Disclaimer:- I neither own nor own anything from this story. My plot is my own but the world of Harry Potter is the intellectual property of JK Rowling and associates.
A/N:- Welcome to my new story. This will be a fairly short story, but I hope you will enjoy it.Thank you to my beta, Golden Asp, for her work on this chapter.
Chapter One – Her Arrival
Severus Snape watched the hooded witches approaching his house from the bay window in his study. It was twilight on the day after Christmas, and Minerva McGonagall was delivering a mystery woman he had agreed to employ to his house. Minerva had told him that there were extenuating circumstances and that the witch had a small child, but Snape was shocked to see that she was limping badly. She was leaning heavily on a walking stick as they entered the paved area in front of the manor, and he wondered what the so-called 'extenuating circumstances' were.
Then his eyes panned across to the small child whose hand she was holding tightly. The child was tiny and so rugged up against the cold that he could not tell if it was male or female, and Minerva had not mentioned it, apart from telling him that it existed. Other than that the only thing he knew was that this was all very hush hush, and that Minerva had been adamant that he was the best person to help them - Hogwarts had told the Bloody Baron so.
Then his lip curled into a sneer. It was an expression that his features seldom wore these days, but talk of his so-called duty could do it. This was probably some rot that the castle had dreamed up to get him involved again. He hated the term 'Master of Hogwarts'. It was a title that the castle had deemed him the owner of, regardless of whether in the true state of things he considered that Minerva the legal owner of it as the next head in line after Albus.
He had known that Albus had been the last castle master, but he'd always considered his own appointment as headmaster to have been unlawful, as he had been ordered into it by corrupt officials. He had decided as soon as he'd taken the placement that if he survived the war that he would simply hand the responsibility on to the rightful person, Minerva, and if he didn't survive then it would not have mattered. However, Hogwarts had had other ideas.
He sighed. Twelve years had gone by since he'd found that piece of information out. Magic was an irritating thing sometimes; it did not take personal preferences into consideration, and it could be a veritable force of nature in itself. It simply matched things up and deemed them possible. The castle called Hogwarts had saved him from dying in that wretched shack and had then told him in no uncertain terms that he was its master and that it would provide for him.
At the time, after everything he had been through in his thirty seven years of life, that was a step too far. Why hadn't the castle offered him any assistance before this? Just like everyone else, it had watched on as he'd been tormented mercilessly by Gryffindor bullies who had been sanctioned by the then headmaster. He'd lost the witch he loved, then tied himself to a madman, and it had not done a thing while he had lost everything.
All he'd wanted after the war was the same as he wanted now, and that was a quiet peaceful existence now that he'd managed to survive everything, and he had not tolerated the interference of a sanctimonious castle, no matter how magical it was.
"What the bloody hell do you mean by that?" he remembered ranting, sneering viciously at his house ghost delivering the news to him, as all the other ghosts were lined up around him nodding their non-corporal heads as well.
Well, he'd not agreed, and he'd cut ties with them all immediately. "I will not be controlled by anyone ever again. I have paid my dues!" And it was true, he had, and he apparated away without another word.
No one was going to tell him that he'd be remaining at the head of Hogwarts, in the public eye, when he had been trapped there against his will already for twenty years. No, he had not tolerated that, that had been asking too much, and Snape had gone into hiding. Disappeared completely.
He had survived his parents, his schoolyard bullies, both his so-called masters, the near fatal attack by one master's magically enhanced killer snake, his trial for the 'compassionate' euthanasia of the other master, and only true friend at the time. Then, as well as all that, he'd weathered the media storm about his private memories when the idiot he'd given them to had leaked their contents to the ruling gossip mag before said trial, thinking he was helping. Bleeding heart, Gryffindors, he scoffed to himself, even after all these years he still thought that most Gryffindors were a waste of space.
His disappearance had not been difficult to organise, and he smiled to himself remembering his thoughts at the time. Not only was he the supposed master of Hogwarts, but he was also a master of subterfuge, and an incredibly powerful wizard, and he had truly believed that he could have simply disappeared and no one would have cared.
He glanced at Minerva McGonagall and sighed. She'd chased him; she'd apologised for what she'd been unaware of, and she had proven that while she might not be as powerful or the master of the castle that she had equalled his stealth with dogged determination to find him and set things right. She'd tracked him down. It had taken her two years, and much exasperation while she was also tackling the task of getting Hogwarts back on its feet, but her persistence had paid off, and he now counted the stern old witch as one of the few people he trusted, which is why he was allowing her to install this witch and her offspring in his house.
Snape continued to watch the pair of witches as they stopped to greet his care-taker, who had been in fact, the old Hogwarts caretaker.
He smiled slightly. It must have grated on Minerva to know that she was inferior to me in so many ways, but I give her credit, she has made it work. The castle accepted her as headmistress because she'd used some Slytherin guile and assured it that she was acting on behalf of the master, and his smile grew slightly.
The castle had accepted this deception, and when Minerva had finally found him, after some months of thrust and parry, they'd struck up a deal that at present was still working perfectly. Only three people knew the details of that deal, but that was all who needed to know. Minerva would run Hogwarts, and he would come if the castle deemed it necessary, but otherwise he would remain out of things, and he was allowing himself to consider what would happen when Minerva couldn't be headmistress anymore. He was certain that was many years away yet
Over the years, apart from the obligatory balls, the castle had only demanded his presence three times. However, this last time, the magical building had been very cloak and dagger. Speaking, as it always did, through the Bloody Baron—some ghosts could communicate with it, something Snape had not known—it had informed him enigmatically that he should give this witch and her child shelter as they were important to his future.
Mind you, neither the castle nor Minerva would tell him why, how or who the witch actually was. He was starting to suspect that she might be someone from his past, but who? All Minerva told him smugly, was that she had great skill where books and research were concerned. "I'm certain you will grow to like her, Severus," the elderly Gryffindor had said as they'd sat in her office taking tea two days earlier.
He had agreed that someone with book-binding skills would be very useful to him. There were many books in his vast library that required work to maintain them. In fact, it would be years of work that he did not have time for.
He sighed, as he watched old Filch greeting the new comer. It was immediately obvious that the old caretaker recognised the mystery witch, and Severus saw shock register on the old man's face. Taking a moment to survey the snow-covered yard from his vantage point in his study, the Potions master tried to digest this piece of information before turning his dark eyes back to the small party that had almost made it to the front door now.
His mind was becoming greatly troubled. I'm definitely missing something, he thought as he glanced at Filch leaning on his broom with his cat winding around his ankles, still watching the witches as they were admitted into the house by Blotchy the head house elf.
Severus' eyes returned to the caretaker for a moment. After the war, Argus Filch had been the first person, after himself, to come and reside here. The old caretaker had often come to Severus' aid during those dark spying years when he'd returned to Hogwarts too injured to make it back to his quarters, and Argus had either assisted him there or summoned Albus or Poppy Pomfrey. So when the elderly squib needed a place to retire, Severus offered the old man and his cat rooms off the kitchen where a butler had once lived.
He still insisted on executing the duties of a caretaker, wandering the grounds and sweeping the snow off the front path every morning, and the corner of Severus' mouth turned up slightly as he took the back stairs down to his sitting room to await the arrival of his guests. Argus didn't know that Severus made his job easy for him, assisting him in unseen ways, and it was best if he didn't know too.
Now, it should be apparent to you by now, dear reader, that the wizard called Severus Snape is not the same man as the wizard who had been cast into the 'bat of the dungeons' persona during the war. Over the years since the war, he had been gradually putting to rest his façade from that time. All of the anger and bitterness had slowly leeched away as the years went by, and a calm peace was now in their place. He'd had quiet successes with academic papers and new potions, and the only thing he was now was lonely. He had never found that special person to share his life with, even though he'd gathered a rag-tag family along the way, from Filch and his cat to the house elves he'd rescued. Every one he took in had one thing in common, they had no one else anymore.
He rounded the corner and came through the door of the sitting room just in time to hear a little voice say, "Mummy, twee!"
"Yes, Alice, it's beautiful, isn't it?"
Well, that solves that question, the child is a girl, Severus thought, but then his brain stuttered to a complete stop when he saw the witch behind Minerva. Before him stood a goddess holding an angelic child with black curls and big brown eyes on her hip. He saw shock register on the witch's face and she gasped, but Snape was still cataloguing the woman's swan-like neck and graceful curves, along with her mane of chestnut curls caught up in a loose bun, her expressive hazel eyes and her bow-like mouth.
Then his brain started to shudder into life once more, and he realised that he was looking at an adult Hermione Granger. He glanced at the child once more. Not a Weasley then, his brain told him. I wonder whose? He managed to get his legs moving and inclined his head. "Miss Granger, welcome to you and your daughter," and he held out his hand to a stunned Hermione. "I am correct, it is it still Granger, isn't it?"
Hermione blinked and shot a quick side-long glance at Minerva who seemed to be looking very smug. She quickly overcame her surprise and extended her hand as she nodded. "Yes, I'm not married, Professor." She waited for him to sneer at her after this admission, but was surprised that he did not, nor did he make a belittling comment.
"I'm no longer anyone's professor, Miss Granger, please call me Severus," he replied.
"Oh… um… yes. Then, Hermione… and t-this is Alice." Hermione glanced at McGonagall once more, and became decidedly nervous, before she looked back to Severus. "Umm… I'll be honest, S-Severus. I'm not certain about this," and she gestured between them.
Snape feigned ignorance of her meaning. "This?" and he tilted his head slightly.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you I'd be working for," she stated quietly.
"And that matters, how?"
"You hate Gryffindors, and my goodness, you must hate children as you treated me very badly…" Her lip quivered slightly, but she quickly brought it under control and cleared her throat as her eyes watched him. "If it was just me, I wouldn't care…" she glanced at Minerva. "I'm sorry, Headmistress, but I don't think you should have brought us here." Then she quickly looked back to Severus. "You understand that I'm not willing to risk Alice's wellbeing for anything," and she clutched the child to her.
To tell the truth Severus was livid that she should say these things, make these assumptions without evidence. Did she not realise that he'd had no choice but to push her away, but he studied her for a moment before he spoke. "These perceived hates you would foist upon me… Would you kindly tell me what choice I had in the manner of how I treated a very bright Muggle-born witch whilst I was her professor? I was the supposed Death Eater head of Slytherin house. I will not lie to you and say that I now have the disposition of a saint, but I have no need to be the bat of the dungeons anymore either."
"Hermione," McGonagall interrupted. "I would not have brought you here had I not had every confidence in Severus."
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "I know you had no choice, but how am I to know how ingrained in your character your cruel and cutting persona is? My daughter will not be treated as I was treated," she cut in, glancing at Minerva, and then back to Severus.
"Apart from what I've just said, I treated hormonal teenagers with strictness because a wrong move in a Potions classroom had the ability to blow up half the castle. I do not treat small children the same."
"How do I know?"
"You'll just have to wait and see, won't you?" and he whipped around and pulled the cord to alert his kitchen elf that she should serve tea. "Now, sit down and we'll have tea. If you are worried, I propose that we set a trial period, and then discuss this further at the end of a… say, month?"
Hermione's mouth was pinched, and she pinned him with her hazel gaze. "One month? That does sound fair." Then she thought for a moment. "I can do that."
"Thank you," Snape stated almost kindly. "Now, how do you have your tea?" he questioned, handing Minerva hers, and turning his head slightly once more. "Would Miss Alice like some milk or juice?"
"Thank you, a little diluted pumpkin juice if you have it, please," Hermione said, now quite ashamed of her outburst in the face of his kindness, but Alice was very important.
"Shotsie?" he asked, raising a raven eyebrow.
"Yes, sir, we is having Pumpkin juice," the little elf told him.
"Then bring it." He thought further for a moment. "Best put it in that cup with the top on it that Master Scorpius used to use when the Malfoys visit."
"Yes, sir," and the elf was gone.
Hermione sat there stunned, especially when the elf reappeared with a sippee cup with a dragon on it. She handed the cup to Alice and the little girl sat back against Hermione's chest and sucked away happily on her pumpkin juice. "Thank you," Hermione said softly.
"You are most welcome, Hermione," he told her, the corner of his mouth curving up just slightly. He handed her a cup of tea and watched them for a moment before he spoke again. "It is my hope that you will both be happy here." He was itching to find out more about her situation, but he refrained from more questions. He would find out in time.
Minerva had been watching them both as she drank her tea, and she now placed her cup on the side table. "Thank you for the tea, Severus. I have many things left to do, so I will bid you all good bye." She saw Hermione about to get up, and she stopped her with a gesture. "You stay seated, Hermione, you still need rest, my dear," and she leaned forward and pecked Hermione on the cheek, and then Alice on the forehead. "Alice is past her nap time anyway, don't disturb her."
"Oh," Hermione gasped. She hadn't even realised that her daughter was now asleep, and she glanced at Severus expecting him to make some comment, but she was surprised to see him watching them with a strange expression on his face. It was something akin to amusement, and for some reason it made her blush. His normally cold black eyes felt warm on her, and she became most confused.
"I will see Minerva out and then we will have a talk," he stated genially, gesturing for Minerva to precede him through the door.
As soon as she was alone Hermione's eyes started wandering around the room. It was a very pleasant sitting room, quite masculine in taste, but still warm and welcoming. Then her eyes landed on the Christmas tree in the bay window. How could she have not noticed it when she'd entered? The decorations in the entrance way had been lovely, a tall tree in the arch of the stairwell and garlands fir and holly stretching up the banister.
Hermione glanced down at her little girl. Alice had just experienced her first proper Christmas at Hogwarts. Of course, she hadn't participated very much in Christmas the year before, she'd only just started sitting up last Christmas, and the only thing she'd been interested in was eating all the wrapping paper.
Then this year the Weasleys had found out she was at Hogwarts, and as it always did, that thought brought her back to her terror that someone would find out about Alice and start asking questions, and this made her heart ache.
Her mind clouded again with thoughts of how naive and stupid she'd been, and she wondered how much her new employer would want to know. It felt strange because for some reason she couldn't think of a reason why she couldn't tell him the whole story, well, apart from the thought that he would laugh at her for her stupidity. Her brow furrowed, but would he? He may have been cruel to her in the past, but he had saved her life several times already.
Life had not been easy for Hermione since the war, and her stupid dalliance with Harry had been the culmination of many years of loneliness. She had started out just trying to comfort him through his problems with Ginny, but one night… best not think about that grand stupidity, she thought.
She looked down at Alice once more, and gently plucked the empty cup from her chubby little fingers before she repositioned her so she was cradled in her arms.
While Hermione was alone with her thoughts, Severus was grilling Minerva before allowing her to apparate away.
"There are things you haven't told me, you crafty old tabby cat," he stated, stepping in front of her at the apparition chamber door.
Minerva sighed, there was much more than this that she hadn't told him, but now was not the time for that. "It is not my story to tell, Severus," she replied.
The Potions master huffed. "At least tell me why the bastard who made her pregnant did not do the right thing!"
The headmistress watched her friend's eyes, and she saw concern in them. "It was an impossible situation. I understand your concerns, Severus, unmarried witches are not well received in polite society, and at present the public at large does not know of Alice's existence."
"It will not be pretty when they do find out," Severus replied.
"Yes, and worse than you think," and she glanced back through the sitting room door. "It's the reason that Hermione hides."
"What? She hasn't been out in public since her daughter's birth?" Severus hissed. "What is she planning to live life as, a kind of nun?"
"She already does," Minerva put in. "She glamoured herself through her pregnancy, while she worked for me at Hogwarts, but well," and she shrugged. "I best allow her to tell you the rest."
"How did she sustain her injury?"
"That's also part of the story, Severus. It's not my place to tell you."
He sighed. "Very well. Good day, Minerva."
"Severus," she replied, and she was gone.
Turning back towards his sitting room, Severus found himself on the back foot. This particular witch deserved the very best of everything for what she had given up for the wizarding world, yet she was about to face more vitriol than she ever had. He paused in the doorway and watched her gazing down at her sleeping child, and something inside him shifted. The little girl had raven curls, and the sudden thought hit him that she could easily pass as his daughter, as the remainder of her features were her mother's.
These thoughts made him clear his throat quietly, and Hermione looked up, but her soft smile did not fade as she looked at him, and that was when he realised that Minerva McGonagall was far more devious than he'd given her credit for. She'd placed a witch in dire need in his path, knowing how lonely he was, and how easily he would form an attachment to a like-minded person, even if she was a Gryffindor.
He walked into the room once more. "I am surprised that Minerva has parted with you," he commented. "Surely there is a lifetime's work for you in the Hogwarts collection?"
"Yes, there was still much work to do there, but Madam Pince was starting to become a little possessive of her collection."
"Mmm," Severus intoned thoughtfully, but kept his thoughts on the Hogwarts librarian to himself. "Well, I have much for you to do. I'll show you to the suite of rooms I've prepared for you and Alice." He watched her trying to struggle to her feet. "May I?" he asked, holding his hands out to scoop Alice up for her.
"Oh… umm," and her lip went between her teeth. "T-Thank you. Umm, yes, t-thank you."
Severus heard the uncertain tone in her voice. "Are you certain it's all right?"
"Yes, it's just that n-no one has ever offered to help before. Well, apart from Minerva and Poppy."
"And you didn't expect the first person outside that arrangement to be me?" he stated, slipping his arms carefully under the little girl.
"N-No, I have no expectations of anyone really, but I will protect Alice aggressively if I feel I need to."
A sudden thought invaded his brain, was this how she'd been injured? "Were you injured protecting your baby?"
"Yes, you could say that," and her mouth pinched. "It was while I was pregnant," but then she went silent.
Severus started leading her toward the stairs he'd descended to meet them. "Are you able to manage stairs?"
"Yes, but slowly."
He started ascending. "May I ask what happened?"
"I was hit with an in lapidem curse."
"That is a nasty spell," Severus replied. "Did the individual who cast it realise what they were doing?"
"What part of you does it affect?"
"My left ankle and foot, but it missed Alice," she stated.
His raven eyebrow rose. "Were they aiming for Alice?"
"Yes, I ducked out of the way, only I wasn't fast enough to get my foot out of the line of the curse."
"Did the caster know you were with child?"
"They did it because I was," Hermione told him plainly.
To say that Severus was shocked was an understatement, but only mild surprise registered on his face.
However, even he stopped walking beside her and just looked at her when she added with a little smile, "But they were sorry for cursing me, and they did not get to keep the news of my pregnancy."
"You Obliviated them?"
"Yes," she answered. "They would not have stopped until they'd killed m-my baby, she interfered with their so-called perfect family. I only informed the father out of consideration, I did not want anything from him, but he did what he usually does, he blabbed. Anyway…" she shrugged, and looked around, realising that she'd told him more than she'd meant to. "Wow, I've never told anyone that much of the story," she gasped.
"Then I am honoured," he replied.
They'd arrived in a very feminine set of rooms, and Hermione's attention was taken by that. She followed Snape into a room and watched him place Alice in a white cot. "I'll leave you to settle in. I'll be in the library when you've freshened up. It's the double doors on the floor below."
"Very good," she said as she watched him turning to go, and she placed her hand gently on his arm. "Thank you," she added quietly.
Severus incline his head to her, but remained silent, he was uncertain why he'd been so moved by what she'd just admitted, and her thanks now seemed very personal.