Chapter 19: Moving On
Caldwell Pharmaceutical Potions, Ltd.
12 Beet Street
Dear Mr. Snow:
We at Caldwell Pharmaceuticals are pleased to inform you that the insect repellant 'Bugaway' (naming rights reserved, CPP Ltd., 2013) has been warmly received by dealers throughout Canada, with advance sales surpassing our preliminary expectations. It is with great delight that we announce our intent to begin marketing 'Bugaway' in the United States, and are investigating the possibility of branching out to the Southern Hemisphere.
In accordance with the contract that you signed last August (6 August, 2013), we are enclosing a bank draft for your earnings year-to-date.
Chief of Development
Caldwell Pharmaceutical Potions, Ltd.
A full year had passed since Hermione Granger had first turned up on Snape's doorstep, a year of such sweeping change that had Severus known that first day where events would lead, he would probably have run screaming from the cabin. And yet, he conceded, such a blanket statement was unfair to Hermione. Snape would not have run due to fear, certainly.
He would have run out of genuine shock.
What amazed Severus the most, however, was that a year later the two of them were still in love. The close quarters of the cabin – especially during the long winter – had not jeopardized their relationship one whit. He had not tired of waking in the morning to find Hermione's curly hair tickling his nose, nor had he grown weary of the way she never seemed to return from Trapper's Bay without a dozen books from the Muggle lending library. At Christmastime, when Hermione talked about decorating a tree, Severus had balked, thinking of Albus Dumbledore's Yuletide extravagance. As it turned out, her idea was to hang animal treats on a pine tree visible from the cabin's living room. Snape had stood at the sliding glass doors to the deck, watching skeptically as Hermione hung orange peels, cranberries, and bread scraps on tree limbs. And when she had finished, there was a parade of wild creatures coming to visit for days on end.
"We'll have animals showing up for weeks because they know we'll feed them," he pointed out, a dour expression on his face.
Hermione had scoffed at this. "It's Christmas, Severus. It's about giving. Are a few scraps of food going to disrupt the balance of nature in this area?"
In the end, he had to admit that the pleasure he derived from watching Hermione earnestly putting out her treats – followed by a North Woods menagerie plucking tidbits from the tree - was well worth it. It also begged the question of Christmas presents, and Severus was at a complete loss.
"Did you want to exchange gifts?" he'd asked carefully.
"I don't know." Hermione looked thoughtful. "I don't really need anything, living out here. Is there something that you would like?"
Thirteen years of virtual seclusion had left Snape completely unaccustomed to wanting, and they finally decided to forgo exchanging presents. And yet, when Christmas morning came around, Severus found a new fishing rod waiting for him, adorned with a plaque that read 'S.S.'.
"Thank you, but you needn't have." He had never been comfortable receiving presents, yet by now he knew better than to hurt Hermione's feelings.
"I know I needn't have. But now that you have your own rod and reel, you won't have to use Lawford's any longer." Hermione looked utterly pleased with herself.
"Then you won't object if I give you this." Snape pulled a present from under the sofa and handed it to her.
Hermione knew at once that it was a book. She tugged the wrappings off and found a cookery book of favorite Ojibwa recipes from the region.
"Severus, it's wonderful! We'll have all sorts of new dishes to try."
Amazingly enough, Severus thought, Hermione had not tired of him. She was still there, still eagerly sharing his life and showing no inclination whatsoever to move on. Hermione was either horribly misguided (and Snape knew for a fact that she was not), or else he had not botched up this love business too badly.
He had even, against his better judgment, allowed Hermione to drag him to Saturday night bingo in Trapper's Bay
"You know these people," Hermione had insisted. "You trade with them all the time. It's not as if you'd be walking into a roomful of strangers."
"The tobacco smoke is suffocating," Severus pointed out, scowling. "Your clothes will reek when you leave the building."
"All you need is a simply charm to protect your clothing."
"There's no charm to protect my lungs."
"Just once?" Hermione wheedled. "Come on, Severus, what do you have to lose?"
"My ability to breathe," Snape muttered. But in the end, he agreed to go along one time, and one time only.
It was a cold, snowy February night, and the miracle was that no one asked how they'd made it to town. Neola of the general store, who had put two and two together months earlier and concluded that Sebastian Snow had lied about finding a woman, was astonished to see the pair walk in.
"Snow! Miss Hermione finally talked you into coming to Bingo!"
Severus had merely glared at her while Hermione paid the kitty and collected their bingo cards. He would have preferred to sit and let Hermione handle the game itself, but she would have none of it. As a result, Snape ended up winning a handmade quilt and fifty dollars, much to Hermione's delight.
"Admit it," she coaxed after they'd returned home, "you enjoyed yourself tonight."
"It was a diversion," Severus grunted, trying to catch of whiff of lingering tobacco smoke on his clothing in order to complain about it. "Frankly, I preferred going to the concerts with Albus."
"Concerts with Albus?" Hermione echoed questioningly. "What concerts?"
Snape wondered if he could be humiliated any further that evening. "Albus loved chamber music. We went regularly to hear to the Aberdeen Classical Chamber Quartet."
Hermione's jaw dropped. "You did?"
Severus looked only slightly mortified now. "We had season tickets," he muttered.
They had gone back to the bingo game on three other occasions, but never with the same success. Still, Snape suspected that Hermione considered their outings to be highly successful simply because she'd dragged him out of the cabin.
The ultimate lesson that Severus had learned in the past year, however, was not about graciously accepting gifts, agreeing to attend bingo games, or even sharing a home with someone else. It was the discovery that his heart was so exposed, leaving him open to – well, everything, that took his breath away. There was no keeping love on his terms or holding it at arms' length. On more than one occasion during the past year, Severus swore that he'd felt more vulnerable than at any time in his life – and that included half a dozen occasions when he knelt in front of Voldemort, desperately practicing his Occlumency to keep the Order's secrets safe. The ultimate realization that Hermione wasn't going to take his heart and tear it into little shreds gave Severus the nerve to bring up the subject of marriage.
"I would like very much to commit myself to you formally," he told a stunned Hermione one evening as they sat on the deck. "You needn't answer now, of course. And regardless of what's passed between us this year, I would still understand if you chose to laugh in my face and walk out the door. I just want you to know that I don't view our relationship lightly."
"Severus…" Hermione looked as though she'd been struck on the head with a large rock. "Are you certain? I wouldn't think that you – I mean, making a commitment is terribly permanent, -"
"You don't wish to make a permanent commitment?" he asked carefully. This was an unexpected development, he thought.
"No, I do!" she protested at once. "It's just that I never thought it was something that you would want."
Snape considered this. "I never sought it until now. I suppose that's because the right opportunity never came along before."
"Oh. I – well, I – yes!" Hermione stammered, her facing lighting up.
"What?" He stared at her blankly.
"Yes. I'll – " She broke off, her brows furrowing into a sudden frown. "We are talking about marriage here, aren't we?"
"Of course. Didn't I say – ?"
"You said 'commit formally', so I assumed – "
"Well, marriage, yes. That's what I meant." Severus had no intention of splitting hairs at this point.
A smile was tugging at the corners of Hermione's mouth. "Were you going to ask me, then?"
"I thought I just did."
"No, you said that would like to commit yourself to me formally."
He wanted to snarl that he wasn't going to play word games, and ask, Was she was going to marry him or not? Instead, Severus tried to don the most pleasant expression he could manage.
"Hermione," he said with exaggerated patience, "would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
That brought the feminine explosion: Hermione jumping from her seat to kiss him, tears springing up from nowhere, uttering a few squeals of unadulterated joy. It crossed Snape's mind to be appalled, then it occurred to him that he – the famed Greasy Git of Hogwarts – actually had the ability to make someone excruciatingly happy. It was something of a revelation.
Days later, at a regional Wizarding Ministry Office, Severus and Hermione were married in a two minute ceremony that was comprised largely of signing papers and reviewing the legal rights of married wizards in the Canadian provinces. There were no guests, no friends, no formalities. Afterwards, the two went to lunch and from there, back to the cabin to go fishing.
The reason that Severus now stood in the kitchen, preparing a salad with a precision born of years of potions preparation, was directly related to the announcement of their marriage. He supposed that it was inevitable that guests visit to offer their congratulations, but this could hardly be called a pleasant occasion. And then Snape heard the sharp popping noise that accompanied Apparition, and his jaws clenched immediately.
Through the open kitchen window, Severus could see the dratted Boy-Who-Lived greeting Hermione with an enthusiastic hug. This was the downside of being married to Hermione, of course: he was no freer of Potters and Weasleys than he had ever been. On the upside, they all lived very far away, so it wasn't as though they'd be camping out on his doorstep at regular intervals.
Snape sighed. During the preceding days, Hermione hadn't once asked him to behave properly during Potter's visit, even though he'd been expecting such a diatribe. Instead, she had constantly reminded him that their guest would be staying a mere two or three hours, the unspoken implication being that he could surely tolerate Harry for that length of time. Potter was coming to Canada on a matter relating to his job in Magical Law Enforcement, and that was a plus; at least, Severus thought, he would not be required to entertain the entire family. All things considered, he concluded that a few hours of Harry Potter's presence was a reasonably small price to pay for the pleasure of being married to Hermione.
And now, it was time to pay the piper. Snape washed and dried his hands, straightened his shirt and walked outside to greet the new arrival.
The person he least wanted to see in the world ever again stood at the foot of the small front porch, hugging Hermione and saying how happy he was to be there. Then Hermione spotted Severus and extricated herself from Potter's embrace. Her expression – hopeful, happy, anxious – spoke volumes.
Harry followed her gaze.
Snape descended the steps slowly, studying Potter with caution. The boy – no, the man, he reminded himself - looked much the same, just older. He also looked quite out of place here in his wizard's robes. Aware that Hermione was watching with thinly-veiled anxiety, Severus extended his hand.
"Mr. Potter," he said, his voice carefully neutral.
"Mr. Snape." Harry matched him tone for tone as he reached out to respond to the proffered hand.
Two old enemies, scrutinizing each other with the utmost care, silently looking for weak spots and shreds of advantage. The green eyes were fixed intently on Snape, and Severus had to remind himself that this meeting was less about past grievances and more about whether he was being a good husband to Hermione. Under any other circumstances, he would have already been fingering his wand.
"Thank you for joining us today. You may wish to discard your robes. We're rather informal in this part of the North Woods."
"This is certainly a beautiful place," Harry commented.
"I knew you'd like it." Beaming, Hermione responded before Snape could answer. "Let me take you down to the lake. And I'll show you the lab and the garden, too."
"We put in a garden this spring. Vegetables and some fruit, along with the herbs we need for potions. We're going to freeze or preserve what we can, so we'll have good homegrown food all winter."
Harry gave her an odd look, as if to say, This is what happened to the smartest student in our year? For the first time, Severus felt as though he definitely had the upper hand: Potter might have been Hermione's best friend for a long time, yet no one knew her better right now than Snape himself.
"I'll finish the preparations while you lead the tour," Severus told Hermione.
"All right," she said cheerfully, taking Harry's arm and tugging him toward the path leading to the lake.
Snape returned to his kitchen duties, thinking that Hermione should be very pleased that neither he nor Potter had lunged for each other's throats yet. He put the final touches on the salad and took the fish off the grill, and by the time his wife and her friend entered the cabin, lunch was ready.
"This is really nice," Harry said, looking around the living room with its wide expanse of glass. "What a great view."
"It's lovely, isn't it?" Hermione said, smiling happily. "Harry, why don't you sit at the far end of the table? You'll have the best view from there."
Severus watched as Potter headed into the dining room, still looking around the cabin. He was quite sure that Potter quickly averted his eyes when they landed on the open bedroom door, and Snape smiled inwardly. Makes you uncomfortable, does it, Potter? Seeing the bed I share with Hermione?
"Oh," said Harry suddenly, patting his robe pockets. "I nearly forgot."
"Forgot what?" asked Hermione.
"Here," he said, withdrawing a small package from an interior pocket. "This is for you."
The object, the size of a small drinking glass, had been carefully wrapped in paper. Hermione took it from him and peeled the paper away.
"Oh, homemade jam. Please thank Ginny for me, will you?"
Harry shook his head. "It's from Molly. I think she might be trying to make amends."
Hermione froze in place. And then, without warning, she burst into tears.
Severus stared at her, wondering what in the world he was expected to do about his sobbing wife. And then he became aware of Harry Potter, staring at Hermione with an equally puzzled expression. Harry caught Snape's eye then, shrugged as if to say Well, she always was a bit mad, and smiled faintly.
It was a moment of stunning commonality: old enemies, suddenly united as two males confronted with the mystery of feminine emotions - and it made all the difference. Severus nodded in acknowledgement, his mouth twitching. "Hermione, are you all right?"
"What?" Hermione asked, pausing to sniff loudly.
"Are you quite all right?"
"Of course I am. I'm sorry," she stuttered. "Here, let me find a tissue. You two sit down and start eating, and I'll be right back."
The two men looked at each other. Severus sighed, and motioned toward one of the chairs at the dining table. "Sit down, Potter."
Harry glanced at him sharply as though he wanted to object to being ordered about, then pulled out a chair and sat. Snape took the seat opposite him. Just then, a sob from the bedroom punctuated the silence.
"Have some fish," Severus said, pushing a platter in Harry's direction.
Harry cleared his throat. "Did – ah – you catch these?"
"Hermione caught two of them this morning, and I caught the other three." Several weeks ago, Hermione had finally grasped the finer points of fishing, although Snape missed holding her tightly against him while he guided her arm in casting the line.
"I can't imagine Hermione fishing," Harry commented as he helped himself to a grilled walleye.
"She's become quite skilled at it."
"It seems that she's happy here."
How was he supposed to answer that? Of course she's happy, Potter. I've placed her under Imperius, so she has no choice but to be happy… Aloud, Snape said, "She's worked hard to battle her past demons. Is the jam truly a peace offering?"
Harry was silent for a brief moment. "I believe so. All Ginny said was that I should be sure to tell Hermione that it was from Molly."
"It would mean a great deal to her."
"I figured that. Look, Snape…"
Eyeing Potter over the rim of his glass, Severus sipped his iced tea and waited.
"…I don't believe for a minute that we'll ever be close friends, but if Hermione cares for you, -"
"You'll try to tolerate me?" Snape asked dryly.
Harry studied him, as if trying to determine whether he was offended, serious, or teasing. Finally, he grinned and said. "Yeah. I'll try to tolerate you."
"Good," Severus said, helping himself to a serving of wild rice. "Because I'll need to do the same."
Hermione reappeared, clutching a tissue in her hand, her eyes slightly pink.
"Sorry," she apologized, sliding into her chair. "How is the fish?"
"Quite good," Harry told her. "I hear that you were responsible for catching some of them."
"I did," she admitted proudly. "And we harvested the wild rice ourselves."
Fork in mid-air, Harry paused to glance from Hermione to Snape. He seemed about to comment, but instead chose to focus on his plate.
The conversation throughout lunch was stilted. It felt as though the three of them were treading on eggshells, and Severus was frankly relieved when the meal ended and they carried their coffees out to the deck. He could tell that Hermione was tense; she'd no doubt envisioned a pleasant meal with all sorts of bonding taking place, and it simply wasn't going to happen - not this soon, possibly not ever. After an hour of discussing current politics in Britain (Snape couldn't have cared less) and the trends in potions production (Potter was obviously bored to tears), Harry cleared his throat and announced that he needed to be getting back to Toronto. The fact that Hermione made only the feeblest protests, spoke volumes.
"Write soon," Harry urged as he hugged his friend fiercely.
"I promise. Don't leave it all to Ginny, all right?"
"I'll do my best." His grin fading somewhat, Harry turned to face Snape. "Thank you for your hospitality."
"You're welcome," Severus said simply.
Harry glanced back at Hermione. "I know that she doesn't need looking after," he told Snape, "but I'd appreciate if you took good care of her."
"You have my word."
Harry offered his hand to Severus, and they shook hands once more. Then Harry Disapparated, leaving Hermione and Snape standing alone on the deck. Hermione moved closer to Severus, sliding her arm around his waist, while Snape put one arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
"You're dissatisfied with the way things went," he said quietly.
Hermione sighed. "I wanted him to be terribly impressed with this place. I thought it would be obvious why I'm so happy here, and then Harry would understand."
"I suspect that he was impressed, but I doubt that he understands. Potter wishes that you had made different choices, Hermione. You are a brilliant woman with much to contribute to the wizarding world, but you've chosen to go about it in a way that he cannot comprehend."
"Mmm." Hermione rested her head on Snape's shoulder and considered this. "I suppose. You were wonderful, by the way."
"Thank you. It wasn't quite as painful as I'd feared."
She grinned at the note of sarcasm in his voice. "I thought that the two of you behaved in a perfectly civilized manner. I was quite impressed, actually."
"I suppose that means we'll have to invite him back someday," Severus muttered.
"Hoisted by your own petard. That's what you get for being so accommodating."
"Obviously, marriage has softened me beyond hope. I shall have to 'get my edge back', as they say in town."
"I am rather fond of the old Severus," Hermione teased.
"And that," Severus said softly, "is quite amazing."
A/N: First and foremost, I owe many, many thanks to GraceHasVictory, who has done such a magnificent job translating English into English; and also to Keladry Lupin, who leapt into the breach to do her part. I'm more grateful than you can imagine.
Secondly, I want to thank all who reviewed. Reviews are right up there with oxygen to breathe and water to drink in terms of the basic necessities of life for a writer. You all kept me going, and although I may not have replied to every review, I was grateful for each and every one. As the Ojibwa would say, "Mii-gwetch."
As far as the story itself: when push came to shove – and irregardless of the wonderful fics I'd read – I had difficulty imagining adult Snape with teen Hermione. I could not picture the two of them together until both had a chance to grow away from what came before. That's why I placed the two of them fifteen years post-Voldemort and in a far different setting.
Although I've never been to the Canadian North Woods, I have spent some time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. It's a gorgeous place, and I hope to return some day.