Harry changed into fresh robes and checked himself in the mirror. He found a few of his hairs still singed and his face and hands still covered in bandages.
"What did you do, dear? Had a fight with a dragon?" the mirror asked.
Harry chuckled. "Yeah, something like that, only worse."
Harry continued to stare at himself. He still wasn't used to having Orion de Lancre's face. It gave him the shivers sometimes to think he occupied the body of the man who had wanted to destroy him and become the next dark lord. But he supposed his life would always be tied to something dark and evil. That was his destiny and he ought to get used to it by now.
He muttered a spell to reinforce the charm that kept his eyes green, then messed up his flat hair into his messy mop. It was longer now, the same length as Sirius' and he liked to keep it that way.
He heard a cry from the next room and he felt his heart warm. He left his room and entered the nursery where he found Mrs. Weasley cradling his newborn girl in her arms. She was singing her a lullabye and the baby seemed to calm down.
"Harry dear, are you sure you'll get along without me?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Well I hope so," said Harry. "Ron knows more about this, but I'll figure it out somehow. But can you wait until she falls asleep?"
"Why don't you hold her yourself and let her sleep in your arms?" Mrs. Weasley held out the little bundle to him.
Harry was at a lost. He was excited of course to hold his child, but didn't know how to go about it. What if he dropped her? "I—er… don't really know how."
"Well then, no better time than now to learn. Just hold your arms like this. Yes, now be careful, watch her head." Mrs. Weasley carefully placed the baby into Harry's arms. Harry's entire body stiffened with the tiny body in his arms.
"Relax Harry. You're not going to let her fall. It's a little uncomfortable at first, but you'll get used to it."
Harry tried to loosen up a bit and stared down into the baby's tiny face. She had the beginnings of the trademark Weasley hair but he would bet it would turn just as bushy as Hermione's when she grew up. When she opened her eyes Harry could see them more clearly now than the first time he saw her when she was born. They were deep blue, just like Ron's. His felt his heart twinge a little knowing that nothing of his original physical traits would ever pass on to her, but he consoled himself with the fact that somehow, somewhere inside her was his own magical signature that would continue the Potter line, if not his name.
Mrs. Weasley beamed and Harry could see that she had tears in her eyes. "She looks so much like Ginny when she was born," she remarked.
Harry looked back at his baby and smiled at the thought. He and Ginny had only started dating for a few weeks. It had taken quite some time before the ache of losing Hermione had fully gone from him. Even with his resolve to forget her, the sting of lost had continued on months until it finally ebbed away and he began to regard Hermione again as the same best friend he had when they were still at school.
Ron and Hermione had moved out after their wedding to their new home, which happened to be on the lot next to Potter Manor. Hermione had started part-time teaching at Hogwarts (the other half of her time was spent doing research on magical maladies and on elves with Diana Mackenzie). At the time of her marriage, she and Ron had had to rely on Ron's meager savings and his more or less handsome full-Auror bonus salary after the Black Castle incident. The money they had was only enough to buy the cheapest property they could find since Ron refused Harry's help. Conveniently, the lowest-priced real estate at hand was in Godric's Hollow (The price had devaluated since it became a ghost town after Harry's parents were killed). Tonks had offered the Black elves to build their small house and Ron had designed it to look like the Burrow—only more stable-looking.
Throughout Harry's lonely months at home, Ginny and Maddy had stepped in to keep him company. The two girls seemed to have formed quite an easy friendship and were regular visitors to Potter Manor. Harry always appreciated Ginny as a friend but it took a while before they decided to give it a shot at being something more. Their relationship was moving on slowly but Harry could feel no fear or doubt about it. He was happy with Ginny.
The baby cooed at Harry's arms and he smiled. Lily Granger-Weasley. She was another reason for him to be happy.
Ron's face peered into the room. His robes were half-burnt and his face still bore a few scorch marks. He looked tired but cheerful.
"How's Hermione?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Resting like an angel," Ron said sarcastically. "Hard to imagine her as an angel when she was giving us hell just a few hours ago."
Harry and Ron had often joked that Hermione must have learned something of their colorful language from being around them for years. This afternoon, they both found out just how much Hermione did learn from the amount of swear words she hurled at them while clamping each of their arms in a death-like grip. In Ron's and Harry's opinion, Hermione in labor resembled a very vexed veela with the destructive strength of a rampaging hippogriff and the vocal chords of a banshee. She screamed, she swore, she kicked, she clawed and she sent out half a dozen hexes with each burst of pain. And that was even after the healer attending her had made the precaution of taking her wand away. It didn't help that her wandless magic specialty was shooting flames. It explained why Harry and Ron ended up with their robes half in cinders and their own skins covered with bruises and first degree burns.
Throughout the eight-hour ordeal, Ron and Harry were helpless to stop her. Witches in labor weren't allowed to be subjected to spells until after they give birth because it might affect the condition of the baby. Harry at one point had to scream himself that even with all the magical knowledge they had, they still need to get Hermione to deliver using the natural way—with no pain killers or even a cooling charm for comfort. Ron on the other hand, had sworn to him that he would gladly take on Voldemort, Orion Black and Grindewald all at the same time than endure his wife.
But it was all worth it when they heard the first cry from their baby. Hermione had stopped screaming, burst into happy tears and hugged her daughter to her chest. Harry found himself crying too with Ron. The two of them huddled on each side of Hermione and stared at the bundle she had in her arms. There she was a little, breathing thing—the one person that sealed their friendship forever.
"You have to excuse Hermione," said Mrs. Weasley. "Pregnant witches are like that, you can never understand the pain we go through."
"I think Harry and I have an idea. She almost burned us alive!"
Mrs. Weasley shook her head at them as if they were little children. "Can I leave you with the baby? Your father will be home soon and I need to start dinner. Mickey's already made supper. The milk for Lily is in the kitchen. Just warm it but mind you to test—"
"Mum," Ron interrupted. "Harry and I can handle it."
"Are you sure? I can stay for the night of course, help you get settled?"
Ron took Lily from Harry's arms and held her easily. Ron's experience babysitting his cousins when he was younger had paid off quite well. "We'll take care, Mum. We'll survive. We survived her mother, didn't we?"
Mrs. Weasley melted and gave all three of them a kiss before apparating away.
"So, it's just us," said Ron staring at his little daughter who seemed to have other ideas rather than sleeping.
"Yes, just us and Lily. You don't mind staying here at the Manor for tonight?"
"I thought you'd never ask Harry. I'm too tired to even apparate or walk next door. Dumb luck, Hermione picked the time to go in labor here."
"Just as well, at least we have Mickey to help out and ready with dinner."
"Wish I could get an elf at home. I'd hire any of the freed Black elves but they all refuse to work for Hermione. She still keeps trying to offer them too many day-offs and high wages. Hope Mackenzie convinces her to change that attitude."
Diana Mackenzie maintained a rather more realistic opinion about the elves. She knew that some things couldn't be changed 360 degrees overnight. Her work on the elves had considerably raised the creatures' status in the Western wizarding world. There were new laws now being enacted against the abuse of elves and much awareness of their plight had been brought to the attention of the public. Some of the freed elves like Dobby and Balder had even been invited as members of the Auror force. But not all elves had opted for the same opportunities. Many of them were still perfectly happy to serve their masters and mistresses in private homes. Mackenzie had made Harry, Ron and Hermione swear not to reveal to anyone her secret knowledge about the subjugation spell that caused the elves their enslavement. She continues her research on elf magic, with Hermione occasionally helping out. But if Mackenzie did manage to find out a way to reverse the subjugation spell, she wasn't likely to reveal it, especially to her overly-zealous assistant. Mackenzie was only too aware of the consequences of abruptly freeing the elves on a massive scale: it could send the European Wizarding economy into turmoil.
"Go get cleaned up," said Harry to Ron. "I'm sure Mickey has got your bath water ready."
"I will later," replied Ron. "But what I could really use is that fast-healing salve Hermione makes. Too bad, we don't have any more stock of it. I swear, I never want to go through that again. It's worse than going on assault."
"Well, at least I'm not going to," laughed Harry.
Ron scowled at him. "Don't be so smug. You just wait Potter. If you and Ginny ever get married and have kids, you'll be in worse trouble. May I remind you that Ginny's an expert with the Bat Bogey Hex."
Harry's laughter died and it was Ron's turn to gloat.
"You think she'll grow up like any of us?" Ron said when he was satisfied with seeing Harry's worried expression.
"Maybe," said Harry. He tried to imagine what it would be like when his daughter was grown up. He could picture a girl that looked like Ginny with all the bossiness and brilliance of Hermione and the carefree recklessness he and Ron ever possessed.
"But she won't grow up as obsessed with studying as Hermione," said Ron. "We'll make sure of that. We'll teach her to play Quidditch and chess."
"And procrastinate in homework?" Harry added.
"Oy! That's essential. And when she's up in Hogwarts, she'll be the most brilliant witch there is."
"And the prettiest."
"Yeah," agreed Ron wistfully. "She'll be beautiful."
Harry could just imagine her a few years older off to another ball in pretty dress robes. But at the same time, he could imagine scores of young men staring at her. "We'll kill any bloke that tries anything funny with her," he said severely.
Ron had the same harsh expression. "Oh yeah, I'm thinking disembowelment and pulverization."
"Ron?" Hermione called out from the next room. They all hurried to her bedroom with Lily still in Ron's arms.
Hermione was still looking a bit weak and was lying in bed. But she smiled when she saw them.
"Can I hold her again?" she asked.
Ron nodded and placed the baby near her. Hermione couldn't sit up yet, but at least she could play with the baby's little fingers and stroke her lovely head.
Ron came over to the side and kissed his wife on the cheek then began cooing at their newborn. Harry was drawn in and decided to imitate Ron. The baby responded with giggles so Harry and Ron repeated it.
All of a sudden Harry felt himself lift from the ground.
"Oy! What in the world—!" Harry managed to say, at the same time, he realized Ron was also floating in same manner towards the ceiling.
Harry tried to mutter a spell to counteract it, but it wasn't working.
"Hermione!" cried Ron. "Cut it out! Let us down!"
"It's not me!" she said. "But here." She reached for Ron's wand. "Finite Incantatem!"
Nothing happened. Ron and Harry continued to float above the bed. She repeated it twice but still nothing was happening.
Harry was suddenly alarmed. He looked at Ron and he could sense he was also on the alert. Was somebody attacking them? Have the wards around the house been penetrated? If so, where they coming for him and Ron? For Hermione? For Lily? Was it another dark lord bent on vengeance?
He and Ron began bobbing up and down like two bouncing balls on air.
"Who's doing this? Show yourself!" Harry challenged but nobody responded.
There was a sound of a giggle and they all turned their attention on their little baby who seemed to be enjoying watching her fathers floating above her.
Hermione gasped. "Oh my goodness!" She kissed Lily on the head and burst into tears.
Harry and Ron looked at each other then at Hermione as if she had just lost it.
"Hermione? What is going on?" asked Ron.
"It's Lily," she said while kissing her daughter over and over. "She's showing signs of random magic! But this is so wonderful! She's only a few hours old; most children don't show until they're six months! Can you believe it!" She kissed the baby again. "Oh Ron, Harry. I've never seen anything like this. And she actually lifted you both—two grown men—that's never happened before in history! I haven't heard of any baby her age showing such powers!"
Harry and Ron grinned at each other. Harry knew Ron was thinking of the same thing: That Lily could just possibly be a very powerful witch—probably more powerful than the three of them combined. It gave them both a sense of pride. Just then, however, they violently rose higher and crashed their heads painfully on the ceiling. "Alright, this is great," said Ron, rubbing his crown. "But could you let us down, Hermione?"
"I can't," replied his wife. "Random magic by babies is different. It's uncontrollable, I can't counter it."
"Oh wonderful," said Ron. "How do you suppose we could get down from here?"
"Well, if Lily decides to lift the spell," said Hermione.
Ron and Harry groaned just as Lily let their heads bump the ceiling once more.
"Er… Hermione, you think Lily could do other things."
As if in answer to his question, the pillows around Hermione's bed began floating as well. They began flying around in circles faster and faster. One pillow managed to float higher and smacked Harry's face.
"I had to ask," he said. "What do we do?"
"I suppose we could convince her to let you down, draw her attention somehow," said Hermione and she proceeded to do just that by cooing at Lily.
Suddenly gravity came back at full force and Harry and Ron landed hard on the floor along with the pillows.
"Are you alright?"
Ron and Harry emerged, rubbing their bruised body parts.
"Hermione, how long does it take before we can counter her magic?" asked Ron.
Hermione bit her lip. "Depends, usually until she's two years old. Her powers will grow as she ages and learns new things."
Another pillow flew and squarely hit Ron's head. "Merlin, help us," he muttered.
Harry ducked just as a similar projectile came barreling in his direction. He emerged from his retreat from the side of the bed but was caught unaware when a second pillow grazed the other side of his face. He rubbed it feebly and shrugged. "Well at least we know she's not a squib."
A/N: After more than a year, it's finally over.
My thanks to all those who stayed with this story to the end and I'm again grateful for all your wonderful reviews that kept me going. Special thanks to my regular reviewers:
Sir Gawain of Camelot a.k.a. froggiesrcool (who really made my day by reviewing every chapter towards the end and for her amusing an alternative plot);
Destiny13 (Don't be sad, there are other great fanfic writers out there worth reading. Check it's an R/H fic site, where my stories are also posted. Also of my favorite sites though I'm not published there);
Will There Ever Be a Rainbow (sorry it's not purely Hermione-Ron, but I just couldn't help taking advantage of the romantic tension);
HarryLyr (thanks for all the praises);
and to all those I failed to mention. You've been all been great readers.
I don't know when I'll write a new story or when I'll make outtakes of this one. I might be taking a long break in writing but I'll certainly post here again if I get a good plot bunny running.
Tell me how you like this epilogue and I promise to answer any more questions you have regarding this alternative universe I created.
One final disclaimer before I close: I don't own Harry Potter and the original magical world J. K. Rowling created. As for the title of this story, I got it from Alfred McCoy's Book "Closer than Brothers" (Anvil Publishing), a documentary about the Philippine Military Academy; so I humbly acknowledge that it's not mine either.