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 BSC_AG for a second pair of eyes, and 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
VIII: For Every Action...
Hermione awoke feeling a bit stiff, but otherwise in apparent good health. The ceiling above her was unfamiliar, and her wrists were each tightly encased by one of the magical binding and tracking cuffs that Aurors used on criminals. Her wand was also missing.
She frowned, trying to remember. She had been caught, and a warrant issued for her arrest. A series of misunderstandings at the Ministry had escalated, and the 'peaceful sit-in' had become a full scale riot in a matter of minutes.
A glance around her revealed little of her location. The room was small and barren, with little beyond her bed, a toilet, sink and small counter. It gave off a sterile smell that burned her nose, and had no items of comfort. A room for someone injured, but definitely not a conventional room at St. Mungo's. Warding glyphs were plainly marked at the corners of each wall and by the door; she was clearly in a holding cell of some kind.
Hermione sat up, her muscles protesting, and a low alarm went off. The door was immediately opened, and a stern-faced woman entered, followed by a man. They both had their wands drawn. The severe cut of their robes and the small tower embroidered on the left shoulder marked them clearly as Azkaban guards. The small H just beneath marked him as a Healer as well.
Hermione felt a chill snake down her spine and lifted her chin defiantly at the couple. "Is that it, then? I'm not even to be given a fair trial?" Her voice was hoarse and shakier than she would have liked. It made her wonder just how long she had been unconscious. "Just like Sirius Black, sentenced without proof?"
The female guard ignored her as she placed herself between Hermione and the door. The Healer gave her a disapproving look and ran several diagnostic spells. He paused, made a few notations on a clipboard, then ran another.
Irritated, Hermione tried again. "You're just going to ignore me? I have the right to a trial, you know."
The Healer glanced up with another frown. "You have done. Minister Behrends has always followed the letter of the law. It is not necessary for you to be awake and present at said trial if there is an abundance of evidence. Remain quiet now, please. I'm nearly finished."
"Am I allowed to know what I was convicted of? Or my sentence?"
The Healer pursed his lips mutinously, and this time it was the guard who answered, her voice bored. "As employees of Azkaban Prison and Ministry, it is not our business what crime you have committed. Our job is just to see that you serve your sentence, which has been notated as three years. Thus far, you've served two weeks of it here in the infirmary."
Two weeks? No wonder she was stiff! No doubt she had been kept in a Healer's Coma the entire time, even when it hadn't been medically necessary in order to make security more manageable. Hermione cleared her throat and tried to gain more information. "Where is my husband, and what happened to Percy? Percival Weasley? What about Harry Potter? Are they okay? Am I allowed visitation rights?"
The woman just gave her an unpleasant smile. She seemed to be enjoying her position of authority just a bit too much. After waiting a significantly long moment, as if to prove that she didn't have to say anything, the guard said casually, "Mr. Snape has his own trial to attend, of course. It's fairly obvious that he not only knew about your illegal activities, but assisted you. I doubt you'll get to see him for a long time. After all, we do keep the men and the women separate here, and the penalty for manufacturing illegal substances is worse than dealing them."
Catching her lip between her teeth, Hermione fervently hoped that Severus made it unscathed out of the mess she'd got them into, and that both Percy and Harry were alright. Tentatively, she reached out for him through their bond, and was met by a thick wave of worry. He did not seem to be injured in any way, but he was extremely anxious. It was impossible to tell if it was on her behalf, for his own sake, or a mixture of both.
"She's fine now, healthy enough to be transferred to a permanent cell. I'm clearing her," the Healer said shortly, signing his clipboard with a small flourish. The comment yanked her out of her own mind, and shakily Hermione stood. The Healer gave her another disturbed look and hurriedly moved to the exit. The guard held open the door for him with false solicitousness, her polite smile returning to an ugly sneer once he was out of the room. Another guard, this one male, entered Hermione's cell then, and the two of them escorted her from the room.
Azkaban seemed to be laid out in an unimaginative grid, with a large rectangular spiraling staircase running up the centre. In short order she found out that the infirmary was on the first floor, and heavily guarded. She was led up past the second and third landings to the fourth floor before finally locked in a cell, several corridors away from the staircase.
Her permanent cell was very similar to the infirmary cell. It was perhaps fifteen feet squared-larger than she had expected. The walls were clearly marked all the way around the perimeter with heavy binding wards to prevent escape. There was a small cot with a thin mattress, a small pillow, and a single fleece blanket. There was a toilet, a sink, a towel with a small shower head and drain but no curtain. Her furnishings were completed with a table and chair. The sterile smell was replaced by the faint stink of body odor and desperation. Deodorant was evidently not on the list of necessities that taxpayers were willing to take care of for prisoners.
Hermione wrinkled her nose and set in to wait. Eventually someone would be by to feed her, surely. If it wasn't Warden Bitchface, she would try asking her questions again. Twice, she heard footsteps outside her door, but they continued by without pause. Guards were doing their rounds. When her dinner was finally presented to her, it was brought by a house elf. Her questions only got her an indifferent look from the elf, who had no doubt served hundreds of angry and questioning prisoners in the past. He popped back out of existence without a single word.
Approximately an hour later, the light suddenly went out, plunging her into darkness so complete she couldn't see her own hands.
Stumbling to her cot, Hermione fell onto the thin, lumpy mattress and wondered how she was going to endure three years of the silent solitude and bland food. She could only be grateful that the dementors were no longer in residence, but the prospect of long stretching days of nothing hardly seemed a better alternative.
The first night was the longest Hermione had ever experienced in her life. She found that she wasn't even slightly tired, but had no options other than to lie there. It was too dark to see even if she was allowed a book or a bit of parchment and quill, there was no one to talk to. She was trapped for the night with nothing but her own thoughts.
Despite her determination to be strong, she found herself weeping. Somewhere in this same tower, perhaps even nearby, Thorfinn Rowle and Antonin Dolohov were still locked up, serving life-long sentences. How had the world worked out that she would be fighting for a basic human right and yet sharing a prison with criminals who had unapologetically murdered Muggles and children?
She wondered if Severus, Harry and Percy were alright, or if anyone in the riot had been killed. Reaching out through their bond again, she tried to ascertain more information. He was very easy to sense—he must have stripped away all of his Occlumency barriers. He was probably trying to sense her as well. The thought made her feel better. In a way, it felt like she was a little less alone. Hermione concentrated, trying to decipher what he was feeling through their bond.
Worry was still predominant, but she could sense more now. He was determined, and angry, and...love. She felt his love like a warm blanket projecting out for her. Gulping a little, she hung onto it, and tried to project the same. She focused on the little things that had brought them together, first as a portrait and then as a man. She carefully drew on memories of his little gifts, wry smiles and solid embrace. She recalled their intellectual discussions...and arguments...and she tried to convey her own love and longing for him.
She basked in the feeling for several long moments before the chill of her cell got to her, and she shuddered. Hermione curled up tighter under her blanket, her dark thoughts returning. She wondered if anyone had told Dolohov and Rowle that Severus was alive. Her lip trembled again, and she wrapped her arms around herself, attempting to regain the earlier warmth she had felt.
After nearly six months of marriage, she had grown used to his presence in her bed, his body snug against hers. She remembered how she had told him she would help him retrieve his memories, and yet she never had. The guilt of the broken promise tugged at her heart and put her in helpless tears again. The night crept on, and Hermione vowed she would try to ask a passing guard her questions. Surely someone in Azkaban would understand her need for answers.
She heard them for the first time before breakfast, the heavy ring of boots as a guard made rounds on her Floor. As he passed by, she lunged at the door and banged hard, trying to draw attention. "Help, help please!"
Surely a guard wasn't allowed to ignore a cry for help from a prisoner. The boots paused, and then the small viewing window in her door opened, revealing brown eyes. It was not, fortunately, Warden Bitchface. "Are you having a medical emergency?"
"Please," Hermione said desperately, "can you at least tell me if Harry Potter and Percival Weasley are alive? Is my husband well? That's all I want to know, just that they're safe."
The guard's gaze sharpened in acknowledgement, and he said simply, "You're Hermione Granger."
"Yes. Will you please tell me if my husband and friends are well? Severus Snape, Harry Potter and Percival Weasley."
To her relief the guard seemed to sympathise. "They are all alive, though according to the Prophet, Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter are still at St. Mungo's." He hesitated, "Mr. Weasley was injured quite badly. I don't know more than that. Your husband is well. He and others have been protesting the Ministry for weeks. They couldn't make any charges stick because the Aurors couldn't find any manufacturing labs or restricted materials that he had access to. It's all circumstantial for him."
Hermione closed her eyes in relief. "Thank you. Thank you so much, sir."
The guard hunched his shoulders a little and then said quietly, "You're welcome. I wish I could do more. I...I don't think it's right that you got put in here, or Madam Malfoy, or any of the healers they've convicted in the last few months." He paused, and then his voice firmed. "I was at Hogwarts when Harry Potter killed Voldemort. The biggest tragedy that occurred there wasn't how many people died that night. The biggest tragedy was how few years it took the Ministry to forget."
Eyes teary with both agreement and gratitude, Hermione nodded, thanked the guard one more time, and retreated to sit in her little wooden chair.
Days passed. Having no wand, calendar or even a piece of chalk to keep tally like one saw in films, Hermione quickly lost track of time. She believed she had been there for between two and three weeks, but couldn't be certain. Her sympathetic guard had stopped by briefly, two days after their initial encounter, and had passed a battered paperback through the viewing window. It was the sort of high-adrenaline action novel that was a popular read amongst wizards, pure mental fairy floss. Hermione treasured it, reading it over and over again until she had it memorised.
As more days dragged past, Hermione found herself pacing circles in her cell, trying to do something, anything, to keep her muscles from stiffening. Her cell wasn't small and she was always given enough of the bland food to satisfy her, however she was still trapped in it day after day with a substandard mattress and no real way to exercise. It was appalling, really, that Azkaban didn't have an area for prisoners to stretch their legs and see the sun for at least a few minutes each day.
Always, she hugged the feeling of her husband's bond in her head. His emotions often shifted between anger, determination, and the same deep-set loneliness that was wearing on her, always overlaid with a heavy sense of worry and the small glowing warmth that told her he loved her.
He loved her. Her former professor, friend and lover was also her love. She had known, deep down, that it was true. His declaration of happiness when she had professed her own had been proof. It was another thing entirely to feel it however, gentle and firm and unwavering. She ached to tell him again, to hold him again. If she ever got out of this damned cell she would make sure she told him every day.
More time passed, and her guard stopped by twice. Once, to tell her that Percy had finally been released from St. Mungo's, and once to pass her a small assorted package of Twinings teabags. He had given her a slightly embarrassed look and mumbled, "I know it isn't much…"
She had cut him off with a firm shake of her head. "It's wonderful. They only give us one cup a day, and it's always the same generic shite. This...this is Christmas, thank you."
Her friendly guard had blushed a little. "Hardly, it's July."
July. That meant Harry would be turning thirty in a matter of days. Had it really been almost nineteen years since that first fateful train-ride to Hogwarts? Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and sighed. She had been in Azkaban for nearly three months.
The next time the guard stopped by, he opened the viewing window only briefly before closing it again. Hermione was on her feet to protest when the whole door swung open, and she blinked in surprise. The guard gave her a lopsided smile. "There has been a shift in Ministry administration. I've been instructed to take you back down to processing. Apparently the new Minister and those on the Wizengamot have re-opened your case, and reduced your sentence to a fine of some kind."
"Back down to processing?" she repeated dumbly. She was being released. Administration had changed, and whoever was in charge now was releasing her. Her heartbeat quickened. She could go home and see Severus! She felt hope surge, and she reached out to her husband again, giddy as she felt his own relief and pleasure finally overriding the anxiety that had been omnipresent in his emotions for so long.
The guard nodded, the faint, crooked smile still on his face, and gestured toward the door. She followed, wobbling a little. After three months of having only a small amount of room to walk about, her sudden motion was strangely dizzying, particularly when they reached the stairs. The rectangular spiral downward tunneled in her vision for a moment and she swayed.
Her guard put a steadying hand on her shoulder. "Careful," he said.
Hermione gave him a grateful look. "Thank you. You have been much kinder than the woman who processed me the first time. I'll never forget that you brought me a book, and more tea. I appreciate it more than I can say. There were days I thought I'd go mad without them."
He nodded. "Like I said, some of us don't forget. When I heard you were here I was angry. A lot of people were, and after the riot the Ministry didn't have a single day without protesters. It got to the point that even Muggles were starting to notice."
He chuckled softly. "It didn't take long for Minister Behrends to resign in disgrace, and for the laws regarding marriage and contraception to be overturned. I doubt anything has passed through the courts so quickly. Still," he shrugged apologetically, "these things take time. It's why you've been here as long as you have. The new minister inherited quite a mess. When I heard that you were finally being released, I asked to be the one to retrieve you."
"Thank you, again." She shook her head, and said honestly, "I wish I did, but I don't remember you from Hogwarts."
The guard gave her another crooked smile, and she realized it was due to a scar tugging on the corner of the left side of his mouth. "Our paths didn't cross often. I was in my fourth year, and in Slytherin. I was one of eleven Slytherin students who came back and fought," he said proudly.
She smiled. "Thank you, then. You most likely made all the difference in the world. We were very outnumbered."
He smiled again. "I'd never been more terrified in my life. I'm glad you married Professor Snape. He was always good to us Slytherins. I'm glad someone else knew he was worth believing in back then."
Hermione ignored the fissure of guilt his words struck within her. "I'm glad I married him, too."
He looked about to say something else, but then they had reached processing, and there was Severus in his dark, brooding glory. Hermione pulled away from her unnamed guard's side and launched herself into her husband's arms.
"I'm sorry! You were right, I shouldn't have gone."
"It's done, it's done, you're fine." He whispered raggedly into her hair. "Just don't you dare ever leave me alone like that again. I went to the Ministry every day to get you back, and even spoke to that damned paper. Don't you ever leave me again."
"I love you, too." Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him fiercely, then pulled back. "I hope you know. I'll tell you every day if you wish."
"I would never be displeased to hear it." He stroked her curls softly. "I can feel it, you know. Whilst you were locked away I tried to reach you, and I could feel it. I've never known anything like it before." He kissed her again, gently. "I'm never letting you go."
"I am perfectly amenable to that." Hermione tucked her head back into his chest and took a deep breath. "What is happening out there? My sentence was reduced to a fine?"
"Ten K," he answered. "Don't worry about it, we can pay it."
Hermione gave a teary, snorting laugh. "That's actually less than what I offered as a bribe to Minister Behrends."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Merlin save us from idiot politicians. We're probably lucky the new Minister doesn't know about that. He's not nearly as...honest as Behrends."
"And so we trade our reproductive freedom for a corrupt Ministry again." Hermione sighed and shook her head. "Let's go pay it, and demand your memories back whilst were at it. If there were ever a time when the Ministry might want to be on our good side..."
Severus gave her a strange look and said softly, "It's already been paid; that's why you're being released." He cleared his throat, and continued, "If it's all the same to you, I think I would prefer to just go home and make new memories. The past...Let's let it stay dead and buried in the Ministry. We've won this fight, more or less."
Hermione felt her eyes tear up again as she smiled. "Alright then, Severus. Yes, please, take me home. I'm tired of fighting battles."
He smiled faintly. "For now, at least," he teased, and then kissed her softly.
Hermione nodded, then said thoughtfully, "Someone should do something about this prison. You know, the conditions here are utterly ridiculous. If it hadn't been for…" she trailed off, embarrassed that she didn't know her guard's name.
The guard smiled shyly, and to Hermione's surprise, Severus nodded to him. "Mr. Ainsley."
The guard's smile broadened; he was clearly delighted that Severus remembered his name. "Sir!"
"Thank you for looking out for my wife, Mr. Ainsley." He turned his attention back to her, ignoring the now grinning guard. "As for you, no more causes. Give it at least six months." Hermione made a face at him and Severus rolled his eyes. Still holding her tightly, he Apparated them home.
A month later a portrait artist was commissioned to paint the couple for RS&M, once their position had been made quite clearly that they had no wish to occupy separate frames. There was quite a bit of fuss and bluster at first, as the two were quite stubborn about wanting the British Library (the Wizarding section in particular) as their backdrop, and that was difficult to manoeuvre. Eventually, favours were called, strings were pulled and Hermione and Severus were given their way. In the portrait, they were seated demurely, turned toward each other. Their wrists were turned to subtly include their binding tattoos, and each had a cup of steaming tea.
A/N: And that's the end. Thank you so much for joining me on this journey-I hope you had as much fun reading my story as I did writing. Good or bad, please review! They are the only "payment" fanfic writers get, and make my day! Thank you~ Tyche