A/N: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling.

This is my first foray into fan fiction and so any constructive criticism will be appreciated. This story is based loosely on the marriage law challenge and I hope that I have been able to contribute something new and interesting. Enjoy!

Chapter One

Hermione sat, staring out at the lake. A copy of the Daily Prophet lay at her feet where she had dropped it covered by a letter from the Ministry. Both her heart and mind were in turmoil. 'Pick your battles,' her father had always told her. So did she fight this ridiculous marriage law? Or did she sacrifice her happiness for the greater good, focusing on the war against Lord Voldemort instead? Or was fighting this law just another battle in the larger war? Or worse yet, was it enough for her to relinquish her wand and return to the Muggle world? She had values, hopes, and dreams, and this new law would force her to choose between them.

Confused, she reached for her bag. With quill and parchment in hand she began compiling pros and cons list for every available option. She resolved to solve this problem with logic and planning. It was like any other obstacle she had faced in the past, similar to Snape's puzzle protecting the Philosopher's Stone in her first year or how she had outwitted Umbridge in her fifth.

That was the way Professor Dumbledore found her, bent over her parchment, trying to keep it from being blown away in the wind.

"Miss Granger," he said softly, "May I join you." She nodded and scooted to the far end of the bench.

"I rather thought you would have left by now. School is over; you are no longer a student at Hogwarts." He regarded her over his half moon glasses.

"I'm leaving at the end of week. Professor McGonagall asked me to stay and help her organize some things for next year," she answered, "But surely you knew that already, Professor?"

"Ah, yes, I do remember Minerva mentioning it now." His eyes twinkled. Hermione knew full well that he was aware of why she was still here at school. She ventured to guess he knew why she was out here on this bench scribbling away as well.

"Under different circumstances she said she would have offered me an apprenticeship, but with things the way they are," Hermione's voice cracked at that—the first sign of emotional distress she had shown so far.

"A bright witch like you should continue her education," Dumbledore said, "I'm sure we can arrange something." He patted her arm reassuringly, but Hermione did not feel reassured. She looked at the aged wizard sitting beside her. He looked as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and not for the first time she wondered how so frail a man could be so powerful. Harry had assured her in the past that he was quite intimidating when angry, but she hardly believed him.

"But, Professor, I don't know if we can," she said shoving her exhaustive lists into his hands. He shuffled through them, chuckling to himself.

"Always determined to solve every problem with your intellect—an admirable approach." He handed the stack back to her and she stuffed them into her bag along with the newspaper and Ministry letter.

"So you've come to no conclusion yet?" he asked.

"No," she sighed, turning her head so he wouldn't see the tears pricking her eyes.

"What are your options?"

"I can go along with this ridiculous law and pick an eligible Pureblood bachelor for myself from this bloody list the Ministry sent or...," she paused, contemplating the horrors of an arranged marriage.

"You must remember that the wizards on that list are in the same situation you are. They, too, are being forced to marry."

"Yes, but they get to choose who they will propose to! My list is much shorter than theirs," she exclaimed.

"Some muggleborn witches don't have nearly the extensive list of choices you have, Hermione," Dumbledore reminded her gently. She thought it over, pitying the poor women who had no choices at all.

"So the Ministry can force Muggleborns and Purebloods to marry simply because people like the Malfoys and the Blacks are so concerned about purity that they are in the process of interbreeding themselves into extinction?" Her voice grew shriller as she went on, and her wand hand twitched as the urge to hex and curse the Ministry of Magic into oblivion overcame her.

"I'm afraid so," he said looking at her sadly.

"And there is nothing you can do?" she pleaded even though she knew in her heart what the answer was.

"The Minister has convinced himself that what he is doing is for the best—that he is single handedly saving the Wizarding world. And when a man's ego is that large, his pride oftentimes prevents him from hearing reason."

"Even from you?"

"Especially from me, but what are your other options?" he asked again.

"I could fight the law, risking fines, censure, and imprisonment. I would be almost useless to the Order and take the chance of not being there for Harry when he might need me the most. Or I can leave, abandoning Harry, Ron, the Order, everyone and everything I have come to love these last seven years," she said, despair welling up in her.

Dumbledore scooted closer, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She buried her head in his chest and beard, sniffling. He smelled like a summer's day after it has rained and she felt herself calming down as he pat her head. After several moments she sat back up. Smoothing her robes, she stared back out at the lake.

"I have to be there for Harry," she said finally. "We're friends. I could never abandon him like that."

"That only leaves one option," Dumbledore pointed out.

"I know," she whispered, her eyes downcast while she fiddled with the pocket of her school robes.

"I always pictured myself falling in love with an honorable man, someone who enjoyed the same things I do. We would have children, one or two, and we would grow old together. I want a marriage like my parents have," she said pleadingly.

"Just because a marriage is not a love match does not mean it is loveless, Hermione." Dumbledore turned to her, taking her hands in his.

"Love is more than just an emotion. It comprises all the little things you do for a person to show that you care. It may start out that you merely bring him a cup of tea at the end of the day or maybe he cooks you a nice dinner. Slowly after awhile these add up; consideration turns to respect, respect turns to admiration, and admiration turns to love."

"But what about passion?" she asked timidly, a little embarrassed to be asking the Headmaster such a question.

"That too, though it won't last. It never does. Can you imagine if it did? How tiring!" The twinkle returned to his eyes. He smiled at her, and then stood up.

"I'll leave you now. I suspect you have quite a bit of work ahead of you, what with pro and con lists to compile for all the possible candidates." Hermione watched as he walked away, and then turned back to the lake. The list was in her bag, but she left it there. She could look at it later, first she had to come to terms with her decision—one step at a time.