It was nearing midnight and the younger Order members were still a little giddy about the presents that awaited them the following morning.
Ron was busy predicting the broom model he had wished, or rather begged for. Harry listened to him patiently with a permanent smile on his face, infected by the Christmas cheer that seemed to light up everyone's faces.
He was simply overjoyed to spend the season with his closest friends and his almost-family. The fact that he was old enough to leave the Dursleys' house was the icing on the cake.
Ginny sat by his side, her fingers woven through his, while he gave yet another indulgent comment about Ron's broom of his dreams. He stroked her hand and occasionally kissed her knuckles, finally having outgrown the boyish urge to blush at exchanging signs of affection.
His future in-laws were sitting together on a wide chair that had originally been built for one person, but they looked quite cosy as they embraced lovingly. The love they still had for each other after many years of marriage was something that gave Harry hope. This was what he had always wanted – a loving family.
He saw Tonks and Remus in front of the fire, dancing together to the fifth rendition of 'Silent Night' with slow steps and little finesse. But the love between them was so pure and simply right, that one could not help but smile with them - - and quickly look away when their tongues began to dance without them noticing their audience.
Moody and Sirius were chatting in another corner, drinking all sorts of alcoholic beverages all the while. Their repertoire of facial expressions during their exchange was more interesting than their many subjects, and Harry often smiled involuntarily as he saw their warning glares, their reminiscing smirks or when he heard their roaring laughter.
In two squashy armchairs sat Dumbledore and Shacklebolt; their smiles small and placid, like two generals that looked on indulgently on their soldiers and the many battles they had won together.
Shacklebolt tended to gesture with grand movements of his arms and hands, while Dumbledore undermined his statements with serene smiles and jovial strokes of his long beard. While the Auror daintily nibbled on Molly's snacks, Dumbledore seemed to live on nothing but sweets that he retrieved from his, no doubt refilling pocket of his robe.
The twins were sitting cross-legged on the huge rug in the middle of the room, looking like two big children with their mischievous grins and their hushed talk. Occasionally, Molly would send them a warning glare when their excitement promised too much danger for their immediate surroundings. They'd calm down for a while until another brilliant plan earned them another verbal ruffle by their mother, who'd smile again proudly at her offspring a second later.
The only one that was alone was Hermione, he noticed. She sat next to the roaring fire with a book in her hands, not looking up once to take in the occasional laughter or the general merriment. Her feet were in constant danger of being trod on by the still dancing couple on the rug, but she didn't even twitch when four clumsy feet got close to her socked toes.
He expected her to feel utterly lonely, with nothing but a book to keep her company while others had their loved ones nearby. He couldn't understand the small smile on her lips while she read. For some reason it didn't sit well with him, even though she was pretty much the outsider whenever they got together, but he didn't want to see her alone on Christmas Eve.
"Shall we play Exploding Snap, or something else?" he asked loudly, having everyone's attention for a moment with his unexpected, loud question. The only one to ignore him completely was Hermione.
Ron was already talking about getting his chessboard when Harry opened his mouth to address his female friend again. He never got to say anything, as the front door opened and closed with an irritated bang.
Harry grimaced automatically and heard a dismayed sound coming from his godfather; both knowing that the last guest had arrived – Severus Snape. He wanted to turn his head and take some pleasure in seeing the annoyed expression on the Potions master's face at being invited to the Order's Christmas party.
That the man was as alone as his bushy-haired friend was beyond him at the moment, after all, he didn't care for the man at all, nor for the man's feelings, which he thought must be non-existent.
Just as he was about to turn to take in the familiar sour expression, he saw that Hermione had finally taken her eyes of the book. For a second he thought she would address his request for a game now, but instead she looked past Harry at the newcomer, her eyes soft and a smile hovering on her lips that was so faint, it might not have been a smile at all.
"Severus, how nice of you to join us," Dumbledore greeted the last guest, and all heads swivelled around to hear and see Snape's response.
The man looked particularly aggrieved, Harry noticed with some glee. The dour wizard made no move to take his thick travelling cloak off – a sure sign that he had no intentions of staying for long.
"Your threat of supervising all Hogsmeade trips for an entire year was gruesome enough to force me to come," Snape retorted bitterly and scanned the room while he spoke. Without acknowledging anyone else in the room he set off to where Hermione sat, and scanned the bookshelf behind her.
He picked one book and sat down in a simple wooden rocking chair that Harry was sure had not been there a second before. He noticed that Hermione was pushing her wand back into her sleeve surreptitiously.
"Miss Granger," Snape said in an almost whisper and received a warm, "Good evening, sir," from the girl on the floor.
Harry looked around the room with big eyes. Had anyone else noticed that she was the only one he had greeted, on his own volition, no less? He blinked rapidly, feeling oddly alarmed without knowing why.
Ron returned with his chessboard, rattling the figurines inside to get Harry's attention.
"Hermione? Chess?" Harry called over and noticed that only Snape looked up at his words when no answer was forthcoming. Hermione was once more lost in the story she was reading and the greasy-haired man resorted to hitting the girl, who sat rather close to his chair, on the shoulder with his book to get her to look up. With a questioning smile she looked up at the man, who directed her gaze to Harry.
"What?" she asked guardedly when her eyes landed on Harry, her eyes suddenly calculating and her face almost stony. Before Harry could apologize for whatever had made her look at him like that, Snape cleared his throat softly and Hermione rubbed her face roughly before looking back at her friend, her expression a lot friendlier.
He refused to dwell on her bizarre behaviour and simply repeated his question, getting a quick refusal from her. Before he could do so much as suggest a different game, her head was bent over her book again, and Snape copied her.
Harry shook his head at the two people who seemed to prefer their solitude and concentrated on his chess game with Ron. Ginny was sitting behind him, her arms wrapped around his middle and her chin resting on his shoulder to press the occasional kiss to his cheek and neck. It was distracting him from his admittedly disastrous game, but it was welcome anyway. He forgot to think about the odd twosome by the fire, who seemed content with reading books on such a lovely evening.
Molly soon migrated into the kitchen, taking most of the Weasley clan with her; only Ginny was still glued to her boyfriend. Ron had predictably jumped off the couch at the first mention of the word cooking.
Remus and Tonks had taken their chance and had taken over the chair that Molly and Arthur had abandoned, and were continuing with their pre-mating ritual in a more comfortable position.
Sirius was happy for his friend but that didn't mean he appreciated the show. "Moony, will you stop dry humping your girl? Get a room or cut it out!" he told him, a tiny hint of jealousy swinging in his voice.
The couple on the comfy chair blushed prettily and grinned at each other.
"Why don't we all go out for a walk and work up an appetite?" Remus suggested and smoothed his hair a little, while Tonks fanned herself in a futile attempt to rid herself of her red cheeks.
"Splendid idea, my boy," Albus said and got to his feet. "I shall ask the others if they want to join us." With those words he set off to the kitchen.
"You are aware that any Muggles you encounter will be more than a little alarmed at the sight of a group of eccentrically dressed people?" It was the first time that evening that Snape had addressed anyone in the room.
"As long as we won't be taking you, we won't be scaring anyone," Sirius said nastily and chuckled at his own words.
The Potions master raised a lazy eyebrow, obviously not impressed by Sirius' words, but Hermione hated the constant antagonism between the two men.
"That was cruel, Sirius," she scolded gently.
The good-looking wizard turned to her, giving her a positively scandalised look. "Did you just… defend the scarecrow?" he demanded, the mere notion of anyone doing that was too much to take in.
"Hey, it's Christmas, so stop being so mean. He hasn't done anything to…"
"Miss Granger," Snape interrupted her, before her speech could get any more impassioned. "Leave the man to his childish insults; it's all his small dog brain is capable of." He was amused by Hermione's peeved expression as he actually joined the game of verbal abuse she had tried to avoid.
Harry chose that moment to appear, searching for his and Ginny's coats to get ready for the impending walk. Without knowing what had transpired he only heard Snape's words and the slight against his godfather, something that never sat well with him.
"Leave him alone, Snape. Just because you're a lonely, miserable bastard doesn't give you the right to spread your poison to others," he hissed, incensed. He was surrounded by almost the entire Order, who waited with bated breath for Snape's reaction. It wasn't just Harry that was surprised when it was someone else that spoke up.
"Harry! How dare you? You haven't heard a word of what they said beforehand, have you? So stop butting into conversations that have nothing to do with you. To your information, it was your beloved godfather that started it," Hermione said, suddenly standing next to her professor. The book in her hand rustled in distress as she waved it through the air to undermine her words.
Snape rescued it before any pages could get ripped, and put it in his lap while he watched her mouth emit angry huffs as she fought for control.
Everyone was looking at her oddly; only Snape was utterly calm and simply went back to his reading.
Sirius was gobsmacked. "She's doing it again," he exclaimed. "She keeps defending the ugly git." He laughed in astonishment.
"She's doing it again," Hermione mocked him with a high-pitched voice, rounding on the wizard who took a step back at her fierce expression and the faint sparks that her hair seemed to shoot into the air. "Can you hear yourself talk? You sound like a snotty five-year-old brat."
"Miss Granger," Snape finally interrupted her before hexes could fly and smirked as she whirled on him with the same lethal visage that Sirius had cringed under. "This is the season of peace, hope and… erm, joy and laughter," he said pompously, trying to minimise the sneer that lurked on his lips. "Please refrain from frightening the poor underprivileged mutt," he added and heard Hermione make a mad sound like a boiling tea kettle.
"You're impossible," she hissed and snatched her book from Snape's hand, poking him in the chest for good measure with the pointy edge of her tome, before stomping off to another armchair.
Snape snorted in amusement and addressed the gathered party of fascinated onlookers that had watched the spectacle from a safe distance. "Why don't you all go out for some fresh air, and calm down?" he suggested.
Harry was seething, not understanding the weird vibes he received from the occupants of the room. He felt somewhat guilty for making Hermione angry and she was still alone. Swallowing loudly, he spoke again. "Hermione, won't you come with us?"
"No, thank you," she pressed out from between clenched teeth, not even looking up.
Harry's patience had never been overly great. "Fine, be that way," he snapped, all too aware that he sounded like a spoilt child that didn't get what he wanted.
Hermione snorted in disbelief. "Likewise," she retorted, sending him a mocking grimace which had him turn away from her. "Unbelievable," she muttered to herself, and shook her head.
The rather big group finally set off after a long and hectic time during which everyone frantically searched for their cloaks. The house was blessedly silent after the door had closed behind them. Only Molly's quiet voice, singing along with songs from the radio, could be heard.
"That was unnecessary," Snape's deep voice rumbled through the wonderfully empty room.
"As was your needling," Hermione retorted, not bothering to raise her head.
Silence stretched out between them again for long moments, the sounds of old pages being turned the only noise besides the crackling of the fire that had stayed unruffled throughout the entire altercation between the house's occupants.
A particularly high note that Molly tried to reach, rather unsuccessfully, during a rendition of "Silent Night", made Hermione look up with a pained expression. She found herself caught in the mesmerising gaze of two midnight-black eyes that stared at her intensely, their usual coldness replaced by something fiery and vehement.
"It was rather foolish to go against the entire Order just to defend… me," he said quietly, not blinking once as he waited for her answer.
"And it was simply annoying to see you spar with the intellectually challenged," she retorted. "Not to say childish," she added with quite some bite.
Snape grinned openly, not having taken offence to her words. His eyes swivelled to the doorway, listening to Molly working in the kitchen. Then he got to his feet, wincing slightly at the creaking noise the rocking chair emitted when he stood.
Hermione had closed her book, waiting for his next action. With slow steps he advanced on her, his narrowed eyes never leaving hers. She had to crane her neck the closer he got and swallowed with difficulty as the face hovered above her, the toes of his boots touching her slippers.
His mouth opened as he bent down, his hands finding purchase on the arms of her chair. The tips of his fine hair were caressing her cheeks.
She had a good view of his nostrils but they couldn't hold her interest as his lips could. They were beautifully thin, pale-pink, parted and moist – after his tongue had darted out to wet them.
"He started it," he reminded her, his warm breath ghosting over her face.
"One word: childish," she retorted.
"And you were magnificent, Miss Granger."
"Is that your way of thanking me for my passionate defence, sir?"
"No," he rumbled in a whisper. "This is…" He had hardly finished the last word when his lips gently touched hers, his impossibly soft mouth gliding effortlessly over hers, while his hands abandoned the armrest to find purchase in the soft halo of curls that framed her face.
Her neck was beginning to ache from its awkward position and as if sensing her discomfort Snape knelt in front of her, sucking her tongue into his mouth to keep her tethered to him.
Her small hand slid to the nape of his neck, tangling in the fine strands of hair and stroking the sensitive skin there with her fingernails. His shudder made her moan in sensual delight and she delved deeper into the hot cavern that was his mouth. His usually sharp tongue caressed hers with languid strokes, sensually parrying with her every move. Gods, that man could kiss.
Just when Hermione wanted to nip at his lower lip, they heard Molly's steps come closer. Severus couldn't have looked more frantic had he been caught in the act of fornicating with Hermione, so big were his eyes as he practically flew backwards to put some distance between them.
Roughly, he gestured for her to pick her book up again which she slowly did, coughing harshly to find a believable explanation for her breathless state. Her harsh hacking had the advantage of immediately drawing Molly's attention, leaving Severus some time to return casually to the bookshelf.
When her act was done, Hermione was sufficiently red in the face and sounded wonderfully winded.
"Are you alright, my dear?" the Weasley matriarch asked concernedly, and received a nod.
"Severus, why didn't you help her?" she asked the man who had turned his back on the two women.
"With what?" he asked disdainfully. "Expelling phlegm?"
Molly harrumphed, looking at him defiantly, ready to take him to task for his uncharitable behaviour and was flabbergasted when Hermione giggled at his caustic words. Mrs. Weasley looked at her askance, but she couldn't stop giggling.
"Oh, come now, Molly," she wheezed. "That was pretty funny."
Apparently the older woman didn't see it the same way and straightened. "I only wanted to ask if you wanted to have a little drink with me until the others return."
Severus declined more or less politely and Hermione shook her head regretfully, still chuckling in between suppressed snorts. Molly left them with barely suppressed anger. She couldn't understand people that weren't sharing her enthusiasm for the Christmas season.
As soon as they heard Molly turn up the music in the kitchen, surely to spite the two cheerless people, Hermione quickly walked over to the man by the bookshelf.
"Let me go home with you tonight," she whispered and embraced the surprised man. His eyes went back to the doorframe, hoping that they weren't observed.
"We have decided that you spend this night with your friends; it's an evening to spend with your loved ones," he tried to reason, but held the small woman tightly, lowering his chin onto her hair.
"You're my loved one," she said and he wordlessly tightened his grip on her.
But he was reluctant to break tradition, too scared that he might ruin her perfect Christmas by taking her away from her many friends and surrogate family.
"Tomorrow." When she didn't agree, he repeated his word, this time rather questioningly. "Tomorrow? Please." She should be with the others, be merry and enjoy herself. With him she'd only have a quiet Christmas, and he didn't want her disappointed, so he had forced her to spend the evening here, thinking it was for the best.
"And how long before we stop hiding our relationship?" she wanted to know, rekindling one of their oldest discussions.
"Until you're a bit older," he muttered, knowing that his excuse wouldn't be accepted for much longer.
"I'm twenty already," she huffed, and heard him groan dramatically. She knew that he really feared for her reputation, and the hatred she would probably have to suffer, if their relationship ever got out.
"Silly man," she grumbled into his cloak, which he still hadn't taken off.
He had no retort to her matter-of-fact statement; besides, he was already looking forward to having her all to himself. He grimaced softly at his own selfishness.
He kissed her softly, and was rather amused and aroused when she didn't allow him to keep the contact light. Demandingly she forced his mouth open with her tongue and lips, eager to devour him and his heavenly taste.
Neither of them noticed that Molly had returned with two glasses of wine some time earlier, having ignored their protests from before, and vanishing as quietly as she had come. Still shocked about the turn of events, the Weasley matriarch made to put the glasses down but stopped in her action. She raised them again and gulped down the contents of the glasses in quick succession. She couldn't wait to tell Arthur.
By the time the group of wizards and witches had returned, Molly had finished her preparations, and the delicious scent of a rich Christmas meal elicited longing exclamations from the people rushing through the front door.
"That smells great," Sirius called while shrugging off his cloak. He reached through the masses hovering around the coat hangers to hang up the snow-covered garment.
He strolled into the sitting room, shaking the snowflakes out of his wavy hair with exaggerated moves.
"Hey, Snape, still here? I'd hoped for a reprieve from your ugly face," Black said, his eyes shifting between the two sole occupants of the room, who were sitting in opposite armchairs. To his dismay both ignored him completely but he wasn't one to give up that easily.
"Given up defending the git already, girl? It's for the best, leave the grown-ups to their own games, child," he said with deliberate condescension.
"Leave her alone, Sirius," Harry butted into the conversation and Sirius turned to see the entire group looking at him disapprovingly.
Even Molly had listened to his every word, helping her husband undress.
She peeked into the room, seeing the two still motionless figures still immersed in their books. She was surprised they took the verbal abuse so well, but then she noticed how tightly Severus held his book and the next second the sound of a ripping book spine rent the air.
Severus jumped to his feet. "Is the food ready, Molly?" he asked, throwing the destroyed book to the floor, and the addressed woman wasn't the only one to hear the angry quiver in his voice.
"Absolutely," she said with a warm smile. She wasn't sure what to make of the new pairing but she didn't like to see them humiliated. She could imagine what awaited them if their relationship came out in the open, and she didn't want to add to their pile of worries.
Everyone trotted quickly in the kitchen, various stomachs growling on the way. Severus had taken a seat on the far end of the long table, Summoning a plate and utensils from an unused seat. He had no desire to sit anywhere near the dunderheads.
Hermione was the last to enter the room, carrying the book that Snape had abandoned, the spine now fixed.
Harry and Ron waved her over, gesturing to a seat between them, but she walked past them with an apologetic smile. All eyes were on her as she walked down the length of the table, seating herself next to a frowning Snape.
His expression was mutinous and people cringed when he opened his mouth to deliver some, no doubt, scathing words to the young witch. Yet all he did was to Summon another set of cutlery and a plate.
The shocked silence was broken by Dumbledore's jovial compliment of Molly's cooking.
"I hope it tastes as lovely as it smells, Molly," he declared loudly, finally making everyone turn back to their own plates.
"What are you doing?" Snape hissed to his companion.
"I'm going to enjoy the food, Severus," she relied calmly.
"That's not what I mean."
"I know, but I'm sick of hiding."
"But we've decided…"
"No, you've decided and I played along for well over a year. You know as well as I do that it won't make a damn bit of difference if we tell everyone about us when I'm thirty or now when I'm twenty." Her voice was still a quiet whisper but getting rather intense.
Severus stared numbly at his plate, feeling nothing but dread about the possible consequences their outing might have for her. He could deal with almost everything people would undoubtedly throw at him, but he didn't want to see her hurt.
Hermione's soft voice cut through his worried thoughts. "Don't worry; I will not start kissing you or anything similarly salacious. But I will not hide that we have a… friendship, if nothing else." She dared to look at him, and felt sorry for him. She would have loved to reassure him with a hug and a kiss, smooth his worried frown away, but she didn't dare. What she was doing now, was probably bad enough for the man who had planned everything so meticulously.
"I will not hide," she repeated softly and saw his defeated look.
Discreetly she put her hand on his thigh and heard him draw a shuddery breath. She knew he was not above ending things there and then to save her from humiliation.
"I don't care if it's you and me against the world, love. Don't throw this away!"
He slumped then, only to shoot back into a straight position as food bowls hovered in front of him. He took the mashed potatoes and filled both their plates, all too aware of many eyes darting towards him again and again.
"Have you trained him to be polite, girl? I didn't think he was trainable, or that he even had manners." Sirius could not stop needling the duo.
Severus continued filling their plates and sent the bowls flying back to the others at top speed, one of them halting a mere inch in front of Black's perfect nose.
"You and me against the world?" Severus queried ever so quietly, hardly moving his lips.
Hermione snorted softly. "That's not the world; its just one miserable wanker."
Snape smirked with her.
"Have you got something going?" Sirius asked disgustedly and everyone stopped doing what they were doing – forks stayed suspended in midair. "It's sickening and should be illegal. Urghh!"
Ron's soup was running down his chin as he forgot to swallow, only Albus continued dipping his bread roll into the lovely chowder with never ending calm.
"It's neither sickening nor illegal," the old wizard said and took a bite of his soggy roll.
"Exactly," Molly added sternly, garnering surprised looks by her family.
Harry could only stare uncomprehendingly at the… couple. Gods, it felt wrong just thinking that term. Hermione and Snape shouldn't be anything in the same sentence!
"That's absolutely perverted," Sirius said with a foul grimace and pushed his soup away theatrically.
Snape's bread roll died a similar death as the book before, but he didn't even draw his wand. It was Hermione that made her fork soar towards the owner of the house, who shrieked childishly as the sharp prongs came to a halt in front of his eye.
"Do shut your mouth, or you'll force me to ruin Christmas by murdering you," Hermione said in such icy tones that even Remus felt the hair on his neck stand on end.
"Remus, do something," the worried wizard ordered, but Remus ignored him, finally coming back to his senses.
"The soup is perfect, Molly," Lupin said and copied Albus who didn't seem affected by the chilly atmosphere at all.
Sirius still sat petrified on his chair, leaning as far back as he could without toppling over, the fork in front of him still intent on inflicting pain. He couldn't believe that no one seemed to be on his side in this matter, not even Remus who was supposed to be his best friend.
More and more people turned back to their food, and the meal continued, the strained feeling never leaving. Hermione had watched them stonily, while Severus was busy drowning the bread crumbs in his soup. He had lost his appetite.
Her eyes met Moody's who had stayed surprisingly quiet given the open hatred he had always displayed towards the ex- Death Eater. She cocked her head at him questioningly, waiting for his reaction, but when it came she wasn't quite prepared for it.
Without a word, the old wizard sent the fork that still hovered accusingly in front of Sirius' face back towards the couple at the far end of the table. Both Severus and Hermione looked at the object with wide eyes, alerted by Ginny's shriek.
With barely enough time, Severus and Hermione wandlessly pushed the other out of harm's way. The fork streaked past them and fell against the wall behind them with an echoing clang.
They got to their feet, their wands trained on the cackling wizard that had attacked them.
"Those two deserve each other," Moody scoffed and returned to his meal.
"Alastor, I expect that was the last time you attacked them so cowardly," Albus said with obvious displeasure, and only got another scoff in return.
Hermione shook her head in disbelief. She had expected many things. Insults and drawn wands, yes, but not an unfair attack that seriously could have injured either of them. Mind you, she had started the flying fork thing, but she had only used it to intimidate Sirius.
When she looked at her lover who only raised an eyebrow at her with an 'I told you so' expression, she just goggled at him.
"Thank you for cooking, Molly, but we're leaving," she said into the second shocked silence that evening.
"We are?" Severus asked with some devilish humour that had returned the second he heard that he could leave this house.
"Yes," Hermione said with a decisive nod, and she grasped her wizard by the hand to pull him out of the room.
Several people called them back to get them to stay, only Sirius and Moody not among them, and Hermione poked her head in through the door.
"Stay, Hermione. We can all be civil," Harry tried, standing now and looking at her beseechingly. He saw Snape's hand still wrapped in hers and his mouth puckered in distaste, something that wasn't lost on her.
"I don't want civil, I want happy," she said with a sad little smile and walked away, leaving a chagrined group behind.
Only Sirius didn't know when to shut up. "If you want happy, you're with the wrong man… AARRGHHH."
He stared down in horror at the fork that had imbedded itself in his groin. His cock felt never before known pain and he slumped sideways, falling off his seat unconscious.
"She's not even in the room. How did she do that?" Ron asked and held his bits protectively. No one had an answer, but Arthur gave his wife a knowing smile, seeing her discreetly tuck her wand away.
No one saw much of Hermione or Severus after that disastrous get-together. Harry and Ron saw her in the Ministry on occasion, but she declined each and every invitation they regaled her with and she refused point blank to discuss anything about Severus Snape. Whenever his name was mentioned, she clamped up and left.
Severus still worked at Hogwarts, but was rarely seen outside of class. Minerva had been told about that Christmas evening and soon the entire staff was aware of the relationship between their Potions master and their esteemed ex-student.
Albus and Minerva were the only one to even dare and mention his young companion but after receiving nothing but deadly glares every time they spoke her name, they had left him alone. The subject was not forgotten but a general taboo.
No one had seen them together since that disastrous evening. Not in Diagon Alley, nor Hogsmeade… No where. That fact, coupled with the reluctance they spoke about each other finally led people to believe that they had split and were too embarrassed to let anyone find out. They wouldn't have wanted anyone to know that people had been right about the disaster this relationship truly was.
The year passed quickly, and before they knew it another Christmas was upon them.
After many general discussions, that never included Hermione and Severus, it was decided to get together at the Burrow this year in the hopes of less hostility in this neutral place.
The invitations were sent out but the replies were saddening. Severus letter stated: "I have no wish to spend another evening with such imbeciles." Underneath he had started to write his signature, by the looks of it, but crossed it out to write "Merry Christmas" in its stead.
Hermione's answer had a warmer feel to it, but her reluctance to see any of them was more than clear.
"Well, maybe next year," Molly had said as she read the short missives to the other Order members.
But not even the next year the two elusive members wanted to participate, and had been seen even less during the year. Snape had been just as antisocial and unfriendly during term, and Hermione seemed buried in her work and never had time for anyone.
Molly had tried to trick them into coming, by telling them that the other wasn't coming, but it had made no difference. It pressed down on everyone's mood, especially Harry's and Ron's who had hardly seen their childhood friend in ages.
They promised themselves to try and see her more often, get her to stop working too hard. Their plan was to wait until the New Year, and decided to ambush her during their first break. The others found it to be a sound plan, safe for Sirius who had not the slightest desire to see either the bushy-haired menace or her ex-lover. He was careful not to voice his thoughts, still suffering from nightmares about speared sausages.
The first of January came and Harry and Ron hastened down to Hermione's department, only to be stopped by the secretary.
"Who are you intending to see?" the middle-aged witch asked them in a bored voice.
"Hermione Granger," Harry answered with an exasperated groan.
"I regret to inform you that Miss Granger is not working here any longer. Is there anyone else you might wish to…"
"She what?" Ron cried loudly not caring about the attention they were drawing. "Where is she?" he asked coolly, using his threatening Auror voice that he had trained so hard for, using his bathroom mirror.
The witch was not impressed. "She has asked for an extended leave of absence. That is all I know, and all I'm allowed to tell you," she told the flabbergasted young men and ignored them, returning to her stack of paperwork.
They had no choice but to leave and try to get some information later. The news of Hermione's sudden absence was spreading quickly and soon the entire Order was informed even before the boys arrived at the Burrow that evening.
"I'm sure Snape has something to do with it," Ron said yet again, making Sirius cringe as he rammed his fork into his sausage.
"I doubt it. They aren't together anymore, I tell you. The best thing she ever did… getting rid of the old lech!"
"Sirius, hold your tongue, or this was the last time I've invited you to the Burrow," Molly reprimanded him, hitting him over the head with a wooden spoon.
Tonks had once suggested to contact Hermione's parents, only to blush in embarrassment as she remembered that the dentist couple was still in Australia and had no idea they even had a daughter.
They tried to Floo the elusive young woman, but knew beforehand that they wouldn't get anywhere like that, as Hermione had told them once that she had disconnected her fireplace. Her address was unknown to them due to her job. Her work was top secret and her private location unknown. There was only one thing left to do:
"We have to see Snape!" Ron said.
"Well, I just wanted to suggest that we give up," Harry said sheepishly. Sirius was giving him the thumbs up, while the others looked dismayed. "Okay, okay, we go and see Snape," the bespectacled young man sighed.
The next weekend, the two young men made their way up to Hogwarts which they hadn't seen in a few years. They had decided not to announce their arrival, not wanting to give the Potions master a chance to leave the castle or hide.
They had timed their visit well, and interrupted everyone's lunch as they stormed into the Great Hall, the heavy doors crashing open loudly.
"Hurrah, Potter's back," Severus said sarcastically and wiped his mouth.
Ron was the first to reach the Head table and pointed an accusing finger at the black-haired man who eyed him dispassionately.
"What do you know about Hermione?" the hot-headed wizard asked loudly.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Small statue, bushy hair, know-it-all attitude, horrid choice in friends, loves reading, hates snakes and has a knack for making cutlery fly," he said blandly, and made Albus snort out some pineapple juice as he laughed.
"Not that," Ron said hotly, blushing madly as he felt that he wasn't taken seriously. "She has disappeared," he said, trying to regain some footing by telling everyone the news.
"Good for her," Snape said and emptied his goblet with a few gulps.
Ron made an angry noise in the back of his throat that didn't sound threatening at all. Harry was regretting coming here, and discreetly stayed behind his friend.
"I know that you know where she is," Ron began, still pointing a finger at the bored-looking wizard.
"I might do, young man. All I have to do is glance at my crystal ball and all will be revealed," their former Professor said in a mysterious voice that had Albus chuckling anew; even Minerva couldn't suppress a chuckle.
"Snape, I'm warning you…" Ron began hotly but trailed off into an unattractive gape when the man stood, towering over him in all his glorious malevolence.
"I played along up to now, Weasley, but you will not threaten me, am I understood?" He waited for the red-head's timid nod before he continued. "As to the whereabouts of Miss Granger: even if I knew where she was I'd not be inclined to tell you, as she clearly didn't want you to know. So get out, and don't come back until you've learned some manners, Auror Weasley."
The mocking disdain in which he had said Ron's title, made the younger wizard's ears turn red as well as his cheeks and he hastily fled the castle with a minute nod to the Headmaster.
Harry found himself shuffling nervously in front of the entire staff, aware of the staring students behind him.
"I'm sorry, he's overdoing it occasionally," he apologised for his friend.
"You don't say," Snape said with his usual blandness that makes you want to strangle some emotion into his sallow and expressionless face.
But Harry controlled the urge. "Do you know where Hermione is?" he addressed the hooked nose that peeked out from behind greasy hair.
Snape ignored the question, only released an annoyed huff. "Good day, Potter."
With a last pleading look at the Headmaster, who only smiled at him, Harry Potter declared defeat and left the castle, trying not to cringe in embarrassment at the many whispers and pointed fingers that were aimed his way.
Only two days later, Harry received a letter, and he knew the sender as soon as he saw the neat script on the front.
"Hermione…" he breathed and ripped into the envelope. His eyes flew over the missive. It was short but at least it was a sign of life.
I've heard that you and Ron have been inquiring about me (in a less than gentlemanly manner). Let me inform you that I only wanted some time off work to have more time for other aspects of my life.
I have learned that there is more to life than work and I have embarked on a new endeavour. I like my peace and quiet for this, please don't think I'm shunning you out of malice.
Greetings to the rest of the Order, as I'm sure you will give this letter to everyone you can think of.
Harry smiled at her words, simply glad that she seemed alright and not angry. He proceeded to do what Hermione had rightfully predicted and Flooed to the Burrow, the letter clutched tightly in his hand.
Another year passed and another Christmas was upon them.
"Third time's the charm," Molly said with a brittle smile as she sent out the last invitations - one to the Potions master and one to Hermione. The owl knew where to go even without having her address.
The letter had been very emotional, and even now Molly sniffled just thinking about it. She had promised that they would all be on their best behaviour, no questions asked, no accusations. She only asked for a Christmas with the entire family, stressing the point that she thought of Hermione as a daughter.
Severus reply was short and to the point, but the content made Molly shriek in happiness.
"I will appear, but don't expect me to stay for very long."
Later that day she received an answer from Hermione and the entire Weasley clan watched with baited breath as she opened the letter during dinner.
Dear Molly and all the other Weasleys,
Before you have to resort to more emotional blackmail…" Molly laughed nervously as Arthur looked at her with an amused smile. "… I shall heed your invitation and come to the Burrow as requested. You may warn Sirius that one wrong word will have serious consequences for his health. Until then.
And so it was that two weeks later the Order members were once more gathered around a big table. The Burrow felt wonderfully cosy and intriguing smells of culinary delights were filling the air.
It was five minutes past seven, and Molly was getting anxious.
"Molly, dear, they're only five minutes late. Give them some time. Severus is always late and Hermione is not one to go back on her word," Arthur tried to soothe his wife, but glanced at the clock again as if that could speed up their arrivals.
The others had made bets about who would come last, and the majority had betted on Severus. Only Dumbledore had refused to participate.
When a knock startled everyone, it was Molly who practically shot out of her seat. They all listened to her rapid steps as she sped down the corridor to the front door. The room was silent as they tried to make out the visitors voice, but all they heard was Molly's shriek.
Voldemort hadn't been dead long enough for the others to stay calm. Almost as one they got to their feet, wands drawn, and sprinted after Molly.
They ground to a halt when they saw the newcomers. Not one, but two people stood outside.
"I would have won the bet," Albus stated into the silence and smiled to himself as he saw Severus and Hermione standing in the doorframe side by side.
Harry and Ron didn't care that they had lost a galleon each, they only had eyes for their friend. Hermione looked stunning, her face a little rounder than they remembered and her body shape more pronounced then they had ever seen; not that they have noticed her shape all that much before. They did notice, though, that they were looking at a grown woman now.
"Molly, have they brought a present?" Arthur asked as he saw his wife holding something, but her back was turned towards them.
"Yes, they did," she said, and it was obvious that she was crying.
"Come now, Molly, I'm sure they didn't mean to make you cry with their choice of present," he said and gave an apologetic smile at the couple still standing immobile in the door. "Maybe you can exchange it later?"
"It's a wonderful present, but I'm not supposed to keep it, I think," Molly sniffled and finally turned around, the present on her arms moving slightly. All they could see was a bundle of blankets. When a little arm suddenly shot out and waved jerkily through the air, wands were dropped in shock.
"It's a Snapelet," Fred and George said simultaneously, and noticed the glare the Potions master gave them. "Well done, sir. Your stirring rod seems to be in fine working order."
A few amused snorts could be heard, and Molly beckoned the couple in before anything else could be said. She bade her husband to help the last guests out of their cloaks and walked into the warm sitting room and everyone followed her automatically.
When Severus and Hermione joined them a few moments later they found everyone gathered around Molly who held the infant to her chest.
"What is it?" Ron asked, eyeing the moving bundle with distrust.
"I believe it is called a baby, Weasley," Snape's deep voice cut in.
"I mean, is it a boy or a girl?" Ron asked again, flushing a little.
"You may find out yourself when you change the next nappy," Severus drawled and got cuffed lightly by Hermione.
"You're right, better not let Weasley change the nappy, he'll only drop the child," Severus continued and got out of the way before the woman next to him could hit him again. Her peeved expression only amused him and he wandered over to the table, scanning the offered meals.
Hermione walked over to the group clustered around her child. "May I introduce: Caleb Aiden Snape. A boy, Ron," she added with a grin to her friend who grimaced in annoyance.
Harry was suddenly seized by the impulse to hug his long-lost friend and wrapped his arms around her. "Is that the endeavour you wrote about?" he whispered and heard her quiet, "Yes."
He didn't want to let her go and kept rocking from side to side. He felt Ron launch himself at them and they stood there with silly grins on their faces.
"As touching as this reunion is, I'd prefer it if could take your hands of my wife," Severus drawled, not able to keep his statement light.
Harry and Ron shot back from her as if burned.
"You're his what?" the youngest Weasley son asked with a squeak. He wasn't the only one to look shocked yet again.
"His wife of two years, his lover of four years and the mother of his son," she said dryly, and walked over to her husband, accepting a tasty morsel from his fingers.
"He must have kidnapped and brainwashed her during the last few years," Sirius said under his breath was heard by everyone.
"To your information, it was the other way round," Hermione began. "One more derogatory word out of your infantile mouth and I will add a few more fork scars to your appendage, hoping not to miss the inch of flesh." Her eyes travelled meaningfully to his groin and saw him cross his legs with satisfaction.
She covertly glanced at Molly, who had told her about what she'd done in an earlier letter and they smirked.
Slowly they all moved back to the table, the child being passed around to everyone, until the boy mewled. Sirius who had misfortune of holding the child at the time apologised in advantage even though he hadn't done anything.
"Time for the milk-bar," Severus said as he retrieved his son from the wizard with a scowl.
Everyone stared at him at his choice of words, blushes spreading rapidly on the men's faces, except for Arthur who smiled reminiscently. He knew the delights of said milk-bar.
"I just said that out loud, didn't I?" Snape asked Hermione with mild embarrassment as he handed over his burden, but his wife only smiled and kissed his cheek.
"Does anyone mind if I feed him here?" she asked and only got a few mumbled words and short head shakes from everyone. Shrugging, she turned in her seat and freed her breast to breastfeed her son who sucked heartily with little smacking noises.
"Weasley, eyes on your plate," Severus warned, and Ron's eyes flew to narrowed black ones with something akin to shock.
"I though the milk-bar offered bottles," the redhead got out before lowering his flaming cheeks to his plate, so low that his nose almost touched the mashed potatoes.
Fred and George laughed at their little brother, but were decent enough to let it go for the moment, but their grins were promising future teasing. Harry grinned as well and shared an affectionate look with Ginny who winked at him.
"You can behave normally, you know. The milk-bar is open for another twenty minutes; you can't all stare at your plates for that long," Hermione said over her shoulder, seeing the males mightily concentrating on their food.
"Yes, they can," Severus countered, and saw his wife roll her eyes.
Hermione got up and sat in a chair by the fire, hearing sighs of relief as she removed herself from the table. She chuckled and gave Severus a sultry look as he watched her possessively.
She listened to the joyous talk at the table, alternating between watching her son's relaxed face and the people at the table. She had missed them but since her marriage and the birth of their child she had been happy to just spent time with her family. They were the most important people in her life, after all.
She could hear the many questions they asked her husband and felt a little sorry for him, but he was an adult and could hold his own. When he had enough, he came over to her with a full plate and began to feed her with his fingers. There was no mushy smile on his face but the usual intense regard he gave her along with his undivided attention.
"Happy?" he murmured, sensing that all eyes were on them.
"Always," she answered and leaned forward to lick off the cream he still had on his finger.
"Promise me you don't disappear again when you create the second Snapelet," Harry called over and felt reassured by Hermione's tender smile. Snape's affronted glare wasn't as frightening as it could have been.
Sirius groaned pitifully but was ignored by everyone in favour of watching the happy duo, or rather trio, they had missed for so long. Harry was overjoyed to have his massive family around him; he even liked the new additions and gave Ginny another secretive smile as he thought about adding to the family with his own offspring.