A/N: I do not own these characters, nor do I make any profit from this story. Everything belongs to JK Rowling.
In the six months since the war had ended, Hermione Granger had been at loose ends, often spending aimless hours in a haze of grief. Moments before the final victory had been won, Ron had been killed by a freak, ricocheting curse not even meant for him. Their future together had been snuffed out in the blink of an eye.
At first reacting in shocked, stunned disbelief, her life soon turned into purposeless inertia in the days following the battle. As the dust settled and others in the wizarding community began to resume the threads of their lives, Hermione could not get past her grief and move on.
Her parents had decided to remain in Australia after the war, so she'd moved into Grimmauld Place with Harry and the Weasley family. The Weasleys were living there only temporarily, as the Burrow had been heavily damaged before the final battle. Harry had invited the Weasleys to stay at Grimmauld Place while their home was being rebuilt.
At first, the presence of the Weasleys had been a comfort to her, but as time went on, the red headed family was a daily reminder of all she'd lost. And now that Harry and Ginny had officially announced their engagement, it was almost unbearable. Hermione, although happy for her friends, didn't know how she was going to bear going to their wedding the following summer. She knew that it would simply remind her that there would be no wedding for her.
Late one overcast Saturday morning, Hermione awakened to find herself alone in the bedroom she shared with Ginny when she was home from school. Feeble, grey light filtered in through the room's solitary window as she slowly sat up, rubbing her eyes. Glancing at her watch on the nightstand, she saw that it was later than the light seemed to indicate. She wasn't surprised that she'd awakened so late, considering she'd spent half the previous night tossing and turning.
After getting out of bed, she padded over to the mirror, quickly averting her eyes after seeing the dark circles under them and frizzy, bed head hair. She pulled on a sweater and a pair of muggle jeans a few minutes later after washing up.
Molly Weasley was in the kitchen making lunch when she went downstairs a short time later.
"There you are!" Molly said, hands on hips, as Hermione entered the room. "I was beginning to think you were going to sleep away the day again."
"I had a hard time falling asleep last night," she explained, yawning. "I think the sun was coming up before I finally dropped off."
"You poor dear," Molly tutted. "I was making lunch for Arthur and Harry, but I can whip up some eggs or toast for you, if you prefer."
"No, no, don't go to any trouble," Hermione said. "I'll just have whatever you're making for them." Looking around the kitchen, she asked, "Can I help you with anything?"
"No, dear," the older woman said. "I'm almost done, anyway." Indicating a newspaper on the table, she said, "An owl dropped off the Daily Prophet a few minutes ago. I haven't had a chance to sit down to look at it yet. Why don't you have a seat and read the headlines to me as I finish up."
"All right," Hermione said slowly. After taking a seat to face Molly, she opened the paper and smoothed it out on the table in front of her.
"Ministry of Magic Establishes Wizarding Repopulation Department," she began, then quickly scanned the rest of the article. After a moment, she continued, "In response to the heavy casualties incurred in the war, Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt established the Repopulation Department early this morning. The new department will address methods to increase the wizarding population. New measures are expected to include financial assistance to couples, both married and unmarried, for each new wizard and witch they bring into the world." Hermione's voice trailed off after she'd read the main point of the article, thinking of the marriage that would never be.
"Pity the ministry didn't come up with something like that twenty years ago," Molly remarked, half in jest, as she set a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table.
"Didn't come up with what?" Arthur Weasley asked as he and Harry strolled into the kitchen.
"Read this," Hermione said, handing Arthur the paper as he took a seat beside her. "It will explain everything."
Arthur briefly read where Hermione had indicated, then said, "Oh, my. They must be desperate if they've mentioned the squib problem."
"Squib problem?" Hermione said, confused. The only squibs she'd ever heard of since entering the wizarding world had been Mr. Filch and Harry's old neighbor in Little Whinging, Mrs. Figg.
"In the last couple of generations, there has been an increasing number of squibs born to pureblooded families," he explained. "But this was something that has usually never been talked about openly in wizarding society. It's considered a shameful thing to have a squib in one's family and few purebloods will openly admit to it."
After a pause, he continued, reading the pertinent paragraph out loud, "All married wizards and witches of reproductive age are encouraged to have at least one child with someone other than their spouse. Pureblood wizards and witches are especially encouraged to choose half-blood and, particularly, muggleborn mates, in an effort to reduce the incidence of squib births." At this point, Arthur chuckled, half to himself.
"What?" Molly asked.
"I was just imagining how Lucius Malfoy will react to that last sentence," he said with a wry smile. "This will really get his ponytail into a knot."
Everyone laughed at the thought of that. After a moment, Harry put in, "Well, it's a new world now. The Malfoys of the world will just have to get used to it. He should consider himself lucky that he's not in Azkaban."
At that moment, George Weasley burst through the door, "What did I miss?" he said, taking a seat across from Hermione. "I was in the neighborhood and I thought I'd pop over for a good meal for a change."
"You know the door is always open, George," Molly told him. "It's your own fault if you don't have a good meal every day." Looking at him appraisingly, "And there's plenty of room if you want to move back in."
Both George and Hermione sighed at this. In recent weeks, Molly had been on a campaign to match Hermione and George together. While Hermione appreciated that Molly meant well, she was at the same time offended; it's not as if Ron and George were interchangeable just for the fact of being brothers. She liked George, but she knew she'd never be able to put up with his tomfoolery in a relationship.
As if to confirm her suspicions, Molly turned to Hermione and said, "Why don't you go back with George to the shop after lunch? I'm sure he could use the help and it would give you something better to do than moping around here."
"I was planning to go to Flourish and Blotts today," Hermione said, seizing upon the first thing she could think of. "I'm intrigued by the squib issue and thought I'd look to see if there were any books available about it." After she'd said it, Hermione realized that this was actually a good idea. At any rate, visiting a bookstore was always a good idea; just the smell of ink and paper would lift her spirits.
George gave her a grateful look, as he wasn't any more keen on his mother's matchmaking efforts than Hermione was. He had too much to do keeping the business afloat without Fred's help to think about conducting a romance at the same time.
A few minutes later, Arthur and Harry got up to leave. "We've got to get going," Arthur said. "Harry said he'd help me this afternoon at the Burrow removing the last of the curse damage." Two weeks before, he'd been granted a leave of absence from the Ministry so that he could finally get their home back in living order.
"Don't work too hard," Molly said, kissing him on the cheek.
"I think I'll head off to Diagon Alley now, too," Hermione said, pushing back her chair. "I shouldn't be gone all that long."
"Take your time, dear," Molly said, still halfway hoping that Hermione would at least visit George's shop after the bookstore.
A couple of minutes later, Hermione apparated to Diagon Alley, glad to have some time to herself for awhile.