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 oblivious. When Ron and Charles weren't talking to each other they were caught awkwardly in Jane's wedding chatter and Hermione's unwillingness to discuss it.
After supper was finished, Charles beckoned Ron into what had been Hermione's play room and was now the location of Charles's train collection. They were discussing how Muggle trains operated as they left the room, both of their faces animated and completely unaware of the tension between Hermione and her mother. Hermione got up and helped to clear the table, listening with half an ear as her mother discussed floral arrangements.
"...like I had, darling, and they were such a lovely shade of ivory, I'm sure we can find the same if that's what you want. Is that what you want? Hermione?"
Hermione sighed and turned to face her mother. "What, Mum? I'm sorry."
Jane looked at her searchingly, her brown eyes shrewd. "You haven't been listening to a word I've said, have you?"
"Oh, no, of course I have," Hermione said quickly. "I've just my mind's sort of on the hospital "
"You don't have to lie to me, Hermione," Jane said quietly. The expression on her lined face was almost too much for Hermione to bear.
"I'm sorry, Mum, I really am. I'll pay attention, I promise. What were you saying?"
Jane wouldn't budge. "Hermione, if you don't want this sort of wedding, all you have to do is say so."
"No Mum, I'm sorry, of course I want this sort of wedding," Hermione said desperately. Jane pursed her lips and looked dubious. "I really do. It's exactly what I've always wanted."
To her complete and utter horror, her mother's eyes were welling with tears. "I just want my angel's special day to be perfect," she croaked. Hermione hurried to her side, her heart breaking.
"Mum, it is special, and it will be perfect," she said. "I promise. I really just am preoccupied, which is silly of me, but I can't help it. You know I've never been into frills and flowers, Mum."
To her further dismay, this last statement seemed to send her mother over the edge. She sat down at the kitchen table and put her face in her hands. "I'm so silly," she croaked. "Of course you're not, darling. I shouldn't let my own tastes interfere with what you want."
Hermione, completely thrown by this role-reversal, sat down and grabbed her hand. Her mother looked up at her miserably. "Mum, it's exactly what I want."
"We'll change it to the Habitat, or whatever the Weasleys' home is called," her mother continued.
"Oh, no, Mum, no. I love that you're so into my wedding, I really do," she said earnestly. "I'm excited to get married at the church! I don't I don't want to get married at the Burrow," she said, happy that her voice was strong as she told this falsehood.
Something in her expression must have convinced her mother, because her face softened. "Really?" she asked hopefully.
Hermione nodded. "Really," she said.
"Oh, darling, I just love you so very much," her mother said, reaching over to envelop Hermione in her arms. "I can't believe my little bookworm is getting married."
Hermione could do nothing but pat her back as Jane sobbed into her shoulder. When she was finally finished she pulled back, grabbed a dishtowel, and wiped her face. "I'm sorry, love," she sniffled. "I'm feeling quite emotional, I suppose." She looked at Hermione with a small smile, her eyes bright. "You're a woman now," she said. "You're a woman, and you're marrying the man of your dreams. I have to learn to let you go."
Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.
"You're going to be so happy together," Jane sighed. After a long pause, she cleared her throat, wiped her eyes, and stood up, suddenly and briskly turning back into the organized dentist Hermione knew so well. "Well, let's finish the wash-up, shall we? And have you spoken to Ginny about when the four of us should meet? The notebooks are all ready for us to use."
Hermione forced a smile and answered her mother.
Ginny felt like her life was rapidly spiraling out of control for a variety of reasons over the following three months.
"Now, as the bridesmaid, dear, you must be Hermione's right-hand woman," Jane Granger had said with a smile as the four of them sat drinking tea in the Grangers' spotless home two weeks after her run-in with Harry. "You'll get to help us with absolutely everything. Hermione and I will quite come to depend on you, I'm sure."
Ginny hadn't been worried. It was just a wedding, after all. How hard could it be?
How naοve she had been.
That was before flower arrangements, food, decorations, colors, seating charts, the church, venues, entertainment, and gowns had come into the picture. (Ginny privately thought gowns were the worst: enormous, frothy creations in a myriad of colors to choose from for the bridesmaids.)
Ginny did have to hand it to them; Hermione and her mother were extremely organized. Jane had presented them all with decorated binders with dividers for each aspect of the wedding. While Hermione diligently put documents and made notes in the correct areas, Ginny often wrote things down in the wrong departments and then promptly forgot about them, at a later date causing her to do much frantic searching for that telephone number or this address. Her mother preferred not to use the binder at all.
Everything was done The Muggle Way. As Hermione had explained, her mother wanted to do everything "right" and that meant everything Muggle. Ginny and Molly had had to learn how to use a telephone (no yelling necessary), how to walk through Muggle stores and not exclaim over all the strange contraptions, how to go through conversations without mentioning "wand" or "spell" or "Muggle". Ginny was quite sure the florist thought she was mad as early on in the wedding planning she had asked her if she could enchant the roses to sparkle.
"You mean put glitter on them, dear?" the woman had asked, staring at Ginny as though she had grown an extra head.
It was all one massive headache. And the closer they got to The Date, the worse everything became. Jane had bought Ginny a telephone without wires called a mobile, and she was to keep it on at all times. She forgot and left it off one day, and when she finally turned it on she saw that Jane had called her seventeen times there had been a problem with the venue they had picked out for the reception, and it needed to be changed.
To add to Ginny's stress level, she had been surprised to no end when, a month before the wedding, the Harpies' captain, Gwenog Jones, had announced Ginny would be taking Arial Montclair's place as Chaser for the next few months because she was pregnant.
Ginny recognized the honor for what it was out of five reserves, she had been the one chosen to fill Arial's spot but at the same time she had a completely irrational urge to turn her down. Something deep down was telling her not to do it, that she would already be stressed enough with the wedding. But she had gone ahead and accepted, and now cursed that decision regularly. Her exhausting practices with the Harpies in preparation for her first real match were enough to make her seriously wonder why she was living.
But the upshot of it all was that she was so busy she had next to no contact with Harry or with Bryan, whom she had, for reasons she was unwilling to examine, successfully begun to avoid.
While Harry was willing to let her evasion slide for the moment, Bryan wasn't. He Flooed over to her flat before they were set to go to another family dinner at the Burrow, this one two weeks before the wedding, with an uncharacteristically grim look on his face.
Ginny was in a rush practice had run late in preparation for her first match on Tuesday and barely spared him a glance as he brushed the soot off his shirt. "Almost ready," she called as she hurried into the kitchen and began wrenching open drawers. Where the bloody hell was her binder? They were supposed to have yet another wedding summit before dinner, and she hadn't seen her binder for days. Jane was going to kill her
"Ginny," he said.
"Hang on," she cried, dashing into the closet with her laundry. Perhaps she'd shrunk it and stuck it in one of her trouser pockets?
"Ginny, we need to talk."
Ginny rifled frantically through all her pockets and finally found her full-to-bursting, unorganized blue binder. She tapped it with her wand and Engorged it until it was the proper size.
"We don't have time to talk; we're late," she said distractedly, hurrying into the sitting room. "Put the Floo in, for heaven's sake."
He didn't move. His expression made her heart sink. "Oh, no," she muttered under her breath.
"Ginny, we need to talk," he repeated.
Ginny was frozen to the spot. "Very well then, talk," she said, her voice slightly breathless. He had that look that look that meant he was either going to tell her he was dying of an infectious disease or he was breaking up with her.
"I can't do this anymore," he said.
Oh. So no infectious disease, then.
"What d'you mean?" she asked, swallowing.
"I can't be with you when you're like this."
He sighed, looking for a word. "Distracted all the time," he said finally. "Your mind's always on practice or the wedding "
"That is not my fault," Ginny interjected.
" and when it's not on either of those things, it sure as hell isn't on me."
"I'm just busy right now is all," Ginny said defensively. "I'm sorry, I can't help it. Practice and the wedding are taking over my life."
Bryan stared at her with what looked like pity in his brown eyes. "It's not just the wedding and practice, Ginny," he said finally. "You know it's not."
The silence was deafening. "I don't know what you mean," Ginny said finally, staring at him, a prickling of uncertainty entering her brain.
"When was the last time you thought about me?" Bryan asked, a hint of sadness in his tone. "When was the last time you thought, 'Gosh, I miss Bryan' or, 'Hmm, Bryan and I haven't been together in a few weeks, I should go see him'? I'm guessing never."
Ginny tried to prevent it, but she couldn't; she could feel her guilty expression even as she tried to make it un-guilty. "Bryan "
"No, stop," he said, putting one of his hands up. A dart of remorse pierced Ginny's heart for obviously causing him pain. "I don't want excuses. I know you're in love with Harry Potter; everyone knows it."
Remorse? Scratch that.
"What did you say?" Ginny gasped, her breath gone from her lungs.
"You heard me, Ginny. Stop pretending to be shocked. You're the only one that's not faced up to the fact that you loved him then, you love him now, and you'll probably always love him." He looked at her bitterly. "I just wish you'd had the decency to break it off with me."
"Bryan no, it's not like that "
Bryan shook his head. "No more, Ginny. Just stop." He smiled at her painfully. "It was good while it lasted." He tossed Floo powder onto the fire, which burst into green flames, and turned to step in. He looked back at her before he called out his destination. "Stop denying it and just be happy, Ginny."
And then he was gone, leaving Ginny staring at the empty grate, too stunned to move.
She was chucked. Just like rubbish in the bin. Chucked on her arse.
And it was all because of bloody, damn Harry Potter. He wasn't even here, and he was ruining her life.
Damn him. Damn Harry bloody Potter, damn Bryan arsehole McWright, damn the wedding, damn the Holyhead Harpies, damn being chucked damn it all.
She needed to get drunk.
"Ginny? Oh, thank God," Hermione said, relief almost causing her to pass out as she hurried into the Leaky Cauldron and saw her best friend's distinctive red hair spilled out on the bar. She wove her way through lively patrons and got to the bar with some difficulty, not checking to see if she had lost Fred and George behind her. She put her hand on Ginny's slumped back. "Ginny?"
"Figured someone'd be 'ere after awhile for 'er," Tom, the wrinkled old barkeep, said over the din when he suddenly appeared at Hermione's elbow.
Hermione jumped. "Oh, goodness, Tom, thanks for thanks for looking after her. Fred, George! Over here!" she cried, easily spotting the two sets of flaming red hair as they made their way towards the bar.
"Started givin' 'er pumpkin juice a few shots ago," Tom continued, grinning at Hermione with his toothless smile. "Don't think she noticed."
Hermione smiled her thanks as she pushed Ginny's copious amounts of hair out of the way, jostling the patron next to her as she did so, and tried to see Ginny's face. She took her pulse strong and steady and shook her shoulders. "Ginny. Ginny, wake up," she said.
Ginny jerked her head up. "One more, Tommy," she slurred, her eyes bloodshot and unfocused. She looked like she'd been crying.
Hermione shook her head. "Ginny, no, no more," Hermione said.
Ginny squinted at her. "Hermy?"
Fred and George arrived on the scene and roared with laughter at Ginny's state. "She's pissed! Totally gone!" Fred howled.
"Oh, will you two grow up?" Hermione scolded. They got a hold of themselves, and she supervised as they pulled Ginny off her stool and supported her on her unsteady legs. They walked her out of the bar, Fred and George bantering with the drunken patrons and shamelessly plugging Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes products all the while, and when they finally got her outside into the crisp fall night, the twins burst into laughter again.
"I haven't seen her like this since Christmas of '99," George gasped when he'd gotten himself under control.
Fred paused, a beatific look coming over his freckled features. "Ah, Christmas of '99."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. She had spent Christmas with her parents in 1999 and didn't have any idea what they were talking about. "Will you two just support her? Good Lord, she's going to fall flat on her face," she said sternly. "I'll just pop back to the Burrow and tell everyone we found her. No funny business," she said, shaking her finger under their identical noses. "I'll be right back."
She Disapparated and appeared suddenly in the back garden of the Burrow. It was quarter to twelve; the mothers had left long ago with the children. The brothers and Harry and Hermione had split up to look for Ginny.
There had been a universal panic when Ginny still hadn't shown up for dinner two hours after the appointed seven o'clock and wasn't in her flat. They had begun a search, coming up empty-handed, until Hermione smacked her forehead and realized no one had thought to contact Bryan.
And so, she had Flooed over to his flat and found him alone on his couch with a half-empty bottle of wine.
"Hermione?" he asked, squinting, when she appeared in a flash of green flames.
"Oh, Bryan, I'm so sorry to disturb you, but is Ginny here?" she asked quickly, awkwardly aware that she had never seen Bryan looking so disheveled before.
At Ginny's name, Bryan picked up the wine bottle and took a large swig. "Haven't seen her for a few hours," he said moodily. "Why?"
"Oh, it's just we can't find her," Hermione said, her curiosity more than whetted. It was obvious that there had been some sort of trouble between them hadn't Bryan been invited to dinner as well?
Bryan looked somewhat concerned. "I dunno," he said. "Has anyone checked where Harry Potter is?" he asked bitterly, taking another swig of the wine.
Hermione got the gist. "So you've you've had a falling out, then?" she asked tentatively, a blush heating her cheeks.
Bryan snorted bitterly. "I guess you could say that," he said. "Although personally, I don't think she had ever fallen in in the first place."
Hermione made a sympathetic noise in the back of her throat, her mind darting around, not even really listening to the poor man. Where could Ginny be? If not with Bryan, and if they had rowed or something....
Her eyes fell on the wine bottle in Bryan's hand, and then she knew. She quickly bade goodbye to Bryan and Flooed back to the Burrow, where she promptly ordered everyone to begin looking in pubs. Harry and Ron went to Hogsmeade, Bill to a pub near to Ginny's flat at Diagon Alley, and Hermione and the twins to the Leaky Cauldron. And sure enough there she was.
"Have you found her?" Molly asked as soon as Hermione entered the Burrow. The tea-towel she was clutching had been ripped several times over.
Hermione nodded. "At the Leaky Cauldron," she said, as Mrs. Weasley let out a heartfelt sob of relief and hugged Hermione tightly.
"I'll contact the others," Arthur said quietly over his wife's head, and Hermione nodded. He looked tired and very worried as he left the room.
Hermione comforted Mrs. Weasley until she got a hold of herself. "You must bring her back here," Molly said finally, wiping her eyes with the fragments of her towel. "I'll make sure she knows never to go off without telling anyone ever again."
"I don't think that's a good idea, Molly," Hermione said hesitantly. "She's not well, not in the best shape."
"What do you mean?" Molly asked tremulously.
Arthur appeared back in the sitting room. "I got word to the boys. They're going home."
"As well they should," Molly said disapprovingly. "But Ginny should be here. I knew she was too young to be living on her own twenty is much too young."
"Molly, really, I think Ginny would be better off in her own flat," Hermione said.
Arthur frowned. "What's wrong with her?"
Hermione hesitated. "Fred and George said something about it being like Christmas of '99."
The blood drained from Molly's face, and Arthur groaned. "Oh, not Christmas of '99."
Molly shook her head and went into the kitchen. She returned with a small bottle of potion. "Best make sure she takes this straightaway," she said briskly. "It's a sobering solution," she explained at Hermione's quizzical look. "It won't work right away and won't affect the vomiting, but it will help against her hangover in the morning. Someone should also monitor her during the night." She looked resigned. "That girl had better have a good explanation for this."
"I'm sure she does, Molly," Arthur said. "Thank you for your help, Hermione."
"Yes, thank you, Hermione dear," Molly said with a small smile. "You shouldn't have to deal with this two weeks before your wedding."
"Oh, no, it's no trouble," Hermione said, although she was absolutely burning with curiosity to know what had happened at Christmas in 1999.
"Go home and get some good rest," Molly said. Hermione bade goodbye to her future in-laws and Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron. She spotted Fred, George, and Ginny a short ways down the street; they hadn't made it very far, what with Ginny not being able to walk and Fred and George laughing at her attempts.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Hermione said under her breath as she strode towards them. "Fred, George, be useful and actually help her."
"Yes, ma'am, Healer Granger," Fred said in mock-salute. "C'mon, Gin, one foot in front of the other."
"We know it's really hard, Gin-Gin "
"Ickle Ginny-trousers "
"Shut the hell up," Ginny slurred. "I am not in the mood for your sher-shenanergens."
Fred paused. "That's an interesting word."
"Sher-shenanergens." George nodded.
"Wonder if we could make that into a product?"
"I'm sure we could."
"Sort of like a get-drunk-quick pill or something."
"Yeah, skip all the drinking."
"Nasty stuff, Firewhisky. Right, Gin-Gin?"
"Oh, will you two stop tormenting her?" Hermione said, exasperated. They passed the seedy-looking bar that Bill had presumably visited and finally came to the building that held Ginny's flat, above a restaurant.
"Come on, let's get her up the stairs."
"Merlin, Ginny, you weigh a lot."
"I don't weigh a lot!" Ginny bellowed. She had reached the top of the flight of stairs leading up to her flat, a feat that had seemed impossible to her alcohol-muddled brain only minutes before. Ginny tripped on the last stair and found herself facedown on the floor in front of her flat, examining the cheap carpet closely.
"Fred, George she just fell, for heaven's sake!" The irate voice of her best friend met Ginny's ears. She could hear distant laughter.
"Ginny, you're pissed," one of the twins (she had no idea which) said matter-of-factly as two pairs of hands hauled her to her feet. Ginny squinted at the identical faces before her as she swayed.
"You're twins," she observed. She squinted harder. "No, there's another one!" she exclaimed as a third head popped up unexpectedly between Fred and George. "He's only got one eye, though," she said, going cross-eyed as she peered at the new twin.
"I thought we had agreed not to tell anyone about him, Fred," George said as Fred mumbled the unlocking spell on the door and pushed Ginny through. She stumbled, and one of the twins (or triplets) narrowly saved her from falling again. She burst into hysterical giggles.
Lights were on in her flat when they opened the door. Two boys were waiting when they got in.
"Oh, Harry, Ron, I'm so glad you're here," Hermione said, relief in her tone. Ginny caught onto one name. Harry. Harry. Wait. She didn't like him, did she? "Sit her down on the couch," Hermione's seemingly disembodied voice directed. Ginny giggled some more as the twins, grunting, half-dragged her over to the couch and sat her down.
"What the bloody hell happened to her?" Ron asked.
Ginny didn't like his tone. "I'm pished, Ron!" she yelled defensively. "I've had a bad day, and I'm pished!" Oh, God. She didn't feel very good. A wave of heat washed over her.
"You don't say," Ron said sarcastically.
Ginny hated his tone. And him. And she especially hated that Harry had followed them over to the couch and was looking at her with concern. Harry. It was all his bloody fault. She was so hot. And her stomach oooh. Definitely not good.
"Unfortunately, we have to leave this happy party," Fred said. "As much as we would love to stay and hear drunken Ginny which we definitely didn't get enough of Christmas of '99 "
"What happened Christmas of '99?" Harry asked.
" we have to join the world of adults. Right, George?"
"Indeed we do, Fred."
"We've just got to grab our triplet and bring him home."
"He really is so much trouble."
"No matter how often we beat him.... Well, night, Ron, Hermione, Harry. Have fun with this one when she vomits all over your shoes."
"Right," Harry said, laughing, as Fred and George saw themselves out. Ginny watched in the dim light as he muttered several locking spells on her door before he turned back to her. Ron and Hermione were conversing in low tones, but Ginny wasn't thinking of them she could only think of Harry and Bryan. And the fact that she felt like she was going to pass out. Or vomit. Or both.
Ginny reached up and grabbed Harry's sweater in her fist. She pulled him so that he was only inches away from her face. "Harry Potter," she stated.
He coughed and pulled himself away from her gently. "That's right, Ginny, it's me."
"You left me," she said, furrowing her brow at him. "I told you I loved you and you left me." Her stomach rolled.
Harry ignored her last statement. "How do you feel?" he asked, putting a warm hand on her forehead.
Everything started spinning around her at the same speed as her stomach. "I think I'm going to " She leaned forward, and the next thing she knew Harry's white trainers were a rather interesting shade of brown.
Harry didn't even flinch. He sat her up slowly, and she moaned, breaking into a sweat and feeling her stomach rebel again. She coughed and managed to project the contents of her stomach all over Harry's sweater and her own.
"Oh, my goodness, Harry, can you get her to the toilet?" Hermione's concerned voice asked as she hurried over to them. Her bushy hair passed into Ginny's view, and Ginny moaned again.
"Yeah, I think so," Harry said. He helped her to her shaking feet, muttering cleaning spells over the mess on the floor and couch, and looked at her warily. "Are you all right? Can you walk?"
Ginny's knees gave out in response, and he caught her.
"Got her, mate?" Ron asked, looking distastefully at the sick smeared all over Harry and Ginny.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Harry said. He bent down and hoisted her up into his arms.
"My dinner's together again," Ginny murmured as the vomit on her front mashed together with the vomit on his. Harry laughed breathlessly as he carried her into the loo and deposited her on the floor in front of the toilet just in time for her to vomit again. He sat beside her, holding her hair back from her face and rubbing her back soothingly as she got rid of everything she had consumed that day and possibly that whole week. She was shaking and tired and distinctly close to tears when her nausea finally passed.
Hermione was by her side and pressed a cold serviette to her forehead. "Oh, Ginny, I'm so sorry," she said. She held out a small bottle. "You should take this. I needed to give it to you earlier, I think, but I forgot."
"What is it?" Ginny croaked.
"Sobering solution from your mum."
"Feels like Christmas of '99, doesn't it, Ginny?" Ron's amused and taunting voice came from somewhere behind her.
"Shut the hell up, Ron," Ginny said venomously. She glared at him over her shoulder; he was sitting behind her, leaning against the wall, and he grinned.
"Except it was just you and me and Mum, wasn't it?"
"Shut UP, Ron!"
"Everyone's been talking about Christmas of '99," Hermione said, curiosity evident in her tone.
"No," Ginny moaned, burying her head in her arms on the toilet. "Ronald Weasley, if you tell them, I will I will hex your bits so you can never help in the creation of a Hermione Weashley Jr. Don't think I won't do it," she said, attempting to shake her finger at him menacingly but failing.
"Aw, c'mon, Gin. It's funny now. It's been almost three years."
"Iss not funny! Wasn't then, ishn't when the story is repeated, and it definitely ishn't now!"
"Ron, stop goading her," Hermione said reprovingly. "She's drunk."
Ginny noticed, in the silence that followed, that Harry was still rubbing her back. She glanced at him and caught him staring at her; he colored and dropped his hand abruptly. She opened her mouth to comment on it made reckless, no doubt, by the alcohol but luckily, Hermione spoke before Ginny did.
"D'you think you can take the potion, Ginny?"
"What the hell," she said, reaching out her hand. She took a deep breath and lifted her head. Everything seemed to be in slightly better focus than it had before. Hermione uncorked the bottle and handed it to Ginny; she swallowed its contents and then shuddered. "Tastes like licorice," she said, and shivered again in disgust.
"You should be fine in no time," Hermione said, patting her sympathetically on the back. Ginny missed Harry's hand.
"Yeah," she agreed, sighing. She could feel the potion start to take effect. "I think I'll um, I'll stay by the toilet for a minute, though. You can all go home. It's silly for you to be here. I'm fine." She hiccoughed.
No one said anything. She turned around and looked at them. "Really, I'm fine. I'm an adult; I can take care of myself. Thank you for helping me this far, but I'm really fine now."
Hermione shook her head vehemently. "No, you're not. Your mum said you needed to have someone monitoring you during the night. I'm not going to leave you alone."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Hermione, she's fine. Let's go to bed."
"Yes, definitely, go to bed," Ginny said, feeling frustrated. "You're not supposed to spend a night two weekends before your wedding in the bathroom with your errant maid-of-honor."
Hermione looked doubtful. "I really don't think "
"I'll stay with her," Harry said. Everyone turned to stare at him. He looked slightly offended at their dubious expressions. "What? I can take care of her."
"Well, yes," Hermione said, glancing at Ginny in alarm, "of course you can, but "
"She hates you," Ron blurted.
There was a silence. Ginny rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, bugger off, Ron. I don't hate him."
Ron raised his eyebrows. "That's not what you said Christmas of '99."
"Will you stop with that?"
"It's settled," Harry said firmly, standing and pulling his two best friends to their feet. "You two are going to bed; I'm staying with Ginny. Everything'll be fine."
Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. I don't want him to stay with me. I've been avoiding him why does he have to stay with me?
"Ginny?" Hermione asked, looking at her toilet-hugging friend. "Is it okay if Harry stays with you?"
Pause. "Yeah, sure," she said finally. What a coward.
"We're all fine," Harry said firmly.
"All right, if you're sure." Hermione still looked doubtful.
Ron pulled on her hand. "They're sure, Hermione. Come on."
"Take a shower, Ginny," Hermione called over her shoulder. "But not a cold one! And make sure you monitor her breathing, Harry. Check her pulse!" she cried as Ron towed her down the hall. "I'll come by tomorrow!"
A/N #2: This chapter was fun to write. *grins evilly* If you beg me really hard, I might someday reveal exactly what went on that infamous Christmas of 1999.