Authors Note: None of the characters portrayed belong to me, and I'm not making any money from them. This is my first published fan-fiction so I may fail badly on the etiquette, publishing technique, spell checking etc. Please forgive, review and guide as necessary. Much love to any who find themselves here. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed imaging it up.
Chapter 1: The Times they are a-Changin'
The Chit was staring at a piece of parchment on her lap. She hadn't reacted when he'd entered the lab, hadn't raised her head and done her usual half-smile. She wasn't working on a potion or checking the inventory. It was enough to make a man worry.
Severus was in no mood to add to his worries. The Dark Lord had been rather… jubilant last night. He'd been allowed to leave his Lord around 3am, and unfortunately Dumbledore had rules in place. Immediately report, were the rules - unless Severus first stopped off to pick up a Pain Relief potion. So, with a sigh, he'd turned his feet towards the Headmaster's offices. There, with only a cup of tea to console him, he'd explained his concerns and suspicions. By the time they'd done working through the various scenarios it was 8am and he gave up on the idea of sleep. May as well get some brewing done.
His mind was still very much wrapped up in the Headmaster's theories as he stared at the Chit. Her hand was shaking and… was she chewing her fingernails? Disgusting.
He felt his anger wash over him. How dare she put her worries in front of the work they had before them? How dare she pick today, of all days, to slack off?
"Miss Granger!" He snapped, banging a cauldron onto the wooden desk. She blinked, but didn't jump.
Her voice was weak and tired and he suddenly realised that she was wearing the same robes today as she had been yesterday. Worry crystallised in his gut, shards that dug into the soft lining of his stomach.
"What is it, Granger?"
She didn't look up from her lap even as she brandished the parchment towards him. A flick of his wrist and the letter sailed across the room, rustling as it came to a stop in his palm.
The parchment was heavy and almost black with ink, small, fine letters scrawled all over it. "MINISTRY NOTICE: DO NOT IGNORE" was repeated in red ink at the top of every page. He heard the Chit whimper as his eyes scanned the rest of the letter, a frown growing between his brows. This was… an unexpected development. Severus' lack of sleep was catching up to him.
"Granger, you can take the rest of the day off." He snapped, remembering that she was still in the room. She made an odd, strangled noise, but didn't move a muscle. She practically vibrated with fear. "Miss Granger." He repeated, slowly, keeping his voice deliberately soft and gentle. "You are free to go back to your rooms."
"Please, sir. I'd much rather stay here with you. We still have 50 more healing potions to make before we've even reached halfway to Madam Pomfrey's needs."
He ran his fingers through his hair, shifting the fringe away from his face, and studied her. All the blood had drained from her face and her hands were still shaking, the fingers tapping together with the force of her fear.
"Get started then. I will return in a moment." He scowled at her, suddenly impatient. Severus had thought himself in the Dark Lord's inner circle, and yet it was clear that this had been deliberately kept from him. Could it be a test of his loyalties? His stomach cramped again, urgent and sharp.
He stalked out of the dingy basement, the cloak he hadn't bothered to take off billowing in his wake, and took the steps two at a time into the light of the hallway, throwing open the library door with a bang. Damnit. He hadn't seen this one coming at all.
"Albus." He growled, flinging Floo powder into the flames. "I hope you're up."
Albus had indeed been up. He'd taken the parchment with trembling hands and studied the words cramped on it, the fine details of the new law taking up almost every spare inch of paper as though the Ministry were under another Extreme Budget Cutting Initiative. "This is terrible." Albus growned, stroking his beard pensively.
Severus refrained from snapping at him, his anger fraying under the Headmaster's ridiculous penchant for stating the bleeding obvious.
Albus' eyes had turned milky as he stared over Severus' head at the silent portraits of former Heads. "The poor students… What can we do?"
Severus took a sip of his tea rather than replying, knowing that the question was rhetorical.
The fire crackled, throwing the room into emerald relief before Minerva stalked through a second later. Her tired eyes pinched behind her spectacles as she scanned the room, taking in the way Severus sat cradling the cup of black tea, Albus' expression, Fawkes desolate frame with wings dropping.
"I see you've already heard the news, Albus." She tilted her head towards the letter, her words brisk and ordered. "We've got to do something. They are too young to be sullied by the ministry in this way."
"Sullied?" Severus asked, laconically. Her choice of words felt deliberate somehow, anxious.
"Yes, sullied." She snapped back. "It may be above your notice, but marriage comes with certain demands. Demands which may hurt our students." She flicked a long, sharp finger before his nose. "We have no guarantees that whomever the ministry picks will be understanding of their age or inexperience."
He must have been more tired than he thought, Severus admitted to himself glumly. Her words slotted into place: the reason the Chit didn't want to move out of his office, the reason she'd been shaking and white suddenly thrown into sharp relief by Minerva's words.
"I don't see what the problem is." Severus tried again. "We will simply sort out some matches ahead of time that will protect the students, and in the meantime fight the Ministry tooth and nail."
The two Gryffindors ignored him; one pacing up and down before the fireplace, her fingers clasped before her chest, and the other sitting behind his desk, arms crossed, lips pressed together tightly.
Severus had no idea what the Ministry were playing at - what exactly the Dark Lord's game was. Forcing all muggleborns to marry those 'with a more secure footing in the Wizarding World' would certainly mean they could keep better tabs on them, but it would also dilute the blood pool. Why would the Dark Lord be encouraging that? He frowned and rubbed his forehead. Something wasn't adding up here.
Dumbledore knocked his fists against the wooden desk, startling Minerva. "We must protect Harry."
"Harry is a half-blood." Severus felt obligated to point out. "Perhaps he will be excused."
"He is without a proper mentor." Dumbledore pointed out, his eyes flashing at Severus with poorly hidden condemnation. "Both Harry's parents are dead. His godfather is dead. This -" He brandished the letter towards Severus - "applies to him."
"And what of the others?" Severus felt curiously protective of how very unnerved Granger was, hugging her arms around herself in the little laboratory at Grimmauld, too scared to go back to her rooms. "Harry isn't even a student of Hogwarts anymore. None of them are. They are adults."
"Most of your Slytherins are safe." Dumbledore replied, taking his spectacles lower down his nose and cutting his other hand through the air dismissively. "As that house is mostly from good wizarding families, they will be able to see to their own." He turned to McGonagall. "Didn't he have a fancy for Ginny? Putting those two together would mean he could claim the Weasley's as his family."
Severus sighed. Once again, the Boy Who Lived was always the first consideration. The Chit had been so nervous she'd been shaking. He probably shouldn't have allowed her to stay in the cellar; with her hands so unsteady she was more than likely going to blow herself up, and then he would have to clean up the pieces.
"If you will excuse me, I should get back." He pulled himself to his feet wearily, feeling his bones crack and joints complain.
They nodded to him, still thinking through the possible ramifications of their decision to join two children in matrimony. "Perhaps," Dumbledore said slowly, "someone more adult could be persuaded to marry the boy. It would remove the emotions from the equation, mean he doesn't get as hurt."
Severus took a pinch of the school's Floo powder back to Grimmauld's library, contemplating the bizarre inner workings of man. The Headmaster knew nothing about empathy, seemed to be able to turn on and off his concern like a lightbulb. Severus ignored the wry twisting of lips as he pondered the irony of thinking that about another person given his own less than stellar reputation. He ran quick fingers through his stubble and turned his feet towards the lab.