Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 11 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Bright August light sneaked past the edges of Severus's bedroom curtains and wrenched him away from sleep. He scowled at the sun for daring to be so high in the sky. The dusty remnants of a dream lingered just out of reach, slipping away bit by bit the more he tried to grab hold of them. Something about Charity saying she was proud of him.

No one was singing confusing, off-key songs in his shower or chatting to his cat. Swinging his legs out of bed, he stomped down the stairs. No pot of coffee waited for him. Grumbling, he slammed the canister of coffee grounds down on the worktop. Lois meowed at him for daring to tend to his own needs before feeding her. Severus snarled as he tipped food into her dish. She sniffed the offering once and sauntered away.

Hagrid had shown up three days before with the news that he'd successfully integrated Granger's unwanted hippogriffs into the Hogwarts herd. After an afternoon of numerous Reparos and Evanescos on the main living space (her library's wards had mercifully held), her cottage had once again been habitable. There had been no reason for her to keep staying at Spinner's End.

Lois was not taking Granger's absence well.

Not in the mood for breakfast either, Severus scrutinised Granger's colour coded memory chart. Over the past couple of weeks, he'd been working on making the earlier years edge away from red and closer to green. Memories from the Malfoys and his longest serving colleagues had taken him through the final year of the first war and into those fleeting days of peace before the Dark Lord's return. Not today, though. He felt like watching something more recent.

Granger had written brief notes on her vials of memories, offering hints about the contents. Things like "Mistletoe… again" or "Sofas" or "43rd birthday." One of her vials from February of 2009 caught his attention. Just a couple of months before he'd lost his memories. The clue she'd provided was "Cats." She'd told him that he'd taken her to get Boudica, hadn't she? They'd chosen their familiars together after her previous one had died. Surprising that it had happened so recently. The elderly orange cat he'd seen in a few memories must have had double its share of the usual nine lives. Snatching up the vial, he headed for the Pensieve.

The Great Hall materialised before him, but not as Severus had last seen it. This version appeared to have been violated by Valentine's Day. Pink and red heart-shaped balloons floated among the candles near the ceiling, occasionally popping and raining down glitter when shot with an arrow by a fat cherub. The edges of the long tables were lined with heart-patterned bunting. Even the food was all pink and sparkly: pink porridge, pink yogurt, pink—ugh—eggs and toast. This had to be the work of Althea, the former Muggle Studies professor. Granger had told Severus that in addition to menacing her colleagues with mistletoe, Althea had also specialised in sickeningly twee Valentine's Day decorations.

At the head table, Granger sat in her usual spot next to Memory Severus. She gave her rosy oatmeal a half-hearted stir. Severus froze in place as emotions rained down over him like the ridiculous glitter overhead.

Oh. Oh, no. This was new. This was more than the fondness and desire that had rippled through him during some of the earlier memories. This glowed and hammered against his ribcage, beating in harmony with the Life Debt.

He loved her.

"Granger," Memory Severus said, standing up. "Come with me."

She looked up at him with puffy, reddened eyes. She'd been crying.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Somewhere that will hopefully make you stop moping. Minerva, we'll return in plenty of time to supervise the Hogsmeade trip."

After taking a moment to steady himself, Severus followed the two of them out of the castle to the Apparition Point. Memory Severus transfigured their teaching robes to resemble Muggle attire and extended an arm to Granger. She took his hand without question or hesitation. Before they turned on the spot, Memory Severus gave Granger's fingers a light squeeze. He kept hold of her for a few seconds longer than necessary when they landed at their destination: an alley in a sleepy suburb.

"Little Whinging?" Granger said with a wry smile. "Are you going to cheer me up by torturing the Dursleys in some way?"

"If my first idea doesn't work, then certainly."

"I'll have to sabotage it, then."

Chuckling, Memory Severus led her out of the alley and onto a road called Wisteria Walk. A white cat glared balefully at them as they turned up the footpath leading to a house that looked more unkempt than its neighbours.

"Mrs Figg's house?" Granger asked.

Severus pressed the doorbell. "It is impossible to discuss the latest issue of Potions Quarterly with someone intent on sobbing into their porridge. Although the study of potions is… not your forte, you are at least capable of comprehending the latest research. That's more than can be said for the rest of the staff. We're here to get you another beast."

"And if I don't want one? I can't just replace Crookshanks."

"I never suggested you view it as a replacement. If you fail to bond with any of the cats, we will make our way to Privet Drive to carry out your alternative plan." His voice grew more formal as the door creaked open. "Hello, Mrs Figg."

Memory Severus put a hand on the small of Granger's back as he allowed her to precede him into the house. The wizened old woman with flyaway grey hair who had greeted them led them upstairs to a room with pink carpet, five scratching posts, and too many litter boxes to contemplate. At least everything looked clean. Several half-kneazles frolicked around, pausing now and then to attack one of their compatriots or a convenient passing ankle.

"These are the rescues," Mrs Figg said. "I have a litter of kittens coming within the next couple of weeks—"

"No, we'd like one of these," Memory Severus said.

Sinking down onto the floor in a cross legged position, Granger stroked the forehead of a familiar cat. Boudica stretched her whole body out as long as it would go, then climbed onto Granger's lap and wrapped her front legs around Granger's hand as if hugging it.

"Oh," Granger whispered in the same tone she'd used when meeting Potter's baby. "Hello."

Memory Severus was so engrossed in watching Granger that he didn't notice the approach of another cat with similar markings until it climbed up his leg and bit his hand.

Ah. Lois.

"That one has an attitude," Mrs Figg said. "Finding someone to take her is going to be difficult. I hate to separate her from her sister, but I suppose it can't be helped."

Granger looked up at him with an expression that Severus recognised. It was the way she'd looked when she'd confessed how much she missed the complete version of him.

"No one wanted Crooks, either," Granger said. "He'd been there for ages by the time I found him."

Mrs Figg shot Memory Severus a guileless smile. He answered it with a roll of his eyes. She'd known exactly what sort of reaction her statement would elicit from Granger. Memory Severus pried Lois off of his trouser leg and held her up in front of his face. Lois lost the ensuing staring contest when she licked the end of his nose.

"It had better not get used to doing that," he said. "I dread to think where its mouth has been. I suppose we'll have to take both of them, Mrs Figg. I'll have this one."

Granger beamed at him. "Really?"

"Yes, but if it is too much of a menace, I'm leaving it in your bedroom and giving Sophia strict orders to never again allow you entrance to my quarters. Don't think you can go to Longbottom for assistance, either. He's been barred since the day he joined the staff."

The way Memory Severus cradled the bundle of fur against his chest belied his words. Against Granger's protests, Memory Severus paid Mrs Figg for both cats.

"It was my idea to come here," he said. "Consider it a gift."

He'd given her a cat on Valentine's Day. Good gods.

"Thank you."

Even though Granger knew where they were going this time, Memory Severus still offered his hand for Side-Along Apparition. As their fingers twined together, the memory ended.

Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose before returning Granger's memory to its vial. His breaths turned shallow and quick. Love. Had that been the fleeting something that had jolted through him right before he'd almost kissed her? How far back had it started? Returning to the table full of memories, he selected one of Granger's from the year before. November 2008: Flu. He dived back in.

Memory Severus sat surrounded by the hallmarks of flu: cough potions, fever potions, headache potions, books that had been read in one sitting and cast aside. The green underwater light that filtered through the tall windows of his sitting room at Hogwarts cast an even sicklier glow over his skin than usual. Leaning over him, Granger placed a gentle hand on his forehead to check his temperature instead of casting a much more precise diagnostic spell.

There it was again: love. Not as powerful as it had been in the memory with the cats, but already present, already warming him from the inside. It was more like a beginning in this memory—like the first stirrings of an idea that sparked a plan. Woven through it was a cautious glimmer of hope.

"How are you feeling today?" Granger asked.

Memory Severus glowered. "How does it look like I'm feeling?" A chill trembled through him. "It would be in your best interest to just leave me to die in peace."

"Oh my God. After all you survived during the war, you're claiming you can't endure a bout of flu? You weren't nearly so dramatic when you were recovering from Nagini's bite, Severus. You were very stoic."

"I was stoned on some truly fantastic pain potions at the time."

For some reason, this made Granger blush. "I remember. Anyway, why on earth would it be in my best interest to let you die? Who would I pester during meals if I did something so silly?"

"It would be in your best interest because as one of the only beneficiaries named in my will, you would profit from my death. Additionally, if you continue to insist upon exposing yourself to my germs in order to force me to eat soup, you'll end up catching this vile plague."

"You're joking."

"I am not. Influenza is quite contagious."

Granger huffed. "Being deliberately obtuse doesn't suit you. You know I meant the bit about me being one of your beneficiaries." She blinked owlishly at him when he only raised an eyebrow. "Who are the others?"

"Lily's descendants and a Muggle friend of mine. Do not, under any circumstances, tell Potter. I intend to be dead when he finds out. I have no desire to subject myself to his inevitable outpouring of sentimentality. It's just a few things from my school days with his mother. Edward—the Muggle—will get the house and its contents, save my books. Those will go to you."

"Oh, well, in that case…"

Leaning to one side, she grabbed a cushion off of the sofa and held it over Memory Severus's face. She allowed one muffled exclamation of protest from him before yanking her squashy weapon away with a laugh.

"You dunderhead," she said fondly. "No amount of books would be worth leaving you to die in peace. I had a flu jab, so I'm willing to risk catching your plague. You'll just have to put up with me showing up and fussing over you till you're better."

"You could fuss to rival Molly Weasley." Memory Severus grumbled, but his smile and the gurgle of amusement that Severus felt contradicted it. Turning the cushion over in his hands, Memory Severus stared at the stone floor. "Potter stopped by earlier. He was surprised you'd appointed yourself as my Mediwitch."


"Apart from the fact that Hogwarts employs a genuine Mediwitch, he seemed to think you should be spending all of your free time in your quarters, shovelling yourself full of ice cream and wailing about your newly single status. I suspect he's been watching too many brain-rotting Muggle films. He also assumed I knew about said single status."

With a shrug, Granger slumped down next to him. "Terry got offered a job in Egypt as a curse breaker a couple of days ago."

"And he's qualified for that? Hasn't he been a low-level Ministry drone for years?"

"Well, he passed their tests. That was enough for them. It's something he's wanted to do since the first time he spoke to Bill, I think. So, that's great for him, but he wanted me to drop everything and move with him. Never mind that I could never leave my students to be bored to sleep by Professor Binns—not after I worked so hard to make them give a damn about the subject. Never mind that I've made promises to Mrs Figg and Argus to keep doing our Squib Life Skills courses. Never mind that Minerva has told me I'm all but guaranteed the position of Deputy Head when Filius retires in a few years. Never mind that I'm partway through writing a textbook on the wars, and nearly everyone I need to interview lives here. When I told him all of that, he said I could teach anywhere."

"Yes, I can see why he would think someone whose speciality is the history of British magic would be in demand elsewhere."

"Exactly." She closed her eyes. "And, well, he proposed."

Panic, icy and jagged, surfaced in spite of the fact that she must have said no. The feeling clamped its jaws around Severus's throat and latched on like that bloody snake.

"He did this after you informed him of why his plan did not match up with your career goals?" Memory Severus asked in a sardonic voice that didn't match the sudden pallor in his cheeks.

"It was sort of in the middle." Granger's voice cracked as she continued speaking. "Almost six years together, and I didn't even consider saying yes. Even without Egypt, I'd have said no. I've thought about it before, of course, but it was always one of those 'maybe someday' things. When it became something concrete, I didn't want it. At all. Thus the newly single status." She forced a fragile smile. "Honestly, Harry doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm fine. A bit bruised, but perfectly capable of being a soup-pushing pseudo-Mediwitch. Speaking of which, here. Have some of this."

Memory Severus obligingly took a sip from the mug of rich broth she pressed into his hands. "Boot was an imbecile to not ask you after six days, given how far above him you are," he said. "Waiting six years makes one wonder how he manages to tie his shoes without assistance."

"How far above him I am?" Granger grinned. "Severus, was that a compliment?"

"Hard to say. I'm delirious with flu."

"Mm. Of course. I didn't have to wait for him to propose. I could have asked him at any point if I'd really wanted to marry him."

"You could never be so stupid."

Her head jerked back. "Have you always disliked him?"

"I dislike everyone."

"Not me." She said it with all of the confidence she could muster, but Severus thought he could almost feel her uncertainty bouncing alongside the relief that poured from Memory Severus.

Memory Severus smirked. "Debatable."

"You build libraries and break laws for everyone you dislike?"

"Only for you." A coughing fit shook his body for the better part of a minute. "Ugh. Disgusting. If I give you your Christmas present a few weeks early, will you leave me alone to die?"

"No. But I will leave you alone to rest—not to die. No gifts necessary." Standing up, she gave his shoulder a brief, friendly pat. "Feel better."



"I'm glad you're staying." One corner of his mouth lifted up. "If you went swanning off to another country, I'd have no hope of ever repaying my Life Debt."

She chuckled. "You say the sweetest things."

Not long after Severus finished watching the second memory, Granger knocked on his door. That she didn't just let herself in felt strange and wrong after he'd become accustomed to her doing just that, but Severus didn't tell her to do so next time. Instead, he returned her greeting and watched as she beckoned Lois to join her on one of the sofas with a wiggle of her fingers.

"Did you know Raffaella was getting married?" Granger asked, stroking a hand down Lois's back. "I saw the announcement in the Prophet this morning. The ceremony was yesterday."

"Oh, that. Yes. I was invited, but I opted to avoid it. Attending the wedding of people I didn't remember sounded horrifyingly dull."

"Hmm, I suppose. Don't think I'm going to give up on trying to convince you to go to Neville and Ron's wedding, though."

Severus settled into the spot next to her. The new knowledge of his past (and possibly ongoing) love for her held his posture rigid. Yawning, Granger tucked her legs up beneath her. The movement made their elbows brush together and brought her head near to resting on his shoulder. With Granger so close, Severus tried, yet again, to break through that infuriating wall that blocked how he currently felt about her.

Right. So. He found her physically appealing. That had been established. They were good friends. Also firmly established. A short time ago, he'd loved her. That couldn't have vanished. Could it? He wasn't the sort to go falling in and out of love on a whim. Severus focused until his teeth hurt from clenching them together. Nothing. She was familiar and pretty. Anything else was trapped on the other side of that wall.

And what about Granger's feelings for Severus? That she wanted him physically was another obvious fact, but did she reciprocate the more tender emotions that had infused those memories?

Not being able to use Legilimency whenever he liked was turning out to be a pain in his arse. Perhaps he could think of a reason to suggest he view a recent memory in her head, rather than in the Pensieve, so he could sense her emotions that way.

"Are you all right?" Granger asked. "You look a bit peaky."

"I'm fine. Do you have everything prepared for your Squib course?"

The beginning of the course she taught with Mrs Figg and Argus was scheduled for the following week, which meant she would soon be at Spinner's End even less often.

Lois wouldn't like that at all.

Granger gave a nervous attempt at a smile. "I think so. Just about. We have double the number of people signed up compared to last year. Which is good, but—"

Another knock on the door interrupted her. When Severus answered it, he found Edward standing there with a wooden box.

"I have something for you," Edward said, "but you can't get mad. Oh, hi, Hermione. It's good to see you again."

"Err, it's good to see you, too."

Granger cast a careful look at Severus. Telling him not to get angry about something was a surefire way to ready his temper to strike. He narrowed his eyes at Edward.

"What is it?" Severus asked.

Edward set the box on a side table. "You know how you didn't like viewing memories of Charity by using your Legili-thingy on me because it was 'unsettling'—" he moved his fingers to indicate the scare quotes, "to experience my feelings for her? Well, I remembered you telling me a few years ago about how you tried to help Hermione's parents get their memories back. You said you read the minds of Muggles who knew them and then extracted your memories of their memories. You thought it might have worked if her parents were magical, so I contacted George… Severus, don't look at me like that."

Upon flipping open the lid of the box, Severus was confronted with dozens of vials of memories. Edward Burbage: May 1987. Edward Burbage: September 1992. George had used magic on Edward—invaded his mind. Severus hushed the inner voice that insisted on uttering the word hypocrite. Severus attempting to help Granger's parents was entirely different from George meddling in Severus's affairs. It was.

Slamming the box shut, Severus thrust a hand at Granger. "Take me to Weasley's house."

"Not until you calm down. Angelina will be a bit put out with me if you kill her husband."

"It was my idea," Edward said. "George didn't even want to do it at first. He said he reckoned you'd find a way to give him detention for the rest of his life, no matter how long ago he left school."

"Why didn't you ask Granger to do it, then, if you were so determined to let someone go poking around in your brain? George is hardly the soul of discretion. Had he ever even cast the spell before? He could have hurt you."

Granger's hand travelled the length of Severus's arm before giving his fingers a tentative squeeze. He allowed it.

"He didn't hurt me, though," Edward said. "Anyway, it's done. There's no taking it back. I didn't let him see anything too personal. And now you can see plenty of memories of Charity." He sighed. "You should see them, Severus. She would have hated for you to lose them."

"They will return to me when my memory is healed. I haven't lost anything; those memories are merely buried. You exposed my private life to George for nothing."

Severus stood beneath another sprig of mistletoe with Granger, the scene once again banded by silver. Like before, she sipped on a glass of light pink punch. This time, they stood ever-so-slightly closer. Not crossing the boundary between friends and lovers, but drawing nearer to it.

Severus waited for something. He didn't know what. Everything from his heartbeat to his magic teetered on the knife-edge of suspense. Something new was supposed to happen this time. He knew it. He got the feeling he'd been waiting a very, very long time.

Everything flickered, grew more silver, and suddenly he was kissing her. He didn't start kissing her; the dream skipped right to the middle. One moment he stood there looking down at her, and the next his eyes were closed and their mouths were pressed together and it was everything. Instead of the punch she'd been drinking, she tasted like coffee and cinnamon and honey. Somehow, there was no longer a glass in her hands. Unencumbered fingers dug into his shoulders. His arms wrapped around her waist, knuckles scraping on the wall behind her.

The end was much like the beginning. Silver receded, guttered like a dying candle, and he was no longer kissing her. They stood in their former positions as if it had never happened. Maybe it hadn't. Maybe it was a fantasy that had found itself tucked within this memory dream. Severus kept waiting, disappointment slowly settling like snow.

"I think it's my turn this time," Granger said, taking aim at the mistletoe with her wand. "Reducto!"

Severus woke up with an afterimage of exploding greenery flashing before his eyes.

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 11 of 29

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