Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
Hermione discovered that she had a knack for walking quietly. She wouldn't describe it as sneaking. To some extent, Harry and Ron could do it as well; the invisibility cloak would have been useless if they made noise. She simply walked carefully and was able to see things without others realizing she was there.
She used this ability when patrolling as a prefect. She didn't really need an invisibility cloak to be unseen. It was amazing how self-centered kids could be, to the extent that they didn't realize other people were near them. She therefore saw many things that George and Fred were doing. It helped her to prevent disaster from happening to several unwary first and second years.
Early in the school year, she discovered that Septima spent a certain amount of time looking out the window of one of the hallways. It was at the end of the hallway containing the Arithmancy classroom and Septima's office. Hermione would watch her, looking for and finding herself sometimes. Septima occasionally worked in her notebooks, but usually she just sat or stood there sadly.
Both parents had admitted that their own romance had been complicated. There was some question about how her father actually felt toward her mother. So Hermione watched them, to see what she could learn herself. Some nights Septima appeared to be tense, as though she was watching for something. After a while, she would heave a deep breath and run down the stairs. Hermione followed and watched watched as her father came back to the school from Salazar-knew-where, limping into her mother's arms. She watched them walk toward the stairway to the dungeons, with Septima supporting Severus.
Her favorite thing to watch was the way they interacted when Severus joined Septima in the hallway. Usually Septima was there first. After a while, Severus came up behind her. She seemed to know when he approached. Her whole body would change somehow. Even though she might not move at all, Hermione could tell that she was aware and eager to be near him. Her father's step would quicken as it approached her mother, and then she could see what it was like for a romance to play out before her.
When they were together as a family, Severus and Septima were a little warmer than teachers. They showed her affection, and Nicky was usually delightful, but it was a bit stilted at moments. No matter how much they might wish it otherwise, they hadn't been a family all along. When she spied on them—and she could admit this is what she was doing—she saw them as they really were with each other.
There were rarely any kisses in the hallway. More often, Hermione watched them talk animatedly. She didn't know what they had to talk about. Surely they already knew everything about each other, yet spoke together often. They were few and far between, and often fairly innocent. Yet they left the watcher breathless. Somehow she knew they were indicative of a strong attachment between them.
She saw them argue, she saw them simply together, and once or twice, she saw real affection between them. This is how she knew what their feelings really were. She could see that they might not always agree, or that sometimes they just needed to talk about things, but by the time they walked back down the hallway, they almost always did so hand in hand, or with Severus's arm around Septima. Her parents' relationship might be complicated according to them, but to Hermione it looked like love.
* * * * *
It probably wasn't right to lie to Harry and Ron, nor to the Grangers, but Hermione wanted more time with her own family. Unfortunately, something happened to Mr. Weasley the night before the holiday was to begin. Professor MacGonagall whispered what she could of the story to Hermione before breakfast. When Hermione had a hurried conversation with Professor Vector, the family's plan for the holiday was amended.
Eileen met Hermione at Kings Cross, and they traveled together to the house where Severus had taken her almost a year before. They sipped hot chocolate in the library while they waited for the others to arrive. Eileen asked questions about school. She occasionally made a comment about a teacher or the parents of other students that made Hermione giggle. She realized that her grandmother's sly wit was the source of her father's sarcasm, and at least some of her own intelligence.
Suddenly there was a racket at the door. Severus and Septima arrived with a tearful Nicky. “He's been fussy all day,” said Septima apologetically.
“Is he teething again?” asked Eileen.
“Yes,” said Severus, who looked at Septima and then said, “at least that's what Septima thought.”
The two made eye contact and then looked awkwardly away from each other. It reminded Hermione of seeing them several nights ago. There was some sort of argument. Hermione had to go back to her dorm before they finished, but ever since, the two were together as often as normally but not as comfortable as usual. What was wrong?
Septima quickly unfastened the many layers of baby outergarments so that Nicky could be free. “He probably will feel at least a little better when he can move around again,” she said.
Eileen took the unwrapped baby and held him close. “He's not the slightest bit cold. You take wonderful care of him, Septima, and I have just the thing for achy baby teeth.”
Eileen and Nicky were already in the kitchen, so only Hermione saw that awkward look between her parents again before Septima said, “Thank you, Eileen.”
Hermione watched Septima act just the slightest bit skittish the whole time they prepared tea and ate. She was warm with Hermione and Eileen, but more formal than usual with Severus. Fortunately, Nicky sat at the table in his high chair, providing employment when silences between the elder folk got too long. Septima put one or two foods on his tray that might be good for him to eat, but for the most part he just chewed his spoon and chanted vowel sounds.
Afterwards, the family sat in the library and exchanged Christmas gifts. Severus and Septima each gave Hermione books from their own disciplines. “No pressure there,” observed Eileen, “except that you had better choose one of their subjects for your concentration.” Everyone laughed at that.
There were toys for Nicky, little odds and ends for Eileen to use around the house or in her practice, and books and stationery for Severus and Septima. Perhaps the most special gift was a small box that Severus took from his pocket and handed to Septima. She opened it and all the females in the room gasped at the lovely engagement ring inside.
“Severus, I don't understand.”
“I'm sorry I didn't get one sooner.”
“I didn't expect—I mean, I know you never—”
“I want you to know that I choose you, Septima.”
“I choose you to be my lover, my wife, the mother of my children...” he slid his hand around her waist in a way Hermione hadn't seen in over a week. “I chose you before. Maybe I didn't understand it, and maybe I acted badly, but I chose you, and I still choose you, now.”
Septima gasped and took several deep breaths. “Damn, you always do this too me,” she said. Hermione saw that her eyelashes were damp. “Severus, you know I love you.”
Hermione couldn't be sure, but she thought he quietly said, “Still?” while using the hand around her waist to slide her closer.
“I'll never stop,” she whispered, tilting her head just so.
Hermione glanced at Eileen, who watched them with a soft look in her eye. “I don't suppose the two of you have something to tell us?” asked the older witch.
Severus and Septima broke off their kiss and looked at each other. The soft blush on Septima's face was nothing like the awkwardness of before. “Not yet, but perhaps soon,” said Severus quietly. Then he said “Ouch!”
Everyone looked down and saw that Nicky had crawled across the room while holding a wooden train. Now he was using it to beat on his father's shin. Everyone laughed, and it was time to clear up all the wrappings. In just a few minutes, Hermione would need to leave. She had stolen a moment for a Christmas with the family she'd just found, but she didn't want to be away from Harry and the Weasleys when Arthur was in danger.
A/N: Thank you to Kyria of Delphi for all of her help!