Continuing Tales

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 8 of 29

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Severus was collecting data.

Waking up cocooned in a blanket that hadn't been there when he'd drifted off to sleep probably didn't mean anything. Anyone would receive the same treatment from Granger if she found them napping on a sofa. Even Lucius would merit a threadbare sheet.

Standing up, he stretched his arms over his head until his stiff back made a satisfying pop. The cats, who had woken him by putting their noses centimetres from his and staring in a way that would have intimidated the most battle-hardened Auror, twined around his ankles and meowed their displeasure. Granger had not yet fed them. Odd.

Following the beasts into the kitchen, Severus retrieved tins of food that both smelled and looked like it had been digested once already. He deposited the slop in their bowls with none of the chatter they were accustomed to receiving from Granger. If they wanted conversation with their breakfast, they should have waited until afternoon. Leaving them to their meal, he retreated to the bathroom.

Granger's mostly empty Muggle bathing products cluttered up the shelf in the shower. Balanced upside down to coax out the last drops of the goop, they crashed to the floor at the slightest breeze. Severus gave up on returning them to the shelf after the second time. And why the devil was everything scented like food? Coconut shampoo. Strawberry shower gel. Kiwi conditioner. Was she a woman or a fruit salad?

A couple of full replacement bottles took up more space under the sink. He had to shove aside lemon shower gel, grapefruit shampoo, and clementine conditioner to reach his bottle of deodorant. Hmm. All citrus. Severus took a whiff of the clementine one.


The fresh, orangey scent transported him back to his dream with that mystery woman. Had it just been an ordinary dream, rather than a memory? Perhaps smelling this on Granger at some point had planted the fragrance in his subconscious. Severus frowned at the bottle. Thinking of that dream as something that hadn't really happened was like losing something precious, but if the scent belonged to Granger, it couldn't have been a vision of the truth. Not unless she was much, much better at keeping secrets than Severus gave her credit for.

He was on his second cup of coffee by the time a puffy-faced, groggy Granger plodded downstairs. If Hangover Relief Potion had adverts, she would be the "before" picture. He studied the way she greeted him with a weary smile and claimed the chair across from him. No clues about any lingering desire there.

"Did you have a pleasant evening?" he asked.

"I did. You?"

"It was… illuminating."

Wrapping her hands around a mug of coffee, she looked at the dark liquid with the sort of slavish devotion house elves showed their masters. "I've been thinking," she said. "I need a summer project."

"Apart from mothering the Squibs and reading everything in my library?"

"I'm going to do that as well, but something else. I was supposed to be interviewing you for a textbook about the two wars, but that's out of the question for now."

He had agreed to that? Truly, his older self was full of surprises.

"I do have my memories of the start of the first war. I suppose you could interview me about that, if you must."

Granger beamed at him like he'd vanished her hangover with a wave of his hand. "That'd be great. Thank you."

With a brief nod of acknowledgment, Severus swiped the last dribble of coffee in the pot. "And there's always the micro-managing of my life. That should take up plenty of your time this summer."

"Mm. True. I should probably start shopping for formal robes now. You'll need them soon. Ron and Neville are getting married. Do you think the person who made Professor Dumbledore's robes is still available? You'd look precious in sequins. Black ones, obviously. No pastels."

Another bloody wedding. Oh, rapturous joy.

Severus watched Granger out of the corner of his eye as he tried to work out, for the thousandth time, what his older self felt for her. She pottered around the kitchen, oblivious, burning her toast and cooking her eggs until they were rubbery. Concentrating hard, Severus reached deep within himself. Prodding at the edges of that same old feeling that he knew her better than he knew anyone provided no clues. Anything deeper was shrouded in fog.

"…and some people will probably give me pitying looks, but I don't care. I'm thrilled for the two of them. Ron and I never worked at all."

How long had she been talking?

"Pardon?" Severus said. "You and Ronald?"

"Yeah, we were together right after the war. I thought you knew."

"Ah. I did not. And how long was he with you before he admitted he was gay?"

Granger laughed. "He's not. He's bi. He likes women as well. He liked me quite a lot for a few months, but we argued too much. We were completely toxic together. Always jealous over every little thing, never any trust. It was a mess. Ron's always needed someone like Neville—someone who will take care of him and let him take care of them in return. We're better as friends. When we tried for more, nothing worked except the physical aspect."

Nausea jabbed at Severus's stomach at the thought of the physical aspect. Had she suffered some sort of grievous head injury during the war?

"I hope you don't actually expect me to attend this wedding," he said.

"Why not? You went to Harry's. And how many people have the courage to invite their Boggart to their wedding? Bravery like that should be rewarded."

Severus brightened. "I'm Potter's Boggart?"

Finally, some good news. So many potential ways to work that to his advantage. He hardly knew where to begin.

Another laugh spilled from Granger's mouth before he could get too far in his plotting. "Hardly. And you aren't Neville's now, either. At least, I don't think so. You were when he was thirteen."

"Show me."

"You weren't there when I saw it."

"And? Show me anyway."

She cringed. "You won't like it."

She was right. He didn't like it. Damn that wolf. And damn Augusta Longbottom's fashion sense.

It started out as a regular dream. Severus wandered the corridors of Hogwarts, crawling through tunnels that didn't exist and climbing ladders and ropes instead of moving staircases. His heart pounded fast as he struggled to find his way. He was late for an exam in some class, but which one? Where was his schedule?

Near Gryffindor Tower, the stone of the castle dissolved into tall trees and the scene became edged in silver. A memory.

His feet had walked this path hundreds of times. They found the way without his input, carrying him through the forest to Granger's cottage. A broom sat propped up next to the front door. Severus stopped, struggling to pin down the reason something so innocuous made his stomach sink. Granger didn't fly, so the broom wasn't hers. It didn't belong to someone bad—someone who might hurt her. Maybe it belonged to someone too good.

The door swung open before Severus could fade back into the forest. Watery morning sunlight shone on the dark brown hair of the man who preceded Granger out of the cottage. Severus's mouth went dry. Granger was in a dressing gown, her hair frizzier than ever before and a lazy smile on her face. She stretched up to meet the man halfway when he lowered his head for a kiss.

Severus staggered back. He had felt this before, this roiling in his stomach, this hollowing out of his chest. That was an old memory, not a lost one, tinged with red and green instead of the brown that highlighted this moment.

Their words didn't reach his ears, but it was easy to read the man's lips when he wrapped one of Granger's curls around his finger and said, "I love you."

Severus turned away before he could see her say it back. He had to get out of there—had to put enough distance between himself and the cottage that the crack of his Disapparition would go unnoticed by them.

As he ran, the forest thickened. The silver tarnished and fell away, no longer a memory. Lily appeared, turning away from him again and again, ignoring his pleas for her to run and hide. A beam of sickly green light ripped itself from Severus's wand and collided with her abdomen. Severus tried to scream. Inside his head, he would never stop screaming. Only a whisper dropped out as Lily crumpled to the ground. From deeper within the forest, a voice that had to be Charity called to him, begging him to save her. He pushed over trees and ripped bushes up by their roots, but she was nowhere. He couldn't find her. He couldn't—

"Severus," a familiar voice said. "Wake up."

Silver light returned, infusing everything with its cool glow instead of keeping to the edges of his vision. Piercing through the haze of sleep, it jolted him awake. An otter made of that light floated above him, whiskers twitching. Seeing that he was awake, it did a giddy flip and nuzzled its nose into his neck, right over his scar from Nagini. Severus couldn't feel its touch, but it left behind a sort of peaceful tingle.

"Granger?" he croaked.

The door of his room squeaked open. Granger stood there with her wand in hand. She was wearing the same purple dressing gown she'd worn in the dream. Upon noticing her Patronus attempting to snuggle him, she banished it with a flick.

"I did not tell it to do that," she said. "I wonder if it's so forward every time I use it to send a message. That's an embarrassing thought. I'm definitely borrowing an owl the next time I need to tell Molly or Arthur something."

Severus swallowed the emotions from the dream that still burned through him. Jealousy, desire, resignation. How long ago had it happened? He couldn't ask Granger. Perhaps he could find hints in more recent memories.

"Come on," Granger said. "I'm going to show you how I've always comforted myself after nightmares during school breaks when I can't meet up with you for tea in the kitchens. It's time to get in touch with your Muggle roots."

"I don't have any Muggle roots."

Granger didn't bother shooting him the exasperated look he knew was brewing behind her eyes. Tugging on his arm, she led the way down the hall to her room. The dressing gown was thrown onto a chair before she sprawled on top of the duvet. She was wearing a pair of sleep shorts that were very short indeed and a faded orange t-shirt that proclaimed her allegiance to the Chudley Cannons, of all the ridiculous teams.

A spark of mischief lit Granger's eyes when he hesitated before sitting down next to her. Whatever had crossed her mind, she left it unsaid. Severus reached for the knitted blanket at the foot of the bed like a reflex, spreading it out over both of their laps. The device Granger picked up from the bedside table was a laptop, she told him. She placed it on her knees and angled it so they could both see.

Muggle electronic devices had come a long way since Severus's childhood. The laptop was thinner than almost all of the books Granger owned, but it had the ability to play back images and sounds with far more clarity than the clunky old television his father had acquired off the back of a lorry. Instead of the football matches favoured by Tobias Snape, Granger played a programme that suggested the running of a Muggle bookshop involved drinking rather a lot of wine.

Granger would choose a programme set in a bookshop. The protagonist, in spite of his unfortunate surname and slovenly nature, had an approach to dealing with idiotic customers that Severus could appreciate.

Severus kept his arms crossed. It wouldn't do to give any appearance of actually enjoying the show. In the interests of data collection, he let his knuckles brush against the bare skin of Granger's upper arm as he pretended to shift around to get more comfortable. Her breath hitched. Interesting. He pressed his leg up against hers. She didn't move away. Very interesting.

When the episode ended, Granger set her laptop back on the bedside table and turned to him with a wry grin. "I wonder if you'll eventually stop having nightmares if I make you do this every time you have one. Like aversion therapy."

Severus chuckled, the sound as confident as he could make it. "I'm not as averse to being in your bed as you might think."

Granger's mouth dropped open. "I can never forget you aren't really your 49-year-old self when you say things like that," she said with a bemused shake of her head.

"I do still have his emotions, you know."

She stared at him for a long time before she said, "Sometimes I wonder. You're different. You never would have… You never said things like that to me before."

Her voice was rough, thickened, like she hovered on the brink of tears.

Well. That would be a first. Women had scorned his attempts at flirtation—such as they were—before, but none had ever responded by weeping. How was he supposed to interpret that?

He didn't know what to do with a crying woman. He never had. Where were the damned cats? Why weren't they on hand to console her? Were he and Granger the sort of friends who hugged? She had never initiated any such contact—neither in his current memories nor any of the donated ones. Touching her scars hadn't felt unnatural or too intimate. Maybe an embrace would sort her out. At the very least, it would provide more data to examine.

"What's the matter?" he asked, placing an experimental hand between her shoulder blades to start. The question came out in the same tone he might have used when asking a student why they were stirring clockwise instead of anti-clockwise.

Granger didn't seem to mind the sharpness of his voice. A shuddering breath steadied her and signalled the end of potential waterworks. Her eyes remained blessedly dry.

"I just miss you, that's all," she whispered.

Feeling resentful of himself was a novel sensation, and not one he wanted to repeat. Her lower lip quivered like she might start up after all. Sliding his hand up to her shoulder, Severus tugged her against him. Finding a hold that felt natural was a struggle; he was all angles and elbows. It couldn't possibly be comforting. She stiffened for a second before relaxing into it. Her arms slipped around his waist, settling into place with practiced ease.

"You miss the old curmudgeon who is so stuffy he'd never so much as say something mildly flirtatious to you?" he said.

"Yes." She took a deep breath in and out. "Very much."

"You are a bizarre woman."

She let out an undignified snort of a laugh as she pulled away from his clumsy embrace. "I know." Soft, soft hands reached up, sweeping the hair out of his eyes. Her charm bracelet tickled his jaw. "And you aren't stuffy."

One corner of his lips ticked up. "I am a curmudgeon, though?"

"I wouldn't have you any other way."

His stomach did a flip. Severus stared at her mouth. There was something about the moment that felt as if he'd walked through it before.

"The sun's coming up," Granger said. "We need to be at Grimmauld Place in, hmm, four hours. Do we give up and have breakfast, or do we try to go back to sleep for a while?"

"Sleep," he said, reclining against the pillows. He made no move to return to his own room, just to see if she would allow it.

She did. Good to know.

Mrs Potter didn't react to Granger and Potter's too-long hug with a hex. In fact, she gave Granger a similar embrace, hampered slightly by the huge swell of Mrs Potter's belly. Severus decided Gryffindors were a strange breed.

The older Potter spawn ran full-tilt towards Severus, grinning in a way that was eerily reminiscent of his paternal grandfather.

"Hi, sir!" the boy said.

Severus sneered down at him. This seemed to be the reaction the child wanted. James giggled in delight. Definitely a strange breed.

Unlike his brother, little Albus called Severus by his given name, enunciated in an exact (if lisping) way that suggested Severus had drilled the proper pronunciation into him. Clearly the cleverer of the two. He must have inherited it from the Evans side of the family.

Grimmauld Place was packed to its creaky rafters with members of the Order of the Phoenix, much to the displeasure of the screeching portrait of Black's harridan of a mother. Being in Sirius Black's ancestral home made Severus's skin feel too tight. Granger, who had Side-Along Apparated him there, claimed it had changed dramatically since Potter and his family had moved in, but Severus was unconvinced. The place still reeked of dog.

Severus took the opportunity to pull Minerva aside and speak to her about the end of his memory loss. He'd been reading extensively on the matter, and he would likely end up bedridden in those final days, as the remaining memories boiled back to the surface in rapid succession. Minerva was the only one he trusted to see to it that he was taken somewhere no one could take advantage of his helpless state. He phrased it differently, of course, claiming he didn't want anyone to be caught in the crossfire if the outpouring of magic when his memories clicked back into place turned violent. Minerva vowed to find him a suitable place to convalesce.

He hoped it wouldn't be the bloody Shrieking Shack.

Under Granger's direction, the group compiled a chart of the years that were missing from Severus's memories. She used the Muggle traffic light system. Years with the most memories were green, those with fewer were amber, and the ones with the least were red. The war years were the greenest, to no one's surprise.

"Right," Granger said. "Those who have been your colleagues the longest are obviously the best source for the early years, except for that first year. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy are our best bet there, most likely."

Sidling up to Severus, George extended a plate full of custard creams. "Biscuit?" he said.

Before Severus had a chance to accept or refuse, Granger intervened.

"George Weasley! Don't eat any of those, Severus. They'll turn you into a canary. Temporarily, but still."

"Oh, come on, Hermione," George whined. "I resisted at the Remembrance Day thing. This was the one chance I had to play a prank on him! Once he gets his memories back, he'll know me too well. Speaking of which, I have an interesting memory for you, Snape."

Severus and Granger spoke at the same time.

"Interesting in what way?" he asked.

"What's the date of the memory?" she asked.

"September of 2002, I think," George said. "Right before Harry and Ginny's wedding."

Not too long after the Ministry party, then—less than a year. Potter kept a Pensieve at his house for reviewing details from his cases. Severus decided to take a peek at George's allegedly interesting memory. Dumping the contents of the vial into Potter's Pensieve, Severus dived in.

Right away, everything felt different. Memory Severus sat at a garden table with Granger, both of their heads bent over thick books. A ramshackle house that seemed mostly held together with luck and perhaps a bit of Spello-tape loomed over them. In the distance, a cluster of redheads zipped around on brooms and batted a Bludger back and forth with that brown-haired man from Severus's nightmare. Now and then, Memory Severus shot a surreptitious glance Granger's way to watch her nibble on a biscuit.

His feelings for her were not muddled or undefined. Not in this memory. It was like his nightmare, but with the volume turned down a few notches. Severus knew the instant he looked at her.

He wanted her—or he had, back then. And if his nightmare was anything to go by, that desire had only intensified over time.

George, Ronald, and Potter approached. Wrinkling his nose, Ronald looked over Granger's shoulder at her book.

"Do you want to play, Hermione?" Potter asked with a resigned expression that suggested he already knew the answer. He didn't bother asking Memory Severus.

"No, thank you." Granger picked up a chocolate digestive biscuit. "You all go ahead. I'm perfectly happy here."

"Oh, come on," Ronald said. "You're much… well, you're a bit better on a broom than you used to be. Put the boring old book away. You could use the exercise."

Apart from his eyes, Potter had never reminded Severus of Lily before. He did then. The way he squinted one of those green eyes and tilted his head to the side was exactly what Lily used to do when Severus tried to tell her that the Dark Arts had their uses. George smacked Ronald on the back of the head.

"I didn't… I just meant… I wasn't talking about how she's gain—"

Ronald's words cut off, but his lips kept moving. Someone had cast a nonverbal Silencing Charm. Severus's money was on his past self.

Memory Severus sniffed. "You do yourself no favours by disparaging something that is both complex and exquisite simply because you lack the wits to properly appreciate it, Weasley."

George curled his lips over his teeth as if trying to hide a grin, but neither of his companions reacted at all. Imbeciles. It was obvious he hadn't been referring to the book, but to the woman reading it. Even Granger seemed clueless.

Good gods. She really was a Gryffindor.

Severus had long suspected that post-war Granger had indulged in comfort eating for a time. The course of the war could be tracked by the changes in her appearance. At the start: average girl. During the height of it: bone thin. Post-war nightmares: a rounder face and more abundant curves. As close to normality as she was ever likely to achieve: back to average, but this time as a woman.

Eating to soothe oneself was not something Severus could relate to. He went to the opposite extreme when his emotions were unsettled, barely able to convince his jittery stomach that it needed nourishment. It might not have even been a comfort, her overeating. It might have felt essential after going so long with food being scarce. The irrational fear that a newfound abundance of food could be taken away at any minute could stick with a person.

Ronald really was an idiot.

After the others left them alone, Severus lingered near his past self and Granger. George remained just close enough to have overheard their conversation.

"Thank you," Granger said softly.

Memory Severus didn't divert his attention from his book. "Whatever for?"

"Please. As if I would believe anyone else cast that nonverbal Silencing Charm."

She set the chocolate digestive back on the plate, untouched. Glowering, Memory Severus shoved the plate towards her.

"Eat the bloody biscuits if you want them, Granger."

"He wasn't wrong."

Memory Severus looked her up and down before he replied, the path of his gaze slow and deliberate. "I thought you were often praised for your intellect. You can't be that clever if you fail to see that your level of attractiveness has not changed. I see no difference."

Severus didn't understand Granger's reaction to this statement. He'd upset her before, but she'd never looked at him like that. Like he'd struck her. Like he'd betrayed her. No tears misted over her eyes, but the bare hurt reflected there was far worse.

"I'm going to go see if Molly needs help with anything," she said before striding off towards the house.

Confusion pummeled Severus's gut as Memory Severus frowned after her. Whatever realisation Memory Severus arrived at, it took a few minutes. When he finally got there, eyes closing and shoulders drooping, regret blossomed.

The Pensieve kicked Severus out, none the wiser. George stood over him, smirking.

A line appeared between Granger's eyebrows as they pinched together. "What did you show him, George?"

Drawing his wand, George returned the wisps of silver to his own mind. "Mind your business. It was a very personal, private moment between Snape and myself."

Granger snorted. Turning his thoughts back to what he'd seen, Severus focused on his feelings towards the brown haired man. His nightmare held true there, as well: loathing, resentment, jealousy. All of Severus's old friends, back for a party. Oh, happy day. He waited for Granger to cross the room to talk to Longbottom before he said anything.

"Who was that other man?" Severus asked. "The one I haven't met."

"Terry Boot," George said. "Ravenclaw. He was in Ron and Hermione's year at Hogwarts." Leaning in closer and lowering his voice to a whisper, he added, "And in case you're wondering, you hate him because he's Hermione's ex-boyfriend."

Yes. Severus had gathered that.

A Light in the Fog

A Harry Potter Story
by turtlewexler

Part 8 of 29

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