A/N: I don't generally care for author's notes at the beginning, but to set the stage . . .
This is (yet another) marriage law fic. I personally love the idea, and exploring the variety of emotions, relationships, strains and tensions that can arise from such an outside situation being forced onto characters. I prefer chapters with some real meat to them, so mine tend to be long (though this first chapter is longer than usual). I have a fairly good idea where this is headed, but welcome feedback!
This is largely DH compliant, save for a little twist here or there. What can I say? I don't believe Fred died; in my universe he's alive and well. . . This story is rated M for a reason - sexual content, graphic language and violence. Please do not proceed in reading if you are uncomfortable with any of these things or are under the recommended age for Mature fictions, per the rating system. Caveat Emptor!
Lastly, the usual disclaimer: These characters are not my own creations; they belong to JK Rowling et al. I am merely playing with them, making them fit into my stories and ramblings, rather like I did to my stuffed animals when it was time for a tea party. . . I make no profit from this endeavor, save a sense of satisfaction for knowing that in my world, my favorite characters aren't dead.
During the Battle for Hogwarts
One moment there was the most bizarre sight of Percy making a joke and then a loud noise and then . . . nothingness enveloped him. A trace of pain, like a memory of an old ache, but that was it. It was peaceful, quiet, and utterly terrifying. For as long as he could remember, probably from the moment of his existence, he had been aware of his twin brother. George existed almost as a presence in his mind. Even when they were separated, there had been the comfort of knowing the other half was still there, somewhere nearby.
But no longer. There was nothing but him, existing in some way, entirely alone for the first time in his life. If this was life. He felt very uncertain that this was something that could be called life. He looked around him, and there was vastness and emptiness. Nothing distinct, but nevertheless the impression of size overwhelmed him. There was nothing physical, and yet he felt eerily as if he could touch, should he want to. He was not sure if he was standing or not, and his fear grew.
Faintly he heard a sound, a voice. Calling his name? Too indistinct to be certain. He looked around again, hoping to find some explanation somehow. And there, just over the horizon (was it a horizon?) there was a speck, a something moving towards him. Again he thought he heard a sound, but it was like the pain; a mere hint of sensation. He waited, watching the speck grow closer, forming into a figure, a person? Time had no meaning any longer, so Fred could not say whether it was an hour or a minute, or even a day, but the figure resolved into a man that seemed awfully familiar, though Fred knew he did not know him.
"Fred, is it? Ah. Well, this is somewhat unexpected. I had thought . . . but, well, it explains the distance. Good to meet you, Fred. I am your uncle, Fabian Prewett." It was absurd, as Fabian Prewett was well and long dead, but then, Fred was coming to realize that he too must be dead, if he couldn't feel George any longer. And indeed, this was the young wizard that waved out to them from his mother's pictures.
"So . . . this is the great beyond, is it? You're here to meet me, then? Please tell me that there are some gorgeous birds about somewhere." Fred tried to make a joke, tried to smile, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"Yes, there are a surprising number actually. Man after my own heart, you are. But then, I understand you are my namesake, to a degree anyhow. Molly never did quite recover from Gid and I passing on, did she? Poor girl. But she's been happy enough with you lot, and you and your twin certainly did remind her of us often enough."
"Right. Er, not to be rude or anything, but where am I? What happens next? How long will it be before George arrives?"
"Curiosity is a good trait, but sometimes unfulfilling you'll find, old chap. As for where you are, you are here. That is the only way to explain it. Time has no meaning or hold here, so there is no way of knowing when he'll arrive. The only answer is when he does. But there is a question that I'm surprised you haven't asked, Fred. And really, it's the pertinent question." Fabian looked serious for a moment, and so much like his mother it was surprising. Again, the sound, though it was more distinctly like a voice, calling for him. It disturbed him some.
"Am I dead?" Fred held his breath, though there was no need to breathe and he wasn't aware of having breathed since he found himself here.
"That's the crux of it isn't it? I hadn't been expecting to see you. It's terribly difficult to explain, you understand, because time and physicality are so non-existent. But you are not yet dead. You are very close, mind. You wouldn't be here otherwise, but there is as yet, a spark of life left in the physical plane, holding you there. Maybe you have a choice, I'm not sure how it works."
"That doesn't make any sense. Aren't you just dead or alive? How can there be an in-between?"
"Life's a funny thing, Fred. It isn't what you think. You still think in terms of limits, and what you'll learn is that there are no limits to life, nor love, nor any good thing. Not really. The only limits are the physical, and even that is largely in your own head. Tell me, what d'you feel now?"
Fred cocked his head, frowning, trying to follow his uncle's cryptic words. Before there had been only a trace of sensation, of pain. Now there was a tug, a stronger feeling, almost a pull, and a sharpness that he could feel. His eyes widened a bit when he heard a louder sound, much like George's voice. He could not make out the words, but they were frantic.
"I feel . . . pain. It's not bad, but it's stronger. A pull . . . I can hear George."
Fabian grinned in satisfaction. "There you are then. I think your choice has been made. Remember, Fred, live well. And tell Molly not to fret so. There are changes coming Fred. It won't be easy, but good things rarely are." Fabian was becoming more and more indistinct and his voice grew softer and softer.
There was a moment of confusion, where Fred seemed to hover between the place he had just been and where he had come from to get there, and then a feeling of shattering and he drew a deep breath, only to choke. And there was pain. Pain beyond words, pain beyond imagining, pain, blessed pain and he could feel it sweep over him, claw at him, try to carry him away and he was dying. And there was George, and Fred realized he had always been there. It was Fred who had gone, and he could feel George's utter terror and they looked at each other and they knew how close they had come to total, permanent separation.
"Ron, stop it!" Hermione huffed, and once again pushed at Ron's shoulder, forcing some distance between the pair.
"Hermione!" Ron whined.
"Ron, I am just not in the mood to snog right now, all right? I'm trying to make plans. I have to get to Australia. You could help me, you know." Hermione glared at Ron, who was looking angry.
"Hermione, I know you want to get to your parents, but these things take time to arrange. Sitting here pouring over a map of Australia isn't going to make it move any faster. I was just trying to take your mind off things." Ron crossed his arms belligerently.
Hermione sighed. "I appreciate it, Ron, I do. But it's like snogging is all you ever want to do. Why don't we try just spending some time together for a change?" Hermione looked hopefully at her boyfriend, who gave a shrug.
"What d'you want to do then?"
"I don't know, Ron, why don't you come up with something for once? I feel like it always has to be my idea." The frustration was evident in Hermione's voice.
"You're the one who always has a plan for everything, aren't you?" Ron's voice was getting heated.
"I'm just saying that I would rather enjoy a surprise or for you to come up with an idea for us to spend time together that doesn't involve trying to find a private place for snogging." Hermione's voice was biting.
"Fine. I didn't realize that kissing me was so disgusting to you, as you are the one who started it all by kissing me. I don't have time anyway. I promised I'd help George at the flat. Fred's coming home soon, and there are still some repairs." Ron turned and stalked away, and Hermione felt tears prickling her eyes.
She blinked them away as she turned back to studying her map of Australia.
Hermione felt tired. Exhausted really. A week ago, Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Interim Minister of Magic, had met with her and expressed to her the foolishness of her fervor to travel to Australia. Hermione had wanted to go and reverse the memory charms she had placed on her parents to make them forget her, but Kingsley had gently pointed out to her that neither the Death Eaters, nor their sympathizers and followers, were all in prison and they could not guarantee safety for her parents in England. The Aurors were stretched too thin, things still in shambles in many areas of the Ministry. Slowly, society was rebuilding itself, but it was a gradual process and one which would take some time.
Kingsley had also pointed out what Hermione had refused to see before then. In sending her parents away, she kept them safe, but she had done it in a way that they forgot her, and all of their past lives. Having their lives so thoroughly altered again would be extremely difficult and they may not be able to readjust. If nothing else, their home was destroyed, their practice had been closed for over a year now, and they would be hard pressed to explain their utter and complete disappearance from the world. There were also potential complications in removing the charms. Kingsley had asked her how certain she was the charms could be removed; and she was reminded of the memory altering charm that had affected Professor Lockhart. Hers were different, but she couldn't be certain that removing them wouldn't cause damage. In short, Kinglsey had kindly told her to leave things as they were. He was sympathetic, but made her realize that her decision had been made last year and that now she had to live with it.
In the week that followed, she had cried a great deal. She struggled with the bitter realization that Kingsley was right, and she was haunted by the choice she had made. Somehow Hermione had blithely believed that everything would simply be put right once Voldemort was defeated, and her childish fantasy had been ripped to shreds.
The work to repair the Burrow had been hard, but it was livable once again. Arthur, as he had insisted he be called, was working at the Ministry so much they rarely saw him, and Percy was sleeping in his office more nights than not. Bill and Fleur had returned to Gringott's, which was strengthening their security once again, following the trio's break-in just before the battle. Once Fred's recovery had been assured, and the Burrow was in working condition again, Charlie had returned to Romania. George and Ron and Harry worked to repair the shop and flat so that they would be ready when Fred was released from St. Mungo's. His recovery was short when compared to Muggles but long by magical standards. He had been all but dead, and it was only George's insistence that the healers look at him anyway that had saved him; there was only the barest glimmer of vital signs when they ran a perfunctory diagnostic and then hastily removed him to St. Mungo's for treatment.
Life had gained a sort of routine, though Hermione felt stifled by it. She sighed and threw aside the paper she'd been reading. The public was clamoring to know full details and Rita Skeeter had even published a scathing piece in the Prophet about the public's right to know; but Harry and everyone close to him held firm in refusing to release the details of Voldemort's rise to power, merely referring to generic 'Dark Arts practices.'
Ginny, who was reading nearby glanced up at her. "Something wrong, Hermione?"
"No, I guess not. I just haven't any idea what to do. I feel so listless. What am I doing here besides helping your mum with cleaning charms?"
"Hermione, it is permissible to take some time to relax. You were on the run for nearly a year. I would think you'd enjoy a bit of rest. Besides, you've been doing more than just cleaning. You helped clear Hogwarts, you helped repair this old dump, and you've read your seventh year books at least three times over since you've been here."
"Yes, I know. It's more than that. I haven't any idea what I'm going to do. The Ministry needs good people now, perhaps more than ever, but I can't even apply until I've qualified with my NEWTs." Hermione frowned.
"Which you can't take until June, I know. I had this conversation with Harry. But surely you have some idea of what you'd like to be doing?"
"That's the problem, Ginny. I don't know. I used to have it all planned, and it's all different now. You have things all figured out, and even have your Mum on your side, thanks to Harry."
Ginny had declared that she was done with school, NEWTs be hanged, and she was trying out for the Holyhead Harpies. Harry had quietly backed her in the ensuing battle with Molly and Ginny eventually won; not only the fight with Molly, but a place on the reserve squad. There was every reason to believe that she would be in prime place to move up to starter when MacDougal retired in a year's time.
"True. But some of it is sheer luck. I might not be going ahead if there weren't an opening."
"What about Harry then? He avoids talking to me about it; probably thinks I'll tell him he has to focus on his NEWTs." Hermione snorted a bit.
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't you though?"
"If he wants to become an Auror, then yes. But it seems pretty evident to me that he isn't sure he wants to do that, or he would have taken the job King offered him straight away. I think he just wants some time to do something for himself, without a dark lord hovering about. And good for him."
Ginny hesitated. "You should tell him that. I know he'd like your approval."
"So he has chosen then?" Hermione was unsurprised. Harry had been approached by multiple Quidditch teams for all sorts of positions, probably just for the potential revenues associated with his name.
"I think he's going to go with Puddlemere United. You know Oliver Wood is their starting keeper, and they actually need a starting seeker. Thanks to Oliver's praise, I think they want him as much as his name."
"He's really good at Quidditch. I think it's a wonderful thing for him to do something purely on talent. Of course, the amount of Quidditch talk I'll be subjected to has probably just tripled," Hermione said with a wry smile.
"Oh come on, now, it's so bad! Just think of all the matches you'll get to attend!" Ginny laughed.
Hermione smiled, but then sighed again. "I'm glad you all seem to know what you are doing, but what about me? Even Ron has something to do, at least for awhile, helping out the twins."
"What's that, Hermione? Talking about me?" Ron materialized from the kitchen, a biscuit in his hand, Harry not far behind. He flopped onto the sofa next to Hermione.
"Not exactly, no. We were talking about how everyone seems to have plans but me. I'm just feeling a bit stuck for the moment."
"I thought you were going to wait and tell everyone at once, Ron! You didn't say you'd told Hermione!" Harry exclaimed.
Hermione snapped her head round towards Harry, eyes narrowed. "Excuse me? Told Hermione what?"
"Harry!" Ron exclaimed, a bit of a panicked look on his face.
"Oh, Harry, you prat. You oughtn't to have said anything, you daft git." Ginny rolled her eyes at her boyfriend.
Hermione was now staring at Ron, arms crossed. "Just what is it that I seem to be the only person in the room unaware of, Ronald?"
"Well, it's like this, Hermy. See, you know how much I like the Chudley Cannons, right?" Ron looked at her hopefully.
"Yes, Ron, I do. You practically breathe them. And don't call me Hermy." She scowled at her boyfriend.
"Right, well, it's only that they've invited me to try out for them in October. Harry seems to think I've a good shot, because they haven't got a starting Keeper any longer and Jones-Smythe is sort of shite. I may not be good enough, but they want to see me anyhow. How bleeding brilliant would it be to play for the Cannons, eh, Hermione?"
Ron's eyes were shining. It was clear that very little in this world would be more exciting to him than playing Quidditch with his longtime favorite team. But Hermione was dismayed.
She was quiet for a moment, before forcing a tight smile and saying, "I think it's great, Ron. Clearly you are excited about it."
"You don't seem very excited though." Ron frowned at her. "You understand though. It's the Cannons, Hermione! I could play professional Quidditch for the Cannons!"
Hermione sighed. "Yes, Ron, I understand that. If that's what you want to do, I'm very pleased for you. I know how much an invitation like that must mean for you."
"What is the problem then? I would have thought my girlfriend would be happy for me! Not only is this something I never thought would happen in my wildest dreams, but it's something most witches would be delighted about!" Ron's ears were turning red, while Harry and Ginny exchanged alarmed looks across the room.
"When did I say I wasn't happy for you, Ron? I am happy for you! Didn't I just say that I understood how amazing this is for you? I had no idea that this was coming though, did I? Has it occurred to you that perhaps I want more out of my life than being a Quidditch groupie? That maybe I'd hoped to see you more than a handful of days for weeks at a time?" Hermione's voice was raised and her cheeks were flushed.
"I see how it is," Ron spat at her bitterly. "Wasn't part of your plan, then, was it? So sorry to have disrupted everything by having the greatest opportunity of my life. Didn't think my happiness would be such a burden."
"That isn't it at all, Ron! That's completely unfair, and you know it! I'm very happy for you."
"You certainly have a funny way of showing it then, don't you? Harry, come on, I think I want to go for a fly. No point in staying around here." Ron stomped away and the kitchen door slammed.
Harry looked uncomfortably at Hermione. "I'm really sorry, I thought, when you said. . . I didn't mean to start a fight."
Hermione's eyes were tearing up, but she refused to let Ron make her cry. "It's not your fault. We always fight, you know that. He'll work it off and be sorry later that he sprung it on me. I'm just feeling down right now, my fault for being testy."
Harry put an arm tentatively around her shoulders. "I'll talk sense into him, don't worry. I'd better go before he gets too worked up though." With a squeeze, he departed.
Ginny looked at Hermione's tearful face and channeled her mother. "Come on, I'll make tea." She led her friend to the kitchen and sat her down while she prepared Molly's cure-all for emotional ills.
"What's wrong then, Mione? It's not just about Quidditch, is it?"
Slowly, Hermione shook her head, while tracing the wood grain of the table with her finger. "No. It's not."
"Tell me about it."
"Things aren't going very well," Hermione admitted.
"I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific," Ginny said, pushing a cup towards her friend.
"Ron and I. Things are . . . tense."
"We've noticed," Ginny said softly.
"It's just seemed lately all we do is fight or snog. And I'm getting quite tired of snogging."
Ginny just raised her eyebrows. So Hermione continued. "Ron is. . . heavy-handed. It's not that I am uninterested, exactly." Hermione sighed. "He just pushes and pushes. And whenever we have a disagreement, he wants to kiss and make-up and he doesn't give me any space."
"I can see how that could be frustrating."
"He doesn't listen to me, Ginny. It's like he's waiting for me to plan everything out. If I leave it up to him, then we snog. We never talk, or read together or do anything as a couple unless I plan it out. And then he whines about how I won't let him do certain things. When I wouldn't take off my shirt the other night, he complained that Lavender was doing that within a week of them dating."
"He didn't!" Ginny exclaimed.
Hermione nodded miserably. "I don't know what's wrong. I used to think I was in love with him. For ages. But now . . . I'm not happy. All we do is fight. Everything I say is wrong. Maybe I'm just restless. I feel so unsettled and confused."
Hermione put her head in her hands and sighed. She needed something to do, something to capture her interest, some sort of direction. But her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the floo activating. Before them, the fireplace grate turned green, startling her, and then Kingsley Shacklebolt's head appeared in the green flames.
"Hermione? Ginny? Good. I need your help. There is the greatest foolishness happening and I'm not sure I can stop it. Tell everyone to gather there tonight at 7:00, I'll be able to break free by then. Damned fools in the Wizengamot."
"King,what on earth are you talking about? Is everything all right?"
"No. They are trying to pass a sodding Marriage Law! And because I'm the Interim Minister of Magic, I have no power to overturn it. And because I've been vocal in my opposition to it, they refuse to vote on the permanency of my position until after the votes on the Marriage Law. Idiots. Hermione, I've got to go. I'll be at the Burrow tonight." His head disappeared from the flames.
Hermione felt a rush of energy that she hadn't felt since the days after the battle. "Molly! Harry! Ron! Oh, you will not believe what we just heard!" She ran through the house and outdoors, calling as loudly as she could.
The group around the table waiting quietly. Kingsley Shacklebolt finished reading and ran a large hand over his tired face.
"It's the best we can do, I think."
"What are the provisions?" Hermione asked, with a bit of trepidation.
"They've agreed to do away with the contractual clauses that allowed suitors to bid for witches without their say, thank Merlin. There will be a grace period for couples who wish to remove themselves from the pool. After that, all witches and wizards of age seventeen to age fifty will be placed in the pool and the matching spells cast."
"Are you sure the spell is sound?" Bill Weasley asked, some concern on his face.
"It seems to work. The Wizengamot were impressed, anyway. Percy went over it pretty thoroughly, and Professor Vector indicated the arithmancy was sound."
"Is there any out?" Minerva McGonagall asked. "What about people finishing their schooling?"
"I did what I could. Those who are in school will be in the matching pool, but there is no guarantee they will be matched immediately, you know. Those that are will receive an extension on their timeframe to be married. As for an out, yes, if abuse or impotence can be proven."
"What about contraception?" Hermione asked, with an edge in her voice.
"No, I couldn't make any headway there. Detection of wizarding contraceptives is cause for a fine as a violation of the statute." Kingsley sighed. "I'm sorry, Hermione, I did what I could do."
"What about Muggle means?"
"No, they didn't think to cover that," Kingsley admitted. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief.
"The law goes into effect August first. There will be thirty days after that to file the paperwork to state your relationships and remove yourselves from the pool. Merlin help us all."
Hermione refused to meet anyone's eyes.
August 30th - The Flat Above Weasley's Wizard Wheezes
"Fred, are you sure about this? I know Katie Bell is still looking for someone. And Lee's got a cousin who might be interested." George had a concerned look on his face.
Angelina Johnson – soon to be Weasley - piped up from the chair she was lounging in. "Freddy, Katie's a sweet girl, I'm sure you would get along well enough."
Fred simply poured another shot of firewhiskey into the glass before him and tossed it back quickly. He had become quite practiced at this since the war; he didn't even flinch now But he met George's eyes, and saw the flitting fear in them and put the bottle away instead of pouring a third shot out as he wanted to do.
"Georgie, Angie, I appreciate it. Really I do. But I'm quite certain. I've never been interested in Katie Bell, certainly not enough to bind myself to her for life. She's a nice enough witch, but Angie, she's terribly dull. I know she's your friend and all, and she's all right for a few hours, but no thanks. I don't see any reason not to try my luck in the matching pool. S'posed to be highly compatible, you know."
Fred laughed a little wildly, and George and Angelina exchanged a glance that Fred found easy enough to read. He sighed. "Yes, I know you lot are concerned about me and I appreciate it. I really do. But you've got to stop babying me, Gred. I'm not dead, all right? I'm not going off the deep end either. I know this stupid law is screwing things up, but I'm not going to bond for bleedin' life with some bird I'm not interested in. At least with the pool there is a chance that I could be matched with someone who might actually fit me. Bit of an adventure, right?"
George perked up a bit. "Now that is an interesting way to view it, brother mine. When you put it that way, the possibilities are endless. And you know how I like possibilities."
Angelina shook her head and tossed a pillow with great accuracy at her fiancé's head. The beginnings of a great pillow war were underway when the floo activated and their brother Ron stumbled out.
"Oi, ickle Ronnie! What're you doing here? Shouldn't you be home taking advantage of Mum and Dad's visiting Auntie Muriel to be shagging the lovely Hermione?" Ron turned a glare on George that could have killed a hippogriff.
"No, not shagging Hermione. Won't be shagging Hermione. We've broken up." There was a sudden silence among the group. Fred and George looked at each other, a full conversation flying silently between them.
"Sorry to hear that little brother," Fred began.
"It's a great tragedy, that is," George continued.
"Especially right on the eve of the deadline to file," Fred offered and noted Ron's ears growing red.
"Must be pretty upset," George observed.
"Surely don't want to go into details," Fred added hastily, as Ron was glowering at them both.
"Best to forget about it for tonight," George said soothingly.
"And have some firewhiskey." Fred and George finished together. Fred summoned a glass for Ron and George poured for him. Angelina shook her head and removed herself to George's room. Fred might not mind her constant presence, but this was something just for the brothers to handle.
August 30th - The Burrow
Hermione was shaking, and pale, but her eyes were dry. Ron had just shouted the most awful things at her, calling her a cock-teasing slag and a back-stabbing bitch. She had been prepared for a scene, after the first time Ron had brought up the papers and Hermione had tried to explain her concerns about their relationship. He had exploded then too, though not quite so forcefully.
Hermione had known it was coming; Harry and Ginny had wasted no time in announcing their intentions, and they were followed shortly by George announcing his engagement to Angelina Johnson. With each announcement and each day that passed, Hermione had felt more and more trapped. It was rapidly becoming clear to her that she and Ron wanted vastly different things in life, and that their relationship was stalling.
Even now, she remembered his flushed face and the blue eyes that had once made her stomach flutter, smiling at her, as they sat in the meadow.
"What about it?" he'd said.
"What about what?" Hermione had been deliberately obtuse, dreading what he would say.
"I reckon we'll have to go get you a ring. I'm sure Fred and George will let me borrow some money," he'd said with an easy confidence that raised her ire.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Ron," she'd said, quietly.
"You don't want a ring, Hermy?" He'd seemed surprised, but didn't understand her.
"Don't call me Hermy!" she had said sharply. "I'm not talking about a ring, Ronald. I'm talking about getting married. I think we need to discuss the idea."
"What's there to discuss?" he had asked, tension beginning to creep in into voice.
"Plenty, Ron. Can you honestly tell me you think things are going well right now?" Hermione could feel the squirming in her stomach even now recalling the event, and wondered how she had appeared so calm.
"I'm not sure what you're talking about, Hermione." Ron's voice had been hard, like iron.
"I'm talking about our relationship, Ron! Don't be so stupid! I'm not sure at all that we should be getting married." Hermione had cried out.
"Oh, so now I'm stupid, am I?"
"No! Of course not. I'm just saying that we seem to want different things, Ron. We don't communicate well at all, we fight all the time. I'm not sure we should just jump into agreeing to marry." Hermione had felt desperate as his anger had visibly grown.
"So that's how it is then? Do I have to remind you that you are the one who started all of this?" He had started yelling at her, which she had never handled well.
"No, but I've certainly begun regretting it since you see fit to throw it in my face whenever I disagree with you! As if making the first move after waiting years and years for you to come around somehow means I have to lose half my brain! You aren't always right, Ron!" She had been angry then as well, shouting back at him.
"Neither are you! And what about you? You were so interested in kissing me then, and you barely come around me now! You're always pushing me away. You're always telling me what to do. You don't even want me to get on with the Cannons." They had been standing in the meadow, squaring off against each other like combatants.
"That's not true at all Ron! You came out of nowhere to tell me you might be playing professional Quidditch! That's a big change Ron, and you never even asked me about it, about how I felt about it. You didn't even bloody mention it was something you were considering! It's always about you first, and I don't want a marriage like that. It has to be a partnership, or it won't work. Why can't you see that I am trying to do what is best for both of us instead of running headfirst into a lifelong bond?" Hermione's eyes had begun filling with tears.
"So now you're back to telling me what to do all the time! I'm not a child, Hermione. I don't need you to make me study or order my life for me. I'm perfectly happy with it as it is. You are such a fucking know-it-all, Hermione. I don't know why I even want to marry such a bossy witch." He had closed the distance between them, and was towering over her.
"Ron, I'm not trying to tell you what to do! I'm trying to have a discussion about our relationship! And you won't bloody listen to me!" She'd pushed at him, trying to gain some space between them.
"Listen to you? Why would I want to listen to such a bloody coward? What are you so scared of?" With that, Ron had turned on his heel and stormed away a short distance before Hermione heard the tell-tale pop of apparition.
Hermione had cried then, through most of the night. She'd turned it over and over, while waiting up for him, but he hadn't returned that night. It had been a full week ago. He'd come home contrite and apologetic, and had tried to be sweet to her, but she was done.
Now, she sighed. Things had finally come to an impasse tonight, when Ron had cornered her and insisted that she sign the papers so they could be filed on time.
And she had refused.
And as expected, he'd exploded.
She was right, and she knew that. And she was scared too. But the one thing she'd known for the last week, since Ron flung the words at her in anger is that she was not a coward. Staying in the relationship, unhappy, to appease the wizard she loved as a friend, rather than risking the matching pool would be cowardice.
Hermione was a Gryffindor for a reason; and as she sat on the bed, alone, shaking, she raised her chin defiantly.
The family had gathered at the Burrow to await the delivery of the notices. They expected that at least one of the three unattached people in the family would be matched. There was nervous tension filling the room, as three officious owls swooped in and each dropped an official parchment before Fred, Ron and Hermione.
Hands trembling, Hermione opened the seal on the folded parchment and unfolded it to read the ornate flourishes of the Ministry notification.
And then Hermione blinked.
Surely she hadn't read this right. She was simply too tired, too tense, too upset by everything that had happened. Yes, that was it.
There was no way that what she had read was what the parchment actually contained.
There was simply no way that she could be matched with Fred Weasley. Absolutely not. The idea was a joke! Oh. Her lips silently formed that letter as her eyebrows creased and she finally looked up at the rest of the room, a hint of anger on her face, expecting that she would see Fred and George trying to maintain straight faces, trying to hide their laughter.
Instead, her eyes searched his out and she saw the same blank shock of surprise that she knew must be mirrored on her own face.
She heard the voices asking what the parchments contained, but her eyes were locked on Fred's. Unreadable thoughts flitted across his face, and she saw the parchments glow golden and felt a jolt of magic wrap around her and knew they had been bound.
The Daily Prophet, Special Evening Edition
Ministry Makes Marriage Matches!
(will true love conquer all as the MoM matches magical singles?)
"The Marriage Law has been passed and the early stages put into effect, over the protests of many in the magical community. As previously reported, the Ministry of Magic's efforts to repopulate wizarding Britain and to intermarry blood lines in an effort to restore harmony in this post-war world have been met with scathing resistance.
Despite the efforts of notable war heroes such the Boy-Who-Defeated-He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and his companions in the Golden Trio, the owners of the popular Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, the newly appointed Headmistress of Hogwarts and even the Interim Minister of Magic himself, the Wizengamot managed to get the law into effect, and the first round of matches has been made.
However, the work of the wizarding elite is not wholly in vain. Changes to the initial version of the law have allowed couples with proof of standing relationships to marry, provided they can prove compatibility. Additionally, while the marriages were initially to be contracted by petitions and suitors, the opponents of the law have managed to get the Ministry to assign matches based on impartially cast match maker spells specially developed by the Department of Mystery's Unspeakables.
Those who are of age and deemed marriageable by the Ministry who did not take advantage of the grace period for declaring relationships have been matched and notices sent out to the new couples. Those who are matched have been bound by loose Fidelity charms during the engagement period, which may last up to six months. Matched couples will either have to complete the binding with a Ministry official before witnesses or provide sufficient proof as to non-compatibility to dissolve the bonds on or before March 15 or face Ministry sanctions up to and including time in the newly rebuilt Azkaban prison.
And as previously reported, couples will be bound by law and inclination to pursue regular marital activities in an effort to produce magical children. The Daily Prophet wishes all the newly matched couples our heartfelt felicitations and urges them to do their duty for wizarding Britain!"
Three days had passed since the notices had been received. Three days for the news to sink in. Three days of avoiding certain people, of strained conversation carefully avoiding the topic on everyone's mind and three days of false cheerfulness. Hermione had finally escaped outside to the bench overlooking the pond with the excuse of a book to get away from the tension within the Burrow. She simply wanted to be alone with her thoughts and away from the watchful eyes. The book was soon set aside and Hermione simply closed her eyes and let the sun warm her cheeks while her thoughts flitted around with no conscious direction.
It was perhaps fifteen minutes of solitude before Hermione felt a presence behind her, but she kept her eyes closed and her face turned towards the sun. She knew it would be Ginny or Harry, possibly even Fleur. Someone to offer vague and comforting, empty words. It didn't matter much who it was, it wouldn't be Ron. He still wasn't speaking to her and it was her fault and now she was bound to his brother.
The presence sat down on the other end of the bench by the pond and was quiet for some time. Enough time that Hermione finally opened her eyes and turned to see who it was.
Oh. It was Fred. She had been avoiding him since she had received her notice, but she knew it wouldn't last. It couldn't. They were bound now and would have to talk about it some time. So when Fred gestured questioningly at the open seat next to her, she shrugged her acquiescence. He had settled his lanky body comfortably, and he was watching her intently, his eyes unreadable. Since his very-near-death experience, he had been a lot more somber, a lot more introspective, and nearly inseparable from George. But he had been coming out of his shell more lately, at least until the entire nonsense with the marriage law began.
"Granger," he said softly, then he stopped, and continued to look at her.
"Weasley," she returned shortly. Really, she wasn't sure what to say, where to begin a conversation with her husband to be. This whole situation was entirely surreal. Fred was the one to speak next.
"Look, I know it's not ideal. I know you love Ron. So we'll just wait out the six months, and that will be that. I know he's angry about something, but he'll come around." His voice was soft and a little flat. She didn't say anything for a moment, and felt him sigh and shift as if he were going to leave.
"I don't." She blurted it out, and then clamped her mouth shut again. She hadn't said it out loud like that before. Fred shifted and sat down again. "I don't love Ron, not that way. That's why we fought." Hermione buried her face in her hands.
"Oh. Right." Fred could see the pieces beginning to fall into place, could understand why Ron was so angry and why they had been avoiding each other, and could see the meaning behind the significant looks Harry and Ginny were throwing around all the time. Well, the looks that weren't messages of lust and unspoken suggestions of snogging or worse, that is. Fred shook his head to rid him of that disturbing image and turned his attention back to his new fiancée. He was hesitant; she was his friend, of course, but he couldn't claim to know her particularly well. Still, it was obvious how upset she was. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Hermione shook her head. "I really don't want to talk about it right now. I'm sorry. This whole thing is just sort of overwhelming."
Fred shrugged, and stretched his lanky legs out in front of him, settling in more comfortably. "It's fine by me. I just wanted you to have an out if you wanted one." Hermione shifted, a little uncomfortably.
"I appreciate it, Fred. Only, there isn't really much chance of an out, is there?" Hermione wrapped her arms around herself. It was odd to be sitting here with Fred Weasley, talking around the fact that they were now bound to each other; that they were to be married for life.
Fred quirked an eyebrow up at her. "What do you mean? I thought people who weren't compatible could dissolve the bonds after six months." Hermione shook her head at that.
"That's how it sounds, but it's not how it is. I mean, not if you read all the legal language and research it thoroughly. The law assumes there is no way for the spell to go wrong, but King was able to build in some protection. However, the only way to prove incompatibility is to prove abuse or total impotence. So, you're well stuck with me, I'm afraid."
A silence fell between them, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as Hermione had feared. It was almost companionable. They both pretended to study the pond, while sneaking glances at each other, trying to gauge each others thoughts.
"Look, Fred, I . . ." Hermione started to speak, then stopped. Fred finally looked at her, really looked at her closely. The embarrassment and discomfort were clearly weighing on her. So Fred leaned towards her, put a tentative hand on her knee, which made her start slightly.
"Hermione, I know it's odd. It is for me too. I mean, we've been friends for awhile, but I don't think either of us ever thought of each other this way before. That's ok. We've got some time to figure this out, yeah?"
Hermione gave him a hesitant smile and nodded. "You're being really great about this, Fred. How are you taking this all?"
"Well, I figure I've gotten a good deal. You're wickedly smart, famous, and a gorgeous bird. What's not to like?" Fred gave her a wink and she broke out in a genuine grin, as he bumped her shoulder with his. If she had to be married against her will, at least she'd been matched with someone who made her laugh.
The companionable silence descended on them again, but this time, Hermione didn't shift around as much. Instead she found herself leaning into Fred somewhat.
"Fred," she began, but hesitated. He cocked his head and raised an eyebrow at her in inquiry. "It's going to be fine, right?" Her voice was small, her eyes had a touch of pleading in them. He put an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze.
"Of course it will," he said with confidence. Whether he really felt it was less certain, but she was reassured anyway.
The peaceful scene was disturbed a short time later by a loud popping sound and Fred's twin was before them. George quickly sat on the other side of Hermione and draped his arm around her shoulders in a mirror of Fred.
"So, Granger. I hear you are to be my wife-in-law. Welcome to the family!"
"What?" Hermione exclaimed, as Fred started laughing loudly. "Wife-in-law?"
George wagged his eyebrows at her with an exaggerated leer on his face. "Well, yeah. Didn't Freddy tell you? We share everything!"
Hermione started chuckling at the absurdity of it, while Fred good naturedly shoved George's arm off of them and told his brother to sod off.
George stood up and said with a more serious air, "Much as I hate to interrupt the lovebirds, Fred and I need to get back to the shop. Verity's probably going spare and we left a potion in stasis that we ought to get back to quickly. Kiss each other nicely and make a date to discuss wedding plans and let's be on our way, Forge." George made a show of turning around and humming loudly.
Hermione continued to smile, feeling slightly more at ease, and Fred pulled her into a full hug.
"Gred's right, we're staying pretty busy these days, trying to rebuild the stock. I guess we need to try to get to know each other better. Would you like to come out for dinner tomorrow night?"
"I suppose that would be fine. Owl me with details?" Fred nodded as he stood up and stretched. With a wink, George and Fred disappeared in a loud pop.
Hermione sat on the bench overlooking the pond for awhile longer, lost in thought. It wasn't entirely true to say that she had never thought of Fred in that way. She'd harbored a small crush on him in her third year, but that had faded quickly enough, and she'd thought for a long time that she would be with Ron. The very thought of Ron made her sigh.
She had not meant to hurt him. Maybe if the law hadn't come along, things may have been different. But there was no purpose in that; the law had come and with it came the necessity of really examining her feelings and the answer was clear enough. What she told Fred was true. She did not love Ron romantically. She had tried, and for a long time she had convinced herself that she was in love with him. A piece of her had known a long time ago that a romantic relationship was doomed. It wasn't that Ron wasn't smart enough; no one could be that good at chess and not have brains. It was that he wasn't as driven as she was, or as interested in knowledge. Their personalities grated against each other. That was the core problem. They kept waiting for something from each other that would never happen.
He had not spoken to her in the two weeks since, making things extremely uncomfortable for everyone.
Ginny had told Hermione that he had been avoiding Fred since the matches were announced, and that Ron himself had been matched with Daphne Greengrass, a Slytherin girl in their year. He had met her yesterday in Diagon Alley, but no one had told her anything about how it had gone.
Not that it mattered. She knew that Ron would eventually get over his anger, and see that she had been right, but it still tore at her heart when their eyes met. Hermione could see the sadness and hurt behind the anger, and she was sure it was compounded by her being matched with his brother.
That had been a complete shock to her. If she had known that Ron was not the one for her, she had not given much thought to who would be right. She had certainly not expected another Weasley, let alone one of the twins. Circe knew how many times they had clashed in school. Still, if Hermione were being honest, it wasn't a totally baseless match. Fred and George were brilliant, as evidenced by the enormous array of products they'd developed for their shop. She had been surprised, when she had first visited, at the complex arrangements of charms and potions required to produce some of their products. What she had mistaken initially for laziness and dismissed as flippant was really quite the opposite. It took a great deal of creativity and study of magic to conceptualize and then produce their products, and there was no question about how hard the twins worked to keep their shop running.
No, Fred and Ron were very different people, for all that they were brothers; and Hermione, by choosing not to be bound to one, had found herself bound to the other. To her surprise, she was beginning to think that strange as it was, perhaps it would not be so bad after all.
While Hermione was ruminating by the pond, Fred was trying to avoid George. He'd been fairly successful while he could claim to be restocking the shelves or brewing potions, but he couldn't avoid George forever.
And George, unfortunately, knew it. He waited until they were closing up shop and Verity was gone before cornering Fred at a worktable and standing with his arms crossed and eyebrow raised.
"She's coming over for dinner tomorrow. Will you be here? Pass the gurdy root; it needs to be mashed." George reached behind him to retrieve the slightly wilted radishes and passed them on, and considered his twin with uncharacteristic seriousness.
"Do you want me to be there?"
Fred kept his eyes on the mortar and pestle and shrugged. " 'Sup to you, mate. I can't decide whether she will be more relaxed with both of us there or more frightened."
"She knows us. Is she really frightened?" The disbelief in George's voice was apparent.
Fred shrugged again, his air of casual indifference belied by the tension in his shoulders. "This is a pretty unique situation. She was dating Ron just a couple of weeks ago. Now she's engaged to me. I don't suppose I need to mention the war that was on mere months ago, brother mine. It's a lot to take in. I need the moonstone shavings."
George handed him the bottle and watched as Fred worked with deliberate, precise movements to add the right amount of shavings per clockwise stir to get the maximum dream state for the Patented Daydream Charms. Fred was usually seen as the more out-going, boisterous twin; few people really got to see Fred like this, quiet and still and measured. George could tell he was troubled.
"So, Hermione Granger, eh? Are you looking forward to shagging her?" Fred nearly dropped his glass stirrer into the potion, and shot his smirking twin a dirty look.
"Georgie, you are going to distract me and this whole batch will be worthless. What are you on about?" George dropped the smirk and hopped up to sit on the workbench.
"It's just that I am the only wizard alive that knows you fancied her a few years ago. And she's a pretty gorgeous bird, and it's been some time since you've got a leg over. Not to mention the idea of picking her brains and how she could help the shop."
"I don't know that she has any interest in the shop. I haven't any idea at all about what she wants to do, and how she plans to deal with missing her NEWTs, or even where she wants to live. That's the problem, innit? I don't really know her at all. I knew the bossy little know-it-all bint, but I don't know this bird very well at all, except that she was my little brother's girlfriend, and he's ruddy hacked off about the whole situation." Fred sat back to let the periwinkle potion simmer until it became lilac.
"So he's finally speaking to you then? If he's so upset, why didn't he just propose to her?" George crossed his arms.
"Hermione didn't want to talk too much about it, but she said that it was her doing, that she didn't love him that way."
George whistled, a long, low sound. "No wonder he's so hacked. Poor bloke. Even so, I never could see why they were together. Who wants to fight all the time?"
"No ruddy clue. I hope we don't fight all the bloody time," Fred said with a grimace. He leaned over to check the potion, which was giving off bursts of blue steam as the bubbles rose slowly to the top and broke.
"Not all the time, just when you want a really good shag," George said with a chuckle, to which Fred responded with an audible groan.
"Bugger. You don't think she and Ron were shagging all this time? Bloody hell." George laughed aloud, but then considered and shook his head.
"Nah, they wouldn't have fought so much if they were shagging. Remember how much you and Angelina fought? We never fight, mate." George's voice was definitely smug.
"Yeah, I know. Someone keeps forgetting the sodding silencing charms. And if you don't start using them, brother dearest, I will be forced to take action. And Angelina won't like that." Fred shot his twin a look that was half aggravation, half wicked amusement. George just shook his head and hopped off the worktable. "Where are you going, you wanker? Hand me the jabberknoll feathers before you go."
George sighed dramatically, but pulled three feathers from their jar and handed them over. "Are you going to need help with the charms then? Or should I go start dinner?"
Fred grunted. "I think I can manage the damn charms. But if you think I'm eating pancakes again, you're cracked. Why don't you wander down and see if Tom'll sell us a bite? Fish 'n' chips has got to be better than your soggy eggs."
George clutched his chest. "You wound me, Forge. Impugning my cooking skills, when you can't cast a laundering charm to save your arse."
"It's true, brother mine. I can't do laundering charms. Neither can you cook. And since it's my night to make the Daydream Charms, you have to buy something unless you can sweet talk Mum into giving you a care package. I'll cook tomorrow though."
George was already drawing on his robes to head out, and shook his head. "You'll have to save me some then. I'll go over to Angie's so you and Hermione can be alone. But we'll all go out sometime soon, yeah?" Fred nodded distractedly.
"Oi, Gred, be careful out there, yeah? I know it's s'posed to be safer now and all, but watch your back." Fred had been very careful of him when they were apart, though he refused to talk in depth about why. George knew though that it had to do with his experience during the battle, and tried to be forbearing.
"I will, I will. You know there hasn't been an attack in the Alley in weeks though, right?"
Fred merely nodded, his attention being drawn fully back into the potion before him, which was now lilac and emitting the smell of cloves with each bubble that burst. In two minutes, he would have to cast the complex series of charms that would imbue the potion with the activation trigger and divide it into the correct portion sizes. A memory niggled at the back of his mind, from before the war began in earnest, of a sixth year with thick wavy brown hair and sparkling brown eyes softly saying this was really extraordinary magic. . .