x x x Part Twelve x x x

They ignored each other the next day, by unspoken agreement; as if it would go away if they just didn't talk about it, or to each other.

At all.

Severus bit back a sigh, watching his new wife from across the room. She had a book in her lap, one of his own if he didn't miss his mark. The part of him that wanted to say something to her for taking the book without asking was too overshadowed by the part of him that wanted to keep his distance for him to even so much as comment. Besides, it was one of the most innocuous texts out of his entire private collection. Nothing that she could even remotely use to get into mischief with.

Of course, that was giving her far too little credit. She could no doubt get into trouble with any number of mundane items at her command. Were not her escapades with Potter and Weasley a testament to that fact?

She glanced up from the book, looking towards the fire, then the far wall where the bookshelf was. Her hands shut it idly, carefully; so as not to ruin one page of it. That much they had in common, a lust for knowledge, for the written word. He had no doubt that she enjoyed putting quill to parchment, watching the ink spread over the page, just as much as he did.

It was probably the only thing that they had in common.

Her eyes drifted slowly toward him, stopping in what he could only call shock when she found that he was looking towards her as well. She blinked once, and then again, before looking away.

"I need to have my things moved."

Severus bowed his head in acknowledgement, nodding once. His hair fell heavily around his face, hiding her from his sight. They would be sharing quarters now, as was appropriate.

No, not appropriate, he told himself. A student and a professor could never be. . .appropriate. He did not care if she was his wife or not.

Yet, here they were. Trapped, for lack of a better word. He with her, her with him. His rooms were no longer his sanctuary so much as a prison cell.

Another sigh dared try come to his lips, his own mind berating him none too gently for his caustic thoughts on the situation. Yes, yes, she was suffering. He was suffering. They were both bloody well suffering over this insane debacle his father had placed them in. Her sobs from the night before, painfully loud through the bathroom door, still grated on his heart even in the cool light of day, tugging strings he would have long since liked severed permanently.

"I can have the house elves –"

"No," she cut him off, eyes daring to meet his once again. "I mean, I'll go do it."

"Fine."

He watched her rise from the chair, setting the book back into his shelves without another word towards him; before leaving the room entirely.

The sigh that he had been holding between clenched teeth finally escaped, and it filled the room with its explosiveness.

The sofa. She could have the blasted bed and he would sleep on the sofa. That would be the arrangements until school ended for the summer and they were forced to retire to Snape Manor. They could have their own separate rooms at that stage.

Except for when they were trying to fulfill the 'other' terms of the contract, of course.

He shuddered at the thought.

x x x

Hermione did her best to ignore the pointed stares and whispers that followed her as she took the shortest possible route from the dungeons to Gryffindor tower. Her eyes were burning with tears by the time she finally stood before the Fat Lady and announced the password in a whispery voice, scared that someone might hear her and come running. That Harry and Ron would be waiting.

She couldn't face them.

Not today.

Not after –

Her stomach lurched, but she managed to hold back the bile that rose. It would get better, she told herself. Certainly never the stuff that romance novels were made of, but perhaps one day she would be able to stomach his touch with less distaste forming.

Either that or she'd have to find new things to go over in her head during the act itself. Transfiguration guides could only take her so far.

She stepped hesitantly into the Gryffindor common room, blanching at the sight of the housemates that were sitting around. The noise dimmed off until it was silent, everyone turning to look her way. She swallowed, stepping the rest of the way into the room and letting the portrait door swing shut behind her. No Harry and Ron, so at least she was blessed insofar as that.

No one made a move to speak with her, and she didn't rightfully care. What could they honestly say at this point to make it any better. . .or worse? This was the lowest of the low. She'd lost the last of her innocence to one of the few people on this planet that she could say with honesty that she despised more often than not.

There was nothing more to be said.

She turned quickly, taking the steps into the girls' dormitory two at a time, racing down the hall. The door knob twisted beneath her hand and she was in within seconds, shutting it behind her. She leaned against it, sliding down as the tears began to fall.

"'Mione?"

"Gin?" she whispered, not even opening her eyes.

"Oh, Merlin," her roommate sighed in sympathy, comforting arms slipping around her shoulders the next. "I'm so sorry."

Hermione laughed bitterly. "Why for? It's not like any of this is your fault."

"I know," Ginny shook her head, her eyes so sad that Hermione felt mildly guilty for bringing this on her. "But I still am."

The corner of Hermione's mouth twitched up into a sad smile and she nodded once, just sitting there in the other girl's arms, letting herself have this brief reprieve from the Hell her life had become so quickly.

x x x

She let herself back into Snape rooms, letting the door fall shut behind her with a mild bang. Her thins were in her pocket, shrunk conveniently down to a manageable size, and only Crookshanks' carrier burdened her hands.

"That beast –"

Hermione looked up, leveling a glare at her husband. "That 'beast' is my cat. And he lives where I live."

In a flurry of robes he was up and moving around the room, pulling books from the shelves only to put them back again, jostling furniture. He was. . .as out of sorts as she could ever remember seeing him.

"We need to talk."

She blinked in surprise, swallowing the instinctive ball of fear that rose in her throat.

"No we don't."

His robes came to a billowing stop as he turned to stare at her, dark eyes unreadable. "Yes, we do."

Hermione frowned, setting Crookshank's cage on the floor. She leaned over, letting the cat out; pointedly ignoring the glowering man across the room. She rubbed a hand along the cat's fur as he slowly exited the carrier, sniffing around the room.

"Miss –"

She glanced up sharply, raising her eyebrows as the words died on his lips. Yes, Miss –what-?

"Would you come sit down so that we might talk this over like adults?"

Hermione sighed sharply, nodding her head once. She crossed the room quickly, eyes to the floor, unable to meet his gaze. She didn't want to talk to him. Not right now. Not. . .ever?

Stupid idea, really. Extremely so, the more she thought about it. They couldn't exactly avoid each other for the rest of their lives.

She crossed her legs at the ankles, sticking them out in front of her, practically slouching down in her chair. She didn't know how to act around him now. Didn't know how to make things better or less painful, even. There would always be the pain of the night before in the back of her mind, even if one day they were able to get to the point where she could stand to be in the same room with them.

It would always be in her mind. The back, the front. . somewhere in the middle.

Always there.

"So?" she offered with a shrug of her shoulders, still not looking up. "You wanted to talk?"

He sighed, and she looked up without thinking about it, surprised to see that he looked just as tired as she was feeling. She bit the inside of her cheek, unsure of how to proceed, or even what he wanted.

Years from now she'd look back on that moment, when their eyes met and understanding passed between them, and think that it was funny how little it had taken, really, to get them to that point. Just sitting there, trying to act like rational adults.

It all began with the opening of his mouth, and words that were neither kind nor harsh.

They were just words.

And that was all it took.

x x x End Part x x x