him to the wall outside the room, saying very clearly, "Do not make this dirty," and sinking to her knees. She was quicker than she had any right to be, bypassing his robes and his trousers and his undergarments and taking him into her mouth, sucking so hard that it hurt at first. He groaned and pressed the back of his head into the wall. "Hermione," he said again, even though he wasn't sure it was his right. Only, she had called him Severus. She had.
She murmured something, maybe a word--he had no idea, he couldn't form something so coherent as an idea inside his mind--and it ran through him, a magnification of the way her words often did. Pleasurable and mind-twisting and intimate.
It didn't take long. It couldn't have, not with her in an advanced state of exhaustion and him wrung out from acknowledging emotions he did not want to have. She swallowed, which was more enticing than it should have been, and he didn't mind at all when she leaned back without tucking him in.
He pulled her up and kissed her. She fell into him, into the wall. She asked, "The colleague Healer Demesnes married--"
"I can't, Severus, I can't pretend--"
"Tell me something."
"Something important, tell me something that is worth me confiding the answers you seek."
Her chest moved, her breathing heavier than it should have been. Finally she said, "There was a logic to the kills. That was Ron. He's the tactician."
"The smartest, the most able to lead, first."
"The greediest last," she confirmed. "You must have noticed the unrest."
"It has made it easier to alter the potion to a greater extent than I used to," he said. "Not even Greyback pays much attention to me anymore. More the fool he."
She said, "That wasn't the secret I wanted."
"I couldn't countenance the thought of her dead. I had loved her once. Or something of the like. Lusted after, enjoyed her company. As children those things seemed very similar. And she was a Healer, through and through. The Healer's Oath surpassed even her allegiance to Voldemort. They would have killed her, they would have enjoyed killing her."
"Two secrets for my one."
"You could repay in kind, were you either to lust after me, or enjoy my company."
"There are moments where I indulge in both."
"They are in between the others of faintly recognizing something that must be grand passion. It looks far different than the other example I have, and nowhere near to my preconceived notions, but I have tried other terms, and nothing else feels like a fit."
He tightened his arms around her, and said nothing.
She filled the silence with, "The unrest, it is a beginning. We have people placed to take advantage."
"There, yes. You can be more creative if you try, I know."
He could. He could think of at least sixteen fundamental wizarding institutions where they could have people lying in wait.
She said, "Even if it's not grand passion for you, even if it's only lust or only enjoying my company, Luciana and I, we would like--"
"There are still things to be done. And you know it."
"You could simply say--"
"Grand passion is for children of the Weasley and Lovegood variety. What I feel for you is love, nothing less, nothing smaller, nothing more mundane. And I will not risk all you and I have worked for, all that is coming to be--all that can be--for momentary impulse and immature whim."
"Well, thank you for taking my rather gutsy statement of overwhelming commitment and care and turning it into a moment a teenage euphoria."
"You have only to ask."
"When this is over--"
"Even if it never is, I will always come back. And I will never stop asking. Sooner or later, you will have to abandon your high-minded precepts of utopic happily-ever-after and just bloody well join me, take me and this world as we are."
"I won't give this world to you as it is."
Her breathing stopped for a moment, quick and sharp and still as water. Then she said, "I should check on Luciana."
He let her go, but not before making certain that she could stand on her own.
She managed admirably.
The month that Scrimgeour was found--the remnants, at least--Hermione never showed up for the Wolfsbane. It could have been any werewolf, one of Greyback's, one of Weasley's, but the killing happened over a full and Severus knew the way that Gryffindor leaders of supposedly lost causes thought.
He found he couldn't blame Weasley for wanting to be out of his mind. It was one thing to kill a man. It was another to devour him.
Of course, there was no way to prove Weasley had done it, there would not have been even had Severus been interested in doing so. Greyback was insane, but often canny, and he had more than once had his pack wait until the full just so that nothing could be conclusively proven. Death by werewolf was, these days, a risk one took simply by the act of living.
Gawain Robards having died two years earlier in an ill-planned attempt by the Aurors to capture Weasley, Wellington Ashby had stepped in as the head of the MLE and now took on the vacated position of Minister. Ashby wasn't in the pockets of anyone Severus had in his confidences, but that did not make him exempt as prey material for those sorts of offers. Not unless he was one of the various people Hermione had been speaking of. Severus imagined it was possible.
He imagined that if Ashby wasn't, he would not be in the position for very long. Albus had never killed without a larger plan in mind, and--loathe though Severus was to acknowledge the fact--Weasley had become much like Albus. Given purple robes and a twinkling smile, the parallels would have been vomit-inducing.
Hermione came around the second week into Ashby's tenure with a Luciana who was looking quite hale and sporting two more teeth than the last time he had seen her. She scrabbled up him, as was her wont, and kissed him in greeting, which Hermione had the gall to smile at. Severus said, "Later," impending doom clearly lacing his tone.
She held her arms out for Luciana, who disengaged from Severus unwillingly enough that it warmed him, in a way that he had no business being warmed. Hermione brushed a hair back from Luciana's face. Her hair was becoming unruly. Severus thought about telling Hermione that there were spells for that sort of thing, only he had rather liked the brush of it against his cheek.
Hermione asked, "Want to go play with your marbles?"
Severus had bought Luciana marbles in those first four months, when she liked to look at anything with colors in them. He had never let her have them on her own, too afraid she would find a way to swallow them. He had offered, once, to let Luciana take them back with her, but Hermione had said, "Small things get lost when we have to move quickly," so he had kept them, a special treat for her when she was around. She had long since learned to actually play them, and delighted in the sound they made when hitting up against each other.
Severus had figured out quite quickly that utter silence was often necessary to Luciana and Hermione's survival.
Somewhere along the way he had bought her a radio, and taught her how to tune it to the WWN.
Luciana nodded excitedly and nearly sprang from Hermione's arms. Hermione let her down with a grunt and said, "You're getting too big for this," watching her as she disappeared into the next room.
Luciana wasn't that big. Hermione was, as always, underweight. He said, "Tea?"
"No inquisition first?"
"I find you more compliant when mildly lubricated."
"Wouldn't it be more clever of you to spike my tea before mentioning that plan of yours?"
"Need I worry myself over impressing you with my cleverness?"
"Would you, if I answered yes?"
He smirked and turned to head toward the kitchen. When his back was toward her, he said, "Perhaps."
"Charmer," she said, in the same way she said, "liar," and "bastard."
He went for the teapot. "Ashby?"
"Listens to us."
"Which is not the same as being one of you."
"No, but he's a Muggle-born with two Muggle siblings. The rhetorics of purity do not hold much sway for him."
"It has nearly nothing to do with purity." He figured she would have known that.
"No, but every movement must wave some sort of banner, yes? You see my point. Ashby is safe for us, without being of us."
"No puppet government for you?" he asked, a touch of derision in the question. This was no time for idealism.
"We have, at times, been cornered into theft, coercion, blackmail and murder, but we are still trying our very hardest not to become despots." She sounded a bit hopeless.
He offered hope. "At the very least, you are not Death Eaters."
She came up behind him, her hand closing over the robes covering his Mark. "The differences become very hard to determine, do they not?"
He pulled his arm free so as to pour the tea. "You are tired. It makes clear thought challenging."
"An insult about my inability to think clearly even at the best of times would be comforting just now."
"Would it?" He set the tea in front of her.
"It would be a known quantity." She took a sip.
Severus was entirely certain that between the two of them, the unknown was infinitely preferable. "I have scones."
"How long can you stay?"
She brought the mug to her lips. "Not long enough."
No, Severus thought,never that.
Severus' mother had liked Muggle novels. He was pretty sure this was what had gotten her into trouble in the first place: the idea that the dark, mysterious detective/businessman/cowboy was actually a hero somewhere deep inside. He wasn't sure who had first hooked her on the bloody things, given that she had grown up pure as any Malfoy. Still, she had cut through them like a particularly well-sharpened paring knife could slice through beetle wings.
Of late, Severus was feeling a bit like the heroes of his mother's favorite brand of trash. After all, the hero was forever required to overcome the villain to claim the heroine as his reward, and the villain was--as a rule--much harder to kill than any of his cronies.
Greyback should have been dead ten times over at the rate he was ingesting Severus' potion.
Severus had altered the potion at least a dozen times in hopes of hitting upon the right combination. He had even--in a moment of recklessness--added a small, barely traceable amount of silver nitrate.
Evidently too small.
Severus was near to exhausted from killing children who simply had the misfortune to get in the way of Greyback's fangs, under the sway of his fevered logic. He was beyond exhausted with hearing--in Greyback's pompous, grating tones--of the latest deaths of people he knew Hermione mourned. Hermione and Luciana, who was too bloody young to be mourning a father, let alone scores of friends.
There was only one thing to be done for it, really. It was flashy and wholly un-Severus like, and he blamed his mother's pulp-fiction addiction for the thought even occurring to him. (Well, that, and the general advent of Albus Dumbledore ever having existed in his life.)
So it was that Severus set out to provoke Greyback into a duel. It shouldn't have been that hard--either the provoking or the winning--and nobody in their set would have disputed the validity of taking a rival out by way of challenge.
It shouldn't have been that hard, even with Greyback's now almost-unassisted ability to transform without a moon, except that Severus had forgotten about Greyback's infuriating habit of laughing off just about everything Severus did.
Severus didn't think it would be so acceptable to those of the Death Eaters who were left were he to spark a duel by admitting to killing nearly every last one of Greyback's "cubs."
In the end, Severus had to take a somewhat indirect route and provoke one of those "cubs" into a duel, and finishing off the whelp with disappointing ease; by that time, Severus was roused for a good fight.
Politely, Greyback gave it to him. Severus asked, "Was he really that significant?"
Greyback pulled his wand, snarled and said, "You have no idea how long I have been waiting for an excuse to do this."
Severus nearly blinked, would have, had he not been in a position to be attacked at the slightest lessening of his attention. Clearly, his hints had not been obvious enough.
Several of the Macnairs were there, and one of the Crabbes, all smirking. Severus didn't have to search their minds to know where their bets lay. He wasn't intimidated by their lack of faith. Subtlety was often lost on those Death Eaters who were left.
As Severus had expected, Greyback's dueling style was powerful and direct. Severus used it against him with a combination of evasive maneuvers and shielding spells designed to rebound whatever magical energy came into contact with the barrier. It took quite some time, and Severus had his share of injuries from where the power behind Greyback's magic did not even stop to acknowledge Severus' spells.
Eventually, though, Greyback weakened.
Severus, not trusting a mere Avada Kedavra--not even with all the years of annoyance and disgust and hatred he had to pour into it--twisted the spell with one meant to transfigure liquids into silver and aimed the curse directly into Greyback's bloodstream.
When it had been sufficiently determined that Greyback was dead, Severus nodded once to his no-longer-smirking audience and Apparated himself to Mungo's, where he could go without the concern of being discovered.
Hermione discovered him. She sneaked into his Mungo's room at nearly three in the morning and asked, "Have you completely lost your mind?"
"Is that not usually my question?" Having just woken to the act of Hermione burying her fingers into his hair, the skin of his shoulder, he was a bit disoriented.
"I did win," he said. He felt it was a reasonable point, and not one that should be wholly ignored.
She kissed him then, her lips pressed too-tightly against his to be entirely comfortable. For a second, Severus thought about telling her that as the hero of this tale, it was his right to claim the kiss. But he had come close enough to death once this week. Also, he didn't really relish having to admit that he had, perhaps, read one or two of his mother's books at times when there was nothing else around.
But only then. Of course.
She pulled back. "Would it be possible for you to refrain from taking idiotic actions in the future, or would that be asking you to alter your personality in ways that are unreasonable to ask of a person?"
Severus took a (somewhat painful) breath. "This was an aberration, I assure you. One for which you might say thank you, if you had any semblance of manners or breeding."
"You're mistaking me for my late-husband."
"Not one of the many problems with our. . .association."
"If you say so," she said, sounding like some of the tension had drained from her. It was hard to tell--the moon was less than a sliver, and there was no other light in the room. He watched the shape of her as she moved about the room, seemingly uncertain of how to still herself.
"He is dead, Hermione."
"Yes. And some of the more aggressive Aurors have gone after what is left of the Notts and the Dolohovs."
Severus thought that "some-of-the-more-aggressive" was an interesting way of synonymously signifying Aurors already under Weasley's influence, but all he asked was, "Not the Macnairs?"
"Lower on the priority list. You of all people should know that there is only so much one can do at one time."
He knew it, he was simply surprised at their restraint. He should not have been, but he rather enjoyed giving her less credit than she deserved. It meant not having to change much, and generally being pleasantly startled by her actions. "Why are you here?"
She turned sharply to look at him in the dark. "Why am I here?"
"If you knew enough to know where I was, you knew enough to know that I was recovering as well."
She moved back toward him, then, climbing smoothly onto the bed only meant for one person and folding herself carefully over him. "You bloody well tell me why I'm here."
It wasn't comfortable having her pressed up against him; he was still too sore. He threw an arm over her and held her to his side. He whispered, "Foolish, foolish girl."
She made a brief, buzzing, happy sound before she said, "I'm not the one challenging feral werewolves into duels."
The utter ridiculousness of that statement--given her lifestyle--was so overwhelming, Severus chose not even to address it. "Was that a 'thank you'?"
"Get out of here whole and I will show you thank you."
"Show me," he said, doing his best to sound unimpressed.
"Leaving no room to complain about my breeding ever again."
He thought that was a bit hopeful on her part, but he let her believe it nonetheless.
Almost eight months after his duel, Hermione stood outside Severus' wards, Luciana at her side, and asked, "Are you going to invite me in?"
It was the day after she had testified at his trial, gaining him a pardon.
"I have not changed them," he said.
"I know," she said, and swept a lazy hand through the barrier. Next to her, Luciana fidgeted, loud in her own silent way. Severus reached out and pulled her to him, up into his arms. She was getting heavy, too heavy to hold. He didn't put her down.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered, "Mum's scared."
He couldn't blame Hermione. It was one thing for her to step inside his boundaries, violate his territory, when it was clear she would have to leave again. It was another for her to come in when there was nothing to force her outside in a few hours or a few days.
He stepped backward and said, "Hermione."
She stepped forward, the wards barely so much as sighing around her. They had become used to her, had come to trust her.
She said, "We don't have to stay. Ron and Luna are buying a house along the south coast of Ireland. There's another in the vicinity that I was looking at, big enough for Luciana and me. Easy Apparitive distance."
She looked him in the eyes as she said it, standing with even more perfect posture than was her general practice. He said, "One would think we would have reached a point of believing the things we say to each other."
"Oh, I had placed that goal much further down. Ten years or so."
He raised an eyebrow. "Ten years?"
She smiled. "I'm an optimist."
She wasn't, not really. Or at least, she wasn't in ways that drove him crazy with the starry-eyed idealism of it all. She gave them ten years before she began to believe him when he said that he loved her--before he believed her when she admitted likewise. Which meant that she predicted they had at least a few years to themselves after that.
He asked her, "What do you want?"
She tilted her head in question.
"You have never had a place of your own."
She nodded slowly. "Funny that it shouldn't seem my best option now, isn't it?"
Without looking behind him at the house that he had purchased with funds secretly left to him by Albus Dumbledore for his protection, a house wholly his, as free of familial and political histories as anything he owned could ever be, he said, "There's a third option."
"I imagine there are quite a few more than three. To which are you referring?"
"I have heard pleasant things about the south coast of Ireland." He hadn't, actually, but he liked coasts well enough. And it seemed that there was nothing so sentimental among his possessions and habits that when he compared it to the thought of waking up next to her on a regular basis he could recognize it as significant in any sense.
Luciana said, "The water is pretty."
He wondered if she had ever seen an ocean before. It seemed profane that she wouldn't have, but he imagined it must have been so. He knew that to Luciana, his house was the ultimate escape--a place safe enough to laugh in, guaranteed to be warm.
Hermione, her eyes oddly wide, said, "We could look together. Make the decision when you have seen your options."
"That sounds practical," he said by way of agreement. "Until then, would you like to come in?"
"Please," she said, and slipped her hand into the one he wasn't using to hold Luciana.
He twined his fingers in hers.