Hermione always seemed to know when something bad was going to happen. It wasn't like a light went off inside her head and she suddenly knew what dangers were about take place, but she got a strange prickly feeling between her shoulder blades. When she was younger, she had thought that she had just felt a chill. But as the years progressed, and she was Harry Potter's friend longer, she realized it was like an alarm system.
For when you were Harry Potter's friend, you were in danger quite a bit. Harry and Ron would jump into any situation without a second thought, but Hermione was the one who seemed to think about it first. The reason was the strange prickly feeling. Harry and Ron seemed to think they were impervious to danger. They didn't ever say it, but judging by the way they barged into any situation, they believed subconsciously that they were going to be fine no matter what.
Hermione didn't share their views.
And so when she woke the morning of October twenty-ninth to the strange prickly feeling in her back, she was a little cautious in her movements. She knew, somehow she knew, that any moment news would reach their ears that would send her best friends into a fit of heroic duty. And she would have to be the one that held them back.
They went down to breakfast, the boys chatting happily amongst themselves while Hermione was silent. Maybe she was being paranoid. Maybe nothing was wrong. She was probably hormonal.
She brushed aside her unease and sat at the Gryffindor table and reached for a piece of toast.
"I heard that it's going to be a dance on Halloween!" Parvati said excitedly. "Dumbledore's hired a band and everything!"
"If it was a dance, don't you think they would have told us?" Seamus asked around a mouthful of bacon. Parvati grimaced and looked away from him, turning her nose into the air.
"Why would they?" Lavender asked.
"Aren't you supposed to have a date to a dance?"
"Not necessarily," Parvati replied, still not looking at Seamus while he stuffed his face. "It's not a formal thing, just a bit of fun."
Well, Hermione thought bitterly. At least it's not formal.
Was that what the prickling was? About a dance? Sure, she wasn't a fan of dances but really. She thought her inner alarm system would be more fine-tuned than warning her about hormonal teenage over-excitement.
The hall suddenly filled with the sounds of flapping wings and low screeches as owls flew in through the windows to bring the mail. Hermione looked for her owl which would bring her the Daily Prophet. She read it each morning with trepidation, but knowing what horrors were happening outside the world of Hogwarts was better than being left in the dark. Each new day brought more news of destruction and death, but Hermione kept reading. She had to know what was happening, and had to keep reminding herself what they were fighting for.
A tawny owl landed before her with the Prophet in its beak and she took the paper before filling the little leather pouch with the right amount of coins. As the owl took off and Hermione unrolled her paper, another owl landed before her. Hermione frowned. She never got mail outside of the newspaper. She took the letter and had just enough time to see the official Ministry seal before another owl landed. And then another. And another. She stared at the owls in confusion as they shuffled forward and dropped their letters onto her plate and took off. More and more came to her, leaving their letters behind until her plate was piled with them.
"Miss Granger." Hermione looked up and saw the Headmaster standing next to her and looking intent. "Come with me and bring those letters."
Hermione did as he asked, looking curiously at her friends who looked as confused as she felt. She grabbed the envelopes, all thirteen of them, and stood up to follow Dumbledore out of the hall. Harry and Ron stood up as well, but Dumbledore stopped them.
"No, just Miss Granger, thank you," he said kindly, but with a hint of steel behind his words. Ron looked bewildered and Harry frowned. Hermione followed the headmaster out into the Entrance Hall.
"Not here, my dear," he said softly. "Wait until we're in my office."
The continued down the corridors in silence, and she matched her pace to Dumbledore's as he sped up a little. When they reached the stone gargoyle, Dumbledore didn't even stop as he said, "Ton-Tongue Toffee."
The gargoyle leapt aside and the headmaster stepped up onto the moving staircase. Hermione followed him up to the top and through his office door. Fawkes was seated on his perch by the door and turned his head into Dumbledore's hand as the headmaster gave him an absent pat. The phoenix turned his bright eyes to Hermione and tilted his head. She smiled and followed Dumbledore all the way in.
She looked around herself, having not been in the office before, and almost jumped out of her skin when she saw Snape by the fireplace.
"Headmaster, I swear-" he saw Hermione and halted for a moment, staring at her intently before continuing. "I didn't find out until this last night and I only just got back. If I had known, I would have informed you, I swear it."
"I believe you, my boy," Dumbledore said heavily as he sat in his chair behind his desk. "I believe you. Now, we must decide what's to be done."
Were they talking about her? What's to be done about what?
Snape eyed the letters in her hands with dismay as Dumbledore gestured to the seat before his desk. She sat, looking between the two men with rising alarm. Did this have something to do with the letters? She looked at all the envelopes in her lap and saw that they were all identical. Each had the Ministry seal and were addressed to her.
"What is going on?" Hermione finally asked. The two men looked up at her with carefully blank faces. She frowned.
Dumbledore sighed and rested his hands on his desk. "Miss Granger," he said. "Do you know anything of the Marriage Act of 1027?"
"Yes," Hermione said cautiously. "It was a marriage law put in effect because of the low numbers of witches and wizards at the time. Witches and wizards were told to marry Muggles and Muggle-borns to expand the Wizarding race. Had it not been made, the magical blood-lines would have probably died out."
"Precisely," Dumbledore said with a nod. "The law, however, was terminated in 1807 because it was considered old-fashioned and was no longer needed. Magical people were flourishing. Unfortunately, in recent years the numbers of our kind have dropped. The law was brought up in the Ministry again recently but was never pushed through because it was considered unfair to the populace."
"Okay…" Hermione said. "What does that have to do with me?"
Snape and Dumbledore were silent for many moments. Dumbledore finally leaned forward and looked her in the eye. His were no longer twinkling like they normally did.
"Voldemort has his hands in the Ministry," he said seriously. "It is under his control now. Each person there is like a puppet on a string. Because of this, he has pushed the Marriage Act back into effect."
Hermione was silent, uncomprehending. "Why would he do that? He cares about blood purity! What would be the point in having pure-bloods mix with Muggle-borns?"
"Actually, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said thoughtfully. "He doesn't really care about bloodlines at all. All he cares about is power. He saw how blood purity was a way of life for many people and used it to his advantage. Now he is one of the most powerful wizards of the day, with many followers who don't realize their leader is a half-blood himself."
"I still don't understand the point of this," Hermione said. "Yes, the numbers of witches and wizards are dropping, but not that desperately. This makes no sense."
"Miss Granger," Snape said suddenly. She looked up at him. "He's using this law as an excuse. He doesn't care about Muggle-borns as a whole. His only target is one."
Hermione still didn't understand. She thought the only person that Voldemort cared about was Harry, but Harry's a half-blood.
"He wants you, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said morosely. Hermione's heart stopped. Her throat closed. She couldn't breathe. She made an odd sort of choking noise as she tried to draw air.
"Breath slowly, my dear," Dumbledore said
"Why…?" she rasped.
"A number of reasons," Snape said, sounding perfectly normal. The bastard. "You are Harry Potter's best friend, which puts an automatic target on your back. If you were to marry a Death Eater, which is his plan, you'd be put into his hands and would be a hard blow to Potter."
"You are also the brightest child to come through Hogwarts since Tom Riddle himself," Dumbledore said, standing to his feet. He began to pace slowly around the room. "He wants the use of your mind. He can force you to make whatever he wants, because he knows you have the ability."
"Couldn't he make others do it instead?" she asked.
"No," said Snape. "You can only force people to do what is within their capacity. In the Death Eater ranks, there is a serious lack of intelligence and powerful magic. Only myself and the Malfoy's are deemed truly clever. With you and the Dark Lord put together, there is no end to what you can accomplish and he knows this. It is why he desires you so much."
"To make me create things that will kill hundreds of people," Hermione whispered.
"Yes," said Dumbledore, coming to a stop next to his desk. "And to help him bring an end to Harry."
"I wouldn't do it," Hermione said stoutly.
"You wouldn't have a choice," Snape said with a sneer. "He would Imperius you the moment you were before him. You'd be doing anything and everything he asked without a moment's hesitation."
So Voldemort wanted her because he wanted to use her as a weapon against Harry and the Wizarding world. He couldn't force anyone else to make these potions or spells or whatever because they didn't have the magical capability that she did. Nothing would be to the level that Voldemort wanted. So he would join his magic to hers and ruin the world.
"Why is he doing this with the marriage law?" she asked. "Couldn't he try to kidnap me or something?"
"He knows you are heavily protected," Snape said. "It would be almost impossible to capture you. With the law, it makes escape illegal. If you were to refuse, you'd be sent to Azkaban. The problem with that choice is that the Dark Lord is in charge of the prison as well. If you were sent there, he would have you anyway."
"So I have no choice," she murmured. "I have to marry a Death Eater. Is that what these are?" She gestured to the letters in her lap.
"Those are petitions for you, yes," Dumbledore said. "But we're going to think of a way out of this. I will not have you marrying a Death Eater."
"How long do I have before I have to make a decision?" she asked, looking up resignedly.
"You have a month to choose before one is chosen for you," Snape said.
She nodded and sat there silently. What was she to do? How could they possibly find a way out of this?
"Wait," she said suddenly, her fear increasing. "Even if we were to find someone else for me to marry, it has to be accepted by the Ministry, correct?" Dumbledore nodded. Her heart dropped. "No matter who I choose, they'll decline it until I accept a Death Eater."
"No, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said kindly. "I have a contact at the Ministry. She'll be able to accept who we decide, as long as he's either a half-blood or pure-blood. You must get married, yes. But not to a Death Eater."
She felt only marginally better about that. She still had to get married. Her dreams were being ruined before her eyes.
"Is there anyone who comes to mind, Miss Granger?" Dumbledore asked gently. She shook her head. Ron, but he wasn't seventeen yet and wouldn't be able to marry her. Same with Harry.
"It should be someone from the Order," Snape said to Dumbledore in a low tone, as though trying to block Hermione from the conversation. "She'll need all the protection she can get."
"I agree," Dumbledore replied, also in a low voice. "Someone powerful enough to protect her and well-hidden enough to keep her safe."
They were planning her future for her. She was going to be stuck with someone from the Order. Well, someone was going to be stuck with her, really. Who would it be?
An image of Bill Weasley popped into her head and she suppressed a snicker. Yeah right. The world was not kind enough to her for her to end up with Bill. He was way too attractive to end up with her. And wasn't he dating that Fleur girl?
Charlie was in another country, and not likely to accept. They'd had a wee bit of a fight at the Quidditch World Cup about…well she didn't really remember. But they hadn't parted on good terms.
Percy was no good. He worked at the Ministry and was a royal arse.
Fred or George. Hermione grimaced. They were sweet guys, really, but she'd be forever nagging at either of them and neither would appreciate it. They were too immature.
Ron…she liked Ron. Why couldn't he be of age? She wouldn't mind marrying him…She'd only thought of it a few (hundred) times. She really liked him. And she knew that he really liked her. Life was ridiculous.
She didn't really know any of the other Order members. She's never been to a meeting and had only flashes of random people.
"If we could keep her here, that would be even better," Dumbledore said. That was true, Hermione admitted. But who could she marry that she could stay at Hogwarts? Another student, but that didn't fall into the category of 'Order' though. The only Order members she knew of at the school were McGonagall, Snape (ew), and Lupin, who had been brought back as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
They'd been worried at first about an uproar from the parents about having the werewolf back, but because of the horrors happening in the world, no one seemed to notice a new teacher being appointed at Hogwarts. He'd easily been the most instructive teacher they'd ever had. He was more than qualified. And so he was back this year, much to Harry, Ron, and Hermione's delight.
Almost as if hearing Hermione's thoughts, Dumbledore said softly, "There's always Remus."
Hermione's jaw dropped, but it went unnoticed by the two men. They want her to marry Lupin? Snape didn't look too pleased by the idea, but he didn't protest.
"You'd have to convince him, Albus," Snape said dubiously. "He wouldn't be too excited about marrying his own student, even if it was for her safety."
"Well then, there's you," Dumbledore said, as though the thought had merit. Hermione's insides went cold. No bloody way…
Snape went rigid and said through clenched teeth, "I'll go get him. Excuse me."
Snape swept from the room with all due haste and shut the door. As soon as the door closed Dumbledore let out a small chuckle. Seeing the horrified look on Hermione's face, Dumbledore smiled.
"I wouldn't want you to marry Severus, Miss Granger," he said. "Too dangerous. You two also can't stand each other. It wouldn't be fair to either of you."
Hermione nodded, sighing in relief.
"You're thinking Lupin?" she asked after a moment. Dumbledore nodded.
"I think it's our best option," he said, stroking his beard. "He's a great fighter and would protect you to his best ability. Would it bother you to be paired with him?"
Hermione shrugged. "I don't know. It's just so odd to even think about. I like him, certainly, but we'd be married even after the war. Wizarding marriages can't be dissolved, can they?"
"I'm afraid not, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said. Before she could reply, there was a knock on the door. "Enter."
The door opened and Lupin's head peered into the room. He'd cut his hair short recently, so that the only long pieces were his fringe. It was a handsome look for him, showing the strong lines of his face. It made him look younger, and his eyes appear all the more intense.
"You wished to see me?" he said to Dumbledore.
"Yes," the headmaster replied, gesturing to the empty seat. As Lupin walked to the empty seat, Hermione suddenly felt nervous. What if he said no? What would they do then?
"Have you read the paper this morning yet, Remus?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes," Lupin replied with a nod. "I see they're reinstating the marriage law."
"Indeed, which is why Miss Granger is here," Dumbledore said, pointing at Hermione. She squirmed in her seat and lowered her head. She could feel Lupin's eyes on her and could tell the exact moment he realized why he was there. He went still in his seat and didn't say a word.
Dumbledore explained the situation to him, telling him of Voldemort's plan and what they needed to do for Hermione's safety. Lupin remained silent.
"Do you know what I'm going to ask you?" Dumbledore said softly.
"Yes," Lupin said, looking at the floor. "You want me to petition for Hermione."
"That is the plan," Dumbledore replied.
"But I'm a werewolf," Lupin said in irritation. "I can't petition for her. It's not possible."
"Yes it is," Dumbledore replied, looking surprised. "Your lycanthropy can't be passed on to a partner sexually."
Hermione's eyes widened and her stomach dropped. She hadn't even considered that part of marriage. She would have to have sex with whoever she ended up with. That was the point of the law, after all, procreation. Oh dear God.
"I know that," Lupin said dismissively. "But what of any child? Would it be possible to spread it that way?"
"No," Dumbledore said firmly. "It has been researched and no lycanthropic children have come from a werewolf parent."
Lupin sat back in his chair. "This doesn't seem fair to Hermione."
"It's not," Dumbledore said. "It's not fair to any Muggle-born. But we must keep Hermione safe and this is our best bet."
Lupin looked over at her curiously. "Do you even want to marry me?"
"I don't want to marry anyone," Hermione said sadly.
"I know this is difficult, and unfair to both of you," Dumbledore said, looking between the two of them. "But you must take something into consideration. You have to decide if your own comfort is more important that than of an entire country. If she is put in the hands of Voldemort, our chances of winning will be demolished. We need her with us. She'll be safest here, with you Remus, than anywhere else."
Lupin nodded but closed his eyes and rubbed them with the thumb and middle finger of his right hand. He wanted to do this as much as she did. He dropped his hand and looked at her, his tawny eyes resigned.
"I'll leave you to talk for a moment," Dumbledore said, standing and taking his leave.
After he was gone, she and Lupin were silent for a long moment. They looked at each other for a split-second and then looked away.
"I can't believe this," he finally said. "If I say no, it's like I'm turning my back on the Order."
"I don't think of it that way," Hermione said, trying to sound something other than terrified. "You couldn't possibly want to marry me."
"It's not that, Hermione," he said, looking over at her. "I mean, yes it is, but not because I don't like you. You're so young…you're my student. This just seems wrong. I want to protect you, keep you safe, but I wish there was another way."
She nodded. "I never wanted this. I wish Ron was of age, then this wouldn't be so bad. I wouldn't be ruining your life."
Finally the tears came. She tried to keep them in check, but they fell from her eyes onto the petitions in her lap. She heard Lupin stand, probably to leave and let her sob in private. She was surprised when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and he smiled sadly. He took her clasped hands and pulled her to her feet. The petitions dropped to the floor and he wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm so sorry, Hermione," he said into her ear. Hesitantly, she wrapped her own arms around his middle. "You won't be ruining my life, just changing it a bit."
"I don't want to do that either," she murmured, her chest heaving with her every breath.
"As long as you're safe, that's all that matters," he said reassuringly.
"I'm going to get you all wet," she said in between sobs.
"I'm not going to melt," he replied, hugging her closer. She laughed, unable to help it, and set her cheek to his chest. He rubbed her back gently and said, "I'll do it."
She leaned back and looked up at him. She sniffed and said, "Really?"
"Really," he replied, reaching up and wiping away her tears. "I think it's for the best. I would hate to see you being used as Voldemort's puppet."
"Thank you," she whispered. He only nodded.
When Dumbledore came in a few minutes later, they were back in their chairs waiting for him.
"Well?" he asked, eyeing Lupin.
"Yes," Lupin said.
Hermione felt oddly disconnected as she watched Lupin fill out a petition. She watched his large hand sign his name. She looked at his old jeans and old shirt, smiling softly. He was much too young to look so tired. The lines around his eyes and mouth had deepened. He was still attractive though. He was tall and broad, though slightly thin. He'd been a wreck when he'd first come to Hogwarts, looking like a skeleton in his skinniness, but with a steady stream of food he'd begun to fill out again.
Lupin finished filling out a form that Dumbledore had procured when he'd first found out the news of the law. Hermione thought that was rather presumptuous of him, but didn't say anything. Lupin handed the parchment to Dumbledore, who called Fawkes.
The phoenix soared silently over to Dumbledore's shoulder and obediently stuck out his leg.
"Make sure no one but Mrs. Cheeks sees this," Dumbledore said to the bird. Fawkes gave a single ringing note and disappeared in a flash of fire. Hermione gasped and stared at the blank space where Fawkes had vanished.
"Now what?" Lupin asked, sinking into his chair to get more comfortable. He spread his long legs out before and looked at Dumbledore.
"Now we wait for the response," Dumbledore said softly. "Mrs. Cheeks must receive the document, or else this will not work. If it falls into anyone else's hands, our plan will be ruined and no doubt the Ministry will force Hermione into a marriage of their choosing."
Hermione's fear, which had abated somewhat as Lupin signed the forms, returned. She didn't realize how important this whole situation was. A very powerful and influential wizard was after her, one who would do anything to get her. Even by bringing a defunct law back into being, ruining many young people's lives. He had spies everywhere. What if one did find Lupin's petition?
Her life would be over as she knew it.
They waited for almost a half hour in silence. Hermione tried to regulate her breathing as she eyed the petitions that had fallen to the floor, wondering who had asked for her. The faces of some of the men from the ministry last year entered her mind and she shuddered.
Please, she thought helplessly. Please let it go through. Please let it work.
There was a sudden flash of fire above Dumbledore's desk and Fawkes reappeared, clutching a parchment in his claws. Dumbledore wordless held out a hand and Fawkes delivered the missive to him. Upon being relieved of his duty, Fawkes shocked Hermione by soaring over and landing on her shoulder. She went rigid, looking hopelessly at Dumbledore and wondering what to do. But Dumbledore was reading the letter. Fawkes nudged Hermione's cheek and she reached up a hand to pet him. The phoenix closed his eyes contentedly and let her continue to stroke his head.
"Miss Granger," Dumbledore said. She looked over at him and almost cried in relief when she saw he was smiling. "You must sign this form in acceptance." Fawkes swept off her shoulder to go instead to Lupin, who looked as surprised as Hermione had.
She leaned forward and Dumbledore pointed to the line she needed to put her name on. Holding her breath, she signed. The moment the quill was no longer touching the parchment, it vanished.
"What happened?" she gasped.
"It went to the Ministry," Dumbledore replied. "Mrs. Cheeks, Belinda is her name, set a charm on the paper so that she could get it immediately. She broke a few laws, forging another person's signature being the main one, to make sure that this went through. We owe her quite a bit."
"Why did she forge another's signature?" Lupin asked absently, stroking Fawkes's wing.
"She didn't want anyone to know that it was her that validated this marriage," Dumbledore said lightly. "If someone was to find out it was her, she'd be in a lot of trouble."
He crinkled up what appeared to be a small bit of parchment, Hermione guessed it was from Belinda Cheeks and had been attached to the document, and tossed it into the fire.
"Well," Dumbledore said, looking between her and Lupin with a smile, the twinkle back in his eye. "Congratulations. I recommend we do this as soon as possible."
"How soon?" Hermione asked.
"Saturday would be the best, I think," Dumbledore replied. The blood drained from Hermione's face. Two days? She had two days to prepare to marriage?
"So soon?" Lupin rasped. She looked over and saw that he looked more pale than usual.
"Yes," Dumbledore said, sounding slightly irritated. "We must get this done soon so that Voldemort's contacts in the Ministry cannot overrule it. I think Saturday is pushing it a little, but it's a Hogsmeade visit and most of the school will be gone."
"So we'll do it here?" Hermione asked, trying to make her voice sound normal.
"Yes," Dumbledore said with a nod. "It's the safest bet. I'll bring a friend of mine to officiate." He was silent for a moment, contemplating his desk before he said, "Come back here tonight at seven-thirty. I'll have some things for the both of you. Now, Miss Granger, you should be going to class."
She nodded and stood, glancing at Lupin for a moment before taking her leave. How on earth was she going to take classes from her husband?
Remus stared at Dumbledore without really seeing him. In a span of one hour, his life and been turned upside down. He was going to be married, something he had promised himself a long time ago that he would not do. To make it worse, he was marrying his student.
He groaned and covered his face with his hands. Fawkes left his shoulder and went back to his perch.
"I know this is hard-" Dumbledore began but Remus cut him off.
"You have no idea what this is," Remus spat, looking up from his hands. "She's seventeen years old. She's my student. She's Harry's best friend. How are we supposed to do this? How can I teach her after…after…"
He stopped, unable to say it. He had to sleep with her. He had to sleep with a seventeen year-old girl.
"It's either this, or she goes to Voldemort on a silver platter," Dumbledore said sternly. "I know you're not comfortable with it, I'm not comfortable with it, but for her safety, it must be done."
"I know," Remus said heavily. "I know."
"You're doing what's right," Dumbledore said faintly. "It may feel wrong, but it's the right thing to do for Hermione."
Remus gave an indistinct noise as the door to the office opened again. Remus didn't want to look. He didn't want to deal with anyone at the moment.
"I take it that it worked," came Snape's drawl.
Remus stood and moved toward the door, refusing to look at Snape. He was the last person Remus wanted to talk to.
"Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, Professor," Snape said scathingly. Remus stopped and turned to the unpleasant man.
"Fuck you," he said softly. "If you ever say anything about this to me again, I'll find you the next full moon and finish what I started when we were in school."
Snape went a sickly green color and Remus left the room, slamming the door behind him. Oddly, threatening Snape made him feel better. He'd never tried it before, wanting to try and make peace between them. No wonder James and Sirius were always so chipper through school.