"Fred! George! You put that down this instant! Charlie, you are not too old to spank! Ron, that broom is not glued to your hand, get in this kitchen! Ginny, what do you think you're doing?"
Molly Weasley's commanding tones rang through the kitchen, cutting through a sea of ginger-haired chaos. Every Weasley had their voice raised, feet pounding up and down the stairs of the Burrow, dishes clanging and spells flying everywhere as objects whizzed by, collided, apologized, and went on their way again.
Underneath the stairs, Hermione Granger clung to a support pole, white-faced, watching the madness.
A hand touched her shoulderblade; a low voice whispered in her ear. "Y'know... there's no law that says that you have to have seven children."
"Stop using Leglimency on me, Harry," Hermione hissed, still wide-eyed and staring.
"I'm not using Leglimency. Don't need to. The look on your face says it all."
"There's just... there's just so many of them..."
"C'mon, Hermione, Ron's not going to want to have seven kids. He's spent years complaining about hand-me-downs, and he's about as scared of little booties as he is of giant spiders... you'll be lucky to get him to have one."
"We'll have to have at least two, Harry..."
Harry flashed her that sad, rueful little half-smile she'd come to know so well. "I know. But maybe Dumbledore will get this sorted out before that happens."
"He's not going to get anything 'sorted out', Harry. Fudge doesn't listen to anyone but his Pureblood cheering squad and you know it."
"We'll think of something. C'mon, Hermione, cheer up. It'll be like SPEW, only you'll be liberating you."
"Well, you saw how well SPEW worked out, didn't you," Hermione spat.
"But... but they didn't want to be freed. You do; the other Muggleborns do..."
Hermione whirled, her great brown fluff of hair smacking against the post. "Just call me 'Mudblood', Harry. Everyone else does."
"I'm not everyone else," Harry said quietly.
"No, you're not, are you? You're The Great Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived. No one would dream of making you into some kind of... breeding cow against your will."
"You're right, Hermione." Harry's voice had grown as sarcastic as her own. "No one ever makes me do anything I don't want to do. I adore the Dursleys, and fighting Voldemort is just like the circus, really."
"Want to trade? I'd gladly be out doing something, even if it is fighting Voldemort, than... than laying on my back growing Weasleys."
"Don't insult the Weasleys. They've been good to us both."
Hermione's hands went to her temple. "I know, Harry, I know. I don't hate the Weasleys... I just hate being forced to do things."
"I do too, Hermione." Harry slung an arm around her shoulder, and Hermione sank into it.
The front door swung open, revealing a doorframe full of Arthur Weasley, and Hermione's heart leapt.
Fred and George nearly tangled up trying to get to him, and Hermione felt a little rush of gratitude; Fred and George had no intention of settling down any time soon, loathed the new law as much as she did, and harassed their father about it endlessly... so she didn't have to.
"What did you find out?"
"Did they repeal it?"
Arthur dropped into a chair, setting his hat upon the table. "No, they didn't repeal it. The appeal failed; only one member of the Wizengamot voted for it."
"Dumbledore," Molly's face bore a fierce expression that said she'd personally like to box the ears of the entire Wizengamot.
"Right in one, love."
"But how..." Fred sputtered. "Why... why would they..."
"They're thinking about the big picture, Fred," Arthur sighed heavily. "Maybe we should start thinking that way, too."
"You don't seriously believe this rot, do you, Dad?" George cried. "You and Mum are both Purebloods, and there's not a Squib among us! Ron's not pretty to look at, but he doesn't have two heads!"
"Your mother and I have been very fortunate. Many other families have not been so lucky. Are you aware that Draco Malfoy is Lucius and Narcissa's seventh and only surviving child?"
"Don't see how less Malfoys is a problem," Ron muttered.
"It's not just the Malfoys. It's most of the pureblood families."
"I don't understand why they don't just get off their ruddy high horses and admit that being a Pureblood doesn't make them holy," Bill spat. "If they hadn't been so high-and-mighty for ages, this wouldn't be happening now."
"I don't see why it has to be a law," Charlie added. "It's sexist and unfair and will only build more animosity..."
"I know, son. I know. But Fudge has never learned that just because he has a hammer, he doesn't have to use it."
"Arthur..." Molly began, apparently unaware she was wringing her apron in her fists, "Did they...?"
"Yes, love. They made it worse."
"Worse?" Fred yelped. "How could it be worse?"
"They've added... magical compulsions to it. It's not just a marriage... it's a Binding."
"It really is like the house-elves," Harry said in horror, finding Hermione's hand and gripping it tight.
"Very much like the House-Elves, Harry," Arthur agreed.
"So, wait," George said. "We're going to be Bound to some woman, forced to gleefully run make her toast?"
"You won't be Bound, George. But she will."
"Just the women." Molly was literally quivering with rage.
Arthur sighed. "Just the Muggle-borns. Until the woman has produced at least one boy and one girl child. Then the Binding breaks."
Harry searched Arthur's face, not at all liking what he found there. "There's more, isn't there?"
Arthur put his hands on his hat, turning it slowly between his palms, avoiding the eyes of everyone... especially Hermione.
"There are... other compulsions. To ensure the, ah, production of children, and, um... faithfulness. They don't want marriages in name only."
"Witches will be fleeing everywhere," Charlie said darkly. "There'll be an outbreak of broken wands, Dad, you know this. They'll lose all that 'fresh blood' they so crave... this law will accomplish the exact opposite of what they want."
"They can't flee, Charlie. The Binding is done at the Ministry; they don't even have to be there for it. If they run, and someone offers for them, they'll found themselves Bound no matter where they are. And I understand that being Bound far away from the one you are Bound to is a terribly painful experience."
"How... how far away can they be?"
"Physical contact for five hours a day, minimum."
"Five hours a day?" George bellowed. "What am I supposed to do, sew her to me?"
"It's designed to ensure... bed-sharing."
"Well then you will have to sew her to you," Fred quipped, "The way you snore!"
"Not... now... Fred..." Molly's teeth were clenched.
"And this is just Purebloods and Muggleborns," Bill asked.
"For the moment, yes."
A silence broke out... interrupting by a choking sob from Hermione and the sound of her feet thudding up the stairs.
"Finite Incantatem," the gangly wizard said in tones of utter boredom, and Hermione felt all the hexes she'd put on herself dissolve away.
Dammit. She'd spent hours this morning making herself hideous. She supposed other witches had gotten the same idea.
Hermione glowered into the camera, shooting as much pure hatred out of her eyeballs as humanly possible.
Bid for me, and I will ruin your life. I will chew up your balls and spit them out.
Of course, her inclusion in The Catalogue was only a formality; she'd be accepting Ron eventually. If she had to be Bound to someone, at least it would be her friend.
As demeaning as The Catalogue was, Hermione understood why Snape had suggested Hogwarts publish it. Ever since the schoolyear had started, the grounds had been overrun by "visitors"... Pureblood male witches, standing at the back of the Great Hall, ogling the student body. Pun intended.
After all, if you had to get yourself a witch, why not get the youngest, perkiest one available?
In fact, it had been this influx of window-shopping lechers that had given Hermione a first in her life -- a feeling of gratitude towards Professor Snape.
"Excuse me," Professor Snape had purred, his black velvet voice more dangerous than she'd ever heard it -- which was saying quite a bit.
He'd advanced, black robes billowing, on the "visitor" standing in the back of their Potions class, to stand much too deeply in the squat wizard's personal space.
"I don't believe you've been introduced to Miss Granger, sir..."
The man had gulped as Snape stood over him.
"Miss Granger is a brilliant student, certainly. But clumsy. Very clumsy. Particularly when she is nervous. And I think you'll find, sir, that Miss Granger gets very nervous when she is being stared at. Don't you, Miss Granger?"
Hermione had merely stared at him, wide-eyed. Had he just called her brilliant?
"I think it would be unwise to cause Miss Granger to be nervous. It would be a dreadful thing if she spilled the potion she was working on. It's quite advanced and very interesting. Perhaps you would like to hear about its properties. Miss Granger, would you care to explain the effects of the Penis-Shrinking Potion to our visitor?"
Hermione blinked, her throat suddenly bone-dry. "It... it shrinks penises," she whispered.
"Excellent, Miss Granger. Ten points to Gryffindor. Careful with that cauldron, now; I do believe you nearly spilled some on our guest."
The man had left hurriedly, unnoticed by the class, universally slack-jawed, gaping at Snape.
"Oh, close your mouths," Snape had snapped. "You look even more idiotic than usual."
He'd stalked up to his desk, spat out more instructions, and class had gone back to normal.
Snape had a sense of humor. Who knew?
"So you are physically capable of awarding points to Gryffindor," McGonagall smiled.
"If I must to make a point, yes," Snape snapped, lifting his goblet.
"And you defended Miss Granger..."
"This law is utterly inane, Minerva. I wouldn't wish it on a dog; I wouldn't even wish it on Miss Granger, especially when the result will be decades of ginger-headed know-it-alls fouling up my dungeon."
"What about you, Severus? You're required to bid as well, aren't you?"
"I must regretfully inform you that no one has answered my personal ad."
"Grumpy Bastard seeks Petrified Deaf-Mute."
McGonagall choked on her glass of wine; next to her, she heard Dumbledore do the same.
"Well, that's most unfortunate, Severus," McGonagall said, her eyes dancing. "Perhaps we'll have another Basilisk attack and true love will find you."
"One can only hope," Snape replied.