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 fifth 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 had been walking along the corridor that led towards their quarters. He carried the page proof of his updated version of the Advanced Potions textbook under his arm. He was looking forward to Hermione’s reaction when he showed it to her. He had not yet decided whether to produce it with a suitable flourish, or to casually leave it lying on the table for her to find. As he neared their quarters he grew reflective and began to think about the Ministry and its new relative quiet regarding all things to do with the Law. Severus didn’t like the change. The cretin who had been in charge of justifying the Ministry’s policy at every turn had been accomplishing the marvellous task of making it a mockery. Snape could not have commanded the man to be any more fatuous in his statements if he had cast Imperio on the fool. The torches guttered in a sudden draught, and Snape looked up. Harry Potter was walking slowly towards him. In the dancing shadows from the torchlight, his face looked grim and drained. Snape stopped and waited for the younger man. Whatever ill news Potter carried would reach him soon enough, and he saw no reason to hasten its approach.
Potter drew level with him and ran a hand over his grey, drawn face. He looked as if he might walk past Severus, but at the last moment, he reached out and grabbed Snape’s arm. Snape looked down, and Potter let his hand drop. As if deciding something, Harry jerked his head back the way from which he had come.
‘She says you are a good friend.’ Snape said nothing. ‘I hope it’s true, Snape,’ Potter said, without threat or challenge. Instead his tone carried a weary, bleak kind of hope that pierced Snape’s defences.
‘For my part, I consider Hermione’s friendship to be ... important to me.’ He had almost said the most important of my life, but he baulked at revealing so much to the other man. ‘What is this about, Mr Potter?’ Snape asked, refusing to dwell on the many scenarios that had already occurred to him.
Potter’s gaze lost focus, and Severus could have sworn that he saw the glitter of unshed tears in the man’s eyes.
‘It’s George, he committed suicide this afternoon. Ron found him. He called me. We never thought ... he seemed alright ... he seemed happier recently than he’d been in a long time.’ Harry’s shock was evident in his stilted, disjointed speech. He paused and wiped a hand over his face as if to chase the thoughts that whirled in his mind away. ‘Anyway, I came here. I wanted Hermione to hear the news in person.’
Severus felt a rush of shock. The twins had always been so very full of life. True, they had been irritating to the point of madness. But, he had always held a sneaking, reluctant admiration for them, and for the manner in which they had departed from Hogwarts under Umbridge’s rule.
‘Why?’ Severus asked simply.
‘The Law, he left a note. Hermione knows more.’ Harry shook his head, as if to clear it. ‘I have to get back to my family. Take care of her, Snape,’ Harry said.
‘Of course,’ Severus said. He watched Lily’s son walk away from him. Then he turned and walked to the door of their quarters. He rested his forehead against the cool wood for a moment, feeling the comforting tingle of the wards as they recognised him. Then he pushed the door open.
The lounge was in semi-darkness; quietly he laid the page proof on the small table by the door and turned towards her rooms. A slight, muffled sound caught at the edge of his hearing. He turned back and looked at the chairs by the unlit fire more closely. She was there, stiller than stone.
‘Hermione?’ he said softly. ‘Potter told me.’ She didn’t move and didn’t acknowledge him, and he thought that perhaps she had not heard him. ‘Hermione?’ he repeated, moving towards her chair.
‘I hate it, Severus,’ she said, her voice so quietly filled with vitriolic fury that he faltered mid-step. ‘I mean, I hated Riddle and everything he stood for, but not like this. This burns me; it feels like a fire inside me. Those bastards, they sign their names to a piece of parchment and wreck lives with such impersonal cruelty. “For the greater good,” it makes me want to throw up every time I hear that perverted caveat. They cite the benefits to the wizarding world, and, with a stroke of their quills, people are plunged into several kinds of living hell. I want to hurt them, Severus. I never wanted that before, not like this. I want them to suffer. I want them to feel the same pain ... I want ...’
Severus reached her, and she fisted her hands in his robes, shaking with an incoherent fury in her grieving rage. He closed his fists over hers, a storm anchor against the anger that threatened to engulf her.
‘I want ... I want ...’
‘You want what they stole from you, what no one can give. You want your friend back.’
‘Yes!’ she cried out.
Her fury gave way to the grief that haunted its shadow. He stood granite-like, a buttress for her grief as she collapsed against him; a lightning rod for all her sorrow.
Severus had lent back against the trunk of the ancient yew. He traced the patterns of the bark beneath his finger-tips, and his gaze slipped to the bright green leaves on the curving line of elder trees as they fluttered in the slight breeze. The spring morning was redolent with the scent of warming earth and the green of new life, glittering with sunshine and bright with birdsong. Carried on the breeze, the rich baritone of the priest drifted towards him. The voice was soft and gentle. The priest gave what little comfort he could to the tightly knit, grief-gathered family. Severus had come this close for her friendship’s sake, but would not intrude further. He had no place at that graveside. Instead, he chose to remember the man he had never really known in the green of the leaves and the burgeoning new life of the world. It somehow seemed more fitting to think of them when remembering George, rather than the cold earth into which he was being laid.
A slight scuff of dust rose from the dirt track, and he watched as a field mouse scurried along the edge of the verge. It sat up on its haunches, twitched its whiskers and bolted into the grass. Severus flicked his wand into his hand and narrowed his eyes at the spot where the mouse had vanished. The dust whirled in tight circles, and Severus started towards the spot. The crack of Apparition was still fading when Severus grabbed the startled Ministry representative. The crack of a second Apparition sounded a moment later. Half of an obscenely overblown wreath fell to the edge of the track. The breeze caught at the severed ribbon, tugging it free from the greenery. It tumbled away in the dirt. The words ‘with sincere sympathy’ rapidly became indistinguishable from the dirt in which it rolled.
Slowly the paralysing effects of grief and shock had peeled back, and from under their raw edges rose anger and the absolute will to end the pain the Law was casually inflicting.
George had been well known and well liked. The knowledge that his seemingly irrepressible joy in life had been crushed, and that in his utter desperation he had killed himself acted as a focal point for all the antagonism towards the Law. The Weasley’s campaign grew in strength from day to day. Even those who had been fortunate to find happiness under the Law’s strictures joined the cause. The trickle became a river and the river a flood of angry voices under which the Minister’s empty justifications drowned. In this Kharybdis of opposition, Hermione and Severus were two of the sharpest teeth. Stone-like, the Minister’s mind hardened, and he wanted the teeth pulled.
End of chapter five.