Chapter 1: Prologue
EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN
Arthur Weasley stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, and watched his wife. It was so unusual to catch her sitting still like this. She was always moving. Doing at least two things at a time. Sometimes it exhausted him just looking at her. He had certainly long given away the idea of 'keeping up'. It had taken him a while to realize that she liked his calmer, more sedate pace. That she didn't resent his ability to get lost in what he was doing. That she admired him his contentment and stability. The early years had been tough. All those babies, so close together. Money was tight. Time was tighter. He'd felt as though he was keeping her from the life she deserved. But she said she only wanted him, and that enough was as good as a feast.
A feast indeed.
It helped that one of the things he could get lost in was her. Molly Prewett. When he was focusing his attention on working out her mood, or the source of her anxiety. Or what would make her gasp or sigh. More complex than any fascinating piece of Muggle gadgetry. This witch he'd married was puzzle enough to keep him occupied for the next hundred years. And he could only hope they did indeed have that long. The Prewetts and the Weasleys were both fine strong stock. Now that He Who... Voldemort ... was out of the way, he had every hope they'd grow well past their century together.
It wasn't too difficult a puzzle to work out what was occuping Molly's mind now. So much that her knitting was still in its basket beside the sofa.
The album open across her knees was clue enough.
Molly had begun her collection of Newspaper and magazing clippings many years ago when she had saved - and then hidden - the Daily Prophet Article describing the attack that had left her brothers dead and her parents in mourning. Arthur suspected that she had set a Search and Find charm in place to any mention of the names Weasley, Potter, and Granger in the various Wizarding Publications.
There had been any number of articles to collect since the birth of the latest grandchild had become public knowledge. He had seen her rescuing several pieces after they'd been torn from the paper, scrumpled into a ball and flung across the room in disgust by members of the family. He wasn't sure it was a good idea to keep all the sordid scraps, but Molly insisted that it was an important record. For the future. And maybe the child herself would want to read it all one day.
It had taken Arthur more than a few moments to truly accept that Harry and Hermione's daughter was as much his grandchild as Little Charlie, Bobby and Jack, Laurent or Amelie. He had smiled with his face, but felt only a blankness inside when confronted with their bliss. But then he'd seen Ron reach over Harry's shoulder and stroke the shock of black hair off the tiny little face, and lean in to embrace his friend. Arthur had felt chastised. Knowing that Ron was just as thrilled with this baby as any other, and realizing he himself had truly been happy to call Harry 'Son', it had all fallen into place.
The obvious affection and.... intimacy... between Harry and Ron had been confronting. It was one thing to accept in the abstract, but quite another to get one's mind around standing in front of you with arms wrapped around each other.
Arthur had heard whispers that Bill had experimented a little with some of the lads at school, and he never was quite sure what the nature of his relationship had been with Elijah - Bill's flat mate in Egypt. Molly had hinted a few times that they were more than 'just friends', but as there had been nothing unusual with the pair when they had holidayed with them, he'd put it out of his mind. Elijah had been very polite and showed them around Cairo. Seemed very 'up' on the local Quidditch league, so Arthur hadn't given it another thought, really. Though now he wondered what had become of the boy. Fleur had come onto the scene and all traces of any other dalliance had disappeared in her wake.
No. It was a good thing. Harry and Hermione both had needed a family in more ways than just words. And Arthur was more than happy that it was now a fact. Watching Ron's Harry struggle back from the brink had heartened him. Given Arthur the push he'd needed - the inspiration - to try and find his joy again.
He had seen Harry hold his granddaughter in his hands, his face nearly consumed with an exquisite shock. Arthur had decided that he needed to be here to see this.
And he was needed. To help this growing family negotiate their way through the reception that they were facing, as the public that had only recently fawned over them, and revered them, turned and began to try and crush them with their petty hatreds.
Molly, of course, was taking it all terribly to heart. He needed to be here for her, too. He couldn't leave her to cope alone.
Tonight she sat, bathed in the familiar golden light of the Burrow. The glow of it fell across her hair casting an illusion, just for a moment, that her hair was golden red, and not faded ginger with a generous sprinkling of grey. He ran a hand through his own thin whisps and smiled indulgently at her. Just at that moment, Molly lifted her face and, noticing him, patted the sofa next to her. With a grimace she motioned to the Witch Weekly open on her lap.
"This Edgecomb girl. Definately a bad egg. I knew her mother. A Marchcroft. All cut from the same cloth, that lot."
"Having a go at Harry again? No more "Win a Kiss" competitions now I suppose."
Molly held the magazine up as he took his place next to her, to show him a photo - not particularly flattering - of Hermione next to a headline asking "War Hero or Seductress?".
"Poor girl. I hope she doesn't see it."
Arthur deliberately didn't make a comparison to the last time Hermione had been victim to the poisonous quill of a gossipy writer. He knew there was no reason to bring up the children's fourth year of school, as Molly had never forgiven herself for being so easily taken in.
"Well, the boys are checking the mail and have stopped all their subscriptions. We can only hope."
With a flick of her wand, Molly briskly and neatly cut the offending article out and slipped it into the album before closing it with a softthwump. She leant over and rested her head on Arthur's shoulder. "She's taking it all far too seriously. She's tired - as must be expected, and she was so down when I was there yesterday. I tried to tell the boys to cheer her up." Molly leant her head back so that she could peer up at Arthur, knowing what he was about to say. "I know, I know. They won't thank us for interfering." He chuckled quietly in her ear. It was so lovely to hear him laugh again. She had missed it so much.
"They are both doing well, don't you think, though? The boys."
"Oh those two! Happy as crickets," she replied. "Ron’s working too hard, of course. Proving himself to the club. But Harry is so chuffed with Miranda. Bless him." It warmed her heart to see the way a light had been switched on inside her surrogate son. Her heart had ached for him for so long. As difficult as it had been to watch the three charge ahead into uncharted waters with their relationship, to throw aside so many of the accepted conventions that she had never questioned her whole life - it was worth it, she decided. Worth it to see Ron so sure of himself. So comfortable in his role of protector and lover, husband to both Hermione and Harry. To see Hermione grow into such a lovely young woman, with that beauty about her that only a woman who is truly loved can have.
It was worth it all to see Harry smile.
She let one hand fall on Arthur's leg, and tucked herself in, closer to his side.
Arthur placed his hand over hers and she squeezed it gently as he kissed her neck, just behind her ear. She gave a soft sigh of contentment. Arthur shifted beside her and then Molly felt herself being pushed back a little further into the cushions.
"Arthur Weasley. We have a perfectly good bed up one flight of those stairs."
"And a perfectly good sofa right here underneath us now." Arthur chuckled. "We can blame the existence of the twins on this sofa!"
"Oh, and wouldn’t they just love to know that. They’d never set foot in the living room again."
A smile passed between them as they looked at each other, and remembered.
"I’ve missed you, Arthur."
"I’ve missed you, too, my Molly. I’m sorry I let you down."
"Oh, don’t say such a thing." Her voice was nearly a whisper. "I just didn’t know how to help you."
"You did help me." Arthur bent down and placed his lips over hers and kissed her gently for a moment. After all, he wasn't the only one to have lost children. This remarkable witch had struggled on. Showing nobody but him the anguish she felt as she grieved her only daughter, and the lost years of reconcilliation with her son. The idealism with which he viewed the world was forever scarred now. But it wasn't gone. Not altogether. "You always help me. Just by being here. By being you."
And then they didn’t speak for a while. Instead they lay back in the comfort of the faithful old couch, and remembered some more.
It was a beautiful day. One of the very best that September had to offer. Clear - for now - and crisp, without actually being cold. Nonetheless, Harry took the cloak that had been folded over his arm to resemble a jacket and put it on. He pulled the hood forward to hide his face and then cast a low-level avoidance charm for good measure.
He wasn't hiding. That would mean that they had won. And they had not won. They hadn't made Harry feel ashamed of himself, or his life. He certainly wasn't ashamed of Ron or Hermione. And there wasn't a person on Earth who would be able to make him anything but bursting with pride over their daughter. His daughter. Harry bit his lip as a smile came, unbidden, to his face. His daughter. He was a father.
No. He wasn't hiding. But it was nearly eleven o'clock, and he had to be home soon. He had already been to the local supermarket for cheese and onion crisps for Hermione. He had also picked up some four-packs of lager and several bottles of wine, and was now stepping out of the alleyway that divided the Muggle and Wizarding streets of the village. One more stop for some Ogden's for the twins and he could stroll home before people arrived for lunch.
A vague irritation and feeling of agitation was prodding at Harry's thoughts, but he put it aside. It was nice to be out of the house. The month since Miranda had been born had been so intense. Even without the constant hounding from the press and the pressure of dealing with people outside of their circle, learning and questioning.
Hermione seemed to nap all the time except when she was eating or feeding the baby. This was normal -- according to Ron. He and Harry were being ever so careful not to make any demands on her. None at all. It wouldn't be too long, Ron insisted, until she was warm and affectionate again. So it was nearly five weeks since they had made love. Five weeks since he'd laid a hand on Hermione except to help her out of a chair, or stroke her hair as she slept. It seemed a bit lonely, really. He hadn't realized how much he enjoyed snuggling up between the two of them at night after a shag, though that thought alone seemed too feeble to believe. And lying with a baby next to them was every bit as special.
But they were still together. Still three.
And there was Ron. Ron said the same - how much easier it was this time to stay patient and loving with Hermione, when the two of them could still kiss and touch and come. There had been misunderstandings sometimes, Ron said. The same touch that had made her sigh and melt before Charlotte was born would make her shrug him off, flinch away. They got through it of course. But this was better. They didn't have to push down their need and desire; they could just take care of her without any of that pressure hanging about.
Ron was away a lot with work, though he made a point to Floo home every evening, regardless of where the team was that day. Not that Harry was complaining. It was all so much more amazing and wonderful than he could ever have imagined. To think it was less than a year ago that Hermione and Ron had confronted him in the Leaky Cauldron. What a year.
Harry was glad of the charm that caused people's eyes to slide right over him as though he wasn't there as they walked past, busy over their Saturday shopping. The first thing he saw as he walked into the crooked street was his own face scowling back at him from the front page of the Daily Prophet. He clenched his jaw. Surely there were more important things to write about by now? What about the escaped dragons in Scotland? Or the photos of that Wizengamot member caught with his secretary on holidays in Australia? The secretary was a good-looking bloke too. You'd have thought that would make the front page!
Harry chuckled to himself as he walked into The Phoenix Feathers and picked up a bottle to add to the load-- miniaturised but still heavy-- in the bag slung over his shoulder. The laughter died in his throat as he saw a stand full of copies of the latest Witch Weekly. A bedraggled Hermione was glaring over her shoulder and rolling her eyes at him from a corner of the cover. She hadn't slept or eaten for days when that photo was taken. Bastards.
He stood in front of the shop assistant for several irritated moments before canceling the Obscurus and slamming his money down. The young witch leapt a few inches and looked up from her copy of the magazine, luckily not open at that page. She took a look at who she was serving and quickly slid the magazine under a shelf, then turned back and gave him a full and fake smile. "Will that be all Mr. Potter?" she simpered. Harry simply glared at her and grabbed his change.
The niggle of agitation in the back of his mind increased. It joined with the coil of anger in his belly and he felt a rush of aggression. That was strange, really. It wasn't just his own bitterness but a feeling of being unsettled. It was growing by the second, and all he could think was that he needed to get home. Now.
All thoughts of a lovely stroll in the brisk morning evaporated and Harry looked about for the nearest Floo. He despised the thought of walking back into the shop he had just left, so instead he held his bag close to his chest and Apparated away.
When he appeared in the clearing behind the house, he hurriedly checked that all the miniaturised bottles had survived the trip before rushing through the orchard and into their garden. He was running by the time he reached the French doors that opened in this beautiful weather from the kitchen out to the garden. As he approached he could hear the irate screams of a new baby. He walked into the kitchen to find Hermione - her eyes brimming with unshed tears - sitting in her rocking chair, tucked in next to the cooker, as Miranda cried at her breast. The chair was still.
Harry dumped his bundles onto the sideboard next to a pile of mail. He was about to ask Hermione what was wrong when his eye caught sight of garish lime envelope amidst a number of friendlier looking cards. Poking out of the top was the distinctive pink font of the Witch Weekly.
He crouched down in front of Hermione and put his hands on her legs. "It's rubbish, Hermione. Ignore it."
She sucked in her lips and swallowed a sob. After one brief moment of eye contact she turned and looked into the distance.
Harry gently rubbed little circles with his thumbs onto the soft flannel of her dressing gown. "Hermione, Look at me."
Hermione closed her eyes and leant her head back to rest it against the wooden bar of her chair. Miranda was still hiccuping and wailing in-between attempts to find Hermione's nipple to continue the feed. Harry put his hand around the back of the baby's head and held it up closer to her chest. "Erm... Hermione. I think she wants...." He blinked. Even though he had himself held those very breasts and placed his own mouth on that soft skin, it seemed slightly... impertinent to be so familiar with, well, someone's mother.
The sound of someone knocking on the door and then immediately opening it had Hermione suddenly standing to her feet. "Oh dear! I look such a fright!" She thrust Miranda towards Harry. "Take her. Do. I have to just get dressed, and wash... and.... Please take her. I'll only be a few moments."
Fred called out down the hall way as Hermione fled up the stairs, and Ron and Charlie arrived by Floo from the Burrow.
"She sent us a ham." Ron grinned to Harry, referring to his mother. "Can't help herself! Even though they can't come, still has to send lunch."
"And a cake, Harry. A 'specially delicious looking one!" Little Charlie said, bouncing on her toes.
Miranda was a wobbly bundle of arms and legs that curved gratefully up to Harry's chest, and then curled up like she was back in the womb. Harry noticed that the agitated feeling had left him and he bent down to smell the top of his daughter's head, the shock of black hair tickling at his skin.
Fred's voice got louder as he approached, - "Outside, ya little horror!" - and then a small boy barreled into the breakfast room. He had pale brown skin, black springy hair, and a very loud voice.
"Heya Uncle Harry! Heya Uncle Ron! Heya Charlie!"
"Hello Bobby," Harry murmured as the boy ran about the room. "Fred. Jack." He nodded at his brother-in-law who struggled with a squirmy toddler he held around the middle with one arm, like a rolled up carpet. Carefully supporting his baby's head with his hand, Harry leant back to peer into the hallway.
"You blokes on your own today, then?" asked Ron.
Fred scowled slightly before dumping a casserole dish Harry recognised from the Burrow onto the kitchen table, and setting his younger offspring free, with a push in the direction of the outdoors. Ron raised his eyebrows at Harry and whispered, "I'll take that as a 'Yes', then," in his ear as he walked behind him.
"So, what happened this time?" he asked Fred. "Angelina kicked you out for good?"
"She's pregnant again. It's my fault. Obviously." Fred sat on the edge of the table. "So she's packed up and gone home to her mother's. Again. I have Bobby and Jack on my own for the weekend. Which is just blinking brilliant isn' it? I said OUTSIDE."
Charlie and her cousins giggled and ran back out into the garden.
Ron and Harry turned to look at each other, not quite sure what to say, when the Floo and the front door both rattled at the same time.
Harry took the door, while Ron turned to see who had just arrived in the kitchen. George greeted him with a much lighter tone than his twin, shaking his head with assumed solemnity, "So, it's all finally hit the news, huh? And to think I have been party to such a shocking display of debauchery!" and Luna reached up to kiss him lightly on the cheek. She handed over a large dish of... something purple, to join the table, already looking very full. Remus and Tonks, Neville with his girlfriend Anna, Seamus, Charlie, Bill and Fleur complete with children all arrived within moments of each other. Everyone cooed over the new baby, who remained, oblivious, in Harry's arms, while Ron did the rounds, ensuring that all who wished for a tipple had a glass of something in their hands.
The noise level gradually rose. The hum of conversation, laughter, children's play combined to fill the house.
"I do love coming here," smiled Luna, patting the doorframe affectionately. "It's such a friendly, welcoming home."
"Erm... thanks?" said Ron.
"It is a shame you decided against keeping the original name, though. It was so romantic."
"Forbidden Fruit?" asked Ron. "No thanks."
"It sounds beautiful in welsh."
"Gwaharddedig Aeronen?" Ron looked at Luna with a stony face. "Can you honestly imagine calling that into the Floo? We'd end up with any number of dimwits who sneezed as they threw in the powder!"
Seamus burst out in a sudden chortle. "Brilliant, mate! Can't ya imagine it? Friday nights would be the worst with all the sots trying to get home from the pub!"
"Laugh it up, Finnegan. We'll stick with the English, thank you very much."
"Hermione did some reading on local history before we moved in--" started Ron. Harry chuckled as everyone nodded, as if to say, "Well, yes. Of course she did! "--and since that was in honour of the old Bramley apple orchard on the land next door belonging to the 'Big House' we decided that Bramley Lodge would be a fair tribute."
"Oh no!" said Luna, looking quite surprised, "It was named 'Forbidden Fruit' because this is where the local Lord kept his Mistress! He would pop through that door in the wall every second Thursday. Quite the scandal."
"Enough with the scandals already!" moaned Fred.
Remus chuckled quietly to himself before saying, "At least you are keeping the sense of 'scandal' alive and well. Most excitement this village has seen in generations I'd say. But they'll get used to it soon enough. You'll be old news before long."
"I won't hold my breath if it's all the same to you," muttered Harry.
Neville patted his shoulder sympathetically. "If it's any consolation, it looks like my grandmother has finally accepted that I'm not marrying the very respectable pure blood witch she chose for me when I was still in nappies."
Anna rolled her eyes at him and giggled. "Or me!"
"We could always leak that story to the press to take the pressure off you lot! 'Boy Who Could Have Been The Boy Who Lived - Shacks Up With Muggle Girlfriend', " George motioned his hand along in the air in front of him, indicating a newspaper headline. " 'Herbology World in Turmoil!!' "
Neville blushed and ducked his face behind Anna's pretty blonde head. He mumbled something that could have been "Bugger off!" before joining in the laughter.
"What about yer man Lee Jordan?" Seamus called out. "Surely him coming out of the closet rates a mention in the "Where Are They Now?" of the Dumbledore's Army!"
"You leave Lee out of this," growled George.
"Hey I'm not taking the piss! Good for him I say." Seamus held his hands up in surrender.
"Don't know why you're so hett up over it all, Brother," cajoled Fred. "I'm the one with the penchant for luscious dark skin. Not that it's doing me much good at present. You're settled down nicely with the fair Lu-Lu over there."
Bill strode over and took his place at George's shoulder. "Shut it Fred." Ron watched Charlie look from one twin to the other, evidently working out how to diffuse the growing tension. Luna stroked her husband's hand and looked out of the window.
Whatever was going to be said next was interrupted by the children storming in en masse demanding food and the large room was filled with a burst of activity as lunch was organized. The sideboard was cleared quickly and set up as a table for the children, who seemed now unable to sit down long enough to eat. The adults were just getting themselves sorted out when Little Charlie's voice piped up over the burble of conversation. "Oooh, is that a photograph of Mummy? I thought she wasn't famous anymore!"
Ron stood to his feet and joined the chorus of gasps as Harry jumped up, jiggling Miranda who slept, undisturbed, in the crook of his left arm. "Give that to me, Charles," he said striding over to take the offending piece of parchment from her.
"What's a se-duc-ress?" she asked him.
"Bloody hell, Harry, I thought you cleared that rubbish away!"
Before Harry could respond, Fleur spoke up, "'Ermione? She ees not 'ere. She ees resting per'aps?"
"I'm here," said a voice at the foot of the stairs.
Ron bounded over. "There's the Birthday Girl!" he chirped in an overly bright voice. Ron watched Hermione look at Little Charlie and then at the assembled family and friends. She seemed to take in a deep breath before smiling at them all, walking over and sitting herself down into her usual rocking chair near the stove. Conversation started up around them again. After a few moments she looked up and smiled at him.
"All right there, love?" he asked.
"Of course," she answered. "It's my birthday."
Hermione slowly cracked open one eye. A tired squint about confirmed that she was in the conservatory, lying on the comfortable couch they had put in between the geraniums. The diffuse light suggested that it was dusk. She felt Charlotte curled up at her side, and a weight over her legs told her that someone had laid a blanket over them both. The gritty feeling behind her eyelids and heaviness in her stomach told her she had only slept long enough to remind her body how very tired she was. Hermione closed her eyes again, but sleep eluded her.
It had been a good day, Hermione admitted to herself, though it hadn't started off well.
It had been extremely unpleasant to go from opening birthday cards to reading the screaming accusations that had spewed from the bitter quill of Marietta Edgecomb. She couldn't really blame her for holding a grudge, even though Hermione had sent the counter jinx several years ago to the pimple curse that marred Marietta's face. Obviously she still had a score to settle. And they were providing perfect ammunition.
Hermione clenched her teeth and determined to put the unpleasantness out of her head. She still had the rest of her birthday to enjoy. Hopefully the boys had some dinner planned. She hadn't really eaten much at lunch.
She had come down the stairs-- after her undignified exit -- showered and dressed and feeling much more herself. She had dreaded the sympathetic looks and kind scrutiny of their family and friends, but had instead been treated with offhand friendliness and ended up casually drawn into a conversation with Tonks and Fleur about the future of the Werewolf Registration System. So lunch had not ended up being a chore at all, and if she had felt slightly removed from the hilarity, it was only to be expected.
Miranda was a completely different baby than Charlotte had been. Hermione had found the more fretful child quite bewildering. Harry and Ron were both blissfully happy over them all, though, and watching their beaming faces was the bright spot in her rather bleary waking hours. They were both so considerate of her -- preparing food, looking after Charlotte, dealing with the unpleasantness that the press had brought with them....
Hermione tried to push away the sense of loneliness, of homesickness that she got when she thought about the way their relationship seemed to have changed. She wasn't the one who looked after them anymore. In fact, they were coping so well she occasionally felt just a touch unnecessary. And as much as she was relieved that neither man had even wondered out loud when she would be feeling sexual again, she couldn't help but think they just simply didn't find her attractive anymore.
It dawned on Hermione that Miranda wasn't with her. Her breasts were feeling rather full so she heaved herself up into a sitting position, without disturbing Charlotte who slept on, exhausted from a day spent racing about like a mad thing with her cousins. Muffled sounds floated down from the upper storey of the house, so Hermione got herself a glass of water in the sparkling kitchen -- no doubt Fleur had orchestrated the tidy up, in lieu of Molly's bustling presence -- and then plodded up the stairs to find her daughter and give her a feed.
"Shhh Ron! You'll wake her up," snorted a muffled voice.
"Here you go Angel," answered Ron. "She loves that hammock!"
There was silence for a few moments as Hermione approached the door of their bedroom, and then a burst of... was Ron giggling?
"Stop! Stop Harry!" The hissed voices continued. "Okayokayokay... you win!"
Hermione edged forward and peaked around the door from the darkened hallway. There was still just enough light coming in through the window so that she could see Harry sitting astride Ron, his wrists held in one of Harry's hands. The other hand was poised ready to strike.
"No more tickling! I give, I give!"
Harry flexed his fingers menacingly over Ron's bared stomach and chuckled. "So. I win, yeah?"
Suddenly Ron flipped Harry over, and he was sitting triumphantly on top of Harry's legs. He grabbed Harry's hands and held them to the mattress above his head.
A violent-- though silent-- battle ensued, with each one wrestling for supremacy. The duvet tangled at the foot of the bed before falling to the floor in a heap. Ron started to shake with laughter again, batting Harry's hands away as he struggled to regain his composure. He managed to catch them again, and held them still in the air in front of him.
"No, Harry. I don't think so." Hermione could hear the barely contained laughter bubbling under the hushed voice. "It seems that I shall be the victor. One little poke in the ribs and you'll be squealing like a girl."
Harry's legs thrashed about underneath Ron's larger weight, pulling the sheet loose from the corner and kicking several pillows off the bed altogether.
"What now, Weasley?" he taunted quietly, "Can't tickle me. If you let me go I'll get you."
Instead of answering, Ron leant forward and hooked his bare feet in over Harry's shins, stopping him from flipping them over again.
"You--" He managed a quick regrip on Harry's wrists, "--are all talk, Potter."
"Don't you think I can do it? Just try me...."
"You are all talk," interrupted Ron. "You want me to win. You like me on top."
Harry squirmed and grunted out something indistinguishable. There was a chuckle as Ron ground his hips down on Harry who let out a strangled whimper and tried once more to buck Ron off.
Ron stretched his legs out, down Harry's shins until their feet tangled together.
"You like me on top," repeated Ron in a husky whisper as he leant forward, hovering over Harry. "You love it when I own you." He brushed his lips over Harry's cheeks. "You. Love it." A gentle kiss teased Harry's mouth. Both boys were still for a moment, the evening light silhouetting them in tableau. The sound of ragged breathing filling the space around them.
Ron slowly lowered his chest down until he lay stretched out on top of Harry. They stared at each other for another long moment before their mouths crashed together.
Ron let go of his hands and wrapped his arms around the top of Harry's head, taking his weight on his elbows and knees. Harry's hands stroked up Ron's arms and around his shoulders and down his sides before tracing their way back the way they'd come. Again his hands followed that path - this time he tried to continue to Ron's stomach, but found his way blocked by Ron's own arms. Harry pulled his hands off and wriggled them in and under so he could insinuate his fingers up under the hem of Ron's T-shirt, playing with the top of his jeans, then patting around until his hands rested on Ron's arse.
Ron stopped kissing Harry for a moment and sat back, resting on his heels causing Harry's arms to drop to his side. Ron watched his hands slide down Harry's body, his fingertips lightly caressing down his legs and back up. Harry reached his hands out and Ron's fingers played with his for a moment before they clasped their hands together. Harry bit his lip and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.
Ron leant forward to kiss Harry again and they tumbled over until he was lying on his back. Their legs twisted around each other, and Ron's hands came to rest on Harry's sides, little fingers teasing the skin that showed above his belt.
Alone in the dark hallway, Hermione slid down the wall until she sat with her knees underneath her chin. Her breasts were tingling - full of milk not arousal - and she felt a droplet slide down from her nipple onto her stomach. There was none of the usual thrill and heat that accompanied watching her boys together.
She felt empty. She felt alone.
"They really don't need me," she whispered into the darkness. "They don't need me at all."
NB. Ron's joke about the floo courtesy of Oncelikeshari.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: Singing Light Songs to the Heavy Hearted
Harry and Little Charlie stumbled out of the Floo, and into the kitchen at Bramley Lodge.
No matter how many times Harry travelled through the magical fireplaces, he never quite timed his arrival correctly. He quickly grabbed the little girl around the waist before she fell, and deposited her on her feet next to the kitchen table. Charlotte giggled as usual, before skipping over to look in the biscuit tin. Her little face pouted as she saw that it was still empty.
"Mummy still hasn't made more biscuits! We should have asked Granny for some."
"Mummy is tired. How 'bout you and I make some tomorrow?" Harry looked around for Hermione and Miranda. He thought he heard them upstairs. Miranda didn't sound too happy. "Anyway, Granny gave us some cake that we can have for tea later. Let's get it ready for Mum and Dad."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck. The feeling of irritability was back, though he'd been nicely free of it all day up until this moment. They had spent a lovely morning at The Burrow with Molly and Arthur. Little Charlie had raced about and yelled at the top of her lungs, enjoying the rare freedom of no baby to wake up. Ron had gone with them to say hello to his parents, before setting off for the quarterly Quidditch Union meeting. Most of Harry's time had been spent in Arthur's shed, helping him to charm a lawn mower to work without petrol, ready for the return of spring.
Hermione had stayed at home.
The winter was closing in around them, and as the days got shorter, Hermione had seemed to be more and more tired. Harry had mentioned it to Ron a few times, but Ron had tried to reassure him that it was very normal. Why wouldn't she be tired with a second baby to look after?
"I don't know how Mum did it. Really I don't. Seven of us tearing the place apart."
"But Angel is nearly three months old. Shouldn't Hermione be starting to feel more herself by now?"
It's not as though she has to do it all on her own. Harry did the cooking, and any day to day cleaning that didn't get done by Dobby on his weekly visit. Most of Harry's schemes for improving the house had to be put off until the warm weather, but he and Neville had completed the large green house in time for there to be loads of seedlings to tend through winter.
Harry had to squash down his resentment. It was like she just didn't care that much about them anymore. About him. The supposed "six week ban" should have been over weeks ago, but she still showed no signs at all of wanting to join in when he and Ron were lying together next to her in the bed. They would each reach out to her, and she would smile at them, and then roll over and go to sleep. Ron would hold her sometimes and she would melt in his arms, but when Harry stroked her arm, or touched her face, she would shrink away, ever so slightly. It left a gaping feeling in his chest, and he would have to remind himself to breathe. To not let the smile slip off his face. It would take all his self-control to not lash out, or walk away, sulk, pout... cry. Instead he would try and concentrate on the girls. Smile at them. Hold them. Remind himself that he was the grown up now. He wouldn't leave his girls, to protect himself.
When he wasn't feeling resentful, Harry could recognise that he missed Hermione. She had always been a presence in his life. A feisty, opinionated presence. He was honest enough to realise that he was used to her looking after him. To her being strong for him. She was so different to the Hermione he had always known. Especially when contrasted to the woman who had spent a great deal of her recent pregnancy in a near constant state of arousal.
The woman who had had those dreams.
More than once he had woken in the night to feel Hermione stretching and flexing next to him. Absolutely asleep. But also rocking her hips slightly. Pressing up against his back. A throaty 'hmmm' issuing from her lips. Sometimes Ron would wake up as well.
Sometimes Ron would wake and be stroking himself, his eyes fixed on his wife.
Sometimes Ron would wake and reach out to take hold of Harry, and they would silently bring each other to climax, watching as Hermione held her breath for a moment and clutched at her pillow.
"Told you," Ron would breathe against Harry's neck. "So fucking hot." Then Harry would close his eyes and pretend to sleep as Hermione sat up and whispered "Oh my...."
When he would dare to peek again, she would by asleep once more, as would Ron, and Harry would lie awake in the dreamy half light, thanking his lucky stars to be there, with his two snoring Wheezies.
"Come on Charles. Let's set the table."
Harry could still hear Miranda. I hope she didn't just cry all morning, he thought, Hermione won't be in a better mood if that happened.
The men had decided that perhaps a morning with no other responsibilities than to lie and feed their new daughter would be the rest that Hermione needed to get some of her spark back. She had always enjoyed time to herself. Reading of course. Now it would be sleeping.
Harry sighed and rubbed his neck again.
They would make it through this. No way could a tiny little person like Miranda break up a friendship that had lasted more than twelve years. A relationship. A marriage. Harry felt his chest tighten up again. He had to distract himself.
"Let's use the pretty plates, Harry," said Little Charlie as she skipped over to the cupboard to find them.
It had to be possible to make it through these hard times. Look at Arthur and Molly. They were still in love. It was possible.
It meant so much to Harry to have Arthur -- such a kind and generous man-- in his life. There had been a sense of awkwardness when Ron had first broken the news about them to his parents. Harry was glad to see that it had passed. Once or twice, Harry had almost broken his silence and asked for Arthur's advice about Hermione. He couldn't ask Molly, though she would love nothing more than have him sit with her over a pot of tea and pick their relationship apart, righting all wrongs, and Scourgifying any problems away. But it had felt a little too much like a betrayal. If Ron or Hermione hadn't said anything, then Harry wasn't really sure if it was his place to. Even though it is my life too. He supposed it was just one of those things they had to work out for themselves.
Another desolate wail drifted down the stairs.
Harry looked around for Hermione. She must be busy downstairs, to have not responded to the baby's cry by now.
"Where do you think Mum is, Charles?"
"In the library? That's her favouritest place in the house."
"Good thinking! I'll go find her while you get the table sorted, alright?"
Concern was prickling at his mind. Hermione never left the baby without a personal Sonorous charm cast, or at the very least a wireless extendable ear, so she could hear them if they so much as squeaked, no matter where she was.
The wail was starting to sound more frantic, so Harry decided to go get the baby first, and find Hermione next.
He took the stairs two at a time, striding quickly to the first door on the right.
The light was dim, as the curtains were pulled shut. Harry looked into the room and was shocked to realise that the crying was coming from the floor. A furious, squirming figure was lying on the thick rug next to the bed, red in the face, and covered in perspiration.
"Hey, it's ok.... Shhh.... Daddy's here, Angel." Harry held the little body to his chest, patting her back gently, rocking from side to side.
His heart thumped in his chest. He wondered how long Miranda had been lying there, crying her heart out. Hermione never forgot the cushioning charms. Ever. She was as meticulous in her care of the children as she was in everything.
He sat down and examined the tiny girl. She seemed ok, with no marks or obvious injuries from her fall from the bed. Harry blessed Hermione's insistence at having something warm and soft on the floor to save their feet from the cold boards when getting out of bed.
The next thing he noticed chilled him to the bone.
Hermione was in the bed behind him.
And she wasn't sleeping. She was simply staring at the wall, her chest rising and falling with her slow breaths.
"Hermione... Hermione?" Her eyes didn't flicker or show any sign that she was aware that he had arrived home at all.
Harry settled the baby in one arm and reached over to shake her with the other. She slowly turned to face him. Her face frowning slightly as she realised who it was.
"Harry. Did you forget something? I thought you were going to The Burrow." Her voice sounded heavy, listless.
"Hermione, we've been there all morning. We've been gone at least... five hours."
"Oh, I must have drifted off. So sorry." Hermione's face stayed blank, despite her words of apology.
"Miranda was screaming when I got here. Did you not hear her?" For some reason, Harry felt uncomfortable telling her that the baby had actually fallen off the bed. Something was definitely wrong with Hermione, and he felt the inexplicable need to protect her from knowledge of her mistake.
"Give her here, Harry. She's probably hungry."
"Her nappy is soaking. I'll just change her first."
Hermione didn't answer, simply laid her reaching arms back down, and rolled onto her other side away from the door.
Changing nappies was one of the times that Harry was so grateful to be a wizard. A simple charm removed the soiled nappy and banished it to the utility room ready to be washed. A gentle Aguamenti to rinse the delicate skin and then Harry summoned a clean nappy from the pile in the corner.
Hermione could put a nappy on perfectly with a spell, but Harry never managed to do it properly, and the nappy would get all baggy within minutes unless he put it on by hand. Not that Harry minded, of course. Caring for his little daughter was, quite simply, pure joy.
He saw shadows of his own expressions cross her face, and recognised the makings of his father's nose. The fact that her hair was pitch black and stood out in different directions, made him feel a little more kindly towards his own unruly locks. And there was no doubt at all that this child was going to have green eyes.
Pulling her little smock down and patting it in place over the Molly-knitted nappy cover, Harry lifted Miranda up and over to Hermione. Hermione hadn't moved at all, and didn't seem to have noticed that he had finished with the change.
Harry stood and walked around to the other side of the bed.
Again, she was simply staring into space. Not asleep.
"Hermione," he said again. "Miranda's ready for a feed."
Her eyes slowly tracked up to his face. Without speaking Hermione reached out a second time for her daughter. Harry laid the baby next to her on the bed as she organised herself to latch her on for her milk. He silently cast the charm to cushion the baby from falling.
Hermione's eyes drifted shut as the baby noisily drank as though she'd never been fed before.
Harry tiptoed out of the room, his mind troubled and a frown on his face.
Making his way downstairs, Harry saw Ron crouching down, in conference with Little Charlie. Ron was holding one of her hands in both of his, raising and lowering his eyebrows with hers as she spoke. Harry couldn't help but smile, just a little.
"So a fun time was had at The Burrow?" Ron's smiling face beamed up at him before turning back to listen to important details of gnomes tossed and games won. At news of the cake Ron sprang to his feet, rubbing his hands together.
"Lead on, Charlie. You've got two hungry Dads, and we want our tea!"
Ron slyly patted Harry's bum before taking his daughter's hand as they walked into the large kitchen where Little Charlie had tried to finish setting the table. The plates and cups were arranged haphazardly around the cake, and there were several jam jars filled with paper flowers. The little girl grinned at them, very pleased with the result.
"Looks brilliant, pumpkin. I'm famished!" said Ron. "Bloody Q.U.A.B.B.L.E. never has decent food put on. Lasted all day on weak tea and soggy biscuits!"
He opened the door of the fridge, reached in and picked up a cold roast potato. His eyes closed as he bit down and the potato disappeared in two bites.
"Sodding photographers were waiting at the grounds. Had to sneak out the backway of the clubhouse. Get this. Can you believe Stan asked if we were all going to the Cannons Christmas party? I told him to bugger off! Christmas Circus more like if we went. Press would just love it, wouldn't they?" He picked up another spud. "Wouldn't put Hermione through that even if I wanted to go. But you'd dance with me, wouldn't you Harry?"
Ron smirked at the idea of Harry dancing at a Christmas party. Of Harry going to a Christmas party. He picked up the plate, and started in on the rest of the left overs. "Saw Edgecomb there today. She just can't let it go, can she? I heard she's after an interview. We'll have to start watching the owls again." He ran his finger around the edge of the plate and scooped up the remaining gravy. "Mmmm," he breathed, "That's better."
A flick of his wand sent the empty plate to the sink. He looked around. "Where's Hermione and the ickle Angel? Did she enjoy her rest?"
"Ron, something's not right."
Something in the tone of Harry's voice made Ron look more closely at him. It was the first thing he'd said since Ron had arrived home.
"Why? What's happened?"
Little Charlie tapped Ron's hand and shook her finger at him as he reached across the table to take a piece of cake. "We're waiting for Mummy!"
"Sorry sweetheart." Ron turned around and leaned his hip against the table. "So, what's got your knickers in a twist, Harry? I told you it's normal for a new Mum to be a bit knackered for a while. She'll be fine."
"She's not fine, Ron. When we got home Miranda was screaming the place down, and Hermione hardly seemed to notice."
Harry took Ron's arm and pulled him away from the table, and away from the little girl who was busying herself with forks and teaspoons. He lowered his voice before continuing, "The baby had fallen off the bed, Ron, and Hermione was lying right next to her staring at the wall."
Ron felt a cold weight drop into his stomach on top of the quickly eaten lunch, and the smile fell from his face.
"What the...? Is the baby ok? Are you saying she didn't pick her up? Is she sick? Does she have a temperature?"
"No, just kind of... blank. Look, I haven't wanted to worry you. Work is hectic. You've got a lot on your mind. And it's not that I can't handle it here. It's just.... Ron I'm really worried about her. Maybe some sort of virus? Or ...infection from the birth or... something?"
Ron rubbed his thumb over the crease between Harry's eyes. He really did look concerned.
His hand dropped to Harry's shoulder, and he pulled him in for a brief hug before leaving the room and going up the stairs.
Hermione heard the door open and footsteps come over to the bed. She willed herself to open her eyes and smile at Ron. She knew it was Ron. His step was different from Harry's. Somehow, she just couldn't find the energy to acknowledge his presence as he sat on the bed next to her and the now sleeping baby.
She felt a gentle hand smooth the hair off her forehead and then full lips place a kiss there. A small smile curved her mouth.
"Hey love. Tea's on. Mum made a cake."
The heavy blanket of listlessness fell back down and covered her.
Tea. Cake. Molly.
The kitchen seemed too far to go for something as trivial as a cake.
"Mmmm. I'm a bit tired. You go on and have some. I might take a nap."
"You've slept all morning, love. Come on. A cup of tea and some company will be good. Charlie wants to tell you about her day."
"No really. I'm just not feeling up to it. Thanks anyway, darling. Maybe later. Send Charlotte up after she's had her tea."
"Awww, Hermione. She hasn't seen you all day. Just come down for a couple of minutes, yeah?"
Hermione's eyes snapped open and glared at her husband. "Look Ron. I said No! Why can't you bloody well leave me alone?"
Ron just stared at Hermione. He had heard her swear exactly three times in his life. Once was during childbirth, and twice in the heat of battle.
The baby screwed up its face at the sound of the angry voice and started to whimper.
"Oh god, and now the baby's awake. Could you take her for me, please Ron? You're better at calming her down than I am."
Hermione closed her eyes against the shock on Ron's face and willed herself to drift back into the inky darkness that had clouded her thoughts all day. It wasn't exactly pleasant, but still it felt much easier to deal with than the sense of failure that overwhelmed her when she considered what a pathetic job she was doing as a wife and mother. And lover. With Harry and Miranda in the family, there were just two more people to let down.
"Please," she whispered and lifted her hands away from the baby, so that Ron could scoop her up.
She heard his footsteps stop at the doorway, and held her breath until he continued out and down the stairs, the sound of crying fading as he went.
Ron stared out the window of the conservatory, not seeing the afternoon light as it danced it's way across the backyard, dappled by the overhanging branches of the huge, bare apple tree.
His gaze fixed at middle distance as he didn't listen to the sound of Little Charlie coming in from the greenhouse with Harry. Nor did he listen to the sounds in the bathroom as a bath was prepared, or Harry's yelps as he avoided getting soaked by the water sloshing out of the tub.
Harry was right. Something was wrong with Hermione.
And he hadn't noticed.
He always noticed Hermione. Everything about her.
Why had he not noticed this?
He had thought they were doing the right thing, he and Harry. It had seemed so much simpler when they joked about it before the little Angel was born. Hermione had joked about it. What a relief it would be not to have someone groping her in the middle of the night when she just wanted some sleep! But knowing she wasn't denying them anything because they had each other to turn to. Not like last time, after Charlie was born, when he'd be almost bursting for a fuck, and she'd squeeze her eyes shut, trying to relax and let him in, but then shake her head. No. No, Ron. I'm sorry. I'm just not ready. He'd breathe deeply and hold her while she cried. Tell her it was okay. Really. I'm fine. Shhhh, I love you. There's no hurry. And then he'd sneak out into the loo and have a quick wank, just so that he could sleep.
But at least then he'd been watching her. Trying so hard to work her out, so nothing had escaped his notice.
This time he had felt so relaxed. He'd revelled in seeing Harry so thrilled to be a father, all the horrors of the past finally behind them. He would atch Harry's face after they'd had sex, knowing that he was the one who had made him look so peaceful.
Still, he had missed the closeness with Hermione like he'd miss a limb if it was cut off, or his broom if he could no longer fly, but he was so busy not putting pressure on her, he'd lost sight of what she was feeling, altogether.
And now she was sad. Or ill. Or not in love with him anymore.
He jiggled the baby as she squirmed in the crook of his arm. She was going to wake soon. He needed to think about what to do next.
Ron looked around until he spotted a purple piece of velvet looped over the back of a chair. With the ease of practise he set the hammock up one handed and gently deposited the still sleeping infant, pushing gently to start it swaying.
Tossing a pinch of Floo powder into the fireplace he knelt, leant his head into the green flame, and said firmly "The Burrow!"
Once more, the sound of the door opening penetrated Hermione's awareness. The baby was again at her breast, but sleeping, her little mouth fluttering vaguely every few minutes. The step was familiar, but not usually heard upstairs. Hermione was almost tempted to open her eyes to see what had brought her all the way to the family bedroom.
The mattress dipped as someone sat at her back. She felt a small, rough hand pat her cheek and then gently stroke the perpetual mess that was her hair, spread out on the pillow.
"So.... How are you, dear?" Molly asked quietly.
Hermione considered her answer. Fine would be perceived as an insult, a rejection. Numb would be overly dramatic and tired elicit an effort to buck her up.
What Hermione really wanted was for Molly to just tell her that everything was all right. To take over the care of the baby. Tend to Charlotte. To do so well, what she had always done so well. Take care of Ron and Harry.
"They would be fine with you looking after them.They don't really need me now--" she whispered to Molly.
"The babies?" Molly asked her just as she continued to speak.
"--Now that they are in love. They have each other."
"What is this nonsense?" Molly said gently. "You are the centre of this home. They all need you. Now more than ever."
Hopelessness sank heavier over Hermione's mind.
"I can't do it, Molly."
"Of course you can. Just as you have done before. Risen to whatever challenge faced you."
"I miss my Mum. I have you, of course. I mean, we still have you, will always have you, but.... I do miss.... I do miss her."
"Yes, dear. I know. I know."
"And they are trapped here in this house with me. The papers won't let us step foot anywhere without...." Hermione could feel herself drowning in guilt. It washed over her, robbing her words, and her thoughts, and her desire to move. She thought of the life that the boys could have without her. How much easier for them to just be together. But she couldn't do it. She was too selfish. She wanted them so badly. Wanted them to want her, to need her again. "It's all just too much. I don't have enough.... I can't do enough.... I'm just not enough.... "
Tears dribbled down Hermione's cheeks and wet her pillow.
"Oh you foolish girl," Molly chided her gently. "You are all they need, dear. More than they could ever, ever want. So much more than enough. And enough is as good as a feast."
Hermione felt Molly's hand slowly stroking her hair. Heard the crooning comforting words. The words became a rough melody.
She sank down into sleep.
Harry looked into the cauldron hissing away on the ring at the back of the cooker. The aqua potion looked shimmery and light. It smelled sweet.
He stirred it a few times before pulling it off the heat, as directed by Molly's message that he'd found on the table. It was next to another small roll of parchment and a basket of biscuits and little cakes.
Harry unrolled the scroll as he investigated the contents of the basket.
Dear Ron and Harry,
That girl is depressed. She needs some affection and time to adjust, she had written.
This potion will help her feel a little more on top of things, but is NOT the answer.
I expect you two boys to look after her properly.
Don't expect her to keep your lives running for you at the moment. She has enough on her plate.
She needs to do nothing more than sleep, feed the baby, and get out of doors every day.
And it wouldn't be too much to ask for you to hold that blessed baby while she takes a shower.
Now is the time to grow up and accept the responsibilities you have taken upon yourselves.
P.S. Dad will be around later to see if you need anything.
Harry bit into a biscuit.
P.P.S. Don't eat the biscuits. They are for Little Charlie.
Harry looked over his shoulder before quickly popping the rest into his mouth.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3: The Crumbs of Your Gossip
Hermione lay with her eyes closed. It was nearly time to get up. Miranda was starting to stir a little where she lay in the crook of her arm. Hermione wondered if she could manage to feed her back to sleep and snatch a few more moments of rest before the day really began. Not that the prospect was really so grim. She felt rather as though she was coming out of a fog. The last months were very unclear in her mind, and her memory of them was sketchy at best, but today didn't hang over her as heavily as she was expecting it to. As humiliating as it had been to need Molly's Leto Sursum potion, she had to admit that life was looking much less overwhelming than it had before.
She reluctantly opened her eyes and fiddled about with her shirt. As she looked over at the boys she noticed that Harry was awake and reaching for his glasses. When she looked up again from her daughter she felt Harry's concerned eyes on her. She shrugged off a twinge of irritation at his solicitousness and smiled at him. Guilt flooded her as she saw his expression relax, the relief plain on his face. He grinned back at her.
"Morning. Sleep well?"
"Not too bad," she whispered back. "Much better than usual." She stretched out her hand and again felt a stab of regret when Harry took it with a look of grateful surprise. He curled her fingers into his and leant down to kiss her palm. Ron's stomach gave a huge gurgle behind them, and they both swallowed a giggle. Harry squeezed Hermione's fingers once more before releasing her hand and shuffling out from underneath the duvet and off the bed.
"Porridge?" he asked as he put his slippers on.
"Please," she smiled again as she closed her eyes and listened to Harry padding along the hall and downstairs.
Maybe today wouldn't be so bad.
Harry could hear Little Charlie chattering away in the next room. She was totally absorbed in an elaborate game of make believe which seemed to require every toy in the house to be included as she set up a world of dragons and unicorns that covered every inch of the large playroom. The voices of the toys that were charmed to speak responded in character to the rambling storyline that was just as entertaining to listen to as the wireless.
He and Charlotte had left the rest of the family dozing in the living room.
They made a beautiful picture lying together on the thick rug near the fire. Ron had his head on Hermione's lap, and Miranda tummy down on his chest.
Lunch was finished with; the tidying up done, and a stew was gently burbling in a cauldron on the back of the cooker ready for the evening meal.
Harry was surprised at how much he enjoyed this domestic stuff. With the Dursleys it had been a sign of his low importance, of their power over him. He was given the jobs that no one else wanted to do. This was different. He was choosing to make life more comfortable for people he loved, and he found it oddly calming. Even the more mundane tasks.
The voice from the fireplace interrupted Harry's musings as he pottered about in the kitchen.
"You on house elf duty again, mate?"
"Hello Fred." He knew not to rise to the bait. "Everything all right?"
"Yeah. Bit hung over, but not too bad."
"Big night out?"
"Nah. Just a night in with George and Lee and the girls."
"So what's new?"
"Well, Angelina's having twins, mate."
"Twins? Wow. Erm.... Congratulations?"
"Yeah. Thanks. She's not even four months and is the size of a bloody house already. We're all in for a wild ride with this one. You know the best bit, though?"
"What's that?" asked Harry, quailing slightly at the thought of how Angelina's temper would be by the end of this pregnancy.
"Not my fault."
"Oh, that's she's pregnant? Definitely my fault. That it's twins? Her mother's! HA!"
"Yeah mate. Remember? Mrs Johnson is a twin. How brilliant is that?"
"Well. That's great news I suppose. You letting everyone know, today then? How did Molly take it?"
"Flooed Mum and Dad just before. Mum's over the moon of course. Dad went pale." Fred let out a huge guffaw. "I'm just waiting for the 'Now you'll get some of your own back' comments to start."
Harry chuckled along with him.
"How's Lee, then? Did he bring a date?"
"Nah. Still flying free. Wish he would bring someone though. Hate him feeling like the fifth wheel. I think Luna kept him entertained. Never knew Lee could blush before. I'll have to find out what she was asking him about."
"Invite him along next Saturday. He knows he's always welcome, yeah?" said Harry as he levitated the sweepings and then tipped them into the rubbish. "He can come here and be scandalous with us!"
"Sure thing." Fred bit his lip and paused for a moment before speaking again. "So... Harry. Have you seen the papers today?"
"Uh-uh Angel," said Ron, gently pulling on the sleeve of Miranda's tiny jacket. Her arms flailed about for a moment before her thumb found its way back into her mouth. Her eyes widened and she sucked furiously for the moment before Ron took hold of her sleeve once more.
"Here. Try this, poppet," and he picked up a soft toy lying next to her on the living room rug. Both her hands clenched around it and put it straight into her mouth. "See?" he cooed, "The dragon is much tastier than your grubby old thumb!"
"She's only three months old, Ron," said Harry. He walked over and crouched down next to where Ron sat legs spread-eagled either side of the little girl lying in front of him. Harry propped his elbows on his knees, and balanced on the balls of his feet. "How did her thumb get grubby? She's hardly been digging in the garden just yet!"
Ron chuckled and grinned at Harry. "Yeah, I know mate. But believe me, it won't be long and she'll be getting into things you'd rather not think about! Best she not get too attached to that thumb now, since she'll only have to give it up later on, anyway. Won't you, you little Angel? Yes you will!" He grinned down at their daughter and cooed for a few moments. "So who was on the Floo?"
"Oh yeah? What did he want? Angelina still there?" He held his finger out for Miranda to grab and waggled it around, pulling slightly at her grip. He stroked over her black hair, feeling it spring back up as his hand passed over her head.
"Yeah. And definitely still pregnant. Twins, actually."
Ron threw back his head and laughed. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke. Can't argue with the Weasley fertility, mate." He redirected the baby's hand to the toy again as she went to put her thumb back into her mouth.
It took a few moments before Ron realised that Harry hadn't agreed with him. Or laughed. Or said anything at all, actually.
Keeping his head low, he glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw Harry looking past Miranda and --oh bugger-- scowling slightly. Ron took in a deep breath but held off the sigh. That particular brooding look did not bode well. He had to break into the silence now or Harry would descend into a gloom that could follow them all around for days.
"Harry?" he asked, leaning over slightly to nudge Harry with his shoulder. There was no answer for several moments before Harry spoke.
"If she wants to suck her thumb, let her. She's just a baby. What harm could it possibly do?"
Ron felt relieved. Is that all? Phew. Easy stuff.
"Nah, mate. It's not a good thing. Artificial source of comfort." Ron was pleased with himself for remembering Hermione's phrase. "If Miranda needs a feed, or needs comfort then she can have them. The real thing."
"What if she just wants to suck her thumb?" Harry said flatly.
"She wouldn't. She would do that to substitute it for something else. We also don't want to contribute to nipple confusion." Hermione could convince Harry by proxy, Ron thought.
"Maybe she does want to though. Maybe it just feels nice."
"Harry, what's the big deal? We don't want a kid who sucks their thumb, all right? She'll end up with buck teeth and speech problems. Plus it's just a bit gross. Makes sense to break the habit now when she doesn't really know what's going on."
Harry stood up and walked to the window. Ron turned from Miranda to watch him. He felt rather bewildered. Harry was really making something out of this. And he still wouldn't meet his eye.
"I don't care. I don't care if she sucks her thumb. I don't care if she gets buck teeth." Harry turned to Ron and folded his arms. "We're wizards Ron. If Hermione is worried about that stuff she's forgetting what she did with her own teeth!" He crossed the floor and stooped down in front of Ron and picked the baby up. The dragon dropped from her grasp and her lip started to quiver. "If my daughter wants to suck her thumb then she can suck her sodding thumb!"
Ron sat dumbstruck, gaping at Harry.
"What did you say?"
"I said if my daughter wants--"
"I did hear you, actually. I just wasn't sure I heard you right." Ron scrambled to his feet. "Is this a territorial thing, Harry? Your daughter? As in, not mine? Is that your point? Is it Harry?"
Hermione walked in at that point only just visible behind an enormous basket of clean washing that she levitated in front of her. She looked at Ron glaring at Harry. He was obviously livid -- ears glowing and neck flushed -- and seemed to be taking it out on the discarded toy dragon, twisting its tail and picking at the horns. Harry's eyes flicked from him to Hermione and then he turned and looked back out the window.
"Something wrong?" Hermione asked softly.
"Apparently there is," growled Ron dropping the toy back onto the rug. "Harry here was just putting me in my place."
"What on Earth?" Hermione put the basket down next to the sofa, ignoring the way the top of the pile tumbled down and tipped all over the couch. She walked over to the window and kissed Miranda on the top of her head as she squirmed about in her daddy's arms. "Harry?"
"It's not like that, Ron."
"Well what is it like, mate? Because that's exactly what it sounded like to me."
Harry kept his glare directed out at the empty flowerbeds. He tried not to think too much about his conversation with Fred. Determined to not put his hand in his pocket and look at the piece of parchment Fred had handed over, rescued before Molly could put it in her album. Thought you'd better be forewarned, mate. There's a big article in the Witch Weekly's 'Year in Review' edition. I'm afraid you lot were the big story of 2004.
Fred's voice rang in his ears, reading the headline - "But What About The Children?"
Harry shook his head. It was ridiculous to even give it a moment's thought. Marietta Edgecomb was talking straight out of her arse. She had no basis for questioning how they parented their kids.
"Whose child is she really? Sources close to the family say that while Harry Potter may be the Saviour of the Wizarding World, in his own home he has no say over the raising of his daughter. "All their children will be Weasleys no matter who's name is on the Register," insisted our contact. "He pretty much ignores her anyway, and lets Ron play Daddy. Besides, what does he know about children?"
Harry felt his stomach churn, and bent to kiss Miranda's neck as she wobbled about, looking over his shoulder.
It hurt because it was true. What did he know?
When Little Charlie was a baby, he was only a friend. A friend who had been involved with Ron and Hermione sexually and emotionally in ways that went beyond the norm, but a friend nonetheless. It had never occurred to him to have an opinion on their child rearing practices, let alone express it. So now it had made sense to just follow on in the same ways they'd already been following. Little Charlie was a fantastic kid. He couldn't fault the results of their methods.
Maybe the safest thing to do would be to just let things go on as they had done up until now. Why rock the boat and cause a fuss?
But Miranda wasn't Charlotte. And he was her father.
But so was Ron.
It wasn't fair for anyone to say that he ignored his daughter, but it was true that Ron did a lot with the small baby. Because he loves it! He's great with babies. They adore him. It was as natural for Ron to pick up Miranda and coo over her, tuck her into his arms as he sat to listen to the wireless, and get vomited on by her after a feed as it was for Charlotte to choose to go on Harry's broom when they went for a fly.
They were a family for goodness' sake!
It was true that the notion of this little baby girl being denied something as basic as the comfort of sucking her thumb made Harry's breath catch in his throat. He wasn't sure why it meant so much to him, or why this one thing would bring all of this to a head. It seemed ridiculous to be getting this upset over it.
And yet he couldn't just throw up his hands and abdicate responsibility.
He might have just given way in other things. In fact it was a great relief to have someone else make the decisions for him in their daily life. He didn't care what they had for dinner, or what colour they charmed the walls. It was no skin off his nose if they put the the toilet in the bathroom or in a room of its own, or whose house they went to for a meal. But this just mattered so much more. He felt like he owed it to this small person, and in a strange way to his father, to be there.
So he turned back to face Ron. "I think she should be allowed to suck her thumb."
Ron looked at Hermione and lifted his hands in question. The bewilderment on his face almost comical.
Despite the potential for humour, Hermione felt her heart sink. She felt the weight of both boys looking at her. Waiting to hear what she would say.
She didn't know what to do.
Of course she agreed with Ron about the issue. She had to since he was basically agreeing with her, but this seemed to be about something bigger. Something important. For just a short moment she felt a flash of triumph. See? They do still need me. Even if it is just to adjudicate! But then the heaviness she had fought so hard against was dropping back over her. Harry needed something, and she just couldn't think what it was.
She felt the sense of being responsible for too many people weighing down on her. She couldn't breathe.
For the first time in many years, she just didn't think that she had what he needed.
Hermione stood looking at Harry and Miranda. Harry's face angled down towards her, two shocks of impossible black hair. The pose was gentle and tender, but she could see Harry's jaw working and the tension in his shoulders.
And quite suddenly she just couldn't be there anymore, in that room. Failing them. Not being what they needed.
She turned on her heel and walked through the open door into the hallway. Ron stood for a moment, swaying between Harry and Hermione. Then he followed her into the kitchen.
"Hermione. Love." He looked at her with a troubled face. She bit her trembling lip, trying not to cry. Ron wrapped his arms around Hermione. One hand disappeared into the hair at the back of her head. The other enveloped her waist and held her firmly against him. "What's wrong? Please tell me. It's going to be all right. We'll fix this."
Hermione took in a deep shuddering breath and then pushed gently against Ron's chest and took a step back.
"She's only just had a feed. She'll be ok for a little while now. I'll be back soon."
"Hermione!" Ron reached for her hand to draw her back into his embrace.
She turned out of his reach and took a pinch of green powder from the bowl on the mantelpiece. "I just need to... I won't be long. Honestly." And with that she disappeared into the Floo.
Ron stormed back into the room and confronted Harry.
Harry glared back at him but said nothing.
"What do you mean 'gone'?"
"She said she won't be long, but she just left the baby here and... uurgh!" Ron ran his hands through his hair. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Harry?"
"With me? Yeah. This is all my doing. That's right."
"Sometimes you just have to take it, Harry. Get over yourself and think of someone else for a change. Did you see her face? She was having a good day Harry. How long is it since she had a good day?"
"Shut it, Ron."
The ascending triad of bells that signalled someone arriving bodily through the Floo sounded softly through the house. The next moment Fred was poking his head around the doorway with Little Charlie at his side.
"All right, Ron? Harry? Little Charlie said I'd find you in here."
Harry nodded once to acknowledge the greeting and then turned to face out the window again.
"What's going on, Fred?" Ron asked bluntly. "We're sort of in the middle of something here."
"Oh, so you showed him then, Harry?"
"Showed me what?" Ron turned to glare at him.
"Ah. I see...." Fred rubbed the back of his neck and took a small step backwards. "Right. Okay. Just dropped by to let you know that Hermione is currently bawling her eyes out on my wife's shoulder. Thought you might be frantic."
"It's all right. I heard where she was going. What was Harry going to show me, Fred?" Ron stood in front of his brother, arms crossed and jaw set.
"Hmm... No. I'm not getting in the middle of any domestics besides my own, thankyouverymuch. How 'bout Little Charlie here, comes back with me and plays with the cousins for a while. Then you two boys sort things out. We'll see you for dinner shortly. We were just getting chips anyway."
He picked Charlotte up, swung her onto his back, and thought for a moment before speaking. "Remember your wife in all of this, yeah? She really needs you blokes to keep your shit together." Charlotte pulled his hair in response to his swearing. "Sorry Charlie." He took a step and then spoke over his shoulder. "And don't be daft, Harry. Show him." He left the room without even waiting for an answer.
Ron suddenly leaned around the door and bellowed, "No piggy-backs in--" the swishing sound of Fred returning home interrupted him." --the Floo," Ron finished flatly. He turned and faced Harry again.
"You should go to her." Harry said.
"Yes," agreed Ron. "We should." He stood for a moment in the doorway and looked at Harry. "You really are being a tosser, love. Tell me what's going on."
Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Yeah. I know." Miranda was wriggling around in earnest now and Harry laid her down on the rug again and gave her the dragon she had dropped earlier. "I'd better go put the stew away. It will keep 'til tomorrow."
He stopped in the doorway on his way out of the room and put his hand in his pocket-- "I know it's not about me. I just want Hermione well again. Truly. And I really do think we should let Miranda suck her thumb. If that's what she wants to do." --and handed Ron the folded article. "You go on ahead. I'll bring the Angel and see you there."
Chapter 5: Chapter 4: We Are Swamped by Rage
We Are Swamped By Rage
What a completely shitty week.
Well, not completely shitty. There had been some good bits.
Ron stretched his legs out and crossed his feet at the ankles. His back rested against the rough walls of the large utility room he'd claimed as his 'shed'.
Yeah. There had definitely been some good bits. Hermione was looking a lot brighter. And she was snuggling into him again at night, letting him kiss her and hold her.
But he couldn't think about that too much.
Because he and Harry weren't really talking to each other, let alone anything else, and getting nothing more than kisses and cuddles was driving him mad.
Which was part of what made this a shitty week.
And now there were two people to tiptoe around and Ron just wasn't sure who he was supposed to be worried about.
He'd never let it go so long with Harry before. Usually he'd end up chasing him down, wearing him down, and unless Harry was the one keeping away, they'd be making up and making out within a day. Two at the most.
But this time he just didn't know what to think.
He had stumbled out of the Floo after their confrontation, and into Fred's living room. Hermione was sitting waiting for him, calm, composed, but with red eyes. Little Charlie had climbed up onto his lap when he sat down next to his wife, a quick "You okay, love?" into her hair as he unfolded the parchment in his hand. They had read the article together, Hermione going pale, Ron red.
"That slimy bitch!"
Angelina had struggled to her feet and taken Little Charlie's hand. "Ooo-kay. Let's go and find the boys, shall we?" A pointed look in Fred's direction had prompted him to roll his eyes and follow her from the room.
"This is what's up Harry's nose?" Ron glared at the page. "This pathetic load of absolute twaddle is what has Harry stomping about like a temperamental ghoul?"
He had turned to Hermione ready for her huff of agreement. They would commiserate for a moment over the Potter prickliness and then decide how to pat him down and get things back to normal. Or to what passed for normal in the currently fucked up phase of life they were living in.
But Ron hadn't seen Hermione's 'Oh Harry!' face. He'd seen her 'You're not going to like this' face.
And sometime in between her 'I think he might actually have a point', and 'When did we last actually ask Harry his opinion on something?' Ron had managed to remind Hermione that she was an only child of dead parents, and everything had basically gone down hill from there.
By the time Harry had joined them, Hermione was listing reasons that Ron - as one of the youngest of a large family - actually had no better reason to know anything about children either and Miranda had just screwed up her face and howled.
So Harry still wasn't backing down on the "Thumb-Sucking Issue" and was being his typical hard done-by self. Ron could not bring himself to agree to any sort of 'my kid - my rules, your kid - your rules' bollocks.
The hurt look of betrayal in Harry's eyes had only been matched by the sickening clench in his own stomach when Harry had spat out, "What happened to consensus then? Or is this different? Does my view not count because my parents died and I was brought up in a cupboard?"
"Oh that's a cheap shot, Harry," he'd choked out.
Fred had come in at that point. "Looks like time for big brother to step in, huh?"
No one had smiled. Harry had stayed there that night and Ron hadn't touched him since.
He'd been in the kitchen making breakfast as usual the next morning when Ron had stumbled out of bed and down the stairs. He didn't know what Fred had said to him to convince him to come home, but it hadn't been enough for Harry to be happy about it.
There had been four breakfasts since then - silent except for Little Charlie's attempt at chatter.
Hermione was still guilt ridden that they had backed Harry into a corner. Isolated him.
Unfortunately the fact that he and Hermione were also disagreeing over this did not (as was usual) make for some full on flirting and sexy making up. It wasn't helpful that Ron could hardly look at Hermione without picturing himself nestled between her knees, kissing her thighs and resting his head against her tummy. His mum's happy potion was definitely helping her, but this was already a delicate path to negotiate. And he just knew that there would be no nuzzling allowed until she felt convinced of his apology.
Which was completely unfair. How could he apologise? What for? She'd said some stuff. He'd said some stuff. He thought it could be his remark about her studying all the books, and ending up doing what Molly had suggested in the end, anyway, that really had pressed her buttons.
So now Ron was hiding away in his 'shed'. He'd walked away fighting the view of Harry's arse as he stretched over the kitchen table collecting crockery and cutlery after lunch.
Ron's mouth had gone dry and he'd tried to squash the urge to lean over Harry and grind up against him. His imagination had kindly contributed an image of Harry looking back at him over his shoulder, rotating his hips slightly, arse flexing in invitation... Why shouldn't I? he'd thought. He's got to be as horny as I am. Probably waiting for me to make the first move. As usual.
Harry had stretched further over and leant to the right. Long fingers outstretched to gather the salt and pepper. He had balanced slightly on one foot, sweater pulled up to allow a view of a curve of skin above his belt.
At that moment, Miranda had wailed again and Harry had whipped about, snapping, "I'll get her!"
"Merlin's bollocks!" Ron had slammed the door on his way out.
Miranda's hand patted and pinched gently at the skin of Hermione's breast as she fed. Hermione looked from her serious stare to find blue eyes looking at her just as frankly.
"Does it feel nice?" Luna asked her in her usual somewhat wafty conversational tone.
Hermione played self-consciously with the baby's fingers. "It's fine."
"Fine? Oh, okay." Luna sounded disappointed. "I thought it might be more enjoyable than fine."
"Ask her how enjoyable it is when Miranda gets some teeth, Lu." Angelina tapped a box of washing powder with her wand and waited for a moment while it transformed into a large packet of chocolate biscuits. "Have to hide them from the boys if I want any for myself," she explained.
"Charlotte never bit me. Not once. And yes, well, after I get over the first bit there are times when it's rather... lovely."
Luna beamed at her.
"Milk or lemon in your tea, Hermione?"
"Lemon, if you have it. Thank you, Angie. Really, you should be sitting down. Just give me a few moments and I'll make the tea."
"It's ok," insisted Angelina. "I was sitting down all morning. I'm glad for the distraction."
All the makings of afternoon tea arranged themselves on the low table near Hermione's chair.
"Lu, would you mind just popping through and grabbing the tea strainer. It's at your flat."
Angelina smiled as Luna jumped up and went through the door, which opened to a hallway connecting the two apartments on either side of the Wheezes Diagon Alley shop. The door closed behind her and Angie turned around and groaned.
"I love that girl, I really do, but honestly, Hermione. I wish she'd just fall pregnant already. She keeps touching my stomach, and asking me all these questions about labour."
Hermione murmured sympathetically. It was rather disconcerting to be the focus of Luna's curiosity.
Her sister-in-law shook her head and retied the scarf holding her braids back from her face. "So. To what do I owe the honour of this impromptu visit? Little Charlie saw the boys the other day, so don't fob it off on her missing her cousins." She smiled at Hermione. "Not that I'm in any way trying to hint that she shouldn't be here every day if she wants to be. Come on. Spill the beans. Luna will be back in a moment when she remembers that I use tea bags." She sat next to Hermione and kicked her shoes off, flexing her toes with a small moan of relief. "Is it Harry? He still sulking about and being a pain in the arse?"
"Oh, no. I mean, yes Harry is still sulking, but it's nothing I'm not used to. It's Ron. He's just being impossible!"
Miranda finished drinking and pulled back, releasing the nipple with a wet plop. She smiled at her mother, milk dribbling out of one side of her mouth.
"Impossible how?" asked Angelina reaching over and lifting the baby off Hermione's lap and onto her own. "There won't be enough room for you here, soon, you little Angel. Will there? No there won't!" Miranda responded to her Aunt's words with babbling of her own.
"I really wish I knew. He has been treating me like I'm made of glass. Not that I blame him," she hurried on, before she could be interrupted, "I know I haven't exactly been in top form. But it's getting ridiculous. His moods are swinging all over the place. One moment he's gentle and considerate, the next he's snapping at me and storming from the room! He's so irritable. Huffing about, slamming things. Pouting." Hermione reached down to take a cloth from her purse and hand it to Angelina. "I've tried to discuss Harry with him, and he won't even listen to what I have to say. And then I'll catch him staring at me but he'll jump away if I approach him. He even raised his voice at Charlotte the other day. And you know he just never does that."
Angelina frowned. She took the cloth and wiped Miranda's chin.
"Yeah, well, that's hardly the usual at all, is it? Could it be work?"
"He says not. I asked the other day and he was very short with me in response!"
The corridor door opened again and Luna leant her head in.
"Have you finished talking? I could stay away longer if you need me to."
She smiled over the denials of the other two women and Summoned a cushion to the floor to kneel on and started to pour the tea.
"So, Ron has his knickers in a knot as well as Harry? What a nightmare." Angelina grimaced at Hermione, who accepted a cup and saucer from Luna. She rubbed circles over Miranda's back. "So, your Daddies are being prats then, little Angel. You will have to get used to that!"
Miranda smiled and opened her mouth to release an enormous belch.
Hermione and Angelina smiled at each other and then watched Luna as she gripped her stomach, doubling over with laughter, tears running down her cheeks. After a few moments when the laughter didn't show signs of abating, Angelina turned to Hermione with a shrug and returned to their conversation. "So is Harry cross with both of you, or just Ron?"
"He's being perfectly fine with me. Still insisting on doing everything for Miranda."
"Half your luck. I can't see why Ron minds. Nothing Fred likes better than for someone else to change a nappy. Lazy sod." Angie laid Miranda down on a quilt that Hermione produced out of her seemingly bottomless purse. Luna's fit of hysterics seemed to have finished, and she was wiping her cheeks and resumed pouring the tea.
"No, well, Ron is just taking it to mean that Harry doesn't trust him with his daughter."
"Well, Harry hasn't ever had anything of his own before, has he?" said Luna, offering Angelina a biscuit. "Even his wife is really Ron's."
There was silence for a few moments.
"Oh sorry. That's one of those things one shouldn't actually say, isn't it? Like the way you don't ever ask me why George and I haven't had children, or if Lee is still living in the shop flat because he's always been in love with my husband?" Luna took a sip of her tea and frowned. She put three teaspoons of sugar into the cup, stirred and sipped again. "Mmm, That's better. Sometimes a difficult conversation is easier with a sweet drink, don't you think?"
Angelina turned to look at Hermione. She raised her eyebrows. Hermione shrugged slightly in response and decided to skip over those rather startling pieces of information. "I was Ron's wife first, but there really is no jealousy over that. We all relate to each other in different ways."
"Harry needed parents. It's wonderful that he got lovers at the same time." Luna nodded as though she was agreeing with Hermione. "I suppose now he has to work out how to keep being a 'child' and be a parent at the same time. Maybe it's a sort of adolescence. His was rather taken up with other things."
"Luna, I really don't think that's how--" Hermione stuttered.
"Besides, Ronald may be jealous of the bond Harry shares with his daughter as well as Miranda."
Hermione felt a sparkle of alarm in her chest. It was something she had often wondered, but dismissed as herself over thinking things. Sometimes it seemed as though... as though there was a little hum of the bond, and always in regards to the children and Harry. Charlotte always knew when Harry was upset. Even when she was a baby. And now it seemed she was noticing the same thing with Miranda. But it didn't make any sense.
Luna was humming quietly to herself and eating a biscuit.
"What makes you say that, Luna?" Hermione desperately wanted to say But Charlotte's not even Harry's daughter. But that just reminded her that Miranda wasn't Ron's. This is just so much more difficult than I pictured. She took some slow breaths to remind herself not to get upset. This was the reality of their lives. There was no getting past it. Or around it. They simply had to work it out. Understand it.
"Well, Charlotte is obviously Ron's daughter. Their noses are exactly the same. Have you noticed that? I hope it doesn't look like his when she grows up."
Angelina let out a splurt of laughter. Sorry, she mouthed at Hermione.
"Yes. She is." It seemed so strange to Hermione to need to acknowledge that as plain fact. She knew that neither of these women doubted her, or what they had been told of the evolution of the trio's relationship.
"So, Harry isn't her father. But he was there when you were pregnant with her. You were pregnant with her when Harry started having his troubles."
Hermione bit her lip to keep from gasping. Her mind raced trying to think what to acknowledge, and what to keep to herself. The family had been so supportive of them, but she wasn't sure how they would react if they knew it all. What have we said? What have we told? Angelina took her hand and rubbed it gently. They knew about the soul scar but only Remus, Tonks and Professor Dumbledore had been told about the bond. Or the nature of the ritual they had used to heal the scar.
Luna smiled at their joined hands. "And you were pregnant with Miranda when you performed some complicated magic to bring the troubles to an end. I have always assumed it was a type of sex magic. What else could have generated enough power to heal something so obviously personal?"
Angelina's eyes widened as she looked at Hermione. It seemed to Hermione that her sister-in-law was asking her to deny it. To put such ridiculous ideas to rest. Hermione just stared hopelessly back at her before turning back to face Luna.
"Of course, maybe not," Luna continued, her face an image of deep thought. "You three have always been special anyway. Even if things had ended up more conventionally arranged, you would have had that connection of love and friendship and magic."
With no warning, Hermione found herself on the verge of tears. "Yes. We would always have that."
Angelina slid over and put an arm around Hermione's shoulders. "And you will. You do. Ron will grow up. Harry will get his head out of his arse. You are feeling better every day. This is who you are. They're not going anywhere. And neither are you."
Ron stood up and rolled his head on his neck. He could feel the tension in his shoulders.
Weren't things supposed to be better now?
Wasn't it 'After' yet?
He felt as thought he was always waiting for some mythical time when life wouldn't be so complicated. He'd waited for the destruction of You-Know-Who. Waited for Charlotte. For Harry to stop running away from them.
Now they'd healed Harry's soul scar and Miranda was with them.
Now life was more complicated than ever.
"You turning into your Dad, mate?"
Ron snorted in a vague approximation of a laugh. He didn't look at Harry but picked up one of the wooden trains he was charming for Christmas presents for various nieces and nephews.
A moment passed with nothing more said. Ron turned to look at him. Harry was staring into space, hands deep in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders up around his ears. He looked ridiculously young.
"Ron. I just..." Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Ron looked back down at the caboose in his hands.
Ron turned to face him.
Harry waited for Ron to speak. Tease him. Make a jibe about him making the first move for a change.
Well he had. He'd apologised, hadn't he? That had to count for something. It had just been eating away at him to be so separate from Ron and Hermione. He couldn't understand how people who loved each other as much as they all did, could have all this misunderstanding. Miscommunication. How could he feel so far away from them in such a short amount of time? It all got caught up in how they said what they said. Surely they could get past that? Talk about what was really upsetting them?
For goodness sake. Ron wasn't going to make this easy for him. He just had to jump in.
"I think you're a great Dad, Ron."
Whatever Ron had been expecting, it obviously hadn't been that. He looked completely wrong-footed.
"Little Charlie is lucky to have you."
Ron pressed his lips together slightly.
"And so is Miranda."
They looked at each other. The atmosphere was full of unspoken words, hurt, resentment.
Harry shifted his weight from one foot to the other. God. I wish he'd just touch me.
"And so am I."
A tumble of words clashed about in Ron's head. Words to explain. Convince him. Reassure him. Chastise him for being so easily discouraged. They rattled next to words of apology for being so quick to dismiss his concern. But mostly there was a plea to make everything all right again.
No inspiration appeared quickly enough, so instead of speaking he just took Harry's face in his hands and pressed their mouths together and kissed him - holding him in position while they almost stumbled with the force of it.
"When are you going to start trusting us more? You're a complete arse."
Ron put his face up against Harry's cheek, willing him to read his mind. Wishing almost for the bond again, even if just for a moment. To feel how much they needed him there. Wanted him.
Harry shifted his head slightly so he could speak. "I want you..."
Ron's stomach dropped, in the best way. He shifted his grip on Harry's shoulders and felt his fingers caught between Harry and the cabinet he'd evidently pushed him up against. His breath was shallow as he replied "I want you, too."
"Well, yeah. of course I want you, too. But I was going to say that... I want you to trust me, too."
Ron didn't move. He felt awkward, and not sure what to do with his hands - still wrapped over Harry's shoulders.
A silence expanded, neither of them making a move.
And then Harry pounced. His arms went around Ron's neck and he stood on his toes to press firm kisses underneath his ear. Along his jaw. It was only a moment before Ron was responding in kind, all the tension and anxiety releasing in an avalanche of open mouths and strong tongues. His hands slid down and gripped the hem of Harry's sweater.
It slipped up over his face and along his arms. He scrabbled briefly to rescue his glasses from the sleeve before the sweater got thrown onto the floor.
"Come here, Harry," murmured Ron wrapping an arm around his waist, and pulling him close. "Want you."
"Want you, too."
Ron paused with his lips on Harry's neck.
"Like this. Want you like this," blurted Harry. Ron chuckled and then hissed, as Harry plunged his hands down the back of Ron's trousers and spread his fingers out before clutching his arse. "Yeah. Definitely like this."
It wasn't long before they were both panting for breath, recovering from the rather frantic thrusting, arms tingling from the strength with which they had clung to each other. Ron rocked back slightly, allowing Harry to slide down the wall a couple of inches and put both feet back on the floor.
Ron threaded his fingers through the sweaty hair hanging over Harry's face and reached over to pick up Harry's glasses and hand them to him.
He was just leaning in for a more sedate kiss when the door opened. The afternoon light wasn't harsh, but still fell in a spotlight on them.
"Good to see that you two have worked through your issues," said Hermione with a huff. Harry blushed slightly as he bent down to pick up his jumper, and shake the dust off it.
"I think so, love. Things are sorted for now," replied Ron, sounding calmer than he'd been all week.
"Marvellous. So you had a deep discussion? Decided upon a course of action for managing future disputes?"
Harry looked from one to the other. They were gently teasing each other, Hermione even chuckling slightly at Ron's expression. It was comforting to see them okay together. If something came between the two of them, he knew his world would fall apart.
Ron reached forward and scooped Miranda up, holding her above his head, tipping her gently from side to side to elicit a gurgle of laughter from her.
"We don't need to treat this like a Ministry hearing, Hermione."
"Oh, of course not. You just rip your clothes off and ravish one another right here. Wonderful conflict resolution."
Harry turned his sweater back the right way in and pulled it down over his head. He twisted it around until it was facing the right way and shoved his arms through the sleeves as he followed Hermione and Ron out onto the path to the back door of the house.
Harry listened to them bicker quietly, and felt the knot of tension that lived as a cold lump in the middle of his chest slowly begin to unravel.
Miranda blinked at him over Ron's shoulder, and then broke out a huge toothless grin as she babbled.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5: But Who Can Survive Jealousy?
Ron's hands stroked long lines down Hermione's back. They came together at the base of her spine, the heels of his hands pressing firmly in and then tracing symmetrical curves down and out towards her hips. She felt him shift his weight slightly and then push deeply into the muscle. His thumbs pointed towards her spine, fingers facing out.
Hermione tried not to think about how her skin bunched up slightly under the webbing of his hands. He followed the line back up to her shoulder blades. Ron always told her she was beautiful, and though she felt decidedly unattractive, she knew that -for whatever reason- Ron did love her.
She took a deep breath. The sobbing had finished and all that was left was the occasional shuddering sigh as she relaxed more into the feel of her husband's hands kneading and soothing her aching muscles. His long fingers made individual circles along her shoulders and then walked their way down to her waist.
He smoothed another long stroke up her back. Hermione let out an audible breath as she deliberately unclenched her jaw.
"That's it, love. Relax." Ron leant forward and placed a soft kiss on her neck, and murmured in her ear. "Everything's all right. You're home now."
Hermione rolled her forehead from side to side along her arms, folded in front of her on the pillow, feeling the tension release from one muscle after another. Ron concentrated on her neck and shoulders before his thumbs travelled next to the tendons in her neck up into her hairline. She could feel patches of tension, like bruises around the edges of her skull. Ron patiently rubbed over them until the knots began to dissipate. She started to feel sleepy.
"You feeling better?" Ron's soft voice broke into her drifty state.
"Much," she muttered.
"What a day, huh?" he said, resuming the massage.
What a day, indeed.
She had arrived home with the two girls, and flopped down into the rocking chair to try and calm Miranda at her breast, nearly in tears herself. It had been a matter of only moments before Harry had stumbled out of the Floo and rushed over to crouch down near her.
"I've been looking for you everywhere! You weren't at The Burrow, and then when I tried Wheezes, Luna said you'd just come home."
Charlie had launched herself at him and clung to his neck, legs around his waist. "Shhh..." he said, stroking her hair. "Hermione, what happened?"
"We were having tea. And Pen--Penel--," Hermione had taken a deep breath, determined to speak without stuttering. "We saw Penelope." A muscle in Harry's jaw had twitched as he controlled himself and didn't launch into an attack on their sister-in-law in front of Charlotte.
"Why was Penelope at Wheezes?" he asked finally.
"No. Not at Wheezes. We were down in Diagon Alley."
Harry had narrowed his eyes at her. "I thought we agreed that you wouldn't go out alone."
"We weren't alone."
The day had started promisingly enough. A nice afternoon with Angelina and Luna. Charlotte playing happily with her cousins. She had misgivings when Fleur firecalled and urged them to meet her and the children at a cafe in the Alley.
If Charlotte hadn't looked up at her, face shining with anticipation, saying, "Please, Mummy. Please," then maybe she would have resisted. She hated always being the one who said 'No'. Ron and Harry often took her out and bought her little treats. Hermione didn't want her children growing to just expect something every time, but she didn't want them to think of her as always shaking her head, either.
"Come on, Hermione," chided Angelina. "How long is it since you went out? You've hidden away inside for weeks and weeks. The fuss has died down, now. There's been nothing in the papers for ages. No one will notice you."
"Ron... Harry...." She kicked herself for sounding so feeble and dependent. When had she become so timid? That thought alone sparked some determination.
"Well, to be honest, Hermione, we are probably less noticeable without them," Angelina muttered out of Charlotte's hearing. "Really. I mean, Ron's hair is like a beacon. Even Fred gets a few looks from people trying to see if it's him or not, despite being a foot shorter. And Harry? Well, obviously people are always interested in him."
"All right. I'm sure that will be fun." She knew her enthusiasm didn't sound at all authentic, but it was a start.
"So who did you go with?" asked Harry.
"The Weasley women," she'd smiled weakly, remembering Anglina's dig at Lee as he and Luna had joined them. "It would have been ok," she'd continued, "if Marietta hadn't--"
At that point, Ron had arrived home from work. His smile of greeting slipping off his face as he heard that name.
"What has that slimy bi--"
"Daddy!" Charlotte had wriggled down from Harry's arms and climbed up into Ron's.
"Hey pumpkin." The little girl had kissed him 'Hello' and then nestled her head into her father's neck. "Hermione?" He'd glared at Harry. "Has she been crying?"
"Why doesn't Aunty Penelope like you, Harry?"
"What happened?" Ron's face had no trace of humour on it as he'd looked from Hermione to Harry, waiting for someone to answer his questions.
Hermione knew she couldn't tell them of the venomous way that Penelope had spat out "I'm so sick of the way everyone fawns over him! The entire family sneered at Percy for trying to stand up to his ideals, but Harry can do anything - even sleep with Ron's wife - and still they defend him!"
Charlotte had started to droop against her father's shoulder, and despite her best efforts to follow the conversation, was fading fast.
"I'm tired, Daddy."
Ron had taken a step closer as his daughter leaned over to kiss Harry and Hermione 'goodnight'.
"I'll be back." He'd bounced Little Charlie up a little higher in his arms saying, "You're getting so big, girl!" as he walked across the room, and as he went through the door, had said over his shoulder. "And then we'll talk!"
Hermione had hardly been able to look at Harry as she'd lifted Miranda up, swivelled her legs over and put her to the other breast. Her eyes had fixed on Harry's shoe as it tapped the air, his feet stuck out in front of him, crossed at the ankles. When she had dared look up at his face he had been staring intently at her, but quickly looked away when she caught his eye.
Poor Harry. She'd been shutting him out. It had been such a difficult adjustment - to realise that he didn't need her the way he used to. Conflicting feelings warred inside her. Resenting the way he had always relied on her, now when her resources were so low, when she felt so empty. At the same time mourning the loss of her "place" as the one who expressed love to him physically. Seeing his hesitation, she knew she had wounded him dreadfully by pushing him away.
Harry had been mostly looking away from Hermione, but keeping his attention on her from the corner of his eye. She was pale and vulnerable and it just about broke his heart. There had been steady progress in the last weeks. As much as Hermione muttered over the constantly brewing Leto Sursum, it was obviously doing her the world of good. But it still startled Harry just how fragile Hermione could look.
It hadn't been a conscious choice to walk over and crouch down next to the rocking chair, but finding himself there, Harry had picked up her free hand in both of his and brought it to his lips.
"Are you all right?"
It seemed a stupid question, but she had looked him in the eye to answer, "I will be," before leaning forward and resting her head on his shoulder.
They had stayed there for a few long moments.
When Harry's legs had starting to complain about his awkward position he'd pulled back slightly, prompting Hermione to lift her head. Her eyes had flicked from Harry down to the baby, and she'd sighed - relieved - "She's asleep."
Harry had helped her stand up and stood back, waiting for her to follow Ron up the stairs and take Miranda into the bedroom. Instead she had stayed still, eyes not meeting his.
"Hermione?" Harry had said, quietly. "It will be all right." What a hopeless thing to say, he'd chided himself. She hadn't seemed miffed at him, instead taking a tentative step towards him. And then another.
Miranda had squirmed a little. Hermione's arms folded around her in front of her chest and Harry had felt one hand fiddling with her daughter's fingers. She'd leant in and he had felt her hand wrap itself in his shirt.
He'd reached forward and taken Hermione's shoulders, and then had slid slowly down her arms. Then up again, and gently - just skimming her clothes - around her back until he was holding her and the baby in his arms.
As he'd felt her relax against him he'd looked down at them. Hermione's eyes had still been closed, and he'd watched a tear leak out of the corner of her lashes, and trace down her cheek. Her chin had quivered.
An ache had built in his chest.
Then her shoulders had started to quake slightly and she began to cry in earnest.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she'd choked out, "I know how uncomfortable you are with a crying woman..."
One of his hands had started to stroke hair, but he couldn't speak.
The ache had risen from his chest to his throat, to a sting behind his eyes.
"Oh, Hermione... Love."
When Ron had returned from settling Little Charlie in her bed, he'd stopped in the doorway and watched them.
Still can't believe it's real, he'd thought. And though he had been preoccupied with Hermione and trying to work out exactly what had her so upset, he couldn't help himself from appreciating the image in front of him. It was like Harry was growing stronger in front of his eyes. Ron could recognise that for Harry, having a child who was his had given him a reason to be well. To be whole. In a way that he and Hermione hadn't.
That thought didn't hurt like he expected it should.
Hermione's right. As usual. So many different ways to love.
His love for Harry had always been from his 'better side'. It had started as a sense of having something Harry needed. That had been the first time Ron remembered really being needed by another person.
The last boy in a large family, he'd been running after his brothers. Needing attention and validation from them. Bill and Charlie had already started growing up. And away. By the time he was old enough to think himself interesting enough to be noticed by them, he'd been caught up in Harry and his struggles with Riddle. And as much as he admired them as men, he'd never felt as close to them as he'd like.
Harry had needed him to show him about the magical world. To show him about friendship. To show him about family. And now about parenting. And love.
Except that Ron could tell that he was learning as much now, from Harry.
Ron could recognise too, that having a child - being a father - made Harry his peer. It put them on the same footing in the family. Not that he'd ever thought of himself as being higher up any sodding hierarchy, it made sense that maybe Harry felt it.
He'd pondered a little longer and then he'd heard Hermione sniff and seen Harry reach down and wipe tears off her cheek. The reason for the tears had come back to him and his eyes had narrowed as he strode into the room.
"So what happened today, then, Love? Where did you see Marietta?"
Hermione had turned pleading eyes to Harry.
Ron wasn't impressed to hear about Hermione's 'unauthorised' foray out into public, but had been patted down fairly quickly by Angelina's reminder of how conspicuous they were together.
"Fleur met us in 'The Charming Spot'."
By the time they had arrived, the cafe had been almost full. Many of the shops were staying open later in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, and staying out for a quick early evening meal before going home was the latest fad in Wizarding London.
They squeezed past tables full of witches with children and parcels and robes under every step. Fleur was easy enough to spot, calmly keeping two booths free for them. The five children congregated around one table where an enormous platter of hot chips appeared for them. Hermione allowed the others to go in to their booth before her, leaving her an outer seat with a clear view of Charlotte. Her daughter chatted away to Amelie and Bobby, and fed Laurent and Jack broken up chips as though they were little birds.
Angelina and Lee were deep in a discussion regarding the relative merits of vinegar and tomato sauce as a topping for the chips, when Luna leaned around past Hermione and Miranda to greet the person trying to blend into the booth next to them. "Penelope! You should join us. Then it really will be all of the Weasley women!"
The thin woman shook her head before picking up her handbag, and draping her cloak over her arm as she stood next to them.
"Thank you, but no. We were just leaving."
Her eyes travelled quickly down to the baby, snuggled into a sling and cradled in Hermione's arms, and then back to her face. She nodded slightly.
"Penelope," she answered quietly, glancing over to check that Charlotte was still engrossed with her cousins. She squashed down the urge to glare at the woman who had caused Molly so much heartache with her rude refusals to join the rest of the family for their monthly get togethers. She had been once since Miranda was born, and made it completely clear that she had no desire to return.
Just go, thought Hermione, holding her sister-in-law's gaze. Please don't cause a fuss.
Penny nodded in farewell and was about to step away when Charlotte noticed her and squealed, running over to her Aunt.
"Oh! Aunt Penelope!" she exclaimed before throwing her arms around the woman's waist in an affectionate embrace.
There was no return hug. Instead she stood there stiffly until Charlotte let her arms drop and backed away to lean up against her mother's leg.
"How sweet. A family reunion!" Everyone turned to see Penny's companion stepping out from behind her taller form and smiling indulgently at them all. "And what a colourful group you make. It's like looking at a Weasley rainbow." The waspish voice took on an edge as she leant closer to Hermione. "And what is this? The before unseen addition to the clan? What a shame I didn't bring my photographer with me."
"Marietta. Please." Hermione's voice reduced to a hoarse whisper.
"Please? I believe I've been saying the same thing for months! Please, just a few words. Please just one picture." She looked around with an unpleasant smirk. "No husband today, Hermione? No lover? They've finally let you out alone, I see. Are you all right, dear? You look a little peakish."
Hermione was able to feel Charlotte trembling in front of her. Picking up the tension but not understanding why all of the adults were now standing in a huddle, glaring at the two witches.
"Not here. Not now." Hermione tried again. "Not in front of the children."
Charlotte looked up at her mother and then from face to face, obviously trying to work out what was happening.
"Aunt Penelope," she'd said suddenly in the cold silence, "I haven't seen you for a while. Did you see my new sister? She's ever so sweet...."
No one else spoke apart from Angelina pressing some galleons into Lee's hand and hissing at him, insisting he go and settle their bill. "Are you coming to the Burrow for Christmas Day?"
Penny looked startled and opened her mouth to speak, before closing it again, returning to her closed off expression.
"I'm sure I haven't been invited."
"Oh of course you have!" Charlotte exclaimed. "You simply must come. And sit in Uncle Percy's seat, just like you always do!"
Penelope's eyes widened. Hermione placed her arm across Charlotte's chest pulling her back against her.
"I'm sorry. Is that very sad for you? The Burrow has so many photos of him. And maybe you don't like hearing the Uncles telling stories about him and laughing."
Hermione wished Charlotte would stop. Just stop trying to reach her Aunt. She was so used to adults answering her questions, being interested in her observations. "Maybe you could tell me some of your stories."
"I've heard her stories," said Marietta. "Fascinating vignettes about life in the Weasley clan. Nothing like an insider's point of view."
Penny turned and stared at Marietta. "You promised not to say--" and a series of intakes of breath and shocked exclamations went through the group behind her.
"Oh, Penelope. You didn't!"
Their sister-in-law drew herself up and seemed to shake off her annoyance at the smug journalist beside her. She looked at each member of the family.
"Why are you so surprised?" she hissed. "Isn't this what you all expected of me, anyway? I'm sure you're all thinking that it makes sense. That you should have known. What else would you expect of Percy's wife?"
"No..." Angelina reached out. "Penny. No. That's not fair. We never--"
"Fair?" she interjected. "Fair?"
Charlotte turned her face in to Hermione's stomach, bumping Miranda aside where she hung in the sling.
"Shhh darling. It's all right." Hermione felt ice in her stomach, and though she continued to reassure her daughter, and sense her sisters-in-law closing ranks around them, all she wanted was to feel Ron and Harry's arms surrounding her.
Penelope kept up her muttered tirade. The attention of those seated at the closer tables was pressing like a weight on Hermione's chest. She could hear the whispering - Did they say Weasley? Is that Harry Potter's baby? That's the woman that cheated on her husband with his best friend.
"Such a thing to do to a child, Hermione," Marietta was leaning in closer now.
"But then, you never did think about how things were for others, did you? Just wanted what you wanted."
"No! That's not true!" she whispered.
"She's going to grow up in disgrace, Hermione. Marked by her parentage as surely as you marked me."
"But your face isn't marked any more, is it?" asked Luna. "It's only the things you do that mark you as a sneak now."
Marietta stood up straight, all pretence at saccharine sweetness now lost.
"They Obliviated me! All I had to go on was what others told me. That entire year is still a complete muddle. All because of you! Failed my exams. Couldn't get into the Ministry. And no one would listen to me." An ugly smile twisted on her otherwise pretty face. "But they're listening now!"
Penelope was staring again at Marietta.
Miranda began squirming. Her face -big eyes and thumb firmly fixed in her mouth- poked over the top of the velvet holding her to Hermione's chest.
Marietta lowered her voice as she leaned in towards the baby. "She's got her father's eyes, Hermione. Marked as surely as he was with that scar." She tilted her head to the side and caught Hermione's gaze. "They'll never let her forget who she is. Who her parents are. Wizarding England won't stand for it. You're living in a fantasy world if you think they will."
Charlotte was crying quietly into Hermione's robes.
"Come on." Lee Jordan put his arm around Hermione's shoulder and pulled her in the direction of the door. "Let's just leave. Don't listen to her."
"What a gallant defender you have there," sniggered Marietta's voice behind her. "What a real man." Hermione tried to block out the unsavoury remarks now directed at her friend.
Lee just kept his arm around her back and pressed his lips firmly together. He looked straight ahead, shepherding little strawberry blonde and dark, curly heads between the tables.
"Don't listen," he repeated.
"Oh, Lee. I'm so sorry you had to--"
"It's fine. Come on."
A last distraught look over her shoulder as they went out the door revealed Penelope standing on her own, Marietta sitting back down with her exotic coffee. Penelope's face was unreadable, but Hermione couldn't help but think she didn't look like she hated her. Instead she just looked very, very alone.
"I'll be having a word with Angelina, that's for sure. And Lee," Ron had muttered. "What in Godric's name were they thinking?"
"I'm sorry, Ron. It really seemed like it would be all right...." Hermione had petered off.
"Don't apologise, love. It's happened, now. You're all home safely. Little Charlie wants to know what's going on, though. Uurgh!" He'd kicked the side of a squashy armchair. "She doesn't miss a bloody thing, of course. Who was Aunt Penelope's friend? And why doesn't she like Mummy? She was really nasty, Daddy."
"I should go and check on her," Hermione had replied.
"All right. She was asleep when I left, though. I'm sure she's fine. How about you go and have a shower? You look all done in, Love."
Harry stepped forward and took Miranda from her. "Good idea, Hermione. You'll feel much better." He'd given her a small, worried smile.
Dear Harry, she'd thought. He shouldn't have to worry like this about me.
"That does sound lovely."
And it had been. Lovely.
When she'd finished washing away the nasty words and vindictive atmosphere from the cafe she had returned to the sitting room wrapped in a dressing gown. Her hair hung, wet, down her back and her feet were bare. The temperature charms in the house were very consistent and never needed renewing - she really should work out how Harry managed that one day - so she had no need to wrap up against the frosty chill she could see through the double glazed windows.
She felt much calmer and had managed to get her emotions under control.
It had been a confronting and unpleasant day, but it really hadn't warranted such an extreme tearful reaction. Hermione had felt embarrassed at the tears that welled up again when standing in the door of the living room she had seen Harry gazing at Miranda.
Had a man ever been so besotted with his child?
She'd thought of Marietta's barbs about Harry's eyes and Miranda being marked for a life of scrutiny. Ron had been seated on the arm of the chair looking fondly at Harry. Harry had muttered something too quietly for Hermione to hear, and Ron chuckled before leaning over to lean his arm along the back of the chair behind Harry. He'd stretched out a finger to trace around the baby's face. They had looked like any other set of doting parents.
Except that they weren't any other doting parents. They were two thirds of a trio.
Being publicly challenged for the first time had really unsettled Hermione. Reminding her of her original determination to be there for Harry. To be his mainstay, his protection. To look after him. Mother him. Make him feel loved. She and Ron had been in complete agreement over that. Never for a moment doing anything that could compromise that central focus.
And yet something had shifted. Just as having Charlotte had changed the dynamic between Ron and herself, it had been inevitable that having another baby would complicate things even more. What Hermione hadn't thought to factor in was how much she had started to depend on Harry. And seeing the spark between the boys - that she had herself fanned, and encouraged - had brought back all of her insecurities. Feeling left out of the intense friendship that Ron and Harry had always shared.
The knowledge that she wasn't the thing either one would miss most.
She could only imagined their horror and protests if she had said that out loud.
Ron had leant over a little further and turned to rest his lips on the top of Harry's head. Harry - keeping his eyes on Miranda - had tipped his head towards Ron. Hermione had seen him sigh happily.
She'd taken a step and they both sat up and looked expectantly towards her. Hermione's heart had clenched with affection as she looked at her boys. She'd pulled the sides of the dressing gown more firmly around her body.
"Did you eat?" Harry had asked her. "At the cafe?"
"No," she'd smiled at him.
The strokes of Ron's hand lengthened down her legs. Gradually, the dressing gown was pushed away. With a hand on each thigh, he rubbed down towards the back of her knees and then slowly back up. As he reached her bottom he lightened his touch and rubbed gently over each cheek. The motion was repeated several times.
She felt his touch becoming more sensual. The rubbing became stroking. And then caressing. Less about relaxation and more about appreciation.
"Beautiful," his husky voice crooned.
She wriggled a little, not feeling comfortable accepting the praise.
The hands stopped moving and rested gently on her hips.
"Hermione," he said again, "You're beautiful."
The magically enlarged sofa dipped down on either side of her as he crawled his weight forward, up towards her shoulders. Knees shuffled up until legs straddled her waist. A kiss was pressed to her shoulder blade. Her hair was brushed to one side and another kiss landed on her neck. Another behind her ear.
Hermione lifted her face from its resting place on her folded arms and turned her head to the side. Ron breathed into her ear.
She closed her eyes and tried to let the sound of his voice, the tone of his words, convince her he still believed this to be true.
She pressed her cheek up towards his lips. A slow trail of kisses worked its way along her jaw.
Somewhere inside her she felt that spark - like an echo of the desire he'd always managed to awaken in her.
A deep sigh escaped as she pushed up on her forearms, rolling her spine up along Ron's chest.
"So beautiful. I've missed you."
A disbelieving snort escaped before she could consider her reaction more.
Her head began to droop slightly, and the spark began to fizzle out.
"But you've had... You and Harry..."
"We've both missed you. Talk about you all the time."
Ron renewed his attentions to her skin. Taking his weight on one arm, the other hand slid underneath her and around her waist, pulling her back close to him. She felt the firm chest underneath his shirt, the fabric soft against her bare skin.
She pushed her upper body a little further off the bed, trying to mold herself into him.
"Really?" she whispered.
"God, yeah." His hand stroked over her stomach. She cringed and tried to pull it in to stop the roundness that hung down. He seemed to know what she was doing and kept his hand in place.
"Hermione. You don't have to do that, love."
He rubbed a circle over her stomach, a finger dipping into her belly button.
She bit her lip and tried to relax again. To enjoy the sensation of Ron's gorgeous hands on her skin. She soaked the contact in. Not realising until now just how much she'd longed to be touched.
His hand traced up and cupped a breast.
"And these tits? They've just about done me in. Wanted to touch them. Put my mouth on them...."
"Why didn't you? Why did you stop yourself?"
"Thought that's what you wanted, love. Tried to give you some space."
Hermione gave a despairing laugh.
"I've missed your hands on me, Ron. I wanted you to touch me."
Ron was holding her with both arms, now. His weight was on his knees as he hunched over her back. Lips placing kisses across her cheek. On her temple. She could feel him up against her.
"Should have said," his husky voice muttered.
"I know." Wanted to. Wasn't sure how.
Hermione turned her head even further around and Ron's lips descended on hers, covering her mouth with his.
Way too soon, she felt Ron pull back and release her from the kiss. Hermione's eyes stayed closed and she reached for him again.
"Food, Love," he whispered. "Harry's made you some supper."
When she eventually turned back around to face forward she saw Harry standing in the doorway staring at them, an unreadable expression on his face. For a moment she felt like she'd been caught doing something wicked, felt the desire to cover up her breasts that hung down in front of her, pretend she hadn't been pressing her naked bottom up against her husbands erection behind her.
Ron shuffled off and walked over to Harry to take the plate of pasta out of his hands.
Hermione ducked her head down and retrieved her robe.
She sat on the edge of the sofa and allowed the boys to Summon a small table to set in front of her so that she could eat.
Harry was still looking thoughtful, and Hermione felt the warmth and peace she'd been enveloping herself in start to fade.
Is he jealous of Ron, now? Like I have been of him? she thought.
Oh dear. He looks nervous. But he's got something to tell me.
Hermione gave Harry a small, apologetic smile as he sat down next to her and steeled herself to hear what he had to say.
Harry's heart beat sped up as his face lowered towards hers. He kissed her cheek, and they froze. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the little puffs of air against his hair as she breathed.
"You know how we agreed that if someone was feeling left out we sh--"
"Oh, Harry! No! We weren't leaving you out!" Hermione grasped at his hand. "It was just that--"
"No, Hermione." Harry cut across her protests, enveloping her hand in both of his.
Harry moved very gently - frightened that any sudden movement would send her back, shrinking away from him once more.
He looked up from Hermione's face at Ron, who smiled as he watched Harry turn back to the embrace. Ron walked over to the couch and shuffled forward until he was on his knees behind Hermione. She shivered slightly as he put his hands on her shoulders, and placed a kiss to her neck.
Harry's hands felt glued to Hermione's and he sat, afraid to move as the kisses edged nearer and nearer to her mouth. Her lips against his cheek became softer and warmer. Harry moved slightly and ran the tip of his nose along her cheekbone, breathing in her welcome scent - still fresh from her shower, damp hair drying into a mad jumble of curls.
He took a breath.
"Not me, Hermione. You."
Chapter 7: Chapter 6: How Can One Be Warm Alone?
Ron's first thought as he knelt behind his wife, watching Harry caress her and kiss her, had been "About bloody time!". His second had been "Fuck, that's hot."
He knew his brothers still didn't get it.
They always pressed him to confide his supposed jealousy to them. It was unthinkable to them that a Weasley man was willing to just let someone else kiss his woman. But he knew they didn't understand. He didn't see someone taking Hermione away. Or Harry for that matter. What he saw were his two favourite people. And he'd always wanted to see them happy. This way he got to see them both happy. At the same time.
"We agreed that we should be able to say something. Why didn't you?" Harry asked her again.
Ron was pretty much gobsmacked that Harry had managed to put it together, all by himself. Specially since Ron himself had only just worked it out.
"Me? I--" she started to say, and then instead kissed his cheek in return, a little closer to his mouth.
After a moment Harry continued the kisses. Ron buried his hands in Hermione's hair and watched as the edges of their lips touched. They both slowly slid to their left and their mouths were together.
Ever so slowly and ever so gently they leant into the kiss. Pulling back enough so that his mouth nearly left hers, Harry tilted his head slightly and reached his lips for hers once more. Her mouth opened and Ron heard her breathe with a hint of a sigh.
The sound caused an immediate reaction in his heart. He lifted Hermione's hair off her neck behind her right ear and pressed his lips to her skin.
"Never wanted to leave you out," Ron muttered as he kissed his way forward, mimicking his actions earlier when he'd been curled over her on the couch. "Been so thick."
"No," she whispered in response, before moaning softly as Harry slid his hands up to cup her breasts. "Not thick."
"We've missed you," he said into her ear. "Haven't we, Harry?"
"God, yeah," Harry agreed.
One of Ron's hands slid up Harry's arm and around his shoulder, holding on to him. They sat for a long moment continuing the kisses before Harry and Ron laid Hermione down between them.
Every touch was an apology, an entreaty, and a welcome home. They kissed their forgiveness and gasped their promises to never, ever drift so far again.
And Harry and Ron stayed on either side of her as they made love, together, for the first time since Miranda was born.
When she woke up in the dim, early hours of the morning, Hermione was in their big bed, with a baby on her arm, and Harry and Ron on either side of her still.
Her mind was filled with images from the night. The glimpse of tears that had filled Harry's eyes as he'd entered her - so slowly, pulling out just as carefully before sliding in again. Harry's hand buried in fiery red hair as Ron lapped at her leaking nipple. She flexed her hips a little, feelin the vaguely throbbing tenderness that was testament to how long it had been since she'd had sex.
She watched them sleep for a little while. Harry was curled - protectively towards Miranda now - rather than defensively as he used to. Ron was sprawling across his side of the bed, mouth open, but also holding her hand loosely in his, as he had done in the early days of their relationship.
The padding of footsteps approached down the hallway. The door opened and a small creature with a mad mop of curly hair walked quietly towards the bed. Charlotte was sillhouetted in the light spilling in from the nightlight in the corridor.
The little girl crawled up and lay on the duvet, making a nest for herself in the space between Ron and Hermione, laying her head near Hermione's hip. She tugged at the extra quilt, folded at the foot of the bed, and wriggled underneath it before falling asleep again almost immediately.
Hermione wriggled her fingers, feeling the soft skin of Ron's palm up against her hand. She slipped her other hand under Harry's wrist, and snuggled down into her safe warm bed with her babies, and her boys.
Where she belonged.
Hermione gave the table one last wipe, folded the cloth over the tap and smiled as Ron stood behind her and put his arms around her. He pressed her gently into the bench as he leant forward and nuzzled her neck.
"Charlotte asleep?" she asked quietly as she swept her hair to one side, out of his way.
"Yep. She's still on our bed. So is the Angel." He chuckled quietly. "I'll transfer her to her room later. Easier to put one charm up for the two of them, anyway."
"Oh, good. We'll hear them if they wake up then."
"We'll hear them if they snore!"
Ron tugged gently on her ear with his teeth before releasing her and picking the cloth up to wipe down the work tops.
They were both guilty of leaving too much of the domestics for Harry to do, but after having all of their friends over for a big lunch, it seemed fair to do their bit. It was quicker to do with magic, but there was something soothing about doing it by hand. And as Harry had pointed out, you couldn't get the kitchen to smell quite so fresh with a spell.
Thinking of how light and peaceful she felt reminded Hermione to quickly down a small dose of her daily potion. She was in the process of reducing the amount she took every day. As marvellous as it was to feel positive, it did gall her to contemplate relying on a potion for the rest of her life.
Hermione checked that the left-overs were charmed and stored safely away. Ron Noxed the lights before taking Hermione's hand and wandering into the conservatory. The large windows gave a beautiful view of the winter night sky.
"Harry's not back then," Ron observed.
Floo really was a marvellous thing, allowing him to just pop in and help Angelina and Fred carry sleeping children home.
"He's probably stayed for a nightcap," chuckled Hermione.
"Probably," agreed Ron.
They settled themselves down on the sofa, to wait for Harry's return. Ron put his feet -clad in old woolly socks- gently into Hermione's lap and stretched contentedly.
It had been a really nice day, he thought.
It was the first of their Saturday lunches Hermione had looked forward to in months and Ron was so pleased to see that she had actually enjoyed having their house full of friends and laughter. Both twins had been in fine form; the ongoing tension between Angelina and Fred put aside for the day. Lee Jordan was there as well; quieter than usual, but good company, nonetheless. Neville's Anna had been entertained all afternoon listening to her boyfriend and Luna discuss rare magical flora and fauna, and Seamus had read his latest owl from Dean (now giving things a go in an artist's commune in Amsterdam), and then stunned them all by admitting to a growing romance with Eloise Midgen's little sister, Cassandra. He'd agreed to bring her next month if things had progressed that far.
Ron and Harry had both been in playful moods at one point making Bill cough and splutter, spraying red wine all over the table cloth when Ron had caught Harry by the waist and pulled him down onto his lap saying, "Come here darlin' and give us a kiss, yeah?"
Ron smiled, remembering Hermione's giggles at Harry's flushed face, and at the happiness in Harry's eyes as he'd struggled to get away for a moment before twisting around to kiss him, with much ostentatious use of tongue, pinching him firmly on the arse as he stood and stalked off to get more wine from the sideboard. Seamus, Lee and Neville had wolf whistled and hooted for more, but the Weasleys had all groaned. Fred making the comment that now he had this unwelcome image to place next to the one of 'Mollywobbles' in his brain.
Fleur, as usual, commented on the English's appalling lack of joie de vivre, and everyone had a thoroughly good time.
Lunch had stretched out to include supper and it was nearly nine o'clock before the party had broken up. Miranda was asleep in Luna's arms, and their sister-in-law had waited for the rest of their guests to leave, before following Hermione up the stairs to place the baby on the big bed in their room.
Luna had looked around, seeming to hesitate before smiling over Hermione's left shoulder and making her way back downstairs as Ron came up with Charlotte, murmering promises about bedtime stories to the drowsy girl.
She had then followed Hermione around as she tidied up, making small talk - and Luna's small talk was unique; "Do you have a problem with Chizpurfles? These older houses often have large colonies of them in the Floo - until Hermione had asked, "Luna, did you want to ask me something?"
"No." Wide blue eyes had looked straight at her, head tilted slightly to the side.
"Oh. All right then...." Hermione turned again to the sink.
"But I was going to tell you that I'm pregnant." Luna had spoken as though she might have just said 'But I was going to tell you that I'm getting my hair cut.'
Hermione had spun about and stared at her sister-in-law. "Oh, Luna that's marvellous news!" She'd extended her arms and given her an awkward hug. Luna was not particularly affectionate with her friends, and Hermione was never sure if her embraces were welcome or not. She knew her well enough to know that she felt very deeply about them all, but expressed it in her own peculiar way.
Luna leant in for a moment and then stepped back. She'd had a particular half smile on her face that Hermione was beginning to realise meant that Luna was feeling uncomfortable, or unsure about something.
"Is it? Marvellous news...?" Hermione stood quietly as Luna tilted her head to the other side and took an interest in the stucco pattern on the ceiling.
"Well, it's certainly unexpected news. Which makes it a marvel in its own way, I suppose."
"Luna thinks she might be pregnant." Hermione kept looking outside, following the line of the Bramley apple trees sillhouetted against the night sky.
"Blimey," muttered Ron. "I mean... excellent!"
"She's not had it confirmed yet." What Luna had actually said was "I have confirmed it for myself, but don't worry, I'll go to the midwitch and she can use some more measurable magic so you can trust it."
"Isn't she happy about it? I'd always just assumed she didn't want any kids."
"She said she'd never minded either way. They'd never done anything to... prevent conception. She'd assumed she was infertile."
"Considering I've never taken a contraceptive potion in my life, it didn't seem very likely anyway," Luna had sighed. " Angelina certainly hasn't had any problems in that regard, so it would be assumed there's no problem with George's fertility, since he and Fred must have similar sperm."
Hermione had blushed, which had really annoyed her. I have babies to two different men. I am part of a real life menage a` trois. I have double penetration intercourse. I will not blush over description of George's reproductive capabilities!"
The Floo chime rang out and Ron and Hermione turned their heads to smile at Harry as he came to join them in the conservatory. He had the particular slightly dopey smile that only a few shots of firewhiskey would produce.
"Great day, huh?" he said as he prepared to lie down on the rug at their feet.
"Get up here you dozey git," protested Ron, lifting his head.
Harry looked from Hermione to Ron and back again to Hermione. She smiled at him, feeling her heart warming as he smiled back and took his place at the other end of the sofa, cradling Ron's head in his hands and then lowering it down onto his lap.
The warmth in her heart spread out and enveloped Hermione. There was a sense of comfort and familiarity here. Reminiscent of the lovely way they had been, together, when they had first moved here to Bramley Lodge. The last few months had been a hiccup. She wasn't quite back to 'normal' yet. but she was getting there. Every day.
And Harry seemed more and more at peace. It was startling to think how little time had passed since he had been almost completely broken.
Hermione reached an arm out along the back of the lounge and put her hand on Harry's wrist. He looked up and grinned soppily at her, sighing happily and entwining their fingers together. Hermione felt her eyes prickle with tears at the easy affection.
"Exactly how much have you had to drink, Harry?" asked Ron.
"Dunno. A couple. A few," he replied closing his eyes and leaning his head back, still smiling.
"You are such a light weight, Potter," Ron marvelled. He looked down his nose towards Hermione and eloquently raised his eyebrows at her. "Nice to see you're a happy drunk, though."
He meant it. It was nice to see Harry feeling sentimental and loving instead of morose and miserable. Alcohol seemed to have an exaggerated affect on him, amplifying whatever he was feeling.
"We've got great friends," Harry sighed, rolling his head slowly from side to side. "And we're great friends. To them. And to each other. You two are the best friends a man could have." He squeezed Hermione's hand and ran his fingers through Ron's hair, spread across his lap.
"Friends, huh?" Ron closed his eyes. He was trying to tease, but it was difficult to think with the entrancing feeling of Harry stroking his head, and threading his fingers through his hair. "Do this for all your friends?"
"Only the very very special ones."
Hermione watched Harry smile to himself. He was humming quietly, something that sounded suspiciously like 'Weasley is Our King'. That brought her time with Luna back to Hermione's mind. It certainly was one of the stranger conversations that Hermione had had with Luna, and that was rather saying something.
"Speaking of 'Special Friends', Luna had been thinking of offering to leave George."
Ron lifted his head, and opened his eyes to stare at her.
"Yes, that was rather my reaction, too."
"Leave... you? You leave George?" Hermione had spluttered as Luna casually twirled her wand, sending the clean cutlery neatly into the correct slots in the drawer. Hermione had been extremely impressed. She'd really never spent that much time learning domestic spells. "But... why on earth? Are you having troubles? Do you not love him anymore? I--"
"Oh, I adore him! But that was why, rather. He has wanted to so desperately to be a father. The Weasleys tend to put a lot of emphasis on children and family," Luna had explained to Hermione as though she was a stranger with no understanding of the family at all. "And I know he's drawn to Lee, but we are married, and he can't have children with Lee. Although I was thinking of this experimental spell I heard about a few years ago in Slova--"
"It wouldn't work," Hermione had interrupted. "It was based on shoddy Arithmancy." Then realised how rude she'd sounded. "I did some research into it for a client last year," she explained sheepishly.
"OK, Hermione," agreed Luna. Hermione felt that she was probably placating her. "Do you think it's rather poor form to expect George to stay now, just because of this? It's rather like an ambush, don't you think?"
"She thinks he should have had a chance with Lee. Not be tied to her. But now there's a baby--"
Harry's eyes popped open. "There's a baby?"
"She thinks so, yes," she nodded to Harry before continuing on. "But now that there's a baby, she doesn't think he would consider it."
"Poor Lee," Luna had sighed.
"But they're married," said Ron, looking completely confused. "George is married."
"So are you," Harry answered.
Hermione had felt quite wrongfooted when Luna asked her opinion.
Hadn't she wrestled with exactly the same feelings only a matter of weeks before? Why stay when she felt so unnecessary? When Ron and Harry were so caught up with each other, so happy with each other....
"Has George... said anything to her? Like that? About Lee?" Ron was sitting now. Knees tucked up to his chest.
"She didn't think he'd considered it as an option until recently."
"He'd never mentioned it. Not until Ron obviously started to sleep with Harry."
Hermione had opened the cupboard door as Luna floated the plates into place.
"What did he say about that? When he first found out?"
"Oh, that he always knew Ron was a girl."
Hermione had gasped and drawn herself up to full height.
"He was just saying foolish things while he tried to understand. He was very complimentary to you, Hermione. Made me wonder if he fancied you, actually. But then he started saying things like 'Lucky old Ron. Best of both worlds,' and things like that. And it just made me wonder...."
"George is completely mad about her, though!" insisted Ron. "He loves his wife."
"So do you," Harry pointed out.
Ron looked down at his knees. Hermione and Harry's eyes met.
The boozey haze was fading from his face and he looked very serious. "She asked me why we weren't married yet."
"What did you say, Harry?"
Harry took his hand from hers and scratched his head, and then took off his glasses to rub his face. "I just reminded her that you were both already married to each other. That the Matrimony spell won't work again without an official Ministry Finite. And that there is no way that is going to happen." He put his glasses back on. "She just looked unconvinced and asked 'How do you know?' Then she said I should marry both of you. That it had never been done because nobody had ever tried it."
"Would you want to do that?" Ron asked him. "Be married to both of us."
Harry thought for a while before lying his head back down. "I feel like I am already. What's the point?"
Hermione remembered something else Luna had said as they collected wine glasses and cider bottles from various parts of the house.
"Your magic is bound together in a unique way. I would never think 'Well, Harry and Ron and Hermione are all together. Why can't we be?'. It was never just a case of fancying another person and getting the go ahead to sleep with them, was it? He needed you. And he belongs with you. It's really not very complicated."
Harry looked as though he was falling asleep.
Ron looked down at him. "No you don't, Potter. I'm not carrying you up to bed if you doze off down here, even if you are a midget!"
"Well come on then," muttered Ron, standing up and hauling Harry to his feet. "You will be soon. Some Weasley you are. Can't hold your booze at all."
The three of them made their way up the stairs and crawled into bed. They were all too tired to move the girls, so after settling Harry on the side closest to the loo, Ron and Hermione arranged themselves in the spaces on each side of their daughters and fell gratefully to sleep.
She's in the cafe.
The sign declaring it to be 'The Charming Spot'; a magic butterfly changing colour as it flits through the painted letters; seems a lot higher up above her head than she remembered from the previous day. Everyone is looking at her, their faces unfriendly and suspicious. She bends over and turns away, trying to avoid the words from Marietta's mouth that are sending actual barbs into her stomach, her heart. She gets down on her hands and knees and crawls underneath the table, finding a safe nook behind the lacey tablecloth.
She peers out to see if the nasty woman has gone away, but instead of the bright and cheery colours of the cafe, she sees a darkened room full of tattered arm chairs and tall bookshelves. Sombre portraits glare at her from the walls, but she ignores them. The room is gloomy, but familiar. It isn't scary like the confrontation at the cafe had been.
Ron is talking. His voice makes her feel safe again. She curls up in a ball and closes her eyes, and drifts back to sleep.
It seems no time at all has passed when she opens her eyes again. The light under the table where she lays curled up has an odd diffused pinky red colour. And rather than lying on the hard floor she is floating. It's lovely and comfortable. There is a liquid warmth. A deep rumbly voice is speaking softly and making Mummy laugh. The laughter rolls around her and makes her smile, too. There's another voice. Not quite so deep, and not so happy. Her heart contracts a little in response, she longs to stretch out her arms and wrap the owner of the voice up in her arms. Make them smile. Make them laugh.
Someone is calling in the distance.
"I'm up here," comes the answer, the voice echoing oddly all around her. She opens her mouth to speak, but before she can make any sound hears, "I'm in the library."
A door opens. They walk, leaving the gloomy room to go down some gloomy stairs. She can only make out the vaguest of shapes through the hazy red light, but she knows the owner of the second voice is ahead of them, waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
The voice becomes more insistent. Then anxious, until it's yelling, and desperate. "HERMIONE!" She can hear it further away now.
"HERE! WE'RE OVER HERE!" she shouts back as forcefully as she can. A hand clamps over her mouth before she can call out again. Her arms are tied to her sides with a charmed rope. The more she struggles, the tighter it holds her. She is aching all over from the spells that have been hitting her. A thought crosses her mind. "This is what Harry felt in the graveyard." She is filled with admiration and horror. He withstood all of this alone. If only she could get away. Get help. Her feet scramble about, trying to get enough grip on the slippery ground to stand.
She's running through snow. Her heart is pounding so loudly that it thumps in her ears. She is fast and strong, but getting tired. Her breathing is laboured and harsh. It makes it difficult to hear, to know where to run, as she tries to find the voice. She ducks between trees, under branches, even leaps over a small heap of rocks that is blocking her path. There's a light ahead - the terrifying sight of spells flaring in the dark. Red. White. "Not green. Please not green." Fear grips her heart as she gets closer and sees the figures - two are bound, struggling against those that hold them. Harry is fighting three different opponents and she hates herself for having been mistaken, for insisting on trying the other way because now she's left him alone to fight this and she was supposed to be there with him. She gasps for breath as she pulls her wand from her pocket and enters the fray. Ginny looks completely pissed off and is struggling, yelling insults at their attackers. Hermione just looks at her as she stuns her captor. She Finites the Incarcerous and gathers her in her arms, puts her head on her chest and holds on with all her strength.
Hermione is crying. She can feel as well as hear the sobs with her ear between her breasts. Her chest heaves in the effort to get a deep breath. It bumps her head about and she can no longer reach the nipple. The warm milk was satisfying, but it's difficult to keep feeding with all the crying, so she stops trying to get back to it. She longs for Harry. He always holds her so closely and talks with a lovely gentle voice. Harry's hands slide under her arms and pick her up. Her legs dangle for a moment and then she's curled up on his lap. She puts her thumb in her mouth and lets the sucking sooth her. She feels safe again.
She wriggles around until she's lying on her side. The mattress is a little lumpy but she's used to that by now. There is a small spider making its way down the wall. It has a web across the underside of two of the steps above her. She feels an ache in her tummy - she's hungry and tired of being shouted at. There won't be any more food until teatime, as she has to stay in her cupboard all day, so instead of thinking about it too much, she settles down to sleep. She puts her thumb back into her mouth and cups her hand comfortingly at her groin and shuts her eyes. Maybe I'll dream about flying again....
Chapter 8: Chapter 7: And a Threefold Cord is Not Quickly Broken
This chapter was posted in an unfinished state rather than being abandoned all together.
It contains some notes, marked thus: --[ ]-- and also exerpts of instant messenger conversations between myself and maple_mahogany as she held my hand through the process, and most of the last part is made up of incomplete sections without proper punctuation, sentence structure or capitalisation.
I apologise to readers who feel that doing it this way was taking the lesser option.
"Well..." Ron's muffled voice spoke from behind Charlotte's sleeping form. "That was weird."
"Mmmghlfl," mumbled Harry.
Hermione rolled over - one arm still pinned to the bed by her younger daughter's weight - and saw Harry emerge from the duvet. He squinted at the wall before collapsing face down onto his pillow.
"Oh Merlin. My head."
"What did Fred give you to drink last night, Harry?" Hermione asked sympathetically. She reached over to touch him. It was an awkward angle so she only managed to lay her hand somewhere in the vicinity of his lower back.
He drew his knees up and rolled onto his side, catching her hand in both of his, and holding it in front of him as he tried again to open his eyes.
"Something green," he muttered. "Should've known. Green stuff is always a Bad Idea."
Hermione bit her lip to not smile too widely at the pathetic sight before her.
"So," Ron spoke again. "I had the oddest dream." He waited until he had their attention before continuing. " It kept changing from one thing -urgh, get your hair out - phtt - of my -pfft - mouth, Charlie. Ugh." He moved away from the ginger cloud in front of him. "Can still remember bits and pieces. I think we were in that poncy cafe in Diagon Alley first. I think it changed then to... to Grimmauld Place? And then we were in that bloody forest...."
Hermione was suddenly quite awake.
"And then you were in Harry's old house. Weren't you?" she asked.
"Yeah." Ron strained his head up to look at her. "How did you..."
Hermione held on firmly to Harry's hand.
"It finished in a cupboard. Under some... stairs."
"Yeah. And these sodding spiders."
Hermione let the picture of Harry -the feeling of being Harry- lying on his side, eyes fixed on the strips of light visible through the vent in the door. She tried to send a message to the little boy she had seen, had been, that it was all going to be okay. That even though he felt so alone right now, even though it seemed no one knew; no one cared, it was all going to change.
He would grow up. Get away. Become handsome and strong. She tried to tell him that he would make friends one day. Fall in love. Have a family of his own.
And that he would have not just one, but two partners who loved him and cared for him and delighted in him.
That he would be a father. That he would find happiness.
Hermione could feel the tension rolling off Harry. She turned to look at Ron. He was leaning up on one elbow, staring at her.
"You had the same dream?" he asked her.
They both looked at Harry. He dropped Hermione's hand and sat up. His thoughts were jumbled about, rolling uncomfortably through the alcohol induced fog in his mind.
They'd seen. They'd felt it.
Just as he'd felt the heavy darkness that was lurking still, held at bay, but always threatening to sink over Hermione and pull her back into the pit. And the mind melting fear and anger Ron had known in the forest. The self disgust and despair that came with his inability to help.
That meant they'd felt the rest, too. They knew.
He felt so small and stupid. Just like he had when he'd been in that cupboard under the stairs with only the spiders for company.
Sparing only a moment to imagine Ron's horror at that, he looked away from them and back at his daughter. The Angel's eyes seemed to hold too much understanding for a person not even [?] months old.
"Does that mean... you both... "
All three adults looked at Little Charlie.
"I sometimes dream about that big house."
"Wasn't that Grimmauld Place?" asked Ron.
"I've dreamt about the cupboard before, too, but not for a long time. Not since we lived here."
Miranda began to wriggle, trying to kick her legs free of the duvet. She was lying on her back, with her thumb firmly in her mouth, eyes open and staring into the middle distance.
Charlie slipped out of bed and padded into the bathroom
Harry stared up at the ceiling watching the morning sun make patterns through the curtains. His heart thumped in his chest and his throat felt tight and dry.
Ron's hand hesitated, reaching out before resting on Harry's arm.
"Shit," he whispered, "Why didn't you just tell us?"
Harry's eyes shut. There were so many images in his mind from that jumbled dream. So many moments that should rate higher in impact, but the one that cut deepest was still there, waiting for him.
He couldn't explain why this mattered. It was ridiculous. Had all happened so long ago.
He sneered slightly at himself, and opened his eyes again.
"Tell you what?"
"What? The drama with the Angel and the thumb! If we'd known that's why it was such a big deal--"
"It's not a big deal. It's stupid."
"Stop it Harry!" interrupted Hermione.
Ron rolled up onto his hands and knees and crawled over to Hermione. He extended one leg and one arm over her side until he was straddling her.
He dropped a kiss onto her nose, "Morning love," as he slid past, trying to find room to continue over to her other side.
"Ouch!" complained Harry. "What are you...? Fuck that's my leg. You great..."
"Stop whinging, Potter."
Ron pushed Harry down onto his back and then wrapped himself around him; one long leg hooked over Harry's, his foot wedged across his shins. His lower arm tunneled under Harry's neck --"Nnff, my HAIR!" "God you're a pussy."-- until he could hold his own hands together against Harry's wriggling chest. "Get OFF!" "Oh shut up."
Hermione gently shifted Miranda over so that she could roll and face them.
"Harry," she scolded. "It's not stupid."
"But how you're acting is stupid."
"Ron!" Hermione's tone was disapproving.
"Well it is. Just like old times, huh?"
"Me being pathetic. 'Poor Harry'."
"It's not pathetic!" Hermione repeated. "I can't help but wonder-"
"I was little. It was pretty lonely in my cupboard,"
" 'Course you were, mate." Ron exchanged a look with Hermione and edged in closer to Harry. "It's fine," he said, more seriously, " don't blame you."
"Just when I saw you with Miranda..."
"So I was treating that little Angel like your bloody Aunt treated you?"
"No!" Brilliant. "You didn't slap her. Or call her pathetic, or-" Harry took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "It doesn't matter. Of course you didn't. You wouldn't. I know that. I didn't mean that you...."
"Good," interrupted Ron. "Because I'd never do any of those things, and you do know that. If you don't, you're a bigger nob than we realised!"
Hermione put a hand to Harry's cheek. "It doesn't matter," she whispered. "I don't really mind."
"You hate it," said Harry. His voice was tight in his throat. He could feel Ron's soothing presence wrapped around him like a quilt, and Hermione's face was open and loving, but he couldn't be convinced so smoothly.
"I've seen your face when you see her sucking her thumb. You don't like it and I hate to think that she sees you looking at her that way. I don't want her growing up thinking she does that to her Mother."
"Oh Harry!" Tears sprang to Hermione's eyes. "No! I'm not thinking... that or...whatever it is you're thinking. I do worry about her teeth. I can't help it! I was raised by dentists! I never tasted sugar until I went to Hogwarts!"
Ron grumbled into Harry's hair. No sweets. What a mental idea!
"And, also... I can't help but think it's my fault."
Ron's face appeared. "Fault? It's no one's fault. And even if it was, why yours?"
"Well, if I'd not lost the plot, and been so...."
"Hermione!" Both boys exclaimed in chorus.
"She'd not have needed her thumb if I'd been more nurturing."
She could feel tears burning the backs of her eyes, threatening to well up, but rather than dissolve and allow the boys to comfort her, she found that she could rein them back in and instead gave them a rather watery smile.
As though on cue, Miranda snuffled closer to Hermione's breast, and not finding a waiting nipple, put her thumb firmly back into her mouth and sucked seriously.
Hermione looked up and smiled as Charlotte walked back into the room. She had taken a moment to dress herself for the day in a pair of purple and orange footless tights, a large Chuddley Cannons t-shirt which hung to her knees, and was belted at the waist with a spotted headscarf. The bed dipped down as she climbed back up onto the bed and leant over to look at Miranda.
She watched for a few moments before putting her own thumb into her mouth and sucking experimentally. She wrinkled her nose and pulled it back out with a 'pop' before grimacing and wiping on the pillowcase.
"So Harry, do you feel better letting her, because you weren't allowed to? Just like Mummy doesn't really mind when you and Daddy give me chocolate and sweets."
"What on earth?" exclaimed Hermione. "I most certainly do mind!"
"You never say 'no'. You always say 'Your grandmother would be horrified'," Charlie mimicked Hermione's inflection, kneeling up on the bed with her hands on her hips.
Ron threw his head back and roared with laughter. Harry bit his lip and swallowed a chuckle of his own.
"I think she's hungry," Charlie said reproachfully to Hermione, "and so am I."
"Didn't we feed you yesterday?" asked Ron with a groan, "You want food again?"
"Daddy! That's just not funny!"
"Sure it is," muttered Ron laying back onto the pillow.
"I'll go," said Harry, running his fingers through his hair, making it all stand on end. Charlie giggled, before pulling on his hand roughly.
"Ow. My head."
"Hungry, Harry! Come on!"
"All right Charles. I could really do with a coffee right about now anyway."
Grasping the hand that Charlie still had in his, he suddenly flipped her over and gathered her in his arms, head downward, feet waving in the air. Ron and Hermione listened to her shrieks disappear along the hallway and down the stairs.
Ron slid over into the warm patch of bed that Harry had left behind, and snuggled his face between Hermiones shoulder blades as she gathered the baby to her and settled her at her breast. Before he could doze off she spoke.
"I've missed that."
"The bond. The connection. Feeling you both. Knowing you both can feel me, too. That sense that I don't have to try and explain myself. Because you would already just know."
There was silence for a moment
"Bit of a surprise with the girls there, too, wasn't it? The dream."
"Yes. It certainly was."
"All that soul leaking about all over the place when you were pregnant, I suppose."
"When I was pregnant and we were all making love together, you mean."
"And that. Yeah." Ron squirmed a little. He didn't really want to think about that too much. "I mean, Charlie's never even been to Grimmauld Place, has she? Nor the Angel, that's for sure!"
"I felt her there. Miranda. When we did the ritual."
"It didn't feel wrong. I never thought about it again. Do you think we should... do something? "
Hermione felt Ron moving around behind her, stretching the sleep out of his limbs. He shuffled higher up the bed and tucked his head over the top of hers, slipping an arm around her waist, pressing his open hand to her stomach.
A few things started to sort themselves into place in Hermione's thoughts. The way that Harry had always had such an obvious bond with both girls. The way he would appear as Miranda started to get unsettled, asking if she was okay. The way he always seemed to know when Charlotte was looking for him.
"Have you noticed it before? The way they've got a bond?"
"Dunno really. Nice for Harry I s'pose."
His fingers brushed back and forth over the fabric of Hermione's night shirt. There didn't seem to be any intent to it. Just feeling the texture of the fabric and the way it wrinkled up against her skin. He cleared his throat quietly before mumblng, "Just proves more that he really is a part of this family."
The distant sounds of voices and clatter of dishes drifted up the stairs. It wasn't loud enough to cover the snuffles and slurps of the baby having her breakfast in the bed next to them.
"Do you? Miss it?" She didn't explain what she was referring to.
Ron nodded against her back
"Might have avoided some of this mess."
"I suppose we were so used to just knowing that we got a little... lazy."
"We need to try something else, then. Perhaps talking or something?"
His hand stroked more firmly along her stomach, and then down to cup her hip.
"So you're really feeling better, then?"
Hermione thought of the potion, constantly brewing on the work top in the kitchen. She still took her spoonful each day but was glad to know that it was half the strength it had been. "Much."
Fingers squeezed gently into the softness of her skin. "You look like you feel better. I'm glad."
Hermione could hear the deliberate gentleness in his tone. The hesitancy and caution at bringing up the thing that had so marred their last few months. She leant back, putting more of her weight against his chest in a silent thankyou.
"It's still... there... and everything is so much more difficult than I imagined."
Ron made a little questioning noise.
"Two children. Two husbands...."
"And I'm tired of hiding away and being frightened. Tired of doing nothing about it."
Ron's grip tightened a little on her hip.
"I don't want to hide anymore, Ron."
His face pressed into her hair and fingers slid up over her waist, skimmed her breast and neck, before gathering up the curls around her face and flattening them down enough for him to reach over and kiss her neck. "OK," he repeated into her skin. Hermione pressed back, hooking her foot over his shin and feeling the answering pressure as he rolled forward. She knew that things wouldn't progress past the simple caress. The physical show of emotional support. Not while the baby lay awake, feeding and staring up at Hermione with wide eyes. Eyes that were becoming greener every day
Still it was soothing to lie here together, feeling comfortable and wanted. To feel his hands on her skin. To want him as well.
---[discussion where trio decide to go out more into the world.
to not hide. strategy for hermione's first excursion out.
first time they are all ready to go out- owl freaks baby out. trying to land on her.
all their friends know to send things to h,hr or r.
discover it's from a journalist. spell to take photo when it is received.
they all stay home.]---
Harry stood still. He looked about at the trees where he had Disapparated to, and tried to allow the calm of the afternoon seep into his mind and soothe his frustration.
His day had been filled with frustration. A lesson in futility from start to finish. Bloody red tape. Bloody Ministry departments and their mountains of bloody parchment.
Bloody journalists and their un-solicited owls.
It had always been annoying, dodging the unwanted attention of the press, but now they had started to target Charlie and the baby. And that was just Not On. Neither Harry nor Ron had realised how difficult it would be to fill out what should be simple paperwork, to block owls finding the girls, redirecting post to one of them. Ron was working all day, so Harry had trudged into Diagon Alley and along to the Ministry and then proceeded to queue for hours at a time, simply to be told he was in the wrong department. It hadn't helped that when he'd finally managed to find the correct forms to fill in, and the appropriate desk to hand them to, he hadn't been allowed to file the paperwork for Charlie. Or Hermione. Adding to his aggravation, the old clerk at the desk had raised an eyebrow and said with amusement, "You honestly haven't worked that out before now? The spell recognises paternity and matrimonial rights, son. Better let the real father come in and sort it out."
It shouldn't have mattered so much to him. It shouldn't, but it did. Because as much as they thought of themselves as a family, he had no paternal claim over Charlie. And no legal rights at all in regards to Hermione or Ron. If one of them were admitted to St Mungo's he'd need the other's express permission to visit.
Harry breathed in through his nose and blew the air out slowly.
There was already a chance that Little Charlie had sensed his upset. It explained so much about her intuiting his moods so accurately. She'd always just known the best time to clamber into his lap for a cuddle, or pull a ridiculous face to make him laugh.
And as potentially disturbing as the idea was - him having some sort of soul connection with her because of inadvertant sex magic with her mother while she was not yet born - Harry loved that it gave validity to the feeling he'd always had for her. That even though he wasn't actually her Father, they were part of each other. He wondered if Ron felt the same about Miranda. A twinge of guilt stung him when he thought of how threatened he'd felt over his daughter. She really was theirs.
He didn't want to make things worse by storming into the house with his temper still fizzling about. He could practically see sparks. Actually hecould see sparks; shooting from his wand.
"Get a grip, Potter," he muttered to himself.
Harry concentrated on the 'edge' of his feelings. The background hum that he'd come to realise was his connection with the girls. Miranda was starting to wake up, partly due to his own spilling aggravation. He took some deep breaths and concentrated on feelings of affection and anticipation of seeing the girls. To try and help soothe her back to sleep.
Harry walked slowly down the lane until he came to the bend and could see the settled warmth of Bramley Lodge.
He could hear Little Charlie's announcement ring through the house as he trudged up the gravel path towards the front door. Before he had a chance to reach out for the handle, the door was flung open and a little girl jumped up into his arms.
"Time for a pint?" Ron turned and grinned at Harry as they made their way - finally- out into the dreary, cold afternoon. Diagon Alley was not very busy; the Christmas rush not yet started. "We could sneak in to the Leaky and be back before everyone comes over."
He watched as Harry rolled his head from one side to the other, trying to release some of the tension that had been drawing his shoulders up tighter around his ears through the tedious afternoon spent finalising the Owl Redirections. "Hermione won't be too impressed," he muttered in reply. "She's already shirty at being left behind."
She really hadn't been happy that after coming to the long postponed decision to not stay home all the time, their errand was one for which she wasn't actually required. Ron was legally able to do all paperwork in her name. He was also concerned that the girls should not have to deal with any unpleasantness in public. Harry had conceded the fact, though Ron guessed that he was hoping for a chance to show their baby off to the world, to hold her in his arms and say 'Yes. I'm not ashamed of her. Of us," but it was only asking for trouble to be so conspicuous. They needed to start small. So Hermione had stayed home, under sufference, with the girls.
"Yeah. S'pose so. And Neville and the others will be over soon. We should just Floo from Wheezes'."
The pair walked past the pub entrance and continued down the Alley towards the bright purple shopfront. Ron enjoyed the feeling of Harry's shoulder bumping his a little as they walked. He would have liked to rest his arm around his mate's shoulder, run a hand down his back and soothed away some of the dark mood that hung around him. He considered reaching down and taking Harry's hand in his, but decided that there was no sense in tempting fate.
"That's Harry Potter!" a young voice hissed loudly -as though on cue - behind them as they walked past Flourish and Blotts. "I'm going to ask him to sign my Defense Book!"
Ron smirked as Harry rolled his eyes and then put on his 'polite face'. Their day had so far been without incident, and there were worse things to face than a young autograph hunter.
"No, you will not," an older voice insisted.
"Awww, Mum. Why not?"
"Not while he is with his..."
The patient expression melted off Harry's face. For a moment he just looked blankly at Ron. Ron could feel his ears and cheeks heat up. There was no mistaking the sneer in the woman's tone.
Caught up in his own embarassment, Ron nearly missed the shift in Harry's manner as he turned to face the speakers.
"Mate," he whispered, fingertips touching Harry's back as he leaned in towards his shoulder. "Just leave it."
"Would you like my friend's autograph, too? He's a War Hero, you know. Ron Weasley."
Oh, Harry. Shut. Up.
Ron moved his hand from Harry's back around to his elbow. He tried to pull him away.
"I know who Mr. Weasley is," the woman said with a tight mouth.
"Then you'll know that he deserves your respect and gratitude."
"Harry, come on," muttered Ron, smiling apologetically at the young girl. She was looking, bewildered, from her mother to the two men.
Ron grasped Harry around the upper arm and dragged him away.
"Pleasure to meet you," he said over his shoulder, trying to drown out Harry's continuing bitter tirade.
"Chapter 35, Hogwarts- A History Revised Edition," he was shouting, "Look it up! I don't recognise you. I'm assuming you weren't There!"
Harry wrenched his arm free from Ron's grip and walked quickly ahead of him down the Alley.
"Harry!" Ron called after him. He tried to ignore the faces of the wizards and witches who turned towards the fracas. He ran a few steps to catch up, and spun Harry back to face him. "Calm down! She's just a stupid old cow. No need to--"
"It's not just this!" Harrry interrupted him, running a hand through his hair and letting out a strangled growl of irritation. "It's her. I upset her."
Ron frowned. The girl hadn't walked away with an autograph but she had a jolly good story to tell her friends at school. He really didn't think it was worth this outburst.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "Angel. I upset her. Or she's upsetting me." He made another frustrated sound and muttered, "I don't even know any more," and opened the door they were standing next to.
"Welcome to Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes," a cheery voice said in Ron's ear. He caught it just in time before it shut and slipped in behind Harry. "The only place to buy your--" Ron waved his hand, cutting short the automatic spiel.
He looked around the shop, going up on his toes to find the wild black hair he was searching for.
George caught his eye and tipped his head in the direction of a door shutting on the other side of the display. Ron nodded and made his way through the shoppers towards the entry to the flat upstairs. A rush of green flame reflected off the paintwork on the stairwell. He took the stairs two at a time and followed his mate into the fireplace.
The Floo rattled behind Hermione, and she turned just in time to see Harry tumble out. It wasn't a great surprise as she'd been busily trying to calm down a fractious baby for the past ten minutes. She jumped up to intercept him before he noticed the woman sitting across the kitchen table from them, tea cup clenched between white knuckled hands. Charlotte had been leaning up against her chair. She moved to stand beside her mother, hiding slightly behind her leg and holding on to the fabric of her skirt.
Harry raised his eyebrows at Hermione, narrowing his eyes at the same time. His lips were already pressed together in a straight line. He was obviously trying to control whatever was about to come out of his mouth, and Hermione thought, Good! Maybe this awareness of how he was linked to the children would be a good thing for his self control.
He brushed his hands down his legs and arms, flicking away the evidence of his journey through the fire, and then turned to face Ron who was stepping out of the fireplace. "Hermione has a visitor. Apparently."
Penny pushed her chair back and got to her feet. "I'll go, Hermione. Thankyou for the tea. I...." She swallowed as her eyes rested first on Charlotte, still half hidden at Hermione's side, and then Miranda, grumbling and wriggling in her arms, and turned and picked up her cloak that was folded on the chair next to her. "I won't bother you again. Thankyou... for listening." The edges of her cloak brushed against Ron as she walked past him towards the french doors opening out to the back garden. Hermione saw him clench his jaw, flinching with distaste at the contact. Her hand paused on the handle and she turned to face Harry and Ron. "I'm sorry. Really I am." No one spoke as they watched her take a few more paces and then turn, disappearing with a sharp pop that they could hear through the glass.
The silence that lingered over her departure was broken as Charlotte pushed away from Hermione's leg and threw herself at Harry. He stooped to pick her up, resting her in the crook of one arm. Miranda wriggled a little in Hermione's grip, stretching her hands out towards Harry. Hermione stepped up closer to him to allow him to ruffle his hand through her tuft of dark hair. "Hey there, Angel. You ok now?" The little girl grasped the sleeve of his cloak firmly in her fist and bah bah bah-ed very seriously at him before making a lunge at his glasses. Hermione stepped back, untangling the little fingers from Harry's arm and glanced at Ron.
He was standing with his arms folded, an expectant look on his face as he caught her eye.
"She's broken off all contact with Marietta."
"I couldn't condone it anymore," Penelope had stuttered out, standing awkwardly at the front door. "All I could see was your daughter's face. Percy's niece. So frightened. And Marietta wasn't sorry at all."
Hermione had moved to the side and invited her sister-in-law through into the kitchen with a nod of her head. Charlotte had abandoned her drawing the moment she saw her, gluing herself to her mother's side.
"I had no idea she would target the children."
It had been easier for Hermione to occupy her hands making a pot of tea, cutting slices of fruit cake and arranging them on a plate, than to meet Penny's eyes. She wanted to stay cold and cross. Not feel sympathy for this woman who had brought so much pain to their extended family.
"She wished us well." Hermione still felt conflicted. She had sat through too many uncomfortable afternoons at The Burrow, trying to shield Harry from her sister-in-law's thinly veiled insults, to forgive so quickly.
"I am lonely now. Percy was my family and now I have pushed away the people that he loved." Her long fingers had fiddled with her teaspoon, shifted her cup in its saucer, smoothed out invisible creases in the table cloth. "I thought that if Marietta lost her informant- if she had no more inside information - she couldn't write such hurtful pieces. It was naive of me to think she would focus elsewhere. She carries a real grudge. I didn't realise that cutting myself off as a source would compell her to become more aggressive rather than less."
Hermione hadn't been able to think of any reply. She had just sat quietly, finally allowing Penny to meet her eyes, and hoping that she saw enough of Hermione's own mixed feelings to understand. "I know i've acted very poorly. I am no Gryffindor, Hermione. Percy had forgiven his family. I didn't think I could do the same. But now I realise that I must. I was wrong to... My bitterness has done his memory no favours."
--[hermione tells them of conversation - penny disillusioned with marietta.
when she saw charlie's face. realised how bitter she was being.
how percy had managed to forgive his family.
it was incumbent on her to do so, too.
she knows marietta won't lose her job, but she no longer has her 'inside information'.
'i hope you will all be happy together.'
*she hadn't realised that cutting herself off as a source would compell marietta to get more aggressive and target the girls.]--
The unmistakable sound of a car making its way up the rough lane towards their house.
"Tourists?" questioned Ron with a shrug of his shoulders. There was nowhere for a car to turn in the alley. Instead of the back and forth of a three (or more- their front yard was quite small) point turn, the sound of wheels coming to a halt in the gravel. The engine switched off and Hermione ran after Charlotte to catch her before she opened the door to a complete stranger.
"It's Neville!" she squeaked. "Neville and Anna came in a car."
Ron and Harry raised eyebrows at each other and came out to see.
"He did so well!" Anna was saying. "I drove on the motorway, but he took over before we got to the village."
--[others arrive: george, luna, fred. angelina arrives separately with chn.
luna is starting to show. instead of pregnancy making her more vague she is more focused and 'busy'.
she follows hermione around asking her about progress with her research into the matrimony spell.
they discuss how it's necessary for other 'non conventional' couples etc needing the spell work and magical law to catch up with things.
others ask what they're talking about. she explains:]--
'I have actually been looking into it. How to make an adjustment to the Matrimony spell. Ever since all this nonsense with the owls. In my notes from when Remus and I were investigating the erm... ritual. There was a reference to--"
"What ritual are we talking about?" asked Anna.
--Neville gets flustered, tries to explain.
**George: "What? more sex magic, huh?" He waggled his eyebrows dramatically at Ron.
Hermione: "Actually nothing like that. It seems that it will be quite a simple matter.
Due to the fact that our magic has merged to such an extent already, and that we have children together."
"that's a bit back to front isn't it?"
"morals of society not necessarily true to the nature of magic. these spells are extremely old.
long before they were overlaid with the insipid victorian-esque "morality" of the last few hundred years! since the witch hunts.
kept the suspicion of that era.
The spell will automatically change the girls' names to "Potter Weasley" - alphabetical order.
"How terribly Ravenclaw of it."
no mention at all of Granger, naturally.
"because you're a woman?"
"no. because i'm muggle born"
well, 'miranda granger potter weasley' is a bit of a mouthful for such a tiny person.
George snuffled his nose into Miranda's neck. 'Lot of trouble caused by such a tiny person, too, yeah?"
"George!" Hermione frowned.
Anna gasped. "That's all she needs! On top of everything. A bloody complex!"
--Looking at Luna who was sitting cross legged on one of the straight backed kitchen chairs. Belly rounding slightly.
doing something for charlie? plaiting her hair?
Hermione took Miranda back - she stretching arms out.
"So how is luna doing? how are YOU doing?"
"All this wedding talk doesn't mean you can start getting all soppy on me. i'm FINE. i'm great."
"We're good Hermione." George's gaze softened as it rested ...
"Now she's stopped with all the vomiting. that was fun. i don't think. her idea was a good one.
Puking Pastilles anti dote. new packaging and we'll make a small fortune now. "
"aah! Hermione. i've already had Ron being all sensitive and touchy feely."
"you mean 'Emotionally competent'?"
"Whatever. Like I told my disturbingly concerned baby brother, and his tiresomely kind husband-to-be. I am happy for Lee. I am happy that he's found a charming, witty, non-ginger bit of arse to step out with. Yes he is still my best mate. Yes I miss him a bit since he moved out. No it's not the same since we're no longer living on top of each oth--" His facade of cheerfullness broke for the first time. He took a breath. "It wasn't ever going to be the same thing for us as for you lot." *moment of honesty* maybe since he knew she saw the drop of facade? "That was Luna. Her idea. Not mine."
she hugs him.
Miranda grasps at her drink. it breaks the moment.
"So," George said, grasping at the change of topic," you're looking good. Better."
--[hermione works out the spell.]--
Quizzical: my writing has changed a lot. there has been no explicit sex so far. but i feel a little eye rolly doing it poetically. but it might be too much to have an actual sex scene there.
Quizzical: not too much, but just out of place.
Maple Mahogany: it would be perfectly fine to include an opening A/N to that chapter or whatever just saying 'i've been writing this story for X years and my writing process has evolved so if X seems out of place, it's because I have matured/progressed in my comfort zone as a writer'
Maple Mahogany: simple and honest
Quizzical: that's actually not a bad idea
Maple Mahogany: and I think your story would be better served for you writing to your best and most inspired process
Maple Mahogany: rather than 'holding back'
Quizzical: you just want a threesome, right?
Maple Mahogany: naturally
--[and then they all have sex.]--
Quizzical: i was thinking of like... hermione looking forward to getting home later, going over all the things that ron had been whispering in her ear the night before while he fucked her (keeping the language in keeping with the story) telling her what harry was doing, what harry wanted to do. so it's like. suggested and stuff, but still 'there'
Maple Mahogany: that sounds nice.
--[and then they (mostly) live happily ever after. (for now) ]--
Quizzical: anyway. for the ending.
Quizzical: so instead of having them all 'fixed' i just want to end it showing they are on their way to fixed. so maybe just heading out for their first dinner together in public or something - like you suggested i think?
Quizzical: and then she could keep imagining how things could be, now things are getting better. imagining living in that house for years, and the girls growing up etc
Quizzical: maybe finish with imagining the next day and her plans. and sort of saying how it was fine. it was good.
Maple Mahogany: I like it
Quizzical: so do i.
Chapter 9: Epilogue
This is the end of the story. I am so sad to say goodbye to this family. They have lived in my imagination for so long. But it feels good to get some closure. To round things up instead of leaving them dangling in the midst of a bad dream!
Thankyou so much to everyone who has read the story and especially those who have left comments along the way.
Art work: is by kath_ballantyne. The piece 'Family' with Harry, Ron and Miranda was initially done as a gift for me, and i later commissioned the other 3 pieces. I am completely thrilled with them. Please let her know if you enjoyed them. (NB they are not up for copying. I am clutching them tightly to my chest and saying "mine!".)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"OK poppet. You settle down now. Granddad will be in shortly to say good night."
Charlie reached up for a cuddle, leaning in to Granny's squishy bosom for a moment. She took in a deep breath through her nose, enjoying the smell of herbs and cleaning spells that followed Granny around. It made her feel comfortable and bed-timey.
Charlie squirmed back down against the pillow to get more comfortable. The photo album she was holding was heavy against her knees. There were lots of pictures in it, and it was a tradition that on her visits to The Burrow she would look at it before going to sleep.
There was another album, full of newspaper clippings and other things, that she wasn't allowed to look at. Not yet, anyway. When she was Older.
But this one, with the smooth leather cover and a vine design that Charlie would trace her finger along - up and around and then across and down - was always on her bed when she would come up the windy stairs after cleaning her teeth and saying goodnight to the mirror.
She would start right from the beginning: the photos of Daddy as a little baby, surrounded by The Uncles; some pictures of Aunty Ginny as well. She would smile at the chubby face and try and see if she could find her own face in her aunt's. Everyone always was telling her she looked like her, but Charlie couldn't really see it. Except for the Weasley hair.
Then there were some where Harry joined in. Photographs from school, and a few from The Burrow. There were an awful lot of pictures of Daddy and Harry with their brooms.
Most of the photographs of Mummy were moving like normal pictures did, but there were a couple of pages of Muggle Photos. Some of Grandma and Grandpa Granger; Mummy as a little girl. None at all of Harry though, which was strange since he had lived with Muggles and not known he was a wizard at all until he was eleven. (Eleven! Charlie still couldn't understand that. How could he not feel that buzzy hum of magic when spells were cast? And how did he cook dinner if he couldn't light the stove? It was all very mysterious. He never talked much about being little, before he'd gone to proper school, so she didn't like to ask.)
There were some new pictures this time -still ones- from when Charlie's little sister was born and them all in their new house. (Their new house was super. It was really big and had a lovely garden. They had been able to buy it because people kept dying and leaving Harry all their gold.) Grandad was very excited about the photos. He had set up a special Black Room to learn how to make them. Charlie had helped him, because she didn't need to use magic to do it. He had even let her take some of the photos. She was getting much better at holding it level and keeping the camera still enough to take a clear picture.
"What do you think then, Charlie-girl? Some nice shots there!" Grandad settled himself on top of the blanket, crossing his ankles and leaning on his elbow so that he could look at the album as well.
"I like this one," she said, pointing to a picture of her parents all snuggled up on the sofa. Mummy looked happy and Daddy was wearing Harry's shirt. Grandad coughed a little in the back of his throat and hmmmm'd at it, turning the page.
"Oh!" Charlie put her hand out (carefully on the edge of the page because she knew not to touch the photos or they'd smudge) and turned to smile at Grandad. "This one is my very favourite."
"Yes?" Grandad looked back at the page. "You look very pretty."
Charlie rolled her eyes. "That isn't why. It's just a nice one. Of us. My family."
Grandad smiled at her again. His eyes were so lovely and warm and wrinkled around the edges. He pushed his glasses back up his face, and bent over to kiss her nose. "It is a nice one. Of a very lovely family."
There were still lots of empty pages in the album. Charlie was looking forward to taking more photographs to fill it up. Maybe she could take the camera into the garden and take some pictures of her tree house. Or from her treehouse. Everything looked a little bit different from up there.
She yawned and snuggled down more into her pillow, and her grandfather picked up the album, closing it carefully. He waved his wand at the lamp and the light dimmed to a soft golden glow. Silver stars sparkled from the ceiling. He paused in the doorway, turning to check on her one more time. She was feeling rather drowsy now, ready to go to sleep.
"Night, Grandad," she whispered.
"Sweet dreams, Charlie. Goodnight."
thanks so much for reading. i hope you enjoyed it. I would love to hear what you thought.