Author's Introduction: Well, I had no intention of writing in this fandom at all, but as you can see, my muse decided otherwise. This story is fairly long, and complete – although it is intended to be part of a two-book series.
Fair warning! This is a HG/SS fiction, loosely inspired by the WIKTT Marriage Law Challenge. Hermione is of age, and when I say rated M, I mean it.
Hermione stared up at the rafters of the dungeon laboratory, her ears still ringing from the explosion. She tilted her head thoughtfully and stared at the nauseating color of the mixture plastering the ceiling. She was not truly concerned about the droplets raining down upon her. Her shield charms had gotten much better in the past year. Witness the fact she was still alive after an explosion like that.
"After five years of working with Longbottom, one would think you would have learned to duck."
For a moment, instinctive fear and conditioned caution held her motionless as silk-edged contempt reached out for her. His voice was just as she remembered. The chill disdain. The arrogant sneer. She wondered how long he had been watching her and surprised herself when she managed to roll to her feet and turn casually, mindful of the slippery goo coating the floor.
She had been beginning to fear she had miscalculated.
"Professor Snape,"she acknowledged without thought, her curiosity focusing on the patches on his robes and the odd glitter in his dark eyes.
Past his shoulder, an unfamiliar door now gaped in the stone wall. She couldn't help her initial surge of relief followed closely by a rather smug sense of satisfaction when she saw it. He had come, drawn by the Marriage Law as all her equations had predicted. She had been right. Not that being right under these circumstances was anything remotely like victory.
Firmly putting thoughts of the future from her mind, she focused on her prize. Even from where she was standing, she could see the odd convulsive shudder travel through his body and wherever he had been hiding, it had clearly lacked many of the more civilized amenities. His clothes hung on his wasted frame, and he smelled. Mostly of woodsmoke and rancid wool, but a sour note of illness lay beneath.
She studied his lank hair and sallow face with distaste. He had aged in the linear year since that night on the Astronomy Tower - and not kindly. Nor did he possess any of the mystique with which her younger self had once imbued him. There were no mysteries here. Just a malicious tongue and nasty temper. Something of her thoughts must have shown because he sneered abruptly, a relatively pale thing compared to her memories.
"You seem unsurprised to see me, Miss Granger."
She ignored his mocking attitude and saw him pause as he waited for her to take the bait. She felt rather proud of herself for recognizing it for what it was and wondered if he actually cared what emotion he inspired as long as he got the information he was seeking. A strange expression crossed his face as she remained silent and he sent a searching glare around the room that had once been his private laboratory.
"No one else wanted the traitor's quarters I take it,"he drawled.
"Hardly,"she said shortly.
Slughorn had been quite appalled at the thought. Especially when Hermione casually mentioned the possibility of secret passageways known only to not-so-former Death Eaters. Anticipating Snape's reaction with some morbid humour, Hermione removed her glove and raised her right hand. Snape studied the golden lines of the magical tattoo etched on her skin, and for a split second, the rage that suffused his expression was almost enough to rip away the grey veil that had muffled her emotions since the first of November.
She watched with startled fascination as his rage abruptly disappeared and for a moment, his face took on an eerie, emotionless cast. Then the Snape she remembered spilled from his eyes, flowing over his shoulders and down his body as if he were black ink poured from a bottle. As disturbing as the change was, more so was the intensity of emotion that burned within him. When she had been younger, he had just seemed angry. Now, it was clear that whatever the emotions he held banked and smoldering, they were far more complicated than simple anger.
His curiosity had weight as black eyes focused with unnerving single-mindedness, and she shivered slightly. Anger. Rage. Fury. None of these words seemed to encompass whatever it was he held barely leashed and barely contained. The shadow of the potential she had sensed within Harry was fully mature in Snape. Whether it was the Dark magic or his understanding of it, she did not know. Only that it was dangerous, and held the seeds of madness within it.
"One would have assumed you'd be blissfully married to Weasley by now,"Snape said bluntly.
Hermione forced a casual shrug.
"He and Harry are still alive," she said," if that's what you want to know."
Motion stilled and black eyes met hers. Surprised, she thought. Although whether at the news or her assumption that he would care, she could not guess. Death Eater or not, it was valuable information. His mouth twisted into a sneer as he studied her again, this time letting his gaze roam over her body. There was no sexual question in his hard-eyed evaluation. Only suspicion, and speculation. She wasn't sure how to interpret the odd look he gave her boots.
His gaze returned to her throat and lingered.
He didn't ask if she possessed a Time Turner, but he had never been lacking in logic or wit. The three-year education exemption was the only way she could have avoided being forcibly joined by the Marriage Law six months after her eighteenth birthday. It was a fool's exemption, meant to soothe the mindless masses, but useful all the same. The magic hadn't differentiated between a Wizarding Apprenticeship and a Muggle University. She had also squeezed more time into that total than even Harry had suspected. The clock the Ministry used did not start ticking until midnight on the night of her eighteenth linear birthday. After that, they counted time lived.
Her Muggle identification declared she was nineteen. A few months older than Ron, almost a year older than Harry. Only a year and a half from that night on the Astronomy Tower, as linear time went. Still young enough to consider going back to Hogwarts. Finish her NEWTs. Take back the year she had missed. Minerva had tried to convince her to do just that when Hermione had come seeking sanctuary four weeks ago.
Too much had changed.
Her classmates had graduated. Most of the girls had been married off as soon as they turned eighteen. The boys were given an extra year to find jobs and an income, but those who had not married voluntarily were in their final months of freedom. Ginny was a Seventh year and the Head Girl was a Hufflepuff that Hermione had never personally met. Oddly, it wasn't the loss of that coveted position that made it impossible to rejoin those students and try to pick up her life from where it had left off. It was their ignorance. Their innocence. And their lack of understanding.
Hermione Granger was almost twenty-three biological years old...
...and that was four years she could never get back.
She had been surprised when Dumbledore gave the Time Turner back to her after the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Especially when he had placed no limits on its use. Something in the way he had warned her not to tell anyone made her suspect the Ministry was not aware he had given it to her. She was a registered Time Turner user, so it wasn't illegal, but it was frowned upon not to tell the Ministry she had it in her possession.
"From your lack of surprise, I assume my presence here is not unexpected," Snape said dispassionately, eyes roaming the laboratory." My felicitations, Miss Granger. I did not expect such ruthlessness from a Gryffindor." He smiled mirthlessly." But then, your house is odiously self-sacrificing. Does Potter plan to kill me himself, I wonder? Would he actually risk trapping you in my bed long enough for the Wizengamot to extract their pound of flesh?"
The malice in his leer was strangely impersonal. The disgust and contempt, however, were not, and her hand itched to draw her wand. It was only by reminding herself that this was what he no doubt wanted - and the fact she seriously doubted she was fast enough even with his debilitated state - that she kept her hands still. She thought instead how ironic it was that Harry's paranoia had made this possible.
Harry had never rescinded his orders to Kreacher to follow Malfoy, and in the confusion following Dumbledore's death, no one realized that the elf had continued to be bound by that order. There had been a pattern in where Malfoy kept popping up and where the elf kept losing him. That pattern had not changed even after the Wizengamot fell victim to its own idiocy and allowed the Emergency Wizarding Council to pass the Marriage Law. Snape's name had never appeared on the lists of validated Marriages-By-Law published in the Daily Prophet and Arthur Weasley had confirmed that according to Ministry Records, Snape was still single.
She had not questioned her instinctive conclusion that Snape would never submit tamely to the Marriage Law. Nor did she think him incapable of resisting the compulsions that forced Unbonded wizards to wander if there were no eligible witches within range of the tattoo. By taking the outer range of the Marriage Law into consideration, and within the continuing pattern of Malfoy's appearances and disappearances, there had been only one place large enough to hide the two fugitives safely, isolated from marriage-age witches, and magical enough that no one would notice a host of new Confundus spells.
The Forbidden Forest.
"Did they beg?" she asked calmly.
Snape narrowed his eyes and watched her with something that might have been confusion in another man.
"The Fire Marshal said the broken bones were normal," she said contemplatively, having had plenty of time to contemplate this fact. "High temperatures cause the muscles to contract. Violently."
He stared at her, black eyes blinking slowly as he processed her words.
"Where were you four weeks ago?" she asked softly.
He twitched slightly, and for a moment she thought he almost seemed wary. He turned to keep her in view as she began to prowl the room, her body feeling oddly graceful and feline to her.
A cold smile appeared abruptly on his lips. Jarring, and curiously at odds with the utter lack of expression in his eyes. "You will have to refresh my memory, Miss Granger. The Dark Lord has a fondness for Halloween. I was many places."
The stunned disbelief on his face when the Lie Detector went off was almost worth the two week headache she had earned creating it. Snape stared at the whirling ball of red light as it shrieked and bounced in the air. His lips parted and for one surreal moment she thought she actually might laugh. The shock and astonished greed were so like Shacklebolt's when she had shown the Auror the spell.
Hermione tilted her head." Where were you on October 31?"she repeated.
He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. She wondered if he did it to buy time or to hide his eyes. His shoulders slumped slightly, and if he had been an honest man, she might have suspected weariness. Then he dropped his hand and she saw only frustration, anger...and calculation.
"I was in a cave deep in the Forbidden Forest, Miss Granger. Whatever happened, I had nothing to do with it."
He had meant to sound bored, Hermione judged critically. The Lie Detector pulsed a cool blue and drifted lazily just out of his reach. For the first time, she wondered if she had overestimated his value. For a spy, she thought he seemed to exercise very little control over his emotions. And yet, the books had been very clear that a Master of Occlumency must first master his own emotions. Which suggested Snape could control himself.
He simply chose not to.
She grimaced, remembering some of the things Harry had endured. The digs and snide remarks that had nothing to do with being a spy and everything to do with being a petty, vicious man. It was probably why he had become a Death Eater in the first place. Her groom-to-be. The old Hermione would have gagged.
The new Hermione just figured better someone she wouldn't regret if she had to kill him.
Snape did not visibly react as she flicked her wand, wordlessly opening the door from the potions lab to the rooms beyond. There was no one lurking behind the door. Snape looked at the empty doorway, then frowned at her.
"What sort of game are you playing, Miss Granger?"
She ignored the threat rumbling in his voice." No game. For the moment, I need you alive."
She saw him add one and one and come up with Death Eater spy.
"Who died, Miss Granger?" Snape asked finally, the very dispassion in his voice an affront to the crime.
Hermione Granger was a witch. Whatever her blood and birth, she had earned that title. She would be damned if the Ministry took anything else from her. Not her revenge, not her pride, and certainly not her ability to make a choice. The Ministry would pay for what it had allowed to come to pass. For a brief moment the veil muffling her emotions split apart and Hermione stared into a raging maelstrom of guilt and fury and pain. Then mercifully, it snapped shut and all was quiet again.
"My parents," she said tonelessly.
The lab was excruciatingly quiet and she saw calculation in dark eyes as he considered her admission in light of whatever plot he was brewing. She saw him eye her warily when she smiled.
Hermione Granger was a witch.
By the time she was done, the whole damned pureblood world was going to know it.