House Warming

by Mad Maudlin

In the vast and storied history of really horrible days, Hermione was fairly certain that hers wouldn't amount to much—there had been no goblin rebellions, no exploding sheep, nobody had died and she hadn't started a land war in Asia. But in her person and subjective opinion, even informed as it was by her knowledge of Jakob von Huhnehosen's bad day of 1630 (which had involved a plague of boils and a large number of belligerent Irishmen), her own day had well and truly sucked.

She had been harassed. She had been harried. People had complained to her in detail and at length about things which were not only not her fault, but over which she had no control whatsoever, and in the case of one very confused warlock, matters of which she had never even heard until he barged into her office and began ranting at her for a full quarter-hour before she managed to get him to put in his ear trumpet. She still wasn't entirely sure what he'd been so upset about, but she had managed to deflect him to the Committee on Experimental Charms; this had resulted in a minor but very vicious hex being sent up to her later in the day from the Committee's receptionist. She had been trying to prepare her notes for a crucial presentation to the Wizengamot later in the week about her elf rights legislation, but the drafts she had circulated for review among her officemates had come back with contradictory suggestions, extremely rude cartoons, or illegible scrawl attempting to masquerade as help. Her speaking notes had been urinated on by an escaped Jarvey and one of her coworkers had manipulated her into taking up the case of two young goblins caught vandalizing an apothecary, which had eaten up most of her afternoon and forced her to work late into the evening if she'd had any hope of sticking to her schedule the next day.

She was exhausted, she was frazzled, and she was hungry. She was more than happy to finally Apparate home from the dark, silent halls of the Ministry, even knowing that in a few short hours she'd be back to the grind. At least would be able to get a little rest.

When she appeared in front of her house, it was raining.

Icy water soaked through her thin cloak almost instantly, and she was fully drenched in the few steps it took to get under the front porch. She was reduced to cursing as she fumbled her key into the lock, cursing through chattering teeth the rain, and the cold, and the bloody disaster of a workday that had caused her to get in so late because she knew the WWN weather report hadn't prophesied rain until after midnight tonight. The darkened foyer inside wasn't much of an improvement over the garden, except that it was dry; shivering slightly, she dropped her briefcase by the door and shrugged off her sodden cloak, ready to fling herself into bed and not move foe a few hours, if at all.

Then she spotted the candle.

She squished across the hall in her waterlogged shoes to the foot of the stairs. Above the first riser, just below eye-level, the guttering stub of a white candle floated with the help of a simple charm. A piece of paper was attached to the base, but wax had run down over most of it and rendered all but the signature quite illegible. Something about Co...e an...y (I h...ve you, Ron.

Oh, bollocks, Ron.

She pounded her head against the wall as the candle burned out and dropped to the floor. The crowning moment of her day—she'd completely forgotten that the team was returning from their Asian tour this afternoon. She hadn't thought to owl home about coming in late. He was going to kill her.

The next day was already looking a lot like the one she'd just been through.

No, she told herself. I'm not going to worry about it yet. If she was very quiet she could avoid waking Ron up—well, if he was soundly asleep she could march a brass band through the bedroom without waking him—and since he wouldn't have morning practices she would definitely be up before him—she hated putting off discussions like this, but she simply hadn't scheduled time in her day for soothing Ron's wounded feelings, not when things were this hectic and her coworkers were this incompetent and her work was this important—she'd have to find some way to make it up to him, if she could get home before midnight any other night this week, perhaps—

She stepped out of her shoes and climbed the steps in her stockings, shivering at the early-winter chill that had seeped into the house. Check the heating charms, that was another thing she had to take care of this week—though she could ask Ron to do that, since he didn't have morning practice—she could leave him a note. Yes, that would work for now, a nice long note apologizing for being so late and promising him some quality time soon and asking him to please check the heating charms while he was home. And put extra blankets on the beds. And, come to think of it, she'd put off the shopping too, although she didn't have time to make a proper list and he was hopeless without one, he'd just buy crisps and butterbeer and maybe one carrot. So just the charms and the beds, she told herself as she plodded down the hall to their bedroom, and a long detailed apology for not being home to greet him and not sending an owl. That would have to do. She could welcome him properly later...

All thoughts about note-writing fled from her mind when she noticed the strip of light leaking from under the bedroom door. Surely he wasn't still awake at this hour? She eased the door open, partly hoping that he'd be awake so she could just get the apology over with and partly hoping he'd be asleep so she wouldn't have to deal with him, which was an awful thought, but she was just so tired. She was equal parts relieved and guilty when she discovered him asleep in a sitting position with the bedside lamp on—he'd clearly dozed off waiting up for her.

Then she was annoyed to realize he was sitting on her side of the bed.

And then her mind really focused on the scene, and she realized that he'd already put extra blankets on the bed—all the extra blankets—and the duvet—and what looked like every quilt and afghan his mother had ever made in her life. The edges were uneven and there were mysterious lumps and corners stuck out here and there; it looked a proper mess.

More importantly, it looked warm.

She shut the door as quietly as she could, but Ron had an unnerving ability to suddenly become a light sleeper at strategic moments. He stirred at the soft click of the door into the frame, and then one of the mysterious lumps twitched and shifted. Crookshanks emerged from under the covers just as Ron was blinking the sleep out of his eyes. "Hey," he said. "Sorry I—what happened?"

"I had a bad day," Hermione said. She wasn't sure she could start on the details without crying.

Ron blinked at her while Crookshanks walked across the bed in a stretched-out prowl to meet her, and then he snorted. "You always did have a gift for understatement, didn't you?"

He jumped out of bed—he was wearing flannel pyjamas and thick socks and his oldest, softly Weasley jumper—and in two steps had her in his arms. She sagged into his embrace, heedless of the water still dripping off her clothes. Perhaps it was immature of her, but just then she really wanted a hug and a kiss and someone to tell her that everything was going to be all right. "It's raining," she told him.

"I noticed." He twisted a lock of her sodden hair in his fingers, then kissed her on the forehead. "It's all right."

"I forgot that you were coming home today."

"It's all right," he said again, and she could tell that it wasn't, but she was grateful anyway that he wasn't going to make an issue of it just then. Instead, he tugged on her drippy robes. "Come on. Let's get you dried off before you catch your death."

"Don't use a drying charm, these were expensive," she said when he reached for his wand, but he just used it to summon a huge striped towel from the bathroom and a nightgown from the bureau—one of her favorite nightgowns, a long flannel thing that made her look ten years older but oh, it was so soft and warm in this kind of weather. Hermione started undressing, but then Ron started to dry her hair with the towel, kneading her scalp with his long fingers, and didn't that feel good. Crookshanks climbed over the puddle of her nightgown and reared up on his hind legs to nuzzle her face and knead her stomach with his paws. "Crookshanks, no," she mumbled, batting him away. "I'm trying to put on my nightgown."

"He just wants a piece of the action," Ron said. "We've been waiting for you to come home all night."

"'We?'"

"Mmm." He wicked the towel away—shame—and started helping her unfasten her robes. "He stares at me when you're not here, you know. Like I'm up to something."

"He's a clever boy."

"It's creepy." Ron pulled her robe over her shoulders, leaving her standing in the chilly room in naught but her wet bra and knickers, but he almost immediately pressed himself against her back. She leaned into him to enjoy the warmth and the soft nubbles of his jumper. Crookshanks sank back onto the duvet with an irritated lash of his tail.

As much as Hermione usually liked Ron to undress her, it was too chilly in the room to linger like this; she unclasped her bra, and Ron snagged her nightgown from under Crookshanks and helped her drop it over her head. "Did you eat any dinner?" he asked.

"No," Hermione said, "what did you have?"

"Mum sent over some stew."

Molly Weasley was perpetually under the impression that Ron and Hermione were perpetually on the brink of starvation. Hermione wondered how big the cauldron was. "That sounds delicious," she said, though, because just them the implication that they couldn't feed themselves properly was not nearly as important as the warm richness of Molly's stew and the lingering hollow in her stomach.

Ron kissed the top of her head, nuzzling her still-damp hair. "I'll get you a mug. Be right back."

Hermione climbed into bed as he left; the heavy piles of bedclothes still held onto Ron's body heat, and Crookshanks immediately claimed her lap and resumed his head-bumps. If not for him, she would've likely dozed off sitting up just as Ron had. As it was she let her eyes drift shut and didn't notice Ron's return until he shoved Crookshanks away and replaced him with a tray, bearing a bowl of stew and a mug of tea. The smell alone seemed able to fill her up, and she dug in with abandon. Ron tucked himself in on his side of the bed while Crookshanks settled himself on her feet, warming them thoroughly.

It wasn't until she had scraped the bowl clean that she noticed he was smiling at her—Ron, not the cat. "What's so funny?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Nothing."

"What?"

"Nothing important."

"...fine." She was too tired for guessing games with him. She drained her mug, and he banished the whole tray for her. A full belly and a warm bed were really better than a sleeping potion, even if she hadn't been so exhausted, and she tried to nestle down without disturbing Crookshanks too much.

"It's just," Ron said, then stopped.

She started to ask "What?" but it trailed off into a yawn.

He smiled again. "It's just that sometimes I start thinking you don't really need me."

"What?" She rolled over to face him; Crookshanks growled at the upheaval. "Of course I need you."

"I know that." He looped his arm around her waist under the covers, his big warm hand filling the curve of her hip. "Just that sometimes I need reminding."

"Idiot," she mumbled, and snuggled against his chest. A full belly, a warm bed and Ron: now that combination was guaranteed better than anything out of a cauldron. He kissed her forehead again and settled them both in a comfortable position in the middle of the bed, and the last thing Hermione was aware of was Crookshanks curling up in the small of her back.

Maybe today was going to be a good day after all.