When Hermione’s bedroom fire flared green and a redhead appeared in the flames, she expected it to be her husband Ron. He and Harry were attending a stag night of one of their Auror colleagues; it was not unlike them to stumble into the house one after another having imbibed an amount of alcohol that would require a Muggle to have their stomach pumped.
The redhead was not Ron.
Hermione felt her stomach tighten. Any of the other Weaslies calling at this hour could not be a good thing. She squinted at the flames; the only light source in the room. The small build of the caller was like the twins, but that long hair...Was it Bill? Why was he calling? Had something happened?
The Weasley in the flames tossed her hair out of her face. “Hermione? Sorry it’s late... Can I come through?”
Hermione sat up and stared into the fireplace. “Ginny? Of course... what’s the matter?”
Ginny stepped through a moment later wearing only socks and one of Harry’s oversized Weasly sweatshirts that hung a few inches below her rear.
“I... I just...” Ginny stumbled over her words and flushed painfully. She brought her hands up to her face and the way that they trembled prompted Hermione to leap up from her warm bed and rush to embrace her sister-in-law.
“Ginny, what on earth has happened? What’s wrong?”
Ginny leaned into the embrace whilst also batting Hermione away feebly with her shaking hands. “D-don’t panic, it’s... ah... I’m stupid...”
Hermione pulled Ginny towards the double bed and sat her down. She pulled the quilt around the younger woman and stared into her face with worry. “You’re not stupid Ginny. Tell me what’s upset you.”
Ginny took a deep breath and huddled into the warm duvet. “I’m sorry, don’t worry, it’s not... It’s not anything we don’t both already know... I just... Oh Hermione, some nights I can’t stand it!”
Hermione surveyed the redhead with confusion and concern and sat close to her, pushing their torsos together. “Calm down Ginny. Speak.”
Ginny stared at their bare thighs pressed together. “I can’t... I don’t... Can we just spend the night together like we used to? When we were little, before we got married. I don’t... I don’t want to be alone tonight Hermione. I... these thoughts in my head... I can’t bear them.”
“Of course you can spend the night Ginny,” Hermione said, scooting over and offering Ginny Ron’s half of the bed. “The boys might not be back until morning and they can sleep in the guest room or on the couch or something. Have you and Harry had a row? What thoughts?”
“A row?” Ginny repeated. “No. Harry doesn’t like arguing, you know that. He hasn’t even had one of his sulks recently.”
Hermione’s face was screwed up in thought. “Then what’s the matter?”
Ginny took a deep breath. “Don’t you ever feel like things aren’t how they’re supposed to be?” she asked.
“Like what?” Hermione asked.
“Do you really think you and Ron are meant to be together?” Ginny asked bravely.
“What?” Hermione shrieked in surprise. She heaved a heavy breath of her own; Ginny could see the skin around Hermione’s clavicle shift with the momentum. “Um... of course.”
“I don’t think I’m the right woman for Harry,” Ginny said bluntly.
Hermione took hold of both of the redhead’s freckled hands tightly. “Ginny... What makes you say that?”
Ginny knelt up beside Hermione at the top of the bed. “We both read all about Harry before he even knew who he was,” she said. “I love his bravery and his heroism and all the things I loved about him are things that I loved about storybook him. Not really Harry. I don’t love his moods or his nightmares or his inferiority complex...”
“Ginny,” Hermione blurted in surprise. “I’m sure you don’t...”
“I’m not like you,” Ginny interrupted. “You read all about him and yet you’re totally in tune with him as a real person. I can’t read between the lines with him. I can’t read him at all.”
Hermione felt tightness in her chest that she could not quite account for. “Ginny, I just know him so well because he’s my best friend and we’ve been through so much together. It’s perfectly normal...”
“Harry and I have had a *child* together Hermione, and we still barely know each other. What other life experience could we possibly go through that would make us know each other?”
“Ginny,” Hermione said quietly.
“You’re the brightest witch of our age Hermione,” Ginny said dully. “What do I do? I’m infamous for my bat-bogey hex and being married to Harry Potter. Surely you of all people can see the problem here.”
Hermione put her arm around the younger witch’s shoulder. She wanted to comfort Ginny but was silenced by the conviction in Ginny’s voice.
After a few beats Hermione said, “What about family? You gave Harry a family, Ginny. He’s never wanted anything more.”
“He’d still have a family if we separated,” Ginny said soberly. “Jamie wouldn’t disappear in a puff of smoke. He’d still be the father of Mum and Dad’s grandchild.”
“Ginny,” Hermione said tightly, “do you remember when you said that growing up with the twins taught you that anything is possible if you have enough nerve? Maybe you just need to stick this out?”
“He doesn’t love me, not the way he should. Not like a wife,” Ginny protested.
“You made Jamie easily enough, didn’t you?” Hermione said tartly. “Of course he loves you. Look at how he saved you in first year. Look at all you have in common, with your possessions by Voldemort and your hand-me-downs and your flying...”
Ginny laughed. “No. Harry’s... He cares a lot about other people but he doesn’t understand their *feelings*. I guess growing up like he did that’s understandable but... He *never* talks to me about that stuff. Or anything much. We sometimes manage to get into a conversation about Quidditch... but that’s it. He just expects me to exist and never actually notices me.”
Hermione rested her head against Ginny’s and considered. Her senses were enveloped in the flowery scent of Ginny’s shampoo. “Have you mentioned this to him? Harry might not realise or notice... how you feel.”
“Hermione,” Ginny said, “Harry can tell what you’re thinking and you can finish each other sentences. You’re a bright witch, you can see where I’m going with this.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Hermione said haughtily, although she was unconvinced she believed herself. “You and Harry complete each other. You’re strong, passionate people who make a perfectly logical couple.”
“That’s as stupid as saying you’re suited to my brother,” Ginny said starkly.
“I’ve always loved Ronald,” Hermione protested.
Ginny placed her hand on Hermione to stay her even though the brunette had not moved. “I’m not calling you a bad person Hermione. I’m just saying...”
“You’re *just saying* that we married the wrong men,” Hermione retorted a little shrilly. She covered Ginny’s hand with her own tightly.
“Is it Ron or Harry that can understand you without you saying a word? Do you tend to confide in Ron or Harry?” Ginny murmured.
Hermione held Ginny’s hand even tighter. The bones were warm and unyielding beneath her grasp.
“Think about how you berate Ron and how he ignores you. Think how you bicker. *Think of how naturally comfortable you and Harry are together*,” Ginny says. “Think about how difficult I find it to deal with Harry’s random outbursts without yelling. You’re always the one who instinctively knows how to make him feel better.”
“That’s just... that’s just how we are,” Hermione said against Ginny’s cheek. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“You think I haven’t seen how your hand and his find each other when there’s a loud noise in the Burrow?” Ginny replied. “I saw that look on your face at Fleur and Bill’s bond.”
Hermione shook her head slightly. “What look?”
“You know exactly what look,” Ginny said without venom. “I’m not saying... I’m not accusing you, or telling you what you feel is wrong. I just... you don’t even notice you’re doing it.”
“That’s because I’m not doing anything,” Hermione replied stoutly, not moving from Ginny’s side. “Has Ron been talking nonsense again?”
“It’s not nonsense Hermione,” Ginny said. “It’s not just Ron being ridiculous. Think about it; think about Dumbledore and Krum and Cho and Rita Skeeter. They saw it. Merlin, *I* see it and I’m *married* to Harry.”
“You need a trip to St Mungo’s,” Hermione muttered.
Ginny turned her head until her nose touched Hermione’s. “You need to leave that river in Egypt.”
“I’m not in denial,” Hermione said with a pout as she stared into Ginny’s wide, pained eyes.
Ginny swallowed. “I stopped asking Harry why he wore glasses after I saw you fixing them for the umpteenth time.”
Hermione went pale. “What?”
Ginny looked away, staring at the bluey-black broken skin of Hermione’s lips. It was easier to look at the result of Hermione’s constant quill-chewing than at Hermione’s unsettling gaze. “Come on Hermione, you’re the only one who can find Harry when he goes off in a mood. You can find him as though his Cloak was uncharmed cloth. How can you not have seen this? Why would you not have looked at these facts?”
“It’s all conjecture,” Hermione retorted mildly. “Circumstantial and insubstantial.”
“How likely are you to lie, or break rules, or risk your life, or your parents’ lives, for Ron?” Ginny asked Hermione’s lips. “Did you even *think* about it before doing it for Harry?”
Hermione’s lips opened and her perfect front teeth pressed into her scarred lower lip nervously. “That’s different,” she tried to say.
“It’s entirely different,” Ginny said. “You love Harry more than Ron, and Harry loves you more than his own wife, and he might even know it.”
“Harry’s clueless. He wouldn’t-”
“Harry’s selfless,” Ginny whispered. “You and Ron are his best friends. He loved you both enough to step back and not get in your way.”
“Even if that’s true,” Hermione said with difficulty, “you’re here discussing it with me. That makes you selfless, just like him. You’re made for him. I’m... I’m Ron’s.”
“Ron’s never deserved you Hermione,” Ginny protested, raising her eye’s to the brunette’s traumatised gaze.
Hermione closed her eyes and remembered the stricken look on Ron’s face when she made the mistake of declaring that she was sure Harry’s kissing was ‘more than satisfactory’ to buoy the bespectacled boy’s spirits after the Cho situation. She remembered even more vividly the raw look of anger and jealousy and rejection and agony on Ron’s face when she chose to remain horcrux-hunting with Harry after the locket debacle. “That’s not fair,” Hermione said.
“And Harry marrying someone he doesn’t love is fair, is it?” Ginny replied with a little difficulty keeping the hurt of her voice. “Do you want him to be the martyr forever?”
“You’re asking me to sacrifice your brother to the altar of Harry Potter!” Hermione exclaimed.
“I’m not asking you to do anything,” Ginny said. She continued stubbornly, “I care about you three. None of you will ever be truly happy like this, with the wrong people.”
“We have families now,” Hermione replied. “It’s too late.”
Ginny rolled over and opened Hermione’s underwear drawer.
Hermione glanced over Ginny’s newly exposed flesh for a moment before blurting, “What are you doing?”
Ginny rooted around amongst the black, white, red and gold tangle of lace and retrieved something from the back of the drawer that glinted in her hand.
Hermione peered at the object with a hushed expression. Guilt and temptation battled on her features.
“I knew you hadn’t really gotten rid of this,” Ginny said with satisfaction.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hermione said dully. “We can’t change anything. Our kids...”
“The smartest witch of our age could figure out a way to ensure they don’t disappear if we take them with us,” Ginny said, holding the time-turner aloft tantalisingly.
“We could cause a rift in time or something,” Hermione said. The primness in her voice lacked conviction.
“After what Harry did for the Wizarding World I think he’s owed one big indiscretion,” Ginny said.
“What time?” Hermione asked heavily. “When could we go to?”
“Haven’t you thought about it?” Ginny asked.
Hermione smirked in a way that was unlike her, although the bittersweet look in her eyes was familiar. “When he asked me to Slughorn’s party, or at the Potters’ grave in Godric’s Hollow, or when Ron left the horcrux hunt, or...” Hermione closed her eyes and remembered whispering to Harry, ‘We should just stay here and grow old.’
Ginny glanced away from the intensity of Hermione’s expression and lowered the time-turner. She lay down and rested her head on Hermione’s lap. The hairs on the back of Ginny’s neck were on end.
The weight on Hermione’s lap was familiar and comfortable, but Ginny’s hair tickled Hermione’s bare thighs. Hermione glanced down and laughed despite the tension in the air.
Ginny glanced up in surprise, and smiled. She watched Hermione’s stained lips stretch into a smile that warmed her. Such a beautiful smile. That smile should belong to Harry. Ginny wondered at the feelings tumbling in her stomach. Was she doing the right thing? Who was she jealous of? What was she doing to her brother’s life?
Did Ginny’s own feelings matter? There was such vibrancy and life in Hermione’s face. That expression had not been directed towards anything other than Hermione’s firstborn in a very long time.
Hermione’s lips twitched. “What are you thinking Ginny?”
“That I’m right, because the thoughts in your head right now shine through,” Ginny said. “You look beautiful.”
Guilt flickered on Hermione’s face again but she met Ginny’s gaze warmly. “We’re being ridiculous,” she chided.
“If you use the time turner,” Ginny began quietly, “Ron won’t ever know that you changed your mind. Everyone’s happy.”
“Except you. And Ron gets no one,” Hermione protested.
“Ron and I will be just fine. We can do anything; we’re Weaslies,” Ginny said. “And if you keep living like this Hermione... you’re going to end up hating each other.”
Hermione swallowed and twined her fingers with Ginny’s. “I know,” she admitted quietly. Ginny tightened her grip and Hermione rolled onto her back beside Ginny, not breaking the grasp.
Ginny pensively held the time-turner to the light in her other hand.
“I read that the hippogriff is a symbol of love,” Hermione said quietly.
Ginny rolled over and faced Hermione. She smiled and put her head on the older woman’s shoulder. Hermione leant her head gently against Ginny’s.
“Anything’s possible if you have enough nerve, huh?” Hermione said.
“Especially if you’re the brightest witch of our age,” Ginny murmured.
Hermione’s hand folded over the time-turner in Ginny’s grip. “Being nervous counts as nerve, right?”
Ginny laughed softly. Somehow it felt right for Hermione to share the sick feeling in her stomach. Ginny nodded.
“You’re going to be carrying a lot of books for me tomorrow,” Hermione said.