The Sugar Quill
Author: Mr.Intel  Story: The Bargain  Chapter: Birthday Dilemma
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Chapter One – Birthday Dilemma

Chapter One – Birthday Dilemma

 

 

Thirty-six-year-old Remus Lupin strode carefully down the hall towards the Headmaster’s office, wary of his summoning. Dumbledore had requested an audience with Remus the night before, but his duties with the Order of the Phoenix and a trip to Diagon Alley the next morning for Harry’s upcoming seventeenth birthday party kept him from coming earlier. Normally, the head of the Order communicated with him at the meetings, so it was with some trepidation, and a little bit of nostalgic guilt, that the former Hogwarts student approached the entrance to Dumbledore’s office.

 

“Cauldron Cakes,” Remus intoned. The Gargoyle opened, exposing a set of stairs and Remus stepped onto them, activating the charm that carried him towards the office doors.

 

He raised his fist to knock on the faded oak panel but stopped short when Dumbledore’s clear voice rang out, “Come in, Remus.”

 

Remus opened the door, revealing Dumbledore’s tidy office, containing an array of quietly clicking instruments, a snoozing phoenix, and its generous owner.

 

“Ah, Remus,” Dumbledore began, “I trust your trip was successful?”

 

Knowing that the elderly wizard was referring to his excursion to Diagon Alley, Remus nodded. “It’s not every day your ward turns seventeen.”

 

The ever-present twinkle in the old man’s eyes flared for a moment or two. “Indeed. That’s actually what I called you here for, Remus.” He gestured for Lupin to sit.

 

Taking the plush chintz armchair, Remus asked, “Oh? Harry's in trouble already? School's not even in session yet.” It wouldn’t be beyond the scope of reality for Remus to find out that Harry had been involved in some sort of mischief. As good a lad as he was, Harry was the son of a Marauder.

 

“No, no. Nothing like that,” said Dumbledore with a chuckle. “It’s actually something to do with a magical contract of sorts.”

 

Remus furrowed his brow, letting the small smile slide off his face. “Magical contract? What kind of contract?”

 

Dumbledore paused, as if to measure his words carefully, and steepled his fingers under his chin. Remus was instantly on his guard. “What do you recall about the Wizarding Decree of 1016?”

 

“What?” asked a suddenly perplexed Remus. He certainly hadn’t expected that.

 

“The Wizarding Decree of 1016,” repeated Dumbledore. “It’s obviously very old and has been modified quite a lot by more recent legislation, but...there are a number of statutes stemming from that decree that are in effect today.”

 

“What does this have to do with Harry?” Remus strained his brain for information on the law. He knew that the decree had something to do with how the magical community was to be organized....

 

“Allow me to be terse, Remus.” Dumbledore leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands on the desk between them. “One of the more archaic forms of Wizarding law is still active through this decree. Specifically, a less acknowledged form of marriage can still be carried out today, if certain qualifications are met.”

 

“Marriage?” Remus said, his ears perking up immediately. “Please don’t tell me Harry’s gone and got married! He hasn’t so much as dated anyone since his fifth year.”

 

Clearing his throat, Dumbledore continued. “Yes, well, Harry hasn’t tied the knot quite yet, but I’m afraid that it may not be far off in his future.”

 

The colour drained from Lupin’s face and he sat back in his chair. “You may as well tell me,” he said with a distracted wave of the hand.

 

“There is a quill in the Ministry, much like the one we use to record the birth of magical children, that documents when arranged marriages between two magical families are made. Sometime in July of 1981, James and Arthur must have arranged for their children to be married. More specifically, they made the agreement with a magically binding contract.”

 

Remus’s mind was reeling. How could something like this have been overlooked? What was James thinking? They knew about the prophecy by then; James and Lily must have known what they were getting into. And how did Arthur fit into all of this?

 

“I see that you have many questions,” remarked Dumbledore, interrupting Remus’ thoughts. “I will endeavour to answer all of them.”

 

“How did this happen?” Remus blurted. “Why are we just finding out about it now? And...what are we going to tell Harry?”

 

Dumbledore was silent for a moment, staring out the window. Without looking at Remus, he passed a small glass jar across the desk. “Have a lemon drop. I’ve found them to be most soothing in a stressful situation.”

 

Almost automatically, Remus popped one into his mouth, letting the tangy sweetness invigorate his senses. How many times have I eaten one of these in this office? he mused.

 

Taking one for himself, Dumbledore turned to him and continued. “I only found out through a twist of luck. It seems that the office where this quill is kept is next door to the assistant for the Magical Transportation Department. I was there yesterday to renew my Apparation license and happened to hear one of the clerks say ‘Potter’ and ‘Weasley’. Well, naturally, my curiosity was piqued and once I finished my business with the Transportation Department, I inquired as to why those two names were being mentioned.

 

“It turns out that the reason no one has known about this until now is that the quill isn’t checked regularly. In fact, since there hasn’t been an arranged marriage for over a hundred and fifty years, it hasn’t been checked at all this century.”

 

Unable to visualize Harry married to anyone, let alone an arranged one, Remus sat in his chair, completely gobsmacked. Then he realized exactly whom it was that Harry was supposed to be married to. “Have you spoken to Arthur? Does he even know?”

 

“Actually, according to the law, certain procedures are supposed to be followed. My knowledge could affect the course of events, and I risk severe consequences by even telling you.”

 

Having just regained his colour, Remus blanched again. “What sort of consequences?”

 

*

 

Dark clouds billowed around a full moon as Harry Potter watched the empty streets of Little Whinging. He would be leaving Privet Drive for good the following morning and, in his excitement, Harry couldn’t seem to fall asleep.

 

Dumbledore had given him permission to finish out the holidays with the Weasleys. He would finally get to spend his birthday with the only family he had known.

 

With a sigh, he reread a letter he had received from them yesterday.

 

            Harry,

           

Get your things together and be ready to leave on Monday. Ron and I will be taking you by Portkey at eight o’clock that morning. We’ll be aiming for the back garden, so as not to frighten the Muggles. Meet us there and we’ll help you say goodbye to that wretched place forever.

 

Love from,

Ginny

 

Since the events in the Department of Mysteries over a year ago, Ginny, Neville and, to a certain extent, Luna had been included in with the “trio” more often than not. Ginny had been an important part of the effort to remove Harry’s less than cheerful attitude the previous summer, and ever since, she and Harry had fallen into what Harry considered a companionable friendship.

 

Ginny was the strangest sort of friend, though. Unlike Ron or Hermione, Ginny wasn’t afraid to tell Harry off. She had a tendency to make Harry participate in activities even when he didn’t want to, and had the most annoying habit of turning up when he wanted to be left alone. The odd thing, in Harry's opinion was that he found he didn’t mind.

 

*

 

As soon as they arrived in the Burrow’s garden, Ron grabbed Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage and thrust them at Ginny. “Here, Ginny. Take these upstairs. Harry and I are going to go flying.”

 

Ginny’s feathers were immediately ruffled. “I don’t bloody well think so. You can take them up yourself. Or Harry, for that matter,” she retorted with her fists clenched, as if to make sure Harry’s things couldn’t pop into her hands if she left them open. “Besides, if there’s flying to be had, I’m just as capable as the next person.”

 

“I need to talk with Harry, alone,” Ron said slowly.

 

Harry seemed torn and had been looking warily between Ron and Ginny. “Listen, Ginny,” he began. “You don’t have to take my things up, but let me and Ron talk for about fifteen minutes?” Ron nodded. “Then you can come fly with us.”

 

Ginny weighed her options. It would have been easier to just browbeat Ron into letting her come, but Harry’s suggestion seemed reasonable. “All right.”

 

“Great,” Ron said happily. “We’ll see you later, Ginny.”

 

Ron dragged Harry over to the broom shed to extract his Cleansweep, and then they were off to the Weasleys’ makeshift Quidditch pitch.

 

As Ron and Harry left, Ginny sat on Harry’s trunk and propped her chin on her hand to wait. Just then, the door on the side of the house squeaked open and Ginny turned to find Hermione looking back at her. “Enjoying the view?” she teased.

 

“When did you get here?” Ginny asked, deliberately ignoring her question.

 

“Just before you did.” Hermione motioned for Ginny to budge over and then joined her on Harry’s trunk. “I’ve already taken my things to your room.”

 

Ginny returned her chin to her hand and caught the top of Harry’s head as the boys turned to enter the paddock. “What did you get Harry for his birthday?”

 

“I’m not telling,” Hermione answered cheerfully. “But I'm sure he’s got what you want for your birthday – he being a male with messy black hair, dreamy green eyes, and a penchant for getting into trouble.”

 

The back of Ginny’s hand hit Hermione in the shoulder. “It’s not as if I’m pining after him like a lost puppy any more.”

 

“Of course,” Hermione placated, but Ginny could tell she wasn’t being entirely sincere. “You just keep telling yourself that.”

 

“Well, you’re one to talk, aren’t you?” Ginny countered. “I mean, if Harry or Ron asked you out on a date, would you say no?”

 

Hermione blushed but otherwise kept her composure. “That’s for me to know and for you to find out, Miss Weasley.”

 

“Oh, come off it, Hermione,” Ginny said with a giggle. “Everyone knows Ron’s got a crush on you and, no matter how close you keep your cards, you have to admit to being attracted to him.” She thought about that for a moment and added, “Even if he is my brother.”

 

“So you don’t think I should ask Harry out? He is quite attractive.”

 

Ginny scowled. “This is not a good day to push my buttons, Hermione.”

 

“Oh, relax, Ginny,” Hermione soothed. “I’m not after Harry Potter. Even if you died a horrible, tragic death and he needed the attention that only I could give, I don’t think it would work out between us. He’s too moody.”

 

Ginny snorted. “How do you know? Maybe he’s got a crush on you, but he’s holding back because he knows how Ron feels.”

 

Hermione froze, apparently surprised at this thought. Then she shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Harry’s not so much as blinked at me that way, Ginny.”

 

The mirth left Ginny’s laugh and she said, “Yes, well...he hasn’t so much as blinked at me, either.”

 

“What about Colin?” Hermione asked quietly. “He certainly seems to keep looking at you, even after you broke up.”

 

“Colin never grew up.”

 

“Dean?”

 

“He loved his painting more than me.”

 

“Michael?”

 

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “Do I have to go over that one with you again?”

 

“No,” Hermione said. “I suppose not.”

 

*

 

Harry’s heart was beating rapidly. The thrill of flying again after five weeks off was a welcome feeling, and he was doing his best to make sure that he made the most of it.

 

“So, how does it feel to be free?” Ron asked as they continued their game of follow-the-leader.

 

 “Almost as good as grinding Malfoy’s face into the pitch,” he yelled as he shot past his friend.

 

“Oi! You’re supposed to be following the leader, not showing off,” Ron said with a smile.

 

Harry swivelled on his broom until he could see Ron. “If you weren’t so ruddy slow, I might let you lead more often.”

 

After several minutes of flying, they glided over to a large oak tree and pushed through the branches until they found a small platform high above the ground. Bill had built it when he was thirteen and Ron had discovered it the summer before he left for Hogwarts.

 

“So, what’s on your mind, Ron?” Harry asked quickly.

 

Ron laid his broom across his lap and sighed. “I’m going to ask Hermione out on a date today.”

 

Harry’s expression remained impassive. “About time, mate. How do you think she’ll take it?”

 

Ron wiped his face with his hand and leaned back against the trunk of the tree. “I dunno. I ‘spect she’ll want to hex me at first, but I’m counting on my wit and charm to win her over.”

 

Harry pursed his lips. “Well then, you're certainly doomed." He looked up suddenly, snapping his fingers in an exaggerated manner. “But Ron.... What if she fancies Malfoy?”

 

Malfoy!” spluttered Ron. “What makes you think – ”

 

Unable to help it, Harry dissolved into unrestrained laughter.

 

“You git!” Ron said as he punched Harry in the shoulder. “I’ll eat your Firebolt before Hermione gives him the time of day.”

 

“Yeah,” Harry said, regaining his composure. “But eat your own broom. I’m a little partial to mine.”

 

Ron looked to be on the verge of another witty comeback, but the sound of Ginny’s voice came across the pitch. “Roooonnn. Haaarrrry.”

 

“Speaking of which,” Ron said with a waggle of his eyebrows. “When are you going to ask Ginny out?”

 

Now it was Harry’s turn to splutter. “What are you on about? She’s over me and – well, we’re just friends.”

 

“Right, Harry. You aren’t fooling anyone when you say that.” Ron clapped his shoulder and stood. “I saw the way you reacted when she grabbed your leg, you know.”

 

“She didn’t grab my leg, Ron. She...she brushed against it.”

 

Ron straddled his broom and said, “It's my story and I'm sticking with it. Just ask her soon, mate. I’m sure Hermione would love to go on a double with you two.” Then he shot off from the platform and crashed through the top branches of the tree.

 

 “You git!” Harry called, shaking his head and laughing.

 

*

 

That Thursday was Harry’s birthday. The day was filled with presents, friends and, best of all, loads of Harry’s favourite foods. Fred and George made a token appearance, enchanting the candles on the birthday cake to sing shrilly after they were blown out for the first time. Luna Lovegood visited from the village to wish him a happy birthday and to give Ron a kiss on the cheek. Hermione didn’t look happy with that at all.

 

As the birthday dinner was finishing up, Harry secluded himself on a wicker chair near the garden. He propped his legs on a matching ottoman and linked his fingers behind his head. Mr. Weasley had cast a Insect Repellent Charm over the whole garden, so he heard only a few, distant buzzing noises outside of the chattering partygoers.

 

When the guests finally filtered away from the tables, Mrs. Weasley banished the dishes and joined in with the mingling.

 

Harry let a contented smile slip onto his face and he sunk down further into the cushions on the chair.

 

“You’ve had quite a birthday, Harry,” said Remus Lupin, as he approached with a drink in his hand.

 

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “It’s been the best I’ve ever had, actually.”

 

Lupin sat down across from Harry on a wicker loveseat. “I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it, because now I’ve got some information for you that will most likely be difficult to deal with.”

 

Harry tensed up immediately. “What do you mean? Is Voldemort doing anything? I haven’t felt anything in my scar...”

 

“No,” Lupin answered with a deadpanned expression. “It’s not anything to do with Voldemort. It’s something much more frightening than that.”

 

More frightening?” Harry asked, straightening up in his seat and setting his feet firmly on the ground.

 

“Well,” said Lupin, scratching his chin, “judging by how you’ve been acting around her tonight, you might take to the idea better than I thought.”

 

Harry shook his head, thinking that his guardian had lost his marbles. “Uncle Remus...what are you talking about?” Harry asked, using their agreed-upon title.

 

“Have you heard of the Wizarding Decree of 1016?” Lupin asked, quoting Dumbledore from a few days ago.

 

“The...what? I’m sorry, but I think you’ve hit your head. Are you feeling well?”

 

Remus chuckled. “Yes, Harry. I’m fine. I’m talking about the decree that formed the Ministry of Magic and codified just about every line of Wizarding law at the time.”

 

Still dubious about Remus’s mental condition, Harry said, “Um...no? I must have slept through Binns’s lesson that day.”

 

“Well, one of the things that that statute provided for was arranged marriages.”

 

“All right,” said Harry, waiting for the other shoe to drop. “You’re not going to tell me that my dad arranged for me to marry Pansy Parkinson or something, are you?”

 

Remus hesitated and a shiver of fear ran up Harry’s spine. “Actually...that’s not far from the truth.”

 

“Which part?” whispered Harry. “Marriage, or Pansy?”

 

“Marriage. According to the Office of Ancient Wizarding Customs, you are to be married to Ginevra Molly Weasley.”

 

Something in Harry’s mind froze and nothing he did could wipe Ginny’s face from his mind. “Ginny?” he finally said. “And me? How?”

 

“I don’t have all of the details, but the agreement was made sometime in July of 1981, just before Ginny was born. Dumbledore stumbled upon it a few days ago and, according to the list of prescribed procedures and rules, you have to be informed by your legal guardian, me, by your seventeenth birthday, today. Ginny has to be told by you and you are to be wed by her next birthday. No one else is supposed to speak of it until the bride and groom are notified, or the arrangement will be voided and the punishment inflicted.”

 

Harry’s mind was spinning. “Procedures? I have to tell her... Punishment? What’s the punishment?”

 

For the first time since Harry had known him, Remus looked frightened. “Well...you see... If you break any of the rules – there are almost a hundred by the way – or if you and Ginny don’t wed by her next birthday... You both will lose your ability to...have relations with anyone.”

 

Harry blanched. “WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN I WON’T BE ABLE TO HAVE – ”

 

Silencio,” Remus intoned with a flick of his wand. Harry’s voice immediately disappeared, though his mouth continued to move. Several of the party guests turned and looked oddly at him before returning to their drinks and conversations.

 

After a moment, Harry stopped trying to speak, but motioned vigorously towards his neck.

 

Remus ended the spell by tapping his wand on Harry’s throat and Harry, more calmly, said, “Thank you. Now would you please explain to me why I’ve got to marry Ginny Weasley or my...my...thing won’t work any more?”

 

“It’s out of my control, Harry. According to the law, you’ve got to marry her by her next birthday and, er...consummate the marriage within thirty-six hours of the ceremony, or you...well, you become impotent and she instantly becomes menopausal. You’ll be like a simmering pot of hormones for the rest of your life but will never be able to act on your urges.”

 

Harry moaned slowly. “What in the name of Merlin did I do to get into this? Who did this to me? There’s really nothing at all I can do?” He was pulling at his face with his hands, desperately trying to come to terms with his situation.

 

“No one knows, except perhaps Arthur,” Remus replied.

 

Harry shot out of his chair, his eyes finding the patriarch of the Weasley family standing next to his wife, talking with Hermione and Ron. He took two steps before Remus’s arms were around him.

 

“Hold on, there, Harry. Remember the rules? You can’t tell anyone before you tell Ginny. Only after that can we ask Arthur what happened – assuming he remembers.”

 

Harry stopped struggling and Remus let go of his arms. “How do we know that Dumbledore’s knowledge hasn’t already tripped the punishment?” Harry asked.

 

“Are you...fully functional?” Remus asked with a straight face.

 

Harry was caught off-guard by the question, but remembering his all-too-lucent dreams that morning, flushed red and nodded. “So what do I have to do?”

 

“Talk to Ginny. Find someplace quiet and secluded, try to set the mood so that she’s relaxed, and then tell her.”

 

“Just like that?” asked Harry.

 

“Just like that,” confirmed Remus.

 

“But her birthday is in twelve days! How are we supposed to get married in twelve days?”

 

“I’m sure you’ll think of something, Harry.”

//
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