Once More, With Feeling
Hermione Granger's cottage was small and cozy, with white walls, a thatched roof, and a garden that was verging on out of control. It was just big enough for herself, her cat, and her books, and occasionally a few friends over for dinner. She liked it very much and had spent much of the last few years getting things exactly as she liked them.
When she had a rare day off from her job at Gringotts Bank (a position that still mystified most of her friends since she wouldn't elaborate on what, exactly, her duties were), Hermione preferred to spend her time comfortably at home rather than go out. Her friends all knew her habits, and if they could not catch her at work they could reasonably expect her to be at home. So on a cool Saturday afternoon in April, it wasn't much of a surprise that whoever knocked on her door was someone who knew the password and entered her home before she even had time to lay her book down.
It was a surprise, however, when the visitor was neither Harry Potter nor Ron Weasley, but a tall, thin man with black hair going tastefully silver at the temples. Instead of his normal calm, collected greeting, Severus Snape flung himself onto the end of the sofa, nearly sitting on her feet. He groped for her free hand and leaned in, desperation evident in the lines of his shoulders. "Hermione. You've got to help me. You're my last hope."
Fumbling a stray sales slip into the book to mark her place, Hermione gave her ex-husband a look of perplexed fondness. "What on earth has Dumbledore done to you now?"
"Merlin's knickers, I wish it were Albus. At least him I could tell to bugger off. It's my father."
Her brow wrinkled. "Severus, your father's dead."
"I know the old bastard's dead, woman. You helped me toast his ashes. But he's managed one last salvo at ruining my life, and he may very well have done it this time."
"How?" she asked, laying the book on the floor amongst several others that had accumulated there. "I thought you hadn't even spoken to him but once or twice these last few years."
"The Ministry's marriage law," he stated baldly.
The Muggleborn Marriage Act or, as Hermione and Severus had dubbed it, 'the Ministry proves it's an ass' law, had been the cause of their own nuptials a few scant hours after Hermione had graduated from Hogwarts. Four years of heavy lobbying and challenges in the Wizengamot had finally brought an amendment that allowed for the contracted witch to refuse said contract. It also had allowed a provision for Muggle divorces to marriages contracted under Muggle law, a provision that had led to their currently happy state of unwedded bliss.
"Now I really am confused."
"My father changed his will, quite literally at the last moment. He signed another Marriage certificate for me on his deathbed."
"That man didn't suffer nearly enough," Hermione declared, exasperated. "Who is it this time?"
"Some little fluff-brain named Tiffany Shelton. Graduated from Hogwarts two years ago. Hufflepuff."
"No. He didn't! A Hufflepuff?"
"He most certainly did," Severus assured her with a nasty curl to his upper lip. "And that's not the worst of it. She wants to go through with the marriage."
Hermione heaved a disgusted sigh and eyed the man on her sofa. Then, with a fatalistic grimace, she shrugged. "So, you'll offer her the same deal we came up with. Muggle marriage, Muggle divorce -- no harm, no foul."
"I wish it were that easy. But the terms of my father's will specifically state that it has to be a Wizarding ceremony. No divorce. Compulsory consummation."
He shuddered slightly, and Hermione echoed him. Their own marriage had been consummated with the aid of a full bottle of fortified wine and with the candles all put out; the few times they'd shared a bed after that had always been platonic events and purely out of necessity.
"What exactly are the terms?" she asked.
Severus pulled a rolled sheaf of papers from the inside pocket of his cloak and handed them over. While Hermione read over the will and the attached Marriage Contract, she absently asked him to make some tea. He rose obediently and went to the kitchen; the sound of a kettle banging and the china clinking brought a surreptitious smile to her lips. It was one of the few things she'd managed to train him to do while married to him, and habit kept him fetching tea for her years later.
"Well?" Severus asked some time later, after Hermione had moved to her kitchen table and fetched several of the legal references she'd used when spearheading the effort to amend the Marriage Law in the first place. He had been unable to find any wiggle room in the papers, but he held some hope that the brilliant witch who'd managed to thwart both the Ministry and his father might find a way to help him avoid yet another unwanted marriage.
"Severus, I don't think a goblin could find a way around this," she announced in a dark voice. "That bastard you called Father has outlined every single possibility I can think of."
"I never called him 'Father,'" he replied tartly. "I called him many other things, but never that."
"Be that as it may, he's got you by the short and curlies. Unless you marry this girl, you're out your inheritance. And what's worse, he's put a clause in that if you refuse to follow through, she'll get the entire estate."
Severus calmly drained his teacup, set it gently on the saucer, and then threw the set against the far wall.
"Is she that bad?" Hermione asked, not concerned with her broken teacup.
"You've no idea," he growled. "I met her when I went to the reading of the old bastard's will. I was actually polite to her," he added in an aggrieved tone. "I thought she was a cousin or something, angling for a legacy. But no, she's there for the whole thing."
"Then don't marry her," Hermione told him reasonably. "Just walk away and let her have the whole mess."
"I can't," he said quietly. "I need that money."
"I didn't think there was that much?" she questioned carefully, rather than ask why he was in monetary need.
"There's not a huge amount, not by most standards. Besides the house, it's about five years' worth of salary for me, really. But I've already given notice to Albus, and made several... commitments."
Hermione withheld a squeal only by sheer willpower. "You're going to do it, then?" she asked eagerly. "Go into research, like you've always wanted to do?"
Trying not to look pleased, Severus nodded. "Yes. I found a decent building, signed a lease. The Auror's College is interested in outsourcing some of its more dangerous potions work; they can't afford to keep a full time Potions Master on staff, and some of their work is too delicate to allow anyone less capable to deal with it. I've heard from other large firms with the same problem."
"That's wonderful, Severus! I'm so happy for you."
Groaning, Severus stretched out his long legs and slouched down in his chair, a position he'd not have been caught dead in anywhere but Hermione's kitchen. "It would be wonderful if I could pay for it. A teacher's salary doesn't go far, Hermione, and I've already spent a good portion of my savings. Without my inheritance, I won't be able to pay for the equipment I've already had delivered, and I've signed orders for other goods that either can't be returned or have a ruinous return fee. If I don't inherit, I'll be working for the rest of my life just to pay off the debt."
"All right, then. It's obvious you've got to go through with it, stiff upper lip and all that." She ignored his glare, but she'd long since become accustomed to his moods. "I'm sorry, Severus, but the only possible way out of this is if she decides she doesn't want to marry you. She's allowed to refuse, under the amendments of the Marriage Law, and your father's will keeps you in the books if she cried off. But you've already said she wants to go through with it."
"Tiffany," and he drawled the name with all the venom he was capable of, "has informed me she's quite looking forward to being my wife."
Hermione tapped the papers thoughtfully. "And you say this is after she met you?"
"Yes," he bristled.
"Well, you obviously weren't in full form. If she knew you as well as I do, she'd have owled her refusal to the Ministry already." Severus growled at his ex-wife but his heart wasn't in it, especially when she shot him that cheeky grin.
"Send her an owl," Hermione ordered as she gathered up the papers and the teacups. An absent wave of her wand summoned the porcelain shards on the opposite side of her kitchen and reassembled them. "Tell her you want to meet with her."
"To discuss the wedding plans, of course. There's a deadline, after all."
"I don't want to meet with her, and I certainly don't want to discuss wedding plans with her! I want her to cry off and leave me alone!"
"You and I will go and meet her, and talk things out," she announced sensibly. "I'm your ex-wife, I want to meet the woman I'm turning you over to. And maybe, just maybe, talk some sense into her."
His opinion on Tiffany's sensibility was short, scathing, and not fit for polite company.
"Don't swear, it's vulgar," Hermione told him, setting the tea things aside. "I'm going to go shopping for a nice set of robes. I haven't bought anything impressive since we were divorced, and I don't want her to think ill of you."
"And what, pray, am I to be doing?"
"You will be writing a lovely, or at least civil, note to your betrothed. You can also clean the littletea spatters off the wall," she remarked as she sailed from the room.
Severus glared at the spots on the wall, then at the empty doorway. "Yes, dear," he sneered in his worst Potions Master voice. Grumbling under his breath, he went to the desk that dominated the dining room, began rummaging through the drawer where he knew she kept her spare parchment, and applied himself to the assigned task.
(--Two days later--)
Pink robes. Floaty pink chiffon robes, with marabou feathers and spangles around the hem. Sparkling pink eye shadow, matched with pink lipstick, both three shades too bright to be real. Little pink butterflies pinned in her fashionably short blonde hair, along with perfume that could fumigate the Shrieking Shack, and a voice that simpered and giggled and set Hermione's teeth on edge from the first moment she heard it.
"Oh. My. Heavens," Hermione muttered, sotto voice, to the man standing stiffly to her side. "I thought you were exaggerating."
"Have you ever known me to exaggerate?" Severus hissed.
"She looks like a Spice Girl dressed up for Halloween!" she murmured in disbelief.
"Explain that later," Severus ordered, stepping forward to bow over the hand of the young woman welcoming them into her home. Actually, it was her parents' home, a respectable row house in Wandsworth that surely did not deserve being inflicted with a witch who bore more than a passing resemblance to Glinda the Good Witch of the North.
Fluttering around her parents' lounge, Tiffany Shelton was gracious and sweet and amazingly welcoming towards her fiancée's first wife. She knew who Hermione was, of course; after all, she had been with the famous Harry Potter when You-Know-Who was defeated. That subject was thrashed over, yet again, with much admiration from Tiffany and subtle amusement from Severus. Somewhere amidst the gushing, Hermione found herself in possession of a teacup holding a weak attempt at tea with too much sugar added.
Once she got started, Tiffany required only the occasional "Really?" or "Is that so?" or "You don't say," to keep up an effortless stream of chatter. It was too bad Severus wasn't a Ministry official; then the choice of a chattering magpie for a trophy wife would seem normal. In the past few years, a growing trend of older men, mostly in minor functionary positions in the Ministry and others who'd been unable to secure a Pureblood wife due to their lack of status, had resorted to the Marriage law for a mate. What Hermione considered a deplorable counterpoint to this was the young Muggle-born witches who viewed the Marriage law as a free ticket into Pureblood society.
Another glance at Severus let Hermione know that he'd already tuned out his bride-to-be. Oh, he still nodded occasionally, and gave the vague appearance he was paying attention, but Hermione had seen that same expression on his face through too many speeches and obligatory honor events after the war to be fooled.
A mention of the impending marriage brought Hermione's attention back to the conversation, if it could be called that. Although Severus made no effort to add anything, Hermione was forced to comment on the difficulties of pulling together a wedding on such short notice. Of course, she'd been married in her graduation robes the same afternoon she'd graduated from Hogwarts, but Tiffany had more grandiose plans. After consulting with her Divination Sorority, the young woman had already settled on the perfect day for the wedding. There would be scads of her family there, of course. Hermione tentatively questioned the wisdom of inviting Tiffany's entirely Muggle family to a wizarding hand-fasting ceremony, but that was dismissed with an airy wave.
"Sev will be in a tuxedo, of course, so the minister won't know a thing."
Severus and Hermione shared a hopeful look, which was immediately brought back down by Tiffany stating they'd be married by a wizard at the Ministry in the morning, before the exchanging vows at her family's church.
"I'm not going through with a Muggle wedding in a Muggle church," Severus ground out. "One ceremony is bad enough." Hermione knew from experience her ex-husband loathed Muggle clothing, even more than he loathed nicknames.
"Oh, isn't he a silly?" Tiffany trilled. "Of course you will, Mumsie and Daddy will be so disappointed if you don't, they've been looking forward to my wedding for simply ages. And Sev will look just brilliant in a tuxedo. I've got the colors picked out already – Pink and Silver. All the groomsmen will wear pink carnations, and Sev will be wearing a silver tuxedo with a pink and silver striped cummerbund and tie."
Hermione choked on her biscuit.
Tiffany was off again before realizing her fiancée had turned a vague shade of green. The conversation, steered entirely by the younger woman, galloped from one subject to another without seeming to pause for breath.
"You don't happen to own a dog, do you?" Hermione asked out of the blue.
Severus and Tiffany both stared at her, startled by this non-sequitur.
"No, I don't have a dog. Though I'd love to have one, someday. Would you, Sev?"
"I'm allergic," was his short answer.
Hermione was mildly surprised. She would have bet real money that Tiffany had one of those annoying, overbred little fluffballs that wheezed when it wasn't yapping, and piddled on the carpet at the slightest provocation.
"Tiffany," Hermione interjected before the girl could start up again, "could I trouble you for a glass of water? I think that biscuit went down the wrong way."
"Oh, of course, dear Miss Granger. I'll be right back, I promise," she sang out, quitting the room in a flutter of pink.
"Thanks be for the warning," Severus muttered.
Hermione elbowed him, waiting until the tapping of little heels had retreated down the hall. "Great heavens above, Severus, I think I'm about to fall into a diabetic coma. Are you sure she was a Hufflepuff?"
"No, I'm not entirely sure. That's what she claimed when I met her at the barrister's office."
"So it's possible she's not what she seems? I don't see how anyone can be THAT sweet and happy without having something nasty hidden underneath."
Severus grunted absently as he rummaged through the cellophane package of biscuits beside the teapot.
"Leave those awful things alone," Hermione admonished. "I thought you were trying to eat healthier. Those are nothing but saturated fats and sugar with artificial colors added. The package would taste better."
"I've tasted worse," he told her.
"Only when you cooked," Hermione shot back. "Answer the question."
"I wasn't aware you asked anything," he muttered through a mouthful of crumbs.
"Is it possible she was in Slytherin? Or had Slytherin leanings?"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Hermione, I don't remember! She graduated two years ago, and she wasn't in the Advanced Potions class for the two years before that. That is the sum of my memory for Miss Tiffany Shelton's school record."
"God, you're so observant!" she told him in a scathing voice. "You could see me whispering to Neville from across the room but you can't remember if she was one of your own students?!"
Severus shot her a sullen look from under lowered eyebrows. "I thought we'd agreed not to fight about that any more."
"Oh, all right. Fine," she hissed. "You deal with her, then. She's your fiancée."
"My father picked her out," Severus grouched.
Hermione snorted. "Your father would have had her for lunch."
That comment brought a fond smile of reminiscence to Severus' mouth. Hermione and his father had had some spectacular rows, both before and after Severus had married her and they'd moved to Snape Hall, as required by their marriage contract. The elves had fled in terror and years of cobwebs and dust had drifted down from the shaking rafters when they argued.
Once or twice Severus had been sure he'd get his wish and his father would die of an aneurysm. The elder Snape would shout until he was red in the face and the veins throbbed in his temples, but as usual Severus was disappointed when the old fart would finally stomp off in a huff. Hermione would go pale and thin-lipped as she stood up to the bullying, her brown eyes flashing and her invective truly imaginative. Somewhere along with her studies in Arithmancy and Transfiguration, she'd been educated in the art of swear words just as thoroughly.
Severus himself kept quiet and out of the conversations entirely, occasionally asking one or the other to pass the marmalade, which they did without pausing for breath.
At first Septimus Snape had harangued his son to control his wife. Severus had given him a look over his teacup and politely demurred. Demands that he further the Snape line were met with flat refusal. On one memorable evening, the old man had declared he'd bed the wench if his son wouldn't; that was the night he learned about the Muggle concept of 'self defense' and that Hermione had taken several courses during her summers away from Hogwarts.
Severus had left the old man lying on the floor, but had paused long enough to lean over and inform him that any further attempts to harm or force Hermione and he'd kill him.
From that day on, the old man had stopped shouting and began criticizing. Every perceived shortcoming was sniped at; every perceived flaw was critiqued in detail. A campaign of constant nagging and complaints was intended to wear his daughter-in-law down, in the theory that bringing up her supposed short-comings would eventually break her spirit and render her more pliant and controllable. Hell, it had worked wonders on his own wife; there was no reason why it wouldn't work again.
The flaw in Septimus' plan was the fact that Hermione had survived not only seven years' worth of Draco Malfoy but more than one encounter with the Dark Lord Voldemort, not to mention a cataclysmic final battle. She responded to these tactics with a sweet smile and told him that he had picked her out, and he'd jolly well have to live with his choice. And if he didn't like it, he could shove his opinion in the orifice of his choice.
When the Ministry finally admitted defeat and proposed changing the marriage law to allow witches the right to refuse marriage, the old man had stopped talking to her at all. Each morning he looked at the Prophet with a worried frown on his face, and the day the amended law went into effect, he nursed his cup of coffee with a beaten look on his face. Hermione waited until the school year was over before she ordered a nice meal from the elves at Snape Hall, had a pleasant dinner, and then she and Severus broke the news that they would be getting a Muggle divorce as soon as it could be arranged.
Once the torturous interview with the future Mrs. Severus Snape was concluded, Hermione left Severus with a sympathetic peck on the cheek and Apparated to her home, feeling the need to scrub the saccharine from her body. Unfortunately, she opened her own front door to find she'd been invaded.
"HERMIONE!" shouted the two young men in unison, each with a piece of pizza in one hand and a beer in the other.
"Ron. Harry. What a surprise," she answered feebly.
"My telly's on the fritz again," Ron explained around a mouthful of cheese and dough. "Grab a bite – the Manchild marathon starts in a bit."
Harry simply waved a triangle of pizza at her, dripping sauce on her couch as he did so.
"Oops. Sorry about that. Scourgify!" The red smear disappeared from her couch, but so, unfortunately, did the fabric, leaving behind a long oval of white stuffing.
Hermione sighed as she sat down on the free end of her sofa. "Harry, I beg you, stop doing wandless magic. You're a nightmare, and you're going to ruin my furniture. I'll fix it later."
"Right. Sorry. So, where've you been, and why are you all dressed up?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Hermione warned him feebly, picking up a discarded crust and nibbling on it.
"Try us," Ron volunteered.
"I've been to meet the woman Severus is engaged to marry."
Ron burst out laughing, while Harry nearly dropped his beer. "The git's getting married again? To who?"
"Whom, Harry," she corrected. "To whom."
"That's what I said. Whom is he marrying?"
She resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to throw something. "One Miss Tiffany Shelton, age twenty."
"Is she desperate or what?" Ron asked.
"Marriage contract. Septimus signed a contract, just before he died. Severus has to marry or he loses his estate."
"Tough luck," Ron managed around his chortles. "Is she a hag?"
Hermione shrugged listlessly. "Pansy Parkinson's perky twin, separated at birth."
Ron winced. "Poor Snape. Not that I really feel sorry for him or anything."
"I must say, though, it's a relief," Harry stated, leaning back on Hermione's couch.
Hermione stared at him. "It's a relief that he's being forced to marry a pink nightmare?"
"Well, no, not that. But if he gets married, that means he won't be coming over here all the time, will he? Honestly Hermione, every time I drop by to see you, that greasy git shows up."
"He's not greasy, and he comes over here because we're still friends. Only he remembers not to put his boots on my coffee table," she added, glaring at Harry's offending feet.
Harry quickly removed them. "Don't tell me you actually like him coming over?"
"He does play a mean game of chess," Ron volunteered.
Hermione ignored Ron, turning to face Harry on the sofa. "Why on earth would you think he'd not come to visit me any longer? I'm hardly going to turn him away just because he's re-married!"
"That's just it, Hermione," Harry told her. "If he's married to someone else, it won't be like he can turn up at your door any time he felt like it."
"He's right, you know," Ron agreed. "Wouldn't really be the thing."
Hermione was aghast. She'd forgotten it wasn't exactly acceptable to leave your second wife at home to socialize with your ex-wife. With less than half her attention on the misadventures of four middle-aged adolescents, Hermione tried to tune out the howling laughter of the two twenty-something adolescents beside her and imagine Severus Snape with a new wife. She had decidedly mixed feelings on the subject.
On the one hand she'd never again need to referee between Harry, Ron and Severus when all three happened to drop by at the same time. It was highly unlikely that Severus would be around to ridicule her friends, nor would she have to hear Ron and Harry whine about her ex-husband.
On the other hand, removing Severus from her admittedly small social circle would mean no more marathon chess matches of a Sunday afternoon while they vivisected the latest Ministry demonstration of stupidity. No more danger that he'd Floo her in the middle of the afternoon, asking her to pick up something from the apothecary's shop when she got off work and bring it to him. No more getting home at three in the morning after spending half the night helping her ex-husband brew his latest innovation, and cursing him as she struggled to get ready for work the next day on four hours of sleep.
Hermione tried to envision a pink-swathed Tiffany in Severus' laboratory, but that concept was simply outside the laws of nature. Tiffany and Severus lived in entirely different planes of existence – the world of butterflies did not mesh with world of bats. Not for the first time, Hermione raged at the old man who'd made his son's life miserable with such arrogant impunity. Septimus' final salvo at punishing Severus for not living up to expectations might very well make him miserable for the rest of his life.
"Well, fuck me," Hermione burst out finally.
"Oi!" Ron protested immediately. "Harry! How's it she's spent seventeen years telling us to watch our language, and now she's got a potty mouth?"
"You try living with Severus and his father," she told him bluntly. "Trust me, you'd have started swearing, too. I thought I'd broken the habit when I divorced him. Should have known him getting married again would start me up again."
Widdlefink, Hermione's supervisor at Gringotts, was suspicious when she asked for the next afternoon off from work, but a goblin was born suspicious and became more so as he got older. Hermione was grudgingly released from her duties, once she reminded him that she was in fact due over two months' vacation from the bank, and they would be forced to pay her for time she did not take. Not feeling the least bit guilty, but ever so slightly nervous, she transfigured her robes to something a little more mundane before Apparating to the Shelton home.
The woman who answered the door bore only a superficial resemblance to the Tiffany Shelton Hermione had met three days earlier. This blonde's hair was teased and spiked to within an inch of its life. The pink eye shadow had been enhanced with a bold streak of black eyeliner, and Hermione was fairly certain the garish pink and black tiger striped bra under the white shirt was not something sold at Gladrags in Diagon Alley.
"Tiffany?" Hermione wasn't entirely certain it was she. Perhaps an evil twin?
Rather than answer, Tiffany gave Hermione a hard-eyed once over and opened the door far enough to let her slide through.
"What's the matter, Granger?" Tiffany asked over her shoulder as she led the way towards the same tastefully decorated lounge, picking up pieces of discarded clothing and take-out paraphernalia scattered about the room. "Want to make sure I'm not going to back out and leave you saddled with Gruesome?"
Hermione blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
A sharp snort answered her. "Gruesome. Igor. Tall, dark, and hideous. My beloved groom to be," she added, twisting the word with a venom Hermione had previously never heard from anyone but the man in question.
Previous assumptions and suspicions suddenly reassembled into a new paradigm, and Hermione marshaled her sensibilities around herself and began observing the younger woman with a sharp eye. "Actually, quite the opposite. I want to know why you're marrying him in the first place."
"Well, it's not for his good looks," Tiffany sneered. Hermione raised one eyebrow, something she'd learned from her ex-husband, and it seemed to have a similar effect on Tiffany. "You're kidding, right?" The girl let out a peal of laughter. "Why else would I marry him? For the money, of course!"
"The money?" Hermione let out a laugh herself. "I think you've made a mistake. There isn't that much money to speak of, and you won't have control of it."
"Shows what you know, Granger. That old man Septimus told me all about his brother-in-law. Sev's uncle on his mum's side. No children, no wife, no other relatives even remotely close. He's filthy rich, pushing a hundred," her painted mouth made a moue of mock concern, "and, so very sad to say, in poor health. Once he kicks off, Sev will be absolutely loaded."
"That doesn't mean he's going to hand it all over to you, Tiffany. Severus isn't that stupid."
A mutter from the other side of the room sounded remarkably like 'wanna bet?' Hermione heard it well enough and raised her chin, her jaw set, her head tilted ever so slightly to the side. Anyone who knew her would have recognized the danger signal as clearly as a semaphore flag.
Oblivious to her danger, Tiffany sprawled over the sofa and spread her arms out over the back like a queen on a throne. "Beetle-beak will give me anything I want," she declared, "or I'll be all over the front page of the Prophet with stories about how my ex-Death Eater husband abuses me."
French-manicured nails raked along the back of the sofa, almost as if caressing an animal or a lover. "It may be years until the old goat kicks off, but in the meantime Sev needs his father's money, and he needs it immediately, if not sooner. I know he's over-extended. He's given notice at the school, so he doesn't even have a job. He's got to marry me, or he forfeits everything and ends up in Azkaban for unpaid debts."
"You talk like he couldn't find another job. Severus is a Potions Master, you know. Highly skilled, and highly regarded for his role in the war."
Tiffany gave a dismissive shrug. "Doubt it. I happen to belong to a select circle of friends, many of whom are married to powerful men. If I put the word out, they'll keep their little legs crossed until their honey-bunch does what they say."
She smiled maliciously, and Hermione could just imagine a pack of Tiffany-clones contracted in marriage to wizards who were too foolish to see the kind of women they'd picked out. She felt a brief – very brief – flicker of sympathy for the wizards who'd used the Marriage Law to get themselves pretty young wives, not realizing those marriages would shackle them forever to young women like her. And those young women could ruin any chance Severus had for employment.
An answering smile of equal viciousness formed on Hermione's lips. "You really have no idea what kind of man Severus Snape is, do you?" she asked casually. "He'll see through your lies in less time than it takes you to tell them. He'll know everywhere you go, and everything you do, and who you do it with." She nodded to the piece of fabric under the coffee table, which happened to be a man's thong, and probably went with the man whose shirt Tiffany currently wore over her tacky bra.
Those wide blue eyes narrowed, and an ugly expression crossed Tiffany's features. "Now you listen here, you frowsy-haired bitch. You're not going to screw this up for me, do you understand? I'm marrying Snape, I'm going to be Lady Snape, and I'm going to get my hands on all that lovely money. I may not be a Potions Mistress, but I can lay my hands on enough fertility and lust potions to get this marriage consummated and get me a baby. With a kid, he won't be able to divorce me no matter what."
"We'll see," Hermione answered enigmatically. She felt oddly better now that she knew the real person under that fluffy pink exterior. Tiffany was dangerous, true, but not even remotely in the league Hermione played. The girl had gotten her Hogwarts letter the same year Hermione had helped to defeat Voldemort; there was little chance Tiffany had even an inkling of what she was up against.
She left the girl still fuming and Apparated out with a 'pop.'
Ten minutes later, she was at home, pacing the floor in her fury. Of all the bobble-headed little gold-diggers, Septimus Snape had really snagged the brass ring with this one. If the man had searched for years, he couldn't have found a woman more likely to be murdered by his son, if only so he might be rewarded with the peace and quiet of Azkaban prison.
When she felt she could hold a civil conversation, Hermione snagged the box of Floo powder and called out her ex-husband's name.
"Hermione! Is everything all right?" Severus' head was a pale green in the flames of her fireplace – conversation by Floo did nothing to enhance his features or skin tone, but Hermione was oddly comforted to see he looked the same as always.
"Oh, fine," she lied convincingly. "I was wondering if I could look over your father's papers one more time. You know me - I won't feel comfortable until I've exhausted every avenue."
The corner of his mouth twitched up. "Yes, I know you. You used to drive me insane until I figured out how to direct that ferocious curiosity of yours. I still haven't figured out how to stop it, though."
"Very funny, Severus. You should be thankful for my curiosity – you won't believe the things I learn." She was oddly reluctant to tell him about her conversation with his fiancée; some odd impulse made her want to keep the truth about his contracted harpy a secret until she could speak to him in person.
He turned aside, his face disappearing for a moment before he returned with the fat scroll and its attached seals. "Have at it, o insatiable one."
The scroll appeared in the flames of her fireplace, and Hermione took them gingerly. She had the oddest feeling that more than Severus' future hung on what she found in the parchments. She was saying goodnight when Severus called her name, bringing her back to the hearth.
"Hermione, I just wanted you to know that I don't expect you to pull off a miracle. Don't make yourself crazy searching for something that doesn't exist."
"What, you doubt my powers?" she asked, giving him a cheeky grin. He smiled back, but his tone was serious.
"There's really nothing for it, Hermione. I appreciate everything you've done, but I truly believe I'm doomed, no matter what. This is what they mean when they say 'caught between a rock and a hard spot.'"
"Hmm," she answered, not really wanting to answer that. A thought occurred, suddenly. "Severus, you've got an uncle, right? A rich uncle, on your mother's side?"
He frowned. "Uncle Venturo? I didn't realize you knew about him – he's something of a black sheep in the family, if you can believe it."
Hermione didn't want to think about what kind of person Septimus Snape would consider a black sheep. "But he does exist, right? Surely he could help you out. You're heir to his estate, aren't you?"
Severus shook his head. "He's a crackpot, Hermione. In debt up to his eyeballs – no surprise there, he backs every bizarre scheme that comes his way. I'll be grateful if he corks off with enough left to pay off his creditors so they don't come after me."
"Oh. Just a thought. Thanks."
She stood up, and just as quickly knelt down again, calling him back.
"Severus, what ever you do, don't talk to Tiffany Shelton for a few days. And if you can't get out of meeting with her, never, ever eat or drink anything she gives you."
The look that earned her would have frozen lesser individuals. "Really, Hermione. Have you forgotten everything you know about me?"
"I'm don't think you're careless, Severus, I'm just worried you'll underestimate her."
"I never underestimate anyone," he told her in a dangerous voice.
"You underestimated me," she reminded him. "You told me lobbying the Ministry to change the Marriage Laws would be an utter waste of time."
"No, my error was in overestimating how long the Ministry would hold out against you," he returned smoothly. "You'd think such a bigoted, arrogant, obstinate, senile pack of wizards would have held out longer against one little girl."
Hermione smirked back at the man who had taught her everything she knew about underhanded behavior. "You always were a sweet talker," she told him, before finally terminating the connection.
It was late in the evening when Hermione finally went to bed, but sleep eluded her. Her imagination kept supplying visions of Severus surrounded by unbearably snotty little girls in pink robes, knocking over the beakers in his lab, jumping up and down while yanking on his robes and demanding he buy them things. Alternate versions involved a gaunt, stubble-cheeked man panhandling for knuts in Diagon Alley and scarpering off whenever an Auror or Ministry figure loomed in the distance.
Sternly ordering her mind to stop dithering about what-ifs and apply itself to solving the problem, Hermione punched her pillow and rolled over yet again. When she at last drifted off, she was visited with dreams of her own days as Mrs. Severus Snape, but having to fend off the predatory advances of a pink harpy. She finally banished the creature by telling it that if anyone had the right to make Severus Snape miserable for the rest of his life, that was her job, and no bleached blonde bimbette was going to horn in on her.
The next morning, Hermione wrote a short note to Widdlefink concerning a fictitious illness. It wasn't until after her owl had taken off and she'd set a fresh pot of tea brewing that her dream came back to her. And with it, a sudden realization. With one hand holding her gathered hair out of the way, Hermione quickly flipped through the papers, searching for certain relevant passages. When she failed to find exactly what she was searching for, she carefully sat down and read through them one more time.
Then, with her tea getting cold, she sat and stared at the far wall of her kitchen for a good hour before heading towards her bedroom to make herself presentable before making a very important Floo call.
She had not spoken to Mr. Scrivens, the Snape family solicitor, since she and Severus had handed over the Muggle divorce decree. To her surprise, the bent little wizard was able to meet her with her immediately, and Hermione Apparated over an short time later.
The understated office reeked of money and discretion; it was a Pureblood firm with a history of practicing law in England since the Ministry was first formed. Scrivens offered her tea and seated her in one of the deep leather chairs in his office. Hermione refused the tea and told him that she really only had one question. After hearing that question, the solicitor hemmed and hawed and did his best to evade the issue, but Hermione had a trump card and he knew it. When she laid it out, the man was forced to admit her supposition was, in fact, correct.
Leaving the solicitor's office, Hermione walked the crooked lanes of Diagon Alley for several hours before Apparating home. After a long bath, Hermione lay down on her bed, wrapped in a thick bathrobe while her hair left a damp spot on the covers. After an even longer period of deep contemplation, she got up. A quick charm tamed her hair as she opened her wardrobe and extracted the fine robes she'd bought to meet Tiffany.
Her old cloak was thrown over those new robes, the same cloak Severus had bought for her the first winter after they'd married. She had been too proud to ask him for anything at that point, but he'd noticed her only defense from the cold was a leftover from her school uniform, and it had been too short for some time. He presented this one to her, telling her it was inappropriate for his wife to be wearing a school cloak, but the quality and color, a deep burgundy, had betrayed his thoughtfulness. She'd worn it for years afterwards, and whenever she had gotten angry with the man, she always had the cloak to remind herself that he was capable of being something other than a selfish bastard.
She timed it perfectly, and caught Severus at the door of his ancestral home just as he Apparated in after another day's effort to educate the unwashed and uninterested students at Hogwarts. He was more than a bit surprised to see her standing on the doorstep of Snape Hall, but quickly invited her in and showed her to his library. Not much had changed since their married days; the furnishings were fine quality, but the shabby bits were getting shabbier and the walls were darker than she remembered.
"Care for a drink?" he asked, holding out the bottle of firewhiskey. When she shook her head, he filled a generous one for himself. Hermione settled into the chair she'd once considered 'hers' and waited for Severus to sit in his own. A companionable silence settled between them.
"Severus," Hermione broke the silence at last, "You can't marry Tiffany Shelton. I went to see her again yesterday. She's a nasty little piece of work."
To her surprise, he laughed quietly, that deep baritone chuckle that helped her deal with her father-in-law's worst behavior. "Yes, I have realized that. I've not forgotten everything from my spying days, you know. I talked to a few people. Asked a few leading questions. I know exactly what kind of woman my father wanted for me. She should have been a Slytherin."
"That's an insult to Slytherins, Severus. And it won't make your marriage to her any less of a nightmare."
"Hermione," he began patiently, "I had certain expectations, when the war was over. A happy marriage was not one of them. But neither do I want to spend the rest of my life in poverty and crushing debt."
"You don't have to, Severus," Hermione broke in, not wanting to know what he'd decided.
He smiled regretfully. "Foolish wand waving won't solve my problems, Hermione."
She saw him glance at the fire, taking a sip of his whiskey. The flickering light played over his harsh profile, but put glimmers of red and gold in the sheets of black hair. The threads of silver at his temples caught the light as well. At that moment, he looked lonely and withdrawn and quietly resigned to his fate.
"Severus -- Marry me."
He blinked, then shook his head gently. "You don't have enough money to pay my debts, Hermione. It's a lovely offer, my dear, but it would be senseless of you to try."
Desperate, Hermione grasped her courage with both hands. She stood up, walked over to his chair, and without warning sat down in his lap.
"Hermione," he protested mildly, though his arms came around her. It was surprisingly comfortable.
"Severus. Think about this." His gaze had gotten sidetracked at her cleavage, which was interesting but right at this moment she needed his undivided attention. A fist in his black hair pulled his head and more importantly his eyes up to meet her gaze.
"Your father deliberately finds the most objectionable, money-grubbing, horror of a bride for you and dangles your inheritance on this marriage."
"Yes. He was a bastard, and for his sake I sincerely hope there is a hell."
"Focus on the deed, Snape, not the perpetrator. Your father had a plan, and no Slytherin ever concocts a plan with only one aim. What else did he want?"
"The terms of your father's will specifically state that you must marry the witch your father contracted for. Severus, that witch is never mentioned by name."
Severus frowned, the pieces clicking together. "You. He wanted you."
"Odd, isn't it? He's gone to a great deal of trouble this time around, and he's put all his chips into this one bet. He must have been desperate. I spoke to Scrivens today. He pussyfooted about, but I finally got to the bottom of it all. According to your solicitor, I fulfill all the requirements of your father's will."
Severus chuckled suddenly, sending interesting vibrations up between where their bodies where touching. "Father told me once – after you'd moved out of Snape Hall – that you were more woman than any pureblood witch could hope to be. And that I was a fool for letting you get away."
Hermione was oddly touched. "Did he? Silly old sod. I can't say I liked him much-"
"Or at all," Severus interjected.
"But I suppose I can admit a very small fondness for him. Bastard."
"Now you understand – I was the mild one."
Hermione laughed at this, and when she looked down it was to meet his serious expression.
"As long as we're being honest," he began, his tone low and nearly embarrassed, "I must admit I actually had a pang of regret when we signed the divorce papers."
"So did I," Hermione echoed softly.
Obsidian eyes stared into her brown ones, while the tension between them spun out in a timeless web. Hermione was aware of a tightening sensation in her belly, something she'd never experienced during the few and infrequent forays she'd made into the romantic jungles since her divorce. That feeling only intensified as he reached out and gently brushed a corkscrew tendril of loose hair away from her cheek.
His large, warm hand gently cupped the side of her face. His fathomless black gaze remained locked with hers until the moment their lips met. The kiss was slow, but the fire it ignited was undeniable.
"We got along all right, didn't we?" she asked, her lips barely moving against his. "Being married to me wasn't that horrible, was it?"
"No," he agreed, although his mouth moved over hers rather more than mere words required. Eventually he asked another question. "Why on earth would you want to marry me?"
"I liked being married to you," she confessed. "You're one of my best friends. Oh, I love Ron, and Harry. But you know me – we know each other. And you're the only one who doesn't get huffy when I Floo them in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea."
"You've had some of your best ideas after midnight."
"Exactly. We understand each other, right? We're already friends."
His gaze pinned her once more, asking for honesty. "Friends, Hermione? Is that enough for you?"
She fumbled for the right words, uncomfortable with exposing her heart so fully. "I'm going to be thirty soon. I wouldn't mind a baby or two, someday. Maybe." A vulnerable look in her eyes was quickly gone. "I'm not asking for a storybook romantic hero, Severus. My best friend is a hero, and he spent years being miserable.
"But marrying that woman would make you miserable, and I really think that would make me miserable, too. So I guess I'm saying I'd rather be miserable with you than without you."
A faint smile crossed his aquiline features at this inelegant declaration, but he kissed her again anyway. Gently, searchingly, he pulled her closer and proceeded to get serious about the issue of snogging.
Somewhat breathlessly, Hermione managed to retrieve her lips. "Severus?"
"Hmm?" he responded, exploring the curve of her neck with his mouth.
"You don't have to do this," she told him, striving to keep things honest between them. "I know I don't inspire you to the heights of passion..."
He interrupted her immediately.
"Hermione Granger. Do you have any idea how desirable I think you are? I love the way you wrinkle your nose when you're annoyed. I love the way you forget your best intentions and suddenly start cursing at idiots. I love the idea that I'm the only person you Floo in the middle of the night. And more than anything, I wish I'd given in to the urge to do this long ago."
At her confusion, he sat up and addressed her as formally as one can address a lissome witch curled up on one's lap. "I'm no prize, Hermione. I'm sarcastic and difficult and many, many other things that make me a bad bargain. But you and I lived together through difficult times and came out very good friends. I have the idea that we might make even more progress if we – tried it again. Merlin knows, I've thought it more than once these last six years."
Hope kindled in her eyes, and Severus gave her an encouraging smile before pulling her closer. Their kisses quickly returned to previous intensity and neither one noticed when his glass of whiskey tumbled off the arm of his chair and spilled over the carpet. He was exploring the side of her neck and her hands were stroking his chest, catching on the buttons of his coat, when he pulled back and looked at her. She smiled back, her expression open and happier than he could remember seeing it for quite some time.
"Hermione – I have to tell you this. When I learned of Tiffany's contract, I was furious. I thought my anger was solely directed at my father for issuing yet another of his dictatorial decrees, but as I've recently discovered...I simply couldn't face the idea of putting another woman in my life. The mere idea of replacing you -- I couldn't bear it."
Hermione cut him off with another kiss, which was eagerly returned. They were both breathing hard by the time Severus shifted out from under her, reluctantly breaking his lips from hers.
He left her sitting in the broad chair, vainly attempting to tuck her hair back into some sort of order while he retained his feet and went to the sideboard. Besides the bottles of firewhiskey and brandy, the worm-riddled surface held a variety of small wooden boxes. Hermione recognized a few of them as jewel chests; Snape senior had sold most of the family jewels long ago and the boxes now accumulated extra packets of Floo powder, not quite useless quills, mate-less cufflinks and other flotsam.
One, however, still performed its original task by safeguarding the few remaining pieces of jewelry the Snape family could claim. As Severus turned around and visibly collected himself, she caught the glimmer of gold in his hand. The last time she'd seen that particular ring, she'd reluctantly handed it back after wearing it for more than four years.
Nervously he cleared his throat, and approached their chair with his back ram-rod straight. "The last time we did this, I was...less than gracious."
Hermione smiled, remembering. "You threw it at me, as I recall."
"Well, yes," he admitted. Clearing his throat yet again, he sank to one knee beside her.
"Hermione Granger," he began, "you are my closest friend and confident, the one person I trust at my back or with my research notes. You're the only person on this planet, other than a senile old wizard with a lemon sherbet addiction, who never takes my raving seriously. You can curse like a sailor's monkey, but still believe in manners. You're smarter, braver, and slap harder than any woman I've ever met."
In his fingers, the brilliant green emeralds and diamonds glittered in the firelight.
"Will you marry me?"
An unexpected lump choked her own throat as Hermione reflected how far the two of them had come from that forced marriage ten years ago, and the irony of finding themselves back in the same place once again, this time by choice.
"Yes, I will," she whispered.
Her hand trembled ever so slightly as she held it out, and Severus' fingers were slightly clumsy as he slid it on her finger. She stared at it for a long moment, blinking rapidly.
"Hermione?" he questioned, as if worried she might suddenly change her mind.
In answer, Hermione launched herself at him. They rolled onto the Persian carpet before the fire, and when they came to a stop they immediately got down to the serious business of snogging.
"Now, where were we?" Hermione murmured several minutes later, her fingers seeking out the buttons on his coat.
To her shock, he grabbed them and held them away. "No, no. We're saving this for the wedding night."
"I want to remember our wedding night, Hermione. All night long."
She grinned madly, thrilled at this idea, even as he kissed her.
"Have dinner with me tonight," he requested. "Tomorrow we'll owl the news to Miss Shelton."
"No, we get married first, then take the news to Miss Shelton – in person. I want to see her face."
"That's very Slytherin of you, my dear, but it may prove to be problematic, actually," Severus said. "Miss Tiffany Flooed me yesterday, wanting me to come and see her, ostensibly about the wedding. When I refused, she actually dropped by the school today and tried to waylay me."
"How did you escape?"
He lifted one superiour eyebrow, and only the familiarity of years allowed her to see the humor in his eyes. "As soon as I caught a whiff of the lust pheromones in her perfume, I stopped in the Slytherin common room and told the Quidditch team I wanted to introduce them to someone."
"Severus," Hermione mused aloud, "your House team is made entirely of boys."
"Young men," he corrected. "Sixth and seventh year students, strapping specimens all."
Trying vainly to smother her giggles, Hermione was nearly unable to get her next words out. "What happened?"
"I don't know, and I don't care," Severus declared. "Although I'm sure it will be the stuff of legend by the time I return tomorrow morning."
"I look forward to hearing all about it."
"Agreed," he told her, kissing her again. "Speaking of looking forward, when do you want to have the wedding?"
"How late do you think Albus will be up tonight?" she whispered against his neck, and he laughed.
"What? You don't want a fancy wedding? Pink and silver?"
He let out a mild yelp as she bit his earlobe in retaliation. "Heavens, no. We need that money for our new lab."
"I see. Wait one minute, woman – our lab? Since when is it 'our' lab?"
Between kisses, Hermione explained the Muggle concept of community property.
And they argued happily ever after.
Author's note: All hail my new beta reader, Nancy. Thanks, hon! And yes, I do believe I've see 'they argued happily ever after' before, but I can't remember where. So, here's credit to whoever it was that came up with it first.
By the way, I blame this all on Shiv and her wonderful story 'A Law To Herself.' More specifically, the line in chapter seven, where Hermione says "...we'll have the biggest divorce party ever, and we'll invite all the prettiest witches and we'll pick one out for you. I'm not handing you over to just anyone."
And for those who are still waiting – YES -- I've nearly finished the last two chapters of 'Unfinished Business.' Updates coming soon, I promise! And after that, 'The Souvenir' will be put back into development queue. (Geek check!)