Hermione could see the advantages of being married to a sneaky Slytherin with years of experience in espionage in general, but in particular, but when it came to dealing with Snape the husband and having dropped a bombarda on him… less of a poker face would be useful.

"He may have mentioned something, yes," Severus replied, as bland as Soothing Potion.

"I thought he would. He seems the mentioning type."

"We're not going to have the argument about Lucius again are we?"

"No, I thought we would have an entirely different discussion, about our marriage."

"Fascinating though this discussion is likely to be, we should present ourselves for lunch. We wouldn't want anyone making decisions without our having our say would we?" Severus turned and swept out of the room, leaving Hermione to stare after him wondering what response would bring him off his high horse.

He hadn't left her much option, so she dutifully trotted downstairs to the same room they'd had breakfast in.

The table in the centre of the room had been pulled out to make more spaces as there were more guests than before. The key members of the WI had stayed for lunch and round two of the war of attrition between Muggleborn and power brokers, which was encouraging because it meant there was still a deal to be struck, but did nothing to make the meal relaxing. Even the addition of Professor McGonagall did nothing to sooth the atmosphere, which was frostier than an igloo in midwinter. Gone was the warm glow of lovemaking, replaced by the warmer glow of irritation and the urge to quarrel with her husband.

Lunch, she could see, was going to be even more awkward than breakfast, and it was a sad state of affairs when dining en famille with the Malfoys was considered the less stressful option.

Hostilities commenced once the fish had been served to all parties and the house elves had shuffled off to iron their fingers elsewhere in the house.

"So, Miss Granger," said Mrs Zabini, with a sniff. "Have you decided what you want to do with your life after you bring down the Marriage law? Divorce will be first on your agenda, I suppose."

There was something in her tone that suggested that divorce was just the sort of vulgarity that could be expected from Muggleborns and that Hermione was lowering the tone by simply breathing the same air as her superiors.

Hermione bit back the comment she wanted to make about what odd standards Purebloods had where divorce was less acceptable than poisoning husbands because she didn't want to alienate the evil old cow, and because at that moment she wasn't on sufficiently good terms with her husband to risk being poisoned. "That's a matter between my husband and myself."

Beside her, Lucius, who had been despatching his lightly grilled sole with an air of supreme unconcern, twitched.

"But surely… I was told this was settled," Mrs Zabini persisted.

"That is a matter between my husband and myself," Hermione repeated. Her eyes bored into Severus who looked marginally more cheerful. He had clearly been expecting to be thrown over as a sacrifice to political need.

Sod that, she thought. She hadn't spent all this valuable plotting time working to overthrow the Ministry only to kowtow to some old cows who the Malfoys thought she needed. Severus was worth more than that.

Mrs Zabini raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow and pursed her lips. "I do think it would be politically unfortunate if it were to be widely known you didn't intend to divorce Severus."

Hermione sighed, and put down her fork with a decided clunk. "I appreciate your concern, and I say again that this is a matter between my husband and me, and that is all I will say to anyone who asks."

Mrs Nott leaned forward. "Not if we decide to back you in your resistance to the Ministry. It may affect whether the wider public supports your cause."

"So what you're saying is that as a poster girl for your campaign, I have to do what you want." Hermione shook her head. "No. The whole point of this campaign is that no one should have the power to interfere with another's decision on who they are married to. If the wider public can't grasp that this extends to me, then they won't support the cause anyway."

"So naïve," Mrs Zabini said. "The public doesn't reason, it feels. And what it feels is that your marriage to Professor Snape is an affront. If you're not prepared to divorce him, how will they feel sorry for you?"

"They can feel sorry for someone else," Hermione snapped. "I'm one of the lucky ones. I chose to marry Profess… Severus. You forget; I didn't marry under the Law, but to avoid it."

Mrs Zabini raised her eyes to heaven. "There's no reasoning with the girl."

"Woman," Hermione said. "There's no reasoning with the woman. I'm not a girl. I've not been a girl for several years, what with fighting a war and then fighting the Ministry and not having a moment's bloody peace from people shoving me around and getting me to do things for the public good. Whether I divorce Severus or not is a matter between us, and I am not going to allow you to paint him as the villain of the piece when he was generous enough to agree to marry me to save me from some frankly unpalatable choices."

"Granger, I am hurt," said Draco. "I wouldn't have been that bad."

Mrs Zabini and Mrs Nott turned to look at Draco but stopped short of being rude to the Malfoy heir on Malfoy property.

"Yes, you would," Hermione said. "Not as bad as I thought you would be, but we would have done nothing but quarrel and argue and eventually one of us would have hexed the other. And your father would have expected me to be a good girl and do as I was told…"

"Not, it has to be said, after knowing you for more than five minutes," Lucius said softly.

"…. As it turns out, Severus suits me very well indeed," Hermione continued, ignoring Lucius' contribution. She knew very well it would have been a brisk Imperio to keep her quiet, and probably a dose of poison once the required children had been produced.

"You're saying you don't argue with Severus?" Mrs Zabini said with polite incredulity.

"We discuss things like rational adults," Hermione said firmly.

Mrs Zabini tilted her head to one side. "Well, if you've managed to get Severus to discuss things rather than doing precisely what he wanted…"

Severus coughed. "She resorts to bribery."

There was a note of fond pride in his voice.

"As she should," Mrs Nott replied. "It's the basis for all good Slytherin marriages. I can see, now, why you would not want to divorce."

Mrs Zabini huffed. "It is nevertheless inconvenient."

"Perhaps not. You forget, ladies, that some marriages may be content," Severus put in. "If you take the line that Marriage Law arrangements should be dissolved automatically, you may lose votes there. It is best if we take the line that there should be no such future marriages, and then allow people to sort out their own lives if they married under the Law. Some will want to divorce, some may stay together for the sake of any children, and others may have married under the Law but for love."

"Hermione makes a good point," Minerva said. "If what we are campaigning for is freedom, then the solution we propose has to be about freedom too."

Neither Mrs Nott nor Mrs Zabini looked like women who appreciated freedom as a general concept, being rather more concerned with people doing as they were bloody well told.

Lucius abandoned his sole, and dabbed his lips with his napkin. "Or, to put it more sensibly, ladies – we simply cannot paint Severus as a villain. It will confuse the sheep who have only just accustomed themselves to the idea that he is a hero. Expecting a reversal of their opinion in such a short space of time will distract them from the important issue of ending the Law. It's far easier to paint him in the light of reluctant rescuer, come to save a young woman from a terrible fate, than evil predator."

"Thank you for those kind words," Severus said.

"Besides, anyone who has been taught by him will know he's not like that," Hermione added.

The guests round the table looked at her in fascination.

"Only the Slytherins like him," said Draco, with an apologetic glance at Severus.

Severus looked neither surprised nor upset by that information.

"I didn't say they necessarily liked him," Hermione replied. "They just know that when Severus gives them detention it involves rat spleens and not kinky sex up against the dungeon wall."

The table's attention turned to Severus, who smirked. "No one has ever remotely enjoyed a detention with me. Not even Slytherins."

"Not that they got detention," muttered Hermione.

Draco grinned.

Severus smirked at Hermione, who rolled her eyes at him.

Everyone else round the table noticed the connection between the pair, the fond way – for Severus, which meant not actively scowling - in which he looked at her, and the fearless way she met Severus' eyes.

And then everyone factored this billing and cooing into their plotting, and then factored in everyone else's adjustments to their plots, and almost disappeared into a recursive arithmantic calculation with too many dependent variables to resolve.

One conclusion was obvious.

"Very well," Mrs Zabini said. "I concede that you can stay married to the man."

Lucius put his hand on her arm, and squeezed in warning. Hermione said nothing.

"I'm sure we can find some poor wretch to be an object lesson," Mrs Zabini continued. "We want someone suitably pretty, of course, married to some horrid brute in abject poverty."

Lucius' grip tightened. Hermione recited runes. Backwards.

"Perhaps Rita Skeeter could help," Narcissa said. "If she can be persuaded to break from the Ministry line that would be immensely helpful to the cause."

Lucius, apparently satisfied that Hermione was going to behave, released his grip and returned to his ;unch.

"The Quibbler might be more credible," Hermione said drily. "Skeeter is too close to the Ministry to change surely."

"Perhaps. Though if she can be persuaded to side with us and not the Ministry, that would be one hell of a coup," Minerva replied.

"Best keep me out of it. She's never forgiven me for keeping her in a jar." Hermione smiled fondly at the memory of a green beetle waving its antennae in her glass prison. "We can't use that to blackmail her now she's registered as an animagus."

Severus snorted with laughter. "You shouldn't have shot your bolt on one deal. You should have kept the blackmail in reserve."

"I was young, and just starting out as a blackmailer," Hermione replied. "I've improved vastly since then."

Lucius cast a sideways glance at Hermione. "I'm sure we look forward to watching Mrs Snape's proficiency improve with practice."

"And if blackmail doesn't work," Hermione said cheerfully, "there's always threats."

"That lacks style," Lucius murmured gently.

"Perhaps." Hermione shrugged. "I am a Gryffindor though."

"Yes," said Lucius. "But you're making that increasingly easy to forget."

"Thank you," Hermione said. "I'm sure you meant that as a compliment."

Severus snorted. "Actually, I rather think he did."


Mrs Zabini and Mrs Nott did not linger over lunch, and made their excuses as soon as their last morsel of desert was consumed.

Narcissa signalled to the house elves to clear away the remnants of lunch. "Shall we adjourn to the library for tea?"

The tea things were brought, cups of tea distributed to the plotters, and a thoughtful silence descended on the library broken only by the crackle of the fire and the distant rustling of some of the more energetic books.

"Well, I think that went as well as can be expected," Lucius said. "They are prepared to support our - your, do forgive me Minerva, very much your – bid for power."

"I'm not sure what good that will do us," Hermione said. "People tell me that they're very powerful, but I've never heard of them before, or seen anything that they've changed."

"You wouldn't." Narcissa said. "They're discreet. They would take it as a sign of weakness if they had ever been obvious about anything."

"What's to stop me from taking credit for something, and pretending I'd done it?" Hermione asked. "Or denying it vociferously, which amounts to the same thing."

"Mrs Zabini is connected to half of the Wizengamot by marriage," Severus said. "She knows all of their family secrets, and a wealth of other things besides. The mere suggestion of her disapproval can move mountains."

"Mrs Nott has provided an understanding ear to many a troubled soul, and is well known for being generous with her funds to the right individual," Narcissa added.

"At usurious rates of interest." Lucius smirked. "Between the two of them, there aren't many Wizengamot members they don't own."

"Mmmph," said Hermione, still largely unconvinced, but Severus seemed to think this was all useful and she trusted his judgement even if she didn't trust the Malfoys. "We need to get hold of the research as well."

"Why?" Lucius asked blankly. "It can serve no reasonable purpose to know more about it. It may harm our case if it turns out there is some need for Purebloods and Muggleborns to mix."

"Firstly, I think we need to be sure that there isn't actually a threat against the Wizarding World," Hermione said.

Minerva nodded in agreement. "You said that the analysis was flawed? We can get Septima to run the numbers again, see what pops up. Even with partial information, there should be some strong indicators as to whether there is an underlying problem or not."

"What if we find that there is?" Draco said uneasily. "Surely it would be our responsibility to keep the law?"

"Pshaw!" Minerva waved her hand dismissively. "If that was the case, it could be solved by forbidding marriages between cousins, perhaps even less close relations than that."

Hermione snorted. "Yes, there's no need to resort to compelling people to marry strangers. Just forbid them from marrying close kin, perhaps you could bring in some sort of genetic counselling – test marriages for magical compatibility, that sort of thing."

"I may have some ideas about that," Lucius said. "I don't think you want to hear about them though."

"Is this going to involve hexing?" Minerva asked, bristling. "Because I want no part of threats and hexing."

"Not so much," Lucius said slowly. "Not a direct threat, but a practical appeal to the man's better nature."

Hermione thought that whatever Lucius had in mind, it wouldn't be half as nice as that description sounded. She mentally shrugged. Minerva might have remnants of a conscience, but she could afford to, more than that she needed to. She had to appear squeaky clean, whilst her campaign organised things behind her back that she wouldn't wish to see face up.

The conversation turned to when Minerva should announce her candidacy, and the minutiae of a political campaign: what funding was available and from where, what meetings should be held and when, who were the powerbrokers that she should approach directly and who she should leave to the Witches' Institute.

It was all a little bit dull, even allowing for the colour coded notes she was taking.

Hermione watched her husband's face as he argued for one course of action over another. He seemed relaxed and happy, and enjoying the process of organising a political coup. She smiled fondly at him. He was suited to this in a way that she was not. She would never be a proper Slytherin for all her dabbling in politics, and he was deeply Slytherin in ways she could never understand.

She didn't know if what they had would outlast the excitement of bringing down the Ministry. If they weren't plotting together would they have much to talk about?

She hoped it would.

He needed some innocent enthusiasm in his world, someone to remind him that you should hope for the best from people even as you prepared to deal with their worst, and whose worst manipulation was buying him cockroach clusters to put him in a better mood.

And she needed someone to soften her rough edges, to give her a way to deal with people and get what she wanted that was rather more subtle than nagging.

Nagging worked on the boys. It had brought down a Dark Lord. But now there were different enemies, and sometimes not even enemies but just people who had different views with whom she had to reach an accommodation.

This was probably what growing up felt like.

Her husband caught her looking at him and raised an eyebrow.

She grinned, and he looked startled, then his face eased into a sly smile.

She leaned forward and made a suggestion about Minerva's schedule, perfectly content with her lot.


The discussions lasted long into the afternoon until Narcissa hinted it was time to dress for dinner, and Minerva delicately indicated it was time for her to return to Hogwarts and think things over.

Both sides were well pleased with progress, and rather surprised that the other side was so reasonable.

As Minerva and the Malfoys were saying their prolonged and polite goodbyes, Hermione took the opportunity to separate her husband from the crowd and offer a hint of her own about the need for a private discussion in her room.

Severus was agreeable, and had obviously recovered from the morning's fit of temper, following her up the stairs without demurral.

Severus followed her into the room, but moved to the connecting doorway, leaning against the jamb.

Hermione sat on the bed and patted the space next to her, inviting him to sit down.

He didn't move. He was clearly still inclined to be a bit prickly about the whole business, which was encouraging. A prickly Severus was a Severus who wanted something but was determined not to come out into the open and admit that until he was sure what his position was. "What do you want to talk about?" he said.

"The same thing I wanted to talk to you about this morning."

He arched an eyebrow, but still made no movement to join her.

"I did try to talk to you after breakfast," she said. "Before Lucius hustled you away so that he could snitch on me."

He acknowledged that comment by finally moving across the room to perch next to her on the bed.

"When we set out on this marriage, we agreed we would divorce as soon as the marriage law was revoked," Hermione said. "I agree that we did not anticipate that matters between us would … develop as they have. Nevertheless…."

"That's still what you want," he said flatly.

"I don't want to be married because of the law," she replied. "I want to be married for love."

There was silence. It was a thoughtful silence. It was not a silence that argued with the proposition that marriage was for love, but it was a silence that had no idea what to say next.

"That's what I thought," she said.

"I…" he stopped short.

She took pity on him. His feelings were likely to be just as confused as hers, if not more, because he was older and was expected to be the mature one and to know what he was doing. "Severus, it's not… I like you, I'm fond of you, I'm attracted to you – but is that love? I don't know, and I don't think you do either."

He shrugged, and Hermione thought that, for all their difference in age, sometimes Severus was just like Ron: utterly unable to talk about his feelings.

"But that doesn't mean I don't want to spend time with you finding out what kind of future we have. It's just that once the excitement of plotting together goes away….Well, I think we will need some time to come to terms with where we are." And who we are, she didn't say, because she fully planned on changing a lot over the next few years, and she hoped Severus would have the chance to do so too. He'd been trapped at Hogwarts for too long and needed to get out and spread his wings a bit.

Preferably with her, but maybe he would need to spend some of that time on his own. Maybe she would.

Severus snorted. "There's always a reason to plot."

"So we'll be all right then." She nudged him with her shoulder, and he relaxed a bit more. "Especially if we can get Lucius to keep his nose out of things."

"Never going to happen," he said, wrapping his arm round her waist. "But I can promise that I will talk to you before leaping to conclusions. He doesn't really understand you, you see."

"I'm not that complicated."

"Oh, you are, my dear. You're beautiful, but you don't use that as a weapon. You're intelligent, but you don't hide it. You're kind and generous, and he really doesn't understand generosity without looking for a return. And you want to make the world a better place for people you don't even know, and that baffles him."

Hermione relaxed against him, her head dropping against his shoulder. "He ought to have some experience of dealing with that; he's known you long enough."

Severus huffed. "I'm not kind."

"You are to me," she said. "And generous. You'd even let me have the last cockroach cluster."

"Only if there was something in it for me," he replied.

"There would be," she replied, and grinned. "Though I would point out that you are in something of a cockroach cluster deficit at the moment, so maybe you owe me."

He smirked. "Perhaps a little payment on account…."


They were not late for dinner, and they were both impeccably dressed and not at all flushed. Nevertheless, there was a faint glow of satisfaction about the pair of them – in Hermione it manifested itself with pink cheeks and long looks at Severus under her eyelashes, and in Severus there was the faintest of softening of his eyes whenever he looked on his wife.

Everyone noticed.

Lucius noticed and resigned himself to not stirring that particular pot again.

Narcissa shrugged and abandoned her matchmaking plans for Severus.

Hermione would have laughed if she'd noticed, but she was distracted.

Severus did notice, and dismissed it as utterly unimportant compared to the delights of making his wife blush.