"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.
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.
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.
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