Disclaimer: All publicly recognisable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. In other words, I don’t own J.K.R.’s characters. Please don’t sue me; I’m not worth it anyway. Once I’m done, I’ll buy them dinner, several good bottles of wine and put them back where I found them.
AN: Hello. So here is the first chapter of my multi-chapter. As time is a pressing commodity at the moment, each chapter will be short. By keeping them short I hope to be able to update regularly. As to the content, it deals with the possible ramifications of a forced marriage. Please note that I make a distinction between marriages that are arranged with consent and those that have no element of consent to them. As such the tone of this piece is different to my usual stories, but I hope you give it a go anyway. Oh, and yes, it is based on the concept of the Marriage Law, and so if the idea of such stories gives you an allergic rash consider yourself warned.
A huge thank you to my beta Liongirl and to Serpentine for the feedback and encouragement.
Fruit Of A Bitter Harvest
Severus signs his name to the parchment lying on his desk. He replaces his quill in its stand and sprinkles some powder onto his signature. As he waits for the ink to dry, his fingers trace the edge of the parchment. It is a nervous gesture, and when he tries to still his hands, in irritation at their betrayal, they still tremble slightly. The ink dries. For a brief second it glows with a golden, translucent light. Then only the black of his spiky signature remains to mar the parchment. He closes his eyes, draws a deep breath and exhales slowly. He brings all his considerable practice to bear on trying to control the emotional turmoil he never wanted to feel again.
If he had been asked to quantify the exact moment when everything had changed in his world, exactly when his life had jumped the well-worn tracks it ran upon, he would not have been able to do so. So gradual, so infinitesimal were the smaller changes which encompassed the larger that no one moment could be held accountable in isolation as the culprit. He would never have believed he could be so vulnerable, so susceptible again. The ink is bone dry now, but still he hesitates, prevaricating. His fingers continue to trace the edge of the parchment repeatedly; a physical mantra of his reluctance to do what must now follow. Memory hijacks him, pouring into his mind in insistent, fragmentary pieces, and he lets it distract him a little while longer.
It had been a relatively easy sort of hell, at first. She had been an inconvenient, unwanted and un-regarded presence on the fringes of his life. She had been chained to him, and he to her, by the iniquitous Marriage Act. The fact that the Act had been conceived of and passed into legislation, in a post-Riddle world, had proven to Severus that the Ministry was cursed in perpetuity to a form of vicious mass-insanity.
Initially, he had been a casual observer of its chaotic effects, thinking himself ineligible due to his chequered past. Legally, other ex-Death Eaters, imprisoned or released, were certainly excluded, and Severus did not consider that his exonerated status would make a difference. Then, at one breakfast, the official letter had dropped onto his plate. It had proven to him the truth of the adage that if you wanted to make fate play dice with your life, all you had to do was to be absolutely certain of a course of events. He held the official parchment as one would a poisonous thing, and his eyes had dragged over the text with a hateful reluctance. With much reference to the greater good, an irony not lost on Severus, the Ministry had deemed that out of the entire wizarding world, Hermione Granger and he were, ‘suited to a most equitable outcome, with regard to the production of above average, magically-gifted children.’ The flaming shards of the letter had drifted to the flagstone floor, framing his immediate response.
However, the soulless, bureaucratic letter had sealed their fate. Their magic was suited, so they would be forced to unite. There was no room for sentiment in this new law. No room for evasion. Its censure was severe. The first few who had tried to escape its statutes had discovered, from their cells in Azkaban, that the personnel responsible for enforcing them were very willing and keen as a blade. It was of no account to the Ministry that she, like countless others, was involved with someone else, of no account that the wizarding world was, for once, united in its opposition to the law. All that mattered was the blinkered view of the Ministry and the production of a new generation of wizards and witches.
As for Granger, he had not spared a stray iota of thought on her since the end of the war, and he was sure that she treated him with the same lack of regard. They were strangers. Their only communality was a shared hatred of the law.
So, Granger and he had been united in a ceremony as soulless as the letter had been. In a busy, dingy office, with a queue of miserable people behind them, they had been bound by a bored, indifferent clerk. The ceremony had lasted no more than five minutes. The consummation of their marriage (required to be performed within one hour of the binding) had been equally dispassionate and brief. Both had removed only enough clothing to carry out the act, sharing the potion that had been provided to ‘help.’ Afterwards, they had left the Ministry’s honeymoon suite, as it had become bitterly and ironically known as, side-by-side and in silence.
She had been granted a suite of rooms attached to his lounge. The gossiping tongues of the students had been swiftly silenced by a swinging policy of forfeited points and extraordinarily unpleasant detentions. Though the gossip regarding the couple had been quelled, the wave of uneasy apprehension it evoked in the older students thrummed through the school like a dissonant tritone. The recognition of what might well be their fate buffeted the students like the rushing wind of an approaching storm front.
At first, Hermione and Severus’s only interaction had been their weekly, unless she was menstruating, intimacies. Though, thought Severus, to describe their meetings as intimate was antonymic to the highest, ironic degree and hardly the correct depiction of the meetings. True, he had not denied himself the physical pleasure of having a regular partner, and with time, as they became accustomed to each other, he took care to ensure that she at least attained physical satisfaction from their encounters. But, he was in no doubt that the only meeting was of their bodies. Nothing of the personal touched them, and she never looked at him. He imagined that she was thinking of Weasley during their encounters in order to drive her release. They never kissed; Severus considered it too great an intimacy to inflict. Ironic, he thought, he could spill himself inside her and yet regard a kiss as a worse intimacy.
So she had continued with her own life, and he with his. Each was highly respected in their own field, and there was no shortage of clients queuing for their skills. Between her work and his schoolwork and private consultation, they had each been able to preserve the illusion of separate lives. Until the bitter weekly reminder shattered their illusions, with the unforgiving brilliance of a magnesium flare. Each occasion was a fresh, rasping reminder of the forced bond between them. Her work hours increased, and Snape understood, with empathy that none would have credited to him, the solace that she chased by doing so.
The first time this impersonal, icy status-quo had been disrupted had been when he returned to his lounge and found her there. Normally she passed quickly through and into her own rooms. This time she was sitting on the sofa with a look of crumpled defeat on her face that he had never seen before. Her face was red and blotchy, and her eyes were swollen, sore witnesses to the tears that she had shed. On hearing him enter, she quickly stood and fled to her rooms. Lying on the floor, in front of where she had been sitting, there was a letter. From it, he learnt all he needed to know.
Weasley had been matched and married with the same impersonal, casual cruelty as they had. Judging by her reaction, she had, for reasons he could not fathom, been genuinely attached to the man. But, Snape did understand the bright, scalpel-sharp, slicing pain of the bitterly familiar circumstance of knowing that someone you love was with another. He understood, and he wished he did not. He swore, poured himself a large whisky, downed it in one go, poured another and, for the first time, entered her rooms.
She was sitting by the window, staring blindly out with the same look on her face. The rain lashed its long fingers against the glass, weeping rivers as it streamed down the pane.
He crossed to her. She seemed unaware of him, so he pressed the glass into her hand. When she did not move, he reached out and lifted her hand and the glass to her mouth. She did not drink. Tentatively, he reached out again and awkwardly rested his hand on her shoulder. He spoke softly, but his voice sounded loud and intrusive to him.
‘It will lessen, slightly, with time.’ He gestured at the whisky. ‘That will not heal anything, but it can make you forget, make you numb ... for a little while. Sometimes being numb ... sometimes it is better than the pain ... sometimes.’ There was an excruciatingly awkward silence, and then he added, ‘You would, perhaps, benefit from talking to a friend.’
She said nothing, and he left her sitting there. Later in the night, her soul-broken sobs woke him. He stood outside her door, his indecisive hand on the handle for a long while. But, he could think of no comfort that he could bring to her, and eventually he returned to his rooms. Later still, he cast Silencio, to block out the disturbing sound. But his dreams that night were ghostly echoes of his past, and he slept fitfully.
End of chapter one.