I Must Have Done Something Right
The big hand of the clock above the fireplace had a moving picture of a smiling, freckled, redheaded man in his late thirties. It had been pointing to "work" for more than eight hours on that summer Friday, when it suddenly turned to point at "traveling". After just a few seconds, it switched to "home", just as the door to the cozy-looking living room opened.
Two small figures ran smack to the new arrival. Ron Weasley welcomed the two children in open arms and buried his nose in their identical curly chestnut-brown hair. He inhaled deeply. They smelled like babies. But then again, he thought, they were four-year-olds.
"Hi, kids," said Ron, grinning at them. He collapsed on a white sofa and began unbuttoning his cloak. "How was your day?"
"We watched loads of movies," said Aaron.
Ron's eyes wandered to one corner of the den, where a box with moving pictures (when turned on, of course) stood. Muggles called them television. There was another thing underneath, a flatter box, and it was called a DVD player. Ron had raised his eyebrows at first when his wife thought of acquiring them, but she had insisted they needed to know stuff about the Muggle world, too. So Ron's father had gotten hold of them and changed them so they could work with magic. It actually worked.
"Where's Mum?" he asked.
"Cooking," said little Andrea. Her curly hair was tied in pigtails, and stray curls framed her chubby face.
"Da-ad, I don't like Mum's cooking," said Aaron, grimacing. There was a gap between his teeth, where his upper front ones (incisors, his mother called them) had fallen just over a week ago. He was Andrea's twin, and they got the same hair and the trademark Weasley freckles.
Ron smiled wickedly. "I wonder why?"
Andrea leaned close to his ear confidentially. "She puts in loads of really yucky vegetables, Dad." She tried to put on a disgusted face.
"Really now." Ron stood up, all six-foot-six of him. "I'll try to convince your Mum to put in something...er, healthier."
"Mum says vegetables are healthy," said Andrea.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Chocolate's healthy, too, when you meet Dementors," he mumbled.
"What did you say, Daddy?"
Ron smiled at his daughter. "Nothing, Andrea."
Ron wove his way through the den to the kitchen. It was a nice kitchen, very different from the one he had accustomed to in the Burrow. His wife was busy putting strange-looking leaves into a boiling pot on the stove. There was a small table in the middle, sort of like a bar, and his eldest sat on one of the chairs there, a huge bag of sour cream-flavored potato chips beside her.
"Hello, my pretty ladies," greeted Ron.
Hermione and Claire turned around. "Oh, hi Dad," Claire said, standing up. She was a tiny young lady, just about five-three in height. She stood on tiptoe and kissed Ron on the cheek.
"You're early," said Hermione, turning back to her cooking as if it was a potion for her finals. Claire had retreated back to her seat, and Ron saw her reading a large, thick Muggle book entitled The Lord of the Rings—Full Edition.
"'Course I am," he replied. "It's Claire's birthday tomorrow."
Claire looked up from her book and groaned. "Don't remind me, Dad."
"Why not? What's wrong with being sixteen?"
Hermione smiled at Claire. "The idea of growing up scares her."
Claire let out a grunt as she stuffed her mouth with more chips.
"Honey, don't eat too much junk food—we're having dinner in a while."
Claire snorted silently as she resumed reading. Ron heard it, though, and he couldn't help but smile.
"So how was work?" Hermione asked.
"Oh, not much." After Hogwarts, Ron had gone to three years of rigid Auror training, but recently Britain was so peaceful that all they had to do was patrol and check anti-Dark Magic shields around vital places such as Azkaban and, of course, Hogwarts. "I'm glad about it, though."
"Me too," said Hermione, still with her back on him.
Ron walked over to her and wound his arms around her waist. "Yeah...at least I'll be able to do a lot more here..." He winked at her and he buried his face in the crook of her neck.
"Ron—darling—for heaven's sake," Hermione broke away, hitting Ron lightly on his biceps. Her cheeks were flushed. "Stop it," she hissed, glancing at Claire.
Claire, who had been peeking over her book, stood up, obviously trying to hide a grin. "I'll leave you alone now, shall I?" She picked up her book and the bag of chips.
"Leave the food, honey," said Hermione.
Claire pouted a bit as she rolled the bag up and placed it inside a plastic box that Hermione called "Tupperware." Then she headed out of the kitchen and, taking the hint, closed the door.
Ron grabbed Hermione and kissed her feverishly. Hermione stiffened, but almost immediately gave in. The ladle fell back in the pot as Hermione rested her slender arms on Ron's broad shoulders and kissed him back with familiar ardor. And yet, after years of doing this, Ron marveled at how he still found his wife's kisses incredibly mesmerizing. His fingers got entangled in her mass of brown hair, and his other hand moved across her thigh.
Hermione suddenly leaned back and swatted Ron's hand. She looked at him pointedly—but quite mischievously. "We'll do that later."
"The kids would still be awake. Eleven."
"Fine." Ron grinned and tried to kiss her again, but Hermione had pushed him away and went back to her cooking.
"Honestly, Ron, doing that in front of Claire," reprimanded Hermione. Old habits die hard—even after they married at twenty-two, Hermione still hadn't got rid of her regular telling-off sessions—even right after passionate lovemaking.
"C'mon, dear. The kids have seen us make out several times."
Hermione was stirring the contents of the pot gently. "Well—she's almost sixteen, you know. And...you know what we were already doing at sixteen...." Her voice trailed off, and her cheeks were getting redder by the minute.
Ron eyed her suspiciously. "Are you telling me Claire already has—you know—"
"No," said Hermione. "She'd have told me, I know it."
Ron knotted his forehead. The idea that Claire—his daughter, his own flesh and blood—was making out with someone around Hogwarts at midnight was...revolting, to say the least. He remembered, at sixteen he and Hermione had quiet midnights sitting in front of the Gryffindor common room fireplace. Of course they had never thought of...doing it all the way. They had kissed a few times, yes, and that was just about it. But what if—Claire was...?
"Claire hangs out a lot with boys, doesn't she?" Ron asked.
"Yes—with James, Chris, Tommy Jordan and Kevin Longbottom. But not to flirt. You know she's got a reputation for being boyish."
Ron didn't say anything.
"Darling," said Hermione, "I know our daughter more than anything. She's not going out with anyone. You can wipe that stunned expression off your face now."
Ron shook his head. "I just—I can't believe she's all grown up already."
"She can't believe it herself." Hermione took out her wand and tapped it on the faucet. It sent out jets of water, and the sponge went to work on the dirty cooking utensils on the sink.
"You think so?"
"I know so."
Just as husband and wife stared at each other, a crash was heard outside the kitchen door. Hermione groaned out loud. Two boys, one eleven and the other thirteen, came running into the kitchen. They were both wielding wands.
"En garde!" Danny cried, poised in perfect dueling position.
"En garde yourself!" Mark challenged, trying to imitate Danny. Which was quite hard, for Danny was thin and lanky, and Mark was the exact opposite. Nevertheless, Ron knew that they were very close, and they were the most mischievous among the five children.
"BOYS!" Hermione yelled, her hands on her hips. She glowered at the two, who had stopped chasing each other and was looking at their mother with mockingly pitiful faces. Ron smiled as he sat down on the bar. He recognized the expression as one of his own—he had looked back at Hermione like that for ages.
"Mark—Danny—why are you playing with your wands? Have you ever heard of the Improper Use of Magic Office? You could get expelled from Hogwarts—"
"Mum," thirteen-year-old Danny said, "they're fake wands—you know, from Uncle Fred and Uncle George." He gave it a shake, and it suddenly turned into a stuffed toucan. "See?"
Mark shook his own wand, and it turned to a foot-long broomstick. "Hey, cool!" he exclaimed.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Mark."
Mark bit his lip and hid the toy broomstick behind his back.
"Mum—" Danny began to say, but Hermione cut him off.
"If I ever hear another crash up there—"
"Don't interrupt me while I'm talking, young man." Hermione apparently meant business.
Hermione whipped around and groaned loudly again. There was greenish blob with evil-looking green stuff trickling out of the pot. Mark and Danny grinned at each other, and stormed out of the kitchen. Typical of them.
"Oh, Ron—why didn't you watch over this thing? And those two—oh, they're gone again!" Hermione threw her hands up in frustration.
Ron chuckled. "Believe me, the kids will be delighted to know dinner's ruined."
Hermione glared at him. "What will we feed them, then?"
"There's always pizza. You just dial that felle—tello—telephone down the block, right?"
"Oh, right. And let them grow dull-witted and weak, not having enough nutrients in their body." Hermione gingerly tipped the pot to a large bowl. "Hmm...not so bad, actually."
Ron wrinkled his nose as he stared at the green soup. "Have you tasted that thing?"
"No." With her wand, Hermione peeled boiled potatoes and mashed them. She spilled grayish-brown gravy over them. "Almost done. Claire! Set the table!"
For years, Ron had grown accustomed to this second-rate dining. Hermione was definitely not born for household work. She was a person of books, of intellect. She worked as a mediwitch in St. Mungo's, and evaluations say that she's one of the best the hospital has ever seen.
But put her behind the stove....
Claire's nose was buried in her book as she entered the kitchen. She placed it on the bar and read some more, before taking out plates. Claire wasn't exactly the star pupil Hermione had been, but she was extremely smart. She loved reading more than anything, and she could answer just about any question you put her way. But she didn't care much about her grades. She pretty much relied on what she knew.
Ron watched her back as she reached inside the cupboards for glasses. He admired her hair—she was the only one among the kids who acquired his red hair, and it was perfect, too—straight and coppery, like his. She often wore it in a ponytail, but tonight it was let loose.
Claire carried a stack of plates and walked out of the kitchen. Ron could hear her voice when she spoke. "Hey, Danny, you've seen Titanic?"
Mark was the one who answered. "It was disgusting, Claire. They were snogging all the time. And he drew her while she was—"
"Okay, okay, so you've seen it. What about Fellowship of the Ring?"
Danny butted in. "It was cool."
"So what did Sauron say when he got on the Titanic?"
"I said, what did Sauron say when he got on the Titanic?"
"Is this a joke?"
"I give up."
"Sauron said, 'I'M THE LORD OF THE RINGS!'"
Ron snickered to himself as Mark and Danny groaned. "Oh, shut up, Claire," growled Danny.
Claire, grinning stupidly, entered the kitchen again to get the drinking glasses. Mark and Danny were right behind her, looking like they've been told the worst joke in world history. She handed them a couple of glasses each, and they made their way out.
"You know something, dear?"
"What?" Ron turned to Hermione.
Hermione smiled at him sweetly. "I can't help but notice how Claire acts so much like you."
Ron raised his eyebrows. "Me?"
Hermione nodded. "She can be so funny at times."
"I'm flattered." Ron smirked. "But you know, I always thought she's more like you."
"Yep. And the twins. Mark and Danny are more like me, I think."
"Danny's got large front teeth," Hermione countered.
"Yeah, well, you're going to shrink them soon, aren't you? And I was talking about personality."
"None of our kids are like only one of us," said Hermione, sitting down across Ron. "They're more like...a combination of us both."
"Yeah...of course." Ron was staring off into space when Mark and Danny entered the kitchen again. Danny, who was already taller than Claire, had no difficulty opening the overhead cabinets. He took out seven forks, seven spoons, and six bowls. He gave the bowls to Mark.
"There's only six," Mark told him.
"I got none for you," said Danny. "Why don't you try losing some weight?"
"Stupid git," Mark said between gritted teeth as he opened the cabinet again and got his own bowl. They left the kitchen, snapping playfully at each other.
"And I thought they'd never want bowls," said Ron to himself.
It was Hermione's turn to raise her eyebrows. "What did you say?"
"Nothing," Ron said immediately. He was in fact thinking that none would want Hermione's soup, anyway.
Aaron suddenly came barging into the kitchen, Mark's toy broomstick tucked under a chubby arm. "Hey Daddy! Uncle Harry's on fire!"
Ron laughed out loud as he stood up. Aaron always announced fireplace calls that way. He let Aaron lead him to the living room. The head of his old friend, Harry Potter, stood floating on the fire.
"Evening," greeted Harry with a grin. Harry was more tanned than Ron remembered, probably because of spending too much time in Quidditch pitches around Britain. Armed with his ever-trusted Firebolt, Harry had joined the league, the Chudley Cannons in fact (much to Ron's delight), and just a fortnight ago the team made it through the semifinals.
"Oi." Ron grinned back. "What brings you to our fireplace?"
"It's not me, actually. James wanted a word with Claire. But anyway, how are you?"
"We're fine. Do you know Hermione's promoted?"
Harry nodded. "Yep. George mentioned it to me just a while ago. Tell her congratulations from me."
"Thanks, Harry," called Hermione. She was bringing the soup into the dining table. Danny, Mark, Aaron and Andrea were making disgusted faces. Claire simply smirked.
"Oh, here's Claire," said Ron. "Honey, James wants to talk to you."
"Okay." Claire grinned at her godfather. "Hey, Uncle Harry, what are you bringing me tomorrow?"
"A surprise," Harry said with a wink. "Here's James. See you tomorrow, everyone."
"'Bye," the whole household said. Harry's face disappeared from the fire, to be replaced by an eerily younger version of him—same unruly black hair, striking green eyes.
Ron's godson smiled at him. "Hi, Uncle Ron," James said. He was in Claire's year, only a month younger. "Claire."
"What's up?" asked Claire, throwing her book aside. Ron knew his daughter needed a bit of privacy, so he walked away from the living room. Mark and Danny, meanwhile, casually went to the living room, pretending to study Claire's book, when they were in fact eavesdropping.
Typical of them again. When it came to physical build, the difference between the two was staggering. Mark had his share of bantering from not-so-sensitive Hogwarts students in his first year, but he quickly learned to ignore them—and to bite witticisms back, whenever he was inspired. Luckily Mark had always defended his brother—although he couldn't help but tease him, too, when they were alone. They had grown even closer over the year.
Aaron was ambling towards him, still holding the toy broomstick. He looked up at Ron with wide blue eyes that Ron knew were his own. "Daddy, when I grow up, can I have a bigger broomstick like the one Claire and Danny and Mark got?"
Ron ruffled Aaron's soft brown curls. "I'd buy you an even better one," he said.
Aaron's eyes sparkled. "You would?"
"Yep," Ron promised. "When you're eight. That okay with you?"
Aaron pouted. "It's three years away, Dad."
Ron smiled. Aaron didn't have to count with his fingers. In fact, he answered so quickly that one would think he was already studying in school. This one was another Hermione Granger-Weasley in the making.
He'd love another one, actually.
Hermione was now placing the potatoes on the table. Ron watched her bite her lips as she scrutinized the dining table and its contents. She had looked like that when she concentrated on her books, in her schoolwork. The look had annoyed him when they still attended Hogwarts, he remembered.
Hermione made her way back to the kitchen. Ron gazed at her out of the corner of his eye. It was strange, how he learned to love what he used to find insufferable. In Hogwarts, he had refused to acknowledge the fact that he did love her. It had taken Harry to knock some sense into him.
"Bloody hell, James—I'll have your arse, I mean it!"
Ron whirled around and gaped at Claire. Claire's eyes widened and looked at Ron guiltily.
"Language, Claire," Ron reprimanded quietly.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
Ron tried to smile. "Lucky your mum's not here."
Claire nodded. She glared back at the fire. James's head was laughing. "Shut up," she said. "What did you have to tell him that for?"
"I didn't just tell Jason, I told you," James insisted. "He asked."
Ron couldn't help but listen. Jason. That would be Jason Wood, Oliver Wood's son, who followed his dad's footsteps and was now the Gryffindor Quidditch captain. James and Claire were both in the team.
"Why do you think he asked?" Claire whispered to James.
James rolled his eyes. "Why do you think? Come on, Claire—the whole team knows it—all the Gryffindors, even! I can't believe you're that thick!"
"Thick to what, exactly?"
"To see that he likes you!"
Ron dropped Titanic. Mark and Danny looked up from The Lord of the Rings, looking stunned.
Claire looked at the three of them frantically. She flushed deep red. She turned back to James, fuming. "You nutty little prat!" she hissed. "My whole family's listening!"
"Oh, are they?" James didn't look the least bit surprised. "Sorry about that—um, Uncle Ron."
"JASON WOOD LIKES CLA-AIRE!" Mark and Danny suddenly cheered, pumping fists high into the air. "JASON WOOD LIKES CLA-AIRE!"
Hermione had come to the living room, Andrea and Aaron in tow. "Jason Wood?" she asked, sounding very amused.
Ron could see Claire's mouth forming a four-letter swear word. "James...I'll talk to you tomorrow. We're having dinner."
"Right." James was still grinning. "See you." With a small pop, James's head disappeared.
Claire stood up and snatched her book from Mark and Danny. Though she didn't look up, Ron could see that her forehead was very red.
"Dinner's ready," said Hermione, putting an arm around Claire's shoulders. Hermione whispered something to her, something that made Claire blush even harder. Hermione gave Ron a knowing smile. Mark and Danny were shaking with suppressed laughter.
There were some things Dad doesn't have to know.
Ron took his usual place at the head of the table quietly and eyed the green soup and brownish-gray gravy, trying not to look like he'd lost his appetite. He led his family in grace, articulating every word slowly, as though not wanting to start eating.
When they finished praying, Hermione cheerfully ladled out the soup into everyone's bowls. Andrea, who sat beside Hermione, wrinkled her nose. Claire watched her mother with a vacant expression on her face.
Ron kept on taking glances at his eldest. Now she was staring at the wall behind Hermione, as if there was something very interesting on it. To his surprise, she spooned out the soup and sipped it without any comment.
Aaron, who was staring at his soup, looked up at Hermione. "Dad?"
Ron spooned out some soup from his bowl. He realized that there were sprouts in it—things he hated. "Hmm?"
"Dad, what's sex?"
Ron accidentally spat out a bit of sprout. Mark and Danny snorted loudly. Even Claire's lips curled upward lopsidedly. Aaron and Andrea stared at them, looking startled.
"Yeah, Dad, what's sex?" piped in Andrea.
"Um." Ron cleared his throat. "You know, I don't think it would be a good idea to talk about it while we're on the table."
"Why not?" Danny asked mischievously. "Like eating, it's part of human life."
Ron felt himself turn red. He looked at Hermione pleadingly.
"Danny," warned Hermione, glaring at him. Then she turned to the twins, smiling. "Why do you ask, Aaron?"
"Well...we were in your room, and in Dad's bag we found these stuff."
Mark and Danny were positively shaking in suppressed mirth.
"Er—stuff?" asked Ron.
"Some parchments. I think Mum uses them."
"What parchments?" asked Hermione.
"Blank ones, and on top of them it says 'St. Mungo's' and all that...then it asked for your name, and address...and your sex, and beside 'sex' it says 'M, F'."
Ron's sigh of relief came out of him in a whoosh. He suddenly became aware that beads of sweat had popped out of his forehead. He had never been asked what sex is before, not even by Mark or Danny. It had been Hermione's job to tell them.
"I see." Hermione leaned back on her seat. "Sex—M, F—"
Danny turned to the twins seriously. "Mum and Dad do it M, W, F, S, S."
Mark and Claire burst out laughing.
"DANIEL WEASLEY!" Hermione shrieked. Danny bit his lip and stared at his bowl, his head bobbing up and down and his face red from laughing. Mark grinned at him. Claire pinched his arm.
"It simply means 'male' or 'female'," Hermione said.
"That's it? What's so funny about that?" asked Aaron, apparently confused.
"What does W and S mean?" asked Andrea.
"It's a private joke," Mark said. "Don't mind us."
"Not fair!" cried Andrea. "How come you three always goof around and we don't understand what you're doing?"
Claire smiled. "You'll understand someday, when you're older," she told her in a very sisterly manner.
"But what's so grown-up about male and female?" asked Aaron.
Andrea shrugged. "Maybe sex is male and female grown-ups," she declared.
"Well said," Danny muttered.
"No, honey," Ron told Andrea, his ears still noticeably red. "It simply means male and female, that's it."
Aaron and Andrea didn't seem convinced, but they nodded anyway. Hermione exhaled loudly, mirroring Ron's relief. Apparently, none of their other children had asked The Question when they were as young as the twins.
The dinner ended in no time, with considerably a lot of leftovers. Claire had gone back to her quiet stupor. When Hermione asked Claire for help with the dishes, Claire silently obliged, though she was a lot slower than when she brought the dishes to the table a while ago.
Ron sank into the sofa and surreptitiously stared at his daughter. Her face, heart-shaped and tanned, was so much like Hermione's. Though Claire's hair was definitely Ron's, the rest of her features were Hermione's—those large, warm brown eyes, the thin lips and small nose. She even used to have those large, irregularly-shaped teeth Hermione used to have, until Hermione decided to shrink them when Claire was thirteen.
Sixteen years ago tomorrow, Hermione had lain on that squeaky metal bed in St. Mungo's, crying out loud to Ron as he held her rigid hand. He could still remember Hermione's words then—"Why did you bloody have to do it to me in that flower field? First those rashes and now this!" Ron very rarely heard his wife swear, and at that moment he had paled to the point of collapsing. He could still remember the smell of antiseptic in the hospital, the stares of the medi-witches, and the way sweat made his clothes stick to his body. Hermione was crying and Ron was ready to faint, when Hermione gave that last push....
Claire was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. When the medi-witch slapped her bottom and she gave out her very first wail into the world, Ron had wept unashamedly. He felt a rush when Claire was handed to him, and she stared back at him with those lovely eyes. It was the first time he didn't ache when Hermione cried as he handed Claire to her.
Three more pregnancies, four more kids, four more wails. They were all momentous for Ron and Hermione, but Claire had been the first, and understandably the most memorable. He had watched this girl learn to read and write, ride a broomstick, say her nightly prayers. Even then, she had been rowdy and hysterically funny—she often beat James and her other pals in snowball fights—but she was known to be very bright and have a gentle heart.
And now she was almost sixteen.
Ron blinked. He had been staring at Claire for quite a long time now. He grinned at her. "Yes?"
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Er, nothing." He shifted so that Claire could sit beside him. "Come here."
Claire hesitated, then sat beside her father. He slung an arm around her.
"What is it?" she asked guardedly.
Ron raised her eyebrows at her. "Since when did you and Jason Wood—"
"DA-AD!" Claire squealed. "Dad, there's nothing going on, it's just that prat James—"
Ron laughed out loud and held his daughter closer to him. Her hair smelled like Hermione's. "You know...I really don't mind. I've met Jason and he seems like a very polite young man."
"He's a slave driver, Dad," said Claire, rolling her eyes. "You can ask James and Chris. Chris had sent a Bludger his way once—but he's so freakin' good that he just flew away like that."
Ron snorted. Fred had taught his son a few things about being a Beater. "Sounds like his father."
"Mr. Wood?" Claire asked. She chuckled. "Like father, like son, huh?"
Claire smirked. She fell silent for a while, staring at the stack of DVDs on the corner, obviously in deep thought.
"You know, Claire," Ron began quietly, "normally I'd keep an eye on you, but your mother trusts your decisions a lot. And I guess I do, too."
Claire looked up at him questioningly.
Ron took a deep breath. "You're sixteen tomorrow. Things will change a lot. But nowadays change will be much, much easier for you kids." He looked into her eyes seriously. "When I was your age, everything was...dark. It had been difficult to trust anyone. Your greatest fear is coming home to find your loved ones...."
Ron's voice trailed off. He closed his eyes. It had been years since then, but the terrors of Voldemort's second rise to power was impossible to forget.
Ron felt Claire's warm hand squeeze his. He opened his eyes and saw Claire's face, urging him to continue.
"It was hard to trust anyone, and it was even harder to love someone because you'll always be afraid she'd be hurt because of you. For your mother and me, it was like that. Your mother is Muggle-born, and I was the son of a member of Albus Dumbledore's forces. We were both vulnerable. A relationship was out of the question. But we loved each other."
Claire smiled. There were tears welling up in her eyes.
"So, uh...why am I telling you this?"
Claire chuckled and shrugged. "I don't know, but go on."
"I guess...my point is that...if you really...love someone like that, you'd—"
"Do anything for him," Claire said at the same time he did. "I know, Dad, but I'm not in love or something." She wrinkled her nose. "Honestly, Dad."
"I recognized that blank stare you had a while ago—it reminded me of a look your mother had some years ago."
Claire began to turn red. "Uh-huh, and the look was for you?" she said dryly.
Ron grinned. "Of course! No, seriously, Claire." He squeezed her hand. "I don't know what's going on in that mind of yours—probably 'cause you're a girl—but I just wanted to...tell you. Loving someone is remarkably easy. Keeping him is what's hard. So if, if Jason Wood really...likes you or something"—Claire raised her eyebrows—"you'd want to be careful with your decisions."
"Dad?" Claire asked after a while.
"How did you know it was...right?"
Ron slowly smiled. "I just knew."
Claire smiled back. "That's exactly what Mum told me." She looked up at something behind him. Ron whirled around and saw Hermione leaning on the wall, smiling at them.
Ron looked at her suspiciously. "Have you been listening?"
"No," said Hermione casually. "Was there something you didn't want me to hear?"
"Oh, there were loads, Mum," Claire told her, grinning.
Ron winked at Claire. "There's none that you haven't heard before."
Hermione snorted loudly. "Yeah, right, Ronald Weasley."
Claire stood up and picked up her book from the floor. "I'll just be in my room," she said. And to Ron's surprise, she bent over and embraced him tightly.
Ron embraced her back, feeling tears prickling his eyes.
"Dad," whispered Claire, "I still think Jason Wood is a jerk, but I'll remember everything you told me tonight."
Claire released him, kissed her mother on the cheek, and headed upstairs.
Ron felt Hermione's hand on his shoulder. She had sat beside him, taking Claire's place. He took her hand and squeezed it tightly, blinking rapidly.
"You're crying," Hermione whispered in his ear.
"I'm not," Ron retorted, swiping the back of his hand across his face. "Damn."
Hermione giggled. "Dear, that was a good thing you did."
"What, talking to her?"
"Yes. She needs to hear sound advice from her father, you know, especially now that she's sixteen."
"She's sixteen. Can you believe it?"
"I'm still having a hard time," Hermione admitted. "But she's growing up to be a fine young woman, huh? You must've done something right, Ron."
Ron grinned at her. "You must have done something right."
"Both of us, then." Hermione dropped a kiss on his slightly parted lips and hugged him. "You're a great father, you know?"
"Wow. That's extravagant praise, coming from you."
It was then when Mark and Danny entered the living room and found them huddled close together on the couch. But instead of breaking apart, Ron grinned at the two. "Too bad you can't do this yet, huh?"
Danny grimaced. "Come on, Mark—it's Friday."
"Oh. One of those days." Mark grinned and dragged Danny away before Hermione could reproach them.
Ron was grinning stupidly. "I should've asked them to keep watch of the twins while—"
Hermione gave him a dubious look. "I thought we agreed on ten-thirty?"
"Oh, fine. I'll be waiting." Ron grinned—and swept Hermione off her feet literally.
Hermione shrieked, clinging to Ron's neck as he hooked an arm under her knees. "What are you doing?"
"Taking you to the bedroom," said Ron, racing up the stairs with Hermione in his arms, "where we'll wait for ten-thirty."
"Oh—Ron—drop me this instant!" squealed Hermione.
"Sshh. The kids'll hear you."
Ron nudged their bedroom door open, and when they had entered the room, he kicked the door closed and locked it.
And put Hermione back on her feet. And kissed his wife squarely, passionately on the lips, to which she responded just as fervently.
After a long, long while, Hermione broke away, but her hands remained at the back of his neck. He gave an involuntary shudder as Hermione continued to stroke his neck with her smooth, slender fingers. She licked her lips and looked into his eyes with her glazed brown ones.
"Well?" asked Ron, gasping for breath. His hands were buried somewhere underneath Hermione's blouse. The buttons of his shirt had somehow come undone.
"Just this once, Ronald Weasley," Hermione breathed.
Ron grinned. "Oh, I doubt that," he said, and traced his lips on the side of her neck.
"I love you, Ron," whispered Hermione, sighing.
"I love you too, darling."
Just outside their door, Mark and Danny clamped their hands into their mouths and ran away, quivering with laughter.
She's looking like her mama a little more everyday.
One part woman, the other part girl—
To perfume and make-up, from ribbons and curls.
Trying her wings out in the great big world
And I remember...
kisses after bedtime prayer,
Sticking little white flowers all up in her hair...
"You know how much I love you, daddy, but if you don't mind
I'm only gonna kiss you on the cheek this time."
Oh, with all that I've done wrong, I must have done something right
To deserve her love every morning
And butterfly kisses at night.
~Bob Carlisle, "Butterfly Kisses"
Author's Notes: It feels awfully weird, writing about Ron and Hermione calling each other "dear" and "darling". Oh well. :) A few threads ago in the Good Ship, the topic about Daddy!Ron telling his kids stuff about the birds and the bees had been...quite interesting. Ho ho. Do send reviews, 'kay? Now let me go back to Family. (Note to my readers: I'm sorry! I'm sorry!)