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Safe Word is Devil's Snare

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September 15th, 2006

Twenty-six years, eleven months, and twenty-eight days.

Hermione had always expected the twenty-seventh year of her life to be phenomenal. She wasn't entirely certain why the number twenty-seven had struck her, but she could clearly recall being nine-years-old when her teacher at Muggle primary school had asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. At the time, Hermione was struggling between being a dentist—like her parents—or a librarian, because the one at her local library had always been kind to her, and she wore purple-rimmed glasses, and at the time Hermione's favourite colour had been purple. Oddly enough the books didn't even factor into her initial enthusiasm about the job; that came later.

When she was placated, as many children are, about her future in books or dentistry, Hermione had firmly said that none of that mattered just now, as there was plenty of time until she was a grown up, which, in her mind, was something that a person became the very moment they turned twenty-seven.

Hermione had been eleven when she found out that she was a witch.

That she had powers and answers that explained everything that was odd about her up to that point. She discovered magic and spells and a lovely fact in that witches and wizards could outlive Muggles by a hundred years or more. Still, twenty-seven stuck in her mind.

She was sixteen the first time someone actively tried to murder her.

While Cedric Diggory was considered the first casualty of the start of the Second Wizarding War, the first battle that had truly taken place between Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix—led, interestingly by Dumbledore's Army—had been a year later. Hermione had always been mature for her age, but the moment that Dolohov's curse hit and the pain began to flood her body, there was a brief voice in the back of her head telling her that she was just a child, and much too young to die.

Hermione came of age, magically, at seventeen.

No longer monitored by the Ministry—who was too busy trying to keep itself together in the wake of the war, ignorant to the infiltration of Voldemort and his kind—she couldn't help but think that in ten years, twenty-seven would come and perhaps then, life would be good.

If she lived that long.

If any of them did.

She was a war hero, a Ministry worker, and a wife at twenty-three.

After the war, she was able to put Ron off for a few years with excuses. She needed to find her parents, she needed to graduate Hogwarts, she needed to establish her career. But then her parents died in Australia due to an accident involving a tropical cyclone and powerlines. Numb from grief, Hermione put all of her focus into her schoolwork and graduated. Determined not to be another person that the war destroyed, she went straight to work at the Ministry, desperate to make a difference.

Perhaps it was the grief, perhaps the thought of romance and fate—if she even believed in such a thing—but Ron's swift proposal came days after her acceptance letter to the Department of Records and Statistics. Numbers were safe. Arithmancy was something that calmed her. It was also, unfortunately, something that Ron would never understand and the very cause of a lot of their fights in the beginning. Venting to him about her work day was pointless because he'd immediately feel inferior and lash out, as he was prone to do. He'd tell her about his work as an Auror, priding himself on whichever new Dark wizard he'd tracked down. She didn't want to hear it. She was trying to put the war behind her, and knowing that her husband was out there, risking his life to chase down the few Death Eaters that had escaped . . . it was like living it all over again.

Things got worse when the Department of Records and Statistics became her cover for the Department of Mysteries. One day she'd been a simple Arithmancer, and the next an Unspeakable. Unable to say much about her day—and refusing to lie—Ron grew bitter at their lack of communication, their lack of romance, and their complete lack of sex drive thanks to exhaustion from his job and stress from hers.

Desperate to save their friendship, they did what Molly Weasley considered the unthinkable.

Hermione signed the divorce papers on the morning of her twenty-fifth birthday.

She and Ron had miraculously remained amicable. It had taken a lot of therapy, too much screaming, and an actual intervention headed up by Ginny and Harry on the eve of their wedding anniversary. Ron and Hermione looked at one another and realised that the love was gone.

"Was it ever there?" he'd asked her.

"Of course," she'd replied, torn from the guilt of a failed marriage and the relief that she was finally free of it. "But . . . I think we didn't know how to read it properly. Everything was chaotic after the war and we were both desperate for something to hold onto. We were friends, best friends, and I loved you. I love you still."

"I love you, too, 'Mione."

She'd given him back the ring and he gave her a hug before she packed her bags and moved out of their two bedroom townhouse in Devon and into a small flat overlooking the Thames. Water was helpful. Water washed the world clean.

Harry and Ginny lasted seven months after Ron and Hermione's divorce was finalised, before they were signing their own.

"Did you know that there was an increase of marriages in the first five years following the war?" she'd asked Harry when they met at the Leaky one evening, a week after Harry and Ginny divorced; a single day after the Daily Prophet printed lies about Ginny cheating on Harry with a Chaser from the Montrose Magpies. "It happens sometimes, during wartime. After the end of the last Muggle World War, there was a massive rise in Muggle-born births. Oddly enough, there wasn't so much after the defeat of Grindelwald. Strange that," she said thoughtfully before moving on. "People are so happy that they lived, or perhaps so miserable the ones they loved died, that they lose all sense of rational thinking and they jump right into—"

"Bed with the first person who bats her eyelashes at them?" he asked, looking miserable as he stared down into his glass—butterbeer, because Hannah Abbott had cut him off of firewhisky an hour earlier.

Hermione frowned at him, the same look of reproach that she'd used on Harry since they were eleven. "That's not what happened with you and Ginny. You were . . . you were each other's first love. First implies that there will be more."

He nodded. "I just wanted to make her happy. Wanted everyone to be so bloody happy," he said and leaned his cheek against the bartop. "Everyone was getting married, weren't they? I remember when Cho married that Carmichael bloke from Ravenclaw," he said. "Padma and Terry were after that, weren't they?"

Hermione nodded, glad he had found a subject off of his divorce. "Ravenclaws led the charge down the aisle," she said with a small laugh. "Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors followed."

"Not all of us." Hannah smirked as she refilled Harry's butterbeer. "But a lot of them did. Susan and Ernie eloped because she didn't have any family to attend her wedding. Justin married a Muggle girl soon after."

Hermione smiled up at Hannah, one of few female friends she had left since she felt torn over Harry and Ginny's divorce. Though sides hadn't needed to be taken, the fact that Hermione had also divorced Ginny's brother made her feel like their once solid friendship was splintered. Plus, Ginny toured with the Harpies so often and communication failed between the two. Hannah, who was a staple at the Leaky Cauldron and just a quick Floo away, had become a fast friend to both Harry and Hermione—dependable and loyal.

"Why'd you never marry?" Harry asked Hannah, one of his eyelids drooping a touch.

She chuckled. "Not everyone was eager to run off and start a family. Some of us were just happy to be alive after everything we'd been through. After Hogwarts . . . it was hard enough to take care of myself . I couldn't imagine having to think about another person. There were small handfuls of us singles here and there from each House. I was surprised you lot waited as long as you did," she said with a sweet smile. "Live and learn. Don't waste your time on the past, Harry. You of all people don't need a life full of regrets." She patted him on the shoulder and made her way down the bar.

The Slytherins were mostly set up in arranged marriages following old family traditions. Pansy Parkinson ended up with Blaise Zabini, and the eldest Greengrass girl was sold to some pureblood wizard in France, while the youngest finished Hogwarts, rumoured to be in talks with pairing up with Draco Malfoy—if he ever returned to Britain that is. The last anyone had heard, Malfoy was off the coast of Bermuda, living up the life of a free man with too many Galleons to his name.

"Dumbledore said it was all for love," Harry quietly muttered. "Greatest power. Now it's nothing . . . we're both . . . 'Mione we're both alone."

She smiled sadly at her friend. "It gets better. And we're not alone. We married too young and for the wrong reasons. You and Ginny will be friends again one day."

"I don't know how you and Ron do it."

"It . . . it's not always easy, but . . . and you've got me. And the Weasleys. Sirius, Remus, Neville, Luna, and everyone is still here for you. You are not alone."

Harry nodded and sighed. "Divorce sucks."

"At least none of us had children," she pointed out, and Harry shook his head in agreement.

But then again . . . not many people were having children.

It was that very reason that had her sitting next to Harry at the Ministry, four days before her twenty-seventh birthday, nervously thinking about marriage and babies and how it was technically her fault that they were there.


The few couples that managed to get pregnant in the aftermath of the war were producing Squibs.

At first, it seemed like the purebloods were all just up to their old tricks with intermarrying between the families, trying to recover what little money, or prestige that they could in the aftermath of war and reparations. But when other citizens of Wizarding Britain began having Squibs as well, the Ministry decided to look into it.

"You're the best I've got when it comes to this section of the Department of Mysteries," Kingsley had told her when he asked Hermione to look into the problem. The fact that he'd even spoken aloud about her position as an Unspeakable, something she'd been promoted to during the rockiest year of her marriage, said that the "Squib Problem" was growing into something larger than mere speculation.

Months of overtime, little sleep, thousands of calculations, and a total of three episodes where she had to stay at St. Mungo's due to magical depletion, and Hermione had the answer.

"Sympathetic magic," she said at an Order meeting. "The purebloods are mostly at fault . . . no offense," she muttered when a few members raised their brows at her, Weasleys included. "The inbreeding is a factor, yes, but it's more than that. The Blacks, for instance, still produced magically powerful children, and as much as we all hate to admit, the Malfoys have done the same. But other families have all but died out because of their refusal to widen the search for spouses of lower blood status. It's not the blood that's the problem, it's the magic. Incompatible magic is what creates Squibs. Normally, we're automatically drawn to a magical match, someone with sympathetic magic to our own. It's why people like Molly and Arthur, who fell in love very young and married, have so many children of high magical power and stability. But then you look at other families . . . and you can see patterns."

"Like who?"

"The Notts were one of the families that I studied extensively. Thoros Nott was married four times. His first three marriages documented zero children, and after a number of years the wife usually died of some accident," she said, and there was an echo of scoffs around the room. "But I've actually discovered some evidence that there were viable pregnancies, but there was no magical signature in the children. Squibs. Who knows what happened to them. And then he married Calla Flint. From what I can tell, the pair were magically sympathetic, and they had Theo."

"He was in our year, wasn't he?" Harry asked.

Hermione nodded. "Slytherin. He works with me at the Ministry. He's been helping with the problem, actually. Getting the pureblood families to offer up their histories and details that I could never get."

"Why now? Why is this happening to our world now?" Percy questioned.

"Because of the war," Hermione replied. "Statistically, Squibs are being born to pureblood couples paired due to money or blood status, and . . . well . . . our generation. Anyone that was within . . . breeding age from the start of the last war. Minerva gave me the numbers from the Hogwarts books. Teddy will be one of thirty-five children in his Hogwarts class. Victoire, on the other hand, will be one of only twenty students in her year when she attends. That's a significant decrease in what should have actually been a rise in births. From what I've gathered, everyone married shortly out of Hogwarts, sticking to their own Houses, within their own year. Most couples we know followed this pattern. Because of the war, we stuck to our own within Hogwarts, segregating to a severity that generations prior to us didn't experience. We were friendly with one another, but . . . when it came time to choose a spouse, we all apparently just . . ."

"Took the easy way out."

"But . . . but we loved each other. It wasn't easy."

"Yes, we did, but . . . but either the couples that married right out of Hogwarts didn't have children, or they've had Squibs. Love isn't the only factor that's normally looked at. Had we not experienced the war, we might have allowed ourselves to intermingle with other Houses at Hogwarts. According to my research, we would have automatically been drawn to partners with sympathetic magic and the rest would develop on its own."

"Why automatically?" Ron asked.

Hermione turned her attention to both Remus and Fleur. "Creature magic," she said the words with kindness, not something everyone else often did. "Werewolves and veelas are known to have mates. When they see or meet their mate, the creature within can sense the sympathetic magic and seek them out. It's why Victoire and Teddy displayed accidental magic within that first few months. Their parents were, essentially, perfect matches. The thing is, it's not specific to magical creatures. It's something inside all of us, but we're just less attuned to it and aren't able to overcome diversions."

"War," Harry said, and Hermione nodded.

She flicked her wand, summoning a large bowl from the corner of the room. Inside the bowl, she placed a stone in the centre. "The water is one person's magic, the stone is another. Typically, there are few distractions in getting the magics to find one another. Usually, distance and time being the major factor," she said and then swished her wand once, whispering, " Aguamenti " and water poured from the tip of the wand, straight down splashing against the stone. "The problem comes with war. Magic has a fight or flight response just like our bodies. When we were threatened, our magic stopped seeking out a partner in favour of self-preservation." She stuck her hand in the centre of the stream, creating two separate paths of water, neither of which eventually came in contact with the stone below.

"I checked birth numbers, and the same thing happened during Grindelwald's rise," she told them, drying her hands. "The countries that were most affected by war had lower birth rates the following two decades. Most of those Wizarding communities dissolved over time and were eventually absorbed into larger ones, or they just . . . died out. It's the complete opposite of what usually happens after Muggle wars, but then again . . . Muggles don't need to worry about things like sympathetic magic when choosing a partner for . . . well, procreation."

"Okay," Harry said, nodding. "So this happened when Grindelwald tried to take over and now with our war but . . . how come this didn't happen during the first war when Voldemort was alive?"

Sirius frowned. "It did happen, actually. Just not as significantly as this time. Plus, back then there were a lot more casualties. Very few of our generation survived. Those that did marry were . . . well . . . the ones we knew at least."

Hermione caught the glint in Sirius's eyes. "What do you know?"

He put his hands up in supplication, having been on the receiving end of Hermione's hexes more than once. "It's not an illegal spell . . . per say . . ."

Remus sighed. " We know how to find magical matches," he said. "There was a spell Sirius found at the beginning of seventh year. It went through the school faster than gossip. Optima Profecta . James finally had Lily agreeing to date him, but casually. She still had serious reservations. So we found this spell and James wanted to use it to prove that they were soul mates."

"That's ridiculous, Optima Profecta just means—"

"Best outcome," Sirius interrupted. "Lily caught on, of course. It wasn't like we were trying to trick her. She and James were a match, magically speaking. Other students in our year started using the spell and matching themselves up. Those that survived . . . well . . ." he said and patted Harry on the back. "Created this generation."

Kingsley cleared his throat. "Could we . . . that spell . . . we could use it," he said, a smile on his face that unnerved Hermione.

Kingsley returned to the Wizengamot with Hermione's diagnosis and the Optima Profecta as an answer to the problem. He proposed a Procreation Bill. Witches and wizards, at their own discretion, would have the opportunity to meet with other volunteers to be tested for potential magical matches, and offered incentives to marry and start families.

Unfortunately, as the months ticked on, the legislation took new form with additions and subtractions as most bills do, and by the time Kingsley got a look at the finalised Procreation Bill, it had turned into a Marriage Law , ready to be passed with an unfortunately overwhelming majority.

"I don't have enough sway," he defended at the following Order meeting while Molly Weasley did her best to audibly remind herself that she could not hex the Minister for Magic. "I'm not King of Wizarding Britain. Even the Minister has to submit to the Wizengamot, otherwise I'll just be voted out of office and they'll put another puppet in my place."

"This is preposterous! They've included penalties !" Hermione snapped. "Time in Azkaban? Kingsley, they can't seriously—"

"They can and they will. Unless . . . unless I can convince them that they don't need to," Kingsley replied, turning his full attention to Ron, Harry, and Hermione.

Harry groaned, already putting the pieces together.

"What?" Ron said. "Why're you looking at us ?"


A test and six months.

The generation that had it worst during the height of the war, the ones who were most affected, were sent missives from the Ministry. "Participate voluntarily in our new programme . . ." or else . The Wizengamot gave Kingsley six months to demonstrate that the citizens of Britain would "come along quietly" rather than have their hands forced. The last thing they all needed was another uprising. Unfortunately, the programme needed faces. Trustworthy faces.

Which was exactly how Hermione found herself sitting in the Ministry, gripping Harry's hand for dear life.

"What if the spell doesn't work?" Harry asked her.

She had her eyes closed, her leg bouncing from anxiety. "It'll work. There's not just one match out there for everyone, despite what veela traditions and trashy werewolf romance stories will tell you. Everyone is matched with everyone else on one level or another. The spell will draw out the visible magic that's sympathetic to our own. Once we're charmed, we'll look around the room and see various levels of light, or auras, around other people. The brighter the light, the more sympathetic your magic."

Harry frowned. "That sounds . . . uncomfortable."

She nodded. "Physical touch will reverse the visual effects. Like turning a light off."

He relaxed a bit and then turned and smirked at her. "They made you work on the spell, didn't they? You added that bit in."

She huffed indignantly. "Where's Ronald? He was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago."

Harry draped an arm over her shoulders. "I asked him and Ginny to come separately. If they're here, they're likely on the other side of the room. I figured that it would be easier for all of us if we found our potential matches without having to watch as our exes find theirs. Divorced or not, I'll always love Gin in my own way, and you'll love Ron."

Hermione sighed. "Exactly, but I'm not some ridiculously jealous—"

"What if he matches with Lavender?" he interrupted, raising an incredulous eyebrow and having the gall to smirk at her.

She scowled at him. "Point."

Queueing up in groups of ten, the witches and wizards ranging from twenty-five to thirty years of age gathered together and waited for their assigned Ministry official to move quickly down the line, casting the charm.

"Like cattle branding," Hermione muttered bitterly as an unfamiliar face stood in front of her, confirmed her identity, and then tapped her harshly on the top of her head with a wand while muttering the Optima Profecta charm.

Hermione kept her eyes closed as she felt the magic of the charm wash over her. Already, even with her eyelids shut, she winced against the brightness of the light coming from all around her.

"Get it over with, Hermione," Harry told her. "Open your eyes. You're . . . this is insane. I've never seen anything . . . Hermione, you need to open your eyes."

"I don't want to," she whispered to herself.

She didn't want to open her eyes. She didn't want to have her future decided in this moment. She wanted control, and she felt so very out of it right then. She'd been through a war, lost her parents, and ended up in a dead-end marriage that she finally felt free of. Now she was expected to jump into another marriage with a man she might not even know.

It's not a law yet , she reminded herself. This is my choice.

With brave determination, ready to face her twenty-seventh year and the future that stood in front of her, Hermione opened her eyes to the glittering brightness in front of her.