What did a war hero know about babies anyway? Honestly? He couldn't believe he let himself be talked into such a crazy and irrational stunt, and he wasn't even getting paid! Shouldn't he at least get something for all the stress and blood vessel's he was popping just standing there, listening to the loud, shrilling sounds coming from the next room? He was certain he'd rather face Voldemort –several times– rather than be forced to give another piggy-back ride.
"Oh for goodness sakes, Harry," Hermione Granger had huffed, in her bossy, I-am-always-right tone when he'd refused, perfusively. "Simon is only five-years-old, just how much trouble could he be?"
Right, where was all that smug knowledge now? He wanted to laugh while watching her untangle bits of spaghetti from her curly, light-brown hair. But he doubted he'd survive another day, not when she looked at her stretching point as it was, not that she didn't deserve everything that little brat threw at her. This had been her idea after all, and she was supposed to be the smartest witch that ever lived. You'd think she'd have known better! It was just too bad Hogwarts didn't teach a class on how to handle children; it would have certainly been more useful than Divination, unless you were supposed to foresee the madness beforehand and put a stupor to ever having children in the future. Or in this case stop your friends from having children.
Simon Longbottom wasn't a rotten kid. Hermione insisted that he was simply misunderstood and just needed a friendly face. In Harry's opinion, the kid needed a straightjacket and a one-way ticket to a padded room. He was mental, a cross-breed between Malfoy's rotten personality, Neville's clumsiness, Ginny's stubbornness with a huge dose of Fred and George. It was a train wreck, a natural disaster, a force of nature to be reckoned with. He should be labeled as most dangerous creature on the planet. Had Voldemort lived, Simon Longbottom could have given him a run for his money. Harry was certain of it.
So, why had he listened? Why had he agreed to hand his life –and sanity– over to the stubborn, know-it-all witch? It could have been that she knew far too many hexes by memory for his comfort, or that he was madly and desperately in love with her. He liked to think the first had a great deal to do with it, but to be honest, he really did love that crazy witch, especially when she got that feisty tilt in her chin and her beautiful, brown eyes sparked, challengingly. Damn if he wouldn't do just about anything for her, even spend an entire day with the spawn of Satan.
"Harry, what are you doing in here?"
Caught slacking off in his quiet hiding place in the kitchen with a giant bowl of fudge ice-cream, Harry jumped, tumbling off his stool and landing in a heap by her tapping foot.
"I was…uh…getting you ice-cream?" he squeaked, putting on what he hoped appeared to be a sweet, innocent face.
Too bad Hermione was too clever for that, and knew him too well. "You lazy little leech!" she shrilled, poking him hard on the shoulder. "You deserted me!"
Climbing to his feet, Harry turned to her, dark brows furrowed over his flashing, green eyes. "You're the one who wanted to come here!" he pointed out, refusing to back down, even when her nostrils flared with fury and she looked ready to explode. "We could have spent the sunny afternoon at the park or something. Instead, we're stuck babysitting Rosemary's baby!"
"First of all, it's raining outside," he mentally winced that he'd forgotten that small detail. "Second of all, Rosemary's baby is our best friend's son! Neville and Ginny would certainly not appreciate you calling him that!"
"Hermione," he urged, solemnly, taking her small shoulders in his hands. "The boy is evil! He's got six-six-six tattooed to the back of his skull."
She arched a dainty brow. "And you've seen this?"
"It's invisible, but it's there!"
She sighed, rolling her eyes. "Harry, I'm tired too, but we promised!"
"No, you promised, and then you threatened me into tagging along."
"I did not threaten you!" she gasped, affronted.
"'Harry, if you don't come with me, I'll make your penis talk every time it gets near a vagina.'" He mocked in the best Hermione impression he could manage, and still coming out high-pitched and shrill. "That sounds like a threat to me."
"I do not sound like that!" She huffed, crossing her arms and looking away. "And that wasn't a threat! I was merely making conversation."
"Well, every time you're near me now, my penis goes into hiding, so thanks a lot for that conversation."
Bottom lip puckering, she glanced down, her ivory complexion dusting a light shade of pink. "The threat stands if you don't get over there and help me!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Well, since you asked so nicely, how can I refuse?"
Saying nothing, but giving him a withering frown, Hermione led the way to the sitting room, or what had once been the sitting, which was now a room to make the battered and torn Shrieking Shack seem cozy. Bits of fluff covered every square inch of the stained and stinky carpet from the upturned and shredded furniture. Holes mirrored the walls, and a potted plant had tumbled over which the cat was now using as his personal litter box. Scribbles, handprints, and even a suspicious, brown blob ran the length of the hallway leading to the upstairs. Toys, puzzles, books and action figures lay broken and forgotten everywhere there was space.
Harry whistled under his breath, and silently thanked Merlin Hermione was an expert at the Reparo spell. He was positive Ginny would pop a vein if she saw what her house had been resorted to in only a few, short hours.
"Simon, get down from there!" Hermione's frantic shrill had him racing through the chaos and into the dining room where an overgrown monkey in a bright-red, Weasley jumpers, swung from the chandelier over the table. His blue cape dusted the mud-clumped surface with each dangerous sway. More mud dripped from his Power Ranger boots and splattered across the walls every time he kicked his short legs.
"Come and get me!" he squealed, laughing hysterically.
"I'm not playing games with you, Simon Frank Longbottom!" Hermione barked in her no-nonsense voice. "I want you down here in exactly five seconds!"
Simon promptly ignored her and continued to swing.
"Five! Four! Three! Two…!"
With a loud, war cry, he leapt off, landing on the corner of the table and sending it teetering up on one side and slamming into the glass cabinet containing Ginny's late, great-grandmother's china. The crash and tinkle of broken glass was not enough to conceal Hermione's shrill of horror.
"You told me to get down!" Simon taunted, leaping to his feet and bolting from the room.
Hermione made no move to pursue. Instead, she stood, frozen, staring in horror at the mound of shattered china scattered across the floor. "Ginny is going to kill me!"
"Then in that case," Harry pulled out his wand, "Let's just kill the brat and hightail it to Mexico!"
Exasperated, she frowned at him. "This is no time for jokes, Harry!"
He blinked, feigning innocence. "Who's joking?"
"Come on; let's find him before he destroys anything else priceless."
They followed the muddy footprints through the kitchen, down the hall, and up the stairs. Something crashed and splintered above their heads, making them pick up their pace at a run.
"Oh for goodness sakes!" Hermione shrilled, grabbing fistfuls of her hair. "He's five-years-old, how on earth can he cause so much damage?"
The entire upstairs hallway looked like something after Fred and George's botched experiments. Purple goo plopped from the ceiling, forming a strange, green puddle on the carpet below. Plants lay in ruins next to their upended tables, and nearly every door along the hall stood wide open, except the bathroom.
"Clearly, you've never been the typical five-year-old," Harry mused, kicking a ceramic bowl with the toe of his shoe.
He shook his head. "But Dudley was worse."
She sighed, heavily, rubbing her temples. "Come on, let's find him."
It was only a small relief that three of the four bedrooms remained untouched. The bathroom didn't share the same fate, and even Hermione refused to open the door after they heard the gurgling sound inside.
"He's in the master bedroom," she whispered, pressing her finger to her lips for quiet.
Harry nodded, following her slow steps over the threshold.
Well. He thought upon seeing Ginny and Neville's bedroom. At least they'll be thankful they still have a sort of bedroom left. Sure, the mattress was torn as if Remus had been let loose upon it during one of his transformations into a werewolf, and the nightstands were toppled over, its contents spilling across the carpet, but nothing was on fire, and that's what counted, he supposed.
"He's in the closet," Hermione whispered, pointing towards the large, walk-in next to the bathroom door.
He didn't ask how she knew, but followed along, wand at the ready, prepared to hex the little devil at first sight.
She grabbed the gold doorknobs, glanced back to make certain he was prepared before throwing them wide open and shouting. "Got ya!"
Dark, emptiness greeted them.
"Shut up, Harry!" she barked.
Being a smart man, he stifled his chuckles and covered the one that slipped with a cough. "I guess, we should…"
"Ha!" Harry had no time to prepare for the shout before he was shoved, forcefully into Hermione, who toppled, grabbed his chest and sent them both tumbling into the closet. "I win!" they heard Simon scream, in what was supposed to be a deep, masculine rumble. "I'll take that!" he grabbed Harry's wand and aimed it at them.
"Simon…!" Hermione's warning went unnoticed by the brat as he gave a smirk worthy of a Malfoy.
"Now you," he pointed towards Hermione. "Give me your wand or your boyfriend gets it!"
Hermione gasped. "Well, that's just…he's not my boyfriend!"
Simon rolled his blue eyes. "Right, just do it, wench!"
"I beg your pardon?" she shrilled, eyes bulging.
"I can't believe…just you wait until your mother hears about this!" she screeched, fishing for her wand and removing it from inside her robes.
"Don't try anything funny now," Simon warned, snickering. "Uncle Fred and George taught me all the good hexes, so you'll be sorry if you mess with me!"
"Fred and George are so dead!" she hissed, "Expelliarmus!"
Without batting an eyelash, Simon waved Harry's wand, shouting. "Protego!" Hermione had no time to gasp as her disarming spell was easily neutralized by a five-year-old before Simon attacked again. "Relashio!"
With a yelp, Hermione dropped her wand as hot sparks flew at her.
"Accio wand!" in a flash, Simon stood over them, both wants in hand, and smirking. "Thanks!"
With that, he slammed the doors closed on them and murmured a locking charm.
"Simon, let us out!" Hermione commanded, scrambling to her feet and banging on the doors.
"You're my prisoners!" he cackled, like the demon he was.
"Let us out this minute!"
"No thanks, you're no fun!"
"I can't believe we got hoodwinked by a five-year-old," Harry sighed, slumping back against the wall and resting his elbows on his raised knees. "If this ever gets out…we're so screwed."
"Don't just sit there!" Hermione shrilled, ramming her shoulder into the door. "Come help me break these doors down!"
"Hermione, he just took your wand with some pretty advance wand work, I think he's smart enough to put up a resistance charm, and I'm not going to break my shoulder to prove it," he muttered. dropping his head back. "Just have a seat, we'll figure this out."
"But what if he gets hurt?"
"Nothing can hurt the spawn of Satan, it's the rest of the house I'm worried about," he muttered, closing his eyes.
Reluctantly, Hermione dropped down across from him, and sighed. "I've babysat for Bill, Ron and even Percy, and I've never had this much trouble!"
"Don't feel bad," he yawned, stretching his arms. "It could be worse."
He shrugged. "He could burn the house down with us locked in here."
With a gasp, she was on her feet, banging on the door and yelling for Simon to let them out.
"He probably put up a silencing charm," he pointed out.
"Why are you taking this so well?" she screeched, kicking his leg with her foot.
"Because I feel safe in here," he answered, smugly. "I'd rather roast to death then face that…thing, again."
"He's five! Five, Harry! We can handle a five-year-old!"
He snorted. "Clearly not this five-year-old."
"I'm going to crucify Fred and George, and then I'm going to hand them over to Molly and Ginny so they can kill them!"
"You do that, sweetheart," he sighed, wondering if a nap was possible before they had to face Ginny's wrath. "But I think you're doing this all wrong."
"What do you mean?" she demanded, dropping down across from him.
"Well, it's like the time we had to fight Voldemort…"
"Harry, this isn't war!"
"Have you taken a good look around, Hermione? That's exactly what we're in. Only Voldemort's part is being played by a snot-nosed little brat."
She huffed, crossing her arms. "This is ridiculous. You can't just compare the most evil wizard on the planet to a small child."
"A small, evil child," he pointed out. "Had I not known how much Ginny loved Neville, I would have accused her of having an affair with Malfoy."
Hermione gasped. "That's a horrible thing to say!"
"You're right," he sighed, heavily. "Draco wasn't even this bad."
"I know, I feel sick just saying it…"
"That's not what I meant!"
He chuckled. "You know I'm right, love. The kid needs a one-way ticket back to the fiery pits of hell to join his other siblings where they can torture condemned souls with pitchforks for all eternity."
"You're just the worst, Harry Potter!"
"Yea, well, you love me."
"Unfortunately," she grumbled, softly under her breath, but Harry still heard it and stiffened. She couldn't possible mean it the way he was hoping. She probably meant in a brotherly way.
"Look, Ginny and Neville should be back soon and…"
"But I don't want them to come home to that mess!" she wailed, dropping her forehead down on her raised knees. "They'll think I'm so irresponsible, getting locked in a closet while their child is running loose in the house with two wands, doing who knows what. What if he blows himself up?"
Harry refrained from telling her they'd be doing Ginny and Neville, and the world, a great favor, and said instead. "He won't."
"I can't believe he disarmed me," she moaned, voice muffled. "Even Voldemort couldn't do that."
"Maybe you're getting rusty," he teased. "Voldemort's been gone for nearly ten years and we haven't really had to use our wands for battle, except to capture Deatheaters."
"He's not a Deatheater or Voldemort, Harry," she sighed, voice thick with failure. "He's just a kid. I should have been able to stop him! I feel so stupid."
Pushing away from the wall, he went to her and gathered her into his arms. "You're not stupid, 'Mione," he murmured with fortitude. "You've done things, know things, most wizards could only dream of. You're incredible."
"You're only saying that because you're my best friend."
He shook his head. "A best friend would have told you to suck it up and use that clever brain to get us out of here. I'm telling you that there's nothing in the world that you can't do. I have complete faith in you."
"Oh, Harry," she sniffled, burying her face into his shirt front. "That means so much to me."
He kissed her temple, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. It never failed to surprise him how small she was compared to his six-foot status. Her soft curls barely brushed his chin when they were standing. It only made her that much more endearing to him.
The sweet scent of jasmine swirled off her to tickle his nose, and he couldn't stop himself when he buried his face into her curls and inhaled.
"Harry?" she whispered, hoarsely, tipping her face back to peer into his face.
"You smell really good, 'Mione," he murmured, unable to keep the huskiness from his voice.
"Oh," she squeaked, her rich, brown eyes sparkling in a way he'd never seen before. "You smell nice too."
Despite the havoc rampaging inside him, Harry felt the corner of his mouth quirk. "Good enough to kiss?"
As soon as the words left his mouth, he wanted to kick himself. He hadn't meant to say that out loud, but now that it was out, he quickly raked his brain for something funny to defuse the tense situation.
"Yes," she whispered, cheeks flushed.
"What?" he choked, certain he'd heard wrong.
He definitely didn't need to be told twice before swooping down and capturing her parted lips with his. He was instantly shocked by the sweetness that overpowered him with just a touch. She seemed to flow through him like honey, smooth, thick and sinfully delicious. He couldn't stop.
His fingers fisted in her hair, dragging her closer, needing more of what she offered. Her skin, so soft, slid like silk beneath his touch. Nothing had prepared him to how addictive she'd be, and he was hooked; only the sound of the closet door opening and flooding them with light could deter his mission to kiss her senseless.
"Simon!" Hermione gasped, pulling away, flushed and swollen lipped.
The boy stood on the other side, russet brows furrowed with impatience. "You're supposed to be miserable in here, not kiss! How gross!"
Harry wasted no time lunging forward and snatching his and Hermione's wand from the boy's hand. "You, Mister, are in a heap of trouble!" he warned, getting to his feet and pulling Hermione up with him.
"Oh no, I'm not!"
"Incarcerous!" Harry shouted before the boy could take off, and instantly bounded him with invisible ropes. With a thump, Simon hit the ground, wiggling like an inch worm, but not getting anywhere.
"Harry!" Hermione shrilled, racing to his side. "You can't do that!"
"Oh yes, I can," he replied, smirking maliciously. "I think it's time Simon learned a little lesson about being nicer to people who are trying to take care of him."
By the time Ginny and Neville walked through the front door, not a pillow was out of sort. Everything sat contentedly in their rightful places, and even Simon was washed, dressed and fed, and sat quietly on the sofa.
"Oh, wow," Ginny gasped, staring at everything as if seeing it for the first time. "Nothing's broken…"
"Blimey, Harry, how did you do it?" Neville asked, following his wife into the sitting room.
Harry shook his head. "It was Hermione, I just kept her company."
Hermione gave him a sharp look, but said nothing.
"I don't think I've ever seen the house look so…clean, you have to tell me your secret, Hermione." Ginny insisted, shrugging out of her coat and tossing it over the back of the sofa.
"Actually, Harry persuaded Simon to help keep things clean," she said, smirking spitefully at Harry's frown. "I'd never seen anything like it."
"Really?" both parents chimed, on unison, wide eyes swerving to their son.
"Is there anything you would like to tell your parents, Simon?" Harry prompted, arching a brow.
Climbing off the sofa and standing ruler straight, the boy squeaked. "I'm sorry for always making a mess and promise to help clean more often."
Watery-eyed, Ginny yanked her son into her arms and squeezed him until he squeaked. "Oh, baby, I'm so happy to hear that."
"Harry, I don't know what you did, but you're the first person we're going to call…"
"No, please don't!" he panicked. "Really, I want to live!"
Chuckling understandingly, Neville nodded. "At least let us pay you for your hard work."
"No need," he snuck an arm around Hermione's waist. "I've already been paid."
"Harry!" she hissed, flushing scarlet and trying to wiggle away.
"Well, thank you," Ginny sniffled, swiping at her eyes. "We weren't sure how you'd handle things. Simon has been hanging around with his uncles a little too much lately and, well…"
"We completely understand," Hermione assured her, smiling kindly. "And he wasn't as bad as you'd think."
Harry couldn't believe she actually said that with a straight face. "Well, now that you're back, we're off!"
Considering their job complete, Harry took Hermione's hand and tugged her towards the door. He paused long enough to grab their coats before throwing open the door.
"We'll be leaving then. Bye Neville, Ginny, Simon!" Hermione called out hastily goodbye before she was dragged through the front door and into the crisp, damp air.
"Have I told you how horrible you are, Harry Potter?" she muttered, lips twitching.
He shrugged, holding open her coat for her. "A few times, actually, but I don't recall you being this grumpy when I had that little beast scrubbing the toilet clean."
"Yes, with a toothbrush of all things!" she muttered, slipping her arms through the coat and letting him push the heavy fabric onto her shoulders. He felt her shiver when he tugged her hair free of the collar, and grinned.
"Whatever works," he mused, "But I'm certain he'll be thinking twice before causing such havoc again."
"Unless he tells his parents and Ginny comes after you with her wand."
He slipped an arm around her shoulders and dragged her against his side as they stepped off the front steps and into the light drizzle. "That's what I keep you around for, love, to protect me from furious red-heads with wands and crazy children."
"What makes you think I'll protect you, Potter?" she scowled, nudging his side with her elbow.
"Because I recall a certain confession back in the closet that assures me that I'm safe as long as you're by my side."
She arched a brow, her cheeks flushed. "And what confession was that?"
He stopped walking and turned to peer down into her beautiful eyes. "That you love me."
The blush darkened on her face, but she didn't look away. "And what if I do?"
His breath caught in his throat. He raised a hand and touched the side of her face with his knuckles, loving the silky texture. "Then I'd tell you I love you too."
Her shaky breath fluttered around them in a puffy, white cloud. "Do you?"
Her beautiful face broke into a wide smile. "I suppose it would be a waste to let any red-heads with wands get you now, wouldn't it?"
He nodded. "A huge waste."
"And I don't like wasting."
He drew her closer until their rushed breaths were mingled. "You are a clever witch."
"So I've been told," she murmured, dropping her gaze to his mouth. "And as a clever witch, it would be unwise of me not to tell you that I love you too."
He grinned. "Kiss?"
She nodded, leaning up on her tiptoes. "Kiss."
"I'm thinking for Simon's birthday, we should get him something extra special, since we do owe him for bringing us together," Harry recommended, sighing leisurely as he reclined comfortably on the sofa with Hermione stretched out half-alongside and half-on top of him.
Moaning in agreement, Hermione nuzzled cozily against his chest, and replied. "I was thinking we could give him a friend to play with."
Harry frowned. "You mean like a dog?"
He chuckled, brushing a kiss to her forehead. "You're right. That's just animal cruelty."
"That's not what I meant," she huffed, lips twitching. "I meant, maybe a little of what he is."
"A fire-breathing dragon?"
"Well, we could cross-breed a Rottweiler-Doberman, with a Dragon, and make a Draweilmen! That's exactly the type of pet that kid deserves."
"Harry, be serious!"
He sighed. "You're right…Hargrid would never forgive us for not making him one."
Hermione sat up, lips pinched thin with impatience. "Harry Potter, you're just going completely off topic!"
"Alright, so what did you have in mind?"
Her cheeks tinted pink and she looked down, busying her attention on drawing small circles over his chest. "I was thinking more along the lines of a human playmate."
He winced. "Hermione, sweetheart, I don't think any parent in their right mind would let their kids play with that…hell-spawn. I know you're trying to set him up with Bill and Ron's kids, but…you really need to stop. Poor Victoire still jumps every time someone squeaks like a mouse."
The flush in her cheeks darkened, and she actually grimaced sheepishly. "I do feel horrible for that, but that's not exactly what I meant."
Harry stiffened, eyes bulging. "You're not bringing an innocent muggle child to play with him, are you? Merlin, Hermione, that's just…cruel!"
"No!" she protested quickly. "They'd be magic-born, except…they'd be…ours…"
Silence tangled around them in a web of confusion, in Harry's case. He lay staring at the ceiling, trying to piece together the full picture. When it finally struck him like a rogue Bludger, he shot to his feet faster than a Snitch and stood facing her, warning finger pointed directly at her shocked and puzzled face.
"Hell no!" he exclaimed, outraged. "Over my dead body!"
"You are not letting our children play with that…thing! I absolutely forbid it! Ask Luna to donate her baby for your experimenting!"
Hermione scowled, unimpressed. "Luna is still pregnant!"
"All the more reason to ask her! She has six months to prepare!"
"What happened to getting him something special?" she demanded, folding her arms across her chest.
"I still mean it! We'll get him a lightening rod, a box of self-exploding crackers…a silver cross…take your pick! But not my kids!"
"Of course, sweetheart, but I still refuse!"
Her head suddenly tilted to the side, her expression amused. "So, the only thing you're objecting to is letting Simon within ten miles of our children, is that it?"
"What more is there to object to, unless you're planning to donate them to SPEW."
Her scowl returned, but without the heat. "House-elves do need their freedom, Harry, it's just not right that…"
"Hermione, I've been married to you for a year and known you for longer, I've heard this speech enough times to have it memorized."
She flushed, clearing her throat. "Right, well, like I was saying, you wouldn't object to having children?"
He shrugged. "I suppose it's bound to happen someday."
A squeak escaped her, a sound he assumed was supposed to be a chuckle, but he just couldn't understand why she looked so…anxious.
"See, the thing is, Harry, I…what would you think if that someday happened to be…oh, I don't know…in about eight months?"
He may not have been the cleverest Quidditch player on the field, but he knew what women meant when they spoke in months, especially the gap between eight and nine months. He just couldn't seem to get his tongue to work as fast as his brain on voicing his question.
Face glowing with unsuppressed happiness, Hermione nodded, watching him with uncertainty. "I only found out this morning."
"Is that why I had pancakes in the shape of rattles this morning? And baby carrots with my roast beef?"
She winced, guiltily. "I was hoping to ease you into it…"
"Oh…!" he ruffled a hand through his messy mop of dark hair. "Uh…"
"Are you terribly upset, Harry?" she asked, her face losing some of its glow.
He quickly shook his head. "No! No, not at all! I just…wow, this is a lot to take in…eight months you said?"
"That doesn't really give us much time, does it? I suppose we'll need to get it stuff, don't we? I mean, babies need…stuff, right?"
Face breaking into a wide, teary grin, Hermione leapt off the sofa and threw herself into his arms. "I love you, Harry!"
Head still reeling from the news, Harry patted her gently on the back, making certain not to press too hard. He had eight months to learn how to be a father. It couldn't be too hard if Ron was doing it, and Neville. It was all a matter of structure, stability and discipline, right? It was kind of like war, only with less killing…sort of.
Maybe he should have looked closer into his tea leaves during Divination. Maybe then he'd know if he'd be any good at raising kids.
"You'll be wonderful," Hermione whispered into the side of his throat.
"Did I say that out loud?" he wondered, forcing a chuckle.
She leaned back to peer into his eyes. "No, but I can see it in your face. You have nothing to worry about. We'll be in this together, and we'll make it work."
He nodded, slowly, taking great comfort from her words. "Well, you are always right, after all."
She smiled. "Yes, I am. Now, kiss me."
And he did. After all, how much more could he ask for than having a smaller portion of himself with the person he loved the most? Hermione was right, they'd make it work.