Given what he might have said to her, her father's blathering about the necessity for a "proper wedding" is unexpected, and it hurts Hermione almost as much as her mother's continuing refusal to speak to her, even under the circumstances. This pain is nothing, however, to her father's parting shot: "After everything else you've done, you might at least have given us a legitimate grandchild."
It feels as if it's the last thing that he will ever say to her.
There's nothing special about today, after all, she thinks, feeling wistful and furious and nervous as the door closes behind them.
Eileen doesn't smile for the introductions, and it feels as if her eyes never leave Hermione's. When she finally speaks, it's to Severus.
"Get out for a bit, boy. I need a word with my daughter."
Hermione blinks, twice; once at Eileen's words, and once at Severus' leap to obey them. "We're not married," she says, as Severus closes the door.
"You are in the only way that matters."
Hermione fidgets. She's not usually unable to think of something to say, but her father's words still sting, her mother's silence continues to eat at her, and her tears are threatening to fall.
"Look at me, Hermione."
She does, understanding something of how Severus learnt to be so commanding. Eileen's face isn't friendly, but there is nothing of condemnation in her features.
"Do you know why you're here?"
"To meet you, of course."
"Yes, but so soon after the argument. Don't you think that my boy might have spared you the difficulty of a social call after what your father said to you?"
"How can you know about that?"
"No matter, I do. What's important, is that he's not one for giving comfort, and he wanted you to find some."
Hermione's hands still at this. Severus hadn't said a word, leading her away from her parents' house, but the arm around her waist . . . .
"You love my boy. He loves you. You're not a religious girl, at least, not anymore, yes?"
"It was difficult to . . . I mean . . . ." Hermione looks at Eileen and reminds herself that she isn't being judged. "No, I'm not."
"Your parents, I expect that they aren't so much religious as angry. You did take away their choice—but," Eileen continues, holding up a hand, "they love you, as well. The child you carry will cure most of what ails them. The rest, well, what can you do with betrayal but weather it? They'll forgive you for it in time."
Hermione isn't sure what to make of Eileen Snape. How can she know so much? It's not as if she's a Legili—
"Where do you believe he learnt it?"
Oh. "I still don't know what you meant, about Severus' having brought me here for comfort?"
"My boy was born here, but he wasn't conceived in this town. I'm more Prince than Snape, but it was easier to take Tobias' name than answer any impertinent questions. Folks talked then. They talk now, of course, but it's not the same. In any case, you're your own witch. You needn't follow any superstitious traditions on your parents' account. That babe you bear will be legitimate enough by virtue of first breath, you know, and you'll raise a happy family, unmarried or not."
"But . . . but I never said that I wouldn't marry!" Hermione objects, finally realising what Eileen is trying to tell her.
Eileen's eyes are hard, piercing; Hermione can't lie, looking into them. "I was angry. My father had no right to say what he did. He called Severus a—"
"You'll want to ask him to give you away, then, so he knows that you're still his daughter," Eileen says, turning towards the door. "Severus, bring the tea!"
They speak of other things until the pot is dry, and then it's back to Spinner's End on the other side of town.
"And talented. Did she really teach you?"
"Legilimency? Yes, at least, the rudiments of it."
"It's disturbing, being read so thoroughly."
"Yes," Severus says, taking her hand. "She's one of the reasons that I learnt Occlumency."
Certain that Severus won't be elaborating on his comment any time soon, Hermione replies, "I'm sorry about father."
Severus traces Hermione's fingers. "You feel real enough to me."
"We feel real," she replies, leaning into him.
"And our family will be legitimate."
"Yes," Hermione says, feeling her ring finger tingle.
Looking down, she's almost not surprised to see the large opal, surrounded by its court of small diamonds, glittering up at her. In her ear, Severus' voice is warm and low.
"I would be . . . so pleased if . . . you'd agree to become my Mrs Snape, but for . . . for real."
Hermione flashes on her earlier fury, at the way her stomach clenched as she began to set her mind against ever marrying in the face of her father's anger. She dismisses the memory and cranes her neck so that she can kiss Severus' jaw, and he adjusts his position and presses his mouth to hers. When they break apart, she sees that he's smiling, but that his smile is slight, hesitant.
"To please us both, I say yes."
A grin, something that Hermione rarely sees gracing Severus' features, spreads across his face, and Hermione realises something else: it wasn't she whom Eileen read; it was Severus. Severus had wanted to propose to her but hadn't thought she'd accept after what she'd said to her father.
That's why he didn't just take me home. He needed comfort, too, and trusted his mother to provide it for him.
In a way she didn't know before now, she understands that it's important for Severus to feel legitimate, for Severus to have a normal life, so becoming legally married and giving birth in wedlock . . . . Well, for Severus, Hermione can't bring herself to mind being conventional. All right, for herself, as well; she's never wanted to be anything but, really, and she thinks that Eileen is probably right about her parents.
"When did you decide?" she asks him.
"To propose to you?"
There is a happiniess lightening the timbre of his voice that Hermione likes, especially because it's her acceptance of him that has caused it. "Yes."
Severus shifts again, and Hermione is once more leaning back into his chest. "I suppose not long after you admitted to me how you took steps to save your parents. It was . . . ."
"Slytherin of me?"
Severus snorts. "It was gratifying to know that I wasn't the only one who'd done something so 'decisive'."
"For want of a better word," Hermione whispers, feeling pleasantly sleepy and safe as the stresses of the day melt away.
She raises her hand to the light and watches how the gems shine in their settings.
Severus' voice carries a promise with it as he says, "We'll want for nothing, Hermione."
Such is her faith in Severus that Hermione doesn't need to pray that he's right.