Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 19 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Hermione swirled honey into her porridge and sprinkled it with cinnamon. Next to her, Severus was a quarter of the way through his first cup of coffee. A quarter of the way to being able to tolerate socialising. The latest issue of Potions Quarterly was spread out on the table before him. Reading first thing in the morning didn't require an injection of caffeine the way talking did.

Sipping her own coffee, Hermione thought back to the night before. If we were together, I doubt it was a mistake. She shoved aside the possibility of a forgotten romance and focused on what she remembered.

Severus's attraction to her now was beyond obvious, but how long had it been there? Neville wouldn't have mentioned those covert glances unless he'd been certain.

It was difficult to imagine the man who had been her demanding, disapproving teacher actually wanting her. Old insecurities reared their heads and demanded a giant sign with arrows and exclamation marks and a bluntly worded statement of his interest. As if Severus—the real Severus—would ever provide such a thing.

The current Severus would. Probably with innuendo included. The current Severus hugged her and kissed her forehead and took advantage of any opportunity to touch her. The real Severus didn't—unless it had all been erased from her memory.

The daily influx of owls arrived, drowning out conversations with the flapping of their wings. A snobbish eagle owl landed in front of Severus and held out a leg with an ivory coloured envelope. It looked at Hermione as if it would snap off one of her fingers if she dared to get too close. Severus sliced the envelope open with his wand and withdrew a brief letter and an invitation to a New Year's Eve party at Malfoy Manor.

"Good gods." Severus groaned. "It's far too early to be dealing with Lucius. Listen to this. Severus, My wife requests that I encourage you to bring Miss Granger as your guest. I must confess that Draco and I have made another bet. Draco believes Miss Granger will not wish to set foot in the Manor after the unfortunate events of her previous visit. I think anyone who can maintain a friendship with you while living much of the year in the same castle must be more forgiving than that. Don't let me down, Turncoat. Lucius."

Hermione laughed. "I honestly don't know whether I want Lucius or Draco to lose that bet. Are you going to go?"

"I believe so. The guests aren't likely to be people who run in the same circles as the Potters and Weasleys. I should take advantage of the opportunity to speak with that crowd when they will likely be under the influence of alcohol. It may prove illuminating."

"Then I'll go with you. I think I can safely say that Lucius doesn't actually want the likes of me at his party, so both he and Draco will lose, in a way."

Severus folded the letter slowly before tucking it back into the envelope with the invitation. "Very well, but you will be careful."

"Of course I will. I'm always careful."

Severus didn't need to roll his eyes. The way he drawled, "Indeed," got the message across for him.

After they'd finished their breakfasts and Potions journals, they left the Great Hall together. On their way to the staff room, they strolled past Teddy. His hair was still mousy brown. Unsurprising, considering what had happened and how much of his first year was going to be spent in detention. Hermione wanted to hug him until his hair went turquoise again. She'd done as much when he'd given her a tear-soaked apology in the Hospital Wing. As there were other students in the corridor, she settled for a reassuring smile and wished him a good morning.

Severus looked back and forth between Hermione and Teddy, a frown fixed onto his mouth. With a sigh reminiscent of Ron facing down a pile of homework, he held the issue of Potions Quarterly out to Teddy.

"Be prepared to discuss the article on newfound uses for Wiggentree bark by the time I see you at the Burrow," Severus said. "I'm sure you've heard of my skills as a Legilimens. If I catch you even contemplating brewing anything unsupervised—"

"You won't, sir," Teddy said, a cautious grin breaking out on his face as he accepted the journal. "Thank you!"

Hermione squeezed Severus's hand as Teddy made the smart choice and retreated. Before she could annoy Severus by calling any more attention to what he'd done, a thought made her blood run cold. Unsupervised brewing in Myrtle's bathroom. Oh, no. Grabbing Severus's arm, she hauled him around the corner and into an alcove.

"Muffliato," she said.

Severus's eyebrows jumped up. "Granger, what—"

"Polyjuice," she said. "Someone could have used Polyjuice Potion to impersonate me. That would explain why I don't remember being with you. Because it wasn't me."

Hermione's voice trembled on the last word. Imagining someone else using her body to kiss him and touch him made her skin feel too tight and her wand hand itch with uncast hexes. Hell, thinking of someone kissing him at all had that effect. For his part, Severus looked completely impassive.

"I did consider the possibility that someone used Polyjuice to get close to one of us," he said. "But I didn't… Hmm. If it was an impostor, they were very thorough. They even smelled like you."

"They did?"

"Like your bath products, yes. The citrus ones."

"Oh. I didn't start using those till well after your memory loss."

"I remember. The old bottles fell over and attacked me every time I attempted to shower at the start of the summer." Rubbing his jaw, he glared down at the floor. "Surely I would have said something between sleeping with you and losing my memories. I know I saw you just before the potions accident. Perhaps I went in for a kiss, got rejected, realised how I'd been fooled, and Obliviated that from your memory."

"That… I could actually believe you doing that, except for one thing. Unless it happened when I was still in a relationship, you wouldn't have been rejected."

Severus's pale skin flushed pink, making him look as young as his memory in spite of the threads of silver in his hair. His smile was nothing more than a barely there upward curve of his lips, but it reached all the way to his eyes.

"We should head to the staff meeting," Hermione said. "We'll be late."

"Yes. We can't have that."

Someone—perhaps in tribute to Althea—had tacked a bunch of mistletoe up in one corner of the staff room. Severus gave it a wide berth as they entered. He dodged various colleagues to take his customary seat.

It was a shame no one had thought to place a bowl full of Althea's punch in the staff room as well. The pink, subtly floral drink had been one of the highlights of every holiday season that Hermione had spent at Hogwarts as a professor. Hardly a day in December had passed when she hadn't been found with a glass of the stuff. She would have to owl Althea for the recipe.

Hermione settled into the chair between Severus and Neville as Minerva called the meeting to order. Rupert Smith seemed unable to sit still, constantly scratching at his collar. Luna would undoubtedly diagnose him with some sort of infestation of fictitious insects. Like always, Hermione took notes as Minerva went on about patrol schedules and who would be staying at the castle over the holidays. During her time in Binns's classes, Hermione had mastered the art of transcribing a lecture while mostly thinking about something else.

That something else, in this case, was Severus's hand. Beneath the table, he skimmed his knuckles over hers. The scratch of Hermione's quill jerked, halted, restarted. Severus kept up that barely-there stroking for several stretched-out minutes before sliding his hand around so their palms touched. She was the one who interlaced their fingers. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a slight quirk of his mouth. He rubbed gentle circles on her thumb with his.

Hermione swallowed a sigh. She really had been lying to herself for years. This was more than a crush. Maybe it always had been. It was deep in her bones—lasting and true. For all that she joked about Severus giving her Patronus-worthy memories, the moment she'd discovered her library had been what had powered her otter for the past decade. Even during her long relationship with Terry.

If she had been Obliviated, had she acknowledged her own feelings in those lost memories? Had it been a gasp, a sudden inner exclamation of I love him, or had it been like this: a slow-dawning glow that grew brighter and brighter until it could no longer be denied?

By unspoken agreement, both Hermione and Severus lingered as the meeting drew to a close and everyone else filed out of the room. With a wave of his wand, he shut the door once they were alone.

"I believe it's become something of a tradition for the two of us to find ourselves here," he said, positioning her beneath the mistletoe. "Thankfully, this plant-life is stationary instead of being piloted by someone who thinks everything in life can be improved with glitter."

Hermione trapped her lower lip between her teeth. "Are you responsible for the mistletoe, then?"

"Of course not. Sybill is. Something about it promoting positive energy in the lead up to the solstice or some such nonsense. I stopped listening very quickly. I am merely taking advantage of its presence. It might spark the spontaneous recovery of a memory. Being in familiar situations often does, recently."

He was so close. Heat from his body warmed the length of her. Hermione wanted him closer.

Severus's gaze darted back and forth between her eyes as if fighting the urge to read her mind. He looked up at the mistletoe, then back at her.

"Do you want me to cast Reducto?" he asked.

"No," she whispered. "I didn't want you to cast it the first time we got caught beneath the mistletoe, if I'm honest."

Severus's expression revealed nothing. It was like looking at the Professor from her school days. "Oh?" he said.

Hermione couldn't keep it in any longer. "I've been half in love with you since I was nineteen years old." With a self-deprecating laugh, she added, "More than half. I—"

He kissed her.

It was nothing like that chaste, experimental peck from months before. Cradling her face between his hands, he swooped down and slanted his mouth over hers. A gasp parted Hermione's lips, inviting him in. When their tongues brushed together, she grabbed onto his shoulders. His arms moved down to wrap tight around her waist, pressing her against the wall—pressing himself against her. Everything narrowed to the surprising softness of his lips, the taste of black coffee, the new-school-year scent that he always carried around with him.

"Granger," Severus said as he pulled back slightly, "I've collected enough memories of you to know that I… wanted you long before I ended up in my current condition. Apart from what you cannot recall, I've seen the way I flirted with you in your own memories." One side of his mouth hitched up. "Not anywhere near as blatantly as I have recently, mind, but I gave you a cat on Valentine's Day, for Circe's sake. Nothing I did for you was because of the Life Debt. Obviously."

"Are you sure? I don't want to take advantage—"

"I wish you would."

"Severus! I'm serious."

"So am I. I would not have kissed you unless I was certain it was what I wanted. I know it's right, Granger." Pausing, he tilted his forehead against hers. "Unless you do not want this?"

Hermione gave a smiling shake of her head. "Did you miss the part where I told you I've been more than half in love with you for a decade?"

"I might have." With another kiss, quick and so gentle, he held her tighter. "Tell me again."

Severus strolled through a silver-framed dream of a museum. Displays of Gobstones made from precious gems and metals glittered in the late summer sunlight. Not another living soul was to be seen. He came to a stop in front of the portrait of the stooped, teenage version of Eileen.

"Muffliato," he said. After casting a series of wards that would alert him to the approach of another person, he addressed the portrait. "Hello, Mum."

"Severus? My goodness. You're old!"

His lips twitched as if he was almost tempted to smile. He didn't.

"I am considerably older than the last time you saw me, yes," he said. "Are you aware of the events unfolding in the world at the moment?"

"A bit." Eileen took out one of her Muggle cigarettes and lit it with a snap of her fingers. "How is my subject these days?"

"She died. Quite some time ago."

"A war casualty?"

"No. A domestic one."

Eileen's sigh came out as a plume of smoke. "Well, that's disappointing. And what of the husband? Tobias, was it? Is he in prison?"

"Rotting in hell, if such a place exists."

"One can only hope. Was there something you needed, darling, or are you just here to chat?"

It made something both resentful and mournful resonate through Severus to think of this eager, smiling girl turning into his cowering, silent mother. This portrait was her personality at its most basic, its most essential. Bit by bit, Tobias had dismantled everything that had made her Eileen. Only her dogged loyalty had remained, for all the good it had done her.

"The former," he said. "What I am about to ask of you must remain a secret unless the Dark Lord is defeated. If I should die—"

"Die? Severus, what have you got yourself into?"

"A war, Mother. If I should die, a young woman named Hermione Granger will likely visit this museum. I've arranged for certain clues to reach her in the event of my death. She is seventeen years old, but she will likely be older by that point. She has brown eyes, astonishingly unkempt brown hair, and she may well have a ginger idiot in tow. I apologise in advance for subjecting you to their company. I've had the misfortune of being her teacher for six years. Miss Granger's talent for asking questions and regurgitating information from textbooks is endless. I can't imagine she'll spare you simply because you are incapable of running away."

Eileen chuckled, the sound high and girlish, not roughened by years of smoking. "She sounds like fun."

"That is not the adjective I would use. You can verify Miss Granger's identity by asking her what she did to lose House Points when I called her extraordinarily brave. The correct answer is she shushed me. When she comes to you, tell her the password to gain access to Classroom 2B at Hogwarts is Thaddeus Thackeray. I'm sorry for using you as a glorified owl. If I could safely contact her directly, I would do so."

A cloud passed over the sun, casting long shadows across the portrait. Eileen took a few drags of her cigarette.

"What is this girl to you?" she asked.

"An unimaginably irritating student," Severus said tightly. It tasted like a lie. "As of last week, she's the only person remaining on the side of the Light who is at all likely to believe a word I—"

A crash made the dream crumble away. Severus opened his eyes to find himself in his quarters. Wiping a hand over his face, he hauled himself off of the sofa. When had he dozed off? Lois sat next to the book she'd knocked off of a side table, licking herself as if the disturbance had nothing to do with her.

A cauldron full of brown potion waited beneath a Lois-proof bubble, ready to test memories. The dream of Charity in that otherworldly version of the staff room had been verified before his impromptu nap. The wisp of memory had turned green when he'd added three drops of the potion.

It's exactly who you think it is.

The dream of his mother's portrait suggested that Granger had been important to Severus before they'd been friends. Contrary to his claims that she'd been nothing more than an inquisitive thorn in his side, the feeling that she'd mattered to him in some small way still worked its way under his skin.

Severus checked the clock that had betrayed him to George. Granger would still be patrolling. He had time.

"Mum," he said to Eileen's portrait as he strode into the hall. "Did I visit you during the war and speak to you about Granger?"

"You did! Oh, it was such fun, darling. I felt just like a spy. I kept the secret all this time. Well, mostly."


"I did tell Hermione that she was prettier than you'd described, but that hardly matters, does it?"


"What? The war is over. Tom is dead. Did you know my subject went to school with him? Minerva told me. Anyway, Hermione was supposed to be in on the secret. I thought it would be OK."

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and ignored Bert's smothered chuckles. "It's fine, Mother."

If Bert had fallen asleep on the job, it would have been ideal, but Severus wasn't that lucky. He considered waiting for Granger and asking her to check the classroom, but he wanted to search it for himself. It took only a few minutes to reach Classroom 2B with Lois and Bert tagging along. Severus tried the doorknob. It opened without the need for a password. The room was empty of everything but dust, cobwebs, and spare desks.

"What are we doing here?" Bert asked.

"Recovered memory from the war. I haven't the slightest…"

Severus trailed off as a quicksilver memory flooded his vision. A weary, rail-thin Severus stood in the same spot in the darkened classroom. This Vision Severus placed a thick, leather-bound notebook and a vial of a glittering white substance on a desk.

"What the fuck am I doing?" Vision Severus muttered.

Reality shimmered back into view. Rubbing his eyes, Severus focused on the now-empty desk.

What, indeed?

A muffled conversation drifted in from the corridor. As always, Eileen's portrait saw no need to be prompt about admitting an expected guest.

Granger leaned against the wall of Severus's sitting room when the portrait finally clicked shut behind her. She managed to look simultaneously shy and bold as she stood on tiptoe to greet him with a light kiss on the lips.

"Hello," he said. "Does the name Thaddeus Thackeray mean anything to you?"

"Thackeray's collection of essays was one of the books you assigned during my Occlumency lessons. Did you have another recovered memory?"

"I did, but not one that took place during your lessons."

Severus recounted the events of his dream (omitting his mention of her messy hair, thank you very much, Mum) and the memory flash that had come over him in Classroom 2B.

"Unless I'm mistaken, the powder was the substance I described to Lovegood," he said. "I suspect it's what caused my potions accident. I experienced a recovered memory of adding it to a silver potion, then feeling surprise as the potion bubbled over. It may have been swapped for a different ingredient."

Granger scratched her forehead. "Thanks to Rita Skeeter, a lot of people would probably think disguising themselves as me would be a good way to get close to you."

"In fairness, it would be, provided they did not attempt a conversation of any real depth."

"Yeah." She huffed. "Anyway, someone could have used Polyjuice, seduced you in order to gain access to your private stores, and switched the powder with something else then. If that's the case, I will squash that insect and whomever used my face to kiss you before I did."

An almost unbearable swell of fondness brought a smile to Severus's face as Granger bristled with indignation.

"What could you have been leaving me during the war?" Granger asked. "Hmm. Dumbledore's portrait might know. Let me see the memory in the classroom. You never know; I might recognise something."

Severus swished it into the Pensieve. A few moments later, Granger emerged with the same expression of intense concentration she usually wore when reading something to do with complex Arithmancy.

"It looked sort of familiar," she said, "but I can't think where I might have seen it. Maybe in one of those issues of Potions Quarterly that you gave to Teddy."

"There is nothing like it in my stores," Severus said. "I've spent hours searching my own books and several in the Restricted Section, to no avail. I must have kept notes about the potion I was brewing, but if they exist, I can't find them."

"We could ask someone," she said with a distracted hum. "A Potions Master with a memory longer than twenty years, who is also up to date on the latest research. Slughorn, maybe."

"I wouldn't trust Slughorn as far as Potter's youngest could throw him. Unless he's undergone a personality transplant since I knew him as a student, he's a greedy, fame-obsessed leech. I will, however, ask Lupin for those back issues of Potions Quarterly. Now, would you prefer a demonstration of the memory testing potion to start, or would you rather see my other memory dreams?"

"Potion first, please."

One by one, he showed her how the potion reacted with true memories, with false ones, with true dreams, and with false dreams. Tugging the mistletoe dream from his temple made him smirk at how they had practically recreated it in the staff room.

Once the demonstration was complete, Granger wiped her hands on her robes and released a shaky exhale. "After thinking it over, I'm not sure I want to see the memory dreams after all."


"Just in case it was someone using Polyjuice. Would you want to watch me with someone else disguised as you?"

Severus took a moment to consider this. Pain jolted through his jaw when he clenched his teeth. "Only if their true identity was revealed in the process. It would be useful to know where to aim the Cruciatus Curse."

"Well, there you go, then." Shifting close enough to surround him with the scent of citrus, she slid a hand down the length of his arm to link their hands together. "I really, really hope there's some other explanation."

"I suspect there is. None of my emotions in recent memories of you are at all distressed, and as I said earlier, I very much doubt I would have said nothing to you about it after we were... together. Until we discover what that alternative explanation might be, I shall have to create some new memories that definitely feature you."

The disparity between her level of experience and his chose that moment to blare through Severus's mind. All he'd managed to get up to by the time he'd turned twenty had been a fair amount of snogging with a Muggle girl who couldn't find anything better to do in Cokeworth and one awkward, fumbling night with Thora Monkstanley.

Granger, on the other hand, was experienced. She'd had multiple lovers. As had the nearly fifty-year-old Severus, however temporarily. The difference between them was she could remember most—if not all—of hers. Severus merely had a tidy bundle of theoretical knowledge; the largely unsatisfying encounter with Thora; and a few love-bright, seconds-long scenes that may or may not have featured Granger. And he had spent months—months!—firing innuendo at her that suggested otherwise. His memory still had so many holes.

When had his quarters become so stiflingly hot? Staring down at where his hand was joined with hers, Severus remembered with a start that his emotions belonged to the forty-nine-year old version of him. The simmering desire and love made perfect sense, but why the devil was his older self feeling this rising wave of nerves? Gods, he hoped things had got better after Thora.

"Severus?" Granger said with a tender smile. "Come here."

And then his arms were suddenly full of her, all alluring softness and a different sort of warmth. Granger caught his lips with hers. She kept her kisses slow and drugging, like she could spend hours or even days studying how their mouths moved together.

"I would have remembered this," she whispered.

Something in the surety of her tone made Severus feel taller and a little lighter, like her voice had the power to lift him up even when he didn't believe the words. She couldn't have shielded herself from Obliviation through sheer force of will.

"I'm tempted to Obliviate the past thirty seconds from your mind, just to prove a point," Severus said.

Granger chuckled. "Don't you dare."

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 19 of 29

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