"Let's Just Keep Our Fingers Crossed and Hope for the Best"
"Let's Just Keep Our Fingers Crossed and Hope for the Best"

- Motto of the Chudley Cannons

This is a little trifle I whipped up at the request of a few people.  WARNING: DANGER WILL ROBINSON – THIS IS FLUFF.  RON AND HERMIONE FLUFF AT THAT.

If you are not a Ron/Hermione shipper, you will hate this.  I am a fully-paid member of the good-ship R/H (argg!  Now the song is going through my head!)   It is part of the AU of my other fics, but has more in common with the humour of "Of Secret Passages and Pixies" than the more serious works. I was originally only posting this at SQ, as they are completely responsible for its existence, but I was asked to put it here.  So there you are.

DISCLAIMER:  I love JK Rowling.  I wish I had the inspirations commuting she did on that train all those years ago.  Sadly, as I sit on the deck to the ferry taking me from Alameda to San Francisco, it is just not happening.  So I humbly, and without any profit, borrow her amazing world.  (Take that, "NK" Stouffer)

***

For my sister, who has just told me I'm to be an auntie, and my Dad, who, despite being a stuffy old investment banker, has become a huge Harry Potter fan.  His only complaint? "Not enough Quidditch!" He now carries a copy of "Quidditch Through the Ages" in his briefcase, to read between meetings.  I know, I saw it in there.

***

Ron managed, just, to stop himself from throttling Houghton Adams.  He wasn't concerned so much by the fact that a 22 year old launching himself so ungraciously at a man 20 years his senior would be seen as bad sport, but he was in enough trouble with Hermione at the moment as it was.  I can't believe she insisted on coming today!  Spends most of her life not giving a toss about Quidditch, now all of a sudden she's debating strategy with Harry at the dinner table.

***

There had been a bit of an uproar last night when Hermione announced that they would both be going to the match.

"What?  Are you mad?  You're about to have a baby and you want to go sit in a box and watch Quidditch?  Certainly not."

"Ron!  Don't be ridiculous! Tomorrow the Cannons might, for the first time in over a century, move into first place in the League, and you think I'm going to sit around here and just wait to give birth?  Not a chance. This is very important for you, for us, and I'm not having you miss it.  I've already spoken to Mr. Adams...."

"What?  What for?  I'll take the day off to be with you…."

"Well, I'm going to be at the game, so I guess you are too."

"Hermione!"  She shook her head at him before he could say anything else.

"Give me one good reason I shouldn't go, Ron."

"My wife giving birth in the owner's box wasn't exactly the pre-game entertainment I had planned?"

"Don't be crude.  That's not going to happen.  The baby hasn't even shifted all the way yet, and I've not felt a single pang…."

Ron looked at her sharply.  "Pang?  What pang?"

"Pangs, heart.  Babies don't just suddenly appear, they take a while, and I'll have lots of advance warning. The doctor says…"

"The doctor's never had a baby, now has he?!?" Ron interrupted her, and instantly wished he'd managed to stop that outburst as Hermione slowly raised an eyebrow at him, her lips going a little tight.

"Considering he's been delivering children for over 40 years, Ron, I think he just might know a bit on the subject.  And, if you insist on an experienced voice, Katie, who I do believe you are well aware has had three children herself, has explained the early symptoms of real labour in excellent detail. Actually, she was explaining them to Sirius, whom Liz assures me is tied with you in the overwrought department and she's not even due for another six weeks.  Perhaps I should have had Katie do the same for you."

Ron went a little red, but managed to hold his tongue while he considered his next move. I won't have it…. He didn't get the chance to try another tactic, however, as Hermione pushed herself up from the table and reached down to gather her dinner dishes, gently swatting his hand away as he leapt up and reached over to do it for her. She did smile at him, however.

"I promise if I feel anything that suggests the baby might be on it's way, we'll leave.  You haven't been reading those books I gave you, have you?"

Ron groaned.  "No!  I mean, yes, I've read the books, some of them at least, but no, we are not going to the match!  That's just insane!  And that's all I have to say about it."

Hermione glared at him, and he instantly knew he'd crossed the line, but was damned if he was going to back down now.  No.  Not a chance.  No way.

***

The Weasleys arrived at the Chudley Cannons' Quidditch arena several hours before the start of the game, as Ron had any number of things to see to before the match started.  Hermione had suggested that she could just go over to the Lupins and arrive later with the others, but Ron demanded she stay where he could see her once he'd resolved himself to the fact that she was getting her way on this matter.  He had fumed a bit as he saw her struggle to repress a smile and turn quickly from him to get her cloak when he told her that, but did keep his mouth shut.

Houghton Adams, the owner of the team and Ron's boss, was startled to see her following Ron into the box. 

"Ah, Weasley.  And…Mrs. Weasley?  Good heavens, I …well, I didn't really expect to see you here!  But of course I'm delighted…."  Adams came over to where they stood quickly and shook Hermione's hand, then pulled her forward. 

"Sit down, sit down…right here…most comfortable seat in the place, I think!  How are you?  Good, good," he said, before Hermione had a chance to say anything.  Hermione grinned at Ron and rolled here eyes a bit as Adams turned from her to look at her husband with a puzzled expression, then gave Hermione another bright smile before he took Ron's arm and pulled him back in the direction they had come from towards the door.

Adams leaned in close and whispered, "What on earth were you thinking making Hermione come to this match?  Very insensitive, Ron, very insensitive!  I thought you were taking…you know… the day off?  Well, nothing to be done, now I suspect. But next time, young man, think about these things.  She can't possibly be comfortable…."

Ron fumed, but luckily before he said or did anything, Adams let go of his arm and straightened back up to his rather intimidating six foot three height and turned back towards the front, speaking in his normal, vaguely dreamy tones.

"Ron, get down to the office and fetch my notes, would you?  I seem to have forgotten them…and if you see Caston on the way, tell him to get up here.  Make sure all of the, um, you know, are here, would you?  Good lad."

Ron bolted from the owner's box before he caught Hermione's eye, but he could just feel her gaze following him.  No way had she missed the expression on his face just then.  Sighing, he jogged down the steep steps of the area's main staircase towards the clubhouse. I think I'll have an entirely new definition of 'long day' after this.  Bloody hell.

Houghton Adams was, basically, a wonderful man to work for, and an excellent sports strategist, though he did tend to get a little spacey and just sort of talk into the air, rather than talk directly at anyone.  He had been a classmate of Remus and Sirius, and it was Remus who had originally put Ron in contact with him when Remus heard that Adams was looking for a junior club manager.  Ron was terrified the first time he had gone to see the former all-England keeper, but he had turned out to be a warm and funny man, despite his attention issues, and had been pleased to hire Ron on.  And Ron had scored instantly with him when he had gone to find Katie Bell and convinced her to join the team.  Katie Bell was one of the main reasons the team was doing so well. It was a standing club joke now to post yet another cover of 'Quidditch Weekly' that featured her in the locker room.  She was perturbed at first (Titles like Hero in the Struggle Against the Dark Lord Finds Peace on the Pitch and Champion Chaser Chooses Chudley! annoying her no end), but was finally starting to laugh at it all.

The Wizarding community had became very caught up in the 'miracle year' the Chudley Cannons were having. Generally they had sell out crowds, as practically every Quidditch match was well attended across the league, but usually one saw far more of the opposing team's colours.  Not this year; this year they had opened with four straight victories, a team record, and had become the hottest ticket in town. Now Ron stared out at a sea of orange at the home games. Houghton Adams spoke of it all with vague tears in his eyes and a dreamy look on his face, sighing but making no real comments other than 'keep up the good work, everyone'. Caston, the team captain, was the only one he ever talked to in depth, and Caston's main job with the team seemed to be 'interpreter' for Adams. Somehow it worked, and after years of infamy, it looked like the Chudley Cannons might become real contenders once again.

Ron went off in search of the always-misplaced managers' notes by way of the locker room.  He stayed there a bit, chatting with the team, before finally getting back up to the owners' box.  The spectators had begun to arrive, and when he got back up to the top of the arena, he saw that Remus had arrived with Sirius and Malcolm.  Despite his being totally annoyed and rather perturbed in general, he had to smile when he saw Malcolm, standing at the railing between his father and his godfather. Malcolm was smiling broadly and watching raptly as they were showing him the pitch and pointing things out to him.  First game.  I remember the first time I got to come to a game…and I can't wait until I get to take my child to his first game.  Actually, I might very well have.  He looked over at Hermione and had to smile, in spite of his lingering doubts over her being here.

Hermione had been thrilled when he told her he had the job with the Cannons, knowing it was exactly what he wanted.  He had been a little surprised at her enthusiasm at first, worried that she might think it wasn't, well, the most responsible thing in the world.  Underestimated her again.  She had even started coming to the games with him on and off, when she wasn't too busy with the Ministry.  She'd always come to cheer Gryffindor on at school, of course, but truth was she just wasn't that much of a sports fan.  But she was a fan of her husband, and Ron was constantly amazed when he considered that even if had he chosen to be the driver of the Knight Bus, she'd support him. 

But it really wasn't just any game that day, and Ron, secretly, was actually thrilled to have her there and that she really was keen on what was, with luck, about to happen.  Despite the fact that the baby was due, Ron checked his watch, oh, in about 15 hours, if the healer's due date was to be believed. He looked over again to where she sat, now talking with Remus, and sighed.  Adams thinks I dragged her here?  Is he that insane?  Can't believe he called me insensitive…deep breath, Ron.  Deep breath.  First off, he is your boss.  Second, you will miss it if you're being detained for assault.  Sirius may be a lawyer, but he can't speed things up that much.

Ron had become torn between watching the Cannons finally climb back up in the League and waiting for the baby.  Everyone had sworn to him that due dates were just estimations. His mother informed him that he and all six of his siblings had been born after the due date set.  Mrs. Granger told him Hermione was three weeks late herself.  Katie and Remus pointed out that Roarke and Annie had both been born after their due dates.  Notice nobody mentioned Malcolm was born about three weeks before he was due.

Ron looked back over at Malcolm, who was now standing on one of the rungs to the gate at the front of the box and leaning out to get a good look at everything while Sirius kept a firm hold of him around his waist.  Ron adored Malcolm, and though he hadn't said anything to Hermione, was really hoping they were going to have a boy. Though a daughter would be nice too…. He was started from his daydreaming when someone appeared next to him and started speaking.

"Good gods, Ron, what are you doing here?"

"Harry.  Why don't you ask the Quidditch fanatic over there?"

Harry glanced at Hermione then grinned at Ron.

"She mentioned something about not wanting to miss this."

"You might have warned me, " grumbled Ron.

"Sorry.  Didn't think she meant it. And there was the possibility she'd be far too busy with other things."

"Do not," frowned Ron, "mention any 'other things' she might be doing, and just wish on the grave of Godric Gryffindor it doesn't happen during the game."

"I don't know, you're first being born here seems somehow appropriate," teased Harry.

"Shut up. Where's Ginny?"

Harry started to laugh.  "Actually, she stayed home because she thought she'd go by your house later to keep Hermione company!"

"Well at least someone had the sense to stay home!"

Harry started to giggle, but refrained from further comment as Malcolm ran over to speak with them.  He was absolutely glowing and grinning from ear to ear, and Ron just had to smile.

"Hallo Malcolm, glad you could come!"

"And congratulations!  I guess we all better watch out now," added Harry giving Malcolm a rather conspiratorial look. 

Malcolm gave a laugh and looked quickly back at his father, who was still engaged with talking to Hermione, then leaned forward and whispered with a rather dangerous grin, "Thanks!"

Ron knew that Malcolm had, a few weeks ago, started to display his first magical talents.  He had gathered from very scattered reports that it was a rather 'momentous' event that announced young Mister Lupin had started developing his abilities, but had not had the opportunity to get any details. He hadn't had the chance to ask Remus for any details when he'd invited them to the game.  Katie had been with him, and Ron had already been warned not to bring it up in front of her for a few days.  Sirius must have done something, despite her firm requests that no 'testing' take place as she didn't want Malcolm feeling pressured or anxious about this. But he looks as happy as ever.

"Yes, congratulations.  Are you looking forward to the match?"

"Oh, yes!  Very much!" he glanced over his shoulder for a moment to look at Hermione with a rather puzzled expression.  "Why's Hermione here?  Isn't the baby due?"

Harry managed to choke back most of his laugh as he reached forward and took Malcolm by the shoulders, turning him back in the direction of the others and giving him a small push.  Ron stared at the ceiling for a moment and sighed. Just wait Malcolm; one day, you'll be right where I am now, and we'll see how well you hold out to the whims of your better half.

"Go take a seat, Malcolm, I'll be right there in a second.  Hermione's fine, and I thought you didn't like babies anyway, so there."

"I don't mind them, they're just useless," grumbled the boy as he wandered back over to the adults and climbed up next to Sirius again.

Ron looked at Harry.  "Exactly what did Malcolm do?"

Harry gave him another very amused glance.  "Well, as it's far to late for you to change you mind about being a parent, I guess I'll tell you.  Seems he got his hands on some fireworks and, well, I suspect Sirius didn't expect them to go off quite as well as they did, Malcolm being so little.  However…."

Ron did look rather upset at this.  "What?"

"Remus' study was…quite a mess."

"Good gods."

"Yes.  Good thing Sirius doesn't live with Katie anymore.  Of course, he had to go home to Liz, who had a few choice words herself.  Keep that in mind, Ron.  Malcolm may be little, but he's quite strong when he puts his mind to it.  Sirius explaining that the fireworks would go off better the harder he concentrated on them probably had a lot to do with it.  Where there's a will, there's a way."

Ron swallowed nervously.  This was something he hadn't even started to think about; he'd barely gotten used to the idea of a baby, let alone a toddler, then a small boy…loose in the house…testing his abilities….Oh my god.

Harry laughed again.  "Don't look like that.  With any luck, the child will have Hermione's temperament and you should be somewhat safe."

Ron nodded.

"Of course, he could turn out to be just like Fred and George, too."

"Thanks." Is it too late to wish for a little girl?

***

Ron fought the urge to start pacing by going over to sit next to Remus, who smiled at him with a rather knowing and confiding look.  Ron gave him an exasperated grin and small shake of the head in return, knowing that Remus, more than anyone else, sympathised with what he was feeling right now.  Hermione is very like Katie; Remus explained when I got married that it's an art form learning to balance a life with such a clever and strong partner.  He was right; I didn't think that anything would change when we got married, and that I already had a handle on my relationship with Hermione after nine years.  'Wrong' seems too pathetic a word even for that revelation. When you're married and living together, storming off to sulk is not an option.

Ron nodded his head in Malcolm's direction, the boy now up and moving again as he chatted with Houghton Adams.  His energy level seems to have gone up threefold in the past year…. Is that to be expected?

"Congratulations.  Hope your study has recovered."

Remus laughed heartily and glanced over at Malcolm with an adoring look before winking at Ron.

"All's well. Malcolm is just bursting now, and wants to try all sorts of things.  We've had to come down rather firmly on him, of course, but now we spend an hour every day doing very simple things, so he's managing to contain himself.  Mostly."

"Mostly?"

"Remember when you first started doing magic, Ron?  Didn't you want to see what you could really do every minute of every day?"

Ron thought about that, and then gave a small laugh.  "Actually, I did.  But I needed to for defensive purposes.  Mum and dad kept Fred and George off me while I wasn't able to any magic to 'fight back', but once I could, well, you can imagine."

Remus laughed again.  "Good point.  Hadn't thought of that.  Being an only child, I never had that particular issue to contend with.  But thanks for pointing it out.  Malcolm hasn't got round to teasing his sisters just yet, but it's only a matter of time.  We'll have to make it clear that it's not on to use an unfair advantage."

"I'll coach Roarke and Annie when the time comes."

"Thank you.  But don't let Katie catch you doing it," chuckled Remus.

Ron shook his head emphatically.  "No. And don't rat me out to Hermione."

Remus gave him a softer look now.  "Excited?"

"Yes.  And terrified."

"You'll do wonderfully.  I see how you are with Malcolm.  You're a natural."

"Thank you.  Means a lot coming from another 'natural'."

"You think?  I never considered myself one; I never expected to have a child, so I never really thought about it."

"You were such a good teacher, Remus…."

Remus shook his head, but he still smiled.  "That's a different thing altogether. Teaching is 'temporary'.  Being a parent is all day, everyday.  And it has much different responsibilities. You just wait.  You thought your life changed drastically when you got married?  That was nothing.  Hermione is your equal, and you've entered into a partnership with her.  Your son or daughter is a drastically different relationship, and your life will change profoundly for it.  But it's worth every second, if I might say so."

"And every destroyed room?"

"And every single destroyed room.  But try not to laugh when you should be furious, as it undermines your position….Malcolm!  Do come here!"

Ron looked back over at Malcolm who seemed to be engaged in doing something with one of the programmes while Adams watched him with an indulging smile.  He stopped instantly at the sound of Remus' voice, gave a rather guilty small smile, and handed the programme back to Adams before dutifully coming over to take his father's outstretched hand.

"He's showing he can flip the pages over without touching the book," muttered Remus under his breath before Malcolm reached him. "He knows I don't want him doing anything unsupervised and certainly not out in public.  No real control just yet and who knows what he might do, however innocently?"

Ron shook his head and again felt a small tinge of panic at the thought of what it was going to be like once he reached this point.  If keeping a constant eye on Malcolm is an issue, imagine what it must be like with a more…rambunctious child.  I think I'll have a long talk with dad…no, better talk with mum about it.

Malcolm climbed up onto Remus' lap and Remus wrapped his arms around Malcolm rather firmly.

"Sorry, dad."

"Alright.  I know you're excited, Malcolm, but please when I ask you not to do something, don't do it.  And the same rule applies for when mummy says not to do something.  We're not trying to be unfair, we're just keeping you safe, understand?"

"Yes."

"Good.  I love you."

"I love you, too."

Ron smiled and his panic receded somewhat.  He leaned back to glance past Remus at Hermione, who seemed to have caught the exchange between Remus and Malcolm as well, and when she saw Ron looking at her, gave him her own radiant smile.  Oh, I love that look.  Same smile I first saw when I asked her to marry me.  Eventually….

***

Voldemort was dead.  It was almost too much to believe at first.  It took several weeks after that final terrible night for it to really sink in.  But after the evidence of the battle had been repaired, after the Ministry had been rebuilt and the government fully functional again, and after the lost were mourned, the fear had dissipated at last and joyfulness returned to their lives.

Harry had arrived at the Burrow one day shortly after breakfast smiling.  Ron looked at him closely and realized he hadn't seen Harry smile like this in a long time.  He was fully recovered physically from what had happened, they all had, but he had been emotionally dark and withdrawn still.  Of course, the fact that they had lost Pettigrew that night wasn't helping in the slightest.  Harry hadn't bounced back like he usually did after that, and Ron was starting to worry about him.  Now he looked more like his old self.

"Ron.  What are you doing today?"

"Well, as I start full-time with the Cannons on Monday," he paused while they grinned at each other, "I thought I'd use this last day of unemployed freedom to take Hermione on a picnic."

Harry gave him a rather dubious look.

"Ron, it's practically December; you'll freeze.  Not very romantic to be sneezing and sniffling at each other, is it?"

"Harry, I think I can handle a few heating spells.  Sure it's chilly, but it's still clear."

Harry glanced out the window. 

"Don't know, Ron, looks a little dodgy…."

"Oh shut up, Harry.  I know what I'm doing."

Harry laughed and sat down across from him at the table. "Hmm.  Sounds like you're concentrating more on just getting away somewhere private with Hermione."

"And if I am?"

"Enjoy yourselves.  Any particular reason for the determination?"

Ron scowled at him.  "Careful…."

"Oh for goodness sake, Ron.  You dithered about for ages before finally admitting you were in love with her, why dither now?  You two are a sure thing.  Just ask her…."

"Stop right there.  We've had this conversation.  Yes, I've given it real thought.  Yes, of course…. Of course I want to marry her.  But let me choose the right time to ask.  We've all just been through so much; we need time."

"For what?" asked Harry, now looking a little angry.  "Why waste anything you've got? Who knows how much time any of us have?"

Ron said nothing and just looked at him.  Harry sighed and put his head in his hands for a moment before looking back up with an apologetic smile.

"Sorry, mate.  Look, I didn't mean for that to sound harsh.  I meant well, it just came out wrong.  Marry Hermione.  Do it sooner rather than later.  It means so much to me that you have each other… stop; that came out wrong too.  You two are my best friends, and I am thrilled for you.  And I can't wait to see you get married.  Why wait?  There's no point to waiting."

Ron nodded and reached for the picnic basket he'd packed earlier.

"Harry, I promise.  Sooner rather than later.  I just want…I want the perfect moment to ask."

Harry smiled, and then looked back out the window. 

"Better get a move on before it rains, then, or no chance for a perfect moment today."

"It is not going to rain and I have no intentions of asking today.  I'll ask when I'm ready. When we're ready."

"Fine.  Have fun."

Ron and Hermione had had almost a perfect day, but it did start to cloud up in the afternoon, so they packed up and started walking back to the Burrow. They were about half way there, strolling down a small tree-lined road in contented silence, when the skies opened up.

There was no quiet drizzle to warn them.  One moment it was chilly but clear, the next they were soaked to the skin as rain pelted them.  Startled, they dashed under one of the large trees and stood close to the trunk, looking out at the rain with slightly stunned expressions.  Finally Hermione gave a small laugh.

"What's so funny?"

"Not sure.  That was a little sudden, that's all."

"Harry said it would rain, and I told him not to be so pessimistic.  I'll hear about this, I promise you."

Hermione giggled and hugged him.

"It's just a little rain…."

"Little rain?  Look at this!  The road is already getting flooded!"

Indeed, puddles had already started to form on the pavement and along the edge of the road.  The ground was already wet and waterlogged from showers earlier that week, and parts of the roadside threatened to turn into small ponds rather quickly.

"Come on, we'll just Apparate back the rest of the way," said Ron, pulling one arm away from Hermione to reach for his wand.  But she stopped him and shook her head.

"It's not that far. We're already wet, so let's just finish our walk.  I want you all to myself."

Ron kissed her for a few moments, then pulled back to look at her.  "While I'm thrilled to the bone at that statement, I'm also getting soaked to the bone, as are you.  We really should…."

Hermione shook her head and pulled back and walked out onto the road again, opening her arms and turning her face up to the rain, her eyes closed.  Ron watched her, captivated at seeing the water run over her face, and across her still smiling lips.  After a while she lowered her arms and turned back to face him with a smile.

"Come on!  This is wonderful!"

"Hermione, it's getting worse!"

"Ron, we so very nearly lost everything.  It's made me appreciate the really simple things all that much more.  Something as simple as taking a walk in the rain through the countryside.  Right now, I can't think of anything I'd rather do than that."

At that, Ron came over to join her, having nothing else to say.  He took her hand and watched her for a few moments, then started to laugh.

"Who would ever have thought; bossy little Granger, closet romantic, wanting to be one with the rain."

She laughed too. "Bossy little Granger would have been outranged at the idea.  Grown up, wiser Granger knows a thing or two and can think of nothing more romantic than strolling though a storm with her rather handsome and quite wonderful boyfriend." This made them both laugh harder.

They stood there in the downpour, shaking with laughter.  Finally Hermione grabbed at her soaked hair and pulled it back from her face, fastening it quickly with a small band as she caught Ron's eye and gave him a radiant, but rather mischievous smile.  Ron felt his breath catch at the sight, and returned her smile with a questioning look.

"You know what I loved to do when I was little?"

"Read books?"

Hermione guffawed at him and gave a little jump.  "I didn't spend all my time reading, Ron.  I also really loved to do this!"

At that she jumped up and came down as heavily as she could in the rather large puddle at his feet, soaking him further and adding mud to the mix.  Giving a shout he jumped back, but she followed him, still jumping through the water as hard as she could, laughing again.  Right, two can play at this game….

Ron launched a counter attack, drawing a shriek from Hermione who did retreat a bit, but kept up her vigorous sloshing.  They must have been yelling and leaping about for several minutes before they finally reached the edge of the road, and Ron's left foot sank heavily into the mud there as he misjudged a jump.

"Hold it!  Hold it!  I'm stuck!"

Hermione did stop leaping about and came over to offer him an arm to hold to steady himself as he pulled his foot free.  It came away from the mud with a 'shulck' noise they could hear even over the sound of the rain pounding on the tress and the pavement, making them both dissolve into giggles again.

Ron kept hold of Hermione's shoulder for balance as he held his foot up to inspect the damage and tried to sound indignant as he said, "look at what you've gone and made me do, woman!"

She would have none of it, but did lean in closer to give him a very gentle kiss on the lips.

"Sorry," she whispered.

Ron stopped laughing and just gazed at her face.  She had changed so much from the bossy little girl he'd met all those years ago.  Hermione would never be considered a 'classic beauty', but she was breathtaking in her own simple, no-nonsense fashion.  And she looked stunning to him even standing here, wet to the bone, hair a wild mess from the wet and the leaping about.  Ron looked at her intently, watching her warm brown eyes and the slight smile on her face.  She said nothing else, but seemed content just to stand here with him in this ridiculous rainstorm.

Harry's right…this is forever.  So why wait?  Time isn't to be wasted; we won, but who knows when the next lunatic will rise up?  I want this.  I want her.  I want that life, and I'm not going to waste one more second….

"Hermione," he said softly, lowering his leg back to the ground so he could turn to face her and grasp her lightly by the arms.

"Hmmm?"

"I…well, I was going to do this properly one day.  But, well, I guess I forgot something in all my scheming.  I was thinking so much about how to do this, I forgot why I wanted to…."  He trailed off a bit as she shook her head slightly.

"What?  You're not making any sense, Ron."

"Well, that's to be expected," he said with a faint laugh, then smiled at her.  "I'll try again. Marry me."

Hermione's face took on a very unfamiliar look of shock and total surprise.  Ron panicked for a moment, and rushed on.

"I'd wanted to do this the right way, you know?  Flowers, dinner…maybe when we were a little older…."  He grinned, now feeling a determined calm come over him. "But what I was trying to say, rather poorly just now, was that I was wasting time trying to think of something 'perfect' that others thought up.  This is all about you and me.  I love you.  And right now, this just seems…a perfect time for us.  Does that make sense?"

She nodded mutely, but still said nothing. Ron waited a few moments, watching her and just waiting to see what she'd say.  The rain continued to pour over them, and the sky had started to get darker, but he felt, probably for the first time in his life, completely calm.  Eventually she gave him a very shaky smile.

"It is perfect," she whispered.

He nodded.  "This is forever, Hermione.  I know that.  I've known it for a long time, despite my original reticence and rather pig-headed determination to admit it."

"Well, I could have…."

Ron put a finger to her lips. "No, I didn't make it easy for either of us, it wasn't you. I wasted some of our time, but I don't want to waste another second."

Hermione flung her arms around his shoulders and buried her face against his neck.

"Forever," he felt her whisper against his neck.

"Is that a yes?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"I love you, Ron," she said, pulling back and finally giving him a huge, happy and very solid smile.

Ron just nodded, now feeling tears in his eyes.  Forever.

***

"BRILLIANT DODGE BY BELL!"

Ron gripped the arms of his seat and leaned forward, feeling himself rise out of the chair slightly as he watched Katie Bell execute a very tight and perfect loop and spiral around the Bludger, only to catch the Quaffle she'd dropped at the bottom of her curve before shooting almost straight up back to the playing field and throwing the ball at Bryson with an artistic accuracy. 

"Bryson takes the Quaffle picking up speed, moves past Sacks and Stewart, and makes for the goal!"

After an hour and a half of play, the Chudley Cannons and the Ballycastle Bats were tied, 40-40.  Ron knew it would be a long day, as the Bats were currently number one and were as determined to hang onto the title as the Cannons were to take it from them.  The Snitch had been spotted twice, but the first time only the crowd had seen it and startled it away with their roar, and the second time the Cannon's Seeker, Cassie McLeod, had been prevented from capturing it at the last second when both Bats Bludgers had managed to come at her from below.

"O'Keefe stands for the Bats.  Arguably one of the best Keepers the Bats have had in recent years, but no match for Bryson!  He makes the pass and … SCORES! And with that, Carthusius Bryson makes it 50-40, Cannons, and breaks a long-standing League scoring record!"

Ron just sat back and slumped a bit in his chair at the announcement, running his hands through his hair.  It was already a given that Carthusius was going to break the record today, and despite practically everyone else in the stadium standing to give him an ovation as he took a quick lap about the pitch, waving and grinning, Ron stayed seated, trying to figure out what the next feint was likely to be.  He did wave, however, when Bryson swooped up to the box to shake Adams' hand for a second.

One record down, one to go. What would make the Cannons' victory today even more exciting was the fact that if they did win, they would become the first team in the history of the English League to climb from last to first such a short timeframe.  And that was what they were all really focused on, as they figured they were due for something.

Bryson turned to sail back to the centre of the pitch in line with Katie Bell and Betty Keddle, as the whistle sounded and the Chasers set off again.  Rockailadie ' Ranting Rocky' Gillander, the Cannons' rather enthusiastic announcer, took up her commentary on the game.  And I thought Lee Jordan was dramatic….

"And they're off again!  Isabeau Bellchere of the Bats takes early possession of the Quaffle from the toss, moving over the other players.  Here comes our own brilliant Sarson Caston, sending a Bludger directly into her line of flight.  Bellchere gets the Quaffle off over her left shoulder, blindly, where it is expertly picked up by her team mate Williams as he comes from below and moves back to the centre, taking stock of the field, trying to get a line on those Bludgers!  But he's wasting time and Elk is there to prove it!  Williams takes an incredible shot to the chest, seeming to never see our Bludgers coming at him!  YOU'LL HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT, OLD MAN, TO BEAT THE CANNONS!"

Blake Williams was practically thrown off his broom as the Bludger caught him square in the chest.  He dropped the Quaffle, but was prevented from falling to the ground by the Bats' Seeker, Magnus Derickson, racing up and throwing an arm around him, pushing Williams forward onto his broom as Derickson came to a dead stop from a full run at his side.  The Cannons' Chasers took advantage of the momentary distraction to take possession of the Quaffle again, but the Bats' Bludgers were right there, stalking Katie Bell and Betty Keddle closely.

"The Cannon's newest Chaser, Keddle, pulls the Quaffle close and shots down the field…STRAIGHT AT STEWART!  Here's how you see what a Bludger is made of!  Stewart's holding, and Sacks is protecting his position against our own Bludgers as they get the ball towards the Bats' end of the field."

Ron watched the team starting to cluster behind Keddle, wondering what was up, when he caught McLeod give the slightest glance at the ground near the Bats' goal.  Feint; here they come.  The Cannons' seeker broke out at that instant, Caston right on her tail, and pulled left and down.

"The Seeker moves out, a Bludger right there with her.  The Bats' don't seem to be taking the bait, however…."

Indeed, Magnus Derickson yelled something and the Bats kept their focus on the Cannons' Chasers instead.  This finally forced Betty Keddle to roll to the right to avoid colliding with Blake.  Unfortunately, Elk came 'round her too quickly and ran into Sallie More.  The whistle sounded, and the referees signalled a deliberate foul.  The announcer seemed to explode.

"ELK CALLED FOR BLATCHING?!  RUBBISH! WHERE DO WE GET THESE REFEREES FROM, MUGGLE SCHOOLS FOR THE BLIND?"

The crowd seemed to agree, and booed with a particular vehemence as the referee handed the Quaffle to Isabeau Bellchere and sent her to face Oric Willmersham at the Cannon's goal for the penalty.  The booing flowed seamlessly into a roar of triumph as Willmersham blocked the shot, and the players barely heard the Bats' captain call a time out.

Hermione seemed to agree with Ranting Rocky.

"What a ridiculous call!  Elk just misjudged; Keddle was the one trying to knock Blake into next week, for goodness sake! Blatching indeed!"

"What's 'Blatching', Hermione?" asked Malcolm, turning to her.

"It's very bad sportsmanship, Malcolm, and I never want to hear you've done it.  It's when you fly deliberately into someone trying to knock them off their broom."

Malcolm raised an eyebrow.  "Sounds a bit Slytherin, to me," he said, calmly.  Sirius, Remus and Ron all guffawed and Sirius leaned across Hermione to shake Malcolm's hand.

"That's my future lion," he smiled.  Malcolm shook his hand with a proud smile, and then looked back to Hermione.

"Draco didn't ever do that, did he?"

Ron caught Hermione's eye.  Malcolm was fond of Draco, no questions.  Of course, he's very fond of a Draco that has nothing to do with the Draco who did more than his fair share of Blatching.

Hermione smiled.  "I can't really remember if he did, Malcolm," she said.  As Malcolm turned away from her to look back at the pitch, Hermione gave Remus a rather nervous look.  Obviously we're both thinking the same thing.  That was, basically, a lie.

Remus only nodded at her slightly and gave a small shrug.  Then Ron heard him whisper "Rule one, day one of being a parent; some things are best not mentioned."

Hermione nodded, but her face got a faraway look as she looked at Malcolm for a moment, and then shifted her gaze to a point somewhere near the top left corner of the front of the box.  Ron had become familiar with this look over the past seven months, and it betrayed a side to Hermione he had been startled to find.  She worried a lot about 'doing this right'.  Not like she used to obsess about getting a potion or a homework assignment right, but about the entire idea of parenting as a whole.  It surprised Ron to find this side to his wife.  It wasn't an insecurity, really, but just, well, something she would spend a lot of time thinking about.  And to Ron's slight annoyance, no amount of assurances on his part, for he felt no such doubts, didn't do anything to put a stop to it.  He had finally complained to his father about it, but Mr. Weasley just smiled at him.

"Ron, son, think about everything we've all just lived through.  Your mother always became very sentimental and rather worried herself near the end of each pregnancy.  Because all we ever wanted for you and your brothers and sister was for you to be safe and happy.  And sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can't assure that.  I think that's what's bothering Hermione.  It's not you, and it's not her.  I know neither of you doubt for a moment that you'll be wonderful parents, and I certainly have no doubts.  But then there's the rest of the world, and sometimes you just can't stop it from hurting the things you love the most.  Does that make any sense?"

"Yes.  I get the point; thanks."

Ron thought of going over to Adams to discuss something with him and take his mind off of worrying for Hermione, but saw that in fact he was deep in conversation with Harry, so decided not to interrupt.  Houghton Adams had played with James Potter, and Harry loved to hear Adams regale him with near play-by-play accounts of every game they ever played together for Gryffindor. The man's memory for detail is astounding; but then, since it would seem most of his energy is involved in Quidditch strategy, I really shouldn't be surprised he can recall every plan and every response. And Adams was also, in all likelihood, trying to convince Harry once more to give up the 'wretched Aurour business' and play Quidditch.  Adams had practically wept the one and only time he saw Harry play when he had agreed to play a practice round with the team, and considered Harry's firm refusal to go professional a tragedy of epic proportions. 

But since Harry had moved, that left the seat on the other side of Hermione free, so he did stand up now, giving Malcolm a pat on the shoulder as he did, which earned him a brilliant smile, and sat down quickly next to his wife, wrapping one arm around her shoulders and leaning over to give her a small kiss on the cheek.  She giggled a bit, and flushed a little, but did shift to lean against him slightly.  Ron had to laugh quietly at that, giving her another small kiss.  He and Hermione tended to be very affectionate on their own, but had never been very comfortable 'showing off' in front of others, which earned them no small amount of teasing.  Ron had actually grumbled to Harry just the previous week that it just seemed wrong to do that in front of others, as what he and Hermione felt for each other was nobody else's business.  Harry had just chuckled.

"You should follow Remus and Katie's example.  They are very affectionate, and don't give a toss about it.  I've actually seem them go entire days without speaking much, but they always clasp hands or give each other a kiss when they walk past each other as they go about their own business. Actually, it's oddly comforting to see.  Always made me feel, well, safe.  Even when everything was anything but."

Ron shrugged.  "Yeah, but it seems appropriate for them.  And it's not anything, well, silly, is it?"

Harry laughed now.  "You haven't lived in that house.  They can be very 'silly' indeed. You'll have to hear the sonnet Remus wrote entitled "Ode to My Beloved's Enormous Rondundity", which he delivered after dinner one night on bended knee while clasping Katie's hand to his heart."

"You're joking!"

"Not at all.  It was touching actually; although it took him ages to get through it as Sirius, Liz, Katie and I all kept screaming with laughter and forcing him to pause.  But I never heard Katie grumble ever again about 'bloody baby blubber'."

"I'm not even going there.  Hermione gets a little…teary…sometimes looking at herself. I told her she was even more beautiful, which was true as far as I was concerned, but it only set her off an a crying jag and accusing me of being condescending."

"Well I could have told you not to do that.  You should vet all your comments through your dad or George, or Remus, you know.  Get the voice of experience in these matters."

Ron gave a hollow laugh.  "Too right. Especially when trying to not answer gets you in more trouble than answering. It's like living with an augurey some days, I swear, and just waiting for it to transmutate into a jarvey. How's Liz taking all of this?"

"Completely in stride and with hardly a raised hair. But that's Liz for you. Sirius is the moaner and keeper of unnecessary worries in that house." 

"Yeah.  I don't seem to be able to get an image of Liz standing in front of the mirror wailing like Myrtle about her hips.  Course, up until a few months ago I wouldn't have pegged Hermione to do it, either."

"Oh Ron, it'll pass."

"Hermione says her reactions were all 'hormonal', whatever that means."

"You're not reading anything she gave you, are you?"

Hermione gave a small sigh and actually snuggled a little closer to Ron, now taking hold of his hand draped over her left shoulder and giving it a small squeeze.

"Everything alright?"

She smiled.  "Everything wonderful, heart.  What a game!  This could go on for a while."

Ron nodded and squeezed her hand in return.  "True.  But you stick to our deal, promise?"

"I promise.  I really do feel fine.  Just…thick.  Ugh."

Ron laughed at her.  'Thick' as a description for her feelings had come up when she first told him she was pregnant.  Within two weeks of the announcement none of her clothes felt right, and she trudged down to Diagon Alley to have them let out by Madame Malkin. She and Ginny came home two hours after they were expected, loaded down with bags.  Both Harry and Ron had gaped.

"What is all that?"

Ginny glared at her brother and motioned for Hermione to stay silent as she rounded on Ron.

"New robes.  And a few t-shirts and other Muggle things that will make Hermione comfortable.  She's pregnant, Ron."

"Yes, Ginny, I know that.  But you can't even tell yet!"

"I can," said Hermione, dropping onto the couch next to Harry, who gave her a sympathetic hug and mock-glared at Ron.  Ron wasn't having it, but opted for the high road, considering last night's tear-fest.

"Muggle things?"

Ginny laughed and pulled a pair of soft-looking trousers out of a blue bag.  "We've been to 'Marks and Spencers'; dad should have joined us.  I think he would have been thrilled."

Harry smiled at Hermione.  "Marks & Sparks?"

"Even the Queen gets her undies there, Harry," she deadpanned before getting up and wandering out of the room moaning over feeling 'thick'.

Ron came back to the game as he realized the crowd had taken advantage of the pause in the game to start singing the Cannon's theme song.  The tune was impossible, but everyone seemed very enthusiastic about making it through.  He closed his eyes and listened to the off-key warbling echoing through the arena.  Hermione seemed to be humming, but as always refused to actually try and sing.

Sirius and Harry sung along with Adams in grave tones, their faces showing a pinkish tinge from the Butterbeer they had been consuming and their eyes twinkling with glee.  Remus simply tapped his leg in time with the beat, ginning at Malcolm who laughed as his father jostled him around while still keeping a firm hold of him.  Once they finished, the Bats' supporters tried to reciprocate with a loud rendition of their own 'Bite their Toes; Barney, Bite their Toes', but it was lost between the drowning cries of the Cannons' supporters and the fact that their side was divided between getting the song right and also offering up the alternate (and frowned upon) version of the song, 'Bite their Bums, Barney; Bite their Bums'.

Malcolm, thankfully, seemed to miss out on the intent of the more daring Ballycastle supporters and looked over at Hermione again, reaching over to tap her arm. 

"What were they singing, Hermione?"

"The Cannon's motto, sweetie." Ron grinned into her hair.  Hermione was not one for pet names, but he did notice that after she had become pregnant she had suddenly started addressing Malcolm, on rare occasion, by Katie's also rarely used but heartfelt 'sweetie'.  Remus told Ron that the metamorphosis had begun. 'Mummydom', he said with a grin, 'has arrived'.

"What's that?"

"Let's Just Keep Our Fingers Crossed And Hope For the Best," Hermione told him, with a smile.  Malcolm gave her a rather dubious look.

"What sort of a motto is that?"

Ron didn't feel like explaining to Malcolm that it was the result of one of Hougton Adams' now infamous well-meant-but-poorly-executed comments to the press, shortly after he had purchased the team.  The Wizarding community had dubbed it the 'unofficial' motto for about three years after that day before Adams, always good-humoured and not one to let anybody think he wasn't a good sport, made it official and started having it printed on the team's programmes and other items.  Ron remembered when he was little and that had happened.  At the time he thought it was just daft.  Now, having worked with Adams for two years and forming a pretty good idea of how the man worked, he understood that it was, in fact, a rather brilliant marketing move.  Everyone wanted to be part of the joke, and even though the team was a disaster, it still made money thanks to very vigorous merchandizing sales. Adams only appeared to be hapless.  He was, at the end of the day, anything but.

At that instant Malcolm let out a shriek of excitement and clapped his hands, and the glass of Butterbeer Remus had carefully balanced on the back of the arm rest seemed to explode, soaking Remus. 

"Arggg!  I think play has resumed…."

"The Bats have decided to come back and face their inevitable defeat," cried Rocky, collecting a huge roar at the comment.  After a moment she resumed her (reasonably unbiased) play by play.

"Sallie More, formerly all-England, takes the Quaffle and dives right, swerving around the Bludger aimed by Sarson Caston.  Bob Sacks catches up with it, and sends it over to Derusius Stewart on the sides.  Obviously the Bats are up to something…."

Ron watched as Sacks and Stewart brought the Bludger over to the left of the pitch and hovered for a few moments, hitting the ball between them casually as they watched the Quaffle move between the Bats' Chasers for a while, heading towards the Cannon's goal. 

Malcolm managed to leap up and run to the front of the box to get a closer look at the players as they hovered for a moment, only a few feet from the edge of the stands.  He gaped at them with obvious awe, and Ron could have sworn he saw Bob Sacks give him a wink before she and Stewart shot off to the centre of the pitch again.  Malcolm ran back to Remus at full speed and launched himself at his father, landing heavily on his lap, forcing Remus to give a grunt as he tired to contain Malcolm's excited squirming as he turned back to the pitch.

"Did you see that daddy? Did you?"

"Yes, my little marauder, I did indeed.  They were trying to give their team time by keeping the Bludger occupied, you see?  The Bludger doesn't like staying in one area for too long, so they had to move. It's an offensive tactic, even if it looks defensive.  The Bludger is ready to get back in the game, now."

Malcolm seemed to be glowing, his attention entirely focused on the pitch, even as he gripped Remus' arms tightly.

"Oh, daddy, may I play Quidditch?"

"When you're a little bigger, son,"

Malcolm just nodded absently, bouncing excitedly on Remus' legs.

"Thanks!"

"Don't mention it," said Remus, smiling and giving Malcolm a small pat on the head, even as he pulled him closer to his chest so he could see around him.  Malcolm didn't take to this, however, and wriggled free to stand up and run around Hermione and Ron to Sirius. Sirius gladly let Malcolm stand in front of him, resting his arms on Sirius' knees, as Sirius tousled his hair and said something to Harry, who laughed.  Ron saw Malcolm shoot Sirius a quick grin before he turned his attention back to the game.

Remus gave Ron a sideways glance, and smiled at something.

"Ron?"

"Yes?"

"What are you thinking?"

Ron laughed.  "Well….I was thinking about how, um, energetic, Malcolm has become.  Not that he wasn't…."

Remus gave a small nod and Ron stopped.  "He'll be six this October, you know.  Gods, when did that happen?  Well, anyway, yes.  He has definitely started being more…independent.  It happens, and it will happen with you and your child.  At this age they are starting to really form their own ideas and make their own decisions."

"Malcolm was making his own decisions at two, Remus," Hermione pointed out very matter of factly.

Remus chuckled.  "After a fashion, yes.  Be prepared."