“No, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice dropping to a more normal volume. “Do you realize how crazy this all is?”
“Surely there’s another way, Remus?” said Mrs. Weasley.
The wizard shook his head. Hermione felt overheated, like the sun was beating down on her in the middle of August, despite the cool November weather outside. She had the sudden urge to vomit all over the carpet and instead put her head between her knees. She felt the couch cushions shift and then Harry’s hand on hers. He was kneeling in front of her.
“We can break things off as soon as the political climate changes,” he said, brushing the hair out of her face as she looked up at him. “But right now it’s the only way to make sure you’re safe. I won’t let them take away your wand for good.”
“But what about you?” Hermione asked, staring into the face only inches from hers. “I can’t do that to you.”
Harry moved his hand off of hers to run it through his hair. “I won’t be able to put them off forever, Hermione. They want me married off so badly they can taste it. And I can’t do that to Ginny. I just can’t.”
Hermione was surprised at how suddenly the lump that had been forming in her throat erupted into quiet, shaky tears. When had things become so complicated? After Voldemort died, she thought the world had taken a turn for the better. But now she looked back on the war as one of the happier times in her life. There was something so profoundly sad at that thought that she thought her chest might explode from the aching she felt there.
“I can’t be here right now, can’t think about this,” Hermione said finally, rising to her feet. She looked at Remus, knowing that his eyes would be the least likely to invoke more tears. “I’m sorry.”
She turned on her heel and disapparated. It wasn’t a smart thing to do when upset, but right now she could care less if she splinched herself. When she looked up, she was surprised to see that she was not back in her flat as she had expected, but standing just inside the door of the Leaky Cauldron.
Hermione pushed the door slightly ajar with the intention of walking the rest of the way home when something stopped her. Turning back toward the room, she looked into the back corner and saw her usual table, empty and inviting. Sighing, she let the door swing back closed. If she had ever needed an excuse to drink, she certainly had one today.
She was only a little surprised when Fred and George found her there half an hour later, tears pouring down her face and a half-empty beer cupped in her hands.
“You never drink beer,” said Fred, just standing there staring at her. “You said it tastes like dirty dishwater.”
Hermione shrugged but let go of her death grip on the glass. “Fits my mood.”
The two of them sat down in their usual formation, one on either side of her. She laid her head on George’s shoulder, and a little of the anguish of her mind seemed to flow away. She hadn’t really ever realized exactly how comfortable she felt here. How many months had they been coming here? No agenda, no real plans…just a few acquaintances spending lonely evenings with each other instead of at home.
Harry and Ron were her best friends; she had always called them that. But Fred and George had been there for her more in the last year than anyone else, hadn’t they? She wasn’t sure why she’d never let herself see that.
“You know either one of us would gladly marry you instead,” said George, shifting just enough to encourage her to lift her head.
Hermione kissed him on the cheek. “I know you would, you fool. But then I couldn’t continue to make fun of your dating adventures.”
“You’re pissed I didn’t tell you,” said George. It wasn’t a question. Maybe she’d been hanging around them a little too
“I only would have made fun of you a little, you know,” she answered. Then she shrugged. “Now you’re fair game.”
Fred flagged down a barmaid and ordered firewhiskeys and a glass of red wine to replace her lukewarm beer. They didn’t speak for a while, just sat there and contemplated their beverages. Hermione felt warmer, and her head was pleasantly fuzzy. Just enough to dull the reality of her situation, keep it from overpowering her.
“Do you think I’d be crazy to go along with it? Or just crazy to refuse?” she asked. Watching the look the twins were exchanging, she wasn’t sure whether she actually wanted to hear the answer to that question or not.
“Well, look at it this way,” said George. “What is marriage, really, but some official’s signature on a piece of paper that says you’re legally attached to someone else?”
Fred nodded his agreement. “It’s like having an official roommate.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help chuckling a little. “Such romantics. Merlin, it’s a good thing I’ve got Harry so I wouldn’t be forced to marry one of you two.”
“Did I mention roommate with benefits
?” Fred added, waggling his eyebrows at her.
“Doubly glad I’ve got Harry!” Hermione said, miming a retch. Then she considered those words for half a second before she all the sudden felt like she might actually vomit for the second time in only an hour and a half. She looked at the twins, eyes wide. “You don’t think he expects….”
“Well, Mum did say she wants grandchildren,” said George, grinning slyly. “And two apiece means you and Harry better get started on your four pretty soon.”
Hermione hit him in the arm. Hard. “Oh no. I’m barely starting to get comfortable with the idea of being married to him in name only. Don’t even think about planting that idea in your mother’s head. I mean, I can’t have sex
with Harry! He’s…he’s….”
“The most eligible wizard on the planet?” said Fred.
“Wealthier than all the rest of us combined?” added George.
“The Boy Who Lived
?” they said in unison, voices dripping with overplayed admiration. Fred sighed dreamily.
!” she exclaimed. She rubbed her face, trying to get all the sudden, forceful mental pictures she was seeing out of her head. Then she heard chuckling beside her. She turned to see both twins red-faced and trying to stifle their amusement, but at her look they both burst into gales of laughter. “I’m so glad someone finds all this amusing. You wouldn’t be laughing if one of you had to marry him.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Hermione,” said Fred. “I don’t think the Ministry would look too kindly on Harry and I adopting. It would kind of defeat the purpose of perpetuating the bloodlines.”
“I think the idea of you bearing children is enough to make a Ministry official run screaming anyway,” George said. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll have a few extra and let you pretend they’re yours.” He patted his twin on the arm in playful consolation.
Hermione felt the tears prickling at her eyes again. She tried to focus her attention on her glass rather than the playful bickering of the brothers beside her, but she couldn’t tune them out, and that only made the feeling more intense. It wasn’t until she let out a shuddering sob that they noticed her long enough to stop their banter.
“Hey, you,” said Fred, pulling her over to him. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “The thought of me having children isn’t that bad, is it?”
She cried harder, curling up against him.
“Whoa, shh….” Fred sounded surprised at the force with which she was sobbing against his chest, but she couldn’t stop herself. She felt comforted by his arms around her, but at the same time it made her think on what she would lose by marrying Harry, and that fed her grief. “What’s the matter, babe? You’re scaring us here.”
Hermione concentrated on getting a hold on herself, and after a few minutes she managed to pull away. She couldn’t pull her eyes away from the wet spot on Fred’s sweater when she said, “It’s just…I always pictured myself being a Weasley. Having little ginger-haired Weasley babies. Spending Christmas at the Burrow with no walking space because your mum got her wish and there are sixteen grandchildren running around. Oh, I feel so stupid.”
“Hey, it’s not stupid,” said George, rubbing a comforting hand on her back. “You’ll always be a Weasley, whether you have the name or not. The same with Harry.”
She finally managed to look up at them, sniffling a little more at the smiles she received. Merlin, they really were some of the best men on the planet, weren’t they?
“And you can have my ginger-haired babies anytime you want,” added Fred, looking her up and down suggestively.
She couldn’t help but laugh. The heavy feeling in her chest lifted a little, and she could almost see things working out, for the first time all evening. She threw a few galleons on the table, then stood. “I need to get back to the Burrow.”
“We’ll give you a little while before we come back,” said George.
Hermione hugged them both, even managed to smile when she did it.
“And keep in mind my offer,” said Fred, a broad smile plastered on his face. He puffed up his chest importantly. “If you need me to show you a thing or two about how to keep your man happy, you know where I’ll be. After all, no point in letting Harry steal your maidenhood when there’s a perfectly good Weasley available.”
She patted him on the head and gave him a sly smile. “Whoever said I was a virgin?”
Hermione turned on her heel and left him staring at her open-mouthed. This time she apparated directly into the living room—she wasn’t going to be a Weasley, but she was going to be the next best thing, dammit. Mr. Weasley looked up at her with momentary shock, but then he smiled over his copy of the Daily Prophet.
“The others are finishing up dinner,” he said.
At that moment, Mrs. Weasley and Ron walked back into the room, Ron’s mouth stuffed so full he could barely chew. The woman practically launched herself at Hermione. “Oh dear, I was so worried.” She gave Hermione an appraising look. “You’re half-starved, child. Come have some supper.”
Hermione had to smile. Only Mrs. Weasley could look at someone who’d eaten two full meals that day and call her “half-staved.” She shook her head. “I’m okay, really. I’m not sure I could eat anything right now, though.”
The woman opened her mouth to protest, but then Remus and Harry came out of the kitchen. The older adults exchanged significant looks that they obviously didn’t think Hermione would notice. Harry didn’t smile, but he immediately pulled her into a hug.
“Look, I thought about it, and you’re right,” he said. His voice was quiet, but so was everyone else in the room. “You can go into hiding. We can keep you safe and just wait for this whole thing to blow over. Didn’t you say you had some cousins in America—?”
Hermione stopped him by holding up a hand. “I can’t live my life like that, Harry. It could be years before the changes we need are enacted. And I’d rather live too close for comfort than permanently estranged from everyone I love.”
Harry looked suddenly confused, and she found that simple fact to be terribly endearing. “Wait, what?”
“You realize this has to look real, don’t you?” said Remus.
Hermione’s mind leapt back to the discussion she’d had with Fred and George, and she wasn’t fond of the images she found there. Harry was one of her oldest, dearest friends, but could she pretend to be in love with him? Even if it was just in public? She wasn’t sure, but the alternatives weren’t looking very promising. She looked at him and said, “I understand, Remus.”
The man continued. “We all know the truth, but no one else can. You both still have enemies out there who’d love to see Hermione’s wand snapped and Harry in Azkaban, so you can’t give anyone a reason to turn you in for evading the Muggleborn Registration Proclamation.”
At that moment, there was a loud “pop,” and Charlie Weasley was standing in the middle of the room. Hermione hadn’t seen him since right after Ginny had gotten hurt, but he hadn’t changed much in a year and a half. Still, she was oddly struck with exactly how much he resembled the twins, both in his build and the lopsided grin he wore. He was more tanned, and she saw at least one burn scar peaking out from the edge of his winter cloak, but the likeness was there. She supposed it was simply that she hadn’t really spent much time around Fred and George until lately.
“Oh good, you’re still here, Remus,” said Charlie. Then he added, “Hi Mum, everyone.”
“Is Nymphadora back home?” Remus asked with the eagerness of a teenager.
Hermione had to smile at his seamless shift between businesslike underground activist and loving husband. No, not
husband, she realized. Suddenly, she grasped what George had been not so eloquently trying to say earlier. That marriage, in the Ministry sense, was really just about paperwork. Laws, proclamations…that was what the government was all about. But the true matters of the heart, that was still in their hands. Remus and Tonks had proved that much. She was still unbelievably angry that politics had robbed the population of such a symbolic gesture as marriage, but also relieved to recognize that the title didn’t have
to mean anything. She didn’t like her position any more, but it might help her live with it. For now.
Charlie nodded. “I’ve been sent to retrieve you. Just a bit of warning, though. Don’t suggest ‘Reginald Archibald’ as a baby name, even if you’re just joking. Her Stinging Hexes are really painful.” As if to illustrate, he rubbed his backside.
Remus laughed heartily. “I’ll try and keep that in mind.”
Hermione looked back at Harry, whose gaze had not left her face even to acknowledge Charlie’s presence. His eyes searched hers for a moment, and then he said, “Are we going to do this, then?”
She swallowed, trying to resist the urge to look away. There was something in Harry’s face that simultaneously scared her and gave her the reassurance to go on. “Yes, Harry. I will marry you.”
Mrs. Weasley let out a muted squeal of delight, no doubt because a wedding of any sort, falsified or not, would give her an outlet for her mothering. Hermione turned toward the family, surprised at the warmth she felt crawling into her cheeks. Smiles greeted her all around. Why was everyone so pleased? They knew this marriage would be nothing but a temporary barrier against more unpleasant things.
Harry’s expression was exactly the same as it always was lately, which was to say there was practically no discernable expression except for a vague sadness. It was comforting; he, at least, understood what they were about to do. She was sure Remus was aware as well – how could he not be, considering his own predicament – so she forgave his wide grin and chalked it up to his impending meeting with his lover. Hermione did feel the urge to give Ron a scathing glare for his satisfied smile, but she managed to restrain herself.
The only other person in the room who wasn’t smiling was Charlie. His jaw was hanging open. “Did I miss