It was like any other day at Auror Headquarters at the Ministry. Harry and Ron came out of their usual fireplaces, brushing soot from their clothes. Even after all the time that had passed, Harry still shuddered when he walked by the fireplace he, Ron and Hermione had used to escape the Ministry with Yaxley hot on their trail. He avoided using that one out of superstitious nerves.
The only noticeable difference on this day was that Ron didn't meet him in the commissary for their morning cup of tea and chat about the previous night's quidditch scores. Harry found it particularly odd because the Cannons had somehow passed on to the Division Finals. Ginny had retired from the Harpies right after she and Harry married but the Daily Prophet hired her as the Senior Quidditch Correspondent. With this new job, she could easily get tickets to any match, anywhere. Harry was sure Ron would be chomping at the bit to see the Cannons play in the finals.
Since Ron didn't turn up, Harry decided on a strong cup of builder's tea and took it straight up to the Auror office, maybe Ron was waiting for him there. The hot tea was just what he needed. Baby Lily was cutting another tooth and it had been a long night of screaming, rocking and changing dirty nappies. It would have been bad enough with just Lily awake, but of course, Harry had forgotten to cast a Muffliato charm across James' and Albus' bedroom doors so the boys, (aged 5 and 2) woke up and refused to go back to bed without a good deal of whining. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror above the fireplace before he threw the Floo powder in. His mother's green eyes stared back at him, tired and reddened from lack of sleep, but happy to be alive when so many others weren't.
Ron was sitting at his desk reviewing reports and twirling his wand thoughtfully with his fingers. He looked tired, too. Perhaps Rose had kept them awake as well. There was something else written on Ron's face, Harry couldn't place it.
"Did'ya catch the Cannons last night? Hell of a win, eh?"
Ron didn't look up and gave a non-committal grunt. Harry frowned. This was so out of character - what the hell was wrong?
A little put off by Ron's dismissal, Harry dropped his rucksack down on his desk with a thunk. It had been a year since he was made the Head of the Auror Department but he hadn't moved into the office designated for the Department Head. He preferred his usual spot in the bullpen. Harry had received enough special attention, he didn't want an office to himself. He in truth felt his appointment as Department Head was premature. He had only been an Auror for six years and there were certainly more seasoned witches and wizards than he. It threw him for such a loop when the announcement was made. He still recalled the look of disappointment he was certain he saw flash across Ron's face. It wasn't that Ron was jealous exactly, but as the sixth of seven children, there was little chance of Ron ever being the first to do anything of any importance. Add to that the fact that no one ever seemed to give Ron enough credit for his exemplary work and Harry understood why Ron might feel slighted. Few people even remembered that Ron had come in first place at the academy, not Harry.
The promotion could have meant a cushy desk job for Harry but he'd refused. He was only 27 years old after all. It would be excellent to have a more predictable schedule and to be able to spend time with Ginny and the kids, but Harry knew he'd miss the field work with Ron too much. He remembered the smile and sigh of relief Ron uttered when Harry told him his decision to stay in the field. "I'd hate to work with someone else, Harry." Ron had said.
Today though, Ron was acting like Harry didn't exist. And it was getting really irritating.
Harry sat in his chair trying not to glare at the top of Ron's head so he focused his attention on the photographs on his desk: He and Ginny at their wedding; the boys perched on some rocks at a beach in the South of France on holiday. His favorite picture of Ginny - she didn't even know he was taking it. She was in her night dress, one hand on her belly swollen with Albus and she was holding James' hand with the other. The light shone through the shades making such a beautiful silhouette, Harry couldn't resist. The soft autumn sun made Ginny's hair and skin glow. In the picture, Ginny stared down at James and then turned her head to smile brightly at Harry, over and over again. He turned his eye to an older photograph. It was torn in half and yellowed with age. A small child with messy black hair zoomed in and out of the frame while a pair of familiar hands reached out to him. Harry had tried so hard to remember playing with the toy broom Sirius had given him for his first birthday while his dad chased after him. Of course he didn't.
Frustration gave way to habit and Harry found himself rubbing the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. It had long since stopped hurting, but Harry found comfort in rubbing it - it helped him clear his head.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Ron was looking at him with concern. He was no longer twirling his wand in his hand, he gripped it tight.
"Nothing." Harry said sharply. "Let's start the morning meeting." He stood and stomped into the conference room. The Aurors assembled and took their seats. Some held steaming cups of tea or coffee and some were munching on muffins from the commissary. Harry sat at the head of the table and Ron took his usual place at Harry's right.
"Good morning," he began "This will be quite quick." Harry rattled off a list of assignments from a clipboard and the teams assigned to each one gave him an update. Dennis Creevey was perched in the corner anxiously taking notes. Harry rather liked Dennis. His elder brother Colin had been killed in the Second War, which was why Dennis was determined to work in the Auror office. His NEWTs weren't quite up to department standards to work as an Auror, even when Harry tried to pull some strings. Dennis seemed very content to be an office assistant, he was very organized and efficient; always ready to help.
As Harry looked down at his notes he saw Ron's reflection in the glass-topped table. The worries of a much older wizard were written on Ron's face and he looked even paler than usual. Harry concluded the meeting and put his hand on Ron's arm to keep him from getting up. He paced to the bin and tossed a scrap of parchment in it. After a few minutes, they were almost alone.
"Dennis, could you excuse us, please?"
Dennis looked up, "Oh, certainly, Mr. Potter. Sorry, I was just finishing a sentence in my notes." He tucked his quill behind his ear and gathered his stack of parchment. I'll have these ready right away, Mr. Potter" he said, almost at the door.
"Dennis?" Harry said "It's Harry. Mr. Potter is my...just call me Harry, ok?" He smiled.
Dennis returned the smile. "Sure. Right. Harry. Sorry I keep forgetting." Dennis shut the door behind him, sensing Harry's need to speak to Ron in private. Hearing the door click shut, Harry turned to Ron.
"All right. You didn't meet me for tea, you couldn't give a bag of hippogriff dung about the Cannons winning and you look pale as a sheet. What is with you today?" He said with a mix of worry and irritation.
Ron grunted and ran his hand through his hair stopping at the bit that hung past his ear. He wound it around his finger like he always did when he was deep in thought. He tucked the curl behind his ear and sighed heavily.
Harry shook his head, "Come again?" He had expected bad news. "She's...but that's brilliant news, isn't it?" He crossed the distance to Ron's chair in two paces and clapped Ron on the back.
Ron gave a weak smile. "It is, of course it is but...well, we've only just got Rosie out of nappies and now we'll be starting all over again, won't we? And the nights without sleep...and Mum is going to go all bonkers again - it'll be her twelfth grandchild, you know."
Harry was quite familiar with his mother-in-law's enthusiasm for her grandchildren. Having raised seven kids, Mrs. Weasley was more than happy to dish out advice, solicited or not. Her heart was in the right place but it could nevertheless cause friction.
"Ron, your Mum's whole life has been kids. Your brothers, you, Ginny - even Hermione and me. Now she'll have a dozen grandkids. It's brilliant, mate, cheer up." Ron gave him a half-hearted smile.
"Yeah, I suppose. I'm happy of course but...for the love of Merlin - I'm so sick of changing sodding nappies!" Ron suddenly felt awful that he'd complained about his Mum to Harry. It was like complaining about an overfull stomach to a person dying of hunger. As over-bearing as Molly could be, Ron knew Harry would rather have his own Mum alive and able to play with his children. Of course, if Lily Potter was still alive, all of their lives would be unrecognizable.
Ron made a mental note to send his Mum a box of her favorite chocolate flake.
"Does anyone else know?" Harry asked.
"No, I mean it's still early on. Hermione wants to be cautious." Harry nodded and mimed zipping his lips shut and locking them with an imaginary key.
"Really though, Ron - don't look so grim. I thought something was wrong!" He said laughingly as they headed back to their desks.