A/N: This is for The 2016 Monthly Prompt List Challenge for April 2016. The Prompt was "Cliché-Marriage Law".
This is a kind-of, sort-of sequel to Yuanfen because people were upset that Hermione would never know the truth. She doesn't learn the truth here, not really, but she learns a bit. Still no happy ending. Still a bit sad.
Everyone has a soulmate. The idea was absolute rubbish, of course. Even if one was willing to accept the premise that soulmates existed, which Hermione most certainly did not, then one had to acknowledge the sheer improbability of one ever meeting one's soulmate.
What if there was a 60-year age difference? What if your soulmate lived around the world in a different country? What if your soulmate died as a child? What if your soulmate were the same sex, especially in communities that forbade such relationships? What if your soulmate was a Muggle or a pureblood? There were so many variables that it was highly unlikely for any two soulmates to actually meet. Preposterous even.
That hadn't stopped it from being the latest craze in the wizarding world. Nearly every shop had some form of a 'Find Your Soulmate' spell; some were more accurate than others. It also hadn't stopped all of Hermione's friends from running out and buying some version of it.
"I don't see the point," Hermione protested.
Harry turned to frown at her. "You don't see the point of finding your soulmate?" The incredulity that he managed to convey wasn't flattering.
Hermione scowled. "No, I don't." She huffed impatiently and put her hands on her hips. "It isn't as though they really exist. These, these people are just taking advantage of a bunch of …" Hermione trailed off to silence when she caught the ferocious glare that Harry was sending her way.
"Just because you don't agree with it doesn't mean that it isn't so, Hermione," Harry snapped. "I would have thought that you would have learned that by now."
Oh wow. That hurt more than Hermione would have thought. She couldn't help the flinch, and she turned away from guilty look in Harry's eyes.
"I have to go," she muttered over her shoulder.
"Hermione, wait," Harry called after her.
She ignored him and moved faster.
"What's this then?" Ron asked with a frown. He looked over at Hermione and proffered the paper. "Do you understand any of this?"
The Daily Prophet was grandly proclaiming the bold, new initiative from the Wizengamot. Hermione picked up the newspaper and frowned at the article that took up most of the front page. Cold rage filled her as she scanned the information.
Wizengamot Endorses Younger Generation's Soulmate Fad!
By Hereward Allswop
This reporter had the opportunity to listen to the Wizengamot's latest initiative, designed to bolster the British wizarding world's flagging birth rate. As many of our readers are aware, soulmates spells have risen in popularity astronomically since the end of the war, with many Diagon Alley businesses giving them pride of place in their establishments, and selling different versions. The Wizengamot has chosen to capitalize on this new trend with our young witches and wizards. A mandatory soulmate testing for all unmarried witches and wizards aged 17 and over, and graduated from Hogwarts will be implemented starting this June. All matched couples will have one year to marry before they begin to incur penalties.
The article continued, explaining that studies had shown that soulmate matches had a higher percentage of magical births, and that this could lead to a reduction in Squib births. There was a list of exemptions on page A8 and Hermione snorted under her breath as she flipped to that section in the newspaper.
"Hermione?" Ron prompted her.
"It's a Marriage Law," Hermione replied. She sighed and looked up from the Daily Prophet. "They think that couching it as a free Soulmate Search will somehow make it easier for the public to swallow."
Ron flashed a teasing grin at her. "Oh, well that's fine then. We'll just do the soulmate thing and it will match us up together." He waggled his eyebrows playfully and Hermione rolled her eyes at him.
"That isn't the point, Ronald. They're trying to force people to get married, and they're using this stupid soulmate fad as a way to make the public swallow it," she explained .
"It isn't stupid," Ron said in a stiff, quiet voice.
"Ron," Hermione protested. "You can't believe in soulmates."
"Maybe I do." Ron wouldn't meet her eye and focused on picking at the cuff of his shirt.
"And you're willing to marry whomever the Ministry decides is your soulmate?" Hermione demanded. "What if they decide that it's Malfoy?"
Ron rolled his eyes at her. "It's not Malfoy."
"But you don't know that, Ronald. It could be," Hermione pointed out. "And the Ministry would force you to marry him."
"I thought you didn't believe in them," Ron snapped in frustration.
"I don't," Hermione snapped back. "But you do. And you're willing to marry whomever… just because they're your soulmate."
"Well, they'd be my soulmate, wouldn't they?" Ron said with a shrug.
Hermione stared at him. "I can't believe that you would just… give up without a fight."
"But it would be my soulmate, Hermione," Ron repeated, frowning at her. "Would you deny your soulmate?"
"If they existed?" Hermione retorted.
"Yeah," Ron agreed.
"I… they don't exist, Ron," Hermione protested.
Ron shrugged again.
Malfoy was not Ron's soulmate; he was Harry's.
"You're going to marry Draco Malfoy," Hermione said in a slow, careful voice. She was rather proud of how calm she sounded. She hoped that she could keep it up.
"Yeah," Harry agreed.
"And he knows that you're planning on marrying him?" Hermione asked cautiously.
"I wasn't planning on kidnapping him, if that's what you're asking," Harry retorted.
"Good," Hermione muttered. "That's… that's good."
"Hermione… Ron said that you're having trouble with this," Harry said carefully. "You've refused to submit to the soulmate search and you've tried to file injunctions against the Wizengamot."
"This is wrong," Hermione protested. "If this Marriage Law thing were done any other way—people would be protesting in the streets. Instead, they're acting as though it's this great marvelous thing—even though the government is forcing people to get married."
"They're helping people find their soulmates, Hermione," Harry reminded her. He frowned at her and sighed. "Most people think that's a good thing. So many of us lost so much during the war. It's… it's nice to think that there is someone just for you out there."
The last injunction had been denied. It had gotten to the point where Hermione was beginning to have S.P.E.W. flashbacks. Everyone loved the Wizengamot's new initiative—they all wanted to find their soulmate. Hers was the lone voice, crying out in the wilderness, against the Marriage Law. The Daily Prophet had walked a fine line, but had heavily implied that Hermione was either mentally unhinged or was suffering from some strange desire to deny happiness to everyone including herself.
The speculative glances that Hermione garnered as she marched into the Ministry of Magic did nothing to allay her fears. With a heavy sigh she reported to the Office of Soulmates. What a ridiculous title for a department! She fumed silently as she waited her turn behind a group of giggling girls who had obviously just graduated from Hogwarts.
"Name?" The clerk asked in a bored tone.
"Granger, Hermione," she replied with a sigh.
The clerk blinked and looked up at her in surprise. "Miss Granger! You have your letter?"
Hermione handed over the letter that she had received from the Ministry earlier that week. The clerk looked it over and nodded. He pulled out a form and flicked his wand at it.
"Very good. Do you have any preference?" The clerk looked up at her curiously.
"Preference?" Hermione echoed.
"For the type of soulmate spell used," the clerk explained.
"No, not really," Hermione replied.
"Let's just use the standard then," the clerk decided.
The spell in and of itself was simple and over with before Hermione realized it. The clerk was frowning at the results.
"Well?" Hermione demanded.
"I… I'm very sorry, Miss Granger," the clerk told her with a sympathetic expression. He waved a hand and gave her a sad smile. "You aren't the first, though I'm sure that isn't any comfort. The war, you know."
"I'm not the first what?" Hermione asked with a frown of her own.
"Well, see here? This means that your soulmate is deceased. You're exempt from the current Marriage Law, of course. If you'll hold on a moment I'll make a copy of the results for your personal documents," the clerk explained in a gentle voice.
"What?" The stilted, high voice didn't even sound like her. Hermione swallowed and tried again. "I don't understand."
"Here. This is your personal copy," the clerk said and shoved a piece of parchment into her hands. "See this line here? If your soulmate were alive the name would be listed in red. There is no name and it reads mortuus in black. Your soulmate is deceased."
But I don't have a soulmate, Hermione wanted to protest. The words died on her tongue and she accepted the polite condolences of the clerk who appeared to be genuinely upset on her behalf.
"So many of you," the clerk muttered and shook his head. "It's sad really. It just shows how many people we've lost."
"Thank you," Hermione replied on auto-pilot.
The weirdest part was not the strange sympathy that all of her friends bestowed on her. It wasn't even the widow-status that the Ministry assigned her—even though she'd never been married—and the widow's pension they issued her. It wasn't even the way that strangers looked at her with pity. Poor Hermione Granger, she never even knew her soulmate.
I don't even believe in soulmates, she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs. The only reason that she did not was that no one would believe her anyway. No doubt the Daily Prophet would run a story about her coping with her grief by denying the reality of soulmates.
No, the weirdest part was that… maybe… she was beginning to believe… a little.
"Mr. Malfoy," Hermione said with a polite stiffness that made Harry sigh and Draco blink at her. "How do you take your tea?"
"Milk first, ma'am," Draco murmured diffidently.
"I hate that, you know," Hermione muttered.
Draco stared at her for a moment. "I beg your pardon?"
"People calling me ma'am. I wasn't married. I'm not a widow. This whole thing is driving me mad," Hermione snapped. She set down the tea pot with a little thunk that made Draco flinch. "Does your mum have any pet charities? I've been thinking about donating my bloody widow's pension to St. Mungo's or orphaned kneazles or something."
A faint smile twisted Draco's lips. "Mother might know of something."
"Lovely," Hermione muttered. She sighed and glared at Harry. "He's good for you. The bastard."
Draco blinked again. "Thank you?" He looked to Harry. "That was a compliment, yes?"
"Yeah," Harry agreed. Then he smirked at Hermione. "Widowhood hasn't agreed with our Hermione. She's gotten shirty with pretty much everyone."
Only the quick reflexes of a Seeker helped Harry when Hermione chucked a scone at his head.
"I hate this," Hermione muttered some time later. Harry scooted his chair next to hers and slid an arm about her shoulders.
"I know you do, love," Harry tried to soothe her. He pressed a light kiss to her temple.
"I was fine," Hermione protested. She looked at Draco who was watching them with an expression of thoughtful speculation. "I was just… I was happy, you know? I had Harry and Ron, and I thought that someday I'd settle down and marry someone, but not any time soon. Now… everyone looks at me as though I'm some kind of pathetic creature."
"They do not," Harry protested as soon as she paused for breath.
"They do," Hermione countered with a stubborn tilt to her chin. "They pat my arm and cluck at me. I'm the brightest witch of my age! I'm bloody brilliant, is what I am. I'm going to be the youngest Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement—you mark my words—and they all act as though I'm something to be pitied."
"I think it's guilt," Draco offered quietly. Both Harry and Hermione turned to stare at him. Draco shrugged helplessly. "They see you and all of the other soulmate widows and widowers and they know what's been taken from you and… they're consumed with guilt."
"That's ridiculous," Hermione protested.
"Look, how many people did you have to kill," Draco asked in that same quiet voice. He blanched and looked at his hands. "I… this whole thing has made me wonder if maybe I didn't kill someone's soulmate. If maybe I'm not responsible for the fact that someone else will never get to have what I have with Potter."
"Harry," Harry muttered.
Draco shrugged again and Harry heaved a put-upon sigh that made Hermione's lips twitch.
"Yes, look at all of the fun you're missing," Harry told her in a snippy voice. "You could have someone who insists on calling you Granger in bed."
"Oh, ew, Harry," Hermione protested. She adored Harry more than she could say, but the thought of him and Draco Malfoy… no. She made a face at him. "That's the very last thing I needed to know."
"It's a habit," Draco defended himself.
"Well it's a mood-killing habit," Harry retorted.
Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. "It doesn't appear to be."
"Enough!" Hermione said loudly. She threw up her hands in supplication. "I see what you are both trying to do, and I thank you for trying to distract me. Draco," she said his given name pointedly and offered him a small smile. "I appreciate what you said. I hadn't thought about it that way before. I will do my very best not to smack anyone for calling me ma'am."
Draco nodded. "I will speak to Mother. She'll probably extend an invitation to tea," Draco paused and grimaced slightly. "She's been staying in the Dower House, so any invitation will be for there."
"Thank you for telling me," Hermione said. It was kind of Draco to make sure that she knew that it would not be an invitation to the Manor. She made her own grimace and shook her head. "I don't think I could… thank you. Please extend my courtesies to your mother."
"Of course," Draco said with an abortive half-bow. He turned to Harry. "I ought to go, let you and Hermione visit alone for a bit."
"No," Hermione said firmly. "Please stay." She offered him a tray of biscuits with an uncertain smile.
While the whole idea of soulmates still made Hermione want to scoff loudly… it meant something to Harry and to Ron, and for them she would grind her teeth and try to be kind to their soulmates. Honestly, being polite to Draco Malfoy was actually easier than dealing with a smugly self-righteous Lavender Brown. Draco gave her another hesitant, almost-smile and took one of the biscuits. His grey eyes assessed her for a moment and then his head dipped slightly.
"Thank you," he murmured.
"Not at all," Hermione replied firmly. She glanced at Harry, who was watching them both with a fond expression, and then sighed. "You are Harry's family, and that makes you mine, as well."
A light flush settled on Draco's pale cheeks and he glanced at Harry before turning to look at Hermione. He cleared his throat and the flush darkened.
"For me as well," he admitted quietly.
Hermione wasn't quite sure how to answer that, so she sipped at her tea. Draco and Harry argued quietly over who got the last chocolate bikkie and she found herself smiling at the both of them whispering vehemently. This whole soulmate thing was still an utter crock, and she still hated the stupid Marriage Law with everything she had, but this… this was all right.