Summary: A tale of the importance of pearls in the courtship and wedding of Hermione and Severus; based on the beautiful artwork manipulation created by the talented Savva (Savvyshka)
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and fictional places do not belong to me; I am merely borrowing them for playtime before (respectfully) putting them back. Thank you JKR, for allowing such things to happen.
Pairings/Main Characters: Hermione Granger and Severus Snape
Warnings: This story is Alternate Universe (AU) and is rated T. It includes bad language and mildly graphic sexual situations.
Thank You: To the magnificant Savva for letting me springboard off her art and get back on the writing horse for the first time in months. ;-) Thank you as well to krazyredhead0317 for alpha/betaing this for me with remarkable speed! You're the best!
The Original Prompt: The original art that inspired this can be found on DeviantART by Savvyshka; there is a link on my profile. I will also be posting it with this same story on my livejournal: .com.
He gave her pearls for the first time when he had proposed, rather than a diamond. To be fair, he hadn't meant to actually propose—he wasn't the marrying sort of man. Severus had, quite frankly, considered himself lucky that she had stayed with him for a full year as it was. They had been reticent thus far in discussing emotions in their relationship, dancing about the subject with careful avoidance. Rocking the boat and possibly scaring her off entirely by requesting the sort of commitment that marriage entailed had not been on the agenda.
The pearls were large and pinkish in colour, each about the size of the fingernail on his smallest finger. They were interspaced with beads of jet and even smaller gilded beads, stretching what might have been a mere choker into a long strand that would fall half way to her waist. They had been his mother's.
Her eyes had widened and he had seen tears actually gather on her lashes, glinting subtly in the candlelight like tiny diamonds. If he had been nervous before, he was now terrified. Were they too much? Too little? What was a man supposed to give the woman he loved but hadn't said as much to on the occasion of their first anniversary? Those few friends he could claim had been supremely unhelpful.
"Jewelry is the understood expectation," Lucius had offered. "Narcissa usually picks something out and informs me of it, then I send one of my assistants to pick it up sometime before the event."
Hardly personal, in Severus' opinion, and he needed personal. He needed her to know she was more important than cold stone and metal and sending an assistant he didn't have to buy baubles that would undoubtedly be unsuited to her.
Minerva had actually rolled her eyes at him. "You know her better than nearly anyone at this point, Severus," she had reminded him. "Surely you would know what she would love the most."
"A rare book…?" He had hesitantly ventured, knowing that no matter the worth, a book would certainly not suffice in what he wanted to say. A first year anniversary of a relationship only came about once, after all, and if he didn't express the correct amount of emotion, he might not get a second year. He might have a 'horribly sexy' voice, according to her, but that did not actually help him know how to express his –Merlin help him—feelings. Therefore, his gift had to be perfect, just in case he ballsed up the talking bit.
Minerva had been absolutely horrified. "Severus! Are you really going to put yourself in the same league as Potter and Weasley? This isn't merely a friend you are buying for, nor is this a mere holiday. Do try to remember that for all she is extremely intelligent, Hermione is, first and foremost a woman, and deserves to have it acknowledged by at least her boyfriend. Get her something pretty, for heaven's sake!"
Severus had grimaced, and then had re-visited Lucius' advice. Nearly everything in the jewelry shop had glittered—hard, bright, and ostentatiously dazzling in a way that he felt just wasn't right. Listlessly, Severus had drifted from display case to display case, his frown more pronounced and his spirits sinking with each new piece displayed.
Then he saw it. The second to the last case in the store had held pearls in various shapes, sizes, and an array of colours. Unlike the gemstones next to them, they glowed with a soft, natural beauty that seemed to hold all the warmth and luminescence that the cut gems lacked. Seeing them, a memory had tickled the back of his mind. It had been Christmas, years earlier, and his usually staid mother had attended a party in a subtly more daring dress than he had ever seen on her before, her throat wrapped several times with a long strand of soft pink and jet. His mother had been the loveliest thing his young mind could imagine.
Thoughtful, he had left the jewelry shop, and had gone to Gringotts instead. His mother's necklace was not as a high quality looking as those offered in the shop, he noted. The pearls were not all precisely evenly round, and the gilt on the tiny beads spaced between the pearls and the jet was beginning to wear off. They were his, though; they would be from him in a way that store-bought ones just couldn't be. The soft pink of the pearls would be the perfect match against the honey of Hermione skin, and the jet seemed almost too perfect a metaphor.
Decision made, his heart in his throat, he had presented them to her, praying to whoever might be listening that she wouldn't find them unworthy. He wouldn't be able to take it impersonally if she did—not with his mother's pearls. Panicking, he wondered if he shouldn't have just bought her something from the store after all.
His anxious silence had been answered with those tiny winking tears, and he had nearly snatched the pearls back and apologized for…whatever. "You don't like them." His voice had wavered so slightly not many would have heard it, but the slight shiver in his words was there, and he cursed it and himself mentally.
Hermione shook her head quickly, vehemently, dashing a hand over her eyes and smearing her makeup the slightest bit. The minute smudge made him feel a bit steadier. "No, you misunderstand!" She protested, her soft lips curving into a smile. "You just…it's just another first for me, Severus. No one, least of all a man has ever thought to buy me jewelry before. It's…oh…it's not something I can explain well."
"They were my mum's." He felt compelled to tell her. He hadn't actually bought them.
Her soft brown eyes met his, and she said with perfect sincerity, "They're perfect, honestly the most beautiful gift I've ever received. You're perfect."
"They're like us." He tentatively reached for her hand and explained, "Jet is dark and unassuming and it looks like stone. But…inside it's really wood, shaped and forced into something new by pressure and years. It's brittle—far easier to break than it seems." His heart had pounded, wondering if he had said too much.
Hermione had brought her other hand to the one he still had clasped over hers, and laid it gently on top, reassuring him. Her smile was wider, her eyes encouraging and even—dare he believe it?—hopeful.
Encouraged, he continued, clearing his throat, "Pearls aren't truly stone either." Feeling slightly bolder, he shot her an insolent smirk. "They start out as a tiny, painful irritant—"
"You arse!" Hermione protested, laughing.
"But then they grow," he continued. "They grow and gain layers and lustre, they polish themselves against their surroundings and in just a few years they are the most beautiful and desirable part of the oyster. They're the part worth keeping." He cleared his throat again. "Worth a fair bit more, I daresay, than dour, million-year-old fossilized wood all carved up in order to be made presentable."
The tears were back in her eyes, and she shook her head again. "Oh, Severus, don't you realize by now that I love you? Don't you dare tell me you are worth anything less than everything."
Love. She had said it, matter-of-factly and without the slightest trace of embarrassment or hesitancy. She loved him. The evening had, in one turn, become better than he could have possibly imagined, and he had always been a very creative sort of person. He was so startled and elated by her pronouncement that he hadn't stop to think before he found himself blurting, "Marry me."
She had agreed, her tears falling more freely then, and he had reverently wrapped the long strand of pearls around her throat thrice in lieu of an engagement ring. Thank Merlin she was a Gryffindor, he had thought, absently. Exactly the sort to find his tongue-tripping, unintentional proposal romantic.
The second time he gave her pearls, he did buy them from a store. They were smaller than his mother's, but cultured to be perfectly matched and sized. Mikimoto pearls, Severus was assured by the sales lady, were considered top of the line as far as pearl jewelry went. At nearly £3000.00, Severus had thought sourly, they had better be.
This strand was even longer than the first; she could double it if she liked and they would still be long enough to nestle in the hollow between her breasts. Her eyebrows had raised when he had presented them to her, and a wicked smile had flashed across her features, hardening him damn near instantly, as if he were not forty years old.
They had not spoken of their engagement, nor made any sort of plans toward a future wedding. She had seemed content to let it lie, an unspoken understanding that would someday happen. For all that he was sure it was what he wanted—that she was what he wanted—he had found himself oddly relieved. She had chosen him; she ate her morning and evening meals with him, slept beside him at night, and regularly displayed a lascivious eagerness for his body that left him in no doubt that she wanted to be with him.
When he considered marriage, he couldn't help but be reminded of his parents' own poisoned relationship, or the Malfoy's seemingly affectionate but distant way of dealing with each other. On inspection, the Potter boy's own marriage to Ginevra seemed to be a more explosive and dramatic affair than the comfortable melding of lives he had discovered with Hermione. He couldn't help but worry that everything would somehow be altered and ruined if he actually went through with it.
Hermione, goddess bless her, seemed to pick up on his hesitancy and never pushed him for more, which had only bound him to her more tightly. She understood his unspoken fears seemingly as easily as she understood that he loved her, despite his lack of saying so.
The evening he had given her the long strand of Mikimotos, she had wrapped and looped them about his wrists. Her voice was nearly as rich and dark as his, teasing across his ear and throat and chest. He had struggled, sweating and desperate for her, carefully trying not to lose control and break the strand of pearls as he had done with less precious bindings in the past. She had laughed and rendered him nearly cross-eyed with need before he had been unable to keep himself in check any longer.
His seed had dribbled down her chin and dripped onto her throat and breasts in shimmering drops, and Severus couldn't help but think smugly that they had both worn pearls to celebrate her twenty-second birthday.
She finally wrung the words from him at Christmas a year or so later. He was in a nasty mood, and they had fought spectacularly. It had reduced her to tears and she had barricaded herself in his—their—bathroom. Their noon meal had gone untouched, as had their Christmas gifts to each other.
Severus was feeling simultaneously mutinous and justified that he was correct and miserable that his cutting argument had left her weeping, and uncertain how to rectify matters. It was their first mutual day off together in nearly two and a half months; he did not want to waste it bouncing from Hagrid's, the Weasley residence, and the Great Hall, steeped in polite small talk. Nor did he wish to continue pretending that he didn't feel guilty for failing to find her parents in time for Christmas for the fourth year in a row.
He had hoped to give her their presence instead of the pretty South Seas pearls this year. He had failed in this, and all she wanted to do was ignore the simmering cauldron of grief and blame and hurt and chit-chat with a bunch of damned hypocrites who kept eyeing him as if he were not good enough for her.
He knew that already. He didn't need reminders.
Thus he found himself sitting on the bloody floor of all places, locked outside his own bathroom door, listening to her quiet hiccoughing tears and feeling like his soul was being ripped in half. He couldn't go through another year of that, why did he always have to be the unselfish one in this relationship? He was always catering to her needs and wants, couldn't she understand that just this once he just needed time alone with her and Christmas social expectations could bugger off?
His imagined perfect, quiet day at home with her had passed in stilted silence and avoidance instead. She had emerged from the bathroom, tears dried and face surprisingly made up. She had dressed in simple, but elegant robes and had informed him that she would be attending the various social obligations she deemed important, and he was welcome to stay at home and sulk like a child by himself if that's what he wanted. Feeling emotionally wrecked and angry, he had done just that.
He had spent the entire day in a distracted, miserable haze of loneliness, worried that he had ruined everything by ruining her Christmas, and worried that if he gave in and apologized now he would always have to give in to her in order to keep her.
By the time she arrived back home it was late, and he was already in bed, trying to convince himself that he was tired and that the bed was not so very large and lonely without her. She entered the room almost silently, but the tell-tale smell of orange and cinnamon that her shampoo was scented with gave her away.
She slid into her side of the bed almost hesitantly, as if uncertain of her welcome, and it had taken every ounce of will he possessed not to gather her close and ask her not to leave him alone again. A cool, feminine hand had pressed against his shoulder blade, and her voice had come quietly.
"It was horrible without you today. I've never felt more alone in my life; I never should have left. I just wanted so badly for things to be perfect and happy today, and it's so much easier not to think of the things that are off when I'm busy. Still, I shouldn't have just left. I'm sorry, Severus. The pearls are absolutely lovely."
He turned to face her then, relieved that he would be allowed to hold her tonight the way he wished, after all. She was almost entirely naked, all soft, smooth skin, nearly as pale as his was this time of the year. She had washed her make-up off and her face was slightly pink from the hot water she had used. Or perhaps she had cried again.
Absently, he fingered the pearls she wore, his Christmas present to her. "You look lovely in them. You always do." Her expression eased, and he considered leaving everything there. Her apology didn't change that things needed to be discussed, however.
"I feel helpless sometimes with you, Hermione. You are so strong; it sometimes feels like there is nothing you need from me, nothing I can offer that you can't already do or achieve without me. The only thing I've been able to try to help with is finding your parents, and in that I have failed. All I have is me and we both work so much…" his voice trailed off. "Sometimes I worry that I'm losing you, letting you simply drift away like you walked away today, whilst I did nothing to stop you. At the same time, I can't help but feel like it is always me that must give in when there is a disagreement."
Tears twinkled in her eyes again, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from taking the words back. He was not known for sugar-coating his words; it was as gently as he could figure out how to make his point. It might be an uncomfortable conversation but the point did need to be made.
"I've been so, so selfish, haven't I?" She drew in a ragged breath. "I keep pushing you outside your comfort zone; I know I do. On one level, I do think that's a good thing for you—you would shut the world out entirely if left to your own devices. But I do push too much, too far. I think…I think I've been doing it because I've been searching, a little bit, for some sort of proof. Unconsciously."
"Proof." Severus' voice sounded a little bewildered, even to himself.
"You're a very taciturn man," she said wryly, and looked guilty. "I guess…I guess I just wanted to have some sort of proof that I do have your heart; that your proposal two years ago wasn't simply just blurted out words…I'm sorry." Her voice was small, "I can be horribly insecure. You're absolutely everything I've ever wanted, Severus, and you have almost all of my firsts, and I've got none of yours; I don't even know how you really feel…not with absolute certainty. So…I've been pushing."
Severus had gathered her close then, hugged her tightly. "You do. You do have my heart." He pressed soft, light kisses across her cheek, her collarbone, her breasts. "You are my heart." It was if a dam had been released, and two years after he had admitted it to himself, Severus found himself finally whispering the actual words out loud. He whispered them into her hair, her mouth, against the skin of her stomach, thighs and her tiny clit.
She canceled their plans for Boxing Day, and neither of them did anything of significance at all. A week later and he gave her a pearl for her left hand as well.
She wore them all when they finally married, a year later. Never a conventional person, Hermione wore an unconventional gown. Deceptively modest in the front, it was nearly bare of all decoration, its high neck accented by a baroque choker of unmatched pearls. The only noteworthy thing about the svelte sheath was its color. Gryffindor crimson, Madam Malkins called it—more suited for attendants than the bride. Hermione had smiled, and waved the protestations away. She had never wished to be married in white. She'd been put on a pedestal enough following the war.
It was only as she slowly made her way toward her groom on Harry's arm in fine old Muggle tradition that people realized just how daring and "Gryffindor" the gown really was. The back plunged in graceful drapes all the way to her waist, far lower than was proper. It offered the tantalizing illusion that if only the young woman's hips swayed just so, if only her back arched a little more, the crevice of her buttocks might show.
It never did, of course. Hermione did have her boundaries, Severus did have his jealousies, and Madam Malkins did know her business. Outrageous as the dress was—especially on a bride!—hardly anyone focused on the daringly low edge of the gown's back. How could anyone help but stare instead at the pearls? What had been a charmingly odd choker in the front was revealed to be ten or more strands of pearls of varying lengths, colors, and sizes, dripping and drizzling down the slender line of Hermione's back in a veritable cascade of opulence.
They clicked coolly between her shoulder blades, teased the edge of her gown, and glowed against her skin. They tangled elegantly in the groom's hand during the couple's first—and only—reception dance. Severus was not comfortable dancing, particularly in front of people, and it was his wedding too, after all. His one dance concession to her was a gift in and of itself, and she did not push him for more.
The wedding was an odd one, and the opinions of those invited were mixed at first. The couple was usually so reserved that it seemed inevitable that the marriage would dissolve. Could something survive by two people so thoroughly academic? The judgmental opinions were struck down by the display of passion hinted at by that dress.
When she was asked about the pearls, Hermione laughed, and patted her husband's hand. "Severus keeps giving them to me—he's convinced that pearls are the only acceptable gift to me for any occasion, and over the last three years I've built quite a collection. I daresay they are far lovelier than I am. Certainly more than I deserve, silly, lovely man." She winked at the almost comically austere man next to her, who surprised and delighted those in attendance by flushing slightly.
"She gets pearls because she started as such a pain in the arse;" he muttered, amidst laughter, then shrugged, "she still is. I'm for some of that wretched punch. Stuff tastes like someone tried to bloody well brew a rainbow. Bloody Gryffindors." He slinked away from the table, but was unable to hide the barest pleased curl of his lips.
He was already planning what to do with those same strands of pearls in a few hours, on his wedding night.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed. :-) -TycheSong