Here it is. My big epic story. It's still being beta-ed, so chapters may or may not be changed after they're posted, but I really wanted to get it posted. The draft of the story is done, so all that's left to do is editing. That's a big job, but I hope that, in posting it, lots of people will read it and tell me what they think!
Warning: This is a HD story, but there are issues with that at the beginning. Harry gets a bit sidetracked, but that' s not permanent, I promise. Consider yourself warned.
Note: Of course, all of this belongs to JK Rowling, not me. Well, no one in this chapter belongs to me. I do have a few OCs, but not too many. Oh yeah, and this is an alternate 6th year, with no mention of horuxes or any of that. So, with no further ado, enjoy Emerald Fog.
Severus Snape couldn't remember the last time he'd had company over the holidays. He discouraged it as a rule, preferring to keep to himself in summer, as during the year. For that reason, he didn't stay at Hogwarts, as much of the staff did, over the extended holidays. He'dlong ago purchased a cottage in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and it was to this country abode that he retreated to over the summer. He always purchased the necessary supplies before he left, and he could barely recall the last time he'd been interrupted mid-holiday.
He was in the process of conducting a series of particularly delicate experiments on polyjuice potion when he heard the telltale crack of Apparition. He scowled fiercely and added some boomslang skin to the mixture, carefully recording the resulting changes down to the slightest detail. Someday he would put all of his results together into a book, though he harbored no fantasies as to its popularity. Until then, he recorded every detail for the pure pleasure of reading them over and being able to key a single sentence to a particular year, experiment, and version.
There was an insistent knock on his door, and a strained voice called, "Severus?"
Severus frowned, immediately recognizing Narcissa Malfoy's voice. He walked out of the laboratory and into the living area, yanking the door open. She was dressed in dull brown robes, and a hood covered her white blonde hair. She entered quickly, and he shut the door behind her. Only then did she pull the hood off, revealing a tired, frightened face. "Severus, I need your help," she said shortly.
Severus frowned. "I am sure that I have no idea what you are talking about, Narcissa," he said irritably, eager to get back to his experiments.
"You know about Lucius, I assume?"
"I'm worried about Draco."
Severus sighed. "When are you not worried about Draco, Narcissa?"
"It's different now. Look, Severus, will you let me explain?"
He grimaced. "You will have to come with me to the laboratory if you want to explain. I have some rather delicate experiments that cannot be left for long."
Narcissa rolled her eyes, but she followed him dutifully. She wrinkled her nose at the smell that permeated the room. "Ugh, Severus. That smells like a corpse!"
Severus merely shrugged. His own sense of smell had been substantially dulled over years of working with foul-smelling substances, and he no longer noticed the stenches that were an unavoidable byproduct of his work. "Then don't breathe."
"Severus, be serious!"
"Talk then. How is your being worried for Draco cause to burst in on me during my holidays?"
"Nothing much. I just want you to keep an eye on him."
"I suppose you intend for this to be done without his knowledge?"
"If it's possible… yes."
Severus sighed. "Narcissa, do you have any idea what you are asking me to do?"
"I'm just asking you to make sure he's alright," she said defensively.
"You are asking me to spy on a very private sixteen-year old boy without his knowledge. You are asking me to learn the secrets of his life and not to tell anyone what I learn. You are asking me, in essence, to jeopardize all I have been working for."
"Please, Severus! Do this for me, I beg you!"
He carefully measured a dash of rock oil into the potion, releasing a cloud of dark brown smoke. Narcissa gagged and left the room quickly. Severus held his breath, carefully conjuring up a slight breeze to dissipate the cloud. When the air was clear again, he set the fire to a low simmering point and walked into the kitchen to find Narcissa sitting at one of his chairs, looking faintly green.
He sat down opposite her and surveyed her without a word. She didn't speak for a long time, and when she finally opened her mouth, her voice was slightly hoarse. "Severus, you are going to kill someone with your experiments one day."
"Get to thepoint, Narcissa," Severus snapped. "You did not come here to discuss what I choose to do in my free time."
Narcissa sighed heavily. "Severus, please just have a little patience! I don't see how you can have so much patience for your bubbling things and so little for the rest of the world."
"Potions very rarely come to me and beg me to spy on their sons," Severus reminded her.
"And I'm not a potion. Look, Severus. I'm worried about Draco."
"Yes, that has already been established."
"He's not going to have an easy year."
"Has he ever?"
"Just listen!" she shouted, her voice on the ragged edge of tears. He eyed her for a moment, then rose gracefully and moved over to the pot of boiling water that always stood on his counter. He pulled open a cupboard and selected a few herbs. He dropped a small palm full of dried chamomile into a cup of water, followed by a couple linden flowers. He allowed it to steep for precisely three minutes, then carefully strained the herbs out and presented the drink to Narcissa. She took it gratefully, and sipped. He didn't speak as he made himself a similar cup, waiting for the calming property of the tea to take effect. When Narcissa finally put the cup down, she was much more composed. "Thank you," she said, nodding.
"Side effect of being steeped in potions my entire adult life," he said dismissively. "Now if you are capable of speaking without resorting to tears, then I am prepared to listen."
"I would like you to watch over Draco this year," she said carefully. "I am worried that some students will take revenge on him for what Lucius did, and I don't want him to get hurt."
"You do realize, do you not, that Draco is no longer eleven? He is quite capable, and I am sure he can keep himself out of trouble without any help from me."
"That's just the problem, Severus. The Ministry's got it in for all of us. I fully expect to be arrested sometime this year." She stopped, obviously waiting for him to object. He stayed silent. There was no point in denying the truth. "When I'm gone, he won't have anyone. How much do you think it would take for them to throw him in jail as well?"
"I still do not see why you are coming to me. It is Professor Dumbledore to whom you should be addressing these concerns."
She laughed, a scornful, bitter sound. "Severus, that old fool wouldn't do a thing He hates Draco, as you know very well. He tried to get us to take him out of school, for Merlin's sake!"
"I tried to talk him out of that," Severus cut in. "He refused to listen to reason."
She looked at him gratefully. "Thank you for that, Severus. Then you know that he won't look after Draco properly. He's just as prejudiced as everyone else in this world."
Severus sighed. "Albus is…" Severus paused, considering the proper word to use. Finally, he finished, "Albus is rather preoccupied, Narcissa."
She snorted. "With Harry bloody Potter. Totally obsessed is the word I would use, though. that wretched boy can do nothing wrong in Dumbledore's eyes."
"Aren't you grateful to Potter?" Severus asked dryly. "He saved you… saved both of us from a lifetime of servitude to the Dark Lord. From a short lifetime of servitude."
Narcissa looked at him in astonishment. "Severus, are you saying that you've come to like the boy?"
"Most certainly not!" Severus said forcefully. "I find the boy as arrogant and intolerable as his father. I am simply pointing out the debt we all owe to him."
"I am quite aware of that debt," Narcissa snapped. "I'm also aware of the fact that, despite everyone's best efforts, the Dark Lord is back. Obviously whatever Potter did wasn't enough."
"And so you ask me to protect Draco."
"From the wretched Ministry, not the Dark Lord," she said hastily. "I know as well as you do how vital your position as a double-agent is, and I won't ask you to do anything to compromise that."
"How generous," he said sarcastically. "Why else have you come, Narcissa?"
"Am I that obvious?" she asked in dismay, looking down at her teacup.
"I am a highly skilled Legilimens," he reminded her. "You, Narcissa, are not."
Her pale face flushed. "It's not nice to pry!"
He shrugged. "Never have I claimed to be a nice person. What else is troubling you?"
"You'll just find it in my head if I don't tell you, won't you?" He didn't answer, and she grimaced. "Yes, of course you will. Mind you, I'm not sure if I'm right or not."
"Leave out the unnecessary linguistic dances, if you please."
"I think that Draco's in love with Potter."
Severus was shocked. His thoughts raced as he struggled to think of a way to respond. The idea that Draco was gay was not astonishing. In fact, Severus had had his own suspicions for years. Harry Potter was possibly one of the most desirable males in all of Hogwarts, fame and idiocy notwithstanding. What shocked Severus was that he himself had never put the pieces together. It had been right under his nose, but he hadn't bothered to look at it. "It will never work," he said finally.
"I am well aware of that," she said impatiently. "Note that I am not asking you to bring them together. If anything, I'd rather you do your best to keep them apart. But it would be in our best interests if Draco's… interest in people like Potter were kept quiet."
"You wish me to become his confessor?"
"Only if he asks you to. Lucius beat the urge to talk about his true feelings out of Draco years ago, as I'm sure you know. But if he needs to talk, I beg you to let him talk to you. He respects you, Severus, and I know that he knows that you won't give his secrets away."
Severus groaned slightly. This was all he needed. Still, Narcissa was a friend, and he himself had been worried about Draco lately, though he would never admit it. He'd known that he would agree from the moment that she opened her mouth and asked him the first time. It didn't mean he had to be happy about it, though. "How do you expect me to accomplish this?"
Narcissa looked exasperated. "I don't know, Severus! You're the one who's famous for knowing more of the castle than either Potter's gangs combined! You're infamous among the students for being able to pop out of nowhere and catch them in all sorts of mischief. Surely you can think of a way to keep an eye on Draco!"
Severus regarded her steadily. "I am capable of it, Narcissa. However, I am still not convinced why I should be the one to do it. If he thinks that I am spying on him, then do you believe that he is likely to come to me as a confidant?"
"He doesn't have to know that you're spying on him."
"So you wish me to lie. How lovely."
"Severus, what do I have to do to make you do this?"
He sighed. "Do your best to stay free so that it's only for one year. Keep a low profile; leave the country if you can. I want to be able to return your son to you, not to your corpse, or worse, to your sister."
Narcissa grimaced horribly at the mention of Bellatrix. "I'll do my best to stay safe," she said seriously. "Will you watch out for Draco?"
Severus nodded. "I will," he promised grudgingly. "Now, if you have nothing else to say to me, you may feel free to leave. I have work to do."
She stood and pulled her hood back up. Wrapping her cloak around her slender form, she closed her eyes and Apparated. Severus looked at the spot where she had been for a long moment. Then, he held up his left arm in salute. "Be careful Narcissa," he said quietly. "And not just for his sake." Then he sent the teacups flying into the sink and returned to his experiments.
Minerva, too, preferred to leave the school over the summer holidays. Most years, she went off to her own home in Cambridge, but this year, with the renewed threat of He-who-must-not-be-named, she stayed in London. After the events of last June, she refused to stay at Grimmauld Place, and she sincerely doubted that it would continue to function as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. But Headquarters would almost certainly still be in London, and Minerva knew that she would be needed frequently. It was easier just to rent a small flat in Diagon Alley and move in. All in all, she supposed there were worse ways to spend her holidays. She was left alone for much of the time, and she spent it getting caught up inon the last work of her favorite authors. She was wondering just how to incorporate the newest variation on the color-change charm into her fourth year classes (Dilbert Buckley, of Spitzbergen, had discovered a simple way to add polka dots to previously colored items), and debating whether to add the skin-tone spell to the sixth year curriculum, instead of the seventh year, when there was a knock on the door to her flat. Surprised, she set down her book, carefully remembering her page, and stood stiffly to go open the door. Out of a habit she had never lost after the first war, she peered through the portal that she'd set up the moment she'd arrived, checking to see who it was.
To her surprise, Remus Lupin was looking furtively around him. She quickly opened the door, and he stepped through hastily. She closed and locked the door behind him, gesturing him farther into the sitting room. He sat wearily in one of the chairs and took off his outer cloak. It was shabbier than ever, and Minerva remembered that he was still spying on the werewolvesfor the Order. It certainly didn'tseem to have done him any good. The dark rings around his eyes, though they hadn't darkenedany, hadn'tfaded at all, and a slight frown seemed to be permanently etched into his face. She had to think fiercely to remember that he was only in his late thirties. He seemed decades older.
"Tea?" she asked automatically, suddenly wondering how long it had been since she'dlast seen Remus. Not since the end of last term, that was certain. Of course, he hadn't been particularly communicative after… well, after what had happened. And then he had been sent back to the werewolves. Minerva had argued fervently against it, but Albus had been firm, and Minerva wasn'tnearly ready to defy him when he was cloaked in his guise of Head of the Order. It would take someone far braver than her to change his mind. She thought suddenly of Mr. Potter. He might be able to make Albus reconsider.
"Please," Remus told her. She pulled herself away from the future and back to the present and walked into the kitchen. It took only moments to pour two cups of tea. She hesitated in front of her herb cabinet, but finally simply served the tea without additions. She didn't remember much about potions, and she was likely to do far more harm than good.
She handed Remus his mug, and he drank gratefully. Minerva sat down on the other chair, balancing her mug on her lap as she watched him. He didn't look up for a long time, but the tea seemed to have revitalized him slightly. Finally, he said, "Thank you."
She nodded, wondering why he was here. He seemed to sense her curiosity, because he asked, "Minerva, have you heard from Harry?"
Minerva frowned. "Not since he left at the end of last term. Why?"
"Because no one has," Remus said bluntly. "Not since the end of last year."
"Did you expect anything different?" Minerva asked, looking carefully at Remus.
He sighed. "I had hoped…" he shrugged. "But apparently I was wrong."
"Do you know what he was even doing at the Ministry in June?"
Remus looked at her curiously. "No," he admitted. "Do you?"
Minerva nodded. "Albus told me." She recounted the events leading up to Mr. Potter's escape to the Department of Mysteries.
As she talked, Remus' eyes grew wider and wider. Finally, he said, "And no one's heard from him since?"
She shook her head. "But I'm not sure that he is in the mood to talk to anyone at the moment."
Remus was silent for a long moment. Then, he said, "Minerva, can you promise me something?"
She frowned, wondering just what the connection here was. She was most certainly not going to go barging in on Mr. Potter's family, if that was what Remus wanted. She'd never met Lily's sister, and she had no wish to do so. "What?" she asked suspiciously.
"Can you keep an eye on him this year?"
She breathed a sigh of relief. That would be far less painful than she had feared. "Of course. Do you think that you had to ask?"
He sighed himself. "I didn't know," he said. "I mean, I expect that Albus will keep a close eye on him and all, but Albus tends to forget that Harry's just a fifteen-year-old boy."
Minerva nodded, recalling one of the few times that she'dbeen brave enough to confront Albus. "Do you want me to keep you informed?"
Remus shrugged. "I'm still with my… brethren, so I doubt that you'll be able to communicate effectively with me. Albus knows how to reach me, so if anything drastic happens, then let him know. He'll see that I get the news."
There was the opening that Minerva had been looking for. Hoping that she wasn't walking into trouble, she asked, "Remus?"
"Do you mind?"
"Do I mind what?"
"Being sent to the werewolves."
He laughed bitterly. "Minerva, I am a werewolf, remember?"
"But you're not like them," she said fiercely.
"Aren't I? I transform at the full moon, and, without the potion, I would be just as bad as the others."
She shook her head emphatically. "You're wrong."
"Are you sure?"
He sighed. "Thank you, but I'm sure that I don't deserve that."
She looked straight at him. "Remus, I've known you since you were eleven years old. If you were evil, I believe I would have noticed by now."
"Did you notice when Voldemort turned evil?"
She winced. "You are not He-who-must-not-be-named, Remus."
"No. I'm a werewolf. In some circles, that's worse."
Minerva debated between yelling at him to shape up or being understanding. He hadbeen excluded from polite society for most of his life, after all. But even so!
"Will you keep track of Harry for me?" he asked, standing up abruptly. He was apparently as uncomfortable with the subject as she was herself.
She nodded. "Take care of yourself."
He grimaced and didn't answer.
"Promise!" she insisted. "Remus, you're the only family the boy has left, you know. You must come out of this alive, for his sake, if not for your own."
Remus slumped slightly, then took a deep breath. He straightened again and shrugged on his cloak. "For Harry, I'll do my best. Thank you for the tea." He stepped through the door and walked swiftly down Diagon Alley. Minerva watched his figure disappear before turning back to her sitting room.
After a moment, she raised her right hand in salute. "Be careful Remus," she said quietly. "And not just for his sake." Then shesent the teacups flying back into the sink and sank down with her book again.