Hermione was startled from her spot on the floor by the sound of her daughter walking into the room and calling her name. She looked up to see Rose carefully navigating her way through piles of paper spread all around the room in chaos that was uncharacteristic for the mother Hermione's children knew and loved. Which could only mean one thing. Hermione had reached a bit of a roadblock with the house elves and was now desperate for something (anything) to help her with the case. Rose knew from experience that when her mother got like this she lost track of all time. This was the reason Hermione had quit her job when her two children were much younger. And while she loved taking care of the kids, Hermione had missed working quite a lot.
Slowly, Rose lowered herself onto a miraculously bare piece of carpet and squinted at the information lying before her. She loved helping her mother with work issues. It was an honor, a privilege, and a huge confidence boost. Rose was smart- really smart. She knew it, Hermione knew it, Ron knew it... for the love of merlin, the dog knew it. From the moment Rose had been born, Hermione had begun pressing upon her the 'right' opinions on house-elves, goblins and muggle-borns. While Hugo shared his father's passion for Quidditch, Rose shared her mother's adoration for doing what was right and learning things. Although she never would say no to a good game of wizards' chess.
"What time is it?" Hermione inquired, yawning, and Rose grinned at her as she said,
"Dinnertime. Dinnertime, mum."
The instantly guilty look that crossed Hermione's face was enough to make all of Rose's annoyance at her mother's job completely go away. She reached over and wrapped her arms around her mother, auburn hair falling on top of bushy brown.
"Oh, I'm sorry, love," Hermione said, biting her lip guiltily. "Are you angry?"
Rose shook her head.
"No. You don't choose to get lost in your work... it just sort of happens. And at least youfeel bad."
"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked, not understanding where this was going. But with an angry flick of her hair, Rose was gone. Sighing, the woman stood up and stretched, her body reveling in its ability to be in any other position than the one she'd been sitting in since early that morning. She padded over to the kitchen and began throwing sausage and vegetables into a cooker, humming to herself as she worked and still entranced in the House-Elf train of thought. Through the window that stood between the kitchen and the living room, Hermione could see Rose curled up on the couch, reading, and Hugo on the floor, petting Finn. Satisfied that all was peaceful, she turned away from the stove to poke her head in the fridge and grab some salad fixings. And that was when it happened. The loud sound of Finn barking, a screech of delight from Hugo, a deep roll of laughter. Sounds like those could only mean one thing.
She pulled her head out of the fridge just in time to hear Ron shout, "Honey, I'm home!" and laughed as she headed to the in-house window. He was exhausted looking and unshaven, but he was there. She leaned forward on the counter to reach him through the window and gave him a chaste kiss on the lips before retreating back into the kitchen to finish cooking.
"Just in time for dinner," she called as she began chopping up celery. "You do have impeccable timing, Mr. Weasley."
"Anything for your cooking, Mrs. Weasley," he replied, and she rolled her eyes playfully at him. Her cooking had, indeed, gotten much better than the days of the Horcrux Hunt, if you didn't count the experiments she sometimes felt inclined to try out. Ron grinned at her as he lifted up Hugo, kissing him on the forehead, and set him back down on the ground. Then Ron turned towards Rose and held his arms open, but she threw her nose into the air and walked off in the other direction. Ron stared after her, bewildered, as Finn attacked him with slobbery kisses. "Oi!" Ron protested, but Finn kept on licking him until Ron managed to untangle himself from the strange embrace of the rather large dog.
"Dinner's ready," Hermione told her family. "Wash up, won't you?"
Rose and Hugo left obediently, but Ron remained, striding into the kitchen and flicking his wand. The silverware and plates began neatly arranging themselves on the table.
"Quick, we have three minutes," he said urgently, and with a smile Hermione melted into his arms and gave him a much more thorough kiss. "Better," he whispered as she pulled back. Hermione sighed and rested her head on his chest, where she could feel his heart beating rather rapidly. She knew hers was too, and understood this to be a side effect of going two weeks without seeing her husband.
"Merlin I've missed you," she sighed, reaching a hand up to smooth his hair.
"I've missed you too," Ron admitted, pulling her closer to him. "How about the next time, you come with me?"
"We should have thought about that before we had children, huh?" she responded lightly, and he chuckled and kissed her nose.
"Ah, right. Forgot about that little snag."
"So," Hermione said briskly, pulled back and surveying Ron. "How was it? Are you sick? Injured? Sore? Physiologically damaged in any way, shape or form?"
"Not that I know of," Ron said cheerfully. "Although I do have a new scar."
"I expect you'll find out later tonight," he replied, wiggling his eyebrows at her, and she smacked his arm. He caught it and brought it to his lips, kissing every letter in the faded word 'mudblood'. She closed her eyes and leaned against him, hating the fact that there would always be a reminder, that every time they made love the scar was there to taunt them. When they had first started dating, Ron had been able to make her feel better about every part of herself that she hated: hair, body, skin. But no matter how hard he tried, he could never convince her that this was okay, that it was beautiful. Not when it troubled him so much as well. She thought Ron might hate it even more than she did... if that was possible.
The moment, as so many moments were in this stage of their life together, was interrupted by Rose, Hugo and Finn parading into the kitchen. They sat down at the square table, Ron and Hermione next to each other at one end, Rose and Hugo at the other and Finn lying on top of all their feet.
"So what happened while I was gone?" Ron wanted to know, and instantly Hugo began jabbering about all that was going on in his eight year old life. His parents listened with great interest about his woes, but after twenty minutes of this, Ron turned to Rose. "How about you, Rosie?" he asked, but she merely turned her head away from him and continued picking at her salad. "Write anything interesting lately?"
"Read anything interesting lately?"
"Do anything interesting lately?"
The explosion of sound from her was so great Hermione and Hugo stopped in the middle of raising their forks to their mouths.
"Rose Catherine Weasley, do not talk to your father in that tone of voice!" Hermione reprimanded firmly. She was met only by silence. Rose looked out the window, watching the rain splatter down. Hugo surreptitiously fed Finn his squash. Hermione found Ron's hand under the table and he squeezed hers in response. Her brows were creased, trying to figure out when Rose's mood had changed. She had been fine in the office earlier, happy even. Then Hermione remembered the way Rose had walked away from Ron instead of hugging him. Understanding, Hermione jerked her head toward Rose, then back at Ron. He caught on instantly.
"Rose," he said hesitantly, "are you angry with me?"
There was a long, awkward pause.
"Yes," she said finally. Her tone was icy and stiff, Hermione unveiled yet another way that her daughter was like her. Ron saw it too, she knew. He was resisting a smile.
"May I ask why?" he replied quietly, trying to fill his tone with remorse. More silence. Then,
"You missed mum's birthday."
Hermione and Ron exchanged surprised glances, then turned back to their daughter.
"Rose," Hermione said carefully, "I haven't got a problem with that. It's just another birthday. I've had so many. And your father... he's been there for every single one, starting with the day I turned thirteen years old."
"I don't care!" Rose snapped. "And I don't care that you don't care! I'm going to Hogwarts next year, and I'm not going to have another birthday with you or dad until I'm eighteen! And we had a plan, me and dad and Hugo. We were going to make pancakes for you and cater to you all day and play board and word games with you. And he wrecked it! His stupid jobwrecked it!"
"I can't control the assignments I get, Rosie," Ron protested gently. "Sometimes I get called away in the middle of the night or an assignment goes longer than it's intended to."
"It's still selfish," she shot back.
"How is your father risking his life to save mankind selfish?" Hermione rebutted, raising her eyebrows. "I think it's you, Rose, who's being selfish, and you're also being insolent."
There was a pause during which Hugo employed his widest eyed look and Rose glared around at her parents.
"Can I be excused?" she finally asked. "Please," she added, almost painfully.
"Fine," Hermione sighed. "Clear your plate."
Rose stomped over to the sink, plopped her plate in and stormed out of the room. As soon as she was gone, Ron turned pleadingly to Hermione.
"You're not upset with me for missing your birthday, are you?"
"Of course not," Hermione replied gently. "I understand completely."
"Good," he said, sounding relieved. Ron stood up and together he and Hugo began clearing the dishes, loudly singing A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love.
"And then, daddy, Uncle Harry and I jumped onto the back of a giant, blind, albino dragon. We flew up, up, up and away from Gringotts and ended up jumping into a lake right off Hogsmeade."
"Wow," Hugo breathed, staring at him mum with an expression of utter and complete amazement.
"And what's the moral of the story, Hugo?"
"Never rob Gringotts bank. That's the moral. Got it?"
"Yeah!" Hugo said enthusiastically.
"Good," Hermione grinned. "Night, night sweetheart. I love you."
"Love you too," he said. She brushed the hair away from his forehead and kissed him there, watching fondly as he burrowed himself under the covers. Contently, she walked to Rose's room, pausing in the doorway. Ron was seated on Rose's bed, seemingly pleading with her.
"Tomorrow, Rosie, I promise we'll do everything we were going to do for mum's birthday. And I still have my presents for her, so we can give her those, too."
"Fine," Rose said reluctantly.
"And you'll forgive me?" Ron asked brightly.
"Yeah," consented Rose, smiling at him for the first time since he got home. She reached up to hug him. "Goodnight, dad."
"Night, Rosie," he replied.
"B.D.E," she added.
In Ron and Rose's language this meant 'best daddy ever' and 'best kiddie ever'. They said it every night before Rose went to bed. Hermione quickly turned around and scampered back to their room, hoping she wouldn't get caught eavesdropping. By the time Ron opened the door she had already gotten her pajamas bottoms on and was in the process of slipping her shirt off.
"Hey," Ron said, shutting the door behind him and locking it for good measure. "Nice try with the eavesdropping."
"Why thank you," Hermione said playfully. "I learned from the master."
"You know I am," he smirked, kissing her cheek as he passed her on his way to the bathroom. Once she had pulled her tank top over her head, she went into the bathroom as well, grabbing her toothpaste and brushing her teeth along wit him. This was what she had missed. Those little bits of affection, so tender and small and sweet. Brushing their teeth together and smiling at the sight of the other one in the mirror. They did that every night that they were both home, and for some strange reason the uniformity of it all was both pleasant and comforting. When they were finished, Ron shaved, something he hadn't done in the two weeks since he had left. Hermione sat on the counter and watched him, completely mesmerized by it for a reason unbeknown to Ron. Upon finishing, he lifted her up off of the counter and carried her over to their bed, where he threw her down and kissed her.
"You're always so affectionate after a mission," Hermione sighed as his lips moved to her neck.
"Yeah. You'd think I'd been starved from human affection for two weeks straight."
"Well, in any case, I suppose it comes as a relief. It means you haven't been shacking up with a fellow auror."
"That's disgusting," Ron said flatly. Hermione looked rather flattered. She cuddled closer to him and said,
"Rose angry is just like me angry, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Ron beamed. "I kept on picturing you in sixth year. It was just like that, minus the jealousy and lust."
"Lust?" Hermione echoed, quirking an eyebrow at him. He grinned impishly at her, and she pressed a kiss against his lips, adoration for her husband building up in her stomach and heart. "Why do you have to go? I miss you. It's so hard, Ron- it's like I'm a single, working mum. And I have to worry about your safety the whole time, even though I know I have no control of it. But I'm still not half as effective as I usually am. And I know I should be used to it by now, but I just can't get used to it, and-"
He cut her off by rolling over so that he was looming over her, then kissing her quite thoroughly.
"I'm sorry," he breathed against her lips, pushing himself up and staring down at her. "I know how I'd feel if the roles were reversed and that is why- among other things- you should win the 'wife of the year' award every single goddamn year."
She reached down his shirt and tugged out the gold medallion that he wore every minute of every day. Gold meant he was on the A team, and silver and bronze were for the B and C teams, respectively. She remembered how excited she and Ron had been when he first got it. He had worked his way up to it, and it was based purely on his talents. They hadn't understood how hard it would be. When the auror department needed Ron, the medallion would burn against his chest. And it burned much to often fro Hermione's liking.
"Thank you," she whispered, tucking the medallion back under his collar.
"I know you don't like it," he admitted, kissing her neck. "It's just what I do."
"You could do me instead," she suggested playfully, and he kissed her on the nose.
"Oh, believe me. I fully intend to."
He was warm. He was always warm when he was holding her at night, and that was one of that many things about him that made Hermione so happy to be married to him. There was nothing like being enclosed in his body heat on a cold, rainy morning. Hermione was always freezing, to the extent that Ron would breathe on her nose on cold days, just to get it warm. Except tonight was different. Tonight, as Hermione lay in Ron's arms, she felt an extra something burn against her back. She knew, without even opening her eyes, what it was.
"You have to go in, don't you?" she yawned, eying the clock. Two AM. Much too early for a normal work day to be starting. But, then again, not much about Ron's job was normal enough for her liking.
"It burned three times," Ron sighed, eyes still clamped shut. He seemed unwilling to let his wife free of his embrace. "Long term mission."
"You just got back!" Hermione groaned, turning her head to look at him. He opened his eyes, which bore a regretful tinge.
Ron pressed a kiss against her bare shoulder, then crawled out of bed and made his way towards the bathroom. Hermione stood, threw a dressing gown on and began packing his ministry issued duffel bag. She knew she wasn't supposed to give him extra food, but she went downstairs and put some in the bag anyways. A Team members- especially Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley- tended to be permitted to get away with just about anything. The aforementioned auror was half asleep as he trekked down the stairs, stumbling right over to his wife and into her arms for a goodbye hug.
"Don't go again," she pleaded, knowing even as she begged that it was quite moot. Her lips moved against his ear, causing him to shiver involuntarily.
"Stop pleading like that or I'll actually stay," he murmured, his fingers gently untangling knots in her wild hair. She sighed.
"Rose is going to kill you."
"God... I know. I didn't even have a chance to give you your birthday gifts."
"When you get back we can do all that. Granted, of course, that you're not forced to go back to work a few hours later."
"Here," Hermione interrupted, her eyes beginning to water. She handed him his bag. "I packed food for you, just in case."
He kissed her again, really savoring it this time, not bothering to rush it or think about what would happen after.
"You're wonderful," Ron whispered. "Honestly, Hermione, I don't know what I'd do without you."
"And I don't know what I'd do without you," she said in return.
"Are you kidding? I'd probably stop functioning."
"You flatter me so."
"Look, bottom line, sweetheart- don't your arse killed, alright?"
He saluted her.
"I'll do my damnedest."
It was raining again. The gloomy drops drizzled onto Hermione, wetting her hair and her clothes. Her high-heeled shoes made predictably clicky noises every time she took a step, and Hermione sped up in order to reach her destination more quickly. As she strode through the streets, she stared up at the sky, soaking the gloominess into her heart. She felt as though a thousand dementors had descended upon her, sucking on her soul and extracting all happiness from her thoughts. She felt weak and tired and all she wanted to do was curl up into a ball and have a decent cry. But she couldn't. Hermione had children that she had to stay strong for. She had a job that she had to work hard at. And the goddamn ministry of magic didn't give a flying rat's arse that she hadn't seen her husband for three weeks. It was their fault, as a matter of fact. They had given Ron the job that was keeping him away from her. They forbade aurors from sending letters on long-term missions. They were causing Hermione's bright, vivacious daughter to become broody and angry. They were tearing their own employee's heart in two. She was alone, she was scared, she was sad, she was worried, and she had double the responsibility than normal.
In short, she felt like she was drowning.
Many times before, Hermione had been forced to experience life as a single mum. She had never really liked it- she always preferred her days when Ron was there by her side. But this was extensive. Three weeks! Three weeks without kissing him, holding him, hearing his voice... even seeing his face. When Hermione had gone to Hogwarts after the war and Ron had gone into auror training, the separation had been almost painful. Without him she had terrible nightmares, and without her Ron's dreams were equally as miserable. Ron wasn't skilled enough to make a dreamless sleep potion, and Hermione hadn't had the resources. They'd both been caught between a rock and a hard place. They couldn't not sleep, because they needed to be rested. They couldn't come find each other in the middle of the night, either- the Hogwarts security ensured that. Hermione and Ron had both been torn between the desire to have a bright and shining future or be there for the other. By the end of the year they had both promised that they would never again spend more than two weeks apart. And merlin, they had both wanted to keep that. Fate, as it so often did, tended to intervene.
Usually the auror missions Ron went on were no longer than a week. Most of the time, two weeks was extensive. Hermione was proud of Ron. She was proud of all he had achieved. He worked so hard to do what he did and do it well. Her husband excelled at his job, and whenever she said "Hi, I'm Hermione Weasley," and someone said "Oh, Auror Weasley's wife?" she was happy to nod and say that she was. The fact that she was proud of Ron did not, however, mean that she was thrilled with the lengths he went to for work. He had helped change the auror department for the better. He was on the A team, the gold team. Not bronze, not silver- gold. Ron and Harry were the top aurors in the department. They were both amazing and both reaped in boatloads of money and respect, along with enjoying their jobs. That, unfortunately, didn't stop Hermione from worrying constantly when the father of her children was out there risking his neck. It didn't put a stopper in the desperate, drowning emotion she felt when he was gone. Usually it wasn't this hard! She knew it couldn't be this hard every time. But three weeks. She was frightened. She was worried. If something happened to Ron, she wouldn't be able to come out of it whole.
Hermione had taken to walking around like a zombie at work. In front of her children, she acted with a cheer and vibrancy she did not feel. And when she was alone at night, she would lie in bed, hoping, praying and remembering. It kept her sane, the remembering. Comforted her. Reminded her that her husband was a real man who loved her, not just some beautiful person she had possibly imagined. It helped her to imagine him alive and whole instead of dead on the ground somewhere. She'd picture him with dirt on his nose, that first day on the train, and she would commend herself for having such a phenomenal memory. From there, she'd go through every other event she remembered, from the first time she'd hugged him to the first time she'd kissed him to the first time they'd made love to the first time someone had called her Hermione Weasley in a casual conversation. Usually after this she would fall asleep. Acting happy when you were thoroughly depressed was exhausting work.
Finally reaching her destination, Hermione knocked lightly on the door. She tried unsuccessfully to reassemble her weary facial expression, but as soon as Molly Weasley threw the door open she saw her daughter-in-law's misery. Molly felt a rush of affection for Hermione, and the result of this was a warm, motherly hug. Hermione melted into this, needing the comfort of a person who was just as concerned as she was. Yes, her children were worried, but they didn't fully comprehend what could happen. To them, death was the worst possibility. Hermione knew better. Inside of the house, she could hear screeches and giggles from her two children, but she barely payed mind to that. Walking around in a constant state of fear was good for no one, and sometimes one hug felt like it could momentarily fix everything. Hermione knew that she would feel lost agains as soon as she saw Hugo's bright blue eyes. Swallowing, she pulled back and smiled at Mrs. Weasley.
"So how have they been?"
"Utter and complete angles."
"Somehow I doubt that," Hermione said mildly, making a small attempt at humor. "I'm so sorry you had to give up your afternoon for them on such short notice. I forgot it was a half day at their school."
"It's not problem, dear. You know I love taking care of them. Besides, I understand that things are a bit disoriented for you right now," replied Mrs. Weasley, sympathy absolutely drenched in her tone.
She had killed the person who had tortured Hermione, the person who had written the word mudblood on Hermione's arm. She was Hermione's biggest, most loving ally, aside from Ron. She was the only person who got it, the one who was just as concerned. When Hermione had met Mrs. Weasley, how could she have had any idea how important this woman would become to her? And how could she ever possibly express that? Was there any way? As she contemplated this, her two squealing children launched themselves at her for a big hug. And the look on Mrs. Weasley's face was enough to tell Hermione had she had evened the score in Mrs. Weasley's mind. By bringing these two beautiful grandchildren into the world, by caring for Ron as much as Hermione did. If she'd loved Ron any less, Hermione would have wondered if it was enough. But knowing how much she loved him, Hermione realized that it was.
When they got home, Finn was waiting by the front door, and although they let him out, fed him, and petted him for what seemed to be four hours, he kept on whimpering.
"He wants a w-a-l-k with d-a-d," Rose spelled out, not wanting Finn to hear the words and get excited.
"I'll take him!" Hugo suggested. Hermione ruffled his hair.
"Sorry, love, it's already dark out. Besides, I have a feeling it would be more like Finn taking youfor a walk than anything else."
While Rose stifled a snicker, Hugo pouted, and Hermione cursed herself for ever letting Ron use his eyes as a weapon against her in the dog war. She never should have relented. Sighing, Hermione headed into the kitchen and heated up dinner, which they ate in total silence. Finally, she announced that it was time for bed. The family trooped upstairs for the nightly chaos to commence. Rose had her shower, Hugo his bath. Rose dressed in her favorite purple nightdress and got right into bed to begin her thirty minutes of reading. Hugo, deciding to be a rebel, didn't brush his teeth. He was instantly caught by his mother, and she stood there and watched as he actually did it. Then she helped him change into his Star Wars footie pajamas (pajamas and obsession both the curtosy of Grandad Granger) and tucked him in.
As she braided Rose's hair, Hermione pictured the morning after Ron had left. Rose had burst into her bedroom screaming "PANCAKES, PANCAKES!" until realizing that Ron's side of the bed was empty. She'd been both angry and crestfallen. Rose was going to murder Ron when he got home. If he got home. No, when he got home. When. Hermione had to believe in when, not if, because if she didn't she'd have nothing left to fight for. She would be even more depressed than she was now. As Hermione crawled into bed that night, she swore to herself that she would never give up on Ron coming home unless him not coming home was solid, tangible fact. She'd have to see a body. Bearing that cheerful thought in mind, her eyes slipped shut. And there he was. His voice, his warmth, his lips, his face, his eyes. Crawling into bed. Kissing her on the neck. Molding his body to hers, pulling her closer to the solidness that was him. And... and what was that pecking noise?
Hermione's eyes shot open. She was alone. She had been dreaming. The pecking noise was an owl at the window, and she knew exactly was it was. It had to be what she thought. A dry sob was already escaping from her throat as she threw open the window and wrestled the envelope away from the owl. Hermione's fingers shook as she ripped the envelope open and tried to concentrate on the words. Only a few really popped out at her. Dear Mrs. Weasley... husband... St. Mungo's... spell damage... throwing the letter on the floor, Hermione dressed in the first pair of jeans and first shirt she could find and rushed to her childrens' rooms. She woke them up and apparated them to the Burrow, explaining as quickly as she could, shaking with anxiety. Tears were forming in her eyes, and she couldn't really see what was going on, but she understood that Molly Weasley had assented to watching her and Ron's children. So Hermione was gone, apparating to St. Mungo's, passing the welcome desk and the unfriendly welcome witch. The four little bits of the letter that had popped out at her kept on repeating in her mind like some sort of sick mantra. She ran as though her life depended on it, all the way up to the spell damage ward, until she saw Harry. He was pacing, looking rather worse for the wear but still safe. She managed to say his name, unaware of whether it was a whisper or a scream. He heard it nonetheless.
"Room three-ten," Harry told her without preamble, and Hermione left without thanking him. Reaching the room, she forced the door open and threw herself over to the bed. Ron was lying there, skin pale, red hair in his eyes. Hermione reached a trembling hand out to smooth it away. His eyes popped open, the vivid blue nearly giving her a heart attack.
"Ron," she groaned, sinking to her knees beside him. "What happened?"
Are you dying? Please, please, please don't be dying.
"Did you read the letter?" he asked, exasperated.
"No. I was panicking... a lot."
Ron grinned, and she felt her heart speed up at the sight.
"I think that's the first time since I've met you that you have refused to read something shoved directly under your nose," he smirked as he lifted her shaking hand to his lips. "I'm fine," he promised, the shape of the words spelling out on her palm. "Honest. You're not rid of me quite yet."
She began crying even harder, her relief echoing around the room.
"I hate you."
"I love you!"
"I love you, too."
He stroked her hair, whispering words of comfort as she sobbed relentlessly. In the last week, all she'd done was think about how her life would be if she lost him, and the memory came back too strong, too real to ignore. Hermione wished she could tie him up and force him never to go into work again. She wished she could break his gold medallion and simultaneously get him released from his job. As Hermione looked up and met his gaze, she realized that she didn't even know what was wrong with him. She straightened up, her expression guilty.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, gently stroking his cheek with her finger. "I didn't even ask why you're lying in a hospital bed."
"It's okay," he said, but she discarded this.
"I'm such a terrible wife."
"You bloody well are not," he said angrily.
"No, really, I didn't even ask how you were, and I just concentrated on how I'd feel instead of how you are feeling. It's so selfish, and I-"
"If you keep talking about my wife that way, I'm going to have to hurt you," Ron said warningly. "My wife is never selfish, and she's beautiful and brilliant and a wonderful mother and the most amazing woman I have ever met, and on top of it all she is somehow a passable cook."
"Don't lie. See, I'm making it about me right now!"
"I'm not lying, and you're incorrigible, Hermione," he sighed, and then he paused. "Want to know a little guilty secret about me?"
She looked up, frowning.
He ignored this comment.
"Remember that seventeen year old I used to be? The one who was jealous and insecure and hated everything about himself? He'd be over the moon about this. Hell, he isover the moon about this. I've been married to you for over a decade but I swear to merlin he's still in there somewhere."
"Prat," Hermione muttered, kissing him on the forehead. Tears were still pouring from her eyes, but they were silent. "Now what happened?"
"Weakening spell in the left leg," he said nonchalantly "And then our lovely, pleasant villain decided to go and break the same exact limb using his foot."
"Oh, Ron," she said, horror stuck. "I'm so sorry! Was it painful? What do I need to do?"
"Have sex with me at least twice every single day for about five years. Then I'll be fine."
"This is serious!" Hermione snapped, looking as though she wanted to laugh and smack him at the same time.
"Not really," Ron shrugged. He held out an arm to her, and she crawled into the small hospital bed next to him. This, Hermione decided, was marriage. For better or worse. Queen sized mattress or hospital bed. It didn't really matter where the hell they were as long as they were together.
"What are your options?" Hermione asked softly, nuzzling her nose against his.
"There are two," Ron responded. "One, physical therapy. In a few weeks my leg will be fine for every day work, but it won't be strong enough for field work. I'll be forbidden from any missions until my leg is okay, and there's a chance I might be demoted to the silver team because of it. Physical injury on top of a recently cast spell isn't good."
"And what's the other option?" whispered Hermione.
"I retire from auror field work and train the wannabe ickle aurors. They only let retired gold team members do it. It would be just like a desk job, bar a field trip to a mock mission twice a year."
"One week each?" Hermione asked, and Ron nodded. She remembered this from his training. "Well, which one do you want?"
"Which one do you want me to take?" he questioned, watching her closely. But Hermione merely shook her head.
"It's not up to me, Ron."
"Of course it is," he told her gently. "It's almost all up to you."
She was touched that he would leave this choice to her, but she wasn't going to make it for him.
"What do you want?" Hermione asked, eyes boring into him. He paused. Then he said,
"I want to grow old with you. I want to know what you look like when your hair has turned to silver and I want you to still love me when mine is all gone. I want to be there for my daughter's wedding, and I want to give my son advice before he proposes. I want my grandchildren to think that I am the most kickarse Grandfather to ever live. I want all that guaranteed. I want you forever- to wake up next to you, to brush my teeth next to you, to die next to you. And neither of us will ever be satisfied if that doesn't happen."
"So you're picking...?"
She didn't know what to say, so she cried a little bit more, the silent tears cascading down her cheeks. He looked at her with such tenderness and adoration and love that she wondered what she had done to deserve him, but thanked merlin for whatever it was.
"I love you," she whispered.
"Happy birthday," he teased quietly. They lay there together, thinking of the ways their lives were going to change. In a way, Ron had just picked Hermione over his job. This was going to be the first time since Ron was eleven that he wouldn't have the same assignments as Harry. "You do realize that you're wearing my shirt, right?" he said suddenly, running his finger across the place where her heart supposedly was. Hermione turned red.
"Am I?" she asked, eyebrows raising. "Merlin's pants, Ron Weasley... how long has this been on the floor?"
"Er... three weeks?"
"You're cleaning your side of the room when you get out of this hospital bed."
"Sure I am."
"And it doesn't matter that you don't want to do it. I'll bug you about it every single day, and now that you're going to be coming home after work the vast majority of the year, you'll get tired of me and my nagging much faster."
He tapped her on the nose, causing her to scrunch it up adorably.
"Sure I will."
All he did was grin.
"Oh, this is going to be fun."