Hello, my lovelies.
I'm sneaking in an update a day early because it's my husband's surprise 40th birthday party on Saturday and got far too much to do tomorrow.
Thank you for your lovely reviews and messages for the last chapter. Like I say, I don't bite so please let me know what you think.
We have a bit of drama in this instalment folks.
Usual warnings apply
Love to Onecelestialbeing for her bleeding eyes so that yours don't have to.
I own nothing but my imagination and a new set of cheese knives. My beautiful muses belong elsewhere.
Not A Bed Of Roses
Having not attended breakfast in the Great Hall the previous Saturday, a bleary-eyed Severus and Hermione decided that they should make an appearance today so that Minerva could have a well deserved lie-in and breakfast in bed.
The couple's vigorous nocturnal activities had left them ravenous. Sitting in their usual places at the head table, they both demolished a hearty breakfast before nursing cups of strong coffee whilst exchanging pleasantries with most of their colleagues. However, whereas they may have been weary from lack of sleep, the three youngest professors and the flying instructor, who had decided to sleep on Professor Potter's sofa, looked like death warmed up after overindulging with a number of eighth year friends, at the Hogs Head the previous evening. Neville had left Adrian in bed, Draco had been dragged out of bed by a few too cheerful Luna, Harry and Ron looked ill, Blaise and Ginny were scowling at each other, and Pansy and Theo were nowhere to be seen.
However, towards the end of breakfast Theo sauntered in and whilst making himself a large bacon and sausage sandwich, he looked up at the teacher's table and caught Hermione's attention. Quirking an eyebrow at the young professor, Theo's unspoken enquiry was met by Hermione narrowing her eyes as she sought clarification to Theo's questioning gesture. Sighing, Theo put down the fork he was using to stab rashers of bacon with and pointed to his ring finger.
Hermione's eyes widened and stole a quick sideways glance at Severus and the rest of the staff to make sure that no one had witnessed Theo's lack of subtlety. Thankfully, he was talking to Professor Flitwick, and so with pursed lips, the Potions professor glared at the Slytherin before shaking her head.
Placing a piece of bread on top of the pile of greasy meat, Theo shrugged as if to say, "Oh well," before taking a bite of his breakfast, turning on his heel and walking back to his rooms.
It was then that Severus leaned over and asked, "What was all that about?"
Hermione snorted softly. "Theo was just being nosy."
"Indeed," Severus smirked, making a mental note to have a quiet word with Mr Nott next time he saw him. Standing, he informed his witch, "I have some paperwork which keeps informing that it requires my urgent attention. I should really complete to it before we leave for Spinner's End. Be ready to leave at eleven. No need to dress up, but it will be cold so wear something warm."
Hermione smiled up at him and nodded, turning to watch Severus walk towards the teachers entrance, only to see Ron rush past him―hand over mouth―out into the corridor. A moment later, retching could be heard, followed by the headmaster snarling, "Clean it up, Weasley."
"So do I get the tour?"
Hermione tried to sound cheery, but knew she had failed as she tried to steady her stomach and herself against a wall at the Apparition point that she and Severus had just arrived at in Cokeworth.
Severus put his arm around her and kissed the top of her hat covered head. He noticed that although the air temperature was warmer than it was at Hogwarts, the dreariness of the place made it feel bleaker. "What would you like to see?"
Feeling a little more settled, Hermione pushed up onto her toes and pressed a kiss to the corner of her lover's mouth. "I want to see where you come from," she whispered.
Severus had been dreading this. Of course, she would want to know, and it had been naïve of him to assume that taking her to Spinner's End and introducing her to Mrs Knutsford would be enough to slake her infernal curiosity. Then again he didn't intend coming back here again, so he decided to indulge her.
"There's not much to see," Severus admitted sheepishly. "Many of my childhood haunts no longer exist, but what few are left, apart from the park, are on the way. So if you are feeling well enough, shall we?"
Hermione took Severus' proffered arm, and the couple began a slow walk towards Spinner's End.
Severus had been listening with amusement as Hermione wittered on about all the places he'd pointed out to her en route to his childhood home. He wasn't sure if he approved of her enthusiasm, but couldn't help but be touched all the same.
He'd shown her his old primary school and the corner shop where he would―quite illegally―buy his father's cigarettes, and where the owner's son, a man in his early twenties called Mikey, had befriended his teenage self. Of course, it wasn't a friendship: it was a business relationship, where the Muggle in question procured cigarettes and various special interest magazines for the young wizard, who in turn supplied these items to certain members of his own house at Hogwarts at a not insignificant price.
Over time, however, Muggle narcotics were added to the Slytherin's illicit shopping list, and much to Severus' shame, it was these that allowed his acquaintance with his supplier to continue until the day after the Yule Ball when he decided for some inexplicable reason that his body was to become a temple at least from drugs and alcohol. He wasn't sure what happened to Mikey after that, but then again the man had served his purpose and was no longer required, so Severus found himself not caring.
The dark-eyed wizard had to admit that he was sad the owners of the old greasy spoon cafe where his mother used to take him to escape the ire of his father had finally retired, and it now sat boarded up. Those occasions were some of the happiest he could remember, not just because he spent time alone with his mother, but also because the preparation of the bacon at that establishment was utter perfection. It had taken years for the house-elves to emulate it.
It was as they walked past the local cemetery that Severus wished he'd kept his mouth shut and that Hermione was a little less persuasive. He was stupid to assume that he could flippantly announce that the cemetery where his mother lay was nearby, and that she wouldn't stop dead in her tracks. He was stupid to think that her simple question, "Do you want to go and see her?" wouldn't be an incredibly difficult question to answer.
But what was hardest for him was to admit, "I wouldn't even know where to start looking. I didn't attend her funeral," and see the shock filter across Hermione's face.
"You mean you've never―"
"No," he told her, now for the first time feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself even though he wouldn't show it.
Hermione, still looking dumfounded, shook her head. "I can understand you not wanting to go to Godric's Hollow to visit Lily's grave, but you've lived here over the summer holidays, and you've never―"
Exasperated by her persistence, Severus growled through gritted teeth, "I said hadn't, didn't I?"
It was then that he realised he had no answer. All he could do was shrug because despite all the anger and guilt he felt towards his mother, he didn't have a good reason. He swallowed hard, waiting for her next onslaught, but instead she took his hand and asked, "What were your mum's favourite flowers?"
Severus looked at Hermione and sighed. "I don't know. I used to purloin daffodils for her out of nearby gardens when I was a child and she never expressed any displeasure, but―"
He looked down as Hermione thrust a bunch of daffodils at him. He didn't know whether to laugh, cry or yell at her, but he was beginning to think that he should have tried to persuade to her to become Head of Slytherin.
Shaking his head, he took the out of season flowers and rolled his eyes. "I suppose this means we're going to try and find Mum's grave, does it?"
Hermione smiled and nodded.
"And there is no chance that we could do this on another occasion?"
The way Hermione said, "Nope," was the most succinct lecture that Severus had ever received. He was left in no uncertain terms that he wasn't to argue with her, that she was surprised, annoyed and disappointed with him and that she was waiting for him to move his arse.
You, madam, are a manipulative bitch.
That's not nice, Severus, and besides it serves you right.
I love you.
No need to creep.
You can't blame me for trying, he grumbled as he felt himself being dragged towards the cemetery gates.
It didn't take as long to find the grave of Eileen Snape as Severus had hoped. The grave, he reasoned with himself, would have been unattended for a number of years which would make it harder to find, and then he could call a halt to the search using the legitimate excuse that they had much to do, and were expected at Malfoy Manor at eight. However, his heart sank as Hermione triumphantly called him over after only ten minutes.
Still holding the flowers Hermione had conjured, the surly wizard walked towards his witch, but as he approached he slowed, taken aback by the sight that greeted him. The headstone was a simple slab of black granite; the carved words were equally as simple.
Eileen Eleanor Snape (nee Prince)
March 27th 1930 – January 21st 1976
Daughter of the most noble House of Prince.
Beneath this was the Prince family crest, but most importantly the area was well maintained and there were three relatively fresh bouquets of flowers atop the grave.
Severus was stunned into silence. After a few seconds, he felt a warm hand slip into his.
"Sweetheart, are you OK?"
"I...I find myself at a loss," Severus admitted. "I have no idea who could be visiting here, let alone maintaining her grave. I know my grandmother arranged the headstone and...I really don't know what to say."
"You can say whatever you like," Hermione encouraged, squeezing his fingers, "or you can say nothing at all. It doesn't matter."
Severus opted for the saying nothing route, and laid the flowers at the base of his mother's gravestone. Even though he was not in his black robes, Severus was still an imposing sight in his black pea coat and jeans. But as he drew himself up to full height, the taciturn wizard found words coming from his mouth.
"There is far too much to tell you―I doubt any of it would change your opinion of me," he began defeatedly which made Hermione's heart clench. No matter what Severus thought of himself, or what he believed his mother might have thought of him, she knew that Eileen would have had no choice but to be proud of her son.
Severus' voice was barely a whisper as he admitted, "I confess that I do miss you...even now I still miss you." But then he looked down at Hermione, and his usual confident drawl returned. "You'll be pleased to know that I have found a witch mad enough to put up with me." Lifting her hand, he brushed his lips over her knuckles, before snorting softly, "I believe that you and Hermione would have taken great pleasure in ganging up on me. I know she and grandmother do."
Pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts, he put his arm around Hermione's shoulders and pulled her to him. "I've sold the house, Mum. I don't know who has been looking after you, but if they are not of our world then you are probably not aware that I am, unbelievably, the Headmaster at Hogwarts, and somehow I ended up inheriting the family title and all the bollocks that goes with it. As such, I have no need for the place anymore, and I...I want to draw a line under the past. I never thought I would have a future until a few months ago, but with Hermione I have, and I need to move on. I hope you understand."
The wizard closed his eyes as remorse washed over him and huffed out a breath. He felt Hermione snuggle into side and wrap her arms around his middle. He still couldn't fathom why either of them knew exactly what the other needed, but he certainly had no intention of complaining.
He swallowed hard before he began to speak again. Now that he'd started talking, there was so much that Severus realised he wanted to say, but until he had time to really think about how to say it, he wasn't about to stand there stumbling over his words. Having reached that conclusion, he decided it was time to excuse himself.
"I know that I have been remiss in not visiting you before now, and I will admit that I had not planned on returning to Cokeworth after today, but I will try to come here again. In fact," he smirked, squeezing his witch a little tighter, "I am certain 'Mione will ensure that I return."
And with that, Severus released Hermione from his grasp and held out his hand to her before the couple silently headed off towards their intended destination.
Severus was rather sullen as they continued through the terraced streets towards Spinner's End.
"I'm sorry, Sev. I shouldn't have pushed you," Hermione finally said in an attempt to get him talking.
He remained silent for a moment longer before he extended his arm around her, stopped walking, and guided her to stand before him. His cold hands cupped her face, and before Hermione could say a word, he kissed her. It was sweet and tender, and held so many of the words that he was struggling to say. "Don't be sorry," he whispered, pulling her against him and kissing the top of her hat covered head. "Never be sorry for doing what you think is best for me. I might not seem particularly appreciative at times, but I am―truly."
Pressing another kiss to her woollen beanie hat, which he had to admit would have looked utterly ridiculous on most people, he pulled back, and entwining their fingers, he cleared his throat and told her that their destination was only a few minutes away.
As they continued on their way, holding hands, Hermione leaned against Severus and with her free hand held onto his arm, creating the image of a couple completely at ease and solid against the rest of the world.
"Wait for this," Severus told Hermione knowingly, taking the keys to his childhood home―which proudly displayed a Sold sign―from his coat pocket. As soon as he placed the key in the lock, the neighbour's door opened and an elderly, blue rinsed woman appeared, wearing a brown crimplene dress that would not have looked out of place in the fifties and a cardigan that probably did fit once, but now swamped her frail frame.
A small, but brusque Mancunian brogue greeted the couple. "See you've sold the place?"
Severus quirked an eyebrow. "It is obvious that your hearing is as sharp as ever."
The old lady chuckled at the man who would forever be nine years old in her eyes. "Nah, but I keep me deaf aid up on high. Can't be too careful around here. Old Mr Wilkes down the way was broken into last week. I'm surprised your place has never had any trouble the amount of time you spend away from it."
The dark-haired man seemed to consider this, safe in the knowledge that Spinners End was well protected from Muggle intrusion, and made a mental note to provide similar protection to Mrs Knutsford's property before they left.
"Well, I'm glad you came by like you said you would last time you were here. Was beginning to think you'd forgotten," the old lady mused before her eyes fell on Hermione, and her face cracked into a beaming smile. "And who is this?"
Squeezing Hermione's hand, Severus announced proudly, "Mrs Knutsford, may I present my partner, Hermione."
"Partner, eh? Living over the brush, are we?"
Sensing Severus tense, but before he could become defensive, Hermione poked him discreetly in the thigh, knowing that the elderly woman was pulling his leg.
"Makes no odds to me. You look happy, that's all I'm bothered about. Now, stop cluttering up the street and come in. I'll make us a brew."
But before either could respond, the lilac haired woman had shuffled on her heel and called over her shoulder, "We'll have tea in the sitting room, Sev. You know where it is. I want to hear all about your young lady."
Hermione looked up at Severus and smirked as he pinched the bridge of his nose and growled, and yet he could not be irritated by Mrs Knutsford. She had been unfailingly kind to him as a child, and in turn he had been what some would consider kind to her over the years. However, given that he could sense his witch's broad grin, and knowing her predisposition for going gooey eyed at him whenever he mentioned or did anything 'cute' as she infuriatingly referred to it, he feared he was in for more doe-eyed looks later on.
The sitting room of Mrs Ina Knutsford's terraced house was as well appointed as any old lady's. The furniture had probably been very good quality when it was bought from the Co-Op forty years ago, and now the wear marks on the arms, seats and backs were hidden by a variety of embroidered and crocheted covers. Doilies festooned every surface and old magazines and well thumbed trashy romance novels, both historical and modern, were placed haphazardly on the obligatory wheeled overchair table.
The china cabinet which contained various porcelain figurines and the floral patterned dinner service that had been bought by her grandparents as a wedding present and was still considered 'for best', took pride of place next to the door leading into the kitchen. It also contained a number of handmade Christmas cards that looked as if they had been made by a grandchild. A wooden carriage clock sat atop the beige tiled mantelpiece and was flanked by a faded, sepia wedding photograph in its well polished silver-plated frame and an old transistor radio. In the corner, there was an ancient television with a picture of their host holding a cat. Given how much younger the woman looked, it was probably safe to say that the cat no longer inhabited this world. A large vase of fading artificial flowers provided colour on the well worn sideboard, and the tired looking walls were adorned by a number of chocolate box paintings that were covered in cobwebs; the sight of which would fill Ina with horror if her failing eyes allowed her to see them.
"Sit down, my dears, and I'll put the kettle on."
"Mrs Knutsford, allow me to―"
"Sit your backside down, young man. Old I may be, but I am still perfectly capable of making tea in my own house."
Without actually telling Ina to sit down, Severus asked, "And when was the last time anyone made you a cup of tea?"
"Yesterday when I went round to Beryl's. Now you two sit tight, and I'll be back in a jiffy."
"My Grandma's house used to look a bit like this," Hermione stated, trying to distract Severus from hovering near the kitchen door to ensure that his neighbour did not cause herself an injury.
Severus snorted softly.
"Yeah, she had her best sitting room, which was only used for visitors, and then there was the room she used all the time which always had the telly blaring out."
Observing that Ina had successfully poured the boiling water from her electric kettle into the teapot and placed it onto a tray, Severus walked towards one of the armchairs. "There is actually only one reception room down here," he said quietly, knowing that there was a certain amount of eavesdropping going on. "These houses were built with two, but Mr Knutsford and my father helped each other convert the other room into a bathroom. Before that the only facilities were outside. I vaguely remember being dumped into the copper bathtub that was kept by the fire in the living room when I was a small child."
Hermione didn't know whether to smile or feel saddened by the mental image Severus had planted in her mind. It was hard for her to fully appreciated the hardship of his childhood when she'd grown up in distinctly middle class household in a suburb of London. But knowing what a proud man her partner was, she tried not to show the pity she felt by concentrating on the subject of house conversions and renovations. After all between Snape Manor, their cottage and Hogwarts, the pair were practically experts. "Why didn't they convert one of the bedrooms?"
"My mother insisted that we needed a spare room, and I suspect they could ill afford the cost of a plumber. I'm sure the cost of conversion is relatively cheap these days, but back then they didn't have tuppence to rub together."
Hermione snorted as Severus' accent slipped, but this time even he noticed it, and as the couple continued chatting she probably heard more of his accent than she ever had. However, their conversation came to a halt when they heard the sound of blue and white teacups rattling against saucers.
"If I'd known you were coming, and bringing your young lady, I'd have got some chocolate biscuits in. I've just got Fig Rolls. I do like a nice Fig Roll," Ina chuckled, as she wobbled her way into the living room, carrying the tea tray.
Severus immediately relieved her of her burden, and as the old lady flopped down into her high backed chair, she employed her best stage whisper to tell Hermione, "I always had chocolate biscuits in the cupboard in case little Sevvie came round to get away from his parents."
Severus closed his eyes, wincing as Ina called him by the disgusting nickname she insisted on using. He also didn't want to see the look of amusement on Hermione's face.
"I see he still doesn't like me calling him that," the old lady laughed before talking to Hermione as if Severus wasn't there. "He always used to insist that his name was Severus. He used to have such a stern, determined face on him when he was very little, and wasn't a stranger to a tantrum. Mind you, he did sometimes relent and let folk call him Sev when he got a bit older. Not many mind, but I expect you're one of the privileged few, aren't you, my dear. His mam hated it when that little red-haired friend of his called him that. Shame what happened to that family."
And without seeming to pause for breath, Mrs Knutsford continued. "Which reminds me, Severus, you'll never guess who I saw when I went to put flowers on your mam's grave last week?"
That was one mystery solved at least, and yet it didn't account for the other two bouquets. "I'm afraid I have no idea," Severus drawled as he placed a cup of tea on the table besides his neighbour with two fruit filled biscuits.
Severus froze, quickly glancing at Hermione who was looking as perplexed as Severus felt. "Whose sister? Lily's?"
"The very same. Put some flowers down too. Seen her at the cemetery visiting her parents before but they're laid to rest on the other side. Never seen her near Eileen."
"I am surprised myself," Severus confessed, trying to act as nonchalantly as possible whilst trying to fathom what possible reason Petunia Dursley would have to visit his mother's grave. He was sure that if he didn't get chance to speak to Harry before he left tomorrow morning, Hermione would be crawling all over him, demanding he find out.
"And, thank you for tending to Mother's grave. I have been most remiss in―"
"―Oh I don't do that; I only go and pay my respects. No, a lovely gentleman called Robert comes and does that," Ina clarified.
Severus' calm demeanour belied his surprise. "Well, I must remember to thank Robert when next I see him."
Of course, in some respects it made perfect sense. Robert Hopkins, long suffering husband of Mrs Hopkins, the housekeeper at Snape Manor had family around here, and it now seemed reasonable to assume that Lady Eleanor would have asked that her daughter's grave be tended in the sure and certain knowledge of her grandson's infamous ability to sulk. But he was still resolved to speak with his grandmother on the subject later.
"Nevertheless," Severus continued, "it is very kind of you to visit mother's grave. I appreciate it."
Mrs Knutsford snorted softly. "Well, your mam was a good sort, even if she was a bit strange and stuck up at times."
But then, once again, ignoring Severus, her stage whisper was directed at Hermione. "She had to put up with a lot though. I don't like to talk ill of the dead, you understand, but his dad was a wrong 'un. I mean my Harold was a diamond in the rough―no airs and graces on him, but he was a proper gentleman. How old Tobias snagged someone like Eileen is beyond me. I know times were hard. We had the same problem. Him and Harold both worked up at the mill, and they both got laid off, but the difference was my husband didn't drink himself doolally and take it out on his wife and baby. Not that we had children, mind.
"But he was such a lovely boy," she continued, nodding towards Severus, who was about to go out to Ina's shed and get a spade to assist the earth in opening up so that it could swallow him quicker. "Always very serious though. Not much different from now, really," the loquacious woman laughed before adding more seriously, "But I always knew something was up next door. Wasn't my place to interfere, but I always made sure he was alright. Then Eileen sent him to boarding school and didn't see much of him then, but he's always brought me a box of Black Magic at Christmas."
Hermione's eyes flicked up at Severus, who was busy climbing his way down into the bowels of the earth, but evidently he wasn't quick enough.
The irony of Severus Snape, the 'Dark Saviour' whose knowledge of the Dark Arts was unsurpassed, buying his Muggle neighbour such an aptly named chocolate selection was not lost on Hermione, and she wasn't about to let the teasing opportunity pass.
Black Magic? Really? No milk tray or a tin of Roses?
Shut up, Hermione.
Oh, this is too good.
Her playful tone only served to make his embarrassment worse, and he snarled, Apologies, I appear to have omitted the word 'please' from my previous missive. Please, shut up, Hermione.
Of course Hermione's amusement could not be tempered, and when her eyes found their way to the china cabinet and the treasured handmade Christmas cards, Severus knew he had to take control of the conversation.
"And you will be receiving one for many years to come," Severus drawled, glaring at Hermione who could barely contain herself.
Taking a sip of tea, Severus asked, "Is there anything you need, Mrs Knutsford? We're going to be clearing the house, and would be more than happy to assist if―"
"Don't be daft, but I appreciate the thought. Now, my dear," Ina said, turning to Hermione, "how did you meet Severus?"
The wizard in question looked at his witch, his eyes imploring her not to open the proverbial can of worms.
Severus put the key into the lock, pausing before he turned it. "I'm not sure what you are expecting―"
"I'm not expecting anything, and besides after today neither of us will ever set foot in this house so it doesn't matter, does it?"
Worrying his bottom lip, Severus nodded. "I suppose not," and with that he opened the front door.
Standing in the middle of the living room, Hermione called to Severus who was just coming in from the garden. "Sev, what are you going to do with all the furniture in here?"
Drawing his wand, he moved all the furniture that his parents had bought or were given when they were first married into the centre of the room.
"I should have done this year's ago," he muttered before firing an Incendio at the pile of wood and threadbare fabric before casting a protective charm to prevent the flames and noxious fumes from the highly flammable foam from escaping.
Hermione's eyes moved from the burning pile to Severus, who stood there staring at the flames as if in a trance.
"I should feel something shouldn't I?" he enquired; his eyes unmoving.
Considering this for a moment, Hermione concluded that she wasn't sure, but she slipped her hand into his regardless, squeezing it in support of whatever emotion he was or wasn't feeling.
As he felt her touch, Severus seemed to snap out of his strange melancholy, and stalked off into the kitchen, opening drawers and cupboard doors and vanishing the remaining contents. He had already removed anything that belonged to his grandmother―or rather her staff―when he had been to the house a few months earlier with Harry, and all that was left were some dubious looking tins and packets and mismatched crockery and cutlery.
The flames in the living room ripped through the heap quickly and once it was reduced to a few charred remains, Hermione banished the mess and cast various cleaning charms.
Severus was acting with ruthless efficiency. He had dealt with a number of magical rooms and with the garden shed, living room and the kitchen now cleared, he told Hermione he was going to deal with the furniture upstairs.
With a nod, Hermione decided to inspect the remaining room on the ground floor.
The bathroom, as Hermione had expected, was scrupulously clean, but it was also incredibly small with just enough room for a bath, toilet and sink. She could only imagine how Severus must have felt when Peter Pettigrew was his imposed houseguest. The thought made her stomach turn.
She was about to join Severus upstairs when she sensed something coming from the under stairs cupboard. It was a faint magical trace which appeared to have been deliberately dampened down. Curiosity was about to get the better of her, but she knew Severus brewed here on occasion so assuming it was his lab she went upstairs to ask him about it.
Severus had dealt with the furniture in his parents' bedroom and guest room and was about to start on his childhood room when Hermione found him.
"So this is where all the action took place was it?" Hermione teased trying to ignore the fact that there were still pictures of a young Severus and Lily on the walls.
Severus snorted softly. "I think I can probably count the number of times this room saw any action―and by action I don't mean shagging―on one hand."
"Once or twice," he told her before admitting awkwardly, "but there was another girl. It was over the summer of my third year. Lily was on holiday and I was bored. She was sixteen―I think her name was Emily―and she was on the swings in the park. She called me over, and invited herself round."
"Is that it? Is that all you're going to tell me?"
Shaking his head at his lover's tenacity, he huffed playfully. "What do you want me to say?"
He could feel the weight of Hermione's expectation bearing down on him, and with a sigh he finally relented. "She gave me my first blowjob. Happy now?"
Hermione's lips twitched as she slowly raised her eyes to meet his. "How about one last blowjob in here then for old times sake?" Hermione offered, biting her bottom lip.
Severus merely arched an eyebrow. Reaching out, he pulled Hermione to him and without a word, his lips crashed against hers whilst he manoeuvred them both down onto his old single bed with more than just a blowjob in mind.
Laying naked and snuggled tightly into Severus' side, Hermione was rather proud of herself knowing that she had added to the handful of good memories he could take from this house. She was revelling in the way he twirled her hair around his fingers absentmindedly when all of a sudden she remembered the cupboard under the stairs.
"Is your lab under the stairs?"
In his post-climactic state, and not overthinking the question, Severus responded sleepily. "No. My lab was in the old coal store."
"Oh, so what's under the stairs then?"
Severus tried to recall what was under there but to the best of his knowledge Harry had cleared out and disposed of the ancient vacuum cleaner that had resided there. However, something in Hermione's voice piqued his curiosity. "There should be nothing, but I sense you think there is something."
Hermione nodded and explained. "You know when something is hidden by magic you can feel a kind of muffled energy?"
Severus' eyes narrowed before he Summoned his wand and jeans, slipping them on and headed downstairs. He moved his hand slowly over the area of the cupboard door as if scanning it, and without looking at a sheet clad Hermione, who had joined him, mused distractedly, "There is something very dark behind this door. I do not recognise its signature, but I have no doubt its purpose is to cause harm."
Opening her mouth to speak, Severus stopped her by commanding her to use the fireplace in the guest room to call the Head of Spell Detection and Reversal, Arthur Weasley, and to ask him to bring dark object experts, and then suggested that she should get dressed. As much as Severus wanted to deal with this himself, he knew he had to be sensible. After all, he had even more responsibilities now, and by involving the Ministry, incidents like this had to be reported, those reports had to be read, and if this had been planted by one of Yaxley's operatives somehow, then Severus would take great delight imagining the bastard's face as he read that he had been thwarted.
Eustace Raybold, one of the Ministry's leading Dark Object investigators shook his head. "Nasty bugger this. Common or garden item imbued with a curse which is activated by the intended victims magical signature. Give it a few hours and it explodes. If you'd contacted us thirty minutes later, I reckon it would've killed you both."
"How the hell did they get my magical signature or Hermione's for that matter?" Severus asked, pulling an ashen-faced Hermione to him. "And how the hell did they get in? This place had, until a few moments ago, Anti-Apparition wards and no inward Floo connection."
Putting on his wire-framed glasses, Raybold sighed. "As you know your magical signature is embedded within your very cells. You know as well as I how our understanding of such matters is increasing. It could have been obtained from a strand of hair. As for how they got in here―"
Taking a deep breath Severus watched as the offending item, which had been placed under a stasis charm, was levitated out from the cupboard. Both he and Hermione immediately recognised the old blue and white china teacup. They had just had tea out of similar cups next door.
"Darling, could you go and see Mrs Knutsford and ascertain if anyone has asked her for access to the property recently," Severus asked calmly before an overwhelming wave of fear swept through their bond as visions of her encounter with Bathilda Bagshot at Godric's Hollow filled Hermione's mind. "Arthur, perhaps you can go with her?"
"Of course. Come on, my dear, let's leave Eustace and Severus to sort out this mess," Arthur said as cheerily as any man could who had just realised that he'd almost lost his adopted daughter and her partner.
Once Arthur and Hermione closed the front door, Eustace turned to Severus. "I'll get this back to the Ministry, but I confess that I told you a little untruth earlier as I didn't want to upset Miss Granger. If you had called us five minutes later, we would have arrived too late."
As the wizard left, Severus slumped down onto the stairs and ran his hands down over his face, Eustace's words ringing in his head as he realised how lucky they both were to be alive. He was still there ten minutes later when Hermione and Arthur reappeared looking extremely perturbed.
"What did she say?" Severus enquired, noticing their worried features.
Eyes wide, Arthur puffed out a breath. "Well, the dear lady informed us that on Wednesday evening a young couple who claimed to be the new owners knocked on her door. They were due to meet the estate agent there so that they could measure up for curtains, but the agent was running late and the couple had another appointment to get to after so they asked if she had a key to get in."
"And does she?"
Hermione nodded. "Your mum gave her one."
Severus groaned. In all these years that he'd lived here alone the magical wards had protected him adequately and not once had he thought to change the locks. "I didn't even know Mother had...well, I suppose it's immaterial. And the cup?"
"They asked for some water as the young lady was feeling rather unwell," Arthur continued, "and feeling sorry for them, your dear neighbour happily obliged."
"She said they put the key back through the letterbox so she doesn't know how long they were in here for," Hermione said before pausing, her eyes flicking to Arthur.
"Possibly the most disturbing information," the older wizard disclosed, "was the description of the couple."
"A lovely young woman with long red hair and charming young black man."
"I know that sounds like Ginny and Blaise," Hermione quickly jumped in, "but it couldn't have been her because you know she went with me to The Burrow on Wednesday."
"And Molly and I know our own daughter," Arthur supplied knowingly.
Severus nodded. "It was definitely Ginevra who accompanied us back to Hogwarts. The next question is what were Mr Zabini's movements on Wednesday night, who did we tell that we would be here today and who has access to Polyjuice?"
"Well, we told Draco and Luna, Minerva and Hagrid, and I told Harry, Ginny and Theo," Hermione said chewing her lip as she tried to think whether she had told anyone else or if she could have been overheard.
"And aside from those who were both in our company, I only mentioned our plans for the weekend briefly whilst at the pub with Arthur, Pius and Lucius."
Arthur snorted. "And I didn't even tell Molly, but fear not, we will be carrying out more investigations. Now, I must away," he said hugging Hermione and shaking Severus' hand. "We've got the entire clan over this evening for dinner, but I'll pop into the office and call Pius now, and I will ensure that the Minister will hear of this personally. And good luck, old chap, in Australia. I hope it's not too hot. I remember when we were in Egypt it was so hot all I wanted to do was strip down to my vest. Molly wouldn't hear of it though. Probably just as well."
Severus chuckled but there was little mirth in his laughter. "Thank you, Arthur, for everything," Severus drawled sincerely as he pulled Hermione to him again and kissed the top of his head.
Arthur nodded and smiled before he Disapparated away.
Given how tightly Severus was holding her, Hermione knew there was more to this situation than had first met the eye. "Eustace was being economical with the truth wasn't he?"
"Let us not think on it. Come, we need to get back home so that we can prepare for this evening."
"We will not see each other for a week. They will not spoil this evening for us," Severus growled through gritted teeth before squeezing her even tighter. "There is no way that I will allow these bastards to spoil anything for us."
Despite the disturbing events of earlier, for the second evening in a row, Hermione found herself huffing in front of the mirror in their bedroom, wearing nothing but her underwear, trying to work out what to wear. The invitation stated semi-formal dress, but when the hosts of soiree you are attending are Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy, the phrase took on a completely different meaning and one knew that a high standard of sartorial elegance was going to be required.
She was still trying on dresses on, ready to tear her hair out―which was now up in the same style that she had last night thanks to the reusable charm she had requested from the hairdresser―when Severus sauntered out of the bathroom with just a towel wrapped around his waist, opened his wardrobe and pulled out a black triple button collared shirt, black three-quarter jacket and plain, dark grey silk double breasted waistcoat. The hardest decision he had to make was which cravat and cufflinks to wear.
Of course, one of the advantages of being the official companion of Lord Snape was that with the wide range of dark colours in his wardrobe, she never had to worry about clashing with him in terms of colour. However, that didn't make the choice of what to wear any easier on this occasion.
Whilst buttoning up his shirt, Severus observed the pile of dresses on the bed. Upon hearing another frustrated growl, he drawled, "Might I suggest blue for this evening?"
Hermione considered this for a moment, and banishing the strewn garments from the bed, sat down and huffed. "But if I wear blue then I haven't got any nice jewellery to go with it."
"You know I don't."
Severus walked over to her dressing table and pulled out the drawer that contained her jewellery box. Flipping the lid open, he produced a box that Hermione had never seen before and unceremoniously threw it at her.
"What about those?"
Hermione's mouth fell open before she'd even opened the box. "Please tell me you haven't...Sev, you gave me jewellery last night!"
"So? Your bracelet was for an entirely different purpose, and I didn't buy it for you. These, on the other hand, I had commissioned a few weeks ago. Now, open the bloody box."
As much as she still felt like protesting further, the young witch had been brought up to be grateful when receiving a gift, and opened the small box carefully to reveal a pair of platinum drop earrings. The twisted detail of the drop was simple but very elegant, and it was love at first sight for Hermione.
"Thank you, love, they're stunning," she said quietly, taking one out of the box before she felt warm lips on her neck.
Kissing up to her ear and grazing her earlobe with his teeth, Severus purred, "The only stunning creation in this room is you."
Hermione turned to look at him. "Have you been drinking?"
"I may have had one, but my judgement is in no way impaired and if it were not for the fact that we are in danger of moving from being fashionably late to being dishonourably so, I would show you just how stunning I think you are. However," he told her, his voice dropping into playful growl whilst he nipped at her neck again, "as I would insist that the underwear and stockings stay, perhaps we do have time."
Hermione slapped his arm, but somehow found herself straddling his lap as he remained seated on the edge of the bed whilst kissing her wizard feverishly before reluctantly pulling back, and running her thumb over Severus' well-kissed lip. "Come on, I don't want to be dishonourably late. I don't think I could put up with Lucius' knowing looks."
Stepping into the ballroom at Malfoy Manor, Hermione breathed a sigh of relief, pleased that her choice of outfit didn't look out of place. Of course, Severus would have told her if it had been an ill-judged choice, but he thoroughly approved of the floor-length dark blue velvet number with mandarin collar and chiffon sleeves. But Hermione suspected that her wizard's approval came more enthusiastically when he noted how fitted it was over her backside.
Walking towards the newly arrived couple, Lucius called, "Darling, you look delectable."
However, Hermione descended into a fit of giggles as Severus deadpanned, "Thank you, darling, so do you."
Lucius' mouth fell open, flabbergasted at his friend's bold response. "You fucking tease, Snape," the blond wizard growled.
Severus' impassive face remained in place before cocking an eyebrow. "You must be bloody desperate if you think that's teasing."
"I'm not desperate. I am merely jealous."
"There's no need to be jealous of me," Hermione chuckled before disregarding pure-blood etiquette and giving Lucius a hug.
Happy to have receive said hug, the grey-eyed wizard responded by wrapping his arms around the young witch. "I know I have seen Severus on business since I've been in France, but I must admit that I have missed your companionship―and his," he said sincerely, so that Severus could hear before pressing a kiss to Hermione's temple.
Hermione hugged Lucius a little tighter and whispered, "I'm so glad you're moving back because he'll never admit it, but Severus has missed you too."
Hermione chuckled. "A little."
"Ah, to be missed but a little," the aristocratic blond mused playfully before straightening up and summoning a drinks waiter as he slowly released the young witch in his arms. Taking two glasses of Champagne for his guests and one for himself, he then addressed them both. "Well, thank you for both for coming to help celebrate my new official status as an eligible bachelor."
"Well, we heard there would be free alcohol," Severus snarked, which Lucius knew was his friend's way of saying 'you're welcome.'
"Severus, Hermione, lovely to see you," Narcissa chimed, hurrying towards them pulling a tall, auburn-haired witch behind her. "Lucius, you remember Dominique? Yes, of course, you do. Well, I was just telling her that you have been living at the estate in Provence..."
Taking this as their cue to mingle, Severus' expression looked almost sympathetic to Lucius' plight, but it didn't last long and he ushered Hermione towards Draco and Luna. Once out of Narcissa's earshot, his voice dropped to a more conspiratorial tone. "Behold the wonders of Narcissa's matchmaking. One thing I shall be eternally grateful for it is that you saved me from it."
Hermione snorted. "My pleasure. You can thank me later."
Lucius and Narcissa's Divorce celebration was passing pleasantly enough, even if Severus' ability to be agreeable to social climbing sycophants was starting to wear thin. The Champagne was flowing, and the canapés were disappearing at an alarming rate, but the most observant of guests would have noticed that the hosts had suddenly disappeared together with Pius.
Hermione was chatting to Draco and Luna, the latter who was wearing an exquisite Grecian style gown of pale lilac chiffon and a pair of white Converse that she had customised with a shimmering lilac powder. Her choice of footwear was causing ructions amongst some of the invited pure-blood snobs, but Draco was blatantly ignoring them―his arm proudly kept around his witch―defying anyone to say anything in his presence.
Severus, meanwhile, was politely trying to tell Zelda Zabini that he already had a real woman to look after him properly and that he certainly wasn't interested in joining her for supper one evening or the kind of dessert she was offering, when Lucius came storming into the ballroom, seeking his son and his surly friend.
"My study, now," he spat at Severus before turning to Draco and informing him that his mother required an audience in her private drawing room. Without another word, the blond turned on his heel and stalked out of the room determinedly, ignoring all those who wished to catch his attention.
Severus and Draco looked at the space that had previously been occupied by Lucius when both felt the supportive touch of their witches at their side.
"I suppose I better go and see what Mother wants then," Draco sighed dejectedly before kissing Luna on the forehead and walking through the throng of guests and out of the ballroom.
Luna walked over and looked up at Severus as if expecting him to have an answer to Lucius' behaviour. The headmaster wasn't entirely sure that he did, but suspecting that Narcissa had just informed Lucius, and was about to tell Draco of her pregnancy, he urged Luna to follow after him.
"Do you know what's going on?" Hermione asked as Severus pressed his hand into the small of her back, and guided her towards the ballroom door so that he could speak to her more discreetly in the corridor.
"I am not sure," Severus told her away from the crowd, "but whatever it is, Lucius isn't just upset, he's―"
"Well, are you coming or not?" Lucius chided impatiently, walking back into the hallway. "You might as well join us, Hermione," he grumbled, beckoning them both to him.
Severus glanced down at Hermione and completed what he'd been about to say,"―He's hurt."
Lucius was pacing the floor from the moment the trio entered his study.
The dark-haired wizard observed his friend cautiously. "Lucius, you look as if you've just―"
Bearing down on Severus, his grey eyes as cold as ever, the older wizard growled menacingly. "Did you know?"
Unmoved by Lucius' aggressive behaviour, Severus' eyebrow arched inquisitively, his face remaining impassive. "Did I know what?"
"That my ex-wife has become engaged before the ink is even dry on our fucking divorce papers?"
Hermione gasped whilst her wizard's brow furrowed. Neither were expecting that news―well, not tonight at least. Severus began to wonder if Lucius knew about the pregnancy as well, but he wasn't about to break Narcissa's confidence on the matter.
They both watched as Lucius slumped into a large leather wing-back chair before leaning forward and burying his head in his hands. It was, however, evident that there was more to the man's upset than simply Narcissa's speedy engagement.
Crouching down in front of Lucius, resting her hands on his knees, Hermione slowly took one of Lucius' hands and moved it away from his face. "What else is wrong?"
At first the blond-haired wizard was reluctant to speak, but eventually Hermione's soft cajoling succeeded. "She is also with child."
Hermione inhaled sharply, caught between shock and excitement. "Is she?"
Lucius nodded pensively, drawing his bottom lip between his teeth. "Of course, they're only getting married because she's fucking pregnant."
Crossing his arms, Severus huffed indignantly. Given Lucius' upset over the situation, he certainly wasn't going to admit that he already knew of the pregnancy, but he also wasn't going to let his friend sit there and make specious comments. "I very much doubt that it is the only reason they are marrying."
Dragging his hand over face, Lucius leaned back in his chair before puffing out a breath. "Maybe not, but..." He trailed off, leaning forward again, his agitation evident as he rested his elbows on his knees whilst entwining his fingers at the back of his neck.
"But what?" Hermione asked, sitting down on the arm of Lucius' chair.
"But nothing," Lucius snapped.
"It's obviously something," Severus groused distractedly as he sat down opposite the blond wizard, hoping that Lucius would look up to see his displeasure for daring to speak to Hermione in such a way. "You both entered into this divorce willingly―"
Lucius sighed deeply. "Yes, I know―"
"And you know about Narcissa's relationship with Pius―they have not kept it a secret from you. You even allowed them to live in your ancestral home whilst you fucked off to France."
The older wizard thumped his hand down onto the arm of the chair. "Yes, I know."
Hermione placed a comforting hand on Lucius' back to try and calm him. "Is this because Narcissa has someone and you can't be with Fleur?"
Lucius closed his eyes and shook his head. "Please don't bring her into this. I don't need to be reminded of her and what I can never have with her."
"So what are you so upset about?" Hermione enquired frustratedly. "If you don't tell us, how can we help?"
But Lucius' words struck a chord with Severus, and recalling his conversation with Narcissa at their cottage, it dawned on him what was possibly bothering the waspish wizard. However, as Hermione looked to him, searching his dark eyes for some indication that he knew what was wrong, he kept true to his word and with his impassive mask firmly in place, he shrugged.
"Are you upset because she's pregnant by Pius, when you two had so many issues?" Hermione asked, trying to be as sensitive as possible.
She didn't receive a response, but the blond wizard stood up and walked to the fireplace, his fists clenched tight.
"It just reminds me of what I was unable to give her."
Continuing to press for an answer, Hermione sighed. "Her miscarriages were not your fault. Sometimes they just happen, and―"
"Do you think me naïve? I am aware that her miscarrying was not either of our faults, but that is not the issue."
The young witch once again looked to Severus for some support, but none was forthcoming―much to her annoyance. "So what is the issue?"
"I could not give her a child."
Despite Severus' warnings in her head, Hermione persevered. "But Draco said that you decided not to try for another baby because you couldn't bear to have another miscarriage."
Lucius pinched the bridge of his nose, gathering his thoughts. "In the end, the issue of miscarriage, as distressing as it was for both of us, was irrelevant. I was unable to give her a child to miscarry. I am incapable; damaged."
Hermione's mouth fell open, only closing it when Severus mumbled in her head that he was disappointed by her fish impression.
"Oh God, Lucius, I am so sorry," she whispered before attempting to get up and console him, but stayed put as Severus shook his head, knowing that his friend needed space. "But how?"
Still facing the fireplace, Lucius summoned his usual nonchalance, disguising the pain that stabbed him to the very core of his being. "One too many Cruciatus. It is entirely my own fault. I did not cast them upon myself but if I had been brave enough to run when I first sensed the Dark Lord's return then I would not have been subjected to his tests of loyalty."
"True, but he would have hunted you down and killed you. Be grateful you are still alive. He may have punished you―punished us both―but he had no desire to expunge us," Severus interjected.
Twisting his mouth, Lucius considered this before adding, "You have a point, but knowing that I will not be able to father another child is not something I have found easy to come to terms with."
As she listened to the two wizards, Hermione felt herself welling up as a sense of panic engulfed her, and she found herself staring into the eyes of her partner, who upon seeing her worried expression and sensing the source of her discomfort, also felt dread rising within him.
Lucius turned to address the couple, but noticing that Hermione had paled and that Severus looked even paler than usual, felt similarly disquieted. He would be the first to admit that he had absolutely no skill in Legilimency, but even he realised that his brief exchange may have triggered a rather unpleasant concern.
Knowing that it was virtually impossible to offer words of reassurance to an unspoken fear, Lucius was about to try and divert the conversation back to himself when shouting could be heard coming from just beyond the door.
"Just leave me alone."
The distant voice of Narcissa responded. She was obviously still stood by the door to her private drawing room. "Draco, darling, please. I thought you would be pleased."
"Pleased?" even though Draco's voice was somewhat muffled, the aggravation in his tone could be heard clearly through the door. "What the hell made you think that I would be pleased because I can assure you, Mother, that I am not pleased."
Listening to the commotion from inside the study, Lucius' expression became venomous. "How dare he make a scene when we have guests. I didn't bring him up to―"
"―Neither did I," Severus growled, reaching the door first and flinging it open, thus startling his godson into silence. "Draco, what the devil are you thinking yelling at your mother like that? Show some respect."
"I suppose you know," Draco accused, shrugging off Luna's attempt to placate him.
His godfather glared at him. "I know many things. Care to be more specific?"
"Draco, we were about to tell Severus and Hermione," Narcissa told her son quietly as she approached them.
Severus considered the situation. "Your father has just informed us of your mother and Pius' engagement," he said before turning to Narcissa. "My congratulations, darling. I apologise for the rushed nature of my felicitations, but I will come and speak with you at length once I have dealt with your son."
Turning back to Draco, Severus drawled, "Come, let us go for a walk."
His godson went to protest, "But―"
"That was not a request."
"Not another word until we are outside," Severus snarled, placing his hand on the young wizard's back and ushering him forcefully towards the nearest exit into the garden.
When Narcissa Black married Lucius Malfoy and moved into his father's mansion, one of the things she requested of her father-in-law was that she should be allowed to redesign the gardens. Her love of roses and peonies was well known by those of more than mere acquaintance, and her rose and peony gardens were charmed to provide blooms throughout the year.
Severus had been banned from the peony garden after he'd attended it in a rage after the death of Dumbledore, and so it was in Narcissa's main rose garden that Severus told Draco nonchalantly, "I believe these roses require pruning."
Severus demonstrated by drawing his wand and blasting a rose bush into oblivion. "A highly cathartic act, I find, although not one without consequence. We will undoubtedly incur the wrath of your mother―although we shall of course replace all that we destroy―and should you decide to do this at Hogwarts, you will see an entirely different side to Pomona Sprout."
Draco smirked. "I remember you blasting rose bushes during the Yule Ball. Did Pomona give you detention?"
"No, she cornered me in the staffroom and informed me that she had a young Devil's Snare which had a penchant for going for the testicles and it had my name on it." Severus then snorted mirthfully. "One could say that she bollocked me."
Draco laughed, but knowing that his godfather was about to discuss the reason why they found themselves in the middle of a cold rose garden at the end of November, he decided to distract him by asking teasingly, "Anyway, why did you begin destroying shrubs that night?"
The truth behind Severus' behaviour on that night was that he had pretty much reached breaking point. He could feel the Dark Lord's power building through his mark; Potter had somehow found himself participating in a tournament that he shouldn't be and Mad-Eye had usurped his position as the boy wonder's protector, and, although it was hard for him to admit, that had pissed him off. And to top it all, there had been something disquieting about the situation in general and it continuously ate away at him.
His usual coping mechanisms had started to spiral out of control. He'd begun drinking more, smoking more, and his Muggle supplier had been called upon more often. And then in one glorious moment a miracle happened. His eyes fell upon a certain curly haired witch and a sense of calm settled upon him. It was like nothing he'd ever experienced before, but said witch was on the arm of an International Quidditch player from Durmstrang. That shouldn't have bothered him, except for the most bizarre thought that had just entered his head: She won't look at you twice.
By the time he found himself on his rounds he was angry, and he didn't understand why until he saw her being led into the rose garden. His overriding thought was that no one should be allowed to touch her, and before he realised what he was doing, the first rose bush had been obliterated. Not only was the act itself satisfying, but it had a most pleasing side effect: students scampered away in an attempt to maintain their anonymity. Of course, they weren't going to succeed in that endeavour―not with him―and a whole raft of points were deducted. He caught sight of a blue dress and Durmstrang uniform slipping away, and caught her voice on the breeze telling her companion that their jaunt into the gardens had not been a very good idea.
Severus' response to his godson was to the point as he recognised Draco's delaying tactics. "There were students acting inappropriately behind them."
"Oh come on!" Draco exclaimed incredulously. "We both know that you prefer sneaking up and scaring the shit out of people."
Arching his eyebrow the former Head of Slytherin glared at the younger wizard. "I am disappointed that my modus operandi is so obvious."
"No one would ever accuse you of being obvious."
The headmaster smirked. "That is a relief, and no she wasn't."
"You were intimating that my sudden interest in extreme pruning came about because Hermione was one of those acting inappropriately. I managed to, if you will excuse the expression, nip that in the bud."
"Please, stop making jokes, Uncle. It's...disconcerting."
Looking affronted, Severus caused another rose bush to meet its maker before jerking his head towards another potential victim for Draco to attack.
Nervously, Draco drew his wand from the sleeve of his dark grey jacket, and pointed it at one of his mother's favourite red blooms. Seconds later blood red confetti fluttered to the ground.
"I see what you mean," the younger wizard mused before firing a spell at another bush.
Sensing that Draco was now more receptive to being questioned, Severus crossed his arms and began his interrogation. "Explain your objections to Pius marrying your mother?"
Draco thought for a moment, chewing the inside of his cheek. "I have no objections to mother being happy and Pius is a decent bloke who treats her well, but don't you think it's bad form? I mean I'm not happy that she's got engaged, but...this is really difficult to explain."
"I am in no hurry," Severus told him reassuringly.
"I am glad that Mother is happy, but I'm pissed off that she's happy with someone other than Father, and if she and Pius want to get married then I will support her, but what's really fucked me off is that they've announced it tonight."
Severus nodded, firing another spell―this time at a yellow rose―with a flourish. "I confess myself surprised at the timing, but―"
"I thought it was bad enough that my parents decided to throw this party. Am I the only one who thinks it's in poor taste?'
Not wishing to comment, Severus simply shrugged, but he had to admit that he had been surprised when he and Hermione received their invitation.
"I'm here because I'm their son, and despite everything, I love them. They weren't ideal parents―they both had affairs―but I always thought they loved each other. I had hoped that things might get better between all of us after the war, but then Mother ups and leaves, and Father didn't even put up a fight. I always thought if you loved someone you fought for them. I mean, if Luna told me that she was leaving, I'd want to find out why and try to sort things out. And it just makes me think that they never really loved each other and...does that mean they don't―"
Tentatively, Severus put his hand on the young man's shoulder, relieved that given his godson's highly strung state, he didn't flinch.
"Draco, dismiss that thought immediately," his godfather commanded gently. "This is in no way a reflection of how they consider you. They both love you, and although theirs was an arranged marriage they did love each other―I think that they still do, but they have decided that, for whatever reason, this part of their lives has come to an end. Potentially, they are better off apart."
His godson went to speak, but Severus' subtle hand gesture indicated that he had not yet finished talking.
"I appreciate that I am a mere novice when it comes to relationships of my own, but I would like to think that I, as a keen observer of human nature, have gained some insight. Also as the product of a home where my father hated my mother, and in turn my mother was scared of my father, I know that sometimes it is better for two people to part because the damage they can inflict by staying together far outweighs the damage of them separating."
A large pink rose shattered as the Arithmancy professor destroyed it. "But are they both happy? I mean there's Mother lauding it up with her new man, but Father―"
There was something in Draco's voice that made Severus' eyes flick to him. The relationship between father and son was still turbulent, but the young man's eyes showed the depth of his concern.
"What about your father?" Severus asked cautiously.
"He's got no one," Draco sighed, stalling his wand arm from eliminating another prize plant. "I'm sure he shagged around a bit in France, but how may eligible witches do you know―or wizards, for that matter?"
Pressing his lips into a thin line, Severus exhaled through his nose, careful not to give away his friend's secret. "I believe he would be touched by your concern."
Draco snorted softly before he asked pensively. "Whatever happened to that witch he was moping over at the Ministry Ball?"
"Look, I'm not stupid and you can't keep fobbing me off, Uncle. I am sure there was a witch, but I've come to the conclusion that she's either married or someone everyone would frown upon. It just seems strange to me that he decided to leave the country not long after the Ministry Ball, and ―"
"―And I've told you before that you should ask him."
"I do!" Draco exclaimed, "And all he says is that he is not at liberty to tell me."
"Then respect that."
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "How many times have you told your father about your conquests or unrequited attentions? How many times have you told him that it was none of his business, and then moan to me about his incessant questions?"
"Fair point," Draco conceded, "but then how many times did he bend your ear when I didn't tell him what he wanted to hear? I'm just doing the same, Severus."
"Oh well, that makes it alright then," the headmaster grumbled.
The blond wizard chuckled. "It's not our fault you seem to end up being stuck in the middle.
Severus snorted softly. "No, the blame lies entirely with me."
Draco chewed his bottom lip as his expression became more serious again. "I know father has done terrible things; we've all done terrible things, but if there is one thing that he's taught me―even if I didn't realise the importance of it at the time―is that he's family and I want him to have something good in his life."
"He already does. He has you, but I share your sentiment. I would be delighted if your father was able to find a companion."
Three rose bushes went up in quick succession. "Yes he has me, but I'm not all Mother's going to have, am I? I can't believe she's pregnant."
"Draco are you feeling...displaced?"
"What? No! Well, maybe a little, but I've wanted a brother or sister all my life. It's just I can't believe she's pregnant at her age. I mean that child is going to have old parents."
"Your mother is only forty-three; Pius is forty-nine. And besides any children that I may have will have an old father."
"You and 'Mione are different though."
Severus was taken aback by Draco's declaration. "Are we?"
"Yes, she's nineteen or twenty or whatever age she is and you're not even forty yet. But it's not even something Father will have to worry about, unless whoever he finally settles down with already has a child."
"Ah, so he's told you then?" Severus asked, relieved that he didn't have to keep another piece of information from Lucius' son. "He was in the process of telling us when your yelling so rudely interrupted."
White petals fluttered to the ground. "It just seems so unfair," Draco mumbled.
"Life is, I'm afraid."
It was then that Draco had an uneasy thought. "Uncle?"
Severus cocked an eyebrow, glancing sideways at his godson. "Yes," he drawled, a sinking feeling engulfing him as he awaited Draco's question.
"You were subjected to the Cruciatus just as much as Father. Are you alright―you know―in that department?"
Silence fell over the rose garden before a surge of wandless magic demolished the rest of the garden. Draco looked at the source of such power, not sure whether to be impressed or concerned.
Severus stood there motionless as petals of varying colours fell around him. For a moment, he heard nothing save his own heartbeat in his ears and his own damning thoughts. Eventually, Draco's worried voice broke into his consciousness.
"Uncle? Do you know if―"
"―I...I don't know," Severus admitted quietly.
"But you and 'Mione want kids, don't you?" Draco pressed.
With no more roses to destroy, Severus turned on his heel and began to walk back towards the mansion; Draco jogging to catch up with him. "I am well aware of what we both want," the dark-haired wizard muttered, flinging open the door and urging his godson to make haste.
Handing Hermione and Luna a drink, Pius mused, "I don't think our little announcements have gone down very well."
Luna shook her head. "It's just a shock for Draco, but he will come to accept it."
"And Severus is having a word with him," Hermione added, taking a sip of her drink.
Pius' deep chuckle rang out. "And that will make things better, will it?"
"He was Head of House for years; he's used to dealing with stuff like this, and please keep this to yourself, but he can be quite understanding...sometimes," Hermione whispered knowingly. "Lucius didn't take it very well though, but for other reasons."
Luna sighed wistfully, her eyes glazing as she fixed on something that probably wasn't even in the room before she spoke. "Lucius is―"
"―Trying to escape the clutches of the merry widow," Pius offered, jerking his head in the direction of the door where one of the hosts of the evening's strange celebration had just walked through only to be immediately accosted by the infamous Mrs Zabini.
Hermione coughed as her drink went down the wrong way. "She was trying to get her talons into Sev earlier. Anyway, I thought she was seeing that supposed German aristocrat in International Magical Co-Operation," she croaked out as Pius patted her back.
The tall wizard, satisfied that Hermione was not about to expire, confirmed her understanding. "No supposed about it―he is and she was. However, I believe he didn't ask her to marry him in a timely fashion. Her pocket money was obviously running low," Pius muttered conspiratorially.
Luna huffed at both of them; Pius for interrupting her and Hermione for delaying her thought further. "I was going to say that Lucius is going to be fine―eventually―but there will be heartbreak before he can be truly happy."
Hermione's brow furrowed. She wasn't sure if Luna was stating the obvious or alluding to a more worrying premonition. As she pondered she was vaguely aware of the blonde witch asking Pius where Narcissa was, when the answer came into sharp relief.
From the hallway, shouting could once again be heard. "What the hell have you two done to my garden? Don't you shrug at me, Severus Snape!"
The two offenders slunk back into the ballroom with a furious Narcissa following behind, all seeking their respective partners. Finding them altogether, Severus thought, was a blessing as his pregnant friend was less likely to hex him with Draco by his side.
"We'll replace everything," Severus told the angered witch calmly whilst Hermione's urgent and incessant enquiries about what he'd done resounded in his head. "I will talk to Pomona and you will have a new garden within days, I assure you."
"A new garden that you will not set foot in unless accompanied by a member of this household―"
Draco's eyes widened. "I was with him, Mother, or am I no longer part of this household?"
Narcissa immediately sought to reassure her son, realising that at the moment such a slip of the tongue around Draco was not wise. "Of course you are. I didn't mean it like that, my darling. But if your godfather thinks he can come in here, flourishing his wand―"
"I was flourishing mine as well," Draco spat in defence of Severus, "so am I banned too?"
Sighing, Narcissa tried to find the right words to appease Draco, when the atmosphere amongst the guests nearest the door became unsettled. Sensing this, Severus and Pius looked toward Lucius, who they noted had his wand drawn. The two wizards followed suit, and with warnings to their nearest and dearest to remain where they were, the three wizards stepped into the hallway.
"Thicknesse, you will excuse my late arrival. One's best intentions were scuppered at the last minute by a niggling problem," Kingsley Shacklebolt drawled as he and a contingent of Aurors walked through the hallway towards Lucius and his two companions. Noticing that all three had their wands drawn, he continued, "and I apologise if the manner of my arrival alarmed your guests. Of course, I suppose I should be apologising to you, Lord Malfoy, as it is your party, but it was Pius who invited me. Oh and don't worry about this lot," he said, gesturing towards the Aurors, "one can't be too careful these days."
Quickly observing the Minister and his entourage, Severus noticed that none of the Aurors seemed jittery, whereas, despite his smooth words, Shacklebolt did.
What's going on?
'Mione, don't come out into the corridor, Severus cautioned.
Shacklebolt has just arrived.
Hermione gasped in his mind. You're joking! No, you're not. You don't joke about things like that. Who invited him?
Hang on, has Pius got his wedding ring on?
Yes, Severus confirmed before answering the question that he knew she was about to ask. He looks as if he is about to test the charm.
Thinking for a moment, Hermione mused, Shame we haven't got another ring.
You will dismiss whatever it is you are thinking.
―No. I will not have you endangering yourself.
Huffing, the young witch muttered, I was just going to borrow one of Luna's rings.
Well don't. Please. Not after earlier, her wizard implored. The plea in his voice was enough to snuff out any desire Hermione had to argue with him further.
Whilst Severus and Hermione were silently conversing, Pius had indeed held out his hand to greet the most prominent politician in the wizarding world. The look on his face confirmed that this was not the real Minister for Magic, and it was at this point that the imposter decided to turn his attention to Severus which gave Lucius the perfect opportunity to surreptitiously glare at Pius for inviting such an unwelcome guest.
"Ah Headmaster, you are well, I trust? I presume you are accompanied by your lovely witch this evening," Shacklebolt asked far too lasciviously for Severus' liking.
"Indeed, Minister," Severus graciously replied, not giving a definitive response to either enquiry.
"I don't suppose you are looking forward to leaving her all alone whilst you are bringing back our runaway?"
"Minister, you must know by now that Lord Snape will never admit to having feelings in public although I can assure you that Miss Granger will be well looked after in Severus' absence," Lucius interrupted smoothly, placing his hand on the man's back and ushering him into the ballroom. "Come, let me get you a drink. It is unacceptable that you, and your guards, are empty handed."
Severus was seething and whilst Lucius was playing the perfect host, he found that Pius' attempts to placate him only angered him more. "Don't look at me like that, Severus. I had to invite him. Arthur informed me about earlier. Do you want to talk about it?"
"Later, but I'm sure Arthur and his team have it in hand," the dark-eyed wizard growled. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must return to Hermione before that fucker gets anywhere near her."
The rest of the party was spent on tenterhooks for the main circle of friends. Severus' hand was in constant contact with Hermione and apart from a few fleeting comments, they managed to avoid Yaxley-in-Shacklbolt's-clothing. Thankfully, the imposter didn't stay long, and once he left they found themselves in Lucius' study, once again, discussing the day's events and the forthcoming week.
But that wasn't the only thing on Severus and Hermione's mind. Today had already taken an unpleasant turn before they even considered that Severus could be facing the same infertility issue as Lucius.
And so it was that when Severus and Hermione finally crawled into bed at one o'clock in the morning, sleep eluded them. Staring at the ceiling, they both lay in silence, neither daring to speak as they tried to come to terms with the events of the day and the possibility that neither wanted to acknowledge.
The atmosphere was becoming heavy with anxiety, and as their thoughts became almost tangible, Severus' hand sought out Hermione's over the covers, his fingers lacing between hers.
At the touch of his fingers, Hermione finally gave in to oppressive feeling that had settled in her stomach, and her soft sniffles broke the silence. Seeking to provide and receive solace, Severus coaxed her into his arms. Pressing a lingering kiss into her chestnut curls, he gulped thickly, trying to steady himself.
"Everything will be fine," he choked out, burying his face in her hair as he felt his own eyes beginning to well up.
"I can handle Yaxley," Hermione sniffed, "but what if―"
Closing his eyes, Severus pulled Hermione closer, determined not to let her leave his arms tonight. "I'll speak to Poppy when I get back."
A/N2: Ummm, yeah...sorry about that...next time Australia and shenanigans.
A/N3: Just a quick word about updating. In future, I will be writing the chapters two at a time and posting them a week apart as there are a lot of big events coming up. I hope to have everything ready within 5 weeks as I do now, but this is a big task so please bear with me (and le beta).