No one thought it would be easy: adapting to life after the war, rebuilding wizarding society, learning to live with what they had done. The Ministry was in shambles; rogue Death Eaters were still causing trouble across the country and beyond; and the weight of actions carried out in the name of war was a heavy burden on the shoulders of those who had survived. But, they’d all been trying.
It had been nearly two years since the end of the war, and collectively the wizarding world had been putting their lives back together, picking up the pieces and fitting them into the holes that had been left as well as they could. Hermione had gone back to school, finishing out her N.E.W.Ts with perfect scores and taking up a job in the Department for the Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures. Harry and Ron had entered the fast-track Auror program and were nearly through their probationary periods, ready to begin their careers in earnest. Ginny had also finished school and then accepted a Chaser position on the reserves of the Holyhead Harpies - and even then she played more games than she sat out.
Now another threat was upon them, another problem, shattering apart everything that they were trying so desperately to build and hold on to.
Looking around the large dining table at the remaining members of the Order, faces stoic and eyes sad, Hermione couldn’t help but think that no matter how difficult they had all figured it would be, no one was expecting anything quite like this . Unfortunately, based on the fact that she could feel the splintered wood digging into her fingers from clutching the table so intently, it seemed like she really had heard correctly. That, and the fact that she never could have dreamed up anything this horrible. It was another stark reminder that just when things were finally starting to level out, they would never truly have peace and stability. Her entire life in the magical world had been full of shocks and stumbles, and this one seemed like the biggest of them all.
Molly Weasley broke the silence.
“Kingsley - I do believe I’ve misunderstood you. I seem to have heard that you expect our children to get married with absolutely no choice as to who their future spouse will be, and that if they fail to comply, they could face imprisonment ?!” Her voice, which had started off careful and modulated, rose in pitch and intensity until she was standing at the table, hands on her hips, glaring down at the much taller man seated across from her.
Kingsley cleared his throat uncomfortably. He shifted slightly in the seat and then pulled back his shoulders, seeming to regain some of the confidence he had forgotten in the presence of the Weasley matriarch. “As I said before, Molly, this was not my choice. But many people are unhappy. It’s been nearly two years now and our population has not increased in the slightest. In fact, we are now declining at a rate that means the entirety of magical blood could be wiped out in only a few generations. The Ministry has spent quite a long time now trying to figure out the best solution. Finding compatible matches for any young eligible wizards and witches will ensure that we continue on our strongest gene lines and on top of that we will be matching based on many different factors.” It sounded like he was reciting a script. “Hopefully, due to our rigorous process, almost all of the candidates will be, uh, pleased with their spouses. This way, we will be guaranteed strong magical children and thus a strong future for our entire community.” He exhaled sharply and crossed his arms, facing down the distraught members of the Order, daring any of them to question him
Hermione, who had been processing this information and its implications, decided that she could no longer keep quiet about her feelings. “Kingsley! This is government mandated rape .” She snapped, raising a finger in the direction of the older wizard, who leant back slightly in his chair. “No matter what steps you take to pair us up… it’s not right! What if we never agree to consent to sleep with our spouses? Will we be thrown in jail or will you Imperius us - since you’re only really a step away from that anyways!”
Kingsley coughed uncomfortably. “Ms. Granger. Hermione. Arranged marriages have been part of magical culture for decades, and muggle ones as well. Do you disagree that at least some of these couples end up happy and in love with their partners? Absolutely no one will be forced to have sex... that would be... I could never condone that. I would resign before we got to that.” Despite trying to sound cheerful, Kingsley mostly sounded defeated. He was a parrot here, nothing more. “The only contractual obligation you will have is the marriage and, of course, producing at least two children - though, couples who have more than two will be rewarded monetarily as per the terms of the contract. The Ministry will give everyone ample time to get comfortable with their spouses and the arrangement before they are required to produce evidence of pregnancy, two years from the date of the wedding, which must be completed within three months of the bill passing. You are a smart witch, Hermione - you know that theoretically no sex is required in order to conceive a child with another person. In fact, St. Mungo’s has been studying muggle reproductive technology for the past year or so hoping we could find a different answer to the problem, and so they have quite a few different methods to choose from.”
Hermione was still fuming, but held her tongue. It was absolutely unfair, an abuse of power. It was not right and not alright and she wanted to scream about the injustice. But Kingsley had clearly given in here - she thought belatedly that he probably would be forced to marry with this law as well - and so what was the point in her shouting at him more? She snapped her eyes up to Harry, begging him to do something, to say something, to fix this. He peered back at her, calculating.
“What about those of us who are already in relationships, Kingsley?” Harry asked, and Hermione felt her heart soar. Yes! Brilliant Harry! She and Ron had just been waiting for the right moment to get settled into a relationship. First she had been at school, and then he had been so busy with Auror training. But they could start now, and fall in love quickly, and get married and she would have everything she wanted - mostly. She hadn’t wanted kids this quickly, but that was a small compromise she might have to make.
“Very good question, Harry.” Kingsley smiled gently at the man before continuing. “Because of the process of matching, the Ministry is convinced that everyone will end up with a partner who is compatible to themselves in a way that should be agreeable to everyone. Presumably, if you are compatible with your current partner, they will likely be the person chosen for you. This has been taken into the equation of compatibility. But of course, nothing is guaranteed.” His answers, Hermione thought, sounded rehearsed. Written out in government lingo and dished up in Kingsley’s large smooth voice. The politics of it all were starting to make her dizzy.
“Well then.” Kingsley stood, brushing off his robes and pulling a wand out from his sleeve. “If all of the unmarried individuals will reach out their hands-” Hermione opened her mouth to speak again, but Kingsley shot her a stern look and collectively the table conceded, “I’ll just take a small sample of DNA and be off.” Kingsley swished his wand across their outstretched palms and the group let out a collective wince as he scored open their skin, siphoned out a few drops of blood, and stitched them back up. “Thank you all for your understanding.” And with that, Kingsley was gone.
“The last time someone took my blood, Voldemort was brought back to life,” Harry quipped, clearly trying to keep the mood up around them. Molly shot him a look and he winced, smile falling. “Just saying.”
The table was silent for a moment, Hermione staring incredulously at Harry and Ron, Molly now weeping into Arthur’s shoulder, George resting his head on his hands on the desk, and Ginny staring down at her empty ring finger. “It just isn’t fair, it isn’t right!” Wailed Molly, and though Hermione often thought the older witch had a tendency for dramatics, she couldn’t help but agree in this moment that she felt exactly the same way.
Later that night, the four of them sat crowded around in a circle on the floor of Ginny’s bedroom. Hermione had pushed her camp cot off to the side and they had settled down in a pile of blankets and pillows to discuss the afternoon’s events.
“It’s just not right!” Hermione repeated again, and Ron sighed, reaching a hand to awkwardly pat her knee. “I just, I don’t see how they can do this. After everything we’ve been through, don’t we all deserve some peace?”
Harry and Ginny were curled up together, fingers tightly intertwined. “I’m sorry, Gin.” Harry mumbled into her mass of red half-braided hair. “If I’d proposed a year ago, neither of us would be in this position…”
Ginny was silent for a moment before she shook her head against his chest. “I think we’re pretty compatible. I’m just... I’m just not going to be worried about it. And if we don’t get each other well then… we’ll just elope to America.”
Ron snorted softly. “Mum would never let you.”
“Well, Ron , I’m an adult and Mum can’t tell me what to do anymore-”
“Can you two just be quiet for a minute?” Hermione sighed, putting her head in her hands. “I’m trying to think here. Not everyone is as lucky as you and Harry, Gin!” Mercifully, Ron and Ginny stopped their bickering, but try as she might the solutions Hermione was coming up with were all less than ideal. She wasn’t running off to hide in the muggle world. She needed magic, needed her friends. It would be worse than a death sentence, especially with her parents still lost in Australia. She didn’t think eloping to America would solve the problem either, seeing as how she loved her job and was pretty sure the ministry would find them in an instant. “I don’t know, I don’t know how...” Finally, it happened, a soft sob bubbled up from her chest and she couldn’t help but let it out. “I don’t know how to fix it.”
Ron leaned over and wrapped his arms around her, tall and lanky and smelling like cinnamon. He rocked her slowly as she cried for the life she had never realized was in jeopardy, for her friends who may have to give up everything, for her freedom and the fact that she didn’t want to be given to someone like a piece of property. “Mione,” he mumbled into her hair, pausing and inhaling before letting his feelings out in a single anxious breath, “I have been in love with you probably since we were eleven years old, even if I didn’t want to admit it. I’m sorry we haven’t gotten to this yet, haven’t made time. But look, compatibility? We’ve got that, right? How else could we have put up with each other?” He waited until she nodded against him and kissed the top of her head. “You’ll see. We’ll get married and have little curly redheaded babies in no time.”
It was supposed to be a comforting thought.
Hermione wasn’t sure why she suddenly felt even worse than she had before.
Hermione barely slept. Ginny was tossing and turning and throughout the Burrow she could hear people getting up and stomping around. Staying over here always made her feel like she was a child again, getting ready to head back to Hogwarts and spend another year actively trying not to be murdered by a psychopath. In fact, the only reason she was staying there was because Kingsley had said the results would be around in the morning. Apparently the highest ranking Ministry officials had spent the night rushing between houses, collecting DNA and processing it. It was supposedly so people wouldn’t have a chance to run away, or to get married shotgun style to someone who would not technically be “compatible”.
It was atrocious.
After a few restless hours, she finally spotted the sun on the horizon and decided enough was enough, there was no point lying there feeling sad. She slipped from the room, careful not to wake up Ginny who had only really fallen asleep an hour before, and padded down the stairs. Hermione couldn’t stand being useless; luckily in this house it was an easy thing to avoid.
Molly was rushing around the kitchen, murmuring to herself. Hermione was catching things like “what on earth” and “they’re still children!”, “if Dumbledore were still alive - rest his soul” and “if my kids aren’t happy”, so she yawned loudly as she entered the kitchen to alert the older woman to her presence.
“Oh! Hermione, dear. Good morning. You’re up early.” Hermione nodded, shrugging and moving further into the kitchen.
“Couldn’t really sleep, honestly. Is… is there anything I can do?”
Molly smiled sadly and handed her a bowl filled with half-made pancake batter. “This just needs two eggs and a slosh of milk. Handful of chocolate chips - above the ice box. If you could mix it up for me, that’d be lovely.”
Hermione took the bowl and got to work, digging for ingredients and adding them to the large wooden bowl. She dug a whisk out of a drawer and got to work. Magic probably would have been easier and faster, but there was something so therapeutic and comforting about doing it by hand. It reminded her of lazy Saturday mornings with her mother and endless hours of baking.
“Hermione..” Molly was clearly trying to say something important, but not looking the younger woman in the face. “Arthur and I… well, we always hoped that you’d marry Ron, legally become part of our family. These past few years we figured the two of you were just, well, taking your time. We can’t fault you on that. Anyways, dear… While I truly hope you two will be matched up, I’m not so naive to think we should believe in fairy tales.” The woman sighed and put down the bowl she was holding, turning resolutely to Hermione and moving closer to the girl. “But, no matter what happens, no matter who this horrid law makes you marry, I want you to know - we all want you to know - that you are a part of this family. No matter what, do you understand me? I would love for it to be legal, we all would, but, well. You’re losing enough today. You won’t lose us too.”
Hermione couldn’t help it. She put down the bowl and covered her face with her hands and cried, really truly cried, for the second time in twelve hours. She hadn’t been this weepy since after the war when she kept thinking about everyone who they had lost. Molly tsk’d and stepped closer again, wrapping her arms around the taller girl and rubbing her back consolingly until Hermione had finally stopped shaking with tears.
“Alright. Now, let’s get this breakfast all ready for the troops, shall we dear? Nothing else to do now, much as well keep busy.”
It all happened too fast. Hermione and Molly had finished cooking, spread the food out, helped dish it up, eaten with the rest, and then set it all to clean. Before she even really had a chance to process, Hermione was sitting at the dining room table, and the lot of them were watching the window with a mixture of trepidation and anxiety. All she really wanted to do was get her name and retreat back to her tiny flat and sleep until all of this was over. The sooner they got the letters the sooner she could presumably make that happen.
Ginny was the first to spot the bird - she gulped but stood anyways, facing the terror and heading for the window, propping it open to let the majestic Ministry owl in. The creature flew to the table and waited as Arthur, with shaking hands, untied the large stack of letters, before swooping off back the way it had came. Ginny shut the window and returned to the table just as Arthur was finished handing out the letters, and took hers with a deep breath.
“How should we, uh?” Harry asked, looking around. George had apparated in halfway through breakfast and now joined them at the table, looking dejected and apprehensive about restarting his nonexistent social life. Harry had a hand consolingly on Ginny’s knee, and Ron was sitting close to Hermione, though not touching her.
“We’ll go around. One by one, George and then Ron, then me, then Harry and Ginny. Say the name, whoever it is.” She looked around amongst those gathered and they nodded their assent. It wasn’t like there was a better option. Besides, if all had gone well, Ron’s paper would answer her’s and Harry’s would answer Ginny’s. She was forcing her hope down as deep as it could go.
“Right then.” George cleared his throat. “Here goes nothing.” Sliding a thumb under the seal, he popped the letter open and then unfolded the parchment inside tantalizingly slowly. He frowned as he read the name, reading it again before looking back up with half a shrug. “Win Urquhart? What kind of a name is Win?” He peered around the table to see if any of his siblings knew who the girl was. Hermione was frowning and tapping a finger on her lips.
“Ravenclaw. I think a year or two above us. She was a prefect, if I’m thinking of the right Win.”
George sighed a little. “Great. A Ravenclaw prefect. Well, there goes any chance I had of having fun again.” Arthur cleared his throat and George dropped his shoulders and managed to flash a small smirk. “Just trying to lighten up the room! Tough crowd.” Despite his best efforts, his voice sounded strained.
“Ron?” Hermione prodded.
The redhead cleared his throat and nodded, and repeated George’s motions, popping the seal on his letter. He was faster in pulling the parchment out and Hermione inhaled deeply as he did so, waiting for the joy and elation she was anticipating that she’d be feeling about her upcoming engagement. The circumstances weren’t ideal, but she could still make the most of it. Ron wouldn’t try to hold her down, or to own her. He could be supportive, and she could still be free, mostly.
He peered down at his paper again before balling it up and throwing it across the room where it bounced off the wall.
Hermione felt something snap somewhere inside of her.
“Ron!” Molly admonished, shooting a look at her son. “Who was it?”
Ron smacked his fist down onto the table, ready to shout, but a look from his father had him flushing red in shame at the outburst. Finally he sighed, defeated, looking down at the worn wood under his hands. “Hannah Abbot. It’s not… I mean, she’s nice? But I just…” He trailed off, feeling lost, and forced his eyes to remain on the table. Hermione could see them glistening at the edges and she didn’t want to push him. They’d deal with this later. They had more to do.
She had to pull the band-aid off and figure out who she was spending the rest of her life with.
Swallowing thickly and forcing herself not to cry, Hermione opened her letter as well and slid the paper out, hands trembling, entire body wound up tight. She forced herself to take a deep breath and reminded herself that she had survived, no, she had won a war. The vision of curly redheaded babies was gone already, shattered like a fragile window. What more damage could a name do? She could handle a husband. Probably.
The name on the paper was not what she expected, and she choked out a sob before she could help it, slapping her hand up to her mouth.
“Hermione?!” Molly gasped, reaching across the table. Hermione yanked the paper back, clutching it to her chest, and shook her head, tears already pouring from her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so so sorry...” She managed to whisper, feeling shock course through her system. Her veins were on fire and her throat was closing. What had she done? What had she done? She just ruined two of her best friends lives. With one piece of paper, three words in thick black ink, she had ruined the best chance at happiness and family that her best friend had.
Forcing herself to brave, to be strong even though it was the last thing she felt, she lifted her eyes across the table, and met a pair of green ones behind black framed glasses. Fight or flight. She chose fight - she was a Gryffindor, after all. “I’m so sorry,” she said again, hoping she wouldn’t have to say the words.
“Hermione? What’s wrong? Who is it?” Harry pushed, and just as she opened her mouth to say it, the weight of the situation crashed down on Ginny and the redhead woman let out a cry, and then began to openly sob.
Hermione dropped her paper on the table and pushed it over to where Harry and Molly and Ginny could all see it.
Harry James Potter .
Already it felt like the world was closing in, like she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get air. Her heart was thudding in her chest and her entire body itched, begging her to run. Panic was rising in her system and she fought it down with everything she had. It could be worse, she tried to tell herself. She knew she could live happily with Harry. She trusted him with her life, and he with hers. They had been friends for nearly ten years now and he was part of her life, for good. No, she didn’t love him like a husband, she didn’t desire him - the mere thought made her anxious all over again. Relationships had been built on less.
But he had also never had a real family; an orphan with no loving relatives. He deserved a wife who he loved, really and truly, and who loved him back. He deserved Ginny.
Harry was staring at her still over the table, one arm holding his sobbing girlfriend to his chest and rocking her back and forth. Finally, he seemed to make a decision and nodded once at Hermione. “This is not your fault.” He managed to say loudly enough that she heard him. “If not you, it could have been anyone. I’ll be honoured to be your,” here, he stumbled over the word, “your husband.” His voice had cracked and he too looked like he was going to cry at any minute, but between a sobbing Ginny, a desolate and slightly panicking Hermione, and a Ron growing angrier by the minute, someone needed to keep their cool. Harry had always been good at that.
“Ginny.” Molly said, gentle but firm after a few minutes. “Ginny you have to open your letter.” She placed a hand on her daughter’s back, rubbing softly. Ginny shook her head and burrowed further into Harry’s chest. “You need to know.” Molly tried again, tucking long red strands of hair away from Ginny’s face. Still nothing. “Shall I open it for you?” She asked, and this time Ginny nodded, unwilling to look up. Her body still shook with sobs but she had quieted down, though she was still letting out small whimpering gasping breaths. Her life as she knew it had ended in that moment - how much worse could the answer to this be?
Molly looked at Arthur, who nodded once to reassure her, and she opened the letter, sliding out the parchment. She read the first few lines, descriptions of the law, what needed to happen, what this magical binding contract meant, and then her eyes landed on the name and her face went white as a sheet. Molly’s mouth opened, and then closed, and she lifted a hand to her heart, shaking her head. “It can’t. It must be a mistake. It must…” Unable to help herself, the Weasley matriarch stood, clutching the letter tighter in her hands, crinkling the thick parchment. “I’ll write to Kingsley this instant. This, it’s not possible!”
“Mum.” Ginny’s voice was quiet, broken and sad, but unflinching. “Mum, tell me who it is.”
Molly hesitated for a long moment before sitting back down in defeat.
All hell broke lose.