I do not own any of the characters you might recognize and make no money with this story.
Hermione Weasley put her face in her hands and sighed. "No, you don't have to go. I can take Rose and Hugo to my parents," she said to the tablecloth.
"I will move back to the Burrow," Ron replied sadly.
She looked up quickly and shook her head. "My mum is waiting for us."
"What?" his temper – the temper she had thought had died down now – had burned itself out – flared to life again.
"I told her we would be coming," she said tiredly. "Ron, do you think I made this decision spontaneously? Decided this morning that I don't love you and can't be with you any more?"
"No, I didn't," she replied calmly. "I want a divorce," she added and got up. "I'm sorry, Ron."
"Whatever you want, Miss Granger," he spat after her but she didn't look back. No sense in doing so. She didn't want to remain married just because of their children – and Ron and her? Over. Over. They didn't talk any more. When they did communicate, they fought.
He was an auror – more away than at home and ever since she could send Hugo as well as Rose to kindergarten, she had gone back to work, too. They barely saw each other – with her being transferred to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement (even if her three-year-old had not liked kindergarten at first and wanted to stay with mummy) and when they did, they either spoke nothing – or fought about the small things.
Housework. The way he stacked the magical dishwasher. The way she did. The way she made pancakes, the way he did. His sweaty jerseys after a Saturday spent with Harry or at the Burrow, lying on the floor in a heap.
She was just tired of it. And she realised – a few months back – that she just did not love her husband any more. She had tried again – had tried to fall back in love with him with all means possible (had even had a quick pregnancy-scare about a month back) but nothing had worked. No – it probably just wasn't meant to be.
She slowly walked up the stairs in the house they had bought in Godric's Hollow just before Rose had been born and he had insisted on a house close to Harry – away from his own family and in the country.
Hermione paused at the bedroom – she had not slept in there for four weeks. No – she had taken to sleeping on a couch in Rose's room. Rose had been – surprised by this – and, in time-honoured tradition of Granger-women, had asked question after question. Which Hermione had answered – with a little white lie.
"Daddy's snoring is keeping me from sleeping, love," she had explained and Rose – had been content. Sometimes, apparently, the five and a half year old girl had been kept awake by his loud breathing as well.
Ron had been surprised as well. Probably. She couldn't. She just couldn't. And that morning, she knew it was time. Had called her mother (she knew why she had insisted on a phone), and had told her that she would be coming home. With the children.
And Judith Granger had understood. She had known about her daughter's trouble in that marriage – had most likely even seen them before Hermione herself had. She wasn't sure. But she would go home.
And Rose and Hugo – they would be delighted, happy, to spend some more time with their grandparents.
'Soon,' Hermione told herself and with tears prickling behind her eyes, she walked into her former bedroom, shrunk the bags she had packed while Ron had been at work, and put them in the pockets of her trousers. She bit her lip.
This – this what came now – was the hardest part. She did not believe in lying to her children when it was not absolutely necessary (as the excuse with the snores had been very necessary – by that time, she still had believed, sort of, that a few nights away from him could make her feel differently) – and here, here was where she had to tell the truth. To a certain extent.
Severus Snape was not a pleasant man. He hadn't been before the incident with the snake, he hadn't been during his recovery, and he wasn't now. He was far from pleasant. But he believed, still, in doing his duty.
There wasn't much – these days – that was his duty. Minding the apothecary he owned now – unnamed – in Knockturn Alley (since he had absolutely no interest in acquiring a place somewhere others would call a respectable area), stocking it, selling ingredients that were probably illegal – probably not. Making potions he sold for horrendous prices but were bought by those who needed it. Those were his duties.
And – the girl. A duty he'd had for about a week already.
"Sit in that chair," he said quietly and pointed at one standing behind his counter at the apothecary and the little girl – around four, maybe five, scrambled up, her robes, old and worn and a little too small, twisted around herself and made it difficult but when he wanted to go over and help, she scowled, much like he did, and tried harder.
She nodded solemnly and sat still, her hands in her lap as he went about to undo the wards on his shop – opening it up to Squiffy Mary Kelly who already stood in front of the apothecary, waiting for her sober-up potion. He turned around, not sparing a glance at the girl, and summoned a vial. There was no need to have that drunk, smelling bit of stuff in there with the girl.
"Here," he said gruffly and pushed the vial in the dirty hands of her. "It'll go on your scroll – but tomorrow, you will pay something. Or this was the last of it."
"Thank you, Master Snape," she slurred, gulped it down and handed him the vial. "Thank you, Master Snape."
He nodded and turned away, banging the door shut. It was too late that he noticed the fear on the girl's face.
"Rosie?" she entered her daughter's room where her eldest sat, practising reading. "Come on, sweetheart, we will go to grandma and grandpa."
"Why?" the girl frowned and pushed her auburn hair behind her ear impatiently. "Is it because of daddy's snores?"
She shook her head and smiled weakly. "No. We'll just stay there for a while."
"Are you getting a div – div-...?"
Hermione crouched on the floor next to her daughter and hugged her instinctively. She held the girl to her chest, and it hurt to hold back from crying. She knew it was her own fault. She was the one who left. But it still hurt.
"Mummy?" Rose asked and pushed away. "Don't tell Hugo. He won't understand yet."
She couldn't help the bit of laughter that escaped her throat – strangled though it was. No, Hugo was too much of a Weasley to understand it yet. Head through the wall, that was her baby. Rose was much more sensible. Rose was older than her five and a half. Hermione was a little worried about her little one. A bit bullied already. A mini-Hermione. With Ronald's straight hair and his freckles.
"I won't tell Hugo. We'll just go visit the grandparents, okay?" she kissed her daughter and picked her up.
He did not know about children much less about children who had just lost their mother. He did not know anything about them. And she was so – self-sufficient. She dressed herself, ate herself, went to bed by herself and rarely spoke. She was obedient – sat in the chair and when he had pushed a book in her little hands, she had pretended to read it – upside down.
He had let her – she would figure it out herself – and there had been another customer.
Still, it was quiet in the apothecary now and he could turn to her and watch her. She still sat, pale, with his dark, lank hair and his eyes.
He did not remember much of his own childhood to know what his mother had done with him. Had sent him out to play, probably. But here – no child played in Knockturn Alley and those who did – no, he did not want her to play with them. Even though he doubted that she would.
"Excuse me, sir?" she said in a small voice suddenly from the chair in the corner.
"What did I tell you to address me as?" he asked sharply.
"I'm sorry, father," she replied, shyly.
"What is it?"
"I'm a little thirsty, father," she said, and was apparently – even scared of asking.
What he was doing – was wrong. But what was the right way? To cuddle her? Pick her up and carry her around? What? He did not know. "You need not ask. The pumpkin juice is in the back."
"But," she whispered quickly, "you said not to go into the back alone."
He sighed. Of course he had. It was dangerous – for a curious child. "Come," he said and strode quickly behind the heavy black velvet curtain that separated the apothecary from the back where he stored his ingredients – his potions – and where the stairs to his quarters were.
Severus quickly poured a tall glass of pumpkin juice and handed it to the girl. She thanked him meekly, politely, and drank greedily. A little thirsty? Understatement. And she had sat there for hours – just looking curiously at him, at his shop, the shelves, the counter, the cauldron bubbling there, the cash register. Him. She had again and again stared at him.
It was natural, he supposed for her – to be so intimidated. One week in the Wizarding World and it was still all new for her, of course. As was having a father.
But – it was unnerving to see her sitting there – day after day, just sitting, not speaking.
If only he knew what to do.
"Hullo mum," Hermione smiled at her mother. The smile was weak, she knew and insincere. But it was the best she could do at the moment with Rosie clinging to her hand and Hugo almost strangling her with his tight grip around her neck.
"Come in, child," Judith Granger replied and she looked at Hermione seriously for a moment before her face broke out in a beaming smile. "And my babies," she laughed and Rosie jumped into her grandmother's arms and Hugo struggled to get down from his mother's arms.
"Grandma!" the both cried and Judith had a moment to look at Hermione. The younger woman knew that she looked dreadful. The bun in her neck was messy, strands of her had fallen out and framed, unprettily, her face, and tickled her neck. She really needed to get it cut. There were rings around her eyes, as thick as two fingers and as dark as the night sky and she knew that there were red blotches on her cheeks, not concealed by make-up. She knew. But still – she smiled at her mother.
"Go and find grandpa. I think he might be out in the garden," she told her grandchildren smilingly and both received a smack on the bottom and ran off. "And?", she asked, getting up from her crouching position with knees cracking.
"I left," Hermione choked and as much as she fought – she couldn't hold back the tears. "I left and I'm crying."
Judith Granger clicked with her tongue – the way she always did – and had always done, ever since Hermione could remember – and quickly wrapped her daughter in her arms. "There, there, darling, it's alright. Let's just have a cup of tea and a sit down."
She nodded – and sobbed and let her mother lead her to the kitchen where she sank down, her face in her hands, and cried for her marriage. The marriage that would be dissolved soon.
"If you take it more than a week, you'll get addicted. I'm forced to tell you this," Severus explained with a sneer, "but of course I don't care. If you get addicted, it'll be better for my business."
"Ever the smily face, ain't ya?" the customer asked. Customer was maybe excessive. Someone who came in, bought what they couldn't – or wouldn't – get in Diagon Alley. Or anywhere else. His was the place to go to if you needed a potion that your wife shouldn't know about, or anyone else.
"Pay, take the vial, get out," he drawled – glad that the snake had not taken his voice.
He wasn't a pleasant man – and his daughter was afraid of him. Her face showed it clearly. She had his face when he had been older and he had seen the first time his father had chased his mother through the house – and had managed to get her. With his belt.
Only – he had no idea what he could do to make her less afraid. It seemed – his words did not help.
He tried to remember – and came up with something. Something that had helped him when he had been a child and his mother had cried and he was scared.
"Come, child," he said briskly and watched her jump from the chair and closed up his apothecary to go into Diagon Alley for the first time with his daughter.