Beta Readers: Snapeophile and SouthernWitch69

Summary: Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and secrecy surrounding a plan based on love damages trust and severely tests a good marriage.

Usagistu's/Melanie's SS/HG Exchange Challenge: This is an ss/hg fic where they are already married, and Hermione believes Severus has cheated on her, but he hasn't. Hermione leaves him, and he's got to win her back. Can be as one shot but must be at least a 1000 words. Must have a happy ending and Severus must be in character. No Harry, Ron, or Ginny bashing.

Title: The High Cost of Casual Wishes

The sounds of her tears hitting the glass panel of their wedding portrait echoed across the numbness of her mind. Her heart broke again and again as she watched the man in the photo brushing aside her veil, offering the first kiss between husband and wife.

Hermione Snape flung the frame, crashing it against the wall, in a fit of hurt and anguish. The glass shards sliced the magical picture in half on impact, separating the couple who tried in vain to reunite across the shredded paper boundary.

She felt like a foolish idiot. How was it possible that she did not see the escalating signals of his infidelity? It was, 'oh, so easy' to gloss over the facts, she thought ruthlessly, but her anger did not displace her sorrow, for she based her denial of the facts on trust, faith, and love for a man who apparently no longer felt the same.

Hermione began packing her things with unholy fervor and wand waving, including the evidence that forced the awful epiphany that Severus had indeed found comfort from other women. Doubtful second guessing clouded her soul as she wondered how on earth she'd failed him and had driven him into another's arms. Did she not love him enough? Had she become boring? Or perhaps she just wasn't attractive to him anymore?

She fingered the logbook she'd started keeping a month ago when she'd first begun feeling the sharp, niggling stabs of suspicion.

The first signs began when Severus started working late in earnest. He became unusually quiet and would not discuss his work with her, a change in his usual habit. Later, when she tried to engage him in conversation, he snapped coldly at her, complaining of exhaustion and then stalked off in a flurry of robes to their bedroom alone. The time he spent with her on the weekends slowly diminished, and they ceased doing things together with him claiming he had a special project or a large apothecary order. It seemed he always had an excuse to be someplace else, and she was not invited.

"I need to pack my books…"

On the increasingly rare occasions he did make love to her, he seemed distracted and careful, no longer looking into her eyes and sharing his feelings through the connection they once held. The crack in her heart widened as she swallowed the agony of that lost intimacy, the one thing she cherished the most with her husband.

"Need a Cushioning Charm for packing Grandmother's china…"

As she packed, Hermione sharply recalled the moment she'd recognized the need to develop her case. So she had methodically logged in her journal all the subterfuge Severus deployed so effortlessly around her. She knew some of his basic tricks from their time working in the Order when he passed on information about the Horcruxes. But now he was practicing his well-honed spy techniques on her instead of on the long-ago vanquished Dark Lord.

"Ah, there's my Gringotts key…"

A certain chill ran through Hermione when she started magically investigating their chambers with complex revealing charms several weeks ago. She discovered secondary signs like little scraps of parchments containing only times and dates and a small, leather-bound account book. The ledger he had transfigured into an empty ingredient bottle labeled 'Gold' contained columns of numbers that perplexed her since there were no titles for the entries. "So, so careful, and subtle you are, Severus," she thought with increasing frustration.

"Can't forget my dirty laundry…"

She knew they didn't have much in terms of Galleons; it didn't matter to her really. A Ministry salary and a Potion master's commissions covered basic expenses, but it was difficult to save or invest given the high cost of living in a populated Wizarding community. Severus had refused to live in less expensive Muggle areas. So, she copied his ledger and reconciled it the best she could with the household budget and noticed a continued drain on their outgoing cash flow. The sum was not that large, but it was enough to raise doubts on what and where he was spending the money.

"My box of Christmas and Halloween decorations…"

Hermione's suspicions increased to a new level because Severus never hid his work ledgers or Potions notes from her before – yet another sign. She recalled sometimes he would ask her opinion on his work, and she felt exceptionally lonely since it had been months since he'd engaged her in academic discussions. "How long has it been, Severus?" she mused aloud to no one but Crookshanks, who merely cocked a sleepy, but very interested eye at his distressed mistress.

"Cat carrier, food dishes, litter box, toys…"

Despite her very great intelligence, there were many things Hermione could not possibly know. Such as, when she was asleep at night, she did not notice Severus pulling her close to his body. She did not know of the self-imposed vow he'd made based on a casual conversation during one of their weekend walks through Hogsmeade. Hermione wanted something that was very difficult to deliver, and Severus would do absolutely anything in his power to achieve her heart's desire. She never heard his softly muttered declarations. "It will soon be over, my love, have patience with me, and when I am finished, you will have everything that you wished for."

She recalled how late one night, in desperation, she'd attempted Legilimency on him when he'd been extremely tired and distracted. The outrage from her dark husband was beyond the level of their usual spats; he did not yell or argue. Instead, he became cold and more isolated.

"You made a promise, wife, to never invade my mind," Severus said painfully through gritted teeth, his black eyes burning with indignant surprise and hurt.

Hermione's arms gestured palms up and open as she hotly pleaded, "I know I did, but you've been so preoccupied and… distant for months and I needed…"

He curtly interrupted her by completing her sentence. "…Needed to see things you should not see! Is curiosity finally getting the better of you, Hermione? Is your Dark Arts research finally manifesting into an addiction for bloodlust?"

His hand shot forward towards her in a halting action, clearly conveying he wanted her silence. A frown creased his sallow face, the contortion of facial muscles causing strands of black hair to fall forward across his forehead.

His words were concise, as if he had carefully planned each and every word before speaking them. "I have my reasons, Hermione. Although you are academically aware of my past, you know I have never wanted you to visualize it. I don't want you… us… tainted by it, and I do not want… to remember either," Severus spoke directly, the discomfort lingering just below the surface.

She saw the disappointment and anger fixed firmly within his dark gaze and flinched slightly under the intensity of it. At her reaction he closed his eyes and looked away. She noticed his shoulders dropping slightly as if in resignation or sadness.

The awkward tension was too much to bear, and she reached out, her hands gently touching his biceps. He turned his head slightly, and she could see he'd resurrected the old emotional barriers of many years ago.

"Severus, please listen to me," she pleaded urgently. "Please don't shut me out. Whatever I did, I am so sorry. You never spend time with me anymore; we never talk. I… I miss you."

He could hear the slight wavering in her voice, her eyes becoming bright with sadness and concern. "Hermione, please stop this. Don't do this to yourself," he said curtly as his eyes intensely scanned her face.

It was her turn to look away, down towards his hand she had gently clasped within hers. Hermione's voice was soft, but full of worry as she spoke. "Severus, we haven't made love in months. You've been beyond impatient with me and angry when I want to be with you. You've been pushing me away. Tell me honestly, Severus, what is happening to us?"

Snape's face darkened with a sour frown, his posture suddenly stiff and tense. "Nothing is wrong with us!" he snapped, pulling away his hand.

With that, Severus swept away from her, his long dark robes swirling in a flourish of momentum. He spun away, stalking towards his sanctuary to think while trying to escape his own anxiety at her words and why she would think anything wrong. It was true he was preoccupied, and he wondered if months had really passed since they'd had relations. His many projects were reaching critical stages, and they took all his time and energy at the moment.

It was that very night while Severus slept that Hermione, with grim determination, cast a tracking charm on his cloak. She wanted hard evidence one way or the other; the doubt was slowly eating at her guts to the point of distraction, and she could not afford to lose her job, not if she needed it to survive… alone.

Within a matter of days, Hermione possessed the heartbreaking evidence from Severus' charmed cloak and locked it away in her Pensieve. A full week of personal research was required to find a spell to duplicate the memories since she felt oddly obligated to present him with the facts.

She wrote Severus a parting letter after finishing her packing and placed it carefully under the duplicated Pensieve. Suddenly she could not stop crying.

"Come on, Crooks. Get into the carrier," she begged, choking out words against the tremble in her voice. But the half-kneazle stubbornly refused and shot away from her when she tried to catch him.

The cat darted under furniture and managed to avoid capture for several minutes until Hermione cornered him under the wardrobe in the bedroom. "Please, Crookshanks, I don't have time for these games. It's time to go now!" she ordered impatiently. The hissing and growling surprised her as she hauled him out by his hind legs from his cover, but the cat did not harm her.

Instead Crookshanks wriggled and squirmed, and Hermione thought she was trying to hold an armload of several greased octopuses. She barely managed to hang onto her wand to cast an Engorgement Charm on the cage so she could easily stuff the growling cat inside.

"Finite Incantatem," she whispered heavily, watching the container shrink to normal size. The cat meowed mournfully within the confines of the carrier while she slowly put on her cloak and gathered her shrunken belongings into a small bag. She bent over, clasping the handle on the cage.

Hermione stood up and took one last look at their small flat and then approached the door. Wiping the tears away on her sleeve, she reached for the door handle, only to have it thrust open for her.