A/N This is a Christmas gift and a thank you to Scrib and Greenpluff, I hope you like it (somehow I managed to make a fluffy little one-shot all angsty...same old me eh?)
What You're Missing
"Impossible raw women, I know you're all too hard to please
I can help you, will you only ask me kindly
Don't make me get down on my knees
God bless these hungry women, impossible to ever keep
Your breath has never tasted so sweet."
This would be the first time he had bought her a present as a boyfriend.
He was going to mess this up, he knew it, and he had never quite got Hermione's presents right in the past. He'd made an effort that time he gave her perfume but it was still just a generic 'girls' gift and Hermione wasn't a generic girl by any means. Ginny was an easy girl to buy gifts for, she liked quiddich and all sorts of cool stuff, and Ron could understand her. Hermione liked the weirdest things.
She liked to strap planks of wood to her feet and slide down a steep snow covered mountain. This, Ron thought, was insanity not leisure. She liked to read boring books for fun. That was work or research not a relaxing way to unwind at the end of a long day of work and research. She liked to campaign for lost causes when she had a spare moment in her 'oh-so-busy' schedule. Again, Ron thought to himself, this was something other people guilted you into doing not something you did as a treat. Hermione was a freak, what on earth did he see in her?
What on earth did she see in him?
He always said the wrong thing, did the wrong thing, never admitted he had done or said the wrong thing due to the infamous Weasley stubbornness. He was also, at this moment, utterly skint.
"Is the young sir looking for something in particular?"
Ron was snapped out of his Christmas shopping stupor by the inanely grinning shop assistant, wearing a name tag declaring that 'Kimberly was here to assist you with all your shopping needs', who had enough unnaturally blonde hair piled up on the top of her head to stuff a mattress.
"Um, no I'm just looking." he shook his head and began to walk over to the next counter.
Shit, 'Kimberly' was following him.
"Gift for your mother is it?" she simpered.
"No, there's no gift for anybody, I'm not looking for anything thank you."
He quickened his pace as he left the counter behind him and made for the door leading back out onto Diagon Alley. He wasn't quite sure how she'd managed it but Kimberly was now in front of him holding up a large mauve bottle.
"Is it for that special lady in your life?"
Oh Merlin did she have an annoying persistence or what?
"There's nothing...for anybody, I was just...I'm just...I'm going!" he blustered as he side-stepped Kimberly and her bottle of whatever it was and huffed at the extra hassle he was now having to deal with in his quest for Hermione's Christmas present.
"Oh but this is a lovely fragrance," he voice was becoming more of a nasal whine the more he heard of it and he didn't have any more patience for this Christmas shopping lark, "and there's isn't a young lady in the wizarding world who doesn't adore the scent of lavender."
"Oh yes there is!" sputtered Ron as he almost choked on his own incredulity at how dead he would be if he ever bought Hermione anything to do with Lavender the person or lavender the flower.
Ron almost ran from the shop and blundered into a passer-by in his haste to escape the awful Kimberly.
"Blimey Ron what were you doing in there?" George's voice demanded as he staggered with Ron's momentum.
"Oh sorry George, um what, in there? I wasn't."
"Oh what a fantastic lie, I'm utterly convinced now, I will choose to believe you over the evidence of my own eyes!" George scoffed.
"Oh in there? Well yeah I was only killing time before...leaving."
"You were killing time before leaving where?"
"The shop" Ron gestured over his shoulder and as he did saw with horror that Kimberly was heading towards them.
"You were killing time in the shop before leaving...the shop? Ron, have you hit your head? You're a fantastic liar and that was just pathetic!" George looked thoroughly disappointed with him.
George was right, he was a fantastic liar, he could get out of this embarrassing situation no problem.
"You're right, I am lying, I was in there buying your Christmas present and I don't want you to see what I got you so...go away. Now!"
George grinned and looked over Ron's shoulder into the shop,
"What are you getting me in here? It's full of girlie products isn't it?"
"The guy's stuff is around the back" Ron was really grasping at straws now.
Oh Merlin Kimberly why can't you just let it go?
"I'm sure we can find an alternative for you, there's more than just this you know?"
"I'm fine thank you," Ron whispered under his breath, "and in case you hadn't noticed Kimberly, I've now left your shop so there's really no need for you to keep serving me."
George was grinning a 'you will suffer for this for evermore' grin. He knew Ron had been caught out doing something he didn't want to be seen dead doing.
"You can forget all about lavender, I won't mention it again."
I hate you Kimberly.
"Lavender?" George now looked as if he was about to cuff Ron around the head.
"I know he's very sensitive when you bring that up isn't he?" Kimberly nodded to his outraged brother before turning back to Ron, "What about rose?"
"Rose!" George hissed at him, "How many women have you got Ron?"
Through gritted teeth he snarled,
"She's talking about flowers you nob!"
"Oh," George said with great relief before wickedly grinning at him, "ah, is ickle Ronnie getting something nice and smelly for lovely Hermione?"
"I wouldn't shop here if I owned the place" Ron spat as he scowled at Kimberly who looked tremendously offended, turned on her heel and stormed back into the shop muttering something under her breath about time wasters.
"Now now Ronniekins, that's no way to talk to a lady is it?"
"That's not a lady, that's a leech" Ron grumbled.
George seemed more than amused at this little encounter and slapped Ron on the back as they began to walk toward Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes.
"Come on now little brother, buying gifts for your loved ones is supposed to be a joy not a chore, why don't you get her one of our daydream charms and she can imagine she has a boyfriend who bought her a really nice present!"
Ron shrugged off George's arm and stopped walking,
"And to think you're the funny one."
George chuckled at this,
"Oh come on Ron, that place is a rip-off, even if you had the money to shop in there I wouldn't let you waste it. They're overpriced and the staff are overbearing. Diagon Alley's really gone do-lally since the war ended."
Ron felt offended at his financial situation being brought up like that, he had obviously looked visibly offended too as George's grin faltered and his voice became somewhat kinder.
"Listen Ron, talk to mum, she's really good at explaining girl stuff to us idiotic Weasley men. I didn't get so lucky with the ladies without a little coaching myself y'know?" he raised a mischievous eyebrow at this last part.
Ron rolled his eyes,
"Oh great, ask mum, is that the best you can come up with or are you just trying to prolong my agony?"
"A little of both. Seriously though, she can tell you how to do something that Hermione'll really like on a budget, she's used to improvising isn't she?"
"Hey, can you ever remember being disappointed by anything she ever gave you?"
Ron began to count off on his fingers,
"Well let's see, maroon jumper, ugly as sin dress robes, maroon jumper, second-hand school books, maroon jumper, maroon jumper, maroon jumper..."
George smacked Ron around the back of the head,
"A broom for becoming a prefect that we both know she really couldn't afford?"
Ron shook his head,
"Exactly, she had to buy me something she couldn't afford to give me something I really wanted."
A broad hooded figure blocked their path, Ron and George tried to walk around him but he side-stepped to stand in front of Ron.
"You got a problem?" Ron asked with insolence.
"Yeah," the hooded figure growled, "you."
Ron snorted and pushed past the intimadating figure,
"Join the que."
He saw the George was fingering his wand anxiously and shook his head before pulling him by the elbow and going on their way.
"You better watch your back Weasley!" the hooded figure hissed after them.
Ron spun around and smirked,
"I'd rather watch yours while I'm kicking your arse."
He felt George tense beside him and rolled his eyes at the departing muscle man before letting out an exhasperated sigh.
"What was that?" George asked, examining Ron's face for the lie he was expecting to be told.
"That was a coward, he's all talk don't worry about him, he didn't even take his hood down" Ron waved a derisive hand over his shoulder.
George shook his head as they walked on,
"You need to get a safer job."
"I'll get right on that George, they're giving out safe jobs left right and centre these days."
George had a strange look on his face, it was as if he was really thinking about what Ron was saying and making a decision with a great deal of reluctance.
"Listen," he finally said as he stopped walking and turned Ron to face him, "the shop's doing really well and I'm sure Fred wouldn't mind if I loaned you..."
"Don't even say it!" Ron snapped.
George looked as if that reaction had been exactly what he had expected and raised both his hands in an act of surrender,
"Sorry, I know, it was just a thought."
"Thanks but...it's fine."
Ron felt like shit now.
"Listen George, could you not mention any of this to Fred please?" Ron pleaded.
George smirked and shook his head,
"Well I may not be able to keep the Lavender and Rose thing to myself, that was just too funny mate!"
"For you maybe!" Ron grumbled.
"But as far as the rest of out little chat goes," his brother said with a small smile, "Nah, he doesn't need to hear about any of that does he?"
Ron let out a sigh he didn't realise he had stored up inside him and patted his brother on the arm,
"No problem, " George winked as he began to walk on down Diagon Alley, "so are you going to pop in and say hello?"
Ron shook his head,
"I've got to go."
"Ok then, I'll see you at the Burrow on Christmas Eve then," he waved as he widened the gap between the two of them, "remember what I said though Ron, go and ask mum. She's a real diamond with that kind of stuff. And be careful!"
Ron nodded and waved as George turned his head and disappeared into the crowd within seconds.
He was going to tell Fred everything...but Fred would never mention it to him for the rest of his life. That was how things worked in their family, nobody kept secrets from each other but everybody had them.
She washed her hands, the ink from the daily prophet having smeared all over her fingertips, and smiled as she rubbed the soap into her skin.
The overpowering smell of coconut wafted up and she inhaled deeply. She loved that smell so much. She had never used to but now, especially in her cosy one bedroom flat on the border of muggle London and magical London with one door opening onto Diagon Alley and the other a quiet side street in Covent Garden, it was everywhere. She had surrounded herself with all sorts of coconut-scented nick-knacks.
The bathroom was the 'nuttiest' place in the flat. Coconut soap, coconut shampoo, coconut conditioner, and coconut bath oil...the room smelt like a bottle of Malibu!
Smiling, as she smelt her hands the front doorbell chimed on the magical side of the hallway.
"It's open!" she called down and heard the door click and creak open.
"Honestly woman, you'd think Mad-Eye never taught you a bloody thing" she heard his grumbling as he came in and closed the door behind him.
"What are you on about?"
"Constant vigilance!" Ron bellowed up the stairs to her, in quite an accurate Moody impersonation, "I could've been anyone."
She chuckled to herself,
"I knew it was you."
She heard his footsteps on the stairs, thudding in that heavy-footed way he had when he was tired or annoyed about something.
"How did you know it was me? You weren't looking out of the window when I was waving like a total prat to get your attention."
She met him at the top of the stairs and tried not to smile quite so widely,
"Because you're the only person who uses that door. Everybody else uses the muggle door, even Harry."
"Because none of them know about the other door."
Ron blinked, as he understood what she was saying to him. She had only told Ron about the door onto Diagon Alley so he was the only person who ever used it. He was the only person who could drop in at a moment's notice while going about his business in the area. When that doorbell rang she knew who it would be and could prepare herself. Why did she need to prepare to see him? She had no idea but she always did.
"Oh" he said as he smiled an odd smile, as if he was flattered but also a little guilty about something.
They hugged and she heard Ron inhale deeply.
"Is that unusual?"
They broke apart again and made their way into the living room.
"No that's not what I meant. I mean, you've just been in the bathroom haven't you?"
"How can you tell?"
Ron dropped like a sack of spuds into the squishy armchair opposite the window,
"You smell like a coconut, good enough to eat."
She sat on his lap and leaned in to kiss him.
"Oi! Get your own chair, this is mine," he teased.
"It might be your chair but you're my cushion" she said as she snuggled in to his lap.
"Fair enough" Ron shrugged.
She was going to do her very favourite thing; a tease, bicker and then make-up session; but she noticed that he was out of sorts this afternoon and wanted to get to the bottom of it.
"How's work?" she ventured.
His shoulders slumped and he shook his head,
Ah that was it.
She curled her arms around his neck and hugged him closely to her, burying her face into his hair as she spoke her well-rehearsed words of comfort to him,
"It'll be fine, you'll see."
He didn't say anything. Ron had been offered an office job at the ministry, something that paid well and regularly, but he just didn't have the mentality to sit in a tiny room all day doing paperwork. He had declined and taken on freelance work. When he was hired he could make a fortune but he was only hired sporadically and for short periods of time. That was due to him being so good at what he did. He was paid by the hour and he would get the job done faster than anyone else in the business, therefore doing himself out of making enough money to pay the rent on his own flat. It was only because his landlady had a soft spot for redheads and needed a lot of her looted possessions repossessed from the dark wizards in hiding that Ron wasn't thrown out onto the street. That was how Ron managed to get by, offering his services for free in exchange for his debts being cleared for another month.
"Yeah, Christmas is coming isn't it? Everyone is going to want to pawn or sell his or her stolen goods and that's when I'll catch them," he mumbled half-heartedly.
"You'll clean-up" she sighed into his hair.
She hated to see him so disheartened. He had chosen such a noble line of work, and such a rewarding one too, but it just wasn't a reliable source of income.
"Yeah you're right," he said, with more confidence now, "all those filthy cowards will come crawling out of the woodwork any day now and I'll be ready for 'em." he smiled at her and kissed her briefly on the lips.
Ron was in the business of recovering the magical possessions and valuables that had been stolen over the course of the war with Voldemort by the Death Eaters. Well not the Death Eaters, they at least stood by their leader and fought until death or imprisonment, but Voldemort's sympathisers who were too afraid of Azkaban to join him and too afraid of him to join the fight against him to keep up appearances. They were actually the majority as far as dark wizards were concerned, those who wanted the same thing as the Death Eaters but without having the spine to do anything to get it, and they had become scavengers in the wake of attacks during the war. When the dust settled and most were running into the debris to rescue the victims if they could the vultures would descend and pick through the rubble for anything of any value.
Now the war was long over but there were still looters out there looking to offload their ill-gotten gains and Ron was the number one wizard for hire when it came to recovering people's lost treasures. He was the best, the very best, and the fastest at tracking anything down for anyone but speed was his curse as well as his gift. One time he had been given a job that twelve of his contemporaries had tried and failed at for almost a year. The witch in question had almost lost everything in her determination to recover her family heirloom, worth nothing other than sentimental value to her, paying all those different recovery wizards before she hired Ron who had managed to retrieve the item in an hour and fifteen minutes. It was a hell of an accomplishment; he made a name for himself that day. But he only got paid for that one hour. It wasn't fair, Hermione always thought to herself, it was as if the others were getting rich for being bad at the job whereas Ron was living on a shoestring and regarded the best in the business.
The only downside to his chosen career was that death threats were a daily occurrence and the better he got at his job the more dark wizards wanted him dead.
"So what were you doing in town then?" she wondered aloud, curious but more than happy to see him that afternoon.
He seemed to tense up in his seat,
"Um, oh nothing really, I just popped in on the twins y'know? Had a nice chat with George, as far as chats with George go that is, and swung by to see you."
She didn't buy that excuse for a moment but decided to let him be as she gave him a tighter hug before getting off his lap.
"Well I'm glad you did, I haven't seen you in days."
He sat forward in his chair,
"I flooed you only last night."
"That's not what I call seeing you Ron, it's not the same."
He frowned at her,
Ah, the puppy dog look, it gets her every time.
"No I'm sorry, I know you've been working..." Ron snorted at that but she ignored him and went on, "...and trying to stir up some new business before Christmas. It must be tough for you with such a big family to get presents for and everything."
She saw something in his expression after she said that and wondered exactly how bad his financial situation really was.
"Actually I was going to ask you if you wanted to...no never mind. Tea?"
Merlin she was good, he'd pick up the bait in one...two...th...
"Ask me what?"
"I was just an idea but I don't want you to think I'm putting too much pressure on our relationship, just forget I said anything. So did you want tea?"
"Spit it out Hermione!" Ron snapped.
"No tea then?" she teased.
Then he smiled that exasperated smile that it seemed only she was able to produce and huffed with amusement,
"What are you doing?"
She knew he would be suspicious if she'd have just proposed the idea in a straightforward manner but to do it this way meant he would be less defensive and more likely to consider it.
"I just thought that maybe we could get joint presents for everybody this year, y'know, as a couple? But you don't even have to tell me you hate the idea, I know you hate the idea, you hate the idea don't you?" she said the whole thing at such a speed she wondered if he would have even understood any of it at all.
Ron looked as if she had just hit him in the face with a frying pan; he was dazed and expressionless for some time before seeming to slowly translate what she had just said inside his head.
"Wha...Presents from the both of us? Go halves that's what you're saying yeah?"
She nodded and cursed herself internally, he had immediately picked up on the money side of things, but she noticed that something else was distracting him from the defensive stance he usually adopted when it came to 'charity' or 'pity' as far as money was concerned.
"So we'd both get a present for my mum and dad and your mum and dad...from the two of us?" he said cautiously.
Suddenly her ulterior motive dropped out of her head and she was more concerned with this issue too,
"Well yes. You do hate the idea don't you?"
"No," Ron said thoughtfully, "I don't hate it I just...um...it's really..."
"Too soon?" she asked.
"Is it?" he frowned.
"It is isn't it?" she said the words as she realised the truth for herself.
He got up out of the armchair and pulled her into a cuddle,
"Sorry, I've made you feel bad now haven't I?"
"No you haven't, don't be silly Ron, it's fine. You're right, it is a bit full-on isn't it?" she sighed.
"Well not for normal people but for us..."
She laughed and gave him a playful slap; he chuckled as he let her go,
"So do you want a cup of tea or not?"
Oh well, it was worth a try.
While Hermione was off in the kitchen making the tea he wandered around the living room wondering if he'd just made a mess of a good thing with his girlfriend. He hoped not. They really didn't feel like a joint present giving kind of couple yet though, if that was who they'd ever become at all, and she did seem to genuinely agree with him.
As he idly picked up a large white candle that was resting on the mantelpiece he realised that two of his loved ones had tried to give him money for Christmas gifts in the space of half an hour in one way or another.
Great...from hand-me-downs to handouts, how far he had come eh?
He sniffed the candle and smiled as he realised that it, along with most things in Hermione's flat smelled of coconut. When on earth had she developed this coconut fetish? She didn't used to smell of coconut all the time, at least not that he remembered, he had only begun to notice it after they had got together. Maybe she was always into coconut and he was too dozy to have noticed it, he had been too dozy to notice a lot of things as far as Hermione was concerned, and he put the candle back in its place as she came back into the living room carrying two cups of tea. She was smiling until she noticed him replacing the candle, then she began beaming for some reason.
"It's new, I got a whole bunch of them for all over the flat, they smell gorgeous when lit," she said as she handed him his mug.
"Thanks," he said, taking the tea and looking around the room, suddenly seeing that there were indeed a lot more coconut scented candles dotted about the place, "So you need them for reading at night do you?"
"No," she crossed the room and bent over the candle he had just smelt himself to take a coconut hit of her own, "I like to light them when you're away, y'know?"
He really didn't know.
Why was candlelight a suitable substitute for an absent boyfriend? Was he that replaceable? Why did she think he understood what she meant?
He took a sip of his tea, at least she hadn't put coconut in that he thought, and wondered what she didn't have that was coconut scented that he could get her for Christmas.
"What are you looking for?" her voice snapped him out of his inventory of her possessions.
"Sorry? Oh nothing, just looking around that's all" he shrugged.
"Do you think I've got some poor old witch's family silver tucked away somewhere?" she teased.
"Funny" he said as he took another sip of his tea and sat back down in the armchair.
"No seriously," she smiled as she sat on the edge of the coffee table across from him and looked up into his face, "you just had that look you get when you're just about to find some Death Eater's secret hiding place. You're searching for something. What is it?"
Bloody hell you can't get anything past her can you?
"I was just...wondering where you had hidden my Christmas present" he smiled.
She laughed and shook her head,
"You're good but you aren't that good Ronald Weasley, you'll never find it before Christmas morning."
He set his mug down and raised his eyebrows,
"Is that a challenge?"
"No!" she said firmly as she held up both hands, warning him to stay in his seat and not go rummaging around her impeccably tidy flat in search of his gift.
He let himself chuckle smugly as he slouched back in the armchair. It was his armchair, he always dropped down into it when he arrived at Hermione's place and he had heard from Harry that when he had dropped in while on a break from auror training and sat in the chair Hermione had turfed him out in a very rude and un-Hermioneish manner. That had amused Ron no end. He took a big gulp of tea and leaned forward; his elbows on his knees, he needed to know something.
"Hermione, you didn't get me something really big did you?"
She took his mug from him and set it beside her on the table,
"You'll have to wait and see."
She still thought they were joking with each other.
"No seriously, it's not something really...good is it?"
She seemed to know exactly what he was getting at now and become slightly annoyed with him,
"By good you mean expensive don't you?"
She covered his mouth with her hand and fixed his eyes with her own,
"I got you something I know you'll like and it doesn't matter how much I spent on it or if you get me something of equal or greater value. Don't be such an idiot about this Ron."
He got to his feet and her hand slipped away from his lips,
"Sorry I didn't mean it to come out like that."
She grabbed his hand as it hung loosely at his side,
"Don't worry, it's fine, sit down and finish your tea."
He had a bee in his bonnet now and knew he wouldn't be able to settle down and have a normal conversation with her without it turning into a row; he had to get out before he put his foot in it.
"No I'd better get going. The work won't find me will it?"
She stood up as well now and tugged at his arm as he moved toward the stairs,
"Ron don't rush off please, I've hardly seen you for the last couple of weeks, you can take a break from it for a couple of hours can't you?"
"Take a break from what?" he huffed as he yanked his arm away from her, "I haven't been doing anything have I?"
He tried to give her an apologetic look as he leaned forward to kiss her goodbye but she was looking worried and hurt and he felt like a moody sod.
"I'm sorry, this is just the worst time of year to not have any money coming in, I'm being a prat."
She slipped her arms around his waist and gave him a tight hug,
"It's ok, I understand, I just miss seeing you around the place these days. Come back tonight when you're done will you?"
He laughed and shook his head with disbelief,
"I can't believe you want me to come back."
She smiled up at him,
"Of course I want you to come back, only leave that chip you've got on your shoulder outside when you do ok?"
"I guess I deserved that."
"You really did."
He kissed her while she pulled a scarf around his neck. As they separated he looked down and was pleasantly surprised to see the scarf his mother had knitted for him last winter that he had lost as soon as the cold snap kicked in when he really could have done with it.
"Hey you found it!"
She looked at her feet guiltily,
"Actually, I've been using it."
"I've been freezing!"
She laughed as she pulled him back down to meet her lips by both ends of his scarf. She smelled of coconut.
I love coconut.
His mother was busy preparing the Sunday roast when Ron entered the kitchen at the Burrow and leaned against the doorframe.
"If somebody made you something for...let's say Christmas for example, rather than buying you a present, would you think they were being thoughtful or being cheap?"
His mother stopped what she was doing and turned to face him with a proud but sad look in her eyes. She cupped his face him her hand and smiled.
"Oh Ron, I would adore anything you gave me if it came from the heart."
He smiled and shook his head,
"Not you mother, I've got your present all sorted out already, this is...just a theoretical question that's all."
She gave him one of her all-knowing looking that let him know he had been sussed,
"Ah a theoretical question about a theoretical girlfriend's Christmas present is it?"
He couldn't help but laugh at this,
"Well I know for a fact that Hermione would appreciate it if you made her something rather than just going out and buying her something, she's that kind of girl."
"Hmmm..." Ron frowned.
"What did you have in mind dear?"
"I haven't a bloody clue," he said before realising his mistake.
He watched the pot behind his mother begin to bubble over.
"Mum the gravy" he nodded over her shoulder but his mother was scrutinising his facial expression.
He shoved his way past her and grabbed the handle, pushing the pot away from the blue flame beneath it, before realising just how hot the pot was and cursing under his breath and blowing on his hand.
"Oh you silly boy, there are oven gloves right here" his mother said as she held up her hands and waved the tattered-looking gloves she wore on each hand in front of him.
"And a lot of good they're doing me on your hands!" he hissed, "Your gravy was about to go for a Burton, what planet were you on?"
His mum took off the gloves and slapped him on the shoulder with them before dragging him over to the sink and running the cold tap.
"Hold your hand under there."
He did as he was told and soon felt his pink hand going numb under the icy water.
"Let me see," he pulled his hand out from under the tap and watched as his mother examined his palm closely and sucked air in through her teeth, "it's not too bad, put it back under while I go and get the burn ointment."
Once again he complied without complaint. He held his hand in the stream of cold water for several seconds before wondering why it was his mother hadn't left yet. She was staring at him thoughtfully, a worried crinkle between her eyes, and when she noticed him looking at her she leaned in close and spoke in a low voice.
"Listen Ronnie, if you are a little short this month your father and I..."
"Don't!" he warned her in much the same way he had warned George earlier in the week.
"It's no trouble and I hate to see you struggling to get by."
"Nobody's struggling mum, my rent's clear until January, it's ok. Besides George already offered."
"I know, he said" his mother said absent-mindedly.
Ron yanked his hand out from under the tap and threw both his arms into the air in exasperation,
"What part of ' don't tell anybody about this ' didn't that git understand?"
"Ronald," his mother hissed at him, "I won't tell you again, watch your language!"
She grabbed his hand and forced it back under the tap before charging off to unearth her magical first aid box. He was quite pleased that Hermione had gone to her own mum and dad's for dinner this Sunday, it was one thing for the Weasley family to be seen by the wizarding world as poor but it was a whole other humiliation for him to be seen as the poor relation in the Weasley family.
He really needed to get some work soon.
Hermione was at the top of her game right now. The Department of Mysteries research assistant had just managed to dig up a long lost incantation for an almost impossible to translate text brought to her by one of the unspeakables and was feeling pretty pleased with herself right now.
Pleased with herself and lonely.
She wished Ron would let himself take some time off and relax. She wished he would spend more time relaxing with her. She had to make do with buying more and more coconut related products to fill the void. Just this afternoon she had gone into Muggle London just so she could buy a Bounty bar. She had bought another for Ron, whenever she saw him next, as she thought the combination of coconut and chocolate was perfect for him. She smiled to herself as she remembered watching him smelling the coconut candle in her living room.
She had never really cared either way for coconut before but that all changed on that wonderful day early in the summer. The day Ron Weasley had kissed her for the first time.
They had been sitting on the grass in the sunshine and Ron had just polished-off a bag of toasted coconut teacakes, she could taste it on his lips...on his breath...on his tongue. She had always remembered that day, that kiss, whenever she had smelt the smell of coconut forever afterwards. When she tasted coconut is was like she was tasting their first kiss all over again. She ate coconut a lot these days.
"Miss Granger are you with us?" a voice snapped her out of her reminiscence.
It was her boss, Wilson, the administrative chief of the Department of Mysteries and Hermione's immediate superior.
"I'm sorry, I was miles away."
"Miles away and thoroughly enjoying yourself I'd say due to that grin on your face."
She felt herself blushing and tried to remember exactly what she had just been working on that afternoon.
"Well I apologise for bringing you back to this grubby old place but I really do need those files on the unbreakable wards for the minister's visit to Azkaban next week."
"Oh right, I have those prepared somewhere."
She became slightly flustered and shuffled some papers around her desk before remembering that she was Hermione Granger and didn't mislay anything, especially nothing important.
"Oh of course, I already sent them up with one of the ministry elves."
Wilson beamed and rubbed his hands together,
"Marvellous! I don't know what we did before you came here my dear I really don't."
She smiled as a large tawny owl landed on her desk grasping a small scroll.
"Well I won't keep you, looks like another job's come in for you to get cracking on, let me know if you need any help. Not that you ever do of course but maybe you could pretend to be stumped so I could feel superior for a change eh?"
She laughed and Wilson gave her a cheerful wave and went on his way. She untied the scroll from the owl's leg and unrolled it.
Dear Miss Granger,
I understand that you may be in a position to assist me with an 'off-the-record' project involving some stolen property.
I don't know if you've heard of the recently deceased seer Edna Daniels, she was one of the most productive of her kind and produced some of the most accurate prophecies in the last three hundred years,
Hermione snorted at this, she had had more than enough of prophecies to last her a lifetime.
She had a wealth of knowledge that she stored in her secret pensive.
Why mention that the pensive was secret? Aren't all pensives somewhat secret?
Why a secret pensive I'm sure you ask? Well her memories were not just her own. Daniels had visions too you see, insight into the minds of some of the most powerful witches and wizards alive, and to respect the privacy of these people she would store their memories in a separate and top secret pensive. She had many of Albus Dumbledore's memories in that pensive. These are the memories that have been stolen. These are the memories we need to recover immediately.
Nobody knows what exactly Edna ever saw that was inside Dumbledore's mind and nobody should, it was only while myself and the aurors were emptying the secret pensive and destroying the memories that we realised that Dumbledore's were missing.
If you can help or know of anyone who can help to recover and/or destroy these private thoughts of Dumbledore's you would be doing your old headmaster a great service.
Please respond using the same owl, he is the only one able to find our location, and thank you for any help you may be able to provide.
P.S. Tonks asks me to wish you a Merry Christmas!
Hermione read and re-read the letter several times before wondering if her very first instinct was the one to follow. It was a job. It was a job she had more than enough confidence in him to do. It was a job the ministry would pay handsomely for. It was, more importantly, a job he wouldn't take if he thought he had only been given at her suggestion.
The ministry needed Ron. Moody needed Ron. Their old headmaster needed Ron. Ron needed money.
How was she going to do this?
The door was being pounded on in a way that made him fear the worse when he answered it. Clutching his wand tightly he swung open the door and readied himself for a disgruntled Death Eater or an equally disgruntled debt-collector before relaxing at the sight of a man who looked like a strategically shaved ape in wizard's robes.
"Goyle? Get in here you prat," Ron hissed as he yanked Gregory Goyle into his flat by the front of his robes and closed the door behind him with great haste, "did you not listen to our last conversation about discretion?"
"I never listen to anything you say Weasley" Goyle shrugged as he held out a small parcel wrapped in brown paper.
"Really?" Ron said with sarcasm, "It's just so hard to tell what with your face having a permanently vacant expression no matter what I'm saying to you."
Ron tore open the parcel as Goyle displayed the very vacant expression Ron had just been referring to as he spoke,
"So my mum's ring?"
Ron looked away from the parcel to shake his head at Goyle and his situation,
"I can't believe your dad even stole from his own wife, that's just re-inventing scumminess and plunging it to even greater depths than ever before."
"Did you find out who he flogged all our stuff to?" Goyle said as he cracked his knuckles.
"No," Ron said with more sarcasm that he ever though possible, "I recovered the ring with my eyes closed and never saw the bloke's face once."
Ron kicked at the skirting board to his left and a shallow drawer popped out of the wall, he picked a small box out and pushed the secret draw back into the wall, and Goyle's face almost formed an expression at his having revealed his secret hiding place.
"Don't get excited, that's where the post owls leave my mail."
Goyle's hint of an expression dropped at this and he was once again a blank slate.
"There you go," Ron said as he tossed the small box to Goyle and turned his attention back to the parcel, "one, bloody ugly, emerald engagement ring."
Goyle grunted at Ron as he opened the box,
"Oi, this is very valuable this is."
"Yeah, as scrap maybe" Ron snorted.
The parcel was finally liberated from the brown paper and yards of spellotape the idiot Goyle had used to wrap it for some reason.
Had he been unable to use scissors? Of course he couldn't use scissors, he had to take off his shoes and socks to count to twenty!
Ron felt a wave of nausea as he tossed away the wrapping and examined the broken shards of what used to be a magical magnifying glass.
"It's sodding broken!" he exclaimed as he cast a look of disbelief at the moronically slack-jawed Goyle.
"It was broken when I found it" he grunted with a shrug.
This man is such a prat, I am never doing business with him again.
"So my auntie Quince asked if you could track down her grandfather's invisibility cloak, my dad nicked that as well."
"You have an auntie called Quince?"
"All our family's named after fruit" Goyle grunted with a shrug.
"Your name's Gregory!" Ron said with incredulity.
"Except me, there was a disagreement on how you spell aubergine"
Ron couldn't believe he was having this conversation with this person right now,
"An aubergine's not a fr...Ok you know what? Just get out of my flat, just go!"
Ron began to shove Goyle backwards while opening the door with a flick of his wand as he did.
"But what about my auntie Quince's invisibility cloak?"
"It's invisible isn't it? Of course she can't find it, it's probably on the bloody floor! I am not doing any more business with your in-bred family, now get out!"
"Three galleons up front and your usual hourly rate from now."
Goyle held up a small green velvet pouch that jangled as he shook it. Ron stopped pushing Goyle and stared at the pouch as if he was contemplating doing a deal with the devil. Shit he didn't want to get a reputation of dealing with Death Eater losses as well as the recovery of decent witches and wizards possessions but he still had Hermione, his dad, Ginny and Charlie to buy gifts for. He let the resignation wash over him as he took the pouch from Goyle, who chose that moment to form an actual expression...a smug one.
"Her name's Quince Goyle, it's a missing invisibility cloak and it was stolen by your dad before he went to Azkaban?" Ron reiterated the details as he knew them.
"Yeah, and it has a silver clasp in the shape of a snake's head with poisonous fangs that bite anybody who tries to remove it from whoever's wearing it, you'd be dead within ten seconds if it got yer."
Ron cast an insincere smile at Goyle as he checked that the galleons in the pouch were real,
"Oh well that's good to know."
Goyle tutted as he turned to leave,
"What are you so grumpy about? I bought you the magnifying glass didn't I?"
"You broke it!" Ron couldn't help but raise his voice as he said this.
"Oh yeah" Goyle said before shrugging and disaparatinging from Ron's front doorstep.
Hermione let herself into Ron's flat with her key and was amazed and slightly uncomfortable to find that he was at home.
"Oh hello Ron, I...hoped I'd find you here."
He was sitting at his rickety old desk staring with great annoyance at fragments of broken glass and a brass circular frame with a handle.
"Hermione," he almost sighed her name as if it was a drop of water to a man dying of thirst, it made her a little light-headed to hear for a moment, "please tell me you know how to fix this."
She looked down at the mess that was the broken magnifying glass before looking back at the mess that was her stressed-out boyfriend,
"Does it belong to a client?"
She almost jumped back as if on the receiving end of an electric shock as Ron became suddenly animated and seemed to be speaking to the broken artefact as if it had been taunting him for hours,
"Three days I've been looking for this Hermione, three days, do you know how many hours that is? Do you realise how much money that is? It's not worth anything broken."
He dropped his head in his hands and rubbed his temples. This was exactly why he hadn't been coming to see her quite as often as she'd like him to. He knew she hated to see him stressing and he was doing that a lot these days. A stressed Ron led to a snappy Ron and a snappy Ron caused hurtful arguments between the two of them. This was the downside of the fiery Weasley passion and she had been on the receiving end of it many a time. Fortunately she had been on the receiving end of the 'other' kind of Weasley passion more than enough to make up for it.
"It's fine Ron, we'll work something out, don't worry about it."
Ron looked up at her with tired but sad eyes,
"It's Neville's gran's, he wanted it back before Christmas to surprise her."
Hermione knew that Mrs Longbottom was quite poorly these days and that this might well be Neville's last Christmas with her, Ron knew it too, and she withdrew her wand without a moment's pause.
"Reparo!" she tapped the pieces of the broken magnifying glass but nothing happened.
Ron sat back in his seat with a huff and folded his arms, she knew what was coming and braced herself for it,
"Oh it's a good job you tried that one because it hadn't even occurred to me, I was just shouting at it like a moron, thank Merlin you came along and thought to use the basic repair spell we were taught in the first year."
"Ron, I was just trying reparo for my own piece of..."
"You can't take it for granted that I tried the basics can you?" Ron threw himself out of his seat and stormed out of the room.
She sat in his vacated seat, not following him, not shouting after him, not allowing her feelings to get hurt; just focusing upon the broken magnifying glass and going through every spell she could think of. She heard him banging around in the next room to begin with, the occasion curse word being hissed, before things quietened down and all she could hear was the twittering of Pig on his perch.
"Verso!" she said as she flicked her wrist and pointed her wand at the pieces on the desk, still nothing.
Ron stepped back into the room quietly and leaned on the doorframe, his head low as he watched her attempt a few more incantations, before she couldn't avoid his eyes any longer and glanced up at him.
"I'm really sorry" he said in a low voice and she left the chair without even realising it and pulled him into a tight hug, "I seriously don't know why you put up with me."
"Don't be silly, it's because it's something for Neville, you wouldn't get this wound-up if you didn't really care." she found herself rubbing his back as she spoke.
"It's not just that though," she heard Ron's disillusioned voice sigh, "I took another job from the bloody Goyles this afternoon."
She squeezed him even tighter than before,
"Well that just proves that you don't have more pride and ego than is good for you doesn't it?"
"So lack of self-respect is a good thing now is it?" he grumbled.
She didn't want to break this hug but she really needed to look him in the eye to say this, very reluctantly she let him go,
"Self-respect and pride are very different things you know. Did Goyle ask you to recover anything that could hurt anyone?"
Ron seemed to give this a lot of thought before answering,
"Well it could hurt somebody but only really somebody trying to steal it."
"Well you've nothing to feel guilty about recovering it for them then have you?" she smiled.
"Although it does make me wonder how it got stolen in the first place" Ron frowned before giving her a little smile.
That was good enough, that was all she needed for now, he had let it go for the time being.
"Listen you came round here for something other than shouting," Ron said with a wider smile of apology, "what was it you wanted?"
"I wanted to see my boyfriend, he's been neglecting me."
Ron pulled her into another hug and apologised again. She had wanted to bring up the subject of Moody's letter but right now all she wanted was some time alone with Ron. The magnifying glass, the missing thoughts from Daniel's pensive, everything could wait for now.
"Come on," she said as she led him into his bedroom, "let's take a break."
He woke up and wondered why the room was so dark.
It's the evening, wow!
He must've been tired to sleep through the rest of the day. He felt beside him for Hermione, she wasn't there. With a moan of disappointment he sat up in the bed and rubbed his face roughly to wake himself up some more. He fumbled around for his wand as he climbed out of bed.
"Lumos!" he muttered as his fingers curled around his wand where it lay on his bedside table.
Immediately he squinted at the bright light emanating from the tip of his wand and turned away for a few seconds before looking back, allowing his eyes to grow accustomed to the light. He blinked as he noticed a note on the bedside table.
Didn't want to wake you, you looked so sweet! I had to get back to work but I did manage to come up with something before I did. Thank me later...and you'd better thank me Ronald Weasley!
If it's dark when you read this then go back to sleep, work can wait until tomorrow.
If it's light then good morning sunshine!
I love you, don't work too hard, and please watch your back out there,
He smiled as he crawled out of bed. She couldn't expect him to go back to sleep now that she had got him all intrigued by whatever it was he needed to thank her for. He padded barefoot into the living room and pointed his illuminated wand at his desk.
"No way!" he gasped as he reached out for the fully restored magnifying glass, "Oh Hermione you star."
Sitting down he grabbed a nearby piece of parchment and held the magnifying glass over it before realising it was blank and cursing under his breath. He glanced around the living room for something with writing on it and saw that Hermione had left behind one of her folders from work. He hesitated, this was unspeakable stuff, and he really shouldn't open it. Then again the folder wasn't marked 'Top Secret' or anything and he wasn't going to read anything, just make sure that the magnifying glass read things the way it was supposed to. Only a couple of lines wouldn't get anybody into trouble surely. Besides, if it was really a big deal Hermione would never have even left the Department of Mysteries with it at all let alone left it in his flat.
He picked up the folder and flipped it open. Holding his lit wand in one hand and the magnifying glass in the other he ran the lens over the top line of words. He read the words on the letter heading and jumped with a start as a voice emanated from the page.
"The Ministry of Magic, London, December 17th. Dear Miss Granger, thank you for all your help with the ancient translation of the..."
Ron lifted the magnifying glass away from the page and smiled, she was even getting thank you notes in her job, and he turned the letter over and saw that the one beneath was in another language. He ran the magnifying glass over one of the lines and heard the voice speaking in some kind eastern European tongue.
"Translate," he said and without a pause the voice began to read the text in English, "brilliant!"
He lifted the magnifying glass away from the page again and closed the folder, a sheet of parchment sliding out from the loose pages and floating to the floor.
"Oh shit" he mumbled as he got down on his hands and knees and pointed his wand left and right to search for the spot the parchment had landed.
He saw it between the leg of his desk and the wall and retrieved it with his index and middle finger. As he got back up and opened the folder to put the parchment back inside he lifted the magnifying glass out of the way and happened to hold it over part of the letter.
"...help to recover and/or destroy these private thoughts of Dumbledore's you would be doing your old headmaster a great service."
Ron pulled the magnifying glass away from the parchment and froze. He looked at the letter, it was addressed to Hermione and signed from Mad Eye Moody, and couldn't help but read it all.
Missing memories of Dumbledore's? Stolen memories from a secret pensive? Something had been stolen and needed to be recovered and she hadn't asked him to help?
He let out a deep sigh,
"Of course she didn't ask for your help, you'd have jumped down her throat and accused her of giving you a pity job."
He looked down at the letter and thought for a moment before deciding to track this stolen item down for Hermione. That might, if nothing else, at least make up for his being such a moody git with her earlier on. It would also distract him from the horrific thought that Christmas was only days away and he still had no idea what to get her.
How much did coconuts cost these days anyway?
"No, no, no, no, I didn't!" she hissed to herself as she threw every piece of parchment she could lay her hands on over her shoulder in search for Moody's letter.
She didn't leave it at Ron's; she couldn't have left it at Ron's, oh no what if she left it at Ron's?
He would have seen it was work related, he was never interested in her work, and there was no reason at all for him to have read that letter. She had nothing to worry about.
"Oh Merlin, what an idiot!" she sighed as she slumped into Ron's armchair and dropped her head in her hands.
She had to go back to his place and get her folder and simply pray that he hadn't found the letter. She had got it all planned out, she was going to pass it on to Wilson and ask him to take the investigation after telling him her workload was too huge coming up to Christmas, and all she'd have to do then was wait for Wilson to put feelers out asking for the best recovery wizard in the business and Ron would have a paying job; a well paying job; a ministry paid job.
How could she have left that bloody folder at his place?
With a crack she had apparated outside his front door, pulling her key out of her pocket she glanced up and down the street for no other reason then that she was doing something secretly and felt immediately as if any passer-by would be able to detect her guilt at a glance and raise the alarm. The key turned in the lock and she crept into the hallway, closing the agonisingly creaky door behind her slowly, and tip toeing over to the door to the living room.
She pushed the door open and her body relaxed from its tightly wound ball of tension as she saw that Ron wasn't home. The door to his bedroom was wide open and his bed was empty. The desk was magnifying glass free and her folder was sitting on it with a hastily scribbled note scrawled onto a piece of parchment tucked into it. She pulled the note free and read.
She smiled and picked up the folder, opening it and flicking through the various pages, but her smile soon faded. The letter was there, but not where it should be, and not where she'd left it. It was open too and she knew she had folded it.
Oh he didn't...he hasn't...
She turned over the note he had left her and read the back of it.
...he bloody has.
"I wasn't nosing I swear, it fell out," she read aloud, her heart sinking with every word, "but I can help you with this. Sorry you didn't feel like you could ask me, I know I've been a total arse lately, I offer you my services for free...call it an early Christmas present. Ron."
She whimpered with frustration and kicked at the leg of the desk, stubbing her toe quite painfully, causing her to whimper again.
"Oh no," she whined, "that could have paid his rent for three months and he's doing it for nothing!"
Merlin he infuriated her sometimes!
"He's doing it for me."
She really loved that penniless redhead.
Well that was a good feeling; he knew he liked his job for some reason, and the fact that Neville had paid him so eagerly without him even having to bring up the uncomfortable issue with his old friend made the evening even better.
Neville's grandmother had her magical magnifying glass back so she could read for herself rather than having to rely on Neville doing it for her, Neville got to be the hero for getting it back for her, and Ron got to buy Ginny an upgrade for her broom from Quality Quiddich Supplies for her Christmas present and pay one more month's rent in advance so January wouldn't be quite such a worry when business really died down.
He was walking down Diagon Alley with the bag containing Ginny's present when he reached the junction with Nocturn Alley and paused. He was in a great mood, did her really want to spoil it by going down there and starting his investigation into the missing memory? No he didn't. He was going to though. That was because he was an idiot.
He cut across the human traffic as they rushed two and fro along Diagon Alley, last minute Christmas shoppers in a buying frenzy, and glanced up at Hermione's window. There was no light on.
Where was she so late?
He stepped into Nocturn Alley and kept his head down, this wasn't a place you really wanted to make eye contact with anyone, but the head down defence was only effective for so long.
The oncoming robed figure with their hood up who had slammed so deliberately hard into Ron's shoulder that it almost dislocated blocked his path and let out a snarl.
"The retrieval man is back I see. I thought I made it clear you weren't welcome around here the last time you came through."
Ron still couldn't see the man's face but he knew exactly who it was as stood his ground.
"I have a few friends who will be more than happy to show you the way back to Diagon Alley."
As the man spoke several robed figures moved out of the shadows to either side of him and began to advance on him with menace. Ron calmly put down his bag and withdrew his wand from his robes and pointed it at the man's face.
"Lumos!" he said and the wand tip illuminated the face of Blaise Zabini.
"Get out of my street Weasley" he said coldly.
"Your street?" Ron said with amusement, "Do you mean your street in the same way that acre of illegally grown devil's snare in Hampshire is yours?"
Zabini's face dropped,
"Well if that little crop is indeed yours as I suspect...no wait, I know because it's your family's land isn't it? Well I have to wonder exactly how you can keep me out of your street once the aurors throw you into Azkaban."
"You think you're untouchable don't you?" Zabini hissed.
"No I think I'm an idiot. Now if a self-confessed idiot has caught you breaking the law then how easy is it going to be for an auror to discover just how many illegal things are paying for your ownership of this street?"
Zabini visibly flinched. His goons didn't seem to know whether or not to advance or retreat. Ron had one more ace up his sleeve before they realised that they could easily ruin his life, or end it altogether, right there and then. He knew this wasn't really about who had the power but who wielded what they had with the most confidence.
Huh, if only he had come to realise that when he was still at school.
He turned his wand on one of the figures to Zabini's left and recognised Nash, one of those wannabe Death eaters who didn't quite have enough spine to join Voldemort but who became quite wealthy from the suffering of others during the war, and knew he had the killer move to end this game.
"Well look who it is."
Nash actually seemed to baulk at Ron's focus on him.
Oh he was definitely going to win this stand-off.
"Did you know that the Goyles were looking for you?"
"Well they will be. Thank you for that ring by the way, Mrs Goyle was overjoyed to get it back but don't worry, I didn't tell them it was you."
Nash seemed to have been bolstered with a little bravery, fuelled by his raw hatred of Ron right now, and took a step forward.
"But then of course there's the invisibility cloak," Ron smirked as Nash stopped in his tracks, "now you didn't have to be all that clever to know that bulk-buying stolen goods from that prat Goyle, when half of the stolen goods belonged to his own family, meant you'd eventually end up with a bunch of baboons demanding their stuff back; but you've really got to wonder how strong you'll have to be to keep hold of it when they find out your the one who's got it."
"You...don't get paid if you grass me up Weasley" Nash said nervously.
"I can live with that. The question is can you?"
Ron realised that two of the robed figures had vanished back into the shadows, Zabini had just noticed that fact too and began to back off further down the street.
"You see Nash, the Goyles are possibly the stupidest family in the wizarding world but what they lack in the brain department they more than make up for in muscle. So you are left with two choices. Do you want to me to tell the Goyles exactly where to find their family heirlooms or do you want to run off right now and bring me that cloak?"
Nash looked to his left and to his right for some support and found that the rest of Zabini's back up had departed with him. Ron folded his arms and sucked air in through his teeth.
"I haven't got all night y'know? It's gonna take you what; a minute to disapparate, grab the cloak, apparate back here and hand it over? So how about this, I'll wait here for one minute before going on my way and if you haven't put that cloak in my hands by then I'll let the Goyles know where to find their cloak and then I'll let the medi wizards know where to find you? Well...what's left of you anyway."
Nash looked as if he wanted to hex Ron in a thousand different ways at once while stamping on his head but he didn't do that, he scowled and disapparated without a word.
Ron picked up his bag and nodded a amiably to a passing witch,
The witch spat at his feet before hurrying off.
It was only forty seconds before he left Nocturn Alley with the invisibility cloak under his arm and another month's worth of rent owed to him by the Goyles. Still not any closer to helping Hermione with her stolen item but at least with a lot more time to dedicate to finding it.
It was lucky he knew how to talk the talk, he thought to himself.
Those guys would've torn him to pieces!
"Hermione! Lovely to see you dear, we missed you last Sunday, how were your parents?" Mrs Weasley was wrestling Hermione's coat and scarf off of her before she could say a word.
"Merry Christmas Hermione!" Mr Weasley beamed, pulling her into a firm hug.
"Merry Christmas Mr Weasley" she said, muffled by his Weasley jumper.
"Let the poor girl breathe Arthur," Mrs Weasley fussed as she prized Hermione away from her husband, "Ron not with you dear?"
"Um no, he's not here then?" she said, her heart sinking at the thought of him spending Christmas Eve consorting with low-lives rather than surrounded by his family at the Burrow.
She saw that Ron's mother shared that thought as her face fell into an expression of resigned anxiety,
"No he's not. We had hoped he would be coming with you but, I have to admit, we weren't holding our breath."
Mr Weasley was still beaming, full of his usual Christmas cheer,
"Well he'll be along as soon as he can, we'll just have to keep you entertained until then won't we?"
She smiled at him as he took her overnight bag and set off up the stairs to Ron's room while Mrs Weasley took the bag of Christmas presents from her and carried them through to the lop-sided Christmas tree in the living room which Fred, George and Ginny were busy decorating.
"Hey Hermione, long time no see!" Fred called out to her as he threw a garland of tinsel over her shoulders.
"Come to help us put the finishing touches on our masterpiece have you?" George said as he put his hands on his hips and stood back to look at the explosion of lights, baubles and tinsel that was the Weasley family tree.
She laughed as she took in the sight before her,
"Well I'm not sure I can improve on perfection!"
Ginny sniggered at this as she levitated a pentagram to the top of the tree,
"So is dad still chatting with our idiot brother in the hall or did you come alone?"
The twins looked at her expectantly.
"He'll be along later, he's got a lot on at the moment," she said, trying to sound as carefree as she could.
She noticed that Fred and George shared a look between the two of them for a fraction of a second before their boisterous persona returned and Fred hopped down from the stool he had been standing on and bounded over to stand beside Hermione and observe the tree from afar.
"Well?" George asked.
"We've outdone ourselves" Fred said with pride.
Mrs Weasley finished putting Hermione's gifts under the tree and bustled back to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder as she went,
"I could use some help in the kitchen if any of you are at a loose end."
George rolled his eyes as he followed her out,
"As if we ever get a spare moment in this place to be at a loose end."
Hermione chuckled and Fred moved to follow him, pausing only to mumble in Hermione's ear,
"If he's not here by dinner time I'll go and drag him back myself ok?"
She smiled at him and he winked before disappearing into the kitchen. Her eyes fixed upon Ginny who was rearranging the gifts beneath the tree.
"You must miss him," Hermione said as she crouched beside her.
Ginny sighed and turned her sad gaze upon Hermione,
"He's got new year's eve and new year's day off from auror training, at least that's something. We're going to floo after Christmas dinner tomorrow so it's not as if I don't get to see him at all."
"Still, it must be tough, not being with the one you love now of all times."
Ginny raised an eyebrow,
"You tell me?"
Hermione and Ginny shared a hug from their kneeling position before the tree.
"Am I that obvious?" Hermione asked sadly.
"Only to those who know you well," Ginny smiled.
They got to their feet and settled down on the nearby sofa.
"I saw him the other day," Ginny said sadly, "I didn't go and say hi though, he was with a group of...well, let's just say they didn't look like very nice people."
Hermione's head dropped,
"He's never around very nice people these days. I swear Ginny, every time I see him and he's still in one piece I'm so relieved and grateful that I forget to nag him to be more careful in future."
Ginny pulled he knees up to her chest and turned sideways on to face Hermione, who mirrored her friend's movements, and sighed,
"Did you hear about George offering him a loan for Christmas?"
Hermione exhaled and shook her head,
"No but that explains why he was so touchy the other day, more so than usual I mean, he was stressing over a job he was doing for Neville and he really went into one."
"Us and our blokes eh?" Ginny rolled her eyes and smiled.
"Wouldn't have them any other way though would we?" Hermione smiled.
"Well a collar and a lead might be a change for the better!"
The two of the burst into giggles.
He had been all over the wizarding underworld and found nothing. He knew there should at least be a whisper or a rumour if any of them had any knowledge of the missing memories. It puzzled him. He had gone through every one of his contacts, informants, he'd even offered Goyle a discount on what he owed him if he could give him any information but Goyle knew nothing. Of course Goyle always had pretty limited knowledge but on this occasion Ron knew that he would give up any information he had before he managed to remember that he and Ron weren't actually on good terms with each other. The giant prat had even wished him a Merry Christmas before his mother had nudged him in the ribs and mumbled something about Ron being a blood-traitor and Goyle remembered to scowl at him. It was almost laughable.
Almost laughable, he couldn't allow himself to stop and enjoy annoying the scum of the wizarding world because he wanted to get this out of the way before Christmas. He wanted to get it done and apparate over to the Burrow to relax with his family and...
...Oh shit! It's Christmas Eve and he still hadn't sorted out Hermione's Christmas present.
"Oh crap in a caldron!" he hissed to himself out loud.
Ron's eyes were wide as he saw the last person he ever expected to see in muggle London at that very moment.
"Professor McGonagall?" he exclaimed.
"Mr Weasley" she nodded curtly, "I see your fondness for fowl language hasn't left you."
"What are you doing here?" he sputtered.
"What does it look like?" she said as she held up a bag full of neatly wrapped parcels, "It is Christmas Eve you know Weasley and I do have people to buy gifts for?"
He couldn't quite believe he was talking to his old head of house in the street like this, as if they were both normal people.
"Sorry it's just that I thought you'd shop in Hogsmede."
Her lips were very thin,
"Well Hogsmede hasn't a wide selection of gifts for the more mature person what with its proximity to the school."
Ron smiled and shook his head,
"You just took me by surprise that's all professor, I never thought I'd see you in the real world."
She looked startled at his comment,
"The real world? Am I to understand you see me as some sort of figment of your imagination Weasley?"
Oh shite, how was he going to get out of this one?
"Well more of an enigma" he ventured.
To his relief he swore he saw a suppressed smile creep across McGonagall's face before her stony facade set back in place once again.
"I would've thought you would be with your family this late on Christmas Eve, doing some last minute shopping?"
"Well no, I was...um...I had some business and then I remembered that I've still one last present to get sorted out."
McGonagall seemed to soften towards him as she nodded to him to walk with her along the street,
"I've heard about your business dealings Mr Weasley, I have to say I'm both impressed and mortified at the line of work you've found yourself in, your poor mother must be an absolute wreck with worry."
"When isn't she?"
"Good point" McGonagall nodded, "though you do seem to be riding your luck at the moment don't you?"
"Do I?" he wondered if this was common knowledge as far away as Hogwarts or if his old professor was subscribed to some sort of Ron Weasley newsletter put out by his mother.
"A lot of people aren't to fond about how much you seem to know about their illegal activities. The more of a threat you are to somebody the more those people would like to eliminate that threat for good."
He was kind of moved by her concern,
"I am being careful."
She stopped walking and turned to face him with a rarely seen smile of affection,
"It's not about being careful it's about being powerful and you've become quite the impressive young wizard Mr Weasley. You play chess don't you? You understand all about defensive play and counter-attacks, you must know you've left yourself open and unguarded, what would you do in their position?"
He didn't have anything to say to that so he remained silent. McGonagall sighed and stepped into a phone box,
"Weasley, if you have a spare moment would you mind escorting me into the Ministry, I have some school business to attend to and I'd rather not heave all of this around with me?"
He thought about the memory he needed to retrieve, the gift he had to buy for Hermione, and the family he had waiting for him at the Burrow. He really didn't have enough time to do anything but he nodded and took McGonagall's bags from her anyway as she dialled.
No money, the underworld about to rise up and get rid of him once and for all, and a girlfriend who was undoubtedly about to chuck him for neglecting her...Merry Christmas Ron Weasley!
"Right, that's it, I'm going to go and find him!" Fred snapped as he saw his mother staring at the family clock and wringing her hands.
"Oh Fred, don't be silly, it says here he's still working, he'll be on his way in no time." Mrs Weasley said as she pushed him back down into his seat.
"Yeah but work for Ron isn't like work for us or work for dad and Percy is it?" George snorted, "Work for Ron could mean surreptitiously rooting through a Death Eater's attic while they and all their most powerful mates are downstairs."
"Or facing-off with a gang of Zabini's in Nocturn Alley" Fred sneered.
"Or getting ambushed on his way here" Ginny added.
Hermione really didn't need to hear all these worse case scenarios any more than Mrs Weasley did right now.
"Right!" Mr Weasley, "Shut up all of you, he said he would be here for dinner and he will be here for dinner so stop upsetting Hermione and your mother and set the table."
The twins and Ginny stared at their father agog before snapping out of their shock and rushing into the kitchen to do as they were told. Mrs Weasley smiled at her husband before following them to make sure they did it properly and he glanced over at Hermione and gave her a wink.
She settled back into the sofa before spring to attention at the sound of somebody apparating outside and the front door opening.
"Hello all, it's only me!" Charlie's voice called out to the group in the kitchen who all pilled down the hall to welcome him.
Hermione slumped, more than a little disappointed that it hadn't been Ron, before glancing up at Mr Weasley who seemed to have suffered the same false hope as she had. He noticed her looking at him and set his face back into his confident grin, though clearly not as naturally this time around, and tapped his wristwatch with his finger.
"No Bill and Fleur either yet, these kids of mine eh? Always late for everything."
She joined in the act and stood to greet Charlie herself.
Where are you Ron?
Ron sat in the main reception area of the Ministry of Magic, surrounded by McGonagall's Christmas presents, with his chin resting in the palm of his hand looking thoroughly bored.
"You're Arthur's boy aren't you?" a voice said as he saw that somebody had stopped in front of him.
Looking up he saw a world-weary wizard with an armful of paperwork smiling down at him.
The wizard shuffled the paperwork under one arm and extended the free one to shake his hand,
"Wilson, I'm an old friend of your fathers from way back, I've seen your entire family grow up over the years."
Ron smiled, he'd heard this from about ninety different people over the last few years, and shook the man's hand.
"Really. So which one are you then? Bill or Charlie?"
"Neither, I'm Ron."
The man almost dropped the paperwork all over the floor,
"You can't be."
"I can't?" Ron frowned.
"You're still a baby!"
Ron snorted at this,
"Have you been speaking to my mother?"
The man lost his futile battle to keep hold of his paperwork and it scattered all over the floor,
"Oh Merlin's beard look what I've done now."
Ron got down on his hands and knees and helped the wizard to gather up the papers.
"Thank Godric Dolores didn't happen by to see this, she'd have my head for being so clumsy with her precious 'Dumbledore' archives." Wilson muttered as he gathered the loose papers together in no particular order.
Ron almost did a double take,
"Yes, dear sweet, venomous Dolores Umbridge and her strange little Dumbledore fixation. She's gathering everything she can get her hands on about the great man. She's got a list of his expenses here somewhere from a trip he took in 1957 to Cornwall, totally meaningless if you ask me but she seems to think there are secrets hiding in everything the man touched."
"Weasley, what on earth are you doing down there?" McGonagall's voice said from above him.
"Oh professor, I was just helping this gentleman with his papers..."
"Ah yes Minerva, wonderful young man, I'm a friend of his father's you know? He's been helping an old butterfingers with the mess he's made." Wilson explained.
"Well you don't seem to be having a moment's peace do you Weasley?" she asked him with a frown at his obvious agitation.
"Can you believe this one's the youngest boy Minerva? This is the baby, where did the time go eh?" Wilson said, not noticing the anxious look Ron was giving McGonagall as she scrutinised him with narrow eyes.
"I can believe it Wilson, he was in my house for six years at Hogwarts, I witnessed the amazing transformation first hand." she said as she gathered up her bags and nodded sideways, indicating she wanted a private word with Ron away from Wilson.
"Oh of course you would have wouldn't you?" Wilson looked up and saw that the two of them were a couple of feet away from him now and put his head back down as he concentrated on collecting the last few loose papers, "Well I'd best be on my way before I keep these from Dolores any longer than I already have."
Ron kept his eyes on Wilson as McGonagall leaned in to him and whispered,
"I recognise that look Weasley and I'm warning you, the Ministry of Magic is no place for your adventures."
He tore his eyes away from Wilson for as long as it took him to say,
"Umbridge professor, I think I can get Umbridge, I think she's been doing something illegal."
As his eyes left McGonagall's face he was sure he saw hers light up despite her still displaying strong disapproval and she turned and watched as Wilson shuffled over to the lift with his unstable stack of papers while whispering under her breath again,
"If you get caught snooping around the Ministry you could get arrested Weasley, arrested on Christmas Eve, think of your family."
He bit his bottom lip as he considered her warning before glancing at her and setting off after Wilson,
"That woman's never been held accountable for anything she's done, I'm going to fix that now."
He ran after Wilson who was just about to set foot in the lift, and called out to him.
"Hey Wilson, let me give you a hand with those until you can be rid of them once and for all."
The wizard looked more relieved than he seemed able to express as Ron took some of his unstable load from him and joined him in the lift. He turned around to see McGonagall watching him as the doors slid closed and he heard her shout out to him.
"You're a credit to Griffindor Weasley, Merry Christmas!"
The doors closed and he couldn't help but smile.
The family were sitting around the table, eating in tense silence, and Hermione couldn't work out of the overriding emotion was concern or anger.
Bill and Fleur had arrived soon after Charlie and Percy wasn't due until tomorrow morning so the only person missing was Ron. The clock still said he was working so she wasn't worried, well, not as worried as some of the others around the table. She knew he was coming. He was running more than a little late but she knew he was coming. She just wished he had sent an owl or flooed or done something to set his family's nerves at rest.
The twins almost had to be physically restrained from going off to search for him and Ginny seemed more than a little miffed. Ron's parents were putting on a brave face to try to keep some sense of normality at the table but it was pretty obvious that they were both on edge right now. Hermione reached for her glass of pumpkin juice and took a sip, nobody seemed able to look at her, maybe they thought she was going to cry or something. She wasn't though, she felt surprisingly calm and she didn't know why.
Well she did. She had lived with this situation for months now and had learned to put aside her anxiety and remind herself how much faith she had in him to look after himself out there. Something inside her just knew he was ok, ok but distracted, and she was more confident about him coming to the Burrow as soon as he could to be with her than she had been about anything else in a long time.
He wouldn't do this to her and his family if it wasn't something he really needed to do.
Suddenly an owl swooped down and landed on the windowsill, tapping on the glass with its beak, and Mrs Weasley leapt out of her chair and flung the window open to let it in. As the owl hopped onto the dining table and extended its leg several different arms plunged toward it to untie the scroll of parchment. That battle was won by the most stubborn and determined of the Weasley clan, Ginny.
As she unfurled the parchment she read aloud to the family,
"Molly, Arthur, just letting you know that Ronald is running late and not to worry. He will be with you shortly and sends his apologies. Compliments of the season to you and your family, Minerva McGonagall."
"McGonagall?" the twins said together with joint disbelief.
"He's alright," Mrs Weasley, breathed as she thudded back down into her seat, "running late, just like we said he was, I told you so."
The family seemed to relax at this news while remaining intrigued at why Professor McGonagall was the one to pass on his message.
What the hell was he up to?
"Wilson," Umbridge's sickly sweet voice said as Ron set down his bundle of papers, "why is young Mr Weasley here carrying highly confidential Ministry papers?"
Wilson set down his own stack of papers and groaned as he rubbed his aching back,
"He is carrying them because he is a wonderful fellow who couldn't see an old man struggling the way I was. Credit to Arthur don't you think Dolores?"
Ron raised an eyebrow; sure that Umbridge didn't think much of his father so her not seeing that as any kind of compliment to him.
"I'm sure" she simpered as her eyes fixed upon him.
"Must be weird seeing me again," Ron couldn't help himself, "you know, without me being bound and gagged on the floor?"
Umbridge's smile disappeared,
"Well, thank you for your assistance, Mr Weasley. May I ask you what business you have at the Ministry today?"
He really wanted to do a quick scan of the walls of her office but she still hadn't broken her gaze from him long enough for him to do it discreetly.
"Just...taking a trip down memory lane" he said with a smile.
Umbridge's smile crept back onto her wide face at this and she shared a derisive laugh with a clearly oblivious Wilson, taking her eyes off of Ron long enough for him to see that she had some truly hideous portraits hanging up on the walls and a very plain and un-Umbridge like vase on an ornate stand in the corner.
"I've heard about your experiences in the Ministry. I wouldn't think those memories were anything you would want to re-visit in a hurry."
Ron fixed his grin as Umbridge's eyes returned to him and he responded with as civil a tone as he could manage with the hateful woman,
"Who said I was talking about my memories?"
Umbridge seemed to get that same look she had on her face when she had talked herself into doing an unforgivable curse on Harry that night in her office and Ron looked at Wilson to be sure that he understood that this woman wasn't just a pain but completely untrustworthy to boot.
"I think it's time for you to go don't you?"
"It's certainly time for one of us."
He smiled at Wilson and nodded to the door, they left and Ron closed the door behind him, staring at Umbridge as she settled back down behind her desk.
"What on earth...?" Wilson began.
"Listen, I need you to go back in there an apologise for compromising security by letting me handle top secret paperwork and knock one of the piles of paper over while you're doing it. Make a big fuss about tidying it up, get her out of her seat and distracted long enough for me to sneak in and get to that vase in the corner of the office."
"That plain old thing on the regal looking plinth you mean?"
"That's the one."
"I always wondered why everything in her office was all flowers and kittens and that thing got pride of place, what do you think it's hiding?"
"I'm about to find that out," he said.
Wilson composed himself outside Umbridges door and reached for the door handle before turning back to Ron with an amazed grin on his face.
"How old did you say you were again?"
Ron rolled his eyes and frantically waved his arms,
"Just go will you?"
Wilson hurled himself into the office and barged into the stack of paperwork immediately, apologising for the mess and for Ron's presence in the office and every other thing he could think of to take the blame for until a clearly aggravated Umbridge got down on her own hands and knees to try and salvage the mess her was deliberately making of the Dumbledore papers. Ron seized his chance, all that was visible of Umbridge was her colossal backside wriggling around in the air as she gathered papers and held them in place under her double chins.
Ron kept his footsteps light, something he had learnt to do while creeping around in the houses of dark wizards without their permission, and crossed the room swiftly. He reached the vase and reached out for it. His hand went right through it. His hand went through the vase and the plinth and the wall behind the plinth. Umbridge was about to turn around to dump a load of the papers onto her desk, he had to go for it or he'd be seen, with a deep breath he jumped through the wall and into the unknown.
The family were slumped in armchairs, on the sofa and on squishy cushions on the floor in front of the fire as they listened to the Christmas Eve broadcast on the radio. Fleur was resting her head lazily on Bill's shoulder and Charlie was nodding off with his arms folded. Ginny was stroking a purring Crookshanks while Fred and George tried to charm a sprig of mistletoe to sprinkle a powdered love potion on anybody passing beneath it, much to their mother's disapproval, causing the person to only snap out of the potion's influence after having kissed somebody. Mr and Mrs Weasley were snuggled together and humming along to the old-fashioned Christmas tune that had just began to play and Hermione was simply enjoying watching all of them.
There was a crack and then the sound of the door opening; the family all listened to the sound of footsteps, as they grew louder along the hallway. Charlie was not looking the least bit sleepy now. All eyes were on the living room door.
Ron's head peered around at them, a guilty look on his tired face,
"Sorry I'm late."
Hermione was on her feet before she even realised it and had flung her arms around him,
"Where the hell have you been?" she demanded of him, causing the other members of the Weasley family to snigger.
"Everywhere really" Ron said, as if he couldn't quite believe the day he'd had himself.
She let him go and quickly scanned him from head to toe with her eyes to make sure that he wasn't hurt in any way before moving aside to let his mother do the same before crushing him in one of her own hugs.
"Oh Ronnie, you really need to stop doing things like that to me, my poor heart can't take it you know?" she sighed.
"Sorry mum" he chuckled.
"I've kept your dinner warm for you, give me a moment and I'll fetch your plate."
He rushed off to the kitchen and Fred and George grabbed Ron and forced him down into her vacated seat.
"So little brother, what on earth have you been up to with old McGonagall tonight then?"
"How did you know I saw her today?" Ron asked with surprise.
"She sent us an owl on your behalf telling us you were going to be late" Mr Weasley explained, "I take it you didn't know she'd done that?"
His face dropped,
"Sorry, it never even occurred to me, I've been kind of preoccupied non-stop since noon."
Mrs Weasley came back into the living room with a tray carrying Ron's dinner and a bottle of butterbeer, which she set on Ron's lap.
"Oh thanks mum I am starving!"
He started to tuck in, something Ginny didn't seem to find at all acceptable,
"Wait a minute you, what have you been doing all this time while we've been fretting about you?"
Ron made a grunting sound, as his mouth was full and swivelled in his seat. He nodded to a folded-up copy of the Evening Prophet in his back pocket as he chewed his large mouthful. Ginny pulled out the newspaper and unfolded it. Hermione read it over her shoulder aloud.
"Ministry outrage as Dolores Umbridge arrested for looting deceased witch's possessions."
Fred and George were wide-eyed and gawping at Ron with a newfound pride,
"No way!" they gasped as one.
"You did this?" Hermione asked Ron, who nodded and grinned a self-satisfied grin, "She stole from Daniel's secret pensive?"
Ron nodded again and shovelled another forkful of food into his mouth. Mr Weasley looked from him to Hermione and back again,
"What are you talking about?"
"Ron was investigating something for me, something Moody and the aurors were working on, but I had no idea it went all the way to the ministry" Hermione said.
"Neither did I!" Ron said with his mouth still full.
"Ronnie please swallow" his mother winced.
"So what's McGonagall got to do with all of this?" Charlie asked as he took the paper from Ginny who had just finished reading and was now beaming at Ron.
Ron held up his hand as he finished chewing and forced down his mouthful before answering,
"I bumped into her on my way back from the Goyle's place," on seeing his father's expression he shook his head, "don't ask, and I carried her bags down to the ministry while she sorted some Hogwarts business out and while I was waiting for her I got talking to a friend of yours dad. Wilson something...or something Wilson, I wasn't quite clear on whether that was his last name or his first name."
"It's his only name" Mr Weasley said with a smile.
"Like Madonna" Hermione grinned.
Every face in the room turned and looked at her blankly before returning their focus back onto Ron and his father.
"Yeah well he says hello and that I grew up way too fast apparently. He kept calling me the baby" Ron grimaced and plunged another forkful of food into his mouth.
"Did he not mention that he was my boss at all?" Hermione asked, knowing he wasn't going to be able to answer now and smiling at his frustration.
All he could do was shake his head and make a humming sound that kind of resembled him saying 'Is he?'.
"So I had the answer right under my nose all along and I completely missed it?" she huffed to herself.
"Well you can't win 'em all Hermione" Fred said as he slapped her on the back consolingly.
Charlie was reading the article aloud now,
"An obsession with the late Albus Dumbledore lead the Ministry of Magic's internal investigator to launch an impromptu search of Umbridge's offices late tonight, revealing the stolen memories and several illegally obtained personal belongings of the former Hogwarts headmaster..."
"Wait a moment," Mr Weasley said with a frown, "there is no internal investigator at the Ministry."
Ron's smile widened as he swallowed,
"There is now."
Hermione was speechless as she stared at her boyfriend in astonishment, the only thing stopping her from hurling herself at him being the tray of food on his lap, but George vocalised exactly what she felt inside.
"They gave you a job; a job with the Ministry? Getting rid of all the corrupt leeches? With a proper salary and everything? Cool!"
"I start January the second," he beamed before waving his fork at Charlie, "turn to page two."
Charlie did as he was told and read the headline aloud,
"Zabini land rife with illegal vegetation, Blaise Zabini held with several others..."
Bill looked impressed,
"You had a really good day didn't you?"
Ron's eyes darted to Hermione briefly before looking back at Bill glumly,
"Not really, I didn't do what I set out to do today."
She knew what he was talking about and bent over to kiss him on the cheek,
"You caught Umbridge and you did it for me for free, that's the best Christmas present I could ever have."
"Well that's good 'cause it's all you're gonna get!" Ron grumbled.
Ginny laughed and Hermione found herself unable to stop herself from grinning. The New Year was going to be so much better for him. He was also not going to have to put himself in the middle of the dark wizard equivalent of a hornet's nest in order to make his rent each month. No more doing deals with the scum of the wizarding world to keep them from killing him, no more stress over money, and the most important thing to Hermione of all; no more lonely nights at home without him.
It wasn't just the greatest Christmas present she'd ever been given; it was the greatest gift ever. She had her man back and all to herself.
When he finally finished eating his dinner she was going to be all over him!
Ron had just put the last of the family's Christmas presents beneath the tree and was walking into the kitchen when he saw his mother with her head deep in one of the cupboards, emptying the contents as she searched for something.
"You alright there mum?" he asked with some amusement.
"What? Oh yes I'm fine Ron, just at a loss to lay my hands on walnuts that's all, I was going to make a start on my stuffing for tomorrow but I seem to have every nut in the world except the ones I want."
Ron was about to make a lame joke about nuts when he suddenly had a thought,
"Every nut mum?"
His mother pulled her head out of the cupboard, her face flushed and her hair all over the place,
"What was that dear?"
"Do you have coconut in there too?"
She glanced inside the cupboard and then looked back at Ron with a curious smile,
"Yes, desiccated, pounds of it. Why do you ask?"
He blinked and shook his head as if trying to erase the look of thoughtfulness from his face,
"Nothing really, just wondering."
She examined him closely for a few seconds before Ron found himself growing very uncomfortable under her gaze.
"What?" he snapped defensively.
"Sorry," his mother said as she shook herself out of her Ron-induced meditation, "I was just wondering when it was you became a man."
"You sound like that guy Wilson!"
She laughed at this,
"I'm glad things worked out for you today, I really am, but please don't ever put yourself in that position ever again. I meant it when I said my heart wouldn't be able to take it."
"C'mon mum, if I hadn't done it I wouldn't have got the job with the ministry would I?"
"I don't mean the investigation at the ministry. I mean the Goyles and Zabini and all those other unsavoury types you were mixing with. I hated you doing that kind of work, good cause or not, there were too many disgruntled dark wizards baying for your blood. It felt like the war was over but my boy was still making himself a target for any leftover Death Eaters."
Ron pulled his mother into a hug,
"Hey, you know me, I don't like danger. I'm a total scardey-cat aren't I?"
She laughed and squeezed him a little tighter,
"You don't run away though do you? You jump straight in with both feet."
"Well it's one more foot than Mad-Eye's got"
She chuckled and let him go with a shake of the head,
"Honestly, between you and the twins I despair on ever having a serious conversation with any of my youngest."
Ron shrugged as he left the kitchen,
"Well at least you've still got Ginny eh?"
She rolled her eyes at this,
"Have you heard her lately? She's even bossier than I am!"
He laughed as he saw Ginny's outraged expression of hearing this comment about her and made his exit as his sister stomped over to their mother to demand her to retract her last statement, thus confirming it to be true.
He felt a familiar pair of arms curl around his waist from behind and Hermione whispered into his ear,
"Where are you off to then?"
He turned around, still in her arms and whispered back into her ear,
"I was thinking of having an early night actually."
"Want to be up early for Father Christmas do you?" she teased.
He looked at her for a second before responding,
"There's just one last thing I need to do in the morning and I'd rather do it before the rest of the family get up."
"I'm intrigued," she said as she arched her eyebrows.
"Well you'll have to stay intrigued until the morning won't you?" he smiled.
He slipped out of her arms and headed for the stairs.
"You coming?" he asked her.
She followed him up without a word.
She woke up and realised that he wasn't beside her. It was Christmas morning and Ron wasn't there. Her insides felt hollow.
Where had he gone?
She pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around her shoulders as she walked softly along the bedroom floor to the open door and peered out into the hallway. Nobody else was up. Why was Ron up? He wasn't an early bird. She carried on down the hallway and reached the top of the stairs. That was when she smelt it; the first intoxicating warm wave of joy to her nostrils, she could smell coconut. She smiled and started quietly down the stairs.
As she set foot on the downstairs hallway carpet she inhaled and took in the wonderful warm coconut aroma again and called out to him softly,
"Ron, is that you?"
There was no answer. She walked into the kitchen, the source of the lovely smell, and froze at the door as she saw the beautiful sight of her boyfriend asleep at the kitchen table. The morning sunlight was pouring through the kitchen window and bathing him in its lovely yellow light, his hair looking as if it was on fire as it fell messily over his face which was resting on his arms as they lay folded on top of the kitchen table, and she stood and watched him for so long that her feet were getting cold on the cold stone floor.
She was only shaken out of her state of semi-hypnosis by a sudden movement above the stove. A small, three inch by two inch, portrait that sat there was host to what looked like a chef with a megaphone who seemed to be getting ready to bellow to get Ron's attention.
"Don't you dare wake him up!" Hermione hissed at the little man in the portrait.
The tiny chef seemed quite offended at this,
"Young lady, I am performing my duties as instructed, do you want this young culinary novice's efforts to burn to a cinder?"
"He's cooking?" she said with amazement.
The smell, of course!
"Coconut macaroons my dear...very complicated for a first timer I must say and it's time for them to come out so, if you'll excuse me..."
The chef took a deep breath in and held the megaphone up to his lips...
"No, shhhhhh!" she waved her hands in front of the tiny portrait, "Don't wake him up, I'll get them out."
The little chef looked a tad putout at his services as an oven timer being dismissed before he could fulfil his duties and stomped out of the portrait in something of a huff. Hermione grabbed Mrs Weasley's oven gloves and opened the oven door. A pocket of warm, coconut scented, air hit her in the face and she felt as if she was being given an invisible hug as she lifted the baking tray full of coconut macaroons out and set them down on the counter quietly. Her efforts to keep things down so as not to wake Ron were for nothing, however, as the heat wave had brought him back to the waking world.
"Oh crap," he huffed on seeing Hermione in front of the freshly baked tray of coconut goodies, "I can't even surprise you properly!"
She pulled off the oven gloves and flung herself into his arms,
"Merry Christmas Ron!"
He hugged her back and she settled on his lap.
"So there you have it, that's your present from your cheapskate boyfriend" he smiled ruefully, "d'ya like it?"
"I love it, in fact I never want you to spend a single Knut on gifts for me for the rest of your life, this is perfect."
Ron looked crestfallen,
"I have to make you something every Christmas now?"
She beamed and nodded,
"And birthdays too."
He rolled his eyes skywards,
"What have I got myself into?"
She laughed and kissed him before getting up and leaning over to slide one of the macaroons off the tray.
"Ouch, it's hot!" she hissed as she juggled it between her hands to cool it down a little more.
"And you're the clever one" Ron snorted.
She sat back on his lap and broke off a chunk of coconut macaroon, holding it to his lips,
"They're your presents, you have to eat them all."
She grinned at him,
"You go first, I know you love coconut."
He raised his eyebrows,
"I don't love coconut...I like coconut but I'm nowhere near as obsessed as you are. In fact, after all this I'm kinda sick of bloody coconut."
She blinked and stared at him,
Then she remembered, he had just happened to be eating coconut before their first kiss, he had no idea of the significance.
"...why is it you think I'm obsessed with coconut?"
"Have you been inside your flat recently?" he asked incredulously.
She laughed, he was right of course, there had been something of a coconut invasion at her place over the last few months hadn't there?
"And do you know why that is Ron?" she grinned.
He shook his head.
"It's because I've been missing you."
"You said something like that once before, I don't get it, what...?"
She stopped his question with a deep kiss that lasted for a full minute. She pulled her head back from his a mere inch and explained further.
"The very first time we ever did that..." she paused to pop the piece of coconut macaroon into his mouth before continuing, "...you had just been eating toasted coconut teacakes."
He chewed the macaroon and gave a single nod, still needing something more of an explanation than that,
"So every time I taste coconut I remember how you tasted that very first time."
Ron swallowed and comprehension dawned on his face,
She chuckled as she broke off another piece of macaroon and popped it into his mouth,
"And every time I smell coconut I feel like your breath is right there against my face just like that first time."
He swallowed again and grinned,
She nodded as he broke off a piece of the macaroon and fed it to her.
"So that's what you meant about those scented candles keeping you company while I was away."
She nodded and swallowed her mouthful,
"Uh-huh, wow these are really good."
"Of course they're good, I've inherited my mum's cooking skills and she's the best."
"So whenever you're away from me dealing with all sorts of horrible underworld wizards, to get back some sweet little old lady's music box or whatever for an absolute pittance, I sit at home in your chair and light all the candles and wait for you to come back to me."
She saw a flicker of sadness in his eyes,
"So I'm not only poor, I'm neglectful huh?"
She wrapped her arms around him and whispered into his hair,
"I think this morning proves that you're neither poor or neglectful Ron. All my little ritual means is that you are missed every minute you're not with me. I missed you this morning, that's why I came down looking for you and spoiled your lovely surprise."
She released him and kissed him on the cheek before breaking the last piece of macaroon in two and pushing one piece between his lips and the other between her own. As they chewed he tucked her hair behind her ear and let his hand stay resting at the side of her face. They both swallowed and she savoured the taste of coconut on her tongue before speaking again.
"See now you can taste our kisses the same way I do, we both taste of coconut this time..."
She leaned in and they shared another deep kiss, this time both ensuring they tasted every last drop of one another before separating again.
"...and whenever you miss me as much as I've been missing you, you know how to get a quick fix to tide you over."
He grinned the widest grin she had seen on his face in a long time,
"I'm gonna get really fat."
The New Year was going to be much better, money wasn't going to be an issue anymore, and they were going to be ok.
They were going to be more than ok.
English terms you may be a little confused about
Skint - Slang for broke.
To go for a Burton - To go wrong, go to pot, spill or fall down
Spuds - Potatoes
Flogged - Sold