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 seventh 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.
Thanks also to those of you who continue to review, and my apologies for this one being a little late. I was away having more fun than you can shake a stick at.
Fruit Of A Bitter Harvest
The news of Hermione’s pregnancy spread through the small community of the school with the speed of a winter cold. Both Severus and Hermione were stopped numerous times by staff and students alike who wanted to wish them well for the pregnancy. Minerva’s behaviour put Severus in mind of a fussy mother cat. When he pointed the resemblance out to Hermione, she giggled and shushed him. Hermione’s acceptance of the good wishes was warm and gracious, Severus’s awkward and stilted, though he never actually went as far as to deduct points from any student fearless enough to congratulate him.
As she was pregnant, there had been no need for their sexual relationship to continue. Of course they continued to spend their free evenings together, but Severus found himself missing the intimacy. Guiltily, he found he now craved the smell of her on him, the press of her body against his, the feeling of him inside her. He found himself remembering the times, between heartbeats, when he thought he had seen in a look, or a hitch of her breath, enjoyment that had nothing to do with any imagined partner she might be fantasising about. He crushed these thoughts down as a fool’s delusion. He was her good friend, not some stranger as he had once been. It was natural that his touch should no longer disturb her as it once had. To assume that her feelings for him, however, were more than friendship, was an idiot’s dream. He had breathed the painful life of that delusion before and so he locked his desires away, deep in the prison of his mind. He would not risk the friendship he valued most in the world by his wayward body’s cravings.
Hermione remained defiantly obstinate about attending demonstrations, and Severus began to shadow her very closely. Part of his growing frustration was due to the seeming ease with which she dismissed his suspicions regarding the number of times Hermione, and any group she was in, were involved in ‘scuffles’. Though they appeared to be just the result of the pressure of the crowd, Severus grew increasingly suspicious and concerned that such crowd pressures always seemed to be centred on Hermione. When he suggested that she use her, not inconsiderable, skill to calculate the odds of it being coincidence, she retaliated by pointing out that Wytland’s equation proved that such seemingly related incidents were, in fact, coincidence. She added that she was determined to continue to attend the protests for as long as possible. Severus started to protest, but Hermione silenced him by pointing out that she was in fact a witch that she was never alone, and that she was always well protected by the others or him.
Then, at one demonstration she was pushed hard from behind and stumbled down some stairs, and only a very well-timed Protego from him had saved her from harm. His concern burst out in an angry rebuke. She angrily retorted that her fall had had nothing to do with her pregnancy, but rather the cretin who had pushed her. His angry concern and her defiance escalated into a full scale argument and she left early and alone the next morning for a demonstration. When he realised that she had already left, he hurriedly made for the door, only to meet her returning before the demonstration had started.
She simply hugged him and apologised for not listening to him. She went on to explain that it had been Ron who had bluntly her that she was being, in Ron’s own words, ‘bloody stupid for someone so brilliant. You being pregnant and all.’
‘Forgive me for being a prize dunderhead?’ she asked.
Severus choked down the flare of anger that coursed through him. He bit back his sharp retort that she had listened to Weasley’s arguments but not his, and he forced himself to give a neutral response. Later, as his anger still simmered, he stalked angrily around the castle grounds. The cold, stormy Highland wind stung his skin raw, with the rasping whip of its gusts. Finally, his anger vanished, and he bleakly chided himself that he had no right to the jealousy he felt over her attachment to Weasley. If he was truly her friend, he would not let that demon rule him again. By the time he returned, he was calm. She had fallen asleep in her chair waiting for his return. He sat opposite her, watching as she slept. When she woke and smiled at him, its warmth chased the last of the icy cold from his blood.
Though Hermione no longer attended the demonstrations after this incident she continued to work furiously behind the scenes, prompting Harry to privately observe that scary as a normal Hermione could be a pregnant one was truly terrifying, and that he almost felt sorry for the Ministry.
The next move by the Ministry came a few days after Hermione stopped going to protests. It was a clumsy and ill conceived attempt to force Severus from his teaching position by using the old and dishonourable weapons of mud slinging and vague allegations of wrong doing in what little remained of the Ministry friendly press.
The Board of Governors requested a meeting with Minerva the same week. When Severus and Hermione were told, Severus was not optimistic.
‘It might not be that bad, Severus,’ Hermione said, trying to sound more sure than she felt.
He favoured her with a long stare that suggested she might be suffering from a delusional episode. ‘If recent past actions of the Governors are to be any indication, they may well bring a gibbet with them, Hermione. Still, we will see if they have acquired the ability to actually think for themselves.’
‘Minerva won’t let them; I won’t let them, touch you, Severus.’
Her fierce defence forced a rare smile to his lips.
Two days later an increasingly surprised Severus listened as the Board assured Minerva that it was united in its support of all her staff. Furthermore, it had published a strongly worded letter of support and instructed their solicitors to ascertain whether there were sufficient grounds for legal action. Hermione could not resist giving him a gentle dig in the ribs as if to say, ‘I told you so.’ His only response was a heavy sigh. The Board then quite frankly astonished Severus by suggesting that to prevent any direct Ministry interference in the school, as had happened in the past, Hogwarts should become an independent Charitable Trust.
The tentative financial plan that they had taken the liberty of drafting prompted Minerva to speculate that at this rate they might as well found a University too. Severus hoped she was joking.
For a reason he could not fathom and never expected to feel, Severus found the slightest change in Hermione as fascinating as brewing the most complex potion. One morning early in her pregnancy when she did not appear for breakfast, he knocked on her door and asked if she was alright. There was no reply, so he opened the door and entered her rooms. He heard a sort of choking sound and found her draped over the toilet, retching repeatedly. The waves of nausea were so severe that her arms were shaking with the effort of holding herself up. Her hair was matted with sweat and vomit. He knelt behind her, supporting her body with his own. Taking her weight, he cast a gentle cleaning charm, and then he pulled her clean hair away from her face as another bout of retching took her.
Once her attack of nausea was done, he supported her whilst she rinsed her mouth at the sink.
‘Is it usually this severe?’ he asked, the concern evident in his voice.
‘This is the worst it’s been, but I feel alright now,’ she lied.
‘You should have said something. I shall brew a potion specifically for you.’
‘Thank you, Severus.’
She was still shaky, so he guided her to her bedroom and started to help her get back into bed. She pulled away from him.
‘I have to go to work,’ she said insistently, swaying as she spoke.
He crossed his arms in a classic Snapian pose, raised an eyebrow at her, and a half-sneer curled the corner of his mouth. ‘If you can dress without falling over, I will be astonished.’
Defiantly, she bent over to pick up her clothes from the chair where she had laid them out the previous evening. Her world slipped sideways. Then strong arms caught her and steered her firmly onto the bed. He came to rest with Hermione sitting in the v of his legs, her back to his chest. After a few moments of feeling awkward, he rested his hands lightly on her stomach. A soft ‘Oh’ escaped her lips, and he instantly removed his hands.
‘No, Severus, it feels better when you touch me.’
Carefully, he replaced his hands. They sat in silence for a while, and slowly Severus became aware of the prickle of life under his hands. He closed his eyes and concentrated. It seemed to him that all his awareness was concentrated in his fingers as magic called to magic. He thought he felt a questing, fluttering pulse of magic against his hands. He shifted his hands slightly, and the flutter became a steady pulse, sure and strong, seeking and needing his touch. Cursing himself for being a prize idiot, Severus realised why Hermione’s morning sickness was so severe.
‘Hermione, I think I know why you are feeling so ill. We would need to get Poppy to confirm it…Hermione? Hermione?’
Her sleeping snuffle was all the answer he received. He studied her for a while, and then gently eased himself away from her and off the bed. He pulled the counterpane over her and gently swept an errant strand of hair away from her face.
After chiding them both for not consulting her sooner about the matter, Poppy confirmed his theory, adding that the side effect usually manifested when two particularly strong magical cores combined. She explained that the physical contact of both parents would ease the symptoms considerably.
So, whenever she needed it, Severus continued to hold her throughout her pregnancy. The only drawback was the physical reaction her closeness provoked in Severus. It was a bitter-sweet, wonderful torture to satisfy his craving for her touch, yet force himself to maintain a certain distance between them. Then, one morning, he awoke to find himself spooned against her, his full body length tucked against hers. He had not intended to fall asleep, but the hour had been late, he had been very tired and she had been warm and smelt of vanilla and spices. He inched away from her, not wanting her to feel his morning erection. She grumbled in her sleep, muttered his name and murmured about it being cold. She wriggled back against him, wrapping her hand around his. Severus endured the nearness of her embrace until she relaxed more deeply into sleep. Then, moving at the pace of a sloth, he eased himself away from her and off the bed. After that incident, he was careful never to fall asleep next to her again.
End of chapter seven.