"You're doing it again."
I look up from my hand to see my husband smirking impishly at me, his eyes sprinkled with amusement. Feeling a flush begin to spread to my cheeks, I instantly begin defending myself against his mirth.
"Stop smirking, Malfoy," I tell him rudely, and he rolls his eyes. "We've only been married for four months, I'm still not used to the wedding ring, alright?"
"Or," he begins, ignoring the warning look I'm giving him, "you're so happy to be married to me you simply can't believe your luck, so you spend most of your time staring at your wedding ring in a state of delighted shock."
"Stop looking so smug!" I protest, but now I'm giggling. "I just spaced out."
"Yeah. Giving to your wild fantasies about what we're going to do tonight."
"Seriously," I tell him, looking directly into those bright blue eyes. "Malfoy."
His expression turns hurt, and he leans in to place a soft kiss on my lips.
"Take it back," he murmurs against them. I decide to feign ignorance.
"Take what back?" He kisses me again. "Fine," I sigh. "I could never marry Malfoy, or anyone like him. You most definitely don't look like him, and you certainly don't act like him."
Ron pulls back and grins, but I tangle my fingers back into his thick red hair and pull him closer. Leaning over my salad and his chicken sandwich, I press my lips against his, toes curling pleasantly at the scandal of snogging my husband in the Ministry Library. Honestly. If he ever figures out how irresistible he actually is, we will all be in deep, deep trouble.
"Mmmm," Ron says, pulling back. "We must still be in Honeymoon stage."
"Probably," I admit, eyes skidding around the room as I attempt to see if anyone has seen us snogging. Ron rolls his eyes at this. He brought me lunch while I was in a secluded section of the library, and we are sitting on the floor eating it. The chance of someone just randomly walking along and finding us in this bout of unprofessional-ism is little to none.
"You're so paranoid," he mutters, brushing a piece of my hair back behind my ear. I shrug.
"Guilty as charged."
"What's the big deal if they catch us snogging anyways?" Ron asks. "We're married. Who the hell cares?"
"It's just not professional to mix business with pleasure."
Ron looks stung.
"It's lunch!" he protests. "Besides, I think we have a great work dynamic. Our offices aren't anywhere near each other's, so we get to make faces at each other as we pass in the hallways. We spend every lunch together, and once a month I sneak up to your office for a-"
"Ron!" I say shrilly. "Be quiet."
He lowers his voice.
"I'm just saying."
I let out a loud laugh and move some food aside so that he can put his arms around me. Eying my watch, I see that we have fifteen minutes left of our lunch break. Languidly, I stretch, situating my body around Ron's. He instantly begins stroking my hair on pure instinct, causing happy butterflies to fill my stomach. Not nervous butterflies. But it's almost as if content tingles are filling my body, taking over everything and making me want to take a good long nap in Ron's arms. It could be the environment we're in. The Ministry Library is perhaps one of my favorite places on earth. The high bookshelves, familiar book scent and sunlight spilling onto the carpeted floor only add to my contentment. Every book in wizard and muggle history has been added here, and its knowledge surpasses even that of the Hogwarts Library. Having my two favorite things- Ron and books- at the same time is just perfection in my opinion. At least for me it's perfection. Maybe for other people it's just boring. I've met people who hate reading. I've known people who don't understand or like Ron's humor. But I don't really care, because I like to read and my husband makes me laugh and when I'm in the Ministry Library with him I am very, very happy.
With a soft sigh, I lean up to kiss Ron.
"I don't want to go back to work," he whispers against my lips.
"Let's go home then," I suggest. But I know we can't, it's only two o'clock. "I guess we should just feel lucky that we're actually together right now."
Ron nods. He's always going on sporadically times Auror Missions that make it impossible for us to convene here for lunch. It's something I've gotten used to over the years I have been with him, but it's still an irksome fact, to say the least. Coming home to an empty house isn't fun, but I knew what I was in for when I married Ron. Unfortunately, you can't help who you fall in love with. The positive thing is that I've pretty much built an emotional immunity to it by now. Wallowing does no one a favor, including yourself. What I do to make myself forget is throw myself into work. It's actually quite beneficial. When Ron's gone and I work my bum off, I can pay much more attention to him once he's back. So, in a way, it works very well for both of us, this system we have. Especially Ron, though. He gets to go off on adventures, then comes home and gets laid. No harm, no foul, except for the occasional scar that I find sexy anyways. Honestly, he's living the high life.
"So what are you making for dinner tonight?" Ron asks now, and I roll my eyes.
"We haven't finished lunch yet, sweetheart."
"I'm always hungry, you know that."
"I know. But you'll have to feed yourself tonight. Your mum is having a Weasley woman meeting."
"Oh no!" Ron says, looking annoyed. "You can't get out of making dinner, it's your night."
"Every night is my night," I complain, exasperation evident in my voice. "Why does every night have to be my night?"
"Because you're such a phenomenal cook," Ron tells me, grinning mischievously.
"You know I'm not."
"I love everything you make," Ron promises seriously.
"That's because you love me!" I sigh defeatedly, and Ron beams crookedly at me.
"Right in one, love."
And I suddenly take such a comfort in that. In the fact that my husband is willing to eat my cooking and like it simply because he loves me. It gives me a beautiful sense of how he feels about me, how much I mean to him. It's so gratifying, because while I understand exactly how I feel about him, I haven't got solid proof that he feels the same. Of course, he married me, so that should be enough, but sometimes a woman needs these things reaffirmed. It's these moments- the little ones- that clue me into how equal and fervent our feelings are for each other. And I feel even more blessed because not only have I married the most wonderful man in the world, I know he feels just as lucky to be married to me.
A few hours later, I've finished my workday and am off. After stopping by Ron's office to give him a thorough kiss goodbye, I find myself apparating over to my second home. The Burrow is actually less packed than usual. As I push the door open, I find Arthur Weasley on the other side.
"Hi dad!" I say brightly, and he leans in to give me a brief hug.
"Hello, Hermione," he replies warmly.
"Ready for tonight's meeting?" I ask him cheerfully, and he shakes his head.
"Actually, Molly has kicked me out," he admits. "Looks like it's all girls tonight."
"Whatever will you do?" I inquire, thinking that he will probably spend the evening tinkering around in that old shed of his. Dad has a different answer.
"Actually, I'm going to meet your father. He's going to teach me a delightful sounding game called golf. Maybe you've heard of it?"
"I have, and that sounds fantastic," I grin. "Watch out for that back swing, okay?"
He looks confused, so I just pat him on the shoulder and head into the house, feeling warm inside at the idea of one dad spending time with the other. The Burrow is warm and bright, per usual. As the familiar smell engulfs me, I feel a smile begin to tug at my lips. Instead of the loud, raucous noise that husbands and children bring here, the din is a quiet, feminine murmuring. I'm the last to arrive, on account of the fact that Ron took extra long saying goodbye to me, and the fact that most of the Weasley women are in young stages of motherhood and therefor don't work. I immediately find Mrs. Weasley and give her a tight hug.
"How was work today, dear?" she asks in a motherly tone, and I'm not afraid to tell her the truth.
"A tad bit frustrating."
"How so?" she questions, now concerned.
"The paperwork was murder. And I have to say, I felt unusually restless. It felt like I couldn't stand another moment in that office."
She tuts sympathetically.
"Keep hanging in there, dear."
"Will do, mum," I promise, and then I turn to the table to find my seat between Fleur and Ginny. Mum serves us all some pasta and wine, and we make small talk as we eat. We do this every once in a while, to meet the need to get away from our husbands and, for those who have them, children. It's so nice to talk to some other people who are having or have had relatively similar problems. We talk about almost everything, and I note once again that Weasleys have a closeness that no other family I've known has ever come close to acquiring. Thankfully, I love every person at this table, every woman who was smart enough to fall in love with a Weasley boy and get taken under the motherly wing of Mrs. Weasley. Well, except for Ginny. She was lucky enough to be born into it. As a matter of fact, me and Ginny are the only ones who really got raised by mum. Seeing as I spent so much time at the Burrow, I would go to Mrs. Weasley for advice if I needed it urgently or find it in a book. It was easier to ask her than my own mum at that stage of my life. She was always kind, gentle and wise, but still honest. She never embarrassed me by being mean and rarely asked too many questions, even when I knew she was dying to. If I remember correctly, mum gave both me and Ginny the Birds and the Bees talk. It was the summer before fourth year, and I swear to merlin I turned bright red whenever I saw Ron for weeks after.
"Alright," Mrs. Weasley says, finally standing up at the head of the table to survey her daughters-in-law. "As you know, Roxanne's first birthday is coming up." Here, she acknowledges Angelina with a smile. "It is a Weasley family tradition that for the first birthday of every child, a lamb cake is made to celebrate. Each year, the cake is made by someone who is sitting at this table, but not the mother. And, as always, I have filled a hat with the names of those eligible and will be picking out the name of the woman who bakes the cake."
Ginny gives me a look and leans over to whisper in my ear,
"This cake is hell to make. I certainly don't envy whoever gets the task."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Weasley has stuck her hand into a vivid orange Chudley Cannon's hat, the one Harry got Ron for Christmas one year. My stomach constricts nostalgically as soon as I see it. I wonder if it still contains the scent of Ron's hair before reminding myself that I can just go home and have the real thing.
My daydreams are once again interrupted by an impatient voice. I look around to table to see all eyes on me.
"You're making the cake," Ginny says, looking desperately sorry for me.
Oh," I reply, arranging my facial features into a false smile. "Great!"
There's a smattering of applause around the table as Mrs. Weasley hands me a very dogeared recipe and a metal lamb mold. As she goes on talking about the importance of the tradition and why the lamb cake makes a true Weasley, I feel my stomach take on a state of high nerves. Anyone who knows me understands that cooking and baking are both the bane of my existence. I don't have enough imagination to make cakes or pies look beautiful. I find the act of cooking annoying, because I don't enjoy it and feel as though I could be doing something more worthwhile, like reading. It's not like I have issues following the recipes, I just always seem to fail at the more creative aspects of the art. Baking is worse. Nothing ever seems to turn out quite right. But I have to do this. This lamb cake is a Weasley tradition. If I do it wrong, I'll be a bad wife to Ron. A bad Weasley. A disappointment to both of my parents-in-law. An embarrassment to all of my sisters in law.
Merlin, sometimes I hate this family.
A soft pressure against my neck rouses me from sleep, and I let my eyes flutter open lazily as I come to. Looking to my right, I see that Ron is pressing little kisses against my neck, leaning his head against me in a way that allows his long eyelashes to brush against me in an array of butterfly kisses. They tickle.
"Morning, beautiful," says a husky voice, and I wriggle around a bit to twist myself deeper into his arms.
"Not again, Ron," I sigh. "You tired me out last night."
"Oh please," Ron says, rolling his eyes and dropping more kisses onto my neck. "I could never tire you out. You snap back like that."
"No, Ron!" I protest, but he's already wearing me down.
"It's Saturday, Hermione," he mutters. "C'mon, love."
"Honey, I've got so much to do today, I really can't-"
"No you don't. We don't have anything to do do until the Burrow tonight."
Suddenly, I bolt up in bed.
"Merlin's pants!" I groan, leaping up and getting out from under the covers.
"What is it?"
"I'm supposed to be baking the lamb for dinner tonight," I yelp, running around the room to pick up various articles of clothing and put them on my body.
"Oh, that's right, it's Roxanne's first birthday," Ron says happily. Then he hesitates. "You're supposed to be baking that?" I nod, panic written all over my face. Ron sees it at once. "Oh, Hermione, it'll be fine. You'll do a brilliant job."
Somehow, his words don't soothe me. As a matter of fact, they make me more nervous yet.
"Oh, god, what am I going to do? I'm going to fail everyone!"
"You will not," Ron tells me. "Stop that."
After giving him quick kiss goodbye and grabbing the recipe from the kitchen, I apparate to the grocery store. As fast as I can, I make my way around the aisles, throwing things into the cart and never pausing. I go to the self checkout line in an effort to be as speedy and efficient as possible, then apparate home. That was the easy part. Now it's time for the semi-easy part. After assembling the ingredients and the necessary utensils, I mix and measure and all that other stuff you do when you're baking. My measurements are absolutely perfect- if you go away from Potions class with one piece of knowledge, that is it. All measurements need to be precise, and I am anal in following that rule. Finally, I take a spoon and pour the batter into the lamb mold. Then I pop it into the oven and set the timer.
You'd think I'd be completely relaxed after that, but I'm not. I know the hardest part is yet to come. I perch myself precariously on the couch, trying to read, but in reality feeling my jumbled nerves about the cake. Ron ambles in eventually and frowns as he sees me biting my nails on the couch.
"Merlin, Hermione, you need help," he tells me, brushing his lips against my forehead.
"I know," I moan, and he takes me into his arms and holds me and my trepidation until we hear that blasted timer go off. I step out of Ron's embrace and walk slowly towards the kitchen. And there it is- the lamb cake, glaring evilly at me. With shaking hands, I pull it out of the oven and set it on the kitchen table. Nervously, I remove the mold. It's perfect. But now, the hard part begins.
I remove the whipped cream, the coconut, and the jellybeans from the fridge. I grab a butter knife from the drawer. I'm ready to roll. Unsteadily, I dip the knife in the whipped cream, then bring it to the lamb. I move it across the lamb's side, apprehension filling me. Softly, my knife spreads the whipped cream around the lamb. And then there's nothing left but the inevitable. I have to frost the neck, the sensitive neck that could so easily fall down and ruin all my efforts. But no. I will not let the neck fall. I will be confident and strong and I will get through this. Hand shaking, the knife raises to stroke the neck. Then, with an extra shiver of my hand, I chop half the head off. I screech in shock, and my hand whips around, causing the knife to sever the rest of the head off.
"NO!" I scream, watching it thud to the table.
"What? What's wrong?" Ron asks, speeding into the kitchen with his wand out. Tears prick my eyes, and I can see the horror on his face as he stares down at the lamb. "Oh god. Hermione, is there anything we can do?"
So I say the only thing I can possibly think of.
"Yeah, this is bad."
"No really," Ron and I say, staring down at the little figure on the table. It seems so small without a head.
"What do we do?" Ron asks, his voice pleading. "Is it too late?"
"I'm not sure," Ginny admits, biting her lip. "It's too soon to tell."
"Do you think you might be able to save it?"I whisper.
"There's hope," Ginny allows. "But please don't get your heart set on it. There's only so much I can do."
"Oh god," I say, hiding my face in Ron's chest. He strokes my hair comfortingly.
"Hermione," Ginny says, "if we are going to save this cake, you need your wits about you."
"Okay," I mutter, and I reluctantly draw myself away from Ron, who seems to constantly take my wits away without even trying.
"Can we get you anything?" Ron asks. "Something to speed along the process?"
"I'm going to need a toothpick, a lot of whipped cream, and a ribbon with a color of your choosing."
"Orange?" Ron asks brightly.
"Sure," Ginny says, waving her hand.
I grab the toothpicks, show her the whipped cream and then stand back to watch. Ron gets the ribbon. Ginny works relentlessly, hands flying, toothpicks everywhere. I even help her, doing everything she asks me and trying to keep my mind off of how angry I am at myself. Two hours later, we stand back, staring at the cake, the three of us, a team united the save my sorry... bum.
"It looks brilliant," Ron says truthfully.
"Thank you, Ginny," I add, reaching over to hug her. As I pull back, Ron reaches over me to ruffle Ginny's hair. She glares at him murderously.
"What was that?"
I hold up my hand before they can go any further into the land of sibling rivalry.
"You guys, can we just stare at the lamb cake and relax? Just this once- without any fighting. I want to revel in our miraculous achievement."
"Good point," Ginny says, and we all shut up and gaze at the lamb cake.
Three hours later, we have finished our loving staring at the cake and have gotten dressed and ready to go to the Burrow. Ron and I show up with Ron clutching the cake protectively in his arms, and he refuses to let it go when mum offers to take it from us. She looks at us oddly as we head to the kitchen to set it safely on the counter. For the rest of the visit, we refuse to go anywhere where we can't see the cake. Even if it forces us to actually help with the cooking, it doesn't matter. We won't let anyone touch the cake, and we won't move away from it.
Dinner passes quickly, and soon Mrs. Weasley has stood up to get the cake. Me and Ron hold hands under the table as she sets it down, waiting with bated breath for the beauty to be revealed. The cake is absolutely amazing. I can tell this from the proud smirk on Ginny's face and the adoration on Ron's. It does, in fact, look like a lamb. The shape is uncanny. The whipped cream adds a nice white color to be its coat, and the coconut adds texture. The little black jelly bean we cut in half to be its eyes stare beadily around the table. The coconut grass, died green with food coloring, looks almost real, and the jellybeans placed there as flowers simply add to the effect.
"Well, now, isn't that marvelous?" mum says to the table at large, and everyone loudly assents to this observation. I turn to Ron and smile proudly, trying to ignore the nervous lump in my stomach. "Well, who's ready for some delicious cake?" Mrs. Weasley asks, and everybody cheers. Happily, she taps her wand against the table. The head of the lamb gives a little shiver. Ron and I hold our breaths. Enthusiastically, mum taps her wand against the table again. The head of the lamb falls right off of it's body and onto the platter, where it lies pathetically and disgustingly. Everyone stares at it, shocked. I can feel hysteria building up in me as the tears come back to my eyes.
"Fine!" I cry, standing up suddenly. "I am so, so sorry, mum. I know this is a huge Weasley tradition, and I tried so hard to do it right, but... I killed the lamb. I beheaded the lamb!"
I whirl around and run out of the house. Behind me, I can hear Ron throw down his fork and shove back his chair. He's at the screen door before it slams from my departure.
"HERMIONE!" he shouts after me, but I'm running away from him, running away from everyone, unable to bear how badly I have failed, unable to consider the disappointment on the faces of the people I love. "Hermione, love," he pants, catching up to me, "it's just a stupid cake."
That's when I break down, so heartbroken over a silly cake. I allow Ron to wrap his arms around me and pull me close to his body.
"I'm such a horrible wife!" I sob, pressing my nose into his shirt. "You're so wonderful to me, and what do I do in return? I ruthlessly murder a Weasley family tradition! We've only been married for four months and I've already managed to make a complete fool of myself in front of your family."
"Our family," Ron says softly. "It's our family, Hermione, and they all love you and completely understand and will probably never make you bake the birthday lamb again."
"Stop making me feel better!" I protest, breaking free of his embrace. "I've completely failed, I'm an awful wife-"
"Stop saying that, will you?" Ron says irritably. "You're the best wife I've ever had." He pauses, frowning. "Well, that sounds a bit off."
I ignore this.
"I'm completely worthless at this, I don't even like cooking-"
"You're not worthless," Ron says, gently pulling me back into his embrace. My tears increase.
"Stop! Stop telling me I'm better than I am, I know I'm horrid-"
"Hermione," Ron says, cutting me off, "do you think this bout of emotion has anything to do with the fact that you're pregnant?"
"-inconceivably horrendous... what?"
"You know, the fact that you're with child?"
"I am?" I breathe, excitement beginning to take over. "How do you know?"
Was there some kind of Weasley radar for these things? A sixth sense of some sort?
"Er... how do you not?" We stare at each other uncertainly for a second before Ron replies, "I found three positive tests in the bathroom while I was looking for ribbon."
My eyes widen with realization.
"Oh! I took those last night, and then you distracted me and I completely forgot. On account of all the, you know, distracting."
"Right," Ron says, and there's a pause.
"They... they were positive?"
I stare at him uncertainly before my eyes widen with realization.
"Yeah, sweetheart, you are."
I throw my arms around him and kiss him flat on the mouth, unhindered joy filling me as he communicates how thrilled he is totally nonverbally. Suddenly, I pull back, my brown eyes meeting his azure month.
"And in a year and nine months, someone else can make that blasted lamb cake."