The Laws of Love
Hermione Granger sighed in relief as she shut the carriage door behind her. The cold February wind howled outside as she began the last leg of her trip to Hogwarts. She settled back in her seat and thought back to the last time that she'd been at the school six years ago.
Graduation was a rather solemn event for her class. The war had been over only two weeks, and the entire Wizarding Community was still mourning the loss of hundreds of witches and wizards. Most had been Order members. She, Harry, and Ron had made it thorough with their lives, but each had been changed forever.
Harry had destroyed Voldemort single-handedly; literally, as he lost a hand in the battle. Though Hermione's physical injuries faded away with time, the emotional wounds would never heal. She saw her parents tortured in front of her, then had her virginity savagely stolen by a group of mask wearing Death Eaters. She had to Obliviate her parents so that they could move on with their lives. Her mum still had nightmares though.
But no matter how bad her experience had been, Hermione's loss in her mind could never equal Ron's. Thanks to a vicious hex by Bellatrix LeStrange, the youngest Weasley brother would never see out of his right eye again. But that had been the least of his worries. He'd lost his parents and three of his siblings, Bill, Percy, and Ginny along with his girlfriend, Lavender Brown.
The three went their separate ways after Graduation. Hermione went on to University and earned a Master of Transfiguration. Harry was happily accepted into the Auror's academy, although now that Voldemort was gone, work was slow. Ron had traveled for a few years, but finally ended up working for Fred and George at their joke shop in Diagon Alley.
The owls between the old friends were few and far between, but they managed to keep up with each other somewhat.
The carriage stopped in front of the castle, and when Hermione saw the two men waiting to greet her, she threw open the door and ran to them.
She couldn't stop the tears as she embraced her two best friends that she hadn't seen in six years.
Ron was no longer the skinny, gangly one of the group. The exotic foods from his travels abroad had been able to do what Molly's cooking hadn't. Fortunately for him, the extra weight was distributed pretty evenly around his body, but he did have a slight pouch that made Hermione want to rub his belly. Today, he was wearing a black eye-patch that made him look like a dashing pirate.
Harry was now the spitting image of his father, except of course, for his eyes. Those vivid green orbs were now empty and devoid of the defiant glint they'd held through his school days. His messy black hair still refused to lie flat, and he looked at her from behind the same spectacles that she'd given him as a graduation present. He was taller, though not as tall as Ron, and had filled out a lot through his chest and shoulders.
He held up his new hand for her to inspect, and how real it looked and felt astonished Hermione. Although his hand had quickly turned ice-cold in the February weather, and it occurred to her that holding his hand was like holding that of a cadaver's.
"What are you two doing here?" she demanded with the biggest smile she'd had in years.
"Dumbledore asked us here. Charlie, Fred, and George are here too," Ron told her, smiling back.
"It's very suspicious," Harry muttered, his eyes haunted as he gazed across the lawn.
Hermione pulled them both into another hug.
"You have no idea how much I've missed you," she said.
Harry handed her his handkerchief, and she hastily wiped the tears from her face before they froze.
"Let's get inside. I'm hungry," Ron complained, leading the way to the door.
Hermione laughed and turned to Harry. "Some things never change," and she was relieved to see him smile.
Albus Dumbledore looked exactly as she had remembered him when he met them in the Entrance Hall. His long white beard nearly touched the floor. His bright blue eyes twinkled at her from behind half-moon spectacles and shooting stars shimmered all over his purple robes.
He greeted them warmly, and ushered them into the Great Hall for dinner.
Soon they were seated at the Head Table eating the most delicious feast they'd had in a long time.
Ron sighed in pure bliss.
"I think these feasts are what I miss most about Hogwarts," he said, earning a laugh from several staff members.
Hermione nodded absently but was preoccupied by staring at the current students.
The four house tables looked pitifully empty of students. There were twenty-two Ravenclaws, thirty-one Gyffindors, forty-seven Hufflepuffs, and thirteen Slytherins. It was Friday evening, and it wasn't even a Hogsmeade Weekend. Where were all of the students?
"Headmaster?" Hermione asked hesitantly.
"Please, call me Albus," he instructed.
"Albus, where are the rest of the students? Did they eat earlier?"
Harry, Ron, Fred, and George looked down at the student tables noticing how empty they were for the first time.
The teachers at the table went quiet and still.
The twinkle left the Headmasters' eyes as he said, "All are here and accounted for."
"Why are there so few?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore sighed heavily.
"Many children were killed during the war. Several lost parents, and were sent away to live with relatives in other countries. Whole Wizarding families fled before the war even began. But the most frightening thing is that seventy-five percent of Wizarding children born in the last ten to fifteen years have turned out to be squibs. "
They gasped, and surveyed the small group of children with rising dread.
"Most here are muggle-born, or have a muggle or muggle-born parent. It's why there are so few Slytherins. Apparently this rise in squibs can be linked back to too much intermarrying between purebloods," he continued.
"That's terrible! I had no idea things had gotten so bad," Hermione said.
She opened her mouth to ask another question, but Albus raised a hand to silence her.
"We have much to discuss, but we will do so later in my office where we will not be overheard," he said, giving her a significant look.
She nodded, and turned back to her meal. However her gaze kept drifting to the students and she found that her appetite had deserted her.
Her gaze moved to the staff. They looked old. All of them. Despite the warm smiles they sent her way, the weariness and sadness in their eyes made her want to cry. Her gaze drifted to the empty seat where the Potion's Master usually sat. She looked questioningly at Dumbledore who just shook his head and said, "Later."
Hermione, Harry, Ron, Fred, George, and Charlie were seated comfortably in Dumbledore's office a little while later.
The headmaster paced in front of them
"Normally, I'd offer lemon drops, but I think its best we got down to business. Our latest Minister of Magic is under a lot of pressure to get to the bottom of this low birth rate of wizards and witches. Studies have been done, and it has been proven that the intermarrying of purebloods is the cause. So, the Minister has come to a solution. Monday's Daily Prophet will announce the new Marriage Law."
The group listened in quiet fascination.
"What is the Marriage Law?" Hermione asked, her dinner threatening to make a return appearance.
"You'll read all of the fine print in Monday's Daily Prophet, but it is basically a new law stating that unmarried muggle-borns, and witches and wizards with a muggle or muggle-born parent that are of child-bearing age will be subject to marriage contracts by pureblood witches and wizards."
Hermione leapt to her feet.
"That's absurd! They can't force us to get married!"
Dumbledore looked at her sadly, not at all surprised at her outburst.
"No, they can't, Miss Granger. You can leave Britain, and not be subjected to the law. But if you stay, I'm afraid you'll have no choice."
"I'll leave if I have to," Harry said, stubbornly.
Dumbledore sighed again, and looked at them, imploringly.
"I can't stop you from leaving, and I won't hold it against you if you chose to do so. But you are my last hope to save this school."
"What can we possibly do?" Fred asked.
Dumbledore suddenly looked all of his one hundred and sixty years.
"My staff is loyal, but they're tired and old. They want to retire, spend their golden years traveling and being with their families. They won't leave as long as I need them, but it pains me to see them in such a state. I need teachers to keep this school open, and I need students to attend."
"Us? Teach? What on Earth would we teach?" George asked with a snort.
"You and Fred were excellent in charms, you received O's in your OWLs for them," Dumbledore reminded him.
"Hermione, as a Master of Transfiguration you could do those classes, along with Ancient Runes and Arithmancy," he continued.
"That's an awful lot," she said, tiredly.
He chuckled, dryly.
"You didn't think so when you were a student here. Anyway, there are so few students, you'd only have a couple of classes of each," he pointed out.
Hermione silently cursed him as she felt the rise of adrenaline that followed the academic challenge.
"Harry's already had experience as a Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, and now as an Auror I can't think of anyone else more qualified for the position."
Harry looked away, but didn't say anything.
"What about me? I wasn't good at anything," Ron said, sullenly.
"I need you to replace Madam Hooch. Teach the first years how to fly a broomstick. There aren't enough interested students for four quidditch teams, but I bet you could get two or three teams. It would definitely help morale. As of now, they don't really have anything extracurricular," Dumbledore said with a sigh.
"Yeah, I could do that," he said, casually, but Hermione could tell he was pleased with the idea.
She looked over at Charlie.
"I've already accepted the Care of Magical Creatures post," he said, quietly.
The group was seized with pain as they remembered the beloved groundskeeper and Care of Magical Creatures Professor Hagrid, who had been among those who had not survived the war.
The Headmaster cleared his throat.
"I've invited you all to stay for the weekend, please take some time to consider what you want to do. Talk to the students and Professors. Feel free to ask them anything-"
"I don't need time, and I don't need to ask any questions. I'm leaving. I refuse to jump through any more Ministry hoops. I've done enough of that over the years," Harry yelled, jumping to his feet.
The room was silent as they all stared at Harry.
"I killed Voldemort. Haven't I done enough for this sorry place?"
"Harry!" Hermione said, disapprovingly.
Dumbledore raised his hands, stopping the argument before it could start.
"If that is your choice Harry, then so be it. However, before I accept your flat refusal, I want you to consider how your life might have gone if there had been no Hogwarts."
Harry paled and sat back down.
Hermione's heart went out to him. She knew he was remembering his time with his muggle relatives. They'd hated him, and without Hogwarts, his life would have been very miserable indeed.
After Harry promised to give it more thought, the group turned in for the night.
Hermione tossed and turned for hours in her guestroom, her mind whirling.
Being back at school brought so many memories to the surface. Good and bad. She shuddered as she remembered the night of the raid on her house. She knew she was lucky that she and her parents had made it through alive, but it still haunted her.
For the past six years at university, Hermione had resisted all efforts of anything more than casual friendship. And those few who had made it through her defenses had been girls. She never dated. She was too scared of being raped again to get close to any guy.
Harry and Ron were different, they were like brothers to her.
She sighed and thought about what Dumbledore had said to Harry.
What would life have been like without Hogwarts? Better? Worse? She couldn't say. No one could possibly know for sure.
The knot in her stomach tightened.
What had happened to her was awful, but not having magic? She really didn't think there could be anything worse than that.
Those kids deserved the chance to go to Hogwarts, but how long could Dumbledore keep the school open?
She thought about herself as an actual Hogwarts Professor and smiled. She'd always dreamt of coming back here to teach one day. But she had thought it would be when she was old, and had done everything else she'd wanted to do with her life. Unfortunately, after the war, she no longer had the desire to do the things she'd planned.
Teaching would suit her perfectly; there was no doubt about that. However, if she stayed, it meant she'd have to be married. She'd have to allow a man close to her, and probably even have a child or two.
The logical part of her mind took over as she considered potential husbands.
He'd have to be a pureblood.
That disqualified Harry. Ron, Fred, George, and Charlie were pretty much the only ones that she'd consider. She wrinkled her nose. Sure she trusted them, and she knew they'd be kind and respectful to her, but she still cringed inside at the thought of going to bed with any of them.
At three am, Hermione gave up trying to sleep and got out of bed. She pulled on a bathrobe, and stuck her wand in the pocket.
Her feet carried her automatically to the dungeons. To Him.
Professor Snape had been a hero to her since that night over six years ago. She and her parents would certainly have died had he not intervened. Unfortunately, his saving her and her family had caused him to reveal himself as a traitor to the Death Eaters, and he'd had to pay the price.
She'd heard he was injured, but had never had the chance to see him or thank him afterwards. The owl that she'd sent him when she'd moved into her University dorm had been sent back unopened. Dumbledore had assured her that Snape would be fine and that after a short sabbatical he'd be teaching again.
Earlier in the Headmaster's office, he hadn't mentioned anything about Snape leaving Hogwarts, so she assumed that he would continue on as the Potion's Master.
She made her way to his office, and was pleased to see the soft glow of fire light under his door.
She raised her hand and knocked softly.
"You may enter."
His voice was a little raspier than she had remembered, and it didn't seem to hold the anger that it once had.
She took a breath, and then pushed open the door.
He was slumped in his chair, hidden in the shadows cast by the glow of the fire in the grate.
"I was wondering how long you'd be able to stay away," he commented before taking a sip from the goblet in his hand.
Hermione stood there, staring at his shadowed form, millions of questions filling her mind.
Hesitantly, she made her way into the room, closing the door behind her.
His glittering black eyes followed her every movement as she made her way toward him.
She stopped a few feet in front of him.
"Why?" she asked him in a hoarse whisper.
His soft laughter at her question was devoid of any real humor.
"Why what, Miss Granger? Why did I think you'd come down here? Why did I save you? Why did I not read your letter? Why am I still here teaching? Or why am I not leaving with the others?"
Hermione felt the corner of her mouth twitch at his sardonic questions.
"Actually I was wondering why you were sitting in the dark, but since you brought it up…" she trailed off with a smirk.
With a wave of his wand several candles around the room flickered to life, bathing his face in their warm light. His eyes refused to meet hers as he pulled his long hair back from his face and tilted his head so that she could better see him.
Several jagged white scars covered the left side of his face, and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out when she saw the lump of flesh on the side of his head that used to be an ear.
A tear slipped out of one of her eyes, and he immediately extinguished the candles when he saw it.
"That is why I sit in the shadows," he said, his voice thick.
Hermione just stood there, silent tears running down her face.
"You've gotten your look at the ugly monster, you can go now," he said waving his hand in dismissal.
"You're not an ugly monster," she cried angrily.
He didn't say anything.
Her legs carried her over to him almost of their own volition, and she sat herself in his lap.
"Shh," she whispered touching a finger to his lips to silence him.
She quickly drew her wand out of her pocket and re-lit the candles before putting it back.
He held still, watching her warily as her hands moved over the harsh bumps and lines of the disfigured half of his face.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered through her tears.
His eyes met hers again and he grabbed her hands with his.
"No, I'm sorry. I messed up. I should have… What happened to you is far worse than what happened to me," he said solemnly.
Her gentle tears turned into harsh sobs, and she clung to him, burying her face in the front of his robes.
Professor Severus Snape sighed in resignation and then awkwardly started patting the crying woman's back. He scowled, wanting to push her away. People didn't touch him, they didn't even like looking or talking to him much less sitting in his lap and crying their hearts out. He was not a comforter. He was one of the reasons people needed comfort.
It was the memory that had haunted him almost constantly for the past six years that kept him from throwing her out of his office.
She was barely eighteen that Christmas Eve. He remembered the shock and nausea that almost overpowered him as he realized that the Grangers were who were to be attacked that night. He hadn't had the time to warn anyone.
As he stared through the window at Hermione and her parents sitting down to dinner, he knew deep down that his days as a double agent were over. Standing by and watching the torture and murder of nameless muggles and muggle-borns had always left him feeling very ill, but it had been something he could endure for the greater good. But this wasn't just some nameless muggle-born. This was Hermione Granger, and even though Severus had never really cared for the girl he knew that she would be essential in winning the war. The Order couldn't afford to lose her. He wouldn't let that happen.
As his fellow Death Eaters went to cover the exits and prepare for the attack, Severus was trying to work out an escape plan.
Everything happened too fast. He pulled the portkey out of his pocket, ready to grab the Grangers and get out, but the family was almost immediately separated from each other, and he knew he'd not be able to touch all of them at the same time.
He'd always thought of himself as being a clever and patient man, he'd simply wait until the perfect opportunity. But when one of the Death Eaters suddenly ripped the dress off of Hermione Granger, something deep inside him snapped. All rational thought flew from his mind and he jumped on the Death Eater holding her down.
Next thing he knew, he was placed under the body bind curse, and forced to watch as no less than five Death Eaters took their turn with her. She fought at first, but finally realized it was useless and quit struggling. Her eyes turned vacant and she stared off into the distance, not even flinching as her body was so roughly used. It was those vacant eyes that had haunted him so much in the following years.
The better part of an hour passed before she finally quieted. Her sobs had slowly become snores.
Snape didn't know where her bedroom was. After Albus informed him that she would be coming almost a week ago, he had stopped listening. The next week had been spent preparing himself for her arrival. In other words, he drank a lot. Liquid courage, but he never possessed much of that particular Gryffindor quality.
Sighing in annoyance, he got to his feet and grimaced as the muscles in his back strained at her weight in his arms. He carried her to his private rooms behind his office.
He laid her down on a sofa in his sitting room and threw a blanket over her.
This was it. The extent of his graciousness.
He went to bed then, and didn't spare his unwanted visitor another thought.
Hermione sat up and blinked groggily at the livid Professor Snape standing over her.
His long black hair was hiding the scarred half of his face, and the one glittering black eye she could see was glaring at her furiously.
"What?" she demanded, annoyed.
He was taken aback at her lack of fear of him and scowled.
"I allowed you liberties last night because I felt I owed you something. I no longer feel that way and you are no longer welcome in my rooms or office. I was hoping you'd be gone when I awoke this morning, but as it is nearly lunchtime I can see that that isn't happening."
His voice was calm and menacing, and Hermione shivered at the coldness that saturated it.
"My apologies, Professor. I won't trouble you again," she said, getting to her feet and looking around for a way out of the room.
He pointed to a door on the far wall.
"I don't know what is you think you're doing here at Hogwarts, but it would be best if you'd just leave," he said, glaring at her.
Hermione whirled around to face him, hands on her hips.
"You don't know why I'm here? Albus didn't tell you?" she asked feeling her lips twitch, but was able to keep the smirk off of her face.
His eyes widened at the use of the Headmaster's first name, and he shook his head.
"He's offered me a teaching job," she said, enjoying the way his mouth fell open in shock.
"Along with Harry, Ron, Fred, George, and Charlie."
Her smugness was beyond irritating.
"I believe you were on you're way out the door," he said, through gritted teeth.
She nodded and went to the door, hesitating with her hand on the knob.
"Thank you, for last night. I really needed it."
Hermione quickly left before he could respond.
The weekend passed pleasantly in the company of her old friends and teachers. In the end, each of them decided to stay and teach. Surprisingly, it had been Harry who agreed first, despite his immediate refusal the other night. The twins would take turns running the shop and teaching charms, and Ron was just glad to have something to do that he enjoyed.
Hermione had asked the Headmaster to meet privately to discuss her decision.
They met in his office on Sunday before dinner. It was obvious that he was worried, and Hermione knew why. This plan of his relied more on her acquiesces than any of the rest of them. She was the only one who was a Master of a subject, and therefore qualified to teach it. She could already see herself helping the others with their lesson plans and grading.
Her lips twitched.
It would be just like they were students again. Dumbledore would rely on her to make sure that everyone did his job. And while the task seemed a bit daunting, she couldn't help the rush of excitement that came with a new academic challenge.
"Have you made your decision, Miss Granger?" he asked, without preamble.
"The laws say that you must have two Masters on your staff for the school to remain open. Professors' Snape and McGonagall have always been the two that fit that requirement. If I accept and Minerva retires, will Snape stay on or do you have another Master coming?" she asked.
"I'm searching for a Potion's Master to replace Severus, but I haven't had much luck. There is a very promising student in an overseas university, but she won't have completed her training for another year and, as you can imagine, other interested schools have already approached her as well."
Hermione nodded grimly.
"She'll have her pick of schools, and with this stupid new law we can almost guarantee the she'll not pick Hogwarts."
Dumbledore gave her a small smile.
"A lot can happen in a year. In answer to your question, Severus has promised to stay on until I can find a replacement, however long that might take."
Hermione didn't really know what Dumbledore had done to deserve such unwavering loyalty from a man like Snape, but it must have been something huge.
"I want to stay and teach. It's been a dream of mine to someday be a professor here. If only we didn't have to worry about this law."
Albus remained quiet, watching her intently.
She looked at the portraits of past Headmasters who were unabashedly hanging on her every word.
She took a deep breath.
"I'll do it. I'll stay as long as you need me to, but on one condition…"
"I can't change the law for you," he said, bluntly.
"I know you can't, but if I end up having to marry someone who won't let me teach, then I can't stay can I? If you can find a way to keep me here, then I'll stay. If you can't, I'm leaving the country."
A smile slowly spread across the old wizard's face.
"I think that can be done."
End Chapter 1
A/N: Special thanks to my new beta, K.T. I'd be nowhere without you!
About 'Dragon of Hogwarts': It has not been abandoned. I've had to deal with some hard things in my life these past few months, and I'm sorry, but I'm just blocked on that story right now. Laws of Love is helping me get over this writer's block, and I hope to have another Dragon update within the month.