June 2022. Schwalmstadt, Germany.

It was late. The boys were finally back home, and Hermione had sorely missed them. After all that had happened in the past months, she knew that they were just putting on a brave front for her. Tip-toeing down the hall, she reached Bryan's room first. As expected, he was fast asleep, his room still in disarray from the incomplete unpacking job. Had his eyes been open, Hermione would've been tickled by the ever present mischievous look in them. Only recently had they dimmed down some, but sweet Bryan will still the life of the party when he wanted to be. Reaching forward, Hermione brushed the sweaty golden-blonde locks—just a shade lighter than her own—out of his eyes. He had refused to cut his hair even as it tickled his shoulders, telling her always that "You like Dad's long hair plenty!" Figured. All of her boys idolized their father.

Their father. The hole in her heart, only just momentarily filled by warm thoughts of her firstborn, tore open again as she thought of her darling husband. While some still disparaged him for his role in the war over twenty years ago, he was the light of her life; her equal; her partner in everything.

By now, Hermione had closed the door to Bryan's room and reached Roman's. Despite the fact that he had been home with her the whole year, being only nine, her heart still fluttered at the sight of her sleeping angel. The months had been especially hard on him; while his older brothers were away at school when the incident happened, Roman had to deal with the fact that his father was no longer a constant presence in his daily life. As the baby of the family, he was already more reliant on his parents—now with the loss of his father, he was almost completely latched onto Hermione. She of course didn't mind. She watched as his chest rose and fell with each breath, his hair splayed across the pillow, and marveled at how fragile life could be. Poor baby. Fatherless at nine.

With that thought, Hermione's hand inadvertently covered her bump, which was still only somewhat visible over her clothing. Not as poor as Eloise! She would never even meet him. Hermione was nearly five months in with her, and Severus had passed away three months ago. They had been trying for years after Roman—in fact, trying every year since Bryan had turned two—and no one had been more overjoyed than Severus when Hermione finally fell pregnant for the fourth time. They had almost finished planning before Severus's untimely passing. Eloise Eileen, with the second middle undecided. All of their kids had two middle names; with a mother like Hermione, naming was always an exciting affair. She joked that it was the best part of having children and her reason for wanting so many.

Leaving Roman's, she headed over to Johnny's room. Officially named Sydney John Dashiell, the family had taken to calling him Johnny after discovering that the planned Sydney-John, though very elegant in theory, was much more inconvenient in practice. Of their three sons, Johnny was the one who took after Severus the most, not just in looks but also in actions. With his mahogany hair and hazel eyes, he had the darkest complexion of all his siblings. As Hermione stepped closer and stroked his forehead, his eyes flew open, and hazel and brown stared back at each other. Many seconds passed before he spoke.

"I miss him."

Hermione's heart broke for him. "Sweetie, I do too. We all do. There's nothing I miss more than him. If only that snake hadn't bit him, or that we'd managed to find a way to stop the effects of the venom!" She broke off, knowing it was all useless now. Instead she focused on her son, trying to direct all the love for him against the pain.

Johnny looked like he wanted to say more, but decided instead that he wanted some comfort. "Mum, come here Mum," he murmured and cracked a smile when she obliged. She immediately wrapped her arms around him, and he, being nearly her height by now, snuggled his head into the crook of her neck.

"I wish there was some way to bring him back, Mum. Y'know, with magic. There has to be!"

Hermione kept her firm hold on him. "Hun, any magic that manages to bring the dead back to life is an act against nature. It's wrong and I don't want you delving into that. Your father wouldn't want to see you wallowing away or worse, follow his path as a teenager. Just think of his proud face, looking down at his three big boys and future daughter from above."

Johnny looked wholly unconvinced, but he stopped voicing his thoughts aloud. Instead, he basked in the sweet, peachy scent of his mum for a few more moments before the embarrassment of the situation kicked in: a grown thirteen-year-old boy hugging his mum. As his grip loosened, Hermione knew she was going to be dismissed soon and instead took her own leave, kissing his forehead goodnight.

Only in the privacy of her own room did she really reveal her weaknesses. Her warm chocolate brown eyes had a definite edge to them and looked almost haunted with shadows. The lines of stress between her eyes were more prominent and visible even when she was relaxed. In just three months, she had aged more than three years' worth. She was more angular and much too thin. Her sons mirrored her, but they all were good at deceiving each other.

Hermione flopped onto the bed, doing her best to get as much of what was left of Severus's scent from his side without encroaching on "his territory" and masking the essence with her own. Sleep didn't come easy, but come it did.

When Hermione peaked an eye open the next morning, the first thing she saw was sunlight cracking through the large windows. It was a glorious sight and something that would once lead her to jump onto Severus and squeal at the beautiful day ahead of them… the splendor of the upcoming day today only reminded Hermione of what she did not have.

What her sons did not have.

What little Eloise would never have.

In that moment, she was completely enveloped by her despair. Staring at the empty side of the bed, she despondently cried out, "Take us back to you!"

Somewhere out there, the gods must have heard her or had been watching her for a while, because the world started spinning at her feet. The last thing she saw before falling unconscious was Severus's clean sock still hanging out of a dresser drawer.

A/N As you might expect, there will be a great focus on family in this fic. There will also be a fair share of steamy goodness, though that's a whiles away...