"I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?"
How did something so simple end up so complicated?
Even after all this time, I refuse the gesture. Ron's hand hangs portentously close to my face - an offer that I once could not have refused. I try to conceal my shudder as I recoil, and smile bleakly at him, my face wrinkling into a thousand tiny regrets, before I mould my facial features into something vaguely resembling a grin and excuse myself from the stifling, bustling heat of the Burrow.
Once upon a time, I was happy here.
Free from the dangers of the house, I breathe a sigh of relief as my face falls, droplets of silver cascading in rippling streams down my honeyed cheeks. Deep down in that hollowed crevasse I call my heart, something has changed, and no one can persuade me otherwise. The togetherness act I so carefully polished; the most treasured award on my mantelpiece, has shattered - the glass shards puncturing my heart and restricting my breath. Now I am flailing, flaking, falling.
Wrapped up too well in everyone else's problems, I choke on my tears. Desperately, I seek my liberty.
I need a break.
It has been ten years since Tom Riddle fell. They named it the final battle. Perhaps for them it was. Perhaps for them it was, but not for me.
Silently, overwhelmed by love and happiness; cocooned tenderly in a fragile shell of family and well-built friendships, I long to break free. How long can I hold myself in before the shell fragments chip beyond repair? I have everything - so why do I feel so empty? Time ticks on. Life goes on.
The kitchen is quiet now. In the corner, beneath the rusted beams and atop of the spellbooks piled haphazardly on the slate floor, the Weasley clock still ticks, chiming the hour. Six hands now. Still is the seventh.
We all miss Fred. My hand travels to my eye - a frequent reflex, and I smirk as I remember the Punching Telescope. The days when it was considered perfectly normal to hear an explosion upstairs are long gone. The cold sensation of an empty heart is ruthless and can be deafening in the uphill struggle to acceptance.
Seven hands lay perilously close to mortal peril not too long ago; now the irony of the clock is surest. Ron's hand reads work. Ginny's hand is on home. Molly's hand betrays her secret trip to Diagon Alley. There is nothing to suggest that this is not just an ordinary life. Nothing to suggest that seven flame haired children will not appear at the old oak door, laughing raucously at the latest Weasley Wizarding Wheeze, accompanied by a bushy haired girl with rather large front teeth, and a skinny boy in glasses.
Still the ticking goes on.
Beneath the clock, Molly's knitting clatters furiously, silver needles beating a rhythm of a busy life. As the needle click, the patchwork pattern begins to form and my forehead wrinkles as I frown in bemusement. For someone so gifted in knitting charms, Molly seems to lack basic taste. I grin. The number of times Ron must have concealed a look of disgust faced with another maroon sweater! For such a devoted mother, Molly Weasley forgets the most trivial thing - aspects of a child's life that their world revolves around. Aspects like her children's favourite sandwich filling. Ron hates corned beef.
Swinging my long, tanned legs over the chair and glancing at the pale faint lines that were once fierce wounds, I flinch at the shock of the cold slate floor on my warmed feet. Under floor heating wouldn't go amiss. Releasing a sigh, I wander outside. The clock chimes once more. My head fals back on the wall as I soak up the final moments of silence. Times up. Time to pick the Rose and Hugo up from "Granny and Grandad Muggles" house.
My kids have many of the strange obsessions that come from a magical upbringing - currently the toaster fascinates Rose - Arthur's influence I am sure. That man is distressingly obsessed with Muggles. Last September, when he came home from work, he gathered us all in the cramped living room - all 26 of us, might I add, and declared the secret project he had been working on all summer - investigating the purpose of a rubber duck. We all rolled our eyes and thought no more of it. The Weasley lifestyle does that to you.
Give me strength!