Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 3 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

The woman stared at him with pleading eyes that shone with unshed tears. Suspended upside-down over the long table, her breaths came in pained, wheezing gasps. Severus knew right away it was a dream. A nightmare. The scene was silver around the edges, like the first breath after diving into a Pensieve. And he knew, with the sort of certainty he'd felt upon picking up his wand for the first time, that the woman was Charity.

Everyone seated around the table was hazy and indistinct, as if he'd already woken up and the details of the dream were starting to fade. The man he'd met—Draco—was there, but younger. Just a pale-faced boy who shrank back from the sight in front of him. Far from their usual delight at Death Eater gatherings, Lucius and Narcissa looked as if they longed to be anywhere else. Hosting the Dark Lord in their home had apparently taken the shine off of such things.

Severus couldn't make out what the Dark Lord said. His reedy voice sounded like it was muffled and distorted by water. All Severus could hear was Charity begging him to save her, calling upon their friendship. All he could feel was his own body remaining frozen in his chair.

When the sickening flash of green came, Severus swore he could feel it rip through him as surely as if he'd cast the Killing Curse himself.

He woke up to tears on his cheeks and an inquisitive familiar perched on his chest. Lois rasped her sandpapery tongue along his jaw. Whether it was to offer him comfort or because she liked the taste of salt, he couldn't tell. He guessed the latter. Severus nudged her away, but made up for it by offering a good scratch under her chin. Her rumbly purrs were soothing.

The Healer had told him to get the real memory for anything he saw in his sleep. Dreams exaggerated everything, she'd claimed. Owling the Malfoys, the way he'd told Granger he would, was the obvious solution. Not yet, though. He wasn't ready to see that again.

Lois offered solace and acted the part of a good familiar up until Severus slid out of the sheets. At that point, she stretched out and claimed as much of the bed as possible. Ernie followed Severus to the kitchens, but had the decency to neither attempt conversation nor follow him past the ticklish pear painting. The elves flocked around Severus, eager to whip up anything from a glass of water to a seven course meal. Severus opted for tea and a chair next to the large fireplace. He had tea making facilities in his quarters, but tea brewed by the elves was always better.

He didn't remain alone for long. His cuppa had barely cooled enough to sip when Granger walked into the room.

"I thought I might find you here," she said with a gentle smile.


"We used to meet up here and drink tea in the middle of the night during my final year as a student, after the war ended. Only, then it was my magic calling out to you when I had a nightmare, not the other way around."

Granger accepted a cup of her own from a little elf who squinted at her as if she might offer him clothes. Severus suspected they'd never trust the badge-toting elf freedom fanatic he'd seen in Granger's memory.

"I find it hard to believe that my magic would call to you," Severus said. "You weren't in the dream."

It was a type of unconscious magic that was usually performed by small children. The thought of doing it himself made Severus squirm. Adults did sometimes, he knew from experience, but not him. His mother's magic had called to him once when he was a boy. It had been on one of the weekends his father had vanished. Severus remembered the feel of it, like the familiarity of her voice taking physical form and shaking him from sleep.

"You weren't always in my nightmares, either," Granger said. "I told you at the time I thought my magic called to you because you made me feel safe. You threatened to give me detention for that." She shrugged and shot him a grin over the rim of her cup. "Maybe I make you feel safe."

"Maybe my dream self was in a battle and wanted someone to use as a human shield."

"That wouldn't surprise me." Granger chuckled. "Have you viewed any more memories since you looked at the ones the Malfoys and I gave you?" she asked.

"Just one, earlier today. Minerva told me she was going to show me her favourite memory of me. She subjected me to seeing the House Cup snatched away from Slytherin by Gryffindor at the last moment during your first year."

"Ah. Not your favourite, then."

"Hardly." Severus took a slow sip of tea. "Seeing you as a young child is always entertaining, though. You were half hair."

"Not much has changed."

She tugged on one of her unruly curls and let it spring back. Watching her, Severus marvelled at how much longer her hair was when pulled taught. It fell halfway down her back as it was. Had the whole mop been straight, she probably could have sat on it.

"Quite," he said.

Leaning back in her chair, she studied his face as if looking for an answer to a question he didn't remember asking. "I don't know what my favourite memory of you would be."

"I can see how there would be so many stellar ones that you'd have trouble choosing among them. I'm such a delight."

"Think you can manage another one? It's not my favourite, but it is a fond memory, at least."

"What is it?"

"The time you called me Hermione. Come on. Watch it now. It might make you feel better."

"Oh, indeed. A memory in which I think I'm going to die. That promises to be pleasant."

Minerva had loaned him the Pensieve to keep in his quarters, rather than subject herself to him—as she put it—skulking in and out of her office every day. Severus led Hermione back to the dungeons, shadowed by Ernie. The snake portrait hissed at their approach.

"You know, I've never seen you out of your Animagus form, Sophia," Hermione said. "You stay like this just to annoy Severus, don't you?"

Sophia flicked her forked tongue at them. "I have to make my own fun."

"I hadn't realised she wasn't just a talking snake," Severus said.

Granger lowered her voice to a stage whisper and tilted her body towards him. "Apparently, Sophia used to stay in her witch form all the time and flirt quite shamelessly with you when you were a young professor."

"Don't be too flattered, lad," Sophia said. "I was bored."

Fond of irritating him or not, Sophia obediently swung open to allow them into his sitting room. Though the bedroom door was shut, Severus knew Lois was still doing an admirable job of taking up the entire bed. Hermione crossed to the stone basin and tugged strands of silver from her temple. A flick of her wand later, the memory waited for him.

Severus dipped his face into the shimmering cloud and found himself in an abandoned classroom. He turned around in a circle. No, it was only nearly abandoned. A tiny body huddled on a long bench. Granger, but not as he'd ever seen her before. A fragile skeleton of a girl and so, so young. Someone had bound her arms behind her back.

Yes, very cheerful so far, Granger.

The door opened with a bang. Granger jumped. The tension that held her rigid drained away with a sigh when she saw Severus's younger self march into the room alone. Something like a tendril of irritation teased at the back of Severus's mind. Memory Severus shut and warded the door before wrapping the two of them in a Muffliato.

In the buzzing quiet, Severus examined this version of himself. He looked haggard and worn out—even older than his current body. Severus could practically see the brittle threads holding him together.

"Hello, sir," Granger said.

"Miss Granger."

"What subjects did you teach me in my sixth year?

Memory Severus crossed his arms and looked down his large nose at her. "I should think you would rather I was an impostor, all things considered."

Granger tilted her head to one side. She said nothing.

"Very well." Memory Severus let out a long-suffering sigh. "I taught you Defence and Occlumency. What promise did I make to you during your first Occlumency lesson?"

"You said you wouldn't hurt me. Does that promise still stand?"

"I can't imagine why it would."

Her brown eyes looked bigger and more mournful against the gaunt angles of her face. "Can't you?"

"No." Memory Severus ground his teeth together. "And what of your companions? Was Potter idiotic enough to accompany you here?"

"They're safe," Granger said. "I've been thinking."

"I'm shocked. About what?"

"Draco Malfoy. His mission last year. What Dumbledore might have done to protect him. What he might have ordered other people to do. Dumbledore's cursed hand. The way you didn't fight back against Harry, even though you had plenty of opportunities and he kept trying to hex you. The way you made sure Luna and I weren't anywhere near the Death Eaters who invaded Hogwarts."

Severus scoffed. Of course a Potter would have hexed him when he hadn't fought back. Some things never changed.

The stony indifference of Memory Severus's expression betrayed no emotion, but Severus felt a strange lightning bolt of that earlier annoyance twined together with… reluctant pride?

"Hmm," Memory Severus said. "And have you shared these foolish notions with others?"

"No. Even if they would agree with me, which we both know is unlikely, you don't need ideas like that bouncing around the heads of people who can't master even basic Occlumency."

"Indeed." Seeming to come to a decision, Memory Severus sank down next to her on the bench and released the binding on her hands. "You're very pleased with yourself for working it out, aren't you?"

"Insufferably so." The smirk that flitted across Granger's mouth vanished with her next words. "Your aren't going to Obliviate me, are you, sir? You know I can keep a secret."

"You'd only end up back here if I did, I've no doubt. What are you doing here? Surely you didn't risk entering Hogwarts just to wave your hand in the air and show off your powers of deduction."

"…I needed a book."

Memory Severus barked out a laugh that found its twin in Severus's own chest as amusement rippled over him. Granger looked startled, like it was the first time she'd heard him make such a sound.

"My own powers of deduction must be getting rusty," Memory Severus said. "I should have known."

Drawing her legs up against her chest, Granger shivered and shifted ever-so-slightly closer to the warmth of Memory Severus's body. Unseen by her, he sneered, but he allowed her to remain millimeters from him. His hand twitched where it rested on the bench.

"Do you have evidence?" Granger whispered as if the question was the deepest of secrets. "Anything to keep you out of Azkaban when it's all over? If I can help—"

"Oh, Miss Granger." Memory Severus shook his head. "Just when I thought you might have finally learnt to think for yourself. Surely it doesn't need to be written in a book for you to understand that I will almost certainly not survive the coming battle? At some point, I'm sure both sides will try to kill me. I don't fancy those odds."

Granger's face crumpled. She looked like she did understand but was trying her best to deny it to herself. She made a valiant effort to compose her expression before looking up at him.

"You never know," she said, those big eyes shimmering with tears. "You did once promise to teach me how to put a stopper in death."

If there was such a thing as fond annoyance, that was the name Severus would give to the sensation bouncing around behind his ribs.

"I believe I said I could do so only if you weren't a dunderhead," Memory Severus said. "I am not one of your causes. Stop trying to think of dreadful acronyms for whatever Snape salvation society you want to establish and focus on getting Potter through this. There are two people I am unwilling to sacrifice in this war: Potter and you. Potter, because he is supposedly the one who can defeat the Dark Lord, and you, because I despair of Potter's chances of surviving long enough to complete his task without you to do his thinking for him. Do me a favour, and try to survive."

"I will if you will."

"I intend to do my best."


Memory Severus withdrew a slip of parchment from his pocket, scribbled something on it, and handed it to Granger. When Severus peeked over her shoulder, he saw that it said, "Severus Snape's hideout is located at Hawthorn Cottage." The words landed somewhere in his wand hand, tingling like his own magic.

"It's not much," Memory Severus said, plucking the parchment back out of her hand and destroying it in a wandless puff of flame, "but there's a bathtub and food and potions. Do not clear me out, Miss Granger. Leave at least one of everything. And under no circumstances are you to breathe a word of what we have discussed here to anyone. The outcome of the war may well depend on you being able to keep your mouth shut for a change."

Granger's lips clamped together as if holding in a smart retort. "Like I said before, I can keep a secret."

"See that you do. Now, take my arm. I'll Apparate you to the cottage."

The classroom whirled away at the touch of her fingers on his sleeve. In its place was a tiny stone house nestled into a frozen forest. The pitch of its thatched roof was steep; a blanket of snow had slid halfway down and draped over the gutters. The whole building looked small enough for Severus to walk across it in four strides.

Memory Severus plucked at a stray thread on his robes. "Well. I suppose I'll see you at a battle fairly soon."

Granger grabbed his hand as he turned to leave.

"I hope you're wrong, just for the record," she said. "I really hope you survive. Goodbye, sir."

Memory Severus gave her hand a brief squeeze before tugging his fingers from her grasp. Coming from him, the gesture looked as affectionate as a kiss on the forehead.

"Goodbye, Hermione," he said.

Coming out of the Pensieve, Severus stared at Granger. His own feelings billowed around and grew louder in the wake of the end of the memory. He examined the most prominent ones: the distant echoes of fear, concern for her, and crushing loneliness. There was a different flavour of fear as well—one he couldn't quite pin down. Like fear blended with… anticipation? Something nervous and jittery and unsure. That one felt sharper than the others. He waited until she put her memory back where it belonged before he spoke.

"We looked almost… friendly towards the end," he said.

Granger waved the comment away. "I assure you, that was a one-off. We were both in a very dark place at that time. Comfort was in short supply, as were allies we could trust with really, really big secrets."

"And you think I trusted you, do you?"

She seemed to turn this over in her mind, as if she'd never considered the question in all the years they'd known each other.

"You never said so," she said. "I like to think you did. As much as you could trust anyone at that point. That's not why I showed you that memory, though. There was a time when everyone else thought you had turned from the Light, as I'm sure you know. You'll see some of those memories before too much longer. But at least one person on our side believed in you. I just had no way of telling you until everything was almost over."

Severus considered himself the portrait of restraint when he waited for her to glance away before he rolled his eyes at her earnest expression and maudlin tone. Granger really was far too proud of herself for working it out. Unless he was mistaken, Charity had always believed in him as well, but she hadn't felt the need to boast about it. Not that Charity's belief had done her much good.

Severus thought he must have trusted Charity. He couldn't decide whether he'd ever trusted Granger.

Severus might have enjoyed teaching the students with an aptitude for Potions if their classmates didn't seem so intent on causing themselves grievous injury. He was going to make the first year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws brew an Earwax Removing Solution during their next class, since something was obviously interfering with their ability to hear his clear instructions. Storming into his quarters, Severus decided to dive into a memory from Potter. He had been in a foul mood all day; it was as good a time as any to watch his near-death. It seemed appropriate, just hours from the anniversary of the event.

His first thought upon dipping into the Pensieve was that the Dark Lord had really let himself go. Severus hadn't got a good look during his nightmare. It was something to behold. Gone was the charismatic man with effortless good looks. That this noseless thing had managed to convince people to follow him was, frankly, astonishing.

Severus swallowed hard against the surge of fear and panic that didn't feel eleven minutes old, much less eleven years. Then, the snake lunged, and he nearly forgot how to breathe.

Despair and hopelessness simmered together with anger until Potter appeared, flanked by Granger and Ronald Weasley. Memory Severus leaked out fragments of his past, begging Potter to take them, to look at him.

Granger knelt in front of Memory Severus as Potter backed away. She was as small as she'd been in the abandoned classroom, all battle-worn and so determined she looked like she might shatter. Severus could feel the phantom raindrops of her tears on his own hands as he watched them fall in the memory. Ignoring the Weasley boy's pleas to get out of there, she let out a little cry of elation when she felt the faint kick of Memory Severus's pulse beneath her fingers. She set about manufacturing a Life Debt: sewing up his wounds with Muggle needle and thread, slipping a Bezoar past his lips, dumping Blood Replenishing Potion down his throat.

"That's all I have," she said. "I hope it's enough. I'll send an elf when I get back to the school." Holding Memory Severus's face between her hands, she sobbed out, "Goodbye Severus," before she and her baffled companions ran back into the fight.

There was no chance Severus could sleep after that. Going back to his classroom to brew something distracting was the only option, really. Bert accompanied him, agreeing with a smile when Severus asked if he'd like to grade his second year essays. The Muppets were every bit as talented at paperwork as Potter had claimed. Bert, in particular, had a knack for Potions and an ability to copy Severus's handwriting that almost made Severus want him to stay on permanently. Almost.

The quiet peace that came with brewing didn't last. Two steps into an attempted improvement of Pepperup, and Granger appeared. Of course she did. She was always there.

"Five extra anti-clockwise stirs at the end," she said once he'd added the Mandrake root. "You perfected that variant last year."

Severus resisted growling at her, but it was a very near thing. He was beginning to doubt her claim that they might have been friends. Surely he wouldn't have wanted to spend this much time with her. More likely, Granger still viewed herself as the patron saint of lost causes. More likely, she thought Severus needed saving.

"What do you want, Granger?" he asked.

"To brew something, if that's all right. I can't sleep. When I can't sleep, brewing helps."

No, he thought. Leave me in peace for a change.

What came out instead was, "Make yourself useful and brew something for the Hospital Wing, then." He gave a lazy wave in the direction of one of the student benches. "Save me the bother."

For some reason, she looked back and forth between him and the seat he'd indicated before she began to gather the ingredients for Skele-Gro. He wondered if it had been where she'd sat when she'd been his student.

With half of his attention on her and half on his potion, Severus tried to decide if he thought Granger was pretty. That she would never be a great beauty was plain. She didn't have the kind of obvious good looks that made strangers catch their breath and turn their heads. If he closed his eyes, he found he could picture the exact constellation of freckles on her collarbone. So damned familiar. But of course she would be. He saw her every day, and she seemed to have turned inflicting herself on his free time into a favourite hobby. It occurred to him how absurd it was, trying to determine a woman's attractiveness with his eyes shut.

Her hair was mad, but Severus thought he liked that about her. Always spiralling and frizzing out of control when she kept everything else so tightly wound. The idea that the curls might frustrate her brought him a tiny glow of joy. Her face was unremarkable, except when she was absorbed in reading or, apparently, brewing. When her mind was engaged, she looked all lit up inside. It made it harder to look away.

And she did have bloody nice legs.

No closer to a decision on the prettiness question, Severus watched her brewing technique. That he had been her teacher was obvious. He saw his influence in her precise chopping and stirring and in the ways she deviated from the standard instructions. Had he mentored her? The memory he'd viewed of her first day in his classroom gave a resounding no to that question. Since she had been in Gryffindor, it seemed doubly unlikely. Especially not once the Dark Lord had risen again, given her parentage and her friendship with Potter. Severus had been surprised to see a Gryffindor tie on Granger in various memories. The old articles he'd read hadn't prepared him for that, though those had mostly been the All Potter Show.

"I'm not sure I would place you in Gryffindor," he said

That maybe-pretty light brought on by brewing grew brighter, tinging her voice with nostalgia. "You once told me you thought I belonged there."

"My deepest apologies."

"You tried to tell me it wasn't a compliment then, too." Granger looked at him as if he was one of her students, late to class and missing his homework. "Where would you put me instead?"

"I don't know you well enough to say for certain, though I can safely say not Slytherin."

"Why couldn't I be in Slytherin? Because I'm a Muggle-born?"

"No, because even the first years would have eaten you alive."

Granger snorted. "Tell that to Dolores Umbridge."

Because she so obviously wanted him to ask about that statement, he didn't.

Five final anti-clockwise stirs of his potion later (she was right, damn her; it was perfect), Granger asked, "Do you need any memories tonight?"

Severus now had a tidy little stack of memories that—for all of the emotions they inspired—felt like something that had happened to someone else. Like Muggle films he'd watched, starring himself in the role of Severus Snape: double agent. He kept waiting for that moment when he could truly imagine himself as a soldier for the Light. So far, it hadn't happened. For all that he hated the Dark Lord for killing Lily—for all that he didn't give a damn about blood status—he couldn't get to that place where he thought of himself a true member of the Order. Maybe he never had.

If he didn't need these people to get his memories back, Severus thought he would leave them all behind. Including damnably familiar, possibly pretty, omnipresent Granger.

"No, I had one from Filius earlier, and I just watched one from Potter," he said.

"Oh? What did they show you?"

"Filius gave me the Welcome Feast when Dumbledore introduced me as the new Potions professor. Potter gave me my near-death."

"No wonder you couldn't sleep." Granger grimaced. "Teaching and that snake. Poor you."

Severus wondered if that scene in the Shrieking Shack was what her nightmares had been about, back in those days when her magic had called to him. If she'd woken up gasping and crying and thinking his blood was still on her hands.

Throwing a Stasis Charm over her potion, Granger checked her watch. The shifting of her sleeve revealed a raised, whitish scar that looked almost like the letter "D."

"Past midnight," she said. "Brace yourself. The lilies are coming." Hopping to her feet, she dusted her hands together. "Do you want to come out to the memorial with me? We usually go late at night or early in the morning. You like to visit on the anniversary, but you hate going there when there's any sort of crowd."

Even though he resented being told what he liked, Severus decided to accompany her. He had nothing better to do. She led him out of the castle and across the silent grounds. Only the weak glow of the waxing crescent moon lit their path. She didn't bother to cast Lumos; her feet knew the way. Severus stumbled a couple of times, but he refused to need the assistance of a spell if Granger didn't.

The grey stone memorial jutted out of the ground near the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Finally, Granger cast a Lumos. Her white wandlight revealed likenesses of the fallen that had been painted on the outer wall of the circular memorial. Everyone had been captured doing something they'd loved in life. Someone Granger introduced as Colin Creevey photographed passersby. Fred Weasley—one of those twins Severus had seen trying to sneak into Knockturn Alley—set off fireworks. Remus Lupin stood back to back with his definitely pretty, much younger wife and duelled unseen assailants.

How on earth had the wolf ended up with a witch like that?

Severus passed by faces known and unknown until he found her. Charity piped icing onto a tray of lopsided cupcakes. Her face lit up with a smile as Severus approached. Though she was as flat as a portrait, she held her rocky treats out to him as if expecting him to chip a tooth by eating one out of politeness. If they'd been friends as long as the letters suggested, she should have known better.

Passing through the stone felt like a warmer version of a Disillusionment Charm—like stepping under a heated waterfall. Inside, names decorated the walls. The sky above the circle was always blue, always bright, always hopeful. Lumos wasn't needed there. Trinkets for lost loved ones decorated the ground: bouquets, letters, photos, cuddly toys. Had Severus not acquired a brand new Life Debt, he wondered whether those whom Granger called "the bloody lily-bearers" would have left their offerings for him at this place. He hoped Granger would have had the decency to vanish the flowers for him, if they had.

With a precise flourish, Granger conjured bunch after bunch of yellow zinnias. She placed her offerings beneath the names of those she'd loved, To Severus's consternation, this included Remus Lupin.

At least Sirius Black didn't warrant flowers. Severus wasn't sure what he would have done if Granger had offered up one of her posies to Black's memory.

"Are you responsible for the potted zinnia in my room?" he asked.

Granger shook her head. "I wasn't aware you had one. I've only been as far as your sitting room."

"Have you now? That's good. I'd hate to think I've been viewing memories of painful near-death experiences and teaching when I could have been viewing memories of a witch in my bedroom."

"No memories of that sort will be forthcoming from me," she said with a hushed laugh and roll of her eyes towards that blue, blue charmed sky. "I can promise you that."

As she was apparently so keen on poking her nose into his life, did she know who was in possession of such memories? Surely there must have been someone. He was nearly fifty.

"Lucius will be pleased," Severus said.

Her hands went to her hips in a gesture he thought he could have recognised without the aid of a Pensieve. "Why?" she asked. "Because you haven't sullied yourself with me?"

"No, because he bet Draco that I hadn't been, in Draco's words, fucking you."

Shifting closer, Granger swatted his arm with the back of her hand. "At least have the decency to stand near Fred's name if you're going to use language like that in a war memorial. He'd appreciate it the most." Curiosity—so obvious it nearly sparkled in the air between them—softened her voice. "Draco thought you had been?"

"Apparently, though I can't imagine why."

Her silence felt louder than his. When Granger went quiet, Severus could hear her thinking, if not the actual thoughts themselves. Tilting his head back, he read every name on the surrounding walls. So many people lost in one battle. So many who had died while Severus survived.

"Why me?" he asked without really meaning to.

"What do you mean?"

"I know why that Skeeter woman thinks you saved me, but why did you, really?" Severus waved his arms at the names. "Why me instead of any of these people?"

"Apart from the fact that I knew no one else would realise you deserved saving?"

"Apart from that, yes."

Granger gave a sort of half-smiling cringe. "Honestly, I think a big part of it was to prove to you that you were wrong and I could do it."

Severus wasn't sure whether laughing in a war memorial was any better than using profanity. He did it anyway.

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 3 of 29

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