The next morning seemed to pass in a flash of breakfast and hugs and people running around in last-minute preparation for Fred and Hermione’s wedding, and it felt to Hermione like only minutes had passed before she found herself in a bedroom with Fleur, wearing an elegant wedding dress and the loveliest hairdo that she had ever seen on herself.
“This is beautiful, Fleur,” Hermione said, and thanked the other witch as she finished her make-up with one wave of her wand. Ginny’s approval having been established, they both swept down The Burrow’s stairs and into the living room, where Charlie was waiting for them, in his dress robes.
“Are you ready, my lady?” he asked, as he offered his arm. Fleur gave Hermione a kiss on the cheek, as Hermione murmured another thank you, and she pressed Ginny’s hand excitedly before running outside in that graceful Beauxbatons style, to take her seat in the garden beside Bill.
“I am as ready as I will ever be, Charlie,” Hermione replied, smiling widely as she put her hand in Charlie’s and allowed him to lead her to the back of the area that had been prepared for the wedding.
Lee waved to them from the side of the garden and Charlie gave him a thumbs up. As Lee started the music, Charlie led Hermione slowly down the aisle down to the front where Fred and George stood, together with a beaming Kingsley. Ginny followed after them and smiled broadly as she took her place beside Hermione.
“Dearly beloved witches and wizards,” Kingsley began. “On behalf of the Weasley family, I am delighted to welcome you to The Burrow. We are gathered here on this summer solstice day to celebrate the bonding of Hermione Jean Granger and Fred Gideon Weasley and to celebrate their love together until the sun goes down. I know this will be a surprise to some of you, but Hermione, Fred and their family have invited you here today to witness the sharing of their love and the creation of an eternal bond that cannot be broken.”
Fred looked at Hermione and winked. “Alright, love?” he asked her.
She nodded back. “Bit nervous, but excited,” she whispered. He took her hand into his and squeezed it gently.
“Do you have the binding cord, George?” Kingsley smiled at the redhead.
The cord was duly passed to Kingsley, who asked Hermione and Fred to lift their entwined hands and wrapped it three times around them. He spoke some magical words softly over the cord and told the crowd that the time had come for Hermione and Fred to say their vows. “Now is the time,” he smiled to the assembled wizarding folk, “in which, if anyone has a concern about this union, they should speak their piece or forever hold their peace.” He smiled to himself at his play on words.
A crack sounded near the back of the seating area, and they heard Lee shout, “Oi!”. For a moment afterwards there was complete silence, and then a high-pitched voice was heard.
Hermione, Fred, George and Ginny wheeled round to see a pink-clad Dolores Umbridge standing at the other end of the aisle holding a green piece of paper aloft in her hand.
“I am SO sorry to interrupt...”
“Oh, bugger,” said Fred, grasping Hermione’s hand more tightly.
“But I do believe, Minister, that this is an illegal marriage.” Her voice sounded sweet and reasonable but held a note of disgust.
Several guests gasped. Some hadn’t seen or heard of Umbridge since she had left Hogwarts after administering cruel and unusual punishments to students. Many of the assembled witches and wizards seemed surprised to see her, thinking that she had been dealt with, although there had been so much chaos since the war had ended and the Daily Prophet was such an unreliable source of information that it was hard to keep up with the many happenings of the wizarding world.
“Excuse me?” Hermione was proud to see Percy rise from his seat, standing up straight and addressing the ex-High Inquisitor. “I do not believe that my family invited you to our party, so perhaps you could explain your presence?”
“I do not,” she said condescendingly to Percy, “need to explain my presence to you or to any of your family, Mister Weasley. I am here to address the Minister and the Minister alone.”
Kingsley put a reassuring hand on Hermione and Fred’s hands, which were still clasped and held by the binding cord. Hermione’s mind raced. As the three of them were now in physical contact, she could apparate them out of there together and perhaps they could continue the bonding. But where would they go? And what would the implications be? Didn’t they need George and Ginny as witnesses for the marriage to be legal? She wondered if she could whisper to Fred to grab hold of George while she reached for Ginny’s hand. But would her magic be strong enough to side-along them all at the same time? She had never heard of such a thing being done before and felt worried at the thought that she might hurt those most dear to her with her crazy plan. No, she needed to think of a better one.
In the meantime, Kingsley was keeping his voice low as he addressed the intruder. “Then kindly hurry up and address me, so that we can get on with our festivities.”
“Oh I think not,” a smirk crossed Umbridge’s face and she picked some imaginary lint off her pink two-piece suit. As she began to speak again, she slowly walked up the aisle, punctuating her words carefully with pointed glances around the room. “There is, is there not, a temporary ban on wizarding marriages until Monday morning, Minister? So perhaps you could tell me, in my capacity as a respected member of the Wizengamot, precisely why this marriage license was registered with your signature on at the Ministry of Magic not half an hour ago?”
“The sneaky cow,” breathed Kingsley, so that only Fred and Hermione could hear. “I left it until the last possible moment to give us the best chance of being undetected. She must have put some kind of trace on the licensing process.”
In a louder voice, he said, “Madam Undersecretary Umbridge, I think you’ll find the marriage licence is legally registered and completely in order. I double checked and signed it myself.”
“Minister Shacklebolt,” Umbridge raised her voice slightly, but the simpering, sickly smile remained fixed on her smug face.
“Bloody woman,” grumbled George under his breath. “I’m going to hex her.” He reached for his wand. “Slugs, toads or worms, love?” he asked Hermione.
“This really is most irregular.” Umbridge wasn’t going to be daunted by the dirty looks that she was getting from the wedding guests. “I insist that you put a stop to these proceedings forthwith. I have informed the other members of the Wizengamot and it has been decided that we will have a full hearing at the Ministry at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, after which the Wizengamot can decide whether or not this wedding will be allowed to go ahead. Aurors are on their way.”
Hermione’s heart sank. She knew that the marriage law would pass first thing tomorrow. They had come so close, only for her chances to be dashed. She and Fred had only needed to say their vows and make love before the sun rose again the next day, and they would have been bonded forever. She would have been safe, and they would have been each other's.
She should have known that things were all going too well. She had enjoyed such a wonderful day yesterday, in the bosom of her adopted family, and the loveliest date with Fred the evening before. Tears filled Hermione’s eyes as she realised that, if Umbridge had anything to do with it, that might not just have been their first date but their only date. Umbridge had always hated Hermione and she was clearly delighted that she had found an opportunity to ruin her life in this way.
Sobbing in despair, she turned to the man she loved. “Please, Fred, don’t let her do this!”