A/N: Should be working on my papers but here we are... Looking forward to your thoughts and comments!
Chapter 25: Hidden Truths and Histories
Severus sat in an uncomfortable, decorative chair styled after, he presumed, a long-departed King of France. Balancing a teacup and saucer on his lap, he held himself rigid to avoid making the chair squeak. Hermione, appearing as tense as he felt, was seated to his right in a well-cushioned wingback chair, while the Grangers stared at him across the ornate coffee table from a plush, silver sofa.
It was obvious as to whom they blamed for the present situation.
Snape discretely flexed his glutes in the vain hope of relieving the pressure of a rivet digging into his arse. He suspected casting a cushioning charm would endear him even less to his irritated in-laws.
It could be worse. You could be in-laws with Bellatrix. Severus nearly smirked. At least in that regard he had an advantage over Lucius.
A quiet rustling drew his attention to his wife, who gave him a nervous grin. Oddly enough, the girl's tendency to prattle on when uncomfortable – or when comfortable, at that – had vanished in the face of parental disapprobation.
After introductions were made and Severus had complimented the appearance of their home, Hermione managed to stumble her way through an explanation and apology. Without truly acknowledging the apology, Mrs. Granger had excused herself to the kitchen to prepare the tea now growing cold in their hands.
Weak tea. And no biscuits.
Though it was clear something was bubbling under the stoic expression of Richard Granger, no one had spoken since the tea had been distributed. Besides the occasional clink of china or squawk of his precarious chair, the only sound filling the room was the ticking of the porcelain clock on the mantle.
Severus was certain the obnoxious ticking would be used to torture him in Hell. Likely while I spend eternity stuck in this bloody chair.
Obviously, nothing he did or said was apt to win over his in-laws. As it was equally unlikely the Grangers would break out the Cruciatus this afternoon, Snape decided he would play their game. He might have a decorative bruise on his arse-cheek for the rest of the week, but he could outlast them. By the look of Mr. Granger's forehead, it would not take long for the man to crack.
Even then, Severus doubted it would be very exciting. Not like the blowouts he had experienced with his own father. Richard Granger looked like Arthur Weasley's older, wealthier, sanctimonious brother. The letter Hermione received was likely the worst of the man's temper, which explained why it affected her to such an extent.
Rosalind Granger was harder to decipher. Slight of frame, the mousy woman sat primly, almost submissively beside her husband. Yet, the steely glint in her blue eyes suggested a great deal was being restrained beneath the calm façade. Hermione's temper must have come from somewhere, and Snape wagered her mother was the source.
At the sound of a throat clearing, the wizard's eyes flashed back to his father-in-law. And so it begins.
Mr. Granger laced his fingers together in his lap. "How long have you taught at Hogwarts, Professor?
Taking the subtle route, hmm? Severus rested his elbow on the narrow wooden armrest. "This is my 17th year as the Potions instructor at Hogwarts."
The man swallowed slowly. "And before that you…"
Hermione played with her teacup but slyly watched her husband. Though curious, she did not want her parents to realize these were answers she did not already know.
"I apprenticed with a Potions Master at an apothecary in West Yorkshire," Severus replied. "For a period of 18 months."
"I see." Mr. Granger frowned. "And…"
"Before that I was employed as an assistant to an ingredient wholesaler in Diagon Alley," Severus helpfully supplied.
Hermione smiled up from her teacup. "Mr. Humboldt. Such a sweet man."
Severus smirked in her direction. "I wouldn't advise telling him that."
"And how long did you work for Mr. Humboldt?" Richard asked, unsettled by their exchange.
"Just under five and a half years." Snape inwardly grinned as he took a measured sip of cold tea. It had not escaped his notice that there appeared to be a sizeable age gap between his in-laws. Granted, there were means through which wealthy Muggle women could disguise their age, but he would wager dear, old Dickie had at least a decade on his wife.
Mr. Granger blinked slowly, then crossed his arms. "And that all comprised your training as a Potions Master?"
"Not at all," Severus placed his teacup back on the saucer. "A Mastery in Potions requires completion of a rather intensive training program."
"How long did that take you to complete?"
Enjoying himself, the wizard tilted his chin. "Seven years."
Mrs. Granger winced as her husband reddened a few shades. "Seven years?"
"I assure you that is not an exorbitant length of time," Snape assured them. "A decade is usually expected."
Impressed, Hermione eyed her husband. She had never truly considered all the requirements and accomplishments implied within the title Potions Master. Her look of admiration did not go unnoticed by her father, who gripped his thighs tightly.
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Granger dropped her hand. "Exactly how old are you?"
Severus rubbed his lips to hide his smile. Finally, the direct approach.
"Mum!" Hermione immediately sat forward.
"It's alright…dove. I don't mind." Severus placed a reassuring hand on his wife's chair, then crossed his legs, ignoring the chair's audible protest. "I will be 38 after the new year."
Exhaling loudly, Mrs. Granger leaned against her husband, whose color had returned to normal. "But how… you said…"
"I was fourteen when Humboldt took me on as an assistant," he explained. "I worked holidays and summers until graduating Hogwarts, when I could take on more hours. I began working toward my Mastery shortly after leaving Hogwarts and finished early in my tenure as a professor. My apprenticeship ended when I began teaching."
"Ah." Richard fell contemplative in a manner that was, again, eerily similar to Arthur Weasley.
Snape peered at his young wife, wondering if she was aware of the reminiscence. Perhaps that was what she found appealing in the ginger idiot hanging off Potter's backside. Otherwise, he was at a loss to explain that peculiar, practically parasitic relationship.
Oblivious to the current bend of his thoughts, Hermione grinned at her husband. She had caught on to his antics and was amused by how he had deliberately wound up her parents. She suspected they were now somewhat mollified he was only thirty-seven.
"Well, that's certainly…ambitious, isn't it?" Rosalind commented into her teacup.
Her daughter smirked. "He is Head of Slytherin House for a reason."
"Indeed," he purred.
With a disapproving hum, the Grangers readjusted their seats. "I thought you hated Slytherin."
Hermione winced as her mother spoke.
"And for that matter –"
"Daddy!" she hissed, knowing full well what he was going to say.
It was now Snape's turn to grimace. He did not care she had complained about him to her parents, but her sharp use of the word 'daddy' was a stabbing reminder of her youth.
"I don't hate Slytherin," Hermione protested. "And maybe, at times, I thought Severus was too exacting in class –"
"That isn't how you described it at all," Mrs. Granger interrupted, drawing a snort from her unwanted son-in-law.
" – but it's different now! Things have changed, and I… we realized just how deeply we do care for one another." She huffed, depositing her teacup on the coffee table. "And yes, sometimes we still frustrate each other, but that doesn't change the fact we love each other. It doesn't change the fact the potion I brewed revealed him to be my soulmate."
Her parents sniffed in disbelief.
"I know to you the idea of soulmates doesn't –"
"How far along?" Rosalind eyed her daughter sadly.
The witch startled midsentence. "What?"
"How far along are you, Hermione?" her mother repeated, setting down her teacup.
Hermione shook her head. "Mum, I'm not…"
"You're pregnant, aren't you?" Mrs. Granger stated plainly, while her husband glared at Snape. "There's no need to fabricate a story to hoodwink us, Hermione. We may not be magical, but we aren't idiots."
"You had an affair with your professor, discovered you were pregnant, and decided to marry for the sake of the child. The only question is who seduced whom?"
"Mother!" Hermione shot to her feet. "I am NOT pregnant!"
"Calm down, darling. It won't do to get upset. I can see it in your face, in your chest. You won't be able to hide it much longer."
Glaring at the ceiling, Severus dropped his cup and saucer on the table with a loud rattle. "Madam, your daughter is telling you the truth. There has been no pregnancy."
"I knew Hermione was to be my wife the moment she confessed to me what she had done with the Corazón Verdadero. I knew it within my heart, in my soul. But until that moment, until I had that truth revealed to me, there was no affair. Nothing inappropriate occurred between your daughter and myself before we were to marry."
"And when was that decided?" Richard asked.
Rosalind nodded. "How long has this been going on? Is he the one you were writing so secretively over the summer?"
"No, I was writing Harry, Ron, and Ginny. Like I told you every time you asked!" Hermione snapped.
"Well, how are we to know when you've been keeping all of this a secret?" Her mother stood as well and pointed angrily at Snape. "How are we to know how long you've been seeing your professor? How are we to know you were married if you don't bloody tell us!"
"Ros," Mr. Granger touched his wife's elbow, though it did little to quiet the woman.
"We have to hear the biggest news of your life from the stranger who shows up on our door wanting a comment on how we felt about our expanding family! Because you don't bloody tell us anything! Lord only knows what else you're hiding from us!"
"I started brewing the stupid potion after my birthday," Hermione growled. "I drank it at the end of September. By the first week of October, I couldn't handle being the only one who knew any longer. That's when I told Severus. We knew then we were destined for each other, that we couldn't bear to be parted again."
Snape held his breath as her voice cracked in the middle of her lie. Before she lost her resolve, he added, "We were married the 19th of October."
His wife inhaled deeply as she stared at her mother. "It all happened so fast."
"You expect us to believe neither of you were capable of controlling your urges long enough for her to finish school?" Richard grumbled. "She's still a child, but you, professor – you should have –"
"I'm not a child!" Hermione argued. "I am an adult in both the Wizarding world and this one."
"Perhaps I could have," Severus spoke louder to curtail her father's response. "But I was not the one who ingested the potion. I was not the one being mentally, emotionally assailed by it every time I closed my eyes. If you truthfully would prefer that I had allowed her to go permanently mad or harm herself rather than taking her as my wife, I do apologize."
"I cannot believe either of you are stupid – not if you produced the daughter you did – but you obviously do not understand the principle or the consequences of magical compulsion."
Mrs. Granger shook her head in frustration. "I don't believe this, Hermione. I don't believe you would be foolish enough to engage in anything of the sort! We raised you to think before acting!"
Mr. Granger stared at Severus for several seconds before speaking to his wife. "Maybe she did, Ros. Maybe she did, and that's why she didn't tell us. Because she knew what she did was wrong and was too ashamed to tell us."
"Is that why, Hermione?"
The girl faltered, her mouth opening and closing silently. Wiping at her face, she glanced at Snape, then pivoted around her mother and fled through the French doors into the back garden.
"If you would excuse me." Severus glared at each of the Grangers before calmly following his wife out of the house. He picked his way around the patio furniture and out to the middle of the garden, where Hermione stood with her arms wrapped around herself. When he touched her shoulder, she spun and slapped his hand away.
"Don't! Just… don't." Hermione held up a finger in warning before moving away from him. She shivered, though whether it was due to emotion or that her blouse was no match for the breeze heralding December's impeding arrival was anyone's guess.
Severus expelled a frustrated breath, his neck tingling with the knowledge an audience was watching them from the house. The witch needed to calm down enough to see reason if they were to convince her parents the story was genuine. "Hermione…"
"No!" She yanked her elbow out of his grasp.
"Hermione," he ground out. "Control yourself."
"I don't want to do this!" she hissed. "I don't want to lie to them. Please don't make me lie to them anymore. Please don't! Please!"
Catching her about the waist, Severus steered her into his chest and positioned himself so they could both be seen from the house. One arm wrapped around her back, while his other hand cupped her head. "I am sorry, but this is how it has to be."
"I want to tell them the truth," Hermione sobbed. "I want them to know I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't…"
"I know you wouldn't. You know you wouldn't. But they cannot know the truth," he murmured into her hair. "It's too great a risk to tell them. You know that."
"We could explain!"
As she gripped onto his sweater, Severus lowered his head until his lips were against her forehead. "If we were to tell them the truth, they would want to protest your innocence, wouldn't they? Hmm? And the only way to prevent that would be to tell them everything, wouldn't it? Yes? And if they knew everything…"
Hermione shook her head against him. "No. They can't know everything."
"Then they cannot know this."
Unable to speak, Hermione gave a tearful nod and burrowed into his warmth.
Severus rested his chin atop her head and stared blankly at the leafless tree hanging over their head. "Soon enough, this will all be over, and you can tell them whatever you wish."
"If they'll even speak to me," she grumbled.
"If they love you as much as they claim, they will speak to you. Whether or not they listen is another story."
With a snotty snort, his wife smacked his chest.
"Just tell them what a horrid husband I've been to you. They'll welcome you back with open arms."
Hermione slowly pried herself out of his hold, raising her eyes to his. "You're not horrid."
Severus raised a questioning eyebrow.
Blinking back the remnants of her tears, the witch stretched her arms upward to wrap behind his neck. "Frustrating, argumentative, short-tempered, snide… yes. But not horrid."
"Careful," he murmured. "Someone might think you're besotted with me."
A nervous smile spread across Hermione's face, and she chanced a glance at the house where her parents were visible through the glass doors. "Will you let me kiss you?"
His forehead tightened. "In front of your parents?"
"We're married, madly in love, yes? I was upset, and you came to comfort me. Wouldn't I kiss you after that?" At his relenting sigh, Hermione grinned and stood on her tiptoes. His hands pressed gently on her spine as her warm lips met his chapped ones. It was practically over as soon as it began, but her lips tingled, and her stomach clenched as her heels returned to the ground.
Severus cleared his throat, staring over her right ear. "Are you content to leave, or would you like to continue pounding your head against the wall?"
His wife leaned into him, pressing her face against his shoulder. After a moment, she stepped back. "We can go."
"Thank the bloody gods."
Though his reaction was amusing, Hermione was saddened by the truth behind the statement and yet still had the urge to defend her parents to him. Settling for a conflicted sigh, she rubbed her eyes and walked back to the house.
Her husband turned to follow her, pausing briefly to scowl at the uppermost windows of the house. It was unnerving, almost as though the third-story was glaring at him, staring him down in animosity. Not in Cokeworth now, are you?
Stop it, you shite.
With a shake of his head, Severus re-entered the sitting room in time to hear his wife explain they needed to take their leave. The Grangers, of course, offered no protest and led them to the foyer. Little was said as the couple donned their outerwear.
"Pleased to have finally met you, Professor," Mr. Granger finally mumbled. No hand was extended, and his tone implied anything but the statement.
Severus straightened the collar of his transfigured coat. "Likewise, Richard."
Hermione's eyes flashed to his in warning, though she remained quiet. She missed her father's stiff reaction as a gentle touch on her shoulder distracted her. She looked hesitantly at her mother, who stood within hugging distance.
Though the woman seemed to waver a moment, Mrs. Granger quietly cleared her throat. "I meant what I said, Hermione. If you haven't, you really ought to check. It does not do you nor the baby any favors to remain ignorant of the situation. You need to prepare yourself."
Hermione pulled back as though stung. She spared her father little more than a cursory glance before yanking open the front door and striding forcefully down the cobbled drive.
Without properly taking his leave of the mother, Severus swept out of the house. With his longer stride, he caught up to his angry wife by the time she stepped onto the sidewalk. When she refused to temper her pace, however, he grumbled under his breath. "Hermione."
When repeated attempts to catch her attention went unrecognized, the wizard halted in his tracks. "Madam Snape!"
"WHAT?!" Hermione spun to face him, quickly regretting her tone.
"While I am certain your righteous indignation is warranted, do recall we are in public again." He shifted his gaze pointedly to a few of the large homes surrounding them. "Imagine what your neighbors will think seeing you, in distress, pursued by a strange man twice your age?"
The girl huffed a sigh, then slunk back to him. "Sorry."
She slipped her arms about his waist and peered up at him. "Then again, you might be surprised by how many strange-looking men do live in the neighborhood. You hardly stand out."
Severus narrowed his eyes at her giggle, then coolly extracted himself and stepped past her. "I was going to suggest a visit to a bookshop, but if that's your attitude…"
Hermione's eyes widened as she hustled after him and seized control of his arm. "Bookshop?"
His lip quirked upward. "Have you concluded insulting my appearance, then?"
"For today, yes," his wife snickered. "I didn't really mean it, you know. You're not strange-looking."
Snape snorted. "You just want books."
Hermione felt her stomach roil as they arrived in a small, dark space. The pungent scent of grease on the air did little to relieve her distress.
"Alright?" her husband murmured as she continued gripping his arm.
"Mmhmm. I just needed a moment." The witch glanced about the alcove they occupied. "Where are we?"
"Near Manchester," Severus replied, leading her out into the narrow street.
Huddling close to the wizard, Hermione curiously glanced about at the dark brick buildings. While metal clanged from the auto repair on the corner, the smell of grease grew stronger as they neared the neighborhood chip shop. Severus slowed after passing the chip shop, stepping up to a green wooden door in desperate need of repainting. Propped up in the small window was a sign faded by time that simply declared BOOKS.
A bell jingled as they entered the bookstore. Though it was a rather small shop, the few bookshelves it contained were crammed full of books of all sizes, ages, and colors. The proprietor – a pudgy woman with grey hair – sat on a wooden stool behind the counter and was occupied in a conversation with an elderly man.
Hermione gave the pair a hesitant smile before joining her husband in quietly browsing the shelves. Offhandedly, she noticed that though the shop smelled of musty books and faintly of spices, she no longer smelled the chip shop next door. As her husband pulled a dark blue book from the shelf, she moved a few paces nearer the window. Her eyes drifted toward the sizeable collection of brightly-colored and well-worn covers of the romance section. She had read a few such novels – her former roommates often left them strewn about their dormitory – but would die a thousand deaths before she bought one in front of Snape.
When the old man eventually toddled out of the store, Severus snapped his book shut and approached the counter.
"Always such a polite lad, aren't yeh?" the shop owner smirked. "Wondered if you'd ever bring the new missus by."
Intrigued by their familiarity, Hermione came to stand beside her husband.
"Picked yerself out a pretty one, didn't yeh?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Madam Snape, this is Edda. Edda, my wife."
"Dead chuffed to meet yeh," Edda grinned before sliding off her stool and waddling with the help of a cane to the end of the counter. "Well, c'mon then."
Hermione bemusedly followed the other two through a curtain to the back staircase. Edda produced a stubby wand from the pocket of her cardigan, placed it into a knot in the wood paneling and twisted. The panel sprang back to reveal another, larger room overflowing with books – on shelves, in crates, and piled up into precarious looking towers.
"Keep your wits about you," Severus cautioned in Hermione's ear.
The young witch glanced back at him but found he had already moved to assist Edda onto another stool behind a counter. While exploring the selection of magical books, she tried to keep aware of the conversation occurring up front.
"…been an age since yeh brought a girl round here."
Hermione bit her lip as she strained to hear her husband's response. Unsuccessful, she frowned at the shelf in front of her. What girl did he bring here? Or maybe there have been multiple girls? Were they friends? More than friends?
Try as she might, she could not picture Snape casually dating anyone. He very well could have, or he could have had a serious relationship at some point. For all she knew, he could have been married previously.
Shaking her head at the thought, Hermione turned her attention to the books. Almost immediately, a title grabbed her eye – Living with Legilimens: Choose Your Minds Wisely. Her lips quirked at the thought of purchasing it. Though it would undoubtedly rankle her husband's cage, she recognized it might broadcast he was skilled in Legilimency.
The girl turned down another narrow aisle and found another interesting book. Cracking open The Knowledgeable Kneazle, she peered over the edge to see Edda plop a rectangular package on the counter. Snape immediately slipped it into his pocket and replaced it with three potion flasks, which the woman stowed beneath the counter.
"Somethin' catch yer fancy, dearie?"
Hermione startled, realizing the question – and now everyone's attention – was directed at her. Attempting to maintain her composure, she closed her book and moved toward them.
Severus extended his hand to take the book. He peered at the spine, then held it up to Edda.
"Shouldn't be no problem," the shopkeep answered.
"Shouldn't?" he repeated.
Edda smirked as she leaned on her cane. "Nothin' a clever lad like yerself can't make right."
Severus gave a suffering sigh. "What'll –"
"Consider it a wedding present, luvvie," the elderly witch interrupted, smiling at Hermione. "And you can have that other one you was eyein' as well."
Hermione looked up, wide-eyed.
"Go on, then," Edda prompted with a wave of her hand.
As Snape eyed her strangely, Hermione lifted her chin and averted her gaze. Quickly, she strode to the back corner of the room and plucked the book from its perch. Swallowing her anxiety, she clutched it to her chest as she brought it up to the counter. At her husband's questioning glance, she revealed the cover to him.
Severus snorted in amusement before pointedly staring at Edda.
"Oh, stop yer fussin', boy! I wouldn't've recommended it if it posed any real threat to your lady love."
Grumbling under his breath, he shrunk down both books and stuffed them in his coat pocket. "When you need –"
"I'll send an owl."
Edda narrowed her eyes. "Go enjoy yer missus and stop mithering me, boy."
Hermione giggled at the exasperated look on her husband's face, then smiled at the elderly woman. "It was lovely to meet you, Edda. Thank you for the books. Truly, you didn't need to –"
The witch cut her off with a dismissive wave. "Jest look after yer wizard 'n' we're square."
Nodding, Hermione stepped into Severus's side and claimed his hand before he could move it. He managed to free his hand after taking their leave, but she quickly snagged his arm once they returned to the street.
"So, was she paying you, or were you paying her?"
Severus stiffened. "Technically speaking, a mutual acquaintance of ours did the paying. I merely placed the order."
"Ah," she murmured, realizing she had unknowingly tagged along on a task for Dumbledore. "Are we just returning to Hogwarts, then?"
"Are you suggesting an alternative?"
Hermione shrugged. "We haven't had lunch yet."
Snape followed her gaze back to the chip shop. "Unless you are looking to deepen your intimacy with my toilet this evening, you will not ingest anything from that locale. You're taking enough of a risk breathing in the fumes."
The young witch watched a pair of teens enter the shop, then eyed him skeptically.
"They're locals," he muttered. "They've evolved iron stomachs. You have not."
"Fine. Where would you suggest?"
Severus paused a moment before continuing the rest of the way to the apparition point. Hermione wondered if he would take them back to Hogwarts but soon found herself standing beside a ramshackle shed. A smile spread across her face as he led her out to an overgrown lane. Silently, they made their way through a small village to an old inn, where he held the door open for her.
Hermione blinked at the low light within the pub and looked about at the mismatched, worn out chairs and faded wall hangings. A trio of white-haired men sat in the window, chuckling over their drinks. She waited while Snape placed an order at the antique bar, then followed him to the cracked leather booth in the far corner.
She sipped the warm tea he had procured for her. "So… how long have you known her?"
"Edda?" Severus sat back in the booth and crossed his arms. "About eighteen years."
"When you were an apprentice?"
He nodded. "She was a customer. Occasionally, she made the trek out here, but usually I was sent to deliver her order."
Out here? Hermione held back her question as the elderly barkeep placed in front of them two steaming plates of roast, potatoes, vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings drenched in gravy. The man smiled at her and patted Snape's shoulder affectionately before shuffling back behind the bar to his newspaper.
"Was he a customer, too?"
Severus shook his head as he placed a napkin in his lap. "His wife was. He's a Muggle; she was a Squib."
"She passed away a few years ago."
"Oh." The witch glanced at the quiet man in sympathy. "That's too bad."
Snape merely grunted as he focused on his meal. As she tucked into her own food, Hermione surreptitiously watched him through her eyelashes. It was surprising how relaxed he appeared given how unnerved he had been during their anniversary dinner the other week. Even when dining in the Great Hall he held an edge, always aware of the goings on with students and staff. Here, however, he only seemed preoccupied with savoring his meal.
Vowing to let him enjoy the silence, Hermione found her thoughts wandering back to the fallout with her parents. She regretted it had descended into a shouting match with her mother and was embarrassed to have melted down in front of Severus. He certainly had not earned himself any points with her parents, but she could hardly be angry with him for it. He had defended her and, though he was merely playing the part of a loving husband, had been rather complimentary – for Snape, at least. She just wished her parents had tried a little harder to understand, to listen. Especially her mother.
"Not up to your standards?"
Hermione blinked at the wizard before realizing she had been pushing her food around the plate instead of eating it. "No, it's good! Very good, actually."
"I can tell," Severus commented dryly.
His wife sighed and set down her fork. "I just… if my own mother thinks I look pregnant…"
He rolled his eyes. "And your solution is to what? Stage a hunger protest? Eat. I won't have the Order accusing me of starving you."
Snape fixed her with an aggravated look. "You were the one who suggested this venture."
Hermione nodded and glumly took a bite.
"Merlin's sake." The wizard set his elbow on the table and leaned in. "Grange – Hermione. When was the last time your mother saw you?"
"King's Cross station at start of term."
"Three months ago. And do you suppose in your adolescent stage you would undergo no change in appearance in three months?"
"No," she whispered.
"And do you suppose her mental picture of you would undergo no change in those same three months?"
Severus widened his eyes deliberately. "And when you couple that with her need to understand why you've shackled yourself to a curmudgeon more than twice your age…"
Hermione cracked a smirk. "Besides the fact I'm unbelievably in love with you?"
"Emphasis on unbelievably," he sputtered.
Snickering, she resumed eating and resolved not to dwell on her parents. "The apothecary is nearby?"
Snape stilled a moment. "A few miles north."
"Not on today's guided tour?"
He shook his head. "Not on any other day's either."
"No," he stated, stabbing a bit of roast.
"Can I ask why?"
The wizard huffed, flicking his eyes to hers. "There is a reason why the Dark Lord insisted I work under him."
Her face fell at the insinuation. "Oh."
"This is as close as you will ever get to that pit," he added. "I'm not certain I should have even brought you here."
Hermione slowly swallowed her potatoes. "I'm glad you did, though."
Severus raised one eyebrow but otherwise did not reply. Afraid of irritating him further, she allowed the rest of the meal to be spent in silence. Once finished, he collected their dishes and set them at the bar along with a few Muggle notes. The old barkeep set down his paper and pushed a brown paper bag to Snape, who took it with a chuckle.
"Does he ever speak?" Hermione asked once they were outdoors again. The elderly man had merely nodded at her expression of gratitude.
"Not to my knowledge," Snape replied.
The witch glanced curiously at the bag in his other hand. "What's in there?"
"I presume two servings of sticky toffee pudding."
Her eyes brightened. "Is it as good as the roast?"
"It certainly used to be."
Resting her head on his shoulder, Hermione sighed good-naturedly. "I'm going to have to run laps or something."
Once returned to their quarters, Severus handed her the take-away bag. He removed her books from his pocket, restored them to their original size, and set them on the end table. He tapped the cover of Living with Legilimens and cleared his throat.
"I do not recommend reading that when you're tired." He gestured to the bookshelf against the sitting room wall. "And you will store it there when not reading it. Do not, under any circumstances, fall asleep with it in your bed."
"What?" Hermione set down the bag and picked up the book, studying its cover. "Why?"
He unbuttoned his coat while entering his bedroom. "Because Edda does not always stock her inventory from the most reputable of persons."
"Couldn't you use detection charms like you did before?"
"Edda removes all detectable hexes, jinxes, and curses as part of her acquisition process."
Hermione frowned at the bedroom door he had disappeared behind. "Then what is the problem?"
"The problem," Snape answered, reappearing in his shirtsleeves and trousers, "is any undetectable charm that may be present. And given the subject matter…"
"But it's on –"
"Anything on the mind is suspect," he interrupted. "The older the book, the more likely it is to have acquired traces of magic. Regardless of whether it was owned by anyone of ill repute, it is best not to have it nearby when your mind is more vulnerable to intrusion or influence."
Hermione flipped open the book to see it had a print date of January 1916. "It's published by The American Society of Legilimens."
"I noticed." Severus pulled on his frockcoat. "I was not implying it was not a useful resource."
"Is there a British Society of Legilimens?"
A loud puff of air escaped him as he did up his buttons. "Not as of present. More than likely the Ministry has it on its wish list, but no Legilimens has any interest in establishing a society."
"With a society, you have a membership list. And what might one do with a list identifying all Legilimens within the British Isles?"
Hermione grimaced at the possibilities appearing in her head. "Then why do the Americans have one?"
"Given everything that occurred with the Salem Witch Trials, one of the first things their Magical Congress enacted was to mandate all who practiced Legilimency register themselves. Anyone unregistered and caught practicing it were investigated and imprisoned for a sizeable period of time. As is the case with Animagi."
Her mouth parted in surprise. "I didn't know any of that. Legilimency was associated with the Witch Trials?"
"Corrupt wizards used Muggle hysteria to their advantage, selling out those they perceived stood against them or in their way – whether they be Muggle or Magical. At least one such individual used Legilimency to select his victims and to ensure the Muggles sentenced them to death. I cannot say similar did not occur here in Europe, but the witch hunts here were far more extensive. They were far more interested in protecting and sheltering Wizarding folk than ferreting out those that may have contributed to a death here or there."
"History of Magic didn't cover any of this." Hermione frowned. "Binns taught us that true wizarding folk escaped the witch-hunts because –"
"Because they could just use magic to escape or to turn the flames into a harmless tickling?" Snape grumbled. "I, too, was instructed by Binns post-mortem. It may surprise you, of course, but sometimes what one is taught is not necessarily what is true. There were some older, experienced witches and wizards who either escaped or were able to rescue their loved ones. For every one of those, however, a dozen more lost their lives. Young ones, Squibs, those who were somehow stripped of their wands – they did not fare well when the Muggles set their fires and hung their nooses. You would be hard-pressed to find any pureblood student here who could not name at least one ancestor who was imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. I can name you three from my own familial lines."
His wife gaped at him. "But why… why would Binns hide all of that? He goes into horrible detail on the Goblin Rebellions and Giant Wars."
"He's a ghost."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose as he debated whether he should say anything further. Finally, he relented. "To whom do our ghostly neighbors answer?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "The Headmaster? But why would… I don't understand."
"If someone in a position of educational influence wanted to improve opinions toward Muggles, it would likely behoove them to eliminate discussions of the brutality that originally prompted our segregation. When Dumbledore assumed the Headmastership, he brought with him Muggle Studies, and History of Magic was pruned considerably."
"How do you know that?"
Snape shifted his weight. "Because my mother ensured Wizarding and family history was part of my early education. Before I ever set foot in Hogwarts, I had read every one of her textbooks. She attended under Headmaster Dippet, and it was noticeably apparent to me what had been removed from the curriculum. For the Greater Good, I'm sure."
Numb, Hermione knelt on the sofa, trying to process everything revealed. She was beginning to understand there was more behind the Slytherin vitriol toward Dumbledore than she had been led to believe and was uncertain how to feel about it. She was not about to offer Draco an apology for her ignorance – Daphne, perhaps – but she could be a bit more circumspect in future arguments. At least she now knew better than to spout off to her husband about the ridiculousness of pureblood ideology without first asking questions.
The witch watched Severus extract a small tome from the bookcase. When he held it out to her, she took it and ran her fingers over the bumpy title, Occluding the Mind.
"You will study this book as well. Bear in mind, I am not the only Legilimens with whom you've been living in this castle." Severus stepped toward his lab, then stopped. "Neither of those books will enter your bedroom, and you will not fall asleep on the sofa unless they are both stored in the bookshelf. Do you understand?"
Nodding, Hermione glanced at the end table where Crookshanks was rubbing his scent on the other book Edda had given her. "What about that one? Am I allowed to read about kneazles before bed?"
"If I tell you no, you're going to do it anyway."
A slow smirk spread on her face. "More than likely."
"Well, I've already de-felined you once."