Chapter 11: A Promise
Severus did not join Hermione to visit her mother the next afternoon. He spent the day working on the potion. Though he had not expressed anything other than calm confidence that he would soon make a breakthrough with his work, Hermione knew he was beginning to feel the oppressive pressure of time running out.
Hermione knew it would take him the better part of three years in hiding to finish the potion. She
tried not to press him for details on his progress. If he worked on the potion while she was in the flat, he magically sealed the kitchen off and used a Ventilation Charm to keep air circulating out of the small window. Occasionally Hermione heard him curse at his work and she frequently saw him pacing back and forth, muttering to himself.
As she knocked on her parent's front door, Hermione chewed her bottom lip anxiously. Her mother opened the door.
“You're alone?” she asked.
“You're surprised?” asked Hermione, following her inside.
“Your father said Severus was not the most forthcoming with information about the past few years... nor did he elaborate on how it is you two seem to have become so close,” said her mother.
“As I said, are you surprised he didn't return for further questioning?” asked Hermione.
“I suppose not,” her mother replied, leading Hermione to the kitchen and handing her a cup of tea.
“Where's Dad?” Hermione asked, leaning against the bar as her mother sat down at the table.
“He's gone to pick up groceries,” her mother said. “He'll be back soon. You'll stay for dinner?”
“Sure,” said Hermione, hoping Severus would remember to eat something in her absence.
“Have you brought your things? Where are you staying?” her mother asked.
“Mum,” said Hermione. “I've already said, it's in a wizarding town... you wouldn't know it.”
Hermione sipped her tea in silence. Her mother cleared her throat.
“How is Harry? Does he still live with his awful relatives?” she questioned Hermione.
Hermione blinked at her mother.
“Er – no. He moved out as soon as he turned seventeen. He's inherited his godfather's house in London. He and Ginny just got married.”
“Ah, how nice. Now, have I met this Ginny?” she asked.
“Ron's sister?” asked Hermione. “She's fancied Harry since our first year at Hogwarts when she met him on the train platform. You met her a few times after that, and said she was adorable.”
“Right... that's right,” her mother said.
“Ron and I didn't work out after all,” said Hermione. “You were right.”
“I usually am,” her mother said. “What went wrong?”
“Just what you said would happen,” Hermione said.
Her mother looked confused and sipped her tea.
“He wanted to get married and start a family as soon as possible, and I didn't,” said Hermione. “You told me he didn't seem like the type to be supportive of my career ambitions.”
Her mother nodded.
“I see,” she said. “How disappointing.”
Hermione set her tea cup down.
“It was for the best,” she said. “I can see that now.”
“When did this all happen? How did it happen?” her mother asked. “You never dated in school... did you?”
Her mother looked uncertainly at Hermione, who joined her at the table.
“Ron and I started dating after Voldemort was defeated,” said Hermione. “Harry and Ginny got back together and were engaged after just a few months. When they got married, Ron wanted to get married, too. He proposed even though I told him I wasn't ready. I said no... and we broke up.”
Her mother sighed and said, “I'm so sorry, dear.”
“It's okay,” she said. “It was hard, but I'm happier now.”
“Do you still see him?” her mother asked.
“Ah, not really,” said Hermione. “Which is difficult, being friends with his sister and brother-in-law.”
“I'm sure,” her mother said, then gave her a serious look. “So, how did your professor come into the picture?”
“When I found out that Severus was still alive, I knew he would be able to help me restore your memories,” said Hermione. “I'm glad he agreed to do it.”
“As are we,” said her mother. “I meant, how long have you fancied Severus?”
“It's complicated,” said Hermione, sighing heavily.
“Is it?” her mother asked.
“Please don't say anything to him, Mum,” said Hermione.
“Hermione,” her mother said sternly. “I'm asking you... what is going on between the two of you? He's got to be at least twelve years older than you, and I suspect that's a modest estimate.”
“Merlin, Mum, if you must know, it's fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years is a lot,” said her mother calmly. “Especially between a professor and his former student.”
“You're not saying anything I don't already know,” Hermione huffed. “I know.”
“Your father will never approve,” said her mother carefully.
“But... you do?” Hermione asked in surprise.
“No,” said her mother. “I can't make a judgement based off so little knowledge of the man. I'm not inclined to approve, but I do not believe a large age difference is inherently a bad thing. Your grandmother was eleven years older than your grandfather, you know. They were married almost sixty years before your nan died. Sixty years of happy marriage is more than most people get out of a relationship.”
“I know,” she said.
“I can't tell you what to do, Hermione,” her mother said. “I'm sure you wouldn't listen to me if I tried. You've been independently making decisions far longer than we knew. Just be careful. Perhaps it is only because we are strangers and Muggles, but he seems secretive and difficult.”
Hermione placed a hand reassuringly over her mother's.
“He can be difficult,” she said, smiling, “But so can I. We've been working on potions together recently. It's as if we read one another's minds while we work. I've never had a better lab partner – I don't know if he would say the same, but I think I've managed to impress him a few times. He also has a fantastic personal library.”
“Potions,” he mother chuckled. “Oh, dear. I'm sorry, I just can't help but laugh at the image of my daughter bent over a cauldron, brewing magic potions.”
“Hello,” called her father, shutting the front door. “Hermione?”
“I'm here, dad,” she said.
Moments later he appeared in the kitchen, his arms loaded down with shopping bags. The women went to help him.
“Where's the professor?” asked her father.
“You know, he's not a professor anymore,” Hermione said.
“I did not know that,” her father replied. “I just assumed... so what does he do? Still spying?”
Hermione gave her father an exasperated look and said, “No, Dad, he makes potions.”
Her father mumbled something as he stuck his head into the refrigerator and shifted the contents around.
“Hermione has been helping him with his work,” said her mother pointedly.
Her father stood up and shut the door to the fridge.
“I see,” he said. “Well, I hope he's been paying you for your time. You've not been volunteering your assistance for free, have you?”
“No,” said Hermione. “I'm being compensated, don't worry.”
“Is he easy to work with?” asked her father.
“Easy? No,” said Hermione, smiling. “However, he is brilliant and allows me to do things I'd never be trusted with in an apprenticeship.”
“Interesting,” said her father. “Not that I doubt your brilliance, my love – but why do you think it is that he gives you such responsibility, beyond that of an apprentice? An interest in you that involves more than your career prospects, perhaps?”
Hermione glared at her father and said, “The answer is because I'm capable and he often needs another set of hands, not what you're insinuating. Even if we were, er, involved, he'd never give me tasks above my ability or allow me to work on something dangerous unsupervised.”
“It seems an unorthodox arrangement, even by wizarding standards,” her father said. “How did it come to be?”
Hermione sighed and said, “I can't tell you, exactly.”
This earned her a couple of highly annoyed looks from her parents.
“We worked together a bit before Voldemort was defeated, and for a while we both lived at Grimmauld Place, in hiding. He trusts me. He doesn't trust many people... for good reason.”
“Are you sure you can trust him?” asked her father.
“Positive,” said Hermione, crossing her arms. “I'd bet my life on it.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you already have?” asked her mother.
Hermione did not answer, but met her mother's worried gaze without blinking.
“Perhaps we should move on to other subjects,” her mother said, glancing at Hermione's father.
“Yes,” he said. “We could talk about the fact that I've been having an awfully hard time remembering some of those memories Severus returned to me. Is this a temporary side effect of the magic, or will I forever feel like I'm remembering someone else's life?”
“Ah... it's hard to say,” said Hermione. “I – I'm sorry. I don't know.”
“Could Severus tell us?” asked her mother.
“Possibly,” said Hermione. “He knows more than I do. It would be best to wait a while, to see how your memories settle in, before he can guess what the long-term effects might be.”
“So you believe there will be long-term effects?” asked her father. “You don't sound surprised.”
“No,” said Hermione. “I'm not surprised. They couldn't be returned perfectly, without leaving some sort of trace. I'm so sorry...”
She was tearing up, her voice catching.
“I'm so sorry,” she repeated, hugging herself.
Her parents' stricken faces were too much for her. She closed her eyes, tears falling down her face. She felt her father's hand on her back. After a moment, her mother embraced her, and they stood that way silently for a while. Her father was the first to speak.
“Well, I'd better take Lucy out, then we can get started on dinner,” he said. He patted Hermione's shoulder and left. Her mother let go of her and wiped her own eyes.
“It seems a little early to start dinner,” said Hermione.
“We're making fresh pasta,” her mother said quietly. “It's our Friday tradition. I do remember that.”
Hermione and her mother readied the ingredients and planned the meal while her father walked Lucy. They had just begun rolling out the pasta when he returned.
“This is a welcome sight,” he said. “A little tradition is just what we need right now... but I'm afraid you've forgotten something.”
“What?” her mother asked, looking around.
“The wine,” he said, smiling. “Don't worry, I'll get it.”
He poured each of them a glass. Hermione's was soon covered in flour from her fingers and the countertop. Her mother had yet to touch hers, and her father had yet to put his down. He held it as he watched them work and offered helpful suggestions such as, “Slowly, now. Don't get impatient or you'll ruin it.”
By the time the pasta was cut and the sauce was ready, her father had earned himself a playful floury smack on the cheek from her mother, which he left there as he poured himself a second glass.
As they were setting the table, her mother paused, her hands wrapped gracefully around the salad bowl she had just carried from the kitchen.
“You should go bring Severus back for dinner,” she said.
“Oh, ah... I don't know,” said Hermione. “I think he would feel he was imposing. He'll be fine on his own.”
It was then that she remembered Ms. Willie and her going away party for Billy.
“Oh, bollocks,” she breathed.
“What, dear?” asked her mother from the kitchen.
“I, ah, just remembered something I was supposed to do tonight,” she said. “It's good we're having dinner a bit early – I can't stay long.”
Severus would be in a foul mood if Ms. Willie came looking for him. He would probably work through dinner as well, which would only make things worse.
“Maybe I will invite him over,” said Hermione. She went in search of her bag, took it to the loo, and pulled out the journal they used to communicate.
My parents want you to come over for dinner. Things went better than expected today. The food will be better than anything Ms. Willie's having... please come?
She sat on top of the toilet seat waiting for his reply. Instead, minutes later she heard the doorbell ring and her father's footsteps down the hall as he went to answer it. She opened the door and peeked out down the hall. Sure enough, it was Severus on the other side of the door.
“Ah, Severus,” said her father. “Glad you could join us... come in.”
“Hello,” said Hermione as he entered. “How did it go?”
The look he gave her told her it had not been a good day in the potions lab otherwise known as their tiny kitchen. The lank, damp look of his hair and his rolled-up sleeves told her he had been brewing all day, likely without a break.
“Don't ask,” he said. Hermione walked with him to the dining room.
“I hope you're hungry,” she said.
“Severus, would you care for a glass of wine?” he mother asked, bottle and empty glass already in hand.
“Yes, thank you,” he said.
“Shall we eat?” asked her father, motioning to the table loaded with pasta, bread, salad, and vegetables, a traditional Granger family Friday meal. Hermione nearly started crying again, realizing how long it had been since she was present for one, and how much she missed it. When she was younger, she would have happily given up all future Friday night dinners in exchange for a place in the wizarding world. She might still make that deal, but now it would be with the full knowledge of just what she would be losing.
Severus sat down beside her and Hermione snuck a glance at him. He did the same, their eyes meeting briefly.
“Hermione tells me you have left teaching,” said her mother.
Severus glanced at Hermione again.
“Yes,” he said.
“Lucky for me,” said Hermione. “I've learned so much as your assistant in the lab, and far quicker than I would have in an apprenticeship.”
“Indeed,” he said, and one eyebrow rose ever so slightly.
“Do you miss it? Teaching?” asked her mother.
“At times I miss the school greatly,” he said. “It was my home for most of my life, both as a student and as a professor.”
“What made you leave?” asked her mother, and Hermione gave her a look of warning.
“It was time for a change,” Severus said evenly. “I had long wished for the time to conduct my own research and experiment with ideas I had developed over the years.”
“So, you make a living creating potions,” said her father. “You're essentially a chemist. Only, with magic.”
Severus sipped his wine and then said, “Essentially.”
“I suppose you know we're dentists,” said her mother. “I suppose you know all about us, now.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. Hermione cleared her throat.
“Severus has created so many potions,” she said. “Sometimes he lets me name them. For example, there's one with lots of bubbles that cleans your teeth – better than brushing – and I call it, 'Scrubbing Bubbles'.”
“Like the bathroom cleaner your Aunt Linda used to swear by?” her father asked.
“Yes,” Hermione giggled. Her father chuckled as well. Hermione's mother, however, looked confused. Hermione sobered.
“Ah, then there's what I like to call 'The Fire-breather', which is actually a potion that gets rid of heartburn. It works quickly, with a rather amusing side-effect...”
“I'd like try that one,” said her father. “I suppose these potions don't work on Muggles, do they?”
“Well, no,” said Hermione. “Some of them could with the proper dosage, but we could be put in prison for giving them to you... at least, back home.”
“Is it different here?” asked her mother. “What are the wizards in Australia like?”
Hermione glanced at Severus again.
“It's different,” she said. “They've no central government, it's all scattered, separate communities. They are far less... traditional.”
“And far less advanced,” said Severus. “There is but one school of magic on the continent. Other than those fortunate enough to complete a formal education there, magical learning is limited to what is passed on by family and community members. Naturally, there are great differences in magical knowledge between communities. Some live practically as Muggles. Many do not own a wand. Some use a staff fashioned with a variety of magical cores from native magical beasts. There are a handful of wand-makers and staff-makers left, passing down their craft to apprentices. Generally, they do not seek out the company of Muggles or spend much time in the cities. They are self-sufficient and often capable of Wandless Magic without knowing how much they influence their surroundings. Children who have never lived around Muggles do not realize that objects do not summon themselves to the hands of everyone in the world, or that lamps do not light themselves without magic.”
Severus paused. Hermione's parents were hanging on his every word.
“Fascinating,” said her father, eating a bit of his forgotten dinner.
“It's made me wonder if the rest of the magical world gives children wands too soon,” said Hermione. “I'm starting to think that it hinders their ability to control their magic more than it helps. Although, it does go a long way in stopping them from accidental destruction and catastrophe. That's important when you have a lot of young witches and wizards in one place.”
Severus hummed and said, “Some children would benefit from waiting to use a wand later in life. For most, a delay would mean they'd never learn to channel their magic into anything useful at all. They would be capable of only the most basic summoning, levitation, and pyrotechnics unless they were especially emotional or frightened.”
Hermione's parents were staring at Severus again with interest.
“So, you're saying that the magical folk here are mostly untrained?” asked her father. “I'm not sure if that's more comforting or worrisome than what we had back home. If one of them wandered into a city, who knows what sort of magic they'd set off.”
Hermione laughed and said, “They aren't that volatile, Dad, and they don't venture into Muggle areas often. I'm sure your cities are quite safe.”
Their meal was finished, more wine was poured, and they cleared the table. Hermione's parents watched as Hermione and Severus showed off a bit, tidying up the kitchen in record time with a bit of household magic. Hermione's mother even clapped a bit when Severus waved his hand at clean stack of dishes, which levitated into the open cabinets, the doors gently pulling themselves shut.
“Oh, I wish I could do that!” she said. She took Hermione's hand and held it up.
“I have a daughter with magic in her fingertips,” she said. “It has never seemed real, even when I see it with my own eyes.”
Hermione smiled at her mother, feeling the warmth of the wine rise to her face.
“Sometimes I think I'll wake up and it will all have been a dream,” she said.
Severus was leaning against the bar counter, watching them.
“I'm still not that talented with Wandless Magic,” said Hermione. “And I doubt I'll ever learn to fly like Severus does.”
“Fly?” asked her mother. “You hate heights!”
“Yes,” said Hermione. “Which is why I haven't asked him to teach me to fly unsupported.”
“I had no idea such a thing was even possible,” said her mother. “But then, why wouldn't it be, in your world?”
“Well, it's not a common talent,” said Hermione.
“Perhaps we should stop talking about poor Severus as if he isn't here,” whispered her mother loudly. Hermione's father returned from the dining room with an empty wine bottle.
“Severus, it was good to have you here this evening,” he said. “How long will you be staying in Australia?”
“We'll be leaving soon,” said Hermione. “We can't be away too long from our work.”
“Hermione may stay for as long as she would like,” Severus said. “I will return home in a few days' time.”
Hermione shook her head and said, “I'm coming with you – we have too much to do for me to take an extended vacation.”
Her parents were watching them intently during the exchange. Hermione glanced at her mother, and noticed the time on the microwave clock behind her.
“Oh, Merlin, it's getting late! Sorry, but we have something we need to take care of tonight,” she said.
“Ah, more secrets,” commented her father.
“It's nothing dangerous, don't worry,” said Hermione. “Ah, I suppose I'll come by sometime tomorrow?”
“Actually, we're having a picnic for our employees tomorrow afternoon,” said her mother. “You are welcome to come – just stop by the house by eleven and we'll take you over with us.”
Hermione agreed that she would come. She and Severus left together and were soon navigating the cramped, knick-knack-covered interior of Minnie's house.
Minnie was an old, stocky witch with long white hair that often seemed to float around her weathered face regardless of whether or not there was a breeze. She was one of the few people in town who preferred wearing robes to Muggle clothing. This evening she was wearing her favorite rust orange ensemble with bright yellow trim.
“Ah, the Gallaghers have made it at last!” she greeted them. “We've just cut the cake.”
Minnie clutched Hermione's shoulder and led her into the dining room, where Ms. Willie, Billy, Minnie's husband, Jim, and Mrs. Tiller and their daughters, Mary and Ella, and Mr. Wright, who owned the bar and apothecary in town, were all gathered.
“Harmony! Mr. Gallagher! So glad you're here!” called Ms. Willie. “You've missed Robert and Susan, they've just left.”
Hermione smiled and said, “That's a shame. How is everyone?”
They all mumbled or nodded pleasantries in response.
“Haven't seen you around much lately, Silvius,” said Mr. Wright, clapping him on the back. “I'll have another order for you tomorrow.”
Minnie came by and thrust plates of cake into Hermione and Severus' hands.
“We're all so proud of Billy,” said Minnie. “It's hard to believe he'll be in the states in just a few days.”
Hermione nodded and ate a bite of her cake. Minnie was pulled away by Ella, who was looking for Minnie's cat, Lula. Mary, her older sister, was standing next to Billy, hanging on his every word. She was a gangly witch of thirteen or fourteen, homeschooled by her parents, and it was obvious that she was dazzled by Billy's looks and knowledge of magic. She flipped her long hair over her shoulder and giggled when he addressed her.
Mr. Wright seemed to have no notion of allowing Severus to get away for some time, so Hermione made her way over to where Billy and Mary Tiller were standing.
“How are you holding up?” she asked Billy. “I'm sure Sunday can't come soon enough for you.”
Mary Tiller glared at her, obviously not appreciative of the reminder that Billy would soon be gone.
“I'm ready,” he said. “I've been ready since the day I graduated.”
“Billy, you promised you would teach me a new spell,” said Mary, clutching her wand.
The Tillers had done well educating their daughters, Hermione thought. They made sure they got wands at an appropriate age and taught them the basics of Charms and Transfiguration. Hermione had once caught Mary teaching Lula the cat to bring her mice on which to practice her spells. She had only ever spoken to the girl once – her parents were not sociable and kept the girls busy at home.
“Ah, right,” said Billy. “And I will, but let's wait until Minnie has gone off with my Mum to talk – you know how she hates wands out in the house.”
Mary sighed and put away her wand.
“Fine,” she said. “It's a stupid rule, though.”
Minnie was one of those who did not use a wand at all. She was capable of a little Wandless Magic and could brew a few mild potions. She did not welcome wands in her home.
“Which spell are you learning?” asked Hermione.
“I haven't decided yet,” said Billy, grinning. “Do you have any suggestions? Did you know that Harmony is a higly accomplished witch, Mary? She could teach you spells once I'm gone.”
Mary shrugged again and said, “Sure, maybe.”
She eyed Hermione for a moment, then asked, “Did you go to Persmille?”
Hermione shook her head and said, “No.”
“Where did you get your education?” asked Billy, as if he had suddenly realized he'd neglected to ask before.
“Ah... I had a tutor,” said Hermione. “A very good one.”
“That must have cost a fortune,” said Billy, whistling. “You seem too nice to have come from money, especially from money in wizarding Britain.”
Hermione just smiled uncomfortably.
“Is Mr. Gallagher rich?” asked Mary.
“Ah, no,” said Hermione, laughing. “Not at all.”
“Isn't he your dad?” she asked.
Billy joined Hermione in chuckling at Mary's confusion.
“What's so funny?” she asked.
“Mary, Mr. Gallagher is her husband,” said Billy kindly.
Mary's eyes widened.
“You're married to him?” she asked.
Hermione and Billy giggled at her reaction for a moment before sobering.
“Come on, Mary, don't be rude,” he said, nudging her with her elbow.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It's okay,” said Hermione. “I suppose we are a bit of an odd couple.”
“Where's your wedding ring, then?” asked Mary suspiciously.
“Ah, you see, we don't wear them,” said Hermione.
Mary looked as if she wanted to ask more questions, but Billy nudged her again. She simply nodded at Hermione.
“Look, Billy, they've gone out in the living room to talk.”
Mary pulled her wand back out expectantly. Hermione watched as Billy showed Mary how to charm a book to read itself aloud. It was a nice bit of magic, Hermione had to admit. Mary only succeeded in getting the pages to turn themselves, but that was impressive for no more than thirty minutes of practice.
“Write it down so I can keep practicing,” she told Billy, after their lesson came to an abrupt end when Minnie called to Billy from the living room.
“I'll give it to you tomorrow, how about that?” he asked, as he went to see what Minnie and his mother wanted. Mary slunk off into the kitchen to pick at the leftover party food, and Hermione went in search of Severus and Mr. Wright, who had made their way outside while she was talking to Billy.
Mr. Wright was smoking while leaning against the back wall of the house. Severus stood with him, holding a nearly-empty glass.
“Ah, we've been found out,” said Mr. Wright. Hermione smiled.
“Don't worry, it's just me,” she said. Mr. Wright grunted and lifted his cigarette to his lips.
“Well, if I were you, I'd sneak out this way and leave. You'll never get away if you go out the front.”
“I think we had better say goodbye to Billy,” Hermione said.
“If you insist,” said Severus, but he was already moving toward her.
“Goodnight, Mr. Wright,” said Hermione. He grunted again.
“Come by tomorrow for my order,” he reminded Severus, who said that he would.
They hurried through their goodbyes as quickly as possible and went back to their flat. Upon opening the door, Hermione wrinkled her nose.
“What is that smell?” she asked.
“It's far less potent than it was this afternoon,” Severus said. “And I told you... don't ask.”
“It went that badly?”
“I managed to rule out five more possible formulations,” he answered. “We can safely say that Devil's Breath is not part of the recipe.”
“Ah,” she said. That was not good news. He had been certain that Devil's Breath was the answer. They had no other ideas at the moment.
“Well... let's not talk about it tonight,” she said, taking his hand and squeezing it.
“Agreed,” he said, pulling her close, his breath tickling her face. She smiled up at him.
“I love you,” she said, her heart light and her head tingling with happiness. His eyes softened and the corners of his mouth relaxed.
“I'm going to marry you one day, Severus Snape,” she said, gazing into his eyes, their hands still intwined.
He held her gaze, eyes heavy-lidded as he looked down and opened his mouth.
“I love you, and intend the same,” he said, before kissing her, warm waves of staticky magic washing over them.