Hermione returned to her flat drained of all energy. She was not a witch easily defeated. She fought Voldemort throughout her school years for Merlin’s sake! It took a lot for Hermione Granger to have the fight in her body and brain depleted. And this? This was what broke her.
She’d been in a twelve-round legislative battle. As a legislative aide to the Minister of Magic, one of the youngest and brightest, she’d been working against a certain bill. A bill Hermione saw as the end of peacetime. A bill that Hermione would go to her grave cursing. A bill Hermione thought immoral and suspect. It was a Marriage bill. Although she supposed now, she would have to come to terms with the fact it was now a Marriage Law .
She had made valiant legal and moral arguments. She had lobbied members of the Wizengamot. She had garnered support in the wizarding media. And yet, when the cards fell, she was on the losing side. She was not used to losing. It did not feel good.
The bill- the law, she corrected herself mentally- was called The Decree To Unite Wizarding Society Through Espousal (DUWSTE or “the dusty” as Ron and others had taken to calling it). It mandated that every unmarried witch and wizard ages 21 to 35 be married. Yet this was not the only mandate. It required pureblood wizards to marry muggleborns or first-generation half-bloods. And still, yet, this was not the most repulsive thing about the law to Hermione. The second most repulsive thing about this would be that the pairs would be determined by magic. The members of the Wizengamot who initially proposed this law had charmed a goblet (which reminded Hermione of the disastrous consequences of a certain goblet of fire in her fourth year) to spit out names “appropriately” matched. The pairs would be revealed in a ceremony in one week’s time. The worst item in the proposal- now law- was the Child stipulation. Couples must produce at least one magical child within three years of marriage. There were invasive measures to be taken which would determine levels of fertility and whether the couple has made attempts at the child-making process. Hermione found this despicable. No matter how sterile the language was, the details were reprehensible. The idea that any man or woman would be forced to stand by, having their privacy completely disregarded in such a crude manner was shameful.
Hermione accused the law of depriving wizards and witches of agency and publicly ridiculed the idea that whatever charm the proponents had placed upon the goblet would result in “loving and harmonious couples” as a farce.
But all of her fighting was for not because the bill had passed, although narrowly. She had been biting at her nails as the final votes were cast. When Wilhemina Walters cast her yay vote, Hermione had nearly broken down in tears. There were two more members to vote after that but Wilhelmina, one of the swing votes, had put it in the pocket of the bill’s proponents. Once the final result was called, (“The Decree to Unite Wizarding Society Through Espousal has passed the Wizengamot for immediate enactment. Notices to the relevant wizards and witches will be sent out on Monday via the Minister of Magic’s office. This session of the Wizengamot is hereby adjourned.”) Hermione fled from the chamber and found herself bent over the toilet, throwing up her guts like her lunch was slugs and she was Ron in second year.
Hermione shook her head as she felt another round of tears welling up. She could not believe this was happening. In one week, she would find out who she was marrying. Her mind drifted thinking of the possibilities. There were few men she actually liked and was comfortable around. There was obviously Harry and Ron whom she loved. But neither of them was an option. Harry and Ginny had been married a year and a half ago. Ron was engaged to Susan Bones as of seven months ago, prior to this bill being an issue. The Dusty (she was now resolved to not give it more respect than it deserved) had a stipulation that if you were engaged prior to the enactment of the law with proof of the date, you were not subject to the matching “service”. However, if you submitted a waiver under the engagement clause you must marry within three months of the enactment of the law. The other male friends she had were similarly tied up in relationships. Neville proposed to Hannah Abbott a month ago- not because of the law, but because they were in love. Although Hermione had her suspicions about whether Neville and Hannah rushed it because of the law. There was George who had eloped with Angelina Johnson (now Weasley) a few months ago. They both outright admitted that it was because of the law. They did not see any purpose of waiting if they were going to be forced to marry. There were Dean and Seamus but they’d been married since the day after the Battle of Hogwarts.
The only single male friend she had was Blaise Zabini. Zabini was also a legislative aide to the Minister of Magic. They’d fought together against the bill but he hadn’t been quite so invested. He proposed to her daily, knowing she was annoyed at the prospect of marrying not out of an abundance of choice and love. The proposals were never serious. Blaise had said if the bill passed, he was sure he could put up with whoever he was matched with. He knew he was charming and he didn’t really believe in true love after all. Blaise made fun of Hermione for being a closet romantic. She huffed but she knew it was true.
A knock at her door pulled her from her reverie. She made her way to the door without much enthusiasm. Looking through the peephole which glowed green for “safe and familiar”, she saw it was Ginny. She opened the door to her friend’s too bright expression.
“I have wine and I have chocolate. Let’s mourn the end of your singlehood.”
Hermione felt her eyes well up.
“Oh, no. Don’t do that. Drink!” Ginny shoved her way into her flat and pushed Hermione to the couch and went about getting wine glasses from the kitchen, leaving the large bag of chocolates on Hermione’s lap. Hermione sighed deeply before tearing into a hazelnut vanilla chocolate.
They spent hours gossiping about anything other than the law. They got drunk and they ate chocolate and called for takeout delivery. But once properly lubricated, Ginny broached the topic.
“Soooo… at least this means you’ll finally get laid again.” Ginny said with a slight but noticeable slur to her voice. Hermione, being a lightweight, had a loose enough tongue to not just shake her head at Ginny.
“No way! I don’t wanna get ministry-mandated-sex for the rest of my life! I should-” She hiccoughed. “I should have gotten laid more often.” She sighs.
“You should have. But you were too busy fighting the damn dusty to do much of anything except eat, sleep, and be dragged for-forcibibibily to social gatherings on the weekend sometimes by my husband and me.” Ginny finished her statement and Hermione was about to reply indignantly (she didn’t have to be dragged per se) but Ginny sat up abruptly. “I have an idea! An excellent idea!”
“Oh no. What?” Hermione knew to be on guard when drunk Ginny had an idea.
“You still have time! You have a week til you get your partner. Even then, who says you can’t have a fling before you get married? It’s not like it’ll be a particularly romantic relationship in the three months they give you to get to know each other before marrying you off.”
“You want me to have a fling?”
“I want you to get laid. I want you to have sex that you won’t hate. I know you. No matter how nice the guy is, how attractive he is, or how big his cock is, you won’t be satisfied with ministry-mandated sex!”
“That’s right at least. It’ll always be in the back of my mind that this is something that I didn’t want, that would be forced upon me.” She sighs, expecting tears to come but they don’t. Maybe she’d run out.
“So that’s that. Tomorrow we’ll go out for a girls’ night, inviting Luna and Susan and Hannah, that will result in you getting laid at some bloke’s apartment and us married and engaged folks will go home and get laid by our husbands-fiances.” Ginny lacked tact sober. When drunk, she certainly didn’t pull punches.
“One, way to put a fine point on it. Two, you expect me to have a one night stand?” She said doubtfully. “How am I gonna find someone? I know all of wizarding London pretty much. I’ve been out with a couple of people and either they were deeply uninteresting or uninterested in me.”
“I doubt the latter was true for anyone, first of all. Second of all, we’ll go to a muggle club. You can have hot, completely noncommittal sex with a muggle and it’ll be fun! I promise!” Hermione looked at her friend with doubt, amusement, and a bit of insecurity in her eyes. “I promise!” Ginny repeats. With that, they move on to other topics but the idea Ginny has planted has taken root in Hermione’s mind. She had one week of freedom where she wouldn’t be government-mandated engaged. She’d spend it having fun and thumbing her nose at the ministry.
That had been a Wednesday night. Hermione woke up Thursday with a hangover and owled in sick for the day at work. She wasn’t ready to show her face. If she saw Joanna Gibson or Todd Travers, she might have punched their pretty little noses. Joanna and Todd were both legislative aides of Norris Baumbach, the senior member of the Wizengamot who was responsible for pushing the bill through. Hermione despised the two of them. Travers was the cousin of a convicted Death Eater and his Slytherin ambition was crystal clear to Hermione. Travers would do anything to clear his family name- and that included playing dirty, provided he wasn’t caught. Joanna Gibson was an obnoxious Ravenclaw half-blood who, while she wasn’t as dirty as Travers, was significantly more a bitch. Hermione didn’t want to see their smug expressions. All the legislative aides worked on the same floor and there would be no avoiding them once at the ministry.
She spent Thursday eating fast food and peanut butter cups. She watched The Notebook and caught up on a muggle romance novel she’d started months ago. She received several owls from friends with good wishes but she didn’t have the energy to respond. She promised herself she would wake up early tomorrow and reply but today was a day that she reserved for herself.
On Friday she woke up early like she said and responded to everyone.
To Harry, she wrote,
I’m fine. Ginny should keep her mouth shut. I know you’ll always be there for me and I appreciate it. I’m getting ready tomorrow at yours so we can talk more then. Love you.
To Ron and Susan (though the note from them had been distinctly Susan with a postscript distinctly Ron), she wrote,
I’m fine. I always knew it was a possibility. Love you guys. We should meet for lunch next week. Trust me, I’m determined to have this damn thing affect my life in the least amount of ways possible. Speaking of, Susan, would you like to join Ginny and a few others and me on a girls night out tomorrow? Also, Ron, I happily accept your offer to blow my future husband’s bits to smithereens if he lays an unwanted hand on me. Love you guys too.
She answered Luna, Kingsley, and Neville’s notes next before moving on to the final one. The one from Draco Malfoy. They rarely spoke. Malfoy was occasionally around the office when he came to visit Blaise and they had worked together once when Hermione was working on legislation that she needed a master potioneer’s help with. Hermione found him to be every bit as arrogant and obnoxious- though even she could see he was not the boy he once was. For one, he was very much a man, as loathe as she was to admit such a thing. Yes, Draco Malfoy had grown into his pointy features and his skin no longer looked unhealthy- though it was a far cry from tanned.
The note from Malfoy had been short and had sparked a fire in her that had previously been put out.
Blaise tells me you owled in sick to work. Never thought you’d be so easily defeated. All these years of poking at you and you let a little thing like a ‘lowly despicable immoral’ law that cast shade on all our futures defeat you. Tsk, tsk. What’s that muggle saying? Don’t let the bastards get you down? Get back up, Granger.
She was irritated. She was mystified. She felt like she had been confunded. So she wrote back to the best of her ability.
Firstly, you made an inaccurate assumption. I simply wasn’t feeling well. Don’t presume to know me. Secondly, why must you Slytherins be so shady about your meaning? I can’t tell where you stand on this law. You certainly never spoke out against it. Nor in favor of it. Though I’m guessing your bigoted little mind would be against it- poor Draco Malfoy could never sully himself with a muggleborn, surely it’d be beneath him. Curious that you didn’t speak out. Or did you just not want to be on the same side as me? Thirdly, you made a common muggle mistake. The actual phrase is don’t let the bastards grind you down. Don’t worry, happens to the best of us. Fourthly, I will be back at the ministry today but not simply because you told me to so don’t go getting a big head thinking your words of wisdom somehow prompted my miraculous recovery. Fifthly, why are you writing to me? What do you get out of this?
Sincerely sod off,
Hermione made a noise at the back of her throat, proud of her note but distinctly uncomfortable that Malfoy had contacted her about this. Even more so uncomfortable that he was encouraging her. Albeit in a very arrogant way. Could she expect anything different from Draco Malfoy?
She shook it off and hurried off to the ministry, determined to turn her legislative tide. She was at her desk for only a few minutes before Blaise sat down across from her and slid a steaming cup of coffee her way.
“Oh, bless you!” Hermione gushed.
Blaise smiled and replied, “I didn’t sneeze but you’re welcome.” Then his expression changed from jovial to sober which was a disturbing trend as Hermione had so rarely seen that change. “So how are you feeling?” Hermione huffed at this question. She’d probably be fielding it a lot for a little bit.
“I’m fine.” She insists. He gives her a look that says don’t lie to a liar. “I’ve made a plan. All I’ve ever needed was a plan.” Blaise snorted.
“You’re not running off with Potter to defeat You Know Who.” Even after all these years, many still wouldn’t say his name. No matter how often she would insist to Blaise that fear of the name blah blah blah. “You’re going to be married. And he could be the most charming bloke and you’re going to despise him. You’re not fine.”
“Ginny said something similar.” She blushed remembering Ginny’s comments about her mystery husband’s dick. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. There’s no more fighting it. At least not outright.” Blaise squinted in a very Slytherin manner.
“What exactly do you have planned Golden Girl?” He asked.
“Wouldn’t you just love to know.” She winked at him. He leaned back and grabbed his heart in a sarcastic but friendly manner. She laughed at his antics. “Back to work, back to work.” She made a shooing motion with her hand and he rolled his eyes at her.
Hermione was working on another Goblin fair pay bill because the last one had come out so toothless its supporters waned and its antagonists still voted no. Getting the Goblins to work with her on it had been a beast of a task in the first place. Now she had to go back to Moregi, the appointed Goblin liaison to the ministry, and beg for his cooperation once again. He was a cynical creature, to begin with, and with the latest defeat, he was growing more so. She couldn’t blame him though. It was rather defeating.
She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair. It seemed nothing was going right. She knew when she took the job that it would not be easy and she was not the kind of person who could leave work at the office and not pour every ounce of herself into what was in front of her. Before The Dusty, Hermione had fantasized about true love, being the closet romantic she was. She had dreamed of a partner to come home to, a partner who would make her want to leave it all behind her when she stepped through the floo. Her heart twinged as she kissed this fantasy goodbye. She’d be chasing work even harder than usual once she had her ministry-appointed husband in her ministry-assigned place of residence.
“So is that what you do all day to get it to look that way?” A distinctly arrogant voice pulled her out of her reverie.
“What are you on about this time Malfoy?” She groaned, not looking up. He came around from time to time despite not having any official ministry position. Malfoy was the first of the Malfoy men to take up an actual career that wasn’t flitting about in politics and investments. He was an apprentice to Ollivander. Hermione always did wonder about that relationship given that Ollivander had been trapped in his family’s dungeons.
“Your hands. Mussing about in the mess you call hair.” He drawled. She looked up at him and gave him a cruel look.
“I imagine your hands spend plenty of time in your hair, massaging the pounds of hair product into it.”
“Yes, and I imagine it would take absolutely massive pounds of hair product to tame your hair an inch.” He tossed back.
“Pounds can’t be massive. It’s a definitive measurement, you can’t qualify it.” She informed him, satisfied with herself. Malfoy opened his mouth to retort but found himself interrupted by his best friend.
“What are you annoying Granger about this time, Draco?” Blaise asked.
“Oh, we all know Granger’s apparent annoyance at me is all just an act for how much she fancies me.” Blaise raised an eyebrow at this. Malfoy just smirked.
“You possess the charm of an acromantula to me, Malfoy.” She put her head down, back to the legislative work that awaited her. Blaise laughed at his two friends and sat back with his feet up on his desk.
“What brings you this way, Draco?” Blaise asks.
“Checking to see that Granger hadn’t offed herself yet and to take you to lunch, Blaise.” Draco said casually. Hermione looked up sharply and stood in the next second.
“I’ll have you know I’m doing perfectly fine!” She’d reached her wit’s end of everyone treating her like she’d suffered a personal tragedy and Malfoy’s casually cruel comment set her off. “Or I will be, very soon.” She said more to herself than the two men in front of her.
“Ah, yes. The plan.” Blaise said.
“Yes. The plan.” Hermione turned up her nose, resisting the urge to stomp her foot.
“What plan are you referring to?” Draco asked Blaise, knowing he wasn’t likely to get a response out of her.
“She won’t tell me. Just something that involves her indirectly fighting The Dusty.” Blaise informed Draco.
“Zabini!” Hermione reprimanded. She didn’t need Malfoy peering into this. Meanwhile, Malfoy just scoffed.
“The language of the law is quite precise. You know it damn well. What could you possibly do?”
“I’m taking back control of my life.” She said vaguely.
“What does that mean?” Blaise asks, unable to resist a puzzle.
“It means… well…” She wasn’t sure how to continue this. But Malfoy’s eyes were challenging her and she was always up for a dare. A Gryffindor, indeed. “The law says nothing about a pre-marital fling.”
She waited while the boys digested this. Then they looked at one another and burst out laughing. This led to her hands situating themselves on her hips in a haughty manner.
“What is ever so funny?” Hermione hissed.
“Your plan is to become a hussy?” Malfoy smirked, still chuckling.
“Excuse you!” She nearly screeched, causing the few in the office to look over at them. Well, those that hadn’t been looking before.
“C’mon, Hermione. It doesn’t exactly seem like you.” Zabini added.
“Yeah. Come off it. Haven’t you already turned to ice and stone from the lack of taking control as you put it?”
“You don’t think I’m capable? Neither of you?”
“Of casual, adult fun? No, I don’t.” Malfoy shrugged.
“Not that you’re incapable… just not necessarily comfortable doing something like that.” Blaise countered.
“I-I! Well! I’ll have you both know that I am not some sexless amoeba. I am an adult woman perfectly capable and willing to have a tryst with a man.” She resolutely exclaims.
“Alright. I’m sure you are.” Blaise held up his hands innocently, admitting defeat. Malfoy had not gotten the stand down memo.
“Prove it.” He says.
“Excuse me?” Hermione balks.
“Come to the pub tonight. We’ll pick a fellow out and you have to seduce him. Unless you’re incapable and unwilling.”
“Well, as shocking as this may seem to a prejudiced fool like you, Malfoy, the plan is to go to a muggle club. I’ve found them to be much more attentive than wizards anyways.” She added the last part, trying to make him blush as much as he was her.
“Well you have fun with that, Herm-” Blaise is cut off from his peacemaking efforts.
“What?!” Blaise exclaims.
“We’ll come to your muggle pub. Meet you at the Leaky at nine?” Malfoy challenges her. She squints at him, trying to determine his game here.
“Sure. If you can stand to breathe all those muggle germs.”
“You know nothing about me, Granger.” He says cryptically before turning to Blaise who looked stricken, an uncommon occurrence for him. “Ready for lunch?” Without another word, he turned and started walking out the door. Blaise sighed heavily and stood to follow him but stopped at Hermione’s desk.
“Do you want me to talk him out of this?” Blaise asked, giving away his secret that he is actually a good friend.
“No. It’ll do the both of you some good to experience some culture that’s not prickly wizarding society. And do me some good to the surprised look on your faces when I do snag a man.” Hermione said more confidently than she felt. Blaise smiled and kissed her cheek.
“I’m sure this will go swimmingly.”
Hermione slumped to her chair. She was really going to do this now, wasn’t she? The thought of The Dusty popped back into her mind- her reason for this whole plot to begin with. A twinge in her gut reminded her how sharp the loss still was. The nervous fluttering in her stomach reminded her how very trapped she felt by it all. But the solid beat of her heart in her chest reminded her that she was a Gryffindor and Malfoy had baited her- she wasn’t about to back down.