Ginny had just left after her tutoring session – a sour look on her face – leaving Snape to sort the morning post when the doorbell rang. He quizzed his wards, but detected nothing associated with Narcissa. He noted the early hour and mentally crossed several potential visitors from his imaginary list. There was no magical signature at all, so he opened the door more apprehensively than usual.
A pair of middle-aged muggles with extraordinarily brilliant smiles stood on his stoop.
What could they possibly be selling? Snape looked down his nose on them. "Ye-e-ssss?"
The smiles became even wider. The man piped up, "uh, I'd know you anywheres from her description. You must be Professor Snape! Is Hermione here?"
Snape shifted his focus back and forth between them warily. His eyebrow lifted. They weren't. They couldn't be.
The woman spoke, "we're her mum and dad. Come to see her we have."
They were. Oh, joy.
He backed and bid them enter.
Snape glowered at his delicious oyster bisque soup. He rapped his spoon vigorously against the bowl and watched the fluid quiver. It reminded him of a certain first year student and that made him smirk.
Everyone seated at the dining table watched Snape expectantly. This was the fifth time the Potion Master had called for attention, yet each time they'd waited for him to utter something profound, he was merely toying with his food.
It was decidedly odd they all acquiesced as they exchanged silent looks.
All that is except for Hermione. She had kept her head down at her setting throughout the hastily thrown-together lunch. Currently, she was spooning her soup onto saltines to drown them. Not such unusual behavior except she had carefully arranged the crackers on the tablecloth. One salty in particular had been cleverly spelled by Hermione to look like a certain teacher. Okay, all the saltines had been spelled by Hermione to look like a certain curmudgeonly teacher. Odd that.
Mrs. Granger leaned in to her daughter, "darling, I'm sure Gil didn't go through all this trouble to have you play with your food. Remember! Starving children in America!"
Hermione rolled her eyes and made a show of eating to please her mum.
Lockhart broke in with a grin, "now, now, Mary, it is quite alright. No trouble at all! Actually, it gave me a chance to try out a new recipe." He looked around with his teeth. "Satisfactory?"
Mary beamed right back, "absolutely delectable, Gil! You must share with me!"
Mr. Granger broke in with a hard slap to Lockhart's back, "and a delicacy it is, Gil. Good show, good show of it. Fancy our girl won't be knackered tryin' ta cook for ya after all! How, says I to her mum, is she gonna feed that strappin' man on tea 'n sandwiches?"
Lockhart, Draco and Snape were obviously surprised. Hermione began to fidget.
Mr. Granger continued with a finger to his temple, "it'd be a quick one to realize our Hermione may be clever, but in the kit... quite balmy!"
Mrs. Granger brushed at her husband's arm playfully, "now, Wally, that be your daughter."
"'Coure it is, course it is." Mr. Granger said and kissed the back of his wife's fingers suavely with a wink, "she's gots your brains, missus, but must admit...not your skills in the scullery!"
Mrs. Granger blushed prettily.
Lockhart stammered, "uh, Mi-miss Gra-granger, surely you've written your parents about... regarding... that is... ?"
Hermione reddened and pretended to enjoy her soup.
Snape smirked, "go ahead, Miss Granger. Since you have everyone's attention. Tell them."
Hermione stabbed her spoon viciously into a soggy cracker. She spoke hurriedly, "um, mum, dad. I'm not going to be marrying Professor Lockhart after all."
The Grangers paused breathlessly then looked extraordinarily relieved.
Mary exhaled loudly with her hand to her heart, "thank goodness." She clapped her other hand onto Lockhart's arm, "Oh, I beg your pardon, Gil!"
"Uh, none taken, Mary, not at all."
Mr. Granger tried to cover, "it's... well, we've... always hoped our daughter'd be with that athletic Mr. Weasley boy. All those years she kept going on about him, ya know."
Mary turned to squeeze her daughter's fingers with a loud whisper, "was I right? Poofy?"
Lockhart covered his mouth while Draco gaped. Snape excused himself hurriedly.
The door barely shut after him when his sniggering rang out loudly from the hall.
"Now, explain this again, darling." Mary ran her fingers along the headboard in Hermione's bedroom. She examined her fingertips with a raised brow. Clean. Drab, but clean.
"Mum, I've already told you. I'll be waiting for the Ministry's law to take effect. They will select a pureblood wizard for me."
Mary moved to the drapes and peeked behind. Her eyebrows shot up again. Bricks. "Why can't that Malfoy boy marry you? He's quite the looker and a gentleman I'll bet."
Hermione twisted her skirt in her hand, "Mum, he couldn't... he can't... he's like Professor Lockhart."
Mary next checked over the dresser. She held up a potion bottle and extended it to her daughter with a puzzled brow.
"Would you prefer sleeping pills?"
Hermione shook her head, "this doesn't leave me sloggy the next day."
"And why would my daughter be needing this at all?"
Hermione shrugged and picked at the coverlet, "dreams, is all."
Mary stared carefully at her daughter before dismissing the topic. "And... Sev?"
Hermione moued, "it's Professor Snape, mum. He doesn't like being called by his first name."
Mary waited patiently as a mum is wont to do where her only child, particularly her daughter, is concerned.
Hermione felt her cheeks heating, "he... Professor Snape is not a consideration."
Mary noted her daughter's reaction, "and why not?"
"He's planning to marry someone else... Mrs. Malfoy."
"Well, it's a story, mum, but Mrs. Malfoy is getting a divorce. In a couple weeks, Professor Snape and she will... then they'll be married."
Mary opened a drawer and casually began refolding her daughter's clothes. "Definitely not Ronald?"
"Are you certain?"
Mary spoke over her shoulder, "no one else then?"
Hermione stuck out her lip, "no one else."
Mary tsked to herself and began matching up socks.
"Really, Sev, the missus and I could scamper off to an inn. We've plenty lolly in our pockets." Wallace paused and added conspiratorially, "dentists, ya know."
Snape gave the man a wane smile, "as I've told you, Mr. Granger, it is no trouble at all to put you up for the night. It would assuredly offer you more time with your daughter and while my home is not grand, it is comfortable. Master Malfoy has graciously offered his room, isn't that correct, Draco?"
"Of course, Professor." He turned to Wallace, "Mr. Granger, it won't do to have you come this far to see Hermione and not stay. I'll gladly bunk with the Professor down cellar."
Mr. Granger squinted closely at the blonde boy, "you quite certain you're poofy?"
Draco tinged pink under the observation.
Snape's mouth curled like milk, "Mr. Granger, Master Malfoy is decidedly out of contention for your daughter's hand."
Wallace clucked his tongue, "shame that." He tapped his finger to Draco's nose. "The grandchildren would be keen and quite handsome indeed."
Draco brightened at the unexpected compliment. "I'll just move my things." He stood and gave a curt bow before scampering upstairs. He passed Mrs. Granger and Hermione as they descended.
Wallace watched Draco leave and shook his head, "shame... damnable shame." He turned back to Snape who was watching him with open amusement. "And you, Sev?"
Snape startled and narrowed his eyes with trepidation, "what was that, Mr. Granger?"
Hermione and her mother took seats. Lockhart came from the kitchen.
Mr. Granger inclined his head towards Lockhart, "are you like Gil and Draco, Sev? Not that we mind, of course, just tallying, just tallying, Sev."
Hermione covered her laugh as the professor's eyes widened..
Snape settled himself into a chair with his arms tightly crossed. "Decidedly not."
Lockhart grinned broadly, "no harm in Wallace asking, eh, Severus?"
Mary voiced, "Hermione tells me you'll be marrying a Mrs. Malfoy, Sev?"
"If the situation unfolds accordingly, Mrs. Granger."
"When's the happy day?"
Snape gave her a confused glance, "pardon me, Mrs. Granger? What happy day are you referring to?"
"Your marriage of course."
He shook his head slightly, "that has not been decided upon, Mrs. Granger. There are extenuating circumstances regarding Mrs. Malfoy's current status which must be resolved prior to an official engagement."
Wallace jabbed a finger at Snape, "there, there. You sounds jus' like a teacher when you talk like that."
The doorbell rand and Lockhart brought Ron back into the room.
Hermione's voice screeched, "Ronald! What are you doing here?"
Mary shushed her daughter, "now's that anyway to greet company, dear?" She gave the boy a hug and cupped his cheek. "Ronald Weasley, how good to see you!"
Wallace grabbed Ron's arm and pulled him to a chair, "long time, my boy, long time."
Snape stood and gave a brief bow, "if you'll excuse me."
He disappeared into his study until dinner was called.
As Snape had invited Ron over to spend the evening, he was expected to stay to dinner. It was a sullen affair with Hermione trying to catch Snape's eyes while he had apparently chosen a point midtable to stare blankly at throughout. He answered questions curtly and otherwise ignored everyone.
Lockhart and the Grangers did their best to keep the conversation rolling, but it was obvious to all there was an elephant in the room waiting to proverbially drop it's shoe.
After they went into the living room, Snape was about to retreat to his study again when Mrs. Granger asked if he'd join them in some games.
Cards were brought from a sideboard, but being as they were seven and not four, Ron bravely asked Snape for a round of chess.
Lockhart jumped up from his position across from his bridge partner Hermione. "Ron, I shall take you up on that offer! How about checkers?"
"Checkers? That's hardly a challenge at all."
Lockhart proffered his seat to Snape who pushed Draco into it instead. "I think Draco would be a better match than I against the Grangers. I do not play bridge."
The moment Snape's hand left Draco's shoulder, he bounced up from the chair. "But, sir, I do not play bridge either."
Snape said softly, "then perhaps, being as it would be in Miss Granger's favor, she should choose her partner."
Hermione swallowed thickly. "Professor Lockhart, please?"
Lockhart acquiesced as Draco gathered a book in a corner.
As all of this action took less than a minute, it would have been amusing indeed to see it yourself. Then again, none of it would have happened at all as you would have made eight and a second table for bridge set out.
Snape silently metered out measures of wine to those about the card table. He gave himself and Ron each a Firewhiskey and sat down to take what he assumed to be a quick beating.
Two hours later, Ron chuffed out his breath and reset the board again.
Snape raised his eyebrow slowly. "Really, Mr. Weasley? How many times do you wish to best me?"
"Til I know I've won fair... sir."
"Fair, Mr. Weasley? Are you accusing me of deception?"
"I've played against enough to know when someone's not on their game. You're letting me win."
"Am I? How discourteous of me."
The next match took much longer. Snape tipped over his queen and readied to stand.
They were midway when Ron spoke up, "I know what you're trying to do, ya know?"
"Do elucidate the inner workings of that abstruse mind of yours, Mr. Weasley."
"It's not gonna work."
"Perhaps, I know this will be arduous, rather than being so irrepressibly you, you could exhibit some charm."
"Charm, eh? Not gonna work."
"Where is your Gryffindor temerity, Mr. Weasley?"
"Whatever that is, don't matter no how."
"Your pessimism is noted, but is founded on what particulars?"
"The particulars, sir, that she done kippered off to bed an hour ago."
Snape looked around in surprise at the near-empty room. Only Mr. Granger remained, wriggling his wine glass in cheer at the acknowledgement.
Snape glowered, turned back and bested Ron in three fast moves. He stood and inclined his head, "I'll make this simple, Mr. Weasley. Propose and propose again until Miss Granger agrees. I know she has a difficult time keeping her mouth closed, but she cannot help hearing your sentiments."
Ron headed to the door to go home, but gave a sorrowful look. "No, sir. It won't matter."
"And why not, Mr. Weasley?"
"I get 'Mione contracting for you to make Professor Lockhart jealous, but that's over. Yet, she still didn't contract for me and we're as close as butter on bread." Ron frowned, "there must be something about you then, sir. Something only you could give her."
Snape opened his mouth to argue when the wand in his mind lit up.
His eyes skittered about the room. He saw the floor-to-ceiling bookcases he had erected over the years, stuffed full and creaking with tomes. Then there were the books in his study and in his old office at school. Why, Miss Granger didn't even know of the volumes in his school bedroom or in the attic here. Of course, the silly thing spent more time in Hogwart's 4th floor library than even Madam Pince and that was considerable. Miss Granger wanted him for his library.
Snape rubbed his chin and bade Ron and Mr. Granger a good night. Ron left with a nod.
Mr. Granger sat a while longer mulling over the situation. Much as his wife had taken over the observation of their daughter, Wallace had critiqued the suitors. Discounting Gil and Draco left...
Ronald who was surly and boyish, yet easy and affable. Not the brightest log in the fire, but definitely a pleasing fellow - likable.
Sev was gloomy and oddly immature in a way Wallace couldn't pinpoint. He was also taciturn, obviously intelligent and only displayed the modicum of manners necessitated.
It was quite clear Hermione took a lot of interest in Sev and none at all in Ronald. Her eyes darted to him frequently and she had the habit of holding her breath when she knew the man was about to speak.
Whereas Ronald looked at Hermione often and he initiated conversation, Sev didn't look at her at all. In fact, Sev went so out of his way in ignoring her existence that it was conspicuous.
Wallace chuckled as he finished his wine and thought of elephants - pink and white.
Snape cleansed and freshened himself in his bath off his small cellar laboratory. He thought of the Grangers and gave a little more attention to his crooked teeth.
Donned in his nightshirt, he sat on the cot and reached under to extract a phial. He piped three drops to the back of his tongue, reset the bottle and stretched out.
"Nox," he whispered and the wall votives winked out.
"Sir?" Draco's voice came from the other cot placed at a discreet distance.
"Yes, Master Malfoy?"
"I don't remember an orange sleeping draught. What was that potion you took?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I hadn't real- "
"It is for, Master Malfoy, not against." He could hear the boy fidgeting. "Don't worry so, Master Malfoy. It has no bearing on you. I have been taking this potion nightly for many years."
"Since Harry Potter's mother... ?"
Snape thinned his lips. From anyone else he would have been stirred to anger, but he genuinely liked Draco. "Yes."
"Sir, will you continue taking the potion after you wed mother?"
"Most likely, Master Malfoy."
"I understand, sir." Draco stared up at the ceiling where moonlight reflected through a window. "I know you probably don't have feelings for her, sir. I-I don't think she really does for you either."
"Your assumptions are correct." Snape considered the agreement Narcissa had outlaid. In exchange for her turning information against Lucius, she would give Snape his connection with a pureblood family and she... she would acquire Snape. Much like a painting or a rare book. He was merely something for her to obtain. An accessory for her shelf.
"I think, sir, that I will like having you as a father."
Snape winced. "Mast-... Draco, merely because I will be wedding your mother does not make me your father. You already have one and I have no intention of replacing his position in your life."
"But, sir! He-he hasn't been a proper father. If you knew all he's done to me... I'd rather he be Avada Kedavra'd than sent to Azkaban!"
Snape swung around hard on the cot, "Draco! I shall not hear any more of this! Your father he is and your father he remains. The idea that you want Lucius killed infuriates and repulses me. No matter what he's done, he has still managed to raise a boy I am proud to know!"
Snape stretched rigidly back out, his anger throbbing in his temples, wand fingers wriggling with anticipation. "Never wish for the death of anyone... particularly of any family member for it might come true leaving you alone and bitter."
Draco listened to Snape breathing hard with ire. He'd learned the man's secret upon achieving his own Dark Mark when he joined the Death Eaters. Once indoctrinated, malevolent pasts were recounted to the new recruits to instill fear and solidarity. Not all the hidden knowledge was horrifying, but Professor's Snape's had been.
Snape's father had driven his wife to commit suicide not long after he'd been enrolled at Hogwarts. And Snape's father? That had been the Dark Lord's desire. Snape would have to kill his own father to gain the Dark Lord's favor. And he had. Tobias fell to Snape's Avada Kedavra which gained Snape the position of being the most trusted lieutenant to Voldemort. A position which allowed Snape to beg for the life of his precious Lily and for Voldemort, secure in Snape's willingness to do anything for him, to grant the request.
Snape's breathing slowed and relaxed.
Draco spoke softly, "you still have family, sir. An uncle I believe."
"It is my maternal great-uncle Otto to which you refer. Hardly a consolation as he spends everyday all-day having an extensive lie-in."
"Least it's someone, sir."
Snape humphed and said, "tell that to his neighbors who are always killing him."