Even though The Daily Prophet is as light as a feather, Ron feels like he's holding a brick. He scowls at today's headline.
"Marriage Law enacted with a unanimous vote. Unless previously engaged, all pure-blood magical folks must marry within two months."
Luckily, Hermione is at work and isn't around to see him crumple up the newspaper and toss it into a nearby bin. But that doesn't mean she won't become aware of the news at her job. They've already faced so much marriage pressure from his mother, and they don't need it from the Ministry too.
"Something wrong?" asks Harry.
Ron's best friend stands at the kitchen counter pouring himself a glass of orange juice. Like Ron, Harry's still wearing his pajamas, but instead of blazing orange and studded with Chudley Cannons emblems, they're dark green with a repeating pattern of gold talons. If Grimmauld Place wasn't already full of Holyhead Harpies gear, Ron would think Harry had chosen to represent Slytherin.
It would have been a safe fashion choice, given the state of the Ministry.
"Oh you know," says Ron. "More propaganda." Ron clears his throat and puts on his best impression of Lucius Malfoy, assistant to the Minister of Magic. "One of the biggest issues facing the modern magical world is the slow dilution of magical blood. We must use all of our resources to combat this."
Harry snorts. "You know they're all talk."
To a certain extent, it's true. Ever since Voldemort 'won the war,' he's proven that his preference for winning is stronger than his penchant for ruling. Since his rise to power, disorganization within the Ministry has prevented any new bills from being passed into law. He's packed his speeches with empty promises to ensure the safety of all pure-blooded citizens by restricting the rights of half-bloods and muggle-borns, yet won't respond to the media's accusations of his own questionable blood status. His attempts to squash rumors of senility don't hold a lot of weight when he can't remember small details of the war, like where the battle took place, who he had been trying to kill, or the fact that he never actually won in the first place.
As it turns out, the best way to remove the threat of a dictatorship is to make them believe they'd succeeded. That way, no Death Eaters are running about hungry for revenge, and the magical world can see what a joke a Voldemort-run Ministry really is.
Harry reaches into the bin and smoothes out the article. "Oh darn. You have to get married. How sad for you."
"Shut up," says Ron, only to get hit in the face by a crumpled-up news article.
"It's not real," states Harry. "I mean... it is. To him. Not to The Order."
"But Harry, it was a 'unanimous vote'," says Ron, using air quotes.
"I dunno. Voldemort himself, maybe."
Harry takes a seat at the dining table and opens his laptop. He clacks away at the keyboard, most likely crafting an email to Kingsley about how the order would deal with this new "law." Ron's still impressed at Harry's familiarity with the keyboard — it was quite the learning curve for Ron when The Order transitioned to muggle technology. But he was willing to learn it, as it was the best way to remain undetected by the Ministry. Why would Voldemort bother with archaic means of communication when he could enact something fresh and modern, like a Marriage Law?
"Notice how it doesn't specify we need to marry other pure-bloods?" asks Ron. "Reckon that's an oversight?"
Harry laughs. "Either that or he'd have to make marrying your cousin legal first."
"Good point," says Ron with a chuckle.
Ron's laptop dings, indicating a new message. He's pleased to see that Kingsley has copied Ron into his response.
Harry - we've heard of the new law, yes. We'll have an Order meeting tonight to discuss the best way to handle it. Stay tuned for time and location.
"You probably won't have to get married," jokes Harry. Since you two are too cool for that."
Ron smiles at his friend, who's fiddling with the gold band on his left ring finger. Little does Harry know, it isn't the only ring in the house. Tucked away in Ron's bedside drawer is a blue sapphire on a gold band, safely protected by a velvet ring box and a disillusionment charm. One of the benefits of learning how to use a computer was the discovery of Hermione's Pinterest page, a blatant contradiction to her assurances that 'marriage is overrated anyway' and she 'doesn't need a fancy ring'. Discovering her account had felt like finding a clear, static-free radio station that hadn't existed before, full of fresh explanations to previously indecipherable mysteries.
"Thank Merlin for that," says Ron, breathing a sigh of relief that he can only hope is convincing. As the news sets in, Ron's palms begin to sweat and his jaw clenches and everything begins to feel less like a joke.
Of course, to The Order, this is a non-issue. Voldemort's laws don't hold any weight with 99% of the magical world — pretty much everyone looks to The Order for real news along with guidance on how to convince the Ministry they still have power. Within the next two weeks, there'll likely be a slew of fake engagements and falsified marriage documents followed by very real parties and celebrations, because why not? In general, the magical community loves how The Order strings the Ministry along like a hopeful suitor. It's childish, sure, but the war has stolen a generation's innocence, and this is their way of reclaiming it. Plus, tricking the dark side requires collaboration and unity. What better way to heal from the war's attempt to isolate and divide?
But Ron doesn't want a fake marriage. He wants a real one, one that isn't overshadowed by hoaxes or inspired by an archaic law. His heart sinks as he thinks back to the ring hiding in his bedside drawer. The thought of having to postpone his proposal or convince Hermione that he's serious makes Ron wonder if they'd truly succeeded in stripping Voldemort of his power.
"You okay?" asked Harry as he glances at Ron from the corner of his eye.
"Yeah. I'm fine." Ron's ears burn with heat and he knows Harry can see right through his response. He stands up from the dining table and pushes his chair back. "I'll be upstairs if you need me," he says as he brushes past Harry.
"Whatever you say," his best friend mutters before Ron proceeds to his bedroom to regroup.
Ron hadn't meant to fall asleep, and he nearly panics when he wakes up to see what time it is. Harry had confirmed the Order meeting at Grimmauld Place, and they will be over any minute, so he reluctantly rolls out of bed with a groan and hobbles to his bathroom to make sure he looks somewhat presentable.
When he deems his appearance professional enough, Ron leaves his bathroom and heads down the stairs, where he nearly collides with Hermione.
"Hermione, hi. What… what are you doing home so early?"
Hermione beams and flings her arms around Ron's neck. "Just wanted to see you."
Ron smiles back and tightens his grip around Hermione's waist. "I have an Order meeting, unfortunately."
"Tonight," he murmurs into her bushy hair. "We're meeting here."
"What's the meeting about?" she presses. Her embrace strengthens, and Ron basks in the warmth of her body against his. Maybe he can miss the Auror meeting… Harry can fill him in later, right?
But he hesitates to tell her what it's about. It would change things
"I guess I'll find out soon," he says.
Hermione pulls away, her hands sliding to meet his. "Well, if you're meeting here, then it makes sense why the drawing-room looks the way it does."
"Yeah. I didn't realize you decorated for Order meetings."
"Uh…we don't." As far as he's concerned, they've never done that. Ron peers over Hermione's shoulder to see a dimly-lit room. The light that emanates is a warm glow. Are those… candles?
"Weird, right?" chirps Hermione.
Why would the Aurors set up candles? Unless they really wanted to make a joke of the whole Marriage Law announcement.
"Hermione." Ron's voice cracks as though he's a teenager entering puberty. "What is this?"
"She meets his gaze and flashes a smile. "Something I should have done yesterday," she says as the tugs his arms toward the drawing-room.
Does she know about the law? Did Harry say something? "Hermione—"
Hermione clears her throat, and says in the most demanding, Hermione-like tone, "Ron, listen. Let me do this right."
When they enter the drawing-room, Ron is instantly reminded of their first date after the war. The first time they'd dressed up for a night out Ron had taken her to a candlelight muggle restaurant, a place where no one would recognize them. Complete privacy. With a flick of her wand, the drawing-room doors shut, closing them off to the rest of the world and its drama, conflict, and outdated laws. "What are you doing—"
"What about the Order meeting?"
When the tone Hermione usually reserves for sparking an argument surfaces, Ron quiets down. Hermione's mischievous smile confirms at least one thing, that there's no Order meeting here tonight.
Harry's such a git.
Hermione clears her throat and continues in a trembling voice, "I've been meaning to do this for ages. I mean, I've had the ring for months. But I kept talking myself out of it because I didn't want you to feel pressured, or I didn't want it to sound like an ultimatum, but with the today's news I didn't want you to think I felt pressured either, and Harry suggested—"
"Yes," he interrupts, his heart racing, his hair standing on end. There's a part of Ron that's annoyed, frankly, that Hermione beat him to the punch. Maybe his traditional upbringing had given him the idea that men were supposed to decide when to move things forward. But it had never been that way with Hermione. He recalls how she slammed into him and kissed him for the first time, her timid, yet confident tone when she asked him to Slughorn's party, and the way she called him out for not taking her to the Yule Ball. She'd always been the one pushing him further down the road while he hesitated, not because he wasn't ready, but because he didn't feel worthy.
Plus, that prickle of annoyance felt like the first time he met her. 'You've got dirt on your nose.' It made his palms sweat and his heart beat faster, like a young boy who doesn't realize he has a crush.
"Yes," he reiterates.
"Ron, let me finish."
The prickle returns, accompanied by an overwhelming desire to squeeze his girlfriend and bury his face in her hair, run his teeth along her skin, tracing the fine tightrope between anger and lust. It had always been like that with Hermione. "Okay, but the answer's yes."
Hermione beams as she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a ring box from her pocket. "Ronald Weasley," she continues in a cracking voice, "Will you marry me?"
She pops open the ring box to reveal a black band with a subtle orange stripe down the middle. Chudley Cannon's colors — just like the ring on his Pinterest board, the gallery he had made for himself when he found Hermione's.
"You saw my board?" he asks, knowing full well that his ears are glowing red.
"Yeah. You're such a dork," she says with a laugh. "So it's still a yes?"
"Yes. A thousand times yes," he says, rushing forward to embrace her and bury his head into the pillow of his hair. He thinks of the ring nestled in his top drawer, and is torn between running to retrieve it or living in her embrace forever, refraining from stealing her thunder. "I wanted to be the one to propose to you."
Hermione chuckles, then in a voice muffled by Ron's jumper, "You shouldn't have taken so long, then."
Normally, it pains him to admit that she's right, but once in a blue moon, she says something he simply can't argue with, and this is one of those times. He pulls her closer. "You're right. I shouldn't have taken so long."