Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 4 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

The lack of any unusual emotions was Severus's first clue that the memory didn't actually involve him. The whole scene was hollow, completely barren of any forgotten feelings waiting to leap out and take him by surprise.

The second clue was the cheap, rumpled black wig stuck to the head of the figure beneath the writhing woman.

Granger had warned him about a deluge of lilies. She had not sufficiently prepared him for the delivery of a wisp of Pensieve memory that featured a stranger doing unspeakable things to what was blatantly a life-sized Severus Snape doll. The enormous nose (half as big as the damned thing's head) and sloppily painted-on scowl were, frankly, insulting.

After yanking himself out of the memory, Severus waved his wand over it in the most furious Evanesco he'd ever cast. He would not be returning that to his mystery fake paramour. Stalking out of his quarters, he aimed his rapid steps towards the Great Hall. He really should have had some caffeine before viewing any memories. The flowery letter with its proclamations about wild summers together would have tipped him off if he'd first pried himself from sleep with enough coffee.

Minerva glanced up from her breakfast as he approached the head table. "Severus? Is something wrong?"

"From now on, you are going to verify whether people are trustworthy and known to me before I view their memories."

"Oh, dear." She had the temerity to smirk. "It sounds like there's a story there."

"Not one you want to hear, believe me."

Ignoring the platters of food, Severus focused on pouring as much black coffee down his throat as possible. The front page of the Prophet didn't improve his mood. That odious Skeeter woman had written about his accident, announcing to the entire Wizarding World that he was an easy target. She'd also heavily implied that he'd either been up to something Dark or he had been successfully hiding his incompetence at Potions for the past thirty years. The accident was, of course, all his fault according to Skeeter. Severus made it through less than half a cup of coffee before Granger plopped down next to him and started yammering.

"So, I was thinking we should come back down here around two, if you want to swing by my quarters at ten to," she said. "Oh, wait. You haven't been to my quarters yet, have you? Never mind. I'll come to you, then."

"I thought people were supposed to arrive at half past one. And why would I need your assistance to find my way to the Great Hall? Are you also going to tie my shoes and cut up my food for me? Even at age twenty, I was an adult. I don't need you to micro-manage my life."

"Oh. Sorry." Staring down at her hands, Granger fiddled with the silver bracelet that always rested on her right wrist. The attached charms made a quiet jangling sound, like miniature windchimes. "We usually sneak in together right before it starts. You hate sitting there for too long. I think it's because—"

"Stop telling me what I like, Granger. I can decide for myself." Severus let the ugly words trapped behind his teeth spring free, ignoring the feeble inner voice that whispered for him to wait, to think before he spoke. "I'm starting to wonder if my memories were simply crowded out of my brain by your incessant chatter and your apparent inability to leave me alone for more than two seconds at a time. It's quite possible that my mind shut down in an attempt to escape the dubious pleasure of your company."

He knew the expression that flickered over her face: the glassy sheen of hurt in her eyes and the slight tremble of her lips that was quickly pushed away by something hard and unyielding.

"Right," she said. The single, icy syllable sounded walled in by her Occlumency shields—the ones a different Severus had taught her to use. "I'll let you be, then. When you need more memories, you know where to find me."

With that, she picked up her giant mug of coffee and shuffled down the table to sit next to Longbottom. Something both foreign and familiar carved a hole in Severus's chest: a regret that somehow belonged to both his 20-year-old and his 49-year-old selves. One of Longbottom's large, callused hands squeezed Granger's shoulder. Longbottom pressed a whiskery kiss to her cheek in that easy way that spoke of decades of friendship.

Longbottom really needed to shave his beard, Severus thought. It looked ridiculous on his too-round, too-friendly face. Like trying to make a unicorn or a marshmallow look rough.

Ernie tutted and gave Severus a look of grandfatherly disappointment. Severus ignored him.

Granger didn't look back at Severus. She heaped fruit and yogurt into a bowl, sprinkled it with granola, and chatted and smiled with Longbottom as if it was how she spent every morning. Severus picked at a plate of eggs and toast and vanished the expected lilies when a flurry of owl wings delivered them.

He told himself that the unpleasant tug he felt was just the Life Debt.

Granger was right. Severus should have arrived later. There was nowhere to sit with his back to the wall, for one thing. He hadn't realised it would be something he wanted, but as soon as he sat out in the open he felt twitchy and anxious—like his inability to see in all directions at once made him itch all over. For another thing, people kept turning in what they probably thought was a subtle way to look at him. Whispers buzzed back and forth. Apparently, Severus showing up this early was something of a novelty. Scaring them off with a glare was easy enough, but more swiveled and gawked. It was a hydra with a penchant for idiotic stares.

Without Severus in tow, Granger didn't bother with tardiness. She appeared not long after him, as suddenly as if she'd Apparated, and motioned for a surprised Ronald Weasley and Potter to make space for her on their bench at the front. At first, the gap they created was too large. They left room for Severus, not realising he was already glowering from the back row.

Weasley draped an arm over Granger's shoulders and leaned closer to say something. Whatever her response was, it made him frown. He surveyed the surrounding benches, but Longbottom placed a placating hand on his shoulder and murmured something that made Weasley relax again—albeit reluctantly.

On Potter's other side sat the newest redheaded Mrs Potter. Their younger boy played on the floor at her feet, ramming a toy Muggle tractor into her ankles and then scrambling up onto his knees to pat her pregnant belly in apology. The older son abandoned his father's lap to climb straight onto Granger's. Severus couldn't imagine why she grinned as she accepted the boy's sticky kiss on her cheek.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Severus examined his feelings towards the row of people. There was just a sliver of irritation when he focused on Longbottom, Weasley, and Mrs Potter. Like the lingering spectre of what he'd thought of them when they'd been children. Now, he thought he mostly felt neutral towards them. Potter was best not contemplated. Granger was still… whatever she was. Severus thought he might not entirely loathe the two little boys—Lily's grandchildren. Grandchildren. Many of his peers were now grandparents. How unsettling.

At the start of the ceremony, the Minister for Magic held up his arms and asked the crowd to join him in two minutes of silence. The heavy quiet made Severus's mind wander; he struggled to focus appropriately on the passing of people he couldn't even remember. Again and again, his gaze returned to Granger. The little boy in her lap had as much tendency to be silent as most little boys of Severus's acquaintance. He squirmed and murmured in Granger's ear and blithely ignored her attempts to shush him.

Catching sight of Severus, the boy beamed at him and tried to wriggle out of Granger's grasp. Potter had to catch his spawn to keep him from running off. One of Severus's time-tested sneers only made the boy giggle. What a bizarre child.

"We are here not only to honour those who gave their lives in the Second Wizarding War," the Minister for Magic said in his deep, rumbling voice, "but all wars. As we remember the fallen, we also hope for peace in our world and the Muggle world. It is up to all of us to teach our children about the mistakes of the past. We are responsible to see to it that blood prejudice is eradicated so that such mistakes never happen again."

Over fifty wizards and witches approached the front of the hall by some unspoken cue. As one, they conjured red poppies and sent the flowers floating up to join together in a wreath behind where the head table usually sat. Granger was among them, Lily's eldest grandson balanced on her hip. She let the boy raise the flower in the air and let it go.

Strange, that they used such a Muggle symbol of remembrance. Apart from the use of magic, the whole thing reminded Severus of the way Cokeworth had observed the Muggle Remembrance Day when he was a child.

Once the wreath was in place, people began to circulate. Prefects from each House had been charged with collecting for charities such as the funds for war orphans and displaced Muggle-borns. There was no basket for S.P.E.W. Perhaps Granger had given it up. Severus found the bit of wall with the best view of the whole hall and rested his back against it.

A few brave souls attempted to engage him in conversation. Severus would have rebuffed them, but they had memories to offer. After glancing at Minerva (who nodded in approval of each potential memory donor), Severus placed the mist into conjured vials and labelled them with the name of the owner.

Every last person, it seemed, wanted to show him a moment from the war. Did these people not appreciate that he had lost nearly three decades of memories? The war had lasted for three years. There was much more that needed to be put back than skirmishes and subterfuge.

And far too many people asked Severus where Granger was. That answered the question about whether he'd spent much time with her when he was fully himself, at least.

"Let me guess," a stocky man with flaming-red hair said as he sidled up to Severus. "Everyone keeps giving you memories from the war and depressing the hell out of you?"

Whatever exasperation Severus had felt towards this man when he had been one of Severus's students had not been dulled by time. Severus felt instantly on guard at the sight of him, as if the man's mere presence could cause any cauldrons in the vicinity to explode.

"Something like that," Severus said.

The man grinned. "Thought so. I'm George Weasley, by the way. And don't worry." He shifted the veil of his bright hair aside to reveal a missing ear. "I won't be subjecting you to the memory of when you did this. I have a much better one for you."

Severus looked to Minerva for confirmation of George's trustworthiness. Narrowing her eyes, Minerva hesitated for what seemed like a very long time before she nodded. Hmm.

"What memory is it?" Severus asked as George presented the vial to him with a theatrical flourish.

"Something happy." He looked around as if he'd misplaced something. "Hey, where's Hermione?"

At that moment, Granger stood talking with the Minister for Magic and the Potters. She seemed fine without Severus's company. Not that he was looking.

"No idea," Severus lied. "I'm not her keeper. If you'll excuse me."

Abandoning his perfect spot on the wall, Severus headed towards the opposite side of the room from Granger and the Potters. His new leaning spot inadvertently placed him within earshot of a conversation between Ronald Weasley and Longbottom.

"I was talking to Kingsley earlier," Ronald said. "He reckons Percy is going to win."

"Wow." Longbottom's teeth flashed white through his absurd beard as he smiled. "Really?"

"Mhm. Sometimes I wonder if he should have been in Slytherin. Have you seen him? I don't think a single member of the Wizengamot has escaped being cornered by him today. Only Perce would see a memorial service as an opportunity to advance his career goals. I swear he'll be Minister for Magic when Kingsley retires. Especially if he accomplishes what everyone else thought was impossible."

Longbottom's voice softened and warmed. "You know that's not why he's doing it."

"I know," Ronald whispered. "So, assuming he does win… Were you serious?"

"Of course I was."

What, exactly, Longbottom was serious about, Severus didn't get to hear. Ronald noticed Severus's presence. His face twisted as if he'd taken a bite of Gurdyroot.

"Snape," Ronald said.


Longbottom groaned in that long-suffering way people had of doing when they knew their friend was about to do something stupid. Severus suspected Longbottom had many occasions for such a groan.

"Has Hermione told you about her parents yet?" Ronald asked.

"Ron," Longbottom hissed.

"What about Granger's parents?" Severus asked.

"Let's just say you have more in common with them than you might think, given that they're Muggles. Here." He jerked a strand of memory from his head and crammed it into a vial. "You can see for yourself."

"Oh, look, there's Seamus," Longbottom said in a falsely bright voice. He hooked his arm through Ronald's. "Let's go say hello, Ron. See you later, Snape."

Severus wasn't left in peace for very long after their departure. Mere seconds later, a woman with long, dark hair approached and flashed him an enigmatic smile.

"Hello, Professor," she said.

Severus couldn't decide how he felt about her. His emotions switched back and forth between aggravation and the barest hint of approval, like she was two different people.


He'd given up asking people for their names. Either they volunteered the information themselves or they carried on talking as if they thought he knew. Being bombarded with so many names at once left him with little hope of remembering all of them, even if he'd cared enough to try.

"Parvati Patil," the woman said. She tilted to one side to look at the empty space next to him, and Severus knew what was coming next. "Where's Hermione?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

"Hmm. Well, anyway, I hear you're in need of memories. I have one for you, if you'd like it."

"That depends. Is it about the war?"

"Nope. Not at all. It did happen during the war, but it's about something else entirely. It's just something that has always puzzled me. I've never been able to make sense of it. I wondered if giving it to you now might inspire you to finally explain it to me when you get your memories back."

"I doubt it."

She chuckled and brought her wand to the side of her head. "It was worth a try."

Hermione let herself be swept up in Kingsley's story about Tonks's first day on the job as an Auror. Fond smiles dawned without effort in spite of the occasional glance she could feel from a pair of dark eyes. She refused to cry or mope around. It wasn't Severus pushing her away. Not really. It was a near-stranger with Severus's face. And yet, he'd known exactly which buttons to press.

Peeking at Severus out of the corner of her eye, Hermione chewed on the inside of her cheek. How she wished he was his older self. The one she had sat almost knee-to-knee with in his office during her sixth year, his eyes locked on hers. The one who had told her in that deep voice that he would not hurt her. The one she'd had long, rambling conversations with about Memory Charms and ethics and Muggle literature and protection spells and wards and she didn't even remember what else. The one who had been inside her head and knew her.

It was a strange feeling, missing someone who was technically right in front of her. A bit like Harry's description of looking into the Mirror of Erised. Like that vision of Harry's parents, Severus seemed close enough to touch, but it was an illusion.

Well, this simulacrum of Severus could shove her away all he wanted. The real Severus would be back to himself eventually. It would happen even if Hermione had to hold him face-down in the Pensieve until he'd seen enough memories to build that bridge. She wouldn't let him forget everything forever. She'd had quite enough of being forgotten.

George broke her out of her thoughts as his arms wrapped tight around her in one of those Weasley hugs that felt like summers at the Burrow.

"So," George said. "I have to warn you. Neville says that Ron gave Snape a memory of your parents."

She sighed. "Of course he did."

George gave her that look he'd given her years ago—the one she'd seen through the muddling haze of alcohol. Pity still looked all wrong on his face.

"It's weird, isn't it?" he said in a too-airy tone.

"What is?"

"Ron getting all stroppy with Snape because Snape is giving you the cold shoulder."

Hermione laughed. "It is. How times have changed."

Severus emptied his pockets of the vials of memories he'd collected during the service. Choosing two for that day's viewing wasn't difficult. The ones about the war did not appeal. Ronald Weasley's had vague threats of guilt attached to it. George Weasley had promised something joyful for a change. Parvati Patil had provided a mystery. He decided to start with George.

Diving into George's memory brought him to a grand room with a bright blue ceiling, a row of fireplaces, and a shiny wooden floor. The Ministry Atrium. Twinkling fairy lights draped over the gilt fireplace mantles and floated near the tall fountain. The fountain had changed design since the last time he'd seen it. Now, all of the statue's figures were on the same level. The centaur, goblin and house elf no longer gazed adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Not at all representative of the current status of other magical beings in the wizarding world, but Severus thought Granger likely approved of the gesture.

George paced back and forth, patting a pocket on his formal robes every few steps. On his eighth or ninth turn, a younger Granger tumbled from one of the fireplaces. Her masses of curls had been smoothed into tame spirals with some sort of magic that made Severus inexplicably want to cast Finite Incantatum. The silver sparkles dotted over her deep blue dress robes gave her the appearance of being clothed in the night sky. Severus estimated her to be in her early twenties. This Granger had a softer, fuller figure than the one Severus knew.

"Hey," George said, his face shifting from nervous grimace to welcoming grin. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm Harry's date, since Ginny is playing that charity match." Balancing on her tiptoes, Granger kissed his cheek. "Where's Angelina?"

"Already in the ballroom. I was, too, but—"

George's words cut off as another fireplace flared green and spat out Severus's younger self, clad in black dress robes. Instead of hiding his face behind his hair, he'd pulled it back for a change. At the sight of George and Granger, Memory Severus looked ready to dart back into the fireplace and spin away to anywhere else. Severus felt something nervous and not entirely pleased curl around him.

"Severus!" Granger said. He couldn't work out whether she was dismayed or delighted. "I didn't expect to see you here."

"Evening, Granger." Memory Severus greeted her with a nod. "Likewise."

"This is perfect," George said, rubbing his hands together in the manner of a classic Muggle film villain. "I need your help—both of you. No one will ever suspect the two of you."

Memory Severus scoffed. "I'm quite certain many people suspect me of some nefarious deed or other most of the time."

This only made George laugh.

"What do you want, George?" Granger asked. "It's not something that's going to force me to tell your mother on you, is it?"

George's grin was like a secret held between the two of them.

"Nope," George said. "Though she'll find out soon enough. It won't get me into any trouble with her. Quite the opposite. You two are going to help me propose to Angelina."

Granger beamed at him in a way that almost settled Severus's opinion on whether or not she was pretty.

"Why on earth would you need my assistance for that?" Memory Severus asked. "Surely getting on bended knee is simple enough that even you can manage it, Weasley. It doesn't even require a speech. Four words will do the job." Raising a hand, he counted the words off on his fingers. "Will. You. Marry. Me."

"No, thank you, Professor. I'm sorry to break your heart, but I'm in love with someone else." George happily ignored the darkening expression on Memory Severus's face. "I need help sneaking into position to set up the fireworks, obviously."

Memory Severus and Granger spoke in unison.

"Predictably flashy and vulgar," he said.

"Is it really a good idea to play a prank at Angelina's work party?" she asked.

Patting that pocket again, George shrugged. "Would you expect anything less from me? And don't worry, Hermione, it'll be great. They'll love it. If Angelina hopes to survive married life with me, she'll have to expect things like this."

"I guess that's true enough," Granger said. "All right. I'll help, but if we get caught, I have never met you before and am in no way a part of your schemes."

"Excellent. Snape?"

At first, Severus was certain he would refuse. Then Granger brushed her fingers against his sleeve.

"Come on, Severus," she said. "What hope do two Gryffindors have of being stealthy without you there to help?"

"Says the woman who broke into Gringotts."

"With Harry and Ron in tow, no less, but I doubt we'll have a dragon to help us make our escape this time."

Gringotts? Dragons? Severus would have to find out the story behind that.

In spite of Memory Severus's words, the furrows in his brow smoothed out ever-so-slightly. His gaze shifted back and forth between Granger and the nearby bank of lifts.

"Very well," he said. "I suspect even Hogwarts isn't large enough for me to have any sort of peace for the foreseeable future if I refuse. I'll help, but Weasley, you should bear in mind that I am very much capable of performing all three Unforgivable Curses. Should your actions result in us getting caught, there will be consequences."

"Noted. And hey, if you ever want to genuinely propose to anyone yourself, make sure you work that bit about the Unforgivables into your speech. Gives you a real mysterious, dangerous air. Plus, who would dare refuse you? I'd steal it for myself if I thought Angelina would believe me." George motioned towards the golden security gate. "Right. Let's go."

After passing through the gate and having their wands registered by the guard, George led them past the bank of lifts to a concealed door. A wave of a badge from his pocket opened it, revealing a dark, narrow corridor.

"Percy," George said, though neither Memory Severus nor Granger asked for an explanation. They all marched inside as if they believed they had every right to be there. "He doesn't exactly realise that he's helping with this. I reckoned he'd panic halfway through and confess all to his boss. Here we are."

The service lift at the end of the hall was almost big enough for two people to stand comfortably. There was much shifting around and bickering before Memory Severus, Granger, and George ended up squeezed in together with Granger sandwiched between the two men.

"This is cosy," George said. "It's just as well I'm not married yet, isn't it? I'm fairly certain this would violate my wedding vows in some way. I hope you both still respect me in the morning."

"Unforgivables, Weasley," Memory Severus said with a growl. "Unforgivables."

Granger had her back to George, her front pressed up against Memory Severus. Even though he could pass through the forms of the three of them, Severus found it difficult to get a good angle to see her face. He thought she might be blushing. She stared straight ahead at Memory Severus's chest while he looked up at the ceiling as if attempting to wandlessly cast one of the aforementioned Unforgivable Curses on it.

Severus struggled to determine the reasons behind what he felt. Aggravation was present, but nowhere near as much as Memory Severus pretended. There was also curiosity; he wanted to see how George's plan worked out, whether he would admit it or not. Both of those things made sense; the causes were plain. But beneath it all was a peculiar twist of conflict and a flutter of guilt-tinged expectation. He couldn't work out why.

The lift released them with a ding into a space that was shrouded in black curtains. It looked very similar to a theatre's backstage area.

"Hmm," George said, tapping his lower lip with his index finger. "I can't decide which one of you would be the better choice to stay here as lookout. Who would be more likely to succeed at distracting any nosy passersby with seduction? My gut instinct is Hermione, but that might just be my personal preferences talking."

This time, Severus was certain. Granger blushed.

Memory Severus rolled his eyes. "I did not come along on this preposterous mission just to be relegated to being the bloody lookout. Granger, you stay here." He paused. "Don't feel you need to resort to Weasley's suggestion if anyone shows up. Just channel Sybil and tell them that story she told us the other day about her holiday to Cornwall. They'll soon lose the will to live and leave you alone."

George and Memory Severus cast Disillusionment Charms on themselves and crept up a ladder and onto a balcony that overlooked a ballroom. Wizards and witches twirled around the dance floor, drank sparkling punch, and chatted in groups next to towering evergreen trees.

Setting up the fireworks near the edge of the balcony was the work of a moment—a silent moment, to avoid attracting attention. The whole thing seemed, to Severus, like something George could have easily accomplished on his own. Or he could have cast the Disillusionment Charm on the fireworks themselves and levitated them into place from within the ballroom with little chance of being caught.

Severus wondered if George, having lived most of his life as a twin, struggled to do the important things without a partner in crime.

"I suppose I should congratulate you, Weasley," Memory Severus said as they descended the ladder towards Granger. "I'm not going to, mind."

"I haven't got a yes yet."

"If Miss Johnson had any sense, she'd say no. As she's very much a Gryffindor, I think you'll be safe on that count."

George chuckled. "Thanks."

Granger waited for them with no seduction victims scattered at her feet.

"Well, that should do it," George said with yet another pat of his pocket. "Thanks, you two. Wish me luck."

The memory faded as George bounded off to find the woman Severus assumed had become his wife. He didn't get to hear what Granger said to Memory Severus as she stepped closer to him.

Severus didn't give himself time to ruminate over George's memory. Swishing it back into its vial, he dumped Parvati's offering into the Pensieve and rushed in.

He recognised the surroundings right away: a corridor near the Prefects' bathroom. A teenage Parvati strolled down the hall, in no apparent hurry to be anywhere.

As soon as the muffled sound of singing reached Severus's ears, the back of his neck prickled as if he was being watched. There was no one there when he whirled around. His lungs refused to draw a full breath; they were reduced to panicked, rapid gasps. All-consuming, inexplicable dread swarmed through him and set his pulse careening out of control. Memory Severus seemed similarly afflicted; he stood next to the statue of Boris the Bewildered, hands clenched into fists, looking torn between fight and flight.

The voice was off-key, but it didn't otherwise sound malicious. It was light and girlish. The thunder of pouring bathwater provided the background vocals. The song itself seemed innocuous. Almost certainly Muggle, but not one Severus could remember hearing before. Nothing about the situation should have been frightening.

Noticing Parvati's approach, Memory Severus drew himself up to his full height and marched away with muttered threats about a deduction in House points if she kept gawping at him.

And that was it. The Pensieve kicked him out. Memory over. Severus stared at the misty substance as if it might offer an explanation. He certainly didn't have one of his own.

What the hell had been so terrifying about that?

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 4 of 29

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