The weekly tradition had started as great fun. Sunday Dinner. It made them feel civilized and grown-up. Discussing recipes and politics and jobs over their own home-cooked food had felt like one big inside joke. They had all known that they were really still just kids, fresh-faced, and twenty-one.
But now, as their own kids scampered around in the next room, they couldn’t pretend anymore; it had gradually become the real thing.
Harry looked at Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, and suddenly had the urge to be upstairs, locked in his room, slowly scribbling out his book (it had started out as a tribute to Dumbledore, but had turned into Harry’s sort-of vacuous autobiography. In three years, it would be published, with lukewarm reviews and slow sales, but right now it was still a collage of scenes and ideas. At that time, it could have gone anywhere.). But Harry forced this thought to the back of his mind. He knew that he had two more hours before he could even pretend it was time to put the kids to bed.
He refocused on the conversation. Hermione was talking.
“—so not only did I take Hugo when it was meant to be my appointment, and Rose when it was meant to be Ron’s, but it turns out that it had all been for the dentist anyway, and not the Healer, so the whole thing was a complete fiasco. Irritated secretaries all over the place. And that was just one week with Ron doing the scheduling.”
Ginny near-cackled at this punch line, so Hermione, encouraged, went on:
“And all he said afterwards was—he said ‘Well it’s your fault for naming our kids ‘H’ and ‘R’ names, just like us.”
“You would, Ron,” Ginny chuckled.
Hermione seemed pleased with her story, but Ron stared steadfastly at the wall opposite, and smiled only briefly, when he felt their eyes on him. He had confided in Harry a number of times how these stories bothered him.
(“I don’t mean this, Harry,” he said once, “I really don’t. But sometimes I wish she weren’t so much damn smarter than me. I don’t mean I want some dumb wife. I just mean—equals. I want her to treat me like an equal.”
“Then tell her,” Harry had said.
“No,” Ron replied, “I tried once. But she just outsmarted me again, and said I was inherently sexist.”)
But now Harry was beginning to see—these little stories were Hermione’s passive-aggressive defense mechanism. It was mean and petty, yes, but she was actually embarrassed that Ron was so easily mixed up, and irritated that he’d made her go to so much trouble between doctors and dentists, without even a proper apology afterwards. But instead of saying it, all she could do was make a joke out of it in front of their friends.
Harry almost missed the days they would shout in each others’ faces. There was something so clean about it. Like no matter how much they bickered, they still retained their sense of self—that all words aside, their foundation was grounded; they were friends. He had never known two other people quite like that. But now he was wondering if even that was all in his head. Maybe they’d always hurt each other like this.
He looked from Hermione, with her jarringly short hair, to Ron, with an overlarge bandage covering most of his left cheek (he had just had a malignant something-or-other removed at St. Mungo’s), and then to Ginny, his indescribable Ginny. She was only thirty-seven, and her face was the same, but the rest of her had ballooned over the past few years. What had started as maternity pudge with Albus and Lily had gradually transformed her into a younger version of Mrs. Weasley. He didn’t like that feeling; it felt like being married to Mrs. Weasley sometimes—their voices, their figures, their worrying and nagging—it was all too similar. He hated when he could see traces of her family in Ginny’s face—Ron, or Mr. Weasley flashing suddenly through her eyes, or in the shape of her face. Harry’s rational mind soon dispelled it, but for a moment it felt wrong, incestuous, indecent.
He never told her any of this, and never once mentioned her change in weight. He just remembered one morning waking up, rolling over, and running the words through his head, “My wife is fat.” He looked at her sleeping form guiltily, and promised himself that he would never mention it, never change one thing because of it. And it almost worked.
Ginny and Hermione were now busily discussing what was new at Hogwarts, especially now that James had received his letter. Ron was scooping out a third serving of bread pudding.
(Both women secretly hated how grim and silent their husbands sometimes were. They didn’t know why they were expected to try all the time, while the men could just sit and stare. And eat, apparently.)
Eventually, blissfully, and sooner than Harry had expected, Ron and Hermione stood up to leave. He tried to make apologetic eye contact with Ron, for being such a grumpy old bugger all night, but there was some commotion about finding Hermione’s purse, and Ron went off with a petulant sigh to check that it wasn’t in the car. (They kept a Muggle car—Hermione liked having one.)
Harry began stacking dishes, so he didn’t notice that Hermione was fidgeting by the door, making sure that Ron and the kids were out of earshot, trying to find the right words—
“Harry—Ginny. You two are my best friends, so I thought you should know first. I’m—he doesn’t know yet, but I’m seeking a divorce. I’m telling him tonight.” Her words were unsure and low, but it doesn’t matter how you say the word “divorce.” It still sounds like “destruction.”
“Oh, Hermione,” said Ginny, trying to bend her voice with the right amount of pity, and make an appropriate facial expression. But she couldn’t figure out what that would be. It was her brother, after all, that was about to be crushed under heartbreak and legal documents.
And Harry didn’t know what to say.
“You’re sure?” he said eventually, “What about…”
But there was no “what about,” really. Not even the kids. They would be fine. Kids were starving in other countries, and even in this country, he knew. That was a real problem. Rose and Hugo, on the other hand, would be fine.
“I think I’m sure,” Hermione said, “I’ve thought about it.” She wanted more than anything to get out of that room. What a stupid idea—to tell them before she’d even gone through with it. And they couldn’t understand, with their perfect marriage intact. They cooked for each other and went on family outings and never complained about anything.
But just at that moment, Ginny was jealous of Hermione for a fleeting instant. She forced it away just as quickly. What a lot of trouble and pain to go through, she thought, and all for a freedom you probably won’t even enjoy.
“Well, I’ll see you later, then,” Hermione said, “I’ve got to find my kids before they destroy your house.” She laughed unconvincingly, and began to call Rose and Hugo.
Rose stared out the window of the little family car as it bumped along the short way home. She had named the car “Grumpshine,” because even though it was painted bright yellow, the headlights and bumper looked like a face grimacing. She was good at naming things.
She was even better at hiding. She could squeeze into any space, and hide there for hours. It was because of this talent that she had accidentally witnessed her mother’s uncomfortable announcement to Uncle Harry and Aunt GeeGee not twenty minutes before. She had sucked in her breath and pressed herself up against the wall just around the corner, and listened impassively, storing it up for later, when she could think about it.
Her brain was whirring now, full of thoughts that she knew were bigger than herself. She had always known that her parents didn’t particularly like each other, so she had always assumed that, in some world separate from her, they loved each other. But now here that word was—divorce. That meant that there wasn’t even that underneath thing, that love that she thought was hiding even better than she could, so that she could never see it.
She had one or two memories of them, when she was too young for them to be self-conscious, of Daddy grabbing Mummy in the kitchen, pulling her close kissing her right on the lips while she protested, “Ron, not now!”
That must have come from somewhere.
Hermione sat silently in the driver’s seat in front of Rose, two hands firmly on the wheel. Saying it to Harry and Ginny had made it perfectly clear. She couldn’t go through with it. It was too much of an ordeal. The thought of Ron made her sick sometimes, and every difference between them had been made all too clear over and over again in the past decade, but she couldn’t hurt both of them that deeply, by saying that it had all meant nothing, and that she couldn’t physically tolerate him anymore.
Rose inspected her small, freckled hands, and thought yes, maybe divorce is a good thing. She only liked her parents when they were separate anyway. Now she just needed to ignore how the sadness seemed like it was pouring into her tummy. She could be brave about anything. She wanted to be a Gryffindor.
She wondered, though, that her parents had been in Gryffindor. They never did anything brave.
Yes, it would be too hard, Hermione thought. She didn’t even know how to be alone anymore. She would have to make this marriage work. Or maybe she could just sleep on it.
Harry, back at his house, was tucking in little Lily, who wouldn’t stop squirming and giggling under the sheets. Ginny never laughs anymore, he suddenly thought. That had been one of the things that had attracted him to her in the first place. She always had something to say about everything, and something to laugh about.
(Of course it wasn’t actually true; Ginny laughed all the time, just not much with Harry, anymore.)
He wouldn’t tell her this either, though.
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