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Severus supposed he couldn’t be surprised that ignoring any and all news from wizarding Britain would bite him in the ass.

After the Ministry threw an Order of Merlin at him, the public made it quite clear that Severus wasn’t welcome anymore. He’d agreed. So he’d hopped the pond and ended up in New York City, where a few quick investments and several new potions patents turned into a burgeoning financial empire. His citizenship in wizarding Britain was kept exclusively to make importation easier, and to allow him to retain his house at Spinner’s End--which, despite being dilapidated and awful, was still something he couldn’t bear to let go.

His life was solitary. His vice presidents ran most of the day-to-day work of a mass produced potions business, while he was free to roll in the money and continue his research. When he needed socialization, he attended a muggle book club. He didn’t make friends, and his only heir was a hairless kneazle named Goblin. And, well, Draco, he supposed. Not that the boy needed more money.

For the past five years, he’d ignored everything from Britain save the occasional correspondence from Draco. Draco’s wedding to Harry Potter had been the sole event that had brought Severus back to England, and even then he just dropped off his gift, snatched some of the fine wine, and portkeyed back to New York.

So when an owl arrived with a Ministry seal, Severus felt like the debt he’d worked so hard to clear himself from had chased him halfway across the world.

He cracked open the letter and his stomach plummeted.

Dear citizen of wizarding Britain,
In the wake of the disastrous Second Wizarding War the Wizengamot has unanimously decided to revive the ancient Marriage Law. As a halfblood wizard, you have been matched with muggleborn candidates via arithmantic equations. These equations take into account your magical compatibility and any possibility of soulmate magic. You must select one of these candidates to become your legally wedded spouse.

The rest of the letter was a thinly veiled threat to put him on the international wizarding criminal list if he didn’t show back up and pick a muggleborn to rut with like some beast in heat. The law itself, outlining the aforementioned rutting, followed. Then came the list itself.

Congratulations, SEVERUS TOBIAS SNAPE! You have been matched with the following witches.

There was only one name. Severus’ world shattered at the next three words.

HERMIONE JEAN GRANGER.

Severus looked out the window of his sixty-fourth floor flat. He briefly considered tossing himself out the window, but the thought of Goblin having to endure Malfoy stopped him.

Fine. He wouldn’t take the coward’s way out. He would return to Britain and solve this like an adult: hexing as many Ministers as necessary to get off the list.

He stood up, finding Goblin’s travel carrier and packing a small suitcase of clothes. He dressed differently now. All black suits and black shirts, with high collars to hide the scars from Nagini, and emerald green ties. Shrinking his suitcase, he let his house elf secretary know that he’d be out of the country for a while, tucked Goblin into the carrier, and portkeyed to London.

Severus had long ago installed a permanent portkey to Spinner’s End, in the necessity of a swift exit. (Some habits never died. Paranoia was one of those.) He arrived with a flash in the dusty living room.

The house was decrepit and in shambles. His wards had held, but the place itself felt colorless and long ago drained of life, like a dementor had permeated the place with its energy.

Kneeling down, he released Goblin from the travel carrier. A quick scratch under the hairless kneazle’s chin comforted the cat after the portkey.

“I’ll be back tonight, to clean up and make this place liveable for you,” he told the cat. “But I need to find someone with a copy of the law.”

Severus put on his long black travelling coat and apparated to Malfoy Manor.

He landed on the cobblestone walkway up to the Manor. It was drizzling. Wards were in place, but a gentle push told him that Draco had still keyed them to let him through.

That boy is going soft, he thought to himself to cover the twinge of sentimentality. Had Draco hoped that one day, Severus would return? He hadn’t known that his godson was so fond of him.

The charms on his travel coat kept away the water as Severus took his time walking up the way to the Manor. The gardens had been almost completely renovated, and Severus noted several pavilions that looked like they could be used to hold the charity galas that Draco was now so fond of. His insides mixed about uneasily at the familiar sights, but there had been a lot of modernization.

Massive ebony double doors opened up in front of him, and several house elves bowed. “Master Severus,” one of them said, one that was distantly familiar to Severus. “Welcome to Malfoy Manor. Please follow us. We will alert the Master.”

Severus nodded, following silently into the remodeled parlor. The place had gotten a great deal more homely and cozy, and he noted with quiet interest a couple of brochures on adoption. Were the Malfoy-Potters thinking of adoption?

“Godfather!”

There was Draco now. Severus turned just in time to get embraced in a full-on hug by a pajama’d Draco. (That’s right, what time was it? He’d forgotten about time differences.)

“Draco,” Severus said, but his voice cracked, his throat suddenly very tight and dry. “Hello.”

“I’m so happy to see you!” Draco was definitely crying. He released Severus to gesture towards the dining room. “Come on, let’s get you food. What do you want? The elves are absolutely wonderful after Hermione came through and taught Harry and I how to work with them.”

Hermione. The name curled Severus’ blood. He suddenly lost his appetite. “Maybe some coffee.”

Draco frowned at him. “Oh no. You’re not getting out of food, godfather. Here, let me take your jacket.” He practically dragged the jacket off of Severus’ frame. “You clearly haven’t been taking care of yourself still. And don’t give me bullshit about the company being hard to run, we all know you really just give the orders and make the potions.”

Severus was silent, taking the chair that Draco pulled out. He was not hungry, especially not in this massive hall. Draco sat beside him, calling over the elves to order something hearty but easy on the stomach. They arrived after a moment with banana bread, butter, and eggs.

“I take it that you’re here because the Ministry got you?” Draco asked conversationally as Severus deigned to have some of the food.

In response, Severus just pulled out the scroll and handed it to Draco. He watched in slight bemusement, with a mouthful of banana bread and eggs, as the boy’s mouth dropped.

“Hermione? Oh, that’s great!” he said, beaming. “I mean, I know you think you hate her, but she’s much better. Promise. And then we can be brothers-in-law!”

Severus arched a brow, still silent.

“Hermione’s family adopted Harry in the muggle world,” Draco explained with a shrug. “And Harry adopted Hermione in the magic world. They’re siblings now.”

He didn’t even bother responding to that. Instead, he took another bite of banana bread.

“I wasn’t even sure you still had your citizenship here,” Draco muttered. “I’m not sure what the law has about multiple citizenships. Let me get my copy.”

He conjured a scroll and was looking through it when Severus finally decided to speak. “It doesn’t matter what the law says. I’m here to hex Ministers until they release me from this insipid law.”

Draco laughed. “That’s the spirit. Although I don’t know what that’ll do for your international reputation. Your best chance might be to marry now, wait until the law inevitably gets repealed at all the public outrage, and divorce Hermione then.”

“That is assuming she agrees to marry me.”

There was a meaningful pause, and then Draco looked up, his eyebrows raised. “You do realize, godfather,” he said with the sort of level tone that often came with proclamations of doom, “You were her only candidate. She was absolutely certain you would never assent, so she’s already agreed.”

“Is that why she’s my only candidate?”

Draco shook his head. “No, that’s not it at all. She’s been trying to get her hands on the arithmantic calculations they’re using--with limited success so far--but the only incidences of having single candidates that we’ve heard of have been for soulmates.”

Soulmates. The word made Severus suddenly regret his oddly timed breakfast. “That notion is ridiculous.”

Shrugging, Draco tapped the scroll. “There’s no exclusions for multiple citizenships,” he said. “We’ll bring you to the Ministry later today--it’s four in the morning, godfather--and then you can decide what to do.” He held out the scroll with the law, which Severus snatched up and secreted on his person, followed by his letter from the Ministry.

“I will take the time to study the law,” Severus informed him.

His godson nodded. “Do you need a place to stay?” he asked. “We’ve got plenty of rooms.”

“With all due fondness, Draco,” he said, standing, “I do not think I could stay here if my life depended on it.”

Draco also stood, pulling him into another hug. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m here if you need anything. I… I missed you, godfather.”

Severus hesitated, then returned the hug. “I missed you too,” he admitted. “I’ll be at Spinner’s End.”

“Alright. Meet us at the Ministry, eight o’ clock.”

***

Severus stopped by the liquor store on his way back to Spinner’s End. It was open 24/7, which was definitely illegal, but also definitely profitable in a place like Cokeworth. Then, returning to his ramshackle abode with a bottle of the store’s most expensive whiskey, Severus set about to read the law.

Three and a half hours did not yield anything promising besides a slight buzz. He took a potion to sober up before he headed out, making sure Goblin had access to food and water. The kneazle was quite contented in his spot on the sofa.

Then he went to Diagon.

The streets were crowded, but the people parted in his path. He wasn’t sure if it was the eternal, well-practiced glower, or the black travelling coat, or the fact that he was Severus Snape. The whispers in his wake told him it was all three.

He arrived at the Ministry and secured a lift (empty, as no one else seemed particularly keen to ride with him when he was in such a clearly bad mood) and ascertained the floor with the marriage offices. A large, heavily warded sign declared, PLEASE WAIT TO BE ASSISTED.

Severus saw no personnel to hex, so he opted to wait for Draco to get there and set about laying several hefty jinxes that would only be triggered by marriage ministry personnel.

There was an obnoxious DING! and the lift opened again. Severus turned around from his jinxing to see Draco, Harry, a gorgeous woman, and another man he didn’t recognize.

The woman was wearing a full suit, wayfarer-frame glasses, and her long golden-brown hair up in a polished twist. She was stunning, with how her heels clicked on the marble floor and the way her eyes flashed. Severus’ mouth suddenly became very dry. Of course he would find the first attractive woman he’d seen in twenty years on the very day of his government-mandated marriage. Fate never liked him anyway.

She was talking, clearly giving instructions to the man he didn’t recognize. “No, Roan, I’ll deal with the basilisk skeleton myself. I don’t want Credgeworth touching those fangs, he doesn’t know how to deal with the toxins anyhow. I want you to head over to the Archives and see what you can dig up on this abominable law.” She stopped midway through the lobby to pull a piece of paper from a briefcase and hand it to the man, presumably named Roan. “I’ll fucking double-check their homework if I have to.” That comment made Severus smile.

“Yes, ma’am,” Roan said.

“This is the permit for you to check out the books. Got it? I’ll handle the arithmancy calculations once I’m back.” She stood proud, confident, her golden eyes filled with an undeniable, inevitable power. And yet he still didn’t recognize her. Severus was certain he would’ve remembered such a creature, so fascinating and so at ease with the dangerous and complex magics she was discussing.

Roan nodded. “I’ll tell the Master of the Archives you sent me.”

“Yes. That’ll be perfect.”

Draco hurried over while the woman talked to Harry briefly. “Godfather,” he said, greeting Severus with another hug. “How are you?”

Severus just arched a brow. That was a question Draco ought to know the answer to. He nodded to Harry’s friend. “Who is that woman? She’s stunning.” Her attitude was as attractive as her looks. She took charge with ease and a competency Severus hadn’t seen in years. “Of course I would find an attractive woman the day I get married.”

Draco was staring at him. “You don’t… oh, Merlin.”

Just then, a door opened from within the Marriage Department another woman came out. She was round and curly-haired and while cute, certainly nothing on the force of personality in the lobby. That was likely Granger, Severus decided. Almost-definitely-Granger waved at Harry’s friend. “Master of Antiquities!” she called in greeting.

Harry’s friend was the Master of Antiquities? Oh, that was interesting. A field he could definitely find plenty of things to read and research about. He’d always loved ancient magic, and of all the Ministry departments, that had to be the most interesting.

“Delilah!” the Master of Antiquities called, hurrying over to embrace Likely-Granger. “How are you? Come to marry me off?”

Wait. Delilah? Severus’ world stopped, and then for the second time in five hours, shattered. He looked between Likely-Granger and the Master of Antiquities. Delilah was not Granger’s name. That meant that Likely-Granger could not be Granger. Which meant… his gaze slid over to the Master of Antiquities--who had mentioned she was getting married.

Was that… Hermione Granger?

Draco chuckled, grinning at Severus wickedly. “Granger!” he called, making the Master of Antiquities--Granger?!--spin. “You’re forgetting the most important person! Your dashing groom is here.”

“Ah! Master Snape.” Granger hurried over. Severus recognized her now. The spark in her eyes was the same. She stuck her hand, and Severus, switching into his business instincts, took it and gave it a firm handshake, mechanically, like a golem. Granger smiled. Was she wearing lipstick? She had to be, lips shouldn’t normally be that gorgeous dark red. “I’m sorry for all the hassle. Is there anything you’d like to discuss before we get around to business?”

Severus suddenly found it was no hassle at all. “Draco has given me a copy of the law. I am prepared to…” Sweet fucking Circe. He was about to marry himself off. “... sign whatever forms are necessary,” he finished.

Granger nodded, turning to Delilah again. As soon as her back was to him, Draco’s grin grew tenfold and he nudged Severus with his elbow. Severus just blinked at him, dazed. “Delilah? I believe my groom and I are prepared to sign the damn papers. Harry and Draco will be our witnesses.”

Her groom. Fuck. Severus suddenly regretted not throwing himself out of the window. He also found himself mysteriously unable to hex the shit out of the ministry employee.

“Right this way, if you please,” Delilah said, bustling off.

As they were about to leave the lobby, Granger suddenly froze. She looked at where Severus had cast his jinxes, squinted for a moment, then barked out a laugh and followed Delilah.

Potter fell into step beside Severus and Draco. “Professor Snape, what’s that face?” he asked, looking legitimately concerned.

Severus felt a little bit of warmth at the fact that Potter, despite all the shit Severus had put him through, looked like he actually cared about how Severus was feeling.

Draco leaned over to hiss deviously. “Oh, godfather was just asking who that drop-dead gorgeous woman in the suit was,” he whispered. Severus would’ve protested Draco’s words if they weren’t so damn accurate.

Harry’s jaw dropped. “Oh Merlin. That’s Hermione.”

“I noticed, Potter,” Severus drawled. His mood was swiftly souring.

Delilah lead them into a small office, and took a seat behind a desk. “Master Granger, Master Snape, please stand in front of the desk,” she said. “I’ll need you to sign this certificate.” She pulled out a quill and a massive piece of paper, spinning it around to read.

“We don’t need rings, do we?” Granger asked. “All I could find this morning before the meeting were a pair of sixth-century centaur earrings. They’ll work, but they’re a little… uh, big. Might need some transfiguration.”

Harry snorted. “Where the hell did you even get those, Hermione?”

“Oh, that dig we were doing at Frostridge back in September,” she said, biting her lip as she scanned down the paper. “Pretty sure they were part of the centaur-wizard trade. Really interesting, I’m still translating the records, though.”

Grinning, Harry glanced at Draco. Severus got the distinct feeling he was prodding Granger to show off for Severus’ sake. “What’s that in anyway, Shakespearean English?”

Granger didn’t look up from the paper, just shaking her head, blissfully unaware of Harry’s machinations. “No, no. It’s in Old English. Very different, little more Germanic. They actually use a writing system that’s an offshoot of the ancient runes we learned back in Hogwarts, sort of a dialectical thing. I have a theory that they’re incorporating some sort of centaur written language, but of course nobody wants to believe the centaurs have a written language. Which is stupid. Why else would we be finding fossilized carved trees up in the peat bogs?”

Severus felt like he might faint.

Hermione seemed to have finished the document, and she looked up at him. “I’m done reading. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” he said, having been unable to parse a single word of the document.

She leaned over, showing off the way the heels made her ass curve, and signed her name in one of the spots at the bottom of the document. That done, she stood and handed the quill off to Severus, who, instead of screaming and running like he would’ve liked, signed his name beside hers.

Their audience of three applauded and cheered.

Delilah was beaming. “You can kiss if you want!” she said.

Severus looked at Hermione. His wife. Fuck. “Up to you.”

She nodded, raised up on her tip-toes, and kissed him lightly on the cheek. It tingled like waking up from a good dream on a warm Saturday morning.

“Alright,” Granger said. “Thank you, Delilah. You two-” she pointed to Harry and Malfoy “-need to get back to work. I’ve taken the rest of the day off.” She turned back to Severus, suddenly looking a little uncertain. “Would you like to get coffee, or something? I assume there are things we need to talk about.”

Quite unable to speak, Severus just nodded.

Chapter Text

Hermione’s anxiety was screaming inside of her as she lead the way out of the Ministry. Normally it would’ve been a fight to get through the crowds, but Professor Snape--Severus?--was incredibly good at clearing crowds, as it turned out.

She cackled as he floated beside her like the world’s nerdiest dementor. One of those gorgeous ebony brows lifted at her.

“You’re handy,” she said, gesturing at the journalists that were afraid to get closer. “Your glower alone is going to take a solid five minutes off our commute!” She grinned at him, then turned and lead the way before he could give her a brow-beating.

Circe, Hermione wasn’t sure whether her stomach or her attraction would betray her first. She hadn’t expected Severus to ever agree to marry her. Period. She’d known he was off in America, being gorgeously wicked, unbelievably shrewd, and heart-stealingly brilliant with his potions business. She’d expected him to pick anyone over the know-it-all chit.

Or, at least, now that it was clear they only had each other, make some snide comment.

Instead he was quiet. Hermione couldn’t decide if that was better or worse as they made their way to the tiny cafe. She stepped in, waved to the barista (it was Emily today), and lead the way upstairs to her favorite table.

It was open, as usual. A spot in the corner, in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over Diagon. Severus went right for the spot in the corner, which made sense--keep your back to the wall and such--so she took the other chair.

Emily came over not long after, handing them both menus. “Hey, Hermione. You’re early. Get out of the meetings with that windbag Bilton early?”

Hermione laughed, but it was a little nervous. “Took the rest of the day off. I’m prepping for another dig, need time to pack.”

Emily nodded. “Right, what can I get you?”

Expectantly, she looked to Snape. He cleared his throat before speaking. “Chai latte, please.”

What the fuck? Severus Snape drank things besides black coffee? Maybe he really had changed.

Emily nodded, writing it down. “Your normal, Hermione?”

“Yes please.”

Hermione waited for Emily to leave before casting a muffliato with a little flick of her finger. It was taking all of her energy to not tap the table nervously, which she was fairly certain would earn her no points with Snape.

“I wrote out all of my main concerns in a list,” she admitted. “I could either let you read it, or talk through them. I’m uncertain which you would hate more.”

The corner of his lips twitched upwards. “A list would be convenient.”

Nodding, Hermione reached into her briefcase and pulled out the list, handing it over to him. Severus took it, folded it, and tucked it into a pocket in his suit jacket.

“Now tell me about your concerns.”

Oh. Okay. Uh. Hermione fumbled a little, biting her lip. “There are a few basic things, like surnames, which I don’t think matter particularly,” she started. “My main concerns lie in the heart of the law. You read it, I assume?”

He dipped his head once in assent.

“It requires us to cohabitate. I have a house that is certainly large enough for two people, although it’s got a lot of artifacts in it. The law has a proviso requiring us to sleep in the same bed, but their definition of ‘bed’ is poor and can be stretched a little.” She swore his lips twitched upwards again. Was that a smile, or some side effect of extended exposure to cruciatus curses and snake venom? “Additionally, there is the…” She trailed off.

He stepped in. “They want to breed muggleborns like cattle. It is disgraceful.”

Hermione nodded, aware that her anger at the concept was definitely showing. “Yes,” she replied, trying hard to keep the fury from her voice and failing. “The law requires ‘sex’ every week. The definition they reference…” She was going to have to fight hard not to blush here. Normally Hermione could be a very up-front woman, but the concept of discussing sex, no matter how scientific the tone, with her former professor was kind of stressful. “The definition they reference comes from a fourteenth century document, and defines ‘sex’ strictly as the, er, vanilla penetrative act.”

The man across the table scoffed. “Vanilla.”

“Sorry, politest adjective I could think of,” she said.

He waved a hand dismissively. “They’ve banned the use of magical contraceptives, but I saw nothing about muggle ones.”

“I noticed the same thing,” Hermione replied. “I’ve already had a muggle IUD for a while, but I’ve also obtained several other versions of muggle contraceptives if that’s something you’d prefer.” She folded her hands in front of her, unconsciously assuming the position that she used during meetings. “There are no definitions of intensity, so as long as penetration occurs enough to satisfy the precise definition, there shouldn’t be a problem with, ah. Tactical withdrawal.”

Another scoff. That one would’ve sounded like a laugh from literally anyone else. “I see.”

Emily had returned with coffee, so they paused to order. Hermione had her normal--a chocolate chip scone--while Snape ordered apple crisp pie.

What else? Hermione thought for a moment. “There are special provisions for spouses with travelling jobs. I typically only travel within the country, which normally would just require a floo visitation, but I’ve managed to wrangle things so you won’t have to accompany me on my digs usually. The first dig, which is in two days, you will unfortunately have to attend.”

He arched a brow. She wished he would stop with that face, it wasn’t healthy for her. “How did you manage that?”

“I told them that floos aren’t accessible in early English wizarding catacombs, and that I could hardly ask an Order of Merlin First Class war veteran to re-risk his life for the sake of a shag.”

He burst out laughing. Hermione felt herself stare. He covered his mouth after a moment, shaking his head. “Brightest witch of our time,” he muttered, and she could feel herself flush. She wasn’t sure if it was actual praise or if she was just embarrassed. “What’s this dig I’m accompanying you on?”

Hermione licked her lips. For a moment, she thought his dark eyes followed the movement. “How much do you know about the myth of the knucker?”

He arched a brow again, and Hermione swallowed hard as her heart seemed to metamorph into a big roly-poly pillbug. “Large hole, large dragon. Swords don’t work, and no-one is smart enough to try an alternative solution until a man shows up with a poisoned pie.”

“Succinct and accurate,” Hermione said, unable to suppress a grin. She was glad the dark humor was still there. “There are references in contemporary literature that the knuckerhole was a entrance to some sort of wizarding complex. The exact purpose remains a little foggy, but the last time I dealt with a dragon guarding something, there were quite a few interesting objects inside.” Gringotts. “I’ve managed to locate the knuckerhole--” at this both his eyebrows raised, and he looked faintly impressed “--and so we’re going to be descending into the depths of whatever hell is in store to try and figure out who the fuck thought it was a good idea. Probably Merlin or Morgana,” she finished with a nod. Then, hesitating, she chewed on her lip. “You’re… You’ll always be welcome on the digs, for the record. We could use a half-decent potioneer, I’m all we’ve got and you know I have no talent for it. I just understand if you’d prefer to not attend.”

“No talent for it?” he asked, looking down his sharp nose at her.

She nodded.

“You made a polyjuice potion in second year, in a lavatory,” he said. “You are arguably one of the most talented potioneers in Britain.”

Hermione just sat there with her mouth open, staring at him. She only noticed belatedly that Emily had come by when Snape thanked her for their food.

“Still,” he said, picking up the fork in those long, dextrous fingers, “If you wish, I will see what I can do. I must admit the prospect of exploring ruins is more interesting than anything I’ve come across in a while.”

He began to eat, leaving Hermione to sit there and try and process what just happened.

Chapter Text

Severus wasn’t sure what he was expecting Granger’s house to look like, but it sure as hell wasn’t what she lead him to. She’d apparated them to a street in a nice area of London, and lead him to a very fine row house one door away from a bakery and a block away from a bookstore.

She unlocked the door, and paused a moment to touch it in a complex pattern. Little silvery lights burst from beneath her fingers. She was taking down wards… no, ward, singular. That had to be a hellishly complex ward. She took down the rest of the wards with a wave of her hand a moment later, and they stepped through.

The entrance was a huge, marble-tiled lobby with large windows and an airy feel. And right in the middle of it was the biggest fucking skeleton Severus had ever seen. A dragon, it looked like, but the skeleton was only half-complete. A series of tables held many more bones, and there were two ladders positioned on different sides of the hanging skeleton.

“Fuck,” he whispered.

“Hmm?” Granger looked over from where she was resetting the wards. “Oh, sorry about the mess. That’s just Sue.”

“Sue,” Severus echoed, suddenly feeling very dumb.

“Prehistoric dragon,” Granger said, like that explained everything. Then she was kicking off her shoes and padding, barefoot, through the lobby and beneath the huge dragon skeleton, off towards a door. The casual manner in which she did so made Severus feel suddenly like he was a teenage boy on his first date, stomach all aflutter.

Severus stepped out of his dragonskin boots, tossed his jacket on a coat rack, and hurried after her, trying not to gape at the dragon skeleton.

As it turned out he soon had other things to gape at. Granger lead him into a hallway with walls covered in stone reliefs, the likes of which he’d never seen. He paused to look closer at them. What the hell sort of language…? It wasn’t any rune system he recognized.

“Elvish,” Granger said, and he glanced over to find her smiling in the doorway to what looked like a huge library and reading room. “From northern Scotland. As far as I’m aware, they depict the earliest known cooperation between what we know today as ‘house elves’ and farmers.” She shrugged. “They’re duplicates. The originals are in the Ministry Antiquities Museum.”

Fascinating, Severus thought as he watched her turn and walk into the library. The reliefs were interesting too, he decided as his gaze followed the sway of her hips.

Ronald Weasley was as fucking idiot.

Severus was twitching to explore the library, but he kept his hands to himself (ignoring several curios and artifacts he would’ve liked to examine) and followed Granger into a kitchen. She hummed as she began heating up tea.

“My house elf is named Simms,” she said. “He’s a very good fellow, a little shy though. I think you’ll like him.”

As off-balance as Severus felt, he was not yet off-balance enough to engage in that horrific torture known as small talk. “What are your… restrictions on which books and artifacts I may examine?”

Hermione paused, and blinked. “Oh, I mean, you can look at any of them,” she said with a shrug, putting her briefcase on the kitchen counter. “I trust you with them, and most of them shouldn’t be troublesome. The Armillary’s a little finicky, but really it’s fine once you get the hang of it.”

“That is a very dangerous offer you’re making,” Severus said, glancing over his shoulder towards the library.

She laughed. “You survived Hogwarts for, what, three decades?” Tossing a grin over her shoulder, she took down two mugs. “I sincerely doubt that there’s anything in this house which can hold a candle to the bullshit that old castle pulled. I mean, who the hell hides the entrance to a basilisk’s nappytime room in a girl’s bathroom?”

Severus found himself smiling despite his better judgement. “Salazar’s bloodline has always made questionable interior design choices.” He glanced back towards the entryway. “Although it appears you have a dead reptile to rival even that old castle, Miss Granger.”

Another laugh. She laughed so easily. Severus wondered if that was due to the war, as he had certainly come to value happiness and health a good deal more than he ever had before.

“Not my fault the sods at the Ministry won’t let me hire an actual anatomist or paleontologist,” she replied. “And call me Hermione, please. ‘Miss Granger’ feels a bit like I’m either stuck in Victorian times or back in school, and those are both eras I’d like to avoid.”

“Very well,” Severus assented. It was a far easier concession to make than he had anticipated. “Then call me Severus. How many libraries does this place have?”

A brow arched. “Define ‘libraries’.”

After a pause, he replied, “Room with a bookshelf, filled with books.”

She chewed her lip. “Well, that includes even some of the bathrooms,” she muttered, looking a little chagrined, and then startled as he laughed. “I make sure to waterproof them!” she protested. “It’s just so relaxing to have a hot bath with a book.”

That was an image Severus chose to stow away for another time.

“That definition also accompanies a couple hallways, now that I think about it,” Hermione muttered. “Oh, bloody hell--you’re probably going to want to move in some of your books too, aren’t you?”

“At some point. For now, I only have a few sets of clothes and my travelling companion to be concerned about.”

She nodded, and he could practically hear the math going on in her head. “I’ve got plenty of bedrooms, although some of them have… uh… been repurposed.”

“More skeletons, M--Hermione?”

That made her flush so brightly that Severus knew he was right. “Some of us have skeletons that are too large to fit in closets,” she complained. “Guest bedrooms are the next best thing.”

“And entryways.”

“Sue’s special.” Was that a pout? Severus found himself smiling. “Anyway, follow me--I’ll show you the master bedroom, then I can help you move your things over.”

Severus nodded, although he was far more concerned with exploring the rest of the house and seeing what Granger--Hermione--had lying around.

An hour later, he was back at the house with Goblin in his pet carrier. Granger’s expression upon seeing the kneazle was one of pure joy, and as Severus had expected, Goblin took all of half a second to decide that Hermione was his favorite person ever.

So Hermione followed along behind Severus, cradling the hairless kneazle against the sweater that she’d changed into, and answering Severus’ questions as best she could. Goblin looked positively ecstatic being hugged to her chest. Lucky bastard.

Severus began in the entryway, because Sue was honestly the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. He willed himself into the air, barely noting Hermione’s soft expletive as he focused on raising himself to the level of the creature’s head.

“I forgot you could do that,” she said. “Ugh. Lucky.”

He glanced down at her. “Not a fan of heights, M-” Damn. It was harder to be pretentiously snarky when he couldn’t use ‘Miss Granger.’ “-Hermione?” he finished.

“Flying has always been my least favorite subject.” She headed over to a ladder and climbed up to sit with Goblin, nearly as high in the air as he was. He watched as she glanced down nervously. “I just hate that I can’t catch myself.”

“That’s easy enough to fix,” Severus said, and before he fully processed what he was saying, he continued, “I’ll teach you the spell. It’s not too difficult.”

“Really?” Her eyes sparkled and Severus was very much so reminded of an earlier Hermione Granger. “That would be very handy. I could stop having to climb all the time.”

Severus replied with a soft snort of laughter, before turning back to Sue. “Tell me about your dragon.”

“As near as we can tell, Sue’s species of dragon has been extinct since the late ice age,” Hermione said, making a complicated motion with her hand. A shimmering illusion of the rest of the dragon’s skeleton appeared. “That’s about what they’ll look like once I finish matching up all of the bones, and complete charming the wireframe to hold them up.”

“Late ice age,” Severus murmured, reaching out and gently placing his hand on the massive, porous bone of Sue’s massive snout. To have seen such a creature in life…

“We think their species was hunted to death by early wizards,” Hermione continued, scratching at the ears of the cat in her lap. (Lucky, lucky bastard.) “There are a number of cave paintings depicting early wizards and muggles hunting such creatures. I’m particularly curious about the evolution of magic in hominids, but it’s a real bitch to find any evidence of that period.” She paused, then her eyes lit up. “Oh, Severus, come over to Sue’s ribs--yes, right there, see it?”

Severus hovered over, and his jaw nearly dropped at the evidence on the skeleton. There were gashes in the bones. He brushed his fingers over them. “A spear?”

“Yes.” Hermione held out her hand and a piece of stone flew up to her palm, from the table of bone fragments below. She held it out, and Severus leaned over to take it from her.

A spearhead, still darkened with prehistoric dragon’s blood. Severus felt a shiver run involuntarily down his spine. “This is incredible,” he murmured.

“Come here, near the haunch.” Hermione beckoned him over forward, until he was floating by her ladder. The illusion she’d conjured to show him the full skeleton disappeared, and instead he could see the real bone.

Severus recognized the wound immediately: a scorching that had burnt to the bone. “Fiendfyre?” he realized aloud.

“Yes, that’s what I thought as well,” Hermione said, leaning over and using a finger to point out the ways that the burns branched from their point of impact. “It fits, doesn’t it? And yet to imagine that fiendfyre was invented that early…”

“That would make sense, though, wouldn’t it?” Severus asked, glancing over at her. “I mean, aren’t current theories that the development of fire was essential in human evolution? It would make sense that fiendfyre could be related to that or indeed the earliest source of fire.”

Hermione’s eyes glimmered. “That’s brilliant, you’re brilliant!” She held out her hand again, and a notepad and pencil flew up to it. She scribbled it down. “That would make so much sense. Shit, that’d explain where wandwork came from.”

“It would!” Severus realized. “Because you’d need a wand to channel fiendfyre without killing yourself.”

“Exactly, exactly!” Hermione finished scribbling things down and dropped the notebook to the ground, sticking the pencil behind her ear. “Can I ask for your help getting down from here? I might’ve, uh. Not entirely thought through how I’d get down from this ladder with a big kitty on me.” She chewed her lip.

Laughing, but without any sting, Severus held out his hand and took hers. Slowly, he expanded the flight spell so that it encompassed her and the cat. She gasped and clenched his hand a little tighter. “Relax,” he murmured. “It’s fine. I’ve got you.” He lowered all three of them to the ground. When her feet hit, Hermione let out a huge sigh.

“Thanks,” she said, releasing his hand. “Sorry for breaking your fingers.”

“You greatly overestimate your capacity for bodily harm. Now, tell me about these elvish reliefs.”

***

Hermione was off taking a shower, so Severus had poured himself another few fingers of the whiskey he’d bought back in Cokeworth, and was now exploring the house.

There were so many things. Some things he could figure out, like a pair of stone monoliths in the courtyard garden that were absolutely covered in runes and carvings that he recognized as the giant language. There was also a positively massive state-of-the-art charms laboratory, attached to an office-library combination. He was careful not to touch anything, not wanting to disturb an important experiment, but his thoughts lingered on what Hermione might look like, toiling away.

He meandered out to the second floor, and decided to look for additional bedrooms. Not that he’d be sleeping in them--the law mandated they sleep together--but out of curiosity about the bedroom-to-skeleton room ratio. About two doors away from the master bedroom, he opened a random door and--

A snarling visage lunged at him. A shout, two whirled movements of his hands, and the door slammed shut and an explosion rocked the house.

The shower shut off.

Fuck.

Severus stared at the door.

“Severus! Are you okay?” Pitter-patter-pitter-patter. He looked over, wand still pointed at the door, and found Hermione--a towel tied around her chest, another holding her hair up--running towards him. “Are you hurt--oh.” She stared at the door that he was pointing his wand at. “Fuck. I forgot to mention Buttons.”

She knew what was in there? “Did you take name-your-horrific-monster classes from fucking Hagrid?” Severus spat.

“Yes, actually, I asked him to help name them.” She hurried over, and one very warm and very small hand gently eased his wand down. Severus wanted to keep the wand up but found himself absolutely helpless against soft touches. Damn. “I’m so sorry, Severus. I completely forgot about him--normally he’s not by the door, but Draco likes to turn him to face the door in order to startle unsuspecting visitors.”

“What… is he?”

“Chimera,” she said, then slowly opened the door again.

It was, indeed, a chimera. A chimera made out of very fine sculpted stone. The visage that had terrified him was frozen in the same place.

“That is a… very quality sculptor.”

“Oh.” She giggled, opening the door fully and waving a hand to turn on the lights. Crossing the room, which appeared to house a large number of chests, tables, and shelves, all full of strange magical items, she opened a wardrobe and pulled out a jar.

Severus followed, a little reluctant to turn his back to such a realistic beast.

“The most quality sculptor,” she said, holding the jar out for him to examine.

He took it, then flinched back immediately. A single baleful yellow eye stared, unseeing, at him. But there was no poisonous stare or sudden paralysis. “Where the hell did you get basilisk eyes? Or eye.”

“Eyes, plural,” Hermione said. “We found another one in an old hideout of Salazar’s. I figured out that if you separate the dead eyes, they lose their power. But if you put them together, and run a charm through the both of them, you can get a pretty nice petrification effect. They come with us on digs, for dangerous creature removal.”

“Merlin’s wrinkly gonads,” Severus muttered, holding the jar up a little less fearfully now. “That’s brilliant.”

She flushed, the pinking obvious despite her flush from the shower. “You really think so? Thanks.”

Gods, she was still a sucker for praise. Maybe this would be easier than anticipated. He handed her the jar back. “I assume you have some clever little trinket to protect your crew from the gaze?”

Hermione nodded. “Goggles. You’ll get a pair, too. Oh, don’t give me that face--I’m not having anyone turn to stone on my watch. Here, follow me.”

Severus was, as it turned out, rather concerned about certain areas of his body being affected by a sudden petrification, but that was entirely unrelated to basilisks.

She lead the way out and back to her workshop, where she picked up a pair of goggles and handed them to him. “You know of the theory behind light polarization?”

“Certain substances only allow light that oscillates in a certain direction through.”

“Yes,” Hermione replied, holding up a piece of translucent glass. “The goggles are polarized--both for natural light, and magical energy. By preventing full exposure, we can reduce the basilisk’s gaze to about the strength of your standard stupefy.”

Severus held up the goggles to the light, looking at the fine charmwork that she’d put on it. His mind was stuck halfway between ogling her beautiful charms and ogling her very-poorly-covered body. “Ironic, isn’t it?”

She blinked. “What?”

“I always used to harp on you for too many questions, and now here I am with an unending amount.” He offered a dry and regretful smile as he put down the goggles. She might be treating him politely, but Severus knew that his mistakes would not be so easily forgotten.

Hermione laughed, and he froze, waiting for the verbal reprisal. “Oh, don’t worry, I still have an infinite number of insufferable questions. I’m just… keeping them suppressed. For now. I figured it’d be best for… conjugal peace. Or at least, you know, non-aggression pact.” She paused, then her eyes widened. “Oh! That reminds me! Follow me, please.”

Still clad in only two towels, she hurried off to the next room. Circe, was she taunting him on purpose? No. Granger--Hermione had always been very straightforward. Which meant that she was either this relaxed around everyone, or…

He succumbed to temptation and slipped into her mind. It was an old and practiced trick. She had substantial occlumency walls, clearly practiced in the art, but he didn’t even bother to touch or breach them. He wanted purely surface level thoughts. And there was his answer.

She was certain he wasn’t attracted to her. It was more than certainty. She had just assumed that she wasn’t anything special, that he wouldn’t be attracted to her, that she hadn’t even considered that she--her mind, her body, anything--would affect him whatsoever. She knew she wasn’t pretty. Ron had said so. Harry and Draco and Ginny might protest, but that’s because they were her friends. They were just being nice. Everyone knew she was a bucktoothed bookworm. She’d figured out how to make her appearance decent nowadays, project an aura of a professional woman, but she’d gone from unremarkable bookworm to unremarkable librarian.

And was that… disappointment?

Severus was careful not to nudge too far. But if he touched on the thought, it rose to the surface. He saw her chew on her lip. A nervous tick. Yes, she did wish he would at least find her an amusing companion. She wasn’t anything special, especially not to someone like him--critical, cool, calculating--but at least she could secretly observe, covet those little moments and images, while they were forced together by a law. A law she would soon abolish, because she wouldn’t have him tied down again. She wouldn’t let him be bound again, not to master or mistress, not if she could help it. She owed him as much for all the pain he’d gone through for Harry.

Much as she would’ve loved to keep him.

Images, illicit and unbidden, floated up from behind her occlumency walls. His voice. Saying literally anything. His eyebrows, too, especially when raised. His fingers, how they’d held his fork at the cafe, or the smooth stroke of his signature on the marriage certificate. Older images, now. A speech before sixth year. (Had she truly remembered that? Did he really look that dramatic? Was his nose ever that handsome?) A single “expelliarmus!” much, much earlier, accompanied by a flying and flattened fop.

...Did Miss Granger have a teacher crush?

Severus watched Hermione open another door to a large potions laboratory. She spun around and spread her arms wide. “Here!”

The transition from memories of Hogwarts to gorgeous potions laboratory made Severus’ heart flop against his ribcage. He swallowed and looked around. Sure, her reagent stores weren’t as nice or as comprehensive as his, but there was shelving space for everything and plenty of table room. He even noticed an old-style alembic that looked early Victorian in make--another antiquity that she’d picked up? His eyes gleamed at the thought of getting to play with it.

“I hope it’s alright,” she said, chewing on her lip again and folding her hands in front of her. “I know it’s probably not the best, but…”

Severus burst out laughing.

Her eyes flew wide and scared. Her hands clenched, white-knuckled, in front of her. “Is something wrong? I’m so sorry--”

He shook his head. Turning, he took her wringing hands and gently pried them apart with his own. “I just realized how much of an idiot Ron Weasley truly is.”

The expression that came over her face worried and intrigued him all at once. It was a mixture of embarrassment, regret, and… fear? Yes. Something dark and vengeful uncurled in Severus’ chest, as if awakening from a long slumber.

He welcomed it.

“The lab is beautiful, Hermione,” he said, in as gentle a tone as he could manage. Sparkling golden eyes turned to him, and for a moment he forgot how to breathe. After a pause that was far too long to be normal, he continued, “You’ve been very kind and accommodating. Would you let me take you out to dinner as thanks?”

She stared at him, open-mouthed, for a moment. “S--Sure, I mean, only if you want to,” she replied, and he recognized for a moment the insecurity he’d picked up in her mind. She looked towards the ground, flushing a little. “You don’t have to.”

“I do want to.” Severus wondered how thick to lay it on. He wanted to act gallant, to court her in a way that he had never gotten the chance to court a woman before. Could he feasibly blame it all on the arrange marriage? Perhaps. It went far deeper than that. She already found his voice entrancing--he had seen as much in her mind--but he had never leveraged a person’s attraction to him for anything more than accomplishing espionage. Back then, he always had the excuse of ‘greater good’ to make him feel better. This, however, was a much more selfish desire.

Maybe a balance. Until he was more certain of how selfish he wanted to be.

One corner of his lips quirked upwards, and he added, “I’ll even let you ask me about potions.”

Her gaze snapped to his. “Deal,” she said, so quickly it seemed like she didn’t even register the answer. She flushed brightly a moment after. “Uh. If you’re certain. I should… probably change before.”

She turned and bolted.

Severus paused, running a hand through his hair. Fuck. What was it Draco had said about only having one candidate for the marriage law? Soulmates? It couldn’t be. Soulmates were nice things, and Severus did not get nice things. Besides, his time for love was long past. But if Severus had to name everything he wanted out of a partner, it was there in her: brilliant intellect, thoughtful conversation, patience, good taste in literature, and an understanding of his past.

Oh, Ron Weasley was an idiot. An idiot that would soon pay for whatever he’d done to Hermione.

But first, dinner. Severus conjured a patronus to let Hermione know what to wear. The silvery blue light had shifted uncertainly for a moment, as if trying to decide what form to take, before he scowled at it and it shifted into a stallion thestral. Good. That was the correct answer.

“You held two manipulative bastards at bay for twenty years,” he said, shaking his finger in admonishment at the thestral. “You don’t get to change again until I tell you to.”

The patronus stared at him. Severus could’ve sworn the magic was being cheeky.

“Now. Go and let Hermione know to wear something nice, I have a feeling she’s stuck deciding what to wear.”

Chapter Text

Hermione had indeed been stuck deciding what to wear.

Thank goodness Severus had realized she had no idea of where they were going. The thestral stallion that greeted her in her room made her jaw drop.

“Oh,” she whispered to the patronus, knowing that it couldn’t understand her. “You’re gorgeous.”

The equine form opened its mouth and words came out in Severus’ baritone. “Wear something nice, formal. We’re going to a higher end restaurant.”

Of course they were, and there was no way for Hermione to repay him. She bit her lip, and nodded. “Thank you.”

Normally she wore suits to work, but this was a dinner. Dinner needed something just as nice, but less formal. A younger Hermione probably wouldn’t have given a shit how people perceived her, but after the media coverage that had followed the war, she and Harry had swiftly learned how to dress to appear professional.

“Criteria, criteria, think of criteria,” Hermione muttered to herself as she browsed the closet. Severus was a businessman now. A very influential businessman, running a high-end international company. She was a Master of Antiquities. She needed something that proved her own independence, but also something that would be appropriate for a CEO to be seen with on his arm.

Merlin, Hermione hated fashion.

White, flowy blouse, charmed to remain unstained. High-waisted black pencil skirt over black tights. White one-button business jacket. A long, maroon coat. She tamed her hair and charmed it up into a rose bun. A touch of charm on her face to mimic eyeliner and a subtle lip gloss.

She really, really hated fashion. Especially now. She felt like she was dressing up to impress some third-year crush. Which, well, it was accurate, but that didn’t cover all of the context. Grabbing her bag, she transfigured it mimic a black designer handbag and hurried downstairs.

Severus was waiting in the lobby, still wearing his full fucking suit. He hadn’t undressed even a little.

“Sorry,” she said as she stepped into black heels.

He blinked. “Why?”

“Taking so long.”

He was silent for a moment, and then shrugged. “It takes time to achieve results, I assume.”

That was really vague, but also sounded almost like an excuse for her. Hermione managed a stuttering, awkward laugh. “I suppose so.”

While she was putting her shoes on, he pulled on his coat, then held out his arm. She took it. “Ready to apparate when you are,” she said.

He shrugged a shoulder. “Not quite.”

Hermione’s mouth popped open to question what he meant by that when he held up a business card, grabbed her hands, and then the world twisted around her.

She gasped and stumbled a little before coming to rights. They were in an… elevator? A moment later, it dinged and the doors opened. Severus gently lead her out.

They were in a lobby of some sort, floors a shiny white tile and filled with sparkling chandeliers. Hermione forced her mouth closed with a click. This place was fucking nice. What was it, a hotel? Men in uniform suits nodded as they passed.

“Mr. Snape,” one of them said. He had an American accent. Severus just nodded in reply, and lead Hermione out of the rotating doors.

They stepped onto a busy street. Skyscrapers rose all around them, and Hermione felt like she must be in one of the most modern quarters of London, or…

“Severus, why are all the cars on the wrong side of the street?”

He laughed. “Not here, they aren’t.” He held up the business card. THE DRAKE’S HOARD HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY.

Hermione’s heart stumbled. How the fuck were they getting back to England? Did he have portkeys to England too? She looked up and around, now hearing the American accents all around her, looking up at the massive skyscraper of a hotel that they’d just left. The hotel had a small, sheltered circle for cars to drive into, but all she could see were limos. Limos and, and… holy shit, she was in New York City.

She’d always wanted to visit America, but NYC specifically.

“Are you alright?”

Startling, Hermione looked up at Severus. His brow was furrowed. “Yes! Sorry. Sorry,” she repeated. “I’m fine.” She swallowed. This was no time to lose her nerve. She’d always prided herself, after the war, on the ease in which she could carry herself and intimidate others. It would do no good to lose that ease in front of the person that had actually inspired it. (She even called it Snape Mode in her head.) “I just wasn’t expecting to get to visit America.” She looked around again, still definitely awed.

“Oh, you haven’t before?” he asked as he began to guide her towards the street.

Bastard. He knew she’d never been to America before. “No, never got the chance. Always wanted to.” She turned away to hide her smile, although she could feel the eyes of many, many people on her. Were they critical of her? Of him? Both of them were clearly well-dressed. Were they jealous? How well known was Severus in his new life? She turned back to him once she’d gotten her nerves, and her joy, wrangled into a polite smile. “Anyway. Where are we going? Am I allowed to know?”

“Italian place,” Severus replied. They crossed a street, turned a corner, and Hermione realized that they must be in the middle of the wizarding heart of the city. She became acutely aware of the whispers around her. Some people were saying her name. They recognized her, even here. Oh, Circe.

“Sounds delicious.” She was trying to engage, but she hadn’t been in such a large and modern city, maybe ever. It was incredible, and she was also trying very hard to watch their backs. Her wards pinged on something. “Someone’s following us.”

Severus nodded. “Likely paparazzi. They like to hang around the hotel and watch for interesting people. The tabloid industry is just as yellow and booming in New York as it is in England. Makes going to the corner store a pain in the ass.”

She chuckled. “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s a wonder you haven’t hexed them to next Sunday already.”

“Oh, I have. They usually aren’t this bold. Your presence is likely enticing to them.”

Oh boy. She forced a smile onto her face. “Well, they’ll have something to report about.”

His voice was very quiet and smooth when he replied, “The exact magnitude of that depends on how the night goes, don’t you think?”

Hermione glanced at him. He was staring straight ahead as they walked, and showed no recognition that the words had even passed his lips. His damnably pale and elegant lips. Was he suggesting something… what? Actually she had no idea how to define the ‘something’ being suggested. Was she allowed to tease him?

Okay fuck it she was gonna tease him.

“Do I hear you suggesting mischief, Professor Snape?” she asked, with a small smile.

He glanced down at her, looking a little startled. Had he thought she didn’t hear? The corner of his lip twitched upwards again, as did an eyebrow. “As little as I enjoy publicity, I do so love infuriating people.” He stopped walking. “We’re here.”

Hermione glanced at the restaurant, and then reached up and dragged one fingertip down his jawline. She caught it under his chin and gently pulled him down to her height, surprised with how easily he went. This close, she could see as his eyes widened a fraction, feel him inhale deeply. She leaned in to whisper. “Get us a window seat. And whisper something back, if you like.”

“I’ll do you one better,” he murmured into her ear, his breath ghosting over her neck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He withdrew, and then the arm that was looped around hers trailed down, caught her hand, fuck fuck fuck, and raised it to his mouth, keeping eye contact the entire time.

Draco had taught Hermione etiquette classes for when she had to meet with purebloods, and the correct etiquette was to kiss the air above the hand. Severus’ motions were smooth and exactly according to etiquette. Except for the eye contact. And the slow deliberation that he moved with, which was far above and beyond what was requisite for the situation. He held her hand there at his lips, and held her gaze. That was definitely just… about to ruin her underwear.

Once again, Hermione wondered which would fail first: her nerve, or her libido.

Severus lowered her hand and turned, holding the door open for her. She felt herself flush as she whispered a thank you.

Fuck, whatever photo the tabloids had tomorrow would be utterly candid, at least on her reaction. Hermione wasn’t even sure how she’d reacted. She had been too busy dying.

She needed to do something to recover the illusion that this was just a prank, at least to him. It wouldn’t do to have him figure out her little crush. As the restaurant door swung closed behind them, Hermione managed a grin at him. “That’ll definitely do it.”

He laughed, and turned to the waiter. “Table for two, please. A window seat would be wonderful.”

“Of course, Master Snape,” the man replied. “Right this way.”

Dinner was… truthfully the best conversation she’d had in a while. Draco and Harry were great, but they weren’t very interested in the academic side of magic, and her academic colleagues weren’t able to keep up with her or her wit. Severus answered easily as she quizzed him about his company (cheekily called Snape Oil), mostly just curious about the exact magnitude of the operation, understanding that he wouldn’t be able to give her any of the recipes.

Of course, he was the mind behind it all. Of course. And of course it was huge, international, and very lucrative. He took a small cut, enough to fund a very nice lifestyle, and the rest was all put into charities back in Britain. She’d known about the charities--it’d been big news in Britain when the company’s finances were released--but she didn’t realize the scale that he was operating on. It all felt far above her caliber. It also felt far different from her work, delving into the obscure and arcane.

He kept up the flirtatious interactions throughout dinner, as did she. Their hands were clasped on the table as they ate and talked, and more than a few not-terribly-stealthy paparazzi showed up to snipe a picture. He’d taken to gently stroking circles on the back of her hand with his thumb, especially when he thought, and Hermione was beginning to theorize that it was actually subconscious. Which was fucking cute, dammit.

It took Hermione two glasses of wine before she worked up the courage to say what she was thinking.

“Are you ever frustrated by it?”

Severus paused, blinked. “By what?”

She swirled the wine in her glass, wondering briefly if she shouldn’t press, but the alcohol had released that particular boundary. “You’ve been revolutionizing the international potions industry for the past five years, ever since the war,” she said. His mouth popped open, and sensing a protest, Hermione held up her wine glass to stop him. “Don’t be humble. You’ve completely changed the game. The muggle world is busy globalizing, and you’re leading that charge in our world. You could’ve been doing this twenty-some years earlier if you didn’t have those two megalomaniacs in a pissing contest over your head.”

His face went slack with shock, and then he burst into laughter and a wide grin.

She withheld most of a pout. “I’m right, and you know it!”

“Oh, that’s not what I’m… Hermione, I don’t think anyone’s ever described it so accurately,” he said, still grinning as he shook his head. “I… do not regret my work in the war. I regret being held in a job that sucked the joy out of me.”

“Like a little dementor of Dumbledore’s own making,” Hermione put in.

He coughed into his wine, then the coughing morphed into more laughter. “Merlin, your wit is precious,” he managed between chuckles. Hermione pinked. The paparazzi were certainly not listening in, unless she had been misinformed. “Yes. I hated the job and took out that anger on my students, you included. I am very sorry for it.”

She waved her wine glass dismissively. “Please. You spent all of my years there being tortured every other night by a wizard who didn’t have the courtesy to crawl into the grave.” And she meant both of them. “It’s a wonder you weren’t more hungover on pain potions and alcohol.”

“Oh, I assure you, I was very much so hungover. On all possible substances. Constantly. Especially the year that I was Headmaster.”

“You stopped eating,” Hermione pointed out, leaning in. “I saw you. You absolutely shit on yourself.”

He glanced down on the floor. “Yes,” he replied. “A… mistaken attempt at penance.” He shifted forward to match her pose, then waggled a finger accusingly at her. “Besides, we switched off on the not-eating duty the next year.”

It was her turn to burst into laughter. “I always viewed it as practice.” She arched a brow coquettishly and took a sip of her wine. “If you recall, at the time I still viewed a full redheaded brood as my future. Caring for children can’t be any worse than feeding two teenaged boys off of a fucking forest for a year.”

He hummed, deep and melodious, his gaze flickering down to her mouth for a moment before going back up to her eyes. “Do you still view a full redheaded brood as your future?”

Hermione laughed again. “Merlin, no.” She held up her glass. “Cheers to getting out of restrictive relationships.”

“Whether that be with redheads or snake-men,” Severus agreed, clinking their glasses together.

Hermione shotgunned her very expensive wine, then put the glass down, noting that Severus had also drank the rest of his. “Merlin, that would be a hellish combination.”

Putting down the glass, Severus snorted. “What, dear old Tom with Ronald’s…” He sniffed disdainfully. “Infested rusty mop?”

“I like it when you insult my exes,” Hermione decided aloud.

He arched a brow, and Hermione wanted desperately to make out with him. “It isn’t terribly difficult, darling wife.”

Oh. She flushed. That was her new favorite thing. Those words. “It really isn’t,” she said, too tangled up in her own nervous flutters to say anything clever.

“Shall we?” Severus asked, indicating the door with his head. She nodded, and was about to stand up when he stood and was already offering her his arm. “I don’t know if you’d rather stay here for the night or head back to England.”

“How many portkeys do you have? Do you even visit England much anymore? I thought you hadn’t been since Harry and Draco’s wedding. Where would we land?”

“Spinner’s End,” he said, helpfully leaving out the rest of the questions and holding up her jacket for her to step into. The consummate gentleman. Hermione smiled at him shyly as he took her arm again. “It isn’t… kept up, but I still own the house.”

“I remember it,” she said, quietly. “I think it may be best if we return tonight--I never even considered… what the law might say about international travel.”

“The law is fine as long as we sleep in the same bed,” he replied quietly. “But we have a dig to prepare for soon, yes? I’m quite eager to get brewing and see what you have planned, so let’s head back to England.”

Fuck. He was so nice. Rather than walk back out onto the streets of wizarding New York, he guided her to some of the employee rooms--nodding to waiters and cooks all the way--and held out another business card. JOHN’S LIQUOR, COKEWORTH.

She clasped it, and a moment later, found herself in a dusty living room. Looking around, her eyes widened as she realized that even in its disrepair, the strongest wards were around the books.

“Oh,” she breathed in wonder.

Books and books and books. There were dozens of shelves, and she reached out to touch them, only stopping herself centimeters from their spines. Most of them were muggle, but the care that had been put into their wards had kept them brilliant and in good condition.

“My mother’s collection,” he said, quietly. She could hear him shuffle, and glanced over at him. Was that nervousness?

She tugged on his hand lightly, pulling his arm closer to her body and hugging it. “They’re a beautiful collection. She… has good taste.” She smiled at several of the tomes that she knew from her own childhood. Classics, detective fiction… “An Agatha Christie fan, I take it?”

“Yes,” he murmured, leaning into her a little.

Hermione remembered some of what Harry had mentioned about Severus’ mother. A brilliant, powerful witch, who fell in love with a muggle man who was abusive and neglectful all in one. She rested her cheek against Severus’ arm. Snuggly, he was terribly snuggly, and she had no idea how she’d not end up cuddling with him in the night.

“I…” He hesitated a moment, and then continued. “I keep it here, in case she comes back.” His eyes unfocused, grew distant. “It feels terribly foolish.”

“It isn’t!” Hermione burst out, then lowered her voice. “It isn’t,” she repeated. “You ought to know better than most that people can change.” She looked up at him. His visage was sharply contrasted in the silvery moonlight, his severe features forming jagged shadows on his face. “Where… is she, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Manchester. Presumably still with…”

“Your father,” Hermione murmured. She was silent for a long time. “Would you want to visit her?”

“I don’t think she’d want to see me.”

Hermione stepped in front of him, keeping his hand clasped in one of her own. “I know I would always want to see my son, no matter how estranged,” she said, tucking a little strand of hair behind his ear. “It’s your decision, Severus. But I think it’s worth a try.” She hesitated, nibbling at her lip.

His eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “It’s foolish.”

“I doubt that.” He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb again. “Please. What’s wrong?”

Fuck, how could she say no to the way his eyes looked at her so intently, with such concern? “If…” She looked down. She closed her eyes, fighting back her emotions. Damn the wine, for making her even consider saying this. “You deserve to be free,” she said, finally. “I want you to be free. I’ll keep fighting to repeal the law, but… if that takes too long, or if it can’t happen for some reason...” Or, if hope against hopes, he decided to put up with her longer, “...There may be children. Grandchildren, for your mother. I understand if you don’t want your father in their life, but… she might want a relationship with them. They even might inspire her to get out and reclaim her own freedom.”

He was silent. She wasn’t even sure he was breathing.

She looked up at him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know it’s an overstep of my boundaries, I just… I like to prepare for the--” She nearly said ‘worst’ option, but calling it the worst option would be a fucking lie. “--For all possibilities. I’m very sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything, really.”

At long last, before she could dig herself a deeper hole, he spoke. “You would… want children?”

Hermione blinked at him. This definitely felt like something that should’ve been on her ‘list of concerns.’ Fuck, she’d completely forgotten to include it. “At some point, maybe,” she said, trying to hedge her emotions, not sound too needy or too demanding or too presumptuous. “One or perhaps two. It wouldn’t be for a long time, and it’s probably moot, because the law will probably be, uh, usurped by then, but… yes.”

“With… me.” Severus’ eyes became unfocused, distant.

Hermione nodded nonetheless. “Who else?” she asked, simply. They were fucking married, after all.

Hesitantly, Severus pulled her against him in a hug. One hand slipped to the small of her back, and the other to her head. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed gently for a moment, as she rested her head against his chest. His heart was beating as fast as a jackrabbit’s. Oh. Had she scared him?

“Let’s go home,” he murmured. A moment later, they apparated.

Chapter Text

Severus woke up nearly falling off the bed.

Hermione--his wife--had all of her limbs wrapped around him. All of them. Was she… snoring? Yes. Little, tiny, barely audible snores. People weren’t supposed to be cute when they snored. It was obnoxious. At least his snoring was. But here was this bitch, absolutely precious and with these tiny purr-like snores.

He suddenly and desperately needed to get out of bed.

It did not go well. Every adjustment he made just resulted in a little sleepy whimper and her inching closer to him, until she was practically on top of him and he was absolutely certain that at any moment, his center of gravity would suddenly and tragically shift and they’d both take a tumble.

Severus resigned himself to just waiting this out and dealing with his new wife’s horror when she discovered their close physical contact, which would doubtless be gross and unwelcome, and he’d--

An owl swooped towards the window, which opened on its own, allowing the bird to explode into the room and drop a series of newspapers right on top of them. Before Severus could do anything but spit out a snarl in surprise, the bird was gone.

The noise appeared to have awoken his wife (fuck), who stirred at his side. “Hnnmph,” she noised, then opened her eyes, blinking blearily. “Morning,” she mumbled. “The fuck is this?”

“Do you not normally get your morning paper delivery by intrusive owl?” he asked, trying to keep the ice out of his voice. And failing.

“Only when Draco sends it,” she replied with a yawn. “Oh, holy shit, did I chase you off the bed? I’m so sorry.”

That was not the reaction he’d expected, but he wasn’t about to question it. “Don’t worry about it. I was trying to escape without waking you and it was not going well.”

“Just wake me up next time. I guarantee you I’ll fall back asleep instantly.” She scooched back over, allowing him more space. “Let’s see what Draco sent.”

Severus handed over the packet of papers, and Hermione undid the twine holding it together. A small note was stuck on the top.

‘Granger, you tiger! I don’t think I’ve seen godfather smile that much in years--play nice with him. Or don’t, wink wink nudge nudge.’

Hermione snorted, handed him the note, and then spread out the stack of newspapers. Almost all of them had photos of the two of them out at dinner the night before. Something was very strange about the pile.

“Draco takes American newspapers?” he asked.

Nodding, Hermione pulled out a few of the more reliable ones. “He uses them to check in on you. Make sure you’re okay. I don’t know how well it works, but between your correspondence and the news, I think he gets a… picture, at least, of what you’re up to.”

“Oh.” Something twitched painfully deep inside him at those words. Draco had been trying to make sure he was alright, all these years.

Hermione shot a glance at him out of the corner of her eyes. “You okay?”

No. “Yes, fine.”

She hummed, not looking very convinced, and pulled out a couple tabloids, snorting at their descriptions. “I’ll leave these if you want fiction to read, otherwise feel free to throw them in the fireplace. I’ve got to get up and prep for the expedition.”

Oh shit, that was right. “I should assist,” he decided, curiosity overriding his awkwardness. “What needs to be done?”

Hermione held up a hand, and a planner flew from across the room. She opened it and drew one finger down a checklist, chewing on her lip. “Okay. I’ll need to check the climbing equipment… can you get a couple of elixirs of strength? Wit-sharpening, too, and just general healing things. There’s a kit, I’ll have Simms bring it to you. Feel free to fill in any gaps you see.”

“... Climbing equipment?”

“Oh, yeah. We’ve had issues with brooms in the past. Older, more powerful wards will play haywire with their charms.” She held up a hand, and a pen flew into her waiting grasp. She noted down something by the box labelled ‘potions kit.’ “I don’t know how the wards will interact with your unaided flight, but I play better safe than sorry. Everyone’s on muggle climbing gear when we’re descending into ruins like this.”

“Fair enough. What…” Severus paused, suddenly realizing how very unequipped for this he was. “What sort of clothes would you recommend?”

“Hardy stuff,” she replied with a chuckle. “None of your Saville Row suits, as gorgeous as they are. I’d recommend a leather or canvas jacket, a t-shirt you’re unafraid of staining, and cargo pants. Bring layers, we never know what the weather will be like. And you’re going to want pockets.” Her eyes unfocused, as if she were suffering a flashback to the war or something. “Lots and lots of pockets.”

“Got it,” Severus said, only a little hesitant. “I’ll run out to an outdoors store and grab some before I check the potions kit.”

Hermione nodded. “Besides that, get medications and whatever for an entire week or two. I don’t anticipate us staying there longer than five days without a chance to head back to civilization, but we’ve had cave-ins before.”

Her use of ‘we’ made him realize that he had no idea how large her crew was. He buried his hands in the comforter so she hopefully couldn’t see how they twitched nervously. People had never been his favorite thing, and having to be around them without the protective layers of his suits or coats would be… a little discomfiting. “How large is your crew?”

Counting off on her fingers, Hermione went through the names. “You, me, Simms, Roan’s on logistics and supplies, Credgeworth’s on history and anthropology, Ellis on detection charms and magical beasts. Six core people, and whatever experts we need to pull in.” She glanced over at him, smiling brightly. “I think you’ll be fine. Roan’s just going to shit himself no matter what you do, Credgeworth is the sweetest old man, and Ellis is one of my closest friends and one of the few pureblood witches I know who understands what ‘mental health’ means.”

“That is… slightly reassuring,” Severus decided.

She laughed. “Oh, another thing to note: you, I, and Simms are really the only combatants. The others can hold their own but are much more archaeologists than fighters.”

Severus nodded. It wasn’t that unusual, although now that she mentioned it, the implications were more than a little worrying. “So that basilisk and chimera…?”

“Harry showed up for the basilisk, I needed someone with Parseltongue. Those fuckers are old hat for him anyway. But besides that? Me and Simms, yes.” She shrugged, turning back to the planner. “He’s a dear and I’d give my life for him. He’s not keen to use his magic for harm, but when push comes to shove he’s always there.”

The image of Hermione fighting a chimera next to nothing but a little house elf was… well, Severus knew elves were powerful, but he was not going to be fooled by her humility. She’d been clever enough to petrify a fucking chimera.

Brightest witch of her age. Also, by some unnatural, miraculous conspiracy, his wife.

***

They portkeyed to Sussex, and then it was a six hour car ride to the knuckerhole. Severus questioned the need for a car when they could just apparate, but he soon realized that the ride was actually time for Hermione and her team to go over plans.

The van was fitted with expansion charms, and was practically a mobile home on the inside. It also drove itself, with a dummy quaintly named ‘Tony’ serving as a decoy for muggles.

Hermione introduced him to the other members of her (their?) team. He’d met Simms that morning--a quiet, sweet little elf, whose visions of ‘house elf territory’ were a little broad and vague. He didn’t like to be seen, and to help with that, Hermione had gifted him a black oversized hoodie.

Severus had seen Roan briefly at the Ministry before his marriage ceremony, but got a better look at the man now. Really, Severus would describe him as a ‘boy’ rather than a man: he was scrawny, freckled, and brown-haired, and also constantly fretting. It was amusing to watch, as he attempted to keep up with Hermione’s swift decisions.

Credgeworth was clearly the team’s resident grandpa. He’d brought cookies that he and his husband (a distant relative of Minerva’s, apparently) baked. He rattled off an impressive list of factoids about monuments they passed, as well as thorough history of water dragons in the UK.

Ellis reminded Severus of a more grounded Ginerva Weasley. She had boxes and boxes of equipment that the team used to detect and disable wards in the ruins. When he’d entered the van, she’d been sitting repairing a broom and hassling Roan. She’d introduced herself to him with the words “I’m Helen, Hermione’s sidekick” and a big grin.

Roads transitioned from major highways to township streets and then country paths. Severus found that while he was not exactly comfortable around the Granger Team, he wasn’t uncomfortable either. There was no shortage of playful banter or Roan hassling, either, which was amusing. Hermione and Ellis in particular could volley for hours. Simms was silent except for the occasional utterly scathing remark, which was always well-applauded.

Also, Credgeworth’s cookies were great.

Finally the van halted. As Tony ‘turned the engine off,’ Ellis had already thrown open the door and she and Hermione had jumped out of the moving vehicle.

With a sigh, Severus opened the other door and followed. Roan got out after him, followed by Credgeworth, while Simms went to the trunk to help unload.

Severus turned towards the knuckerhole. They’d parked maybe a hundred meters from its edge. The area was mostly grassy prairie, although their camp was being set up near a knoll of trees. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he hiked over the clumpy grass and wildflowers up to the edge.

The drop made him feel dizzy just looking at it. The knuckerhole was a British cenote, a cylindrical hole so smooth that it looked as if it had been bored into the earth by some massive muggle machine. The walls were made of pale stone that was riddled with rivulets of cracks, some with plants growing haphazardly out of them, but the green didn’t last long before it fell to the darkness of the hole’s shadow. Whispering a charm to enhance his vision, Severus looked closer at the rock sides. Were those… carvings?

Footsteps and the rustling of grass alerted him to company. He glanced over his shoulder and found Hermione had come to stand beside him.

“I didn’t know we had cenotes,” he said.

“Entrances to the underworld?” She cocked a grin at him, the breeze ruffling her golden-brown curls. Leaning over, she grasped a rock the size of a golden snitch and murmured a spell. It glowed softly in her hand. “Get ready to count.”

“Are you certain that’s safe?”

She nodded. “I can guarantee there’s a lot of rubble at the bottom of that hole. Anything interesting will be branching off from the bottom--Ellis’ scans show a cave complex beneath us. Now come on.” She crouched down and approached the edge on her belly, hefting the rock. Severus remained standing, walking alongside her.

Winding up, she tossed the stone, and Severus watched and counted as it fell. The bluish light disappeared into the depths. His blood chilled after a full minute passed and there was no sound of landing.

“My guess is water,” Hermione said, scooching away from the edge and then sitting up to dust off her hands.

“Lovely,” Severus said, then held out his hand. She took it, and he pulled her to her feet. “Let’s go help set up. I’m eager to see what’s down there.”

Chapter Text

Camp took two hours to set up. Most of it was devoted to the largest tent, something that looked like one of the pavilions from the Malfoy gardens. That tent was the research tent, and was divided into different climate-controlled rooms, each of them meticulously charmed and maintained. Artifacts would go there after they’d been recovered, and so it needed to be set up first, in order to be prepared for whatever else had to get done.

Then it was time to prep for the descent.

Simms and Roan went to go set up the muggle climbing supplies. The anchor system was fixed with both securing charms as well as traditional cams, stoppers, and webbing.

Hermione handed Severus a climbing harness. “This one should fit you.”

He held it gingerly between two fingers and stared it down. It did not look like it would fit any human. It looked like a nest.

Laughing, she adjusted how he was holding it, so he could see the leg holes easier. “Here. Okay, just follow what I’m doing.”

She guided him through stepping into the harness and the many double-backs required to secure it. The extents of Hermione’s ‘better safe than sorry’ motto were swiftly becoming apparent. “My parents would bring me rock climbing when I was younger,” she explained as she stepped over to double check his work. Her hands flitted over his legs and waist, tugging on the straps and making him quite nervous about the area of focus. “Okay. Looks good. Grab what you need, I’ll meet you at the anchor site. Oh!” She reached into a pocket and pulled out what looked like a needlessly complex wristband. “Use this to secure your wand to your wrist. See?” Taking another one from her pocket, she tightened a pair of loops around two different sections of her wand, then ducked her wrist into a larger loop and tightened that too. “We don’t believe in dropped wands.”

“I see,” Severus replied, gingerly abusing his own wand just as she had, then turning back to the van while she headed out to the anchor.

He grabbed a bandolier of potions, ducking into it and making sure it didn’t conflict with the climbing harness around his waist. The only other thing he needed was his courage, which he found himself remarkably lacking in.

The plan that had been discussed on the car ride was that he and Hermione would be on the same rope (a bit of a safety hazard, but a necessary one given the finite amounts of rope they had and uncertain depths of the knuckerhole) and that he would just carry them both down with his flight. Now, this was fine in concept. However, in practice, Severus realized that he would be Hermione’s personal pilot on this adventure. What concerned him was his feeling he’d end up carrying her as she clambered across him to see whatever interesting thing next piqued his attention, which would end up with Severus and an armful of attractive, intelligent, eager witch.

Severus did not get nice things. He did not trust himself to handle them. He could barely hold Goblin without flying (no puns intended) into a panic that he might hurt the cat. The only possible escape would be if his curiosity and fascination overcame his anxiety, but Severus was not keen on counting on that.

With a deep breath, he took a swallow of calming draught and stood up, heading over to the anchor point.

A network of webbing and rope sprawled across the ground, and Hermione was standing to one side, with a multitude of gear clipped to her harness. She waved him over.

“This is how we get up and down if the spell fails,” she explained as she attached a strange metal pulley-like contraption to the loops right above his crotch. The biners clicked closed and she spun the screwlock into place. “Doesn’t need to be on the rope until we need it, and then it’s charmed to handle itself. And if worse comes to worst down there I’ll show you how to use it. Alright?”

Severus nodded, his voice suddenly lost. The pulley had already been attached to the ropes, and he really had no idea what all of these lines and biners were doing. Or what he was doing, truthfully.

“Ellis, how’re the scans looking?”

“Cave system expands due north,” Ellis said, without looking up from her diagnostic charm setup. “Should be at the bottom. I can’t get a fucking read on the depth, unfortunately.”

“That’s fine. It’s probably obscured.” Hermione paused as Roan came over to check her own harness, before giving her the thumbs up. “Alright. Ready?” she asked, looking at Severus.

He just nodded again, and extended a hand to her. She placed her slender hand in his own.

“Ready?” She asked again, this time to Roan, who was also hooked up to some sort of pulley contraption. From the coils of rope by his side, Severus guessed he was going to be monitoring their rope usage.

“Ready,” he replied.

“Abseiling,” she said.

“Abseil on.”

Hermione turned to Severus and nodded. He took his wand in his other hand and spoke a word, and they were both airborne.

She squeaked and clung tightly to him almost instantly. Ah yes. So it began. Severus pulled her over to him. “Heading down.”

“Yeah,” she hissed out, legs wrapped around his midsection, the climbing harness digging into his side. Ignoring it, he brought them out over the edge, and then down.

Hermione shifted, bringing up her wand and summoning a ring of glowing lights that surrounded them. It was like descending into another world--and, perhaps it was. The blue lights sent shadows dancing from the scraggly plants as they flew lower and lower, illuminating a thin band of grey stone around them.

The first indication of something changing was when Hermione suddenly made an excited noise and flapped an arm. Severus slowed them to a halt.

“There!” She was pointing behind him, so he turned midair and brought them over to the wall.

“Merlin’s gonads,” he murmured.

The cracks in the stone had resolved into chiseled runes. The writing was set just below what appeared to be an old waterline, and as Severus brought them over to that side of the wall, he realized that the runes expanded downwards into a huge carving. Faded, cracked colors showed where ancient pigments might’ve been.

Hermione whispered another spell and more light blossomed around them like dandelion seeds. Severus’ breath was stolen from him.

“Up to the writing,” Hermione said, and he obeyed, shifting so he was holding her bridal style, allowing her to sit up and see better. Her wand’s tip traced over the runes, as she murmured translations. “Myrrdin Emrys,” she gasped, her eyes twinkling.

“Isn’t that--”

“Merlin’s original name, yes. Look.” She pointed to the engraving, which showed a robed figure fighting off cloaked figures.

“Dementors,” Severus realized.

Hermione nodded eagerly. “See the spell?” she asked, tracing her wand along the carving. “Circe’s shitcakes, this must be a portrayal of Merlin casting a Patronus charm. Look, it’s a unicorn. This is--” She was practically bouncing in his arms. “--if we can date this, we might be able to prove what Merlin’s Patronus was!”

As purely academical as that thought was, Severus couldn’t help but pick up on her excitement. Any insight into one of the eldest and greatest wizards was welcome. “Does it say anything about the knuckerhole?” he asked.

“Fly us lower,” Hermione instructed, and he obeyed. She chuckled at his responsiveness. “You’re handy. It’s like my own personal hovercraft. I might have to keep you around.”

“I live to serve you, my wife,” he drawled sarcastically, noting the pretty way that she pinked at the words.

Another series of runes were etched beneath the carving, and her mouth moved as she sounded them out. “It’s telling a story,” she murmured. “It’s talking about how Merlin imprisoned a dementor and… I think he was testing spells on it.”

“Smart lad.” Severus shifted them lower so she could continue to read. “Other spells can work on them, we’ve known that for a while. I wonder if he wasn’t trying to invent something new.”

“Probably was,” Hermione murmured, her eyes still flickering over the text. The runes were intermingled with more depictions of Merlin and other wizards combating dementors. “He developed… the fuck does that mean?” She squinted harder at some runes. “It looks like ‘eye,’ but they’re modifying it in a way I’m not familiar with.” At her squirming, Severus moved them closer, so she could pull out a paper and charcoal and get a rubbing of the runes.

“Hermione, look.” He pointed to the drawing beside it.

There was another dementor, bound by a sphere filled with frosted plants and air. Runes were etched around the image.

“Eye of Hunger,” Hermione read aloud. “He… he trapped them in something. Looks like the worst snowglobe ever.”

Severus chuckled. “Or best snowglobe, if it means one less dementor to worry about.”

“That’s a good point.” Hermione pointed down, and he followed her directions, revealing more runes. “Oh, finally! A mention of the knucker.” A drawing of a long, sinuous dragon guarding a cave of dementor-globes.

“I do hope those globes survived.”

Hermione nodded, her eyes scanning over the runes. “We need to get down there,” she said. With a whirl of her wand, a smilodon of silvery light materialized. Severus’ heart stopped. It was a gorgeous, terrifying beast, just like her. And an exceedingly rare form for the Patronus to take, but also perfectly appropriate given her work in antiquities. “Tell the team that we’re descending fully. I’m itching to explore.”

The smilodon leaped off towards the light above them.

“Let me know if you spot anything else interesting,” Severus said as he began to lower them again. The stone appeared to be unadorned, and at last, something glimmered beneath them. As they approached, the lights surrounding them expanded outwards into a ring around the entire knuckerhole, which was easily as wide across as the Hogwarts Great Hall.

Severus checked where they were landing before he touched down. The water appeared to have been reduced to just a few inches, with piles of debris providing an uneven dry ground. He landed, then made sure Hermione was okay before putting her down and cancelling the spell on both of them.

Hermione wavered for a moment, and Severus kept one hand on her back to steady her.

“You alright?” he asked.

She nodded. “Just, you know, heights.” She looked up and shivered. “Fuck, we’re far down.” Grabbing the rope, she yanked it three times in quick succession. “That’s the signal that we’re unclipping ourselves, and others can follow us down.” She kept her harness on, but undid the knots and contraption attaching her to the end of the rope, then went over to help him with his.

Once they were both disconnected, she reached into the bag she’d carried and pulled out two pairs of glasses and two bandanas. “Charm detection and anti-basilisk goggles, as you know. The bandana’s for airborne toxins or infectious agents.” She grinned, and held out the emerald green bandana. “I got one in your color!”

Severus offered a short laugh, trying to pretend that the small gesture didn’t melt his heart. She got a green bandana for him. “Thanks.” He pulled up his hair, tied on the bandana, and put on the goggles. Hermione was similarly suited up.

“Ready?” she said.

He nodded. “Let’s go.”

She headed towards the northern side of the circular landing. The path was less than ideal: debris and water made it slippery and uneven, and Severus was glad he’d worn his dragonskin boots that day. Finally, though, they arrived at a massive carving on the stone, etched into the shape of a door. Runes arched over the top.

“What do they say? ‘Speak friend and enter’?” he asked.

Hermione laughed. “Tolkien? Really? I didn’t know you read muggle stuff.”

“I read whatever I can get my hands on. I’m sure you understand.”

“I do,” she admitted, stepping up closer and bringing the lights up to flock around the door to aid her reading. “It’s a riddle:
Run all you want but I shall always catch you.
I can fell any, from the smallest babe to the conquering army.
Feed me, and I diminish.”

“Hunger,” they both realized together.

Hermione nodded, then gasped. “He was starving the dementors. Eye of hunger.”

Briefly, a memory arose in Severus’ mind. The screaming, the sobbing, the fear. The smell. The grey. He swallowed down his flashback and simply pressed his lips together.

“They deserve it,” he said, scanning over the runes. They looked… old. Much older than any of the ‘ancient’ runes he’d studied.

A touch on his hand made him stifle a startle and turn to Hermione.

“You okay?” she asked quietly. He could see the concern in her eyes through the tinted goggles, and hear it in her voice despite the bandana.

“Yeah,” he said, only half-lying. “Just… remembering.” She knew he’d been in Azkaban. She knew he’d seen the dementors unleashed under Voldemort’s rule.

She squeezed his hand, then turned her attention back to the door. Raising her wand, she spoke a word loud and clearly in a language that sounded very… Celtic? Gaelic? Severus suddenly realized how little he knew about the exact lineage of languages in the area, or what Merlin’s compatriots or followers would’ve spoken.

Lines of light appeared along the carved doors, and then the huge portals swung outwards. One got stuck immediately on rubble, and the other managed to get halfway open before a big rock blocked it. They creaked unhappily, like a dying wombat letting out its last screech.

“I think that was supposed to be more dramatic than it was,” Severus muttered.

Hermione reached out and patted the door. “You tried your best,” she told it, then raised her wand and stepped towards the opening. A flurry of diagnostic charms followed, which Severus aided in. They all showed the same thing: the real wards didn’t start for another hundred meters or so.

“I’d bet that’s a room full of more traps and tricks,” Hermione said, flicking out more hovering lights. “You want to go in first?”

Severus paused to consider it. “No, this is your dig, and your discovery. You can be first.”

She nodded. “Thanks.” And then she crossed the threshold.

Nothing exploded or yelled or changed. Nothing happened. Severus let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, and ducked in after her.

They were in a huge hall, filled with carved stone benches and tables. Severus felt all thought and breath stolen from him at the majesty. The ceiling was enchanted with a realistic sky like the Hogwarts Great Hall, but this ceiling was a night sky, showing the constellations and planets that would be visible that time of year. Small patches of the charm were beginning to fade, and through them the pale grey of the ceiling was visible. Some of the patches were large enough to infringe on some of the constellations, but the glowing blue stars and the lines connecting them still persisted even over the patches.

The far side of the room had a broad, arched section of wall that looked like a door, if a door was made of quicksilver. The shimmering silver swirled into the middle like a vortex.

“Oh!” Hermione said, excitedly, beside him. “I know what that is!”

“Of course you do,” Severus murmured, unable to keep the admiration and pride out of his voice.

“We call them Patronus seals,” she explained, casting some more detection charms. “For, well, obvious reasons. Only a Patronus can open them.”

“Clever, that they used one to guard research on dementors. It would practically ensure that any of the dementors’ natural allies, nor any Light wizard under sufficient duress, would be unable to enter.”

Hermione nodded happily, tugging down her bandana and raising her goggles to rest on top of her head. Severus copied her. She pulled out a camera from her bag and began to photograph the area. “Ellis better get down here, I need someone to measure things while we go on ahead and stick our heads somewhere dangerous.”

The sound of swiftly descending rope made Severus turn to look out the door. “She’s here.”

“Hey!” Ellis called, quickly unclipping from the rope. “My broom totally shat itself on the way down, so we’ll have to be careful transporting things. Whaddowe got?”

“Big room, Patronus seal,” Severus explained, pushing the door open a little more to let her in.

She chuckled. “Ain’t you eloquent.”

“Isn’t he?” Hermione said, voice dreamy as she continued to photograph. “I need you on measurements, Ellis. I want to go play with the seal.”

Ellis chuckled. “Roger that, captain.” She flipped open a drafting notebook and began to cast diagnostic charms, a self-writing quill noting down all of the results as she measured the room.

“Come on.” Hermione grabbed Severus’ wrist and yanked him further into the room. “You ever touched mercury before?”

“Yes, it’s used in certain potions.”

“The door’s made of it,” she explained, stopping by the seal in order to take more photos. “Damn, look at that decoration!” The door was surrounded by carvings of animals, which Severus assumed were Patronuses. A rampant unicorn adorned the top of the door.

Severus pointed at the unicorn. “And there’s Merlin. He seems to place himself as the center of the heroism and finery. Reminds me of a mutual friend of ours.”

Hermione snickered. “Albus Dumble-door.”

He could hear the pun, and rolled his eyes with the scoff. “You’re awful.” Pulling up his wand, he decided to do something useful and began to run diagnostic charms on the door: its composition, charmwork, and the like.

Hermione leaned over, peering at the results of his work.

“It works,” he announced. “And it’ll close behind us.”

“Wonderful,” she murmured. “Most of these old seals aren’t functional anymore. We’ll need to study this one in detail. Ellis!”

“You got it, cap!”

“I could owl Filius. You still in contact with him?” Hermione asked, returning to her photos.

“We, ah… I didn’t keep up the same correspondence with him as I did Minerva, but we met at conferences and would take lunch together. Usually with Minerva as well.”

“That sounds like a great time, honestly.”

“Mm. They are good people, and brilliant wizards.” Both of them had defended him at his trial, alongside Minerva and Filius. Severus appreciated that.

After a moment, Credgeworth also descended, and immediately squealed with joy at the architecture. He bustled over to examine the carvings on the Patronus seal, starting to murmur about what age they likely came from. He also held up a meter stick for more of Hermione’s photos.

Finally, Ellis gave the signal that everything was measured, so the room could be disturbed. Hermione looked at Severus with the biggest grin ever on her face. He felt his like his heart was giving a smitten sigh at the sight.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“We’ll both need to cast our Patronus to get through.” With a swirl of her wand, she conjured the shimmering smilodon, which roared and leaped through the door. The mercury hummed a pure tone as the Patronus passed, and shimmered blue for a moment. Hermione stepped through a second later.

His turn. The excitement of the dig and the smile Hermione had given him was enough to make the thestral stallion sear into being the moment he twitched his wand. Ignoring the gasps of Credgeworth and Ellis, the thestral charged through, and Severus passed through the door after it too flashed blue.

It was strange to step through the thin film of mercury. It was like passing through a bubble, or the slight surface tension of water. Hermione was already taking pictures of the hallway, which was relatively nondescript except for some more carvings of dementor snow globes on the walls and a series of doors. Severus stopped to stand next to his thestral.

“The feel of the seal tells me it’s one of the later ones,” she babbled happily as she snapped more pictures, even turning around to take one of him. Severus found himself unable to admonish her, instead just rolling his eyes and smiling as the thestral stallion preened. “The earlier ones you can taste copper on, and they’re a bit thicker.”

“Makes sense that this one’s still functional, then. Later and more well-made.” He waved a hand, and the thestral disappeared into blue sparkles. “Can I start opening doors?”

“Yeah! Just test them first to make sure you’re not gonna die or whatever, and try not to break anything. Lots of stuff is fragile after this long--and also probably rotting. So goggles and bandana back up.”

Severus grumbled, but obeyed.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “What, aren’t you big on ‘lab safety’ or whatever?”

He snorted. “If I die of mold or basilisks in a fucking ruin made by Merlin, I will have considered my death to be properly ‘metal’ to be satisfactory.”

She cackled. “Okay, fair. You get to pick the first door. Let’s stay in the hallway for now--not the far double doors at the end.”

He hummed thoughtfully, and decided to just go with the first door on the right. It opened into a small kitchen. The other three doors opened to a parlor, a bunkroom with several beds, and a room with a rack of rusted swords and target dummies of rotted straw. A quick Patronus to the rest of the team informed them what was up.

“Do you think this was abandoned after the knucker showed up?” he asked as she photographed the swords.

“That’d make sense, wouldn’t it? Maybe the knucker got out of control. It certainly sounds like it in the legends.”

“And it would explain why supplies were left behind,” he said, gesturing towards the swords. One of them even had some decorative carvings on the hilt. “Those look like nice swords. I wouldn’t leave them behind.”

She laughed. “My question is where the knucker went. If it got out of control, you’d think it would die here, and we would’ve gone past its skeleton. If it was killed outside of the hole, its body was probably used for weaponry or wands.”

Humming thoughtfully, Severus nodded. He stepped out of the room to begin diagnostics on the far door, but continued the conversation--the hallway was small enough to allow it. “When we get back up top, we should purge the stone of plants and look for signs of dragons fighting.”

“Brilliant plan. You’re handy to have around.” She came out of the room behind him. “What’s it looking like?”

“Heavily charmed. Lots of wards. But most are focused inwards rather than out towards us,” Severus said. “Keep things in. We’ll still have to bust through a few, but the real issue should be getting out.”

“Cool,” Hermione said, putting away the camera and drawing her wand, stepping into a combat stance. “That means we found the fun parts.”

Severus hummed, looking appreciatively at her entire being. She was so smart. He remembered the way that she’d stuffed the Sorting Hat onto her head, and the image shifted, the young girl’s hair and eyes darkening to black. “I think a kid or two would be wonderful.”

Hermione paused. “What?”

“Nothing,” he replied just as smoothly, and arched a brow. “Shall we poke the skrewt nest?”

He could see the grin in the way her eyes glimmered. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

Taking down the wards on the inner sanctum had taken a full half an hour. Hermione was sweating by the time that they’d confirmed the room safe for entry and exit. The doors to the room were open, but only by a crack, to allow for scans of potential danger and for their Patronuses to go in and look for danger.

“I need a drink,” she muttered, pulling out two water bottles from her bag and handing one to Severus. He accepted it with a murmured thanks.

“I’m going to sleep like a fucking rock tonight. Are all digs this intense?” he asked.

Hermione shrugged. “It varies wildly. Sometimes you get times like with the chimera, and then other times you just dig for days and occasionally poke a ward and it falls apart.” She tucked her water bottle back, and Severus handed her his as well, which also went in the bag. “Okay. You ready? This is the risky part. We could have missed something.”

“Ready.”

Hermione pulled open the door, and both of them stuck their heads inside like very curious absolute idiots. Thankfully nothing tried to kill either of them, so Hermione pulled open the other door and took a better look around.

The room beyond was clearly a laboratory. There were long tables arrayed with all manner of reagents and instruments, most of which looked decayed. There were also several large stone basins, which looked carved from the floor itself, and were filled with water.

The lab was split into four quadrants by cleared walkways. Each quadrant was focused around a single pedestal, with a globe on each. They were huge, easily three meters in diameter and sort of looked like a big bubble in transparency and iridescence. Hermione gasped. “They survived!”

“Merlin’s shitcakes,” Severus breathed. “Did we just… discover… how to kill a dementor?”

The words made Hermione’s world spin. She reached out and grabbed his arm. “We damn well might have.” Then, she took her first careful step into the room, wand raised. “Be careful. We need to ensure they’re inert.”

“Roger that.” He raised his wand, clasping her hand in the other. The connection made her feel significantly safer, like there was someone watching her back. Someone excessively competent, too.

Carefully, Hermione approached one of the globes. The first charm she cast was one to isolate the area, so they wouldn’t disturb anything else. Once that was in place, she pulled out a notebook and self-writing quill. She and Severus began a series of careful, mediated diagnostics.

“It’s obsidian,” Severus said, apropos of nothing.

“What?”

“The orb.” He pointed to the results. “Volcanic origin. Sharp. Brittle. Translucent. Obsidian.”

“Fascinating,” she murmured. “I wonder if glassblowing was involved.”

“I am not eager to blow a bubble around a dementor, regardless of the material.”

Hermione snorted a laugh. “Okay, well there’s definitely no dementor in it anymore, and I’ve got all the charms they used on it. There’s a spell there I don’t recognize--I think probably a spell to conjure one of these orbs.”

“Conjure the orb, and while it’s trapped physically, spell the orb against interference,” Severus murmured. “And hold the fucker still to catch it. I don’t fancy wizards running around with superheated obsidian bubbles like little kids with bug-catching nets.”

She laughed again, but the mention of kids threw her back to the moment before they entered the room. His words had been so unexpected that she thought she was having a stroke for a solid minute. Even if she wasn’t having a stroke, they still made no sense, so Hermione figured she probably just misheard him.

“I want to examine it closer. Do you think that’s safe?” He glanced at her.

Her stomach did a victory lap around her torso at the realization that Severus Snape was asking her what she thought. It was both incredibly nauseating and incredibly exciting. “Probably,” she said. “I’d avoid your unaided flight spell for now, but we can definitely stand on some tables.”

“Some of those rotting tables?” He arched a brow.

“Okay, fair point.” She chewed on her lip, then reached into her bag and pulled out a shrunken ladder. It popped up to normal size when she placed it on the ground.

“And to think you were the one accusing me of being convenient.” He chuckled. “You’re like a bloody general store.” He gestured to the ladder. “You first. If you fall, I can catch us.”

Hermione nodded, let go of his hand, and tested the stability of the ladder. Once she was sure it was solid, she climbed up.

The pedestals were only a meter and a half tall, but the size of the globes meant it was difficult to see anything from the ground. She sat down on the top of the ladder, and Severus followed her carefully.

Inside the globe was a tattered cloak. There was also a strange residue, like sloughed off scabs. Hermione squinted at it, then pulled out a pair of binoculars to look at it closer. It looked… sort of sludgy. Sludgy scabs? Weird. She handed the binoculars to Severus, who put them up to his goggles. A moment later, he gasped and uttered a soft expletive.

“What is it?” she asked.

“That’s their flesh,” he said. “That’s… sweet Circe, do you have any idea what a potioneer could do with dementor skin?”

Hermione blinked. “No,” she admitted.

“Neither do I,” he whispered. “But I am so fucking eager to find out.”

He was so cute when he got eager like this. She smiled fondly at him. “I’m definitely keeping you around. I need a potioneer for experimenting, clearly.”

“Are you kidding?” Severus scoffed, and her heart skipped a beat at the possibility of rejection. “Hermione, after this, I doubt you could get rid of me if you wanted to.” His voice was still breathless as he continued to look at the dementor’s remains. “This is insane.” He looked up at her. “Thank you.”

She found herself speechless, which was a rare state indeed. “W--For what?”

“For letting me come with,” he said, reaching out and taking her hand, squeezing it gently. “This is the most fun I’ve had in my entire life.”

***

When they returned to ground level that night, the team discussed what they’d found over some shitty drugstore beer. Credgeworth was expounding on what date range he thought the place was from while he and Simms cooked the group’s dinner over the fire. Someone (and Hermione would have words with them when she found out who) had brought a strange camping couch, and all of the group had arranged it so it was the only seat left. So Hermione and Severus were forced to sit next to each other. (Not that she minded.)

The possibility of a way to kill dementors left the entire group speechless, until Severus broke the moment in half by saying, “Yes, it’s certainly more cost-effective than the last method, which was bringing them to dentists and making them suffer through the hell of getting those awful teeth fixed. The bills were insane.”

Ellis nearly fell into the campfire laughing, and Simms had to haul her ass backwards.

Hermione took a risk. “Is that why Tommy-boy wanted my parents?” She didn’t know how Severus was about jokes involving Voldemort.

But to her surprise, he just laughed, and turned to her with an eyebrow raised. The image made something deep in her stomach flutter. “Yes, he told me so himself. And he wanted their recommendation for a plastic surgeon, rhinoplasty’s a bitch to find a decent doc for.”

Hermione wasn’t sure the last time she’d laughed so hard. Severus Snape, the spy who tricked the greatest dark wizard ever, was dissing Tom’s nose. Using muggle terms. Ellis was also cackling, familiar as she was with muggle terms, but Roan was just staring wide-eyed.

Credgeworth spoke up. “Excuse me, Master Snape, but my old man brain isn’t up to date on all the muggle terms. What’s a plastic?”

“A wildly diverse material that the muggles use to fabricate objects on large scales,” Severus explained, and Hermione was stunned again by the fact that he was so knowledgeable about muggle life. “Plastic surgeons are doctors that can alter people’s appearances, permanently. Rhinoplasty is using plastic surgery to change the way someone’s nose looks.”

“Oh!” Credgeworth said, and than began to laugh. “Thanks for the explanation.”

“Of course. Hermione would be better at telling you if it’s right or not.”

She nodded. She’d had no idea that Severus was so knowledgeable about muggle medical practices, or muggle practices in general. “Very right, I assure you.”

The conversation among the others returned to laughing at Voldemort’s nose, and dinner, which Hermione was relieved for. Severus glanced at Hermione, and the brow arched again at her shocked expression. “What?” he asked. “I was raised muggle.”

She smiled back at him, keeping her voice low. “I think your experience was hardly normal.”

He paused thoughtfully, and then his smile turned a little sad. “A little more normal, I think, than one might hope. For both wizards and muggles.”

Ouch. That was true, but it hurt to have him admit it, especially with that shattered smile. She leaned over and hugged his arm. “I’m sorry.”

Shrugging a little, he replied, “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

She rolled her eyes and leaned her head on his shoulder, and he turned to… did he just bury a kiss in her hair? Her heart fumbled with the beat and tripped a couple times before it got back on cue. “You know what I mean. I feel bad that you had to endure such unfair and awful circumstances when you were entirely undeserving of them.”

Chuckling, he took her hand in one of his own and gently stroked the back of it. “Don’t assume. I was a bastard even as a baby.”

Hermione tried to suppress a laugh, and it came out as a snort. “Goo goo ga ga, five points from Gryffindor for making me eat peas.”

Simms was handing out campfire-grilled dinner, and after both of them profusely thanked the elf, Severus turned to Hermione again. “Is that really the most dastardly action you remember me for?” he asked, as he took another gulp of beer. “Clearly I should’ve tried harder.”

Humming thoughtfully, Hermione tucked into the chicken. “I suppose you could’ve vomited on a parent and declared, ‘I see no difference’ when they yelled about it.”

Severus choked on his beer. “Oh fuck,” he said, as Hermione mercilessly laughed at him. “I forgot about that. Merlin’s shits. I’m so sorry, Hermione--”

“Are you abusing your husband, Hermione?” Ellis broke in loudly, as Hermione collapsed into a fit of laughter against Severus’ shoulder.

“No!” Severus protested, bright red. “She’s calling me out for what a bastard I was back at Hogwarts.”

“You were terrifying,” Roan whispered, hiding behind Credgeworth. “Still are.”

Severus squinted at the boy. “Did I have you? I can’t remember. I was on too many pain potions for the last seven years I taught there.”

“And don’t forget that he starved himself for a year! He’s a big puffball!” Hermione protested around a mouthful of chicken and carrots. “All bark and no bite.”

Severus paused with his beer halfway to his lips. “Except for that time I killed Albus!”

“He emotionally manipulated and guilt tripped you into it, dipshit,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes and cutting off another bite of chicken. She was not about to let her new husband blame himself for the shit either of his manipulative masters forced him to do. “So it doesn’t count. And weren’t you drunk anyway?”

“Hungover,” Severus corrected, so quickly it sounded automatic, and very defensive. “I was hungover. As I was that time with, uh, your teeth.”

The idea of a hungover Severus having to deal with her chatty buck-toothed tweenage ass was too much to bear. She cackled again, covering her mouth so it wasn’t horribly unladylike.

“Wait,” Severus said, as Ellis also began to laugh. “Are you accusing me of being a big softie? I’m hurt, Hermione, I thought that my near-decade of terrorizing you would’ve made some impact.”

“It did,” Credgeworth said, cutting in over Hermione’s overflowing giggles. “But I don’t think it made the impression you intended, mate.” The man reached over and patted Severus’ shoulder. It boggled Hermione’s mind that Severus didn’t hiss and spit like some angry feline.

“I feel remarkably like I’m being consoled for an injury I don’t know I have,” Severus said, frowning as Credgeworth got up to pour himself a cup of tea (in addition to the beer). “What lies did she tell you?”

Oh, shit. Hermione’s laughter stopped with a hiccup and her eyes grew wide as she realized how fucked she was. The team often went out to pubs after a long day of digging, and when drunk she had a tendency to show off obscure spells and talk about how she definitely still had a crush on Severus Snape, the only man to have ever matched her voracious curiosity with just as sheer knowledge. Hermione was also pretty certain she’d babbled about the fact that he didn’t match the pattern of Voldemort’s other spies in Hogwarts, which had eventually lead to her having faith in his loyalties.

“If any of you talk, it’s bird time,” Hermione blurted, pointing accusingly at her team.

Roan hid further behind Credgeworth, so only the top of his head and his wide eyes were visible. “Oh Merlin, not the birds.” Credgeworth just reached over his shoulder and patted the boy’s head.

Ellis waggled her eyebrows aggressively. “She was just telling us about how mysterious and handso--”

Hermione flung a hand out, and a jinx flashed from her--only to be swatted out of the air by Severus’ counter-jinx.

“Oho, no you don’t,” Severus said with a wide grin as Hermione’s core heated suddenly. “I want to hear this.”

The traitorous Ellis was grinning at the two of them like an idiot. “I have the protection of the greatest wizard in Britain!” she said, her tone turning dramatic.

Hermione was going to kill her. That was definitely a drunk Hermione quote. Severus, for his part, arched a brow. “I am? According to who?”

“According to your lovely wife--”

She threw another jinx, this one parried just as quickly by Severus. Turning, she glared at him just as a smirk curled his lips up.

Okay, it was on.

Snatching her wand from its holder, she began to hurl an unending stream of jinxes at Ellis, each of them countered unerringly by Severus, who’d conjured his own wand to his hand. Pullis--

Ellis fell over laughing again, and Simms jumped up to drag her away from the fire. “Not the fire! Not the fires!” the elf wailed.

--Cracker, Leek--

“This is the weirdest foreplay I’ve ever seen,” Credgeworth said with a shake of his head as he reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of popcorn, offering some to Roan. Roan, despite still hiding behind Credgeworth, snagged a fistful.

--Melofors, Ducklifors--

With a wordless and wandless spell, Hermione lit Severus on fire again. Old classics never died. He yelped and conjured water.

--Vermiculus, Flipendo--

The flipping jinx finally got Ellis, who shrieked with giggles as she was thrown ass-skyward. Severus growled and lunged across Hermione, she squeaked as the world spun, Simms snatched both their plates, and then she was suddenly on the ground with her wand hand pinned to the grass and Severus half on top of her, both of them grinning breathlessly. The upended folding couch (chair??) blocked the fire and the team, and in that moment it was just the two of them in the night, the fire highlighting his face.

“You fight dirty, Miss Granger,” he whispered.

Before Hermione knew what she was doing, she buried her other hand in his hair and pulled him into a kiss. He was warm against the cool of the night, and she could feel the heat emanating from him where he suspended himself on top of her. Her heart thudded as he deepened the kiss. What--? Was that his tongue? Oh, fuck, that was his tongue, tracing over her lower lip and it tingled, she was making out with him--

“Weirdest foreplay ever,” Credgeworth repeated.

Fuck. Hermione yanked backwards, eyes widening as she realized the rest of the team was very much still there. She was probably tomato-red.

Severus grinned at her, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “Later,” he murmured, tossing her a wink that sent something thrilling into her core. Then he glanced over his shoulder and both of them floated into the air, the couch righting itself beneath them before they settled onto it.

Hermione cleared her throat, realizing that the entire team knew exactly how much she was dying to shag the man beside her. The grin on Ellis’ face said as much. (And more. A lot more. Hermione would kill her.)

“Master Hermione and Master Snape have lost adult cup privileges,” Simms declared, coming over with their plates and two sippy cups filled with beer. “Theys use baby cups now.”

Severus stared at the sippy cup and laughed in bewilderment. “I’ve been defrocked.”

Fuck him. Fuck him and his ability to go on like nothing happened. Hermione was dying over here.

“Don’t feel bad, Mr. Snape,” Credgeworth replied, still stuffing his face with popcorn. “It’s just regular procedure for team drinking sessions. Anyone too topsy-turvy tipsy to hold their liquor has their adult cup privileges removed for the night. It’s not shameful to be easily toppled.”

Severus laughed again. “You’re a witty bastard, Credgeworth. I like you.”

Chapter Text

Of course, Hermione’s nerves overrode her desires quickly enough. Severus excused himself to get some potions started that could brew overnight, and she headed to the van. It’d been decided they got the van, and while the team’s official reason was that it was the only bed large enough for Severus’ height, Hermione found it much more likely that it was the only bed period, and Ellis was probably conspiring with Credgeworth to get Hermione laid.

She fiddled with a lock of her hair and stared in the mirror. Severus was different now, and she was too. But she still wasn’t his type. Lily had been gorgeous and tall, and Hermione had a tumbleweed growing on top of her head. She bit her lip, her stomach churning.

Even Ron had said as much. Ron, who’d been the closest she had to a childhood sweetheart. Sure, she’d learned fashion and how to pretend to be pretty for long enough to dominate the assholes at the Ministry, but deep down she was still the plain bookworm that Ron had said was ‘decent enough.’ That was the worst part. At least a failure would be out of the ordinary. She was just… mediocre.

And that wasn’t even touching on her prowess, or lack thereof, in bed. If one opened the dictionary to ‘performance anxiety,’ it had a picture of Hermione. She hated being bad at things. She studied rigorously to keep up her appearances of perfection. Hell, even the aforementioned fashion-and-makeup bullshit had been in order to appear more perfect, to show no flaws for her enemies to take advantage of. She hated the idea that someone that she wanted impress, like Severus, would have to deal with her in the quadrant that she was least practiced in. There was no way for her to get practice, either, not on her own, which was the way she preferred to practice until she was certain she could get things right. It would do no good for everyone else to see her fail. It would certainly do no good for Severus to see her fail.

The door to the van opened and Severus stepped in, shutting it behind him. “We’ll have a bunch of wit-sharpening by tomorrow, I’m keen to see what I can figure out about the dementor snow globes,” he said, grinning as he ducked beneath the doorframe and into the bathroom. He froze as he saw her. “Hermione.” It felt like his voice brushed against her stomach and made her gut churn. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s--” Oh fuck, she wanted to die. She buried her face in her hands, curling inwards. “I’m just, you know, being me, I’m so sorry.”

“Hermione, don’t apologise,” he murmured. “May I hug you?”

She did not deserve hugs. But she wanted them. She nodded.

He pulled her gently against his chest, and she could smell the ginger from the potion. “Let’s sit down.” He guided her out of the small bathroom, into the hallway, and finally on to the edge of the bed. One of his hands held her close against his side, and the other stroked her hair, his fingers slipping easily through the knots. What the fuck? How was he doing that? Was there a de-tangling charm no one had told her about? Or was it just the magic of Severus Snape? She was more inclined to the latter.

“I’m sorry if I did something wrong,” he said. “I realize I was a little… freer at dinner than I perhaps should have been.”

Merlin, he needed to stop blaming himself. “You were…” She hesitated, then told the truth. She didn’t want to lie to him, not to her husband. “Perfect,” she admitted. “It’s not you, I promise, it’s… I’m…”

He pressed another kiss into her hair and she melted against him, burying her face in his chest. He was cuddly. She wanted to cuddle. “Anxious?” he guessed, and she nodded. “Hermione, I--I will never do anything that you don’t want. Okay?” His hand tangled in her hair, and he pulled her away to make eye contact. “Please,” he murmured. “Please… I know I have done very little to earn your trust, but please trust me enough to let me know what you do and don’t want.”

Stupid, perfect man. “Okay. I will if you will.” She looked down, blinking away tears. “I’m not… good at stuff,” she mumbled, and he pulled her tight to his chest.

“I promise I could not give less of a shit about expertise,” he deadpanned. Then his voice softened, and he continued, “In my… experience, or perhaps more accurately in the way my attraction works, the person involved matters far more than any material concern.”

Stupid, perfect man, Hermione repeated in her head.

“I, uh.” Severus cleared his throat, and she noted his tone had changed. “If it helps, I assure you that the… the cock is not a particularly tricky organ. It is fairly straightforward. Not difficult to work in the slightest.” He hesitated again.

“Okay,” she mumbled into his chest.

He laughed, a nervous and breathy thing. “No, I don’t think you realize how easy… This is awkward... I may have fucked Lucius Malfoy a couple times during school, alright? It’s not difficult to get a cock to think you’re the best thing ever.”

Hermione’s world froze. She stared up at him, his bright red cheeks and ashamed expression, and broke into a laugh. “Circe’s shits!” If only for a moment, all of her anxiety was blown away by amusement. “You fucked Lucius? Gods, Severus, talk about bad taste in men--”

He groaned, covering his face with a hand. “My youth was overflowing with horrible choices, we’ve established this!”

Continuing to laugh, Hermione nestled her head on his shoulder and looked up at him. He was very cute when he was embarrassed. She resolved to make him look like this more often. “Does Draco know?”

“Merlin, no,” he said. “I think the poor boy would break.”

“I think you should tell him,” Hermione said, grinning wickedly. “Harry would have to babysit him for days. It’d be hilarious.”

“You’re evil, witch,” he said, smiling at her with what she swore was fondness. “Is this all it takes to get you to stop winding yourself in those little anxious circles of yours? I just have to feed you blackmail material on myself every time?”

Hermione thought for a moment. “Yes,” she decided.

“I’m going to run out of extortion-worthy secrets pretty quickly.” He sighed. “Might have to murder a few new people to keep up with your nerves.”

She laughed, reaching up one of her hands to tuck a stray hair behind his ear and thread her fingers in his hair. “I’ve got a hit list, if it helps.”

He hummed, the deep sound overtaking her body in the most delicious way. “It does,” he said. “When can you get it to me? I don’t like to procrastinate.”

“You are the sweetest man.”

He placed one finger on her lips. “Hush. I have a reputation, witch. I can’t have Roan figuring out that I’m not scary.”

It only took a little bit of bravery for Hermione to stick her tongue out at him, also managing to lick his finger with it. He just arched a brow, and she subdued her shiver. No need to appear gauche by moving so quickly between anxiety and eagerness. “I doubt you could convince him otherwise if you tried.”

Severus hummed again, tapping his finger on her lips thoughtfully. Circe, how she loved this. His arm around her, his gaze her entire world, gentle banter. She never wanted it to end. Well, she wanted him to be free, and that sort of implicated that it would end, but… a girl could have two entirely contradictory desires, right?

“May I kiss you?” he asked.

Her heart hiccuped. Ron had never asked. It felt… strange, to be given a choice. Entirely different from Ron’s… well, that wasn’t relevant right now. Right now she was being asked if she wanted to be kissed by a much better man, in an altogether much better situation. She thought about it, because he had asked it seriously and she wanted to give it serious consideration. “Yes,” she replied.

His lips quirked into a smile. “Thank you,” he said, then his finger moved from her mouth, trailed up her jawline into her hair, and he leaned in.

He was just as soft and gentle as the first time, perhaps even more so, and it wasn’t until she pushed eagerly that he deepened it. His hand was spread, warm, across the small of her back, and the other traced patterns in the hair at the nape of her neck. She swore she could taste the herbs of his potions on his lips. Then his tongue darted into her mouth, her arms were around his neck and she was laying back, and he was chasing her to the bed, laying her down gently and pulling away briefly. His dark eyes searched her own.

“Okay?” he asked.

She nodded. The twitches of nervousness were still there, but it was difficult to focus on them when… when he was leaning in, gently tugging on her earlobe with his teeth before trailing deliberate, careful kisses down her jaw, biting her pulse point and eliciting a gasp from her. She could feel him smile against her skin--Merlin, she could feel him smile--and he continued his path of kisses down her neck to her collarbone.

“Fuck,” she breathed as he pressed a wet kiss there, then breathed hot air over it. Her hand bunched in his hair. That felt good. That did not feel like how Hermione thought making out felt. She thought making out felt forceful and unrewarding and not… not like someone was paying exquisite attention to ever single nerve in her body.

He hummed again, tracing his nose and lips back up her neck to where it met her jaw. He had to know what that humming did to her. He used it too tactfully for it to be coincidence. She could feel his eyelashes flutter against her cheek. “Still okay?”

“Yeah,” she managed, even his simple breathing ghosting over her skin making tension pool along the base of her spine. “Just… didn’t know that, uh. Happened.”

She could feel his eyelashes as he blinked slowly, languidly. “Darling wife,” he said, those two words probably causing her heart rate to double, “Someday, if you allow me, I will show you plenty of things that can and do, indeed, happen.”

“Fuck,” she mumbled, turning to press a kiss to his forehead. “When the hell did you get seductive?”

He chuckled, but there was no sting to it. The air from his laughter curled around her jaw and neck and she wanted desperately to do something risky and terrifying, her fear battling with ever stronger desire. “I think you would be best qualified to determine that.” He leaned in again, taking her skin between his teeth and sucking on it for a moment, just below her jawline.

“Second year,” she gasped out. “Expelliarmus.”

That made him lift up on his elbow, his eyes catching hers as one of those ebony brows raised. Her heart rate felt like it doubled again. “Really?”

She could only nod.

He chuckled. “Well, admittedly not the impression I was trying to make, especially not on children.” His eyes really were gorgeous. Intense. It was almost terrifying, to have his entire attention focused on her, on what he could do to every single one of her senses. His eyes sparkled as he laughed again, shining like obsidian mirrors…

Her eyes widened as she realized something. Obsidian mirrors.

His head tilted to the side, concern seeping into his gaze. “Hermione?”

“Mesoamerican cultures used obsidian as mirrors,” she realized aloud. “Do you think that the bubbles could be enchanted to enhance the mirroring effect? To bounce all emotions back out into the surroundings rather than let them in to feed the dementors?”

Severus blinked. “That sounds very possible,” he replied.

She chewed on her lip. “I can’t imagine it’d be more difficult than something like the Mirror of Erised, or even some of the more intricate magic mirror charms. And since traditional mirrors can also lessen something like a basilisk’s gaze, I’m certain there’s magical properties to obsidian.” Her eyes focused back on Severus. “Can you pass me my notebook? It’s on the table behind you.”

He paused, staring at her.

“...Severus?”

He startled. “Sorry. Yeah. Hard to focus when you’re… like that.”

Hermione flushed. He’d been making out with her, and she’d gone to magic mirrors. “Sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to be boring.”

He laughed. “Trust me, that was not the adjective I was going to use.” He leaned back and grabbed the book, handing it over to her.

She withdrew her hands from him to take it. “What adjective were you going to use?” she asked as she quickly wrote down the jist of the idea.

“Unbelievably sexy and brilliantly intelligent,” he said, casually.

Hermione dropped the notebook. It fell on her face, the pencil landing on the bed beside her head. “Oh,” she said into the pages. “That’s a new one.”

With a short humming laugh, Severus helped her pick up the notebook. She scribbled even faster, hiding her blush behind the protective cover of the book.

“I want you to tell me all you know about Mesoamerican wizarding traditions and their uses of obsidian while I cover your neck with love bites,” he murmured, breath warm against her ear. For once, she didn’t mind the flush on her cheeks, especially not when he trailed the tip of his tongue against the curve of her ear.

Hermione chucked the book to the side, pencil clattering against the wall of the bedroom. He laughed, nibbling and sucking on her earlobe before kissing the skin beneath it.

“Deal,” she blurted.

Chapter Text

Hermione awoke positively entangled with him. They were spooning, one of his arms was beneath her head, the other curled around her with his hand beneath her shirt, resting against her stomach. She had no idea how their legs ended up that tangled, and one of her hands was resting on the arm on her stomach, the other clasping his hand beneath the pillow.

Fuck, she realized. She’d made out with Severus Snape last night.

Or, maybe more accurately, he’d made out with her. She’d tried, but each time he just hushed her and said he wanted to pay attention to her, get her comfortable with how things could feel. He’d been very persuasive. Very. It was difficult to deny him anything, Hermione had realized, after he had her babbling about Nordic influences on Scottish runic language and her fingernails leaving scratches on his back, with her legs wrapped around his hips. It was when she wrapped her legs tighter that she realized with equal parts wonder and anxiety that he was hard. Hard off of just kissing her and listening to her rattle off wizarding knowledge. Maybe he was right about the cock being an easy instrument to please.

And he hadn’t even asked about sex. When she’d (nervously) brought it up, he just said, “I don’t think you feel ready for that, and I’m not going to go that far until you’re absolutely certain you’re up for it.”

He was right. He was very right. And at the same time, Merlin, she wanted to fuck him.

She sighed, pressing his hand against her stomach and reveling in the warmth of his broad palm against her skin. The heat felt like it radiated all the way to her core and… downwards, to places Hermione was not yet certain she was ready to name.

Fucking hell, where was her often-touted Gryffindor courage? She brought her hand up to cover her face, feeling it burn. She should’ve been ready last night. He’d clearly wanted it, and they needed to have sex soon anyway for the law, and, and, actually had he even wanted it? She’d been practically a plank beneath him, unhelpful and inexperienced, probably a flushed and sweaty mess, hardly gorgeous or--

“It’s very early in the morning to be anxious,” he murmured sleepily into her nest of hair.

Hermione squeaked. He chuckled breathily, the thumb of his hand on her stomach beginning to brush gentle patterns into her skin. It felt like each movement was spawning dozens of butterflies in her stomach. “How did you…?”

“You tensed up like a little spring,” he said, and she swore she could hear fondness in his voice. “A little spring. In my arms. Good morning.”

“Oh,” she said, which was really all she could manage when his tone shifted to something like amused pride. “Good morning.”

He shifted, using both of his arms to pull her tighter against him, curling around her and nuzzling his nose and mouth against the back of her neck. “Wife.” She could feel him smile.

This was just as effective for reducing her anxiety as feeding her blackmail material had been. “Husband,” she replied, and his smile grew, the movement of his lips sending a rush of tingles through her.

She was absolutely smitten. And yet she’d failed. “I’m sorry we didn’t… well, you know. Last night.”

“Hermione,” he said, pushing himself up so he could look her in the eyes. “I meant what I said. Firmly. I am not going to do anything you don’t want. If your anxiety finds that too easy to push aside, believe me when I say it’s a lot more rewarding when both participants want it.”

Both participants. Her mind flickered to Ron, and she shuddered, squeezing her eyes shut and curling up a little more. “Y-Yeah. Okay.”

Severus’ voice was very very quiet when he said, “He’s first on the hit list.” It was almost like he’d been talking to himself, rather than her. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at Severus. He was staring off through her into space, eyes narrowed, mouth set into a firm line.

He was the sweetest. She twisted a little to face him, pulling his head down so their foreheads rested against each other. “Don’t,” she murmured. “He’s not worth it.”

His gaze focused back on hers again. “He’s not,” Severus agreed. “But you are.”

She spluttered for a moment. “Stop, you’re not allowed to just all of a sudden be the sweetest wizard ever, I’m trying to have dignity here, Severus.”

With a chuckle, he pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I was thinking,” he began, falling back down on the pillow and entangling his hand with hers. “If you’re still uncertain by the time the law kicks in--”

Hermione tensed. “I will be, I promise, I’ll figure something out. We’ve even got an extra week because of the dig--”

“--Shh. The law has a proviso that the partner responsible for the delay be given a minor offence charge with every period that passes unconsummated.” His eyes trailed over to their clasped fingers, and he brushed his thumb over the back of her hand. “On your record, that’d be a big deal. But on mine, it would hardly leave a mark. It’d even be expected. I’m absolutely certain I can occlude well enough to fool the Ministry, they know jack shit about legilimency anyway.”

“Severus,” Hermione whispered. It was ironic, that he was most effective at making her want to consummate their marriage when he was putting protections for that very thing in place. “I don’t want you to get into legal trouble for something silly like--”

“It’s not silly.” His gaze fixed on her very suddenly and very intently, and Hermione’s words died in her throat. His voice was suddenly velvet over iron. “I am not going to allow you to unwillingly bed someone, be it me or anyone. A minor offence in the eyes of the most useless government in the history of wizarding is absolutely nothing next to the possible pain of that sort of assault. I will not have you harmed for such an utterly insipid doctrine--”

She leaned in and kissed him on the lips. He blinked at her. “There’s Severus,” she said, unable to suppress a smile.

He rolled his eyes. “I’m going to hex the lot of them.” His gaze grew serious again as he met hers. “Please, Hermione. It’s the best option. You need a clean record to continue advancing your career. I couldn’t care less about their view of me. My fortunes and assets are tied up in things the Ministry can’t touch.”

Stupid, perfect man. “I’ll think about it.”

Another roll of his eyes. “I suppose that’s the best I’m getting out of you this morning. Stubborn witch.”

“Yep. That’s me.” She curled up against his chest, tucking her head beneath his chin. He shifted to better accommodate her and keep his arms around her. Another kiss was pressed into the top of her head. Merlin, she loved that feeling.

There was pounding on the van door. “You lovebirds up yet?” Ellis’ voice hollered. “I wanna dig!!”

Hermione let out a long-suffering sigh. “Fucking hell. She’s so demanding.”

Severus hummed.

“I suppose we should get up. I need to glamor these lovebites.”

“Or you could leave them,” he suggested, and she could hear the mischief in his voice.

Hermione seriously considered it. “I would, but I don’t think Ellis would ever shut up about it. She got too much ammunition yesterday anyway.”

He laughed. “Fair enough.”

***

It was another three days before they managed to figure out how to transport the globes. Finally, Hermione and Severus managed to get one back to the Department of Antiquities, where it was immediately put under high-security quarantine. Another orb had broken when they approached it, and so the fragments of obsidian were brought back to Hermione’s house, where she could study them.

And boy, did she study them.

Late at night, another two days after getting the orb out of the ground, she was curled up in her desk chair in her charms laboratory, staring down the glass and all of the diagnostics she’d run. Several fragments, when she’d counterspelled them, had turned from their pearly sheen to a translucent grey like normal obsidian, before falling to pieces. And while she could get rid of the charms on them, she still couldn’t reverse-engineer the mirroring charm.

The mirroring charm was the lynchpin. Hermione and Severus had developed a pretty solid theory about how the bubbles were used. Multiple wizards used their Patronuses to chase a dementor into a trap, where the ‘bubbler’ (as they’d decided to call the person responsible for the bubble, after a few drinks and much laughter) would lay in wait. The bubbler would either have a chunk of obsidian which they’d transfigure into a bubble, or would conjure the stone, around the dementor. Then, before the stone could fully cool, it needed to be woven with the mirror charm and several other protections.

She figured the mirror needed to happen before the stone cooled because the crystal structure of the mirror-charmed obsidian was entirely different than normal obsidian. The magic had been woven into it, part of its very structure, permeating the entire width of the bubble’s shell.

Ideally, several wizards would charm the bubble concurrently, so the charms would be nearly impossible to break. Hermione already had her list of speed-dial wizards for her dementor catching plan: herself, Severus, Harry, Draco, Minerva, and Filius. She was hoping at least four people could add a mirroring charm to the obsidian, with everyone contributing layered Unbreakable Charms and several other warding spells. Besides the speed-dial list, her team, and Minister Shacklebolt, no one was aware of the discovery.

Hermione stared at the thin fragments of obsidian, nudging them around on her desk as she wracked her brain. How the hell was one to reverse-engineer a spell from thousands of years ago, with absolutely no written records? The closest they got to answers were the ancient runes, and Credgeworth had translated them. It was all allegory and propaganda, nothing particularly useful.

The door opened and it wasn’t until she could smell Severus’ aftershave that she realized he had come in. A warm hand appeared on her shoulder.

“Hi,” she said.

“It’s four in the morning.” He sounded exhausted.

“Oh.” Hermione yawned. That made a lot of sense. “Sorry if I woke you.”

He made a grumbling noise, and she was about to turn to make sure he was okay when those long, very dextrous fingers began to gently knead the muscles of her neck. She felt herself melt as he worked out the knots from bending over a desk all day, pressing deep into the junction of her neck and shoulders. “You should come to bed.”

“I need to figure this out.”

“You will,” he replied simply, hands working lower to get the muscles along her spine. Fuck. That almost tickled, it felt so good. “But you need to rest for that. Otherwise your brain won’t be at its best.”

“Hhhmbblggghh,” Hermione replied, intelligently, as he pressed his palm into one shoulder, working out a knot there. “I’ll… soon.”

He moved on to the other shoulder. “Not soon. Now,” he said, almost whining. Hermione could feel her eyes closing at the wonderful exquisite massage. Finally, he stopped, and she slumped back in the chair, her back tingling as her muscles tried to process what they’d just gone through. Warm arms wrapped around her, his elbows on her shoulder and his chin resting on the top of his head. “I’m not going to bed until I’m sure you’re taking care of yourself, and I want to go to bed.”

Hermione wheezed out a sigh, unable to fully protest when she was surrounded by warmth and physical affection. “I don’t want to get up,” she mumbled. It was a shitty excuse.

Apparently Severus thought so too. He made a half-scoff half-groan noise, then pulled her chair away from the desk. Hermione squeaked as he bent over, tucked one arm underneath her knees, and picked her up, bridal style. She clutched tight to his nightshirt, flushing at the exasperated smile and roll of his eyes that he gave her as he moved towards the door.

Oh. Hermione suddenly found herself in the very enviable position of being carried to bed by her brilliantly intelligent and attractive husband. This was new. Good new.

As he began to climb the stairs, she leaned inwards, nipping the skin at his pulse point and bringing a hand up to play with his hair. It was silky-soft and it smelled of sandalwood. She could feel more than see his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, and that sensation sent a small thrill through her, so she leaned in and captured it in an open-mouth kiss.

“I thought you were sleepy,” he murmured, his deep voice resonating from his chest and into her body.

“I am,” she replied with a pout. “You’re distracting.”

He chuckled as they entered the master bedroom. The blankets flicked open in front of them, and as he put Hermione down, she kept her arms around his neck. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she rolled him onto the bed, then curled up against and around him as he laughed breathily and tucked both of them in.

“Good night, husband,” she said.

He turned, pressing a kiss into her hair. “Good night, wife.”

Chapter Text

Severus was awoken at six in the fucking morning by Hermione making an excited gasp and lurching out of his grasp to run downstairs. He groaned a loud complaint.

“Sorry!” she called from the distance. “It’s the light, Severus! I bet I can see the difference in how the light passes through them!”

He grumbled. Of course she figured out the bloody fucking charm made by bloody fucking Merlin himself. In, like, what--less than a week? Fucking hell. His wife was brilliant. Also very squirmy. Very hard to cuddle with her, when she was like this.

Putting aside his disgruntlement at getting two hours of sleep and very minimal cuddles, Severus rolled out of bed and headed downstairs. He started a pot of coffee, because some people needed more than just the adrenaline of figuring shit out to wake up, and then pulled out some frozen cinnamon rolls. Hermione had recently introduced him to the wonders of cinnamon rolls, and he was enthralled.

He warmed up two rolls, poured a pair of mugs, and then headed into her charms workshop. She was like a fucking hummingbird, flitting around and vibrating with energy as she took down notes. He placed a mug and plate next to her, then sat down on the other side of the desk, content to eat and wake up while she worked, devouring her cinnamon roll as she went.

It was a few hours before she picked up a small chunk of obsidian and her wand. Drawing a circle in the air, she shouted, “Magmata felsicans!”

The rock in her hand vanished, and a moment later a glowing ring of white-hot stone appeared midair. Severus yelped at the heat coming off from it, and a few papers nearest to the ring spontaneously broke into flames. He snatched the paper away and batted the flames out.

Hermione made a twirling motion with her wand, and the ring rotated midair, forming a sphere that still sizzled with heat. She held her wand steady, and Severus felt like time itself paused as the magic reached through her. The spell was not being spoken, it was speaking itself into being, an act of creation.

“Soteria saturnius.” The molten obsidian rippled and shifted, and Severus could feel it strengthen, as if time itself was condensing into the stone. A preservation spell, against the ages and against a number of destructive spells. Permanency.

“Atlacoya Tezcatlipoca.” Black smoke hissed from the stone as if the darkness in the rock had been evaporated, and with a swirl, the blackness coated the stone and disappeared. A moment later, the hardened and cooled bubble landed lightly on the ground. It was small, barely thirty centimeters in diameter, but it was there.

Severus just barely managed to catch Hermione as she fell over. She panted, eyes fluttering, and he quickly cast a series of strengthening spells. At last her breathing steadied, and she clutched his shirt with a shaking hand.

“Did it work?” she managed.

He lifted a hand and brought over the cinnamon roll, feeding her a little bite just to get something sugary in her to fuel her body. “Yes. It worked perfectly. There’s a giant unbreakable bubble in your laboratory now.”

She tried to laugh but it turned into a cough. Eventually she gave up and he handed her another bite of breakfast. “Fuck. I gotta sleep before I do that next.”

“Yes, you better,” Severus growled as if it were a threat. “I’m not letting you do that without proper rest.”

She whined a little, which he stopped by stuffing her mouth with cinnamon roll again. She spluttered for a moment before accepting the food. “Since when did you become my babysitter?”

Severus scoffed. “Was I ever not?” She laughed. “If I wasn’t your babysitter for the entire time you were in school, I certainly got the job when you married me. Now eat your fucking breakfast.”

***

Three days later, Hermione got her chance.

She was finishing up writing a draft of the research paper and snuggling on Severus’ lap when the fireplace flared green.

“Hermione! Severus!” It was Minerva. “There’s a dementor loose on the grounds! This is your chance!”

“Oh fuck,” Hermione whispered, throwing the papers onto the side table. “Severus, floo our boys, I need to grab the obsidian. Minerva, get the staff ready! Keep the students inside!”

The Headmistress nodded and disappeared.

Hermione ran out of the room, throwing on a coat and grabbing her wand, notebook, auto-writing quill, and a hefty supply of obsidian. She downed a fortitude potion of Severus’ design so that hopefully she wouldn’t pass out this time, then ran back downstairs.

Severus had his wand ready. He grabbed her hand, the world squished inwards, and suddenly they were in the Hogwarts courtyard. She recognized it based more on instinct and the familiar feeling of Scottish wind in her hair.

“Holy shit,” she breathed. “How the hell did you do that?”

“I was Headmaster,” he said, like that explained anything. She glanced at him. His face was intent, but eager. Good. Not nervous.

“Hermione! Severus!” Filius rushed over. “Minnie and Vector are out keeping it occupied--the students are inside. Where’s Malfoy and Potter?”

Two brooms shot through the air and to a sudden halt in the air. “Oi!” Harry shouted. Draco waved from the broom beside him.

Hermione grinned up at him, waving. “There you are!”

Minerva appeared in a crack of apparition. Her Headmistress’ robes were slightly disheveled and patches of frost were visible on them. “Sinistra and Vector are keeping it occupied. They’ll be on backup Patronus duty, if that’s alright, Hermione.”

Hermione nodded, as Severus handed Minerva another fortitude draught. “That’s perfect.” She glanced around at her team, a rather motley crew of the best wizards and witches that Britain had to offer. “Alright. We all know the plan? You all ready to try the charm out?”

“Aye, captain!” Harry gave her a thumbs up.

“I made him drink a fortification potion before we came,” Draco said. “Took one too.”

Severus nodded. He handed a potion to Filius, who shotgunned it instantly.

“Good, good.” Hermione glanced around and rubbed her hands together at her team. “Alright. Remember, herd it towards me. I’ll bubble it. Then there are two parts to the mirror. Only attempt the mirror charm if you feel strong enough after the time-strengthening charm. We’ll also have to cast Unbreakables and others after, so don’t run yourself ragged with the initial charms.”

They all nodded back at her. Hermione took a deep breath. The Boy Who Lived, Headmistress of Hogwarts, Dueling and Charms Champion, the Dark Wizard who fooled Voldemort, the Head of House Malfoy, and her.

There was no other group she’d rather have.

She offered them a smile with all the Gryffindor gumption she could muster. “Let’s go capture us a dementor.”

***

Severus apparated with her into the Forbidden Forest. He apparated away a moment later, leaving Hermione with just Filius and a lot of anxiety.

She was standing at the end of a long tunnel of trees, which Minerva and Severus had decided would be the best place for the trap to take place. Harry and Draco were zipping through the air outside, a shimmering stag and glowing dragon herding the dementor towards her. Vector and Sinistra ran through the field, pulses of light hedging the dementor’s flanks, keeping it aligned towards the tunnel.

Filius was crouching in the shadows beside her. He was going to be saving his strength, like her, for the time-strengthening and mirror charms. Severus and Minerva were on either side of the forest tunnel, to hedge the dementor in even further.

The first thing that happened was the drop in temperature. The hairs on her arms prickled and her breath frosted in the air. Hermione readied her wand, trying to push down the butterflies in her stomach with steady breaths.

“Circle and twist,” Filius said, breaking into her anxiety. “Not quite the same ring as ‘swish and flick,’ is it?”

Hermione laughed.

The world darkened. She heard the death rattle.

A bolt of darkness shot right towards Hermione, but Filius twirled his wand, and a pulse of light repelled it. Two more pulses came from each side, and then from above. The rattling intensified, as if someone were shaking the bones inside of her. Hermione hefted the suddenly frigid obsidian in her hand.

It hesitated.

She didn’t. “Magmata felsicans!” The circle was swift, followed just as quickly by the twist, and there was a sphere of scorching heat--heat that was suddenly being diminished by the cold of the dementor’s very being.

“Quickly!” Harry shouted.

“Soteria saturnius!” Filius was the first one to get it out, and the world focused in around the molten bubble. She was thankful for his quick spellwork--she hadn't anticipated the cold to be affecting the obsidian so strongly. This was why the spells needed to be cast in quick succession. There was a keening now, a rattling keen like something’s dying wails. Was that what a panicked dementor sounded like?

Hermione forced herself to ignore it. “Soteria saturnius!” She could hear Severus, Minerva, and Harry follow just behind her.

“Your time to shine, Granger!” Minerva yelled.

Hermione levelled the wand at the still-scorching ball of magma. “Atlacoya Tezcatlipoca.”

The darkness exploded from the ball, and the keening turned to shrieking. She could barely hear the chanting of the others, the smoke roiled outwards like claws, it was hungry, so hungry, so unendingly hungry--

Blackness rushed into the sphere and, a moment later, the explosion came.

She couldn’t hear it. She could only feel it, the way their power wrapped around into the obsidian and the magic recoiled outwards from the sudden surge. She covered her head as trees tore from the ground and splinters flew past her, her jacket shredded in half by the whipping wind, and…

A perfectly formed, pearly bubble dropped daintily to the ground, where the dirt had been burnt to glass by their spell, the dementor whirling around helplessly inside of its new prison.

It took a moment for her ears to pop and sound to return. At first it was mostly ringing, and then she heard laughter. Draco was laughing.

“Gotcha, fucker!” sing-songed Malfoy.

Severus was the next one to break into laughter, although it sounded more relieved than triumphant. Then he was running over across the cratered ground, and his arms were around her.

He was warm and secure and everything she needed right then. She wrapped herself around him, burying her face into his ripped jacket, making noises that were somewhere between a laugh and a sob of relief. His hand clutched her head to him.

“Shit,” he said, breathlessly. “You did that, Hermione.”

She managed a smile, then looked up at him. She was still shaking, but she managed to stand on her tiptoes, and he bent to meet her in a kiss, soft and so precious after the aura of the dementor.

They broke apart, and with a smile, he turned so that they could both face the trapped dementor. Minerva rushed Hermione into another hug a moment later, catching both of them and nearly lifting them both off the ground in her eagerness. Severus’ panicked noises were the only thing that stopped her.

“That was amazing!” Minerva cooed, releasing them to pinch a cheek on each before she turned back to the orb.

Filius clapped Hermione on the arm. “Good work, Granger. Never seen anything like this.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Hermione admitted, heading over the uneven ground towards the bubble and its crater. Hesitantly at first, Hermione reached up and placed her hand on the bubble’s surface. It was cool, but the dementor’s attempts to suck her life out were clearly not working. She took a deep breath, a smile spreading across her face. She reached into her bag and pulled out a camera, handing it to Severus. “Can you-?”

He took the camera. The first flash was pointed right at her and her smile, then he backed up and took a few more before Minerva snatched the camera away from him.

“Oh, all of you get in there!” she called, beckoning down the grumbling boys and shoving over the even more grumbling Severus. “We are documenting this, you fools!”

The camera hovered in the air once she got them all in the viewfinder, then she rushed over behind them and they all smiled for the photo. And the next photo. And the third. And the--

“That’s enough,” Severus decided, turning back to the orb, ignoring the camera’s flash of protestation. Hermione laughed, leaning against him. “How the fuck are we going to get this home?”

***

As it turned out, they had to get Kingsley in on it.

Severus was not very happy to see the Minister for Magic, and it took both Hermione and Draco assuring him that Kingsley had been the voice of opposition for the marriage law on the Wizengamot before Severus even considered not hexing the Minister into the ground.

Minerva, ever the expert at understatement, just sent a floo to Kingsley saying, “Come quickly, I’ve got something to show you. And yes, it is important.”

So when Kingsley apparated outside of Hogwarts to a huge bubble with a dementor trapped inside of it, his reaction was more than worth the trouble of calling him in. He could barely form a word for the next twenty minutes, after which he finally managed, “Fucking… bubble? Worked?!”

A carriage of thestrals had been called, and Harry and Draco escorted it back to the Department of Antiquities. After that they all went out to dinner. Hermione was secretly very thankful to portkey back to the house so quickly after the day, exhausted by its many anxieties.

“Think they’ll break it?” she asked Severus as she flopped on the bed.

“Oh, probably.” He chuckled, carefully undoing his tie. She watched him, noting how he winced a little as he pulled the starched shirt away from where Nagini had bitten him. Her heart twisted a little. She wished she could make that better. He turned away to pull on his nightshirt and sweat pants. She wasn’t sure if he was hiding the scars from Nagini or other incidents, but quite frankly she just wished she could see all of him.

She remembered Kingsley’s words at dinner, while Severus was away from the table making sure Draco behaved at the dessert bar. “I fear the Wizengamot will consider your union with Severus one of the greatest triumphs of the marriage law,” he said, “And quite ignore your attempts to revoke it.”

It’d been the first time she’d confessed her feelings aloud to someone. Harry knew, but he’d said the words and she’d just confirmed them.

“I want to marry Severus,” she said, “But I want to marry him because he wants to marry me, not because of some stupid law.”

Severus turned around with his nightshirt on, his body once again hidden from view. He was so pretty. He sat down across the bed from her, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. “Your spell was a resounding success today, darling wife.”

Those words stoked a fire deep within her. She smiled, reaching up to play with his hair. “Now we have a pet dementor. What shall we name it?”

He laughed. “Tapping into my inner Hagrid… Honey Boo Boo?”

Hermione sniggered. “Perfect.” She shuffled so she laid parallel to him. She was just about to relax when the realization hit her and she sat bolt upright again. “Oh shit. We still need to have sex this week. Last week we had an exclusion because of the dig, but this week--”

“Oh, I got Kingsley to write us up an exclusion, for the next two weeks.”

Relief washed over her, followed closely by anxiety. “What? How?”

Severus laid back, grinning over at her with his hands folded behind his head. “I threatened to bubble him next.”

She couldn't help but laugh in relief. “You’re the best,” she said, laying back down and wiggling so she was next to him.

He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close, but there was still worry in his eyes.

“What?” she asked.

“It concerns me that your standards for ‘good man’ are ‘asks for permission’ and ‘doesn’t force himself onto you.’”

Hermione shrugged. “Ron was never very good at that sort of thing.”

Severus froze for a moment, and then nodded. “I… guessed as much. I’m sorry for assuming.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that.” Hermione rested her head on his chest. “I know he’s a right git.”

“That’s an understatement.”

Hermione chewed her lip. Ron had been trying to get one over on her ever since… well, fifth year, truthfully. Even when they’d been together he’d been trying to prove her inferiority. She wished he’d stop. Certainly there were better things to do with his time, right?

But at the same time, she wanted to put together a smackdown so cohesive that he would never get up from it.

“Plotting revenge?”

Was it that obvious? Hermione blushed. “I just… I’m happy, okay? Much happier. But I wish he’d fuck off and I don’t know how else to make him do that.”

Severus hummed, and she curled closer to him, throwing a leg over his waist. “You mistake me, my dear,” he said. “I am quite eager to participate in any and all revenge schemes, no matter how petty. Particularly revenge against a certain ginger broodling who has a long history of mistreating my wife.”

Hermione dared to look up at him. He glanced down at her and smiled. “You’re the sweetest,” she repeated. “You can’t deny that.”

“Mm, good luck proving that one in a court of law.” He stretched out, his nightshirt raising as he did so. Hermione took the opportunity to slip a hand underneath the fabric and rest it on his stomach, feeling like a teenager on her first date, trying to get to second base. Wait. No, above-waist action was still pre-second base, so she was aiming for like… base 1.5.

Severus continued to talk, thankfully oblivious to Hermione’s mental math. “There’s one of those atrocious Ministry balls coming up. In three days, I think? Something about celebrating the new love of the marriage law. I burned the invitation that came in our mail, but I bet they’ll let us in anyway.”

She giggled. “Public venue is good. And I bet he’ll bring whatever gorgeous witch he married with him, to show her off. But it can’t be…” She paused. “Overt. Like, Draco’s snubbed him a few times, but Draco’s so… forward.”

Severus trailed the backs of his fingernails up and down Hermione’s bare arm. “I comprehend perfectly,” he said. “The greatest snubs lie not in what is said, but what isn’t said.”

“Yes. Exactly.” Hermione bit her lip. His stroking felt so good. She wondered what that would feel like elsewhere, but wrenched her mind away from that track before she could get herself flustered in front of her husband. “Would you… be okay with wearing Gryffindor colors?”

His grin grew. “Important to show that you haven’t changed. You’re beating him at his own game. Yes, I would be quite content wearing Gryffindor colors. And I have a few ideas for some old jewelry that we can pull from the Prince vaults at Gringotts.”

Chapter Text

Severus had never before had the pleasure of walking into a society function knowing that the most beautiful and desirable person in the room would be on his arm. He had rarely walked into functions with people on his arm in general. But this time? Now that he was married to Hermione Granger? He was absolutely certain that he would be the most envied man in the room.

Draco had taken her out to get her hair and makeup done, and had also consulted on dresses with a “Gryffindor but way more elegant” theme. Severus had been in charge of procuring jewelry from the Prince vaults, and when Hermione saw what he brought she’d nearly fainted.

“It’s really not that nice,” he assured her as she hid behind his shoulder from the necklace. They were sitting on the sofa, with the jewelry box on the coffee table in front of them.

“Severus, are you kidding? This is--it’s insane.”

Severus stared at the piece. It was a golden torc, stylized as feathers, of goblin make. There was a clasp hidden in the back of the necklace. The centerpiece was a teardrop-cut ruby the size of his thumb, brilliant, deep scarlet, held between the two feathery wings by sculpted talons. From the bottom of the ruby hung a delicate chain, and hanging from that, another, smaller, but just as red ruby, this one cut in a cross rose style.

“I mean, it’s pretty enough,” he said with a shrug. “I like it more because of the story attached. One of my ancestors--my great-great-etcetera etcetera grandmother helped a family of goblins who were being terrorized by a gryphon. After she defeated the beast, they made her a necklace out of thanks.”

“That makes it worse! That’s a bloody fucking heirloom, Severus!”

“Isn’t your career in old shiny things?” He sighed. “It’s traditionally been worn by the bride when a Prince is being married. We, ah…” He tripped over his own word choice for a moment before deciding on, “We missed that cue, or maybe I missed that cue, but I think it’d do decently enough for a snub, right?”

That was a lie. The truth was that he very desperately wanted her to wear it, because he didn’t have the presence of mind to ask her to the first time around. Too busy thinking about hexing ministers, rather than realizing what a gift he was being given…

Hermione buried her face in his neck. “It’s way too nice for a snub.”

Severus was about to sigh (again) when he remembered something else. “Oh! There are matching earrings.”

“Dear fuck, each of those is worth more than me,” Hermione mumbled into his shoulderblade.

Severus frowned lightly, putting down the box with the necklace and earrings. “Nonsense.” He turned and pulled her into his lap, so she was straddling him. She squeaked a little. Her hair and makeup was done, and he realized how absolutely perfect the entire look would be. Her hair was braided up in a crown, woven with gold chain, and her eyelids looked like they’d been brushed with pigment from a phoenix’s feathers. “Will you wear it, Hermione? Please? It’s… a family tradition I would like to uphold.”

She pinked, looking over her shoulder at the torc like it was going to leap to life and kill her. She chewed her perfectly scarlet lip. “If… if you’re sure,” she said. “It’s just… really nice, Severus.”

He shrugged. “It’s worthless unless it’s being enjoyed.” Holding out his hand, he levitated the box into his waiting grasp and picked up the torc. Slowly, he unclasped it and draped it around her neck, the ponderous mass of the thick gold shifting slowly, like a herringbone chain. She swallowed, and he smiled as he watched the motion of her muscles beneath her perfect skin and secured the necklace around her neck.

“It’s… heavy. Is this pure gold?”

“Yes,” he answered quietly, reaching over and picking up the earrings. Simple dangling rubies, cut just like the one dangling from the necklace. He hooked them into her ears, careful not to poke her, and then leaned back to admire his work.

She looked like a goddess of fire, he decided, smiling. And then she was leaning in, pressing a kiss to his lips, and he pulled her tighter against him, groaning as she twisted her hips to grind against his hardening member.

Hermione withdrew, but brought one finger up to tap his lips. Her nails were lacquered, with a matte black back. Her thumb and fourth finger had accent designs: the thumbs each had a red gemstone at the corner, and the ring finger’s black matte was covered with golden outlines of feathers.

Severus blinked. “They did your nails, too?”

She laughed. “Yes, silly. I’m… going to go change into my dress now, and then we can get going. Alright?”

Severus nodded. “Alright. I should probably change, too.”

She shrugged as she stood. “You could go in that,” she said, gesturing to his black sweat pants and forest green sweater. “I think it’d work.”

He laughed. “No, remember, we’re color matching.”

His preparations took far less time, if only because he didn’t have nearly as much makeup charmwork to do. He pulled his hair up into a ponytail, changed into a tuxedo with lapels of acromantula silk, and a deep red vest that would match the stones and makeup Hermione was wearing.

She met him at the entrance of their house, carrying Goblin and cooing that they’d be back later that night. Severus grinned at the hairless kneazle, who was wearing a sweater she’d knitted and purring like a little jet engine. Hermione put him down on one of the tables of Sue’s remaining bones, then went to grab her jacket.

She was wearing was a black acromantula silk sheath dress, shoulderless and with a knee-high slit on one side. The inside of the dress was deep red, and showed in flashes as she walked. Despite being shoulderless, the dress had sleeves that began at her upper arms and covered the full length of her arms, ending in a bell with the same deep red inner lining. Gold outlines of feathers adorned the bottom half of the dress, beginning sparsely at the waist and increasing in number towards the hemline.

Goddess of fire and also everything, Severus decided as he helped her into her jacket. Then he drew out the invitation from the breast pocket of his travel coat and held it out. It was a portkey.

Hermione placed a hand on it. “Ready when you are.” She smiled, and then frowned. “Hey, wait. Didn’t you say you burned this?”

Shit. Severus shot a guilty glance at Goblin, who just gave him a look. Hermione was not supposed to figure out that he’d been hoping to bring her to one of the many Ministry functions to show her off and see her all fancied up.

“Were you secretly keeping this somewhere on the off chance that we went?”

Instead of answering, Severus decided to just activate the portkey.

They appeared outside the Ministry ballroom, and Hermione laughed as she leaned against him, a little unsteady from the portkey still. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and Severus was suddenly aware of all the looks he was getting, with this beautiful woman so clearly showing him affection.

“You little sneak,” Hermione said with a fond smile, leaning in to kiss his lips. “You can just ask, you know.”

Ignoring his flush, Severus just smiled and chased her for a second peck. “And now to mess with your ex,” he whispered with a wink.

She grinned up at him. “I think that the best revenge in this case may be living well,” she said, one hand trailing down to his jawline. “Don’t you?”

“I never thought I’d see the day you were engaging in PDA, godfather.”

Draco fucking Malfoy. Severus shot a look towards his godson, who winked at him.

“Draco!” Hermione rushed over and hugged the boy. “How’re you? Where’s my brother?”

“Trying to figure out how to tie a bowtie,” Draco said with a cocky grin. “I’ll go save him in a few minutes. Wanted to say hi first.” He leaned in towards both of them, and his gaze grew serious. “My… Lucius is here. Just a warning. Don’t know who let him out of his cage. I think they’re trying to snare him in the law, given mother’s…” His lips pressed into a thin line.

Hermione kissed his cheek. “Hey. Stay strong, Draco.” She hugged him tight once more. “Severus and I will be here if you need anything. I guarantee I can scare off that old pissant.”

Draco snorted, and was about to step away when Severus decided it was about time to step up to old responsibilities. He pulled Draco into a quick hug, and when he released the boy, he could see tears in Draco’s eyes.

“I’ll try and keep an eye on him,” Severus said.

Draco gave a heartbreakingly authentic smile. “Okay. Thanks, both of you.” Then he turned and rushed off to the bathroom.

“Aww,” Hermione said, snagging his arm. “You’re growing soft.”

Severus huffed. “Nonsense. I’m just not keen to have my sole-redeemable-Death-Eater badge taken away.”

She laughed, and he lead her over to the coat check. After their coats were taken care of, he escorted her into the ballroom. The Ministry had done it up all fancy with dazzling gold lights and everything, but Severus could not give less of a shit. His focus was on the woman on his arm, the way that the light sparkled in her eyes and how it seemed to light the rubies on fire. And, to his surprise (and pleasure), her gaze was meeting his as they walked in.

This was his. At least for now. And he’d enjoy the privilege while it lasted.

“How much dancing do you anticipate participating in tonight?” Severus asked as he escorted her over to the refreshments table, picking up a glass of champagne and testing it for poisons with a wandless and silent spell. Once he was certain it was safe, he passed it to her, and picked up a glass of his own.

“However many you want to do,” Hermione replied, smiling at him as she took the glass in her delicate fingers. “I suppose I might have a couple turns with Harry and Draco too. I guarantee they’re itching for the hot gossip.”

Severus found himself laughing, which was strange, because he was fairly certain he hadn’t laughed in public in… ever, maybe. “Should I prepare myself to be accosted?”

Hermione took a sip of champagne, her eyes twinkling. “Yes, almost certainly.”

“Severus!”

Oh, joy. That was Lucius. Severus felt the smile on his face disappear like a house elf in a hurry. Hermione’s hand on his arm tightened a little.

They turned around to face Lucius and Severus noted, with no small amount of pride, that when Hermione tensed up she didn’t cower. Instead, her posture shifted towards what he recognized as her duelling stance. Second year. Expelliarmus. He smiled, a small and self-satisfied smirk.

“Severus, my old friend--” Lucius froze and his eyes traced a long, lascivious path down Hermione’s figure. Severus felt his blood begin to pump with an even older friend: jealousy. Covetousness had always been Severus’ cardinal sin.

“My, what a jewel we have here,” Lucius continued, his voice adopting the honey-dulcet tones Severus recognized so well. “Severus, you must introduce me to your beautiful friend here.”

“Ah, yes.” Severus wrangled his insecurity, stuffing it deep down in his core. “Lucius, this is…” He let the moment drag out for dramatic effect as Hermione tilted her head up, the rubies of her earrings flashing in the light. “My wife.”

Severus had forgotten how amusing it was to watch Lucius stumble over himself in a social encounter. The narcissist was normally too suave to be caught off guard, but this threw him for a loop.

“Your wife?” Lucius said, the sweetness dropping from his voice in his surprise. It returned a moment later, like a silk curtain. “Ah, but I am at a disadvantage! I haven’t prepared the requisite gifts.” He reached out for Hermione’s hand. She stared at it, the pause just a smidge too long to be accidental. The best snub lies in what isn’t said. Finally, she placed her hand in Lucius’, and looked on with haughty disdain as he made a great show of kissing it. After that was done, she immediately placed it on Severus’ arm.

“I wasn’t aware you were attending this ball,” Severus said, carefully keeping his voice polite yet neutral. The best way to fend Lucius off was to trip him up on his own bullshit, not rush into a confrontation.

“I’ve been invited as part of the Ministry’s new initiative towards love,” Lucius replied with a pointed look towards Hermione. Merlin, Severus nearly forgot his own advice and just kicked the man in the crotch then and there. “Was your union a result of… the law?” Lucius was clearly addressing the question to Hermione.

“Yes.”

There was a pause as if Lucius expected her to elaborate. She did not. Lucius’ smile didn’t falter as he continued to pry. “How did a fine specimen such as you end up with my dear old friend Severus?”

Hermione’s hand tightened around his arm again. Severus kept his expression carefully neutral.

“Don’t tell me he was your only suitor. Such a beautiful young thing as you could surely not be left to the mercies of the Ministry’s matchmaking.”

“I had no dearth of suitors,” Hermione replied.

“Was he one?” Lucius asked, grinning at Severus. “Did he duel them all into the ground?”

“No.” Hermione smiled. It was a chilled, perfect thing, like an expression on an ice statue. “Although I have no doubt that my husband could, indeed, flatten all of my suitors.” Merlin, the beauty in that subtle threat--wasn’t she supposed to be a Gryffindor? Who gave her any right to be so conniving, or so pointedly poisonous? Severus was about to add his own two cents when Hermione continued, “But Severus was not one of my suitors. It was I who sought him out.”

The statement, and the implications of it, felt like an injection of helium to his brain. That had to be a lie. Didn’t it? It rang with truth. Severus felt like he might need to sit down. No, there was no way that Hermione had been without suitors. She was a member of the Golden Trio, any number of handsome young wizards would come charging in if only for the possibility of fame. There was a clause in the law, where for the first several months after its announcement, the Ministry accepted marriages not determined by their arithmantic matchmaking. It had been early on, and while Severus had ignored it (as he was still ignoring everything from Britain at the time), Hermione would certainly have had plenty of time and opportunity to marry. Draco had said she’d chosen him because she was certain he wouldn’t accept…

It wasn’t a lie. It was simply a re-interpretation of the truth. Hermione Granger had picked Severus to marry, out of all possible suitors.

Severus was fairly certain the world was not on the correct axis. First of all, the room around him spun something dangerous. Lucius was spluttering like one of the water taps at Spinner’s End. And Severus was married to Hermione Granger.

“What a lucky man!” Lucius finally managed. He opened his mouth like he was about to continue when Hermione interrupted him again.

“And I, a very lucky woman. I am certain you have heard of my husband’s incredible achievements recently? Not only was he essential in ending the Second Wizarding War, he has taken the time after its resolution to build an international potions-making empire, the profits of which are donated to over two dozen charities throughout Britain.” Hermione gave Lucius a look of disdain. Severus was reminded of how she would often give a similar look to the Weasley one when he failed at a simple task, and the thought brought a small smile to his face. It seemed like Hermione would always be herding immature boys.

“I was quite startled to hear that my husband had accepted my proposal.” Hermione’s continued words startled Severus. Yes, she could be quite chatty, but he felt like she was laying it on a little thick. He glanced over at her and found her expression still mercilessly matter-of-fact, as if she were doing something as easy as reciting a potion’s ingredients. “Indeed, I am still bewildered at how I ended up with such an intelligent, capable, and kind man as my legal spouse. Though I may disdain the Marriage Law for its disrespect of a person’s autonomy, I cannot deny that it has given me one of the greatest gifts of my life: one of the best men I have ever known as my husband.”

Severus decided he very much would like to sit down. She was saying this all a bit too truthfully for him to handle.

Lucius’ mouth opened and closed several times, like a fish gasping for air. That sight, rare as it might’ve been, helped to anchor him.

It required no deception for Severus to turn to Hermione, taking her hand from around his arm and kissing it. His heart fluttered like a damn lacewing as she smiled up at him. “I think you overestimate my good qualities, my dear.”

“Nonsense,” she replied. “As your wife, your good qualities are under my protection, and it is my duty to exaggerate them as much as possible.”

Severus paused, as those words struck a brief chord of deja vu. Finally, he smiled at her. “Austen?”

She grinned, which was all the confirmation he needed.

“Then by all means, make a virtue out of it if you must.” He kissed her hand again, before turning back to Lucius, who looked very baffled by the whole exchange. “If you’ll excuse us, Lucius, I must go greet my godson, and then I’m going to take my beautiful wife for a dance.”

And he did.

Chapter Text

All four of them were sitting at a small table, enjoying the ball’s refreshments, when Harry’s eyes widened as he looked over Hermione’s shoulder. “Shit,” Harry hissed. “Ron’s here.”

Severus arched a brow at Harry. “He has been for the past twenty minutes, Potter.”

Hermione startled, feeling a flush coming on. “Shit! I completely forgot about him.”

With a quiet, self-satisfied chuckle, Severus swirled the wine in his glass. “I’m flattered you enjoy my company that much.”

The flush was definitely present now. She’d spent most of the time dancing with Severus and discussing theories on early modern witchcraft and wizardry in Scandinavia. Apparently part of his potions mastery had involved working with techniques from that era.

“Don’t look now, but his new wife’s here,” Draco murmured. “Looks like… another pureblood. Merlin, he’s feeling her up quite obviously.”

Rolling his eyes, Severus sneered, “Weasley will never understand finesse.”

Hermione let out a long sigh. “You know what? I’m really glad that’s not me.”

Severus lifted Hermione’s hand to his lips, kissing her fingers gently as he hummed. His lips were soft. Did the bat of the dungeons use chapstick or some shit? “Agreed.”

She glanced over at him and found him smiling. He’d smiled a hell of a lot more in their marriage than in the rest of their acquaintance, but this was one she hadn’t seen before. It was small and simple and a little tentative, but also so subtle that Hermione had to wonder if he knew he was smiling at all.

That smile was also terribly contagious, Hermione noted as she realized she was grinning back at him. With a roll of her eyes, she told him, “You are so stupidly sweet.”

His lips twitched upwards into a smirk. “Good luck proving that in a court of law.”

“Is that a challenge?” Hermione arched a brow at him, and was about to elaborate when there was a sudden, familiar shout from the refreshments table.

She looked over to find Ron had just spilled wine all over himself. He was now shouting angrily at nearby people, including his wife, and attempting to magic out the spill from his suit shirt. Something about the familiar scene sparked a deep well of fire in her.

Severus hummed again, and she glanced at him. He simply took another sip of wine and repeated, “Weasley will never understand finesse.”

Deciding she didn’t particularly care about social norms against PDA, Hermione threw her arms around his neck and kissed him once on the lips, chaste but thankful. He tasted like wine. “See? Sweet.”

One ebony brow arched pointedly and he glanced towards the scene at the refreshments table. “Witch, your standards are abominably low.”

Hermione kissed him again. “Do you care?”

He hummed. “Now that you mention it, no.”

“Merlin, stop snogging each other for a moment,” Draco groaned. “Look, we all know you want to fuck like rabbits and have a billion little smartass asshole babies, but I’m going to vomit if this keeps up.”

Severus chuckled as Hermione glared at Draco, but released Severus’ neck, instead tucking herself against his side. He moved his arm to rest along the back of the chair she was sitting in. “You wouldn’t be nearly as bitchy, Draco, if you knew exactly how my darling wife shut down your sociopath of a sperm donor.” Harry snorted wine out of his nose, but Severus ignored him and continued. “She had Lucius sputtering like one of the taps at Spinner’s End.”

“Really?” Draco’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, I need a Pensieve of that. I was wondering why he hadn’t come over to make a move. Granger, you’re forgiven, but godfather--you’re still on thin fucking ice with the PDA.”

Hermione grinned as Severus rolled his eyes. “I’ll get you the memory.” She glanced at her husband. “He does have a point about the babies, you know.”

The words were out of her mouth sooner than she could think. As quick as they left, she winced. Fuck. Too much, too soon. Draco’s eyes bulged out of his sockets, and Harry even stopped coughing post-wine-snort to stare.

Severus, for his part, just arched a brow. “Merlin, wife, are you going to mention children every single time I get a few glasses of wine in you? Ask again when you’re sober, we’ll talk about it then. I’ll need to recategorize my ingredients to keep teratogens properly contained, so we may need to rearrange the house, and you know its layout better than I.” He turned back to the conversation, sipping calmly at his wine while Hermione’s world spun.

That was his main concern? Teratogens? Teratogens and the house’s layout? Not… everything else?

She hadn’t even wanted kids until, well, until they got married and all of a sudden she wanted kids, but not just kids, his kids specifically. Their kids. Fuck. It had been three weeks. Only three fucking weeks. Three weeks and she was already asking about kids. Multiple times. They hadn’t even had sex yet.

Actually… Hermione glanced at the clock on the wall. She might change that in a few hours. If she was still up for it. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was the way that Severus was absolutely unafraid of addressing her as his wife, or stuck by her side without even a stray glance. Or the conversation, how easily they fit into each other, and his intelligence. And the smiles. The smiles helped too. And how sweet he was. And how he hexed people she didn’t like. And…

“Darling Hermione, are you paying attention?”

Hermione blinked and startled. She glanced at Severus. “Sorry. I was just doing... logistics.”

He laughed, taking a sip of wine. “Don’t worry about it too much, we already have a dementor together and it can’t be any more difficult to plan than that. We’ll deal with it later.” He withdrew the arm from the back of her chair. “Want any more refreshments? I’m worried you’re a little too tipsy.”

Stupid perfect man, caring for her tipsy ass. “I’ll come,” she decided. “I think walking might help.”

“Get more truffles!” Draco said, holding up the last truffle.

Severus rolled his eyes but nodded, standing up and helping her to her feet. With her on his arm, they headed towards the refreshments table. “I’ll go grab Draco’s truffles,” he said, and she nodded, heading towards the drinks.

She picked up a glass of water and a plate of eclairs, then turned to look for Severus when she realized she was face-to-face with a ginger tantrum.

Oh boy. She had to wonder which Ron would greet her today: apologetic supplicant Ron, haughty holier-than-thou Ron, chummy Ron, or downright vitriolic Ron. It really depended on the day, and what angle he thought would work best on her.

“Mione!” Ron grinned at her, reaching out a hand for her to shake. Hermione stared at it, something deep against her spine curling in a fight-or-flight reaction. “You look great! How are you? I haven’t seen you in forever!”

Chummy Ron. “Hello, Ronald,” Hermione greeted him primly.

Since she didn’t shake his hand, Ron took the invitation to clap her on the shoulder. Hermione steadied herself. She was tipsy, sure, but the vertigo wasn’t coming from that. Ron grinned at her, oblivious. “Hey, we should head somewhere private to catch up. I’ve got so much to tell you about the Cannons.”

Dear Merlin, if Hermione had to hear one more rant on the Chudley Cannons she was going to smash her glass on his head and she couldn’t be held legally liable.

“I’m here with someone, actually,” she replied with a thin smile. “I believe I heard you were married,” she continued, enjoying the brief flicker of panic on Ron’s face. “May I meet her? I’m much more eager to learn more about your union than the Cannons.”

Speaking of unions, where the hell was Severus? His danger sense was too unnaturally refined for him to have missed the fact that Hermione was dealing with Ron. She cast a glance around the crowd, and found Severus to one side, his gaze fixated on Ron’s. She recognized that. That was what a jinx looked like. Suppressing a little smile, Hermione turned back to distracting Ron.

Ron’s smile returned, although it looked a little worried at the mention of his wife. “Yeah, sure! Although you gotta know… it was a law thing, I mean don’t get me wrong she’s gorgeous, but you know, we talked and we’re in an open marriage.”

Riiiight. Hermione supported open relationships and polyamory when they weren’t being forced by one partner on the other, and she was certain that was exactly what Ron was up to.

“Lisette?” Ron called, turning around. “Hang on, lemme find her.”

Hermione felt a presence settle next to her, and she turned to find Severus there. Immediately, something uncurled in her stomach. She let the plate of eclairs hover in the air, instead taking his arm and leaning against it for support, enjoying the feeling of his warmth through the suit jacket and the unforgiving posture of his stance.

“Hi,” she said, smiling up at him. “Find the truffles?”

“Yes.” He held up the plate he was holding in answer. “Sorry for taking so long, Draco is very particular about what he likes.”

Hermione laughed, reaching over to snag one herself. He met her with the plate halfway, arching a brow at her. “What?” she asked as she bit in. “He never specified how many truffles. Just truffles, plural. That could mean only two.”

Severus smirked, and the combination of his eyebrow and the smile made Hermione concerned that she was about to ruin her underwear. “Wicked, darling wife.”

Angry blubbering intruded into Hermione’s perfect world like a knife. A ginger knife. Her smile dropping, she turned to find Ron… a few feet away, apparently still looking for his wife. He scowled upon seeing that his wife was talking with another woman. Lunging a few steps, Ron grabbed his wife by the arm and dragged her over, ignoring her yell of alarm and protests. “Lisette, stop shrieking, Merlin’s sakes, it’s not like you were talking about anything important--”

“Finesse,” Severus murmured.

“Never,” Hermione sighed. “Never, ever.”

Ron at last yanked his wife over. “Way to fucking embarrass me,” he grumbled at her. “Mione, this is Lisette. Though I don’t know why you’d want to waste time with her.”

Something fiery and vengeful unfurled within Hermione’s stomach. “She seems like an absolutely wonderful lady,” Hermione retorted, turning to Lisette with a wide and authentic smile. “Hello. I’m Hermione.” She offered a hand to shake.

Lisette hesitated, but took her hand. “Lisette,” she replied. “It’s an honor.”

Ron was glaring at Lisette. “You’re not even going to attempt to get all jealous over me, huh? Why do I even bother.”

Hermione arched a brow. “You did mention you were in an open relationship, Ronald,” she said. “If your relationship is open, then I would hope both participants had the patience and trust to afford their partner the benefit of the doubt. Lisette is being quite mature here.”

“Listen here, you--” Ron whirled on her, and appeared to notice, for the first time, Severus.

“Weasley,” Severus said, in the exact same tone he used when disciplining wayward children. Hermione didn’t need to look to know exactly the expression on his face, but she did anyway, because she knew it would be gorgeous. It was: one eyebrow raised, his face the picture of ‘unimpressed.’ “What a pleasure.”

His dripping sarcasm had a strange effect on her. Something warm and melty filled Hermione, and she was possessed with the sudden and inexplicable urge to swoon into his arms. Okay, maybe it was pretty explicable.

“Y-You,” Ron said, deflated like a balloon in the presence of a couple pissy porcupines. “Why are you here-?”

“Oh, excuse me,” Hermione said, aware her voice was saccharine sweet despite her best attempts to sound authentic. “This is my husband. I believe you’ve met Ronald, Severus. This is Lisette.”

Severus turned to Lisette, who looked more and more like she was about to cry. He offered her a thin, yet soft, smile. Hermione felt herself melt as she smiled up at him. He was being so nice. What a big softie. It was a wonder they didn’t realize it earlier. “A pleasure, madam.”

Ron was opening and closing his mouth like a fish gasping for air. “M--Mione, why’d you bring him here?”

Hermione blinked innocently at him. “He’s my husband. Technically, he brought me here, as I’m actually the plus one.”

Waggling a finger at Severus, Ron managed, “Don’t look at my wife like that ever again.”

“Like what?” Severus asked, his tone turning back to bored and faintly irritated. “Politely?”

“Sweetheart, you have to be patient with him,” Hermione murmured to Severus, unable to resist. She offered Severus the most soulful, beseeching gaze that she could. He arched a brow, eyes guarded, and she could feel him tense a little. “Ronald struggles with the word ‘polite.’”

There was a moment’s pause, and then a smile broke over Severus’ face. Had he really thought she was asking for mercy towards Ron? And was that a faint hint of worry, or perhaps jealousy, that she’d detected? Oh, she was definitely going to tease him about this later. “My apologies, darling wife. I’ll endeavor to use… what’s the phrase? Kiddie gloves.”

Hermione grinned at him, aware she probably looked a fool and not caring in the slightest. Not with how his eyes sparkled. She opened her mouth to reply when there was a sudden explosion of growling rage from Ron. Instinctively, Hermione turned and fell into a duelling stance, staring down Ron.

He had one hand gripped so hard around Lisette’s arm Hermione knew it would leave bruises. Anger flared within her, and a moment later Ron winced away, as if physically stung. Hermione couldn't tell if that'd been her or Severus.

“Use your words, Weasley,” Severus drawled.

Ron didn’t. Instead he just spun on his heel and stalked away.

Hermione glanced at Lisette’s forearm, all red and blotchy already, and turned to Severus. She reached up with a hand, using one fingertip to guide Severus’ chin to look at her. Meeting his eyes, she said, seriously and meaningfully, “Ron is a pestilence.”

It was just half a heartbeat before recognition flared in Severus’ eyes, followed by something dark and, Hermione would dare say, gleeful. He glanced down at her lips, his own curling into a small smirk. “Agreed,” he said, his voice low and purring. “Perhaps you should take our dear friend Miss Lisette here to the powder room? I’ll come find you after I… address something.”

He understood. Hermione nodded. “Yes, that’d be ideal.”

He kissed her on the knuckles, and was off, a flutter of black in the crowd. Circe, but she was falling for him. Ignoring her very strong desire to yank Severus into an alcove and have her way with him right then and there, she turned to Lisette. “Let’s go get some air, shall we?”

The poor girl nodded, and they were scarcely out of the ballroom and into a deserted hallway when she broke down. Sobbing, she practically collapsed onto a nearby bench, and Hermione conjured a handkerchief for her.

“I’m so sorry,” Lisette managed between sobs. “I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t…”

“Hey, none of that,” Hermione soothed. “This isn’t your fault. Trust me, I… understand.”

The sobbing girl froze, then looked up at her, eyes wide and red and scared. “You?” she breathed. “But you’re…”

Hermione grinned. “Bookish? Undesirable? Stubborn?”

“So strong,” Lisette finished. Damn, another compliment Hermione was not expecting. “I always… in the news, you were always so strong, no matter what they said about you or what came at you.”

“I… thanks.” Hermione sat on one hand, using the other to conjure a second kerchief. “I try to be, but sometimes it’s difficult when someone you love is… coercing you.”

Lisette sniffled again. “This was supposed to be my fairytale ending. Married to a war hero, saving the honor of my house, all absolute bullshit.” She was clearly biting back tears. “Was he always like this?”

“I don’t know, honestly. I think he always was… insensitive, and the fame just went to his head.” Hermione offered her a gentle side hug. “Does he…” Fuck, Hermione had no idea how to address this. Of course, she also had a feeling that literally all of her friends present would be even worse at it. If only Minerva were there, to be a level-headed, empathetic presence. She chewed on her lip, glancing skyward as she thought. What would Minerva do? “Has he… hit you?”

Lisette shook her head. “No,” she finally said. “Although he’s… grabbed me pretty hard, and dragged me. I thought he would sometimes.”

“And coercion?”

There was a long, long, terribly long pause. “I mean… he’s persistent, yes, but--”

“Lisette, honey.” Hermione turned to look her in the eye. “No means no. Does he understand that?”

She froze, and then shuddered. “Not in the slightest.”

That lined up with Hermione’s own experience. She sighed. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve… come forward, or something.”

“And said what?” Lisette asked. “That Ronald Weasley, war hero, was forcing you to have sex? After all those articles about how man-hungry you were?”

Her tone was fierce, protective. Hermione glanced at her. “You’re a Hufflepuff, aren’t you?”

She flushed, looking down at where her hands wrung the handkerchief in her lap. “Is it that obvious?”

With a chuckle, Hermione shrugged. “I mean it as a compliment. Anyway. If you need funds for… legal representation, I’d be happy to help.”

“You don’t have to. Honest. It’s my problem.” Lisette swallowed, letting out a whimper as she did. “You’ve already been so kind, and way more understanding than you could’ve been.”

“Lisette,” Hermione murmured. “It’s bad enough one other person is going through what I went through. I don’t want more people to fall for the same illusion.”

Wide, soulful eyes turned to look at her, and with a fresh sob Lisette hugged her back. “Thank you. Just… thank you.”

Hermione nodded. “Get what documentation you can. It’s not worth staying in the marriage, though. There’s a proviso in the law that allows divorce in cases of spousal abuse, although they have precious little in the way of defense for spousal… sexual assault.” She was not touching the r-word, for her own comfort as much as Lisette’s. “If you don’t think you can make that definition, there’s also provisos for STDs, so watch for any that develop. If you can prove that he had it before he agreed to marry you, and falsified test reports or lied, then you’re far in the green. Your safety is the priority. Got it?”

With another sniffle, Lisette nodded. “Thank you.”

There was a shuffling noise at the end of the hallway, and Hermione looked up to find Severus standing there, looking adorably concerned. “Hey,” he said, voice quiet. “We alright?”

Hermione gave him a subtle shake of her head over Lisette’s shoulder, then shrugged. “Is it alright if Severus comes here, Lisette?”

The other woman nodded. “Merlin, this is embarrassing.”

Severus chuckled as he walked over, settling against the wall across from them. “Don’t worry. I’ve had my adolescent dickishness dragged over every newsrag in Europe, I understand what it’s like. There is no judgement here.”

Lisette laughed softly. “I suppose that’s true.” She sighed, and looked up. “Thank you both again. I’m going to… floo to my mother’s, I think. It’s high time I told her what was going on.”

“That’s a good plan,” Hermione murmured, then conjured a slip of paper. “Here--this is my office address. The floo there is always open, so you should be able to enter at any time.” She whispered a charm, and the words on the paper shimmered and disappeared. “And now only you can read it.”

Smiling through the tear streaks, Lisette took the paper. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I’ll only use it if I need it.”

Hermione shrugged. “I trust you.”

“You’re far too kind.” Lisette stood, offering a nervous but thankful smile to the both of them. “I… can’t express how much I appreciate it.”

Severus nodded, and Hermione smiled. “It’s okay. We’re here if you need us.”

Lisette smiled, turned, and apparated away.

Hermione let out a deep breath into the sudden silence of the hallway, then leaned forward and buried her face in her hands. Footsteps and a rustling told her that Severus was sitting beside her. She slumped into him, and he adjusted his arm so that she could lean against his side, his arm around her. His hand gently stroked up and down her upper arm.

They sat like that for a very long time, and then Hermione finally said, “I take it you were using legilimency that whole time?”

Severus hummed, although it sounded a little guilty. “It is… difficult for me to let go of certain habits, even after all these years.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.” Hermione let her hands fall from her face to land on his thigh, turning her head to lean against his chest. He didn’t push her away. He was such a sweetheart for letting her treat him as her personal teddy bear. “Truth be told, I was relying on it, when I offered the address.”

She could feel the smile as he kissed her forehead. “Clever girl.”

Hermione allowed herself a smug smile, and took another deep breath. “Did you get him?”

“Yes. Although I have to admit I found your choice of an antediluvian disease-mimicking hex to be highly appropriate yet unusually specific.”

The smug smile grew. “It’s nearly untraceable by Auror methods,” she said. “Especially when a half-decent wizard casts it. Having Harry head the Aurors does have its advantages.”

Severus snorted a soft laugh. “And it’s simply coincidence that it mimicks a sexually transmitted infection?”

She hadn’t thought it possible, but that smile was growing even more. “Did you know there’s a proviso in the law that allows divorce in the case of one partner developing an STD, either if the partner lied about it, or if they picked it up via cheating afterwards? I informed Lisette about it, just before you arrived.”

At that, he let out a full laugh. “Outstanding.”

Hermione looked up at him, and saw a cheeky smirk in full display. He knew it. That was the first O he’d ever given her. Rolling her eyes, she scooted upwards and kissed the underside of his jaw. “Asshole.”

“Severus Snape an asshole? Alert the press of this riveting development.” A brow arched as he leaned down and kissed her on the lips. “Would you like to go home? I know this must have been… rough for you.”

She hummed for a moment. That was tempting. But if she went home now, she would feel depressed and not at all in a shagging mood when they got there. “I think I need a cheering up,” she admitted. “Let’s stay a bit. Draco and Harry know… about things, so they’ll understand, and besides, Lucius is still here.” She glanced towards the door and couldn’t repress a quick smirk. “While I’m already on a warpath, I want another chance to neuter that bastard.”

With a laugh, Severus stood, pulling her up and holding her flush against his body. “You know, there may be something to these arithmantic equations.”

What? The only relevant arithmantic equations Hermione could think of were the ones involved in the Marriage Law, and there was no way in hell he was referring to those. “What?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Come, let’s go rescue Draco from his daddy issues.”

Chapter Text

Another close call.

Just like that time with the mention of children, Severus had been dangerously close to letting his wife know exactly how damn hard he’d fallen. Thankfully, Hermione was stubborn, and therefore very stubborn in her delusion of her own unattractiveness. The woman was sharp on the uptake in every other way, but this was a small mercy extended to him by the powers that were. But he wasn’t keen on relying on such flimsy covers to keep his emotions private.

Severus had no idea when he’d gotten so bad at occluding his feelings. Maybe it was because he felt like he could open himself up around her, that occasionally thoughts just leaped out of him before he could screen them.

Suffice to say that he was still very interested in seeing the Ministry’s arithmantic calculations, but mostly because he was startled by the fact that for once, they’d done something right.

He offered her arm, which she took with a smile. They stopped by the refreshments table to pick up more truffles for Draco, since the last plate had been forgotten in the scuffle, and then returned to the banquet table that they’d been sitting at.

“Took you long enough,” Draco declared, snatching a truffle. “Get distracted?” His eyebrows waggled suggestively.

“A Weasley waylaid us,” Severus said by way of explanation, noting how both of the boys’ expressions darkened immediately. A small wave of satisfaction went through him. It was good, that Hermione had two loyal protectors at her side and back, even if they were both absolute dunderheads.

“You get him?” Harry’s voice was low, tense.

Severus arched a brow at him. Surprising that the do-gooder Gryffindor was encouraging lawbreaking. “Yes,” he replied as he pulled out the chair for Hermione before taking the spot beside her.

Draco leaned forward, eyes gleaming darkly. “Good. How many times, godfather?”

“Twice,” he replied.

“Just twice?” Draco asked.

“Twice is all Severus needed.” Hermione’s blood-red lips formed into a thin red smile, and Severus could scarcely keep from leaning towards her, caught in her magnetic pull. She was fucking brilliant. It was more than just books now, Severus realized. Maybe it came with working in the Ministry, or the media hell she’d endured during and after the war, but Hermione knew damn well how to get shit done in a political arena.

“Brightest witch of her age,” he whispered beneath his breath, stifling the words so that she wouldn’t hear them. Still, he watched her face for a reaction, but there was none. Thank Merlin. Too fucking close. Louder, he added, “One of them was at your command, my dear.”

Hermione laughed, and both of the boys looked on in alarm. “Yes, it was. Have I ever mentioned how convenient it is to have the world’s premier master on curses at my beck and call?”

Severus hummed. She had mentioned something along those lines, but he was not above encouraging a repeat of those sentiments. He took a sip of his wine, glancing over at her and trying to disguise how much of a turn on it was that she knew about ancient Roman curses. “I live to serve, darling wife.”

“Merlin, stop it with the bedroom eyes!” Draco muttered.

With a roll of her eyes, Hermione interjected, “You big baby. I third wheeled for you for years. Severus is just being nice! We are married, after all.”

Draco’s expression said quite plainly that he didn’t believe that for a second. “Hermione, I love you, but you’re absolutely daft if you believe that. I can absolutely guarantee you that godfather has an extensive list of very sexual things he would like to do to you, none of which I want to hear about.”

“I dunno, I’m kind of enjoying this dynamic,” Harry said with a grin, leaning in to elbow his husband. “That doesn’t mean I want to hear about it. But back in school, Snape was absolutely unassailable.”

“And now Hermione plays me like a fiddle.” Severus shrugged as he made the admission, swirling the wine around in his glass. If he couldn’t occlude his feelings, he would go the other way: to hide the truth in plain sight. Draco and maybe Harry would see through it, but not Hermione, and that was the important bit. Severus needed time, time to untangle his emotions and himself, and time to make sure that things would work before he exposed himself. He drew a long, melodramatic sigh. “Alas, I am long gone, and now a forlorn and lovesick fool.”

Harry burst out laughing, and Draco just gave Severus a look that said he quite clearly knew exactly what the truth was, no matter how Severus framed it.

There was a soft pat on his arm and he looked over to find that Hermione had lightly swatted him, and was now in the process of a spectacular eye roll. Those gorgeous blood-red lips were now in a full fledged and deliciously kissable smile. “Oh, stop it. You’re encouraging them!”

Severus just smirked back at her, enjoying both her glee and the fact that she had absolutely no clue how attached he was. Smug and self-satisfied in his diversion, he turned to continue the banter when his gaze fell upon Lucius.

“My dear son.” Lucius’ words dripped with sweetness and poison as he stepped into the view of Potter and Draco. “Oh, how I was hoping for the pleasure of seeing you here.”

Draco went as white as the vast pasty swaths of Voldemort’s thighs, which Severus figured hadn’t seen the sunlight since he was born. Potter had his wand already in his grasp. (Thank fuck that boy was finally using his brain.) The hand that had swatted him now gently clutched his upper arm, but a quick legilimency scan showed anger rather than fear emanating from Hermione.

“He never learns,” Hermione muttered, and Severus fancied he could hear her grinding her teeth together.

Nodding, Severus slowly slid his gaze over to his old friend and arched a brow. “Lucius.”

“Severus, I’m reuniting with my--”

“Fuck off,” Severus said.

The entire ballroom went silent enough to hear a house elf pass gas. Severus, putting on his best unconcerned face, took a sip of his wine. Just glorious. Of course everyone was eager to hear his, and the golden duo’s, drama. It was a wonder that sixteen reporters hadn’t jumped them already, for the stunt they pulled with Ron.

“How dare you!” Lucius hissed, a whirl of black silk signalling that he’d turned to face Severus. “I have a right to see my son! How dare you stick that bloody hook of a nose into my family business--”

“He’s my godson.” Severus pressed his lips into a thin smile. “The responsibility of a godparent is to care for the child when something prevents their parents from doing so properly.”

Wait. His wife wasn’t grinding her teeth… she was muttering something, something that sounded suspiciously like a hex. Severus withheld a fond glance her way, unwilling to betray her activities to Lucius.

“I can care for my own child--”

“Really?” Severus arched a brow, and turned to Lucius, indulging himself in a fully mocking voice, as he might use with a particularly insipid first year. “Is the great Lucius Malfoy going to stoop to actually giving a shit about his son’s feelings on things? Mayhaps consider him an individual, capable of making his own decisions? Oh, important question: is this before or after you kill his mother?”

There was a gasp through their unwelcome audience, and Severus so wished that people would close their damn mouths. He could see their breakfasts.

“That was an accident,” Lucius retorted, raising his chin in an attempt to retake the position of power in the conversation. “I’ve been cleared of all charges. Besides, I’ve apologized.”

Severus gave an unconvinced glance to Draco, who shook his head. Draco was grasping Potter’s hand, and Potter’s fingers looked about to shatter from the pressure. “Bullshit,” Severus declared, turning to Lucius with a smile. “Next lie, please, we’re running short on time.”

Lucius sneered. “What’s the hurry? Eager to get home so you can be rejected by your wife? How much are you paying her to pretend she likes you?”

“Actually, I was just asking him when he’d let me carry his babies, but keep going,” Hermione said, with the sort of nonchalance that one might use to make a side comment about the weather.

That tripped Severus up. He blinked and looked over at her, aware that she had just announced to the entire world her intentions to fuck him. He wanted to ask, make sure she was okay, but he opened his mouth and all that came out was, “Merlin, you are determined to have children, aren’t you?”

Hermione shrugged, looking a little flushed but not nearly guilty enough for the heady mix of hormones she was forcing Severus to endure. “I don’t know, something about seeing you being an asshole and powerful just throws my reproductive apparati into overdrive.”

Severus burst out laughing, half out of legitimate amusement and half as a way to stop himself from taking her right there. “Your tastes are questionable, witch.”

She tapped him lightly on the tip of his nose. “Wife,” she corrected him with a sly smile.

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, wife.”

Lucius cleared his throat, and Severus realized he had sort of forgotten Lucius was there. Whoops. It was bad to turn your back on an enemy, but also bad to be completely distracted by Hermione. Giving a long-suffering sigh, Severus turned back to Lucius.

The Malfoy already had his sneer back in place, and stronger. “Already a whipped husband, aren’t you?”

“Oh, I wish,” Severus replied, suppressing a grin as Hermione broke into giggles and both Draco and Harry turned a very interesting, very Slytherin shade of green. Lucius looked completely out of his depth. Severus knew why: Lucius was accustomed to the old Severus, the one who would snap at any mention of emotion or slight to his power, not one who let it all roll off his back and laugh at himself (and hit on his wife in one fell swoop; Severus was nothing if not efficient).

Teasing Lucius also had the effect of making him angrier, and the angrier Lucius was the more that velvety mask fell away. “Fine,” the man snapped. “You can manipulate my son for now. But I will reclaim him yet.”

“I have never prevented Draco from seeing you,” Severus replied evenly. “I have simply advised him that in all my years of knowing you, I have never seen you change from the narcissistic, sociopathic, self-serving wretch that you are. I stand by and support his decisions to sever or retain contact as he pleases.” Severus arched a brow. “Is it that hard to believe that someone wouldn’t want to deal with you after suffering your control for eighteen, nineteen years? Is it that hard to understand that perhaps he doesn’t want to forgive you? Have you ever considered that it’s reasonable to cut ties after you tried to kill him and only succeeded in killing his mother?”

That tipped him over the edge. Lucius shifted his hand on his cane, and Severus tensed instinctively, a protective spell already flying from him wordlessly and wandlessly. Then several things happened at once: Lucius brandished his wand, Potter ducked under his arm and swung a fist at Lucius’ mouth, Draco lunged for the wand, and Hermione said a word that made his ears pop and something silvery and bladelike flew from her hand.

Lucius’ spell sparked harmlessly against the protego that Severus had cast, and a moment later Severus noticed Draco holding the bisected halves of Lucius’ wand, and also Lucius was on the ground spitting up blood and teeth while Potter stood over him looking downright murderous.

The ballroom was silent except for Lucius’ wet coughs, and then Draco laughed as he held up the halved wand.

“Nice one, Granger.”

Hermione laughed and stood up, going over to retrieve the wand from Draco and looking it over. Severus followed, humming with interest as she showed him the perfectly shear cut.

“O,” Severus said, knowing it would be interpreted as ‘oh,’ allowing him alone to know its meaning of ‘outstanding,’ “I must agree with Draco’s sentiment. The hell sort of spell was that?”

The beaming grin told him that Hermione had definitely not gotten his little play on words, but was still flushing from the more obvious praise. “One of yours.” She looked immeasurably pleased with herself, not even glancing down at where Lucius was still hacking up teeth onto the ground. “I melded sectumsempra with expelliarmus and tweaked it a little. Normally requires the wielder of the target wand to be distracted, which is what the punch was for.”

Severus arched a brow. That sort of spell would require a precision of casting and intent that few wizards or witches could ever even hope to attain, not to mention the ingenuity required in crafting such a spell. Instead of mentioning it, he just asked slyly, “Stealing again, Madam Snape?”

Her grin didn’t falter for a moment. “I did write you requesting your approval, Professor,” she replied. “I got a letter in reply saying that I could do whatever the hell I wanted, but the next time I contacted you I’d be getting hexed into little bits.” Her smile turned all cheek. “How’s that going for you, by the way?”

“Insufferably.” He leaned in and kissed her once, gently, on the lips, before turning to Lucius, Draco, and Potter. Hermione wrapped herself around his arm, and he suppressed a too-sappy smile. “Potter, make sure you wash that thoroughly,” he said, nodding towards Potter’s bloodied knuckles. “There are some nasty bugs that live on people’s teeth.”

“And dad was always shit at dental hygiene,” Draco added, earning a glare from Lucius and a snort from Potter. “Just another reason to not introduce him to the Grangers.”

“Noted,” Potter said with a grin as he sat down on a table and began to cast cleaning and healing spells, with the help of Draco, who fluttered around like a nervous hen and worried butterfly wrapped into one pile of anxiety. “Good work on the curse, Hermione. That was fucking perfect.”

“Hermione?!” Lucius spat out, glaring up at her from where he was on hands and knees, blood dribbling from his mouth. Lucius raised himself up, unsteadily, onto his feet.

“Oh, did we neglect to mention that?” Hermione said with a wide grin, looking over at him, chin lifted defiantly. She pulled up a sleeve, passed a hand over her bared forearm, and Severus felt a glamour disappear. The word MUDBLOOD was carved into her skin, the too-familiar work of a knife, a word from a past Severus thought he’d overcome. Hermione held it in front of Lucius, smiling as she showed him the scar. “Do you remember this? Do you remember watching Bellatrix carve it into me? And do you think that I’d ever forget?”

It’d been years since Severus saw red, red enough to fuel a wordless Killing Curse. Thankfully, he didn’t go that far, and instead a moment later his knuckles were stinging and Lucius was back on the ground, with what looked like a broken nose and maybe even less teeth. It was an expression of anger towards himself as much as it was towards Lucius.

“Oops.” The lack of emotion in his voice surprised even Severus. “Sorry, I tripped.”

Potter was watching him with a gleam of grim amusement in his eyes. “Make sure to wash that, Professor,” he said, helpfully, as he pointed to Severus’ hand. “I hear there are some nasty bugs that live on people’s teeth.”

Severus froze, then burst into a laugh. “Fine. I’ll admit it. Good one.”

The boy lit up like he’d just gotten a bloody O on a Potions assignment.

Hermione tucked herself around Severus’ arm, grabbing his hand and checking it over. He could feel healing spells wash over the knuckles as she continued to talk. “A pity I didn’t have to kick him in the balls,” she said as he felt several wound-cleaning spells cool the bloody marks. “I’ve been wanting to for years.”

“Don’t worry,” Draco sighed, looking over at his knocked out father. “He doesn’t learn.”

“Most abusers don’t,” Severus murmured. He glanced over at Hermione. “Another time, darling wife.”

She grinned. “Promise?” she asked with a cheeky little smile as the flesh of his knuckles knitted back together, then turned over to Draco and Harry. “You two cool if we head home?” Hermione asked with an arched brow, handing Draco the halves of his father’s wand.

“I’m cool if Draco is,” Potter said, glancing at his husband.

Draco nodded. “A word, though, godfather?” Severus nodded and Draco surrounded the two of them with a muffliato. “I know you think you’re being sneaky with showing your affection, but you’re not,” he hissed at Severus. “It’s like you drew a fucking sign over your head that says ‘I AM IN LOVE WITH HERMIONE GRANGER’ and put flashing neon arrows on it.”

Severus huffed. “I would never put flashing neon arrows on anything.”

“Fuck’s sake, godfather, focus!” Draco waved his hands in many exasperated movements, much to Severus’ growing amusement. “It’s obvious! To everyone! Except maybe Granger, because Merlin, she’s brilliant but she’s so fucking daft.”

Okay, that was fair. “As long as it’s hidden to her, that’s what matters.”

Draco groaned like he was a little toddler not getting his way again. “Okay, but consider, it’s so fucking obvious and some of us are getting cavities from the oozing happy feelings, and cavities are fine at first ‘cuz there are tooth-healing charms and skele-gro but then the cavities grow too large for spells to handle, so we have to book appointments with Granger’s dentist parents, and they’re terrifying because they’re exactly what you think they’d be like and they’re very nice people but I’d rather fry in the Room of Requirement before I dealt with Granger’s mom looking so fucking disappointed at me for not flossing, and she looks exactly like a kicked puppy, one of those curly-haired puppies, like maybe a poodle or a spaniel--”

“Draco, focus,” Severus said, mimicking Draco’s tone from just a few moments before.

“What? Oh. Yeah. What I’m saying is it’s obvious.”

Severus snorted an amused laugh and rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes. Love you too, etcetera.” He gave Draco’s platinum blonde hair a ruffle like he was a soccer dad telling his 4-year-old who had a name but was exclusively referred to as ‘sport’ to just do his best at the little league game.

Draco let out a long, full-lung-capacity groan, cancelling the muffliato halfway through the groan. The sudden noise made both Hermione and Harry laugh.

“I see that we’re good,” Potter said. “Have a nice night, you two.” He winked at Hermione.

She swatted Potter lightly and turned to Severus. “You ready?”

As ready as he’d ever be. Severus nodded.

It felt like going to his death, he thought as they got their coats, but really the only thing he was risking was telling her much too soon how very smitten he was. Which might as well have been a death sentence for someone like Severus, even if he was pretty convinced of her crush.

There were different magnitudes of love, and Severus would never again let himself be in a relationship where he loved the other person so much more than they loved him. That imbalance was never healthy.

Severus took her hand, and apparated them back to her house.

Chapter Text

Hermione was tipsy and as nervous as the first time she’d sat an OWL, standing in the darkened atrium of her house, arms linked with Severus Snape. Funny, that’d he be the man who’d make her feel those butterflies, but now that she knew him, it was absolutely unsurprising.

Also unsurprising because of her long unrequited crush on the man, but shhhh, she was being nervous here.

The only light was the light of the moon, pouring in through windows high on the walls, just below the dome of the ceiling. The silvery light cast Sue in dramatic light, and in the weirdly mottled shadows of the dragon skeleton, Severus’ facial features were alternately sharpened and softened. His cheekbones and jawline were defined by moonlight, but his eyes were two black glimmers in shadow.

She reached up with one hand and cupped his cheek. He turned to face her, pulled her against him.

He was watching her, she could tell, waiting for her cue. For a long moment, she studied his face, the single wayward strand of black hair falling from his ponytail, the prominence of his nose and chin, the inky brushstrokes of his eyebrows. She didn’t know whether or not she was stalling. She just knew that this moment, in the peace of the moonlight and dragon skeleton and the marble of their house, the chill of the air on her skin and the subdued warmth he exuded through the layers of clothes, she felt she had found the source of eternity.

How long did she have until the law took this all away from her?

The thought tore into the moment just as something, an owl or a bat perhaps, flew between the moon and the window, bathing them temporarily in darkness. It wasn’t even half of a second, but the dream had been fractured, and reality was showing through.

Time returned to Hermione, and with deliberation but no hesitation, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed Severus Snape on the lips.

He bowed his head to meet her, and as soon as she pressed against him he quickly deepened the kiss, a tongue swiping over her lips before dancing in to flirt with hers. She reciprocated, tasting his palate and moving her hands up into his hair, burying her fingers eagerly in his thick black hair. She felt him grin and give a single breathy laugh as his ponytail popped undone, and then he pulled her tighter against him, one hand on the small of her back and the other tracing patterns between her vertebra over the dress.

When they parted for breath she searched his eyes for some idea of how he was feeling. Those glinting black irises didn’t yield many secrets, and the low light would make blown pupils a bit of a foregone conclusion. She was about to ask when he retook her lips, so she picked up one leg and curled it around his hip. His hand moved from her spine to the bare skin of her leg, his hand starkly warm against the cold of the air, tracing his fingertips along her thigh and squeezing it as she pulled herself against him. It was then that she felt the warm, hard length pressing against her lower stomach, and Severus suddenly pulled away.

She spoke before he could. “I want this. I want you. Do you want this?”

He was silent for a moment, looking away, and then he met her gaze. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

Something in her flip-flopped. Her heart, most likely, and her stomach too. She knew Severus wasn’t keen on being vulnerable, but apparently over the course of the night she’d declared her attraction in obvious enough terms for him to be certain of it.

“Me too.” The admission was easy, once it was out of her. “Just… don’t let me think, okay? I’ll let you know if something’s too far. But I want this, and I don’t want any of my stupid anxiety getting in the way.”

He made some sort of throaty noise that sent tingles through her. “Far be it from me to deny you anything you want.” He leaned in, whispering with his lips brushing against the junction of her jaw and neck, making her shiver. “We will discuss your perfectly understandable reactions to past trauma later,” he murmured, before kissing a line of fire down her neck. “After I rip this dress off you.”

“Finally,” she muttered, and he laughed.

***

There were a few ways to consummate a wizarding marriage.

The first was similar to the practice of common law, essentially, if people lived together for long enough their marriage was declared legal and consummated. The second was coitus. Both required either long cohabitation or a legal contract in order to be officially termed ‘marriage.’ The common law practice was what Hermione figured she eventually would’ve settled on, if she hadn’t been strongarmed into copulation by an overreach of bureaucracy.

...All of that was a really fancy way to say that she’d fucked Severus at least three times last night.

She said ‘at least’ because she wasn’t entirely certain what was considered ‘fucking,’ because there had been plenty of oral activities, too. Prior to last night, Hermione had always considered herself not particularly interested in that sort of thing, until she realized that no, she just wasn’t given a proper introduction. Or, well, several proper introductions. Either way, she was feeling much more comfortable with the whole process, and, she dared to say, adventurous.

Anyway, the Ministry should be happy. She sure as hell was.

Waking up was a slow, sore process. When Hermione finally opened her eyes and looked down, she found herself thoroughly wrapped around Severus. Or maybe he was wrapped around her? It was kind of hard to tell whose limbs were whose. Maybe that was a hangover?

Severus stirred with a tremendous yawn before blinking sleepily at her, glancing down, and then just burying his face in her curls. “Hi.”

Was that a typical post-coitus-morning greeting? Hermione was going to fret over it, but then his damnably clever fingers began to stroke up and down her spine. “Hi,” she replied, then shifted so she was more thoroughly on top of him and immobile.

He chuckled into her hair.

“Cuddly slime mold,” she said. “That’s what I feel like.”

He snorted a laugh, and she enjoyed the feeling of his breath in her curls. “Smarter and prettier than slime mold. I can’t decide if you’re more or less likely to devour my flesh, though.”

“Depends on your definition of ‘devour,’ I suppose.”

Severus hummed, and the deep tone brought her back to several very particular moments from the previous twelve hours. “Let’s not get up today.”

“Okay,” Hermione agreed readily. “Dunno if I could get up if I tried.” She shifted her hips experimentally. Yeah, no.

He pulled away a little, and she could feel his dark gaze on her. “Sorry,” he murmured.

“Don’t be. I’m not complaining.” She smiled, and he snorted, although she wasn’t sure how convinced he was. “Opposite of complaining, actually. Quite content.” And she’d love a round… four? Five? Actually, she’d lost count. She just wanted another round. Propping her chin up on her arms, she nibbled her lip and looked up at him, trying to determine what cards she’d have to pull to get another bout.

Severus looked towards the bathroom door. “I need to pee.”

“Sounds like a you problem. I’m comfortable.” She wiggled a little on him to prove her point, earning a groan--although she wasn’t sure whether it was exasperation or pleasure.

“Wife,” he whined. She burst out laughing at his tone, only laughing more as he pouted. Eventually, she allowed him to extract himself.

When he returned, it was her turn to pout. “You stole my pillow. I’m betrayed.”

Rolling his eyes, Severus slipped back down next to her, and she immediately reclaimed her spot as the slime mold eating his frame. “Now you know how I feel,” he muttered, shifting around to get comfortable. “You’re so damn squirmy. Especially when you solve things. Makes it so hard to cuddle.”

She giggled, too busy internally screaming over the fact that he apparently wanted to cuddle, with her, and more than they already did. She was worried she’d been pushing his boundaries with all the physical contact she wanted.

“I guess I can find a way to cuddle more, if you insist.” She gave a melodramatic sigh as she rolled her eyes and wrapped a leg around his hips. “After all, the best marriages are built on compromise and communication, and cuddles.”

He smiled a little, a thin but soft thing. “Eloquently put.”

Apparently that was all the emotional openness Hermione was getting this morning, but she was fine with it. Scooching up, she kissed him under his jaw. “Thanks for last night.”

He hummed again, and she buried her face against his neck. “And thank you.”

“We’re doing it again?” Hermione tried to make it sound like a demand, but it came out a little too hopeful for that. “I mean, if you want.”

This time, a throaty sound. That was a sound she recognized. A positive sound. “If you insist.” His tone was a mockery of the one she’d just teased him with, and she rolled her eyes. “But I’ll have to mix up some, ah, salve for you first. Lube only goes so far.”

“Is there lube with salve mixed in?”

He was silent for a long moment. Then, “Fucking hell, how did no-one think of that?”

“Muggle potheads have been mixing weed with lube for ages,” Hermione muttered, then kissed his neck. “Seems like it might be possible.”

“Weed lube.”

“Mmhmm. Not sure I’d want to try it myself, but to each their own.”

“Me neither.” Severus was about to continue when an owl knocked politely on the window. With a sigh, he waved his hand, and the window opened to let it in. It dropped a scroll into his waiting hand, then took a treat from a small dish on Hermione’s nightstand, and flew off.

“Ministry seal,” Severus told her. “So, trouble.”

She held out her hand, and he handed the missive to her. She cracked the seal and began to read, aware of Severus very openly taking in the scenery of her stark naked body. She enjoyed it. “Kingsley wants us to break the news of Honey Boo Boo, since we’ve had the bubble long enough to confirm its stability.” She paused for a moment. “So, trouble.”

Severus sighed. “Ah, yes. There were mentions of a dementor outbreak in northern Canada earlier this week. Kingsley must be thinking of passing the technique on.”

Rubbing one of her temples, Hermione tossed the letter back over to him. It landed on his chest, and he read it as she talked. “It’s a bitch of a spell, and they’re going to need entire teams. I mean, we managed to teach the Hogwarts staff well enough, but I mean, they’re teachers themselves--they know how to learn. I don’t even know how I could design a class for this sort of thing.”

Arching a brow, Severus put the letter down on the nightstand and turned to her. “You taught Potter the spell, didn’t you?”

Hermione gave him a Look that quickly transformed from chastising to very fond. He chuckled, and she rolled her eyes. “Yes, that kid that murdered the Dark Lord? I taught him, yeah.”

“To be fair, he had like seven practice attempts before he nailed that one.” Severus reached an arm around her, and she snorted a laugh as he pulled her against his chest. This was the first time he’d brought the Dark Lord up on his own, and she was really glad to see he was willing to at least make dark jokes about it. “Trust me, I dealt with Potter in class, and it’s a miracle you got him to do anything. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Hell, I managed to occasionally teach while I was mostly intoxicated for twenty years, you’ll do fine.”

Chapter Text

A carriage of thestrals had been called, and Kingsley made some quick work to set up an emergency conference of world leaders. Given that dementor attacks were still a huge issue in certain countries, Hermione had agreed to release knowledge of her discovery in order to allow world leaders to begin safeguarding their people against the creatures.

Severus had been to Geneva before, especially for conferences, but this was the first time he’d been actually nervous about one. He was wearing his finest suit, with a tie to match Hermione’s.

She was jittering next to him as the circular theater filled with wizards and witches. “That’s the President of MACUSA,” she whispered, her eyes growing wide and scared.

Severus clutched her shoulder. “Hey. It’ll be fine.” He offered her a calming draught, which she accepted with a nervous smile. “You could wipe the ground with any of them.”

She laughed, but it sounded kind of like the prelude to a panic.

Finally, the amphitheater was filled and the lights dimmed. The crowd hushed. Severus offered her a smile and a quick kiss on the cheek from the safety of backstage, and then she stepped out.

There was some polite applause, but mostly just murmuring, as she stepped out. Severus followed a moment later, to more murmuring and even less applause. That made a smile quirk onto his lips. Good. They still knew not to piss him off.

Hermione took the stage in front of the massive orb, which was covered by a massive sheet of black velvet. Her voice was projected throughout the huge amphitheater, and her image mirrored on each quadrant of the stage.

“Good evening, all,” she said. “I would like to thank you all for coming.” Her mannerisms were shifting quickly, from nervous to businesslike, and Severus beamed as he saw the same control she’d exerted in the lobby of the marriage division coming back to her. “I’m Hermione Granger-Snape--” Gasps here, not the least of which was Severus’ own “--Master of Antiquities for Britain. My co-presenter is Severus Granger-Snape, Master of Potions.”

Her words were even, measured. Severus realized she was taking her time. The witch was making all of these assholes wait for the punchline. He couldn’t have been prouder.

“Before we start, I’d like to thank the rest of my team: Head Auror Harry Potter-Malfoy, Healer Draco Potter-Malfoy, Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, Charms Master Filius Flitwick, Archaeologist Helen Ellis, Archaeologist Arnold Credgeworth, Archaeologist Fern Roan, Simms of Thirteen Alabaster Place, and Professors Vector and Sinistra.” Hermione smiled politely at the gathered group, ignoring the shufflings.

She walked slowly from side to side, not pacing so much as giving motion as any decent lecturer might. She used her hands a lot in her explanations, Severus noted. “My team in the Department of Antiquities recently located an ancient dragon dwelling known as the knuckerhole. It was during the investigation of this knuckerhole that we discovered an old complex for charms research, which we believe to have been spearheaded by Merlin or one of his contemporaries.”

At this, there was a little more interest, but not much. Many of these people, Severus knew, couldn’t give less of a shit about what mistakes or triumphs the past held--they were focused on profits in the present.

“It was there that we found an ancient method of containing Non-Human Spiritous Apparitions. Master Severus, if you please?” Hermione asked, turning to him with a brow arched.

That was his cue.

He could see Draco, Harry, and Minerva grinning like a trio of madmen in the shadows at the base of the stage, where they stood waiting for their part in the presentation. Filius was standing beside them, not grinning as openly, but the twinkle in his eyes was dangerous indeed as he rubbed his hands together.

Severus reached out to the black velvet, and with all the billowy drama in his possession, tore the velvet away from the orb.

It fluttered down around him dramatically as the room was suddenly filled with a clamor of gasping and panic and silver Patronuses. Severus just watched the dementor calmly as it flitted back and forth like a goldfish in a bowl, trying (and failing) to suck the emotions out of the room, which flickered with silver bursts of light.

Hermione was laughing. Severus glanced at her and grinned. She held up a hand, and the room slowly fell into awed silence.

“As you can see, my colleagues and I have managed to reverse-engineer this ancient method for the capture of dementors.” She smiled, all professional calm and wicked intellect, as she walked over to stand beside Severus. She laid one hand on his arm. “Much remains to be learned about the limitations and results of this method. We hope that soon we will be able to teach many wizards the charms involved in the creation of this orb, called the Eye of Hunger by ancient texts. Although the original incantation is lost, I have managed to create, or perhaps recreate, the desired effect with new words and methods.”

Severus sensed the gathering Dark spell before he heard the words. Instinctively, he picked up Hermione with a hand on each hip and twirled her out of the way as someone screamed “Expulso!” in the audience.

The blue explosion hit the orb right where she’d been standing, then bounced back and flattened an entire section of attendees. The orb rocked a little on its stand, but otherwise had no reaction. Hermione patted one of his hands, and he released her, standing up straight again. Guards were dogpiling on the man who’d shouted the curse--a redhead. How curious. Severus allowed a small smirk on his lips.

“As you can see, the Eye of Hunger is inherently resistant to a great number of spells,” she said, which was the understatement of the year. “We would not bring it before you all today if we were not confident in its relative safety.” She walked up to the orb and placed her hand on it, the dementor attacking the glass with all of its power. Severus was reminded again of a goldfish. “Obviously, we must continue tests. This subject will likely be quarantined so we can observe it. Some of the samples we retrieved contained unidentified residue which we believe may be the shrivelled remains of dementors, although the permanency and exact timeline of their demise remains unclear. Now, I’ll be taking a few questions.”

Severus had never seen so many hands raised.

***

They’d gone out to the fanciest restaurant in Geneva that night--all of them, both the capture team and archaeology team. Severus had paid for the entire group, but demanded that Harry and Draco handle carrying the dementor-ball back to Britain. They agreed under the condition that they didn’t have to do so sober.

Back at the house, Severus went for a shower. When he returned, he found Hermione curled up on their bed in a nightgown, nibbling on her lip and paging through a book, surrounded by what looked like a pile of scientific journals. When she adjusted the book, the Ministry’s seal flickered from its cover, and the word ‘Arithmancy.’

It hit him like a charging centaur: fear. Sudden, aggressive fear, that laced down through his body from the hard shock of his heart slamming against his ribcage, coursing through his peripheral neurons and shattering his spinal cord in a jolt of terror.

He held his fingers steady as he meticulously fastened the final button of his nightshirt, swallowed, and asked, “What’re you reading?” Severus could only pray that his Occlumency training guarded him against discovery.

Hermione held up the book, only glancing up quickly with a smile. “Oh, just an old arithmancy journal from the Ministry. I was trying to find a way to double-check my calculations on the lifespan of the bubbles.”

It was like the floor was yanked away from under Severus with how quickly relief washed over him, cold and refreshing as a barrel of water over the head. “I see.” He glanced down, took a deep breath, and headed over to the bed. She wasn’t yet trying to divorce him. He hadn’t known how much the concept would destroy him until that moment, but in hindsight, it should’ve been obvious.

Why now? She’d just publicly declared them a couple. In front of the entire world. In front of an international delegation of the most important wizards of the world. Not that he was complaining--Severus would actually say that he was very happy that Hermione had declared them a couple. But that didn’t assuage the fear. It was “real” now, if it wasn’t before. Maybe… maybe he thought that he could pretend that their marriage was fake, up until this point. Maybe he’d convinced himself that it was pretend. But not now. Now this was real, and now that he had this, he could lose it.

The clinical terms varied. Severus remembered an eternity ago, when his elementary school had very briefly had a behavioral counsellor brought in for some of its Trouble[d] Children. The man had declared it separation anxiety, an insecure attachment style paired with a deeply-rooted fear of abandonment. Even at that age, Severus knew that this conclusion was so painfully obvious that he didn’t need a professional to tell him it, so he hadn’t returned to the counsellor.

Now, he wondered if he perhaps should have sought help, if only to find a way that maybe, just maybe, he could keep something.

He settled himself on his side of the bed, and studied her as she continued to read. The softness of the lamplight highlighted the curves of her face with honey-golden color, and reflected in her eyes like sparks. The gentle slope of her nose, drawing his eye down the perfectly sculpted structure of her cupid’s bow. Had he ever before noticed how simple and beautiful a cupid’s bow was? Hermione nibbled at her lip, and he watched the white of her teeth flash between her lips. The texture and grain of her lips reminded him of a flower’s petal. Severus’ hand twitched to touch her, but he curled it inwards, folding his hands together and tucking them beneath his leg.

Hermione turned, her brows drawing together as she looked up at him. “Severus?”

He liked the shape her mouth made when she said his name.

“Are you alright?”

That was a good question. Also one he felt very unable to answer truthfully. Severus nodded, but it came out in unsteady bursts, little jerks of motion. The concern in her eyes grew, instead of diminishing.

“I…” She hesitated, then reached up and tucked his hair behind his ear. Her fingertips were soft, and warm on the back of his ear. Had anyone touched him there before? “You don’t… seem like you’re okay.”

Mentally chiding himself on being the worst conversation partner ever, Severus attempted to force words out of his mouth, but the sounds jammed beneath his adam’s apple and began to roll into a strange, bulky lump. “It’s--fine,” he managed, glancing down at his hands, knuckles a few shades whiter than the rest of his skin.

Hermione blinked up at him, still looking terribly concerned. Perhaps he was the worst partner in general, not just for conversation? “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want. What can I do to help?”

Severus swallowed the bolus of words in his throat and attempted to orient himself to the question. “Just…” One of his hands escaped his white-knuckled grasp, to gesture at her. “This. This is helpful.”

“Okay.” She paused, then leaned in and pressed a kiss to his mouth. It felt like a snowflake melting against his lips. “I was thinking about going to bed. Do you think that would be okay, or would you like to stay up?”

A little more smoothly, Severus managed a nod.

Hermione offered a tiny smile, gathering up her papers and putting them on top of his most recent copy of Potions Monthly on their nightstand, before settling beneath the covers. “Come on then.” She took his arm, and Severus allowed himself to be eased down to the pillows, as she ducked beneath his arm. One of her arms snaked beneath his back, and a leg was draped across his, as she curled up against his side. Had she known how desperately he’d wanted physical contact? Severus let a deep sigh leave him as she squeezed his bony frame with all her limbs.

He waved a hand and the lights flickered out, but Severus didn’t dare to reciprocate her tight embrace until he thought she was asleep.

Chapter Text

The next day, Severus roused himself early, made a quick breakfast for both of them, and left Hermione’s half under a plate and some warming charms before he hurried off to Diagon Alley.

Morning commuters scattered in front of him like first-years from… well, also him. The Ministry’s doors scarcely had the time to open before he was stepping through and claiming a lift for himself. He blew past three undersecretaries and two regular secretaries and into Kingsley’s office. The Minister stared at him.

“Master Snape,” Kingsley managed. “Good morning.”

Severus fixed him with an early-morning hateful glare powerful enough to curdle the cream in the Minister’s coffee. “How long?”

“What?”

Severus grit his jaw. “How long,” he repeated, “Until the law is repealed?”

Kingsley stared at him, this time not in confusion but rather in wary calculation. “That’s hard to estimate, Severus.”

Severus’ eye twitched. Kingsley held up a hand to stop his reply.

“As near as I can tell with the way things are playing out… five months. Maybe four.”

The fear flooded him like frigid water again, and Severus wasn’t sure he was able to occlude it in time. “Make it six.”

“Severus--”

“Six months, Kingsley.”

The Minister sighed, and ran a hand over his face. “I… I want to know why, before I pull any strings.”

Severus pressed his lips together, unable to stop himself from pacing back and forth in the Minister’s office. It was terrible for pacing. Very poorly arranged. It was making him even more irritable.

“Look. Severus.” Kingsley caught his gaze, and managed to hold the glare. “I don’t know what you’re doing. Just… Hermione’s very fond of you. Please don’t--”

“Are you accusing me--”

“Let me finish.”

Severus sneered, but allowed Kingsley to continue.

“I am not accusing you. I just have a feeling that you’re assuming the worst. Just… give yourself a chance to hope.” Kingsley looked very tired as he arched a brow at Severus. “Alright?”

Angry words bubbled up in Severus like fire from a bulbadox-contaminated reaction. He forced himself to swallow the tirade. “Six months.”

“I’ll try.”

It wasn’t until Severus was back in his lab in their--their--house, that he allowed himself to crumble. He’d locked and warded the doors behind him before he slumped on the stool and buried his face in his hands.

Four or five months wasn’t enough damn time.

When he pulled his hands away from his face, they were wet. Severus stared at the shimmering watery stuff on his pale palms. Were those tears? Fuck. This was not good.

He stood up so swiftly that the stool toppled over with a clatter. Six months. He held out his hand, summoning his preferred cauldron. A jar of ashwinder eggs deposited itself on the desk, beside horseradish, and he got to work.

Six months.

***

Severus had seemed a little on edge recently. Hermione wasn’t sure what it was, but he insisted that it wasn’t something she’d done, and so she was just doing her best to support him where she could. He’d been working late in his potions lab, so late that sometimes she had to go in and drag him to bed--or fall asleep on top of him. Either seemed to work.

Potions texts and papers were flooding the house nowadays, too. Hermione wasn’t complaining. Severus had subscriptions to all the best journals, and she enjoyed trying to figure out what the hell he was so fixated on. As far as she could tell, he was working on ways of reducing brewing time for highly complex potions.

She asked him about it one night. His eye had twitched. “Five months isn’t enough damn time,” he muttered. “And I don’t have enough blackmail on all these new Wizengamot members.”

As much as Hermione’s curiosity was driving her slowly insane, he seemed to get cagey whenever she asked. Maybe it was a business thing? She knew potions recipes were incredibly valuable things, and even if he trusted her he might be instinctively touchy at least until it was complete and patented. So instead she focused on just making sure he was alright.

After about two months of Severus’ potion frenzy, Hermione received a beautiful ivory envelope carried by a massive owl, and sealed with the Ministry signet.

They were reading together on the sofa, Hermione working on charms and Severus on his potions. She could feel Severus tense beside her, tucked in as she was underneath his arm. “What’s that?”

Hermione scanned over the letter. “Kingsley,” she said. “ICW leadership wants to tour Merlin’s laboratory. Dunno what they’re hoping to learn there, but I bet it’s a stunt given the success of the Eye of Hunger programs.”

He relaxed, and she could feel him let out a breath. “Oh.”

“Kingsley wants us to get it presentable.” Leaning her head back on his shoulder, Hermione chewed her lip and studied his face. It’d be good to get him out of the house, and working on something besides potions. “Would you… mind terribly helping me clean up the place? I mean, we really ought to make the bottom of the hole at least a little less… rocky.”

Severus froze, blinked, and then nodded. “Yes. I mean, I wouldn’t mind.”

Hermione watched as his eyes darted back to the paper and he adjusted one of his shirt cuffs. A nervous habit of his. “I don’t want some foreign dignitary to roll his ankle on a misplaced piece of rubble, is all.”

That earned a twitch of a smile. “Can’t have that. Imagine the scandal if the ancient and long-forgotten ruins dared to get dust on their robes.”

She grinned back at him, a rush of relief surging from her heart. “They might swoon from the fright of it all.”

***

It was when they were removing the debris from the bottom of the knuckerhole that Hermione realized it.

She stood on the flat ground of the newly cleared circle and stared up at the light, and then down at her feet. She was standing in a puddle, which mirrored the light above. Up. And down.

Mirrors. Up… and down.

“Hermione,” Severus said. “Are you alright there?”

“Hmm,” she said, then reached out and grabbed him. “I’m gonna try something.”

She could feel his worried gaze on her. “...Alright.”

Hermione looked up at the light above her. Then down at the ground. And then at their reflections in the water. And then she felt it--a little nudge, like asking the Hogwarts castle for a route to a room, and--

It felt like she was being inverted. Severus made a panicked noise next to her, and then they were somewhere else. Somewhere upside-down. Hermione looked down, at the light below them, from where they hung upside-down on a circular platform.

“Circe,” he muttered, looking around. He pulled on his goggles and bandana, and she did the same. Then he gathered her up in his arms. “Hang on tightly. Please.”

“Don’t need to ask twice,” Hermione replied, hooking her feet around each other behind his back and wrapping her arms around his neck, readying her wand.

The instant he raised them, she could feel center of gravity shift, and suddenly she was falling upside down. He flipped them over quickly, hanging onto her and making soothing noises as they dropped down the shaft into a room filled with light.

“Fuck,” Hermione breathed.

They were in a massive hall, lit by dancing silver lights, like fragments of Patronuses captured in teardrop-shaped glass sconces. The floor was obsidian, and the walls were unadorned grey stone.

But the most obvious object was the dragon.

It was huge. Easily the size of a castle, and it looked… sickly. Its scales were dull and grey and mottled. Open scabs oozed unnatural colors on its hide, and Hermione swore she recognized them as buboes. Its claws were shattered and its body limp.

And it was breathing.

“Poor creature!” Hermione cried out, reaching an arm out in an attempt to comfort the poor beast, and Severus willed them down so she could inspect it closer.

Just as she was about to run towards the dragon, however, the smooth alto tones of a woman’s laugh filled Hermione’s mind. “I was wondering when you’d figure that reflection trick out.”

Severus hissed and raised his wand. She could feel him occluding deeper.

“No need, my dear potions master,” the voice said. “I am far too weak to do anything but converse.”

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.” His voice echoed in the empty hall, in a way that the woman’s did not.

“It is perfectly understandable.” The dragon shifted then, its head turning and one glazed eye opening to inspect them with a pale purple gaze. “Why don’t you sit? I apologize that I don’t have better… seating options. Perhaps that clever little bag of yours has an answer?”

Hermione froze. She could sense where the voice was coming from, now. It was coming from the dragon, echoing in their minds. “How long have you been watching us?”

“Since you arrived, darlings. This is, after all, my hole.” The dragon--the knucker--shifted again. Its, or perhaps her, eye blinked languidly. “Allow me to introduce myself: Morgana LeFay, at your service.”

Chapter Text

Hermione slumped to the floor, sitting on Severus’ feet, in front of the largest dragon she'd ever met. The beast's scales were matte and faded, a grotesque and decayed magnificence in the silvery light of the chamber. “You’re kidding me,” she said. "Morgana Le Fay?"

The woman laughed again, and the dragon uncurled with a great hiss. Scabs sloughed off as it shifted, blood pouring out anew from open sores in the faded scales. The image was too painful for Hermione to endure--she stood up and marched over, Severus rushing after her.

"Hermione--!"

"I can't just sit there, Severus." She rifled around in her bag and pulled out wiggenweld, pouring it over the nearest and bloodiest scab, but it appeared to have no effect. The edge of the open wound rippled a bit, like it was trying to close, and then tore open once more. With a growl, she began to sing out healing charms, pushing down the tears at the concept of any being enduring such a horrible fate, focusing instead on pouring the feeling into the spell. The sore diminished slightly, but not nearly as well as it should’ve. Hermione allowed a few tears to fall. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s not working.”

“You have no need to apologize,” the lady (dragon?) claiming to be Morgana replied. “My sickness is not a physical one. It affects my soul. No spell can solve that.” The dragon shifted again, and she could hear it hissing in time with the woman’s voice as more sores reopened, pustules bursting open.

Severus yanked Hermione back from the beast, and a wave of nausea hit her as something greenish splattered against the floor she'd just been standing on.

The dragon hissed in pain, and when Morgana spoke again, her voice was tight. “Please. There is a box beneath me, in an inset in the floor. Please take it.”

“You will not be touching this one, wife,” Severus growled, urging her backwards and approaching the box with wand drawn. He ran several diagnostics, and as each one revealed it uncursed, eventually levitated it over and away from the dragon. From a safe distance, he continued to countercharm and sanitize it to ensure its safety.

“Good,” Morgana murmured. “Inside you will find proof of my identity. My greatest treasure. You, brightest one, Hermione.” Hermione turned to face the dragon’s hazy purple eye. “As the last remaining descendent of the bloodline of Le Fay, I hereby endow you with all the powers and gifts that may remain in my family’s name.”

“What?” Hermione said. “I… thanks, but this is all rather sudden, and I’d like to know what I’m signing up for.”

Morgana laughed. “Forgive me. You are the strongest witch to walk this world in a very long time. I can only hope you may succeed where my brother and I failed.”

Hermione sat down on the floor, in front of the dragon’s perilous gaze. “Tell me more.”

“You have seen the Eyes of Hunger,” she said. “You have created one yourself. The dementors, as you call what we named wraiths, cannot harm people so long as they remain in the Eyes.”

“Okay, that’s good to know,” Hermione murmured, taking out a notepad and quill to take notes. Morgana’s eye flickered down to her activity, and she chuckled again.

“But where does all that sadness and horror go after the dementor falls?” Morgana continued. “Or as it dies? The hunger, the horror that is its existence… it may fade away, in time. Or..." She paused, and when she spoke again, her words were thick with regret. "Or, the follies and urges of men may interfere. Potions master.” Morgana’s eye turned to Severus, who glanced up from where he was working on the box. “You asked what a potioneer could do with the remains of a dementor. Allow me to show you.”

She raised her wing. Hermione gasped. Her entire side was chewed open, pale ribs yellowed by dried pus and rusted by blood. Necrotic tissue hung limply from the ribs, and Hermione could see the weak pulse of her heart.

Memories surged into her mind. A man, her brother, grinning. “Morgana, imagine what we can do,” he said in an entirely alien language that she understood as if it were her native tongue. “The power of wraiths, in our hands? We could crush those who stand against us. We could bring peace to the Isles. A true lasting peace.”

The image shifted. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions. Dead. The buboes, those horrible swollen nodules and the necrotic tissue that sloughed off the barely-living, the stench of death in the air, impossibly horrifying and all too real. Peace. Lasting, and eternal.

Morgana knew what she had to do. She had to call the energies of the fallen wraiths into herself, to hold that sadness and destruction somewhere she could contain it: within her own soul, a repository for the darkness that she and her brother had unleashed.

Hermione was shot back into her head, and she gasped, scrabbling backwards. Severus clung to her a moment later, holding his arms around her protectively. “The Plague of Justinian,” she realized.

“Yes,” Morgana replied. “It escaped my containment one other time, during a momentary lapse in concentration.”

“Black Plague,” Severus murmured.

“Indeed. It exists now, in the world, outside of my body. It hops between fleas and rats and other things that crawl. There is only so much I can do to call it to me. The muggles have ways to combat it now, so I am less worried. That does not lessen the import of my message.” She shifted again, to cover the hole in her side.

“Is an antitoxin possible? Or a magical vaccine, you know.” Hermione bit her lip.

“I do not know,” Morgana replied. “I believe your potions master would be better equipped to answer that, brightest one. You may be able to heal the wounds and hurt of a war, but the casualties and the sickness of body and mind… those are not things to toy with. They are like the raging fire. My brother and I, in our vast arrogance, attempted to weaponize that fire. It was our downfall, and now our greatest mistake haunts the world. Our errors have taken far more lives than the wraiths ever have." Her hazy purple eye slid over to Severus. "Ah, potions master, have you unlocked my box?”

“Yes,” Severus said, as the chest flipped open. Inside was a necklace of purest shimmering silver, that seemed to glow from within.

Hermione squinted at it. “Hang on, that’s not silver.”

“No, indeed not. It is a chain made of memories. The purest, condensed essence of memory strands. While nowadays you capture them in vials, in my time, our finest enchanters would blow glass beads with memories stored safely within. When you wear it, you will have access to my knowledge as well as your own, brightest one. I offer it in return for one single boon.”

Hermione glanced at Severus. He shrugged, then nodded to her. She turned to Morgana. “Very well. How can I help?”

“Kill me,” Morgana Le Fay said. “That is all I ask.”

“Oh,” Hermione whispered.

She didn’t want to kill anyone. She especially did not want to kill the greatest witch who ever lived. Especially not when she was asking so nicely.

And then, beside her, there was the sound of Severus exploding.

“No!” He stood up, approaching the dragon with wand drawn, stepping between her and Morgana. “I’ve heard this bullshit before. This is emotional manipulation,” Severus snarled. “I will not allow you to take advantage of her kindness.”

Morgana gave a tired, almost desperate laugh. “I know how familiar it sounds. I understand that it is a terrible thing to ask of anyone. But you see my state. You see my disease. I cannot die on my own--I am cursed to exist until someone ends it for me. When I die, the darkness I carry will go with me. I am suffering. Each breath is torture. This is mercy. It is not some vast and complicated scheme. You may take my boons now and leave. There is no greater goal for me than to pass my research to someone else, and to die. I am asking for your help, in allowing me to go.”

Hermione looked at Severus. She squeezed his hand. “I think it might be the right choice,” she whispered. “I don’t think I could leave anything… like that.”

Severus sighed. “I don’t think I could, either.” His lips pressed together. “Will you at least let me do it?”

Hermione shook her head. “You’ve taken your hit for the team already. It’s my turn.”

He growled. “That isn’t how this works.”

Hermione stood nonetheless, taking up her wand. “How would you like this to be done, Morgana?”

The dragon raised its wing again, twisting to expose its heart fully. “Any blow here would work, I’m certain.” She paused. “And… thank you. I am sorry to ask this of you. Good luck, potions master. Good luck, brightest one, Hermione. May you succeed where we have failed.”

Hermione reached out and rested a hand on the dragon’s muzzle. She felt a wave of thankfulness go through her, and then she raised her wand.

“Diffindo.”

The spell flew true. The dragon let out a final keen, a ripple of magic laced with relief and thankfulness flooded the room, and then the creature was still.

Hermione turned. Severus sighed and stood, carrying the intricate silver chain in his hand. With a half-strangled sob, Hermione lurched forward and buried herself against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She shook her head. “It was the right decision.”

“Let’s go wash any possible bubonic plague off of ourselves.”

Hermione sniffled a laugh and nodded, and he carefully flew them back up, towards the surface.

Chapter Text

She first realized it when the owl dropped off the post the next morning.

Hermione was just eating at the kitchen’s breakfast bar, not at all prepared for life-shattering realizations. “Thank you!” she called after the owl, as she always did, as it paused on the windowsill to snap up a little bit of toast that she always left out for the mail owls.

“You’re welcome,” came the hooted reply, and then the bird was gone in a flurry of feathers.

Hermione had flung herself backwards so quickly that the chair toppled over, startling Goblin out of his morning nap. She sat there, wincing as the chair back dug unevenly into her bum and her tailbone complained, the tile of the kitchen cold and hard against her palms.

Half of a heartbeat later, Severus exploded into the room, torn from his potions lab. “Hermione!” he barked. “What the hell?”

“I have no bloody idea,” she breathed.

He pulled her to her feet and righted the chair with a wave of his hand. “What happened?” His eyes looked her up, down, up, down, as if searching for damage to her.

“The owl,” Hermione nodded towards the post.

He tensed immediately. “Did the Ministry send something--?”

“No, no, not at all.” Hermione waved her hand. “Why are you so fixated on Ministry mail anyway? I didn’t even think of that. No, the owl talked to me.”

One ebony brow arched.

“Yeah, I know,” Hermione murmured. She glanced out the window. Maybe the bird had stuck around? Maybe she could get a few answers. But no, there were no owls to be seen.

Other birds, though? There were plenty.

“Hang on.” Hermione leaned over the kitchen counter, threw open the window and leaned out, ignoring the morning breeze that rushed beneath the thin layer of her sweater and pajamas top. She could hear the same morning songs, but, instead of chirps…

“Mrs. Smith let her cat out again!”

“Fish and chips! Fish and chips!”

“Post owl! Watch out!”

Hermione withdrew into the house before she could fall out of the window in shock, opting instead to slump against the counter.

“Bloody hell, woman, you’re going to give yourself a cold,” Severus snapped, slamming the window back closed. He held out a hand and summoned a blanket from one of their many reading rooms, tucking it around her shoulders. “You’re shivering. What sort of insanity has prompted such an inane decision so early in the--”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the lips, stopping his words. “Love you too, you absolute worrywart,” she retorted with a grin. “I can understand them, Severus.”

“Wh--” Severus Snape looked completely lost. “What. Who? Me? You, who?”

“The birds, Severus.”

His face did not change.

“I think it must be something with what Morgana said.” Hermione looked over her shoulder, at the birds happily belting out their morning chorus. “About passing the LeFay bloodline powers on to me… There are legends, about Merlin being able to understand birds.”

“Right,” Severus said, nodding. “Birds. Yes. I, uh, definitely. Agree. Birds. Birds.”

Hermione frowned at him, tilting her head to the side. “Are you okay?” she asked, deciding to turn his question back on him. She was pretty sure she’d just heard him say the word ‘birds’ more in the past two seconds than the rest of his life.

“Birds,” he said with a nod. “Shit. Yes. I meant, yes.”

Furrowing her brow, Hermione stood on her tiptoes and reached up to put the back of her hand against his forehead. He did seem a little warm. “You’re a bit flushed. Why don’t you lay down, and I’ll get you some tea? Did you eat breakfast?”

“Breakfast,” Severus echoed. “Did I eat breakfast?”

“You should definitely lay down,” Hermione decided, since he seemed incapable of doing anything but repeating words back to her. “Come on. Let’s head upstairs.” She took him by the elbows and gently spun him around, herding him towards the stairway.

“But,” he said, trying to turn towards his lab, “But I have potions.”

Hermione arched a brow at him. “You are definitely not in a state to work on potions, sweetheart. Just head to bed, okay? I can put stasis on all of them.”

He shook his head. Hermione bit her lip to suppress a giggle. He was leaning towards the potions lab, as if he was desperately trying to head there, but the softest touches with her fingertips guided him towards the bedroom. “There’s one that can’t have stasis.”

“It’ll be okay,” Hermione reassured him, ushering him up the first flight of stairs. “Just tell me what needs to be done and I’ll do my best. You’re in no condition to be brewing, honey.”

Severus shot her a glare. “Not my fault.”

“Love, birds are making more complete sentences than you right now.”

At that, he seemed to get redder, and muttered something she couldn’t hear before letting her help him up the second flight of stairs.

***

If Severus had realized that the quickest way to get cuddles with his wife was to have a complete and utter mental meltdown, he probably would’ve done it sooner.

Or, at least, now that he knew this fact, he would be doing so more frequently. Given that the aforementioned mental meltdown had been the aforementioned wife’s fault as well, he had a feeling that he would not be in control of how often this occurred. She was so flippant, and yet so thoughtful, and he had no idea how any of it worked.

She’d said the words like they were the easiest thing in the world. Made that Statement like it was as natural as breathing. And then talked about birds. Severus still didn’t know what she was talking about with the birds, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t that hard to grasp, but she’d really pulled the emergency evacuation on his brain cells with that teensy little Statement of hers.

Two hours later, Severus lay sprawled in bed trying to replay the conversation again, in his head. Hermione was curled up against his side, resting her head on his chest and reading… something.

Severus decided to go for attempt 23 of Figure Out What The Hell Happened.

He was yelling at her about getting a cold. Okay, yep, doing good. Got that part.

She interrupted him. Yes, still good, this was normal.

“Love you too,” she’d said. See, this was where everything fell apart: the Statement. It was like Hermione had just short-circuited his prefrontal cortex. Was he cursed? Was it possible that he’d been cursed to respond to the words ‘love you too’ with some sort of magical killswitch? No, that was absurd. This was just a mental breakdown. He knew that, and he knew why it happened, but he could not determine for the life of him what he was supposed to do with this information or the unstoppable and frankly terrifying rush of warm fuzzies it gave him.

Something possibly involving the letter ‘w’ followed this Statement, but Severus could not recall enough of it to determine whether the Statement was a joke or not.

And he was far too terrified either way to ask.

***

They were having the row to end all rows.

The last few weeks had been mostly figuring out what the hell the LeFay inheritance entailed. Mostly it seemed to be a lot of obscure magical powers: Hermione found herself able to talk to most animals, and even some wands, and apparition wards sort of stopped applying to her.

It was that sort of unnoticeable shit: no mysterious wizards or creatures announcing themselves at the doorstep, no strange letters. They’d decided to hide her new heritage from everyone besides the Potter-Malfoys on the off chance that it was actually dangerous.

Anyway, she would probably divorce him sometime soon, and then kill him to keep her secrets, and he’d be totally fine with it. Honestly he’d thank her.

Of course, that was what Severus thought whenever he and his wife argued. It was as much an internal battle as an external one, grappling between rage, love, and self-hatred. There was always a part of him that screamed he should run, now, cut his losses and hide away from the world like he always had. He’d threatened it once. Hermione had simply said, “Severus Snape, don’t fucking kid yourself,” and he realized that not only was he in love with her, but he was also completely tied down. Hermione could’ve kicked him to the curb and he’d roost in a nearby house on the off chance she needed anything.

He hadn’t mentioned that particular realization to her. No sense in stroking her ego.

Anyway, he hadn’t even remembered how this row started. Something about cooking, he was pretty sure? No, Simms took care of that… Groceries? Nope. Simms also took care of that… Fuck, he really owed that house elf his life. Severus was actually pretty stumped.

Oh! That was it. She was trying to convince him on the merits of campaigning for food assistance for Azkaban prisoners. He was saying that the time there had done him some good, and she told him he was just understating his past traumas as he always did, and because it was completely and utterly true he’d blown up, and so she called him out on that, and because that was also completely and utterly true he’d blown up again, and now she was yelling at him about therapy.

“--if you would just listen and consider the fucking benefits of maybe having a healthy coping mechanism, moping and looming don’t fucking count, you could actually be, I don’t fucking know, a lot bloody fucking happier--”

The world buckled in around Severus.

He stumbled, grabbing at his head and the nearby wall. That was the feeling of a ward triggering. And suddenly there were two arms around him, a hand cupping his cheek.

“Severus, hey, what’s wrong?” Her voice was so precious, so fucking soft, and the transition from screaming to staring worriedly in his eyes was so abrupt and unexpected he felt tears welling. He’d always been accustomed to people fuming at him for hours or days after an argument. Instead, here she was, seconds after chewing him out, supporting him while his heartbeat went off the charts. Maybe… maybe she did actually love him, after all.

“I’m fine,” he managed, which was definitely not true, and she was brushing tears from his cheeks without even a second thought. “Wards triggered.” He fumbled in his back pocket, but his shaking hands couldn’t manage it.

Hermione didn’t even blink, instead reaching over to fish out his wallet for him and open it. “Where?” she said, pulling out his stack of business card portkeys.

“Cokeworth,” he whispered.

She glanced up to meet his eyes. He could see a plan forming in her head, a plan that he did not have the presence of mind to create. “Is it…?”

“Just mother. On the street. She’s probably thinking about knocking.”

Hermione nodded. She set him on his feet, pulled out the card for Cokeworth, and put the rest of the wallet back in his pocket. Then she reached up, twined her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips. “Go ahead of me,” she said, resting her forehead against his. “If your mom is expecting just you, I don’t want to alarm her. I’ll follow quickly, I’m going to gather up a… kit,” she was vague, but he knew she meant a first aid kit, “And then I’ll follow. I’ll apparate, and let you know when I’m there, okay?”

Severus bobbed his head up and down, still a little numb and dumb from the sudden shift of emotions. He hesitated, then leaned in and kissed her lightly on the lips.

She kissed him back. “And no bad decisions until I get there. I’ve already checked, they don’t allow conjugal visits in Azkaban, and I don’t know if I can pull off breaking into that place.”

A tentative yet present smile wormed its way onto Severus’ face. Gods, he really was in love with this woman. “If you insist.”

“Love you too,” she said. “You ready?”

He nodded, so she stepped away, and the world twisted around him once more.

The world cleared and he was standing in the dusty living room. A peek out from the darkened windows told him that yes, his mother was out there, standing on the street corner, wavering dangerously from side to side.

Severus was suddenly himself again. There was no space for panic or thought. With a whirl of his wand, the sheets were stripped from the furniture, the fireplace kindled, and the dust whisked away. The lights brightened, and then the kitchen began to clean itself too.

In a moment, it looked like he could pretend he’d been living here, at least while his mother was… in whatever state she was in. God, he hoped she made it to the door.

Just as he thought that, there was a heavy thump against the door. Severus pulled it open, and was ready when his mother collapsed forward onto him, catching her and hoisting her up.

“Sevvy, oh God,” she said, her voice a whimper. “I don’t know what he’s done.”

Chapter Text

Hermione apparated onto the street outside Severus’ house in Spinner’s End, careful to aim for a spot that she remembered as being particularly inconspicuous. Glass crunched under her feet as she took in the area around her. Free of other obvious life. She hurried over to the house, and up to a window where the curtains were half open. She tapped on it lightly.

Severus’ head popped into view, and she saw immediate relief and panic. He was gone in a moment, towards the door, and Hermione hurried over.

He opened it just as she reached it, and ushered her in. “I don’t know what he did. She doesn’t either.”

Hermione nodded, crouching down on a rug in front of the sofa, where an elderly woman with salt-and-pepper hair was currently staring at the ceiling. Severus’ hands wrung in front of him, and it occurred to Hermione that he looked very much like a boy in that moment.

“Floo Poppy,” Hermione said, as she drew her wand and started to run diagnostics. She paused, realizing Severus probably had reasonable apprehension about just Flooing the mediwitch. “She loves you, don’t overthink it.”

Letters and numbers flared in the air, and Hermione bit her lip hard enough to draw blood as she read over them. Drugs. How many fucking drugs did she have in her system, holy shit? And how did Severus’ father know how to obtain the muggle drugs, let alone the magical drugs?

Hermione began to purge Mrs. Snape’s (well, the other Mrs. Snape, she guessed) free of what drugs she could, using her other hand to fling open the first aid kit and start rummaging for the necessary potions. She made sure to purge Mrs. Snape’s stomach before she vanished the potions in.

Someone sat down beside her, and Hermione glanced over to find Poppy. “What’s going on?” the mediwitch asked, opening her own kit and getting down to business.

“She’s got enough morphine in her to kill a mammoth, enough ketamine to sink a ship, and three types of wizarding drugs. Pixie dust, glitterbreath, and an aphrodisiac I can’t figure out.”

“It’s probably Venus’ Touch,” Poppy murmured, pulling out a series of potions. “We’re seeing a lot of it recently. Severus, do you happen to have any counterpotions or antidotes?”

“Y-Yeah. In America. I’ll be right back.” Hermione heard him pull out his wallet, and then he was gone.

“Wow, talk about an international traveller,” Poppy said with a thin smile. The smile turned into a thin line of tension just as quickly as it’d appeared. “She’s low on water, and electrolytes. Does Severus have anything like juice around here?”

Hermione glanced at the kitchen, which didn’t look like it had been used in over two decades. “I’ll run to the corner store and grab gatorade. Will you be alright?”

Poppy nodded. “I got her, don’t worry.”

There was a corner store a block away, and Hermione sprinted both ways, grabbing a pack of gatorade, some mixes of instant soup, and a box of oatmeal. Then she was back to the house, practically vaulting through the door and cracking open the bottle of gatorade a moment later.

“Perfect,” Poppy said as Hermione handed her the drink, with the ingredients label facing her. The mediwitch scanned it, then gave a nod of approval and a whirl of her wand. Approximately a third of the liquid vanished, presumably into Mrs. Snape’s stomach.

A moment later, Severus reappeared, with a whole armful of potions. He knelt immediately, handing them over to Hermione, who read them out.

“Wiggenweld.”

“Hold off,” Poppy said.

“General-purpose antidote.”

“Vanish in,” Poppy said. Hermione obeyed.

“Glitterbreath antidote.”

“Vanish in.”

And so it went, until Severus had exhausted his potion store. Hermione had sorted the bottles into three groups: general-purpose, but hold off; additional antidotes; and empty bottles.

“Hermione,” Poppy said with the sweetest smile. “Can you grab a calming draught and administer it to Severus?”

“I was actually about to ask that,” Hermione murmured, picking up the potion and turning to her husband, where he sat looking testily at her. “C’mere, you big softie.” She butt-scooched over until she could reach him, and then uncapped the bottle and gently put it in one of his hands. “You heard the woman.”

His eyes flickered down to the vial, and then he shotgunned it. She took the bottle back from him, closed it, and placed it to one side. Then she gathered his hands in hers, holding them between their laps. “How are you doing?”

Severus’ eyes glanced between her and his mother again, and then he sighed, leaning forward and resting his forehead against hers. “Don’t know.”

She nodded, and just sat with him like that, murmuring to him and instructing him through a series of deep breaths. When they were done with that, he was silent for a moment longer.

Then, “I need to find where my father is.”

***

Eileen had known that ‘vomit’ was a taste, and a smell. However, what she had not realized was that it was also a sight, sound, feeling, and state of being.

Every single sense was saturated with the feeling of vomit. She did not know anything besides darkness and nausea. She did not know how long it had been, or whether or not her thoughts were consecutive, or interspersed with moments or hours of darkness. She was swimming in the darkness of her own mind.

What had he given her?

Where was she?

Was she alive?

When Eileen could next form a thought, she found it easier to make them coherent. The words, emotions, logic--they stuck together a little more on their own, like they were supposed to. Like weak magnets. She couldn’t stress them, but if she could just tread water and hold herself above the surface, maybe…

Voices, in the dark.

“Did you find him?”

A woman’s voice. Unfamiliar. Where was she?

“No.” Severus. He was here?

Had she gone to him?

Where was she?

“It’ll be alright, Severus.” The woman, again.

There was a quiet. A darkness. Had she fallen away into unconsciousness? Or were the two simply pausing in their conversation?

“Have you considered moving her somewhere else?”

The woman. The same woman? The same conversation? Without time, it was hard to tell.

“I can’t. She needs to be somewhere familiar.” Severus, again. Who was he talking about? The other woman? Eileen?

What had she done?

***

When Eileen tried to open her eyes, it felt like someone had glued them shut. Had he glued them shut? Was this some new, strange punishment for her? She tried to reach up, and managed to brush a hand against her face when the sound of a sharp breath startled her.

“Oh!” said a woman, breathlessly. There was a shuffle. “I’m going to wipe your eyes,” she said, and then a soft hand touched her cheek. Eileen didn’t have the reflexes to pull away. A moment later, a warm washcloth was brushing over her eyes.

The woman’s hand was gentle, and after a moment Eileen could open her eyes. The world was a blur of colors, but a brief touch of her own hands to her face found the crusted memories of tears.

“I’m so glad you’re awake,” the woman murmured, sitting back a little. She was in an armchair or something, across from Eileen. A few blinks, and she came into rough focus. Curly hair, a red sweater, and a book.

Eileen stared at her for a moment. “Wh--...”

She’d been trying to ask a question, but her throat rasped and sputtered out on her. The woman turned, and brought over a bottle of water. With her help, Eileen drank. Then the woman--girl, really--went back to reading.

The nursing rankled Eileen. She was a grown woman, at least three times this girl’s age, and yet she was being cared for like a baby. Such rankling only rankled her further--she’d nearly died, no doubt, and yet here she was, protesting some kind stranger’s help?

Strange priorities for a woman who ought to be dead. No wonder she’d ended up in such a state.

Finally, she managed to muster a whisper. “Where am I?”

“Spinner’s End,” the girl replied, smiling brightly at her. Far more brightly than she had any right to, Eileen decided. “Anything I can get you?”

Eileen shook her head, just reaching for the water again. The girl helped her with it, still smiling despite Eileen’s best glowers. When she’d finished drinking, Eileen asked her next question.

“Where is my son?” If she was at Spinner’s End, Severus must be nearby.

“He’s currently asleep,” the girl replied. “I can wake him up if you’d like.”

Another shake of her head. Sleep was far more important than her. “How long?”

“Thirty-five hours,” the girl replied, with a glance at her wristwatch. “Are you hungry?”

A third shake of her head. Any food right now would probably come right back up. Eileen turned a critical eye to the girl. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Hermione,” she said. “It’s really nice to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you from Severus. He’s going to be so happy you’re alright.”

Dubious. The girl sounded authentic, but her son had fooled a great deal many more people than just one curly-haired girl. “How do you know him?”

That was the question that gave this Hermione pause. She cast her eyes to the side, then the floor, then tucked her hair behind her ear. “Er… I think I’ll let him answer that, if it’s alright by you.”

Hmm. Very curious, and her nose was itching already with the desire to figure it out, but Eileen certainly didn’t have the energy to pry. Instead, she turned her attention to her surroundings. The house certainly looked worse for wear--had Sevvy been living in squalor? Silly boy--except for the shelves of books. She couldn’t read the spines, her vision was still too blurry, but the colors and patterns were intimately familiar, and Eileen felt a small smile slip past her.

When she turned back to the Hermione girl, Eileen found her smiling. This smile was different. It looked… hopeful, perhaps.

Eileen glanced down to the book in her lap.

“And Then There Were None,” the girl answered, without being prompted. “Would you like me to read aloud?”

Eileen nodded, and closed her eyes.

***

“Was he out there?”

Hermione shook her head as she stepped through the back door of Spinner’s End, closing and warding it behind her. Severus followed her like a particularly anxious puppy as she deposited the bags of groceries on the counter. “No one followed me, either,” she told him, prying his wringing hands apart and taking each in one of her own. She stood on her tiptoes to kiss the underside of his jaw. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

Severus grumbled, but turned to look over the bags. “Did you get everything?”

Another nod. He’d sent her with a list of foods that his mother had liked--after much hushed fighting, since he wanted to leave neither of them alone. She’d had to go talk to Minerva about the current state of the dementor-capturing program anyway, so she’d insisted on picking up groceries on her way home.

She hadn’t just talked to Minerva about the dementors, though.

She pulled over one of the less rickety stools over with a foot and sat down, all without releasing Severus’ hands. He’d just go back to nervously fiddling, and really, he was easy to calm with physical touch. He stepped up in front of her, letting her hook her heels loosely behind his knees. “Hey, I have something to run by you.”

She could see his adam’s apple bob. “...Yeah?”

“I was talking with Minerva.” She paused, and gave him a look. “Just… hear me out on this one, okay?”

His eyes flickered with something she didn’t recognize, but he nodded.

“Madam Pince is looking to retire.” She rubbed his knuckles, covered in tiny white lines from old fights. “Minerva wants to expand the collection to muggle books, too. I suggested your mother might take the job, if she decides to stay in the magical world.”

Severus’ mouth popped open. She held up a finger to stop him, dragging his hand with it. He glared for a moment, but let her gently push his mouth closed.

“It wouldn’t be a guarantee,” she said. “But it’d be… a place to start. She went to Hogwarts, so she won’t be too out of her depth. She’s got an amazing taste in muggle books already. It would be a way to learn and find her way back in the magic world, if she wants.” She glanced up at him. “She’ll need something to do, so her thoughts don’t spiral. Just like you needed something to do after Tom.” She’d laid out the emotional groundwork, now she needed to convince him on tactics. “Hogwarts is familiar, it’s safe to her. It’s unplottable--your father will have a hell of a time finding it. After Tom, security is ramped up. She’ll have financial security in a place that is both familiar to her, and completely inaccessible to your father.”

It was only then that Hermione dared to try and read her husband. His eyes were distant, and brow furrowed, but there was a hint of thoughtfulness, rather than frustration, to it. At last, he sighed. “I’ll offer it to her.”

Hermione nodded. “It doesn’t need to be soon. It’s just a contingency plan.” She allowed a small smile on her lips. “Severus, when I was reading aloud to her? If I misread a word, she would correct me. She’s worse than you are.”

The corner of his lip curled, a hint of smugness in it. “Yes, she was always like that.”

“That’s absolutely the least surprising thing.” She reached up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind his ear, when there was a shuffling from the couch.

“... Sevvy?”

Sevvy? Hermione glanced at Severus. He glared at her in warning--apparently that was a mother-only pet name--then extricated himself from her limbs and hurried over to Eileen. “Yes, mother? I’m here.”

Hermione followed, a little slower, staying out of eyesight, just in case this was too personal for Eileen.

Eileen sighed, and Severus adjusted her blankets, handing her the water bottle. “What happened?” She winced, rubbing at her temples.

Headache. She was probably hungry. Hermione snuck off to the kitchen, pulling out a can of soup and popping it open with a silent spell, dumping it into a pot. As she started to make it to the exact specifications of what Severus enjoyed when he was sick, she listened in.

“I was hoping you could answer that,” Severus said. He was sitting on the coffee table, elbows resting on his knees, hands clasped in front of him. He looked… tired, again. Like he’d been during the war. Hermione winced a little at the thought. “How much do you remember?”

Eileen was silent, and a glance up showed Hermione that Eileen was looking at her forearms. “He… stuck me with something,” she said, at last. “It’s all foggy.”

Severus nodded. The professional coldness was back. “There were drugs in your system. They’re… gone now. Are you hungry?”

“A little.”

Hermione, having used magic to speed up the cooking process considerably, was just ladling soup into one of the antediluvian ceramic bowls that had apparently remained in the cupboard since Severus last used the house. She glanced over, met his eyes, and gave him a thumbs up.

“There’s soup,” he said, turning back to his mother. “Hermione?”

“That’s from Shakespeare, isn’t it?” Eileen murmured, as Severus helped her sit up. Hermione hurried over with a tray, subtly enchanted with balancing charms so that it wouldn’t tip, but not floating, so it wouldn’t startle.

“Yes,” Hermione said, handing Severus the tray. “What would you like to drink? We’ve got juice, mostly.”

Eileen sniffed. “Juice would be nice, I suppose. Orange.”

Hermione nodded and hurried off to the recently restored fridge.

“Where did you pick up that girl, Severus?” Eileen asked. Apparently ‘Sevvy’ was a rare thing.

Severus sighed. “Long story.”

Eileen hummed, and Hermione was uncannily reminded of when she’d first introduced Severus to her parents. “I do hope you’re keeping her,” Eileen said, and Hermione flushed as she poured OJ. “I think she’s the most functional thing to happen to you since your rather inauspicious conception.”

Hermione tried not to freeze and spill. Put the jug down. Close it. Pick up glass. Bring over OJ. Ignore the fact that Severus’ mom either didn’t like having him, or… or worse. She was careful to step on all the creaky boards as she approached, so that Eileen would hear her coming.

She tried to read Severus’ face when she handed his mother the OJ. It was… surprisingly neutral. Had he heard this before? Oh, she was going to have words with someone, and she wasn’t sure who yet. Was it wrong to hope that Eileen hadn’t killed Tobias, so that Hermione could get a go at him?

“So, are you dating?” Eileen asked, and Hermione nearly spilled orange juice on her. Hermione just barely saved it, glancing at Severus.

He sighed. “Mother.”

Eileen just arched a brow at them.

Another sigh. “Hermione?” That unreadable look came over him again. “Would you mind… stepping out for a moment?”

While she’d prefer to support him through this, he’d told her ahead of time he’d prefer to be alone when he told his mother. It would just be easier for both of them, apparently, to process emotions when there wasn’t someone unfamiliar around. So Hermione just nodded, offered him a quick smile, and said, “I’ll be in the garden.”

***

Severus waited until Hermione was gone before he turned back to his mother, who was quite contentedly eating her food after throwing several different wrenches in the gears of his life over the past few days. He was glad she was doing better, but he wished she wouldn’t be so damn smug about it.

Worse yet, he was pretty sure this was exactly how he’d act if the positions were switched, so it was doubly insufferable. His eyes narrowed at her pointedly innocent expression.

Fine. He’d one-up his mum.

“She’s my wife.”

It was Eileen’s turn to spill the orange juice. Severus removed the stain with a wave of his hand, the second in his one-two punch tactic.

“Dear God, Sevvy,” Eileen murmured. “As in… your wife wife?”

Severus’ face scrunched up. “What other kind of wife is there?”

Eileen shook her head, paused, and finally managed, “Not that I’m displeased--but, Sevvy-dear, how in hell?”

The real reason that Severus had wanted Hermione out of the room was because he knew his mother was absolutely incorrigible with pet names when she was emotionally distraught. It was easy to tell how relaxed she was by the number of pet names she used: the less used, the more relaxed.

“There was a law.” He grimaced. He still didn’t like the circumstances of he and Hermione’s union. “Two wars, and then a law to repopulate Britain.”

Eileen gave him a look. “That still doesn’t explain how you landed a woman half your age.”

“No, and that’s something I’d like to know, too,” Severus muttered.

His mother waved her hand dismissively. “Please. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“She wants grandchildren.”

“Grand--” The orange juice was displaced onto the couch again.

Another hand wave removed it. Severus nodded, ignoring his mother’s gaping expression. “I think so, anyway. I don’t know. It depends on how long the law lasts.”

“And how long has it been?”

“Four months, just barely.” He glanced at his hands, noticed they were trying to strangle each other, and relaxed them. “Which is… longer than the prognosis I originally received.”

“Prognosis.” His mother snorted. “And you have a plan for when it is repealed?”

He nodded.

“Good. I want grandchildren. Where’s that girl? We need to discuss names.”

That was her priority? Severus sighed and rolled his eyes. Whatever, if it kept her distracted from thinking about what his father had done, he’d take it.

***

“How’d it go?”

Severus shrugged smoothly as he stepped out into the back garden. It hadn’t been a part of the house originally, instead an addition he’d spelled into existence when he needed access to fresh potions ingredients. Now it was overgrown, but Hermione had started to restore parts of it.

Particularly, she’d started to restore an old stone bench that he’d used primarily as a place to put tools on, but the sight of her--barefoot, hair wild, reading a book, surrounded by plants bursting at the seams and spilling out of their planters into the lawn--made him feel like he’d perhaps never understood the point of benches.

“About as well as it could’ve gone,” Severus replied. He stepped down into the garden and over to her, sitting down beside her.

“Mmm.” She leaned against him. “Did you…”

“I, uh.” He swallowed, and glanced down at his hands. They were trying to throttle each other again. Fuck, he really would have to double down on his Occlumency exercises, if easy shit like this was getting to him. “She might accost you about… name selection.”

Hermione snorted. “Really? That’s what you’re worried about? I think you’re significantly underselling your persuasive techniques.”

His lip treacherously twitched upwards. “And I think you’re significantly underestimating my mother.”

She laughed. “If she’s anything like you, I think I’ll survive.” She was silent for a moment, while Severus stared at the ivy currently trying to strangle most of the house, and then the soft touch of her lips on his cheek brought him back to reality. When she spoke, it was in the same tone that he’d once heard her use to threaten Voldemort. “We’re definitely not taking her naming advice.”

“Oh, yeah, not at all,” he said, shaking his head emphatically. “Who the hell names their kid Severus Tobias Snape? Honestly.”

Chapter Text

Five months.

It had been five months when the letter from Kingsley came in the mail. Expect the notice today. Sorry for short warning.

Five months of pure bliss. Yes, they fought. Yes, they disagreed. Yes, they cried and screamed and hurt--but… but they healed, too. They learned what wasn’t working. They changed behaviors, to help each other. They worked to understand.

Severus stood in the predawn darkness of the kitchen, a single light above the island providing his only illumination. They were back at home. His mother was at that godforsaken fucking castle. And now… it was like his entire life was balanced on the blade of a knife again.

Although, given how vastly destructive his life had been, it would be more likely to be balanced on the tip of a basilisk’s fang. Or maybe Gryffindor’s sword. That’d be suitably rude to him.

Semantics.

Severus banished the letter to the fireplace, and headed into his lab. When everything else had failed, there was only one thing for him to turn to: potions.

***

She first came in an hour before lunchtime. He could sense her nervous energy as she rustled the letter in her hands--the official letter, the one from the Ministry. He couldn’t bear to look over at her, so he focused on stirring, the perfect figure eights of the rod.

“Severus?” He could hear the tentative note in her voice. No, no, not yet. “Have you… read the mail?”

“Not yet,” he said, to more than one thing. “I’m working.”

“Oh,” she said. He winced at how hurt it sounded. “Okay. Um, we should talk when you get a chance.”

And she left.

***

She was back at four. He was stooped over the same cauldron he’d been brewing for the last bloody five months, staring down his calculations and glaring at a timer. There was nothing to do but wait.

“Severus?”

“Still working,” he replied.

“Are you… what’s your plan for dinner?”

It took a moment to compute. “What?”

“Dinner, Severus,” she said, her voice gentler. “You need to eat. You haven’t been out of here all day.”

“Eat?” He frowned, adding a dash of finely dusted newt bones. “Can’t. I need to work.” He could hear her draw breath to protest, so he just held up his free hand. “Please. Just… give me some time.”

Not enough time.

***

He started the heat-resistance potion at about eleven PM. It would help speed things up, and it was something to do between additions of powdered essence of snowdrop.

Hermione came in not long after.

“Severus,” she said. “I know you saw the letter.”

He nearly froze mid-stir, but muscle memory won over panic.

“Please. We need to talk. We can’t run away from this.”

Putting down his stir rod, he sighed. He shot a glance at her from behind the protective curtain of his hair, and regretted it immediately. She looked both immensely hurt, and immensely pissed, and he felt like he would’ve rather seen that expression on a charging erumpet or maybe a dragon.

“I will,” he said. “I just… just need more time.”

***

One in the morning, she came in again.

“How much time?” was all she said. Her tone reminded him a conjured whip that Voldemort sometimes favored.

He shot a glance at the timer. “Two hours and thirty-seven minutes and… sixteen seconds.”

She sighed, and left.

***

Three in the morning. He hadn’t expected her to still be up. He’d honestly expected her to have kicked him out of her house by now, given the fact that he was definitely an unwelcome intruder at this point.

“At least let me help,” she said. This time, she just sounded tired. Resigned. Had she already formalized the divorce while he was working? He pushed down the thoughts. No, he could only hope not.

He nodded, and moved over, letting her help with the final steps of the heat resistance potion. Even exhausted, her work was impeccable. He watched her as she diced and added ingredients. Were those tear tracks on her cheeks? Guilt slithered up from his gut and constricted around his heart.

The timer rang. Another dose of snowdrop. He tore himself from what would likely be one of the last times he’d ever get to see his wife, and grabbed a pinch of the ingredient.

***

Half an hour later, the heat resistance potion was done. It was powerful, instantaneous, and short-lived, and just enough for one dose. As Hermione slid the phial across the table to him, she sighed.

“I don’t know if I’m up for talking anymore. I’m exhausted.”

Severus stared at the little glass between his fingertips, head canted downwards, barely daring to look up at her. She did look tired. Had she been crying more while they were working? He’d not allowed himself to pay attention.

“Please,” he whispered, his voice unexpectedly hoarse. “Just… a little more time.”

She gave him a look of despair. “Severus. Seriously. What do you need time for? It can’t be that important.”

The timer rang. Final dose.

Severus grabbed the heat resistance potion in one hand, and turned to the cauldron. The remaining powdered snowdrop he dispensed in a figure eight. Then a quick pattern of stirring, a murmured incantation, and--

The cauldron seared with gold light. Severus popped the cork off the vial in his hand, chugged the heat resistance potion, and felt the cold rush through him just as he picked up the cauldron directly off of the fire.

“Severus, what the hell?!”

He swirled the red-hot cauldron in his hands, noting that the potion was rapidly reducing. There would just be enough for a single dose. That was fine. That was all he needed. Raising the emptying cauldron to his lips, he poured the still-boiling Felix Felicis down his throat.

Feeling returned to his fingers and he practically threw the cauldron back onto the table, gasping for a moment. Arms were around him, and he was being lowered to the floor, and Hermione was cursing him out.

“You idiot! What are you doing?! You’ll burn yourself!”

He held up a hand to stop her. He could feel it now, the heady sensation of Felix galloping giddy through his veins.

“What even was that? Liquid Luck? Why?”

Severus let the luck take him. He looked up at her, cupped a hand around her cheek. “I’m in love with you,” he said, the utterance taking even him by surprise. “I love you. Please marry me, for real this time. I forgot to get a ring, I was too focused on the potion--but, please, never leave me.”

***

Hermione stared at her husband.

“You are so dumb,” she told him, and pulled him into a kiss. “I’m in love with you too, Severus, I told you this. I want to stay married.” He was staring at her with a sort of gobsmacked awe, and she wasn’t sure if that came from the fact that he’d just chugged a boiling potion, the nature of that aforementioned potion, or her words. “Let’s elope. Tonight. Right now. I’ll floo Harry and Draco and Minerva and your mother.”

“Oh.” He looked at her, and then at the cauldron, and then at the rest of his lab. “That was easier than I thought.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione laid him in her lap and started to stroke his hair. “Did you seriously just drink boiling Felix Felicis in an attempt to get me to marry you, when we were already married?”

“Um. Maybe? Yes. Yes, I did.”

As incredibly touching as it was, it was also incredibly worrying. “I was thinking, we should each be in therapy before we start trying for children.”

“That’s a great idea,” he said. Apparently all it took for him to be open and complimentary was Felix Felicis? Wild. “Have I mentioned recently that you’re wonderful?”

“Yes, honey. Are you sure you didn’t just drink alcohol?”

“Quite certain. It would’ve evaporated at that temperature.”

Hermione snorted a laugh, and wrapped her arms around his head, leaning her head over to kiss him upside-down. “You are impossible, Severus Granger-Snape.”

She could feel him smile. “I know a little chapel on the Scottish coast. Recuperated there once. The priest’s an old friend.”

“Perfect. Can you get me coordinates? I’ll let our wedding party know.” She paused, and then arched a brow at him. “While you’ve still got that luck… call around for honeymoon suites near Stonehenge, will you? Morgana has some memories about accessing an ancient ritual chamber beneath the stones, and I think we could figure out a way to get in…”

***

When Severus apparated with Hermione, he was pleasantly surprised to see their wedding party already present. He was in one of his better suits, and Hermione was wearing a shoulderless white sweater dress. Draco had come by the house to braid her hair with white stephanotis, before heading over to the chapel.

“I can’t believe you drank a cauldron of Felix Felicis to try and convince Hermione Granger to marry you,” Draco said when the marital couple entered.

Severus rolled his eyes, ignoring his wife’s smirk. Well. Sort of smirk. She’d been beaming this entire time, since he asked her to marry him, he realized.

Oh, that… made him feel strangely like he was floating.

“We were already married, too,” Hermione said.

“When did you start brewing it?” Potter asked. “I mean, you’ve only been married for, what… five months?”

“Surprised as I am that you recalled it requires six months to brew--hey!” Severus pouted as his wife elbowed him in the ribs. “I may have… figured out a way to reduce the brewing time of longer-term potions.”

Minerva sighed and covered her face in her hands. “Of course that was your solution,” she murmured. “Anything but just talking to the lass, eh, Severus?”

Another roll of his eyes, and another smirk from Hermione.

One of Draco’s pale eyebrows raised. “That sounds… profitable.”

It was Harry’s turn to roll his eyes. “Please, Draco, accost your godfather about whatever new potions brilliance he has after the ceremony, when I can be drunk.”

It was a testament to the Felix Felicis that Severus was not trying to convince Hermione to run while she still had the option. Instead, he stood at the altar and lost himself in her golden eyes while the vows were read. When they exchanged the traditional wizarding binding, and a small, tender kiss, his mother suddenly gasped and grasped Minerva’s arm.

“We’re going to be grandmothers!” Eileen said.

‘We’? Severus met Hermione’s equally curious look before they both turned to the sobbing Eileen, who was now being comforted and embraced by Minerva.

“Severus, do you--”

“Don’t say it,” Severus interrupted her. “I don’t want to acknowledge that until we’re back from honeymoon, please.”

His wonderful, graceful wife snorted a laugh, and leaned her head against his shoulder.

They went out to breakfast at a small mom-n-pop bakery, whose elderly owners were absolutely thrilled to have the impromptu bride and groom. Their cake was the first warm, fresh donuts of the day. The wedding party dined at three small tables pulled together. Harry tried to convince Severus to call him ‘brother.’ Minerva and Eileen brainstormed name ideas, or rather, Minerva was gently steering Eileen away from such an inadvisable route as naming a child ‘Severus Tobias’ ever again. Hermione chattered away about what she thought they’d find beneath Stonehenge, and licked all of the sugar from Severus’ fingers while Draco waggled his eyebrows salaciously.

 

***

The first dementor died on their first second wedding anniversary.

There was a big hubbub about what to do with the thing’s remains, as at that point Severus had conclusively proven that the remains were absolutely poisonous and should not under any circumstances be ingested.

It was his wife who figured out how to move forward, naturally. He was the one who told everyone what was a bad idea, she was the one who figured out how to look ahead.

Hermione had taken up glassblowing in her spare time. With Morgana’s necklace came the knowledge of how it was made, and she was pioneering the wizarding version of what was called memorysmithing--apparently certain vampiric cultures already had a well-established memorysmithing tradition, but it had very rarely come into contact with wizarding society, due to the vampires’ solitary nature.

She figured out that if one burnt dementor remains, they could create a beautiful iridescent glass, which exuded a sensation of calm. This calm could be augmented by filling the glass with a memory of joy or wonder, and it was through depression and hunger and fire that the dementors’ shambling shadows became vessels for happiness.

Severus felt rather sympathetic.

They’d eschewed rings up until that point, but together, they created a twin pair of rings from the ashes of the first dementor they bound together. Each held, inside its glimmering shell, the silvery sensation of their shared love on the day they got married again.

fin.