Okay, just a note. This story is so AU it's not even funny. I know the characters may be a bit OOC, but think of it as dramatic license for a fanfic. I do hope you enjoy it anyway.

This story is going to have nothing from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The reasons should be obvious for those of you who have read it. I also feel compelled to point out that I am not JKR, nor is this story a product of anything but my desire to play in her universe for a while. I promise to leave it as neat as I found it. The characters belong to her.

Many thanks to my beta-reader, Vaughn, who has so generously offered to help me correct my stupid mistakes.

Thank you all for reading.


It was finished. The final battle had been won and all the fear, anguish, and suffering was over. Voldemort was dead, thanks to the efforts of a small, underappreciated group of people known as the Order of the Phoenix and the boy destined to lead them – Harry Potter.

Hermione looked over at her exhausted companions, smiling brilliantly despite herself. They were alive, Voldemort was gone, and the Death Eaters were being rounded up as they stood next to their leader's smoking remains. Ron was limping slightly due to a Slicing Hex he received on his left thigh from Avery. Harry looked shell-shocked and a bit blasted from the backlash of the Dark Lord's destruction, but came through it all surprisingly unharmed. She herself sported several minor lacerations, bruises, and what felt to be a broken rib from Lucius Malfoy's kick to the chest.

The three Gryffindors stumbled toward each other and met in a desperate hug. Each of them had feared for the others and all were relieved they survived. Hermione wept tears of joy at the fact that her best friends were alive and virtually unharmed. Harry had told them of the prophecy only days before the battle, convinced he was not going to survive. He'd been afraid they would react badly if they knew earlier. Instead of dragging them down, however, the possibility that Harry would die inspired them to work together better than they ever had. The result was a combined spell Hermione taught them an hour before Voldemort arrived.

The three students, backed by Dumbledore's Army, the Order of the Phoenix, most of the sixth and seventh year students, and the few Aurors who disobeyed Minister Fudge, fought their way through Voldemort's Death Eaters to the hill upon which he ensconced himself to view the battle. He was flanked by Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange and Severus Snape, who were prepared to defend their master to the death. Well, two of them were. Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and Neville deflected curses from the two fanatical Death Eaters while Harry and Voldemort took each other's measure. Snape watched carefully, waiting for the right time to reveal himself.

Bellatrix fell first, to Neville Longbottom, who finally took revenge for what she did to his parents. Ginny and Ron held Lucius Malfoy at bay, hoping for an opening to take the evil wizard out. They were surprised when a flash of green light struck him in the back and he crumpled to reveal an angry Draco Malfoy with a look on his face stating he hated his father more than them. Then there was no time to think as Voldemort's reinforcements arrived. It was at this point that Voldemort motioned to Snape.

"Take them out, Severus!"

Instead of leaping to curse the students as expected, Snape pulled off his hated mask and tossed it aside. With a lightning movement he was in formation with Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Voldemort screamed with rage and focused his energies on Severus, just as he had expected. The Slytherin professor put all his energies toward deflecting his former master's curses, knowing it was only a matter of time before he slipped. He hoped the three Gryffindors cast their spell before then. Voldemort yelled and a purple ray of light shot toward Snape. He was unable to raise his wand to block in time, and his life flashed before him as he realized his time had come. He hoped his sacrifice would not be in vain.

A golden shield interposed itself.

Draco and Ginny stood on either side of him, both having cast the Shielding Charm at the same time. There was no time for thought or thanks as the fight continued, but he began to think he might survive thanks to his godson and one of the least annoying Weasleys.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione pointed their wands at Voldemort and began to chant the spell. It had taken Hermione two sleepless nights to find it, not to mention multiple trips to the Restricted Section of the Library under Harry's invisibility cloak. She remembered reading something about a binding spell from the time of Merlin. It was designed to bind a wizard's magic so it would be impossible for him to use it. Another day had been spent modifying the spell to bind his spirit as well. In the end, Headmaster Dumbledore had pronounced it good, and gave Hermione full marks for her mastery of Charms.

"Exoro vergo noc nocens

Obtestor expedio a pugna

Expostulo victum suum animus

Quaeso refero hoc vita!"

A brilliant flash of light followed by screams from all over the battlefield marked the passing of one of the world's greatest dark wizards. Voldemort's Death Eaters dropped where they stood, Dark Marks burning with the death of their master. Hermione quickly found herself at Professor Snape's side, making sure he was okay and no one mistook him for one of the bad guys. He lay unconscious on the battlefield, but the scar that marred his arm for twenty years was gone. Only a light tracery of fleshy lines remained.

Cleaning up the battlefield took time. There were far too many casualties; far too many youthful bodies being carried to the Infirmary and the large room being used for a morgue. Only one professor died – Professor Gyrfon, this year's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher – but several students were also killed in the fight. Susan Bones, Cho Chang, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Terry Boot… and far too many others to think about. One month before graduation and the empty seats would no doubt haunt the survivors. They were alive, however, and very glad to be so. Harry Potter had fulfilled his destiny and hopefully would be able to lead a fairly normal life from now on. He had no illusions about his popularity. Now he would be The Boy Who Killed Voldemort, but it was worth it to be able to sleep at night or walk outside without fear.

Two weeks passed, and the students had returned to a fairly normal schedule. Headmaster Dumbledore called off DADA classes stating that anyone who survived the war should know plenty enough for their NEWTs. Potions had been cancelled for a few days while the Headmaster worked to get Severus Snape released from Azkaban. He finally managed to threaten, cajole, and just plain intimidate the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, into giving the former Death Eater a full pardon. Colin Creevy's picture of Snape fighting Voldemort on the front page of the Prophet probably helped. The Potions master returned, surly as ever, and the school prepared for finals and graduation.

There had been rumours for some time about the Ministry working to enact a new law that would improve the Wizarding world and help it recover from what was now officially recognized as a war. The students of Hogwarts remained blissfully unaware, however, as they attended the final classes of the year and took their end-of-year exams. It was to no one's surprise that Hermione Granger was awarded more NEWTs than any other student in the past 500 years. Severus Snape was slightly annoyed to have his record beat, but as he never took Arithmancy, it was only to be expected. He refused to admit he was impressed, however.

One week before graduation, Harry, Hermione, and Ron were seated in the Great Hall, celebrating the end of NEWTs and enjoying the respite before they were sent out into the real world. No one was surprised when Headmaster Dumbledore asked Harry to return in the fall as the next Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. He was thrilled at the chance. He had truly enjoyed teaching the other students for Dumbledore's Army and proved he had a knack for it with the wild success of the DA members at the final battle.

Ron, on the other hand, decided to get out of the fighting business entirely and scrap his plans for joining the Ministry as an Auror. He was disillusioned by their behaviour and realized he would not last very long without losing his infamous temper. He joined a professional Quidditch team instead. It was a dream come true. He was the back-up Keeper for the Chudley Cannons, and if things went well, would probably be first-string within the next two years.

Hermione was due to apprentice with Professor Flitwick for the next two years while attending the Merlin Institute for Higher Learning. She planned to major in Charms and Potions. The bushy-haired girl had expressed an interest in moving on someday to the study of Alchemy, which integrated both disciplines. Her graduate proposal was already outlined. She planned to find a treatment for victims of the Cruciatus Curse. She had a theory that involved the usage of both a charm and a potion. Hogwarts would continue to be her home for the next two years, and then it was up to Flitwick to determine if she took over for him when he retired.

Professor Snape was annoyed that the Gryffindor know-it-all was staying, but as she was without her two lackeys, he thought it might be tolerable. He had surprised himself by deciding to stay at Hogwarts and continue teaching Potions. Headmaster Dumbledore's decision to finance his private research might have helped persuade him, however. For almost twenty years, he dedicated all his free time to spying and doing things to appear to uphold Voldemort's cause. Now that the dark wizard was gone, Snape found himself with an inordinate amount of free time. The only catch was that he agreed to help Hermione with the Potions part of her curriculum. He would have been more annoyed if she were one of the dunderheads.

A slew of owls arrived that morning, bringing with it a startling amount of mail. A copy of the Daily Prophet landed near the Potions professor's plate, along with an official-looking scroll bearing the Ministry's seal. This did not bode well. Minister Fudge had wanted to throw him in Azkaban for years and was angry with Dumbledore for securing his release. Creevy's untimely picture actually did more for his cause than the headmaster's influence, since it was nearing election time and Fudge could ill afford to alienate the people feeling grateful for Voldemort's demise. He had been pardoned – fully for all past crimes – but did not receive any other recognition beyond that. Having to sit through the ceremony awarding the Order of Merlin to everyone else at the battle left a sour taste in his mouth, but a small voice told him he should be glad to be free. So what could the Ministry possibly want with him?

The Great Hall began to buzz with conversation as many of the students were agitated about something. He noticed groups gathering around copies of the Prophet and quickly skimmed the headlines to find out what was going on. It was not hard to spot.

Ministry Passes Marriage Act

In a surprising turn of events, the Wizengamot passed by a narrow margin the controversial Marriage Law requiring pure-blood witches and wizards to marry Muggle-borns. The law was created to solve a deficiency of viable, wizard-talented births in pure-blood families.

For several years, the Ministry of Magic has been involved in a study designed to verify the truth of several wizards' claims that the Wizarding world is on the brink of destruction. According to Barton Himmilcook, head researcher of St. Mungo's Magical Heredity Department, inbreeding between pure-bloods has diluted the blood of most Wizarding families. "If we continue down this path, we can expect the total extinction of wizardkind within the next 50 years…"

According to his study, the number of stillbirths and Squib births has tripled during the past decade. Muggle-born and half-blood couples are far more likely to produce viable magical offspring. Recent studies have also indicated a trend toward half-blood children possessing unusual magical gifts. According to St. Mungo's, the union between Muggle-born and pure-blood witches and wizards will rejuvenate our society and prevent further hereditary misfortune. Says Healer Andrea Norwick, "The downfall of Lord Voldemort, one of the most powerful wizards of this age, revealed the truth of his heritage – that of a Muggle and a witch. Harry Potter himself has also been identified as a half-blood wizard, born of a wizard and Muggle-born witch. How can we ignore such a powerful testament to Healer Himmilcook's conclusions?"

Ministry officials claim the Muggle-born/Pure-blood Marriage Act will revitalize the Wizarding world by an infusion of magically talented children. According to the law, couples under the Act will be required to produce no less than offspring within the period of the marriage. All marriages will be arranged by the Ministry based on a series of criteria determined by a team of specialists. Compatibility is a concern, but the Ministry asserts the couples chosen will have been carefully screened for personality and hereditary traits well-suited to a lifetime commitment.

Amelia Harcourt, celebrated war hero and senior member of the Wizengamot, had this to say. "While I find the idea of this law abhorrent, one cannot dispute the evidence. Without immediate action, the Wizarding world as we know it will cease to exist. I believe the witches and wizards affected by the act will come to understand its unfortunate necessity."

The law applies only to witches and wizards between 18 and 45 years of age who are unmarried and capable of having children. Scrolls bearing the identity of selected individuals are scheduled to go out Monday morning. Severe penalties await those unwilling to abide by the Wizengamot's decision. Wizards and witches electing to disobey the law will have their wands broken as they are expelled from the Wizarding world. It is expected few will take this route.

Thus far the reactions in the rest of the world have been mixed. The United States and its allies have unilaterally condemned the Ministry's actions, labeling it a "barbaric violation of the most basic of human rights." The American Department of Thaumaturgy has offered asylum to any wizard or witch refusing to obey the law. Several other countries have fallen behind the U.S., and the Ministry is currently working to halt any transport between the two nations.

Only time will tell if the Ministry will accomplish its goal of preserving wizardkind by the institution of this terrible decree. It is this reporter's hope those affected by the law will at least find some solace in the knowledge that their actions could literally save the Wizarding world.

Snape was stunned. He had heard rumours, of course, but had never thought the Ministry would actually be able to get the bloody thing passed. He was not amused. If only they had waited six more years. He would no longer be subject to it. He sighed. This cannot end well, he thought. An indignant shriek from the Gryffindor table caught his attention.

He glanced over and was startled to see Hermione Granger staring at him in disbelief. What the bloody hell… His face paled. She had a scroll in her hand. Like the one sitting next to him. From the Ministry.

Oh fuck.

He quickly grabbed the scroll and ripped open the seal. Dear Severus Snape… pleased to inform you… under the tenets of the Marriage Act… Hermione Jane Granger… to be your wife. Oh dear god.

He looked up. Their eyes met and he saw she was as pale as he felt. A wave of weakness washed over him and he gripped the bridge of his nose in misery. How could the Ministry pair him with a girl… no, woman, twenty years his junior? She deserved better, he thought. She was brilliant, talented, powerful, and had her whole life ahead of her. Why would they select a bitter, angry, former Death Eater as her husband? Our children would be amazing, whispered a traitorous voice. Of all the women he'd met over the years, she was the only one whose intellect and drive to learn matched his. Had she been even ten years older he would be sending a thank you note to the Ministry for their generosity. But this… she was far too young and innocent.

"SNAPE!"

Ah. It appeared young Ron Weasley had discovered his friend's fate. It was ironic he shared the boy's astonishment. This promised to be interesting. There was a wave of disturbance at the Gryffindor table and suddenly they were all glaring at him. He snorted. As if he had a choice. Bloody hell.

"Severus?"

"Yes, Headmaster?"

"I trust there is something we need to discuss?"

He sighed. "Yes, Headmaster."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled rather inappropriately, he thought. "Perhaps you and Miss Granger might come to my office after dinner, Severus."

Minerva's head whipped around. "No!" It appeared she suddenly understood her House's dissatisfaction.

"Perhaps Minerva might bring the gi… young woman, Headmaster. She is her head of house after all."

Dumbledore nodded. "I will see the three of you then."

Taking one final glance at the young woman who was now his fiancée, Snape stood up and swept out of the Hall. He needed a short time to compose himself. It was not often one's life changed in such a sudden manner.

Severus Snape was not alone in his thoughts.

When the Prophet arrived, Hermione thought it would be another issue praising Harry for defeating Voldemort and saving the Wizarding world from darkness. Never in a thousand years would she have expected to read about this so-called Marriage Law the idiots at the Ministry decided to inflict on them. Did they learn nothing from Voldemort and his bloody Death Eaters? This was just another way to limit the rights of Muggle-born witches and wizards.

Bastards.

"Oy, Hermione. What's with the scroll?"

Ron picked up the message bearing the seal of the Ministry. She grabbed it.

"None of your business, Ronald!" She had a good idea what it was. Opening it here was not an option.

He grabbed it back. "Is it another love letter from Vicky? Let's take a look, shall we?"

"No, Ron…" It was too late. He broke the seal on the scroll and unrolled it to see what it said. His face turned white and he dropped it. It was quickly back in her possession.

"What did it say, Ron?" Harry looked at his stunned friend curiously. He would not have been the one to grab and open the scroll, but now that the deed was done…

"It's from the Ministry. Isn't it?" Ginny was always a smart one. She nodded.

"Who are you…"

"…Going to marry? I'm not sure, Ginny."

Harry looked shocked. "Wha… what do you mean, going to marry?"

Hermione thrust the article at him. "It's all in there," she snarled. "The final insult to Muggle-born everywhere."

While Harry perused the article, Hermione gently unrolled the scroll that held her fate. She didn't want to leave the Wizarding world, but what if her betrothed was a Death Eater? Or worse? Her eyes skimmed the page until reaching the most important part.

We are pleased to inform you that under the tenets of the Muggle-born/Pure-blood Marriage Act, you have been selected to be the wife of one Severus Salazar Snape, Professor of Potions, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Nuptials are to take place within one week of the receipt of this missive. Rejection of the offer must be received in the Office of Muggle-born/Pure-blood Relations no later than twenty-four hours from the receipt of the contract; otherwise it will be assumed the offer is accepted. Rejection of the offer will result in a second selection by the Ministry office, which must be honored within the allotted week.

Per the Act, you will be required to produce one offspring within the first five years of marriage and two before the end of the contract. To assist you in this task, you and your spouse will be bound by a Fidelity Charm that will prevent sexual activities outside the marriage bed. If, by the end of five years you have produced no children, the marriage will be annulled and you will be required to take another pure-blood spouse. Birth control charms and potions will not be allowed after your graduation from Hogwarts…

Hermione could not help the shriek that tore through her at the thought of marrying the Potions master. She was stunned. Not only had the Ministry taken away her right to choose the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with, they had selected the most reviled professor at Hogwarts to fill the role. Her skin crawled at the idea of what she would be required to do within the week. Marry Snape.

"SNAPE!"

Hermione glanced up to see Ron gesture angrily at the letter. "Why the bloody hell would they put you with him? I'm a pure-blood. Why don't you marry me?"

Her gaze was drawn to the Head Table, where she noticed Professor Snape looking in their direction. "I can't, Ron. The law states I have to marry the person specified on this scroll or leave the Wizarding world forever."

"But Snape?"

She frowned. "I'm not exactly happy about it, Ronald. You think I want to marry Professor Snape?" Gasps could be heard from the other Gryffindors. Oh bloody hell.

After a brief flurry of conversation, the rest of the table knew Hermione's fate and as one, they turned to glare at the Potions master. She almost chuckled at the look on his face. He seemed as indignant as she. Hermione turned her attention back to her companions as he stood up to leave.

Dinner was over far too quickly and Hermione was unsurprised to see Professor McGonagall headed her way. She had a feeling it was time to face the music.

"Miss Granger? If you would please come with me. The headmaster would like to speak with you."

"Uh, I'll see you guys later." She turned to follow her head of house to see Dumbledore.

Severus Snape was already in the office with the headmaster when they arrived. His face looked pained momentarily when she entered. Great, she thought. My future husband despises me. This is going to be a bloody nightmare.

Albus Dumbledore watched the two young people with amusement. He figured Severus had more of a problem with this marriage than Hermione did. She was very adaptive and was probably used to the prejudice against Muggle-born. While she was not happy with the situation, he knew she would make the best of it. He was sure she realized her soon-to-be-former professor was a far better choice for her than many other wizards out there. Most pure-blood wizards expected their wives to stay home – a fate that would never appeal to Hermione. Severus would never ask such a thing of the woman sharing his life. He needed someone like her. They were both brilliant and driven, with a wide variety of interests. If only he could convince the two of them to give the marriage a fair chance.

One look at the two young people and he knew it would not be easy.

Ironically enough, in the end Professor Snape was a lot easier to convince than anyone could have anticipated. The Potions master was well aware of the dictates of the marriage law and knew the Ministry would not be willing to make an exception for a former Death Eater. Marrying Miss Granger was a fate far better than having to marry some "brainless twit", and as he was unwilling to snap his wand in a grand gesture of defiance or abandon his family's holdings by moving to America, it was either marry his soon to be former student or a completely random stranger.

Hermione, actually, was the difficult one.

After several hours of arguing, speculation, and downright refusal, the Head Girl was still unwilling to bind herself to Severus Snape for the rest of her life. It was the first time he regretted treating his students so badly. He knew she would not have hesitated for an instant had it been Lupin on the chopping block, but apparently even the thought of being forced to marry a complete stranger was better than her old Potions professor. He gripped his nose in annoyance.

Snape decided to interrupt the current tirade. "Miss Granger. Surely you understand that this is the best option for both of us. I'm not sure you understand the seriousness of your situation." He gazed at her sternly, trying to show her the truth in his eyes. "Most pure-blood men expect their wives to stay at home and do nothing but plan parties and keep themselves beautiful and worthy of their 'arm ornament' status. Narcissa Malfoy graduated near the top of her class at Hogwarts. Less than a year later, she was ensconced in Malfoy Manor, her greatest goal to become pregnant with the Malfoy heir. You are correct. Very few of the people on this list were active Death Eaters, but many were sympathizers to the cause and would probably love to take their revenge on Potter by doing something nefarious to his best friend. The best you can expect is to be a virtual slave for the rest of your life. The worst… I suggest you let your imagination roam free."

He got up and went over to kneel in front of the startled young woman. "I can't promise you flowers, romance, or true love, but I can protect you and make sure you have the freedom to follow your dreams. I will not stop you from going to university, nor will I prevent you from having a career afterward. I daresay I have enough wealth to hire someone to care for the children we are required to have, should you wish it, and I will provide you with anything you ask."

Hermione stared at him for a moment, her eyes seeking the truth in his. What she saw surprised her.

"The last thing I want is to be married to some woman, more than likely another former student, who doesn't have the capacity to carry on an intelligent conversation. I know I have belittled you and your friends for years, but it was necessary to the role I've played for the Order. I'm not saying I'm a nice man, Hermione, but I'm not the monster I seem to be either." He took her hand. "I will work tirelessly to get this law overturned so that you may be free to live your life however you wish, but until that time I will make sure you are free to achieve your goals. It would be an incalculable loss to the Wizarding world for you to leave or be forced to become a housewife. Please, I just need you to trust me."

She glanced at Dumbledore, who nodded encouragingly and then back at him. She knew he would not hurt her. He had spent seven years protecting her and her friends. She just was not sure she could deal with spending what could possibly be her life with him. Despite what he thought, the likelihood of the Marriage Law being overturned in a way that would free her to remarry was very slim. The commitment she would be required to make could possibly last a lifetime. She thought back to what she had seen of him during the past year.

For months they'd worked together on creating a potion that would weaken Voldemort's tenuous grasp on the material world. Snape had a theory that if they reduced his powers enough, he would be unable to exist outside his body and Harry could destroy him. At that point, it was their only hope, until Hermione remembered reading a story about Merlin the night Harry told them about the prophecy. Unbeknownst to Harry and Ron, Snape had been largely responsible for helping her find the spell and modify it. She knew they did not trust him and would probably have refused to use it if they knew he was involved. Pushing her doubts aside, she took Dumbledore at his word and trusted Snape. Voldemort was destroyed.

The sheer number of hours she had spent in his presence had shown her the other sides of the complex man that was her Potions professor. He was brilliant, which she knew, but also incredibly knowledgeable in every topic under the sun. They could talk for hours about something and not get bored. He challenged her in ways no one else ever had, and he was thrilled to have found someone to talk with that did not require constant lessoning. It was a good experience for them both.

But was it enough upon which to base a marriage? Hermione had always planned on marrying once and then only for love. She was a closet romantic with very old-fashioned views about the sanctity of marriage. She had even refused the obligatory pre-battle propositions from over half the men in Dumbledore's Army. Perhaps if Harry had asked… But she knew he respected her too much for a fling. The two of them walked into battle without the experience, but with an unspoken agreement that they would talk afterwards. Now this had to happen.

She was angry that she and Harry would never get a chance to find out if they were suited to each other. She had been attracted to him for some time, but it seemed only recently that he returned the favor. She got the impression it was a eureka moment that knocked him off his proverbial feet. She would have given a lot to be there.

She sighed. "Professor Snape. I… I appreciate your offer and will think about it. Would you mind if I talked with Headmaster Dumbledore for a few minutes before I make a decision?"

"Of course not, Miss Granger. This is not a choice I would expect you to make lightly." With a courtly kiss to her hand, he stood up and swept out of the room, robes billowing.

"To this day, I wonder how he does that."

"Severus has many secrets, Miss Granger, the least of which being the movement of his robes." The headmaster smiled benevolently at her. "Lemon drop?"

"Thank you, sir." Hermione paused to gather her thoughts. "You've known Professor Snape longer than anyone excepting Lucius Malfoy and Remus Lupin. You know him. I… I just don't know what to do, Headmaster. Its all so overwhelming and having to make this decision so quickly is not easy."

"I understand, Miss… Hermione. It is not a simple thing, to choose your life's path in such a short period of time. I believe the Ministry has erred severely in the method by which it has presented this law."

"The method? Headmaster, the entire concept is barbaric! How can they take away our rights to choose with whom we spend the rest of our lives? We either have to marry the first person selected or risk getting someone worse out of a random drawing. How can that be anything but inhumane?"

Dumbledore sighed. "I believe it is those very things that will cause the Ministry to change the law, my dear. But in all honesty, I do not believe it will be overturned."

Hermione stared at him, stunned. "Wha…what do you mean?" She had thought the same thing but it was a shock to hear the headmaster agree.

"The research is correct, Hermione. Our world is in grave danger due to the irrational prejudices perpetuated by pure-blood families for nearly 1000 years. There are more stillbirths now than viable young and many of them are Squibs. Filch is actually from a fairly influential pure-blood family who rejected him because he had no magic."

"Are you saying you support this… this exercise in enslavement?"

"Not at all, my dear. Or at least, not quite. I believe there were better ways to encourage pure-blood families to marry outside their limited gene pool, but I do agree something needs to be done." Hermione looked at him, horrified. "Hermione, do not think that because I think we need to do something about our situation means I support the Marriage Law. In all honestly, I think it will do more harm than good. The Ministry fails to understand that many Muggle-born will find returning to the Muggle world far preferable to being forced to marry a stranger. Far too many good witches and wizards will be lost to us and the Ministry will be the cause."

"It's an option, Headmaster, but one I would prefer not to take. I'll move to America first. At least they have the intelligence to condemn this law and offer succor to anyone fleeing it."

"Child, I would like to ask you to reconsider."

"What?"

"Please. Hear me out." He studied her carefully and then continued. "What I ask, Hermione, is not for me, the Wizarding world, or anyone else. It is quite simply for the benefit of a single man. Severus Snape. Now do not interrupt. I know he has treated you and your friends badly for many years, but much of that was due to his position as a Death Eater. The rest may be attributed to his unhappy youth and even worse adulthood. All I have ever wanted for Severus is for him to find penance for the mistakes of his youth and happiness for the rest of his life. He is a hard man to understand. Bitter, angry, and constantly struggling with the darkness in his soul. But more than that, he is an honorable man with an incredible intellect, curiosity, and passion for knowledge that I have seen in only one other person in all my years at Hogwarts." He met her eyes. "You are that person. The Ministry created a method by which wizards and witches affected by the law might be paired with someone compatible both physically and mentally. They are looking to encourage procreation, not extermination. I managed to glance at the results of your and Severus' examination and was rather startled to find the two of you eminently compatible."

"You think I should go through with it."

"I simply think you should consider your choices carefully and try not to let the past get in the way of the future."

"He hates me."

"No he doesn't, my dear. He's actually always been rather proud of your accomplishments. Admittedly, he wishes you'd been sorted into Slytherin, but you have surprised him along with the rest of us with the things you've done. He will take care of you and make sure you have the chance to do whatever you want. Even moving to America will not guarantee that."

"Why are you so intent on this?"

"You more than anyone understand him, Hermione, and more than that, you appreciate him. Severus may not show how it affects him, but he is far more comfortable around you than anyone else I've seen him with. He trusts you and that should count for a lot. I've always wanted to see him happy with someone who knows him for who he is and is able to see past the act to the man beneath. You have that capability. He trusts you enough to show you, I think, his true self. It will not be easy, but then you've always thrived on challenges."

"I…"

"Give him a chance, Hermione. I promise you that if things do not work out, I will aid you in any way I can to make sure you are taken care of should you decide to leave."

Hermione focused inward and thought. If she were honest with herself, she would have to admit Severus Snape met many of the requirements for her dream man. As much as she found Harry attractive, there would always be something missing. She was an intellectual and longed for someone to share that part of her life with. It was simply not possible to get that from friends. Once she got into college, she was sure she would meet some people with similar propensities for study. But having a husband that she could chat with over breakfast about anything. That was something to be dreamed of. She also had to secretly admit she had always found the Potions master a bit attractive. He was not classically handsome like Professor Lockhart, but he had striking features accented by the tall, dark and brooding look found in modern fiction. He was mysterious, and his voice could send chills down her spine like no other. She wondered what it would be like to have him whisper to her while they carried out their marital duties. She shivered.

If he was at all like what he seemed to be – not the evil bastard professor, but the snarky and brilliant man she worked with earlier this year – she knew she could be very happy with him indeed.

Perhaps she should give him a chance.

"I'd like to speak with him, sir. Before I make up my mind."

He beamed. "Of course you would, my dear. I'll send him in. I assume you wish this to be a private conversation?"

"Please."

The headmaster left and moments later Professor Snape walked into the room, robes still billowing. She took the opportunity to study him carefully and silently admitted he was not too bad to look at, nor did she think it would be a bad thing to wake up to in the morning. She blushed at the thought.

"You wished to speak with me, Miss Granger?"

"Hermione."

"Very well. You wished to speak with me… Hermione?" Hearing her name spoken with his silky voice was like a caress to her soul.

"Uh… yes. I was, uh, hoping we could talk about this entire marriage thing."

His eyebrow arched as he looked at her with amusement. "Please. Enlighten me."

"Uh…" Why did she always let him intimidate her? She was a Gryffindor, damn it! "Professor…"

"Severus."

"Uh, right. Severus. So, what do you want out of this?"

He looked surprised. "In all honesty, Hermione, I would prefer not to go through with 'this' at all. However, seeing as that is not an option, I would like to bind myself to someone I can stand for more than a few hours at a time. Someone who is capable of intelligent thought but will not be constantly leeching on me and disrupting my research. It would be advantageous to find someone who could help me, but the likelihood of that is very slim. I am a man, therefore I would like to be with someone at least moderately attractive, and it would be ideal to find someone who thought me so. I do not want someone who will not be a good mother to our children, but I would prefer to not go over the required number. And most important of all, I would like to be with someone I can care for and who can care for me in return. Love would be nice but highly unrealistic."

One of the things Hermione noticed about his answer was that it was largely self-depreciating. It was obvious to her that he did not think anyone could fit those criteria. He could probably fall for someone like the ideal he described, but he found it unlikely that same woman would fall for him in return. Instinctually, Hermione knew it would not take much for her to come to care for him. Perhaps to the point of love.

She looked him in the eyes. "Final question. Do you think I could meet your expectations?"

Snape was silent for a moment as he considered. While it was true that she had annoyed him for seven years as his student, it was a pleasant sort of annoyance brought about by the frustration of dealing with a brilliant student surrounded by dunderheads. She had matured over the past two years into a beautiful and poised young woman with the potential to accomplish anything. She was like him – brilliant, curious, and thirsty for knowledge – without the temptation to fall into darkness for the answers. His biggest problem was the idea of this angelic creature binding herself to him for what could be the rest of her life. But would she be better off with someone else, he wondered. Far too many pure-bloods would be proud of her accomplishments at Hogwarts, but threatened by her intellect and knowledge. They would stifle her, expecting that she would settle down and be the "proper" wife. The vision of Narcissa on her wedding day flashed through his mind. It should have been the happiest day of her life. Instead, his cousin spent it weeping because she knew the wedding was a herald to the end of her dreams. That decided him.

He returned her gaze. "Yes. I do."

She seemed surprised.

Before she could respond, he bowed gallantly and took her hand. Kneeling before her for the second time that day, he murmured in a soft velvety voice, "I would… be honored, Hermione Jane Granger, to have you as my wife. I promise I will care for you as you deserve, but will not prevent you from achieving your dreams. I hope we can build a… satisfactory relationship for as long as necessary. Will you marry me?"

She gave him a shy smile. "It would be my pleasure, Severus."

The wedding was a simple affair by pure-blood standards – her family and friends, the staff, and the Ministry witness. Draco Malfoy stood for Severus while Ginny Weasley was Hermione's maid of honor. It took place in the Great Hall, which had been gleefully decorated by Professor Flitwick in honor of his favorite student. It was over quickly, followed by a small, intimate dinner between the newly married couple and their guests. The wedding night was spent in Paris, courtesy of Albus Dumbledore.

It was a night for both of them to remember.