(A/N: This story was originally published on Portkey. It was written after Half Blood Prince was published, but before Deathly Hallows. It's therefore fully canon-compliant for Books 1-6, and AU for Book 7. In particular, in this story there are Horcruxes but no Deathly Hallows; in this story, some characters who'd died live, and some who'd lived die. The story's plot, I trust, follows logically from the initial premises; but most of all, I hope it entertains.)
(Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I just drop them into my scenario and watch what happens.)
9 November 2004 – Year 6 P.V.
It was a half-decent class today, Ron Weasley decided. A couple of the firsties are actually showing some promise. But I swear to Merlin, if the Slytherin team captain makes one more request for the Quidditch pitch this month…! He sometimes marveled at how well Madam Hooch had put up with it all. Small wonder she'd retired.
He paused as he walked through the great gate, officially leaving the grounds of Hogwarts. He could Apparate the rest of the way home if he wanted to, but the Healers kept telling him he needed to exercise his leg more. ("Not for strength, but for flexure." Whatever the hell that meant.) Sighing, he tightened his grip on his cane and deliberately set a brisker pace as he made his way towards Hogsmeade.
Ron entered his home through the back door, as he always did – one never knew, after all, whether there would be goodies in the kitchen waiting to be gobbled. Today he knew, as soon as he walked through the door, that something was wrong. The kitchen looked too bare; there were no sounds anywhere in the cottage. He had a sudden moment of panic: Are the rumors true? Is Bellatrix back? Merlin, no! "Hello?" he called out in a rising voice, gripping his cane tightly.
"In here," came the calm response from the living room. Ron felt his panic drain off, to be replaced by embarrassment. Git, he chided himself. Death Eaters wouldn't leave the kitchen this neat. He set his cane in its stand by the door and walked out of the kitchen into the living room.
There he found his wife and six-year-old daughter, sitting silently at opposite ends of the sofa. Their faces wore similar quiet expressions, but for entirely different reasons. Luna's face showed her usual serenity, which none of the world's worries could ever touch. Hope's face showed no emotion at all – not because she had no feelings, but because she was so good at hiding them.
"Hello, loves," Ron said to both of them. Normally he would kiss Luna before greeting Hope, but today he went straight to his daughter. He planted a kiss on the top of her head and put an arm around her shoulder. "Missed you today, princess."
That was all it took, evidently. Hope stretched out her arms and embraced her father, burying her face against his chest. That was the only sign of her distress, but it was enough to let Ron know she was hurting. Protectively he wrapped both arms around her. Bracing himself on his good leg, he lifted her from the sofa and held her in his arms for a long moment, as he shot Luna an inquiring look.
Luna shrugged slightly. "She wanted to wait for you."
Still holding Hope in his arms, he sat on the sofa closer to Luna and settled Hope in his lap. "Well, I'm here now," he said. "Tell me about it?"
At first, she wouldn't look at him – or at Luna. "Is Mum…? Is… is Mum…?" She can usually talk much better than this, Ron thought. She must really be upset.
"Is Mum what, love?" He waited a moment, then suggested gently, "Start from the beginning, Hope. Sometimes it works better."
Hope considered this. After a couple of seconds she responded, still with that lack of emotion on her face. "At school today. There was a lady. She wanted us all to talk about how we like school and everything."
"A lady?" asked Luna. "What kind of lady?"
"A r'porter lady," said Hope.
Ron tried not to scowl… that would give the incident more weight than it deserved. "I suppose she talked to you because you're the oldest?" he asked casually.
"A little," Hope acknowledged. "But she talked to the infants, too." Ron had never heard Hope refer to her classmates (most of whom were a year younger than she) by that term. Well, it is called infant school, isn't it?
But his flash of amusement vanished as she continued, "She talked to me 'n' Michelle 'n' Isabeau together. And we were all talking, and… and they said…" She took a deep breath and finally looked at Luna. "They were saying you're not really my Mum."
Ron gave a bantering half-smile. "Well, if you're not really our daughter, then I've been buying clothes for the wrong person." The half-smile disappeared when he saw it hadn't produced any smiles in return. He matched Hope's serious tone. "Princess, your mother and I are your Mum and Dad. You're our daughter, and we love you very much."
A renewal of her hug followed these words. But she kept it brief, pulling back slightly to look up at his face. "My hair is brown, Daddy," she explained patiently.
The seemingly random remark caught Ron off guard. "So's your cousin Lance's hair," he said, stalling for time.
"Only 'cause Aunt Gelina's hair is brown," Hope countered, using her name for Angelina. "It's a dom'nant trait."
"Uhhh…" Ron found himself at a total loss as to how to proceed. He had no idea where Hope had heard about genetics, much less how much she'd heard. Her statement left him gobstopped – not the first time Hope had done that to him, either.
Fortunately, Luna was there to save him. "True," she admitted calmly. "How does that make you not our daughter, sweetheart?"
Hope gave Luna an unexpectedly irritated, Do-I-have-to-spell-it-out-for-you? look. Luna paid no attention to it, but went on thoughtfully, "Other than the question of contributing to your hair color. Which you have to admit is a fairly minor point…"
"Compared to feeding you and raising you… tucking you in at night… just being with you," finished Ron. "Being here for you. Loving you."
"Oh," said Hope. She grew pensive, absently twisting a strand of brown hair around one of her fingers. "It gets all tangly, too…" she mused.
"When you're older, I'll show you how to fix it," Luna said.
"Okay," agreed Hope. She paused, and Ron began to hope that the crisis had been averted… or at least postponed.
"Then… then… you are my Mum… aren't you?" For the first time, Hope sounded hesitant, as though she wasn't sure whether she really wanted her question answered.
Ron and Luna locked gazes for just an instant. He'd been dreading this conversation for over six years. If he'd had his way, he would have continued to let his daughter assume that Luna was her mother. But Luna had made it clear before they were married: when Hope was ready to discuss her parentage, she deserved to hear the truth, as much of it as she could handle. Luna had been unconfrontational but absolutely unyielding – classic Luna, actually – and she'd persuaded him in the end.
Besides, if he was honest with himself, he wanted to acknowledge the truth to his beautiful, brilliant daughter. This part of it, at any rate.
"You have two Mums, princess," Ron said, trying to keep his voice cheerfully neutral. "One Mum brought you into the world… and the other Mum gets to raise you. Along with me, of course," he added helpfully.
Hope thought about it a moment longer, then said gravely, "Thank you." She snuggled comfortably into Ron's chest, tucking her head beneath his chin, letting herself be enfolded by his arms. Luna slid along the sofa to be next to her husband, and put her arms around them both.
The family sat like that for a few minutes, and Ron felt confident that the topic had been, if not forgotten, then dropped for the evening. "I love you," Hope murmured.
"We love you, too, Hope Justinia," said Luna.
"Is that… is that why I'm here, then?" asked Hope, and though her face didn't change, she could no longer hide the pain in her voice. "Did my other Mum not love me?"
Ron had his daughter by her forearms and at arm's length before he could stop himself. "Your other Mum did love you," he told her in a low, painfully intense voice. "Your other Mum loved you more than she loved her own life. Don't you ever, ever think anything else."
"Ronald," began Luna, laying her hand on his forearm. She spoke in the dreamy tones of her Hogwarts days, and her voice had its usual effect on Ron. He snapped back to the present moment, to see Hope staring at him, her blue eyes wide with… not fear, but certainly concern. He blinked rapidly, then brought Hope back to his chest and enfolded her in a bear hug.
"Oh, Merlin. I'm sorry, princess," he whispered. "I'm so sorry…" He felt Hope's arms go around his torso, returning the hug, and was reassured.
"It's all right, Daddy," she said. She pulled away to look at his face again. Her own expression had turned earnest, as she tried to comfort her obviously mentally disturbed father. "Really. Don't worry."
"All right. Don't you worry, either."
"I won't." She looked down at her feet. "It was just… I was scared that's why she gave me to you. 'Cause she didn't like me."
"Whatever made you think that?" asked Luna gently.
"Well… some people don't." She looked up at Ron again. "Aunt Ginny doesn't."
"Of course she does…" Ron began.
"She's always mad at me for some reason." Hope said it matter-of-factly, as though it were a natural phenomenon. Ron began to hear a penny dropping. Once Hope's down for the night, he promised himself, I have an arse to kick.
In the meantime, he needed to wrap up this discussion. Too many details weren't appropriate at the moment, but Hope needed to hear one thing clearly. Ron met her gaze squarely. "Hope, your birth Mum loved you very much. She wouldn't have ever let you go if she had a choice. But she died just as you were born. And no," he added swiftly, forestalling the worry that he knew was materializing in her mind, "she didn't die having you. Bad men attacked her. I got you to safety, but your birth Mum was killed."
He waited while she digested this information. Hope showed no sign of revulsion, or sadness – her face remained a calm mask. But that's the way she always looks, thought Ron, so that's a good sign…
"She loved you… and your Mum loves you. And I love you." Ron put all the compassion he could muster into his voice. "Nothing will ever change that." He continued to look his daughter in the face, hoping to see some reaction.
The tender moment was shattered by the sound of Ron's stomach rumbling – loudly. Ron tried to keep eye contact, but the mood was quickly dissolving. Luna gave a musical laugh, and Hope wrinkled her nose in mock disgust. "Oh, honestly, Daddy!"
"No, no, don't mind me. Dinner can wait," he said melodramatically, with the air of a martyr.
"I'm kinda hungry too," Hope admitted. She reached up and gave Ron a quick kiss on the cheek. "I really do love you, Daddy. Borborygmi and all. Thank you." She hopped down off his lap and headed for the kitchen.
"I'll take care of dinner, rainbow," Luna called. "You should go wash your hands." She watched Hope veer away from the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathroom. Once the child was out of sight, she sighed and gave her husband a slight smile. "I think that went rather better than we expected."
"I'd've liked some warning," Ron growled. Now that Hope was out of the room, he allowed his ill temper to show.
Luna ignored it. "Well," she observed as she came up to Ron and wrapped her arms around his waist, "I've noticed that life rarely gives us warnings." She paused, lost in thought. "Except for shoelaces. Sometimes shoelaces try to warn us they're about to break. But does anyone ever pay attention to their shoelaces?"
Reflexively, Ron smiled back as he wrapped his own arms around Luna, drawing her closer. He felt his ill humor fast evaporating away. "Uh, now that I think about it… no."
"Well, if you won't pay attention to your own shoelaces, how could you expect to hear warnings from anything else?" Luna finished, kissing Ron's nose.
He was about to return the kiss – not on the nose this time – when her words sank in. Or, rather, the convoluted thought process behind her words. "My Good Love, are you trying to tell me something?"
"Only what you already know, My King," she replied. "Hope both needs and deserves to know everything about her mother. And it would be better for her to hear it from us – from you – than from gossip."
"I know! I do know! It's just…" Ron let Luna go and turned away to stare at the wall… or some point at infinity far past the wall. "Not yet," he said after a moment. "Just… not yet. She's so young…"
"But quite precocious. Don't underestimate her, Ronald."
"I try not to, but every once in a while she still manages to surprise me." He turned back to Luna with a sudden quizzical grin. "I mean, 'borborygmi'? She bloody well didn't learn that from me."
It was after dinner, when Hope was tucked into bed for the night and Luna was reading aloud to her, that Ron starting making Floo calls. Two quick conversations later, he stole out of their home, gathering his cloak around him against the winter chill. He drew a deep breath and, with a loud Crack!, Disapparated.
He appeared in a fashionable residential section of London – one might go so far as to call it "exclusive", since only those who were wealthy and wizards lived there. Ron walked down the well-lit street, stopping at the wrought-iron gates of one of the older mansions. "Ron Weasley," he told the gate. "I'm expected." The gate smiled at him and opened.
A flagstoned path led through manicured lawns to the front door. Walking up the path, Ron noted a few more magical sentinels watching him… they were unobtrusive, but he had no doubt they were as effective as the gate. Nor did he believe for a moment that the ones he spotted were the mansion's only protections. The rumors of new Dark magic were indeed spreading.
Upon knocking, the door was opened by an attractive woman in her sixties. Ron was mildly surprised… he'd been expecting a house elf, or even a human butler, not the mistress of the house. "Good evening, Mrs. Purvue," he greeted her. "Sorry to trouble you so late…"
"No trouble at all, Mr. Weasley," she replied graciously. "My husband is waiting for you in his study. Right this way…"
She led him through a tastefully opulent foyer and down a hall to a large oaken door. She tapped on the door and opened it slightly. "Ron Weasley, darling?" she said into the room.
"Thank you, Lydia," came the response from inside. She opened the door completely and ushered Ron into the study. Sitting at a desk was a wiry elderly man, bald but sporting a grey goatee. He wore reading glasses in an absent-minded sort of way. "Mr. Weasley," he said, rising and extending his hand. "Got your Floo call. Come in, come in, have a seat…"
"Thanks, Mr. Purvue," Ron said, shaking hands before sitting down. He rested his cane against the side of the chair and eased his bad leg out straight. "I really am sorry to bother you so late…"
"Well, I was a bit surprised to get your call," Purvue acknowledged. "But I was hoping you had some good news about Ms. Granger's journals. Only heard snippets so far, but enough to tantalize, oh yes."
Well, he got to the point straight enough. "Um, well, Professor Vector's just given them back to Professor McGonagall for a final review. I know it's taken a long time, but McGonagall says everyone's been astounded by the sheer volume of notes Hermione made. Like…" He broke off and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"Like she knew she had to get a lifetime's worth of work done in one year." Purvue nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry for your loss, my boy, we all are. And the loss to scholarship was no less profound." He leaned forward, his eyes brightening with enthusiasm. "I've heard that some of her ideas will revolutionize magical research. Entire new fields of study, opened by a few short lines. Scholars everywhere will spend decades expanding on what she wrote!"
Purvue caught himself and smiled in apology. "You must admit, to the scholarly mind it's an exciting prospect." He leaned back in his chair and regarded Ron hopefully. "Does your visit tonight mean that you've selected Obscurus Books as your publisher, then? We'd certainly be delighted to include Ms. Granger's opus among our titles…"
"Um, no. I mean, no, I haven't made a final decision yet. I wanted to wait until her journals were in a final form, you know… maybe talk it over with McGonagall…" Ron stuttered to a halt and tried desperately to collect his thoughts. He couldn't come out and ask for what he wanted; somehow he had to ask without asking. He had to use his custody of Hermione's journals, as well as his fame as the friend of The Chosen One… without looking like he was using them…
If ever there were two words that were polar opposites, they were Weasley and subtlety. Ron hated playing this sort of game. It was so… so Slytherin, dammit, and Ron was just no good at it. Even Harry had been better at it than Ron – especially in his last year.
But for Hope's sake, there was nothing Ron wouldn't do.
"No… no final decision's been made about Hermione's journals. No, I wanted to talk to you about another one of your publishing houses. Witch Weekly."
Purvue blinked in surprise. "Granted it has the larger readership, I wouldn't have thought it quite the right forum for…"
Ron shook his head. "Something else entirely. No, seems Witch Weekly sent a reporter to Potter Primary School today. A Miss Fanshaw?"
"Ah, yes," said Purvue. "I understand the school's very popular. Well, after all, the time was ripe for a pre-Hogwarts curriculum. And it's rather an innovation, don't you think? It's not as though wizards have ever needed their own primary school. Most wizarding children have been home-schooled. I was, and I daresay you were…" At Ron's nod, he continued, "It's simply that now, with the Post V-Voldemort population boom," (he stumbled only slightly over the name) "we finally have the numbers to warrant a full-time schoolhouse. You must have read the Prophet's series when the Potter School opened… it was seen as quite the positive development…"
"Right, the wizarding world rebounding after the end of the War. I was there for the opening, I remember." Ron furrowed his brow. "But that was back in September. The school's been open two months now… can't really be considered news anymore, can it?"
Purvue was silent for a moment. "What is it that's troubling you, Mr. Weasley?" he asked quietly.
Ron gave a rueful half-smile and answered just as quietly. "See, my daughter Hope's been raised believing my wife is her mother."
"Ah." The word was a revelation. "And during Miss Fanshaw's visit to school today, it came out who her true mother was?"
"Luna is Hope's 'true mother'," said Ron, turning icy by reflex. "But yeah," he thawed as he continued, "it came out that she's not Hope's birth mother. That's all, so far. Hope still doesn't know that she's, um…"
"That she is the daughter of Hermione Granger, who merits her own chapter in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century." Purvue regarded Ron in puzzlement. "Everyone knows the circumstances of your daughter's birth. You surely didn't think you could keep this a secret from her?"
"No, not really. We had a chat tonight, Hope and Luna and I, and I reckon we'll have more chats in the next few days. Mean to say, I should be the one to tell her… not Witch Weekly. The thing is…" Ron hesitated, trying to find the right phrasing that would win Purvue's sympathy. "What everyone also knows is that Hermione was Muggleborn... maybe it doesn't get shouted about, but everyone knows. And everyone knows that Hermione and I weren't married when she died – when Hope was born. That doesn't get shouted about, either, and I'd really like to keep it that way." He was blushing furiously by this time, but to his credit he was no longer stuttering.
"Surely no one would hold either of those facts against your daughter…" Purvue began.
Ron couldn't help but snort. "Tell that to the Death Eaters."
"Oh. Oh, yes, I see." Purvue sighed. "Yes, the War may have killed off some notable bigots, but bigotry never dies. And this girl, always in the public eye… I see, yes. Well, I don't normally abuse my position as publisher, but sometimes a certain discretion is called for…"
"Yeah! I'm sure Hermione'd agree," said Ron eagerly. "Discretion is… is just the sort of thing people look for in a publisher, right?" He knew he was making the offer clumsily by Harry's standards, but at least it was made. You pull any mention of Hope from your magazine, and I'll see that you get Hermione's journals.
"Perhaps a chat with my editor at Witch Weekly tomorrow morning, then," agreed Purvue. "There should certainly be enough material for a decent story without dwelling too much on one student."
He let out a deep breath as a flood of relief washed through him. "Thank you, Mr. Purvue. I was hoping you'd, uh, you'd understand. It's just that I, y'know, worry so much about her…" Ron was reduced to waving his hands, trying to make his point. Judging from the way the publisher was smiling at him, it seemed to work.
"Not a problem, Mr. Weasley, not at all. Merlin knows, I worried enough about my own daughters when they were young…" Purvue's smile faded, replaced by a thoughtful look. "Have you spoken to a lawyer? About your daughter's legal status, I mean."
Ron gaped at him. "Her legitimacy," Purvue clarified. "I assume that's why you don't wish to advertise her out-of-wedlock birth?"
To tell the truth, not until that moment had Ron even thought about Hope's status in that light. In six years, no one had ever questioned that Hermione was her mother – that fact was too obvious – or that he was her father. "I… I…"
"You may be worrying unnecessarily. Wizarding law is fairly broadminded in this regard… unlike many wizards," continued Purvue, chuckling at his own joke. "As I recall, a couple who live under one roof for an extended period, and have a child, are deemed a married couple in the eyes of the law. A 'common-law' marriage, I believe it's called, or 'living tally'."
He rose from his chair, and extended his hand as Ron automatically rose as well. "But for your own peace of mind, you should certainly talk to a lawyer – you may need to sign some documents," Purvue finished, as he escorted Ron out of the study.
"Uh, yeah. I'll do that," Ron promised, while making a mental note to never discuss the possibility with any living soul.
Verity, recently promoted to store manager, was the only person at Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes at this hour. This suited Ron just fine. She knew him by sight and would let him inside to use their Floo without asking any questions – unlike Fred or George. Ron still intended to deliver an arse-kicking, but only if he could do it privately.
Unfortunately, the owner of the arse in question wasn't answering her Floo.
Ron sighed and was preparing to Apparate home when he thought of one more discussion he needed to have. He took up another handful of Floo powder and tossed it into the fireplace, while calling "Ma Maison!" in what he knew to be a terrible accent. When the fire turned green, he knelt before it and thrust his head in.
Once his vision cleared, the first things he saw were two twin girls. They were Hope's age (less a month) but with strawberry-blonde hair, wearing pyjamas and cute as buttons. The girls grinned when they saw him, and he couldn't help grinning back. One reached into the fire and attempted to grab him by his nose. The other turned to yell over her shoulder, "Maman! Il y a l'Oncle Ron à la Cheminette!"
"Merci, Michelle. Et pourquoi n'es-tu pas dans ton lit? Allez! Toi aussi, Isabeau, vite!" In a flurry of squeals, the twins scampered away. Seconds later, a pair of trim adult feet walked over to the fireplace. Fleur's face appeared as she leaned down to talk to Ron. "Hello, Ron. All's well, I hope?"
"Hi, Fleur. Yeah, well enough, but I need to talk to you or Bill. All right if I come through?"
"But yes," Fleur smiled, and stepped back. Back in Diagon Alley, Ron drew his head back from the fire, stood upright, and walked into the fireplace. He emerged, sprawling, from the fireplace at Ma Maison, home of Bill and Fleur Weasley.
"Should've just Apparated," he grumbled as he picked himself stiffly from the floor. "But nooo, I'd already used the Floo powder, mustn't waste it…"
"You sound like Ginny," laughed Fleur. "How are you, Ron?" She kissed him on his cheek, knowing full well that it would block any further grumbling… or any further speech at all. Fleur might have lost much of her accent over the years, but she could still reduce Ron to a moonstruck young calf, and she knew it.
Sure enough, it took a couple of moments for a red-faced Ron to mumble, "Er, fine, thanks." He cleared his throat a couple of times, drew a deep breath and went on in more normal tones, "Do you have a moment? I need to talk to you about Hope."
Fleur eyed him with concern. "I thought you said all was well."
"She's not sick," Ron hastened to explain. "But, um, she learned today about her mother." He looked Fleur in the eye and added, "At school. From Isabeau and Michelle."
"Oh." Now Fleur's face was perfectly neutral, as if she were preparing for a Weasley-type explosion. Ron couldn't help smiling.
"It was probably done in all innocence, Fleur. You know kids – most likely, they were just trying to impress a visitor with stuff they knew. I was just curious where they picked it up…"
"Probably at Sunday dinner," came a voice behind him. He turned to see Ginny standing in the doorway. Behind her stood Bill, who gave Ron a welcoming smile that sat oddly on his lean, lupine face. Ginny, by contrast, was scowling at her youngest brother. "That's when I was here last, and I imagine the subject came up then," she continued.
"Hi, Bill. Ginny." Ron tried to keep the smile on his face. The hoped-for arse-kicking might have to wait… or else be done very delicately. "Well, anyway, turns out that not only did Hope learn about her mother, it happened in front of a reporter. I've spent the evening, uh, minimizing the side-effects." He looked Ginny in the eye as he added, "Hope was pretty upset, as you can imagine."
"I'm surprised you could tell," said Ginny coolly.
"Yes," he bit off, "I could tell." Ron had definitely lost his smile by now. "Ginny, I know you don't much like Hope, but she is family, and it wouldn't hurt you to start treating her that way…!"
"Who says I don't like Hope?" Ginny seemed genuinely astonished. For the moment, the coolness in her voice was gone.
"And where would she get that loony notion?" The coolness was back, chillier than ever.
Ron was sure her choice of words was deliberate. For once, he refused to rise to the bait. "It's nothing blatant, Ginny," he replied, trying to make her see his point. "You don't snarl at her or hit her or call her names. You're very civil to her. But kids are pretty sharp about feelings, even if they can't put a name to them."
She snorted derisively. "You're barking, Ron. And this isn't the time or place to discuss it." Ginny turned to Bill and smiled brightly. "Thanks for having me over again, Bill. My place next week?"
Bill flicked a glance at Ron before replying, "Can I give you a rain check, Gin-Gin? Other plans…"
"Sure. Fleur, dinner was splendid as always. Say goodnight to the twins for me. … Ron." With a curt nod at Ron, she Disapparated.
Ron rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Uh, sorry, Fleur. I shouldn't've brought this up in your house. I'm only trying to look after Hope…"
"I'm glad you did," said Fleur briskly, as though reaching a conclusion. She gestured for Ron and Bill to follow her to the kitchen. There she set a pot of water to boil for tea, and brought out some treacle tarts as they seated themselves around the table. "I always keep a supply of these for you, Ron. You see, I do learn."
Ron smiled as he took a tart and ate half of it in one bite. "So… what did you mean, you were glad I brought it up?"
"As you said, children are very perceptive. I think you made your point… with me, at least." Having provided her Anglais with their tea, Fleur proceeded to pour herself a glass of red wine. She gave Ron a wistful half-smile. "I love how Ginny spends time with us, and especially with Michelle and Isabeau. They adore her, you know. And I know how she plays with Lance, when she visits Fred and Angelina. It has taken us a while to see that she spends virtually no time with Hope."
"For a while," Bill put in, "we wondered if it was something you or Luna had done."
"Eh bien, Bill, it's obvious," chided Fleur. "Ginny blames Hope for Harry's death." She held up a hand as both Ron and Bill began to expostulate. "Not in her head, but in her heart. In her head, she knows You-Know-Who was to blame… but in her heart? It was Hope being born that brought Harry to St. Mungo's, to be killed."
"That's… that's…" Ron waved his hands as he tried to find words. He seemed to be doing that a lot this evening. "She might as well blame Hermione, then. Hell, she might as well blame me – I mean, I was there too!"
Fleur gave a small apologetic shrug. "I'm sure she does, Ron." She stood as the kettle began to whistle. Spooning some tea leaves into a teapot, she poured boiling water into the pot and covered it with its cozy. "I'll talk to her, if you like," she said after a moment. "Try to convince her to at least make an effort to be nicer to Hope. For Hope's sake, if for no other reason."
Luna was quietly closing the door to Hope's bedroom when Ron finally Apparated home. "Ah, there you are," she said with a nod, as though he'd just stepped out of the next room. "I've finally gotten her asleep. She was more upset than we knew…"
"I was afraid of that." Yeah, Ginny, some of us can tell. "Let me just look in on her… kiss her goodnight… I'll be right to bed, love." He flashed Luna a smile and slipped into Hope's room, shutting the door behind him.
He had his wand out even before he reached her bedside. A quick flick and it was done; he slid the wand back into his pocket as he smiled more grimly. All of Snape's sixth-year lessons on non-vocal hexes, and he was still lousy at them. This spell, though, he could do non-vocally with ease, almost in his sleep.
His face softened as he gazed upon his sleeping daughter. In sleep Hope's features relaxed, slightly, subtly – still a blank face, in a way, but peaceful rather than passive. Tonight she had a tendril of hair wrapped around her finger, and her brows were creased in a tiny furrow… as though she'd been thinking deeply just as she'd fallen asleep. Ron was struck by a sense of déjà vu – he'd seen this scene before. The exact memory eluded him for the moment, but he knew it would come to him…
"My King?" Luna had silently come into the room, and now stood behind him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into his back. "Please don't wake her…"
"I won't. I was just looking at her…" He laid his hands over his wife's. "We're going to have to tell her, aren't we? Tomorrow."
"Yes, we can get it out of her system at one go. Perhaps we should finally bring out that photo you've kept in the cupboard," Luna suggested. "The one with you and Hermione in the center. A visual aid of sorts… they do say a picture's worth a thousand words, though I've always thought that was an exaggeration." She sighed contentedly and rested her head against Ron's shoulder. "This may have turned out for the best," she continued, ever optimistic. "Less of a shock than if we'd just sat her down and told her everything all at once."
"Which would still've been better than hearing about it at school," groused Ron. "I just wish everyone'd leave her alone. She hasn't done anything…"
"You said it yourself, she's the oldest. First of the Post Voldemort generation… even without her parents being the best friends of The Chosen One, that alone would bring attention." She kissed the back of Ron's neck. "As the population boom gets larger, she'll get lost in the crowd. The problem will solve itself, Ronald."
"Let's hope so."
"Although it occurs to me that we could do more to help the solution along."
"What do you mean?" Ron asked, just as he realized that Luna's hands had begun to trace slow circles on his stomach.
"Well, we need to do our bit to add to the population boom, don't you think?"
Ron turned in place, still wrapped in Luna's arms, and his eyes grew wide. Luna had changed into a blue peignoir the exact color of her eyes, and about as opaque as spiderweb. The effect was slightly marred by the numerous winged toasters that skittered across the fabric's surface, but Ron found he didn't care.
"My Good Love," he murmured, lifting her up with his hands under her buttocks, and carrying her to the door, "you do come up with the most wonderful ideas."
"Certainly worth a thousand words," giggled Luna. "Or else just one."
The errant memory did finally resurface, just before dawn, in a dream that seemed as vivid as reality:
Hermione had fallen asleep over a stack of open books in the study at Grimmauld Place. The rays of the setting sun through the window – or four months of pregnancy – gave her skin a soft, warm glow. Ron stood silently in the doorway, noting with amusement the tiny furrow in her brow, and how one hand had twisted a strand of hair, even in her sleep.
He was still debating whether to wake her when her lids fluttered open. "Oh, Ron. Drat it, I fell asleep again, didn't I?"
"You don't hear me complaining. It's the only sleep you seem to get anymore." He watched as she carefully stretched and rubbed the gunk from her eyes. "Besides, aren't expectant mothers supposed to take naps?"
"Not like this. None of the pregnancy books said anything about feeling so… so drained all the time." She abstractedly jotted a note in her journal. It was characteristic of Hermione that her handwriting was as neat now as it had ever been in her years at Hogwarts. "I think I've found something useful, though. It's an old treatise on the Expecto spell…"
"For making a Patronus?"
"That's how it's normally used… but if I'm interpreting this text right, it may not be limited to Expecto Patronum." Hermione grew more enthusiastic as she continued, "The Patronus is an embodiment of happiness, of joy… it takes a happy memory to create it. But there are other positive emotions besides simple happiness – what if they could be harnessed, made corporeal?" She looked at the open book she'd been using as a pillow and grimaced. "Ewww, I drooled…"
Ron laughed and moved to stand by her chair. "Oh ick, you've defaced a book with your Gryffindor slime. Have you no respect for the printed word? That's five points, speaking as a prefect."
"Prat." But she was smiling as she said it.
He put his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of his head. "Hermione, as long as you can find answers like that, I'll let you sleep with the books all you want…"
And this was the point where, if Ron had his way, the memory would have stopped. On a happy, loving note, just him and Hermione. But Ron had no more control over the memory than he'd had over what had happened next…
There was a sudden pop of air downstairs. Simultaneously, Ron could smell the stench of burning flesh, hear the low guttural moan of pain, feel the flicker of magic through the house…
"Harry!" cried Hermione. "Something's happened!"
They both bolted for the door of the study, wands already drawn. Somehow, even though she'd been sitting and he'd been standing, even though Ron had longer legs, even though Hermione was in her second trimester, she managed to beat him down the stairs and into the kitchen. Ron stopped short at the sight that greeted him.
Harry was on the kitchen floor writhing in pain, his clothes on fire, while Hermione was dousing him with some white foam from her wand. The fire was quickly being extinguished, but Harry continued to moan… his jaw was clenched tight, as though it were only by great effort that he wasn't screaming. He held something in his hand, something that wasn't his wand…
"Ron," Hermione said without turning, "I need the jar of burn paste from my bedroom, as well as the green satchel with the St. Mungo's emblem. Hurry." She knelt at Harry's side and began to try to straighten his limbs. "Harry?" she whispered.
"Got… caught in… crossfire," Harry forced out. She had him on his back now and was trying to remove his burnt garments. They were fused to his burnt skin, and she had to use her wand like a scalpel to remove them, gently but efficiently. "Wait," he grunted.
"I'm sorry it hurts, Harry, I'm sorry, but I have to see how badly you're burned…"
"Take… this." He blindly reached out his hand, and Ron could now see what it held. A rat – a very familiar looking rat, he'd owned it for years – held rigid in a Full Body Bind. Its right forepaw gleamed with silver. "Put in… box… Unbreakable… question him… later…"
"Oh, well done, Harry," she breathed. She accepted the rat and fired off a few additional binding spells at it, before setting it aside and turning her attention back to Harry. "The paste, Ron," she added sharply. "NOW!"
And the merciless memory ended with Ron jumping to do Hermione's bidding, while she with infinite care prepared Harry's still-smoldering wounds for treatment.