The Bad News
Hermione was dreading the Sunday night dinner at the Burrow much the same as she did every week. It wasn't that she didn't like going – that wasn't it all – it's just that so much had changed since her earlier days spent with the family that one day she had looked up with a sudden realization that life would never be the same. The war was over, but her life didn't resemble anything like she had pictured.
It had started over two years ago, she knew, and it had come on so gradually that she couldn't really be sure what the final change had been that ruined everything for her. She knew the first. That had been the summer before their seventh year when Ron had dashed all Hermione's hopes of a relationship by asking out Luna Lovegood. She was happy for the two, but it had changed the group's dynamic in a way she was sure they all realized, but that none of them would admit.
Ginny's injury was certainly on the list. It had been over a year now, and the healers had all but said her best female friend would never awake from her curse-induced coma. The Death Eater backlash after Voldemort's downfall had been severe – none of those wizards had ever expected their leader to lose, and now they were facing Azkaban – and Ginny was one of many casualties, though thankfully the only one that hit so close to home. Hermione still visited once a week, but it was always the same. Even Mrs. Weasley had begun to accept that her only daughter was not going to return to them, and Hermione was sure that was as definite a sign as any.
There were other things, of course. Harry would practically disappear for weeks at a time, and no one was ever sure if it was Auror business or simply an inability to face the family in light of Ginny's condition. Fred and George's business had nearly gone under several times in the face of Ministry-imposed tariffs on some of the rarer – and sometimes the not-so-rare – components for their best-selling products. There had been a whole slew of Ministry proclamations that had affected them all, at least indirectly. But these things were impossible to connect to a date or time, so Hermione couldn't use them to determine the point she'd become so disenchanted with "family" dinners. No, she'd simply come to accept that life, as she knew it, would never be the same. And she wasn't sure sometimes if life was even worth bothering anymore.
But she knew she'd go on, if for no other reason than to support the people she loved. She would go to the Burrow every Sunday night and hope to see a smile, a glimmer of hope. She would send Harry an owl twice a week, no matter if she received a reply or not. She would buy something from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes just to boost the twins' morale, even if she simply chucked the item upon returning home. If her friends could find some semblance of happiness, then she'd help them get there. Then maybe her existence wouldn't be completely useless.
Hermione checked her reflection, sighing loudly at the sight of her pale face and bushy hair. This was the same face that greeted her every day, but it never failed to annoy her all the same. She supposed she should be comforted by the fact that it hadn't changed, unlike the rest of her life, but deep down she supposed that she'd been hoping adulthood would change something for the better.
She smoothed down her robes, checked that she had her wand, then disapparated. She knocked on the Weasley's front door, and it opened almost immediately.
"Oh dear, I told you that you're perfectly welcome to come right in," said Molly Weasley, ushering Hermione into the house. "Everyone else does."
"Everyone else" would mean Harry, and of course he apparated directly into the living room. He had been – still was, she supposed – engaged to their daughter. He was as good as family. But Hermione, well, she was just a family friend. Once she had hoped to become a part of it, but that dream had long since vanished.
She gave a little wave to the sea of redheads that greeted her, but was surprised at the extra face she found among them. "Harry?" she said, unable to conceal her surprise. "I didn't know you were going to be here today. Last I heard you were going to Slovakia."
"Change of plans," Harry said simply. He pointed to the door that led into the kitchen.
Another non-Weasley stuck his head out. "Oh good, Hermione," said Remus Lupin, an anxious smile on his face. "You've arrived. I'll just be a moment. I need to get this owl off to Nymphadora."
Hermione sat on the couch next to Harry, and he at least attempted to return the smile she gave him. "There's bad news?" she asked.
"Hermione, dear, such pessimism doesn't become you," said Mrs. Weasley, but she was perched neatly on the edge of her chair with the rest of the family rather than rushing around cooking, doing chores, or dictating her family's chores. That was sign enough.
"The bad news always comes in this room, Mum," said Fred, who was smiling nonetheless. "But no one's died, at least."
"He's right, Mum," said Ron. He held up the cup he'd been cradling in his lap. "Lupin never lets you make tea first when someone's died, because of that time you almost hexed him for making you drop Aunt Muriel's teapot."
Hermione nodded. "We always get the good news during supper."
"Usually after I've had my first helping of pudding," added Harry.
Mrs. Weasley let out an exasperated sigh. "You make it sound like plays in a Quidditch match or some such nonsense."
"Why do you think Bill and Fleur never come to Sunday dinner anymore?" said Ron. "Oh, that's right. I think it was around the time Lupin told us about Ministry proclamation number two hundred and seventy-two, when half-breeds were forbidden from marrying. He actually made you make the tea that time."
"Your brother is not a werewolf, Ronald. You knew very well that he passed every test—"
"Ah, but the Ministry still won't let them have children now, will they?" Ron pressed. Hermione watched the cup in his hand begin to tremble slightly more with every increase in the volume of his voice. "Luna says it doesn't matter how many incentives they give for witches and wizards to marry and have kids. She has to turn away people every day who want their contraceptive charm lifted."
For all the witch's faults, Hermione did have to admire the effect Luna had had on Ron. She supposed it was one bit of proof that Luna was more fit for Ron than Hermione would ever be: not once did Ron ever get so worked up over S.P.E.W. or any of her other crusades, but all Luna had to do was dispute a two knut charge on their monthly floo bill, and he was at her side with words for her case. And as an apprentice healer in the maternity ward at St. Mungo's, Luna had plenty to say about current Ministry policy on the repopulation of the wizarding world.
"They simply haven't passed their waiting period," Mrs. Weasley was saying. "After all, it was only enacted eight months ago…."
"Molly," Mr. Weasley spoke up. "It's only going to get worse before it gets better."
"No Ministry regulation will come between me and grandchildren!" Mrs. Weasley screeched. She waggled her finger at each person around the room. "Mark my words, I expect at least two grandchildren from each one of you. That goes for you two as well."
The fury with which Mrs. Weasley was pointing her finger at her and Harry reminded Hermione so much of Ginny that it brought tears to her eyes. She brushed them away, hoping no one else noticed. She had promised herself that the tears were over, as much for herself as everyone else who regularly gathered there. But evidently she wasn't the only one having those thoughts, as Harry reached over and squeezed her hand once, and then let go. She couldn't look up at him.
"Well, look at it this way, Mum," said Fred, still smiling that blasted smile. "At least Bill didn't have to use the Official Ministry of Magic Matchmaking Program to find himself a wife." He enunciated the words in such a way that he sounded just like the adverts in the Daily Prophet. "At least this way, when it's all straightened out, you'll already know what kind of grandchildren you'll get out of it."
He caught Hermione's gaze with the last sentence and rolled his eyes. It was just the lift her spirits had needed from her moment of gloom, but she stifled the giggle for Mrs. Weasley's sake. Fleur's predicament was unjust – Ron could argue for that point for several more hours, she knew – but the witch had been an absolute nightmare when discussing the proper way to bring up a child…none of which happened to coincide with the techniques used in the very home in which her husband had been raised. And the re-enactment of that particular conversation, which usually involved George playing the enraged Mrs. Weasley, had become a favourite amongst the siblings.
"No son of mine would need such an idiotic—" Mrs. Weasley started, giving an eye roll of her own.
"I beg to differ," said George, shooting his twin a glare. "The beauty of the program is not so much that it finds one a wife, but that it doesn't have to."
"What are you on about?" said Ron, looking suspiciously between his two brothers.
"George's been taking out a new witch every day for two weeks," said Fred. He chuckled. "Well, except that one. What was her name? Lorena? I guess she technically counted for two days, since she didn't leave the flat till the next morning."
Hermione's mouth dropped open, but Fred seemed to think the reaction he got from the family made the declaration even funnier, as he collapsed into laughter. Next to him, George's face was bright red, but he was still smiling.
"It's simple, really," said George when his brother had finally stopped laughing at his expense. Hermione noticed that he was carefully avoiding Mrs. Weasley's gaze, as his mother had her eyes narrowed and her mouth poised half-open with a readied response. "If it's so important to them to marry off eligible purebloods to a worthy partner that they're willing to set us up, pay subsidies for the dates, guarantee satisfaction—" He winked at Fred. "—Then I will make sure I take out every eligible witch in Britain and still not find a wife. By then I'll either have run the Ministry out of money, or they will have changed the laws. Either way, I'll get some free dates out of it."
Mrs. Weasley's mouth closed, her face twisting in confusion. Apparently there wasn't nearly the fault in her son's plan that she had intended to find. Hermione had to admit George wasn't as dumb as his pranks sometimes made him appear. In fact, this almost sounded like a whole new breed of prank. She was surprised she hadn't heard him bragging about it before then. Still, she was glad she wasn't "eligible" to participate, since Muggle-borns were somehow inferior to the rest of the wizarding population.
"I'm sorry, everyone," said Remus, coming out of the kitchen at last. Hermione had almost forgotten they were waiting on him. Nerves made her stomach do a little flop. "I had half the note written out before all the letters jumbled themselves up. I had to start on a fresh piece of parchment."
Fred and George exchanged guilty looks, but said nothing. Not that anyone would have assumed that, for instance, Harry had replaced Mrs. Weasley stock of notepaper with No, Nonsense Parchment. It was the twins' first new product since getting Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes back in the black a few months ago. Hermione flashed them a quick smile, which they both returned. They had asked for her assistance in perfecting the complicated charms on the paper, and she had to admit it was an ingenious bit of work. All it took was the appropriate password incantation – assignable by the paper's purchaser – and the words would shift back to their normal state; it would have been ideal for the Order's use during the war, if only they'd developed it sooner.
"Is everything all right, Remus?" Mrs. Weasley asked. Then she amended, "With Tonks?"
"Better than all right, actually," he replied, smiling widely. Hermione let out the breath she'd been holding and exchanged a look with Harry. Good news? "You were absolutely right, Molly. The metamorphmagus blood is letting us disguise his parentage quite nicely."
"A boy? Oh Remus, that's wonderful!" Mrs. Weasley leapt from her seat to envelope the man in a tight hug. Congratulations sounded from all around the room.
"Nymphadora said Charlie was brilliant," Remus said when he finally managed to extract himself from the woman's grasp. He conjured up an extra armchair and took a seat. "With him there and Luna to push the paperwork through, well, it looks like we're in the clear for now. Tell her I said thanks again when you see her tonight, Ron."
"Charlie?" asked Hermione. She knew that Tonks' pregnancy had been a constant worry for the couple since they found out about it a couple of months earlier. They'd had to hide the fact that the two of them were even together at all, much less procreating. She did not know, however, what the elder Weasley child had to do with Ministry-required natal health screenings.
"Ron didn't tell you?" said Mrs. Weasley, smiling with pride. "Charlie is pretending to be the baby's father. He and Tonks have been friends for ages, you know. It was the best shot they had."
"Oh, that's wonderful," said Hermione. She didn't bother to add that she and Ron rarely spoke outside these dinners. Ever since he and Luna had gotten married…. It was the same with Harry. She knew she should try harder. But with all of their schedules being so different and the constant thought that Ginny would never join them again, it was just too much for any of them.
Really, she had more contact with Fred and George than anyone these days, and that was merely because her patronage of their shop had caused them to return the favour by dragging her out to the Leaky Cauldron a couple of nights a week. Hermione's office, where she spent all day translating ancient runes, was just down the alley from the twins' shop, and that made her convenient for kidnapping. After a couple of glasses of wine, she even usually stopped protesting too much.
"Unfortunately," Remus said, running a hand over his face, "that's not the main reason I wanted to talk to everyone tonight, and to Hermione in particular. Kingsley's managed to get me some information on the next proclamation that's to go before the Wizengamot sometime next week."
Hermione felt her blood go cold, practically stopping her heart's beating in her chest. They had all known it was coming, but a tiny part of her had hoped that all the little laws and the gradual build-up had really been nothing, and that they were imagining the eventual consequences. "The Muggle-born registration," she said quietly.
Mrs. Weasley drew in a loud, sharp breath, but Remus simply nodded. "It's bad, I'm afraid. They're expecting it to pass without a lot of resistance."
"Without a lot of resistance!" Hermione said with sudden force. She felt tears prickling at her eyes for the second time that night. "Has the world gone mad? Do they not know that nearly half the wizarding population is made up of first generation witches and wizards?"
"That's exactly what's got them scared, Hermione," said Mr. Weasley. He reached out for his wife's hand, and she let him take it. "The pureblood lines are rapidly decreasing. The statistics show a rise in the number of squib births over the last twenty years—"
"That's bollocks," said Ron. "Luna says the data set is completely faulty. Or something like that."
"We know that, Ron," his father said calmly. "But the rest of the country is scared. Add in the high number of pureblood Death Eaters serving life sentences in Azkaban, and you've got a population that, on paper, looks ready to die out in a generation or two. To the average citizen, laws mean order. Order means safety. We've just come out of a war. They needed something, and Bertrau has given it to them."
Leonid Bertrau was the man who had succeeded Rufus Scrimgeour as Minister for Magic after the latter's death near the end of Voldemort's reign of terror. The former Wizengamot prosecution solicitor seemed to be trying to make up for the inaction of his predecessors by doing ten times more than necessary. It all made Hermione wish Cornelius Fudge were back in office; at least that man had only made Harry look the fool, not marry one and have fool children.
"Go on, Remus," Harry said quietly. He looked at Hermione before adding, "There's more, isn't there?"
Remus nodded. "The proclamation includes all the things we expected – wand seizure, a test that's designed to fail its subject, employment cessation. But there's one thing we didn't expect."
He silently locked eyes with Hermione for a moment. There was something there, something that told her he didn't want to say what he was about to, but that it wasn't in him to withhold the information from her either. Taking a deep breath, she nodded for him to continue.
"There's a loophole," he said.
"Oh, but that's—" started Mrs. Weasley.
"I didn't say it was a good loophole, Molly," interrupted Remus. "It's dangerous, and it wouldn't be easy."
"Remus, I was standing next to Harry when he cast the spell that took down Voldemort," said Hermione in a carefully controlled voice. "Whatever it is, I think I can handle it."
"You would need to get married before the law passes," her former professor said. He looked at Mr. Weasley then explained, "Bertrau's son is married to a Muggle-born witch. He's built into the proclamation an exception for any who are married to half or purebloods. You would still have to release your wand for a six-month waiting period, and you wouldn't be able to work for that time either, but there's none of the rigorous testing at all. Kingsley thinks the waiting period itself is just for an appearance of consistency, nothing more."
"That's it?" said Hermione with a strangled laugh. "I just have to find a husband this week? Maybe I'll just head down to the Ministry with George tomorrow and scope out the bachelors." She felt her words coming out in more and more frantic tones, but she couldn't stop herself talking. "In fact, George, have you got anyone lined up for tomorrow night? Maybe I'll just be your unofficial next eligible bachelorette."
"Hermione…" started Ron. "I hardly think George—"
"Don't 'Hermione' me, Ronald!" Hermione shouted back. "You've already chosen your spouse. I'm perfectly capable of choosing mine without your help!"
"Dear, I think you need to calm down," said Mrs. Weasley carefully, rising a little out of her seat.
"Calm down? How can I possibly calm down?" Everyone in the room began offering their suggestions all at once. It was all Hermione could do to keep from passing out from the sheer pressure of it all. The proclamation, the voices, Harry's hand wrapped around hers….
"Me." Harry said it so softly that Hermione barely heard him, but somehow every Weasley in the house immediately stopped talking to stare in their direction.
"What?" said Hermione. "What are you talking about?"
"Me, Hermione," he repeated. "I think you should marry me."
I hope you like this new story! Don't worry; I'm not abandoning the others. This plot bunny was just hopping around begging for attention, so I had to oblige. This is my personal challenge to write a story using some fan fiction clichéd plotlines in a way that didn't come out as cliché. I hope it works!
Also, be on the lookout for the How to Date George Weasley. This companion story will follow George as he takes advantage of the Ministry's free dating service for eligible bachelor wizards. It will be the humour to balance out the seriousness of this story. Look for the first chapter sometime in the next week. I'll be alternating posting these two, but still hope to get a chapter of each every week. (Keep your fingers crossed for me…that'll be about 10,000 words of fan fic to write every week – phew!)