Author's Note: My utmost respect and admiration go to Jo Rowling for creating the world
Author's Note: My utmost respect and admiration go to Jo Rowling for creating the world. My utmost thanks and adoration go to Annie Talbot and GinnyW for beta work extraordinaire.
"I am not a nice man." He had told her that up front. And it wasn't that she hadn't believed him. It was that she hadn't comprehended what "not a nice man" meant.
It was one of many post-war ironies that the Marriage Law had lasted only nine months, nine months during which it had birthed too many horrors. The backlash from angry witches (and more than a few angry wizards) brought a stop to the madness.
That, and the suicides.
But those who had obediently (or in some cases, expediently) married during that nine-month period were stuck. Wizarding England had no divorce and thus it was left to those poor couples to make the best of it.
Or the worst of it.
And none doubted that the worst of the worst was the marriage of Hermione Granger (Best Friend of the Boy Who Lived; Heroine of Hogwarts Battle; Order of Merlin, First Class), to save the undeserving skin of one Severus Snape—(Murderer of Albus Dumbledore; Death Eater; Order of Merlin, Second Class).
And thus, our story begins….
The knock on the door roused her and for a moment, she wasn't certain where she was. Her desk. Again. Rubbing her inky fingers on her robes, she dug her fingers into the small of her back and groaned. Finally, she flicked her wand at the door. "Come in."
It swung open silently. Even a heavy dungeon door dared not squeak in Severus Snape's domain. The doorway filled with the tall, lean body of a man in elegant black. He stepped through the door, his usually solemn features stretched in a smile that froze when he saw her.
Quickly he crossed the room. "Hermione, are you all right?"
She sat up straighter and smiled softly. "George… of course I am." She winced and dug her fingers in harder. "I just fell asleep and now I have a knot—"
But his expression made it clear. He did not accept her physical state as mere exhaustion and muscle cramps. "Let me," he said, clearly disturbed.
He stepped closer and moved to touch her, but she wrenched herself off the stool and backed away from him, forcing a smile. "No, no, it's all right, really." Struggling to regain control of the situation, she raised her chin and managed to retrieve her professional demeanour from whatever corner of her psyche it had retreated to. "Thank you for coming. I know this is hard."
"Anything for you, love," he said softly.
"Not for me. For history. For the future. We have to make sure people remember, that they never let this happen again," she said forcefully, painfully aware that he was studying the dark shadows under her eyes and the pallor of her skin and reading too much truth there.
"Yes. Indeed we do. But first…" He pulled a tiny nosegay of violets out of his black velvet robes. George had worn nothing but black since Fred's death, a circumstance that made him an eerie reflection of Severus Snape, although George's black set off his colouring and good looks with a stylish flair.
The same could not be said for Severus Snape.
Though there were times—usually times when a camera was nearby to record the moment—when even Snape managed to put forward a devilishly dark aura that some found compelling.
She snapped herself away from such thoughts as the violets touched the palm of her hand and she clutched them in reflex. Flowers. She raised them to her nose and sniffed, and they were sweet, so sweet….
Two courtships—Viktor and Ron—and one so-called marriage—Severus—yet no man had ever given her flowers before. She felt a hollow little lurch where her heart should be, but gave her head a shake and ignored it.
But yes, her fingers clutched the stems of the wee violets and she inhaled them and thought wistfully what a kind husband George would make some lucky witch.
"They need water," he said, then Conjured a tiny crystal vase for them and put it on her desk. She reluctantly released them and watched them levitate into the vase and then the vase fill with water.
"Thank you." She dared not say more. Instead, she drew Albus Dumbledore's Pensieve to the edge of the desk and gestured to it. "Do you know how to use it?"
His features were grave. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes—Were tears glistening at the corners?—and drew a long, silvery thread from his temple to the tip of his wand. One more deft movement, and it spooled into the stone bowl. He stared at it for a moment, and Hermione remained quiet. She'd seen these reactions before, this last second desire to retrieve precious and horrible memories and put them back and not let them see the light of day.
But then he straightened and waved his hand toward it. "Madam History, my memories are yours."
She smiled and cast a stasis spell over them. "It will take me a day to duplicate them and then I'll return them to you. I know how hard—"
"It was hard for everybody."
"But harder for some than others. Believe me, I wouldn't ask this of you if—"
George gestured at the wall of shelves, at the dozens and dozens of glass phials, each filled with similar silvery contents. "We're all doing this for you, Hermione, so you can write the truth, because you're right, it has to be recorded so that the same mistakes don't get made again."
She reached for his hand without thinking, grabbed it and smiled—and then released it just as quickly.
"Hermione." His gaze flickered to the wall and the clock hanging there, and then returned to her. His voice was quiet, his coppery-brown eyes intense. "There are so many things I want to say to you, need to say to you."
"I'm sure I'll have lots of questions once I've seen—"
"That's not what I mean," he growled. "Hermione, you're going to be free again, and I just wanted—needed—you to know…" He didn't finish the statement, but let it hang there, the wanting, the longing.
She was startled, as much by his sentiment as his words. When had this happened? When had George started looking at her this way?
And what did he mean, she was going to be free again?
"No, George. I'll never be free." She moved away from him until she bumped against her desk.
He blinked. "You don't know?"
"Hermione, when was the last time you read the Daily Prophet?"
She shrugged and pointed at the closed door that led to Severus's private quarters, those that were separate from hers. "I don't usually bother. Severus—"
"Accio Daily Prophet," George said.
The newspaper slithered its way under the door and into his hand. He didn't even look at it, just studied her face as he handed it to her. And watched….
She looked down at the photograph, at the tall figure in black pulling a blonde woman protectively into his embrace as he scowled at the camera and entered a restaurant.
She caught her breath. "Pansy?"
She hadn't thought anything could hurt, but this did, oh yes, this did.
"Fuck." George snatched the paper out of her hand. "That's not what—I hadn't even seen that, 'Mione. I'm sorry. Believe me I didn't mean—"
She shrugged and laughed nervously. "I've seen those kinds of pictures before. I just hadn't—hadn't ever seen him with Pansy, of all people. Isn't that odd—" she asked, sensing that her laughter was sounding more like hysteria, "that it seems so wrong to think of them together, yet she and I are the same age and—"
"Hermione!" George said firmly and flipped the paper over and handed her the front page headline. "Read this. This is what I wanted you to see."
"Dissolution Law Enacted!
After five long years of battles amongst the venerable membership of the Wizengamot, The Dissolution Act of 2004 has been voted into law, allowing the dissolution of any marriage entered into during the nine month period commonly known as the Marriage Law Terrors. Effective on May 1, 2004, any affected witch and wizard wishing to dissolve their marriage may petition the Wizengamot and, if there are no offspring of said marriage, receive a reprieve. For most, the long nightmare is over.
"The law has, in some quarters, been dubbed 'Hermione's Law,' as its passage is largely owed to a campaign staged by influential friends of Hermione (Granger) Snape, Order of Merlin, First Class…."
She stared at the words, hardly daring believe them. Over? It was over?
She sank to the stool and stared at George.
He closed the distance between them, and before she could stop him, his lips were pressed against her forehead and his arms wrapped around her—
And an electric tingling sizzled over her skin.
"No!" She pulled away, but not in time.
"Well, that didn't take long, did it?" a silky voice asked.
Severus stood in the open doorway to his quarters.
"It's not—" she began.
"What it looks like?" He snatched the newspaper from the floor and smirked as it fell open to his own scowling picture. "It never is, is it?"
George stood stiffly bristling with suppressed rage. "I hardly think you have a leg to stand on—"
"Oh, calm down, Weasley," Severus said with a bored drawl. "Why should I care what plans my dear wife makes for May 2? It's not as if I don't have plans of my own."
"Severus, we need to talk about this when we're alone," she said quietly, desperately reaching for some semblance of dignity. "Please."
"As you wish. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to read my newspaper." He turned with a billow of robes and sailed back to the door, where he paused, then looked back thoughtfully. "You do realise, Weasley, Hermione might not be able to fulfil whatever dreams of family you might harbour. You do realise she's had—difficulties—in that area?"
George had his wand at the ready before Hermione's gasp had sounded. "You never deserved her," he snapped.
"You aren't wizard enough to take me on, Weasley, especially not within my own wards." Severus nodded to Hermione, then dismissed them both with a sniff.
The door closed.
George whirled back to her, reached out for her—
She shook her head. "No, not now, I don't—I don't know what to think, I just need time—" She was babbling, her fingers clutching her robes in a rhythmic panic. "Please…."
He drew in a deep breath, then released it. "Of course. Just know that all you have to do is send for me, and I'll be here."
"Thank you," she said again, and felt like she'd been saying it all morning, on a morning in which she had nothing to be thankful for.
Except, she thought—realising that for once perhaps the Daily Prophet had been right—the end of a nightmare.
When George was gone she found herself unable to look at his flowers. She whisked them into a cabinet and turned to face the Pensieve. She calmed herself, retreating to her only solace, her work.
She leaned forward, preparing to witness George's experiences of the Battle of Hogwarts, a day that started with youthful bravado and ended with the death of his brother.
So many people were trusting her to write their stories.
This, at least was something she could do.
Her nose touched the silver and she felt the familiar tug, the falling in, and greeted the carnage with a sense of relief.
How easy it was to dive into the horrors of the past, when she was leaving the present behind.