Legal Disclaimer: I write HP fanfic with the clear understanding that JKR and her associates are the owners of everyone and everything within the covers of the Harry Potter books, and that I will never make a dime off any of it, and neither should you. It should go without saying that if you are not of legal age to read R-rated-and-up material, you are i not /i welcome to do so.


Chapter Twelve

by snarkypants

"So," Hermione said, swinging her arms back and forth in agitation. "What's the best way to tell them, do you think?"

Harry squinted in the bright winter sunlight; he was looking towards the Quidditch players, but Hermione didn't think he saw them.

"As private a setting as you can manage, I'd say; the Burrow doesn't exactly fit the bill."

Hermione grimaced, nodding. "They're going to hate me. I know they will," she said.

" I don't think so, but if you'd like I can join you; for moral support, if nothing else."

"Thanks, Harry. I do love you, you know that?" she said, and pecked a kiss on his cheek. When Hermione shivered in the breeze, Harry put his arm around her, and she rested her head on his shoulder. "Mm, new aftershave? That's nice."

"You like it? Ginny picked it out for me."

"As always, she has excellent taste."

"Yeah, thank God. The only times I get barracked for being badly dressed are when I don't have her around to tell me what to wear."

"You two are doing well?"

"Yeah," he said, surprised. "Why do you ask?"

"You've always been… intense."

"You say that like it's a bad thing." His wicked smile was utterly at odds with his still-boyish face, and gave Hermione the feeling that she was learning more than she really wanted about Harry's and Ginny's intimate life.

"You should see your face right now," Harry teased, laughing. "Like pickled beetroot, all purple and scrunched up." He poked her in the belly, and she squealed.

"I knew it. Get your hands off my mother, you—you bastard."

"What?" Harry asked, squinting in confusion.

"What?" Hermione asked, looking at her son.

Fabian was behind them, clenching and unclenching his fists at his side. He must have just come from inside the house; a dropped biscuit lay forgotten at his feet. "You heard me," he said. "Get away from her."

Harry smiled in his most disarming way. "Fabian, son—"

Hermione winced, and Fabian drew his wand on Harry, his hand trembling.

" Son? You're not my father. I don't even think I want you for my uncle."

Harry blanched.

"Sweetheart, it's not what you think," Hermione pleaded.

"That's what people always say, but I heard you. 'How are we going to tell them? They're going to hate us. I love you'," he mocked in a harsh falsetto, glaring at them both. "How could you do this?"

"It's not me—" Harry protested, and stopped short, glancing at Hermione. He grimaced. "Sorry," he said, squeezing Hermione's shoulder. "Should I, uh, leave you to it then?" he asked.

"Thanks, that'll be great," Hermione said in a leaden voice.

Harry walked towards the makeshift Quidditch pitch, where the players sat idle on their brooms, watching the little drama play out before them. "Let's see some Quidditch," he said, clapping his hands; the kids hesitated before slowly resuming their game.

"Moral support…" Hermione muttered, steeling herself for Fabian's righteous indignation.

Fabian scowled ferociously at her, his grey eyes narrow and flashing with fury. "You lied to me," he said.

"No, I didn't," Hermione said. "There's nothing underhand with me and Harry."

"You're all over each other," Fabian shouted. "It's disgusting."

"We're not behaving any differently than we did when your father was alive," she said, and Fabian made a disgusted noise in his throat.

"My father deserved better."

"Your father knew better," Hermione hissed. "Harry's the best friend I've ever had, but there's never been anything more to it than friendship. Now put away your wand and we'll talk rationally."

"There's nothing to talk about," Fabian said, slipping his wand into his sleeve.

"Inside," Hermione said, pointing toward the Burrow. "Where's your sister?"

"Here," Blithe said in a subdued voice, carrying her broom. "What's going on?"

"Both of you, inside. Now."

Faced with two teenagers, one sulky and one wary, Hermione laid her cards on the table. "I've started seeing someone; it's a colleague at work, and it's not your uncle Harry," she said in a tight voice. "That's what Harry and I were talking about."

Fabian crossed his arms over his chest and sat with a revolted expression, while Blithe had a quizzical look on her face. "Who is it?" she asked.

Hermione cleared her throat. "Does it matter?"

Fabian snorted, looking away.

Blithe was looking off to the side as she ran down a mental list of male Hogwarts staff. "Oh, no, it's Snape, isn't it?" she asked, looking up at Hermione, her eyes wide with horror.

"Snape?" Fabian all but shrieked.

Hermione sighed. "Yes, it is."

"Oh… Michael Davies…" Blithe said, covering her face with her hands.

"We got into a fight because of you. We lost Hogsmeade privileges—" Fabian said.

"You did that on your own," Hermione said.

"I'll never be able to look him in the face again," Blithe said, stricken.

"Would you shut up about Davies already?" Fabian snapped.

"Easy for you to say; you're not in the same House with the wanker."

"Language, Blithe," Hermione said.

Fabian looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Oh, now you're being the good mother," he said sneering.

"That is quite enough," said a quiet voice. Molly Weasley stood pale and trembling by the door to the kitchen.

"Oh, Molly," Hermione whispered, closing her eyes against a sudden welling of tears.

"Let me talk to them, dear," Molly said, still strangely subdued.

"Molly, I—" Hermione began, but Molly gave her a wan smile and waved her off.

"Go enjoy the sunshine; the Wireless said we're due for a chill tonight. Perhaps you could help the boys with building the bonfire," she said.

Dismissed, Hermione went back outside. She saw little Arthur, still sitting forlornly with his back to the broom shed, and made her way to sit on the ground next to him. "Hullo," she said, giving him a lopsided grin.

Arthur shrugged, looking sad. "Hi," he said.

"Looking forward to Father Christmas coming tonight?" she asked.

"I'm in trouble," he said, and he tried to set his jaw manfully, even as his blue eyes brightened with tears.

"Me, too," Hermione said, and put her arm around her nephew. "How about I ask Father Christmas to give you a break, all right?"

Arthur shrugged again, but the corner of his mouth turned upwards.

"I thought I might find you here," Molly said, standing just inside the gate to the family graveyard.

Hermione sat up abruptly, feeling absurdly as though she had been caught at some public indecency, rather than simply laying on the ground over Ron's grave.

"I'm sorry; I imagine this looks rather odd," she said, dusting herself off.

"Only if you don't have someone down here," Molly said. "After Arthur died, I spent lots of evenings here." Almost as an afterthought, she added, "In the summer, usually, though. Aren't you freezing?"

"No; I've got on my good woollens, and a strong warmth charm."

"You should have a dose of Pepper-Up when you get back to the house, just in case."

"I will." She stood next to her mother-in-law. "How are the kids? Do they hate me?"

"They're being teenagers, I'm afraid; I think Fabian's mostly embarrassed right now, and too proud to admit it. Blithe is all caught up in the drama. They'll settle down, though."

Hermione sighed. "You were the first person I was going to tell, you know. And then Harry guessed, and Fabian overheard us talking. I'm so sorry."

"Well, I never thought you'd be single forever; you're a young woman yet, and it's only natural you'd want a companion."

"You're still young, too, Molly," Hermione said, teasing only slightly.

Molly laughed. "Young, ha! I'm far too set in my ways to put up with some man's foolishness; I'd gladly tolerate my Arthur's foolishness, but someone else's? No."

"I'd gladly tolerate Ron's foolishness, too," Hermione said.

"I know you'll always love my boy. He knows it, too."

"I do miss him so much."

"It's strange, isn't it, to sleep next to a man for years, and then he's gone. I would lie out here all night and talk to Arthur." She chuckled. "Ginny and the boys thought I was pining myself into the ground, when all I wanted was to be as close to him as possible."

"It's morbid, but it's the last bit I have of him."

"Not the last, dear. You have his children. But you can't lie on top of them and talk all night, not without ending up in St. Mungo's." Molly patted her hand.

Hermione giggled, and tried to stifle the sound with her gloved hand.

"What is it?" Molly asked.

Hermione only shook her head and giggled harder; the more she tried to suppress her laughter, the more irresistibly it burst out, slipping through her fingers. Molly began to laugh herself, even though she didn't know why.

"Are you going to tell me?" Molly asked between giggles.

"Ron… always liked me on top…" she said, and shouted with laughter.

Molly blushed as furiously as only a redhead can, and her face creased with the effort of suppressing the great belly laugh that was about to burst out.

They wobbled in place like happy drunks, leaning against each other and laughing so hard it hurt.

"Do you want to know the really funny part?" Molly asked, wiping her eyes on her coat sleeve.

"W-what's that?" Hermione asked.

"His father liked that, too." Molly's blue eyes twinkled with mirth.

After their giggles and snorts had subsided, Hermione sat on the stone bench inside the little graveyard.

Molly sat next to her and put her arm around her waist. "When you and Severus get married, I'll treat him no differently than I would any other son- or daughter-in-law. Never worry on that score."

Hermione winced. "That's not going to happen, Molly."

"Not yet, of course, but eventually—"

"We're not getting married, Molly."

"Oh, everyone says that, but—"

"No, we're not getting married. Ever."

Molly's jaw dropped in disbelief. "You're just going to be his mistress? Hermione—"

"He's my—" She searched in vain for an appropriate word. "My—my… lover, too. It's not—" she began, and stopped at the look of outrage on her mother-in-law's face.

"What about the children?"

"What about them?" Hermione asked.

"Do you think they would be proud to have their mother known as a scarlet woman?"

"Oh, Molly, really. A scarlet woman?" Molly Weasley seemed to be the only person on Earth who still used that phrase, and Hermione was simultaneously as amused and annoyed by it as she had been as a schoolgirl.

Molly rose to her feet, pacing around the graveyard. "It's bad enough with Fred and Angelina, but at least they were married once, and he's Wulfie's father. But you—"

"—But I what?"

"—you are determined to bring shame to his memory—"

"How can I possibly bring shame to Ron's memory?"

"Can you imagine what they will say about Ron if you refuse to get married again?"

"Perhaps they'll say that we were so happy that I can't imagine being that lucky again."

Molly crossed her arms over her chest. "No. They'll say that he was a bad husband and that you're glad to be rid of him."

Hermione stood, matching Molly's posture. "If 'they' think that then 'they're' idiots and I don't care what 'they' think."

Molly sighed and put her head in her hands. "I would never have believed it of you, Hermione. It's such a shame."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Molly, truly I am. But I'm not going to change my mind." Hermione walked around her mother-in-law and out of the graveyard.

Hermione sat at the table in Angelina and Fred's tent, hunched miserably over her arms much like Blithe had been on their last night at Hogwarts.

"Severus Snape," Angelina mused, giving a low whistle. "That was unexpected."

"Imagine how it was for me," Hermione said.

"You really like him, then. This isn't just a… a fling?"

"I like him. I don't know about anything more."

Angelina smiled. "Of course you don't. It's all new, isn't it?"

"I should never have said anything."

"Yeah, why did you?"

"I didn't want to lie to her. I don't have any intention of getting married again, and Severus has no intention of getting married ever."

Angelina nodded, her mouth pursed in a way that made Hermione bristle and ask, "What?" defensively.

"It's just… you and Ron spent years telling people you would never get married. Until you did, of course."

"Your point?" Hermione snapped.

"Easy there," Angelina said. "The more you tell people that you're not going to get married, the more they're just going to expect it."

"Anyone, or just me?"

Angelina bit her lip. "Well… there is a history there." She took in Hermione's horrified expression with a rueful smile. "Oh, our mother-in-law. Of course, no one interprets her refusal to remarry as a sign that Arthur was anything less than a perfect husband."

"She hasn't got anyone on the side," Hermione said in a peevish voice.

"That we know of," Angelina said.

"Oh, stop," Hermione said, but she giggled anyway.

As a rule, Severus Snape did not sing.

However, a very select few people knew that when absorbed in a pleasurable task he might chant lyrics under his breath.

It was of course a coincidence that most of those select few people were now dead.

Flipping through a battered, dog-eared logbook, he made a few marks with the stubby pencil that he kept with the logbook. "'Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down, and he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around…" He reached for an Ian Allen ABC book (British Rail Steam Locomotives), and thumbed through, in search of a particular page—

There was a knock at his door, and Severus sighed, throwing his pencil to the desk. He kept office hours during the winter hols, but that didn't mean he wanted to be disturbed.

"Enter!" he shouted.

Harry Potter walked in, and Severus' pleasant evening took a sharp turn for the worse. He cast a quick incantation over the items on his desk, obscuring them from view.

"Mr Potter. To what do I owe this honour?"

Harry met his gaze easily. "I'm here to ask your intentions."

Severus smirked. "I intend to eat dinner, after which I intend to—"

"Just… stop. You know why I'm here."

"I'd like to know why you feel my intentions are any of your business."

"Hermione's welfare is my business."

Severus didn't as much as blink. "Oh?"

"She's had huge rows with both Molly and Fabian."

Severus sighed in disgust. "Sit down, Potter," he said after a moment, indicating the armchair in front of the desk. He sat down heavily in his desk chair and withdrew a glass and a bottle of Firewhiskey from a desk drawer, pausing briefly with a shuttered look at Harry.

A second glass joined the first on the desk, and Severus kicked the drawer shut. He looked a question at Harry, gesturing with the bottle, and Harry nodded. Severus poured two fingers of whiskey into each glass, and pushed one glass towards Harry's side of the desk.

Severus took a drink from his glass and smacked his lips in appreciation. "I'm sure it's not the quality you're used to, Potter, but some of us have to work for a living."

"Fine. Insult me and get it over with, but your Firewhiskey's fine."

Severus gave him a mocking salute with his glass. "Thank you for your approval."

Don't let him get at you, Harry thought, keeping his gaze level and his expression neutral. He's gagging for it.

After a few minutes, in which the two men did nothing more than glare at each other and sip at their whiskey, Severus set down his glass with a decisive thump.

"Let me guess; the row had something to do with me."

"Got it in one. Surprisingly enough, no one objects to you in particular, so there's no call for you to feel persecuted; not that it'll stop you—"

"Shut up, Potter."

Harry smirked into his drink. "Believe it or not, we do have one thing in common: we both care about Hermione."

"Who says I care?"

" She does." Harry narrowed his eyes, staring Severus down. Go ahead, you bastard. Deny it. Deny her.

Severus was silent.

"Perhaps you're too much of a coward to admit—"

Snape's eyes flashed dangerously at the hated word, and Harry let his words trail to a loaded silence.

"What is it that you expect of me, Potter?

"If her father weren't dying, I'd probably feel differently about you tw— this. I mean, I don't get it, but—in any case. I want her well looked after when it happens."

Severus sighed loudly. "You should know by now that I don't make guarantees."

"If it were up to you alone, would you—?"

Severus looked at him long and hard; Harry tried not to flinch

"If it is within my power to do so, I will," he said finally.

"That's all I need to know," Harry said, and rose to leave. "Huh. That's interesting." When Severus didn't rise to his bait, he shrugged and continued, still moving towards the door. "You haven't referred to Hermione at all, not by name, not by 'her' or 'she'. If you were anyone else, I'd take it as contempt."

"Take it however you like; just take it elsewhere," Snape said, looking quite bored.

"I will," Harry said, bowing his head in a mocking salutation.

"Farewell, Potter," Severus said, and with a wave of his wand he made the door close loudly, barking Harry's heels.

He cast the charm that would allow his books to reappear upon his desk, and reached for the periodical British Ferroequinology Today. He paged through the journal, looking for the article he'd been saving as an after-dinner treat. He chanted idly whilst tapping a finger against the page. "He's got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge, he stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege…"

After a few distracted minutes of reading, however, he glanced up to look at the fire burning merrily in the hearth. He shook his head in disgust, and muttered to himself, "Love is always scarpering or cowering or fawning, you drink yourself insensitive and hate yourself in the morning…"

He was probably going to have to make some sort of gesture, and not of the two-fingered variety.

Damn it all to hell.

A/N: The song Severus isn't singing to himself is "Man Out of Time" by Elvis Costello (1982). One of my favorites, and I think Severus would like it, too, having been an angry young man at about the same time as Costello.

Ferroequinology is a word coined and used by trainspotters to describe their hobby: "ferro" and "equine" equalling "iron horse;" the title of the publication was made up by me. I think that trainspotting makes about as much sense in the Wizarding World as in the Muggle one, and it's perhaps the least romantic hobby that Severus could have.

Special thanks to my beta, selened, who always gives excellent advice and asks insightful questions. If something isn't working, I can always count on her to ask me the right questions that will get me going again. Thanks, Selene, and I hope you're feeling better very soon!