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 fourth 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
By late winter, both Hermione and Severus were pre-occupied with their own projects. Hermione was expanding on the theory that had won her the award, and Severus was taking advantage of the bitter winter to pursue a private project. The unusually harsh weather had intensified in the November, subduing the pupils and curbing their desire to stray from their warm common rooms. This boon had allowed him to progress his work faster than otherwise.
Earlier that year, in the autumn, he had asked Hermione her opinion on the necessity of a re-write for the Advanced Potions textbook. She told him that it was, in her opinion, a project that was long overdue and one which would be in extraordinarily competent hands, should those hands be his. Tentatively, he had shown her his collected notes on the subject. They had been compiled over many years with the benefit of all his experience and skill and needed only to be collated, edited and submitted to the Royal Commission of Potion Masters for official approval. She had reviewed his notes and had been impressed with the depth and subtlety of his many improvements. She had encouraged him to pursue the project, insisting that he assert his intellectual rights to the enhancements.
Amongst the notes, she had discovered a number of completely new potions. They were all fiendishly advanced and difficult. She separated these from the other papers and suggested that once he had completed his project on the textbook, he should consider publishing and licensing them.
‘Whilst I believe that my modifications to existing potions will be accepted, Hermione, I do not think that any new potion bearing my name, as its creator, will be welcomed,’ he had said.
‘Well, Severus, if some idiots want to remain idiots all their lives, feasting on false judgements from the past, I say sod them! These have to be published,’ she said and brandished the papers. ‘You can’t let their brilliance go unrecognised, it would be unthinkable.’
Her fierce championing of his work suddenly felt too personal to him. It evoked memories of another friendship and caused a swell of emotion in him that caused him to turn abruptly away, muttering that doubtless she meant to work him to death.
‘No, Severus, only to recognition,’ she retaliated to his retreating back.
He had immersed himself in the work, devoting every spare moment he had to the task, encouraged by both her and Minerva’s enthusiasm for the project.
When the winter break had arrived he had become a virtual recluse in his lab, taking full advantage of the time. Hermione had taken to joining him in the evenings. She brought her own work with her, and often she just sat working in companionable silence on her own calculations. Occasionally though, she would watch the utterly absorbed man working. His precise economy of movement and complete engagement with his subject was fascinating to watch. She felt privileged to observe him work, seeing the verity of his traditional speech to the first years come to life before her eyes in the brilliance of the absorbed, unguarded man.
One day in late winter, when he was improving his improvement to the Blood-Replenishing Potion in his lab, he had received an urgent message from St Mungo’s. The jealous rival, who had insulted her at the award ceremony, had hexed her. He felt his heart race at the news, and then it steadied as he learnt that her condition was not serious. In fact, her attacker was in worse condition. After landing the first sneak hex, Fogwell had been humiliated by being bested by a ‘mudblood upstart.’ In short order he had lost his job and his liberty, and Aurors were waiting by his hospital bed to question him.
Snape smiled. She was almost as fast with her wand as she was with her intellect. He returned to his work, but he couldn’t settle, his mind was somehow distracted. Doubtless, the Patronus message from the Healer had disrupted his chain of thought. Now he could not recapture the same mood necessary for creative reasoning. Rather than settle into a foul mood over the distraction, he decided to make some personal calls that were overdue. By an absolutely curious coincidence, they just happened to be in the general area of St Mungo’s.
She was astounded to see him appear in her hospital room. He said nothing. He just glanced at her, at the Healer, nodded and left. The Healer looked a little guilty and admitted that she had summoned him. Hermione was even more astonished to find him waiting for her when she was finally discharged several hours and, in her opinion, several unnecessary tests later.
Throughout the evening that followed, Hermione was struck by his behaviour. For Snape, it bordered on what would be classified as fussing. Her overactive imagination began to invent reasons for his attentiveness. Her utterly erroneous conclusion was that the Healer had told him something. Her list of ‘Horrible Things It Could Be’ multiplied with every sign of consideration from him.
‘Just tell me,’ she said, finally cracking when he handed her a cushion as she fidgeted in her chair.
‘Tell you what, Hermione?’
‘Whatever it was the Healer told you.’
He looked puzzled for a moment. ‘They did tell me that your cretinous assailant is going to find the process of having his gonads returned to their correct size rather painful.’
He sighed. Here it comes, she thought. ‘They added that it would be wise for you to rest for a couple of days. I told them that would be an unlikely scenario. They agreed with me and added that you were a very bad patient. I concurred...’
‘That’s it, nothing else?’ she interrupted.
‘No, except ...’
‘They added that I must have the patience of a saint to put up with your incessant questioning. Then they suggested that I should be nominated for an award.’
She scowled at him. ‘You made that up.’
‘Only the latter part. What else did you think? Ah, you were under the impression that they might have told me something more ... melodramatic?’
‘Well, not exactly melodramatic, just ... well you know.’
‘I assure you, Hermione, I do not.’
‘I thought they might have told you that there was something else wrong with me. That there might be side effects to watch out for or ... something,’ she trailed to a halt at his growing look of incredulity.
‘And what, if I may ask, has given you that impression?’
She looked uncomfortable. ‘Well, it’s just ... that is ... all this, the tea, the relaxing potion for the bath, the blasted cushion. I thought you were trying to soften the blow. I thought you were just playing along and being nice until you told me the bad news,’ she said, realising as soon as the words were out of her mouth how foolish they were. The hex the git had hit her with must have addled her more than she realised.
She saw a portion of his impersonal, guarded mask slip back into place. Not until she saw it settle on his features, did she realise how little he had worn his habitual defence in front of her for some while. She hated the distance it imposed between them. Her words had hurt him to some degree. She did not know how, but she did know that for an outwardly seemingly callous man he could be unpredictably complex and fragile in his personal relationships. Undoubtedly she had touched a nerve and she did not wish to hurt her friend with the implication that he had been merely playing a part. She reached out and placed her hand over his. ‘But, not many people are fortunate enough to get to see the part of you that you hide so well, the part that cares and makes tea and relaxing potions for a bath. The part that hands a cushion to a friend who never meant to hurt you with the careless implication that you don’t feel anything for your friends.’
His face was very still, and then his hand moved under hers to hold it. She saw him relax, saw the hateful mask slip away. ‘In future, I shall try and ration any such displays of humanity and conform to my accepted persona. I would not care to cause ... my friend any further distress.’
‘Blast, does this mean I’ve blown my chance to get a foot rub?’
‘Alas, I’m afraid that any such offer on my part might cause you to have an apoplectic fit.’
‘How about another cup of tea?’
‘I shall serve it with a snarl, to moderate any untoward effect it may have,’ he said in a mock serious tone.
‘Perfect, just the way I like my tea served,’ she said lightly. She paused and looked thoughtful. ‘Only don’t be too parsimonious with the uncharacteristic displays, Severus,’ she said, gently serious. ‘I find I rather like them. Now, you can tell me in more detail about just how painful gonad resizing is, and spare me no detail.’
Hermione had fallen asleep with Severus’s rough manuscript copy in her hand. He had given it to her to read the day before, and she had smiled her thanks to him upon reading the simple and very Snapian dedication of, ‘To a valued and respected fellow academic, with my thanks for her encouragement.’
‘You assume, of course, that I am referring to you,’ he had teased.
Now the subtle hiss of the shower had insinuated itself into Hermione’s dreams. It turned them into visions of turbulent rivers, running white with angry froth. Slowly she edged towards full consciousness. She turned over, reached out and touched the cold sheets to the side of her. The slight shock woke her fully, and she listened for a moment before slipping from the bed. At the connecting door to the bathroom, she listened again. It was unusual for Severus to be showering at this hour. She knocked gently before trying the handle. The door was not locked, and gently she opened it just far enough to check if everything was alright.
The room was filled with swirling steam that wafted in misty clouds in the disturbance caused by the door’s opening. The water pounded from the showerhead over Severus. He stood, still dressed in his nightclothes, head bowed, and with his hands against the tiles as the water sluiced over him. Despite the heat of the water, he shivered violently as if an Arctic cold had chilled his very bones.
She walked towards the shower, doubting that he had heard her call his name. His head jerked up as she came closer, but his shivering did not stop.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘I am fine, Hermione. I am sorry for disturbing you, go back to bed,’ he said tersely.
She half-turned away, and then she remembered waking from night terrors herself. The suffocating feeling of struggling to consciousness from horrific, distorted dreams of being tortured with knife and curse. She remembered the feeling of absolute terror and biting cold upon waking from them, and she turned back. Before he could say anything, she stepped into the shower, muffling a sharp intake of breath at the sheer heat of the water. She reached out and touched his shoulder gently. He jerked at her touch.
‘It’s only me, Severus,’ she reassured him, closing the remaining distance between them. She wrapped her arms around him, his back to her chest. Through the soaking, thin material of his top, she could feel his skin as it rippled with violent shivers, and under her hands, his heart pounded. His hands left the wall and grasped hers with an unspoken desperation.
They stood under the water for a long while, until his shivering subsided and his heart rate slowed.
‘What was it?’ she asked, thinking of the thick scar on his neck and the obscenity that had inflicted it.
‘How did you know?’
‘I’ve had a few nightmares myself.’
‘Charity Burbage’s death,’ he said after a long pause.
‘Do you want to tell me about it?’
There was another long pause. ‘Does it ever help?’
‘It helped me. Come on, let’s get dried off and into dry clothes. Then we can talk.’
He let her lead him out of the shower but stopped suddenly and pulled her hands to his chest, bringing them to rest over his heart.
She gave a wry half-smile and said, ‘As a very good friend once said to me, no thanks are necessary.’
Hermione turned towards the door, only to halt when he did not follow.
‘Your nightmares, Hermione ...’
‘The war and the things that happened, Bellatrix Lestrange and her particular gift for Cruciatus.’
His eyes widened almost imperceptibly. ‘I was not aware that she had subjected you to it.’
‘It’s a long story.’
‘I do a passable imitation of being a good listener.’
She smiled. ‘Go dry off, Severus then it’s my turn to do the passable imitation.’
She dragged the words out of him at first, but hesitantly he had told her his nightmares. She noticed that they were never about the pain that must have been inflicted on him, but always the horrors that haunted him were the faces of those he had not been able to help. When he had finally exhausted his stock of horrors and fallen silent she gave his hand a final squeeze of comfort. She could not remember when she had taken hold of it but it had felt instinctively right, now she made to let go but Severus tightened his grip. He fixed her with his gaze and said, ‘Quid pro quo, Hermione.’ They talked until the first glimmer of dawn crept into the room and helped chase the shadows away. They went to their beds, and for, what remained of the night, Severus and Hermione’s dreams were peaceful ones.
End of chapter four.