Disclaimer: All places and characters belong to JK Rowling and the WB and various publishers. No money is being made off this piece of fiction.

Warnings: This story is Slash of the HP/SS variety (there will also be some SB/RL and HG/RW as a side plot). My rating, however, is more due to violence than any explicit sexual content. I tend to focus more on 'romance' rather than anything graphically sexual. If you do not like Slash, don't read this.

Author's Note: Cannon through Book 4 only. There is a longer note at the end of this chapter with more details about this subject.

The Marriage Stone

Harry did his best to ignore the stares of the other students as he searched for an empty compartment on the Hogwarts Train. He was used to people staring and whispering behind his back, but this year it seemed worse than normal. Even his fellow Gryffindors grew silent when they saw him; they smiled at him as he passed, and then began whispering about him the moment they assumed he was out of hearing range.

Finding an empty compartment, he hid inside it, thinking it ironic that he could go from one extreme to the next just by getting on a train. The Dursleys pretended he didn't exist; the Wizarding World couldn't get enough of him.

He could only hope that this year would be uneventful. Then maybe he'd be left in peace as people forgot about the events of last year. It wasn't as if he'd wanted to become the target of Voldemort and his Death Eaters -– he didn't ask for it after all. It just seemed to work out that way. And last year - his fifth - had proven more eventful than the previous four years combined.

Oh, he'd managed the usual fifteen-year-old antics - played Quidditch brilliantly, learned new subjects, passed and failed tests, got detention, won and lost points for Gryffindor, fought and bonded with his closest friends. But in between the chaos of his typical school days he also managed to face down Death Eaters and their Dark Lord not once but three times in the course of the year. The last confrontation, just before the school term ended for the summer, proved the proverbial bullet the entire Wizarding World dodged.

Voldemort, grown great and terrible in power, had managed to get his hands on a legendary artifact –- the Eye of Odin, a crystal that could destroy or subjugate any Wizard who dared stand against its wielder. Naturally he attacked Hogwarts with it, intent on destroying both Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. He killed the first wave of Aurors that moved against him and his followers. They fell with barely a fight, no match for the restored Dark Lord and his new weapon. Truthfully no one was a match, not even Dumbledore; no one was strong enough to stand against Voldemort. The strongest in the Wizarding World gathered in defense of the ancient castle and the children trapped inside. They stood without hope, even the most optimistic of them realizing finally that putting all their faith in the abilities of one young boy was ridiculous.

Naturally, Harry Potter rose to the occasion and proved them all wrong. Granted he lacked the strength or the power to stand against Voldemort; but that didn't stop him from putting on his invisibility cloak, climbing on his Firebolt, and facing down the Dark Lord as if competing in a Quidditch match. No magic, no spells, no wands drawn to duel - Harry Potter just raced into the midst of the army of Death Eaters on his broom and stole the Eye of Odin right out of Voldemort's hand.

The backlash of energy released from the theft killed the Death Eaters closest to Voldemort, drained the Dark Lord of all his reserved power, and landed Harry Potter in the hospital wing for three weeks. Voldemort fled, weakened but not dead. The Death Eaters scattered, went back into hiding, and Harry Potter was clapped on the back by a grateful world, and sent home to Privet Drive for the summer. He spent the summer months suffering nightmares locked up in a tiny room in his uncle's house while his face was splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet incessantly.

Now he rode the train back to Hogwarts, enduring the whispers and stares as best he could. Eventually Ron and Hermione found him and kept him company. His two friends talked about their summers, entertained him with stories about the fun they'd had (they knew he had not been so lucky staying with the Dursleys), and generally did their best to keep his mind off the circus that was his life.

It was only as the train was nearing Hogwarts that Hermione hinted at a bizarre political situation that had risen over the summer -– that Harry, the Hero of the Wizarding World, had become one of the hottest political commodities in a fierce re-election campaign for the office of Minister of Magic. Cornelius Fudge was up for re-election and had no less than fifteen opponents running against him. Gaining the favor of Harry Potter would insure the election of whatever Wizard or Witch could win it. But as Harry didn't know any of the other candidates, and had no interest in supporting Cornelius Fudge, he dismissed Hermione's warnings as unimportant. Little did Harry know that the desire for re-election was about to turn his world upside down once again.

Harry sat between Ron and Neville at the Gryffindor table while Dumbledore gave his opening-year speech, reminding the students to stay out of the Dark Forest and reminding them that residual magic from the Battle (it hadn't been given a name yet Seamus pointed out -– though he was pushing for the Battle of Hogwarts) was still lingering around the Quidditch pitch, and until it had been completely cleaned up all students were to watch their wand usage in the area. Clean up duty would fall to the seventh years as part of their practicals on the Misuse of Wild Magic.

"Don't envy them that," Dean told his fellow sixth years. "I imagine they'll still be finding bits and pieces of Death Eaters out there."

Harry felt himself pale at Dean's words, unable to join in the laugher his words engendered in the other boys. He'd only wanted to save those inside the castle - when he'd stolen the Eye of Odin from Voldemort he hadn't intended to be responsible for so many deaths.

"Dean!" Hermione's voice cut through the laughter, and she glared at the others. "I thought we all agreed not to mention certain subjects."

Judging by the guilty looks the others were suddenly throwing at Harry, he could imagine just exactly what those subjects were. He wondered when Hermione had found time to discuss this with the others, though he was grateful for the effort. The three times he had faced down Voldemort last year his friends and classmates had all been safely locked away in Gryffindor tower. To them the stories were distant and fascinating - to Harry they were living nightmares that he had to reliving night after night. Summer had been more hellish than usual. Unable to control his dreams he'd woken his family up most nights with his screams of terror. And while Uncle Vernon had never really beaten him beyond slaps and the occasional backhand across the back of the head, Harry had been punished - going without meals, earning extra chores, spending all the rest of his time locked up like a prisoner to be kept away from 'normal' people.

"Sorry, Harry," Dean apologized.

"That's all right," Harry assured them all, wanting to appear as normal as possible. "Though it does make me wonder what it means for the start of the Quidditch season this year."

"Blast!" Seamus cursed in agreement. "That's right! Do you suppose this means we can't use brooms around the pitch either?"

"Dumbledore didn't say anything about brooms," Ron pointed out. "Just said to watch the use of wands."

"Maybe that means the Slytherins won't be able to cheat this year?" Neville suggested.

They all threw dark glares across the room at the Slytherin table. Malfoy like usual was holding court with his cohorts around him. Once again Lucius Malfoy had gone unpunished for his Death Eater activities. The fact that he had not been present at the final battle had apparently proven his innocence to enough of the higher-ups that they had for once ignored Harry's testimony that Malfoy was one of Voldemort's most trusted servants.

Both Mr. Goyle, and Mr. Crabbe had been found dead on the field. Their wives however had pleaded innocent. Consequently both their sons were still firmly ensconced in their usual places beside Draco Malfoy, going unnoticed by the Ministry who had more than enough to contend with. If their fathers' allegiance to the Dark Lord had harmed their standing in Slytherin house any, it was not apparent to Harry or the rest of Gryffindor. How Harry was going to deal with classmates who believed him responsible for the deaths of their fathers he didn't know.

"I suppose they'll be more insufferable than ever," Dean grumbled. "Even with half of their parents suspected of being dark wizards, they still act like they own the world."

"Just goes to show what money and a family name will buy you," Seamus agreed.

"Doesn't explain Snape," Ron grumbled, and Harry threw him a warning frown. They all knew Snape had been spying for Dumbledore, and last year he, Ron and Hermione had agreed to speak about him as little as possible for fear of saying something they weren't supposed to.

"Don't let his disposition fool you," Seamus told them all in a quiet whisper. "Snape's family is one of the oldest and more powerful in the Wizarding World - and I hear they're loaded."

"Snape has a family?" Ron stared at him in shock.

"Well, I don't know much about that," Seamus admitted. "Heard he's got a sister and a couple of brothers, though I don't know much about them. But my uncle works for the Ministry's revenue board, and mentioned the funds generated by some of the older family estates - he mentioned a Snape Manor."

"That doesn't mean it is Snape's," Hermione pointed out. "If he's got siblings, it's just as likely any family inheritance went to them."

"Still, wouldn't that just figure," Dean grumbled. "Bastard doesn't need to work, but still he's here making our lives a living hell just because he enjoys tormenting students."

"Least he doesn't hate you the way he does me," Neville sighed. "I'm just grateful I don't have to take any more potions classes from him." Neville as expected had done very poorly on his potions OWLs, and consequently was not enrolled in advanced potions.

"I can't believe Harry and I both made it into advanced potions," Ron muttered. "I can't believe we actually want to continue taking classes from Snape."

"You know you can't be an Auror without his class," Hermione reminded him.

"I'm sure if he had been the one grading our OWLs we wouldn't have gotten any," Harry sighed. "He's going to do his best to make us regret passing this year."

"Don't worry, Harry," Hermione assured him. "We'll all work together and we'll be fine. We'll all get through potions even if it kills us!"

"That's what we're afraid of," Ron, Dean, Seamus and Harry said in unison. They all burst into laughter, only to be distracted a moment later as the feast arrived on their table. Starving, Harry dug in, having one of the first decent meals he'd had all summer long.

They were just getting ready to head back to the tower when Professor McGonagall asked Harry, Ron and Hermione to accompany her. Bewildered, they bid good night to their year mates and followed their head of house out of the great hall, wondering what they could have possible have done in the few short hours they'd been on school grounds to have drawn the attention of the staff so soon.

They were led to a private room near the main staff lounge where to their surprise they found Arthur and Molly Weasley waiting for them. While Ron went to greet his parents, Harry noticed Dumbledore, Snape and Hooch joining them. To his surprise Percy Weasley was there as well. The former Head Boy of Hogwarts threw Harry a weak smile, said something to his father, and then hurried back out of the room again. Harry and Hermione exchanged bewildered looks, both shrugging at each other.

"Ah, Harry," Dumbledore greeted him. "Come in, my boy. Come in. We seem to have a bit of a problem I'm afraid."

Harry felt his heart fluttering his chest. When Dumbledore said there was a problem, it usually meant something bad. "Is it. . ." his voice broke and he was ashamed to see that Snape was glaring at him. "Is it Voldemort?"

His use of the Dark Lord's name had the typical response. Everyone except Dumbledore and Snape flinched at the sound.

Dumbledore frowned, something Harry didn't find reassuring. "Well, not directly," he informed Harry. "Though he does have some bearing on the situation. We've had word that he's been seen again gathering his forces. Seems he's recovered from his little disaster last spring."

Harry felt his knees growing weak and he was thankful to discover a chair directly behind him as he sat down without thinking. "You said not directly, sir?" he asked shakily. Voldemort was gathering his forces, but that wasn't the problem Dumbledore was currently frowning over. This was not going to be good. He could tell just by the worried looks on Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's faces.

"I'm afraid our current problem has to do with Minister Fudge," Dumbledore explained.

Harry glanced briefly at the others in the room. For the most part he saw looks of disgust on the faces of the adults in the room. "Something's happened to Minister Fudge?"

"I wish," Molly Weasley muttered under her breath. Arthur nodded in agreement.

"No, Harry," Dumbledore sighed, pausing to stroke his long silver beard. "I suppose you haven't been reading the papers this summer?"

"No, sir," Harry admitted. "My uncle gets the Times but he'd take a belt to me if I touched it."

Surprisingly that comment got as many winces as the mention of Voldemort's name did, followed by a baffling exchange of looks amongst the adults.

"I actually meant Wizarding papers, my boy," Dumbledore said gently. "But never mind that. The thing is Harry, Cornelius Fudge is up for re-election, and he has more competition than he's ever had before. All of the candidates are clamoring for favor among the Wizarding World. And it seems you're the favored ticked to the office."

"I don't understand, sir," Harry frowned, wishing now he had paid more attention to Herminie's explanation on the train. How could he have anything to do with an election?

"It's a popularity contest, Harry," Hermione explained. "Which ever candidate can get you to endorse them is bound to win as public opinion pretty much favors anything to do with you."

Surprised, Harry blinked in confusion. "But I don't even know any of the other candidates. I haven't favored any of them. I haven't even spoken to any of them. How could I be involved in this election?"

"Doesn't matter, Harry," Dumbledore explained. "It's more a matter of what news gets printed, and you know the Daily Prophet's fondness for making up stories. It's rather amazing how many of these candidates have admitted to having private conversations with you about battle tactics and defensive spells. But that's the least of our worries. Minister Fudge has decided to take this whole situation one step farther and get you on his side once and for all."

"What do you mean?"

Dumbledore frowned and glanced over at Arthur Weasley. Arthur sighed and sat down beside Harry. "Percy intercepted a memo at the Ministry. He's the one who warned me about what was going on. It seems Minister Fudge has decided to declare your uncle an unfit guardian and adopt you himself."

Harry leaped to his feet in shock. "Adopt me!" He'd spent his childhood unwanted, and now suddenly the bloody Minister of Magic wanted to adopt him.

"Yes, Harry," Arthur nodded. "And unfortunately, considering who he is, there are very few legal impediments in his way. He's apparently already had all the paperwork finished. We only just discovered this ourselves. Percy said that assuming he can prove his claims against your uncle, the adoption should be legal tonight or tomorrow morning."

"But this is ridiculous!" Harry protested, his words echoed closely by Ron and Hermione both.

"Harry," Dumbledore interrupted. "It's only ridiculous if the claims against your uncle are unfounded."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked warily.

"What he's trying to ask Harry is whether or not Minister Fudge has any legal right to claim your uncle unfit," Molly explained gently. "We all know that the Dursleys are not nice to you, but have they ever done anything that could be construed as abuse by a court of law?"

Harry paled. "Like what?"

"Well, you just said something about your uncle taking a belt to you," Molly pointed out. "Would he really take a belt to you?"

Harry frowned, suddenly unwilling to say anything more. He had no loyalty to his uncle, but he didn't want to say anything that might get him adopted by Minister Fudge.

"Oh, for the love of Merlin, Potter," Snape growled. "Just answer the question so they know what to prepare for. You'll be forced to take Veritaserum by the Ministry if this goes to court."

Harry stared at Snape in shock.

"Severus!" Molly Weasley glared at the Potion Master. "Don't upset the boy! Now, then Harry, dear, you need to tell us what you can. Has there been any abuse?"

Harry squirmed, hating the attention he was being given, particularly by Ron and Hermione. "I'm not certain what you might mean?" he admitted.

"Potter!" Snape growled again. "Don't be obtuse. Has your uncle abused you? Has he beaten you, starved you, locked you up, hurt your feelings or stolen your bloody teddy bear?!"

All the adults in the room were glaring at Snape now, and Harry grew pale under his dark gaze. But when no other words were forth coming, from anyone, Harry realized that despite the delivery, everyone expected him to answer Snape's questions. "Yes," he admitted quietly.

His words seemed to surprise Snape, who blinked in shock and actually took a step back as if not expecting that answer.

Dumbledore, looking suddenly every one of his years, sat down on one of the remaining armchairs. "Would you care to elaborate, Harry?" the Headmaster asked softly. Harry blinked at the man in surprise, bewildered by his obvious distress.

"I'm sorry, sir," he admitted. "You know all this already."

Dumbledore's normally twinkling eyes were sad. "What do you mean, Harry?"

"Well, my letter to Hogwarts for one thing, sir," he explained. "You sent it to me with my address on it: Harry Potter Cupboard Under the Stairs."

Harry had seen Dumbledore face down Death Eaters without flinching, but this actually made the old man pale. "Do you mean to tell me you were kept in a cupboard?"

Harry nodded. "For ten years," he admitted. "They moved me out after the letter came, because they realized you must have known."

"Harry, the Hogwarts letters are magically addressed," Professor McGonagall informed him. "None of us would have ever seen the address written on it."

"And the rest of it, Harry?" Molly Weasley asked softly; Harry was dismayed to see that her eyes were suspiciously bright.

"Well, I never actually had a teddy bear," he admitted, throwing a glare at Snape who was looking surprisingly subdued. "My uncle hit me sometimes," he admitted. "But not that often. Usually when he wanted to punish me he just locked me up and wouldn't feed me. I figured you knew though - that's why you send me all that food for my birthday."

Molly's eyes just grew brighter and Harry was growing seriously concerned that she might cry. "When Ron said you were starving, I just assumed you were starving the same way all teenage boys are always starving - no more than six or seven square meals a day."

Six or seven square meals a day? Harry's eyes widened. That would certainly explain why Ron and his brothers were so tall.

"How long would he starve you, Harry?" Professor McGonagall asked.

Harry shrugged. "Well, usually only two or three days, sometimes if he was really angry four or five days at a time. Not enough to make me really sick or anything." To his dismay he realized his words didn't quite have the reassuring affect he was going for. "It's not like he was trying to kill me or anything!" he assured them all quickly. Not like Voldemort, he though silently to himself. Next to the things Voldemort had put him through, his uncle was nothing.

"Harry, I'm sorry," Dumbledore said quietly. "We didn't know. If we'd known, if I'd known, I never would have left you there."

Harry frowned. "But you sent me there to protect me, sir," he reminded the Headmaster. "From Voldemort. Because he couldn't get me there." The last thing he wanted was for Dumbledore to feel bad for his uncle's failings. He understood the necessity, and was surprised that everyone else seemed to have forgotten it.

"Yes, Harry," Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "But there are always alternatives. I would have found another solution."

Uncertain how to respond to that, Harry simply fell silent, uncomfortable with the attention.

"Well, that's it, then," Arthur sighed. "Fudge's claim is legal."

"So it would seem," Dumbledore agreed.

"But we can't let Fudge adopt Harry," Ron protested.

"No, we can't," Dumbledore nodded.

"I'm sorry," Hermione broke in, her brow wrinkled in concentration. "I don't really see what the problem is. I mean granted it would be awful for Harry to be adopted by Fudge. But would it really make that much of a difference? Fudge is just going to say what ever he wants to the papers anyway - Harry's willingness won't make any difference as far as any endorsement goes with or without the adoption. And it's not like Harry is going to have to live with Minister Fudge. Harry is in school for most of the year, and the Minister is much to busy during the summer months to have any time for Harry."

"I'm afraid that's not true, Hermione," Dumbledore explained. "That's the problem you see. Fudge has decided to remove Harry from school."

Hermione's eyes widened in horror. "But he can't! How would he ever explain that to the papers? Removing the Boy Who Lived from school before he even took his NEWTs."

"Private tutors," Arthur explained. "He intends to have Harry tutored by his private staff. That way he can get Harry out from under the influence of Headmaster Dumbledore, something he'd love to do."

Dumbledore's earlier statements suddenly made more sense to Harry. He paled, his shakes coming back unexpectedly. "And if he takes me out of Hogwarts that means there will be nothing to protect me from Voldemort."

Dumbledore simply nodded in silent agreement.

"But surely even Fudge wouldn't be that stupid!" Ron protested, then blushed under the stares the others in the room threw him. "Okay," he conceded. "I guess he would be."

Part of the reason they'd lost so many Aurors the previous year was because Fudge had failed to acknowledge Voldemort's return before it was nearly to late. When he finally had no choice, he'd already been made to look the fool by Dumbledore in the eyes of the public.

"He'd risk my life to further his political career?" Harry asked.

"I'm afraid so," Arthur agreed.

"And there's nothing I can do to stop it?"

"That's what we need to figure out," Arthur explained.

"But what about Sirius?" Harry protested. "My parents appointed him my legal guardian. Surely his claim must take precedence over Fudge's?"

Arthur shook his head. "Fudge has nullified his claim. At the moment Sirius Black is still a convicted killer and as such is unfit as your godfather."

"Dad!" Ron exclaimed with a wild grin. "Why don't we adopt Harry!"

Arthur and Molly both smiled at that. "We already thought of that, Ron," Molly admitted. She smiled sadly at Harry. "Believe me Harry we would take you gladly. But there is no way we can out-maneuver the Minister. He's already had all the paperwork done. It would take us at least three months to process such a claim. If we'd known about this earlier, we could have done something. But as it is, Fudge's claim will be legal in a few hours if it's not already."

"Then there's nothing we can do?" Harry asked. "We can't stop the adoption." He looked at Dumbledore, who looked lost in thought as if trying to formulate some plan. "I'll be a sitting duck if Fudge gets his hands on me. If Voldemort himself doesn't get me, Fudge's close personal friend Lucius Malfoy will. I have no choice. I'll have to run."

"You'll be a sitting duck if you run," Snape informed him. "You leave a magical signature behind that a child could follow. Voldemort will find you in a matter of days."

Harry glared at the Potions Master. "Then what am I supposed to do? I can't run, I can't fight! What am I supposed to do?"

"This is ridiculous!" Hermione exclaimed in frustration. "I mean Harry hardly needs another legal guardian! Doesn't seem fair. He's old enough to get married, but he's not old enough to live on his own!"

Several heads shot up at that, sharp gazes staring at Hermione in amazement. "What?" she said in surprise taking a step back at the scrutiny.

"Hermione Granger, you are brilliant!" Dumbledore exclaimed.

She frowned. "What did I say?"

"Marriage!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "You are absolutely right, Harry is old enough to get married."

"And if he's married, he's automatically considered a legal adult and no longer needs a guardian. Fudge's adoption will be void," Arthur nodded in agreement. "It's a brilliant solution."

"What is?" Harry protested. Surely they weren't suggested what he though they were suggesting.

"Marriage, my boy!" Dumbledore explained, the happy twinkle back in his blue eyes. "We've simply got to get you married before Fudge arrives with the adoption papers. There won't be a thing he can do about it."

Harry's eyes widened in shock. "Marriage! But I'm only sixteen!"

"Legal age for marriage in the Wizarding World is fifteen, Harry," Arthur explained. "Used to be thirteen but they changed the age requirements back in 1504."

1504? Stunned Harry shook his head in denial. Why didn't people teach him these things in school! "But. . . but. . . .marriage? Whom am I supposed to marry?"

Ron and Hermione were staring at him in alarm. Harry almost missed the look of panic Ron threw toward Hermione, the way his face flushed and then paled as if realizing the most obvious match for his friend. It was enough to momentarily distract Harry - the realization that his friend had actually admitted, at least to himself, his feelings for the brilliant Miss Granger. He also noticed that Ron bit his lip to keep from saying anything, and he understood in a strange leap of logic that Ron would never say anything if he thought it would be what was best for Harry.

"Well, we had best find someone quickly," Dumbledore decided, momentarily glancing himself at Hermione. Harry glared at him, silently willing him to look somewhere else. He'd marry Mrs. Norris before he did that to his two best friends in the world.

"Do you have a girlfriend, dear?" Molly asked, failing to notice the panic her own son was experience. She smiled hopefully over at Hermione.

"No!" Harry insisted. "I don't."

"Well, what about. . ." Molly began, still looking at Hermione.

"No!" Harry cut her off before she could speak the words out loud. "No offence Hermione," he said quickly. "But that would be like marrying my sister!"

"No offence taken," Hermione assured him, looking quite relieved. Ron still said nothing, but Harry saw the look of relief in his eyes. It was followed swiftly by a look of shame, and Harry frowned. This sucked! He wondered if he could just curse Fudge with one of the Unforgivables instead?

"The Marriage Stone!" Dumbledore exclaimed suddenly. They all turned to look at him.

"Do you still have that old thing?" Madam Hooch asked in wonder.

"It's in my office," Dumbledore told her. "Would you get it for me?"

She nodded and excused herself from the room.

"Are you sure you should use that, Albus?" McGonagall asked worriedly. "It's caused no end of difficulties in the past."

"Only when the people in question have already been married. But Harry isn't married yet."

"The Marriage Stone," Hermione mused. "I've heard of that. I read about it."

Of course she had, Harry thought. "What is it?"

"It's a very old artifact, Harry," Dumbledore told him. "It shows you your perfect match for a bond mate."

"Perfect match?" Harry said warily. "That doesn't sound bad? What's the catch?" He'd learned the hard way that there was always a catch.

"Depends on who's looking into it, Harry," Hermione told him. "The most famous match the Marriage Stone apparently ever revealed was for Queen Guinevere. She looked into it to see her perfect match - unfortunately she was married to King Arthur at the time and the stone showed her that her perfect match was in fact Sir Lancelot. And we all know how well that story ends."

"How's this going to help Harry?" Ron frowned. "I mean if he's got to get married between now and tomorrow morning. What if it shows Harry someone he doesn't know? I mean his perfect match could be living on the other side of the world. Or maybe his perfect match is someone who doesn't like him. Or someone who's too young for him right now. Or someone who is already married. There's a reason no one uses that stone any more."

"Well then we'll have to think of something else," Dumbledore explained. "We'll have to find someone else to fill in if that's the case. But we should at least try to make Harry a good match. He deserves every chance at happiness we can give him."

"Happiness?" Harry protested, his stomach turning at the very thought. "Come on. We're doing this to keep me alive. Nothing more. The most we can hope for is that we can find someone in this castle who'd be willing to go through with this farce to keep me alive."

He couldn't help thinking that somehow Cho Chang's name was going to come up in a matter of moments. He'd had a crush on her fourth year and both Ron and Hermione knew it. Trouble was Cedric Diggory's death had put a stake in the heart of that little romance. Guilt had overwhelmed him every time he looked at her after that. Much as he still liked Cho he imagined it would be easier for him to marry Pansy Parkinson than it would to marry Cho.

Madam Hooch returned a moment later carrying a large blue crystal ball in one hand. They all looked at her expectantly. "Well?" Dumbledore asked her.

"Oh, you mean you want me. . ." She shrugged and looked into the crystal. "Harry Potter!" she said clearly and distinctly to the stone. They all stared at it expectantly, but nothing happened as far as Harry could see. The blue crystal continued to just look like an ordinary blue crystal. Madam Hooch however paled suddenly, covering the crystal with her other hand with a gasp of shock. They all stared at her. "I don't think it's working," she exclaimed. "I think it's broken."

"Oh, good grief!" McGonagall exclaimed. "Give it here!" She held her hand out for it. Hooch handed it over to her without question.

"Harry Potter!" Professor McGonagall said to the stone. Again Harry saw absolutely nothing happen. Everyone else was watching with undisguised curiosity. Like Hooch, McGonagall paled and then flushed. She turned toward Dumbledore holding the crystal out to him. "Perhaps it would be best if you tried, Albus."

"Who did you see?" Ron and Harry asked in unison.

McGonagall just shook her head. "Let the Headmaster have a go at it."

Frowning in curiosity, Dumbledore took the crystal, held it out in one wrinkled hand and said, "Harry Potter!" clearly to it. Unlike Hooch and McGonagall, Dumbledore smiled, his eyes taking on a most wicked twinkle. Harry felt himself growing nervous. Sometimes Dumbledore's twinkles were worse than his frowns. "Oh, excellent match indeed!" the Headmaster exclaimed in delight. He turned toward Snape. "Severus. . ."

"Bloody hell!" Snape hissed. "You three are perfectly competent to look into a bloody crystal and tell us who you see. You don't need me looking as well!"

Dumbledore, still smiling, blinked at him. "Of course not, Severus. I didn't mean for you to look. You ARE the match it showed us."

Author's Note:

This story started out as a simple idea - a forced, arranged marriage between Harry and Snape. I wanted to explore the idea of a slow developing relationship that didn't end up with a 16-year-old boy simply jumping into a sexual relationship with a grown man. And I wanted to play around with the concept of Victorian ideas in the Wizarding World - after all if socially the Wizarding World is many years (or even centuries) behind the Muggle World, then arranged marriages would probably be normal. They were once considered normal in our world as well - and are still practiced in many parts of the world today.

But as often happens, the story quickly took on a life of its own and became something else - something far more epic than I ever imagined.

I started this story long before Book 5 came out. It was supposed to be a short story and should have been finished before Book 5 came out - certainly should have been finished before Book 6 came out. And now, we're facing the appearance of Book 7 and it's still not done - I figured I better get at least part of it out to the world before Rowlings kills off all the main characters and depresses me to the point where I don't want to write any more.

I thought about making the story Book 5 compliant, but the truth of the matter is, I didn't like Book 5. And ultimately Sirius Black is important to this plot line so this book will only ever be canon up through Book 4. I may ultimately introduce some characters from Book 5 or Book 6 (maybe Shacklebolt or Tonks) and I mention the Order in passing, but for the most part I'm ignoring everything beyond Book 4 entirely.

The three most noticeable differences (beyond the events themselves) are that Sirius is alive, Snape's family history is dramatically different, and Voldemort works a bit harder for the title of Dark Lord. In this story you will eventually learn that Voldemort is far more dangerous than he ever seems to be in Book 5 and Book 6 (he's not going to spend a year trying to hear a stupid prophecy that made everyone else say "Duh!" when they finally learned what the 'big surprise' was at the end of the story.) I think to truly have the title of Dark Lord you need to aim a bit higher on the terror and destruction meter. My Dark Lord will be aiming about as high as it goes - Harry will have his work cut out for him. Consequently the 'slow developing relationship' between Harry and Snape that this story was supposed to be about, will have some twists and turns I didn't foresee. I hope you enjoy it.