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.
'Gold top' refers to a full fat milk, by the way.
Fruit Of A Bitter Harvest
‘So what have you and Minerva been conspiring about all afternoon?’ Hermione asked from her perch on the sofa, where she sat surrounded by her work files. It had become her home office, with only token grumbling from Severus, after it became the most comfortable place for her to sit. With some well placed cushions and a creative charm or two, she found that her bump was not nearly as intrusive as when she sat at her desk. And, with the deadline for her latest paper approaching she needed to work in comfort. ‘Let me guess, more torture for the Ministry and Hogwarts impending independent status?’
‘No, Minerva prefers such sessions to be conducted with the third member of the triumvirate present. She sends her regards to “the wee one” by the way,’ he said with a heavy sigh.
‘You do know she says that to tease you, don’t you?’
‘I have, over the years, become acquainted with her delightfully quirky Hibernian sense of humour, yes.’
‘I am beginning to suspect that her transfigured form is imparting a certain contrariness to her human persona. Perhaps at her next birthday an annual subscription of gold top might be more apposite than her usual bottle of Aberlour,’ he said, retrieving an errant piece of parchment from the floor and returning it to her makeshift desk.
‘Contrary, how?’ Hermione asked, her suspicions aroused by some of the questions Minerva had been asking her recently.
‘You are aware that Hogwarts status as an independent trust will be, to quote the financial advisor, “obscenely healthy?”'
‘Well, it would appear that Minerva thinks that it would be a perfect opportunity to increase Hogwarts educational status by founding chairs of excellence at degree level in certain fields.’
‘Why the ... she offered you the chair in Potions, didn’t she?’
‘If the project actually comes to fruition, and I stress if, the opportunity for research would be ... sorely tempting.’
‘Tempting? Severus, you’d be a fool to turn it down. Just think any students would be ... er ...’
‘Dunderhead free?’ he supplied.
‘Exactly, well at least mostly dunderhead free.’
Severus went on to briefly explain Minerva’s overall plan. His responsibilities would transfer to degree and post graduate students with a suitable replacement taking his place at OWL and NEWT level. He paused and picked up a book, flicking through its pages randomly.
‘She asked you to sound me out regarding the Arithmancy department if the scheme goes ahead, didn’t she?’
‘Yes, how did you know?’
‘Oh, some not so innocent questions regarding my research, research opportunities in general and where I see my future as regards my work. Do you think the project will go ahead, Severus?’
‘Her family have already said they will donate enough to fund the McGonagall chair in Transfiguration, and, as Brandt said, the funds are obscenely healthy.’
‘No prospective chair of Divination though?’
‘Most regrettably, not at this time,’ Severus replied with the best poker face Hermione had ever seen.
When the Board of Governors leaked the story to the press, they found that they had to hire extra staff to deal with the flood of correspondence, and the prospective prospect began to move towards a certainty.
One afternoon late in Hermione’s pregnancy, when she was ensconced in her ‘throne of power’, as Severus had started calling it, reviewing the final draft of her paper she let out a frustrated gasp.
Severus raised his head from his book. ‘Is all not well in the Kingdom of Duckdown?’ he asked lazily, the heat from the fire having lulled him.
‘No, it bloody well isn’t,’ Hermione said. ‘The would-be heir to the Kingdom is doing gymnastics or something.’
‘Would it help if I touched you?’
‘It usually does, Severus. I think the little tyrant jumps about just so that you offer.’
Severus moved to where she sat. Hermione levitated her cushion desk safely away from herself and Severus knelt in front of her. Almost as soon as his hands touched Hermione’s wriggling belly the baby quietened. As always Severus felt the questing touch of the familiar yet different pulse of their child’s unformed magic. It pulled to him with all of humanity's history, drawing him in, and he closed his eyes to better feel the gossamer play of the magic.
If he had been asked to describe it he would have started with iridescent and there his vocabulary would have failed him. He doubted he could have ever adequately described the intoxicating beauty of the experience. When he opened his eyes Hermione was watching him curiously.
‘Better?’ he asked.
‘Yes. Severus, what does it feel like for you?’
He was silent for a while, wondering if he was able to tell her. At last he shook his head.
‘I don’t think I can tell you, but I could show you, if you would like.’
He returned shortly afterwards carrying the Pensieve. Delicately he teased the memory from his mind. It flowed in a slow spiral towards the surface of the liquid, before dissolving with a shimmer. Hermione lowered her face to the liquid. Afterwards she sat in silence for a little while, before taking Severus’s hand in her own.
‘It feels different and similar at the same time, but just as wonderful.’
‘You experience it differently?’
‘Yes.’ She knew he would not ask and so took the initiative. ‘Here, let me show you.’
Afterwards he sat on the sofa next to her, almost undone by what he had experienced.
‘Of course, the rational explanation is that by bonding with us in such a way the little tyrant is pretty much guaranteed our devotion,’ Hermione said.
Her words jerked Severus out of his reverie. ‘Undoubtedly, evolution has a lot to answer for. Yet it is one of the most singular and beautiful things I have ever experienced,’ he replied.
‘Yes, Severus, it is, isn’t it.’
‘Devious little tyrant,’ Severus added as Hermione leaned into him, neither of them wanting to end the experience just yet.
Severus had been uncertain as to whether she would want him at the birth, and truthfully he was not certain how much use he would be if she did. Babies and parenthood were not exactly his area of expertise. However, when Hermione’s water broke she sent her Patronus to summon him from his lab. In no uncertain terms she informed him that he was very wrong about what he thought she wanted, and, as a strong contraction hit, she seized his hand and refused to let go. The labour was long and hard, and Severus stayed at her side, his eyes locked on hers, as if by gaze alone he could lend his strength to her. At last, with a shuddering push, their son made his way into the world. He took his first breath, and then screamed his defiant entrance into the world. He only quietened when he was placed on Hermione’s chest. Both their hands, still locked together, supported him where he lay. Snape could not quite believe that this tiny, perfect being was any part of his creation. When Poppy placed his son in his arms so that she could clean Hermione up, he felt an odd, tight fluttering in his chest. A minute fist grabbed his thumb, and in that moment, he truly knew what had blazed in Lily’s chest, for now the same sun blazed within his own. He understood that he would stand between the burning of the world and his son to protect him from harm, and he understood, at last, that his heart would never be alone again.
One evening, two weeks after the birth, he returned to their rooms to find her breastfeeding. His gaze was drawn to the sight, but when he caught Hermione watching him he looked away, not wanting to intrude, but she looked up at him, smiled and said, ‘It’s all right, Severus. He’s your child too, come see. Ow, greedy,’ she added as Eli’s enthusiasm for his meal became a little uncomfortable.
He sat beside her and watched, finding the timeless sight irresistible. He watched the corners of her mouth lift as she softly kissed the top of their son’s head. Snape found himself thankful beyond measure that she had found some joy out of their enforced union.
Hermione was overjoyed to see how much pleasure Severus found in their son’s life. It was a fierce kind of joy. Watching him, she knew their son would always have the love and shield of his father. He had been awkwardly attentive at first, never having expected to want to hold such a small being. He had blamed his ‘confounded, idiot doting’ on the conspiracy of evolutionary conditioning and its trickster ways. But when she watched him hold their son, she knew the truth: his heart was a willing captive of an infant’s laughter, and her heart beamed with happiness for him and for Eli.
Hermione woke abruptly, not knowing what had disturbed her sleep. She listened, but there was no noise or cry of hunger, only the quiet of the still night. She was about to attribute her waking to the heightened sensitivity she had developed since Eli’s birth, when she heard a very low murmuring. Intrigued, she slipped out of bed and walked softly to the open door. Severus was standing by his son’s cot, gazing down upon him. He was still dressed in his habitual black and had obviously just come from his lab after a late night.
The image was a startling one. His pale hands stood out starkly. The weak moonlight gave them a ghostly appearance as they rested on the edge of the cot. The contrasting shadows lent his features a harsh, predatory cast. His height added to the illusion, and had she been looking at anyone but Severus, she would have already been casting a Protego on her child. But it was Severus, and so she watched as he shifted position. A larger portion of his face slipped into view from behind the frame of his black hair. He reached out, and one long finger gently stroked the fuzz of Eli’s hair. Severus’s expression seemed to become even more hawk-like, and she wondered at the illusion moonlight wove. She strained her hearing, trying to discern exactly what he was murmuring, but his voice was pitched too low for her to distinguish anything but the very occasional word.
She thought she heard her name and possibly something about magic. He slipped his hands under his sleeping son and, with an awkward, new-father trepidation, lifted Eli to rest against his chest. Holding his son heart-to-heart, beat-to-beat and soul-to–soul, he moved to stand by the window. All the while his soft murmuring continued. The soft lure of his beautiful voice tugged at her, and Hermione was pulled further into the room. She could hear more clearly now and realised that he was introducing their son to the granite soul of Hogwarts. She felt her breath catch in her throat when he asked the castle to recognise this new life and welcome it into its protection. The stone in the window arch shimmered in response, and Hermione wondered at this manifestation of magic. She had read about it but never witnessed such a thing before.
Severus reached out and placed one hand on the stone in gratitude. The shimmer enveloped his hand before fading; once again, the granite was as solid and grey as ever. Bending his head to his son’s, Severus softly kissed him. Once more she heard the low sound of his murmuring, and again she found it difficult to hear what he was saying. Then, quite clearly she heard him. His words were emphatic and terrible.
‘I promise you will be nothing like me.’
Hermione felt a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the night air, and her heart lurched painfully for him and for such a cruel promise. She could not bear to hear it spoken aloud.
‘Then your son would grow to be a much poorer man, Severus,’ she said softly but with a resonant conviction.
Startled, he looked around. ‘Hermione, I...’
‘I don’t ever want to hear you say such a foul thing again, Severus,’ she said fiercely, advancing on him. ‘I want him to have his share of your inheritance, of what you can give him, and I don’t want to hear one word from you on how unpleasant you are. Yes, you can be sarcastic, quick to anger, caustic, an utter bastard upon occasion, but there is so much more that you hide from the world. You always have been one to let people see your demons far more clearly than the better angels of your soul.’
‘There are no angels, as you call them, in my soul, Hermione. I have a gift for tainting what I touch, and I never want ...’
‘I’ll say what I see, Severus,’ Hermione interrupted; it was too painful to ever let him complete that thought. ‘I see a man who has made terrible mistakes when he was little more than a boy. I see a man who has seen and walked in that darkness and a man who knows its awful cost.’ Severus hung his head. ‘And I see a man who risked everything, who walked in death’s shadow to atone. And do you know what else I have seen in this man? Well, I’ll tell you, loyalty, conscience, bravery, friendship, compassion and love. I saw what you did just now. I saw the castle’s response, it knows the truth of you, and I see the way you look at Eli. So don’t you ever deny him the opportunity of knowing you.’ She paused, the fierceness passing as quickly as it had come. ‘Please promise me that, Severus,’ she said, resting her hand against his cheek. ‘Please.’
For a long moment, he didn’t say anything, and, in truth, he could not. The emotion that raged through him, the emotion she evoked so easily, choked him. At last, he breathed his promise against her open palm. ‘I promise, Hermione.’
Perhaps the intensity of the moment disturbed Eli, for as soon as the words were spoken, he started to grizzle hungrily. She smiled. ‘Let’s go feed our son, Severus,’ she said, and together they walked to the sofa.
End of chapter eight.