DISCLAIMER: Nothing you recognize in this story is mine. It all belongs to JK Rowling.

A/N: The pairing is canon, but one I've never written and, quite honestly, don't really like. But this idea got in my head and wouldn't leave. This is my attempt at exorcism. I've tried hard to do these characters justice. Thanks to KaraSays and Felena1971 for beta-reading!

Countdown: Excerpts from Hermione Granger's Journal


Eight

Monday, October 8, 2007

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! I'm pregnant. I knew it – this is what I get. I should have gotten my period four days ago, and when it didn't come by yesterday, I just knew it. I've never been this late without being pregnant. So today, after Ron went to work, and after I put Rose down for her morning nap, I pulled out my wand and did the test. Three clockwise circles over the abdomen, then three counterclockwise circles, and sure enough: gold sparks. Pregnant.

My last period was September 6. According to the charts, in about eight months – sometime near June 12, 2008 – I'll have another baby.

Why? Why was I such an idiot? I've counted backward to see when I would have been at the peak of my cycle, and it is just as I feared. Right around my birthday.

This is the worst thing that could have happened.

This is exactly what I deserve.


Seven

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Last night I finally had to tell Ron. He had noticed I was grumpier than usual, and that I've been off of some of my regular foods. "Maybe you're pregnant again," he suggested eagerly. So I ran the test again, in front of him this time, and tried to look surprised – pleasantly surprised, that is – at the result. I'm not at all sure that I would have convinced any other audience with my act, but Ron was so over-the-moon thrilled that I don't think he noticed the hollowness I heard in my own voice. He literally danced around the room. I used to love Ron's "happy dance." This time it just made me feel like even more of a shit.

"You weren't so crabby last time," he said. "If it's affecting you this differently, maybe this time it's a boy!" Yeah, maybe. Or maybe I'm just crabby because I'm so freaking angry with myself.

Ron sent half a dozen owls this morning before he went to work: Arthur and Molly, Bill and Fleur, Charlie, Percy and Audrey, George and Angelina, and Harry and Ginny. "Another beautiful red-headed Weasley baby is on the way," he told them all.

I didn't send a letter to my parents, but I guess I'd better tell them soon. They'd be pretty upset if I just showed up at Christmas, visibly pregnant, without having said a word.

What the hell do I do if seven months from now I give birth to a baby who doesn't have red hair? What if this baby is distinctly darker in coloring, and slightly duck-footed?


Six

Saturday, December 8, 2007

We got a Christmas card from Viktor today. Ron did his usual possessive male thing – he threw a total fit when he saw it. This happens every year. "Why does he have to keep butting into our life?" he demanded.

I didn't say anything.

In previous years, I have always defended Viktor's right to send a card to us (well, fine, we both know it's really for me, even though it's addressed to both of us), and my right to receive a card from an old friend. "Old BOYfriend, you mean," Ron always says. "That's different!" And I always tell him that he's being silly, that Viktor and I dated only briefly when I was fifteen, but that – as he well knows, as it was with Ron that I lost my virginity – it never went beyond a couple of kisses, and that we've been strictly friends for the many years since.

But this year, I wouldn't have been able to say those things honestly. So I said nothing.

Ron's such a hypocrite anyway. I know he saves every one of Viktor's cards, because each one has a personal, friendly note and the autograph of Viktor Krum, international Quidditch star.

I'm showing so much I can't hide it under my regular clothes anymore. For the next six months, everyone around me, even strangers, will be eyeing my belly and congratulating me. I could just puke.

At least Viktor had the sense not to write anything about how nice it was to see me in Prague.


Five

Friday, January 4, 2008

A new year.

I didn't participate much in the New Year's Eve celebration at the Burrow, and not just because I can't drink firewhiskey while pregnant. I didn't want to welcome 2008. I am terrified of what this year will bring.

I did, however, make quite a list of New Year's Resolutions today, none of which I can show to Ron. When he asked if I was making any for this year, I joked, "You can't improve on perfection." He laughed, kissed me, patted my belly, and told me he couldn't agree more.

What a laugh. I am so very, very far from perfect.

Therefore I resolve to be a better person in 2008. Specifically:

I will not have one-night stands with former boyfriends (or anybody else, for that matter).

Not even if they look fabulous, take me out for a birthday dinner, and tell me everything my soul aches to hear.

I will remember my responsibilities, even after an untold number of shots of firewhiskey.

I will be a good wife to Ron, assuming he doesn't divorce me if the baby comes out looking Bulgarian.

I will be a good mother to Rose, and to this poor baby on the way.

I will never, ever, EVER act as though I am morally superior to anyone, ever again. Well, except maybe Death Eaters.

Five months. In five months, all hell could break loose.


Four

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tonight, Molly and Arthur watched Rose for us, and Ron took me out to a nice dinner at my favorite fancy Muggle restaurant. He kept glancing around the dining room proudly, pleased that people should see that he had a baby on the way. I'm not sure I can stand this kind of behavior for four more months. The Valentine's Day card he gave me had a big lace heart on the front, and inside he had written, "I love being married to you and making a family with you."

Why couldn't he have just written that he loves ME?

When we were in school, and when we first dated and got married, he seemed interested in me – as a person. But lately, I feel like I'm just here to be a wife and mother. Never mind that I have a brain, so long as I have a uterus.

This is why I had the affair with Viktor in the first place.

After Rose was born, I left my job at the Ministry so that I could stay home with the baby. Where before my days had been full of interesting work with interesting people, helping house elves and other beings, my days became nothing but nursing and nappies. When Ron came home from work, I was desperate for conversation about something other than teething and diaper rash, but he was tired from his workday and wanted to immerse himself in his family. "How much did she eat today?" "Did she like the strained peas?" "Is her rash cleared up yet?" Gods, I thought I'd go crazy. I mean, of course I love the girl, and it has been exciting to watch her changing and growing day to day. But I needed something intellectually stimulating, and no matter how adorable she is, Rose's baby talk wasn't cutting it. I was bored, and lonely, and miserable.

And then, last summer, I got an invitation to a conference in Prague: "Civil Rights of Non-Human Beings in Europe." It was scheduled for September 21 – 23, the weekend right after my birthday. I told Ron how much it would mean to me to be able to go, to immerse myself for a weekend in the world of adults who wanted to make a difference in the world, to have meaningful discourse about a topic of great interest to me. He agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to send me there as a birthday present. Gods, I loathe not having an income of my own. If I still had my salary, I would not have felt I needed to justify going. I would have just made the decision, and gone. Of course, if I still had my job, maybe I wouldn't have been so desperate to go in the first place.

Naturally, the first person I saw as I was checking in at my hotel was none other than Viktor Krum, who was in town visiting a friend who plays Quidditch for the Czech Republic, Pavel something-or-other. He said it was incredible to see me, and asked if I could join him in the hotel restaurant for a belated birthday dinner. I couldn't believe he remembered my birthday. As we caught up on each other's lives, we toasted each other, the health of all our friends, Voldemort's downfall, and more. When I told him what I was doing in Prague, he seemed genuinely interested, and asked my opinion on a number of related topics. I began to feel like myself again. It felt so good to be back in my own skin. And when he walked me back to my room, both of us stumbling drunk, we kissed. The next thing I knew, we were in my room, tearing the clothes off of each other, and he was telling me how beautiful I was, and how he'd never known anyone like me.

When I woke, I was horrified at what I had done. I spent the rest of the weekend at the conference, but was unable to enjoy it. I was too busy missing Rose, and wondering how I could have done something so horrible to Ron.

But when I read this Valentine's Day card, I remember. I remember being valued for my mind, and for my passions both in and out of the bedroom. Viktor told me he "luffs" me. Ron loves being married to me and making a family with me. Hell, he could do that with any willing fertile woman. Where am I in this equation?


Three

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I am being bombarded with greeting cards and gifts for Mothering Sunday.

The only gift I want is (God help me) the gift of Sight. Trelawney said I had no talent for Divination, and never before now have I wished she were wrong about me. If I only knew whose baby am I carrying, I could make some decisions about my future.

Could it really be Viktor's child? The timing is right, no doubt. I did perform the Contraceptive charm, but… what if I did it wrong? I'd had so much to drink. Or… what if it didn't work as well as it should have because I used the first wand I could get my hands on, and it happened to be Viktor's, instead of my own?

I am such an idiot. Sleeping with Viktor was a colossal, stupendous, spectacular mistake. He apologized profusely in the morning for giving in to his passion, and begged me to forgive him. I don't know if I forgive him. But I definitely don't forgive myself.

Of course, the child could be Ron's. We were trying to get pregnant again, after all. We'd had sex on my birthday, just two days before I ran into Viktor.

Even if this baby comes out with flaming red hair and is without question a Weasley, will I be able to live with Ron with this secret eating at me? How can I be his loving wife when I am consumed with guilt?

Do I want to?

Shit, I cannot believe I just wrote that. I will have to burn this journal in three months, after this is all over. A simple Vanishing charm would be just as effective, certainly. But not as cathartic.


Two

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I am hugely pregnant. I float through the house like a blimp. Rose keeps patting my belly and laughing. I still have two months to go – how much bigger can I get?

My anniversary is next week. Four years. Obviously, at some point in the not-too-distant past, I was sure I loved the man. Do I love him still? What if I were to pour energy into my marriage, rediscover all the things I used to love about my husband – and then give birth to Viktor's child, and have Ron leave me in the end? Loving Ron would only make the pain worse. I'm not sure I even want to try. Why set myself up for such heartbreak?

On the other hand, I can say with certainty that I have never loved Viktor. I loved the way he made me feel. Like Hermione. Not like Mrs. Ron Weasley, and not like Rose's mom, but like Hermione. I like Viktor, but I do not "luff" him the way he "luffs" me. Even if the baby is his, I will not want to leave Ron and Rose and move in with Viktor. I will either need to be on my own, or find a way to make things work with Ron. Even in my current emotional distress, it's obvious which is the superior option. As frustrated as I am with Ron these days, the thought of losing him makes me feel like there must be a Dementor nearby.

There has to be a way to keep both of us in this relationship. There must be some possible scenario in which I don't lose Ron, but don't lose myself, either.

What I need… is a way to feel like Hermione again within my marriage. To be a mother to Rose, and to this baby, without feeling like I'm playing a part written for someone else. Oh, and for the baby to have red hair. Please, God, let the baby have red hair.

If the baby has red hair, I promise I will do everything I can to save my marriage. I will hire a nanny to watch the children during the day so that I can go back to work, and I will find another job where I can make a difference. With the job to feed my brain, I'll be happier and more myself during the hours I do spend with my family. I will insist that Ron talk with me about a broader range of topics, not only the day-to-day minutia of raising children. I will make time to see my friends, because they help me remember who I am. And, armed with a renewed, strengthened sense of self, I will make sure that Ron discovers me all over again, not just as wife and mother, but as lover and friend. If I can find my way back to myself, I believe I can find my way back to Ron. We used to be great together. I mean, sure, we fought a lot, but it was never too serious, and making up was always such fun. If the baby is his, maybe there's a chance for us.

And if the baby doesn't have red hair? Will I confess to Ron? Will I tell Viktor he's a father? I suppose I will have to do both of those things, painful as they will be.

If only I knew! Half of me wants time to speed up, because the waiting and not knowing is killing me. The other half of me wants time to stop cold, so that I never have to face the disaster that could well be waiting for me in June.


One

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Yesterday, I hauled my huge self – and Rose – down to the Leaky Cauldron to have lunch with Kingsley Shacklebolt. I told him flatly that I needed a job. He glanced at Rose, playing in her high chair, and then at my enormous belly, and sat back in his chair with a sigh. "I don't have any openings in your old department," he told me. "I do, however, have a position in Magical Law Enforcement that will open up in the fall. Priscilla Camperton will be retiring after her 112th birthday in early September. The job is yours, if you want it. I think you'd be perfect for it – we're working on revising some of the old pro-pureblood laws." I accepted, right then and there, and asked if there was anything I could do in the meantime to better prepare myself. He invited me to their weekly staff meetings – said I could come any week I felt up to it.

I was so excited about my new job that Ron noticed the difference as soon as he walked in the door that evening. I told him all about it, and said I would start interviewing nannies right away.

"Are you insane?" he shouted. "Did my mother not stay home with all seven of her children?"

"I'm sorry, Ron," I shouted back, making Rose grab her stuffed bear and look, worriedly, from one of us to the other. "I'm not like your mother," I continued, only a little softer. "She's a saint, and I'm just not that good of a person. I've been miserable. I need to be at work, or I just don't know who I am – other than your wife, I mean, and other than Rose's mother. I've lost sight of myself and I need to do this." My tears were flowing freely at this point. Damned pregnancy hormones make me cry all the time. "You knew when you married me that I was no Molly Weasley, Ron. You can't expect me to change who I am."

He grabbed me by the shoulders. "Hermione, Hermione, look at me! You misunderstood me, sweetheart – listen: I didn't mean that you have to be just like my mum. I wouldn't want you to be anyone other than who you are. What I meant was that my mother loves taking care of babies, and it would kill her if we hired a nanny instead of letting her care for her grandchildren."

"Oh," I said, sniffling, and wiping my nose on my tent of a blouse.

"And what do you mean, you're not as good a person as my mother?" He led me to the couch and sat me down. Rose peeked out from behind her bear, tentatively. "Hermione, you're the best person I know. You have worked so tirelessly on behalf of house-elves, and now you'll get a chance to improve things for Muggle-borns, and maybe even werewolves…" He kissed me. Really kissed me. It made my toes tingle – unless that was sciatica from carrying this heavy load of baby, pulling my lower spine out of whack. "I'm so proud to be your husband," he said.

That made me cry again. I don't deserve him. He wouldn't be so proud if he knew what I had done. I almost told him – but I still wasn't sure that was best. If the baby is Ron's, and I tell him of my indiscretion, all I've done is unburden myself at his expense. If it's Viktor's… well, I guess I'll know in a month, and I'll deal with it then if I have to.

"I'm not the best person you know, Ron," I choked out. "I'm flawed. Deeply flawed. But I'm trying to be a better person, and I truly believe that taking this job will help me do that."

"Come here," he said, enfolding me in his strong arms. "You're not as bad as all that. Everything's going to be all right, you'll see."

And for some reason, I believed him. His confidence in me – in us – is contagious. It's hard to worry about anything when he holds me like that. I let him take me to bed, and he was so gentle and loving with me that I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Otherwise, of course, I would have written all this down last night, instead of this morning!


ZERO

Friday, June 13, 2008

I have never been a superstitious person, but I was rather displeased to go into labor on Friday the 13th.

However, I have now decided that this day just has an undeserved bad reputation. Actually, everything went really well. The delivery was painless, thanks to the special potions at St. Mungo's. And Ron and I have a big, healthy – and very red-headed – boy.

Ron wanted to name him after his father, but I pulled rank. If he carried the baby for nine months, he could name the baby whatever he wanted, I said. He could not fight my logic, and gave in with a grin. I am naming our son Hugo. I like the name, and although I didn't mention this part to Ron, it reminds me of one of my favorite Muggle authors, Victor Hugo. And yes, that reminds me of Viktor. It may seem strange that I want to be reminded of my one-night stand every time I say my son's name. But I don't think of it that way. You could say, actually, that my night with Viktor saved me. I realized, in a hotel in Prague, that what was missing in my life was… me. Viktor gave me the gift of myself that night. And in the end, that encouraged me to find a way to reclaim myself in my marriage. Hugo will always remind me of the importance of being true to myself. When I wasn't able to give the best of myself to my husband and my daughter, we all suffered. I vow never to let that happen again.

I'm really excited about my new job, too. I'll officially start in just three months – until then, I'll be home with Hugo Arthur and his big sister Rose. As far as Molly is concerned, September can't come fast enough: she is thrilled to be the nanny-in-waiting. She's watched Rose twice in the last month so that I could make it to a couple of staff meetings, and they've had a great time together. Ron was right, too: once we draft the revisions to the blood-status laws that Kingsley had mentioned, we'll push to review some anti-werewolf legislation. And after that, who knows? There are so many possibilities. I'll be able to make the world a better place for my children. What more could any mother want?


A/N: This was a weird story to write. It started with me wondering about the name of Ron and Hermione's second child, Hugo, and whether it was some veiled reference to Viktor Krum. Had she never gotten over Viktor? Was the child maybe even Viktor's child? The more I thought out the dynamics, I really couldn't see Hermione winding up with Viktor – but then I don't love her with Ron, either. (She should be with Remus or Severus, obviously.) So it was a struggle for me to find a happy ending to the premise of this story. In the end, I'm leaving her with Ron, a wiser woman for having been through these doubts and fears. (And living with her guilt, perhaps as penance for her lapse of fidelity.)

Also, I certainly don't mean for this story to be a condemnation of stay-at-home motherhood. I did it myself for several years, and now only work part-time (I have an elementary school aged child). I know the benefits and costs of staying home with the baby, and some of the benefits and costs of working outside the home. But it was hard for me to see Hermione, with the particular quirks of her personality, feeling whole without meaningful work outside the home, making a difference in the broader world. So – this is not intended as a political statement in the supposed war between working moms (aren't we ALL working moms?) and stay-at-home moms. It's just my picture of what I think Hermione as a mother would need.