In a quiet suburban home in the south of London, on a leafy, warm day in mid-Summer, three things happened at once: one, the clock on the mantle struck half twelve; two: the logs in the fireplace burst into flame; and three: they turned a distinct and vibrant shade of emerald green.
Suddenly, the fireplace yawned, stretched, and spat out two grey-faced human beings.
“Told you we should’ve Apparated,” Ron Weasley mumbled. Hermione Granger had soot in her hair, and Ron ash stuck to the bottom of his shoes. Other than that, they looked perfectly presentable, dressed for a wedding, as they stumbled out of the fireplace and into the Granger house, trying not to tread dust on the carpet.
Hermione didn’t have a chance to reply, as the kitchen door suddenly flew open and Mr Granger appeared in his apron, washing-up gloves in hand and suds on his elbows. His face broke into a smile at the sight of his only daughter, then faltered at the expression on her face.
“Hi,” Hermione said, shucking off her jacket and taking Ron’s. Both garments flew to the sofa so forcefully it was as though she’d Banished them there.
“Everything all right in paradise?” Mr Granger asked, whilst Hermione tried and failed to draw her fingers through her hair and shake out the ash.
“Sorry, Dad,” she said, leaning forward to kiss her father’s cheek. “Just frustrated. We were having issues with the Floo – Ron, shoes off.”
Ron stepped on one heel, pried off one shoe, locking eyes with Hermione and daring her to say one thing about stretching out the leather. She met his gaze, her brown eyes steady but narrowed. He pried off the other with the same slow deliberation and kicked them into the kindling basket.
Say it, he willed her.
She jerked her attention away from him. Smiled. The edges were wobbly. Would her dad notice the red in her eyes?
“It’s been a stressful day,” Hermione said. She sniffed the air and made a face. “What is that? Eggs?”
“Work okay?” Mr Granger asked, ignoring the question.
Hermione smiled harder. “Fine,” she said. Her eyes momentarily alighted on Ron again, who tried but failed to put on a cheerful face. There was a dangerous certainty in her expression, a kind of fierce anger (what had he even done?) – if she had a wand in her hand, he wouldn’t have been able to walk into the dining room after them.
Mrs Granger was there at the table waiting for them, finishing the last place setting. She smiled at them both, hugged her daughter, kissed Ron on the cheeks three times. That last one always caught Ron off-guard, and he found himself red-faced and tasting lipstick as he sat at one side of the dining room table, opposite the girlfriend who now seemed intent on ignoring him – and everyone else for that matter – as she disregarded offers of sandwich filling and attacked the bread bowl for the ends of the baguette.
“How is the Ministry, then?” Mr Granger asked. He spread egg mayonnaise on his slice of bread and Hermione shot him a disgusted look. “What?” he said. “Am I not allowed to ask about it?”
“It’s fine,” Ron said at last. His voice felt creaky with misuse. “Shacklebolt’s been hard to please lately. Lots of department overhauls. Supervisors telling us to do opposite things all the time.”
“Harry’s your supervisor, Ron,” Hermione said, chewing hard on her crust of bread.
“My point exactly,” Ron said. “How am I meant to listen to that git? Pass the butter.” There was that look again. “Please.”
“Shacklebolt?” Mrs Granger asked, and the skin between Hermione’s eyes pleated with worry. These little lapses in memory – Ron had had a bear of a time talking Hermione into going back to Hogwarts for her last year. “I can’t, Ron!” she had protested. “I need to look after them!” They were fine, really – sometimes things would fade and they would tip momentarily into the minds of Wendell and Monica Wilkins, but that was always going to happen with a memory charm, wasn’t it? They couldn’t live over a year of their lives as different people and not have it bleed through into their real lives, could they? Even with Hermione’s oh-so-splendid Charmwork.
“The Minister for Magic,” Hermione said. She pried at the innards of another piece of baguette with her fork, looking disinterested.
“Oh, that’s right,” Mr Granger said. “You still thinking of leaving, darling?”
“Law Enforcement keeps asking after me,” Hermione said demurely, the only time she hadn’t sounded angry since they arrived.
“Like the police,” her mother said.
“You’ve done a lot of good work for Magical Creatures,” her dad said, and she finally fixed him with a real, beaming smile.
“Thanks, Dad,” she said.
“It’s not really working out,” Ron cut in, and Hermione’s smile instantly vanished. “With my Auror work,” he added.
Nope, smile was never coming back. Why were they even bothering? She should have left him at home. He could’ve spent his precious free Saturday at the joke shop, manning the till and ignoring the explosions from George’s flat upstairs. Maybe smuggled home a vial of Unsticky Your Botty and dropped it into Hermione’s tea.
“Ron and Harry are developing a counter-spell to the Killing Curse,” Hermione explained, as if that were the entire problem, and dug her fingers into her unbuttered bread.
“That’s so…interesting,” Mrs Granger said, looking alarmed.
“Hang on,” Mr Granger said. He passed Ron the butter dish again, before he could even ask. “You mean this is something that hasn’t existed before?”
“They keep practicing on rats,” Hermione said, not answering her father’s question. She threw her bread down, making Ron jump.
“What do you expect us to do!” Ron protested through a mouthful of egg salad.
“A patch of grass would be just as useful!”
“You can’t dissect a patch of grass.”
“Well, no, you couldn’t.”
“Children….” Mrs Granger warned. She turned on her daughter and added, “We need to leave in twenty minutes. Eat up.”
Hermione and Ron’s attentions turned back, determinedly, to their plates. At least she was too dignified to stick her tongue out at him.
Weddings. Hermione Granger hated weddings. She didn’t know if it was some form of lingering post-traumatic stress from Fleur and Bill’s, or the fact that at nearly twenty-six years old and after a somewhat nebulous decade of a relationship, she still hadn’t had one of her own.
She tried not to be bitter about it, really. And she wasn’t waiting for him to ask, either – she had done enough hinting, asking, all-out telling for the past several years. She had never considered herself particularly in a hurry – she had school, then a career to attend to. They lived together quite happily (most of the time) in their flat in Diagon Alley, within wonderfully easy walking distance of Flourish and Blotts and only a short Floo-commute away from work. Crookshanks was often restless, contained without a garden, but enjoyed hunting bats from the balcony and jumping on shoppers’ heads from great height (always, somehow, managing to land on his feet). And he would usually find his way onto the roof, anyway, skitter along the slates, terrorizing any roosting pigeons. They were happy, the three of them.
It was a very quiet car ride to Northamptonshire, and Ron grew impatient, as he usually did during slow car rides. No sliding through stuck traffic, no hurtling invisible past speed cameras. No flying over Scotland to smash nose-first into a Whomping Willow. Instead, he squished himself in the back next to Hermione, his knees jammed up against the driver’s seat and his forehead pressed against the window, audibly counting the yellow cars that went by. They didn’t touch – no hands on knees, no footsie in the footwell. Hermione kept herself strictly to herself.
They arrived at the church a full half-hour before the wedding was due to start. Fatally early, as they always were when her mother was dictating their schedule.
“Hermione! It’s been ages!” It was Charlotte, Hermione’s first cousin, beautiful in a sapphire bridesmaid’s dress. Ron held out a hand to shake infuriatingly quickly, and Charlotte smiled up at him, jewels shimmering in her dark hair.
“You must be Ron,” she said. Charlotte was delicate and small-boned, her teeth normal-sized and white without the help of either magic or braces. “Hermione’s told us…well, nothing about you, to be honest,” Charlotte said.
“That so?” Ron said.
“We should probably find our seats,” Hermione said, taking a hold of Ron’s hand. His fingers went stiff in hers.
She dragged him down the aisle, her shoulders over her ears.
“What did you want me to say?” she whispered once they’d settled down in the third pew from the back. “You do realise how little I talk to my extended family, don’t you? There are very few I can make any sort of conversation with that isn’t just convoluted lies--”
“At least they know my name,” Ron grumbled.
“Yes,” Hermione snapped back. “At least they do.”
“I like your dress,” Ron said, out of the blue.
“Pardon?” she said, taken aback. The dress was an old one, little-worn, and was growing too tight around the bust. “Are you joking?”
His finger found the slight gap in the buttons, wiggled beneath the underwire of her bra. “No,” he said.
“You can’t flirt your way out of this,” she snapped. She batted his hand away, back into his lap, and crossed one arm across her waist.
“I don’t even know what I’ve done!” Ron whispered back, but Hermione’s only reply was flicking open the order of service and staring, unseeing, at the words on the hymn sheet.
But he wasn’t letting up. Was trying to wiggle back in without apologising, without acknowledging the futility of his existence in her life (deep down, a small part of her knew it was unfair, to act like this. A larger part of her didn’t give a fuck).
“Are everyone’s names in your family mental?” Ron said, skimming the list of family members and friends on the opposite page.
“Says Ronald Bilius Weasley.”
“But I’ve learned from my parents’ mistakes,” Ron said. “I’m not going to name our kid Billius, am I?”
Hermione started, didn’t say anything.
“So what’s the difference, then?” Ron pushed on. “Between this and one of our weddings.”
He didn’t use the word wizard in public, not in the Muggle world. At least he had remembered that part of his training.
“Not much of one,” Hermione replied tightly, flicking to the back of the programme. A stationary black-and-white photo of her cousin Regina and her fiancé smiled out from the last page. “Well, it depends, doesn’t it? This one won’t be much different from Bill’s, except without the – you know – of course. But I daresay Parvati and Padma’s would be different yet. Culture, religion, all that—“
“So she won’t come in riding a donkey.”
Hermione frowned at him. “Where on earth did you get that idea?”
“George,” Ron admitted, ears going red.
“That’s a Nativity –“
“Will our wedding be like this?” Ron interrupted, sitting back in the pew and crossing his long legs. “Or can we have a normal one? At the Burrow or something?”
Hermione didn’t answer. Her tongue seemed to have stuck to the roof of her mouth.
“Or do like Harry and Ginny and just come in one morning already married. And George and Angelina.” His face relaxed into a smile. “Yeah. Mum went mad with Bill and Fleur’s. Really’d not—“
“Shut up,” she said, because the organ had blared to life and the doors burst open, framing the bridal party in its purple silk, pink roses, white lace. Charlotte slow-stepped through first, smiling, flowers held just below boob-level. Ron pressed hard against Hermione’s back, leaning on her for support, and it took everything in her not to take one simple step forward and let him fall.
Hermione was crying. Happy tears? Tears rolled down her cheeks as the wedding party retreated back into the churchyard. Ron tried to touch her, brush a hand down her back, but she visibly flinched away from him, and he decided to keep his hands to himself, trying not to turn red at the embarrassed look Mr Granger gave him from Hermione’s other side. Not happy tears.
“Beautiful wedding,” Mrs Granger said after the crowd had started to shuffle to their feet. “Will you two be married in a church?” she asked without warning. “Is that something you do?” she added, quieter.
“No pressure,” Mr Granger said good-naturedly, pushing his wife away before either Ron or Hermione felt obliged to answer. Hermione was about to say something, though, to Ron, but apparently thought better of it, and turned away from him, intent on ignoring him as they trudged slowly down the aisle, back out to the double doors to the reception hall, where the most delicious smells were curling out the doorway and into the cool evening air.
“Ah!” Ron said. “I forgot about this bit.”
But apparently he’s said it to himself, because Hermione had disappeared. Instead, Charlotte was at his side, smiling again. The blue of her dress set off her eyes quite nicely, didn’t it?
She held up a small camera and said, “Smile!”
Ron mustered a dazed grin and the unnecessary flash blinded him.
“Where’s Hermione gone?” Charlotte asked as he blinked the stars away. The little camera made clicking sounds as she turned a plastic wheel with her thumb.
“No idea,” Ron said. They were half-inside now, hovering in the doorway. He’d lost Hermione’s parents, too, somewhere near the reception line. Charlotte had the hem of her skirt in her other hand, was swishing it distractedly around her knees, her great blue eyes blinking up at him. Was she flirting with him? Her dress was really quite low cut, for a bridesmaid’s dress. Was wearing a low cut dress considered flirting?
“Is she okay?” Charlotte asked, the chipper expression disappearing. Not flirting.
“She’s fine,” Ron said.
“We were best friends when we were kids, you know,” Charlotte continued. “Until she went to school. And met you. And then it was just the mysterious Ron, Ron, Ron. I never thought she’d be one to lose her identity to a man.”
Definitely not flirting.
“She hasn’t lost her identity,” Ron said, sure he was glowing Molly-Weasley-Handknitted-Jumper rouge.
“I don’t hear anything about her work,” Charlotte continued, her voice rising, growing more high-pitched. People were starting to look now, turning around in the queue, alarmed. “I was sure I would’ve seen her name in the papers by now. She doesn’t even show up on Google.”
What the fuck is a Google? Ron thought.
“Hang on—“ Charlotte rocked onto her tip toes, looked around them like she’d caught a scent, then said, “Must dash.”
With that, she was gone.
“Cheers,” Ron said. Then he lurched forward and grabbed a bread roll from beneath the plastic on the buffet table, before anyone could ask him one more question about what he’d done to Hermione Granger.
When was the last time she and Ron hadn’t been fighting? It seemed like ages ago, if she didn’t sit down and think about it properly. Years ago. She knew it wasn’t, she knew it was a month, perhaps, maybe even just a few weeks. They had had a wonderful evening at the Burrow just in May, at little James’s first birthday party – Ron, Ginny and Charlie had crushed Angelina, George, and Bill at a pick-up game of Quidditch while Harry and Hermione looked on, James sitting, soft and warm and breathing in quiet rapture in her lap.
She thought she might have been imagining it, the little looks Ron gave her between saved goals. The sidelong glances and secret smiles. Harry didn’t notice, of course – he was intent on making sure he would never have sex again by shouting out instructions to his Chaser wife, who, after Harry’s hoarse shouts of, “It’s clear! Shooooot iiiit!” made a bee-line straight for Ron and sent the Quaffle sailing through her very own goal. After George laughed so hard he fell off his broom, they decided to call it a game.
Ron landed with a thump right in front of Hermione’s chair, tore a giggling James up into his arms and lifted him into the air.
“Been having fun with Auntie Hermione?” Ron asked, while James made “No, no, no!” noises in response. Ron’s eyes slid to Hermione’s face again, and she inexplicably found herself blushing.
Ten minutes later they were in Ron’s old bedroom, the violent orange doing funny things to her vision as she straddled him, her knees digging into the brass headboard, Ron’s big hands encircling her waist as she nipped at his neck, licked his chin, tugged at his upper lip, lower lip. Lifted her skirt and unzipped his trousers.
“You’d make such a good mum,” Ron told her as she rested her forehead against his collarbone, breathing deeply, hovering just above him.
“Mm,” she said, not really listening.
“Thought any more about it?” he asked.
“No, Ron,” she said.
Two seconds later, he promptly forgot he’d even asked the question.
It wasn’t as though he hadn’t asked it before, though. Not like he hadn’t brought it up on rotation when work was becoming stressful for her – as though children would save her from impossible deadlines and infuriating bureaucratic and legal battles. “Look at my mum!” he’d shout at her, trying to prove his point while his bright hair stood on end, his shoulders high up around his reddening ears. “She’s happy! She’s fulfilled!”
“Ron,” Hermione always replied, voice steady but edging toward violent, “for the last time, I am not your mother.”
That was where the bad times came from. The arguments, the imprecise plans for their joined future that so often felt as though it were about to split into two separate paths. Ron accused Hermione of not knowing what she wanted, refusing to settle down and commit to the family life he longed for. Hermione told Ron his insecurities were driving her mad – how could she trust him to care for children if he wouldn’t even commit to her? That was where they’d reached an impasse – just like they did when anyone happened to mention his abandonment during the hunt for the pieces of Voldemort’s soul. Then his pupils would narrow, his expression grow cold. “You always have to bring it up, don’t you?” he would say. “I thought you’d forgiven me?” When, of course, she had never done any such thing.
“Are you all right?”
Hermione started, unconsciously tugging at the gape in her dress. It was the bride, Regina, leaning over, impossibly long black lashes brushing her blushing cheeks.
Hermione was glad for the excuse to ignore the question (Why does everyone keep asking me that?) as she climbed to her feet to embrace the bride. Patted her cheek and asked the required polite questions.
“Why aren’t you sitting with your parents?” Regina asked, because, indeed, Hermione was sitting at a table with five complete strangers who, finding their questions about where she lived and how she knew the bride and groom frustrated with short, vague answers, had spent most of the reception ignoring her. Meanwhile, Ron sat at a distant table with Mr and Mrs Granger – but it was only her parents who cast her confused glances across the hall. Ron seemed to just stare resolutely at the opposite wall, the back of his neck red in the candlelight.
“Forging new friendships,” Hermione said. She mustered a smile and squeezed her cousin’s hands. “Thank you for inviting me.”
Regina kissed her cheek, most likely leaving a bright pink mark. “When is it your turn?” she asked, smiling with the bright white teeth of yet another dentist’s daughter.
“Oh, lord,” Hermione sighed, and Regina laughed. She turned back to check in on Ron, but he had gone.
“It’s been worse,” Hermione said.
Regina’s smile faltered – deciding the conversation was better left, she made her excuses and moved on to the other guests.
Hermione collapsed back into her chair.
“So,” the man on her left said, leaning in conspiratorially. “What do you do?”
“Write legislation to protect slaves from further exploitation,” Hermione answered, reaching for the champagne.
“Blimey,” the man said. He paused for a minute, staring at her hand, which rested, still, on the sweating bottle. His face lit up (was it the lack of a ring?) and he asked, “Would you like to dance?”
Hermione’s hand slipped from the bottle.
“Yes,” she said. She wrapped her cold, slick fingers in his. “I would love to.”
“Come on!” A girl who looked remarkably like a Hermione ten years younger was bouncing on her bare feet on the footpath outside the church hall, the bangles on her ankles jingling. “We promise we won’t tell.”
“No,” Ron said.
“Please, sir,” the boy (even younger) at her side pled. Sir. Since when did other people call him sir?
“No,” Ron repeated.
“One bottle. There’s extra in the back. We can’t go get it, someone will see us.”
“Exactly,” Ron replied, taking a fortifying sip from his hip flask. He had been right to bring it with him, then, the cold pewter stuffed into his jacket pocket. Hermione called it an affectation (whatever that meant), and Ron rarely drank from it, but he’d taken George’s generous suggestion -- the hot nip of Firewhisky was the one thing that his nerves needed tonight.
“What is that?” The little Not-Hermione’s eyes were huge, vacant, staring at his hands as he screwed the cap back on his flask.
“Not for little girls,” Ron replied, frowning as he shoved it back into his pocket.
“You know it’s tradition to let kids drink at weddings,” the girl said. She crossed her slim arms across her waist, shivering slightly in the cold. “It’s what normal people do.”
“Yeah,” the boy said, collapsing at Ron’s side on the garden wall. “Normal people.”
“Is it?” Ron said, his resolve crumbling. Was it what normal people – Muggles – did at weddings? Let children get smashed on champagne and whisky? Maybe that was their idea of fun, getting them drunk and watching them run around, crashing into things and getting in scrapes. There had to be some form of entertainment to stave off the boredom of the vows, the photographs, the speeches from and about people Ron had never met in his life.
“It is,” the girl said again, her huge brown eyes fixed on Ron’s pocket. She did look startlingly like Hermione. Ten years younger and they could have been mother and daughter.
“Here,” Ron said with a sigh, and handed the flask over to delighted squeals. “Careful,” he said, “it’s strong.”
The boy downed his first sip like a pro. The girl after, looking just as well-practiced. Something oddly and conspiratorially paternal flared in Ron’s chest – how many times had he sneaked a sip from his own father’s meagre collection (Christmas gifts from work colleagues, an old vintage from a wealthier neighbour)? It’s not like he’d never been caught – but Mr Weasley would only give him an exasperated roll of his eyes, a gentle clip on the shoulder, and a promise that he wouldn’t tell Molly.
“Can I have more?” the girl asked, reaching for the flask in Ron’s hands.
“I think that’s enough,” he replied, shoving it back into his pocket and unbuttoning his top button, suddenly hot. His wand nearly poked from his shirt sleeve – he hurriedly tucked it back down.
“Are you Hermione’s boyfriend?” the girl asked. Her voice was quite high, somewhat grating, always pleading in its questions.
“Yes,” Ron grumbled.
“Then why is she dancing with someone else?”
He didn’t pull his wand out…the hall doors crashed open anyway, embarrassingly loudly, but Ron didn’t care. He did care that not nearly as many people turned to look as he wanted – only Hermione’s parents, who were looking both worried and exasperated, paranoid that a Ministry official would turn up any moment and try their hand at a few mass Memory Charms on all their extended family and friends.
Ron wanted the girl – the Hermione halfling – to be lying. Trying to goad him out of the rest of his Firewhisky. But she wasn’t. He could spot Hermione from a hundred meters (the hair, the frame, the way she carried herself) and she was exactly where the girl had said she would be: on the dance floor with another man.
A man who suddenly found himself with earlobes down to his nipples.
Hermione didn’t notice at first – was smiling at someone else, only to turn back and find her dancing partner holding onto the dangling cartilage, panic clear on his face, grasping onto them and mouthing, What the fuck? over the music.
Her hand was on his shoulder, pushing him away, out of the dance floor, the other reaching for her wand in her dress pocket. She almost didn’t look back, but she did – one craning look over her shoulder and she spotted Ron, still in the doorway. Her expression was murderous.
Five minutes later she found him in the churchyard, sitting on the base of a monolith.
“You can’t do that!” she screamed. They were alone as far as they could tell, but her pitch still sent birds scattering from the trees, fluttering across the river. “You bloody idiot! What if someone had seen? You’re going to be in so much trouble. For God’s sake, Ron—“
Ron was looking at her very oddly, and not saying anything at all. His hands were clasped beneath his chin and he looked like he was concentrating very hard, or harbouring very deep thoughts.
Hermione’s fingers found her wand again.
“Speak,” she said.
Ron opened his mouth. A plume of smoke curled out.
He shut his mouth again.
“Ron?” she said.
Scowling, he retrieved the pewter flask from his pocket. Tried to open his mouth to explain again but only a lick of flame escaped his lips and blue light flared from his nostrils.
“Oh Ron,” she said. “It was George, wasn’t it? It had to be.” She took the flask and gave it a careful sniff. “I told you he’d started brewing his own. How much did you have?”
Suddenly, Ron’s eyes became very wide.
“What?” Hermione said. Then, more panicked, “What?”
Something was on fire near the river. Plumes of smoke belching into the sunset, morphing into little fat, blue clouds that followed the river, looming over ducks and swans.
“What did you do?” Hermione demanded furiously as they scrambled down the footpath. “What on earth possessed you to share it with someone? My family, Ron! My family!”
Ron tried to defend himself but it was useless – even Hermione’s quenching spell did nothing, and Ron’s own wandwork only seemed to make the flames burn brighter. In some desperation, Hermione had set a Sticking Charm to work on his lips, so the only sign that he was still burning was the flicker inside his nose, like a fire lit at the back of a cave.
Hermione reached the river first, breathing hard, her hair escaping the many pins she’d stuck in upon finding she had run out of Sleekeazy’s.
There were scorch marks in the grass, and nearby, a pile of ash where there had once been the stump of a tree.
Suddenly there was a belch, then a loud, sizzling giggle.
The children were hiding beneath the weeping branches of a willow, splayed out on the dirt, their hands full of flowers. Upon seeing Hermione, they both went very pale.
“YOU ABSOLUTE NUMPTIES!”
Ron staggered back and hit his head on a low-lying branch. Hermione had her wand out – Ron was about to grab onto her arm, stop her, open his mouth to say something even though he couldn’t, but Hermione was fuming, screaming at them. She stopped for a moment, just for a second, but it was only the calm before the storm – a quick shielding charm later and she could scream at them as loudly as she wanted, and no one would come running.
The girl was suddenly crying, the charred flower heads falling from her hand, a trembling finger pointing at Ron, her eyes huge, pleading, curls of fire leaking from the corners of her mouth—
“Don’t you dare blame Ron!” Hermione shouted. “You think for a moment I don’t know what you two are like? You think I haven’t talked to your mum, or Professor McGonagall? Gryffindors, indeed! I can’t believe—“
Ron would have stopped her – the boy had started weeping little puffs of smoke – but even if he could have spoken, he was too shocked. Hogwarts students? In Hermione’s family? She’d never said anything about there being other wizards in her family, had she? Surely she would have said something, not just let him think that the Granger family was all Muggle, all the time….
“What?” Hermione said, fuming at her cousins.
Of course, they didn’t reply.
“You knew full well that Ron thought you were Muggles, and you took advantage of him, didn’t you?”
Ron nodded but she didn’t see. She had her hands on her hips, was breathing out of her nose, loudly, like a horse, starting to pace back and forth a bit, thinking.
“What do we do with them?” Hermione asked Ron, obviously not expecting an answer. Ron shrugged. “We can’t take them back” – the girl gave a long, sulphurous belch—“obviously. And I can’t Apparate them home. “
Ron gave her a curious look, but she didn’t answer his silent why?
“Oh, bugger it,” Hermione huffed. “Stupefy!”
Suddenly, the crying stopped, and the two children tilted backwards, landing full-force back onto the soft ground beneath the willow tree, completely unconscious.
Hermione’s Sticking spell had worn off – a plume of smoke escaped Ron’s gaping mouth.
“You should’ve seen them before they found out they were magic,” Hermione said, fuming. “Locomotor.”
The two prone bodies floated up into the air, three feet off the ground.
“Can you talk now?” Hermione asked.
“Yes,” Ron said. The word fizzled around the edges.
“Good. Wand out, make sure no one sees us.”
Ron did as he was told, watching as Hermione levitated her two cousins up the footpath, back toward the church. Finally, she unlocked a car in the car park – her aunt’s, Ron supposed – shoved one in the backseat and one in the boot, and slammed the car doors shut.
Her wand vanished back into her dress pocket.
“There,” she said. She swept her hands across her skirt. It was almost as though she’d forgotten; for one precious moment, Ron thought she had.
But no such luck.
“Now,” she said, “you.”
“Why did you do that?” she spat, turning on him, her face going red again. She was apparently working very hard trying to lower her blood pressure, because she clenched her fists at her side and took a deep breath, some of the colour leaving her face. She lowered her voice and continued, carefully, “It was only dancing.”
Ron shifted his weight uneasily to his other foot. “You looked like you were enjoying yourself,” he said. The words tasted burnt on his tongue.
“I was,” she said. Her voice was dangerous. “You should have been enjoying yourself with me.”
“Bloody hell, Hermione,” Ron said. “You’re the one who’s been acting mental all day. I couldn’t have even—“
Hermione’s face was gone, hidden in her cupped palms as she leant back against her aunt’s car door.
Ron blinked. Burped a lick of blue flame.
“Sorry?” he said.
“You heard me,” she replied, her voice muffled in her hands.
“I just don’t—what? What happened?”
She was crying. Ron Weasley’s pregnant girlfriend was crying, because of him.
Pregnant. She was pregnant.
Bloody fucking hell.
“Marry me,” Ron said, which only made Hermione cry harder.
“You utter twat,” she spat out, and Ron took a step back. Giving her room. Carefully scanned the churchyard to make sure they were still alone – only, when he looked back, Hermione was gone.
“Hermione?” he said.
Silence. Inside the car, the girl shifted slightly, cuddling up against a bright blue rucksack amongst the smoky haze.
Ron went back into the church hall in a daze. The music and the crowd seemed muted, like he had pillows pressed up against his ears. He could feel his heart beating in his chest, and in his arms and his palms. The rest of him was numb. Someone could hit him in the face with a Bludger and he’d probably keep on walking, looking for her, mouth still smoking slightly in the hazy, candlelit evening.
She wasn’t there. The man was, his ears back to normal, dancing happily and ignorantly with another woman. Not one bushy head in the crowd.
Ron Weasley’s pregnant girlfriend had left him.
Hermione Granger collapsed into a bench under a yew tree, her heels trampling a clump of primroses. She didn’t care. She watched Ron stop, look around, his eyes skating right over her. Heard him call out her name – “Hermione?” – and vanish back into the church hall, the door swinging shut behind him.
She’d told him.
She’d told him.
And he had done exactly what she’d expected him to do – exactly what she had wanted to hear for the past three years …until one month ago.
Bloody stupid potion interactions bloody stupid…
Her Notice-Me-Not was faltering; she saw the air shimmer as her mind roiled. She reinforced it and lay back on the bench, her fingers folded across her stomach, and stared at the evergreen canopy of the yew. Feeling sick.
What had she wanted? What did she want? She had spent so little time sitting down, thinking about it, making plans. There would be maternity leave to think of, things to arrange, a nursery to decorate. And that was just the baby. Then there was Ron….
What had she wanted him to say? There was nothing he could say, she guessed – disdain would have been a fatal blow. A proposal forced, but what else could he have done?
Been happy. Scooped her up in his arms and made nice on all those propositions, all that nagging to have kids before she was ready—
She shot up. Her charms were still in place, but Ron was here, standing inside her protective bubble, looking right at her.
“Fuck off,” she said.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” Ron said. “ I was sitting out here earlier,” he added, scratching at his collar. “I noticed I had forgotten to notice it. Can I sit down?”
Hermione stared up at him, plainly furious, but scooted over a few inches. He sat down next to her, still half-hanging off the edge of the bench.
“Are all Muggle weddings this dramatic?” he asked.
Hermione gave a stifled sob in response. Suddenly, Ron’s arm was around her shoulders, and she was crying into his sleeve, her forehead pressed to his upper arm. He couldn’t help it. He flexed. Took pleasure in the fact that her face dug only into muscle and not into fat.
“I don’t understand why you’re upset,” Ron said, trying to keep his voice gentle.
“You-you proposed to me,” Hermione stammered.
“I told you I was pregnant and you told me to marry you.” Ron’s sleeve was growing damp, clinging to her face and to his arm in turn. “You didn’t even ask—“
“Try and be sensible,” he said, completely aware that it was the worst thing he possibly could have said, but he pushed regardless of her heaving sobs. “You knew we were going to get married eventually.”
She pulled away as if he’d drawn his wand. She looked horrified.
“Well, er, yeah, I—“
“Then why didn’t you ask, Ron?” The tears were gone, as if they’d never existed. Her face was clear, her eyes violent. “Why didn’t you ask me earlier?”
“Are you so bloody insecure? You think I don’t mean it unless I can prove it?”
“You think—“ Ron began, just as angry, then stopped.
She was right. Hermione was right. Why hadn’t he done it earlier? He’d brought it up all the time. It was always some grand hypothetical, some it-would-be-nice-someday goal. That hurt on her face – he’d been torturing her. Teasing her, as if he didn’t know she wanted it, even though she had brought it up so many times, did everything but beg him to consider it, actually, for real….
Because, deep down, ring or not, every day he expected her to leave him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Hermione, God, I’m so sorry.” He took her hands. They were shaking. “What do you want me to do?”
He took a shuddering breath. Tried to focus. Hermione ran a hand beneath her nose and sniffed. Her eyes fixed on the church door, and the wards around them instantly shivered, died.
“Tell me...” Hermione began, “…that you didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Do what?” Ron asked.
“Good,” Hermione sniffed, apparently satisfied. “Now, tell me…” She seemed to go shy at this. Half-hiding her face behind her hair. “Tell me that you thought about it.”
“Thought about…getting you pregnant?” Ron said. “To have an excuse to ask you to marry me.”
Had he? His desperation and insecurity aside, the idea had always appealed, having kids with her, watching her have his kids, watching….
Ron went red.
“Good,” Hermione said.
“Is that really how you think my mind works?” Ron said, embarrassed, ashamed.
“That you think of doing horrible things with good intentions?” Hermione said, slightly smiling now. Her hand found his again, squeezed it tight. “Absolutely.”
“You know me so well,” Ron said with a faint note of bitterness.
“I do,” Hermione said. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder and he summoned up another slightly smoky burp. Her hand found his free one, wove her fingers with his, and brought it to her stomach.
Another shuddering sigh. Ron’s heart was beating fast. His mind going numb.
“I’m going to be a dad,” Ron said.
“You’re going to be a dad,” Hermione replied. He looked at her, smiled. There was warmth in her expression, all anger gone. He kissed her forehead, pressed his hand too hard to her abdomen until she squirmed and moved it up her waist to her ribcage.
“Billius Prospero Granger-Weasley,” Hermione said, and they both laughed.
After they’d sat for a while, doing nothing but touching, Hermione turned her head against his shoulder and made a noise as though she was about to say something but had thought better of it.
She tried it once more. “And the answer to your question,” she began. She was starting to cry again. “Yes.”
He kissed her on the lips. Smiled.
“What question?” he asked.
Hermione sighed. In the distance, in the car park, a car horn blared over and over and over again.
“Never mind,” she replied.