Author's Note: Due to my obsessive need to keep all my stories in agreement, all characters and situations in this story are in compliance with The Letter and To Hear the Bells Ring, although in light of Jo Rowling's recent revelations, many of these are now SU (for an explanation of SU fiction, see Chapter 3). And now, for your reading pleasure, here is Great Expectations.
Ginny was half-way through her list of child-care instructions when her mother stopped her.
"Ginny, dear, I raised seven children from infancy to adulthood," Molly reminded her. "I can surely cope with one seven-month-old baby for a few days."
"Oh, Mum," Ginny sighed. "Maybe this isn't the best time for me to leave James. I just started him on this new formula and I really don't think it agrees with him. I probably shouldn't have stopped nursing so soon. . ."
"What choice did you have after going back to work?" Molly asked. "James is perfectly healthy, Ginny, and you and Harry deserve a chance to get away. So do Ron and Hermione for that matter. It's so nice the four of you are taking this little holiday. The Lake District is lovely this time of year, and if you ask me a little fresh air would do you a world of good. You look a bit peaky."
"Nobody's been 'peaky' since 1953," said Ginny sourly. "Mum, I just don't know. . ."
"You listen to me, young lady," said Molly before her daughter could build up a full head of steam. "There is nothing wrong with taking a little time for yourself and your husband. You're not just a mother, Ginny, you're also a wife. I don't know if you realize it, dear, but lately Harry's been looking . . . wistful."
Ginny's brows shot upward. "He's been looking . . . what?"
"All I'm saying is that marriages need nurturing every bit as much as children do. Your marriage is the backbone of your family, and it requires time, attention, and care to keep it healthy. Why do you think your father and I have lasted as long as we have? It's because we nurture one another and always have, even when our children were young. Don't you remember those weekends we used to leave you at Auntie Muriel's?"
"Dumped us there, more like," said Ginny. "It was awful. She . . . Hang on. Are you telling me that you and Dad . . . Urgh! Mum!"
"I don't know how to break it to you, dear, but the stork didn't bring you and brothers."
"Well, thanks a lot, Mum," said Ginny. "You've just put me off sex for the foreseeable future. And maybe dinner as well."
"Oh, do grow up, Ginny," Molly replied. "Now you go and take care of that man of yours. And while you're at it, maybe you can help your brother cheer up Hermione."
Hermione was the main reason they were taking what Molly referred to as "this little holiday." She and Ron had been trying to have a child, but had so far been unsuccessful. Hermione had grown seriously depressed as a result, and Ron was worried about her, as Harry and Ginny discovered when he turned up at their house unexpectedly one Sunday morning.
Ginny was standing near the stove in the basement kitchen at Grimmauld Place, balancing James on one hip while Kreacher prepared a bottle for the baby when she heard the familiar whoosh of the Floo network and turned to see her brother's long form unfolding itself from the fireplace.
"Where's Hermione?" asked Harry, who was seated at the table with that day's Prophet in front of him.
"At her parents'," Ron said. "She fancied a chat with her mum." He sighed and helped himself to tea from the pot on the table and slouched in a chair next to Harry, looking as morose as either of them had ever seen him.
Ginny took the bottle from Kreacher and sat across from Ron while she fed the baby. "Out with it, brother dear," she said. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," said Ron. He glanced at Harry, who looked as unconvinced as Ginny, and said, "Oh, all right. It's Hermione. She. . . She told me this morning that she thought I should divorce her."
"What?" Harry and Ginny said together.
Ron gazed into his teacup as though hoping to find answers there. "She thinks she's ruining my life. She thinks that because she hasn't . . . because we haven't . . . that she's barren or something. Apparently her mum had a lot of problems having her and she's convinced it's hereditary."
"You haven't been trying that long," Ginny pointed out. "It's been less than a year."
"That's what I keep telling her, but it's fallen on deaf ears lately. And she thinks it's all her fault because our family . . . well, the Weasley fruitfulness is pretty well established. And this morning she found out that she wasn't . . . that it hadn't . . .worked again."
"Oh, Ron," Ginny said. "I'm so sorry."
"Me too, mate," said Harry.
Ron ran a distracted hand through his hair. "I can't understand it. It's not like we haven't tried, for Merlin's sake. I mean, we've been going at it like rabbits. . ."
"Er, Ron?" Harry interrupted. "A little too much information."
"Sorry," said Ron. "But every single month it's like a fresh slap in the face. She was so down this morning. I've never seen her that down before. I tried talking to her, but she just snapped at me that I should divorce her and find myself a 'normal' woman."
"And what did you say?" Ginny asked warily.
"I told her I didn't want a normal woman, I want her, and . . . well, that was when she decided to go visit her mum."
Ginny sighed again. "Ron, you have a unique talent for saying precisely the wrong thing at exactly the right moment."
"What was I supposed to say? She's got herself all worked up over this, though if you ask me that's at least half the problem. As uptight as she's been, her eggs are probably too tense for my, er, little blokes to . . . um, you know, do what they have to do."
"Fascinated though we are by your medical expertise," Ginny replied, while Harry struggled not to laugh, "have you thought about consulting a fertility specialist?"
"We've talked about it," Ron admitted. "But it's like you said, it really hasn't been that long and some of those tests are pretty drastic. Seriously, do you have any idea what they'd make me do?"
"They'd probably start by testing your sperm," said Ginny. "So you would have to . . ."
"Don't' say it!" Ron beseeched her. "And don't call it . . . you know." He looked around the kitchen, as though someone might be listening, and hissed between his teeth, "Sperm!"
"You prefer 'little blokes,' do you?" asked Harry, his lips twitching. "Why is it you can say 'eggs' then?"
"Well, because eggs are just . . . eggs, aren't they?" replied Ron with a glance at the remains of breakfast on the table.
"Are you making a baby or an omelet?" Harry snickered.
Ron glared at him. "If this is your idea of helping. . ."
"Sorry," said Harry, sobering at once. "But Ron, you know Hermione. She's not used to failing at anything. Not that's she's failed," he added hastily at the sight of Ron's scowl. "But it can't be easy for her, especially with the rest of us popping out babies left and right with so little effort."
"Speak for yourself," said Ginny, who had just draped James over her shoulder to burp him.
"I didn't mean it that way," Harry said, as their son gave a loud, satisfying belch. "But let's face it, love, we weren't really trying when James was conceived."
"And whose fault was that?" said Ginny, settling James down for the rest of his bottle.
"It was no one's fault," Harry said, blushing. "It just . . . happened."
"It 'happened' because you ambushed me in the shower where, obviously, neither of us had a wand," Ginny reminded him with a wry smile. "So much for constant vigilance."
Harry cleared his throat several times before saying, "I think you're right about Hermione being under too much pressure, Ron. As if holding down a full-time job with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures wasn't enough, now she's taken on a full course of study in wizarding law. When would she even find time to have a baby?"
"She plans to take a leave of absence from the Ministry once the baby comes and study law full-time for a bit," Ron said. "That is, if we can even have one. Blimey, you don't think there's really a . . . a problem with one of us, do you?"
"Well, it's like Ginny said, there's always fertility testing," Harry replied, but when Ron went pale he added, "But before you do anything like that, why not try getting her to relax?"
"Easier said than done, mate. You have met Hermione, haven't you?"
"Maybe you should go away for awhile," Ginny suggested. "Take a second honeymoon or something and just forget about everything."
Ron shook his head sadly. "Being alone together without any distractions might not be quite the thing just now. Too many expectations and all that." He frowned suddenly. "Hey, here's a thought. Why don't the two of you come with us?"
"You don't think bringing your sister and best friend along might dampen the mood?" Ginny asked.
"Well, that way there'd be no pressure. It'd be just the four of us on holiday, sharing a few laughs and seeing the local sights. After all, the idea is to get Hermione to relax and enjoy herself, isn't it? I can't remember the last time she did that. Hell, I can't remember the last time any of us did that."
Harry looked hopefully at Ginny, but she looked away, biting her lip. She had never been away from her son for more than a few hours, and the idea of being separated from him for . . . how long were they thinking?
"It would only be for a few days," said Ron, as though reading Ginny's mind. "I'd never be able to convince Hermione to go away any longer than that, not with her schedule. Obviously we couldn't go very far, but one of our suppliers has a nice little place in central Cumbria called Rose Cottage. It's near a part-wizarding village too. He's offered it to me several times, so I know it wouldn't be any problem, and Mum and Dad would look after the baby for you. What do you say? It might be fun!"
Harry and Ginny agreed, but it was a couple of weeks before they could arrange to get away and the more time that passed, the more potential catastrophes seemed to occur to Ginny. There was a rickety old dresser in the kitchen at the Burrow that James might be able to pull over on top of himself. Then, too, there were so many choking hazards lying about and he was always putting things in his mouth. Would Mum remember that he preferred his stuffed unicorn to his teddy bear? And what about the lullaby Ginny always sang to him at bedtime? Would he be able to sleep if she wasn't there to tuck him in? And he was cutting a new tooth. . .
Ginny actually considered bringing James along, but since they were doing this for Hermione, it seemed rather cruel to flaunt her baby in her sister-in-law's face. Besides, Molly's admonitions kept ringing in her ears. Perhaps she had been neglecting Harry. In the months since James's birth, Ginny had been so consumed with motherhood that everything else had fallen by the wayside, and while Harry had been wonderful about it, the truth was that he did look wistful. Ginny felt that way herself when she thought of a time, not so very long ago, when they couldn't keep their hands off each other and being "ambushed" in the shower was a relatively common occurrence. Maybe this weekend she could make it up to him. Maybe this weekend they could recapture the magic.
They arrived on Friday night and settled into a cozy little cottage with chintz armchairs and plush sofas arranged around a huge, stone fireplace. A well appointed kitchen was stocked with a variety of food and beverages. Down the hall were two bedrooms with enormous canopy beds and large windows that faced a shimmering lake where swans floated serenely on the surface and red deer grazed on nearby grassy knolls. They were surrounded by green valleys and gently rolling hills in a lush landscape that had inspired some of England's greatest poets. Ginny began to feel a little inspired herself while she and Harry were unpacking in the room they had claimed as their own. He had just bent over to toss a handful of socks into a drawer when he noticed the way Ginny was smiling at him.
He grinned back at her. "What are you looking at?"
"Just admiring the view," Ginny replied, moving close enough to give the object of her admiration a firm squeeze.
Harry's brows lifted in surprise, but he kissed the place where her hair met her forehead, and it seemed to electrify Ginny. She quickly divested Harry of his shirt, and his belt was about to follow when he said, "What's gotten into you?"
"Are you complaining?" she asked.
"Far from it!" Harry replied, slipping her top over her head and pressing her back onto the bed while they struggled to remove their remaining clothing.
"I take it you approve then?" she said.
"Wholeheartedly," Harry said, rather breathlessly. "In fact, I. . ."
There was a knock on the door and Ron's voice was saying, "Ginny? Can I talk to you?"
Harry's head flopped back onto the pillow. "I think I hate him."
"I know I do," grumbled Ginny, but she scrambled back into her jeans and jumper and tossed Harry's trousers to him. "Just a minute, Ron," she called, waiting until her husband was at least semi-clothed before opening the door.
Ron took in their tousled appearances and said, "I didn't, er, interrupt anything, did I?"
"No, I was just sitting here wishing I was an only child," Ginny said. "What is it, Ron?"
"It's Hermione," Ron informed her miserably. "She's crying again. Would you . . . would you talk to her, Ginny? Please?"
Ginny looked at Harry, who was glaring at Ron. "You have a rubbish sense of timing, mate, has anyone ever told you?"
"I'll be back in a minute," Ginny promised. "Just . . . hold the thought, okay?"
She found Hermione curled up on the bed, sobbing into a pillow. She put her arms around her sister-in-law and said, "Hermione, it isn't the end of the world."
"Yes, it is!" Hermione wailed. "I'm a f-f-failure as a wife and as a w-w-woman."
"You are not a failure," Ginny said adamantly. "You're a brilliant, accomplished witch, and I'm surprised at you for saying such a thing. Women are more than baby machines, you know."
"But I've ruined R-R-Ron's life," Hermione hiccoughed. "I c-c-can't even give him a child. . ."
"Ron loves you, in case you haven't noticed," Ginny said. "And he'll go on loving you whether you have children or not. It doesn't matter to him, Hermione, don't you realize that? All he wants is you."
"And I w-w-want him too, but it matters, Ginny. It matters to me and regardless of what he says, it matters to Ron. He comes from a large, loving family and I know he wants the same, but I can't give it to him and I . . . Oh, Ginny, I know it's wrong to be envious, but whenever I see you and Harry with little James, my arms just ache to hold a child of my own."
"Well, who says you won't have one? Don't look at me like that, it can still happen! You haven't really been trying that long, and even if it doesn't work out, there are so many things healers can do these days. I'm sure they'll be able to help you."
Hermione swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Do you really think so?"
"I know so. It's going to happen for you, Hermione. I know it will!"
Hermione found a handkerchief and blew her nose. ""Here we are in this beautiful place, and I'm spoiling it for everyone," she said once she had composed herself. "Oh, Ginny, I don't mean to imply that I begrudge you your baby. It's just that when I see how happy you and Harry are. . ."
Ginny sighed. "Appearances can be deceptive."
Hermione blinked. "What do you mean?"
Ginny played with a loose thread on the coverlet. "I'm tired all the time, Hermione. Even with Kreacher and Winky to help out, there just aren't enough hours in the day. I've had to let a lot of things slide, and unfortunately, one of them is Harry."
"Has he complained?" Hermione asked.
"Not really," Ginny admitted. "But I know he feels shut out sometimes. When James was first born I didn't care about anything besides getting through each day, and I felt so lumpy and leaky that I couldn't believe Harry even found me attractive. He says he did, but I didn't feel like it then, and ever since it's been so hard to fit everything in. It's nearly impossible to find time to be together and lately . . . Well, Mum mentioned something just before we came here. She thinks Harry looks 'wistful.'"
"Wistful?" said Hermione. "You mean. . . Oh!"
"I hate to admit it, but she's right. I can't remember the last time we did anything in bed besides sleep. Although just before Ron burst in on us. . ."
"Oh, no," said Hermione as realization dawned. "I'm so sorry, Ginny."
"Don't be," Ginny said. "It's not your fault. Not really. After all, the reason we came here in the first place . . . Hermione, do you know what I think? I think we have a similar problem, you and I."
Hermione frowned. "I don't understand."
"We both have babies on the brain," Ginny explained. "I've been totally focused on James while you've been totally focused on getting pregnant. And somewhere along the way, we've lost sight of something every bit as important."
Hermione sighed. "Now you mention it, Ron's been looking a little wistful himself. Ever since we started trying to conceive, it's all been rather 'clinical.' He even said something recently about feeling like a . . . a stud horse."
Ginny's mouth twisted as she fought to hold back a laugh. "Oh, dear."
"Well, what do you propose we do about it then?" Hermione asked.
"I think we ought to take my mother's advice. She thinks I need to 'take care' of Harry. And from the sound of things, you need to 'take care' of Ron, too."
"Your mother told you that?" said Hermione, looking faintly shocked.
"She isn't always wrong," said Ginny. "In fact, she's been known to have some pretty good ideas. I don't know about you, Hermione, but I think it's time we wiped that wistful look right off their faces."
A/N: Review please! Even if it's just a word or two, it always makes me write faster. And yes, before you ask, there is more to come.