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By 6:00 on Sunday evening, the small kitchen was filled to burst with redheads. Hermione and Ginny had spent the afternoon helping Mrs. Weasley with the roast and potatoes that they were having for dinner. As Molly set the food on the table, Hermione took her seat between Ginny and Percy.

George winked at her from across the table. "Hello, love. How was your day?"

She smirked and began to fill her plate. "Just fine, dear. And how was yours?"

"Well enough," he said, as he stabbed a bit of potato with his fork. "Gred and I have been working on a new product for the shop. A new addition for the WonderWitch line."

"Just a bit more tweaking on the formula," Fred said. "And then it will be ready for testing."

The twins glanced at each other and their lips pulled into identical, roguish grins. They really were quite handsome when they smiled like that. In Hermione's opinion, they were the most attractive out of all of the Weasley sons. And they had the charm to back it up.

Of course, she would never tell them that. Their egos were big enough already.

"Hopefully, it turns out better -"

"- than the last product we tested."

"It was supposed to make you grow scales and a tail."

"But instead, it turned Fred into a lizard."

Fred nodded. "It was an enlightening experience, but not one I really want to repeat."

She snorted and rolled her eyes at their antics. She was always amazed at the things they came up with. Their creativity was endless, it seemed.

Hermione glanced around the table. Mrs. Weasley hadn't taken her seat yet and was instead hovering over Harry and piling more food on his plate, like she always did, insisting that he was simply too thin. Bill was discussing with Mr. Weasley a recent case he had worked at Gringotts, his hand resting on Fleur's slight bump of a stomach. Fred and George were leaning towards each other and whispering. Percy was informing anyone that would listen of some promotion he hoped to receive. Ron and Harry were huddled together and chatting about the training they were doing to become Aurors while Ginny merely watched the exchange.

There was a smile on every single face and joy in their eyes. A year ago, Hermione wasn't sure that was even possible. But here they all were. They had made it through mostly unscathed. The war was over and they could finally move on and begin to heal.

There was the sound of flapping wings as a great, black owl flew in through the open window of the kitchen. Everyone stared as the bird came to land on Fleur's head. The pregnant woman let out an ear-shattering screech and began to flail her arms wildly. The owl did not budge; it only stared imperiously at the room from its perch.

"Get zis disgusting beast off of me!"

Every occupant was watching in open mouthed silence. Molly jumped into action and leaned over the table to remove the letter that was tied to the bird's leg. Once its job was completed and Molly had tossed it a bit of meat from her plate, the owl left the same way it had come.

Someone snorted. Hermione wasn't sure who it was, but a moment later, the room had exploded into laughter. The sound swelled until it filled the kitchen. Fleur, it seemed, was not amused. She scowled at the twins, who had begun to reenact the incident with exaggerated movements.

"It is not funny!"

"It was abit funny," Bill said as he wrapped an arm around his wife's shoulders. Fleur rolled her eyes at him, turning her scowl in his direction. He grinned and placed a loud, squelching kiss on her cheek.

Hermione was out of breath from laughing so hard. She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself. But when she glanced at Mrs. Weasely, Hermione's mood immediately sobered.

Molly stood rigidly, her expression something between incredulity and utter horror. She clutched the letter so tightly that her knuckles shone bone-white through her freckled skin. She shook her head and muttered, "No. No, they can't."

The rest of the room had noticed her reaction and a suffocating silence had settled.

"Molly, dear, what is it?" Arthur asked as he moved to read the letter over his wife's shoulder. His reaction was much the same as his wife's and by the time he'd finished reading, his lips had thinned into a stern line.

"What's happened? Has someone died?" Bill asked. He subconsciously tightened the grip he had on Fleur's shoulders, pulling her closer to him.

Molly shook her head. "No, no one has died. It's a letter from the Ministry. Arthur, maybe you should read it aloud."

"Er … alright, then." Mr. Weasley gently pried the piece of parchment from Molly's still clenched fingers. He cleared his throat and raised his voice so that everyone could hear him. "This letter is to inform you of an act of legislation that will soon commence. The Protection of the Wizarding Population Act, originally enacted in 1442, was created to stabilize the population in times of strife. The law states that whenever the number of magical persons drops by more than 45%, immediate action would have to be taken."

He gave a nervous look around the room. "Under this law, eligible citizens of Great Britain will be required to marry and produce offspring within two years. This applies to witches and wizards aged 18-30 who are not otherwise engaged or married."

The room resonated with cries of outrage and disbelief. Hermione couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could they do this? They had just fought a war over human rights and now the Ministry was going to force this on them? Surely, they couldn't really enforce this law?

"Did you two know about this?" George asked, jumping to his feet and aiming a glare at his father and Percy.

"No, of course not!" Percy scoffed. "I would have told you if I had."

"I'd heard of this law before, but I didn't realize that things were so dire. I had no idea that they would be implementing it again," Arthur said as he pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "This would have been the Department of Wizarding Relations. They kept it very hushed."

"Bloody hell! This is completely mad!" Ron shouted. His cheeks and ears were turning a blotchy sort of red. "They don't really expect people to go along with this, do they? I mean, I am not ready for a baby!" His features had twisted into a horrible grimace as his spit out the last word.

Hermione glanced at Ginny. She'd been sitting quietly, her hand clasped tightly in Harry's, and watching the situation unfold. She seemed a bit distressed, but wasn't up in arms about it. Because of that gleaming emerald ring on her finger, this law didn't apply to her or Harry. He had finally worked up the courage and asked her to marry him last month.

Hermione felt a twinge of envy. They wouldn't have to worry about their future. Nor would Bill or Fleur, who were happily married and expecting a child in the spring. And Charlie was exempt from the law because he lived in Romania.

Molly had retaken her seat and now sagged against the table. She looked exhausted, as if reading that letter had sapped her very life-force. "Read the rest of it, Arthur."

"A Ministry official, through a series of very extensive tests, will determine with whom each person is most compatible." Arthur had to practically shout to be heard over the continuing protests. "The couple will then have six months from the time they receive their results to marry. From their wedding date, they will have a year to conceive a child. The pairings will be determined and you will receive your results by letter later this week. Those who do not cooperate with the law will be sent to Azkaban until they conform."

Azkaban. A chill swept through Hermione. So, they really were serious about this. There was no way that she was willingly going to Azkaban, but the alternative wasn't much better.

How would some Ministry official know who was best for her? She didn't even know what she wanted anymore. Since the war, she had felt so … lost. She had spent years of her life fighting. What was she supposed to do when the fighting was done?

She had thought, once upon a time, that she would settle down with Ron after everything was said and done. She had kissed him on the night of the battle, when she hadn't been sure if she would be walking away from that place. But she had, and now, she wasn't so sure about their relationship. If you could even call it a relationship.

After all, they spent so much time arguing. And she didn't want to fight anymore. So, the only interactions they'd had since that kiss had been strictly platonic. Hermione wanted to be sure of her feelings before she rushed into anything. Maybe this compatibility test would tell her that she really was meant to be with Ron. And then maybe they could work together on their communication skills.

But what if it put her with a Slytherin or someone who had been on the other side of the war? Hermione shuddered. She wasn't sure she could handle that; the wounds were too fresh.

She supposed she could always run away. Far, far away where no one would know her name. Hermione would have no problems with living as a Muggle. After all, she'd been raised that way. But that would mean leaving behind the world that she had come to love. The world that she had sacrificed and bled for. Her heart broke at the thought. She didn't think she could do that either.

There had to be something else she could do. She could complain to the Ministry. Even if the people who worked there now weren't the ones who'd created the law, they could have repealed it long ago.

Or maybe there was a loophole that she could exploit. She would have to read the act in its entirety and dissect its language. That could take days. But if anything could come of it, she had to try.
 

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