The laughter continued behind her as Hermione slipped quietly out the back door and on to the deck. The autumn air was brisk and held a certain rawness that threatened storms later. She was sorry that she didn't have her cloak. She wondered if anyone would hear her if she Apparated to the front hall to get it. She decided against it and wrapped her arms around herself and looked out at the view. Bill and Fleur had done well for themselves. The deck overlooked a brook on a beautiful wooded piece of property.
The door slid open behind her and Ginny stepped out on to the deck with a cloak in her arms. "I thought you might need this," she said, holding it out to Hermione.
Hermione smiled and slipped it on. "Thanks."
"It got weird, didn't it?"
Hermione laughed softly. "No, it's perfectly natural to sit in a room discussing lingerie and Viktor's sexual proclivities with his future wife and twenty of her friends." She rolled her eyes. "Yes, it got weird."
Ginny shrugged. "What can you do? She's young and in love."
Hermione pressed a finger between her eyebrows. "Oh, I know. I don't resent her for that. Really. I'm thrilled she and Viktor are so happy. I just sort of wish she hadn't invited me to this shower."
"Well, she had to invite you didn't she? I mean you are the one who introduced them. And you're family."
Hermione looked at her. "Yes, which only adds to the weirdness. And whatever you do don't bring up the introduction in front of Ron, it'll just start him on a whole new round of I-told-you-so."
Ginny laughed. "Still not letting go of that one, eh?"
Hermione frowned at her. "When have you ever known Ron to let go of anything?"
Ginny raised her eyebrows. "Oh, I can think of a few things."
Hermione could feel herself blush.
Ginny patted her shoulder. "Sorry. Mercifully, the shower's wrapping up and the men should be here soon to rescue us."
"Thank heavens, I think I'll stay out here until then."
Ginny nodded. "Suit yourself, but I better get back."
Hermione nodded then turned back to the view. A few minutes later, she heard the sound of footsteps coming up the side stairwell to the deck. She fervently hoped it was Ron coming round to fetch her. She was disappointed to see Viktor ascend the stairs.
"Hermione?" he said in surprise.
"Hullo, Viktor," she sighed.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked as he approached.
"Just getting some fresh air. It's a bit warm in there, all those people."
Viktor nodded knowingly. "It got weird, no?"
Hermione laughed. "You're the second person to note that."
"I told Gabrielle not to invite you. I told her it would be awkward," Viktor said, shaking his head.
Hermione tightened her cloak around her. "And how I wish she'd listened."
"She insisted that she had to invite you because you introduced us and besides--"
"I'm family, I know."
Viktor rolled his eyes. "Yes, family."
"An unfortunate truth," Hermione said, turning away from him to lean against the railing and look at the view.
"It's not like I planned this," Viktor said, leaning next to her.
"I know that. And I'm happy for you both, really. It's just I feel like every time something is said about you that all eyes suddenly shift to me, as if I'm going to contradict it or comment or something."
Viktor nodded. "I'm fortunate men do not talk as women do."
Hermione let out a frustrated sigh. "I just wish our relationship hadn't been so public."
Viktor shrugged. "What do you expect when a war hero and a sports hero get together?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Please, I'm no war hero."
Viktor frowned. "Don't say that. You are as beloved by the English wizarding community as Harry and Ron are."
Hermione dropped her eyes and picked at imaginary lint on her cloak. "Well," she said quietly, "either way, I wish it hadn't been so public."
Viktor shrugged again. "Nothing to be done about that now." He smiled at her. "I think I'll go in. Perhaps my appearance will speed things along."
As she watched Viktor walk into the house, Hermione sighed again. He was wrong. While she might be as well known as Harry and Ron, she certainly wasn't as beloved, at least not anymore. Not since she had left Ron and took up with the famous Bulgarian. Even now that she'd left him and gone back to Ron, settled down, and started a family, the wizarding community seemed unwilling to let bygones be bygones. She seemed forever branded as the fickle witch that left the hero. People still whispered in the shops and on the streets when she walked by. Granted, it didn't happen as often as it used to, eventually the public moves on to new scandals. Hermione just wished hers would hurry up and fade completely.
She heard the door to the deck open and was relieved to see Ron appear dusting Floo powder off himself and Artie whose arms were already outstretched toward her.
"Sorry I'm early," Ron said, "but he's done nothing but ask for you for the last hour and I was starting to go a bit mad."
Hermione laughed as she took the toddler. Ron leaned down and kissed her. "How was the shower?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Strange."
Ron shrugged. "Well, you thought it would be."
She grimaced. "And I was right."
Ron chuckled. "You usually are."
Hermione shifted Artie to her other hip. "It would have been nice to be wrong this time."
"Come on," Ron said, "let's go back in and say your good-byes and be done with it."
Hermione looked back at the brook for a moment. Listening to the water tumbling over the rocks, she kissed her son on the forehead. Straightening her back, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Alright," she said, "let's go."