Disclaimer: See chapter 1.
Chapter 10: Brandish a Taper
One morning over breakfast, after the owls had delivered the morning post, Hermione opened a letter that had been addressed to the post-office box in Hogsmeade. "It's from my aunt and uncle," she said. "I haven't heard from them in ages."
"What is it about?" Severus asked.
"I sent them a marriage announcement after we had the announcement in the Prophet," Hermione said. "I wasn't really expecting them to write back." She read over the letter. "They want us to visit," she said, sounding surprised. "This weekend, if possible."
"We don't have Hogsmeade duty until the last weekend of the month," said Severus. "And I don't have any detentions scheduled for Saturday. Did you want to go?"
"I think we should," she said. "I don't have much family left, after all." Hermione went down to Hogsmeade around lunchtime to the phone box there and called her aunt.
"Hello, Susan Granger," said her aunt's voice.
"Aunt Susan? It's Hermione."
"Oh, hello, dear," said her aunt. "I take it you got my letter."
"I did," said Hermione. "Severus and I are free this weekend, so we can take the train down and have lunch with you on Saturday or Sunday, if you like."
"I think Saturday would do," said Susan. "I know Paul's interested in meeting the man you ended up with. I'm surprised you didn't invite us to the wedding."
"Well, we just had a registry office ceremony and didn't invite anyone. Neither of us really wanted a wedding proper," Hermione explained.
"Hmmm," said Susan. "Do you really think your parents would have wanted you to do that?"
"Probably not, but I couldn't really face the idea of a wedding without them," Hermione said. "Will Jim and Sara be around?"
"No, they're both off at university," said Susan. "But perhaps we could all get together around Christmas. We'll see you around noon on Saturday then?"
"Yes, see you then," said Hermione. "Have a good week."
"Bye!" Her aunt rung off, and Hermione put the receiver back in its cradle. Maybe this was a chance to reconnect with them.
"We're having lunch and spending some of the afternoon with them," she told Severus when she got back. "Then we're off again. They think we're taking the train. They live in Blackpool so it's not too much of a stretch."
The Grangers lived walking distance from the train station, so Hermione apparated with Severus to a quiet corner near their home. She smoothed her skirt, straightened her collar, and took a deep breath.
Severus took her arm. "It'll be fine," he told her. "You're an adult, remember?"
"I know, but they've known me all my life," said Hermione. "And I don't know what they'll think of you."
They walked to her aunt and uncle's door, and Hermione pressed the buzzer. Her uncle answered. Hermione, with a shock, realized just how much he and her dad had looked alike.
"Good to see you, Hermione," he said. "And this must be Severus. That's quite a name."
Severus shook his hand. "Thanks," he said. "And you're Paul, right?"
"Yes," he said, pulling them into the living room. "Have a drink? I've just opened a bottle of wine, and Susan's getting lunch on the table." He poured each of them a glass and then guided them into the dining room.
Susan hugged Hermione, introduced herself to Severus, and then got them all seated around the table.
"Now, how did you two meet?" Susan asked. "I was so surprised to find out you'd gotten married. I mean, last time we saw you, you were dating, oh, what's-his-name. Don?"
"Ron," said Hermione. "It didn't work out. He actually got married to someone else about two years ago. They're really happy together. Anyway, Severus and I met through work. We're both instructors at a boarding school. I teach lower-level sciences, and he teaches the upper levels."
"Teaching, eh?" said Paul. "I always thought that'd suit you. Been a problem, the whole workplace romance thing?"
"Not really," said Hermione. "The headmaster wasn't bothered, and nor were the rest of the staff. Most of the students haven't even noticed that we're married."
Paul laughed. "Typical of kids. Now, you're a bit older than Hermione, yes?"
"Yes," said Severus evenly. "That a problem?"
Hermione smiled and squeezed his arm. "But we get along very well," she said. "And really, Uncle Paul, can you see me settling down with a guy my age who just wants to play Xbox and watch sport?"
"Not really," he agreed. "Susan and I here, she's about eight years younger than me, and we've always gotten along well."
"Most of the time," said Susan. "You still watch sport all the time."
"Someone has to," said Paul affably. "Severus, you follow football?"
"I'm afraid not," he said. "I did when I was younger, but I lost interest after a while. Same with cricket. I'm more interested in reading and music."
"Then you and Hermione suit," said Susan. "She's always had her nose in a book." She smiled at her niece. "It's good to see you looking happy. Last time we saw you, after your parents..."
"I know," said Hermione. "It was awful. I kept telling myself I should have been there, that I should have been able to do something."
"It was a car crash, Hermione," said Susan. "Not like you could have done much. I'm sorry we weren't there for you as much as we could have been."
Hermione shook her head. "Not a problem, Aunt Susan. I wasn't really interested in spending time with people after that. But it's good to see you now."
"Yes," said Paul. "I wish your dad was here, see his little girl happily married. So, where did you go on your honeymoon?"
"We didn't actually," said Severus. "We got married a few weeks before term started and we had a great deal of reorganizing to do with our curriculum. There wasn't really time. We're talking about going somewhere next summer, for our anniversary."
Hermione smiled. "If we can ever agree, that is," she said. "I think we've argued more about that than anything else so far."
"That and your tendency to forget about breakfast," Severus said. "Honestly, woman, a cup of tea in the morning is not enough when you're teaching eleven-year-olds."
"And I told you I was fine," she retorted. "This from the man who forgets that he's eating whenever he brings a book to the table."
Susan and Paul watched the couple bicker with each other. Susan started to giggle and Paul chuckled.
"What?" said Hermione, looking at her aunt and uncle.
"Nothing," said Susan. "It's just—you reminded me so much of your parents when they were first together, the way they'd argue. Told me how happy they were, how comfortable they were together."
"They'd be pleased, I think," said Paul.
When Hermione and Severus left, they had promised to visit over the Christmas holidays. Hermione sagged with relief when they arrived back in Hogsmeade.
"Fancy a drink, love?" said Severus.
Hermione nodded and followed him to the Three Broomsticks. She sank into a booth in one corner of the room, and Severus went to the bar to get their drinks. He slid in beside her and handed her a glass.
"Thank you," she said devoutly. "I'm so glad they didn't panic."
"They don't know me at all," he pointed out. "They trust your judgement. Which must be flawed, since you did marry me."
Hermione lightly punched his shoulder. "Stop denigrating yourself," she said. "I love you, you git."
"Ah, the sounds of the happily married couple," said a familiar voice. Hermione looked up to see Ginny and Harry standing there.
"Can we sit down?" Harry asked.
"Of course," said Hermione. "What are you doing here?"
"We came up for the afternoon," said Ginny, dropping into the seat across from Hermione. "We were going to drop in on you two, actually, but since you weren't there, we visited Dumbledore and McGonagall."
"Where'd you disappear off to?" Harry asked.
"We were visiting my aunt and uncle in Blackpool," said Hermione. "They approve." She smiled happily at her husband. He smiled back, and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"Made a nice change," he said. "No screaming."
Ginny grimaced. "I'm still trying to talk Mum round. She's been really odd about this. I don't quite get it. Dad doesn't get it either."
"But the rest of us are happy for you," said Harry. "It was just a surprise, is all. Not the first thing you think of, you know."
"I know," said Hermione. "But he's way more interesting than any of the men you and Ginny tried to set me up with."
"Thanks, dear," said Severus. "And you are far more intelligent than any other woman I was introduced to."
"So how's teaching going this year?" Harry asked. "Anyone blown up the Potions lab yet?"
"Thankfully, no," said Hermione. "At least not in my classes. Severus?"
"Not yet, but we will be moving on to more explosive ingredients in a few weeks, so it's probably only a matter of time."
Later in the evening, Ron showed up. "Hi," he said. "Do you guys mind?"
"Not at all," said Harry. "Where's Demelza?"
"Out with her girlfriends," said Ron. "Kreacher told me you were in Hogsmeade." He pulled up a chair and sat down with a pint. Hermione leaned her head against Severus' shoulder, and sighed.
"Long day?" Ron inquired.
"We visited my aunt and uncle," said Hermione. "It was a little weird but they seemed to approve."
"Good for them," said Ron. He stared gloomily into his beer. "I don't think Mum's too fond of Demelza," he remarked.
"What makes you say that?" said Hermione. "I thought she liked Demelza."
"Yeah, I guess so, but that was before you got married. Now she's kind of unhappy with both of us and I don't know why."
"Mum really wanted Hermione as a daughter-in-law," said Ginny. "I think she was hoping Charlie would take to her."
"Charlie?" said Hermione. "Really?"
"I can't see that happening," said Severus. "From what I remember about him when he was at school, he wasn't terribly interested in girls."
"Not exactly," said Ginny. "Mum hasn't really realized that. Or if she has, she's in denial."
"Wait, Charlie's gay?" said Ron. "Is that why he's never brought a girlfriend home?"
"How could you not know this, Ron?" said Harry. "I mean, even I knew about it."
"I dunno. I guess I wasn't paying much attention."
Hermione laughed. "Sounds like. Is that why Charlie moved to Romania?"
"That and the dragons," said Ginny.
"Huh. Charlie's gay." Ron stared off into space, trying to absorb the idea.
"Are you going to be repeating that all night?" Severus inquired.
Hermione squeezed his arm. "Probably he will," she said. "And then he'll go home and repeat it to Demelza, who will then say, 'Of course, why didn't you know?' and then he'll repeat it a few more times, hopefully in front of Molly, and then she'll move on to being upset about that."
"I'm not saying that in front of Mum," said Ron. "I'm not suicidal."
"Nor am I," said Ginny. "I love Mum, and she's great, but sometimes she's a little too stubborn about things."
"Like us," said Hermione.
"Like you," Harry agreed. "But you're good for each other. I haven't seen Severus sneer at anyone yet, and you're actually happy. You haven't voluntarily visited your aunt and uncle in years, Mione."
"You said once, when you were drunk, that it was because your uncle looks too much like your dad."
"Oh," said Hermione.
Severus smiled compassionately at her. "Love, it's all right. We're seeing them again at Christmas, remember?"
"Oh, Christmas," said Ginny. "Right. Order Christmas party at Grimmauld Place on the nineteenth of December. You'll both be there, won't you?"
"That's the day all the students leave," said Hermione. "Yes, we can be there."
"You sure?" said Severus.
She raised an eyebrow. "Dumbledore always lets the former Order members go. We should go. Chance to show off how revoltingly happy we are."
He groaned. "As long as you don't wish to resort to snogging on the dance floor."
"Now that I would pay money to see," said Ron.
Hermione fell asleep before Severus came to bed that night, but she moved closer to him once he'd crawled in beside her. She mumbled his name, and snuggled her head against his chest. He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep, content.
He woke later in the night to Hermione's shrieks, and, sitting up, gently shook her awake. "It's all right," he said. "It's just a dream."
She reached out and tried to grab her wand, but it fell on the floor. He reached for his, non-verbally lighting the lamp. Hermione's face was drained of colour and she was shaking.
"You're safe," he said. "It was only a dream."
Hermione flung her arms around his neck, clinging so tightly he could barely breathe. "It was the day they died," she said. "The week after the Easter holidays."
He remembered, graphically.
After he had rescued Hermione, she spent several days in his home, recuperating from her ordeal. They had established something of a rapport—both were quieter people who enjoyed books, and on that basis alone, they got along. After they had returned to Hogwarts, Hermione would smile at him, or say hello when she saw him in the corridors. He was surprised by her thoughtfulness, but touched.
She had come by his office to return a book he had lent her the day it happened. They were talking about the book when Dumbledore showed up. "Ah, Miss Granger," he said. "I need to speak with you." His face told them both that something was wrong.
"What is it?" she wanted to know.
"I think you should sit down," he said. "Severus, you can stay. Don't leave." Severus watched Hermione slowly sit. Unasked, he stirred up the fire and hung a kettle over it.
"What's wrong?" she said.
"My dear, I'm afraid I have bad news. Your parents were driving to work this morning, and their protective detail was following. There was a car crash. We're fairly certain that Death Eaters were involved, but only one of the Aurors survived and he's at St. Mungo's and hasn't woken up yet."
"What about my mum and dad?" Hermione asked in a low voice, hands clenched into fists.
"They did not survive," he said.
Hermione gave a low cry and buried her face in her hands. Severus went and put a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Dumbledore went to the steaming kettle and poured it into the teapot that Severus kept in his office. He made tea quietly, and then gave Hermione a scalding cup of sweet tea.
"Why them?" she asked, when she had drunk half the tea.
"They're striking anywhere they can," said Severus. "He may have been taken in, quite well, by your false information, but that doesn't mean he's going to not do other things as well. We're going to have to act soon."
"It's planned," said Dumbledore. "You know that."
"I do," he said. He stared down at Hermione's ashen face. "It can't come soon enough for me."
"Would you send for Potter and Weasley?" he asked. "Send a Patronus. Just ask them to come here."
Severus nodded, and cast his Patronus. He was startled to see that his Patronus had changed shape. No longer a doe, it was now a smaller creature that he recognized as an otter. He was bewildered for a moment, wondering why on earth it would change to that. He shook his head, and sent it off with his message.
Dumbledore furrowed his brow. "That was interesting," he murmured. "Who has an otter Patronus?"
Severus suddenly remembered hearing the Order members discuss Patronuses. Hermione's was an otter. The shock made him draw further into himself. Then he heard Hermione sob, and turned to her, offering her his handkerchief.
"I remember," he said.
She was starting to calm down. "I remember how kind you were," she said. "Why?"
"I wasn't quite sure then," he said. "But I had a bit of a surprise when I cast a Patronus to send for Harry and Ron."
"Why?" she asked. Her hold on him had loosened, and she let him reposition her so it was more comfortable for both of them.
"For many years, my Patronus was a doe, like that of Lily Evans. Lily Potter."
Hermione nodded. "I knew that. What is it now?"
"It's an otter."
She froze. "Like mine. You mean—you liked me then?"
"Loved you then," he corrected. "A change in a Patronus is rather more extreme than mere liking. I think it started when I saw what you were capable of when you were captured, and then when Albus told you of your parents' deaths, all I could think of was what this war was costing you." He sighed. "I didn't realize then, not really, even when I saw my changed Patronus, what was happening."
She kissed him. "Thank you. I cared about you then, too, even though I didn't love you yet."
"But you do now?"
"I do," she said. "So you didn't just ask me to marry you out of pity?"
"I asked because I desperately wanted to marry you," he said. "I could hardly believe it when you said yes."
"I'm glad I did," she said, drawing him back for another kiss.