Author's Note: My it has been a while, hasn't it? I've missed each of you. Hopefully this chapter is enough to warrant forgiveness for my absence. It isn't much, but I like where it's headed. I'm really hoping that I haven't mixed anything up... if there are errors, PM me and I'll change them :) Just please, no flames. Always remember: you're making a choice to read what you want. No one is making you read this!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. If I could create characters as lovely and dynamic as these... ah.
When Harry stepped out of the fireplace, he was surrounded by red hair and smiling faces. He couldn't spot Hermione at first, but he could see Teddy already running off into another area of the house, a little blond head bobbing up and down in front of him. It took him a minute to really get a hold of his surroundings. Coming out of the fireplace after flooing had always been a bit disorienting for Harry.
"They're two peas in a pod, eh?" said Ron as he made his way across the room toward Harry. Harry made eye contact with Ron and smiled, but continued to look about the room for Hermione. "Bill and Fleur tried to get Vic to wait for you to get here before running off, but…"
"You should have seen her face when we walked into the room, Harry. It was just the sweetest thing." Hermione came up from behind him and peeked over his shoulder slightly, pointing toward where the two had settled on the floor down the hall playing with a couple of dolls. "I mean look at them, they're playing house. I love it."
Harry looked about the room and spotted Bill and Fleur standing in a corner talking to Mr. Weasley. He nodded his head in hello and the nodded down the hall, trying to signal his thank for their efforts.
"We're gonna have a mess on our hands in a few years," Harry said with a smile. "I can just see how playing house is going to articulate itself in the future."
"Harry James," Hermione said, while trying to hold back her amusement. "That is not a funny thing to joke about. They're children, for Merlin's sake."
"Well he has a point," Ron said. "I mean, they'll go through Hogwarts together and everything… there'll be plenty of time to… experiment."
"Ronald…" Hermione's tone shifted from amusement to warning. Ron and Harry shared a look with held back grins and wide, raised eyes. "You're taking it too far. Stop right there."
"Hermione," Ron protested. "It's not like I'm saying they're going to traipse off and do it now! I'm just saying, sixteen year old boys have certain thoughts, and when there's an attractive young woman around, they can sometimes have trouble keeping those thoughts as… well…"
"Thoughts," Harry cut it with a laugh. "If only you knew the things that raced through our brains in our sixth year."
"I bloody well remember our sixth year, thank you very much," she cut in.
"Come on, Hermione." Harry placed a hand at the small of her back and gave her an apologetic look. "They'll be fine. I feel certain that by the time Teddy's going off to his sixth year, you'll have taught him everything there is to know about being a proper gentleman. Don't worry about it right this second. Having real babies is the furthest thing from their mind."
"Right, and that conversation we had in my kitchen a moment ago doesn't worry you at all," she said sarcastically, giving him a pointed look. Harry took his hand off her back as if it had suddenly been scalded. He ran it through his hair, trying to hide the sudden movement, and let his mind wonder back to that moment for a second.
"Things are looking nice and tense in this corner of the room," Ginny said, walking up with a firewhiskey in hand. The scent was hot on her breath and her hair was as red as ever in the dim light of the living room. "Who's to blame for starting this little row? Ron?"
"Isn't it always Ron?" Hermione said lightly. She made sure to give him a little, friendly wink so that he knew she was joking and he nodded his head in return with a smile. Harry snickered as he watched Ron's emotions roll through the spectrum, phasing from fear at he'd actually upset Hermione, to relief that he was off the hook, to exhaustion—probably from the fact that he knew he'd need to watch where he stepped.
"At least you've gotten better at taking it in stride, mate," Harry said, making a more conscious effort to buffer between them instead of egging one on.
"I'm actually rather surprised to find the three of you talking cordially… does that mean things got sorted out?" Ginny said.
"I wouldn't say they're sorted," Ron cut in, not taking his eyes off Harry. "But they're definitely on their way."
"What do you mean they're not sorted," Hermione protested. "I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, half arguing, half explaining and half defending myself to find out that you think this ordeal's not sorted?"
"Hermione, you can't have three halves… that doesn't make a whole."
"I do believe I know what does and doesn't make a whole, Ronald!" Her voice had risen only slightly, but her eyes were sharp and her cheeks were a little tinged.
"Hermione," Harry said. He sounded exhausted and she could tell that he was pleading with her to let it go for now. "That comment had nothing to do with you."
"It has everything to do with me, Harry."
Harry gave her softened look and Hermione bit her lip slightly.
Ron and Ginny stayed quiet as they watched the exchange their two friends made.
These were the moments that had always made the two youngest Weasleys unsure of where they stood amongst Harry and Hermione. For the majority of a conversation, you knew that you were welcome, but then they had the habit of drifting off into these wordless conversations, and all of a sudden, you were left to watch… well, watch a lot of nothing take place.
They'd only said a few words to each other, but both Ron and Ginny could tell that there was a whole other world of communication going on behind those closed doors—between the looks they gave one another and between the silence that filled their conversation. No matter how close they felt like they'd come to understanding the way Harry and Hermione worked together, there was always room for some surprise.
Ron was struck with the memory of Harry standing in the middle a crumbling Hogwarts, telling them he'd be going out to the forest to meet Voldemort and he felt his stomach plummet to the ground. He should've known in that moment, as those breathless words, 'I'll go with you,' left her mouth, as she tried to hold back her sobs, and threw her arms over his shoulders as she'd done so many times before, he should have known she belonged to him. Her heart had been given away a long time ago; her whole heart… and Ron didn't have the heart to try and claim any part of hers for himself. Whether he was willing to admit it or not, Harry didn't just want Hermione, he needed her.
Though only mere seconds had passed in silence, Ron turned his body as if he was looking around the room for someone and bent down a bit to whisper in Ginny's ear so that only she could hear. "That's exactly what I'm talking about."
"I know, I know, keep your mouth shut, you dolt," she whispered back. "We've had this conversation a million times."
Mrs. Weasley came over with an armload of blankets and pillows, interrupting the conversation and, thankfully, the tension.
"Vic and Teddy are going on about a film," she said, directing her comment to Harry and Hermione. "I think I know what that is, but I honestly have no idea how to get it set up. Would you be able to? Here? Does it interfere with magic?"
Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny all followed Mrs. Weasley to the center of the house and looked up through the banisters to where Teddy had his little hands fisted around the spindles of the handrail, his forehead smashed up between them so hard it was sure to leave a little red suction mark.
"It's probably not a good thing that I hadn't even noticed they'd left the downstairs hall," Harry said, more to himself than to anyone else.
"Don't beat yourself up, mate," Ron mumbled. "Mum doesn't watch Vic hardly at all when she's babysitting. I mean she plays with her from time to time, of course, but… there's a reason we're all hellions."
"That's reassuring," Hermione said, trailing off. "Remind me of that in the future, if she ever offers to baby sit my kids."
At seeing Harry and Hermione, Teddy began to make his requests again, each word just a bit too loud and annunciated.
"Uncle Harry! We want to watch a film!"
Harry and Hermione looked to each other and then to Ron and Ginny behind them. They had knowledgeable yet confused looks about them and Mrs. Weasley looked completely bemused.
"Hermione, can you help them, dear?"
"I'll see if Mr. Weasley has a telly in the shed," she said with a smile, turning and walking out of the hall to find Mr. Weasley.
"Right," Harry called up to Teddy. "You two need to come back down and join us. Hermione's gone to try and find a telly."
"Can we wait up here?"
"No," Harry moved a hand to the back of his neck and scratched his hairline. "Well, Mrs. Weasley, do you usually let Vic play upstairs?"
"Yes, but you do what you think's best, dear."
Ron and Ginny let out a short fit of giggles and Harry gave them a looked that seemed to say, "I see…"
Harry rolled his neck and sighed. The Burrow was entirely too large and nook-and-crannied for his liking when it came to thinking of Teddy running off on his own. It seemed that they'd rebuilt the place time and time again, and with each renovation came more precarious hiding places.
"Alright, Ted," he started. "Why not come down and wait on the bottom step here and Hermione can walk you back up and get you situated when she comes back inside."
"Alright," he mumbled quietly. His head was hanging low and Victoire ambled along behind him in a similar fashion. Harry tried not to show the smile that was beginning to creep over his face, a feat that was made even harder when Ginny snorted from behind him.
"Take a look at those sob-faces…"
"They just look so pitiful is all," she whispered.
"I love that Vic assumes she has to come down too," Ron mumbled. Harry placed one hand along the banister and waited for the two youngsters to make their way down the staircase. "Easy does it, you two; wouldn't want you to trip and fall."
"I don't trip," Victoire said.
"Right, well Ted does."
"It doesn't matter," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
"Ginny, dear," Mrs. Weasley said. "Come help me get the table set. Ron, could you see if your brothers need anything? I know they've been trying to rig that closet in the front hallway so that it'll stop spitting out whatever you put inside." Ginny gave a roll of neck and raised her eyebrows to Ron before leaving the hallway.
By the time they'd all three dispersed, Victoire and Teddy had made their way to the bottom of the staircase and were seated neatly on the last two steps.
"Is Aunty Gin mad?" asked Victoire. Her hands were placed atop her knees and she tilted her head to the side just slightly, her blonde hair falling into her eyes in a very un-kempt manner.
"Nah," said Harry. "She's just hungry."
"Well, then she's hungry a lot," said Victoire.
Harry couldn't help himself and let out a burst of laughter. Just as he was able to regain control over himself and was beginning to think of something to say in return, Hermione wandered in with a rather familiar looking radio.
"I take it there wasn't a telly?" Harry asked.
"I think this looks like a lot of fun," she said to the room at large. She came up beside Harry and leaned in so that only he could hear. "There was one but I thought this might be more exciting—a bit different, you know?"
"You just don't want him sitting in front of the telly," Harry said with a smile.
"That's not true," she said, leaning back and smiling at Teddy and Victoire. "It's fine in moderation, but why encourage it?"
"Why uncourage what?" Teddy asked.
"Encourage," Hermione corrected him. "And never you mind, go on back up; are you ready to listen to a few stories?"
"Noooo," they both said in unison.
"We wanted to watch a story, Aunt 'Mione. You know, like Uncle Harry does on the telly?"
"I know very well what you mean, but you're going to try this for a change," she said. "Now come on; I promise you'll like it."
"Need any help?" Harry asked as he watched the little bodies follow Hermione up the stairs.
"I think we're good here," Hermione said over her shoulder. "I'll come find you when I'm done."
Harry smiled and watched them for a moment more.
"Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley called from somewhere within the kitchen. "Would you mind lending a hand?" Tearing his eyes away from the woman before him, he turned and made his way back down the hall toward the sea of ginger hair.
The atmosphere around the Burrow was warm and invigorating, and Harry noted that it had been some time since he'd felt so at home and relaxed in its walls. It wasn't that the Burrow had somehow lost it's magic or become any less of a home to him, but since The Argument had started… things had been a bit on edge. Now, with much of that behind them, Harry found that he could once again enjoy the soft orange glow that seemed to emanate from the very heart of the house.
Harry found himself in the kitchen, a firewhiskey in one hand and a stack of bowls and fruit in the other. It was a rather precarious pile and he was feeling rather under qualified.
"What am I supposed to do again, Mrs. Weasley?" he asked.
"Just cut the fruit up, dear, and make sure each one goes in a different bowl. You can put them on the table when you're done—I've got to get the pies sorted out."
"Right…" Harry looked down at his hands and tried to figure out how he'd gotten stuck with the job. He sat the bowl on the table and took a drink of his firewhiskey before setting it down as well.
"Magic or Muggle?" Ginny asked as she plunked down her own bowl and pile of ingredients, taking a seat across from him.
"Are you going to chop them with a knife or are you going to chop them with your wand? I'm only curious." She took a long drink of her own beverage…. Harry wondered if that was the same one she'd had when they walked in or if she'd picked up another… it was curiously full yet rapidly losing liquid. "I've got the yin to your yang. We'll add the fruit to the sugar and cream as soon as you've finished it but that all depends on how quickly you get it done."
"I don't think I ever learned a good spell for slicing and dicing. That'd be Hermione's expertice…"
"You mean to tell me, that with all the cooking you do, you never stopped to learn a good dicing spell?"
"I learned to cook at the Dursley's, Ginny. I don't think they'd have appreciated if I practiced my magical culinary spells on their food. Not to mention the fact that they're Muggles and I was underage and would have been sent off to Azkaban for even thinking of trying to practice…"
"All right, all right, I get it. Just chop your fruit, you prat."
"I'm not being a prat!" Harry said with a laugh. "I'm simply stating the facts."
"Well your facts are a load of hogwash."
"You're a load of hogwash," he said, sticking his tongue out at her. "Now, does it really matter if all of this stays separate if we're just going to add it to the cream and sugar?"
Ginny eyed him and lowered her voice, giving her mum a shifted glance before speaking.
"Just don't let the old bat find out you're letting the juices mix before they're ready. She'll give you the sack if you do."
"I don't think I'd mind getting the sack. I like cooking, but not when I'm liable to mess up a traditional family dish."
"I can hear you two whispering over there," Mrs. Weasley chimed in. She didn't turn from her spot at the stove or even give them the slightest look. Harry had the distinct feeling that this was a statement she'd made a million times in the course of her life. By the look on Ginny's face, he felt that his suspicions were confirmed. She merely rolled her eyes, leaned back, and took another long swig of her drink. Plopping it back on the table, she slammed her hands on either side of it (hard enough to make a smack, but not so hard Mrs. Weasley thought she was being tested) and stood up.
"Well, mum, it seems Harry's got quite the right idea here. I'll just go and check on the boys."
"Oh no you don't," Mrs. Weasley said. "If he's got that under control, you can start setting the table like I asked you to earlier. Here you are." She handed Ginny a stack of plates and levitated a slew of glasses to land in a neat row on the table. "Make sure there are enough places. We've got a good group tonight."
Ginny rolled her eyes and gave Harry a sour look.
"Serves you right, trying to sell me out like that." He gave her a wink and began to laugh. Mrs. Weasley was oblivious to the comments being made and continued to hustle about near the stove.
"Harry, Ginny, keep an eye on this timer. If it goes off, pull those pies out. They're nearly done. I'm going to go make sure everyone's washing up and that they know dinner's about ready."
Harry took to chopping the fruit, a task that was admittedly very easy and one that he had absolutely no problem doing. He teased along with Ginny, as if he were one of the Weasley brothers, begrudgingly helping out around the house, but truth be told he didn't mind it a bit. Though he'd never made the fruit salad before, he was sure it wasn't that difficult to mix together. He decided to take to Mrs. Weasley's preference and let the fruits stand alone in their own bowls until they were ready to be mixed in with the cream sauce.
"Harry," Ginny said from over at the table. He had almost forgotten that he wasn't alone in the room, but once he looked up he found that he was actually more surprised to find that no one else had drifted in yet.
"Yeah," he said in response.
"I was just wondering…" She paused, one plate in hand as her elbow rested along the back of a chair. She seemed to be deep in thought, almost wanting to retract what she was about to say. "Have you and Hermione really been spending a lot of time together lately?"
This caught him a little off guard. She knew almost all the details of what had been going on as of late, and she very well knew that he and Hermione spent the majority of their free time together… this couldn't be what she really wanted to know.
"What are you really asking, Gin?"
"Nothing, I'm just wondering if you're really spending all your time together or if you ever get out, you know… go on dates, have fun, go to the pubs with the guys."
"Just because I spend a lot of time with Hermione doesn't mean that I don't go out," he said. It was a rather bold assumption to make. Harry knew that she didn't mean to offend him by it, but what in Merlin's name made her think that he wasn't going out with the guys or having fun? He suddenly found himself wondering what she and Hermione talked about on their own and what kind of information had been said that he wasn't privy to. Did Hermione worry that he wasn't having any fun? That he didn't enjoy the time he spent with her? Was he spending too much time with her?
"I'm just trying to talk to you, Harry," she said. At that moment, Percy walked in and made to fill his glass with water. Ginny went back to setting the table and Harry finished mixing the fruit into the sauce, giving it a few stirs and setting the bowl atop the table.
Harry was about to tell Ginny that he appreciated the concern when the timer went off and she pushed past him to get the pies. He could tell that she wasn't angry (his years of knowing her and significant time dating her had made him very aware of the difference) but that she wasn't entirely happy with the way he'd responded. Perhaps she was simply trying to talk to him, but any more, there always seemed to be another layer to whatever anyone asked him.
"How are things in here?" Hermione said as she entered the room. "I stared to explain to Teddy and Vic how you work the radio and they went crazy over learning the mechanics. I wasn't expecting it to turn into a whole ordeal."
"They were really that interested?" said Harry. He bit his tongue almost as soon as the words left his mouth. His mind was in disbelief that two young children had showed any interest in the inner workings of anything, not that he didn't believe what Hermione had said. Unfortunately, his irritation with Ginny's nosiness was lingering and he's let his temper redirect itself.
"Believe it or not, if you know how to talk to them, children actually do care to learn new things," Hermione said almost at once. Harry brought an hand up to scratch at his neck and he moved a bit closer to where Hermione was standing at the doorway.
"I didn't mean for that to come out like it did," he said, almost in a whisper. He shot at glance at Ginny who was busying herself at the stove where her mum had been earlier. "I was letting something completely unrelated creep its way in. I'm sorry."
"I suppose I forgive you," she said, reaching out and wiping a bit of strawberry and cream off his wrist. She stuck the finger into her mouth and smiled at him. "As long as you go up and tell them it's time to come down. I don't think I can stand to talk about electric currents and how you have to manipulate magic in order for there not to be interference, and then explaining what electric currents are and what manipulation and interference even mean… Merlin they're sweet, but I'd either forgotten or hadn't realized what a trying age four can be."
Harry smiled, nodding his head. "I knew it couldn't have been that stimulating of a conversation."
"Come on, now, it's a miracle they showed any interest at all."
"What do you have them listening to, anyway, music?"
"No, I put on the old radio shows that mum used to let me listen to. There's a children's station that has the sweetest stories."
Just then, two little hands reached on either side of Harry's legs and a head stuck through between his knees. He was about to lose his balance when Hermione stuck out a hand and caught him by the shoulders.
"What in heaven's name…" Hermione said, letting go of Harry when he was steadied again.
"Hi," Teddy said, looking up at the pair with a bright smile.
"Well hello," Harry said. "I guess he's found his own way down for dinner, Hermione."
"I see that; I wonder if his hands are clean?" She cocked an eyebrow, not breaking eye contact with Teddy. He gave her a little frown and dropped his hands to his side, pushing through Harry's legs and coming to stand between them.
"Lift me?" he said, holding both arms out to Hermione.
"All right," she said softly. "Come here, then."
Harry watched, for what had to be the hundredth time that night alone, as Hermione walked off with Teddy in tow. He was caught between feeling like he should be taking care of Teddy and not allowing Hermione to do everything and feeling blessed beyond belief that Teddy had such a genuine love from a woman as strong and fierce as Hermione. He'd gladly share the responsibilities if it meant that Teddy could learn from her as well, because of all the people in the world, Harry couldn't think of a better person to have as a role model. And what made it all the better was the fact that she willingly and openly jumped at the opportunity to spend time with him.
As soon as he could tear his eyes away from Hermione holding Teddy up to the sink so he could wash his hands, Harry realized that the kitchen had become rather crowded and almost all of the Weasleys were present and starting to sit around the table.
Bill and Fleur had situated Victoire in the middle, leaving another seat with pillows between her and Ginny. Percy was seated next to Bill, and then Mr. Weasley was at the head.
Mrs. Weasley ushered Harry over to the stove and have him a hot pie, wrapped in a warm terry cloth, and asked him to start carrying the dishes over to the table. He was glad to have something to do, because regardless of the fact that the Weasleys were like family—hell, his only real family—there were moments, much like this night and Christmas and every other Sunday night dinner, where nearly the entire family was present and he felt like a sore thumb: terribly, terribly out of place. No matter how desperately he loved each of them, or how desperately they loved him back, the fact of the matter was, he had jet black hair, bright green eyes, and absolutely no freckles adorning his nose or cheeks.
When the last of the dishes were carried and placed neatly along the table, and when Hermione had placed Teddy in his seat beside Ginny and joined Harry and Ron across from them, Mrs. Weasley took her seat beside her husband and they all gave thanks that they were back together, that they were safe where dark magic and dark wizards were concerned, and that they had such a plentiful meal in front of them.
Harry couldn't help but notice that as he looked around the table, there were still faces missing. George had take considerable steps in moving on without his second half, but some things were still too hard to bear when, for twenty years, they'd been completely different.
As he took the pie plate from Hermione their hands met for the briefest moment along the side, getting tangled in the cloth that was keeping them from burning their skin. She smiled and he felt his cheeks grow warm. That laugh was something he imagined he'd never be able to live without. That smile and those eyes; the living beauty that radiated from her—not just now, over a minced steak and kidney pie, but even in the darkest of moments—was more beautiful than anything he could ever conjure in his own mind.
He let the chitter-chatter carry on around him, nodding when someone addressed him and chiming in when necessary, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he could imagine exactly how George must be feeling without Fred. For their cases were very different—Hermione was not Harry's twin, nor was she dead, thank Merlin, and George certainly didn't feel the same kind of draw to Fred that Harry had been feeling toward Hermione—but were anything to ever happen to her… he could easily see how even the simplest things, such as eating a meal with the rest of one's family, could become one of the hardest things to ever face.
Author's Note: Don't forget to let me know what you think! I absolutely love hearing even the smallest amount of feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read!