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 last chapter of my multi-chapter.
A huge thank you to my beta Liongirl and to Serpentine for the feedback and encouragement.
Thanks to all of you who have read and reviewed this story, it has been a pleasure to read your opinions and comments.
Fruit Of A Bitter Harvest
Severus entered their rooms carrying Minerva’s latest implement of torture between his thumb and forefinger. The teddy bear dangled, despondently, by one ear from his fingertips. He closed the door gently and held the bear up for closer inspection.
‘I do believe that Minerva could write a masterwork on subtle psychological torture. Perhaps you should be called Zimbardo. And now I am talking to a ruddy teddy bear,’ he said quietly.
He walked towards Hermione’s room and became aware that she was talking to Eli. It had to be Eli, as she was using that particular tone of voice that babies appeared to respond to. Privately, he referred to it as idiot speak. Then he heard what she was saying. Apparently, she was reading Eli the latest article from his potions journal. Severus smiled at the incongruity between her tone of voice and the subject matter. He paused just before he reached the door, in order to listen.
‘Well, that’s the end of that article, Eli. I don’t know what you think, but I find his work to be a little derivative. I’ll read you some of your daddy’s and then you will see the difference between truly original work and this. Now, let me see, what else happened today. Oh yes, when Auntie Minerva called she told me all about her plans for expanding Hogwarts.’ Severus winced at her use of the epithet. Then Hermione slipped into an execrable imitation of Minerva and Eli giggled. ‘Well, I suppose it didn’t sound much like her, did it? But, it would be a great opportunity for me, and your daddy would have to be a fool to turn it down.’ There was a pause. ‘Oh, now why are you scowling? You know who you look like when you do that, don’t you?’ There was another pause, and Severus peered around the door and watched as Hermione played the ever popular game of ‘waggle fingers’, as she called it, with Eli. As always, Eli found the sight irresistibly amusing and giggled.
Severus coughed and Hermione looked up. ‘Oh, hello,’ she said in a normal voice. She noticed the bear.
‘Minerva,’ he supplied, without her having to ask.
‘Oh, has she been ...’
‘Yes, and, should her schemes come to fruition, I have agreed not to be a fool.’
She smiled, realising that he must have heard at least part of her conversation with Eli.
‘That’s wonderful, Severus. Did you hear that, Eli?’
‘I doubt that his hearing is defective.’
‘Shut up and come here and take over. I need to go and shower.’
‘I was not going to mention the baby sick.’
‘Very noble of you, but it would appear that our son has a world class pharyngeal reflex.’
Severus took Eli from Hermione and watched as she entered the bathroom. He sat down and cradled Eli carefully on his thighs. He checked to see if the door was closed, and then indulged in his guilty pleasure of playing double waggle fingers with Eli. Though he had no truly comparative measure, he was sure that Eli giggled more when he played the game with him.
The stunning news that the Marriage Law had been revoked had come three months after Eli’s birth. The news flashed around all the wizarding world, and much print copy was devoted to all the sordid details. The law had been tottering and under enormous pressure. However, the final blow had been a devastating investigative exposé in the press. The Minister’s head of security had been caught on camera paying off the hired thugs who had caused so much trouble at the demonstrations. At considerable risk, the reporter had posed as one of them for five months. The disgraced man was duly arrested, and the Minister instantly denied all knowledge of his ex-security chief’s wrongdoing. He even went as far as to announce an internal inquiry into the matter at a press conference. Unfortunately for the Minister the chief proceeded to sing like an entire flock of canaries, in the hope of mitigating his sentence. As a result of his Veritaserum verified testimony, the Minister’s denials of involvement were revealed as the hollow shell that they were. Every day carried yet another revelation. The most astounding was that the Minister’s own marriage, which was supposedly the result of the Marriage Law, had, in fact, been a sham. The Minister had used his influence to select the witch he wanted and arranged for the Arithmancy equations governing the match to be altered to agree. Disgraced, impeached and arrested, the Minister’s photograph appeared on the cover of all the wizarding world’s newspapers. The image of him being led along the atrium of the Ministry in handcuffs and with a coat partly obscuring his head, was a striking one. The exposé had left the reputation and credibility of the department responsible for the Law’s implementation in shreds. Its closure was followed swiftly by the removal of the Law from the statute books. The two actions had been the first decisions by the man chosen to act as the interim Minister of Magic, Arthur Weasley.
The victory was won at a terrible cost. There had been murders and suicides caused by the law’s cruelty, and for all those who had found happiness, more had not. Consequently, the Ministry received a steady stream of annulment applications, including Ron Weasley’s.
There had been celebrations to mark the Law’s ending. The joy at the end of such an oppressive piece of legislation took many forms. Severus and Hermione avoided the more exuberant of them by mutual consent. Instead, they joined a group of people gathered at the lake. They lit lanterns and sent them into the night sky to float amongst the stars. Their reflections rippled along the surface of the dark water, making it shimmer with a myriad points of light. Each lantern carried a name; George’s was written on many.
Throughout the ceremony Severus had watched Hermione. He had watched as she followed her lantern skyward with her gaze, and he watched as a glitter of moisture trickled down one cheek. When the lantern was an orange glow amongst the night sky he gently steered her away from the group, towards the water’s edge. There they stood in silence. After a little while she slipped her hand into his. He waited and presently, in a quiet voice, she said, ‘I thought I had dealt with all the grief.’
‘Grief, I have found, has the unique characteristic of crow-barring its way back into one’s life at unexpected moments. As long as he is remembered he lives, Hermione. Right now his name is being carried into the night sky; there it will achieve another type of immortality.’
She squeezed his hand. ‘For a supposedly unpleasant person you have the singular gift of saying exactly the right thing to me, Severus. Thank you.’
‘You have the singular effect of making me want to, Hermione.’
He turned to face her. In the soft light of the watery moon she looked simply beautiful.
‘Hermione, I want to...’
A voice called out, interrupting Severus. It was Ron, calling out to her from where the Weasleys were gathered.
‘Oh, we should go and see them.’
‘You go. I’ll wait here.’
Severus watched from the outside as Hermione walked towards the group. Ron greeted her with a hug and soon she was enveloped in the living hug that was the Weasleys.
‘They are quite a force of nature, aren’t they?’ Potter’s voice came from close by, startling Severus.
‘I didn’t hear you, Mr Potter.’
‘Well, I have actually learned a thing or two since becoming an Auror, and I would like it if you called me Harry, sir.’
Severus said nothing, and Harry moved to stand beside him.
‘Yes, they really are like some force of nature, a bit like Hermione really. You know, when I think that Ron and I didn’t like her when we first met I can’t believe it. She means so much to me now, much more than a sister. It’s hard to put into words. Without her I wouldn’t be here. She really is something special.’
Severus wondered just what Potter’s monologue was about.
‘When the Law was put into force, well, to see how bitterly unhappy she was, it was like a knife in my heart. I mean Ginny and I were already married, so we were safe. Then it put you two together. I can’t say I was thrilled.’
‘You do surprise me, Potter.’
‘Well, I was wrong, wasn’t I? Wouldn’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. Tonight has had me thinking about some strange things, like when I tried to distance myself from Ginny. I thought it would keep her safe. But, in the end we had to be together, no matter what happened.’
Is this a warning, Severus thought, his eyes on Hermione and Ron.
‘You know Ron and his wife are divorcing, don’t you?’
‘Hermione told me something to that effect.’ Snape kept his tone neutral, despite his desire to tell Potter to mind his own bloody business.
‘The strange thing is Sarah was a lot like Hermione.’
Potter started to move towards the Weasleys. He walked past Snape and half turned back towards him. ‘You should tell her how you feel, sir.’
‘I have no conception of what you mean.’
Potter gave him a searching look. It was disconcerting how strongly it reminded Severus of Lily. ‘No, sir, of course you don’t,’ he said, but his tone implied a world’s difference to his meaning.
Severus watched as Potter walked towards the group. His gaze came to rest on Hermione’s face, and he knew what he must do.
Snape trails his finger along the edge of the parchment again. The edge catches under his fingernail and breaks his reverie. Abruptly he is back in the present. No, he would not, if asked, have been able to quantify the exact moment his world had shattered into a myriad pieces and then reformed into something new and luminescent in its brightness. He could not have identified the precise moment he had started to love her. He only knows that he does so now and with an intensity that is blood-deep and soul-strong. With that knowledge comes the bitter truth that he cannot bind Hermione and his son to him without it being of their choosing.
So, now he will go to her and explain his heart. The choice to co-sign the annulment or rip it up will be hers. He hopes she will destroy it, hopes that she will turn and smile, hopes that she will open her arms to him and hopes that they will find completeness in each other that is their joy and their freely given gift. He hopes for all of this with a desire so all-consuming that its intensity transforms him from a master wordsmith into a faltering apprentice of the craft, but he will try.
But, what if she should turn from him and go to the one he fears still holds her heart? If that is to be the fruit of the bitter harvest he reaps, he will be braver still. He will remain her friend. For, to have no part of them in his life would be a true damnation of his soul, and one he knows he would not survive.
He folds the parchment precisely in half with fingers that still tremble. He stands up and walks slowly to her door. He hesitantly pushes the door open and softly calls her name, ‘Hermione.’
She looks up at him and smiles and, falteringly, he begins.
AN: Now, I know that many of you had hoped that this would continue to a definite conclusion, either one way or the other. So, before the rotten tomatoes start coming my way, let me just explain a couple of things. This story popped in my head with the beginning and end being written in about twenty minutes. Then it sat on my laptop sulking, and very slowly the middle started to dribble out. Believe me, there have been times when I have been tempted to take it beyond where it ended, but I wanted to remain true to my original ending, I mean it was there for me from the start, unlike the curmudgeonly middle. Now, I do know what I think happens after this story ends, in so much as my stories ever co-operate. In order to write it I had to have the full story. What happens next has the benefit of being from both perspectives, rather than flashbacks of Severus, and I have started to write it. Whether or not I post it, when it is done, depends on if I think it stands as a story when complete. In the meanwhile feel free to imagine your own after story. What remains is to thank all of you who have reviewed and helped make this experience a lovely one. I am now taking cover, so let the tomatoes commence.