It would be nice if I owned this, but I don't.

Many thanks to Julia for working her magic on this chapter. Thanks also to others who shall be named later.


August 7th, 1999
The Daily Prophet
Society Page

This season's most sought after invitation is one that can't be had in exchange for money or influence. It doesn't matter if you are the most powerful society maven or the wealthiest wizard in England, if you aren't a member or ally of the Order of the Phoenix, you won't get to attend the Claiming ceremony being held today in Ottery St. Catchpole.

The wizarding world was caught off guard three weeks ago when the announcement was made that Professor Severus Snape of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was contracting to Claim Hermione Jane Granger, formerly of London.

In a less eventful year, the idea of a teacher Claiming a young woman who was his student a little more than the year before would have been food for scandal. In the aftermath of the Battle of Malfoy Manor and the downfall of the Dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort, it is hailed as an alliance between two brilliant war heroes.

According to Narcissa Malfoy, spokeswoman for the couple, they worked together as members of the Order of the Phoenix, developing a revolutionary new treatment for the after effects of the Cruciatus Curse. This led to another partnership in the creation of the Happy-Sleepy potion, which enabled the Order of the Phoenix to capture Lord Voldemort. Madam Malfoy reports that the two have realized that they work well together and would like to explore a more personal relationship.

This reporter would be remiss if she did not mention that the Virgo Curato, the rarest of all healing potions, was used during the Battle of Malfoy Manor. Because The Daily Prophet prides itself on being a family oriented publication, we will not discuss how the Virgo Curato is made. However, there is speculation that the relationship between Professor Snape and his former student may have already gone beyond the hand-holding stage.

The ceremony is to be held in the garden at the Burrow, home of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Weasley. Miss Granger has resided with the Weasley family since the murder of her parents by Death Eaters in 1997. She is currently a student in the Potions program at Avalon College in the United States and anticipates completion of her training in 2003.

According to Madam Malfoy, Miss Granger will be wearing a Madam Malkin creation. The reception will feature Mrs. Weasley's homemade favorites and family friends will provide music for dancing.

Standing with Professor Snape as the guarantors of the contract are Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy of Wiltshire. Miss Granger will be escorted by Arthur and Molly Weasley who will stand as her guarantors.

The Daily Prophet joins with all of wizarding Britain in congratulating Professor Severus Snape and Miss Hermione Granger on their Claiming. After their distinguished service to our nation, we wish them well.


Hermione

"You have to put the warming charm on the bowl to keep the chili cheese dip from turning into a solid lump," I explain to Ginny, as she cuts the block of processed cheese into chunks. I pour in two cans of chili without beans into the cauldron and do a quick heating charm. "Believe me, if you're living in the Hall of Residence for the Mediwizardry students, bring out this dip and two bags of tacos and you'll be a hit."

"I've got the tacos, potato crisps, and the onion dip, plus six bags of the jumbo prawns," hollers Harry, hurrying in the door, brandishing Sainsbury's shopping bags.

"Excellent," calls Ginny. "We're making the chili cheese dip.

Harry puts down his bags and strides over to Ginny. Her hands are full of orange cheese stuff that probably isn't real cheese at all, so she tilts her head back for a kiss.

"Look at all of this food," declares Harry, looking around the kitchen. The counter tops are full to overflowing.

"Mum's been working on it since yesterday," says Ginny. "She made all these finger sandwiches and salads. Hermione and I did the fruit and vegetable trays. Charlie brought sausages from Romania and Bill brought cheese. You should see the cake."

"It's all under stasis and cooling charms," I add. "There's a case of champagne that Narcissa sent over."

"Mum didn't even mind that she did it," says Ginny. "They're really getting to be friends."

"How will she feel when our friends start showing up with food?" asks Harry.

"Everyone is going to say the same thing," I explain. "That it isn't an Order party without Jean's meatballs, Ellen's crab puffs, Limnoreia's sausage rolls or Tonks' cheese balls."

"If everybody we've talked to brings something, it won't seem like a big deal," says Ginny, wiping her hands on a towel.

"Officially, this party is for Severus and me," I comment, "but, I want it to be celebration for the Order. Because of all of the people we lost and the ones who were hurt, we haven't had any kind of celebration since the Battle. We deserve to have some fun."

"It's an official declaration that life goes on," says Harry, nodding sadly. "Ron would approve of having a party."

"Ron was always up for a party," Ginny laughs. "Let's make this one that he'd be proud of."

"That would involve getting drunk," teases Harry.

"Let's not make him that proud," I counter, laughing until I snort.

Which sends both of them into gales of laughter.

"It feels good to be able to think about Ron and laugh again," says Ginny, catching her breath.

"It does," I agree.

"Have you read The Daily Prophet this morning?" asks Harry, trying to be casual about it and not succeeding.

"No," I reply, suspiciously. "Is there anything in it that's going to make me angry?"

"Oh, yeah," says Harry. "Mostly positive, but they had to slide off into speculating about the Virgo Curato. Let's just say that if I see a beetle today, I'm going to have to scrape the remains off my shoe."

"I'd really appreciate that," I snap. "Rita Skeeter is an absolute wretch."

"Shall I defrost these bags of prawns?" asks Ginny, making an indelicate attempt to change the subject before we launch into a rant.

"Go ahead and then put them in the cooling cabinet," I instruct. "Severus loves prawns, so I wanted to make sure we had enough."

"Six restaurant size bags of jumbo prawns?" asks Harry, his eyebrows up near his hairline.

"He really, really likes them," I explain, grinning. "When our friends in the Order stayed overnight in Chicago, we used up three bags. We've got a lot more people who are coming today. The prawns will be eaten."

"They'd all better show up," mutters Ginny. "We've got enough food here to feed an army."

"My point exactly," I reply with a nod.


Molly and Ginny adjust the skirt of my dress so that it flows smoothly over the three crinolines I'm wearing. Limnoreia and Jean straighten the lacy collar and puff out the elbow length sleeves.

I think that I may have seen a scene like this when Mum and I went to the cinema to see Cinderella all those years ago. I feel like I'm surrounded by fairy godmothers.

"Are you ready for the Stay Smooth and Spill Proof spells?" Ellen asks everyone.

Ginny is in her yellow silk Regency styled dress. Molly's turquoise silk dress is styled similar to mine and brings out the blue of her eyes. Jean has on a peach sundress with a white bolero jacket. Ellen is splendid in red and I am jealous of her dangling earrings, which appear to have real rubies in them.

Limnoreia has on light blue summer robes, which is always deceptive. Heaven only knows what she's wearing underneath. The other day, she was talking about a new corset she wants to buy that costs 150 galleons. She says that it is all hand sewn and should give her an hourglass shape and breasts that could hold up a book while she's reading. Somehow, I doubt that she'll be reading when she wears that corset.

Ellen casts the spells so that our clothes will be protected from wrinkles and spills for the rest of the day. It will come in handy with all of the sauces on the various hors d'oeuvres everyone has brought for the party.

"Men have no idea what they're missing by not having friends help them get ready," I announce, as Molly closes the clasp of my mother's pearl necklace behind my neck. Ginny does the same for the matching bracelet. Ellen hands me the pearl studs and I put them in.

"I think that's the sort of thing that might get you talked about if you're a guy," says Jean.

"From what I've heard," offers Molly, "I think that Gilderoy Lockhart was the kind of man who would have liked to have had help with that."

"Did you know that Lockhart came on to Severus while he was at Hogwarts?" says Jean, offhand. The expression on her face lets me know that there's more to this story.

I look at her in shock.

"I'm probably talking out of school," she continues, teasing.

"What did Professor Snape do?" asks Ginny, fascinated.

"Threatened to hex him so that no man would ever take interest in him again," replies Jean.

"Did it involve singing crabs?" asks Ellen.

"It might've," says Jean, scratching her head as she thinks. "It would have served him right."

"With his looks," says Ginny "half the girls at Hogwarts had crushes on him. I'll bet you didn't," she says to me. "You're not one to get taken in by good looks and personality."

I give Ginny a rather sharp look.

"Ginny!" says a shocked Molly.

Ginny blushes. "I didn't mean that the way that it sounded," says Ginny, apologetically. "I just meant that Hermione isn't shallow. She'd look for character before personality or looks. Lockhart had a serious lack of character and Professor Snape has loads of it."

"There's no doubt that Severus has enough character for two men," says Jean in a light tone. "He probably got Lockhart's share."

That breaks the tension and has all of us laughing.

"I think Severus is good looking," adds Limnoreia. "It's not the cover of a romance novel type of good looks. He needed to grow and mature into his face, but now that he has, it fits him."

"He's rather mysterious, too," Ellen comments. "You just know that he's hiding the secrets of the universe behind those dark eyes of his."

"His hair is looking better," observes Jean. "Regrowing his hair shouldn't have improved it that much."

"It's the new shampoo and conditioner my team developed for our interdisciplinary project at Avalon," I announce, proudly. "It brings out the best in a person's hair, whatever that might be. It made my hair softer, shinier, and more manageable."

"You can see what it did for my hair," declares Molly, happy to see the subject changing. "I was getting a little gray at the temples and now that's all gone."

"You've been keeping this to yourself?" says Ellen, sounding disappointed.

"Not at all," I state, emphatically. "Draco and Warren are negotiating with Mystic Visions, Incorporated. It's a beauty company in the United States. We're hoping to sell them the formula. I have extra bottles that I brought with me and I can always brew more. You can each have some to take home."

That may have been a close call in the keeping my friends happy department.

"I'll be glad to give it a try," says Jean. "My hair has so many colors in it; I've been accused of having a calico cat for a grandmother. I'd like to see what your shampoo and conditioner could do for it."

"I think we're all in agreement that Severus' hair looks better since he's been washing it regularly with your shampoo and conditioner," says Limnoreia. "I think that you ought to talk him into going with the bald look, again. Personally, I think he looks really hot with no hair."

"He does have a nicely shaped head without hair," says Ellen, nodding.

"This is so not fair that I didn't get to see any of this," says Ginny, looking like a thundercloud ready to burst.

"It wouldn't have been appropriate while you were his student," I state primly.

Ginny mutters something about missing all the good stuff.

Molly adjusts one of the combs in my hair and turns me towards the mirror.

"I think you're all set," she says.

I look so grown up. Instead of Hermione in waistcoats and robes that cover everything up, this dress hugs my curves and makes me look womanly. The pale green shade and the ivory lace were a good choice with my complexion. My eyebrows look better since I learned that plucking charm. Now, those hairs don't grow between my eyebrows and make it look like I have one big eyebrow across my forehead.

My hair looks good, piled up loosely on top of my head with the pearl combs holding it in place. I look female, pretty, feminine, and all those words that I never use to describe myself. Bookworm. Know-it-all. Swot. Those words I've used and others have used to describe me. Not today.

I look like a woman who is about to become engaged.

I realize that I am smiling at myself in the mirror and the women who are gathered behind me are smiling at me smiling at myself. This is my family and these are my friends. I have a home here and people who care about me. I have Severus who loves me. I have everything that is important.

"I think our guests are arriving," says Molly, proudly. "Shall we go down and greet them?"

I turn around and hug my honorary Mum. She hugs me back and I think about my other Mum. Surely she's here, somewhere in this room. She would be so happy for me. This hug is from both of them. I blink back a few tears.

"I'm ready."


Severus

"It's summer and it's a party," says Draco. "You don't have to wear black."

"No one would recognize me if I wore anything but black," I state, firmly. "These new robes are summer weight and quite appropriate for the occasion."

"What about wearing dark gray?" offers Lucius, tapping his wand against his hand. "I could charm your robes just a few shades lighter than black. You will be hot wearing black in the August sunshine."

"That is what cooling charms are for," I reply. I am not being stubborn. I am just going to wear black as I always do.

"The ladies will be wearing pastels and bright colors," counters Lucius. "You will look stark and forbidding by comparison. A raven among the tropical birds."

"A rather apt analogy," I announce, adjusting my collar. "I do believe I am ready."

I take another look in the mirror. I have a style that has served me well and this is simply a modified version of it. My black frock coat and trousers are made of a superfine summer weight wool, intended to be comfortable in warm weather. The sleeves of the coat extend only to my wrists instead of two inches beyond. This is my equivalent of wearing a short sleeved shirt and will make it easier to put on the Claiming bracelet.

The robe that goes over it is made from the same fabric and will billow suitably. I have already cast cooling charms, just in case.

My hair is clean and shining after using Hermione's shampoo and the smallest dab possible of the conditioner. It seems to be addressing my oily hair and dandruff problem in a most satisfactory manner. I have also decided to grow it longer, since I have discovered that dropping my head forward to allow my hair to curtain my face does not result in hiding my face nearly as well as I thought.

Besides, Hermione likes to run her fingers through it and who am I to deny her the pleasure?

"Do you have the bracelets?" I ask, turning around.

Lucius reaches inside his light gray robes and removes the two boxes. He opens them and I see the glimmer of gold.

"I gave them a last polishing," says Draco, quietly, "just to make certain that they were ready."

"Did you know that these bracelets belonged to Minerva McGonagall and her husband?" I ask Draco.

"He had good taste," says Draco, diplomatically. "These bracelets are works of art. It isn't easy to come by goblin wrought rope chain."

Before Draco knew of my true loyalties and my friendship with Professor McGonagall, he used to refer to her as The Tartan Horror. In his boyhood days when he believed that I was truly a Death Eater, I would laugh with him at the appellation. Now, he knows better.

There is a knock on the door and Draco opens it to admit his mother. Narcissa looks splendid in her soft lavender gown and with her blonde hair arranged in loose waves.

"Samantha and I are ready, gentlemen," she says in her cultured tones. She gives me a good once over.

"You look quite striking in your own unique way," says Narcissa, reaching up to adjust my robes at the shoulders. "Hermione is going to be pleased."

"You always know the right thing to say," I reply, wishing that I had the same talent. It would be exceedingly helpful, given that I will be in a social situation for the next several hours.

"I doubt that," she says, "but, I am getting to know Hermione and I am quite certain she has a deep appreciation for your character and finer qualities. She finds you quite attractive and that is what counts."

"Splendidly said," says Lucius in a suspiciously jovial manner. "We were trying to encourage Severus to consider altering his robes to a dark gray."

Narcissa chuckles.

"People would think you had turned soft," she teases. "You like to wear black and you should do what makes you comfortable. Today is about you and Hermione. She loves you just as you are."

I look at Lucius and Draco triumphantly. Draco rolls his eyes.


Hermione

The garden is in full bloom. Given that it is August, the annual flowering plants should be past their prime. Neville came out and worked his magic and brought all of the plants back into full flower.

Neville is a head taller than I am. He's still on the stocky side, but a lot more of that is muscle than it used to be. Right now, he's got his arm around my shoulder and we are admiring the four lilac bushes he planted.

"I knew you didn't want to go back there," he says, kindly. "Limnoreia took Pettigrew's wards down two weeks ago. I got the cuttings from that enormous lilac bush behind the house. This way, you'll be able to start new bushes from them when you get your own home."

"That is so thoughtful, Neville," I reply with a sniffle. "You're right. I don't ever want to go back there. I'm doing better with dealing with my parents' murders, but I think that visiting the scene of the crime would be terribly painful. Healer Smith's daughter Kendra is my solicitor. She's dealing with all of that and I prefer to keep it that way."

"You're moving on with your life," says Neville, philosophically. "There's no point in focusing on the past."

"You don't mind that my future involves Professor Snape?" I ask, smirking.

"He's not what we thought, back then," says Neville, in his easy going manner. "He was capable of being mean, but he had to be frustrated being caught between Voldemort and Dumbledore. He was leading a double life and he was in danger all the time. I didn't understand him then and I won't claim that I understand him now. I can understand that he had to be stressed out and that would have made me irritable, too."

"You're being very forgiving," I reply, softly.

"He deserves it," replies Neville. "Voldemort would still be free if not for Professor Snape. Besides, you really like him so he can't be so bad."

"No," I smile, "he's not so bad. Besides, he's not your teacher anymore. That has to make it easier."

"Be happy," says Neville, sounding far older and wiser than I ever would have thought. He bends down and kisses me on the forehead.

"He should be arriving, soon," I state. "Shall we go join the others?"

Neville offers me his arm and escorts me over where Molly and Arthur are standing under the shade of the tall oak tree. I love how my skirts swish along the path. I feel like I just stepped out of a romance novel. Since we are waiting for Severus to arrive with the Malfoys, Neville leaves me with them and joins Minerva over by the path that leads to the gazebo.

"Most of the guests are here," says Molly, smoothing the skirt of her dress. "Severus should be arriving with his entourage shortly."

"Look," says Harry, pointing just beyond the garden gate. "Professor Franks and the Schulers are here."

"Could you go and get them?" I ask. "I'm supposed to stay in the background until Severus arrives."

In short order, Anita and I are sharing hugs and Harry is introducing Professor Franks to Arthur and Molly.

"I'm delighted to be here," says Professor Franks. "Judith would have liked to come, but traveling on the Sabbath is an issue for her. Besides, she was away from her family for several days during the last few weeks." She holds up a camera. "I promised her photos and details."

"You look gorgeous," says Mrs. Schuler, admiring my dress. "Wherever did you have that made?"

"Madam Malkin's," says Molly, answering for me. "We all went and splurged a bit."

"We'll be here for a few days while Daniel attends to some business concerns," says Mrs. Schuler. "I'd love to see Diagon Alley, if you're free?"

"Certainly," says Molly. "Ginny and I were planning to go and pick up her apprentice Mediwitch uniforms. We could make a day of it, Mrs. Schuler."

"I'm just Margaret," says Mrs Schuler, amiably.

"And I'm Molly," says Molly, in return.

"I can't go on Monday," I comment, interrupting. "Severus and I are going to Diagon Alley on Monday. It's our first public date."

"In that case, we should definitely go on Monday," quips Anita. "Isn't there something about being chaperoned in the contract?"

I'm about to respond to that when Arthur points out that Severus and the Malfoy family have just Apparated in.

This is it. This is really it.


Severus

We arrive just outside the wards surrounding the Burrow and walk up the path to the garden. We will not be going into the house, a bizarre concoction of floors and walls that do not match and should not be capable of standing were it not for the magic holding it all together.

A trellised archway will serve as the garden gate, since there is no actual fence around the garden. I can see dozens of guests waiting for us. When we arrived, they moved to line the path inside the garden.

Lucius and I walk side by side. Narcissa, Samantha, and Draco follow behind us. Before we left, Draco was teasing Samantha about her new white blonde hair color. We did not know if her hair would change when the adoption was finalized, but it seems that the charm applies to fourteen year olds who are adopted into the family.

In spite of fantasies I used to have as a boy that Abraxas Malfoy would adopt me so that Lucius and I could truly be brothers, I do not believe I would look good with the hair color. White hair on pasty white skin might cause students to mistake me for a Hogwarts ghost.

Lucius is using his snake headed cane today, going for high drama. Our actions from this moment through to the completion of the Claiming ceremony are largely dictated by tradition. Then, there shall be dancing. No doubt, Molly has probably killed the fatted calf and will be serving it with vegetables and gravy.

We stop before the archway, which is covered with climbing roses. Lucius uses his cane to tap the arch, which rings like a bell.

As the eldest son of the family, Bill steps into the path in front of the arch.

"Who seeks admittance to the home of my family?" he says, beginning the ritual.

Lucius responds in his most formal tones.

"I am Lucius Malfoy and I am accompanied by my wife Narcissa, my son Draco, and my daughter Samantha. We are here to escort my kinsman, Severus Snape, who wishes to pay call upon Arthur and Molly Weasley for the purpose of Claiming the most honorable Hermione Granger, a daughter of the house."

"On behalf of my parents, Arthur and Molly Weasley," responds Bill, "I welcome you and your family to our home. We welcome Severus Snape, who approaches our family in honor to Claim Hermione Granger, a daughter of our house and sister of my heart."

Bill steps aside and extends his arm in welcome. Lucius and I bow and walk through the rose covered arch, followed by the rest of the family.

If we did not have the path before us, we could simply follow the path created by the parting of the crowd that met us at the entrance to the garden.

My friends are here. Minerva, of course. Neville Longbottom is standing proudly beside her with her hand tucked into the crook of his arm. The genuiness of her smile warms my heart as our eyes meet. Chester stands on the other side of Minerva and I suspect he is displeased with Longbottom.

Filius and Pomona are in attendance. Hagrid towers over them and blows his nose loudly with a handkerchief the size of a bath towel.

Jean and Mike are arm in arm. Ellen and Mark are beside them. Limnoreia and Roger stand across from them on the other side of the path. I see that Daniel Schuler and his family were able to attend after all. Professor Franks looks like she is enjoying the formalities. I am sure she finds all of this an interesting sociological study.

Blaise Zabini, is here as well. I see no sign of a girl accompanying him.

Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin are together. I suspect that as soon as he collects his first paycheck, he will put a ring on her finger.

Daedelus Diggle and Aberforth Dumbledore are standing back from the path, watching as we go by. Aberforth offers a nod of recognition. Mundungus Fletcher was not invited due to his tendency to pilfer the silverware at any party he attends.

Which reminds me of absent friends. Especially since Poppy is standing alone. It is so strange to see her without Albus at her side. She gives me a wink as we walk by.

Hermione's friends are gathered together. I recognize Lavender Brown. She stands next to Seamus Finnegan who is watching Lucius rather warily. According to Hermione, Miss Brown is in mourning for Ronald Weasley. Apparently, she regrets having ended their relationship a few months before he was killed.

Luna Lovegood appears to be escorted by Colin Creevey, who is fingering the camera around his neck. The young whelp knows better than to take any photos during the ceremonial part of today's events. Lee Jordan is smiling like the Cheshire cat and I have no idea why.

The Patil twins are here. If it were not for the fact that they wore different House ties when they were at Hogwarts, I would not have been able to tell them apart. They are looking at me as if they cannot believe what they are seeing. It must be my vastly improved hair.

We have come upon a gaggle of Weasleys, standing in the shade of a tall oak tree. They are rank ordered by age. Charlie stands at the front of the group and steps aside to let us pass. Percy is accompanied by Penelope Clearwater and offers a respectful bow of the head.

The twins offer simultaneous curtseys. I can only shake my head at them, since I am not supposed to laugh aloud. I hear what sounds like a choked back giggle from Samantha and a shhhh from Narcissa.

Harry Potter is here with Ginevra Weasley. They release each other's hands and Miss Weasley curtseys and Potter bows.

It is about time Potter showed the proper respect.

And here is Hermione, standing in between Molly and Arthur.

She is the most beautiful, radiant creature on this planet. There is not a woman here who can compare. Hermione does not hold back her feelings from her face. She is gazing at me with the joy of a woman who is loved and loves in return.

I lose myself in her gentle brown eyes as she looks up at me. She is so much more than I deserve. How she could possibly love me when she could have had any of them?

Before I can embarrass myself by blurting out a completely soppy declaration, Hermione dips into her formal curtsey. I execute my finest bow.

The formalities continue with Lucius making the declaration.

"My family and I have the privilege of escorting our kinsman, Severus Snape, who wishes to Claim Hermione Granger, a daughter of your house."

"My family and I are pleased to receive you into our home and consider your offer," replies Arthur.

Lucius reaches into his robes and removes the scroll containing the contract.

"A contract has been negotiated between our families to allow the Claiming to proceed," announces Lucius.

Arthur makes a show of accepting the contract and unrolling it to peruse the contents.

While he does this, all those present gather and form a loose half circle around us.

"This is the contract that we negotiated," announces Arthur. He turns to Hermione. "The contents are the same as we have discussed. Is this contract acceptable to you?"

"It is," says Hermione, confidently as she looks at me.

Arthur turns to me.

"Is this contract acceptable to you?" he asks.

"It is," I reply.

"Given that the contract has been negotiated and is agreeable to both Hermione Granger and Severus Snape," says Arthur, "the contract shall be examined to ensure that no undue magical bindings have been placed upon it." He looks to Hermione. "Who will you call to examine the contract?"

All of this has been discussed and arranged beforehand, so the examiners know they will be called upon and are prepared.

"I would like to ask that Bill Weasley examine the contract on my behalf," says Hermione.

Bill moves quietly to the front and stands beside Arthur.

"Who do you wish to examine the contract on your behalf?" asks Arthur, looking at me.

"I request that Minerva McGonagall examine the contract on my behalf," I reply.

Minerva steps forward

The next few minutes are occupied as Minerva and Bill analyze the contract with a few wand waves and murmured spells to assure that Lucius did not spike the contractual punch, as it were.

"I am satisfied that there are no hidden spells or bindings on this contract," announces Minerva.

"I am also confident that there are no hidden spells or bindings on this contract," says Bill.

The two of them stand to the side to wait until they are called upon to examine the bracelets.

Arthur holds out his hands to the crowd.

"Is there anyone present who knows of any prior commitment on the part of either Hermione Granger or Severus Snape that would preclude establishing this contract of Claiming?"

In my case, it is purely a formality. There is no queue of women lining up for my favors. However, if Neville Longbottom makes any sort of move at this time, he will wish he had died in one of his cauldron explosions.

No one moves or speaks. It is just as well, since I would be forced to hex them.

"Seeing that there is no one who knows of any impediment to the contract," announces Arthur, "do you have the bracelets?"

Lucius steps forward with the two boxes containing the Claiming bracelets. Narcissa joins him in front with Arthur. She opens the boxes and takes out the two bracelets, holding them out to Molly. Molly accepts them and holds them up for everyone to see.

"Would the examiners please analyze the bracelets to ensure that there is no hidden magic or bindings placed on them?" asks Arthur.

Again, Minerva and Bill conduct the analysis to make sure that the no one has tampered with the bracelets. It ends with their assurances that the bracelets are magically clean.

"Thank you," says Arthur, bowing.

Minerva and Bill bow in return and take a few steps back.

The preliminaries are finished. It is now time for the ritual.

As my closest family, Lucius and Narcissa stand on either side of me. Narcissa holds what will be Hermione's bracelet. Arthur and Molly draw Hermione forward and stand on either side of her. I hear our friends in the half circle around us shifting so that they can get a better view of the six of us standing in the shade of the tall oak tree.

Narcissa holds up the bracelet that once graced Minerva's wrist and speaks clearly and loudly so that all can hear.

"Hermione," she begins, "will you accept this bracelet in token of the commitment that exists between you and Severus, the brother of my heart? Will you give him your time, your attention, and your thoughts? Will you come to know him for the man that he was, the man that he is, and all that he will be?"

"I will," replies Hermione, gazing into my eyes.

Narcissa kisses the bracelet and passes it to Lucius. He holds it aloft and looks at Hermione.

"Hermione," he states, with more warmth in his tones than I would have credited him for. "Will you accept this bracelet in token of the commitment that exists between you and Severus, the brother of my heart? Will you respect his dignity, guard his honor, and offer him your loyalty? Will you comply with conditions specified in the Claiming contract?

"I will," she says, this time with a shy smile.

Lucius kisses the bracelet and then hands it back to Narcissa.

Now, it is my turn.

Molly holds up the bracelet that will soon be wrapped around my wrist.

"Severus," says Molly in tones that would imply that I might be one of her brood, "will you accept this bracelet in token of the commitment that exists between you and Hermione, a daughter of my heart? Will you give her your time, your attention, and your thoughts? Will you come to know her for the woman that she was, the woman that she is, and all that she will be?"

"I will," I intone, solemnly. Molly is looking at me as if she is going to start patting me any moment now. I dearly hope not.

Molly raises the bracelet to her lips and kisses it. She passes it to Arthur. In the manner of fathers since time immemorial, he gives me a look of warning that I had better not break his daughter's heart. His features take on a more benevolent expression as he speaks.

"Severus," he says, formally. "Will you accept this bracelet in token of the commitment that exists between you and Hermione, a daughter of my heart? Will you respect her dignity, guard her honor, and offer her your loyalty? Will you comply with conditions specified in the Claiming contract?"

"I will," I reply, meaning every word.

Arthur kisses the bracelet and hands it to Molly.

With the delicate and artistic movements of a Transfiguration Mistress, Minerva transforms a flower from the garden into a small table. Bill reaches into his robes and takes out the quill and unseals a pot of ink. I cannot help but admire the quill. Poppy gave it to me, having persuaded Fawkes to donate one of his feathers for the event. She said that Albus would have done the same, which led to a rather emotional moment involving another one of my handkerchiefs.

Arthur unrolls the Claiming contract and spreads it out on the table. Bill hands me the quill and I accept it.

"Hermione," I state, holding out the quill to her. "Are you willing to be Claimed by me and explore the possibilities of our relationship? Do you agree to be courted only by me for the duration of our contract, unless ended by agreement or concluded by marriage?"

Her face lights up. I can scarcely breathe in those moments when I realize that I make her happy. That I can make her happy.

"I will," she says, softly.

It is a miracle. How I have yearned for this.

Hermione takes the quill from my hand, dips it into the ink and scratches her name on the parchment. She looks up at me, expectantly.

"Severus," she says, holding out the quill. "Are you willing to be Claimed by me and explore the possibilities of our relationship? Do you agree to be courted only by me for the duration of our contract, unless ended by agreement or concluded by marriage?"

In another crowd, Hermione's ritual statement would have been greeted with gasps and declarations of a scandal. Tradition calls for Hermione to ask if I will agree to be her protector and if I will guide her into a greater understanding of the possibilities of our relationship.

Anyone who expects Hermione Granger to accept any sort of subservience in a relationship is in for a rude awakening. This is the woman who asked to Claim me before I had the chance to ask to Claim her.

These people know Hermione. If they are surprised by our changing the ritual to suit ourselves, no one has made a sound.

"I would be honored to be Claimed by you," I reply, inclining my head in a bow.

As Hermione puts it, women's liberation comes to the wizarding world. I am sure that Jean, Limnoreia, Minerva, and Ellen wholly approve. They have been living the life for years.

Mutual Claiming. Perhaps we shall start a new trend in the wizarding world.

I accept the quill and affix my signature to the appropriate place on the document.

I resume my place and give the quill to Narcissa. She signs as a guarantor of the contract, followed by Molly, then Lucius, and finally Arthur. Minerva and Bill sign as the official witnesses. Minerva casts the spell to make duplicate copies of the contract. Lucius pockets one and Arthur takes the other.

Narcissa hands me Hermione's bracelet, which has been in her keeping.

I arrange the clasp so that I may put it around Hermione's wrist.

"Will you accept this bracelet as symbol of the Claim we hold upon each other?" I ask.

Hermoine holds out her left arm, the inside of her wrist exposed.

"I would be honored," says Hermione, happiness in a veritable shimmer about her.

I kiss the bracelet and slip the slender gold rope chain around her wrist and affix the clasp. In the only public kiss the guests will see initiated by me today, I kiss Hermione's wrist to seal the bracelet. I do not know if anyone saw her barely perceptible shiver…

Molly holds out the larger bracelet that Hermione will place around my wrist. Hermione accepts it.

I hold out my left arm, the inside of my wrist facing up. How fitting that the Claiming bracelet will adorn the same arm that holds the faded Dark Mark. The commitment represented by the one represents the present and the future. The other, by the grace of God, will continue to fade into the past.

"Will you accept this bracelet as symbol of the Claim we hold upon each other?" she asks, following the ritual.

Her words mean the world to me.

"I would be most pleased to wear your Claiming bracelet," I reply, dropping my voice in the way she likes.

Hermione touches her lips to the bracelet and then leans forward to place it around my wrist. Her fingers are gentle as she adjusts the clasp. The golden links feel cool for an instant and then warm to my skin, growing even warmer as Hermione kisses the pulse point of my wrist to seal the bracelet.

Fourteen days until we travel together to Chicago. Not a moment too soon.

It is time to complete the ritual. Hermione and I stand face to face. I hold out both my hands and Hermione places her hands trustingly in mine.

Wizarding tradition holds that women are closer to nature and should thus be the ones to establish the circle of magic that bind a couple together. The Claiming ritual uses a minimal binding. It is an oath of honor that the couple will keep faith with each other within the parameters of their contract.

Narcissa speaks for both families.

"The Claiming is symbolized by accepting and wearing the bracelets so that all will understand the commitment you have made to each other. We, who stand as your families, offer our blessings and stand as the guarantors of your Claiming contract."

Molly holds her wand over Hermione and Narcissa raises her wand above my head. Both begin to say the Latin words that will give us their blessing and establish the link that will tell them if Hermione or I have violated the Claiming contract.

I feel a wash of magic flow through me as Narcissa touches her wand to my bracelet.

Narcissa and Molly exchange places and repeat the spells. This time, it is Molly who finishes as she touches her wand to my bracelet. Another wash of magic.

Arthur and Lucius take their places and begin to repeat the process. I watch as a sprinkle of gold from the spell flows over Hermione. I am no longer listening to the words of the ritual, since they are simply repeating the same spell. I am busy watching my beloved's face. Hermione's expression brightens each time the magic flows around her.

Her hands feel so soft and delicate in my large ones. She trusts me in this. Hermione loves me. A bitter man who is twice her age. Derided by her friends and once a loyal servant of Lord Voldemort. It is nothing less than a miracle.

Maybe I should have just married her instead of going through the formality of Claiming.

Except that she is in Chicago and I am in Scotland. If I were to join the faculty of Avalon College, there are those who might imply that Hermione would receive some form of special treatment because of it. In a few years, she will start doing internships and then it would be more viable.

We should wait. This is the right thing.

Fourteen days until Chicago. I can wait fourteen days.

I shall visit Chicago often.

One last burst of magic and the ceremony is finished. Hermione and I have Claimed each other.

The sound of phoenix song fills the air.


Hermione

What a beautiful ending to the Claiming ceremony! I don't know when Fawkes arrived, but the song he is singing is the most exquisite thing I've ever heard.

I take Severus' arm and we are followed by the Weasleys and Malfoys as we step out from under the oak tree. We all want to see Fawkes.

No one is talking. All of the guests are gathering together and watching Fawkes, high up in the oak tree. His golden red plumage gleams in the sunlight that breaks through the leaves. His song makes me think of new beginnings, first love, and all of the glories of the finest summer day.

I lean my head against Severus' shoulder. I can do that, now. In public and everything.

Severus looks down at me and smiles. He looks happy. Severus is actually smiling in public.

"Do you think that he is singing for us?" I whisper.

Before he can answer, the singing stops.

With a great flapping of wings, Fawkes takes flight. He circles overhead and then makes a steep dive.

Right into the crowd.

There is a loud squawk and a yelp behind us. Severus and I turn around to see something quite unique.

"Why is Fawkes standing on Mike Lamb's head?" asks Molly, curiously.

"Don' innerfere," calls Hagrid, his giant's voice booming through the garden.

"Look at that," says Severus, softly, his grasp tightening on my arm.

"Can you see the way Fawkes is looking at her?" whispers Minerva.

Fawkes is standing on Mike's head, gazing at Jean with a look of purest adoration.

He starts to sing. It's the same song he was singing in the tree above our heads. Now, Fawkes is singing it to Jean. It's a love song.

Jean is gazing back, completely enraptured.

"Jean, honey," says Mike, sounding very confused and uncomfortable with a fairly good sized winged creature standing on him. Fawkes' talons aren't exactly digging into his skull, but it has to hurt with the way he is clamped onto Mike's head. "Why is this bird on my head and what is going on?"

Jean holds out her hands to Fawkes. He clambers awkwardly off Mike's head and into her hands. Mike rubs his forehead, reddened from the squeeze of the talons. He's going to have bruises.

Fawkes is serenading Jean. It can't be easy holding a bird the size of a small goose out in front of you the way Jean is doing it. Maybe the phoenix song is helping her to hold him up?

Jean draws Fawkes against her and cradles him like a baby.

They burst into flames.

"JEAN!" screams Mike, in horror.

There is pandemonium as guests stumble back out of the way.

Mike and a dozen others have their wands out and are getting ready to cast.

Madam Pomfrey is screaming at the top of her lungs.

"It's all right!!! He's bonding with his new human. This isn't hurting either of them."

"She's right," hollers Hagrid, pushing through the crowd. "They'll be fine. Jean isna on fire. You'll see!"

Mark Smith has grabbed Mike's arm and is talking to him, trying to calm his panic.

The flames were scarlet and gold when the conflagration started. Now, there are other colors in the flames. There is blue and purple, which fades quickly. I can see Jean. She's not on fire, but she's in the fire. The flames are turning to green and silver. They are starting to fade.

Jean is looking at Fawkes, cradled in her arms. He is gazing up at her and starts to sing, again. There is a bright green and silver flare of light and suddenly the flames are gone.

Jean is standing, looking down at the phoenix chick in her hands.

She looks unharmed.

Except that her hair is gone.

And her eyebrows.

"Jean," shouts Mike, frightened and grabbing her by the shoulders. "Are you all right?"

Jean raises her head and looks at Mike, giving him a winsome smile. She lifts her hands and holds up the phoenix chick, cheeping happily in a handful of ashes.

"Isn't he the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?" she says, blissfully.

Mike looks down at the bird, which only has eyes for Jean.

"Actually," says Mike, confused. "He's looking a little scruffy right now."

"Don't you say that about my baby," says Jean, glaring at him and pulling the chick up against her heart. "Don't you listen to him, Fawkes. You are the sweetest and dearest bird that there has ever been," she croons, stroking his tiny head.

Ellen and Poppy have been pushing their way through the guests, with Hagrid right behind them.

"It's all right, Mike," says Poppy, reassuringly as she puts her hand on his arm. "Albus told me what it was like when Fawkes bonded with him. The flames didn't harm him and they haven't hurt Jean. But, he lost all his hair and he said he felt drunk for about a day."

"Issa real privilege to see this," says Hagrid, choking with emotion. "A once in a lifetime chance to see a phoenix bonding." He blows his nose loudly and wipes his eyes. "Albus would be so pleased that Fawkes has a good home."

Ellen has Jean, who is still busy sighing over Fawkes, by the shoulders.

"If you wouldn't mind, Molly," says Ellen, "I think Poppy and I would like to take Jean into the house and check to make sure she's all right."

"We're fine," protests Jean. "We're just very, very, very happy. Aren't we Mike?"

"Yes, we're really, really, really happy," says Mike, with just the slightest hint of exasperation.

Molly takes charge and starts ordering everyone out of the way.

Ellen and Poppy are gently moving Jean along towards the house with Mike following behind.

Jean turns her head and calls back to us over her shoulder.

"That was an absolutely beautiful ceremony," she says, sounding rather intoxicated. "You look so great together. I just know you're really, really, really happy and you'll be wonderful together and really, really happy. I'm so happy for you and now I've got Fawkes and I'm just so happy, I could cry. Right now, I'm going to take Fawkes into the house so we can make sure he's all right. You two go ahead and start the party. Don't mind us, we'll catch up later."

She proceeds to ask Poppy what a baby phoenix eats.

Jean's assurances and protests fade out as she is gently frog marched into the Burrow.

"You know what, Professor?" comments Harry, who somehow has ended up standing next to Severus.

"You have an observation to make, Mr. Potter?" responds Severus in his best professorial voice.

"The Claiming ceremony was really something," replies Harry. "But, when any of the guests are asked what they remember best about the Snape and Granger Claiming ceremony, Fawkes and Jean are what they're going to talk about."

"Believe me, Severus," says Draco, clapping him on the shoulder. "This is one party they'll never forget."

"Every time I think that anything in the magical world is predictable," replies Severus, shaking his head, "the universe conspires to prove me wrong."


Author's notes

I had hoped to do the ceremony and party in one chapter. I couldn't get the party finished in time, so it will be chapter 116.

Thank you to all my reviewers: HinataMorningstar, Dressagegr rrl, Graynavarre, Makaem, HJGrangerRocks, Laurenke1, KellyRoxton, All-I-need, Mollzxkor, Sinkme, Voxangelus, Klschmidt, Blue Artemis, T wrecks, Murgy31, Oscarxena, Fatalani-Zabini, Dverducci, Karla Manatee, Pickles87, Mrsdan, She is brighter, Droxy, FlitterKat, Darque Hart, 7differentdoors, Jade2099, Rhonda H., MoreThanSirius, Traceyww, Ebbe04, Vampire Fortune, MamaJMarie, Magicdaisy, Mennie, KimJo, o0morgana0o, Angel-65, Seth7, Maddie50, Kirien, Duj, Chaotizitaet, Ihke, Latinachikita, Glykera, Bauerbaby24, Mini-Moony, Persevero, OhLollyLollyLollyLollipop, Missbluejuju, Excessivelyperky, MollysSister, Mother of Tears, MysticSong1978, Notwritten, ., Legilimens31, Glykera, Atreyu Abraxas Black, Snakegirl-Sprockett, Dezaria, Jocemum, Glykera, Multitaskmom, Arsinoe de Blassenville, Estriel and Erytha.