A/N: I do NOT own HP. JKR is the genius, not me, although I certainly hope you will enjoy this story. It's an idea that came to me very suddenly one day, and refused to leave me alone, but I didn't have the time to devote to rendering it properly till today. It's a departure from my usual subject matter, and I've poured a lot of myself into it. Correspondingly, the way I have portrayed Severus is a tribute to my husband, who reassures me through thick and thin that he loves me and is there for me.
I should note here that, as a 26 year-old female, I have yet to experience menopause. If any women of this age feel compelled to correct aspects of my attempted foray into this topic, by all means do so! This story is complete, but I am open to editing if it will increase the credibility of it.
All right, enough talk and on to the story!
Mrs. Hermione Snape sat down somewhat heavily on the light blue quilted duvet, looking around her at the familiar surroundings. She had always loved the bedroom she shared with Severus. Like the wonderful husband he was, he had given her free rein to decorate, hardly sneering at all when he said something self-deprecating about his obvious grand taste in home décor and fashion. Such remarks had bothered Hermione when the dark man had first begun to court her after the war, as she believed them to be the mark of a horrifically battered self-esteem, one which she longed to nurture. She soon came to find, however, that her lover was far from insecure. While not haughty, he in fact had a very healthy view of his abilities and limitations, and she came to learn that such comments were simply his brand of humor.
She was certainly glad that he had trusted her enough to allow her to brighten the master suite. It, along with many of the chambers in his ancestral home, had been dim and unwelcoming, their very grandness lending them an air of superior coldness. She had quickly begun to place her womanly touch around the home, which was quite large enough to be deemed a manor. Drapes long drawn had been opened; magnificent pieces of antique furniture had been dusted and polished; rugs had been laid over warped areas of the ancient wooden floor; and paint had been liberally employed in a successful attempt to counteract the somber grandeur of the massive rooms and passageways. The overall effect was quite pleasing. To the casual observer, her husband, never a man to gush and exclaim over matters as trivial as interior design, might have seemed unimpressed with her efforts. Such a person would have missed the soft caress he bestowed upon his wife's cheek, and the look in his eyes as he drew her against him. He was, in fact, mightily proud of his witch's ability to turn an erstwhile cold monument into a home, and he heartily enjoyed the end effect, preferring to show his appreciation in his own way.
As these thoughts and memories flitted through her mind, Hermione let her eyes wander over the various bedroom pieces. The cherry wood vanity had been a wedding present from her parents. It did not quite match the antique splendor of the rest of the furniture, but she cherished it nonetheless, passed down as it was from her great-grandmother on her mother's side. Assorted paintings, mostly landscapes, graced the walls above the wainscoting. Some had been collected by the Snapes–they shared a passion for fine art–and others had been painted by Severus himself. She hadn't really been surprised to discover his artistic side, what with his innate passion and aptitude for highly complex brewing, but she would never have guessed that the formidable professor of her school years possessed the ability to render scenes from nature in such a hauntingly beautiful fashion.
The bedroom slowly became mottled with waning sunlight, which generally never failed to soothe her. Now, however, the shadows cast by the sinking sun seemed also to cast further shadow on her spirit. She had been sitting in silent contemplation for nearly two hours, and knew she needed to get up to oversee dinner for their rather prestigious company that evening. Sighing, she tried to will herself to rise from the bed, but found herself unable to do so. Strains of children's voices, laughing and shouting, reached her from the lawns below, and drew her deeper into her thoughts.
She and Severus had struggled to conceive after their marriage. They had waited several years to try for their first child, spending the interim time healing, both emotionally and physically, from the war. Since they knew the time was not yet right, they always used forms of contraception when they made love, not wanting to bring a child into the world until they both felt fully ready to tend to it as the best parents they could be. As soon as they felt prepared, Hermione had gone off the birth control, and they had engaged in lovemaking with renewed ardor, the possibility and anticipation of pregnancy heightening their passion in new ways. When the first three months passed, and Hermione bled each time, they had chalked it up to mother nature taking her time, and Hermione had soothed her impatience by speaking with Ginny, who assured her friend that it had taken six months for her and Harry to conceive their first child. Ginny had offered suggestions for increasing fertility, and Hermione had religiously followed them, adding in things she herself had learned while researching the topic.
When four more months had passed, Hermione felt her anxiety begin to grow, despite her husband's attempts to calm her and maintain an environment conducive to new growth. She began to feel that something was wrong. At this point, she had contacted her mother. Mrs. Granger, with the instincts of a parent, instantly felt that something was amiss, but determined that she would not voice her concerns until the year mark had passed. She had personally known many couples who had taken at least that long to conceive, and she did not want to get involved prematurely, nor cause her daughter and son-in-law unnecessary alarm. In the meantime, she had coached her daughter to take muggle pre-natal vitamins to complement wizarding fertility brews and indulge in frequent massages and gentle yoga sessions, and tried her best in general to help Hermione foster a calm mindset. By the time a year had come and gone, however, she wasted no time in accompanying her distraught daughter to the local hospital for a full checkup. It was there that the Snapes received distressing news.
Hermione had, of course, sustained many injuries in the Battle of Hogwarts, as had virtually every participant. Many of them were external, but most were internal, caused by dark curses and hexes that could often cause more pain than anything to the outside flesh of the body. It seemed that the healers who had worked upon her after the final defeat of Voldemort had missed one, and its side effects had taken hold, damaging her uterus irreparably. The scarring the medical examiners now found was inoperable, and after leaving her alone with her family for several days to process this information, they had begun the paperwork for her discharge, which included setting her up with multiple appointments to discuss her options.
The numbness that had set in upon learning that she was unable to conceive and bear children was nearly overpowering in its intensity. She had always known she wanted to have children, and the knowledge that she would never be able to give this ultimate gift to the man she loved so much haunted her every waking thought. The urge to give in to the sadness consumed her, and it was all she could do in those several days to drag herself from her hospital bed in the mornings and evenings to use the bathroom. Severus never left her side, but far from finding comfort in his familiar presence and the gentle way in which he held her hands, stroking them for hours on end while he spoke softly to her, she felt ashamed, humiliated, inadequate. In her grief-stricken brain, she believed she had failed him, and she turned from him, unwilling to accept the kindness and understanding she felt she didn't deserve.
It had taken her mother's no-nonsense attitude to get her out of bed. None of her husband's coaxing and wheedling had proved successful, and her father's paternal attempt to console her had been rejected outright. Mrs. Granger knew a bit about depression, having suffered from it herself when she and her husband struggled to recover from their daughter's powerful Obliviate, and knew that she could not stand by and watch as Hermione wallowed in self-pity. Being a mother, she wanted to coddle and cuddle her daughter as much as anyone, but she also knew that this wasn't what Hermione needed. What she needed was to be shocked out of the warm cocoon of despair into which she had all too willingly settled, and Mrs. Granger had embarked upon this task the very next morning.
With a wry smile, Hermione recalled the way her mother had marched in, yanking open the curtains, and flooding the hospital room with early morning light. Severus, asleep in the armchair beside the bed, had unwillingly blinked himself awake, groaning in protest the entire time, while Hermione keened into her blankets, her face partially buried in the pillow, and her eyes shut tight against the rays of sunlight.
"Up," her mother had barked, yanking the bedclothes unceremoniously to the foot of the bed. Hermione had grown cold, and eventually had to rise, albeit shakily, in order to retrieve the duvet, only to find that her mother had whisked it away. In its place was a simple white tee shirt, muggle jeans, and an old pair of trainers. Severus had watched in shock as his mother-in-law stuffed Hermione's unprotesting limbs into the clothing, called for a wheelchair, set her in it, and began to stride from the room, calling over her shoulder for him to collect the scattered belongings and follow them.
After that, things had all been a bit of a blur for weeks. Hermione recalled her mother accompanying her first to a psychologist. She had protested, reminding her of the various appointments with medical specialists which had been set up for her by the hospital, but her mother had simply waved them aside, stating that they could all be rescheduled, and that what she really needed right now was someone to talk to.
"But mama, I have you," she had rejoined.
Mrs. Granger had smiled softly at her, stroking her wild hair.
"Honey," she had said. "You know I'm always here for you, but I also know that talking to a professional will be very beneficial for you. I know I found it so, when your father and I were getting over having our memories modified."
She had hung her head, but her mother had tilted up her chin with her fingers.
"Had you not done that, I wouldn't be here speaking to you right now. Yes, I was initially confused and angry, because I had to relearn your existence all over again, and be made to understand the necessity of what you had done. It wasn't easy, but I've come to terms with it now, and I'm so, so proud of you for doing something so difficult. It must have torn you apart."
Hermione had indeed found her sessions with Mr. Walters, a kind older man who ran a private practice thankfully unassociated with the Ministry's Department of Mental Manipulation, to be immensely helpful. After the first two meetings, in which he had focused solely upon her, getting to know her as a person, he had suggested that Severus join her. Hermione had initially balked at asking her husband to accompany her, worrying that he would feel forced, but he had simply raised an eyebrow at her stuttering request.
"I am your husband, sweet," he had told her, in that deep voice which never failed to send shivers up and down her spine. "I am in this for the long haul. I expected that I might be asked to join you, and I have every intention of doing so. Surely you can see how much more beneficial that will be." The snarky tone that offset words that would otherwise be overwhelmingly romantic was so uniquely Severus that Hermione had smiled even in the midst of her pain and anxiety.
Thus it was that, with Mr. Walters' help, they had talked their way through this roadblock. Hermione had expressed her fears of inadequacy, while Severus slowly overcame his natural aversion to emotional openness. She couldn't pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but over the next month, she began to be at peace. Coming to understand just how deeply her husband loved her was instrumental in this. He assured her time after time that, not only was her inability to carry children not her fault, it also had no bearing on his feelings for her. In fact, he told her on more than one occasion that her scarred uterus was a war wound, something of which she should be proud, and for which he highly respected her.
The postponed trips to the other medical professionals served to console Hermione further. She learned of all the other options available, such as adoption, surrogacy, and the wizarding equivalent of in vitro fertilization, Utero Implantare, which used far less invasive means to achieve the desire result. She and Severus had agreed that they needed time to absorb all of the new information. True to both of their natures, they wanted to make sure they made the right decision, and ten years passed before they came to the conclusion that they wanted to try the procedure.
It was a good thing that Severus' status as the last surviving male heir of the Prince line had left him a wealthy man, and that his and Hermione's war decorations had only added to their coffers, because Utero Implantare, much like its muggle counterpart, did not come cheap. They were warned not to expect success on the first try, and therefore were not crushed when they found that it had indeed failed to "take". Six failed tries later, however, they were overjoyed to learn that, after so many years and so many tears, a new life was growing inside Hermione.
Always attentive to his wife, Severus became almost reverent, taking to lying beside her with his head in her lap, the better to murmur nonsensical pleasantries to his tiny progeny. Nothing was too good for her, and he would often come home from overseeing matters at Princely Potions, his highly successfully business enterprise, with fresh flowers, her latest culinary craving, newly released books, and other little gifts. Once he had even brought home a stuffed yellow dragon she had seen in the window of her favorite bookstore, remembering the way her eyes had lit up when she had noticed it for the first time.
The animal was promptly christened Severus Serpens, and used as a bedfellow on those nights her husband was forced to be away on business. The rest of the time, it occupied a position of honor near the head of the bed. Every time Severus saw it, he smirked. He found his wife's love of stuffed animals both confounding and endearing. It was one of the many, many things he loved about her.
Hermione cuddled the dragon now, its stuffed form a familiar weight in her lap. The room had grown even darker around her, and she felt melancholy sink into her very bones. Playful cries and shouting from the grounds below once more permeated her awareness, piercing the stagnant silence of the chamber. She really should call the children in, but her thoughts again wandered onward before she could muster the energy to get up.
She had turned 45 the previous week. She hadn't minded the birthday itself, as she didn't mind being another year older in and of itself, but something else had happened days before which struck her to the very core. She had stopped menstruating, and was as sure as she had ever been of anything in her life that she was starting menopause.
After all she had been through to present her husband with his only son and heir, followed by their other child, a lovely daughter, five years later, thanks to another lengthy round of Utero Implantare, the knowledge that she was now truly incapable of making a new life made her disconsolate. If she was truly honest with herself, she felt like less of a woman, and Severus' unaccustomed distance over the last several weeks had been chipping away at her. He barely spoke to her these days, taking many meals in his study or his lab, sometimes even failing to come home from work till late in the evening. Her confidence was shaken, and for the first time, she began seriously to doubt her place in his heart. Had he grown tired of her? Had he found someone else? Someone young, slender, alluring?
Rising slowly from the bed at last, Hermione trudged over to her vanity, emotional numbness rendering her feet incapable of appreciating the softness of the rugs beneath them. Looking in the mirror, she saw only a tired, anxious woman with a slightly plump figure and defined dark circles. Tears welled up in the brown eyes which looked back at her, and began to run slowly down the pale cheeks in twin streams. She didn't sob–the fear and sadness were too deep for that–but she remained that way for a long time, crying silently, until at last the click of the door opening and closing brought her back to reality.
Dully, as though in a dream, she saw her husband approaching her in the mirror. He was tall and elegant in evening dress, his dark hair barely tinged with gray, his features as aristocratic as ever. She had never before been worried that she might not be able to hold him. He had never before given her cause for worry, but his recent change in demeanor, on top of feeling as though her womanhood had been violently stripped from her, had left her questioning everything she had believed.
"Our guests will be here soon, sweet."
In response, she seated herself slowly on the vanity stool.
"I don't feel well, Severus." Her voice didn't even sound like her own. It sounded far away to her ears. "Will you make my apologies? I am sure the house elves can manage the proprieties, and make sure this isn't a wasted evening."
The tear tracks had dried on her face, but now, as he came closer and saw the red rims of her eyes, he knew she had been crying. He placed both hands on her shoulders, and began to massage gently. It was the first physical contact she had had with her husband in weeks.
"Hermione, my sweet." The endearment rolled off his tongue in rich, sonorous tones, and despite her worry and anger and fear, she felt herself respond to him, as she always did. Even after all these years. She felt a short stab of anger at her traitorous body.
"Talk to me." It was a request, not a command.
She couldn't, though. It was all too much to put into words, and she lifted her eyes entreatingly to her husband's face, willing him simply to read all her self-doubt and inner turmoil. She had done this in the past when she was too frustrated with him or with the subject of their debate to vocalize the things she wanted to, and never knew if he slipped into her mind or simply read her expression. She never asked, but he always understood, and now was no exception.
"Wait here," he murmured, and in a flash, he had exited the room.
Hermione hardly noticed him leave, occupied as she was with her thoughts.
She had tried hard over the last several weeks not to sink into apathy as she once had in the terrible days following the hospital's diagnosis all those years ago. Ten-year-old Samolio and five-year-old Serena needed her, and she was a devoted mother. The logical portion of her brain warned her not to grow cold towards her husband. She had, after all, no proof that he had strayed, but the emotional part of her wanted to scream at him, hit him, hurt him for hurting her.
It seemed as though it had been hours since he'd left, but in reality, it had been only a few moments. He reentered the room holding a small glass vial, which he placed, unstoppered, upon the vanity in front of her.
"Drink this." He looked down at her, his expression indecipherable to her tired eyes.
She shook her head, too exhausted even to ask what it was.
"Please." The request was soft, and as she looked up into the depths of his black gaze, she read the intensity of his plea.
Silently, she took up the little flacon and drained its meager contents. It didn't taste like much of anything. Perhaps a hint of something floral, but that was it. All in all, it wasn't unpleasant, but she was unable to identify the solution, despite her own rather formidable knowledge of potions. He remained close behind her as she continued to gaze into the mirror, waiting for him to explain himself, but when the edges of her reflection began to shimmer and blur, she looked at him in alarm. Her lips parted to question him, but he shushed her.
"Just keep watching," he told her softly.
Too intrigued to disobey, she did as he asked. Slowly, very slowly, she observed every imperfection of her face and body blur into insignificance. Gone were the fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. Her skin was unblemished and silky smooth, and her cheeks blossomed with color. Her eyes were melting pools of chocolate brown, and her mouth was rosy and plump. The shape of her body, which she believed to be dumpy due to middle age and two pregnancies, blossomed into something lush and inviting, her breasts high and full beneath her blouse and her hips voluptuously rounded.
Nonplussed, she looked down at her physical form, then back at her husband when she found that she remained unchanged.
"What is this potion?" she asked wonderingly. "My reflection–it doesn't look like me, but I haven't changed, either."
He was bending over her, long fingers threading through her curls, rubbing her scalp. The scent of sandalwood and maleness, his very essence, enveloped her in protective warmth as he did so, and she found it hard to resist the urge to lean into him. Why was he doing this? What was going on? Weeks of being all but ignored, and now this?
"I call it Sui Perceptionem," he whispered into her ear.
For a moment, she struggled to gain enough clarity of mind to translate the name, but when she did so, she simply looked at him, her lower lip trembling. All at once, the burden of fear and anxiety under which she had been operating for the better part of the last month seemed to slip from her shoulders. She felt as though light was flooding her very soul, and her heart filled to overflowing with the joy of it.
"The Self-Perception Potion," she murmured in wonderment.
He nodded in agreement, pressing soft kisses along her throat and jawline.
"It's how I see you." He was sliding his fingertips up and down her arms now, making her shiver. She didn't protest as he turned her stool so that he could press her head against his chest, and she kissed him through his waistcoat.
"I thought you had found someone else," she said in a small voice.
He made a sound of astonishment.
"Whatever made you think that?"
His complete oblivion to the inner turmoil which she had been going through for weeks was enough to inspire a short-lived spark of anger in her, which found expression in the tartness of her tone.
"Most women come to that conclusion when their husbands stop touching them and stop coming home at the usual time!" she exclaimed, lifting her head from his chest.
He pulled her to him again.
"My sweet. This potion has been hell to complete. The late hours I have been keeping involved chopping, testing, and boiling in my lab, not to mention long vigils over cauldrons which I had no desire to entrust to stasis after a rather unfortunate incident with my colleague and an exploded batch."
Chastened, she looked down towards his feet. He had polished his shoes to a gleam, and the crisp line of his trousers broke neatly over the laces.
"I had no idea your worry over this was the cause of your sadness."
"Then–then why did you develop this potion?"
"Well, it was an idea which had been floating around in my mind for quite some time. But seeing you despondent over the cessation of your menstrual cycle spurred me to action."
She sputtered, half in embarrassment, if it was possible to be embarrassed over such a thing after sharing the most intimate aspects of life with this man, and half in disbelief.
Correctly interpreting her wordless offering of noises as surprise at his perception, he chuckled.
"My sweet." He was smirking down at her, the skin around his eyes crinkling in the way she loved so much, particularly as smiles were so rare from him. "Every single month for the last twenty years I have watched you suffer the pains of mother nature's gift. Is it so improbable that I would notice when these pains failed to come? I divined that it would most likely have a negative effect on you, especially as I watched my mother go through the same thing. It seems I was right, and I'm glad I wasted no time bringing my idea for this potion into existence."
She was still speechless, but showed him just what she thought of his attentiveness and love by rising at last, bubbling with renewed energy, and throwing herself into his arms. Momentarily surprised, he quickly recovered, and pulled her flush against his still lean body. Soft, flurried kisses gave way to deeper ones, and he groaned into her mouth as she wrapped her body around his.
"Is that really how you see me?" She was panting from his attentions, her lips inches from his as she stood on tiptoe, arms locked round his neck.
"I told you it was, witch," he growled, nipping at her lower lip even as his hands began to wander her body. "You're perfection–everything I could ever want and everything I could ever need."
She simply sighed in happiness, melting into his caresses.
The great clock in the hallway chimed the hour, and the couple started.
"The guests!" he exclaimed.
"Can't we just–send them away?" she suggested impishly.
He took one look at her flushed cheeks and the renewed sparkle in her eyes, and let out a low strangled sound. He wanted her, right this minute, but they really couldn't.
"If it weren't my colleague, come along with his family to discuss marketing this potion to the public, I would do just that."
As he turned to leave the room, he adjusted his trousers to accommodate the very physical evidence of his appreciation for his wife, making the witch giggle.
"You won't be laughing later," he promised her, his tone darkly sensuous. "I'll spend the whole damn night reassuring you."
Her laughter caught in her throat at the intent in his eyes, and she shivered.
"I'll occupy our guests while you get dressed," he called over his shoulder as he exited the room. "I've already called in the children. They're having their dinner in the kitchen, and I'll make sure their nurse gives them their baths before putting them to bed."
Hermione leapt up to ready herself for the evening. There was no time to bathe, but she swept her wild hair into a chignon, adding a simple touch of shadow and mascara to her eyes and gloss to her lips. Slipping into a deep emerald gown which accentuated her breasts and minimized her perceived flaws, she surveyed herself in the mirror. She had not expected that the effects of the potion would still be in place, and did a double take when she saw the lovely woman–her husband's perception of her–reflected back at her.
When she descended the staircase, feeling as though she was floating on air, and saw the look in his eyes as he gazed up at her, she knew she was the luckiest woman in the world.