Disclaimer: Oh, that I had a smidgen of our dear J.K. Rowling's talent or I wouldn’t be using her characters. They are hers alone. I'm just borrowing them for a while, I promise to return them only slightly used, but cherished nonetheless.
Meet me in Muggle London at the Swift & Stump
pub near Tower Bridge tomorrow at one o'clock.
Please don’t tell Ron, as this concerns Ginny.
Hermione read the letter a second time before folding it up neatly. She carefully placed it in her pocket, thankful that Ron was still asleep when the owl post came that morning.
She wondered if Harry needed help picking out a gift for his wife. Hermione was the only woman who knew Ginny well enough to know her style, much less size, if it came to lingerie shopping.
It seemed a bit odd, really, when Hermione thought about it. Harry and Ginny's anniversary was two months ago, it was still another two months before Ginny’s birthday and Christmas was half a year away.
'Maybe Harry got himself in the doghouse and wants to apologize with a nice diamond bauble,' she mused to herself. She then thought some more. Maybe Harry was ready to talk about other things.
Hermione pushed those thoughts aside to reflect on her own marriage.
She sighed heavily, feeling the invisible weight of disappointment on her own shoulders. Three years as Mrs. Ron Weasley, and the honeymoon was over long ago.
It didn't take a clever witch to know that Ron did not come from a family of means, but she thought that his circumstances would at least have driven him to make a wholehearted go at making something of himself in the world. Second string Keeper for the Chudley Cannons, while moonlighting as a barkeep at The Listing Broomstick, was not what one aspired to in one's youth.
There were days when Hermione kicked herself for allowing Ron to talk himself out of finishing Auror training, shortly after the fall of Voldemort. She had known it was a bad idea then, but kept her mouth shut for once, as she didn't feel like butting heads with Ron again just a few months before their wedding. Instead, she went to Harry to ask him to convince her fiancé to stay the course. Harry only shrugged, saying that Ron had made up his mind and it was out of his hands.
Putting down her now cold cup of tea, Hermione closed her eyes and tried to think of things she should be grateful for, before she headed off to work.
'Harry and Ron survived the war, both in one piece. All of the Weasleys lived. We have our health. I have a good job at the Ministry with little chance of being unemployed in the near future. We have a roof over our heads, albeit a rather small one, but at least it fits two people.'
She paused while trying to think of other blessings, but drew a blank.
All the positive things she could think of only reminded her of the things she was growing steadily resentful of. Yes, the golden trio had survived the war, but so did Fudge and his inane administration. Yes, all the Weasleys lived, but Albus and Minerva did not, both passing away in the last days of the war. Yes, she had a good job, but she was the main breadwinner of the household.
It took quite a few months of convincing herself that it was all right for a wife to earn more than her husband. She didn't mean to sound so anti-feminist in her head, but she still had a few old-fashioned values, such as the man being able to earn enough money so that when it came time for children, the woman could stay at home for a few months recovering from childbirth, without worrying that the rent wasn't going to be paid.
It wasn't that they lived hand-to-mouth, but between the upkeep on Ron's professional Quidditch broom, food, rent and other basic necessities, money was tight. Ron's meager salary with his two jobs, and Hermione's low-level job in which she was indispensable, but hardly compensated for her skill, knowledge and efforts, was barely enough to keep anything in their vault at Gringotts. There was little room for extravagance or unplanned splurges.
And that last thought... their flat. Room enough for two and a baby, as Molly had not so subtly hinted at during the past three family gatherings.
It wasn't as if Molly did not have enough grandchildren already. She had more than enough to qualify for her own township. It was just she didn't have any grandchildren from her two youngest children.
Hermione and Ginny both bore the brunt of Molly's grilling as to why they hadn't got ‘round to procreating. The brunette witch had politely sidestepped the questions by stating she was just getting her career started and that there would be plenty of time for children once they got a little more financially stable.
Molly countered with her own argument that if people waited until they had enough money before having children, no one would have any. She used herself as an example of how she made it work, despite Arthur's meager income. She clearly expected Hermione to take the same drastic measures. The Weasleys had enough love to fill in some of the shortcomings, but love did not put food on the table.
Ginny wasn’t quite in the same situation. Harry had inherited a sizable fortune of his own, and had a good paying job as an Auror. Mrs. Potter didn't work in the traditional sense, but volunteered for many charities and committees, which took up as much time as full-time employment.
Frequently, at family gatherings, Hermione and Ginny would make a quick escape to the back garden when the talk turned to which wife of the Weasley men was due with the latest grandchild. But at the last get-together, Molly ambushed Ginny as everyone began to sit down to dinner, chastising her for not trying to get pregnant. To this, Ginny hotly retorted, "I'll have kids when I'm damn good and ready–and NOT BEFORE!"
Ginny stormed from the table and Flooed back home, only to receive a Howler from her mother before the night was out. Hermione went to visit the Potters the next day. She found Ginny smashing every breakable object within the house. Harry remained shut up in his study, servicing his latest broom.
That was over two months ago, and Ginny still seemed upset over the incident.
Hermione hoped that Harry might be able to shed some additional light on the matter when they met the next day, and if not, maybe Hermione could finally broach the subject with Ginny at their weekly Wednesday lunch, day after next. There was more than just irritation from her mother's haranguing involved.
Rising from the rickety kitchen chair, Hermione headed over to the dresser and took a piece of parchment in which to scribble a reply. After signing her name, she tied the note to Pig's leg and gave him a treat before the tiny owl took wing into the clear June morning.
Hermione stepped into the pub and looked about the dark paneled interior, searching for the telltale thatch of unruly black hair. Near the back in a somewhat secluded booth, she saw the top of his head poking just above the back of the divider.
"Hi Harry," Hermione warmly greeted her old friend as she reached the table. She stopped cold with the pleasantries once she saw his upturned face, marred with dark circles and tears. His boyish features looked tired and drawn. A light crease was imprinted on his forehead, bisecting his famous scar.
Quickly, Hermione sat down, and her face immediately changed to one of concern.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Her tones were hushed and urgent.
The last time she had seen Harry this distraught was when Albus and Minerva died almost four years ago, just a week before the final battle.
Her mind raced through a hundred scenarios, trying to think of anything that would make her old friend so upset about Ginny, and required her discretion to not mention this meeting to Ron. Only one thing seemed to come to the top of her mind. Children.
Kids were a sore point with both Ginny and Hermione lately. After her blow-up with her mother, the youngest Weasley ranted to Hermione that she just wasn't emotionally ready for kids. She wasn't ready for the commitment to a squalling ball of flesh, as she so often referred, with sotto voce, to her many newborn nieces and nephews in confidence to Hermione. Of the many reasons she stated for why she wanted to put off children, was that she and Harry needed some more time to settle into marriage, do things that young couples do, like travel, and be insouciant for a while, without additional responsibilities. She blamed Voldemort for stealing many of the carefree years of her youth, that she was intent on reclaiming, plus interest.
Harry had never said one way or another that he was ready for kids or not. Certain he was finally going to discuss the issue with her, Hermione blinked and asked him to repeat what he just said, sure she had heard wrong.
"Ginny's having an affair."