The kitchen swam into focus as Ron and Hermione span through the fireplace, a green blaze announcing their arrival at The Burrow. Hermione’s head ached, and she found herself thinking wistfully of Muggle transport; cars, though much slower than apparition, Floo Powder or Portkeys, were infinitely more comfortable and, she thought privately, a lot less intrusive. Her parents still hadn’t grown used to her sudden arrivals in their driveway mere moments after inviting her over via the telephone. Perhaps Arthur would help her bewitch a Muggle car to be just a little more cosy, she thought. A small loophole he’d created years previously regarding an old Ford Anglia was still open, unnoticed - or at least, not mentioned by Arthur’s colleagues at work. Indeed, old Perkins at the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office had rediscovered his love of camping after retirement, having found that a slightly modified and becharmed Volvo Estate was an entirely comfortable holiday pied-a-terre, suitable for both his wife and his lumbago. Hermione decided to ask Arthur about the loophole over the weekend.
The man himself was in the kitchen as they arrived, his tall wiry frame stooped beneath the weight of two little girls, one clutched in his arms and the other dangling happily from his shoulders. Both girls were giggling and appeared to have matching smears of strawberry juice across their little faces. A very large pavlova pudding lay on the kitchen countertop, its mountains of cream and meringue looking somewhat dishevelled.
‘Hi Dad,’ Ron said as he stepped out of the large fireplace.
‘Ron, Hermione, good to see you!’ said Mr Weasley, smiling. He disentangled himself from the two toddlers with some effort. One of the girls had a smattering of freckles, red hair and was clearly a Weasley through and through. The other was pale, with white-blonde curls and deep blue eyes. She would have looked almost ethereal, were it not for the small blob of whipped cream on her chin, and the broad grin on her face as she pattered, barefoot, towards Ron and Hermione.
‘Uncle Ron! Mop found some puddings and Granddad helped us reach them and strawberries are yummy, but don’t tell granny because she’ll be cross,’ she chirped.
Ron laughed and reached down, swinging the little girl into his arms.
‘Really, Dominique? And did Granddad try the puddings too?’ Ron asked, raising his eyebrows at his father, who was looking slightly sheepish.
‘It was Mop’s idea,’ said Mr Weasley, coming over to kiss Hermione on the cheek.
‘Really now, Arthur,’ laughed Hermione. ‘Blaming your sweet tooth on your three year-old granddaughter?’
Mop, the red headed girl, reached up and took Ron’s hand in hers, telling him in an excited lisp that she’d found more strawberries in the pantry, and that he could try some if he wanted.
Ron grinned. ‘As long as Granny doesn’t find out!’ he said, giving Hermione a pointed look.
‘My lips are sealed,’ she promised.
Ron and Mr Weasley disappeared into the larder with the two girls. Dominique may be part Veela, thought Hermione with a smile, but Mop can wrap grown men around her little finger just as easily.
She made her way through the kitchen and out into the garden, where she found most of the Weasley family enjoying the warmth of the sun.
Ron’s oldest brother, Bill, was standing with his wife in the shade of a large apple tree. He appeared to be enjoying a joke with his brother Charlie, who spent the majority of his time working in Romania. He had been visiting somewhat regularly in recent years, with many of his siblings getting married and starting their own families. Charlie had been overjoyed to become an uncle five times over, and loved to play with the children whenever he visited. However, Bill’s daughters could be rather a handful; so much so that Fleur had just caught him offering to teach her husband the best handling techniques for subduing baby dragons, in the hope that they might be usefully deployed against the girls. The older of the two girls, a pink-cheeked five year old named Victoire, had been gleefully allowing her uncle George to follow Charlie’s instructions, her giggles and shrieks filling the garden as she was thrown over his shoulder and carried in dizzying circles around the apple tree.
A pair of large cotton tablecloths had been strung over a paved area to act as an awning, in the shade of which three women were chatting animatedly. Looking out into the garden, Molly spotted Hermione and waved her over with a smile. Hermione ducked under the canopy and exhaled gratefully as she stepped out of the blazing August sun. Molly was sitting on a long garden bench, at the other end of which sat her daughter-in-law Audrey, who was resting a sweating glass of lemonade on the pregnant bump of her belly.
A comfortable high-backed chair, which had clearly been dragged out of the living room for the occasion, was occupied by another daughter-in-law. Angelina’s tall athletic frame meant that, had it not been for the baby in her arms, an onlooker might never have guessed that she’d been as round as Audrey only six weeks previously. Hermione beamed at Angelina, whom she’d not seen since the birth, and congratulated her warmly.
‘Thanks, Hermione,’ said Angelina, smiling happily. ‘I’m so glad you and Ron could come for the Naming tomorrow, but I hope we haven’t dragged you from your sickbed!’
Molly frowned slightly at this and her eyes roved Hermione’s face, a mother hen on the alert. ‘Are you ill, Hermione? You do look a little flushed.’
Hermione shook her head, giving Molly a weary smile. ‘I’m fine, honestly. I’m just a little overworked at the moment.’
The thought of Hermione feeling ‘overworked’ was actually more worrying to Molly than the possibility of a fever. Other than her own Percy, she’d never met anybody who usually relished the challenge of a laborious workload more than Hermione Granger.
Molly gestured towards a large purple beanbag on the floor by Audrey’s feet, and insisted that Hermione sit down. Hermione obeyed, and settled into the beanbag with a little sigh of relief. She had, in truth, been feeling slightly woozy and she felt her heart beating a little too quickly as her head swam. Blinking quickly, Hermione tried to banish the dizziness. She felt quite foolish, sitting here between a heavily pregnant woman and a new mother, complaining about being exhausted. With an effort, she plastered a smile on her hot face.
‘How are you, Audrey?’
‘Oh, fine,’ replied Audrey, who shifted in her seat uncomfortably, ‘although if you can see my ankles please tell them I say hello, and I’m sorry for what they’re going through right now.’
Hermione flicked a quick glance at the swollen feet next to her and raised her eyebrows.
‘I don’t think they’ll be forgiving me any time soon,’ Audrey smiled ruefully.
‘Where’s Percy? Shouldn’t he be here, rubbing your feet, feeding you grapes?’
‘Chance would be a fine thing. He’s had to go back to the office for a couple of hours.’ Audrey grimaced, before clutching at her abdomen suddenly. Seeing the alarmed looks on the other women’s faces, she was quick to reassure them. ‘Just more kicking. This baby feels like she’s going to be even more trouble than Mop.’ She sighed. ‘And if Percy keeps going back to work every time some clerk spills an ink bottle on a treaty, I’ll be giving birth to this little whirlwind without him.’
Realising she’d touched on a sore point, Hermione bit her lip and tried to think of how to steer the conversation away from Percy’s tendency towards well-meaning tactlessness. Angelina saw Hermione’s embarrassment and tried to rescue her from it.
‘Would you like to hold the baby?’ she asked Hermione, widening her eyes and raising her eyebrows pointedly. ‘He’s awake, and you haven’t really met him yet.’
Hermione, who had never been quite comfortable with holding any of Ron’s other nieces or nephews whilst they were so small, felt nerves pitch briefly somewhere low in her stomach, but suppressed them.
‘Of course!’ With an encouraging smile, Angelina carefully lowered the tiny bundle into Hermione’s outstretched arms and watched happily as his eyes tried to focus on the new face gazing down into his.
Hermione was surprised by his warmth, the soft heaviness of the baby’s body in her arms. His wide, dark eyes seemed to be placidly inspecting her, rosebud lips parting to reveal the tip of a pink tongue. He blew a bubble at her, and Hermione instinctively wiped the spittle from his cheek with the edge of his blanket, her gentle touch yet another surprise.
‘Hello Freddie,’ she said quietly. ‘I’m Hermione.’ In her tired state, she found the milky warmth of the baby oddly comforting. His weight felt good in her arms, as if he were acting as an anchor for her spinning head. Hermione gently stroked his soft, dark curls and ran a finger down the long, Weasley-ish nose.
‘You’re a natural,’ said Audrey, breaking the silence that Hermione hadn’t noticed falling. ‘When are you going to try motherhood for yourself?’
Hermione felt suddenly embarrassed, and hurriedly passed Freddie back to his mother. Cheeks aflame, she stood up quickly, intending to pour a round of drinks, but dark spots danced in her vision and her head pounded painfully. She felt Audrey clasping her elbow, steadying her against the head rush.
‘I’m alright! Just got up too fast!’ Hermione said, her voice sounding brassy and unconvincing.
‘Sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,’ said Audrey, her grip on Hermione’s elbow slackening only slightly, ‘I just have babies on the brain at the moment’.
Hermione laughed shrilly. ‘No, no, I’m not embarrassed! I…just haven’t thought about having children yet. I have so much to do at the Ministry first, and the flat wouldn’t have room for a baby, and Ron…’ She faltered, not sure what to say. Just then, the man himself strolled from the kitchen into the garden, licking bright strawberry juice from his fingers with great satisfaction. He noticed the eyes of the women on him, and waved sheepishly at them, a fleck of whipped cream on his chin. Hermione smiled fondly as she waved back. ‘…well, I’m just not sure that he’s ready for fatherhood.’
She looked down at the baby for a moment with an expression that was perhaps a little more wistful than she realised. ‘He’s beautiful, Angelina.’ Shifting him in her arms, Angelina thanked her with a smile before spotting little Mop and Dominique pattering through the garden, and waving them over.
Relieved to be out of the spotlight, Hermione ducked out of the awning. She wandered across the garden, not sensing Molly’s curious gaze as it followed her. Hermione was intercepted on her way to the kitchen by a panting George, who had only just persuaded Victoire to let him go. By the apple tree, Bill and Charlie were swinging her high the air, Fleur looking on with a mingling of anxiety and laughter playing across her face.
‘That girl!’ George huffed, ‘Seeing what Bill is up against, I’m glad that Ange and I had a boy!’
Hermione looked at him in mock severity. ‘If there was any justice in this world, Freddie will turn out to be just as naughty as you and Fred were.’
George laughed. ‘What do you mean, ‘naughty’? Fred and I were inventive, that’s all!’
‘Try telling your poor mother that.’ Hermione grinned, thinking that George was right; for all that the twins had broken a lot of rules at Hogwarts, they’d rarely broken a rule without a deal of careful planning and vast ingenuity beforehand. At the time, Hermione had been outraged at the lack of respect that the boys had shown the rules. Looking back, however, she could see that the combined minds of Fred and George had been extraordinary, and she suddenly longed for those lost days in which Fred poked fun at her sense of propriety. ‘I’m glad you named the baby ‘Fred’,’ she said distantly. Clouds formed briefly in George’s eyes.
‘So am I… I’ve missed using that name in the present tense. It’s good to use it in my everyday life again,’ he said. Hermione bit her lip, sorry to have caused such a sad look to appear on George’s face. ‘Although,’ he continued, ‘I do laugh when Angelina says that Fred’s nappy needs changing!’
Hermione chuckled. ‘Until you actually have to change the nappy, of course.’
George grimaced, ‘Yeah, I don’t know what Fred and I were doing, throwing Stinkpellets all of those years. A full nappy would have done the job much more admirably.’
At this, it was Hermione’s turn to grimace. ‘Well,’ she said, changing the subject for the sake of her queasy stomach, ‘I’ve just met little Freddie. He’s lovely; he has your nose.’
George’s eyes widened. ‘Really?! Does he have my ear too?’ He gestured towards the old wound on the side of his head, ‘Cheeky little so-and-so; I’ll have to have a word with him.’
Hermione laughed at this as he wandered away, marvelling that George was still finding comedy mileage in the loss of his ear so many years after the event. She had barely taken a step before a voice called out, and from around the corner of the house appeared a little boy, a wide grin on his face and his little feet hovering an inch above the ground. Dimpled hands clung onto the handle of the miniature broomstick, which he pointed towards Hermione. Laughing again, she crouched down to catch the boy mid-flight.
‘James, I said slow down!’ the voice called again, as the boy’s mother hurried around the corner, her expression not one of anger but of pride. She stooped and picked up the abandoned broom, and waved it at Hermione. ‘This thing should be slower than Ron’s old Shooting Star, but James always manages to get away from us!’
‘Is that so?’ Hermione asked the toddler squirming in her arms, who ignored her and reached for his broom. Ginny adjusted a small dial on the side and, relieving Hermione’s arms, plopped her son back onto the little broom. They watched together as he slowly made his way towards his grandmother, who was waving delightedly.
‘He’ll be captain of his House Quidditch team by the end of his first lesson with Madam Hooch,’ laughed Hermione.
‘He’ll be captain of the England team if she doesn’t keep an eye on him,’ said Harry, appearing from around the corner. He grinned at Ginny, ‘You caught him, then.’
‘Actually, Hermione did.’
‘Really, Hermione, I had no idea you were so talented,’ Harry smiled, giving her a quick hug. Holding her at arm’s length, he gave her a mock-serious look. ‘Have you ever thought of playing Seeker? My Sunday league could always do with a reserve.’
Hermione narrowed her eyes, her look of irritation belied by the fond smile on her face, ‘Oddly enough, I haven’t. Maybe I should speak to Madam Hipp about a change in career path.’
‘Oh no, she’d kill me. Better stick to saving the world.’
‘Would either of you like a drink? I’m parched,’ said Ginny, ‘We’ve been chasing James around the orchard for over an hour – I’ve barely even seen Charlie yet.’
‘I’ll go,’ offered Harry, ‘You go and find your brother. What would you both like?’
Aware of the heat prickling her skin, Hermione hurriedly said that she’d go and get some drinks instead.
‘Well, if you’re sure… I’ll just have lemonade. Thanks Hermione,’ said Ginny, giving her arm a slight squeeze before making her way towards Charlie and Bill. Harry lingered for a moment, casting an eye over Hermione’s flushed skin, the glimmer of sweat at her hairline.
‘Are you okay?’
‘Fine! I’m fine,’ she replied quickly, before remembering who she was talking to. ‘Actually, I’m a bit under the weather, but I just need some water.’ Hermione saw the scar on Harry’s forehead move as his brow furrowed in concern. ‘Please, don’t fuss. I’m okay… I’ll come out and join you in a minute.’
She turned and finally made her way into the cool darkness of the kitchen. Harry spotted Ron ambling towards him, and smiled. ‘Bit warmer here than in London, isn’t it?’
‘You’re telling me, I thought I’d never be dry again after my walk home,’ laughed Ron, ‘Remind me to stock up on Floo powder for the office before Monday. I hate living in an Apparition-Restricted zone.’
‘Hmm. Is Hermione alright? She doesn’t seem herself,’ asked Harry, as he and Ron strolled towards baby James, who had been released from his grandmother’s arms and was once again zooming around the garden on his toy broomstick.
‘Yeah, she’s got a bit of a summer cold. Mum and Angelina said she didn’t have to come over for the weekend, but she insisted.’
‘Even though she’s got deadlines coming up?’
‘Yep -’ Ron hesitated. ‘Now that you mention it… that is weird. I’d better keep an eye on her.’ The sudden consternation on his face cleared as a chubby hand tugged at his trouser leg.
‘Up!’ squeaked James, looking up at him through a fringe of unruly black hair. Ron scooped his nephew up into his arms and tickled the back of his neck, making the toddler wriggle and laugh with joy.
In the quiet kitchen, Hermione was running the tap and watching as the water splashed against the stone sink. Holding her fingers in the stream, she waited for the water to be cold enough that it might quell the heat beneath her skin.
‘Are you alright, dear?’ Hermione had been lost in her own thoughts and jumped at the sudden interruption. Mrs Weasley spotted the dishevelled pavlova and pursed her lips, bustling over to the larder and pulling out a bowl of chopped strawberries. ‘I had a feeling I might need these.’
Hermione watched as Molly carefully rebuilt the pudding. ‘You make the best desserts,’ she said absentmindedly. Molly didn’t look up from her work, but gave a little smile.
‘Thank you, dear; I’ve had years of practice.’ She glanced up at her son’s girlfriend, who had filled a glass with water and was holding it against her cheek. She saw drops of sweat mingling with the water as they rolled down a hot, lightly freckled cheek, and Hermione looked distracted. ‘Are you sure you’re alright?’
Hermione blinked. ‘Yes, I’m fine…’ she faltered. It was no good lying to Molly; having raised seven Weasley children, the woman could spot a lie a mile off and had the patience to wait for the truth. Hermione sighed. ‘I’ve just been a bit under the weather recently, that’s all. I’m tired.’
Studying the pavlova carefully, Molly nodded. ‘Are you sure that’s all it is, Hermione? I could be entirely wrong - I’m sure you know how you’re feeling -’ She repositioned a rogue strawberry, and looked up at Hermione ‘- well, I’ve been pregnant many times; in fact, I’ve been surrounded by pregnancy for most of my life, and you - you have that aura around you.’
Hermione’s eyes widened and she snorted slightly. ‘You mean nausea and exhaustion?’ she laughed, ‘Luna would blame the nargles.’ Molly lifted an eyebrow, and Hermione realised the older woman wasn’t joking. ‘Oh! Oh, I - I can’t be, we make sure…’ She tailed off, blushing crimson suddenly. Molly crossed the room and patted Hermione gently on the arm, a somewhat knowing look in her eyes.
‘These things happen, dear. Even magic isn’t completely reliable.’ Molly cast a quick glance towards the kitchen door, where the chatter and laughter of her children and grandchildren was filling the air. ‘Believe me’, she added, under her breath.
‘Well, I suppose I could…’ Hermione murmured, her brow furrowed and her skin suddenly pale. She looked up at Molly quickly. ‘Could you not mention this to anyone else? Until I know either way, I mean.’
‘Of course my dear, it’s your business.’ Molly gave Hermione’s arm a gentle squeeze and turned to leave.
‘One more thing, Molly -’ Hermione bit her lip, looking worried. She wasn’t accustomed to being caught unaware, having spent most of her life planning for every possibility; this wasn’t something she’d planned on. ‘Is there… is there a certain spell I do? Or do I just -you know- use a Muggle test?’
‘A Muggle test is just as accurate as any magic you could use,’ said Molly kindly, ‘After all, Hermione, we may be witches but we’re also human.’
Hermione nodded, and allowed Molly to gather her into a hug. As she leaned into the comforting warmth, she reflected that, after her own mother and Ron of course, Mrs Weasley probably gave the best hugs in the world. Feeling steadied and a bit calmer, she pulled back and looked down into Molly’s kind face.
‘Thank you. You get back out there. I’ll be out in a minute, I promised Harry and Ginny some drinks.’
Molly left the kitchen and made her way across the garden, feeling the grass tickle the sides of her feet. Feeling suddenly light-hearted, she blew Arthur a quick kiss as she passed him. He was chatting animatedly with Ron and Harry, who was holding an exhausted little James in his arms; Arthur returned her kiss with a wide grin, and momentarily lost track of what he’d been saying. She smiled to herself, and continued to the shady patio where Angelina was sitting with George, who was gently tickling his baby son. Angelina looked up with a smile at Molly’s approach, and poured her a glass of bubbling elderflower champagne, which was accepted gratefully.
‘Is she okay?’ asked Angelina, watching as Hermione emerged from the kitchen with her hands full of drinks. The young woman blinked in the sudden sunshine, but spotting Ron and Harry together, she smiled widely and began to make her way towards them. Molly sipped at her glass, and savoured the dry, flowery sweetness of the drink. She watched Hermione hand Harry a glass of beer and slip a slender arm around Ron’s waist.
‘Oh, she’ll be fine.’ Molly saw her youngest son absentmindedly kiss the top of his girlfriend’s head and, despite the sudden lump in her throat, she chuckled softly. ‘She’ll be just fine.’