Title: The Adventure Inherent
Author: Sare Liz,
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me.
Pairing: HG/SS
Rating: um, it really ranges. Let's say T for now.
Continuity: AU (Canon up until OOTP), seventh year, pre-war.
Warning: SS is debatably OOC.
Notes: When did I start this? Years ago? And it's 67 pages, and still unfinished. My great hope is to post it, as you see, bit by bit, and be thusly inspired to finish it. Here's to hoping…

A response to the WIKTT Marriage Law Challenge.

A Brief Description of the Challenge, Interpreted: Due to the obvious and ill effects of inbreeding in pureblood families, the Ministry of Magic in their infinite wisdom have enacted an archaic law allowing for legally binding betrothals to be sought by any pureblood witch or wizard or their familial representative, to any first, second, or third generation muggle born witch or wizard. The presentation of betrothals through this legislation will not occur until both parties are legally of age and out of school (which by Ministry Standards and for the purpose of this fic stands at 18 years and 6 months, or as they like to say "81,085.5 Days of Life"), and once presented with opportunity, an acceptance must be made and a marriage must occur within a reasonable time frame.

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Chapter 1: Severus' POV

Week One, Day One: Monday Evening.

There have been few things in Severus Snape's life that he'd ever truly felt compelled to obtain.

Power, for a long time, had been one of those things and he'd gone about getting it in interesting ways. He yearned for, and achieved in due time, power over his own fate, power to do what he wanted to do, power over people beneath him, but of course, it was more complicated than just that. It also meant paying back those who helped you, getting them more power, and more, and then still more. Severus wasn't sure where the line was, really, of having enough power and then having too much, but he was certain that at some point he'd crossed it, just as the Dark Lord had crossed it. And yet, Severus never quite had enough power to obtain what he wished, in those few moments that he wished for something with every magical particle in his body.

That failure, that single moment of incredible failure of his wits, his scheming, and his power meant the death of the only pure dream he'd had in many years.

Since then, his focus shifted quite sharply from seeking power to seeking vengeance. Taking vengeance on Voldemort for himself, for Lily, and for Lily's infant son, as well taking vengeance on himself for his nameless victims and his inability to love selflessly (for that rare occasion that he loved), it was his world. It was punctuated by the annual round of terrifying the first years, gloating to the Head of Gryffindor over the tender topic of Slytherin dominance in Quidditch, and recently, making sure that Lily's son – now no longer and infant, but sadly a carbon copy of his father, rather than his mother – stayed alive and reasonably intact.

It was a punishing, destructive, and rather satisfying way to spend the last eighteen or so years. And yet, just as Severus' quest for power had ended in somewhat unexpectedly in humility, his quest for vengeance was ending - crashing about his ears, really - in what to all outward appearances was atonement. And this transition was turning out to be just as gradual as the last one was violent.

There were of course, still things he had to do for the Headmaster, for the Order. Simply because he was beginning to say the last rites over his inner demons, Severus had no illusions about the tension in the air of the coming war. He had never been an unintelligent man, nor unobservant, however much he failed to act on his instinct, tripping over his pride as he had so often in the past.

This new change, in one sense it scared the hell out of him, as he was quite comfortable with vengeance, thank you, and had felt before no pressing need for change. But in a different sense, it was like coming home, in a way that coming home never actually had been for Severus.

This new part of his life, this new thing to obtain, this new way to be, it had surrounded him. It came on slowly, silently, and he hadn't recognized it until it was too late. Now he was too familiar with it, it was too much a part of how he saw the world for him to truly disavow it. Oh, to be certain he could give a good outward appearance, that had never been a problem, but he had to live with the inward truth, and he had only just lately realized that it was his inward truth and not someone else's.

It, it, it – he could hardly even admit it to himself, hardly even put it into words even though he knew it in a way beyond words.

He wanted not power, nor vengeance, but something that looked suspiciously like… love. Love, and all its trappings. But he'd never admit it to Minerva. Not ever.

And so, in the privacy of Albus' study, he griped less when the old man would present a view of the future that included Severus's own children. That such comments were once met with sharp and vociferous negativity but were now met with quiet grumbling could not have gone unnoticed. He wasn't that lucky. Of course, there was always reality to contend with, not that reality ever seemed to dim the enthusiasm of Albus Dumbledore. That Severus didn't currently have any children and to date knew of no decent witch who wanted to rectify the situation did not seem to stifle the twinkle in the Headmaster's eye, not one bit.

Similarly, while at tea, Severus ceased changing the subject abruptly when Minerva would present the pros and cons of marriage in maturity, as she would call it. It was just the two of them in the room, anyway, and had been for the last eighteen years. The weekly teas had begun under the guise of better inter-house relations. It was only with a great deal of hindsight that the Head of Slytherin could admit to himself the more probable truth of the matter: Albus had known he needed a friend, or if not a friend, someone to talk to. And he had needed it, desperately so. Of course now his so-called friend teased him unmercifully about all such things that she had no business knowing, but since he was the one who had told her… it all seemed to even out, really.

It was in these ways that ever so very gently his mind acclimated to the concept of finding someone - not the necessity of it, but the inevitability of it. For the first time in the mind of the Potions Master, marriage became something more than a means to an end, and became quite simply, the end itself. The fact that he had no one currently in mind was secondary, as that would obviously work itself out. He just needed to be open to the possibilities. That much he had learned from Minerva.

It was in this mindset that the new academic year began. Another year of gut-twisting faking with Voldemort, another year on the active list of the Order, another year teaching potions to dunderheads who would just barely avoid immolating themselves and their cauldron-mate, and another year - though thankfully the last year - that he would have to deal with St. Potter and his menagerie at the school. He didn't hold out hope that should he survive the war he would be utterly rid of the Golden Gryffindors, unless of course, they didn't survive the war. It was a thought that had a certain sad merit. Well, no – he might as well be honest with himself. He didn't mind losing Mr. Potter to the war effort, but it would be a wrench to lose Harry, Lily's son. If only he could tease out the one from the other, he mused.

So long as he was telling the truth to himself, Severus thought, he might as well come clean with all of it.

A week ago, even, he might have just left it at that – an earnest desire to exorcise James Potter from his son Harry, and a grudging admittance that at least Miss Hermione Granger was not a complete and utter waste of time. Had, for instance, she been sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor (though she clearly belonged to that insufferable house) it would have been him raving about the Head Girl in the staff room instead of Minerva. Unfortunately, his role as a spy quelled most of his natural inclination to praise her, and her friendship with the James Potter look-a-like squashed the rest of it. However, as of last Friday, Hermione Granger was something of a fond 'what if' in his mind. Severus had placed her right next to the only other such wasted dream, and smirked at them both sitting on the shelf in his mind together. They, the both of them, had abhorrent taste in friends.

Two Sundays ago things changed a bit concerning Miss Granger, when a certain knowledge of a disturbing nature reached Severus, rather an inevitability when Lucius confides with drunken glee that Draco would soon be marrying the chit, and wouldn't that be fun? And while at the time the Potions Master did of course agree to his part in the ceremony, as Draco's godfather, the ensuing conversation with Albus was somewhat less amusing for all involved. This was possibly due to a lack of scotch.

By last Monday Severus had decided that his shock and ill temper stemmed from the general perverseness of the idea that there should actually exist a Mrs. Hermione Malfoy (like unto the perverseness of the Universe in sanctioning the existence of a Mrs. Lily Potter). It went unsaid that her life as a part of that family would be involuntary, unhappy, and possibly quite short. It was inappropriate, inhumane, and a gross breach of every decent assumption of human autonomy. He was personally affronted by the mere suggestion of it, but of course only in general terms. Hermione herself didn't really matter to him, because of course, why should she? She's just a student - a good one to be sure, and would be a wonderful Order member in her time, etc, etc - but he'd feel the same way if it had been Hannah Abbot or Padma Patil. There was nothing overly special, was the thing, about Miss Granger.

By Wednesday Severus was in complete agreement with Albus - something needed to be done. They were in the midst of having the law repealed, it was true, but until then reality was what it was. Miss Granger was too close to everything - the Order, Albus, Potter, and certainly Severus himself - for her to be taken by the Deatheaters as a spoil of war. She was also too young and too inexperienced to take the role of spy herself and willingly enter the hell that would be Malfoy Manor. There was nothing for it - she would have to marry someone else, someone powerful enough to stand up to a challenge from the darkness and not get himself killed. There were several Order members to choose from, really, and Severus berated himself for feeling the inexplicable way he did about it. It was a situation he would have found incredibly distasteful if he were in her shoes, and he didn't relish Albus' position in the least. The entire thing was distasteful, really, incomprehensibly distasteful.

By Thursday he'd done something completely irrational, and quite possibly lost his mind in the process. He'd put his name back into Albus's hat of those possible suitors for Miss Granger, and he'd gotten picked. By the time he'd left Albus's office, Severus was convinced that he was, indeed, insane, and had ceased worrying about it. Life was undoubtedly going to be easier from now on, now that he'd lost his mind.

And now it was Monday. The weekend had been spent cycling through the pain of reality ("she hates you, this will never work, you have consigned the both of you to a living hell") and the bliss of madness ("but what if she doesn't hate you? Can't you see the adventure inherent in this?"), and this in between all of his other duties for the day. He had been in turns maudlin and cynical, and none of it had helped him sort out why he'd done what he had, or how he was going to handle the situation from here, but he sat near the fire, waiting for her knock, waiting to see what they would do about reality.

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...in our next chapter, we see Hermione knock on the door. The adventure continues. If you enjoyed it, please do let me know. Any and all reviews will help feed the muse. Thx - Sare

EDIT: continuity issues fixed. :) Thanks to whitehound and bigmommak. Possibly if I had a beta, this wouldn't have happened...