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Fruit Of A Bitter Harvest by shuldham [Reviews - 11]

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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 second 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

After that disturbing night he had watched her more closely. But, after the one emotional storm he witnessed he had not seen any others. Or rather, he thought, she had been careful not to let him witness any others. Then she had appeared in his rooms, some two months later, on a night that differed from their appointed one. Before he could give voice to his question, she handed him a letter in silent reply. He unfolded the crisp, expensive parchment and read. He discovered that she had been nominated for an award in her field. He congratulated her on the achievement, and he felt surprised to find that it was not an empty sentiment. Hermione looked uncomfortable, shifting slightly from one foot to the other. Slowly she explained that she hadn’t shown him the letter in order to garner compliments. Her discomfort increased as she explained, and he discovered, that partners were expected to attend the ceremony.

Severus realised at once just how much of an intrusion his presence, at this very public event, would be. Her work had been her sanctuary, away from the unpleasant reality of their forced union. He found himself sympathising with her predicament, if the situation had been reversed, he would certainly have felt annoyance at such an impertinent expectation on the organiser’s part. He considered his reply carefully, and Hermione shuffled impatiently as she waited for his answer.

‘It is a singular honour for you to have been nominated for this award so early in your career, Hermione. I have no desire to intrude upon your occasion, and I am under no illusion that my presence, as your partner, is one with which you would prefer to dispense.’ She started to protest, but he held up a hand to stop her. ‘However, I would account it a privilege to escort a nominee of the Brink-Favell award to the ceremony, in the capacity of a fellow academic, of course.’

Hermione stared hard at him. The truth of his summation of her feelings made her wonder, for a moment, if he had used Legilimency. She dismissed the thought almost as soon as it occurred. He was nothing if not a consummate observer, and, despite his harshness, she knew he was also capable of compassion, however well he might hide the fact. The faintest of smiles crossed her face at his solution to the situation.

‘So, it would be two fellow academics accompanying each other?’ she asked, becoming aware of how disconcerting the full and absolute attention of Severus Snape could be. He said nothing, but merely inclined his head in reply.

***


Intrigued, he had reviewed Hermione’s work and, for comparison, that of her fellow nominees. He followed as much of the Arithmancy as he could, and he asked Vector’s opinion when he could not. He was impressed with the area of her research and with the novel and innovative approach she had taken. Not for the first time, he found himself wondering if her Muggle background had sparked a different perspective on the resolution of magical theories that more traditional approaches would not have considered. Her rigorous and comprehensive paper sparked his professional admiration. He had always known she was intelligent. Now, he acknowledged the fact that she had an intellect and that she used it with originality, efficiency and insight.


***


The night of the ceremony had arrived. She dressed in a simple, but exquisitely and elegantly cut, black gown. He concluded that it had obviously been bought for a previous occasion, as now it hung on her shrunken frame. Now, it only served to emphasise how thin, pale and ill she appeared, and he found that he did not care for such an emphasis.

The ceremony passed in an inanity of small talk. The only notable part was her winning the award. Later, whilst they stood in a sycophantic, congratulatory crowd of witches and wizards, she suddenly seized his hand tightly. At the uncharacteristic gesture, he looked at her. She was tight-lipped and white with shock. To locate the source of her distress, he glanced around. He saw Weasley, with his arm around his new wife, approaching them. Severus could only assume that Weasley’s wife had some interest in the same field as Hermione. The resultant meeting was fleeting and wound tight with an unspoken, churning-knot of seething emotion. Throughout, Hermione looked brittle and sharp-featured, pain shadowing her eyes.

Afterwards, Severus placed his hand on the small of her back and steered her away from the crowd and its curious, prying eyes, only to have a very drunken wizard confront her. Severus recognised him as one of Hermione’s fellow nominees. Severus’s memory fitted a name to the pasty, sweating man, Quintus Fogwell. Severus had not been impressed with his work. It was derivative and, in Severus’s opinion, contained very little original thought. Fogwell leered at Hermione, the alcohol reeking and sour on his breath. Then he insinuated loudly that she had only won because she had slept with a highly influential member of the judging panel. Severus’s anger flared brightly at the jealous man’s insult to her and her work, but Hermione didn’t retaliate at all. The fight seemed drained out of her. She was, if possible, even paler and looked close to tears. Then Fogwell made the mistake of placing a sweaty paw on her bare shoulder. He muttered an obscenity, and the next instant he was thrown against the wall by her non-verbal hex. Her cheeks burned red with anger; it added the only colour to her face.

The stunned wizard struggled to his feet and reached for his wand. Severus moved swiftly to stand between the two antagonists. Fogwell unwisely tried to step past him, only to find himself stopped by twelve inches of ebony pressed disarmingly lightly against his chest.

‘Dr Granger,’ Snape announced to the gawking crowd, using her professional name, ‘attained this award, because her work is insightful, innovative and an advancement in the field of Arithmancy. Her peers had the good sense to recognise her brilliance and mark it. Your work ...’ Snape dug his wand a little harder into the wizard’s solar plexus, ‘is in an entirely different category. I look forward to utilising it in the only manner for which it is suited: when I next have occasion to use a lavatory.’ Snape’s voice lowered to a menacing timbre so that only Fogwell could hear him. ‘Insult her or her professional integrity again and you will have the novel experience of observing how well your lungs function when outside your worthless skin. Now, apologise, or I will let her deal with you, and, when she has finished, I will have my turn.’ Snape smiled unpleasantly, and as if noticing his wand digging into Fogwell’s chest for the first time, he casually turned it aside.

Fogwell’s eyes widened at Severus’s threat, and he blurted out an apology and fled. But Severus had the satisfaction of seeing the wet patch on the wizard’s crotch where the cretin had wet himself in fear. Snape turned to face Hermione and extended his hand towards her. As she took it he felt that she was still trembling with suppressed rage. He lowered his voice and pitched it for her hearing only, ‘Do you wish to stay?’

She shook her head minutely. Snape led her imperiously outside. His entire demeanour challenged the crowd to say anything. When they were outside, he let go of her hand and asked, ‘What do you wish to do?’

‘I want to go back to Hogwarts,’ she said. Snape noticed that she didn’t say home.

‘Very well, shall I?’ She nodded. He slid his arm around her and Apparated them both to the very edge of the wards around the castle. They walked in silence towards the doors, the gravel crunching under their feet.

She went straight to her rooms without saying a word. He settled in his chair by the fire, summoned a glass, the decanter of whisky and poured himself a generous measure. He rolled the glass between his hands, watching the gentle ripples in the pale amber liquid. The flames danced in the hearth, throwing shadows of red-tinged light across his face. He stared into their flickering warmth and considered the reasons for his actions that night. His wilful, meandering thoughts refused to respond to any logic he tried to apply to them, and he was further disturbed by her abrupt reappearance at his side.

‘Did you mean what you said?’ she asked.

He poured her a glass of whisky and handed it to her, his hand brushing hers in the process, and he noticed she felt warmer. He stared into the fire again. Just when she started to think that he would not reply, he murmured, ‘Yes.’

‘Thank you.’

‘There is no need for thanks. My statement was an acknowledgement of fact. You are an expert in your field, and he is merely an expert cretin.’

She almost smiled at his summary of Fogwell’s character, and then she said, ‘Well, Severus, you have my thanks anyway.’

She sipped her whisky and sat down opposite him. They sat in silence for a while. Then, the lure of the dancing flames drew her attention too. Whilst she sat, lost in thought, he covertly studied her profile. She looked soul-raw beyond her years, but he thought he detected a sea-change in her demeanour. Even though she sat curled up in the chair, it seemed to him that she had somehow stopped slumping. He hoped that a turning point had passed. He thought that the glimmer of light was back in her soul, and he was pleased with the change.

She startled him by speaking. Her soft and hesitant words were directed towards the fire. The flames swallowed them, dancing then up the chimney with the smoke. ‘Do you remember telling me I should speak to a friend?’ He shifted in his chair, but before he could reply, she continued, ‘Because I was wondering if I could talk to you?’

She must have taken his stunned silence for assent, because she started to speak again. In a quiet voice, which resonated with pain and hurt, she confided in her silent companion, pouring out her hatred for the Law and all its wrongs. His only involvement was to refill her glass and listen, which, he considered, was hardly a useful contribution. He felt awkward and clumsy and could not shake the conviction that he was an intruder. He was no confidante. Apt words of comfort did not flow easily from his tongue. More used to scorn than gentleness, he felt utterly out of place, and desperately unequal to the trust she placed in him. Despite his reticence, when she fell silent, he felt compelled to say something. Caustic insults he could deliver without a second thought, but faced with the genuine desire to be of comfort to her, nothing came to his mind. Mute in the face of his need, after a long pause, all he could think of to say was, ‘I am sorry that I was not of use. You should talk to someone else, someone close, someone who could comfort you. I am not ...’

‘You listened, Severus, and that was a comfort and a kindness. Thank you.’

A small, tired smile graced her face, and she bid him goodnight. Then a thought occurred to her, and she said, ‘If ever you have the need to talk, I’ll try my best to listen with the same kindness.’ She left him sitting in stunned silence as she returned to her rooms. The thought of having someone who would willingly listen to him and his demons was an utterly unfamiliar one in his world. Had the offer come from anyone else, he would have dismissed it as an empty platitude, but from her, somehow, the sincerity shone like a beacon in the night, and he was comforted by the thought.

***


Shortly afterwards she, occasionally, began to read in the lounge where he spent his free evenings. He was irritated at first to have his space invaded in this fashion, for he jealously guarded his evenings of leisure. He regretted his damn silence and the way that it had made her feel comfortable enough to invade his space in this fashion. Several times he made up his mind to say something that would send her scurrying back to her rooms, but something always prevented him. Sometimes it was a fascinating article, sometimes a review of a new book but there was always something, and by the time his distraction was over, she was usually gone of her own accord.

***


One evening he had returned to his quarters, hungry, late, irritated and with a raging headache. His foul mood had been induced by the incompetence of a student (whose existence singlehandedly contradicted Darwin’s theory) and a setback in his own research. She was there, curled contentedly into his chair, gazing into the fire. He caustically vented his frustration at her. He could tell how much his words stung by the pain that flashed across her face. Her expression sent a fleeting pang of remorse through him, but he could not call back his words.

With an angry, hardened expression on her face she silently pointed to where a vial of headache potion, a generous measure of whisky and a plate of succulent roast beef sandwiches sat waiting for him. ‘I thought you might need these,’ she said in a quiet, furious voice. Then she turned on her heel and left him alone. He threw himself into his chair and gulped down the potion, satisfied to have his room back. But the whisky tasted unaccountably sour and the sandwiches stale.

End of chapter two.



Fruit Of A Bitter Harvest by shuldham [Reviews - 11]

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