When break was over, the children went back to school, and Hermione went to, well, not much. It was really high time she start her research if she was going to beat Severus at his bet.
She continued to see him at least once a week. It wasn't long before word got out that she was making visits, so she occasionally had to have tea with Filius or pop in to say hi to Minerva. It seemed the nature of her visits was currently under wraps or she certainly would have heard about it by now. The gossip in Hogwarts was legendary.
Though even they were surprised by the Daily Prophet the morning after their first date. No one had suspected that Ron would step out on Hermione before their union was severed. It wasn't like a Muggle divorce. It took mere weeks instead of months or years. It didn't seem that hard to wait.
Or at least be more discreet about it.
Ron had taken the publicity badly, first trying to say that Hermione had a fling as well but when that was proved to be false, he just turned mean. He tried insinuating that she was a lousy wife, a bad mother, a horrible housekeeper, anything to make people feel sorry for him and take his side. Even sent her a Howler asking how dare she.
She sent him a Howler in return. She hadn't heard from him since.
Things were surprisingly good in the romance department.
After their spontaneous night together on New Year's, they had backed off to a slower pace. They needed time to get to know each other outside of the influence of the children.
Hermione found that she liked what she was learning. Perhaps too much.
Was it wrong of her to immediately fall for another man? She had been with Ron practically her whole life. She had had very few crushes before him, but one thing she found to be true: falling in love as an adult was very different than falling in love as a teenager.
She found that she was not afraid to tell him that she didn't care for chess because the pieces were too violent, or that the best date might just be reading by the fire, or yes, she liked it when he touched her just there, right there.
While many of their interests were different, they were compatible. He was teaching her about potions and helping her return her magic to the level at which it used to be. She was introducing him to literature and charms.
He wasn't very good at wand waving, and she could still only barely brew a potion.
If she was surprised that she had found happiness with him—with her ex-professor, with an older man, with him—she never told him.
Severus was surprised at how quickly things in his life could change without his knowledge or consent. One day, "Spawn of a Weasley" had been an epithet, and the next day, he was tutoring and caring for two of them. They truly did live up to their name, weaseling themselves in when he wasn't looking. Bloody Slytherin thing to do if you asked him.
And their mother, well, Hermione was something completely different. When she pushed too far, asked too many questions, or he was feeling overwhelmed with his, well, feelings, he would attempt to become surly and disagreeable, which had always scared off other well-meaning people in the past. But not Hermione. Something about dealing with Potter and the Weasel for twenty years, and being the mum of two precocious children, had made her not give a damn what face he made or what he grumbled under his breath. She did the same to him that she did to her children. When the storm blew over, she would still be there.
And she was, every time.
It was hard to resist what couldn't be ignored, so between her children, her trust, and her damnable snickerdoodles, that he did not eat whole batches of, he found himself in a place he had never really been before. He was a part of something. An equal part.
For Easter break that year, the kids decided to stay over at the castle. Rose had gotten Scorpius to agree to a Gobstones match, and Hugo rarely went anywhere without his sister. A book was all he needed for company anyhow. And truthfully, they didn't care to spend the holiday at their dad's, though their mum had taught them to be polite, so they kept quiet.
As a special treat, the kids asked their parents to come to the castle for an afternoon. Just a time to visit, maybe take a swim in the lake or a walk in the forest. Ron hadn't really visited, except for the one night he went looking for Hermione. When Hermione visited, it was with a purpose. She didn't ever just roam around the site that had been home to her for so long and was an integral part of who she was.
Hermione immediately agreed. She would be able to spend the day with her children and perhaps with Severus too. Ron took a little more cajoling, but eventually he agreed as well.
"Should we say something to him? Or to anyone really?" Hermione asked Severus as they spent an evening at her place while Hermione made Easter baskets and Severus looked on with reproach.
"About?" She really needed to learn how to take passengers along her train of thought.
Hermione waved a hand between the two of them. "This. Us. We can't hide it forever, no matter how peaceful it's been. Eventually we need to tell someone."
"I certainly don't see why."
"Are you ashamed to be with me?" she asked as she stuffed more green plastic grass in Hugo's basket.
Severus snorted. "Of course not. Don't be daft."
"And I'm not of you either, so there really isn't a reason not to say something. And it's not fair to the kids. What if someone finds out and asks them about it? I can't have others knowing more about us than they do."
He picked up a few chocolate eggs that had rolled away and handed them to her. "You won't be Ronald."
"No. I won't be Ronald."
"Fine. Shout it from on high. Let the tranquility be shattered by those vultures. Let the hate mail and the threats begin."
She rolled her eyes. "I highly doubt we are that interesting. It was easy enough to distract Rita. And I have a feeling you will survive."
The afternoon of Easter Sunday, Hermione waited nervously outside the gates for Ron. Severus had the children with him, looking for plants along the edge of the Forbidden Forest to brew as an extra credit project for Rose. As she waited, Hermione watched their black silhouettes amongst the shadows of the trees, his tall one over their smaller ones, and she could see his arms slowly guiding them through the underbrush.
And became irritated.
Ron wasn't coming.
Her shoulders slumped as she saw the kids and Severus coming back to meet her. Once again, it would be up to her to make everything right, to be Mum and Dad. She loved her children more than anything, but sometimes, it just wasn't fair.
Severus read the look of distress in her eyes but didn't yet know enough about her family to ease her pain or say the right thing.
"He isn't coming, is he?" said Rose in a queer, flat voice.
Hugo stood silent and twisted his toe in the dirt beside the gate.
"Professor Severus, would you mind being my dad too?"
Hermione and Severus both looked at Hugo with mouths open. His pronouncement was rather unexpected, but, well, he was a Gryffindor.
Severus looked to Hermione, who just shrugged.
"Honey, do you want Severus to be a mentor for you?"
Hugo nodded. "But I want him to play chess with me, and brew potions, and come to my birthday parties and stuff too. The things that Dad doesn't. Professor Severus doesn't promise if he isn't going to do it. And he knows I don't like Quidditch. And he likes books."
Hermione wrapped her arm around her son in a hug and looked at Severus, who, in turn, took in both of them. All of them, really, for Rose was standing to the side but giving him the same look of hopeful desperation, her emerald earrings shining in her ears.
"Can you call me Severus?"
"Are you deaf, boy?"
"No, sir. Severus, sir. Severus. No, Severus. I'm not deaf." Hugo stumbled over his words, eventually gaining the courage to look his professor in the eye and call him by his name, showing the man he was to become. Not his father's image.
"Well then, let's start there. I can promise to always be here if you need me."
"ONE! Two! Three! Oh, sod it!" Rose exclaimed as she dove right in and hugged the professor, ignoring the way his buttons scraped her cheek and the way he stiffened for just a moment. This time Hugo stood alone until Severus let out a disgruntled sigh and partially raised one hand. Hugo took the hint and tucked himself under his arm, face buried in his robes, while his mother turned her head to admire the skyline. She wasn't wiping away a tear. Of course not.
"Come, children!" she told them. "Let's go inside and brew!"
Severus let out an audible sigh of relief when the children released him to run up to the castle, earning him a playful smack on the arm.
"C'mon!' Hermione shouted, running after her kids. "I'll race you!"
"You'll do no such thing."
Hermione followed the children back into the castle with Severus trailing slowly behind.
"Add the powdered asphodel," said a voice that sent shivers down Hermione's spine. It took on a totally different dimension now that she wasn't in school.
Each of the students—and she used that term loosely—had their own cauldron.
Hermione's cauldron was a silky black—perfect, if she did say so herself. Rose's was doing remarkably well, and Hugo had long ago abandoned the project for a Shrinking Solution. Still advanced, but more manageable.
The liquid slowly bubbled and churned as Hermione waited for it to turn to the pale lilac she hoped it would. It had been a long time since she had brewed, after all, though she did have the Half-Blood Prince in the flesh to help her.
Hmm. In the flesh.
Her mind wandered.
Beside her, Rose, had a lazy rod gently stirring her potion while she added the powdered asphodel. Would Scorpius be able to brew this potion? She bet he could. With his eyes closed, more than likely. He was brilliant.
She closed her eyes and counted to soothe herself. One…two…three…
"Rose! No!" came a strong, loud, rough-sounding voice that shook her from her reverie just as the third pinch of asphodel left her fingers. What had Professor Snape said about asphodel?
"Two pinches alone unless you wish to die a most painful death."
The liquid fizzled and steamed and screamed so loudly that Rose only had time to cover her ears before the entire cauldron melted and exploded.
The only sounds that could be heard were a few slow drip, drip, drips from the potion making its way from the cupboards, the jars, and the tables to the floor.
And also the sound of hoarse, shallow breathing.
When Hermione's eyes opened, fearing the worst, fearing seeing her Rose, her Hugo, her Severus dead, she saw two astonished faces looking back at her, both surrounded in a clear perfect bubble of safety.
Hermione herself had her arms spread wide in her own little bubble, inside which came a shaky, "Hermione?"
Severus opened his eyes to see his partially destroyed, completely drenched classroom and blurted the first thing that came to his mind: "Merlin, I love you."
Hermione wasn't given a chance to respond as he gave her a kiss, right in front of Rose, Hugo, and the portrait of the first Potions Master of Hogwarts, who would have the gossip spreading faster than you could say cauldron.
Hermione laughed and pulled away. "You are really sticky."
Severus looked down at his robes, covered in the harmless splashes from the two incomplete potions. He could see the pattern of muck he had left on Hermione's shirt and apologized before taking off his robes.
"See, Rose? I told you he liked the shirt."
Hermione couldn't take her eyes off the man before her, black button-down robes draped open, white tee on beneath, telling Rose that all was well, she wasn't going to fail Potions, as her daughter cried inconsolably.
"Hmm?" he answered, distracted by the sobbing teenage witch.
"I love you too."
She couldn't believe she had finally gained her magic back. As Severus calmed down Rose, he explained that it may have been a magical blockage of sorts, allowed a little magic to seep through, but not all of it.
"We were losing the dam, allowed the trickle to become a stream but the explosion is what finally broke the magic free. You should be completely capable now."
A few experiments with her wand proved that to be the case. She told him that she was glad that if it had to pick a moment to resurface, it was at a time like this, where she could cast shields to save their lives.
His lips quirked. "I knew there was a reason to keep you around."
Or is it?