Author's Notes: This is a refined chapter!

Hi, I am Delilah Wise. Welcome to The Marriage Decree.

The Marriage Law Challenge was created in 2003 by chelleybean as 'how far a society will go to save their own skins', and forced Hermione to marry either Severus Snape or Lucius Malfoy. Obviously, the trope has evolved over the past twenty-one years, and The Marriage Decree very loosely follows the rules of the original challenge.

In The Marriage Decree, I explore the same theme: 'How far will the Minister/Ministry go to save Wizarding Britian?'. Yet I will also explore: 'How far will Wizarding Britian let the Minister/Ministry go?'.

I began writing The Marriage Decree in 2014, and first published it in 2016. Now, in 2024, I am in the process of refining and editing the earlier chapters. I will write 'This is a refined chapter!' in the author's notes of all chapters that have been updated (see above).

You can find me on Instagram ( delilah . wise ), where I post about chapter uploads, chapter refines, and ask for my readers' advice on plot and character arcs.

Here's Chapter 1 for you!

Enjoy x

Friday 31st December 1998

Immediate regret floods Hermione's chest as they step inside the nightclub they had just spent ten pounds to enter - after queuing for forty minutes - and she wonders who's bright idea it was to go clubbing in Muggle London for New Year's Eve.

The music is thumping, the lights are erratic and the whole dance floor is full of hot, sweaty bodies brushing against each other as they dance. While content to find a secluded corner to occupy until midnight, Ron has other ideas. Taking her hand, he pulls her into the centre of the dance floor as the latest charting pop music blares through the speakers.

The experience quickly becomes too much for Hermione. A rising panic tightens her chest as she pushes her way through the crowd, until she burst out and stumbles towards a bar stool. After a few deep breathes, Hermione flags down a bartender, who signifies that he'll be there in a moment. Leaning back against the bar, Hermione watches her boyfriend and friends, still on the dance floor.

Harry and Ginny seem to be in a world of their own with their arms wrapped around each other as they dance close, whispering and laughing together. Not far away, Ron is double-wielding glow sticks as his awkwardly tall body flails around in his attempt at dancing, not that the circle of beautiful women he's attracted seem to mind as they get a little too close for liking.

"Happy New Year!"

Glad for the distraction, as she assumes it's her bartender, Hermione turns around, only to come face to face with a blond, tanned man dressed entirely in denim. His eyes hungrily roam the length of her body as he leers drunkenly towards her. Choosing to ignore him, she spins to face the bar, wondering if it will be a happy new year.

Nearly eight months after the war has ended, Hermione still feels a heavy sense of guilt whenever she finds herself enjoying life, instead of mourning those friends that won't get to see the end of the worst year in wizarding history.

Not deterred by her lack of interest, the denim man lays a sticky hand upon her thigh, gaining her attention.

"You look like you need a drink?"

Hermione tears his hand from her bare thigh. "I can buy my own," she assertively informs him, as the bartenders appears before her. "Can I get a vodka coke, please?"

After receiving her drink, and paying, Hermione risks another glance at the dance floor and is sickened by the scene before her. A tall, blonde woman is shimmying her cleavage as she smiles alluringly at Ron, and Hermione can't look away as Ron returns her smile and offers her one of his glow sticks. The woman laughs charmingly as she accepts and begins to wave it in the air, attempting to lasso Ron into her arms. All Hermione can do is watch intently, sipping at her drink, as she waits for Ron to realise the woman is flirting with him and for him to reject her advances.

"Is that your boyfriend?" The denim man asks, replacing his hand on her thigh as he leans closer to whisper in her ear. "I saw you enter with him," he admits, sending a fearful shiver down her spine as she realises he's been watching her the whole time.

"Yes, he is," Hermione confirms, hoping he'll leave her alone if he knows she's taken.

"Seems a downright shame," he sighs in her ear before moving away. "I was hoping a pretty think like you would be up for a midnight kiss." His finger twirls around one of her curls.

Downing the rest of her drink, Hermione slides off her stool and stumbles towards the only place she can feel safe, the ladies bathroom. At her dramatic entrance, a couple of women fixing their make-up turn to her with worry across their face.

"Are you alright?" The shorter girl asks, recapping her lipstick and shoving it in her clutch bag.

Immediately, Hermione breaks into a fit of tears as she shakes her head.

"Oh, babe, come sit down," the taller one guides Hermione into the only chair in the bathroom, a strangely plush and ornate armchair. "What's happened?" She asks, grabbing some toilet roll to dry Hermione eyes, without smudging her make up.

"I knew it was a mistake to come out tonight, but my boyfriend and friends wanted to get out. Now he's dancing with some gorgeous woman while I get felt up at the bar," she sobs.

"Oh my god, what a pig?" The shorter one shakes her head. "You can't let him disrespect you like that."

"Exactly, now I'm not superstitious at all, but you can't be taking all this baggage into the New Year with you," the taller one agrees.

"Have you been dating long?"

"Nearly eight months," Hermione answers, accepting another wad of toilet roll to blow her nose.

"Girl, don't waste a second longer on him," the short one tells her.

"He obviously doesn't appreciate what he's got; you're hot as fuck in that dress and yet he's still dancing with some other girl," the tall one scoffs.

"We've been best friends for eight years though," Hermione admits.

"Ooh," the short girl winces. "Never go after your mates; it gets so awkward when you break up with them."

"I don't want to break up with him," Hermione claims.

The tall girl shakes her head, kneeling to her level. "He brought you out and danced with another girl in front of you. I don't care how clueless he is; he's going to keep push the limits of your boundaries until he ends up cheating on you and completely breaking your heart. Now I'm not telling you to break up with him-"

"You totally should though," the shorter on interjects.

"Shut up, Stace," the taller one bites at her friend. "I'm not telling you to break up with him, but you've got to get him told, or you'll be back in the bathroom, crying your heart out time and time again."

Hermione takes a deep breath. "Thank you, both of you. I think I've been letting his actions slide because we we're friends for so long. I'm going to talk to him," she announces, standing up.

"Do you have any powder? Your eyes are a little puffy," the tall girl explains.

"No, I'm fine." Hermione dries her eyes with the back of her hand.

"I'd offer you some of mine, but our complexions don't match," she apologises.

"Don't worry. I don't need to hide my tears from him," Hermione states.

The short girl gasps, "Go get him!"

Feeling a whole lot happier than ten minutes ago, Hermione makes a beeline for her boyfriend, who seems oblivious to her disappearance. As she approaches, he reaches out and pulls her into a hug. It doesn't last long enough. It never does. Instead he turns to beckon Harry and Ginny over.

"I found 'Mione," Ron shouts above the music.

Harry takes one look at her face and his expressions turns serious. Pulling her closer, he asks, "Are you okay? We were worried about you."

"It was too crowded for me, so I went to the bar and then the bathroom," she explains.

"Are you alright?" Ginny asks, leaning on her boyfriend's shoulder to listen in. "Do you want to leave?"

"We can't go yet! It's not midnight," Ron complains at his sister's suggestion.

Ginny rolls her eyes, taking Hermione hand. "You're girlfriend is clearly upset, if she wants to leave, we're going to leave," she informs him.

Ron blinks, looking intently at Hermione's face. "What you been crying for?"

Hermione sniffs, as usual, her boyfriend has no tact. "I'm going to leave, but don't let me ruin your night. I'll get myself home and see you all on Sunday."

"As if," Ginny laughs, quoting a character from a movie they had watched during one of their holiday sleepovers. "Why don't we head down to the river for the fireworks? I know you've always wanted to see them in person," she suggests.

"Thanks, Gin." Hermione hugs her friend, her heart warmed by the gesture.

"But what about the countdown," Ron continues to moan.

"Give it up, mate," Harry warns him as they push through the crowd on the dance floor.

A cold burst of air hits them as soon as they step onto the street, reminding them it's still December. Huddled together for warmth, Hermione and Ginny follow a group of Muggles towards the River Thames, hoping their boyfriends were following close behind. On the way, Ginny spots a secluded square, surrounded by trees and bushes but with a clear view of the night sky for the fireworks.

The four friends squeeze themselves onto a single bench. None of them mind the closeness as they wrap their arms around each other in an attempt to keep warm. Hermione feels Ron's fingers rubbing circles on her shoulder, but being touched in such a intimate manner makes her feel uncomfortable, after enduring the denim man's advances. Shivering, she pushes his hand away, which gains his attention.

"What the matter with you?" He questions.

"I don't want to talk about it right now," Hermione mutters, hugging herself tightly.

"Why not? Did something happen at the nightclub?" He asks, voice softer with a touch of worry.

"This creepy guy at the bar was making me uncomfortable," she admits, subconsciously sinking into his warm embrace.

"What did he do?" He questions, leaning back to look at her face.

"He kept touching me and asked to by me a drink. He wanted to kiss me at midnight," she explains with a shrug, trying to put it behind her now she's out of the situation.

"Well, did you tell him you have a boyfriend?" He accusingly frowns.

"I did actually, but that's besides the point. Men shouldn't think they have the right to touch anyone they find attractive," Hermione defensively informs him.

Ron rolls his eyes in the way he usually does when she's explaining a Transfiguration theory or asking him if he's started his homework yet. Hermione's heart drops into her stomach as she realises he doesn't care. Anger rises into her chest as she turns to face him head one.

"Did you tell that blonde woman who was all over you that you have a girlfriend?" She asks in returns.

"Were you jealous?" Ron grins.

Hermione scoffs in disbelief. Thankfully, Ginny's got her back as she slaps her brother around the head.

"What the fuck, Ron?" Ginny exclaims.

"What did I do?" He glares across at his sister.

"Stay out of this, Gin," Harry warns, taking his girlfriends hand and guiding her towards the entrance of the square, in an attempt to give them some space.

Hermione stands, shaking her head. "You're a hypocrite, Ron," she claims, turning to him. "Another man hits on me and you're angry at me, but when another woman hits on you, I'm jealous of her. I'm in the wrong either way. You're infuriating!" Hermione drags her fingers through her hair, ruining her curls but she couldn't care less right now.

"Will you sit down, 'Mione?" Ron asks her, clearly embarrassed to be doing this in front of their friends, as he keeps glancing in their direction.

A sense of clarity washes over her as she comes to the realisation that Ron doesn't appreciate her and she's not going to let him disrespect her any more.

Her hands fall to her sides as she takes in her boyfriend's face, trying to find any reason to keep trying, but he looks away, uncomfortable by her attention.

"This isn't working, is it?"

Ron's eyes meet hers again. "What isn't?"

"Us, our relationship."

Panic rises in Ron's eyes as he asks, "What's wrong with us?"

Hermione sighs deeply, "I can't put my finger on it. I think we got together too quickly after the war. We were desperate to keep each other close, but I don't think we know how to be more than friends. We rarely kiss or go on dates or spend time alone. At least when we were friends, I knew you cared about me," she gently explains.

"I do care about you." Ron grabs her hand in a frenzy, as he realises where this conversations is going, and tries to pull her into his embrace.

"Do you?" Hermione frees her hand. "I don't think a relationship should cause me this much heartache."

Big Ben tolls twelve times, ringing in the New Year, the Thames' fireworks display explode in colourful rain. Across the square, Harry and Ginny share a private kiss to welcome in the New Year, before standing back to watch skies light up.

Hermione tilts her head high to watch her dreams come true. She isn't going to let Ron ruin the moment by continuing their argument during such a beautiful scene. As usual, Ron has other ideas as he presses a soft peck to her lips. Automatically, her eyes flutter close, but it's over as quickly as it began.

"Are you happy, now?" Ron asks defensively. "Friends don't kiss, 'Mione," he adds.

Confusion clouds her mind until she realises his point and she can't hold back her snorts of laughter.

"I don't understand what you want from me," he states, tears welling in his eyes. "You usually tell me when I'm being an idiot. Tell me what I've done wrong and I'll fix it," he begs.

"I've told you," Hermione shouts, losing her temper. "You never treat me like your girlfriend, unless it suits you."

Ron throws his arms in the air. "So what do you want me to do? What do you want me to say?" He stares at her in question, but when she doesn't provide him with an answer, he takes her hands in his. "Do you want me to parade you around Hogwarts, hand in hand, kissing you every five minutes so people know we're dating? Do you want me to stand on top the dining tables and announce to the whole hall that I love you?"

Hermione snatches her hand back, holding it up ready to slap him. "Don't you dare," she warns, then drops her hand. It would do her no good to hurt him.

"I do, 'Mione. I do love you," he sincerely admits.

"As usual, your timing is perfect," she snaps at him. "It would have been nice to have heard those words before now, when it's not a last minute attempt to save our relationship."

"No, I can't lose you." Ron falls to his knees, grasping for her hands. "I just got you, Hermione. Give me another chance," he begs, embarrassing them both.

Hermione steps away from him in disgust. "You're pathetic, Ron. I just can't deal with you right now. I've got too much going on in my head with NEWTs and not having a career lined up after graduation; I don't need to be worrying about the validity of our relationship too."

Ron sits back on his heels looking heartbroken. "You can't deal with me right now?" He repeats.

"We've been friends for eight years, Ron," she assures him. "I'm sure we'll still be friends in eight more years, but right now, I'm going to need a little space and time to myself. I need to prioritise my studies and future."

"But after?"

"Don't do that, don't push me into a corner."

"What am I supposed to tell Mum?" He genuinely asks.

Hermione laughs, "She's your mother, Ron; tell her what you want but know the truth always comes out."

All expression falls from Ron's face as he stands tall, towering over her. "Fine, we all know Hermione knows best."

As he apparates away, his cold look is left imprinted on Hermione brain. Both physically and emotionally exhausted, she collapses back onto the bench in a fit of tears. At some point, the fireworks ended and crowds of Muggles were swarming past their secluded square, on their way to the tube stations or hotels. Harry and Ginny sit either side of their friend, each wrapping an arm around her shoulders as they hug her tightly.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I don't know what's gotten into him recently, but he's been acting so strangely since we returned to Hogwarts," Ginny reassures her comfortingly.

"It's the attention," Harry states. "Have you seen the way his face lights up when a student asks about last year? They know you and I don't want to talk about it, so they go to Ron. He's in his element."

Hermione wipes her tears away with the palms of her hands, recognising the truth in Harry's words.

"That's not an excuse to be a dick to his friends and girlfriend," Ginny snaps. "I'll tell Mum what an absolute pig he's been and she'll set him straight."

Hermione chuckles, thanking her friend with a hug. "It's okay. We'll all be okay," she says, although she isn't convincing anyone, let alone herself. "I'm sorry if I've made our lives awkward now."

"Don't apologise."

"Are you going to be alright getting home?" Harry asks, knowing she won't risk apparation in her intoxicated and emotional state.

"I'll be fine. My parents got me a mobile phone for Christmas; I'll call my dad for a lift," she assures them. "Get yourself home and I'll see you at King's Cross on Sunday."

By one o'clock, Hermione is shivering as she calls her Dad from the tube station nearest her home. Home is still a forty minute walk away, which she doesn't feel comfortable making alone, and outweighs the guilt she feels from waking her father up.

When he pulls up, Hermione climbs into the passenger seat, glad that her dad is blasting the heating, as she fastens her seat belt.

"You know I'm at work in the morning," he says as a greeting.

"I know; I'm sorry, Dad," she apologises, turning her head to gaze out of the window, trying to hide her tears.

However, her dad knows something is going on. Before setting off, he leans forward to get a good look at her face.

"What's the matter?"

Hermione sniffs, "I broke up with Ron." Out of the corner of her eye, she see her dad grinning. "You don't have to look so happy. I know you didn't like him."

Her dad laughs as he sets off for home. "I'm sorry, Hermione, but you can do so much better than that boy. I still remember the letters you sent home those first few months at Hogwarts. Then again in your third year, and fourth year, and sixth year," he lists. "Ron has not always been the kindest to you."

Hermione hadn't realised her dad had paid that much attention to the letters she sent home, since only her mum replied for the most part. No matter what, she could always count on her father being on her side. So, maybe he was right, Ron did have a tendency to only think of himself and hurt others in the process. Throughout the whole war, the moment that hurt her the most was when Ron abandoned her and Harry in the Forest of Dean, while they were tracking down Horcruxes. Ron always seemed to make it up to them, though.

After the war, Hermione felt somewhat responsible for the deaths that occurred during the Battle of Hogwarts, and took it upon herself to attend every funeral to which she was invited. Meanwhile, Harry couldn't bring himself to attend the funerals of strangers, believing his presence would be insincere. Hermione was more than prepared to go alone until Ron offered to go with her. He had been her rock, her shoulder to cry on, but when she needed him most (to track her parents down in Australia and return their memories), he had left her alone in favour of working with George at Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. Hermione never wanted to ask Ron to choose between her and his family, but she had hoped he would want to accompany her, that he would have chosen her.

Once Hermione had returned to England with her parents, and settled them back into their old lives, she had joined the Rebuild Hogwarts effort with most of her friends and many former students. There was something soothing about repairing the school for future generations, especially as she had helped to destroy it during the battle.

The celebration that had been thrown by Headmistress McGonagall in the remodelled Great Hall was legendary. The night had ended with the headmistress unveiling the new Eighth Year's common room and offering a place to any student whose seventh year education had been interrupted by the war.

Hermione had jumped at the opportunity, needing some semblance of normality and needing to gain her final qualifications so she could keep her career options open. While Harry and Ron has been offered a placement in the Auror Training Academy, even without their NEWTs, they had both turned down the offer. Harry wanted to earn his position in the academy, and Ron no longer knew if life as an Auror was all it was cracked up to be. Therefore, that September, The Golden Trio (as the Daily Prophet referred to them) returned to Hogwarts for their eighth year.

Once home, Hermione's dad gives her a big hug, wishes her a Happy New Year, then returns to his bed. Wrapping herself in a blanket, Hermione curls up in her dad's armchair and turns on the news, which is already showing repeats of the fireworks display over the River Thames.

Saturday 1st January 1999

"Hermione." Mum shakes her shoulder, waking her up from an awkward position in her dad's armchair. "Your dad told me what happened, I'm so sorry, dear." She gently brushes Hermione's hair out of her face.

"Thanks, Mum." Hermione smiles, comforted by her touch.

"Did you brush your teeth last night?"

"Yes," Hermione lies, hiding her face beneath the blanket.

"You know how I feel about lying, Hermione. I can smell your breath." Mum pulls the blanket back. "No man is worth bad oral hygiene," she informs her daughter.

Her mother's words cut deep. After restoring her parents' memories and filling them in on the past year, Hermione had spent a long time regaining their trust. Understandably, they had developed a fear of magic, so Hermione promised to never use magic at home (once she had cast as many protective wards as she knew over their house).

"Sorry, Mum," she apologises for lying. "I didn't intend on falling asleep down here."

"I've made you a cup of tea; it's in the kitchen. Do you have any plans today?" She asks, standing up and straightening her overalls.

"I need to finish packing my trunk and read a few chapters of my potions textbook," Hermione yawns.

"Your dad and I are only working a half day so we'll be home by one o'clock. How about we bring some lunch home then do the family rounds this afternoon?" Her mum offers.

"Sure, I want to see everyone before I head back to school. You know I'm not coming home for Easter," Hermione reminds them.

"Yes, we know," her dad complains from the hallway. "We understand that you need to focus on your studies; we're not mad that you're not coming home." He peers round the living room door. "We just can't wait for you to graduate so we can have you all to ourselves."

Hermione laughs, "Okay, Dad. I don't even want to think about graduation."

"You'll figure out what comes next, Hermione, and knowing you, it will be something fantastic," her mum assures her. "Try and have something for breakfast," she adds as they leave.

Hermione collects her potions textbook then makes herself a bowl of cornflakes, which she enjoys at the kitchen table with her tepid cup of tea. If she were at Hogwarts, she'd wordlessly cast a heating charm on the cup, but at home, she follows her parents' rules. After all, the cooling drink reminds her of her life before Hogwarts and before she knew anything about magic, when her Grandma Emily would take her to church on Sundays and afterwards, they'd pay a donation for a cup of tea and a biscuit. By the time her Grandma was ready to leave, after catching up with the Ladies, Hermione's tea would cold.

As she tries to focus on her book, she vaguely remembers the clock in the hallway ringing as it strikes eight o'clock. Her parents would be opening their Dental Practice right about now. Hermione continues to read. Then, a few minutes later, she hears a tapping at the kitchen window. Before she even looks, Hermione knows what she'll find and closes her book with a deep sigh.

Opening the back door, Hermione retrieves the thick enveloped from the Ministry Owl, which swoops away without waiting for a reply. Hermione rips up the parchment, throwing it into dustbin before heading back inside.

Just hours after the defeat of Lord Voldemort, Kingsley Shacklebolt had waltzed into the Ministry of Magic - along with every surviving Order of the Phoenix member, the trio included - and announced that he would be acting as Minister for Magic until a vote could be held. That vote had been held on the thirty-first of August, and by the time they arrived at Hogwarts on the first of September, Kingsley Shacklebolt had been officially voted into office. Since then, Hermione, Harry and Ron have been receiving weekly ministerial letters requesting them to give speeches and interviews to reassure the public. The three of them believed they had done enough for the wizarding world and decided they wanted one uneventful year at Hogwarts. Minister Shacklebolt had seemingly not gotten the message as the letters of request kept coming.

By the time Hermione sits back down at the kitchen table, there's a flutter of parchment as the envelope reappears before her on the table. All the times she has thrown the Minister's correspondence away, not one has it reappeared. Assuming this letter is more important than speeches and interviews, Hermione rips open the envelope and unfurls the parchment.

Kingsley Shacklebolt

Minister of Magic



United Kingdom

Saturday 1st January 1999

Dear Mr/Miss,

As we enter a New Year, we leave behind the most horrific year our community has ever experienced. It is with heavy hearts we remember those family and friends whom we

lost at the hands of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. While we may never know for certain just how many lives were taken during the four years of war, we do know the number is devastating for our community.

Our statisticians have recently come to the conclusion that our community is at risk of extinction during the next two centuries. As such, the Ministry must take immediate action to ensure Wizarding Britain thrives into a prosperous future.

The Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, hereby decrees, that a Marriage Decree will be enforced to increase the population and morale of Wizarding Britain.

The Marriage Decree

All persons to graduate from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on Friday 24th June 1999 to persons aged 24 years on Friday 1st July 1999 will be required to marry in The Marriage Ceremony.

All persons The Marriage Decree applies to will be required to complete the attached questionnaire to ensure they are effectively married to the person with whom they are most compatible.

Once married, all couples will be required to reside for two years, or until the birth of their first child, in our new Ministry Starter House Estate.

The Law

All marriages where one or both partners are within the age range mentioned are hereby illegal until The Marriage Ceremony on Friday 1st July 1999.

Any persons who do not return their questionnaire will be fined one-hundred galleons.

Any persons who refuse to marry their chosen partner in The Marriage Ceremony will be sentenced to a minimum of six months' imprisonment in Azkaban.

Any persons found guilty of using any infertility potions will be sentenced to a minimum of twelve months' imprisonment in Azkaban.

If at two years you and your partner have not conceived a child, you will be required to undergo fertility testing. If found to be infertile, a divorce will be granted and any fertile persons will be required to remarry within one year.

Approved and Signed,

Kingsley Shacklebolt

Minister of Magic

Hermione's hands are shaking as she reaches the end. "Approved and signed, Kingsley Shacklebolt," she reads again. She understands every word, but the sentences don't make any sense.

How could the Ministry of Magic- how could Kingsley have approved of something so inhumane? He has enacted a law that gives the Ministry control over her body and her life. The war is over and there's a whole school full of the next generation of adults ready to live their life without fear, the population was bound to naturally increase over the next few decades.

Her thoughts turn to The Burrow, where four Weasleys and Harry would be reading the same letter. Running upstairs, she changes out of the comfortable joggers and hoodie she was wearing into a pair of jeans and a jumper before racing out the back door, where she can safely apparate without worrying about being seen.

The skies over The Burrow are grey, foreshadowing the emotions of the day ahead, now that the news of The Marriage Decree is circulating Wizarding Britain. Through the kitchen window, Hermione sees Percy Weasley, hunched over as he frowns at something on the counter. His attention doesn't waver until Hermione walks through the kitchen door.

Upon seeing the piles of parchment spread out, she rhetorically asks, "The Marriage Decree?" On the kitchen table is still a pile of unopened Minister letters, the other Weasley's and Harry must still be in bed. "Do you think there's anything we can do?"

Percy Weasley had spent the summer after the war reflecting on his own actions, while supporting the Rebuilt Hogwarts effort. He wrote every member of his family an apology, which he read to them, when they were ready to hear it. Eventually, most of his family had forgiven him for siding with the Ministry during the war, and life at The Burrow almost felt like it did before the war. Now, Percy's opinion was once again one she sought and appreciated.

"I think this is a done deal for most of us, Hermione," Percy admits. "You, Ron and Harry could plead that you've done more than enough for the Wizarding World. Shacklebolt might give you special treatment," he suggests.

"That's not an option," Hermione sighs. Many of her friends also risked their lives to fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters, but would still be forced into marriage, regardless of their role in the war.

Percy turns around, leaning back on the counter. "I'm surprised by how shocked I was to read the Decree," he states. "It doesn't matter who's in charge, all the Ministry has ever wanted is to control us. Although, that does not mean we shouldn't complain. Minister Shacklebolt shall expect a strongly worded owl from me," he adds sternly, pushing his glasses up his nose.

Hermione chuckles, recognising the man before her as the prefect she met in her first year at Hogwarts.

The Burrow's spiral staircase creaks as George Weasley stumbles down them tiredly. Upon seeing her, George smiles weakly. "Hi, Hermione," he greets her, pointedly ignoring his brother.

George Weasley is the only one who hadn't been able to forgive Percy for his part in Fred's death. According to George, if Percy had been such a bastard and abandoned his family, Fred would still be with them. While the rest of the Weasley's had laid Fred to rest, keeping him in their hearts and memories; George was still firmly in the first stage of grief, struggling to believe his twin was gone forever.

"Here, George." Percy levitates his brother's letter over to the kettle where George is making himself a cup of coffee.

George plucks it from the air, shoving it in his pocket. Once his coffee has brewed, he adds milk, along with a little something extra from his flask, then returns to the staircase.

"Goodbye, Hermione."

"Bye, George," Hermione returns, hoping he can't hear the pity in her voice.

Percy slumps back against the counter, head bowed and long hair falling around his face. "I wish it had been me," he mutters softly.

"Don't talk like that, Percy!" Hermione warns him, waling to his side. "It wasn't your fault. George only blames you because you we're there, but there wasn't anything you could have done," she reminds him, brushing his hair out of his face.

"Why are you so nice to me?" He sadly asks.

Hermione sighs, "Come here." Sometimes, all people need is a hug to remind them someone cares about them. "You're my friend, Percy. For years I really looked up to you. You were actually my favourite of Ron's siblings for a while." She blushes slightly, not mentioning the crush she used to have on Ron's prefect brother.

"I know," Percy admits, breaking their embrace, but keeping her close. "You were the only one who actually listened to what I said, although, it doesn't mean you always followed my requests to stay out of trouble," he jokes. "How are you, anyway? After last night?"

"Ron told you?"

"No, I heard Ginny having a go at him when she and Harry came home. She told him to sort it out, because if she had to choose between her brother and her friend, she would choose you every time because she had plenty of other brothers," he chuckles.

Hermione smiles fondly, but she doesn't want any of their friends to have to choose between them. They're adults and they've gone through a lot worse things than a break up, they would be able to remain friends after a few awkward weeks perhaps.

"You had great timing with your break up, though. Just in time for The Marriage Decree," Percy comments. Hermione's smile falters, remembering her reason for being at The Burrow in the first place. "You know, it's not too late you take him back. The questionnaire asks if you're currently in a relationship," he suggests.

"No, our relationship wasn't working and marriage isn't going to fix our problems," she says. "Is it terrible that I felt relieved when I decided to break up with him?" She asks.

"Not at all," he laughs.

"I don't know what would be worse: marrying a friend or a stranger?" Hermione ponders aloud.

"Probably marrying someone you hate," he suggests.

"I'm trying not to hate people anymore."

"How noble of you?"

"I just don't have the time or energy," she explains.

"Even for the Slytherins?"

"Come on, Percy," she laughs. "You know McGonagall is tying to foster positive relationships between the houses, and it's easier to see them as people when you share a common room with them. Half of them have really been trying to move on," she tells him.

Percy scoffs, "Half isn't impressive when only four returned for their NEWTs."

"I'm being positive. It's not easy, and at best, I tolerate them, but Zabini and Nott have been making an effort to converse with the rest of us while Malfoy and Parkinson leave us alone."

"So you're not braiding Parkinson's hair by the fireplace?" Percy jokes.

Hermione splutters with laughter. "That's quite the image."

They hear something akin to a herd of elephants charging down the stairs until Ron, Ginny and Harry burst into the kitchen, all very much surprised to find Hermione laughing with Percy.

"What's going on here?" Ron questions, glancing between them both.

Percy steps away from her, sensing the awkward tension between Ron and Hermione. He gathers the three remaining letters from the table, handing them out. "From the Ministry."

Ron groans, snatching his from Percy and goes to throw it in the fireplace.

"I wouldn't," Hermione says. "It's different this time."

Harry and Ginny sit on the bench, curiously opening theirs together. They manage to read through the information quicker than Ron, and fall into a hush conversation. Their brows are furrowed and Ginny blinks furiously to hide her tearing eyes.

Hermione hadn't thought about how this would effect the people who are already together. Percy told her the questionnaire asks if they are currently in a relationship, but would that be taken into consideration.

Ron hums once he's finished reading, throwing his letter down on the table. Without comment, he moves to the fridge, taking out the milk bottle and drink directly from the glass.

Percy glares at his brother. "That milk's for everyone, Ron," he complains.

Ron smirks, draining the remainder of the milk. "There's another bottle, Percy."

The floorboard creaks once more as Molly Weasley emerges from the staircase in her dressing gown and slippers.

"It's like King's Cross Station in here," Molly half-scolds as she pulls on her apron and lights up the stove to make breakfast. "Hello, Hermione, I wasn't expecting to see you this morning."

Hermione smiles at the kind woman, accepting her warm hug. She feels a little nervous to be in her presence when she's just broken up with her youngest son. The hug reassures Hermione that she'll always be welcome in The Burrow.

"Are you staying for breakfast, dear?" Molly asks, pulling various breakfast meats from the fridge.

"No thank you, Molly. I've already eaten and I'm having lunch with my parents later," she assures her.

"Ron, what are you doing?" Percy questions with concern.

Hermione turns to find her ex-boyfriend scribbling away at the questionnaire, happily filing out his answers.

"What's the point in waiting?" Ron shrugs.

"Do you not care that your future is being taken away from you?" Hermione asks.

"You did that last night; I guess I've learnt to just take what life gives me at this point," Ron reminds her of last night, his tone sharp.

Hermione gasps, horrified that he would turn this on her. "This is completely different."

"What's going on?" Molly asks, having heard enough.

"You'll love this, Mum. You're going to be getting all those grandchildren you're desperate for," Ron says, handing over the first page of his letter.

Ginny bursts into tears. "Shut up, Ron," she screams before running upstairs, a concerned Harry chasing after her.

As Molly begins reading, her hand covers her mouth in shock. "I don't understand why Kingsley would do this."

"Has Arthur mentioned anything about this?" Hermione asks, wondering how many ministry workers knew about the Marriage Decree before the letters were sent out.

"Nothing. I'll ask him what he knows when he gets home. He's sure to pick up on some gossip now it's been made public," Molly answers.

"Thanks, Molly."

Percy finishes his cup of coffee, placing it in the sink to wash itself, then pulls on his jacket. "Right, I'm off to work," he announces, pressing a kiss to his mother's cheek.

"I'll walk with you, Percy," Hermione says, not wanting to be left alone with Molly and Ron.

After helping the Rebuild Hogwarts effort, Percy sought employment outside of the Ministry, which hadn't been an easy task. The majority of jobs available in Britain consisted of Ministry work, healer work, bank work or shop work. In the end, Percy's NEWT grades and studious reputation convinced Flourish and Blotts to take a chance on him. This was a decision they wouldn't regret as Percy had already earned himself numerous bonuses for his many great ideas to improve the centuries old bookshop.

"Are you heading into Diagon Alley?" Percy asks as they exit the gate onto the cobbled road running past The Burrow.

Hermione hadn't planned on it, but she did have a few errands to run. She takes Percy's proffered arm and side-apparates to Diagon Alley with him.

"I might end up in Flourish and Blotts," she tells him when they appear outside the shop.

"I might see you later, then." Percy smiles, checking his watch, then hurries to open the bookshop a few minutes late.

Hermione's first stop is Gringott's bank, where she withdraws a few galleons for her shopping trip. Most of the Christmas holiday was spent catching up with her family, so she'd not had the chance to buy her stationery supplies for the new term.

An hour later, she has visited Amanuensis Quills, Slug & Jiggers Apothecary and Madam Malkin's, so with a few sickles left in her pocket, she makes her way back to Flourish and Blotts, planning to buy a book Professor McGonagall had recommended.

As Hermione enters, Percy glances up from the front desk. "This questionnaire doesn't make any sense," he informs her.

"About as much sense as the decree then."

"You'll enjoy the part where you unknowingly write an incorrect answer and it flashes bright red in your face. I scared a customer away," he explains.

"I'll wait until I get home then," she laughs. "McGonagall recommended me a book, do you have 'Lost Transfiguration Spells from Tenth Century Europe' by Adelmo Weber?" Hermione asks hopefully.

Percy chuckles, "That's a mouthful. Let me check the ledger." He pulls out a massive leather bound book from beneath the desk. Pressing the tip of his wand to the cover, he casts a finding charm as he clearly speaks the author's name. The front cover flies open and the pages quickly flicks past until the book closes itself. "I'm afraid not. I can order it from the publisher and have it delivered to Hogwarts by the end of the month."

"Sure," she agrees, filling out an order form for the book and paying the fee. "Will I see you tomorrow, at King's Cross?" she asks.

"I'm opening the shop tomorrow too," Percy explains apologetically.

"I guess this is goodbye, then," she sadly realises, staring at the receipt in her hands.

"Until graduation," he assure her, walking around the desk to hug her goodbye. "I've already booked the day off."

"That's great," she breathes deeply before breaking their hug.

Hermione starts to leave, pulling the door open until Percy sarcastically calls, "Good luck with the questionnaire."

Laughing, she turns to wave goodbye but as her back is turned, someone walks straight into her, almost knocking her over until they grab her wrist to keep her steady.

"Sorry," a recognisable voice says, until they recognise her and their attitude changes. "Watch where you're walking!" Draco Malfoy snaps at her, dropping her wrist as though the touch burns.

"Why don't you watch where you're walking. When someone opens a door, it usually means they're going to walk through it," she retorts.

"You were taking your time. I don't have all day," Malfoy responds, looking taken aback by her reaction. "This current mood hasn't got anything to do with the Marriage Decree, has it?" he asks, a slight smirk on his face as he adds, "I'm sure you and the Weasel will be fine."

"Shut up, Malfoy." Hermione pushes past him.

Storming down Diagon Alley, she doesn't know why she feels so riled up by Malfoy. They haven't spoken much outside of class since their eighth year began, even though all eighth year students share a common room. Yet they had both just resorted to their old patterns of behaviour without a thought.

Catching sight of an empty Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, Hermione decides to take her mind off the encounter by treating herself to a hot chocolate.

As Mr Fortescue had been murdered during the war, his parlour passed down to his great-niece, Penelope Clearwater, who accepted the opportunity for a career change. Instead of business suits and walking the corridors of the Ministry, she now wore summer dresses with matching hairbands while serving customers all year round. While ice cream is still the most popular choice during the spring and summer months, during autumn and winter, customers prefer a steaming mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a topping of their choice.

Upon entering, Hermione is blasted with warmth, a stark difference from the wet and windy weather outside. After ordering her hot chocolate with a peppermint wand, Hermione leans against the counter, chatting to Penelope about the past few months. Hermione sips her drink as they catch up, then finally asks the other woman's opinion on the Marriage Decree. Penelope seems particularly worried at first, but before she can answer, the bell above the door signals another customer. Hermione bids the woman goodbye, turning on her heel to leave, only to walk straight into the customer, spilling her hot chocolate down their front.

"Shit," Hermione curses, using her napkin to dab at the spill, but it's no use, the hot liquid has already seeped through their white shirt. "I'm so sorry, let me just-" Hermione removes her wand, preparing to cast a cleaning charm.

"Don't!" Malfoy gasps, stepping away from her.

Wand pointing at his chest, Hermione looks up at the wide-eyed face of Draco Malfoy for the second time that day. "Are you following me?" She questions, concerned by the coincidence of being in the same place as each other, twice.

"No, I wanted a hot chocolate, and I guess I got what I wanted." Malfoy gestures down his stained shirt.

Hermione's eyes scan back down his chest before her mind catches up and realises she's checking him out. Her eyes snap back to his face, where his worried expression has turned into a smirk. Feeling her cheeks blushing, Hermione says, "Don't be so dramatic!"

Malfoy barks a laugh, his hand reaching out faster than a whip to grab her wrist once again, "Do you mind watching where you point that?" He asks, sending a shiver up her arm.

Puling her hand free, Hermione wonders if they've ever touched before today, because she would have remembered his hands being this cold. Perhaps it's just the cold weather outside. Pocketing her wand, she sidesteps around him and exits the parlour. After a few paces, she realises Malfoy actually is following her now.

Stopping abruptly, she turns to face him, forcing him to take an unexpected step back as she asks, "What's your problem?"

"I'm going home to change. I can't be seen in public looking like this." He wraps his winter cloak further around himself, hiding the mess she had made of his shirt.

"You know cleaning charms exist," Hermione says, shaking her head.

Malfoy's face contorts into disgust. "No, it leaves the fabric feeling rough."

Of all the things Malfoy could have said, Hermione had not been expecting that and she can't hold back her laughter. His eyes shift around, scanning Diagon Alley as he seemingly realises they're openly talking in the middle of the street. Nearby, a bell rings as a door opens and Malfoy ducks down a darkened alleyway.

Hermione stares after him, curiously asking, "Who are you hiding from?"

Malfoy stare at her for a moment before saying, "Goodbye, Granger." Then apparates away, probably to Malfoy Manor.

The thought lies heavy in her chest as a twinge shoots up her left arm, where the word 'Mudblood' was carved into her skin by Malfoy's Aunt Bellatrix in his dining room. Trying not to dwell on the past when she was trying to move forward, Hermione apparates home.

Behind the Granger's residence is a series of alleyways leading to garages for the estate they live on, as well as a small collection of trees and bushes that provide excellent cover for apparition. Upon entering her house, Hermione realises the mess she left in the kitchen, so sets about tiding up to distract herself from the questionnaire. Once the kitchen is tidy, she moves on to her bedroom and finishes packing her trunk for her return to Hogwarts the next day. By midday, Hermione has nothing left to busy herself with, so sits at the kitchen table, determined to finish the questionnaire before her parents finished work.

As promised, her parents return home with lunch, fish and chips from their local chippy.

"Howard was asking after you," her dad informs her as he helps plate their lunch. "I told him you were nearly finished with school and he wishes you luck."

"That was nice of him." Hermione smiles, having known Howard her whole life. At least once a month, she remembers walking a few streets over to Howard's Fish and Chips for the best food in the city.

Halfway through lunch, Mum asks, "Did you manage to finish packing for school?"

Hermione nods, setting her cutlery down. Now was as good a time as any to inform her parents that their only child would be getting married in July. "I received a letter from the Ministry this morning," she begins. Sensing the seriousness in her tone, her parents stop eating to listen intently. "It's bad news," she explains.

"What's going on, Hermione?" Her dad asks, his worried eyes flicking between his wife and daughter.

Unable to find the words herself, she hands over the letter so the Minister can tell them himself. She can't watch as they read through the parchment but it takes them a while to respond.

"Surely this isn't legal," her mum asks.

Dad slams the letter down on the table. "It's a breach of that new Human Rights Act?"

"That's Muggle law, dad," Hermione sighs. "We have our own government and our own laws, and now this is one of them."

"You're a war hero," her mum mentions. "Surely you should be exempt."

"I don't want any special treatment, not when the rest of my friends are going to be going through this too."

"What are you going to do, Hermione?" Dad asks, clearly not happy with his daughter getting married so soon, but obviously not wanting her to spend any length of time in prison.

"Maybe you can get married to one of your friends?" her mum suggests, trying to find her own loophole

"I've filled in the questionnaire," she tells them. "And I'm no longer currently dating anyone. It's up to the Ministry who I get married to now."

"So that's it, my little girl is getting married in six months," Mum sniffs.

Hermione's heart drops to her stomach. She hadn't realised how little time there was left. Her NEWT exams felt so long away but the Marriage Ceremony would be a month afterwards.

"She's nineteen years old, Sarah, not a child," her dad reminds them. "She's been through a lot, most of which we'll never understand, and she can handle this."

"She's still my baby," her mum scowls at her husband.

Ignoring his wife, her dad says, "Hermione, this law mentions nothing about divorcing once a- a child has been born." He looks a little peaky at the thought of being a grandfather.

"Afterwards, you'll move back home. We'll turn the office into a nursery and we'll help you in anyway we can. After all, we have plenty of experience helping your Aunt Louise out."

"Chris," Mum slaps his shoulder for criticising her younger sister.

Again, he ignores her, holding his hand out for Hermione. Once Hermione accepts the comfort, he squeezes her hand. "We've got you, Hermione," her dad assures her.

Bursting into tears, Hermione rushes around the kitchen table to hug bother he parents. For a while after returning their memories, she wasn't sure they would ever get back to how close they used to be, but she needn't have worried. They just needed a little time.

Thank you so much for reading.

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