Sometimes huge changes in a person's life are heralded by huge events, sometimes by tiny ones. Professor Severus Snape did not give the elderly Wizard a second thought when he cursed the Death Eater attacking the old man. It was a minor curse that deflected the man's attack long enough for the old Wizard to escape. So unconscious was the act that Snape barely remembered the name of the old man who had thanked him but Edgar Greenwood remembered Severus Snape.
"Just breathe, that's right." Minerva McGonagall's calm, commanding tones echoed up the corridor. Intrigued, and concerned that a student may be in trouble, Albus Dumbledore poked his head through the open doorway that led to the corridor.
'Dear me, that's a sight you don't see everyday,' Dumbledore thought as he watched Professor McGonagall hold her witches hat over the face of a hyperventilating Potions Master. 'I wonder what's got Severus into such a state. I haven't seen him that upset since the Weasley twins rearranged his potions cabinet and he thought he'd drunk some of Remus Lupin's Wolfsbane potion.'
Snape caught sight of Dumbledore watching him and went as white as Professor Binns, the ghost who taught History of Magic. This was quite an achievement as Professor Binns was the brightest of all the Hogwarts ghosts most of whom were a sort of greyish colour.
"Thank you, Professor McGonagall," Snape gasped as he pulled the hat from his face. "I no longer require your help."
"Are you sure, Severus? You've had a nasty shock."
"No!" Snape snapped, making McGonagall jump. "No more, thank you," he said more quietly.
"Very well." McGonagall stared up at him, "But if you fall ill it will be on your own head." She walked swiftly away towards the Griffindor dormitories.
"I am proud of you, Severus," said Dumbledore, walking up to the Potions Master. "A few years ago you would not have softened your remarks. It shows a strengthening in your character."
"Thank you," gasped Snape shakily, still breathing erratically.
"I think a cup of tea is in order," Professor Dumbledore said in the gentle tone that Snape recognised as an unavoidable command. "Shall we adjourn to my office?"
Professor Snape followed the Headmaster down the corridor. Snape was keen to avoid conversation but Dumbledore had other ideas.
"You know, Severus, " said the Headmaster, "If you worked with your emotions rather than against them you wouldn't get yourself into this kind of state."
"Thank you, Headmaster." Snape said in his cold, deadpan way. "I shall try to remember that."
"Now, Severus," said Dumbledore over a cup of tea. "What happened today?"
"This!" Snape snarled. He pulled a scroll of parchment from a pocket in his robes and thrust it toward Dumbledore. The older man took the scroll and examined it.
"This does look most formal," Dumbledore muttered. He undid the old-fashioned rope, touched the legal seal and unrolled the scroll. The Headmaster read the first sentence.
"Good grief!" Dumbledore dropped the scroll and sat back in his chair. "I haven't seen one of these in years. I can understand why you were shocked."
The scroll was a contract of Wizard's Honour; an ancient and rarely used law that could be activated only by a member of a long established, high-ranking Wizarding Family. The law stated that if a Wizard of lower rank saved the life of a Wizard of demonstrated higher rank, the two could activate a contract of Wizard's Honour. The contract allowed the lower-ranked Wizard to marry into the family of the higher-ranked one. Naturally, being a law for Nobility, the higher-ranked Wizard chose the bride.
"So, can I assume by your reaction that you don't want to accept the contract?"
"No, I don't!" Snape snarled then took a shuddering breath in an attempt to calm himself. "It's difficult enough working here and doing what we have to do to stop...them, without that!" Snape was starting to panic again. "I can get out of it, can't I?"
"It's a very old law, Severus," Albus said gently, "But yes, you can refuse."
"Then I'll refuse!"
"You will need a good excuse."
"It's for the good of Hogwarts." Snape said firmly.
"You will need grounds to defend that cl...," Dumbledore's words were drowned out by the noisy arrival of Professor Sinistra.
"I'm going to kill him!" Professor Sinistra ranted as she charged into the room. A rare sight for the Astronomy Professor was rarely seen downstairs before mid-afternoon.
"No, I'm going to curse him first." She paced back across the room, still ignoring the two men who were watching her bizarre behaviour.
'Perhaps,' thought Dumbledore, 'constantly working all night in the Astronomy Tower has unbalanced her.' He watched the small, wiry young woman, the curls of her mouse-brown short hair bounced around her boyish face as she paced backwards and forwards across the office. She was certainly upset about something.
"No, I know," ranted Sinistra. "I'll lock him in a room with Rita Skeeter for a month, then I'll curse him, and then I'll kill him!" Happy with her decision regarding whomever it was she wanted to kill, Professor Sinistra suddenly stopped and turned to Professor Snape.
"Severus, I apologise for my batty uncle's stupid contract. You can rest assured that you will not be forced to marry me."
"Uh, thank you." Snape said weakly. The Potions Professor was learning so far away from Aurora Sinistra that he was almost falling off his chair.
Professor Sinistra suddenly became aware of the expression of shock on Snape's face and the highly amused Headmaster.
"Oh Merlin's Bum! I've made a total twit of myself, haven't I?"
"You could say that," Dumbledore chuckled. His chuckle turned to smothered laughter when Snape overbalanced and fell off his chair.
~ ~Author's Notes: This story was written before Professor Sinistra's first name was known so I invented one for her.