|The Tattered Man
Author: Aurette PM
I was once asked to write a Marriage Law Challenge fic by someone who loves a sad tale. This short story is it. Angst, Character Death. Tissues recommended. COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort/Tragedy - Severus S. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 12,832 - Reviews: 196 - Favs: 226 - Follows: 13 - Published: 04-10-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5886102
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The following sad story is very loosely based on the MLC; I'm not good at coloring inside the lines. As with all MLC fics, it is utterly, and completely, AU. But really, aren't all fanfics AU? Canon was ignored if it got in my way, but in the most respectful way possible.
Not mine. No money.
Severus Snape woke up the first time to the sound of frenzied voices shouting orders and the feeling of being poked and prodded, but very little else. He had the sensation of being in incredible pain, but without the actual pain. He tried to open his eyes, but couldn't. The sensation of movement left him slightly panicked and he tried to call out. All he heard was a wet, sucking, gurgling noise that left him rather frightened. He didn't have long to be afraid, since the noise was accompanied by an increase in the shouting that brought a wave of magic over him as he quickly slipped away again.
The next time he woke up it was to the sound of clattering heels and the feeling of wind rushing past his face. This time he got his eyes open and saw bright torches flying past in succession. He watched the sooty stones of a ceiling whir by and surmised he was in Hogwarts. Little else made sense to him, as he could remember neither what he was doing before this strange event, nor what he should do about this strange event. He tried to turn his head to see the person who might belong to the clattering shoes, but found he couldn't. Again he tried to call out, and again all he heard was an atrocious gurgle.
"Damn it all, he's shaking off the spell again!"
"Get him under, he'll damage himself more!"
He felt magic wash over him again and then he knew no more.
He slept a long time after that. Weeks, as a matter of fact.
Severus Snape woke to the sound of a gentle humming and the muted sensation of warmth sliding across his skin that left a chill behind. Altogether it seemed a rather pleasant way to wake up. He knew he'd had a lack of pleasant experiences in his life, although thankfully the particulars were rather vague. The humming was almost graceful in its sound. Not particularly gifted, but soothing and restful all the same.
He opened his eyes. He recognized the ceiling. He had woken up to its view many times before. He was in the hospital wing of Hogwarts. He tried to turn his head but couldn't. He tried to lift a hand and was unsure of his success. It seemed like he had, and yet the requested hand failed to materialize where it should have. He tried to speak. To call whoever was humming that tune. However there was nothing. No sound at all. Confused and suddenly greatly irritated by the tune, he snorted. The gentle humming stopped. A face loomed up over him and he found himself looking into a pair of honey-colored eyes, tinted with concern and shaded with excitement. They were rather pretty eyes. He thought he should know them. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he was fairly sure he knew exactly whose eyes they were. However, that knowledge seemed unimportant in the face of how much he enjoyed simply looking into them. So he did.
The young woman with the warm, sweet eyes was talking to him. He didn't understand her words. He picked up a few that resonated on some level, 'bath' and 'won' and 'exonerated' all seemed to have the same importance. 'Professor' and 'apologize' and 'Potter' all carried equal amounts of dislike and so he started to ignore her words and just look at the flecks of gold in her eyes. In fact, he almost missed the last bits, which seemed to carry the most import when he mused over them, 'Voldemort dead', and 'permanently mute'. These words carried equal weight but produced such disparate feelings that he didn't know how to react. He looked at the young woman's eyes and sought clues on how he should be feeling. She seemed happy. Happy to be talking to him. Happy he was looking at her. Happy he was here. He wanted to be happy too. Just to please her. He smiled, hoping she approved. He was surprised to feel a warm tear slide into his ear.
She finished her business in good time and then gave him a potion, sliding a warm hand under his shoulders and pressing a soft breast to his arm as she assisted. From this vantage he could see he was naked, with a folded towel across his hips. He saw the bowl of soapy water and the sponge and smelled the soap on her hands as she brought the potion to his lips. What a lovely person, he thought. He tried to thank her, but nothing came out. He struggled to form the words, but there was simply no sound, except for the rushing of his breath and the clicking of his tongue. He panicked. The woman tried to soothe him, she chattered at him persistently, urgently. But she was no longer of consequence. He tried to push her away but his arms wouldn't answer. He looked at her in dread and fear but stopped when he saw tears in her eyes. Those pretty eyes. Had he made them sad? He felt himself drift away as the potion took hold. Startled, he looked at her, feeling slightly betrayed. A small, concerned, frown creased her brow and she started to say something but he felt his eyes slide shut and left her.
Severus Snape stumped along, leaning heavily on his cane and trying to minimize the way his foot twisted out to the side and dragged. He had taken to wearing robes that trailed on the floor and came up even higher on his neck, to hide his deformities, but it was a futile gesture. Everyone knew anyway. Headmistress McGonagall had allowed the papers unusual access, citing the need to show he was no longer a threat, and every aspect of his life had been open to examination, including lurid details of his so-called recovery. The front pages were full of so much detail they might as well have stripped him naked and allowed Granger to give him his sponge baths on the steps of the school. He felt exposed and vulnerable and very, very bitter about every aspect of his existence. With the notable exception of those baths themselves, there he was only tremendously discomfited.
He had taken refuge in those moments of pampered solicitude. The chit rarely spoke, just hummed her soft and haunting melodies. It was useless to feel embarrassed, obviously she had taken on the job while he had been in the coma, and obviously she was more intimately acquainted with bits of him than any other being on the planet since his mother. It was a moot point, and he could hardly bathe himself, in those early days of paralysis. He had been proud of himself for not reacting in any manner that might disgrace himself further. Pride had turned to desolation when he eventually realized, he couldn't have anyway. He didn't know if she knew, or just thought he had tremendous restraint. Or most likely, she thought she was beneath his regard in that manner. That suited just as well. He had been pathetically grateful for the return of movement that signaled the end of her chore, and yet sad at the loss of tranquility that it had brought.
He stumped into the potions lab and made his way over to a bench, sitting down gracelessly, and trying to catch his breath.
"Hello, Severus! How are you feeling today?" asked Slughorn with false gaiety.
Severus just scowled at the man until he muttered and went back to his job of restoring the cracked foundation wall. Only Pomfrey and the Granger chit ever seemed to get the hang of not asking questions. Watching the expectant look on their faces as they waited for a response was a bitter gall. His voice was gone forever, his vocal cords had been destroyed, and he refused to mouth at them. Potter had brought him a book on Muggle sign-language, and had chattered at him about how marvelous it was and how he had a copy for himself and was going to learn it so they could converse, and wouldn't he like that? He had received a two-fingered salute for his efforts. Snape knew quite a few Muggle signs; they just weren't in any books.
He didn't want to speak with his hands. He didn't want to click and spit and slap his lips together. He didn't want to do anything. As the summer wore on and he stumped about watching the community's efforts to restore the castle, he really only thought of one thing. He was useless and he might as well be dead.
He had heard Pomfrey argue with the Healers that had been brought in from St. Mungo's to consult. They had urged her to sign him out and send him to a home. Further recovery was unlikely and even if he could perform a few spells voicelessly, with the nerve damage from the toxin, he would never have the control needed. They had told her that it was cruel to expect anything more from him and sending him somewhere to be cared for, somewhere he could live out his days in peace would be better by far. Poppy had refused, saying he had a home right here and he had a mind full of knowledge that was still of use to the students and the school. McGonagall had backed her up, but Severus had heard the words unspoken in the long pause that had preceded it.
No one asked him. No one bothered to see if he was even interested in playing Quasimodo to Hogwarts' Notre Dame.
He was still sitting in the lab, watching Slughorn's struggle when the Headmistress came in.
"Horace--Oh! Hello Severus! How are you today? Is the leg improving? Have you started the new potion that was sent over from St. Mungo's?" She looked at him for a minute with raised brows and then her face reflected irritation at his stony silence. "I'll ask Poppy later," she said as she continued past him. "Horace, I know you were hoping to retire again, and I am so very glad that you have agreed to one more year. Now I have a favor to ask that will be a bit of a burden but also lift a burden as well. We have so many returning students. Not only are the Muggleborn coming back but there has also been an in parents deciding not to continue home-schooling because the war is over. Enrollment is at its highest in years. However, there will need to be remedial classes as well as expanded classes. This will double your work load. I was hoping you would agree to take on an apprentice or two, that way they could take over the easier classes for you and let you concentrate on the sixth and seventh years as well as their training."
"Oh, good heavens, Minerva. That's a lot to ask. I'm not as young as I used to be. Two apprentices at once, you say? I will have to think about it. I don't think I could do that at all. Do you have candidates in mind? Potter was exceptional at Potions his last year here," Slughorn turned at the sound of Severus's snort. "And I heard the Ministry gave him and his two friends full marks for their work. Perhaps we could ask him to come back?"
Snape grabbed up his cane and struggled to a stand. As Slughorn and the Headmistress discussed possible candidates he moved over to the desk and started to rifle through drawers until he found ink and a quill and a scrap of parchment. He scribbled on it and then stumped over the other two and thrust his hand, rudely, into the middle of their conversation.
McGonagall snapped her eyebrows down at his manner but took the parchment and read it.
"Severus says you need to ask Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger. I won't repeat what he says about Harry; suffice it to say there is some doubt as to his actual abilities. He also offered to help supervise the apprentices in whatever capacity is needed. Thank you Severus, we will take this under advisement." Snape watched as the two exchanged looks of discomfort, tinged with pity. He snarled silently and turned and stumped out of the room.
Severus Snape was sitting on a bench in the courtyard, resting his hands heavily on the cane between his knees, and watching an ant struggling to carry a dead fly. A shadow falling across him made him look up.
"Professor Snape? I understand you aren't able to tell me to go away, so I will make this brief. I just wanted to personally thank you for recommending Hermione for an apprenticeship. She's my girl, see? And it's been hard to watch her at lose ends since the battle. But this week, she's been almost her old self again and it's thanks to you. I realize she'll be under Slughorn and not you, but with you there, I'm sure she'll turn out fine, yeah? Right then. I'm off. Thank you, sir."
Snape watched Ronald Weasley walk away with his carefree, easy gait, until he was out of sight. When he looked back down, the ant and the fly had been flattened into a wet paste on the stone flags.
Severus Snape watched his godson sidle into his seat and set out his parchment, quill, and ink. There had been no greeting, not even a nod of acknowledgement. He had received a thank you from Narcissa and Lucius had sent him a case of wine, but from the boy himself, there was nothing. Snape put the petulant brat out of his mind. He had been one of the best candidates for the job, that was all. He turned his head and looked at the other. She had arrived fifteen minutes ago in a flurry of purpose and grace, offering him a warm greeting and profuse thanks. Again. She had already sent him a sincere letter as well as expressed her intent to make him proud when they had passed in the hall last week when she was leaving McGonagall's office. She sat now with her spine straight, her ankles crossed, her quill ready, and her lip squashed between her teeth. The only one missing was Slughorn.
The door opened and the man of the hour entered.
"Hello! Thank you so much for coming! I'm a busy man and there is much work to do on the castle before the school opens in another month, so we'll keep this short, shall we? But first, thank you, Draco, for the case of wine, that was lovely and I shall enjoy it immensely."
"Not at all, Professor, let me know when you need more, our vineyards have been generous in years past." Snape frowned at the fools but then turned and saw the look on the Granger girl's face. It was obvious she thought she might have blundered, as if a gift had been expected and she had somehow failed. Snape's frown turned into a scowl and he rapped his cane against the desk in front of him.
"Oh, yes, very well. Here is a list of books you should both read before school starts. Until I have a breakdown of schedules, we can't make further plans in that area, but I'm thinking of having you both choose a potion project to work on for the next year privately. Then when we get the schedules I will see what classes Mr. Malfoy can take over and that will leave you plenty of time to take over most of the marking, Miss Granger, as well as do the accelerated seventh-year potions course. Most of that will be done on your own, unless Professor Snape chooses to help you, for I will be far too busy. I will furnish you will a copy of the syllabus and you can bring me your finished potions. I would like to meet again at the same time next week for your proposals. Any questions?"
Snape listened with half an ear as they rattled off the expected questions and received the expected answer. He closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them again he realized he must has dozed for a moment. Slughorn and Malfoy were gone and Granger was reading over the syllabus with a spectacular frown on her face. He scraped back his chair and struggled to a stand. Granger lifted her face and her widened eyes told him she had forgotten her was there. She smiled and started to tidy up her papers. As he crossed in front of the blackboard she called to him.
He gave her a raised eyebrow and cocked his head.
"I was wondering if you could post the formula for Swelling Solution on the board for me."
He nodded and pulled out his wand and flicked it at the board. The formula and instructions appeared in his precise, spiky script.
"What would be the correct formula if I was to substitute triggerfish eyes instead of regular puffer-fish eyes?" she asked, looking at the board intently.
He frowned for a moment and then flicked his wand at the board again, the percentages and proportions of the other ingredients changed.
"One last thing and I will let you go. Could you just quickly put your opinion of Professor Slughorn on the board for me to copy down?"
He pinned her with his sharp gaze and then without looking, he flicked his wand at the board, keeping his eyes on her face to see whether or not it had worked. When he saw her eyes widen and heard her girlish giggle, he turned to look at the board. Scrawled across it, in the same spiky script read: Lacks subtlety and imagination but has infinitely more patience for children than I do. That is what he intended to write. However off to the sides, just above and just below were the phrases: Sycophantic fuckwit and Capable Brewer. He flicked his wand and erased the profanity. Then, as an experiment he flicked again. My apologies, Miss Granger.
"Not at all, sir. I'm just glad I'm not the only one who thinks that way."
This was clever, what made you think of it?
"Desperation, sir. I suspect I have erred and due to a lack of gift, I won't be getting as much supervision from him this year."
He's an arse, to be sure, but he is fair, Granger. Have no worries on that account.
"Oh, I am so glad to hear you say that, sir."
Granger, you spent weeks washing my arse, I think you can call me Snape. I'm not a professor any more, only an adjunct. He was pleased to see she didn't blush like a typical schoolgirl, but seemed to blow out a relieved breath as he pointed to the elephant in the room.
"Oh, thank you for that. I have to admit, it was a bit of a struggle getting back in the mode of thinking of you as a professor again. I've come to think of you more as a human." He gave her an odd look and then snorted. "Do you think this will work on paper?" she asked pointing at the board. He flicked.
No, it's a different spell. The blackboards have multiple layers of charms.
"Well, this is still brilliant." She gathered up her papers and put away her things. "While we can communicate, how is your leg?" He flicked and when he saw her expression he turned to see what had gone wrong.
A slight improvement, thank you. Quasimodo. Fucking stop asking me. Bloody McGonagall. Bath. Wiggled my toes yesterday. Numb. Useless. He flushed a bright scarlet and erased the board. He didn't look at her as he stumped out of the room, mortified.
Severus Snape watched Granger with a certain amount of awe. Six weeks into the term and he had no idea why the Granger chit wasn't completely overwhelmed. Admittedly, he hadn't helped matters. She had asked to start the term work for her missed year early and after Slughorn's approval he had gone at her with a vengeance. He had stumped and stomped back and forth in front of her and when his leg gave out he would grab a chair and sit across from her and thump his cane when she was doing it wrong. He had learned to stop and think before putting even the most banal comment on the board and to his intense frustration she had stopped looking up to read it unless she asked a specific question. He had taken to always having a parchment with a running commentary on it that he held in front of her face when she was truly about to blunder. Not that she did often.
His last years of teaching had been so filled with stress and near fatal pressure that he had actually stopped paying much attention to the girl academically and only saw her actions as they related to Potter. It was easy to pull her name out of his head when thinking of capable candidates to train up to replace Horace. Draco and Granger had been his only decent students; therefore, they were the logical choices. All of the teachers had apprentices underfoot but the increase in the student population kept everyone on their toes. Only Granger and Longbottom required remedial certification training on top of their Apprentice training and duties. Sprout had mentioned that Neville was rock steady and unshakable. When asked how Granger was coming along, Slughorn had blinked a few times and then directed the question to Snape. Again, all eyes had turned to him in the staffroom, as if he could burst into a jaunty song to tell of her progress. He had just stared them all down.
But as he watched her now, confidently stirring her potion the required amount of times, while simultaneously marking first-year essays, Snape realized he was over-training her. He had kept the pressure up and pushed her hard as if there was still a war on and lives might depend on her potions. When in actuality, she was just training to be a simple teacher. He reached out and grabbed the hand that was stirring the potion, stopping its motion. She was so startled that a splotch of ink shot across the essay she was working on and hit the sleeve of his other arm like a spray of blood. They both stared at it for a moment before he blinked and jutted his chin at her cauldron.
Understanding his signal, she took her wand and vanished the potion and the flame underneath, immediately.
"I'm sorry, did I do something wrong?"
He flicked. It was fine, Granger. I think you are ready to take the Potions NEWT.
Her eyes flew wide. "Are you sure? I mean, I've only--" she stopped at his impatient flick.
The course is meant for an entire class of dunderheads taught over the entire year. One-on-one, all day, every day, you finished the coursework last week. I've been pushing you too hard. You are over-prepared. Unless you want to go to work in the Potions lab at St. Mungo's instead of teach?
"I hadn't thought of that." She sat down on her stool and looked at him across the table. "What do you think?" He blinked, unsure of how to respond to this simple desire for his input. The last person to ask his opinion had been the Dark Lord. He took his time, organizing his thoughts and then flicked at the board.
I think the chances are slim that you will get the teaching job when Horace retires. The Ministry is balking at the salaries needed for all the apprentices as is. In their twisted logic, they are spending thousands of Galleons on a study to see if the student population will continue at this size and if training extra teachers in each discipline is justified. My guess is, only one of you will be here next Autumn, and as much as it pains me to admit it, Draco's case of wine might triumph. He is capable and has been up Slughorn's nose since the start of term.
He watched as her face fell.
Tell me what your future plans are, and I will try to give you guidance.
"Well, I don't really know. I've really enjoyed doing this. It seems a shame to let it go. Perhaps I could take another teaching job? Try for Potions at another school?"
He frowned and shook his head. Count them Granger. How many schools are there? What are the chances that a job will come up?
"True." She bit her lip as her chin sank into the palm of her hand. "I have no idea what my plans are, Snape. Training with you and being with Ron are the only constants in my life at the moment."
What are Weasley's plans?
"He's training to be an Auror. He wants me to get established in my own career and we've been talking of getting married. Maybe starting a family. I don't know what my options are. I've been so confused and overwhelmed since the battle and my in-between status hasn't helped. 'Here you go, have a piece of paper that says you know everything because we think you're a hero.' Except the piece of paper doesn't exactly help when you're on a job interview does it?" She slumped back and dragged her ink-stained fingers down her face. "To be honest, I've been hiding in this castle since the battle. First helping you, then helping with repairs and now training to be…nothing, apparently." She sighed.
St. Mungo's, he flicked. Being a teacher is boring Granger. I've been pushing you as if we were still at war. If you can handle this, you will be able to handle the pressure of brewing at St. Mungo's. It's better money than teaching. There is even the possibility of moving into pure research there.
He reached over and took the stack of marking from her before making a last flick at the board. Take the rest of the day to think about it Granger. If you chose that, we can go deeper into your training and then chose your project. As it is, if you take your NEWT and finish the year, you will be good enough for Apothecary jobs all across the UK, if you want. But either way, we are at a fork in the road. Go speak to your Weasley. Don't come back until tomorrow.
He dismissed her from his mind and started to attack the essays before him with a vengeance. After she had left, his eye was caught by the splash of red ink on his white shirt cuff. He stared at it for what seemed like hours.
Severus Snape passed the salt to Pomona sprout. The conversation around him was all about the recent study that had found a dramatic downturn in the wizarding population. The repercussions were obvious; most of the apprentices were not going to be there next year. Only Vector and Slughorn were planning to retire. Severus knew he was on his way out as well. He had no official status at all. Only embarrassment and a twisted form of gratitude allowed him to be here in the first place. The teachers were scrambling to figure out ways to help their apprentices find employment elsewhere. Snape just looked over at Granger and she caught his eye and grinned. They had already hit on her solution weeks ago. She had passed her NEWT with remarkably high scores and thrown herself into the training needed to work as a brewer for St. Mungo's. Madam Pomfrey had already pulled strings and arranged for an informal meet and greet with a few key people. Snape looked over at Draco, who was visibly upset, unsure if his work and bribes were enough to push him ahead of Granger in the eyes of Slughorn since her brilliant test performance and the successful test runs for her Apprentice Project. Draco and Slughorn were unaware of the path she had decided on. A small revenge, since Slughorn had turned over all supervision over to Snape and only paid attention to the grading she did for him.
When his godson looked to him with pleading eyes, Snape looked away and passed the bowl of potatoes to Sprout as well.
Severus Snape limped through the lonely halls of Hogwarts wearing the scarf that had arrived from Granger Christmas morning. He wasn't especially fond of it, but it was practical. The Christmas holiday was only half over and he already despaired of ever seeing Granger again. Not that she wasn't a constant trial; but he was at loose ends and she was his only pupil and she was also the only one he communicated with.
The intensity of her training had reached the point where they needed something better than the blackboard. At least that was the excuse he used after a few more humiliating mishaps with his words bringing his thoughts along with them for display. He had dug out Potter's book on Muggle sign language and Granger had borrowed Potter's copy. They had planned to each spend the holiday practicing, in the hopes that they would be better able to actually communicate more than ten feet away from the blackboard in the nearest spare classroom. But as the days dragged on and he struggled with sudden hand cramps that splayed his fingers out in strange and distinctly uncomfortable directions, he found himself missing the chance to joke about what language it might be. It struck him suddenly that he had absolutely no one else in his world he might joke with. He turned on his heel and walked towards the faculty lounge, hoping Sprout, or maybe even Pince would be there. They were the only other ones, besides, McGonagall who had stayed over for the holiday.
Severus Snape waited until he had Granger's full attention and then slowly signed: Welcome back. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas.
"I'm sorry, what? I didn't understand that. Here, let me try." She started to sign, her movements confident but wrong; he saw the problem immediately. He snorted in annoyance and spun away and started limping towards the nearest classroom. The irritating chit huffed dramatically and he could hear her heels strike the stones behind him as she stomped after him. Once he reached the blackboard he flicked his wand.
Your hands are wrong. You're talking out the side of your hands.
"What the hell are you on about? I'm using the right letters! And I've learned bunches of signs for things already!"
You learned from the diagrams in the book, he flicked. But the hands in the book were sideways to show you the position, you sillystupidlovelygirlwoman! With a snarl he erased the last part and slapped up: Brat. He turned his back on her to try and hide his burning cheeks. Where is your book, Granger?
"It's right here. And stop worrying about what appears--"
Get it out. Now. He turned back and held his hand out demandingly as she expanded and dug through her suitcase. When she pulled it out, he snatched it out of her hand and flipped through the introduction to the correct passage. He thrust the book back at her and slapped a finger onto the pertinent passage when she had a grip on it.
"'Illustrations often show the hand to the side to better demonstrate proper finger position. Please pay particular note to this symbol, as it denotes the graphic is not in the proper position.' I'm so sorry, Snape. I missed that part. I don't know how, it's quite obvious. No wonder I didn't have a clue what you were trying to say. I will study this tonight and get it right in a few days, I promise. Now what were you trying to say?"
He flicked his wand at the board, making sure it only said: Be prepared to start your potion in the morning, and limped out.
Severus Snape sat at the desk in the classroom he and Granger had commandeered for their own use and slashed away at the essay in front of him. He had taken over all of the grading, leaving her time to work on her research. She had chosen to work on a potion in the healing category, on his advice, and had chosen to try and improve the potion designed to stimulate and repair nerve damage. Much to his dismay. As he hacked and slashed at a third-year's pathetic attempt to explain how adding a particular acid to an ammonia based potion would increase its potency--'extremely effective, assuming the result you want is painful death'--his eyes kept wandering to the door. Granger was late. He had skipped breakfast, his hangover had been too severe, and wondered if he had missed something that would explain why she was more than thirty minutes past due. He flicked his wand at the board. It took three tries to make sure it only said: You're late.
Ten minutes later he changed it to: What happened?
Twenty minutes after that it read: Are you alright?
Another five, and it was blank as Snape limped out the door as fast as his cane would let him.
"Oh, Severus! You didn't hear? Hermione's had a bit of a shock. Come, let's find a blackboard where we can talk," McGonagall said. He followed her into the closest classroom, which mercifully wasn't that far. His leg was giving out on him after trekking all over the castle waving a piece of parchment with 'Where's Granger?' printed on it. He sat down heavily in the seat closest to the blackboard and waited as patiently as possible for McGonagall to begin.
"It's the Marriage Law," she said.
"You mean you don't even know about the Marriage Law? You're mute Severus, not deaf, how can you have missed it?"
He scowled at her darkly and flicked. I stopped paying attention to gossip, Minerva. It's a bit dull. As is this conversation. Get to the point.
"It's not gossip, Severus!" she snapped. "It affects you too!" She stopped and took a deep breath. "In the face of the evidence pointing to the declining birthrate and the increase in the number of squibs born each year, the Ministry has passed a law stating that every eligible witch and wizard must marry within a certain time frame and the matches must be approved by the Ministry to prevent family lines from being too interwoven."
Snape froze and stared at her. What is considered eligible? He put up onto the board.
"Everyone between the ages of sixteen and sixty," she replied. He sat still, digesting the news. After he was sure he was under control, he sent his next message to the board.
When did they pass it? What is wrong with Granger? Surely she can just move up her plans with Weasley? I know they were discussing it already.
"It was passed three weeks ago. On Valentines Day, of all things. And you're right. Hermione and Ronald did get engaged. However their match has been rejected by the Ministry." He blinked at her. He was very confused. He detested being confused.
On what possible grounds? She's Muggleborn. Her bloodlines don't cross his at all.
"On the grounds that the person in charge of the brand new Office of Marital Affairs has an axe to grind against Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley due to a certain unfortunate incident involving centaurs."
Umbridge. Bitchtoad-faced cunt. Should have let the centaurs drag her to her death. Can we get her thrown out of office? Where's Kingsley?
"Kingsley is doing what he can, but it will take weeks to pry her out of her seat and Ron only has until the morning to report to the altar or have his wand snapped."
Who is he marrying?
"He's been assigned to one of Umbridge's friends. Celeste Brockwood, a scrawny, insipid, fifty-year old woman of no account."
What are the terms?
"The couples must stay married for at least two years, at that point, they hope a child will be produced. If not, they must dissolve their bond and be reassigned."
This is barbaric, surely something can be done?
"Kingsley is working on getting the law repealed. But, Severus, it's quite popular. The population is very afraid of the possibility of extinction. The papers have enflamed their fears beyond their capacity for reason. He predicts at least a year before he can get it reversed or at least modified. The immediate problem is Umbridge. If we can't get her out of there, Harry and Hermione are doomed to similarly wretched matches. As well as anyone else she bears a grudge against. Perhaps you could talk to her, so to speak. She was rather grateful for you saving her in the forest, it got you off probation at least."
She used to be in Lucius's circle. Now that Draco is secure in Slughorn's seat, I'm owed a favor. I will see what can be done. I can try to save Granger and Potter but I fear it is too late for Weasley. Where is Granger now?
"She's up in my office, with Ron. They are…saying their farewells."
Snape and McGonagall shared a long look. Both having thought that these kinds of things had passed with the war. He pushed himself out of his seat and flicked at the board, one last time.
Thank you, Minerva. For telling me.
"I would have told you sooner, had I known you were unaware, Severus. You must look for a wife of your own now, you know."
He gave her a sharp look and then with a nod, he limped quickly out of the classroom.
It didn't take him long to make his decision. He had wondered why fate had spared him and understood now he had one more selfless act to perform before he could lay his burdens down.
He found them where he had been told they would be. As he stepped into the Headmistress's office, Granger and her boy were clinging to each other in grief, Granger in a chair and Weasley on his knees before her, cradling her head.
They didn't even break apart when they heard him come in, just turned their heads, and looked at him with twin expressions of desolation. He nodded to them both and after leaning heavily against the desk, started to sign. After a few moments Hermione started to translate for Ron.
"I offer my sorrow. I no help you? I help her. For one year. K…I…N…oh! Kingsley speak a year…something…unmake law. Oh, a year to repeal the law." He snarled in silent frustration and turned and snatched up a quill, and parchment and started to scribble furiously. 'Marry me, Granger. Until the law is changed. Umbridge will think it a punishment and agree. You can finish training and wait for Weasley.' He held it up in front of them both. Hermione teared up and started to cry all over again. Ron flushed red and his face twisted up in pain. Snape scribbled another line on the parchment and held it up in front of Ron. "I suffer from nerve damage, if that is your concern. She will return to you the way you left her." He prayed he wouldn't have to explain anymore. Ron's face swiftly changed to relieved sympathy with a trace of horror.
Hermione looked at him with a sharp eye and he saw an understanding click into place. All those baths he hadn't reacted to, he knew she'd assumed he wasn't remotely interested. Now she understood he'd been simply incapable of showing it. He felt his face flush red to the roots of his hair from his shame. He turned away from them both and thrust the parchment into the fireplace, holding it to the flames until they licked at his fingertips and the parchment fell away in ashes.
"Yes! Say yes, Hermione! She'll do it! Thank you, professor!" Snape didn't turn; he just nodded his head as he rubbed at his blistering skin.
"Thank you, Severus," she said. "I accept your offer." He let his hair fall forward to hide his suddenly bloodless face as he turned to her and nodded solemnly.
He signed to her and waited for her to translate.
"He will teach me a potion. Make you…oh." She blushed prettily when she understood what he was spelling out. "He can teach me how to make you impotent, but it only lasts for a few days at a time. You would have to take it repeatedly, as needed."
"That's brilliant!" said Ron as he came up off the rug and shoved out his hand towards Snape. As Snape shook it, his eyes slid over to Hermione and his heart stuttered in his chest from the sudden, stabbing pain. He nodded to them both again and left with as much dignity as he could muster.
He had thought to do something for the girl. Teaching her was the only thing that gave his life meaning and if she was married off to some suitably despicable troll she might not be allowed to continue her training. By doing this, he thought he could help her and retain some purpose in life as well. But when she had gifted him with his name, so softly spoken, he realized he had been an utter fool. As he moved down the steps from the office that had been his during his worst year of ignominy, he knew that fate wasn't done beating him like an unwanted hound.