Hiding Under the Ninth Earth
Book 03 : Epithalamium

Part I : Into Every Life a Little Strain Must Fall
Chapter None : Introduction

"Epithalamium", which follows this Introduction is Book Three of "Hiding Under the Ninth Earth" and is the story of Harry and Severus' marriage--before and after. It is a story of testing the limits of love, not only between the two of them, but between others in their lives as well.

While this is a "happy" story about a "happy" event, with a "happy" ending (of sorts), it is, in fact, a serious story with dark undercurrents. Normally, I do not like to give the plot away before we even get started, but there are some warnings needed. This story contains: Campy Humour, Suspense, Graphic Torture, Violence, and of course, some Sap--lovely, lovely Sap. Oh, and some Mild Het as well as Steamy Gratuitous Slash.

However, having said that, this version is edited to "R" for The full version is available on my homepage (18 and older only, please).

Oh, and pay attention to the dates. The Prologue happens in the 'middle'--everything else is fairly linear.

Obligatory Disclaimer : The characters belong to JK Rowling (although I don't think she quite saw them in this way) without permission and without malice. While I wish I could make money off of it, none is being earned and this piece is strictly for entertainment purposes; suing me would be pointless as I have no assets except my mind and I dare you to try and get it.

There are not words enough to sing the praises of the ever-faithful, unsung Beta Readers:
Lydia Lovestruck : Goddess of Grounding Reality : Grand Pubah of ass-kicking (mainly mine) : Muse Extraordinaire : Keeper of the Faith :: Delphi : Goddess of Positive Feedback : Poetess and Latin Scholar : Keeper of the OC and Britspeak :: Aseneth : Goddess of 'Black' Humour (Siriusly!) : Quill and Red Ink Champion : Keeper of the Carduseus :: Jessika-chan : Queen of "Ewwww" : Keeper of the Good Humour :: Jiltanith : Queen of Questions (who keeps me honest) :: Margaret : Grammar Queen (who knocks me on the head with her sceptre) :: HaldolPOIM : The Love God (practice, practice, practice) :: Rainyshiny : The Boredom Baroness (who only gets to read the PG-13 parts).

I am the luckiest of women.

Dedication : This story is dedicated to 'The Boys', a pair of mahu friends of mine who helped with my research into gay monogamous relationships and who, if the laws would only permit it, would like nothing more than to marry each other after twenty years together. However, due to the cruel irony of bad blood in a transfusion, one of them will not live long enough to see it happen. Thank you, my friends.

Are you still here? Go. Go now. Enjoy!

I Got Tired of Waiting

Hiding Under the Ninth Earth
Book 03 : Epithalamium

Part I : Into Every Life a Little Strain Must Fall
Chapter One : Prologue

13 September 2003

After watching Pigwidgeon make his frenzied flight out of the window, Harry read the note on the rolled parchment he'd finally managed to coax off of the annoying little bird.

Dear Harry,

I got your Owl. Don't panic! It's really not as hard as you might think. I'll be by in a couple of days--Poppy Owled me, too--I'll bring by some books of poems and such to help you get the idea. In the meantime, I did a little research on the different kinds of exchanges--did you say you were using the Standard or the Closed Form? Anyway, let me know and I'll do what I can to help. Which isn't much, I'm afraid; you have to write this on your own, in your own words. The books can only give you an idea. See you later.

Love, Hermione

He skipped over the dictionary entry with which she'd started the letter; it was too complicated. He snorted when he read the title of the other notes she'd made. He'd already read the book she referenced, twice, but was curious what would capture her attention.

Notes from "A Common Wizard's Common Language Guide to Common Law"
by Shylock Sterling, Esq.

Chapter 69 : Now What Would They Want to Do That For?

...All Marriages are defined as the magical joining of two people within a framework of witnessed vows of varying depth and endurance as agreed upon; they can be classified fairly easily as either Involuntary or Voluntary. Both parties in a marriage must be above the age of consent for it to be binding. It is assumed, unless there is a written contract to the contrary, that all marriages are intended for life...

...The Involuntary Marriage is pretty self-explanatory: Mum and Dad just found you the perfect spouse--for them. Whether for business alliances or bloodlines, the arranged marriage is probably the oldest tradition in the Wizarding World second only to wands and wooden stakes. It's really simple--they pick the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with...

Harry thought of all of his acquaintances now married with people they'd not chosen. Maybe he was just too Muggle--it seemed pretty barbaric to him.

Here's how it works:

...If you've been pledged before birth, you're really stuck--there is absolutely no way to get out of it--but don't despair--these things are only done to fulfill destinies, prophesies, and such; chances are you'll really like your future mate...

Harry sighed, thinking of the Prophecy and was glad it had not required a binding of some kind. He read on.

...If they find you a partner while you're a baby up to the age of 14, you don't get much of a choice in the matter unless the families have a falling-out or you're really good at talking them out of it. The law assumes you had enough time to make peace with your future partner and whinging about it two weeks before the wedding is no excuse not to tie the knot...

...If they choose your new partner when you're 15 to 16, then you have some say in that you don't have to sign the contract if you don't want to. Of course, Mum and Dad, over the centuries, have worked out some pretty clever work-arounds for this little loophole including (but not limited to) disinheritance, breaking your wand, throwing your sorry arse out of the house, or threatening to kill the one you really fell in love with; contracts of this nature are rarely broken...

Severus had broken one and had one broken for him. Harry wondered how accurate this book really was. He personally knew a couple of people who had refused to sign and they were still around. Although, Severus' father did break his wand and disown him. Not that it had mattered in the long run; his father had died before his mother and she had reinstated him a few years later.

...To make it sweeter, the girl's family pays the bloke's family to take her. The higher the dowry, the uglier--er--less desirable she (or an alliance) is likely to be. Weigh the choices carefully and check to see how many times she's been offered--remember, you might be able to get more money, property, or concessions out of them if they're really desperate...

Harry smirked, thinking of Pansy's mother. According to Severus, there were times when even a dowry wasn't enough.

...Voluntary Marriages are entered into when you either have managed to remain single long enough to reach the age of consent without a future mate or you have indulgent parents who want a "love-match" with little regard to bloodlines and/or alliances... You don't need your Mum and Dad, although again they've worked out some spectacular work-arounds should you choose to not consult them about your choice of life partner...

Most of his Gryffindor friends, especially Ron and Hermione, came to mind. Once the war was over, everyone had been fairly relaxed about this sort of thing, not that he could see Molly and Arthur arranging anything but love-matches for their children.

The types of marriage come in a few different Forms based on the promises made and depth of the magic involved...

...The easiest marriage to break is the Open Form. The promise you make is that as long as you live together, you both equally share the bills; if there are any children, you are reasonably sure they are your spouse's, but you reserve judgement, and that if you break up whoever has the most money gets the kids while whoever has the least gets the possessions. While rare, this marriage form ensures any children are legitimate; there is no magic involved, so it is considered safe for all Muggles and Squibs...

Harry wondered about Perrin's mother and realised that Tony had violated the law as had Perrin's father when they'd not revealed they were wizards. He shrugged. Perhaps they went through a Muggle marriage instead?

...Almost all Arranged marriages and over half of the Voluntary use the Standard Form, which is a medium binding, only needs to be performed once, is reasonably secure against poachers, and for whatever terms are set in a contract, is breakable at a specified time or under specified conditions. While minimal, there is magic involved, so full disclosure to Muggles is required. The Standard Form is popular among those involved in Arranged Marriages as it does not preclude having lovers on the side if the match proves less than satisfactory...

He knew Ron and Hermione had gone through a Standard Form. Although it had meant nothing at the time when he'd stood with them, he now saw why the Sanos binding he'd had to do when he healed Ron had been so hard for him to take; they'd had a minimal binding to begin with and he suspected that was because of Ron. While he'd always appeared to be the most open of the three, in reality he'd always been the most private, rarely revealing his inner emotions. The small disagreements he and Hermione had had at their engagement concerning the Form made a strange sort of sense.

...The strictest marriage is the Closed Form. While not rare, its use is decreasing because once the vows are spoken in front of the community, there is no way to revoke nor to "escape them". Deep magic is used and some bound in this manner have reported shared thoughts as well as shared emotions and in a few rare instances, shared magic. Not a binding for the timid...

No, not for the timid, indeed.

22 October 2003

Sitting at a borrowed desk in a purloined, deserted classroom at Hogwarts, Harry was desperately trying to follow the advice given to him by the only two people in his life (other than Severus) he would trust with his real thoughts and dreams. Here it was, two days before the wedding and he was still stuck on two of the verses of his Epithalamium--his past and his present. His frustration level was high as he'd been working steadily on this for over a month. "Damn things are just not cooperating," he growled.

Cerise looked up from the book hovering in front of her painting, the pages spelled to turn when she told them to. "Pardon? Did you say something? I'm sorry, I was reading this little book of erotica Hermione left you. It's supremely amusing."

Not turning, he replied, "No, Cerise. I was merely 'talking' to myself."

She eyed all the balls of paper on the floor, some exploded into fine confetti from his bursts of frustration. "Are you sure? It looks like you're trying to recarpet the floor."

He turned in his chair to look at her full on. "Cerise, do you know the finer points of the Desinum spell?" At the shake of her head, he smiled evilly. "I can acquaint you with them, if you'd like."

She laughed, low and throaty. "Oh, that. Phineas told me about Severus' and Albus' threats. They actually had him quaking in his little painted boots. Well, at least until I told him they would never really do it."

His eyes narrowing, he asked, "What makes you so sure?"

"What, and miss one moment of his delightful repartee? Fie, you all enjoy him and his off-colour humour too much."

"Off-colour? Biting is more like it. Well, maybe to you, it's 'off'." He shook his head at the fatuous look on her face. "What do you see in him?"

She shrugged. "What do you see in Severus? They're both cut from the same cloth."

"Not even close, Cerise. For one, Severus is much more handsome; for another, Severus is certainly funnier than Phineas."

"Funnier? Now, that's an odd choice of words to use for Severus. While he does have his moments, his 'commentary' on the unfairness of life in general can be a bit tedious at times." She snorted. "Phineas takes a longer view of things--he is much older by far, and just because he's a painting doesn't mean that he can't continue to see the irony of life."

"Perhaps, but that doesn't mean they're both 'cut from the same cloth', as you say. They are definitely very different. Severus' humour is more subtle and is intended to amuse only him--well, and me, too, when he's talking about something only the two of us know. He's not particularily concerned if others catch it. Phineas, on the other hand, tries too hard to be the comic relief of the portrait gallery."

Cerise was a little annoyed and said with a touch of wounded pride, "I said 'the same cloth', Harry, not the same bloody bolt. And they are very much alike; Severus is just younger. You wait--once he gets the same number of years behind him, he won't be able to stop--humour is the only thing really left to old people."

Harry stared at her open-mouthed. "Wait a minute--are you saying that Severus is going to be like Phineas someday?"

"Oh absolutely." She giggled. "Once Severus gains the same perspective on life Phineas does, you'll hardly notice the difference."

Harry swallowed, hard. "That's frightening."

"If you say so. Personally I find it delightful and he's a brilliant kisser." Harry made a moue of distaste, which earned him a chuckle from the sultry beauty. "Speaking of brilliant, what is that book you have?"

Harry picked up the thin volume he'd had opened in front of him. Hermione, of course, had loaded him up on books of love poems; the floor was as much littered with the untidy piles of abandoned verse as much as it was with discarded parchment. "This?" he asked, holding it out. When she nodded, he continued, "Hermione left it," he said, his hand sweeping across the room, "and these others as examples I could use."

Cerise chuckled. "Love poems and erotica, I take it?"

Harry grimaced. "Yeah. She said I couldn't very well write a love poem if I hadn't read any."

Cerise pulled her head back questioningly. "Love poem? Is that what she thinks an Epithalamium is?"

Harry grinned. "Well, she was a Muggle, you know. She looked it up, of course, and told me." He pulled over a single sheet of foolscap and read, "From the Webster's Unabridged Muggle Dictionary--here, I'll skip all the etymology drivel--Epithalamium: a nuptial song or poem in honor or praise of a bride and bridegroom."

Cerise started laughing. "That deserves a toast." Suiting actions to words, she poured a neat finger of firewhiskey in her glass, saying, "To the Bride and Bridegroom," and downed it. Her brow raised, she asked, "You and Severus?" She sat in her chair while Harry laughed with her.

"Well, you remember how they 'wanted' to do this whole thing."

"Oh yes, and white really is your colour, Harry. So virginal. All hail the virgin Harry." She sat back, helpless, while Harry tried not to laugh too much; it had been a close thing for a while. After a few moments and another libation, she asked, "And you told her what it is in the Wizarding world?"

Harry smiled. "Nope, didn't need to--she is self-actualizing, you know. Likes her research. She came to me a couple days later when she brought the rest of the books and told me I was on the 'wrong track', that an Epithalamium really is a," he pulled over another piece of parchment and recited, "from the Webster's Unabridged Wizarding Dictionary. 'Epithalamium: a poem or song used at the five points of the nuptial journey as binding vows in the older marriage Rites...' or something to that effect."

"Can I assume from the debris that you found her 'help' less than helpful?"

"Somewhat. I certainly learned what I didn't want."

"But you kept that one?" she asked, pointing at the book in his hand.

He looked at the open page wistfully. "Yeah, there was something about this one I really liked. Not that I can use any of it--the Epithalamium is supposed to be an original I write--"

"Read it to me. I'm interested in what appeals to you."

Somewhat embarrassed, Harry cleared his throat and began to recite:

"To the question: And what of marriage?
by Kahlil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

He blushed. "Silly, I know, since we're about to be bound as one, but the words--"

"--Are beautiful and very true, Harry. Despite what you young people think, you can't always occupy the same skin. If the two of you don't have things outside of each other to fulfill you, your marriage is doomed from the beginning. And given the type of vows you have chosen to exchange, the resultant unhappiness would be devastating--and forever."

Harry was thoughtful a moment, a frown marring his forehead. "Tell me, Cerise. Why is everyone so surprised when they hear that we are exchanging Closed Form vows? I don't get it, I guess."

She thought about it a moment, she had come at his request to help after all, and asked, "Why did you choose to do it this way?"

Bereft of a clear answer, Harry replied, "I don't know, it just 'felt' right."

"Hmmmm. There are those who would disagree, those who cannot fathom loving someone forever because they can't see that forever is not."

"Huh?" Harry noised, puzzled,

Moving her open hand down the length of her form, she said, "Look at me, Harry. Am I alive?"

"Of course you are." He liked it when she asked easy questions.

"Am I really? Can you touch me?" When Harry made to reply, she said, "Oh, I know Severus holds the secret of touching a painting, a gift I once received with pleasure, but even he cannot hold it for long. And I can touch other portraits, even intimately, and interact with others such as yourself, but the truth is I am dead. My body and soul have passed on into the Hinterlands. I'm not really here, Harry. I am a representation of my former self, accurate only in the memory of the man who made me, Severus. Oh, I have most of my memories--Severus is an exceptionally skilled Legilimens--but there are pieces of me I know are missing, many of the bad parts I asked him not to include--there are times I am mystified by my actions because I do not have all of me to make the choices I do now. In fact, I am little better than a memoried revenant. I am here because there were those who claimed I had value and wanted a part of me to remain. I was flattered; it was not something I had thought of for myself."

"Do you regret it?" Harry asked, appalled at her words.

"I admit, at first, I resented it. I felt trapped, unlike myself. And I didn't know then what I know now--forever is just a concept. It's not real. Our 'lives' are finite as are any other forms we can take, whether it be on earth, in the Hinterlands, or even as a painting. I may not be alive, but I am here, now, and frankly, Phineas has been more than instrumental in making me see that I still have value, even as I am, and that even if I didn't, it won't be 'forever'." Her voice got very soft. "He gives my life as much meaning as Severus does yours." Her voice brisker, she continued. "As have you and Severus, as well. I now know my place in your lives and--I like it. It's odd being the one with all the answers when I was always the one with all the questions. Which reminds me, your question. I haven't really answered it, have I?"

At the stricken look on his face, she said gently, "Harry, Severus could not have placed me in this painting had I not wanted it. I just wasn't prepared for the implications. No one really can be, you know, but later, after all this is over, I will tell you both as much as I can so you can 'see'. If your futures go the way I think they will, Severus, at least, may not have a choice in the matter and you may want to follow."

Her words filled Harry with hundreds of questions, but before he could ask them, she said, "Now as to the Form, I am assuming you are familiar with all of them?"

Deciding now was probably not the time to pursue it, Harry answered her. "Yes, I think so. Voluntary and Involuntary--that's pretty self-explanatory. We have a Voluntary Form, right?"

"Right, although arranged marriages are more common, especially among the Slytherin."

"What house were you in, Cerise, if I might ask?"

"I was in none. I attended Beauxbatons; we did not have houses, only men and women. I was trained by the Veela. But enough of that--it's a story for another time." She tilted her head. "I am curious, though. Why did you not choose the Standard Form? It is, after all, the most common of the Voluntary Forms."

"I suppose it's because the Open Form and the Standard Form are more about procreation and continuance of bloodlines than they are about affection and commitment, even though Ron and Hermione might disagree. Since Severus and I do not want children, nor (given our 'preferences')," she nodded her head, understanding what he meant by it--their sexual choices--"would we be able to conceive them, so they are not really an option in any event." He hesitated. "It's--I don't know. When Severus and I discussed it, the Closed Form just seemed like the best choice for us. See, we already have some things connecting us--our pasts, our fears, our dreams--those are just the surface. There's a bond between us because of the Sanos magic and we're warded, together by--" His voice trailed off, a light of understanding filling his face.

With an inarticulate cry of triumph, he turned back to the parchment on the table, his quill flying over the surface frantically as he rushed to capture the words flowing freely, rightly, out of his heart.

Cerise just took another sip of the firewhiskey and went back to the truly ridiculous book in front of her, a satisfied smile on her lips.