A warm breeze stirred the curls at the back of Hermione's neck and she reached up absently to brush them back into some semblance of control. She smiled as two familiar hands took hold of her hair, teasing it into a tail before fastening it with a band. She had lost count over the years how many times Severus had tied back her hair for her when she had become frustrated with it, hours working beside one another in a lab making it second nature. She had returned the favour several times over, easing the increasingly silver coloured strands back from his face when he had been bent over a cauldron or his notes.
"How are things at the shop?" she asked as her husband took his customary seat opposite her at their breakfast table.
"Lucy has everything covered," he said, "I hardly have to go there these days, almost feels like retirement."
Hermione smiled. "You have enough to do here with our private clients and if you are finding yourself idle the lawn always needs mowing."
"I'm sure I can find a project that needs working on," he said, reaching for his tea cup, "It's so quiet. I can't get used to it."
"I know," said Hermione a little sadly. "I can't remember a time when we've just sat here like this. I barely slept last night."
"I did notice," said Severus, "To be fair neither did I. She looked so small yesterday."
"All the youngsters did but you know they're in safe hands and we'll have news soon."
"I won't be able to focus until we do," he said, "I was almost hoping Lucy would tell me their was some drama so that I had something to focus on. If we lived further north they would be here sooner."
Hermione laughed. "All this time and you're still not comfortable in the home counties," she said, a shriek pulling her attention to the window, "And I don't know why you were complaining, it didn't take her long at all. Hello Pippin."
The small barn owl hopped happily onto the window ledge and then down onto the table, dropping the two letters from her beak before she bounced off towards the toast rack, liberating a piece and pecking happily at it. Hermione reached out and took one letter whilst Severus picked up the other, familiar writing on the front of both the envelopes.
"Do we prolong the suspense and read this one first?" said Hermione, holding up the letter in her hand.
"You just don't want to lose our bet so quickly," said Severus, "Go ahead and read then. I'll celebrate my victory shortly I'm sure."
Hermione shook her head with a laugh, opening the letter and smiling at the sight of her son's familiar handwriting.
Dear Mum and Dad,
Hogwarts is unchanged as ever and everyone sends there love to you. The journey up was good though it took forever to get James to shut up about how he is convinced Gryffindor are going to beat us at Quidditch this year. He gave up somewhere around the Midlands but only when I threatened to jinx his broom to blow out blue smoke rather than red whenever he scored a goal.
Professor Flitwick has announced that he has decided to retire at the end of this year so we're already taking bets on who will be head of our house from next year. You couldn't give me a heads up on someone you think will take the job can you Mum?
Ernie – I'm not calling him Professor Calcraft in letters even if you say I should – says hello too. He says he's going to try and really push us in Potions this year but they haven't discovered a potion I can't brew so he better be pulling out the NEWT work. I promise I won't try to blow anything up to annoy him.
Alethea says I'm not allowed to tell you which house she's in so I'll leave that for her letter but I promise to keep an eye on her. There were a couple of shocks at the sorting ceremony but she wants to tell you about them too. She seems pretty happy and settled already though. It's nearly curfew so I'll sign off now and write to you at the end of next week.
Lots of love,
Hermione smiled as she drew a finger over her son's name, the tone of his letter so similar to every one he had sent since he had started at Hogwarts. They hadn't been surprised when he had been sorted into Ravenclaw, the house a perfect balance between their two, and a good match for him academically.
"He sounds happy as ever," said Severus, pulling her from her contemplation, "I'm not surprised Flitwick is leaving though."
"He was talking about it when I went on maternity leave with Alethea," she said, "I honestly thought Hogwarts would be two teachers down the autumn after I decided not to go back."
"He has always been dedicated to the school but there are a lot of good teachers to follow him," said Severus, before he held up the letter in his hand, "Ready to lose that bet. We said twenty galleons didn't we."
"We said five and you know it," said Hermione, "But you can make it twenty if you like. I stand by my assertions though. She's going to be Slytherin, she's got too much of you in her."
Severus shook his head, "Ravenclaw all the way, she takes after Nicky," he said before he broke the seal on the letter.
Dear Mummy and Daddy,
Hogwarts is so big and so amazing. I remember thinking it was big when we've visited before but trying to find my way around is crazy. I love it though and I can't wait to get started. Nicky says I should calm down and that it will be boring when I get loads of homework but I can't see how it can be.
I stuck with Albus on the train up like you asked me to, he was really nervous and it didn't help that James and Nicky and some of the other boys were getting really loud about Quidditch. We went to sit in another car and bumped into Scorpius Malfoy. He's grown a lot taller since I last saw him but he was really shy. We sat with him though and we all got on really well in the end. I was glad to have Albus with me when we got sorted as I was really worried. Scorpius stayed with us too and he was sorted first and got Slytherin. Everyone was really shocked when Albus went up. Everyone though he would be Gryffindor like Uncle Harry, Aunty Ginny and James but he got Slytherin too. He says it's because he's named after Daddy but he likes it.
I like it too because it means I get to stay with him and Scorpius all the time. Sorry Daddy, I know you bet on Ravenclaw but Mummy was right. I'm Slytherin. The Sorting Hat said it was no contest for me. Everyone is really nice though and Professor Armitage said his door is always open if we need to speak to him. I like having a room under the lake, it's really pretty.
I promise I'm going to work really hard and be just as good as Nicky at everything. He's been fussing over me and says I still have to go and see him even if we are in different houses and I promised I'll sit with him sometimes at lunch.
My first lesson tomorrow is Charms so I'm going to go and read my book for a while.
I'll write to you tomorrow.
I love you lots,
Hermione blinked back the tears as she heard the letter read out, pride at the confidence in her daughter's words making her absence more keenly felt but she pushed it aside in favour of happiness that she was already so settled.
"I told you, Slytherin, just like you," she said, certain her husband was staring at the letter in his hand in the same way she had looked at their son's, "She will make a fine addition to the house. Albus and Scorpius too. Those three together will have so much fun."
"A Potter, a Malfoy and a Snape," said Severus with a small laugh, "Sounds even worse than a Potter, a Weasley and a Granger."
"An Emerald Trio," giggled Hermione, "Merlin help their poor teachers. Now did you say something about twenty galleons, my love."
Severus gave her an arch look, smoothing out Alethea's letter on the tabletop, "We said five."
"Who's back tracking now?" said Hermione, "Five it is then. Victory means far more anyway."
"Crow all you like Mrs Snape," he said, "I couldn't be prouder of her either way. I'm going to miss them both though. I'm barely used to Nicky being away but now both of them have gone I'm not sure what to do with myself."
Hermione grinned, "Well, you did say that Lucy had everything under control at the shop and we have no crucial orders to brew here so we have time on our hands and a very empty house," she said, "Whatever could we do to fill the time?"
His answer wasn't spoken, instead he took her hand, leading her along a well trodden path towards the stairs.
Pippin looked up from her piece of dry toast, instead eyeing the far tastier piece covered with jam that her mistress had left on her plate when she had followed her master away from the table. Certain that they would not notice, she pinched it for herself, choosing for safety's sake to take it out of the window to finish in the garden.