"She's got your nose," Hermione observed dryly.
Zev looked up, his nose slipping from Ronni's grasp. "It's a new thing." Ronni made an indignant noise.
Hermione grinned. "She's particularly fond of Remus' ears, and Severus's chin."
"Did you want her back?" Zev asked. "Because we're doing just fine."
"I came up to see you."
"In that case, if you want to take her, I have pumpkin spice tea that Gran sent over. Evidently the pumpkin crop was pretty extensive this year. She sent all sorts of things. It's rather tasty, I'll brew us up some."
Hermione reached out for Ronni, who came with a squeal. Hermione absent-mindedly kissed at her forehead. "Where's Lorraine?"
Zev walked to the cabinets that he and Lorraine kept mugs and tea stored away in, and filled two of the mugs with tap water, Charming them hot. "One of those days where one of us needed to actually go into the office. I was being lazy and sent her."
"Mm." Hermione was glad to hear the relative lack of stress that comment caused. She was going to have to get Lorraine a very nice Christmas gift. "I was out today as well."
Zev brought back the two mugs, each steeping. He set Hermione's in front of her. "Not something you would generally tell me."
"It pertains directly to you. Well, you and everyone else in this place, but truth be told, things are starting to feel a little personal in my old age."
Zev raised an eyebrow, so reminiscent of Severus that Hermione had a hard time containing a laugh. "Because it never was before."
"Well," she graciously acceded to his point. "Lorraine's going back to America for the New Year, yes?"
"She wanted to go for Christmas, but-"
"Would she have gone if you could go with her?"
Zev looked at her sharply. "What are you on about?"
"The House Leave Compromise. A piss poor compromise, but it was the best I could wrangle and it's certainly of use to you. Here's how it works: werewolves can leave wereworld so long as Apparition from directly outside the wards of the school takes them to a spot outside the isles. Doesn't matter where that spot is, although I'm having to liaise with other Ministries in order to access the permissibility of each country. America has relatively few laws in that regard, however; I talked with Paulo and Faelle, who, by the way, want to come up to New England if you're going to be out there. It's a less taxing Apparition than making their way here, evidently." Hermione rolled her eyes. "I told them I couldn't imagine."
"Going to get soggy on me?" she asked gently.
"Mum," he said, more insistently this time.
"Happy early Christmas," she said. "Only the best for me and mine."
Zev took a sip of his tea, screwing up his face at the slight pain of still-too-hot liquid hitting his tongue. Hermione shook her head fondly. "I was thinking of taking Remus on a vacation. Somewhere neither of us have ever been. Jamaica or Sicily or Singapore. Somewhere with beaches and restaurants and different sorts of people thinking different sorts of things."
Eventually Zev said, "Different is nice."
"You'll talk to Lorraine, then, I suppose?"
"It's all I can do not to floo her right this very moment," he admitted.
"That's my very grown-up professional son." Hermione shifted Ronni--who had fallen asleep somewhere amidst all the excitement--reached out for her cup, and took a sip. "Oh, this is lovely. I'll have to see if she'll share her recipe."
"I think we can arrange an exchange," Zev said dryly.
"Gee," he took another sip, "I can't imagine."
After they'd had some of the wine Severus had given Zev on his last birthday--Marissa and Severus had united in a team effort to impress upon his (relatively) young mind the finer points of fermented grapes--and indulged in some celebratory sex, Lorraine rolled onto her back and asked, "I apologize if this is a stupid question, but do you know how to Apparate?"
"At short distances. Mum and Remus taught me on the grounds. Just in case."
"This is a little bit nerve wracking," she told him.
"I can do the first jump. After that we may have to side-along it. Is that-"
She let her head drop to the side so that she could look at him. "Not a problem."
Zev turned on his side and put his forehead to hers. "Nervous I'm not gonna measure up?"
"With Gran?" Lorraine laughed. She fished one of his hands up from underneath the covers and brought it up over her ear, the maimed one. "When I was little, and I went to go live with her and Grandfather, everybody spoke with a weird accent and called me names like zombie-girl and wicked witch. Retard and 'special,' sneered, when I would have trouble using my pencils or getting a lunch tray. I was right handed, you know. When I had a right hand."
Zev had suspected. She was one of the most resourceful people he knew but there were still times when she seemed a little off balance. There were so many times when he was off-balance inside his head, though, it seemed hypocritical to notice her physical moments, let alone mention them. "Kids are stupid. I've lived here most of my life and there were times when the other kids called me a monster."
"You probably had better comeback material."
"Knowing you, I'm certain you came up with something."
"Not back then. That was later, when Gran had taught me how to harvest pumpkins and potatoes and onions with only one arm, and I'd learned that I not only could do magic but could do it quite well. When I learned what the word survivor meant and was able to claim it whenever anybody couldn't look into my eyes."
"What are we talking about, love?"
She smiled. "Nothing you'd be able to divine from the conversation we're having."
"So tell me."
"I spoke to your mum, right, because I'm old-fashioned in that way. I spoke to Remus too, and even Severus, although that involved less speaking and more bringing of gifts and other conciliatory measures."
"Spoke about what?"
"I was going to ask you to marry me at some point, probably after the holidays."
Zev didn't miss a beat. He could raise objections later. "And you want to do it while we're with Gran."
"I know how important your parents are to you but she rarely gets to see me anymore, and I thought about how special that would be-"
"Special is nice."
Zev's smile had traces of bitterness in it, he knew, but it couldn't be helped. "Did you think I wouldn't ask, was that why you-"
"You wouldn't have asked. You're so much like Remus it's sickening at times. He still thinks your mum should be gallivanting around the known world with Severus."
"Remus didn't spend his life here," Zev defended. "I'm ridiculously lucky that my mental state allows me to comprehend the place as a safe haven so deeply that I rarely even desire leaving."
"I wasn't criticizing. Just pointing out that your lack of faith in me is somewhat exasperating. And trying, through a small trip to memory alley, to make it clear that what freedom I may lose in saying some devotional words is nothing on all the things I receive out of the deal."
"Could I ask, then? Since you already got to do it?"
"Oh sure, steal my glory."
"I don't have to," Zev said.
She laughed, her breath breaking gently over his lips. "But you want to."
"It's the first time I'm meeting Gran. I want to make a good impression."
"My earlier point being she knows the value of people who look beyond the scars."
"I understood your earlier point," he told her.
"So your excuse was total bunk."
"I suppose you could say I'm just traditional like that."
"Except," she said slowly, "that you're not."
"Troublemaker," he said, accusation threaded through his amusement.
"Liar," she said, her eyes still wide and focused on him.
"I just want to hear you say yes," he said.
She bit at her lower lip. "You should ask me then. That's probably what I'll say."
Zev and Lorraine obeyed Severus's summons (and that's what it was, not a request, not an invitation, a summons) to take dinner with his family that evening. As per normal, Lorraine was less nervous about the things Zev's parents (all right, Severus) could possibly want to say than Zev was. He glared at her for a few minutes mostly just to shake off his own nerves. It didn't work.
She blithely ignored his facial expressions and asked about things like whether the eye-shadow she'd chosen clashed with her sweater.
"No," Zev answered after a bit. He had been contemplating saying yes just to watch her wipe it off and start over. He liked watching her perform little tasks. And big ones. He liked watching her.
"You sure? You hesitated there."
"I'm sure. I'm even more sure that none of the people we're dining with would notice if it did."
"Severus has a keen eye for detail."
"Severus's mind is on other things, trust me." It was this fact that worried Zev.
"He said yes," Lorraine reminded him. "I went to him and he said, 'Consider this step carefully, Miss Shannen,' and I said that there were very few things in life I didn't consider in that way and he nodded his head."
"Well, first of all, I think you're relying on an awful lot of nonverbal cues for me to be entirely comfortable with this situation, and secondly, he pulled out last name basis for this so he's definitely threatened by it."
"Severus is threatened by everything, love. It's all right. I could take him in a fair fight."
Zev frowned. "He never fights fair."
"He does, he just does it when he thinks nobody's watching."
Zev had shaken his head but allowed her to believe as she would. She would anyway, there was no use in arguing. Her and Severus were a lot alike in that way. The thought made him feel slightly better.
The improvement in his spirits flew as though on a broomstick when they walked into his parents quarters and Remus practically attacked him. "Have you heard? Of course you've heard! And the two of you are going to America? You'll have to tell me what that's like. Sirius and James always wanted to see America. Um, New York, because they'd heard stories about- erm, nevermind. But you're going where? Your grandmother's in-"
"Rural Massachusetts," Lorraine interjected smoothly at Remus's glance her way.
"Right, of course, near Salem. What's it like there? Is it cold? Do all Americans really sound as funny as the ones I've met? Do the wizards there-"
Severus appeared then, and put his hands on Remus' shoulders from behind. "I'm sure Zev will tell us when he returns. Just like you will tell him all about Amanpuri when we return." Despite the business-like efficiency of his tone, Severus' fingers were curled delicately over Remus' robes, and Zev could see the movement of muscle that told him Severus was sweeping his thumbs up and down in a calming motion.
Remus grinned. "We're going to Amanpuri," he announced, rather belatedly at that point. "In Thailand."
"So I've read," Zev said. Then, "Thailand."
Severus said, "There are some things I've always wanted to see."
"And I like the sun," Hermione said, walking into the room with Ronni in her arms. She passed Ronni to Remus. "She's fed, should be asleep in a few moments."
Remus nodded to the others. "I'm going to go put her to bed. Start without me."
Severus said, "All right," watching the two of them until they were behind a door and out of sight. He rarely took his eyes off Ronni when she was around, as though just being able to see her might keep her safe.
Hermione rolled her eyes at his obvious preoccupation. "We can wait."
Zev risked a small smile at his mum. Severus said, "I'm not blind, you realize."
Zev and Hermione both looked at him with their most innocent expressions.
"Butter wouldn't melt in their mouth, you don't imagine?" Lorraine asked Severus.
"Not unless someone Spelled it to." Severus nodded at Lorraine, and walked away to sit down.
Zev had forgotten that Ronni wasn't the only person Severus kept his eyes on when she entered into the room. It had been a while since his surveillance had been quite as intense in regard to Zev, but Zev could well remember when it had been. Zev hadn't even realized it for a bit, though he was relatively sure it had been going on for quite some years by the time he had been old enough to catch on to Severus's gaze and the way it followed him. He hadn't mentioned it, also having been old enough to understand why Severus did it, and to appreciate the concern.
There were times, however, when it was a little much. That said, knowing that Severus generally only reverted to doing it when he was scared out of his mind, Zev silently endured the feeling of eyes constantly being upon him. Lorraine, thankfully, took the initiative to go into specific details about everything they would be doing on the trip, all the logistics, and patiently answered even the most nitpicking questions asked by Severus and the most senselessly giddy ones posed by Remus. Zev couldn't help hiding a smile at the latter. He couldn't remember a time when Remus hadn't wanted to leave wereworld. Upcoming field trips meant that Remus would practically bounce down the hallways for days in advance and barely trip down their length in the wake of such events.
At the point where Lorraine was outlining the itinerary of Christmas Day, the Sound Spells monitoring Ronni squawked and Severus practically ran out of the room. Hermione rubbed a hand over her face. She pinned Zev with a look. "I realize you're an adult and all, but you're going to have to floo each day. I apologize."
Zev gave her a lopsided smile. "Nobody can tell me I'm unloved."
Remus snorted at that. "He wanted to do the Apparition with you. We had to talk him down."
Zev was pretty sure there had been more than just talking involved in that operation. He knew how the three of them worked. "Should I not go?"
"You should go," Remus said, in a no-arguments-allowed tone. "You are going."
Zev sighed. "Your vicarious pleasure aside, I've never seen him this. . ."
"Psychotic?" Hermione supplied. "We've just kept you out of some of the more interesting intersections of Severus' idiosyncransies."
"I was going to say visibly concerned," Zev told her.
She shrugged. "Same thing with him."
"And it isn't vicarious pleasure," was Remus's delayed response. "I'm going to Amanpuri."
"You mentioned," Zev said, but he smiled as he said it. Remus smiled back, obviously too happy at his impending freedom to allow even his worry over Severus' antics to get in the way of that entirely.
Lorraine spoke up. "Would it help if I took Severus to Gran's for a day? I could think up a reason. It might help if he had seen- He seems to think structurally in terms of safety. Hogwarts, wereworld, that sort of thing."
Remus and Hermione exchanged a look. Remus said, "That might work. I'll work with you on a reason and the four of us can all be in on it."
Hermione said, "Or we could just tell him the truth."
"You're no fun," Remus said, giving her a doleful glance.
She leaned in and kissed him. "Oh?"
"Maybe a little bit of fun."
"Mm," she murmured.
Severus swept back in, his eyes on Zev the moment he passed over the threshold. Zev smiled at Severus the way he had learned to when he was a kid. It didn't get Severus to look elsewhere, but the sharpness of his expression always gentled just a fraction.
Lorraine had to attend some sort of business dinner which gave Zev the perfect opportunity to round his parents up and talk to them without her present and (at the same time) without rousing her suspicions. Severus, walking into Zev's rooms after Hermione but before Remus said, "Sit still," by way of greeting.
Zev let his jitters pick up a notch by way of answer. Remus came rushing in, Ronni on his shoulder. He threw an apologetic glance Zev's way. "Sorry. I was trying to get Gin to take her but she was meeting with a client and no way was I leaving her with Ambrose."
Ambrose could be a bit absent-minded at times.
Zev held out his arms. "That's okay, I haven't seen her all day anyway." She came willingly, cooing and spitting up on him a bit. "Thanks," he told her. She laid her head down on his shoulder by way of acknowledging his thanks.
"What's this about, then?" Hermione asked softly.
"I think I ought to have a ring. For when I propose."
"As opposed to for every day use," Severus said.
"Severus is scared that your wife is going to steal you away from us," Remus told Zev in a confiding tone. Severus sniffed at that. Zev looked to Hermione, who confirmed it with a twist of her mouth.
"Well, okay," Zev said, "but I still need a ring."
Severus folded his arms over his chest, obviously unwilling to aid in anything to do with this. Hermione said, "It's not a problem, I can go to a Muggle library and dig up some options online."
"Don't you have to have some type of. . ." Remus twisted his face, "it's like money only it doesn't really exist."
"I have a credit card."
"You do?" Both Severus and Remus turned to her.
Hermione was unruffled. "I had myself put on my parent's credit card, and I pay them back on the rare occasions when I need to buy something with it."
Severus scowled some more. Remus just nodded. Zev thought about asking exactly how money that doesn't really exist worked but let it go. He could trust Hermione to handle the details. "You'll bring me options, then?"
"Certainly. Did you have something in mind?"
"She likes patterns, designs. Something intricate but not gaudy."
"Preference on type of stone?"
Zev shifted Ronni as he thought. She made some smacking noises in disapproval and then settled back down. "Emerald."
Severus's scowl literally fell off his face at that. Remus held back a laugh. Badly. Zev squared Severus with a look and said, "It's the most rare gemstone there is."
Severus appeared to consider that. Softly, he said, "Yes."
More forcefully Zev said, "And she might remind me of you, but she can't replace you."
Severus didn't say anything to that. Zev had to hope, as he generally always had to hope with Severus, that the older man understood.
The effect of long distance Apparition--even side-along, with him just holding on to Lorraine's arm for dear life--was disorienting. Before, when he'd jumped from place to place, he'd always known the place where he'd end up intimately. There wasn't really any place he could go of which he didn't know every inch. When Lorraine stopped pressing them in and out of tubes nobody, not even them, could see, they were on the porch of a blue and white colonial, considerable amounts of snow draping everything.
"Let's go inside so you can floo The Three," Lorraine said, after making sure Zev could stand up straight.
"It's been a whole two minutes since I barely escaped their clutches."
"And if you think you're ever going to again if we don’t go in right this second and tell them we arrived safely, you're positively delusional."
Zev grumbled something under his breath about being in his twenties but followed Lorraine inside the door. It was decked in laurel and holly and the moment they walked over the threshold the inside smelled fresh and spicy all at once in a combination that Zev was hard-pressed to recognize, let alone describe.
Lorraine cleared it up for him, "Aunt Moira and Gran must be making peppermint tortes."
Aunt Moira was a close friend of the family, not an actual blood relative, and a secondary mother figure to Lorraine. "I want to go in and say hello."
"Fire first." Lorraine wasn't showing herself to be in the mood for quibbling.
Zev followed the direction of her pointed finger and grabbed some floo powder out of a fern pot atop the fireplace. He threw it in and yelled out, "Wereworld, Hermione's rooms," and did not get Hermione.
Instead, Severus and Remus both stuck their heads side by side immediately. Severus asked, "You've arrived?"
Remus, for the third time that day, asked, "You're sure you're dressed warmly enough?"
Zev gave them both a Look. "I'm going to go have a Happy Christmas now. How about the two of you do the same?"
Remus chuckled. Severus looked disproving but said all the same, "Happy Christmas. We'll see you when you return."
When Zev pulled himself out of the fireplace and turned around there were three women watching him instead of one. He'd seen pictures of both the women; Gran being the tall one with the whitened braid that reached to her waist and a fair enough amount of muscle that Zev would think twice about taking her, in her seventies or no. Aunt Moira was about ten years younger with hair that still shone copper and was cropped tightly at her ears. She evidently never stopped smiling, and Zev saw no evidence that this was going to be the moment for that to change.
Lorraine said in a cautioning tone to both women, "You promised me if I brought him home you wouldn't embarrass me."
"Well," Gran said, all business, "come here."
Zev came closer, unsure of what it was she wanted until she reached out and pulled him into a hug.
"Hello," she said.
"Thanks for inviting me," he said.
"You'd better prove to me my granddaughter has good taste, young man."
"I prefer Janie, but Gran'll do in a pinch." She let him go.
He stepped back a touch and offered her his hand. "Nice to meet you, Janie. I'm Zev."
She shook her head but also accepted the hand, which he offered to Moira with the same courtesy afterward. Moira glanced at Lorraine, "If you'd told me he was this good looking, I'd've flown my daughters up here to give you a little well-earned competition."
"Hence my strategy in keeping my mouth shut," Lorraine said knowingly.
Janie grinned at her granddaughter. "There's work to be done."
"I brought three hands instead of one this time."
Janie gave Lorraine a little shove. "Get in there."
Zev followed docilely, his two hands at his side.
Lorraine, cruel woman that she was (and Zev knew better than to suppose she hadn't been planning every single happenstance) left Zev alone with Gran on their second afternoon in town. They had gone into the city center to do some last minute shopping and Lorraine kissed Zev's cheek and said, "There's something I have to do real quick, keep Gran company, yes?"
Gran smiled fondly after Lorraine. "Handful of trouble and then some."
Tactfully, Zev declined to respond. Gran said, "You're going to help me pick out the napkins, then, right?"
So Zev followed her to the paper goods aisle and when she held up any two choices of napkins at one time he pointed to the one he favored. They ended up with plain burgundy, textured at the edges. Gran threw it in the cart that Zev had taken to wheeling around the store. She said, "I met your father."
"Severus," Zev said.
"Ah yes. Lorraine said you have two."
"And a mum." He always felt like he was bragging, having so many people to call parents, especially in light of Lorraine's situation. Even that couldn't defer him from telling people. Severus, Remus and Hermione had chosen him, and he continued (and would continue) to chose them right back. Then, because it occurred to him what had started this conversation, he said, "Severus can be a little. . .overprotective."
So could either of the others, but their ways of doing so weren't quite so off-putting in a first-meeting type situation. Zev realized he really should have thought of that before agreeing to the whole let-Severus-check-the-place-out plan.
Gran huffed a bit at that. "Reminded me a bit of myself."
In an unconscious mimicry of Severus, Zev raised an eyebrow. Gran raised one right back. "Don't think I can be scary?"
"I figure you can be just about anything you decide to be. You just didn't catch me as the type to enjoy intimidating others."
"It has its usefulness," she said. "When Lorraine was younger I loved to scare the ever-loving-crap out of the twits who made fun of her at school."
"Mm." That Zev could sympathize with. "I've offered to eat a few of our nastier co-workers."
Gran looked at him approvingly. "In that case, you'll do just fine."
"You were worried? She's pretty responsible to herself."
"I taught her that. She's still my only grandchild."
Zev heard the way "only" reverberated in the woman's tone, and remembered that for all that Lorraine had lost a parent, this woman had lost a child. He saw the way his parents looked at him, at Ronni. He didn't want to have to imagine that type of grief. "I will cherish her."
"I think you will," Gran said slowly, thoughtfully. "More importantly, I think you will cherish each other. That's what I wanted for her."
Lorraine came around the corner. "Found what I needed and found you. All in a day's work."
"Uncanny timing, my dear," Gran said dryly.
"I have no idea whatsoever what you're accusing me of." Lorraine hooked her arm around her grandmother's with a sweet-as-sin smile.
Zev looked at the shopping list. "Where exactly would you find potatoes in a place like this?"
Zev put the ring in Lorraine's stocking. Gran had crocheted all three of them stockings (an art she had tried introducing to Zev, who surmised that he was best sticking with Potions) and hung them over the fireplace. Zev snuggled the ring down between the neatly wrapped sticky-toffees that Gran had bought at some local candy shop and a set of the type of hair barrettes Lorraine was partial to.
Lorraine blinked when it tumbled out of her palm and into her lap. Zev took the chance to recover it, take her hand, and ask, "Lorraine, would you do me the honor of marrying me?"
Lorraine pulled her hand from his and extended her fingers imperiously. Zev, knowing his duty, slipped the ring onto the correct finger. Lorraine stared at it a bit. "Did you sell our first-born child for this?"
"You're not sure you want children," he reminded her.
"Tosh," Gran said, having returned from running to get a camera. "You children need to tell me when you plan on enacting these life-changing sorts of events. Take the ring off and do it again."
She sounded too much like Hermione for Zev to even think about defying her. He even got down on one knee, since it seemed like the sort of thing one did when pictures were being taken of one's proposal. Lorraine was probably rolling her eyes in the picture.
"Seriously," she whispered as his ear brushed past her lips while he was getting to his feet. Gran had left the room, returning the camera to its proper place.
"I don't have many expenses," he said quietly. "I pay rent to wereworld, but not nearly as much as I would if I lived in the city, and only half as much as I was now that you've moved in. And the company pays me decently enough-"
Lorraine snorted. Zev was paid a third less than the average employee in his job and they both knew it. Zev shrugged. "My mum and I found it, and it was right."
Lorraine extended her fingers once more. A gold band branched out--literally--into six different leave-shaped emeralds. The design was simple and yet intricate all at once, and the emeralds resonated a deep green that reminded Zev of the forest bordering wereworld. As Gran was coming back in the room Lorraine said, "I love it. I love you."
"The order of that statement gives me cause for concern," he told her lightly. She laughed and he took advantage of her distraction to dive into her stocking. At her noise of indignation he drew out the barrettes.
"Oh, thanks Gran, I was running out." Lorraine blew a kiss to her grandmother. "I'm forever losing them."
"I know," said Gran, with the long-suffering patience of a parent who's suffered the torment of barrette-less mornings becoming bad hair days.
Zev lowered his face and grinned. He unhooked one of the barrettes and carefully pinned Lorraine's hair back from her forehead with it. Gran, watching them, asked, "You always going to take this good of care of her?"
"Gran, I don't need-"
"Hush, you. I asked this man who wants to marry you something."
"Notice I said yes," Lorraine said, mostly under her breath. Gran gave her a quelling look and she subsided completely.
"The minute I stop is the minute she leaves me forever. If you think I want to risk that-" Zev shook his head. "You haven't gotten to know me as well as I'd hoped over the last couple of days."
Gran's smile was slow to come but warm when it did. "Fair enough. Now let me see that ring," she ordered. Lorraine moved closer to show off her latest present.
Paulo and Faelle Apparated up the morning after Christmas. Gran made them all breakfast while the couple congratulated Zev on proposing and Lorraine on her acceptance. They spent most of the breakfast gossiping shamelessly about the potions community. Faelle was particularly impressed by Zev's recitation of the recent publication explosion in the Netherlands.
Lorraine looked at him somewhat proudly and said, "For a man who never leaves his house he gets around, eh?"
Paulo smiled. "He has nothing on Severus."
"Where do you think I get all my info?"
Lorraine tilted her head. "Severus?"
Paulo nodded. "You just have to approach him the right way."
"I've evidently not figured that way out," she said, somewhat accusingly, with an accompanying look at Zev.
Zev was unshaken by her scrutiny. "I have to have something to bring to the relationship."
Gran snickered. Faelle wasn't long in joining her. Zev blushed, which was saying something, given his initiation into knowledge of the sexual arts in a place where everyone knew everyone else's secrets. Paulo patted him on the back in a show of manly solidarity. Zev appreciated the thought.
Faelle fixed Zev with a look. "So, you'll be coming to see us out where it's more temperate, then?" She added a shudder for emphasis.
Zev took his jacket off and offered it to her. The weather here was pretty temperate so far as he was concerned. Faelle and Paulo obviously disagreed. "Of course I will. I've wanted to see the compound since mum visited when I was, what, twelve?"
"Tiny, that's for sure," Paulo said. He and Faelle hadn't visited wereworld until well after that first visit of Severus and Hermione's, but Zev had still been a child at the time.
Zev smiled lopsidedly. "I'm sure Remus will drag Severus out to see you sooner than you're expecting or hoping for."
"Perhaps as soon as they recover from Amanpuri," Lorraine said dryly. Zev shoved at her slightly. She didn't budge.
"Amanpuri?" Gran asked, although Faelle and Paulo were obviously thinking it.
"They're taking a vacation," Zev said, probably a bit too defensively, given the context.
Paulo nodded. "I should talk with Severus, there's a couple of things he'll want to pick up while he's there."
"I knew there was an ulterior motive." Lorraine thumbed her nose at Zev. Literally.
Zev tensed up; he couldn't help it. "If there was an ulterior motive they'd be going to, I don't know, Iran. Somewhere that Severus could pick up the stuff that involves blood and bone and muscle in the acquisition."
Lorraine kissed the back of his head. "That's the thing about your parents. They always watch out for what each other wants, and when they can't deliver on that, they settle for what they all need." She picked his plate up and stacked it on top of hers. She looked at Gran. "Want some help?"
Gran graciously took the hint and collected a few plates herself, following Lorraine into the kitchen. Paulo watched them leave. "Smart girl."
Zev didn't say anything. Lorraine presented her own case just perfectly. Faelle asked, "Amanpuri?"
Zev shrugged. "She's right about the way they tend to each other. Mum needs to lie on a beach somewhere and breathe. Remus just needs a change of scenery. Severus needs to be with the two of them."
"Hermione thinks this new law is going to stick?" Paulo sneaked one of his hands inside one of Faelle's. Zev noticed.
"She thinks it'll stick. And she thinks that once it becomes clear that other countries aren't experiencing increased infection rates in light of the new policy and that the field trips have been working within country for years that she'll have some more space on the bargaining table."
Faelle curled her fingers around Paulo's. "You seem unsure."
"Do you blame me? But then, I'm here. I should learn to trust her."
"You should!" Lorraine called from the kitchen.
Faelle laughed. "She's catching onto communal living habits."
Zev thought back to the discussion Lorraine had decided to have with Abel that had left him nearly unable to speak to either of them for the whole of a week out of sheer mortification. "Unfortunately."
Paulo made a sympathetic noise. "I'd like to tell you it gets easier."
Zev turned his head slightly toward the kitchen. "Honesty always garners better results, though, doesn't it?"
Lorraine had explained to Zev how it was polite to bring back presents to the people left behind when one ventured out on a journey. Gran took care of most of this, however, sending Zev back home with several homegrown herbs that he had requested for Severus, the crocheted beanie that she had made specially for Ronni, and the last peppermint torte for Hermione. The day they went into Salem so that Lorraine could visit some of her old professors, Zev picked up a postcard with a picture of a witch on it for Gin and Nymph. He nabbed Remus an assortment of Muggle chocolates the likes of which Zev had never seen before and picked Abel up a guide to the local wildlife.
When they finished saying goodbye to Gran--a process that took Lorraine a considerable amount of time and that Zev wouldn't so much as think of rushing--Zev shouldered the bag they were sharing, their respective stuff and all the gifts shrunk so as to fit neatly inside, and made the first Apparative jump by himself. He held out his hand as soon as Lorraine appeared beside him at the arrival point and she folded it over her arm. "Hold on."
Two more jumps and he was holding her up when they arrived back in the snow, the wards of wereworld just beside them. He brought her inside. Severus and Remus were both waiting, bundled up in scarves and thick robes. Remus grinned at them. Zev could just barely see his teeth under all the swaddling. "Let's go inside, shall we?"
Severus put a hand at Lorraine's back and Zev knew that he'd catch her if necessary. She regained her footing rather quickly but Severus didn't remove his hand. Zev kept his curled inside Remus's bemittened one, as Remus had grabbed on the second it was available and not let go.
Hermione had hot cocoa with Irish cream waiting for all four of them. Ronni made excited squawkings from her crib in the center of the room. Zev forsook the all-too-tempting hot cocoa and the neediness of Remus to cross to her and pick her up, rubbing his nose against hers. "Hi baby sister."
She made some noise that was more an explosion of spittle across Zev's face than any true communicative effort. He made a face. "Yeah, I missed you too."
Ronni grinned and gurgled a bit. Zev shook his head and put her back into her play space. Lorraine held out his mug to him as he approached. He took it gratefully, sitting down next to her. "How're you doing?"
She closed her eyes at the sensation of the cocoa infiltrating her system. "There's nothing that heat and chocolate won't fix."
Remus looked up from his mug long enough to give the sentiment an affirming nod. Severus instructed Zev, "Drink."
Zev said, "I wasn't the moron waiting outside when all I had to do was set up an arrival notification," but drank. It never hurt to give Severus what he wanted, and Zev was feeling even more generous toward him than usual.
Severus snorted. "Talk to the werewolf."
Having neatly polished the entirety of it off, Remus set down his mug and kissed Severus on the side of his mouth. "You would have had a better time if you'd been willing to have that snowball fight I suggested, but no. You had to just stand there."
Severus licked the chocolate imprint left by Remus from the corner of his mouth. "Do you want my cocoa?"
"Not unless-" Remus caught sight of Zev. "No, you drink it."
Zev thanked whoever was responsible for Remus having small amounts of decorum when around him. Miniscule. "How was Christmas?"
"Abel did a Transfigurations show for the kids," Hermione said. "They particularly liked that whole handkerchief thing he does."
"It really is rather impressive," Remus said. "If he weren't so happy in his work I'd ask him to help me out with classes." Remus was tired of teaching as much as he did. Despite Severus and Abel's best efforts, the effects of the transformation on the older wolves was harder and the aftermath lasted longer. Over the past few years it had become evident that Remus wanted more time to relax and pursue his own interests but that he wouldn't do so until finding a suitable replacement for the students who still needed a Transfigurations teacher.
"Maybe Verdana?" Hermione said. "She's graduating at the end of term and is mostly at ends except for knowing that she wants to stay in-school."
"Hm. Perhaps. She's so quiet."
Severus merely slid his eyes over toward Remus. Remus laughed softly. "All right, point taken."
Severus re-centered his eyes. "It was not the same without you."
"Christmas?" Zev asked.
Severus flinched slightly. "That as well."
Ah. Zev took another sip to hide the smile that wanted to annihilate every facial feature he had. When he re-emerged he managed a balanced, "Thank you."
"As I understand it," Severus aimed the comment at Lorraine, "congratulations are in order."
Lorraine brought her hand up to display the ring. "Indeed they are."
"Green and gold," Hermione said happily. Both Remus and Severus shook their head but didn't say anything to contradict her. She reached out and squeezed Lorraine's hand. "We're so pleased."
"That makes at least four of us," Lorraine said.
Zev nudged her. "Five."
Ronni made one her periodical squealing noises. All five adults said synchronously, "Six."