Impatient wizards and witches crowded the hallways leading to the Wizengamot hearing rooms. The air was crackling with anticipation and relief. For the most of them, this was the moment they had been waiting for ever since the Marriage Law had passed three years earlier. It had been clear from the beginning that the law wouldn’t work or hold.
The whole idea of the law was to increase the depleting magical population. Only they overlooked the one little fact; you might be able to force couples into marriage, but not into the marital bed. Especially since the law didn’t hold any sanctions on not procreating. Thus, the expected influx of magical babies never happened. In fact, the opposite had occurred: an extreme drop in the already low birth rate.
It took the Ministry three long years to realise their mistake and retract the law, now a month ago. The day the news had broken, spontaneous celebrations had been held till the wee hours of the morning all over Wizarding Britain. The next day, numerous owls had swarmed the MoM with divorce petitions. It had taken the cleaning crew days to clean up the mess the birds had made.
The couples that had been forced to marry under the law were allowed to petition for a divorce without questions asked. There were a few conditions, of course. The most important and relevant one was that neither spouse would have any claim to the other's possessions. This condition would have been considered too harsh in any other divorce petition, but the witches and wizards who wanted to divorce accepted them readily. In return, they could pretend that the last three years had never happened and continue their lives where they’d left off.
Between all of the happy soon-to-be ex-couples, sat a young woman trying her best to keep her composure. Every few minutes, she took a deep breath to ease her sorrow. Unlike the witches and wizards around her, she was alone and not happy at all. Her husband, in his eagerness to get rid of her, hadn’t found it necessary to be present and had sent his Arguer, Mr Wilkes, to represent him. His absence hurt her even more than the divorce papers that had awaited her at breakfast a month ago.
Wiping away a treacherous tear, the young woman, once known as Katie Bell, focussed on a small crack on the floor in a desperate attempt to distract her mind off her husband; a man she had come to love over the last few years. Up until a month ago, she would have said that he felt the same about her. They'd never spoken the words aloud since he wasn’t one for saccharine words or actions, but she'd known. At least she thought that she had.
Unwillingly, her minded drifted back to their beginning. Almost three years ago to date that the Ministry had matched Katie with her husband. She wasn’t ashamed to admit that she had begged, cried and threatened the Ministry clerk to find her someone else, anyone but the current one. She had remembered the cocky boy from then, with his unsightly looks and offensive behaviour, and hadn’t been able to imagine spending her life with such a crude and vile person. Unfortunately, the clerk had ignored her pleas, reasoning that if it were discovered, everyone would want a reconsideration.
After days of crying and ranting, Katie had realised that she had no other choice than accept her fate. Refusing the match would have led to her banishing to the Muggle world without her wand and magic. Magic was all she knew and the possibility of losing it had scared her immensely. She hadn’t looked back since then; there hadn’t been another choice anyway.
Their bonding had been a mere ten-minute ceremony at the Ministry, followed by a reception at the Flint house. The guests had separated like oil and water and hadn't tried to mingle. There hadn't been any funny speeches nor a father-daughter dance or even a hilarious moment with the cutting of the cake; all the things Katie had envisioned for her wedding day. The bride and groom had spent the wedding night in separate rooms and went back to work on Monday.
Their relationship had been non-existing for the best part of the first year of their marriage. Katie had reckoned he needed space and time to come to terms with everything. But she had been willing to make the best of the situation as they were bonded for life, as she saw it. And a bit more effort from his side would have been welcome. Simple things, like having dinner together or even talking to each other about their day. There were only good mornings and good nights.
The first months Katie had felt completely alone, crying herself to sleep almost every night while wondering what she had ever done to deserve this.
It was somewhere during their eighth month of marriage that something shifted between her and her husband. She had been cooking dinner when he’d came home early and had asked to join her. Katie had stared at him for a good five minutes before she'd found her voice and agreed to it. From then on, they had dined together, talking about everything and anything. Superficial at first, but over time, they got to know each other. From there a friendship had developed. That friendship had turned into infatuation at some point. Then, months after their first dinner together, they shared their first kiss and on their second anniversary, they shared a bed for the first time.
One by one, Katie's expectations of married life had come true. The last year had been a fantasy come true and she'd never been happier. Until a month ago.
Her musings were interrupted when the door to the courtroom opened and a sturdy clerk stepped out. Squinting at a scroll in his hand, he called out, “Case 7592, Flint versus Flint!”
Slowly, Katie rose from her chair and walked towards the room where her happiness would end. Because after today, she wouldn’t be Mrs Katie Flint anymore.
The pub was crowded, warm and noisy. At a far corner of the bar sat a dark haired, broad shouldered wizard drinking Firewhisky at an alarming rate. The man, Marcus Flint, had a murderous look on his face that kept others at bay. The man’s foul mood and excessive drinking were caused by the fact that today was the day his marriage ended. And not for the first time since he ordered his Arguer to prepare the necessary documents, he wondered if he’d done the right thing.
The Firewhisky didn't ease the tightness in his felt whenever he thought of her, which was all the time. With her, there had been no need to pretend. She had made him want to let his guard down. And for the first time, someone had liked him for who he was. Not his family name, lineage, or the contents of his vaults. With her, he'd been just Marcus. She'd accepted him the way he was, faults and imperfections included.
So why had he then? What had made him throw away the best thing to have happened to him? Normally, he would have been too selfish and possessive to let her go. She was his and his only, but that hadn’t stopped him from contacting Wilkes the day after the Wizengamot's decision to revoke the law. It was impulsive, and for the first time in his life, he’d decided to do the right thing.
And the right thing would be to let her go, allow her to live her life just as she had planned before the Ministry's meddling. Barely nineteen and a year out of school she had been, when they had pushed her into marriage, into his life.
When he'd first learnt who his match was, all he had remembered was the ickle, flat chested fourteen-year-old girl that had mouthed him off during Quidditch games. The idea of marrying that girl had made him sick to his stomach. But then he’d met her and was shocked to learn that she wasn't that girl anymore. Right then and there, he’d decided not the fight the Ministry on the matter.
Of course, his parents hadn’t agreed. Blood was and always would be important to them and diluting it with a Mudblood would throw away generations of purity. Not that they could've done something about it; it was either marrying her or ending the Flint bloodline and live as a Muggle. In the end, magic had outweighed blood.
Th e first year of marriage, Marcus had kept his distance to give her space and time to adjust to the fact she was his wife now. He’d never intervened with her life or asked about it, thinking that was what she wanted. Then the dinners had started, every night he would come home to a warm plate, dinner she’d prepared and had kept warm for him. The feelings that small act had triggered had been alien to him.
It had taken him another few months before he’d mustered enough courage to go home early to join her and maybe talk. After an awkward start, he’d come to enjoy these moments with her. The first time he had been allowed to kiss her, he’d felt like a teenager buying his first PlayWizard. And the first time she’d shared his bed, laid herself bare for him, he knew he loved her. Not that he ever told her, he wouldn't know how to say those things aloud. But he knew that she knew.
And now, he was about to lose her because of a momentary lapse in sanity.
Katie walked out of the Ministry building, feeling numb. The proceeding hadn’t lasted more than fifteen minutes from start to end. Mr Wilkes passed her with his usual sour expression, his formal robes billowing behind him. She hoped that she would never see that man again, blaming him for the humiliation she’d been put through.
Stepping out of the Ministry building, Katie was momentarily blinded by the bright sunlight. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she wondered what she was supposed to do now. The house she had shared with Marcus wasn’t her home anymore. The elves had packed and shipped her belongings back to her parents’ house, only leaving out the clothes she would need that day. That left her with one option; moving back in with her parents.
Her parents were travelling, enjoying their early retirement, and weren't due back for another three weeks. They weren’t aware of the happenings from the last month since she'd deliberately maintained the façade of the happy young bride. It was going to be a great shock for them to find their daughter had returned to her old room.
Sighing, Katie made her way to the public Apparition point and joined in the queue. Keeping her eyes firmly on her shoes, she shuffled forward. She didn’t dare to look up, afraid that they could see that she was cast aside by her husband like yesterday’s Prophet. Just as it was her turn, she was surprised to hear cheering and someone calling her name. Before she could comprehend what was happening, she was enveloped in a hug with Alicia, Angelina and Leanne.
“There you are! We almost missed you!” Alicia said with a broad smile on her face, “We didn’t expect it to be finished this fast.”
“What are you doing here?” Katie asked, forcing herself to smile back. She wasn’t in the mood for company, especially a happy lot like the girls.
“To celebrate, of course,” Leanne answered flatly and then squealed, “You’re free of that troll!”
If any of the girls saw the hurt expression on their friend's face after that comment, they ignored it.
“Yeah, now you don’t have to act if you like that wanker. You nearly had me fooled the last time I saw you two.” Angelina shook her head in apparent disbelief. “We’re gonna go out and get pissed tonight. And while we're at it, we're gonna find you a man that isn’t an eyesore. I hear Oliver is also single again and a little birdy told me he’s out celebrating tonight. This is your chance!” she added, the excitement unmistakable in her voice and features.
“What? No, I don’t-” but before Katie could protest any further, she was cut off by Alicia.
“First, we’ll need to get you primped. We have reservations at Aphrodite’s Spa. Hold on!”
With that, the woman Disapparated, taking Katie in a side-along. None of them had noticed the black-haired wizard watching them from a short distance.
Daytime turned into night, and Marcus still hadn't moved from his seat at the bar. The copious amounts of Firewhisky had barely affected him to his great chagrin. He’d hoped to drink himself into a stupor so he could forget about miserable life. Unfortunately, all it did was strengthen the memories, her smile on the forefront of his mind.
He didn’t look up when someone took a seat beside him. It had happened throughout the day, and his stoic disregard made sure no one stayed longer than necessary.
“You look like shite, mate,” a familiar voice said.
Glancing sideways, he discovered that the voice belonged to Adrian Pucey, one of his oldest friends. Instead of answering, Marcus just grunted and gulped down the last of his drink.
“Are we celebrating or mourning?” Pucey asked in a too cheery voice.
“What do you think?” Marcus snapped.
Pucey just hummed non-committedly and ordered a round of drinks for them both. He’d known where the find his friend today. There weren’t many pubs left in Diagon or Knockturn Alley that allowed Marcus Flint entrance. There had been a time not so long ago that Marcus had been the kind of wizard to draw his wand at the slightest disagreement after one too many drinks. Although those days were in the past, the older generation of pub-owners still refused to serve him. The owner of the Spotted Dragon, a young and inexperienced bloke, was the only one who allowed him entrance.
The two men sat in silence beside each other for a while, sipping their drinks. The bar was getting busier with wizards and witches celebrating their newfound freedom. Having been married since before the law, and happily at that, Adrian couldn’t imagine that one would want to celebrate the end of their marriage. But then again, he hadn’t been forced to marry someone he didn’t like.
Not for the first time, he wondered what had gotten into Marcus to file for a divorce. The man wasn’t a price and still, he’d managed to get the Bell girl to look at him like he was a god.
"Idiot," Adrian muttered barely audible. But Marcus probably already knew that. And in a few minutes, he was going to feel more miserable than he was already feeling. As on cue, a rowdy group of witches stumbled through the door. An equally rowdy group of wizards followed them a few seconds later.
Adrian leant back grinning. ‘Let the fireworks start.’
Quite uncomfortably, Katie sat next to Oliver Wood. The Puddlemere captain was talking non-stop about his achievements last season -one would think that he was the only team member- and how his ex-wife hadn’t understood the proper meaning of being a Quidditch wife. For some reason, he was sitting real close to her, their legs touching and his hand keep wandering to her thighs. More than once she’d gently pushed it off. Katie made a mental note to hex her friends for putting her in this situation.
The spa had been bad enough; being scrubbed raw, plucked and waxed in areas she was not comfortable with, had drained her. All she had wanted was to go home and cry herself to sleep with her old and ragged teddy bear. Instead, she'd found herself listening to how horrible Marcus was and how lucky she was for getting away from him. And just when she’d thought that her ordeal was over, the girls had hoisted her into a too tight dress and dragged her along for a few drinks.
The girls hadn’t listened to her protests, stating she needed a lot of drinks and preferably a good shag to celebrate her divorce. And that’s where Oliver came in, Katie reckoned. The mere idea made her skin crawl, he was kind enough, in a big brother way. Nothing more.
Over the years, her husband had become her prince charming, flaws and all. His crooked smile had the ability turn her into a puddle of goo. He could cuss up a storm one moment and make her laugh in the next. His touches were surprisingly gentle and tender, and his kisses made her weak in the knees. No, Oliver couldn’t hold a candle to her Marcus.
“So, Katie. What do you say we get out of here?” Oliver asked her, clearly confusing the dreamy look on her face with something else.
His voice brought Katie back from her daydreams, and for the first time, she noticed how close he was. “Oh, I still have my drink,” she replied lightly, holding up her glass. She had taken one sip for the show and just kept holding it to keep her friends from buying her more.
“I can make you a new one at my flat,” Oliver answered smoothly.
Too smooth for her liking.
His face was inching closer as he licked his lips. His hand had found its way on her thigh again. Slightly panicked, Katie leant back to avoid him.
“I quite enjoy this one. Thank you, though.”
“You haven’t tried mine…”
“And she’s not gonna,” a deep voice growled.
Adrian ordered a new round of drinks and waited until they were served before he spoke again.
“So, have you talked to Wilkes yet?”
Of course, he hadn't; Adrian had assured his bitter old colleague that he would pass on the Wizengamot’s verdict to Marcus. “I was there today, had some free time.”
The only response was a wary glance from Marcus. Adrian knew he had his attention.
“She looked good, a bit sad if you asked me.” Adrian swallowed his chuckles when Marcus grunted. “Wilkes needed ten minutes to explain why the divorce should be granted. I must say, that was quite a list. Most couples just say that they want out-”
“Just get to the point, Pucey,” Marcus cut him off.
Rolling his eyes, Adrian continued, “As I was saying, Wilkes took almost ten minutes to argue why the divorce should be granted. Bored the Wizengamot to sleep, to be honest. And then, it was your wife’s turn. The chit just agreed with everything.”
Marcus’ couldn’t deny the disappointment he felt. She didn’t even fight him on this? She used to tell him off for the colour socks he wore, and she just let this pass without much fuss. Maybe, he made the right choice after all.
“I’m not sure if she heard half of what was said, the Chief Warlock had to call her few times before she even stated her name.” Arian glanced sideways at his friend, grinning at the obvious way he was trying not to look overly interested. “Has Wilkes told you about the conditions of the divorce law?”
“Yes, everyone knows them.”
Marcus looked up in question. “What? Are you gonna quiz me on them?”
“Do you know there is one more condition, other than the ones the has Prophet has printed or Wilkes told you? The one not related to possessions?”
By Marcus’ reaction, Adrian could tell that he didn't know. It was no wonder, though. The condition rarely, if never, applied to the couples who wanted a divorce, until today. It had caused quite a stir. “Did you know that the Wizengamot can deny a divorce petition?"
“Oh, why would they do that?” Marcus didn’t want to talk about this, but something in Pucey’s voice told him to pay attention.
Instead of answering, Adrian ordered another round of drinks for them. He loved to build up dramatics. It was what had made him into the successful Arguer he was today, after all. It wasn’t until the bartender put the glasses in front of them that he continued.
“The whole reason for the law was to ensure an increase in the birth rate. Unfortunately, they assumed that marriage would-”
“I know all of this already. Get to the point,” Marcus growled.
“The point is, the current administration is smarter than the ones that put the law into action. Meaning, they have decreed that once a marriage is consummated with consequences, the law in its original form is accepted by the couple. So, the request for an annulment or a dissolution of the bond cannot be accepted on the grounds of not complying with the reasons for retraction of the Marriage Law.”
Marcus blinked a few times, trying to process what Adrian was telling. Not able to make heads or tales of any of it, he shook his head in resignation. “I’m a simple man, Pucey. Use simple words.”
Grinning, Adrian slid off his chair and tossed a few Galleons on the bar, covering a large part of the bill. “What I’m saying is that you’re still married. You might want to talk to your wife about the why. Well, what do you know, there she is. Is that Wood hanging all over her? See you later, yeah?”
Adrian hurried out of the bar. Although he would have preferred to see the action that was sure to follow, his wife had supper waiting for him. He was sure that he would read about in the Prophet tomorrow morning. Hopefully, Marcus wouldn’t hurt Wood too much. He had money running on the Sunday match after all.