Beta(s): My fantastic friend Harriet, who finds my love of fanfic strange but humours me.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): A little swearing, some British slang, non-explicit trauma.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: I absolutely ADORE train travel. I find it romantic (close quarters!), mesmerizing (all the things that go by outside the window!), relaxing (sit, read, people-and-scenery-watch!), mysterious (what are the backstories of all these people??). Write me something set on a train that is NOT the Hogwarts Express.
Note: A series of moments, stream of consciousness, for that I ask your forgiveness!
Summary: Do we always have to do what the world expects of us?
Life in the Granger-Snape household was… mundane. Easy. Peaceful. Little rituals permeated the air; the freshness of new bedding on a Monday morning, the hum of the dishwasher after dinner, and the tinkling chimes of the doorbell. All served the carefully crafted oasis of calm. This was exactly how Severus and Hermione chose to live their life together, free from the noise and clutter and danger and explosions and downright fear of life fighting the Dark Lord. It worked, despite (or maybe because of) the people who told them they were crazy for living in the Muggle world. Why would you choose not to have magic in your home? To use a car rather than Floo powder? The train rather than apparition? Most people, like the reporters shoving themselves in their faces on Diagon Alley, were not given any answer other than a glare, or perhaps a polite "That is none of your concern", but even those who got an answer were not satisfied. Their house was, in fact, very powerfully warded against the magical world, against owls and aurors and reporters and fans who wished them less than well, but to their friends it was an open door. You just had to ask.
It served the unlikely couple very well — both were used to being massively underappreciated, misunderstood and usually pushed into the background so the 'important people' could get all the credit for their hard work. So when they bought themselves an apartment in a converted mill building in a tiny but friendly Yorkshire village and created a home together, it took most people a while to even realize that they were together, and not just the practical 'let's share a house because we can't afford our own' way. Disgust was the usual reaction, disbelief often, with a healthy dollop of "She was your student, you dirty old man" thrown in. They didn't see the idyllic life of a well-matched pair sharing ideas, laughter, a vast book collection and a love of traveling slowly, not running for their lives. It helped that the trains passed their balcony frequently, often with a gentle toot to ensure the walkers had crossed in time. They provided an easy escape, a reliable system with only the weather to interrupt it. Perfect for the couple who loved to watch the world go by in safety.
Hermione sighed, dropping her book into her lap. The journey was proving more stressful than usual, surrounded by Muggles who had no idea of the horrors faced by the woman sat in the rare single seat found on the train destined for Leeds. She preferred to sit alone when possible but had totally forgotten that this would be the main commuter train to start the day. As a result, there were at least four, maybe five people standing far too close to her knees for comfort. A very long journey lay ahead, with this just the first leg of three, and for the second time in as many minutes Hermione thanked her magical abilities for making travel easier.
How do you explain to someone the horrors of a war they lived through but never encountered? The fellow passengers were probably around during the Second Wizarding War, being mainly middle aged banker types, and might have even seen its impact on the news with weeks of unseasonably grim weather and spates of unsolved, unexplainable deaths. Yet to fight and defeat an evil megalomaniac before you finish school is not something the average person can understand, especially for a Muggle who should never have to even hear the Name Which Must Not Be Spoken, let alone try to spell it.
It had been ridiculously difficult to bring her parents back to England, into the home that stood empty for over two years. Retrieving people who are hidden is hard enough when they're in a small town, let alone an area as vague as 'Australia', but the brightest witch of the age had done it. Repatriation into their old life? Tick! Restoration of memories? Tick! Reopening the dentist surgery? Tick! Reconciling with their only daughter? Ti — No. Not quite.
It was still a massive bone of contention between mother and daughter (a particularly tearful late-night argument ending in questions of trust and slamming of doors sprang to mind), but Hermione had found her dad to be more even-tempered about the whole affair. It had been his ambition to travel Australia as a single man, but a pregnancy and hasty marriage brought that to a swift halt. Hermione didn't arrive on the scene until years later; a series of miscarriages making her birth bittersweet and her 'only child' status permanent.
Hermione was not entirely sure how she had got from the stuffy commuter train to the comfort of First Class on the London train, but they were speeding south already. It was comfortable, just a few other single people spread throughout the carriage, with the beautiful hum of the tracks and the clinking of proper cups (no polystyrene nastiness), and occasional murmur of the staff offering refills and breakfast pastries. This was the right environment for reading! As she reached once again into her trusty purple satchel (the beaded clutch having been ceremonially burned by the trio as a solid farewell to their year on the run), her hand caught on a pocket edge. Carefully pulling free, she scowled at the cause — a small emerald jewel, encircled by tiny diamonds, set in a deceptively sturdy silver band. The reason for her journey. Severus was to meet her at the station, a twenty-minute walk from her parents' house, to present the partnership that was so dear to them both. And perhaps to protect her from the row that was sure to follow.
"You're too young!"
"You can do better than an ex-teacher with a bad attitude!"
"Shit, you're pregnant!"
All reasons to pull her away from the person who loved her most in the world.
Severus had always felt that trains meant safety. Despite the rumbling that shook the very foundations of the family home, a coal train on the move meant work. Food on the table. Security from the landlord that month. Less chance of a beating from the drunken, depressed man who forbade his wife to earn a wage, let alone use the magic she was raised with. Severus spent any time he was not at school looking out of his attic window at the passing trains — though 'attic' was a generous word for what was, in reality, a crawl space below the ceiling with a rope ladder connecting it to the room below. He spent hours staring through the cracked glass, feeling the rumbling of the freight train pulling full trucks as they passed and seeing the dust rise from the piles of coal that only hours before had been underground.
This habit was changed slightly when his mother presented him with a battered trunk for his eighth birthday, her magic having deteriorated so much from years of neglect and abuse that she could no longer keep the glamour active and hide it from her domineering husband. The contents were life changing for the skeletal boy — plenty of old Hogwarts textbooks that were obviously too worn to be sold, a rusty cauldron, some mouldy grey robes, a few strange coins and a padlocked iron chest about the same size as a briefcase with the initial 'P' engraved into the front. She helped him to shove it through the hole in the ceiling, to rest on the bare beams underneath the window, and Severus' world came alive. By the time he reached Hogwarts three and a half years later, he had a comprehensive understanding of all of the basic subjects, and a thorough love of potions. For the chest had contained something far more valuable than old robes. It held a positive trove of Dark Arts texts, theoretical potions journals and a wand broken into several pieces. Severus spent whole days just poring over the journals, reading theory and dreaming of how it would be used. He discovered more about poisons and inhibitors and ways to change your body than any little boy should ever know; it seemed that his grandmother (whose chest it was) had been an extremely talented witch rather than the meek and subservient housewife her daughter had thought her to be.
Severus never showed the contents of the case to his mother — she never asked — sad in the knowledge that this was probably the only gift she would ever be able to give him, and one she certainly couldn't share. By the time he came home from his first year at Hogwarts, the trains no longer meant safety. The wand at his side did.
The pair met at the little station, walking closely but not touching, in the direction of the Granger household. Small talk was exchanged — bland commentary on the man with horrendous BO sat opposite Hermione on the train, the kindness of a guard who had helped her navigate the machine determined to eat her money without producing a ticket, and how the motion had proven soothing enough for her to have a little nap on the long journey. Severus did not elaborate on his day — you learned very quickly that as an Unspeakable you are being constantly listened to. Their home was the one place they could share workplace thoughts without fear of tracking spells or surveillance tags, as they worked in the same department and fitted their home with all the security that their brilliant brains could manage. The walk was soothing, a route well known and often travelled for Hermione in her youth, but they naturally slowed as they neared the house.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes. They are my parents, it is their job to love me, and I know that my choice is the right one."
The return journey was tense. The connecting station had been far more difficult to manoeuvre than usual due to an upcoming football match and the drunken, almost riotous Muggles charging around with no regard for their fellow humans. The ticket girl seemed more interested in her manicure than printing out the correct tickets. The jostling would have snapped the last nerve of the Professor twenty years previously, but with a hand to hold (for stations grant a strange sense of anonymity and freedom from judgement) it was tolerable. Besides, what Hermione wants, Hermione gets, regardless of a little unruly chanting.
Seated, once again, in first class, the striking couple watched the city make way for rolling fields. A two hour journey with no distractions this time. Hermione had left her book with her mother, a sort of peace offering if you will, to soften the blow of "losing my baby to a man who could be her father! How will I live with the shame?" but no book could ever hold her attention like Severus. He made her feel safe and seen — the two things that had disappeared when her Hogwarts letter arrived. Hermione was unaware of just how rigidly she held herself, until her hand was placed between two larger, scarred ones and a low voice cut through her racing thoughts.
"Hermione Granger. You are twenty eight years old, with a Mastery in Charms, and a Master's degree in the psychological effects that war has on children. You are incredibly sought after by the whole magical community for the calm way in which you deal with the children of the war, many of whom were personally hurt by my actions. You have excelled beyond what we, your teachers, could have imagined, in ways that we could not or dare not think about. Yet you choose to sit with me, on this train that is wholly unnecessary for travel, as you like to ignore the fact that you are a stupendously powerful witch who could apparate without a thought one hundred times a day. You have chosen this life, to take the slow paths, to heal naturally when you have every right to be drugged up to your eyeballs. To care and give and provide for those who see you as a beacon of hope in their trauma riddled lives. Everything you do is for the good of somebody else, even travelling all this way to speak to your parents in person when a simple phone call would have sufficed, to tell them that you are seriously going to marry your ex-professor, a man who systematically terrorized you and belittled your supreme intelligence for years. Hermione, you chose me. And I will do everything in my not-inconsiderable power to make you glad you did."
Silence was all that greeted this unusual speech. Severus watched as, for what seemed like forever, the love of his life twisted his ring around her finger. She looked out of the window at the fields rushing by — sheep and wheat and cows and yellow flowers and far away castles and stations and tunnels and the vastness of the English countryside that they both loved. Then, ever so slowly, as if waking from a daydream, she turned her attention back to his face, hands clenched together on the little table, tea untouched.
"Welcome back. I wasn't sure how long you'd left me for this time." A wry smile greeted this statement — they both knew just how difficult recovery had been and how much dissociation disrupted her fought-for existence.
"That was a lot to take in, Severus, even by your lecturing standards!" The smile was returned, no longer the sneer from a feared Hogwarts professor, but a softer, open look.
"I get where you're coming from, I really do. I even wish that my self-worth wasn't tied so closely to the opinions of others. Yet your opinion matters more than anything else in my world." A pause, a deep cleansing breath (breathing is so important and you mustn't forget to do it no not even when your life is bleeding out and a Death Eater stands over you and the world is lost and it would be so so easy to just stop) before the final verdict is given. "So I will let you love me. I will give you my heart, as I have so emphatically been given yours. I did mean it when I accepted your proposal, I do love you, but it is so big that it hurts and I feel like I'm shattering all over again. And you are worth it, you ridiculous man, for you make me saner than I ever believed possible — the greatest gift of all."
There was no response needed. Declarations were unusual in their ordered lives, they had little need for them, but the understanding was there that should you need to get something off your chest it should happen without interruption and even without comment at all if need be. An outsider would never understand this pair, who look so mismatched but projected an aura of security and peacefulness. It worked for them: the war heroes who shunned the titles, unwitting soldiers in a deadly and bigoted war, the overlooked swats of their school years, neither the prettiest to look at. Yet sat there in the bubble of an otherwise empty train carriage, with snacks on the table and a paper crumpled on a seat, with hands entwined so closely, anyone would think they were just another ordinary couple in love. They would be right.