Three years, four months, and nine days after they became a couple, Ron and Hermione went on a date. This event was of particular significance because it was their first.* Their first grown up date. It wasn't as though they'd been doing some kind of trendy undating in the meanwhile.* No, they'd gone from best friends, to best friends who indulged in jealous spats, to a universally recognized couple, with none of the usual romantic missteps, highlights, or anythings in between.
("Old before you turned twenty-five, Ronny boy. Where's the passion? Where's the romance? Where's the fire?" Apparently it was in Reginald's wand. Fiendfyre. Wonderful. He'd always known Reg was a bad seed, but did Harry listen? Of course not.
"Just because he's the son of a Death Eater, doesn't mean he's going to turn dark, Ron." Right. Harry wasn't the one being chased through a Muggle farmer's cabbage patch, by a probationary Auror, turned evil. And as usual, stuck listening to his bullshit. Relationship advice. As if he was going to accept tips from someone named Reg. Besides which, Ron didn't need relationship advice. He and Hermione had been together for years.
The fire-serpent was close. He could feel the heat of it behind him. And he could hear Reg cackling. Cackling. I mean, come on. It wasn't like it was the first time he'd cackled, either. Ron had known, the moment Reg had laughed at one of Harry's jokes, that he was evil. The process of deduction went something like this: son of Death Eater + name is Reginald + laugh sounds suspiciously like cackling + thinks Harry's jokes are funny - any kind of normal interest in Quidditch, or other manly pursuits = irredeemably evil.
So here he was, stuck dealing with the consequences of Harry giving Reginald the benefit of the doubt. He scanned the cabbage patch, looking for something he could use to his advantage. There. He ran full out, towards the turned over wheel barrel, the fiendfyre serpent hot on his heels. He'd need a new pair of boots after this. Hermione was going to kill him.
The serpent closed on him, its tongue extended and flickering. Just as he reached the wheel barrel, the serpent struck. Or tried to. He dodged its snapping jaws, kicked the wheel barrel into its path and cast a flame-freezing charm. It went wild - hardly surprising, since he was casting blind, over his shoulder. He spun, already casting another charm. It was on him, right in his face. He got his wand up between them and flicked. For a moment, all he saw was light, orange and blue and too hot, and then the serpent was freezing from the inside out. He took a step back, allowing the crystallized serpent to crash to the ground, and then promptly fell into a trench.
"Bollocks!" He landed on his back, legs splayed. Ron brought his arm up, shielding his eyes against the rain of dirt that followed him. Could have been worse. Cue rocks falling on him, he thought. Waited. Nothing. For once he had luck on his side.
"Weasley, you moron, now I have you." Reg skidded to a stop at the edge of the trench, wand raised, and mouth already forming who knew what curse. Whatever.
"Expelliarmus!" Ron shouted.
"What?" Reg looked at his empty wand hand with dumb surprise. "Hey!"
"Hey? That's what you've got to say for yourself? What kind of a dark wizard are you anyway?"
The unconventional progression of their relationship could be put down to how much of their time was taken up by: a) evading and/or hunting various evil wizards; and b) revolutionizing the justice system. That was true of the early days at least, but after a certain point, when reforming the Wizengamut and the Aurors became the stuff of everyday life, humdrum even, it had to be admitted that it was due to a complete void in place of romance.
(From: Hermione Granger, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, 2nd Floor
To: Ron Weasley, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, 2nd Floor
Have successfully introduced the concept of habeus corpus to the Wizengamut. Had an excellent curry for lunch. Meet me for tea?
From: Ron Weasley, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, 2nd Floor
To: Hermione Granger, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, 2nd Floor
Spent the morning nixing a poltergeist. As predicted, Reginald went bad. It's a date.")
Or more specifically, Ron had to admit, (according to Ginny), that he had a huge gaping chasm, void even, in place of a sense of romance. Even men who were generally acknowledged to be utter disasters when it came to relationships, (like Harry), had more innate romantic spirit than did Ron.
(Ginny frowned at Ron from within the fireplace. "Tea is not a date, Ron. I know it's been a while, but honestly."
"Keep it down, Hermione's asleep." Upstairs. She'd taken off right after dinner, leaving Ron with the dishes. He didn't mind the dishes, but he did mind his girlfriend giving him the silent treatment, and storming off to the bedroom, for no reason he could figure out. Which is why he'd given in and flooed his sister.
"Anyway, why can't tea be a date? We're alone together, enjoying each other's company. Not at home. Sounds like a date to me."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Tea is not a date because, first of all, it's tea, and second of all, you have tea together three times a week."
"If we go to the theatre three times a week, does that somehow make it not a date?"
"Shut up. You need to do something special. Something romantic."
"Tea can be romantic."
"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"
"You might have." He grinned. "I wasn't paying attention."
"Well you'll pay attention to this. Here's what you're going to do...")
Ginny's advice, it turned out, didn't go very far when it came to successfully dating Hermione. As close as she and Hermione were, they were very different women. And thank Merlin for that, as far as Ron was concerned. They had different tastes, and interests, and while Ginny might find high speed broom chases romantic, Hermione certainly did not. So it was a good job Ron hadn't taken her advice. That date had never happened.
(Hermione set down her knife and fork. Very deliberately. "It never happened."
"Jerry might have something to say about that."
She sighed, and pushed her plate away. "Who's Jerry?"
"Are you going to eat that?" he asked, pointing with his fork. She'd left over half a pudding uneaten! One terrible date-that-never-happened was no reason to pass on some really excellent pudding. "The Knight Bus driver? He tried to self-oblivate."
"Please," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Tell me you're joking."
"Fraid not. Harry picked him up this afternoon, wandering around Cardiff in purples robes and one boot." Purple mini robes that left rather a lot of personal parts exposed, but he wasn't sure Hermione would want to hear that part.
"What happened to the other boot?"
"Couldn't tell you. Neither could he, seeing as he's being treated at St. Mungo's."
"Is he going to be alright?"
"The prognosis is good. It turns out he botched it so badly that he did hardly any serious damage. Worst memory wipe they've ever seen."
"What's affected? Short or long term memory?"
"It's spotty. He's forgotten his girlfriend's name, all of his family vacations (probably not a huge loss, that), and for a few minutes he thought he was a chicken." Hermione gasped. "Don't worry, Harry straightened him out. Jerry knows he's a goblin."
"You shouldn't joke about that, Ron."
"The man thought he was a chicken, Hermione. Joking is the only possible response to the situation."
"It's our fault, Ron, and its not funny." She sounded genuinely upset. Ron was tempted to sigh, himself.
"It's not our fault he didn't pay attention in Charms. It's not our fault he decided to bounce a memory charm off a mirror."
"It is our fault that he attempted to wipe his own memory."
"Well, when you get right down to it, it's really the Minister's fault. And maybe Ginny, since it was her idea in the first place."
"Don't blame your sister for this mess, Ronald!"
"Can I blame the Minister, though?"
"I'll take that as a yes.")
And so began Ron's long and storied relationship with self-help manuals. Under the guidance of 30 Ways to Wow Your Witch, Romantic Secrets of the Ancients, and Dating For Dummies, he mended his ways. He learned the language of flowers. How to tell a good bottle of wine from plonk. How to plan an evening out that both he and Hermione would enjoy, (no Quidditch, absolutely no libraries). And most importantly, how not to put his foot in his mouth during tender moments. *
("Dinner and a movie."
"I just thought it would be nice to do something... different."
"Well, alright, but I've got the Kojeve case."
"If I can manage to swing a night off, so can you. And anyway, I talked to Dennis and-"
"He wants the case, I know. I'm not sure he's ready."
"You've got to give him a chance sometime and Kojeve's small stuff."
"Dennis does have a lot of experience with prosecuting dark artifacts use..."
"See? It's perfect."
"So. Dinner and a movie, Ron? Have you been watching telly again?"
"According to some very reliable sources, it's sort of traditional."
"Traditional?" She laughed. "I suppose you could call it that. I don't think we've ever tried that, being traditional."
"That's what we're doing this Friday. I've got everything planned."
"I'm looking forward to it.")
To his surprise, he found that unlike his early experiments, ("Lavender Brown? Don't know what you're talking about mate."), dating his longtime girlfriend could actually be fun. For one thing, they got along better than any new couple, and already knew each other's awful habits. There wasn't much pressure not to screw up, when the worst that could happen is that Hermione would make him sleep on the couch . It wasn't like she was going to send a flock of birds after him for dropping his fork, not when incapacitating him would mean that she would have to take the garbage out.
So things were good for a while. Great even. *
Then came marriage, and the baby. Slowly but surely, nights camped out on the couch, and the still mysterious silent treatment cropped up again, for no reason he could discern. Between Rose-induced sleepless nights, and work being work, it took him a while to figure it out.
When he did, it went something like this: "Oh shit. Romance, romance... I used to know how to do this, right?" Three failed dates-that-never-happened later, ("It never happened Ron." "This time was all Harry's fa-" "It was no one's fault Ron, because it never happened." "Right.") and Ron was back to his old standby: self-help manuals.
"What do you think about this one?"
"I really don't know, Ron." Harry squinted at the book, and rubbed a hand over his head. Thereby messing up his already messed up hair. Ginny was trying him on a new potion, but instead of keeping his hair in place, it gave it this odd sheen. Almost a sparkle. Ron was waiting for the right moment to tell him how ridiculous he looked. Probably later that night, over the floo.
"Well come on, you're married."
Harry frowned. "Yeah, but we don't, you know, go on dates."
"Maybe that's why Ginny's been screwing with your hair."
"Maybe that's why Ginny's been screwing with you head."
"I didn't say she was 'screwing with my head', just, you know, confusing me. 'Maybe we should have another baby. Or get a dog. Or renovate the kitchen. Or get matching robes.'"
"She said that?"
"I think she was joking."
"Date night, mate. You need..." Ron waved his hands, drawing vague figures in the air. The vaguer the better. "To reignite the spark."
"See, I've always wondered."
"What does that even mean? Reignite the spark?"
"What d'you mean, what does it mean? It's obvious, innit? Take her on a date, man. Reignite the fire." Ron waved his hands again. Less vaguely this time. "The passion. The romance. Sorry, ma'am." Ron paused to steady an elderly witch who'd gotten clipped by one of his sweeping gestures. She glared at him, for his trouble. Honestly, some people.
"Anyway, I like how it is now. Comfortable. And it's not like we don't still have se-"
"Seriously. I'm sorry."
"All right then. 10 Simple Steps to Enjoying Date Night With Your Wife. What do you think?"
"Simple is good."
1. Find a babysitter. (Preferably one who hasn't met you, or your family).
Hermione was researching childcare services well before Rose was born. As far as Ron could tell from the meticulous records she kept, she'd begun her research shortly after the wedding. Ron had not been consulted. Or at least, he didn't remember being consulted. Either way, he was fine with it, because being uninvolved gave him the very best thing in the world: plausible deniability. The ability to bow out of the inevitable blowup between his wife and his mother, (which, like all the others, ended some weeks later in tears, hugs and an exchange of baked goods), was a gift not to be frowned on. *
Nor was the ability to remain blissfully unaffected by Rose's expulsion from yet another daycare.
("I don't understand!"
"Well, she is a Weasley."
"She's such a sweet child!"
"And a Weasley."
"'Doesn't play well with others.' What kind of comment is that? Rose is perfectly socialized for her age group, and plays very nicely with others."
"Maybe this just wasn't the right daycare for her."
"Yes, and the last five weren't the 'right daycare for her' either."
"We'll work it out.")
By year one they'd given up on daycares and were working their way through every babysitter in magical Britain. Ron had given serious thought to starting in on Muggle Britain. They could always confound them afterwards. Probably get more use out of them that way. He wouldn't mention that part to Hermione.
He flipped through his little green book. There were pages of crossed out names. Learning Jungle School. Miss. Potter's Daycare and Child Services. Primrose's Playpen * was one of the last, coming after the switch to private childcare. In a dark moment of sheer desperation, Ron had decided to try it, hoping it wasn't as bad as he'd remembered. It was. Maria. Jane. Hortense. Bob and Niles. Servillia. Who were they on? Danielle. The Hufflepuff chaser.
He dashed off a note to the girl, folded it into an airplane, and sent it along to the Ministry's Owlery. There were days he was sorely tempted to sneak Pig into his cubicle.
"Still going out Friday?" Harry asked from behind the other side of the fuzzy cubicle divider.
"That's the plan." Ron leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, and stretched his feet out under his desk. He needed to get chair like Mr. Granger had in his office. But no. The Ministry could authorize hundred galleon lunches for the bigs hots, but Ron couldn't get a Muggle chair.
"Did you tell the boss?"
"Not yet. That's step four."
"Step four? Shouldn't it be step one, or at least step two? What happens if you plan a great big romantic evening and then find out you're scheduled to work that night?"
"Well Harry, you just have to be smart enough not to schedule a date when you're working."
"I'm just saying, things come up. There's a lot of movement in the werewolf community."
"Werewolves are Shipley's thing. Why are we even talking about werewolves?"
"Just as an example."
"Things come up. Telling your boss should be higher than step four. It's crazy."
Ron pushed away from his desk, so he could look Harry in the eye. "It's a self help book, mate. You need to move on."
"You're the one using it to-" Harry paused. Waved his hands. "Reignite the spark. I don't want it to steer you wrong. Who knows, you could ignite the wrong spark, and then where would you be?"
Ron glared, but before he could respond, an interoffice airplane landed on his desk. Hermione's stationary. He frowned. She didn't know what he was planning, did she?
"Oh god," he groaned.
"What? Did you lose another babysitter?"
Ron tossed the memo down at Harry's feet.
"She broke her leg in six places." Ron buried his face in his hands. Please world, stop. For ten minutes. As a personal favour.
"I've only ever broken mine in three," said Harry, sounding more than a little awed.
Ron glared up at him. "What, are you jealous?"
"No it's just... kind of incredible, considering. What did she do?"
"Fell off her broom. And then down a hill. Well... more like a cliff. She was playing Quidditch over Noss Holm." For a long moment they stared at each other, faces screwed up in twin grimaces.
"Ginny and I have a new girl. I could send her an owl for you."
"Really?" Ron coughed. "Really?" he said again, this time without the squeak.
"Sure. Ginny doesn't like her much, so if Rose drives her off, it won't be a big loss."
"You're a prince among men."
"So I've been told."
2. Plan a romantic outing.
Their first real date, after Ron had figured out the romance thing, had been all Muggle. Ron wanted to show Hermione that he could do things the Muggle way; that he was comfortable in her parents' world. How successful he was, well, that was debatable, but Hermione had fun, and Ron, much to his surprise, had fun. And that, he figured, was its own kind of success.
For once, he'd done his research. Dinner at a French bistro, and then a screening at a small theatre within walking distance. It was deep into winter. Late January in London was cold and wet and generally bleak, aside from the lights. He didn't want to spoil things with wet feet, even if they could dry themselves off with a flick of their wands. He wanted everything to be perfect. Or as perfect as Ron Weasley could manage.
Dinner. Dinner was damn close to perfect. Candle light, low music, and Hermione, who had been beautiful. Her hair pulled up and back, in a hairstyle so complicated that when he'd tried to unravel it, later that night, he'd almost gotten lost. For a long moment, sitting across from her, his hands over hers, he'd couldn't for the life of him remember how he'd gotten so lucky; to have her there with him.
He'd stumbled over his tongue. Couldn't remember any of the romantic things he'd planned to say. He'd blushed then, and stared down at the table until she said his name. Just his name, in this soft voice. He looked up; their eyes met. He remembered thinking, "Oh." That was all, but he got it, and from there, it was easy. Or easier.
It was at the theatre that the trouble started. Or what should have been trouble, if his usual luck held, but somehow turned out alright. When the curtains closed on on the credits, he'd turned to Hermione, ready to apologize. That White Heat sounded like it might be a, well, sexy film didn't seem like such a great defense. Not after nearly two hours of killing, and strangeness, and a mad criminal who was fixated on his mother to an alarming degree.
"Ron, that was wonderful!" she said, close to breathless. She reached out, and pulled him close with a gentle hand at the base of his skull. That was my move, he thought, before she kissed him. He let it go; elected to just kiss her back.
Then later, unplanned, they'd found a skating rink. Closed. But what was a closed sign to an Auror and one of Britain's best advocates? So they'd gone skating in their boots, without even bothering to transfigure skates. They'd fallen all over each other, and generally made complete fools of themselves. Hermione had spent winters at Hogwarts, except for Christmas break, and when she was home with her family, she didn't want to waste it skating. There were museums and libraries to visit. So she wasn't any better than Ron, who'd never skated in his life. But that was fine. Just fine.
Now all these years later, when their nights were spent soothing Rose, and changing her, and not doing other things, should he try to recreate that first time? Or do something new?
What did he want to say to her, his wife? (His wife - sometimes he couldn't believe he was married), How did he want to tell her that he loved her, and that she should put up with him, even if he was (too often) a big idiot?
After all, where else was she going to find a guy who'd put up with her snoring? Best not to tell her that part, he thought.
3. Submit to her re-planning the romantic outing.
They were eating take away, at the kitchen counter, and watching Rose play on the floor. On a hypo-allergenic blanket. Ron insisted that as a Weasley, Rose would be fine on the kitchen floor, but Hermione insisted otherwise.
("The microobials are probably all afraid of her."
"Sure, whatever. She's got a stout, Weasley constitution." He ruffled his daughter's wispy hair. "Don't you, honey?" She burbled. He'd take that as a yes.
"Microbes don't care what your surname is.")
Work was work, which meant it was busy and never-ending, and neither of them had had time to cook. Even after several years of co-habitation, and several more of marriage, Ron's cooking skills were mediocre at best. Magic or no magic. If it weren't for the expense, he'd get take away every night.
It was his turn to cook, but after spending the morning crawling out of a pit of quicksand, (which he'd only managed because of a conveniently low-hanging vine), rescuing a tied up Harry, * (with a bit of flint and said low-hanging vine), and recovering their wands, (from the box filled with fire ants), and an afternoon of torture at St. Mungo's, and more torture back at the office, he'd gone straight to Lien's House of Noodles, without regret.
"So I was thinking, this Friday."
Hermione finished chewing and swallowing a mouthful of dumpling before responding. "Yes?"
"We could go out for dinner and a movie. Like we used to."
She paused with her fork halfway to her mouth. Tilted her head to side and stared at him for a few seconds. As if he'd grown a second head. Finally, after too long, she smiled. "That's a wonderful idea, Ron." Then her smile turned into a frown. To Ron, watching it happen felt a bit like having a balloon you'd spent hours inflating, suddenly deflate. "But you got my memo about Danielle? She's confined to her bed for the rest of the week."
Was that all? Ron took a last fortifying gulp of beer. Best to just dive in, he figured. "Harry owled their new babysitter."
"Yeah, she agreed right away. Needs the money. She wants to go to, ah, Ibiza this summer."
"You already met her?"
"Only through the floo," he assured her. If there was one thing Hermione and his mother agreed on, it was that Ron shouldn't make important childcare decisions by himself. * "We can call her if you like, but she seems pretty normal. Didn't have a second head, or a tail." Not that you could tell through the floo. He'd been surprised by the tail thing on more than one occasion. But she didn't seem like the tail or second head kind - too vain not to have it chopped off.
"Ginny and Harry use her, I'm sure she's fine. Only," Hermione frowned. "Ginny doesn't seem to like her very much."
"She's not really Ginny's type, is she?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, she's all about clothes, and boys. Wears too much makeup." Wears shirts so low cut that she couldn't possibly have brothers. Ron would never have let Ginny near the floo in something like that, much less out of the house.
Still, desperate times. And they were desperate. There were few things more desperate than not having seen your wife naked in so long, you were starting to forget what she looked like without her Wizengamut robes, or covered in spit up.
They needed couple time. Ron and Hermione time. They needed date night. Not just romance, because Hermione liked it, (as much as she might protest that she wasn't interested in that kind of silly stuff, experience said otherwise), but Ron needed, at the bare minimum, a night without an argument over whose turn it was to do the dishes, and a night where he didn't need to worry about what Rose was throwing up on and/or soiling.
He loved the munchkin, but a night off sounded good to him, and a night off where he impressed his wife sounded even better. And not just so Ron wouldn't have to spend anymore nights on the couch.
"I don't want some boy crazy... twit minding my daughter." The word 'twit' came out with reluctance and distaste. A little for the word and a little for Lucille herself. Hermione hadn't met her, but there was no doubt she'd heard the same stories as Ron. Granted, whenever Ginny or Harry started going on about their babysitter troubles, he filtered out about half of it. Had enough of those stories himself.
("And she wears these ridiculous pink robes."
"Girls do that, Ginny."
"Not to mind a toddler, Ron. I think they were chiffon." Ginny shuddered. The only thing that could make her shudder like that, was a poor draft choice, or someone crediting her as Ginevra. Chiffon must be horrible.
"Chiffon... is that the crinkly stuff?" He looked to Harry for confirmation, who just shrugged.
"Dunno, I thought that was tulle."
"Isn't tulle the," Ron drew a vague bell shape with his hands. "The stuff that goes under Muggle dresses?"
"No, wait, isn't that-"
"And that's another thing," Ginny broke in. "She broke the radio, after Harry told her not to touch anything Muggle. And she's afraid of the computer. Mind you, I still can't get the thing to turn on, but there's nothing intimidating about a box of metal and plastique."
"Plastic," Harry reminded her.
"I sent an email last week."
"Would you lot shut it, we're trying to watch the game," shouted a squeaky voiced fan, from somewhere behind them.
"Bloody Quidditch hooligans," Ginny muttered. "I should have reserved us seats in the Prophet's box."
"No!" Harry and Ron said together.
"This is much better," Harry assured her.
"Yeah, Quidditch isn't the same, watching it with those people." Those people being the rich, famous and idiotic. Ron looked down at the row of VIP boxes. Best seats in the house, if it weren't for the company. And hello - was the that the Minister? Maybe he should go say hello, he thought with a grin.
"Quidditch ain't the same, listening to you people," said Squeaky.
"Yeah, shut up," shouted another fan, this one gravel voiced.
Ginny turned around in her seat. "Oh, I'm so sorry. Were you trying to watch the timeout?"
"We have the right to watch the game without your lot's nattering on about chiffon," shouted Gravel.
"That kind of talk doesn't belong on the pitch," said Squeaky.
"What's chiffon?" asked a new voice.
"Cast a muffling charm, if you're so delicate," Ron shouted back, not even bothering to turn.
"Yeah, I could do that, or you and the slag could shut it."
Ron jumped out of his seat. "Did you just call my sister a slag?" At which point, things went irrecoverably pear shaped.)
After all, at least they had a steady babysitter, and they should be grateful, even if she did wear too much lip gloss, and spent half the night flooing her flavour of the week. She did take good care of James, never invited the boys over, and James (unlike this mother), seemed to like her. *
"Hey, you said it yourself: Harry and Ginny use her. She can't be all bad. She seems... nice." If a bit... dull. And silly. Good enough for one night.
"What is it?"Hermione frowned again, and this time it was too much like her 'the witness is holding back' frown for Ron's comfort. It was a look he'd seen to much of lately. During a tough interrogation, or in the courtroom it was one thing. Having it directed at him over a scrabbled together meal of takeaway noodles and leftover dumplings and pudding, it was another.
"What?" he said, trying to sound innocent. Not too innocent though, because that meant you had something to hide. The only thing Ron was hiding from his wife was the rattty (but still wearable!) Chudley Canons jumper she thought was now in the trash.
"Do you have reservations?"
"About Lucille? No, of course not. If I had reservations I'd have told you, wouldn't I?" And he would. Sure she was dull, and silly, and dressed a bit too much like a tart for Ron's comfort, but none of those counted as reservations.
"Well, I hope so," Hermione said, possibly trying for earnest, but mostly achieving concerned. What did she have to be concerned about anyway?
"Of course I would," he said, trying not to sound annoyed. As tired as Ron was, and as obviously tired as Hermione was, tonight was not going to go like every other night had for the past two weeks, because Ron had a plan, and it was time to get back to it. He was not annoyed. All right, maybe a little. "Who do you take me for?"
"I didn't mean anything by it." Hermione frowned at the plate of rapidly disappearing dumplings. "Would you mind leaving some of those for me?"
Ron put his chopsticks down, and pushed his plate away. "Go ahead."
"Thank you. You... just looked unsure."
"Now that you're good and suspicious," Ron said, putting as much weight on 'suspicious' as he could. "What do you think about it?"
"I'm not suspicious!" She paused, took a deep breath and when she spoke again, all the defensiveness was gone from her voice. Or at least buried. Then she frowned, and it was not one of Ron's favourites. This was her guilty frown, which Ron hated expressly because it made him feel guilty. Once they both felt guilty, things tended to get nasty. That was not part of his plan for the night. He wasn't even sure how they'd gotten here again, arguing over something neither of them actually cared about.
Hermione and Ron had always argued. They'd argued when they were kids, when they were teenagers, and now they argued as adults. They'd found time to argue when they were on the run from Voldemort, when they were first starting out at the Department and hardly saw each other, and on one memorable occasion, while chasing a runaway train on a broom and a thestral (respectively). They were champion arguers, and Ron didn't mind that about them. It sort of was them. Aside from a few rough patches, it was usually a strange kind of fun. Or at least thrilling. This was neither fun, nor thrilling.
"And I'm sure Lucille will be fine." Hermione sighed. She pushed the last dumpling around on her plate with her chopsticks.
Normally, they would spend the next five minutes fighting about whatever Hermione was implying he was hiding about his feelings about their potential new babysitter, while they fought over the last of the noodles, and whatever ridiculous things they could find to fight about, but tonight, Ron had the ultimate conversational redirect.
He smiled, awkwardly apologetic, and sent the dishes into the sink, with a flick of his wand. Technically it was her turn to do the dishes, but he got out the soap and set the scrub brush to work, while Hermione sat down with Rose, who was miraculously still entertaining herself with a ball. That it was charmed to bounce itself, and recite nursery rhymes, probably helped. And personally, it helped Ron that it was a soft, easy to ignore voice. He'd known that kids could drive you crazy (he had brothers, sisters, and more nieces and nephews than he could count, trust him, he knew), but he'd never realized how irritating their toys could be. Especially when they resided in your house.
While the dishes were washing, he tidied up. Chucked the single, remaining dumpling, packed up the (once again) leftover puddings, and wiped down the counter. Behind him, Hermione and Rose played with the ball, Hermione bouncing it to Rose, who would laugh at it, but not so much play with it.
"Crup," said the ball. "Crup." It barked, and would be changing to display a picture of a very young, very cute crup.
"Crup," said Hermione. "That's a crup. Like Winifred." Winifred was Percy and Audrey's new puppy. Percy was dealing with the addition of a crup to his household about as well as he'd dealt with the previous additions of two daughters. Which was to say, not well, and with too much reading. Hermione's feverish research into child rearing, early childhood education, and every other related topic possible, had nothing on Percy, who practically had his own library now.
When Ron and Hermione had announced her pregnancy, he'd said congratulations, frowned, and then accioed for at least six different manuals on pregnancy, childbirth and the divinatory implications of baby names. Ron might have been able to appreciate the (slightly neurotic) gift, if they'd been the good kind of manual, but these had been all anatomy and obscure diagrams, with thirty item legends and explanatory notes. Even Hermione had been intimidated.
Hermione was still trying to coax Rose into saying crup, when Ron separated the garbage, and sent it floating on ahead of him, into the yard. The organic stuff went into the regular compost for the worms and grubs, and the inorganic into the special compost, for the blibbering humdinger Luna had given them two Christmases ago. Ron and Hermione weren't much for gardening, but they were champion composters. Hermione insisted it was more environmentally sound than the traditional methods of garbage disposal. As Ron didn't know anything about the subject, and didn't care to know anything about it, he was willing to go along with it.
"Hey Mildred." He waved to his neighbor of many years. Mildred had the house next to theirs. She'd been living there for longer than Ron had been alive. Longer than his parents had been alive.
She came over, and folded her spindly arms across the top of the fence. "You and the missus have another fight?"
"Course not. I just came out to check on Hummy." Ron nudged the inorganic compost barrel with his boot. "How you doing in there?" One eyestalk lazily peered at him, through the heap of metal scrap and empty takeaway containers. There was a faint cooing.
"Looks like I'll have some prime fertilizer out of her, this year. What've you been feeding her?"
"Everything we can think of. Her appetite is incredible. Hermione's parents have been giving us their used batteries and ink cartridges."
Mildred stopped making funny faces at the eyestalk, to peer at Ron in confusion. It was early evening, and her eyesight wasn't what it used to be, as she liked to say. "What's an ink cartridge?"
"It's a container for ink, for a Muggle printer." Mildred looked even more confused. "You know what? Never mind."
"All right. So how'd the plan go?" Ron grimaced. "That good huh?"
"We got... sidelined." You could call it that.
"Well get back in there. Aren't you supposed to be, what was it? Submitting to her replanning your romantic outing?"
"Yeah, that's the one. We just got hung up on my choice of babysitters for Friday night."
"You'd didn't go back to Jeanine, did you?" They both shuddered. Jeanine had been part troll, and it turned out human/troll mixes were more than a little off, psychologically. They hadn't known she was part troll until afterwards, of course. *
"Of course not. Harry recommended us to Lucille."
"The one your sister hates?"
"Well, I was running out of options, wasn't I?"
"Sorry Ron, I'd offer to sit, if I could."
"Yeah, I know." She would too, and if it were legal, he'd take her up on it. Mildred was great. *
"You'd better get back in there, son. Before she decides you're spending another night on the couch." She winked.
Which was entirely possible, considering how well things had been going so far. He sighed. "You're right. G'night Mildred. Night Hummy." Mildred waved him off. Hummy cooed him good night.
Inside, there was no sign of Hermione or Rose. The scrub brush sat quietly beside the sink. Ron quickly dried the dishes, (using a charm that Hermione was convinced left streaks, but he'd seen no evidence of it), and put them away.
He padded upstairs, as quietly as he could manage. The door to the bedroom was open. He stuck his in, around the door. "Hermione?"
"Shh. I've just got her to fall asleep." She stood beside Rose's crib, smiling down at her. Sure enough, their daughter was sound asleep, stuffed kneazle tucked in beside her.
"That was quick."
"She was tired, I guess."
"D'you want to watch some telly before bed?" She nodded and they padded back downstairs to the living room, where the telly that Hermione's parents had given this past Christmas sat, under a picture of Lionel Harding. * They watched the news in silence. At least half of Ron's part of the silence was due to still being fascinated by Muggle telly. The other half was exhaustion and irritation. He suspected Hermione felt the same.
By the time the program broke for advertisements, he'd got his courage back. Date night, Ron, Date night. He cleared his throat. "So for Friday..."
"Yes Ron?" Hermione turned to him. Actually looking excited. Right, he thought. You remember how to do this. Romance, dating, no more fights about imaginary reservations and noodles, just because you're too irritated not to fight. Just jump straight into it.
"I was thinking we could go to Le Pain Perdue, down on-"
"Oh!" Hermione's eyes lit up, looking as happy as Ron felt, to be able to get back to the planning. "Parminder told me about this great new Tibetan place that opened in Glasgow. I've been dying to go."
"First I've heard of it," Ron muttered. "Think she'd tell her own husband."
"Uh, er..." He coughed into his sleeve. "Tibetan! Sounds like fun."
"The yaksha mo-mo are supposed to be incredible. Parminder said you'd like the pinjopo."
"Did he? Parminder - is he the good looking one?"
"Well, yes. I hate how people say that. 'The good looking one'. Parminder has a fine legal mind."
"I'm sure he does. He's working for you, isn't he?"
"Honestly Ron, it's not like he's my assistant. I just outrank him."
"Might as well be," he said. Jumping at the chance to compliment her. "Everyone knows you do the work of five advocates."
Hermione blushed. "You're not... jealous are you?"
"What, of Parminder? Why would I be jealous that my brilliant, lovely wife has a hot, young stud working for her?"
"Tibetan. Friday at seven."
"Well, actually I was thinking six because-"
"Six is perfect."
4. Inform friends, family and colleagues that you will be unavailable for the duration of said outing.
"You know," said Harry. "I don't think you really need to tell Bill and Fleur that you'll be unavailable Friday night."
"Don't say that Harry, you might jinx us."
"I'm not going to jinx you."
"You're the one who kept saying that 'things come up.'"
"I doubt anything involving your brother, who is in France, will come up." Harry peered at the stack of scrolls that Ron was tying one by one, to Ministry dispatch owls. "Are you owling Charlie?"
"Do you even know where he is?"
"Last I heard, the Amazon." Harry eyed him skeptically. "I just want to be sure. Harry, you know my brothers."
"I think you're making too big a deal of this. It's just dinner and a movie."
"It's not just dinner and a movie. It's date night." Their first date night in over a year and a half.
"What is it with you and date night?" Ron glared at him. "Seriously. I mean, Ginny and I still go out. Sometimes. But it's not this huge thing."
"The last time you and Ginny went out to something that wasn't work related, was before Rose was born."
"Really? No." Harry scratched his head. Stared out the window. Visibly counted backwards. "My god, you're right."
"Yeah but Ginny and I still-" Ron raised a hand in warning. "Right. I don't think we need that kind of thing. You know. Romance. Wait, has Ginny said something?"
"You'd be better off asking Hermione, mate. Hand me that last scroll."
"Who's this one for?"
"Luna. Just in case." He paused. The owl peered down at him from its perch, impatient to be off on a mission. The Ministry owls were almost creepily over eager. "Where is Luna?"
"Sweden. There was another snorkack sighting."
"Didn't she decide they were a myth?"
"Yes, but apparently there's credible evidence this time."
"Well, then." Ron grinned, and motioned to the owl to come down. "Luna Lovegood," he told the owl. "Sweden." The owl bobbed his head, took two small steps and dropped off of his perch. A few strong flaps of his wings and he was out the window; off to ensure that Ron and Hermione would not be interrupted with bulletins on the mating habits of crumple-horned snorkacks.
Ron sighed happily, flush with the satisfaction of a job well-done, and the successful abuse of Ministry resources. The Owlery was all but empty. Five owls watched Ron and Harry, looking disturbingly forlorn.
"You don't have any messages to send, do you?"
Ron nodded at the five owls, huddling in the quickly darkening Owlery. "They look sort of... sad."
"Well, maybe they'll perk up once the sun has set. Speaking of which, are you done? I'd like to get home before it turns to Thursday."
"Done. Sorry guys." He shrugged at the owls, whose wings collectively drooped. "Are you still using that potion?"
Harry ran a hand over his hair. "Yeah, why? Ginny seems to like it."
"No reason," said Ron. Now was not the time to tell Harry that the sheen had graduated to sparkling in the evening light. The right moment would present itself.
Harry eyed him suspiciously, but let it go. "You did remember to tell the boss you can't be on call, Friday night, right?"
"Yup. He said it's not a problem."
5. Clear inbox of all pressing matters. If necessary, hide some of it.
Ron cracked his knuckles, eying his teetering outbox with satisfaction. His inbox was gloriously empty, for the first time in three years. He wasn't taking any chances. Granted, not everything from his inbox had made it into his outbox. There were stacks of scrolls and memos and incomplete triplicate forms stuffed into every drawer. That was why, before he left for the night, he was locking his desk up with the best security charms Charlie had taught him, and hoping for the best.
"All right boys, listen up!" The boss banged his wand on the whiteboard. Using an amplification charm would be more effective at getting the unit's attention, but Ron suspected he just liked to smash things. The boss had gone through six desk chairs this year alone. Either he loved to smash things, or he was short on kindling. Regardless, Ron got up from his desk and joined the huddle of cowering Aurors. You didn't question the boss. *
"Mira, Rogers." He pointed to the Aurors in question with his wand. The rest of the unit struggled against the urge to duck and cover. "You're following up on the kraken sighting."
"Yes sir!" they said together.
"Make sure you don't cock this one up."
"Yes sir," they said, with a marked drop in enthusiasm.
"Shipley!" he hollered. Shipley, good man that he was, stood up immediately. The boss' wand settled on him. "You're on the werewolf, thing. Take Potter with you."
"Take. Potter. With. You." Shipley darted a surreptitious look at Harry, who equally surreptitiously, shrugged in response.
"Right. Weasley here," he pointed. Ron struggled not to shiver under the attention of the wand. "Has the night off. Which means the rest of you idiots are on call." He smiled nastily, and as one, they obligingly groaned. The boss liked his Aurors miserable, and preferably groaning about it.
Once the boss had stormed out of earshot, Ron tried to make a halfhearted apology.
"Don't be sorry, mate", said Mira. "Just don't be a dick when it's my turn for time off."
Ron smiled at her. "Wouldn't think of it."
The unit retreated to their desks and except for those who were on assignment that night proceeded to lock up. To his usual (already paranoid, as far as he was concerned) mandatory charms, he added every painful security charm he could think of. Charlie had taught him this Egyptian curse that lopped off the head of anyone who tried to open the cursed object. Ron thought it over for a few seconds, then added it. It wasn't like anyone would really need to get into his desk tonight. Anyone with half a brain would be put off by the third layer of hexes. And no way was he getting called back to the office over a stray memo.
Harry settled in, leaning against the cubicle divider that stood between their cells. "So, the big night has arrived."
"Yeah. Sorry he's called you up for tonight."
"It's alright. Not your fault the boss thinks Shipley's a moron."
"Not even Shipley's fault, really," said Ron. The boss thought everyone was a moron, Harry and Ron included.
"Anyway, Ginny's working from home this week, so she'll be able to watch James."
"Still. I thought it was the ever exciting Potter Pizza Night."
"That it was. Hopefully Ginny will save me a slice." Harry frowned. "Listen, Ron." He ducked his head. Under the harsh overhead lights, his hair was damn near blinding. Ron shaded his eyes with a hand, trying to make it look casual. The potion was actually getting worse.
Harry did a quick threat assessment of the office. To anyone else it would look like a casual glance or three, but Ron was a trained Auror. He also caught the faint hint of desperation his friend was giving off. "D'you think I could borrow that book of yours?"
"You know," Harry said insistently.
"No, I really don't."
"The married dating book," he hissed.
"Oh!" said Ron. "That book. Of course you can borrow my," he pitched his voice low, "married dating book." He grinned, which naturally caused Harry to blush, Ron to grin even harder, and finally Harry to punch him in the shoulder.
"You are such an arsehole, you know that?"
"It's possible you mentioned it. Once or twice." He rubbed his shoulder. "Ow. You know, that really hurt."
"I'm not sorry."
6. Proceed to date, with caution.
It was going well, he thought. No, it really was going well. Mrs. Granger liked to say that an ounce of preparation was worth a pound of cure. Granted, the first time she'd imparted that bit of wisdom, was right after Ron had made a spectacular hash of their second anniversary, but good advice was good advice. He'd done his research. Hermione would be good. He'd done his prep work. His mother in law, and his field work trainer would be proud.
The boss liked to say that you weren't paranoid, if they were out to get you. Ron had taken that to heart too. Ron wasn't paranoid; experience showed that life was out to get him. This time he'd get life. The boss wouldn't be proud. Ron wasn't sure he was capable of feeling anything other than sheer malice and sadistic glee. It was possible, Ron felt, that he might have been capable of approving of his efforts. That was enough for him.
"It was a lovely film, Ron."
"It was, wasn't it?" He smiled down at Hermione. She smiled back, bright, and clear as the stars that were making a rare appearance in the London sky.
The night was cool, and as usual, it had been a long day for both of them. She wore a light cardigan over over a plain black t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was tied back simply, in a low knot. She managed to looked more elegant than any of the dressed up women they passed. More lovely.
Her smile changed, eyes crinkling, mouth sweet. Suddenly it was the easiest thing, the most obvious thing in the world, to take her hands in his; to lean down and brush a kiss across her lips. When he took a step back and opened his eyes, she was still smiling. "What's for dessert?"
"You're not hungry again already, are you?"
"Starving, actually." Her stomach rumbled its assent. "I worked through lunch."
"Not preparing Parminder?"
"Well..." Her stomach grumbled again, this time louder. He just laughed.
"It's only nine. Rose and Lucille should be able to manage long enough for us to get ice cream."
"There's a nice place down the block. Ginny and I went there once."
"Lead on," Ron said, and held out his hand. Hermione curled her fingers around his, and they took their time. Walking slowly, talking about inconsequential things.
It was just as they were about to go into the ice cream parlor that things went, once again, irrevocably pear shaped. The unusual part of this was that it involved werewolves. I mean really, he reflected, who expected werewolves?
Ron didn't remember what step seven was. He was exactly 3,000% certain that 10 Simple Steps to Enjoying Date Night With Your Wife had nothing to say about fighting werewolves in downtown London. Likewise, it lacked an entry on the part of Date Night With You Wife, where your best friend and brother in law crashed his broom at your feet, just as you were about to enter a Muggle ice cream parlor, and demanded your help.
"Remember when the boss said you had the night off? Yeah, now you're on call, and I'm calling."
Fortunately Ron was long past needing direction as to the appropriate response to such a turn of events. He had his wand out before Harry was done stumbling away from the wreckage of his broom, miraculously unhurt. Beside him, Hermione had her wand out and raised, and was scanning the street around them for threats.
Harry coughed once, shook the fiery twigs out of his hair and off his robes, and he was ready; wand up and his back pressed to theirs.
"Are you all right Harry?" Hermione asked without turning to look him over.
"Good enough to fight werewolves." As if in response, the dark alley from which Harry had crashed in on them, erupted in howls. They were close. Too close for them to do much in the way of preparation. Good thing they knew how to improvise.
"Where's Shipley?" Ron asked.
"Still on his broom, I hope. Hermione, the Muggles." She nodded, and in moments the ice cream parlor and the rest of the street was blocked off by two invisible shields: one physically impenetrable, the other in their heads. The Muggles wouldn't even know it was there. With luck there would be few to confound afterwards.
Then, between one second and another, the werewolves were on them; a whole pack. Ron counted at least ten, before he no longer had the luxury of thinking big picture. His world narrowed to the silver-coloured wolf leaping at him, and Harry and Hermione behind him.
"Stupefy!" he yelled, putting as much force into it as he could muster. The wolf, caught mid leap, dropped harmlessly to the ground. No harm to Ron, at least. He wasn't sure about the werewolf. He didn't have time to check on it, even if he'd wanted to. Another one was quick to take its place.
Ron dodged its snapping jaws. It was a near thing; she caught his sleeve with her teeth. She tugged, managing to drag him forward a few steps, closer to her pack. "Diffindo!" His shirt sleeve ripped neatly and he stumbled back, away from her. He was lucky he hadn't taken his hand off with that.
She snarled, spat out the bit of fabric, and crouched. Two of her pack moved in beside her. Damn, damn and damn, he thought.
Behind him, Hermione yelled, "Alarte ascendre!" And a big werewolf was flying past Ron, back into the alley. My wife, he thought, is absolutely brilliant.
He pointed at the she-wolf. "Wingardium leviosa!" She flew straight up, tumbling around and around. Like a rat on a wheel. She clawed at the air uselessly, howling in frustration. Her pack mates watched her, dumbfounded, at least for the moment. Apparently, even werewolves were distracted by the absurd. Wouldn't last. So he dropped her. On her pack mates.
"This is not normal werewolf behaviour."
"They're American," Harry said, as if that explained everything. Hermione nodded as if it did.
Ron lost the next fifteen minutes in a blur of near misses, and hexes. When it came time to give his report, he would be able to recount it all accurately, but for now it was just the three of them, their wands and a whole lot of angry dogs in need of muzzling. That was a place he was strangely comfortable.
"Don't you think there's rather a lot of them?" Hermione asked some minutes later, when they were all thrust together again.
"Shipley thinks it's got something to do with Mercury and Venus in superior conjunction."
"Oh!" Hermione said, as if that explained everything. "That explains everything."
"Less explaining; more fighting," Ron said, then petrified three wolves, in quick succession. "Dammit, where's Shipley?" The universe chose that moment to smile on them.
"Ron, look!" Hermione pointed to a figure on a broom, closing on their position. No way, he thought.
"Homorphus," yelled Shipley from his broom.
Six more Aurors flew in behind him, in formation. "Homorphus!" they yelled together. All around them, werewolves shrieked, and squealed, and changed slowly, (and evidently painfully, based on the sheer amount of shrieking and squealing), back into their human forms.
"The homorphus charm actually works?" Harry watched the transforming werewolves with obvious disbelief.
"The homorphus charm actually exists?"
"And what's the deal with this homorphus charm?" Ron asked. No one seemed to notice. *
"Harry, Ron! It's good to see you." Shipley landed, and hopped neatly off his broom. "Ms. Granger." He nodded to Hermione.
"It's great to see you," said Harry.
"It's great to see you're not incompetent."
Shipley grinned. "Much to the boss's disappointment, I'm sure."
"No doubt he'll be comforted by my night off turning into throw down with a pack of crazed, American werewolves."
"Listen up boys! Werewolves. They're what happens when you request time off."
"Being an Auror isn't a job; it's a way of life!"
"Tell that to my kids," Shipley said. "I barely remember what the youngest looks like."
"Oh god." Hermione went pale. "Lucille."
"The babysitter," said Ron. "Don't even ask."
"You two go home and check in on Rose," Harry said. "Shipley and I can take care of this lot." He nodded to the transformed werewolves, lying in piles, all over the alley. At least twenty-five, all of them unconscious and naked.
Harry waved over the on-call Aurors. "You two, check the pack for serious injuries. The rest of you, you're on Muggle detail. Confound if necessary."
"Are you sure?" Hermione asked.
"Absolutely. You can tell us all about your date later."
"But our reports..."
"I think we can fudge procedure on this one. Besides, it'll take hours to book all of them."
"If you're sure..."
"I'm very sure."
"Thank you, Harry. Make sure you check in with Ginny." Hermione gave him a quick hug, took a step back and disaparated.
"Thanks, mate," said Ron. They clasped hands briefly, and then he stepped away, to follow his wife home. "Harry?"
"What's the potion called?"
"The hair potion?" Ron nodded. "Twilight."
"You uh, might want to find a mirror."
"Why, is there something wrong?"
"Nah, it's just kind of... dazzling. "
"Dazzling? You know, Cedric used to use-"
"Night Harry!" Ron apparated, before he could start laughing. Shipley was a good man. He'd record everything.
She was waiting for him at the front door. They never apparated directly inside the house. Hermione insisted. Even though all the apparating they'd done over the years, under less than ideal circumstances, made the risk of splinching all but nonexistent. Ron could apparate clear across the city while drunk, with perfect accuracy, but he wasn't allowed to apparate into his own living room. *
(Truthfully, while the rule used to bother him, when Rose was born, he found that he didn't mind it quite so much).
He stepped up beside her. "Hey."
"Hey," she said back. Ron couldn't tell if she was smiling or grimacing.
"So the date."
"Did it actually happen?"
"Of course it did. How else would I get the opportunity to learn the homorphus charm?" She smiled. "And it was great, right up until the werewolves."
"Putting aside the risk of death and dismemberment, the werewolves weren't so bad."
"They did give me the opportunity to see my brilliant wife in action." She smiled, and then leaned up to kiss him, quickly. Frankly, Ron was too tired to mourn the lost opportunity for something more extensive.
"We'd better check on Rose."
"I'm sure she's fine."
"You do seem awfully sure."
"I closed the floo to everything but emergencies, before we left."
"I have my moments." The house was dark, and silent. "D'you think she fell asleep?"
"We are late." With a flick of her wand, Hermione turned the first floor lights up. "Lucille?" She wasn't in the living room. Hermione went into the kitchen to look for her. Ron padded into the living room. Lucille's bag was still sitting by the telly, where she'd dropped it earlier that night. Her jacket was still slung across the back of the couch. In fact, everything was remarkably and thankfully, tidy.
"Maybe she's upstairs with- great Merlin!"
"Ron? Are you all right?"
"I found Lucille. She's on the ceiling."
There was a crash in the kitchen. It sounded like dishes breaking. Ron found that he didn't care. They were ugly dishes, and he'd wanted new ones for ages.
Hermione skidded to a halt beside him. "What do you mean she's on the ceiling?" Ron just pointed. At Lucille, fangs extended, but harmless, stuck as she was to the ceiling of their living room. To Rose, who sat happily beside the couch. Playing with her ball. It bounced. "Crup." Barked. "Crup." The image of the crup seemed to smile up at them, from the ball.
"A vampire, Ron? You let a vampire babysit our daughter?" Hermione dashed forward, and swept Rose up into her arms.
"I did?" Ron was pretty sure he hadn't made that decision on his own.
"She could have killed Rose." Hermione glared at him.
"Actually," Lucille said. "I don't like children. Their blood is so... innocent. It's kind of gross actually. I prefer teenage boys."
"You see Hermione, she prefers teenage boy- You didn't." Lucille shrugged. "In my sister's house?"
"Only twice! Ok, three times. But I always cleaned up after myself."
"Being, thank you. And if you don't mind, could you let me down from here and get on with arresting me? It's rather embarrassing to be overcome by a baby."
Rose waved cheerily at Lucille.
"Arrest you?" Ron all but shouted. "I've half a mind to call Mildred over to deal with you."
"Not Mildred Bray?" Lucille's eyes widened in horror.
"That's the one."
"I knew this was a bad idea." *
"You knew?" Hermione's eye developed a hitherto unknown twitch.
"Really, I'm fine with being arrested. I'll go willingly."
Hermione smiled nastily. "Rose, darling." She tapped her daughter's nose with index finger. Rose just burbled happily. "Let the bad vampire lady down."
"Any time now-" Abruptly, Lucille crashed to the floor. Though it was carpeted, it didn't seem to be break her fall.
"Crup!" said Rose.
"Good girl," Hermione cooed. "Can you say that again?"
Lucille was in a holding cell, not far from the werewolves.
Harry was at home, with Ginny and a soundly sleeping James. 10 Simple Steps to Enjoying Date Night With Your Wife was waiting for him in the drawer of his night table.
Shipley was still at the office, paying for his competence with paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork.
No one knew where the boss was, save for the boss himself. Humanity en masse counted itself lucky for the reprieve.
In some nameless, dingy pub, Mira and Rogers were drinking themselves silly, kraken defeated.
Somewhere in Sweden, Luna Lovegood was celebrating the discovery of an entire family of crumple-horned snorkacks.
In the Burrow, Arthur and Molly Weasley slept soundly. Blissfully unaware of all of this.
Rose was safely asleep, upstairs in her crib, dreaming of crups. An exhausted Ron and Hermione sat on the floor by the couch, where their daughter had, in a spectacular demonstration of the kind of involuntary magic only children could manage, foiled a vampire. And in the process, blown out the Harding adapters that allowed their Muggle electronics to function. No telly was a small price to pay for his daughter's life, Ron told himself. Again, and again.
Easier to take, somehow, was the no telly vs. proof of his daughter's brilliance, trade off. Not only had she manifested signs of magic earlier than any of her cousins, but she'd demonstrated more power, and more (dare he say) Gryffindor spirit, than any of them. Especially Percy's kids. They were good kids, mind. But they weren't Rose. Not even Hermione had been able to contain herself. ("She has so much potential! I mean, of course I knew she had potential, but I didn't want to focus on the purely magical.") She was already talking tutors.
"I don't understand how none of us noticed she was a vampire."
"Desperation, I suppose."
"But Harry and Ginny employed her for months. He's spent his life fighting the Dark Arts. How could he not notice that his babysitter was evil?"
"To be fair, she didn't mean any of them harm. She was just using them. As bait." Hermione glared at him. "I just mean, maybe Harry didn't notice, because Lucille was directing all her evil into seducing boys. And eating them. In his house." Harry was Ron's best friend, but even he had to admit that it sounded bad.
"You didn't suspect anything, did you?"
"It's just... I thought maybe..."
"Oh, no. I just thought she was a massive slut, and incredibly stupid. What kind of a teenage girl dresses like that?"
"The vampire kind, I guess."
"You know, I think her robes were chiffon." Hermione gave him a funny look. Ron thought it best to just let it go.
For a while, they sat together in silence. It was a more companionable silence than managed at home in months. Maybe there were beneficial side effects, to enduring yet another life threatening experience with your wife.
"You know our first date?"
Ron smiled. "When we tried to teach each other to skate?"
"No, our real first date."
"The one that didn't happen."
"Except it did happen," she said softly. "Just like this one did."
"Well, yeah, but we don't have to acknowledge it, if you don't want to. The Minister certainly doesn't. Jerry really came around though, didn't he?"
"I suppose it was easier to just forget about it. I mean, it was such an unmitigated disaster, and politically, it would have been awkward to ever mention it. And then the next date was so..."
"Yes," she said. She smiled, and Ron couldn't not smile back.
"You know..." He started out hesitant but then his confession came out in a rush. "I thought the movie was a romance. I thought White Heat was supposed to be sexy."
"And then you were completely horrified when it turned out not to be."
"And completely relieved when you liked it, for some reason."
"It's rich with symbolism, Ron."
"Yeah, so you said."
She laughed, and he joined her. It was funnier than it should have been. Then she said something he didn't expect, something he'd never considered. "I knew you'd made a mistake."
"About the movie. When he started killing people, you gasped in shock."
"I did not!"
"You did. It was adorable. And honestly Ron, you never would have picked that film. You can barely sit through repeats of The Young Ones."
"You knew all this time?"
"Of course I did." Of course she did. She was Hermione Granger, and he was still Ron Weasley.
"I just..." Wanted it to be perfect. Wanted them to have something perfect.
"It was a lovely date. So was tonight."
"Aside from the werewolves, and the vampires. Our continued inability to keep a regular babysitter."
"There's always Molly and Arthur."
"I love my parents, Hermione. I just don't want Rose to come home in jumpers."
"Werewolves. Vampires. Horrible, truly horrible jumpers." Hermione laughed. "This is our life, Ron. You don't need to romance me, whenever we get frustrated with each other."
"Then why do I keep getting exiled to the couch?"
"Because... because sometimes I'm not very reasonable either."
Ron clutched his chest. "First... you tell me you don't want romance... then... you admit to being unreasonable. I don't think my heart can take it."
"Ron!" She swatted him.
"Sorry, sorry. Oh damn."
"I wish I'd recorded that. You don't think you'd say it again, for posterity?"
"You. Are. Insufferable."
"But come on, admit me."
"You like it, don't you? At least a little." He grinned.
She laughed. "Maybe just a little."
"How little? Would you say, a tad?"
"A tad sounds about right."
They didn't talk again for the rest of the night. They were busy kissing, and doing other things, some much more interesting than kissing.
So ended Ron's long and storied history with self-help manuals. Harry's was another story altogether.
#1 Truthfully there had been one previous attempt, but as it had ended in a high speed broom chase through the streets of London, and a ten vehicle pileup involving Muggle cars, the Knight Bus and a very embarrassed Minister of Magic, all involved had decided to collectively forget it. The unfortunate bus driver had gone so far as to attempt a self-obliviation, which, as one might expect, was thoroughly botched, and only resulted in an protracted, and even more unfortunate involvement with the couple. Charges were laid, depositions given. The only good to come out of it, was that Jerry the bus driver turned out to be up for a friendly game of Quidditch at a moments notice, and a fine catcher. In the immediate aftermath, Hermione declared that none of it had happened, and they were never to speak of it again. Ron never contested this decision.
#2 Unlike Neville, who'd tried every new dating fad and gimmick in existence. Not because he wanted to settle down, or because had trouble finding dates. Neville, surprisingly enough, (and Ron was always surprised), did alright as it was. But his grandmother insisted, and Merlin help the fabric of existence, should he deny his grandmother's will over something so petty as a round of speed dating. "Which, it turns out, is a great way to meet bridge partners!"
#3 Unless she wanted him too. He'd read some pretty advanced sex manuals and knew the theory at least. He was not so secretly relieved that she'd never shown interest in trying anything so... advanced.
#4 Great, if you ignored Ron's brief, albeit intense addiction to home improvement manuals. Ron and Hermione both agreed that was best.
#5 This particular blowup hinged on Molly's not being consulted when it came time to choose a daycare. They'd already had the, "Isn't her grandmother good enough for her? I just don't understand young people these days," and the, "What's wrong with Primrose's Playpen? It was good enough for my children," and even the, "Well if you'd taken a longer maternity leave... but I don't want to interfere," blowups. The last one several times over.
#6 Primrose's Playpen, mentioned in the above note, was not a daycare. It was a pastel prison for infants and toddlers. Sure the bars were covered in lamb's wool, but they were still bars. Every day the matrons read from The Toadstool Tales. If there was a worse fate for a child than hearing The Toadstool Tales, day after day, Ron didn't know what it could be. He'd take a Muggle orphanage over that, personally.
#7 At one point, Ron had thought that rescuing Harry would be a satisfying and novel experience. He quickly found that partnering with Harry as Aurors gave him entirely too many opportunities to rescue his best friend, none of them satisfying, or particularly fun. Novelty though, was something that their job provided in abundance. On one occasion he'd been called upon to rescue Harry from a herd of rampaging, carnivorous elephants. (It was much less interesting, and far dirtier than it sounds).
#8 As annoying as Ron personally found their lack of faith, he had to agree that there was cause for it. However, he was working on it, and in general, he would strongly prefer that the Chocolate Frog/Buttermilk Incident was never again mentioned.
#9 James wasn't as fussy as Rose, but was no picnic either. Weasley, was how Ron, Charlie, Bill and George put it. Percy preferred Difficult, but then he was the one responsible for the Great Luncheon Disaster, and in Ron's opinion, could barely handle Molly and Lucy as it was. They had Percy wrapped around their pudgy little fingers. He was halfway looking forward to the day the girls started dating, and Audrey would instantly become a single parent. (The only snag in this most dear of his fantasies, was the implication that Rose too, would someday start seeing boys).
#10 Ron was still half-convinced that the whole part-Troll story was just something her lawyer had cooked up to lighten the sentence. She was incredibly ugly, it was true, but he'd seen uglier humans, and better looking Trolls.
#11 She was also a vampire. Mildred had lived in the house next to Ron and Hermione for the past two hundred years, sometimes publicly, sometimes secretly. Since she'd taken the Treatment six years ago, and gone off eating humans, she'd been legally allowed to own property. Mildred had become Ron's favourite neighbor when she offered to take all the accumulating compost off their hands. She needed it for the night-blooming, indoor gardenias that grew beside her coffin.
#12 Lionel Harding was the American wizard who'd found the secret to adapting Muggle electronics to magical environments. He was Ron's, and his father's, personal hero. They'd both developed an intense love of telly in general, and Coronation Street, in particular.
#13 You also didn't call the boss anything but 'the boss'. So far as Harry and Ron could tell, based on unit and departmental Christmas parties of years past, even the bosses wife called him 'the boss'. Neither of them was interested in speculating as to why that was so. Consequently, not even Harry, who was even more of a legend before his time, than he'd been as a child, was willing to call the boss anything other than 'the boss'.
#14 The deal with the homorphus charm, was that it was long suspected to be another of Gilderoy Lockhart's many fabrications. Marius Shipley discovered its existence quite by accident, while battling the pack's alpha werewolf that very night, and passed the secret on to his fellow Aurors. The alpha, being the leader of a pack of over one hundred werewolves, all told, fought harder and longer than any werewolf since the famous, Balder the Bald. It was only blind, animal panic that inspired Shipley to test Lockhart's description of the charm. It was to his infinite surprise, that he found that the blowhard had for once, been right. That stroke of luck would go on to save the lives of many werewolves, as it became standard practice for capturing rogues.
#15 With four married brothers (if you counted Harry), and all his married friends, Ron had attended more than enough bachelor parties to find this out.
#16 In addition to be a wonderful neighbor, and a fantastic gardener, Mildred was famous among her kind for her passions, and her appetites. Before undergoing detoxification Treatment she'd had the nasty habit of draining her fellow vampires, whenever they annoyed her. Which they did in many ways; chiefly by existing. The Treatment worked wonders.
"We've got all the fire we need, jackass," he muttered. Although, date night. It might be fun...)
"Come on, now." Ron levitated his prisoner out of the trench, jarring him roughly against the side. "Oops." He kept Reg close to the ground. Every so often his head bumped into a cabbage or three. There was an upside to Reg turning evil, he thought. Ron would never again be trapped in his cubicle, waiting for windbag there, to run out of air. "Take her on a date, man. Reignite the fire."
"You know, I bet the Muggle would like a new scarecrow. How do you feel about a career change?" Petrification greatly reduced one's ability to emote, but Ron could see the panic in Reg's eyes. "Nah, I'd better take you in. It'll give Hermione something new to research: how good (ok, mediocre) Aurors go bad." If anything, Reg's panic only deepened.
"Petrificus totalus." Ron rolled out of the way of Reg's falling body, and then crawled over it on his way out of the trench, marking sure to dig his boots into all of Reg's tenderer parts.