Disclaimer: I own nothing HP related. No characters were harmed in the making of this chapter. ...Well, maybe one. Or two.
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It had been a few days since his tiff with Severus and Ms. Granger, and Lucius Malfoy awoke with the confidence he'd resolved the issue and put it all behind them. Severus Snape certainly could hold a grudge, but if he was still angry at Lucius, he'd know.
Luckily for him, there was no one around to see his undignified double-take when a Howler came in with the owl post at breakfast.
IF YOU THINK APOLOGIZING TO SEVERUS IS SUFFICIENT TO MEND THIS SITUATION, YOU ARE SORELY MISTAKEN. YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT ABOUT A PINEAPPLE AND SOME BOOMSLANG SKIN NOT MAKING UP FOR YOUR ACTIONS. I AM NOT PROPERTY TO BE CLAIMED OR STOLEN, AND IF YOU COULD GET CONCEPTS LIKE THAT THROUGH YOUR THICK SKULL PERHAPS YOU WOULDN'T HAVE SUCH DIFFICULTY FINDING A WIFE.
IF YOU'D LIKE TO KNOW WHAT I DO TO DISRESPECTFUL MALFOYS, ASK YOUR SON.
Lucius waited for missive to burst into its characteristic flames and dissolve into ash, but the parchment and red envelope lay dormant even after several minutes. He picked the letter up, screeched as a hex jolted from the parchment - no, bloody Muggle notebook paper - to his fingertips, and dropped it. He glared at the pile of ash now starting to form on his beautiful dining table and patted himself down to assess the damage.
He found nothing.
He found nothing, and that frightened him more than anything else possibly could have. What had she done? He wasn't hurt, still had all his bodily parts, and a look in the mirror proved she hadn't marred his face or hair.
Perhaps the hex had misfired. Or perhaps he was simply meant to feel as if he'd been hexed, and spend the next week in a constant state of paranoia. He smirked at the thought of outsmarting Hermione Granger, and headed into the master bath to prepare for the day.
His bath had been drawn by the house elves already and was at the perfect temperature with an appropriate amount of bubbles. When he closed the door behind him, his heated towels appeared on the nearby stand under a stasis charm. He stretched and began to pull off his shirt, pausing to scratch at his trousers. He turned toward the full-length mirror that took up most of the wall next to the tub and took a moment to inspect himself. He put on his best Malfoy sneer and continued to undress; he could probably stand to have a bit better muscle definition and lose a kilo, maybe two, at the waist, but he still had it. He scratched, unbuckled his belt, dropped his trousers, and scratched again.
"Why am I so – no." He scratched desperately at the front of his pants before tearing them off as well. If he had the constitution to faint, he probably would have when he saw his reflection in the mirror.
His pubic hair was now a bright Gryffindor red, which coincidentally matched the scattered bumps that itched and burned. At least she hadn't harmed his…
No. He checked. It was fine. He was fine. He would just grab his wand and put everything back right, and remember never to cross Granger again.
His first spell did nothing, along with the second and third. When he tried to banish the hair altogether, only part of it went away, leaving a heart-shaped patch of hair behind. His next spell removed more hair in the middle of the heart, in a vague but still recognizable lion shape. It would have been riotously amusing had it happened to someone else.
He set his wand down carefully, despite his anger, and finally stepped over to the oversized claw-foot tub that had been waiting for him. He sunk down into the water, but failed to relax. After redistributing the bubbles to cover his crotch, he summoned a house elf for an anti-itching potion, an oatmeal sachet for the bath, and parchment and quill to write Granger.
I do apologize once again. The unfair and unsettling law the ministry has forced upon us has led to a trying and uncertain time for wizards across all spectrums of blood quotient. Whilst I feel your hex was unnecessary, I do appreciate the ingenuity and passion which you put into it. I hope you apply these same talents to the dismantlement of the aforementioned law.
PostScript: this parchment will burn after being read by its intended recipient."
He charmed the letter and sent it off shortly after his bath. Before he was even halfway through his next task of the day – cancelling anything resembling a date or public meeting – he received another owl post.
If you tell anyone the contents of this letter, I will discontinue your hair serum - or begin experimenting with the recipe. Whatever she did to you will wear off in a few days."
/\/\ /\/\ /\/\
Three Hours Earlier
Hermione crumpled up another sheet of notebook paper and hurled it across the room. When it landed a good two feet from the rubbish bin, she pointed her wand at it; the paper burst into a cloud of tiny pieces and floated neatly into the bin. She was still mumbling to herself when Snape entered the study.
Well, that didn't take long.
"I'm working on my scathing reply to Lucius' letter."
"I see." His tone implied that he did not, in fact, see. "Did you always revise this much on your Potions essays? I'd hate to see the first drafts if you did pare them down."
She lobbed a crumbled paper ball at him, but it exploded in midair. He raised an eyebrow and shifted his gaze to the spiral-bound notebook next to her.
"I figured Muggle paper instead of parchment would add insult to injury," she said. "Wide-ruled with the non-perforated pages, to boot."
"You are a true evil mastermind, Granger. Do you require anything from Hogsmeade?"
She could almost hear the eyeroll, but there was the tiniest, slightest hint in his tone that he was impressed.
/\/\ /\/\ /\/\ /\/\
Hogsmeade had seen better days, but it was beginning to recover from damage inflicted during the war. Severus' supplier of one of the more expensive specialty phials still ran his little shop there, and business was booming with the increase in post-war potions needs. He wouldn't dare have his fragile order shipped, especially now that he could visit the shop without glamours or Polyjuice.
It was strange, running errands like a normal person after all his years of hiding and spying. With his order shrunken and tucked safely away, he allowed himself to wander the streets and shops of the small village; he couldn't remember the last time he'd done so.
He definitely couldn't remember a time when he'd been chatted to so often. Apparently being engaged to Granger made him more approachable – and responsible for knowing her whereabouts and physical status at all times. Oh, he still got the occasional glare, but now he had to endure things far worse, such as the occasional pat on the back or approving nod from the male populous. It was surreal and, at times, unnerving.
As a reward for his dutiful shopping without hexing any annoying bystanders, he popped into the Three Broomsticks for a drink.
This cannot possibly be good.
The Weasley twins called to him in stereo from a booth thankfully near the back of the pub. He scowled on his way to them. A few heads turned, but most of the patrons were too interested in drowning their sorrows or cheering their triumphs to care what Severus Snape was up to.
"Fancy running into you here-"
"Have a seat!"
George waved to a bartender Severus didn't recognize, then held up three fingers.
"This one's on us," he said.
"-We hear you're going to be our brother-in-law soon."
Snape was immensely glad he hadn't received his drink yet, lest he have spit it everywhere.
"We won't hear one word of protest," said Fred. "Look, Hermione's family. You marry her, that makes you family – beyond Hogwarts or the Order or people who stuck it old He-Who-Must-Not-Have-a-Nose."
This was not even remotely what he expected. The awkward pause was, fortunately, interrupted as the bartender, with a waitress in tow, arrived at their booth.
Severus kept a neutral expression as the bartender set three shot glasses on the table in a close triangle. The waitress set a pint of beer in front of each patron and rushed off to the next table as the bartender began to pour their drinks. Why – oh.
The shots were a multi-layered, mostly-red work of art. They most certainly would not have traveled well across the bar on a shaky platter with the pints. The grins of the brothers Weasley had him on alert, though it appeared they'd be drinking the concoction too; having seen them take a Canary Cream to lure in an unsuspecting prankee on more than one occasion, that was of little comfort. He steeled himself as the bartender carefully layered the last liquor into the glasses. George held up his fingers as if he were about to snap.
"Weasley tradition," he said.
"George will light them," Fred explained, "then we blow 'em out after three ticks, clink and take the shot. Beer chaser if you want it."
Snape nodded. George snapped a flame above the glasses and the drinks ignited in a fountain of flame larger than what Severus had expected, but died down quickly. Severus made a mental note to remember George's aptitude in wandless magic. The three quickly blew out the flames, clinked their glasses together, and tipped back the shots.
It burned like hellfire, but with an oddly sweet aftertaste. He couldn't identify each ingredient, but it was a good mix of flavor and texture. The twins let out a manly cheer as the three slammed the empty glasses down. There were a few cheers from other patrons as well; Severus supposed it wasn't every day you saw flaming beverages in the Three Broomsticks.
"Welcome to the fam," Fred said. He reached for other glass and the three made small talk, much to Severus' dismay, as they nursed their pints.
"So what actually brings you to Hogsmeade?"
"-And will whatever you were about to do now pale in comparison to what you just did?"
Severus smirked. He answered the question, ordered a Firewhiskey, and submitted to a myriad of questions about Hermione. He quickly met his social breaking point, however, and he stood to make his intent clear.
"See you around!"
He nodded, paid for his Firewhiskey, and headed out. He did not, however, immediately make for home: a bit of a buzz didn't break his decades-old spying instinct, and something was most definitely off.
The slightly out-of-place encounters had been adding up throughout the trip, but twice more on his way out of town he was stopped with inquiries about Hermione, in addition to the apparent tail he had developed since leaving the Three Broomsticks.
He ducked into Honeydukes. The tail waited some time before following him in, and he was out with his purchases – some chocolates and sugar quills for Granger since he was already there, he told himself – before the other man could leave without looking too suspicious. Snape shrunk and stored his items and slipped into an alley near the shop in wait.
After a few moments, the tail exited the store sucking on a candy. He nearly walked right past Snape, and sucked the treat down in his throat in a startled yelp when the stealthier man grabbed him and shoved him against the wall of a building.
''I don't want any trouble!" the man stammered. "I'll leave, I swear! They don't pay me enough for this!"
Severus sneered, but said nothing. He found that silence often made people dig themselves further and further in without any additional prodding on his part.
"Look, man-" his eyes bulged –"Uh, Sir, that is, I mean, I-I don't write the articles. I just get the information. Everybody's looking for the scoop on you and Harry Potter's friend. They're paying good for it. I mean, I'll make sure the bit about you buying her chocolates gets in there, okay?"
Severus scowled. Harry Potter's friend, indeed.
"Look, when the Ministry goon came around we were scared. I don't want to end up marrying some troll because I pissed off the wrong guy at this new marriage department there. It's not like we're working with 'em, we just give 'em the information when they ask politely for it if you know what I mean."
Severus shook the man a little. "What is the Ministry looking for?"
"Anything," he said with a whimper. "Everything. Where you two are shacked up, if it's a sham, illegal activities, stuff you might be hiding, whatever. I guess they're hoping if they get enough little pieces about ya from different sources they can put it all together to make something."
"For what purpose?"
"I don't know!" The man was in danger of either crying or wetting himself, and Severus did not want to witness either. An idea struck him.
"If I were to present you and your associates with an opportunity, would it get you off my back?"
The man's eyes lit up. He nodded emphatically, and Snape released his hold on him.
"Be in Diagon Alley tomorrow evening, around six. Keep an eye on the restaurants. I get 30% of your payment for this scoop. Now spread the word."
He skittered away and Severus rolled his eyes. Morons. He pulled out a scrap of parchment and hastily jotted down a note for Hermione, then summoned Wulfric to deliver it.
When he arrived home at Spinner's End, not the Prince Estate, Hermione was there waiting for him. As soon as he triggered the wards the door opened and a bushy-haired projectile darted out toward him. He turned slightly to catch her against him in a place that wasn't holding breakable potions equipment. Instinctive as ever, Wulfric appeared at his elbow to take his purchases; he waited for Severus to show Hermione what he'd gotten her, and then gathered everything up and vanished with it. Unburdened, Snape pulled her into a hug and bent his mouth to her ear.
"My suspicion was correct. You've played the part of the obedient, enthusiastic future housewife – now shall we give them a show?"
She leaned in closer. "What am I smelling? Firewhiskey? Are you drunk?"
He laughed. "I don't know, yes, and no. Your, ah, twin brothers send their regards."
"You're tipsy, though. Fill me in later." Her hand moved to toy with his hair. He didn't stop her, despite the audience.
"Severus Snape does not get tipsy."
"Oh, so if I move away quickly you'll be able to stand on your own without wobbling?"
"I'll have you know I assaulted an imbecile on the way home," he growled. "I am slightly relaxed, and nothing more."
If he were a bird, his feathers would have ruffled. Hermione squeezed in closer against him and pressed a kiss on his jawline. "I'm just teasing you, Severus. Now, you were talking about making out in front of these Prophet and/or Ministry lackeys?"
"For appearance's sake."
She used the hand still in his hair to pull him to her and kiss him. It started sweetly, but soon grew showy, passionate, territorial. She trailed her fingers down his arm and linked her hand in his, then slowly pulled back. He opened his mouth to say something, but she smiled and backed up toward the door. He understood and smirked in response as she turned and lead him into the house.