Title: The Hollow's Child
Disclaimer: Yeah I don't own HP. Whatevs.
Synopsis: DH, mid book AU. Sort of, I tried to blend it? Hermione had sensed it, that night, in Godric's Hollow, that it was meant to happen. And now there had to be consequences.
They promised not to talk about it. And she believed him, because why would he say anything? He would be just as hurt, just as ruined if the truth came out as she would. And so she trusted him, and knew she always could trust him. For as long as they both shall live.
That night, in Godric's Hollow, she'd known what would happen. She couldn't say why, exactly, but she'd felt it, deep in her bones, just as Harry always explained things, feelings, instincts, what was right seemed obvious. It was natural. It was assumed. And though neither of them had ever considered the possibility before – or after – there was nothing wrong about sensing it right then. As they leaned into the fence blocking them from the graffiti covered plaque, she took Harry's hand and felt the deepest longing she had ever known. To comfort him. To reassure him. To, it was odd that this was what she had felt, but she had, and there was no changing that now, to be one with him.
The attack at Bathilda's house had been a shock, but nursing him back to health afterwards felt natural. And telling him about his wand – she hadn't meant to break it, she really hadn't, and for the months when they believed the snap irreparable she had felt miserable and guilty the whole time – was not pleasurable by a long shot, but it had not felt unexpected either. And when, after she told him, he cried, and screamed, and bargained until she reached out to grab his hands, to tell him, again, that she was sorry but there was nothing she could do, when she felt his hands, that was when she knew again. The same feeling of assuredness that had struck her so hard at that old, half exploded house in Godric's Hollow overcame her again and before she knew it, she was reaching forward to brush the tears off Harry's cheek, and he was holding her hand tighter, squeezing it, making it hurt, and she opened her mouth to tell him that she could feel bruises forming, but he stopped her before she could talk. His mouth, unsure of itself, was half-pressed against her open lips. He was waiting for her to either return the pressure or pull away and she looked with open eyes at Harry's cheek and left eye, closer than she had ever seen them. She tasted his tears. She remembered him describing his kiss with Cho Chang – only two years before though it felt like centuries ago – as being wet. Yes, she thought, probably like this. And salty too. And warmer than she expected. And not as soft as she would have thought. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, returning this strange kiss. She found his tongue with hers. It felt slimy, not altogether pleasant, and tasted vaguely of copper, some blood must still remain from his injuries, though she'd tried to heal them. His hand clumsily found her side and pulled her closer and inched its way underneath the hem of her jumper. His skin startled hers. Every touch, every careful finger just barely grazing higher than the last as he cautiously attacked her torso, tickled her, made her acutely aware of never having been touched this way before.
Back in the fourth year – eons ago – she had let Viktor Krum kiss her like this in the library sometimes. Because she was upset with Ron without realizing that was why she felt unsteady. It was before she had known, of course, that Ron could set her off. And Viktor, he must not have known or must not have cared that he was only a diversion from her true feelings, he had kissed her and touched her as much as she let him. Which wasn't much. Only one time did his hand, not fumbling like Harry's, ever make its way underneath her pleated Gryffindor skirt. She still remembered the surprise of feeling his hand, of it circumventing her cotton panties, of his fingers probing further before she reached out pushed away from him, stopping it all. She had not gone back to the library with him after that.
Kissing Harry was very different than kissing Viktor. Viktor had always been very precise, knowing exactly how his body and her body were moving. Harry seemed to be just guessing at everything – his one hand failed again at unclasping her bra and his other hand reached up to join in the quest – and she did not mind this. It comforted her to think her friend was just as naïve, if not more so, than she.
"Here," she said, reaching her own hands behind her back and, even though she was working above the layers of shirts while he had the advantage of being below, unsnapping her bra. It was the first word either had spoken in nearly twenty minutes and as soon as she spoke it she regretted it. Words somehow made this real. Her word, however, did not stay real for long, and as Harry found her breasts it was as if she had never spoken at all. "Here," was an echo from her imagination, maybe. Surely she could not remember opening her mouth, not remember instructing anything before, nothing at all could have come before this moment, right now, his hot fingers gently circling her nipples. Everything felt new. His mouth, still against hers, still shifting, this way and that, lips, chapped from the cold and the blood of his injuries, the pressure of his kiss against her lips, it all felt new and old and destined all at the same time.
Her right hand held his head, kept him against her, while her left hand wandered down to the button of his pants. Briefly fitting her hand in between the tight gap between his pants and his skin she pulled it out again to focus on the button, then the zipper, then pulling, one handed, the pants down entirely to reveal a pair of worn green boxers. She reached and grabbed with both her hands now, feeling firmness where she had not expected it, as his hand undid her belt and she could almost hear him moaning and the moaning almost sounded like a name, not her own, but she did not pay attention to it. Instead her mind, which had been blank and accepting just a second ago, now raced to list the consequences. What was she doing? She didn't love Harry, not like this. He was a friend, her best friend, who had seen her through every trouble she'd ever had. She loved Ron. Deeply. She knew it. Deep in her heart she knew he loved her too, and that one day they would marry and have children, she knew it, could sense it, was sure of it. And Harry was not Ron. And above all these heady questions of love and friendship and where lines should be drawn were the practical dilemmas she now faced. They didn't have any protection. None of the Muggle contraceptives her mother had coached her on were in anyway graspable now and she had never listened – she cursed herself now for it – to Lavender and Parvati's prattle about birth control spells. She was not the kind of girl who did this, who blindly jumped into sex, who allowed her pants to be pulled down around her ankles and then pulled off entirely while she prostrated herself on the small camp bed and eased this boy into her. But none of the practicals mattered right now. This felt right, and natural, and right now she wanted nothing more in this world – because this world did not exist beyond each new second – than to feel Harry Potter deep inside her, to feel him thrust against her, slowly and awkwardly at first, and then faster, and she ached, she hurt, but she did not say so, she did not scream, because the pain felt good right now, his weight on top of her, his barely sprouted scratchy beard, his cuts, his bruises, his scars, she wanted all of him right now and right now she had all of him inside her, again and again, in and out, pulling her forward and back until she felt herself constricting, grasping, pulling him even closer, her fingernails digging into his skin and he arching his back and letting out a crude, low grunt. And then he fell, his breathing labored, like hers, on top of her. They were sweaty and cold and his hair, disheveled as ever, stuck to her skin. She reached up a hand and brushed his hair away from his eyes, off of his forehead. He was panting, and crying, like a child in her arms, she felt grown all of a sudden. This sticky mess they lay in did not bother her now, as she mothered the feeble Harry Potter who pressed himself against her cheek, breathing heavy, and weeping. She touched the spot below his collar bone where the horcrux had burned him and he did not shiver, so she traced one finger around the burn, then moved it up, over his neck, his chin, his lips, his cheeks, before gently touching his unflinching eyelids. She touched his eyebrows, then brushed away the hair again – it kept falling right back into place – and touched his scar, that scar which had caused him so much trouble. She outlined it with her finger. And he cried in her arms.
He woke first, must've been in the early morning, with the sky still black, because by the time she woke up, with daylight only just breaking, he was outside, keeping watching, her wand lit in his hands as he surveyed their surroundings. She joined him outside, asked him if he wanted breakfast – she could go try to find something – or if he wanted to move locations – it would be time soon – but he just shook his head and told her to go back to sleep, he'd stay on the lookout. And she'd gone back into the tent, washed herself as best she could, and climbed into her clean, un-slept-in cot.
When it was finally her turn to keep guard she merely took her wand from Harry, they chatted for a moment about moving on tomorrow, and then he went inside to sleep. They did not talk about what had happened. It had become, already, an unspoken event. As if it had always already happened, always been inevitable, and always been the deepest secret they would keep between them.
She was not unhappy when Ron returned. She was angry, of course, both at him and at herself, because she had not been able to keep him with her in the first place, but she was pleased that he had returned, relieved to know he was still all in one piece. She did not show this relief, though, because what first popped into her head when she was awoken by the sopping wet and shivering Ron was not what problems he had recently encountered, but rather what had transpired in his absence. She was upset, not just with him, but with the entire situation. How dare he leave them, her. And how dare he return and assume that everything would be has it had been when he left.
Harry filled her in, on his adventure, the silver doe, the lake, the sword, and Ron's miraculous appearance. He even told her, when Ron was asleep that night, smiling in his bed now that he was back with his friends, about what had lived inside the horcrux, how it had known about he and she and what has transpired between them. Of course time had passed since then, and with every second their misstep had sunken further into myth, something not real, not something she had done, and it seemed impossible that it had ever happened at all by the time Ron appeared. And so they acted as if it never had.
Ron asked her, several times, what was the matter. He had apologized, he apologized every time she let on she was listening to him. She always glowered at him, unhappy not with him but with herself and her own weakness. Though could it have been weak if it had felt so natural and if it had never happened again? It seemed more something that had been fated – not that she believed in fate, not that she would ever wield it as an excuse – than something that was wrong. Still, the whole ordeal upset every part of her, and when she looked at Ron those first months after his return, it made her nauseous. Many times she found herself escaping the bounds of their protective force fields and running off into the woods just to be alone, just so she could kneel before a tree and allow her whole body to wretch, letting all of her ill feelings spew from her. Wiping her mouth, performing a simple clean breath charm, she would return to their tent and try to act as if she was her usual self, entirely stable and assured.
In Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix Lestrange in front of her, wand poised, she watched as Harry and Ron disappeared down stairs leading to she didn't know what, a dungeon or a torture chamber perhaps.
She barely heard the curse uttered before she felt pain worse than any she'd known ripple through her body, tearing it apart, wrenching her brain from her spine, from her arms, from her legs. She screamed, she knew. And she clutched herself. She held fast to her stomach, arms wrapped firmly around herself.
She did not remember the pain ending, and was not entirely aware when Harry appeared, in front of her, cursing her attackers, taking their wands, and then a tiny, cold hand gripped one of the arms that was still locked around her stomach and then she felt herself disappearing and when she woke up for good she was in an entirely new place. Bill Weasley was standing above her, she was barely aware, and Fleur was offering a cup of tea. She took it, the porcelain of the cup hot against her hands, and she took a big, burning gulp just to remind her that she was alive. And she thought, as the felt the liquid scald its way down her esophagus and into her belly, she felt her stomach kick back a little at the heat. Maybe it was just glad, because she was, to be alive.
She leapt at Ron. Not only because she was elated that he remembered her fight against the plight of house elves, because he had seemingly been won over to her side, but also because it might be her very last chance to embrace him. Outside the Room of Requirement, aware of death chasing them, of their narrow escape just now and of all they would soon face, she leapt at Ron when he made one of the thousands of comments he made just to please her. And this time she admitted that he pleased her. In an hour, in five minutes, they might all be dead, but right now, she grabbed at Ronald Weasley, clung to him, her mouth finding his. He tasted like cut grass and clean laundry, warm and soft, exactly as she'd imagined, all these years, exactly as she'd hoped. She loved Ron. She loved him with all of herself. Her loved shook her body and made her cling harder to him and he grabbed onto her fiercely. His hands explored her hair. His mouth welcomed hers. He loved her too. He had always loved her. Even before he'd known it. Even before she'd known it. They were meant for each other.
Harry was screaming at them to separate. There was a war going on. His face looked pale.
When she realized it was really over, that they'd really won, she half couldn't believe it. She expected the conquered to rally their forces around some new hero. She expected Voldemort to rise from where he lay, vacant, more frightful than ever. But that didn't happen. Instead, Harry pulled her and Ron away from the crowds, caught between celebrating and mourning, and led them upstairs, away from the confused revelry.
He explained to them, what had happened to him in the forest. They nodded along with his story, taking in every word, their hands clasped together the entire time. She caught him eyeing their hands, watching their connection, as he recounted the night's events. As soon as he finished speaking he left them alone, to digest, he said, but really, so that they could be alone, together, for the first time, really. Ron hugged her, close. She hugged him back. He kissed her. She kissed him back. She loved kissing him, she loved everything about him. It was so easy, with Ron. So easy, and nice. His lips the softest she had ever felt, his hands gentle but firm as they found her skin, touched every inch of her, alone in that empty classroom, she and Ron found each other completely and their bodies confessed everything to each other. Almost everything.
Lying on the cold stone floor of the classroom, Ron's warm arms around her, a general air of content surrounding them, she felt her stomach kick once more.
"My parents," she said, simply.
"What about them?" Asked Ron.
"I have to go find them-"
"Sure, but not right now," Ron kissed her again. His hands were worming their way up her naked thighs.
"Soon," she said, giving in to the moment, "I have to find them soon."
"Uh huh," said Ron, and he kissed her again as he rolled on top of her once more, his lean, long body covering hers completely, her feet rising from where they lay around his knees to wrap around his torso. Ron laughed his hearty carefree laugh into her as he kissed her and she felt it reverberate through her. She wanted to laugh too. How badly she wanted to laugh. Instead she kissed him back and tightened her legs' grip around him.
When she left for Australia she was already wearing loose clothing. It was all in her head, she was sure, the weight she now carried around her belly. She had not eaten properly in months, and despite a few good feasts with the Weasley's, she knew she could not possibly have put on this weight from indulging in cauldron cakes and chocolate frogs. She looked as lean as ever, perhaps gaunter from the months of deprivation, but she felt much different, heavier, around her midsection, and so she'd taken to wearing the loose t-shirts to cover up her anxiety.
Harry and Ron both came to the airport with her. Ron kissed her goodbye before she passed through security. He even whispered something in her ear, a plea to return soon, before he let her go.
But she didn't know when she'd be back, she told them, it might take months. Her parents could be anywhere. Australia was a large continent. And no, she couldn't use spells to find them, because she'd made them untraceable. Her own fault, really. But worth it, if they'd been kept safe.
So she kissed Ron goodbye at security. He'd run his hands through her hair one last time before letting his left hand stray and pat her playfully on the bum. She would have scolded him, even in jest, any other time, but now she just felt lonely, aching for him already, missing him though he stood before her.
When she and Ron separated she turned to Harry. Together, reaching at the same time, they hugged each other. He patted her on the back, three times, firmly.
"You stay safe now, you hear?"
She saw his smile, the twinkle in those green eyes, as they separated. He was her best friend, truly.
"It's you two who I should be worrying about. No trouble, while I'm gone, alright?" She turned her head from one to the other, trying to give a stern look. "Don't start anymore revolutions or fight anymore enemies without me-"
"Hey," Ron interrupted, "Can't help it if evil's afoot, can we?"
She lunged at him and squeezed him tightly.
"Oi, Hermione, really now, I promise, no trouble while you're gone-"
She released him and coaxed herself to smile as she looked him in the eyes. A moment later she moved past them, to the man checking boarding passes and passports. As the man examined her documents, she took a final glance back at Ron and Harry, her two boys, standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling and waving, before the security guard handed her back her papers and waved her on.
It was no trouble finding her parents. Though she'd preferred not to know where they'd gone and so sent them blindly to the foreign continent, once there, she had sensed immediately where they were. She showed up on their doorstop, her heart breaking a little as her mother looked at her as if she were an Avon saleswoman, and quickly performed the charms to revive their memory. Before she knew it, they were embracing her in the family hug she had longed for, and pledging to move back to England as soon as could be arranged. But, no, she told them, she wanted to stay here a bit longer. They looked at her oddly. Her mother sensed it first, maternal instinct, or a bit of magic left somewhere deep in the genes perhaps, and knew, almost immediately why Hermione wished to stay in this foreign place. Four months, no longer, she was sure it would be over by then. She could not do anything sooner to… get rid… of this problem. It was not a problem, really. An obstacle which she must face before claiming the life she'd always wanted, but not an insurmountable one. Four months and this would all be over. Four months in Australia. She could always pass it off, if anyone ever asked, as four months spent trying to locate her parents, whom she had sent here, in desperation, a year before. Now they doted on her, regretful that they'd abandoned her (though they'd had no choice or say in the matter) and eager now to comfort her in any way she needed. Her mother only ever asked her once about it, hinting that maybe wizards lived their lives differently, that they did not believe in the women going on to university and then to successful careers. Hermione reassured her mother that wizards, though they mated earlier in life, did in fact believe that women should work. She had just… been caught up… in a moment… And her mother asked no more questions. Not even to discover who the father was. She was grateful.
The Muggle hospital was clean and bright and fairly non-judgmental when she was wheeled into it, her water already broken and contractions already coming at an even pace. Her body rippled with pain and she was reminded of that dark moment, months before, of Bellatrix and the torture she had survived at her hand. This was not altogether different than that. Just milder, slightly, or at least, spaced apart and not consistent. She would remember that. A bit of wisdom to pass onto witches who almost never gave birth without pain relieving charms anymore. They were lucky. It took Hermione a full two hours before one young doctor was willing to administer an epidural. She clenched her eyes shut as the needle punctured through her back to her spine and felt an immediate release and relief as the tension of her body eased. Her mother stood beside her, holding her hand, coaching her with encouraging phrases. Her father, never entirely approving, was out pacing in the waiting room, she knew, too kind to fully keep his distance.
After four more hours, the delivery began and Hermione pushed when she was told to and breathed heavy because she had to and her mind floated away to where it would rather be, because she wanted it to. And before she knew there was the sound of a baby screaming, and her mother was crying and hugging her, and she was laying back, against the pillows, crying, while the nurses and doctor busied themselves with something in the corner of the room. They brought her child up to her.
"A healthy baby boy," the doctor said proudly. "Would you like to hold him?"
Hermione looked at the child. Dark hair, all a mess. Green, glowing eyes. Barely any of her in it at all. Maybe her nose, if she squinted just right, but it was hard to really say.
She was aware of having taken too long to answer a simple question.
"Yes, please, let me see him." She accepted the child, scooped him up in her arms, and loved him instantly. He was beautiful, up close, so perfect. Bright, bright green eyes. She moved her hand through his already thick hair. Her mother leaned into her.
"He's perfect," she said, already a grandmother, fussing with his hair.
"Have you a name picked out?" Asked a nurse, paperwork in her hands.
"No," said Hermione, her eyes not wanting to come off her new son, "none."
"That's alright," said the nurse, "A lot of mothers, takes them a long time to decide, you don't have to say right now-"
"No," interrupted Hermione, because she felt she must, "I'm going to give him up for adoption. I don't feel right naming him. I want his parents to do that."
With one finger she felt her son's soft cheek. She may have imagined it, but she imagined him smiling as she touched his face. She stroked his cheek again to see if she would get the same reaction. Again, she thought she might have seen a smile. She loved this baby, her baby, her son. She loved him so much. It felt inevitable.
"Oh," the nurse was examining her paperwork, "We don't have that down anywhere here-"
"A private adoption." Concluded Hermione. A wizarding family. A wizarding adoption agency. It would all be worked out within a week. She wouldn't even meet the new parents. She had asked not to. At the same time the agency handed her son over to them, she would be on a plane back to England.
The nurse, still looking quizzical, must have sensed something, Hermione must have been radiating something, and so the nurse walked away, satisfied for now. Hermione turned her attention back to the baby in her arms. A sweet little boy, all bundled in the hospital's blue blankets, tightly bound in his secure little cocoon. Suddenly his right arm broke free of its blanket bindings. Hermione laughed, at first, at her son's boldness, but as she reached to tuck his arm back into its warm security, she noticed something she hadn't before. On her son's chest, just above where his tiny heart must be, was an angry red blotch.
"Just a birthmark," her mother informed her, "Strawberry mark. Used to say they were kisses from angels. Lots of babies have them. It'll fade."
Hermione was not so sure. The deep red spot was exactly where Harry's burn had been, after the horcrux, fighting with Voldemort that night in Godric's Hollow, had scarred him. A coincidence, maybe, that her son should bare the same mark in the same place, if she believed in coincidences anymore, which she was almost positive she didn't.
"Sweet little thing," her mother grabbed her son's loose arm and tucked it back into the blankets. "Sweet little baby boy."
A week later, Hermione was back at the Burrow. Her parents, safe, were busy reestablishing their dental practice in central London. Right before their plane had taken off, as they were sitting in their seats, Hermione had reached over and, quite scandalously – if she had been caught, and she could easily have been caught – once more performed an obliviate charm upon them. She made them forget about their grandchild, that pretty baby who was just now finding himself in the arms of a sweet wizarding couple she herself had hand selected. The agency had told Hermione that the couple had promised to name the baby after the wife's father, who they had just recently lost. Hermione, curious to know what her son would be called, asked what the wife's father's name had been. Tom, she was told. Thomas, in full, of course, but they intended to call him Tom. Tom, her baby would be called now. Tom. Of all names. Still, the parents could not be blamed for their family name and Hermione had relinquished the baby. He would have a better life here, with parents who loved him, who had always wanted a child of their own.
She imagined her baby in the arms of his new parents as she sat on the plane bound for Gatwick, her parents, blank eyed next her, awaiting her instructions to remember their lives.
"I found you here," she coached them. "It took awhile, but I found you, and right after I found you, we booked this trip, and now we're going home again."
"Home," her mother echoed.
Yes, home, Hermione thought. Home, to London, then to the Burrow, to Ron, to Harry and Ginny and all the Weasleys, but mainly, to Ron. Her Ron. Who could be all hers now. Ron.
It was a rainy night, some months after they had moved in together, into that tiny flat in a nice neighborhood, though a Muggle neighborhood, close enough to both the Ministry and Diagon Alley, when Hermione came home from a stressful day in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures – she was becoming annoyed with the messy bureaucracy that, for some reason, she had not expected – to find Ron in their small kitchen, keeping several pots aboil. He looked frantic, sweaty, and nervous, his hair mussed and sticking up in places so that she immediately went over and tried to smooth it out. He jumped. He had been so preoccupied he had not even notice her come in.
"No! You can't be home yet!"
"Why not?" She asked, stripping off the thoroughly soaked rain jacket.
"Because it was supposed to be a surprise! And I'm not ready!"
"Well I can go back out there in that storm if that's what you really want, or should I just sit in the hall til you come fetch me?"
"That wouldn't be terrible-"
"Ron, I'm tired, I've had a long day. I'm staying inside now."
"But I was going to cook for you and have everything laid out and perfect and now it's all just ruined."
"How 'bout I give you some time, if you really need it?" Hermione kissed him on the cheek before starting to pull the wet jumper over her head while simultaneously walking towards the bathroom. "I'll just take a hot bath while you finish up in here and-"
"No!" Ron screamed, dodging towards her, losing his concentration on the pots and allowing them the chance to boil over, creating an awful burning tomato skin smell.
As Hermione succeeded in pulling off her shirt, fighting her annoyance with Ron, she saw what he had been trying to keep a secret from her. The bathroom was filled with floating tea candles and rose petals continued to fall from the ceiling while a lovely scent – hydrangeas and ginger – wafted from the already drawn bath, filled to the brim with bubbles.
"It was supposed be a romantic surprise, but now everything's wrecked."
Hermione looked at Ron, his face fallen, a sauce smear across his brow. She smiled and hugged him fiercely.
"Oh, Ron, it is romantic." She kissed him hard on the lips.
"'T 's?" He asked, not taking his mouth from hers.
"Uh huh." She answered. And then she began to unfasten his pants.
As they lounged, happily, in the tub together, abandoning the dinner Ron had labored over and decided what to order in, it occurred to Hermione that perhaps she had forgotten something, an anniversary perhaps, which had caused Ron to go through all this trouble.
"Ron, this is- Everything you've done is really sweet- But, and I don't mean to sound rude, but, what's the occasion? Why did you go to all this trouble?"
"Oh for fuck's sake, bleedin' Merlin's left nut…" muttered Ron as he abruptly pulled away and climbed out of the bath. "I forgot the most important- Hold on."
Hermione giggled – and she was not the giggling type – as she saw Ron naked and dripping wet, run from the bathroom in a hurry. A moment later he returned, his hands behind his back.
"Hermione Jean Granger, you have made me a better person-"
"Oh come off it-" Hermione started, figuring he was having a laugh.
"No, no, hold on," Ron said as he kneeled. Hermione could feel her entire body tense and flush. "Hermione Jean Granger, 'Mione, you make me happier than I've ever been in my life, each and every day, happier than if the Cannons won the cup, I, I just love you so much, and, well," he brought his hands forward to reveal a small jewelry box, "Would you marry me?"
He clicked open the box to reveal a ring. But Hermione wasn't looking at the ring. Her eyes, filled with tears, were focused on the blurry man she loved before her. She grabbed him, spilling tub water and splashing bubbles all over the tile floor, as he hugged him and pulled him close.
"Yes, Ron, yes, of course, yes."
She kissed him, and smiled, and kissed him.
At last Ron pulled away.
"Phew. That's a relief."
They both laughed.
Ron gripped her hand as the mediwizard approached them, smiling.
"It's a boy," she said, flicking her wand so that perfect images of their little baby, buried deep within Hermione's womb, appeared out of thin air. "Congratulations."
"A boy!" Ron chirped. "Oh boy! I bet he'll play Quidditch. I bet he'll be great. And he'll love the Cannons. Won't he 'Mione?"
Hermione squeezed Ron's hand back. She looked at the images. A little baby boy. Another baby boy.
"What'll we name him?" Ron asked, excited, practically buzzing in his seat. "Fred? But now George already has his Fred, so it might be odd to have cousins both named Fred… What about other Weasley family names? Let's see, there was my uncle Bilius, and then there was Fabian, but I think Bilius is a more respectable name, don't-"
"What about my uncle Hugo? Hugo is a nice name," Hermione suggested, unable to take her eyes off the pictures before her of her little baby boy. Her second little baby boy.
"Hugo Weasley-Granger," Ron said, impressed. "I like the sound of that."
Hermione smiled blankly as the mediwizard's projected images disappeared and the physical examination continued.
"Mum! Rose's pulling my hair again!"
Hermione looked over at Hugo, his head tilted to the side. Rose, her little darling girl, strapped in her chair a good four feet from him, her arm outstretched, and her hand clenching onto open air. Magic. Hermione would never get used to it. Or to sibling rivalry.
"Rose," Hermione walked over and picked up her toddler from her seat. She held the girl close to her chest and rocked her back and forth. "What have we said about picking on your brother?"
Rose gurgled back at her and smiled. Clever little girl. Already finding her own way out of situations, appearing blameless. Hermione couldn't help but smile. Then she went over to Hugo and tenderly played with his hair until his head felt better again and he ran off to play with his mate James.
"They never get tired, do they?" Ginny, her own belly swollen with yet another child while she clutched her second son, Albus, sleeping, in her arms while smiled.
"No, never," Hermione laughed airily.
"I'm glad, at least, we have these playdates to look forward to. Without them, I don't know how James would ever run off his energy-"
"I know what you mean, Hugo, every night, he's nearly exploded the cat on several occasions. Ron always claims he was the same way at that age-"
"And he was!" Ginny laughed. "Little Rose, there, though, she knows how to handle him. Good on her too. I don't know how she'd survive, otherwise. Being the youngest Weasley – or Weasley-Granger – is never easy. You need to be tough."
The two women laughed easily together. They met up every weekend, allowing their children to play in the park, or, if it was raining, like today, run around inside, destroying their small flats, while their husbands drank a pint and talked at the corner pub. Every now and again Ginny – before her latest pregnancy – grew frustrated with this arrangement and forced Harry to mind the children while she enjoyed a rest – as Ron, thanks to the job flexibility at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, was home with the children far more often than she – in which case it would be Harry and Hermione sitting together while Ginny and Ron drank and reveled in the old days, frequently reverting to hair pulling themselves. On these occasions, which Hermione did not prefer, she frequently found herself thinking back on her son, their son, his black hair and green eyes, just like Harry's, and imagining him running around the room, throwing cushions, causing the odd 'Bang!' playing all the usual children's games right there before her eyes. The memory of that one night – what was one night, in the grand scheme of things? – was too deeply buried in Harry anymore, but Hermione always thought about him, their son, who she had never told Harry about before. Never would tell Harry about. It was foolish to think of at all. Even now. With her little Rose, her little pet, snuggled in her lap.
"How are things going with SPEW?" Asked Ginny.
"Quite well, actually. I think we're really close to some actual legislation being passed," Hermione smiled at her sister-in-law until she felt Rose tugging at her hair. "Darling, Rosie, Mummy wants you to stop that-"
"Has a thing for hair pulling, does she?"
"Yeah. Did Ron have this at her age?"
"Not that I recall. Not that means anything. I got my hair pulled often enough in that household, all the older brothers I had. Maybe Rose inherited this from one of them? Bill or Charlie, Percy maybe?"
Ginny laughed easily but Hermione flinched at the idea of her being unfaithful. She never had been unfaithful. Technically.
"Anyway," Ginny started up again, amending herself after she noticed Hermione was not laughing. "I'm sure it's just a phase. Little kids, you know? Little girls, maybe. I hope I find out." She rubbed her swelling baby. "I know that I just want a healthy child and all that, but I'd be so glad to have a girl, I really would." She was beaming, glowing, and Hermione just had to smile back at her. In her arms, Rose twisted a little, and laid her head on her mother's shoulder, tired out. Hermione absent-mindedly reached a hand up to stroke Rose's hair as she and Ginny continued their conversation about this newest child.
Life has a habit of falling into place, so that if enough time has passed, even things that were once monumental become quieter and fall by the wayside as daily problems take precedence. Hugo would be turning nine in a week, it hardly seemed possible. In two short years he would be heading off to Hogwarts, and only two years after that, Rose would be following him. Hermione could hardly believe how quickly her children were growing up.
Savoring the last weekend before the fall term began and the kids returned to spending daytimes at the little red brick local primary school, Hermione and Ron had brought the kids to a playground in the park near their flat. It was Hermione's favorite playground, themed with Peter Pan jungle gyms, the centerpiece being the large wooden pirate ship that kids could take turns pretending to steer. Ron hated Muggle playgrounds and worried frantically over the children:
"But the bars don't catch them if they fall! The sand from the sandbox doesn't know not to get in their eyes! And there're no toy broomsticks to play with!"
Muggle playgrounds made Hermione feel nostalgic for her own upbringing, though. She loved them, and encouraged her children to swing on swings that did not push themselves higher and climb up ropes which might burn their hands if they dropped down them suddenly. It was more work, certainly, and more dangerous, maybe, but it was also, as far as Hermione could tell, more fun.
As Ron hovered around Hugo – who, despite earlier complaining that playgrounds were for babies, was having an excellent time – trying to keep him from falling off the side of a metal climbing structure, Hermione sat on a bench an open book in her hands, content to watch Rose from a distance.
Rose, brave girl that she was, had beaten off several larger children to take her place at the wooden ship's steering wheel and was having a good time feigning to navigate the high seas. She was in no real danger – there was nothing to fall off of or cut herself on up there, the worst she might do was get a splinter – and so Hermione was just beginning to let her eyes stray primarily to her book when she heard Rose scream. It was not a scream of pain, exactly, but more the same one shrill scream which came anytime her brother teased her beyond her breaking point. It was a scream of annoyance.
"No! I was here first!" Rose yelled as Hermione looked up to see that her daughter's head was turned and she was yelling at someone not quite visible from where Hermione sat. She stood, closing her book, and walked towards her daughter.
"You're taking too long! I want a turn!"
There was a bright light and a quiet thud sound as Rose quickly jumped away from the wheel and fell against the side railing, several feet from where she'd stood. Rose began to scream in pain now as Hermione quickened her pace.
"Tom!" She heard a man's voice yell. "Tom! You apologize this instant!"
"Mummy!" Rose screamed as Hermione climbed the pirate ship's stairs to get to her daughter. Without any other thought she scooped her up and held her close to her chest. She was not really injured, Hermione was glad to see, but in shock.
"Tom, what have we told you about using-"
Hermione, hands still firmly supporting her child, looked over to where the voice was coming from. A tall man in bright colored shorts and shirt, a camera slung around his neck, was standing in front of a child – presumably Tom – waggling his finger as he spoke. The man noticed Hermione then and began to approach her.
"I'm so sorry," the man began, his voice throaty with an Australian accent. "How do I explain this exactly, see…"
As the man began to make excuses that might perhaps explain the magic done if Hermione hadn't known better, she found she could not focus on his words. Instead, her attention was on the boy behind the man.
He looked to be no more than twelve or thirteen, slight in build, with an angular face. His dark, curly, wild hair framed his face in an almost angelic way and drew attention to his deep green eyes. Tom. Hermione recognized him instantly.
"-see, we're not from around here, obviously, and, maybe, well, some of our customs might come off as a bit strange, but I can assure you, nothing out of the ordinary-"
"Your son did magic," Hermione put all her effort into dragging her eyes away from the boy and looking at the man.
"I- Well-" The man gave an uneasy laugh.
"I'm a witch," Hermione said simply.
"Really?" The man gave a sigh of relief and a broad smile lit up his face. "That's a relief then, isn't it? I thought we'd be bleedin' deported before nightfall, but-" He laughed again, then sobered. "Not that what my son did wasn't very serious. I apologize, profusely. Tom's been- He's been going through a phase, lately. His mum passed a couple years ago and he's never quite adjusted- We're here on holiday, right now, to cheer him up a bit. The doctor recommended it."
Hermione was not sure she liked this man with his over easy flow of details. She wished he would be quiet. She didn't want to hear anymore.
"Quite alright," she said brusquely. "These things happen. Best get my daughter home and clean her up, make sure she's okay-"
"If you've any doubts, if you think she'll need medical treatment or anything, let me give you our number, at the hotel, we're staying at the Leaky Cauldron, do you know it? You can give us a ring, my name's Havelock King, but friends call me Hal-"
By now, Ron was running over, dragging Hugo behind him.
"What's up? What's happened? Is Rose alright?"
"She's fine," answered Hermione. "She really just wants to get home."
"Of course, of course," said Ron, nodding emphatically. He reached out to pet Rose's hair. "Poor little girl, what set her off? I told you these playgrounds were dangerous-"
"My boy," Hal King interrupted, "Accidentally performed a little spell, pushed your daughter out of the way of something he wanted to play with."
Ron surveyed the man skeptically. Hermione guessed that Ron was conflicted, glad to be dealing with a wizard, but wanting to beat his face in for allowing his little girl to get hurt.
"Tom," Hal called over to his son, "Come apologize to these people. You hurt their feelings by acting so brashly."
Tom, who had been hovering in the background, likely trying to be forgotten, took a few steps forward. He was too old to be playing in playgrounds, Hermione thought as she saw him up close. And he looked as if he knew he was too old. Poor dear, no mother and oaf for a father, she thought. But then she tried to remind herself, who's fault was that?
"I'm very sorry," Tom said curtly. His voice, despite being tinged with the foreign accent, sounded so similar to Harry's at that age. The same tone and pitch, the same lilt. "I didn't want to hurt anyone."
"Blimey!" Ron exclaimed, bending to get a closer look at the boy. Hermione wished he wouldn't. "This is your son?" He asked Hal. "You're sure?" Hal just laughed. "Looks just like a friend of ours, doesn't he 'Mione?"
"Like Uncle Harry," Hugo filled in.
"What a coincidence," Ron smiled, standing up again. "Brings me back to when I was his age, that does. I'm sure it was an accident, Tom was it? Magic is hard to control when you're that age-"
"And the poor boy just lost his mother a couple years ago. Hasn't been the same since." Hal filled in.
"No hard feelings, Tom." Ron patted the boy on the back. Maybe a little harder than he should have, the boy looked delicate, but Hermione figured that was on purpose, Ron hadn't forgiven the boy completely.
"We really should be getting home, dear," Hermione said. Rose was beginning to squirm in her arms. Likely she was feeling better already and probably wanted to go play some more.
"Yeah, of course," nodded Ron. "Well, nice meeting you then, Hal, Tom. Well, sort of nice meeting you. You know. And all."
Hal made Tom apologize once more as the Weasley-Grangers finally backed away and started to make their way home. They stopped at an ice cream parlor and rewarded both the children with a cone – Ron wanted a sundae, but then patted his growing stomach and thought against it at the last second – and while Hugo and Rose ate in happy silence, Ron and Hermione hung back behind them.
"Really did look like Harry, didn't he?" Ron said to Hermione as he took her hand.
"I suppose," said Hermione. "He had a different build, though. A different face, too. And his hair was curlier, and a bit lighter than Harry's-"
"Same eyes, though," Ron finished for her. "If I didn't know better, I'd say he was Harry's kid."
"But you do know better," Hermione added quickly.
"Yeah, of course I do, 'cause…" He paused, thoughtfully, which made Hermione tense up. "If Harry ever cheated on Ginny he knows I would murder him." He laughed and kept walking. A minute later and he was trying to steal the cone from Hugo's hands on the pretense of stopping the drips from getting on his son's shirt, but really so he could sneak a few licks himself. Hermione watched and smiled and Rose, having forgotten her earlier fit, smiled as if she had never felt pain in her life. A happy family. A happy family. Of course. Hermione repeated it to herself, over and over, a happy family. Still, she could not get the image of young Tom out of her head.