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Daddy by blondebouncingferret

Format: Novella
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 38,656
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature

Genres: Romance, Drama
Characters: Ginny, Harry, Hermione, OC, Ron, Fred/George
Pairings: Ron/Hermione

First Published: 03/25/2005
Last Chapter: 03/04/2006
Last Updated: 10/08/2008

Summary:
Post Hogwarts: Ron and Harry are sent to America for Auror training. Ron spends his last night in England with Hermione, and after returning two years later, he finds Hermione with a fifteen-month-old baby ...


Chapter 1: The Party
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Author's Note: Many thanks to my betas Florence and Nicole for their help, and Cariel for saying I should post here!

And before anyone asks, yes, this story is cross posted at a different site or two, other than this one.

***

Chapter One

The Party


Music was blaring from the magically modified CD player into the substantially sized garden of The Burrow. A long table, like a smaller version of those used at Hogwarts, was against the little wooden fence that separated the field from the garden. On the table were plates piled with food, goblets full of drinks and one huge Butterbeer cake with chocolate icing.

From one side of the garden to the other was a floating banner, made by Ginny Weasley, which read 'Congratulations Ron and Harry!' The banner drifted absently through the air, swaying slightly in the evening breeze.

Over the years that the Weasley family had been living in their house, the garden had been through quite a lot, with the garden fence re-built many times.

This garden was where Charlie Weasley would keep his pet rabbit, Hoppy, in a little hutch at the bottom of the garden under the willow tree. It was also the place where Percy Weasley would come to read while his younger twin brothers would pull pranks on their youngest brother Ron. Ron, who at the time could barely walk a few paces before falling over, was the subject of much amusement to the twins.

It was also the place that little Ginny Weasley was born, during one summer day when Mrs Weasley told her husband that she could not make it to St Mungo's in time. After six children, the seventh appeared without much fuss.

To the outside observer it would be obvious why the garden was being used for a party this August evening. The garden was always used for parties or get-togethers, and this one was very special. Mrs Weasley's youngest son Ron, who had turned eighteen in March, was now--along with his best friend Harry Potter--going to America to train to become Aurors.

This was supposed to be a very happy time for Ron, who put on a fake smile to please his friends and family. Everyone was so proud of him, not only because he had been Head-Boy at Hogwarts and had received two Services to School Awards (one in his second year and another in his sixth), but because he was doing something more meaningful with his life than playing professional Quidditch.

Why was Ron putting on a show? Two words: Hermione Granger. Hermione was the only girl Ron had ever loved. They had dated during their sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts, and everyone thought they would be together forever.

Ron thought so too.

Nevertheless, the fates have a way of changing people's lives. Two years would be a long time, especially for Ron and Hermione. They had not been apart from each other for so long in over seven years, and during their seventh year, their relationship had become stronger due to Voldemort's attack on Hogwarts. Ron had put his life second to Hermione's and breaking up was not an option. It would be too painful. They decided to stay together, both reasoning that a long-distance relationship couldn't be that hard.

Ron weaved between the guests in the garden in hopes that he would find Hermione. He hadn't seen her since the party had started and she had excused herself to check on the food in the kitchen with his mum. Ron was becoming quite worried. Hermione hadn't left his side since he had been accepted into the Auror program and now, with less than a day before he was to go, she was nowhere to be found.

Frowning, Ron scanned the area in front of him, backing up for a better view of the garden. He bumped into something soft that muttered 'Oomph'; Ron turned around and saw that it was Neville he nearly knocked over. Neville was standing with Luna Lovegood, whose usual dreamy expression did not modify when she saw Ron.

"Hey Ron, congratulations," Neville said, taking Ron's hand in his own and giving a firm handshake.

"Thanks. Hey, I hear congratulations are in order for you too," Ron said, referring to the fact that Neville had been accepted into Medi-School.

"Yeah, thanks," Neville muttered, turning red. "I never thought I would get in," he added bashfully.

"I knew you would," Luna said in her usual dreamy voice, which was full of pride.

"That's because you hung around St Mungo's everyday to find out if I got in," Neville said, a faint blush filling his cheeks.

"True, but I had a feeling in my left foot that you would anyway," Luna said, taking Neville's hand in her own and giving it a gentle squeeze. Neville and Luna had been dating for a few months now and Ron had never seen them so happy.

Ron said he would see them later, and continued searching for Hermione. Maybe she had left. He had heard her crying in Ginny's room the night before; maybe this was all too much for her. Nevertheless, a little voice in Ron's head told him that Hermione was a Gryffindor, and Gryffindors were brave.

Ron's thoughts of Hermione's whereabouts were disrupted when he noticed that the guests were all walking towards the food table, where he heard a faint cough. He also began moving towards the table, sliding past guests with an 'excuse me' as he passed them. Once he reached the front of the crowd, Ron saw his mother standing there, beaming.

Mrs Weasley, noticing Ron's presence, pushed her greying hair out of her eyes and clapped once before beginning.

"Now, I just wanted to say how very proud I am of my son, Ron, and Harry," Mrs Weasley said maternally. Ron blushed and turned to Harry, who was looking absently at the ground as though fascinated by it.

"We are all very proud of them," Mrs Weasley continued, looking swollen with pride. "And I--we--" She broke off, unable to continue as fresh tears leaked from her eyes.

"I think what mum is trying to say," Fred said loudly, "is that it's time for cake!"

"Hear, hear!" George and Ginny called from somewhere in the crowd.

Mrs Weasley handed Ron a slice of cake, which he thanked her for before making his way over to the willow tree. Ron set himself down, resting the paper plate on his lap as he used his plastic knife and fork to break into the dessert. Butterbeer cream poured out onto the plate, which Ron used as a sort of cake-dip with his forkful of food.

Just as he was enjoying his cake, a shadow cast over him. Looking up, he noticed Ginny smiling sheepishly at him. She took a seat next to Ron on the grass. Ginny was going into her last year at Hogwarts this September as a prefect. Licking her lips, Ginny placed her finger in Ron's cake, making sure to touch the sticky part and then touched Ron's nose with it. Ron grinned and looked at the ground, still smiling.

"Thank you," Ron said, looking up. "Hey, I like your hair," he added, when he noticed that Ginny's hair was shorter and styled differently.

"Thanks, Tonks did it for me," Ginny said, nonchalantly running her fingers through her newly tailored locks.

"Where is Tonks anyway?" Ron asked, taking another bite of the cake.

"She's gone to help Fred and George with their latest 'product'," Ginny said. "They're making a sweet that changes your appearance. All you do is suck on it and think of what you want to look like."

"That seems more useful than their sweet that caused you blow bubbles for an hour," Ron replied, grinning.

"I liked the Bubble-Gum, it was fun," Ginny protested. "And anyway, they think that if they used a bit of Tonks' blood it might help."

"She's going to let them at her with a needle?" Ron asked disbelievingly. "No one is that stupid."

"She's providing the blood herself, she isn't that stupid," Ginny said, lying against the tree and picking one of the icing letters off Ron's piece of cake and popping it into her mouth.

"Are you all right?" Ron asked, noticing Ginny heaving a small sigh.

"Fine, it's just … it's going to be weird at Hogwarts without you, Harry and Hermione there," Ginny confessed.

"You still have Luna," Ron reminded her.

"True," Ginny said, running her finger along Ron's cake, then licking her finger clean. "Just that … I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too, Gin, but I'll owl you," Ron said.

"You promise?" Ginny asked hopefully.

"I promise," Ron swore. Ginny smiled at Ron and ran her finger along the icing again.

"Did you come over here to tell me that or because you wanted some cake?" he asked.

"Both," Ginny said, licking the icing off her finger.

***


The night sky was becoming dark; the stars were twinkling around the silver orb that was the moon. The candles around the garden were starting to die out, which signalled the end of the party. Ron furrowed his brow. He had spoken to nearly everyone who had attended and yet there was still no sign of Hermione.

Mrs Weasley was clearing away empty paper plates from the food table with Mr Weasley, who was in charge of cups. Fred was on George's shoulders--or was it George on Fred's?--and was helping Ginny take the banner down, at a bet from her saying that they couldn't do it without magic.

Ron leant against the back door, watching with an amused expression on his face. He even uttered a small laugh when one of the twins fell over, causing the other to fall on top of him, banner in hand.

"Ha!" said Fred triumphantly.

"You owe us ten sickles!" George said, rubbing his backside, which he had landed on hard.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "I'll go get it from my room," she replied, shaking her head as she walked towards Ron. "Are you all right?" she asked, when she noticed him.

"Hmm?" Ron asked, snapping back to reality. "Oh, yeah."

"You're as bad as Hermione," Ginny said, pushing the door open and entering the kitchen.

Ron grabbed her wrist quickly. "Hermione? Have you seen her?" he asked frantically.

Ginny, frowning, replied, "Yeah, she's in your room with a headache. I'm surprised you haven't been to see her yet." And with that, Ginny walked away to find her moneybox.

His room! Why didn't he think of looking there? She had confided in him the previous year that she felt the safest in his room--in his arms. That year they lost their virginities to each other, both feeling more safe and blissful than they ever had.

Ron took the stairs two at a time as he hurried to his room. Once he reached the landing, his pace slowed right down, and he quietly turned the doorknob, entering his room.

In all of the years Ron had lived at the Burrow; his room was the one thing that had never changed. The walls were still a violent colour of orange and plastered with posters of the Chudley Cannons, Ron's favourite Quidditch Team. His tank, which had held a frog for the past few years, was now empty, his old school books resting messily on top of the container.

Ron's breath caught in his throat as he saw Hermione sitting on his bed, facing the window. Her head was bowed and she was crying silently. Ron coughed and she turned around. Hermione's eyes were red and her curling hair was pulled back to keep out of her eyes.

"Oh, Ron, hi," she said, in a squeaky voice.

"Hey, how are you?" Ron asked, sitting next to her on the bed.

"I'm happy for you," Hermione said smiling a little too widely. "I really, really am. I wish you all the--" Ron put his index finger over her mouth to stop her continuing. She closed her eyes and kissed his finger as tears formed in her eyes.

"It's okay, Hermione, two years isn't that long," Ron said softly. He wasn't exactly lying, but saying it aloud gave Ron a little more confidence about the new chapter in his life.

Hermione opened her eyes and wiped them. "That's seven-hundred-and-thirty days," she informed him tonelessly.

"When you put it that way," Ron said, "it does seem long, but you can come and visit and we'll write to each other!" He smiled at her hopefully.

"Every day?" Hermione asked, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

"Yes, every day," Ron said.

"Even though it would take a few days for each owl to get to America and back?" she asked.

Ron smiled. "Yes," he whispered, brushing a kiss on Hermione's cheek. "I leave tomorrow morning. Let's make this night count."

He moved closer to her, placing his hands on her waist as she looped her own arms over his shoulders. Ron leant in, kissing Hermione gently as he began to unbutton her shirt, sliding the garment off her shoulders and dropping it onto the floor.

Hermione moaned quietly and moved closer to Ron, pushing her chest against him seductively. Ron removed his own shirt quickly, as he laid her down on the pillows. He lowered himself onto her, moving against her as they kissed, causing them both to moan in unison …

***


Wildfire Whiz-bangs filled the sky with all the colours of the rainbow, with the Weasleys and Harry whooping and cheering in the garden below. No one knew what Ron and Hermione were doing in his bedroom. No one knew the consequences that would change the young lovers' lives forever.

Chapter 2: As the Months Pass
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Author's Note: Thank you all so much for all the reviews and I hope you enjoy this chapter (nice long one that's been re-written at least twice).

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Chapter Two

As the Months Pass


Hermione wept for months after Ron left, but not only because she missed him so much. No, it was because a few weeks after Ron had gone, Hermione found out that she was pregnant. Usually the pair would have used contraception, but this time was different. It was more passionate, there were more tears, desperation and love between the two Gryffindors that any logical thought had escaped them.

The thought of unplanned pregnancy hadn't crossed Hermione's mind for nearly a month. She was too heartbroken over Ron's departure that she thought of nothing else but him. It was when she told Ginny of the amazing goodbye that the redhead asked, "Did you guys cast the Contraception Spell?"

Two hours later and a homemade potion revealed Hermione's worst fear. She was pregnant.

Ginny was the only person Hermione told about the baby for a while. She wanted to make decisions about the future, and like an exam, she wanted answers to the many questions she knew her family would ask.

The first question would obviously be, 'are you going to keep it?' The answer to this would lay out a plan for the other queries. Hermione concluded there were three choices she could make: adoption, abortion or keep her baby.

The first option would open her child's doors and give loving parents who weren't eighteen and could look after a baby. Though, when she thought of adoption, she thought of her great-grandmother, who was adopted into a Muggle family, after being born to a family of wizards. Her great-grandmother never knew magic until she turned eleven and Hermione didn't want that to happen to her child.

Abortion was considered, but opened up many 'what if?' questions about the future. One scenario was that if Hermione didn't have this baby, she could work her way up in the Ministry. She would be starting her job in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes in October and could work up to Head of Department, a most imperative position.

However, as much as she could image not having this baby, Hermione couldn't imagine her life without it. She had always wanted children, after seeing how happy the Weasleys were together and admiring Molly for all her work. She loved Ron dearly and wondered if this would be her only chance to have a child with him. Childhood sweethearts were all well and good, but lifelong partners? She couldn't picture having a family with anyone but him.

The last option scared Hermione to tears. She had made a list of reasons not to have the baby, organised by choices and colour coded, but when it came down to it, the one 'pro' option beat all the 'cons' she had.

Pro: Because I want it.

Books had been Hermione's friends and historic figures her chums. She never felt the need for anything else. Her dream was to aspire to her fullest potential, being an only child and an outcast at her Muggle primary school did that to her. But now … now she had friends, many friends and a baby on the way. Dreams change, people change.

Many women had children and then started their careers later in life. It could be done. And being as smart as she was, Hermione knew that she could start at any point in her life and probably speed ahead to where she wanted to be. Being a mother wouldn't stop her life.

***


She told her parents about the pregnancy and as expected, they asked about the father. Hermione had never told her parents about her and Ron dating at Hogwarts. They always thought that he, like Harry, was just her friend. To her parents, she was their little girl. Their little Hermione. And their little Hermione was a good girl; top of her year, Head Girl and prefect at school; a person who had no need for a companion when she had so many doors open to her.

Her parents weren't mad at her, but rather were concerned about what her plans were. Exam day was here and Hermione had her answers memorised ready to reply to every question she was asked.

She was going to carry the baby to term. Hermione had thought long and hard about this, asked Ginny's opinion and finally decided to go with her heart. She explained to her parents that family was very important to her and she had to do what she felt was best.

Hermione always planned to have children and knew that one day she would have to give up work to have a baby, and this way meant that she could be a mother first, and then, once the baby was old enough, Hermione could begin her career and wouldn't have to stop half-way through – unless she had another baby of course.

Another question that needed an answer was on their daughter's housing plans. Knowing that Hermione loved the Wizarding World, the Granger's worried that she might want to live there, instead of the Muggle World – and they were right. Hermione explained that while she loved her parents very much, she felt that as she was going to be bringing up a magical child, it would be best to do so in the Wizarding World.

Hermione hadn't known about this exciting world for eleven years and wished everyday that she had. There was so much she wanted to know, and not enough books to help her.

Hermione had often felt jealous, annoyed and even saddened when she heard her Pureblood friends, such as Ron, Neville, Luna and Ginny talk about magic and their upbringings with it. Her baby would start ahead in life. Her parents respected her wishes and asked their daughter to phone them when the baby was born. Hermione agreed and reassured her mum and dad that she would be fine and would keep in touch. Then she set off for her new home: The Burrow.

What Hermione feared the most was telling Mrs Wealsey that she was going to become a grandmother. She looked up to Molly Weasley as a second mother, who would care for her as much as any of her other children. When Hermione had first told her, she was disappointed in her son and his girlfriend, but after a long talk with Arthur, the couple offered their home to her if she wished to stay.

Hermione didn't even need to think about it. She knew that living at The Burrow would be perfect for both her child and herself. Having Molly as her mentor would help Hermione learn how to become a great mother.

Hermione was told to treat their home as her own by the Weasley elders. She was regarded as an adult, which meant she could use the Floo without asking, as long as she contributed to the powder she used, she could make whatever she wished in the fridge and was given her own room.

The twins had long since left the Burrow to live in a flat over their Diagon Alley joke shop, so Hermione was given their room. Percy had also flown the nest, marrying Penelope Clearwater, but Percy didn't want his room to be disturbed. This was mostly because of all of his awards and honours from Hogwarts.

Hermione's room took more than putting down a few rugs and moving in her own things. For one gloomy afternoon, with Ginny's help, they painted the walls and had Arthur fix any holes they found. Soon enough, the room was unrecognisable from the twins old quarters. The walls were now a clean shade of white, with little wands and sheep painted along the top. A double bed, procured by Arthur, replaced the twins' old bunks. The finishing touch to the room was Hermione's bookcase, brought from home and stuffed full of her favourite books, with a mixture of Muggle and wizarding titles by everyone from Louisa May Alcott to J. Murray.

Molly helped by finding one of the old cribs for the room, which had served her well for many years; it would do quite nicely for Ron and Hermione's infant.

As for the job at the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, which was awaiting Hermione, she spent one autumn day writing a letter to her soon-to-be-boss, explaining her predicament. It wouldn't be practical to work and try to look after a baby, Molly suggested that she look after her grandchild while Hermione worked, but the brunette would have none of it. Hermione wanted to pay her way in the house; pay for food, rent, baby clothes and other important baby things.

The Weasley's were so good to her, and Hermione couldn't let Molly do anymore for her. After a few owls between the young mother-to-be and her boss, they came to an agreement that Hermione would work from home. If she would work at the Ministry, that's what she would do – work at the Ministry. There was no reason why she couldn't work from home and owl any documents to the office.

Hermione would have a brief over the fireplace every morning with her supervisor, and being Hermione, she could finish any work she was given quickly and in Hermione-standard. This arrangement suited Hermione well, as she discussed it with Molly that while she was working, Molly could look after the baby until she was done – unless baby was napping that is.

Sure it would be tiring to raise a baby and work, but Hermione had worked without much sleep during exam times at Hogwarts and it would get better eventually.

Molly had also reminded Hermione that she had to make a choice: she could tell Ron about the baby, or wait until he'd return from America. If she told him, he would most surely return home to be with her and their child, which is what she really wanted. However, if she did tell him and he did come home, he would be throwing his life away, something he would regret and hold against Hermione forever.

To make matters worse, she had been having bad dreams, dreams of her future with Ron if she were to tell him. Ron being fat, bald and angry all the time, hating her, resenting her for cutting his dreams short. Hermione wasn't exactly sure what her dreams meant, as she had dropped Divination before they covered dreams. She explained her dreams to Ginny, who told her that they usually were messages from one's conscience.

This told Hermione all she needed to know to make her choice.

I can't tell him. I just can't. I won't.

He wouldn't be that mad, right?

***


It was very hard not to mention her predicament in the letters Hermione wrote to Ron. When he would ask her if there was anything new, she would always reply with 'nothing'. Hermione also made sure that anyone who was in contact with Ron, promised not to tell him. It would be much worse if someone other than herself were to tell him.

She wondered if Ron would catch on to anything by the lack of details about her personal life. They were mostly filled with many reports of her work and what she had done at the Ministry that past week. Ron's were filled with his account of his Auror training and the many dangerous tasks he explained he had to do, which strangely enough didn't seem as dangerous as Harry told her in his letters.

For the first few letters, they were long and filled with love and passion for one another, but as the letters went on over the next few months, they became shorter and less loving comments were added. They soon enough were brief and about work or friends. One letter, addressed to Hermione read,

Hermione,

Completed basic training yesterday, passed with flying colours! On to level 1 training this Monday, can't wait!
Harry says 'hello'.

Ron


Letters like these gave Hermione strength not to reply with, 'Oh that's great Ron, by the way, and I'm pregnant with your child'. When the letters were filled with such love, it was hard, but now that any parchment received was quite formal, it was easier to write.

However, this pressure soon ceased one February morning, when Hermione received her last letter, and longest in months, from Ron.

Dear Hermione,

How is everyone at home? I hope you're all well. Harry and I are good here. Harry's finally starting to settle down, he feels that he has the most pressure among us all. I told him what you said about us all having tremendous pressure, training to be Aurors, and that he's not the only one who's fought a Dark Wizard – okay, so he's the only one who's fought against a wizard as dark as You-Know-You, but still.

We're coming to the end of our first quarter, which means that after our first exam, we have a month off training. Some of our friends here have invited us up to Canada for two weeks, how amazing does that sound? There's a small all Wizarding village there where all the training Aurors go to relax. I could do with a rest; the first quarter of training has been hard.

Did Harry owl you about his date the other week? He went into town with this woman called Misha for a few drinks. Nothing came of it afterwards as Harry said there was no 'click'.

I think it's good that Harry is able to go out on dates, don't you? He dated Luna for a year, which while that was great, neither of them were able to experience what else was out there, Y'know? Luna would never have found Neville for example!

That's what I'm writing to you about really … training in America and leading such a good life is incredible, I've never felt better out here! I just feel like I can't act the way I want to act, and that I'm breaking some rule if I hang out with female friends here.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that; maybe we've brought our relationship as far as we can at this point in our lives. You're thousands of miles away from me and relationships are hard enough without that much space between the two people.

I think we should take a break from each other for a while, or at least until I return to England.

I will always love you, Hermione.

Ron xx


The letter was blotched with ink and the last line written shakily. Hermione was both devastated and a little relieved after she read the letter. She would repeat 'it's for the best' over and over again until the tears died away.

What Hermione feared the most was Ron returning to England and not wanting to get back together with her. By then, she would have a small child to look after, one that would need their daddy.

She thought about writing back to him, explaining that she was pregnant, but every time she started a letter, she would remember the letters Ron sent her about how much he was enjoying training and how fulfilled he felt.

***


On May the twenty-first, Molly rushed Hermione to St Mungo's using the Birthing Portkey, where Hermione gave birth to a beautiful baby girl after seven hours of labour. Hermione named her daughter Hannah, who had thin dark red hair and big blue eyes that strongly suspected would darken to brown over time.

Hermione had a nagging feeling at the back of her mind which kept telling her to owl Ron and tell him. When Ginny finished Hogwarts at the start of July, she helped Hermione by hiding all the Quills and parchment in the house. Being free of school, Ginny found a job at the Quibbler, alongside Luna, who now ran the questionable magazine after her father's retirement. Ginny, being quite the artist, designed all the images and drew many amusing cartoons. Hermione on the other hand was given a month off from work to care for her new daughter, and would be owled work once she had settled down – and caught up on her sleep.

As Hannah grew each day, Hermione felt worse. Time was passing quickly, and soon enough Hannah was giggling, sitting up on her own and crawling around the Burrow. She was also looking more and more like Ron, with her freckles and beautiful head of red hair. At ten months, she was walking and babbling words, such as 'ma-ma'.
Hermione knew that shielding Ron from Hannah was the right thing to do--Ron needed to complete his training, and fatherhood could wait--but that didn't stop her from feeling guilty.

At Hannah's first birthday party, Hermione was at her worst. She even started to write a letter to Ron before she broke down in tears. Hannah cheered her up by pulling a face at her and saying, "Ma-ma be 'pappy!"

At the beginning of August, Molly received a letter from Ron, which informed her that he and Harry would be returning home in a few weeks. When she told Hermione the news, Hermione spent those weeks writing and re-writing a speech containing everything she needed to tell Ron, including how she would tell him and a list of questions she figured Ron would ask.

Much like the exams at Hogwarts, Ron's return crept up fast and suddenly, Hermione was waking up on the day she had been dreading for months.

She rolled over and stretched, being awoken by a tapping noise across her room, which informed her that her child was awake and ready for breakfast. Hermione pulled herself out of bed, slipping into her purple dressing gown. Hannah was sat up, her curious eyes looking for her mum, tapping her bottle against the old wooden bars of her crib.

Smiling at her toddler, Hermione reached down and lifted Hannah out of her crib and kissing her cheek. On the wall next to them was a photograph of Ron. Hermione thought that if Hannah saw Ron everyday, she wouldn't be scared of the strange man who was coming to The Burrow today.

"Good morning, Bear," Hermione said.

"Borning," Hannah said, giggling. "Borning, borning, borning!"

Hannah couldn't say very much yet, but she liked to repeat what other people would say. As a result, swearing was forbidden in the house. At fifteen months, apart from the repeating phrases, Hannah's hair was threatening to grow bushier, though the shade of red was defiantly becoming Weasley-like.

Hermione put on her slippers and made her way down to breakfast where Ginny was already seated in the kitchen.

"Good morning, Hermione," Ginny welcomed, as her friend placed the youngest Weasley in her high chair.

"Morning," Hermione replied, yawning.

"Scared?" Ginny asked, smiling slightly as she stirred a small spoon in her coffee mug.

Hermione smiled back apprehensively. "Terrified."

She went over to the cupboard and brought out a tin of breakfast food for Hannah and a bowl. Filling the bowl with milk from the fridge, Hermione sat down next to Hannah and began feeding her.

"It's understandable," Molly said, cracking an extra egg for Hermione in the pan. "The boys will be back at two so make sure you're all ready. Ron may ask questions about the lack of people to greet him, though he'll soon work that out when Hannah comes into the picture."

Molly set the freshly cooked eggs down on a plate of baked beans and bacon for her own daughter and Hermione.

"Thanks," the girls said.

"Telling Ron shouldn't be … that hard," Hermione said, raising her eyebrows. "Are you ready to meet Daddy today, Hannah?"

Hannah looked up at her mum and grinned. "Dada!" she said. Hermione played 'Got your nose' with Hannah until Hannah reached out for more food.

***


Two o'clock was soon approaching and Hermione couldn't be more nervous. She had decided on wearing the necklace Ron had given her for her sixteenth birthday. Giving herself one last look in the mirror, Hermione took Hannah downstairs and put her in the den with a few plush toys. The den was out of view from the kitchen and living room, where Hermione would first break the news the Ron before introducing her.

Hermione kissed Hannah on her forehead and went into the kitchen to wait with Molly, Arthur and Ginny. Two o'clock came and went, and after a few minutes, Hermione noticed the famous Weasley clock change as the hand with Ron's face on it moved from 'Travel' to 'Home'. Taking a deep breath, the fireplace turned green and a man with wild black hair stepped out.

Harry hadn't changed a bit in Hermione's opinion. His hair was as messy as ever and his eyes had a new sparkle. Hermione expected him to be tanned, but he wasn't; the only difference was how grown up and relaxed he looked. Hermione embraced her old friend in a warm hug before he stepped aside as the fire turned green once again.

The moment Hermione set eyes on Ron her heart fluttered. He was taller and his hair was longer; it curled around his ears. His freckles had never before looked so cute, across his slightly tanned face, as they did in that moment. Ron smiled at Hermione and she felt as though there was no one else in the room.

Then something happened that made Hermione's face pale.

The fire went green again and after a few seconds, a woman stepped into the Burrow kitchen. Her light brown hair was pulled up into a smart bun and she looked around the kitchen with a warm smile on her pretty young face. She turned to Ron, who motioned her forwards before he turned to his family.

"I'd like to introduce to you Miranda," Ron said. "She's my girlfriend."

Chapter 3: Hello, Daddy
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Author's Note: Wow! Over 100 reviews and only two chapters up so far. I have up to chapter four written and betaed, but I figured if I upload them here with a day or two between posts, I'll 1. have more people find this story and enjoy it, and 2. have more time to write chapter six.

Chapter Three

Hello, Daddy


"Girl - Girlfriend?" Hermione asked, feeling faint. This could not be happening. Since when did Ron have a girlfriend? From the expressions on everyone else's faces, it seemed they were all wondering the same thing. Hermione noticed that Harry looked very uncomfortable, his cheeks glowing red.

"How on earth am I going to introduce Ron to Hannah with her here?" Hermione resentfully thought to herself. "It's impossible, whichever way I look at it."

"Yeah, we've been dating for about three months now," Ron said, putting his arm around Miranda's waist. He looked at Hermione fleetingly, pausing, before he continued. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I only wanted you to meet her if I saw this as something more than just a fling," he added, more to the room than to Hermione.

"More than just a fling? I'll give her more than a fling; yeah, I'll throw her from here to Hogwarts," Hermione thought, a fake smile spreading across her lips.

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Miranda," Molly said, matching Hermione's own smile. "Let's all have a sit down, you must be tired."

Walking around the table, the elder witch offered Miranda a chair, which she accepted.

"I know I am," Harry said taking a seat next to Hermione quickly, mouthing 'sorry'.

"Everyone, this is Miranda Connolly," Ron said, looking around the room, a proud smile on his freckled face. Turning to his mother, he said, "Miranda, this is my mum."

"Molly Weasley," she said, smiling weakly. Molly walked round the back of where her husband was sitting and placing her hands on his shoulders.

"And this is my dad, Arthur," Ron said, pointing out Mr Weasley.

"I can see where Ronald gets his good looks from, Mr Weasley," Miranda said, flashing her teeth, which Hermione noticed looked cleaner than hers – and she was the daughter of two dentists!

"Thank you," Arthur said. He paused for a moment, a concentrated look on his face before he added, "Connolly? I know that name from somewhere."

"Well, my father plays on the Irish Quidditch Team," she replied, smiling sweetly.

"That's it! Is he really your father?" Arthur excitedly asked. Miranda nodded. "I took my children, Harry and Hermione to see Ireland at the World Cup a few years back!" Arthur hadn't looked this in awe since he first met Harry.

"Really? That's so super; I could have seen you there!" Miranda said, "Pity about after the game though, wasn't it?" Miranda looked a little uncomfortable, shifting her gaze to Harry for a moment and then back to Arthur.

"Could have been avoided," Arthur said sadly. Molly cleared her throat with a loud cough and glared at Arthur who apologised. "Sorry, dear."

"This is my sister Ginny," Ron continued, introducing his girlfriend to the youngest witch in the room.

"Pleasure," Miranda said. Ginny simply nodded her head.

Ron turned to Hermione and his smile faded slightly. Ron felt thoroughly uncomfortable, but hid it well. This was the moment he had been dreading since he started to date Miranda: introducing her to Hermione. He had told Miranda all about her. In fact, it had been her who had made him realise long-distance relationships never worked, she had even helped him write the final letter to Hermione, the love of his life … or so he thought.

"This … this is Hermione Granger," Ron said, his cheeks glowing red. However, Miranda's reaction was not what he had expected.

"Oh, hello! Ronald has told me so much about you!" Miranda said, sounding thrilled to meet her. Miranda stood up, and walked over to Hermione where she pulled her into a hug. When she let go, Miranda returned to her seat at the old wooden table next to Harry.

"Has he?" Hermione asked, brushing her sleeve top as though Miranda might have left something on it.

"Oh yes, I was in the same unit as Ronald and Harry when we started in Wisconsin," Miranda said, nodding. "Fun times." She had a strange expression on her face, as though she was reminiscing. Well, two could play that game.

"I know what you mean!" Hermione said brightly, "I had fantastic times with these two during our seven years at Hogwarts!" Ignoring both Harry and Ron's looks of bewilderment and Ginny's giggle, which she turned into a cough, Hermione added, "Hey Harry, remember that time with the troll? Ah, that was lovely." She sighed musingly.

"Eh – you almost died," Harry reminded her, raising his eyebrows and shifting his eyes to Ron who didn't understand what was happening either.

"Almost," Hermione repeated. "Until Ron saved my life, of course." Smiling at Miranda, who smiled back at the jealous brunette, Hermione changed the subject. "How was your trip, Harry?" She turned her back to Ron.

"Huh?" Not understanding women any better by his friends' sudden change of topic, he replied, "Interesting, that's the word to describe it."

"Really? Do tell," Hermione said, leaning her chin on her propped up arms on the table, trying to ignore Ron, whose gaze she could feel burning in the back of her head.

Harry licked his lips, furrowing his brow. "Well, on the plane, the man sitting next to me keep sniffing my hair as I slept and when it was dinner time, he stole the fish off my plate while I was in the bathroom," Harry explained, smiling sheepishly.

Hermione put her hand on her heart. "Oh how terrible," she said sincerely.

"Um … yeah. Are you alright?" Harry asked, looking at the witch's features as though they held the answer.

"Fine! Couldn't be better!" Hermione said, smiling uneasily. Hermione's watch beeped twice and her face, as well as Molly's and Ginny's paled. That beeping noise was her reminder to give Hannah her bottle. Hermione shot Molly a desperate look, who thought fast and turned to Miranda.

"Miranda, you must be very tired after your trip," she quickly said, her eyes flickering to the den door briefly. "Ginny, why don't you show Miranda up to your room?"

Cursing inwardly, Ginny nodded and pulled herself up from the chair. "This way," she said, helping Miranda with one of her bags.

"Arthur, why don't you get the cot out for Ginny to sleep on?" Molly added as an afterthought. Ginny lowered her eyebrows and shot her mother a dirty look. "You know the rules, Ginevra, the guest has the bed," she reminded her youngest, who marched up the stairs. Arthur followed, to find the old cot from the attic.

Hearing the last footsteps on the stairs, Molly exchanged another knowing look with Hermione, who jumped to her feet. "I'll be in the lounge," she said, exiting the kitchen hastily, Harry following behind, seeking answers.

Molly sighed and went to the fridge to find the milk for Hannah; she paused when she noticed her son was watching her. "Was there something you wanted, dear?"

Ron walked over to his mother and embraced her in a hug.

"I've missed you," he confessed.

"I've missed you too," she replied. "Now come on, I'll make some tea while you and Hermione – eh – catch up."

"Ok," Ron said, giving his mum a quick peak on her rosy cheek, before entering the lounge to find Harry sitting on the sofa, giving Hermione a strange look.

"You all right, mate?" Ron asked his best friend, taking a seat next to Harry.

"Fine," Harry replied, not looking away from Hermione. "What I want to know is, are you all right, Hermione?"

She laughed shortly. "What makes you ask that? Of course I'm all right," she said nervously, her eyes shooting looks at the den door.

"So what's been going on here since we left? Anything interesting?" Ron asked, taking in his surroundings, glad to be home.

"Well actually--" Hermione began.

"Harry!"

Ginny almost ran down the stairs. Her activity for the day was to keep the lounge free of anyone but her brother and Hermione, so her friend could, without interruption, break the news to Ron that he was a dad. "I think I hear mum calling, let's go into the kitchen," she said, hurrying over to his chair.

"I didn't hear anything," Harry said, looking through the kitchen door, where Molly was currently fiddling with something on the counter.

"Well I have great hearing, much like a Niffler," Ginny said.

"It's okay Ginny, he can stay, I don't mind," Hermione said softly. Ginny breathed in deeply and sat on the edge of the sofa.

"What's going on?" Ron asked, feeling as though the girls were keeping something from him. They looked guilty and a little scared. What had they done?

"I have something to tell you, Ron … what I mean is, show you … you should know," Hermione mumbled. She had been practicing this speech for weeks, why couldn't she get the words out right? It wasn't like her to forget what she studied.

"Just spit it out!" Ron said, his face red with exasperation.

"Marmee?"

Everyone froze.

From the open den door came a wobbling Hannah, carrying her toy cow, Buttercup, by his leg. "Hungy! Marmee, hungy!" she cried, rubbing her little stomach.

"Oh, Bear," Hermione whispered softly. Oh no, no, no, no. This wasn't supposed to happen this way! "Grandma is making you some nice milk," Hermione said, her face as red the bow around Buttercup's neck. "Aunt Ginny will take you when it's ready."

Hannah smiled and planted herself down on the carpet, looking up at the two strange men. One with sheet-white face, the other with a mixture between green and white.

"That counts as something interesting," Harry said, removing his glasses to clean them. He replaced them on his face and then, upon realising that the child – Hermione's child - had a mop of bushy red hair and a nose full of freckles, looked straight at Ron, open-mouthed.

Ron looked hurt. Deeply hurt that Hermione was a mother. How long had it been before she found someone new? Feeling as though his insides had exploded, he said painfully, "You … you had a baby."

"Moooooooooo!" Hannah squealed, giggling loudly as she pulled at Buttercups ears.

The room was silent. Harry suddenly jumped up and turned to Ginny. "You're right! I can hear your mum calling us!"

Ginny, relieved that she could leave the room, jumped up also. The pair left silently, but rapidly, Ginny whispering that she would tell him everything in the kitchen.

Once they were alone, Hermione looked at Ron, her eyes feeling teary at the sight of Ron's hurt expression. "I did," she verified. Hermione's gaze fell onto her young daughter and she stroked back the bushy curls found there.

"When did this … why did this … I mean … where's the father?" Ron asked, not sure which questions out of the hundreds that he had to ask first. And yet, looking at the little girl, he had a good idea of the answer. He felt his stomach flip over.

"I'm looking at him," Hermione said, staring Ron in the eye, trying not to blink.



Chapter 4: Catching Up
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Chapter Four

Catching up


Ron's face had turned whiter than Nearly-Headless Nick's whole body as the words sunk in. This couldn't be right … it just couldn't. Sure, the child looked like him, but he hadn't seen Hermione in almost two years, so unless she’d fallen pregnant and hadn’t told him, she was lying.

Actually, any way the situation was looked at, Hermione had lied about the baby. Did Harry know? Had they all been laughing at him behind his back?

All this was too much for Ron to think about; he promptly ran to the nearest flowerpot to spill his guts. Upon hearing this, Molly, Harry and Ginny entered the lounge to see what was going on.

"I see you told him," Molly said, watching her youngest son ruin her spathiphyllums flowers.

Hermione winced at the sounds and replied, "Yes."

Hannah looked curiously around at her family, wondering what was happening. Strange men didn't usually run around throwing up.

"Marmee? Is he ill?" the young witch asked, tugging at her mum's skirt.

Hermione bit her lip. "Uh, Ginny, would you take her into the kitchen and get her something to eat, please?"

It would be best if she talked to Ron alone; Hannah needn't hear the sort of language Hermione knew Ron would attack her with. Ginny nodded silently and bent down to pick her niece up.

"No, don't!" Ron shouted quickly. He wiped his mouth and shakily stood up. His pale complexion had now a tinge of green mixed in his sweaty face. "Please."

Ginny hesitated and looked at Hermione for help.

"I don't want her to hear negative things from you. She has a tendency to repeat everything she hears," Hermione sternly explained to Ron.

"Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!" Hannah sang before giggling to herself. Hermione noticed a small smile threaten to appear on Ron's lips, but as soon as the thought had come, the smile was gone.

"See," Hermione said, raising an eyebrow. She nodded at Ginny, who quickly exited to the kitchen, Harry and Molly in tow.

The young mother heaved a sigh and sat on the sofa, smoothing her skirt down. She looked up at Ron, who was pacing and red-faced. "Do you want to sit down?" she asked timidly.

Ron stopped and turned to look at her as though she was mad. "Excuse me?" he asked.

"Sit down, so we can talk," Hermione replied, trying to keep calm.

"Talk?" Ron said, hissing the word out as if it were dirty. "What do you … Merlin! This is just so typical of you," he spat, deciding that acting calm was out of the window now.

"Typical? Having your baby is typical?" Hermione asked, folding her arms across her chest. Ron had said some stupid things in his life, but this took the biscuit.

"What? No," Ron said, shaking his head. "What's typical is that you always have your way."

"I don't always have my way," Hermione retorted, feeling insulted.

"Yes, you do!" Ron said, exasperated. "You've kept this from me for how long? Two years?" His face was heating up, and his voice rose as he spoke.

"I was going to tell you--"

"When? When she graduates from Hogwarts?"

Hermione could feel warm tears forming in her eyes, but she was determined not to show weakness. "You don't know how much I wanted to just owl you. It was such a hard choice not to," she said, her voice quietening.

"A hard choice? You had the choice of telling me, or not. How the hell is that hard?" Ron yelled, his face screwing up as he looked at his former girlfriend with indignation.

Hermione stood up to face him, her eyes flashing. "If I had told you, you would have come home, wouldn’t you?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips, much like Mrs Weasley had done with Ron in the past if he angered her.

Raising his eyebrows, he replied, "No shit, I would have."

"So you see why I couldn't tell you? You would have come home with no career and would probably be working in a dead-end job and be miserable for the rest of your life," Hermione reasoned matter-of-factly. Her eyes softened and she added, "Being an Auror was your dream, and I had to let you live it."

Not quite sure how to answer that, Ron opened his mouth and then closed it again, thinking. Finally, after a moment, he replied, "You could have just let me know and told me not to come home … all those letters and nothing."

"And you would have listened?" Hermione asked, knowing the answer. She smiled knowingly at her ex-boyfriend, and sat back down on the sofa.

This time, Ron joined her. He seemed to have calmed down. "Well … all right, I guess I understand why you didn't tell me," he said, her red face now a pink tinge of embarrassment.

For over a minute they sat in complete silence, each wondering what to say next.

Ron cleared his throat, gaining Hermione's attention before he asked in a quiet voice, "What's her name?"

This simple question caused her heart to flutter. "Hannah," she said.

Ron licked his lips and nodded. "Does she take after me?"

"Of course," she replied, smiling at the father of her child. "She has your smile, your temper and I'm sure you noticed - your freckles and hair." She looked down at her hands, which were resting in her lap. "Every time I look at her, I see you."

Ron's anger and shock were starting to subside, and a range of new emotions were taking over. He still felt angry for being in the dark, but a part of him was filled with empathy. It was obvious by Hermione's expression that keeping this secret had been very painful, and he couldn't imagine what she had gone through in the past two years. Another part of him felt sad; he had missed out on important stages of his daughter's life - her birth, first steps and first word.

"I'm sorry you had to do this alone," Ron said, feeling guilty. He understood why he only found out now, and not 24 months ago, that he was a father, but that didn't stop him feeling guilty for not being there.

"I wasn't completely alone," Hermione admitted, looking up. "I've been living here, your mum has been a tremendous help."

"What about work? You've written to me about working at the Ministry," Ron said, a bit confused.

"I've been working from here. I owl in my assignments and go to the office for about an hour or so a day," Hermione explained.

"Sounds like you didn't need me at all," the red-head said, sounding a little hurt.

Hermione shook her head. "Children need fathers, we did need you," she said, looking into his beautiful brown eyes with sincerity.

"This is just so much to take in," Ron said, rubbing his neck gingerly. To think, the only worry he had this morning was introducing everyone to Miranda, and now he was responsible for another human being! Suddenly his face paled and his eyes widened.

"What's wrong?" Hermione asked, taking hold of Ron's right hand with concern.

Ron pulled his hand away and jumped up. "Miranda! I - I have to tell her," he said, panicked. How was she going to take it? Of all the ways he imagined introducing her to his family, explaining to his new girlfriend that he had a daughter was not one of them.

He took the stairs two at a time, leaving Hermione with the feeling that this could have gone better.

***


After Ron escaped upstairs, Hermione wandered into the kitchen to finally relax.

"From the noise, I gather he didn't take it well?"

"He didn't at first, Molly, but I think he's all right now," Hermione explained, taking a seat next to Harry who was staring at Hannah in awe, watching the small child drink out of her bottle.

Harry turned to his old friend. "She's beautiful," he told Hermione, "just so …" he searched for a word to describe how amazing the baby was, but couldn't find one.

"Breathtaking?" Ginny, who was sitting on Hannah's other side suggested.

"Yeah," Harry said, nodding in approval. He turned back to Hannah, whose bottle was now lying on its side. The small girl blinked and reached forwards, taking Harry's glasses.

"Tank oo," she said, placing the spectacles on top of her head. Harry blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted to the light.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Harry," Hermione quietly apologised, looking down at her hands again.

"It's fine, Ginny explained everything to me. I understand why you did what you did," Harry said. "Anyway, just being here now and seeing Hannah makes up for it all." He stroked the red curls on the little girl's head affectionately.

"Where's Ron now?" Molly asked, picking up the discarded bottle, and with a quick tap of her wand, placing the magically cleaned one back into the top cupboard.

"He went to talk to Miranda," Hermione replied, pulling a face. She saw Molly's expression stiffen as she turned back to the cupboard to close the door.

"I'm sorry," Harry suddenly said, averting his eyes from his friends. "I should have warned you Ron was bringing her, but he told me not to."

"Oh, it isn't your fault, dear," Molly assured him, patting his shoulders affectionately.

"It doesn't matter, Harry," Ginny said. "After Ron tells her about this little gem, she'll probably leave." She stuck her tongue out at Hannah, who giggled, still finding Harry's glasses fascinating to play with.

"Maybe, but I've known her for two years and she is quite understanding. She never seems embarrassed," Harry sadly explained.

"Great," Hermione said sarcastically, resting her head on her propped up elbows.

"I can just picture it," Ginny said, sighing. She cleared her throat and put on an Irish accent. "Oh what a wonderful baby! She looks just like you, Ronald! When we get married, I'll be her step-mum! Won't that be super?"

This caused Harry to laugh out loud, Molly to change her laugh into a cough and Hermione to sit up straight in panic.

"They're not getting married, are they?"

"What? No, but give it a few months and she'll have Ron in his best dress-robes practicing 'I do'," Harry said, sighing. He looked over at the red blur that was Ginny for a fleeting moment, before realising she was looking back and averted his gaze, his cheeks flushing pink.

"Why do you care so much anyway, Hermione?" Ginny asked suspiciously. She turned to Hannah and pried Harry's glasses from her, and helped him put them back on. "I thought you were over Ron."

"Well I am, of course I am! I just don't want Hannah having a step-mum, that's all," Hermione said quickly, blushing slightly. It was true, she didn't want a step-mum for her daughter, but then again, she really didn't want Ron to date anyone else. She thought she could handle it when the day came, but seeing him again today just brought back all the happy times they had spent together.

"Sure, okay," Ginny said. She didn't believe her friend, but even if Hermione admitted to wanting Ron back, there was nothing she could do about it.

"Would you like some tea, Harry dear?" Molly asked, gratefully changing the subject.

"Yes please, two sugars," Harry said. He looked around the kitchen. It was just like he remembered, but for the formula in the fridge, bottles in the cupboard, and a few photographs of Hannah here and there. "So, what's been going on while I've been gone that I don't know about? Apart from Hannah being born, of course."

The girls took a moment to think; their social lives were quite dull when Hannah was born. They hardly spoke to anyone other than Neville and Luna.

"Erm, Neville's doing well at St Mungo's, they're letting him see patients now – supervised, of course," Ginny said, trying to remember what else Luna told her at work.

"Thank you," Harry said as Molly handed him his tea. "How's Remus?" he asked, concern sweeping across his face. Over time Harry had accepted Sirius' death and slowly learnt to deal with it. Remus, on the other hand, was taking longer to accept it. He had spent twelve years hating the man and was then given only two years to make up for the time lost. Losing James and Lily so young had hurt Remus but that day in the Ministry had been something completely different.

Hermione's expression softened greatly as she answered. "Better, we think. He's Hannah's Godfather, and he loves. It gets him out of the house." In Sirius's last will, Remus inherited Number 12 Grimmauld Place and a third of his gold - the other two thirds had gone to Harry and the Weasleys.

Harry smiled; he was glad Remus was feeling better. The first few months had been tough for both of them. Finishing the last drops of his tea, Harry stood up.

"I better get going, see how he's doing."

The three women walked with Harry to the fireplace.

Mrs Weasley gave him a big motherly hug, welcoming him home properly. "You will stop by tomorrow, won't you, dear?"

"Wouldn't have it any other way," he replied, making a move to pick up his suitcase. Ginny was quicker to pick it up and handed it to him. She did make a move to hug him but, at the last minute, lost her nerve and, instead, grabbed his hand for a firm shake.

"See you later, Harry," she said quietly. Harry nodded in return.

He turned to Hermione, who gave him a sisterly kiss on the cheek. "Take care, and send Remus our best."

"I will," he assured. Harry turned to the stairs and shouted up to Ron, "Oy! I'm going now, you two." There was no reply, but he guessed they were still busy discussing Ron's newly found fatherhood. After a quick wave to Hannah, Harry Apparated home to Grimmauld Place.

"Byesie bye!" Hannah called as he went with a pop.

Hermione took a deep breath. The time to confront Miranda and Ron together had come at last.

"Let the party begin," she whispered to herself as she made her way up the staircase.

***


Author's Note: Make this chapter last ... I have a little bit of writer's block. I will spend tonight thinking in bed ideas - the best place you know to plan (the plot for his story came to me in a dream, you know).

But good news, I have half term on the 12th of this month (two weeks after everyone else's spring/easter break. Terrible.) for two weeks, so I will find a few days to write, and if I can't, I'll bring a notebook whereever I go to make notes for future chapters.

Chapter 5: The Talk
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Chapter Five

The Talk


Hermione took her time up the stairs, trying to think of something she could say to Miranda that would make the situation better. Hermione never failed to find the answer to a problem. Even in her first year at Hogwarts when she couldn't find who Nicholas Flamal was, she spent most of her Christmas break thinking it over, only to realise the answer was right in front of her.

But there were no books on new girlfriends, and if there were, she doubted they would have a chapter to deal with this. No, she would have to sort this out on her own - talk to Miranda and try to make her understand why her boyfriend suddenly had a daughter.

If she didn't and Miranda broke up with Ron, he wouldn't forgive her. Hermione was surprised he forgave her for keeping Hannah a secret, and she made a mental note not to get on Ron's wrong side for a while.

She didn't know why she felt so apprehensive; though knew she shouldn't be feeling this way. She had dealt with far worse. In her seventh year she had faced Lord Voldemort himself during the great battle, standing alongside Harry and Ron, the renowned founding members of Dumbledore's Army, as they defeated him together.

Back then, Hermione had found the answer to the problem - combining a large amount of her and Ron's magic into Harry, who shot the Killing Curse at the Dark Lord. It had taken a lot of power, an amount that would never return to Harry if Hermione and Ron hadn't provided him with it.

Talking to Miranda now should be a piece of cake.

Ginny's room, where Miranda was staying, was near the top of the landing marked by a brass plaque, nailed into the oak door that read Ginevra's Room. Hermione was about to knock when she heard two voices talking inside. Not wanting to interrupt, she moved closer to the door and listened instead.

"… So you had no idea Harmony was pregnant?"

"Her name is Hermione, and no, I've already told you I didn't know."

Hermione bit down on her lip and hesitated, knowing that eavesdropping was not only rude, but wrong. Nonetheless, she kept listening, waiting for a better moment to make her presence known.

There was a low sigh, and she heard Miranda say, "From what you've told me, Ronald, Hermione is a 'good girl'. Why would she lie?"

Ron paused and then replied, "To help me. If she told me she was - that she was pregnant, I would have come home straight away - and she knew that. She wanted me to finish my training first."

There was another pause and then Miranda asked, "If we were already dating, and she sent an owl telling you, would you have gone home?"

"That isn't fair …"

"Valid question."

No one spoke for a while, and Hermione guessed that Ron was trying to find an answer that would satisfy Miranda. Not wanting to know how he would reply, as either answer wouldn't make her feel any better, Hermione knocked on the door.

"Come in," Ron called.

Hermione pushed open the door and timidly entered. Miranda was sitting on Ginny's bed with her arms crossed against her chest and Ron was standing in front of her, his freckled face flushed pink.

"I, uh - came to see how Miranda was settling in," Hermione lied. She wanted to know how Miranda had taken the news and from what she heard, she was taking it calmly, though asking a lot of questions. "I know that staying in a strange house for the first time is a bit daunting. I know that when I stayed here for the first time, I felt a bit nervous; but that was, uh - for other reasons …" Hermione trailed off, holding her hands in front of her.

"Thanks, but I'm fine," Miranda said, her smile fake. "It's more the fact that I'm staying under the same roof as my boyfriend's family, ex-girlfriend and daughter that's 'daunting'."

"Miranda," Ron warned. "Be nice."

"I'm sorry, Ronald," Miranda said, batting her long eyelashes. "Could you get me a drink please? I didn't trust the ones we were offered on the plane," she added, smiling in a way that Hermione didn't trust.

Ron nodded and once he had Disapparated, Miranda stood up and walked towards Hermione.

"Now Ronald's gone, this will give us a chance to talk," she said, a sly grin forming on her lips.

Hermione swallowed nervously, she didn't like the way Miranda was looking at her. "Sure … what about?"

Chuckling slightly, Miranda replied, "Now, we both know you didn't come up here to see how I was settling in." She crossed her arms against her chest again and arched a brow.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Hermione lied again, trying to keep her features neutral. Like staring down a Hippogriff, she tried not to blink or look away.

"Sure you don't. I heard you and Ronald arguing downstairs, and he's explained everything to me," Miranda said, placing her hands on her hips. Her lips curled into a smug smile and she looked Hermione up and down.

Hermione's cheeks tinged pink; what a way to find out. Her gaze fell and she concentrated on a stain she noticed on the carpet instead.

"I just wanted to tell you, and not to sound rude or anything," Miranda continued, "but what you did doesn't change anything. Ronald is still my boyfriend, and not even a child will change that."

Hermione screwed her face up for a moment before taking a deep breath and looking up at Miranda. "Is that all? Because I have to attend to Ron and my daughter, if you don't mind."

"No, not quite," Miranda said, her voice suddenly turning quite bitter. She walked up close to Hermione so that they were only a foot apart and whispered, "I want you to know that I don't like you. I think you're a horrible person for what you did to poor Ronald, lying and keeping something so important from him."

Hermione bit down on her lip and kept her head high, determined not to let Miranda get to her.

"Oh, and I thought you should know: Ronald was over you long before you two broke up. I helped him, you see. That's what makes us different; I'm a kind, helpful person."

Hermione gritted her teeth and said, "I'm ever so glad Ron found someone who could make him happy. Now if you'll excuse me …"

She had to get out of there, or violence would result. Just looking at the smirk on the other woman's face filled Hermione with barely checked rage. She moved towards the door, but Miranda blocked her path. She wasn't done talking.

She leaned even closer to Hermione and hissed, "You don't deserve to be the mother of Ronald's child."

The words struck Hermione like a fist to the chest. She let out a sharp breath through her nostrils and bit down viciously on the inside of her cheeks in an effect to push down the angry tears threatening to escape; she tasted blood on her tongue as she lifted her chin even higher and gave Miranda the coldest, most contemptuous look she could muster.

"And yet, I am the mother of Ron's child," she said, clenching her fists still harder to control the shaking of her voice, "and Ron wants to be a part of her life. If that's uncomfortable for you, that's your problem, and you'll forgive me, furthermore, if I don't set the slightest store by any comments about me made by a person like you."

Miranda's eyes flashed dangerously. "You think you're such a great -"

"I have more important things to do than argue with you," Hermione said, feeling her composure begin to crack. "Get out of my way."

She shoved past Miranda, determined to get out of there before the other girl could witness her break down. The last thing she needed was to show weakness. On her way out the door, she heard Miranda make a derisive snort before slamming the door behind her.

Hermione rested against the door, breathing deeply for a moment, her eyes closed, her heart pounding. The tears she'd been fighting bubbled up and over; her only consolation throughout that miserable scene was that she hadn't started sobbing in front of that tart.

She could hear that Ron had now returned and was enquiring about she had gone.

"To check on the baby," was Miranda's simple reply.

"Hermione?"

When she opened her eyes, they were met with the concerned face of Ginny.

"How long have you been standing there?" Hermione asked, not recalling seeing her when she left the room.

Ginny looked uncomfortable. "The whole time; I used the Extendable Ears. Fred and George said to only use them if it was important … and if Mum wasn't around." She held her hands behind her back, blushing slightly. "Sorry, I shouldn't have …"

"No, no, it's fine," Hermione said, wiping her eyes, glad Ginny was here to give her a hug if needed. "This way I don't have to explain everything that happened and was said; I can just forget about it."

Hermione made her way to her room, Ginny following, feeling quite stunned at her friend.

"But we have to tell Mum! She'll believe you, she has no reason to doubt you and then we can get rid of little Miss Lucky Charms," Ginny reasoned, closing Hermione's bedroom door behind them when they reached the room.

"Yeah, and Ron will really be happy then, won't he?" Hermione said sarcastically, collapsing onto her bed with a sigh. "After lying to him for over a year, keeping his daughter from him and then having his girlfriend kicked out of his home, I think we can really catch up where we left off."

Ginny was silent, she knew her friend was right, and there wasn't much they could do without upsetting Ron. She knew her brother's temper and if they got him mad enough he might just leave their lives forever - or worse, leave with Miranda.

"It's hopeless, either way Hannah is losing a dad." Hermione began to cry again, feeling sorry for herself and her daughter. This was not supposed to happen; if things had gone by her plan, Ron would be helping her give Hannah a feed right now instead of discussing her with his girlfriend.

"It's not completely hopeless …" Ginny said suddenly. Hermione looked up at her friend as Ginny passed her the box of tissues from the bedside table and joined her on the bed, a sly grin on the other girl's freckled face.

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, unable to find any solution to her problem.

"We can't have Miranda kicked out, but … what if she left on her own?" Ginny asked, staring at Hermione as though this sentence explained everything.

"And why would she do that? You heard her; she's going to love it here. She has Ron to rub in my face and he's none the wiser," Hermione explained. She pulled back her hair, which was starting to become unmanageable.

"We could set her up a few times, casually say or do things that will make her look bad in front of Ron," Ginny explained, sounding quite excited with the plan. "And if we make her look really bad, then she might have a go at you, and that will definitely work. Ron has always had a soft spot for you and I don't know if you've noticed, but if someone attacks you - verbally or physically - he will come to your rescue."

Ginny's plan caused Hermione to feel immediately uncomfortable. She wasn't happy with the idea of purposely sabotaging Ron relationship with the other girl, no matter how much she despised Miranda. It seemed so catty and underhanded.

"I don't know … I want Ron to be happy," Hermione reasoned, taking one of the tissues to wipe her eyes.

"He was happy with you!" Ginny reminded her friend. There was desperation in the younger witch's eyes, and Hermione could tell that Ginny's feelings on Miranda matched her own.

Hermione sighed and looked dejectedly at her friend. "'Was' being the key word, Ginny. He's moved on." She paused and then added quietly, "We both have." Hermione could tell from Ginny's expression that she didn't believe her, and if she was honest with herself, she didn't either.

"He only moved on because she probably made him," Ginny retorted. "Everyone knows that Ron was happiest when with you." She sighed forlornly, looking down at her hands, which were pulling at a loose thread on the blanket that covered Hermione's bed.

Hermione let out another sigh.

"Sounds good in theory, but what are we going to do to make her look bad?" Hermione asked. She couldn't believe she was going along with this.

"Simple. You and Ron need to get close," Ginny explained, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. A smile threatened to escape her lips at Hermione's change of heart.

Hermione blinked, taken aback. "I think you better stop there. Ron and I getting close is how this all started in the first place," she reminded her friend, cocking her head to the side.

Ginny giggled. "I don't mean like that! Merlin, Hermione!" She pulled a face and continued, "What if you and Ron were close, like a family, with Hannah? I know my brother and he wouldn't choose some girl over his family, especially a bitch like her." Ginny nodded firmly to emphasize her point.

"How can you be so sure?" Hermione asked doubtfully. "I know him, too. He can be sucker for a pretty face."

"Ron is part of one of the oldest, closest and biggest family around - he has six siblings! Family means everything to him!" Ginny insisted. "A lot more than a shag with some tart."

Hermione screwed up her face in distaste at Ginny's comment, but then thought about it. On the one hand, Hermione didn't delude herself that the average bloke wasn't easily led around by his … libido. On the other hand … this was Ron. Ron was loyal. He'd risked his very life for his friends and family in a war. He was prepared to do the right thing for Hannah and be a part of her life, to be a father to her.

And you're still in love with him …

Hermione pushed down that needling, guilty voice in her head and quirked a smile at Ginny.

The idea of getting back at Miranda through Ron's love for his family was so crazy, it just might work.

Chapter 6: Swing Low
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***


Author's Note: I apologise for the huge delay in updating. While writing this chapter, I was completing my last month of college (and last month of education all together). I had a large workload to finish by the beginning of June (plus an exam), so I put all my energy into that.

However, now I am free to write as much as I like (while finding a full-time job), which is good news to all of you. I have no other commitments to do, so my free time will be spend doing this story (especially if the weather is too hot to go outside in), which I hope to finish in the near future (there are about six or seven more chapters to go).

My goal is to have chapter seven up and ready by the time HBP comes out next month.

***

Chapter Six

Swing Low


The day before had been a long and tiring one for Harry, who not only suffered jet-lag, but was forced to be in the middle of the Hermione-Ron-Miranda triangle … which turned into a square when Hannah was discovered.

When he returned home to Grimmauld Place, he spent a few hours discussing with Remus life here and his life in America, who looked better than he did when Harry left. After a good night's sleep, Harry hoped that everything would return to normal, and that, in a new day, the day before wouldn't appear as bad as he thought.

But as soon as Ginny answered the door at the Burrow and explained to him what she and Hermione were planning, Harry knew that things wouldn't be normal for a long while.

"I'm not sure about this," Harry admitted, looking between Hermione and Ginny as they watched his reaction with anticipation.

"What's there not to be sure about?" Ginny asked, looking between her two friends. "It's simple, Hermione spends time with Ron and Hannah together, and he realises what a selfish git he is and they become a family." She nodded firmly.

Harry was still hesitant; sure, Ron was a bit dim when it came to women, but he was pretty sure Miranda would put a stop to any 'family nonsense' before it went too far.

Harry turned to Hermione and scrutinized her with a serious expression. He was surprised she was going along with this; she'd always been more sensible about these things than Ginny.

"How do you feel about this?"

Hermione paused timidly before answering. "All I want is Hannah to have a proper family." Her gaze fell to her hands, which were cupped and resting on the kitchen table, where the trio were sitting.

Harry had known Hermione for nine years now and could tell when she wasn't being completely honest. Wanting a dad for her daughter was only the tip of the iceberg in his opinion. He looked at her contemplatively, wondering if she would open up.

"And?" he pushed, when she did not speak.

"And nothing," Hermione confirmed, resting both palms on the table in emphasis. Did Harry know? How could he know? She had decided long ago that crying over Ron would not help and that she should move on. That's what she had been doing … until he returned home, of course. There was just something about seeing him that stopped her feelings for him from disappearing.

I wonder if Ron has the same dilemma?

"He's with Miranda now, and I'm … I'm just the mother of his child," Hermione explained dejectedly, heaving a sigh. Suddenly, Ginny's plan seemed futile, and as silly as it had first sounded.

"How can you say that like it's a bad thing?" Ginny asked, surprised at her friends' statement. It didn't sound like her, but then again, since Ron had brought home Miranda, Hermione's confidence had taken a dive.

"Because in a young man's eyes, it is," Hermione said. "Miranda is young, and pretty slim and can give Ron a good time, and me? Each day I look older, I have stretch marks across my stomach and big hips and the only fun I have these days is bottling milk and snacks for Hannah when the twins take her out every Tuesday while I'm in the office at work." She looked down once more at her hands, feeling even more miserable than she did before.

Ginny paused, and then slowly pulled Hermione into a sisterly hug. "Don't put yourself down, you're worth a hundred of her," she said vehemently. "She's just some tart who can bat her eyelashes and expects guys to fall at her feet. You're real and don't give yourself enough credit. Ron's an idiot if he can't see that," she added, stroking Hermione's back in smooth circles.

"And put it this way," Ginny added, pulling back to look at Hermione, who wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "Mum has that rule about boys and girls not allowed to share a room, so they can't have sex."

Hermione laughed despite herself, brushing her hair back with her hand at Ginny's bluntness. "Thanks, Gin. But you don't know that."

"Oh, I do though. Harry told me. They haven't done anything yet. Apparently, Miranda's holding out. Probably knows guys will do anything to get some," Ginny said, pulling a face at the talk of her brother's sex life. It was worth it though, as a small smile appeared on Hermione's lips.

"Oy!" Harry said, stunned at Ginny's betrayal. "I told you that in confidence!"

Ginny rolled her eyes, "No you didn't, you knew I wouldn't keep it secret and tell Hermione. You just didn't want to discuss sex with her because you can't." Ginny stuck her tongue out. It was true, Harry could barely even say the word, let alone have a discussion about it. The Dursleys didn't teach him and he had no friends at his primary school to talk to, so he was forced to learn the basics in year 6 and the more graphic details later in life.

Harry flushed red. "I can talk about … you know," he said quietly, his gaze fell upon a hook on the wall, where there was an interesting looking stain on Molly Weasley's apron. He prayed that Ginny would stop looking at him in such an amused and endearing way.

"Mhm, I believe you, Harry," Ginny said, folding her arms across her chest. "Now, back to the plan …"

"You know … I'm not really comfortable with this, after all," Hermione cut in, feeling awkward. "I don't want to put on an act. I'm no good at it, anyway, not when it comes to … to him." She stood up, holding her arms protectively as she backed up towards the stairs. "Hannah will be waking up from her nap in a minute; I think I'll take her outside for a while."

As Hermione left the quarrelling pair, she thought about the past hour or so. When Ginny was explaining the plan to Harry, she could see that he looked unconvinced, and if she was honest with herself, so did she. Did she really want Ron back this way? Using her own daughter as a pawn to help ruin Ron's relationship with Miranda? It seemed appalling, when considered in that light.

Am I really that desperate?

Those words were burnt in her brain and whatever she did, she couldn't rid herself of the feeling. Sure, she had been desperate before. Desperate to earn good grades, desperate not to let being a young mother slow her career down, but this …

Hannah was already awake in her crib when Hermione walked over to her. The toddler was playing with her toes to pass the time as her bear had fallen through the bars sometime when she was sleeping.

"Marmee!" Hannah greeted, reaching her arms up as her mother lifted her up.

"Come on, let's go outside for a while. I think we can both do with some fresh air."

***


The September air was warm, with a slight breeze that ran through the few fallen leaves on the ground. Those leaves were the only reminder that the weather would soon change, that September would arrive and bring with it cooler temperatures and shorter days.

Hermione carried Hannah outside and watched as her daughter's face lit up in the direction of their destination: the swing.

It had been Fred and George's present to Hannah on her first birthday, which they, along with Arthur, put together that day. Ginny supervised, rather annoyingly in the twin's opinion, while Hermione and Molly played with Hannah as she explored her new toys.

That day was very hard for Hermione; she felt exceptionally guilty for keeping this milestone from Ron, who was oblivious to the day's events. To keep herself from breaking down, Hermione wrote a letter addressed to him, detailing the small party, with everything from what colour socks Hannah was wearing down to each present she received.

The day was enjoyable, though quite often there were awkward silences as Ron's absence was noticeable. This led to Hermione's eyes continually looking red and on the brink of tears. She couldn't have got through the day without the Weasleys and her parents; they were what kept her strong and believing that once Ron returned, Hannah's family would be complete.

During the end of that evening, Hermione had a heart-a-heart with Molly, who revealed that she knew how Hermione was feeling. Molly explained that when Bill was born, Arthur was away a lot on training courses for his job, and wasn't able to be home on Bill's first birthday.

It was from Molly that Hermione got the idea to write Ron a letter, as the elder witch had done the same thing for Arthur. Molly had given Arthur a letter, as well as many photographs, which he still had to this day.

Hermione smiled as she looked at the swing and carried Hannah over to it. The young child always loved her swing, and would protest if someone took her back inside when she wasn't done playing yet.

Placing Hannah carefully on the seat, Hermione began to push gently. Hannah's little hands were firmly holding on the safety bar in front of her and she giggled each time her mother pushed.

"Higher!" Hannah said, kicking her legs back and forth in an effort to move herself.

"You want to go higher, eh?" Hermione asked, giving Hannah a firm push, causing the toddler to shriek with glee. "Merlin, when you learn to ride a Broomstick, I won't be able to get you down."

Just like Ron.

"Wheeee!" Hannah called, waving her arms in the air, as though she was on a roller-coaster going down.

"Hannah, what have I told you? Keep hold of the bar, I don't want you to get hurt," Hermione said, frowning.

"Sossy," the young witch said, taking hold of the bar again.

Hermione smiled at her daughter; at least she hadn't seemed to have inherited Ron's disregard for the rules.

What the pair didn't realise was that they were being watched. Ron was in his room, looking out of the window as he towel-dried his hair from his shower. He had been watching them for several minutes, not picking up the nerve to actually go outside to say hello. Finding out that he was a father had knocked Ron for six. He hadn't slept well that night; he just kept going over the same questions in his mind.

How could my family lie to me for so long?

Was the birth okay? Were their any complications?

Did Hermione cope looking after a newborn without me?

If I was there, would I have been any use, any help at all?

She has Hermione's eyes, but she laughs like me. How else is she like Hermione? Like me?

When she grows up, will she be as beautiful as Hermione? As kind and smart?


Most of the questions Ron thought about were unanswerable, and others he didn't want to know the answer to. All he knew was that now he was here, he wanted to be a part of his daughter's life.

Throwing the towel on his bed, Ron made his way downstairs to the garden. He peered through the back door, took a deep breath and approached them.

"Hello, how are my girls doing?" he asked, smiling slightly and feeling very nervous.

Hermione looked back at him and blushed fiercely. "I'm not your girl, Ron," she said, with an edge to her voice.

Ron flinched.

Nice going, he thought to himself. "I was just saying …"

"I know what you were 'just saying'," Hermione replied quickly, taking her eyes away from Ron so she could focus on keeping Hannah's swing at a safe height.

Ron opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. Instead he bent down in front of Hannah, though not so close as to be hit with the swing.

Looking up at Hermione, he said, "I'm sorry." The tone of his voice suggested he wasn't apologising just for the past few minutes, and this lightened Hermione's heart slightly.

The next few moments were silent, apart from the sound of the swing moving. Hermione was the one who broke the silence by asking, "Do you want to push her for a while?"

Looking up at her sincere face, Ron grinned and pulled himself to his feet. "Yeah, yeah okay," he said as he walked behind the swing.

Hermione stood to one side, watching Ron push their daughter. She had had dreams like this; of her, Ron and Hannah acting like a proper family. He may only be pushing Hannah on a swing, but the image was perfect in Hermione's eyes.

"She's only trying to be your friend, you know," Ron said casually after a minute or two.

Hermione's dreamy gaze was broken, and she looked at Ron with an irritated expression. "Excuse me?" she snapped, placing her hands on her hips.

Not sensing the warning signals, he continued. "Miranda. She told me that all she wants is for you two to be friends."

Hermione doubted this very much and wondered how many stupid pills Ron had taken this morning. "Really," she replied, rolling her eyes.

"She thinks you don't like her," Ron said quietly, feeling uneasy at the way Hermione was glaring at him.

"What gave her that idea?" she asked sarcastically, pushing Ron to the side so she could push Hannah now.

Taken aback by this, Ron let out an indignant noise. "Oh, come off it, Hermione!" he said exasperatedly. "I've been your friend for nine years and I can tell when you dislike someone."

Hermione stopped pushing the swing and picked Hannah up. With her free hand, she removed her wand from her belt and whispered Accio Cow. Hannah's toy cow came flying out from the open kitchen window and into her hand. Hermione walked over to the large tree and put her daughter down, handing her the cow and murmuring softly that she should play here for a while as she needed a word with the red-haired man.

Planting a kiss on top of the little girl's red curls, Hermione walked back over to Ron. Once she reached him, her hands found their way back to her hips. "You think I'm so obvious as to who gets the Hermione stamp of approval are you?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.

Ron looked over at Hannah, who was happily playing with her toy; he then turned back to Hermione. "Yeah I do," he said, his face flushed red. "Does Lockhart ring any bells?"

At this comment, Hermione's cheeks tinged pink. "I was twelve, what do you expect?" she asked, her gaze falling.

Ron raised his eyebrows, his expression smug.

Not wanting to give in, she added, "Real feelings, strong feelings are not obvious. You of all people should know that." She cocked her head, her brown eyes piercing into his own blue ones. Ron looked clueless, which she noted was nothing new in his case. Not wanting to wait for him to figure out what she was talking about, she said, "I liked you for almost four years before you clued in. You were such … such a boy."

"Really? Because I was under the impression that I was a girl!" Ron retorted, mockingly, the red flush turning slightly pink with embarrassment.

"Oh, shut up, Ron," Hermione snapped.

"Fine, I won't say another word," Ron said, making a motion of zipping his mouth up, locking it and then throwing away an invisible key.

The silence grated on, each of them staring each other down, daring one another to speak first. It was Ron who cracked when he burst out, "You always have to be right, don't you?"

Hermione heaved a sigh.

She rolled her eyes again. "Ron," Hermione said. "Can you just drop it and leave me and my daughter alone?"

Ron let out a bark of laughter. "Excuse me? Your daughter? Don't you mean our daughter? I remember that I must have had some input in making her, and by input I mean--"

"--I know what you mean, and you're a pig, Ronald Weasley," Hermione hissed, struggling to keep her voice down in case Hannah could hear. Looking over at her, Hermione saw that the little girl was staring at her mother with interest. Hermione let out a small gasp, but with a quick wave of her wand, a silencing charm was placed over herself and Ron. She whirled on him.

"Everything has to do with sex with you, doesn't it?"

"You make me sound like some sex-crazed maniac!" Ron retorted, indignantly. "And anyway, it was you who brought up the subject in our seventh year, or have you forgotten?" His lips curled into a smug smile.

"I may have brought it up, but you had been a horny little git since our sixth year," Hermione replied coolly. "Or have you forgot that time I found my underwear in your dorm?"

Ron flushed, trying to think of a comeback. "You wouldn't have found … those if you hadn't been so nosey," he replied, wrinkling his nose at the memory. Hermione had been helping him with his History of Magic homework when she made the mistake of trying to find an extra ink pot in one of Ron's drawers.

"I'm nosey?" she asked, as though this was ludicrous. "What about all those times you constantly asked me what Viktor and I were up to?" Her hair, which she had tied back in a neat ponytail that morning, had now fallen out, and wisps of curls fell into her red face as she glowered at the father of her child.

"I had to!" Ron insisted. "Vicky was eighteen and you were only fifteen when you met him! He was a dirty perv!" he yelled, his eyes flashing dangerously.

"He wasn't a perv and there was no need for you to follow us!" Hermione shouted, and upon seeing Ron's shocked expression, she added, "Yes, I knew you were following us. Here's a hint, when you borrow Harry's cloak … MAKE SURE YOU CAN'T SEE YOUR FEET AT THE BOTTOM!"

"I only did that because I care - unlike some people!" Ron retorted, venting past feelings.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Hermione asked, her voice calmer, yet full of confusion.

"If you really care about me, like I thought you did before I left, you wouldn't have lied to me!" Ron said, his voice feeling a bit hoarse from the argument.

"Excuse -"

"You lied about being pregnant - all those letters we sent, and nothing!" Ron cut in, wanting to rant his feelings before Hermione had a chance to reply. "I was kept in the dark while my whole family knew! Were you all laughing at me?"

"No, we -"

"Oh, let's not tell Ron! He'll probably drop the baby and be a terrible dad anyway!" Ron mimicked, his voice raising a higher octave, though braking slightly by the things his self-conscience was saying. "I could have been a good dad, if I was giving the chance!"

"I KNOW," Hermione yelled, not wanting to be interrupted again. "I know you could have, but I had to make a choice."

"Not that bloody choice again!" Ron said, exasperated.

"Yes that bloody choice again," Hermione said, feeling irritated at Ron's ignorance. "You would have hated leaving Auror training and ended up blaming me for not becoming something you've always dreamed of!"

"I could have transferred! There's an Auror School here too!" Ron retorted. "It might not be the best one, but I would have trained there if it meant I could be around - watching my daughter grow each day!"

"I … I thought I was helping you," Hermione replied timidly.

Ron heaved a sigh and responded, "I don't care if you thought you were helping me. Didn't you think that maybe I would have come home, not because I felt I needed to, but because I wanted to?"

"I uh -"

"Exactly, you didn't think," Ron said, his lips pursed. He ran his fingers over his now dried hair and added in a quieter afterthought, "All I wanted to do is come here and try to be friends with you, and now I've seen her, be a part of my daughter's life."

Ron placed his hands in his pockets, lowering his gaze as the aftermath of the argument began to sink in. His breathing was returning to normal and when he thought about some of the things he had admitted, a wave of embarrassment flushed his face red.

Hermione was feeling emotionally drained. With each word Ron had spoken, her heart ached. Was all he said true? Would they be together right now if it was?

There was no time for what if and what could have been, as a small sniffle snapped her out of her trance.

Hannah had walked over to see what was going on. Because of the charm, she could only see her mum shouting and looking upset, but not hear what about. Nevertheless, this upset the child.

Feeling worse than ever, Hermione quickly removed the silencing charm and bent down to pick Hannah up. The last thing she wanted was Hannah to witness something like this and though she couldn't hear what was going on, she was a smart girl and could work out that it wasn't anything good.

"It's okay, Bear," Hermione cooed, hugging her daughter tightly. "Everything's okay." Hannah stopped crying and started to rub her eyes with her little fists. She smiled at her mum with her toothy grin, which caused Hermione to chuckle slightly. Her teeth were starting to take some shape, but hadn't all grown in yet. However, they appeared to be growing in nicely, much to the delight of Nana and Granddad Granger.

Hannah turned her head to look at Ron, who looked startled at the sudden movement. Her face screwed up tightly, her little tongue poking out of her mouth. She looked like she was in deep concentration.

"Dad … dee," Hannah said slowly.

Ron took a deep breath, hoping the oxygen reached his brain before he passed out.

"Daddy," Hannah repeated, firmly this time.

"How …?"

"She has a picture of you by her bed," Hermione admitted. "She looks at it everyday, and I tell her stories about you," she added shyly, watching Ron's features soften completely at his watched his daughter, who was now flexing her hands together towards him.

He felt quite overwhelmed at this information, and suddenly felt run over by the desire to hold this little person he and Hermione had created. "Can I?" he asked, nodding his head in Hannah's direction and unable to keep the longing from his voice.

"Of course," Hermione replied, handing Ron his daughter, while making sure he supported her weight completely. If her feelings weren't mixed up enough, this had to happen. She was glad it did, make no mistake. This was all Hermione had wanted since Ron Flooed into the Burrow kitchen the day before.

"Am I holding her right?" Ron asked. He thought back to when Ginny was born, and how he all his brothers wanted to hold her. Like a Quaffle, his father had said. Ron didn't get the opportunity to attempt to hold Ginny until she was older and much bigger than a Quaffle, at which point she struggled and kicked him and screamed to be let down. At least Hannah wasn't kicking him. He moved his arm lower to support her back, and suddenly…she fit.

"You're doing fine," Hermione reassured him.

"What sort of stories do you tell her?" Ron asked, his gaze falling on his daughter as he took in her features more clearly than he had the night before. She has my smile, Ron thought as Hannah looked up at him, her lips forming a crooked grin.

And Hermione's eyes, curious and warm.

"Lots. Her favourite one is the story of McGonagall's Giant Chess set in our first year," Hermione was saying. "She thinks you're a real hero."

And so do I, even if you do drive me mad sometimes.

Ron smiled and looked up at Hermione. It seemed like hours as the pair of them stared in peaceful admiration at each other. They hadn't looked at the other like this for years; everything was quiet and calm around them. Ron eyes were exploring Hermione's features, which had a few noticeable changes since the last time he saw her.

She has worry line on her forehead; it crinkles like a cute smile. Her eyes hold more wisdom, which isn't surprising.

How can someone become more beautiful in such a short space of time?


Hermione didn't notice his quiet awe as her own eyes were glancing over him. His arms looked stronger; he had filled out very nicely with all the training. His skin had a healthy glow to it, making him look well and happy. Though, when she looked into his beautiful blue eyes she could still see the little boy on the train, who had dirt on his nose.

"Ronald?"

The shrill sound of Miranda trying to find her boyfriend broke the silence as she appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. "I've been looking for you. Come inside, sweetie."

Ron's eyes never left Hermione's as he shouted back, "Yeah sure, coming." He handed Hannah back to her mum, smiling bashfully. "I better go …"

"Of course," Hermione said, feeling uneasy at what had just happened. "You don't want to keep her waiting."

"Yeah," Ron said, rubbing his neck gingerly. "See you at dinner."

"At dinner it is," Hermione whispered as Ron jogged back to the kitchen, leaving her feeling more confused than ever.

***


Author's Notes

"Vicky was eighteen and you were only fifteen when you met him!"

Before I receive any Hermione was fourteen comments, please take note in this quote, taken from JKR's website FAQ.

"She was nearly twelve [when she started Hogwarts]; you must be at least eleven to attend Hogwarts"

So if you do your math, Hermione turned fifteen in book four (September 19th to be exact).

*

"I could have transferred! There's an Auror School here too!" Ron retorted. "It might not be the best one, but I would have trained there if it meant I could be around."

Ron decided to train at the American Auror School because it is the best. The school is bigger and has many more facilities and well-trained teachers than the English one. If you wanted to become an Auror, wouldn't you want to learn with the best?

Chapter 7: Past and Present
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***


Author's Note: I hope everyone has finished Half-Blood Prince now, because I will be adding spoilers to future chapters starting with this one now that we have more Canon to work with, so consider yourself warned.

-- HBP SPOILER WARNING --

***

Chapter Seven

Past and Present


Ginny watched Hermione hastily leave up the stairs to take Hannah outside for a while. Her plan was the best they had at the moment, but if Hermione wasn't comfortable with it, they would need a new one.

We can't have another Phlegm in the family! Ginny thought decisively.

"I agree with Hermione," Harry said suddenly, watching Ginny carefully for her reaction.

Heaving a sigh, Ginny nodded. "I thought you might," she said dejectedly. "I was carried away with the hope that Ron and Hermione would get back together. I didn't think things through."

Harry smiled slightly, feeling a bit uncomfortable at her chosen phrase. It reminded him of his seventh year, when Ginny tried to tag along with him, Ron and Hermione at Christmas after Hermione had discovered the location of one of the Horcruxes. Harry broke up with Ginny the previous June to keep her safe; Ginny, however, seemed to think that if she could prove she was strong enough to protect herself, Harry would consider getting back together with her.

His refusal to let Ginny join them had resulted in a fight that lasted until Easter and resulted in another broken heart.

Ginny returned the small smile, blushing as she realised what she had just said. She changed the subject by asking if Harry wanted a drink. He nodded, and with a wave of her wand, two mugs from the cupboard flew onto the table and with a second wave, they filled to the brim with steaming hot Butterbeer.

As she handed Harry his drink, Ron wandered into the kitchen, studying the back door with interest. He didn't seem to notice his sister and best friend watching him curiously from the table. He took a deep breath and pushed open the back door, leaving the pair alone once again.

"You were only trying to help, and I'm sure Hermione is grateful," Harry said, after taking a mouthful of the creamy drink.

Ginny absent-mindedly traced the top of the mug with her index finger, avoiding Harry's gaze. "I know, I just wanted to prove--show that I could help in some way," she said, half talking about the current situation and half talking about a subject she knew Harry didn't want mentioned.

Harry reached across the table, placing his hand on top of Ginny's. He looked up at her, into her chocolate brown eyes as Ginny took a sharp intake of breath.

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely. There was no need to say what for, as they could both see they were thinking about the same part in their lives by their expressions and pink cheeks. "I shouldn't have said all those things back then." He licked his lips and continued, "I was trying to protect you."

"Oh, Harry," Ginny said, her thumb stroking Harry's as his fingers intertwined with her own. "I didn't – I don't need protecting, I'm a big girl. I managed to get into Slughorn's 'Slug Club' for protecting myself, remember? And I fought Death Eaters in my fourth and fifth years at Hogwarts. I may have been hurt, but scrapes heal and I'm still here."

Harry chuckled; he couldn't deny that Ginny had grown into an independent woman. Perhaps he had misjudged her abilities all those years ago? They only broke up because of Voldemort, because Harry didn't want Ginny to end the same way his parents, Sirius and Dumbledore did. Now, however, Voldemort was gone, there was no one threatening to kill him, and Ginny was right: she was still here …

Harry's smile grew considerably bigger as he cleared his throat. "Ginny, I –"

"Hello, dears, here to help with the dinner?"

Harry and Ginny retracted their hands swiftly, their faces burning red as Molly, who hadn't seemed to notice what she had just interrupted, started to tie the back of her apron.

Ginny jumped up and walked over to her mother. Tucking a strand of flaming red hair behind her ear, she asked, "Shall I peel potatoes, mum?"

"Mhm? Oh yes, thank you," Molly said, waving her wand over the counter as she used several non-verbal spells to set up everything she needed. "Harry dear, if you would be so kind and set the table?"

Harry silently nodded, looking fleetingly at Ginny as he passed her. He found the plates and glasses in the bottom cupboard by the stove and began setting them out with the cutlery from the drawer above. Glancing back over at Ginny, his heart skipped a beat: she had taken one of Molly's spare aprons from a hook on the wall and put it on. She pulled her hair free from the neck strap and released it so her red tresses cascaded down her shoulders.

Noticing, Ginny gave Harry a small smile, her cheeks tingeing pink as she got to work on the potatoes.

***


The sun was starting to set behind the hills before Hermione took Hannah back inside the Burrow. She didn't want to go in after Ron, in case he and Miranda had decided to sit in the kitchen for a while, and after what had happened between the pair in the garden, Hermione thought it was best if she stayed outside for a while.

But what had happened?

One minute she and Ron were fighting and the next … it was almost like their first date all over again, staring into each others eyes like there was no one else in the world. However, it wasn't their first date; they were now adults with responsibilities, jobs and lives of their own.

Yet, Hermione couldn't help but wonder, what would have happened if Miranda hadn't intervened? A million scenarios had run through her mind as she pushed Hannah on the swing.

Would he have kissed me?

Would I have kissed him?

Would we finally be a family? With Miranda packing her dragon-skinned bags at this moment?


Hermione knew she was being foolish; Ron had moved on, and in some sort of way, she had too, or at least, that's what she kept telling herself when she saw Ron and Miranda together.

As Hermione walked into the kitchen, she caught the heavenly smell of dinner. Molly was at the stove stirring something in one pan while her wand was flipping over something in the other.

Ginny was at the fridge, choosing a bottle of Elderflower wine to go with dinner, while Harry was already seated at the table, staring at his empty plate, his expression of deep contemplation.

Hermione placed Hannah in her highchair and sat next to Harry. She looked intently at him, as though trying to read his thoughts. He only snapped out of whatever he was thinking about when Molly asked, "Harry, would you call Ron and Miranda down please?"

As Harry left the kitchen, Ginny came over to talk to Hermione. "How did it go with Ron?" she asked. "I saw him go out into the garden." She waved her wand over the bottle cork so it released with a pop, and then placed the bottle in the middle of the table, next to the salt and pepper pots.

"Nothing special happened," Hermione lied, eyeing Molly, who was humming the wedding march to herself.

Leaning over her shoulder at where Hermione was looking, Ginny nodded in understanding and mouthed quietly, "Something happened then? Are we any closer to getting rid of her?"

"It's not polite to whisper, Ginevra," Molly said, charming several large bowls over to the table, each filled with a different dish.

Hermione covered her mouth with her hand to suppress a giggle as Ginny blushed red. Hermione nodded at her friend, which caused the redhead to grin.

Molly glanced up at the clock, where one of the hands showed Arthur was travelling and then a moment later moving to home as Arthur Apparated with a pop into the kitchen. He removed his hat and cloak and hung them on the wall before giving Molly a peck on the cheek.

"How was work, dear?" Molly asked, pouring her husband a glass of wine.

"So-so," Arthur replied, kicking his shoes off under the table with an 'ah'. He swallowed a large mouthful of wine and began telling his wife about his day.

Knowing they wouldn't have any eavesdroppers, Hermione asked Ginny, "And how are things with Harry?"

"I don't know what you mean," Ginny said offhandedly, taking a seat on Hannah's other side.

"You could have cut the tension in here with a Severing Charm," Hermione said knowingly, raising her eyebrows. Ginny flushed and ignored her friend by pretending to be deep in concentration as she put on Hannah's Chudley Cannons bib.

Moments later, Harry returned, Ron and Miranda in tow. Harry took a seat opposite Ginny, giving her a shy smile as he sat down. Ron and Miranda opted to sit away from Hermione; Hermione swore she saw Miranda shoot her a dirty look.

"Mmm, Molly, this all smells delicious," Miranda said, her nose in the air, breathing in the evening's meal. Molly forced a smile as she dished up the Shepherds Pie. "You must give me the recipe!"

Molly gave Miranda a cool smile and said, in a forcible polite tone, "Well, dear, it's an old family recipe, you see, and I'm sworn to secrecy."

"Oh, well, never mind," Miranda shrugged off, she plastered a non-convincing smile on her face and began spooning peas onto her plate. There was an awkward silence with the only sound coming from Hannah, who kept giggling; Hermione wasn't sure if her daughter understood what was so funny or if she simply felt the need to keep the room from being in total silence.

Every so often, Hermione would look up at Ron, who appeared troubled. He hadn't eaten much of his dinner, and had taken to pushing around the carrots and peas with his fork. Hermione frowned, feeling sympathy for the poor man, who only wanted his family to like his new girlfriend. She knew that if her family acted the same way around someone she cared about, she would be feeling pretty lousy, too.

It wasn't Ron's fault that no one had taken to her straight away. The same thing happened when Bill brought Fleur Delacour home to meet the family. Molly had tried to distance herself from spending time with her future daughter-in-law, but after what happened to her eldest son almost a year after Fleur entered their lives, Molly accepted her as part of the family.

Hermione only hoped that if Molly did accept Miranda as part of the Weasley family, it wouldn't be under the same circumstances.

As she looked up at Ron once more, watching as he buried his vegetables in his half-eaten Shepherds Pie, Miranda caught her eye. She looked up at Hermione through heavily-lidded eyes and a smirk that was worthy of a Malfoy. Miranda's hand moved to stroke Ron's, which was resting on the table. As her fingers stroked the freckled skin, her expression spoke a thousand words, the first two being: He's mine. She continued to watch Hermione, who didn't want to give her the satisfaction of turning away.

As usual, Ron was oblivious to what was happening right under his nose and continued to play with his food. Hermione sighed and finally broke eye contact with Miranda by turning to watch Ginny feed Hannah as she rested her head on her upright arm.

The young witch was happily eating her food, which Ginny was feeding her by making whooshing noises and moving the spoonful of baby carrots around like a broomstick.

"Whoooosh!" Ginny said, as the plastic spoon zoomed around and then into Hannah's eager mouth. Ginny grinned as Hannah impatiently reached out to the spoon, wanting more. "Alright, hold on. Aunt Ginny wants to have some of her dinner too, you know." Ginny waved her wand over the spoon and it began scoping up some pie from the small bowl and feeding Hannah, as though an invisible hand was doing so.

Hannah was a little sceptical when the invisible hand fed her; she was unused to being fed by magical means, as Hermione had opted for the Muggle way and Molly, Ginny and Arthur—who all took turns feeding Hannah—followed Hermione's example.

The rest of dinner went as smoothly as possible given the company. When it was finished, Arthur made his way to the lounge to read another chapter of So Your Grandchild is a Half-Blood: What to Expect With Muggleborn Influences, a bowl of chocolate mousse in his hand; Miranda excused herself to use the bathroom; and Harry pulled Ginny out into the garden.

As Hermione began to help Molly clear the dishes off the table, she noticed Ron had hung behind. He was watching Hannah, his expression soft, as she tapped her empty bowl with her plastic spoon. Suddenly, she hit the bowl too hard and the spoon flew out of her hand onto the ground, looking down, Hannah tried to reach, her eyes watering.

As though by instinct, Ron leapt down and picked up the spoon. Hannah looked up at her father with curious wide eyes as he handed her back the spoon. A small smile escaped his lips as he watched his daughter get back to what she was doing. As he left the kitchen, he looked back, his expression of awe and tenderness.

"He loves her."

Hermione turned to face Molly, who was holding a tea-towel, ready to dry the dishes. Her kind features told Hermione that she wasn't talking about Miranda.

"I know," Hermione said, picking the collection of dishes up and putting them on the washboard. "I can see it in his eyes." This sentence should make any mum happy, to know that her child's dad loved them, but the words made Hermione's heart ache. She knew that as long as Miranda was around, Ron wouldn't be able to spend as much time with Hannah.

Or me, for that matter.

Hermione sighed and took out her wand. "Aguamenti," she said, as water poured out of the tip onto the dirty plates. Dinner was awkward, but it could have been worse. At least with Ron there, Miranda wasn't able to do more than give Hermione sinister looks.

As Hermione helped Molly with the plates and glasses, a thought entered her mind. "Molly, can I ask you something?"

Not looking up from drying one of Hannah's bottles, she replied, "Of course, dear."

"Is it true that the Shepherds Pie recipe is an old family recipe?"

"My mum was given that recipe from her mum and her mum from her mum. So yes, I want it to stay within the family," Molly replied, placing the bottle on the shelf above the sink.

Hermione furrowed her brow and turned to the elder witch. "You gave me the recipe last year," she said, her heart swelling.

"I know," Molly said, glancing up at Hermione with a knowing smile.

***


Never feeling so accepted or loved, Hermione made her way upstairs on cloud nine. She passed Arthur, who had fallen asleep in his chair with Crookshanks on his lap and she was almost at her room when she bumped into someone.

"Oh, sorry," Hermione said, not noticing the extra person on the stairs.

"You will be."

Hermione looked up and saw Miranda staring at her, her hands on her hips.

"Excuse me?" Hermione asked.

"Don't play dumb, I know you want Ronald for yourself," Miranda said. "You think you can take him away from me?"

Hermione blushed pink and retorted, "Ron and I were over a long time ago." She stood up tall so she could reach Miranda's height.

"Just you remember that," Miranda warned, her tone threatening.

"Only if you remember that Ron has a daughter," Hermione said, feeling braver from her talk with Molly a few minutes before.

"Oh, of course, you won't let me forget that, will you?" Miranda asked sarcastically. "I saw you two outside … you were practically throwing yourself at him. Disgusting." Miranda pulled a face, which caused Hermione's courage to increase. If Miranda was going to play dirty, Hermione knew where to hit her.

"He didn't seem to mind," she retorted, placing a hand on her hip in imitation.

"Yes, well," Miranda said, her lip curling cruelly. "He probably pities you. After all, he has a life …"

Hermione took a deep breath. Count to five, her mum had shown her when she was bullied at Primary school, Count to five and then walk away. They can't hurt you if you stand your ground. "I know he does. His life happens to include his daughter."

The other witch laughed. "You can quit playing the daughter card; Ronald isn't going to fall for it," she said, brushing back her straight hair with her hand. "You're just some slut he knocked up and then left."

One …

She wasn't going to retort. It was what Miranda wanted her to do: to fight back, to say something nasty so she, Miranda, would have something to tell Ron later on. No, Hermione was going to stand her ground.

"He broke up with you after a few months apart! And then, when he found out he had a child, what did he do? Came running back to me."

Two …

"In America, Ron told me how you came top of your year at Hogwarts; Head Girl with the most O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts," Miranda continued. "Smartest witch of her age." She laughed again, watching Hermione carefully for a retort, which did not come. The only sign of movement was Hermione's twitching hand.

Three …

Don't rise to it …


"I almost believed him until we arrived here and I saw what a mess you are." She looked Hermione up and down, a look of repulsion on her face. "Pregnant barely a month out of Hogwarts! Single mother at twenty years old. I dread to think what your precious daughter will be like at school."

Four …

Stay strong, Hermione. You can do this.


"She might take after you and become the Hogwarts Broomstick; everyone will have a ride. Like mother, like daughter, and -"

Hermione never found out what Miranda was going to say next, because her hand collided with Miranda's cheek.

Hermione was breathing deeply, staring at Miranda with such hate and loathing that she didn't care what she had done. "How dare you! If you ever talk about my daughter like that again you filthy slag …" She pulled out her wand and pointed it at Miranda's chest. "You will regret it. You may have had Auror experience, but I've had life experience."

Hermione's heart was pounding so hard against her rib cage that she could hear it. She kept hold of her wand firmly in her hand, waiting for a reaction.

Miranda's expression was a mixture of shock and fear. Her hand raised to stroke her reddening skin as her gaze fell. She was thinking hard. Slowly, she looked up at Hermione in triumphant.

The next words that came out of her mouth sent a chill down Hermione's spine and caused her to lower her wand to her side.

"Wait until Ronald hears about this."

Chapter 8: Hexed
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***


Author's Note: When I received this chapter from my beta, I knew it would take hours to go over. There were more notes and comments than actual text! But I hope my slaving was worth it. I've started a new job (37 hours a week), and this was my only day off this week and I wanted to spent it getting this chapter up before Monday.

If you like this story - and have a livejournal - I created a fan fiction one a while ago, which is Daddy central, along with my other work if you're interested. Warning of slash and NC-17 work, mind. Link in my profile.

Oh, and looking at my reviews it seems I'm just under 20 off to reach 1000! WOW. That is just wow. Thank you all so much, your reviews do mean a lot to me (unless all you say is "update now", that is quite a rude thing to say to an unpaid writer).

And lastly - it's my birthday at the end of the month (29th). w00t.

***

Chapter Eight

Hexed


After hearing Miranda say those fateful words, Hermione had retreated to her room as quick as her legs would take her. She laid awake in bed going over different scenarios in her mind of how Ron would have taken the news that she had slapped Miranda, and how she, Hermione, could explain why she had done it.

Now, alone in her bedroom, Hermione tried to concentrate on what she would say to Ron, but strangely, the scenarios all seemed to end with her lying across the kitchen table and kissing Ron passionately, who had forgiven her and unceremoniously dumped Miranda.

Hermione shook her head to clear her thoughts. The fact of the matter was that Miranda had provoked her. Hermione had been pushed to the edge; was it really her fault she had fallen? She wondered which angle Miranda might have played when explaining to Ron what had happened, and guessed it would be a version without any truth to it.

Then again, how could Miranda really explain why Hermione had hit her without explaining what she had said? "Oh, Ronald, all I said was she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, and then she just hit me for no reason!" No, it just wouldn't work.

Whatever was said, the bottom line was that Hermione had slapped Miranda, and that was all Ron was likely to see.

Hermione contemplated going to his room to have this resolved before morning. However, Miranda would be there, and Hermione wanted to talk to Ron alone. Not to mention that he would probably need a while to calm down before he could talk coherently to her.

No, she would wait until morning when the dust would hopefully have settled. Hermione realised suddenly how tired she was and glad that Ron had appeared to wait until morning to deal with the situation. With Hannah already sleeping soundly, Hermione herself got ready for bed.

***


After a sleepless night, Hermione woke up early and took Hannah down for breakfast. Not even Molly, who was first awake and last asleep, was up yet, which gave Hermione a lot of time before Ron was likely to crawl out of bed.

As Hannah ate her porridge, Hermione took a piece of parchment and a quill from one of the drawers and jotted down,

I slapped Miranda.

- Hermione


Sighing, she walked over to the window and opened it, allowing Pig, who had been chasing a worm, to hop in. Hermione tied the short message to Pig's leg and held the owl in her hands.

"Please take this to Grimmauld Place and deliver to Harry," she instructed as she released the small bird and watched him fly away. Hermione didn't need to add anything else to the letter, as Harry would surely come straight over.

Returning to the table, Hermione charmed her knife to butter a piece of toast.

***


As soon as Ginny had finished her breakfast, Hermione pulled her upstairs, along the way grabbing Harry, who turned up a few minutes later.

"How did it feel?"

Hermione, who was pacing Ginny's room, stopped and looked at the redhead, her face white. "I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have lost control."

And yet, it felt so good. She deserved it, too.

"I still can't believe you did!" Ginny said, looking at her friend with admiration.

"I can," Harry said, taking a seat next to Ginny on her bed. "I was there when she slapped Malfoy." A dreamy sort of smile appeared on his face as he remembered that afternoon. "And anyway, you had every right to, after what she said about Hannah," he added, looking at the photograph on the bedside table of Hermione, Ginny and Hannah playing at a park.

"True, but I still shouldn't have done it," Hermione said.

"Miranda was trying to get a reaction out of you. She should have realised you would fight back," Ginny explained.

"Well, from her expression afterwards, I don't think she did," Hermione said with a small smile. She took a seat on the floor, pulling her knees up to her chest and sighed. "How do you think Ron took it?" She looked hopefully at her two friends, who exchanged anxious looks.

"Um …" Harry mumbled. "Well, you know Ron …"

With a sob, Hermione buried her head in her knees. She was torn over the situation. She had finally done something she had wanted to do for days; she had proved to Miranda that she wasn't a pushover or someone to mess with - and Miranda's expression had been priceless.

However, Ron's reaction was not going to be a good one. Hermione could already hear the yelling, the name-calling, and the bitterness. Hermione knew she was in the wrong, but so was Miranda; Ron had to see that. His anger couldn't be one-sided.

Hermione felt a hand touch her shoulder and looked up to see Ginny kneeling beside her; the other girl's expression was one of honest empathy.

"It's going to be all right, don't cry," Ginny whispered. Hermione, who hadn't realised she was crying, wiped her eyes and stood up. "Where are you going?" Ginny asked.

"The waiting is killing me, I have to talk to him now," Hermione explained, glancing in the mirror before she made her exit, sure she was leaving Harry and Ginny with the same feeling: this wasn't going to go well.

***


Hermione made her way slowly down the stairs, her hand holding the railing tightly as she listened for any indication of Ron. When she reached the bottom, she could hear voices from the kitchen.

"There's nothing I can really do, to be honest," said the voice of an exasperated Molly.

Peering around the door cautiously, so not to be seen, Hermione saw Miranda sitting at the kitchen table with Molly and a first aid kit, while Ron stood at the window, his back to them all. Hermione could tell by his posture that his arms were folded across his chest.

Molly was holding Miranda's face with one of her hands, where a shiny red mark had appeared, and was frowning.

"Are you sure? It really hurts," Miranda whined, wincing slightly as her eyes fleetingly shot at Ron, who still hadn't turned around.

"I've been a mother for over thirty years and have seen more cuts, bruises and illegal spells than you've had hot dinners," Molly explained, her usually soft voice pierced with frustration. "So yes, I am sure."

Molly released her hand and Miranda frowned deeply.

Disappointed that I didn't do more damage to show to Ron. Good thing I hit like a girl.

With a wave of her wand, Molly returned the first aid kit to its normal place in the highest cupboard and pulled herself up, stroking out the creases in her apron. "If we're done here, I know a little girl who needs her clothes ironed."

Hermione jumped back as Molly entered the living room. She opened her mouth to explain, but before she could say anything, Molly held up her hand.

"I've heard Miranda's side, however patchy it sounded, and I want to hear yours, but I think Ron wants to hear it first," Molly said, her kind eyes watching Hermione with compassion.

Hermione bowed her head. "I know, that's what I'm here for."

"Hannah has fallen asleep in Arthur's chair, so you shouldn't be disturbed for at least an hour," Molly explained, nodding her head behind Hermione, where the smallest Weasley was curled up in a knitted throw-over, her thumb resting in her mouth.

"Thanks," Hermione said, pushing back her hair as a small smile escaped her lips.

"I take it Ginny knows what really happened?" Molly asked offhandedly. When Hermione nodded, the elder witch added, "I'll see if she needs any ironing done too, as I'm doing Hannah's."

When Molly left, Hermione took a deep breath and entered the kitchen, where she found Ron alone, sitting at the table, clearly waiting for her. He was staring at her, his brow furrowed and his lips pursed tightly. His wand was lying carelessly on the table, its handle protruding over the side. Hermione wanted to comment on the dangers of this, but the look on his face stopped her. Clearly, he was ready to talk now. She forgot about the wand and steeled herself for what he had to say.

"Well?" he asked shortly, his eyes not leaving her.

Hermione bit down on her lip and pulled the chair out so she could sit next to him. "Where's Miranda?" she asked, ignoring the piercing stare Ron was giving her.

"She went to Diagon Alley for Boone's Bruise Balm for her face; it seems someone hit her. Do you know who it was?" Hermione knew the question was rhetorical, but Ron's expression told her to answer.

"I can explain," Hermione began, taking a deep breath, ready to give her side of the story.

"You can explain why you hit an innocent person?"

"Innocent? After the things she said to me!" Hermione said, flabbergasted. She raised her eyebrows and watched Ron carefully for any hint of sarcasm. "What exactly did she tell you happened?"

Ron licked his lips, blushing pink as he spoke. "She said you were jealous of her … jealous because you're still – still -"

"Still what?" Hermione pushed.

"In love with me," Ron finished quietly.

Hermione stared at him, speechless.

I may still love him, but I am certainly not jealous of that tart.

Ron's features were mostly unreadable, though Hermione did pick up a sense of yearning in his eyes – yearning for the truth.

"Did she tell you what she said to me?" she asked, avoiding the previous statement. The last thing she needed was for Ron to find out about her unrequited feelings.

"Well no … she just said you were jealous and hit her out of spite," Ron answered, frowning. "Why, what did she say?"

Averting her gaze, Hermione looked out into the living room, where Hannah had woken up and was currently playing with one of her jigsaw puzzles. Hermione closed her eyes and took another deep breath before turning back to Ron.

"At first she was just trying to rile me … she said - she said I have no life …"

"That's it?"

"No. She … she implied that because I was a teenage mother, I was a scarlet woman," Hermione said, watching Ron's reaction carefully. "But when I didn't rise to her insults, she … she told me that Hannah would grow up to be a … a whore like me - Ron, she called our daughter a whore."

Even explaining what Miranda said caused rage to fill Hermione's body. It was bad enough she said it, but now she had to tell Hannah's father about it.

Ron's eyes widened as his mouth formed an 'o' shape. He stared at Hermione for a few moments, trying to comprehend what she had just told him. "You must have misheard her," he said quietly, when the shock subsided. "She wouldn't say that … how could you say that?"

Even though she had been expecting Ron not to believe her, her jaw still dropped at how quickly he came to Miranda's defence.

"Ron, I know it sounds awful, but I swear, I'm telling you the truth," Hermione said, a note of desperation in her voice. She stared at Ron for an answer, her hand clutching the front of her blouse.

"She told me you'd try and turn me against her …" Ron replied, not sure what else to say. His eyes were looking at Hermione with slight distrust.

"Merlin," Hermione said, exasperated. "Do you really think I would hit her unless there was a really, really good reason? She insulted our daughter, Ron! I admit that violence isn't the answer, and I'm not proud of what I did, but I promise you that I'm not lying!"

Hermione reached out and placed her hand on top of Ron's. She stared at him, not blinking, hoping he could read her features and see the truth.

His eyes narrowed as he pulled his hand away. "Oh, you're not lying? Why should I believe you? You've lied before, but Miranda never has!"

Feeling as though someone had kicked her in the stomach, Hermione's jaw dropped in astonishment. She thought after what happened between him and Harry in their fourth year, Ron would learn to trust his friends, but no.

"I've only ever lied to protect you!" Hermione protested, stung at his refusal to even consider her side. "But I'm not lying about this. Do you honestly think I'd say something so awful -"

"Keeping the fact that I have a daughter a secret for two years is protecting me?!" Ron bellowed, jumping up, his face red with fury. His arm knocked his wand off the table, which rolled across and floor and out of sight.

"Yes! It was!" Hermione stood up so she could be face to face with the tempered redhead. "How many times are you going to throw that in my face? I did it so you could have a future – a career! Something I can't put my full attention on at the moment."

Hermione exhaled deeply. He's going to bring that up for the rest of our lives, I can feel it.

"Ron, please," she said, her voice pleading. Her eyes were wide and appeared glossy. "We're not talking about what I did in the past. We're talking about Miranda, and what she said and why I hit her. Do you honestly believe I enjoy telling you this? Because I don't."

"Then why did you tell me?" Ron yelled, placing his hands on his head and grabbing at his hair in frustration.

He's kidding, isn't he? He can't be seriously asking me why I'm telling him this.

Blinking with disbelief, Hermione let out an indignant noise.

"Let me think," Hermione said, mockingly holding her chin as though in deep thought. "Oh yeah, because you asked!" she yelled back, clenching her fists together by her sides. "You wanted to know why I hit your precious Miranda, and I told you! It isn't my fault you're too dumb to realise that your girlfriend is bad news."

Ron bowed his head, avoiding Hermione's piercing gaze. After a moment, he looked up and said, "If I'm so dumb, why did you go out with me?" His expression was hard and the tone was serious.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but then closed it again. Oh, Merlin, how can he ask that? This is going worse than I thought … oh …

Clearing his throat as he steadied himself, Ron suddenly said, "Why don't you just admit you don't like her?"

"I don't like her," Hermione replied through gritted teeth. "There. Are you happy?"

"A-HA!" Ron shouted, pointing his finger at Hermione in triumphant. "I knew it. You hate her, so you're making up stuff about her!"

That … That unbelievable idiot.

Gawping at Ron as though he had grown an extra head, Hermione rubbed her temples with her fingers. "I really give up on you," she replied, her stomach sinking as she sighed dejectedly. She looked up at Ron, whose look of victory seemed to be easing off, and licked her lips.

"You're unbelievable … if you're too stubborn to understand why I kept Hannah a secret, too one-minded to take Miranda's side over mine and too blind to see that I lo-"

Before Hermione could finish her sentence, a high pitched squeal cut her off.

Hannah was lying on the kitchen floor with her eyes closed, Ron's wand at her side.

Chapter 9: St Mungo's
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***


Author's Note: Happy November! I was planning to update for Halloween as I received my beta'ed chapter back that afternoon, but by the time I got home, I was too tired to go over ten pages of work and notes. So instead, I'm having a pre-Bonfire Night update (which is Saturday).

Stay save and keep all Kneazles, Crups and other pets indoors and away from Fireworks.

***

Chapter Nine

St Mungo's


As the colour drained from Ron's face, his eyes looked from Hannah's unconscious body to the wand clutched in her little hand - his wand. How the hell did she get my wand? I would never let her play with it! He glanced at Hermione, who looked on the verge of breaking down.

Looking back at Hannah, Ron thought fast. He remembered that his mum kept an Emergency Portkey in one of the drawers that would take them straight to St Mungo's. Forming a plan in his mind, Ron swiftly made his way to the counter and started searching roughly through the top drawer.

"R - Ron, what are you -?"

"Hermione, don't just stand there! Wrap her up in something! Oh, and get my wand. Hurry up!" Ron said, pulling out a Muggle thermometer and studying it carefully.

Having Fred and George as brothers meant that Ron had accompanied his parents to the Wizarding hospital many times before. Images of his mum inserting the end of the thermometer into her mouth entered his mind, and Ron suddenly remembered just how to work the Emergency Portkey.

He quickly grabbed a quill and parchment from the same drawer and scribbled a short note.

Mum, Harry and Ginny: Hannah's hurt. Taken her to hospital with Hermione. See you there - Don't panic - Ron.

Hermione returned to the kitchen moments later, Ron's wand in her pocket and Hannah bundled up in a blanket. Her face was mostly white and she appeared to be shaking. As an overwhelming sense of paternal responsibility washed over him, Ron realised he needed to continue taking charge. He took a deep breath, reached out to hold Hannah and popped the thermometer in his mouth.

With his free hand, Ron held out the Portkey so Hermione could hold the other end as they both felt the familiar tug behind their navels. It wasn't long before they landed with a thud on their feet in the busy reception area of St Mungo's.

Pocketing the Portkey, Ron hurried over to the front desk. Hermione followed slowly, still looking like she was in a numbing state of shock.

They found themselves standing behind an old Warlock, who was explaining to the witch behind the desk about his rash, while he scratched his stomach unpleasantly.

“I think it muster been that potion me granddaughter gave ter me, she said it were tea, bless her," he was telling the receptionist.

"That's a lovely story," said the witch with a sarcastic smile. "But do you not read? Third floor!"

As the Warlock walked off, Ron approached the desk. He spoke in a surprisingly calm and collective voice. "My daughter found my wand and I - we think she may have hexed or charmed herself, or something."

Hermione let out a small sob and brushed a piece of hair out of Hannah's face.

"Fourth floor; Spell Damage," the witch informed them casually. Ron noticed her eyes travel back to this month's issue of Witch Weekly before she spoke the last word.

"Er - thanks," Ron replied, grabbing Hermione's hand as he strode towards the lift. Hermione was sobbing quietly, and Ron felt her squeeze his hand tightly. It wasn't long before they were on the fourth floor, reading a plaque on one of the doors, which read: Healer Galena Asa, Head of Spell Damage. Below it was a piece of parchment, instructing the reader to tap on the notice with their wand for assistance.

Ron turned to Hermione for his wand, only to find her already holding it out. She seemed to have calmed down now she was behind the door of someone who could help. Taking the wand, Ron tapped on the parchment twice and motioned Hermione to take a seat behind them while they waited for the Healer.

"Here, let me hold her. Your arms must be tired," Hermione said, holding out her hands to take her daughter. Ron looked down at his child's face, which looked quite peaceful. He handed her carefully to Hermione, who held back another sob.

Suddenly, the door opened a tall dark skinned witch in lime green robes stepped out, a clipboard in one hand and her wand in the other. "What seems to be the trouble then?" her voice was soothing and her eyes kind.

"Our daughter - She found my wand … it must have fallen off the table and she picked it up. We think she hexed herself," Ron explained. Hermione stood up and walked over to him, cradling her baby slowly.

The Healer peered at Hannah and nodded understandably. "Well Mr …"

"Weasley, Ron Weasley."

"Well Mr Weasley, from looking at her now, she doesn't seem to be in any pain. If you would both follow me, I can examine her," Healer Asa said, motioning the door behind her.

"Ron, wait," Hermione said before he had the chance to enter the room. "One of us has to stay out here and wait for your mum. She'll be worried sick."

Hesitating, Ron stepped backwards. What use would he be in there without Hermione? The Healer was bound to ask questions about Hannah's past health, something Ron knew nothing about. He wasn't even sure what Hannah's favourite food was.

"You go in; you know more about her than I do." Saying it out loud caused him to wince inwardly.

"Are you sure?"

Ron nodded and took the seat Hermione was in previously.

The Healer held the door open and said, "Right this way, Mrs Weasley," before a red-faced Hermione hurried into the room. The Healer turned to Ron and before following Hermione, added, "It's going to be all right, your wife can explain everything to you afterwards." The Healer then turned and softly closed the door behind her.

At those words, a strange, uplifting feeling circled his chest, making Ron feel odd inside. As he heard footsteps, he wiped the smile off his face and turned to see his mum marching towards him, his dad, Harry and Ginny in tow.

"Ron!" Molly cried, waving his note in her hand. "Why didn't you call me down?" Her eyes were red and the piece of parchment looked ripped as though she had been clutching it too tightly on the way.

"There wasn't time," Ron answered lamely.

"The note didn't say what had happened, just that there was an accident," Arthur said, taking the parchment from his wife and pocketing it. He helped her into a seat.

"She hexed herself or something," Ron said, avoiding looking at any of his family.

"How did she get a wand?" Ginny asked. Glancing up, Ron noticed that Harry's arms appeared to be round her shoulders. Shaking this off, Ron replied,

"My … my wand. It was on the table … I dunno … it must have fallen off or something … I didn't see." Ron rubbed the back of his neck gingerly, feeling very guilty that it was his wand that started this.

"It wasn't your fault," Harry said, as though he could read his best friend's thoughts.

"I know," Ron lied, smiling slightly. "She's in there -" he nodded in the direction of the healing room "- with Hermione at the moment. But the Healer thinks she'll be fine, just wants to check her over."

"That's good, then," Ginny said reassuringly, taking a seat next to her mum.

Merlin … I can't wait out here with them, I'll go mad. I wish I could be with Hermione … in the healing room! With Hermione in the healing room.

"Hey Ron, why don't we get everyone a drink," Arthur said, giving his son a curious look. "Coffee all around?" After an assortment of nods, Ron followed his dad down to the other end of the corridor where a large counter stood, with a single piece of parchment laying on top.

Reading the parchment, Arthur said clearly, "Two coffees with a lump of sugar each, one with three lumps and two with none please." Five plastic cups appeared on the counter almost instantly, each with steaming hot coffee inside. "Do you think Hermione would like anything?" Arthur asked, turning to face Ron.

"What? Oh, erm, Gillywater, probably," Ron replied, frowning.

"Right - and one Gillywater," Arthur repeated to the counter as a sixth cup appeared. Instead of levitating the drinks to the others, Arthur turned to look at his son, his expression unreadable. "Right, we need to have a little talk before we go back," he said, picking up his own drink and taking a sip.

"What about?" Ron asked quietly. He had a feeling he was about to be lectured on parenting. I've only been a parent one week, he's probably wondering what I'll do next.

"Your mother is worried about you," Arthur declared, handing Ron a cup. Noticing the anxious look in his son's face, he continued. "She has heard both sides of the 'incident' between Hermione and Miranda, as have I. She's worried – we both are - about whose side you are going to believe."

Ron frowned and then the realisation hit him. I have to take a side … I have to believe one story over the other. With the anger and confusion that had clouded his mind when he had found out what happened between Miranda and Hermione, followed by his argument with Hermione and then Hannah's accident, taking sides hadn't registered with him. The thought scared him: Whichever side he took, he was going to lose one of the women in his life.

"I … I don't know," Ron admitted. "Who do you believe?"

Arthur shook his head. "Oh, no, you need to decide this on your own. I can't give you my answer and I've made sure your mother won't give you hers," his father said slyly.

"But how am I supposed to do that?" Ron asked, exasperated. He put his drink down and ran his fingers through his messy hair. "I trust both of them. I've known Miranda for two years and we've never had any major problems. She's one of the nicest people I've met; she's kind and helpful and a brilliant Auror. She's one of my best friends."

It also helps that she's beautiful and we didn't have to wait six years to be together …

"And Hermione?" Arthur pressed, furrowing his brow.

Ron exhaled deeply. "Well, we've had our differences, but…I know Hermione. She wouldn't lie about something like this," he replied.

She lied about Hannah though … but does it really count as a lie? It's not like she wrote to me saying 'Ron, I didn't have your child.' She just wanted me to finish training and have a good job before I returned. Weirdest act of kindness I've ever seen, but she still didn't lie to my face.

"So it would be like trying to decide between Fred and George in your case?" Arthur asked, trying to lighten the mood with a smile.

"I guess so, it's just that …"

"You have a lot to lose either way," Arthur finished, nodding understandably. "Either your girlfriend or your daughter and Hermione." When it was said like that, it should have been obvious to Ron who he should choose, but it wasn't about gaining or losing - it was about the truth.

"Dad, if it was between losing my toothbrush or my left leg, I still wouldn't decide straight away," Ron admitted, earning a confused look from his father. "It doesn't matter what I have to lose, all I care about is who is lying to me."

Nodding, Arthur replied, "Very logical." He then paused, hesitating. "Can I ask you one last question before we go back?" With a nod from Ron, Arthur asked, "Do you love Miranda?"

Do I love her? I hadn't really thought about it … I don't know. No? Maybe? It took a few moments for Ron to realise that he hadn't replied yet.

"She's fun to be with," he said lamely.

"That isn't what I asked," Arthur reminded him, arching an eyebrow curiously.

"I like her …" Ron tried again. Before his father could speak, he added pathetically, "A lot!"

"More than Hermione?" Arthur asked cautiously. Ron opened his mouth to answer, but before he had the chance to say anything, Arthur quickly added, "Stop – I wouldn't feel comfortable knowing either answer."

Neither would I.

Ron avoided his father's gaze for a moment, trying to comprehend his mixed feelings. He had already decided that he liked Miranda, but love her? And what about Hermione? He used to love her and knew that a part of him always would, but that didn't mean that he was in love with her now, did it?

"I can only give you the advice my dad gave me then, Ron," Arthur said, waving his wand over the remaining cups to levitate them in front of him. Meeting his eyes so he knew he was sincerely listening, Arthur said, "Listen to your heart."

"What does that mean?" Ron asked, following his dad out of the room as Arthur started to walk back to the others.

"Just that, listen to your heart. It knows what it wants," Arthur repeated with a twinkle in his eye. Giving Ron a knowing look, he added, "I followed that advice and look at me today: I have a loyal and beautiful wife, seven wonderful children and two breathtaking granddaughters."

The two fathers had only been back a few minutes when the door to the examination room opened and Hermione walked out, looking tired but okay. Ron rushed over to her at once.

"Well?" he asked impatiently. Noticing Hannah wasn't with her, Ron looked behind Hermione towards the exam room. "Where's Hannah? Is she okay?"

Letting out a weary sigh, Hermione simply nodded. "She's perfectly fine and there’s no damage but the Healer wants to keep her in overnight anyway. She's been taken through to the ward; I came out here to find you." She smiled warmly at Ron, whose stomach felt a familiar happy twinge.

"What else did she say?" Ginny asked, offering Hermione her seat.

Sitting down, Hermione's face broke into a grin. "After much talking, Healer Asa concluded that Hannah set off the Security Spell on your wand, Ron."

"Aurors are supposed to have Security Spells on their wands, aren't they?" Ginny asked. "To keep Death Eaters from taking their wands and using them against the owners."

Hermione smiled and replied, "That's right."

"Why the hell are you smiling?" Ron asked angrily, who didn't think this was the time or place to be grinning.

Hermione took hold of Ron's hands, her eyes shining. "Ron," she said, as though saying his name would help him understand. "I'm smiling because the Confuddle Charm didn't affect her. She blocked it before it could hit her and it just rebounded and knocked her out."

"And …"

"And it was her first sign of magic!" Hermione announced proudly.

Ron felt as though a balloon had swelled inside of him and would explode any second. When the words first sign of magic came out of Hermione's mouth, Ron threw his arms around the mother of his child in delight.

I may have missed her first word and steps, but first magic! I couldn't be more proud! Off to Hogwarts in ten years and then maybe Minister of Magic! Could you imagine it? My daughter, the first Weasley Minister!

Ron pulled back, his face still plastered with a proud smile as Hermione led him to the ward where Hannah was staying.

***


It was late, and everyone but Ron and Hermione had gone home. Hannah was sleeping peacefully in her bed while her mother was leaning forwards, her head in her arms on the side of the bed. Ron was looking around the ward, which consisted of two other children with one or two parents each. There was a little boy, no other than five, sleeping three beds over who would hiccup a feather every so often. Opposite him was a young girl, whose chin was full of hair that still seemed to be growing.

Before Ginny had gone home, Ron asked her to let Miranda know what was happening and to tell her that he was going to stay the night at Hannah's side. Ginny agreed and left the young parents to watch over their child.

Unable to sleep, Ron's mind went over the day's events.

Hermione looked terrified, what would have happened if I wasn't there?

Ron wondered if Hermione knew about the Portkey; where it was kept and how to use it. If Hannah became hurt when she was alone with Hermione, would she freeze up like she did this time? Ron's heart ached knowing that there was a possibility that Hannah's health could have been in jeopardy without him there.

If I had been there for my daughter - wow, daughter that still sounds so wild to me! - From birth, would I have frozen up too?

Ron knew that if he was there from the start, the bond between him and Hannah would undoubtedly be very strong. When people he loved were in danger or hurt, Ron tended to tense up. In his second year of Hogwarts, when Hermione was petrified by the Basilisk; the only way to save her was to follow the spiders - he shuddered at the thought - his reaction was to hide in Hagrid's cabin until Harry had returned. However, an invisible force managed to help him swallow his fear and go into the Forest.

Thinking about it now, it must have been the start of his love for Hermione.

What made me take charge today though?

It could be my fatherly instincts coming through from watching my own dad over the years. Maybe because I love Hannah so much, the fear just washed away faster than it usually would. Or maybe I just grew up? I'm not that scared little boy anymore - I'm a father.


As Ron watched his daughter sleep, he began noticing new features that he hadn't before. Her hair, while as red as his own, reminded him of Hermione's when she was in bed; spread out across the pillow untidily. Looking closely, Ron noticed how Hannah's cheekbones and chin matched her mothers, causing the young witch to resemble Hermione even more than she already did.

But he couldn't deny his own traits he saw in her. Apart from the obvious red hair and freckles, he could see himself in her personality. Like him, she slept sprawled out, with one of her arms resting above her head as her chest rose and then fell gently. When she had been awake earlier, she clung to him, being scared of sleeping in a strange smelling and different place. He vaguely remembered doing the same thing to his dad when he was barely older than Hannah, after the twins told him to jump off the roof.

Ron smiled and turned his gaze to Hermione, whose hair was covering her face. Slowly, Ron reached over to brush the curls back, so he could see her beautiful face. As though he had burnt himself, Ron retracted his hand quickly.

I'm allowed to think Hermione's beautiful, aren't I? It's just a friendly observation. I mean, Ginny's told her that she's beautiful before and she doesn't want to kiss her.

And nor do I. I don’t. I really don’t. Honest.


Feeling even more confused, Ron removed his cloak and draped it across Hermione's back for warmth. How was he supposed to find out who lied to him when he trusted both women? Did he really have to choose? However, could he live knowing that one of them was dishonest with him? Lying - especially about something as big as this - was immoral in Ron's eyes.

Suddenly, Hermione stirred and opened her eyes. "What - what time is it?" she asked groggily.

"Two in the morning," Ron answered. "I couldn't sleep."

"Oh," Hermione replied, sitting up slowly. She looked stiff, and Ron didn't blame her, from the angle she had been sleeping. Hermione pulled the cloak around her shoulders closer to her body. "I didn't thank you for today," she said, looking up at him with her rich brown eyes. "I couldn't have done it without you."

The dimmed lights caused her face to glow; Ron smiled tenderly back and replied, "Don't mention it. I did what anyone would have done."

"What any dad would have done, you mean," Hermione corrected, pulling herself up.

"Yeah." Ron was glad the light in the room was dimmed so Hermione couldn't see him blushing.

"I'm going to get a hot chocolate, would you like one?" Hermione asked, adjusting Ron's cloak so she was actually wearing it, rather than using it as a blanket.

"Yeah, thanks," Ron said.

Hermione was almost out the ward when she turned back. "I never gave you an answer," she said softly.

"To what?"

"You asked me today why I went out with you in the first place," Hermione reminded him. Ron blushed again; the conversation came horribly back to him.

"Go on," he urged quietly.

"You were always there for me, that's why."

***


Quick Author's Note: Arthur says that he has two granddaughters. I originally mentioned who the other one was, but in the final cut, it was removed. Arthur is talking about Bill and Fleur's daughter (they married in the trio's seventh year … we can gather, and this story is set two years after that.)

Chapter 10: The B.A.T
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***

Chapter Ten

The B.A.T


After Hermione had brought back hot chocolate, Ron was unable to fall back to sleep. His mind was full of new feelings and thoughts about what Hermione had said and how she had acted towards him, that it was causing a numbing pain at the front of his head.

'You were always there for me, that's why.'

Of course I was always there for her! Even before we started going out I was there - in our first year with the troll, our second year when she was petrified and our sixth at the funeral …

It just goes to show that even a very independent woman like Hermione wants to be looked after sometimes.


Ron had almost forgotten what they were fighting over the previous day - almost. He didn't like to dwell on it too much. After having a talk with his dad and being awake for over fifteen hours, Ron decided that it was Hermione and Miranda's problem, not his. Granted, it was because of him, but it was still between them, and if he wanted a quiet life, he would let it go, this time.

The following morning, Ron decided that he needed a clean shirt, a shower and proper food, so said his goodbyes to Hermione and Hannah and Apparated into the Burrow's kitchen. Hannah was due to come home that lunch time after a check up, for which Hermione insisted only one of them was needed to be there.

After Apparating back to the Burrow Ron found himself shivering in the autumn air, and realised he'd left his cloak behind. He muttered a few words and watched as the fireplace filled with flames.

Sighing with exhaustion, he took a seat at the kitchen table and conjured a mug of black coffee. He was about to Accio a few marshmallows when he felt a pair of eyes staring at the back of his head.

"You've been out all night," said Miranda. She took a seat next to Ron, pulling her dressing gown closer to her body. Her brow was furrowed and she looked angry, yet concerned.

"I told Ginny to let you know where I was," Ron said, drinking deeply from his mug. "Did she explain what happened?"

Miranda nodded, waving her wand in the direction of the cupboards. A packet of marshmallows flew into her hand and she handed a few to Ron. "She did. Is Hannah alright?" she asked.

There's actual concern in her voice. How can Hermione not like her?

"She'll be fine, she's coming home at lunch time," Ron explained, smiling warmly as he accepted the marshmallows, dropping three in his mug. "I think Hermione was more scared than Hannah was last night," he added, chuckling. It was easy to laugh now that he knew his daughter was going to be fine.

"Bless," Miranda said.

Noticing her scathing tone, Ron grinned and grabbed her hand. "I'm sure you'll be the same when you have kids."

Miranda pulled her hand away, her expression uncomfortable.

Oh shit … does she think I meant with me? I wasn't being serious … she probably thinks I'm moving too fast.

"What's wrong?" Ron asked, not wanting to voice his thoughts until he knew he was right.

Miranda averted her gaze, making a slight 'mhm' noise. "It's nothing," she replied. Ron could tell something was bothering her and that she was lying, but why? What was so bad about discussing children? Ron had talked about Hannah many times without this reaction.

"No, go on," Ron pressed. His face hardened as he watched her features carefully.

"It's just--" she waved her hand offhandedly as she spoke--"I don't plan to ever have children."

Ron's insides, which a mere minute ago were squirming uncomfortably, now seemed to disappear completely. Of all the things she could have said, this was not what he had been expecting.

"W-what?" Ron asked, feeling rather warm all of a sudden. "You - you don't want children … ever? When were you planning on telling me this?"

He couldn't believe she had lied to him, especially about something as big as this. Ron had made it no secret that having a family was very important to him.

"I don't know," she confessed. "I didn't think it was an issue."

Ron couldn't believe what he was hearing. Not an issue? They were in a long-term relationship that Ron assumed would probably lead to marriage in a few years. "I've told you I wanted a big family of my own, why didn't you say anything then?" he asked.

"It wasn't an issue," Miranda repeated, shrugging the situation off. "We were only together a few weeks; I didn't know we would last longer than a fling."

Ron mouthed wordlessly at her confession and said, "And now? We've been going out for months - I introduced you to my parents!" In Ron's mind, that equalled a serious relationship. Perhaps things were different in Ireland? Or maybe Miranda wanted to take things even slower?

"I was going to tell you," she replied, reaching forwards to take his hand. "But when I found out about Hannah … I just figured I was, so to speak, 'off the hook'." She shrugged like this wasn't a big deal.

Ron blinked and pulled his hand out of reach. He screwed his face up in indignation and retorted, "That's bullshit and you know it." Before Miranda could answer him, he added, "Just because I already have a child, doesn't mean I want to stop there. I seem to recall mentioning 'four or five would be great' to you."

Miranda bit down on her tongue. "Ronald, my dream has always been to become an Auror; to help people and fight Dark Wizards. In this dream, I don't take a few years off to have children. I need to keep in shape to be on top of my game and having babies will ruin that." She paused before continuing. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, I really am, but I'm not going to change my mind."

Ron inhaled deeply; he couldn't believe he was hearing this. Did she honestly think that he wouldn't want a family? Back when one of his friends from Auror training had received a visit from his young son and the whole subject began, could Miranda not see the hope and anticipation in Ron's eyes as he had held the baby?

But thinking back on that afternoon, Ron remembered that Miranda hadn’t held or even looked at the child once. That should have been the first sign.

Too tired to argue, Ron made his excuses and Apparated upstairs to bed, wondering whether this relationship was really worth all the hassle.

***


Happy that her daughter was home, Hermione allowed Hannah to sleep in her bed with her when she asked. Usually Hermione was woken up by eight each morning, but was pleasantly surprised when rolled over the following morning to find her clock flashing 'nine-twenty-six'.

After washing, dressing and getting Hannah up, Hermione made her way downstairs for breakfast. When she entered the kitchen, she was surprised to find it quite full. Ron was sitting next to his father, who was reading a piece of parchment intently, while Miranda was talking to Molly, a piece of parchment in her own hand.

Putting Hannah in her high chair, Hermione asked, "What's going on?"

Ron looked up and smiled warmly at her, and Arthur handed her the parchment he was reading. Hermione glanced around the room; no one was looking unhappy, so the twinge in her stomach was probably unnecessary. Looking down, Hermione read:

Dear Mr R B Weasley,

Thank you for your interest in joining the British Auror Team at the Ministry of Magic. A panel of wizards in the
Department of Magical Law Enforcement has reviewed your grades and training modules and has found a placement for you. This placement is negotiable and there is room for progression further in your career.

Your placement is in
Raids Squad B and your squad leader is Mr Mars. You will report to Mr Mars at the start of each shift unless told otherwise.

Please report to
Auror Station R, level 2 in the Ministry, on the 1st of October to meet your other team members and your leader.

Yours sincerely,

Gawain Roberts
Head of the B.A.T.


Hermione looked up at Ron, who was watching her in anticipation. Filled with pride, she smiled broadly and said, "Congratulations! I knew you could do it!"

"We all did," confirmed Arthur, who read through the letter again when Hermione passed it back to him.

"Thanks," Ron said shyly, flushing at the attention. While Ron's older brothers had respectable jobs, Hermione knew that Ron had always admired Aurors and had dreamed of becoming such an imperative member of the Wizarding World when he was older. And now he had done it.

"No really," Hermione continued. "When you were gone I read about each squad section – wondering where I would place you, and Squad B is the best! A very good place to start." Hermione wasn't sure, but Ron looked a bit embarrassed over her praise – or was that her confession?

He deserves it! His accomplishment makes the last two years almost worth it.

Still … I did miss him … and need him.

No. When Ron begins work in October, he will understand fully why I kept Hannah a secret for so long.


Hermione only remembered Miranda was in the room when the other woman suddenly said, "Well, I was accepted into the Hit Wizard Squad." Her voice was smug and it was obvious she wanted the conversation to turn to her now. She smiled broadly at Ron, who returned a smaller smile.

"Oh?" Hermione asked, faking a smile.

"I received the letter this morning, saying that my grades and modules were so good that they want me to take the Hit Wizard course," Miranda said proudly. "And I start next week!"

"So you'll be leaving?" Hermione asked, trying to hide the hopeful tone in her voice.

Please let her go!

But would Ron go too? He wouldn't leave Hannah … not after all that's happened!


Miranda shook her head. "No, the course is in England. I can Apparate or Floo there."

Disappointed, Hermione turned to Ron and asked, "So, Ron, raids! Are you excited?" She could feel Miranda's gaze on her, but she didn't care.

Ron shrugged. "I'm really not too sure what to expect, to be honest. Maybe you could show me the Auror information you were looking at?"

Hermione grinned, nodding.

"I'll probably start in Diagon Alley,” Ron continued, “going through some of the shops in the beginning, to understand what I need to do."

"Just as long as you stay out of our shop, little bro."

At the kitchen door stood Fred and George, who came in and stood on either side of Ron. The twins could usually be seen in stunning green blazer jackets, their opted uniform for Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, but today were in causal Muggle shirts and jeans.

"Ah! But George, this could be just what we need - an insider!" said Fred, who Hermione couldn't decide was being serious or joking around.

"Someone to tell us about the competition!" continued George. "Of course! Why didn't I think of that?"

"Because he's using the brain today?" Ginny, who had just walked in, asked, pointing at Fred. She looked as though someone had just woken her up, or maybe that was because she was in her pyjamas.

"Ha, ha," the twins said in union.

"What are you doing here so early anyway? You don't usually get here until eleven," Ginny asked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and earning a disgusted look from Miranda, which Ginny reciprocated.

"Our presence was requested earlier," George said.

"Yes, do pray-tell what miss needs an extra hour for?" Fred asked Hermione, in the same airy voice as his brother.

"Viktor is Flooing me to Dublin so we need more travel time," Hermione replied nonchalantly, craving for a sausage and potato hotpot.

"Viktor?"

Hermione turned to Ron, whose previous happy expression had turned foul. "Yes. Viktor," she confirmed. "He's taking me out today as he'll be in Prague on my birthday, is that a problem?"

Ron crossed his arms over his chest. "It's just that … I …" He struggled to find words to explain the problem. "It isn't fair to just dump Hannah here, now is it?"

Hermione gaped wordlessly at him for a moment before speaking. "Fred and George take Hannah out every Tuesday, whether I'm busy or not. She spends time with her uncles while I have a much needed rest! I usually just stay here and relax but on occasion I watch a film with Ginny."

Ron flushed. "How was I supposed to know that?" he asked angrily. "And anyway, since when did you and Viktor become more then Pen Pals?" He sat up straight, watching Hermione carefully for her answer.

He's jealous … right? He used to always do this at school and he was jealous then.

"Viktor's been my friend for years," Hermione explained. "He moved to England a few years ago to work for our Ministry. And as he lives closer now, I see him once a month for lunch and a chat," she added hotly, wondering why she had to explain herself to him.

Because he won't shut up about it if you didn't! Don't you remember when he wouldn't stop pestering you about who was taking you to the Yule Ball?

"So you're just friends?" Ron asked, a note of eager in his voice.

"It's only taken you five years to realise that, Ronald?" Hermione asked testily. She wouldn't usually act so hotly to a simple question, but when it came to Viktor, Ron was … well, slow. Hermione watched Ron's face heat up as she kissed Hannah's cheek and said, "Mummy has to get ready to go out. Be good for Uncle Fred and Uncle George." She then added to the twins, "Be good. Her bag is in the living room, ready for you."

As Hermione left the room, she could feel Ron's eyes burning into the back of her head.

***


"Ron doesn't seem to understand that a single working mum might have a hard time making friends," Hermione was explaining to Ginny half an hour later in her room. "I can count the number of true friends on one hand these days." Viktor was coming round soon, something Hermione accidentally forgot to tell Ron.

"I'd rather have a few good friends than a lot that don't know me," Ginny said, trying her best to help. She was searching through Hermione's wardrobe for a top to match the flowing skirt Hermione was already wearing.

"True …" Hermione mused, more to herself than Ginny. "Viktor knows me well, we have been writing to each other since I was in school. He's always been an excellent listener."

"Harry's a good listener, too," Ginny said offhandedly, investigating a purple jumper she had just found at the bottom of the wardrobe. "Though sometimes I think he's just staring at my boobs rather than actually listening." She grinned and turned to Hermione. "The other day, I didn't put a bra on and went on about absolute rubbish to see what he would do. He just nodded and 'agreed with me'," she mused, discarding the jumper, which had baby spit-up on it.

"So things are good between you too?" Hermione asked, hoping that now Voldemort was gone, Harry wouldn't feel the need to distance himself from happiness again.

Ginny nodded cheerfully, and threw a long sleeved casual top at Hermione, which she slipped on. "He's taking me out tonight to celebrate becoming an Auror. He got in the same squad as Ron, so it really is the best … now," she said, smiling fondly to herself.

***


When the women returned to the kitchen, they found Viktor standing by the fireplace, chatting to Miranda, who flipped her hair and laughed at something. At the table sat Ron, scowling.

"Herm-own-ninny, you look loffly," Viktor said, walking towards Hermione and planting a kiss on either cheek. Hermione heard the sound of Ron's chair move and stride over to the pair.

"Will you be home before or after Fred and George bring Hannah back?" he asked, his back turned to Viktor, trying to ignore him completely.

"Before," Hermione said, pursing her lips. "If I go out, I always make sure I'm home first."

"Viktor, you're welcome to join Ronald and I for a drink this afternoon, if you're back early," Miranda piped up, a weird smile on her face.

"Thank you, but I haff a meeting at four that I cannot miss," Viktor said, eyeing Miranda cautiously. Hermione had written to him explaining Miranda in detail.

"Well, another time maybe," Miranda said, linking arms with Ron, who didn't seem to notice her. He was too busy glowering at Viktor, who was a few inches shorter than him.

"Maybe," Viktor repeated. "Herm-own-ninny, shall ve go?" He offered his arm, which Hermione took. "I'm sorry I could not see Hannah today, vill you kiss her for me?" he asked Hermione, who swore she heard Ron mutter 'slimy git' under his voice.

"Let's go," Hermione pushed, pulling Viktor towards the fire. A moment later, only Ron, Miranda and Ginny were left.

***


Ginny's eyes moved from the fireplace, where Viktor and Hermione had just stood, to her brother and Miranda.

"I cannot believe she knows Viktor Krum!" Miranda said, sounding impressed. Ginny noticed that Miranda was trying not to look that interested, but was failing. Ron didn't say a word; his face had fallen and he was staring at the ground.

"Are they - an item?" Miranda asked, an expression of yearning on her pale face as she stared pointedly at Ginny.

Ron's head snapped up, making Ginny feel on show.

"Urm … well, when you say an item …" she said slyly, watching an eager Miranda gasp.

"Are they?" Miranda pressed.

Ginny was about to say they were, just to even the playing field between Hermione and Ron, but then she noticed Ron's expression. He looked quite miserable and actually nervous about the answer. And that's when Ginny realised it.

He's still in love with Hermione … I can see it in his face.

Viktor’s a huge Quidditch star; he's handsome, rich, famous and an all-round great guy … Ron must feel like a Flobberworm compared to him. He shouldn't do. He's way better than Viktor, not that I'll ever tell him that. He deserves Hermione.


Ginny's devious smile turned into a smaller serious one. "No, they're not. Hermione sees him more like a brother," she said. While she would have loved to see Miranda's scandalised expression, watching her brother's gratified face relax was more than satisfying.

***


Author's Note: I wasn't sure how long this chapter was going to be to be honest. I didn't think I'd write this much on the small notes I made. I wanted to show Ron/Miranda's relationship away from Hermione, while have Ron see and learn things that will help him make the all important decision I know you'll all waiting for.

Hope the chapter wasn't too boring. I enjoy all these uplifting reviews I keep getting, but still fear 'this is boring crap'. Jk probably feels the same on certain chapters (and she has a lot of them!)

Another note ... unlike JK, I don't write professionally. I'm nineteen years old and work thirty-seven hours a week, so expect a delay. And if you must leave an "when are you going to update?!?!?!?", might I suggest adding something like "this chapter was good/bad because ... and you rock, Dawn"?

Side Note: If you're on my update list and don't get any emails from me, it's because I keep getting "mail cannot be sent" notes so I just remove the address.

And on an interesting note, I updated what, ten minutes ago? Almost 20 people have already began/finished reading. Go you.

Chapter 11: September Nineteenth
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***


Author's Note: I don't mind admitting that receiving an email from my beta caused me to cheer out loud and grin happily.

Just to clarify, this is the second from last chapter. I know, I know. I did think about extending the story, but rather than drag out the plot, I thought I'd end while I still have readers. Friends went on for ten years and people tired of that after a while.

I can't believe I haven't updated since December. It's been very mad here. My granddad passed away a week before Christmas (thank you to all those who sent me well-wishes), and when Christmas came around I only had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the Bank Holiday off work. I had hoped on writing during that time, but with everything that was happening, it was more familyish than I expected.

You don't know how sorry I am about the delay. I was pleased to get this chapter finished early last month, but it didn't cross my mind that real life could attack both me and my beta, Nicole, one after the other.

Now, on with the story. This chapter was hard to write, because I wanted it to be realistic and have Ron and Hermione act believable, yet work with my plot.

I promise the last chapter won't take as long. I'm eager to finish and hopefully will be emailing the chapter to Nicole (who is feeling better!) by the weekend.

***

Chapter 11

September Nineteenth


The day had started out all right, but then Viktor started telling her that his wife-to-be, Eliza, was expecting. To hear about a happy couple starting their life together was hard to listen to, but Hermione kept smiling and nodding. When the conversation turned to Ron, Hermione updated Viktor on what happened at St Mungo's and after. Explaining out loud started to make Hermione feel quite foolish.

After returning home from her lunch with Viktor, Hermione was pleased to find the house empty. While Viktor was a very good friend and listener, he wasn't all that helpful giving advice. When she had asked him his opinion on what she should do about Ron, he had simply replied, "Vell, if it is meant to be, it vill be."

Whereas that would have been comforting when she was at Hogwarts, she and Ron now lived in the real world, where real problems arose. What had she hoped Viktor would say? Hermione doubted even Dumbledore could have offered comforting words.

Viktor had tried to make Hermione feel better by pointing out, "He stayed viv you all night and gave you his cloak. I say he is a gentleman in luff."

Yeah, a gentleman in love … with Miranda. Ron can't have feelings for me; if he did he wouldn't still be with her. He must know it hurts me to see them together.
It might have been easier if I hadn't been alone since he left. With my job and Hannah, I haven't had time to find someone new … that's my excuse anyway.


Hermione didn't see Ron all evening; she ate in her room and read to Hannah until the toddler started to yawn. After finishing a chapter titled Towers and Odd Turns, Hermione quietly placed her worn copy of Hogwarts: A History on her night stand and put Hannah to bed.

Not feeling very tired herself; she decided to have a glass of warm milk to help her sleep. She pulled on a large shirt from her trunk and made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

"OW!"

Hermione had trodden on something, something alive in the dark. With a wave of her wand, the candles around the kitchen lit and she found it was Ron. He was sitting against the fridge eating a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans and didn't look happy that someone had disturbed him.

"Ron?" Hermione asked, wondering what he was doing sitting in the dark.

"Oh, hey," Ron replied, popping a bright yellow bean in his mouth. "Cheese," he added, chewing.

"What are you doing down here?" Hermione asked, taking a seat at the table and watching him carefully.

"Thinking," he replied simply. His tone suggested that he wasn't going to explain about what, so Hermione opted to nod and stay silent.

"Where's Miranda?" she asked after a few minutes.

"At the Ministry. She needed to fill out some forms, have her wand checked and ID done," Ron explained, and then added, "She starts work soon." Hermione wondered if his strange mood was due to Miranda having a higher paid and ranked job, but his tone didn't suggest any jealously. Hermione actually picked up a note of pride in his voice. So what had happened?

Ron was watching her with a curious expression and before she could ask what he was looking at, he asked, "Is that mine?" Hermione looked around herself, wondering what he was talking about. Ron must have noticed she was confused, as he pointed directly at her and said, "You're wearing my shirt."

A blush crept up Hermione's face as she realised what she was wearing. Instead of grabbing just any old thing to wear to bed, she had grabbed Ron's old Chudley Cannons shirt he gave her in their seventh year. Because of Ron's height, the shirt hung like a snug nightdress.

"Oh," was all Hermione could say as she fingered a loose thread in the shirt nervously. "I meant to give it back to you, I swear," she added, hoping she didn't appear needy.

Ron shook his head and said, "Keep it; it looks better on you anyway."

Is he flirting with me?

"Thanks," Hermione said, feeling quite warm.

Ron smiled affectionately at her and went back to his Bertie Botts, his expression pensive. He didn't appear to crave conversation, yet Hermione couldn't bring herself to leave him alone downstairs. She opted to pour herself the drink she set out to make earlier and just sit with Ron until he told her otherwise.

Something is obviously bothering him and I'll be right here when he's ready to tell me, if he is.

After what felt like hours, Ron made a movement, as though he was going to say something, but then thought better of it. Another minute went by and he appeared to change his mind again, and cleared his throat. "Erm - Hermione, can I ask you a … personal question?"

Bewildered, Hermione nodded and watched him curiously.

"Right … well, I was wondering," he said, avoiding her gaze. "What did you, I mean, how did feel when you found out you were pregnant?" As he waited for her answer, he rubbed his neck gingerly and glanced up quickly, as though taking a chance to look her in the eye.

Taken aback by his question, Hermione's eyes widened. "OH!"

Why does he want to know? Is Miranda pregnant?! No, no, she couldn't be. I doubt she'd work that hard for two years only to become pregnant … though, that did happen to me …

"Well, at first I was obviously shocked," Hermione explained, trying to push the thoughts that Ron could have another child on the way. Why else would he ask me this? As she watched him nod in anticipation, she continued, feeling slightly nervous. "After you and Harry left, I started to prepare for my new job … I thought all the stress of work and you leaving was taking its toll …" Hermione paused, remembering how reckless she had been when she concluded her missed period was simply stress related. "I was wrong."

"After I realised I was going to be a mum, I felt quite … excited, really. Very scared because of my age and situation, but yeah … excited. There aren't many books that tell you how to feel when this happens."

Hermione grinned slightly at Ron's quiet laugh. "Though I did find many excellent books on bearing and raising Magical children. When … if you and Miranda decide to have … what I mean is, you can borrow them," she added, her cheeks feeling flushed at discussing this subject.

Ron's eyes widened in what Hermione guessed what embarrassment. "OH! Urm, no, we won't need them, I don't think," he said in a rushed voice. There was a look in his eyes that led Hermione to believe that there was something more to this, but she didn't press. "Won't you need them again?" he added.

"During my pregnancy I memorised almost all of them," she said offhand. "And anyway, I know what to expect next time."

"Next time?" Ron asked, an eager tone in his voice.

"I wasn't sure I would have anymore after Hannah, but watching her everyday sometimes makes me a little broody to give her a little brother or sister - or even both," Hermione said absent-mindedly, taking a sip of her drink. "Though next time, I'd prefer it if I was a little older and living more stably, rather than here - not that I don't love it here, it's just not how I pictured things would turn out after Hogwarts, y'know?"

Hermione watched with nostalgic eyes as Ron lowered his gaze, clearly taking this all in. She remembered how things were before he had left; when all they had to worry about was Mrs Weasley catching them fooling around in Ron's room. Hermione hadn't opened up to anyone about this before and it left her feeling relieved, if slightly embarrassed that she had shown him so much of her soul when he had been careless with her heart in the past.

"I know what you mean," he said, barely audible.

"All that matters to me now is Hannah," Hermione mused. "I made that clear to my boss when I started work. He understands, being a single parent himself. Children come first and work second … not that my job isn't very important to me. I couldn't have one without the other."

Not sure what to say next, Hermione opted to let Ron speak for a while. He, however, didn't say a word and thus the room went silent for what felt like hours. Her head was swimming with new and old thoughts, while he stared into space; he looked as though he was either deep in thought or empty as fresh parchment.

She watched him, wondering why he hasn't said anything for so long. The minutes ticked by so slowly and all Hermione wanted was for him to tell her what he's thinking about. The silence was making her feel uncomfortable, so she decided to try a different tack.

"So … how are things with Miranda?" Hermione asked in what she hoped was a casual voice.

Clearly taken back by her question, Ron said, "What? Oh," and dropped his box of beans, spilling its remains. Ron quickly began to gather up stray beans and slip them back into the box. Hermione automatically jumped off her chair and knelt down to help him. "We're … fine," he said, his eyes flickering from the array of sweets to Hermione, who was also glancing from the floor to him. "You know how relationships can be," he added in a hoarse voice.

"Yeah," she replied, feeling rather warm again. She was inches from Ron's body; his freckled skin, his perfect lips, those eyes …

We aren't even touching. How can I feel so turned on just by being this close?

She licked her dry lips, her eyes watching his strong arms as he popped each spilled bean back into the empty box. His time in America had given birth to new freckles that now lived amongst the old ones she had loved so much.

"Yeah," she repeated, feeling slightly light headed. "The heat between two people," she whispered longingly.

"The lust," Ron added, a red flush creeping up his neck. "Barely touching but you can feel your skin on fire and …" he stopped mid sentence as they made a grab for the same ruby red bean, their fingers touching. Hermione felt a rush of electricity shoot through her that caused her breathing, which was already slightly uneven, to increase.

Her eyes traveled up to Ron's face, where she found him staring back at her. Their eyes locked and nothing else existed as she watched him lean in towards her, their lips barely touching before …

"MUMMY!"

Hermione leapt backwards, her head spinning as she looked upwards at the ceiling. She could hear a faint tapping noise and the calls of Hannah, who had obviously awoken to find her not there. Pulling herself off the floor, Hermione mumbled incoherently for a moment before saying, "I have to - Hannah needs me," and hurrying out of the kitchen.

***


What Hermione didn't hear was the faint wish, "I think I do too," minutes later.

***


Neither Ron nor Hermione mentioned that evening during the next few days, but she guessed it had played on his mind like her own. She caught him on more than one occasion giving her fleeting looks across the dinner table and she swore she could feel tension between him and Miranda.

Of course, if they broke up it wouldn't be my fault. They've both been in a funny mood this week.

Ginny seemed to notice the tension as well, and spent one afternoon going through her photo album from their last Christmas together. The pictures were mainly of her, Hermione, Harry and Ron smiling and having fun together, but there was the odd one of Ron and Hermione cuddling.

Surprisingly, Miranda did not sneer or make crude comments about Hermione's hair or Muggle clothes, but simply remained silent with a pensive expression for the rest of the evening. She even retired to bed early without as much as a kiss for Ron.

When Hermione asked him if Miranda was alright, he rubbed his right hand over his left as he said, "Yeah, she'll be okay. She's probably just a bit upset over the photos."

"You mean the ones of us?" Hermione asked shyly, biting her bottom lip.

Ron shook his head and said, "I don't think so actually. Some of the photos were taken at Hogwarts and she never got to go. I know it would upset me."

Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise. It never occurred to her that Miranda went to school, but she assumed she must have done to earn the qualifications she needed for Auror training. "Oh?" she asked. "Where did she go? There aren't any schools in Ireland that I know of; the wizards there just came to Hogwarts," she added, thinking about Seamus Finnigan.

"Her dad was always traveling with the Irish Quidditch team and didn't want to leave her behind … after her mum died so young," Ron explained, his face full of empathy. "She was home schooled by a private tutor, so she never had many friends … none she was able to bond with quick enough anyway."

Hermione lowered her gaze, nodding. "It must have been hard for her," she said. She knew all too well how important friends were to a young girl, and felt compassion towards Miranda. During Primary school, Hermione found it very hard to find friends and spent all her lunch times reading in the classroom alone. Miranda wasn't even given the chance to try.

***


Hermione woke up on her birthday feeling older than she was. At a mere twenty-one, she had already fought many Dark Wizards, injured herself in battle and given birth to a baby who was already walking and talking.

She would have gladly pulled her quilt over her head and allowed a few more hours kip if it wasn't for the faint sound of 'Happy Birthday' approaching her room. A moment later, she found Molly, Ginny, Fred and George standing around her bed singing, with Molly holding a tray upon which rested a glass of orange juice and a plate of bacon, toast and beans.

"… Happy Birthday, dear Hermione! Happy Birthday to you!"

"And many moooore!" chorused the twins as Hannah shrieked with glee.

Hermione sat up in bed, taking the tray from an eager Molly. "You really didn't have to," she insisted, eyeing up the hidden egg under the toast.

Molly waved her hand offhandedly. "All Weasleys have breakfast in bed on their birthday," she insisted.

"That is true," piped George. "Except we never had a flower in a snazzy vase. Do you think this is real china, Fred?"

"It could be imitation," Fred mused, leaning in to get a closer look at the coloured pattern.

Before the twins could spill anything, Ginny hustled everyone out, taking Hannah and saying, "Come on, give Hermione a chance to wake up probably. We can get her presents ready downstairs."

When Hermione had finished eating, she washed and dressed before making her way to the kitchen, where the twins were shaking her gifts - obviously trying to figure out what they were - while Harry watched, amused. Ginny was helping her mum with a cake, while Ron was feeding Hannah her breakfast.

Hermione felt a strange flutter in her stomach at the sight of Ron and Hannah, but ignored it and cleared her throat. Everyone wished her a happy birthday, and she took a seat next to Harry, where she began opening presents. She received a knitted hat and scarf, scented candles and flowers from Molly, Arthur, the twins and Ginny, while Harry presented her with a leather bag for work. Hannah (though Hermione assumed Molly helped a bit) handed her a Wizarding Fairytale book, which was more for her than Hermione.

Hermione opened Ron's gift last. She held her breath as she unwrapped the small box and exclaimed, "Oh, Ron!" when she saw he had bought her a fine gold chain, with the single letter 'H' attached in script. It was very beautiful and must have set him back a few Galleons.

"Do you like it?" he asked quietly, making eye contact with her.

She grinned and said, "I love it. Could you help me put it on?" She gazed at Ron, her heart aching with happiness as he swapped seats with Harry.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Just as Hermione lifted up her hair for Ron, the back door opened and a flushed looking Miranda came striding in. Hermione's grin fell as Miranda's face lit up when she noticed Ron.

"I have the best news!" she said, hurrying over to Ron and flinging her arms around him. "Dad's invited us to the Ireland verses France game and has booked us a room in Paris! He said we can stay there for three weeks! Isn't that exciting, Ronald?" Miranda kissed his cheek, a grin plastered across her face. When she noticed his awkward expression, she pulled away. "What's wrong? Aren't you happy?"

"Yeah, it's just …" Ron cut off and looked around him. Everyone at the table was listening with eager ears. He licked his lips and changed the subject, saying, "Let's talk outside."

Hermione watched him go, feeling strangely uneasy at his unreadable expression.

***


Ron led Miranda to the middle of the garden, so there was no chance of Extendable Ears listening in. With each step he took, his stomach flipped over uncomfortably.

I can't do it now, not now she's invited me to Paris - the most romantic city in the world!

Well you can't bloody go and then dump her afterwards! 'Thanks for the free holiday; by the way, we're over.' That would go down well …


When Ron had brought Miranda home to meet his family, he hadn't counted on things turning out the way they had. First there had been the bombshell that he was a father, and then he'd had to cope with his ex-girlfriend and his new girlfriend sleeping yards away from each other.

Not to mention falling for Hermione again …

That was something else Ron hadn't counted on. While he thought his feelings for Hermione had died after they'd broken up, seeing her again proved that they hadn't. During his time at Hogwarts, he had fallen in love with Hermione so deeply that instead of losing feelings for her, they had simply buried themselves.

It wasn't that he didn't like Miranda; he liked her a great deal. He had thought at one time that after being with her for a while, he might even love her, but he knew now that wasn't going to happen. No matter what he told himself or how many comparisons he made, Miranda just wasn't Hermione.

When they reached the swing set, Ron stopped, placing his hands in his pockets. He went over in his mind what he was going to say and decided to start with the most recent thought.

"I can't come with you to France," he said firmly. He looked up at Miranda, who didn't look as surprised as he guessed she would.

"I was wondering whether you would be straight with me or just make up some excuse," she said coolly. "I expected you to say Hannah needed you here or that you want to spend some time with your mum."

Ron felt embarrassed and could feel the heat rising up his neck. "I'm always straight with you," he assured her, going over in his mind what could have triggered this statement.

Miranda rolled her eyes. "Ronald! Something has been bothering you for days and you just act as though everything is fine! If you don't tell me what's wrong, I can't help you." She looked flushed and the neat bun in her hair was falling out in wisps. She watched him carefully for his response.

"I … I've been thinking," he said, biting down on his tongue. How am I supposed to do this?

"About?" she pressed.

Licking his lips, Ron cleared his throat and said, "Us." He watched as Miranda pursed her lips, nodding. "I've had a lot to think about these past few weeks," he continued.

She clucked her tongue and made an 'hmm' noise. "Hermione," she said simply. His eyes fell to the ground and he stayed silent. "You're still in love with her, aren't you?"

Acting as though he didn't hear Miranda, he said, "I've realised that we both want different things in life."

"Different things? All I want in life is to become a great Auror, travel and have fun. Don't you want to have fun?" she asked, her eyes lighting up.

"Fun? You've talked non-stop about your career since receiving that Owl!" Ron retorted, angrily. "The only time we talked about anything else was when you told me you don't want children," he added bitterly, remembering the conversation well.

Miranda rolled her eyes, throwing her hands into the air. "I thought that subject was closed! I thought we understood each other," she said.

Ron, realising she hadn't been listening to him very well at all since they'd started going out, replied, "I've told you three times now that I want to have more children." He licked his lips and continued, his voice softer, "Watching my parents over the past few years - over the war - I've realised that there's more to life to burying yourself in work. When Voldemort returned, my mum and dad had the protection and support of their family through all of it. And then there's people like that bastard Snape, who had no one and died alone, unloved and unprotected."

Ron placed his hands back in his pockets as he waited for Miranda's thoughts. She opened her mouth, but then closed it, as though she was unsure what to say. When she finally did speak, it was quiet but in a strong tone. "You still haven't answered my question," she said, staring him straight in his eyes.

Frowning at her, he said one word in a firm voice: "Yes."

Furrowing her brow, she asked, "Yes what?"

"Yes," he said again, firmer than before, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm still in love with Hermione."

Miranda stared at Ron for a moment, her lips pursed together again. She made a 'tut' noise and said defensively, "Fine, if that's the way you want it, Ronald, I'll just leave."

He didn't know whether this was a bluff or if she was really was planning to go, but at this moment, he really didn't care. Miranda had been such a nice person before … well, before she'd met Hermione … none of these games or lies.

"You know where the fireplace is," he said bitterly, his eyes fixed on Miranda.

She looked stunned for a moment before composing herself and storming off towards the kitchen.

If Miranda and Hermione had spent any more time under the same roof, someone was going to get hexed, or worse, trying to make the other one leave by playing each other off against me.

Ron felt a bolt go through him as pieces of a conversation started to replay in his head. 'Ronald, Hermione is obviously jealous. She's still in love with you and she wants me out of the picture' … 'she told me that Hannah would grow up to be a … a whore like me.'

'Ron - she called our daughter a whore.'

A wave of guilt washed over him as he now realised Hermione had been telling the truth the entire time. Why hadn't he believed her? Was Miranda really that manipulative? It was her idea for me to break up with Hermione in that letter … when she wants something; she sure knows how to get it.

He felt duped for falling into her web and disgusted with himself for how Hermione was treated since his return. He was angry with Miranda for lying, but furious that she would say such cruel and indecent things about Hannah - that she initiated so much anguish to Hermione.

Watching Miranda slam the door of the Burrow and disappear from his life, Ron could only think of one word:

"Bitch."

***


The sun had long started to set when Hermione watched Miranda, bags in tow, leave for France without Ron. A mix of emotions broiled inside her, starting to make her feel physically ill: gratification, happiness, anxiety, tension, relief, anticipation and a strong sense of lust for a certain redhead.

It had taken Hermione a while to fall asleep after that night in the kitchen, not to mention many non-sexual thoughts, such as sour milk, Harry, dentist drills and fried toast.

The moment Miranda had stormed into the kitchen not long ago, Hermione instantly knew what had happened. It also helped that she was watching from the window, and if their expressions and body language said anything, it was that Ron and Miranda were either breaking up or having a huge fight.

After watching the green flames return to their normal fiery red and orange in the wake of Miranda's departure, the room went silent but for the sound of Ron slowly tramping in, murmuring what everyone else in the room gathered had happened. Hermione stood up, eager to learn more and impatiently waiting to see whether Ron was going to snog her senseless or simply take her aside to talk.

He did neither and instead retired to his room, where he spent the better part of an hour.

After waiting in the kitchen for a while, Hermione decided to go to her room and wait there, so Ron would know where to find her when he was ready to talk. After another hour, she was about to give up and make herself a sandwich when she heard a knock at the door. Sitting up with a bolt, she called the stranger in.

Her breathing settled down slowly when she saw who it was, and said with a warm smile, "I wasn't expecting you."

Chapter 12: The Only One He Ever Loved
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***

Chapter 12

The Only One He Ever Loved


Molly smiled back, closing the door behind her before sitting next to Hermione on the bed. The older woman appeared to be searching for something to say before settling on,

"Did you have a nice birthday?"

Miranda's leaving the country, what else could I have asked for?

How about having both Ron and Hannah to share my birthday with?


"An interesting one," Hermione remarked, laughing softly. After a moment, she said seriously, "We both know why you've come to see me, Molly."

Molly didn't look surprised at her statement. She folded her hands on her lap and said; "If this was any other situation, I would be sending Harry to suggest a game of Quidditch to him, but …" She paused, biting on her tongue. "Your situation has complications a mother doesn't know how to fix."

Hermione lowered her gaze. Her situation with Ron was unique; she just prayed things would carry on looking brighter. "It's been like a mine-field since Ron and Harry came home. Everyone tip-toeing around carefully; me, trying not to step on a mine."

Molly placed a kind hand on her shoulder. "I know my boy better than anyone, and I can tell you that I didn't expect Miranda to become a permanent member of the family," she said gently. Hermione would have felt better if she hadn’t heard Molly say the same thing about Fleur when Bill brought her home. "You've always been in Ron's heart," she continued. "I knew the minute I heard about him and Harry going into the Forbidden Forest to find those spiders." She shook her head, making a 'hm' noise.

He's always tried to protect and help me. But is that enough to re-build a relationship? Is simple love enough?

Though I wouldn’t call my love for him simple … hard and frustrating at times, but at others; imperative, wholesome and fulfilling.


"We've both been hurt severely and I … I don't know if we can come back from this," Hermione admitted gravely, glad she had someone other than Crookshanks to tell her secrets to. She bowed her head, which was starting to throb.

"The only question you need to ask yourself is, 'are you going to try?'" Molly asked seriously. Hermione looked up at her, her eyes full of determination.

"When have I ever not at least tried?" Hermione asked, a small smile appearing on her face. Sure, it was going to be hard, but the tougher the situation, the sweeter the reward. Ron was worth it.

"You'll always have a home here, whatever happens," Molly said compassionately, her cheeks shining pink. "You've always been a daughter to me, Hermione. Nothing can change that."

Hermione could feel hot tears in her eyes and turned away to wipe them. When she turned back, she couldn't help but move closer and lean into in a well-needed hug.

"Harry and Ginny are giving Hannah a bath, so she won't disturb you," Molly said a few minutes later, after Hermione explained she was going to talk to Ron. Molly made her way to the door, but before leaving said, "Good Luck."

***


Hermione didn't remember the walk between bedrooms taking so long. Each footstep echoed off the walls and caused her stomach to flip over like a pancake. She only hoped a plan or even an opening sentence would form before she reached the top of the staircase.

What should I do? Act serious and ask to talk? Look pleased and snog him? Or maybe I should let my anger out and hit him? Maybe he should have the first move …

Why is this so hard? Ron broke up with Miranda, so logically there should be a happily ever after with a big stage kiss. Too many lies have been told, too many secrets kept and as much heartache as I can stand.

Can I even trust Ron? … Can he trust me? I probably wouldn't trust myself if I were him. We both had our reasons for each lie, so that should count for something … right?


Her heart beating uncomfortably against her chest, Hermione knocked on Ron's door. She heard him mutter, "Come in," and slowly opened the door. He was lying on his bed, his expression hard as he tossed a small box into the air, caught it, and repeated. When he saw her, he quickly sat up, stuffing the box into his pocket.

"Her-Hermione … hey," Ron said, flushing. He looked surprised to see her and looked slightly on edge. "What are you … I mean; I was going to come and … erm." He ran his fingers through his hair and motioned for her to sit on the bed.

"I thought you might have come to see me," Hermione admitted shyly, glancing up at his face.

"I was going to," he assured her, his hand resting a few inches away from her knee. He licked his lips, pausing, before saying, "I wasn't sure if you wanted to see me."

"Of course I did," she whispered. "I've been waiting in my room since you went upstairs." I wish Ron wouldn't bottle things up. That's one of the reasons why it took so long for us to get together in the first place … and to break up …

"Oh," he said, looking embarrassed and glancing away. "I was going to wait until the morning to talk to you. I wasn't sure what to say … if you were going to be angry or not."

Hermione furrowed her brow. "Angry? Why would I be angry with you?" she asked, wondering if she had said anything in the past twenty-four hours that he could have taken the wrong way.

He looked taken aback, surprised even by her question. "Have you not been awake for the past few weeks?" he asked seriously. "I'd bet my broomstick you didn't expect me to bring home Mir … someone. That things could get so awkward and tense …" he paused, before saying much quieter, "That I didn't trust you … caused you so much pain."

Hermione grimaced, realising that he must have felt so awful that he started to avoid her. A pang of sympathy, mixed with an indescribable feeling washed over her. Ron felt dreadful for lying about having a girlfriend and taking her side in an argument, while Hermione had lied about having a baby! Hermione wondered if he had forgiven her yet, when she hadn't forgiven herself.

Licking her lips, she shuffled closer to him, placing her hand on his. They each glanced down fleetingly, before returning to each other's faces. Ron looked warm and confused, while Hermione said, "Believe it or not, I've given the situation a lot of thought. Now, I'm going to be completely honest with you so please don't say anything until I'm done."

Ron looked scared.

She cleared her throat, feeling slightly uneasy with how honest she was about to be. Too many lies had been told over the past few years, lies that had lead to so much heartbreak that she couldn't see how telling the truth would make anything worse.

"While you undoubtedly hurt me over this whole situation -" she began, watching as he frowned deeply "- I understand that you had reasons for your actions. I've known you a very long time, Ron. Long enough to know how you work and feel." She paused, taking a deep breath. "Long enough to know that while you make mistakes, you also make me happier and feel more loved than I've ever been."

Ron flushed, looking overwhelmed by Hermione's confession. He mouthed soundlessly, the colour returning to his cheeks. "I never wanted to hurt you," he explained.

"I know," she said softly, her hand interlacing with his.

He looked strained, and said in a rush, "I thought you were getting bored with me." Hermione looked puzzled, but said nothing. "Your letters started to get shorter and more formal … you used to write heaps to Viktor and I just thought …" He trailed off, looking uncomfortable.

Hermione sighed heavily, feeling foolish. "The shorter the letter, the further along I was with the pregnancy. Everything was so baby-mad that I didn't have much to report to you on. I didn't want to lie … more." She blushed, realising how silly that sounded. "What I mean is, it took a lot out of me writing those letters that I just tried to sound casual and write less. I'm … I'm sorry."

Her eyes fell to her lap and she concentrated on how warm and moist Ron's hand felt in hers, wondering if it would be the last time she could feel it. She had tried hard to not let anything slip in the letters, afraid of what might happen, when in reality, they helped Ron end things with her.

They were silent for so long that when he spoke, he almost startled her. "I got an owl this morning." He glanced at her and Hermione guessed he was seeing if she was listening, because he continued. "From the Department of Housing and Homeless. I signed up for Auror Accommodation in London, figuring I couldn't mooch off my mum forever."

He's leaving? Oh Merlin, have I driven him away?

"Oh?" she asked, her voice croaking.

Ron nodded. "They've found me a flat in Crouch End; I can move in next week." He reached into his pocket, pulling out the small box he was playing with earlier and watched it carefully. "I've had a look around and it's quite big. Great bedroom for Hannah, right across the hall from ours."

Hermione's face lost all colour and she gasped as Ron looked up at her, grinning. "I … what? Our room ..?" she stuttered.

"You'll probably have a million reasons why we can't do this, but can I just say that we're both idiots and that I love you?" He squeezed her hand tenderly.

Hermione gawped at him, speechless at what to say or do. Her mind swam with so many questions that she began to feel light-headed. Isn't it too soon? Can we really make this work - living and being together? Do I love him enough to put all the pain behind me? Do I love him enough to trust him completely? Will Hannah be alright moving in with him? What if we fight more than usual?

"I got you something else for your birthday, other than the necklace," Ron suddenly said, handing her the box he was holding. When she opened it, she found a silver key on the end of a pewter otter. "I spent all day looking for that key ring in Diagon Alley before Harry helped me find one on the Indernet."

Hermione grinned to herself. Internet, Ron. Internet. "What's so special about the otter?" she asked, holding her breath as she knew the answer herself.

Rubbing his neck, he said, "Well, it's your Patronus, isn't it? I figured you might be a little nervous living with me, so the otter would be there to protect you - like Patronus' are there for." He cleared his throat and added, "I sound like a dork, don't I?"

Giggling, Hermione assured him, "You don't. It's one of the most romantic gestures I've ever heard of and makes me love you even more." Her cheeks tinged pink as she leant in and kissed his cheek. Ron's smile increased and his eyes brightened at her words. "I love you too, Ron," she confirmed. "And yes, I'll move in with you."

She smiled shyly, her head spinning as Ron placed a hand on her cheek, his thumb rubbing against the pink skin. He leant in, brushing his lips against hers. She shuddered involuntary, feeling a rush of lust and love engulf her body completely. She sighed against his soft caress and opened her mouth slightly to deepen the kiss, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, wanting to feel his warm body against hers.

He seemed to take the invitation and in turn, placed his hands on her waist. She felt his tongue run along her bottom teeth, and shuddered in pleasure once again.

It was only when she needed more oxygen did Hermione pull away slowly. Her face was red and her lips felt slightly numb. She motioned for Ron to lie down and crawled into his arms once he obliged.

"What are we going to tell everyone?" she asked a few minutes later, resting her leg between his as he held her closer, his hand stroking her hair.

"Nothing," he said simply. "They'll work it out."

She would have laughed if it wasn't so true. Suddenly realising that everyone probably already knew what had happened caused her to be thankful that she and Hannah would be moving in with Ron within the next few days. The grins, stares and 'awws' would become trying if she remained here.

What am I going to say to Hannah? She's only known Ron a few weeks and lived here her entire life, what if she doesn't want to go?

She loves Ron, though. Why wouldn't she want to live with him? She's already started to call him 'daddy'. I guess those pictures I gave her and the stories I told helped.
The fear that her daughter might ruin what happiness she had longed for scared Hermione more than losing Ron again.

"Are you all right?" he asked, glancing down at her. "You've gone all quiet and tense."

"I'm just worried about Hannah," she admitted. "You saw what she was like at the hospital, she might not want to live anywhere else …"

"This is different though," Ron said, kissing the top of her head. "St Mungo's was a cold scary hospital. At our place, she'll have two loving parents, her own room and a heap of toys. I can get to know her better than I already have these past few weeks and we can finally be a family."

"What if she misses your parents too much? Or Ginny! Hannah's barely spent a night away from them since she was born," Hermione asked, grabbing a handful of his shirt anxiously.

Ron made soothing sssh noises, wrapping his arms around her closer in what she guessed was an attempt to calm her down. "Hermione, it's going to be okay. We can explain everything to Hannah and assure her she'll still see Nana, Granddad and Auntie Ginny a lot. After all, we'll need some alone time once in a while."

He sounds so grown up, so mature.

Glancing up at him, Hermione realised how lucky she was. Ron had seemed to think of everything and she thanked him for it. A new chapter in her life was about to begin and she was so thankful that it involved him. He looked down at her and she leant in for another kiss; a slow and passionate kiss that stroked each vertebra in her spine with each flick of his tongue.

Hermione had never felt so loved or protected than she did right now, lying in his arms, surrounding her with affection and warmth. The thought that this feeling never had to end made all the months of anguish and heartache worth it. She had her Ron back, and Hannah finally had her daddy.


Chapter 13: Epilogue
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***

December 28th 2010


It had been two days since Hermione gave birth to her and Ron's third child and her body still ached with a mild hum around her lower region. She took note that her magic appeared to react differently during labour depending on the gender. When she had given birth to Hannah, she had accidentally transfigured the Healer's glasses into two plums, while with her son almost three years ago, she had managed only to flick the lights on and off during contractions.

However, on that cold Boxing Day morning, Hermione had transfigured the cup of iced chips Ron brought her into lemonade, thus leading her to the conclusion that transfiguration was a side effect of giving birth to girls.

"Are you awake?"

Glancing up, she nodded as Ron let himself into the ward, carrying with him half a dozen balloons and a bunch of yellow, red, white and purple flowers. Holding onto Ron's robes with a curious expression on his face was a small red-haired boy, who was holding a golden lion plushie tightly. When the boy noticed his mum, he ran up to her, trying hard to climb on the bed.

Ron walked over, placing the flowers on the bedside table, before helping him up to the bed. Hermione wrapped her arms around her son gently when he crawled over to her. "Is that for your baby sister, Stephen?" she asked, pointing at the plushie still gripped tightly in his hand.

He nodded happily, stroking the lion's mane. "Yes," he said. "Daddy wants her to be a Griffy door."

Gasping in mock shock, Hermione shot her husband a playful smile. "Is that true? She's only been here a few days and you've already chosen her Hogwarts house!"

Looking bashful, he mumbled something incoherent as he attached the balloons around Hermione's bed.

"Of course, you wouldn't love her any less if she was say, a Ravenclaw?" she asked, watching him now find a vase for the flowers. It was only three months ago that they received an owl from Hannah, who explained that the Sorting Hat had placed her into the noble house of Ravenclaw, making her the first Weasley who hadn't been in Gryffindor for over fifty years.

"I'd still love her if she turns out to be a Squib; you know that, Hermione," Ron said, ruffling his son's hair affectionately. While she knew this was true, she also knew Ron hoped that Stephen would be a Gryffindor and on the Quidditch team.

The door to the ward opened and a young Healer entered, carrying a bundle in a pink blanket over to Hermione. Beaming, Hermione held her hands out to hold her new daughter.

"Eager to breast feed again?" the Healer asked, making sure the baby's head was supported correctly. "She's feeling a bit hungry and missed her mum." The Healer bent down to search through the bedside cupboard, taking out a few nappies and napkins for any spilled milk and placing them next to the new mother.

"Thanks, Jennifer," Hermione said, her eyes not leaving her new daughter. Her blue eyes were wide and bright, curious at her new surroundings, while her hair appeared brown at the moment, like her mum. Ron walked around the other side of the bed once Jennifer had left. He stuck his index finger out and watched as her daughter grabbed it, her fingers barely covering the circumference.

"Hello, beautiful," he whispered, his eyes shining. "Daddy's come back to see you." He glanced up at Hermione, who was beaming back at him. She began to rub the blanket gently, earning a quiet muffled noise to escape the baby's tiny lips. "And your big brother Stephen has brought you a present," he added proudly, as the little boy held out the lion to show her, before placing it back on his lap.

"Your big sister Hannah isn't here yet," Ron continued, his new daughter watching him, her mouth open. "She started Hogwarts a few months ago and decided to stay over Christmas as we didn't expect you for another two weeks. She's coming to see you in a few days."

"She's little," Stephen observed, leaning closer to have a good look. "I like her." He smiled widely and waved at his sister.

"And Juliet likes you," Hermione cooed, planting a kiss on the top of her son’s head.

"Now, Stephen," Ron said in a surprisingly serious voice. "You're only three years older than Juliet, so that means you'll need to protect her when your mum and I aren't around. Namely at Hogwarts."

"Oh, Ron," Hermione sighed, realising where this was going. Stephen appeared to be listening intently to his dad, most likely because of the tone.

"This needs to be said!" Ron said with indignation. He turned back to Stephen. "You'll be at Hogwarts with her for four years, which is long enough to make sure any boys don't get too close. That's what I did with your aunt Ginny." He suddenly paused, furrowing his brow, before adding, "Keep an eye on your best friend."

Hermione laughed. "I think you did a fine job keeping Ginny away from boys … Dean, Michael, Harry …"

"Okay, okay!" he said, waving his hand at her. "But better she married Harry than some loser. I swear one of the Aurors in my team fancied her when she came to my office." He pulled a face. He didn't like to think of his baby sister as a sexual person he had lived in the hope that she and Harry had remained virgins throughout their marriage, but the birth of their son Sirius the previous October had soundly shattered that illusion.

Hermione nodded, yawning half way. "I'm going to give Juliet her feed and then we're going to have a nap each," she explained, pulling her nightshirt free from under the bedspread ready.

"Say no more," he replied, making his way over to Stephen and picking him up. "We need to stock up on food at home anyway, what with you both coming home tomorrow."

Smirking, she said playfully, "Let me guess. You've run out of ready-meals and chips?"

"Actually, we need more cheese, eggs and milk," he retorted. "Get some sleep, love." He leant down, his lips brushing against his wife's. "I'll come back later after I've dropped trouble here off at Harry's."

As Ron began to leave, he stopped at the door, kissing the air in Hermione's direction and said, "Love you."

"I love you too," she replied sleepily.

Fin.

***


End Story Notes: Wow, I can't believe it's finished. When I began this storyline back in 2002, I was overwhelmed that I received 700 reviews at fanfiction.net. Having my account hacked into and all my work deleted broke my heart, but encouraged me to re-write Daddy, making it longer, better and more mature. Reading through my reviews, emails, IMs and watching as the number at HarryPotterFanFiction.com reaches over 2000, makes me truly believe that all the writers block, rude reviewers and tension were worth it.

Thank you all for reading this story over the past year. I couldn't have done it without all your support.

If you have any questions for me, there's a link to my FanFicton journal in the profile, where I've opened a Q&A post so I don't have to repeat myself in reviews.

A million thank you to my beta, Nicole who is to thank for the spelling and grammar corrections, as well as any bits that weren't in the first draft, that she helped me on.

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com