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To Live and Let Live

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“Don’t die on me!”, “Where is that bloody phoenix when you need one? There you are, Fawkes! I told you I might need you because of that fucked up mutant of a snake again... and a lot of Dittany...”, “Breath, Professor!”

“...W-why?...”

“Don’t try to speak! I have my reasons, and if you truly want to die, then you’ll have to do it without me around!”

*

Whenever Severus had any variation of this dream based on how he hadn’t died, he would wake up completely baffled by what had happened in the infernal Shrieking Shack and later, when the girl would nurture him to full recovery, take care of him and his freedom, keep away everyone he wouldn’t want to see (especially the Potter prat and journalists). She was looking after him in her family home, where they were alone, and it was peaceful. She never wanted anything from him, be it money, books, story, apprenticeship, or... well, literally anything except for getting well.

Severus Snape not only got healthier with her help than he could remember being, but instead of getting a cell in Azkaban, he was pronounced a hero and got Order of Merlin, First Class, which he was less happy about than he’d ever think. It could have something to do with the fact that the insufferable know-it-all not only got one of the Second Class (while both her friends got First Class), but she never even showed up at the ceremony.

He would never, ever admit that he hoped to see her again. Especially on a rather social than professional ground.

But he did.

*

Hermione Granger gave him the option he had never thought possible – a chance to live. And thanks to everything she had done for him, including his new Hero Status, Severus got back his Headmaster job to show everyone what he really was as the Head of Hogwarts.

And so, the new school year was to start in a week, and he and Minerva were discussing the final details.

‘Oh, and I’m afraid we need to think of a new Head Girl, Severus. I was waiting to tell you until after I talked to her, but two days ago I got a letter from her, in which she informed me she’s not coming back to school! I wanted to go and see her, because she didn’t write any reason for giving up on her education, but somehow, I cannot find her home address. I tried to send her an owl with request to meet me, but the letter came back unopened – the owl couldn’t find her as well. I’m starting to worry, Severus.’

Not thinking much, he said calmly, ‘I’ll see what I can do. For now, let’s choose a new Head Girl. What do you say about Miss Padma Patil?’

‘Oh. I was thinking rather Miss Weasley would be perfect for the job. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Miss Granger’s almost absurdly perfect marks and literally one detention during all her years here, I would have suggested Ginevra in the first place.’

‘And that’s the only reason why I even agreed to that – Miss Granger’s school records wouldn’t allow us to not make her the Head Girl, but not because she doesn’t deserve the title, but I simply do not want to give the title to any of those “hero kids”. They are not suited for the responsibilities. Younger students will be intimidated by your reckless band. That’s also why I chose Mr Robert McArthur for the Head Boy – no matter what my opinion about Hufflepuffs is, generally, they are caring and considerate,’ So is Miss Granger, and to a greater level, he thought, ‘I also believe that the Ravenclaw twin will be a nice complement to her male counterpart, being more able to help in the academic division.’ So would be Hermione, and again in a much better way, Severus commented internally.

McGonagall sighed heavily, ‘Maybe you’re right... Oh, well. Let me know if you are able to find out why Miss Granger won’t be back, please.’

He nodded, ‘I will. And I’ll see if I can change her mind. Now, to other matters...’

*

Four days later, Severus Snape was standing in front of the house he spent a few weeks recovering after the attack of that blasted snake. He could feel her magic all over the place – spells repelling Muggles, alerting wards, Anti-Apparition Jinx, and many others. He could sense them only thanks to how much she had to use healing magic on him – to the point, actually, that she had left a permanent mark on him.

The wizard knew perfectly well why Minerva wasn’t able to contact Hermione – the Muggle-born witch figured out herself how to Place Fidelius Charm on her house.

And she let him in on the secret.

Severus took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. It was a wary young woman, who opened the door, ‘Mr Snape? What pyjama did you sleep in while recovering?’

She was cautious and he noticed she was hiding her wand hand – he completely approved of her vigilance, and smirked answering, ‘It was an AC/DC T-shirt you enlarged to fit me.’ She nodded in relief, so he went on with his question, ‘What is your most hated book?’

She grinned, ‘That bloody “The Tales of Beetle the Bard”. What can I do for you, Mr Snape?’ she moved aside to let him inside.

‘May we talk?’ he was surprised the witch wouldn’t invite him into the sitting room.

‘To be honest, I’m busy. You of all people should be able to understand,’ the hint of a smile on her lips told him a lot.

‘What are you brewing?’ he asked with a smirk.

‘Nothing much, but it still requires my attention in...’ she checked her wrist watch, ‘five minutes. It won’t take long to finish, but then I have an important appointment I cannot skip or postpone.’

‘In that case, what time would be more suitable for us to talk?’

She sighed tiredly, even though she tried to hide her weariness, ‘Could you come back tonight at 8? Will that be okay for you?’

The wizard nodded, ‘I’ll see you then, Miss Granger.’

*

Punctually, at 8, Miss Granger opened the door allowing Severus to smell dinner. ‘Will you join me for dinner, Mr Snape?’

He noticed she looked much better – washed hair and clean clothes, and what he assumed to be a subtle Glamour to hide dark shades under her eyes. He was surprised just how lovely she looked. There was no trace of the awkward schoolgirl she used to be, and in her place, there was this truly lovely and brilliant young woman.

‘Thank you,’ he nodded, and they went to the kitchen, where she served them both immediately what came to be Severus’s favourite pasta.

They were eating in the comfortable silence they worked out during his convalescence. As soon as they both finished, the witch started tea, and asked with a crooked smile, ‘So, are we waiting till we finish drinks, or will you tell me what this visit is all about now?’

‘I’m here mainly to ask why you aren’t referring to me as “Professor” anymore.’

‘As you remember, you forbade me calling you that. Your exact wording was: “I’m not your Professor anymore, you infernal girl, so stop calling me that!”’

‘I remember, but that’s not what I’m asking and you know it.’

She chuckled once, ‘Of course, I do, but what’s the fun in giving you all the information you want without you even trying?’

He almost smiled. Damn it, I missed her... ‘How about we both speak plainly, just this once? It seems we both had a rather tiring day, so let’s make this one thing easy. What do you say?’

‘Fine, ask.’ She seemed at the same time relieved and disappointed.

‘Why aren’t you coming back to school?’

Looking him straight in the eye, and with absolute seriousness, she said, ‘Because I don’t want to.’

That shocked him enough to gape at her for a moment, ‘Excuse me?’

‘You heard me well. I’m too old to be in a secondary school – I’m almost 20 for fuck’s sake. Then, I do not have the time, or money to be at boarding school.’ Severus tried to interrupt, but she held up her hand to stop him. ‘But most of all, I made some choices and I’m sticking to them. Mr Snape, I’m an adult. And don’t you dare saying “barely an adult”, because not only I’m turning 20 this September, but I have started a small business that pays the bills, so I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.’ She laughed bitterly, ‘I had been taking care of myself and those two reckless boys for a couple of years. I kept us not only safe, but I had to mother them, heal them, feed them, provide shelter, protections, comfort, I had to try and reason with them, and go into obvious traps and danger to try and keep them alive when they wouldn’t listen to me.

‘I fought people who wanted to kill and-or rape me and think me not worthy of licking their muddy boots. I was tortured, and I killed. I know how to do taxes. So, you see, I do believe I am an adult who can make my own decisions.’

Severus was pensive for a moment, ‘I sometimes forget you all had to grow up too fast, and you in particular.’ He sighed heavily, ‘Don’t you want to complete your education though?’

‘Of course, I do. I’ve already registered to participate in examination for adults at the Ministry in December. And for Muggles in June.’

When he was about to offer any help she might need, there was a shrieking sound coming from a small, radio-like device and she jumped to it. ‘What was that?’

‘Sorry. I’ll be back soon. Help yourself to more tea, and there are biscuits in the can – you know where.’ And she was gone up the stairs.

Severus decided to take a look at the Muggle, strange thing. He pressed a button Hermione used a moment ago, and he heard her voice, ‘Shhh, it’s okay, I’ll change you quickly and you can go back to sleep, my sweet...’

Severus’s blood boiled in anger. He hurried to the upper floor, and soon was standing in the door of what used to be the guest room, but now... it was turned into a nursery! Hermione was holding and singing to a tiny baby. She noticed him instantly, but sent him a look that said “If you say anything and wake the baby up, I’ll kill you”, so he waited until she put the child into the cradle and closed the door behind her.

Severus opened his mouth to speak, but she wouldn’t even look at him and walked down, back to the kitchen.

He was angry. ‘What was that shite about being adult and responsible?’ he asked mockingly, ‘If you think that the ability to spread your legs for the first boy who would use you means being adult, then not only we have nothing to talk about, but Hogwarts will not welcome you back. Good night.’

Without giving her a chance to explain the situation, he simply stormed off to the nearest Apparition point and came back to his office – there were some perks of being a Headmaster, after all.

He never saw the tears of mixed anger with disappointment running down the young woman’s face.

*

It took Severus two days of his colleagues running away from his temper to take a deep breath and think. Really think.

Why am I angry that she has a baby? Because she threw away a bright future she should have had and got pregnant, and now she’s all alone with some boy’s bastard. Potter’s or Weasley’s most probably. And it’s obvious neither of the fuckheads cares that one of them is a father.

He took a deep swig of his drink.

But WHY am I angry?

He sighed. I promised myself long time ago not to fool myself, so... he closed his eyes and dissected his thoughts and emotions.

Suddenly, Severus’s eyes snapped open and shock and almost-horror ran through his face.  Fuck! I’m-I’m jealous. Of all the things, I had to develop... feelings for HER. And now, after what I said to her, there is no chance in Hell that we could even be friends...

He groaned closing his eyes, I did it again. I fucked everything up because of my temper.

*

It took him another couple of days – well, more like two weeks in reality, but another realisation came to the young Headmaster when he was in the library and overheard a fragment of a conversation.

‘Damn it, Harry, we’ll never complete all the homework without Mione. How is it that the selfish bitch didn’t have to go back to school?’

‘No idea, mate, but even if you’re frustrated, don’t you think that calling her “bitch” is a bit much?’

‘Nah,’ the redhead menace waived Potter off, ‘she’s a bitch because now, we have to do it all on our own. How am I to find the time for my fans? And you – if anyone shouldn’t go back to school, it’s you – you saved the world! So, it’s not too much to ask for that frigid bitch to, at least, help us with the homework!’

‘Frigid? I thought you shagged her, Ron.’ The quizzical look on Potter’s face was as plain as always.

‘I wanted to, you know – she wanted me for so long, so after the battle, I thought it was a perfect moment to check if I could marry her – you, know, check if I could fuck her from time to time to make some babies and make mum happy, but the ungrateful bitch wasn’t there!’

‘Wasn’t where?’

‘Well, by my side. She should have been there, when I had a moment to take her to some more private place.’

‘Ron, that’s a really lousy thing to say about your friend. You know, I think I’ll work on my essay somewhere else.’

The ginger just shrugged, ‘Sure, mate. I have a date with that cute blond Hufflepuff from Ginny’s year.’

Severus was about to follow him to give him detentions, but was stopped by Miss Lovegood. ‘Hello, Headmaster.’

He nodded in acknowledgement, ‘Miss Lovegood.’

‘I was wandering if you know how to contact Hermione, because her birthday is coming, and I wanted to go back to sending each other cards.’

‘I’m afraid I do not know.’

‘Oh, that’s a pity,’ she seemed honestly disappointed, ‘If Hermione decides on something, she always thinks of everything, so if she doesn’t want to be found...’

‘I’m sure, that there is something she didn’t consider, so you can keep trying.’

The weird blond shook her head, ‘No. She even managed to block house-elves.’ Then she put her pointing finger to her cheek , as in thought, ‘You know, sir, she used all the extra time to learn as many spells as she could think of as useful for the war time, and even some simply practical to know in general, like the Contraceptive Charm. She said, she would have to find a way to teach that to Harry and Ron, because they would never search for it on their own. And she was only a third-year! Well, if you happen to find a way to send her a card, please, let me know. Good day, sir!’

*

In his quarters, Severus was contemplating the young woman once again, and came to a couple of option for her to be in the situation she found herself. So, if it’s definitely not Weasley, it must be Potter, so not very surprising she is hiding from the Weasleys – Molly and Ginevra would kill her for “stealing” him as a husband for the latter – handsome, famous, rich...

Then, a thought suddenly struck him dumb. She had to be pregnant while fighting, and when she was caring for me... Would it be possible for me not to notice such a thing? I know that Glamours can do wonders for the way a person appears, but... He shook his head and made a decision. He would do it just once more. And never again.

*

Miss Granger answered the door at his second knock. Her face showed momentary surprise, but quickly morphed into cold politeness, ‘Mr Snape. Unless you are injured, homeless, penniless, or need help of a different kind, I ask you to leave my home.’

Even after everything I said to her, she still is ready to honour her promise... Severus couldn’t believe it, but at the same time knew it was simply who she was, and that only strengthened his resolution to do what he came to do. ‘Miss Granger, Hermione, I came here to apologise.’

The witch held his gaze for a moment, but then a loud cry came from the kitchen vicinity and she closed her eyes and sighed tiredly, ‘Oh, don’t stand there like that. I have to prepare the formula,’ and she simply went to the baby leaving the wizard standing in the door.

Finally, he decided to follow her, and closing the door he instantly felt locking and warding spells fall back into place. In the kitchen, he saw the baby in a colourful rocker and Hermione who was singing to calm down the child, while she was preparing the special milk in a bottle.

Not exactly knowing what to do, Severus sat in a chair and simply observed as soon, she took the baby into her arms and started feeding it right next to him. She looked... serene with that beautiful small smile she had for the bundle in her arms. Finally, he needed to break the uncomfortable for him silence, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’

Hermione looked at him and the smile didn’t change (to his great surprise), ‘A girl. Her name’s Annabelle. I call her Belle.’

‘How old is she?’

‘Are you trying to determine when she was conceived?’ one of her eyebrows rose, but she kept smiling.

Severus exhaled somewhat in defeat, ‘I have no idea what to do and how to act. I came here to tell you that while it took me awfully a lot of time, I realised that I had no right to speak to you the way I did. I am the last person to judge others for doing something reckless,’ he looked meaningfully at his left forearm, ‘I am sorry for how I acted and what I said. You were nothing but kind to me and I... well. I let my temper get the best of me. I sincerely apologise.’

She was looking at him quietly in a calculating way, but soon, she nodded and simply said, ‘I accept under two conditions,’ she waited until he nodded, ‘One, you will never tell anyone about Belle without my permission; and two, you’ll call me “Hermione”.’

‘Call me Severus then, but are you sure you don’t want anyone to know? What about the father of the baby? Does he know?’

Belle chose that moment to finish eating, and Hermione placed her on her shoulder, where the girl almost instantly burped and fell asleep. The witch mouthed ‘Excuse me,’ and left to put her daughter to sleep.

She was back in just a moment. ‘Sorry, but it’s her nap time. Would you like tea or coffee?’

‘Whichever you prefer.’ With a smile, she busied herself with preparing coffee in a coffeemaker. ‘You never answered my questions.’

‘I know. And the only one I’m going to answer is: yes, I’m certain I don’t want anyone to know. At least for now.’

‘But Potter –‘ he started, but the witch interrupted.

‘That’s exactly why – everyone would instantly assume Harry’s the father, and it would make the papers and cause him a lot of trouble. With the Weasleys in particular.’

Severus only nodded in response, wearing calm facade, but internally... that was a different thing all together. If not Potter and not Weasley, then who? The baby looks to be maybe a month old? A month and a half? So she was born around the beginning of August, maybe late July, most probably. That means Belle was conceived around November? They were already camping at the time... Fuck. Was she raped? There were Snatchers everywhere... Fuck... It would be like her to not tell anyone so they wouldn’t worry. Did she get any help? Then or now? She had saved my life and then had been looking after me until I was fit to go back to Hogwarts in early July. So, now, I’ll do my best to help her. ‘I give you my word, that I will not tell anyone about Belle without your consent, Hermione.’

She smiled then at him – a real, genuine smile, which did things to him. ‘Thank you, Severus.’ And she handed him coffee in what had been his favourite, big mug during his healing under Hermione’s watch. It already had the perfect amount of sugar in it. It pushed a tiny smile onto his face. ‘So, how is being a Headmaster when on your terms?’

Surprisingly, he didn’t take an offence at the question, as he knew she didn’t have a hidden agenda. ‘Healthier, less stressful,’ they both smirked at that, ‘After the staff was finally done apologising, we could start the actual and efficient work. Without any megalomaniacs on the horizon, it’s astonishing how much can be done in less time and how much better we all cooperate. Okay, scratch that. Most of us. Minerva insisted on hiring William Weasley as the Defence teacher, but while he has the knowledge, he has absolutely no idea about teaching and has the wrong attitude.’

The witch’s raised brow in slight amusement, which was also sparkling in her eyes didn’t anger him. ‘His attitude is wrong?’

Severus answered with a mock scowl, ‘My teaching methods may not have been the best, but one, I did have a few good reasons for that, and two, not only did they keep the more idiotic students alive, but also those methods still worked much better than what William presents in his classroom. Even Minerva is disappointed with him. It’s a good thing he’s teaching only first through fifth years and I teach the NEWT level,’ and in a stage whisper added, ‘Not to mention his wife – always complaining about something.’

Hermione chuckled quietly at that comment, ‘Fleur can be... difficult, but as soon as I understood that commenting and comparing are her main ways of coping with homesickness, and I asked her to tell me about her life in France, and then if there is anything here she likes, we started getting on rather well.’ Apparently, seeing his shock, she laughed briefly, ‘Don’t misunderstand me, we hadn’t suddenly become besties, but we are... friendly. She’s relieved when she could finally freely complain about Mrs Weasley to someone who more-or-less understood, and I was happy to polish up my French. And complain about Mrs Weasley as well,’ she said it only semi-facetiously, which caused the wizard to chuckle.

They fell into a short and comfortable silence, which Severus broke with an offer, ‘Hermione, if you need anything –‘ he started, but she cut him off quickly.

‘I don’t want anything from you, Severus.’

Slightly offended and surprised and her words, Haven’t we been having a perfectly nice conversation? And I thought she was rather enjoying it as I was, Severus said rather sharply, ‘Do not worry, I will not bother you with my presence anymore.’

He rose to leave and stop making a fool of himself, but a small hand on his left forearm stopped him dead, ‘That’s not what I meant, Severus. I just don’t want you to think – by any chance – that you owe me anything. As I don’t know much about this kind of magic, I want it said aloud, that you do not owe me a Life Debt.’ She looked serious, but there was a good hint of uncertainty in her eyes.

Severus sat back down and noticed she never let go of his arm, ‘I do owe you, but my offer was not because of that.’

She shook her head, ‘In that case,’ she slowly took out her wand and encouraged him to do the same, ‘I, Hermione Jean Granger release you, Severus Tobias Snape from the Life Debt you owed me, as I find it fulfilled.’

He was stunned. Magic flared around them and he felt it. He felt... lighter, freer; and was stunned into silence.

‘Look,’ Hermione spoke again, ‘I had a really nice time simply talking to you, and if you find yourself bored enough to feel like having coffee with me again, I would be really happy about it.’

Severus exhaled with a soft huff and smiled at her a bit, ‘I would like that as well.’

She beamed at him but then took a notice of the time and the smile weakened significantly, ‘Sorry, but Belle will be up soon, and I still have a few things I need to take care of...’

‘Of course,’ he stood up, less abruptly this time, and they both went to the door, ‘Thank you, Hermione. For everything.’ And then he remembered, ‘How may I contact you? Miss Lovegood mentioned it’s impossible to do so...’ it was a statement come question.

The woman before him smirked in satisfaction, ‘Do you happen to have your own owl, or a favourite one from the school flock?’

He nodded, ‘I have a private bird.’

‘Then read my address to it and I will get the letter then.’ At his sceptically raised brow, she added, ‘I’m sure it will work because it worked with my raven, her name is Gwen, by the way.’

Severus chuckled, ‘Apparently, great minds think alike. I also have a raven and his name is Bob.’ After a second of contemplation, he added, ‘Do you want me to pass the address later to Miss Lovegood as well?’

‘Yes, please. But... only with the same restrictions – to only one bird.’

‘Very well. Good bye, Hermione.’

‘Have a nice day, Severus.’

Chapter Text

Next week’s Friday morning, Severus was having a discussion with Minerva about what to do with the students’ request to have a grand Halloween ball, ‘I will not agree to any huge event, Minerva. We do not have money for that, that’s one, and secondly, no one was informed beforehand about it, so no student is prepared to go, therefore, only the students who are wealthy enough to order something via owl could wear something ball appropriate.’

Whatever Minerva was about to say to that, was stopped by arrival of an elegant raven carrying a letter for Severus. Rising to his expectation, Minerva was vibrating with nosiness, and sooner than later burst with ill-concealed curiosity, ‘Whose is this bird? It’s not typical to use a raven for postal services...’

‘Board of Governors, a secret wife of thirty years, a business partner, an apothecary, long lost twin brother, the next Dark Lord. Chose whichever will prevent you from asking further questions and that will be it.’ He then took a better look at the raven and noticed a leg band with some runes. ‘Are you Gwen?’

The bird nodded and only then extended the leg with a letter to him. Clever girl, he thought and placed the parchment into his pocket to read it right after breakfast, in private. Minerva was only grumbling under her nose something about there being no need for talking to her like that, but he simply ignored her and finished his food quickly.

*

Severus,

I hope you don’t think me too forward, but I thought, maybe you’d have time to join me for dinner this Saturday or Sunday. If you don't feel like suffering my company, just let me know once and I won’t bother you again, but if you do... then tell me when is more suitable for you.

Have a pleasant day,

Hermione.

Severus had to read it twice for the spell of shock to end, and a small smile to appear on his lips. He quickly responded.

Hermione,

It would be my pleasure to share a meal with someone who can talk about something beside school issues and latest student-related gossip. Therefore, I’d like to visit you on Saturday. Is there anything I could bring? What time should I be there?

Severus.

After he sent it with Bob, Severus couldn’t suppress the smirk after seeing how utterly frustrated Dumbledore’s portrait was. The old bugger was absurdly shocked seeing Severus not only alive, but in the best health in a decade, and as the Headmaster. Severus Silenced him immediately after Albus started with artificially jovial “Severus, my boy...”. The Potions Master had hated that since day one, and now, he didn’t have to listen to his other, manipulative, inconsiderate, cruel master. He played with the thought of banishing the portrait to a dusty broom cupboard, but decided it was more of a punishment for the painting if he was to observe and not only not interfere, but quietly observe how the world keeps going well without him.

The next day, Severus found himself in Muggle London feeling absolutely lost in an everything-for-your-child kind of shop. A huge shop. With too many different things he wasn’t even able to name. And with too many options for each of those strange items.

Luckily, help came quickly in a form of a petite, too-cheerful young woman, ‘May I help you, sir?’

‘Yes. I want to buy... something as a gift to a mother who recently had a baby.’

‘Okay, how old is the baby?’

‘A month, a month and a half... something like that.’

‘A boy or a girl?’

‘A girl.’

‘Do you have any idea of what kind of gift that should be?’

Severus shook his head, ‘It was a spur of a moment decision to buy anything and I have never done shopping of this... kind.’

‘Okay...’ the girl thought for a moment, ‘The typical options are: clothes, useful gadgets, toys, books... and of course, the safest, and most useful gift – disposable nappies.’

It was almost an hour later, that a very tired Severus knocked on Hermione’s door.

‘Hi, Severus, come in. It’s great to see you,’ her lovely smile instantly lightened his mood.

‘You as well. And thank you for the invitation.’ After closing the door behind him, Severus handed the witch the bag from the baby shop with some apprehension.

Curious, Hermione looked inside and grinned widely, ‘Thank you! There are never too many nappies, and these bodysuits are absolutely adorable. And they are of a bit bigger size – great!’

Feeling completely uncomfortable, Severus had to restrain himself from shuffling his feet, ‘If they are not good, I can exchange them –‘

‘No, no! I knew that babies grow fast, but until I had to start clothing one myself, I never realised it’s this fast. These are perfect,’ she indicated the tiny clothes and gave him a kiss on a cheek, ‘Really – thank you,’ and she started towards the living room, unknowingly leaving thunderstruck wizard in the hallway.

It took him a couple of seconds to un-root his feet from the floor and follow his host. When he did, the mouth watering smell from the kitchen reached his nose. He knew what it was instantly – cauliflower broccoli cheese! At entering the kitchen, he was not disappointed – Hermione took out the beautifully looking casserole out of the oven.

‘Sorry, I didn’t have time to do anything fancier, but I do have a nice dessert...’ there was a lot of trepidation she tried to hide under the confident tone, but her tense posture gave her away.

‘How did you know it’s my favourite? And it looks and smells amazing.’

The soft smile Severus sent her did the trick, and she smiled sincerely, ‘Wait with complements until you try it, and if you don’t like it – we’ll order pizza. I know I’m a rather mediocre cook, so...’ she trailed off serving each of them a small – safe portion and placing the dish in the middle of the table.

After the first bite, Severus closed his eyes and a small – but still obvious – groan escaped him, ‘It is better than I remember it could be. Where did you get the idea you’re not good at cooking?’

The wizard found it slightly amusing how she visibly sagged with relief and blushed at the same time at the complement, ‘Thank you... And, um, I cook only for myself and was really apprehensive to invite you for an actual dinner for a couple of reasons: one, every day, you eat food prepared by house-elves, who are wonderful cooks; two, when you were healing here, neither of us was fit to eat anything beside some very light, uncomplicated dishes, and even most of those were bought at a nearby diner; and three, Ronald had always complained about my lack of any cooking skills ever since we were on our own last year.’

‘Don’t worry yourself – I do like it. And besides, I wish to see Molly making anything edible while camping in the middle of nowhere and having almost nothing eatable in her reach.’

She narrowed her eyes in mock-suspicion, ‘You are too nice... Who are you and what did you do with my favourite, nasty Potions Master?’

Severus’s brow went up, ‘Favourite?’

Hermione smirked playfully, ‘Of course. I know only two: you and Slughorn, and I detest the latter, so it’s rather obvious you are higher in the rank.’

‘Minx.’

His mock-glare caused her to grin wider, ‘I’ll take that as a complement. I prefer “minx” from “Insufferable know-it-all”.’

He chuckled shortly and they started to eat in a very comfortable silence until Hermione asked, ‘So, who pissed you off so much that you couldn’t wait to escape the castle?’

This time, his groan was not of delight, but of frustration, ‘Minerva, students, other teachers, Board of Governors... take a pick, but most recently, the students suddenly decided they want a Halloween ball, and Minerva fell in love with the idea so much, that she keeps nagging me about it.’

‘So, what’s the problem? I mean – the real one?’

Not exactly knowing why, he told her all the reasons (and more) he gave to his Deputy, and added, ‘Besides, if I agree to that, not only will it set a precedence and it will be expected to become an annual occurrence, but everyone will practically demand a Yule Ball as well, and there simply isn’t enough money for all of that. Especially on the side of about half the student body – to buy costumes and dress robes and ball gowns is incredibly costly, and after the war, the families do not have money for that kind of whims. And students would be unable to hold any kind of focus on lessons long before the actual event.’

Hermione was listening to him intently and without a hint of amusement or mockery on her side. When he fell silent, she spoke carefully, ‘You know, I can actually see a solution where the parties could still happen. Would you be willing to listen and actually think about it?’

‘Go on.’

‘If Professor McGonagall is so eager to have balls, then make her start an extracurricular class. She should get in touch with dress makers, like Madame Malkin, and organise workshop for students. They could not only learn how to make their own outfits for any kind of event you might agree to, but it will give them an opportunity to learn many useful spells from Transfiguration and Charms. Then, they could learn what Potions can do with textiles, like dyeing and adding extra features. And for the clothes manufacturers, they could learn not only what young people want to wear, but also they could find talented students to hire after graduation, and if they could donate some materials for the workshops, students will later buy much more raw materials, so they gain customers.

‘It could also be a clever way to introduce wizarding traditional robes to Muggle-born students – we have absolutely no idea what to wear besides the uniform. We stand out among the magical people, and not in a good way.’

He was engrossed in her words, then seriously said, ‘I’m impressed. It’s so simple, yet so brilliant. Where did you get this idea so quickly?’

‘Muggle schools do things like that constantly, sports is not the only thing kids can do at school after classes. I used to attend drama club – my parents insisted. It would have been quite fun if not for other kids, who even there, were making fun of me, you know – the weirdo around whom strange things keep happening,’ she shrugged lightly at that. ‘That’s what I hate about being Muggle-born – you don’t know what’s happening to you, you are always at disadvantage with magical folks. And later Pure-bloods wonder why we all have problems getting on with each other when there is no one to introduce Muggle-borns to wizarding world and traditions.’ She shook her head, and looked embarrassed, ‘I’m sorry. You didn’t come here to listen to me whining. My apologies.’

With a half-smirk – half-smile, he reached for her hand, and momentarily squeezed it lightly, ‘No need for apologizes. I vented before about the parties, so it simply was your turn.’

‘Thanks, Severus.’

‘So, to change the topic... What do you do for living more exactly? You suggested it’s Potions related, but there wasn’t a chance so far.’

‘Don’t make too much fun of me, but I make simple cosmetics and herbal remedies for a Muggle all-nature products shop, which is run by a Squib, and I brew a few of George Weasley’s products – the less explosive, but more complex. George was the one responsible more of the business part of the shop, and they were getting the ideas equally, but Fred was better at the actual brewing.’

The two talked for quite a while about her business idea and other things with two interruptions from Belle, which Severus was surprised to note didn’t annoy him at all.

They parted only because he could see Hermione was seriously lacking sleep; as any young mother, and he promised to visit soon.

That night, Severus went to bed with surprisingly light heart, and a tiny smile on his lips.

*

On Monday, Severus called a short staff meeting where he included the Head Students. When they all were seated, he called for their attention and asked, ‘Who still wants Hogwarts to have annual events like Yule or Halloween balls?’

There was a chorus of “me”s and “I do”s, he took a careful look around so everyone who said so was made sure they were officially confirmed – it was most of the staff, and, of course, the two students.

Then, deliberately, he smiled a shark-like smile making everyone in the room uneasy. ‘Very well... I have found a solution to the problems I saw organising that kind of events...’ and here he explained Hermione’s idea, which she insisted he presented either as his own, or vaguely as of his friend. People in the room were utterly surprised at what they heard, but slowly, they mulled things over and they started liking the ideas.

After the meeting was over, Minerva came up to him, ‘I am... thoroughly impressed, Severus. Not only by the idea itself, but that you are willing to actually go with it.’

He crossed his arms over the frockcoated chest and scowled a bit at the witch, ‘And why wouldn’t I? It solves most of the major problems and brings quite a few profits, for the school and for the students, and therefore – for me,’ he smirked almost evilly for a good measure.

His colleague chuckled, ‘Of course, always the Slytherin, but in this case in particular, I think it’s good. It will be a lot of extra work for many of us, but it might be just what we need – to focus on creating and repairing rather than on the destruction of war.’ And with a brief squeeze of his shoulder, Transfiguration Mistress left the room.

*

Two weeks later, Severus was desperate to have a break from the school, and even more to see Hermione; though he wouldn’t admit to himself even to what degree he missed her. And so, he decided to write to the young witch.

The reply came instantly with Bob, and informed him to wear Muggle attire, as they were going out.

It was a lovely day, when Severus rang Hermione’s door, warm and sunny – perfect for a walk. The wizard was met by a stunning vision of brightly smiling Hermione, who was wearing a long sleeved tight blouse and a flared skirt. She was rather tall, but still much shorter than him, so in her high heeled oxford shoes she was that perfect bit shorter than him.

‘Severus! It’s so good to see you. We are ready, let me just collect Bell, and we can go.’

He wasn’t shocked. But, at the same time, for some reason, he hadn’t expected the baby to accompany them. Of course, she would take her baby for a walk; who would she leave her with? And babies need to go for walks, don’t they?

And so, the improbable trio went to a lovely park, which was positively vibrating with colours of autumn. The sun shining brightly through Hermione’s few loose curls was giving her riotous hair gold hues. She is stunning, he thought in awe, not realising he had a soft smile on his lips. She, however, did.

‘It’s so nice to see you so... relaxed for once.’

Knowing she was not mocking him stopped him from stiffening his posture, like he would with anyone else, ‘The weather is nice, I’m far from the school, which means there are no busybodies to bother me, or dunderheaded students to keep an eye on, or bloody reporters just waiting to catch me doing something scandalous. There is; however, a lovely woman I can have pleasant time with, which always includes intelligent conversation, and there is also a prospect of good coffee in the said nice company – what to want more?’

He had no idea what prompted him to say what he did, but after seeing her expression, he gave himself a mental, congratulatory pat on a shoulder.

If possible, her smile brightened even more, ‘So let’s get you that promised coffee. There is a nice cafe, with wonderful beverages.’

And soon they were seated outside the coffee shop with truly delicious liquid treats, since calling what they (and Hermione in particular) ordered simply drinks was understatement in Severus’s opinion.

They spent a couple of hours simply talking, never running out of topics, never getting bored with each other’s company. They went back to Hermione’s home when it started getting chilly, so Belle wouldn’t be cold. Since the two adults were rather reluctant to part, Hermione invited Severus to join her for early dinner, which he happily accepted.

During that afternoon, Severus held a baby for the first time in his life. He hadn’t even held Draco when the boy was so small. For Hermione, it was, apparently, the most natural thing to hand the little girl to him when the timer went off and she needed to check on their food, but for him, it was short of a shock.

It took him a few seconds to give himself a mental kick and try to imitate the way Hermione held her daughter. It was a surprisingly... instinctual thing. The baby was looking at him curiously with those big, dark-blue eyes for a while and then grabbed his nose and... smiled! He was gobsmacked.

Then little Belle reached for his hair, but her mum came back in that moment, and with amused, and... adoring (?) smile offered, ‘Do you mind if I tie your hair with one of my elastics? Belle started catching things, and hair is such an easy target for her.’

‘Of course,’ he wanted to say he would do it, but it was too late – she was already running her delicate fingers through his black locks and collecting them into a low ponytail. He had to stifle a low groan – it was a marvellous feeling. ‘Thank you,’ he managed to say when she finished.

‘Dinner is ready, so let’s go. Would you put her into the rocker? I’ll set the table.’

Throughout the meal, Belle was looking at him more often than not and she smiled at him twice more.

At the door, Hermione was holding the girl while they were saying goodbyes, ‘Thank you for the lovely day, Severus. Let me know whenever you might feel like escaping Scotland again,’ her smile was shy and hopeful, and it warmed his heart.

‘If you are willing to spend time with me, then I definitely will, but you also feel free to write or let me know if you want some company from me.’

Her smile widened, ‘I will. Good night, Severus,’ and she kissed his cheek.

His ‘Good night to both of you,’ sounded a bit off to him, but either she didn’t notice, or was tactful not to mention it.

When he was walking back to his quarters, Severus was too pensive to notice the few baffled students who saw the Headmaster to have what they simply couldn’t not call a tiny, but still a smile on his lips.

*

Severus and Hermione had started exchanging letters almost daily. If any of the staff had noticed not only regular post for their Headmaster, but also a bit more relaxed posture and more often than not tiny smiles escaping his stern mask of a face, they never mentioned it. After all, as the Hogwarts’ motto says “Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon”, and the (at least seemingly) happy Snape definitely reminded a “sleeping dragon”. They did their best to ignore Severus’s unusually good mood.

Well, most of them did.

Minerva came to Severus’s quarters for a nightcap, as it was his turn to host. When the two colleagues were seated comfortably with tumblers of a nice Ogden’s, Minerva couldn’t hold it any longer.

‘So, Severus, who are you taking to the Halloween ball?’

Absolutely not bothered by anything, as the wizard had an appointment with Hermione the very next day and therefore had something nice to look forward to, he simply raised a brow, ‘Why, you of course, my dear Minerva. As the Headmaster, and you, the Deputy, we are expected to open the ball, and if I am correct, it is done by some silly speech and the first dance.’ He made a horrified face, ‘How remiss of me – Minerva, would you allow me to escort you to the Halloween Ball?’

The witch next to him obviously had no idea what to say, as she knew he was mocking her, but not in a malicious way. She took a good look at the young man, and after a moment of silence took a long sip of her drink, and said, ‘I have no idea who it is that you are spending your time with, but I really want to meet her. Her company is doing wonders for you. So, when will you introduce her?’

He made a show of considering it thoroughly, and then, almost hesitantly, said, ‘Today is Friday... so... I guess never.’

The witch huffed in frustration, ‘There was no need for that, Severus.’

He was smirking, ‘Of course, there was – if only to see the face you made. But in whole honesty, my private life is exactly that – private.’

Minerva sighed heavily at the sudden seriousness of the man, ‘Severus... I am your friend. I am interested in your life, but not for idle gossip, but because I care about you, and in particular if there is; for a change, something positive going on, I would be delighted if you shared it with me. There was, and still is, so much pain and despair in all of us, that anything good is priceless. And you apparently have something very good happening, so let me simply be happy for you.’

The wizard took in everything she had said, and finally said with a sigh, ‘I have... a friend. And I do enjoy her company.’

‘So... why not invite her for the ball?’

‘There are many reasons why I am not inviting her, but let’s go for the most practical one – as the Headmaster, I wouldn’t have that much time for her, so she would be forced to suffer all the “friendly” chats with everyone here, after which she wouldn’t want to see me again. If that wouldn’t drive her away, then all the gossipy issues would – staff, students, reporters. The articles that would appear the next day would be full of anything that could create a juicy gossip, no matter how much lies they would contain.’

Minerva’s face was pensive, ‘You do care about her.’ They both knew it wasn’t a question, but Severus still nodded. ‘You are of course right about all the fuss her appearance would cause, but you are wrong about your colleagues – everyone would be happy for you, and apart from maybe a funny anecdote or two, we would rather put you in a good light, as we all wish you happiness.’

Nodding slowly, he said, ‘Maybe you’re right, but still – we are just friends, and bringing her as my date, would give everyone a wrong impression.’

‘If you say so,’ she took the final swig and rose, ‘I’ll be on my way – it’s getting late, and I still need to take a peek into the Gryffindor Common Room. Good night, Severus.’

He rose as well to open the door for the witch, ‘Good night to you as well.’

That night, Severus dreamt about holding a certain brilliant and lovely witch in his arms while dancing in an empty Great Hall.

*

The morning brought an unexpected letter from Hermione, which Severus read as soon as he could leave breakfast.

Severus,

I sincerely apologise, but I have to either cancel, or postpone our day together. Yesterday, Belle was vaccinated and after that, she didn’t feel well. She was crying most of the night, therefore I didn’t sleep a wink, and so, not only would I be a dreadful company, but any culinary attempts of mine could be disastrous. I’m sorry, I was really looking forward to seeing you, so I do hope you could think of another time we could meet.

Have a lovely day,

Yours,

Hermione

He was disappointed at first, but it didn’t take him long to come up with an alternative to what she suggested. Originally, Severus was to come to Hermione’s home, they would have lunch, and then they would all go for a walk. Now; however, if Hermione was not fit to meet him, it must have been a truly tough night, so he called an elf, gave him a few orders, and took care of some paperwork he had planned for the morning.

*

His knock on the door was answered by a surprisingly dishevelled and sickly looking Hermione. ‘Severus? Didn’t you get my message?’

‘I did.’

‘But –‘

He cut her off before she could say anything more, ‘And it seemed you could use some help, but now that I see you, it looks as if you could use being looked after as well, so here I am.’ Just in case, he simply walked inside to prevent her from any protests and went straight to the kitchen, where Belle had just started crying.

‘I need to change her...’ and before she could pick the girl up, she bent in half with a hiss of pain.

He was with her instantly, holding her so she wouldn’t keel over, ‘Hermione? What’s wrong?’

Through gritted teeth she managed to say, ‘Nothing. I’ll be fine in a moment. Don’t worry.’

It took a lot of his self-discipline to listen to her and not take her to a healer or start casting the few diagnostic spells he knew. Instead, he helped her to the nearest chair and waited for what seemed to be a much longer than it was in reality, but finally, she straightened slowly up and tried to smile. ‘I’m sorry, Severus. I’m really not fit to have any guests...’

‘Are you trying to make me angry? Because if you are, then you’re doing a good job. Hermione I came here to help you – cook for you, and maybe take care of Belle for a while so you could at least take a nap, but what I see is you bending over in pain! What’s happened? Have you been attacked? Are you injured? Do you need a healer?’

The look she sent him was of mixed tenderness and embarrassment, and it tugged at his heart, ‘It’s nothing... It’s just cramps...’

He blinked. Then said slowly, ‘It doesn’t look like just cramps, Hermione... and I know you well enough to know you are not one to exaggerate pain you are in. Tell me honestly – what is going on?’

The woman sighed and not meeting his eyes in awkwardness, answered, ‘Ever since we were captured, and Bitchlatrix had me under her wand and dagger, my monthly problems feel like tiny bouts of Cruciatus.’ She took a deep breath, and went on, ‘The healer I saw was shocked at a few things, but also that she tortured me “only” for about an hour maybe a bit longer instead of days...’

Before he could say anything, Belle started crying again, so he stood up from his half-crouching, half-kneeling position, ‘I’ll take care of her,’ but the uncertainty must have leaked through his normal mask of confidence, as she smiled with a hint of amusement, but no mockery.

‘Do you know how? Have you ever done it before?’ His minute hesitation told her everything, so she rose from her chair carefully, ‘Come on, I’ll show you how to change a nappy, but if you could carry her upstairs, I’d appreciate it...’

Soon, the Potions Master was making tea for the two of them, with Hermione curled up on a big sofa in the leaving room, and the baby girl lying on, what he learnt to be called, a baby gym – a colourful, cushioned mat with toys hanging above the child. Walking in, with the tea tray, Severus Snape experienced a revelation – I want this, Hermione as my wife, little Belle as my... daughter, he stumbled over the word even in his own head, I want to look after the two of them, watch and participate in Belle’s growing up, I want to support them both, I want to be able to hold Hermione, and... for her to look at me with that tenderness she sometimes has for me. He decided then and there that he would try to win her heart.

‘Severus, you’re a godsend,’ Hermione said when he finally did enter the room, ‘You have no idea how much it all means to me...’

‘It’s just tea,’ he said calmly, but it was that look combined with one of the loveliest smiles he had ever seen, so inside, he was grinning like a fool.

She squeezed his hand and didn’t let it immediately go. ‘We both know it’s much, much more than “just tea”.’

He allowed a soft smile to appear on his lips, ‘Next time you need anything just let me know and I’ll be here for you. Both of you,’ he stressed the word looking at the falling asleep baby.

The witch nodded, and as if testing him, asked, ‘In that case... would you mind taking her to her crib?’

‘Of course not. Does she need a pacifier?’

‘No, not yet. If ever. Just lay her down and cover with the duvet.’

This is surreal, he thought making sure the little girl was comfortably warm in her sleep, Not only does Hermione, a brilliant, beautiful, and actually powerful witch trusts me with her baby, but the baby herself feels comfortable with me enough to sleep in my arms. He took just a moment longer to look at Belle, and came back to the living room, where he found Hermione napping on the sofa. Carefully, he covered her with a blanket and went to the kitchen to make lunch.

About 45 minutes later, Severus saw sleep-tousled Hermione, and couldn’t stop a small smile at the sight. ‘Slept well?’

She stretched with arms up, giving him a lovely view of her breasts pushed forward and her small T-shirt riding up and revealing her midriff. ‘Mmmm... That’s exactly what I needed. Do you need any help?’

‘No, everything is ready. You have great timing,’ he winked at her playfully and she laughed and set the small, kitchen table.

They spent the rest of the day talking, laughing, and watching one of Hermione’s favourite films: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, and they both enjoyed it. Severus got some practice in changing nappies, and even fed Belle with a bottle. Hermione suffered some more pain and told him that, so far, nothing worked to alleviate her suffering much enough to keep taking the medicines, which were all rather strongly addictive. They spent some time discussing any possible alterations to the existing potions and few ideas for new ones.

Severus came back to the castle just in time for dinner. And he didn’t do it just reluctantly – he never wanted to leave them at all.

Chapter Text

‘Professor Weasley...’ Oh, how Severus hated the sound of it, ‘I invited you here, today, to discuss some... issues.’

‘Sure boss!’ William Weasley sat in the chair almost sloppily (if one could sit down sloppily, it was a Weasley), and was grinning goofily at Severus.

The too cheery disposition and almost absolute lack of respect from the ginger man were driving Severus insane. He wouldn’t mind some familiarity, hell, even friendliness, but not that... “I’m the coolest guy in the world” attitude of his youngest teacher. ‘How are you finding teaching?’

If possible, William’s grin broadened, ‘It’s great! I thought it would be more difficult, but kids listen to my lectures and they almost never ask additional questions, so I must be explaining things rather well. In fact, even a few older students came to me for additional explanations of your lessons!’ he was teasing the Headmaster.

Severus remained stoic and asked, ‘And what do you find as the most difficult part of teaching?’

This time, the younger man took a moment to think, ‘I guess writing tests. Considering how attentive the kids are, their marks are lower than I would assume.’

‘I’ve seen your tests, and I would say they are too easy. What does it tell you?’

Another cheeky grin, ‘That you’re way too strict?’

‘Professor Weasley... if you wish to keep this job, it would be good for you to introduce at least some discipline in your classroom. Just because the students are looking at you, doesn’t mean they are listening to you; girls in particular. And if any of my students come to you again, send them to me. Oh, and how many of that group were female?’ he asked with a nasty smile.

‘Em... most of them?’

‘Precisely. Now, stop treating students as if they were your siblings, and start being their teacher! You are not supposed to be their best friend, but educator, and if you were ever to take over Minerva’s responsibilities as the Head of House, you need to be more of a parent to them, and a strict one at that. Take some time today to consider what I have told you, because I really don’t feel like finding a new Defence professor.’

A much more subdued tone from Weasley answered him with, ‘Thank you, Headmaster.’

‘Weasley,’ he stopped the redhead, ‘It’s not a threat. I will not use the “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll fire you”, because you are a competent person, but you lack any teaching skills. So did I when I started, but I had the advantage of tutoring experience, at least, which you don’t have. You are not here to meet your siblings and chat with pretty and impressionable girls. You are here to teach them.’

‘Thank you for the honesty, and I’ll think about what you told me. Good day.’

So, Hermione was right with how to deal with Weasleys... he smiled, remembering her words:

“The Weasleys are generally not lacking in IQ points, but they operate drastically differently than you do. They are loud, hot-headed, and painfully blunt, but they are loyal and when they decide on something, they do their best to actually do it in the best way they are able to. Ronald mostly excluded, but not entirely,” she added with a grimace. “Do not ever try to be subtle with Bill; he married a part-Veela, for fuck’s sake! Point out to him that you expect responsible behaviour from him and there is about 90% chance he’ll listen to you. If not, you can always threaten to tell on him to Molly,’ her smirk was positively evil and absolutely adorable.

Throughout the following weeks Severus would notice improvement. Small, but present.

*

Halloween went better than Severus could have expected, with students informed to wear only costumes made by themselves, or their uniforms, the kids got creative, and in a good way, to all teachers’ surprise. Severus wouldn’t allow any press, or other guests from outside the castle, unless they were invited by someone from the school as their “plus one”. He knew he wouldn’t get away with that for the Yule Ball that was pushed by the Board of Governors, as the Ministry wanted to turn it into some sort of Celebratory Ball for the war heroes.

Severus’s mood wasn’t, however, as good as some might have expected, what with students behaving well, no journalists sneaking into the castle for the Halloween ball. It was because not only he missed his Granger girls, but Hermione’s letters were less frequent because of amount of work she told him she had. Wait. Did I just think about Hermione and Belle as “My Granger girls”? the thought made him at the same time somewhat giddy and irritated with himself. They aren’t mine, no matter how much I want them to be. Which is more and more. Then something came to live in him, And they never will be mine, if I don’t do something about it! Just thinking of courting Hermione will not be enough – I need to show her I care about the both of them. He made a decision then, and it felt surprisingly freeing. It was Friday, so he sent a message to Minerva, that he would be absent at dinner, and Apparated to London. He had some shopping and planning to do.

When Hermione opened the door (as always – very carefully, with the wand hidden from view), Severus presented her a single, long-stemmed, dark red rose, ‘If you don’t have time, I’ll be on my way in just a moment, but I will risk a guess you could do with a break,’ he raised a brow in question, but when he was about to say something more (although he, himself, didn’t know yet what exactly), the woman in front of him smiled so brilliantly, that it seemed it was a summer day again, and then she threw herself on his neck.

‘I missed you... Thank you for coming, and thank you for the flower...’ That sentence was ended with a soft kiss on his cheek.

Time to start the first phase of courting Hermione, and with that thought he risked, ‘If this is the way you are going to greet and thank me whenever I bring you flowers, I just might start bringing them regularly,’ he allowed a softer smirk to accompany the statement.

She chuckled at that, but hadn’t managed to hide completely an adorable blush, which graced her cheeks. ‘You better not, or you’ll spoil me, and that would be bad. Can you imagine that in addition to being insufferable and a Know-It-All, I’d also be spoiled?’ Hermione faked a scared expression.

This time it was Severus to chuckle, and allowed himself one more comment, ‘Horrible idea, indeed. And if I were the one to spoil you, I’d have to be the one to live with it and your spoiledness.’

An interesting spark came through her eyes, but all too quickly disappeared, ‘Coffee?’

‘Yes, please. And where is the other of my two favourite ladies?’

Hermione indicated the living room and went to the kitchen, but must have heard him say, ‘Hello, Annabelle, it would be unforgivably rude of me to buy flowers only for your mum, don’t you think?’ because she ran to them almost shouting, ‘Severus! You can’t give flowers to a baby!’ but she stopped short at the scene she saw.

Severus was on one knee, in front of the smiling Belle, holding from a distance the item to check if the baby wouldn’t be scared of the big, colourful, plush flower.

Seeing the witch, Severus smirked in amusement, ‘If you don’t want me to buy her any toys, just say so.’

Hermione blushed, but smiled, ‘Sorry. I won’t be interrupting you two any longer, and I’ll make that promised coffee.’

The three of them spent a lovely and relaxing afternoon that turned into an early evening. The adults were talking about Hermione’s upcoming NEWTs and about their respective jobs. Belle played a bit, cried some, Severus even offered to change her, but Hermione stopped him.

‘It’s actually time for her bath,’ she hesitated, but asked, ‘Would you like to help me?’

He smiled. ‘Of course.’

Severus left the Granger house after Belle was sound asleep and he and Hermione had a chance to have a small bit of wine.

The occasional smile and a spring to Hogwarts’ Headmaster’s step came back.

*

NEWT exams for adults were planned for the week 14th-18th December in the afternoons. Since it was past any of his lessons, Severus offered he would babysit, and was surprised in the best possible way, when Hermione said, ‘That would be amazing, thank you, Severus,’ in a very relieved way.

She told him she had been planning on hiring a professional babysitter, but she wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving Belle with a stranger. The pronouncement made him happy. She trusts me with Belle!

Hermione was after NEWTs from Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Potions, and Transfiguration. The day she had Charms and DADA, the witch came back home later than she was supposed to. Severus didn’t mind, as Belle was having a good day, but Hermione came back so irritated, that she barely stopped herself from banging the front door.

‘What happened?’ he made sure to not sound worried, but still sincerely interested.

She groaned in frustration, and took a deep breath to calm down. ‘In a moment. How are the two of you?’

He smirked, ‘Perfectly fine. Belle ate about half an hour ago and now she’s asleep.’

She plopped inelegantly on the sofa, where he joined her, ‘Professor Flitwick was one of the examiners at both Defence and Charms, of course, and he made a spectacle of me. It started rather innocently, and for the “extra credit”, he asked me to conjure my Patronus. It changed sometime last year and while it already had the new form during the battle, I hadn’t thought about it at all – there were more important matters, but still; it made me... discomfited, and then as a part of a practical, he insisted I show them how I can duel, and soon, I was fighting an Auror! And that idiot thought it would be, I don’t know... cool? to take down the famous Hermione Granger,’ sarcasm was dripping from her last words. She groaned and momentarily hid her face in her hands. Then she looked at Severus with frightened eyes, ‘Severus, I almost killed him. The bloody idiot was so desperate to win with me, that he wanted to cast Cruciatus on me, but he was too slow. His boss was furious with him and wanted to send him to Azkaban for a month at least, and offered me a job. I wanted to throttle Flitwick for putting me in that situation.’

Carefully, Severus started gently rubbing her upper arm, and when she didn’t protest, he encouraged her to turn her back to him, and started massaging her shoulders, ‘Would you like me to kill him, or even better – put on all patrolling schedules for any school events?’

She giggled, actually giggled, ‘Be careful, or I won’t ever let you go, if you are going to be so sweet.’ Then she moaned quietly, ‘And already your hands are staying with me – this is amazing, Severus...’

He gave a low chuckle and murmured into her ear, causing a visible shiver to go through the witch, ‘I might be convinced to... borrow you my hands, so you could have some... pleasure with their help...’

She laughed, though with a hint of nervousness, apparently not used to flirting in any way, ‘Be careful, or I might just take you upon this offer...’

Severus chuckled low again, ‘Don’t worry about anything, Hermione. Just relax. You are safe with me.’

And after saying, ‘I know...’ she did. She trusted him enough to truly let go and after a short while, she almost fell asleep. Almost, because Belle woke up, and Hermione rushed to her daughter only to bring her back to the living room, and give the wizard a kiss on his cheek. The rest of the evening was spent on lighter conversation.

*

The last day of Hermione’s exams was Friday with NEWT in Potions. She felt reasonably confident, especially since during the months they were meeting, Severus was readily giving her useful brewing tips, and twice agreed to oversee her brew the most complicated potions of the NEWT curriculum.

It was early that day, when a knock on the door interrupted her morning coffee, and wearily, she went to answer it.

‘Severus? Has something happened?’

He shook his head slightly as she moved aside to let him in. ‘Not another Dark Lord serious, but I am afraid I can’t watch Belle today, as the Ministry asked me to oversee the examination. Their resident Potions Master – Edward Bumblebee; yes, I know how ridiculously it sounds,’ he added with a smirk, ‘had an explosion in his lab. I wanted to tell them no, but there is no one else, as the only other Master – Slughorn, is already away for a wedding of someone “important”, and I am filling in for him at school. Thank you,’ he easily accepted the coffee she prepared while he was speaking.

‘In that case, I’ll go ask Mrs Holton, if she can babysit. How long should the whole of examination take?’

He took a long and grateful sip from what came to be his mug, ‘As you know, you’ll have 90 minutes for the written part and between 90 and 120 minutes for the practical one. Add to that a quarter long brake between those two, and always a couple of minutes at the beginning of each for any instructions, so it is safe to assume 4 hours.’

‘How much in a hurry are you?’

‘I already told Minerva I had to take care of something, because of those unexpected exams, so I’d be absent at breakfast. It’s now...’ he looked at the wall clock, ‘...7.15, so I have to leave in 45 minutes at the latest. Why?’

‘Leave the coffee, you’ll finish it in a moment, and let’s go.’

Slightly baffled Severus registered her place monitoring charms on the house, and he followed the witch to the next-door neighbour.

The door was opened by an older lady, ‘Hermione, it’s nice to see you, dear.’

‘Good morning, Mrs Holton, this is my friend, Severus Snape. Severus, this is Mrs Adelaide Holton.’

‘Pleasure, Madame,’ Severus bowed his head slightly, and the woman smiled.

‘Do you need me to watch over Belle, Hermione?’

‘I’m afraid that yes. As you know, I’m taking some exams in the afternoons this week, and Severus was looking after her, but something came up, and he’s unable to come today. Would it be possible for you to take care of her?’

‘Of course, she’s such an angel...’

Hermione sagged a bit in relief, ‘Oh, thank you! And one more thing, for the future, it might happen that Severus might come to pick Belle up.’

‘Very well,’ the woman smiled knowingly, ‘Should I do as with you?’

‘Yes, please. Ask him about Bell’s favourite flowers.’

Severus was looking at the women with curiosity, instantly understanding the safety measures, but when he heard Hermione’s suggestion for the “pass phrase”, he had to stifle a chuckle.

Mrs Holton looked highly surprised, ‘And what favourite flowers could a few months old baby have?’

It was Severus who answered, ‘Big, colourful, and plush ones,’ putting stress on the last adjective.

The neighbour laughed shortly and clapped her hands, ‘Oh! So it was you, who gave her that adorable flower?’ he only nodded with a small smirk, ‘Very well. So, Hermione, just bring Belle here later, and don’t worry about anything – I have absolutely no plans for this afternoon. You are lucky – three out of five from my book club members are ill, so we had to cancel the meeting. Now, go and have breakfast, as knowing you, you haven’t had one yet.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Holton, and see you later!’

They all said their good-byes and the magical pair went back to the abandoned coffees. They ate some toasts together, and all too soon, Severus had to go back to teach Horace’s classes.

*

As he expected, Hermione’s potion was perfect even to his standards, and she finished 20 minutes before time. Not very surprising, since she brews for living, and had to learn to be more than time efficient with Belle needing her at more or less regular intervals, he thought with an internal smile as she was handing in her phial for testing. Out of the ten people trying for a NEWT in Potions, only five would pass, with three getting Acceptable, one Exceeding Expectations, and Hermione’s Outstanding. It wasn’t the first time he was helping with the exams, and with the actual grading them, so theoretically, no one should even try to question his integrity, but just to be sure, he manipulated things, so that there was someone checking things together with him. Better safe than sorry, and he would not jeopardise Hermione’s test results.

*

Somehow, Severus managed to convince Kingsley that a much better option for that year’s Yule Ball would be some Special Ballroom Hall instead of Hogwarts, but he had to accept the “One Year Anniversary” event to take place at school. In whole honesty, the young Headmaster was already sure such a party would happen at the school, so he played well his part in that conversation. It all meant he would have a lot less extra responsibilities in December.

Students were leaving the castle for Christmas brake on 23rd, Wednesday, and only a handful of them seemed to be staying at school, and Minerva confirmed that, indeed it was just seven in total. She also asked him about his plans.

‘I intended to be absent after the Christmas feast. Is it a problem?’

The witch chuckled, ‘Definitely not, though you could simply invite your friend to the castle, you know. But,’ she cut his upcoming protest off, ‘I do understand why you might be reluctant, so I’ll put it this way: I expect to see very little – if at all – of you during this break. Rest, relax, have fun, and when you are ready, introduce your friend to me, please. I see how she’s changed you in a very positive way. Don’t worry, it’s nothing too obvious, but it’s nice to see an occasional smile on your face.’

Severus decided to take it the way it was intended – as a caring gesture, ‘Very well, Minerva.’ And so, they were back on the track of discussing the school business.

On Thursday, Severus was well prepared for the Christmas Day the next day. The Christmas Bonuses he managed to win from the Board of Governors were accompanied by his personal Hangover Saver and a bit of Honeydukes finest chocolates. Severus made sure that each and every student staying in the castle would get a gift of some sweets and something appropriate to their needs, like a new winter cloak, or a new school bag – house-elves were here a marvellous source of information. He also had personal gifts for Minerva, Poppy, and Filius, who had been more than just colleagues for many years. And finally, his two favourite ladies – Hermione and Belle. Having learnt for the past few months a lot about babies, he bought a few sets of various kinds of clothes in different sizes and a few toys – sound making building blocks, a baby-proof book with almost monochromatic pictures, and a plush dragon. He might have gone a bit overboard, but he couldn’t help himself – it was the first time in his life he could actually spoil someone he cared about. Similar case was with Hermione, as the wizard had a problem deciding what to give her, and finally decided on a new cauldron and a set of stirring rods for her lab, and a green silk scarf.

Yes, he was ready.

*

The Christmas morning was a surprisingly lovely day with sun shining brightly, and the prospect of time spent with his Granger girls made him smile, and it added a spring to his step.

The feast was actually a pleasant event; the students were behaving themselves, teachers watched how much they were drinking in front of the youth, Filius decorated the Great Hall cheerfully, but tastefully, Minerva and her club made sure everyone had appropriate clothes they wouldn’t be ashamed of (which included Argus, who had once entered the club meeting by accident, and left with two new sets of clothes and a dumbfounded expression).

Later, when he finally could leave the castle, he double checked if all the packages were with him; including the chocolate mousse the elves prepared for them, as it was Hermione’s favourite dessert.

When she opened the door, Severus had to restrain himself to not attack her lips, she looked so enticing in that green dress – perfectly accentuating her womanly figure with form-fitting bodice and flaring skirt. The relief he felt at the sight was great, because there was no question – she was not a child anymore.

‘Merry Christmas, Severus!’

He simply loved the way his name sounded on her lips, and especially when it was combined with that brilliant and happy smile. Severus couldn’t remember the last time someone was honestly happy to see him, especially when they didn’t need something from him, but the only thing this woman wanted from him was his company, and the wizard was only thrilled to provide it.

‘Merry Christmas, Hermione,’ he said with a gentle smile, which only grew when the witch pulled him inside and gave him a tight hug and a kiss on a cheek.

It was another one for the steadily growing collection of “The Best Days Of Severus Snape’s Life”. They exchanged gifts, and Severus was stunned when he unpacked the softest woollen turtleneck jumper in midnight blue and a leather bound journal, which only after a close inspection turned out to be heavily Charmed.

With a shy smile, Hermione explained, ‘It has spells making it potions resistant and it will never run out of pages, so you can keep all your notes in one place, plus, it also has some privacy charms, so only you can read what’s written there.’

Then she explained a few details, and Severus thanked her profusely for both gifts, and she did the same for hers and Bella’s. After that, the two of them sat with a glass of wine in front of the fireplace and simply talked quietly.

Severus went back to Hogwarts well into the night.

When he was lying in his big and cold bed, Severus made some plans for the next day, as he was to take his girls for a walk, and then he would cook for Hermione.

*

‘Gods, Severus...’ Hermione moaned in delight, ‘This is absolutely the very best fish I have ever eaten,’ she said with a smile.

‘I’m glad you like it, as that was the plan.’

‘Like it? I’m telling you – it’s amazing.’ And to emphasize her statement, Hermione took a big bite and moaned again.

He chuckled, ‘In that case, I will be only too happy to cook for you anytime I can.’

‘Yeah, great plan, Severus. You’ll spoil me with your cooking, and when a future Mrs Snape comes to the picture, what will I do? That’s really not nice, Sev,’ she said it mostly with humour, but the spy could read the hint of trepidation in her face.

This is it, he thought, the perfect moment to let her know. And so, he smiled tenderly at her and gently took her hand in his much bigger one, ‘I don’t think the woman I keep thinking about would mind me cooking for you and spending as much time with the two of you as you allow.’

Her face showed surprise, but he didn’t know if of a pleasant kind or not. Then Hermione smiled a bit sadly, ‘I-I can’t do this to you, Severus,’ she started gently, ‘You are a hero, a Headmaster of Hogwarts, an incredibly powerful, and yes, now also influential wizard. My guess is that there are hundreds of much better suited women for you, ready to do anything you ask of them. Women that wouldn’t cause you any... problems.’

Deciding to take her words only as a way of caring for him, he decided to not give up so easily, ‘Are you saying this because you don’t want me as anything more than a friend, or because you are afraid of consequences our relationship would cause?’

She was very serious then, ‘I’m saying that I care too much about the two of you to start something you might regret sooner or later.’

‘You are afraid for Belle that she will get too attached to me and then I will leave you?’ she nodded hesitantly, ‘And for me...? What exactly is it you worry about me?’

The woman before him blushed, ‘That a relationship with your former student, who is a single mum, who will be; once again, thought to be a slut by the whole British magical community, might rather add to your everyday problems.’

He blinked. Then he blinked again, and finally said, ‘Are you worried about my reputation?’

She nodded, and then Severus burst out laughing. ‘My dear Hermione, first of all I don’t give a rat’s arse what people say about me, and second,’ his smile became much warmer, ‘thanks to you, I have a second chance in life, and this time around, I want to be happy. I will never allow people I don’t care about to dictate what my life should or shouldn’t look like. I care about you and Belle. I might be slightly interested in Minerva’s opinion and maybe Poppy’s and Filius’s, and that’s it.

‘And about Belle... Hermione, I cannot promise you now, that if you give me a chance, we will work as a couple, but in the case of us splitting, I would still want to be your friend and so also not disappear suddenly from Belle’s life.’

Her eyes were shining with a hint of tears, but seeing her fighting a smile, Severus was getting hopeful. Until she spoke again. ‘Severus... don’t you want to have your own family? Your own children?’ Her voice was very gentle, almost fearful.

‘Does it mean you wouldn’t let me be the father to Belle? Or that you don’t want to have more children? Or...’ he hesitated, ‘... you wouldn’t want to have my children?’

‘No! I mean –‘ she momentarily hid her face in her hands and after taking a deep, calming breath, she looked at him seriously and sadly, ‘It’s not that I wouldn’t like to have your children if it came to that. The problem is that there is about 97% chance I will never be able to have a child after Bitchlatrix tortured me.’

His brow furrowed in consternation, and he asked carefully, ‘Not that I would ever push you to it, but since you had Belle –‘

She cut him off, ‘She’s adopted.’

‘...But...’

She sighed and rose from her seat, and asked, ‘Wine?’ suggesting they moved to the living room, to which he simply nodded and followed her.

When they were comfortable on the sofa, with generous amount of wine in glasses, Hermione started, ‘It was Sunday evening on 26th July, and I was walking back from the cinema, when I felt this... compulsion to go to a nearby alley. At first, I panicked, of course, that it’s Imperius or something else nasty, but it wasn’t. All I could sense was a desperate call for help. And so, I made sure no one could see or hear me, and I carefully entered the alley.’ She took a deep swig of her wine and continued.

‘There were two men beating up a very pregnant woman. She was already in a horrible state and they didn’t look like they were finished with the abuse. One of them said some nasty things about her being a slut and so she would be treated like one, and he started undoing his trousers. I tried Summoning any wands, but I was already pretty sure they were Muggles and I was right. I attacked them, and I realised much later that, most probably, I killed them. All I was thinking was to save the woman and take her to safety. I Apparated her here. I knew Muggle doctors wouldn’t be able to help her soon enough, because the diagnostics showed she was dying, and St Mungo’s wouldn’t admit a non-magical person, so I played a healer once again if she were to have even a small chance surviving. I managed to treat her and the baby well enough for her to regain consciousness and the baby to start kicking again. They were both stable. She told me one of those monsters was her husband, whom she had left after he started hitting her, but he and his buddy found her. Soon, she went into labour in the wee hours of Wednesday, 29th. She only held her baby long enough to name her, and she just... died. It was as if she was holding to life only to deliver her daughter.

‘I didn’t have much time to think – I had to take care of Belle. The decision was surprisingly easy – I knew I might not be able to ever have my own children and this little girl needed someone to look after her and to love her. The short conversations I had had with Lucy – Belle’s mother, assured me of what I suspected: Belle is a Muggle-born witch, and so, I couldn’t allow her to grow up in an orphanage or a foster family. I registered her as my own daughter, born at home to avoid any legal issues with adoption.’

That was a lot to take in. Severus decided to take things in strides and focused on  probably the simplest issue, ‘Hermione... you do realise that a chance for Belle to be magical is incredibly low, don’t you?’

She shook her head, ‘Normally, yes, but in this case I’m sure Belle is a witch.’

‘How can you be so certain? Children don’t show magical abilities until they are at least about four years old.’

The witch had the nerve to smirk knowingly at him! ‘Who says so?’

The feeling of irritation was rather strong, but it was mixed with something else... was it curiosity? ‘Parents talking to each other. It should be a rather reliable source, since everyone is proud of their child’s first magic.’

‘Yes, but you are talking about magical parents.’

‘Of course. They know what to pay attention to.’

‘Again – yes, but you are forgetting that magic is a natural, normal, everyday occurrence to them. They know that if their owl suddenly turns green, it is accidental magic performed by the child, while Muggles are rather... unnerved by such a big thing.’

‘Precisely.’  What is she on about?

‘My theory says that if you are magical, you have this gift from the beginning and you can use it. Even in mother’s womb.’

‘I guess it would be rather logical, but there is no way of telling if you have magic before the first outburst, as no one ever noticed anything unusual, so why would you suggest using magic even during the wizard’s prenatal time?’

‘Exactly! Because what is unusual, is usual for a magical mother. My guess is that no one had ever asked about it Muggle parents.’ He nodded, finally having a hint at her reasoning. ‘My mum said that when she was pregnant, she had the weirdest hallucinations, seeing things that normally aren’t there, like when they were camping, mum once thought she saw an absurd mix of a horse with a dragon. Or once, my parents were passing a peculiar looking shop my mum wanted to enter, but my dad practically dragged her away claiming they left water running in the bathroom, which they didn’t, of course, and dad couldn’t understand why he just needed to go away from there.’

‘Fascinating...’ And it truly was, ‘Are you saying you were somehow sharing your magic with your mum while in her womb?’

‘Precisely. She also mentioned that while pregnant, any cuts or bruises were healing much quicker on her then. And she would know, since the only more clumsy person I have ever met was Tonks,’ she added with a sad smile.

‘So what’s your theory about showing magic only later?’

‘I don’t think that’s the case. I would assume, that simply, babies aren’t powerful enough to do big enough things to catch adults’ attention, and their needs are rather basic and mostly fulfilled with parents’ care. However, a few times I went to the lab downstairs without the baby monitor, because I knew I would be back within a minute or two, and while not hearing Belle, I was still able to tell she needed me – I had this compulsion to go to her. And only two days ago, I checked temperature of her bath, and it didn’t change at all throughout the time she was in the water, and you know how she loves her baths.’

They fell into comfortable silence after that and simply relaxed drinking their wine. Suddenly, Severus remembered why the whole conversation was taking place, and gently took one of her hands into his. ‘Hermione... I understand that our situation might seem complicated, but please, give us a chance. I won’t say I don’t care at all that we might not have any children together, but I already care about Belle as if she were mine, and no matter what you decide, I will always care and protect the two of you.’ He moved closer to her and caressed her cheek with his thumb, ‘I will kiss you now, so you could see if you could be attracted to me, and then I will leave for the night.’ And so he allowed their lips to meet in a tender, lingering caress, and the last thing he wanted to do was to end it, but he did, asking one more time, ‘Think about it. About us. Good n-‘

He never finished the sentence, as his lips were captured in another kiss, stronger, more passionate, though shorter than the first one. Hermione smiled at him, blushing slightly, ‘Silly man... I’ve been attracted to you for ages, and I’ve known I’m in love with you for weeks.’

He chuckled once and brought her for another kiss, which he intended to turn into a proper snog, but they were brutally interrupted by a cry of a hungry baby. They both huffed in slight annoyance, but smiled at each other and stood up.

Severus stopped her for a moment to peck her lips once again and whispered into her ear, ‘And I’m in love with you, my brilliant witch. Now, go and change her, and I’ll prepare the bottle and bring it upstairs.’

He decided that a smile couldn’t be any more radiant than hers was at that moment.

Chapter Text

The rest of the Christmas break was spent mostly together the same way as before – walking, talking, playing with Belle, cooking together... But now, they were doing those things closer to each other, touching one another, kissing more and more often. They were both happy to take things slowly and simply enjoy each other’s company.

On 31st December, Severus was hoping to, if not exactly celebrate, then toast the New Year with a kiss at Midnight, and maybe a very private dance in Hermione’s living room. His plans were met with the reality of a teething baby, who additionally got extremely scared of fireworks. When Belle finally went to sleep, it was already after 3 in the morning, and the exhausted adults fell undignified on the sofa.

‘I’m so, soooo,’ the second “so” was exaggerated by a big yawn of the witch, ‘sorry the evening looked like that.’

He managed to chuckle tiredly, ‘Don’t worry,’ now he yawned as well, ‘Do you still want that champagne?’

She bolted to up right sit, ‘Shite! The champagne! It’s still in the freezer!’ she tried to run to the kitchen, but Severus’s arm stopped her and pulled her back to his torso.

‘Don’t worry, I put a charm to protect it from getting completely frozen.’

‘Oh... good.’ Hermione sighed and tried to bury herself in his warmth.

After just a moment, Severus realised they were both falling asleep, ‘Hermione,’ he started gently, ‘love, I should go back, and you need to go to bed.’

Not even completely opening her eyes, she spoke with a husky from sleep voice, ‘You shouldn’t Apparate this late and this tired... You could stay and sleep with me or in the guest room...’

One thing he knew was that he didn’t want to go. ‘Are you sure you want me to stay the night?’

‘No. I don’t want you to leave at all.’

Her sleepy answer made his heart sing, so he smiled and kissed her curly head, ‘In that case we are on the same page, love. Let’s get you to bed.’ And he took her in his arms and easily carried her upstairs. After she confirmed she wanted him to sleep next to her, they both drifted off surprisingly quickly.

The next morning was a revelation for Severus. First of all, he couldn’t remember when was the last time he slept so well and woke up so rested. What roused him from the pleasant dream he couldn’t quite remember were Belle’s cries and squeaks  and scent of breakfast, coffee in particular.

The bathrobe he used to use during summer was waiting for him on a nearby chair with a note: “If you want to shower first, you know where everything is in the bathroom :* ”. He chuckled at the symbol of a kiss she had explained to him a few weeks prior, as it appeared in some leaflet she had forgotten to throw out.

What Severus saw, when he entered the kitchen, made him stop to savour the view. Hermione was feeding Belle some baby cereal, which was being eaten with enthusiasm. His witch was smiling lovingly at her daughter, as sun was shining at both ladies, making Hermione look like an angel. His angel.

‘Good morning, my ladies,’ he said entering the kitchen.

‘Good morning. Sorry if we woke you up. Coffee is in the pot.’

She giggled lightly at the kiss he gave her on the neck. ‘I honestly can’t remember sleeping as restfully as this night, with you in my arms.’

Hermione blushed, but managed to look him in the eyes and say softly, ‘Me too... I love you, you know?’

‘And I love you...’ And as they were to kiss sealing their feelings, they both got splashed with Belle’s cereal mush with accompanying happy squeaks of the culprit. They looked at each other and laughed.

*

‘Horace, to what do I owe our appointment?’ Severus was sitting behind his desk, working on a mammoth of paperwork, and gestured for his Potions teacher to take a seat in front of him.

‘Headmaster,’ Ah, so it was going to be a serious talk where he wants something, Severus thought while Slughorn continued, ‘I am old and tired. I want to retire again. As you well know, I had been retired already, but I was... convinced to come back, and the circumstances pushed me to stay next year and also this one, but that’s it. I am simply too old to keep an eye not only at the students in the classroom, but also to look after the Slytherin House. I hope you understand.’

Severus steepled his fingers already thinking on any possible solutions to this problem, ‘I hope you came here today simply to give me more time to find a replacement, and not because you want to leave before the end of this school year?’

Horace made some weird sound, which was probably supposed to be a chuckle or something, but it only showed his nervousness, ‘Dear Merlin, Severus! Of course, I wouldn’t leave before the end of year – I did sign the contract.’

Sitting back in his extremely comfortable desk chair (a Muggle invention Hermione suggested to him to alleviate back pain from sitting for too long – it was doing wonders to his abused spine), Severus had an idea, but it wouldn’t do to simply rely on it. ‘How much do you care about Hogwarts and its reputation?’

Older wizard’s demeanour changed, as he understood that he was speaking with the man who could out-Slytherin Voldemort himself, and he sighed, ‘We both know that not only Hogwarts has been my home, but my reputation relies, not entirely, but still strongly, on the reputation of this school, so what do you want?’

Snape’s smile was shark like, ‘We also both know how few truly good potioneers are there, and that real Potions Masters are even fewer,’ he paused and got the nod of confirmation, ‘So, we’ll do this: you will think hard and long on anyone who could actually do the job, and I mean work with me, with students, and with the rest of the staff, and teach the kids well, while I will ask the person who came to my mind. The catch is that my candidate would require some training from a Potions Master. But we could share the responsibility, and if that’s the case, and we actually need to train someone, I’ll find another person to take over the Head of Slytherin. Therefore, if even you need to stay a semester or two, you’ll have definitely more time for yourself. How does it sound?’

Slughorn took a moment to think it over and finally nodded, ‘Very well, but if I have to take an apprentice, you’ll allow the Slug Club.’

‘No. I said clearly – it would be co-training, not a full apprenticeship. And our deal was your club for tutelage hours for the students.’

‘Oh, fine!’

*

‘Hermione! It’s me!’ Severus said loudly, but without shouting right after he let himself in, since the witch added him to her wards and told him not to bother ringing the doorbell, as that might wake Belle.

‘We’re in the kitchen!’

As he entered, Hermione came up to give him an enthusiastic, though short kiss, ‘To what do we owe this lovely surprise, love? Oh!’ was her quiet exclamation to another single, long-stemmed, dark red rose.

‘I love you. I wanted to see you both.’ And he un-Silenced a rattle in a shape of a flower, which Belle was already observing with keen eyes.

Hermione kissed him again and poured coffee into his mug. ‘Have you eaten yet? And how much time do you have?’

‘I have and I don’t have any classes until after lunch. Are you busy? Because if you are, I could take this lovely lady for a walk,’ he said wiping the horrendous amounts of saliva from baby’s chin, hands, cheeks, etc. ‘She is surprisingly adorable for someone so disgustingly covered in spit.’

Hermione laughed, ‘I know. Actually, I do have a potion for George to finish, and a facial cream to jar, so I could use about an hour of uninterrupted time.’

He reciprocated her smile, ‘So, let’s finish our coffee and help me prepare her for the walk.’

*

When Severus and Belle were back, Hermione was finishing some cleaning, and her hair was still a bit damp after her apparent shower. She smiled at them and kissed his cheek taking Belle from him to change the girl. ‘Thank you so much, Sev. I really needed some time without her.’

‘My pleasure. She is getting interested by everything around her, so she was very good.’

‘Tea?’

‘I’ll make it, and you change her. I can see you needed the time to yourself, but you still missed her,’ he smirked affectionately and Hermione chuckled with an adorable blush and went upstairs.

‘So, what do you want to talk to me about?’ She asked when they were both sitting on the sofa and Belle was napping in her room.

‘Am I that obvious?’ he mock scowled.

She giggled, ‘No, not obvious all the time, but slowly it’s getting a bit easier for me to read you,’ she said with a soft, loving smile.

‘I guess, that’s a rather good thing. Yes, I had an idea yesterday, and I would like you to simply consider it after you hear everything, okay?’ She simply nodded. ‘Some facts first: one, you are great with Potions; two, you have quite a lot of experience with tutoring absolute disasters pretending to be students; three, you mentioned you want to sell this house and buy one with bigger lab space and a bigger garden, and in a remote place to be safer for Belle and her future magical incidents; four, we both know you wish you could further your education, and your NEWTs scores are the best ones since Merlin knows how long; and five, we don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like to. Am I correct so far?’

While he was speaking, she sat up straight, with her focus entirely on him, brows furrowed. She said warily, ‘You are... Severus, I have a strong suspicion about where this is heading...’

He placed gently a finger on her lips with a smirk, ‘You promised to listen and later to consider. Remember?’ She nodded and kissed the silencing her finger. ‘Horace wants to re-retire. I’m neither surprised, nor disappointed with it. He used to be a decent teacher and not a bad Head of House, but his ambition never stretched to being truly good at these things. Now, his class accidents rate is as high as if there were three Longbottoms during each lesson, who were paired with a Goyle each. Luckily, there was no occurrence of death of a student. Yet,’ he added seriously. ‘Consider becoming Hogwarts’ Potions Mistress. At the castle, you would have the access to the entire library; including the section only for the staff, at first only access, but later your own huge, private laboratory, and joined tutelage of Slughorn and myself in getting your Mastery and teaching experience. Additionally, either Hogwarts’ house-elves or my own would be more than thrilled to help babysitting Belle, and she would not only be safe and comfortable, and her magic would not be a problem of any kind, she would also,’ his voice faltered a bit at that, and he swallowed hard before continuing, ‘she would also be close to her d-dad, as I love you both, and if you ever let me, one day, I want to make it official. Hermione, don’t answer right away – think about it all, and only then answer. If you decide you don’t want to teach, I will understand.’

Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When her eyes opened, she was smiling warmly, but was serious at the same, ‘I think I already know the answer, but I still need to ask: do you truly believe I would be a good teacher and Potions Mistress, or is it mainly because you want us close to you?’

He didn’t take offence at that, it was only reasonable to ask. ‘I have seen your development as a potioneer and I am also aware of your help to many students with Potions and other subjects. All you’ll need will be to gain confidence as an instructor to a group of students, to develop the “sixth sense” for any upcoming disasters, but beside that, as the Headmaster, I honestly believe you’d be perfect for the post. Your closeness would be only a wonderful bonus.’

‘I must say, that all you said sounds appealing, but while I do know it is tiny and for most people meaningless, I do have my own business...’

‘It is not meaningless, Hermione. It is something you created, it was a brilliant idea to start it, since it allows you to work from home, and therefore be with Belle earning your living, but you mentioned it yourself – she requires more and more attention during the day, and so, you brew more and more often at night, getting way too little sleep. And that’s a problem that needs to be solved no matter what decision you make, and I want to help one way or another.’

‘When would I need to start?’

‘I won’t lie – the sooner, the better.’

She nodded, ‘I’ll think about it and give you my answer as soon as possible.’

*

It was the end of January, when Severus offered Hermione a place at Hogwarts, and now, the Valentine’s Day was approaching and, on Tuesday, 9th, the wizard organised a staff meeting right after lunch, to discuss a few things.

‘Now, that we have covered everything concerning the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend and the students’ party on Sunday...’ he made a pause to give everyone a chance to speak if they had anything to add to the topics already discussed, but they were silent, so he went on, ‘At the end of last month, Horace approached me to remind me he had already retired once, and he’d like to go back to the bliss of tranquillity of that state.’

There were murmurs of half-heartfelt regrets, etc., but they fell silent quickly. ‘However, as we are all striving to rebuild the once great reputation of our fine school, we need a good replacement, and Horace agreed to co-train with me his successor. I did find a person who, I believe will be a truly valuable addition to our group, but this also means that we need a new Head of Slytherin House, as the responsibilities should be taken over at the beginning of the next year at the latest, but preferably, the new Head should start getting acquainted with the duties as soon as the new teacher-in-training arrives. It would be beneficial for all.’

‘Who will join us?’ Minerva asked the question they all were thinking.

He smirked, ‘It’s a surprise. And even Horace doesn’t know yet, so don’t try to get the information from him.’

He ended the meeting with that. Hermione had given her answer the previous evening. They decided to discuss the details on Saturday, but the general idea was for Hermione to start her training right after the 14th, on Monday, though she would be doing it part-time to keep earning some money from her business and fulfil the contracts she had signed with the Muggle shop and with George Weasley.

That day, Hermione was to meet with George to work out some reasonable plan for brewing, and mainly to let the young man know to look for another brewer to keep up with the demand of his joke shop. She would let Severus know how the meeting went when he would see her that evening. He allowed himself two evenings in a row of absence at the castle, since he was to be stuck there throughout the whole weekend – students were particularly troublesome around Valentine’s Day, so he had some brewing to finish and some patrolling to do.

Now, after the staff meeting, he was heading to his office to prepare any documents they would need for Hermione. He barely sat behind his desk, when Minerva Flooed.

‘It was impossible to catch you in the staff room. We need to talk.’ She simply sat herself in her favourite armchair by the fireplace.

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and ordered tea from the kitchens. ‘What can I help you with, Minerva?’

She was looking at him with the stern eyes, ‘Why haven’t you discussed your choice with either myself or at the very least with Horace? And just who have you hired?’

Severus smirked, ‘Curiosity killed the cat, my dear Minerva.’

The witch scoffed at him in irritation, ‘Do not give me that shite, young man! I want to make sure you decided on somebody who is competent and will be an admirable addition to our family, and someone who will have less problems with adjusting to the teaching post than William. We are talking about Potions! And you know better than anyone else just how dangerous this subject is!’

The wizard managed to maintain a mask of seriousness, an almost blank face, while internally he was smirking, ‘Minerva, is your opinion of me as the Headmaster so low that you suggest I would pick someone unfit for the job? That I wouldn’t think first and foremost about the students’ education and the school’s good name when deciding on a new teacher? Why, Minerva, do you think I offered to train them myself as well? You know how high standards I have for the students, so for their future Professor I could only have higher ones. And I’m not the sole instructor only because I do not have enough time since I teach the NEWT level of Defence.’

The witch seemed to be embarrassed for a moment, ‘I apologise, Severus. You are right. I simply still worry whenever a new member of staff is hired because of all the teachers Albus had been hiring for the Defence post. And at least half of them were idiots.’

Whatever Severus was about to say, was interrupted by a laud, ‘Headmaster! Two students have just snuck out of school.’

The two teachers looked up to the “Visiting Painting” – the canvas prepared for any inhabitant of other paintings from school, that needed to see the Headmaster.

Severus was instantly angry – leaving the premises meant a lot of extra work. ‘Tell me everything you know about it, sir Colton.’

‘All we know is that Messrs Potter and Weasley left through the secret passage behind the One-Eyed Witch. They were in a hurry. The Fat Lady said Mr Potter seemed concerned and he said something about St Mungo’s, and there is a rumour about the boys getting a Patronus, but nothing concrete. The boys used the Invisibility Cloak.’

‘Thank you for your assistance, sir Colton,’ Severus said cordially, but he was pissed off. He turned to his Deputy and with a nasty sneer said, ‘Do not ever again tell me that Albus didn’t know about happenings at Hogwarts. He knew perfectly well about at least most of bullying and knew of everything the Great Harry Potter,’ he spat out the name, ‘was doing, because I had asked the paintings, and the boy had practically constantly someone spying on him. I am going to expel those two idiots!’ he took a deep breath and in a much calmer voice said, ‘Minerva, I am going to find those two dunderheads and depending on what they might have to say for themselves, I will end their education here. Keep an eye on school while I’m gone, please.’ And he left.

Snape was doubly furious, because all students were informed that in any case of an emergency they would be escorted by a teacher to the hospital (or anywhere they needed to go), but Potter and Weasley not only not informed anyone, but they also purposefully concealed themselves to not be discovered.

Severus Flooed to St Mungo’s and was standing in the middle of a chaos. People panicking, running, shouting, moaning in pain... He hated chaos. It reminded him too much of his worst memories from both wars, so he used the Sonorous Charm, ‘SILENCE! Those looking for their loved ones – go to the left. Those with small injuries – to the chairs by the door. Those able to walk but needing immediate help – to the chairs by the lifts. Aurors – help the medical staff. And all who are not working here – Shut up! You,’ he pointed to a young Auror (who was looking rather pale) and cancelled the amplifying spell, ‘tell me what the hell is going on in here and have you seen Harry Potter?’

‘There was an attack in Diagon Alley. Suddenly, about ten Death Eaters appeared in the centre of the street and started firing hexes and curses. There are many, many wounded, but probably no deaths. We aren’t sure yet. And I think Mr Potter was led to the Intensive Care Ward, but I don’t know who he came to see, Professor.’

Severus didn’t wait any longer and rushed to the ICW; dread running through his veins. Hermione was in Diagon Alley. Was she there during the attack? Is she injured? He quickly found a young Mediwitch, who helped him locate Potter.

It was as he feared.

He entered the room and all he could see was her bruised and deathly pale face surrounded by her tangled curls. Then, he took a look at the rest of her – bandages were picking out from under a thin white sheet she was covered with. Bruised and scratched arms were lying on top of her cover. Someone hurt her, and hurt her badly. His Hermione.

Only then he heard and noticed Potter and Weasley. The former was sitting next to the bed looking concerned, while the latter was rather... bored.

Severus collected himself as best as he could, and in a threateningly cold voice asked slowly, ‘What do you think you are doing here?’

Both boys jumped startled, and Severus noticed in dismay that neither drew their wands. Weasley scowled, Potter; while seemingly angry, tried to maintain neutral face and answered, ‘We got a Patronus from George, that Mione is here, and was injured, so we hurried to see her. Sir,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘And exactly why did you not notified anyone from the staff?’

The boy drew a blank. ‘I-I... There was no time!’ he exclaimed in frustration, but it wasn’t obvious whether it was because of the fact they were caught, because Snape was asking, or because he again didn’t think.

Severus arched his brow, ‘There was no time to inform a teacher, or even send a Patronus to your Head of House, but you had the time to go and get your Invisibility Cloak to not be seen?’

The boy swallowed loudly and fell completely silent, if red on the face. It was then that Hermione started opening her eyes. It was apparently a difficult task, as it took her a while and a few attempts. Severus was with her in (one) blink of an eye.

‘Mione!’ Potter shouted and the witch winced.

She looked around and locked eyes with Severus. She tried to say his name, but he stopped her and cast silencing charms excluding the two boys before speaking, ‘Shh... I’ll find out about your condition. Where’s Belle?’

‘A..dele...’ she croaked because of a dry throat and Severus instantly conjured a glass with water and a straw to make drinking easier for Hermione.

‘I love you. Do you need anything?’

‘..N-no.. go get Bell to safety...’

Severus took a glance at the other wizards in the room, ‘Do you want them here?’

She thought for just a moment, ‘No, they are... loud... I have headache...’ Speaking was still somewhat difficult for her.

There was a hint of a triumphant spark in Severus’s eyes when he was allowed to throw the idiots out. He squeezed her hand gently once again before cancelling the privacy spells and he conjured his new Patronus – a Black Eagle – and instructed it to go to McGonagall, ‘Minerva, I’m sending Messrs Potter and Weasley via Floo to my office – open it for duration of fifteen minutes and send confirmation when they arrive. I’ll deal with their punishment when I’m back. Thank you.’ Then he turned to the escaped students crossing his arms over his chest. Both boys gulped loudly causing a small, slightly evil smirk to appear on the Headmaster’s lips. ‘Well, boys... I believe you’ve heard the message to Professor McGonagall?’ the duo nodded mutely. ‘And so, you have fourteen minutes to get down to the hospital’s Floo and get back to the castle. If you fail in being there on time, trust me – you will regret it. Now, go.’

Potter hesitated taking a glance at Hermione, but eventually left the room. Weasley was, as always, right behind him, but his face showed only rage and indignation, as if he wanted to say: how dare you speak to us – the war heroes, this way! Severus maintained impassive face only until they closed the door. After that, he was again, instantly with his witch.

‘Thank you, love. I regained consciousness a moment before you came, and I instantly wanted to hex Ronald.’ Hermione’s voice was still raspy, but she wasn’t having too much problem speaking anymore.

He smiled lovingly at her, ‘I’ll get a Healer, so we know what’s wrong with you and when I can take you home. Then, I’ll go get Belle. I’ll take her to my quarters at Hogwarts and leave her with Lu – my personal elf. Is it okay with you?’

She nodded and in a moment they were talking with Healer Brown. They healed her broken arm, but they were still having problems closing a curse wound on her chest. After Hermione described the curse, Severus demanded to see the gash. It turned out to be a rather incompetent attempt at Dolohov’s curse, which meant it was Dark. Fortunately, Severus’s sung Counter-curse worked beautifully and Hermione would be left with the slightest scarring. Thanks to that, she would be released from the hospital on Thursday. Hermione asked not to let in any visitors except for the present company.

Severus was thrown out by frantic Hermione with words “Please, please, go get Belle. I won’t be able to calm down without being sure she’s safe with you”. Under the worry for His Granger Girls, he was truly happy Hermione trusted him so much with her daughter, so first, he went to their home and collected everything he could think of to be needed for caring for little Belle. With shrunken baby stuff, he knocked on the neighbouring door.

‘Good afternoon, Mrs Holton. I’m Severus Snape, Hermione introduced us in December.’

‘Of course! You’re Hermione’s boyfriend, right?’

‘Ah, yes. Hermione told me that Belle is today with you. I came to pick her up.’

The woman’s brows furrowed, ‘Has something happened?’

Deciding to give her at least some truth, Severus allowed some of his worry to show on his face, ‘She had an accident. Nothing too serious, but she has to stay two nights for observation at the hospital, therefore, she asked me to look after Belle.’

‘Oh dear Lord! What happened? She was only to meet her business partner, or something like that...’

‘An old shelf collapsed and one of the jars hit her head. Her stay at the hospital is mainly to make sure there are no hidden issues.’

‘That’s good.’ She was honestly relieved. ‘Now, do you know what Bell’s favourite flowers are?’

Severus smirked, ‘She used to like the big, colourful, plush one, but now I’d say she prefers the red rattle shaped as a flower.’

Mrs Holton smiled and invited him in and in a matter of a few minutes, the wizard and the baby Apparated into Headmaster’s private quarters.

‘Lu,’ he called, and instantly, his elf popped into the room.

‘Master Sev-‘ the elf cut the sentence at hearing unmistakeable baby laughter. ‘A baby!’ Lu squeaked and jumped happily.

Severus smiled in amusement and relief at Bell’s reaction to the strange creature. ‘Indeed, it’s a baby, Lu. Her name is Annabelle and we call her Belle.’ Then his face turned very serious. He sat in his favourite armchair with the girl on his lap, and beckoned to Lu to sit on the pouf that was of a good height for a house-elf. ‘Lu, I will now trust you with some information I expect you to keep to yourself no matter what.’

‘Of course, Master Severus!’

His face softened a bit at that. ‘Little Belle is Hermione Granger’s daughter. Hermione adopted her since the biological mother died and was a Muggle, while this pretty lady,’ he tickled the girl in his arms, ‘is a Muggle-born witch and Hermione didn’t want her to grow up in an orphanage, where no one would understand her magical abilities. As you might have already guessed, Hermione and I are in a relationship, and my intentions are to marry her and adopt Belle as my own.’

Lu couldn’t contain her joy anymore and clapped her hands, ‘Oh, a baby in my family! And more babies to come!’ she wiped her huge eyes from happy tears.

‘Do not go too far, Lu. And never, ever even suggest to Hermione more babies.’ Seeing the, somehow at the same time, crestfallen and angry eyes of his servant and friend, Severus sighed and explained, ‘Hermione might not be able to have children of her own. It was one of the reasons she took Belle in – she knew she wanted to be a mother. Do you understand now, Lu?’

She was instantly remorseful for thinking something unflattering about her future mistress, and nodded solemnly, ‘Lu will do anything for Master Severus and his family.’

The wizard smiled, ‘Good. Now, Hermione is in the hospital, since there was an attack on Diagon Alley, so I will take care of Belle for her, and I do hope you will help me and not tell anyone about her presence here. Hermione will tell the staff when she joins us in two days. Now, could you hold Belle while I enlarge her things?’

He had never seen any house-elf this happy. Soon, his rooms were overtaken by the colourful baby stuff. He showed Lu how to use disposable nappies, and how to prepare the formula. He also instructed Lu how to use the teething soothing gel he created for the toddler, and after giving Belle a kiss on her forehead, he went back to his office, wrote a short message for Hermione and sent it with one of the school elves.

‘Muggy,’ he called for the Elder Elf – in the matriarchal society of house-elves, she was the Boss of Hogwarts’ elves.

A very soft pop announced the arrival of the wrinkled creature. She only bowed her head slightly instead of bending in half as elves usually did, ‘Headmaster, what can Muggy do for you?’

Severus smiled at her, ‘Take a seat, please,’ he indicated one of the chairs in front of his desk – she knew to Transfigure it for her needs, and when she was ready, the wizard started, ‘I called you here because I have a favour to ask, namely, since a new teacher in training will be hired officially in two days time, I need quarters prepared for her, but she will require not only additional room, but more spacious bathroom than the standard teachers’ quarters.’

The elf tilted slightly her head, and because of her position, contrarily to others, she did ask sometimes the “why” question, ‘May I ask why, Headmaster?’

He smirked, ‘You, Muggy, may, but for the time being, I don’t want anyone else to know. Do I have your confidence?’

‘You do, Headmaster Severus.’

Severus did like to deal with her, since unlike the other elves, Muggy’s English was perfectly correct. ‘First of all, the new staff member will be Hermione Granger.’ With raised hand, he stopped whatever the elf was about to say, ‘She did tell me what she had been doing while still a child, and after we talked, she is extremely sorry, and she will come to you to apologise in person. As a Muggle-born, Miss Granger had never had anyone to explain to her the... arrangement, the bond between wizards and house-elves. For her, the fact that you serve humans without any payment, was akin to slavery, and that is a truly horrible thing. Will you accept her to hear her out?’

Muggy was pensive for a moment, but nodded, ‘She is not the first Muggle-born to think that way, but she was the first we know of, to try to free us. Now, I think that the only elf she had any contact with, was Dobby, and his family was treating him very badly. I and other elves of Hogwarts will listen to her apologies.’

‘Thank you. Now, Miss Granger adopted a baby,’ Severus instantly noticed a spark in Muggy’s eyes and fought a smirk, ‘She will tell the staff when she is ready, but for now, keep it to yourself. The extra space for Miss Granger is because of her daughter. Additionally, I am asking for you to secure the fireplaces in her new chambers, and use any other typical babyproofing measures that might be needed in the castle. Also, do you know Lu?’

‘Yes, Headmaster. Lu is Master Snape’s personal elf of the Prince family.’

‘Precisely. She will be the main help in babysitting, but I’d like to ask you and all the Hogwarts’ elves to keep an eye on little Belle, especially if by some chance she escapes from Lu’s care.’

‘Of course, Headmaster,’ she sounded almost indignant, ‘It is difficult to look after a magical baby single-handedly. Their magic tends to help them escape various kinds of wards. My elves will be happy to help Lu in her fortunate task.’

‘Hermione and I will be very grateful, Muggy.’

They ended the meeting soon after that and Severus decided to take a deep breath before summoning the Troublesome Twosome**. No matter how much he wanted to expel the boys, he knew it would be a suicide career-wise, so he considered his options carefully and after a while, he sent for the boys for separate talks.

Chapter Text

‘Mr Potter, do you know why you are here?’

The boy was standing in front of the great desk with his head hang low. ‘I broke the rules.’

‘That’s an understatement. I want to know if you are aware of which rules you broke, and just why I am making such a big issue of it.’

That gave Potter a pause. He raised his eyes to look at him. ‘I assume it’s because you hate me and according to you, I don’t give a damn about any rules. Sir,’ he barely remembered to add the honorific.

Severus sat back very comfortably in his chair and steepled his fingers. ‘My personal opinion is completely irrelevant, Mr Potter. I was as angry as you saw me, because you, as one of the returning eighth-years, have more privileges than any other years. And yet, you broke the most important one of all. It was clearly stated and repeated a few times so every dunderhead could actually get it: In case of an emergency, you will be escorted by a member of staff to any place you need to be, and if waiting is not possible, let someone know what happened and where you are. Just because the war is over, it doesn’t mean it’s safe out there, as we learnt earlier today with the Death Eater attack on Diagon Alley. You would be their prime target, and therefore you are still in danger bigger than most people. Whether you like it or not, as long as you are a student here, your safety is my business. As unfortunate as it is.

‘Going back to complete your education was a privilege, so when in five years, when people stop worshipping you, they cannot accuse you of not being educated enough for your job. Additionally, Professor McGonagall, Minister Shacklebolt, and myself decided that you would appreciate the reprieve from the daily media onslaught. Apparently, we were wrong.’

The boy stood there dumbstruck, mouth slightly opened, eyes wide in shock. As always, he wouldn’t stop to think. He truly would be dead within his first year at Hogwarts without Hermione, thought Severus and with a serious face continued, ‘Mr Potter, I am no longer obliged nor forced by any magical and life-threatening oaths to protect you, therefore, if you feel you are unable or unwilling to follow the few and simple rules, we can terminate your enrolment by mutual agreement of the Parties. It would be fewer troublemakers for my school and no expulsion on your record. What do you say?’

It took the suddenly pale boy a few seconds to find it in himself to respond. ‘W-would I be allowed to sit my NEWTs?’

‘Of course. You would need to apply to sit the exams with other adults. The Ministry organises OWLs and NEWTs twice a year – in April and December.’

Potter gulped audibly, closed his eyes for a short moment and breathed deeply before looking the Headmaster in the eye again. ‘I-I am not sorry I went to see Mione, but I am sorry for how I did it. I know, sir, you might not believe me, but I sincerely apologise for causing you any troubles. You are right, I should be more grateful for the... opportunities given to me.’ The young wizard gulped then and blushing in embarrassment asked, ‘May I, please, stay at Hogwarts and finish school with my classmates?’

Severus was silent for a moment, but deciding the boy was honest, he gave his answer, ‘Very well, Mr Potter. You may stay, but there is still the matter of your punishment. Considering that you are a seventh-year, you will tutor any students from years one to four I will send to you. You’ll create a study group for those pupils who are struggling in a few subjects. As far as I’m aware, your timetable is rather light – only the core subjects required to be an Auror, so you should have enough time for those sessions, if; however, I am informed by your teachers that your own class performance worsened, you’ll be banned from playing Quidditch till the end of this school year. Are. We. Clear?’

‘Yes, sir...’

‘And I want to see on my desk your Invisibility Cloak and the Marauders’ Map by the time I’m finished discussing Mr Weasley’s situation with him. They are getting confiscated until you leave the school permanently.’

Potter hang his head in resignation, but did manage to say, ‘Yes, Headmaster.’

Severus nodded and dismissed the student, ‘You may go now to retrieve your belongings. Mr Weasley should be waiting downstairs, so please, send him to me.’

Now, the more problematic one, thought the young Headmaster. Severus did notice that Harry Potter was neither his father, nor his mother. The boy inherited both good and bad qualities after both parents, but as Hermione had pointed out during his recovery at the witch’s house, the boy is also his own person. Neither James, nor Lily were ever shy – they thrived on attention. James was a bully, while Harry knew that kind of torment from the opposite side. Lily was fickle and Harry stuck to his best friend. Ronald Weasley was Potter’s first friend and Harry would do anything for him. Severus could never understand the behaviour of The Boy Who Lived towards Ronald and especially towards Hermione, but that was not the time for that.

‘Ah, Mr Weasley,’ the Headmaster said in lieu of a greeting indicating the empty of furniture space before his desk. ‘Do you know why you are here?’

The young man spat angrily, ‘Because you caught us visiting Mione.’

Severus narrowed his eyes slightly, ‘You will show me respect boy, or our talk will take a drastically different tone.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Weasley said through gritted teeth. It was more than obvious that the boy was the furthest from remorse as possible. Potter, on the other hand, was penitent if only a bit from the very beginning. Weasley’s attitude set the tone of the meeting.

‘You broke one of the most important rules from the already few the eighth-years are to follow. Considering the circumstances of disobeying, I am willing to not expel you,’ he made a pause to gauge the student’s true reaction, ‘and give you the option of either leaving the school with termination of your enrolment by mutual agreement of the Parties, or you accept the punishment with understanding that it’s your last chance. One more such a big offence and you are out of here sooner that you can say “Hogwarts”. Which will it be?’

‘I want to graduate early,’ the gleeful expression on the idiot’s face told Severus everything.

‘You misunderstood, Mr Weasley. The early termination means you leave Hogwarts without your diploma, without finishing your schooling. If you wished to try to take your NEWT examination, you’d have to do it on your own at the Ministry session for adults. You would need to prepare for them on your own.’

The redhead paled and then reddened again in anger – not the best approach if you want something from Severus Snape. ‘You can’t do that! I am a war hero! You can’t just throw me out!’

Severus maintained a calm facade, while inside, amusement and anger were surprisingly well mixed together. ‘Considering what you did, and who I am, I certainly could expel you, but again that is not what I said.’

The boy narrowed his eyes and crossed arms over his chest, ‘Mum would kill me if I don’t finish school, so I’m staying.’

‘Very well. In that case, you are accepting your punishment, but are allowed to stay at school. You are therefore banned from the school Quidditch team permanently. And, Mr Weasley, if you don’t start showing me some respect, all other privileges will be taken away from you as well as the fifty points I’m taking now from Gryffindor.’ He raised his brow questioningly, ‘Is that clear?’

The colour of Weasley’s face (and ears, and neck) was clashing horribly with his hair when he spat, ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Good. Now, get out of my office. And if Potter is waiting downstairs, send him here.’

*

Severus did show up for dinner in the Great Hall, but he quickly ate and rushed to his chambers to see Belle – he just needed to go to her. The girl was crying as he entered, but stopped when she heard him.

‘What’s wrong, my Little Lady? Are you hungry, or do you miss mummy?’

Lu was wriggling her hands in anxiety, ‘Lu is sorry, Master Severus, but Little Belle keeps crying. I changed the nappy, gives the weird milk from powder, tried toys, but she just keeps crying!’

The elf was starting to shed tears of her own, so Severus smiled at his helper, ‘You did very well, Lu. Belle is well taken care of, but she simply is not used to anyone beside her mum, me, and Hermione’s neighbour who sometimes babysat for this Little Lady. See? She’s already calmed down. I’ll read to her, and later we’ll try to put her to sleep, so I can go for a moment to see Hermione and assure her Belle is perfectly fine.’

The little creature perked up at that, ‘I’ll go prepare the bath!’ pop! And she was gone. Severus just shook his head in amusement and summoned one of Belle’s books with nursery rhymes. After bath, he read them one more time, and the baby fell asleep in his arms. It was only then that Severus understood what Hermione meant talking about feeling the compulsion to get to Belle and he smiled knowing also that he and the baby in his arms started creating a bond.

*

The two days Hermione had to spend at St. Mungo’s were quite hard for all of them: Hermione – because of separation from her child and healing her injuries; Belle – because of separation from her mum and her new environment; Severus – because he was doing his best to hide Belle’s presence at the castle, he had to get up twice a night to feed the girl and/or calm her down, and he missed Hermione immensely. And so, when the awaited Thursday, 11th February finally came, Severus just couldn’t wait to be done with all the work he had planned for that day and able to take Hermione back to the castle – to their new home.

The Potions Master was just two doors away from Hermione’s room, when he heard raised voices, so he sped up. What he saw, was his furious witch and...

‘Mrs Weasley!’ the young witch almost shouted, ‘I don’t need your help! I specifically asked to not have any visitors apart from one person.’

‘Exactly. Since Ron is not allowed to visit, I had to come. And the Mediwitch I talked to said you’ll need to take things easy and someone should be there to help if you start feeling dizzy. Get your things and let’s go. I prepared Ron’s room for you.’

There were blue sparks of magic in her hair and Severus just knew it to be the last moment to try and calm his witch before she hexes Molly Weasley. ‘Is there a problem, ladies?’

The instant happiness mixed with relief on Hermione’s face almost cracked his mask of boredom on his face (which he had in place only because of Molly).

‘Severus? What are you doing here?’ the older witch was truly baffled with his presence.

‘I am here to pick up Miss Granger. Have the plans changed, Hermione?’

It was obvious she was trying hard not to run into his arms and it made him happy. ‘Not at all. I’ve been waiting for you. I just need to –‘

But Molly interrupted her, ‘What is going on in here?! Why are you calling her “Hermione”?’

‘Because that’s her name. It would be silly to call her Betty. Don’t you think?’ He said it while taking Hermione’s bag into his pocket and placing her hand in the crook of his arm.

‘So, I trouble myself to be a good mother-in-law and that’s how you repay me? With rudeness? Ignoring me? What will Ronald say?’

Hermione’s voice was a low hiss of anger, ‘What do you mean “mother-in-law”? I am neither married, not do I plan on ever becoming wife of either of your sons. I never invited you here, never asked for your help, so how does it make me rude? And just for the record: I don’t give a flying fig what your precious Ronald might say.’ And she turned to her wizard, ‘Severus, could we now find the person giving information about me to anyone who asks and curse them into next year?’

‘With pleasure, my dear.’

Leaving the dumbstruck Molly Weasley – unable to say anything – was for the couple simply priceless. They soon found the young Mediwitch who was spilling information about the female part of The Golden Trio, and took care of the gossiping idiot with her supervisor. Then, they were finally able to Apparate to Hermione’s house.

‘I admit, I don’t know what to pack. I was to take care of it this week, but, well..’

Severus took her in his arms and kissed her gently, lovingly, and answered with a smile, ‘Take anything you’ll need. I had already taken all Belle’s things before picking her up from your neighbour.’ Seeing she was about to bombard him with questions, he gave the answer freely, ‘I told her an old shelf collapsed and a jar hit you on the head, so you had to stay at the hospital for observation.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Pack your clothes, and other necessities, and I’ll go pack your lab – it will speed up the process and you’ll be able to see Belle.’

The grateful smile was accompanied by a kiss, and they got to work. Before they left, the couple paid a very short visit to reassure Mrs Holton, who was happy for Hermione.

*

‘The Headmaster’s Apparating privileges are extremely useful,’ Hermione said smiling when they appeared in Severus’s living room.

‘They definitely do come in handy. Welcome home, love.’ They shared a tender, but short kiss, as Hermione was anxious to see her daughter.

‘Thank you so much, Severus,’ she said still holding tightly Belle. ‘I hope she wasn’t too much of a trouble?’

‘It wasn’t easy for you, Belle, or myself, but she wasn’t a trouble at all. At moments it was difficult – I won’t lie here – but it was rewarding as well. I think we bonded a bit more during those two days, don’t you think, my little lady?’ he asked Belle with a soft smile and they both laughed at the answering happy squeal from the widely smiling baby.

‘I had your quarters prepared, so why don’t we Floo there so you can unpack and change or have a shower, and then we could spend the rest of the day wherever and however you wish,’ then he added with a smirk, ‘as long as it’s with me.’

She laughed then and kissed his lips. ‘I would be disappointed if we couldn’t spend the day with you, my love.

*

Hermione suggested shyly they both prepare a Drawer for each other in their bedrooms, and Severus instantly asked Lu to procure a second nursery for Bell in his guest room. The couple decided to spend the day indoors, as Hermione was still a bit weaker than normally. The next day morning would be the introduction to the Hogwarts staff. They decided on what to tell everyone and what to the ones they (Severus in particular) cared about. He sent the message to all informing them to be in the staff room 15 minutes before breakfast to meet the new Professor in training.

Severus was as happy as possible and if how much they missed each other was any indicator, it was becoming more and more probable that Hermione would accept the ring he had been thinking about since their first Christmas together, and had it ready since the day before. Lu (after her own suggestion) brought it from some hidden treasury the Prince Manor. The Headmaster described to the elf what kind of jewellery he assumed Hermione might like, and the faithful servant brought him the perfect ring: delicate, platinum band with the tiniest runic inscriptions, the main stone – black diamond – was maybe not the biggest, but because of its purity was one of the most valuable gems in Britain, there were also a few, tiny emeralds around the band. It was better than Severus could choose himself.

*

‘As you all know, I’ll make this meeting as short as possible,' Severus started to get his colleagues to settle and listen, 'Recently, I informed you that I hired someone to take over the Potions post after Horace retires. Before I invite her inside, I need to inform you she was injured during the last attack in Diagon Alley and she still has a few bruises, but she is fine now.’ He waited for what he said to sink in, and only then opened the side door to invite his witch.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I believe you all remember Hermione Granger?’ Severus smirked at the shocked faces, and he could feel through his hand on the small of her back the slightest tremble of Hermione’s body as she was trying to suppress laughter.

‘Hello everyone,' the young witch managed to smile shyly, 'How are you?’

At her question, people started shouting their greetings and questions. Quite a few rushed to squeeze her, but Severus wouldn’t allow it – he bodily shielded his woman from the enthusiastic mob and raised his voice, 'She was allowed to leave the hospital barely yesterday, and only after the promise she would be very careful about her injuries.’

The six out of seven eager huggers sat down back in their chairs, but Minerva gave them both a Look and carefully hugged her favourite student in decades. ‘Hermione,' the older woman said, 'It's so good to see you. And welcome to our family.’ Then McGonagall squeezed Hermione once more and noticed the wince of pain at her face. She instantly released the girl and looked at Severus with concern in her eyes. The Headmaster shook his head almost imperceptibly mouthing “later”.

‘Thank you all for such a warm welcome.’

Before anyone else could say something more, Severus cut them off, ‘There will be time for you to pester Hermione with incessant questions after today’s dinner. For now, all you need to know is that Miss Granger and I came to an agreement about her training and because of her previous obligations, she is hired at Hogwarts part-time for duration of her other contracts, and therefore she is not going to share our duties like patrolling the corridors or Hogsmeade chaperoning until she is with us full-time.’

William just had to cut in, ‘Ron and Harry will finally get decent marks in Potions! They will be thrilled!’ and he laughed, however the rest of the gathered rather smiled politely, or simply showed their slight concern about the pronouncement.

Hermione was the one to address the issue (as they had discussed the previous day), ‘I do not appreciate the suggestion I’d be anything but professional towards any students. However, just to make sure no one could accuse me of such blatant favouritism, Severus and I agreed that I would not be supervising any tests of current two oldest years by myself, nor would I be grading them without later being checked by one of our Potions Masters. At least until I become the sole Potions Professor,’ she added with a small smile and both she and Severus noticed relief and approval on many faces (and some slight puzzlement on William’s).

‘Now, that I know none of you will be shocked during the announcement at breakfast, we can all go to the Great Hall,’ Severus indicated the door that magically led to the teachers’ corridor and to the side door of the Great Hall.

All rose at his words, and the Headmaster led the new employee showing her the way.

The students were surprised, but before they managed to raise any protest, Severus informed them, ‘I want to make sure no one accuses Professor Granger to be under qualified – first of all, she had already taken her NEWTs in December, and as you may have guessed – her scores were almost indecently high,’ he said it with a smirk and went on seriously, ‘and while you are to treat and refer to her as Professor, she is hired as teacher-in-training to gain any needed knowledge and experience. Now, I believe there will be no need for me to remind anyone how to behave properly?’ he asked that raising his brow and scanning the whole Hall but making sure to give especially stern look to the students he knew to be particularly prejudiced, and to Hermione’s former friends since he noticed a very... odd expression on the youngest Weasleys’ faces. Potter seemed rather pensive than anything else.

After the breakfast, Hermione went to her quarters to see to Belle for an hour, as Severus had a lesson during the first period, and after that, they would prepare her schedule.

Their timetable setting went smoothly and soon, Severus was showing her to his personal lab and the lab of the Potions Master, which she would be sharing (for learning purposes only) with Slughorn. Both labs were spacious enough for two people to brew comfortably without getting into each other’s way. As they established before, she would brew for about three hours that day, had two hours break, and then she and Severus would get to her training, while she would start with Horace after the weekend, on Monday, 15th.

Severus had expected Minerva to want to storm his office or even classroom immediately after the breakfast, but she had her own classes to attend to, and so she would be talking to him later.

He was right.

Minerva entered his office without knocking as soon as her last class of the day ended. He and Hermione had just started her lesson, so the interruption wasn’t as problematic as it could have been, had they been brewing.

‘Severus, Hermione, may I interrupt?’

‘You already have,’ the wizard answered with an impassive face, but still indicated the free armchair, ‘What can I help you with?’

Since Minerva was waiting for him to dismiss Hermione, but the wizard was not going to make things easier for his Deputy, the younger woman rolled her eyes after a moment of tense (tense for McGonagall only) silence and stood up, ‘Severus, I’ll go check on things in my quarters. Send me a message when you are free to continue our lesson, please.’ And she promptly left at his nod.

‘What is going on, Severus?’ Minerva seemed to not know what she was: confused? Angry? Happy? Curious? Irritated?

‘What are you referring to? And do be precise.’

‘Hermione Granger? Why her? And since when are the two of you so... friendly? And what has happened to her that even a slightly stronger hug causes her pain? Wait... Is she your secret “friend”??’

Severus sighed, ‘Before I answer any of your questions myself, tell me: do you honestly think her to be a wrong choice for the job?’

Minerva took a moment to think about it and then shook her head, ‘No. I do believe her to be an excellent teacher material, but to be frank, I had been imagining her to apprentice under myself. Maybe under Filius. Neither she nor you did give the impression she was anything special at Potions. So why?’

‘Because I never could have taught her the way she should have been taught – she has a very logical mind, so while I am instinctive with the field, she needs to understand the why. I had thought her to be unimaginative but all she needed was to find her own way to learn and experiment. I have seen her brew. That’s what she has been doing for living ever since the end of war, so, yes, I am confident in her skills as a potioneer. And she is creative.’

Minerva’s brows were furrowed in consternation and after a moment asked, ‘And the friendliness? How has that happened? And when?’

‘Mainly after you had sent me to check up on her before the school year started – I admit it was quite subtle for you,’ he said with an amused smirk, ‘Although even before that we were getting on rather well.’

‘How come? I never noticed you to leave the castle for much except school business.’

Severus sighed and explained, ‘She was the one who saved my life and took care of me before I could come back here. In about mid-September, we became friends.’

Minerva seemed to put the dots together and she obviously came to some conclusions, ‘Aren’t you afraid that because of the age difference you’ll want different things? Or even if the same, then at too different times?’

Severus smiled and stood up. ‘Come, I’ll show you where Hermione’s quarters are, if you need anything from her.’

The witch looked at him strangely, but followed.

When they were at their destination, Minerva finally asked with furrowed brows, ‘Why such a secluded place? I realise you like any and every privacy you can get, but Hermione has always been a very social girl.’

‘Then you don’t know her as well as you think you do.’ He rolled his eyes and shortly knocked on the door opening it after just a moment with the wards admitting him immediately, ‘Hermione, it’s me with Minerva,’ he said not too loudly, and using a rather soft tone to not wake somebody up, but he needn’t worry – a happy squeak welcomed him from the floor.

‘Well, hello to you as well, my lady.’ As if forgetting they had a witness, the wizard simply walked up to his future daughter and took her easily in his arms.

‘Hello, Minerva,’ Hermione started with somewhat shy expression on her face, ‘I’m guessing Severus invited you here to meet my daughter – Annabelle Lucy Granger. We call her Belle.’

Minerva – shocked – silently sat down on the nearest seat and before she had any chance at making some accusations she might regret later, Severus went with the necessary explanations, ‘No, I’m not the biological father, nor is actually Hermione Belle’s biological mother. Hermione adopted this little lady after witnessing her birth-mother’s death. We already are sure she’s a Muggle-born. And to make things completely clear, Hermione and I are in a romantic relationship, which you, Minerva, know perfectly well, is not the reason she got the job. The only reason you are being told is the fact you are the deputy, and you might need to know.’

Belle chose that moment to fall asleep in Severus’s arms, ‘I’ll put her to bed,’ he told Hermione and went to the bedroom, where he could still hear Hermione talking.

‘I am still going to tell the staff about Belle, but I wanted to wait a bit longer, for them to get used to my presence and see that I’m not shirking from my responsibilities just because I have a child now.’

‘B-but what about your life? Your future?’

Severus could hear a hint of panic in his colleague’s voice. He entered the room again in time to listen to Hermione’s response.

‘Minerva... What is wrong with my life? Am I continuing with my education? Yes. Am I starting a career? Yes. Do I have someone to love and to love me in return? Yes, I have my baby girl and Severus, both of whom I love dearly, and who love me back. I am happy, and it looks like Severus is happy with us as well.’

The wizard came back to see his Deputy sitting silently with a thoughtful expression. He took a seat next to Hermione and took her hand. ‘The elves know and my personal elf is the babysitter for the times Hermione will be teaching, studying, or completing her other duties. You are informed just in case. Any questions?’

The witch turned to the younger one, ‘I have already told him I wanted to meet whoever was making him so happy. I am glad to discover it is you, my dear. Am I correctly assuming that none of your friends know about Belle since there was absolutely nothing about her in the papers?’

‘You are. Besides, apart from Luna, no one had kept in touch with me since May.’

‘Now that I recall, the owl I sent to you never delivered the letters, so where do you live, or why don’t you accept owls?’

Hermione blushed a bit in embarrassment, ‘My wards wouldn’t let pass a letter from anyone but a few people. Did you sent me an official Hogwarts letter?’ Minerva confirmed with a nod, ‘If it were a personal one, it would come through, but I didn’t have the time for something I considered as case closed. Now that I think about it, I guess only Severus, Harry, and you would have been able to write to me, but I was always alerted if a mail was being attempted to be delivered.’

‘What about Miss Lovegood?’ Severus asked in curiosity.

‘I needed first to make sure any mail from her would be safe for Belle and me. She may have sent a Howler in the past to sing “Happy Birthday”, or send me something potentially dangerous if not handled carefully.’

They soon finished the conversation with Minerva hugging them both (Hermione carefully) and wishing them all the best. Hermione invited her former Head of House for tea the next day to properly meet Belle, as she was little girl’s unofficial grandma causing emotional tears to appear in her eyes.

Chapter Text

Hermione’s training was coming along better than simply “well” – she wanted to learn what she needed as soon as possible, to be able to start getting some class experience. As she said it herself, “I know how to teach various kinds of students, but my tutoring was never for more than three people at once, and I can only imagine what a huge difference this will be”.

Horace had nothing to complain about; in fact, he even expressed his surprise at the fact he never noticed she was such a good potioneer. The three brewers decided to have regular meetings together to make the training easier, and during their first one, Slughorn even admitted, ‘I must say, that while in his sixth year Harry seemed like such a brilliant student, now he is barely average. If occasionally he gets an E for his class work, it’s truly a miracle. Do either of you think it’s because of the war? That he is too tired to focus on his studies?’

Hermione and Severus shared a look, and finally the wizard was the one to answer. ‘Horace, Potter had never been brilliant at Potions. The year you came back to Hogwarts, you allowed him and Weasley to borrow books from the cupboard. Potter was lucky enough to get a hold on the book I had forgotten to take – my school book. It was filled with my notes, my tips and improvements. The boy had always been a mediocre student, who had no problems cheating.’

Hermione put her hand on his arm for just a moment to calm him down a bit, ‘Severus, I do know you don’t like each other, but Harry does have talent for other things. He is truly good at duelling and more than decent at Transfiguration, he is a wonderful flier, and surprisingly, he is a great teacher. He showed a lot of patience when he was trying to give us lessons in Defence in our fifth year.’ She held her hand up to stop any of his protests, ‘I was so frustrated and angry with him for cheating and getting better grades at one of my favourite subjects. And having absolutely no idea what he was doing.’

The older man looked almost horrified, ‘B-but I thought he simply took after Lily. His mother was such a bright girl,’ he smiled fondly, ‘So lovely and talented, and everyone simply loved her! She could have done great things. Oh, I remember the two of you at school,’ he turned to Hermione, who Severus noticed to stiffen just a bit, ‘Severus and Lily were thinking in such a similar way that I had to ask them on more than one occasion if they had written them alone – their essays were so similar!’ he chuckled and Severus wanted to hurt him seeing that it was bothering his Hermione.

‘Horace, I believe that’s enough. We agree that Hermione should start with observing lessons for about two weeks and then, we could start with two, three lessons a week for her to teach with supervision.’ They all confirmed and left to perform their separate duties – Horace grading, Severus performing his Headmaster duties, and Hermione brewing for George Weasley.

Severus had known that sooner or later they would have to have the awkward conversation of the past his and hers love interests, but he had been hoping it would be in a more natural way, like during one of their long evening conversations. Now, however, he had to make sure she felt confident in their relationship, so they needed to talk as soon as possible. Therefore, it was that same day, after dinner, that Severus Flooed to Hermione’s quarters, and the first thing he did, was to kiss her lovingly.

They sat with teas and Severus asked, ‘What do you know about me and Lily Potter?’

She tried smiling, but failed, ‘Only what Harry said to Riddle just before he killed him, and what I read in the papers later.’

He gently took her hand and looking her in the eyes said in a very soothing tone, ‘Do I still love Lily? Yes, and I will probably always love her. However the better question would be: how do I love her? And the answer is: as a friend. I had had a crush on her when we were at school, but I got over her when she accepted Potter’s proposal. From then on, I loved her only as my first and for many years only friend.’ Seeing Hermione to sag with relief, he went on, ‘I admit to allowing Dumbledore and Potter to believe that the nature of my feelings for her was much more romantic than it was in reality.’

‘I’m sorry... I hate how insecure I am sometimes.’

‘I want you to know those things: I love you more than I thought possible to love another person; I love Belle as if she were mine; I give you permission to ask me anything you wish to know about me, but just remember that some things might be difficult for me to speak of, so I might need some time to answer; I could never be happier with anyone else, and I mean anyone.’ She nodded with her eyes shining from unshed tears.

‘I hope you know I feel about you the same way, Severus...’

‘I do now,’ he said with a warmth in his eyes and voice, and kissed her.

After some time, they relaxed before the fire and started the Talk. Hermione couldn’t believe he had had sex only three times in his life, ‘But you are so damn sexy! Not to mention how brilliant you are, and everything else...’

He couldn’t help the small smile at her absolutely honest words, and said, ‘Hermione, my first time was out of mutual curiosity. She was a Muggle girl from the neighbourhood and we didn’t even know each other well. It was awkward, but luckily, we decided to rather have a laugh, and pretend it never happened, than make fun of each other. To boost our low egos, we told each other what we did like physically and after we parted that day, I never saw her again. Then, I tried dating a bit in my twenties, but not only there weren’t many I went out with, there were only two who simply wanted a quickie. I found I didn’t like those encounters, so I kept to myself. What about you?’

They were both uncomfortable with the topic, but they also knew it had to be dealt with. Hermione took a long sip from her wine glass before answering, ‘Victor kissed me during that infernal Yule Ball, but I didn’t like it – he was drunk, and quickly wanted much more. Luckily for the both of us, he also didn’t want to force me into anything, so we stayed friends and even pen-pals for a few months. I used to have a childish crush on Ronald, but I stopped the second I saw how he treated Lavender Brown and me. He and I kissed during the Final Battle, but it was simply a spontaneous kiss I would have given to anyone in that place – it was nothing romantic. After he had left me and Harry in the tent, I knew I would never be able to trust him more than a friend, and not a very good one at that. That would be it.’

Apparently, seeing the shock he tried to hide (and failed), she smiled a bit bitterly, ‘I didn’t have the time to chase after boys, unless you count Harry, who needed constant babysitter to not get himself killed. I’m also perfectly aware I’m nothing special to look at, so it prevented any boys from chasing after me.’

‘You are stunningly beautiful, Hermione. Not to mention brilliant, but you simply have to know how attracted I am to you, right?’ She nodded, if a bit hesitantly, and they kissed again.

It was one of the nights they spent together in her bed, holding each other.

*

At the beginning of March, Potter finally found a way to talk to Hermione, as she was deliberately not teaching that class until Potter’s year graduated (Ronald had been avoiding her thanks to “a talk” Minerva had had with the redhead). Most of the staff were sitting in the teachers’ lounge to chat and share a cuppa, and as Hermione had been invited to feel free to join them, she happily sat there for a while, usually a short one, but still. That day, Mr Potter knocked on the door and said he was looking for Hermione.

‘It’s Professor Granger, Mr Potter,’ Minerva corrected the student, but called the youngest witch.

‘Yes, Mr Potter? What do you need?’ Severus was proud at the very professional behaviour of his beloved.

The boy dropped his jaw and for a moment wasn’t able to say a thing, but at her impatient “well?”, he found his voice. ‘Um, I was wondering if we could speak for a moment in private?’

‘Mr Potter, I’m afraid I do not have the time, as I have some brewing to do in about...’ she looked at her wrist-watch, ‘... 15 minutes.’

Severus was truly amused with the situation, so he spoke, ‘I could show you to the office you requested before we go to the lab, and if it’s something important, Mr Potter, I am willing to wait for a moment so you can speak with Professor Granger. Hermione, is that all right with you?’

She smiled at him in an amused way, ‘Yes, that might be actually a good thing. Thank you, Severus.’

The dumbfounded boy followed them into an office near the Headmaster’s tower, and when Severus went into a storage room to give them some privacy, he didn’t close the door. He saw Hermione to notice and smirk at him, so he winked at her and listened and observed.

‘What is it, Mr Potter?’ Hermione asked with cold politeness.

‘Mione? What is going on? How did you get your NEWTs without going back to school? And since when are you so chummy with Professor Snape?’ Severus could see the frustration radiating from the boy.

‘Mr Potter,’ she started but was interrupted rudely.

‘Stop with this nonsense! I’m Harry and you’re Mione, for fuck’s sake!’

The witch stood behind her new desk to place some more tangible distance between them, and spoke coldly, ‘Very well. Considering our history, I agree to call you “Harry”, but only for today. First of all, Harry, I have always hated that horrible nickname, and I did ask you and Ronald repeatedly to not call me that. I am now a member of the teaching staff, and considering that quite a few students still remember me as their fellow student, I need to force this distance between myself and the student body for the sake of safety in the classroom when I start teaching older years. I did not “get” my NEWTs. I earned them with hard work throughout all the years of schooling. And I am not only on the first name bases with all my colleagues, but Severus and I got to know each other rather well over the last... almost year.’

‘What about us?’ the boy asked in shock to which Severus could see Hermione blink a few times in confusion.

‘What do you mean “us”?’ she asked slowly.

Potter threw his arms in the air in his frustration and lack of control over the conversation. ‘I mean me, Ron, and you! It’s always been the three of us – the Golden Trio, but you abandoned us sometime after the battle, didn’t come back to school with us, and now I’m guessing you’re not going with us to join the Aurors?’

She chuckled in a cold, humourless way, ‘Have you noticed you had never asked me if I even wanted to be an Auror? You never even considered I might not be interested in fighting for living; only to live.’ She took a deep, calming breath and went on, ‘Harry, I’m going to tell you a few things now, and I will say it only once, so for a change – listen to me. Do you know why I had been helping you so much with homework and anything school related while I’m so against cheating? Because Dumbledore ordered me to. He had manipulated me no less than he had any other useful to him person. Do not take it that I didn’t want to help you, but I would have never done so much work for you. It was counterproductive.’

Potter was standing there for a moment completely dumbfounded, until he found his voice again and asked with a hint of hesitation, ‘And what about Ron? You love Ron, and he got a letter from his mum, that you are not anymore in a relationship with him. Don’t you think it’s the worst possible way to learn you were dumped? You two were meant to be together! We were supposed to be one big family, but you just left us, left him. Decent people don’t do things like that.’

Anger was boiling inside of Severus at the that pronouncement, but he stayed in the storage – Hermione had to deal with the idiot herself.

‘Do you hear yourself, Harry? I did have a crush on Ron, but it ended the moment I realised how he treated Lavender and myself. There never was any relationship. But considering what the Prophet had been writing about his conquests while he was sure I was his girlfriend, tell me, Harry, why would I ever want to be with someone who would cheat on me left and right? This is probably the last time I am following any of your demands, Harry. If you ever again want answers from me, don’t bother – I won’t give them to you. I do not owe you anything, but you could try thinking for once in your life and analyse the way you both had been treating me. That might give you some clues, though I doubt it.’ She straightened, lifted her chin and continued, ‘Now, Mr Potter, I am busy. Good day.’

The boy left quietly, but reluctantly. Severus joined Hermione instantly after the door was closed. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I will be. It wasn’t a pleasant conversation, but ever since I knew I was coming to the castle, I knew it was coming.’ She smiled at him that lovely, shy smile and kissed his cheek. ‘Thank you for staying.’

‘I’ll always be there for you and Belle.’

‘I know.’

‘So, will you tell me more details on what you said about Dumbledore ordering you to help Potter and Weasley?’

She sighed and they both moved to go to the lab. Hermione warded her new office and they were off. In Severus’s lab, while preparing ingredients, she answered, ‘You knew the real Dumbledore better than anyone else. At first, he “suggested” Harry and Ronald would be more inclined to stay friends with me if I helped them with their studies. Then, it was telling me how disappointed he was with me and that I should be a better friend to the boys and make sure they had better grades. Next was the beginning of the “Harry has more important and more difficult things to worry about” mantra and its variations. He tended to add Ronald to it with things like “Harry needs Ron, and Mr Weasley has to be able to be there for Harry instead of sitting over homework”. I tried to explain to him I didn’t like it, and it was not only wrong, but also harmful to their studies, he made some hints about finding ways to protect my parents.’

‘He promised protection for doing those idiots’ school work?’

‘No, no, no. Paraphrasing, it was something like: Miss Granger, if I have to worry about Harry and Ronald’s grades, then I will not have enough time to find a way to make sure your parents are safe. Your defenceless parents. Do you think it would be difficult for someone to pretend they are from Hogwarts and need to talk to them?’

‘Shite. I knew he was a manipulative bastard, who didn’t care one bit about my safety, but to threaten your parents to have your cooperation? How old were you then?’

She was quiet for a moment, as she was measuring powdered dragon bone, but as soon as she could divide her attention, she looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘It all started about a week after the troll incident in my first year. He started using my parents in this little game at the end of my third year.’

He shook his head in disbelief. ‘I had been wondering about why you had been doing so much work for them, but never would I have guessed it was Albus’s doing.’

When they were done with the day’s work, dinner was already in progress. They walked to the High Table completely engrossed in the conversation not noticing the emerald-green eyes observing them.

*

‘It’s from George,’ Hermione opened the letter that was almost dropped into her breakfast, ‘He says he did find someone to brew for him, so he released me earlier from our contract, but I agreed to consider future cooperation, if something comes up. He knows that now I need to focus on my teaching training, so he is aware I won’t take up anything for a while at least.’

‘That’s good. Have you sent him our request?’

‘No, I wanted to meet him in person. It’s more difficult for him to say “no” face-to-face.’

‘Whatever do you two need from George Weasley?’ Minerva asked curiously.

‘Hermione made a suggestion, that since it’s almost impossible for Mr Weasley’s products to not appear at the school, we should offer him a deal, which will result with us having at least two people knowing all the ingredients and antidotes for any of his concoctions. It would be much safer for Poppy to be able to determine what might have caused any allergic reactions, or if kids combined certain products, which might cause any unwanted, dangerous results.’ He tried not to sound too proud, but Minerva knew.

‘That is actually a brilliant idea, my dear!’ Poppy was truly thrilled with the prospect. There had already been three cases they needed to send a kid to St Mungo’s, because only the hospital was able to legally get that kind of information – patented things tended to be problematic. There were some more murmurs of approval along the table as well.

*

The day before the students were leaving for Easter holidays, Hermione decided to introduce other teachers to Belle, as right after the spring break she was able to take up working full-time at the castle. Severus had asked all the teachers to join him for a very short meeting right after dinner, and Lu was asked to prepare the little witch.

‘Thank you all for coming. I have a few short announcements for you. First of all, with the new school year Mr Longbottom will be an official apprentice of Herbology. Secondly, as some of us dreaded,’ he pointed to himself with accompaniment of light chuckles, ‘and some eagerly awaited,’ he looked at Horace, ‘There will be the Victory Ball held on 2nd May, here, at Hogwarts. It comes with some additional responsibilities for all of us, but also it will be a perfect moment to show them all, what we are capable of doing, and what a wonderful job you all have been doing.

‘Thirdly, today, Hermione finished her previous contracts and after the Easter Holidays she is hired full-time, which also means she joins our patrolling schedule.’ There were many nods of approval, so Severus went on, ‘And finally, Hermione wanted to ask for a moment of your attention as well.’

She stood up nervously, ‘I promise it won’t take too much of your time. I want you to be assured that what I’m going to tell you in a moment will not affect my work, and please, respect our privacy and don’t tell anyone outside the room, but...’ she took a deep breath and called for Lu. Everyone except for Severus and Minerva showed their shock in one way or another seeing the happy, and not-so-small baby. Hermione was smiling at her colleagues uncertainly saying, ‘Everyone, this little sunshine was orphaned in the summer, and I adopted her, although she is registered as my own. This is Annabelle Lucy Granger. We call her Belle.’

Almost everyone started cooing over the cute (if covered in spit) girl, and Poppy instantly asked to hold her. After the initial shock passed, Rolanda Hooch finally asked, ‘And who is the “we”?’

Without batting an eye, Severus answered, ‘Hermione, Minerva, and I. I did know about Belle when I offered Hermione the job as she and I became friends after the war. Hermione and I made sure she took her fair share of patrolling hours, and my house-elf offered to babysit, so there would be no problems of the nature “who stays with the child”. This is all we had on the agenda for the meeting, so you are free to go.’

As expected, most people stayed for a while to hold Belle and talk to Hermione. While she was answering the many questions patiently, Severus was observing the few people, who could be problematic – Bill Weasley in particular. Being prepared for something like that, Severus spoke once more, ‘I know I do not need to actually say it, but just as the reminder – please, be careful to not tell anyone from the student body, and outside of the school about Belle. It’s not the matter of her being some dark secret to be held, as you’ve just heard Hermione say she adopted the girl. However, our... beloved...’ he said the word with enough loathing that some people chuckled, ‘Daily Prophet has the lovely tendency to write a few pages long articles based on one sentence, so for the sake of this little girl’s future, keep your mouths shut. Please.’

Hermione added, ‘You all know that if someone from the Prophet learns that according to legal documents Belle is mine, they will create unimaginable lies to try and hurt me, but the only person it could actually hurt, will be Belle.’ She said it with real sadness, which only solidified the “almost everyone” to keep mum. Bill seemed thoughtful, but in a good way, which left Trelawney and Hagrid.

Severus came up to the latter. ‘Hagrid, please don’t take it too personally, but with your not most favourable history of keeping secrets, I would like to ask if you are willing to have a special spell put on you. It’s not any kind of vow, and it won’t kill or harm you in any way, nor will it take away your magic, but it would make speaking about Belle to someone not aware of her existence physically impossible.’

The half-giant nodded, ‘I wouldn’t want anyone to harm Hermione’s baby, and I do know I have a big mouth, so sure, use the spell.’

Severus reciprocated the small smile and cast. When everyone else was occupied with something else, he cast the same spell on Trelawney, as he didn’t trust the witch one bit. He would speak with William, if needed.

*

All the preparations for the ball were a huge pain in the arse, but as it was only two days before the event, everything was ready. It was the first truly free evening Severus had in what seemed to be ages. He and Hermione were on the floor of his sitting room, playing with Belle, when he asked, ‘Love, you never said... what are you wearing for the ball?’

‘Oh. I’ll Transfigure something into a long, black dress – simple, hopefully classy. Why?’

He looked at her with surprise, ‘Don’t you want to buy yourself something new? I’ve lived my whole life under the impression that – in general – women like new clothes and dressing up for special occasions...’

She smiled at him, ‘I simply think it’s a waste of money to buy a fancy ball gown just for one event. Money; by the way, I would rather spend either on the ever growing Belle, or on something useful for myself.’

‘In that case; while I do not doubt your Transfiguring skills, I would like to take you shopping tomorrow. I could definitely use a new shirt, and I hope you could advise me there? And I would love to buy you something nice. That is if you allow me?’

‘You don’t need to buy me things, Severus, but I will be happy to help with the shirt.’ Then she added with a smirk, ‘Even if that’s just a pretext for me to go shopping with you, as I know perfectly well you are more than capable of dressing yourself.’

He just smirked as well and kissed her soundly.

Soon after that, they bathed Belle and put her to her crib, while the two of them went to Severus’s bedroom. It was one of those evenings for more kissing and some exploring. They decided to take things slowly, especially since Hermione had no experience at all, and Severus suspected she wanted to wait with actual sex until they got married. He was perfectly fine with that, as long as she actually agreed to become his wife. Nevertheless, neither of them saw anything wrong in slowly learning each other.

*

‘Lu, if anything happens, just send another elf for me, please,’ Severus could hear how much his witch did not want to leave her daughter for the evening, but as a member of the Hogwarts staff she was obliged to be there to help with chaperoning.

‘Of course, Mistress Hermione. Lu can take care of young Miss Belle.’

‘I do not doubt you, Lu. You are doing excellent job looking after Belle, and I am incredibly grateful for everything you are doing – Belle could never have a better nanny.’

The elf was beaming with pride, and soon, they were heading to the Great Hall. Severus stopped them just before reaching the last stairs, pulled Hermione gently to the window and kissed her lightly, but lovingly. ‘You didn’t give me a chance before to tell you how beautiful you are, and tonight you look simply breathtakingly. ’Then he knelt before her and took out the ring he had been carrying every day since Lu got it for them. ‘Hermione, I love you more than I thought it possible, I love Belle and I want to be a father for her. You both are my everything. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife and allowing us to become a real family?’

She had tears in her eyes, but the radiant smile on her lovely face assured him those were happy tears. She nodded  happily whispered, ‘Yes, Severus yes! I love you so very much.’

H stood up and they kissed sealing the promise, though they agreed to wait with the announcement till later, so Severus conjured a delicate, simple, silver chain and after putting the ring on it, fastened it on Hermione’s neck.

*

The ball was at the same time an utter success and a complete nightmare. There were journalists, few, but still present. There wasn’t however Rita Skitter, as she was magically banned from the school grounds, and as any good Slytherin, Severus informed the Prophet about the fact two days beforehand. It was a good move, as he gave the chief editor time to pick someone else, and the Headmaster could not be accused of “stopping the press” or another bullshit like that.

There were quite a few wealthy and influential people, who were rather eager to show their generosity and donate nice sums to the school. That; however, meant Severus had to dance with a few women he absolutely wanted nothing to do with, especially since with his “hero” status, he had been declared the most eligible bachelor of wizarding Britain (right after Potter and right before the Weasley idiot). (Un)surprisingly, there were quite a few more witches with straight, red hair that night, and all of them single and interested in “meeting in more private setting”.

Severus managed to steal only one dance with Hermione, as she did her very best to avoid any attention to her person, so she was doing a lot of patrolling the nearby corridors, “cosy” alcoves, etc. She also volunteered to check the Common Rooms, as only the fifth-years and above were allowed to attend the event. To placate the disappointed younger kids, the staff organised two trips for them, and Hermione thought of getting some Muggle games and comic books for the children.

Once, when Severus managed to catch his fiancée and almost force her to get something to eat and drink with him, they both hoped for a moment of peace; even though Minerva joined them, but it wasn’t meant to be. Shacklebolt sat right next to Hermione (and much too close for Severus’s comfort), ‘Hermione! I’m so glad to see you here. Where have you been hiding, my dear?’

It was obvious for Severus that she liked the proximity of the other wizard about as much as he did, yet she smiled politely, ‘Minister, it’s good to see you as well.’

Shacklebolt laughed, ‘Why so formally, Hermione? We are all friends here, my dear. You know, I still have your medal. It wasn’t very polite to not come to the ceremony, but,’ he smiled at Hermione then in a way, which made Severus want to punch him in the face. ‘... I believe you could easily find a way to apologise, or thank me for holding it for you for so long. Say... come to my place for dinner?’

‘Thank you for the invitation, Minister, but I am afraid I will be busy for the foreseeable future. Now, please, excuse me, but I have to check on the Ravenclaws.’

‘She works here? What post?’ he asked looking intently at the leaving witch’s back.

Luckily, Minerva decided to answer, ‘She is a teacher in training for Potions with independent study for Mastery in the field.’

‘Really?’ Kingsley seemed pleasantly surprised, ‘That would be a very good thing. I’ve heard she’s not with Ron Weasley, so she’s not dating anyone, right?’

Severus couldn’t take it any longer, and sternly, though politely said, ‘As far as I’m aware, Hermione has never been in a romantic relationship with Mr Weasley; however, she is involved with someone else.’

The other wizard was obviously not-happy, but tried to waive it off, ‘I might still be able to convince her. After all, I am the Minister for Magic, and she is intelligent and rather ambitious; from what I heard. Not to mention just how beautiful she got out of the sudden.’

Minerva came to the tipsy Minister’s rescue, and she dug her fingernails into Severus’s forearm while saying to Kingsley, ‘I wouldn’t count on it, Kingsley. She is very happy and her ambitions lie in a different direction than becoming a politician’s trophy wife.’

‘Excuse me,’ Severus stood up abruptly and left not wanting to listen to more of that crap.

He found her easily, as Hermione was about to enter the Ravenclaw Common Room. ‘Hermione? Are you alright?’ he asked gently, and only after shuffling his shoes a bit to let her know he was there.

She smiled tiredly, ‘I’m fine. Caught a couple of sixth-years, who were about to lose their clothes, and...’ she blushed and tried to hide a small smirk, so he took the bait happily.

‘...And? Don’t tell me that was all, my dear.’

She pulled him more to the side, ‘Well, Minerva won’t be exactly happy about this, but I also caught Ronald Weasley shagging some bimbo, and...’ she told him what happened:

‘That’s thirty points from Gryffindor for inappropriate behaviour, Mr Weasley,’ she said in her best Teacher Voice startling the shagging couple.

Ronald looked at her angrily, but went for a cocky attitude, ‘What? Jealous that this,’ he indicated his freckled body proudly, including his still stiff prick, which didn’t seem to be all that impressive, ‘... won’t be yours?’

Hermione was not hiding her disgust when she said, ‘First of all, Mr Weasley, you are speaking to a member of Hogwarts staff, but off the record, I am incredibly glad that you and I have never been anything besides friends, as I have always been a bad liar and would have problems pretending to be interested in  that.’

‘You fucking bitch!’

‘That’s another twenty points from your House, Mr Weasley, for disrespect towards a teacher. And if I were you, I would be very careful about my next words, as your Head of House informed every staff member how little you need to leave the school too soon. Now, get dressed and go back to your Common Room!’ Then she turned to the embarrassed bimbo, who was covering herself in haste, ‘I used to be friends with Mr Weasley and I am completely aware of his... let’s call it forgetfulness. In other words, if I were you, I would see a healer to check if you didn’t catch something from him.’

The witch just grimaced in disgust and nodded, ‘Thanks, I will.’

Severus was barely holding up the laugh that threatened to escape him. He managed to limit himself to a small chuckle, but when he looked at the witch in front of him, he grinned, ‘That was beautiful, Hermione.’

She was grinning now as well, ‘I will admit, but only to you, that it did feel good to order him to go to bed in front of that woman. And by the way, she looked as if she had just realised what he looked like, and she was not happy at her choice of that evening’s fuck.’

‘And while showing him his place, you additionally made sure someone gossipy learnt you’ve never been with that idiot. Bravo, my brilliant witch.’

‘Thanks! Now, I better go and actually check on the Ravenclaws, and then I can go for a moment to see if Belle is sleeping well.’

‘Go to Belle, and I’ll see to the students. This way, we should be able to steal a few moments to finally eat something in peace. What do you say?’

‘Oh, you are the brilliant one here, Severus!’

‘I’ll be in your quarters in a few moments, will you order something?’

She nodded and hurried to see her daughter, and he entered the Ravens’ nest.

The couple allowed themselves only a short break from the ball, as everyone would notice the Headmaster’s disappearance sooner or later, so he joined the revellers, while Hermione went to the rose garden for a quick patrol.

The moment Severus re-entered the Great Hall, he was dragged onto the dancing floor by another gold and fame digger. This time he was saved by none other but Andromeda Tonks-Black. He knew the witch mainly from a few Order meetings, which she attended. They weren’t well acquainted, but Severus knew she was a rather intelligent woman. The problem appeared, when she turned out to be husband-hunting as well.

‘Ugh, I’m so sick of people constantly asking for “my story”,’ she complained, ‘They don’t see that I would rather be left in peace to mourn my family and look after little Teddy.’ Severus noticed how she avoided the words starting with “grand-“. ‘It’s so much more difficult to raise a child alone, you know? And frankly, I’m more than a bit concerned. Teddy has no male role model, because while Harry – being his godfather –tries to visit us when he can, it’s not the same as a strong, father figure. The boy will have to see somewhere how to behave, how to treat a woman, and be safe while doing all the boy things,’ she smiled at him then flirtatiously.

The Headmaster could only clear his throat, and say, ‘It only shows what a wonderful care you are taking of your grandson, Madame. It’s a good thing for the boy that you consider also the need for an adult man in his life.’

She kept on smiling in the same way, ‘Severus... maybe we could continue talking in a bit more private setting? Or if not today, maybe next week, for example?’

‘I’m afraid that wouldn’t be wise, as we wouldn’t want some perfectly suitable prospect for your new partner to think they had to compete with me. What the papers write about me nowadays is simply absurd.’

‘Oh, of course, but if you change your mind, or simply want some... company, do let me know.’

He nodded noncommittally, ‘Thank you for the dance, Madame Tonks.’

The moment she thanked him back, Severus hurried towards Minerva to escape with a good excuse. The witch didn’t even look at him, but the second he was at her side, she started talking quietly, ‘You are in trouble. The flash of the camera went off the second you gave Andromeda a smile. I know it was one of your “I’m uncomfortable” very fake ones, but that’s me. Hopefully that’s also Hermione, who knows it as well.’

He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers in frustration, ‘Almost the whole evening is a complete disaster.’

It was then she finally looked at him with brows raised in surprise, ‘Almost? I would think you’re enjoying this thing as much as you would wearing one of the purple robes from Albus’s collection.’

He smirked conspiratorially, ‘I’ll tell you when there are fewer eavesdroppers per square inch.’

His friend just huffed in annoyance making Severus to chuckle lightly. Then he looked at the time and almost groaned that it was still at least two hours more of that stupid ball, while he wanted nothing more than to kiss Hermione and fall asleep with her in his arms.

As it was, Hermione, Hooch, Irma, and Filius had drawn the proverbial short straws to leave earlier, but be at breakfast to keep an eye on the younger students. Severus made a deal with Minerva, that he would leave as soon as all the guests were gone, and was present at lunch, while she would stay to help with the cleaning after the party, but she would make appearance no sooner than at dinner. The rest of the teachers were equally divided for those two tasks as well.

Before the night was over for the Headmaster, he had to suffer four more dances with fame-hungry witches, more pictures of him with those women were taken, and more people wanted to talk to him about the school, which at least gave him a few more nice donations for the school and it’s needs.

*

Subconsciously, he went straight to Hermione’s quarters, which he realised only after he closed the door, turned, and was held at her wandpoint.

‘Severus? I thought you would rather go to your bed to get better rest?’

He blinked and said with an embarrassed smile, ‘I was thinking about you the whole evening, and I came here automatically. I’m sorry, I’ll go back to my rooms.’

She smiled, ‘You don’t have to... You know I also prefer to sleep with you, love.’

He sagged with exhaustion and more than a hint of relief, ‘Thank you. I’ll just go have a shower.’

She turned to go back to bed, but threw over her shoulder, ‘And do be sure to wash off that horrid pink lipstick from your cheek.’

He stopped, horrified. ‘Hermione, I have never –‘

She smirked, ‘Don’t worry, Severus. I trust you. Besides, I believe you are the last person in the world, who would cheat on me, especially the same evening you proposed. But don’t think I liked seeing all those women trying to seduce you anymore than you enjoyed that conversation with Shacklebolt. He must have been completely wasted. Now, go get cleaned and come to bed,’ she said it with a soft smile and left for bedroom.

Severus hurried with his ablutions, checked if Belle was covered, and happily lay down next to Hermione, who was already again asleep, moved to cuddle with him. He followed her to the dreamland almost instantly.

*

The articles following the infernal ball were of almost any kind of nature, which unfortunately, included social gossip. Fortunately, he wasn’t the only one who was discussed. Mainly the papers focused; of course, on Potter and Weasley, there were some speculations whether any of the witches Severus had danced with caught his eye. There were texts of various lengths on the many members of the Weasley clan, as well as on some of the teachers and students. Severus read the short interview with Minister Shacklebolt, only because of the title Who stole Minister’s heart?, where Kingsley talked vaguely about a lovely and intelligent woman, who caught his attention at the ball.

Three days after the horrid event, Hermione got an invitation from Kingsley, which she showed him right after reading. ‘I have no idea how to understand it, but in the off chance it’s supposed to be a date, I don’t want him to take my answer the wrong way. And there is the unfortunate small – but still – risk of him feeling offended if I don’t answer at all. And with his position, he might cause some trouble now or in the future for either or both of us.’

Severus only nodded in understanding, especially seeing how distressed Hermione was because of the whole situation. He didn’t want to add his jealousy to the pile, so he suggested, ‘Why don’t you ask Minerva? Shacklebolt respects her, and the woman takes no nonsense, so she’ll help you make the visit quick, and efficient.’

‘Okay, I’ll do that,’ she said with a small smile.

*

Hermione and Minerva’s visit to Shacklebolt a week after the invitation went as well as it could. Hermione got her medal, which entitled her to some money and Minerva admitted to having quite some fun at Kingsley’s discomfort. Hermione was completely embarrassed by the whole situation, but Minerva had no problems reporting the events starting with the wizards attire – he opened the door wearing very tight trousers and only a half buttoned shirt. They all laughed out loud at the described dumbfounded Minister of Magic seeing at his doorstep Minerva McGonagall looking at him sternly and very disapprovingly they were sure he wouldn’t try to woo Hermione again.

When they were done having a laugh at the Minister, Minerva took a sip of her Firewhisky and asked, ‘So, have you set the date yet?’

‘We were considering this summer actually. The only people we want at the wedding are you, Filius, Poppy, and Luna Lovegood. Hermione would like to invite her Muggle neighbour as well, but it’s not exactly possible, as we both want a magical bonding.’

‘Well, I must say it sounds rather soon. Is there any particular reason?’ Minerva was trying in her own way to be subtle, causing Severus to smirk.

‘Yes, Belle is still at age we can easily magically adopt her.’ Hermione was smiling, but Severus knew it wasn’t entirely sincere. ‘Her biological mother’s colouring was very fair – almost like Luna’s, so magical adoption should change that, and might still add some familiarity with our magics.’

‘Oh!’ Minerva was truly surprised, but her smile was a real one. ‘I am so happy for the both of you. Let me know if I can help with anything. For now, I’ll leave you to your evening.’ She stood up, gave Belle a kiss on the forehead, and left.

Chapter Text

Exams came and went. Hermione was doing brilliantly in her role of a teacher, and it was rather obvious she needed only one more term to be able to take over teaching almost completely (as long as she would be supported with the sixth and seventh-years). Gaining her Mastery; however, would take at least a whole more year, but no one worried about that. Surprisingly for many, Hermione wasn’t worried about that either. She had told Severus that it had been some time ago that her priorities changed slightly. Not that education wasn’t important anymore – far from that!

The day before the students were to leave, Potter had a scheduled meeting with Severus to get his things back – the Invisibility Cloak and The Marauders’ Map.

‘Mr Potter, I trust you will not be stupid enough to use either of these items for doing any last-minute... pranks,’ he made sure to put enough disgust into that last word for the boy to get the message, ‘... otherwise I would like to remind you that while you are not going to be here any longer, unfortunately your future offspring will, and I have an excellent memory.’

The boy scratched the back of his neck and chuckled nervously before looking him in the eye and saying, ‘Sir, actually, I thought that maybe it would be better if you kept the Map. Just in case there was; for example, a problem locating a student, or something like that...’

Severus was looking at the soon-former student sternly, ‘And why would you do that?’ he asked slowly.

‘Professor, I am rubbish at things like that – Hermione was the one, who used to help me with the situations involving speaking to adults – at least if I hadn’t been too stubborn to listen to her. I’m trying to apologise and try to bury the hatchet between you and I.’

‘Mr Potter... What is it that you really want?’

The younger wizard groaned in frustration, ‘Fine! I was hoping that we could become something like friends, and then you would agree to tell me some stories about my mother. After all, you love her, you knew her, when you were kids. I know only some stories about my dad from Sirius and Remus, but they only spoke in general terms about mum.’

‘Ah. So you want some personal stories. You will not get them from me, but not for the reasons you might jump to. You are an orphan starved for pictures and stories about his dead parents, which would feed your belief in them being practically saints. They were not. It’s a common practice to not speak ill of the dead, and especially in front of their relatives, but here is the truth, Mr Potter: if I were to tell you about your mother, you would learn that she wasn’t perfect. But neither are you, nor am I. You’ve already told too many people too much about my private memories, so there will be no more stories shared with you. I am not your enemy, but neither am I your friend. I wish you good luck in becoming an adult.’

The boy left after that quietly after placing the Map on the desk.

*

The students had left, the staff had had the traditional party, during which quite a few asked to be invited for Belle’s birthday, as they became fond of the little girl. The “Old Brigade”; as Hooch liked to call the teachers who had been at Hogwarts for longer than five minutes, had invited Hermione to join them for nightcaps a few times, and to bring her daughter. Old Brigade consisted of Minerva, Poppy, Hooch, Filius, Irma, Septima, Pomona, Bathsheda, and Severus. Aurora had an open invitation, but she preferred quieter gatherings. The others hadn’t earned their invitations yet.

Hermione was holding her drink and asked, ‘So... how did I earn the invitation?’ Belle had left with Lu before the adults started indulging.

Hooch quickly said ‘You managed many great things, but I have two favourites: sending Umbitch to Centaurs.’

‘And the other?’

‘Maybe I’ll tell you one day, but I’m waaay too sober for that tonight!’ they all laughed.

The next day, in her quarters, Hermione asked Severus if he knew what had exactly happened to the pink toad.

‘And what did you hear?’

‘Nothing much, but I knew that Centaurs wouldn’t kill, nor rape her, but frankly I wasn’t thinking then how they would punish her.’

‘They drugged her with some of their concoctions and helped her hallucinations to be more... creative. Afterwards, she was almost mad, but it was repairable enough for her to function more-or-less normally.’

She nodded and went back to her breakfast.

 

Severus and Horace had agreed to continue Hermione’s training during summer, but not only with solid breaks, but also Severus would be the one doing most of the training, while Horace agreed to come two weeks earlier to help Hermione with preparing the lesson plans, and do some training as well. That meant, that most of the summer the couple would be spending in the castle.

Hermione and Severus planned their training time carefully to not spend the whole time in the lab, as they wanted to simply be together and rest as well. They scheduled a visit to Hermione’s neighbour – Mrs Holton, and check on Hermione’s house just a week after the students have left, and Severus wanted to take the girls at the seaside – Hermione loved the idea.

Another thing his witch loved was being able to wear her ring on the finger.

Another thing little Belle loved was the shiny thing on her mum’s finger.

*

Adelaide Holton couldn’t hide the happiness at seeing his Granger girls, and especially, when she found out about the engagement.

‘Oh, this is marvellous, Hermione! I’m so happy for you all.’ She turned to Severus then, ‘Severus, I can see how wonderfully you are looking after these two. It’s more than obvious you’ll be a great husband and father.

‘That’s what I am striving to be. Thank you nonetheless for the faith in me.’

‘A very good answer,’ she smiled, and then winked at Hermione, ‘He definitely is a keeper.’

‘I know,’ Hermione’s reply was adorned with a loving look at the man in question.

They spent pleasant two hours with the old woman, and went to inspect the house. Thanks to the wards and some other clever charms, the building was in perfect condition, which included even lack of dust.

She conjured a crib for Belle for the nap and then led Severus to the kitchen to prepare tea.

‘Hermione? Are you still thinking of selling this place?’ Severus asked carefully, knowing it was a difficult topic for her.

‘I don’t know. I have been thinking about it more ever since you proposed, but I can’t decide this on my own. I need your input on a few things here. Do you want to talk about it now?’

‘Why not? We have the time and Belle is asleep,’ he smiled, spelled the tray with tea and sandwiches to fly to the living room, and led Hermione to the sofa, where he dragged her onto his lap. She giggled quietly at the last part. ‘So, what do you want to know, my love?’

‘Well, let’s start with practicalities. Do you have a home, where you want to spend school breaks?’

‘Yes. I had bought a few years ago a cottage at the Southern coast of the Isle of Wight, and that’s where I was hoping to take you both on vacation. I also inherited a house about a year ago. It needs a thorough inspection for any potential nasty spells and wards, but according to what Lu had said, there shouldn’t be much if any. I got rid of Spinner’s End in January 1997, so we have one problem less.’

‘Okay. So that leaves us with two houses and a summer cottage. We spend most of the year at Hogwarts, so there is not much point in keeping two places. Is your house bigger than this one?’

‘Yes, definitely. And it has a rather big advantage of a rather big parcel. It provides lots of privacy. The house itself has a nice-sized laboratory, and enough rooms for the three of us to be comfortable, and even have over-night guests, if need be. On the downside, it had been empty for quite a while, so it’s rather gloomy. And...’ he hesitated in jest, ‘... it has house-elves.’

She mock-glared at him for a moment, but said seriously, ‘“Gloomy” shouldn’t be a big problem, we can always re-decorate a bit to brighten it up, if you wouldn’t mind, that is.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. It would be our house, and I had hated living in the Doom and Gloom of the dungeons. And as I have told you, it’s not my home, but I would happily make it our home with you.’

Hermione smiled at him lovingly and kissed him briefly, but sweetly. ‘In that case, Let’s sell my house, since it’s too small for us, and it doesn’t provide enough privacy for Flooing, Apparating, etc. Since it is in London, we should get a decent price, especially since we are not in a hurry.’

‘Are you sure you want to get rid of it?’

‘Yes. Frankly, I don’t feel that it is my home. It would always be my parents’ home. I had problems forcing myself to make the few absolutely necessary changes when Belle appeared in my life. I don’t hate it here, but I don’t feel... at home. Not anymore, not for a long time.’

He nodded, ‘I can understand that. Unless you want to wait, we could arrange a meeting with a real estate agency even tomorrow.’

‘Yes, let’s. I don’t even have here many things I’d want to keep, so this should make things easier.’

‘I’ll help you with anything you want me to, and the elves will clean here more than happily to make it absurdly spotless.’

‘Right... the elves. So... how many elves do you have exactly?’

‘Ten, including Lu, I believe. Why?’

She groaned, ‘Because I know nothing about the house-elves, but if you have so many of them, that means you are downplaying just how big of a house that little place of yours is. And that means that it’s either an almost ruin, or you are more than wealthy now, which I think is the more probable thing, and because of that all, I...’

‘What is it, Hermione?’ he asked with a hint of worry at her unhappy face.

‘I don’t know how I feel, frankly. A little bit hurt; I guess, because it looks like you don’t exactly trust me, but I don’t know why that is.’

He sighed, ‘Love, it’s not as easy as that. At first I was mostly angry at that inheritance, because I got the house and the money only because I was literally the last of the Prince line. At first I didn’t want it, but then when I went there the first time, mostly out of curiosity, I saw a group of those house-elves happy to finally have a family. Yes, even if only lone me. I had been thinking on it for a long while, and finally decided to keep it and see what to do with it in the long run. I hadn’t told you simply because I hadn’t been thinking about it at all, but then... Then I started imagining the three of us there, playing with Belle, infecting her with our love for books while spending hours in the library... and doing all the other family things. After that, the topic never came up until now. At some point, I had decided to leave it as a surprise, if we don’t start the topic, and...’ he trailed off, so Hermione nudged him to continue, ‘... and after you said “yes”, the insecure part of me said that now I know you’re not marrying me for my library alone.’

She laughed and smacked him on the arm, ‘Severus!’

‘I love you and trust you with everything I am. You know that, don’t you?’

‘I do. And I love you just as much,’ and she kissed him.

After a while, Severus asked what had been bothering him slightly for quite a while, ‘Hermione? What happened to your parents?’

She sighed, but he wasn’t sure what kind of sigh it was, ‘I wiped their memories of my person and after selling their dental clinic, I magically changed their documents to give them slightly new identities and sent them to Australia. They had always wanted to see the country, so that’s why I chose it. That, and how far away it was from the war. After the war, I’ve found them and they are perfectly fine, especially since they adopted two kids – siblings. They are happier than ever.’

‘Don’t say that...’

‘But that’s true, Severus,’ she said calmly, ‘They had always wanted to have three or even four children, but because of all the weird things constantly happening around me, they never decided to have more kids. Add to the fact that they were never happy with how much different my life was than theirs – how little they understood, even though they did try. They were lovely parents, but I know they wished for me to not be magical, and I do understand that.’

‘Do you have any other family?’

‘Not anymore. Dad had a brother, but uncle Robert died many years ago. He was mugged and killed by knife in his heart. You?’

‘No family from either side. Tobias was an orphan, and mother’s side is dead now as well. Though... To accept what was left of the Princes, I had to take their name as well, so actually, my full name is now Severus Tobias Snape-Prince.’ He then went after a hopeful smile, ‘It seems like we are each other’s family now. And there is one more thing we haven’t talked about yet. I will tell this to you only this once, Hermione. If you ever want to try for us to have a child – tell me. I don’t want you to feel like we have to have our own children, because I love Belle with my whole heart, and yes, she is enough, but at the same time I wouldn’t be opposed to giving her a brother or sister. This, however, will have to be your own decision whether or not you would want to even try.’

She was looking at him seriously, ‘Okay. I accept that.’

*

Wanting to create a magical, familial bond with each other and with Belle before she turned one, Severus and Hermione’s wedding combined with the magical adoption took place on the 17th July 1999. They all bonded with the closest friends present – just as they had discussed. They chose the completely magical bonding, which required of them to say the vows, and if they meant them, they would be married.

When the magic started working, Hermione looked at him with eyes wide open in awe, ‘I-I can feel your magic mesh with mine!’ she exclaimed quietly, and before he could feel anything degrading about himself, she went on, ‘It’s so beautiful!’ And she threw herself in his arms, ‘I love you so much, Severus!’

‘And I love you, Hermione Jean Snape-Prince,’ and they finally kissed as the married couple. There was some cheering from their friends.

Luna was looking at them with actual awe, when she said, ‘I’ve only seen magical bond like yours only in my parents. Did you know you are soul mates?’ and then she went straight for the Luna-type bomb, ‘Magic bonding like yours can heal much more than you can even suspect. I wish you both very happy and very long life.’

After the wishes for the newly wedded couple, they adopted magically Belle, giving her the new surname and blood bond with her new parents. With the new bond came much darker shade of blue for her irises and wavy, dark-brown hair. The girl laughed happily when the magic washed over her.

The six friends and little Belle had dinner together to celebrate the bondings. They were having a lovely time laughing and talking. The Snapes (as they chose to use Snape-Prince only in official situations, and for everyday to be simply the Snapes) got a few lovely gifts, which included a camera and a photo album with never ending pages, so they all took a few pictures right away. Minerva, who gave them the camera, had taken a few photos during the bondings, but had asked Filius to hide the flash.

‘So, lovebirds,’ Minerva asked happily teasing the couple, ‘where are you three going for the honeymoon?’

‘Severus has a cottage at the seaside, so we’re spending there about a week after Belle’s birthday party. Besides that, we’ll be mostly at the castle.’

‘Yes, Hermione has a lot of work, if we want her to be ready to take over Potions completely after the winter break. That would give Horace his coveted retirement and the students the stability of one teacher. I managed to even convince Horace to come back sooner from his holidays to give some official training and help before the beginning of the new school year,’ added Severus.

They all toasted to Hermione wishing for her to gain her Mastery as soon as possible as well, and then there were some more well-wishes and congratulations to the newly established family. Belle was happily squeaking and giggling, and laughing at the attention she was getting from everybody. Before they ended the revelry, Severus and Hermione spoke to their friends.

‘We wanted to ask all of you a big favour, as we don’t want to pick the traditional godparents, Severus and I are hoping that in case something happens to us, all of you could look after Belle.’

Severus continued, ‘Neither Hermione nor I have any relatives, so we consider you to be our family. Poppy, we know you would do absolutely anything in your and not only your power to keep Belle safe and healthy. Minerva, we all know you are strict, but under that discipline-demanding demeanour is lots of motherly love for anyone who needs it, while not allowing the children to be out of line,’ they all chuckled good-naturedly at that, and Hermione took over again.

‘Filius, you would never allow Belle to stop being awed with magic, nor allowed her to forget that there is always something more to learn. And Luna, Belle would always need a big-sister or young-aunt she would know to go to with any kind of problem, especially problems with friends or boys. We love you all so very much, and you would do us great honour agreeing to our huge request.’

And the tears and hugs and all that started anew with the four saying the Snapes had to be real idiots if they thought they needed to ask for that.

*

The newlyweds were both rather nervous on their wedding night, but thanks to taking things slowly, it was a very satisfying first time. Hermione had felt some pain, but not much, especially since it was in between of two orgasms. Afterwards, they were lying grinning happily until deciding to have a shower, where happened the second time.

They slept soundly, but woke each other up rather early with subconscious caresses, which led to them having a morning quickie before their daughter was even up.

The castle stretched Headmaster’s quarters, and gave them additional two doors – one to Hermione’s office, and the other to a private garden, where they found a swing and a sandbox for the small family.

*

On the actual day of Annabelle’s birthday, Thursday 29th, Hermione and Severus took Belle to a playground in London, which was designed specifically for such young children, and then they all went for ice-cream. They also did some shopping for their holidays the next week, and bought a few items for the party on Saturday – a nice dress for the girl to dress up and mess up with the cake, a new set of building blocks as the gift for their daughter, paper plates with various cartoon and fairytales characters, and some other things mainly for fun (like bibs for everyone – Hooch in particular).

When they came back to the castle, there was an owl waiting for Hermione. She checked if it was safe thoroughly enough for Severus to not try to do the same himself, and opened. She read and re-read, anger radiating from Severus’s wife. She handed the parchment to him to read as well, and she sat down by their shared desk to write a reply. Each of them had an office with big desks there to have some privacy, but they placed one of the few things Hermione’d kept from her old house – an antique desk – in their living room precisely for things like writing letters, to share. Right next to it, each raven had its own perch, and luckily for everyone, Gwen and Bob were getting on very well.

The letter angered Severus as well, but he wasn’t quite sure if his wife’s reaction was about the same thing.

Hermione,

I wanted to invite you for my birthday party this Saturday. It will be at the Burrow at 3 pm. It will be mostly family and friends, so I was hoping you might want to come this year. I really want to be friends again, and I even managed to convince Molly to give you another chance. Who knows? Maybe you even meet someone, if you really can’t repair things with Ron?

Love,

Harry

 

Severus stepped to the desk to see if Hermione wanted him to read the reply as well. Instead of her writing a scathing letter, he noticed she was shaking. ‘What can I do to help?’

She let out a deep breath to calm down and looked up at him, ‘I wanted to write him a Howler, but...’ she sighed, ‘But that’s not a good idea, so I’m thinking what to write to him.’

‘What is it that made you so upset? I mean, I can imagine a thing or two that anyone could take as angering, but what is it for you?’

‘There are quite a few things in fact. Starting with when he invited me. Then there is his not-so-subtle reminder I wasn’t there last year. I did send him a gift and a letter with apologies and he never sent a thank-you note or a “I hate you, don’t speak to me ever again” one. I think the biggest problem is that I am not sure if even want to continue our... acquaintance. In that one, short letter he’s just proved that he knows nothing about me, he doesn’t really care about me, nor do I fit into his world, and he is fine with that, but wants to pretend we can be one, big, happy family no matter how I feel about it.’

‘Would you care to elaborate?’ he probed gently to understand her better, and frankly, out of sheer curiosity as well.

‘Are you sure? Because it might be a rather a lot of my whining...’

He chuckled, ‘Ranting about Potter? That rather sounds like fun for me.’

His comment had the desired effect and made her laugh. ‘Fine. While Harry has many positive qualities, and he is a good guy, he had rarely been a truly good friend for me. He would always choose Ronald’s side often not even listening to my side of the story. He tended to forget about me and my needs or preferences. It hit me especially one day at the tent. To not go completely crazy, we found some therapeutic things to do; mine was doing magic, learning to do it wandlessly – if I had the energy – or imagining I was not in that wretched tent during winter, but on a lovely beach. Harry, on the other hand was planning his perfect future. I realised he didn’t know me very well the day he started describing that future to me.

‘He told me of how he and Ginny would get married and start their own family, and how Ron and I would follow. How our kids would be growing up together, and we all were going to Quidditch matches, and that it would be easy for me to get a behind-a-desk job in Aurory for the pregnancy time, and later for a few years to raise the kids, and then we would be a team in the field again. Then there was a stupid joke about us being lucky to have Molly as the mother-in-law because she would cook for all the family gatherings, since I can’t cook anyway.

‘He went so far to plan his and my wedding to “our respective Weasleys”. He even jested about Ron and I arguing all the time about “some nonsense” not ever seeing it as a serious problem. There was also a jab about me being lucky that he would be an uncle and Ron the father of my kids, because any child would be unhappy to be forced to spend all their time with dusty books,’ her voice cracked at that, ‘This one actually hurts now even more than when I first heard it. Harry can be a sweet boy, who will always fight for you and give you his last piece of bread, if you tell him you’re hungry, and he can make me laugh, but that’s not enough, you know?’

‘Have you tried to tell him how ridiculous that vision was when it comes to your person?’

She shook her head a “no”, and smiled sadly, ‘That’s the point – I shouldn’t have to. He should know that I never once expressed even a fleeting desire to be an Auror. He should know I would never simply give up my career to be a housewife, that I would expect my husband to rather help me so that I could be happy as well. He should know there is a little more to me than big, dusty books...’ then she added, ‘I thought then hard and I realised that each time I had started talking about anything interesting for me, or about my dreams and hopes, they had always stopped listening and started either talking about something like Quidditch, or had been teasing me about one thing or another. So to answer your question: No, I didn’t tell him, because from my experiences he wouldn’t listen anyways.’

They were quiet for a moment until Severus finally said, ‘I see only two options here, as you don’t want to make an enemy out of Potter. One; you invite him here to finally tell him everything you’ve just told me, and if he finally listens, then give him another chance. Or second; you write him a polite, but cold reply with general message of “sorry but I have other things to do with people, who actually care about me, so don’t write again, unless it’s a life and death situation”.’

She mulled that over. ‘I think I’ll go with a mix of those two.’

‘Offering to see him some time later?’

‘Yes.’

And she went back to the quill and parchment. A few minutes later, she handed him the text to take a look. They had learnt to do that, so the other was simply aware of things like meeting dates etc.

 

Harry,

I have already made plans for this weekend and  can’t change them, nor would I want to do so. I did not like the tone of your letter and the fact how late you had sent the invitation was simply insulting (it was only one of the offending things there). I decided, however, to dismiss it, if you are truly willing to try and mend our friendship. I could meet with you at Hogwarts, as this is where I’m spending most of the summer.

If you are amenable to this meeting, let me know what dates are convenient for you, and I’m sure we’ll be able to choose one that would suit us both. I’m definitely unavailable the following week (02-08 August).

I admit I haven’t bought you a birthday gift, as apparently the one from last year wasn’t met with approval, so I decided not to bother; especially, since until now I did not expect to hear from you again.

No matter what your response will be – Happy Birthday and good life,

H.

She sent it off with Gwen and they went to unpack the purchases.

*

The party was fun for everyone. Belle again had many people, who spoiled her with gifts and attention, the news of the Grangers and Severus becoming the Snapes, were met with slightly surprised, but honest cheers. At the question “Why didn’t you say something? We would have loved to attend” were answered with apologetic explanations.

‘We had literally four guests,’ said Severus, ‘Only they knew about our relationship in the first place, and since we didn’t particularly care about any audience, it would be only the three of us, but Belle’s magical adoption required witnesses.’

‘Plus,’ interjected Minerva, ‘I would have killed them both for not inviting me. Same probably goes for Poppy and Filius.’

‘Who was the fourth then?’ Pomona asked, obviously miffed for not being invited, but still happy for them.

‘Luna Lovegood. I thought of her being something akin to a bride’s maid and the aunt “go to for the most awkward topics” for Belle.’

After that, they all put on the bibs and ate the cake and simply had fun.

*

The cottage turned out to be a perfect place for them, as Hermione’s favourite kind of landscape was seaside, which Severus also truly enjoyed (otherwise he wouldn’t have bought it in the first place, after all), and Belle was having lots and lots of fun in the biggest sandbox in her short life. They spent a lot of time walking and playing in the sand and in the water. They were cooking together, and once, Severus called for Lu to look after Belle, when he invited Hermione to go dancing.

He would never forget the excited look she sent him when he asked her out. It was only then he realised it was their first real date – going out and without Belle. He apologised profusely and stopped talking only when Hermione happily kissed him to shut up.

They spent the night dancing, drinking, eating, and laughing. When they came back home, they had sex with lots of laughing and they went to sleep with satisfied smiles on their faces.

Severus Snape had a tan. It was the first time in... probably forever. It was light, as Hermione was constantly applying on all three of them the sunscreen she had created. But it was a tan nonetheless.

Chapter Text

The ugly reality came crashing their bliss all too soon, and the Snapes found themselves back in Scotland. Hermione went back to her training-brewing and reading whatever texts she was asked to; as if that was to ever be a problem.

In the meantime, Severus was visiting Prince Manor to prepare it for his family. Just as the elves had said – there were only a few wards against Muggle-borns, but not only were they very easy to remove, but Hermione and Belle’s status as family would override them anyway. He ordered the elves to prepare everything to be not only spotless – which it was, but to secure all the fireplaces and stairs to be baby-proof, bearing in mind that the child was an advanced toddler, and one to use magic a lot.

They were ecstatic.

*

It was 12th August, when Hermione finally got the letter from Potter. He wrote; rather curtly, that he was angry that something was more important than her best friend’s birthday, but he was willing to meet her. Not learning from his previous mistake, the boy gave her the 13th as the most convenient for him date, and the 14th as the only other option. Hermione sighed tiredly, and replied that the Floo to the Headmaster’s office would be open for him on 14th between 5 and 6 pm.

On the day Potter was to visit, Hermione was obviously nervous, so Severus did his best to calm her down, so they brewed, played with Belle in the garden, and when the girl was napping, they had a nice quickie, which resulted in a shared shower and that lead to a much longer and louder (thanks to all the deities for privacy charms!) bout of sex in their bed.

They had an early dinner so she wouldn’t be hungry if the idiot arrived rather later than sooner, and Belle gave Hermione the best gift of bringing one of her books to Hermione and saying “Read, mama”.

**

The Floo activated and as the wards let them know about the fact, Hermione took a fortifying breath and went to the Headmaster’s office.

Harry stood there awkwardly, cleaning the soot from his person. The boy made her wait forty-five minutes for his arrival, but she was ready for something like that – the day Harry Potter figured out on his own to let someone know when he would be arriving, would be the day Ronald Weasley realised he should have given more attention to actual studying.

The boy looked up noticing someone entered the room, and he got that open-mouthed shocked expression.

‘Hello, Harry. I wasn’t sure you were coming,’ Hermione decided to be coolly polite.

‘Wow... Mione, you look... beautiful!’

She wanted to cancel the whole thing and throw the boy out with a hex as the “good-bye”. ‘Do you even realise how insulting your absolute surprise is?’ she sighed and stopped whatever he was to say with a short, ‘Let’s talk in my office. It’s much more private there,’ she said with a significant look towards the late Headmasters’ portraits and left making Harry to follow her.

Hermione indicated to the boy two armchairs nearby the fireplace she had prepared previously and ordered tea. Then she sat there quietly, knowing perfectly well Harry was incredibly impatient and she wouldn’t have to wait for long for him to break the silence.

‘Mione –‘

‘It’s “Hermione”, unless it’s too difficult to remember my name after all those years.’ She knew it was said in a way Severus would be proud to use on one of the most imbecilic students, and she had to fight a smile to creep on her lips. She managed.

‘Fine! Hermione, I came here today, to talk about all this nonsense of us not being friends. Look, I know it was not okay of me to wait with inviting you to my birthday so late,’ at seeing her raised brow, he amended, ‘Fine... Fleur may have explained it to me. But the point is that I really wanted you there and you just snubbed me.’

‘As I have explained in the letter – I had had plans.’

‘Oh, come on! A day spent over books can hardly be called plans “you couldn’t cancel”!’

She laughed a cold, rather scary – judging by Potter’s face – laugh, and with the angry remnants of that laughter, she told him calmly, ‘And you still wonder why I could not be friends with you again? After yet again saying I have absolutely no life outside following you and Ronald and being at every beck and call when you muck things up again? Harry Potter, with your letter and today alone you made it clear I am a no-life, who is normally ugly, has no chances at a life unless you push someone on me, and that I should be grateful you saved the day convincing Mrs Weasley to let me into your party, that she should give me another chance. Potter, she is the one, who kept insulting me every time she had a chance for not striving to be a housewife. She had been petty and ready to believe the worst of me without even a hint of evidence, and I was always expected to simply forgive and forget, even though she never once apologised.’ Hermione took a calming breath and said slowly, ‘I am not your enemy, but I don’t want to see or hear from you unless in a dire circumstances. You let me down just a few times too many. From now on, I don’t want you to bother me and my family ever again.’

The boy was shocked to the point, he asked the obviously first thing that came to his mind, ‘What was so important then that you couldn’t come to my birthday?’

‘You might learn from the newspaper like anyone else.’ She stood up. ‘I’ll lead you now to the Headmaster’s office to open the Floo for you.’

*

Severus was positively surprised how simply nice Luna Lovegood was. She had visited them two days after the Snapes came back from the cottage, and she suggested she would write a short article about them and Belle. At first, both Hermione and he protested, but then Luna reasoned that it would make things easier and less dramatic, and prevent any stupid, potential attempts at creating a scandal, so they finally agreed.

Luna agreed easily to wait with publishing it for after Potter’s visit, and today it was here, in The Quibbler: “Magical Adoption and Bonding; or Joy at Hogwarts!”. She described the whole situation in a tasteful and simple manner using a few quotes from them both, and when the piece strictly about the Snapes was finished, she asked to respect the newly established family’s privacy. There was also the next article about various types of magical bonding and an extension on adoption itself (not only magical one) “for those difficult times post-war, where there are more orphans than ever”.

*

There were some letters from the public after the announcement of the Snapes’ bondings; some were nice, some not, there was one particularly vicious Howler with traps in it. The particularly nasty one was; of course, from Ronald and Molly Weasley, who got an official warning that any further attempts at any kind of contact, would be reported to the authorities.

*

Horace came back as promised and even had a few solid tasks for Hermione, which required his active supervision. As the older wizard did not read The Quibbler, the Snapes had to explain to him why it was extremely rude to try and persuade Severus into going on a date with a witch of his close acquaintance. And especially doing it in front of Hermione.

Hermione’s training was progressing nicely, and when the students came back on 1st September, she was to start teaching years first to fourth on her own and co-teach older years, finally including the oldest class. The three potioneers decided that unless something came up, Horace could retire in December and Severus would be the one to help with the OWL and NEWT classes. It was a good thing, as Hermione was still studying for her Mastery in Potions examination. Because of how few people were actually ambitious (and talented) enough to actually try to become a Master in any of the fields, each candidate had to make an appointment and the testing was happening for each individually. So, while there was no particular deadline for her to be tested, she wanted to avoid anyone (students in particular) doubting her abilities.

After the first shock of the students to have two Professors Snape was gone, it was business as always. The pupils saw Hermione as any teacher, even if slightly (or rather a lot) younger one, but since during her classes she was strict with discipline, yet approachable with real questions, they treated her with respect. There were few who were trying her patience, there were no serious issues – just typical loss of points and occasional detention with one of the following: Hermione, Severus, Argus, or the student’s Head of House.

*

Neville Longbottom joined the staff as the first apprentice in too long. Hermione was rather amused seeing the boy to pale significantly when Severus had welcomed him as he had all the returning staff – on the 1st September during lunch. Those, who hadn’t been included in the Old Brigade, congratulated the Snapes, and Fleur had marvelled on how much Belle had grown, as the girl had been present during the meal.

After the staff meeting (for which Belle had been taken away by Lu), Hermione sat next to Neville and smiled.

‘How are you doing, Neville?’

‘Erm, fine, I guess... And you, Her- Professor... Snape?’

She laughed lightly, 'I'm still Hermione to you, if you want. With the students around it’s back to “Professor Snape” I guess, but besides that... Well, we used to be friends, weren’t we?’

He finally smiled with relief, 'I hope we still are.’

‘Good. Now, don’t let Severus intimidate you too much, and you’ll be perfectly fine.

He gulped audibly, but nodded with determined expression, so Hermione patted his knee and went to look for Fleur, to chat for a moment.

The two young witches hadn’t had many occasions to talk before or during that summer, but when they had, they enjoyed each other's company.

It turned out Fleur was pregnant. They hadn’t told the families yet, but the Gringotts was already aware, as a curse breaker’s job may not be safe for a pregnant witch, she was delegated to a desk job, but only for up to four months. It was the goblins' policy to not have heavily pregnant females anywhere near them and their bank.

*

It was nearing December, when Hermione got another owl from Potter.

‘What does the cretin wants?’ The last time Hermione had spoken with the boy, Severus had to restrain himself to not go and seriously hurt him.

‘Read yourself,’ she said between chewing on her lip.

He took the parchment and rather easily understood why his wife was so torn between incinerating it and replying.

 

Madame Snape, [there was obvious hesitation to the address]

I remember your wish to not bother you and your family anymore, but I just wanted to say, that I finally started understanding. You see, recently, I found myself in a situation, where I had to rethink a few things and it was then I started realising I had been taking you for granted. I wish to apologise, as I am truly sorry. I know it probably doesn’t matter anymore to you, but I owe you this and much, much more.

If you are still reading then I hope that Professor Snape and your daughter know how lucky they are to have you.

I wish you three all the best,

Harry.

 

‘I can see you’re thinking of answering him. You are too kind and too forgiving, my love.’ And then he kissed her lovingly before adding, ‘And we do know how lucky we are to have you.’

‘I am the lucky one,’ she said, eyes shining with love. ‘And of course, you’re right – I am thinking of writing him back. You think it’s a bad idea?’

He sighed and pulled her closer kissing the crown of her curly head, ‘No, love. You can be vindictive and ruthless, but only when dealing with an enemy. I think I am the best example just how good of a person you can be, and Potter, well, he used to be your friend, so it’s only in your nature to hear him out, at the very least. However, don’t send the letter right away – let him sweat for a change.’

She chuckled and dragged him to their bedroom.

*

During that summer, the Snapes had visited Prince Manor only once, but when Hermione’s dumbfounded state had passed, she was ecstatic with the building. She admired the architectural details and the space. Severus had introduced his family to the elves and they had asked for a tour. Hermione being herself had done some notes and later had asked for the blueprints. The Snapes had stayed for the night and decided to spend there some quality time during winter break.

Severus and the four Heads of Houses made a schedule for all the teachers for the winter and spring breaks, making sure no one was free from the obligations, as there were some students staying, and they needed to be taken care of. Severus, as the Headmaster was expected to be present at Hogwarts for the Christmas Day, so Hermione suggested the three of them could celebrate Christmas Eve as the Snapes’ tradition. He liked the idea particularly because his parents never made any fuss about any kind of traditions, so establishing their own was suddenly important in a very good way.

And so, when the students were to leave the castle, the Snapes readied for going to Sheffield, where their Manor was situated. Hermione and Severus made plans for bigger and smaller changes to the old building. They had surprisingly compatible tastes, though both had to agree to some compromises, but luckily, it was mainly with some small, less significant things. Hermione insisted on trying to turn a guest house into a Muggle-friendly space, where they could get electricity and computer and a few other appliances. Severus wasn’t against, but he was rather sceptical if it was even achievable mainly because of the wards. They easily agreed to not rush with it, and leave the bigger projects for summer months.

What they did want to accomplish that winter, was making their living space lighter and more comfortable; preparing a study for each of them, and setting a play-space for Belle in the library; and adjusting their bedrooms, of course. Severus also brought a nice, slightly big tree to decorate, and Hermione took out the few of her old, family ornaments, and then conjured many balls in various sizes, which were in not red and green, as he had silently predicted, but in elegant shades of pink, purple, black, and silver. Some of them were matte, some almost mirror-shiny, and some were sparkly. Severus thought that if he ever saw a set like that one in a shop, he would consider it rather tacky, but he was surprised the effect in the end was truly nice.

The elves were getting used to the new family, but they were doing it rather happily. Hermione never demanded – she always asked, and she did something no Lady of the house had ever done before – she asked their opinions. She explained she had no idea what they expected of her, or how to manage such a great house, so Hermione informed the house-elves that if they wanted to have a “proper Lady of the House” they would need to help her to become one. They were all completely dumbfounded; well, all except for Lu, who had had the time to get to know Hermione rather well while babysitting for Belle, and so it was Lu, who spoke for them all promising they would do everything they could to serve the new members of the family in the way they wished. Lu also quietly promised to inform the others about some of the things the Snapes were used to. Hermione thanked Lu and others and went to prepare for her meeting with Potter.

She had written the boy to meet her for tea on 23rd December in Prince Manor. The students had left at 10 that day, so the Snapes could Floo to their new home right after that. Severus was adamant at not leaving her alone with the idiot, that since he was her husband, he had every right to be there to support his beloved. Hermione only smiled lovingly and kissed him at that pronouncement.

For once, the boy was punctual. He looked very nervous exiting the fireplace in the Floo Room.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Potter,’ Severus wanted to be the one to greet him, to see just how serious he was in his apologies and well wishes.

The boy gulped audibly, but stood straight and bowed his head in respect, ‘Headmaster Snape.’

‘Come, Hermione is waiting for us in the drawing room.’

When they entered the room, Hermione was seated on the sofa with their daughter on the lap and they were finishing another of Belle’s favourite books, so Severus indicated the armchair for Potter and asked Su (one of the elves) for tea. When Hermione finished the story, she called for Lu, handed her Belle, and asked to prepare banana with strawberries as a snack for the girl. Only then did she greeted her once-friend.

‘Hello, Mr Potter.’ She accepted the cup from Severus and after taking a sip, asked, ‘How is the adult life, Mr Potter?’

He cleared his throat, ‘Ehm, very different from what I had expected. I started my Auror training in September.’

‘Ah. More difficult than you had imagined?’

He grimaced, ‘Much.’

‘May I ask what has happened that so suddenly you changed your opinion of me? I must say I am most curious, as I wasn’t able to do it over the years?’

Severus had agreed to try and be mostly quiet and rather figure out whether their guest was honest or not, and if he had any... additions to his person that could harm their family in any way.

‘I... I overheard a few conversations by accident, and well, I was not happy at what I learnt.’ He hesitated before continuing with the mixture of reluctance and the need to talk about what was bothering him, ‘I managed to leave work earlier and I wanted to surprise Ginny and take her for a walk to spend some time alone. I was about to enter the Burrow, when I heard Molly and Ginny talking about you. I had no idea those two could ever be so... mean. I’m not going to repeat what they said, but then they started discussing my and Ginny’s wedding, and they both agreed that it was a good thing I wanted to start a family soon, because it would be rather sooner than later.’

‘Oh, so you are going to be a father? Congratulations, Mr Potter.’ It was obvious to Severus that Hermione was not truly happy for the boy, but he wasn’t exactly sure why.

Potter coloured strongly, ‘That’s the point... I’m not sure I am.’

‘Did you not have sex with Miss Weasley?’

He cleared his throat  out of nervousness, ‘I-I did, but I always made sure to cast the Charm... I mean, I do want a family rather quickly, but not before I finish my training.’

Severus raised his brow, ‘Are you suggesting the baby might not be yours? This is a serious accusation, Mr Potter.’

‘I don’t know what to think anymore,’ he looked resigned more than anything. ‘I don’t really know why, but the idea of Ginny cheating on me doesn’t sound as improbable for me as it should...’

Hermione raised her brows and pursed her lips before saying easily, ‘I know exactly why, though I’m only slightly surprised you don’t. You’ve always tended to be rather blind to people’s flaws, but only as long as you liked them. If you didn’t, well... it’s completely the other way round.’

The boy was truly confused, ‘But why would I think that about Ginny?’

The Snapes exchanged knowing looks and Hermione sighed before answering, ‘Because she had been cheating on her previous boyfriends? Because she had been shagging a Ravenclaw from her year while dating Dean, and while supposedly pining after you. Because Fleur told me she had to force Bill to take the fidelity charm during their wedding. Because –‘ she stopped suddenly, took a deep breath and smiled sadly, ‘And if you didn’t know about it all, then it only proves you tend to be clueless. If you are not sure if the baby; if Miss Weasley is pregnant indeed, then take the paternity test. But do remember that if she was faithful, then it will cause serious problems between the two of you. I want it to be said loud and clear: I do not advise you one way nor another. You, Mr Potter, had never listened to me, unless Mr Weasley agreed with me on those very few occasions.’

The boy groaned putting his head in his palms and quietly said, ‘I keep wondering if Ginny really loves me, or if she’s with me only for my money. I hate it that I have those doubts.’ Then he raised his head, and with tired eyes looked straight at Hermione, ‘And I hate how I had been treating you. Both of you, actually.’ He looked positively contrite, and the same impression Severus was getting throughout the whole meeting.

‘It’s nice you are finally realising some things, Mr Potter,’ Hermione kept on referring to him with the surname, which Severus would be surprised to see, if not for how very hurt she had been after their last meeting in particular. His wife closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. She looked at him and Severus could only smirk affectionately.

‘Go ahead, love. I knew there were only two possible outcomes to this: we’d hex Potter into next year, or you’d try to forgive him again.’

She smiled at him, but turning to the boy (who had a hopeful smile) she turned serious again. ‘You must understand, Mr Potter, that there isn’t a perfect solution. And if you ever say “Hermione told me to do it” in any kind of wording, I’ll turn you into a woman for a year. With everything it entails. Yes, including having a period.’ She waited until the terrified boy nodded his understanding.

‘The options I can see are as follows: If you love Ginevra much enough to raise the child no matter who the biological father is, then you can always demand fidelity spells while getting married, and you can add the demand for prenuptial agreement. Another thing you could do is to demand paternity test and or Veritaserum questioning. It will ruin your relationship, even if she is faithful to you, because she will see you don’t trust her, but if the baby is not yours, or if the baby is yours, but she is cheating on you, you won’t be forced to marry her. Remember, however, that if you are the father and decide not to merry her, I have no idea how the wizarding law sees the paternal rights, so you’d need to find out. With waiting and especially with researching the latter, Miss Weasley may find out before you confront her, and she might have something ready up her sleeve.

‘Mr Potter, knowing you, I feel the need to enlighten you that Ginevra Weasley comes with strings attached. Those strings will follow her either into your married life, or away from you. The Weasley clan is very self-oriented. If you two break up, you break up with her family as well. They stick together. I prefer to think that maybe Ronald will be your friend still, or stick with his family for a while, but after they all calm down he comes back to being friends.’

‘Hermione is right,’ Severus decided to add in, ‘There is probably no way of dealing with this situation in a way that leaves everyone happy. This means that first, you need to figure out what you want, what you are ready to sacrifice, and that we are not talking about only three, five, or seven years, but about a lifetime. A lifetime of what ifs one way or the other.’

They were all quiet for a moment, until Potter nodded slowly and said seriously, ‘Thank you.’ Then, looking like a beaten puppy, he asked, ‘So... does it mean we could try to start over? I mean with you both?’

As Hermione stood up, both men did as well. She stepped closer to the boy, who was almost shorter than she was, smiled, and when he reciprocated, she smacked him up the head. Hard. ‘You bloody idiot! I keep saving your ungrateful ass and the first moment you get, you forget all about me? Was it too fucking difficult to send a bloody owl asking if I’m okay? You keep believing that oaf Ronald over me every single time and each time he fails you, you welcome him with open arms and a stupid grin on your stupid face! You know nothing about me even though I always stuck with you, no matter what! I prepared that bloody tent, and I set the wards I had had to learn because neither of you two were going to “waste your time in the stuffy library” when you could play frigging Quidditch! You abandon me for a year and if you think that saying that you are sorry will be enough, then you are highly mistaken, Mister! Now sit down, finish your tea, and show me that left calf.’ Then she added murmuring, ‘Bloody boys, always stupid children, pretending they are adults, but can’t bloody well take care of themselves.’

Severus was quite shocked, especially when he saw that Potter was grinning happily like an idiot, while Hermione was healing whatever was wrong with his leg. She stood up suddenly and mumbled something about getting the potions, so Severus just arched his brow in silent question, which the boy understood, and chuckled before answering quietly.

‘She yelled at me and then started mothering me – she still cares!’

When Hermione was done with playing Healer, she grudgingly told Potter he was welcome at their home, but to always let them know if he wanted to visit, as they might be at Hogwarts, for example.

Chapter Text

Harry did write asking for a meeting, rather sooner than they had been expecting – 26th December.

Hermione,

Thank you for the talk and pointing out a few facts. I was wondering, if I could see you again soon. I did what needed to be done, and well... Ginny and I are no longer together. And no, there is no baby.

I did get the gift from you, and thank you very much for it. I know the voucher for you three is not very inventive, but I’m hoping each of you will find something nice at the bookshop.

Love,

Harry.

 

And so, Hermione invited the boy to their home again, but this time it was for the small dinner gathering they were having. It was only Minerva, Filius, Poppy, Pomona, Neville, and Luna, if she managed. Others of the Brigade were also invited, but mostly decline, as someone needed to “keep an eye on those blighters at school”, as Hooch put it.

When there was a moment Hermione and Potter could talk more-or-less privately, she found out what had occurred between the former-future Potters, as the boy told her the whole story.

##

Harry joined the Weasleys for the Christmas Day, and during the feast, Molly asked, 'So, have you set the date yet?’

Instead of saying simply “Not yet. We’ll let you know if we decide anything”, she told them all, 'I believe it will be something within the next month,' and smiled looking coyly at her flat stomach.

Harry stood up, and with a shy smile excused them both, to have a few words with his fiancée in private.

'Ginny, are you pregnant?’ he asked gently, with a hint of a smile.

She beamed at him, ‘Are you happy? We’ll get married quickly, and start the new Potter family!’

He faked hesitation, ‘Em, Ginny? You didn’t answer my question – are you pregnant?’

‘What? Why are you even asking?’ she went on defence immediately.

‘Because it’s rather sudden, don’t you think?’

She laughed and said in a very patronising way, ‘Oh, Harry... With the amount of sex we are having, don’t you think it’s rather easy to get pregnant?’

He took a deep breath, and said very calmly and seriously, ‘Ginny. Answer the question: Are you pregnant? And if you try giving me another evasive answer, I swear to any gods that may be listening that while I would never hurt you or any child, I will make sure you’ll regret playing games with me, when it’s not time for any fucking games. Now, answer my bloody question.’

The girl before him looked absolutely furious, but finally spat, ‘I’m not pregnant. Yet. But it’s only a matter of time. You wanted to start family quickly, so what is the problem?’

‘The problem is that I’m not ready to be a father yet. I’ve never had the chance to be young and live. The problem is that having a child is something we should decide on together. The problem is that your whole family thinks now that you are pregnant and we are getting married because there will be a baby in only a few months. The problem is that I don’t trust you anymore. I wanted to marry you and have children.

‘I wanted us to travel first, to have some fun, to start a career, for you to have a career of your own. I’m only 19 and you are only 18. I sometimes don’t feel adult enough to completely care for myself, and not to mention a baby! A baby is completely dependent on the parents, while I still have to stop myself all too often to shout something like “Hermione, have you seen my socks?”. One day, I will be more than happy to be a father. Not only that, but to be a real dad, who takes care of his children as much as their mother does. Now, I still wish for someone to look after me.’

‘Yeah, right. Like I’m going to take this crap. No, Harry Potter. I will not allow you to start going after some tarts during your “travelling and being young”. You and I will get married in a month, because that’s the soonest we can manage to organise everything, and then we can take a long honeymoon and you get your seeing the world.’

‘You don’t understand Ginny. I don’t want to marry someone I don’t trust. I am not even sure anymore if you even really love me.’ Then he added, ‘And let’s go back to your family and tell them the news.’

The girl ran before him crying and Harry could hear her yelling, ‘Daddy! Harry doesn’t want to marry me! He wants to leave me!’

He went into the room and said with the calm he did not feel, ‘Ginevra is not pregnant. She tried to trick me into marrying her, and while I was planning to propose rather sooner than later, I don’t trust her anymore. And so everything is clear: Ginny and I are done. We are not a couple anymore. Good bye to you all.’ Then he turned back to the girl again, ‘If you go to newspapers suddenly really pregnant, be sure I’ll demand paternity test and I’ll make it a public affair.’

##

When Potter stopped describing the whole scene, he realised the whole room had started listening a while ago. It was actually Minerva, who broke the silence.

She cleared her throat after taking another sip of her drink, and spoke, ‘Well, Mr Potter, it seems you finally started either thinking, or listening to people, who care about you. And if I may say so, Miss Weasley has always been a... problematic girl. Severus and I even talked on more than one occasion why she had ended up in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin, but, well.’

Hermione took over, turning slightly the shocked boy more towards herself, ‘Harry, I know it was not an easy decision, but frankly, I believe it was a good one. And no one can predict the future; so maybe in; for example, two years, you two meet up again and after having a chance at growing up, you’ll fall in love again? Who knows. Don’t think too much about it now, as what’s done is done. Have some of those marvellous biscuits.’

He took obediently the sweet, but before even trying it, he asked with crestfallen face, ‘What about Ron? He lives with me at Grimmauld, but he’s not speaking to me.’

Hermione rolled her eyes and huffed before answering, ‘It’s easy. Taking under consideration we are talking about Ron, ask for rent.’ Seeing surprise on Potter’s face, she sighed and explained, ‘If you talk to him giving the information in the right order, so: “Ron, are we friends?” He says “no”, then you say “In that case you’re going to pay me rent, because only my friends can live in my house for free”. It will give you Ron, who storms off to live with his mummy, but comes back after maximum of one month to apologise; immediate cease of fire; or, the least probable, rent money.’

Almost everyone laughed, chuckled, or; as in Severus’s case – smirked. After that, the party went on till after midnight.

*

On the 14th January 2000, Hermione gained her Mastery in Potions, which was celebrated by the whole staff and the few friends from the outside of school. What did help her, were the potions Hermione had developed working with cosmetics. She created four products, and all were more-or-less healing, but thanks to the fact they could be made with magic or without it, they were good for both magical and Muggle folk. It was only when the Snapes were lying in their bed after the party, that Hermione confessed to wanting to try one day and gain Masteries also in other fields; with Warding in the first place.

Severus laughed and told her, ‘I have never expected you to limit your education only to one field. And I must say that your wards are always bloody impressive.’

She thanked for the complement with a sound kiss, and they fell into the comfortable silence until Severus asked quietly, ‘Hermione? Are you asleep?’

‘Mmmm no, not yet. What is it?’

He hesitated, but finally spoke again, ‘I was wondering if something you had said was just a dream or if it was real. In the Shack, when I asked why you were saving me, you said you had your own reasons... Did it happen?’

The witch turned so that she was half lying on his chest to look into his eyes, even though it was pitch dark. ‘It did happen, love. I simply knew you were on our side and couldn’t let you be killed like that. I was the one who had taken care of you when you turned up at Grimmauld during summers, when everyone else was asleep. I was learning wards and any spells that could be interwoven into them, and I had a trigger for injured people, and another one for anyone meaning harm. You never once activated the last one. And do not forget that at some point, I had realised I would need to know as much about not only healing, but about Dark Magic as possible for me, in order to help Harry, to help you, help anyone else, and possibly survive myself. I was able to sense Dumbledore was dying. Painfully. It was only logical the two of you would use it to strengthen your position at Riddle’s side; no matter how reluctantly. So yes, I had my own reasons – I have always admired you and I knew you were not a traitor.’ She then kissed his chest right above his heart, ‘And look how well it turned out for me.’

He smiled, even if she couldn’t see it, and said with warmth in his deep voice, ‘For me even better, my beautiful and brilliant wife.’ They kissed and fell asleep right after that – it was a very long day.

**

In June 2002, Hermione found out she was pregnant. She instantly went to talk to Severus, ‘Love, we need to talk. Do you have some time now?’

Her wizard paled a bit, but nodded and they went to their sitting room. ‘Has something happened?’ he tried to be calm, but she could see too easily he was very nervous.

‘I’ve just performed the spell, and I’m pregnant. I don’t want to get too happy right now, because you do remember that I might not be able to... to...’ her voice broke, so Severus pulled her to his chest and wrapped her in his arms, warmth, and scent.

‘I love you no matter what happens. What do you want to do now?’

She looked up to meet his eyes, and said seriously, ‘I want for us to talk to Poppy and her to go with us to a Healer at St Mungo’s. I want them to cooperate, as I’ll be mostly here during pregnancy, and Poppy needs to know exactly what is going on. I need you to be there with me. And I don’t want Belle to even have a clue that anything is out of the ordinary. At least until it’s safe to tell her.’

He nodded, kissed her forehead, and agreed easily, ‘It’s a good idea with Poppy and Belle, and you know I will always be there for you. You, my dear wife, are stuck with me forever.’

She chuckled, ‘Just like you with me, my beloved husband.’

*

It was difficult more often than not, and Poppy’s help was a godsend on more than one occasion, but on the 23rd February 2003 the world was greeted by screaming Snape twins. Ian Filius and June Poppy were born by caesarean section, as the multiplied in force by the after-effects of Hermione’s tortures contractions of natural birth would be dangerous to both mother and the babies.

Belle was introduced to her siblings and was rather unimpressed since they were sleeping at the time. When she found out she wouldn’t be able to play with them for a long time to come, she announced she was going to grandma Minnie. Severus then told his older daughter to not be there for too long, as they would be reading a new book that afternoon, which caused the girl to relax and give a kiss to both her parents.

Belle was assured by her parents of their love by spending time with her the way they used to, and the fact it wasn’t as much time as before the babies, was forgotten by the girl thanks to the Old Brigade, who were more than happy to dedicate some undivided attention to the oldest Snape child. The girl was always as obedient as you could wish of a five-year-old, and Hermione and Severus infected her with the curiosity for world and everything it could offer. The only problem was that Belle was much more trusting than either of her parents, so Lu, as the elf Belle knew and loved most, was assigned permanently to keep Belle safe, while Su and Belly were chosen to help looking after the twins.

*

Hermione was a teacher respected by students, as they had quickly learned that she was strict but fair, and as long as they behaved properly, she was willing to make the lessons interesting even for those completely not into Potions. Besides, there was always the threat of a detention with either of the Snape Professors.

Hermione and Severus resumed cooperation with George Weasley, when the latter came with an idea requiring truly good Master of Potions. The couple thrived in working together, and WWW gained then a good business partner and George – reliable friends.

*

Hogwarts and the elves simply loved having “babies” (no matter how old those babies were) and they were taking wonderful care of the Snape and Weasley children. Fleur and Bill had had two, but after the Snape twins were one year-old, they started considering one more of their own. The kids were getting on beautifully, and the adults became close friends.

*

In the meantime, Ronald had come back to Potter with some lame apologies after two weeks since moving out. Their sharing the house hadn’t lasted for too long, however, as about six months later, Ronald had found out he would be a father to a baby, whose mother had been barely seventeen at the time of conception. And so, Ronald Weasley had suddenly married, found a poorly paid behind-the-desk job at Department of Magical Games and Sports, and become again angry with Harry for his own misery.

Ginny had been unhappy about the break-up for about a month, as thanks to going wild on her broom to release some tension she was noticed and offered a spot in a minor Quidditch team. After playing there for two years, she earned a spot in Holyhead Harpies. It took her an awfully long time, but she finally understood what Harry had meant – the need to be young and each of them having their own career. It helped her realise she had been a bitch and she apologised to her ex-boyfriend. Neither was in love with the other and it allowed them to be simply friends.

Hermione’s and Harry’s friendship had been rebuilding from the scratch and they were fine. Hermione had told her husband that it never would be the kind of almost-sibling-like bond that many had believed them to be, but she was happy with how the things were. The Boy-Who-Lived-Twice grew up and was now a much better person. He valued his friendship with the Snapes, as Severus and Harry had to get on, and the two wizards had learnt how to deal with each other well enough to call the other their friend (even without lying).

Harry became a full Auror and even managed to gain some respect based only on his own work, he travelled a bit, and dated a few women – some magical, others not. Severus was surprised to learn the young wizard to not be a playboy wanting to bed as many as possible, but Harry almost always dated to get to know them treating the women well. In the end, for the twins’ first birthday, Harry and Luna started talking more amicably than ever before and started a relationship soon after. It was about six month after Luna and Neville had broken up. Many had envisioned a Lovegood-Longbottom marriage and very blond babies to come, but the Snapes, who had been seeing the couple interact, never believed they would have survived. Harry and Luna on the other hand...

... Married in October that same year they started dating. The first baby came a little over a year after their marital vows.

And all was well.

There were the typical ups and downs of normal, peaceful life and the Snape family lived happily ever after.