Another chapter for you :) Hermione has returned! I know you were all missing her... I certainly was! Please enjoy xx
The number of days until the girls came home was quickly dwindling and yet a cool chill swept over the Weasley family – and it had nothing to do with the weather. George had remained hidden in his apartment, refusing to see anyone and Mrs Weasley was not speaking. The rest of the Weasley family were already preoccupied with their own lives – what with Bill and Fleur tied up with the pregnancy and Percy and Mr Weasley busy with work.
Angelina hadn't returned and so Ron, Harry and Annie had been pushed to their limits in order to keep the joke shop running. Ron was still fuming from his argument with George and he had refused to tell Harry what had happened after he had come downstairs that afternoon. And he still hadn't bought Hermione a Christmas present.
Late one Friday night, on and Harry returned to the Burrow to find Mrs Weasley sitting at the kitchen table with a letter in her hand. She didn't look up as they entered and jumped when Ron greeted her.
"Oh, hello, dear," she said in a somewhat distracted tone.
Ron frowned and sat down opposite her. "What's wrong?"
"It's just a letter from Charlie," said Mrs Weasley, giving him a weak smile. "He won't be coming home for Christmas."
Ron's face fell.
"He's too busy with work and can't get time off over Christmas." Mrs Weasley added. "I just thought it would be nice to have all the family together for Christmas… especially since Fred…" her voice broke off and she sniffed and blinked back tears. Ron reached over and patted her hand.
"No matter," she said after she had recovered. "We'll still have a wonderful Christmas." As she rose from her seat, she suddenly doubled over and clutched her head. Ron and Harry immediately rushed to her side and helped her find her seat.
"Mum! Are you alright?" Ron demanded.
"I've got a horrid headache," she said, rubbing her temples. "I think I just need to sit down for a moment or two."
Harry went and fetched her a glass of water.
"Thank you, Harry, dear."
"You need to rest," Ron told her as she took small sips of water. "You don't want to come down with something right before Christmas."
Mrs Weasley shook her head. "I can't rest, Ron," she said with a small laugh, as though she found his concern amusing. "Ginny and Hermione are coming home tomorrow and I must make them something special! And I still have to finish Fleur's jumper, plus do all the Christmas shopping. I have far too much to do!"
She put her glass down firmly and rose, smoothing out her apron.
"But, Mum, you'll run yourself into the ground!" Ron protested stubbornly, frowning at her.
"I agree, Mrs Weasley," Harry added. "There's no need to overwork yourself. I'm sure Ginny and Hermione won't mind if you haven't prepared them a three course meal!"
"And Harry and I can pick the girls up from the station and we can do some Christmas shopping for you, if you're worried about time," Ron offered.
Mrs Weasley gave them each warm smiles. "Thank you, dears, but that won't be necessary. I've managed before and I'll manage again. Besides, you two have too much on your plate."
"But it's different this year," Ron insisted. "Fred's not – "
Ron froze in mid-sentence, horrified by what he had just said. He looked worriedly at Mrs Weasley, who's face grew still and her bottom lip trembled slightly. After a moment's hesitation, she shook her head and gave them a small smile.
"I'll manage just fine," she said and headed into the living room to continue Fleur's jumper.
"But – " Harry began, but Ron shook his head.
"There's no getting through to her," he told him. "Once she's made up her mind, she won't budge."
From the room next door, they heard Mrs Weasley coughing violently and Ron frowned.
"Still, I wish she wasn't so stubborn and would let us help her. All this work while she's in such a fragile state – it can't be good for her…" Ron glanced into the living room with concern.
"Maybe it's her way of dealing with it," Harry suggested. "Maybe doing all this work and keeping busy makes her forget about it… and keeps her from breaking down."
Ron sighed as he realised just how true Harry's words were. Mrs Weasley dealt with grief by keeping busy. George dealt with grief but shutting himself away. Ron wondered, for a moment, how he dealt with grief. Maybe he didn't have a method. Maybe, when it all got too much, he would just crack. He guessed he'd find out soon.
"I can't believe it's Christmas so soon," exclaimed Hermione in astonishment as she, Ginny, Luna and Parvati made their way to the carriages.
"I know," Ginny agreed. "I can't wait to go home."
Hermione couldn't help the small smile that crept onto her face as she thought about who would be waiting for her back at the Burrow. She looked over at Ginny and saw her smiling too. She laughed. But as she thought more about the Christmas holidays, she grew sad. Her parents were still in Australia and as far as she knew, she would be spending her Christmas at the Burrow. Though the Weasleys were like her family, she missed her parents and her own Muggle Christmas celebrations, like decorating the tree with her cousins, sipping hot chocolate at the fireplace on Christmas Eve, admiring the neighbourhood's light displays…
Luna seemed to notice Hermione's sudden change of heart and put a comforting arm on her shoulder.
"Don't worry. I'm sure you'll see your parents again soon," she said warmly and Hermione gave her a small smile.
Dean, Seamus and Neville soon caught up with the girls and the seven of them quickly grabbed a carriage. As some of the others talked, laughed and played Exploding Snap in true holiday spirit, Hermione began to read her charms textbook, wanting to get a head start on the workload for next term. Next to her, Ginny played with Arnold – the little ball of pink fluff twitted happily as she tickled its stomach. It was then, Hermione realised, that she hadn't thought of a present for Ron for Christmas. She quickly tapped Ginny on the arm. She was so startled, that she almost dropped Arnold and she gave Hermione a frown.
"What?" she asked a little irritably.
"Have you thought of a present for Harry for Christmas?"
"Uh…" Ginny muttered, her voice trailing off guiltily.
"Don't worry," Hermione laughed. "I haven't thought of something for Ron either."
Ginny sighed grumpily. "Boys are so hard to buy for," she complained.
Hermione nodded in agreement. "Girls are easy – perfume, jewellery, clothes…"
"Ugh," Ginny groaned, sticking her tongue out in disgust. "Who wants those for Christmas? I'd much rather a new broomstick."
"Broomsticks are awfully expensive," Hermione reasoned.
"I know," Ginny sighed. "That's why I'm stuck with Charlie's old Comet. I've always wanted a nice broomstick – nothing too fancy, like Harry's Firebolt, but something that can at least fly without trailing and not another hand-me-down."
Hermione patted her friend's shoulder comfortingly. She knew how hard it must have been for Ginny as the youngest in the family. Like Ron, she received a lot of hand-me-downs from her older brothers and rarely got anything that wasn't second hand.
"Well, maybe this is the year," Hermione suggested brightly. Ginny's brown eyes lit up and she beamed at Hermione.
"Thanks, Hermione," she said gratefully. "So… what do you reckon I should get Harry?"
Hermione shrugged. "I don't know," she admitted. "Why don't you try for something practical? That always seems to work."
"Like what? He doesn't need a new broomstick."
"I've no idea," Hermione sighed, thinking about what to buy Ron.
There was a pause, before Ginny grinned. "Well, maybe a game of Exploding Snap will help us think of a good present." she said.
"Sure," Hermione smiled, putting her book down and joining Ginny.
It wasn't long before the Hogwarts Express was pulling into Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Hermione eagerly looked out of the window and her eyes lit up when she saw Ron and Harry waiting for them. Once the train had come to a complete stop, the girls raced to the platform and hurled themselves into the boy's awaiting arms.
"Ron!" Hermione cried happily, hugging him fiercely. They pulled back and grinned at each other.
"Someone's excited to see me," Ron smirked, before enveloping her in a sweet kiss.
"Good to see you again, Hermione," Harry said, his arm around Ginny's shoulders. Hermione smiled and hugged him tight, kissing his cheek.
"You too, Harry," she said warmly.
They turned to see Luna, Neville, Dean, Seamus and Parvati hurrying towards them.
"Hey guys," Harry greeted them cheerfully.
"How've you been?" Neville asked, patting him on the back jovially.
"Busy," Harry admitted with a laugh. "Auror training's not all that glamorous."
"I thought you two'd be naturals," said Seamus. "They should let you out into the field already."
Harry and Ron exchanged knowing glances. Judging from their last practical, neither of them was ready for the workforce yet. It was a lot harder than it looked.
"So, what are you doing for Christmas?" Luna asked.
"Just a quiet one at home, this year," Ron replied, slinking his arm around Hermione's waist. "Nothing too extravagant."
"Yeah, me either," said Neville, reaching down and taking Luna's hand in his. Hermione smirked at Ginny as they noticed the gesture but looked away from each other hurriedly, determined not to laugh.
"I'm taking Parvati up north for the holiday," said Seamus, kissing Parvati's temple lightly. "Should be fun."
"Wow, that's impressive," Ron whistled, winking at Hermione.
"I hope you have a wonderful time. I heard Ireland's lovely in the winter."
"Thanks," said Parvati. "It should be great. Well," she turned to Seamus, "we should probably get going. I've got to pack."
The two of them waved goodbye and headed down the platform. Hermione watched them leave fondly, arms around each other. Parvati's long braid swished down her back.
Neville, Dean and Luna soon parted ways, leaving Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny standing by themselves on the platform. With a quick glance behind them at the magnificent red steam train behind them, they linked their arms together and Apparated home.
A marvellous feast was awaiting them back at the Burrow. Mrs Weasley had certainly outdone her typical homecoming meals. However, she wasn't quite herself. Although she embraced the girls warmly and kept up a relatively cheerful mood the entire night, Ginny knew something was wrong.
"How have you been, Mum?" she asked, studying her mother cautiously.
"Oh, you know…" she said with a fake laugh. "Just fine, as always. Been a bit busy – your father's been home late every night for the past week, but I've been managing."
Ginny frowned and crossed her arms. Despite Mrs Weasley's words, she was looking a little worse for wear. There were lines of worry on her face and large, dark shadows under her eyes. Her skin looked a little dull and her face in general lacked the usual brightness when Ginny had last seen her.
"You look really tired," Ginny pointed out. "Maybe you should head off to bed. Get some rest."
Mrs Weasley shook her head. "Don't be silly, Ginny. It's far too early to be going to bed. Besides, I haven't seen you in months. Don't you want to talk to me?"
"What I want, is for you to get some rest," Ginny replied stubbornly. "You shouldn't have done this for us. It was unnecessary."
"Ginevra!" Mrs Weasley scolded, frowning at her daughter. "You could at least be a little more grateful!" She gave a few violent coughs and Ginny rose with a start, ready to go to her aid.
"I am grateful, Mum," she said. "But you're overworking yourself. I can see it! Ron and Harry and Hermione can see it! It's not healthy, Mum. You should be resting."
"But – "
"I know why you're doing this," she insisted. "You're keeping yourself busy so that you don't fall apart because of… Fred."
"Ginny," Ron warned, giving his sister a look.
"What, Ron?" she rounded on him. "That's what she's doing! But you can't, Mum. You're crumbling… I can't stand to see you like this – pretending like there's nothing wrong!"
The two Weasley women stared across at one another, neither speaking for a moment. Suddenly, Mrs Weasley rushed towards her daughter and hugged her tightly, sobbing into her shoulder.
After a few minutes, they pulled apart and Mrs Weasley dabbed at her eyes.
"I guess you're right, dear," she said to Ginny. "I admit it, I'm not feeling myself, so a few extra hours of sleep should do me some good."
Ginny smiled and went with her upstairs. When she returned, she sat next to Harry, who had started to relay his worries about Mrs Weasley.
"I think she's coming down with something," Harry said.
"Like what?" Ron asked.
"I don't know," he admitted. "But I think it could be serious."
"Maybe it's Dragon Pox," Hermione suggested.
Ron scoffed. "You don't get Dragon Pox when you're an adult. That only happens when you're young."
"Maybe," Hermione conceded. "But I know that Muggles have a similar illness called Chicken Pox," she explained, ignoring Ron's snort of laughter. "Most people get it when they're young, but sometimes, you can get Shingles, which is a more serious version, when you're older. My mum had it once. It was dreadful."
"Whatever this Chicken Pox is, it sounds ridiculous," Ron said. "Mum hasn't got Dragon Pox, or Chicken Pox or Shingles. She's just tired."
Hermione sighed and Harry gave her a sympathetic look.
It wasn't long before Ginny retired to her room. After her long train ride and growing concerns for her mother, she was exhausted. As she passed Mrs Weasley's bedroom, Ginny heard her coughing again and sincerely hoped that she was alright.
Poor Mrs Weasley :( Please read and review! More Ron/Hermione in the next chapter I promise :) xx