A/N: How is Dumbledore there, you cry? Well, seriously people! If I've resurrected Snape and killed Harry, I think I can have Dumbledore without too much of a problem, don't you? And besides... I just couldn't imagine this conversation with any of the other characters, so it had to be.
Chapter Five: The Gifts He'd Given
"You both understand," Albus Dumbledore had said in that papery voice of his, "That the law is extremely clear on this point. It is of course also extremely ancient and practically obsolete, rather like myself―" he'd given a little chuckle, then shook his head as though disappointed in his own manners, and continued soberly, "In fact I doubt that anyone has called it into use for a good many years. However, the Ministry of Magic remains eager to prove that they are actually achieving something and with Lord Voldemort vanquished they are suddenly faced with the uncomfortable task of putting a civil-war-torn country back together again and thus…" His blue eyes, tired and without a single twinkle to be seen, had settled upon Hermione. "And you, my dear, are Harry Potter's widow. You are a conspicuous case for them to work upon."
Hermione hadn't understood. She'd stared at him, her brows slightly drawn downwards, then glanced at the ring on her finger. Unconsciously her other hand had risen to her pale throat, risen to wrap her fingers around Harry's ring where she wore it on a chain at her neck. The ring was about all that had been left after the Battle, after he and the Dark Lord had―
She'd swallowed, dropped her hands and said crisply, "I'm sorry, Professor, but I don't see what the new Ministry's difficulties have to do with myself and Professor Snape." All she'd wanted was to be left alone. Not even a week had passed, damn them.
It was the Potions Master who had answered, his eyes glittering like dark tunnels and his voice cut with ice. "I believe what the Headmaster is trying, and failing, to explain, Miss Granger, is that by law I am required to marry you." Unlike everyone else, Snape seemed incapable of calling her Hermione Potter. She supposed he was of the opinion that there had been enough Potters in the world already. That, and he didn't give a damn about other people's sensibilities.
"I – I beg your pardon?" She'd started from one man to the other. If it hadn't been Snape, if it had been some other person speaking, she might have thought he were joking, pulling her chain, having her on with some kind of hateful black humour. But it was Snape. So she'd looked back at Dumbledore, her shadowed eyes staring from a face that had grown too thin, demanding a response through her silence.
The old wizard nodded. "Indeed, Professor Snape has put it succinctly as usual. You, Hermione, are Harry Potter's widow. Harry died without issue, which is to say, without children. It is also true that Professor Snape had quite publically - well, not so publically, I will admit - proclaimed himself to be the boy's protector. The fact that he―" Dumbledore halted tactfully.
Snape glared rigidly at a bookshelf. "The fact tat Potter died while in my care means that the duty to provide you with offspring falls to me. It is a ridiculous law. It is so old it is positively senile. It is even more preposterous when considering that we are dealing with a marriage lasting such a short time and constructed between a witch and a wizard who were barely even of age. But it remains the law. And this farce of a government is eager to draw the attention away from their own incapacity with dealing with peacetime governing and thus..."
"But that's INSANE!" she'd shouted at him, at Dumbledore, at the government who obviously didn't give a damn about her, at Harry who had gone and got himself killed and left her alone. "That's positively - positively Old Testamental! We aren't in the dark ages anymore, you can't make laws forcing people to marry and worse, to force them to have kids that's―" She flounded in search of an expletive foul enough to express her sentiments, gave up, and continued furiously, "And it's hardly Professor Snape's fault that Harry died! It was Voldemort's magic that killed him, residuals from the Battle that we didn't notice in the euphoria that Harry had slain the Dark Lord, didn't notice until it was too late and then - Harry chose his fate, Professor." Beneath her rage there was the glimmering of bitter tears.
"I know, Hermione," whispered Dumbledore, "He welcomed it with open arms in fact and if anyone is to blame for that it is I. I, who schooled him for all these years in the way of becoming a hero and worse, a martyr."
Snape, who had remained silent, turned suddenly snapped, "You always did play games, Dumbledore. But none of this changes the law. Believe me when I say I have already sought for every loophole I could. The law stands."
The law stood. It hadn't mattered what she'd felt. It hadn't mattered that she didn't care about hypothetical offspring. Nothing had mattered but the Ministry's need to look as though it were doing something, anything. It hadn't worked as they had hoped, of course – her teary face in the photographs and Snape's black furrowed brow on the front of the Daily Prophet hadn't exactly been the kind of PR that the government had sought to solicit. The Minister of Magic had fallen at the next elections. But by then, Hermione had already passed from being the child bride of her best friend to being the resented dependant of a man who loathed himself for her best friend's death. By then, it had been too late.
How long would Harry hang between them, as present as if his ghost had come to haunt the dungeons, as visible as if he'd never died, as though Hermione were a bigamist?
Dumbledore had explained to Hermione about Lily Evans one evening six months after their wedding, when the Headmaster had found her crying in the astronomy tower. That was when she'd stopped loathing Severus and had begun to start wanting to fix him instead; to make him happy if she could. And time had passed. Time had passed and the obliged child had been born and somehow the plans that they'd both had about separating once the legal requirements had been fulfilled never came to pass. Because despite it all, somewhere along the way beneath the mutual resentment, they had become united in their hate for what had been imposed upon them, and at some point that unity had merged into companionship. And in Kitty, with her Snape eyes peering out from behind bushy Granger hair, the companionship had begun its slow path towards a deeper kind of love.
But Harry still hung here unspoken in their hearts. Because Severus would never forgive himself for not having kept Lily's son alive. Because he'd loathed Harry and had been forced to take the boy's wife like a hand-me-down. Because after he'd started to love said wife himself, he'd hated the fact that Potter had had her first. Because it made rage bubble in him whenever he thought about the fact that his daughter was growing up with Potter's last name. And worst of all, because he knew that everything that made his life happy, everything that he held dear, he owed to that stupid boy going and getting himself killed. Severus hated being in debt and this was a debt he knew he would never be able to pay back.
Hermione understood all that. She lay in her husband's arms, watching him sleep, and breathed in the salty smell of his skin and the love that they'd shared and wondered if the day would ever come when he would be able to look upon Harry as she did. Look at him not with resentment but with thanks for the gifts that he'd given.
Hope is a steadfast companion.