Author: little beloved PM
*WINNER: Of five 2007 OWL Awards, in categories Romance, Drama, A/U, Challenge and Fire & Ice. Winner of Mugglenet Quicksilver Quill Award 2008 and SS/HG Award for best Romance 2008.* Five years after the fall of Voldemort, Hermione and Severus receive unhappy news.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Severus S. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 32 - Words: 200,772 - Reviews: 938 - Favs: 275 - Follows: 554 - Updated: 05-18-13 - Published: 02-01-13 - id: 8967842
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Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of a marriage conducted with economy
In the Twentieth Century Anno Donomy.
We'll live in a dear little walk-up flat
With practically room to swing a cat
And a potted cactus to give it hauteur
And a bathtub equipped with dark brown water.
We'll eat, without undue discouragement,
Foods low in cost and good in nouragement
And quaff with pleasure, while chatting wittily,
The peculiar wine of little Italy.
We'll remind each other it's smart to be thrifty
And buy our clothes for something-fifty.
We'll stand in line on holidays
For seats at unpopular matinees
And every Sunday we'll have a lark
And take a walk in Central Park
And one of these days not too remote
I'll probably up and cut your throat.
Ogden Nash, Love Under the Republicans (or Democrats)
Severus Snape poured himself another cup of coffee. A further hour of leisure was left to him before he was due at Belgrave House, and he intended savouring every minute of it.
Only two weeks remained until the tiresome job of Marriage Liaison Officer was finished, and at long last some progress had been made. On the previous Friday, Padma Patil had accepted an offer from Dean Thomas, and Demelza Robins had accepted Dennis Creevey. Only twelve candidates remained unspoken for, and he had high hopes that the future of at least another six would be settled by the weekend.
The only fly in the ointment, so far he was concerned, was Hermione Granger. He didn't understand how any of the candidates could find her remotely attractive. Perhaps remotely attractive was a little strong; even he had to admit that in the full flush of womanhood, she was no longer unattractive. She had a pretty face, he supposed; a pleasing figure.
He just didn't see how any of the candidates could muscle past her vexatious personality, to say nothing of that highly objectionable mane of hair. He supposed her only chance of marriage now lay with Michael Corner. Surely none of the Slytherins would want anything to do with her? He certainly couldn't envisage Blaise Zabini shackled to her for the rest of his life.
Shaking his head, he picked up the most recent copy of Alchemy Today, determined not to dwell on the subject of Hermione Granger and her appalling lack of marriage prospects.
"Good morning, Severus," his wife said with a smile as she took her usual seat at the dining table. "I trust you slept well?"
He raised his gaze from the journal. "Good morning, Cordelia. I slept very well, thank you," he lied, grateful that their separate sleeping quarters meant his wife never witnessed his regular nightmares. "And you?"
"Very soundly, thank you," she replied.
Severus watched as she buttered her toast with impeccably manicured hands. She was not a beautiful woman, his wife, but with her aristocratic features and immaculate grooming she rather gave the impression of beauty. This morning she was dressed in Muggle attire: an ankle-length tweed skirt and a white silk blouse. She was close to her family, and the circles in which they moved included famous Muggle artists, philosophers and academics. Thus, they often wore well-tailored Muggle clothes instead of traditional wizarding garb. Her dark brown hair was worn tied up in an elegant knot, and her ears were adorned with simple pearl earrings.
She smiled at him as she sipped her tea. "I get the impression you're not entirely relishing your position at Belgrave, Severus."
He grunted. "I'd expected a certain amount of maturity from my charges. I was sadly mistaken: they still behave like hormonal adolescents."
Cordelia chuckled. "I heard about Draco's little prank. I'm surprised you didn't Apparate straight to Wiltshire and take the matter up with Lucius."
"It crossed my mind, believe me. I came dangerously close to hexing Draco with something nasty." He paused to pour himself another cup of coffee. "To be honest, I was relieved it was all a hoax; I thought the chap had lost his mind."
His wife looked at him. "What was so disagreeable about the young woman?"
He scowled. "Draco was far from fond of Miss Granger while at Hogwarts."
Cordelia laughed. "I'm sure the feeling was mutual, Severus. I've always liked Narcissa, but I found Draco to be an unbearable bore when he was a teenager. He was so arrogant! I must admit, he has improved immeasurably the past few years."
"He's certainly changed since the war. I was still appalled to think he would select Miss Granger as a bride."
"What have you got against her, Severus? From what I've heard, she sounds like an intelligent young woman."
"She was the most infuriating student I ever taught," he said, picking up his journal once more.
"Have you had any luck with the interviewees for the position of assistant?" she inquired a moment later, changing the subject.
He raised his gaze again. "Idiots, every single one of them. I know my expectations may be a little high, but I refuse to lower my standards."
"Severus, you're possibly the most intolerant man I've ever met."
"I daresay I am. Don't you find it endearing?" he asked with a smirk.
She laughed and stood up. "I was considering spending the weekend in the cottage in Edinburgh. Would you have any objections?"
He shook his head. "None at all. Will you be going alone?"
"Yes," she said, smiling. "I thought I'd catch up on some reading. See you tonight, Severus."
He smirked as he watched his wife leave the room. She was a worthy Slytherin: she could tell a lie while wearing an expression of complete innocence. He knew damn well she wouldn't be spending the weekend alone.
Hermione smiled as she climbed the steps to Belgrave House. It was not yet nine o'clock, which meant she had more than an hour of reading time left before Magical Cookery class. Humming contentedly, she was halfway across the room before she realised she was, unusually, not the first to have arrived. Theodore Nott sat in an armchair at the far end of the common room. She stopped in her tracks.
"Good morning," she said, suddenly flustered.
He raised his eyes from his book. "Good morning," he replied, his cheeks colouring.
Willing herself to appear casual, Hermione chose a book and poured a cup of tea. With a second glance at Theodore, she made the brave decision to join him. Setting her teacup on a small table, she took the armchair nearest his and opened her book. She risked another glance at him and saw he was reading the collected sonnets of William Shakespeare.
"You're reading Shakespeare!" she exclaimed.
He looked up again, and his colour deepened. "Yes, I am. You sound surprised."
She'd never heard him speak before. He had a gentle, lyrical voice. "I am surprised. Not many wizards have an interest in Muggle literature."
"I studied English Literature at university," he explained.
Her curiosity piqued, she forgot her shyness and leaned forward in her chair. "Are you serious? You studied at a Muggle university?"
He nodded and gave her a small smile. "Cambridge."
"Oooh!" she said, grinning. "My parents went to Cambridge. Which college?"
"Trinity. I specialised in Shakespearian tragedies. Draco said you studied at the Sorbonne."
"Yes. Double degree in Potions and Charms." She smiled, admiring his eyes. They were an unusually dark shade of blue – almost navy. Silence fell, and she opened her book. But then he spoke again.
"Your name is Shakespearian," he mumbled, sounding embarrassed. "It's very pretty."
She looked up, knowing it must have taken a lot of courage for someone so shy to offer such a compliment. "Thank you."
He returned his gaze to his book, and they read in a reasonably comfortable silence. After a few minutes, Theodore looked as though he was absorbed in his poetry. She was glad that she'd chosen to wear her hair loose that day, so she could watch him from beneath her curls. Despite the gauntness of his face, his features were not harsh. His eyes were deeply set, and there was something aristocratic about his mouth that she couldn't quite define. He wasn't handsome, really, but she thought there was something beautiful about him, nonetheless.
It was kind of nice, sitting there, reading by his side. Her tranquillity was soon shattered by the arrival of Draco Malfoy.
"Isn't that sweet?" he gushed, entering the common room. "The only intellectuals in our little gang reading together!"
"Sod off, Draco," Theodore said, without looking up from his book.
Draco and Hermione laughed. "So, Granger. What pie do you reckon we'll be making today?"
Magical Cookery had become something of a joke. Pies seemed to be the only thing in Madam Splattermore's limited repertory. "Well, it was steak and kidney last week, so I'd say it'll be something with fruit today. Rhubarb, perhaps?"
Draco pulled a face. "I can't stand rhubarb – not fit for human consumption if you ask me. My money's on pumpkin or pork. My pie was bloody good last week … I bet you were sorry you'd rejected me, Granger, when you discovered my hitherto unsuspected culinary talents."
Hermione gave him a withering look. "Draco, your pie was inedible. I couldn't believe Madam Splattermore actually made me taste it. The pastry was completely was black, but the inside was raw. I thought I'd been poisoned."
"It actually looked like a pie, though," he countered, "which is more than can be said for my previous efforts."
Within a few minutes the common room started to fill. Demelza appeared wearing a huge engagement ring, to shrieks of excitement from the other girls. While everyone was busy exclaiming over the diamond, Draco tapped Hermione on the shoulder and gestured to the opposite end of the room. Hoping he wasn't going to offer to play match maker between her and Theodore, she followed him.
"I know I've been playing the class clown over the past few weeks," he whispered, casting a glance towards the gang at the other end of the room, "but on a serious note, I'd really like to ask your opinion."
"Sure – go ahead," she whispered.
He swallowed nervously, his eyes darting towards the rest of the candidates again. "I've decided who I'm going to marry, but I've no idea whether or not she's interested. I want your help."
Hermione grinned. "Well, I have noticed someone checking you out since the day you offered for me. Tell me who it is, and I'll tell you if you're right."
Draco looked stricken. "No! I can't! You tell me first … Please, Hermione," he begged.
She chuckled, amused at this new, uncertain Draco. "Alright … It's Susan Bones."
"Are you serious? You're not having me on?"
"I'm not having you on. She looked really upset the day you offered for me, so I've been keeping an eye on her. She's been watching you like a hawk – especially when you've been talking to me or Pansy. Do you like her, Draco?"
"Completely smitten. I've tried to pluck up the courage to ask her for lunch or something, but I just can't do it. I know I usually swan around like I'm Merlin or something, but I'm a nervous wreck around her."
Hermione frowned. "I'm partnered with you for cookery today; she's partnered with Neville. I could tell her that I really want to talk to Neville and ask her to swap, if you'd like?"
Draco looked suddenly hopeful. "Would you? I don't know if she'll want anything to do with me, with what happened to her aunt and everything," he said, his gaze moving to his forearm, where the Dark Mark had been branded.
"Draco, you and your family have been forgiven for the things you did in the past. Susan's lovely; I'm certain she won't hold it against you."
"I hope you're right," he said with a deep sigh.
When they arrived at the kitchens, Susan agreed to swap when Hermione asked her, although she blushed brilliantly when she realised she'd be working with Draco. Draco, on the other hand, looked so pale that Hermione was certain he was on the verge of throwing up. By the end of the class, however, she was thrilled to discover them so absorbed in their own conversation that they didn't notice the rest of the candidates had left. Draco offered for Susan the following afternoon, and much to everyone's delight, she accepted.
Three mornings in a row, Theodore Nott was in the common room before Hermione arrived. They didn't talk much, but she still found herself thinking about him all the time. Yes, he was painfully shy, but at the same time she got the impression that he was possessed of a quiet self-confidence very different from anyone she had ever known.
On Thursday afternoon, she left Female Health class and Apparated straight to Hogsmeade, and smiled at the sight of the wizarding village. She hadn't been here since her graduation, and as she approached the large, ornate gates of Hogwarts, she realised she'd missed the place.
Closing the gates behind her, she turned and gazed up at the castle. It was a sight she'd seen so many times before, yet it still had the power to affect her. Embarrassed by her own sentimentality, she blinked back the tears that threatened to ruin her makeup. She'd found a wonderful friend in Padma and a close confidante in Ginny Weasley, yet now more than ever, she felt the loss of the camaraderie she'd once shared with Harry and Ron.
There were twenty minutes left before she was due to have lunch with the headmistress, so she decided to stroll along the grounds towards Hagrid's hut. The sky was overcast, but the breeze was warm, and the sweet fragrance of heather drifted on the air. Peering through the gloom of the dense forest, she detected movement. To her delight, about thirty feet away, a pair of blank, white, shining eyes appeared from behind a tree trunk. A moment later the skeletal body of a great, black winged horse became fully visible in the dim light. The creature regarded her for a few seconds before turning away with a swish of its long black tail and making its way back to the deeper reaches of the forest.
It was only the second time she'd ever seen a Thestral, and she recalled the day in her fifth year when Hagrid had brought their class into the forest and had drawn the Thestrals with the carcass of a cow. She'd been unable to see them at the time, before she'd seen so many die in the war, and she remembered with a start that Theodore Nott had been one of only three who could see them back then. With a frown she wondered who he'd seen die at such a young age. For the first time, she realised she really knew nothing about his past. She knew his father had been a Death Eater, but Theo hadn't. Surely a Muggle-hater would not have attended a Muggle university?
As she watched the black, winged horse's retreating form, she gave a small laugh: she'd well and truly begun to view Theodore Nott as a potential husband. She shook her head at the thought of the bizarre twist her life had taken, and leant her forehead against the rough bark of the nearest tree. He intrigued her; he was reasonably attractive; according to Draco, he was clever. What other options did she have left to her? Blaise Zabini was out of the question. Michael Corner was, by all accounts, a decent bloke. But she couldn't picture them together.
With a firm resolution not to mention the name of Theodore Nott to the headmistress, she made her way towards the castle.
There was something restful about the company of Minerva McGonagall. Sitting in her office, surrounded by the sleeping portraits of generations of Hogwarts headmasters and headmistresses, Hermione quite forgot her worries about her marriage prospects. The headmistress was eager to hear all about her years at the Sorbonne, and she enjoyed telling tales about her Parisian adventures. McGonagall smiled at the mention of Padma Patil.
"Miss Patil has become engaged to Dean Thomas, I hear?" she asked.
"Yes, just last week," Hermione answered. "They're really well suited."
McGonagall sat back and sipped at her tea. "I was always fond of Dean," she said with a small smile. "He deserves some happiness. You Muggle-borns had it rough during the war – you all deserve a little happiness."
"I was offered the Potions post at St. Mungo's at the weekend," Hermione announced, steering the topic away from marriage. "But I don't know what to do. They've given me until Monday to think about it."
"Before I tender my view," the headmistress replied, "I'd like to ask you a question, if I may. You were a uniquely gifted Charms student, but I never got the impression that Potions was your forte, Miss Granger. Given that you seemed to possess a more natural aptitude for Transfiguration, Arithmancy and even Ancient Runes, I've often wondered why it was you chose to pursue a degree in Potions? A degree in Charms I understand. But Potions?"
Hermione smiled. "Charms was an easy option, in a way. It was my strongest subject. I was going to take Transfiguration as my second subject at the Sorbonne, but nothing attracts me more than a good challenge. I've never had an instinctive flair for Potions, and I decided that if I lacked innate ability, I'd work hard until I became a Potions Mistress to compensate for my shortcomings."
"Has it brought you happiness?" McGonagall inquired.
Hermione shrugged. "Not happiness. A sense of achievement, perhaps."
"But now that you've conquered your demons, so to speak," the older woman continued, "is it really what you'd like to do for the rest of your life."
"I'm not sure," Hermione replied, frowning deeply. "Ideally, I'd like something that combines Charms and Potions."
"Can you see yourself working long-term in the Potions Laboratory at St. Mungo's?" the headmistress asked.
"I don't think so," she confessed.
McGonagall gave a small nod. "There lies your answer, Miss Granger. I think you'd be wasted in St. Mungo's. Whether your future lies in Potions or Charms, I'd hate to see someone with your abilities languishing in that hospital."
Hermione blushed at the compliment. "Thank you, Professor. I've applied for a few other positions, but I've not yet secured any of them."
"What are the other positions?"
"One is in the Department of Mysteries; the second is in an apothecary in Geneva; and the third …" She looked away, feeling foolish for having mentioned it.
"Yes, Miss Granger?"
"Well, it … the other application was for a position as a Potions Assistant in London. I didn't know it at the time, but the advertisement was posted by Professor Snape. Needless to say," she added, "he's declined to consider me for the position."
McGonagall pursed her lips. "And how are you coping with having Severus as your Liaison Officer?"
"Not well at all," Hermione answered, rubbing her brow. "Nobody else – not even Neville – seems to have a problem with him. But he's been horrible to me, and I've absolutely no idea why."
"Really?" asked the headmistress, raising her eyebrows. "No idea whatsoever?"
"Well," Hermione said, not sure she liked where the conversation was leading. "I presume it's because I saved his life, and he hates feeling like he owes me something."
"I'm sure that has something to do with it, in part …"
"In part?" she asked. "What do you mean?"
"Harry Potter told me that Severus had given him his memories in the Shrieking Shack; Harry also told me he'd left them in Dumbledore's Pensieve on the night of the final battle. When I returned here, to this office, I tried to siphon Severus's memories from the Pensieve, lest they should fall into the wrong hands. I was too late – the memories were already gone."
Hermione started guiltily. It was obvious that one of the portraits had told McGonagall what had happened. "I … I took them," she stammered. "As soon as we got back from the shack I came up here and took them. I'd promised him I would, Professor, that morning – at the Shrieking Shack. I didn't know whether or not he could hear me, but I promised him I'd retrieve the memories and return them to him if he lived. I said I'd destroy them if he died."
"I see," McGonagall murmured. "You returned them to him?"
She nodded. "A few weeks later, I visited him at St. Mungo's. I brought them with me."
"And how did he react?"
Hermione couldn't remember that day without blushing. "He was ... well, angry. He'd only just recovered the power of speech, so it was difficult to make out what he was trying to say. I held the glass beaker containing the memories out to him, and he grabbed his wand, pointed it straight at me and made the beaker to explode," she explained, running her thumb along the thin, white scar she still bore on her left hand from the incident.
"Did you ever view those memories, Miss Granger?"
"No!" she replied, her eyes wide. "I would never have done that!"
"I didn't mean to offend you, Miss Granger," McGonagall reassured her. "I'm just trying to see where Severus might be coming from on this. Did Harry tell you what the memories showed?"
"Yes," she said. "He told Ron and I everything, just before we realised Professor Snape was still alive."
"And is there any way Severus could know you're aware of the details of those memories?"
Hermione thought back to the morning she had saved him, and she began to understand. "Yes. At the Shrieking Shack I … I thought he was unconscious, but I wasn't sure. I told him help was on the way, and I think I … I said that Harry had told Ron and me what he'd seen in the memories. I promised him that I would never tell another living soul."
McGonagall smiled. "I think you've hit the nail on the head. Severus Snape has always been a fiercely private man. Not one of us, with the exception of Dumbledore, had a clue how he felt about Lily Potter. Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect his behaviour stems from the fact that you know, Miss Granger. You're one of three who know what those memories contain, and he resents you deeply for it."
"It's really that simple?" Hermione asked. "He hates me because I know?"
McGonagall nodded. "I'd bet on it. You make him feel vulnerable, and if there is one thing that Severus cannot bear, it's vulnerability."
"I see," she said. It made sense, really. "I'm relieved he wouldn't consider me for the Potions position, in that case."
McGonagall chuckled. "Indeed! A fine pair you would have made. Speaking of pairs, Miss Granger, I'm interested to know how you've been getting along with the other candidates."
Hermione managed to escape a quarter of an hour later without having once mentioned the name of Theodore Nott. She was rather proud of herself.
The following evening, she met Padma and Dean for a drink in the Leaky Cauldron. Hermione sat opposite her friends, smiling fondly at their entwined hands.
"We've set the wedding date," Padma announced as she sipped her wine. "Two weeks from tonight, on the last day of the pre-marriage course. It'll be a small affair, of course, mainly family – but we wanted to ask you if you'd be bridesmaid?"
Hermione beamed. "Of course I would! I'd be delighted!" She stood up and threw her arms around Padma and then leaned forward to kiss Dean on the cheek.
"I presume Parvati will be matron of honour?" she asked.
Padma nodded. "Dean's younger brother will be best man, and Seamus will be the other groomsman."
"And have you heard anything from the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes?"
Padma's grin widened. "I had an owl from them two hours ago. I'm officially an Obliviator! And what's more," she added before Hermione could respond, "Dean's just been offered a job in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, so we'll both be working at the Ministry."
They raised their glasses and toasted their respective futures. Dean looked curiously at Hermione. "What about you, Hermione?" he asked. "What about St. Mungo's?"
"I owled them this morning to decline. I've applied for that position in the Department of Mysteries, but they aren't holding the interviews for another four weeks."
"By which time," Dean said, "you'll be married."
Padma chuckled beside him. "But to who? That's the question!"
"Michael Corner keeps gazing at you with big, hopeful eyes," Dean said.
"He told Dennis he thinks you're just playing hard to get," said Padma.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ginny would kill me if I married Michael Corner. Besides – I'm just not interested."
Dean frowned. "Is he really all that bad? He was in the D.A., and he always struck me as a nice bloke."
Padma gave her a knowing smile. "I believe Hermione's cast her net in another direction."
Hermione met Padma's gaze and felt her cheeks grow warm. "And what direction would that be?"
"In the direction of the mysterious Mr Nott," Padma whispered, glancing around the pub.
"Are you serious?" Dean asked, leaning forward. "You like Theo?"
Hermione put her scarlet face in her hands, unable to deny it. "Am I that transparent?" she muttered.
Padma laughed. "You're not transparent at all, really. I've just been watching you. I've seen you looking at him. He's been watching you, too."
"What am I playing at?" Hermione asked with a groan. "I don't know a single thing about him, yet I've started to imagine walking up the aisle with him. I've completely and utterly lost my mind."
"I was partnered with him in Herbology in sixth year," said Dean. "So I know him a little."
Hermione's face brightened. "Tell me everything you know."
Dean put down his drink. "He's very quiet, very intelligent and a little bit on the eccentric side. I know Draco's changed a lot and he's quite likeable now, but all I can say is that Theo was the only Slytherin I genuinely liked while we were at school."
She felt hope and excitement start to simmer inside her. Surely if Dean, a fellow Muggle-born, liked Theodore, he must be alright? "But what about his father?" she asked desperately.
Dean shook his head. "You can't judge anybody by their parents, Hermione. As far as I could tell, he never had anything to do with the Death Eaters. He never hung around with Malfoy, Crabbe or Goyle. He kept to himself."
"And," Padma chipped in, "his mother's name was never on any of the Death Eater lists issued after the war."
Hermione realised for the first time that she'd be gaining a family-in-law as well as a spouse.
"I think you could do a whole lot worse than Theodore Nott," Padma said. "He's a lot quieter than your previous boyfriends, but he's the clever, bookish sort … Just like you!"
She looked at the heartening expressions on Padma and Dean's faces. They were so happy together; they wanted her to be happy too. She couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face. "Has he really been watching me?" she asked, feeling like a sixteen-year-old again.
Padma nodded. "Practically every time I've looked his way. He keeps sitting at the back of the classroom so he can watch you."
Hermione spent the following weekend daydreaming about the kind of husband Theodore Nott would make. In her daydreams, he always made the good kind.
On Monday morning, Hermione arrived at Belgrave House at precisely nine o'clock. She'd taken extra care with her makeup that day and had plaited her hair so that it lay halfway down her back. But her heart sank when she pushed open the common room door and found the place empty; she'd been so certain that Theodore would be there first – waiting for her. Taking a random book from the shelf without even looking at the title, she wandered to the tea service and poured a cup of tea. Maybe he was just running late.
A few minutes later she heard footsteps outside and quickly opened the book that lay in her lap. Without taking in any of the words, she scanned a page, her heart hammering painfully against her ribs. The door opened, and she glanced up in expectation, but it was Michael Corner. She tried not to let the disappointment show on her face.
"Hi, Hermione," he said brightly, an eager look in his eyes.
"Hi, Michael," she replied, returning her gaze to her book. She'd no intention of encouraging a conversation.
He poured himself a coffee while she pretended to read. She held the book up a little higher as he walked towards her, as though it might somehow help to ward off the unwanted attention. It failed: he took the armchair next to hers – Theodore's armchair.
After a few seconds, Michael began to snigger quietly. She frowned; what was so funny? His snigger turned into an increasingly loud chuckle. She'd no choice but to look up at him.
"Is something the matter?" she asked.
He gestured towards her book. "Interesting reading material," he said, his voice choked.
She turned the book over and looked in horror at the title: Magical Masturbation for Lonely Witches: Ten Hot Tips for You and Your Wand.
She dropped the book on the floor as if she'd been burned. "Merlin's beard!" she exclaimed. "What the hell are they thinking, putting a book like that in here?"
Michael continued to chuckle as she gingerly picked up the book and walked across the room, shoving it back onto the shelf. Her face flaming, she made her way to the door.
"Hopefully somebody will save you from the loneliness, and you'll never need that book again," he muttered with a grin as she excused herself and fled from the room.
She stayed in the bathroom, thoroughly mortified, until it was time to leave for their Family Law class. Determinedly not looking at Michael Corner, she quickly scanned the classroom. Theodore Nott wasn't there. The buoyant mood of her weekend began to evaporate.
After class, she had lunch in Belgrave Park with Padma, Dean, Susan and Draco. She'd just recounted her embarrassing episode with Michael Corner, and her friends were literally rolling on the grass with laughter.
"Granger, that's the most hilarious thing I've heard for a long time," Draco declared, brushing grass from his jeans. "He's bound to think you're all kinky – he'll have offered for you within the hour."
Hermione frowned. "I was rather hoping it might put him off."
"No chance," said Padma, wiping tears of amusement from her eyes. "He'll want to know exactly what those ten hot tips were."
They all guffawed again. Even Hermione had to join in. Her smile quickly turned to a glower as she spotted Dennis Creevey hurrying towards them.
"Hermione," Dennis said, panting, "Professor Snape would like to see you in his office."
She rose from the grass and shot Padma a worried look.
"I didn't really think he'd offer within the hour," Draco said.
Padma and Hermione locked gazes again. "It mightn't be an offer at all … It might be … something else," Padma said.
Worried, Hermione turned to follow Dennis back to the house. As she walked away she heard Draco's next comment.
"If it is an offer," he said quietly, "it mightn't necessarily be from Michael Corner. Maybe it's from someone who's made themselves scarce today, if you catch my drift."
She cursed under her breath; did everybody know she fancied Theodore Nott? As she climbed the steps to Belgrave House, she wondered if Draco could be right. Maybe Theo had offered for her, and maybe that's why he hadn't shown up today. He was terribly shy, after all. Hoping desperately that the offer was not from Michael, she tapped on Snape's door, and he bade her enter.
She could tell from the smug expression on his face that she'd definitely received an offer. Her heart racing, she took the seat in front of Snape's desk and waited for him to speak. The sooner she was engaged, the sooner she would never have to see Severus Snape again.
He cleared his throat. "Your popularity among the male candidates confounds me, Miss Granger," he drawled.
She glared at him. He just couldn't seem to resist an opportunity to belittle her.
"You've received yet another offer of marriage. Let us hope that it will be third time lucky."
Her heart was thumping. She hated these little games of cat and mouse he insisted on playing; why couldn't he just spit it out?
"The young man has admitted this offer is being made without your prior knowledge, but he seems assured that you will accept."
"I really would appreciate if you'd get to the point and stop toying with me," she said, her voice shaking.
"Michael Corner offered for you an hour ago," he said, pushing the contract and a quill across the table.
With a groan, Hermione put her face in her hands.
"Is there a problem, Miss Granger?" Snape asked through clenched teeth.
She nodded and lowered her hands. Annoyed as she was at Michael Corner's cheek, all she could think of was Theodore Nott. Why had he disappeared? She'd had three offers of marriage, and the only wizard whose proposal she would entertain didn't seem to want her. She suddenly knew what she must do: if Theodore Nott didn't offer for her, she would wait until the night of Padma and Dean's wedding and flee the country. She was not going to accept Michael Corner as a last resort.
"I'm sorry, sir. I just can't accept that offer," she said, aware that Snape was now clenching his jaw and that they were only moments away from yet another argument.
In a flash of fury he tossed the contract into the waste paper bin on his left. "On what grounds, Miss Granger?" he snarled.
Hermione gave a depressed shrug. "On the grounds that we're unsuitable."
"Unsuitable?" he snapped. "This is a Marriage Law, Miss Granger. It necessitates members of the wizarding community to marry in order to preserve our people and our way of life. It is not Ollivader's; you don't get to try out all the wizards until you find the one you were destined to be bound to. You're expected to behave like a good citizen and do the best you can with the options before you."
"There are other options before me."
He raised his eyebrows. "You have received three offers of marriage; everybody else has managed to accept after only one. Not the mighty Miss Granger, though," he spat. "She's far too good for all these ordinary wizards."
"I never said I was too good for them, I said I was unsuited to them," she said.
"You only have eleven days left before the Ministry chooses a husband for you. Tell me, Miss Granger. Is there any wizard in the whole of Britain whose offer you would be willing to accept, or am I completely wasting my time here?"
She blushed. "There's one wizard whose offer I would be willing to accept," she admitted.
"Well, then? Is it somebody who's within my jurisdiction or is it some European you've met on your travels? I wish to know now, for you have wasted quite enough of my time with your persistent refusals."
She was flustered. Should she tell him or should she keep her mouth shut? He was meant to be Liaison Officer after all, and she knew that he'd signed a guarantee of privacy; what she said was supposed to stay in this office. "It's one of the candidates," she said, embarrassed.
"And pray tell, Miss Granger, just who might that be?"
She fidgeted with the end of her plait. "What I'm about to say won't leave this room?"
He nodded. "I'm magically bound to adhere to a full privacy agreement."
Reassured, she looked at her hands before mumbling, "I'd be willing to accept Theodore Nott."
There was complete silence. After a moment, surprised he hadn't spoken, Hermione raised her gaze. Snape was staring at her, utterly thunderstruck, and she'd no idea why.
"Is there a problem with that? I had reason to believe he was a pure-blood," she said, frowning.
He continued to stare at her. "Theo? Is this a joke, Miss Granger?"
Even in her confusion she was surprised he'd used the shortened form of Theodore's name.
"Of course it's not a joke. Why would it be?" she asked.
"Are you honestly telling me you'd expect Theodore Nott to marry you?" he asked.
Anger suddenly burned within her. "How dare you treat me like some second class citizen? You think a pure-blood would want nothing to do with me?"
"It's nothing to with Theo being a pure-blood, it's to do with you not knowing one another at all," he said in an unexpectedly patient tone.
She gaped at him, feeling wrong-footed. How would he know whether or not she knew Theodore Nott? What was going on? "I've gotten to know him over the past week or two. And anyway, what business is it of yours?"
He regarded her for a moment, his expression perplexed. "Miss Granger, it's quite obvious to me that you know nothing whatsoever about Theodore Nott. If you knew him at all, you would be well aware that he is my stepson."
Hermione almost physically recoiled at his words. "But – but I remember reading your marriage announcement in the Daily Prophet," she stammered. "Your … your wife's name isn't Nott."
"When Cordelia, my wife, was widowed at the end of the war, she reverted to her maiden name, which is Mill. Theodore is her only child."
Hermione felt her hopes and dreams shatter into a million pieces. She was a complete and utter fool. He was right: she knew nothing whatsoever about Theodore Nott.
"There's no question of you marrying Theo," Snape said.
"And why is that?" she asked, suddenly annoyed again. "You've admitted he's a pure-blood; is he already engaged?"
"Theo was my student for many years, and he has been my stepson for over four. Believe me, Miss Granger – there's nobody to whom you could possibly be less well suited."
She started to feel defiant. "And why are we not suited?"
He waved a hand as if to dismiss her question. "I cannot think of a single way in which you are compatible."
"You might know Theodore," she said. "But you don't know me. You're not in a position to judge whether or not we're suited. You just don't want to consider the possibility because you hate me."
He looked at her so intently that she was forced to look away. He pressed the tips of his fingers together and said, "I've told you before that I've never hated you, Miss Granger. Look, you are an intelligent young woman," he said in an unexpectedly gentle tone.
Hermione returned her gaze to his face.
"And now I appeal to that intelligence. Believe me when I say that a marriage between yourself and Theodore Nott would not be a success."
She blinked back tears of frustration. Theodore Nott had been her only hope. It was true that she couldn't stand being in the same room as Severus Snape, but she didn't care if he was Theo's stepfather. She wasn't going to be pressurised into marrying Michael Corner just because she disliked her prospective father-in-law, and he disliked her. He wasn't going to ruin her life just because she knew about Lily Evans. She turned and cast a Privacy Charm on the room, causing him to raise an eyebrow.
"You cannot possibly know whether a marriage between us would be a success or not. You don't want to consider this because you couldn't bear the thought of having to associate with me," she said, her voice shaking. "I thought I was doing the right thing when I saved your life, Professor Snape, and when Harry told me what he'd seen in your memories, he thought you were dead! If I did the wrong thing in saving your life, I'm sorry. If I offended you with the things I said that day, I'm sorry. But it's not my fault that I know about you and Lily Evans. I've given you my word that I'll never say anything to anyone, and that includes Theodore Nott. If my word is not good enough, I'll allow you to Obliviate the relevant memories from my mind."
He shook his head. "Miss Granger, this is not about you and me. I don't deny that there are problems between us that extend back very many years. I admit I've not been kind in my treatment of you over these past few weeks, but I am appealing to you now as your Marriage Liaison Officer. I am putting aside all personal differences and speaking to you directly as someone who knows Theodore Nott. I urge you to reconsider."
Her lower lip was quivering, and she knew she was only seconds away from tears. "I don't mean to offend you, but I believe you cannot bear the thought of me marrying your stepson and are trying to change my mind."
A tear rolled down her left cheek. With a sigh, he conjured a handkerchief and tossed it across the table to hear. She picked it up and dabbed at her eyes.
"Miss Granger, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have you betrothed and out of my hands as soon as possible … believe me. But there are fundamental differences between you and Theo that would be problematic. That's all I will say for the moment. You are upset, and I've no wish to distress you further."
"Was he a Death Eater?" she asked.
Snape grunted. "No. He was never a Death Eater, nor associated with them in any way, despite the activities of his father."
Hermione dabbed at her eyes again. She ashamed that Snape, of all people, should have been the one to see her cry. "I'd like to leave now. I've a lot to think about."
He nodded his assent. "You are scheduled to see me at noon tomorrow, Miss Granger. I'd appreciate if you would keep that appointment."
"I'll be here," she mumbled as she turned to leave the room. She flicked her wand to lift the Privacy Charm she'd placed on the room. When she reached the door something occurred to her: he would know where Theodore had gone. "Where has Theo gone?" she asked in a constricted voice. "He wasn't at class today."
"He was visiting friends in Berlin over the weekend," he answered. "He'll return early tomorrow."
She left the room and leaned her back against the closed door. Despite what she had just learned, she was glad Theodore's absence was only temporary. All was not lost; the situation could be resolved. A flutter of excitement began to build in her chest at the thought of seeing him the following day. He was the only one she would accept, and the words of a bitter, resentful, unpleasant ex-teacher were not going to persuade her otherwise.