Hermione opened her eyes and tried to shove the disordered hair out of her face. When she removed her hand, the curls just flopped back into her eyes. Hermione loved Saturday mornings. The joke shop didn't open until noon, and she didn't have to go to her office, unless there was a dire emergency. Most Saturday mornings, she curled up in bed with a book. It was something she enjoyed doing. When she was younger, her mother often had to forcibly extract her from her bed and book.
This morning was proving to be a good bed-and-book day. It was chilly and grey outside, and rain lashed the windows of the flat. Unlike most Saturdays, this one was one she waited for with a mix of apprehension and hope. She lay curled on her side, watching the rain run down the window in rivulets.
How long she lay there, she wasn't sure. But she could tell you the exact minute a cramp coiled around her body. Hermione shut her eyes tightly. No, no, no, no, no, she wailed silently.
Carefully, she slid out of bed, so as not to wake Ron. She didn't want to see the look of pity on his face, when he realized what was going on. Quietly, she unearthed an elderly pair of jeans and a jumper from the wardrobe, and a clean pair of knickers. She crept into the bathroom, and peeled her pajama bottoms off, along with her soiled knickers. Quickly muttering Scourgify, before she had time to think about it, Hermione shoved the garments into the hamper. She pulled Ron's old Gryffindor practice t-shirt over her head and dropped it on top of the rest of the laundry.
Hermione clenched her jaw, and stepped into the shower, allowing herself a brief moment to lean dejectedly against the wall. She straightened and began to wash the sticky trail of blood from her body. A few minutes later, she dressed quickly and left Ron a note, Spellotaped to the door of the refrigerator. Before she left the flat, Hermione strode to the calendar and pointed her wand at it. A small, dark 'X' appeared in the corner of October ninth. She turned so quickly, she didn't see the mark glow red before fading to black.
She Apparated to the atrium of the Ministry and took the lift to her office on Level Four. Settling behind her desk, Hermione grimly wondered how long she was going to be able to compartmentalize her life like this. On more than one occasion at school, she'd nearly had an emotional breakdown shoving things to the back like this. Later, she told herself, and pulled a stack of rolls of parchment toward her. Negotiating with Centaurs was difficult at best, and this would require all her attention.
Unlike Hermione, Ron woke in inches, a little at a time. He didn't understand how she could wake up all at once like she did. Usually on Saturdays, she let him wake on his own, while she read one of her books. It could take Ron several minutes to come to full consciousness. This Saturday was no different, but for a small exception.
Hermione wasn't in bed with some unbelievably large book propped on her knees.
Ron shrugged. No matter. She might have gotten up early to go see her parents. He pushed the bedclothes back, and started to get up, but his attention swerved to the small rusty stain in the middle of the pale green sheet. He traced it with a fingertip, wondering if he had mucked up the laundry last time inadvertently, instead of purposefully. No. It wasn't something he had done.
Ron swung his feet to the floor and got up. He'd have to be at the shop in a couple of hours. He didn't mind having to work Saturday afternoons. He and George usually alternated them, anyway. If the weather kept going on that way, it looked to be a fairly slow day. Ron took a shower and dressed in his usual jeans. He went into the kitchen to make breakfast for himself, and stopped short when he swore he smelled something burning. Smells like paper, he thought.
The flashing letters of a note on the refrigerator caught his eye.
Ron – I had to go take care of some paperwork. I'll see you at dinner.
Ron frowned. Hermione usually didn't go to her office on Saturday. Maybe an owl had come while he was asleep. He made himself a cup of tea, and poured a glass of orange juice, before reaching for a box of muesli in the cupboard.
He set the box on the table. The acrid smell of burnt paper was bothering him. The kitchen was his domain, and the idea of something being wrong irked him. Cautiously sniffing around the room, he located the smell when he got to the calendar. Then he saw it.
Ron ran his thumb over the 'X' and came away with an ashy smudge on the ball of his thumb.
Ron was never a big fan of calendars. He didn't like having his life compartmentalized into little squares with things to do scribbled in them. Watches. Now watches he could handle. Watches counted down the minutes to when the pie was done. But calendars? Ron was starting to hate calendars. He was starting to hate seeing the days tick by.
He especially hated seeing that 'X' in the corner one day out of each month. He hated seeing Hermione get her hopes up, only to resolutely write the small 'X' on a particular day.
She'd burned it in today's date.
Ron swiped his thumb down the side of his jeans, hunger forgotten. He dumped his tea and juice into the sink and grabbed his jacked from a hook by the door. He walked out the door of the flat, and Apparated to Diagon Alley.
It was just as grey and chilly there as it had been at their flat. Ron let himself into the shop, and yanked on the magenta robes he wore at the shop. He grabbed a box of merchandise and began to restock shelves.
Angrily, Ron stacked Skiving Snackboxes, fake wands, and Wonder Witch products. He threw a handful of dust bunnies in the Pygmy Puff cage and started to change the window display. He and George had developed a Portable Forest, as a sister product to the Swamp. It was good for smaller spaces, like balconies of flats and the like. The Forest set in the window, Ron went into the back, and laid out the ingredients for Fever Fudge. They were running low.
As he measured out the fudge ingredients, Ron wondered why things had to be so hard for him. Stop whinging. You're not twelve anymore, he mentally berated himself. He sighed heavily. The one thing he wanted was to give Hermione a baby, and he was even rubbish at that. He hadn't thought about that damn locket in years, but tendrils of what it said to him crept into his thoughts. Second best… Always. Harry and Ginny forget to use birth control one effing time, and she gets pregnant. You've been trying for seven months, and nothing…
'Couldn't sleep?' George stood in the doorway, dripping rain and giving Ron an odd look.
'You don't look fine.'
'Ron, come on. I know something's bothering you. You might as well tell me now, or I'll spend the rest of the day trying to rabbit it out of you.'
'It's nothing,' Ron snarled.
George wisely changed the subject. 'The Snackboxes taste a lot better since you started making them. You cook way better than Fred or I ever could.'
Ron slammed the ladle down on the table. 'Oh, huzzah! I can make sweets. Let's call the Prophet, shall we?' he drawled sarcastically. 'While we're at it, let's make a list of things Ickle Ronnikins can do and the one thing he can't. I can beat an enchanted chess set as a first-year, face Acromantulas as a second-year, battle Dark wizards in the Department of Mysteries as a fifth-year, and at Hogwarts as a sixth year. I can spend a year hiding from Voldemort, open the Chamber, rescue Goyle's sorry arse from Fiendfyre, but do you know the one thing I can't seem to do right, George? I can't seem to impregnate my own wife!' Ron snatched the ladle from the table, and flung it toward the back wall of the room. It hit the brick with a clang, and then clattered to the floor.
George gaped at Ron in astonishment. He hadn't even known they were even trying to have a baby. 'I – uh –' George stammered. 'I'm sorry,' said to his shoes.
'Forget it,' Ron growled, bending to retrieve the ladle. It was dented in more than one place. 'Damn it. Reparo.' He trudged back to the table and laid the ladle next to the cauldron gently. Ron stood next to the cauldron, hands braced on the table, head bent. After a few long moments, he looked up at George. 'Sorry. It's just today… Again…' Ron shrugged helplessly.
'Ah.' George nodded.
'What's wrong with me?' Ron asked in a small voice.
'Other than the fact you're an ill-tempered git sometimes?'
'Why are you so sure it's you? I mean, you are a Weasley, legendary fertility and all.'
'Why wouldn't it be me? She's so… perfect and I'm Ickle Ronnikins with dirt on his nose and secondhand robes and books,' he said dejectedly.
George came to stand next to Ron, and added a few more ingredients to the fudge, burbling in the cauldron. 'First of all, you haven't been Ickle Ronnikins since you were thirteen. And Ron, I know it's hard, but you just have to, well, bide your time, bro.'
'You don't know,' Ron said shortly. 'All of you – Bill, Charlie, you, even Percy for Merlin's sake – it just seems like it just happened for you. Hell, Ginny and Harry forget to use a condom once and look what happened!' Ron's shoulders drooped. 'Why does it feel like I'm just rubbish at everything I try?' He dipped the ladle into the mixture and poured it into the molds.
'Well, stop comparing yourself to all of us, for one,' George said mildly.
'Easier said than done, sometimes.'
'I know.' George pulled Ron into a one-armed hug. 'Just relax a bit. I can promise you it didn't happen overnight for Katie and me.' Ron snorted in disbelief. 'Really. It took about five months for the stars to align or whatever it took. Contrary to popular belief, Weasley men don't necessarily get their wives pregnant the first go.'
Hermione shoved the scrolls back to the other side of her desk, and pillowed her head on her folded arms. She couldn't concentrate. It wouldn't be good for her negotiations with the Centaurs if she wrote something off-handedly because she couldn't think straight.
She pushed herself to her feet and left her office, closing the door behind her. She went back to the Atrium and to an Apparition point. She wondered momentarily if Ginny felt like seeing anybody, before Disapparating with a pop.
Hermione blinked. She was standing in front of Harry and Ginny's house. She stood outside the garden gate uncertainly. The front door opened, and Harry stood in the doorway. 'Hermione? Why are just standing there? Get in here before you get sick!' Hermione slowly walked up to the door. She was already nearly soaked, so what did a little more water matter? Harry took her jacket and hung it up. 'Charmed the hooks. It'll dry in a few minutes.'
Harry's brow knitted in a worried frown. Hermione had seemed a little more stressed than usual lately. 'Hey.' He touched Hermione's elbow. 'Come sit down,' he said urging her toward a sofa in the sitting room.
'Upstairs with James.'
'Oh. Okay.' Hermione slumped on the sofa, her elbows resting on her knees.
'Anything going on?' Harry asked, even though he knew very well Ron and Hermione were trying to have a baby and hadn't been successful yet.
'Nice try, but I believe you about as far as I could throw Crabbe and Goyle.'
'Really, Harry. It's nothing.'
Harry sighed. This was a job for Ginny, since Hermione wasn't going to say anything to him. 'I'll go get Ginny, then.' He went up the stairs to James' nursery. Ginny sat in the rocker cradling James. 'I'll take over with James. Hermione's downstairs. I think she needs to talk to you,' he said softly, bending over Ginny to scoop James into his arms.
'Where is she?'
'Sitting room,' he said, shifting James expertly to his shoulder. 'Come on, mate. Let's you and me go find a Quidditch game on the wireless.'
Ginny watched as Harry carried James into their bedroom, and shut the door. She headed down the stairs and stopped halfway down the stairs. Hermione hadn't moved from the position Harry left her in earlier. Ginny hadn't seen Hermione look so… defeated since Hermione's sixth year. She went down the rest of the stairs and sat next to Hermione. 'What's wrong, Hermione?'
'I got my period today.'
'I thought this time, it was going to happen,' Hermione said dully.
Ginny put her arm around Hermione's shoulder. Hermione leaned back and let her head fall on Ginny's shoulder. 'How long have you been trying?' she asked curiously.
'What if Ron leaves me?' Hermione whispered.
'Are you joking? I don't think you could get rid of Ron if you tried.'
'But what if –'
Ginny cut her off. 'Hermione. Ron doesn't love you for your ability to bear children. He loves you.'
'But what if –'
'Stop doing that to yourself.'
'How long did it take? For James?'
'I don't think you want to know.'
'Oh, God. It took years, didn't it?'
'Um. No. I was tired and in a hot bubble bath with a butterbeer or two in me, and Harry joined me. Honestly, we forgot to use a condom. We weren't really trying. Just happened.' Ginny winced as Hermione said a few choice words.
'Right now, I really hate you,' Hermione said mildly.
'I don't really hate you.'
'I know.' Ginny felt the misery radiate off Hermione. 'Listen, I know you don't want to hear this, but hear me out.' Hermione nodded. 'It doesn't always happen like that. It can take months. It took Bill and Fleur almost a year.'
'Really?' Hermione sniffed.
'Yep.' Ginny moved back a bit, so she could look at Hermione. 'This is not some exam you're going to fail. Even if you never have children, it doesn't make you a failure.'
'Stop that. No more comparing yourself to Fleur, Katie, Bronwyn, Penny, or me.' Hermione shrugged. Ginny sighed. 'I'm going to pretend Ron isn't my brother for five minutes.'
'When was the last time you shagged just because you wanted to, not because you thought you had to?'
Hermione's face went blank. 'I honestly don't remember.'
Ginny squeezed Hermione's limp hand. 'I know this is all well and good for me to say, but don't worry about it. Give yourself about six more months, and we can go from there.' A wail came from upstairs. Ginny raised her eyes to the ceiling.
'I should go.' Hermione got up and went to the door to get her coat. 'Thanks, Gin.'
'I'll see you tomorrow at lunch?'
'Just… Don't forget to have fun.'
'I'll try.' Hermione slipped her now-dry coat on, and hurried out the garden gate to the lane where she could Apparate home. She opened the door and found Ron up to his elbows in pastry. 'What are you making?'
'I love pumpkin pasties.'
'I know you do.' Ron grinned at her. She noticed it didn't reach his eyes.
'Ron… I…' Hermione gestured to the calendar.
'I know. I saw it this morning.'
'I'm sorry,' she said. Hermione's face crumpled and she began to cry.
Ron put his arms around her, not bothering to wipe the flour from them or noticing he was getting flour in her hair. 'You have nothing to be sorry for, Mione.'
Ron felt his heart clench as he rocked Hermione gently, while she cried into his shirt.
a/n: This came from a short bit in Ch. 8 of 'Firewhisky Advice'. Takes place about a month after the last chapter of that, which will be up by this weekend.