This story will focus on a romantic relationship between Harry and Hermione.
Harry Potter and all associated characters, locations and what not belong to J.K. Rowling and whoever she sells the rights to. I have borrowed these characters, locations and what not in order to mess around with them. In some cases I have lifted a piece of dialogue or scene directly from the books as a touchstone. I do not own anything except the plot and I am not making any money from this endeavor. This applies to the whole story.
With a sound no louder than the snapping of a brittle twig Harry Potter and Hermione Granger appeared on the outskirts of Godric's Hollow. They took a moment to look around for any possible threats before they swept the invisibility cloak they were hiding under off of them. The couple that action revealed didn't look anything like a pair of magical teenagers. Rather, anyone would have seen a couple in their late fifties or early sixties. The man had greying brown hair and the woman had equally silver streaks in her own blond locks. They both had faces marked with several decades of joys and sorrows.
They stepped forward together without any obvious signs of communication between the two, the crunch of their feet on the freshly fallen snow breaking the silence in a way that made both of them slightly uncomfortable. Their eyes darted from side to side as they walked through the village. Most of the houses they passed shone with a soft light that slipped through gaps in the drawn curtains. When the two came to the small church that had formed the centre of the village for several centuries one pair of feet slowed and stopped.
"Oh, James, can you hear that?" Hermione breathed out. "They're singing. It must be Christmas." Harry had stopped a few paces farther on and turned back.
"Would you like to go inside, Jane?" he asked with an understanding smile on his face.
"We really shouldn't." she responded without much conviction. "We were just going to make this a quick visit." Harry walked back to stand next to her and wrapped his arms around her.
"It'll be fine. We can visit their graves after we're done inside. I think we may need to spend some time with other people anyway and we each have two more sips of polyjuice." Hermione nodded, not really wanting to put up a fight about this, and allowed Harry to lead her to the doors of the church. As they stepped inside they were met by a woman who looked to be about in her thirties.
"Welcome, welcome. Goodness, come in. This is no weather to be standing around outside in." The couple stepped inside and shook the snow off of their coats. "That's better, isn't it? Could I just have your names, please?"
"Our names?" Harry asked feeling a little suspicious.
"Of course. You did register for the ceremony didn't you?"
"Ah, well, no. We just heard…" Harry trailed off uncomfortably. Hermione thought he was probably trying to find the words to tell the woman what had happened without giving anything away about what they were really doing.
"Oh, I think I understand. Well, we can just register you now then. It's nearly Christmas after all and leaving a couple out in the snow would be doubly wrong when we remember Mary, Mother of God." The woman crossed herself as she spoke. "Might I just have your names so I can 'check' that you are on the register?"
"James and Jane Claybaker." Hermione responded quickly.
"Of course, of course, here you are." the woman replied with a wink before writing something on the list in her hand. Harry took the moment to shoot Hermione a questioning look which she parried with a slight shake of her head. By the time the greeting lady looked back up there was no sign of any kind of confusion between the two. "Might I just have your maiden name as well, Mrs. Claybaker?"
"Ackerman. Jane Ackerman."
"Wonderful. Now then, given that you weren't informed of the requirements I'll make sure that the vicar provides everything you need. It will cost you an extra fifty pounds I'm afraid, but we can settle that up afterwards. We're about to begin anyway. Just head on in."
"Thank you very much." Hermione told the woman with a smile as she subtly pulled on Harry's hand to get him walking again. As the two entered the nave of the church they saw several couples who looked to be the same age as their disguises scattered throughout the pews. The two magicals chose to sit close to the aisle in one of the empty pews, their sense of caution demanding no less. In front of the altar the vicar began to speak.
"Welcome. Welcome all of you who wish to reaffirm your love for one another so close to the day when we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It does my heart good to know that when the weather turns coldest, your love still burns as warm as ever. We will now have the first couple come up and renew their vows. Stephen and Elizabeth Wilkeshire? Please step forward." As the couple that the vicar had called stood up and shuffled their way out of the pews Harry leant in to Hermione and hissed out:
"We're renewing our wedding vows?! Hermione, this is mad."
"Thank you for that sentiment. Leaving now would cause a lot more suspicion than staying and muddling through though." she snapped back in an angry whisper,
"Damn it, this isn't about accepting or rejecting you. We're not wearing wedding rings. We don't have a marriage licence. Hell, we don't even have an address. We have none of the things married couples are supposed to have."
"Fine, sorry for assuming, but the woman did say that the vicar would have everything we needed."
"We don't have the fifty pounds that's going to cost either."
"Well, when did you learn so much about weddings anyway?" Hermione demanded, becoming flustered by the way Harry was shooting down all her points.
"My aunt used to gossip for weeks on end about this sort of thing anytime she heard someone was getting married."
"Alright, but I still say we would attract more attention by running out now. I'll come up with something to solve our problems by the time it's our turn to go up there." Harry just gave her an unhappy look at that.
"Something tells me we're going to feel bad about any solution you come up with." he muttered half to himself. Hermione wasn't too sure that she disagreed with him and kept quiet. They sat quietly for the rest of the ceremonies, each lost in their own thoughts. Eventually all the other couples had gone up and the vicar called for 'James and Jane Claybaker'. Harry once again leant over to Hermione as the got up to make their way up to the altar. "Got anything more ethical than obliviating them, confunding them or using transfiguration to counterfeit some money?"
"No." she admitted in a low voice.
"Yeah, me neither." Harry took her hand as they walked up to the priest. The action surprised Hermione at first, but it took less than a second for surprise to turn to understanding: a married couple about to renew their vows would probably show each other more affection than 'mere' best friends. When they reached the altar the turned to face each other like all their predecessors had.
"Ah, our Christmas addition. I understand that you weren't aware of what needed to be brought and have chosen to accept our offer of a new pair of rings to go with your vows." Harry and Hermione both nodded as they tried desperately to think of any way in which they could actually get fifty pounds to these people. The vicar had turned away for a moment to a tray with several golden bands on it but was now studying their hands. "These two should work." he said cheerfully. "I think you would both prefer to just have the standard words, yes?" Harry and Hermione shared a quick look which clearly communicated that they both thought that they were better off not improvising something that might give them away.
"Please, Vicar." Hermione answered for both of them.
"Excellent. Then let us begin. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today-..." Harry and Hermione turned to face each other and took each other's hands as the vicar spoke words that he must have recited hundreds of times over the years. "I would now like to read a verse from the good book :
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Hermione could feel the words resonating in her very soul. For a moment it almost seemed like the vicar had understood their mission and was encouraging them. The last line gave her a moment of pause though. They had been a cord of three strands until a few months ago when one of the strands had broken. But the cord is still here. Harry and I are still fighting. Hermione was so lost in her contemplation of the words that had been read out to her that she almost missed the priest reading out the vows. It was Harry's voice that brought her back to what was happening around her as he spoke the words that grooms had said to their brides for over 450 years.
"I, James Claybaker, take thee, Jane Ackerman, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
"Miss Ackerman, please repeat after me." Hermione nodded to the priest to show that she was ready and looked into Harry's eyes. They might have been grey from the polyjuice, but Hermione had no problems imagining the vibrant green hue they would normally have. As she spoke the words the priest led her in she remembered the verse he had read to them a little bit earlier and she found herself meaning a large part of the vow.
"I, Jane Ackerman, take thee, James Claybaker," Harry Potter "to be my wedded Husband," My lifelong best friend "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey," Unless you're busy listening to me "till death us do part," I'm not going to let death take you. Voldemort can have you over my dead body "according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth." A warm feeling rushed through her as she realised that even if it was a wedding ceremony to everyone else, to her and Harry the promise went far beyond some kind of silly romantic gesture. Something deep inside of her told her that Harry had meant his vow to her just as much as she had her vow to him. They were going to see this thing through to the end, no matter what, and they were going to do it together. These thoughts put a bright smile on Hermione's face as Harry gently placed a ring on her left hand with the words:
"With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." For a moment Hermione felt captured by the tenderness she saw in his eyes. Then she was slipping a ring onto Harry's finger and reciting her own vow. The priest beamed at them happily.
"You may now kiss the bride." Harry and Hermione shared a look that allowed them to decide within a split second that they had come too far now to blow their cover over something as minor as a kiss. What Hermione hadn't expected was the way her pulse started racing as Harry leant forward. She slipped her arms around Harry's neck and felt his own coming around her waist. She felt his breath on her lips for a split second before the kiss touched and it sent sparks shooting down her spine. The kiss itself was gentle and chaste, but somehow Hermione could divine a wealth of feeling from that slight contact. It was as if Harry had found a way to communicate how much he cared about her, how much she meant to him and his determination to keep her safe and happy. Hermione had no idea how he had done it, but when they separated she could feel her cheeks warming with a slight blush. Harry just smiled at her and even on that stranger's face it was without a doubt Harry's smile.
The applause from the others in the church came as a surprise to both of them as the warmth of the kiss began to ebb. They shared a silent look and with a pair of waves made their way back to the pew they had been sitting in before their aliases had been called. As she sat down Hermione allowed herself to actually think about what had just happened. She had kissed her best friend even though she was technically, maybe, sort of still dating their other best friend. Hell, I just married Harry even if we didn't actually use our names or even our own bodies to do it. I doubt Harry would really see it that way, but he at least broke up with Ginny before we left. Hermione let the doubts she was feeling course through her as thoughts chased one another up and down her consciousness.
In the end it came down to two main points. First of all Hermione was sure that Ron would have a problem with what had just happened. Secondly she was just as sure that she wouldn't have ended up in that position if he had stayed, either because he would have refused to enter a muggle church or because Harry would have insisted that he was simply there as their best friend and pushed her into the ceremony with Ron. Bah! I just had a wonderful experience and now I'm analysing it to death. All that really happened is that Harry and I promised that we would be there for each other like we have been. The form of the promise doesn't really matter.
Harry squeezing her hand warned her that it was time to pay attention to her surroundings again and also told Hermione that she had apparently been holding onto it for the entirety of the ceremony. Looking up she saw that there was a line of couples heading back out into the night. The priest and the woman who had asked their names when they walked in were standing by the doors wishing them all luck with their marriages and a happy Christmas.
"Have you decided which disappointing option we're going to use?" Harry whispered.
"Obliviation would be safest. I just-..." Hermione couldn't quite put into words how much she hated that they were going to engage in the kind of behaviour that disgusted her about the wizarding world.
"We'll come back here after the war and donate at least a hundred pounds." Harry promised. "It's not going to make up for what we're about to do, but you're right: we can't take the risk." Hermione sometimes hated being right.
"I'll take care of the woman, you do the vicar." she said with a heavy heart.
"Don't forget the register. If they see the names the spells'll get noticed." Harry replied in a tone that let Hermione know he felt exactly the same way. They got up together and headed towards the door where the last couple was just heading out. The woman and the vicar smiled broadly when they saw the two approaching.
"Oh that was just the most marvelous wedding I've seen since we started doing this. When you spoke your vows it was like I could feel love filling the entire church." the woman gushed as soon as they got close enough.
"Indeed." the vicar agreed. "I don't think I've ever met a couple more suited for each other. People like you are the very reason we started this tradition of hosting weddings and vow renewals for those less fortunate. I have your wedding certificate filled out here. You'll have to add in the relevant details yourselves as you were a walk-in." He handed Harry the certificate with a broad smile. "I'm afraid the church isn't wealthy enough to give you the rings out of hand, but I hope that one day our work will be recognised and we can progress to that point."
"I'm sure it will." Harry said. "I want to thank you for your words today. They-... they meant a lot."
"Not at all. That's my job after all." the vicar waved him off with a smile. "I'm afraid that I do have to ask you to settle up, or at least agree to a payment plan. I can understand that fifty pounds can be a lot of money."
"Yeah, no problem." Harry agreed, reaching into his pocket. Hermione knew what was coming next and pulled her own wand out of her pocket.
"Obliviate." the two magicals spoke as one, removing any memories their targets might have of James and Jane Claybaker. Hermione also cast a spell that she had learnt that removed writing so that she could make corrections to her essays when necessary. Before the two people who had shown an old couple such kindness could recover Harry and Hermione were out of the door. They ducked to the side as soon as they were outside and headed for the graveyard.
"We should take another sip of polyjuice." Hermione said as they passed through the kissing gate, still sick with what they had done. Harry just nodded and reached into his other pocket for the phial of potion that would extend his transformation. He took a swallow and grimaced at the taste.
"Let's go find my parents' graves." he suggested before a smile that was almost up to its usual mischievous self graced his borrowed face. "I should probably tell them that I just got married."
"You are absolutely incorrigible." Hermione muttered fondly. Trust Harry to find a way to make me smile again. She followed him deeper into the graveyard, sure that no matter what they would stick to the promise they had made tonight and see this thing through to the end together.
Four and a half years later
Harry stood at an altar looking out over the gathered crowd and trying to ignore the stares that were coming his way. Those stares had been pretty constant since he and his friends had managed to end the war four years ago. It probably didn't help that Ron was standing next to him, nervously tugging at the collar and cuffs of his dress robes. Two of the Young Heroes, as they were now known, were always going to draw attention. Harry heard Ron shuffle his feet and looked to the side to see his mate looking about ready to throw up.
"Breathe, Ron. You've been waiting for this day, remember?"
"Yeah, but I reckon that was because I didn't know it'd be like this." Ron muttered back.
"Try not to think about the ceremony. Think about what'll happen once you're actually married." For some reason Ron went even paler. "Merlin's beard, mate, what are you imagining Hermione will do to you?" Ron just shook his head and Harry sighed.
After the war had ended he and Ron had been enrolled in a fast track class through the Auror Academy. There had been so few trained aurors left that Minister Shacklebolt had pretty much begged them. Harry had agreed under the condition that the Academy help him study for his N.E.W.T.s. Shack had breathed a sigh of relief and asked Ron if he wanted the same only to met with incredulous denials. Harry remembered the first month of their time at the Academy as being filled with Ron trying to talk some sense into him. Harry hadn't really believed that his luck would hold out though and had insisted on carrying on with his plan. That plan had also meant that that first year at the academy had been hellish.
Despite the fact that the entire class was covering things that Harry would need to know for his exams, he received twice as much homework as everyone else. Between Shack's orders and his instructors' desire to make sure that 'the Saviour' somehow gained a slew of O's, Harry had been more or less confined to quarters by the amount of work he was doing.
At the end of that year his hard work had paid off though and he had been given a week of leave to take his N.E.W.T.s at Hogwarts. He had joined Hermione, Neville, Ginny and Luna who were also taking them at the time. It felt oddly like Ron should have been there as well, but by that time it had been far too late to do anything about it. Harry's results came in for his five exams and he passed them effortlessly with Outstandings in his wanded subjects and Exceeds Expectations in Potions and Herbology. Hermione had, of course, gotten six Outstandings.
The next two years at the Academy had seemed like a cakewalk to Harry even though his classmates began to feel more and more of the pressure that was being piled onto them. Only three out of the twenty-one candidates didn't make it into the Aurors and were reassigned to the Hit-Wizards squads. Harry and Ron both passed and were given mentors to take them through their first year.
Once they had graduated the Academy, Ron had decided that it was the perfect time to propose marriage to Hermione. She had been promoter within the Department of Interspecies Relations, which was the renamed Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, around the same time and Ron had felt that this new phase in their professional lives would pair well with a new phase in their personal lives. Hermione had enthusiastically said yes and now, a year later, the big day had finally arrived. Harry had happily agreed to be Ron's best man and now they were waiting for the bride to make her appearance.
As he looked over the crowd Harry couldn't help but pick out familiar faces. Luna was sitting next to an empty seat that he knew she was reserving for Neville just across from the Weasleys. Harry had been beyond grateful that the two had proven themselves to be true friends and had insisted on sitting on the bride's side as her family. Harry had been shocked when he had suggested that they go to Australia and undo the Memory Charms on her parents only to be told by Hermione that there was no way to do that and leave the mind undamaged. She wasn't going to torture her parents with legilimency so that they could remember her for a split second before turning into empty, broken husks. It had been the start of an emotional conversation that had ended with both of them falling asleep on the couch they had been sharing in utter exhaustion.
To Harry the most impressive feat of the war had instantly become the fact that Hermione had been able to make the choice to send her parents away despite knowing that they would never see each other again. He had privately wondered if that was the reason Hermione had chosen to send them to the other side of the world, so that she would not have to see the lack of recognition in their eyes, but he had never been able to bring himself to actually ask her the question.
Hermione had been incredibly touched by Neville and Luna's offer and had asked Neville to escort her up the aisle. Neville had accepted and after being effusively thanked by Hermione had been pulled aside for a quieter but no less heartfelt word of thanks from Harry who felt keenly responsible for his best friend's loss.
A swell of music drew Harry's attention back to the wedding. He shook off his distraction as best he could and focused on the end of the aisle. The first person to appear was Ginny. Hermione had asked her soon-to-be sister-in-law to be the maid of honour at the wedding. Harry wasn't sure how he felt about seeing his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend; he had lost track of whether they were together at the moment or not.
Ever since the war Harry and Ginny had had an on again off again relationship. Every time they got together it was only a matter of time until they would clash again. Ginny blamed Harry's absorption in his work as an auror and had frequently asked him to find another job, preferably one that wouldn't take up as much of his time. Harry had always refused. He felt that there was still a lot more that he could do for a country that was barely recovering and, while he did still love flying, Ginny's repeated suggestion that he join a professional Quidditch team didn't really appeal to him at all. The mere thought of having to be in the spotlight all the time and the mass of crowds that descended on any Quidditch game gave him cold sweats.
It was difficult for Harry to explain these feelings to Ginny. He had tried several times, but Ginny would just tell him that he was being ridiculous. As a result he had started avoiding her whenever they argued. This had resulted in their first of many break-ups. Ginny had been furious that he had been hiding from her. She had informed Harry that she didn't want to see him until he had sorted himself out. A week later Ginny had shown up at Grimmauld Place to apologise for her hasty words. She had explained that she had just been so upset at the way Harry had been distancing himself from her that she overreacted to the sense of him leaving.
Harry had also apologised for the apparent miscommunication and the two had gone on a wonderful date to make up. After that it seemed like they had broken up and gotten back together at least once a month. Each time it happened the tabloids and society pages would be full of speculation on what had happened and if the current situation would last. Harry was starting to wonder if breaking up permanently wouldn't be a better idea. This constant bickering was starting to exhaust him. He hadn't found the courage to bring that discussion up with Ginny yet, anticipating that it would lead to a row on a whole new scale.
Ginny meanwhile had taken up her position across from Harry and Ron and judging by her smile Harry thought that they were probably together at this point. His eyes drifted back to the far end of the aisle where Hermione was just entering on Neville's arm. She was wearing a pure white dress with enough skirts that her upper body seemed to be floating along on a demi-globe of lace. Her hair had been straightened out with what Harry guessed was Sleekeazy's and he could see that her face had a considerable amount of makeup on it. For a moment Harry didn't know what to make of this version of his best friend any more than he had known what to make of Ginny's appearance.
"She's gorgeous." Ron choked out in a whisper next to him. Harry decided that he might ask Ginny about what he was missing later tonight. Her explanation might help him understand what he was doing wrong in their relationship in addition to clearing up his confusion so he thought it would be worth the risk.
In front of the dais where Ron, Harry and Ginny were standing, Neville and Hermione paused. Neville smiled at her and pressed a kiss to her cheek before stepping back and taking his place next to Luna. Hermione ascended the steps to join Ron in front of the lectern, beaming like a patronus. Ron reached out, looking like he was still in a daze, and took her hand. Together they turned to face the lectern, ready to begin the ceremony.
A wispy haired wizard stepped up behind the lectern and Harry thought that it might be the same one who had married Bill and Fleur on the night the trio's mission had started in earnest. The old man smiled at the couple in front of him and raised his hands.
"Know now before you go further, that since your lives have crossed in this life you have formed ties between each other. As you seek to enter this state of matrimony you should strive to make real the ideals which give meaning to both this ceremony and the institution of marriage. With full awareness, know that as you stand here you are not only declaring your intent to be wed before your friends and family, but you speak that intent also to your magic.
The promises made today and the ties that are bound here greatly strengthen your union; they will cross the years and lives of each soul's growth. Do you still enter freely into this marriage?" he intoned, his voice seeming impossibly deep for his slight frame. Ron and Hermione both bowed to him and spoke together.
"We do." As soon as the words left their lips a loud boom sounded and a pulse of magic flung everyone away from the lectern they were facing. Harry felt himself bounce and skid along the ground. When he finally stopped he pushed himself up, wand already in hand, looking around for whomever was attacking them. He couldn't seem to find the attacker, but around them the wedding guests had flown into a panic. Harry could see his two friends on the ground next to him and crouched down.
"Apparate into the house. I'll gather some aurors and investigate." he shouted to make himself heard over the din. Ron nodded and disappeared with a loud crack. Hermione was struggling to get to her feet and Harry had a sinking feeling that he knew what she was trying to do. "At least get changed if you're going to be stubborn." he shouted at her. Hermione shot him a brief glare, but apparated out as well. Harry was sure that she would be back sooner or later unless Ron managed to talk some sense into her.
Around him Harry could hear the cracks of witches and wizards apparating out in a panic. He could also see that several members of the Weasley family were trying to push their way to through the crowd towards him. Harry decided he would head up to the podium and start his investigation there; the others would meet him there if they kept their paths. Squaring his shoulders he started shoving people to the side as he made his way to the place he had been standing only a moment earlier. All his senses were stretched to their limits as he tried to determine where the attack might have come from. At the lectern Harry started casting detection charms to check for any static magic that might have been placed as a trap. Surprisingly, the first person to reach him there wasn't one of the elder Weasley brothers but the wispy haired wizard who was supposed to be doing the bonding.
"Where are they?!" The man was almost frothing at the mouth in anger. "Where are they?!"
"Sir, if you'll get inside, I'll keep looking for the attacker." Harry said in his best crowd control voice.
"Attacker?! There was no attacker! It was a faithless adulterer who sabotaged this wedding!" Harry froze at the man's angry outburst.
"What do you mean?" he asked, firmly wrestling down his urge to yell at the man simply because he didn't understand what was being said.
"Were you not paying attention, boy? I asked them if they were ready to declare their intent to wed before the rest of us and their magic and their magic took offence. That can only mean that one or both of them already married another."
"Already-... Come with me. We're going to find Ron and Hermione and get to the bottom of this." Harry didn't believe for a second that one of his friends was already married to someone else, but if the man was this convinced then it might be for the best to explore the possibility that the ceremony itself had somehow caused this effect. Harry led the bonder towards the Burrow through the thoroughly thinned crowd. By that time Bill, Charlie and George had reached them as well.
"Harry, what's going on?" Bill asked as soon as he could do so without yelling.
"Not sure. This bloke seems to think something went wrong with the ceremony. Did you check the wards?" Harry asked without slowing his pace.
"Yeah. No sign of any kind of offensive magic being fired in from the outside and no sign of anyone sneaking through. If this was an attack then the culprit was damn good."
"I told you this wasn't an attack." the bonder snapped irritably. "This was the result of a faithless adulterer." The three Weasley brothers blinked in surprise and looked to Harry for an explanation.
"He thinks that Ron or Hermione or both are already married to someone else and that caused the... mishap." Harry explained succinctly as he opened the door.
"That seems... unlikely." Charlie said uncertainly.
"Which is why we're going to talk to them and see if we can get to the bottom of this." Harry said before the bonder could start up again. "Something going wrong with the ceremony certainly seems to be our best guess for what happened just now." The five men walked into the living room to find Hermione and the rest of the Weasleys already there.
"Harry! Did you find something?" Molly exclaimed as soon as she saw him.
"Probably not, but the bonder would like to talk to the happy couple." Harry replied, unable to keep a slightly mocking note out of his voice.
"Be sceptical all you like, boy. This is my area of expertise and your faith in your friends has been betrayed."
"What?!" The surprised cry emminated from several throats at once.
"I think you'd better start from the beginning and make sure to include a lot of details." Harry told the bonder drily. "The bride will just quizz you up one side and down the other anyway if you don't." Hermione shot Harry a look and he couldn't help but grin in return. "What? You'll probably do that regardless."
"That's no reason to make me sound like I have no self-control." Hermione sniffed. "Why don't we just listen to what this gentleman has to say and then we'll see if I need to clarify anything."
"Yes, well, if you're done making out like this isn't a serious matter." the bonder snapped. "What happened is perfectly simple: one or both of you lied when I asked you if you would enter freely into this marriage. If one of you was unable to enter of their own free will because they were being controlled by outside influences that person would have simply collapsed. To cause this reaction the lying party must already be married to another." It was quiet for a long moment as if everyone was waiting for the little man to continue.
"That's it? That's the only possible explanation?" Hermione asked in confusion.
"But that's ridiculous. If we were already married we wouldn't be marrying each other." Hermione protested. "There must be another possible explanation."
"There isn't." Harry saw Hermione shooting him a confused look and rolled his eyes in the bonder's direction in a clear indication of his personal opinion on the matter.
"Well, we should be able to clear this up easily enough. If either of these two are married then there should be a record of it with the Ministry. I can just nip over to archives and ask if there is a record of any such marriage." Mr. Weasley offered.
"The Ministry wouldn't have given them a marriage license if there was already one on record, Arthur." Molly pointed out.
"There is a way to test which of the partners is the faithless one." the bonder offered. "I will warn you that it is appropriately painful since this is a sin to be punished. This is your last chance to admit to your wrongful ways." Everyone shared a look at that ominous proclamation.
"Well, I'm sure I never married no one." Ron exclaimed.
"Despite the disappointing grammar I agree with the sentiment." Hermione declared shooting her fiance an exasperated look.
"Then so be it." The bonder drew his wand and pointed it at Ron and Hermione. "Stuprum Revelio." A white flash pulsed through the room and for a split second nothing happened. Then Harry began to feel a burning against his chest. It soon became unbearable and he found himself clawing at the neck of his robes as he hissed and grunted to vent the pain it was causing him. Finally his fingers managed to snag the leather thong around his neck and pull it clear of his skin. Once it was outside his robes he was faced with the wedding band he wore around his neck as a memento of a difficult time and the support of his best friend through it. The ring was glowing and he could see the heat rising off of it.
"Oi! Don't go heating up people's possessions at random if you can't prove your theory." he snapped at the bonder. "I'm not the one getting married, remember?"
"No, it seems you already did that. And you had the gall to pretend you didn't know what I was talking about." the bonder snapped back sounding just as angry as Harry had. Harry was about to lay into the old man when a soft voice from behind him stopped me.
"Harry." He turned around to find Hermione looking at him with wide eyes. In her right hand she held what looked like the remains of a bracelet that must have been hidden under the sleeve of her dress. "Mine heated up too. No one else seems to have had any problems so there must be a reason why these two rings reacted to his spell."
"Yeah, but we both know we never got married." Harry protested.
"No, but we did attend a wedding ceremony." Harry stopped as he reflected on what Hermione had just suggested.
"You think that that's somehow interfering with this actual ceremony?" he asked. He wanted to mock the very idea, but since said idea was coming from Hermione there had to be at least some merit to hearing it out.
"It's the only thing that I can think of."
"But we didn't use our own names or bodies or anything. We didn't even realise that there was any kind of wedding to participate in until we were already inside."
"Could you two stop talking about it like that?!" Ginny screamed. "Did you two get married? Tell us the whole story. Now!"
"Well, neither of us considered ourselves married, but the event we're debating took place during the war." Hermione explained. "It was when we went to Godric's Hollow after Ron left us."
"Ah, come on, Herms. Did you have to bring that up?" Ron asked, looking uncomfortable.
"It does have bearing on the story, yes." Hermione replied primly. "While we were walking down the streets of the town we passed by a church and heard singing inside. We thought it might be Christmas and it had been so long since we'd seen other people that we couldn't resist and went inside. Once we got in there we were asked our names and gave them our cover names. We were under polyjuice as a married couple at the time so we gave the names James and Jane Claybaker. As it turned out, it wasn't exactly Christmas, but close to it and that church offered a chance for couples to renew their wedding vows. We found out later that it was a charity they performed so that anyone who hadn't gotten married in a church because they lacked the funds could do so later in life." Hermione took a breath and swallowed so Harry picked up the narration to give her a break.
"Once we'd realised what was going on running out of there would have massively blown our cover. Rather than leave a large number of people who knew our cover names gossipping about the fact that we'd been in Godric's Hollow we decided to muddle through the ceremony instead. I think I can speak for both of us when I say we didn't for a moment believe we were actually getting married. It was like being married in a play. The actors don't actually become husband and wife."
"But now that the rings we were given during that ceremony have lit up in response to Mr. Verrell we're starting to wonder if it could have had some other effect on the ceremony today since it's the only thing to do with a marriage other than today and Bill and Fleur's wedding that either Harry or I have participated in." Hermione concluded. Harry realised with a start that he had never bothered to learn the name of the wizard who was supposed to be conducting his friends' wedding ceremony. Trust Hermione to know that, though he thought fondly.
"Soooo... you're married, but you thought you weren't?" George asked in confusion.
"Wouldn't we have to have made a decision to actually get married in there somewhere if we were?" Harry asked in response. A few minutes ago he would have been sure of the answer to that question, but now doubts were creeping in that refused to bugger off when told to do so.
"If you spoke the vows and meant them, then your magic may have enforced them. At least to a degree where you are considered married." Verrell sniffed.
"Harry, Hermione, did you mean the vows you exchanged during this ceremony?" Mr. Weasley asked in a tense voice. The two friends shared a look that communicated a something that had never been spoken out loud.
"Well, I meant parts of it, sure." Harry admitted awkwardly. "There was a lot in there about sticking together no matter what and we were in the middle of a war. I know I didn't take the bits about being husband and wife seriously and we certainly never completed the bit about, um, worshipping each other with our bodies." At the end of his explanation Harry's face had begun to take on a red tint. He was fairly sure you weren't supposed to have to explain to the groom's family that you hadn't slept with the bride at a wedding.
"That's actually a good point, Harry." Hermione said though her own cheeks looked a little rosy as well. "We certainly never... consummated any kind of marriage. That should mean that it falls through after a while or can simply be annulled, right?" It felt almost like a tennis match at Wimbledon as everyone's head turned back to Verrell in unison.
"Are you sure that there was never any physical intimacy between the two of you to seal the bond?"
"I'm still a virgin, thank you very much." Hermione snapped out, the rosy blush on her cheeks darkening and growing while her eyes almost seemed to be shooting sparks. "What?!" she snarled out at the surprised looks on the faces around her. "Is there some kind of problem with me wanting to have one thing pan out like I had dreamed it?"
"No, no of course not, Hermione." Bill rushed to reassure her. "It's just that-... you know what, it doesn't matter. We were wrong to assume what we did and we're sorry." Hermione gave him a short nod and turned her glare on the others as if she was challenging them to speak up. Outside of her field of vision Harry saw Bill shoot Ron a disappointed look and understood what it was about. He remembered a few stories from his redheaded friend about what had happened with Hermione in his bedroom; stories that would appear to have been utter fabrications. Harry resisted the urge to shake his head and sigh. It wouldn't do any good to ask Ron about that now and Harry was sure that the reason would probably come out to be something along the line of not wanting to look bad in front of his mates.
"It would not need to be something as drastic as intercourse." the bonder spoke up. Hermione's glare turned slightly awkward as it was clear she was keeping it up mostly to mask her embarrassment.
"Well, what else would count as 'with this body, I thee worship'?" That same embarrassment seemed to be making her curt.
"I believe that a kiss would suffice." There was a moment of silence in the room and Harry had to forcefully blink back the memory of the kiss he had shared at the end of the ceremony. In the short time it took him to refocus his attention on the present moment the expressions on the Weasley's faces had all shifted to one of shock. Looking at Hermione, Harry could easily tell that she had just remembered the same event and he didn't think that any of the Weasley's had missed it either. The fist crashing into the side of his face certainly seemed to suggest that at least.
"I turn my back for one moment and you're snogging my girl?! Get up, Potter. I'm going to kick seven shades of shit out of you."
"Ron!" Hermione stepped in between the two boys in a rustle of white skirts. "You know full well that Harry wouldn't do something like that. The only time our lips ever touched was at the end of that wedding ceremony and that was only because we couldn't get out from under the whole 'you may kiss the bride' thing anymore at that point. It was most definitely something we did solely as part of our covers."
"You had a wedding you say you didn't mean and a kiss that you say was just for show, but you know what? Your magic says you're lying!"
"Ronald Weasley, this is complicated enough without you trying to turn it into something more fit for Witch Weekly." Ron and Hermione's noses were almost touching as the worked their way up to yet another row.
"No, Hermione. No it isn't. This is really simple: my two so-called best friends fucked me over and got married behind my back."
"We did not! And stop trying to act like this happened while you were out buying groceries. This was two months after you abandoned us to fight a war by ourselves and another two months before you stumbled your way back into our camp."
"So your loyalty stretched all of two months?!"
"You're going to bring up loyalty after ran away from us?"
"That's enough! Both of you calm down." Harry called out. "Look, none of us know for a fact what's happened yet. Ron, I understand that this is difficult for you, but Hermione and I are trying to get to a point where the two of you can go back out there and get married. That's not happening if you blow up at us for every little thing."
"Snogging my girl is not a 'little thing', Potter."
"I didn't snog Hermione. There was a kiss at the end of a ceremony which neither of us thought of as an actual wedding since we were doing it to keep our cover during a war. Now stop nursing your injured pride for a second and let's find out from Mr. Verrell if this even qualifies for the part of the vow we were discussing."
"It depends on the feelings involved, Mr. Potter." Verrell replied quickly. It was a good deal politer than he had been so far and Harry hoped that meant that at least one hot head was cooling down. "Do you remember what you were thinking and feeling at the time?"
"I think it was something like: I'm really lucky to have a friend like Hermione and I should make sure that she makes it through this war. I thought that a lot around that time and after what I'd thought was a promise to see it through together I think that would have been at the forefront of my mind."
"So protectiveness and caring?"
"Yes, that would be a good summary."
"That would have worked, I'm afraid. It sounds like you added a physical confirmation of what you promised in your pledge."
"Seriously? Even if we didn't mean the part about husbands and wives?"
"If you used the standard Muggle vows then you will have promised 'to have and to hold' as well as 'to love and to cherish' and from what you just said, the feelings you put into that kiss matched. What would you call that if not marriage?"
"My friendship with Hermione." Harry answered without hesitation. "It's always been like those bits. We care for each other, we're protective of each other and no one's ever called that a marriage before."
"Actually, Harry, everyone from Dumbledore to the first years thought the two of you were dating, remember?" Ginny said sounding like she was only seconds from heaving up.
"But-... but that's not marriage." he protested.
"For fifteen or sixteen-year-olds at a boarding school it's pretty close." Charlie disagreed. "The bit I don't get is why Ron and Hermione started dating and agreed to get married at all if there was this connection between Harry and Hermione." He looked at the members of the Golden Trio, clearly inviting an explanation. The three friends shared a helpless look. None of them had ever been asked a question like this so forthrightly before.
"W-well, who else would I be dating?" Ron blustered. "Herms is-... she's Herms in'she?"
"Eloquent as ever, little brother." George smirked with a trace of the humour that had been lost for so long after Fred had died.
"Well, what're you asking me for?"
"You're the one getting married today?" Bill offered with a grin on his face that made Harry develop suspicions about where Fred and George had picked up their mischievous streak. Ron just huffed and crossed his arms. "Alright, we'll ask someone not getting married today and see how that helps us. Harry?"
"Are you asking me why Ron's marrying Hermione?" Harry retorted with a raised eyebrow.
"No." Bill snickered as Ron turned redder. "How about you just tell us why you never asked Hermione out."
"Well, she was dating Ron for starters."
"I suppose you mean before she started mooning after him in our sixth year as well?" Harry asked with a slight grin at his female best friend. "I probably should have asked her out to the Yule Ball before Krum got the chance; I would have enjoyed the night a lot more. As it is I didn't think of it because Hermione is my best friend and asking her to be something more would have scared the daylights out of me. The year after that I pretty much had my head stuck up my own arse coming to terms with Riddle being back from the dead. By then Ron had already figured out that our best friend is a beautiful woman aside from also being brave, intelligent, loyal and caring." Harry hadn't been able to resist sticking that little barb in at the end. He usually tried to keep out of Ron and Hermione's arguments, but he couldn't help but agree with Hermione that it wasn't right for Ron to call her out on her loyalty when he was the one who had run off and Hermione hadn't meant for something like this to interfere with today.
"That certainly would explain why those wedding vows took for Harry." Fred grinned. "Were you taking notes, Ronnikins? That's why you marry a girl."
"I don't think your brother needs you winding him up right now, George." Molly scolded.
"I agree. This whole time we still haven't heard from Hermione." Ginny agreed. Harry thought she sounded slightly bitter. "What did you feel when you married Harry and why did you choose my brother?" Harry turned to look at his best friend with the rest of the people present and was surprised to see her looking flustered.
"I-... I remember thinking that it was almost like I could hear Harry's feelings through the kiss. It was like he was reassuring me and trying to give me the strength to face what was coming. I also agree with him that we didn't see that kiss coming until the vicar had already asked him to kiss me."
"And your own feelings, Miss Granger?" Verrell asked. "You mentioned that you felt a connection with Mr. Potter, but what did you feel?"
"The same as Harry, more or less: protectiveness and caring. I wanted him to survive that war, no matter what." Hermione shook her head slightly. "Okay, I think you've made the point that somehow, some way our magic interpreted what happened that day as an actual wedding. What do we do now?"
"I think I'd like to hear what you think of my Ronnie first." Molly said. Harry could see that she was fixing Hermione with a hard stare. "I thought I knew what you felt, but after everything that's happened I'd like to be sure."
"Um, well, Ron was the only boy that seemed to see me... as a girl I mean."
"I believe Harry just reminded us that Krum beat him to the punch there." George reminded her. Harry resisted the urge to slap the redhead upside the head. It had to be now of all times that he was rediscovering his love of causing chaos.
"Viktor is a good friend, but I don't think either of us were willing to make it more than that. When we saw him again at Bill and Fleur's wedding he hardly paid any attention to me. I think we can safely call that a holiday romance on his part and an infatuation on mine." Hermione disagreed with a shake of her head. "Ron's always been a good friend and that's really a better foundation for a romantic relationship."
"By that logic Harry would still be just as good a fit though." Charlie argued. "And you don't seem to fight with him nearly as much."
"Oi! Whose side are you on?" Ron demanded from his brother.
"The side that's interested in figuring this thing out, now hush. Hermione?"
"Well, Harry was interested in Cho Chang from our third year until he actually took her out in fifth year. At that point he already had one foot in the war and wasn't really focused on dating until he took up with Ginny at the end of our sixth year. Has that cleared up your suspicions, Molly?" Mrs. Weasley's expression didn't inspire any confidence that her suspicions had in fact been cleared up and Harry decided to intervene before another argument could erupt.
"Since Hermione has answered the questions, perhaps we could get back to the matter of what we're going to do now?" Harry asked, a little annoyed that everyone was more interested in dissecting the past than finding a solution to this problem.
"It would be traditional for you to take Mrs. Potter on a honeymoon trip sometime in the next few weeks." Verrell offered. "Well, normally you would have done so by now, but I think we can excuse it because of your ignorance on the matter." Harry shot the man a glare.
"I was thinking more along the lines of annulling this marriage between Hermione and myself so she can have the wedding she chose."
"And why are you calling her 'Mrs. Potter' all of a sudden?" Ginny demanded.
"Well, I now have sufficient information to understand what has happened to bring us here. There was indeed a wedding between Mr. and Mrs. Potter at that church in Godric's Hollow and having established that their bond is indeed valid it would inappropriate to keep addressing her as an unmarried woman. As for annulment: for the marriage to cease to be, the magic of each spouse would have to reject the other; words spoken would not be enough. Given the way Mr. and Mrs. Potter have spoken about each other that is not going to happen without some fairly drastic changes to the way they see each other. Unless you can come up with a way to make them hate each other I cannot recommend any course of action aside from a pleasant honeymoon."
"So that's it?! Hermione's Mrs. Potter and we can't do anything to change it?" Ginny cried out, tears streaming down her face.
"Well,... yes." the bonder admitted awkwardly to the clearly upset young woman. Ginny's tears just increased and she let out a miserable scream before charging out of the room. Ron's fist was already swinging back in the air as his glare locked onto Harry. Thankfully Bill and Charlie managed to grab a hold of their brother before a brawl could ensue.
"Let go of me!" Ron snarled. "I'm gonna pound that bastard flat! He stole my girl!"
"Calm down, Ron. I think we just established that they didn't do this on purpose." Bill tried.
"Yeah, well they're sure as hell not fixing it either."
"I don't think I can, Ron." Harry spoke up. He didn't think he could say that he had come to terms with the idea of being married to Hermione by any stretch of the imagination, but he knew one thing for sure: "If I could I would. I want to see you both happy, but I don't think I have it in me to hate Hermione." Something about Harry's words caused Ron to stop struggling against his brothers as their eyes met. Harry was shocked at the amount of hatred in that gaze. Sure, he could understand rage and resentment at what had happened, but this felt a lot more personal.
"Piss off." Ron growled at last. "I don't want to see either of you traitors ever again." With that he tore himself free from his brothers' grip and followed Ginny out of the room. Harry and Hermione shared an uncomfortable look at their friend's abrupt and angry departure. Around them an awkward silence filled the room.
"I think I'll go let any guests that are left know that the wedding's off." Mrs. Weasley eventually broke the silence. "Harry, Hermione, I think it would be best if you didn't come around here for the foreseeable future." Despite having always reminded himself that if it came to a conflict between him and her real children he would lose, it still hit Harry hard to have Mrs. Weasley's slightly cold tone confirm that.
"Um, Harry?" Hermione's voice reminded him that he was likely not the only one feeling like that and that Hermione also had the spectacular crash of her relationship to deal with on top of that.
"Could you help me collect my things? I'll probably need them if Ron, Ginny and Molly were serious."
"Sure. Where are they?"
"... Ginny's room."
"Are you sure that you want me along for something like that?"
"I'm sure. Ginny won't like it, but I don't really want her to take out her frustrations on my things either."
"I'm sure Ginny wouldn't do that." Arthur protested. Harry and Hermione shared another uncomfortable look. Neither of them thought that Ginny would do something like that without regret, but it wouldn't be the first time that her emotions took over and made her do something that she hadn't meant to. Her relationship with Harry alone was enough to provide a solid foundation of evidence for that. "We'll make sure that she doesn't do that." Arthur assured, apparently reading their looks correctly. In the end neither Harry nor Hermione could bring themselves to call Mr. Weasley's promise into question.
"We'll-... we'll just head out then. Please let us know when you think that Ron and Ginny would be willing to talk to us again." Harry offered, uncomfortably aware of how awkward the atmosphere in the Weasleys' living room had gotten. He grabbed Hermione's hand and began pulling her towards the back door. Hermione resisted for a moment before apparently deciding that there was little to be gained from staying. Together the two friends stepped outside where they were met with the ravages of what was supposed to have been the scene of Ron and Hermione's wedding. The fleeing guests hadn't spared much care for the painstakingly placed decorations and the whole garden was a mess of toppled chairs and shredded bunting. Harry couldn't help but think that it was somehow an appropriate representation of how the day had gone.
"I-... I guess I'll head over to the Leaky Cauldron and see if Tom has a room for me." Hermione said in a stunned voice. Harry thought that it sounded like she still hadn't come to terms with what was happening to her.
"Don't be daft." he scolded in return, still feeling a little unsteady himself. "I have more than enough rooms at Grimmauld Place that there's no reason for you to throw away money like that."
"Wouldn't me staying with you reinforce the idea that we're... you know, married?"
"The Prophet and Witch Weekly are going to write whatever they want anyway, no matter what we do." Harry shrugged.
"What about Ron and Ginny?"
"They still have their rooms as well. They can come over any time they want." Harry watched as Hermione bit her bottom lip as she clearly held an internal debate on what the wisest course of action would be.
"Fine. I suppose you're right." she finally relented. "I don't really relish asking for a room for one while still wearing my wedding dress." Harry couldn't help the small smile that blossomed on his face as he imagined the scene.
"What a sight that would be. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut." he teased his best friend.
"Oh, hush you." Hermione huffed in return. There was a slight light in her eyes that showed that she could at least see the funny side of that particular image. The moment of levity was short-lived as the reality of why they were even discussing the idea in the first place cast a shadow over their hearts. Harry reached out and took Hermione's hand. He gave it a bracing squeeze and waited for the nod back before apparating the two of them straight into the front hall of number 12 Grimmauld Place. The familiar surroundings gave a sense of protection and Harry released a breath that carried with it some of the tension that had piled up in the Burrow's living room. Next to him he heard Hermione do the same. The sighs had barely left their lips when a pop announced the appearance of Kreacher.
"Master is home? Kreacher was not expecting Master. Did something happen?"
"I suppose you could say that, Kreacher." Harry agreed. "Starting today Hermione is going to be living here with us. She's going to need her things though, so could you get them for us? They should be in Ginny's room at the Burrow."
"Kreacher will do this, Master." The old elf paused a moment before asking carefully. "Will Master and his bride be wanting dinner?" Harry had to take a moment to blink away that sense of wrong-footedness that still occasionally assaulted him when speaking with a house elf.
"Yes, we will. Do I need to do some shopping or do we have enough food in the house?"
"Kreacher has enough, Master." the old elf replied solemnly. "Kreacher will return with Mistress's things shortly."
"You don't-" Hermione began before the pop of Kreacher's disapparition cut off her sentence. "He doesn't need to call me 'Mistress'." she finished off sounding a little lost.
"I've lost track of the amount of times I've told him that he doesn't need to call me 'Master'." Harry told her. "Whenever I do he starts emphasising the word as if he's trying to teach me something. I've decided that if he's that set in his ways I'll let him do as he likes and just pretend that he's saying 'Harry' whenever he addresses me." Judging by the stubborn tilt that Hermione's mouth took on she was not going to be deterred by his experiences though. "Why don't we go get changed?" Harry suggested instead. "You can draw a bath and by the time you're done Kreacher will probably have all your things arranged in your room." Hermione's face took on a look of yearning when she heard his suggestion.
"I think a nice long soak might be just what the doctor ordered." she agreed.
"Well, get going then, Miss Granger. Doctor's orders." Harry grinned as he gave her a small shove towards the stairs. He was worried when instead of smiling and heading up the stairs Hermione turned glum again.
"It's not 'Miss Granger' anymore though, is it?" she asked sadly. Harry stepped over to her and gently grabbed her shoulders causing Hermione to look up into his eyes to ask what he was up to.
"Hermione, we'll talk more about it over dinner, but just so we're clear: to me you're Hermione Granger until we decide otherwise. Getting caught in another situation that couldn't possibly happen to anyone but the two of us isn't going to change that." This time Hermione did manage a slight smile and Harry pulled her into a comforting hug. Once he had the feeling that Hermione had her emotions in check again he released her and gave her another small push towards the stairs. "Now go. You have that very medicinal bath waiting for you, remember?"
"Yes, Doctor Potter." Hermione responded with something that might have been playfulness on any other day before heading up the stairs to her usual room and its en-suite bathroom. Harry's eyes followed her up. When she was out of sight the smile he'd been keeping on his face for her sake slipped off to reveal the concern underneath. At least she can still smile. I think that means there's a chance that she'll come out of this alright. No, I'll make sure that she comes out of this alright. If we're technically married then she's my family and I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure that she can be happy. Decision made and steadied by his resolve Harry went up to his own room to get changed out of his dress robes. They weren't the most comfortable clothes to begin with and he didn't think that sitting down to dinner while wearing a reminder of what had just happened was the best choice. When he got back downstairs, wearing comfortable muggle clothing, Harry found Kreacher in the kitchen preparing dinner.
"Master is to be sitting down. Master is not to be trying to help Kreacher cook again." the old elf greeted him warily. Harry thought he looked ready to defend his place at the stove by main force if need be. Too tired to try and argue his way into doing at least some of the work Harry just nodded and sat down at the kitchen table to an approving nod from his house elf. Kreacher turned back to his cooking, apparently reassured that there would be no unwelcome interruptions to his task. Harry simply sat there and watched Kreacher work as jumbled memories, impressions and emotions of the day danced through his mind. He wasn't really sure about exactly how long he had been sitting there when Hermione walked in. She was dressed like he was in comfortable muggle clothing. "Mistress is to be sitting down with Master." Kreacher warned sternly upon seeing another human entering his domain. Hermione shot Harry a questioning look and he waved his hand tiredly to indicate that she should just go with it.
"Kreacher? Why are you calling me 'Mistress'?" Hermione asked as she sat down across from Harry.
"Mistress has married Master, yes?" Kreacher asked.
"A few years ago apparently, but yes." Harry answered with a sigh.
"Then Mistress is Mistress." Kreacher said in a tone that suggested that he didn't understand why the humans were being difficult.
"You don't have to call me Mistress, Kreacher." Hermione tried. "You've not done it before and like Harry just said: we've apparently been married for a few years already."
"Kreacher will punish himself once he is finishing dinner." the old elf agreed with a nod.
"No." Harry interrupted sharply. "Remember the order I gave you when I moved into the house."
"Kreacher is not allowed to punish himself." Kreacher recited. "Kreacher asks permission to punish himself for disrespecting the Mistress, Master."
"Denied." Harry replied immediately. "We didn't know that we were married, Kreacher, so how could we have expected you to know and act accordingly?" Kreacher mulled that over for a moment before slowly nodding.
"Master is right." he murmured. "But now that Kreacher knows, Kreacher must show proper respect."
"No, that's really alright. You can just call me Hermione." Hermione tried. Harry just waited for the inevitable response.
"Kreacher is honoured, Mistress Hermione." the elf said with a low bow.
"No, I meant that you could just refrain from calling me 'Mistress'. 'Hermione' without the title will do." Harry noticed that there was a slightly desperate tinge to Hermione's voice.
"Mistress Hermione is to be addressed as Mistress." Kreacher replied mulishly.
"Harry, can't you do something about this?" Hermione asked desperately.
"Apparently not." Harry told her wryly. "It seems that the number of Blacks who have ordered Kreacher to show proper deference is a lot higher than the two of us. Until there are enough of us to countermand a lifetime's worth of orders we're not going to get anywhere. What's wrong?" The question was added in a concerned tone when Harry noticed Hermione's face paling drastically.
"I-I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet, Harry." Hermione stammered out.
"Ready for what?" Harry asked in confusion.
"Um, to... expand our family." It took Harry a moment to follow Hermione's train of thought and realise what she was talking about.
"No! I didn't-... I wasn't-... I wasn't trying to suggest that we have children." Harry got out, stammering as badly as Hermione had a moment earlier. At least his shock got a giggle out of Hermione as her entire body seemed to relax at his frantic denials that he had been planning anything along those lines.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I shouldn't have assumed. It probably is something that we should talk about at some point though." she told him with a smile. "I think we can table that discussion for now though."
"Please." Harry agreed in relief.
"We probably shouldn't put off talking about what we're going to do about the situation we're in. I think your suggestion is probably the best course of action to take."
"Suggestion?" Harry felt lost. When had he suggested anything at all that might count as a solution to their current problem.
"When you said that I would be Hermione Granger to you for now." Hermione smiled.
"Oh. I just meant that I didn't want you to be uncomfortable or feel like you had to do anything you didn't want to." Harry confessed, not wanting Hermione to think that he had somehow figured this whole thing out.
"Thank you, Harry." Hermione told him with that smile still on her lips. "That's kind of what I meant though. We're probably better off not trying to force anything."
"So we start by not changing how we treat each other?" Harry clarified as he felt a weight lift off of his shoulders. "That sounds doable." Hermione let out an actual laugh at hearing that.
"I'm glad you think so. The part that worries me is how we deal with what other people are going to think."
"Let them all drown in their own shit." Harry snorted. "We learnt that other people's opinions don't have to matter to us when we were in school."
"All the same I'd rather not go through what we did when we were fifteen. Besides, I was thinking more about what Mr. Verrell said about having to register with the Ministry. He's probably got them expecting us by now."
"Maybe we'd be better off talking to Kingsly about this." Harry suggested. "Even if he doesn't know exactly how to deal with this he might be able to point us to someone who does. At the very least he should be able to help us find someone who can explain exactly what's going on and why we have to do anything."
"That's not a bad idea." Hermione mused. Harry recognised her expression and half expected her to declare that she had to go to the library to check something. The sight of Hermione analysing a problem was undeniably comforting though. "Do you think that he'd be free to talk to us now? I'd like to get this done before we have to face our colleagues tomorrow."
"Technically you could still take the leave you were given for your honeymoon." Harry pointed out. "I don't think anyone would be able to blame you for getting your feet back under you before heading back into work."
"I don't think so, Harry." Hermione told him with a slightly pained expression. "I think I would prefer to be at work and keeping busy than to sit at home and be constantly reminded that I'm not on my honeymoon because my wedding blew up in my face; literally. Besides, it wouldn't be fair to make you face the wolves by yourself when this is something we are very much stuck in together."
"We might be in this together, but you know as well as I do that you're going to be catching more heat for this than I will because you tried to marry Ron. None of those idiots are going to stop and think about whether or not I would have stood next to you guys as your best man if this really was a case of my wife marrying my best mate."
"You're not going to convince me to hide from these idiots just so you can face them down for me, Harry." Hermione told him sharply. "Since you don't seem to know if Kingsley will be in I suppose I shall simply have to call him and find out." She got up, clearly upset, and marched over to the fireplace. Harry stifled a sigh as he realised that he must have done something to add to Hermione's burden. I'll have to fix that as soon as I can. Hermione meanwhile had already thrown some floo powder into the fire and was crouching with her head in the flames. When she stood back up she shot Harry a neutral look. "Kingsley will be here in a minute after he finishes the paperwork he had in front of him." she informed him.
"Look, Hermione, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." Harry offered. Hermione studied him for a moment before her shoulders seemed to slump.
"I know that, Harry, but you always do this. You always try to take everything on your shoulders all by yourself. If we're going to be… partners, then I need us to be full partners. I won't be a part of a marriage where I am dictated to."
"Is that why you chose Ron?" The words were out of Harry's mouth before he could stop them.
"Sort of." Hermione admitted uncomfortably. "Ron would argue with me about relatively small things. If I really made it clear that I expected him to do something he usually would. You… you're a lot more independent in a lot of ways. I don't know if it's down to how you grew up, but you always seemed to need less validation… need me less than Ron did."
"I always thought that the reason I could ignore what every other idiot was saying was because I was sure that I knew how you felt about me and I could tell myself that yours was the only opinion that mattered." Harry admitted while experiencing a slight sinking feeling. "What about blokes aside from Ron or me?"
"Harry, you two were the only people outside of my family that I ever really built any kind of a social relationship with. Did you really expect me to stray too far away from that?"
"Well, I suppose that means we should at least be grateful that this didn't happen to you and Zabini or someone." Harry tried. Hermione's answering huff of amusement sounded almost like it had escaped without her consent.
"Yes, I suppose that if I had to be married to someone accidentally there are quite a few people I would have had more of a problem with." she admitted with a smile that looked a little bit rueful.
"I would have had quite a bit of a problem with other people as well." he told her with a similar smile, before pulling her into a gentle hug. It took a few seconds before Hermione's arms answered the hug, but when they did Harry was squeezed as tightly as he ever had been.
"Am I interrupting something?" a deep voice sounded from behind the embracing couple. They jumped apart in surprise.
"Kingsley!" Harry and Hermione shared a look after their simultaneous exclamations. Harry indicated that Hermione should take the lead on this and she accepted with a barely perceptible nod. "Um, would you like something to drink, Minister?" she asked awkwardly.
"A cup of tea, please. And you know that you don't need to refer to me by my job title, don't you?" As Kingsley finished speaking a tea service appeared on the kitchen table, complete with a steaming pot that was leaking out an enticing aroma with its steam. "Excellent service." the Minister commented, sitting down. "When's Ron joining us?"
"I-... I don't think he'll be coming, Kingsley." Hermione said with a small hitch in her voice. Harry stepped closer to her and laid a hand on her forearm in support of what had to be a difficult admission for Hermione. She laid her opposite hand softly over his for a heartbeat before Kingsley's surprise demanded their attention again.
"He's not? I was sure this was going to be about what happened at the wedding today."
"It is." Hermione took a deep breath before relating what had happened in the Weasley's living room. The words tumbled out of her like an avalanche and Harry was grateful that Shack simply listened and didn't interrupt. Perhaps he could feel, as Harry could, that if Hermione didn't get this off of her chest now that it might grow and fester within her until it exploded out at the worst possible moment. When the entire tale was told Kingsley remained silent for a moment.
"I don't think I know of anyone who knows more about marriage bonds than Gengulphus Verrell. It's why he's currently in charge of that department. That he officiated at your wedding despite having been retired from leading actual ceremonies for two years already is due to your status in the wizarding world." Kingsley said in his slow, deep rumble. "If Gengulphus says that the two of you are married then I don't think there's a single person who will gainsay that. At this point the best thing you can do is submit your wedding certificate to his office as soon as you can." Kingsley held up a hand to stall the protests he could clearly see coming. "I'm not saying that you have to agree with it or suddenly start acting married, but if you leave this then there is a good chance that someone will try to use it to cause further trouble for you. From what you've told me this is going to be difficult enough for the two of you without inviting extra hardships to your doorstep."
"Thanks for your advice, Shack." Harry said after it became clear that Hermione was still wrestling with the information they had just been presented.
"I'm just sorry that I wasn't able to do more for you." Kingsley demurred.
"Yeah, well, at this point it's starting to look like we're just going to have to learn to live with it." Kingsley said a subdued goodbye to both of them and ducked back through the swirling green flames to his office. "Guess I'd better see if I can even find that marriage certificate." Harry muttered to himself.
"I'll help, Harry." Hermione said in a tired voice. He was about to tell her that she could take it easy on the couch while he searched for their old tent, but Hermione cut him off before he could. "Together, Harry. We're in this together. Don't even think about suggesting that you will hand this to the Department of Bonds by yourself either." Harry just held his hands up in surrender. Like he had told Shack only moments before: this was his life now and he had to learn to live it.
AN: Hello there, everyone. I realise that it's been a long while since I posted anything, but my life has been... hectic. Hopefully it will stabilise soon as I am starting a new job on January 2nd. I hope that all of you have similarly good news to carry you into the new year. Whether you do or don't: here's a new fic to help the ride. It was supposed to be a one-shot Christmas present to all of you, but once it cracked 30'000 words I thought that it might be better to start splitting it up into chapters. I'm aiming to have the next instalment out around New Year's.
I ask that you forgive any mistakes on the religious stuff. I'm no expert on the stuff and found it all on Google. Having said that:
The Bible passage is from Ecclesiastes 4:9.
The vows are Church of England standard.
The magical wedding vows are an adaptation of the Wiccan wedding vows.
Gengulphus is the patron saint of difficult marriages.
The Stuprum in Stuprum Revelio is Latin for 'adultery, debauchery, rape etc.'.
A clay baker is obviously a potter. Ackerman and Granger are both Middle-English words for farmer.
As always: thank you for reading. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year from UrsaMinor and myself.