You'll notice in this chapter a bit of a shift in the narrative style. Now that their relationship has become a bit, ahem, closer, Severus and Hermione's POVs will merge and there will no longer be segment breaks when the POVs shift between them. Their thoughts and perspectives will still be their own, but within the same segments and sort of flow from one to the other. Cool? Let's proceed, then.
Harry Potter was ecstatic. No, beyond ecstatic. It was everything he had ever wanted, and Ginny was giving it to him.
He was going to be a father again.
Last time, he and Ginny had waited a few months to inform everyone of her pregnancy. But this time, after experiencing it once and knowing it would be just as wonderful the second time around…Harry couldn't wait.
And of course, news like this was not fit for an owl or a Patronus. He would tell his friends—his family—in person.
He Apparated to Diagon Alley and ran up the stairs to Ron's flat above Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. He pounded on the door and called, "Ron! Ron!"
Ron opened the door quickly, wand drawn, looking concerned. His red hair was rumpled from sleep. "What is it, Harry? Did something happen? Is Ginny okay? Is Hermione okay?"
Harry belatedly realised what this must look like and shook his head. "No, no, they're fine. Ron—you're going to be an uncle again."
It took Ron a few moments to process this, before grinning widely and pulling his best friend in for a hug. "As mad as I am that you seem to have forgotten that not all of us keep new parent hours, that's brilliant, mate, really brilliant. You and Ginny aren't wasting any time, are you?"
Harry laughed. "No rest for the wicked," he said, wagging his eyebrows suggestively.
Ron let go of him and smacked him playfully in the arm. "That's my sister you're talking about, mate!"
Harry grinned sheepishly.
"Have you told Hermione yet?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I'm just off to do it. She stayed at Grimmauld Place last night, figured I'd pop by before work."
"She's more likely to be up at this hour than me," Ron grumbled. "We'll celebrate later, but right now I'm going back to bed."
"Thanks Ron. And sorry for waking you—I really didn't realise just how early it was. This probably could have waited."
"No, it definitely could have waited an hour or three, but I'm glad you told me. Now go tell Hermione. I don't want to be the only person roused out of bed this early.
Severus's question hung in the air between them, but there was no awkwardness or angst.
They had slowly and carefully made their way toward each other the night before, mostly talking and kissing and caressing and just holding each other, eventually evolving into something closer.
It had been a very long time since Hermione had been with a man, and she had forgotten how comforting and peaceful it could be to lose herself in another person's arms.
He had been attentive and thoughtful but also very tentative, as if afraid he would break her. Very little was done without him gaining her express permission. Hermione could tell it had been awhile for him, and based on the hesitancy in his actions she would have sworn that he had less experience than might be typical for a man his age. It had not been perfect sex, nor the best of her life, but definitely enjoyable. Definitely room to grow together. Definitely something she would like to practise with him.
Continuing the honest discussion that had begun the night before, Hermione thought for a moment before she replied, "I don't know." She looked at him thoughtfully. "I know it's something I wouldn't mind continuing with you, but if you're asking me to give this a label…I don't know if I can do that right now."
While Severus's expression had not changed, she could swear she saw a flicker of relief in his eyes.
In truth, she did not want to label this because she did not know what it was. It was more than just sex. She definitely had grown to admire and care for him, though she hadn't really properly admitted it to herself. But Hermione also knew herself too well to attempt to understand it. In the past, she had confused companionship and comfort with love, and did not want to do it again. What they had was nice and they had further complicated an already complicated situation. They would need to be careful.
He, for one, was glad Hermione had not put a label on this. It was too tentative, too unsure. It was complicated and delicate and he was afraid of destroying it like he had destroyed so many other beautiful things that had come into his life. He had been nervous and inexperienced and she had been kind and nonjudgmental. She was already teaching him things. He was sure that he had enjoyed it, and that she had too, and that he wanted it to continue. Hermione said she wanted it to continue, which was an enormous relief.
Severus did not want to think about how long it had been since he had last been with a woman, and had forgotten just how nice it could be to take another in his arms and just be with her.
Just to be, indeed.
He had been so worried that he would not be able to meet her expectations, or to make a fool of himself by, well, "ending" things before they had a chance to properly begin. He did not want to think of how many years it had been since he had been intimate with a woman; she was definitely the first, the only, since the war ended. Having never been in much demand for physical pleasure, he had been afraid this would be no more than the equivalent of a teenage fumble. Her noises of appreciation and words of encouragement last night had calmed his fears, and this morning her face showed no trace of regret. That had not been the case with all of his bed partners. This was good. They could grow together in this. She could teach him what she liked, and he could teach her what he liked. He…well, he was a man. His needs were met very simply and easily, though he wouldn't mind experimenting and exploring with her.
Severus nodded and tried to pick the right words to ask the question. "Are you currently…associating with anyone else?" He tried to sound nonchalant, indifferent even. There was no point in betraying that he had grown to care for her. Things could end right now and he could walk away right now without having made a complete fool of himself. He had no desire to share her with anyone else, and would walk away if she was not willing to do the same.
He knew he had failed at making the question sound casual as soon as he saw her eyes widen. He cursed himself silently. To think that he had once been such a good spy.
"No," Hermione said. "I'm not." And then after a pause, added, "And you?"
Severus shook his head.
"Well then," she said, toying with a lock of his hair, "no need to mess with the status quo, then, is there?"
She wants to be exclusive. Severus responded with a slow, deep kiss, moving his body over hers. Yes, it was getting late, but he knew from experience they probably had about an hour or so before the children would…
There came a knock on Hermione's bedroom door. Severus and Hermione sat up with a start, arms still around one another.
"I thought you said…"
"They never do."
"How would they know to come here?"
"I don't know. Given that I would put all of them in Slytherin House, they likely figured things out somehow. Just wait here," he said, transfiguring his shirt from the night before into a dressing gown, "and I'll see what the trouble is."
Severus smoothed down his hair just a bit and opened the door, pulling the door open just as the person on the other side pushed it open.
Potter. Harry bloody fucking Potter.
What the hell was Potter doing here so early?
"Severus?" Potter made no attempt to hide his shock. "What are you…" His voice trailed off as he looked over Severus's shoulder to the bed, clearly visible behind. "Hermione?" His emerald eyes widened as he put together the situation. "Wow, I…I'll just…" Without another word, he turned on his heel and bolted down the stairs.
Hermione made a sound of frustration. "Harry…that bloody wanker," she hissed. She leapt out of bed and tied a dressing gown around herself.
"What the bloody hell is Potter doing just entering your bedroom without warning?" Severus asked, trying not to sound accusatory.
"No idea, but I'm off to find out. He came here looking for me and it might be important. But I'm sure it's nothing you need be worried about," she said, grabbing her wand from the side table. Severus noticed that she always kept it with her. She paused in the doorway and gave him a meaningful look. "Really." And left the room.
Severus sat in bed, unsuccessfully trying to calm himself down using controlled breathing. He cursed himself for failing to restrict Potter specifically from the floo; his security charms applied to everyone in the house except for its rightful owner, Potter himself.
He knew he was being ridiculous—Potter was one of her best friends and this had been his house, and for all he knew they walked in on each other in bed regularly, and he didn't even have a claim to Hermione until about thirty seconds before Potter barged in.
Still…Severus didn't like it.
Severus was torn between leaving for his own room and following her downstairs to get an explanation. On the one hand, if he had just been made a fool of by Harry Potter of all people, he wanted it over with as soon as possible. On the other, if he had not, he did not want to do anything to jeopardise this.
Quite a friend who would enter her bedroom in the wee hours of the morning without his wife, said the malicious voice in his head. Wonder how often that's happened.
Severus shook his head. It seemed a bit far-fetched, even for them.
Better go downstairs to see what Potter wanted. Just in case it was about the house or the children.
Just in case.
"Harry James Potter, what the ruddy hell was that all about?" Hermione hissed at Harry in a low voice as she caught up with him downstairs. "Is something wrong? Did something happen to Ron or Ginny?"
"I'm so sorry Hermione, I had news and I was excited and I remembered you were staying here and…look, I'll never enter this house again without permission," Harry said, stiffening as he saw a very angry Severus come down the stairs after her.
"Well?" he said, crossing his arms and staring down at him with his best withering glare.
"It was…Ginny's pregnant and I wanted to tell Hermione. That's all."
"My congratulations," he drawled murderously. "Now get out of this house and do not come back unless you have been expressly invited."
"Wonderful news, Harry," Hermione said warmly, contrasting brilliantly with Severus's cold demeanor. "But was that really necessary?"
"At the moment, I don't think so, no."
Severus said nothing, merely glared at Potter in hopes of making him leave.
"I'm, um, I'm happy for you. Both of you." He gave a sheepish grin. "I know this isn't how you wanted me to find out, I'm sure, but you both deserve to be happy."
"Marvelous speech, Potter," Severus drawled, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "So good of you to give us your blessing."
"How long has this been going on?" Harry asked, gesturing between the two of them.
Hermione blushed. "Um, last night."
"Oh." Now it was Harry's turn to blush. "Well, I'll just, um, leave you to it then." Without another word, he ran to the fire and flooed home.
Severus stormed over to the floo and conjured a brick wall over it, completely blocking it.
"Is that really necessary?" Hermione sighed.
"Until Potter learns some boundaries, including what does and does not make for a healthy friendship with a member of the opposite sex, yes."
"And how are Luna and Neville supposed to get in later today?"
Grumbling, Severus waved his wand and removed the wall. Without Hermione's knowledge, he silently cast a spell to ward out Potter specifically. Let the little bastard try to floo in now, he thought to himself.
"This is so unlike him," Hermione mused.
"Barging in where he doesn't belong and causing trouble for others because he cannot see beyond his own immediate needs? I would call that vintage Potter."
"I know Harry, he's learned his lesson, he feels horrible, and will never do it again."
Severus did not believe that for a second. "If you say so." He wasn't completely hopeless when it came to relationships.
"Trust me, I know him better than anyone, probably even better than Ginny, and better than he knows himself."
"Potter obeying rules? That I'll never live to see."
"Oh, stop, that was a long time ago."
Not long enough.
Deciding that Severus would likely fixate on this unless she did something about it, Hermione wrapped her arms around his torso and began kissing him deeply like she had the night before after they had secreted away in her room. "What time do they usually get up?" Hermione asked between kisses.
"Just under an hour," he replied, moving down to kiss the spot just under her ear that he had recently discovered set her on fire, Potter's visit completely forgottne.
"Then we've no time to lose, do we?" Hermione said with a devious smile. Severus grasped her hand and quietly but quickly led her up the stairs and back to her bed.
Luna Lovegood flooed in a couple of hours later. Since her therapy had been so successful, and the children were opening up more and learning to better interact with each other and trust adults, she had started coming in two mornings per week. She didn't want to slow their progress. She found Hermione and Snape in the kitchen, sitting with the appropriate amount of distance between them necessary to maintain propriety.
"Good morning Hermione, Severus," she said dreamily. "I see you finally realised your attraction to each other and did something about it. I'm happy for both of you."
Severus nearly spat out the coffee he had begun to sip. Hermione's face went pink and she whispered furiously to Luna, "Have you been talking to Harry?"
"Oh, goodness, no. It's written all over your faces plain as day. Why, did you talk about it with him?" She smiled when Hermione didn't react. "Well, be good to each other. I'm going to set up the room."
After she left, Severus looked at Hermione and raised a single eyebrow. Nobody ever read anything in his face. He had perfected the expressionless look over a period of more than forty years. Hell, he was even Occluding last night right now—hidden it in the deepest recesses of his mind so that he wouldn't walk around with the satisfied smirk Hermione had teased him for wearing earlier. How the hell could Lovegood know?
Hermione, seemingly hearing his train of thought, merely shrugged and said, "I told you, she's very insightful."
An hour after Hermione left for the Ministry, Longbottom flooed in, giving Severus a nervous grin. It was summer holidays now and he was coming in every day. His look was mischievous. It was almost as if he was trying to pluck up the courage to say something, which he finally did. Lovegood must have encouraged him to be more "friendly" with Severus.
Not bloody likely.
Longbottom wisely scarpered off.
An ear-piercing scream woke Hermione. Before she had even taken in her surroundings, she saw Severus silhouetted against the fire quickly wrapping his dressing gown around himself.
"Go back to sleep," he whispered as he made his way for the door. "Night terrors. I think it's Mr. Dolohov." He swept from the room and she heard his swift footsteps move up the stairs.
Grabbing her wand, she tiptoed up the stairs after him. The bedroom door was slightly ajar, though not open. She positioned herself so that she could see through the crack of the door. Severus was sitting next to little Sergei Dolohov, who was panting and covered in sweat and trying not to cry. He conjured a glass and filled it with an Aguamenti charm and gave it to the boy. They sat there together, Severus sitting next to the boy but not touching him, not looking at him, not giving any indication that there was anything wrong. The longer they sat there, the more the boy relaxed.
It was much like his interaction with Margaret the night they got together, only different. Clealry this boy needed something different than Margaret. While she had wrapped herself around Severus and clung to him with all her strength, Sergei seemed to want a bit of personal space. He drank the water and did not move near Severus, but clearly did relax, just being in proximity to him.
Hermione had known, intellectually, that he understood each child's needs individually, but it never ceased to please her to see just how well he knew each child. Smiling, she crept back down to bed.
"I really am happy for you, you know," Potter said conversationally, as if they hadn't been sitting in silence moments before whilst Longbottom and Lovegood corralled the children into the kitchen for lunch.
Severus merely scoffed at Potter and rolled his eyes. "And why, may I ask, is that?"
"Because I want Hermione to be happy, and I want you to be happy. No one deserves it more than you do."
Severus scoffed. "I was not born yesterday. If you think that I am stupid enough to believe that a Potter," he spat the word as if it tasted bad in his mouth, "could want me to feel happy, you're even more idiotic than I ever gave you credit for."
Potter gave a sigh and took a seat across from Severus. "Severus, Hermione has a motto that she uses with regard to this project. She uses it whenever one of us becomes too overwhelmed. Has she ever shared it with you?"
"It's a simple phrase with a lot of meaning behind it. Her motto is, 'Without regard for the sins of the father.'" He paused for a moment, and then said, "I truly hope you and Hermione make each other happy, Severus. I don't want to see either of you hurting anymore."
He left to join the others in the kitchen without another word.
"You don't wear black anymore," Hermione mused lazily. Severus spooned behind her, resting his chin in the crook of her neck.
Their...arrangement existed only within the four corners of Hermione's bedroom.
They never spoke this way to each other outside the bedroom. They were never physical or affectionate. Outside the bedroom, they were colleagues. They were cordial. They were professional. Even if they were alone.
But inside the bedroom…that was a different story. It wasn't just the sex, which they were still figuring out together. It was the intimacy-the conversations, the company, the cuddling. Who would have known that Severus Snape was a closet cuddler?
Severus chuckled at her question. "Don't tell me you're disappointed."
"No, but it's…different. I can't recall ever seeing you in any other colour." She turned slightly. "Any particular reason?"
"The children found it intimidating, which I admit was the main purpose of wearing it whilst at Hogwarts but under the present circumstances I found it was not really appropriate."
"Why did you want to be so intimidating with your appearance? Your personality was so powerful you could have worn pink and still had us shaking."
"You forget that my first year of teaching was only three years after I graduated Hogwarts; half of my students were people who knew me as a peer and remembered how unpopular I was and what Potter and Black used to subject me to. They knew my nickname. I had to do something to command their attention and respect."
"So you dressed like a stereotypical villain, refined your voice, and decided to command by fear if you couldn't have respect?
"And in subsequent years?"
"I had a reputation to maintain."
He sighed and took a deep inhale of her hair. It smelled like orange blossoms. "And now, to be perfectly honest, I find that people are less likely to recognise me if I wear anything other than black. Between that and the hair, I am practically anonymous. I find that I do not like being recognised."
"Neither do I."
"Is that why you cut your hair? It's much shorter than you used to wear it. And less bushy. More…wavy."
"Not really," Hermione said. "And it didn't really make a difference, I still get recognised. I just sort of fancied a change. Do you like it?"
"There's only one right answer to that question, isn't there?"
"Should I take that as a no?"
"Not at all. I find it very alluring. Mature. It helps me forget about the age difference between us."
"Does it bother you—the age difference? It doesn't bother me."
"No, but it feels like it should bother me."
"Well, it shouldn't and I'm glad it doesn't." She shifted her body so that she was pressed more closely against him. "Severus?"
"Colours flatter you. Especially grey."
"Have you thought about trying yellow?"
"Don't be absurd."
"Scared you might like it?"
He nipped her ear in response.
"So?" Ginny said expectantly. They had met at the Leaky Cauldron during Hermione's lunch break.
"So?" Hermione asked.
"You and Snape! How did it happen? When did it happen? Why did it happen?" She gave her friend a wink.
"I'm not talking about it, he'll kill me." Ginny just smiled with a big grin on her face. "I mean it, Ginny!"
"I can tell you're happy."
Hermione smiled. "I am."
"Good. That's all I need to know."
"You're not going to lecture me on how weird it is?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Please, Hermione. You're an adult, and my friend, and I want you to happy, and if that involves shagging Snape, well, carry on."
"Thank you for your blessing. I trust Harry knows not to barge into my room uninvited anymore?"
"Oh trust me, you've cured him of that habit."
Harry stopped in his tracks, staring at Snape.
He sneered at his former student. "What, Potter?"
"Is that…a yellow jumper you're wearing?"
"So what if it is? Is that a bloody crime?"
"I just…it's different, that's all."
Snape mumbled and charmed it dark green.
Hermione woke with a start, as she often did at night when ugly memories of ugly events found their way into her dreams. It was happening less and less the further away she got from the war, but it still happened.
She was covered in a cold sweat. She couldn't remember what she had been specifically dreaming about, but it was something bad. Her heart wasn't pounding the way it normally did, though, and it took her a second to realise why. Rather than feel exposed and alone in her bed, she felt warm arms around her, pulling her close, and the whisper of breath from the man lying next to her.
"Only a dream," he murmured. "Only a dream."
For once, she believed that it was, and allowed herself to fall back asleep. It was never so easy before. It almost felt too easy.
Maybe life really was starting to get easy again. Or, rather, easier.
"What was it like, being in a coma for a year?"
"As am I. I could hear everything and everyone around me; I was fully aware the whole time. I just wasn't responsive."
"Was it the venom—did it render you unconscious yet aware?"
"No, it was the coma itself. By design."
"I induced it."
"Old Occlumency trick. If the mind is being invaded by too many things, shut it down. Under the circumstances, it seemed the right thing to do."
"The pain, Hermione, was just…unbearable. I knew I could heal myself but that the pain of doing so would likely kill me. I knew that if I could render my body comatose, I would be able to ride it out. I could remain mentally lucid and track the progress by listening to others."
"It's enlightening, really, to hear what people have to say about you when they think they cannot hear you."
"Not really. I received many visitors who came to offer their apologies. Minerva, for one, but I never blamed her for doing what she did. She did exactly what she was meant to do, which was to oppose me at every step and believe that I was a loyal Death Eater. Longbottom was a surprise, he came to visit more than once, though he didn't speak much. Once Minerva brought in Albus's portrait, but I willed myself to sleep at that point because I care nothing for what the old man has to say to me."
"I came to visit you, once."
"How could you, I never spoke. I couldn't speak without breaking down back then. The guilt I felt, and the gratitude…"
"You held my hand," Severus said, taking hers in his and planting a kiss on it. "You held my hand, and I knew it was you."
"Back then, when I was just the insufferable know-it-all who was joined at the hip with Harry Potter?"
"But…but you'd never touched me before that."
"Yes I had."
"When you were petrified…I was working on the cure and came to the hospital wing, and I saw you all lying there. I was…disturbed to see that my most promising student was rendered petrified by virtue of her birth. All that potential at risk of being lost forever, and you were so young, and so determined…you had that little mirror in your hand, a true know-it-all to the last…" He smiled at her. "It was only once, but I briefly grasped your hand, when nobody was looking, and I whispered the only thing I could think of to you. I cared not for reviving the others, but you…as annoying as you were, I wanted you back in my classroom giving me headaches and stomach ulcers. When you grasped my hand at St. Mungo's I recognised the touch. Your hand was not much smaller than it is now." He massaged her hand within both of his. "Just as delicate today as it was then."
"Sweet? It's downright paedophilic! You were twelve years old!"
"Thirteen, actually. But you're wrong; it wasn't sexual or lecherous, it was compassion for a child who was in mortal danger, which you show to your charges here every hour of every day, and to your graduates as well. It was an entirely appropriate thing for you to do as a teacher. But a live-in teacher as a boarding school is more than just a teacher, isn't he? He becomes something more. You become a surrogate parent, and when yours are far away, even an acerbic bastard of a surrogate parent is better than nothing at all." She took his face in her palm and rubbed her thumb across his cheek. "You have a great capacity for compassion, Severus Snape. I wish you would let the world see it more often."
"The world has rendered me a martyr, Hermione, they don't need more ammunition for their falsities."
"It's the truth."
"We'll have to agree to disagree on that."
For a long time they merely held each other.
"What did you say to me, when you held my hand?"
"I took twenty points from Gryffindor for wandering the corridors alone."
Luna frowned as she reviewed her records from the past few months. On the whole, all the children were improving. Certain trends had emerged. Generally, the ones who had siblings in the house were far more stable than the ones without. Those with siblings at all were more stable than those who were only children. Age did not seem to be a factor, gender did not seem to be a factor, parental status (dead, Kissed, incarcerated) did not seem to be a factor.
Still, there were problems. Margaret Macnair still had regular panic attacks, although they were far less virulent than the one she had had that night a few weeks earlier. The Rosiers had withdrawn almost completely into themselves, and with Leopold due to start at Hogwarts in a few months, it was imperative that Ermengarde learn to feel secure around other people. The Carrow sibling-cousins barely spoke at all, and Luna was beginning to suspect that without more direct therapy, Antioch may eventually be unable to access his magic at all. Squib status would render him completely defenceless.
There was really no way around it. Part-time therapy had done much to help them, but now it was time to increase the frequency. Luna resolved that she would ask Snape to bring her on full-time as a counselor and drop her from teaching.
"I do not have the funds to bring you on as a full-time therapist, Miss Lovegood," Snape said when she approached him with her proposal. "Much as I would like to eliminate your fanciful lessons, it is simply not an option. And I do acknowledge that they need more intensive therapy."
"I'm not asking for money; the Quibbler supports me just fine. More than fine."
"If you do this full-time, when would you work on the Quibbler?"
"It actually doesn't take up that much of my time; it's only a monthly periodical, anyway. Most of the articles are written by freelance writers so I only have to edit them together, which takes hardly any time at all." She looked at him thoughtfully. "That's kind of you to worry about."
"Kindness has nothing to do with this. I simply want to ensure that you do not drop off after a month or two when you decide you can no longer afford to be noble." He crossed his arms and gave her the look he always gave students back at Hogwarts. It made her smile. That only made him scowl more.
"You can count on me," Luna said. "Between the Quibbler and the war reparations for the house that was destroyed and my time at Malfoy Manor and the proceeds from the book of my father's essays, money is not an issue for me. I was also wondering if you might consent to transfiguring the attic?"
"Well, as functional as the sitting room and library are, they're not really that private, and I want to retain their bedrooms as secure places, so I don't want to do it there. I thought we could transfigure at least part of the attic into a counseling room. A couch, a table, art supplies, parchment to write on, the things I've been using thus far, so that I can work with the children one-on-one or in small groups."
He nodded thoughtfully. "I will consider it. I think I could do it."
"Splendid," Luna said. "I have a few other suggestions, if I may?" He gave a slight nod. "Well, I think that as a group, their social skills leave much to be desired. With all of them bound for Hogwarts, they need to learn how to interact with others. I realise that much of the problem arises from the actions of other students, but perhaps if they learned how to act around strangers they might find more appropriate responses. When Neville and I took them to the zoo, they seemed frightened and quite overwhelmed by others at first, but overall by the end of the day they seemed far more relaxed. I think if we were to take them somewhere outside the house once per week, we could really make some progress.
"I also," she continued, "would like to start introducing other children their age. I had thought of Teddy Lupin."
"Remus Lupin's son? Out of the question. Andromeda will never consent to it."
"Why shouldn't she? He was orphaned by the war, same as these children were."
"And his father was killed by the father of one of the children in this house. Her husband and daughter were killed by the aunt of two others in this house. It will never happen."
"He doesn't need to know that now. He's the same age as some of the younger children; it might be nice for them to have an ally when they arrive at Hogwarts. Maybe they will never be friends, but I can't imagine them being worse off for at least attempting it."
"I shall…consider it, though as I said, the boy's grandmother will likely forbid it. You raise some interesting points, Miss Lovegood, a feat that, given your fanciful beliefs about the world at large, never ceases to amaze me. You have my leave to take them on an outing once per week to start. And to begin a full-time schedule."
Luna smiled. "One more thing, Severus."
Snape gave an exaggerated sigh. "You're trying my patience, Lovegood."
"Yes, but who isn't? Except for probably Hermione. Though I bet she tries your patience too. And she probably does so in a way that you enjoy." Severus glared daggers at her. As was typical, she seemed completely unaffected by his look.
"Anyway, you talk of the children being lost once they get to Hogwarts. There are none currently there, correct?" Snape shook his head. "And Leopold is the only one starting next term?" Snape gave a small nod. "Just remember, Severus, that you now have a member of Hogwarts faculty on your side. Neville…well, talk with Neville. He may be the most junior member on staff, and not someone you particularly like, but he's well-respected and might be able to do something. At the very least, he can try to keep an eye open. Don't be shy about asking him, and don't act like you're angry to do it, because he and I already spoke about it and he's already agreed to do it."
Luna stood up to go. "Good day, Severus. I look forward to us working together on a daily basis now." By the look he gave her, Snape did not match her sentiment. Though Luna had long since stopped relying on his expressions to gauge his feelings on a subject.
"And remember…you're not fighting this battle alone anymore."
Hermione shifted her weight from one leg to the other as she stood waiting outside the Leaky Cauldron. She did not like standing out in public for too long (too many opportunities to be recognised and, by extension, harassed) and a part of her was really not looking forward to this conversation. Nevertheless, it needed to happen, and needed to happen soon.
She was going to tell Ron.
What she was going to tell him was still up in the air. She didn't know what she and Severus had exactly. A relationship? An arrangement? An understanding?
Feelings had never been discussed between them, in spite of all their late night conversations about nearly everything else. Neither one apparently wanted to discuss it beyond what it was. Intimacy apparently scared him as much as it scared her. There had been no protestations or declarations or anything of the sort from either one of them. Still, Hermione could not help but notice that she was staying over far more often than she had originally intended. She had not failed to notice that Severus always held her very possessively afterward, wordlessly asking her to stay and letting her go only after she assured him that she would come back.
Perhaps they really were not so different.
A familiar voice snapped her out of her thoughts.
"You've been avoiding me."
Ron stood before her looking tired yet happy yet upset at the same time. Despite her diagnosis to the contrary back in their teens, Ron did not have the emotional range of a teaspoon. Whether it had always been there or the war had caused it, he could be very complex.
"I've been busy," Hermione replied, wrapping him in a hug and giving him a brief kiss on the cheek. "Come on, before the Prophet starts reporting that we're back together."
She led him to the most hidden table in the corner. Just as she was about to open her mouth to ask after his mother he spoke. "I know about you and Snape, by the way, if this is what you wanted to talk about."
Hermione froze. Before she could speak, he spoke again. "I'm fine with it. Harry says you're both very happy, and that makes me happy for you."
She relaxed. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you myself. I don't know why I…"
Ron chuckled and rattled off a list of reasons, counting off each one on his fingers. "Because it's me, and because it's Snape, and because it's you, and because Harry can't keep his bloody mouth shut." He smiled at her, a genuine smile. "Really, Hermione, I'm happy for you. Don't worry about me."
"Thanks, Ron," she said with a smile. "I really appreciate that. I could kill Harry for telling you, but I appreciate that."
"He seems happier, too," Ron said. "Not just because of James or the new baby but just happy in general. And he's always talking about Snape and the kids he's taking care of."
"Harry really admires what Snape is doing. I know he wants to be more involved."
"He's thinking of leaving the Auror Office, you know," Ron said.
"Really? He hasn't mentioned anything to me about it. I thought he liked the work."
Ron nodded. "He does, but he says that he's spent his entire life fighting dark wizards and it's time to do something else and that it's too much physical danger and now that he has a family he should know better and stop seeking out trouble."
Hermione snorted. "Sounds like something your Mum would say."
Now it was Ron's turn to snort. "Believe it or not, it was Snape who told him that. Who would have ever believed I would be sitting here at the Leaky with one best friend receiving life advice from Snape and the other shagging him?"
Hermione laughed. "Strange the way that life turns out, isn't it? I'm not surprised they spoke. Harry really values Severus's opinion. Severus resists it, of course. But Harry often seeks him out, just for talk. And Severus gives in far more often than he will ever admit."
Hermione shrugged. "You know Harry. He's always sought out father figures and always will. He lost his own father and then all of the surrogate ones in rapid succession—Sirius, then Dumbledore, then Remus. Remus hit him the hardest, because he was the last of the Marauders and the last person in his life who truly knew James and Lily as people. I know he regrets focusing too much on James and not enough on Lily when he would talk to them. But you remember that. I think…I think now that Severus is in his life he sees him as another link to his family, the last person alive who knew James and Lily. Plus you know he still feels guilty as hell about everything that happened between them. So much bad blood, I think he wants it gone." Ron made a face. "Don't worry, I don't see him replacing you as Harry's best friend."
"I haven't lost sleep over it, don't worry." Ron tilted his head and looked at his ex-girlfriend. "You really do seem happy. The way you talk about him…your lip does that little thing where it curls up the more you try not to smile."
"It does not."
"I know your face, Hermione, you won't hide. Don't hide this and don't hide from me. It's bad enough that we haven't had a MOD Squad meeting in some time."
In the first couple of years after the war, the three of them had met up once a week for dinner. Calling themselves the MOD (Masters of Death) Squad, it was a way of keeping the friendship alive. Before spouses or careers or children, when all they craved was time with each other and respite from the world, it was easier to maintain. Ron was right; it had been a long time.
"We'll have to get the band back together someday soon," Hermione agreed. She hesitated before speaking again. "And, you know, you are always welcome at Grimmauld Place."
Ron shook his head. "I still can't, Hermione. I'm sorry."
"I understand. But I wanted you to know the offer still stands and always will."
"I do," Ron said with a smile. He checked his watch; it was not the one he had received on his seventeenth birthday but the one his brother Fred had received on his. The face was cracked from the rubble of the wall that had killed him. Ron would never, ever fix it. "I'd best get back to the shop. Summer holidays are always a very busy season for us."
"I'm sure," Hermione said, getting up. They hadn't eaten anything, but that wasn't the reason they had come, so there was no point in pretending. She gave her friend a strong hug. "Owl me and we'll get together soon."
"I will," Ron said. "You going back to work?"
Hermione nodded. "Those audits don't write themselves." And with another embrace, they turned and went their separate ways.
Ron Weasley waited until Hermione had Apparated away before he stopped walking. He had not lied that this was the busy season at WWW, or that he should get back to the shop. He also had not lied when he told Hermione that he knew about her and Snape.
But he had lied when he had told her that he would not go to Grimmauld Place. Concentrating on the address, he Apparated to the courtyard outside. He had not been inside since Harry and Ginny had moved out. From the outside nothing changed, though he could feel stronger magic pulsating around the building to keep away intruders.
He considered just walking in as he always had but then remembered that this was not his sister and brother-in-law's home anymore. Probably couldn't just walk in anymore, even if he wanted to. Knowing that formality was always the best way to approach Snape, he decided to knock gingerly on the door and hope for the best.
It was a long time before Snape opened the door, which he did with great agitation and exasperation.
"Weasley," he said flatly.
"I suppose there is a reason for your unannounced visit?"
"There is, and a good one," Ron said. He gestured toward the door. "May I?"
The mere fact that Snape stepped aside to grant him entry, albeit with a scowl on his face, was a good sign that he might be amenable to a little chat.
"I'm here about you and Hermione."
I'm not trying to sell Severus short in bed, I just don't see him as someone who would be terribly sexually experienced and think his lack of self-confidence would make him a tentative lover, at least at first. I also don't see Hermione as being terribly adventurous without prompting; she strikes me as someone who would need a lot of reassurance. Besides, the first time with a new partner is a bit trial-and-error even under the best circumstances. They're human. SexGod!Severus just wasn't realistic to me. At least not in this story.
I don't know if we ever heard who killed Ted Tonks, but it seemed fitting that it would be Bellatrix.
The Masters of Death (MOD) Squad is taken from the movie "Thank You For Smoking." If you haven't seen it, you should.
Coming Up: Ron and Severus have a chat, Hermione makes a decision, and Severus has The Talk with one of his charges.