Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 15 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Beneath the surface of the lake, everything was quiet and green. Severus stayed underwater until the burning of his lungs forced him up for air. Exercise was a very generous term for the way he was swimming. Hell, swimming was a generous term for it. His actions more closely resembled aimless drifting.

The slippery, rapid-fire visions in that silver explosion of a dream had reminded him of his nightmare of Charity's death. Not in content, but in the way all of the faces blurred as if seen through a thick fog. Like viewing something from Lovegood's mind. Instead of people or voices or anything significant, Lovegood's contributions to the recovery of Severus's memories always had the strangest things in the sharpest focus: a plain grey rock, an amber bottle of butterbeer, a furry purple caterpillar.

The clearest detail in the dream had been the cobbled street rushing up to meet his face as he'd fallen. Everything else had been silent and indecipherable. And this time, there was no chance of getting a Pensieve memory from Narcissa to shine a light on those indistinct faces.

He'd tested the dream with his potion upon waking. It was true. And unlike his most recent mistletoe dream, it was all one memory, not multiple ones that had tangled together in his sleep.

Spinning over in the chilly water, Severus floated on his back. According to that vision he'd had back at Spinner's End, he'd created the memory testing potion at some point in the years between the prophecy and the memory loss. He'd had some reason to check the validity of memories during that time. Was that what the dream had been? The inspiration for those tests?

Ugh. It was too early for so many questions without answers.

Granger's trainers thudded against the dirt as she ran past. Catching sight of him, she jogged in place. In deference to the lowering temperatures, her long legs were covered. Severus mourned the loss of her running shorts.

"Are you cold enough to start running with me instead of swimming?" she asked between quick breaths.

"Not yet," Severus said.

She grinned. "You will be."

With that ominous prediction, she took off again, running away like those dream-fuzzed scenes.

Minerva and Neville tilted their heads to one side in unison with Hermione. The portrait Severus had chosen to replace Sophia regarded the three Gryffindors with the same unimpressed expression that the Potions Master wore. Two mouths—one flesh, one painted—twisted into near-identical sneers.

"Well, that's just unsettling," Neville whispered.

"Severus," Minerva said. "Sophia has guarded the chambers of the Head of Slytherin since—"

"I am aware, thank you." Severus cut her off. "She's quite content with her new location. I consulted her about where she would like to be placed."

"And where is that?" Minerva asked. "If the Headmistress of this school might be permitted to know, that is."

"Near the entrance to the locker rooms. When I left her, she'd switched to her human form so she could flirt with various strapping young Quidditch players."

"Yeah, I can't see how that could end badly," Hermione said. Stepping closer, she shook her head. "You know, I'd seen pictures, but I don't think I fully realised how much you resemble your mother until just now."

"If it was your father, rather than your mum, I would almost worry that Harry would mistake it for you and think you were dead again," Neville said. "Though I suppose he would know better this time."

Again with the synchronised sneers. Neville was right. It was unsettling.

"Longbottom," Severus said. "I am sure that statement made sense in your head, but the rest of us have not partaken of whatever you've been smoking in the greenhouses."

"He's referring to your portrait from when you were Headmaster," Minerva said. "When you were unconscious in hospital following the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry found me conversing with the portrait in my office. It's been destroyed now—by you. I tried to stop you, but both you and the portrait were quite insistent."

Upon healing from his injuries after the war, Severus had claimed that the only knowledge he'd given his portrait during his short tenure had been spilled to Harry via Pensieve memories, and he didn't want anyone getting any foolish ideas about him belonging on that wall when he died. Before disposing of the painting, he'd told Minerva that if she wished for any pearls of wisdom, the live version of him was, astonishingly, still available.

Hermione wondered if she would have visited the portrait if it had still existed when he'd lost his memories. Probably not. She wouldn't have had the heart. A second incomplete version of Severus would not add up to a whole.

"Harry thought because the portrait was awake, it meant you had died," Minerva continued. "He was quite distressed until I explained."

The portraits of Headmasters and Headmistresses were aware from the moment they were painted and placed in a locked cupboard to await whatever information their subject wished to pass on to future holders of the office. Minerva had fished Severus's portrait out of its Privet Drive-esque accommodation and propped it against the desk for their discussion the day Harry had happened upon them. If Harry had ever bothered to read—

"Has he never read Hogwarts, A History?" Severus asked.

Hermione bit the inside of her cheek. She should not have found Severus's response sexy. And yet…

Even breaths filled the gaps between questions, the sound unnaturally loud in the deathly calm of Severus's quarters. Lois was out wandering the castle. Even the underwater window was empty, with no grindylows or merfolk or giant squid spying on his activities.

Only the beady eyes of a spiky, hedgehoglike creature from Lovegood observed the scene from a fishbowl. Its spines had the ability to induce genuine, deep belly laughs when ground into a powder and blown into someone's face. Selling the thing to George had provided an adequate excuse for the requested visit. And such multitasking. If only Severus could make extra galleons while investigating everyone on his list.

"Would you ever harm Granger?" Severus asked.

"Depends what you mean by harm," George said without any hint of emotion. "I've spanked her in bed loads of times, but she gives the impression that she rather likes it."

Severus's blood turned to ice. Something fluttered and tried to break free behind his ribcage. "What?"

"We've been having an affair for ages. Ever since she threatened to report my bad behaviour to my mother in my seventh year. I like a woman who takes charge." A grin broke out over George's previously blank expression. "Aaaand I should probably let you know that I'm joking before you kill me. Or before Hermione somehow senses that I've said such crass things about her and either kills me or tells my wife. Or, worse, tells my mum. Don't worry. I've never actually slept with Hermione. Even if I wasn't a happily married man, the thought of so much as snogging her makes my skin crawl. Not that she isn't pretty, it's just… All right. Judging by your expression, I'm thinking I should stop talking about that, too."

Severus began going through all of the ways he could potentially remove George's other ear. George gave Severus's shoulder a cautious pat. It looked like George would be losing an arm as well, then.

"Explain yourself," Severus said.

"I'm enough of an Occlumens to resist Veritaserum. I didn't even see you slip it in the tea—very nicely done—but I did feel the effects. I reckoned it was best to go along with it and see what you wanted. I was actually intending to answer all of your questions—truthfully, mind—but then I couldn't resist when an obvious joke presented itself. It's the closest I'm likely to get to playing a genuine prank on you."

Severus had already known he could not rely too heavily on Veritaserum, but this was ludicrous. How could someone like George have the discipline to resist its effects? Severus's wand hand twitched. How he missed Legilimency. And Unforgivables. Well, he still had access to the latter without risking a splitting headache. Tempting. The mischievous quirk of George's lips lowered into something that looked alarmingly like sincerity.

"Listen," George said, his gaze never wavering from Severus's eyes as he spoke. "I know you're allergic to the Gryffindor tendency to say whatever is on our minds, so this is probably going to break you out in hives. I'll get you some Calamine Potion after. I also know you have absolutely no reason to trust me."


"Yeah, well, for as little as I'm sure it's worth, I swear to you that I am telling the truth right now. I love Hermione like she's my sister. I would never mess with her memories or purposely hurt her. As far as I know, I've never hurt her on accident, either." He cleared his throat. "Erm, although, there was this punching telescope when… You know what? Never mind. Not relevant. It was mostly Fred's fault."

"Stick to the bit that is relevant, Weasley," Severus said.

Nodding, George waved in the vague direction of where his ear used to be. "This stopped mattering a long time ago. I wouldn't try to take you out of the picture. Not only because I know you could kick my arse in a duel or because various gatherings would be a lot less amusing without you snarking away in a corner somewhere, but because by doing so I would deeply, deeply hurt Hermione. Watching her struggle for years trying to bring her parents' memories back… It was rough. I wouldn't put her through being forgotten again. Not for anything."

Severus rubbed at the tension headache that radiated from the middle of his forehead. "How very touching."

"Isn't it? Shame I won't remember I said any of this in a few minutes. But you'll remember, so that's something."

For a split-second, Severus contemplated taking George at his word and trusting him. He gave himself a mental shake. Narcissa was definitely right about him keeping company with too many Gryffindors. This was not how his instincts were supposed to work.

George smiled sadly. "It's OK, Severus. Really. I understand. Just take the past few minutes, though, yeah? I still don't fancy ending up with the Lockhart Special."

Severus vanished the dregs of George's Veritaserum-laced tea. "Is that supposed to make my trust in you deepen to an extent that I don't Obliviate you?"

"Hey, it was worth a try, right?"

"It was. Valiant effort. Obliviate."

The strident tones of his mother's voice mingling the deep rumble of a man's laughter brought Severus out of his quarters. Potter stood there next to Ernie, chatting away to the portrait as if he and Eileen were old friends.

"Potter," Severus said. His voice didn't have as much venom as he would have liked. "Did you need something?"

"Yeah. I came by to discuss a few things, if you have time."

"Don't leave without saying goodbye," Eileen called after Potter as Severus motioned for the younger man to enter the sitting room. To Severus, she added, "Such a nice man."

Were all of the women in his life afflicted with some ghastly curse that drew them to Potter men? Lily had married James. Granger was best friends with Harry. Charity had attempted friendliness with everyone when they were schoolchildren, but James should not have merited a single smile from her kind mouth (he had). And now, even the painted version of his mum from before she'd been his mum was falling for a Potter's dubious charms?

Severus wondered if Poppy had any Anti-Nausea Potion in stock.

Potter grinned. "At least one Snape likes me."

"My mother never was the best judge of character," Severus muttered, shutting the door firmly behind them. "Clearly, I should have left her in that museum."

"She was in a museum?" Potter asked. He helped himself to the seat nearest the underwater window, like it was his usual spot. Lois climbed onto his lap and curled up in a purring ball.

Fantastic. Even his cat had been hit by the Potter Curse.

"The Gobstones Museum, yes," Severus said. "Not as an exhibit; she was part of the estate where the museum was built."

"Huh. I didn't even know there was a museum about Gobstones."

"Nor does anyone else. It's possibly the least popular tourist attraction in Wizarding Britain."

Grandmother Prince had donated her estate—portraits and all—to the National Gobstones Association when she'd died, so technically it was the Plautia Prince Gobstones Museum. Plautia had been a national champion or some such nonsense. Severus had never met her. As far as he could remember, the only time he'd seen his mother's portrait had been on the day Eileen had told him about the existence of magic. Their clandestine trip to the Gobstones Museum had been her idea of a treat.

It was a miracle he'd been so thrilled about being a wizard after that experience. He'd thrown around the idea of visiting the portrait after her death, but the portrait was not the person.

Digging into the pocket of his robes (much to the displeasure of Lois), Potter withdrew what looked like a mechanical wasp, all shiny bronze gears and whirring sliver antennae. It was meant to record the conversations of its targets until it was called home by its owner.

"Anyway," Potter said. "I discovered this in a plant pot when I decided to go back to Raffaella Zabini—err, Raffaella Brown, now—and ask her a few more questions about what happened to you," Potter said.

How had it ended up in a plant pot? Severus had given the blasted thing clear instructions to set up camp in the eaves of the roof, well hidden from view. It was obviously faulty.

"And?" Severus said. "What is it?"

Potter narrowed those Lily-green eyes and arched an eyebrow. "A Whisper Wasp. It's an eavesdropping device." The Whisper Wasp disappeared back into his pocket before Lois could pounce on it. "I don't think for a second that I can stop you from investigating things yourself. Hell, I'd be doing the same if I was in your shoes. I will, however, remind you that certain things—like Veritaserum, for instance—are tightly regulated by the Ministry. Please don't go too far and do anything that will get you into trouble, sir. I will always do my job, even when someone I respect is involved."

"I wouldn't dream of putting you in such an awkward position," Severus said. Meaning, of course, that he wouldn't get caught.

"Great," Potter pasted on a falsely bright smile. "I was wondering if you had any new theories about what might have happened, since you have quite a few more memories than the last time we talked."

Severus flinched inwardly. He actually wanted to tell Potter. He wanted to get a second perspective—Potter's perspective. Far more than he'd wanted to believe George. What an alarming thought.

Potter was an Auror. Scattering select bits of knowledge near someone with that level of access to various resources could work in Severus's favour, but Severus didn't yet know enough. He needed to have a better grasp on his own role in what had happened before he went giving away potentially incriminating evidence.

Especially if he'd Obliviated Potter's best friend. Looking at Lily's boy, Severus sighed.

"I'm afraid I'm none the wiser," Severus said. "It's a maddeningly slow process."

"Yeah. At one or two memories per day, I can imagine. I've looked into some people who have reasons to hold grudges against you. There are… quite a few." Turning a bit paler, Potter pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with an index finger. "I also questioned anyone who might want some sort of revenge against Hermione. Rita Skeeter's book made everyone think you and Hermione were… You know. During the war. Um."

Merlin's beard. The man looked like he was about to resort to hand gestures due to being unable to say the words. How had he managed to produce three children if he was this squeamish about sex? Or was it that he was only prudish where Severus and Hermione were concerned?

"Yes, Potter. I did manage to catch the glaringly obvious insinuations when I read it."

"Right. So. I investigated Rita herself, actually. She really, really hates Hermione. I'd rather this whole thing be a genuine accident and there be no nefarious plots against you, but I also kind of want it to be Rita, just so I can arrest her."

"I can't recall meeting the woman, but given what I know of her, I can sympathise."

"I'll let you see the Pensieve memory if that glorious day ever comes. As of right now, though, it's still very few leads and even less progress." Raking a hand through his hair in a way that made him look even more like his detestable father, Potter puffed out his cheeks with a long exhale. "Oh, and speaking of Hermione, it's her birthday tomorrow. I wasn't sure whether anyone had told you."

Severus clenched his jaw. No one had. It was an absolute certainty that Granger gave Severus birthday and Christmas presents, rendering him socially obligated to return the gesture. What the hell was he supposed to get her? He was going to have words with Minerva and Longbottom for not giving him adequate warning.

"You usually give her a book, I think," Potter said.

Of course he did. When he wasn't building her entire libraries.

"Hello, Granger," the portrait of Eileen Snape said.

"Hi, um… Mrs Snape. Hi, Bert."

The elderly Auror gave her a friendly wave. It was bizarre, thinking of the stooped young woman as Severus's mother. The portrait had been completed when Eileen was in her late teens, making her more believable as his daughter.

Straightening the sleeves of her black robes, Eileen sniffed. "Eileen will do."

"Eileen, then. You can call me Hermione, if you want."

"But Severus calls you Granger?"

"Severus is stubborn. And I think he's expecting me."

"He seems to be. On both counts." The portrait didn't swing open to admit her. Eileen lit a Muggle cigarette that she withdrew from a hidden pocket in her robes. She exhaled a plume of smoke like it was an action she'd rehearsed in front of a mirror, copied from films. "Hmm. You are prettier than he described."

How had he described her? And when?

"Thank you?" Hermione said.

Eileen chuckled. "It was a long time ago, darling." She said darling as if that, too, was an affectation borrowed from films. "It would have been quite inappropriate for him to describe you as pretty back then."

A long time ago meant the current Severus wouldn't remember it. Damn. Not that he would necessarily tell her even if he did possess the relevant memory. Inappropriate… hmm. She must have been his student at the time.

"Tell me, Hermione," Eileen said. "What—"

Eileen's words cut off with a squeak of protest as she swung to one side and Severus appeared in the entrance to his quarters.

"Evening, Granger," he said. "Mum, the whole point of you being notified that I'm expecting a guest is for you to let them in."

"I was going to! We were just getting to know one another."

"I'll stop to chat on my way out, Eileen," Hermione said. "I promise."

Muttering something about her becoming the saviour of portraits as well as Squibs and house elves, Severus ushered Hermione further inside with a hand on the small of her back. The warmth of his fingers soaked through her robes and tingled over her skin.

"What were you and my mother talking about?" he asked once they were alone.

"Oh, just ordinary small talk. I told her about the weather and what books I've been reading. She asked about my intentions towards her son."

His hand was still on her back. "And what answer did you give her?"

"That my intention is for you to father my children, obviously."

Severus nodded. "Good. Wise choice. She would have spotted a lie."

The sitting room was painfully neat. No stacks of marking and research and Potions journals and books. No cups of tea standing in for paperweights. Over the years, Hermione had learned that when Severus was stressed, he tended to tidy, as if his worries needed room to stretch out on empty surfaces. The night before his trial, he'd hobbled around the drawing room at Grimmauld Place and got on Kreacher's nerves by tucking various trinkets into drawers. Severus was never messy, but a slightly disorganised Severus was a happier Severus.

"Are you all right?" she asked, touching his shoulder.

"I am well, thank you." Taking her hand in his, he studied her charm bracelet. His focus narrowed on the little blue flower charm that Neville had given her that morning. "This one is new."

"Yeah. It's from Neville and Ron. They all are, actually."

She didn't mention the occasion. She was too old to make a fuss about her birthday—even a milestone one like her thirtieth. A trio of merpeople swam past the underwater window, staring in. Hermione always wondered if the merfolk remembered her when they saw her in Severus's quarters—if they recognised the girl who had once slept as a captive in their dark, cold waters.

Severus snorted. "A forget-me-not? Appropriate, I suppose."

Hermione couldn't shrug it off and say something about them seeing a pretty flower and thinking she would like it. Not when one of them was Neville.

From the top shelf of one of the packed bookcases, he produced a present wrapped in gold paper. "Here. Happy birthday, Granger."

Hermione started. "How did you know?"

"I have my ways." Severus's mouth curved upwards. "Open your gift."

Beneath the wrapping, she discovered a leather-bound book. The faded gilt lettering on the spine tore a laugh from her. She had seen Experimental Charms by Demetria Denham several times, but she'd never managed to read more than a few pages before Severus had struck.

"We fought over this book for the better part of a month," she said. "You borrowed it from Filius when you knew very well that I was going to ask him for it. We kept stealing it back and forth—"

"Oh." Severus jerked as if he'd received an electric shock. "You had something that let you see where I was. A map?"

"Yes! It belongs to Harry. But he told you I had it and let you borrow his invisibility cloak to level the playing field. As if a spy needs an even playing field. And you somehow recruited Neville to help you. Neville. I maintain it had to have been blackmail. Filius eventually took the book back and told us to find our own copy, because he wasn't going to be held responsible for the start of a third Wizarding War."

"That explains why I was drawn to it when I was trying to decide what to give you."

"Where did you find it?" Hermione stroked the cover as she set it down. "I've been looking for a copy for ages."

Severus scratched his chin with one long finger. "I couldn't possibly say."

"Severus Snape." Hands on her hips, she tried to fake a convincing frown. "You had it this whole time, didn't you?"

His expression was far too innocent. "How am I supposed to know?"

Laughing, Hermione wrapped her arms around him. "Thank you. I love it."

In contrast to their first embrace, he reacted instantly, holding her tight. Beneath her hands, his tense back muscles relaxed. The comforting thrum of his heart beat steady and sure against her cheek. Hermione hoped she wouldn't lose this when he was back to himself.

"Did you know you only hugged me once before you lost your memories?" she said.

"Did I?" With an inscrutable expression, he held her at arm's length. "Might I have the memory?"

"Oh. Yeah. Of course."

Hermione's cheeks heated as her wand tugged the silver strands from her mind.

"I look forward to discovering why this makes you blush," he said with that smirk that made her knees a tiny bit weak. He turned to place her conjured vial among his other memories.

Right. Time for a subject change, she decided.

"Why did you get rid of Sophia?"

He straightened his sleeves and sniffed the same way his mother's portrait had done just minutes before. "I do not trust her to keep my quarters secure. The portrait only has their subject's mannerisms and disposition, as you know, but Sophia doesn't strike me as someone who had a particularly honest disposition. Mum, for all her flaws, was as loyal as a Hufflepuff. Often to her detriment."

Hermione couldn't tell whether the sinking sensation in her stomach was for Eileen or Severus or both. "Do you trust anyone?" she asked.

He gazed off into the darkness of the lake as he considered the question. Seconds drew closer to a minute, measured out by the ticking of the silver clock above his fireplace. Finally, he nodded.

"Lois. I trust Lois."

Hermione laughed. "Not Boudica?"

"Merlin, no. I'm no fool."

"And what about me?"

"You're no fool, either."

Hermione rolled her eyes. He smiled like he'd never lost his memories. Like he knew everything about her. As his eyes flashed with something she couldn't identify, Severus toyed with the forget-me-not charm on Hermione's bracelet.

"I am getting there, Granger."

Granger had labelled the memory of their alleged first hug with the exact date: 24 April 2009. Mere hours separated that moment from the one that had stolen thirty years from Severus. Hardly enough time to squeeze in a whole relationship. Severus let himself fall into the memory, certain he was about to watch a scene in which Granger's memories had already been altered.

Memory Severus leaned against a stone pillar in a bookshelf-lined room that could only have been Granger's quarters. Boudica and Lois snoozed together on a cat bed big enough for two in front of the remains of a fire. The diamond paned windows were streaked with the evidence of distractedly-cast cleaning spells used in place of elf magic. There was a hazy, summery quality to the light on this side of the castle that made Severus want to stretch out on the cushioned window seat and read as many books as he could until he dozed off.

Granger twisted her hands together. "I was just wondering if you would consent to being interviewed for my book," she said, the words whooshing out in a rush.

Amusement pierced through Severus and brightened the glow that had become a constant presence in his recent memories of Granger.

He had still loved her on the day he had forgotten her.

"Of course," Memory Severus said, no hesitation. "What time is convenient for you?"

Granger looked braced for a refusal until his words sank in. Beaming at him, she practically attacked him with a hug. His arms moved as if he'd never before embraced someone, stiff and cautious. As one hand landed in the centre of her back, she squeezed him tighter—squeezed a chuckle out of him. Memory Severus rested his chin on top of her head and let his eyes close. Her shoulders rose and fell with a deep inhale.

Drawing back, Granger rose up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you, Severus. I know how private you are. I won't pry too much… OK, I will, but just let me know whenever you need a break. And I promise I'll let you approve the final copy before publication. Not a single word will be printed without your consent."

The words sounded harmless. Reassuring. Why, then, did a thunderstorm of surprised hope get muffled by an all-too familiar blankness? Walls slammed into place, blocking every warm and wonderful thing Severus felt for Granger.

Memory Severus pressed his lips into a thin line. "I'm afraid I must go. I have a detention to supervise. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll set up an appointment for your interview then."

Well. That was one of Severus's queries answered. Taking out his list and removing the disguising charm, he erased the musings related to the question of who could manage to block love.

He could.

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 15 of 29

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