(Severus accepts Hermione's proposal but not without conditions).
Disclaimer: All characters depicted belong to JK Rowling. I make no money from my scribblings.
A/N: Many thanks to Septentrion for agreeing to beta this chapter at very short notice. She is an angel. Thanks also to Sylvanawood for her encouragement and help in getting me through a very bumpy chapter.
Obscured in shadow, Crookshanks bided his time, dispassionately observing his quarry go about its business. The mouse, oblivious to the mortal peril it was in, zigzagged unhurriedly towards a small fissure in the stonework. It was now or never. Crookshanks crouched low, wiggled his bottom and fixed his eyes on his prey. I am Hunter, Nemesis of Mice, Harbinger of Death. Prepare to meet thy doom!
The hapless mouse screamed in terror as Crookshanks’ four paws landed on its back. Triumphantly, the half-Kneazle tossed his catch up in the air, toyed with it a while and then sank his teeth into its neck.
Ahhh… the thrill of the chase; there was nothing quite like it. He might be getting a bit long in the fang, but old Crooks could still give those rodents a run for their money. Mm-mm … much more satisfying than those biscuits his mistress insisted on giving him. He discarded the liver of the now eviscerated mouse and continued to munch contentedly. Although – Bast be praised – he’d never had to hunt for a living, Crookshanks knew it was always wise to keep one’s paw in since you never could tell when the old skills would come in handy. And... ohhh… there was nothing, but nothing, that could compare with that taste of warm, coppery blood from a fresh kill. He purred in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Suddenly, Crookshanks ears pricked up at the sound of feet approaching.
Four. He held on to his prize tightly. You never knew what thieves stalked the corridors at this time of day.
A head appeared around the corner. Crookshanks regarded the creature disdainfully.
‘Mine.’ He hissed. ‘Get your own.’
‘Good evening to you, too,’ the bespectacled tabby replied primly. ‘I have eaten, thank you.’ She licked a paw and swiped it over her face to emphasise the fact. ‘So, do you have any news for me?’
Crookshanks polished off the mouse quickly and began to groom his whiskers. ‘What do you want to know, Not-a-cat?’ he asked, feigning ignorance. Crookshanks was not one for gossip.
‘How are things in your household?’
Crookshanks flicked his tail. In truth, he was concerned. His mistress was full of herself one minute and miserable the next. This, he was sure, was due to her Mate’s unhappiness. He wondered how much he should reveal.
‘My mistress is well,’ he replied finally, ‘but the Dark Man is… sad. Why, I do not know.’
His companion nodded. ‘I thought as much. Thank you for telling me.’ She turned to leave. ‘If anything should happen…’
Crookshanks regarded her with unblinking eyes. It seemed he wasn’t the only one who was uneasy. He was starting to get a bad feeling in his guts, and it had nothing to do with the mouse he had just eaten.
* * *
Hermione was having a hard time concentrating on her Transfiguration essay and was spending more time staring off into space than at her parchment. It had seemed such a good idea at the time, but now she was beginning to regret being so frank. Sighing, she placed her elbow on the desk and leant her head against her fist. Perhaps she had been a bit pushy – seemed too keen, maybe even a little desperate. She had all but gone down on one knee and proposed to Severus, and his reaction had been, well, less than enthusiastic. Hermione brushed the feather of her quill along her cheek thoughtfully. He had just… looked at her as if the idea had never entered his head. True, neither of them had actually broached the subject of marriage specifically, but wasn’t a future where they would be together what they both wanted? Wouldn’t it follow that getting married was an option at the very least?
Hermione put her quill down and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. He’d had plenty of time to think it over by now. Yawning, she stretched and rotated her shoulders, noticing Madam Pince glance in her direction. They were the last two people in the library, and it looked like the librarian thought it was high time she was on her way. Well, it was unlikely she’d get any more work done tonight at any rate. Hermione got up and gathered her things.
Even if he says ‘no’, it won’t change anything – not as far as I’m concerned, anyway, she thought as she picked up her books. But, he’ll have to tell me what he wants, in that case. We simply can’t go on like this. Hermione slowly made her way back to the dungeons, running various scenarios through her head but always arriving at the same conclusion. She had passed him the Quaffle; what he did with it was now up to him.
Severus, in the meantime, had not been idle, having emerged from his bedroom with a fully-formed plan of action in his head. It was prudent to be cautious, he reminded himself as he walked over to his writing desk. In fact, it was paramount: everything had to be seen to be above board, the correct procedure followed to the letter, so that no one could accuse him of any trickery. To that end, he scratched a quick note on a piece of parchment and made his way to the Owlery.
It is for the best, he repeated like a mantra as he walked. I am not prepared to leave my—our—future happiness to the Fates.
Severus called down one of the school owls, attached the message to its leg and watched as the bird circled overhead before heading south. There, it was done. Hopefully, he would get a reply by return of post.
Still mulling over his decision as he strolled back to the dungeons, Severus considered the possibility that Hermione might have changed her mind during her time in the library but quickly dismissed it as unlikely. She had been too keen on the idea, and he had to admit that, now he’d had time to let it sink in, he was also rather looking forward to their betrothal. It would not be easy; Severus had no doubt about that, but was he not a powerful wizard? He would prevail; he was sure of it.
Closing the door to his chambers, Severus called Hermione’s name, but there was no reply. Good. She must still be in the library. Unable to relax, however, Severus started to pace the floor, stopping in front of the fire from time to time, mentally rehearsing what he was going to say.
All things considered, he felt quite composed, but it was an unnatural calm, and he knew it. The last time Severus had experienced this level of serenity, he had been on his knees before Voldemort – thoughts carefully Occluded and emotions firmly shut down. It was unnerving how easily he had assumed the mask again, but he pushed the uncomfortable thought aside; there was no point dwelling on such matters. For better or for worse, his course was set. Lost in thought, he held his palms towards the flames to warm them.
Severus’ shoulders tensed slightly as he heard the rush of the door opening and Hermione entering the room, but otherwise he did not acknowledge her presence. He had to get this right....
Hermione, noting his stance, inhaled long and deep before dumping her things on the table. Biting her lip to stop herself from asking straight out if he’d made his mind up, Hermione quietly moved towards Severus and slipped her arms around his waist. She pressed her cheek against his back and waited for him to say something – anything. For a moment, Severus remained silent and motionless, then he covered her hands with his own and began to gently stroke the backs with his thumbs.
‘I have been giving your… proposal… due consideration…’ he said eventually.
‘… and I am… amenable to the idea.’
Severus peeled Hermione’s hands away and turned to face her. Then, before she had a chance to say anything further, he quickly took her hands in his again, raised them to his lips and kissed them in turn. Smiling, he said, ‘I would be a fool, if I were not.’
She gulped. ‘Oh. Oh, that’s good.’
Chuckling at her astonishment, Severus pulled Hermione into his arms and kissed her softly. There was no hurry. He could take his time over this.
Hermione sighed with relief. ‘I was so afraid I’d blown it,’ she said, nuzzling her head against his chest.
Severus smiled into her hair. ‘Far from it, my love. You brought me to my senses. I am only sorry it took me so long.’ He kissed the top of her head and smoothed down a stray curl. ‘The truth is, I can no longer envisage a life without you by my side, not anymore. I know I have not been myself of late, but everything will be all right, now. I promise.’
They stood contentedly in each other’s arms for a little while, Hermione smiling to herself as she listened to Severus’ elevated heartbeat. I suppose that was the closest thing to a proposal I’m going to get.
Or maybe not.
‘I have to ask you something,’ he said hesitantly. ‘What—’ He coughed. ‘What do you know about weddings in our world?’
Hermione looked up at him. ‘Bill and Fleur’s wedding is the only one I’ve ever been to. Why?’
He sighed. ‘I thought that might be the case. Come, we have a lot to discuss. Let’s make ourselves comfortable.’ Severus led Hermione over to the sofa. ‘Forgive me. I am assuming you would wish to be married in a wizarding ceremony. We could be married in a Registry Office if you wish, but I draw the line at a church.’
Stuffing some cushions behind her back, Hermione shook her head. ‘No. If my parents were alive, I daresay it would be different. But... No, a wizarding ceremony would be fine. But... isn’t it a bit soon to be worrying about that?’
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘I just want...’ He stopped and tried again. ‘I only mention it because I wanted you to be sure... You understand, then, that in a wizarding ceremony, the bride and groom are bound for life?’
Hermione nodded. ‘Yes, I remember that and thinking I didn’t like the sound of it. It sounded like... slavery, or something.’
Years of practice kept Severus’ face impassive. ‘The words are symbolic, but... although those vows are not Unbreakable, divorce is rare in our world.’ Severus leaned forwards and took Hermione’s hands once more. ‘Hermione, I have to say this ... While I have never given the idea of marriage much thought, I intend only to marry the once. I will make my vows with the intent of keeping them – and you. Are you absolutely sure that you want to be with me – and only me, for a hundred years or more?’
Hermione squeezed his hands. ‘I don’t see the point of making vows if you don’t intend to keep them,’ she replied. ‘And... you are the only man I ever want to be with. However many years we may have together, Severus, it could never be enough.’
He sighed, although he was pleased with her response. ‘I thought you would say something like that. Very well. My next question is this. Did you also know that it is customary for a couple considering matrimony to enter into a betrothal contract beforehand?’
This was news to Hermione. ‘A contract? No, I didn’t. Is that strictly necessary? I mean... It sounds a bit... clinical.’
‘Perhaps.’ Severus released her hands and scratched the stubble on his chin thoughtfully. ‘I appreciate that it may seem so to a Muggle-born. But there is a very good reason for it.’ He leisurely Summoned a glass of Firewhisky and took a sip. ‘The Betrothal Contract is a hangover from the days of arranged marriages—when dowries, land and so on were settled. But it still serves a useful purpose today—’ He gestured towards the decanter. ‘I’m sorry. Would you like one?’
‘No. No, thank you,’ Hermione replied flatly. ‘Do continue. This is fascinating.’
Ignoring the frost in her voice, Severus pressed on. ‘Through a series of questions, the contract establishes what each party expect from the marriage—what they bring to it, and what they want out of it. Any causes for concern, where opinions differ widely, for example, are highlighted. It is not uncommon for the couple to realise that they are not as compatible as they first thought and decide not to go through with it.’
Hermione got up and walked over to the fireplace. ‘I see,’ she said, picking up the snowglobe and shaking it. ‘And... are you expecting that to happen in our case, Severus?’
‘No, of course not. But you would be surprised—’
‘A contract,’ Hermione said evenly, watching the snow fall. ‘You know, Severus, I realise you are not the most romantic of men – and I fully accept that – but...’ She sighed. ‘Well, a girl imagines that when she meets the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, that there will be at least some mention of love...’ She put the globe down carefully and turned to face him. ‘I suppose that would be too much to ask?’
‘Hermione, come here.’
Reluctantly, Hermione moved towards him. Reaching for her hand, Severus pulled her onto his lap. ‘Do you not know by now that I love you?’
Hermione nodded her head but did not look at him.
‘My love, if I did not think this was necessary, I would not suggest it. Please humour me on this. I want us to be sure—’
‘—that we’re doing the right thing,’ Hermione interrupted. ‘You keep saying that. If you’re not sure, perhaps we should just forget all about it.’
‘No. Hermione, you misunderstand me.’ Severus pulled her closer and tucked her head under his chin. ‘You know full well the odds are stacked heavily against us. Our age difference alone—’
She pushed his chest and sat up abruptly. ‘Oh, not that again! How many times do I have to say it doesn’t matter?’
Severus pulled her back into his embrace. ‘I know. It is of no importance to you or to me,’ he whispered soothingly, holding her tight. ‘But, we will have our critics.’ Severus kissed the top of her head. ‘And what does matter to me, is that I am seen to be following normal custom—no self-respecting father in the wizarding world would sanction the betrothal of his child without such a contract. And, as you do not have a father to oversee the proceedings, it is even more important—please, Hermione, I am asking you, just this once, to trust in my greater experience in these matters.’
Hermione thought for a moment before relenting. ‘O-kay.’ She sighed. ‘If it means that much to you, then I’ll go along with it—but that doesn’t mean I’ll take any notice if it says we’re incompatible.’
Severus chuckled and kissed her. ‘In that case, you’ll be pleased to hear that I have taken the liberty and Owled the Ministry for the necessary papers.’
‘You’ve WHAT? You presumed I would—’
‘The sooner we get this out of the way, the better,’ Severus insisted. ‘But there is still no need to rush, and with the holidays ahead of us, we will be able to give it our full attention.’
‘Oh, all right.’ Hermione threw her hands up in defeat and clambered off his lap. She stretched and yawned. ‘I’m going to have a bath. It’s been a long day.’ She took a few steps towards the bedroom then smiled over her shoulder as she began to unfasten her robe. ‘You can scrub my back... if you like.’
Severus watched until Hermione had disappeared from his sight before knocking back his whisky. All in all, that had gone better than he had expected. He extinguished the fire and followed her into the bedroom.
* * *
The next morning, Hermione had a bit of a lie-in. With lessons over, those not remaining in Hogwarts for the holidays would soon be making their way to Hogsmeade to catch the Hogwarts Express. Severus was already up and about, rounding up the stragglers and attending to his last minute Head of House duties, leaving Hermione to catch up on some much needed sleep.
But Hermione was now wide awake, turning over the previous evening’s events and feeling slightly overwhelmed by it all. Would it be prudent to seek advice from someone impartial, she wondered – someone in whom she would feel comfortable confiding such a personal matter? Ginny would have been the obvious choice, of course, but she had already left Hogwarts – with Harry – for some long overdue alone time together at Grimmauld Place, and Hermione didn’t want to intrude on their privacy. She sighed. Minerva? No, she was very busy, and Hermione didn’t want to bother her with something like this – and Severus probably wouldn’t like her talking to his boss behind his back, either. There was always Sunday, she supposed, as both she and Severus had been invited to the Burrow for lunch. Perhaps Mrs Weasley might be a better source of information on this contract thing.
Hermione rolled over and thumped the pillow. A contract. She had never envisaged anything so formal – just an understanding between the two of them would have been enough. What would it entail? She had no knowledge of magically binding contracts, other than they were not something to enter into lightly. She would have to study it carefully, of course – not that she didn’t trust Severus, but... Hermione smiled. Wasn’t this just like him? Cautiously approaching her proposition from all angles, making sure everything was correct and in order before committing himself. It was the nature of the man, the wizard, when all was said and done. And she had to admit that he had looked so much happier and more relaxed than she had seen him in ages last night... So... tender and attentive... Like his old self, in fact. Hermione ran her hand down the front of her body and shivered. Yes, perhaps she was meeting him more than half way, but, hell, what wouldn’t she compromise to keep him like that? He was just asking her to sign a piece of parchment when all was said and done.
Her stomach rumbled as the smell of something breakfasty drifted under her nose. Getting up and reaching for her dressing-gown, Hermione followed the trail to the living room where she was just in time to see a house-elf lay out the cutlery on the table. He bowed and squeaked, ‘Professor Snape ordered breakfast for Miss,’ before vanishing.
Hermione sighed. How many times did she have to tell Severus not to bother the house-elves on her behalf? They had enough to do as it was, today of all days; all the trunks had to be transported to the station and later, once the school had emptied, an army of them would be busy cleaning up the dormitories, common rooms, classrooms... There was absolutely no need to add to their workload by making them wait on her. Still, they had gone to the trouble, and Hermione was very hungry. She sat down and drank the pumpkin juice in a few gulps before attacking the poached eggs. If Severus was planning private breakfasts like this over the holidays, she decided, then she would have to come to some sort of agreement with the elves regarding payment.
* * *
‘Well,’ said Severus, removing his cloak, ‘that’s the last of them safely off the premises.’
Hermione looked up from her magazine. ‘Good. How many Slytherins are staying?’
‘Only two—both sixth-years. Davenport and Bevan. Both more than capable of looking after themselves. I doubt we’ll be having any trouble from them.’ He fished inside the pockets of his robes. ‘Do you want to see the Prophet?’ He held out the paper towards her.
‘Anything interesting?’ Hermione enquired.
‘Just the usual half-truths, gossip and sensationalism,’ Severus replied, removing a small package from his pocket.
Hermione eyed it warily. ‘Has it come?’
Severus nodded before sitting down on the sofa with the newspaper. ‘We’ll look at it later,’ he said, turning to page three, knowing full well Hermione would not be able to contain her curiosity for very long. He was right.
‘I think I’d rather look at it now.’
‘Oh, very well,’ he sighed, folding the paper and placing it on the coffee table. ‘Enlarge it for me and bring it over here, would you?’
Hermione approached the package with her wand drawn, tapped it and performed the necessary charm. The package unfolded itself to reveal a sealed envelope addressed to Professor S. Snape. Without opening it, she passed it to Severus and sat down beside him.
Severus studied the envelope for a moment. ‘It seems harmless enough.’
‘Stop teasing me and open the thing.’
‘Such impatience.’ Severus opened the envelope and removed the three pieces of parchment that were inside. He glanced at the covering letter before handing it to Hermione, who read over it quickly:
“Dear Professor Snape, congratulations on your forthcoming nuptials...” Hermione snorted. “Please find enclosed the standard betrothal contract in two parts to be completed by you and your intended. We advise you to complete the forms independently... Problems/points of concern will be highlighted in red... These areas should be discussed and initialled by each party if and when an agreement is reached... Once completed, each form should be signed and countersigned where indicated. Please note that this contract will remain valid for a period of five years after which time it will become null and void if a marriage fails to take place. The Ministry accepts no liability in that event. On completion of the enclosed documentation, the fee of fifty Galleons will be charged to your Gringotts account...” ‘Fifty Galleons! Severus, that’s daylight robbery.’
Severus shrugged. ‘That’s the Ministry for you.’
Hermione scanned the rest of the letter before turning her attention to the two pieces of parchment that Severus was holding. ‘So,’ she said, ‘which one do I have to fill in?’
‘This one.’ Severus indicated the document in his left hand. ‘But first, I think we’d better cast one or two Revealing Charms.’
‘What for?’ Hermione asked.
‘Because I still have enemies, Hermione,’ Severus replied. ‘Some of whom may be employed at the Ministry. We must be sure we know what we’re signing.’
‘You mean... someone might... sneak in something...’ Hermione was appalled. ‘That’s terrible. You really think a Ministry official would do something as underhanded as that?’
He snorted. ‘Given half a chance.’ Severus took out his wand and muttered a series of incantations. ‘However, these appear to be in order... Here.’ He gave Hermione her section of the document. ‘Have a look for yourself.’
Hermione took the parchment and glanced over its contents quickly. For the most part, the questions appeared quite straightforward, but it was easy to understand how conflict could arise if the parties were not in agreement over some of the more fundamental issues. She glanced up at Severus and smiled ruefully. ‘I see what you mean about incompatibility.’
Severus took her hand and squeezed it. ‘Perhaps we should let it all sink in a bit before we proceed any further.’
‘Agreed.’ Hermione placed the parchment on the table in front of her. It had given her much food for thought. And talking of food... ‘Do you fancy going to the Three Broomsticks for lunch? My treat.’
‘Why not? Some fresh air would do us both good – but no discussing this.’ He put his half of the contract on top of Hermione’s. ‘It can wait until later.’
* * *
‘Severus, what should I put for “intended place of abode”?’ Hermione asked.
Severus did not look up. ‘If you’re not sure of anything, Hermione, put “yet to be determined”. We can discuss it together afterwards.’
‘Okay.’ Hermione let out a long sigh. She had been poring over the form for almost half an hour now, and it was proving to be more complicated than she’d first thought. From the time she had entered ‘Muggle-born’ as her blood status and the letters had turned red, points of concern were being continually highlighted. The questions regarding her financial situation had been particularly tortuous, and there now seemed to be a disproportionate ratio of red to black on the page.
Hermione did not dwell on it. After all, these were points of potential cause for concern as far as the Ministry saw it – not her or Severus. She huffed, dragging the plume of her quill through her fingers. Wedding arrangements. There were only two questions: Hermione ticked “wizarding” with a “yet to be determined” for the date.
She was distracted by a meow at her feet, followed by some loud purring and friendly head-butting. ‘Hello, Crooks.’ Hermione reached under the table to stroke her pet. ‘Are you hungry?’
‘That creature is always hungry,’ Severus grumbled. ‘He eats more than I do.’
Hermione ignored him. Putting her quill down, she lifted Crookshanks onto her lap and turned her attention back to the parchment. Progeny: If yes, how many? It was a reasonable question, she knew, but it was something that Hermione had only ever thought about in the vaguest of terms. This was something they really needed to discuss in some detail since Hermione had no idea what Severus’ views were on the subject. After a moment’s hesitation, she picked up her quill again and wrote “undecided” in the space provided. Unsurprisingly, it turned red.
She quickly worked through several paragraphs concerning ‘Progeny from prior relationships’, happily striking them through with a ‘not applicable’, and soon found herself studying the final question. Oh, dear. Again, this was something she had never discussed with Severus, and again she was not surprised to see her answer change colour. I hope this isn’t going to upset him—
‘Have you finished, Hermione?’
She nodded. ‘Think so. I suppose we’re meant to compare notes, now.’
Severus chuckled. ‘Indeed. Bring your chair closer, and let’s see how wildly unsuited we are for each other.’
Hermione swatted his arm. ‘Don’t joke about it. You haven’t seen what I’ve written yet.’ She pushed Crookshanks off and dragged her chair closer. ‘There seems to be an awful lot of red script on yours, too,’ she remarked, handing him her parchment.
Severus regarded Hermione’s replies, raising an eyebrow at the first item for discussion. ‘Hermione, I’m sure you already know this, but just to make it absolutely clear, your bloodline and blood status do not matter to me in the slightest.’ He initialled the appropriate clauses which transformed the ink to black once again.
Hermione smiled. ‘Of course, I knew. And, for the record, your income and current employment are not an issue for me, either,’ she said, scratching her initials next to the offending paragraph on Severus’ parchment.
‘Neither is the fact that you own two desirable properties—which will remain in your sole ownership, I may add—while I only have the one,’ he countered. ‘Although, I can’t see us ever living in any of them.’
Hermione chewed her bottom lip before replying. ‘I know... You’re right. I can’t see it either, but... it’s still nice to have a bolt-hole in the sun...’ She giggled at the look on his face. ‘Yes, the sun. Yellow thing in the sky. Remember it?’ Hermione sighed, her smile fading. ‘But, seriously, Mum and Dad’s house... I suppose I’ll have to let it go at some point, but you know how it is...’
‘Yes,’ Severus answered softly. ‘I’ve kept my old childhood home all these years, and I have very few happy memories of the place. Perhaps it is also time for me to... let go.’
Hermione put her arm around him and leant her head on his shoulder. ‘When the time comes, it would be nice to buy somewhere that is just... ours—where we can make our own memories... For us and our... family – if we have one, that is.’
Severus dipped his head so that his hair obscured his face. ‘I see you have not completed the section on children, either,’ he said.
‘No, I didn’t, seeing as we’ve never discussed it...’
‘Quite. Do... you want children, Hermione?’
She toyed with a strand of his hair, contemplating her reply. ‘I’m not sure—I’ve never given it a great deal of thought, but yes, I think so – or I will one day.’ She pulled him closer to her when he remained silent. ‘Neither of us has any family left, Severus. Any family we have, we’ll have to make ourselves.’ She hesitated. ‘How-how do you feel about it?’
Severus slowly turned his head towards her. ‘Hermione, not even a year has passed since I was taking each day as it came, thankful to see the sunset. Having you, a wife... children, would have been like asking for the moon. Yet, here we are. In all honesty, my love, I would just settle for you, and I would be more than content with that... Having children is another step again.’ He sighed. ‘It’s a daunting prospect; I admit it scares the hell out of me—’
‘But,’ he continued, ‘I have also been giving the matter some thought, and I have come to the conclusion that, yes, I too would like to have children one day.’ He smirked when Hermione kissed his cheek and smiled soppily at him. ‘So, it would seem we can both tick the “yes” box. We just have to decide on the size of our brood.’
‘Brood? Molly Weasley has a brood. Two is more than enough for me, thank you.’
Severus looked at the parchment again. ‘The choices are: 1-4, 5-8 and “other”.’
Hermione nodded. ‘So I noticed. I wonder why.’
‘The high numbers?’ Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘I suspect it is to take into account the risk of any... uh... Squibs...’ he trailed off.
‘Oh.’ Hermione replied quietly. ‘I see. Purebloods and all that...’
‘1-4 it is then.’ Hermione ticked the box with a sigh, not wanting to dwell on it. ‘But two is definitely the limit. Agreed?’
They watched their writing return to black then scanned down the page to the last contentious issue on Hermione’s parchment. Hermione braced herself as she heard Severus suck in his breath.
‘You do not wish to take my name on marriage?’
Hermione thought carefully before replying; a blunt “no” would sound harsh, she knew, and she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. ‘I want to keep my name for... professional purposes—’
‘So, you think taking my name would hold you back?’ Severus interrupted, sounding hurt nonetheless.
‘No, that’s not it at all.’ Sighing, Hermione covered Severus’ hand with her own. He stiffened, but did not try to withdraw it. ‘My parents are dead, Severus,’ she continued softly, ‘and I have no family that I am close to. I hardly venture into the Muggle world anymore – there is no need; my life is here. So, you see, my name is... the only link I have with the past, my roots. It’s all I have left. Please try to understand. If I ever make something of myself, it would sort of... pay tribute to my Mum and Dad for all they did for me. I want the name of Granger to mean something in our world. My parents don’t deserve to be forgotten as if they were just-just some... some insignificant Muggles who died needlessly in the crossfire...’ Hermione’s voice broke. She started take her hand away only to find it clasped firmly in Severus’ strong grip.
‘I see,’ he said quietly. ‘That is an acceptable reason, Hermione.’
She smiled at him and sniffed. ‘That doesn’t mean I’d have a fit if someone called me “Mrs Snape”, you know,’ Hermione added. ‘I would be very proud to be your wife, Severus. Never doubt that.’
Severus brushed a stray tear away with his thumb. ‘I know, I know. Don’t upset yourself. Here,’ he said conjuring a handkerchief. ‘Blow.’ While Hermione dried her eyes, Severus picked up his quill and initialled her parchment. ‘There. That’s everything. We now only have to sign them.’
Hermione quickly read over both parts of the contract again. Nodding in agreement, she added her signature to her part, and Severus did the same. Once they had been countersigned and dated, the two sheets of parchment rolled themselves up into two neat scrolls and promptly vanished. It was done.
‘Well, that would appear to be that...’ Severus took a deep breath, slid gracefully off his chair and knelt beside Hermione. ‘I believe it is customary for the lady to stand.’
Somewhat stunned, Hermione rose shakily to her feet. Severus took her hands in his.
‘Hermione Granger, you have been, in turn, in the short time I have known you, an insufferable know-it-all, a thorn in my side, a most brilliant pupil, a beautiful witch, a fearless warrior and the love of my life. Without you by my side I would have a future filled only with darkness and misery. Why you would have me is beyond my comprehension, but I would be honoured if you would consent to be my wife.’
Hermione sank to her knees and kissed him. ‘Yes. All things considered, I think I’d like that. Very much.’
Severus reached into his pocket and smirked. ‘In that case, it would please me greatly if you would accept this as a token of my affection.’
Wide-eyed, Hermione felt her heart pounding in her chest as she watched Severus tip out the contents of a small pouch onto the palm of his hand.
‘Oh, Severus,’ she breathed. ‘It’s beautiful, but... it’s a bit big...’
‘Not “it”,’ he said, ‘“they.” Observe.’
Intrigued, Hermione watched as Severus ran his thumbnail down the shank of the ring and gently pressed it into the metal. Then, with the thumb and forefinger of each hand, he slowly pulled. The metal parted, like mercury, stretching, holding on until the last possible second as if the separation were somehow more than it could bear. Severus held the two rings out for Hermione to see.
‘They used to fascinate me as a child,’ he said, bringing them together so that the metal began to merge once more. ‘They are the only heirlooms of the Prince family that are left. My mother’s parents were the last to wear them.’
‘Amazing,’ Hermione whispered, spellbound. ‘May I see?’
‘Of course,’ Severus replied. ‘This one – the slightly thicker one, is the man’s ring. This one is... yours.’
Severus placed both rings in the palm of his hand, but Hermione had eyes only for the smaller of the two. He watched her face as it called to her, already weaving its magic, and smiled to himself. Hermione was as captivated as he had been the first time his mother had revealed their existence to him and divulged the complexity of their power. Transfixed, he had stared at them, too, and solemnly promised never to be tempted to use them, even as the possibility of enticing Lily Evans with their enthralling beauty had seeded itself in his brain.
‘Beautiful...’ Hermione murmured, her fingers reaching out to touch it. The Celtic knots engraved into the gold and the clear, multi-faceted gemstones shimmered in the flickering candlelight.
There was a low growl from under the table.
‘Do you accept?’
At the sound of Severus’ voice, Hermione tore her gaze away from the ring to look into the fathomless eyes of her future husband. ‘Yes. Yes, I do.’
The growling grew more persistent.
Holding her gaze, Severus wordlessly took Hermione’s left hand in his.
This was too much for Crookshanks. With a blood-curdling howl, he sprang at Severus, hissing, spitting and clawing viciously at his hands, but it was no good. The ring slipped easily onto Hermione’s finger.
Not missing a beat, Severus effortlessly Stunned the half-Kneazle and turned his attention back to Hermione. She was as white as a ghost.
‘Severus... What-what have you done?’ The room was spinning. Any minute now, she was going to be sick... You should never, ever put on any jewellery, particularly something that old, without testing it for curses first. Ron’s warning percolated through the fog, but it was getting hard to think...
‘It’s all right, Hermione.’ Severus’ voice seemed a long way away. ‘It’s only the ring adjusting to your magic. It will pass.’
Just as Hermione thought she was going to black out, everything suddenly crashed back into focus. ‘What have you done?’ she repeated angrily, trying to pull the ring off her finger.
‘The rings are linking with our magic, joining us.’
‘What exactly does that mean, and what have you done to my cat!’
With a flick of his wand, Severus Rennervated Crookshanks, who glared at him before slinking over to Hermione’s side. ‘Quite simply, it means, my love, that you are bound to me until the day one of us dies.’
Infuriated, Hermione tried to pull the ring off again, but Severus stopped her. ‘Only I can do that,’ he said softly, ‘and you must realise now that I never will.’ Tenderly, he pushed her hair off her face. ‘There’s no need to be upset or angry, Hermione. This changes nothing between us. I love and respect you and will never harm you. You must believe that.’ Severus touched the ring, which was now on his wedding finger, with his thumb. ‘Accept the binding, Hermione.’
Severus watched Hermione’s face as her anger faded, to be replaced by a look of confusion and then one of acceptance.
Hermione dropped her gaze and stared at her hand. ‘It is very beautiful,’ she said, turning the ring around her finger.
Severus nodded. ‘It is goblin made – by one of their most famous jewellers and is at least four hundred years old.’
‘Really?’ Hermione smiled. Then she noticed the scratches on his hands. ‘Oh, did Crookshanks do that? Here, let me.’ She took out her wand and performed a healing charm. ‘That was very naughty of you, Crookshanks,’ she scolded. ‘Don’t do it again.’
Crookshanks meowed at her admonishment, arched his back and trotted out of the room in disgust.
‘Now,’ said Severus with a smirk, ‘if you don’t mind, I think I’d rather like to kiss my new fiancée.’
Before she could say anything further, Severus gathered Hermione into his arms and claimed her mouth with his own. It was a demanding kiss; one that spoke of desire and possession and promises of delights to come. He held nothing back, all fear of rejection having dissolved. There were no more nagging doubts; no fear in the back of his mind that one day, the look of love in her eyes would fade. She belonged to him, now. No one else would have her; she could never leave him. A kiss had never felt so good.
A Mudblood, eh? And not an especially pretty one at that. Good for breeding, though, and an excellent mind...
Severus easily shook the thought. If that was the best it could do, he would have no problem resisting its machinations. He loved Hermione; he would keep her safe and never abuse the ring’s power by interfering with her free will—other than making her accept the binding, of course, and... Severus pulled back and opened his eyes to look at Hermione. His Hermione. She regarded him with hooded eyes, breathing heavily, lips swollen from his kisses... She would never look at another man like that. Not ever. His need for her engulfed his senses.
She is yours. Take her...
Yesss... Severus trailed his hand down the column of Hermione’s throat, and she shivered under his touch. Cupping a breast, he squeezed gently, feeling her nipple stiffen through the material... Skin, he had to have skin. Pushing the garment off her shoulders, he made short work of her bra. He bent to mouth the velvety soft skin of her breasts, flicking his tongue, coaxing the hardening peak... Almost... edible... He bit down...
‘OWW, that hurt. What did you do that for?’
‘Shhh.’ Severus gently sucked on the tenderised flesh, soothing it with his tongue.
Severus felt the tension leaving her body as he continued to lick and suck until she became almost limp in his arms. The thrill of the power he had over her shot down his spine to his groin as he watched the flush of arousal spreading over her breasts. He would be the last man to ever see her like this; the only man who would ever know the taste of her sweet skin or the wetness that was waiting for him, spreading between her legs, preparing her for him. No more the beggar at the feast, no more scraps for him; those days were over. His. All his. With trembling fingers, Severus reached around Hermione’s neck and unfastened her locket. Not even the dead would have a claim on her today.
‘Stand up, Hermione.’
She sighed and stood up on shaky legs, holding onto Severus’ shoulders for support, her robe pooling at her feet as she did so. Severus reached up and slowly pulled down her knickers. Sitting back on his heels, he drank in the glorious sight of his goddess adorned only with his ring on her wedding finger. Hermione smiled down at him benevolently, her scent filling his nostrils as he rubbed his nose against her soft curls and ran the tip of his tongue along her slit. She tasted divine, as always. He grabbed her by the hips and pulled her closer. Hermione moaned and laid her hand on his head, twining his hair through her fingers. ‘More...’
Bossy little thing, isn’t she?
‘Hmm... manners, Miss Granger.’
‘Seeing as you ask so nicely... Get on the couch.’
Hermione tottered over to the sofa and sat down while Severus quickly divested himself of his clothing and crawled after her. Pushing her legs apart, he knelt between them.
Hermione put her feet up on the sofa, spreading her knees wide. She reached for Severus, pulling him towards her and kissing him hungrily.
Compliant, yet fiery. Unusual...
‘You are so beautiful,’ Severus whispered. ‘I want you so much.’
Hermione smiled. ‘I know,’ she said softly, stroking his face. ‘I know.’
It took every last ounce of self-restraint not to take her there and then, but Severus’ ache to please her overcame his own desperate need. By sheer force of will, he concentrated on the tiny portion of her collarbone just beneath his lips. Giving it his undivided attention, he sucked and nipped at the skin, beginning an inch by inch survey of his territory, resisting Hermione’s impatient attempts to push his head down to where she wanted it. There was no rush, no rush at all.
Hermione cried out when he began to suck her nipples once again and tried to push him away. ‘They’re too sensitive... please...’
But they were made for him to suck...
You and your son.
‘Mmm...’The thought was intoxicating. What would she look like, breasts engorged with milk, his son sucking...? What would it taste like? He licked his lips.
She is young, ripe...
Severus shook his head. Not yet... not... married yet... He continued kissing his way down her belly, trying not to think of a child—your child—growing in her womb, and settled between her legs.
He dragged his fingers along her inner thighs before parting her lips with his thumbs. ‘So, wet... always so wet for me.’ He swiped his tongue along the length of her slit, then stopped and sighed, extricating a stray pube from his teeth. </i>I wish she’d do something about this muff of hers.</i>
Command her to shave.
Severus circled his tongue around her clit, causing Hermione to moan and thrust her hips up into his face. The hairs tickled his nose, and he sighed again as he brushed them out of the way. She would undoubtedly look a lot nicer without it, and there was skin under that bush he had never kissed, skin she was hiding from him, skin that belonged to him. Mmm, yesss... He blew gently over her clit, delighting in her little moans of approval. Delectable little pearl... All mine... How about a little piercing...? Would you like that...? And a little disc... Property of Severus Snape...
If it would please you...
Severus smirked, glancing up Hermione’s body, watching her face as she moaned and writhed, almost insensible with pleasure from his touch. Yes, it would please him no end—nipple rings, too, but he didn’t think Hermione would be too keen on the idea.
Her opinion is of no consequence.
That was simply not true... And there would be no commanding, but now she was his, there were avenues of pleasure they could explore together that he would never have dared suggest before... he would teach... train. Oh, yes, a myriad of possibilities, and all the time in the world. Pushing Hermione’s knees into her chest, he slid his tongue further down and dipped it inside her. Oh, she tasted so good; he would never have enough of this. He slid his hands under her arse, kneading her buttocks as he lapped and sucked his way back up to her clit. Flicking it delicately with his tongue, Severus felt Hermione tense underneath him, and he knew she wasn’t far off. He kept going even as she shuddered uncontrollably against his face.
‘Oh, Severus, please, no more... It’s too much.... Gods, stop!’
‘Tell me what you want, Hermione.’
‘You... I want you... now.’
‘Where do you want me?’
‘You know damn well. Stop teasing me!’
Grinning, Severus pulled her to the edge of the sofa and placed the tip of his cock against her entrance, savouring the moment. He eased his way in slowly, maddeningly, ignoring the pounding of the blood in his ears and the persistent tingling in his balls. Swallowing hard, he stilled and flexed his cock inside her. Hermione responded by rhythmically squeezing her muscles around it.
He groaned. Torn between the desire to sustain the moment indefinitely and to spend himself inside her as quickly as possible, Severus gritted his teeth. Teasingly, Hermione rocked her hips, giggling at the ragged gasp that escaped his lips. She felt so, so good, but the stone floor was playing havoc with his knees. He pulled out.
‘Turn around, Hermione.’
It took a moment for his instruction to register before Hermione rolled over and knelt on the sofa.
‘Hurry up.’ Severus gave her a sharp smack on the backside.
‘Ouch. There was uncalled for,’ she said crossly, looking over her shoulder at him.
‘But it’s so smackable, my dear,’ he replied, giving her another one.
Sighing, Severus rubbed the reddening skin. Another time, perhaps. He spread her cheeks to admire the view of her swollen pussy and could not resist one more taste. Delving his tongue inside her, he wondered how she would react if he dragged his tongue back and licked her anus but decided that was another pleasure that could wait. Instead, he climbed onto the sofa behind Hermione and pushed her forward so that she was half-hanging over the back. Holding his cock, he put it between her legs, rubbing it along her slit until it was well lubricated, then he slid back, found his target and entered her swiftly. He closed his eyes, revelling in the tight, wet heaven that surrounded him.
Her arse is tighter...
Severus groaned as he gave in to his body’s demands, knowing he wouldn’t last long. He reached around and between Hermione’s legs, finding her clit, wanting... needing...
Command her to come!
SHE EXISTS FOR YOUR PLEASURE!
Something inside him snapped. Grabbing the back of the sofa, he pounded into her, harder, deeper, oblivious to everything but the white heat of his building orgasm and the bone aching need to bury himself inside her until, with a triumphant roar, he collapsed on her back, panting and sweating.
‘Move,’ Hermione gasped. ‘You’re crushing me.’
Though spent and exhausted, Severus managed to extricate himself, allowing Hermione to turn around and slump back on the sofa. He grabbed his wand to clean them up before flopping beside her, pulling her onto his lap and kissing her between gasps for breath. Hermione sighed contentedly, feeling warm, loved and thoroughly shagged. Then, she noticed the ring.
‘Severus, look! The stones. They’ve changed colour!’ They had indeed turned red.
‘Hmm...’ He regarded his thoroughly ravished witch with smug satisfaction. ‘That tells me my intended has a very passionate nature.’
Hermione laughed and kissed him on the nose. ‘Oh, Severus. You needed a ring to tell you that?’ She glanced at his finger. ‘But yours haven’t.’
Severus chuckled. ‘No, they will only turn red if you are ever in danger – and then I will be able to Apparate to your side.’ He kissed her softly when she opened her mouth to question him further. ‘So, you see, being joined by the rings has many advantages, and I shall tell you more later. But for now,’ he said with a glint in his eye, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m getting cold. I suggest we continue this somewhere more... comfortable.’
‘But it’s nearly dinnertime!’
‘I shall order something for us later, but right now, you look tired and I prescribe bed rest. Plenty of... bed rest.’
* * *
It was an excited Hermione that made her way to the Headmistress’ office with Severus the following day. They were running late for lunch, and so Severus had asked Minerva permission to travel by Floo to the Burrow.
‘You’re sure it’s okay to tell her, Severus?’ Hermione asked as she stepped off the spiral staircase.
‘Why should I mind? She’ll find out soon enough.’
‘Come in you two,’ Minerva called out. ‘The door’s open.’
‘Good Morning, Hermione. You look very happy, I must say.’
‘Severus... he... I’m... we’re engaged!’ Hermione blurted out, holding her hand out so Minerva could see the ring.
‘That’s lovely, my dear,’ Minerva said quietly. ‘Congratulations to you both.’ She smiled warmly at Hermione. ‘Now, if you wouldn’t mind going ahead, I’d like a quick word with Severus.’
Minerva watched Hermione disappear through the flames before rounding on Severus. ‘What have you done?’
‘Whatever do you mean, Minerva?’ Severus replied innocently.
‘Don’t play games with me, Severus Snape. It’s been a good few years, but I know a binding ring when I see one. Where did you get it?’ She reached into her sleeve. ‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t summon the Aurors.’
Severus merely smirked. ‘It’s been in my family for generations. I’ve done nothing illegal.’
‘That’s beside the point!’ Minerva retorted. You know perfectly well how Dark those things are. I shouldn’t have to remind you—’
‘No, you don’t.’ Severus’ eyes narrowed. ‘I understand its power all too well, and I won’t abuse it, if that’s what you mean. I can control it.’
Minerva bit back her tongue. Then you’re a bigger fool than I thought. She tried a different tack. ‘Hermione is special and very dear to me. She has been through so much – lost family, friends... But now she has a bright future ahead of her—’
‘Hermione wanted a commitment; she took the ring of her own free will.’
Minerva snorted. ‘I very much doubt that—at least, I doubt she fully realised what it entailed. So,’ she continued icily, ‘have you got her to hand over all her money to you, yet?’
‘As a matter of fact,’ Severus replied, ‘we entered into a perfectly standard betrothal contract. Her assets are quite safe, Minerva. I do not want her money.’
Minerva stared at him keenly. ‘Did you, now? And did you sign it before or after you gave her the ring?’
‘Well, that’s something, I suppose,’ Minerva admitted grudgingly. ‘But I want a wand oath from you that you will legally marry her.’
‘No, you listen to me, Severus. Five years and any protection that contract gives her will run out if a marriage does not take place. If you care for Hermione, you will marry her—and the sooner the better.’
‘Not that it’s any of your business, but I—we have decided to marry in the summer.’ He smirked. ‘There seemed little point in waiting.’
‘Make your mind up, Minerva. Do you want me to marry her or not?’
Clenching her fists, Minerva drew herself up to her full height and looked at Severus with as much contempt as she could muster. ‘Severus Snape, I’m holding you personally responsible for that girl’s welfare. You harm her, and ring or no ring, I’ll—’
‘You’ll what, Minerva?’ Severus snapped. ‘There’s nothing you can do. Hermione is mine, and the law will back me up on that. And if you’re thinking of sacking me, I promise you, you will never see her again – nor will any of her friends.’ Severus sighed and took a moment to regain his composure. ‘Minerva,’ he said, holding his hands out towards her in a conciliatory gesture, ‘I have no intention of secluding Hermione from the world, or from the people she loves. I am not her gaoler.’
Seething, Minerva turned her back on him and walked towards her desk. ‘Only time will tell, Severus. Only time will tell.’
Severus took that as his cue to leave. ‘If that’s all you have to say, Minerva, then I’ll be going. I’m expected at the Burrow.’
Minerva waited until she heard the whoosh of the Floo before slumping into her chair. She put her elbows on her desk and put her head in her hands. ‘Of all the stupid, idiotic, arrogant...arseholes!’
* * *
The shadows were lengthening, but Minerva remained unmoving at her desk.
‘You must not blame yourself, Minerva,’ said a voice behind her.
Minerva shook her head. ‘I knew things weren’t right between them, Albus. I should have seen this coming.’
‘How could you have? You’re not a seer.’
Minerva folded her arms and harrumphed. The door opened a crack, and Crookshanks padded in, meowing angrily.
‘I never in my wildest dreams imagined he’s do something like this, Crookshanks. I’m so very sorry.’
The half-Kneazle jumped onto the desk and sympathetically rubbed-up against Minerva’s arm. Not-a-cat hadn’t been there; it was he who had failed in his duty to protect his mistress. If anyone was to blame, it was him.
Minerva scratched behind his ears and made soothing noises. ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk, Crookshanks,’ she said. ‘The question is, what do we do now? What can we do now?’ She sighed and stared at the fireplace, waiting. There was little point in going anywhere. She’d bet her pension that any minute now, she’d be receiving a visit from one worried and very angry witch. ‘We’ll just have to be there for her, Crookshanks,’ Minerva said, stroking his back, ‘and pray that Severus is as strong as he thinks he is.’
Unappeased, Crookshanks let out a pitiful yowl and curled up on the desk to keep vigil with Minerva.
It wasn’t long before a green flare in the grate shook them out of their reverie. ‘Are you there, Minerva?’
‘Yes, Molly.’ Minerva sighed. ‘Come through. I’ve been expecting you.’
Hermione awoke slightly earlier than was usual, feeling stiff and achy. Grimacing, she turned on her side, wondering if her husband might be awake, too. She needed him to heal the bruising; the children couldn’t see her like this—they would be up and about demanding her attention before long, and she had a first-year Charms class straight after breakfast. Would he still be in a foul temper? Dare she wake him? Gently, Hermione shook his shoulder until he stirred in his sleep. She turned over again and lay quietly. That way, she hoped, he wouldn’t realise she had disturbed him.
Severus opened his eyes and groaned. His head was pounding. Had he been drinking? Oh, yes, the potion and… He turned his head to look at his wife. Hermione was facing away from him. The blanket, having slipped off her shoulder, revealed a mass of purple bruising on her upper arm. Carefully, so not to wake her, he lifted the covers.
What the fuck did I do to her? Severus stared at the scratches, bite marks and the imprints of his fingers where he had grabbed her. Horrified, he reached for his wand and started to heal the damage that he could see.
Hermione smiled at the sensation of the magic passing over her skin. She turned towards him, yawning. ‘Good morning, my love. You’re awake early.’
‘Yes, my lovely witch, I am.’ Severus kissed her gently.
Hermione flinched slightly at his touch. ‘Oh, before I forget, I took a Headache Potion last night because I couldn’t sleep. I hope you don’t mind?’
‘No, not this time.’ He ran his thumb along her jaw. ‘Are you hurting anywhere else?’
Gingerly, Hermione turned over to reveal yet more bruising. Severus cast the healing spells again, and Hermione sighed with relief as the soreness eased. Once Severus had finished, she thanked him and kissed him tenderly. Severus stroked her face, still annoyed with himself for his loss of control.
‘Forget about last night, Hermione,’ he commanded quietly in her ear.
Hermione yawned and blinked. ‘Good morning, my love. You’re awake early.’
A/N: At this point in the tale, I would like to pay tribute to Ladyofthemasque, whose story ‘In Annulo’ provided the inspiration for the betrothal rings.