Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 6 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Two bands of silver wrapped around the edges of his dream instead of the usual one. Severus didn't know what that meant. He wasn't inclined to examine it too extensively when he felt so happy and safe and… loved. The surface beneath him was his bed at Hogwarts, but he was certain the sheets had never felt so soft during his waking hours. Perhaps it was because he couldn't remember ever having a woman in that bed when he was awake. The dream, however, featured a sleep-warmed body snuggled up behind him that smelled like citrus.

A feminine hand slipped around his waist, the skin even smoother than the sheets. His companion feathered a kiss between his shoulder blades as her fingers tripped down past his belly to wrap around him. Her breasts were pressed against his back, her other arm trapped between their naked bodies. Something metallic—a ring?—jabbed slightly into his lower back, but he didn't care. He didn't give a damn about anything as long as she kept touching him.

"Good morning," she whispered. Her voice, raspy and sweet, was a shy contrast to the movement of her hand.

He made a pleased hum of agreement. It was, indeed, a good morning.

It was one of life's real cruelties, Severus thought, that he woke up just as the woman nudged him to roll over so she could straddle him. The only clue to her identity he received was a fleeting glimpse of dark hair before the dream evaporated. He woke to less soft, more empty sheets that were decidedly tented. The glow of love that had been present in the dream continued to tingle through him.

Who was she?

Was she still alive?

Granger was absent from breakfast again. Another "meeting" in her chambers, according to Longbottom. Not that Severus asked. Ernie did, and Severus rewarded him by demonstrating a spell to vanish the bits of peel from marmalade, since Ernie had complained about hating them before.

The last staff meeting of the year was scheduled for that morning. Granger rushed in with seconds remaining before the start, her cheeks flushed pink and her hair in even more disarray than normal. Flopping down in the chair next to Severus, she pulled a scroll of parchment out of her bag and sat poised to take notes. If Severus tried to determine whether she looked simply harried rather than post coital, no one could prove it.

"The leaving do for Althea will be next Saturday afternoon at the Three Broomsticks," Minerva was saying around the time Severus ended his (inconclusive) analysis of Granger and tuned back in.

Who the devil was Althea? Granger smiled insincerely at the Muggle Studies professor. Oh. Her.

"I'd like you all to meet Althea's replacement." Minerva gestured to a man with wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes. "Rupert Smith will be joining us as the new Muggle Studies professor next September."

Smith beamed at the assembled crowd of teachers. When his gaze landed on Granger, he paused for far longer than necessary, lingering on the neckline of her robes. How nauseatingly obvious. What was he even looking at? She was as buttoned up as usual.

Granger leaned close to Severus and spoke in a whisper that tickled his ear. "I hope he's not as fond of mistletoe at Christmas as his predecessor. Althea always charmed it to follow people around. And her Valentine's Day decorations were sickeningly twee."

That explained the mistletoe dream.

"If he is inclined to send mistletoe after either of us," Severus whispered back, "then I am more than capable of casting all three Unforgivable Curses, you'll recall."

She ducked her head to hide her grin. "Then why haven't you used any on Althea?"

"How am I supposed to know? Memory loss, Granger. Do try to keep up."

Minerva shot them a censorious look. She was banging on about something to do with the Leaving Feast now. Granger snapped to attention like a chastened first year and resumed her copious note taking.

As the meeting broke up, Minerva approached the two of them.

"I think we should hold a few Order meetings over the summer," she said. "We need to be more organised about your recovery, Severus. We'll work out which years are lacking in donated memories and proceed from there."

Granger lit up like she did when she was brewing. Severus knew she was imagining a colour coded chart of some description.

"Hermione, it's so nice to finally meet you," Smith said, shoehorning himself between Severus and Granger. "I was wondering if I might pick your brain over dinner sometime. I'd love to get the perspective of Britain's most famous Muggle-born for my class."

Taking a step back, Granger shook her head in feigned regret. "I have quite a full summer planned, but I gave Althea plenty of notes over the years. I'm sure she'd be more than happy to share them with you."

Smith scratched at something tickling him under his collar. Severus tuned out Smith's attempts to persuade Granger (inept) and her refusals (far too polite) in favour of revisiting the question of why he had built a library for her. His younger self's claims that she should look elsewhere for comfort didn't hold up under the swell of protectiveness he'd felt in the depths of that memory. There had been something both expectant and reluctant about that feeling. It had made his heart stutter as he'd waited for… something.

The fact that she'd been his student at the time could have explained the doubt that had turned inward and pierced him, but he didn't think he'd wanted her. There had been no flashes of desire, no breathless yearning. Maybe he'd made the gesture due to their budding friendship. Unlikely, but still. It was a possibility.

No matter the real reason, Severus hadn't created that library due to any Life Debt. Of that much, he was certain.

"Mistletoe aside, I might miss Althea," Granger muttered as she finally escaped Smith's attentions. "At least she doesn't wear enough cologne to choke a dragon."

"Nor did she ever attempt, however clumsily, to chat you up," Severus said. "Well, not so that I noticed, anyway."

"He's not even really interested in me. He's interested in who my friends are. I know the type."

Severus shrugged. "There are a number of poisons that can be absorbed through the skin. Replacing his cologne with one of them would be easy enough."

"It's a comfort that some things about you haven't changed." With a laugh, Granger patted his shoulder. "You're still a font of useful information."

Hagrid's baking hadn't improved with time. Once, in Severus's third year, Hagrid had discovered Lily attempting to nurse Severus's latest wounds from the Marauders. Hagrid had tried, in his ham-fisted way, to offer solace in the form of tea and rock cakes—neither of which had been fit for human consumption. Severus had accepted only because Lily had wanted him to do so. He'd nearly added a chipped tooth to his list of injuries.

Now, Severus wondered if it would count as animal cruelty if he fed the boulder on his plate to the slobbering hound at his feet. Eating it himself certainly wasn't worth the unicorn hairs and doxy eggs that Hagrid had promised to procure over the summer.

A frantic knock sounded on the front door of the hut. Hagrid and Severus exchanged a frown. The students had all been whisked away by the Hogwarts Express an hour before. When Hagrid swung the door open, Granger stood there with her trunk and her familiar's travelling basket, looking near tears.

"Hippogriffs!" she said, storming in before either man could greet her. "My cottage is full of HIPPOGRIFFS, Hagrid. I tried that bowing nonsense, but they weren't having—oh! Hello, Severus. Sorry, I didn't realise you were here."


"We were jus' discussin' Potions ingredients from th' forest," Hagrid said. "Hippogriffs? Yeh, if they get settled in somewhere an' claim it as their nest, they can be hard ter shift. I can try ter convince 'em, but it might take a while."

"I'll get you as many ferrets as you need," Granger said. "I'll get you Draco Malfoy if that will lure them out."

Hagrid let out a quiet guffaw. "Not ter worry. I'll sort it."

"Thank you. You're a lifesaver. Hmm." Granger wrinkled her nose. "I guess I'll Floo-call Harry and ask if I can stay at theirs for a bit."

Staying with the Potters would likely get her hexed by Mrs Potter, given how absurdly affectionate Granger and Potter tended to be with each other. Severus thought he ought to let her learn her lesson the hard way, but long acquaintance with Gryfindors had demonstrated time and again that the lesson would just as likely be ignored. And if she landed herself in St Mungo's too near the next school term, Severus would be forced to talk to other members of staff at meals. Perhaps even Longbottom again. That would not do.

"You may stay with me," Severus said before he could think better of it. "I have the space, and there are no small children underfoot to get in the way and wipe their noses on your books."

That Granger and Hagrid's expressions of surprise were so identical was impressive, given that he was a good six feet taller than her and his face was half obscured by his bushy beard.

"Are you sure?" Granger asked.

Severus placed his untouched rock cake on a side table (Fang II did not take the opportunity to snatch it) and stood up.

"Of course. You have been to my house before?" he asked, waiting for her nod of confirmation before he continued. "Then you can save me the trouble of using the Floo in Minerva's office by Side-Along Apparating me there."

"All right. Well. Thanks." After shooting Severus a tremulous smile, she took one of Hagrid's shovel-sized hands between both of hers. "Hagrid, you are one of the most dedicated men I've ever known. I truly admire how much you adore the creatures in your care."

Hagrid blushed. "Aww, yeh don' have ter say that. I'm happy ter help."

"It's the truth. But Hagrid. Hagrid. Listen to me. If those overgrown turkeys make it past the anti-animal wards on my library, I want you to forget how much you love hippogriffs. You pick up your pink umbrella and shoot to kill."

"Erm." Hagrid shuffled away from her. "I'm sure it'll be fine. Yer great at wards. They won' get past 'em."

"They'd better not."

"You have anti-animal wards on your library?" Severus asked as he and Granger left the castle after retrieving his trunk and Lois from his quarters.

She nodded. "Boudica is very dear to me, but so are my books. I also have person-specific wards against Harry and Ginny's kids, as well as George and Ron, but don't tell them that."

Magpies hopped in the grass near the gravel path, pecking at the ground and taunting the imprisoned cats. Granger tilted her face up towards the sun as she walked. For all of her hippogriff woes, she seemed content.

"Bye, Argus," she called out, waving at the Caretaker, who sort of waved and didn't sneer too much in response. "See you in August."

"August?" Severus asked, offering Filch a subdued nod of farewell.

"Argus, Mrs Figg and I teach a two week course every summer. Have done for the past few years now. It's for Squibs and their families, all about surviving in the Muggle world and what job opportunities are available to Squibs in the wizarding world. I think this year is going to go really well. We just finalised our lesson plans the other morning."

"Wait. Your breakfast meetings have been with Argus?"

"And Mrs Figg, yes. I thought about teaching it on my own, since neither of them are particularly fun to work with, to be honest, but I thought having the input of actual Squibs would help it be more… I don't know. Culturally sensitive, I suppose. That's where I went wrong with the elves."

An almost irresistible laugh tickled at the back of Severus's throat. If only she knew what Longbottom had been implying about her meetings.

"Do many people attend your course?" he asked.

"A few. It's in its infancy, but I'm hoping it'll give the Squibs a support system among themselves. I think it must be very isolating for a lot of them, growing up the way they do."

Severus couldn't have stopped his amused smile if he'd tried. "Still trying to rescue all of the downtrodden creatures of the world?"

Granger chuckled. "That's what you said when I first told you I wanted to teach the course."

Upon reaching the Apparition Point, she held out her hand. Severus hesitated for a beat before lacing his fingers together with hers. Her skin was soft and smooth.

A crack and a squeeze found them landing without a stumble behind a shed that still tilted to one side in a garden that remained bare of any decorative plants. The grass was mostly choked out by moss and dandelions. Granger let their cats out of their travelling baskets to explore and chase gnomes. Over the fence, Severus could see the same old dirty river winding its way past in the distance.

Severus led Granger through the back door of the dirty terraced house and into the narrow galley kitchen. There was that scorch mark on the yellow laminate worktop. A hot cauldron had been knocked over when a young Severus had thought he'd heard his father arriving home. Mum had taken the blame.

Why had he stayed here all these years without repairing it?

The threadbare sofas in the front room had been replaced by models from the current century, at least. Severus was somewhat astonished to see his mother's collection of classic Muggle novels taking up space on the shelves. Eileen Prince had shared Arthur Weasley's fascination with Muggles… until she'd married one. After her death, Severus had stowed the unpleasant reminders away in the loft. He wondered when he and the books had reconciled.

"You can raid my library later," he said as Granger gravitated predictably towards the temptation of unread words. "Come on. I'll show you where you'll be staying."

In truth, Severus didn't know where to put her. His childhood bedroom, where the miasma of teenage angst probably still hung in the air and embarrassing relics of his past waited to be discovered? As far as he could remember, his parents' old room had remained hermetically sealed since his mother's death. He must have opened it and sorted it out by now.

Lois provided the answer. Trailed by Boudica, she shoved past Severus and Granger on the stairs and nudged the door of his parents' room open with her forehead. Instead of the sagging double bed with its tatty '70s orange and brown duvet, there was what looked like a new queen sized bed with plain white bedding. Someone had knitted a lumpy, dark green blanket that sat folded over the foot of the mattress. The bookcases downstairs must have proved insufficient for his needs, because this room, too, was lined with books. Severus wondered if he'd switched to sleeping in here at some point.

It was only when the cats jumped up onto the bed that Severus realised both Lois and Boudica had dragged in half-dead gnomes from the garden. They deposited their macabre gifts in the middle of the duvet. How kind.

"This is your room," Severus said to Granger. "Bathroom is just there. I'll let you get settled."

Leaving her to scold the cats and deal with the gnome entrails, he crossed the landing to his bedroom. It had been altered as well. No more narrow single bed with creaky springs. No more Slytherin banners adorning every wall. Both the walls and the duvet on the double bed were a stark white. A Slytherin crest next to the door was the only nod towards House affiliation. This, far more than his parents' room, looked like a guest room. He should have stuck Granger in here.

When Severus went back down to place the borrowed Pensieve in the front room, Granger followed. She curled up on one of the unfamiliar sofas, picked up a book from a side table, and opened to a bookmarked page in the middle. The cats perched behind her as if reading along. He wondered how she'd come to be so ensconced in his life that she had books on the go at his house. Had it started with the talks in the kitchens during her final year as a student, as he'd suspected, or had it been earlier? Perhaps when she'd received extra instruction during her sixth year?

"How is it that I ended up teaching you Occlumency?" Severus asked. "Was it part of the war effort? Did you approach me with a request for even more classes to take?"

"The former, though I didn't end up doing much with it. I had no more luck teaching Harry than you did. Still, it's a useful skill to have. Here." She tugged a memory from her temple. "Have a look."

Within the memory, Severus found himself in the Defence classroom at Hogwarts. Unlike the current teacher, who was inclined to display diagrams of the wand movements for protective spells, Severus had apparently chosen pictures of curse victims to decorate the room. Nice. He bet that had suitably frightened the little dimwits.

"Miss Granger," Memory Severus said as the class full of students moved to depart. "A word."

Her friends offered the expected commiserations. Approaching his desk with her school books clutched to her chest, she waited for the door to close behind her classmates.

"Yes, sir?"

Severus felt something like fear streaked with anger simmering, low and constant.

"I am to teach you Occlumency," Memory Severus said. "The Headmaster, in his unending optimism, has taken it into his head that you will, in turn, be able to teach Potter. I will be amazed if you manage to learn even the most rudimentary forms of Occlumency, much less master it well enough to keep out the Dark Lord. Teaching Potter how to do so is impossible. Nevertheless, I seem destined to waste my time tutoring Gryffindors. You are to report to my office after dinner this evening. Should anyone ask, it is because Professor Dumbledore has arranged for you to receive extra tuition in Defence. You got an Exceeds Expectations on your Defence O.W.L, I believe?"

Granger gritted her teeth. "Yes, sir. I did."

"Very well. I will see you this evening. You may go."

The Dark Lord had never been able to read Severus, but Severus could read himself. He didn't need his lost memories or the unexpected surges of emotion to tell him what was plain. Not this time. It was obvious. Every word about his reasons for teaching Occlumency to Granger had been a lie.

Severus knew evil. He'd been a bloody Death Eater. Even minus thirty years of memories, he could recall significant chunks of time spent in the presence of the Dark Lord. He had seen darkness and betrayal and murder and torture.

Granger surpassed all of that.

She was a morning person.

First, she stomped around getting ready for a run at an hour that, as far as Severus was concerned, should not even exist on days off. Just as he managed to drift back to sleep, she came clomping back into the house, interrupting his tedious dream of preparing beetle eyes as she chatted away to the cats and dished out their breakfasts. Severus slammed a pillow over his ear when the water pipes groaned and the shower sputtered to life. A muffled, off-key voice on the other side of the wall made him sit bolt upright.

He knew that voice. He knew that song.

Swallowing past the sudden lump in his throat, Severus crept out onto the landing. Boudica and Lois gave him much the same befuddled look Parvati Patil had shot his way in her memory.

He wasn't afraid this time. His stomach did a few anxious somersaults, but he didn't want to hide from whatever the hell that song meant. So, it had been Granger singing in the Prefects' Bathroom, and for some reason that had been far more frightening than an adult Granger singing in his limescale farm of a shower.

Severus had no clue. Retreating to his room, he pulled on Muggle jeans and a t-shirt with the vague notion of escaping the house to explore the differences in Cokeworth's town centre at some point that day.

Perhaps he did want to hide. Just a little.

When he descended the stairs, he found Granger sitting at the cramped little dining table, reading one of his mum's novels and crunching her way through a bowl of muesli. Her hair was pulled back into a damp plait, making it look a darker shade of brown than usual.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee lured him past her. The first mouthful of bitter, almost scalding liquid was like heaven. Padding back towards the table, he studied Granger as he drank. He wanted to ignore the Healer's advice and his own better judgment and dip into her mind with Legilimency. He wanted to push past the inevitable throbbing headache and scour her memories for the meaning behind that song. He wanted to find out why, when he'd gone searching for proof of the Dark Lord's fall in Potter's mind, he'd spent the whole time chasing after images of Granger.

Shame she'd had such a good Occlumency teacher, or he'd do it.

"Good morning," she said, smiling up at him after he'd downed half the cup of coffee.

"It's certainly morning. Whether that is good is a matter of opinion."

She shifted to pour herself another glass of orange juice, her top gaping open just enough to reveal a purple scar. It was branching and familiar, running beneath the skin like veins. Severus's breath hitched.

"Can I see…"

Granger clapped a hand over her chest when she caught the direction of his stare. "See what?"

"Not your breasts." He rolled his eyes. Honestly. If he wanted to see her naked, he wouldn't just blurt it out over his morning coffee. What did she take him for? "If I wanted a cheap thrill, there are plenty of tawdry Muggle magazines available. I meant the scar."

"Oh." Rubbing at the spot where the scar began, she cleared her throat. "All right. I suppose."

Severus slid into the chair next to her and tilted closer to verify what he already knew he'd find: his creation, branding her. His stomach sank.

"Did I do this to you?" he asked, his voice tight.

Granger looked affronted on his behalf. "Of course you didn't. Why would you think you had?"

"Because I invented the spell that caused it."

"Oh. You never told me." Shaking her head as if to clear it, she dragged her spoon through the soggy remains of her breakfast. "I should have known. I had to take ten potions a day when I was recovering. You're the one who brewed them."

It seemed the most natural thing in the world to bring his fingers up to skate along the purple lines on her collarbone. The closest he would come to an apology for what he'd created. If he closed his eyes, he wouldn't know the marks were there. The scar wasn't bumpy or raised; it felt like the rest of her smooth skin. Granger shivered.

"Who used one of my curses against one of my allies?" Severus asked. "I hope I punished them for it."

"Dolohov cast the curse, but he was dealt with. Don't worry about it."

"Dealt with by me?"

"By Filius, actually."

"Hmm. Disappointing." One finger rose to trace a straight white line that marred her neck. "And this one?"

Another shiver. "From Bellatrix Lestrange's knife, not one of your many, many spells. And she's been dealt with as well—by Molly Weasley."

"Really? That's… unexpected." His gentle touch moved to a mark on her cheek that was shaped like a backwards seven. "What about this one?"

"Caused by debris from a Reducto cast by one of the last Death Eaters to be caught. Also dealt with. By Neville."

"As in Longbottom? The Herbology professor?"

Granger giggled at his flabbergasted expression. With his fingertips still grazing her face, he felt her cheek move as her mouth rose into a grin.

"He used to be an Auror," she said.

Severus couldn't imagine such a thing. Longbottom had presented him with several memories from his time in Severus's classroom. In those days, Longbottom had seemed as if he would have cowered in fear from a Pygmy Puff if it had spoken to him in a stern enough voice.

"I hear he vanquished my would-be murderer," Severus said. Longbottom slaying that snake was even more difficult to picture.

"He did. I wish you could have been there to see it in person." Granger twisted her fingers in the hem of her shirt. "There's another scar, but you can't see it right now."

Severus let his smirk dawn slowly, giving her time to register the implications of what she'd said. When that realisation arrived, she huffed indignantly and swatted his chest.

"It's on my arm," she said. "Get your mind out of the gutter. I have it covered by a glamour. It's an ugly word, carved into me by Bellatrix."

"What word?"

He knew what word. The ugliest word. After a brief hesitation, she removed the glamour. Severus's hand hovered over it, like he felt unworthy of touching this one.

"I suddenly have an intense desire to send Molly Weasley a gift basket from Honeydukes to thank her for ridding the world of that bitch," he said.

Granger let out a humourless laugh. "That's what Molly called her, right before she killed her. A bitch. It was the only time I've ever heard her swear. It was magnificent. I don't hide this one, usually. I'm not ashamed of it."

"But you decided to hide it here? In my house?"

She shrugged and looked at the floor, and he knew that she'd hidden it because she was aware of his history with that word. His fingers made contact. Even though it was jagged and puckered, the skin was still soft. His thumb swiped at the M as if trying to wipe it away.

Tap tap tap.

Jerking away from Granger, Severus swivelled to see a tawny owl waiting at the window. The letter it offered him was written in a large, flamboyant hand and signed with an unfamiliar name. Severus scowled.

"Who is Raffaella Zabini?"

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 6 of 29

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