"Your choice is pitiful," Erasmus Snape said.
"I'm… I'm sorry, sir, but…"
"Well, we simply don't have that many young women in the records yet."
Erasmus eyed the few names scratched onto the parchment. "I thought this Betrothal Contract nonsense was a law. Are you not enforcing it?"
The little man laughed. "You misunderstand. The Contract is a law. You—or your son—can pick any witch from this list. She will be legally listed as a member of your family. The trick is…"
"Well, the muggle parents insisted on a clause, as it were."
"Intriguing," Erasmus said. "What did they insist on?"
"That their daughters be given the choice to register."
"Or, presumably, to not register."
"Exactly." The little man nodded toward the scroll. "That's why there are so few names."
"And I am the first to see this list?"
The little man fell still.
Erasmus turned to him. "I am, correct? I had specified…."
"Well, there was one other who saw the list." He must have seen Erasmus' anger, for he turned quite red and began to babble, "Fudge himself showed it to him. I didn't have any control over it. You must understand!"
Erasmus pinched the bridge of his nose and sat down in a squishy seat before the fireplace. He unrolled the scroll once more. He touched names randomly, reading the statistics that popped up and glancing over the photos that appeared by each name.
"These girls are all quite… interesting."
"I did find so." The little man agreed. "Are you looking for anything in specific?"
"Brains. And power."
"Ah. If you'll let me, then." The man leaned over Erasmus' shoulder and touched his finger lightly to one of the names. "This girl is most promising."
"Hermione Granger," Erasmus read. "She certainly isn't promising in the looks department." He grunted as he scanned her statistics. "But as you say, she is quite powerful. And… she has already met my son, I see. 'Miss Granger's skills at the cauldron are quite proficient.' Where did you get this quote?"
"That's from her end-of-year notices. It was right next to the scarlet 98.4% in Potions."
Erasmus' brows rose. "No less? It is a shame that she is from Gryffindor, but the Snape line has always bred true."
"Indeed it has, my Lord."
"Alright then. Hermione Granger it will be."
The scrolls were produced with a wave of the man's wand. He touched the places that Erasmus was to sign. Several lines already glowed with the girl's elegant signature. As he initialed the last box—the one that stated he was acting on his son's behalf as Head of the Line—a shimmer passed over the parchment.
"All right then, all nice and sealed," the man said, rolling the scroll. "You'll get your copy of the document in two to three weeks."
Erasmus nodded. "Yes, yes. When will the betrothal go into effect?"
"Oh, immediately. Miss Granger will be notified of your selection this evening I imagine. Or rather, at the morning meal, as she is still at Hogwarts."
"Still at Hogwarts?"
"Oh yes," the Ministry's man said, not seeming to notice the sharpness of Erasmus' tone. "She's of age, have no fear. We truth test for that. Something about a Time-Turner, from what I gather, but I don't know the details."
"That will complicate things," Erasmus said.
"Oh, I'm sure that your son is up to the challenge."
"Of course he is! He is a Snape, after all."
"That he has. Besides, it seems right handy, to me, them being at the same place and all. Right handy indeed." He placed his hat on his head and stuck the scroll into a pocket of his robes. "I'll be on my way, then."
Erasmus waved him out, only relaxing after the door had shut behind the man. His eyes slid shut. The deed was done, and there was no going back now. He wondered if he had time to remove himself to the country house before all manner of hell broke loose.
"Hermione Granger, are you completely insane?"
Hermione lifted her head from her Advanced Transfigurations
text and blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"This!" Ginny waved a scroll in the air.
Hermione frowned and took the scroll, not remembering what it was until she saw the thick wax of the Ministry stamp that held it shut. "Oh, that."
"Oh, that, she says. You put yourself on that bloody list, didn't you?"
"If you're referring to the Betrothal List then yes I did.
"Good Lord, Hermione. What if you get chosen?" Ginny flopped onto Hermione's bed. "What am I saying, of Course you'll be chosen. You're bloody brilliant."
"Thanks, but… I don't see the problem. If I hadn't wanted to be chosen, I wouldn't have signed up, of course."
"Why on Earth did you sign up, then?"
Hermione fell silent. She looked down at her toes, nails painted pink in muggle fashion. "You've never had to feel like an outsider, Ginny, not like I do. My parents don't understand this world. They think I'm going to go home and fall back into their plans. Dentistry school, an apprenticeship in their practice. But… I don't want to."
"So? You didn't to do this!" Ginny waved the scroll around. "You could just get a job in the wizarding world. With your grades that would be no problem at all."
"I don't want to be alone, that's what it boils down to," Hermione said, taking the scroll from the girl's fingers. "I want to be a part of this world. Of your world."
Ginny sat up. "This isn't being part of the wizarding world—this is being a broodmare."
Hermione stashed the scroll in her desk drawer. "I examined the law most thoroughly. I have no obligation to get pregnant—only to get married. I did my research. This wasn't a whim, I assure you."
"I'm not saying you didn't but… well… do you understand that you will be completely under the power of your husband? And I mean, completely. If he tells you that you will have children, you are magically bound to have a child!"
"That's insane," Hermione said. "Totally impossible."
"No, that's how our society works," Ginny said. She stood up to pace.
Hermione flopped onto the bed. "What do you mean?" She was beginning to feel a deep sense of … was that panic?
"Look, you haven't lived in this world for so long. No one expects you to understand it. That's why this law is so wrong!" She smacked her fist in her hand. "The older families, though, the Pureblooded families, they are quite firm about Tradition and living the Old Ways. Though I don't like to think about it, as a daughter I have the obligation to obey my father in all things—and I will have that same obligation to my husband, should I marry a wizard."
"But your father would never…"
"No, he wouldn't. But with this contract you've put yourself up for anyone to choose from—and not all wizards are like my father!"
"Good Lord," Hermione whispered.
"Exactly." Ginny said. "My mother's been raging at that law ever since it was proposed just because of this."
"I… I didn't know."
Ginny sat down beside her, and Hermione turned into her younger friend's arms.
"Yes," Ginny said. "Any Pureblooded wizard can pick you—for himself, or for another wizard in his family, no matter how distant."
"There wasn't a way out," Hermione said. "I… I thought so long about it and… I never considered."
"Shush…" Ginny tightened her grip and Hermione hung on grimly.
"Talk to your father," Hermione said. "Your family is Pureblooded. He can pick me."
Ginny reared back. "What?"
Hermione stood and began stalking feverishly from one side of the room to the other. "Owl him now. Tonight. Tell him to get that list however he can and pick me. Soon. I don't care. Marrying Ron would be better than … they could take me away from here. Away from the school."
A chill slithered down her spine. "Get Pig. Please, Ginny. Help me!"
"I… I don't know, Hermione. I mean, Ron has a girlfriend now."
Hermione bared her teeth, feeling truly lost for the first
time in her life. "I don't care if I have to marry Percy, Ginny. Percy wouldn't
lock me in a cellar and torture me. I was thinking of Blaise Zambini and your
brother when I signed this, but…"
She had the satisfaction of watching the blood drain away
from Ginny's face, not that it made up for her complete dismay at her
stupidity. How could she have made such a critical error?
"I… I'm going. Now." Ginny suited action. The door to the dormitory banged shut behind her.
Hermione shivered in her thick robes and stared at the desk drawer she had so carelessly shoved the scroll into.
"What have I done?"
"I'm concerned about Miss Granger," Minerva said, leaning over Severus' plate to converse with the Headmaster who was, due to some trick of seating, sitting on his other side. "There have been some awful rumors going around. Have you had a chance to talk with the girl?"
Albus Dumbledore shook his head. "She has not come to me with any problem."
"It's true then, that she signed the Betrothal Contact?"
"I'm afraid it is," Albus said.
"As hideous a prospect as it is to have Miss Granger enlisting as a broodmare to for the wizarding population, I would appreciate it if you would take this discussion elsewhere," Severus bit out.
Minerva and Albus both stared at him.
"I can't believe you," Minerva said, "even a Slytherin must realize what talent, what…"
"Was she forced to sign the Contract?" Severus asked. He laid down his silverware and gave her his full attention.
"No one could get Hermione to sign something against her will," Minerva said. "She's quite the Gryffindor when she digs her heels in."
"Quite," Severus said. "Then she signed of her own will. It is a magical Contract, of course. There's not much to be done about it."
"I'm afraid he's right, Minerva. Miss Granger has made her own decision. I just
hope that she is given time to finish her schooling. She is such a promising student."
"She really is," Minerva nodded her head and applied herself to her meal.
Severus contemplated a Potions classroom without the ubiquitous Miss Granger. Though she didn't raise her hand at every question—as she once had—she was indeed a very promising pupil. "I'll have to give up testing the potions," he muttered.
"You'll still have young Malfoy," Albus said. "You've given him top marks for years. He must be a wonderful brewer."
"But not as good as Miss Granger," Severus said shortly. "Malfoy may be… tempted… should his work be used with regularity. It may become dangerous."
"And Miss Granger wouldn't?" Albus asked.
"Miss Granger is most trustworthy," Minerva offered. "Perhaps I could speak with her… her husband."
Stark silence fell across the three at the table.
"She's only a seventh-year," Severus said. "She won't be of age until…?" He looked to Albus.
"She's of age now," Albus said. "She used a Time-Turner for some time, I'm afraid."
Minerva tossed down her napkin. "There's no hope for her then."
"Now, now, there's always hope," Albus said. "I believe Miss Weasley has already petitioned her father on Miss Granger's behalf."
"What is he going to do? The Betrothal Contract does not fall under the auspices of the Department of Muggle Artefacts."
"I think Miss Granger has it in her head to marry one of the Weasley boys, actually," Albus said.
"Wonderful solution!" Minerva said.
Their discussion was interrupted by the muted mumble that swept through the students, who were all looking toward the ceiling of the Great Hall.
"Ah, a mail delivery," Albus said, beaming. "How delightful!"
The owl swooped from the shadows, huge and intimidating. It was grey, and clutched in its beak was a letter. Severus watched it wing toward the head table. His gut clenched as it settled before him, letter outstretched.
"My, my," Albus said.
Even Minerva seemed a bit concerned. Instead of going back to her meal she watched him closely as he took the letter, gave the owl a bit of his beef on a plate, and opened the envelope.
He read his father's short note with growing dread—and horror. His hands shook as he stuck the letter back in its envelope. "It seems," he said as he pushed his plate away, all hunger turned to dust in his mouth, "that Miss Granger will finish her year at Hogwarts after all."
"Oh?" Minerva asked. "And what has that letter to do with such a decision?"
"Everything," Severus said shortly, "as I have just been named her betrothed." He spit the last words and shoved his chair back from the table. "If you will excuse me, I believe I will go find my father—for a chat."