POST TENEBRAS LUX: THE SEARCH
Obligatory Disclaimer: Would you believe it, they're still not mine.
Author's Notes: So for the 1000th review of Chasing the Sun there was a discrepancy between the thousandth review listed on the site and the thousandth review in my inbox. Because I'm a lovely person (stop laughing like that) I decided to do prompts from both those reviewers. This one is from Amarti, who wanted another missing scene from Post Tenebras Lux (Chapter 19): "when Severus goes to find Hermione's parents. What gave him the idea, why he decided to do it, how he did it, and what he felt when he found them and gave the info to Hermione."
I don't know how much sense this will make if you haven't read PTL, but the basic premise is that Severus and Hermione are together and both working at Hogwarts about a decade after Deathly Hallows; Hermione's estranged from her parents because they couldn't forgive her altering their memories. Enjoy.
Warnings: Surprisingly, none, except maybe some mild language.
"If only I could find the words to say
But I just can't, so forgive me
'Cause you took the words away
You answered every prayer I always prayed..."
– Michael Bolton, 'Only A Woman Like You'.
The fight with Hermione at Halloween and their temporary separation was one of the more painful experiences Severus could recall for a very long time. He was desperately grateful that she had been so understanding, and thankful that he had managed to make himself go and apologise even though he'd been terrified that once again his apology wouldn't be accepted and that he would lose everything again. They seemed to have patched things up now, but he felt he owed her something to compensate for being such an awkward bastard; he was very lucky she put up with him and terrified that she would one day have had enough. During those nights apart, unable to sleep and feeling utterly wretched, he had finally admitted to himself that he was hopelessly in love with her, and it scared the hell out of him.
He had spent the past couple of weeks on his best behaviour, since his new goal in life was to make sure that such a fight never happened again, and he had also been watching his lover closely in hopes of thinking of some way to make it up to her. Hermione's mood was fraying; she was growing withdrawn and unhappy and sleeping poorly, ironically much as he had done last month. He knew why, of course – November was the anniversary of the day her fragile relationship with her parents had fallen apart; they hadn't been able to forgive her for altering their memories. The pain of that had led to her crying in his arms atop the Astronomy Tower last year, and he was a little ashamed that he hadn't really given it much thought since then.
Severus took a pragmatic view of it; she hadn't had a choice, and she had been trying to protect them. Nobody else in the Order would have bothered, and although he wasn't aware that there had been any plans to target her parents specifically, it hadn't been out of the realms of possibility and they would have been utterly defenceless. They would never have gone willingly, not without their daughter, so forcing them into safety really had been her only option. Hermione had never meant to hurt them, and she had undone it as soon as she could and explained herself honestly – instead of lying, as Severus would have done – and she had tried to make things right.
He could see both sides of the issue, and frankly he suspected that by now it had been long enough for both sides to want to fix things but not be sure how. Hermione had no idea where her parents were now or even if they were still alive; post owls could find people, but it was less reliable with Muggles, and in any case two magic-wary people weren't going to like magical post showing up even if she had known what to say to them. They could have contacted her via the school, Muggle relatives were given the address of a postal box service that forwarded post to Hogsmeade for sorting, but they might not have remembered it or might not have known what to say.
It was a messy and painful situation, all told, but Severus didn't really think much about it until he was woken yet again by his lover crying in her sleep. This had been happening on and off for a week or two now; he had held back and pretended not to notice, recognising that it was what she wanted him to do, but he wasn't convinced it was what she needed, and listening to her whimpering – she actually seemed to be trying to apologise in her sleep – something snapped. He spent the rest of the night holding her and talking to her, calming her and reassuring her that as far as he was concerned she had taken the best of a lot of bad options, eventually drawing her into gentle lovemaking, and all the while the Slytherin portion of his brain was hard at work.
The next few weeks were fairly busy as the term finally drew to a close, not helped by fighting with Minerva again or by the portraits forcing themselves back into his life – particularly Dumbledore's; to be honest he would have preferred never to speak to the old bastard again. By the time he had a chance to consider his half-formed plan again, it was almost December, and after some thought he decided to make preparations now and then act towards the end of the month – if he could pull this off, it would be a better Christmas present for Hermione than anything else he could possibly come up with.
On a busy Saturday afternoon when everyone else was off playing with Christmas decorations again, Severus made his way to the corridor where Minerva's office was and approached the gargoyle. Instead of ascending the stairway behind it, he stepped sideways into the shadows under the stairs, opening the door there and entering the Hogwarts archives. He still wasn't sure how this room worked; at one and the same time it was a small room full of boxes of parchment and also an immense library holding full files and records on every student and staff member since the Founding.
Frankly he could spend days in here, but he had a specific goal in mind today, and briskly began to sort through the stack of files for current staff members – all coded and tagged to allow people to find their student records too if necessary. He gave his own file an amused look; inspired by one too many films about the FBI, he had blacked out and censored a lot of his records. Refusing to be distracted, he pulled Hermione's staff file from the stack and perched on the edge of a record chest to leaf through it.
It was the standard file; her contract, her salary and bank details, her address – he was amused to note it still said her old flat, even though she had moved out and would be living with him this summer, and every summer after that if he had his way – an outline of her syllabus and supply requirements, notes on any incidents – blank in this case – and a brief medical form that listed any known old injuries or recurring health conditions, also blank. That particular section of his file was four pages long, if he remembered, and not complete at that. It was the note at the bottom he was interested in now, though.
Next of Kin: Helen Granger (Muggle). Current address unknown.
That wasn't helpful. Muttering to himself, Severus flicked back to the front page of the file and noted the number, then went hunting for Hermione's student records. It took him quite a while, but an hour later he had both Hermione's parents' names – Helen and John Granger – and their last known address – Melbourne, Australia. Carefully copying the exact address, he put the files back where he had found them, then returned to his rooms to pick up his cloak and ventured out into the snow for a brief trip to the Ministry to pick up the current list of Portkey and Apparition co-ordinates to safe destinations all around the world.
The plan itself shouldn't be too difficult, Severus hoped. The one part he hadn't worked out was how much to tell Hermione. Nobody in the wizarding world had definitively known where the Grangers were for almost a decade now; anything could have happened, and he didn't want to give her false hope in case they were dead or something or he simply couldn't find them, or in case they didn't want to see her. He also wasn't entirely certain how she would react; he knew she missed her parents, but there had to be a reason why she hadn't tried harder to find them herself. Besides, although this plan had seemed like a brilliant idea when he first thought of it, it did rather seem like he was interfering in her life unasked, and he was beginning to worry that she might not react quite as he hoped she would.
He had considered making up a story to tell her, but although he wasn't particularly experienced when it came to relationships he was smart enough not to lie to her. 'I have to go away for a few days and I can't tell you why' sounded lame even to him, and he could see in her face that she was desperately curious and a little concerned, but it seemed she really did trust him, which he hadn't expected but was very pleased about.
One final stop before he set out; he paused briefly at the Slytherin common room to speak to the prefects. "I am going to be absent for the next few days," he told him, displeased to see the way they exchanged apprehensive glances – his students should not be instantly worried once their Head of House was no longer there to defend them. I hate this place sometimes.
"Yes, sir. We'll hold things together until you get back."
Wincing inwardly to see them with the same sort of damage he had, Severus shook his head, automatically lowering his voice slightly. "There is no need. Should anything happen that would ordinarily require my presence, go to Professor Granger."
Both of them stared at him. "Professor Granger, sir?"
"Yes." Severus hesitated for a moment. "You can trust her as much as you do me," he told them quietly. To most people in the castle, that was a perfectly ordinary and harmless statement. To a Slytherin, 'trust' wasn't a word to be used lightly. He had essentially just admitted to the smartest students in his House that he was in a long-term relationship with Hermione; that was how rare trust was amongst them. He met their wide-eyed looks with a warning glare, not that they needed the warning, and added crisply, "Do try to behave yourselves. I will be back next week and I do not want to find us in fourth place again."
His first stop was the caravan, to change into Muggle clothing and refer to the list of co-ordinates he had picked up from the Ministry. Had he been willing to publicly Portkey directly from there, he could have gone straight to Melbourne, but he hadn't lived this long by letting anyone know what he was up to. They had been cracking down on illegal Portkeys and he didn't want to waste time dodging Aurors all over the bloody world, so it would have to be Apparition, which meant he needed to plan several stops. Attempting to Apparate directly to the opposite side of the globe, while theoretically possible, would result in Splinching, illness, magical draining and quite possibly death. At least he had remembered that it would be summer in the southern hemisphere.
Taking a deep breath, Severus closed his eyes and turned into whirling blackness. The first jump took him to Diyarbakir, in Turkey; not a particularly busy international Apparition station, and he found half a dozen very bored wizards and witches of various nationalities giving him a hopeful look as he staggered and regained his balance. Waving them off, he swallowed bile and pinched the bridge of his nose to try and ease the headache already forming between his eyes; it had been years since he'd Apparated outside the United Kingdom and he had forgotten how tiring it was. In hindsight, this plan was probably too ambitious, but he was committed now and his pride wouldn't let him give up and take a Portkey.
Taking a drink of water and waiting a few minutes to recover himself, he steadied himself and Apparated again, this time to Bangkok. The capital city of Thailand was quite a bit busier, which provided nice cover while he regained his breath and rehydrated, gearing up for the final jump. It took him longer to recover this time, and he waited almost fifteen minutes before he felt able to Apparate once more, taking the final step to Melbourne. After a brief visit to the nearest public toilet in order to be sick – note to self, practice international Apparition more often – and a bit of illegal magic on a vending machine to get some chocolate in order to bring his blood sugar back up, Severus located a map and walked to the address he had found, out in the suburbs. An Aborigine family with four children and two dogs were living there now, which didn't particularly surprise him – of course it wouldn't be this easy.
Returning to the main streets, he eventually found a library – the State Library of Victoria, according to the sign. This was the point where Severus admitted he was out of his depth; he was only passably familiar with a computer and really had no idea what he was looking for. Scowling to himself, he considered his options, glancing at the three bored employees chatting to one another behind the main desk. All were female, and he almost started laughing as a possible solution occurred to him – he had never been to Australia before, but he had been to America several times, and Canada once or twice, and in his experience people in other English-speaking countries absolutely adored well-educated British accents, and he already knew his voice was just about his only positive physical trait. Introduce himself as a professor as well...
Hermione will kill me, he told himself, trying not to laugh as he summoned his best attempt at a charming smile and approached the desk. "Excuse me," he began politely, "I wonder if you ladies could help me with something..."
Two days and three horribly nauseating and disorientating Apparition jumps later, Severus curled up under a thick quilt in the caravan and shivered in the grip of winter in England once more, drinking soup and waiting for the dizzy spells to stop so he could continue with the next step of his plan. The ladies in the Melbourne library had been very helpful; he wasn't quite sure, but he had a feeling the youngest had been flirting with him, which was just plain bizarre and left him a little uncomfortable until the older woman had ordered her to 'leave the Professor alone'. They had found some sort of census record or Customs record or some other note online – he hadn't really understood a lot of their explanations – that showed the sale of the house and recorded the Grangers' return to England, and he had the name and address of the solicitor who had handled things. That was his next goal, once he stopped feeling ill from the strain of the Apparition; so far, so good.
Wrapped in the thick comfort of his frock coat once more, reluctantly including a scarf under it both for warmth and to hide the snakebite scars on his neck – covering the bite caused less irritation than magically concealing it – Severus tapped at the door of the solicitor's office. The man, a Mr Swanson, glanced up with a mild frown. "Can I help you?" You could help yourself by getting a receptionist so I couldn't just walk in here.
"Stupefy," he murmured in an undertone without ceremony, shutting the door behind him. Pausing for a moment to shift the man's body a little and make him as comfortable as possible on the desk, Severus looked around hopefully for a filing cabinet, but he wasn't much surprised not to see one. "Bloody modern life," he muttered, bending over the computer keyboard. At least the solicitor had already been logged in, so he didn't need a password, but to his extreme annoyance the old bugger turned out to have a totally bizarre system of labelling his files that obviously only made sense to him.
He was about to admit defeat, revive the man and risk an Imperio when more by luck than design he stumbled on the search function. He'd forgotten that actually existed. It took him a few attempts to figure it out, but finally there was a complete files search running, scanning the man's entire hard drive for any reference to the name Granger. Pacing restlessly back and forth while he waited, Severus shook his head – this plan had become more complicated and time-consuming than he had intended already, and he was still a long way from achieving his goal, and there was a decent chance that Hermione would kick his arse for his presumption. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, though, he reflected with a smirk; she really was sexy when she was furious, and he missed her. He certainly wasn't going to tell her just how he'd managed this, though, if he did pull it off.
The file search finally ended, and he clicked on the first result. Jackpot. Ignoring the unconscious solicitor still collapsed on the desk beside him, Severus scanned the file quickly, digging a scrap of paper out of his pocket and stealing a pen from the desk to jot down the details rather than try and work out how to print it. The Grangers had come back to England; he had no idea if they had gone back to their old house or not. They hadn't needed the solicitor for anything since; there was a note that both their wills had been checked and left as they were. Then a couple of years later they had moved house and established a private dental practice... in France.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," he muttered, sighing. Of course. It was looking like his one-week deadline had been optimistic. Bloody Muggles. Writing down the address, he double-checked it before closing the file and the search program. There were ways to hide what you'd been looking at on a computer, but he didn't have the faintest idea what they were. Looking around to make sure he hadn't left anything out of place, he retreated, Disillusioning himself before reviving the solicitor; the man looked very confused before apparently shrugging it off and returning to whatever he had been doing. Rolling his eyes, Severus left the office and went to find the co-ordinates for a safe Apparition point in the south of France.
It turned out to be a bad idea to Apparate internationally again so quickly, even though this wasn't as far as the other jumps had been. Severus was starting to feel quite sorry for himself now, but one more jump back to the van and a very short jump to Hogwarts and it would all be over. He could cope with that. It took a while to find the town where the Grangers were apparently living – in fact it took him nearly two days – and by the time he got there he was too fed up and homesick to want to waste more time trying to find the right street. Picking a likely-looking woman who wasn't likely to be threatened or offended or intentionally misdirect him, he approached and cleared his throat before addressing her politely and hoping his accent wasn't too rusty.
"Pardon, madame. Où pourrais-je trouver un dentiste du nom de "Granger", je vous prie?"
He was immensely thankful that he spoke decent French, since she promptly rattled off a string of complicated directions that he could only just follow; had he been a regular English tourist there was no way he could have understood, which he suspected had rather been the point. Thanking her politely, he went exploring.
Skulking on the opposite side of the road under a Disillusion charm at closing time, he observed two people closing and locking the doors before beginning to walk away, unashamedly following them. Hermione didn't have any pictures of her parents on display, nor did she talk about them very often, and he was curious. At first glance he was interested to note that she seemed to be a fairly even blend of both her parents, rather than strongly favouring one or the other; he was amused to find that it made him miss her, and pushed it to the back of his mind as he followed the pair home and watched them go into a nice-looking house.
His observations during the short walk couldn't tell him much, of course, but they looked like nice enough people; the few lines on their faces were mostly laughter lines, except the thoughtful crease between the man's brows that Severus recognised instantly as the one Hermione got when she had been reading too long. He was somewhat relieved to see that they were a little older than he was, at least, although he hadn't really considered the age gap in those terms before. He hadn't wanted to risk getting close enough to hear their conversation, but he had managed to hear their voices and they seemed comfortable and easy with one another. The woman seemed the more dominant partner to his eyes, but in his experience that was generally the case regardless of what the man thought of things, or maybe he just knew some unusually scary women.
Pensively Severus turned away, wandering back down into the town with his hands in his pockets as it started to rain. He wasn't sure what to do now. Short of breaking into their house looking for photos, or interrogating them, it was impossible to judge whether the Grangers missed their daughter. Originally he had planned to talk to them, tell them that he knew Hermione – without going into details – and mention that she missed them and see what happened, but now he was here that felt like a bad idea. He knew his social skills were hopeless, but his instincts told him his plan was wrong. It wasn't up to him to try and fix this by force and it was none of his business. He didn't know the full story – Hermione had told him as much as she could, but the subject upset her and he was sure there was more to that final fight that had broken everything.
Severus suspected it was the same thing most Muggleborns eventually went through, only magnified by the damned war – Muggles simply could not fully accept the differences of the wizarding world, and it always created a distance. Add in obvious intelligence and a scientific background and it actually made things worse; thinking back, he recalled that Hermione had initially gone home for holidays, but as time passed she had spent more time at the school. He rather thought this estrangement had begun years before the end of the war. Maybe it could be fixed, maybe it couldn't – family relationships really weren't his area of expertise – but it wasn't up to him. Besides, he really did miss her by now. He would go home, tell Hermione he had found where they were, give her the address, and support whatever decision she made – even if said decision was to kick his arse.
Time to go home.
By the time he got back to the castle, he was very tired and washed out and really just wanted to let people know he was back and then go to bed. That plan lasted about thirty seconds, since Crookshanks ran to greet him as soon as he entered Hermione's office, and while he was trying to pretend not to be pleased at the cat's obvious delight Hermione herself came to the doorway and all thoughts of sleep left his brain instantly. It had only been a little over a week, but he really had missed her, and the pessimist in him was pointing out darkly that if she was furious with him for what he'd done then it might be a long time before he could be with her again. Besides, to his secret gratification it seemed she had missed him too, and it took virtually no effort on his part to divert her from curiosity to rather hasty sex. Not the original plan, but he wasn't about to complain.
After that he really did need to get some sleep, and it wasn't until the following day he was actually able to talk to her about where he'd been, by which time he had managed to wind himself up and really assume the worst. Severus hadn't been sure how she was going to react, and he was genuinely nervous when he silently handed over the scrap of paper with their address on it, watching her face as her eyes widened and she went pale. Not a good sign. He attempted to explain himself, but she was clearly distracted and wouldn't even look at him; clearly he had miscalculated badly here, and his attempt at an apology didn't seem to help. Admitting defeat, he left her to think about it before he made things worse, seizing his cloak from the back of the door and heading out into the snow for a cigarette.
One cigarette became most of the packet as he paced back and forth in the snow, feeling his stomach tightening with the first traces of panic. This hadn't exactly been what he was hoping for – not that he had expected her to fall into his arms weeping tears of gratitude, but he couldn't quite read her reaction at all; all his observational skills foundered when he actually cared about the outcome and he hadn't been much good at reading her emotions since long before they were together. It didn't seem to be positive. He wasn't happy about that – he really had thought this was a good idea, but if he'd upset her instead... she'd been so miserable before and he hated the idea that he might have made things worse. He just wanted her to be happy.
Oh, who am I kidding. I've never known how to do this. Needing to keep moving and try not to think, he stormed off into the snow; he had no specific destination in mind, but it wasn't all that surprising that his feet took him to the war memorial. Staring blankly at the heavy snowfall, Severus sighed; even when he tried to help, he usually screwed up. Frankly, he reflected gloomily, he was surprised they had even lasted this long.
It wasn't really a conventional relationship. He wasn't sure it was really a relationship at all; neither of them had attempted to categorise it. She spent most of her time in his rooms, but there was no formal arrangement – it had simply worked out that way. Yes, he had asked her to move in with him during the summer, but only after she had mentioned problems with her landlord – he had been thinking about it anyway, but she didn't know that. It was a pretty crap way to treat his... he wasn't even sure what to call her. Lover? Partner? Girlfriend? Nothing really sounded right and all of them sounded worryingly easy to lose. He'd spent the past few months terrified of ruining things and unable to articulate his messed-up emotions even to himself, and frankly she deserved better.
His very useful awareness of where other people were was far less sensitive out in the grounds than within the castle, but he still had a little bit of warning that someone was coming, and given that it was snowing hard and getting dark there was only one person who would be out here. The dark figure approaching resolved itself into Hermione, snowflakes catching in her damp curls, and as he stepped back to let her get slightly out of the wind behind the stone obelisk she gave him an apologetic smile that had his stomach twisting as hope warred with nerves.
"Severus, I'm sorry for reacting like that," she told him. "I didn't mean to be so ungrateful. It was just very unexpected, that's all; I needed to get over the shock."
That made sense, and he already knew she wasn't the type to lie and play games – it was one of the many things he liked about her. "I did not intend to upset you," he replied carefully, grimacing inwardly when he heard how formal he sounded – she already knew that meant he was nervous. Nobody else could read him the way she could.
"You didn't," she assured him. "I'm not upset." He gave her a sceptical look and she insisted, "I'm not. You just caught me by surprise."
"That was the idea," he muttered ruefully, and saw her smile. It automatically made him tense, but there was no mockery in her face, and he reminded himself sternly again that she wasn't like that as she stepped closer and took his arm companionably, tucking herself against his body.
"It was very sweet of you," she told him deliberately, and he scowled out of reflex before she stopped teasing as her smile faded. "Seriously though, Severus, it was a lovely thing to do, and I'm glad you did. It's good to know they're all right, and I might write to them in the New Year. Thank you."
He turned her words over, analysing her voice carefully to convince himself that she really meant it, and finally he let himself relax a little, relieved that he didn't seem to have ruined anything. He wasn't cut out for romantic gestures; they were too nerve-wracking. Hermione leaned against him as he relaxed, resting her head against his shoulder comfortably, and he reflected that she really did know him far too well; she knew when and how to use touch to calm him down and convince him that something was all right.
"And you didn't need to stay out here so long," she added, deftly lightening the mood. "Your rooms are big enough for you to have given me space to think without catching hypothermia. In fact, you had the entire castle to sulk in."
Anyone else who said that to him would have been made to pay for it, Severus mused, but he was finally beginning to appreciate the difference between affectionate teasing and malicious mockery, slowly learning to stop expecting every light remark to hurt. "I did ask you not to scold," he answered dryly, not that he minded – her scolding was based in concern, at least most of the time.
"Don't do things that you deserve scolding for, then," she shot back, tugging at his elbow. "Come on; I'm freezing, even if you're not."
"Have you seen how hard it's snowing? Of course I'm freezing, woman," he told her, registering for the first time just how long he'd been standing out here. Sulking might not be too far off, even if he had been panicking rather than petulant. "And it's your fault," he added as they started walking back to the castle.
"I'll make it up to you," she replied, partly sarcastically but with a note of sincerity, and he relaxed a little further, reassured that the crisis was over.
"You had better," he responded, not meaning a word of it. He owed her far, far more than she owed him. Maybe one day he'd even be able to tell her.
I like some of the ideas I've managed to work in here, like the archives and the Apparition stations, but this is more notes on that part of PTL than a story, really. Hope you liked it anyway. And my thanks to Havatselete for correcting my always-woeful French.