DISCLAIMER: Not mine! It's all J. K. Rowling's.
BETA READERS: GinnyW and Indigofeathers – thank you very much!
A/N: Chapter Twenty-four! More scheduled meetings, and some not at all planned.
Chapter 24: Needing More than a Name
Nathan was trying to follow Professor Lupin's advice and move on with his life. He'd found the professor on his way up to Gryffindor Tower after Sunday's meeting, and Lupin had asked him how things had been, seeming genuinely interested, so Nathan had told him. Professor Lupin was someone Nathan was starting to trust with these things, and Wednesday's scheduled meeting left him in need of advice, so why not Professor Lupin? It had helped. Maybe the previous dinner had had something to do with it, too, being so awkward for all three of them, not only Nathan. He'd realized, with Professor Lupin's help, that things couldn't get worse than they already were in a way. Professor Snape was still the same old Professor Snape. His mother was still the same loving and caring mother she'd always been, if a little more anxious and worried than usual. Shockingly, he was the same boy he'd ever been, too. Even Andy was acting the same.
Nathan had been worried for nothing, or almost nothing. The rest of the school was still acting like things had changed, just as he'd thought they had. They were wrong, he knew now. Okay, not entirely wrong, he had to admit. He now had a father everyone knew, and that changed a few things. But thinking more clearly, Nathan was sure this couldn't be so different from all the times people found out he didn't know his father, or it could be even better now, because not having a father was worse than having Professor Snape as a father, much worse. Nathan was positive that things could only improve from now on, and it was a relief.
He'd slept late that Sunday, but slept soundly like he hadn't in a while. He'd awakened rested and ready for the first week of the rest of his life. Monday's Potions class would act on his behalf, Nathan was sure. True to his belief, Professor Snape lectured, asked questions; they were assigned a potion to brew and asked to deliver a vial for evaluation, just like he had in most of their previous classes. Nathan could feel the level of anticipation amongst the other students, especially the Slytherins, but he knew his father would act no differently now than he had in all the classes before; Professor Snape had done as much on other occasions.
Thank you, Professor Snape, Nathan thought after they were dismissed, for after class, Jose came to talk to him.
"He still didn't give you any points for answering that question."
"I wouldn't expect him to," Nathan answered.
"He didn't even talk to you after the class," Jose added, seeming puzzled with the occurrence.
"There was nothing to be said." Nathan shrugged, smiling on the inside. "You seem surprised by that."
"Well, he's your father, isn't he?" Jose told him. "I thought… I don't know… that maybe he would be… nice to you."
Nathan actually smiled with that one and started to laugh – a real laugh. Jose looked even more confused, and Nathan felt it better to explain.
"Professor Snape is still Professor Snape, Jose, especially during classes. He was never nice, so why would he start now?" He shook his head to emphasize the absurdity of the thought.
"I just thought…."
"Nothing has changed. I think we're running late for Defense," Nathan said, and they went to the next class of the day.
During lunch, Andy wanted to know details of Sunday's dinner. Nathan told him some of what had passed, explaining the necklace. Andy approved of his decision to wear it again, but Kevin, although he remained around for the meals and most of the classes, was still uncomfortable with the situation, and his opposition to Nathan wearing the necklace became all too evident.
"Snape is spying on you through this thing," he said.
"He's not. He's watching over me, there is a difference, Kevin," Nathan felt the need to retort, defending his father.
"Well, if what you said to Jose after Potions today is true and nothing has changed, Snape can only be spying on you."
"Professor Snape has been watching over me, or better yet, all of us, since the day we stepped foot inside this castle. Do you forget that he'd saved me long before this father thing happened?"
Andy was nodding. Kevin didn't say anything against that argument. It was not as if he could deny what Nathan said anyway.
And more Gryffindors relaxed around him, too. It seemed that Jose and Andy had some influence after all. Of course, they no longer spoke of the teachers when Nathan was around, and he only knew that because they were not as careful as to who heard their conversations or didn't in the common room. Nathan even caught them speaking of him once or twice, but although this was an annoying change, he couldn't make himself care that much.
Re-reading the files could be accounted for contributing to this change in attitude, too. Having Wednesday's meeting looming over him made Nathan take out the rolls of parchment he'd written months ago when researching Snape's life for any dark secret that would make the man say who his father was.
At the time, Nathan had two different sets of parchments: theSnape files and theDad files. It ended up that he didn't need to have those separate.
But it was good he'd made them different parchments then. Now he could look at them with a new perspective. It was intriguing to confront what people had said of his father and what he'd found out about Professor Snape through research. If one read the descriptions and facts without knowing they accounted for the same wizard, one would not guess. Perhaps the part of his father being a determined man was fitting to the role Professor Snape had played in the war, although being considered a friend by Albus Dumbledore… That was still quite surprising and also a great contradiction.
Nathan was curious of how those pieces would fit in the same puzzle. Who was Professor Snape? Who was his father? How did these two people merge into one? Nathan couldn't quite figure that out yet. Yes, meeting with him outside the classroom was awkward and nerve-wracking, but maybe it would help him put the puzzle together. His mother had said he would get to know his father now, that the meetings wouldn't be detentions but opportunities to have quality time together. Nathan didn't know how that was possible yet, but he could see some benefits in the dreaded meetings now.
And Wednesday arrived. Despite the two days resembling normalcy, Nathan was nervous by the time he knocked on the door of the Potions master's office.
"Good evening, Professor Snape."
That was a first. Professor Snape had never answered one of his greetings with actual words. But he hadn't looked up from the parchment he was apparently grading. Nathan moved closer to the desk the man was occupying to peek. Yes, that bottle of red ink couldn't have been for anything else but grading. Nathan waited until Professor Snape finished and rested the quill on the desk. The man entwined his fingers and placed his hands on the same desktop, looking at Nathan, who looked up from the man's hands to his face.
They stared at each other for a quick moment, and Professor Snape looked briefly down. Nathan followed his gaze to his necklace.
"It's blue," Nathan stated, looking back at his father.
"I can see that."
"Which means I'm not in trouble," Nathan added.
Snape's expression was hard to interpret. He rose from his chair and bypassed the desk, coming to stand beside Nathan. They locked eyes again before Professor Snape said, "Come."
Nathan followed his father out of the office and down the corridor to the professor's quarters. On the short walk, they passed some Slytherins walking back to their common room, and Nathan felt relentless eyes on him, one pair lingering longer – Malfoy's.
Professor Snape opened the door and Nathan followed quickly inside. He sighed when the door closed behind him.
"Intimidated, are we?" Professor Snape asked.
"No," Nathan answered in the wake of the accusation. He wasn't, was he? It was just the uneasiness of being watched. "I don't like the attention," he added, looking everywhere but at the man beside him.
Professor Snape moved to set a fire in the hearth, illuminating the room further. When he proceeded to the desk at a corner and set about rummaging through some books, Nathan asked, still standing near the door, "Why did you bring me here?"
Professor Snape didn't look away from what he was doing. "Your mother thought you might want to see my books."
Mum, of course, Nathan thought. He looked away from his father and around the room, paying more attention to the walls covered with books. Nathan approached the nearest shelf and ran his eyes over the tomes, reading a title here and there. The first set of books was related to Potions. They were basic textbooks, advanced ones, books about potions for one or other specific purpose, and went as far as bordering on Herbology with tomes about the use of plants in potions. That was all he found on the smaller wall beside the door they'd come in from.
Nathan chanced a glance at Professor Snape and saw him on his feet, bending over the desk, writing something. Nathan headed for the next wall of books. It was hard to read the title of some tomes, especially those on the top shelf, but it wasn't that hard to deduce that they were still potions-making themed, although now they bordered on Charms. Soon they were exclusively about spells, enchantments, curses and counter-curses…. Some were ethically dubious, at the very least, such as Curse Your Enemies and Fighting with Magic – Curses and Counter-curses. These shelves ended at a door, the same door Professor Snape had used on Sunday.
Nathan could see Professor Snape still busy with his own things and went for the books on the other side of the doorway. There were more on curses and counter-curses, although now amongst books about Dark creatures. Nathan wondered why there were so many books about werewolves.
Now the titles were getting more difficult to read; some were missing altogether, others in languages Nathan didn't know. Intriguing and captivating, Nathan thought, and his curiosity was piqued. He went further and saw books that were definitely Dark. Manipulating with Magic, Irreversible Hexes and Curses, more books he couldn't read the title of, Entrapping Souls, Enchanting the Blood, Painful Potions, Captivity and Dominance by Blood Magic…
Even Muggles knew blood magic was something to be feared, there were movies about it. Nathan wondered how powerful they really were…
Had his father ever cast the Cruciatus Curse? Probably. Nathan thought back to all he knew about Professor Snape and decided he'd definitely cast Unforgivables more than once.
Blood Relations and Related Hexes…
Hexing family members? Why would someone want to hex a relative? Was it what that book was about? Nathan reached out for it.
"These books are not for you."
Nathan was startled and turned to face his father, withdrawing his hand. How did he get here? He was by the desk just now.
"Unless you feel like killing me," his father added.
Nathan stared at him wide-eyed. Professor Snape stared back, nothing evident in his expression. Nathan shook his head in denial and lowered his eyes. When his father didn't say more, but continued where he stood, Nathan felt he was expecting something from him.
"I didn't know what the book was about, sir," Nathan tried.
"You've been more convincing in your lies before."
I'm not lying! He looked up to his father's face. "It's true," he affirmed.
"That was almost convincing."
Nathan clenched his hands. "You told me I could look at the books."
"These are Dark Arts books."
"I know, sir," Nathan answered the unspoken question.
"From all the other books I have here, the only one you reached out for was this one, Mr. Granger. Is that what you want? To become a Dark wizard?" his father asked, face inscrutable even with the accusation present in his words.
"Well, you're a Dark wizard, aren't you?" Nathan answered back defensively.
His father's eyes changed, and Professor Snape straightened his shoulders. "You should go to your common room," he said dismissively.
"You always send me away. Why do we even bother with these meetings?" Nathan said, frustrated. He turned to leave and was halfway to the exit when…
His breath caught. Nathan? Not Mr. Granger? He didn't dare look back or move forward.
"How do you like your tea?"
Tea? Nathan looked over his shoulder to his father, not believing what he was hearing. Professor Snape held his eyes for a moment and then went about Transfiguring a tea set on a small side-table. Nathan turned to him fully, watching his wand work. "Milk and sugar," he finally answered, walking to the couch.
Professor Snape poured the brew into two cups and added milk and sugar to one of them, which he handed to Nathan.
"Thank you, sir." Nathan accepted the warm cup, still a little confused to what was going on. Professor Snape took the other and settled himself on an armchair. Nathan sat on the couch and sipped at his tea, simply to have something to do.
Professor Snape stared at him from over his cup. Their eyes locked, and Nathan took another sip before saying, "We have the same eyes."
His father's eyes never left his while he sipped once, twice before agreeing, "So we do."
"And the same hair," Nathan added. This conversation was doing things to his stomach, and he knew it had nothing to do with the tea.
"The color, perhaps," Professor Snape said.
"It's not only the color." Nathan chanced a half-smile. His hair got greasy faster than usual.
They finished their tea in companionable silence. Nathan thought it had been the warmest tea he'd drunk in Hogwarts, or he felt warmer for other reasons he couldn't fully understand. All he knew was that he didn't want this moment to end just now. He smiled at the hearth. "Maybe we have more things in common we don't know yet."
"Why would you like that?" his father asked.
Nathan shrugged and then looked at him. "Do you think I'll ever be a good potions brewer like you?"
Professor Snape regarded him. "If you apply yourself..."
Nathan smiled at him. "And a dueler?"
"I never saw you cast more than Alohomoha and heating and cooling spells," Professor Snape told him.
"I can levitate things. I was the first to do so in my class, actually. Professor Flitwick said I was a natural." Nathan grinned. "I can show you," he told his father, taking his wand from his pocket.
Nathan straightened his shoulders and waved his wand. "Wingardium Leviosa," he intoned perfectly, and the empty cup floated in the air.
"Look at me," his father called.
Nathan did so, and the floating cup crashed on the stone floor. He looked back at it, frowning, embarrassed at his failure. Professor Snape cast silent spells and the cup was whole and on the small table again.
"When you learn a spell, try to cast it in different circumstances, such as without eye contact with the target. There is more to Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts than the teachers tell you in class." Professor Snape stood. "Come, I'll walk you to your common room."
"I know the way, sir," Nathan assured him. "Good evening." He nodded without facing Professor Snape, still embarrassed, and turned for the door.
The fire burning in the hearth of Severus' office went green and the Headmistress' floating head appeared there. "Severus," she called.
"Minerva," he answered with a nod.
"Draco Malfoy is here with me and wishes to see you."
Severus frowned. "Send him through."
Minerva's head disappeared, and soon Draco was standing in his office, brushing ashes from his coat. "Good afternoon, Severus."
"Draco." Severus nodded. "Would you care for something to drink?"
"Tea is fine," the blond man answered, taking a seat on one of the armchairs.
Severus Conjured the tea set and offered a filled cup to his unexpected visitor. Taking his place behind the desk, he asked, "What brings you to Hogwarts?" He took a cup for himself.
Draco drank from the warm tea and rested the cup on Severus' desk before answering, "The Granger boy."
Severus was not surprised. "What about him?"
"Should I call him the Snape boy?" Draco teased almost accusingly.
"His name is Granger," Severus answered.
"But it's common knowledge that he's also a Snape. You haven't denied it."
"No, I haven't." Severus saw Draco's eyes narrow. "That doesn't change the fact that he's a Granger."
"Why her, Severus? Why Potter's insufferable sidekick? I can understand your desire to hide such relationship from the wizarding world, but to hide it from me…?"
"There was no relationship," Severus answered annoyed. "And where did you get the assumption that you were my confidant?"
"You have a son Devon's age!"
"He's older than Devon."
Draco thought through the implications of that. "You used Granger during the war."
Severus would not disagree with that. He'd used her, and the war had been in full rage then.
"Why didn't you cast a contraception charm?"
The same question he'd asked himself several times since the day he'd realized the boy's black eyes mirrored his. Severus still didn't have an answer to that, so he kept silent.
"You never acknowledged him in all these years, why now?" Draco continued interrogating.
"He's still a Granger."
"Devon told me you meet with them on regular basis."
Why the insistence? Severus thought. "What do you want, Draco?"
"I want to know why you have a son and I'm the last to know!" Draco's scowl didn't grace his aristocratic features. "You're the only friend I have. I trust you with my life. I entrusted the best of me, my son, to you! You know how much this means to me." Draco rose to his feet and was pacing in front of the desk.
"And you think I betrayed this trust," Severus finished. "I haven't, Draco."
Their eyes locked, appraising. Draco seemed almost as if afraid he wasn't telling the truth. Severus held his frightened, angry gaze with respectful steadiness. The grayness of Draco's eyes fell back beneath his lashes when they were painfully closed in a frown.
"I would have wanted to meet your son, Severus, regardless of the mother," Draco confessed.
Severus chuckled. When Draco opened his eyes and looked at him again, he said, "So would I."
"Don't try to deceive me, Severus."
"I'm not trying to deceive you. I didn't know I had a son until recently; Granger hid him from me, the stupid chit!" Severus let contempt color his voice and saw the surprise on Draco's face. "A few months ago, when the boy told me he didn't know his father, I looked him over and figured it out." He let his rage with such a situation show, and the blond wizard nodded after looking straight into his eyes for a moment.
"I'll kill Granger when I see her," Draco said, falling back into the armchair.
Severus appreciated the sentiment, but not as he did months ago. No, he wasn't about to forgive her for what she did, but he didn't need to see her dead to feel avenged. She'd raised Nathan, kept him when Severus knew he wouldn't have, and… Severus was fond of the boy.
The contemplative silence was broke by Draco. "I met the boy in Diagon Alley, when I was buying Devon's supplies. I don't think he knew who I was."
"I don't think he did then," Severus agreed. "She's raised him in the Muggle world."
"I'm sorry, Severus," Draco said with genuine sorrow. "You didn't deserve that."
Severus shook his head. Draco was a pure-blood and would never understand Muggles and their world. It was fruitless to try and convince him that being raised amongst Muggles was not the worse thing that could happen to a wizard. Draco didn't believe in the purity of blood anymore, but that didn't mean he was a Muggle lover, either.
"I would like to meet him properly one of these days. Did Granger spoil him beyond fixing? Devon told me he's a Gryffindor, which is damage enough," Draco commented.
"I'm," Severus hesitated, he hadn't expected that from Draco, "still getting to know him myself."
"Dinner is being served in the Great Hall, will you join me?" Severus asked, trying to shake off the uncomfortable moment, standing up to leave.
"I'll have to decline your invitation. Pansy is waiting for me." Draco stood as well and extended a hand to Severus, who accepted the courtesy, shaking it. "I'll walk with you to the Great Hall; I want to see Devon before I leave."
It was Severus' time to nod, and they continued to the Great Hall.
Hermione opened her apartment door.
"I know it's a little late for a visit, but we can't meet on weekends and I work late," he started apologizing.
Hermione was surprised by the visit. Last time she'd seen Harry, she'd been really mad at him and harsh words had been spoken. Not that she felt ashamed for the things she'd said to her best friend in the moment of rage, mind you, and she wasn't about to apologize. Somehow, Hermione knew Harry wasn't there in search of an apology, or explanations even, and that was what surprised her about him looking for her.
She let him in and joined him on the couch.
"What brings you here, Harry?" Hermione asked, not wasting time with pleasantries.
Harry took a deep breath. "I'm worried about Nathan. How is he?" he asked, and Hermione knew it was his heart asking.
"He's doing fine," she answered. "We're trying to work things out after the mess you've made; we'll succeed… eventually." The last word came out in a much lower voice.
Sunday's dinner left Hermione worried about how long she would take to fix all the damage done to Nathan. His relationship with Severus was very fragile and resented, more than she thought it was.
"I'm sorry, Hermione. I…."
Hermione interrupted Harry's search for new words of apology. "Was there anything else you wished to talk about?"
Harry averted his eyes to his lap, visibly uncomfortable with her down-to-business response to his visit. "Skeeter will step back from further investigation of Nathan's case."
"Won't she be fired for using what she heard from you without your authorization?" Hermione asked indignantly.
"No," Harry confirmed, showing his annoyance in his tone. "Apparently, publishing unauthorized information is not considered gossiping and speculating when…" The next words Harry said were hushed and murmured.
Hermione didn't understand them. "What was that?"
"They are not considered gossip and speculation when the source is known." He sighed. "They pointed out that I was the source and that the information was true. At least they agreed to drop Skeeter from the case and to have no more about Nathan published if I…" Harry sighed again, "write a weekly column on Quidditch during this year's season and… agreed to an exclusive interview with Skeeter."
"And you agreed, of course," Hermione pressed.
Harry appeared visibly hurt. "Of course."
Hermione smiled. "Serves you right for meddling in other people's business."
"I'm sorry, Hermione." Harry had a pained look about his face.
Hermione sighed. "I know you are, but I'm still mad at you."
"What can I do to make things right again between us?" he asked, pleading.
Hermione brought a hand to rub at her temple. "Go home, Harry."
"Please, Hermione. I love you, and I love Nathan. I…." He paused to find the words. "I wasn't thinking. I never meant to make the situation worse for Nathan, or for you. I would never hurt you, Hermione. You're the sister I've never had, and you know it. Nathan is more than a nephew would be…." Harry reached for Hermione's hand, squeezing it. "Please," he asked again, staring into her eyes.
"I don't hate you, Harry," she admitted softly. "It's just that right now I can't look at you and not remember what a mess you've made." Her hand was squeezed again. "Nathan looks up to you, and you know that. Your hatred for Severus…" Hermione tried to control her temper, before completing, "doesn't help him. I've been trying hard to prevent them from hating each other all this time, only to have you destroy years of work!"
"I won't get in the way again," Harry said, trying to reassure her.
"Damn right you won't!" she hissed, a threatening finger directed at Harry. Hermione turned from him, breathing slowly to calm herself. She wanted to hex him, but deep inside she knew Harry was suffering more than hexes could make him, and that was far from comforting.
A crushing silence settled over them until Harry said, "I didn't know what to do. Suddenly, it was like I was living a nightmare. Snape was the father of the sweet kid that is Nathan…. I still can't think of you and that… about how that was even possible, worse yet the truth." When she didn't interrupt him, Harry continued, "Snape hurt me from the day I met him. How can I let that happen to Nathan?"
"It won't happen. I do understand what you did, but that doesn't change the fact that I asked you not to interfere," Hermione reminded him, looking Harry in the eyes, but she averted them to her lap when she added, "I know what I'm doing." Hermione needed to believe her own words.
"You give Snape too much credit."
"I give Severus due credit." She looked at Harry again.
"And yet you hid Nathan from him."
"Don't talk about things you don't understand," Hermione warned.
"Why did you do that then, if not because of Snape?" Harry insisted.
"This falls into the none-of-your-business category." She glared at Harry. "And don't look at me like that! I'm still angry with you. It's late, and I have a meeting in the morning, so if you don't mind…."
Harry clenched his jaw and swallowed his questions. He left without another word.
A spoon levitated for the umpteenth time as quills, books, chess pieces had done all day, all week since Thursday. Nathan's failure on Levitating the cup on Wednesday had led to a compulsion towards the spell. In a few days he'd been casting it without looking at the subject, but concentrating hard to maintain the something in the air. Now, Nathan could eat scrambled eggs and Levitate a spoon, although it would respond to gravity after a while.
He wanted to prove to Professor Snape he was a capable wizard. It was still Saturday. He would have almost the whole weekend to practice before showing his father what he could do. That was why Nathan was heading to the library alone after breakfast instead of following Andy and Kevin outside to the Quidditch pitch. He didn't have time to watch Gryffindor training; Nathan had some training of his own to be doing.
Maintaining the levitation spell while almost completely concentrated on something else was tricky, and Nathan was still having trouble with it. Reading and casting the spell at the same time was how he trained for such situations. He chose an empty table, put his copy of Hogwarts, a History on it, and opened the book about Goblin Wars he'd been reading. Holding his wand, he spoke quietly, "Wingardium Leviosa." Hogwarts, a History rose several inches from the table. Satisfied, Nathan carefully took his eyes from the floating book and started reading while trying not to forget what he was doing simultaneously, never lowering his wand.
Several pages ahead on his reading, Nathan was still holding the spell, until his wand went cold, losing the warmth associated with channeling magic. He looked up from his reading and was surprised to meet grey eyes staring at him. Devon Malfoy held the book he'd been levitating. How did he get here? Nathan had been so lost in concentration that he'd never seen Malfoy approaching.
"That book is mine," Nathan stated.
"Madam Pince wouldn't be happy if she knew you were mistreating books," Malfoy said.
"Give me the book back," Nathan demanded, adjusting his grip on his wand.
"Or what?" Malfoy challenged.
Nathan ran a list of hexes in his mind. "What do you want, Malfoy?" he asked, letting his annoyance show.
"I just wanted to remind you that I don't care what people say, you'll never be worthy of Professor Snape."
"And I don't care what you say. Now, give me my book back." Nathan pointed his wand at his opponent.
"He'll never take you seriously, Granger. You don't have what is needed. You're just too pathetic," Malfoy said, letting the book fall to the table top, the noise drawing attention to them.
Nathan lowered his wand, not wanting to be caught in the act of almost hexing another student, as had happened before. Malfoy was halfway to the door when Nathan turned his attention to him again and sighed in frustration.
He resumed his activities, but found he wasn't able to concentrate fully. Madam Pince was looking cross with him at the third time the book hit the table, disturbing her library. That only added to his irritation. Nathan didn't need to hear he wasn't worthy of being Professor Snape's son, especially not from Malfoy, who he knew was his godson. Thinking about the things Malfoy surely knew about his father – which Nathan couldn't even begin to imagine…. He was feeling unworthy indeed.
Maybe that was what Professor Snape was trying to tell him when the cup crashed. Maybe Nathan wasn't even smart enough to catch his meaning….
Nathan shook his head to send those thoughts away. Professor Snape had invited him to drink tea, even calling him by his given name; he'd told him he could be a potions brewer as good as he was one day.
Nathan was worthy, and he would prove it.
"Severus, why is Nathan levitating things all the time?" Hermione asked him after answering his nod of a greeting with a "Good afternoon".
It was Saturday, and they were in the lab. She was working on her project, and he'd just come in to fetch something from his desk there.
"Is he?" Severus asked in answer, not seeming much interested, shuffling about one of the piles of parchments on the desk.
"You know he is; you saw him in the Great Hall," she told him matter-of-factly. "Do you know why?"
"Maybe he's practicing," he suggested, not giving much importance to her question, or wanting her to believe he wasn't giving it importance, she realized.
"Maybe something happened on Wednesday," Hermione countered after that.
He shuffled about another pile of parchments and apparently found what he came looking for. He straightened from the desk, a roll of parchment in hand, and said, "Maybe."
Severus was gone before she could react to that. "Insufferable man," she cursed under her breath. Nathan hadn't stopped ten minutes to talk to her properly, leaving her curious as to what had passed on Wednesday, and now this! Hermione shook her head and tried not to think about that anymore; she hated being left in the dark, and they both knew that.
"Mum, are those what I think they are?" Nathan asked when Hermione emerged from her quarters carrying two large books.
Nathan groaned, but Hermione didn't mind. She had planned this quite carefully during the week and was positive it would have a good result.
Soon they were at Severus' door, being welcomed by the Potions master himself. They walked in and were asked to take seats on the couch.
"How was your week?" Hermione asked, trying to start a conversation.
"Tiring," Severus answered simply.
"Teaching is tiring," Hermione agreed after waiting a moment to see if he would elaborate. She had to remind herself to be patient, or else this dinner would turn out to be like last week's.
She saw Severus looking at the books she'd brought with her as if trying to guess what they were. Hermione decided it was a good time to enlighten him. "I've brought some photos. I thought we could see them before dinner."
Nathan sighed, slouching down on the couch. Hermione turned to him. "What's so terrible about it, anyway?"
He gave her "the look". She smiled at him and turned to Severus, who was watching them intently. "I think it's better if you sit beside me, so I can explain the pictures," Hermione suggested.
Severus hesitated while he tried to find a good reason to refuse her invitation. He found none, so he had to comply. He sat by her, though as far away as he could.
"I think we should start with the Muggle album. What do you think, Nathan?" Granger asked their son.
"I vote for none," Nathan mumbled in response.
She simply opened the first album without commenting on the boy's answer. Three unmoving pictures covered the page.
"These are the first pictures of Nathan. My parents took them when we were still in the hospital after he was born," she commented. "He was so cute."
The cute comment made Severus want to roll his eyes. Nathan wasn't so restrained…
"I was not cute. I looked like a Mandrake."
Severus smirked – a suppressed smile.
"You were and still are very cute," Granger said, and it seemed to be a constant quarrel between them. She turned the page.
"Here we're already at my parents' house. We stayed with them for the first weeks," she commented.
Severus thought Nathan looked more like the cute baby she claimed he had been. He wore a yellow overall with a bear on it and was smiling toothlessly for the camera. He was so tiny…. On the other picture, Nathan was being held by Granger and seemed to be sleeping. The look on the picture-woman's face while gazing at the bundle in her arms could only be described as tender awe. She was so young….
Granger turned the page. "This is me trying to bathe him," she told him amused. "He never liked it very much, and it was always a struggle. Even now," she added, obviously teasing Nathan.
Severus saw a very young and wet Granger trying to hold a very irritated Nathan inside a small bathtub. Severus stared at the picture and started to wonder if he would have managed the task. It seemed like a mess, and he was certain he wouldn't have wanted to be part of the activity.
"Isn't it enough humiliation to show me naked?" Nathan mumbled.
Granger sighed and turned the page. Nathan seemed older in the pictures now, and so did she.
"These are from his first birthday party."
Not many people featured in the pictures, but it was the first time he saw Potter and the Weasleys in any of them. Nathan seemed happy in Potter's arms; they were all smiling. Potter aside, Severus was glad Nathan had had a party for his first birthday.
The next pages were filled with pictures of Nathan standing, taking baby steps, making a mess while eating on his own for the first time, and mostly laughing near his mother. She was always smiling or laughing, always happy. If Severus were to be in those pictures, would they be so happy? Would Severus?
All he knew was that he would have wanted to be beside them during those happy moments.
Granger turned the page, and there was a curious picture. Severus leaned to see and only then realized how close he'd gotten to her in the course of the activity. She didn't seem to mind.
"Is that a cast on his arm?" Severus asked, puzzled.
"Yes," she answered. "He fell while he was playing in the school's playground and broke his arm. When I got there, the doctor had already put a cast on it. I healed it as soon as we came home, but he had to keep the cast for the time the doctor had prescribed, much to his annoyance, or it would have seemed suspicious."
"Of course," Severus agreed.
"It itched," Nathan added, pained at the memory.
More pages, more smiles, and another picture puzzled Severus. "What's that supposed to be?"
Granger turned to look at him, and their arms touched. She didn't seem to mind that, either.
"It's when Nathan played John Darling from Peter Pan in the school play," Granger clarified. She was still resting her arm against his.
Severus frowned both at her coziness and the unrecognizable costume.
"Mum made the costume. It was the worst," Nathan explained, interpreting his frown correctly.
Severus chuckled. "Hermione Granger bad at something? Hell must have frozen!" Severus said and only then realized what he was doing. Why am I teasing her?
"It was not that bad!" she protested.
Nathan arched an eyebrow at her, although Severus wasn't paying much attention to the interaction anymore. With her protest, she'd made the space between them vanish, and now, in addition to their arms, their knees were touching, the fine fabric of her skirt making it even more intimate.
"It's getting late for dinner," Severus stated coldly and rose from the couch. He could see the confusion on Granger's face – it wasn't that late – but Severus would not elaborate. He snapped his fingers, and a house-elf popped into the room. "You may serve dinner," he commanded.
They followed him to the table. Nathan didn't seem to care about the change, but his mother was still looking at Severus in a searching way. She didn't voice her thoughts, which was a good thing. They started eating in silence, not as uncomfortable as the one that had accompanied them last week. Severus thought the meal would end in silence, when Granger interrupted it.
"I didn't see you much the whole weekend. What were you doing that kept you from even helping me in the lab?" she asked Nathan.
"I was busy," the boy answered vaguely.
"Were you studying for some test? I don't remember one so early in the term," she insisted.
"Kind of." Again, Nathan's answer was vague.
Severus was finding their interaction interesting and was getting curious himself. Nathan was blatantly trying to hide something from his mother and maybe him.
"Why have you been levitating things all the time?" she finally asked, and Severus knew that was where she was heading for all along.
"I was practicing," Nathan said, echoing Severus' cryptic answer to the same question earlier that day, and quickly added, "Are we going to see more photos?" changing the subject.
Severus was smirking when Granger looked at him again, searching. He sobered.
"I don't think so," she said after waiting for some kind of answer from him.
"Maybe we should retire for the evening," Severus suggested.
Nathan nodded and stood from the table, waiting for his mother to do the same. She reluctantly did, but instead of heading for the door, she kissed Nathan and said, "Have a good week, honey. I have some things to discuss with your father before I go."
Nathan nodded and bid Severus good night, leaving him alone with his mother.
"What is it?" Severus asked.
"That was what I was going to ask. What happened? You seemed to be enjoying the photos."
"As I said, it was getting late, and if you don't mind, I want to be well rested for the week," he tried to dismiss her.
Granger stared at him for another moment and apparently decided to respect his position. "In any case, this evening was a great improvement from last week's. Nathan was much more relaxed around you, and I think it has to do with whatever happened on Wednesday. I told you could do it. Well done, Severus," she commended, smiling.
He couldn't see how Wednesday's meeting had something to do with Nathan's change in attitude besides the practice of the charm he'd performed that day. He chose not to comment, waiting for her to leave; her faith in him was always unsettling.
"I'll leave the albums with you. I hope you'll have some time during the week to see the rest of the photos," she told him, and the hesitation in turning her back to leave was evident.
Severus stiffened his posture, guarded; she was always unpredictable when she looked at him like that. Granger seemed to realize his change in posture and dropped her eyes from his face. "I'll see you next week," she said before turning and heading out from his quarters.
Granger was dangerous, he decided.
Nathan had practiced hard. He was confident that he could prove himself a good spell caster now. He was counting the hours for his meeting with his father this Wednesday. Nathan felt he needed the reassurance after so many bitter remarks from Malfoy about his not being worthy of Professor Snape's attention.
Already at his father's quarters, Nathan sat by the hearth and accepted the offered tea; it seemed this would become their Wednesday meetings' schedule. They were silent while they enjoyed the warm brew, but as soon as Nathan was finished, he told Professor Snape, "I've been practicing the levitation spell, as you might have noticed, sir."
"Indeed, I have," Snape said.
Nathan took that as an encouragement to continue, "I thought about what you said last week, and there was really more to the spell than what we've learned in Charms."
Nathan stood from the couch and took his wand in his hand. Without further explanation, he intoned, "Wingardium Leviosa," and the teacup floated in the air. Without being asked to, Nathan took his eyes from the flying object and fixed them on his father, smiling a victorious smile.
"Can you chat and maintain the spell?" Professor Snape asked, his expression unaffected by Nathan's display of magic.
"Yes, I can," Nathan answered, never once returning his eyes to the cup; his smile broadening to show his teeth.
"Move the cup in the air," Professor Snape told him.
Nathan's smile faltered a bit; he'd never tried to move the object without looking at it. I can do this, he assured himself. He concentrated in making the cup move to the left, so it would show in his sight range.
Nathan still couldn't see the cup. What if it's not working? He concentrated harder, closing his eyes briefly. Move!
He almost sighed when the cup appeared on his peripheral vision. Nathan grinned in triumph. I did it! His grin dissolved slowly when he brought his attention back to Professor Snape; the man's expression was still the same neutral, almost bored one, regardless of Nathan's show of, in his opinion, outstanding magic control.
"Put the cup down," the man told him.
Nathan did as he was told with something aching in his chest. He was about to pocket his wand and sit back on the couch, when his father instructed, "Do it again, now without speaking the incantation."
Without speaking the incantation? How am I supposed to do that?
Nathan looked gravely at his wand.
It's not possible.
He looked to his father. Professor Snape didn't look as if he was kidding and was waiting.
Nathan swished and flicked his wand like Professor Flitwick had taught. Nothing happened. He did it again and nothing. He was going to fail one more time. Nathan chanced a glance to Professor Snape and back to the wand in his hand, swishing and flicking it again to no avail. Fly, stupid cup!
After his fifth unsuccessful attempt, Professor Snape stood from his armchair and said, "Keep practicing." The man went to his desk on the corner of the room and ignored Nathan altogether!
How am I supposed to do this? Nathan thought annoyed, but never voiced the question. Swish and flick, swish and flick. Fly! Fly! He wanted to growl in frustration.
Nathan sat back on the couch and sighed. He was not going to ask his father how to do it. He was not! He looked around the room, the many books arrayed along the walls. Nathan was sure there was at least one of them about levitation spells, and yet his father didn't say anything.
He looked to the man by the desk, and the ache Nathan felt in his chest became too much. He stood again, trying one more time to make the stupid cup float in the air. Failing again, he strode to the door and left, banging it in his wake.
Severus lifted his eyes from what he was reading at the sound of the door slamming shut. He looked around and there was no sign of Nathan. He frowned, fishing in his pocked for the glass vial containing the mood potion. It flashed in shades of red. "He's angry?" Severus muttered confused. His frown deepened.
What did Nathan expect? That he would stay on the armchair, watching his sure-to-be frustrated attempts to levitate the teacup? Even showing great control over his magic already – Severus didn't think he would be able to control the target without looking at it, and him bringing the teacup forward was a pleasant surprise – the boy would take several weeks, months even, to get the hang of a non-verbal spell, which was much more than he would expect from a first-year, even when all the abilities he'd showed here today were accounted for.
The angry reds continued to show in the vial, but there was nothing Severus could do. He returned to his text, but couldn't help but look at the mood potion every other minute.
Deciding he wouldn't be bothered by Nathan's display of petulance, Severus pocketed the vial and continued his reading with a stubborn avidness.
Hermione tried the third dress, exasperated with what she saw in the mirror. What is wrong with me? Of course, Hermione wasn't worried about her reflection as much as she was about her behavior. This was not a date, for God's sake!
She let herself fall to the bed and took her face in her hands, frustrated. Since last weekend, Hermione had been thinking more and more about Severus. She knew she had feelings for him, but she thought they were under control. Hermione had put so much on hold for Nathan; this need to pursue Severus was almost disconcerting. When she least expected, she was thinking about him, asking herself what would be his opinions, reactions to the most mundane things; she would catch herself dressing up for him, and it scared her.
At the same time, she felt the excitement of being in love, sure for the first time in her adult life about her affections, but she felt as if she was betraying Nathan. Now, more than ever, she should be concentrating on him, putting his happiness first. But what really intrigued her was that she wasn't neglecting Nathan in this, only her own interests were meeting his this time, and yet it felt wrong to be thinking about herself as a woman instead of only a mother.
She couldn't help it, though. Severus was the man she'd been waiting for all along, now she was certain. Hermione knew even before acknowledging it. He had what no other did, and they didn't because they could never have. There was only one Severus Snape, and Hermione had been unconsciously looking for another one all her life to no avail. The men Hermione had thought to be good enough were indeed good men, some too good, others not good enough… ones too simple, plain, others intelligent, but not witty enough. They would never aggregate all the characteristics she imagined in a man, and she was resigned to being too picky, to know that such complex and complete man didn't exist, just to come face to face with him in a Potions classroom.
A shiver ran down her spine with only the memory of that reencounter.
How she had concealed those feelings so expertly from herself still amazed Hermione. It seemed so obvious now, so natural…. Maybe it had been the war and how her life had little space for relationships back then. Or perhaps, she had been too young and immature when they had worked together in destroying the Horcruxes to understand that what she'd felt was more than admiration for Severus. Hermione knew things had changed for her when he'd saved her, but had no place for romance in her life after the horrors she'd suffered during the war, during that night…. Never for who had done it, but for the deed in itself. No woman would think about men after such traumatic happenings.
But then again, why didn't she realize anything when her decision to keep Nathan had been made so much easier because his father was Severus? It should have been obvious!
No reason to debate the past any longer. Hermione understood now and had decided she wouldn't pass up this new opportunity of finding out if she could be happy as a woman. But her happiness had to wait a little longer yet. She couldn't let her dreams overwhelm her common sense, taking control of her actions. These dinners are not dates, NOT dates, she chanted in her head, they are for Nathan and Nathan alone. Not dates!
But she wished they were, of course she did.
Hermione sighed. Last week he'd been comfortable by her side, touching her, although she suspected that to be the reason for him calling dinner as early as he did. But he seemed comfortable when he wasn't taking notice of their closeness. Of course, Hermione had felt every bit of contact that happened between them that evening. Was I throwing myself at him? She shook her head in denial; she wouldn't do that.
Not consciously, she reminded herself frowning. Hermione's control had been very thin when he touched her, when he was too close… If he touched her again today, if she had an opportunity to touch him, Hermione didn't know if she could resist.
And that would be a cursed disaster.
Severus was not ready. Hermione could only hope time would work to her benefit, softening Severus to her constant presence. Hope was the last to die. And he enjoyed your closeness last week, her wishful brain added. She smiled despite herself.
Hermione could almost feel Severus' body supporting hers on the same couch they'd shared last week, only they would be reading a good book together. Her smile widened. What kind of book would we share? she thought, distracted with the image her traitorous mind was conjuring.
She shook her head, annoyed. "Get a grip, Granger!" she admonished in a murmur, taking herself from the bed to finish dressing. Nathan would be by soon. This was all for Nathan and no one else.
Especially now that things seemed to have regressed on that front. Nathan had been obviously agitated when she spoke of Severus to him and sad like she hadn't thought he would be again. He'd been close to admitting something was wrong, only to tell her it was nothing. Severus, though, blatantly said there was nothing amiss, getting annoyed when she'd insisted otherwise.
When Nathan arrived that evening, Hermione offered him one more opportunity to talk about what was bothering him, to which he said, "Nothing!"
"Don't use that tone with me," Hermione answered mildly.
"I'm sorry," Nathan apologized.
"I wish you would trust me, Nathan. I won't take sides or make judgments," she insisted one last time.
"It's nothing, really!" His tone was pleading.
Hermione looked at him, measuring if insistence would help. She concluded it wouldn't, so she motioned for him to precede her out of her quarters and put an arm around his shoulders. "Come, then. Let's get going."
They walked in silence. Hermione momentarily distracted from her previous worries to focus on her sad baby. If he didn't want to tell her what had made him so upset, the only thing she could do was try to make this evening pleasant, try to see a genuine smile, hear a contented laugh.
Mother and son arrived to their destination, being welcomed by their Sunday host. Severus offered tea, to which Nathan refused immediately. Severus observed him with great intensity. Hermione watched the interaction with increasing worry. Nathan looked decisively grim with the extension of the silence, and she looked back at Severus in the hopes of some kind of explanation.
When none was offered, Hermione was prompted to say, "Severus, what is-"
"I have a potion in the making that needs my attention. If you'll excuse me; I won't be long," he said, interrupting her question and standing to leave.
Hermione could only stare and follow him with her eyes until the only thing she could see was the closed door. When she turned her attention back to her son, he was looking at her with curiosity.
"I didn't think he did that to you, too," Nathan said amused.
"Did what?" she asked.
"Walk out or send away," he explained, making a derisive gesture to the door.
"Why did you refuse the tea? That was rude of you." She changed the subject, but was still weighing what he'd said about Severus walking out on them.
"I don't want tea," he answered.
"You should at least thank him for the offer. That's not the way I brought you up," she countered.
"Don't worry, Mum. He doesn't care."
"What are you talking about?" Maybe she would be getting an explanation after all.
"I think we should leave these meetings alone." Nathan looked in her eyes to say that, his seriousness taking her aback. "They're not working."
"I thought last week had been an improvement, didn't you?" Hermione was being careful. "But something happened during the week," she voiced, finally.
"It's fine, Mum. We don't need to be best friends," Nathan said. "I know he is my father, and that's enough for me."
She frowned, her heart aching for the sadness in his voice. "How can this be enough for you, honey? I don't think you're being true to yourself." She let that sink in. "Besides, I don't think your father would agree."
"And where is he?" Nathan pointed out.
Damn you, Severus! she thought. "I know things are complicated, honey; they are not easy for any of us. But that doesn't mean we should give up," she told him.
Nathan bowed his head.
"Are you really giving up? Do you really want to wonder what could have been if you had insisted?" she added.
Nathan frowned, contemplating her words, she hoped.
"Be patient, honey. I know all we need is time," Hermione assured him, brushing his hair from his eyes and planting a kiss on his forehead. She rested her forehead against his. "Don't be sad," she said, lifting the corners of his mouth up with her thumbs and smiling at him.
Nathan was still resisting.
"If you don't smile, I'll have to tickle you, you know that," she mockingly threatened. "I'm warning you."
He remained serious, so Hermione used a finger to tease the side of his ribs. He jerked in reaction and showed a half smile before admonishing her, "Stop."
Hermione poked him again, now on the other side, smiling mischievously. He jerked again, smiling and trying to push her hands back. But he was unsuccessful, and soon Nathan was laughing like he hadn't in quite a while. Hermione laughed with him for the pure joy of seeing him relax in merry mirth. They didn't notice the door open.
Severus stood by the door, watching the scene before him with amazement. Everything was so foreign: the sound, the vision, this background…. Nothing seemed to fit, and yet it seemed right, it felt right.
"Mum!" Nathan was saying, breathless with laugher. "Stop!"
His son laughing in his living room before dinner…. Yes, it felt oddly right, and his resolve of minutes ago was completely forgotten. Severus would go on with the meetings.
Granger seemed to notice him there. "Is everything okay with your potion?" she asked, tucking in her shirt and making sure her hair was still contained in its binding. She was flushed, Severus noticed. It was an interesting sight.
"Yes," he answered, approaching the couch and taking his place on the armchair. He looked at Nathan with curious interest, noticing his discomposure with a secret delight. "I see you were not bored in my absence."
He was already comfortably settled when….
"Tell me, Severus, are you ticklish?"
The question took him off-guard. "What?" Severus stared. Her full attention was on what he would say, and it was unsettling. He was starting to feel uncomfortable under her inquisitive eyes, so he glanced at Nathan, who seemed to be amusedly interested in what his answer would be, too.
But Severus could only stare.
"Mum is ticklish almost everywhere, but especially on the feet and the sides of her belly."
Nathan's words were something else Severus wasn't expecting to hear. This whole conversation was surreal. He looked back at Granger, and she was blushing.
"My Slytherin mind will make sure to store this information." He saw her get uncomfortable, shift on her seat and, to his dismay, smile shyly.
She sobered quickly. "Anyway," Granger said, "what are you brewing? I didn't see anything in the lab."
"I started when you left," he told her, falling back into known paths with the Potions related subject. "The Wolfsbane."
"For Professor Lupin?" Nathan asked.
"I've read about what happens when a werewolf doesn't take the Wolfsbane. It's awful," Nathan commented seriously.
That was as far as the interactions between Severus and Nathan went. As for the boy's mother… she was still acting a little too comfortable around Severus for his taste. Sometimes he would forget to whom he was talking to and would find himself enjoying her conversation, much to his surprise. This had gone on and off the whole evening, and now, while they were eating their puddings, Severus realized that her behavior had always been off-putting, to say the least. Even more disturbing if the history of their relationship was taken into account.
"I thought I had seen you eating chocolate cake before. Don't you like it?" the very subject of his musings told him, proving every thought right.
Severus had decided to continue with the meetings, but some things would have to change….
"It's close to curfew," he pointed out to Nathan, ignoring her comment. "You should walk back to your common room."
"Yes, sir." The boy stood, and so did the adults.
"I'll see you on Friday, honey." Granger kissed Nathan's forehead, saying her good-byes and watching him leave to stay behind, like Severus knew she would – another habit that had to end. He crossed his arms over his chest, waiting to have her full attention.
The door had barely clicked closed, when Severus said, "What happened here today?" He wanted to hear from her what she expected to achieve with such behavior.
To Severus' dismay, she seemed confused with his question. That added to his annoyance, now bordering upon anger.
"It's a simple enough question, Granger," he insisted when all she did was look at him.
"What do you mean, Severus?"
Her dissimulation would quickly make him lose his temper. "Don't play dumb with me," he said dangerously low.
Apparently, she knew a threat when it came from him, if her change in posture was anything to consider.
"Severus," she started and took a step in his direction, "I'm not playing dumb. I really don't know what you're talking about." She took another step, but seemed to hesitate on a third. "I thought we were having a good time tonight. I was even going to point this out-"
"Point what out, Granger?" Severus interrupted her. "How inconvenient you are? How nosy you are?" He wanted to make her feel as uncomfortable as possible, to throw her out of her personal safety, just like she'd done to him all evening.
She had her mouth slightly open, but hadn't said a word.
"Finally silent, I see," Severus commented.
"I had the impression that you were enjoying the evening, Severus, but it seems I was completely mistaken." She frowned and took another step towards him, but stopped when he spoke again.
"You think that just because we share a child, you have the right to bother me with questions on matters that are none of your business?" It was his time to approach her while he spoke. "That, just because I have accepted this silly plan of yours to meet every week, you have the right to take liberties?"
She backed up a step against his advance. "Severus, I don't unders-"
"Tell me, Granger, you didn't really think we would suddenly become best friends and forget all that had happened, did you?"
"I did," she blatantly answered, meeting his eyes. "I do," she amended. It seemed like she wanted to say more, but nothing came out of her mouth.
Severus chuckled, taking another step towards her, so that she conceded another one, reaching the back of the couch. Now he was where he knew he looked most threatening.
"Nathan," he told her. "He's the reason we meet every week for these pathetic dinners."
He took another step, just to be certain, and she was trapped between him and the couch.
"I've agreed I would be part of his life." Severus inclined his face so he could speak directly into hers. "What else do you want?" he hissed.
That was when he felt it, her lips touching his. Reason told him to get out of reach, but he wasn't moving. Her warm lips stayed over his, pressed tightly. He couldn't move, he couldn't think; Severus could only be there, shocked into passivity. Her lips moved against him, he could feel it. The soft brush, the ease of the pressure on his unresponsive lips registered in his confused brain, he knew that, but couldn't do more than acknowledge it. Until her hands touched his face, making reason rush back in an electric wave, and he was free from the hypnotic effects of her earlier actions.
Severus grabbed at her wrists and put some distance between their faces. He stared at her with a frown, wishing his brain would come to his aid.
"I want you as part of my life as well," Miss Granger said in a whisper. Severus could feel her words against his moist lips.
Before he could register, she was touching again, kissing him tenderly. She… Miss Granger. Severus pushed her away, holding her firmly still. His brain finally snapped back, bringing the information his reason had been based on.
"Miss Granger," he said, and with the name came the realization of their history, of the war, of that night…. He dropped her wrists instantly and walked away, retreating from her, scowling, lifting a hand to brush his hair back.
"You've lost your mind," Severus told her. "You're completely mad." He turned to glare at her.
She met his glare without apparent hesitation, observing him with… hope? How could she…? What is wrong with you, woman? he thought, annoyed and still confused.
"I'm not out of my mind," she disagreed. "I… you…. Damn it, Severus! Why did you have to come so close?" She turned, bracing her hands against the back of the couch.
Severus' glare intensified, even if he was the only one aware of the fact. She was blaming him? "You kiss me, and I'm the one too close? You were touching me! Why the Hell did you do that?"
Before her silence could make his desire to hex her form into action, she turned to face him, and gone was her earlier hesitation. Her eyes were strong and so filled with emotions that he wanted her to look away.
"Because you made me do it; you came asking for it. I shouldn't have kissed you, but now it's done, and I'm not taking it back. This is what else I want, Severus." She gestured between them. "I want you in my life. There you have your answer."
"Have you a memory problem?" he growled, more annoyed and now angry with the witch with each minute he managed to think about the absurd situation. "Can you remember who-"
"Save your speech, Severus," she told him, and although her eyes still swam with emotion, her voice was calm and strong. "I assure you I didn't forget a thing. I know this comes as a surprise to you-"
"I have no intention of spending my words on you, insane woman!" he cut her off in the middle of her explanation. "Get out of my rooms!" he demanded.
"Severus, there is-"
"I said OUT!" His whole face trembled over that last word.
"I'm not going anywhere before you listen to me!" she countered. "Now that I've started, I'll go to the end of it!"
"I won't do-" he tried to say, but she was not having it.
"LISTEN! Just listen."
Severus crossed his arms in front of him, impatient. He told himself he didn't want nor need to listen, but he felt he wanted to know what had compelled her to do what she did.
"First of all, I'm not insane, so please stop saying that." Granger glared at him, but he sensed her uneasiness. "Second, this is not some momentary lack of… judgment on my part. Perhaps how things happened tonight was, but not what happened, and now there is no reason to deny it. You were asking, and you were very close, and I didn't know how to hold back the true answer, although I knew it would lead to this."
"Is this your idea of revenge, Granger?" Severus took advantage of her pause for a breath to ask, voicing his own version of her reasons to do what she did.
She sighed. "I knew you weren't… that you wouldn't understand right now, and I want you to understand. I have no reason to want revenge on you, much the contrary. I have only reasons to respect and admire you for all you did for me and my friends… for the whole wizarding world. What prompted me to kiss you is not a moment's impulse, either. I've been-"
"Woman!" he interrupted. "Listen to yourself! You want me to believe I never gave you reason for revenge?"
"Are you back for more, then? Do you want me to take you by the arm and throw you to the ground? Do you want me to rip your knickers from you…"
"… to undo my trousers and…"
"… cover you, invading you like a lifeless thing-"
"Stop it!" she cried. "I'm not unaffected by what happened!"
She had tears in her eyes, and Severus felt he'd gone too far. He should apologize, but he also wanted her to understand the insanity of what she was claiming to feel for him – her rapist. Before he could decide, she spoke again.
"I was taken from my friends, had my head invaded by that monster." She raised a shaky hand and brushed her hair back nervously. "They tortured me for information I didn't have. Crucio is something I don't desire even for my worst enemy, and they cursed me for what seemed an eternity." Her voice was soft with the sadness of the memory.
Severus knew well of what she was talking about and felt memories of his own invading his mind.
"When I thought dying was a pleasant option, when all my hope was gone, I heard your voice," she told him and lifted her eyes to meet his. "I knew what you would do, but I also knew why you were doing that. I didn't enjoy any of it, but neither did you. I know you didn't, Severus."
He hadn't, but a man can't do what he had done without enjoying himself at least for a moment, and he had. It was what it had taken for him to get her out of there, and he carried the burden with him every single day of his miserable life.
"You saved my life on more occasions and ways than that. You risked your life for us uncountable times." She paused and took a few steps towards him. "What I want you to understand is that I can see; I'm not fooled by the appearances of your actions. What you did was the brave choice in a difficult situation. If instead of… doing what you did had to… you, I don't know, had to cut my leg off or… curse me to free me, I know you would have, and I wouldn't be less grateful, but you would be considered a hero like those who did the same in other circumstances."
Severus simply looked at the woman in front of him, unable to ignore her arguments, but still feeling guilty for not having chosen to sacrifice himself when he should have. He was startled when she touched his hand, but didn't shy from that warm, soft touch.
"I'm sorry you had to make such a horrible choice, but I'm really, really glad you did. Thank you, Severus, I'll forever be grateful, and I wish you could forgive yourself for being a very brave Slytherin."
He stared at their hands while she said that, not trusting his emotions for the second time that evening. It was not often that he found himself confused. His introspection was interrupted by the action of her squeezing his hand.
"I hope this can help you understand why Nathan could never be a burden," she continued and let go of his hand.
She left shortly after that, and Severus followed her with his eyes, frowning with conflicted feelings. Since Hermione Granger had invaded his life for the third time, Severus had been having a battle with himself. When she was just another Muggle-born student, he knew he had to mistreat her and be indifferent to her qualities, and that was not a problem – she was not a problem – beside her connections with Potter. When they had worked together in the war, destroying Horcruxes, he had been free to admit her skills and intelligence, even the ease with which they worked together, and that might be why he was bound to save her that night. When she was back as the mother of his son, though… since then, Severus hadn't had a definite opinion about her, her actions, intentions, and now her feelings as well. The fact that she was making him question his own actions, intentions and feelings, so well cemented in him before, made his head ache.
The way his mind was insisting his skin remember her touch was not helping, either. How could he let himself be caught like this? And by her, no less...
"You should be more careful, Granger," Malfoy said with disdain after practically walking over Nathan, knocking him to the dungeon's stone floor.
Nathan stood quickly and shoved at Malfoy's chest, making the blond take a few steps back to maintain his balance.
Malfoy pushed him back. "What's wrong with you? Just because you're suddenly related to Professor Snape doesn't mean you have reign of the dungeons."
"I've had enough of you, Malfoy!" Nathan answered and pushed the Slytherin again, only this time Malfoy was ready, and the fight didn't escalate to actual punches because a deep voice snarled from the end of the corridor.
"What's happening here?"
They separated, but continued to glare at one another. Professor Snape was upon them in a beat.
"I thought that I had been clear last time!" He was visibly annoyed. "This Muggle behavior won't be tolerated!" Professor Snape faced Nathan and Malfoy in time. "Twenty points from Gryffindor, and another twenty from Slytherin!"
Nathan was used to having points taken by Professor Snape and enjoyed Malfoy's expression of disbelief. His amusement was only short-lived as he heard his father growl, "Follow me."
He took his book bag from the floor and obeyed, walking the dungeon's halls beside Malfoy to Professor Snape's office. They entered and waited until the professor turned to address them again.
"I don't know, and I don't even want to know, why you were fighting like two Muggles in the halls again. What I want is to make clear that this stops now! Any question?"
"Uncle Severus, I didn't do anything to him. He wasn't looking where-"
"Devon, have you listened to anything I've just said? I'm not interested!" Professor Snape cut off Malfoy's words, and Nathan was very aware of the familiarity in the way they addressed each other. "Do I make myself clear this time?"
"Yes," Malfoy answered, lowering his eyes to his shoes.
Nathan was observing everything very carefully.
"Very well. Just keep in mind that I won't even remember who you are if this happens again." His father finally turned his attention from Malfoy to him. "Do I have to repeat myself, Mr. Granger?"
"No, sir," Nathan answered meekly, feeling the formality cut like a sharp knife. He didn't have the urge to argue after how domestic this all sounded between Malfoy and his father. This felt like everything Malfoy ever said was true, and Nathan hated it.
There was silence for a moment until Professor Snape seemed satisfied. He bypassed the desk and sat behind it. Nathan knew that to mean they were dismissed, but he didn't move; he wouldn't leave before Malfoy. "What are you waiting for? Written permission to leave? Move!"
Malfoy turned to the door, and before following him, Nathan met his father's eyes, but found nothing there besides annoyance. He suppressed a disappointed sigh and left. Disappointment turned quickly into anger when Malfoy was waiting for him outside.
"Not even a detention…. You're lower in his regard than I thought," the Slytherin taunted amused.
"He took twenty points from you," Nathan countered, feeling stupid for even using that as an argument, but he couldn't let Malfoy get out of it without at least one attempt at fighting back. Nathan refused to let the pain of his father's indifference show.
"The same twenty he took from you." Malfoy smirked, knowing that there was no argument left for Nathan. "Watch where you go; the dungeons can be a dangerous place for distracted Gryffindors."
"Let's meet somewhere else, then?" Nathan challenged, walking closer to the Slytherin so his voice wouldn't arrive to his father's ears just behind the door.
"What makes you think that it'll change anything?" Malfoy scoffed. "You don't belong here in Uncle Severus' life, Granger, something I can tell you here or anywhere else."
"I want to see you prove your empty words, Malfoy." Nathan lowered his voice even more in his anger.
A loud noise from Professor Snape's office startled them; it seemed that the man was coming out. Malfoy didn't wait to see that confirmed and left along the way to the Slytherin common room. Nathan didn't want to meet his father, either, and fled quickly towards the Entrance Hall.
Nathan managed to keep out of his father's and Malfoy's way until, on Wednesday, Professor Snape looked for him in the Great Hall during lunch.
"Mr. Granger," Nathan turned to meet the man he'd been avoiding, "I don't have time for a meeting tonight, so I'm canceling it." With no more than that, he strode for the doors, scowling at the world.
He canceled our meeting? Nathan's head was rushing, looking for reasons. This was the last rock over his oppressed heart. He's keeping me away.
"Snape is not in his best of moods this week. He's given so many detentions that they're starting to look like a group activity," Nathan heard a fifth-year sitting a few feet away saying while his father left the Great Hall. The group of older Gryffindors laughed at the joke, but Nathan still couldn't understand what was so funny about it.
"Finally a free Wednesday with us," Kevin commented. "We could explore the fifth floor. We know for sure that Snape won't be catching us out after curfew, being so busy as he is." His friend smiled mischievously.
"Yeah, maybe," Nathan said disheartened. Somehow, he didn't want a free evening. Well, he did, but not like this, and when he was almost sure Professor Snape was avoiding him because he was… boring? Annoying?
They left for the afternoon classes, and not even the reassurance of his friends was making his most pessimistic assumptions go away, and Nathan was trying to replace them by the few optimistic ones he got. Andy tried to help.
"He has detentions to supervise," his friend had told him before they started eating dinner and Nathan's clear disappointment at the vacant seat by the High Table was disguised.
"So I've heard," Nathan answered dismissively.
"Do you think he's busy with something else?" Andy insisted.
Nathan shrugged and filled his mouth with pie. He didn't want to talk about it any more. They ate in relative silence; the full day affecting more than only Nathan – Charms had been very demanding that afternoon.
When he thought his day would soon be over, he heard Malfoy. "I've heard Professor Snape exchanged your company for detentions," he provoked. "Well, it doesn't surprise me," Malfoy added.
"I'm not interested in your stupid comments, Malfoy."
"This definitely proves my theory of your unworthiness, I think there is no doubt of that now," Malfoy continued, making a show for his Slytherin audience. "But if you're still not convinced, because, well, you're a Gryffindor," that called for some attention along the table, "you can meet me in the library later, since you're obviously free this evening, and I can make it all clear, even for a lesser Gryffindor like you."
"Watch your words, Malfoy," Kevin threatened, rising from his seat to emphasize his intentions.
"Just tell me where and when," Nathan said, ignoring the others rising for the defense of Gryffindor.
"I'll find you there, when we'll discuss the details," Malfoy turned and left, some Gryffindors still defending their House to his back.
"How dare him come here and say things like that?" Kevin said outraged. "Who does he think he is?"
"He's just a stupid Slytherin. You won't go, will you?" Andy asked Nathan.
"Of course I will," Nathan confirmed seriously.
"We will," amended Kevin. "That snob needs a lesson or two."
"Nathan, you shouldn't go. What would Professor Lupin say about it? What would Professor Snape?" Andy insisted.
"This is between Malfoy and I, and it's gone far enough. If he thinks he can prove I'm not worthy of my father, then I want to see him do it." Nathan was stronger in his words than he was in his emotions. He was starting to think Malfoy was right, and maybe, if the Slytherin proved it, Nathan could let go of this whole father thing once and for all.
Except, he didn't want to let go. Nathan didn't want Malfoy to be right. He shoved aside those thoughts and simply headed for the library. It was stupid, Andy was right, but Nathan had to do it. Kevin followed, of course, and so did Andy, even against his better judgment.
They didn't have to wait too long for Malfoy to show up. He had his usual followers with him. They stopped by the entrance of the Restricted Section, and Nathan went to meet them, Andy and Kevin on either side of him.
"I see you brought an audience with you," Malfoy said to Nathan.
"So did you." Kevin anticipated any answer Nathan could have to that.
"To the point, Malfoy," Nathan said while the animosity escalated between the groups glaring at one another.
"Go into the Restricted Section and bring us a Dark Arts book," Malfoy dared him.
"Nathan, don't do it. We shouldn't go into the Restricted Section, least of all to get a Dark Arts book. Madam Pince will catch you, and you'll be in deep trouble," Andy was saying urgently on his left.
"Well…?" Malfoy pressed for an answer.
"I'll do it," Nathan answered, holding his head high to the dare and ignoring reason.
"What does it prove, Nathan? Nothing!" Andy was still trying to advice him against it.
If Nathan were thinking, he would have agreed with Andy. Entering the Restricted Section to get a book hardly proved anything, but it apparently did for Malfoy. Right now, that was incentive enough.
Nathan walked to the doors that led to the forbidden portion of the library, leaving his friends and foes outside. He always wondered what was really behind those doors, and now he was there, wand lit in his hand, observing his surroundings.
At first, he didn't notice anything different, but as he advanced, walking further away from the doors, he could feel something heavy in the air. What was only a sensation became more real when Nathan heard a muffled scream. He stopped and looked around, expecting to find someone there, right behind him. His heart was beating faster, and he didn't want to stay there much longer. Perhaps this wasn't such a silly test after all.
Nathan forced himself to approach the shelves. The spines of the books betrayed how old and obscure they were; some showed a title there, others nothing but a symbol, others yet not even that. Many of the books were written in languages Nathan couldn't understand.
An agonized whimper came to his ears, and Nathan turned startled again, looking for its source. A book moved on the upper shelves, calling his attention to it, making Nathan step back and hit the books behind him. Something definitely not human growled in response.
It was time to get some book – any book – and get out of there. Nathan reached for the first tome he could catch and walked quickly away from the screams and grunts of the books. Only when he felt he was safe enough, did he think to look if the book he held met the requirements of Malfoy's dare.
Anima Codex, he read. His elementary Latin translated it into Decoding Souls. Well, any magic with souls was Dark, so it would do. Nathan emerged in the main hall of the library to find only his friends there.
"He went to fetch Madam Pince, the scum," Kevin cursed. "What took you so long?"
"Come on, we need to get out of here before they come back!" Andy urged, taking Nathan by the sleeve of his robes.
Irrationally, Nathan wanted to stay and show the book to Malfoy, to shove it on his face and prove that…. Prove what? It didn't prove anything…. Damn! Malfoy set him up, and Nathan was so lost in his internal struggle that he didn't even notice!
Going inside the Restricted Section only served to prove what a dunderhead he was. Stupid! Stupid! What was I thinking? Nathan thought while he followed automatically after his friends towards Gryffindor's common room. He ran into Kevin when he stopped by the Fat Lady, so distracted by his musings he was.
"Sorry," Nathan apologized.
Kevin mumbled an answer and exchanged a look with Andy, Nathan noticed. He sighed.
"I was distracted, okay?" Nathan added annoyed and barked the password, storming into the common room and straight to the upstairs dormitory. He was relieved when no one followed him, and Nathan crashed on his bed, tired of feeling miserable. Tomorrow was his birthday, and he was sure no one remembered or cared – his father, the least.
What went wrong? What gods had he insulted to deserve this? Nathan turned in the mattress, burying his face in the pillow. I won't cry, I won't! He shouldn't spend another tear on this. He turned again to face the crimson curtains and felt something beneath his back – the book bag he'd thrown on the bed before collapsing on it.
Nathan sat down, took his shoes off and opened his bag, fishing for the book he'd shoved there while fleeing from the library. There it was; Anima Codex. He put his book bag out of the way and sat cross-legged with the Dark book in his hands. Nathan didn't know why he was doing it, only that he was.
He went through the first chapter with increasing interest. It was an ancient book, but the difficult English didn't deter him. Learning about souls was very interesting and absorbing, just what Nathan needed right now. He advanced through the book, going through the theories of a soul's origins, its ethereal consistency and attachment to a body, despite its independence of being, needing more and more space in his mind and arranging it where before his frustrations and disappointments with his father, mother, Uncle Harry and Professor Lupin, as well as his hatred for Malfoy, lurked.
His friends had come and gone to sleep hours ago, and Nathan was still captivated by the forbidden book. No one had seen him with it, he'd been careful; Nathan didn't want to hear he wasn't supposed to be reading it, especially now that it was getting really interesting. There were potions that affected the soul directly, for good and for bad, spells that would bind souls or release them, and even mentions of the existence of Horcruxes and what they were, like Nathan had heard in many accountings of the war.
Some of potions were complicated even to understand the recipe, never mind actually brewing them. Nathan wondered if Professor Snape would be able to do it and then remembered he didn't care about Professor Snape. Some of the spells were as hard as many of the potions, but others seemed easy enough. Resting his eyes on one of the spells of the latest kind, Nathan started to wonder if he could cast it.
This particular spell seemed inoffensive enough, and Nathan felt an urge to try. Certainly, freeing one's soul in an experience of astral projection couldn't be harmful. He wouldn't be casting it on anyone but himself. Nathan thought about the consequences of such a thing and couldn't find a reason not to try. It would be fun! He wanted some fun!
Nathan practiced the wand motion thinking twice about casting the spell. Every minute that passed, he grew more confident, and thinking about not doing it seemed silly, stupid even. He could do it, and that would prove to him that all they said and thought of him was wrong. Another few repetitions of the easy wand motion cemented his resolve.
Very softly, he read and reread the spell, learning the words he would have to chant. Nathan would do it because he could, because no one was there to tell him he couldn't. Taking a deep breath, Nathan waved his wand while speaking the spell, and tapped at his third eye. He felt a dizziness that soon receded. Nathan looked down and saw his legs there, still a very solid mass of flesh and bones, and was starting to think he had failed when he glanced back and saw his upper body lying on the bed.
Nathan widened his eyes, although the real eyes didn't move, remaining closed. He stood up, and the body – his body – was still on the mattress. He finally thought to look down his ethereal self, and his eyes widened again, accompanied by a gasp – Nathan could see through himself, as if he was one of the ghosts of the castle.
The shock of his success eventually wore off, and Nathan grinned, looking about his other self peacefully sleeping while his soul was very awake. This could be very useful! He would be able to go places and have the perfect alibi – his body in a bed. So many possibilities….
Now he needed some real sleep, though. This occurrence had lifted his spirit, literally and figuratively, and he felt ready to face his birthday on his own in the morning. Nathan spoke the spell that would take his soul back to his body and closed his eyes, waiting some unpleasant sensation that would accompany the reattachment. When he felt nothing, Nathan opened his eyes and was faced by the sight of himself in the bed like before. The spell hadn't worked.
Nathan chanted the words carefully again and opened his eyes to the same scenario. A third try and nothing happened, either. Nathan was starting to worry. A few more tries, and not a change – Nathan's essence was still no nearer to getting back into his body. He started to attempt variations of the same spell, getting closer to his resting self, trying to touch it as he chanted, and nothing, nothing, nothing… nothing.
He was in a panic after an hour of frustrated attempts to be whole again.
A/N: That's it. I hope things are more interesting now. She kissed him, and Nathan is in trouble. Severus is not a lucky wizard, or is he? ;0)
JuneW has asked for the necklace colors and their meaning. Here you are, sort of. It's only a guide I follow. :0)
Blue: calm, cold, formal, spiritual, pure, truthful, depressing
Orange: exhilarating, cheerful, lively'
Red: aggressive, passionate, bloody, angry, strong
Yellow: cheerful, happy, youthful, cowardly,
Pink: fanciful, romantic
Green: youthful, eternal, reborn, jealous
Soft green: restful, soothing, tranquil
Purple: mournful, mystic, regal
Grey: neutral, depressing, negative, somber
Brown: earthy, common, poverty-stricken
Black: melancholic, tragic, gloomy, death-like
White: truthful, pure, chaste, innocent, peaceful
Now, I need to thank one more time my incredible betas, Indygofeathers and GinnyW, for their terrific work. Thank you!
You know I'm always curious for your opinion on my chapters. If you have some time, leave me a review. :0)
Coming next… Nathan is locked outside his body, worrying his parents.