Part 4


Severus Snape was not used to family.

His own had been held firmly under the thumb of a father who had had definite ideas on children and their place in the family. They were there to listen and to obey, preferably not to be seen unless that too was desirable.

He had not been allowed to eat with his parents and older brothers until the age of nine. If he did anything that called attention to himself - such as answer one of his father's questions in a tone the man found impertinent - he was relegated back to the nursery until which time, his father would roar, he proved himself worthy of sitting with the adults.

Even after he had begun attending Hogwarts, he had spent many a family meal in the nursery under the watchful eye of some house elf who would report back to his father any of his grumblings. Severus learnt as a child to keep his thoughts to himself, though he never did learn not to challenge his father either by comment or act or expression. The latter often resulted in the feel of his father's hand across his face, but Severus, alone of the three sons, refused to bow down to his father.

His mother, as afraid of her husband as was the rest of the household, found the courage to side with this youngest son only once and only in death. She left the entirety of her small fortune to Severus, with only nominal amounts to her other two sons because, as she indicated in her Will, they had no need of more, destined as they were to go on to the well-paying and influential positions their father had chosen for them. She also left the least amount permitted to her husband so that there could be no challenge to her wishes: a sickle.

Severus was taken aback by his ready acceptance as Ron's partner, especially considering what had happened. That Uncle Severus was as welcomed by the rambunctious Weasleys of Thebes as Uncle Ron made him wary and a little reticent.

Fleur Delacour Weasley remembered him - favourably! - from the Triwizard Tournament and welcomed him with kisses on both cheeks in the French manner. Bill grinned and wondered at his sanity, taking on his baby brother whom everyone knew was both a brat and a prat.

Severus wasn't ready for the teasing that went with being one of the youngest in the Weasley family. His own position had been more of pained tolerance on the part of his elder brothers, who were eight and nine years his senior. The episode with the motorcycle had been the only time his eldest brother had paid more than the cursory attention to him. And that hadn't lasted very long after their father had indicated his displeasure with Severus' being allowed to drive a vehicle which was not a proper Severus method of transportation and something which could be construed as a `treat' for this most displeasing of sons. It took Severus some time and one of those late-night conversations in bed with Ron for him to accept that all the teasing was done with love.

There were three Weasley children in this household. The eldest, Anya, had her mother's looks though not the silver hair: her blonde tresses held more than a hint of Weasley red. At eight, she was curious, active, a natural leader, and often confused Severus with her momentary flashes of adultness soon followed by a reversion to childhood. Freddie, the youngest, was his twin uncles embodied in one brilliantly red-headed, small-boned frame. At four and one-quarter - as he insisted he was - he seemed to be without fear. He ran everywhere, couldn't stand - or sit - still to save his life, with energy to spare. Now and then, he would run out of steam and could be found sleeping wherever it was he had found himself at that time. Once, Severus was horrified to find him in a tree lying on his stomach on a thick branch, arms and legs dangling to either side, some twelve feet off the ground.

"You should think of sending him to Beauxbatons," Severus muttered one evening as the adults were lounging on cushions around a table, in the style of the place, enjoying a rare quiet late meal. "Hogwarts has already had the experience of the Terrible Twins."

Bill and Fleur laughed. "He's already been put down for Beauxbatons. As has Anya, though we're still not sure where to send Gabriel."

Gabriel was their middle child. As unlike his siblings in behaviour as possible. All of the Weasley children had inherited their parents' intelligence and friendliness, but Gabriel alone had their occasional seriousness in spades.

Bill was one of Gringotts' best Curse Breakers and the day he asked Severus to accompany him to a new site reminded Severus that Bill, though a well-liked fun-loving student, had also been a good one. He watched as Bill's crew - including the goblins - listened to him attentively as he instructed them on setting up, and then verified himself the security precautions that accompanied any curse breaking. There was a great deal of Arthur in Bill, thought Severus, in spite of what Arthur thought. He was meticulous, caring, and took his responsibilities very seriously. Even Severus was impressed with Bill's careful analysis of the situation, the manner in which he removed the curses, one of which proved to be particularly tricky. This was not a profession which appealed to Severus, but he recognized and respected expertise when he saw it.

Fleur was equally intense about her work. In conjunction with Le Ministaire d'antiquits and its Egyptian counterpart, she worked on the analysis and restoration of Old Kingdom magical artefacts. The wizards and witches of those times had worked openly and often for the Court and its nobility. It was important that, when Muggles located archaeological sites, its magical items be removed so that they could not accidentally set off some ancient magic that would bear consequences in modern times.

Like Bill, she had a lightness of spirit, a seeming disregard for formal rules that one expected to be carried over in her work. But again Severus had been impressed with her professionalism, with the obvious respect her colleagues had for her when she took Ron and himself on a tour of the complex in which she worked. Only Fleur with one other wizard, Aben Eben Boutros, had been granted permission to deal with the fragments of Old Language scrolls whenever they were found.

So it really shouldn't have come as such a surprise to find one of their children had inherited all this intense seriousness, but Gabriel was different because of it. He was quiet, a watcher, an outsider. Though he was usually invited to join Anya and her friends in games, he preferred to sit under a tree by himself and read.

Or to follow Severus around.

Severus had no experience with children of this age. Gabriel was six. He had watched silently for days, his eyes following these new relatives whom he'd never before met, before he'd decided that they did indeed belong to the family. And though he liked Ron well enough, it was Severus who fascinated him.

Severus found it bewildering. Why would this child be so interested in him? Gabriel would stand watching whenever Severus worked on the Harley, making certain that there was no sand in any of the mechanisms. It wasn't as though Gabriel got underfoot or did anything that might make him send the child away, but the intensity of the child's brown eyes made him very aware of his scrutiny. When Ron was off with Bill or playing with the children who followed him around like a Pied Piper - not only Freddie and Anya, but their friends as well - Severus liked to sit reading in the quiet. He would look up and find Gabriel sitting in a near-by corner, book in hand.

Gradually, he began talking to the child and Gabriel would answer in his quiet, thoughtful voice. When working on the bike, Gabriel would now approach and ask why Severus was doing what he was. And Severus discovered that he enjoyed explaining the mechanics of the engine to the child.

Ron grinned at Fleur the day they found man and child working together at cleaning the sand out of the bike after an afternoon of giving rides to all the local children.

"He's very nice, your Severus," said Fleur, leaning against her brother-in-law. "He was quite frightening at times during the Tournament, especially after the last challenge, but that was understandable. He was very kind to me after the second, when I had thought Gabrielle had been going to die because of me."

"Was he?"

She nodded. "He came to speak to me and told me that sometimes there was more courage in failure than in success. I have to admit that I have been worried about Gabriel. He's such a loner that I wonder if the fact he is doesn't cause him hurt." She sighed. "I've never seen him get so attached to someone. He actually talks to Severus."

Ron hugged her. "Well, Severus is the right person for Gabriel to get close to. He's fully aware of the costs of being different, of being an outsider."

Severus was in the small room that the family used to store their supplies, looking for certain ingredients, when he realized that Gabriel was once more watching him from the doorway. "Yes?"

"Uncle Severus, what are you doing?"

Severus had finally had to admit to himself the thrill it gave him to be called `uncle'. Not that he would ever mention it, not even to Ron, but acceptance by this particular family touched him deeply. "I'm finding the items that I need to make the potion your Uncle Ron takes every day. We're beginning to be low on it and I want to make another batch before it becomes crucial."

The boy said nothing, just continued watching as Severus found all that he was looking for. Arms filled, he turned and looked at the child. "Would you like to help me, Gabriel?"

The smile transformed the child from serious mini-adult to something closer to his age.

With the house elves' permission, they used the kitchen that was off to the side of the house: the average temperature of the area meant that all cooking was done out of the house proper. Sitting on the counter, Gabriel watched and listened as Severus explained, in terms he would have used to an adult, what he was doing and why. He talked about the properties of each item, how it reacted with the others he was using, why he was adding certain ingredients later rather than sooner. Throughout his lecture - because Severus could only explain potions in his instructor's voice - the boy's face was wrinkled in concentration, and Severus suddenly got the feeling that should he ask, the boy could have repeated everything he'd said.

On a whim, while the Quietus brewed, he set the boy to preparing an easy potion on his own. He asked Gabriel to find the five ingredients needed from the store room and then, sitting the boy up on a tall stool so he could reach the counter easily, he instructed him on the making of his first potion.

Gabriel followed instructions better, thought Severus, than many first year students. The potion was a healing one, for small cuts and scratches. When it was done, he looked at the boy and said, "Well, now to test it." He picked up a knife and nicked one of his own fingers - Gabriel gasped in shock! - and then indicated that the boy was to dip a small cloth into the potion he'd prepared and dab the cut with it.

The look of amazement and then pride on the child's face as the cut healed properly touched the instructor in Severus. With Bill and Fleur's permission, he sent an owl to Angus Howe and soon a book of simple potions was in Gabriel's hands. Thereafter every morning, unless something special had been planned, Gabriel and Severus took over the kitchen for a potions lesson. They often went to collect ingredients needed either in the countryside or at the market, and Severus found himself giving lessons in herbology, in the proper manner of drying and storing ingredients.

Fleur hugged and kissed Severus the day she came across her son humming happily away to himself as he stirred a potion - in the proper figure 8 motion Severus so insisted upon - against insect bites. Taken completely unaware, Severus was taken aback by the display of affection and Fleur's tears.

"Hey! Hands off my man!" Ron laughed.

"Your man is a miracle worker," sniffed Fleur as she wiped her eyes. "You have no idea how worried I have been about Gabriel. He seemed content, but I have never really known how to make him happy."

"Not to mention the benefits," said Bill, grinning as he handed his wife a handkerchief. "We'll never run out of potions until Gabriel leaves for school." But he too hugged Severus. "Thank you for taking time with him." And Severus in no way doubted their sincerity.

"Hogwarts," said Severus, face slightly pink from all this approval and affection. "McGonagall has just hired Jannah Dee away from Paris to replace that numskull Martinus. Gabriel needs to go Hogwarts." Then he looked at Bill very seriously. "Will it bother you a great deal if he doesn't end up in Gryffindor? He really is better suited to Ravenclaw."

"He can be in Slytherin, for all I care. As long as he's happy."

Gabriel cried the day they left. Severus held him tightly and felt a surge of love for this child. "I'll send you some more books," he promised. "And you keep me up to date on your successes and your failures. We'll work on those. Even if it's only by owl."

By the time Gabriel went to Hogwarts, McGonagall had to warn her Potions instructor. "Severus Snape's nephew. You should probably prepare a test of some sort for him, so we can place him in a level that he might find challenging. Pity he's only eleven. We could use him to teach the lower years and free you up for more specialized classes."


* * *


Charlie's family was as welcoming and a lot more boisterous than the Thebean Weasleys.

Charlie had married a woman with ties to the Romanies, the tribe that straddled the Muggle and Wizard worlds. Her very large family all lived over the next hill and visited constantly. Rommie, as Charlie called his wife - not her real name but she preferred it to Rosamonda - was a seer, a real one, not one in the style of Sybil Trelawney. She could have worked with any diplomatic Ministry but preferred to live with her husband and his dragons in the hills of Romania. In spite of the disorganized state of the household - house elves refused to work near dragons - she was a meticulous note-taker and so was in charge of the Reserve's records and archive.

Like Charlie, she was not particularly tall, nor particularly slim. She kept her dark, riotous hair under control by cutting it short, and her dark eyes shone with intelligence and her zest for life. They had two children though, with the various cousins who came for a visit and stayed for days, the house was always full of noise. This meant there was always an adult around to keep track of the children, but it also meant the family of four with two visiting uncles sat down to meals at a long table set for a dozen or more. Even Ron found he needed to get away from the constant talking.

Charlie was sympathetic. "Now you have an idea what growing up in the Burrow was like," he said to Severus as the three of them went off to check out a nest.

Severus shook his head. "Don't you ever wish that you and your wife could sit quietly, just the two of you?"

"Why do you think we spend so much time in the Reserve offices?" laughed Charlie.

Charlie's children - a boy, Tomas, aged seven and a girl, Laurence, five - had both inherited their mother's hair and their father's colouring. They reminded Severus of Freddie and his inability to settle down for any reason. Though, for Ron, they would occasionally sit down and listen to him telling stories, such as how Norbert had come to be here at the Reserve. Severus winced to think how they would do at Hogwarts.

"Do to Hogwarts, I think you mean," laughed Ron. "But I know what you mean. They're bright and delightful, but they wear one out."

Severus tipped Ron's face up from the shoulder it was resting against to scrutinize his lover. "Don't let them do that to you. Wear you out. That's my responsibility."

But worn out was what Ron was so that when he became ill, Severus was livid with himself for not realizing what the stresses and adaptations of travel had been doing to his lover. There was a short but virulent stomach flu making its way through the wizard community near and in the Reserve, and though a remedial potion took care of that for most of them, Ron was a different matter. The remedy had a devastating reaction with the Quietus and Ron not only had to deal with the flu but with the fact that he now vomited at the slightest taste of the Quietus.

He was back to how he'd been before the Quietus. Charlie, no longer used to seeing his brother as he'd been the few times he'd gone back home after the War, was as devastated as Severus. His concern affected everyone in the house. Rommie firmly put her foot down and sent him with the children to stay with her family while she and Severus took care of Ron in the suddenly quiet house.

Severus was silently terrified that the Quietus would never again work for Ron. Ron didn't mention it but Rommie could see the fear in his eyes. She sat next to the bed where Severus was holding his shuddering lover as tightly as he dared. Face far more serious than Severus had ever seen it since their arrival, Rommie lay her hands on Ron's head and closed her eyes. Unlike Trelawney who went into a `trance' when she `saw', Rommie hummed quietly as she concentrated.

When she opened her eyes, she smiled at her brother-in-law. "Only twenty-four more hours and the flu will be gone from your body. The Quietus will continue working as it has." She pushed the sweat-sodden hair off Ron's face. "All will be as it should be." She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "I think that some mint tea will help."

And it did, though only a teaspoon at a time at first.

By the time the flu had worked its way out of Ron's body and a dose of Quietus actually stayed in his system, Severus was exhausted. He had refused to leave Ron except when Rommie pressed him to eat something, out of Ron's room, or when he needed to use the bathroom. Rommie stayed with Ron those times and held him, singing Romany lullabies to him as she did to her children when they finally wore out enough to sleep.

Severus stood standing by the bed, weaving on his feet, watching as the first decent dose of Quietus Ron had taken in almost sixty hours worked its usual magic and he slept un-trembling.

"Severus, come." Rommie gently tugged Severus out of their room, down the hall to the kitchen. There she made a pot of mint tea and watched him drink it.

Severus stared into the cup. "What else did you see?" He looked up when she didn't answer. "Please."

"Nothing that need concern you. Ron will be well and so will you be. You will be together until the death of one of you, which will not occur for many, many, many years. More than that I will not tell. Life is to be discovered not awaited." She patted his hand. "Now go to bed. I promise not to send for the rest of my brood until Ron is able to deal with them."

Severus cocked his head. "And then," he offered warily, "I think it would be best if we went home."

Rommie nodded, knowing that he was afraid she and Charlie would be hurt, or worse insulted, that they weren't remaining with them as long as they had with Bill and his family. "Severus, it is all right. I know what our life is like. It works well for us, but Ron needs to recover and his home will be best. But you must do something for me before you leave."

"Whatever I can."

"You must forgive yourself for thinking that you had anything to do with Ron's getting ill. These things happen and will continue to happen. Not just to Ron, but to you as well." She put up her hand, forestalling his response to her comments. "Do you expect Ron to feel guilty when you will come down with that cold at Christmas because you got caught in a rainstorm coming back from the library with the books he wanted?"

Severus sat back in his chair and glared at her. "I noticed that he was looking tired but I did nothing about it."

She reacted to his glare the same way she did to her son's: she smiled at him. "Ron will know that rain is in the forecast but he will not stop you from going to the library."

"It's not the same."

"Isn't it?" She stood up. "Go to bed, Severus Snape, and think about that when you're rested."

At the doorway of the kitchen, Severus stopped. "Maybe you should warn Ron about that cold. I hate being ill and I'm not a good patient. Good night, Rommie, and thank you. I will think about what you've said."

It was easier said than done. For the first few days after he got out of bed, Ron's energy levels were not high and Severus hovered close by in case of anything. Ron fell asleep after any activity and didn't protest very hard when Severus insisted that he nap in the afternoons.

Rommie made her family happy by asking them to keep the children for a few days as well as staying away. Noisy and boisterous as they were, they were very understanding when she and Charlie explained about Ron and his need for quiet. Charlie came home, and spent the evenings quietly talking with his brother and Severus.

A fortnight after Ron got out of bed, with everyone's best wishes, lots of hugs and kisses, sidecar packed tight with gifts for them and all the Weasleys, Severus and Ron along with the Harley began the trip home in easy apparating stages. Severus made use of Howe's list of wizards for stop-overs and never stayed more than a night, always very watchful of Ron's energy levels. Miss Jones and Howe were waiting for them at the warehouse when they apparated in it. Howe had, at Severus' request, removed all wards until they arrived safely. There were quick greetings and promises to get together for hearing all about their travels, then Howe restored all the wards before leaving with Miss Jones to disapparate back to his office from her house.

So five months after they had taken off, Severus and Ron slept in their own bed once more.

Two days later, the doorbell rang in warning and Miss Jones, accompanied by Minerva McGonagall and Poppy Pomfrey, came visiting. While Severus was invited to join the cousins in the food bank office for some gossip, Pomfrey examined Ron from top to bottom, inside and out. Afterwards, they all sat around the kitchen table, eating treats sent by the house elves who had heard about Ron's being ill, and drinking tea. Pomfrey pronounced Ron well enough but glared at Severus. "I think both of you need to rest a little before you set off on yet another adventure. Severus, you could stand to lose those circles under your eyes. And both of you need to gain a few pounds. Some good, solid British food is what you need. All that foreign stuff is interesting, but it's not what British wizards need to put meat on their bones."


* * *


Severus did catch a cold at Christmas. He did get caught in a rainstorm coming back from the library with books for Ron. All because Ron had decided to return to school and try to finish his last year.

On their travels, he had been practicing whenever he'd been able. Everywhere they went, there was someone willing and happy to take the time to refresh Ron's memory on some subject matter. His brothers and their wives, and even some of their friends, had been more than cooperative in that endeavor.

"Besides," explained Ron as they sat on the couch listening to some blues instrumental, "it doesn't take a genius to figure out that without my N.E.W.T.s, I really don't qualify for much. And though I know you've said that I don't need to worry about it, my stipend isn't much more than an allowance and I really would like to pay my share of the expenses, both Muggle and wizarding, without depending on the money from my parents."

"It would mean a strict course of study," Severus kept his voice as neutral as he could make it. Would Ron be capable of doing the work required for N.E.W.T.s? He would have to consult Pomfrey.

"Yes, I know. Not something I was known for even when I had all my brains."

Severus winced.

"It's okay, Severus. I discussed this with Poppy when she was here."

Severus was surprised: Ron had to have been thinking of this for some time. And pleased as well: it was another sign that his lover was ready to resume a wizarding life.

"She thinks that as long as I don't stress myself out, that I realize and accept that it will take time - far longer than the ten months it usually takes, I should be able to do the work. Maybe," he hesitated, "not well, but well enough to graduate. She suggested that we discuss with the Ministry and Minerva my taking only one subject at a time and concentrating just on that. With Ministry permission, I could take the N.E.W.T for each as I finish. She also suggested that unless absolutely necessary, I should do the work here, in surroundings in which I'm comfortable. And she thought that if I needed special tutoring, there were enough people around who could help me."

So they sat down and worked out a schedule. At McGonagall's suggestion, they decided that a review of material learned in sixth year, Ron's last before the War, would provide a solid basis in preparations for the N.E.W.T.s. Besides the obligatory courses - Transfiguration, History of Magic, Charms, Astronomy, Herbology, Defence Against the Dark Arts and the then-dreaded Potions - Ron had also taken Divination and Care of Magical Creatures.

"Bird courses," agreed Ron. At Severus' raised eyebrows, he smiled. "That's what Hermione called them. Easy courses that don't require much work."

"Don't let Rommie hear you call Divination easy."

Ron smiled. "That's because she never had Trelawney. As long as I prophesied my death in a slow, painful manner, she passed me."

Severus couldn't hide his reaction. Ron squeezed his hand. "I didn't die."

"Well, I think that you should avoid that particular course. I would really prefer not having to be polite to Sybil, which I would have to be should she decide to tutor you here."

Ron shuddered on purpose. "Oh! Perish the thought!"

So they went with Muggle Studies, not necessarily a bird course, but one that would prove easy enough considering the time Ron now spent living in the Muggle world.

"I guess we can say goodbye to Care of Magical Creatures. I doubt that we're going to want something like a Blast-Ended Skrewt around the place."

Both men groaned and then laughed.

"Ancient Runes might be best," suggested Severus. "Fleur could help you with that, Rommie as well. All right, to sum up, we've got Minerva who is going to tutor you in Transfiguration herself. Which is her excuse for visiting Alys." The women had become quite close over the past months. "While her cousin is at work, she'll be here, working with you. For Astronomy, we can set up a telescope on the roof. There's nothing very different about magical ones so that shouldn't call any attention to us. I can supervise Potions and Herbology. Sprout says she'll drop in if we have any particular questions. Hermione has claimed Charms and that only leaves History of Magic which, with Professor Binn's supplying essay topics, we can easily handle on our own."

"What about Defence?"

"Ah, Harry's volunteered for that. Since this will be his last season as Seeker for England and he's accepted the post of instructor of Defence starting this fall session, he thinks it'll be a good way of his getting into what he called `the teaching mind-set'."

Ron grinned. "You mean he figures if he can get me to be remotely successful..."

Severus didn't find it funny. "You were successful, Ron. And more than remotely. You survived the fiercest of the battles, and you did so with cunning and planning. The fact that Draco Malfoy also survived..." Severus scowled.

Ron cocked his head. "Maybe we need to add a course in ducking?"

Severus shook his head and finally the tension in his expression lessened. "These things will come back to you, Ron. As Pomfrey said, slowly, but they will."

The day in December that Severus went off to Miss Jones's library was to pick up some books for an essay Ron had to produce on the fabrication of Muggle electricity. Arthur, who now dropped in on them on a semi-regular basis for afternoon tea, wanted a copy of Ron's assignment after it was done. "I love this eckeltricity thing of theirs. So fascinating."

Yes, rain had been in the forecast, but for late afternoon. Severus was going in the morning and fully expected to return before the rain began. Unfortunately, the young man at the reference desk had found a tattered folio, a diary of some crone from the fourteenth century, in a stack housed in the sub-sub-sub-basement, and had been thrilled to hand it over to Severus for his perusal, within the library. The book was so filled with kind of information Severus was accumulating for an essay of his own, on the possible interlinking between early Muggle and wizarding life, that he only noticed the rain when the library was closing. Ron was used to the fact that when Severus went to the library, or book stores, or record stores, he often lost track of time.

Books on electricity safely packed away in the storage bin under the Harley's seat, Severus took off in the darkness and the freezing rain.

"I think I'm going to get you a Muggle watch with one of those buzzer things," said Ron as he handed Severus a box of tissues. One of the few maladies even the wizarding world had not been able to vanquish with a charm or a potion was the common cold.

Severus' growled response was lost in a series of sneezes, followed by a coughing session. "`Tay awa' `rom `e," said Severus when he finally could talk.

"It's okay. Rommie told me that you'd be the only one to catch this thing. That I was safe from it. She also told me to try this with you."

Ron unlaced the nightshirt that Severus was wearing and began rubbing an ointment, a mixture of menthol and eucalyptus, on his chest. Severus sighed and let his head fall back on the pillows. "`Ice."

When his chest was done, Ron had him turn so that he could rub the soothing ointment on his back. "Don't forget to use the opportunity to make it a good back rub," Rommie had told him as she'd handed him the jar, a family remedy that she swore by. "He'll sleep better if you do. And he'll be a lot easier to deal with if he sleeps through most of it."

Severus' purr at the back rub was deeper than normal from the congestion.

"What else did she tell you?" Severus had improved enough to be sitting, dressed, on the couch. He glared at yet another bowl of chicken soup as Ron placed a tray on his lap.

Ron grinned. "That I didn't have to worry about meeting the usual tall-dark and -handsome man. I already had and would livve happily ever after with him."


* * *


The review went not too badly, all things considered. Ron had used a great many of the things he had learnt up until the War in the War itself. Those he found easy enough to recall. Any learning that had not come with a practical class proved more elusive.

Still, by February, Ron was ready to begin his last year of studies. They started with Ancient Runes as both Weasley families were coming for a visit before spring. While Fleur helped Ron decipher symbols and translate the old spells that had proven difficult for him, Severus and Gabriel happily created potions in the workshop. Gabriel was especially thrilled when he was allowed to participate in the testing of the potion to grow hair on a billiard ball. When Rommie visited, she came alone, having sent Charlie and the children off to spend the day at the London zoo or at a Muggle film, which Charlie adored attending as much as his children.

Harry now came by whenever there was a holiday. He made Ron laugh with stories of how his students were doing, and often apologized to Severus for having been such a prat in his classes. "They don't listen to instructions. They talk to each other about anything but what we're doing. And they always want extensions on their assignments. I find I sometimes have to restrain myself physically from transfiguring them into pincushions."

Severus grinned. "And Minerva keeps wondering why I won't return to teaching."

Besides helping Ron, Severus had his own work to do. He was still testing the reputed effects of potions for The Journal, but Angus Howe had manoeuvred a meeting between Severus and a young but brilliant mediwizard who was into research. Together Severus and Rupert Skinnerton were analyzing known potions to see what other uses, medical uses, they might have. The Ministry for Magic, Medical sub-division, was subsidizing their work. Already the Quietus had been greeted enthusiastically by mediwizards and witches who were interested in ailments of the nervous system.

Things went less well when Ron began working Transfiguration. He found that his skills were not improving and his frustration grew with each failure. McGonagall and Severus both told him that it would come with time, but in Ron's mind, it was taking far too much time. He grew tense and needed more Quietus to get through a day.

They were lying in bed one night, Ron over on his side of the bed, not his usual place, when Severus dared broach the subject he'd been dreading. "Ron. Maybe we should just acknowledge that Transfiguration is not something that you will succeed in satisfactorily and move on."

It took him several minutes to understand that the shaking from Ron was not due to the Subitomoves, but to his crying. He turned and pulled his lover into his arms where Ron wept as he had in the days when depression had needed release. As then, Severus held him tightly and murmured what he hoped were soothing phrases.

"I hate this," sniffed Ron, when the worse of it was over and he'd blown his nose. "These are all things I should be able to do. Why am I having so much trouble? It's not like I'm not trying."

"Maybe you're trying too hard. Yes, Transfiguration needs concentration, but maybe you're thinking too hard."

Ron sighed. "Everything I do needs concentration. If I lower the level, I can't do the regular every-day stuff."

Severus rested his cheek on Ron's head. He's known there were things that Ron found difficult to do, but he hadn't really been aware of the extent. "Ron. Be honest with me. Are you putting yourself through all this because of me?"

Ron nestled closer to his man.

"Because if you are, please don't. I love you, Ron. As you are. You don't need to prove anything to me."

Ron tilted back his head so he could see Severus' face watching him with that intensity he brought to his potion making. "I would like to make you proud of me."

"Ron! For Merlin's sake..."

"No," Ron placed his hand on Severus' mouth, "let me finish. Yes, I know that you are proud of me, you've told me often enough, and I do believe you. But I see how others in our world look at us. Not our friends, but people we meet in passing. Either they think that you've taken me out of pity...I know you haven't so save your breath...or that I'm just your toyboy. Either way, they don't think much of our being together.

"I would like to prove to them that it's more than your feeling sorry for me or my being used to satisfy your sexual needs.

"So yes, I'm doing this for you. But for me, too. I just wish sometimes it weren't so hard. At this rate, Gabriel will have his N.E.W.T.s before I do. And I need to do this because otherwise all I'm good for is serving ice-cream at Fortescue or being conductor on the Knight Bus. Or I give up completely and try to find something I can do in the Muggle world without any of the required papers. Which again is maybe sweeping floors somewhere."

He raised himself so that his chest rested on Severus', so they were eye to eye. "I want you not only to be proud of me, but proud to be seen with me. I don't ever expect to hold my own with those researchers you hang around with at the Ministry, but I should like to accompany you without you having to worry about defending me against comments or looks. That they at least think there is some intellectual satisfaction for you in a relationship with me."

He cocked his head, as though sheepish about his next confession. "And I want a place of my own in our world. You have one. Everyone in my family has one. I want one, too."

Severus passed his hands through Ron's hair, holding his head steady as he brought it down for a toe-curling kiss. "Then," he said, voice thick with emotion, "you shall have one. We'll take it easier and maybe if we alternate some other subject matter with Transfiguration, it'll work out."

Ron, eyes slightly glazed over from Severus' kiss, licked his lips. "I can think of something that might help take my mind away from Transfiguration."

The slow smile that grew on Severus' face was equally toe-curling for Ron.


* * *


It took until their third Christmas together for Molly to accept that Severus Snape was going to be a definite part of her family. Only Percy had supported her determination not to do so.

Whenever Bill or Charlie visited with their families, they always included some time in Liverpool. They never tried to hide it from her, nor the fact that they quite enjoyed their visits. She blamed her daughters-in-law until, one night, after she'd been particularly opinionated about Fleur's approval of Gabriel's week-long visit to his uncles by himself..."Uncles! As if Severus Snape were blood kin! How could she have left that poor child with Severus of all people!"...Arthur had had enough and, for the first time in their marriage, he lost his temper with his wife. Many things were said, by both parties, tears were shed and words that should have been spoken forty years earlier were. The upshot of it was that Molly, with Arthur's pushing her and the approval of all of her children, including Percy, went and found herself a position.

"Who would have me?" she'd moaned to Arthur.

Actually, the WITCH'S WEEKLY did. They needed someone to write a weekly column on how to live successfully within a budget. The War had been costly and had seen an end to many a family fortune, especially for those whose families had sided with the losers. Confiscation of accounts had been part of the price paid for choosing the wrong side. Also, young people were not remaining at home as they once had. They too needed to learn the ins and outs of a balanced budget.

Molly's first few columns were a bit stiff, but then, gradually, she found her voice and soon the column was one of the more popular features in the WEEKLY. She even developed a fan base of witches and wizards, who sent her mail on how she had helped them, asking her specific questions. After a year or so, the editor began having her cover financial reports from the Ministry. Seeing her rise to ask a question eventually had the Ministry's financial wizards bracing themselves for they knew that Molly Weasley was like a bulldog when she found what she considered to be inefficient spending, or, on behalf of her readers, something important that they had glossed over.

A few days before that third Christmas, Severus received a parcel by owl and opened it with Ron looking pleased and worried at the same time. The jumper, a Molly Weasley original, was done in a plain black, without an initial in mid-chest. There was a small white note with it.

`I hope this fits. Molly.'

Severus held he jumper up against himself and examined its effect in the mirror he called to him. Ron came up behind him, wrapped his arms around his waist and rested his head against Severus'. He smiled at the bemused expression in the mirror. "You realize that you'll now be expected to make an honest man out of me."

Severus' eyebrow rose high. "Will she want a hand-fasting ceremony?"

Ron nodded. "With all the frills."

"If I wear the sweater, can we forego the frills?"


* * *


Ron Weasley examined himself in the mirror. The brown robe hung properly but he gave the shoulders a little tug, making certain that all was as it should be. Reflected next to him was Severus Snape, dressed in his black robe, sitting in the armchair that stood next to the rumpled bed, watching him with eyes still heavy from their morning's romp of sex.

They were at Hogwarts, not in Severus' old quarters, but in the guest room Ron had stayed in whenever he had come to the school for specialized instruction or to write one of the N.E.W.T.s. It had taken almost 17 months, but he was finally going to graduate, with this year's class. It was fourteen years later than it should have been, and it had taken a little finagling on McGonagall's part for him to pass his Transfiguration test, but here he was, a fully qualified wizard.

The graduation ceremony would be beginning around ten, then he and his lover, in the small garden by Hagrid's hut, in the presence of their friends and too many Weasleys to count, would be participating in a hand-fasting ceremony. It had been Severus' idea to have the two ceremonies on the same day. A double celebration. Everyone attending would have come to see Ron in this culmination of all his determined work, and it would be a way of celebrating the accomplishment forever.

"You're lucky my mother bought that." Ron had laughed when Molly had sniffed and had had to find her handkerchief at the thought of Severus' wanting to commemorate her child's victory.

Severus had just shrugged. "This way, once the ceremony is over, we will all have to join the rest of the graduates and their celebration. No one need try hard to find polite things to say to me and there should be a lot less tension for all concerned."

Because though Molly had somewhat accepted the situation, Percy still had not. He and his family were attending the graduation and now would be attending the ceremony, but Percy still believed that Severus' past as a Death Eater, no matter whose side he had been on, meant that he was not to be trusted.

Ron turned from the mirror and smiled at his lover. He walked over and, with a grin, nudged Severus' legs apart so that he could kneel between them. Though Severus closed his eyes and moaned dramatically, he made room for Ron. "Haven't you had enough to hold you until tonight? If this continues, I shall be old before my time, worn out by the demands of my...what was it you once called yourself? My toy boy?"

Ron shook his head. "No, this isn't about sex. I just want you to listen to me for a minute. And I want to be able to see your face, watch your eyes while I talk."

The seriousness in Ron's voice alerted Severus. He quietly straightened and wondered what Ron had to say to him that he suddenly was looking so determined. It was a look that Severus associated with his lover working out a problem whose solution was eluding him.

Ron slipped his hands under Severus', raised them so that their fingers entwined. He held them that way throughout the speech he had spent days preparing.

"I want you to know that I am very aware that the hand-fasting ceremony is for my family. That we don't really need it. That we are committed to each other and don't need to say so in front of witnesses. I thank you for that. I know that Weasleys take this ceremony very seriously and that my parents would have been heartbroken if we hadn't had one. I know that my father is honoured to act as my witness and that Gabriel is thrilled to act for you. I'm sorry that you feel you can't ask anyone from your family to be here, but after today, I fear you're going to have more family than you'll know how to deal with."

Severus just nodded, knowing there was more coming. He was surprised to feel his heart beating faster, in anticipation.

"Before we go down and join the hordes, I have something I want to say to you, here, just between the two of us."

Ron drew one of their joined hands to his chest. "I love you, Severus Snape. You have given me many things. My ability to lead a near normal life. An acceptance of what I am and can be. The support I needed to get to this day. But the most precious gift you've given me is yourself. And I know that this is not something that you've done easily. Or without some trepidation. You have reason to be a man who rations his trust, but to me, you have given it freely and wholeheartedly. Moreover, you have given me something you never have given to another and that is your love.

"I am honoured by these gifts and I promise you that there will never be a day that you regret trusting me or loving me."

Severus opened his mouth but Ron shook his head. "Please, love, let me finish.

"I know that at the ceremony we will be exchanging rings, but I have something I want to give you while it is just us."

With a smile, Ron released Severus' right hand, then pulled his wand from his pocket. "Accio box."

A rectangular box the size of an envelope floated through the air to the two men and hovered there until Ron placed his wand on Severus' lap and took hold of it.

With a sudden shyness, he opened it. Severus looked and found two broaches resting on a bed of black velvet. One was of a double Lion of Gryffindor and the other, a double Snake of Slytherin. With a smile, Ron released his hold on Severus' hand and took the broaches up and snapped them so that now each House symbol was separated. He lay them back on their bed of velvet with a Snake facing a Lion. He picked up his wand - "Cuniungo!" - and the Snake wound its tail around the waist of the Lion whose paw now rested on the Snake, just below the head.

Ron sighed in relief. He'd been working on this bit of magic for some time, making sure that it would work properly when he needed it.

He picked up one of the newly formed broaches. "Severus Snape, will you accept to wear this in memory of my promise to you?"

Severus had watched the remaking of the broaches barely daring to breathe.

He had to swallow twice before he found enough voice to whisper, "I would be honoured."

Ron carefully spelled the broach he placed on the left side of Severus' robe, over his heart, to stay there until the spell was countered. It never was.

Severus picked up the second broach and examined it. The detail was the work of an exquisite artist. He would have to ask Ron whom Gustav der Mondschein had recommended. But later.

He looked into his lover's eyes, moved at the love, the commitment he found there.

"I, too, want to thank you, Ron Weasley. For coming into my life and gifting me with treasures that I never expected ever to receive. Your love is precious to me and fills a part of me that I never thought was worthy of being filled. You complete me.

"Having you in my life has forced me to be a better man, a better wizard. You have taught me many things. How to trust. How to be a friend. How to be part of a family. But most of all, how to love.

"I don't expect our life together will be without its ups and downs. We are only human and both men. There will be times when we will argue and disagree. But I too promise you that there will never be a day that you regret trusting me or loving me.

"Ron Weasley, will you accept to wear this broach in memory of my promise to you?"

Ron nodded, his eyes over-bright, and repeated the words Severus had used to him. "I would be honoured."

Severus spelled the broach onto Ron's robe over his heart. Then, eyes holding, he drew his man to him.

Their kiss was not one of passion, not a mere touching of lips, but a gentle, powerful reaffirmation of their commitment to each other.

When their mouths finally released, Ron leaned forward and rested his head on Severus' shoulder. Severus held him tight.

The knocking on the door finally moved them apart. "Come on, you two. Family's all here. Get up!"

Severus stored the moment away in his heart. "Your brother Charlie," he drawled in a tone that probably still echoed in the Potions classroom, "has a voice that would wake the dead. Must come from working with dragons."

Ron used the end of his sleeve to wipe his eyes. "He's always had that voice. Mom used him to get us up whenever we had to go somewhere early. Our own personal foghorn."

They rose to their feet, smiling at each other.

"We're up," Ron called to his brother, hoping that Charlie would hear him over the pounding and shouting that still continued.

Severus passed a gentle hand along Ron's face, neatening his hair. "Come. I doubt that he's going to stop until we show ourselves."

Ron nodded.

Severus held out his hand and Ron took it.

Together they went out to face the Weasley tribe.

* * *

The End


Part 3 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Severus/Ron ~~~~~~~~         



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