Disclaimer: I am not the original creator of these characters or universe and use them for personal entertainment only. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is made from the publication of my work.

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Part One

"In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man's torments."

~Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 1878

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Hermione sat, a smile frozen on her face, trying to force words of congratulations out. Perhaps she was better at it than she expected, because Ginny and Harry simply beamed at her, while eight month old James shrieked with delight at the toy giraffe she and Ron had brought with them. Or maybe they were just too happy to notice her coldness, because Ron looked at her with those piercing blue eyes and she knew he could see right through her.

How she floated through the remainder of that evening, she couldn't have said. Ginny, glowing with maternal radiance, seemed unable to contain her joy and rambled on at length about doing up a second nursery and how she just had a feeling it would be another boy, and she'd been right about James, hadn't she? And of course, it would be tiring, but think how nice to have two so close in age. Throughout her chatter, Hermione was quiet, biting hard on her lip to try and keep the tears in check, the howl contained in her chest. Ron was watching though, all evening she felt his eyes on her. Harry returned from putting James to bed and said in a warm, teasing voice, "So, Hermione, you feeling settled enough in MLE to start thinking about a family yet?"

In a moment, before she could response, Ron yawned loudly and said, "Oi, Mione, you've got to work early don't you? I'm nearly knackered after that department meeting today, we should probably head home."

"Yes, probably, though why that meeting tired you out, I couldn't say, since I could see from the front of the room that you and Harry were just passing notes," Hermione said, a little acid in her tone.

Harry looked a bit guilty, but was used to their constant bickering, and simply smiled at his best friends. Hugs were exchanged, congratulations uttered once again and then, finally, mercifully, Ron and Hermione were flooing home.

The second they arrived, Hermione began striding briskly around the house, picking up the random odds and ends Ron left laying about. Though the cosy cottage was essentially spotless, Hermione went ahead and cast cleaning charms, and it wasn't long before a cloth was dusting and a broom was sweeping. Ron didn't say anything as she directed this odd parade, simply sighed and went to change his clothes. He'd been gone for five minutes before Hermione broke down and started crying, letting the broom clatter to the floor, as she sank into the corner of the sofa and wept bitter tears.

Ron reappeared and settled beside her, tugging her into his embrace, rocking her as she cried. When the worst of the bout had been reduced from sobs to sniffles, he gently and soothingly ran his hand over her hair and said in a low voice, "You can't be upset with them when they don't know, love."

"I know that. I'm not upset with them, Ron," she said in a subdued voice.

"You seem upset," he said mildly.

"I'm not angry at them. We always knew Harry wanted a good sized family, it's no shock that Ginny is so fertile, is it?" she said in a sharp voice.

"Hermione, I know it's hard, but it'll happen for us when the time is right," he said, a bit helplessly.

"You said that a year ago, Ron. It's been a year since we lost the last one, and over three years since we started trying," she reminded him, her voice choking slightly. "I'm tired of waiting, I'm tired of trying, I'm tired of the whole bloody mess!"

"Then maybe we should stop," he said slowly. "It's not making you happy, is it? Maybe we should take a break."

Hermione pushed away from him. "And what good will a break do? We tried that. We tried a holiday, we've tried relaxing, we've tried timing sex, we've tried every sexual position known to muggles and wizards, we've tried fertility potions and teas and charms and nothing has bloody worked, has it? Fourteen weeks, that's the longest I've lasted. We haven't even made it more than three days beyond the potion turning purple in a year."

Tears filled her eyes again, and Ron felt angry and helpless, as he had every time she'd cried. Crying was one thing he never handled well, because seeing Hermione so emotional felt all wrong, and out of place, and in the last three years, he'd seen more than enough tears. At first the whole thing had been fun, their little secret, lots of hopeful looks and whispering about the things Hermione may or may not be able to do soon. There were lazy weekend afternoons filled with window shopping in Diagon Alley, longing glances at infants and toddlers, and bloody good sex. It didn't surprise him when Hermione began reading books about conception, both magical and muggle, once they'd tried for four or five months with not even a late period. Her singular approach to the task secretly amused him, though the scheduled sex grew a bit grating, and the strange potions and food combinations she insisted he eat "to raise his sperm count" or "improve mobility" weren't exactly pleasant.

But he loved his wife, and held a secret picture in his mind of Hermione snuggling a curly, red head against her chest as she read 'Babbity Rabbity' to him, and so he went along with her charts and schemes and no one could have been more pleased or proud the day she brought him a glass phial filled with purple potion and a shocked look on her face. He picked her up, making her squeal and whirled her around, calling her 'mum.' Ron had wanted to floo to the Burrow right away, and tell anyone who was in sight, but Hermione had been ever practical, and said it would be better to wait – at least until she'd seen the healer.

They had gone four and a half weeks later, hand in hand, nervous smiles in place, anxious to get their first glimpse of their child. Hermione chattered nervously to the healer, answering all her questions about dates and symptoms and then came the moment. She was laid back, and the lights were dimmed, and the healer said in a smiling voice, "So, are we ready to meet your baby then, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley?"

A spell was muttered and suddenly there was a light over Hermione's abdomen, like a projection. Ron couldn't really make anything out, as he had no idea what he was looking at; he vaguely remembered Bill saying that early on, they looked like blobs. But it didn't take more than a moment for him to realize something wasn't right.

Hermione was gripping his hand painfully hard, and he knew her too well to miss the fear lacing her words, "Is everything all right? Shouldn't there be some sort of movement?"

The healer seemed to study the picture for a moment before clearing her throat and cancelling the spell. She did not answer Hermione's question until the lights were back on and Hermione was sitting up again, now looking dreadfully pale. Even Ron, thick as he could sometimes be, knew this wasn't good. "Mrs. Weasley, I'm terribly sorry, but there was no heartbeat. Based on your conception date, you should be at just over eight weeks, but the baby only measured seven. I'm afraid you've miscarried. I can give you a potion that should dissolve everything with minimal discomfort. It should be just like a heavy period. You'll be able to try again after a normal cycle."

Ron would never forget the tight feeling in his chest at that moment, the first time he had been over-swept by powerlessness and anger as he watched his wife cry over their baby. It had happened twice more since then, once when Hermione had been in severe pain and they'd discovered the baby growing in the wrong place. That one had hurt him more because of how near a thing it had been to losing her. But he knew how much Hermione still grieved over that pregnancy that had lasted longest. That time, they'd seen the baby's heart beating in the projection over her stomach, and had watched it grow until she woke him in the middle of the night, blood dripping down her legs. He had never told her that the baby's heart had still been beating when they checked, because moments later it was all over.

That had been a year ago, and they'd watched James and little Molly appear. With every birth, Hermione seemed to grow just a bit more brittle, a bit more withdrawn. Whenever Molly had raised the subject of grandchildren hopefully, Hermione had deflected her by talking about her career, about her work on the side for the better treatment of magical creatures, or inquired about a recipe Ron loved. When Fleur hinted that Hermione wasn't getting younger, Hermione asked her opinion of the cut of new dress robes she was considering or whether she thought that a new rug would look better in their lounge. Penelope knew of course, as she'd been one of the healers to treat Hermione, and test Ron, but she was bound by confidentiality, and more often than not was too distracted by little Molly to step to Hermione's aid when talk turned in that direction. Ron could see how it tired her out, this constant cheerfulness hiding a pain that ate at her.

He knew she cried at night, when she thought he was asleep. Ron watched as she drew further and further into herself, and noticed how she was losing weight. For as immaculate a housekeeper as Hermione was, he knew she hadn't touched the third bedroom in months, the one that was supposed to be a nursery. When they'd moved from the flat to the cottage, they'd only just started trying, so instead of the study they'd thought about, they'd agreed to leave it empty for a baby. A few items for their anticipated child had accumulated there; some odds and ends that one or the other had picked up during their more optimistic phase, a few darling baby clothes they cooed over, a stuffed yellow hippopotamus Ron had brought home after that first purple potion. All the visible pieces of their hopes, shut away behind a door that Hermione refused any more to open.

That sense of hopelessness had been pressing down more and more recently, and as his wife wept in his arms, Ron felt himself growing more angry. At what, precisely, he couldn't say, but her tears seemed to be feeding the resentment he felt at their helplessness, his anger at being unable to give Hermione what she wanted. He could feel it smouldering inside him, and not for the first time, he wished Hermione would let him tell their families a bit about what they'd gone through, if only to avoid the pain of nights like tonight. But she saw it as failure, and never had been able to bear anything less than perfection well.

"Look, Hermione," Ron said gently, "I know you're tired. Of everything. I am too. I hate this, all of it. But we don't have a lot of options. I know you don't think the healers can help, but maybe we should give them a go again. Or maybe your muggle specialists will have something worth trying."

Hermione pushed away from him, and glared as she swiped at her eyes and spoke in a voice that was both clipped and despairing. "What good will it do? They ran all those tests after the last one, and couldn't find anything. I can brew the fertility potions as well as they can, they aren't exactly difficult. If the potions aren't working, what precisely do you think a healer will be able to do? And you know as well as I do that magical means of aiding conception are superior to Muggle."

Ron sighed. "I dunno, love. I just think that you're right. It's been a year. Maybe something's changed. Outside of a healer, the options are pretty limited. And at this point, I just want to be done for awhile. You're not happy, I'm not happy. Let's just stop."

Hermione looked pale and a little stunned, as if he'd just slapped her. "What do you mean stop?"

Ron leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, not quite meeting her eye. "I mean what I've said a few times now. Let's quit. Not forever. Just for awhile. Be done with the pressure of it. I'm as tired of the bloody potions and bloody charts and the bloody disappointment every bloody month as you are."

"I can't just stop, Ron," she said tightly. "Don't you understand? I can't just quit."

"I'm not saying forever, Hermione! Just . . . we need a break. I need a break from this. You do as well. It's eating you up, Hermione. Can't you see that? And no one else knows. Not even Harry. I watched you. I saw you flinch over and over tonight, I saw how much it hurt you to listen to them going on and on. Harry would be so upset if he knew how much he'd hurt you tonight, you know that."

"Which is precisely why we can't tell them," she hissed. "Because what are they to do, Ron? Stop living their own lives? Not talk about their children? Pretend nothing is happening when Ginny's the size of a hippogriff? You think there is pressure now? Just wait until your family starts their interference."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ron asked, his eyes narrowing.

"As if you didn't know. You lot live in each others pockets, there are practically no secrets from anyone. It's bad enough they all think I'm an uppity feminist who puts her career ahead of her family. Oh, don't act as if you don't know the way your mother and Fleur cluck about my work and shake their heads over how I deny you the chance to be a father when you clearly like children so much. Even Harry gets in on it now too." Hermione's voice was rising to higher and higher levels, her cheeks were flushed and her eyes her glittering with anger.

"You're being unfair, Hermione. That's not how it is at all, they wouldn't say things like that if they knew what was going on. Having a career just wasn't important to them, so they don't understand, and you don't help by hiding behind it every time the subject comes up," Ron said in clipped tones, crossing his arms over his chest.

"That's not the point!" Hermione screeched. "The point, Ronald, is that if they say that sort of thing now, then what are they going to say when they know what damaged goods I am? When they know how I'm incapable of even basic biological functions?" Hermione's face crumpled and the anger in the room deflated, and once again, she was crying.

Ron sighed. "Oh, love, you aren't damaged. None of this is in your control or is your fault." He opened his arms and she buried herself in his chest and cried softly. Ron stroked her wild, curly hair, until the muffled sobs turned to sniffles and then to deep breathing. Forgoing use of his wand, he simply picked up his exhausted wife and carried her up the stairs to their bedroom. He gently tugged off her skirt and blouse and tucked her into their bed, lingering over a kiss to her forehead, breathing in the scent that was uniquely Hermione.

Restlessly, he moved back downstairs. He felt unsettled by the glimpse he'd seen of Hermione's true feelings about this subject, about herself. Giving up the idea of sleeping, knowing he was far too awake and troubled for it, he cast about for something to do, wishing he could confide in someone, but sighing at the late hour. Most of his family were sound asleep by this point, their children long since having worn them out. Maybe his dad would be willing to listen, but he was less hearty than he used to be, and Ron hated to wake him. There was, however, one person who was as unencumbered by children as Ron was, though, come to think of it. And he was likely awake, though how coherent he might be at this point was potentially debatable. All the better for his own need to discuss something Hermione had placed off-limits to his family. George probably wouldn't remember his visit through the haze of firewhiskey he'd likely consumed by this hour.

Mind made up, Ron acted before he gave himself a chance to talk himself out of it, and wrote a short note on a scrap of parchment and left it on the table, hoping Hermione would attribute it to another bad night for George. They were fewer and further between now, true, but Ron was always the person George called when things got too much for him to bear. The note left, Ron crept out of the house, securing the wards behind him, and apparated into the workshop of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes' original location in Diagon Alley, where George still lived in the flat he'd shared with his twin brother.

The room was quiet, and as Ron climbed the stairs to the flat, he realized he couldn't hear anything stirring. George couldn't stand quiet, and usually had the wireless on in the background if he were awake. Ron began to feel foolish, but knocked at the flat door softly anyway, deciding that he'd give it ten or twenty seconds, since he'd come all the way out here, and then he'd go away. No point in rousing George if he were actually sleeping, or worse, not alone, as the case had been more and more frequently in the last couple of years. Fred would certainly have been proud of the parade of witches that trotted through his flat, but Ron worried about his brother's health and happiness. This was more brittle a life than either twin had ever really expressed interest in, for all their big talk when they were young.

Just as Ron was turning away to sneak quietly back to the apparition point, the door to the flat opened suddenly, and a sleepy looking George stood there blinking. "Oi, little brother, what're you doing here at this time of night? Hermione finally came to her senses and chucked you out, then?" He eased the sharp words with a half-smile.

"Of course not, I'd go sleep at Harry's if she tossed me over," Ron scoffed.

"True, and if she'd come to her senses and binned you, she'd be the one at my door, not you," George mused, looking thoughtful, and chuckling when Ron glared down at him. "Come in, then and I'll make tea." George moved away from the door and headed towards the small kitchen.

Ron followed, looking around him in some surprise. The flat was actually tidy, if not perfectly cleaned. That was new; the last time Ron had been over of a night, it had been the usual mess of dirty laundry, dust, empty firewhiskey bottles and a sink overflowing with used dishes. Instead, the only thing out of place was a book on the floor by the couch.

"It's looking nice in here, George. Didn't wake you, did I?" Ron asked, frowning a bit.

"Yeah, you did, but it's better, actually. I fell asleep reading on the couch and you've saved me a bad crick in my neck," George shrugged.

"So you're alone then?" Ron asked bluntly, knowing that subtlety had never been his strong point.

George leaned back against the counter and cocked his head at his younger brother, studying him for a moment. "Yeah, I am. Is that so unusual?"

"Has been a bit of late, innit?" Ron grunted, the tips of his ears turning red. "Not like you to clean up, either. Wondered if you were trying to impress a bird."

"I have been seeing someone," George admitted.

Ron's eyebrows rose. George hadn't seen the same girl more than twice in recent memory, to the point that their Mum had forbidden George from bringing dates to family events because of the difficulty of trying to keep them straight.

"Oh, come off it," George scoffed. "I've been doing a lot better lately. No one wants to say it like that, but it's true enough anyway. And Luna's done me good." He turned faintly pink as he said it, looking at Ron through the corner of his eyes, as if waiting for some sort of reaction.

Ron blinked. "Luna? Luna Lovegood?" he asked in surprise.

George nodded and began fiddling with the tea strainer near at hand. "Yeah. Bumped into her at the Leaky on a bad night. Was going to floo you, but she helped me home and put me to bed. She stayed on the couch until I woke up next day. While I was sleeping, she cleaned the flat and threw out all the firewhiskey and all the hangover potion." He chuckled at the memory. "I was furious and in pain, but she just smiled and said that the only way around it was to go through it, and said she'd be back in three days to see how I'd got on."

"I take it you'd got on pretty well then?" Ron asked.

"Once I got my hands on some hangover potion, anyway. I thought about it, what she'd said, and I realized I've been trying for years to numb or avoid the pain of losing Fred. I've been been trying to fill his place with just about anything to stop it from hurting. And nothing really had helped, and a lot of it made things worse," he mused, looking sad. "I decided it was time I maybe tried to get through it. Wasn't easy," George added, frowning. "Still isn't easy. But I think it's better now. Luna talks about him, you know. You lot don't much. I understand why, I know it's hard even to look at me sometimes, I can't stand mirrors myself. It's easier to talk to her, somehow."

There was silence as Ron digested this information, and George didn't quite meet his eyes, broken by the tea kettle beginning to whistle. George busied himself with making tea, finally bringing it to the lounge, and Ron finally sat down, looking at the cup in his hands and wondering now what to say. He hadn't been quite prepared for a lucid George.

"So, no more wireless at all hours, then?" Ron asked, before he could stop himself.

"No," George replied, simply. "Luna said that if I wanted to hear Fred, tuning him out was probably not going to help. And when I turned it off, d'you know, I could hear Fred pretty clearly inside my head, telling me what a git I've been these past few years. Can't say I disagree with him, really. You put up with a lot from me, Ron."

Ron waved away what sounded like the beginning of an apology he didn't want. "That's a lifelong thing, that is. 'S what brothers are for, innit," he said gruffly.

George's voice sounded amused when he spoke. "Yeah, all right, we'll skip the emotional baggage and move on to what precisely has brought you to my flat in the middle of the night if Hermione hasn't thrown you out."

Ron hesitated, fidgeting with the cup in his hands, idly feeling the warmth of the tea seeping through the ceramic. "Right, well, I need to talk to someone, I guess."

"Right," George said, eyebrows raising a shade.

"Only, well, Hermione doesn't want me talking about this," he said, more hesitantly, trying to remember exactly what he'd been thinking when he decided to come here.

"Ah, I see. So you want me to swear on Fred's grave or something that I'll never tell, is that it?" George said, relaxing a bit.

"I don't think that's completely necessary, George," Ron said. "It's just that it's sort of sensitive, like. And we had a row just tonight about telling anyone this, but if I don't talk to someone else, I think it's going to lead to more rows, and I'm not sure either of us can handle that right now."

George's eyebrows creased. "This is serious, isn't it?" Ron nodded. "Something wrong with Hermione? She's not been herself lately."

"We've been trying to have a family," Ron blurted out. He paused while noting George's surprised look. "We've tried for three years now. She's had three miscarriages, well, six if you count the last three where the potion turned purple and she started bleeding a few days later." Now he'd gotten started, now he'd admitted it to someone, the words tumbled out of him as if George had spiked the tea with Babbling Bubbly or veritaserum or something. He went on and on, telling George about how they'd learned about each miscarriage, how hard the last one had been, how badly Hermione took it all, how frustrated he felt, how much it hurt when Mum hinted about grandchildren and how that very evening had gone.

"And now it seems we row more and more, like tonight. Not like our bickering, I know we do that all the time. We've both said things that hurt each other, and that's not normal for us. I just don't know what to do. She won't take a break, she won't go back to the Healer and she's convinced, absolutely convinced she's broken and it's all her fault." Ron stopped suddenly, looking tired and worn out, as if he simply had no more to say.

George had been quiet throughout, listening intently, looking at turns shocked, then sad, and now grave. "I had no idea about any of this," he sighed.

"Don't feel bad, no one does. Not even Harry or Ginny, and they see us more than anyone," Ron replied absently. "I didn't know you'd gotten yourself sorted out or that you've been seeing Luna, did I?"

"Right, point taken. So is it about having a baby or is it about making this happen?" George finally asked.

"What d'you mean?" Ron questioned.

"Well, have you considered alternatives?" George queried, as if it were obvious. When Ron looked blank he went on. "Adoption? Surrogate mother? So on?"

"Oh. No, not really. The healers said it's just been bad luck, really, there isn't anything inherently wrong with Hermione."

"And you've been completely looked over?" George asked.

"Yeah, perfectly normal, according to Penelope. And that was a bit embarrassing, you know, because I had to provide a, er, specimen for them to examine."

George's eyes lit with mirth. "Is that why you came in and asked for the adult daydream charms?"

Ron blushed, but nodded, and George laughed at his little brother for a moment, before Ron grew serious again. "I don't care so much about having a baby. Plenty of Weasleys about aren't there? But it's still important to Hermione. I think it has to do with feeling inferior anyway."

George frowned. "What d'you mean, inferior? Hermione is the smartest, cleverest witch any of us know, probably in all of Britain."

"Yes, and she's a muggleborn. She's been battling prejudice her whole life, and I know she sometimes still feels inferior, even if she's loads better. And to continue to struggle to get pregnant only to lose the babies. . . that's something that most people do so easily without thought. And no matter how much she researches or studies or tries spells or potions, she can't make it happen." Ron sounded defeated.

"So she wants to be a mother, but she still wants to succeed at this more than she wants to be a mum?" George said.

"I think at this point that is still true. But I don't know for sure. We had a row the last time we talked about it, haven't brought it up again." Ron was slumping lower in his seat, looking utterly knackered.

"It's not something you can just easily decide overnight, I reckon," George said amicably enough. "Look, Ron, I'm about the last person in the wizarding world who can you give you good advice about this. Or anything, really."

"I think I really just needed someone to talk to," Ron said, shoulders slumped.

"Well, despite my lamentable lack of two ears, I remain pretty decent listener. Any time, Ron. There is one thing -" George mused.

"What's that?" Ron asked, through a wide yawn.

"Hmmm? Oh, nothing. May as well stretch out and sleep, y'know. You look too knackered to apparate back. It is rather late," George said with chuckle, standing up.

Ron gratefully unfolded himself on the couch, as George summoned a blanket, and cast a cushioning charm under his little brother's head. Ron was asleep before George laid down in his own bed.

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A/N: This is a more personal story than any I've written before. I started this piece in a feverish rush back in early August, seeking distraction as I neared the two year anniversary of my son's birth and death. We were then in our fourth year of trying to conceive, and had suffered through similar problems to Hermione here (though this should not be read as a repetition of my own obstetric history). We were approaching a point at which we felt we needed to take a long break, and the conversations surrounding that sort of decision are difficult and painful.

Unlike Hermione and Ron, we've been relatively open with our friends and families about our difficulties in achieving and sustaining a pregnancy, but it doesn't stop the pain of uninformed opinions intruding, urging one to simply adopt (as if that were an obvious, easy option, when it is as difficult and emotionally fraught as artificial reproductive technologies), or to take a break, or try this supplement or that sexual position; this leaves off the negative responses about your miscarriages or infant loss to prematurity – there are so many absolutely asinine statements that do nothing but wound you again and again.

In pain one day myself, I began to wonder what might have delayed Ron and Hermione's family building, and imagined a scenario in which things were not happily ever after, whether those around them knew it or not . . .