Dear Reader;

Don't scold!  I have a perfectly good reason for starting a new story.  I've issued a challenge on WIKTT, and it is only fitting that I answer my own challenge.  You can find "The Marriage Law" challenge on the WIKTT group.  It runs through 09/14/2004 for those who are interested, giving you an entire year to respond.  Those of you who want to give it a whirl, please do so and have a blast while you're at it.

As usual, I own nothing.  The great and powerful J.K. Rowling is the true genius behind it all.

Love,

ChelleyBean

~***~

"But, Lizzie."

"Don't you 'but Lizzie' me, Augustus Snape!"  Elizabeth Snape folded a nightgown haphazardly before slamming it into her suitcase.  She could do this faster by magic, of course, but doing it by hand kept her from throttling her husband of seven years.  "You know how I feel about that 'law'.  I'm on the committee working towards having the damn thing repealed!"

A gasp from the doorway made them turn.  Standing there were three girls, ages three, five and six.  All three had hair that was the same dark black as their father's had been in his youth, but in a riot of baby-doll ringlets like their mother's.  The two eldest had obsidian eyes to match the hair, the toddler's eyes were a clear, bright blue.  The two eldest were growing tall and were very slender while the toddler's baby-fat still made her cheeks and limbs delightfully pudgy.  The middle girl looked up at her elder sister and gave a whisper that was clearly audible to the adults.  "Mother swore!"

"Now look what you've made me do!"  Elizabeth's voice cracked like a whip as she slammed her suitcase shut.  "Cathy, did you pack everything like I told you?"

The oldest girl nodded.  "I packed for myself and Jenny packed for herself.  We both packed for the baby."

The toddler's face screwed up and she plucked her thumb from her mouth.  "I not baby!"

"You're taking the girls?"  Augustus gave his wife a look of pure incredulity.  His young wife sighed.

"Of course I'm taking the girls.  I can hardly leave you to deal with them, and my mother's been bothering me to bring them to visit for ages."

"But… you are coming back, aren't you?  I mean… this is hardly a matter to dissolve a marriage over!"

"Augustus, you know very well that a wizarding marriage cannot be dissolved.  Otherwise there would be no point that that idiotic law!"  Pale cheeks were tinged with angry red as she tugged the suitcase from the bed.  "I'm certain that once I've calmed down enough to be in the same room with you and not want to turn you into a toad, we'll be back.  Until then, however, I'm taking the girls with me so that they do not have to witness what's coming."

"What's coming?" 

"Honestly, Augustus, if I didn't know better I'd say that you're going senile."  Elizabeth walked towards the door.  "You do realize that your son is going to show up at any moment, ready for your blood?" 

Catherine's eyes widened.  "Severus is coming?"  She looked both fearful and hopeful.  Jennifer, however, gave a squeal and bounced on her toes.

"Oh, I want to see Severus.  Please, Mum!  We never get to see him!"

"Who Sev-us?" asked little Trinity, her blue eyes turning towards her father.

"A bloody pain in the arse." 

"Augustus!"

"Oh, give over, Lizzie.  It's an accurate description of the whelp." 

Elizabeth dropped her suitcase and placed her hands over the toddler's ears.  "Don't say things like that!  You know she's bound to repeat what she hears!  Sometimes I wonder how you can complain about your son when you're every bit as bad as he is.  Cathy, Jenny, take Trinity downstairs."

"Are we going to take the car, Mother?"

"Are you sure it still works, Mum?  Jenny took Trinity's chubby little hand into her own.

"Of course it still works.  Go on and get inside.  I'll be there soon."

"Not before kissing your father good-bye, you don't."  Augustus glared at his wife as he walked past her and lowered himself onto one knee.  Three girls took turns giving their father a hug and a kiss.  "Be good for your mother and grandmother, and remind them what a great man I am."  He ignored the snort from his wife behind him.  "If you're very good, maybe I can talk your mother into letting me take you to the sweet shop when you get back."

"We'll be perfect, Father," said Catherine, very seriously. 

"We won't even pull pranks on Grandmother's cat," added Jennifer.

"Want lolly," stated Trinity with a very stubborn set to her chin.

"Ask your grandmother for a lolly when you get to her house.  She's bound to have some."

"That's enough, girls.  Go down to the car."  Elizabeth watched her daughters vanish down the hallway, her back ramrod straight. 

"Lizzie…"

"That law is an abomination.  They've taken bright, promising young men and women and reduced them to… to… breeding stock!"

"I know, Darling, but…"

"Then why did you do it?"  She rounded on him, her face suddenly very pale.  "If you agree with me, why did you commit the same sin that those stuck-up, self-centered, pureblood idiots have been doing for the past three months?  Is this the real you?  Do you think that muggleborns are beneath you, unworthy of being allowed to make their own choices?  Is that all I am to you, breeding stock?"

Augustus blinked.  "No!  I already had my heir!  I didn't need to marry a muggleborn to save my family line; I married you because I love you."

"So instead of supporting me in my attempts to abolish that damn law, when as a muggleborn who married a pureblood of her own, free will I have more credibility than anyone, you go behind my back and take advantage of the damn thing!"

"I was desperate!  The boy is being unreasonable!"

"Augustus, your son is almost forty.  Don't you think it's high time you stopped calling him 'the boy'?  And what of this poor girl you've shackled to him?  Did you know her parents are also working with the committee?  We have several Muggles who have joined us for the sake of their children.  And the girl happens to be very close to the Weasleys.  They have six sons, four of whom are still unattached.  Did you ever stop to think that she may be thinking of spending the rest of her life with one of them?"

"Waste a girl like that on the Weasleys?"  The words slipped out of his mouth before he could stop them, and from the way his wife's eyes flew open, he knew he had said something terribly wrong. 

"And at that, I take my leave of you.  If I manage to calm down, I'll send you an owl.  When your son arrives, do recall that you've got every bit of it coming to you."  The words were like ice as they fell from her lips.  Without another glance for her husband, Elizabeth Snape reclaimed her suitcase and stalked out of the bedchamber she shared with her husband.  Augustus had long since learned that it was foolishness to try and talk her out of a temper when she was in the midst of one.  She had done this before, although she had never taken all the children with her, only whichever one still needed nappies changed or was still breastfeeding.  He could usually count on her leaving Catherine to keep him company.  She did have a point, though.  The law was quite despicable, and Augustus didn't really agree with it.  However, his son was almost forty and he still refused to do his duty to the family by settling down and having children of his own.  He and his son were the last of the Snapes, and Augustus didn't have the heart to ask Elizabeth to have another child, not when having Trinity had nearly killed her. 

The law was quite vicious, really.  The Ministry of Magic had finally paid attention to the warnings of the Healers who had long since realized what was causing the dramatic rise in squib births and stillbirths among purebloods.  It was the same thing that was causing the steady decline of intelligence, magical power and attractiveness in the same group.  Too many generations of cousins marrying cousins to keep the bloodlines pure had wreaked havoc on the genetics of the Old Families.  Studies proved again and again that those established families who married Muggles or Muggleborns every now and again were more stable, more prolific and more powerful.  If the Old Families were going to be saved, they were going to have to start marrying Muggleborns and half-bloods themselves.

The problem was that Muggles didn't hold with such old-fashioned ideas as betrothals.  The Old Families still mapped out every aspect of their children's lives, even to the point of selecting their future spouses.  Muggles preferred to let their children forge their own paths and had proven unwilling to enter into betrothal contracts with the purebloods that had approached them. Some of the members of these Old Families had taken their troubles to Fudge, and somehow it had all culminated in The Marriage Law.  Under the new law any pureblood wizard or the head of a pureblood wizard family could petition for a betrothal contract binding a Muggleborn witch or wizard to them.  At first, surprisingly, it had been Muggleborn wizards who had been taken.  They had been included in the law for a sense of fairness, but no one had really thought that many families would want their precious daughters marrying outside of the Old Families.  Upon closer inspection, however, it had been found that many of these young wizards were already involved in romances with their future spouses, and the girls had begged their fathers to petition for them out of fear that some other family would steal them away.  It wasn't until the past few weeks that things had begun in earnest.

The most scandalous incident so far had been a bloody fist fight that had erupted between a young man named Marcus Flint and that middle child of Arthur Weasley.  Apparently young Weasley had gotten wind that Flint was going to petition for one Miss Penelope Clearwater the following day, so he swept his schooldays sweetheart off to Scotland immediately and married her straight away.  Flint had been near murderous upon finding out, but eventually calmed down enough to settle for his second choice, a young witch by the name of Silverton.  Rumor had it that the girl had gone into hysterics upon finding out that she was going to be forced to marry the boy and had attempted to run off to Australia.  Flint and his father had tracked her down and brought her back to their family home, and the Ministry did nothing to stop them.  The last picture of the couple in the papers had shown a quiet, subdued girl who wouldn't raise her eyes from the ground before her, let alone smile.

Parkinson had surprised everyone by claiming a young Muggleborn wizard by the name of Dean Thomas for his daughter.  Though Thomas was legally of age, he still had one year of school left, along with his future bride.  Augustus suspected it was Mrs. Parkinson's idea.  The boy was said to be quite the artist, so much so that Albus Dumbledore had commissioned him to create a painting for the school.  Devinia Parkinson was a great lover of the arts and would be thrilled should she manage to have a grandchild who could be the next Picasso.  The very next day the Thomases had sought out Elizabeth Snape and joined her efforts to have the law repealed.  Mr. Thomas was a rather wealthy banker who had married an heiress, and their funds combined with Lizzie's considerable allowance gave them plenty of gold with which to fund their campaign.

There were several others so far, but not as many as there could have been.  The Muggleborns weren't added to the list until they were of legal age, and the purebloods tended to avoid anyone over the age of twenty because they would have already become too headstrong and unyielding to be easily bullied into submission.  Upon attaining legal age the Muggleborn witch or wizard's name appeared on the list by magic, along with a file listing all their attributes and academic achievements.  Augustus, feeling desperate after yet another year of his son refusing to so much as open his letters, had gone to the Department of Family Affairs to view the list just the other day.  He had been thoroughly disappointed by the selection, at first, until the list of names there began to shift and move to make way for a new one.  He had requested the file and had been thrilled at what he found.  The girl was perfect!  Intelligent, brave and definitely on the side of good.  The sketch that had magically appeared in the file had shown a woman who was, if not a classic beauty, better than average in looks and possessing the kind of bone structure that would remain attractive throughout the years long after today's beauties had succumbed to the ravages of age.  He had signed the forms at once, stopped at a nearby pub for a couple of drinks and then headed home to tell his daughters a bed time story and join his wife for a rather enthusiastic bit of cuddling before falling to sleep.

He was still deep into his musings when a loud bang rang up from the bottom story of the house.  "FATHER!"  Augusts winced and sighed.  Speaking of stubborn children…

Solid, purposefully heavy footsteps sounded on the elegant, highly polished wood floors below.  Eventually they found their way to the stairwell and increased in volume as they drew nearer.  Augustus walked over to a chair by the large window in the bedchamber he shared with his wife and sat down, crossing one leg over the other in a practiced pose of composed unconcern.  He was purposefully studying his nails when he saw his son stalk into the room out of the corner of his eye.  "Severus, how good of you to come for a visit."

"And just what is the meaning of this?" the cold voice of his only heir snarled.  Augustus looked up to see Severus brandishing a roll of parchment in the Department of Family Affairs official silver-white. 

"It would appear to be a Ministry of Magic ordained betrothal contract.  I would have thought it was fairly simple to understand."

Severus face crooked into a nasty sort of grin.  The boy's entire appearance was quite off-putting.  What did he do to his hair to make it so blasted greasy?  His mother, Augustus' first wife, had been blessed with a mane of glorious ebony locks the texture of silk (when Augustus allowed himself to dwell on those years) and the Snapes had always been blessed with a healthy head of hair.  The nose, poor thing, had come from the Snapes, as had the eyes.  The thinness of body had been from his mother's family (the Snapes were rather massive in the chest, although tall, giving them the look of professional opera tenors).  Actually, if the boy would take better care of his hair and apply a few dental charms (no idea where those teeth came from) he wouldn't be too hard on the eyes. 

"Why yes, I believe it is a betrothal contract.  Now would you be so kind as to tell me why the devil you did this?!"

Augustus raised one perfectly shaped, ebony brow.  "I would think that obvious.  Thirty and unmarried is nothing unusual for a wizard, but nearing forty and single is something to be concerned about."

"I'M PERFECTLY HAPPY BEING NEARLY FORTY AND SINGLE!"

"But you have a duty to your family."

"DEVIL TAKE THIS BLOOD FAMILY!"

That hurt, it truly did, but Augustus didn't blame the boy.  He really had bungled thing with his son from the start.  He didn't blame the brat if he felt no drive to further the line.  "Severus, I know you're upset, and for good reason.  However, I have done what I felt was best for all parties concerned.  Even if you do not wish to become a father, surely you don't wish to remain all alone in life.  Take if from a happily married man; a wife is a wonderful thing to have."

"So you pair me up with her?  You do realize that she is one of my students?  A current student?"

"Yes, I do believe that was mentioned in the file.  Also mentioned was the fact that she's shattered every academic record, including those set by Tom Riddle, a.k.a. He Who Must Not Be Named and the prediction that she will be more powerful than even Albus Dumbledore once she's trained up properly.  Lucky I was there when her named popped up, really."

"I happen to know that her birthday isn't until September 19th.  There is no way that she can be considered of legal age.  This contract is illegal!"

"No, no, the contract is valid."  Augustus got up and walked over to the dresser, atop which was the file on his future daughter-in-law.  "It's all right here; something about a time-turner she was given during her third year.  Apparently the little dear signed up for every possible class, and rather than forcing her to shave her subject list back, they let her have a time turner so she could repeat hours.  Added about five weeks and three days to her age."  He chuckled richly.  "Reminds me of your mother, actually, although Desdemona was never quite that ambitious.  Pity the girl wasn't born a pureblood, or she would have been in Slytherin.  Of course, had that been the case, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

"She is the most annoying, the most irritating chit ever born!  And if you think that I will ever stoop so low as to touch that little bint…"

"Not touch her?"  Augustus pulled out the sketch and studied it closely.  "Why ever not?  Lovely little thing.  I certainly wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating biscuits."

"Yes, well it is an established fact that you are nothing but a dirty lecher."

"That's rather low, don't you think?"

"What else do you call a man who marries a woman younger than his own son?"  Severus mimicked the famous Snape brow arch and looked around.  "Speaking of which, where is the little tart?"

"Keep a civil tongue when speaking of your step-mother."  Augustus' voice was ever bit as cold as his son's could be, but he felt he should at least be honest.  "She's taken the girls and gone to her mother's.  She's not very happy with me at the moment."

Severus gave a confused frown.  "Girls?"

Augustus sighed and rolled his eyes.  "If you ever bothered to open the letters I sent you, you would know that you are a brother, to three adorable little girls."

His son gave him a wide eyed expression of shock.  "Merlin's Balls!  You're still procreating?"

"Quite spectacularly, actually.  You know, Lizzie and I are living proof that the reasons behind this law are valid ones.  Your mother and I had three children who didn't live past a month before you.  Lizzie and I never had a bit of trouble."

"I'm so very happy for you."  The sarcasm dripped like melted candle wax from his son's lips.

"Mind the cheek, whelp."  Augustus squared his shoulders.  "Yes, your step-mother is unhappy with me at the moment. She is leading the movement to have The Marriage Law abolished, you know.  She's rather upset at my course of actions."

"Really?  Who would have thought that a Hufflepuff would have developed such a high level of intelligence?  I shall have to remember to find a reason to award a point to her house when I return."

Augustus plowed on as though he had not been interrupted.  "But, I know my wife well enough to know that she'll eventually come around in the end.  Oh, she'll still insist the law is wrong, but she simply cannot stand to sleep alone."  A dreamy smile crossed his face. 

"That was more knowledge than I required of you." 

"Merlin's Nightcap!  Don't tell me you're still a virgin."

"NO I'M BLOODY WELL NOT!"

Augustus let out a sigh of relief.  "Thank goodness for that.  I was worried there for a moment."  A polite smile returned to his face.  "Well then, I best be off.  I've got an errant wife to coax back into them home and I know a gifted jeweler in Amsterdam who will be a great assistance.  Would you like me to pick up an engagement ring for your young lady while I'm there?"

"No I most certainly do not!"

"Quite right, of course.  Nothing less than the Snape family ring will do.  I'll pick up a ring for Lizzie to replace it, then.  Must hold to traditions, mustn't we."

"YOU AREN'T GOING ANY WH…" but it was too late.  Augustus gave a jaunty smile and a wave before disapparating from sight.

Severus growled and reached out blindly, closing his fingers around something on a nearby dresser and hurling it across the room.  The beautiful crystal perfume bottle shattered, drowning the room in the thick scent of jasmine and lilies.