Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 7 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Hermione watched Severus bound up the stairs two at a time. Stubble. He'd appeared at breakfast that morning with black stubble roughening his cheeks and chin. Somehow, she'd always believed facial hair wouldn't dare to inconvenience him by growing. Harry or the Healers must have dealt with it during his recovery from the Battle of Hogwarts. She'd seen Severus stripped down to his swimming costume countless times and his underwear once, but him being unshaven felt closer to nudity, somehow. It was like a secret she'd overheard by eavesdropping.

Curling up on one of the sofas she'd helped him choose the year before, Hermione reread the same paragraph of her manuscript for the fifth or sixth time. There wasn't much more she could do on that particular project without Severus. Summer extended out in front of her, blank and lacking in purpose until the Squib Life Skills course in August. She was supposed to be using the time to finish up the textbook she'd been writing about the two wizarding wars, but those plans had been scuppered.

The last time she'd seen Severus before his memories had been hidden away, she'd asked if he would consent to being interviewed for her book. The question had been delivered in a nervous rush, punctuated by a held breath. She'd been so sure he would refuse. Such a private man would never want to reveal so much.

"Of course," he'd said, as if there had never been any doubt. "What time is convenient for you?"

Surprise had held her locked in place for a few seconds. Once his words had settled over her, sunshine-warm, she'd attacked him with a hug before her survival instinct could overpower her excitement. In nearly two decades of knowing each other, they'd never hugged before that moment. Not once. The scant encouragement of his arms tentatively returning the embrace had made her squeeze him tighter. His rumbling, mocking chuckle had seemed even deeper and richer with her ear pressed up against his chest. It was like his personality transfigured into a sound.

He always smelled good. Like books and clean clothes and the herbal, somewhat smoky scent of the Potions classroom. Like the fresh start of a new school year. That time had been no exception. She'd taken full advantage of the opportunity to breathe him in. There had been something in the way he'd rested his chin on top of her head for just a second. Something trembling and golden and a tiny bit miraculous.

Balancing on her tiptoes and babbling something about letting him see the final copy before publication, she'd kissed his cheek in thanks. The kiss had been a step too far. That nebulous something had collapsed. With his posture suddenly rigid, Severus's eyes had searched hers as if trying to perform wandless Legilimency, though she'd felt no attempt at invasion.

Then he'd excused himself, and she hadn't seen that Severus again.

The sound of quick, booted feet on the stairs heralded the reappearance of the current version of Severus. In contrast to how he'd looked earlier, he was clean-shaven and all buttoned up in his customary black robes. Ready to meet the sender of that letter.

Hermione's stomach churned. The muesli must have been off.

Setting her manuscript aside, she glanced up and caught Severus's eyes focused on the bare expanse of legs revealed by her Muggle shorts. It was an appreciative stare. He didn't leer, as some other men might have done. He savoured.

Hermione didn't know what to think when he did things like that. It wasn't something she'd ever witnessed him doing before he'd lost his memories. There was the possibility that he'd simply possessed more subtlety when he was fully himself, but most of the time he'd barely seemed to recognise her as being female. A common theme among her male friends.

"I'm not sure when I'll be back," Severus said. "I would say make yourself at home, but you seem to have already accomplished that quite thoroughly."

Hermione gave a noncommittal hum. "See you later."

As soon as he Floo'd away to Diagon Alley, Hermione climbed back up the stairs to her room. She knew it had to be his room when he was unencumbered by house guests. On the shopping trip that had resulted in him purchasing the sofas, she had bounced around on every mattress on display (including the ones in the race car beds and the bunk beds, just to wind him up) and pestered him to lie down next to her.

"You can't choose a mattress without trying it out," she'd said on that day, flopping onto a queen sized bed. "It'd be like buying a car without a test drive. Come here, Severus. I'll let you be the big spoon."

She'd said it only to get a reaction out of him. It'd had the desired effect. He hadn't scowled at her so impressively since her hand-waving school days.

"I will do no such thing."

She had giggled and tugged on the sleeve of his jumper. "Fine, then. I promise I won't invade your side of the bed. It will all be completely proper and above board."

After casting his gaze around as if to make sure no one was watching, he'd stretched out beside her, his limbs stiff.

"Well?" she'd said.

"This one will be sufficient for my needs. Any mattress is as good as another."

"Says the man who has never attempted to sleep on Ron and Neville's sofa bed."

"Why on earth would you do that?"

"It was when I was having the floors done at the cottage. I should have gone to Harry and Ginny's."

"Oh, yes." Rolling over to face her, he'd pitched his voice into a falsetto impersonation of hers. "Honestly, Severus, Muggles could have done it faster. I swear I'm not even going to offer them cups of tea when I give them my daily recitation of complaints tomorrow."

"I did offer them tea, in the end. But I gave it to them in the tiny mugs and added too much milk."

"You monster." He'd splayed one hand over the mattress between them, his little finger grazing her arm. "If you encounter a similar problem in the future, you may stay with me. I'm purchasing a spare bed today as well."

"Really? I wouldn't get in your way?"

"I have become accustomed to you getting in my way."

Now, standing at the foot of what she was sure was the larger of the beds she'd helped him select, Hermione brushed her fingertips over the misshapen dark green blanket. She'd knitted it for him during his extended recovery at Grimmauld Place, working a few Warming Charms into the yarn as she went. Even though it had been summer at the time, he'd always seemed cold. It felt well-used and fuzzy under her touch. The spells had long-since worn off, but she was warmed by the unexpected knowledge that he'd kept it all these years.

Grabbing a pair of sandals from her trunk, she Disapparated to a stone house on the coast of Devon. The garden overflowed with plants of both magical and Muggle origin; snargaluff vines tried to out-thorn the roses, puffapods swayed as if gossiping with the frilly peonies. Like always, Hermione let herself in through the bright orange door of the house.

Ron and Neville's place looked like it had been decorated by a joint effort from Molly Weasley and Augusta Longbottom. It probably had been. And plants lived on every available surface. In their bedroom, the walls (dark blue, not Chudley Cannons orange, but not for lack of trying on Ron's part) were hardly visible through all of the greenery. Hermione had once nearly set her hair on fire in their bathroom thanks to a small fire seed bush that had been temporarily left on top of the toilet cistern.

"Hey!" Ron said as she entered the kitchen. "Come on in. We're celebrating."

Another guest sat with Ron and Neville at the round oak table. Her blonde head was barely visible over the flower arrangement in the centre, but Hermione knew her instantly.

"Luna, I didn't know you were back," Hermione said, circling around the table to give her a long hug. "What are we celebrating?"

"Haven't you seen the Prophet?" Ron asked. "Perce has only gone and done it."

"I always knew he would," Neville said.

Neville passed Hermione a copy from a stack of newspapers. They had bought at least ten, like proud parents whose child had made the front page. Percy's face beamed at her from amid a throng of embracing couples, victorious. It hadn't been only him who deserved the credit, Hermione knew, but she'd let Ron place his brother on a pedestal for probably the first time in their lives. As the one who had argued the case before the Wizengamot, Percy had played an instrumental role. Years of effort from him and from dozens of other wizards and witches had resulted in the legalisation of same sex marriage in Wizarding Britain.

Hermione grinned back at Percy as Ron and Neville crowded into the frame of the photograph. She wondered if Percy had joined the fight the instant Ron had stood up in front of his family and announced in a matter-of-fact, unwavering voice that he was in love with Neville.

"We're getting married," Ron said. "You'll stand up for me with Harry, won't you? I want two best people instead of one best man. I couldn't choose between you."

"Of course I will," Hermione said. "I'd be honoured."

They fell into discussion about which one of them had done the proposing (Neville, two years before), whether a Chudley Cannons themed wedding cake was tacky (yes from Hermione and Neville, no from Luna and Ron), and what sort of wedding Molly and Augusta might plan together (best not even imagined).

"How is Severus?" Luna asked Hermione when Ron and Neville got up to fetch tea and biscuits. "Neville told me about his memory loss. I met a wizard in Uruguay who makes a memory regenerating tonic from Splenkers—they're a distant relative of Nargles. Half the time it causes the patient to lose their sense of smell, though, so I don't imagine Severus would want to risk it. It'd be a shame for such an impressive nose to be merely decorative."

Ron snorted.

Luna was the only one of Hermione's friends who dared to use Severus's first name. Even Neville, who had been his colleague for years, still called him Snape. Luna also sent Severus Potions ingredients of dubious origin from her travels—all of which Hermione was sure would have been confiscated by any customs agent who saw the foreign plant matter and wriggling insect larvae just waiting to become invasive species.

"He's all right, I think," Hermione said. "He seems to be struggling less now. He's still not really Severus, though. I caught him staring at my legs earlier."

Luna stuck her head under the table to take a look at Hermione's legs for herself. "Ooh. They are very nice. Are you still running?"

With a chuckle and an affectionate shake of his head at Luna, Ron slid a plate of biscuits in front of Hermione. She selected a custard cream.

"Yes, I am, and thank you, Luna, but that's not the point," Hermione said. "It's just a bit surprising. Severus never showed any interest in me when he was himself. Not ever."

Neville coughed. Luna popped her head back above the surface of the table. Her hair was ruffled from hanging upside down.

"Tell me about your latest travels," Hermione said. "Where did you go this time? And how's your father doing?"

Like every visit before, Luna had a whole sketchpad full of newly discovered magical species that she'd drawn. Hermione was never sure how much of it to believe. The day sped by in a happy jumble of conversation. Apart from Neville, she didn't see her friends from school anywhere near often enough. Once the sun began to sink below the horizon, they broke out the wine and drank to Ron and Neville's upcoming wedding. Repeatedly.

When Hermione eventually Floo'd back to Spinner's End (she was too drunk to Apparate, but not drunk enough to brave the sofa bed), she discovered Severus asleep on one of the sofas, a book propped open on his chest. Both cats perched near his head, as if it was the only place for them to sleep in the whole house.

Hermione stood there for a few seconds, watching his chest rise and fall with his deep breaths. The Veritaserum qualities of wine took her spinning back to those post-library, pre-Terry days. The fantasies of her with Severus had been half-formed, barely acknowledged pinpricks of light that had flickered and fought to cut through the darkness that lingered after the war. Hushed pangs of desire she'd tried to sweep aside as admiration for all he'd gone through during the war, as appreciation for all he'd done for her, as her ever-present need to gain his approval.

If she was honest with herself, that savouring glance he'd given her that morning was exactly how she'd wanted him to look at her back then.

She wondered what he would have said if she'd told him about her attraction. Severus knew a thing or two about unrequited feelings. He did not, however, know much about letting someone down gently. Most likely, he would have reacted with suspicion and believed she'd had some ulterior motive.

Her wandering thoughts drifted back even further, to her Occlumency lessons—to that memory she'd accidentally witnessed that first time. It was difficult to say which one of them had been more shocked when she'd ended up in his head. Probably Severus. She'd forever regret not being able to gloat about it to Voldemort. The fact that she still had no clue how it had happened and could in no way replicate the event didn't matter. She'd broken through where he hadn't. World's greatest Legilimens, indeed.

One second Severus—Professor Snape, in those days—had been prying her mind open, and the next she'd felt her thoughts impossibly surge forward into those black eyes. Love that had not been her own had rippled through Hermione, layered over a peaceful blend of warmth and contentment. He had been spooned up behind a woman in the memory, her curly, dark hair tickling his nose.

"I love you," the woman had murmured on a sigh.

His voice, different when heard within his own head, had whispered back to her. "Marry me."

Hermione had been kicked out at that point. She'd held that secret all the years since, never even revealing it when Harry had broadcasted Severus's feelings about Lily Potter to the whole world. Never telling anyone that there had been a woman who had reciprocated Severus's feelings. Another lost love, Hermione assumed. He'd asked her to marry him. She hadn't.

Hermione had always wondered whether he wanted to even attempt loving someone again after that.

Severus muttered something unintelligible in his sleep, bringing Hermione's attention back to the present. Marking his spot in the book (with a bookmark, not by dog-earing the page; she was not a horrible vandal), she Accio'd the knitted blanket from her room and tucked it around him.

She would have to tell him about that woman at some point.

Raffaella Zabini was not the woman from Severus's dream. He knew it as soon as he approached her table at the Leaky Cauldron. Her hair was dark. Her skin looked as if the silk of her robes would feel rough by comparison. That iceberg on her hand that was masquerading as a ring could have been what he'd felt poking into his back. On the surface, she seemed like a probable candidate.

But he did not love her.

"Severus!" she said, standing up to kiss his cheek. She smelled like jasmine, not citrus. "Come here, I want you to meet my fiance. This is Edgar." At her bidding, a man with a steel grey hair and a rakish smile rose and offered Severus his hand. "Edgar, this is Severus. He's the old friend I told you about."

Hmm. "Friend" hadn't been the term Granger had used. It felt like it fit well enough now, if perhaps a few degrees too warm.

Instead of launching into a discussion of his recent predicament, Raffaella threaded her manicured fingers through the handle of her teacup and said, "I've put you down as bringing a plus one to the wedding. You never responded to the invitation, but that's hardly your fault, considering you couldn't have remembered you received it. The ceremony is on the eighth of August. Do you think you'll bring Hermione? If so, I won't sit you near the Parkinsons. I only had to mention Hermione to Pansy at a dinner party once to know what a bad idea that would be."

He had lost thirty years of memories, and the woman had summoned him to discuss seating charts.

"He doesn't want to hear about all that, Aunt Raffaella," a younger man said as he sauntered up to them. A hand was extended to Severus in a way that suggested the owner thought Severus should be tremendously honoured by the gesture. "I'm Blaise. You were my Head of House when I was at Hogwarts."

Ah. Granger had mentioned Blaise. She'd said, "I went to school with Raffaella's nephew, Blaise. His mother has something like eight or nine dead husbands—including Raffaella's brother. They have a talent for dying as soon as she's been written into their wills. I can't remember what her surname is now. It's forever changing. So if you run into anyone named Seraphina, don't accidentally marry her, just in case. Don't give me that look, Severus. You never know what might happen. Not having all of your memories makes you… well, not easy prey, but certainly easier than you were."

As if he'd needed to have it explained to him that there were plenty of people who were eager to take advantage of someone vulnerable.

"I know, darling," Raffaella said to Blaise, "but I do need to get these numbers back to the caterer as soon as possible."

Severus cleared his throat. "Granger is busy in August, I believe."

He had no intention of suffering through a wedding full of people who were essentially strangers to him. Attending the union of people he actually knew and remembered was bad enough.

"Here," Blaise said. He set a large jar down on the table. "This has seven memories: one from each year I spent at Hogwarts. I haven't seen you often since I left school."

"We'll both provide more memories, if you need them," Raffaella said, casting a significant glance at her nephew. "We're happy to help."

Raffaella's eight vials of memories were presented in a wooden box with everything labelled and lined up in order. The first group of four began in September of 1981 and went through June of 1984. There was a big gap before the next lot, which spanned December of 2001 to March of 2002. The layout she'd chosen reminded him bizarrely of the way Lily had always organised her Potions notes.

"We didn't go to school together, I take it?" Severus asked.

"We did, but only for one year. I was in my first year when you were in your seventh. You also taught me later, of course. That's what those memories from the '80s are."

"What House were you in?"

Given that Blaise had been a Slytherin, it seemed likely that his aunt would have been as well. Severus didn't remember any first years who might have been a miniature version of her running around the Common Room, but he'd had rather a lot on his mind by his seventh year.

Edgar grinned in a boastful way that Severus knew all too well. "Gryffindor, like me," he said, as if it was some personal accomplishment of his.

Gryffindor women. Severus couldn't escape them.

"Much to my eternal shame," Blaise drawled. His mouth inched up into an almost smile when Raffaella swatted his arm.

As Edgar got up to go to the loo, Raffaella watched him leave with stars in her eyes. Severus had a strong suspicion that if he did anything to jeopardise that for her, she'd put aside any old grudges and Floo-call her former sister-in-law to get tips on making murder look like an accident. He waited until Edgar was out of earshot before he spoke.

"Old friend? My, I had no idea the concept of friendship had changed so much in the past thirty years. I shall have to break the news to Lucius that he and I must be downgraded to acquaintances."

Blaise made a noise that could have been either a laugh or a scoff.

"Edgar knows of our history," Raffaella said. "More than you do, at this point." Fiddling with one of the vials in the box, she looked straight into Severus's eyes. "What we had was never serious. I enjoyed our time together, but it was over almost as soon as it started, by mutual agreement. We were never the one the other really wanted."

It was obvious Edgar had been that mythical one for Raffaella. Severus assumed his own desires had remained focused on his long lost friend. Then again, perhaps he had wanted that woman from his dream. If she existed.

Upon arriving home, Severus found the house empty. He waited around for Granger for a while before deciding to dive into Raffaella's memory from December of 2001.

The Pensieve transported him back to the evening of George's engagement. He'd apparently attended the party as Raffaella's date. Memory Severus made the rounds with her, enduring small talk from Ministry officials. Mostly, he watched Granger. Those night sky robes twirled around again and again on the dance floor—with Potter, with George, with Longbottom, with Shacklebolt, with Arthur, with Percy. So many bloody Weasleys.

She was not a skillful dancer. Half the time she tried to take over and be the one to lead, but every misstep made her throw her head back with laughter. Between spins, she paused to accept drinks from her partners and to cast her gaze in every corner of the ballroom. Memory Severus stuck to the shadows.

Conflict and suspicion jostled for space with a feeble beat of fondness that was trapped behind Severus's ribcage. When George's ghastly fireworks display began, Memory Severus was standing at the bar. At the sound of the explosion, he made eye contact with Granger. Her face broke into a secretive smile, just for him.

A skip of Severus's pulse offered up an answer to a question he had asked himself weeks before. He did think Granger was pretty. The joy shining in her brown eyes almost had him taking an involuntary step towards her, even though she was just a memory. She could neither see nor interact with him.

"You've been doing a very good job of hiding," she said to Memory Severus.

"Not good enough, apparently." His smirk, far from being malicious, sanded down the rough edges of the words and shaped them into something teasing.

"Come dance with me," she said. Severus couldn't tell whether her cheeks were pink from the alcohol or from a blush.

"Are you going to let me lead?"

"We'll see."

After a gesture to Raffaella, missed by Granger, Memory Severus stepped onto the dance floor. Severus couldn't hear their conversation; Raffaella was too far away for the words to have imprinted on her memory.

Granger did let him lead. Mostly. Memory Severus was no better at dancing than her, but their movements were in sync. They matched. Severus strained to catalogue the emotions that surfaced with each smile she aimed up at Memory Severus, each unheard laugh. It felt much the same as it had when he'd watched her dance with the others: at war with himself, simultaneously wary and the tiniest bit fond. The murmur of affection made sense; they were friends. Perhaps the caution was due to not yet trusting her. She was, after all, best friends with Potter. Such poor judgment would throw anyone's character into question.

With a final swell of music, the dance ended. Memory Severus left Granger to return to his date's side.

"I think I've done my duty," Raffaella said by way of greeting. "Do you want to get out of here?"

Memory Severus didn't answer; he simply grabbed her hand and marched out of the ballroom. Raffaella let out a low chuckle. When they came to a stop in front of one of the fireplaces in the Atrium, she squeezed his hand.

"So. You survived."


"I'm sorry I couldn't get out of it. Thank you for accompanying me."

Memory Severus didn't notice Granger and George stumble into the Atrium, but Severus did. Instead of watching his past self bend to kiss Raffaella, unaware of their audience, Severus focused on Granger's thunderstruck expression. One of Granger's hands rose to press over her heart. There was no joy in those eyes now.

Raffaella ended the scene with the dizzying spin of the Floo. Severus didn't need to see what happened next. He had a fairly good idea. He viewed the memory six more times, coming to the same conclusion again and again.

Granger had wanted him. Had he known?

Did she still?

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 7 of 29

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