A/N: I don't own anything you recognize. I own very little actually. I'd own much more if I own Harry Potter, but I don't. JK Rowling does. And she owns a lot of stuff. I assume.
Thank you to my reviewers, ladymagna1100 and GHB! And the guest, but I can't thank you personally! Thoughts and suggestions are always appreciated, so please review if you feel so inclined!
Wednesday, 16 September
The Great Hall, Hogwarts School
"Has anyone else noticed that McGonagall has been missing the last few days?" Padma glanced around the table. "Hermione, have you seen her?"
Hermione looked up from her revise charts (NEWTs were coming up soon, after all). "No, I hadn't noticed, but I'm working on my revise charts, and planning a lesson on boggarts for the 3rd years, and…what was the question?"
"Pull the hair out of your ears, Granger. Have you seen McGonagall the last few days?" Impatience rang through Malfoy's voice. Hermione shot him a nasty look, and huffed.
"No, I hadn't. But I saw in The Daily Prophet that the Wizengamot had been called into emergency session, and she took Dumbledore's seat, so obviously that is where she is."
"Well, that doesn't sound good. Has anybody heard anything?" Neville looked anxious.
Realizing that her classmates were going to continue talking, Hermione decided to take matters in her own hands, got up and approached Bill at the Professors' table.
"Professor, pardon me for interrupting your breakfast, but I was wondering if you could shed some light on a situation."
"Of course, Hermione, what seems to be the problem?" Bill drew his attention away from his wife.
"Have you heard why the Wizengamot has been called into session? The Headmistress has been gone quite a bit over the last few days, and we were concerned."
Bill's face tightened. He leaned over and spoke quietly so that no one else could possibly hear. "There was a problem with the numbers on the last census. They have to address the issue."
"What do you mean?"
"There is a law on the book from 900 CE, and if they cannot circumvent it, then the youngest witches and wizards will pay the greatest price. They called me in to look into it as I have experience as a curse breaker. But, it's old magic. Blood magic. I can't break it. No one in the curse breakers guild has been able to come up with anything. Add to that, it's not a curse, per se. It just feels like one."
For the first time, Hermione began to feel a bit sick. "Dark magic?"
"Hermione, you should know that old magic and blood magic are not necessarily dark. But it is incredibly powerful."
"Is there something I need to know?"
"Hermione, you, Ron, and Harry cannot fix everything. Sometimes, you have to look at the situation and accept it. But hopefully, the Wizengamot has come up with a solution." At that moment, an owl dropped a letter in front of Bill's plate. It was from McGonagall. Hermione turned to leave, but Bill stopped her. "Wait. The Headmistress is returning today, and she says that she needs to meet with you this afternoon at 2:00pm. Harry and Ron will be here as well." Hermione nodded and made her way back to her seat. Before she could take her seat, the gong sounded to end breakfast.
She had a feeling that something bad was coming. But when her classmates questioned her, she kept her own counsel. Until she knew something definitive, she knew that there was no good in worrying them.
Wednesday, 16 September
Headmistress Office, Hogwarts School
Hermione attempted to calm her nerves as she and Professor McGonagall awaited the arrival of Harry and Ron via the Floo Network. Fortunately, they arrived on time.
"Harry, Ron! I'm so happy to see you both." Hermione hugged them both, receiving a kiss on the check from Harry and one from Ron on the forehead. In her heart, she knew she could always rely on these two men to support her, and she knew they felt the same about her.
Just as they were getting comfortable, the Floo sounded again, and out stepped Kingsley Shacklebott.
"Minister, welcome to Hogwarts." McGonagall formally greeted her Order of the Phoenix colleague.
"Please, Minerva, let us not stand on ceremony. I am and always will be Kingsley to you. Harry, Ron, Hermione, so good to see you all."
"Minister." They chorused, nodding their heading and extending their hands to shake.
Kingsley chuckled. "We do not need to stand on ceremony, either. I think we are all beyond it."
"Minister, I mean, Kingsley, while I am delighted to see you, Hermione and Professor McGonagall, I can't help but wondering why we are all here." Harry showed the leadership qualities for which he was so rightfully famous.
McGonagall and Shacklebolt exchanged loaded glances. "Go ahead, Minerva; they may take the news better from you."
McGonagall did not look pleased, but nodded her assent. "In short, the census taken just 6 weeks ago demonstrated a serious problem in wizarding Britain…." And so she laid out for the Golden Trio the dilemma with which the Wizengamot had wrestling for the last few weeks. She ended with the solution that the Wizengamot had cobbled together.
Afterward, Hermione was once again struck dumb. Harry raised his brilliant green eyes towards the portraits of former Headmasters and blinked rapidly. Ron, however, had something to say. "What are you all on about? You are going to arrange our marriages and require us to have children within two years? That has to be bloody illegal!"
"Mr. Weasley," McGonagall's crisp voice sounded, "we do not want to do this at all. The nature of this – law, such as it is - is that if it is allowed to come into effect, some third and fourth years will be forced to marry and attempt to have children. And Merlin's law – it was random. It could match a 14 year old with any marriageable witch or wizard. It was completely arbitrary."
"That is barbaric!" Hermione burst out. "How could anyone do that to children?"
"Miss Granger, you know that 1000 years ago people married much younger. You, at least, are all of age."
"But I'm not ready to get married! I want to finish school. And fall in love. And then have children after I have established my career."
"I understand, but…"
"No. I won't do it."
"You will be forced to give up your wand and have your powers bound. You will have to live as a Muggle. And Hermione, you are a very powerful witch." That from Shacklebolt. His deep voice penetrated Hermione's growing hysteria. She stopped.
Harry, looking as broken as he ever had, shook his head. "What do we have to do? Why have you called us here and told us in advance? I mean, you must have a reason for telling us before the general announcement is made."
Another glance between McGonagall and Shacklebott. This time, Shacklebott took the lead. He could see in McGonagall's face that she would rather face Voldemort, wandless, at dawn, rather than to tell them the next bit. "We need you three to be the face of this law."
The three teens exchanged glances. "Have you lost your mind? I would rather face Voldemort, wandless, at dawn than to be the face of this travesty." Harry echoed McGonagall's sentiments exactly. "And I know Hermione and Ron. They feel the same way." Vigorous nods flanked Harry.
"Harry, I understand. I do. The thought of committing to spending the rest of your life…."
"For life?" Hermione lost all sense of composure. "For LIFE? There is no possibility of divorce?"
"No, Hermione. There are wizarding marriages that only end with the death of one of the partners," Ron interjected.
"For the love of Merlin. Let me guess, you are going to choose our spouses too. That would just make this perfect."
Another glance between McGonagall and Shacklebolt. The Golden Trio was becoming very wary of those glances. It seemed that they did not bode well. At all.
"Well, not exactly. But, the Wizengamot has decided that since young adults of 17 and over will have to marry, it is a good time to try to stamp out the blood prejudice that was so rampant, causing much grief and the Second Wizarding War," Shacklebott explained.
"How in hell are you planning on accomplishing that?" Hermione bit out.
"In short, all Purebloods will marry Muggle borns or half bloods. In a generation, there will be no purebloods. And quite frankly, purebloods are not very thick on the ground now. It is a consequence of their having intermarried so frequently over the course of the last 500 years. They have few children, many are less healthy, and they have a higher percentage of squib children. To be blunt, Pureblood families need fresh blood." Shacklebott did not pull any punches.
"Fine, but how do you plan to accomplish this? Can you imagine Draco Malfoy or Greg Goyle marrying a Muggle-born? It is preposterous." Hermione again cut straight to the heart of the matter.
"I don't think Mr. Malfoy will be a problem. He knows how lucky he was this past summer."
"With all due respect, Minister, I feel like you are stalling. How do you plan to accomplish this miracle?" Hermione resembled the famous English bulldog going after a bone.
"The Sorting Hat."
"Shite." Three voices. One sentiment.
McGonagall covered her mouth and cleared her throat, followed by a short cough which sounded suspiciously like chuckle.
"The Ministry will use the hat after the first group here at the school. All males will try on the hat, and then separately, the females will try it on in the Great Hall in a Sorting Ceremony next week. You age group will go first, since you are on site. Only those directly impacted and to be matched will be present for the ceremony." Kingsley continued, "I hate this; you know I do, but if we cannot correct the population imbalance, then Merlin will do it for us without any care about age or innocence. In good conscience, how can we let that happen?" He looked at these three who had already given more than anyone should. And he was asking them to give more. The hell of it was that, in the end, he knew they would do it. In that moment, he hated himself, he hated Merlin, and he especially hated the blind prejudice that lead to this unfortunate turn of events.
"We need to talk this over; please excuse us for a few moments." Harry wasn't asking. The Golden Trio walked to the corner of the office nearest Snape's smirking portrait and cast a muffliato.
"This is so unfair." Hermione spoke first. "It's really funny; we actually played a drinking game the other night. Truth or Dare. I'm not ready to be a mother. For once, I'd like the chance to be a normal teenage witch, whatever the hell that is."
"Too right." Ron and Harry both agreed.
"Wait – did you find out anything good?" Ron just had to ask.
Hermione laughed, "Well, you probably wouldn't have enjoyed the whole thing Ron, but yeah, I found out some interesting stuff." Knowing Ron's enmity toward Draco, she avoided any mention of a certain, shiver-inducing kiss. Now was definitely NOT the time.
"Why do we always miss the fun parts, Harry?" After a general laugh, they turned their attention back to the matter at hand. "I can't give up my wand. I don't know anything but the wizarding world. Can you imagine me in Muggle London full-time? Or even Ottery St. Catchpole? My family, everything." Ron shuddered, one of those full-body shakes.
"No, I understand Ron. I found my home here. I can't do it, either. I never really fit into the Muggle world. For Godric's sake, I let a boa constrictor go at the zoo when I was 10! And if we can't stop this law, or curse, or whatever it is, then, what will happen to the youngest?"
"So, our choices are to resist and ruin our lives, submit with ill grace and hope that everyone muddles through okay, or to embrace our fate, and try to make certain that Merlin's law has no way of coming into effect because the numbers of magical blooded citizens will not dip below its' trigger point." Hermione summed it all up with staggering efficiency.
"There's no choice, is there?" Harry spoke for them all.
"No." Hermione and Ron concurred. They returned to the desk in the center of the circular room which Shacklebolt and McGonagall waited.
"We will help." This time, Ron spoke for the group. Both Shacklebott and McGonagall seemed to melt with relief.
"Gentlemen, if you would like, we can go ahead and have the Sorting Hat determine your best possibilities. That way, you will not have to return until the Ceremony next week. The Law will be announced on Friday, and I will warn our 7th and 8th years tonight after dinner. The gentlemen will have their sorting beginning tomorrow, and continue through the weekend."
Harry and Ron nodded their assent. Without further ado, McGonagall plopped the hat on Harry's head.
"So, Mr. Potter, you are indeed a Gryffindor. Still have that thirst to prove yourself, though, don't you? What do you need a wife? Oh, I see. This is unexpected. Very unexpected."
"Please be someone I like, please be someone I can live with." Harry figured it wouldn't hurt to let the Sorting Hat know how important this was to him.
"Well, I can tell you this Mr. Potter, you still have more Slytherin in you than you thought. But you, you are brave, plenty smart. Your witch will be the same. I see several possibilities. Perhaps there is one Gryffindor who would do nicely. Thank you, Mr. Potter. I look forward to sorting your children in just a few years."
Harry handed the hat back to McGonagall, and she dropped it onto Ron's head.
"Mr. Weasley, never a truer Gryffindor I have met. Brave, strong, loyal. You need a wife who is the same. Maybe Miss Granger, no? No. I think not. Humm. I will have to remember this. Your children will almost certainly have your temperament, and they cannot go wrong with your loyalty."
Ron handed the hat to McGonagall, and turned to his friends. "Any clues?"
Harry shook his head. "Nothing. Just that it was "unexpected" and that I still have more Slytherin in me than I thought."
Ron hesitated, but he felt he owed it to Hermione to let her know what the hat said. "It told me that I needed a strong, brave, and loyal wife, but it also said that you weren't her, Hermione."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I think we should be glad. Can you imagine our fights?" Ron and Harry both laughed at that. After affectionate good byes, Harry and Ron took their leave and Hermione made her way back to her dorm room as classes were over for the day.
She needed a nap before tonight's ordeal.
8th Year Wing
Hermione woke to a brisk knock at her door. Rubbing her eyes, she opened the door only to be pushed back by several anxious faces. Parvarti, Padma, and Hannah all invaded her room.
"Spill it, Hermione. What is going on?"
Hermione shook her head, picked up her wand and cast a Silencing Charm. "I don't know if I'm supposed to tell, but McGonagall is going to announce it after dinner to our class."
Outside her door, six males had their ears pressed against the door. "Dammit. She just cast a silencing spell. Can you cancel it out, Blaise? Does anyone have extendable ears?"
Blaise tried to counteract the spell, but they the sound they got was like a poorly tuned radio. "Pure…muggles…law…children…after dinner." Then, silence. Some instinct told them to back away as Hermione yanked her door open.
"Really? Listening at doors now?"
"Come on, Hermione, tell us what is going on." Neville was hard for Hermione to resist, and the guys knew he would be the best to beard her for information.
"Well, I'm certain Blaise cast an anti-Silencing spell. What did you hear?"
"Nothing really. Something about pure and Muggles and children.
"McGonagall is going to make the announcement aright after dinner, so you only have about an hour to wait."
"Come on Granger. You know something."
Hermione hesitated before answering Blaise. "I want McGonagall to explain it, but basically, the Ministry is putting a Marriage Law into effect."
The group blanched. This was unexpected indeed.
The Great Hall
The uncharacteristic quiet of the 8th year students drew the attention of many of Hogwarts younger students, but only the oldest seemed to understand there was something truly serious afoot. As Hermione predicted, McGonagall requested all 8th year and students 17 and older to remain in the Hall for a brief announcement following dinner. The students 16 and under shrugged, raised their eyebrows, and went about their business.
Ginny found Hermione. Leaning down and giving her a hug, she asked "Do you know what is going on?"
Hermione wrapped her closer and whispered, "There is going to be a Marriage Law. It affects us all." Ginny, like the 8th years, paled. She quickly sat down, nudging Hermione to the edge of her chair.
"Have you sure?"
"Do Harry and Ron know?"
Hermione nodded again.
"That is exactly what we said. "
McGonagall called the room to order, and Ginny returned to her table. McGonagall explained the problems facing the Wizarding community – declining numbers, increased numbers of Squib births, and Merlin's law hanging like the Sword of Damocles over all their heads. She then went on to explain the Marriage Law.
"All witches and wizards of age, which is to say 17, are to be married within 6 months. All couples are required to attempt to have a child or to be expecting a child within two years. By the fifth year of marriage, all couples should have at least two children." At the tables, students sat in stony silence. McGonagall treasured this calm before the storm which was sure to begin raining down with her next sentence. "Spouses will be determined for you."
And the storm began.
"Have they gone mad?"
"I'm not going to let those fools at the Ministry choose my wife!"
The noise abruptly cut off when McGonagall cast a silent "Silencio." Thus gagged, the students were reduced to glares. "Now, as I was saying. Spouses will be determined for you. And I should warn you that there will be no Pureblood matches. All matches will include a mix of Pureblood with a Half –blood or Muggle Born. Or a Half-blood with half-blood." At the 8th year table, Hermione glanced over at Malfoy and Zabini. Both appeared non-plussed, but she could not tell if it was due to the blood bias issue or general unhappiness with the situation.
Still silenced, Malfoy's hand shot up. With a wave of her wand, McGonagall released him. "Yes, Mr. Malfoy, you have a question? "
"Headmistress, I do not trust the Ministry to determine a suitable wife for me. How can they possibly guarantee a good match? And if I refuse, what are they going to do about it? "
"Thank you, Mr. Malfoy, that is an excellent question and brings me to my next point. We will be using the Sorting Hat to read the minds of our current and former students to determine a suitable spouse." She waved her wand. "Gentlemen, here is the schedule for you to have your appointments with the Sorting Hat. As you can see appointments begin in the morning and will be finished with current students by the end of the day. Next week, all affected student will attend the Marriage Sorting ceremony, and the Sorting Hat will read the ladies and announce final matches."
"Before you ask, Mr. Malfoy, these matches are final and will be recorded in permanent ink as they are made. These will be unitatas sponsus. As you all should know, there is no divorce, and infidelity is – difficult – with this type of marriage. So, please make every effort to find common ground with your spouses. If you refuse, you will have your wand taken and your powers bound. In effect, you will be a Squib or a Muggle."
She made her way towards the door. As the only one with the ability to talk, Draco felt it was his duty to express how he and his fellow students were feeling.
McGonagall waved her wand as the door closed behind her and released the silencing spell. After a beat, the Great Hall exploded in noise.