It wasn't that Hermione was tired of the Weasleys.
She was now the head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures (a department name she was actively working to change to sound less wizard-centric). And her work demanded, more often than not, her supposed time off. Just the weekend before, for instance, she'd gone off into the Forbidden Forest to discuss a peace treaty with the centaurs, who'd recently taken up the age-old custom of abducting unsuspecting witches for short periods of time. Although the witches always returned whole and rather happily… sated, the incidences didn't help the unease in co-species relations, which interfered with her ultimate goal of harmonic coexistence among all creatures of the wizarding world.
And when she'd returned home and wanted nothing more than a long, hot bath, she checked her schedule to see that she needed to attend Ginny's birthday party at the Burrow, starting in seven minutes. After coming home from that shindig, exhausted and covered in cake thanks to James and Albus, she decided the luxurious, vanilla and sandalwood oiled bubble bath could be delayed to this coming weekend. But then she nearly screamed when, upon evaluating her schedule, she noted she was expected to arrive for Albus's third birthday, too, at the Burrow.
Hermione always enjoyed herself at the Burrow. So, no, she wasn't exactly tired of everyone.
"It's just too many damned birthdays," she said to Harry at lunch earlier that week.
Harry chuckled. "I'm married to a Weasley, Hermione. You're preaching to the choir, here."
"Well, it makes sense for you. How am I at the Burrow at least thrice a bloody month on my precious days off—"
"It's Molly. Her empty nest syndrome has her arranging a party for every little reason. Not just birthdays, you know."
"I know, Harry. I was there for Percy's promotion celebration—"
"Don't forget Bill and Fleur's pregnancy announcement party—"
"Oh God. Yes. And all your and Ginny's pregnancy parties—"
"And the gender reveals, the christenings, the—"
Birthdays. All the bloody birthdays." Harry chuckled. "You know, you don't have to attend each one. No one's holding you hostage. Sure, we'll miss you, but—"
"I just feel bad," Hermione said. "I missed so much after the break up, and now that Ron and I are on speaking terms again, I just… I don't want to miss anything. I feel like you're all my family."
Harry put his hand on hers. "You are family, Hermione."
Hermione sighed. "And that's why I'm going to another birthday party at the Burrow on Saturday."
"Leave early," Harry shrugged.
Hermione snorted. "Have you ever tried sneaking out of a gathering under the nose of Molly Weasley?"
"Good point. But maybe Ginny and I can distract her."
"Oh, would you, Harry? Maybe after an hour, perhaps?"
"Sure. I'll talk to Ginny tonight."
And with that promise, Hermione found herself actually looking forward to another bloody birthday.
"Oh, hello Hermione!" Molly Weasley wrapped her arms around Hermione with such force that one might assume they hadn't just seen one another, oh, the weekend before.
"Hi, Molly," Hermione choked into her hair.
"Oh, how nice of you to bring a gift for sweet Albus! I'll take that to the present pile over there, darling, you go mingle!"
Hermione said her hellos to the various branches of the Weasley tree, even a mercifully not-awkward encounter with Ron and his new girlfriend, Aurora, a distant cousin of Fleur's. She finally found Ginny in the kitchen, placing candles on the cake.
"Fancy a drink?" Ginny asked.
"A drink?" Hermione looked around. "You mean juice?"
Ginny winked and picked up a candle, tapped it with her wand, and it transfigured into a small jar of firewiskey.
"A little heavy for your child's third birthday party, yeah?" Hermione had already conjured glasses from the cupboards.
"Harry told me you're been having a hard time of it." Ginny poured a hefty amount into both their cups.
"It's not bad, not really. Just can't seem to find a moment for myself."
Ginny laughed and tapped the bottle, this time to turn it into a hair needle and set her bun with it. "Tell me about it."
"I know it's crass of me to complain to you of all people, with your littles—"
"Well, I have Harry and Mum to help. I get more time off than you, I think."
Hermione sipped her firewhisky, wanting to savor the bite. She sighed and leaned back on the counter. "Thanks a lot, Gin. I fucking needed this."
Ginny's eyes lit up at something behind Hermione. Before Hermione could turn her head to see, Gin had bounced out of the kitchen and into Charlie Weasley's arms.
"Charlie! I didn't know you were coming!"
Charlie laughed and hugged her tightly in return. "Well, I wanted to surprise Mum."
"Oh, she's going to lose it! Go on, she's off in the living room, won't stop fussing about."
"Hold on," Charlie said, turning to Hermione. "Hey!"
"Hey, Charlie, nice to see you," Hermione smiled as she leaned over for a hug. She caught Charlie giving her a quick once over before the embrace, which gave her pause. But then she sank into his warmth and his… were those his pectoral muscles? Merlin, they were like enormous river rocks!
"Wow," he said, breaking the hug, his eyes lingering at her body once again. "You look, wow, you look great!"
Hermione laughed. "Thanks, Charlie, and so do you." Bloody hell, so did he. His arms bulged out of his t-shirt, and Hermione could practically count his abdominal muscles from across the kitchen. His hair was a bit shaggy and hung over his eyes a touch. Hermione had noticed long ago that Charlie was the only Weasley whose eyelashes and brows grew in brown, and with the light scuff he sported, he looked… well, good enough to eat.
"Well, go on," Ginny said, grabbing Charlie's shoulder. "Mum's this way." She gave Hermione a wide-eyed look as she led him out, mouthing, What was that? Hermione shook her head and mouthed back, I have no bloody idea.
She heard the moment Molly laid eyes on Charlie, hell, wouldn't surprise her if Molly's shrieks could be detected all the way to Romania. Hermione laughed into her firewhisky, enjoying the warmth that had settled into her fingers and toes.
But there was another component to that warmth that wasn't entirely due to the alcohol. The way Charlie had just looked at her… twice! What on earth was that about?
She glanced down at her outfit—a cornflower blue wrap dress that showed off her figure well enough, she supposed, but it certainly wasn't anything special. It suddenly occurred to her, the last time she'd seen Charlie, she was still emaciated from the war. It took years to put on some weight, and Merlin's beard, was she glad about it. She finally had hips! An arse! Even cleavage, for Godric's sake!
Perhaps that's what it was. Charlie was expecting his little brother's skinny friend, and he'd met, well, a woman, now, officially in her early twenties as of a couple months ago. She felt flattered, sure, but expected he'd go back to seeing her as that little friend once more after getting over the shock.
She wandered about some more, mingling, as Molly liked referring to it, trying very hard not to look for Charlie's absurdly broad shoulders, nor his very tight bottom as he bent over to pick up Albus. Harry put his arm around her and she nearly jumped, afraid she'd been caught perving. But Harry just grinned and said, "Tossed yet?"
Hermione playfully punched his arm. "Of course not. It's one glass, not the whole bottle."
"After one glass of wine at George's wedding, you hit on Neville Longbottom."
"Well, that's because Neville's gotten quite…" -she'd nearly finished the sentence with lickable, but thought Harry wouldn't appreciate the imagery- "…handsome."
"Hermione, you were running your hands through his hair. Kept calling him 'Naughty Neville,' asking him when he'd give you a ride on his broomst—"
"Harry!" Hermione hissed. "I was lonely." Harry raised an eyebrow. "And yes, a bit pissed. Oh, alright, a lot pissed. That wine—bubbleberry, was it?— was the strongest I'd ever had! Owled Neville a long apology afterward. Haven't been able to look him in the eye since."
"You mean he never took you up on your offer?"
"Well," Hermione looked at her toes.
"Oh, gods, no details, please," Harry said, hands up.
"No, no, not like that. He asked me to coffee. But I was mortified, I just… couldn't."
"You're going to have to go on a date sometime, Hermione. An actual, real live—"
"Harry, please," Hermione said, throwing back the last of the firewhisky. "I agree, alright? Just—let's not discuss this now."
Just as Harry was about to respond, Ginny appeared. "Hermione, when do you need me and Harry to help you escape?"
"Oh, uh—" Hermione glanced at Charlie, who was now playing some sort of tickle war game with both Albus and James. She quickly turned away to see Ginny's raised eyebrow and said, "Maybe in about twenty? 'Round caketime?"
"You're sure?" Harry said. "You've been here for over an hour already."
"Yeah," Hermione said quickly, ignoring Ginny's other raised eyebrow. "I'm enjoying myself. Wouldn't mind a little while longer, really."
Hermione edged her way over to Charlie for the next fifteen minutes, but it seemed anytime she got close enough to start a conversation, someone would steal her away to ask her about the job (busy as usual), any good books she's read lately (actually, The Case for One House: An Exploration of Immense Unity at Hogwarts and Beyond), and, in the case of Fleur, her love life (that one was met with a stifled snort.)
"Okay!" Molly appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the midst of everything. "Cake cutting very soon!" She glanced around. "Looks like everyone is… wait, where's Charlie?"
"He went upstairs," Ron said with a mouthful of cheese and crackers. "Needed to find some of his old dragon toys for the toddler class he's teaching at the reservation."
"Oh, how sweet!" Molly said. "Well, will someone run and get him? Ginny, will you tell Charlie to come down for cake?"
"Uh, Mum," Ginny said, struggling with a squirming Albus while James tried to climb her leg. "Why don't you ask Hermione? She'd love to grab Charlie; they were getting on quite well earlier."
"What?" Hermione said, looking up.
"Hermione, won't you be a dear and let Charlie know about the cake? I'd yell him down, but I've been told by a certain someone-" Molly gave her daughter an icy look—"that my voice has been rather all-encompassing today."
"Eardrum- shattering, Mum, were the words I used," Ginny said, trying to balance both boys in her arms.
"I—uh—sure, Molly," Hermione sputtered.
Molly squeezed Hermione's shoulder. "Thank you! Oh, good Godric, looks like the gnomes are chasing poor Victoire around the garden again. BILL! ARTHUR!"
Hermione winced at the volume as Molly ran off. Then she glared at Ginny, who shooed Albus and James out the door. "What?" Ginny asked.
"You know what," Hermione said, arms crossed.
"Oh, relax. I was just teasing. Couldn't help it, considering how he drooled over you earlier. Go get him and then Harry and I will sneak you out just after the birthday song."
"Fine." Hermione let out a huff, trying to look anything but pleased.
"Hey, if it bothers you that much, I'll go get him, alright?"
"No, no," Hermione said. She'd expended enough effort trying to talk to him, after all. "I'll go. Be back in a moment." She set off.