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The little leaded-glass window of Hermione’s regular room at The Burrow was open wide, letting in the not-quite-warm spring breeze. It ruffled the curtains and carried with it the promise of rain and flowers. April was always a soggy month and this year was looking to be no exception. Mrs. Weasley had Ron and Harry out in the yard doing something or other to keep the mud and puddles at bay. She could hear them down there, swearing and laughing, as she lay on her stomach on the handstitched counterpane of the bed.

Hermione had gotten out of yard duty by saying she had scrolls to study. Which was true. As a resident healer at St. Mungo’s she had a lot of for-work reading, even though she was officially on vacation this weekend. She’d even pulled out a treatise on the uses of fungus in cases of possession and set it on the desk, but she had a new novel in her bag and the day was so nice, plus she was on holiday…which was how she found herself sprawled on the bed, legs bent and ankles crossed like she was twelve, eagerly devouring her book.

There was a knock at the door and Ginny stuck her head in. “I see you’re avoiding the muck,” she said.

“You’re not down there either,” Hermione replied, scooting over to make room on the bed. Ginny came and sat down cross-legged on the mattress.

“It’s…” She made a face. “Yucky. And I’m sure the boys are handling things and probably having a grand time rolling around in the mud like pigs.”

“It will all be dry by June, right?” Hermione asked, frowning. It still seemed unreal that she was engaged.  Ron had got down on his knee in front of his whole family on Christmas morning and asked her. Of course she’d said yes. It had been wonderful, the happy look on his face and all their friends and family giving them hugs and congratulations. The family part especially. She’d always been so alone, from starting life as the single child of two busy parents to becoming the muggle-born teacher’s pet at Hogwarts. Her training as a healer had been, and continued to be, demanding. Feeling like she was important to someone and really a part of a family meant everything to her.

She ran her thumb over the band of her engagement ring. It was a simple, tiny diamond and apparently a family heirloom. She adored it.

There was also the fact she loved Ron. He was comfortable and safe, words that were very important to her after all the terrifying things that had happened to her and to those she cared about. She and Ron would have a wonderful life together, and as soon as her residency was over, they were planning to start a family.

They lived together in London, a tiny flat that was all they could afford at the moment. It was homey and she enjoyed their life’s rhythms. Ron was so earnest when he made love to her that she couldn’t help but be moved by his feelings, even if it wasn’t some swept-off-her-feet passion on her part. And if he didn’t look like he belonged on a magazine cover, that was no big deal, because neither did she. There was no pressure on her to ever be more than just Hermione, the smart girl more at home with books than with other people.

“I promise it’ll all be perfect by June,” Ginny said, reaching a hand out to curl a strand of Hermione’s hair around her finger. “And not so humid. Your hair’s trying to go wild right now.”

“And that’s with the extra-extra-smoothing charm to help keep it in place.” Hermione set her book down on the bed and sat up, patting at her hair.

“What are you reading?” Ginny asked, craning her neck to see the cover. “Bound to the Veela?” Ginny giggled. “Oh my, Hermione! You read that drivel? Veela romance novels?”

Hermione winced. “It’s just for fun. Sometimes even my brain needs a break.”

“But veela romance novels? It’s kind of icky, isn’t it? The girl doesn’t get a choice, there’s just some bird-guy that swoops in and is like: you’re my mate now, deal.”

“There’s usually more to it than that,” Hermione said. “It’s romantic to think about getting swept away with such big emotions. And they’re just stories, Ginny. Everything always works out okay in the end with everyone being happy and in love. They’re not how the real world works at all.”

Ginny scrunched her face up. “Not at all. Do you remember that news story some years back about the witch that died and her veela lover, who was not her husband, showed up at her funeral?”

“No. I was probably busy with the insane demands of my basic healer training.” Hermione leaned forward, intrigued. “What happened?”

“It was the middle of a very solemn ceremony—she was part of some well-to-do pureblood family—and suddenly this male veela, in full wings and bird-head glory, shows up literally out of the blue. He’s screeching and striking anyone that gets close. The coffin’s just been lowered down and once he’s cleared a space he starts making this horrible wailing sound and throws himself on top of the coffin, where he promptly dies from his heart giving out. No one, especially not the witch’s husband, had any idea this guy existed. It turned out that he’d fathered all three of her kids, which means there’s now some big legal battle about money and inheritance that’s still dragging on.”

Hermione bit her lip. “That’s certainly…lurid.”

“And not all that romantic,” Ginny added. “I mean, I guess your heart literally exploding with grief is in a sad way, but think about it: she was so embarrassed that she was a creature’s mate that she hid him away and spent lots of time pretending he didn’t exist.”

“That’s really sad. And he wouldn’t have been able to help himself, he would have done what she wanted to try and make her happy.” Hermione sighed. “She probably liked how intense he was with her, how he made her feel, but not enough to face criticism for him. He was just a dirty little secret.”

Ginny nodded. “The whole thing is more weird and yucky than tragic.”

“I’ve had to read about veelas as part of my training,” Hermione said. “And when you have half-veelas and add in human emotions and mental baggage, it all gets complicated fast. The death rate is horrible among young part-veelas because they usually have human mates and those mates don’t feel the same compulsions so often they don’t want someone they hardly know, and that’s not entirely human, being all over them. So if the young part-veela isn’t veela enough to simply die because they’ve been rejected, they often spiral downwards into depression and suicide.”

“That’s horrible. I can’t even imagine feeling driven to be with someone. What if you don’t like them?”

“Or they don’t like you?”

Both Ginny and Hermione sat silently, contemplating how not fair the world could be.

“That never happens in those books, though, huh?” Ginny finally asked.

Hermione shook her head. “Never. Even if the girl thinks she doesn’t like the guy at first, she always secretly does. Or, if society would frown on them, the hero and heroine always find a way around it to be together. It’s nice to imagine, at least for a little while, that fate gets things right and that people are meant to be happy.”

“With hot sexy-time scenes?”

Hermione’s cheeks flushed. “Yeah, those too.” Veela males were apparently better…equipped (at least in stories) than the average guy and, while Hermione would never admit it to anyone, the wings did something for her.

Ginny laughed and stood up. “C’mon, time to put your daydreams away. It’s almost lunch and we should head down and see if between the two of us we can cast enough charms to get most of the mud off Ron and Harry so they can get some food into them and warm up.”

Smiling, Hermione shoved the book back in her bag. Fantasies were nice, but Ginny was right, the things that mattered were the things that were real.