Beta(s): deianaera & Lovesanimals
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Note: It was tough to write this story, but the end of the process made it worth it. I had not just one, but two, lovely strangers offering to beta my story with a miniscule turnaround time, and then our amazing mod was working double time to make this fest happen. I'm so glad to be a member of this fandom; even if I'm stuck on my couch, I'm part of a lovely group of people.
Summary: Severus has been badgered into standing as godfather to James Sirius Potter. It couldn't possibly be that bad, could it?
"Is eleven o'clock too early to start drinking?" Granger edged closer to the champagne flutes, stacked in a precarious pyramid and charmed to stay fresh until the guests arrived, several hours from now.
"Touch those and you're dead," Ginevra Potter said conversationally as she walked by, hands full of snow-white table linen.
"Pity," Severus offered by way of sympathy. He didn't like champagne much, but he wouldn't have turned down free alcohol. Particularly not when faced with the prospect of standing around in a field for hours, making small talk with Hermione Granger.
Granger returned to his side, ill-concealed disappointment on her face. "I assume you don't have a hip flask somewhere?"
"Should I be concerned with your fixation on alcohol? Has the pressure of being part of the Golden Trio finally driven you to seek comfort in a bottle?" He was careful to keep his inflection perfectly neutral.
"Would you give it a rest? I thought everyone had forgotten that stupid term by now." She sighed. "I just thought that if I have to spend hours here waiting for something to do, I may as well get half sloshed at the same time."
"I see your point." Severus shared the dubious privilege of having been summoned at an ungodly hour, only to find he got shouted at for being in someone's way as soon as he left the patch of grass he currently shared with Granger.
No one had made the mistake of shouting at Severus Snape — Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts and former Death Eater — twice, but it still rankled.
"So do you?" Granger asked again, reminding Severus (as if he needed it) that ignoring her never worked. Merlin help him.
"Guess we'll have to make our own entertainment, then," she said with unwonted cheer.
"Or we could just spend the time in solitary reflection." Severus did not hold out much hope his solution would be found acceptable but made the attempt regardless.
With his past, pursuing lost causes was hardly a character flaw anymore; it was the very fabric of his character.
Standing on a sunny field in Dorset next to the latest and best example of this tendency, he prayed to whoever was the patron saint for lost causes. Not that he would get what he wanted; he had given up on that a very time long ago indeed.
No, all he wished for was no one to find out.
He had fooled Voldemort for decades — how difficult could it be?
Granger spent twenty minutes mainly speaking to herself, libeling several Ministry colleagues without stopping to breathe. It was gratifying to find his prejudices confirmed, so Severus did not interrupt.
"So what would you give him, then? In your capacity as fairy godfather, I mean," she asked, straight after destroying what remained of Harley Wilkinson's reputation.
Severus's hand sought out his wand. The smooth black wood was a reassuring presence in the face of a madwoman, even if it never had helped much against Bellatrix.
"I'm joking, obviously." Granger sighed. "You are familiar with the concept of a fairy godmother, right?"
"Obviously," he admitted between compressed lips.
"So — using something called 'your imagination' — if you could give James a magical gift, what would you give him?"
"A different middle name," Severus said immediately. "And first name. John Phineas, perhaps."
"Apart from names."
"Spoilsport," he muttered.
"Don't blame me. I did try to tell Harry that naming his son after dead people may not be quite the nice idea it seems on paper, but he is the most pigheaded wizard I have ever met. Present company included."
"What about witches?" Severus asked, but was ignored.
"What would you give him?" If there was one thing everyone knew about Hermione Granger, it was that she never gave up. "Come on, it's not like you've shared much of the burden of conversation so far."
"You seemed quite happy to prattle on, so I did not want to interrupt."
That got him an eye roll. "I don't think voicing concerns about the probity of Ministerial officials qualify as 'prattle', but have it your way. Now is your time to shine."
"Purely hypothetically —" he began.
He could have sworn she mumbled "No shit, Sherlock" under her breath, but her head was tilted down so it was impossible to tell for sure.
"— I would give him luck."
The force of her gaze bore down on him like the heat of dragon fire. "Luck? That's it?"
"With a name like that he's going to need it," Severus tried to deflect but to no avail.
"You think luck is the best thing he could get? Seriously?"
"You asked me, I answered. Your turn." He used his teacher voice and was quite surprised when it worked. He could have done with that back when he actually was her teacher, not a decade later.
"Fine," she snapped. "Tact. I would give him tact."
He snorted. "Throwing stones in glasshouses, Granger? How could that possibly be better than luck?"
She bit her bottom lip. "I'm not quite sure tact is the right word. The ability to smooth down feathers rather than ruffle them. To get on with people, without making it all about you."
He tried to figure out what she meant. "Charm them, you mean?"
"No! It's the opposite of charm, really — charming people makes it all about you. People skills, I suppose. The art of turning people into friends."
"He certainly won't get that from his father," Severus muttered.
"No," Granger agreed unexpectedly. "Ginny doesn't really care what other people think, otherwise I think she would be quite good at it."
"The knack of making friends, not enemies," Severus said. It did not seem so preposterous now.
They stood silent, watching balloons being charmed to form an arch for the guests to enter through. The marquee was almost finished too, gleaming white in the sunshine. There was a steady flow of people, making deliveries, or joining the preparations — Severus could have counted at least a dozen former students among them without needing to include Granger.
It looked like Ginevra Potter was not too deficient in the art of making friends, if she could command this many volunteers for a christening, widely acknowledged as the most boring of ceremonies known to man.
The champagne would help, of course.
He almost expected her to appear then, but instead, they got Potter.
"Harry!" Granger hugged him, which was somewhat difficult given that he was carrying a baby strapped to his upper body. As if someone wanted to make absolutely sure he remembered to bring his child when returning from the shops.
"How is James doing today, then?" she asked, taking a step back to better see her godson.
There was a darker spot on Potter's t-shirt near James Sirius Potter's mouth. Severus was relieved to find some sign of intelligence in what appeared to be a standard-issue baby; perhaps being clever enough to dribble on his father rather than himself could be translated to following instructions one day.
"He's hungry, actually, so I'm trying to find Ginny. Are you OK here?" Potter gesticulated vaguely at their little spot of empty field, and the beehive of activity surrounding them. "Can I get you anything?"
"Is there nothing we can help you with?" Granger countered, and Severus pursed his lips at the unwonted 'we'. "Ginny wanted us to get here early, but —"
Potter held up both hands. "Listen, I'm not planning this thing, I'm just in charge of the baby. Just do what Ginny asked you to and all will be well."
"All right," Granger nodded, and Potter went on his merry way. "There were a few... misunderstandings at their wedding," she explained to Severus. "Nothing bad, things just got stressful for a bit."
"I see." He had been invited to the wedding but had not gone. If only that had been an option this time; then he could have spent some time in his Potions laboratory, sadly neglected as of late, instead of standing so close to Hermione Granger he could smell her hair —
"I'm sure a psychologist would have a field day with our answers," she said, and Severus jerked upright, putting some distance between his nose and her hair. It was not enough, but he could hardly go and stand at the opposite end of the field.
He wouldn't be able to smell anything from over there.
"It's painfully obvious where mine is coming from," she continued. "Yours, though —"
Severus leapt in. "Before we dissect my motives and personal history — and what fun that will be — let us examine that statement."
She could hardly refuse.
"Let's." It was more of a grimace than a smile.
"I assume you are referring to the robust treatment you mete out to those who fall short of your standards, be it applied to personal hygiene or basic morality. 'Not suffering fools gladly', as my mother would have put it."
Granger looked surprised. Perhaps it was the reference to his mother. Severus was older now than she had been when she died — it was funny how that changed his perspective. Upside-down, his childhood looked different, and he had made his peace with Eileen Snape.
Unfortunately, age had done nothing to improve his discomfort with other people. He was stuck being Severus Snape, Merlin help him.
He continued; he had better squeeze in as many words as possible before Granger inevitably interrupted him: "I fail to see how that is a disadvantage."
"Well, you wouldn't, would you —"
"You left Hogwarts with the kind of friends who would die for you and you for them, and by all accounts that remains the same even when there isn't a war on. They seem to like you the way you are." The tips of Severus' ears burnt, but the utterly bewildered look on Granger's face was worth it.
"Yes — I — But — be that as it may," she ended up saying, "I may not have ended up the eternal single with no prospects of sharing my life with anyone other than my cat if I'd had a fairy godmother."
Severus raised one eyebrow. "Granger, you're twenty-five — I'm sure Prince Charming will be along at any moment, sweeping you up on his Firebolt Supreme and taking you away from all of this."
"Not when I'm in love with someone who wouldn't even look at me twice, he won't," she snapped, before she realised what she had said. Her reaction went well beyond red ears: her whole face shone beetroot.
"Can't help you there, I'm afraid," Severus said in an attempt to sound chirpy, and absolutely not in any way invested in whether Hermione was swept off her feet or not.
"No," she agreed in a tight voice, half an octave too high.
There was an excruciatingly awkward silence. They could hear banging from inside the marquee, followed by a howl and some choice oaths, but it did nothing to ease the tension.
They started talking at the same time:
"That's bad luck if I ever —"
"Now, speaking about luck —"
"Do you really think luck is what's most important in life?" she asked earnestly.
"Not most important, no," he conceded. "But it's something you can't practice, or study your way to. Is it not the perfect gift to one's godchild?"
"We're not talking about James, though. We're talking about what that says about you." She did not have to tilt her chin very far back to be able to look into his eyes.
Damn. He had been hoping to avoid this subject.
"I do not believe you can instil wisdom. Experience has to be earned; it would be nonsensical to bestow it upon a baby, even as a thought experiment. Therefore, I chose luck as the most foolproof way to avoid making bad choices. I have some experience of those, you see."
His voice was heavy with sarcasm, but she was undeterred.
Of course she bloody was, she was Hermione Granger. If she was confronted with a sign saying 'Here be dragons', she would probably regard it as an invitation.
"So you're saying that if you'd had a bit more luck, you would have chosen to do something different, or not had to choose in the first place?" she asked.
"That would be the general idea," he said.
She frowned, weighing back on her heels. "But then you wouldn't be you! There would be no Severus Snape, as he is today."
"You say that like it is a bad thing."
A sigh, a look heavenwards, and a deep breath were required before she deigned to answer that. "I don't think they gave you an Order of Merlin, First Class, because your contribution just made the war a teensy bit better, you know."
"It wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience, despite receiving a thin piece of metal with my name on it afterward." He had shoved it into his sock drawer. Sometimes it caught him unawares and he took it out to stare at and wonder how the hell he ended up where he did.
"No, it wasn't," she said in clipped tones. "But it would have been much, much worse if you had not done what you did. All of it, not just the nice parts."
"Be that as it may, I wish my godson a different fate than mine. If only he doesn't take after his father or grandfather —"
The world went blurry and Severus' voice was lost in a galaxy of stars, all shouting at him. Worlds flashed before his eyes and he felt meteors pelting his skin, before landing with a thud in soft, green grass.
He looked down at his sturdy dragon hide boots: they still looked exactly the same. He wished he could say the same about the state of his innards.
"Severus," Granger said urgently, and his hand went to his wand only to find it missing. Finally lifting his head, he realised just how much trouble they were in.
They would be lucky to just end up dead in a ditch, frankly.
"Careful, Granger," he said out of the corner of his mouth.
"Your Majesty," he said out loud with as much ceremony as he could muster, sinking down in a deep bow. He elbowed Granger on the way down to make sure she followed suit and was relieved to see a brown head of curls bobbing down out of the corner of his eyes.
"Severus Snape. Hermione Granger. Rumours of your deeds have reached far." The speaker wasn't dressed as much as swathed in layers of diaphanous material, and the thin wreath of gold resting on her jet-black hair was barely visible among her curls.
Severus was not going to make the mistake of forgetting what it meant, however.
"As have the rumours of your beauty. Even amongst mortals, your name has not been forgotten." Flattery did not come naturally to him; if they were going to make it out of here in one piece, Granger had better cotton on soon.
He did not date to take his gaze from the queen to look at a mere mortal woman; members of the court had been killed for less. Hopefully, that brain of hers would kick in, and then — Severus devoutly hoped she would figure out what would happen then because he was stumped.
"Indeed it has not," a clear voice added. "Although our songs and stories do not do you justice, Your Majesty."
The queen was reclining on a divan, surrounded by her court. There was a profusion of exquisite, pale limbs and impossibly graceful movements as the courtiers seemingly stayed on perpetual motion. It was enough to make Severus seasick.
Give him plain old Elizabeth II and her sturdy handbags any day; at least one could be confident one's head would still be on one's shoulders at the end of the audience.
A lithe apparition, draped with green chiffon scarves as far as Severus could tell, whispered in the queen's ear.
"Ah! Moth reminds me — we must not forget business amongst the pleasantries."
Damn. That had been Severus' plan — if a half-baked intention to latch onto anything that could save him deserved to be called a plan.
The queen straightened slightly; she was no more than half-reclined now. "I hear you have petitioned to stand up for James Sirius Potter, a mortal child. Who is making this request?"
Strictly speaking, he had been blackmailed, but it probably wouldn't be helpful to bring that up now. "I, Severus Tobias Snape."
As always, Granger rose to the occasion: "I, Hermione Jean Granger, humbly ask this favour of the most graceful queen."
"What gift do you seek to make to this child?" The queen's eyes were pools of darkness, reminding Severus that the only other human here was standing right next to him.
"I— We—" Hermione began, before apparently realising hesitation was not an option. "We do not wish to give him any gifts. Other than our support and guidance," she added primly.
The silence was eerie, empty of human fidgeting and quirks. Only Severus' boots creaked slightly as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and Hermione's quick breathing betrayed she wasn't as certain as she acted.
"A gift is customary. Explain why," the queen demanded.
"We discussed it, and the gifts we came up with were a reflection of our own struggles and shortcomings. I did speak for Severus just now, but I think he will agree with me that letting James make his own mistakes while being close enough to him to catch him if he falls will be the wisest course of action. After all, whatever we would choose on his behalf would be what we would want for him, rather than what he will actually need."
Severus could not help it: he loved her so much he could burst. Only Hermione Granger would take a sledgehammer to the problem and then explain it to the Queen of Fairies like an Arithmetic equation.
"I see. Severus Snape, is this also your wish?" The queen turned her gaze to Severus, who needed no reminder that the Fae can see through any lies.
Fortunately, Hermione was a convincing sort.
"It is," he said.
The fairy called Moth bent down again to whisper to her mistress, whose face took on a look of unholy glee. Severus tensed again; he had almost started believing they would get out of here, but now he wasn't so sure. If only he still had had his wand —
"Do not let it be said that Titania is insensitive to the struggles of mortals. Godspeed, my friends, and may you find what you're looking for at your journey's end. You will not have to look far, I believe."
An unworldly peel of laughter followed, clear as a bell and frightening in its very perfection. A slender hand was raised in dismissal, and this time Severus welcomed the maelstrom of cosmos with relief.
It helped that, this time, something warm and steady that could only be Hermione's hand held on to his, through rains of stars and burning suns, all the way back to a field in Dorset.
"Did that really happen?" Hermione asked as Severus wasted no time making sure his wand was back where it ought to be.
"The realm of the faeries may not exist in our world, but make no mistake: had we died there, we would not have returned here alive and well."
"Bloody hell," she said weakly.
Wand confirmed to be in its place, Severus turned his mind to other pressing matters, namely the hand clasping his.
"You can probably let go of my hand now," he said, trying to sound like holding hands was an everyday occurrence for him.
"I was waiting for you to let go!"
That did make sense, although it was more like something Severus would do, struggling to find a graceful sortie from an embarrassing situation.
He flexed his hand. "I can't!"
They stared at each other.
"Titania did this!" Hermione's eyes were flashing, and if only she could have brought her wand, Severus wouldn't have been confident calling the winner in a fight between the two.
"She must have," Severus conceded. "The Fae have a strange sense of humour, or so my mother told me."
"Is that how you know so much about them?"
"She would tell me stories from Ireland — her mother born there — and some of them must have stuck."
"What else did she tell you?"
"Their magic is not like ours."
"I can tell," Hermione muttered as she tried and failed to use a spell to unstick the bond keeping their hands stuck together. A second attempt had smoke rising from their palms.
An awful possibility occurred to Severus. "What time is it?" The field looked noticeably busier, its many occupants far better dressed than previously.
Hermione was never slow on the uptake: "Do you think — "
They stared at each other in mute horror and then turned towards the pyramid of champagne glasses. It wasn't quite the right shape anymore.
"There you are!" The brim of an extravagantly decorated hat pushed Severus' nose backwards, lest he knock it off. Even without a view of its bearer, he knew that voice; that was why he did step backwards.
And where he stepped, Hermione followed. "Is it nearly time, Mrs Weasley?"
"Yes, you need to get there right now! No time to be drinking," she added, and Hermione snatched back the hand that wasn't glued to Severus'.
"What are we going to do?" Severus asked as they followed Mrs Weasley under the marquee.
Hermione looked at him helplessly. "Just — Just act naturally, OK?"
"What, sinister and ill at ease?" he hissed as they arrived in front of the officiant.
"The godparents, excellent. Do take a seat," the white-haired witch in otherworldly gleaming robes instructed. Severus checked if her ears were pointy, just to be sure.
They were entirely human, so he sat down. Of course, that meant Hermione had to, too. They held their hands between them, and the heat from her thigh made him desperate for a distraction. Her dress — a decidedly Muggle dress — would do nicely.
"Why are you dressed like that?" he asked.
She bristled immediately, and Severus smirked.
"Like a Muggle, you mean?" she asked.
"Like someone attending Royal Ascot. Or a garden party at Buckingham Palace." He wasn't quite sure what sort of dress she would pick if left to her own devices and he sure as hell wasn't going to dwell on the matter, but it struck him as quite uncharacteristic of her in its sheer fussiness.
Her shoulders relaxed somewhat. "If you must know, my mum insisted on me getting something nice. Being a godmother is something she can understand, unlike most things in my life."
"Like the conundrum of how to achieve a well-balanced working relationship with someone you once blasted off a Thestral?"
"Precisely. Spending an hour in John Lewis finding a dress wasn't so bad in comparison." She leaned back in her chair. "Seeing as we're asking personal questions, why did you agree to stand as godfather, anyway?"
"Blackmail," Severus said.
"Right. If you think it's none of my business, you just have to say." She sighed and muttered something under her breath about something 'bloody obvious' that had to do with 'symbolism' and 'perfect love'.
Severus was thoroughly confused; the ensuing snippets didn't make much sense either. He discounted 'pedestal' and 'impossible to compete', but would very much have liked to know why she stopped at 'Even if I —'.
It was not to be.
The officiant returned, proud parents and wailing offspring in her wake.
"It is time!" she announced with unwonted cheer.
Severus whiled away the prelude to the ceremony reflecting on how he had ended up here in the first place.
Unlike many of her fellow students, he had almost fond memories of Ginevra Weasley (the least said about her poor choice in matrimonial matters, the better); she possessed both intelligence and common sense, and remarkably little house prejudice.
It had come as a nasty surprise to find she also had almost Slytherin cunning.
She had cornered him in his office, not bothering to make an appointment but employing the far more efficient method of seeing Minerva first and then loitering in the corridors until he made an appearance.
"As I was just dropping in I thought I'd ask you — mind if I come into your office?"
He did, actually. Not that she let that stop her, and it would probably look bad to close the door in the face of a heavily pregnant woman even if one were a war hero.
She was all smiles. "I told Harry I would ask you, as I'm sure you'd turn him down."
"I'm sure you will, any moment now."
Mrs Potter rolled her eyes. "Very well, then — will you be our baby's godfather?"
"It's not even born yet!" There must be rules for this sort of thing.
"We'll be busy when the baby arrives, so it's better to sort these things out before."
"I'm sure it is. No," he said, motioning towards the door.
She smiled like she had been painted by Botticelli. "I knew you'd say that."
"Such a pity you didn't act accordingly, then. You could have saved yourself a wasted trip."
"I was actually coming to see Minerva, anyway. And we're not quite finished."
He raised one eyebrow. "I think we are."
"Fine. I'll tell Hermione you carry a torch for her the next time I see her."
"You — what?"
She couldn't possibly have said what he thought she had said. He had been so careful —
"Oh, it's pretty obvious once you take the trouble to look."
Severus' arms seemed to have frozen to ice. It was the only way he could account for not being able to move them.
Mrs Potter was not similarly affected. "Even Harry almost noticed something was up that time Dean Thomas broke up with her and he was hexed in a dark alley afterward. You'll have to do more than glower in her direction to win her over, though."
Oh, fuck — it was worse than he had thought. There was only one way to get out of this. "And if I agree to stand up as godfather to — to Potter Junior?"
"Then I won't tell her. Which I might easily have done otherwise, considering that she will be godmother."
"Won't people think it's odd?" Severus tried.
"You confuse me with someone who gives a shit. My child will have the most powerful witch and wizard I know as godparents, that's all I care about." She didn't gloat, he would give her that.
He tried to get a barb in regardless: "Upstanding moral principles certainly aren't on your list of priorities, Mrs Potter."
"You know as well as I do that principle can get people killed. And save them," she added placidly.
There was no way he was going to ask her what she meant by that, so he escorted her off the premises with a promise to turn up for the christening at an undisclosed future date.
Which neatly returned him to the present, and Hermione's warm hand pressed to his palm.
They said the words that were expected of them, wands were raised and incantations said above the baby's wailing. He would go through life as James Sirius Potter, there was nothing Severus could do about that, but perhaps there was something he could do to prevent young James from growing up to be like his namesakes.
At the very least, Severus could ensure appropriate points were deducted in case of any future misbehaviour at school. For his godchild, he would do no less.
"Let's sneak behind the marquee as soon as we can get away from here," Hermione whispered in his ear.
"Let's," he said grimly.
"Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!" Hermione was trying to dance on the spot, which was difficult considering her palm was still anchored to Severus'.
"I think we can conclude Charms are unlikely to work."
"You don't say. Any suggestions?" Her hair had escaped its confines and was hanging loose around her face; for the eleventh time, she pushed it out of the way with an impatient sigh.
"None, in the absence of a Potions laboratory."
Her hand went up to push her hair back behind her ear again, the thin line of her mouth betraying she was a woman on the edge.
"Is it likely to work, if it didn't work the twelve times you tried previously?" Severus asked, gently for being him.
"No, but there isn't a lot I can do with just one hand, is there? And don't suggest magic, it only makes my hair worse."
"No need to preach to the converted," Severus muttered under his breath. Out loud, he said: "Can I perhaps be of assistance?"
She blushed red and he was already taking a step backward when she raised her face to him. "Please. I really cannot take it anymore. If you can just pin it up here —"
Severus was so close he could feel the heat of her skin, enveloped in the scent of her hair as she guided his hand to the right place. His fingers were shaking slightly as they searched for the hairpin she informed him should be there.
Her voice was very close to his ear and unusually breathy: "I just want it out of the way, don't worry about —"
"Well, isn't this cosy!"
Hermione stepped away from Severus so fast he would almost have pulled her hair out, had he still been holding onto it.
"Yes, it's me — I was wondering where the godparents had got to, but I see everything was proceeding just fine. Don't let me disturb you."
"It's not what it looks like —" Hermione began.
Severus had thought he had seen her blush before. It had been nothing; this was an epic blush, and he impulsively decided it was worth sacrificing his dignity for her comfort.
"Unfortunately we have met with a magical accident. As we did not wish to detract from the celebrations, we sought out a secluded spot to address the matter." He held up their joint hands, demonstrating the issue.
Ginevra Potter was suddenly all smiles. The transformation was rather terrifying; Severus made a mental note to ensure future presents for his godson were up to scratch.
"Isn't that a coincidence?" she purred, like the cat who had got the cream.
"Oh, there you all are." Miss Lovegood, she of uncertain mental stability, appeared with her usual whimsical demeanour and flowers in her hair.
Only Longbottom was missing now.
"I was just about to leave." Mrs Potter started turning back towards the party and the hum of conversation on the other side of the marquee when Miss Lovegood tilted her head and said:
"Both of you smell like faeries. I didn't think you had any fae blood, Hermione."
"I don't — Wait, what about Severus?"
All three women turned to look at him as if he were a statue.
"I could see that," Mrs Potter conceded. "He has that otherworldly look about him —"
"Could you show us your ears, Professor Snape?" Ms Lovegood asked.
He had to summon his teacher glare: "I will not be showing my ears. To anyone."
Miss Lovegood sniffed the air: "It's coming from your hands. Wait, are they stuck together?"
"Obviously," Severus said, back held stiff and angling himself away from Miss Granger so no one could believe he was there of his own free will.
"What a pity," Mrs Potter mumbled.
"Ginny —" Hermione still seemed upset, despite their circumstances being clarified.
"I'm just saying, you could make hay while the sun shines and all that —"
Severus was vaguely aware of Miss Lovegood still nattering on in the background: "I've come across this before — the Queen has laid a compulsion on you. All it takes to remove it is —"
"He doesn't want to be stuck to me, so you can keep your innuendos to yourself!"
"Perhaps there is something you could do to change that?" Mrs Potter suggested, batting her eyelashes in an exaggerated manner.
"I think a statement of intent would be sufficient, but perhaps it will require an act too —"
Severus felt like he had gone through the looking glass: nothing made sense.
Mrs Potter turned to Miss Lovegood: "Luna, what are you talking about?"
"The Fairy Queen has put them under a spell. To dissolve it, they need to admit what they're hiding."
Severus sighed. That would just about cap today as the worst day since the Victory Ball.
"In that case —" he began
"Hi, everyone!" Potter appeared, holding his son. "I was wondering where you had got to, Ginny — Great-Aunt Muriel found the sherry, and it's getting a bit messy."
"Oh, shite," his wife sighed. "All will be well," she said, surprisingly gently, looking first at Severus and then at Hermione. "Come on, Luna. Let's leave those two alone."
Hermione looked at the ground, then at the marquee — anywhere but his eyes. "Ginny knows, of course," she mumbled. "Ever since she realised last winter, she's been trying to encourage me to 'go for it', as she puts it — as if that would get me anywhere!"
Severus was completely lost. Maybe a white rabbit would appear soon and fill him in; until then, he was at sea.
She looked up at him, a strand of her hair falling down again. Just as he stretched his free hand out to pick it up again, she spoke and he could see her eyes fill with tears: "I didn't think I would ever have to admit to you that I've fallen in love with you, but there seems to be no way around it."
Seconds stretched out between them as Severus held onto her hair, like a drowning man.
"I —I —" he said hoarsely, before throwing caution to the wind and leaning in to kiss her. It worked better than words; soon her hands were pulling him towards her and —
"The spell! It's lifted!"
"Yes. Never mind that — why don't you kiss me again?"
So he did.
"I bloody well hope they figure it out," Ginny muttered to herself as she strode in the direction of the screams. "Talk about being wilfully blind!"
"I thought their hands were stuck together?" Luna asked, mildly interested.
"Yes," Ginny sighed, not about to explain her own role in the proceedings or why the mysterious hand mishap had been so timely.
Just as they reached Great-Auntie Muriel — on the dance floor, no less — Luna stopped.
Ginny almost barrelled into her, but Luna held up one delicate hand.
"Shh. What's that? Someone is laughing, but I can't make out where it's coming from."
"That'll be Muriel, come on now —"
"No, it's not a human laugh — hear!"
For a breath Ginny heard it, clear as a bell above the noise of the party, drifting across from a different world.
"I guess they figured it out after all," she mumbled, a smile blooming on her face.