Hermione paced, however ungracefully, around the room. Her lower back was sore - worse than normal. Pausing at the window, she idly parted the curtain and looked down into the moonlit garden.
The last few weeks had seemed to go on forever. After the almost frantic pace of the last six months - pregnancy, moving house, healing Harry - it had seemed almost eerie to have so much time to sit. And wait.
"Hermione, you okay?" Harry muttered behind her. He was sitting up where he had been curled on the edge of the mattress earlier.
"I'm fine. Just restless." It wasn't until she spoke that she realised how incoherent speaking aloud felt.
"Hmm? Wassat?" Ron raised his head, talking to the wall.
"Nothing. I think I"ll go soak for a bit."
"'kay," Ron readily agreed, flopping down again.
When Hermione reached the door, she looked back. Harry was still blinking at her in the darkness without his glasses.
"Go to sleep, Harry," she whispered.
As she left the room, she saw Ron's long arm reach up and pull Harry down next to him.
After casting a Muffliato so the running water wouldn't disturb the boys or Charlotte, she settled into the warm water.
Just climbing into the bath had triggered another Braxton Hicks contraction. She took a breath waiting for it to pass. It lasted longer than usual, but she wasn't expecting true labour for at least another couple of weeks.
Only this one wasn't passing so quickly. She looked down and watched as the creature inside her flexed, distorting the roundness.
"What are you doing, little one?" she murmured softly, rubbing a hand in a wide circle around the expanse of her belly.
Hermione's question was answered immediately when she felt a tiny, yet distinctive pop from somewhere in the depths of her body and saw slightly cloudy water disperse between her legs.
"Oh... is that so?" she asked herself. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, letting a sudden wash of relief, nerves and excitement swirl in her subconscious until it settled into a feeling of resolve.
This is it. It's time.
She hated waking them. They'd only tumbled into bed just before midnight, having stayed up to listen to a long running Quidditch match on the wireless. They looked so peaceful. Ron was on his stomach and Harry was on his back, head turned nearly into Ron's underarm, with Ron's ankle crossed over Harry's shin.
Hermione reached for an old pyjama shirt of Ron's. It fell to her mid thigh, and was one of the only things that still fit her. Underneath the soft cotton, she was comfortably naked.
"Ron," she whispered. ... Nothing. Of course, now they're hard to wake. "Ron!" she spoke again.
This time Ron jerked awake, muttering a loud, "Huh?" and elbowed Harry in the top of the head making him yelp.
Ron floundered between getting up and going to Hermione, and rubbing Harry's head.
Hermione sighed and shook her head.
"My waters have broken - there's no alarm - but we should owl Ina Mae and let her know things are underway."
"I'll go downstairs right now. Ange said she'd come over to be with Charlie, too." Ron stumbled out of bed, still looking half asleep. He stopped and turned back to her, putting his arms gently around her. "Are you ok?" he asked, searching her eyes for an honest answer.
"I'm fine. More tired than I'd like to be, but I'm just glad to get on with it finally."
Ron gave her a quick kiss, bent and nudged her belly with his face, and moved past her. Harry had climbed out of bed and put on his glasses. Ron put his hand on the top of Harry's head briefly before he left the room. "Sorry 'bout that, mate."
They stood listening as Ron tried to go quietly down the stairs. Harry reached out and took Hermione's hand, still looking bleary eyed and confused from interrupted sleep.
She felt as though she could hear a distant rushing sound just before she felt the squeeze begin. It must have shown in her face because Harry looked frightened.
"Can I do anything?" he asked.
She smiled and leaned into him, letting him hug her. They swayed together as a mild contraction flexed through her torso for a moment.
"Just be with me."
Hermione was smiling into Harry's neck, nuzzling under his ear and concentrating on the rhythm of Ron rubbing her back as he sat on the bed behind her.
In spite of the cramping contractions that consumed her at regular intervals, she could feel the power in her body that was surging through her veins. Sounds were becoming vague as her pulse throbbed in her ears. Every touch was intensified.
"Kiss me," she whispered. "Please." I want to feel your mouth on me. The request was for one or both of her boys. It didn't matter who.
She felt Ron's hands run over Harry's thighs, next to her own as he faced her. A nervous smile betrayed his concern when he kissed her. Harry slowly relaxed, beginning to move his lips with ease again. He let his hands slide underneath the soft fabric of the shirt she wore. They glided over her, along her round body, caressing her breast with the same tenderness that he stroked along her arm, baring her shoulder as the shirt slid to one side.
Ron held them both, as best he could around her expanded frame, pulling Harry close to Hermione's body. Ron whispered words of support onto her neck, placing kisses behind her earlobe. She arched her head back, letting herself drown in their touch. With Ron against her back and Harry carefully curving over her front, she felt them find each other as they kissed over her shoulder. She opened her eyes to see how they met, letting their comforting of her, comfort each other as well. She ached with affection to see how they loved each other.
The ache began to grow inside of her as she felt another wave of tightening. She emitted a breathy groan as she felt it growing.
The deep sound she made startled the boys. She felt Ron pull back from their kiss, and Harry frowned at her with concern.
"Didn't mean to ignore you," Ron said, shifting his hands onto the small of her back, bracing her through another contraction.
"Sorry," Harry muttered, making long brushing strokes along the underside of her arms.
The tightening increased, squeezing her fiercely around the middle, but she focused on their touch. The more it tightened, the more she let go.
Breathing in... and out.... Breathing in... and out.... Don't fight it.
As the ache retreated once again, she found both pairs of eyes questioning her.
"S'all right," she grunted when she could catch her breath. Don't apologise. Watching you love each other is just as much comfort to me. "Hmmmm," she sighed, relaxing into their touch yet again. Don't stop anything. "Feels so good."
"But-" Harry spoke tentatively, "-how can it feel good? It hurts you doesn't it? Is kissing and stuff really distraction enough?"
"Not distracting," she answered as she tilted her head to Ron who kissed her without hesitation. "Feels right."
She turned back towards Harry.
Contractions and physical pleasure are brought on by the same chemicals. The better I feel, the stronger the contractions. It’s a natural circle.
"She wants to kiss you, Harry. Don't make a pregnant woman beg," Ron said gently. Harry quirked an eyebrow at him before moving in.
"If it really helps...." Harry muttered against her lips.
It really does.
"It does," Ron said softly.
Their hands begin to move over her again. Soft, open palms keeping her body relaxed, gentle fingertips teased over her breast, and the delicious ache inside began to well up again.
She breathed deeply, resting her forehead against Harry's shoulder, listening as he breathed heavily through his nose, while Ron claimed Harry's mouth in a comforting kiss. The sound of their lips, the feel of them next to her churned the tightening wave as it squeezed her harder and harder.
She breathed through it.
Hermione closed her eyes and thought of her mother, and of Molly, the two women who were her first maternal role models.
Thank you for teaching me to value motherhood. I love you.
She thought of Fleur and Angelina, her contemporaries who challenged and encouraged her.
I'm so grateful to be able to share this part of my life with you. I'm glad I'm not alone.
She longed to be able to share this with Ginny, and tucked the memory of her away in her heart, along with the regret that her family, complete with Harry, was only made possible because of Ginny's death.
I'm sorry. I miss you. I hope you understand.
Hermione mentally sought the affirmation of the women in her life while the men physically surrounded her.
She could feel that the pleasant ride of early labouring was evolving into something more intense, and she looked forward to it, except for the niggling sense that there was something, somewhere, that she'd neglected.
As the mottled cloud of contraction discomfort dissipated, Hermione sought for physical affection again, to alleviate the pain and draw it out again.
The sensation of Harry's lips and tongue on her mouth felt like a living entity of its own. Ron's hands continued to explore her body, long fingers undoing buttons, baring her naked torso. She leaned back onto Ron's chest. He cupped her heavy breast, supporting it as Harry dipped his head, mouthing her wide, taupe nipple. She and Ron both reacted with breathy sounds as Harry's black hair fell in wisps over his eyes while he sucked. Ron teased a fingertip underneath Harry's tongue, then circled her areola as it wrinkled under their touch.
Another contraction worked through her as they continued like this. Hanging limp in their arms, she surrendered her body to their love and to the birthing. This time was less frightening than with Charlotte. There was more pleasure and the confidence that a firm understanding brings. And yet... there was still something that she was missing. Deep in her mind and deep in her body, something felt... stuck.
A quiet knock sounded on the door and Hermione looked for it to be Charlotte, but her heightened sense of smell informed her of the newcomer's identity before the door had even opened fully. Ina Mae, their midwitch, bore the unmistakable scent of bitter herbs. Ron had always subtly crinkled his nose at Harry across the room, and they dared each other with their eyes not to smirk.
Hermione knew they thought the old midwife to be a bit batty in her ways. Her kind face bore the ruddy complexion of someone in great health of body and heart, in spite of her advanced age. She wore robust plum coloured robes, and her greying hair frizzled about her face.
"How are we, Mama?" she asked softly, in a deep voice that exuded confidence.
"You're here..." were the only words Hermione voiced. I'm so glad. Hermione's relief was hampered however, by the fact that Harry had nearly leapt out of his skin when she'd entered their room.
Harry had always kept a 'respectable distance' from her and Ron during each of Ina Mae's home visits during the pregnancy. None of them had ever pressed Harry to be included as anything more than a friendly, brotherly observer at those times. But Hermione needed him now.
Ron tried to reach out and grab Harry's hand as he moved backwards, and Hermione whimpered at the sudden loss of Harry's protective form in front of her. Ron reached over her shoulder and twitched the two sections of the shirt together.
"Now, now, lad. Don't you mind me," Ina Mae said quickly, putting her hands on Harry's shoulders, just as he was about to knock his chair over backwards in his scrambling retreat. In a blink, she transfigured wheels onto the chair and rolled him back in front of Hermione, his knees overlapping Ron's. "There's not a thing in this world that concerns me, but helping Mama here bring us a new baby. Yes?"
Ina Mae winked at Ron and gave Harry a final pat on the shoulder before she knelt on the floor and took Hermione's hand.
"You're doing nicely, Mama," Ina Mae praised. She palpated Hermione's belly with her firm gentle hands as she spoke. "Look how much baby has come down since I saw you last. Well under way now." She gave Hermione a calm smile, looking into her eyes. "What is it, child?" she asked, suddenly serious. "Is it painful already?"
Hermione shook her head slowly, trying to summon the energy to speak. "Not painful - hurts a little, but not too much."
"She's been amazing," Ron confirmed. "The pains are coming every six minutes now and she just breathes and relaxes through each one."
It was lovely to hear the pride in Ron's voice as he filled Ina Mae in on the details of their night so far, accounting for the timing of every drink of water and trip to the loo since her waters had broken.
There was a tap at the door, and Angelina poked her head in. She kept her eyes down to the floor and asked quietly, "Everyone decent?"
Ron snorted quietly. She would have smiled at him, but Hermione felt herself drawn inward again as an uneven contraction jerked though her with little consideration for all the people in the room.
She vaguely heard Charlotte's sleepy voice and then felt her small hands extending around the mount of her belly as it flexed and tightened. A small face burrowed underneath Harry and Ron's arms and into her side.
"She's fine, pumpkin," Ron was saying. "She's just concentrating very hard right now."
Charlotte's hands patted hesitantly over the baby, just as she had each evening saying 'Goodnight' to her unborn brother or sister.
"Remember, Charlie? Remember talking about how Mum would be concentrating really hard, and working really hard to help the baby be born?"
Charlie nodded into her side.
"Give her a kiss though, she's glad to know you're here."
Ron's arm withdrew and she felt Charlotte get lifted up, so that she could kiss her mother's cheek.
The contraction faded slowly away and Hermione was able to smile back and whisper, "Hello, darling."
She couldn't open her eyes, though, and could practically feel Charlotte's concerned gaze.
Hermione became aware that she was breathing deeply still. Blowing out audibly on a low hum.
Over in the corner, Ina Mae was greeting Angelina warmly.
"How are you, dear? And those two grand boys of yours?"
"Three boys counting Fred, don't you know?" laughed Angelina.
"Now, now, child," chided Ina Mae, "Treat him like a child and you've no excuses when he acts like one." There was a pause. "Are you ready for another?"
"Merlin, no!" was the reply.
"Hmmmm, well, life brings its own surprises ..."
Sounds faded out. Another wave of tightening was taking her attention away from the nearby conversations. She was dimly aware that arrangements had been made for Molly to be there soon to take care of Charlotte, so that Angelina could go home to her family for a few hours.
"Mummy?" A little voice spoke in her ear.
Hermione drew in and tried to suppress the groan that was spilling out of her throat.
"It's all right, Charles," said Harry. "Don't be frightened."
"But if it's not scary, why are you so worried, Harry?"
Hermione opened her eyes just a sliver. Harry had that cornered look that he got sometimes. He looked younger than usual, his body engulfed by one of Ron’s t-shirts. Her eyes caught sight of the rough seam running along his shoulder and realized the shirt was inside out.
She tried to reassure Harry, as she soothed Charlotte too. That it was okay. She was fine. She clamped down on her vocalisation. Tried to turn the groan into a hum. As she pushed it down it seemed as though the contraction fought back. It gripped her like a vice, and she felt her entire body tighten up.
In her ear she heard Ron urging her to relax.
"Calm down, love. It's all right. Breathe. Come on. Breathing through..."
Yes. That's right. In her effort to stop the sounds, she had forgotten to breathe at all.
Breathing in... and out.... Breathing in... and out.... Don't fight it.
"You can do this. You're amazing." Harry was muttering like a mantra, over and over.
"She's going to need some nourishment soon," came the voice of the midwitch. "And I daresay you two men could do with a bite. Last thing we need is for one of you to keel over with hunger."
"Erm... I'll go," said Harry.
Hermione clutched at his shirt. "No!" she hissed. Don't leave me. Don't be somewhere else.
Her other hand tightened its grip on Ron's arm that was still resting on her hip.
"Looks like we're both here for the duration, mate," chuckled Ron.
Angelina laughed softly. Hermione had forgotten she was there.
"I'll do it. No doubt Molly will arrive prepared. I'll take Little Charlie and get her sorted with a snack. Then bring up something for you."
Hermione tried to smile reassuringly at her daughter. "I love you," she whispered.
Hermione considered, as she had done many times since learning of the pregnancy, that it really wasn't fair to do this to Charlotte. They had such a lovely little family. And her whole life was going to change. She would be an older sibling. She would get less attention. Less focus. Would Hermione have enough to go around? The intensity of that one on one relationship was forever to be altered. Not even considering the distinct possibility that this baby might be Harry's.
A dreadful, bereft feeling hit her as the door closed behind Charlotte. It seemed so wrong, to be sending her away. Hermione wasn't ready yet to think of her daughter going off into the world away from the safe enclave that was the family. The image of her apart from them was too much to bear. She was deeply grateful for the thought of how many people there were in the world who loved the little girl. Charlotte would never be truly alone.
Ina Mae knelt down beside her again and gently touched her with her wand. The old witch smiled calmly at her as their eyes met.
"You're doing wonderfully well, child. Wonderfully well."
Another in a succession of contractions rolled through her, and Hermione felt like simply riding them out was no longer possible. She was struggling. Desperately hanging on to keep from drowning in the pain. Several contractions now had felt close to unbearable. The overwhelming squeeze-push-pull-tug made her feel battered and nauseous.
Why is this hurting? Be logical Hermione, it hurts, because it's not working.
As if to punctuate the point, the baby stretched and wriggled, contorting her belly in an awkward and uncomfortable elongated oval before settling back down to its usual shape. She heard Harry and Ron snigger affectionately at the movement. Felt them rub her belly, one of them kissed it. But they felt so far away, while she felt so lost inside herself. The welling dread of another contraction was affecting her long slow breathing. She admonished herself for giving into fear.
Fear makes the pain worse. Fear comes from not understanding. I'm not understanding why I'm not progressing. Hence the bloody fear!
All physical factors had been dealt with. She had walked and rocked, kneeled and squatted. Ina Mae had confirmed a good position for the baby and that her heart was strong The force of each contraction left no question that her body's hormones were in ample store. If there were any need to fuel the power of labour through increased hormones, all she need do is peek her eyes open to see her boys loving each other. How Ron rubbed down the tension in Harry's hunching shoulders, and kissed the back of his neck. The sight of Harry brushing Ron's hair out of his eyes, leaning in close for a reassuring hug.
Oh god, that worked. Hermione breathed, groaning a long whimper with each deep breath. She felt herself shaking and wanted to cry. She just wanted to stop. To sleep. To stop doing this! I'm a tolerant woman but I've had enough!
"Do you want to try and move again?"
Would you want to move with an infant's head stuck in the middle of your pelvis?! she thought behind closed eyes, but acknowledged him with a jerk of her head.
She thought of the mothers in her life again, seeking the patience she admired in them.
"I'm sorry... Shit, Hermione. What can I do?"
Something in the sorrowful way Harry spoke made her open her eyes, and drag herself from the mental cocoon she had burrowed herself into. Harry's hair was a mess and behind his fingerprint smudged glasses, his green eyes pleaded with hers. He so desperately wanted a task. Something to do, to make this easier for her. Hermione often wondered if Harry shared not only the colour with his mother, but also the depth of emotion those eyes expressed.
...Lily. ... I haven't considered Lily Potter!
Hermione felt another coil of constriction twist in her belly, and the tiny body on the inside seemed to resist, pushing back with equal force. Hermione opened her mouth and wailed a long and loud cry against the pain. Ron and Harry were both there, somewhere, touching, soothing, but they felt too far away to make any difference.
While her body was in torment and her mind was spiraling, she caught sight of the ghostly image of Lily Potter. She tried to grasp at the woman, the last figure of absent motherhood that played such an important role in her life, and in the life of her unborn child. Hermione realised that she had never paid Lily her due. What had Lily experienced in pregnancy? How had she laboured? What effect did her birth have on how she loved Harry? On how she had had to say goodbye to him?
Suddenly the cyclone of pain and fear that Hermione was lost in, cleared and settled. As if in a tiny shack on a rock at sea, this was the calm eye in the centre of the storm. Before her now was Lily, rocking back and forth gently as she held a baby to her breast, stroking the fuzz of dark hair nestled in the crook of her elbow.
Hermione knew with certainty that the child in Lily's arms was the same child she had met in her dream at the cliff's edge. It was Hermione's own unborn child, the one who had spoken with her about healing Harry's soul scar.
The shutters rattled against the windows and the sounds of the violent storm raged on, but Lily didn't look worried. She continued to hum and the baby shifted, coming away from her bosom to gurgle and wriggle, before rooting back in again. Lily smiled at the infant and Hermione smiled at them. She felt safe here and felt relief at seeing how well protected the child was in spite of the threatening storm that raged on the outside.
Lily looked up at her and Hermione wasn't sure if her mouth moved when she spoke. The storm will come, it always does. You are the mother now. You're enough for them.
The tiny Baby? Toddler? Child? These magical hormone ravaged visions were never logical crawled down from Lily's lap and toddled to Hermione. She immediately picked the child up over her impossibly round belly.
Lily nodded her head with approval. They're yours now.
Suddenly the walls surrounding them burst and gave way to the squall as the storm raged on. Hermione bent over the child in her arms as the wet spray of rain drenched them. She felt a wave slam into her, nearly knocking her double and lost the baby in her arms.
Hermione opened her eyes wide.
There was no child now, save the one struggling for passage through her body. There was a rush of warm water between her legs and the immense pressure of pushing and down that was as powerful a force of nature as any she'd experienced.
Gone was the pain and ache of resistance and tension, but the invigorating feeling of progress.
Hermione smiled, reaching out and felt Ron's arm's slip around her.
"Thank you," she whispered to him. For all your strength, all your love. "Need water."
"Now that was hard work, by the looks of it," Ina Mae said, her voice approaching. Hermione peeked through her lashes to see the wise old eyes surveying her. "Did you work through it, girl? Whatever it was keeping this little one from coming?"
Her breath caught in her throat as Hermione tried to speak. Tried to acknowledge the experience she had just had. Knowing that Harry's mother had given her blessing to them. Had kept this child safe. She blindly thrust her other hand out to find Harry. He caught it in both of his, and leaned his face down closer to hers. "What is it, love? Do you need something?"
"Safe. The baby." The space between the contractions was longer than before. Hermione tried to shake off the heaviness in her thinking to communicate to Harry what had just happened. "Mother."
"Whose mother?" Harry looked completely bewildered by the cryptic interchange and appealed to Ina Mae. "Is she hallucinating? Is something wrong?"
Hermione could feel the stirrings of another wave of contractions begin. She pulled Harry closer, trying to express the new found sense of assurance and confidence that she had found to him. But he looked terrified. His eyebrows nearly disappearing up into his fringe, eyes wide, mouth tightly shut.
"Hermione, are you all right?"
"Time!" she barely managed to grunt out, before the snap and heave took over. This was nothing so mild as a politely termed 'urge to push'. The rhythmic, full-bodied, milking waves of labouring contractions were now left behind as the bulk of the uterine muscles were no longer surrounding the baby, but pushing down from above. Hermione could not possibly 'push' with any more or less effort than she could have not pushed. Her body bowed into a warped right angle as she curved over her belly. Deep moaning through exhaled breaths no longer helped, as there was nothing to do but gulp for air and grunt through the strain.
"Love? Water." Ron held a glass to her lips. She sipped - just enough to wet her lips and feel the moisture in her mouth, not wanting anything in her stomach.
The glass disappeared again, and she felt Ron stretch across her body towards Harry. "You doing all right, mate? This is all good. We're nearly there."
She felt Harry nod, somewhat frantically, heard him swallow, and relax towards her as some of the tension was released momentarily.
And then, with no warning, she was swept away again.
You're the mother now. You're enough for them.
The words of Lily played in her head as the consuming power of the contraction overwhelmed her.
There was a very clear and yet also very abstract feeling of head sliding over cushioned bony parts and entering the birth canal. Hermione was supported on either side by Harry and Ron in a semi standing squat position. The force of expulsion took over again. Ordinarily, Hermione could lose herself in the arms of her two loves. The sheer masculinity of their chests and arms always felt safe, and by turns erotic, sexy ... reassuring. Yet in this moment, deep in her subconscious where she watched herself from afar, she worried that she might quite literally snap them both in two with the force of her reactive clinging. She felt as if her body harnessed the power of earth, sun and moon all at once.
For the briefest of moments, Hermione felt an awareness of Ron and Harry there with her. Somewhere in her sense memory she connected with the experience of combining their magical strength - the three of them - so powerfully that they shut down the local electrical supply. But before she could even acknowledge to herself what was happening, it faded.
For a moment she stood and just breathed her legs quivering slightly with the effort of keeping her upright.
In spite of the intensely hard work, and exhaustive effort, she was fully energised with the notion of having this over with. Months of sickness and ache. Hours of labour, that were only punctuated by actual pain when something wasn't working.
"All right, Mama, I suggest we get you onto your side to slow this down a wee bit, shall we? Don't want this bit to happen too quickly. Nice and easy we go."
"Oh," Hermione whined pitifully. I don’t want to slow down! I want to be done!
Back to the bed it was, lying semi-reclined in between Ron's legs, her head and shoulder wedged into his stomach. It couldn't be comfortable for him, but neither he - nor she! - were going to fret over his discomfort at that moment. Harry knelt on the bed in front of her, holding her hand and stroking her face.
Hermione caught a glimpse of his face before another contraction came. He looked alternatively intrigued and terrified by the sight of the bulging presence of the baby, about to be born. She grunted and strained and the warm oil Ina Mae rubbed on her thinning, distended tissues felt good as they had begun to burn. The midwife was right. It was best to slow down and not rush this part.
"Give me your hand, Mama," Ina Mae instructed. "Feel."
Do I have hands? Hermione idly thought, her mind floating somewhere between hyper lucidity and hormonal dreamland. She felt someone - Harry? - take her wrist and place her hand down around the side of her bump and between her legs.
Oh gracious! That was an odd feeling. The tactile sensation in her fingertips jolted her into real time and she looked down and then up at the midwife.
"Oh, hello there!" Ina Mae said, lightly. "I thought you might want to be here for this part."
Ron sniggered quietly, his shaking abdomen rattling her just a bit, and he kissed her head. Harry looked slightly confused and annoyed.
"One more will do the trick, I think," Ina Mae said calmly to Harry as explanation. Then she looked at Hermione, seemed to find what she had hoped for and smiled. "Everything is working just as it should. Baby is ready, your body is ready. As the next wave hits, you just let it come. Don't fight it. No matter the burn, yes? Keep your hand right here and press against whatever you feel needs the help."
"I'm ready." Hermione was surprised to hear herself answer out loud.
It felt as if the pressure of the universe were imploding on her, and at the same time as if she was on the brink of utter explosion. Carefully, carefully. Her body stretched and burned, every second feeling as if she were on the brink of disaster. Just when she thought she could endure no more, it continued on. She might have screamed if she could be bothered to exact the effort, but she didn't dare contribute even an ounce of tension to the delicate predicament her body was in.
"Almost now, you're doing wonderfully, Mama. Easy we go," Ina Mae coaxed. Her fingers worked with Hermione's own to provide supportive pressure on her perineum as her body opened to accommodate the baby's entrance.
"You're so close, love. You can do this. Nearly there," Ron murmured into her hair from above. He clutched her tightly, far more than he ever would have at another time, but she needed that now. Needed Ron's strength to carry her through this.
"I can see it! Oh my god, Hermione, I can see it!" Harry whispered urgently in her ear.
Voices, feelings, and power from the inside out, all rushed out together in a single climax, and with a sudden woosh the baby's head slipped free, and everything went quiet.
Hermione looked down, watching in silent awe with the others as her child paused, entry into the world only half way complete. Ina Mae silently and gently guided the umbilical lifeline over the infant's head as it turned. Dark wet hair was flattened in swirls to the mauve coloured, scrunchy head. It began to rotate, slowly turning face upwards. When it did so, the shoulder slipped under Hermione's pubic bone and descended. The rest of the body slipped out in a gush of remaining fluid. Harry reached out on instinct with his agile and careful hands and, together with Ina Mae, caught the child.
The moment expanded, and seemed to fill the space in the room. Harry stared down. His left hand was holding the baby's head, his right hand under it's back as it curled its legs up, ankles crossed, perfect toes stretching and flexing.
Hermione felt as though all the tension of the last hours had suddenly evaporated. In its place was a lightness. She felt as though she was floating slightly above the bed. Anchored down by the feeling of Ron's heart beating against her back.
"Wow," said Harry, his voice catching in his throat. He slowly raised his eyes from the brand new baby and looked towards them.
He hasn't realised yet, thought Hermione.
Ina Mae was gently moving him to lay the baby down on Hermione's bare chest.
The slippery weight of the baby, who instinctively turned its face towards the warmth of her breast, broke the moment.
Suddenly there was sound and movement and energy and Ron was pressing his lips into her hair saying "I love you. I love you," over and over again. Harry was looking shellshocked and whispering what sounded like, "A baby!" A warm blanket settled down over Hermione, coccooning them underneath, skin to skin.
Cradling the baby with one arm, Hermione traced the line of a cheek and smoothed flat over the head with her other hand.
"Hello, little one," she cried. "Hello."
"So, Harry," Ron said. "Son or daughter?"
"Huh...?" Harry replied. He sniffed quietly. "Oh! Erm... I didn't... I don't...."
Ina Mae reached over and lifted a corner of the blanket up, smiling at Harry as if to say, You look. It's not for me to do.
Hermione watched Harry flush slightly as he peered under the older witch's hand.
He can't be getting embarassed now! thought Hermione with a chuckle.
"Girl," he gasped. "It's a girl."
"You've got a daughter, Harry." Ron was beaming at Harry.
"I've...?" he stammered in response. "Wha?"
"A daughter. Look at her! You're her father." Ron's arms contracted around Hermione in a sudden squeeze before he reached over and grasped Harry's upper arm, dragging him across the quilt to kneel next to them. "You're her Dad, mate!"
Hermione looked back down at their daughter. She opened her eyes and looked back. And Hermione was flooded with a sense of 'Hello', and 'I remember you!'. She knew this child. "You knew, didn't you?" she whispered. "You knew who your Daddy was, and what this would all mean."
"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Hermione asked them, carefully tucking the blanket around their daughter's shoulder.
"Are you sure, she's... I mean... how can you...?" Harry was spluttering quietly as he ran a finger gently down the little arm. It twitched slightly and Harry drew his hand back as though he'd been caught touching something he wasn't allowed to. "Wow."
"Harry. Look at that hair," chuckled Ron. "There hasn't been a Weasley born in two hundred years that wasn't bald as a Bludger for the first six months of its life. And that face? She's going to look just like you."
"Wow," Harry said again. "Are you sure that's okay?"
The tiny girl waved a hand free of the blanket, little fingers splaying out like a starfish before clutching together into a fist. Her mouth opened in an 'o', surrounded by perfect rosebud lips. The tip of a tongue showed itself before disappearing again.
Turning slightly, he brought Harry in for another hug. "I'm thrilled she's yours, mate."
The bed on her right dipped down further. Hermione felt Harry shaking and knew that there were tears being shed onto Ron's shoulder.
"Hey, mate. Yeah, I know," he whispered to Harry. "It's a wild ride, all right."
The moment passed and Ron's arm disappeared from behind her as he used his sleeve to wipe his cheeks.
Hermione glanced up at her boys. They looked exhausted. Which made sense, since they had not had any sleep to speak of. The strain of the experience showed on Harry's face, and Ron was pale but beaming proudly at them both.
He chuckled again as the baby started to nuzzle gently against her breast. Hermione wriggled herself up a little way, and then guided her towards a nipple. The sensations of the infant’s first tugs of nourishment and comfort from her body egged on yet more dull contractions, allowing the afterbirth to finally pass. Once and for all, this pregnancy had come to end.
Her daughter filled her senses. Hermione lowered her face down until her nose touched the baby's forehead. She breathed in deeply, trying to drink in the smell and closeness of this brand new person.
There was a vague awareness of Ina Mae cleaning up, changing the sheets underneath her, casting a preserving charm on the placenta resting in it's special basin, ready for potions and ceremony and then she slipped out of the room.
Hermione felt energised and alive. Not physically. She would be perfectly happy to remain on the bed, where she was, for at least a week. But inside, she was just bursting with awareness.
Ron extended his first finger, letting the baby grip onto it. "Little bit of a thing, isn't she? Nothing like Charlie. She was chubby right from the start. Remember those cheeks, Hermione?"
Mention of her firstborn made Hermione suddenly want Charlotte. Made her hungry for her. For her to be there.
"Charlotte should meet her sister, first. Before anybody else."
"I'll go and get her," said Harry. Hermione wondered if he needed time out of the room, away from the intensity of everything that had happened. Or if it was his basic impulse to be the one who had to go?
Just as he pushed himself into a sitting position, ready to swing his legs off the bed, there was a soft knock at the door. The trio all turned, and Hermione was reminded of the scene on this very bed, when Tonks and Remus had come to find them after Harry had awoken after their healing ceremony. Except that this time she was the only one who was naked.
"Someone wants to say 'hello'," smiled Ina Mae gently prodding the disheveled little red head towards them.
Charlotte walked slowly over to the bed. Hermione was struck with how enormous she looked. Grown up. It was as though she had suddenly become something far older. Someone she would need to get to know all over again. The comparison to the tiny little creature in her arms made her wistful for the time already gone. The knowledge that before she was ready for it, this little one would be a big girl, too.
Charlotte looked almost shy as she stood next to the bed and craned her neck over to look at the baby, who had fallen asleep with a little fist pressed up against her cheek.
"This is your little sister, Charlotte."
She tilted her head to one side and continued to inspect her. All the adults watched her, waiting to see what she would say, or do.
"She has black hair," she announced. "Like you, Harry."
"Yes. Yes she does."
A slow grin started at her eyes and spread to her lips.
"I knew she would."
Ron chuckled and squeezed Harry's shoulder.
"My dressing gown?" Hermione asked Ron. He stretched out and hooked the robe off the back of nearby chair
Hermione looked over at Ina Mae. The experienced witch seemed to know what she was going to ask next, and handed her a soft shawl to wrap the baby in. Hermione gingerly sat forward and swaddled her up and then held the bundle out to Harry. She smiled warmly at him as he let her place his daughter in his arms.
"Hello," he whispered. "Hello, my Angel."
Ron helped Hermione's arms into the sleeves as Charlotte clambered up next to her on the bed and then Hermione snuggled her in next to her and they held each other tightly for a few moments.
Ron came around and lay down on the bed behind Charlotte. He yawned and stretched out, before wrapping an arm around them both.
Harry was humming quietly to the baby, rocking slightly from side to side.
"Are you ready to meet the rest of the family, my dears?" Ina Mae was standing at the door, her eyes crinkling up with her wide smile. "They are all anxious to see you."
Harry looked up and took a deep breath. "Hermione?"
They're yours now.
Hermione realised that Lily had been referring to Harry as well as the two girls.
The family was waiting outside of this room. And the world beyond their home.
There would be storms. She knew that. But what was inside this room... was enough.
The sky outside was growing lighter. It looked like it would be a beautiful day.
"Yes," she smiled. "We're ready."
~*~Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.