It's shocking that the story I wasn't even planning on continuing is the one I'm actually making decent progress with. I am slowly working with Door Ajar and Segue, so expect one of those to get an update in the next few days/weeks.
Anyway, I'm a little happier with this chapter than the last, so do read on.
"Triplets. Two girls and a boy, actually."
"You can tell at just a month?"
"Magic, dearie. I can actually tell you hair color, eye color, which ones will have freckles – "
"We won't need to know all that, but thank you."
"Oh, no problem at all. Um…will he be alright?"
"Oh, yes. He's…about had his fill of shocking revelations for the week. This…wasn't really something we'd planned."
"Well, I applaud you for not taking the easy way out. Do you…I don't mean to pry, but can you support them financially, because I can give you some pamphlets for Ministerial help – "
"Oh, we'll be fine, but thank you. We make a fair amount of money."
"Very well, then. As it is, I see no potential complications, though this early, it can be hard to tell. I'll want you to come back in here in about a month or so just to be sure, and we'll take it from there."
"Okay. Thank you, Healer…."
"Keller. Now, if you just head that way, the receptionist will help you with the rest. And you two have a lovely day."
"You as well."
"So…triplets," Hermione said as the couple stepped into Harry's living room, which was piled with boxes with neat labels such as "Bath towels", "Bedroom-Harry", and "Hermione-Bath". The movers would be by tomorrow. "This'll be interesting, won't it?"
"Yeah," Harry said absently, slipping his shoes off without even untying them. He made for the living room, but Hermione intercepted him, wrapping her arms around him.
"You are one distracted bloke," she said, and Harry smiled down at her. "You okay?"
"It's just…all happening real fast," he said. "I fully intended to start a family with you, but…."
"Not quite so soon," Hermione finished for him. "Harry, I know exactly how you feel. I'm the one who's going to put on three babies' worth of weight in the next nine months." This earned a chuckled from Harry, and Hermione giggled. "But…it's also kind of exciting. Terribly frightening, but also exciting. At least we know we have the means to support them. Head of the Auror Office and Head of OETMC."
"You're abbreviating it now?"
"It is quite a mouthful," Hermione said with a giggle, and Harry smiled. "But we'll be okay, right?"
Harry nodded, but something was still bothering him, Hermione could tell (she just knew him like that).
"Harry, please, tell me what's bothering you," she said. "I'm starting to think that…do you regret all this?"
"No!" Harry said, and his vehemence made Hermione jump in his grip. "Hermione, no. Absolutely not. I'm…. I'd never regret this. Regret you. Ever. Just…will I be a good father?"
She gasped, looking up at his unsure expression, and finally understood.
"Harry…" she smiled up at him, pecking him on the lips. "Harry, you silly man. Is that it? You don't think you'll…. Oh, Harry, you…silly."
"You've called me that already," Harry said wryly.
"Well, you are silly," Hermione said with a giggle. "Harry, you will be a fantastic father. You have such a huge capacity for love, I daresay these three will feel smothered."
"But…look how I was raised, Hermione," Harry said. "I don't…I don't want to be another Vernon Dursley. I just…couldn't bear that happening."
"It won't," Hermione said. "Never in a million years. First and foremost, I'd never let that happen. Second, you realize that Vernon Dursley is the worst sort of human being. You know that he was in the wrong. If anything, you'll be the opposite of him and spoil these children rotten." He laughed. "And finally, we're a team in this, Harry. I'll be right there with you to make sure they're raised right. Okay?"
Harry smiled and nodded, resting his forehead against hers.
"I love you, Hermione Granger."
"And I love you, Harry Potter. So stop moping."
He laughed out loud at that.
Work for the pair had since gotten awkward, though more so for Harry than Hermione. They had been planning on keeping the pregnancy quiet for a while, but on Hermione's first solo visit to the obstetrician, she'd run into none other than Lavender Brown, who'd turned her love of gossip into a career with Witch Weekly as a columnist. The six-months-pregnant Ms. Brown (she had recently scheduled a paternity test to discover whether the father was Seamus Finnegan or Cormac MacLaggen; results were pending) had spotted Hermione in an instant and in all of thirty seconds managed to wrangle out that Hermione was pregnant and Harry was the father. Naturally, the story made the front page (and Lavender's career) the very next day, and the whole world knew that Hermione Granger would bear the next line of Potter babies. Reactions ranged from bubbles of joy from Potterphiles everywhere, jealous outrage from would-be Mrs. Potters, and scandal at the fact that the couple had yet to marry and were having a child (though mostly from the more traditional pureblood families).
At work, reactions on Hermione's end were much the same, ranging from joy to jealousy (the office had seen fit to throw two baby showers already), though Harry's workdays had grown increasingly stressful due to a single employee: Ronald Bilius Weasley.
Tensions had been mounting already with Ron ever since he'd found out that Hermione had confirmed his worst suspicions and gone straight to Harry after breaking up with him. Ever since the revelation that she would also bear his child, Ron had been treating Harry with out-and-out contempt (a sentiment most of the Weasley family seemed to share as of late). When asked, Harry would insist that this didn't bother him, but Hermione knew that the idea of losing his first true friend was eating at him. So, she resolved to do something about it.
Ron looked up from his paperwork (his least favorite part of being an auror was all the damn forms to fill out) to find Hermione fixing him with a look that meant one thing: resistance is futile; we are going to have this discussion, and you will not like it one measly bit. He set his pen down and sighed, looking up at her. Despite being only two months along, she was already showing considerably, probably due to the fact that it was triplets.
"What do you want, Mrs. Potter?" he asked, and Hermione folded her arms, an irritated pout puckering her lips.
"It's still Granger, Mr. Weasley," she said. "Harry and I haven't married yet."
"Better hurry up," Ron said. "Only the Prophet would love to report that the Potter kids are bas – "
"Ronald Bilius Weasley you will stop right now or I will hex your berries out of existence," she said, reaching for her wand and aiming it right at his "berries". "You may be an auror, but you know I could have you on the floor in two seconds."
Ron also folded his arms, glaring up at her before turning back to his paperwork; hey, he wasn't going down without a little fight. "I've got forms to fill out, Hermione, so if you'll excuse me – "
"Would you please just listen to me?" she asked. "Harry – "
"I don't give a damn about Harry," Ron said furiously, turning sharply back to her. "Harry took everything, like always. Do you know how horrible it was to find out that you were together from Ginny? To find out that you were pregnant from the paper? You dropped me like a bad book and went straight for your little romance novel. I've got nothing, Hermione."
"You've got a family, Ron," Hermione said. "You have your brothers, your sister, your mum and dad, and I know they all care about you. I know they've at least tried to cheer you up. Harry doesn't have that. He has my mum and dad, and they aren't exactly pleased with him for getting me pregnant without so much as an introduction. They're none too happy with me either, but that's beside the point," she added in a mutter, and Ron let a humorless laugh. "The point is, Harry misses you."
"How is that my problem?" Ron asked, and Hermione sighed angrily.
"Ronald, you are insufferable!" she said. "For once in your entire bloody life, think about someone besides yourself! Yes, I broke up with you, okay, and that's something we'll square with on our own time, but it happened, and now Harry and I are together, and I'm having his children. You can sit here in your cubicle and piss and moan like the child I'd rather not believe you still are, or you can man up and decide that maybe this is all for the best, that now you can find someone better suited for you. In the meantime, when has Harry ever wronged you? When you made prefect in fifth year, I know that he was upset, that he thought he should've gotten it, and frankly, he was right. But he sucked it up and let you enjoy your happy moment. Granted, this is bigger, but we are happy! I've never been happier in my entire bloody life!"
"You don't sound it," Ron said meekly.
"Because you are being the biggest thickhead ever!" Hermione said, unaware of the attention they were attracting at this point. "Ron, I want you to think for a moment. If we'd actually stayed together, where would we be now? I'd be head of my own office, and you'd still be an auror. Every day, you'd get home from work knowing that I was still there running my own department with scores of people under my control, calling the shots, making the big decisions. How would you feel about that?"
Ron stared her down for a moment before caving. "Not happy."
"Exactly," Hermione said, nodding emphatically. "A week of that?"
"Really not happy," Ron said.
"And how about a year, Ron? Two years? Aren't you still a little resentful even now that I've got my own department at my disposal?"
Ron furrowed his brow in irritation. "Yeah."
Hermione nodded. "Don't you see, Ron? We're just not suited. I love you like a brother, but I mistook that for something else. And I think that…some part of you was…well, so jealous that you thought that…I dunno, having some degree of influence over me, even just a relationship would make it better. But it didn't."
"S'pose," Ron said with a shrug, looking back at his forms, and he heard Hermione laugh.
"Ron, listen," she said. "Look at me, okay?" He looked up to see her smiling down at him. "Ron, you're a nice guy. You can even be really sweet sometimes. You just…need to get over this inadequacy problem of yours. And maybe show some initiative in life. Okay?"
Ron nodded, unable to speak over the lump in his throat.
"And talk to Harry, okay?" she said. "You two were like brothers. I don't want to see that fall apart just because of me."
"Oh, so you feel guilty, eh?" Ron asked, his voice unusually hoarse, and Hermione laughed.
"Something like that," she said, and Ron smiled. "Are we okay?"
Ron nodded. "Yeah, yeah. Didn't want to have to find new friends anyway. All Seamus talks about is that thing with Lavender, and Dean's…well, I think he might be gay."
Hermione laughed. "Really? How d'you think?"
"He keeps checking me out when he thinks I'm not looking and asking how I'm feeling."
"Ron, you man's man," Hermione said, and Ron playfully swatted at her.
"Oh, shut it," he said, and Hermione giggled, dodging away.
"So – "
"Yeah, I'll owl him sometime or…something."
"Good," Hermione said, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek (well inside the "best friend zone") and walking away, leaving Ron shaking his head.
"Now I'll never finish this form," he muttered.
It wasn't until he was literally right in front of her that Ron realized that Luna Lovegood was standing in the atrium, presumably waiting for him.
"Ronald," she said, staring at the statues in the fountain in the center of the atrium. "How are you this afternoon?"
"Fine," Ron said, looking from her to the statues then back at her. "Something wrong with the statues?"
"Oh, I suppose not," she said. "I wondered if they might be bronze golems."
"Are those real?" Ron asked; he'd heard of golems, but it'd always been in a mythological context, even by wizard standards.
"They'd like you to believe not," she said, nodding at the statues. "You see, they're dreadfully shy, so anytime people are around, they hold perfectly still and pretend to be statues. Some have gone on for centuries like that. The secret is the ticklish spot behind their ears," she whispered, leaning in close to Ron so he could smell her perfume, a faint orange citrus scent that made him want to lean in further to get a better whiff. "I've always wondered about these statues in particular," she said, "but the guards always stop me before I can tickle them."
"That's too bad," Ron said, looking once more at the statues. "But I'm on my lunch, so I'd better go. Nice catching up with you – "
"Oh, but I've brought your lunch from home, Ronald," Luna said as he turned. "I went over to the Burrow to see if Ginny was in, but she's been out and about. Your mum asked me to see that you were fed." He turned back, looking her up and down (she was wearing a fetching blue sundress that looked quite nice on her) and finding no sign of a lunch.
"Is it…minimized in your pocket?" he prompted, and Luna looked down at herself, her expression barely changing.
"Oh," she said, sounding for all the world as though she'd found a knut heads up on the sidewalk. "I seem to have forgotten it. Sorry." She didn't sound it. "Shall I buy you lunch instead?"
Without waiting for a response, she stepped forward and looped her arm through his, leading him to the apparation point.
"I know of a lovely place in Crawley that serves wonderful seafood," she said. "Does that sound good?" she looked up at him, and Ron was lost in her large silvery blue eyes.
"Oh, Ginny," Mum said. "Welcome back. You've just missed Luna, I'm afraid."
"That's okay," Ginny said, walking through the kitchen. "I'll…call her later, or something. She's got a cell now."
"Well, that's good," Mum said, waving her wand toward the stove. "I do wonder how she hopes to take Ronald his lunch if it's still on the table."
Ginny eyed the paper bag on the table, shaking her head at her friend's absentmindedness before taking the bag.
"I suppose I'll take it to him, then," she said. She was already dressed to go out, anyway.
"Thank you, dear," Mum said. "That Luna is a sweetheart, but sometimes I wonder about her."
Heaving a sigh, Ginny spun on the spot, and there was that uncomfortable sensation of being pushed through a tube (though she'd long since gotten used to it) before she was standing in the midst of a bustling Ministry of Magic, near a sign that said Designated Apparation Point.
Weaving through the crowd, Ginny couldn't stop the slight dread lingering in the back of her mind at the prospect of seeing Ron. He was always moping around, and all it did was remind her of the present situation. She couldn't fault Harry one bit; it was her idea to separate after all. She just couldn't get rid of the nagging annoyance at Hermione for dropping her brother and going straight to Harry. She was good friends with Hermione and didn't want to think ill of her, but it felt like she was taking advantage of Harry on the rebound, and Ron was the one suffering.
She stepped into the auror office, which was slightly more subdued than usual due to the lunch hour; most of the aurors were probably off to the Leaky Cauldron or maybe even muggle London. Thankfully, it was Friday, so she wouldn't have to worry about running into Harry.
She stopped when she heard her name, turning to find a tall young man with short curly blonde hair smiling at her.
"Neville," she said with a smile, moving to hug him. He gave her a squeeze and pulled back.
"You look great," he said. "How've you been?"
"Oh, alright," Ginny said, holding up the bag lunch. "I'm bringing Ron his lunch. We're both staying with Mum right now, and she insists on sending us to work with a homemade lunch."
"He actually left for some pub in the muggle side," Neville said. "Sorry you missed him."
"Oh, it's fine," Ginny said, though she couldn't stop a hint of exasperation in her voice. Total waste of a trip. She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Neville still smiling at her.
"Ginny, how have you been?" he asked. "I heard from Ron that you and Harry broke up. And now he's with Hermione."
Ginny shrugged. "I'll be alright," she said. "It was my idea for the breakup, but…. I wasn't expecting him to rebound to Hermione."
"I don't think it was a rebound," Neville said. "They've always been close."
"I guess," Ginny said, already wishing she could just head home and lie down, try not to think for a while. Neville was nice, but she didn't feel like human contact right now.
"Listen, I'm heading to this nice Eastern place for lunch," Neville said. "Care to join me?"
"Oh…well, I appreciate it, but…" she struggled for an excuse, but Neville's smile grew into a smirk that made her heart jump just a little.
"Aw, c'mon, Gin," he said. "How often do I get the chance to take a pretty girl to lunch? Humor me."
She felt herself blush at the compliment (and that smirk!) and nodded. "I suppose lunch wouldn't hurt."
Hermione let a contented sigh, taking in a deep breath of fresh country air. "Harry, this place is so beautiful."
"It is," Harry agreed, staring over the rolling hilltops. In the distance, a few farmhouses could be seen, and a small village sat nestled into a hillside roughly a ten-minute car ride away. They had just finished unpacking a few of the necessary boxes in their new home (a four-story manor-style home near a village called Wickham) and were now relaxing on their back porch, Harry with his arms wrapped around Hermione, absently rubbing her baby bump.
"I think they'll love growing up here," she said, smiling up at him. "Lots of room to play, and we'll build them a little playground – "
"And a quidditch pitch," Harry added. Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Just make sure they can actually walk before you start teaching them to fly," she said sternly, and Harry gave her a small shake.
"Of course, dearest," he said, and she giggled, falling silent and staring down at her belly, the familiar thrill shooting through her as she stared at the bump.
"I'm so excited," she whispered eagerly, turning and pulling him down for a kiss. "I love you so much."
"Love you, too," he said against her mouth before she pressed herself against him, deepening the kiss, feeling a surge of affection as she ground her hips against his, moaning into him. "Feeling affectionate, are we?" he asked, and Hermione could hear the smile in his voice.
"Mmyeah," she said. "Doctor Reiser said that…sometimes pregnant women can experience an increase in…um, sexual desire."
"That so?" Harry asked, pulling her closer to him, and Hermione felt herself shiver at his tone.
Until a knock sounded at the door and (in her opinion) completely ruined the moment. They broke apart with twin sighs, and Harry made for the door.
"Got it," he said, and Hermione followed, standing next to the stairwell as Harry opened the door, revealing a familiar head of flaming red hair.
Harry froze, staring at his estranged best friend, who looked past him and gave Hermione a wave.
"Hermione," he said by way of greeting. Hermione waved back.
"Hello, Ron," she said. The redhead turned back to his friend.
"I, um…heard you'd just moved in here," he said, "from…Neville, you know."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I mentioned it to him."
"I just…wanted to bring you a housewarming gift," he said, holding up a stack of plastic containers. "It's beef and noodles. Some rolls. And green beans. Turns out I'm a fair cook. Figured you'd want a meal, since you might not have time to make something."
"That's thoughtful, Ron," Hermione said, nudging Harry in the side. "Right, Harry?"
"Yeah," Harry said, nodding. "Thanks, Ron. We were just going to order takeaway, but you can't beat homemade."
Ron offered a small smile. "Also, if you want any help unpacking or anything, just…gimme a call, you know. I can help, if you want."
"Sure," Harry said. "Did you…want to eat with us? We've got our table and chairs all set up, and it's a nice view from the kitchen."
Ron's smile grew a bit. "Um, sure."
The three made their way to the kitchen, and Hermione smiled as she watched Harry give Ron a short tour.
It was a start.
I tried to call back to the awkward Harry/Ron reconciliation moment from the Goblet of Fire movie. Something about the whole "guys trying to make up and still be guys" thing just made me chuckle and struck me as so very real.
Also, yes, I'm falling into the accepted "beta" pairings that usually result from Harry/Hermione (i/e: Ginny/Neville and Ron/Luna), but it just sort of happened that way, and one thing I hate doing is trying to bend the story into the way I think it should go.
I have no idea where I'm going with this, but I feel like I can't leave it here. Thoughts?