Exhausted, Hermione lay down on the floor. The rug beneath her was thick and soft. She raised her head and peered at her daughter through heavy eyelids.
Eight month old Ginny sat up next to her mother, the cover from an old book in her hands. She waved the cover, and it made a crackling sound. The baby crowed with laughter and then shook it again. Hermione absently rubbed her little girl's legs, marveling at the softness of the baby's skin. Ginny squealed upon making the funny noise again and flapped her arms in delight. The young mother grinned, love for her baby welling up in her heart.
Hermione's husband entered the room. He raised an eyebrow to see his wife sprawled out on the floor, and his only child messing with the books again. "What are you doing?" he asked severely.
"Your daughter refuses to take a nap," Hermione replied. She turned on her side and pulled one knee forward to balance herself.
A vertical line appeared between slightly arched brows. "So she's mine when she's disagreeable," he snapped.
She grinned and pointed at the object in Ginny's hands. "Actually, I was referring to the fact that she prefers her books to anything else."
"And you think that's evidence of her being mine?" he harrumphed.
The baby looked up at her father with his eyes and grinned, flapped her arms again to show him the book cover and the noise it made. His own eyes softened as he watched Ginny, but some of the sharpness returned to his gaze as he regarded his wife. Hermione just ran her fingers through her girl's soft, dark curls.
"Anything that I don't want to see your daughter demolish, I keep in my study," he continued. "Though I don't know why you've been encouraging her to crawl." Hermione looked at her husband quizzically. "She can't destroy things when she isn't mobile," he explained.
"I read all about it, babies who crawl before they walk often become better readers," Hermione said, propping her head up on one elbow. She brushed her thick hair out of her face. "Every advantage helps, though being my offspring -- and yours, too, of course -- she'll be at the top of her class every year."
The baby let the book cover go and headed for her father's study. Hermione flung her arm across little Ginny's path; the child was able to get her arms and torso over her mother's arm, but couldn't quite manage to get her legs over the obstruction. She growled in frustration.
His eyes warmed, the clever mouth twitched. "Ever the know-it-all," he grumbled, but his tone of voice was pleasant. Without any foolish wand-waving or silly incantations, he summoned a chair from across the room and sat in it, casual and elegant.
Hermione had learned long ago to simply sidestep the casual jabs, but comments like that one annoyed her. She narrowed her eyes at her husband. "You know I don't like it when you say that," she grumbled back.
He inclined his head in a silent apology; he was a proud man.
Their marriage had not been agreeable to either at first, but Professor Dumbledore had suggested it when it became apparent that the families of many Death Eaters -- men and women to whose defeat Hermione had contributed -- were out for her blood.
As a recently orphaned Muggle-born, she was alone in the world. Capable witch though she was, Hermione Granger would have died within a month of her graduation from Hogwarts if she did not ally herself with someone even the Death Eaters respected as a powerful wizard. Her friends had searched for alternatives, but there were none to be had: Ron and Susan Bones were engaged at the time; Neville withdrew into near-catatonia after Ginny's murder; the twins fell, Fred in death and George into a coma, protecting their sister ...
And in his ultimate defeat, Voldemort had taken Harry with him. The Boy Who Lived had fulfilled the purpose of his brief, wretched life.
From the day he'd barged into her life, Hermione's husband been frightening, dark and sarcastic. She'd known him almost eight years before she discovered he was capable of compassion. Hermione worried that she was becoming a bit snarky herself, that the unpleasantness that defined him was seeping into her. Perhaps that was a part of marriage: easing curves to fit angles, minds adjusting to understand each other as time passed.
He had refrained from complaints, but he knew as well as she did what they had given up when they married; the possibilities they were denying themselves. She had felt regret, not joy, when he slipped the marriage band on her finger. Stiff formality eventually gave way to casual politeness. After several months, their domestic segregation had become a habit.
It had been the Slytherin, not the Gryffindor, who had subdued pride and summoned courage enough to damage the barrier between them: the moment he had invited her into his study and asked her -- askedher -- about a transfiguration theory was the proudest moment of her life.
And it was the biggest shock of Hermione's life when she had discovered that she loved him.
She had figured out by then that he had come to respect her, but Hermione had been completely poleaxed when he conceded in a thoughtless moment that he loved his young wife. She hadn't thought it possible, even a year after exchanging vows.
Hermione had gone to his room for the first time shortly thereafter, nearly been killed by him pulling his wand on her. Then she joined her husband in his bed.
Ginny growled again, bringing Hermione back to the present. Her daughter was still draped across her upper arm, trying to crawl over. A dreamy smile still played on Hermione's lips as she curled up, drawing Ginny to her body. She rolled so that she was lying on her back and set the baby on her chest. Her husband smiled at his wife and child, though the smile did not touch his mouth at all. It rarely did. Hermione recognized it by watching his eyes soften and crinkle up in the corners.
Once she was sitting straight, Ginny spit up an her mother's face and neck. Hermione froze, brown eyes huge, a horrified expression on her face. Eight months' experience or no, she still hated being puked on.
Fortunately, the baby's father stepped in, and this time the smile reached his mouth. A quiet, rare laugh issued forth, bathing Hermione and Ginny in black velvet. He lifted his daughter out of her mother's grasp. Once she was settled in one arm, he reached the other hand to his wife.
With her left hand, Hermione wiped her mouth. She was grateful that it had been closed. "I'm glad you find us so amusing," she grumbled. She breathed deeply to avoid gagging.
Taking her husband's hand in her right, she let him lift her off the floor. "Thank you."
"I'll keep her for a while." Though he wrinkled his nose at the smell of fresh baby retch, he gingerly leaned over and kissed his wife's forehead once, twice. "Clean up and rest. You look tired." He looked sternly at his baby girl, who had just gotten a death grip on his nose. Ginny's warm, black-brown eyes looked into her father's onyx ones as she laughed.
"Thank you," Hermione said again, squeezing his hand three times. I love you. She left the room.
As she scrubbed up in the bath, Hermione decided that it would never cease to amaze her, that Severus -- snarky Snape -- was capable of being so loving and gentle.
Author's Note:Dedicated to my younger niece-beast. What baby Ginny did, eight-month-old Jesse did last Saturday (bless her), and I had to write it.
Thanks to Katie and Pasmosa, who were the first two in Professor McGonagall's Workshop to respond with suggestions. In compliance with what they were both hinting at, I have started a longer fic that illustrates the backstory I've hinted at. But it'll be a while before it gets posted, and goodness knows how many alterations the plot will endure before then.
Final version not beta-ed. All mishtackes are mine.
Those who have read my SW stories know that I'm a sucker for romances between non-canon couples (I am still a faithful Obidala 'shipper). Here's to the H.M.S. Prudence and Potions!
Disclaimer: I do not own anything. It all belongs to Jo the Great; I'm just playing in her sandbox. I am not making a single Galleon, Sickle, or Knut off of this story.