Introduction: This is my first HP story and the obligatory Marriage Law yarn but hopefully I've been able to imbue it with a few interesting and compelling twists. There is some Ron and Harry bashing, but only because it feels good on Severus's behalf, not because I actually dislike those characters. It is compliant with all seven of JKR's books with the exception that Severus Snape survives, obviously, and I've tossed out the Epilogue. Things get quite steamy with SS/HG (hence very deserving of the M rating) and some of Snape's behavior is questionable (when isn't it?). The story is all plotted out and will end up being 13 chapters long. Reviews welcome and appreciated.

DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to JK Rowling, bless her soul.

Chapter One: The Portkey

Like butterflies, the folded pieces of parchment fluttered about inside the golden cage that floated above the center dais. Occasionally a new one appeared with a bright, bluish sparkle; and, less frequently, one was consumed in a flare of red flame.

Severus Snape was in a daze and a bit unsteady on his feet as he watched the wizard at the front of the line step up to the cage. The past two months he had spent in St. Mungo's and barely thirty minutes had passed since he had dressed himself for the first time. Aurors had shown up immediately thereafter and escorted him to the Ministry of Magic, over the protestations of his Healers. Initially, he thought it was to answer for his crimes during the war, despite a vague, dream-like recollection of Healer Pye mentioning he'd been cleared of any charges. They had put him in this line, in this nondescript room, with these other, harmless looking wizards - also accompanied by Aurors - and he was confused.

He hated feeling physically weak. He hated not being in control of any situation he found himself in. But instincts, honed over the course of twenty years as a spy, informed him that something was wrong and he employed two of his favorite fail-safe devices for taking control of a situation: observe without appearing to do so and provoke those around him into talking.

He turned his considerable and weighty frown on the apparent babysitter loitering at his elbow. The Auror fidgeted. "Mr. Goodrich, isn't it? Hufflepuff?" The young man blushed - blushed! - and then grinned.

"I'm s-surprised you remember me, Professor." He stammered out.

"You managed to gas half your classmates in your third year Potions, Mr. Goodrich, of course I remember you. Not a distinction one would want, I am sure, but a distinction nonetheless." He watched as the young man's grin slipped into a tight, abashed grimace. If I'm being guarded by a Hufflepuff, Snape mused to himself, the Ministry can't think I'm that much of a threat. So . . . "What precisely is going on here and why is my presence required?"

"It's the new law, Professor. Oh, here - it's your turn." The wizard in front of him had pulled one one of the fluttering parchments out of the cage and was now being herded to the exit by his attending Auror escort. Something still had him unsettled about the situation and he balked, refusing to approach the dais.

"I demand to know what is going on." He said flatly. "Why am I . . ." A sudden weakness washed over him and his legs felt to give out. Not surprising, actually. All but the last three days since Lord Voldemort's demise had been spent in a coma while his body rid itself of snake venom and attempted to heal. With the courage of a Gryffindor, Goodrich took hold of his arm and steadied him. Snape scowled.

"I'll explain everything after you select one." Goodrich said, ignoring the scowl and indicating the cage. Suspicion lay heavy in Snape's eyes. "Come now, Professor. Select a parchment and I can take you somewhere you can catch your breath and have a bit of a rest."

Reluctantly, Snape nodded and extended his hand into the golden cage. Just at that moment, a bluish light sparkled and he grabbed hold of the flapping piece of parchment that appeared within the reach of his thin fingers. Goodrich tightened his grip on Snape's elbow and steered him to the exit. And down a hall. And into a room.

"You can rest here, Professor," Goodrich tried smiling again and guided his former teacher to sit on the edge of a rather large, comfortable bed. "And congratulations."

"For what, Mr. Goodrich? Being upright for more than half an hour?" Snape snapped.

"On your marriage, sir." The Auror pointed down at Snape's left hand which now sported a band of gold. The black eyes took aim at his escort and let loose a glare of such ferocity that Goodrich wisely took a step back toward the door.

"What have you done?" Snape growled at the retreating Hufflepuff.

"The new marriage law, Professor. Ring. Bridal suite." Goodrich swept his hand grandly about the room. "And bride." He indicated the parchment still clutched in Snape's hand and got out while the getting was good. Snape unfolded the parchment and read the name there.

"Bloody hell!"

Adrenaline now fueling his limbs, he launched himself off the bed and at the door that had just snicked shut.

"Hermione?" Ron's voice seemed a bit strained and so caught her attention over the ambient din that accompanied a Weasley family picnic. She glanced up from her plate and across the table to where he sat, a frown hovering over those blue, blue eyes. She knew her smile was sappy, but she couldn't help herself. Life was perfect.

"Yes, Ron?"

"Where is your ring?" In a panic, she looked down at her hand. Her engagement ring was gone.

"Hermione, where is your ring?" Raw concern now edged his voice. Hermione jumped to her feet, almost tumbling to the ground trying to untangle herself from the bench seat.

"It got dirty when we were de-gnoming the garden." She half-ran to the tool shed, Ron right behind her. "I took it off to clean it and got sidetracked . . . it should be in here." Her tension eased as she picked up the ring from the ledge at the back of the sink. "Oh, thank Merlin!" She went to put it on, but Ron took hold of her hands.

"Here, let me." That sappy grin was now on both of their faces as he gently took her left hand in his and lifted the ring in order to slide it back onto her finger. But as he looked down, horror contorted his features.

"No!" he gasped.

"Ron?" She looked down, too, and there it was - a golden wedding band. "Ron!" She flung herself at her former fiancé just as the ring on her finger glowed a bright blue. She felt the sickening pull behind her navel and was buffeted by whirling wind and color as the Portkey activated.

She landed hard and staggered forward, the momentum from the attempted leap into Ron's arms translating instantaneously to wherever she had been transported to. The whirl of colors disappeared and all she could see was billowing black, which no amount of flailing about could prevent her from plowing into. The blackness was a bit more substantial than it first appeared because she connected solidly. The debacle took a fortunate turn when both she and her accidental target landed on a rather comfortable . . . bed? Bed. She lifted her head, brushed the wild tangle of hair from her face and saw what - who - she had landed on.

"Bloody hell!" She screeched.

Severus Snape, her new husband.

"No, no, no, no, no!" She shrieked as she quickly scrabbled backwards off the man and off the mattress. In her retreat, a knee squished into a spot not quite as firm as the rest of her former potions professor. Said former potions professor howled bloody murder and jerked into a ball as he violently rolled onto his side.

"I knew I should have let that damn snake kill me," Snape gasped. Hermione ignored him, flew to the door and yanked on the handle. It was locked. She began pounding on the thick wood with her fists.

"You've made a mistake! I'm engaged! Let me out!" She stopped yelling for a moment to listen for a response. The man curled on the bed, in a puddle of black robes, groaned. Hermione attacked the door again. "Help, help! Let me out. Let me out now!" She pounded until her fists started hurting. She felt demented, like her mind was going to snap. After a year of deprivation hunting horcruxes; the massive casualties from the final battle; the irrevocable memory charm she had placed on her parents to save their lives; after everything she had endured, she just couldn't abide another loss. They had to fix this - they just had to.

When the throbbing in his ears finally hurt more than the throbbing in his groin, Snape decided commentary would be necessary. Slowly, painfully, he uncurled and tentatively stretched out full length on the bed, and managed to drag himself toward a pillow. He might live after all.

"Miss Granger." The familiar deadly calm of the potions master's voice seemed to cut through the apparent hysteria of the girl pounding on the door and screaming her lungs out. Tearfully, she turned to look at him, slid down the stubborn door and ended up almost a heap on the floor. "You are supposedly renowned for your intelligence, knowledge and competence," he graced her with a look of pure skepticism and continued. "Surely you can employ some fraction of those qualities toward resolving this problem?" He frowned at the lack of a response.

"Get up off the floor, you silly girl, and let's figure out how to get out of this mess." He snapped at her and waved his hand. A chair from the corner of the room slid across the floor and up to the edge of the bed. Rubbing her face with the back of her sleeve, Hermione hauled herself from off the floor and meekly sat down in the proffered chair.

"That's better," he said. "First, tell me about this idiotic new law."

"You . . . you haven't heard?" she said.

"Miss Granger, evidently I've been in hospital ever since Nagini savaged me in the Shrieking Shack - and unconscious up until three days ago and barely then. I should be there still, from what the Healers told me, but I have been forced into this ridiculous situation and I must say I am not pleased." From the stormy look on his face, Hermione considered that an understatement. She cleared her throat.

"The Ministry believes the quickest way to recover our magical population after the casualties of the war is to press all single witches and wizards capable of child-bearing and rearing into marriage. The names of all single women of requisite age, unless wearing a Ministry issued engagement ring, are put into a lottery. They drag eligible and non-compliant wizards in to make a random selection and, since no one has a choice in the matter, no actual wedding is needed. We're simply put under a binding magical contract. The couple is kept in "wedding suites" in the Ministry until . . . until . . ." She stopped, feeling her cheeks grow hot.

"Until the marriage is consummated." Snape groaned. "Of course. The contract has to have some tacit agreement between the so-called participants or it cannot be binding. Holding the parties hostage until they . . . give in . . . would be their only recourse to get this demonic plan to work." The look on his face was identical to the one he wore just before he would swoop down on Neville Longbottom in potions class.

"And some Ministry idiot thinks me capable of adequately raising a child? Did they learn nothing from two wars with the . . ." he hesitated, ". . . with Voldemort? That unwanted children are more likely to turn dark than not? Imbeciles. Twenty-five years from now we will be fighting the same war all over again simply due to their lack of foresight."

He experimentally stretched a leg, winced, and settled it back into its previous position. "And you may have already solved your own problem, Miss Granger. The damage sustained from our first time in bed together . . ." he glanced at her through narrowed eyes and she felt her face burn with embarrassment, quickly raising a hand to her cheek to hide the bright pink flush ". . . might have actually disqualified me from completing my part of the contract forced upon us. I suspect the marriage could be annulled on the grounds that I cannot perform my conjugal duties."

"Really?" That bit of information gave her an inkling of hope and she sat up a little straighter, her face lit with the theoretical possibility.

Snape scowled. "I'm glad to see you are so concerned for my physical well-being," he muttered. She blushed again and dropped her head, looking morosely at the floor. Something prickled behind her eyes. Hermione felt like she was going to cry again. There was an unusual silence where Snape actually seemed to fidget uncomfortably. He cleared his throat.

"So you were engaged?"

"Are." Hermione corrected. "Am."

"Let me guess - Weasley?"

She gaped at him. "How did you . . . ?" He had been their teacher for six years after all. Perhaps he paid more attention to them than she had expected. "Yes, sir. The wedding is scheduled for next month."

"Then why didn't he get you one of those Ministry engagement rings?"

"I took it off to clean and forgot to put it back on. After an hour or so without the ring on, my name was put back into the lottery."

"Well, then our solution is simple. I suspect Weasley is on his way here as we speak, to explain to the authorities what happened and therefore we will shortly be released from our contract and this room. We simply have to wait it out." His eyelids drooped. "Your knight in shining armor is on his way, Miss Granger." The last was spoken very softly. Hermione looked over at him just as his eyes fluttered closed. And as softly, "I am exhausted. Try not to molest me any further while I indulge in some much . . . needed . . . " his voice drifted. Then he seemed to rally a bit with some random thought. "With Voldemort gone . . ." The scowl on his faced eased and then quietly slunk away. He looked much younger when he wasn't so fierce.

"Thanks to Harry," Hermione said and saw a slight frown contract his brow and then disappear as sleep took him completely.

"And thanks to you, Professor." Hermione added as she watched him sleep. Yes, Ron would be coming for her; coming to rescue her. She tried to imagine him galloping up on a white horse, in one of the suits of armor from Hogwarts, but for some reason the image wasn't forthcoming.