Hermione straightened the tea cups for the tenth time and looked around once more, trying to find anything she had missed in her thorough cleaning spree. She and Severus had cleaned for most of the prior day, though he thought her desire for a spotless house was unnecessary. He went along for the sake of her sanity, the job was quicker with two, and his attention to detail meant she didn't feel the need to follow him around to clean what he forgot. He was taking the day off, but sequestered himself in the study, taking the paper with him. Hermione was left in the kitchen, nervously awaiting her arrivals. Ten minutes before the meeting time she heard the unmistakable sound of someone arriving via Floo, and hurried into her sitting room. To her surprise Draco was stepping out of the grate behind Narcissa.

"Hermione," Narcissa glided forward to kiss her on both cheeks. "I cannot thank you enough for setting this up today."

"It was my pleasure," Hermione nodded, glancing at Draco, who was looking around the room with a distinct air of indifference.

"Your home is lovely," she continued, looking around. "Such an improvement over Severus' former house. It's good you got him away from that."

"Well, I wasn't about to live there," Hermione replied, trying to sound like she knew what she was talking about.

"I wouldn't expect anyone to suffer those conditions. Merlin only knows why Severus stayed there so long."

"It was probably a place to go," Hermione shrugged. "I wouldn't expect him to have gotten another place. That's too much fuss for his liking, and he would only be there a couple months a year at most."

"Still, he is a talented wizard. He knows how to clean, we've seen the state of his lab. He could have used a spell or two around the house."

Hermione smiled, then looked behind Narcissa. "Hullo, Draco," she said, managing to keep the distaste out of her voice, but being unable to make him sound welcome.

"Good morning," he nodded back.

"Draco said he wanted to speak to Severus about something. I hope he's not being intrusive."

"Not at all," Hermione shook her head. "Severus is in the study, hiding out. This way," she motioned for him to follow her, and led him down the hall. She knocked on the door twice before entering.

"Draco is here to see you," she said, stepping to the side as Severus stood.

"Severus," Draco inclined his head as he entered the room.

Severus' eyes narrowed, but he looked at Hermione before asking, "Does that mean Narcissa is here?"

"Yes," Hermione nodded. "They just arrived."

"Please do not let her leave before I see her. I wanted to thank her and apologize again for having to cut our prior meeting short."

"I'll come get you before she leaves," she nodded again, though with a subtle hint of a smile that made him wonder what she was thinking. "Is there anything else you need before Andromeda arrives?"

"No," he shook his head once.

"Okay. Let me know if you need anything, darling," she murmured before standing on her tip-toes to kiss his cheek. She bounced from the room before he could have a reaction.

"Darling?" Draco raised an eyebrow and took a seat Severus indicated.

"I have attempted to get her to cut out the ridiculous nicknames, but she is quite stubborn," he replied with a shrug.

"That little display was something I could have gone years without seeing."

"Is there a reason you're here?" he asked shortly.

"I must apologize for what I said last time we met," he said, crossing his leg and looking very serious. "It was inappropriate..."

"Highly," Severus snapped.

"Yes," Draco nodded. "I let my emotions get the better of me. I have not taken the news of your engagement well, however I have realized it is not my place to make a judgment."

"Did your mother put you up to this?" Severus asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No, this one is my doing. Though I will say mother was positively raving about Granger after our last meeting."

"Hermione comes from a respectable family who raised her well," he said shortly.

"Did you meet her family?" he asked.

"Unfortunately, no. Her parents died before I had a chance to meet them, and she has no other real family to speak of."

"Is she aware of yours?" he asked softly.

"I have felt no need to talk to her about Tobias," he replied sharply.

"You're about due for your yearly visit. And you are always such a pleasure around this time. Has Hermione noticed a change in your behavior?"

"I do not think I've experienced much a change. I beat death this year, and I am marrying a beautiful young woman. Not much that man can say will be able to darken my spirits."

"Oh, this is you in a good mood? I don't see much difference."

"If you can't say anything nice, Draco..."

"I can say you have certainly traded up from the shit-hole you were living in," he pointedly looked around. "I'm not afraid the ceiling is going to come crashing down on my head, which is a pleasant change from our normal circumstances around your home."

"My former home has not been disposed of yet, if you're interested."

"I'll give you fifty galleons to let me be the one to blow it up."

"Blowing it up will certainly garner attention we don't need. I am just waiting until I have been living away from it long enough that no one will suspect it was I who burned it to the ground. Hermione has expressed an interest in assisting me in making sure everything that should be burned is, so if you wish to tag along we could make an event of it."

"Interesting. You and Granger aren't going to be publicly celebrating in view, are you?"

Severus shot Draco a pointed look.

"I may be inclined to join you," he said with a mischievous smile. "Though I won't be going anywhere near any flames if it's all the same to you. I just have a feeling that old dump won't go down without a fight."

"That thing is ready to come down with a good breeze."

"Perhaps we should place a bit of a wager?"

"I think Hermione might have something to say about that."

"Please don't tell me you're turning into one of those men who needs permission from his witch to take a breath."

"Not hardly, though you should know as well as anyone there are benefits to keeping your witch happy."

Draco pulled a face. "More visuals I do not need," he grumbled.

"How is Miss Parkinson?"

"I wouldn't know," he shrugged. "She was not a fan of my hesitation to stay the course until the end. Called it a sign of weakness. Said my whole family was weak. Insinuated we would switch sides at the drop of a hat if we saw benefit in it."

"So she told you the truth."

"I will not deny pandering to the highest bidder is a great Malfoy tradition, but I don't need to tell you that he was completely insane at the end. Even if he won we would not be safe, and probably would flee at the earliest possible moment."

"He was insane long before the end," he nodded.

"Anyone who wasn't at least thinking about getting out in those last few months was either stupid or as mad as he was."

"Such as your aunt."

"That would be a good example. Parkinson would be another."

"That girl was never very smart," he shook his head.

"Ah, but she came from a respectable family. For the longest time that was my standard."

"You spent too much time trying to impress your father."

"Whereas you don't give much a damn what anyone cares of your relationship."

"We knew it was not going to be a popular relationship, and we both decided everyone else could bugger off," he said, shrugging one shoulder.

"I think I may have to subscribe to that line of thinking for a while," he sighed.

"Did you have someone in mind?" Severus asked with a signature cock of his eyebrow.

"No," he shook his head. "I think right now it would be best for me to get some things in order before I go and fuck myself up with a relationship."

"You're finally getting wise," he nodded with a half-smile.

"Fancy a game of chess?"

"You're not going to try to go home?"

"If Aunt Andromeda is anything like the Black family she won't be late to anything. I think seeing Mother is going to be hard enough on her, I don't think she needs to see me right now."

"Have you ever met your aunt?" Severus asked, genuinely curious.

"No," Draco replied shortly, setting up the chess board. "She had already been disowned by my family by the time I was born, and we have hardly spoken of her since, so seeing her was out of the question."

"But you saw Nymphadora on occasion when she was guarding Hogwarts, did you not?"

"Of course I did," he nodded once. "However I had been instructed to act as though she were not there. I was not to acknowledge that side of the family in any way, shape, or form, unless it was to disparage or attack them."

"I spent some time around Nymphadora during my time with the Order. We were not friendly with each other, but she was not a bad person. I recently met Andromeda, and she seems nice, though I avoid her because she usually has the child with her."

"I'd give anything to be a fly on the wall when Granger is taking care of that baby with you around."

"I do a lot of work," he smirked. "No need for interaction with the child."

Draco chuckled. "Does that bode well with Granger?"

"There's only so far I'm willing to go to make my witch happy. Luckily for me she seems happiest if I just get out of her way and let her do as she pleases."

"You may have finally unlocked the secret to happiness in a relationship. Let me know how it works out for you."

Severus shook his head. "Just because I figured out my witch does not mean it applies to all. You must do your own work."

"For someone who hated being a professor, you seem to enjoy acting like one."

"Force of habit."

They played for a while in silence before Severus spoke up again. "May I ask a favor?"

"The Slytherin reply would be you can ask, but that doesn't mean you'll get what you ask for."

"I find myself in need of a best man come November."

"Really? Will Granger stand for it?"

"I think she considers it somewhat of an inevitability," he replied.

"Do I need to give a speech praising your relationship, because I don't think I could stomach that."

"I believe we're leaning towards not having speeches."

"Good. Then I'll accept."

"Thank you."

"Just do me one favor in return?"

Severus raised an eyebrow.

"Make sure I'm far away from Granger and her legendary temper when you tell her."

XXXXXXXX

Hermione had enough time to pour Narcissa a cup of tea before she heard someone coming out of the Floo, and she hurried to greet Andromeda.

"Good morning," the older woman forced a smile as she dusted soot from her robe. "Is she here?"

"Yes," Hermione nodded. "She got here a few minutes early. Are you ready?"

"As I'll ever be," she nodded.

Hermione led the way into the kitchen, and found Narcissa to be standing, waiting for them, wringing her hands in anticipation. Everyone stood in silence for a long moment, and Hermione bit her lip to avoid being the first to talk.

"Good morning, Cissy," Andromeda said softly, her face blank.

"It's good to see you again, Andy," Narcissa dared a soft smile.

Andromeda was silent for a moment, then gave a half-smile of her own. "It is good to see you, too," she replied sincerely.

They settled at the table, and Hermione served the group. "How is Teddy?" she asked.

"Since you saw him on Tuesday?" Andromeda chuckled.

"He was acting a bit fussy," she pointed out.

"Oh, that. He didn't want to go to sleep the night before. Some days I wonder if he doesn't know the days he's going to spend with you, because he never sleeps well the night before," she smiled.

"Hermione mentioned she takes care of him from time to time?" Narcissa said cautiously.

"Every Tuesday," Andromeda nodded. "She gives me time to get some errands done or visit some friends."

"She seems like a very helpful young woman."

"Hermione is the type to give the shirt off her back if she thought it would be helpful," Andromeda looked at the younger woman fondly.

"You don't need to sing my praises," Hermione blushed. "It's the least I could do to help."

"But you have no reason to feel obligated to help," Narcissa pointed out. "And that itself deserves praise."

Hermione blushed and busied herself stirring her tea.

"Of course, it's not hard to see that you are quite the exceptional woman," she continued with a slight smirk. "Who else would be able to handle Severus?"

"He does seem like he'd be a bit difficult to live with," Andromeda nodded.

"He has mellowed as of late," she smiled at her sister. "He was downright difficult for the longest time."

"Well, the right woman will mellow a man."

"Of course, a little passion does have some benefits," she murmured coyly.

Hermione felt her face on fire

"He treats you well, then, I'm assuming."

"Severus and I haven't... well, we're planning on waiting..." she stammered.

"Really?" Andromeda raised an eyebrow.

"The Ministry stipulated we had to live together and we had to marry within six months. They didn't stipulate we had to be acting as a married couple. It's one of the few things they don't seem like they want to regulate, thank goodness."

"May I ask what your sleeping arrangements are like?"

"I'm staying in my old room for now," Hermione shrugged.

"But you're moving in with him after the wedding?" she sounded unsure.

"Of course," she nodded enthusiastically. "To be honest we aren't at the point where we're ready to be sharing everything, we're still getting used to living under the same roof. The whole arrangement is new to us, and we're taking small steps."

"You'll get there," Narcissa said confidently. "Lucius and I didn't even share a home before we wed."

"How long were you seeing each other before you got married?"

"Eight months, though there were some other factors in play."

"May I ask?" she questioned, curious.

"Lucius was the smartest match in Hogwarts," she replied with a half-smile.

"Was he an..." Hermione's voice dropped low, "was it an arraigned marriage?"

"Oh, no," she shook her head. "It was not forced upon me, but it was highly encouraged. And Lucius and I found each other quite smitten with each other, so it worked out."

"I'm sorry," she blushed. "I didn't mean..."

"I understand. You never know with some families."

"How about you and Ted?" she tuned to Andromeda. "How long were you seeing each other before. You got married?"

"A year and half," Andromeda smiled as she thought. "I moved in with him after a year. I would think it would be quite the scandal, if the whole damn affair wasn't a scandal at that point."

Hermione chuckled. "I think if we're talking scandal, I may be the current frontrunner."

"I noticed the Prophet is finally moving away from you."

"Are they? I honestly stopped reading a couple weeks ago. We've been trying to give them as little as possible."

"There hadn't been much new for a while," Narcissa informed her. "They have been resorting to mere speculation for a while."

"Dare I ask what they're speculating about?"

"The wedding, of course. Who you will visit for your dress, and your flowers, if you're going to have a Muggle wedding to invite any of your family. You've been regulated to the society page for a while now, and for the last few days your appearances are regulated to the bottom of the page or gossip columns. Unfortunately it seems you and Severus have not given them much to work with."

"Unfortunately? That's pretty much intentional at this point. This is more intrusion than Severus ever wanted in his life."

She raised an eyebrow and looked concerned. "I am unsurprised that he has responded to the attention with seclusion, but please tell me he is not forcing you to spend all your time here."

"Oh, no," Hermione chuckled. "We go out in the community quite a bit, to nearby pubs and shops, and we have started walking the neighborhood every Saturday. And I'm spending a lot of time at the shop with the twins, so I actually don't spend much time here, and when I do I'm studying for my NEWTs."

"The twins?"

"The Weasley twins, Fred and George. They own the joke shop in Diagon Alley, and I'm working with them, helping them do their books, as they do development and start to look into expansion. I'm planning to take a job with them as soon as I get some training, which I plan on doing when I'm done with my tests."

"You sound like you're going to busy for a while," Andromeda chuckled.

"I like being busy," she smiled. "I get antsy if I'm sitting around with nothing to do."

"May I ask why you are planning to take your tests if you have a job lined up?" Narcissa asked.

"Because I want to keep my options open for later. They may be forgiving some things now in the wake of the war, but if I decide the business world is not for me after a few years I'll have those scores to help me find a new job."

"If you are helping those boys run their business, are you helping Severus run his?"

"Merlin, no," she chuckled, shaking her head. "You know what a perfectionist and how independent Severus is. He won't trust someone with no formal training to do anything for him, and I'm probably going to have to prove myself at the joke shop before he lets me anywhere near his books."

"I heard he's starting to get quite a few contracts," Andromeda mentioned.

"Well, he is one of two Potion Masters in Britain right now, and considering the other is Slughorn..."

"I doubt that man has brewed a potion for himself in years," Narcissa chuckled. "He has quite the talent for finding valuable objects to trade for whatever he needs, and he is so busy trying to find talent for his club."

"Well, he certainly isn't brewing for anyone else these days," she smiled. "Which benefits Severus greatly. He has a lab upstairs, and some days I don't see him. He's doing some research as well as brewing commercially, so he's quite busy himself."

"As long as he's not neglecting you."

"Now, now, Narcissa, how little you think of me," Severus' voice carried into the room before he entered himself.

"Good morning, Severus," she smiled brightly.

"Were you spying on us?" Hermione accused.

"It seems everyone is holding me in high regard today," he shot back, pulling down two coffee mugs and starting to fill them. "No, I was not spying. Draco asked for something to drink, I am merely being a good host."

"Draco is here?" Andromeda asked softly.

"Yes," Narcissa replied, studying her sister. "He came to speak to Severus."

She nodded. "How is he doing?"

"He's troubled. We both are at the moment, with Lucius in..." she trailed off, then forced a smile. "The past few months have been trying for us, though I will not dare say that it is anything what you have been forced to endure."

Severus looked at Hermione and jerked his head toward the hallway.

"Excuse me," Hermione muttered, though she wasn't sure either sister heard her, and she followed Severus out of the room.

"It sounded as though they were about to start talking about sensitive topics," he murmured as they hid just out of earshot. "Best give them some privacy for a moment."

She nodded. "How are things going with Draco?"

"He apologized. He claims he was having a difficult time accepting our situation."

"Do you doubt him?"

"No. I think that the only one who will have more difficulty with it will be Lucius, though no doubt he's heard the news by now. Without the Dementors around to steal the will to do anything from that place most of the prisoners have realized that the setup of the prison is such that talking is not impossible, and gossip abounds."

"In prison you talked about the latest Prophet-induced scandal?" she asked, disgusted.

"I personally did not, I decided early on there was no one there I had a desire to speak to, but that doesn't mean I couldn't hear anything. And the guards did so like feeding us information that would get us riled up."

"Like your engagement?"

"That just underscores the fact that I was a traitor. If any of them were going to get out besides Lucius I would have gone into hiding as soon as you got me out, and sent you a letter that you could use as proof that I had feigned the whole relationship for such a situation."

"So you'd be on the run the rest of your life?" she bit her lip.

"Yes, but it would be better than putting you in a situation where a recently paroled Death Eater would come to call."

"But your not worried about Lucius?"

He scoffed. "Malfoys don't do well in prison. It's hardly luxurious, and the food is terrible. Plus I know enough about him to get him sent back for a very long time if I so wish, and he knows that fact. He will be civil."

"Good," she nodded. "You should probably continue playing good host," she said, looking at the study door.

"Give them a few more minutes," he nodded, and disappeared into the room. She took her time using the bathroom and washed up, and cautiously returned to the kitchen to find Andromeda and Narcissa laughing.

"You should have seen the letter he sent home after that!" Narcissa chuckled.

"We were talking about the time Mad-Eye turned Draco into a ferret," Andromeda told Hermione. "Did you see that?"

"Yes," she said carefully, but Narcissa smiled. "Yeah, Harry and Ron still call him 'the ferret' on occasion."

"Do they, now?" Narcissa chuckled.

"There's quite a bit of animosity from our school years. I'm sure you've heard about a few things."

"More than a few. Draco did seem to desire getting Potter kicked out, but Dumbledore never would allow it no matter how loudly Lucius complained. I guess he knew more than the rest of us, and it's a good thing he didn't give in to that pressure."

"If there was one thing Dumbledore was good at it was knowing more than anyone."

"Except, perhaps, Severus," she nodded.

"You could fill a book with things Severus knew that few, if anyone else did. He likes his secrets as much as Albus did," she murmured.

An hour later Andromeda and Narcissa left on good terms, though Hermione knew there was still a lot of work to be done if they would get back to anything resembling a close family relationship. Still, she thought as she walked towards the study, they had made great strides and she had seen, at a couple points, two sisters enjoying their company.

Carefully she opened the study door and found Severus and Draco concentrating intently on a game of chess.

"Do you need anything?" she asked.

"No, thank you," the replied in unison without looking up.

"Did they leave?" Draco asked.

"Yes, you mother said stay as long as you want. She also sends her feelings towards you that I'm sure most every mother feels for her child, but I refuse to say the words. I hope you understand," she said, sitting on the loveseat next to Severus.

"Thank you for that," he replied. "I didn't need to hear any of those sentiments from you."

Severus let off a soft noise of amusement before taking Draco's bishop. Hermione winced as his knight beat the piece around the head before tossing it off the board.

"Don't tell me your infamous compassion extends to chess pieces," Draco groaned.

Hermione scowled at him and pulled her feet up on the seat so she could lean against Severus, nuzzling her face against his arm. "In the Muggle world they don't move," she replied.

"They're not living," he shot back, thought there was an undertone of discomfort in his voice.

"They listen, talk back, and move," she replied. "Sorry if that's close enough for me."

"Do not say sorry when it is not what you mean," Severus interjected casually.

"I'll try to watch my mouth, Professor," she replied with a sneer.

"Quiet," he warned.

"You know there's very few ways to get me quiet, though feel free to try," she shot back flirtatiously.

"If you two would like to be alone..." Draco trailed off, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

Hermione smiled but stayed quiet, reaching one hand up to play with a lock of Severus' hair. She tried to look as though she were paying attention to the game, though she was really letting her mind go blank and reset from the stress of the morning. She did notice that while Draco ordered his pieces around like they were miniature Crabes and Goyles, Severus would reach out to wordlessly move his pieces into place. That way there was no objection, no pleading, no discussion if his move was the right one. He was extremely sure of himself, and never wasted a single move, though he was not an aggressive player. It looked like the game might go on for a long time when he suddenly made three unexpected moves and announced checkmate.

"You win again," Draco sighed, knocking over his king in concession. "One of these days I'll figure out how you do it."

"If I were so predictable as to let you figure my strategies out I would be a very poor player," Severus replied evenly, waving his wand so the game cleaned itself up.

"It was fun. Perhaps a rematch next week?"

"We'll see," he nodded.

"Good. I'll Floo you later this week?"

"That is acceptable," he said, gently nudging Hermione to get her to move, and standing up to show Draco out.

"Tell your mother thanks again for coming today," she said.

"Thank you both for having me. You have a nice place here, Granger," Draco replied with a final look around the room.

Hermione, seeing one last chance to make him uncomfortable, smiled sweetly and corrected, "We have a nice place here," before grabbing Severus' arm and reaching up to kiss his cheek.

A scowl flitted across his face. "I'll talk to you later, Severus," he said quickly before leaving.

"Did you enjoy your little game?" Severus asked as she let go of him and went to go clean the kitchen.

"Immensely," she replied with a smile. "On the scale of things I've done to annoy Draco Malfoy flirting with you should barely register above 'getting a higher score on a Potions test'. I could have tried for my high score, but that would probably require you as a willing participant and for both of us to appear we've got some sort of desire to be watched. Sadly I must find another way to best myself."

She thought she saw a smile cross his lips before he disappeared upstairs.

XXXXXXXXXX

That Monday morning Hermione spent the morning helping the twins in the shop. When she made to leave she was surprised to see Harry coming into the shop.

"Could we go somewhere and get lunch together?" he asked her.

"Of course," she replied, concerned. The smile he gave her was forced. It was never difficult to read the emotions on Harry's face, so she could easily tell he was troubled.

"What's going on?" she asked after they had gotten food at a nearby cafe and sat at a secluded table in the back.

"There's a couple things, and I'm trying to decide which is the more confusing," he confessed. "Kingsley dropped by our training today. He said the repairs on Hogwarts are completed enough that he's going to pull a team off it to start repairing homes that go wrecked during the war. First on the list is my aunt and uncle's house."

"Was it bad?" she asked, frowning.

"They made a hell of a mess, but structurally there's not all that much damage. I think they realized I wasn't there, and they weren't returning, and they wanted to keep things more or less in tact in case there was something there that might prove useful in finding or killing me. They never got around to destroying it."

"Did they ever return?"

"Not yet, but they want to," he told her with a sigh. "Since the war ended they've been in a nice hotel, but they're still upset at the whole situation. They want to get home and put the whole damn experience behind them."

"And you feel like you should help them get home?" she guessed.

"I don't know why. Merlin knows they treated me horribly for long enough that I have every right to turn my back on them. But..." he trailed off, searching for the right words.

"But you're Harry Potter, who risked his own life to save the boy who had been tormenting him since he was a first year, and if you're willing to do that you should be willing to go clean up a bloody house?"

"Something like that," he smiled. "But it's different. Nobody is going to die if I don't help. I'm not going to feel some sort of guilt for not saving them. I shouldn't feel so guilty when I think about not going to clean."

She thought for a moment, then said cautiously, "I think it might be that you know, deep down, that your mother would go help. Because even though they're the biggest prats in history they're still family."

He looked at her a moment, then nodded. "That sounds about right. I guess if I'm going to go I'm going to have to clean by hand. They'd hate a small army of wizards coming through, waving their wands, and Aunt Petunia would probably make us re-do everything by hand either way."

"Do you want some company?" she asked.

"They'd probably respond best to you. You could pass for a Muggle anytime you want."

"I'll go, then. Just tell me when and I'll be there with you."

"Thanks, Hermione," he said with a half-smile.

"You know," she smiled mischievously. "There may be a few Weasleys who might also be willing to help out. Just so you're doing what you said you'd be doing but still fulfilling your desire to make them a little uncomfortable."

"That is positively wicked," his smile widened. "Where did you think of something like that?"

"Since I'm going through this engagement I've found myself spending more time around Draco than I would like..."

"Which would be any amount of time."

"Naturally," she chuckled. "He voiced his disapproval of our situation by calling me a choice word."

Harry let off an enraged noise, but she held her hand up indicating he should keep listening.

"Since then I've made it my mission to make him as uncomfortable as possible whenever I'm around him."

His eyebrow raised. "Dare I ask how you're going about all this?"

"Acting like I'm as in love with his Godfather as we're supposed to be," she replied simply. "Teenaged girls tend to be a little more hands-on with their lovers, I'm just playing the part."

A look of disgust crossed his face. "I was with you until you told me that. You do remember that's Snape, right?"

"Severus is a very different man away from Hogwarts."

"Not from what I've seen."

"You're not living with him," she pointed out.

"Thank Merlin for that."

She rolled her eyes. "What was the other thing that was bothering you?" she asked.

"Mrs. Weasley asked me how I wanted to celebrate my birthday," he replied softly.

She bit her lip. "What did you say?"

"I said I needed to think about it," he replied. "I didn't tell her I don't really think about celebrating much of anything just yet."

"Why didn't you tell her that?"

"Because I think she needs this. So many of her friends died. Her son was maimed. She thought I was dead for a while, which I know terrifies her, I saw it in her boggart once. I overheard her saying she's happy you're happy, but she had rather hoped you'd become an official part of the family, and she feels once you're married you're going to pull away and she's concerned about that. She..." he paused and looked around. "She killed someone. I think that goes against everything she ever hoped for her life. Yes, she did it to protect Ginny, but we all know that doesn't mean that it doesn't stay with you."

She played with the remnants of her sandwich for a minute. "You shouldn't feel you're only doing this for someone else. Your birthday party shouldn't make you miserable."

"I know. But at the same time I feel like I need it, too. I know it's cliché to say that I haven't truly won if I let my grief take over my life and keep me from moving on, but that's kind of how I feel."

"It's only one birthday," she pointed out.

"I know. And I kind of want someone to tell me it's okay to make my own decision on this."

She reached out to put her hand on his. "You do whatever you want to do, Harry. If you don't feel ready, just say so. I'll talk to Molly and tell her it's just too soon for you."

"Thanks, Hermione," he said, squeezing her hand. "I think I'm going to take a little more time to mull things over."

"Good. And my offer stands. If she won't listen to me I'll send Severus over to talk some sense into her."

He laughed. "That's just cold, Hermione."

"But effective."

"If there's an antidote to Molly's stare, it's Snape's."

"I think that would be fascinating to watch," she chuckled. "Terrifying, but fascinating."

"Does he know you're volunteering his services like this?"

"No, and I don't fancy you telling him, thank you very much. We've been getting along famously so far, I'd rather not put that in jeopardy."

He studied her for a long moment, and deep down she was reminded of Dumbledore, seeing both the large picture and the small details at once, but she shook the feeling off. "War really does change things," he agreed softly. "A year ago no one would have thought that you'd be sitting here saying you've got no problems living with Snape."

"A lot of things have changed," she agreed.

"Just, please, don't do something stupid like falling in love."

She chuckled and shook her head with the absurdity of his plea. "I don't think you have any reason to worry about that," she assured him as her chuckles grew to laughter.

She didn't notice he didn't laugh with her.