© 2013 Mundungus42 All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by JK Rowling or any other lawful holder. Permission may be obtained by e-mailing the author at mundungus42 at yahoo dot com
Hermione's mobile phone trilled out the Ode to Joy, and in her haste to answer it, she nearly smeared the charmed ink she was using on her final design.
"Hi, Mum! We're here!" Hugo's voice was crackly from magical interference at the International Floo Depot, despite the phone's Dampening Charms.
"Wonderful! Are you going to Floo to the Hog's Head straight away, or are you having lunch in London first?"
"I thought we'd have lunch with Dad and take the train," said Hugo. "I want Vic to see the English countryside he's heard so much about."
Hermione glanced at the clock on the wall. "Are you sure you want to take the train? The Hogwarts Express doesn't run during the summer. You'll have to catch the 3.45, it won't arrive until after dark, and it's supposed to rain. And the food's awful, unless you can still survive on pumpkin pasties."
Hugo laughed. "We'll be fine, Mum. We'll grab sandwiches at M&S before we leave. I'll get you a packet of their extra-strong tea."
"All, right. I'll meet you at the station."
"See you then. I'll phone if the plan changes. Love you, Mum!"
"Love you, too."
Hermione ended the call and sighed. On the one hand, she was glad of the extra time to finish the blueprints for her latest project. On the other hand, she was terribly impatient to meet the young man her son was bringing home. Hugo had always been like his father, who enjoyed having his good looks and charm appreciated by as many people as possible. However, halfway through his second year at university, his breezy, causal m-mails about his social life changed subtly. It wasn't until three months later that she had a name to put to the change: Victor Hall.
Vic's influence on Hugo was unmistakeable. For starters, the two letters from the Dean of the Eastman School of Music displayed proudly in the kitchen were a testament to Hugo's improved marks. That alone made Hermione predisposed to think well of Vic, even if he turned out to be covered in tattoos and piercings. Hugo also took more weekend trips to New York City when he was with Vic, taking in every opera, concert, and play that had standby tickets available. And perhaps most significantly, Hugo's most recent m-mail indicated that he was making plans for the future, something that Hermione had privately suspected he would only begin doing after several months of living with her, post-undergraduate. And now Hugo was bringing Vic to see his home and meet his family. Their relationship bore all the hallmarks of being Rather Serious.
She glanced at the family photograph that hung over her drafting table, taken shortly before Ron's accident. Ron and Rosie took turns making faces at the camera while Hermione and Hugo smiled earnestly. They were so young and carefree. Hopefully, Hugo and Vic's path would be significantly smoother than her own had been. She caught a glance at herself reflected in the glass and made a face. There was a blotch of black on her cheek, and five pencils stuck out of the messy, greying bun on her head.
Yes, the extra time was welcome. She hoped Magical Mess Remover worked on charmed ink.
It was pouring rain by the time the train's headlight appeared on the horizon, and Hermione was especially glad her refurbishment of Hogsmeade Station had included Weather-Repelling Charms on the platform. Though it had been one of her first projects after finishing her architecture degree, she still held great affection for its cheerful red station, with its large fanlight windows that, in better weather, afforded views of Hogsmeade to the south and the forest to the north, with the towers of Hogwarts visible over the trees. Not that she wouldn't change some things if she could do it all again. While the wrought iron lamp-posts that ran the length ofthe platform were lovely, they were spaced too far apart to illuminate everything properly, and at night it gave the station an eerie, dilapidated look, despite the fact that everything was in perfect trim. Hermione had not made that mistake a second time.
A faraway whistle pierced the rushing sound of the rain, and Hermione smoothed her hair self-consciously - it was frizzier than usual, thanks to the humidity. She supposed she would have to impress Vic with her warm hospitality instead. At last the train roared into the station, sending steam dancing across the empty platform and swirling around Hermione's ankles. Passengers began to trickle out of the carriages, and Hermione spotted a familiar lanky figure bounding down the stairs.
She didn't bother to blink back her tears as Hugo ran across the platform and embraced her tightly. His rib-crushing hug was the same as Ron's, and she smiled up at her son.
"You cut your hair," she said, reaching up to finger the short mop of curls on top of her son's head.
"Yeah, it was too hot when it was long," he said, fingering the back of his neck where his ponytail had hung since he was fourteen.
"It looks wonderful," said Hermione, grinning. "You look wonderful. It's so good to see you!"
"You look exactly the same," said Hugo. "I mean, wonderful." He glanced over his shoulder. "Vic's just getting the luggage."
"I brought the car, but if you'd rather Apparate-"
"No, the car's fine," said Hugo, shoving his hands in his pockets. He glanced over his shoulder back at the train. "We saw Dad."
Her smile faded at the seriousness of his tone. "How was he?"
"He's been getting worse for years. There's nothing to be done other than make him comfortable, which he is, as far as we can tell."
"How often do you go to see him?"
Hermione's heart swelled at the hurt and accusation in the question. "Every morning, rain or shine. Rosie comes a few times a week. We talk about you to him all the time."
"Why didn't you tell me how bad it was?"
Hermione sighed. "The decline may seem sudden to you, darling, but we've been watching it bit by bit, so he really doesn't seem much worse than yesterday or the day before to us."
"I sang for him, but it didn't help. It always made him happy before."
"I'm so sorry, darling."
"Yeah, me too. Oh!" The moroseness in his voice switched to exasperated fondness. "There's the slowcoach now. If you want to drive the car round, I'll go and help him. He's such a snob about his cello that he won't Shrink it or Apparate with it."
Hermione could see a dark-haired young man struggling to get off the train with a large black instrument case and a suitcase on wheels. They had only packed the single case- things were Rather Serious!
She smiled to herself, opened her still-dripping brolly, and stepped out from the dry platform into the torrential rain.
Since Hermione owned the only car in Hogsmeade, she had parked the old Peugeot near the roundabout where the Hogwarts carriages picked up the students. She started the engine and drove up to the edge of the platform, unlocked the doors and unlocked the boot. Through the driving rain she could see the blurry outlines of Hugo and Vic approaching the edge of the covered area. To her surprise, Vic leaned over and kissed Hugo's forehead, a tender gesture that clearly surprised and pleased her son. He punched Vic in the arm jovially in response, which made Hermione smile. Some things would never change.
Hugo pushed down the extendable handle on the suitcase, and they both fairly leapt from the platform. Hugo yanked open the boot, and they both deposited their belongings as quickly as possible before slamming it shut and darting into the back seat. They were both laughing.
"Look at it come down!" said Vic. He had a pleasant, warm sort of voice, and his vowels were rounder than a typical American's. "It's like we never left Rochester! Thank you very much for coming to get us, Mrs. Weasley."
"It's my pleasure," said Hermione, putting the Peugeot into gear and driving towards home. "And please, call me Hermione. Hugo says this is your first visit to Britain."
"Yup. My dad's English, but the minute he laid eyes on California, he knew he couldn't go back."
"No snow, no rain; I can't imagine the attraction," said Hermione.
"It does snow in the mountains. We go to it instead of the other way around."
"Hubris, if you ask me," said Hugo, giggling.
Hermione glanced in the rear view mirror, but it was too dark to see anything other than their silhouettes against the glow of the tail lights. Hugo was sitting very close to Victor, and she suspected that neither of them were wearing their seat belts, but she couldn't bring herself to nag. It wasn't as though they were in danger of being hit by another car.
They chatted about the increase in international Floo security and last term's classes until the familiar lights of McCoy House appeared, at the end of a long lane.
"You can't see much in the rain," said Hugo, "but the house is amazing. When Mum found it, it was practically a ruin, and now it's almost as famous as she is. The Ministry's Arts and Culture Commission is always after her to give tours of the house and grounds."
"The villagers aren't much impressed," said Hermione.
"They wouldn't be," said Hugo. "It's all a bit too Laird-of-the-Manor for your average Scot's aesthetic. Anyway, you'll see it in the morning, Vic. Mum, what's Rosie up to these days?"
"The usual. Dark wizard hunter by day, doting mum by night. She and Teddy are coming for dinner on Sunday night along with the others."
"Teddy's the Metamorphmagus, right?" asked Victor.
"Yeah," said Teddy. "He and Rosie married straight from Hogwarts."
"Lucky Rosie," whispered Vic, with a wicked inflection that made Hugo snigger.
The fine gravel crunched under Hermione's tyres as she parked the car in front of the side door, which was protected from the rain.
"Harry and Ginny are coming, too," said Hermione, unlocking the door and turning on the lights. "James can't make it, I'm afraid. He's working an apprenticeship in Belgrade and can't get away, but Lily and Al will be there. Al's bringing Wendy Parkinson."
Hugo pulled the suitcase out of the boot. "I thought she dumped him."
"She did. For the third time, by my count. But they're on this week, so she's coming, unless she dumps him again before Sunday."
"She's awful," said Hugo approvingly. "I think you'll like her, Vic. Sense of humour like a shiv. I think half the reason she keeps coming back to Al is so she has the opportunity to make fun of us all. Quite good-looking, though. No wonder Al's smitten."
Vic carried his cello in front of him like a shield to fit through the narrow door. "Are these the famous relatives who are coming?"
Hugo set the suitcase down next to the door. "I don't have any other kind," he said, making a face.
Hermione drew her wand and Summoned three glasses. "Now, I know you've had a long journey, would you like a -"
She cut off abruptly as Vic turned to face her.
The glasses fell to the floor and shattered loudly.
"Mum!" exclaimed Hugo. "Are you all right?"
Hermione couldn't answer immediately. She was staring at Vic, her mind unable to wrap itself around what she was seeing.
The young man who was standing in her kitchen with a look of bewildered concern on his face was a younger version of Severus Snape. His hair was cut short and stylishly, but the sallow skin, hooked nose, narrow lips, and piercing eyes were identical.
Hugo took her hand and led her to the kitchen table while Vic wordlessly drew his wand, repaired the broken glasses, and filled one with water. Grateful for a few moments to calm her whirling thoughts, Hermione drank deeply.
In order for Snape to have a son Hugo's age, the boy would have to have been born years after Snape had died in front of her eyes. Hermione looked more closely at Vic and felt her eyes fill with tears. Vic even had the same hands.
"I'm so sorry," she managed to choke out, pulling a handkerchief from her pocket. "I'd say I don't know what came over me, but..." she gestured feebly at Vic.
"I don't understand, Mum," said Hugo.
Hermione looked sharply at her son. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed the resemblance."
"What, Vic and someone I know?"
Hermione's astonishment faded to exasperation. "Did you never read iHogwarts, A History/i?" she asked.
"How could I with you and Rosie hogging it all the time?" said Hugo, his jaw jutting out stubbornly. "For once could you not tell me off for not reading more and just tell me why you look like you've seen a ghost?"
"Severus Snape," said Hermione, meeting Vic's eyes. "You look exactly like Severus Snape."
Hugo stared at his mother for a moment and turned to stare at Vic. A moment later he burst out laughing. "You're mad! He doesn't look anything like the old bat!"
"Who's Severus Snape?" asked Vic.
Hermione shot a quelling look at her son before answering Vic. "A former Hogwarts teacher and Headmaster who was critical to Voldemort's defeat in the war. He was a spy, and one of the bravest men any of us ever knew. Hugo's uncle Harry named his son Albus Severus in his honour."
"I still say you're mental," said Hugo. "Here, I'll show you a picture."
He ran down the hall towards his room, and Vic cleared his throat awkwardly. "I take it he's dead."
Hermione swallowed. "Yes. He was murdered almost thirty years ago. I - that is, we saw it happen. Hugo's dad and uncle Harry and I. He had no living relatives. That's why I was so surprised..." she trailed off with a feeble gesture at Vic. "You look so like him." She blinked and attempted to recover herself. "I'm so sorry to have spoiled your welcome. I wasn't expecting this."
He gave her a wry smile. "Neither was I."
Hugo came clomping back into the room with a shoebox. "This is my Chocolate Frog card collection - they don't have them in America, but they're sort of like baseball cards for famous wizards and witches. This is Severus Snape's."
Vic took the card and frowned. "I can sort of see it in the nose," he said doubtfully.
Hermione glanced at the card that Vic held out to her and tutted disapprovingly. "That's a caricature," she said, rising and crossing to the bookshelf that held her cookbooks and current reading. "There's a better likeness in iThe Boy Who Lived, The Man Who Died/i." She flicked to the introduction to Severus Snape's chapter. "This was drawn by one of my classmates while Hogwarts was under Death Eater control. It's one of the few renderings I've seen that give you an idea of what he was going through."
Vic was quiet as he looked at the picture, and Hermione could see his eyes scanning the paragraphs about Severus Snape's life. The kettle whistled, and Hermione automatically rose to make the tea. Her hands were shaking, but she didn't feel as though she might faint anymore.
Hugo sat down next to Vic and put his freckled hand over Vic's pale one. "Are you okay?"
"I guess," said Vic. "I don't really have much of a frame of reference."
"You said your dad was from England but never talked about it," said Hugo.
"D'you reckon this is why?"
Hermione Levitated two cups of tea over to the table and set about rinsing the teapot as unobtrusively as possible.
Vic stared at the cup that settled in front of him for a moment, and then his face hardened. "No. There has to be some other explanation." His voice was cold and carried the ghost of Potions classes long past.
"Is it so unbelievable that your father might be a great wizard?" asked Hermione.
"Yes. My father is most definitely not a wizard," said Vic.
"Severus Snape convinced the world's most powerful Legilimens that he was a faithful follower," said Hermione. "Surely hiding magic from one's family would be a simpler deception."
"Why would he do that?" asked Hugo. "It's dangerous to suppress your magic."
"I don't know," admitted Hermione, bringing a plate of Honeyduke's chocolate biscuits over to the table. "We'd have to ask him."
"If he is actually this man, which I doubt," said Vic, closing the book and pushing it across the table towards her.
He did, however, accept a biscuit, which comforted Hermione with the thought that perhaps she hadn't completely ruined his visit after all.
"You'll probably want to go home straight away and talk to your dad," said Hugo sadly.
Vic sat in silence for a moment. "I don't think I will, actually. I've been looking forward to this trip for ages, and I have no idea what I'd even say to him. Besides, I can't practice at Dad's because the neighbours complain, and I need to have these pieces down cold if want to get into a decent ensemble."
Clearly, Hugo saw this for the transparent excuse to stay that it was, and he flung an affectionate arm around Vic's narrow shoulders. "Thank you."
Vic rested his head gently against Hugo's. "Your family might think you made me up if I left."
To Hermione's surprise, Hugo threw back his head and started laughing.
"It wasn't that funny," said Vic, amused in spite of himself.
"Oh, Merlin!" said Hugo, looking at his mother. "Can you imagine Uncle Harry's face when he sees Vic?"
Hermione nearly spat out the sip of tea she'd just taken. "I'll Floo him tomorrow," she said when she'd recovered.
"No, don't," said Vic, a wicked grin lighting his features. "I think it'll be a valuable learning experience."
"Yeah," said Hugo, squeezing his shoulder. "You'll learn why even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was scared of Uncle Harry."
Hermione shook her head, laughing. Despite the bizarre situation, it filled her heart to see the boys' easy familiarity and affectionate teasing. Rosie and Teddy had practically been engaged since she was five, but Hugo in love - she'd never been able to picture it. Now that the two boys were in front of her, she was surprised by her own lack of imagination.
Vic drank the last of his tea and carried his cup and saucer over to the sink. "If it's all right with you, I think I'll go to bed now."
"Of course," said Hermione. "You've had a long and eventful day."
"Understatement of the year," said Hugo, yawning.
"You really should take this," said Hermione, holding The Boy Who Lived, The Man Who Died out to Vic. "Just in case. Think of it as research in preparation for meeting the family."
"Mum, a book isn't going to make everything all better," said Hugo with more than a touch of impatience in his voice.
"No," said Vic mildly, taking the proffered volume. "But it certainly can't hurt."
Hermione was surprised how easy it was to work with a pair of music students in the house, even though both boys were practicing standard repertoire and orchestral excerpts, which was both loud and repetitive. Hugo boomed out the opening of the Tuba Mirum from Mozart's Requiem in his room, while Vic ran the same passage of Elgar repeatedly in the garden. Then again, she supposed it was appropriate, given that she was herself engaged in a repetitive task: she was re-doing the master suite in the Hogarth's manor house again. She would have been far more annoyed about this if they hadn't agreed to a fee that even she felt was exorbitant for any and all changes to the final design. Thus, every time Antigone Hogarth changed her mind about which walls should have windows, Hermione mentally converted the work into classes at Eastman. This project alone could sustain Hugo through a Ph.D., if he so chose.
After owling the revised plans to the Hogarths, Hermione paused on her way to the kitchen to watch Vic play. He was on the bench under the arbour, and he'd moved on to a piece that Hermione didn't know. It was clearly a piece he knew by heart, since his music lay on the ground in front of him. It was a pleasure watching Vic's nimble fingers run up and down the fingerboard in time with his bow. His face was tense with concentration, and to Hermione's surprise, the music on the ground in front of him began to move.
As Vic played, a sheet of parchment fluttered, as though in a breeze, until it lifted up into the air, bobbing in time with the music. A second sheet followed, and before long there were dozens of sheets of music bouncing around the garden, at first in seeming randomness, and then their movements began to take shape. They were idancing/i some long-forgotten steps, forming rows and bowing gracefully to their opposite numbers, circling, weaving in and out of one another. The dance wasn't perfect, though. Sometimes the pages deviated from their lines, and there was one moment where Hermione could have sworn a piece of paper acted as though its nonexistent foot had been stepped on. But it was one of the most charming things Hermione had ever seen magic accomplish.
As the piece accelerated in tempo and grew more complex, the dance became more frenzied and wild, and sweat was beading on Vic's forehead. And as suddenly as the graceful opening had turned frenetic, the quick notes smoothed into longer notes. When Vic pulled his bow from the strings on the last note, the music fell gracelessly to the ground.
Panting, Vic looked up and saw Hermione standing at the window. He gave her a nod and wiped his brow on his forearm. She Summoned a glass of water for him and floated it over to him.
"What was that?"
"Gabrielli's Ricercar number seven. It's what happens when a virtuoso cellist and Charms master gets bored with the repertoire for solo cello."
"You mean the magic is written into the music?"
Vic nodded. "It's a pretty challenging piece. I'm working it up for my senior recital."
Hermone's confusion must have shown on her face, because Vic pulled a score from the pile next to him and held one of the sheets of parchment next to it. "See, here's a side-by-side comparison of magical and nonmagical editions. Those squiggles and spirals in the magical edition are casting marks. At these moments, you have to sort of imbue the notes with magic, sort of like in the 'determination' step of Apparating. If you do that and play the right notes, the music dances."
"I've never seen anything like it."
His lips curled into a look of disapproval. "That's not surprising. Britain is infamous for its persecution of music magic even now. Magical composition died out here during the early Romantic era because the style was to bring about a certain feeling in the audience, and it was classified as Dark Magic. That's why so few wizards and witches here learn music and the strong musical tradition here is almost entirely nonmagical. I'll bet if your parents been magical, Hugo would never have chosen to study music."
Hermione's national pride was slightly stung, but Vic was right. Choral singing and reading music had been a part, however, small, of her early Muggle education, but music was conspicuously absent from the Hogwarts curriculum.
"Of course, we have the opposite problem in the US," continued Vic. "Music's being squeezed out of public schools by a mania for standardised testing, but it's flourishing in the magical communities, thanks largely to the immigrant communities."
"I confess, I was surprised to hear Hugo talk about teaching here when he graduates," said Hermione.
"Once people are exposed to it, I suspect they'll come around," said Vic, "especially when they realise what one can do with music. The Gabrielli is one of the more challenging solo pieces I've played, frivolous as it is. But in terms of magical power, just imagine what a magical symphony can accomplish!"
"Or a magical choir," said Hugo, who had appeared in the door to the garden. "I'm done for now," he said buzzing his lips noisily and joining Vic on the bench. "My chops are completely shot."
"That's what you get for not touching your trombone all semester," said Vic.
"If you had to be passingly familiar with every instrument in addition to taking independent study in voice, you wouldn't touch your cello for a semester, either," said Hugo.
"I don't need to learn any other instruments. I already play the best one," said Vic, stretching his arms over his head.
"Isn't he an awful snob, Mum?" asked Hugo, grinning.
"Terrible," agreed Hermione. Already it was becoming easier to look past Vic's familiar features and appreciate the charming young man for who he was.
Vic tapped his bow on the ground, which made his music leap to attention. "I've still got to beat Debussy into submission before lunch," he said. "Then Shostakovich 5, Haffner, and Beethoven 5 for the rest of the week. If I'm playing when your uncle and aunt get here, do you think they'll be less likely to hex me?"
"Not if you're playing Shostakovich," said Hugo.
"Philistine," said Vic, flicking his bow at Hugo.
Laughing, Hugo led Hermione into the kitchen. "Want some coffee, Mum? Vic forgot to give it to you last night, for obvious reasons, but he brought a couple of pounds of his dad's coffee as a present."
Hermione blinked in surprise as her image of Severus Snape collided with Hugo's words. "His dad's coffee?"
"Yeah, he roasts all the coffee and blends all the tea at his shop. We figured bringing tea to England would be like carrying coals to Newcastle, but Vic's dad always sends him coffee at school, and it's much better than Starbucks."
"If it's no trouble and you're making some, yes, I'd love a cup."
Hugo shot her a grin and rushed off to his room. He returned a few moments later with a small bag of fragrant beans. Hermione was about to apologise for not having a coffee maker when Hugo produced a cafetière, which he set on the counter. While he set the kettle to boiling over an enchanted flame, he sent a dark brown line of beans dancing through the air until they gathered in a cloud over his head. With a flick of his wand, the beans shattered into tiny pieces, and he sent them whizzing into the cafetière. An arc of steaming water followed from the spout of the kettle.
"How do you have your coffee?" asked Hugo.
"I'll have it black, thanks."
"I don't suppose you have any cream?"
"Sorry, love. Just milk."
Hugo shrugged. "The coffee's strong enough, I doubt milk would make much of an impression on it."
"As long as you don't start drinking cream in tea, we won't have to revoke your British citizenship," said Hermione.
While Hugo bustled through the kitchen fetching cups and saucers, Hermione smiled at her son's newfound culinary skill. She suspected she knew who to thank for that.
Moments later, Hugo set a steaming cup of coffee in front of her. She had to admit that it smelled absolutely delicious, with little of the dry bitterness she associated with a dark roast, and her first sip confirmed that it was a superlative cup of coffee.
She made an appreciative humming sound as the rich flavour spread over her tongue. She took the bag of beans that Hugo had opened, hoping to find some information about the shop, but it was blank, save for part of the word "coffee" that had been stencilled on the original bag. Hermione thought it was quite clever to fashion packaging from the bag the beans had been bought in.
Hermione nearly jumped when Vic appeared in her peripheral vision.
"You are evil," said Vic to Hugo. "Did you really think I could keep practising with the smell of liquid ambrosia in the air?"
"You need a proper break," said Hugo, pouring him a cup. "Your callouses are going to peel off if you keep this up, and then it'll be annoying to play for a week."
"I have to get back in shape," said Hugo, stretching his long fingers.
"You have all summer," said Hugo. "Five hours of practice on the first day is just going to make you regret it. Plus, we're both Floo-lagged. There's finite mental benefit."
"It's calming," said Vic as Hugo placed a cup of coffee in front of him.
Hermione felt a stab of empathy for Vic, who clearly was not as settled as he seemed, and took that as her cue to leave. "I'll just finish this in my office. Thank you for the coffee."
"You're welcome," said the boys in unison.
To distract herself from brooding over Vic's possible origins, Hermione opened her pending projects folder and added some more protective charms to her preliminary design for a children's Quidditch pitch in Luton. Hermione sat, fondly remembering Hugo's first disastrous time on a broom. Her design included velocity-activated Cushioning Charms to save some other family the ordeal they'd been through. She and Ron hadn't spoken for days after that stunt, and it was only Rose's patient tutelage that got Hugo on a broom again, with far more successful results. With Rose determined to fix things, it was as impossible for them not to reconcile as it was for Hugo to remain earthbound.
Memories of her fights with Ron always brought with them a shadow of guilt that Hermione brushed away as if it had been a fly. The situation was what it was, and things would be what they were even if they'd never quarrelled. Hugo was lucky to have a whole cadre of foster fathers to look after him after Ron's accident, but she wondered if being largely raised by a single parent had been one of the things that brought Hugo and Vic together.
She couldn't help but consider what sort of woman Vic's mother had been. She had it from Hugo that Vic had been raised by his father. Assuming Severus Snape and Vic's father were the same man, and Vic's resemblance and mannerisms were too similar to Snape's for them not to be, she had to have had the patience of a saint. Had she been a witch, or had Snape hidden his magic to spare her, as well? Had she died? Or had she finally had enough of his sharp tongue and left?
These questions were far harder to dismiss, and Hermione found herself filled with the burning desire for answers. On the surface of it, it was a prudent thing to do before presenting Vic to the rest of the family. Beneath that, she was vaguely aware of something else, but this she attributed to having a distraction from doing the same kind of work day in and day out. As pleasant as she found her work, she needed something else to occupy her mind, and this was a challenge worthy of her.
A sweet cello melody that Hermione recognised as Debussy floated in from the open window, and Hermione felt resolve settle into her stomach. There was no point in pressing Vic for details or concerning him further. She had enough information to locate the man who had raised him. Now all she had to do was find him.
She found Hugo casting a Cleaning Charm on the coffee things.
"I'm just going to drive into town," said Hermione. "Do you want me to buy some cream?"
"Sure, Mum," said Hugo. "I have a ton of reading for pedagogy, so I'd better get started on that before Vic starts in on the Shostakovich."
There was a disdainful screech of bow on strings from the garden, and Hugo grinned at having successfully taken the mickey.
The last vestiges of the previous night's rain sparkled in the early afternoon sunshine, and Hermione took a deep breath of the clean air. The Peugeot smelled slightly musty from their trip in the rain, and she wound down the windows. She tapped her wand on the MPS, and it crackled to life.
"Ministry of Magic, London," said Hermione.
Go north point five kilometers.
"Yes, I know how to get out of my own drive," said Hermione.
Fine. Get yourself to London. See if I care.
"I'll get us to the edge of the village, and then you can drive. All right?"
The MPS didn't answer, which Hermione took to be a good thing. She had considered coughing up the Galleons for a friendlier personality overlay, but now that her children were grown up and out of the house, she found she'd got used to the daily resistance.
The road was muddy, but nothing too awful, and Hermione took care not to avoid splashing passersby with puddles. She knew everyone in the village, of course, and they knew her, and they exchanged nods as Hermione pootled past. When she reached the edge of town, the MPS crackled to life.
I don't suppose you've got your seat belt on.
Hermione was glad she'd finished her coffee while driving through the village, because the Peugeot leapt forward and rocketed down the country road.
Nice day, isn't it?
"It is," said Hermione absently, pulling out her phone and searching the Ethernet for coffee and tea shops in Solana Beach, California.
That boy seems nice enough.
"Mmm," said Hermione.
Shame about his nose, though.
"There's nothing wrong with his nose."
That enormous hooter? Hard to believe his neck can support the weight of it.
Hermione knew from long experience the futility of arguing with the MPS "Listen, I've got some things to do, so just let me know when we're about five minutes away."
Spoilsport. Can we talk about your son's hair, then?
"Be my guest, but don't expect much of a response."
Clearly, the MPS didn't need much encouragement. Fortunately, Hermione was adept at tuning out the MPS when she wasn't using it for directions. The countryside zipped by, and within minutes they were whizzing invisibly through the outskirts of London. She waved at the Knight Bus as it passed them, and the driver gave her a merry honk.
The MPS was too busy listing the reasons that curly hair didn't look good in a short cut to let Hermione know they were nearing their destination, but she had made the trip enough times to know when they'd arrived.
Shall I wait here for you?
"I may be a while."
What am I supposed to do, twiddle the windscreen wipers?
"Go and park yourself."
Well, I never!
Hermione grinned as the Peugeot drove off in what could only be described as a huffy manner. She stepped into the phone box on the corner and a few minutes later found herself in the lift down to the Department of Magical Transportation. The squat little witch in the reception window smiled at her.
"What can I do for you, Mrs. Weasley?"
"I need to Floo to America."
"Very good. What's your date of departure?"
The witch blinked in surprise.
"I only need to go for an hour or two," said Hermione hastily.
She blinked in surprise. "I'm going to have to call my manager."
Three managers later, Hermione was standing in front of the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic.
Percy Weasley had changed little in physical appearance over the years, and he looked at Hermione with the same long-suffering expression that he wore when dealing with his mother. "Do I even want to know?"
Hermione shrugged. "There isn't much to tell. At least, not yet."
"And this hasn't anything to do with the American boy Hugo brought home?"
Hermione glanced innocently at a spot above Percy's head. "Vic's lovely."
Hermione sighed. "You really don't want to know."
Percy gave her the don't-muck-it-up glare before signing the form that lay on his desk. "You have a day."
"I won't need that much time."
"No telling how much time you'll need."
"True," said Hermione. "Thank you, Percy. If I'm wrong, I promise to tell you everything over a cup of tea."
"And if you're right?"
"We're going to need something a lot stronger than tea."