AN: Thank you for all the support! I deeply appreciate it!
Rose lay her head on the pillow. "You do not have to stay, Dad."
"Perhaps I wish to stay," Severus answered.
Rose closed her eyes. "There is no need to delay in acting. I will not be offended if you take your leave while I rest."
Severus swallowed. "Get some sleep, Rose. Things will become clearer once you are rested."
She yawned. "I love you, Dad."
"I love you too, Little One."
There was a hint of a smile on Rose's face as she squeezed Mr. Snake once more. Then, her breathing slowed.
"Good night, my precious Rose," Severus whispered before creeping out of the room and shutting the door behind him.
Hermione poked her head out of the master bedroom, her cheeks still glistening form the remnants of her tears. She took a shaky breath as Severus approached. He brushed his lips against hers.
He whispered, "Rose is asleep."
Hermione nodded and tiptoed backwards.
Severus stepped into the master bedroom and shut the door behind him Then he cast a muffliato.
"I may take the liberty of writing Headmaster Longbottom and telling him that she has fallen ill," Severus began.
"Are you sure that is wise?" Hermione asked.
"Why would it be problematic for her to take a day to compose herself?"
"She has already missed a couple of weeks of teaching. I'm sure she wants to establish some stability with her students, especially given the chaos surrounding the school at the moment."
"A few hours ago she discovered that the man who raised her is not her biological father. I am certain Neville will agree that one day off would be prudent under this circumstance."
"Who is going to sub for her?"
"If necessary, I can."
"Are you certain it is wise for you to be teaching in her place?"
"Why would it not be?"
"Right now, she is terrified that you will reject her. It seems that if she is going to take a day off of teaching, that day should be spent with her father, not wondering if said father has agreed to teach for her because he is waiting for the movers to bring his belongings into his new living space."
Severus dropped onto the bed and buried his head into his hands. "I am at a loss for what to do. Our daughter is suffering, yet I do not know how to alleviate her pain."
She sat beside him. "I wish I could give you an answer."
"Perhaps if we review our options we'll get some sort of clarity."
"We both know that I cannot perform another DNA test and get different results, at least not without manipulating the magic involved," Severus began. "Rose can tell when someone has manipulated a spell, so that course of action is inadvisable."
"No, she will see through any magical ruse we attempt," Hermione answered. "Though if you wanted, I suppose you could play the role of a scorned husband and I can be the woman who deceived you."
She bit her bottom lip.
"Your name has been drug through the mud enough over the years for your alleged affairs. I refuse to allow anyone else to consider you a tart, especially if that person is our daughter. Never will our children look upon you as anything other than an amazing mother who has been nothing short of an outstanding wife," Severus answered.
Hermione's voice cracked. "Thank you for not demeaning me."
He wiped the tear trickling down her cheek away with his finger. "I love you too much to ever allow anyone to harm you in any way."
She breathed. "I love you too."
Silence engulfed the room.
Hermione took a deep breath. "If we are unwilling to continue this ruse, then there is only one viable option left."
Severus gritted his teeth.
"We have to tell the truth," Hermione whispered.
Severus' muscles tensed.
"We need to tell her everything," Hermione continued.
"No, we do not."
"How can we avoid telling her the truth any longer?"
"It is easy."
Severus paced from the bed to the doorway and back. "We have a few hours. We will think of something."
Hermione's eyes followed her husband. "What story is there other than the truth or pretending your wife is a whore?"
"You are not a whore."
"I know, and I thank you for not wanting to expose me to disgrace."
"You should never have been punished for keeping your child and fighting for her."
"And you should never have been made to appear as the villain," Hermione replied.
Severus stopped. "Why are you bringing up the Second Wizarding War?"
"I'm not talking about then. I'm talking about now."
"Yes, we never should have told our children that you would so callously turn your back on me. It was unfair to paint you as the villain."
"No, it would have been perfectly fair," Severus answered. "I would have expelled you from my life at that point in time."
"Would you have?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, I would have. I was terrified of commitment, and I would have panicked had I thought you were asking me to give you my entire heart. In my stupidity I would have viewed you as another master, thus prompting me to abandon you."
"Yet now it appears that my response to your abandonment was to bed another man."
"Very true, and that is unacceptable."
Hermione reached over and took Severus hand. "Then it's time for the truth."
He stared at his wife.
"For years we've made the truth out to be an ugly thing, like it's something of which to be ashamed."
"No it is not. The truth is quite beautiful," Hermione replied.
"What is so beautiful about a man marrying a pregnant woman to secure his fortune?" Severus demanded.
"Was that fortune the only reason you married me?"
He blinked. "I was looked for a wife because I needed one. If it were not for that fact, I would never have considered so much as dating a woman."
"Perhaps, but there were dozens of women throwing themselves at you, almost all of whom were in far better social standing than I was. You could have had any one of them. Why did you pick me?" Hermione asked.
"I thought I could tolerate you better than I could them."
"Was that the only reason?"
Severus' eyes softened. "No."
Hermione squeezed his hand.
"I could not fathom Rose growing up as I did. If I had a chance to save her from disgrace I was going to take it," Severus whispered.
"You wanted to be her father," Hermione answered. "From the moment you learned of er existence you wanted to be her father."
"Yes," Severus answered. "But it doesn't change the fact that if I wasn't looking for a wife I would not have considered speaking to you."
"The fortune may have been a catalyst for you speaking to me, but Rose was the reason you chose to marry me."
"That is a fair statement."
Hermione clasped his hands. "From the day she first drew breath she knew she was wanted."
"Yes, but my acceptance of her does not change Ron's abandonment of her. I cannot allow her to feel as if she inferior because her father was a dunderhead who abandoned her."
"It's too late to undo the damage Ron caused. Rose knows that part of the story, but what she doesn't know is the beautiful fact that a man who cared nothing for children opened his heart to love her unconditionally."
There was a hitch in Severus' voice. "Nothing will ever shape the love I have for her."
"She needs to know that," Hermione choked. "She needs to know that for you, she is a symbol of love, not of betrayal."
"She will believe I pitied her."
"She knows you well enough to know that if you pitied her, you would hold her in contempt. Not once have you felt anything other than love for her."
"That is very true," Severus whispered.
Hermione rubbed her thumb along the back of his hand.
"I lied to her, and I encouraged you to lie to her," his throat constricted. "How can I look her in the eyes and tell her that?"
"You tell her that we were terrified of how she would react to the truth of Ron's behavior. In the name of protecting her, we lied," Hermione answered.
"I suppose that is true enough," Severus replied.
Hermione kissed him on the cheek. "I will stand by whatever decision you make. If you want to continue our ruse, I will play my part. If you want to tell her the truth, then I will stand by you."
He brushed his lips against hers. Then, he undid the muffliato.
Severus glided out of his bedroom and into Rose's. "Yes?"
Rose's eyes grew. "You are still here?"
"Where else would I be?" Severus asked.
"I thought you would be packing, or that you had traveled to the Malfoys, booked a hotel room, or found a house," Rose replied.
Severus gestured for her to scoot over. Rose sat up on the bed and moved her legs, allowing him to sit beside her.
"Why are you still here?" Rose asked.
In her eyes, Severus still saw the newborn infant reaching out for one of his buttons. He hadn't even known it was possible to love a person as much as he loved his children. Dear Merlin, how could he have ever put himself in a position where he would hurt his eldest daughter?
"Dad?" Rose whispered.
Severus cleared his throat.
"You do not need to wait until morning to leave. If you want, I can tell Victor and Violet what happened. You deserve some time to wrap your mind around what has occurred. A few days in a hotel room may do wonders for your mental state," Rose began.
"Rose," Severus began. "I have no intention of leaving your mother."
"The truth is," Severus continued, "I knew there was a very good chance you were not mine the day I wed your mother."
"How?" Rose asked.
Severus gulped. "Because your mother was already four months pregnant when we reconnected."