Title: Contractual Obligations

Author: Jinni R

Pairing: HG/SS

Disclaimer: All things HP belong to JK Rowling, et al.

Distribution: The normal places.

Notes: In response to the "Marriage Law" challenge issued at WIKTT.

Summary: Years of intermarriage between pureblood families has begun to cause genetic problems in those same bloodlines. The only solution the Ministry can see is to make a decree.

x x Prologue x x

"I'm sure you're wondering why I called you here today."

Hermione nodded, the deep sense of dread that had been perched in her stomach all morning coming out in full force now that she was actually sitting in the Headmaster's office. She hadn't done anything recently, either on her own or with the boys, to get her into any sort of trouble. In fact, her seventh year had been rather uneventful. Not even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been active.

"You're aware, I would assume, of the recent Marriage Law enacted by the Ministry?"

She snorted before she could stop herself, hand flying up to cover her mouth with a blush. How could she not know about that idiotic new law that the Ministry felt was 'best' for all of wizarding society? It was tempting to run off as soon as she graduated from Hogwarts and stay hidden until after someone came to their senses and repealed the bloody thing, just so she wouldn't have to run the risk of being forced to participate.

"I see you do not approve?" The Headmaster chuckled softly, but the twikle was absent from his eyes. That was her first clue that something was wrong. Really, really wrong. The Headmaster's eyes never lost that twinkle unless something bad was happening.

"No, Headmaster, I do not. I feel that it is nothing more than the enslavement of muggleborns by the purebloods into a breeding program." She crossed her arms tightly over her chest, ignoring that rising fear in the back of her throat. Why would the Headmaster have called her to his office to discuss the Marriage Law?

"Very true, my dear," the old wizard sighed softly. "And I fear that, on that note, I have some news for you."

Hermione sat up straighter, eyes widening as the Headmaster produced two identical pieces of parchment from within his desk.

"These," he gestured at the parchments. "Came for you late last night. Considering the circumstances, I felt it best not to wake you at that time, however we must deal with it today."

"Sir?" She whispered, glancing from the rolled parchments to him and then back to the parchments. "No. No! You must be mistaken."

"I'm afraid not, Miss Granger." Dumbledore smiled sadly. "I wish that there were something I could do - however the situation is quite firmly out of my hands."

Hermione felt like a caged animal, her eyes darting around the room frantically for any method of escape. There wasn't one, of course; and even if there were, where would she go? She still had another four months left to her schooling at Hogwarts - and after that she had been debating University. The only place that would be open to her was her parents' home, and that was the first place the Ministry would think to look for her when she ducked out on the contracts.

"I'm still in school!" She cried, joy lighting her face. "They can't do this while I'm still attending Hogwarts. . .can they?"

"The Law stipulates only that the muggleborn be at least eighteen years of age and that her partner be that old, as well."

"Well, then - there you go," she smiled. "My eighteenth birthday isn't until this August."

The Headmaster met her eyes, and she felt her heart sink. "Your use of the Time Turner during your third year has marked your age up significantly in the Ministry's records. I'm afraid there's nothing to be done."

Hermione felt bitter tears of resentful anger prick the corners of her eyes, stinging their way into her very being. This wasn't the way things were supposed to be! She was going to go to University, meet a nice wizard, fall in love - and see where things went from there. And now. . .Now there were contracts waiting for her to sign.

"Why are there -two-?" She muttered, curiosity winning over the pain in her heart.

"Well, now that is an interesting situation." He tapped the scrolls significantly. "It appears that two fathers intervened for you on their sons' behalves at almost exactly the same moment. As such, you get a choice."

More than most muggleborns were getting under the current Law, Hermione knew, though it did little to ease the pain in her chest, the panic she was feeling.

"Do you know who --?"

"No," the Headmaster shook his head. "The scrolls are sealed and have remained that way since they were delivered to my office last night."

"How long do I have to decide?"

"I must have the decision before you leave this office, Miss Granger. Soon, before the Ministry decides to make a personal showing for the event, I daresay."

She frowned, glaring now at the scrolls that held her life within them. One of them had to be better than the other, of course; but that wasn't saying much. She was being betrothed to someone who wanted her solely for the purpose of thinning a bloodline that had become more and more condensed through years of what basically amounted to inbreeding.

"You said their -fathers- made the proposal?" She murmured after a moment, brow furrowed with confusion. "Is that allowed?"

"The patriarch of a wizarding family remains firmly in control of his children until such point as he passes on, I'm afraid."

"Oh."

The room seemed to narrow to her and the scrolls. Only dimly was she even aware of the Headmaster still sitting there, waiting for her to make the next move. She leaned forward, snagging the scrolls from his desk. One was tied with ebony ribbon, the other with an emerald green. Colors of the very snakes that lurked in the dungeons, her mind whispered with a terrible sense of forewarning.

She slipped a trembling finger beneath the edge of the first roll of parchment, sliding it along until it reached the seal. The wax gave way, breaking a family crest that she didn't recognize anyway. The writing on the parchment was black and flowing, an awful style of old handwriting that was difficult on the eyes, though legible. Without realizing she was even doing it, she began to read aloud,

". . .I, Alessander Richard Snape, on behalf of my son, Severus Alain Snape. . ."

She gasped, dropping the paper. Her eyes sought the Headmaster's, only to find that he, too, was in a similar state of shock. She fumbled nervously for the contract that had fallen to the floor, holding it between two fingers as if she were afraid it would bit her given half a chance. She dropped it into the chair next to her, questioning eyes searching Dumbledore's face.

"My dear, I daresay that even Severus isn't aware that was sent. This was not something I expected. Alessander is a proud man, however, and Severus is his only child. . .Securing him a wife would almost ensure an heir to the family name."

Hermione flinched, the words a slap to her face no matter how kindly or matter of factly they were spoken. Snape? The greasy git of the dungeons? The Potions Master that had done nothing but cause her and her friends trouble since day one? She shivered, the idea distubing.

"Well," she pasted a half-smile on her face, trying to sound more cheerful than she felt. "At least we're almost guaranteed that choice number two is better."

She was quicker about opening this one, breaking the green wax cleanly to unroll the parchment. The writing was equally filled with flourishes, though slightly easier on the eyes.

". . .I, Lucius Janus Malfoy . . . " She bit off a curse, frightened eyes darting to Dumbledore for comfort she knew he wouldn't be able to give. "This is my choice? My Professor or Draco Malfoy?"

When he didn't speak, she knew that it was the truth. In the Headmaster's eyes she could see a wealth of regrets for her and the situation she found herself in. But there was no comfort to be given. No kind words that would make the entire situation dry up and blow away. The only thing that could save her would be a very swift repeal of the Marriage Law, and that wasn't looking likely.

She was going to have to sign one of them.

"Sir. . .do you. . .I mean. . ." She sighed, rubbing her forehead. A headache was already building in her temple, and it was nearly guaranteed to only get worse. "Do you have any suggestions, is what I'm trying to say."

"Draco is closer to your own age," the Headmaster offered slowly.

"Yes, but he -is- a Death Eater." She shuddered. Even pureblood wives were far from treasured by -those- type of wizards. Abuse was commonplace, no matter how often one tried to gloss over it. She had seen Draco's mother before, sporting a black eye beneath a charm that wasn't quite tight enough to hold off prying eyes. She knew well enough what awaited her if she conceded to the union with Draco.

The Headmaster nodded. "Severus is not a bad man, child. For all that he is old enough to be your father, I do not believe he would treat you in the manner you are most afraid of."

"Mental abuse is the same as physical," she muttered darkly.

"He is the closest thing I have ever had to a son of my own, Miss Granger," Dumbledore sighed. "If you fear Malfoy so greatly, I would urge you to choose Severus. I can't say it will be easy at first - but the two of you will come to a mutually beneficial agreement, eventually, I am sure."

Hermione nodded, struck dumb for words. This was it - her life condensced down to a choice between a Death Eater and a Death Eater turned spy. She reached for the first of the parchments, smoothing it out across her lap. She looked down once more at the names that were written out so prettily, knowing Snape was likely to have a fit when he found out.

Still. . .better him than Malfoy.

"May I have a quill please, sir?"

x x End Prologue x x