Obligatory Disclaimer: If I owned Severus, I wouldn't have done that to him.
Author's Notes: This is the very, very, very overdue prize for ofankoma, the 2000th reviewer of Post Tenebras Lux (a complete HGSS story of mine, and if you haven't read it already this may not make much sense in places). I had to admit defeat with the first prompt in the end, and of the choices she gave me afterwards, the one I went with was this:
'The trip to visit Hermione's parents wherein the still unmarried duo convince the Drs. Granger to (finally!) allow them to share a bedroom at their house. Is Mr. Dr. Granger still trying to sort out magic via Star Wars, or has he moved on to another Muggle reference? Does Mrs. Dr. Granger come to appreciate Severus as one of her own? What surprising (and not so surprising) things do Hermione and Severus do with this new privilege? Also, I'd be thrilled to bits with tossed in references to classic rock, rhubarb, or runes.'
I must confess, this little scribble actually doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the original prompt any more. It mutated on me, repeatedly and at some length. Oops.
Warnings: None, surprisingly.
"Here's a sigh to those who love me
And a smile to those who hate
And, whatever sky's above me
Here's a heart for every fate."
– Lord Byron.
Mrs Granger had to admit that her daughter's partner was not any mother's ideal choice of prospective son-in-law. She had been utterly horrified when Hermione had first explained a little about the mysterious man in her life; both she and her husband vaguely remembered mention of Professor Snape as a stern and unpleasant teacher who hadn't liked their daughter or her friends, and later some equally vague memories of being told about him turning traitor in the war. Time and trauma and a refusal to think about it had dulled the memories and fuzzed the details, but Hermione had spelled it all out for them very clearly.
It had been John who had persuaded her to try and keep an open mind, pointing out that Hermione had known all this for far longer and that their daughter was far from stupid or emotional. If she was with this man despite their history, the age difference and his apparent personality flaws, then obviously there was more to the story. Even so, Helen had viewed the first meeting with Severus with a great deal of scepticism, mostly hidden beneath the reunion with Hermione after so many years.
That in itself had been a shock; the last time the Grangers had seen their daughter, she had been nineteen, young and tired and hurt and frightened and trying desperately to hide it as she attempted to explain why she had altered their memories so terribly and tried to tell them about the war in all its horrifying truth. At thirty, Hermione had very clearly become an adult; her whole attitude was happier and more confident than either Helen or her husband could remember ever seeing her. She had obviously found a place in the world where she was happy and felt that she belonged, and her enthusiasm for her life was plain as they had talked.
When they had finally met Severus, after Hermione had spent some time trying to convince them that it was all going to be fine if they were nice to him, Helen had not been impressed at first. The man had been very reserved and obviously reluctant to talk, aloof almost to the point of coldness and noticeably uncomfortable. And... well, looking at him, you could easily accept that he was apparently a murderer. Something in those expressionless black eyes had made her wary. Clearly Severus had an unpleasant temper, hidden behind those walls.
Yet he had surprised her and her husband by refusing to let himself be put out by their increasingly pointed questions; it had been Hermione who snapped first, in point of fact, and only after they had gone further than they had intended to. He had taken insults that would have had anyone else walking out in a fury without reacting, and over the course of the afternoon it had become clear that he had done so purely for Hermione's sake.
That, in the end, was what had begun to win both John and Helen over; he hadn't been trying to impress them. He hadn't been pretending to be someone he wasn't and hadn't tried to present himself in a certain way. He had shown up and been himself, and something in his attitude suggested that he didn't give a damn if that was acceptable to them or not. It wasn't confidence, precisely, or arrogance, or defiance, simply a matter-of-fact air that said he was comfortable with himself despite everything he was telling them so calmly.
If even half of what he and Hermione had said was true, then the man ought to be a raving lunatic – or dead. Once she had looked more closely, Helen had noticed that there was something dark in his eyes, shadows buried somewhere deep; he had the air of having survived more than they could possibly imagine, especially given those ghastly scars on his neck, but he had answered all their questions simply and calmly. In subsequent meetings with him, when he and Hermione had stayed longer, there had been other signs of damage; some of his reticence was clearly rooted in a lack of social skills, and he never seemed to sleep while he was there, and sometimes there would be an odd expression on his face as though he had just thought of something mildly disturbing. He wasn't normal, that much was obvious.
Despite his usual near-silent, dispassionate attitude, though, there were sometimes glimpses of another side to him, which had become more frequent with time as he apparently began to relax around them. He did have a sense of humour, if rather understated, and it was the type that would appeal to Hermione; Severus was obviously very intelligent, and his humour tended towards the dry and sarcastic without being as nasty as the Grangers had almost expected. And when he had told them in such a calm voice that he would die for Hermione, they had believed him. Even so, it had taken Helen a long time to begin to puzzle out what on earth her daughter saw in this distant, unemotional, undemonstrative and not very attractive man.
It was John who had first noticed one of the most important things. Her husband came across as absent minded and vague at times, but he was far more observant than he seemed, and he had told her one evening to watch Severus' face carefully and to pay attention to the direction of those odd black eyes. Helen had done so – that in itself had been rather unnerving; Severus always knew when he was being watched and he had grown increasingly twitchy about being under surveillance before finally getting up and going outside for a very long cigarette. Even so, he had endured it long enough for Mrs Granger to realise what her husband had seen; Severus was almost always watching Hermione. Never overtly, but no matter what he was doing, his eyes flicked to her every few seconds, subconsciously tracking her. She was certain he didn't even know he was doing it, but he was constantly aware of exactly where Hermione was.
Once she had noticed that, Helen started looking for other signs, trying to reassure herself. Hermione had assured her parents that the two of them were genuinely very much in love, but nobody would have known it to look at the pair of them together; Severus wasn't remotely demonstrative and had never so much as touched his partner's hand that she had seen. He had shown no signs of affection whatsoever.
Very much against her better judgement, she had relented on the subject of separate bedrooms the third time they had visited. It had actually been Severus who had changed her mind, by the simple method of telling her – quite calmly and politely – that he could leave his possessions on the sofa if that would make her feel better but that he didn't intend sleeping downstairs any more. She had tried to argue, but something in his face made the words stick in her throat and she hadn't been able to say anything in protest; as he had disappeared up the stairs, Hermione had laughed softly and commented, "You can see why he's still the most feared teacher at Hogwarts, can't you? I haven't met anyone he can't intimidate," she added with real affection in her voice.
It hadn't seemed to make much difference the following day; although Hermione had looked a little more cheerful, Severus was as dour as ever. Hermione and her father had both been somewhat amused by Helen's attitude, asking what exactly she had been expecting, but she hadn't been able to shake a sense of unease about their relationship despite all Hermione's attempts to reassure her when she had raised the subject privately with her daughter.
Finally she voiced her worries openly, hoping she wasn't going to alienate her and ruin their fragile family relationship again; to her relief, Hermione only laughed before making an effort to explain. "That's just how Severus is, Mum. He always has been; nobody can ever tell what he's thinking unless he wants them to. He's not unemotional, honestly he's not; he's just not comfortable with showing his feelings to anyone. He was born reticent, and his life has made it worse."
"Doesn't that cause problems between you?"
"No. I do know what he's like. It doesn't bother me. He does manage the occasional show of affection every now and then," she added dryly, smiling. "It's fine, Mum, honest. I've had boyfriends who fawned all over me all the time and to be honest it always creeped me out a little bit. And every time any of them brought flowers home I wondered what they were trying to apologise for. I know how Severus feels about me; he doesn't have to demonstrate it every three hours."
"And I'm not suggesting he should, but Hermione, I've barely even seen him smile at you. You can't blame me for being a little concerned."
"I don't, but you have to understand, Mum – this isn't going to change. I doubt you're ever going to see much in the way of emotion from him. You don't see the real Severus when we visit. He doesn't know you well enough to relax. It took over six months of seeing each other and talking virtually every day before I started seeing past his shields. What you see isn't what things are really like between us. And can you stop watching him all the time, please? It makes him uncomfortable. You really don't need to worry, I promise."
The Grangers still maintained some concerns about Severus, and the next time he and Hermione visited it was John who cautiously approached him while he was having a cigarette on the patio. "Severus, may we talk?" he asked in French.
Those expressionless black eyes stared straight through him for a moment before Severus took a drag and exhaled smoke, half-smiling crookedly and replying in equally fluent French, "Hermione is not in earshot and cannot read lips very well yet, despite her efforts to learn. You can use English if that would be easier."
Taking that as a 'yes', John nodded uncomfortably and came to lean on the railing beside him, wondering idly why men found it easier to talk if they weren't looking at one another. "I'm sure you're aware that Helen and I still have one or two small reservations about your relationship with our daughter..."
"But you have both been so subtle about it," he replied, with just a faint hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Yes, I know. It is understandable." He lifted his cigarette to his lips again. "Is this where you ask what my intentions are, or threaten me with a shotgun?"
"Would a gun do any good?"
"Only if you managed to catch me off guard," Severus replied idly, looking out over the sunny street. "I could heal any shot that wasn't instantly fatal, but wizards aren't immortal. We die just like any other humans, although it takes us a little longer."
"There are ways, though. Wasn't Voldemort immortal?" This wasn't what they were supposed to be discussing, but hopefully an existing conversation would make it a bit easier; besides, John had to admit he was curious. There was still so much he didn't understand.
"Not truly. Had he not been killed, he would have continued to exist probably more or less indefinitely, but he had to sacrifice most of himself to do so. It wasn't life as most people understand it."
"What about the Philosopher's Stone? Hermione told us that's real."
"It was. The only one in existence was destroyed after her first year at Hogwarts, as you know, and so were the notes on how to create it, and the creator is dead. The chances of another alchemist stumbling on the answer are almost zero, particularly since immortality questing is no longer fashionable – in fact, nor is alchemy in general. Perhaps in another few centuries, but it is very unlikely." Severus stubbed his cigarette out and turned his head slightly to glance at him out of the corner of his eye. "We appear to have wandered off your original subject. Did you intend to threaten me?"
"Do I have a reason to?" Besides, what was he going to be able to do? He doubted he could harm any wizard, and Hermione said Severus was one of the most powerful alive.
Severus gave him a very small smile. "No." He looked back out at the street. "Although I doubt you will take my word for it. Your wife certainly will not."
"Look, Severus, I..."
He lifted a hand slightly. It was only a small gesture, but John could see how the man managed such tight control over his students. "I understand your concern, or I would have long ago ceased to tolerate your attitude. I know how I appear to most people. I am cold, I am distant, I am absolutely not a nice man and I have quite a few problems. Your daughter is very intelligent, John. She knows all that, far better than you do. She knows me. It doesn't bother her. I don't understand it, but it doesn't. In addition, she is more than capable of looking out for herself; she no longer needs her parents to watch out for her. I know you worry about her. So do I. I told you when we first met that I would die for her. I would also die before hurting her, and I will certainly never leave her, no matter what happens. If that's not enough for you, or if you don't believe me, then that is your problem. I will not have this conversation again."
Almost anyone else would have been angry, insistent, emotional; either genuinely, or trying to convince his audience of his sincerity. Severus sounded calm, almost indifferent; he truly didn't care how John reacted. The quiet certainty in his voice proved it.
Thoughtfully, John responded, "Hypothetically, what would happen if Helen and I said that you weren't good enough for our daughter, and told you to break it off?"
"Nothing would change," Severus answered, turning to look at him with a faint half-smile. "I like you both, but I don't care what you think of me and it wouldn't bother me if I never spoke to either of you again. Hermione is the only living person whose opinion I still heed. As long as she's happy, so am I. Besides," he added with a subtle hint of wry humour in his voice, "if you told either of us to end this, you would have to face Hermione's temper."
John stifled a slightly guilty laugh. "She gets that from her mother, and then multiplies it. It's very, very difficult to make Hermione angry, unlike Helen, but when she is..." His daughter's tantrums when she was small had been... memorable, to say the least, even before she'd started accidentally using magic. Thankfully, they had also been very infrequent.
Severus nodded, his eyes glittering with brief amusement. "I had noticed that, now that you mention it," he replied dryly. For John, the look on his face said it all – Severus knew Hermione inside out, every last detail, and clearly rather liked it. He also just as clearly didn't intend ever going anywhere.
That's good enough for me. Now all he had to do was convince his beloved wife.
Almost four years passed before the Grangers had visited Hermione and Severus at their home, instead of them coming to France. Helen had been surprised at the difference it made to see Severus on his own territory, as it were; he had been noticeably more relaxed, more casual and slightly more talkative than usual. It was reassuring to see him interacting with Crookshanks, if also rather strange since it seemed so unlike him, and he had seemed more open when talking to Hermione as well. When she went into their bedroom to ask if they wanted tea one morning, she'd had a second or two to see them curled up together before Severus had demonstrated why it was a bad idea to startle him awake; the only reason she hadn't panicked when staring at the tip of his wand aimed between her eyes was that Hermione was giggling hysterically in the background.
Later that day, she was reading on one of the sun loungers outside when Severus' quiet voice cut into her reverie. "Helen."
Shading her eyes, she looked up at him; he didn't tend to initiate conversations very often. "Yes?"
"I wanted to apologise for this morning." He moved to sit opposite her on one of the other loungers, his voice a little dry. "As you can see, I don't react well to unexpected awakenings."
"So I saw," she replied ruefully. "Does that happen often?"
He shook his head. "No. We are seldom disturbed at school anyway, and I am less prone to being startled there. I am simply not used to anyone else being here; we don't have guests." Cocking his head, he regarded her with a wry half-smile. "I doubt it will make you feel better, but I am far less jumpy than I used to be. Not many years ago, I would have done something violent before I registered who you were."
"That's not exactly reassuring."
"It wasn't intended to be." Severus shifted, half-turning and leaning back on the lounger, smiling a little as Crookshanks appeared from somewhere and came to jump onto his lap. As the cat started purring, he turned his head, his dark eyes as unreadable as always. "Neither Hermione nor I will ever harm either you or your husband by magic," he said quietly. "You don't need to be afraid of either of us."
"Yes, you are. I've seen it from the first time I met you both, although it has lessened a little with time. You feel it more than John does, or at least you show it more than he does, but you are both still afraid of us, of what we can do. You shouldn't be."
She wanted to argue, but somehow it was impossible to deny it when faced with that steady black gaze. "Does Hermione know?"
"You've talked about it, then."
Severus shook his head, his long fingers rubbing behind Crookshanks' ears. "No. But I can see it. I don't think you realise how careful we both are when we visit you, or now you are visiting us. Ordinarily the two of us use magic every day as part of life, just for small everyday things, but not in front of you. Hermione didn't ask me not to; she didn't have to."
"I... I'm sorry," she said uncertainly.
He shook his head again, his expression calm and inscrutable. "I don't blame you for being frightened of magic after what happened. Nor does Hermione. Legilimency can be deeply frightening. It was fear of having my mind tampered with that led me to learn to defend myself against it. But you should be trying to understand magic, to reduce your fear of it, instead of ignoring it and pretending that Hermione and I are 'normal' human beings. We aren't. Our magic is part of us, and it hurts her to know you can't accept that, even if she won't admit it even to herself."
"You don't understand..."
"My best friend was Muggleborn. I remember how difficult it was to explain certain things to her parents and her sister, and how hard she found it to write her letters home from Hogwarts. She was never sure what to include to make them feel involved and what to leave out to avoid alienating them. It is the same for all Muggleborns. Our world is so very different from yours. And Hermione's experience growing up was so much worse than usual."
"I know she never told us everything."
"She couldn't. I'm sure she wanted to, but she also wanted to protect you. And she wanted to protect herself. If you had known the full truth, you would have tried to remove her from our world, and she would have had to choose. That choice would have ripped her apart."
That was probably true. Helen didn't see a way of arguing it; she couldn't deny that she was frightened of what might happen.
Severus continued calmly, "You were scared this morning, weren't you?"
"Yes," she admitted coolly, really not happy with this conversation.
He shifted position, abandoning Crookshanks' ears for a moment to draw a slender length of dark wood from under his shirt. Returning to stroking the cat with one hand, he held his wand out towards her with the other. "Take it."
"Take it. It won't hurt. Nothing will happen."
She hesitated. She and John had both handled some of Hermione's school things before she'd started at Hogwarts, curious and still half-believing it was some sort of fantastical dream, but that had been a long time ago and so much had happened since then... Very slowly and tentatively, she reached out and took the wand from him, flinching automatically in expectation of – something.
When absolutely nothing happened, she started to feel stupid, looking down at it.
Severus snorted softly, leaning back and watching her through half-closed eyes. "As far as you are concerned, it is nothing more than a stick. A witch or wizard would feel the resonance, the magical frequency of the wand; each wand has its own frequency, which matches the frequency of the magic wielded by the wand's owner. The witch or wizard would feel that frequency reacting with their own magic to some extent, but for someone like you, without magic, it is just a harmless stick. That wand is tuned to me, to my magic, so it amplifies and controls what I can do, but I don't truly need it. My magic isn't in that wand, or anything else I use. It's in my DNA, in every cell of my body. As Hermione's is in hers. She cannot change what she is."
Acknowledging the point, she handed the wand back, relieved not to be touching it any more. He tucked it back inside his shirt without comment, and she finally asked, "Is magic actually in the DNA? Is there some physical molecule, or string of amino acids, or something?"
"We don't know. That sort of science doesn't exist in our world yet. More half-bloods and Muggleborns are crossing the barrier between worlds, but it will be decades, perhaps even centuries before we can do that sort of analysis. But there is some specific thing in our tissue and blood that differentiates between us and Muggles, even if we don't know what it is yet."
"Then how does Hermione have it, or any other Muggleborn, come to that? We asked Professor McGonagall when she came to us on Hermione's eleventh birthday, but she couldn't tell us."
"Because we're not sure. It hasn't been studied. My own theory is that it has something to do with recessive genes. Somewhere in your family tree there was a witch, or a wizard, or a Squib. Probably in John's, as well, although magic does seem to favour Salic lines. A chance recombination of genes activated the magic in Hermione."
She nodded slowly, thinking about it, and they sat in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again. "We did try to understand it all, at first. John especially; he'd come up with all these analogies, trying to explain what we were learning in ways we could understand. Like Apparition as teleporting, or Legilimency as Jedi mind tricks. But as time went on, we found it more difficult to find analogies. There's nothing in our world equivalent to your magic, not really."
"No, there isn't, and there probably never will be," Severus replied. "There is a sizeable branch of our government devoted to monitoring all Muggle science fiction and fantasy, although since the Internet that has become much more difficult to regulate. Anything submitted for publication that hits a little too close to home is never released. Any witch, wizard or Squib who attempts to publish anything with accurate depictions of our world is dealt with."
"It's a conspiracy?"
"On our part, not yours," he explained. "In Muggle Britain, the only people who know of our world's existence – apart from the relatives of Muggleborns and half-bloods – are the current Prime Minister, the Queen and Prince Philip, and possibly the heir to the throne. The Prime Minister will have his memory modified the moment he leaves office, and Her Majesty is under a compulsion forbidding her to tell anyone other than her husband and Prince Charles. They can't tell anyone else, either. We take secrecy very seriously."
"Why? In this day and age, witchcraft is acceptable..."
"Because people think it isn't real. It's harmless. If people knew what we could do... quite apart from the average man in the street forming mobs with flaming torches and pitchforks as though we had never left the Middle Ages, governments all over the world would be trying to gain the allegiance of as many magical folk as possible, willing or otherwise. Our world won't survive such a global assault. Of the almost seven billion humans on this planet, perhaps one in thirty possess magic, and less than half of us are strong enough to adequately defend ourselves as fighters, and we have very few ways of doing so that wouldn't kill anyone. It's in our best interests to remain hidden."
"But there is so much you could do..."
"No, there isn't," Severus replied quietly. "We can't cure cancer either; we simply don't develop tumours. We don't know why. We can't prevent birth defects; they are rarer among us, but not unknown, although we tend to be more ruthless in such situations. We can't create food to solve famine, or prevent animals becoming extinct, or stop global warming. We can't cure HIV. 'Magic' is a misnomer; it's a different set of abilities, not something that magically solves all our problems. The wizarding world has its share of war, disease, politics and crime too. We aren't that different." He smiled crookedly. "It's disappointing, isn't it."
"When you put it like that, yes," she admitted, smiling despite herself before sighing. "I don't know if I can fully accept your magic, Severus. I do try, and so does John, but..."
"Logically, your fear is irrational," Severus said calmly. "The worst you are ever likely to see either of us do with magic is housework. Or levitating feathers for Crookshanks to play with," he added, and the cat purred at the mention of his name, lightening the mood by rolling over on his back in Severus' lap with all four paws in the air, his legs splayed out inelegantly and his bottlebrush tail hanging off the man's thigh.
"If you did anything worse, we wouldn't see it coming," she pointed out before she could stop herself.
His eyes hardened. "Do you know why I found your current address for Hermione?" he asked quietly; his voice was noticeably cooler.
Puzzled by the apparent non sequitur and by the change in his attitude, Helen shook her head slowly. "No."
"Because, every November since long before we were together, she had terrible nightmares about losing you both. I only had to hear her once before resolving to find some way to fix it. You don't want to know what I heard her say in her sleep. What she had to do to you tore her apart, and she knew when she did it that you would never forgive her for it. She would rather have you alive and hating her than dead. Hermione isn't capable of harming either of you in any way; she couldn't so much as give you a paper-cut magically. Magic doesn't work unless you actively believe in what you're doing, and she simply couldn't make herself do it."
"And you?" she asked softly, thinking over his words.
Severus shrugged. "I could kill you now, and you couldn't stop me, but the same would apply if I were a Muggle with a gun. I could do some truly terrible things, but why would I? I have no reason to harm either of you – nor would Hermione let me – and since I am not a complete sociopath, I would need a valid reason before I did anything of the sort."
Sitting back, she took a few minutes to think about what they had discussed. Severus seemed unbothered by her silence, occupying himself with finger-combing the long hair on Crookshanks' belly as the cat's purring grew louder. Helen had to admit she was impressed with his honesty, and his persistence on Hermione's behalf when he so obviously didn't give a damn what they thought of him, and John was convinced already... And this morning, before he'd reached for his wand reflexively, Severus had been snuggled against Hermione's back with his arms wrapped around her and had obviously been absolutely dead to the world, far from his usual wary and distant attitude.
"Severus?" she said finally.
"Do you love my daughter?"
For once, his expression wasn't unreadable; Severus looked utterly confused by the question and clearly had no idea why she was even asking. "Of course I do," he answered without hesitation, sounding as though he found her ridiculous for asking such a trite question, giving her a puzzled look. Evidently he felt it was obvious.
Nodding slowly, she looked away. "Are you going to tell her any of this?"
He chuckled softly, a deep, throaty sound. "There would be absolutely no point, since she is listening anyway."
Lying back, Severus reached over his head and thumped the palm of his hand against the side of the caravan. "You can stop eavesdropping now."
Hermione's voice floated through the open window from the kitchen, filled with poorly-hidden laughter. "There is no way even you knew I was there, not this time. The radio was on, I wasn't making any noise, I wasn't casting a shadow, and I wasn't looking at you so you can't have felt me staring."
"All true and valid points."
"So how did you know?"
"Because I know you," he replied, smirking as he twisted to look up at the window.
"Bastard," she told him affectionately, leaning into view to close the window before disappearing again.
"That's an odd pet name," Helen observed, fighting a smile.
Severus snorted and stretched, careful to avoid dislodging the cat in his lap. "Accurate, though."
That afternoon she relayed the details of the conversation to her husband, as they helped tidy up the caravan.
"Well, that all seems reasonable enough," he noted. "I'll have to talk to him about magical frequencies later, it sounds interesting."
Not for the first time, she reflected that Hermione had obviously got her insatiable curiosity from her father's side of the family. Smiling, she shook her head. "Fine, but don't try and explain it to me afterwards; I doubt I'll understand a word."
"So, are you going to leave the poor man alone now?" he asked, smiling back at her. "I think he's proved himself enough, don't you?"
"I suppose so," she conceded. "You know, normally it's the father's prerogative to terrorise his daughter's suitors."
"You know his history, dear. I don't think I'm capable of that level of terror, somehow. It's hardly surprising he doesn't care what we think of him, really." Glancing out of the window, he stifled a laugh behind his hand. "I think it's just as well you've decided to accept him..."
He pointed; joining him at the window, she stifled laughter of her own. Severus and Hermione were pressed up against the parked car outside, kissing as enthusiastically as necking teenagers and clearly oblivious to their surroundings, unaware of anything except one another.
Next chapter of Chasing The Sun will hopefully be up before the end of the year.