Summary: Hermione receives a letter from the Ministry informing her of a bit of new legislation, and attempts to deal with it in a unique way. My nod to the genre of Marriage Law Cliche fics, originally written for Dragoon 811 for the SSHG GiftFest 2014.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and fictional places do not belong to me; I am merely borrowing them for playtime before (respectfully) putting them back. Thank you, JKR, for allowing such things to happen.
Pairings/Main Characters Hermione Granger and Severus Snape. Minor appearances by Percy Weasley, Draco Malfoy, George Weasley, Harry Potter and OFCs: Minister Behrends and Serena Savage.
Warnings: This story is rated NC-17/MA, and it is not suitable for children under age 18. It is Alternate Universe, and includes strong language, lemons (graphic sex), violence, mention of violence and mention of character death.
Thank You: To the wonderful ladies who worked with me on this fic: Savva, Shinigamioni, and Stgulik. You three are brilliant, and it was a blessing to have you on my team. I have tried (and failed) to come up with a suitable Super Hero Team beginning with S that isn't already trademarked. Further thanks to AdelaideArcher, for Brit Picking. :-)
Dedication: This fic was written for my very good friend, Dragoon811, who has always encouraged me to write, and was kind enough not to be annoyed that I completely ignored her prompts. You're a doll!
HAPPILY EVER AFTER THE FACT
I: Blah, Blah 'A Brighter Britain,' Blah.
"A marriage law? Can they do that? Is this...is this legal?" Hermione Granger's voice rose with each syllable until she was nearly shrieking, and whirled to face the portrait hanging by her desk, the Ministry letter still in hand.
The man in the portrait shrugged slightly. "There is...precedent. What is the reasoning behind it?"
"Lack of population. The majority of the casualties at the Battle of Hogwarts were teens and children." Hermione gave him a sad look. "The only adults who fought on Harry's side were teachers, the Order, and what few Aurors found out about it and managed to join. Even with the gargoyles and castle Guardians, we would have been slaughtered. Really, the only thing that saved us was that the Dark Lord was reluctant to 'spill magical blood' as he put it, and called a halt and hour's respite for us to heal whilst Harry sneaked off to martyr himself.
"Because so many young people were lost, not as many children were born in the years following. Only nine first years were admitted to Hogwarts this last September. There are apparently even fewer next year. The press is calling it 'the Lost Generation,' and now the Ministry thinks it's their right to force us to have babies!" Hermione glared down at the crumpled letter in her hands. "How can they do this? How can there possibly be precedent for something like this, Severus?"
Severus Snape, deceased war hero, former Headmaster of Hogwarts, and longtime consultant to Roth, Savage & Malfoy Research, gave her a look that could only be described as sympathetic. "The last time the government enforced a marriage act of some kind was in the late fourteenth century."
Hermione thought for a moment. "After the Black Death."
He inclined his head in agreement.
"They can't possibly be comparing millions of lives to this!"
"The population of the British Wizarding community was affected on a much smaller scale by the Black Death. Not truly that far below what you are describing. Nine magical children in a year is devastating, Hermione—Hogwarts usually admits between thirty-five and sixty students each year. Your year was one of the smaller ones to begin with, and with so many dead...it doesn't really surprise me that the Ministry has panicked and reinstated the law."
Hermione groaned and sank into her chair. "What am I going to do? I can't get married and start having babies. I have a career, and my parents, and I don't...I don't even have a boyfriend right now. It should be my choice. Mine. I fought in that goddamned war in order to be free in this world."
The painted head tilted, and the former Headmaster's hair fell forward into his face. "You fought that war to be a part of this world, and now you have to obey its laws." He sighed, and then lifted his head again. "Surely there are exceptions listed?"
Hermione nodded mechanically. "I can file for exemption if I am over the age of eighty-five, if I am a widow who has already borne at least two children, if I have prior existing documentation that I am sterile or that pregnancy is detrimental to my health. I can file for up to two years' deferment if I am a full-time student under the age of twenty-five or if I have been widowed in the last year."
"Absolutely none of which applies to you."
"No, none. I have to find a husband before the end of the year, or be fined. After the third such monthly fine I face criminal charges and time in Azkaban. Blah, blah, 'thank you for supporting a brighter future for Britain,' blah."
"You could always get married, kill him and file for a two year deferment," he offered dryly. "Perhaps the law will be repealed by then."
Hermione stuck her tongue out at the portrait. When she had been hired by Roth, Savage & Malfoy Research seven years ago, she had been surprised to find a portrait of a younger Severus Snape hanging in her lab space. Serena Savage, the daughter of the Mr. Savage on the front door of the building, had informed her airily that Snape had been an important and valued member of their research team for years, focusing on potions, of course. The company had been sorely grieved when he had not survived the war. His portrait hung in here because this had been his lab. She was told she could request for it to be transferred if it proved to be a distraction.
Hermione had hastily assured her new boss that she was certain she would be able to work in a professional manner regardless of any portrait that might hang in her lab. The portrait in question had been commissioned when Severus had first joined RS&M just a few years after he had started teaching at Hogwarts. Once he had died and the portrait had awoken, it had been hung in his former lab—now hers.
It had been difficult at first for Hermione to handle him. Four years after the war had ended, she had only just begun to feel stable in her healing process, and had very firmly painted him in her mind as a tortured and unappreciated hero who had died a brilliant and romantic death for everyone. In less than two minutes, the portrait of a twenty-one-year-old Severus Snape, imbued with the essence of the thirty-eight-year-old version, had eviscerated her emotions and reduced her to tears. His remarks had been cutting, derisive and sarcastic, and Hermione had taken them as deserved for not trusting him quite enough as a child.
He was not, and never had been an easy person to get along with, no matter how brilliant and self-sacrificing his actions had turned out to be. Furthermore, he did not want her apologies, or her thanks, or her stuttered admiration. Finally he had snarled at her, "You're an adult, for fuck's sake! Stop snivelling, and stop putting me on pretty pedestal. You thought I was a Death Eater because I wanted you to. If I could make the Dark Lord think I was loyal, why on earth would a seventeen-year-old girl who barely knew me outside of class think any differently?
"Now. I didn't like you, you didn't like me, neither of us was especially nice to the other, and we both have made mistakes. That is all irrelevant. Since you've been hired here, I would presume you have work to do. Interesting work, I would even imagine. So stop fussing and tell me about that. I refuse to be stuck in a research lab with an empty-headed child when I was promised an intelligent witch on the cutting edge of spells research."
His words had snapped her back to herself. Still feeling a little stunned, Hermione had begun to speak of the research she had started that had secured her employment. He had listened, nodded, tapped at his painted lips with a long finger, and commented now and again.
He was still sarcastic, and often prickly, but after about a month, Hermione had realised that he was also her friend, and she would have been upset to lose him from her lab. He entertained her endlessly with sardonic commentary about her co-workers, as well as the Daily Prophet articles she read him during breaks. He debated theories with her, and seemed to respect her intelligence and her work, and after an initial shouting match, rarely tried to impose his opinion on what she was doing.
After their first year together, she had commissioned an artist to paint another portrait of him, based off the one that hung in her laboratory. She missed him horribly the month and a half that he was missing from her lab, but it was worth it the day she got him back, and then went home and was able to hang him neatly on the wall of her library.
Severus' advice had become invaluable to her. She remembered how much she had counted on his counsel when it came to her parents. After the war, Hermione had travelled to Australia to lift the Obliviate that had caused them to forget her existence. When she had done so, something had gone horribly wrong. Their original memories had returned, but their false memories hadn't gone away. The effect had been devastating to their psyches.
She had moved them back to Britain to be cared for by the best Wizarding physicians. They lived in the Janus Thickey Ward for years whilst Healers debated their condition. Severus had, surprisingly, not assigned blame, but had supported her mentally through the terrible time. He had also advised her a great deal on both memory charms and healing potions, and helped her select a Healer who seemed to know what he was doing.
A vigorous regimen of healing charms and potions enabled her parents to move into a small cottage just outside of London. Hermione paid handsomely for a medi-wizard to live in; it was the least she could do after ruining their lives twice.
Hermione took dinner with them every week—sometimes they knew who she was, and sometimes not. Either way, she knew that the small amount of comfort and independence the once fiercely intelligent couple had wouldn't have been possible without Severus' guidance.
For the most part, she got on very well as she was. She liked her life filled with intriguing and frustrating research and accompanied by an equally intriguing and frustrating portrait of a man. If it was not particularly well-adjusted of her that she spent very little time with her live friends, that was her business and no one else's. Damn it, she didn't want to be married to some man she hardly knew, she didn't want the responsibility of a baby with a man she hardly knew.
Hermione smoothed the crumpled letter and re-read it as if it might change under her scrutiny. Pursing her lips, she recalled how her donation to the hospital had suddenly found a medi-wizard willing to make daily at-home visits to her parents when none had existed before hand. "Do you suppose another generous donation might find me exempt?" she wondered aloud.
"Is Hermione Granger actually discussing the possibility of bribing the Ministry rather than follow the laws? Like a Malfoy?" The response was dripping with false shock and horror.
"You started it. And you should watch it. Mr. Malfoy is one of my employers now, this is his building, and he pays me well. As did the Ministry after the war. I can certainly afford it, and if there were ever a law worth a bribe to get around, it's this one."
"Indeed. I am, for the first time since my demise, eminently grateful that I am dead and not subject to the law myself. Going through the horror of finding a female I could actually live with is a torture less preferable than Crucio."
Hermione gave him a wounded look. "What am I, then, chopped potion components? You spend most of your time with me already."
The portrait gave her an astonished look. "Surely you don't mean you would be interested in me."
Hermione gave a mirthless laugh. "I enjoy your company, I even brought you home to 'live' with me. If the law applied to you I'd marry you in a heartbeat, before anyone else could snatch you up and make us both miserable. I imagine we'd swim along just fine, with a few minor adjustments."
"Minor adjustments?" he said, clearly affronted. "I'll have you know, Hermione, that I am certainly not a minor adjustment. You also seem to have forgotten that marriage requires...well..."
To Hermione's surprise, red tinged the portrait's cheeks. She grinned at him, and supplied helpfully, "Sex?" To her delight, his blush deepened. "Honestly, Severus, sex is usually pretty fun even when you aren't with the love of your existence. I'm fairly sure we could manage without deciding to suddenly hate each other."
Severus cleared his throat, and mumbled, "I'm afraid I wouldn't know."
Hermione stared at him, flabbergasted. They remained that way for several moments—Hermione staring at him whilst he stared at the floor, until he suddenly snapped, "As a young man, the only woman I was interested in was Lily. As an adult, there weren't any women interested in me, and I've never fancied the idea of rape or paying someone for that. Either way, this conversation is pointless. I am dead and you're going to get married to some ponce at the Ministry's demand."
Hermione's gaze drifted back down to the letter she had once again clutched in her fist, and then she stalked toward the door. "Not if I can help it."
"Where are you going?"
"I told you, the Ministry. I need to have a word with whoever is in charge of this farce."
Hermione stepped from the Ministry's entry Floo and stopped to stare in shock. In retrospect, she really shouldn't have been surprised by the amount of people in the reception area, queueing for their visitor badges. No doubt there were many people who were less than pleased with their latest owl-delivery. Hermione bit her lip and wavered, trying to decide if the queue was worth it to add her voice or if she should return a few days later to arrange a private meeting with Minister Behrends.
She staggered forward as another woman came in through the Floo behind her and barrelled straight into her back. The witch shot her a dirty look and snarled, "Watch where you're standing, this isn't your personal parlour, you know!"
Jumping a little guiltily for blocking the entrance, Hermione stepped to the side and pursed her lips to keep from returning the sour look. Perhaps she could set up an appointment to discuss a "sizable donation" another day. She had just made up her mind to turn about and go back the way she had come when a familiar voice called out.
"Hermione! Hey, Hermione!"
Hermione turned and scanned the crowd of people. A pale hand waggled and her name was called once more, drawing her eyes to a tall, freckled red-head with wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.
"Percy!" Hermione waved back and waded a bit into the crowd, attempting to meet him in the middle.
"Hermione," he greeted, pitching his voice to be heard, "It feels like it's been an age. I hardly see you anymore. What have you been up to?"
She shrugged in response and answered, "Working, for the most part. I'm sorry! I'm afraid I've let my social life go a bit. How have you been? How's your girlfriend...Audrey, isn't it?"
"I can hardly hear you! Let's get out of here. Lunch?" He gestured at the Floos behind her.
"Yeah, okay, I'll follow you!"
He led her back to the Floos, and after a brief wait, they were spinning back out into the public Floo in Diagon Alley. He shook his head as if to shake off excess noise, and gave her a half smile. "Sorry about that, whatever you were in there for, you might want to go back on a different day."
"That's the conclusion I came to myself. I'm sorry I haven't seen you in a while. Once Ron and I broke things off, it became awkward at the Burrow until he finally did marry Romilda, and then I wasn't sure how to ask to be included again. How are things with you?"
Percy smiled, and shrugged. "I am well, Audrey is well. Work has been a right nightmare recently." He nodded back toward the Floos from which they had come. "There's a decent cafe across the way...?"
Hermione nodded acceptance and walked with him across the alley. "I'm fairly certain that I was there for the same reason as everyone else. Do you think with enough protesting, they'll not follow through, and repeal the law?"
Percy gave her a grave look. "In all honesty, I doubt it. I was on the panel that decided on the actual lettering of the law. We weren't given a yes or no option, merely the option of what stipulations to include. It's not necessarily a bad thing, you know. The number of children entered in the Book of Names each year has been getting increasingly smaller." He glanced at the hostess and smiled politely, requesting a table for two.
Hermione bit back a nasty remark as she followed Percy and the little blonde witch to the back of the cafe. Once seated, she said directly, "You cannot possibly believe that this is good, Percy!"
Percy tilted his head in a half nod, half shake that was non-committal at best. "Something needed to be done. I don't think this was the best way to go about it, but I don't think the Ministry felt like there was much of a choice."
"It's a violation of our basic human rights!"
"Believe it or not, it's one of the more conservative versions put forth as a possibility." He answered sharply. "One of the proposals suggested that everyone in the listed age window be matched by Ministry-appointed arithmancers for 'relational success.' We wouldn't get to choose our partners at all. They'd be chosen for us by over-worked, under-paid workers who would—in all likelihood—be susceptible to bribe. Can you imagine being auctioned off to the highest bidder under the table? You are intelligent, independently wealthy, pretty and a war heroine with connections. There is almost no chance your partner would have been picked for you according to actual arithmantical equations."
Percy held up his hand, cutting off Hermione's protest before it could begin, and continued. "Another proposal wanted to put monitoring charms on the wedding contracts, ensuring fidelity and that the marriages were being...ah...consummated on a regular basis. This could have been a lot worse, Hermione." Percy looked at the floor. "Fortunately, it was decided that the Ministry didn't honestly care if the babies were legitimate or not, so long as they happen."
Percy gave her a sad smile. "As I said, I would have gone about it differently had I been in charge of this whole mess."
Hermione lifted her brows and gave him a challenging look. "How would you have gone about it?"
"Monetary incentives and tax breaks," he responded promptly. "Something for a newlywed couple, something of increasing size for each additional child. Like that."
"You think people would get married and decide to have children for the sake of money?"
He gave her a sideways glance. "You'd be surprised, Hermione. Times have been tough for a lot of people, and sometimes the reason people decide to not have children is because of the expense involved. If you also happen to have grown up in a less-than-comfortable situation the idea of being rewarded by the government for something you may have wanted someday anyway can be sorely tempting. The idea was discarded because the panel decided that the results would not be as prolific, and parting with money when people should want to 'do their patriotic and civic duty' was deemed undesirable." He stared at his sandwich and added bitterly, "This has worked out more or less alright for me, since Audrey and I were already considering it someday, but it would have been nice to receive a tax break of some kind."
Hermione shook her head and said desperately, "What about those of us who had no intention of having children, or even of getting married? Can they really just decide to force us? Are they going to outlaw contraception as well?"
Percy gave her an uncomfortable look. "There is precedent."
Hermione stabbed angrily at her salad. "So I've been told."
The middle Weasley son gave her a furtive glance. "Look. I...I shouldn't tell you this. It will be my job if anyone at the Ministry finds out, but...but when we were kids, you were the only one who took my side sometimes while we were at school. You never were cruel to me, even when your friends and even my family was, and...and you kept my brother hidden that last year."
Hermione's eyes widened. "Percy, you don't owe me—"
"No, I don't," he agreed. "We all did the best we could. I thought I could make a change and help control the outcome from inside the Ministry. I was incorrect, but that didn't mean the system itself was bad. I believed in it then and I still do—otherwise I wouldn't still be trying. The fact is, I do still consider you a friend." He looked at her uncertainly, and Hermione saw a hint of the same vulnerability in the man across her that she had carried within herself for most of her formative years.
"Of course we're friends, Percy," she reassured him, and he nodded, his jaw a bit tight.
"As a friend then, who looks out for his friends the same way you've looked out for yours in the past, I want you to know that contraceptive potions are about to become a prescription, and a vital ingredient will become increasingly difficult and expensive for a home brewer to find. I imagine most apothecaries will have to stop carrying it for commercial purposes entirely," he murmured.
Hermione stared at the man across from her in horror. "Can...how...?"
"Sighing hibiscus requires a particular climate and care, and the licensing and tariffs on the importers who carry them are about to become—through no relation to the marriage law of course—very monitored."
"I can't believe this."
"Believe it, Hermione," he said firmly, "and if you're really serious about holding out as long as you can, I would go buy yourself as much sighing hibiscus as you can without landing yourself on the Ministry's radar. Otherwise someone will be sent to confiscate it, based on the new laws, once they go into effect."
Hermione stood shakily. "Thank you, Percy. If you don't mind, I think I will go right now. And if there's anything I can do for you...anything, ever..."
Percy winced slightly, and then said, "Just be careful not to tip people off that you know. I need my job, and what's more, I like it, most of the time." He hesitated and then added quietly, "If there is truly no one that you have in mind, would you consider George? He's been...lost the last ten years, and doesn't seem to be getting any better. If anything, he's gotten worse. If he's going to be forced into this—and he will be—he could really use someone he trusts."
Hermione's mouth went dry. "I...I can't promise..."
Percy shook his head violently. "I'm not asking you to. Just...think about it, will you? You could do worse than my brother, you know."
"Yeah. Yeah, Perce, I know."
A/N: Thank you so much for reading my latest creation! I wrote this for the 2014 SSHG Gift Exchange on LiveJournal! This story is complete in nine parts, and I've brushed it up and fleshed it out a little since it was posted for the Exchange, so re-readers may find a few *cough* several differences. It will be updated every Saturday.
I've been wanting to try my hand at the "Marriage Law Cliche" for a long time—please let me know what you think and review, it means the world to me!