Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns the characters. I own the plot. Cross my heart and hope to die …
Everything happens so fast. Harry's not even sure how he got them to St Mungo's. It's like he's in a daze, and he finds himself standing next to Hermione, holding her hand and coaching her, just like they told him to in all those Muggle birth classes they had gone to.
"Breathe, Hermione. Do you hear me? Just breathe."
Hermione squeezes Harry's hand tightly. Her matted hair is glued to her sweaty forehead, and she's gasping in pain.
"Breathe," Harry repeats softly.
Hermione lets out one final scream, and everything blurs together, and her screams mix with those of the baby's.
"It's a boy!"
"He's healthy," one of the nurses says. "He's a good weight, even though he's premature."
Hermione breathes in short spurts, as though she's trying to get in as much air as she can as quickly as possible. She won't let go of Harry's hand until they give her the baby. She grips it tightly, for what feels like an eternity … and suddenly, a nurse is carefully putting a small bundle into Hermione's arms. They gaze down at the child. Their child. Harry feels tears in his eyes and he brushes them away roughly. A pair of green eyes stare straight back at him, a small fist tightly holding strands of Hermione's curly, sweaty hair.
"He's beautiful," Hermione says softly, touching his nose with her finger. It has the same aristocratic tilt to it as hers.
"He's beautiful," Harry echoes. The baby blinks several times and begins to cry again.
"Shh, shh," Hermione coos, rocking back and forth gently. The baby quiets down a little, still whimpering. It continues to hold on to Hermione's hair, clutching her hospital gown in its other hand.
Harry gently touches the baby's cheek with a single finger. "Hiya, stranger," he says, smiling. The baby studies him, wide-eyed. Harry looks at Hermione, looking down at their child. She's humming quietly, almost inaudibly, still rocking just slightly.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" she says, though she doesn't really seem to realise she's talking.
They both seem to forget about the other people in the room. The three of them are huddled together … a family.
Harry nods, his eyes fixed on the baby. Suddenly, the baby smiles, letting go of Hermione's gown and reaching his fingers upward, towards the ceiling. Harry carefully puts out his first finger, and the baby seizes it, focusing his eyes on Harry's fingernail.
"He's pretty cute," Hermione says, and giggles a little. "He looks like those pictures of you when you were a baby."
"He looks kind of like you, too," Harry says. "The nose and the chin—I bet the teeth will be just as big as yours were," he teases.
"That's horrible!" Hermione protests. "My teeth were never that bad!"
"Oh, but remember when Malfoy hit you with that—that spell, and your teeth were so long -"
"Yes, but I got them fixed after that, and they're fine now," Hermione says defensively, but she's smiling. The baby's face scrunches up, and it begins crying again.
"We never had time to think of a boy's name," Harry says quietly. He waves his wand and a chair appears behind him. He scoots it close to Hermione's bed.
Hermione looks up at Harry. "I—I told you I didn't like any of the other names because I had already chosen one," she admits. "I didn't want to tell you, because if it was a girl—well, then it wouldn't matter." She hesitates. "If you don't want to name him this—then we don't have to."
"What did you have in mind?"
Hermione smiles a little. "James," she says softly.
Harry looks down at the child again, his vision blurring. He rests his head on the side of Hermione's bed, and he starts to cry. Pain shoots through his heart as his shoulders shake violently. "I wish they were here," he says shakily.
Hermione's hand finds his on the bed. "Oh, Harry, they are here. Can't you feel them?" She lifts his head. "They're in this room right now. And they're proud of you. So proud of you." She smiles, her eyes also glistening.
Harry closes his eyes. A flash of green light. A high-pitched scream. And then … his parents' faces. They're smiling.
"Can you feel them?" Hermione repeats in a whisper.
"He's pretty cute," Ron allows as James curls his small hand around Ron's thumb. He studies Hermione concernedly. "How are you feeling?"
Hermione leans back onto the pillows. "Better than I did yesterday."
"So labour is as bad as everyone says it is?"
"A lot worse. Even with Harry performing all those pain-relief charms … they didn't really seem to have an effect. It's like it's supposed to hurt or something."
Ron shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "Um -"
"I'm sorry. Too much information?"
"Yes," Ron says, laughing. "I mean, no offence. I really do respect it, but—well, we men don't need to hear about that."
Harry wanted to hear about it. He wanted to know every single little detail, and if there was anything he could do to make me feel better.
Hermione shakes her head.
She just can't get him out of her head.
He went downstairs to get himself some coffee about a half hour ago, to give her and Ron some privacy.
She has missed him every moment he's been gone.
"Ron," she says slowly, "why do you think we—I mean you and me—why we never worked out?"
She really is curious. She's not trying to dredge up the past, but she just wants to know. Why some couples that shouldn't be together end up working and couples that should be together never last. Why for some people, opposites attract really works, and some people need a bond with someone who feels the same way about everything. Why –
"Well, isn't it obvious? You were already in love with Harry."
Hermione closes her eyes. "Ron, please -"
"No, I mean it," Ron says, leaning forward. "I know this is going to sound like I'm a bloody lunatic, but—when we were dating, please don't get me wrong, it was wonderful. But -" He hesitates. "I could tell that it wasn't going to last. I think you could, too. There was something there, yes, but not—not something that could keep us together." Ron smiles. "You remember the last battle, when you and Harry were talking? I—I was too nervous to talk about anything, but I remember listening to every word. And—it wasn't the fact that you both said the word 'love' or anything like that. But there was something I couldn't quite describe in your tone of voice that was different. And I think it just hit me—I'm not supposed to be with Hermione. I tried to shrug off the feeling for a while, but I just couldn't. And—well, you know the rest."
"Why didn't you tell me all of this before? When—when we ended?"
"Well, would you have believed me if I told you I was ending our relationship because there might possibly have been something going on with you and Harry?"
laughs. "Probably not."
"I don't think I was even positive it was Harry you were supposed to be with. I just—I knew whoever you were going to end up with, it wasn't going to be me."
"I loved you, Ron," Hermione says softly. "I mean, I still do, but -"
"I know," Ron says. "I loved you, too." He clears his throat and looks away, but Hermione thinks she can see a glimmer of a tear in his eyes. "It looks like even with all of this—this undeniable proof, you and Harry still haven't got it all figured out."
"Oh, don't try to deny it anymore, it's pathetic." He leans forward. "Why are you trying to hide it?"
Because I'm afraid.
"I just -"
The door opens, and Harry walks in. His eyes light up when he sees James sleeping, and he smiles. "How's he doing?" he asks, pulling up a chair next to Ron.
"He's fine," Hermione says, rocking the baby back and forth a little.
"And how are you doing?"
"Fine," Hermione repeats.
"Anything I can get you?"
"No, Harry, I'm fine thanks."
Ron stands up. "I need to get going," he says, putting on his cloak. "I'm already going to be a wee bit late for Quidditch practise." He shrugs. "It was worth it." He claps Harry on the back and leans forward, kissing Hermione's forehead. "You take care of yourself, all right?" With one last look at the three of them, he leaves.
"I talked to your dad. That's what took me so long."
"Oh? What did he have to say?"
"That he loved you, and that he was proud of you, and that once those bloody doctors let him, he'll be over to see you."
And a few other things, Harry adds to himself silently.
"Oh, I do hope he doesn't leave early," Hermione says fretfully. "He -"
"Hermione, he's going to be fine. I made him promise not to leave until the doctors were positive he was ready."
Hermione smiles, relaxing a little and closing her eyes. "Thank you, Harry."
"Do you want me to leave, so you can sleep?" He stands up.
Hermione reaches out for him. "No, please, I'm just resting. I want you to stay. Please?"
Harry sits back down, smiling as he
watches James snuggle closer to his mother. "He's quite cute, you
know. Of course, that's because he's got such a gorgeous
Hermione scoffs. "Yes, I'm sure that's it," she says sarcastically.
"Ouch," Harry says in a hurt voice. "Stab me in the heart, why don't you?"
"I've never been so insulted in
"Yes you have," she insists. "Remember what Jane said after—what, your fourth date?"
"Can we not talk about that relationship? Not that there really ever was one, but -"
"I'm sorry, Harry," Hermione
mimics. "But your mouth is just too big for me. And I don't like
"I don't understand how a mouth can be too big for someone else! Honestly! And what—because my nose had been broken, she couldn't possibly ignore it?"
Hermione studies the slight bump in Harry's nose. One of Voldermort's spells had smashed a rock into Harry's nose. She had called out a spell from her position thirty feet away to stop the blood from flowing, but the nose had never been fully fixed. It's actually quite cute, she thinks. "I like it," she says.
He touches it with his hand. "Ending a relationship for having a small, physical flaw," he mutters. "Honestly." He shrugs his shoulders. "Well, I didn't like her mouth, either."
"She talked too much," Harry says with a grin.
"I talk a lot too, you know!" Hermione protests.
"Well, yeah, sometimes—but not like Jane did. I'd be lucky if I got in twenty words over dinner."
"Well, with Krum, I had to do most of the talking," Hermione says. "And when he did talk, I couldn't understand half of what he was saying." She shakes her head. "That was such a hopeless relationship."
Harry smiles. "You amazed all of us, at the Yule Ball," he says without really thinking. "With your hair and your robes—you looked completely different." He pauses. "You looked beautiful."
"Ron was so furious with me," Hermione comments.
"Yeah, he was. I knew that he liked you—he hadn't admitted it yet, not even to me—he just kept getting redder and redder. And then you came over -"
"We had such a love/hate relationship."
"A much larger emphasis on the 'hate' portion of it, I think. It definitely toned down once you guys started dating, but -"
"Well, not everyone can be as perfect as you and Ginny were."
"Ginny and I weren't perfect," Harry says. "We were two strong-willed people, and neither of us could handle that much intensity."
Hermione hesitates. "Harry, did you ever—with her, did you—well, erm, did you -"
Hermione nods. Why did I ask that question? she asks herself angrily.
Harry studies Hermione's face, and for a split second, she thinks he might say yes.
But he doesn't. He shakes his head. "No," he says finally. 'We didn't."
"So I was -" Hermione wills herself to stop talking. "I was your -"
"Yes, you were my first time," Harry says, a small smile playing across his lips. "And my second, I guess."
Suddenly, Mr and Mrs Weasley and Mrs Granger barge in. Mrs Weasley practically lets out a shriek of delight when she sees the baby nestled in Hermione's arms. "Oh my goodness. How adorable," Mrs Weasley practically shouts. James stirs, letting out a cry. Hermione rocks back and forth. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Hermione, I didn't mean to wake him up."
Mrs Granger strokes the baby's head until he stops crying, and then bends down and kisses Harry's cheek. "Oh, congratulations! Hermione, your father wanted me to tell you -"
"That he's coming as soon as those bloody doctors let him out?"
"Yes," Mrs Granger says, surprised. "How did you know?"
"Harry already talked to him."
"You did? I didn't—oh well. How are you feeling?"
"Fine, mum. Honest," she insists when her mother looks at her doubtfully. "Much better than right after."
Mrs Granger studies the baby. "Hello, James," she whispers. He stares back at her. "I'm your grandmother." She smiles and remarks, "He's got the Granger nose."
Hermione nods, and Harry grins. "I told Hermione he'll probably get her teeth, too," he says.
Mrs Granger laughs. "They were rather large," Hermione allows. "You and dad were so angry with me when you found out that I got them fixed."
"Well, of course we were!" Mrs Granger says. "We're dentists, darling."
"What did you name him?" Mr Weasley asks, kissing the top of Hermione's head.
Hermione and Harry smile at each other. "James," they say in unison.
Harry sits down on the couch and puts his face close to month-old James's face. The baby coos delightedly. Hermione walks into the room carrying two mugs of tea, and she watches Harry as he makes faces at the baby. James reaches out and grabs Harry's nose. Harry lifts his head and catches Hermione watching him. "I think he'd prefer to have my nose," he teases. "It's much better than yours."
"Oh, stop it, you self-absorbed wally!" Hermione scolds, a grin on her face as she sits down in the chair facing the couch. "If you say that one more time, I will curse you."
"What, while I have an innocent baby in my arms? How heartless of you, Hermione."
"Well, he's nearly asleep—at least, he would be if you didn't keep getting him excited—and then you'll have to put him down, and you'll have no protection." She sets Harry's tea on the table next to him.
Harry repositions James and takes the mug in his free hand. "I'm terrified," he says sarcastically.
"Oh, you should be."
Harry leans back and closes his eyes. "I'm exhausted is what I am," he announces.
"You and me both," Hermione says, sipping her tea.
"I swear, I think he's more awake at night than during the day."
"It's because he can't bear to be away from you for more than a couple of hours."
"It's probably true," Harry says, opening his eyes again and looking down at James. "I think I should lay him down now." He stands up, setting down his mug and walking slowly into the small room they've added, between his and Hermione's. He puts James down carefully into his crib, tucking a blanket around him. He bends over and kisses the top of James's forehead before padding back down the hallway to the living room. He collapses onto the couch.
"How was work?"
"Long," Harry groans. "How was at-home work?"
Hermione shrugs. "Fine. I think I spent more time sleeping than doing my actual work, but -"
"Give yourself a break, Hermione," Harry says gently. "You just had a baby a month ago."
"I know, but -"
"But nothing. I think you're handling everything just fine. And you'll get back into it when you're ready."
Hermione nods, deeply touched. "Are you hungry?" she finally asks after a few moments.
"Starving," Harry says.
Hermione gets up. "I'll make dinner," she says.
"No, Hermione, let me -"
"I want to, Harry."
"Well, so do I." Harry gets up off the couch.
Hermione smiles. "Fine. We'll do it together. All right?"
Harry nods, wandering into the kitchen. "What do you want to eat?"
Hermione opens the refridgerator and studies the contents. "Erm, sausage?"
Harry joins her and takes out the package of sausage, and a box of small red potatoes. "Boiled potatoes?"
Hermione opens the freezer. "Peas?"
Harry grins. "Excellent," he says.
"Good night, Harry."
"Good night, Hermione."
She shuts her door, pressing her back against the wood and breathing deeply. Sighing, she starts to undress. She pulls her nightdress over her head. She doesn't want to leave this place. Not now, not ever. They've been putting off talking about it, but it's inevitable, isn't it? Once the baby's old enough, she'll move back into her much smaller apartment (which is being rented out by one old couple or another) … and then what? She'll bring James over every other day to be with his father? Is that how it's going to be?
Whatever Harry might have said before the baby, he seems to have forgotten. In fact, things have gone more or less back to normal. He's just Harry again, and he sees her as … just Hermione. But that's not what she wanted. She wanted to say it back, but the contractions were so painful, and she just couldn't get it out. It's obvious, though, that he regrets what he said and he's trying to bury it in the past. Right?
"Stop it," she commands herself aloud, in a whisper. She's done this to herself every single night since James was born. She did it in the hospital, tossing and turning on her incredibly uncomfortable bed, turning things over and over in her mind …
She opens a window and collapses onto her bed. She flicks her wand, and the baby monitor in her room goes on. Ron laughed at them when she and Harry told him they had purchased one for every room. "Muggle contraptions," he scoffed. "What good'll it do?" They had laughed, too. Maybe it was a tad bit excessive.
Ron. His words kept echoing over and over in her head.
Well, isn't it obvious? You were already in love with Harry …
It looks like even with all of this—this undeniable proof, you and Harry still haven't got it all figured out …
No, they didn't.
And it didn't seem to her like he really wanted to figure it out.
Harry rolls onto his side. It's inexplicably hot for June, and he's not really sure why he still has a blanket on top of him. He kicks it off, rubbing his forehead.
He'd love nothing more than to just sleep. James wakes up several times in the night, and he's been sleeping for a long stretch. Harry should be taking advantage of this. But he can't. He doesn't know why.
Oh, of course he does. Who is he trying to fool? He can't trick himself into thinking he doesn't feel anything.
It's not fair. He said it, made himself look like an idiot, and now, Hermione's just pretending it never happened. And sure, it's nice to not have all of those awkward pauses and such, like they did before James was born, but … he didn't want it to go away completely.
Mr Granger had asked him to make him a promise. "Maybe this is a bit forward of me, but I don't really mind how uncomfortable it makes you. I know you're in love with my daughter. Hermione—she never knows what it is she wants until she's already lost it, Harry. And I know she loves you. She doesn't have to say it aloud—I can see it in her eyes. She's just afraid of—of letting herself go. Trusting her heart, not her brilliant mind. You need to make her see that. Promise me you'll make her see that."
He promised, but … how can he make he see it? How on earth is that possible?
Harry sighs heavily. He wishes he could just stop thinking. Just one night of no thinking whatsoever. Give his brain a rest. Please. Stop her face from coming before his eyes. Can any magic cure this? Any charms he could chant, to stop himself from feeling this way? An anti-love potion? Anything at all?
But he knows, even if he could, he wouldn't trade these feelings. Not for anything.
James starts crying at 2:37 exactly. Hermione knows because she's been watching the clock for the last forty-two minutes, counting out the seconds, as though she were counting sheep, only it's not helping her sleep, really.
She gets up, forgetting to put on her dressing-robe, and walks out into the hallway at the same time Harry does. He opens the door, and Hermione walks in, lifting James into her arms. "Shh," she whispers. "It's all right." She rocks back and forth.
Harry looks over her shoulder. "He slept for a while," he comments.
"Do you think he's hungry?"
Harry shakes his head. "He had plenty when I fed him," he says.
James's cries are slowly subsiding. He sniffles a little bit, clinging to Hermione's hair. He pulls at it.
"Ow, ow …"
Harry carefully extracts James's fingers from Hermione's hair, offering his finger. The baby wraps his hand around it, blinking a couple of times. They stand in silence for a few minutes, watching the baby slowly fall asleep. Hermione carefully places him back into his crib, tucking the blanket around him. She and Harry quietly exit the room, shutting the door behind them.
"Speaking of hungry," Harry says as he walks into the kitchen. "Do you want anything?"
"Sure," Hermione says, opening one of the cabinets. "Crackers and cheese sound all right?"
Harry nods, opening the refridgerator and pulling out a block of cheese. He takes a knife, slicing a few thick chunks.
"Don't do that on the counter, Harry!" Hermione says, laughing.
"You'll scratch it all up. You have to use a cutting board."
"I don't care how many marks get on this counter. I'm sure I can wave my wand and it'll be fine. I am a wizard, you know."
"Are you serious?" Hermione smiles. "I had no idea." She bites her lip as she watches him put the cheese onto a plate. She grabs a couple of handfuls of crackers, putting them on the plate next to the cheese.
They sit down at the table, eating in silence.
"How did you sleep prior to this incident?" Harry asks Hermione finally.
Hermione shrugs. "Erm, fine. And you?"
"Oh, fine," says Harry.
"It's Sunday," Hermione muses.
"Thank goodness," Harry says, picking up the empty plate and carrying it to the sink. "One more day of work and I would have screamed."
Hermione studies his back. Remembers what it felt like under her hands. Smooth and strong and …
She closes her eyes.
"Harry … you remember … well-"
Harry scrubs the dish and dries it off. He turns back to Hermione, who's still trying to get a sentence out of her mouth. "Remember what?"
She sighs. "Never mind."
Hermione looks away. "I can't really remember what I was going to say."
Harry rubs his face. He knows exactly what she was talking about. And he knows she does, too. "Well, I'm going to go to bed." He turns away. "If you remember, you can tell me in the morning, all right? I mean, a decent hour of the morning, I guess."
She watches him walk towards the hallway. He can't leave. She panics, standing up. She's ready to follow him all the way back to his room if she has to. She'll beg him to stay with her. She opens her mouth, closes it again. And then … she just says it.
"I love you, Harry."
He stops, and turns around slowly.
She's not afraid anymore. "I love you," she repeats.
He doesn't say anything.
Nothing at all.
She swallows, hard. Tears are stinging her eyes. Why isn't he saying anything back. "Right," she says, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice. "Well, I'm going to go to bed now." She starts to walk past him. "I'll see you in the -"
He grabs her shoulders, pulling her back to him. She keeps her eyes on his chest, willing the tears already falling down her cheeks to stop. But they won't.
Slowly, carefully, Harry leans his face forward, kissing each tear on Hermione's cheek. And then his lips find hers, and she forgets about breathing. She holds onto him tightly, clinging to him, because now that he is hers, she just can't let him go. Harry pulls her body closer to hers, breaking apart only for a second to whisper, "I love you, Hermione." She smiles and kisses him again, a gloriously beautiful kiss filled with hope.
Harry lifts Hermione carefully onto the kitchen table, but she pulls away from him carefully. "Harry," she says quietly.
"Will you—I mean, can you promise me that -"
"Hermione, look me in the eyes." Harry holds her chin, resting his forehead against hers. "I will never hurt you. Do you understand me? Never."
She nods slowly, biting her lip. "I love you, Harry."
"I love you, too, Hermione." He kisses her gently. "I always will."
She studies his eyes, searching for some falter, anything to tell her to stop. But there is no hesitation, only constancy in his stare.
He is the one.
Suddenly, a slow whine fills the room.
Hermione groans. "James."
Harry sweeps her into his arms, kissing her lightly on the forehead as he walks down the hallway towards their child's room. Hermione leans her head against Harry's chest, her arms tight around his neck. She breathes in his scent, closing her eyes and smiling.
He sets her down carefully when they reach the room, and she opens the door. James is reaching up from his crib, reaching for them. Hermione lifts him, cradling him gently. Harry puts his arm around her waist, kissing her neck. The warmth of his breath sends a shiver down her spine, and she lifts her face to his. They smile at each other and look down at their baby.
A/N: Well, here we are at the end. Thank you all for joining me on this ride.
Thank you also for your reviews. They've been helpful, honest, even if it seems like I'm not paying attention to them all the time.
As for someone leaving a comment asking if I was a guy—alas, I am a female by the true name of Adelaide. Jacob Marley is the name of Scrooge's partner from A Christmas Carol, a nickname of sorts.
Anyway, I'll be writing more soon, I'm sure. And I'll be posting a few deleted chapters (and the lengthened Bellatrix story) gradually … THANKS AGAIN!