Hermione stifled a yawn and rubbed at the ache in her eyes. She shuffled the stack of papers and dusty tomes on the table, trying to put them in some semblance of order. She had lost track of how long she'd been hunched over at the Burrow's kitchen table.
Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was nearing 7:00 AM. Hermione had managed to turn up quite a bit of information on the marriage law. She'd been poring over it endlessly since they'd received that dreadful letter.
She'd learned that the Protection of the Wizarding Population Act had been created in 1442, after Great Britain had been ravaged by an outbreak of Dragon Pox. And that even when the law was written, many had disagreed with it. However, it was decided that the act was the best way to quickly and efficiently stabilize the population.
Hermione couldn't believe that anyone could be so stupid. Of course, it was a completely different time. Back then, arranged marriages were more common than not.
She let her head fall to the table with a groan. Hermione had been at this for days now and she still wasn't able to see any sort of loophole. Whoever had written it really had thought of everything.
"Long night, dear?"
Hermione lifted her head slightly to see Mrs. Weasley watching her, her trademark motherly smile settled on her lips. Hermione nodded her head and then let it thump back down.
"I've been looking for so long. I just don't see any way out of this." Hermione's voice was slightly muffled by the wood.
She heard the clanking sounds as Molly set about making breakfast. "I'm sure you'll think of something, dear. You always do. Now, how about a cuppa?"
Hermione raised her head again and gave the older woman a thin smile. "Sounds great."
Hermione began to pack up her papers to make room for breakfast. She might as well have set them on fire for all the good they had done her. Mrs. Weasley bustled about the kitchen for a few moments before setting a chipped tea cup in front of her. Hermione sipped at it, feeling the warmth spread through her.
Mr. Weasley stumbled into the kitchen, looking a bit bleary-eyed. "Good morning," he said as he took his seat at the table.
"Morning, Arthur. Breakfast is almost ready," she said, glancing over her shoulder from her position at the stove.
There was a rustle of wings and Hermione's heart stopped. But it was only the owl that delivered the Daily Prophet every morning. Arthur removed the paper from the bird's leg and paid it. The owl screeched and flew off.
Mr. Weasley unfolded the newspaper and breathed a great sigh. "Everyone's new favorite law has made the front page again."
"Oh, what does it say now?" Mrs. Weasley asked as she sat a plate of eggs and bacon in front of her husband.
"Ministry flooded with letters of protest," he read with a wry chuckle. "I expect every person in Great Britain has written to complain. Serves them right, of course."
Mrs. Weasely made a tsk sound. "And what about you, Hermione? What would you like to eat?"
"Just toast, please." She hadn't been able to eat properly since Sunday. Every day, she waited anxiously for the results. Any sound sent her rushing to a window, searching for the letter that was going to change her life forever.
The family had already decided that when the letters did come, everyone would come to the Burrow. Then, they would open them together. They would get through this the same way that they got through everything else. As a family.
Molly was just setting the toast in front of Hermione when the twins tumbled through the fireplace. They came into the kitchen brandishing identical scowls and clutching identical thick, grey envelopes. They sat next to each other at the table, neither speaking. Just glaring at the letters in their hand.
"Oh, dear," Molly said. She hurried across the kitchen and returned with cups of tea for her sons. She sank into a chair across from them, looking as pale as she had the other night. "You two are the first. I'm sure the others will be here soon."
Arthur clapped George on the back, and gave his sons an encouraging smile. "Everything is going to be alright. You'll see."
Fred shook his head, still staring at the envelope. "I don't think I want to open it."
"I think we should just burn them all. We could say that we never got our letters," George said with a smirk on his lips.
"You two," Molly scolded. "Always setting things on fire."
"Well, what else are we going to do with our free time?" they replied in unison.
Hermione let out a tired giggle and the twins grinned at her. It was the first time they had smiled since arriving at the Burrow.
At that moment, two owls flew in through the window, one after the other, and landed on the kitchen table. Hermione felt a queasiness rush over her as she stared at the thick, grey envelopes tied to each bird's leg. She could see that one was addressed to Miss Hermione Jean Granger and the other to Mr. Ronald Bilius Weasley. She didn't think she'd be able to move, so she was grateful when Mr. Weasley removed the letters and gave Hermione hers.
Hermione stared at the Ministry of Magic's seal that was pressed into a clump of dark red wax. She now understood what the twins had meant. Now that her future was staring her in the face, she wasn't sure that she wanted to know.
She met George's eyes and smiled grimly. "Let's burn them."
Before he could respond, Percy appeared at the back door, having just Apparated from his flat. He bent to peck his mother on the cheek and then sat down primly beside her.
"I see everyone already has their letters," he said as he removed his from the pocket of his robes. "Where's Ron? I'd like to get this over with. I don't want to be late for work."
"He's still asleep," Molly said as she started towards the stairs. "I'll go wake him."
Fred pulled out his wand. "Alright, last chance to burn them."
Percy sniffed. "Go right ahead."
Fred narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his brother and, before anyone could stop him, pointed his wand at the parchment. "Incendio!"
A thin waft of smoke drifted from the paper, but it did not catch fire. Fred's brow puckered and a tiny crease formed in the middle of his forehead. "Well, that's disappointing."
"All of the Ministry documents are charmed to be fireproof," Percy explained waspishly.
The squeaking of the staircase announced Mrs. Weasley's return. Following behind her was Ron, his eyes still half-closed. When he saw his letter though, he seemed to become much more alert.
"Would anyone like some breakfast? Or tea?"
They all declined their mother's offer. Even Ron, who it seemed was always eating. Hermione looked down at her own untouched piece of toast and her cold cup of tea. She felt the nausea sweep over her again.
"Now children," Molly said, looking a tad queasy herself. She gave them a tremulous smile. "Whatever is in those letters, whatever happens, we'll get through it together."
"I'll go first," Percy said. Everyone watched with bated breath as he opened and read his letter. His expression became thoughtful as he looked up at his family. "A woman named Audrey Shepherd. I think she was a year or two ahead of me at Hogwarts. A Hufflepuff, if I'm not mistaken. I don't really know her that well."
"Oooh!" Fred cried. "Percy's got himself an older woman. The scandal!"
Percy glared at him. "Well, why don't you open yours, then? Let's see what poor woman got stuck with you."
Fred, never one to back down from a challenge, began to rip into his envelope. "Well, whoever she is, she's one lucky bird." His grin grew as he read the name of his match.
"Well, who is it?" George asked, leaning over to read his brother's letter. "Angelina? Well done, mate."
Fred shrugged, trying to play it off as if it wasn't really that big of a deal. But Hermione could tell that he was pleased with his results. She knew that they had dated on and off during school. At least someone was happy.
Molly's eyes were glistening. "Oh, that's wonderful, dear."
Ron seemed heartened by his brother's results. "I'll go next. I'll probably get Hermione," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "I mean, who else would they pair her with?"
Hermione resisted the urge to lean across the table and throttle him. She didn't want to tell him off in front of his mother, so she bit back all of the terrible things that she wanted to shout at him. Instead, she merely scowled.
However, he didn't seem to notice as he had already tore open his letter. She took a bit of vindictive pleasure when Ron's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Clearly, hers wasn't the name on the paper.
Ron was dumbfounded for several long moments. "No, no way." His voice had become rather frail. "This can't be right."
"Ron, what does it say?" his mother asked. Fear was etched across her face.
But Ron didn't answer. He just sat frozen, staring in horror at the letter. Until George leaned forward and snatched the paper from his hands.
The same shock flitted across George's face. "Luna Lovegood?"
Fred, who had been taking a drink of tea, spit it across the room. Hermione cringed in disgust. Laughter erupted out of Fred until tears poured out of his eyes. He banged his fist on the table a few times.
Ron's features took on a terrible grimace. "Oi, piss off!" he thundered and stormed out. They could hear him stomping up the stairs and into his room. The door slammed, echoing throughout the house.
Well, Hermione certainly hadn't expected that. Of course, she had seriously doubted that they would be matched. But Luna? That decision seemed a bit odd. What did they even have in common?
"I don't understand why Ron has to act like this." His mother was staring worriedly at the spot where he had disappeared. "Luna is a perfectly nice young woman. It could have been much worse."
Fred had regained himself enough to mumble, "Yeah, perfectly loony."
"He'll come around, Molly," his father replied. "Just give him some time."
"Hermione, I'm sorry." Molly had turned to face her, giving Hermione a pitying stare. "I know how close you two are."
Mrs. Weasley seemed to think that she should be upset at Ron being given to another woman. But honestly, she wasn't. She was … relieved, if anything. But she couldn't tell Molly that, so she simply nodded.
The older woman smiled. "Maybe you should open yours next?"
Hermione's stomach dropped as she opened the envelope and took out the many papers inside. The first few pages were all of the requirements and rules that she was expected to adhere to. She flipped through them until she reached the final page.
In bold letters it read, "It has been determined that you are most compatible with Mr. George Weasley."
Hermione's brain ceased functioning. Maybe sleep deprivation was playing tricks on her eyes. She blinked a few times, but the name didn't change.
George? Her and George were compatible?
"Well, Granger?" Fred asked. "Who is it?"
She glanced at George, who was watching her intently. Hermione could feel the blood rushing to her face. "You. It says I'm to marry you."
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