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 third 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.
After the incident, as Severus referred to it in his mind, and as the days passed, she had continued to leave him alone. The first night he revelled in the equilibrium that was restored to his rooms. On the second he noticed that his chair was not quite as comfortable as it had been. By the third the articles he read seemed to have lost their fascination. On day four he felt sure that the house-elves were using less coal when they banked up the fire, for it seemed to him to have lost some of its warmth. On day five he slipped a note underneath her door as he left in the morning. He had considered approaching her in person, but this way seemed less confrontational. Subsequently, he had persuaded himself that in a note he could express himself to greater effect. If he was entirely honest with himself, he would have admitted that he was somewhat unfamiliar with the entire concept of apologising and that he had taken the line of least resistance. The prospect of a face-to-face request for forgiveness was as disquieting to him as listening to her pour her heart out had been. That evening he settled himself in the lounge to wait for her response. Hermione did not keep him waiting long. Clutching his note in her hand she stood glaring at him, her anger evident in her bearing.
‘“Somewhat disagreeable”?’ she said, using a phrase from his note.
‘Somewhat?’ her tone iced the room.
He shifted in his chair, caught by the truth of the knowledge that the phrase was hardly apt. ‘Perhaps, “utterly offensive” would have been a more apposite choice,’ he admitted very grudgingly, wondering why her opinion mattered so much to him as to force the admission.
‘Agreed,’ she said coldly and returned to her rooms.
He was irritated by her retreat; he had apologised after all. Silently, he cursed women in general and one in particular. However, the next evening he discovered her sitting in his chair by the fire, book in hand. He said nothing, but with seeming nonchalance he sat opposite her, picked up his own book and began to read. He read the same chapter three times before asking if she would like some tea. She agreed and Severus considered his apology accepted.
Curiously, he found his irritation at her presence lessened considerably. Upon deliberation of why this should be so, he attributed it to the fact that she continued to not witter on about inconsequential inanities or move his things or do any of the myriad of things that irritated him. True, she did hum softly upon occasion, and in anyone else, the habit might well have set his teeth on edge, but from her he found it was oddly soothing. Slowly and reluctantly he was forced to the realisation that her presence was a companionable one, and the room was colder, somehow, when she was not in it. One evening she looked up to find him watching her.
‘Is something wrong, Severus?’ she asked.
‘No, Hermione,’ he replied and resumed reading.
A little while later, she again had the feeling that she was being watched. She looked up, and again his disconcerting gaze was fixed on her. ‘Are you sure nothing’s wrong?’
The third time she was less polite. ‘What the hell is it?’
‘It is merely that I have seen you inspecting my Wei-Ch'i table, and I was wondering if you have ever played.’
‘I was admiring it. It’s not something you see in Britain very often.’
‘It was my Potion Master’s fourth-best set. Master Zhou gave it to me upon the completion of my apprenticeship.’
‘I’m impressed, Severus,’ Hermione said. Master Zhou was notoriously selective about whom he accepted as an apprentice. ‘But, his fourth best?’
‘The first three were intended for his children. He explained to me that it was his vain hope that if I practiced assiduously enough, I might, one day, be a challenging opponent.’ His face grew reflective. ‘He also expressed the hope that the game’s complexity would help guide my choices in life. In both respects I think I disappointed him considerably.’ The moment he said the words he looked suddenly guarded, as if he regretted speaking his thoughts aloud. ‘But, you haven’t answered my question, Hermione,’ he said, returning the emphasis to her.
‘My parents’ partner in their practice was Dr Xiao. She played. I used to love the feel of the pieces, and she used to humour me when I was little. The last time we played was just before I left for Hogwarts. She used to say the game took an afternoon to learn and a lifetime to master.’
‘Master Zhou claimed that several lifetimes were likely to prove insufficient. I certainly suspected him of a certain amount of indulgent compassion when he played me. However, I have not played in many years. I wonder, if it would not be too much of an imposition, would you care for a game upon occasion?’
She smiled. ‘That would be pleasant, Severus, though I suspect you will be disappointed.’
Far from being disappointed, he discovered that she was, for him, a challenging and inventive opponent. Though neither would have admitted to the crassness of actually keeping score in their friendly matches, both were keenly aware that the figurative score table was currently equal. Indeed, he had only won the last match by pouring her somewhat more generous measures of a fine Chablis than he poured himself. Her slightly more inebriated state led to an unwise gambit on her part, and he was able to gain territorial control of the board. He told himself that such a tactic was a natural extension of the game's strategy, but afterwards he started to study some of the masterworks on the game. Unbeknownst to him, so was Hermione. As their amicable war continued they started to hold rather stilted conversations. Stilted, not by any lack of topics, but rather by the long pauses whilst moves were weighed and balanced, considered and rejected, and strategies formulated.
Their respective fields of work, of course, formed a large part of the content. This had resulted in a collaboration, during which they had managed not to hex each other into oblivion. Though, the magical fallout from one of their debates had charged the atmosphere enough to induce spontaneous combustion in a nearby chair. This unorthodox collaboration had, to a number of people’s surprise, resulted in the joint authorship of a well-received paper.
Other topics of conversation were subject to the same lively discussion. This led to speculation, amongst the staff members, that if ever the two agreed on a matter without a debate of some description, the world might very well stop spinning on its axis. Both found in the other an intellect to challenge and spark their own. Music, art, literature, all were subject to their avid conversations, and sometimes their game laid entirely forgotten. However, the topic of politics usually degenerated into long, vituperative diatribes from both of them. These usually concentrated on cataloguing the exact, pox-ridden nature of all politicians. Eventually, they agreed to a moratorium on its theoretical discussion. Unfortunately for the Ministry, this meant that they combined their forces into joint practical opposition. The Ministry came to dread any communication from Professor Snape and Doctor Granger-Snape. The press, however, revelled in the acerbic scorn the two poured upon the Law and its injurious effects. Despite its best efforts to track the person responsible for leaking the letters to the press, the Ministry could never identify the culprit.
Gradually, when work took either of them from home, he found himself missing her conversation. He much preferred it to the everyday chatter of his other colleagues. He found himself listening with actual interest to her accounts of the minutia of her trips, and he found that he became practically voluble when relating his experiences to her. Even more remarkable was the fact that she seemed to enjoy his accounts.
Their weekly stipulated intimacies, of course, continued, but Severus found himself growing increasingly uncomfortable with the enforced intimacy. Whilst they were a physical release, emotionally he found the encounters desolate, and they left him feeling increasingly ill at ease. When he compared them to their convivial evenings, it seemed to him that they were different people in these encounters. Once, desperate to ease the hollowness he felt inside, he made to kiss her. She shied away from him. Instantly, he understood that the personal was reserved for the evenings they spent willingly together in friendship. These couplings, obligatory by the dictate of the Law, had nothing to do with that friendship. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, suddenly and keenly aware of how much her friendship meant to him and how unwilling he was to lose it.
‘It’s just that none of this is by our choice, Severus,’ she said. ‘It’s forced on us. Every time I feel it, and it cuts ...’ her voice trailed away, and a lone tear tracked its way onto the pillow.
Gently, he wiped the tear away with his thumb, his touch saying what he did not trust his voice to. He knew only too well the horror of what it was like not to be the master of your own life, and he felt the truth of her brutal summary of their situation slice into him. They never spoke of the incident again. Both gave the other some distance, for a little while, until the shadow of that moment faded and they once again felt at ease with the other’s company.
End of chapter three.