Past and Present
Ginny watched Hermione hastily leave up the stairs to take Hannah outside for a while. Her plan was the best they had at the moment, but if Hermione wasn't comfortable with it, they would need a new one.
We can't have another Phlegm in the family! Ginny thought decisively.
"I agree with Hermione," Harry said suddenly, watching Ginny carefully for her reaction.
Heaving a sigh, Ginny nodded. "I thought you might," she said dejectedly. "I was carried away with the hope that Ron and Hermione would get back together. I didn't think things through."
Harry smiled slightly, feeling a bit uncomfortable at her chosen phrase. It reminded him of his seventh year, when Ginny tried to tag along with him, Ron and Hermione at Christmas after Hermione had discovered the location of one of the Horcruxes. Harry broke up with Ginny the previous June to keep her safe; Ginny, however, seemed to think that if she could prove she was strong enough to protect herself, Harry would consider getting back together with her.
His refusal to let Ginny join them had resulted in a fight that lasted until Easter and resulted in another broken heart.
Ginny returned the small smile, blushing as she realised what she had just said. She changed the subject by asking if Harry wanted a drink. He nodded, and with a wave of her wand, two mugs from the cupboard flew onto the table and with a second wave, they filled to the brim with steaming hot Butterbeer.
As she handed Harry his drink, Ron wandered into the kitchen, studying the back door with interest. He didn't seem to notice his sister and best friend watching him curiously from the table. He took a deep breath and pushed open the back door, leaving the pair alone once again.
"You were only trying to help, and I'm sure Hermione is grateful," Harry said, after taking a mouthful of the creamy drink.
Ginny absent-mindedly traced the top of the mug with her index finger, avoiding Harry's gaze. "I know, I just wanted to prove--show that I could help in some way," she said, half talking about the current situation and half talking about a subject she knew Harry didn't want mentioned.
Harry reached across the table, placing his hand on top of Ginny's. He looked up at her, into her chocolate brown eyes as Ginny took a sharp intake of breath.
"I'm sorry," he said sincerely. There was no need to say what for, as they could both see they were thinking about the same part in their lives by their expressions and pink cheeks. "I shouldn't have said all those things back then." He licked his lips and continued, "I was trying to protect you."
"Oh, Harry," Ginny said, her thumb stroking Harry's as his fingers intertwined with her own. "I didn't – I don't need protecting, I'm a big girl. I managed to get into Slughorn's 'Slug Club' for protecting myself, remember? And I fought Death Eaters in my fourth and fifth years at Hogwarts. I may have been hurt, but scrapes heal and I'm still here."
Harry chuckled; he couldn't deny that Ginny had grown into an independent woman. Perhaps he had misjudged her abilities all those years ago? They only broke up because of Voldemort, because Harry didn't want Ginny to end the same way his parents, Sirius and Dumbledore did. Now, however, Voldemort was gone, there was no one threatening to kill him, and Ginny was right: she was still here …
Harry's smile grew considerably bigger as he cleared his throat. "Ginny, I –"
"Hello, dears, here to help with the dinner?"
Harry and Ginny retracted their hands swiftly, their faces burning red as Molly, who hadn't seemed to notice what she had just interrupted, started to tie the back of her apron.
Ginny jumped up and walked over to her mother. Tucking a strand of flaming red hair behind her ear, she asked, "Shall I peel potatoes, mum?"
"Mhm? Oh yes, thank you," Molly said, waving her wand over the counter as she used several non-verbal spells to set up everything she needed. "Harry dear, if you would be so kind and set the table?"
Harry silently nodded, looking fleetingly at Ginny as he passed her. He found the plates and glasses in the bottom cupboard by the stove and began setting them out with the cutlery from the drawer above. Glancing back over at Ginny, his heart skipped a beat: she had taken one of Molly's spare aprons from a hook on the wall and put it on. She pulled her hair free from the neck strap and released it so her red tresses cascaded down her shoulders.
Noticing, Ginny gave Harry a small smile, her cheeks tingeing pink as she got to work on the potatoes.
The sun was starting to set behind the hills before Hermione took Hannah back inside the Burrow. She didn't want to go in after Ron, in case he and Miranda had decided to sit in the kitchen for a while, and after what had happened between the pair in the garden, Hermione thought it was best if she stayed outside for a while.
But what had happened?
One minute she and Ron were fighting and the next … it was almost like their first date all over again, staring into each others eyes like there was no one else in the world. However, it wasn't their first date; they were now adults with responsibilities, jobs and lives of their own.
Yet, Hermione couldn't help but wonder, what would have happened if Miranda hadn't intervened? A million scenarios had run through her mind as she pushed Hannah on the swing.
Would he have kissed me?
Would I have kissed him?
Would we finally be a family? With Miranda packing her dragon-skinned bags at this moment?
Hermione knew she was being foolish; Ron had moved on, and in some sort of way, she had too, or at least, that's what she kept telling herself when she saw Ron and Miranda together.
As Hermione walked into the kitchen, she caught the heavenly smell of dinner. Molly was at the stove stirring something in one pan while her wand was flipping over something in the other.
Ginny was at the fridge, choosing a bottle of Elderflower wine to go with dinner, while Harry was already seated at the table, staring at his empty plate, his expression of deep contemplation.
Hermione placed Hannah in her highchair and sat next to Harry. She looked intently at him, as though trying to read his thoughts. He only snapped out of whatever he was thinking about when Molly asked, "Harry, would you call Ron and Miranda down please?"
As Harry left the kitchen, Ginny came over to talk to Hermione. "How did it go with Ron?" she asked. "I saw him go out into the garden." She waved her wand over the bottle cork so it released with a pop, and then placed the bottle in the middle of the table, next to the salt and pepper pots.
"Nothing special happened," Hermione lied, eyeing Molly, who was humming the wedding march to herself.
Leaning over her shoulder at where Hermione was looking, Ginny nodded in understanding and mouthed quietly, "Something happened then? Are we any closer to getting rid of her?"
"It's not polite to whisper, Ginevra," Molly said, charming several large bowls over to the table, each filled with a different dish.
Hermione covered her mouth with her hand to suppress a giggle as Ginny blushed red. Hermione nodded at her friend, which caused the redhead to grin.
Molly glanced up at the clock, where one of the hands showed Arthur was travelling and then a moment later moving to home as Arthur Apparated with a pop into the kitchen. He removed his hat and cloak and hung them on the wall before giving Molly a peck on the cheek.
"How was work, dear?" Molly asked, pouring her husband a glass of wine.
"So-so," Arthur replied, kicking his shoes off under the table with an 'ah'. He swallowed a large mouthful of wine and began telling his wife about his day.
Knowing they wouldn't have any eavesdroppers, Hermione asked Ginny, "And how are things with Harry?"
"I don't know what you mean," Ginny said offhandedly, taking a seat on Hannah's other side.
"You could have cut the tension in here with a Severing Charm," Hermione said knowingly, raising her eyebrows. Ginny flushed and ignored her friend by pretending to be deep in concentration as she put on Hannah's Chudley Cannons bib.
Moments later, Harry returned, Ron and Miranda in tow. Harry took a seat opposite Ginny, giving her a shy smile as he sat down. Ron and Miranda opted to sit away from Hermione; Hermione swore she saw Miranda shoot her a dirty look.
"Mmm, Molly, this all smells delicious," Miranda said, her nose in the air, breathing in the evening's meal. Molly forced a smile as she dished up the Shepherds Pie. "You must give me the recipe!"
Molly gave Miranda a cool smile and said, in a forcible polite tone, "Well, dear, it's an old family recipe, you see, and I'm sworn to secrecy."
"Oh, well, never mind," Miranda shrugged off, she plastered a non-convincing smile on her face and began spooning peas onto her plate. There was an awkward silence with the only sound coming from Hannah, who kept giggling; Hermione wasn't sure if her daughter understood what was so funny or if she simply felt the need to keep the room from being in total silence.
Every so often, Hermione would look up at Ron, who appeared troubled. He hadn't eaten much of his dinner, and had taken to pushing around the carrots and peas with his fork. Hermione frowned, feeling sympathy for the poor man, who only wanted his family to like his new girlfriend. She knew that if her family acted the same way around someone she cared about, she would be feeling pretty lousy, too.
It wasn't Ron's fault that no one had taken to her straight away. The same thing happened when Bill brought Fleur Delacour home to meet the family. Molly had tried to distance herself from spending time with her future daughter-in-law, but after what happened to her eldest son almost a year after Fleur entered their lives, Molly accepted her as part of the family.
Hermione only hoped that if Molly did accept Miranda as part of the Weasley family, it wouldn't be under the same circumstances.
As she looked up at Ron once more, watching as he buried his vegetables in his half-eaten Shepherds Pie, Miranda caught her eye. She looked up at Hermione through heavily-lidded eyes and a smirk that was worthy of a Malfoy. Miranda's hand moved to stroke Ron's, which was resting on the table. As her fingers stroked the freckled skin, her expression spoke a thousand words, the first two being: He's mine. She continued to watch Hermione, who didn't want to give her the satisfaction of turning away.
As usual, Ron was oblivious to what was happening right under his nose and continued to play with his food. Hermione sighed and finally broke eye contact with Miranda by turning to watch Ginny feed Hannah as she rested her head on her upright arm.
The young witch was happily eating her food, which Ginny was feeding her by making whooshing noises and moving the spoonful of baby carrots around like a broomstick.
"Whoooosh!" Ginny said, as the plastic spoon zoomed around and then into Hannah's eager mouth. Ginny grinned as Hannah impatiently reached out to the spoon, wanting more. "Alright, hold on. Aunt Ginny wants to have some of her dinner too, you know." Ginny waved her wand over the spoon and it began scoping up some pie from the small bowl and feeding Hannah, as though an invisible hand was doing so.
Hannah was a little sceptical when the invisible hand fed her; she was unused to being fed by magical means, as Hermione had opted for the Muggle way and Molly, Ginny and Arthur—who all took turns feeding Hannah—followed Hermione's example.
The rest of dinner went as smoothly as possible given the company. When it was finished, Arthur made his way to the lounge to read another chapter of So Your Grandchild is a Half-Blood: What to Expect With Muggleborn Influences, a bowl of chocolate mousse in his hand; Miranda excused herself to use the bathroom; and Harry pulled Ginny out into the garden.
As Hermione began to help Molly clear the dishes off the table, she noticed Ron had hung behind. He was watching Hannah, his expression soft, as she tapped her empty bowl with her plastic spoon. Suddenly, she hit the bowl too hard and the spoon flew out of her hand onto the ground, looking down, Hannah tried to reach, her eyes watering.
As though by instinct, Ron leapt down and picked up the spoon. Hannah looked up at her father with curious wide eyes as he handed her back the spoon. A small smile escaped his lips as he watched his daughter get back to what she was doing. As he left the kitchen, he looked back, his expression of awe and tenderness.
"He loves her."
Hermione turned to face Molly, who was holding a tea-towel, ready to dry the dishes. Her kind features told Hermione that she wasn't talking about Miranda.
"I know," Hermione said, picking the collection of dishes up and putting them on the washboard. "I can see it in his eyes." This sentence should make any mum happy, to know that her child's dad loved them, but the words made Hermione's heart ache. She knew that as long as Miranda was around, Ron wouldn't be able to spend as much time with Hannah.
Or me, for that matter.
Hermione sighed and took out her wand. "Aguamenti," she said, as water poured out of the tip onto the dirty plates. Dinner was awkward, but it could have been worse. At least with Ron there, Miranda wasn't able to do more than give Hermione sinister looks.
As Hermione helped Molly with the plates and glasses, a thought entered her mind. "Molly, can I ask you something?"
Not looking up from drying one of Hannah's bottles, she replied, "Of course, dear."
"Is it true that the Shepherds Pie recipe is an old family recipe?"
"My mum was given that recipe from her mum and her mum from her mum. So yes, I want it to stay within the family," Molly replied, placing the bottle on the shelf above the sink.
Hermione furrowed her brow and turned to the elder witch. "You gave me the recipe last year," she said, her heart swelling.
"I know," Molly said, glancing up at Hermione with a knowing smile.
Never feeling so accepted or loved, Hermione made her way upstairs on cloud nine. She passed Arthur, who had fallen asleep in his chair with Crookshanks on his lap and she was almost at her room when she bumped into someone.
"Oh, sorry," Hermione said, not noticing the extra person on the stairs.
"You will be."
Hermione looked up and saw Miranda staring at her, her hands on her hips.
"Excuse me?" Hermione asked.
"Don't play dumb, I know you want Ronald for yourself," Miranda said. "You think you can take him away from me?"
Hermione blushed pink and retorted, "Ron and I were over a long time ago." She stood up tall so she could reach Miranda's height.
"Just you remember that," Miranda warned, her tone threatening.
"Only if you remember that Ron has a daughter," Hermione said, feeling braver from her talk with Molly a few minutes before.
"Oh, of course, you won't let me forget that, will you?" Miranda asked sarcastically. "I saw you two outside … you were practically throwing yourself at him. Disgusting." Miranda pulled a face, which caused Hermione's courage to increase. If Miranda was going to play dirty, Hermione knew where to hit her.
"He didn't seem to mind," she retorted, placing a hand on her hip in imitation.
"Yes, well," Miranda said, her lip curling cruelly. "He probably pities you. After all, he has a life …"
Hermione took a deep breath. Count to five, her mum had shown her when she was bullied at Primary school, Count to five and then walk away. They can't hurt you if you stand your ground. "I know he does. His life happens to include his daughter."
The other witch laughed. "You can quit playing the daughter card; Ronald isn't going to fall for it," she said, brushing back her straight hair with her hand. "You're just some slut he knocked up and then left."
She wasn't going to retort. It was what Miranda wanted her to do: to fight back, to say something nasty so she, Miranda, would have something to tell Ron later on. No, Hermione was going to stand her ground.
"He broke up with you after a few months apart! And then, when he found out he had a child, what did he do? Came running back to me."
"In America, Ron told me how you came top of your year at Hogwarts; Head Girl with the most O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts," Miranda continued. "Smartest witch of her age." She laughed again, watching Hermione carefully for a retort, which did not come. The only sign of movement was Hermione's twitching hand.
Don't rise to it …
"I almost believed him until we arrived here and I saw what a mess you are." She looked Hermione up and down, a look of repulsion on her face. "Pregnant barely a month out of Hogwarts! Single mother at twenty years old. I dread to think what your precious daughter will be like at school."
Stay strong, Hermione. You can do this.
"She might take after you and become the Hogwarts Broomstick; everyone will have a ride. Like mother, like daughter, and -"
Hermione never found out what Miranda was going to say next, because her hand collided with Miranda's cheek.
Hermione was breathing deeply, staring at Miranda with such hate and loathing that she didn't care what she had done. "How dare you! If you ever talk about my daughter like that again you filthy slag …" She pulled out her wand and pointed it at Miranda's chest. "You will regret it. You may have had Auror experience, but I've had life experience."
Hermione's heart was pounding so hard against her rib cage that she could hear it. She kept hold of her wand firmly in her hand, waiting for a reaction.
Miranda's expression was a mixture of shock and fear. Her hand raised to stroke her reddening skin as her gaze fell. She was thinking hard. Slowly, she looked up at Hermione in triumphant.
The next words that came out of her mouth sent a chill down Hermione's spine and caused her to lower her wand to her side.
"Wait until Ronald hears about this."
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