Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.
Thanks to my reviewers and especially to my previewers, Bellegeste and Cecelle. Here's a little bonus insert of my own for all those who weren't quite ready to let go of this story. Also, I've started a sequel, "Everything I've Ever Done: Reunion" (formerly ch 21), set when the Snapes'second child starts at Hogwarts.
Helen Granger sighed as she picked up the "Xmas Bonus Crossword Insert" from the paper. She'd been hearing about it all week from Perry at breakfast, between mouthfuls of tropical fruit muesli with skim milk, but in the event it had kept his interest for less than an hour. Half of it was filled with those newfangled wordfinders and number puzzles that bored him and most of the rest were cryptics that he liked even less.
It was often so with these over-hyped bonus inserts and special offers; so much promise, so little delivered. She laid it down in case he wasn't finished with it and moved on to push in a chair that was slightly off-centre and straighten the already-straight table runner.
They'd been expecting a kind of bonus insert into their family for three months now. Her mouth quirked at the comparison of Hermione's - Boyfriend? Lover? Partner? – to a crossword collection. It seemed a very appropriate image, somehow; heaven knows there were likely to be enough cross words when they finally met! For seven years of his teaching, Hermione had had nothing but cross words from him, cross words and ugly glares. And now they were in love! Life was a puzzle sometimes.
What sort of parents gave their child a difficult-to-pronounce name like Severus, anyway? It had a harsh, unpleasant sound. Had they known how well it would suit him? Hermione's letters from Hogwarts had always described him as a teacher of the old-fashioned "Spare the sarcasm and spoil the child" persuasion; a cheerless friendless classroom tyrant. And yet, she'd had a kind of childhood admiration for him even then, which had swelled as his heroism in the war had been revealed.
But war-heroes didn't necessarily make good lov – husb – somethings. He must know it too, the way he'd been avoiding all Hermione's attempts to bring him here. Helen set very little store in his excuses of being too busy. He'd found time to court Hermione, hadn't he?
She sighed again as she picked up and replaced each Lladro ornament on the mantle-piece. Hermione had been quite vague about her holiday plans. All they knew was that she'd be spending most of her time with him and she'd probably join them in four days for Xmas dinner and Midnight Mass but not lunch the next day.
The doorbell made her jump and she made a little moue of distaste. Not another Bible-basher, she hoped, or worse, a choir of tone-deaf carollers collecting for who-knows-what. There always seemed to be some about at this time of year.
Though she'd been hoping to see her soon, her heart sank at the glow on her daughter's face. Please, let her only be happy at having finally dragged her tall, dark, unhandsome companion here! Oh dear! Lank hair, large nose, thin lips, and teeth quite as bad as Hermione had hinted. What did she see in him? She glanced down automatically to Hermione's left hand, mercifully ring-free, and managed a smile of welcome.
"You must be Severus. Do, please, come in."
Then he spoke and she looked again.
"Mrs Granger." A low, silky voice, a straight back and an elegant way of moving; not totally unattractive, if only his face would relax from its scowl. "I hope we don't disturb you?"
"Call me Helen," she invited with edged politeness, moving aside so they could come in. "It's delightful to make your acquaintance at last."
"I imagine you're no more delighted than I am," he responded in a tone so bland she couldn't be sure which way he meant it. "I trust I may also have the pleasure of meeting Mr Granger?"
"Perry's upstairs in the train room. Hermione may fetch him down for tea unless you'd rather go up and speak to him there?"
"I'll bring him down, mum. You know how hard it is to tell him anything when he's busy with his signal boxes and I do want him to hear this." Hermione's grin was too big for her face. "We're engaged!"
Helen's smile didn't falter.
"I can see that. For a moment when I opened the door, I thought you were going to tell me you were married."
"Ummm." Hermione cast an imploring glance at her fiance. He was unabashed.
"Very sharp, Helen." He produced her name with barely a hesitation. "Of course, I expected that from Hermione's parents. We're getting married tomorrow, at the Ministry. Would ten thirty be a convenient time for you?"
"I suppose you have a good reason for the short notice." She saw Hermione flinch, but it couldn't stop her. How dare this – this stranger come into her house and calmly tell her his plans to steal away her child! "Let me guess, you got engaged today."
"We did," the stranger agreed.
"You must be very sure. But then, you have known each other for ten years and at such close quarters too – teacher and student." Her eyes flashed. Severus didn't flinch.
"I'm sure Hermione could not have been more pleased than I when that stage of our acquaintance ended," he said.
"No one setting your clothes on fire any more." Hermione teased, herset look melting into mischief. She reached for his hand, entwining their fingers. For a moment, his arm trembled as if he was about to withdraw it, then his fingers tightened around hers. Spots of colour rose to his cheeks as he looked at their clasped hands.
"That and other exploits," he murmured.
Despite herself, Helen's smile warmed into sincerity. She knew in that instant that he was not a predator taking advantage of a young girl on the rebound, as she'd feared, but an intensely shy man ambushed by his own heart. Probably Hermione had done all the pursuing for both of them.
At the same time, her misgivings grew. The more layers of defences for Hermione to break through, the harder it would be to sustain a happy relationship. As mature as her daughter was in some ways, in matters of the heart she was a novice. One couldn't count Viktor; that had been more of a friendship than a courtship. Ricky had been her first serious boyfriend and that had lasted only a few months. This had apparently lasted less than a year. Was either of them ready for the hard slog of building a life together?
They were still standing in the hall, just inside the door. With a start, Helen remembered her manners.
"Go up and fetch your father, Hermione. Severus, will you join me in the kitchen and help with the tea since you're to be part of our family?" She needed to talk to him away from her daughter.
He gave her a narrow, sideways glance, then nodded and followed her.
"Thank you. What would you like me to do?" he asked.
Motioning him to a chair, she filled the kettle and set it to heat.
"Tell me about yourself, Severus. Have you any family?"
As she spoke, her hands were busy. Tea cups, teapot, spoons, sugar, milk and lemon. Unreadable black eyes followed her every move. One long finger traced around his lips as he considered.
"None that I know. I'm the last of my line on both sides. I've been teaching Potions at Hogwarts since I was twenty-one, most of that time as Head of Slytherin House and the last year and a half as Deputy Head."
"Do you like teaching?"
Sandwiches now, the thin crustless kind. Pity she hadn't done the Xmas shopping yet, but they'd closed the surgery for the holidays only this afternoon. She pulled margarine, cucumbers, Gentlemen's Relish and that half-tin of tuna from yesterday's lunch out of the fridge and a loaf from the breadbox.
"The day-to-day grind of forcing knowledge into empty heads can be tedious. Potions is an exacting field of study, requiring more attention than most children are willing to spare. It is – satisfying to watch the older students and to trace their eleven-year-old selves in their faces." He paused and whispered more to himself than to her, "To build instead of destroy."
She continued laying out the slices of bread as if she hadn't heard.
"It keeps you very busy, I suppose?" The kettle whistled as she spoke. She poured the water into the teapot and measured five spoons of Earl Grey, then returned to the sandwich-making.
"Very. I used to have a little time over the summer and as I grow more accustomed to the extra duties of being Deputy, no doubt I will again. The position requires me to live at Hogwarts the other ten months of the year, which means Hermione will have to move in to my quarters. Fortunately, they're large enough for two."
She bit her lip. That was something they hadn't prepared for, that Hermione would be living somewhere that Muggles like themselves couldn't visit, but it was no use protesting.
"And if you have children?" she probed. "I know it might seem premature to be asking, but I suppose you've discussed it?"
She began spreading the bread. Without asking, he stood up and walked to the cutting board, taking the cucumber in one capable hand and the sharp knife in another. She paused in her work to watch him cutting long, thin, angled slices. The knife flashed in a steady rhythm; in moments he was done.
"That doesn't arise yet," he said. "Hermione does want to enlarge our family, but not immediately."
"And you? You're not too busy bringing up other people's children to want your own?"
He brought the cutting board to her so she could begin laying out the slices. She smiled as their eyes met and his cheeks pinked again. Interesting, she thought. He was impervious to her sniping, but her friendliness shook his composure. Easy to tell what treatment he was used to. He'd probably always struggle with trusting people.
"We've talked about it," he admitted. "I'm not averse to the idea. A little girl, with Hermione's eyes and hair, perhaps."
"And if it's instead a little boy with yours? Or is that something you wizards can predict?"
"Neither Hermione nor I puts much store in Divination -"
"What are you asking him, mum?" Hermione complained, following her father into the kitchen at that moment. "You promised me you'd be nice."
Helen suppressed a pang. Children always sided against their parents after a certain age, but it hurt to see her daughter so protective and suspicious on his behalf. This was a rite of passage no less difficult for having been long expected. Their Hermione, who'd been growing away from them with ever-increasing rapidity ever since they'd reluctantly sent her away to the school and life she was born to, was theirs no longer.
"I'm always nice," she said, with more of a snap than she intended. "Perry, take Severus into the sitting room while we finish up here. Has she told you the good news?"
"You don't like him," Hermione said in a disappointed tone when the menfolk had obediently gone. "Give him a chance, mum -"
Helen took a deep breath and swallowed what she wanted to say about being given chances to like or dislike someone who would perforce be her son-in-law in less than twenty-four hours. It was always better to go easy over the rough spots of life. Pity she could tell that, whatever other sterling qualities Severus might have, that wasn't one of them.
"I don't dislike him," she said instead, slicing off the crusts and quartering the sandwiches into triangles. "Pour the tea, dear. I can see why you love him, I think. He won't be an easy man, but you know that. Of course we'll come to your wedding and wish you both very happy too."
She was rewarded with an emphatic kiss on the cheek. She hugged back, closing her eyes to savour the feeling of that slight warm body against hers.
"What's a Ministry wedding like?" she added. "And how will we get there? Can any of your friends take us?" It was such a nuisance that so much of the wizard world was inaccessible to unaccompanied non-magical folk.
"I'm not telling them yet. You see, Eloise and Zacharias just got engaged. Their party 's tomorrow night and we don't want to spoil it." Hermione didn't explain how it would "spoil" the party. She didn't need to. Her school letters had been full of how much her friends hated Severus Snape and Helen had forgotten none of it.
"Don't worry though. We thought about that already," Hermione continued. "I'll bring you with me and we'll meet up with Severus in the Ministry."
Tea in the sitting room was a little strained. There was too much to say and not enough time to say it. And one that two of them didn't know well enough to say it to.
Helen watched her daughter and prospective son over the rim of her teacup. She recognised the hesitancy in their stolen glances at each other, a build-up of tension that showed itself in touches and reaches arrested halfway, and was rather glad to know they'd be having a wedding-night in the most traditional sense of the word. The groom belonged to a generation old enough to remember the stigma of premarital sex, if not to share the disapproval.
Oh dear, she thought again. A generation older than Hermione, twenty years! How could this possibly work? He was barely younger than herself and Perry; how could he be marrying their child?
Severus didn't stay long. They let Hermione see him out and tried not to calculate how long she was gone and what sort of goodbye she might be giving.
"What do you think of him?" Helen demanded of her placid husband.
"It's lucky we're both dentists," he replied, determinedly cheerful. "With his teeth and her teeth to inherit, our grandchildren are certain to need our professional services."
"Oh dear!" she choked, and broke into slightly hysterical laughter. He put his arms around her and she turned wet eyes against his shoulder.
"Do you think, after they've been married a few years, that Hermione will let us talk to him about his teeth?" he muttered. "It sets mine on edge to look at a mouth like that."
It wasn't really the teeth that bothered them, but after twenty years of marriage that wasn't something either needed to explain to the other.
Next morning came far too soon. Almost before they knew it, they were watching Hermione hand over her wand to the Ministry security guard for weighing.
"Hermione?" asked a round-faced young wizard from behind them. "What are you doing here with your parents and – Oh!" His jaw dropped as they turned and he stepped back, his head jerking from side to side with a hunted look. He must have read their Wedding Party Ministry Visitor badges, thought Helen. His horror might almost be amusing if she didn't share something of the same feeling.
"You're not – are you? You and Snape? I mean – is he here?" he stammered.
"We're meeting him upstairs. What are you doing here, Neville? I didn't expect to see anyone today," Hermione blurted out.
Helen and Perry exchanged glances of recognition. Neville Longbottom? He seemed a pleasant friendly boy, but he, of all Hermione's circle, had a right and a reason to dislike her choice of groom. How many times had Hermione written them about her Potions-master's contempt for this student above almost all others, the classroomclot and constant butt of his sarcasm. They watched and waited, half-expecting him to tell her so.
"I'm here for Ginny. She had to pop in for half an hour to – I say, d'you mind if I fetch her? She'll never forgive either of us if she finds out you got married without her and I could have stopped you." He blushed and his words began to fall over themselves. "I mean, not that I want to stop you getting married, Hermione. I wouldn't dream of interfering like that, but -"
"You can meet us on Level One in five minutes," Hermione suggested helpfully.
Neville's eyes were still darting around.
"He won't mind, will he? I mean, I know I'm not his favourite person and I didn't get an invite or anything -"
"That's just because we don't want Ron to make a scene tonight at the engagement. And – well -" Her eyes dipped and her shoulders lifted as she shook her pink-cheeked head. "We didn't want to wait on everyone else's convenience."
She smiled sideways at him and he smiled forgivingly back. Her parents, unnoticed, let their breaths out in a sigh.
The groom was waiting outside the lifts at Level One and Helen was glad to see he'd washed his hair and dressed up for the occasion, even if he was still all in black. The long, sweeping lines suited him, but nothing could make him look young enough to be marrying a girl Hermione's age.
He was flanked by a grey-bearded wizard and a tartan-clad witch, whom the older Grangers recognised as the teacher who'd given them an introductory tour of Diagon Alley the summer before Hermione started at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall. The other was introduced as Professor Amory Marchant.
Helen was too polite to wear any expression but a smile. Oh dear, were these his closest friends? They were even older than he was! How was Hermione ever to deal with them on equal terms? Beside her, Perry gave her hand a surreptitious squeeze. She squeezed back, wondering if Hermione and her stern soon-to-be spouse would ever reach that level of wordless understanding with each other.
Then the far lift door opened and Ginny Weasley shot out towards them, her unbound hair streaming behind like a tongue of flame. Neville followed more slowly.
"Hermione!" she scolded, hugging her friend. "How dare you try to sneak off and get married without any of us there! You haven't even invited Harry, have you? That's just ridiculous!"
"The engagement party – Ron -"
"Who cares about Ron?" said Ron's sister scornfully. "So he'll be a prat about it! What else is new?"
She pushed Hermione's cloak back to see her wedding dress. It was a luscious shade of cream, with bell sleeves, a scoop neck and a double-layered gauzy skirt falling from a high waist. Smiling, she fingered the soft material.
" At least you're dressed for the occasion. It's lovely! Where did you get it?"
"It's from my wedding," Helen cut in. "I never thought Hermione would be interested in it."
She'd thought it was too informal for Hermione's taste. Not that she hadn't felt like a princess in it, but she'd married in a garden, with half the guests barefoot and the other half wearing sandals and tatty jeans. Perry had been the only man in a shirt, a tie-dyed horror in startling shades of pink and red that she'd long since got rid of.
Ginny favoured her with a repentant grin.
"Sorry, I should have said hello and congratulations, Mrs Granger, Mr Granger, Professors." She cocked her head at the groom. "I hope you've no objections to our presence, Professor Snape?"
"It should be quite safe, Miss Weasley, Mr Longbottom." One corner of his mouth twisted up as he nodded past her at Neville. "I believe there are no cauldrons at the Registry." It was said, for once, without the slightest trace of sneer.
Neville gave him look for look, then stepped forward and, with slight hesitation, offered his hand.
"You know, sir, Hermione calls me Neville."
There was a micro-second's pause, which seemed to the watching eyes endless. Helen held her breath. How would he react to being treated as an equal by someone he'd always despised? Then a pale long-fingered hand took Neville's squarer rougher one in a firm grip.
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor." Thin lips curled and the witnesses wondered if that had been a compliment or not. It didn't seem likely and yet what else could it be? "She calls me Severus."
Smiles bloomed on all faces. Helen glanced at Perry, reading his thoughts in his mild eyes. Perhaps it would be all right, after all. The groom was certainly on his best behaviour for the ceremony. The only question was, would it last?
That they'd have to wait and see.
A/N Canon doesn't tell us what's on Level One at the Ministry so that's where I located the Marriage Registry Office.