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.
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.
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 …
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:
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."
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