As per usual, I do not own these characters. The situation, however, is universal.
Out of Place
We were to meet them tonight.
Henry, my husband, and I had forgotten about it until the phone call to our office three hours prior to our only daughter arriving with her new beau. Hermione, bless her, called in advance to ask if we would like her to bring anything, and it was only then that I remembered that we were to meet the young man who had, as she put it, 'deftly captured her heart.' Our receptionist handed the phone to me across the counter, and I closed my eyes, trying to remember why she might be calling. When she asked the fateful question, I panicked and found myself making a long, drawn out "ahhh" noise over the phone and slouching over the counter, holding up my head with one hand and the receiver of the phone with the other.
"Would you like me to pick up some curry on the way? I'm sure Severus wouldn't mind stopping," she said with a resigned sigh in her voice.
I got my bearings then and straightened. "Don't be ridiculous, dear. If you could pick up a bottle of wine, that would be lovely."
"Red or white?"
"White. Maybe a chardonnay. Nothing too dry." The words poured out of my mouth before I could stop them, or even consider what I would make that would go with a chardonnay, not too dry.
"Anything else? Are we still on for seven?"
"I'll see you then, mum." There was a pause in which I didn't hear the telltale click of a receiver hitting a cradle. I clenched the phone, waiting for something more. "I love you," she said.
"I love you, too, dear."
I handed the phone back to the receptionist who traded it for a piece of paper. "What's this?" I asked.
"The shopping list for a meal to pair with the wine your daughter is bringing. Recipe for the chicken is on the back."
I flipped the sheet over, and sure enough, there was a recipe for a baked chicken with rosemary and dill that looked simplistic enough for even a child to follow. My cooking skills, or lack thereof, are near legendary. "Your last patient for the day has been given to your husband. You'll get the best price on chicken at the little market at the north end of the street."
I grabbed my coat, poking my head into Henry's office on my way out. "We're having dinner with Hermione and her beau tonight. I'm picking up a chicken on the way home."
Henry looked abashed – he hadn't remembered, either – but recovered quickly. "Are we planning on having a burnt sacrifice?"
"Ha-ha. I'll see you when you get home."
With a wave goodbye and thanks to the receptionist on the way out the door, I left, wondering if minced garlic was something that could be bought pre-minced.
Three and a half hours later, on the nose, a knock came at the door. I handed Henry, who had been looking over my shoulder, the spoon to stir the vegetables in their pot, and hurried to the door, wiping my hands on my apron. I flung the door open, ready to greet my daughter and her boyfriend, and found my daughter, dressed in a sharp blue suit, with a man who looked close to my age.
"Mum, this is Severus. Severus, this is my mum, Helena."
I stared. I couldn't help it. I searched around, hoping that maybe this was a joke; that perhaps the real Severus was standing behind this tall, unbending man, that this was all part of an elaborate practical joke. Maybe I simply hadn't turned the porch light on, and it was an illusion. Yes! That had to be it. My daughter was a witch, this man in his black suit and black wool overcoat that looked slightly out of place was a wizard, and this was a joke. I relaxed slightly, willing to play along for the moment.
"Mum!" Hermione hissed. I jumped and could feel myself blush.
"I'm terribly sorry. I've forgotten my manners. Please, come in. May I take your coat?"
I ushered Hermione and Severus inside, turned the porch light on for good measure. The man, silent and stoic, put his coat into my waiting arms. Inside, in the warm light of the entryway, the illusion did not appear to be lifting. If anything, he seemed more real, solid, and… dangerous than he did as a shadowy figure on the porch. Black eyes glittered over a hawkish nose, pinning me like a raptor's prey. Next to him, Hermione was as small and delicate as a rabbit, her hair twisted into a messy bun and secured with a chopstick. She grinned at me, as if daring me to say anything.
"Henry, the kids are here," I called, and then winced. "Go on into the kitchen. We don't stand on high formality here," I said, willing my voice to stop being so bloody bright. It sounded forced, even to me.
As they turned towards the kitchen, I sagged against the doorframe, holding the coat, a relic of decades gone by, but still in beautiful condition. It smelled of spice and man. Not the coat of a child, or even a young man. Hanging it in the closet, I followed them into the kitchen, where Henry was still staring at our visitor when I arrived. In the bright, harsh light of the kitchen, it was obvious that he was a very ugly man. All nose and greasy hair, sallow skin and sunken eyes. A scar on the underside of his jaw ran down his neck, disappearing into the collar of his dark green shirt.
"Hermione, you've introduced your… friend?" I couldn't quite do it. I couldn't say that this man was my little girl's boyfriend.
"Yes, Mum. Here, we've brought the wine. Is that dill I smell?" she asked with false cheer. She handed the wine to Henry and lifted the pot lid to give the vegetables an expert stir. Severus was left standing at the door of the kitchen, impossibly tall and thin, and terribly out of place in our normal – Muggle, I corrected myself silently – household. Hermione was aware of the discomfort, we were aware of the discomfort, but the four of us were doing our best to ignore it.
"Severus, come here and give this a smell. What does it need?" The tall, dark-eyed man obediently followed Hermione's command, and I had a sudden inkling that he did not generally take commands well. He bent over the pot, however, brushing his hair behind an overlarge ear with a long-fingered hand, a hand that should play the piano. Taking the spoon in hand, he ladled out a bit of carrot, brought it to his nose, then his lips. He snorted, straightened, and for a moment I was about to take offense before I realized that my cooking needed all the help it could get.
"Sage," he said succinctly. "It needs sage to round it out. Have you any fresh?" He addressed the question to Henry and me, but I couldn't respond immediately. It was the first time I'd actually heard his voice, and it was like velvet, silky and smooth. It was a voice that women would fall over themselves for, and I caught, for a moment, why Hermione would be interested in someone twice her age.
Henry elbowed me. "Oh, ah, no. I think there's a jar of dried in the cupboard above the stove, though."
Hermione retrieved the jar after briefly rummaging. She handed it down to Severus, who tapped some into the palm of his hand, then crushed it between his fingers, sprinkling it over the vegetables. I watched his hands, preferring that sight to the arm of my daughter snaking around his waist.
The best thing that could be said about our meal was that the food was not an unadulterated disaster. The vegetables were excellent, and the chicken, true to form, was what some would call burnt, but what I, delusively, preferred to call Cajun. Henry sat at the head of the table, I at the foot, with Hermione and Severus across from each other. The first portion of the meal was silent, except for the sounds of mastication.
"Severus, what do you do? For a living, I mean," I said, looking for any sort of reprieve from the silence.
He looked at me measuredly. "At present, I am not employed."
Hermione jumped in, no doubt seeing the glance I was exchanging with Henry. "Severus takes research contracts, and he is between contracts."
"And what kind of research do you do?" Henry asked, gamely wading into the fray.
"Potions. That sounds… exciting," I said. "You always received excellent marks in Potions, didn't you, Hermione?"
"I believe that Hermione received excellent marks in all her classes, Mrs. Granger." He looked at me with cold, unreadable eyes. I shivered in spite of myself.
"Please, call me Helena. And yes, our Hermione was always an excellent student."
Severus looked as if he were about to say something, but evidently thought better of it. We lapsed into silence again, broken only by the scraping of cutlery on plates. Henry and I stared openly at our dinner guest, and I could only make a guess at Henry's thoughts. Mine were not charitable.
"I'm thinking of moving back to London," Hermione said, still gazing at her plate.
"Really? Oh, how lovely. It will be nice to have you closer to home. Won't it, dear?" I looked at Henry to agree with me, which he did by nodding enthusiastically.
"Yes; yes, it will be. But weren't you saying that it would be difficult to afford a flat on your own with what the Ministry's paying you?"
I caught the glance that Hermione and Severus shared. I closed my eyes, took a swig of the wine. Here it came.
"Actually, Severus and I are planning to get the flat together."
I heard, rather than saw, Henry's knife drop to his plate with a deafening clatter. I opened my eyes again just in time to see him drop his napkin on his plate before he asked the fateful question: "So, just how old are you, precisely, Severus?"
Hermione coughed on her chicken, and I barely swallowed the wine that was in my mouth. Severus calmly finished chewing, set his fork and knife down on his plate with deliberate care, and delicately dabbed at the corners of his mouth with a napkin.
"I realize that the obvious difference in our ages must be something of a shock to you; however, I must inform you that it is my intention to marry your daughter, regardless of your potential dissent." His voice was soft, almost impassive, but a look to his countenance proved that no one was, or had ever been, more sincere.
Henry's face turned red and I could feel the heat rising in my own face. "What?" we said in unison.
Hermione reached across the table for Severus' hand. He looked surprised for a moment, then joined his hand with hers, their fingers intertwining.
"It is not uncommon for the age difference between a witch and a wizard to be more than forty years," my daughter said unhelpfully. "A mere twenty is nothing."
Henry looked like he had been hit in the head with a hammer. Strange sputtering noises were being emitted from his mouth, and I was terrified that he would drop dead in his chicken.
"Sir, Madam," Severus started, pursed his lips as if thinking over his words before continuing. "We are adults, and this was a decision that we came to together. I assure you that it's not one that we have entered into lightly."
Henry stood suddenly. "I need to take a walk," he announced, and left the table. I heard the door slam in the front of the house.
Hermione looked down at her half eaten meal, and Severus regarded me emotionlessly.
"I'm sorry," I apologized. "This is a little difficult to comprehend."
"I fail to see what is difficult to understand." His voice turned crisp and lecturing. "Your daughter and I love each other. I asked her to marry me. She consented. We are now here to determine whether you will give us your blessing or not; however, our nuptials will occur with or without it."
I felt like I was twelve years old, being lectured by a teacher. I looked to Hermione, who gave me a rueful smile.
"Do you really love him?" I asked.
"Yes, I really do, Mum. I can't imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else."
They left soon after, and Hermione asked that I give her dad a kiss for her. Severus never quite lost the feeling of being vaguely out of place, and I saw many uncomfortable Christmases in our future.
Henry returned around midnight. I had gone to bed, although I was still awake and reading when he wandered in with the same air of being slightly out of place that Severus had had all evening.
"We can't let this happen," he said without preamble as he took off his shirt and let it fall into the basket. I didn't ask what he meant.
"Of course we can. We leave them be, allow them their privacy, and invite them to dinner every now and again."
"She's a baby! He's twenty years her senior!" he protested.
I thought of how many of our colleagues over the years had married much younger women. Henry had congratulated them on finding themselves such catches. Among them, a twenty year age difference wasn't thought of as being insurmountable.
"She's twenty-six. She's not a child any more than we were when we got married. And she seems… happy."
Henry paused at that. "She did seem happy, didn't she?" He sat down on his side of the bed, began stripping off his socks.
I marked my page with my thumb and reached for his hand, which put me in mind of the gesture that Hermione and Severus had shared. "She is. They are. And I wouldn't wish them any ill if they really think that they will be happy together."
Henry lay back, and I set aside my book to curl up next to him, spooning as we had done years ago in our youth. He put a comforting arm around my waist and pulled me closer, kissed my hair before settling himself. His breath evened and a soft snore started, matching the rise and fall of his chest against my back.
I wondered if Hermione had gone home (as our house had not been home for her in a long time), if Severus was with her even now. Would they be as happy in thirty years as they were now? Henry and I had managed it, but we were not normal by far in that regard. There wasn't a lot to recommend Severus to us – he seemed lacking in social graces and appearance, but I would swear that he loved our Hermione fiercely. Perhaps there wasn't much that we could see in him, but our daughter obviously did. And right now, it was enough for me.
A/N: Big thanks to Cecelle for all her work on this. If you haven't read any of her work, go now and read, especially 'Mist and Vapor'. It is a fantastic story.