A/N: Daily Prophet Reporting officially wins the Best Beta Award! This story wouldn't be HALF of what it is without his attention to details and plot, so everyone give him a big round of applause!
Hermione's hands, always so calm and steady and her instruments in everything she did, were shaking. Just like the rest of her.
Perhaps it was because she'd had Coke at lunch. She never drank Coke, but they had been at a Muggle restaurant and she had had a strange urge for the beverage that had always been forbidden to her ("It wears away the enamel on your teeth, Hermione!"). And so she drank it and sat through lunch, and now her hands were shaking.
And she had the biggest urge to bite off her abused thumbnail.
No, Hermione. No. You are not going to let your body deteriorate just because your mind might.
"Snap out of it," she murmured angrily to herself as she pushed past several Healers on her way to the Apparition Point in St. Mungo's.
"Sorry, Healer Granger," a scared voice said. Hermione realized she had unwittingly directed her comment to one of the Trainee-Healers; she made to apologize to him, but he was gone before she could.
As Hermione stood in the queue waiting for her turn to Apparate, she found her mind wandering back to her luncheon with her mother and soon-to-be mother-in-law. It had started off well. Hermione had been walking on sunshine as she Apparated with Molly to her home in Cabell. Molly had become a different person overnight somehow she had gone from mildly curious about helping with a Muggle wedding to rabidly interested. Hermione's only concern was that Molly might overpower her mother.
How wrong she had been.
The two mothers had spent the entire hour luncheon talking about everything they needed to do for the wedding. Everything. It turned out Molly and Jane were both determined to invite everyone they knew and have the largest wedding possible for their children. They bonded over stories about horrible mothers-in-law. They had both even become a bit teary-eyed when talking about how their little babies were getting married.
Hermione wondered if they'd noticed she had barely said a word the entire time. Probably not. In fact, she wasn't sure they had even remembered she was there. Only at the end had they turned their attention to her.
"Hermione, we must have a get-together with Ginny soon. She'll be crucially important in this process," Jane was saying seriously.
"What? Oh, yes, of course," Hermione said, looking up from where she had been pushing random pieces of lettuce around her plate.
"Oh, yes, won't she as a bridesmaid, right, Hermione dear?" Molly asked anxiously.
Hermione frowned at her. "Yes, didn't she tell you?"
Molly pursed her lips. "I never know what that girl's doing anymore," she said fretfully. "She hasn't the slightest consideration for her poor mum."
Jane patted her hand sympathetically. "Well, no one is to worry because I'm having Alice at the office make up notebooks for us all. Won't that be lovely? It will certainly help us keep everything straight."
Hermione glanced at her watch. "Mum, I've really got to get back to St. Mungo's."
"Of course, Hermione dear," Molly said. "We're so proud of how well Hermione's doing at work," she gushed to Jane. "What with her being the youngest Healer at the hospital."
Jane smiled proudly. "Oh, I know, isn't it marvelous?"
"All right, thank you, but I really must be going," Hermione said, feeling a bit like she was stuck in a nightmare. Breathe, Hermione. If you can reverse the poison from a Venemous Tentacula bite in a screaming, four-headed eight-year-old, you can certainly handle your mothers.
"Well, Molly do you have somewhere you need to go right now?" Jane asked as they rose from the table.
"No, I don't," Molly said interestedly.
"Would you like to come see the church? It's just down the lane."
Molly beamed. "That would be wonderful, I think."
Jane beamed right back. "I've only just booked it yesterday we were quite lucky to get it on such short notice, only three months 'til the wedding."
"Yes, only three months," Molly said, her grin so wide it threatened to split her face.
Hermione felt nauseous.
She left the mothers, watching as they walked arm-in-arm down the street towards the old stone church on the corner, their graying heads bent together conspiratorially.
The Apparition Officer's voice startled Hermione out of her reverie. She hurried forward to an empty point. "Good afternoon, Healer Granger."
She managed a smile. "Good afternoon, Mark. I'll see you tomorrow."
She turned around, concentrated, and after the familiar feeling of being squished through a tube, was standing in the middle of her flat. She stood still for a moment, looking down at her hands as she held them out in front of her. Definitely shaking.
A knock sounded at her door. Hermione started and then hurried to answer it.
Her bridesmaid was standing on her doorstep, tears streaming down her cheeks. Ginny let out a sob. "Oh, thank God you're home," she said, and then fell into Hermione's arms.
"Ginny, what's the matter?" Hermione asked, leading her friend to the spotless sofa and sitting her down. Ginny said something that didn't sound like English to Hermione. "What was that?"
Ginny turned her anguished face towards Hermione. "No!" she wailed. "H-Harry loves m-me!"
Hermione's jaw dropped. "What? Did he say that to you? Was it just now? How did he say it? Are you two together?"
Ginny got herself under control with some difficulty. "He just told me," she said miserably, leaning forward and propping her forehead on her palms. Hermione rubbed her back soothingly. "I went to Grimmauld Place with him. He he kissed me and told me he loves me."
Hermione was grinning. "Well, Ginny, that's wonderful! I'm so happy for you! Why are you crying?"
"Don't you see, Hermione?" Ginny asked, looking at her friend desperately. "He can't love me; he doesn't know me. He abandoned me. I haven't had a proper conversation with him in four years. How can he love me? It's impossible. And even if he did, it's not like I'd be stupid enough to love him back."
Her last comment was said with some hesitation. Hermione, her brow wrinkled, thought about what Ginny had just said. "I agree, Ginny, it does seem a bit early to tell you he loves you, but maybe he never stopped loving you. He's probably loved you since sixth year "
"Well, then, why didn't he stay with me, Hermione? If he loved me, why did he leave? I can't I can't let myself fall for his tricks just to be hurt again."
"No," she said determinedly, standing up. She swiped at her face, took a couple of deep breaths, and then turned towards Hermione. "No. I can't, and I won't. I promised myself I wouldn't fall back into his arms if he ever realized what a fool he's been. What sort of self-respecting witch does that?"
Hermione bit her lip. "Ginny, don't you think I mean, shouldn't you not let your pride get in the way of your feelings?"
Ginny scoffed. "What feelings? I don't have feelings for him."
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
Ginny glared moodily out the window. Hermione watched her pale, freckled profile as her brow furrowed and knew that she was thinking of Harry. Hermione wondered if Ginny knew that, while she may not like him right now, she was really in love with Harry and probably always would be? Other men were ruined for her. Hermione had never seen Ginny get even close to looking at her boyfriends the way she had looked at Harry.
She didn't know how they would get together, but she knew they would. Well, as long as Ginny didn't let the wealth of pride instilled in her via her family get in the way. Harry and Ginny were meant for each other.
Just like Ron and Hermione.
Hermione had always loved having dinner with her parents. To be back in her childhood home and eating a normal meal, discussing how things were going at the office for her parents, at the hospital for her, and just being surrounded by the Muggleness comforted her. There was something about returning to the site of her happy, ordinary (well, mostly) childhood that made her feel closer to the girl she had been. Helped her to reconcile herself with the woman she was becoming.
She was happy tonight to have Ron with her. Having him in a world she was totally comfortable with rather than vice-versa was a nice change. Being able to throw him off balance (and scold him for never taking Muggle Studies) was something to which she looked forward. Plus, she liked the way her parents and fiancι interacted. Although it had taken some time, her father, Charles, had eventually become extremely fond of his future son-in-law, especially because last year Ron had taken him to a Holyhead Harpies Quidditch match. Her father still talked about it. And, of course, her mother loved Ron. Hermione wondered if it was because Jane had secretly feared her bookish, bossy daughter would never get married, but as Jane was also bookish and rather bossy, she wasn't very sure of this theory.
At any rate, this dinner a week after Hermione had had lunch with her mother and Molly was somehow different from the dozens of times the four of them had had dinner together in the past few years. Hermione was feeling increasingly alarmed about the wedding, and her mother, always so rational and observing, seemed to be o