Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 21 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Hermione brought her face close to the large glass cage that held Teddy's—formerly Severus's—mice. Mostly, the creatures inspected the humans who peered in at them, but a few repeatedly pressed a lever in the corner. At each swipe of their tiny paws, the contraption attached to the lever dispensed a food pellet, much to their squeaking delight. Teddy's room smelled like freshly scrubbed pewter cauldrons and the wood chips at the bottom of the mice's cage. If the briny, herbaceous, and metallic scents of various ingredients were added to the mix, it would have an air of Potions lab.

Over the years, Severus had sometimes had a cage full of squirming test subjects in his lab. Sometimes he hadn't. Hermione was ashamed to admit she'd never taken much notice of them. She'd barely realised when the most recent batch had vanished. They had been part of the shifting scenery of his lab, like the ever-changing cuttings were in Neville's greenhouses.

"I didn't know the mice came from you, sir," Harry said. "Andromeda never mentioned it. We had a fight on our hands when it came time for Teddy to go to Hogwarts. He wanted to take them along."

"I could have taken at least one if they'd been rats," Teddy said with a pout. "But Professor Snape said he didn't think rats were good for anything, even experiments."

Harry nodded. "That sounds about right."

Severus's face took on the blank expression that Hermione had come to associate with the arrival of recovered memories. Whatever vision the mice provided, it made him brush his knuckles against hers, the same way he had in the staff room before he'd kissed her beneath the mistletoe. Because Teddy's attention was elsewhere, Hermione took the opportunity to give Severus's hand a quick squeeze. She could have kissed Severus full on the mouth, for all that Teddy noticed. The boy had picked up a crumbling potions text that looked ten times as old as he was and half as heavy.

"Did you teach them the thing with the lever, Teddy?" Harry asked.

"No," Severus said. "I did."

Bringing his hand up to his mouth and then jerking it away as if thinking better of it, Teddy scowled at the book. "Sir?" he said. "Do you reckon the potion you tested on the mice is what you were working on when you lost your memories?"

"What do you think?" Severus asked.

Did Severus realise what a teacher he was where Teddy was concerned? Always answering his questions with questions, gently guiding Teddy towards untangling the solutions for himself.

Hermione was not jealous. Nope. Not at all. Her inner hand-waving eleven-year-old was another story.

"I think it was," Teddy said. "I never looked up the ingredients before, because you said what you were making was none of my business, and I didn't want to make you angry by trying to work it out. Only, you're already angry with me, and I got an idea just now, so I thought I might as well see if I was right. This says Jobberknoll feathers and powdered sage are used in memory potions."

"They are, indeed," Severus said softly.

A memory potion. One he'd apparently been trying to perfect since the end of the war. He'd also experienced a vision of a recent visit with her parents. Hermione's eyes stung.

Oh, she loved this man.

"In my recovered memory of your parents, I told them I didn't wish to raise your hopes until I was certain," Severus said to Hermione. "Given my current state, I clearly wasn't certain. Don't get your hopes up, Granger." Without giving her a chance to respond or fly at him and hug the breath out of him, he stooped down so he could look Teddy in the eye. "Mister Lupin, did you tell anyone about anything you saw in my lab that day? The potion? The ingredients?"

"No, sir."

"Did you see anyone else enter my lab?"

"Just Gran, but you'd already put everything back in the store room by that point. Oh, we saw Terry going into Hogwarts on our way out, though."

"As in Hermione's Terry?" Harry asked. At the censorious glares from both Hermione and Severus, he rushed to amend his question. "I mean, as in Terry Boot?"

"Yeah," Teddy said in a light voice, oblivious to the sudden tension in the room. "I told him Hermione was out with Luna and Neville, and he said that was fine; he was there to talk to Professor Snape. Maybe you should ask him if he knows any more than I do."

Severus's dark eyes glittered. "Two hundred points to Hufflepuff for being more useful than the vast majority of adults I've encountered since my accident."

Teddy and Harry's eyebrows winged up in unison. Bouncing on the spot, Teddy pinched his lips together as if fighting to swallow a predictable question about whether this sudden outpouring of generosity meant he was forgiven.

"Severus!" Hermione said, laughing. "That's hardly fair."

"Why not? The boy has provided me with a partial list of ingredients for that potion as well as potentially implicating Boot. And when I have ever awarded House Points in a fair and balanced way?"

Harry chuckled. "He's not wrong."

"Can you even give me points outside of school?" Teddy asked, his hair a hopeful shade of sky blue.

"I cannot. When we both return to Hogwarts, I will make it a more reasonable fifty."

"That's no fun," Harry said. "I wonder if Terry came home for Christmas this year. I'll go visit his parents and find out. I don't want either of you barging in and interrogating anyone, OK? Let me handle it."

"That's no fun," Severus echoed. The corners of his mouth twitched when Teddy giggled.

Severus would never say it—would likely bring up "that time Lupin nearly killed Granger through arrogance and sheer idiocy" for years and years to come—but Hermione knew Teddy was well on his way to being forgiven. What would Remus and Tonks have made of this camaraderie between their son and Severus? Would it have even existed if Teddy hadn't been so eager for stories of his mother's skill at brewing that he'd glommed onto Severus in spite of the notorious prickliness?

Staring at the mice, Hermione replayed what she'd seen in Severus's mind of his questioning of Terry. Veritaserum wasn't infallible, as George had demonstrated, but she'd been with Terry for six years. She knew him. He was kind and stubborn and clever and good. If he'd played any sort of role in what had happened to Severus, it couldn't have been with his knowledge. An accident, maybe—some slip of the tongue around the wrong person, but not anything he'd done on purpose.

Harry ran a hand through his messy hair: a living, older version of every photograph Hermione had ever seen of his father. James and Lily had once been so certain they knew Pettigrew that they'd staked their lives on it. Severus's voice from the day of her accident came drifting back to Hermione.

Humans have an almost endless capacity for betrayal, Granger.

The Boots wore matching novelty Christmas jumpers. Harry had forgotten about that tradition, once much-lamented by Hermione. With Terry far away in Egypt the rest of the year, they had apparently decided to stretch their Christmas out to fill every day between the twenty-fifth and New Year's Eve. The knitted offering for the thirtieth was dark blue with a flashing Christmas tree.

Harry tried to imagine the Snapes doing something similar. Tobias was a long dead mystery—one Harry likely didn't want to unravel, given that what little Snape had revealed about Tobias over the years had been entirely unpleasant. Harry didn't know about Eileen, either, but he could see her portrait embracing silly jumpers with relish. As for their son… Not even at age four and within the safety of Harry's imagination would Snape consent to wearing such a thing.

Harry pictured Hermione asking the current Snape to wear a nauseatingly garish jumper, and suddenly there he was. He popped into Harry's mind's eye without hesitation: as festive as tinsel apart from his glower. Huh. Harry suspected it wouldn't be that easy in real life.

Terry stood beneath a charmed toy locomotive that chugged around the perimeter of his parents' kitchen, his arms crossed over his light-up chest.

"I did go to speak to him, yes," Terry said. "About a year ago, like Teddy said, but I can't tell you what we talked about, Harry. I'll give Snape the memory if he asks, but it was private. Telling you about it would be betraying his confidence, even if he doesn't know it right now."

Harry narrowed his eyes at his former classmate. "Since when do you and Snape have secrets together?"

"Since then. I don't like him any more than I ever did, but it doesn't mean I'm going to go around shouting out his secrets for all to hear."

Well, ouch. Harry had only done that the one time, and only to hurt Voldemort. If he'd known Hermione's efforts to save Snape had succeeded, he wouldn't have done it at all. Probably.

"He visited you when he went to Egypt, didn't he?" Harry asked. "Why didn't you mention anything about this then?"

"Because at the time he was way too close to thinking himself a devoted Death Eater for my liking. I just wanted to give him a few memories of innocuous shit and get him out of my flat as soon as possible."

"And you had nothing to do with his memory loss?"

"Of course not. Hermione and I may not have parted on the best of terms, and I'll never understand why she's friends with him, but after everything with her parents… I wouldn't do that to her. Hell, I wouldn't do that to him, either."

"Right. Well, you're in the country until the sixth? Do me a favour and don't go anywhere until Snape has spoken to you."

Hermione shivered as she and Severus trudged up the long drive of Malfoy Manor, wrapped in a Muffliato. Floating globes of ice with heatless flames tucked inside lit their way. Severus wanted to tug her close and help her get warm, but they were still not revealing their burgeoning relationship to anyone outside her closest circle of friends. He settled for aiming a Warming Charm at her insufficient coat. She was more than capable of casting the spell herself, but he liked the idea of it being his magic to wrap around her.

"Thanks," she said, rubbing her thawing arms. Her thumb lingered over the place where he knew a vile word had been carved into her skin. Severus's stomach lurched.

"Have you been back here since the war?" he asked.

"No. I've had no reason to visit."

"We don't have to attend the party. If you'd rather, we can go back to Hogwarts and—"

"Don't be silly. I'm fine. It was a long time ago, and like you said, we can't pass up the opportunity to talk to people who don't run in the same circles as the members of the Order. We might uncover something useful."

A frosty breeze lifted her hair into a curly halo. She'd left it loose, untouched by both magical and Muggle styling products.

"You look beautiful," Severus said—just blurted it out like some sort of Hufflepuff on his first date. Fortunately, it made her flash him a grin and whisper her thanks. He straightened the cuffs of his jacket.

"Being back here is more weird than anything, to be honest," she said after a few beats of silence. "A decade ago, I would never have believed that Lucius and Narcissa would accept me into their home as a guest. If Bellatrix was still alive, then I would have a problem with going to the party, but this is just… surreal."

"If Bellatrix was in attendance, I would gladly cause a distraction so there would be no witnesses to testify against you in a murder trial."

"So considerate. It's no wonder I'm crazy about you."

The grand front doors of the Manor opened automatically to admit them. Severus sliced his wand through the air to cancel his Muffliato. Instead of bowing and scraping house elves, an animated coat rack was on hand to relieve guests of their outerwear. After placing his jacket in its care and unwinding the scarf from his neck, Severus turned to find Hermione casting an appreciative stare at his formal robes.

"It's no wonder," she said again with a secretive little smile.

"If you persist with that shameless ogling, the wrong sort of person might get ideas about us," Severus whispered.

Hermione heaved a dramatic sigh. "Fine, fine. The sacrifices I make for you."

Turning her attention to their opulent surroundings, she smoothed restless hands over the front of her skirt. She'd chosen long sleeves to mask one of the scars she'd received in this place, but those sleeves were attached to a deep crimson Muggle dress instead of robes. Somehow, Severus didn't think Lucius and Narcissa would appreciate it as much as he did.

"Don't forget to check your mirror from time to time," Severus said as they made their way to the ballroom with a platonic level of distance separating them. "And don't accept any food or drink from anyone who is not me."

"I hadn't intended to. Is it exhausting being so paranoid?"


The ballroom was all wintry splendour. More of those illuminated globes of ice hovered in clusters near the vaulted ceiling. Groups of snow-dusted trees provided nooks for conversation. The dance floor had been charmed to look—though mercifully not feel—like a sheet of ice.

"Ah, Miss Granger," Lucius said as he sauntered towards them. Good gods. He matched the decor. The robes were a subdued dark blue, but his omnipresent walking stick had been transfigured to resemble an icicle. The Ministry would have a fight on their hands if they ever tried to part Lucius from his ostentatious accessories. "So pleased you could join us. Severus, you're looking well."

As he spoke, Lucius held his hand out to his son. Grumbling, Draco relinquished a weighty, jangling velvet bag.

"Thank you for having me," Hermione said. Her smirk twisted into a grimace as she noticed someone over Draco's shoulder. "You could have won your little bet if you'd told me Rita Skeeter was going to be here, Malfoy."

Severus scanned the ballroom, but Skeeter had vanished in the time it had taken Hermione to announce her presence.

"What would be the fun in that?" Draco asked. "I thought you would have made your peace with her when you were seeing Boot, anyway. For his sake."

Hermione blinked up at him as if he was as dim as his childhood friends. "I don't see how being with Terry would have led to me taking leave of my senses."

Severus could, but he made no comment.

Draco let out a dark chuckle. "Did he never tell you? That's surprising, though I can hardly blame him. Rita is Boot's godmother."

Hermione's posture went rigid. No, Boot had certainly never told her. What a shame Draco was no longer a student at Hogwarts. If he was, Slytherin would have just been awarded House Points to match the amount Severus had given Lupin. If any Ravenclaws or Gryffindors had evidence against Boot to provide, they would receive the same reward. Who said Severus couldn't be fair?

Under the influence of Veritaserum, Boot had only mentioned Death Eaters when Severus had asked if he knew anyone who had harmed Hermione. Skeeter had hurt Hermione in plenty of non-physical ways over the years, and Boot was obviously acquainted with his own godmother. Severus castigated himself for not being more specific with his wording. That was one of the pitfalls of Veritaserum. Even if the person could not resist its effects, their answers were ultimately down to how they interpreted the questions being asked of them.

There was, of course, also the possibility that Boot was an Occlumens like George. He was certainly a liar, if only by omission.

"Are you sure?" Hermione asked.

"Very." Draco nodded. "She's also my wife's first cousin once removed. If you think encountering her unexpectedly at a party is bad, you should try coming home from work to find her sitting on your sofa."

"I'd rather not, thanks." Hermione shuddered. "I should give up on all of my projects and focus on you instead, Malfoy. Yes, Squibs might be treated as second-class citizens and mostly shoved into the Muggle world unprepared, but you have suffered."

"Haven't I just?"

The crowd shifted, revealing a face that appeared on the dust jacket of a book that claimed to be about Severus's life. Speak of the devil.

"Look, Severus, there's Raffaella," Hermione said, pointing in the opposite direction. "Is that her new husband? Excuse me; I'm going to go introduce myself."

She scurried off with all the subtlety of Hagrid to check her Foe-Glass. Well. Not everything could be learned from a book, but hadn't she done quite a lot of sneaking around during the war? Perhaps she was rusty.

Severus did his best to look disinterested as his gaze connected with Skeeter's. When Skeeter spun away, something about the sight barrelled into Severus like a physical thing, sending him stumbling and gasping into a memory.

The icy elegance of the ballroom melted away to reveal an airy, modern flat. Painfully modern, judging by the furniture. Severus wouldn't want to try sitting for any length of time on any of the things that were masquerading as chairs. It all looked as if it had been chosen to show off the owner's Gringott's balance, rather than for any sort of comfort.

Vision Severus stalked around the flat, opening drawers and feeling beneath tabletops. Springs squeaked behind the place Severus stood and watched. Someone was in the bed. The shapeless lump beneath the blankets shifted, revealing blonde curls spread out on a pillow. Vision Severus paid her no mind. As he continued his search, Rita Skeeter slept on.

The memory slipped away, leaving Severus once again in the Malfoy's ballroom.

"Lucius," Severus said slowly, "how well do I know Rita Skeeter?"

Exhaling a laugh, Lucius raised an eyebrow. "Not that well, Turncoat."

Severus hadn't been thinking along those lines. Even if Skeeter hadn't been bundled up in flannel pyjamas with the other side of the bed still neatly made, one emotion had shouted above the anger that had flickered in the background of the memory. Severus hated her. Hardly surprising.

The present-day Skeeter had done another disappearing act while Severus was captured in the grip of his memory, but she was still somewhere in the ballroom. Withdrawing his own Foe-Glass from his robes, Severus opened the false pocketwatch cover. Most of the figures remained misty, vague shadows. One of them had solidified a bit, revealing light hair and a feathery shape that was acid green in colour.

Again, hardly surprising, but having confirmation was always useful.

On reluctant feet, Severus began making the rounds. That most of the people he introduced himself to already knew him was a small mercy; they didn't expect him to smile. When he did, it threw them off-kilter. Now and then, he held eye contact and brushed over someone's mind, delving just deep enough to gauge intentions and sense surface thoughts, not deep enough to send himself back to St Mungo's. No one was obliging enough to be thinking of anything related to his accident.

Again and again, Severus found himself searching for a glimpse of Hermione. He wanted to go to her, to place his hand on the small of her back and find out what she had to say about the evening thus far. How disconcerting. He ordinarily found public displays of affection to be nauseating and entirely unnecessary.

By the time Severus encountered Draco again, he'd had more than enough of encouraging people to talk about themselves.

"Scorpius, what the fuck?" Draco muttered. Following the younger man's line of sight revealed Hermione chatting to a woman with light brown hair and classically pretty features. Hermione bounced a little boy in her arms—a boy who could only have been Draco's son. "It's bad enough she's clearly won my wife over, but Scorpius, too? Astoria is an easy target; she's a soft touch. My kid isn't supposed to—oh, bloody hell."

The child threw his head back and laughed at something Hermione had said to him. Both Hermione and Astoria joined in with his laughter when Scorpius wrapped his arms around Hermione's neck and hid his face in her hair.

"Well, it's official," Draco said. "The enemy has got her claws into my offspring. He'll probably be sorted into Gryffindor and start a Potter fan club." Taking a sip of wine, he waved a hand as if to dismiss words Severus hadn't spoken. "Don't give me that look, Severus. It's not because of her blood status. I've seen more than enough magical blood to know that hers is the same colour as mine. It's the fact that she's Granger. Disliking each other is practically a tradition by this point."

Hearing Lucius's son admit that his blood was no different from that of a Muggle-born made Severus half-believe he'd dozed off during Raffaella's monologue about her wedding. Narcissa put on a show of appearing to be more accepting in order to keep pace with the times, but it seemed that Draco actually was more accepting. How had such a thing happened?

Not for the first time since awakening in this post-war world, Severus wondered why he and Lucius were still friends, given how disparate their worldviews had become. Perhaps it was practically a tradition by this point for them as well.

"Speaking of your professional life," Severus said, "how much do you know about mind magic?"

"Quite a bit. Why?"

With apologies for being that person who asked a Healer medical questions at a party, Severus described the double silver frame in some of his memory dreams. Far from huffing in annoyance at the topic, Draco leaned forward as he listened.

"Interesting," Draco said. "It's not something I've encountered before. Experiencing a silver aura around memories that resurface is common, but I've never heard of a double aura. I might be able to tell you more if I could see one of these memories."

"I'm sure you could."

The day Severus let Draco (or anyone but Hermione, for that matter) see those dreams was the day he tried to communicate with those beyond the Veil in order to profess his eternal love for Sirius Black.

Draco let the subject drop.

Severus did not see Skeeter again. When he peeked at his Foe-Glass, he found she'd blended back in with the other shadows. After midnight passed and guests began to depart, Hermione sought him out.

"I just sent a Patronus to Harry, telling him happy new year," she said. Potter knew what they'd learned about Boot, then. Taking a few steps closer, she patted the pocket that held her Foe-Glass. "Did you see the godmother as well?"

"I did."

"Thought so. Draco and Lucius will be so disappointed, by the way. Neither of them appeared in mine."

"We will have to break the news to them gently." Another shuffle, and they stood just far enough away from each other to be perceived as friends by an outside viewer. Severus leaned ever-so-slightly towards her. "Come on. Let's go home."

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 21 of 29

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