Chapter Twelve: Lighter than Air
The crisp early morning air of autumn stirred outside the window of the Athenaeum's master bedroom, briefly breathing life into the limbs of the great oak that stood sentry over the house. With a drawn out moan from ancient joints, its branches began to sway intricately – moving in, out, and about each other with a deftness acquired only after centuries of experience. Here and there, bright yellow leaves gave one last sigh, and with a shudder, began their glorious journey to terra firma below. The remaining leaves rustled a heartfelt 'bon voyage' to the departed, as the breeze gave one final flourish before moving on to spread the news that all was well.
On the other side of the window – which had been left slightly ajar – Ron Weasley brought the bedclothes higher up towards his ear with a well-practiced shrug of his shoulder, and he drew his arms tighter around Hermione, who was nestled snugly in the nook his body created. They had quarreled, as they always did, about whether or not to leave the window open, and she had relented, as she always did, when he had promised to keep her warm. Even though he was asleep, Ron's facial features had relaxed in such a way that he appeared to be smiling.
Without so much as a warning, a small box on the nightstand beside Hermione started to emit a loud wail. Ron awoke with a start, and he could feel Hermione's body stirring against his own. He tried to swear, but was surprised to find that no sound came out of his mouth. He frowned and reached his topmost arm over Hermione's body to try and silence the box, completely ruining the careful arrangement of the bedclothes. He felt along the top of the contraption for the seemingly magic button that would afford them a few more minutes peace, but resorted to banging it with an open palm when he couldn't find it.
"Ron," groaned Hermione, who had removed herself from the nook and was now lost in the expanse of the bed, "the alarm's on your side. That's the baby monitor." Ron stopped pounding the top of the box, which, he was now embarrassed to realize, sounded just like Hugo. Instead, he picked up the monitor and deposited it on the swell of Hermione's chest.
"It's your turn, Ron," she reprimanded him, and she took the monitor – which still relayed Hugo's cries – and gave it back to her husband. "I took care of it last time." Ron tried to object, but was once again stymied when his voice seemed to fail him. Hermione propped herself up on her elbows and turned to face him. "What? No argument? You used to have all sorts of excuses to get out of changing a diaper. Remember, 'but Hermione, I'm allergic to poo?'" she asked, lowering her voice into a very good imitation of one of Ron's most embarrassing moments.
Ron certainly did remember. Hermione's response – 'then you must have one awful rash in your mouth' – had caused him to laugh so hard that he'd nearly choked to death on the sandwich he'd been eating at the time. Now, however, the best he could do was roll his eyes and point at his mouth. Hermione looked at him in confusion for a moment – Ron could see the sparkle of her eyes in the gray early morning light from the window – and then she ducked her head, smiling sheepishly.
"Sorry," she began, reaching a hand out to her nightstand and grabbing hold of the wand she kept there at all times, "you were snoring again." She pointed the wand at Ron's head, and with a quick "Finite Incantatem," Ron found he could speak again.
"You know I don't like it when you do that," he snapped, surprised at how severe he sounded.
"I do," answered Hermione, "but could it wait until you've taken care of Hugo?" she asked, pointing at the monitor in Ron's hands. Hugo had stopped his screaming, but there were still unmistakable signs of distress coming from his room. "Or are you going to try and get out of this one too?" Ron said nothing, but swung his bare feet out of the bed and onto the cold wood floor. The sensation made him breathe in sharply and say a word that made him grateful that the monitor he was holding apparently only worked in one direction. He'd never quite got the hang of it, or the other Muggle curiosities that Hermione had insisted on using for the kids' safety. "What was that?" Hermione breathed, her voice a good deal higher than normal.
"Do you really want me to repeat it?" Ron asked, getting to his feet. The bed groaned in protest as his weight left it, and Ron was inclined to agree. It was far too early to be up and about.
"No, no, I suppose not," said Hermione softly behind him. Ron could tell that she was slightly put out by the way he was behaving, and he felt he should apologize. Unfortunately, his mind didn't work properly at this time of morning, and the best he could manage was to toss the monitor back into the bed behind him before he stepped into his bright orange slippers and plodded out of the master bedroom and into the hall. The bright lights of the hall temporarily blinded him – Rose insisted on sleeping with the hall light on and the door to her room open – and Ron had to squint at the dozens of pictures that adorned the walls of the hall, trying to get his eyes to adjust. Slowly, the blotches of familiar red came into focus, and Weasleys of all ages waved out at him. However, there was one Weasley in the hall that was not confined to a picture. Rose was waiting for him.
"Is Hugo all right?" she asked, wide-eyed. Ron marveled that she could seem so awake this early in the morning. He shaded his own eyes from the far-too-bright sconces, and looked at his daughter. She stood outside the door to her room in her favorite blue nightgown, her flyaway auburn hair stood nearly on end in certain spots, and she was biting her bottom lip. Her arms clutched tightly at her stuffed sphinx, Enigma. "I heard him crying," she added, giving Enigma an extra squeeze. The toy's mouth began to move, and Ron could just make out its riddle, despite it being muffled up against Rose's body.
I've seen eyes by the dozen,
And skins of all sorts.
I have helped to cure many
A bad case of warts.
But be I made of copper,
Or pewter, or gold;
Make certain to stir rightly
The contents I hold.
The look of concern on Rose's face deepened into one of concentration instead, as she looked down at her stuffed sphinx. Ron's sour mood wasn't strong enough to stand up to this onslaught, and he bent down next to Rose and kissed her on the forehead. "Have it figured out yet, Rosie?" he asked, already knowing that she didn't. Though Rose loved her Uncle Bill's gift immensely, she was still a bit young to be able to figure out the riddles on her own. However, that didn't stop her from trying.
"What does pewter mean?" she asked, her face scrunched up in concentration. Ron stood up straight with a chuckle, and used a hand to guide Rose towards the door to the master bedroom.
"Why don't you go ask your mother? She's much smarter than I am, and I have a feeling she'd like some company just about now."
"But you're smart too!" Rose protested, looking up at her father over her shoulder. "Remember? You showed me how to -" Ron hurriedly held a finger up to his lips to stop her from finishing the thought.
"Shh... that's our little secret, all right?" he reminded his daughter with a wink. Rose nodded enthusiastically and tried to wink back, but she still hadn't worked out the maneuver's finer points and wound up blinking both eyes instead. Ron grinned at her affectionately, and with a final push towards the door, she scurried into the master bedroom.
Now, alone in the hallway, Ron made his way to the door of the nursery. This door was a paneled oak affair, just like the rest of the doors throughout the house, but while the rest of the doors retained their natural dark wood grain, this one had been painted to look like the sky. Fluffy white clouds drifted back and forth through the field of blue, and Ron thought he could just make out the bright flash of the Golden Snitch that was forever circling the nursery. But then again, it might just have been a flash from the bronze doorknob as he turned it to open the door.
The door's paint scheme carried on into the nursery itself, and upon entering it, Ron always felt as he had so many years before when he'd ridden a Thestral for the first time. The effect was very much like floating in midair with nothing visible below you for support. But, as it always did, this train of thought led to sadness over the fact that nearly an entire generation of witches and wizards had gone to Hogwarts and never been innocent enough to think that the carriages from Hogsmeade station moved on their own.
With a sigh, Ron walked towards Hugo's cot with a heavy heart, but significantly lighter feet. Hugo was laying in the bottom of the cot, with his little hands wrapped around two of the bars. He was wriggling agitatedly, and his blanket had become wrapped around his body in an odd fashion. Ron bent down over the cot, gently extricated Hugo from his blanket, and pried his hands off of the bars.
"Da!" sniffled Hugo, holding his arms up towards Ron. His face was very red, and wet as well from the tears he'd apparently been shedding. Ron picked Hugo up and held him close to his body as he gingerly patted his son's bottom to determine if he needed changing. Ron was surprised to find that he didn't.
"Well, what's wrong then?" he asked tenderly, holding Hugo up above his head and turning him around rapidly. Not only was this a particularly good way of making sure that there was nothing wrong, but it was one of Hugo's favorite activities. The tears and sniffling stopped almost immediately, and were replaced by laughter and babbling. Ron breathed a sigh of relief. It appeared that whatever was bothering Hugo wasn't terribly serious. He lowered his arms, and cradled the toddler in them, looking him square in the face. "Are you all right?" he asked, trying to read the dark brown eyes. "Did you have a nightmare? Is that what this is all about?" Ron bounced up and down from one foot to the next on the balls of his feet, trying to get Hugo to fall back asleep, but the toddler was much more interested in playing with his father's nose.
Finally deciding that he was getting nowhere with getting Hugo back to bed, Ron tried to put the child into his cot, only to have Hugo resume his screaming as soon as his body touched the blanket. "What is it?" asked Ron, starting to get frustrated. The first rays of sunlight were beginning to peak through the branches of the trees outside the window, and if he didn't get Hugo to bed soon, there would be no point in going back to bed himself. And there was nothing Ron wanted more in the world than to curl back up with Hermione. It was time for desperate measures.
Ron took the blanket out of the cot with the arm he wasn't using to hold Hugo, then wrapped it around his son, who put up only a minor struggle. Apparently, the blanket was much more frightening when he was lying down on it. "There you are, the blanket isn't that scary, is it?" cooed Ron, softly. He pulled the blanket tighter still, and brought Hugo right up in front of his face. He looked into the eyes of his son once again, and whispered, "you're not going to tell anyone about this when you get older are you?"
"Da!" was Hugo's only reply. Ron shook his head playfully, and brought his nose in closer to Hugo's face, allowing it to rub against the delicate features there.
"That's what I thought. Now, I apologize in advance for what you're about to hear, and if you start to cry – well, I won't blame you," added Ron with a grin. He took a deep breath, and broke into a lullaby that his own mother had sung to him when he was little. "Though leaves have changed, and summer's gone," he began, in an unsteady soft voice. He had sung this very song to Rose a few times over the years, but only as a last resort – he knew he wasn't much of a singer. It appeared Hugo agreed with him, as the toddler had stuck out his tongue and started to blow raspberries.
"Yes, yes, very funny," said Ron, rolling his eyes. He resumed his bouncing, and he began to stroll about the room as he continued to sing. "My love for you will still live on." As he reached the window, Ron stopped for a moment to gaze at the sun as it rose above the tree line. The sky to the east was a brilliant shade of orange, and the light that was flooding in through the window fell on Ron's slippers, making them blaze with color, as though aflame. "Now rest your head my precious one. Again we'll have our day in sun."
Ron was so rarely awake when the sun rose that he hadn't seen a proper one in ages. He felt slightly ashamed that he'd not seen more of them in his life. They really were quite spectacular if this one was anything to go by. He glanced down at Hugo, only to find that his son had closed his eyes and was breathing regularly. Ron pulled the curtains shut tighter at the window, and the room once more descended into grayness. "But until then, bask in the glow," he sung, his voice a bit stronger now that he knew he wasn't being listened to. He returned to the cot, and gave Hugo one last warm nuzzle before lowering him down to the mattress. "Of love that bears life's ebb and flow."
Ron backed away from the cot slowly, barely daring to breathe. One wrong move now, and all of that would have been for naught. Thankfully, Hugo did not stir, even when the nursery door creaked ever so slightly when Ron let himself out. He made a mental note to ask Reg Cattermole if he knew any good charms for squeaky doors the next time he saw him at the ministry. The walk back to the master bedroom was uninterrupted, but when he entered it, it was to find Hermione looking up at him from the bed with a look on her face that Ron couldn't quite identify. It almost looked as though she wanted to – but no, that wouldn't make any sense, as Rose was lying where he usually did, and Enigma was sprawled at the foot of the bed haphazardly, it's hind paws dangling over the end.
Hermione pointed to the baby monitor on the nightstand beside her, and then at Rose. Ron understood immediately what she was trying to say, and he felt his face burn as though it were undergoing a sunrise of its very own. How could he have been so stupid as to forget that Hermione would be able to hear everything that occurred in the nursery. He was quite sure that she had never heard him sing before – in fact, he was certain of it – and he was mortified to think that her first time had been when he'd been singing such a silly little song. Why couldn't it have been something cool like a Blaise of Glory song?
"All right," he whispered, trying not to wake Rose, "just how bad was it?" The look on Hermione's face – whatever it had been – turned into a wide smile, but she said nothing. Ron was sure she was just biding her time. There was no way she'd let him live this one down. "Well, sorry you had to suffer through it. Rest assured it won't happen again," he said, dejectedly. Hermione's smile faded quickly, and she put a finger to her lips. She inclined her head towards Rose, and Ron shrugged apologetically.
"Sorry," he mouthed. He continued to hesitate near the bedroom's door, trying to decide whether or not to join his two favorite ladies in bed. Climbing back beneath the warm sheets had been his only goal from the moment he'd awoken, but he'd have to disturb Rose to do it, and she looked so peaceful that he'd hate for her to have to wake on his behalf. Hermione made the decision more difficult by patting a sliver of open mattress beside her, and giving Ron a fetching look. Ron's hesitation melted away; there was no way he could resist such an invitation.
He slipped off his slippers, which had a tendency to make a slight thwapping noise as he walked on the hardwood floor, and padded softly towards Hermione's side of the bed. He eyed Rose enviously, but decided against waking her. Instead, he knelt down beside the bed, and placed his head on Hermione's shoulder. He could vaguely smell the lilac scented shampoo she used, and he inhaled deeply, letting the scent fill him.
"It wasn't that bad," whispered Hermione, turning her head to face Ron. They were so close that his eyes had a hard time focusing on her own. "Better than I could do."
"I don't think I've ever heard you sing," Ron responded, also whispering. "I can't imagine you'd do poorly. You're brilliant at just about everything else."
"Just about?" Ron could feel movement against his forehead, and he knew that Hermione had just cocked an eyebrow.
"Well, I am a substantially better chess player than you are," he teased, exploring the divide between them with his lips. It was far narrower than he had expected, and he tensed as they made contact with soft skin. Miraculously, the skin parted and kissed back.
"Weasley is my king," breathed Hermione, each of the words causing her lips to flutter against Ron's. "Queen to d4."
"Mate in three," Ron mumbled, his left hand unwrapping itself from Hermione and traveling slowly up to her face. There, it assisted his mouth in its caresses.
"Ron, not with Rose in the bed," protested Hermione, under her breath. But her argument was undermined by the hand tracing lazy circles on Ron's back.
"Two," muttered Ron, ignoring Hermione's logical objection. When it came to chess, he never played to a draw. Unfortunately for his record, Ron's endgame was interrupted by another loud wailing. Hermione's hand on his back clenched, and one of her nails scratched him deeply.
"Oh, sorry!" she yelped, withdrawing her hand as though it had been burned. Ron, muttering about how unlucky his day was starting out, quickly raised his head and looked to the baby monitor. But this time the sound was coming from the other side of the bed. A quick glance across the mattress and past Rose's stretching form, informed Ron that it was seven o'clock, and that the alarm had started to go off. He looked longingly at the snooze button on top of the device, but it was far too distant to reach.
But as he looked at the small strip of plastic, it appeared to depress all on its own, and the alarm fell silent. He looked at it curiously for a moment, trying to decide whether it was possible to have seen what he just saw. He turned to look at Hermione, and saw that she too was staring at the alarm clock. "Did you-" he asked, trusting that she would know what he meant to ask.
"I saw it, but I didn't do it," Hermione answered, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at her own bedside table where her wand still lay. Rose groaned, finished stretching, and curled up into a little ball. Looking at her, a light suddenly came on in Ron's head.
"Hey, do you think that Rose-" he prompted, once again whispering. Hermione bit her bottom lip, and Ron was reminded of how Rose had looked earlier when trying to piece together the riddle. After just a moment of silence, Hermione's face lit up.
"I do!" she whispered excitedly. "It's her first time! Oh Ron, this is fantastic!" She threw herself into Ron's arms, and he had no choice but to hug her. Not that he wanted to be doing anything else at the moment. Their daughter had just inadvertently used magic for the first time, and Ron felt as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Though he'd never told Hermione, nagging doubts had made him very afraid that Rose and Hugo would be Squibs. He looked over at Rose as she slept, and felt a surge of pride well up within him. He had made this perfect little person with Hermione. It wasn't a miracle when their lips had touched earlier, no, Rose was the miracle.
"I guess she takes after me a little bit," he breathed, grinning from ear to ear. "I'd been thinking about pressing that bloody button." Hermione stifled a laugh by pressing her face into Ron's chest.
"I suppose we have one more thing to celebrate today," she said, once she'd regained control. She let go of Ron, and swung her legs carefully out of the bed. "Add it to the list of things on the cake at the party." She glanced over her shoulder at the time on the alarm, before standing up. The nightgown she was wearing cascaded down to her knees, and Ron watched the hem sway back and forth for a moment. "Speaking of the party, I need to get a move on. There's still so much to do. And so do you. Remember, you need to be in Hogsmeade by ten. George would... well, I don't know what George'd do to you, but I can't imagine it would be pleasant."
"You have no idea what he's capable of, you didn't grow up with him," Ron responded, as Hermione made her way towards the adjoining bathroom. She stopped in the doorway and turned back to Ron.
"Come on," she whispered, beckoning to him with a finger, "I know a way we can save time getting ready.
"Only if there's no singing involved," Ron joked. But he was already through the bathroom door.
A/N: Many thanks to everyone who reads and continues to support the story. This chapter has wound up nowhere near what it was originally intended to look like, and as such, may one day be shunted into a companion one-shot. That's not to say I don't like the chapter. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't have changed this whole chapter around to read like it does now :) Next chapter should return us to our regularly scheduled fic, with Ron and George marauding at Hogwarts.
I want to let everyone know that the story has passed 10,000 hits. That's an immense number, and far more than I ever would have expected for a story that was supposed to be quick and dirty (seriously... I planned for less than 10,000 words, let alone 10,000 hits). That's all thanks to people like you, the reader. Anyway, I hope this chapter is enough to hold you over to the next installment :)