The Convenient Marriage -- Severus/Hermione/OMC -- 16+
Author's note: This came from a strange, dark place, and the rating is more about the emotional tone of the thing than any sex or violence, all of which is merely alluded to.
Disclaimer: It’s JKR’s world, I just mess about with it.
A marriage of convenience was certainly the wrong word for it. Convenience seemed too small a word, as if marriages of such a sort were about simple things – a house in a central location, for example, or shared decorating tastes. As far as Severus Snape was concerned, there was nothing so banal about Hermione Granger as convenience. That, however, made her no less useful to him, and he, he certainly knew, no less useful to her. Where separately they had been mistrusted outcasts, together they could almost pass as respectable second-class citizens of a world they helped create -- largely through their failings, of course, but no one had to know that. And so they lived in a decent house in a respectable suburb of wizarding London, the half-blood Death Eater and his too clever muggle-born bride. People didn't have to like them, and largely didn't. But certainly, no one could publicly criticize their commitment to a cause that offered them so little reward.
Even had they wanted them, and it was too absurd a subject for it to ever have been discussed, children were not part of the intent of their marriage; the matter of blood status making it illegal. It seemed clear to Severus that Hermione had some emotional feeling on the topic, but had, thankfully, the good graces to keep it to herself. They were both individuals who were loathe to be needful of others, and so, while their intimacies were often about grief, Severus was glad that they were, at least, rarely about comfort. He supposed that, aside from the extremity of their histories, he had the particularly annoying relentlessness of Hermione's intellect to thank for that as much as anything else. She regarded not just sex, but him, their marriage, the house – everything in their upside down little lives, with a peculiar, clinical and bemused curiosity. This charmed him, and not entirely secretly. He supposed that it was this that made it seem that some sincere emotion, other than wishing the world they lived in hadn't turned out to be this one, existed between them when he put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head at the parties they were obligated to attend. Over the last year, he had learned not to scowl when people smiled patronizingly at them at such events; they were, he knew, merely lab animals rutting and monkeys with manners to most of their acquaintances, and part of the ruse, both he and Hermione understood, was to look ashamed.
Despite the things they had discussed when he first broached the marriage to her, they did not often discuss politics at home. There was little point, they both knew, in bemoaning the state of the world or hatching plans that involved armies that did not exist and allies they did not possess. There were days it seemed Hermione had convinced herself that their mere continued existence was defiance enough; Severus saw no point in breaking her of the illusion that she always shook off soon enough anyway. No longer allowed to teach, their skills were still admired, albeit grudgingly. Severus was often commissioned to research; Hermione worked on translation and arithmancy. In the dark she would whisper to him that as long as they still had access to books, there was still hope, and he would remember then that she was still very young and crush his lips to hers. That she had never been afraid of him was still a matter of confusion to Severus, and sometimes he wondered if she had seen this life in some accidental equation the first time Draco Malfoy had called her mudblood. Only recently she had told him she had punched the boy for that once when they were still children; now such an offense would mean losing a hand.
While it was perhaps the last thing he would ever verbalize, the simple truth was that Severus missed teaching; there was, he felt, truly no other profession dedicated to the unfortunately necessary rescue of idiots from themselves. It was something he had found satisfaction in from the beginning, even if those he had saved had so rarely deserved it and the work had frayed his nerves and wounded his dignity. Hermione had learned quickly in the weeks following their three-night honeymoon at a country inn, where they had gone from strained acclimation to gasping relief before the first dawn, not to narrow her eyes or comment each time Severus looked over a half-blood, muggle-born or squib they encountered in the hopes he could find a use for them. Well-justified strays came often to live in the guest bedroom on the third-floor for a few days or weeks or months. Ultimately, neither she nor Severus knew if their association with these feeble compatriots had made the unfortunates any safer, but it had, they felt, kept their visitors alive longer and for most dwelling in such precarious positions there was little they could buy other than time. The first time Hermione counted it aloud as a victory, again in the dark and in whispers, Severus had reminded her, almost gently, that teaching was merely his debt to Albus, and so she learnt not to mention it again.
Eileen had stayed with them for two weeks, cooking and cleaning as Hermione finished a particularly odious translation involving a peculiar hodgepodge of Nordic languages, but the girl had left, both ashamed and with sharp glances, after sorting the mail one day and seeing the names of Severus' correspondents -- Mulciber and McNair, Rookwood and Nott. Patrick had stayed for months, tending and harvesting in the small hothouse behind their home while Severus completed a new commission. Even when he had found out what it was, the man still had sat down to dinner with them every night. Marcy was a squib who had taught them Italian; John, a half-blood with steady hands, who had reorganized Severus' stores; muggle-born Pamela had talked with Hermione about calculus and childhood. The list was long and little more than a litany of awkward departures that always left Severus in a rage Hermione worked hard not to understand. That was a silent agreement between them, that neither was to use their intelligence to pry into the essential character of the other; they could share a home, a bed, meals and a life, but they weren't to seek knowledge about who they had each been before coming to this peculiar pass. With a wry and bitter smile, they had each accepted that a new world had obliterated the old and with it they would simply have to become new people.
"It's easier for us," Severus had said with solemn mischief as they sat across from each other at the wide kitchen table holding mugs of tea. "We're so many people already."
Hermione in turn, who had never expected that negotiations with Severus Snape could possibly involve tea, had briefly lowered her eyes before studying his face, his posture and wondering if she could truly deal with the notion that there was a real man under that armour of fabric who would toss in his sleep and blindly make breakfast long before his mind had actually found consciousness in the mornings. She supposed it was a blessing they weren't allowed house-elves, as it was just one of many subjects on which they never could have possibly agreed.
They had found Craig shelving boxes of fairy caps in a potions supply shop on Practic Alley, muttering under his breath about the sheer idiocy of a request from one of the patrons. Severus had pushed him hard in the shoulder, as if to force the boy to stand up straight.
"What did you say?"
Hermione had tried not to scowl. The mudblood or squib or whatever he was, was scared, and Severus needn't have done it; everyone in the store was staring. To the kid's credit, and he was a kid, surely no older than twenty, he straightened and repeated himself clearly. He wasn't wrong either.
"You clearly haven't the slightest sense of how to keep yourself alive," Severus had replied sharp and quiet. When he went to speak with the shopkeeper about alleviating him of the trouble, Hermione asked his name, and when Craig introduced himself, she couldn't help but slip her hand into his kindly. As he returned, Severus blinked at their joined hands several times before informing the boy he was to come with them. Hermione had dropped Craig's hand quickly then and sought her usual shelter under Severus' arm. "Are you feeling maternal or attracted?" he had muttered, amused but pointed.
Hermione had pressed closer and said nothing.
Craig, it turned out, was a squib with a photographic memory, and Severus had kept Hermione up until near dawn once early in it all talking about the possibility, practicality and use of turning him into a living, breathing and untraceable pensieve.
"In the muggle world, that's called children," she had said none too kindly, and Severus hadn't replied.
Severus was as brusque with the boy, but nearly jovially so. "You may not be able to do magic, but you can damn well do near everything else," he said, shoving an armful of bottles at him. Within a few days, Craig had everything laid out in the basement laboratory each morning before Severus began his work. Within a few weeks, Severus found himself working longer, not shorter, hours because of it, and each day at two Craig went upstairs to share a shy lunch with Hermione.
At dinners, Severus would ask the boy terrible questions.
"Why didn't your parents kill you?"
"That was before things changed," Craig had said.
"Many families still –"
"Mine enjoyed being disappointed more."
Severus had only raised an eyebrow at this, fascinated by the boy's nerve in cutting him off.
"Why don't you go live among muggles?" he had asked another time.
"This is my home," Craig had said. "Why don't you?"
Severus had set his knife and fork down slowly then, and rolled up his sleeve. "Because I can always be found."
The boy had looked at Hermione then, "You?"
"Because this is my home," she had said as sharply as any of them, and Severus had, had to stop himself from squeezing her knee under the table.
On the Tuesday of Craig's fourth week with them, he hadn't crept up the stairs for lunch, and so Hermione had crept down, only to find he and her husband quietly discussing their childhoods in hushed tones. Puzzled, she retreated, and dinner that night was oddly convivial.
That Thursday Craig spent the entire morning with her helping to organize books as she told him about muggle methods for preserving old manuscripts.
And on that Friday Hermione saw him and her husband exchange a gentle kiss by the greenhouse. Severus had never even told her he liked men, and she wondered if he preferred them. Fidelity, of course, was one of those things they had never discussed, being, like children and love, far too irrelevant to their situation to be worth the time. But now Hermione wished they had, for she had no fondness for secrets within her own home; it seemed so dangerous; if nothing else, the number of dead Weasleys was easy proof of that. The problem, however, distracted her from a phrase, a shred of muggle history she couldn't get out of her head whenever she pictured them together: degenerate art. It made her feel queasy. So did Craig taking her hand by the kitchen sink a few days later and kissing her just as gently.
Silence, of course, was one of the hallmarks of this new era under Voldemort; even the loyal knew better than to speak, and so the silence in their household didn't seem ominous, but merely ordinary. Craig remained quiet and sweet, even when Hermione fucked him in the small bathroom at the top of the third floor stairs, even when he and Severus managed to shatter three bottles of powdered mandrake root all over the laboratory floor and Hermione knew better than to ask how.
It took two whole months for Severus to ask his wife, "What do you think of him?" It was an absurd question, coming so late in all things, and Hermione listened to her breath in the dark for a long time before answering.
"I'm afraid to love him because he's going to get killed," she said in a small voice.
Severus made a considering noise. "What about me?" he asked, the question vague enough to cover many things, even humour.
Had she not already been laying in his arms, she would have thrown herself there, and he was startled by the way she suddenly clung to him swift and sure. "I know you're not going to get killed," she said and wept.
"Still so young," he said, caressing her hair, trying not to feel terror at their pact having become a responsibility. That had never been the intent. He could almost be angry.
"Twenty-four," she sniffed.
"I won't let him get killed," he said and Hermione nodded against his chest and mumbled thanks. And although she didn't know if all his betrayals had earned him that particular power, she sincerely hoped they had.
There were, however, all sorts of petty problems they could not accomodate, and Hermione thought it was odd that it was always Severus who felt the greater guilt that they could not take the boy to the symphony or to dinner or really anywhere at all. It was not even a matter of appearances (which were the one arena in which they had some odd freedom; after all, no one expected them to be capable of conforming to the morals of the new society, which was now, officially, the only society that had ever been), but of simple logistics; Craig had no magic, and what he wasn't simply barred from was invariably unsafe. By Christmas it seemed Severus could never sleep at all the night before some event at which he and his wife were expected.
"He understands that it's necessary," she would say.
"No. He understands that none of this is," he would reply, equally sharp. And Hermione was surprised to realize how reassured she was to hear him scold, for just as books meant hope, so did anger, and so did the boy sneaking off with each of them here and there and straining from the stairs to hear their conversations.
"I don't want you to go," he said one night, walking into their bedroom for the first time, as Severus fastened a necklace on Hermione as they readied for the opera. And for a long moment they all stared at each other, slightly shocked, until Severus returned his attention to his wife's throat.
"We've hardly a choice," he said matter of factly as he fussed with the clasp. "We've been invited to sit in Malfoy's box."
Craig blinked at them. "I know that. Just wish it was different is all."
"So do we," Hermione said quietly and felt old and matronly.
As ever, home was a relief after such evenings, which left the couple poisoned from gratitutde because art was still beautiful, regardless of who provided them with access to it. They lit nothing and found their way to bed in the dark, clothes still shed and hung up neatly despite it. Hermione commented that Severus' skin felt cold, and he remarked at the stiffness of her hair from too many spells, as Craig slowly pushed open their bedroom door.
"Are you all right?" she asked, sitting up, sharp and nervous at the idea of shadows in doorways which had only ever existed, she was sure, to trade people for fear.
Severus rubbed his fingers against the small of her back, willing her calm even as his own heart was hammering. Betrayal, he knew, was always backlit.
"How was it?" Craig asked, voice cracking and feeling a fool; Severus let out a breath he hadn't know he'd been holding.
"Come here you stupid, stupid creature," he said with irritation, and Craig sat on the edge of the bed. "You ever scare Hermione, or me, like that again and I'll have your hide myself. Literally. Do you understand me?"
The young man nodded and Severus pulled him back with them onto the bed.
"Thank Merlin," he breathed like drowning, as Hermione seemed to reach for everything in the world, even him, with hands that were no longer so small as they had once been.