A/N For NellieNotMolly , with thanks for her donation to the Teenage Cancer Trust.
I should never have told him that 21 was a big deal to Muggles.
I'd had to explain that 18 was the bridge to adulthood because he didn't understand why he couldn't buy my father a drink in the local pub. He made a point of going to a Muggle pub on his 18th just so they'd ask him for proof of his age and he could show them his birth certificate.
I'd tried to explain that a birth certificate from St Mungo's that sparkled and carried a moving picture of a screaming newborn on it wasn't ever going to be taken as proof by a surly barman but he wasn't even asked for any proof anyway.
Funny how people seem to just know when you don't need to be pulled up on your age. Ron was quite affronted at not being asked and kept trying to force the barman to look at his proof. This might have had something to do with it. Nobody with a faked birth certificate would demand a closer inspection.
He's asked me at dinner with my parents what we do for 17th birthdays and we told him that 17 was sandwiched between the two big coming of age milestones, 16 and 18.
He was baffled about 16 being an important age until we told him that sex and marriage was legal from then on, and that you left school at that age. I don't think he'd considered Muggles letting their children grow up faster than wizards and witches and he kept shaking his head and muttering about people getting married at 16.
"Most don't you know?" I'd chuckled.
"It's just the sex and the having babies they can't seem to wait to do," my father had added with a look of accusation...at me!
"Babies?" Ron was still reeling that Muggles were procreating at a time when all magical teenagers would be thinking about was snogging and passing their exams.
"Why did you look at me when you said that?" I asked my dad as he began cutting his steak.
"You've always been ahead of yourself in maturity," he said with a shrug, "and from the way the Weasleys are every time I've dealt with them...well they're from a more innocent background aren't they?"
Ron looked stunned at his family being described as being innocent
"You said yourself," dad said, ignoring mum's glares and hisses, "he didn't even consider getting a girlfriend until all your Muggle born classmates started pawing at each other and making any young man his age feel emasculated if they weren't doing the same."
Ron turned on me, jaw dropping.
"You said that?"
"I said..." I stalled and took a moment to scowl at my father before smiling painfully at my boyfriend, "I was defending you because they could have thought the worst about us sharing a tent for all that time. I only told them that you'd never even kissed a girl until Harry and I had already...and Dean with your sister...and she made you feel bad for still being happy to just spend time with your friends."
Ron was looking at me as if I'd just gone out of my way to humiliate him in front of my parents.
"Ron," my father said as he patted him on the back of the hand, "you are a gentleman and a friend to my daughter and you were raised by good people. You being shocked that people in our world act the way they do at 16 proves that you're the sort of young man anybody would want to court their daughter."
Ron looked lost by this point and only had my mother left to look at without feeling judged.
"The roast potatoes are really nice Mrs Granger," he said out of desperation to change the subject.
"My husband is the cook, I can burn water," she smiled at him, kindly. "I'm not really housewife material, that's where Hermione's gets it from."
"Don't make the boy feel like a sexist," dad huffed at her, "he comes from an old fashioned world, like I said."
"Sexist?" Ron was now looking from Granger to Granger to Granger in a panic, "What? I... but my dad makes roast potatoes. I don't think women have to make all the potatoes!"
"She's teasing," I said as I huffed at my parents and tried to calm him down.
"I wasn't making fun of him," mum said, looking hurt, "I was just telling him that Granger women can't cook, not that all women can't cook."
An owl tapped at the window and Ron threw himself out of his chair and ran to let it in. After reading the note addressed to him he sighed with relief and smiled at us as he announced that an escapee from Azkaban had been spotted crawling into an old Victorian sewage pipe in a bid for freedom and he had to go and catch him before he passed the anti apparition spells.
As Ron left with a crack I turned on my parents, furious.
"He just chose to be in a sewer rather than here. I hope you're happy!" I banged my knife and fork down on the table and stormed away to my bedroom.
"So Harry," Ron said as they trudged through knee deep human waste as if they were taking a stroll in the park, "why is turning 21 a big deal to Muggles?"
Harry was gagging behind the handkerchief tied around his face and turned to look at Ron as if he was mad to have other things on his mind, like his birthday.
"It's just an age they make a milestone out of. There's no reason at all. Can we pick up the pace a bit and get the fuck out of here, please?"
Ron nodded and straightened his own protective scarf tied around his mouth and nose.
"Yeah, sorry, it's just that I only just found out that 16 is grown up where you and Hermione are from."
"Well 18 is adulthood, 16 is just..."
"Leaving school and shagging and marriage, yeah, I heard." Ron muttered.
"It's not compulsory," Harry laughed.
They splodged onwards a little more and soon their eyes were stinging. Rats squeaked, vile condensation dripped from overhead, and Death Eater scum remained elusive.
"Harry?" Ron piped up again.
Harry sighed, then wished he hadn't, choking on the noxious fumes.
"What is it now?" He gagged.
"Am I innocent?"
"Innocent of what?" Harry lifted his handkerchief to spit.
"An innocent person, I mean. Do you think my family are...sort of...naive?"
"Ron, what's bothering you? Has somebody said something?"
"I think," Ron paused to extract his Wellington from the soft slime he was sinking into, "Hermione's parents only like me going out with her because they think I'm simple or something."
"They don't think you're simple, they think you're decent."
Ron looked put out at this news.
"Well that's fucking sexy isn't it?"
"Hermione thinks you're sexy, her mum and dad think you're decent. You have the best of both worlds. Don't complain."
"Mum and dad think you're decent," Ron added as Harry set off again.
"Your mum and dad loved me before Ginny. They wouldn't have loved me if I was some random stranger from work. It's different. Hermione's parents don't have feelings for you outside you being their daughter's boyfriend."
"They like you," Harry said, in an attempt to reassure him.
"Yeah, because I'm childlike and harmless and only snogged a girl because I was bullied into it," he muttered under his breath.
"Don't get a cob on about being thought of as decent. You are decent and I'm proud to have a good bloke as my best mate. Would you rather Hermione's mum think you were sexy and her dad think you were a bastard?"
They walked a little further.
"They want to do something special for my birthday," Ron said. "They reckon turning 21 is a big deal. What's special about 21, Harry?"
"Dunno really," Harry shrugged, "just a milestone age. Maybe it used to signify something but times changed and it lost its meaning. People still have a bit of a do and give you silver keys with 21 on them though."
"Keys?" Ron frowned.
"Keys on the 18th too. I think 18 is the new 21. Muggles will use any excuse for a party though so they kept the celebration."
"So nothing changes then? I'm not suddenly allowed to do stuff?"
"Nope," Harry said before slipping and grabbing the side of the wall to steady himself. He was revolted by the layer of vile gloop that coated his palm.
"Ugh," Ron said with a grimace of sympathy.
"In America they wait until 21 before they're allowed to drink and be called adults and stuff," Harry tried to wash the residue off his hand with a spray of water from his wand tip.
"Why are they different in America?"
"They're always different in America. Men have fanny's in America."
They proceeded three more steps and came face to face with a repulsed looking wizard dressed in Azkaban prison clothes.
"Okay, I surrender, just get me out of here."
They apprehended their prisoner and set off back down the tunnel, towards fresh air.
"American men really have fannies?" The crap-coated prisoner asked Harry.
He was sleeping on the sofa, covered in a blanket, and I assumed that his mother had decided not to disturb him when he'd come home from work the night before.
I smiled and leaned over to stroke back his messy hair before stooping low enough to kiss him on the forehead. He pulled a disgruntled face and rolled over with a grunt. I laughed and made my way to the kitchen.
He still associated fond kisses in his sleep to his mother.
I put the kettle on and toasted two slices of bread while the birds chirruped outside the window. He was 21 today.
There was a pile of cards and presents on the kitchen table and I added mine and my parents presents to the stack. Mum and dad had bought him one of those silver keys with 21 on it and an engraved beer glass. They'd told me to tell him that trust wasn't a bad thing and give him another key with 21 on.
I gripped it tightly in my hand and then slipped it into my pocket as the kettle whistled.
"It's 'im in the sup... Mmmmm." Ron mumbled in his sleep.
I took the kettle off the boil and began to smear Molly's home made damson jam over the golden brown slices of toast.
Ron sniffed, noisily, and pushed himself up on his arms. He looked around the living room with bleary eyes and then rubbed his face as he frowned.
"Happy birthday sleepy," I called over to him.
He looked over his shoulder at her and smiled into a yawn as he sat up.
"I don't even remember falling asleep," he said as he pushed the blanket off his legs. "I smell toast."
I carried the plate with the toast and jam on it over to him and he pulled me onto his lap.
"You're here early," he said, nuzzling into the side of my neck.
"I wanted to make you a birthday breakfast," I said as I kissed him on the lips and then leaned back to shove a slice of jam coated toast between his teeth. "I'll go and get your tea."
I heard him crunching on his breakfast and then arching his back into a stretch that was far too elegant for such a gangly body. The fine lines and graceful curves of his body was soon lost to some cringe making cracks from his joints before he slumped and sucked a blob of jam from his thumb.
Pig skidded across the coffee table and over the edge, but Ron's safe hands caught him and lifted him onto his shoulder.
"Dozy git, what're you so excited about?" Ron said with sleep still roughening his voice.
Pig rubbed his little heart shaped face against Ron's ear and made his grumpy master giggle before breaking off a crust of toast and offering it to his owl to nibble.
Pig made contented noises into Ron's ear while I finished brewing the tea and carried a tray through to the living room.
"He loves you no matter how much you grumble at him," I said with a smile, "glutton for punishment aren't you, Pig?"
I sat down beside him and poured him a cup of tea.
"This is special, for us I mean," he said as he watched me and reached up to his shoulder to offer his little owl a perch, "21 really is a big deal to you isn't it?"
He set Pig down on the arm rest of the sofa and took the teacup from me.
"You're a big deal to me," I said as I snuggled into his side.
"What, innocent, decent, harmless old me?" Ron grinned at me and I kissed his tea-sweetened lips.
"Do you want to know how brilliant being innocent, decent, harmless and trustworthy is?" I said as I climbed onto his lap and instantly cringed at the sensation between my legs.
Ron began to crack up with laughter and I climbed back off him and peeled the slice of jammy toast off my clothing.
"Honestly woman, I can't take you anywhere!" He teased.
"Well maybe we should stay in more often," I said as I made my way to the kitchen to wash my sticky hands and dab at the jammy square on my trousers.
"As much as I love my mother I really don't want to snog in front of her," Ron called after me as he brushed crumbs from his lap.
I grabbed the card and ornamental key from my parents and carried them through to him.
He looked at the silver key in its presentation box and looked a little puzzled but then happy. I knew it meant something to him to be included in our family's Muggle ways.
He tore open the envelope and slid the card out. It had another big 21 on the front and a picture of a footballer.
"They don't make Quidditch cards in the Muggle world," I explained.
He opened the card and read.
He blinked, reread the card, and then looked up at me. I pulled the small door key from my pocket and held it out to him.
"They bought us a flat, Ron."
His eyes widened.
"It's a little Muggle place close to them and a short walk away from a public Floo."
"It doesn't have a fireplace, Ron, it's a new building."
Hiss eyebrows rose and he sat back in his seat.
"Nobody could interrupt us...doing stuff."
"Always a plus point."
"But," he began, and I knew this was on its way, "they bought it for you right? They bought it for you and are letting me know they're okay with me living there too, right?"
I sat beside him and put my hand on his knee.
"It's in both our names, it's our place."
"I can't take that," he said with a pained expression.
"It's a birthday present and a declaration of trust," I said, firmly, "and this isn't a hand out. This is an investment in our future together and your future as a part of my family. You accepted expensive gifts from Fred and George before."
"That's different, that's family."
"Exactly," I beamed, "and we look after each other. You're one of us now."
He looked at me for over a minute before curling his fingers around the key, it had a number on it, our door number - 21.
"Happy Birthday, Ron."
Congratulations on attaining your 21st year, Ronald.
We've given you a symbolic key, despite the fact that nobody knows the relevance of it any more, because you have included our family in your world. It's an honour to include you in ours.
You are also a mature, decent, trustworthy young man.
Because of this we have given Hermione a more meaningful key to give to you.
We would never trust any other man your age to move in with our daughter. This is how highly we think of you.
We're sorry if you didn't understand that before.