Ron's overall impression of the restaurant, Aphrodite, could be summed up in one word: pink. He looked back into the place as he held the door for Hermione. His glance confirmed the pinkness of the place. Every table had a pink tablecloth scattered with shiny red hearts; on each stood a single pink rose and a wax encrusted bottle with a flickering pink candle in its neck. It wasn't late when he followed her out. The place was still full of couples and the buzz of quiet conversations.
The place had looked like a traditional Greek restaurant when he'd booked the table weeks earlier, as a surprise for Hermione. He'd been surprised by the transformation. Bemused by the cloying romanticism of the place they had laughed and joked throughout the meal.
Despite her obvious delight at his surprise, Hermione had been on edge. Ron was certain that he knew why; she thought that he'd forgotten to buy her a present. She would soon find out that she was wrong. It was only a ten minute walk back to the flat from the recently opened restaurant.
Although the food had been very good, it had been overpriced. Tonight, of course, everywhere was overpriced. The choice was simple, pay inflated restaurant prices for the "special" menu, or eat at home.
They left the restaurant hand in hand and walked down the rain soaked street in silence, heading toward the river. It was a cold evening and the sky was cloudless. The chill wind blowing along the Thames was flexing its frosty fingers, scuttling up the side streets in swirling gusts. There was every chance that, before much longer, the puddles created by the earlier downpour would freeze.
When they turned onto Cheyne Walk the full force of the wind hit them like an icy hammer. Hermione slipped her arm around his waist; he reciprocated, gently squeezing. She tensed and shivered.
'It's going to be a cold night,' observed Hermione as they reached the door.
'That's a shame, I was hoping for a hot one,' Ron told her as they stepped into the warm and bright foyer and began their ascent.
'You never know your luck,' said Hermione as they climbed the stairs. Her eyes were sparkling, but there seemed to be a shadow in them too. 'Thank you for the meal, Ron. We'll have to invite Harry and Ginny—and little James—to that restaurant soon.'
When they reached the flat he opened the door and stepped aside, allowing Hermione to enter first. Following her into the hallway, he helped her off with her coat and hung it on the hook.
'Happy Valentine's Day, Hermione,' he said, picking up the dozen red roses he'd left behind the door. He grinned happily at her. She looked at the roses, and then into his face, and burst into tears.
'What's the matter?' he asked concernedly. They weren't tears of joy. She was unhappy about something, and it obviously wasn't the lack of flowers, so it was serious.
Hermione didn't reply; he panicked. Had he done something wrong? It was definitely St Valentine's Day, he wasn't that stupid; everything from the restaurant décor to the recent upsurge in love-potion sales at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes confirmed it. Nevertheless, that ridiculous worry hit him a glancing blow, knocking him off balance. He rapidly thought back through the events of the past few days. Hermione was upset. Why? He was fairly certain that he hadn't done anything to annoy her, but she was worried about something. Ron threw his arms around her and pulled her into a tight embrace. Bending down, he kissed the top of her head.
'What's wrong, Hermione?' he asked concernedly. 'Is it me? Have I done something, or have I not done something? What is it?'
'I'm sorry, Ron, I shouldn't tell you, not yet, and I didn't want to tell you, because I didn't want to upset you tonight. But I can't keep it secret from you until tomorrow,' Hermione spoke into his chest, she didn't look up. 'You've lost, Draco Malfoy has beaten you; I've chosen him.'
'You've what?' Ron spluttered in disbelief. He fought down his anger and demanded, 'Why?'
'I had no choice, Ron, the tests have come back and they are positive,' Hermione told him.
'That's impossible. How can they be? How in Merlin's name did Malfoy manage it?' asked Ron angrily.
'That's for you to find out, Ron; I can't tell you, you know that I can't,' she said sorrowfully. 'Please don't ask me again.'
'Okay,' Ron sighed resignedly. 'That's typical bloody Malfoy – making you unhappy. He's never forgiven you for smacking him. He deserved it ten years ago, and I reckon he deserves another smack now. Oily little git.'
Hermione smiled through her sorrow and looked up into his eyes. 'Thanks for being so understanding, Ron, and thanks for the roses,' she said. She pushed herself away from her husband and pulled him down for a kiss.
The simple act of confessing her worries had calmed her. Taking his hand, she led him through into their lounge and found an empty vase. Hermione conjured water from her wand and carefully arranged the flowers. Ron flopped down on their sofa and watched her work. She didn't spill a drop of water; her spellwork was as perfect as she was. He sighed contentedly. Life was good, except for Malfoy.
'They really are beautiful, Ron, thank you,' Hermione said.
'Beautiful roses for my beautiful wife,' said Ron. He tried to prevent himself from saying more, but he could not let it rest. Annoyance gnawed at his stomach. It fought its way from the very centre of his being and forced itself out into the world despite his attempts to stop it. The shadow over their romantic evening was the fault of one person. 'Bloody Malfoy,' he grumbled.
Hermione sighed and looked at him. He watched in silence as she considered her options. He couldn't push her. If he pushed, then she'd push back and they'd simply reach a stalemate. He watched and waited; an unhappy expression on his face. It was a good tactic; he saw her reach a decision and listened carefully as her words tumbled out.
'I should not be telling you this, Ron. I shouldn't have said anything at all. But … you will find out tomorrow, anyway. Please don't let anyone know that I told you before you got the official letter of notification,' she began.
'The Department for Magical Law Enforcement will be writing to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. McKay, from the procurement section, will write the letter on my behalf. You and George will officially get the bad news owl tomorrow morning,' she told him.
Ron smiled consolingly at his still unhappy wife. 'It's okay, Hermione,' he murmured. 'I'm not mad at you.'
Hermione moved across to the fireplace and looked across the room at him. The flames flickered and danced behind her slim legs. She was wearing black tights and a red skirt and the glowing red coals behind her showed off the perfect silhouettes of her slender ankles. He found himself staring at her legs, but he listened carefully.
'You knew the rules when you submitted the tender, Ron,' said Hermione softly. 'The Department for Magical Law Enforcement's Portkey Handcuff contract will be awarded to the lowest bidder, provided that the product, when tested, meets the specifications. And they do. As I said, the tests are positive.'
This wasn't Hermione's fault, Ron reminded himself. And it was St Valentine's Day. He looked up from her ankles and into his wife's moist brown eyes. He needed to wipe away those tears, so he stood and strolled towards her.
'How?' Ron asked curiously, his voice a soft and gentle caress. 'We've kept the manufacturing process for the Weasley Portcuffs secret for five years, Hermione. Smith and Sons' attempts to manufacture their own version were pathetic. They were a lot cheaper than us, but they submitted a product that didn't actually work. Then this year, out of nowhere, Malfoy submits a tender for the first time, undercuts us, and steals the contract from under our nose with a product that passes your test. How in Merlin's name did he do it?'
While he spoke Ron slid his hands around Hermione's head, palms on her cheeks and his long fingers around her ears. He moved his thumbs slowly and gently up the sides of her nose and ran them under her eyes, brushing out the tears. He bent forward, sucked the liquid from his thumbs, and kissed the corners of her eyes.
'All better?' he asked as he gently kissed her forehead. 'Tell me what else is bothering you, Mrs Weasley. This is a private husband and wife discussion. It has nothing to do with the Deputy Head of the Magical Law Office, or the Co-Chairman of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, because we both know that they can't discuss Ministry contracts.'
'I don't know how he did it. I didn't think it was possible, Ron. After all, Malfoy wasn't particularly bright at school,' she said. 'I demanded retests, and I supervised them myself. I had to make the final decision on approving the purchase today. Malfoy's handcuffs work as well as yours. There was no way I could throw out the lowest bid and accept one from my husband's company, not unless there was a major problem with Malfoy's tender, or his equipment.'
'There will be a major problem with Malfoy's tender equipment the next time I see him. Because my foot will have connected with it,' announced Ron, grinning. 'If I kick him hard enough, maybe he'll be the last of the Malfoys,' he added hopefully. Hermione laughed.
'The "CleverCuffs", as Clever Contraptions Limited call their product, perform identically to the Weasley Portcuffs, Ron. They seem to be an exact copy,' she told him.
'Clever Contraptions,' Ron growled. 'The git can't use the Malfoy name, because no one would buy anything from him, so he hides behind something bland and meaningless. Do you think he's stolen our design? How much did he undercut us by?'
'I can't tell you, Ron, you know that, so please don't ask,' said Hermione forcefully. Ron smiled happily. This was his Hermione, she was back, her worries were replaced by determination and her tears were at an end.
'It was a sealed bid, like yours,' she reminded him sternly. 'You weren't successful, that's all I can tell you for now, and you know that I shouldn't even have told you that! We knew that there would be conflicts of interest when I moved from Magical Creatures into Magical Law Enforcement. After all, you and George supply a lot of equipment to the Law Office and the Aurors.'
'And now a known and convicted Death Eater is supplying equipment for Law Officers! What next? What will happen if he tries to supply the Auror Office with their hex-proof uniforms?' Ron demanded.
'I'm certain that Harry would have something to say about ithat/i. But even though he's Head of the Auror Office, Harry would have to justify any decision not to buy from Malfoy to both the Minister and the Wizengamot. I spent an hour with the Head of D.M.L.E. this afternoon. Mr Brick isn't happy about buying from Malfoy either. But there is nothing we can do about it, sorry,' she said.
'Malfoy tried to win a few Ministry contracts from us last year too. He desperately wants to establish a foothold back in the Ministry,' Ron mused. He looked into his wife's anxious face. 'Oh, bugger him; I'll talk to George tomorrow. If Malfoy wants to take on Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, we'll make a fight of it.'
'Ron,' Hermione began.
'Sod him,' Ron interrupted her. 'Let's forget it. It's Valentine's Day and I've taken my wife out to dinner, and I've bought her a dozen red roses. There's only one thing left to do. Actually, there are two, I hope.' He grinned. 'But first…'
Ron walked back over to the sofa and reached behind it. He smiled as Hermione watched him, a puzzled expression on her face. He lifted his clenched fist, turned, and carefully lowered his fist toward the table. At a height of six inches or so above the table an invisible something landed with a soft thud.
'What is that?' said Hermione curiously.
'The latest Weasley product,' Ron announced as he led his wife to the sofa, sat her down and guided her hands towards the object.
'It's a hidden surprises bag,' he told her, 'It was my idea. It works on a similar principle to the headless hats. Hide your surprise presents in plain sight! Good, eh? Just find the drawstring, the bag will appear when you open it.'
Hermione did as she was asked. She pulled at the drawstring and a white bag, covered with hearts and roses appeared in front of her. Reaching inside she pulled out a large box of Honeydukes chocolates. Ron sat on the edge of the low table, facing his wife, and picked up the chocolates.
'Have I already wished you Happy Valentine's Day, Hermione?' Ron asked as he opened the box and offered it to her.
'Happy Valentine's Day, Ron,' she said. Helping herself to a chocolate, Hermione bit into it and slowly relaxed.
'Thanks, her-mine, my girl,' he said, grinning. 'No more talking about little Teddy's Uncle Dodo. But I iwill/i let you share your chocolates with me, because I bought you my favourites.'
Hermione laughed and moved the chocolates away from him, putting them on the edge of the sofa, out of his reach. He tried to reach past her and grab one, but she slapped her hands away.
'You bought those for ime/i, Ron,' Hermione reminded him. 'If you're not a good boy, you won't see my present.'
'You bought something for me?' Ron asked. Hermione nodded.
Hermione shook her head. 'You'll never guess, Ron,' she said confidently.
'Wine?' he suggested.
Hermione whined plaintively, while shaking her head again. Ron laughed.
'We're off the booze for a reason, remember. Less alcohol means more fecundity. One last guess, Ron, and then I'll tell you,' she teased.
'A holiday? A weekend away for two?' Ron asked hopefully.
Hermione shook her head again. 'Clothes,' she said.
Ron struggled not to look disappointed. He obviously failed because Hermione laughed at him.
'Seriously?' Ron asked, astonished. His wife nodded.
She patted the sofa and Ron sat down beside her. She immediately stood up.
'Would you like to see them?' she asked.
'I suppose so,' Ron said. 'Where are they?' he looked around the room. Hermione leaned forwards and whispered in his ear.
'I'm wearing them, Ron, underneath this skirt and blouse,' she told him. 'Now, feed me another one of my chocolates and I just might let you see your present.'
Ron hastily reached into the box, pulled out a chocolate at random, and held it up to her. She bent forwards and took it straight into her mouth, licking his fingers as he released it.
'Mmm.' Hermione gave a moan of pleasure.
'Can I have a chocolate?' Ron asked. 'Per-ity per-lease?'
'We can share,' she mumbled.
Hermione hitched up her skirt, straddled her husband, put her arms around his neck and kissed him, pushing partly-melted chocolate into his mouth. They continued to kiss, passing the rapidly melting morsel back and forth between them.
'Mmm…' moaned Ron. His hands caressed her knees. He slid them slowly up her thighs until he reached stocking tops. She shuffled and lifted herself up a fraction, allowing him easier access. His hands continued to explore.
'Mmm…' she replied.
Hermione leaned back, resting against her husband's chest. His bare flesh was warm against hers. Ron was leaning against the sofa, his legs were wide apart and she was sitting between them, using his bent knees as arm rests. He was surrounding and enveloping her, the way that he did. It was easy to be surrounded by Ron, he was lanky and long everywhere. His thighs squeezed her hips, his feet touched her stocking-clad calves, and his left arm was over her shoulder, his big, long-fingered hand warm and gentle on her belly. He was naked, she wasn't, not quite.
Ginny had been right, buying sexy underwear had been a very good idea. It had been worth it for the look on Ron's face. He'd gone from disappointment to arousal in an instant.
In front of her, the fire flickered. It had been an almost perfect evening, with only Malfoy casting a shadow over it. It would happen again, she knew. The Malfoys had been in hiding for years, but Draco was back, emerging blinking into the light. He was trying to re-establish the fortune, and the status, so dramatically lost by his father. But that was a worry for another day; there were much more important things to discuss.
'According to my calculations, tonight is the night, Ron,' she said quietly. 'Every ovulation predictor I've used confirms it; temperatures, dates, everything.'
'I know that, Hermione, and all I do is count the days since the last time you told me,' said Ron calmly, wrapping his arms around her. 'There is such a thing as too much planning, you know. It will happen when it happens. I know that we didn't succeed last year, but we're both young and healthy. We just need to keep trying.'
'I suppose so,' said Hermione.
'But … if you fall pregnant tonight, I've got the perfect name,' Ron said with a smile.
'I hardly dare ask,' said Hermione.
'Valentine,' said Ron. 'We will have to call him Valentine.'
'Valentine Weasley?' Hermione failed to keep the disapproval from her voice. 'In that case, I hope that our firstborn is a girl … and before you suggest it, Ron … we're not calling her Valentina.'
Ron looked at the vase on the table in front of them.
'No, if it's a girl, we'll call her Rose,' he said without hesitation. 'She'll be my little red Rose.'
'Rose Weasley, I like that,' Hermione told him. 'Now, take me to bed.'
'My pleasure,' said Ron.
'And mine,' demanded Hermione.
'I've got some news,' said Ron excitedly as he walked into Hermione's office. 'It's brilliant, absolutely brilliant! It's the best birthday present I've ever had.'
'I wouldn't be so sure; I've got some news, too, Ron,' said Hermione, smiling.
'Me first,' demanded Ron. 'I've got him this time. I've really got him!' His grin was splitting his face from ear to ear and he had a wild gleam in his eye. Hermione realised that her husband wasn't listening to her, and that he wasn't in the mood to listen to her.
'Malfoy is going to hate me,' said Ron gleefully. 'Actually, he already hates me, so he'll have to hate me more. Maybe he'll despise me, is despiction worse than hatred?' He ignored Hermione's folded arms and rolling eyes and simply continued. 'You told me, although I didn't realise it at the time: "they seem to be an exact copy", that's what you said.'
Curiosity got the better of her. 'What are you talking about, Ron?' she asked.
'The portcuffs. You said they were an exact copy. That bothered me, so I, er, persuaded Harry to borrow Malfoy's "CleverCuffs" for separate testing by the Auror Office.'
'You did what? That's wrong, and possibly a breach of the terms of the tender. Why didn't you, or Harry, tell me?'
'Because, we knew you'd tell us not to do it.' Ron grinned. 'But that's not the point. The point is that the cuffs you tested weren't an exact copy of ours, they were ours. Malfoy used a set of Weasley cuffs to win the tender; I can prove it. When we first started supplying the Auror Office, George and I agreed with Harry that we'd magically hide a serial number on the cuffs. Not many people know it's there. We keep careful records. I can even tell you the name of the bloke who bought the cuffs from us, Matthias Jung.'
'But, that means Malfoy won't be able to fulfil the contract,' said Hermione worriedly. Ron grinned and shook his head.
'He bought a dozen pairs from us. George and I have done some … er … investigation. Malfoy has had his people taking them apart to figure out how the activation spell works. I think that he was hoping to be able copy them, but the cuffs are based on an idea Fred and George had years ago, before Fred … before he was… anyway … Malfoy's people aren't as clever as the twins,' said Ron staunchly. Hermione wondered whether to interrupt, but Ron was in full flow, it would be better to wait until he finished.
'I haven't told you the best bit. We've just had Matthias Jung back in the office today. He's definitely Malfoy's agent. He told us that he's acting for the Bavarian Ministry, the Bunde-something-or-other-German. He claims they want to buy the exact number of cuffs the Ministry want. He offered us a cash payment, at well below our tender price. George told him to get stuffed. He finally settled for two hundred Galleons more than our tender, he wasn't happy, but he didn't have a choice.'
'It's brilliant,' Ron beamed. 'Everyone wins! We sell the cuffs to Malfoy's company, and make a bigger profit than we expected. The Ministry gets high quality Weasley cuffs at a knock down price. Even Draco wins.'
'How, exactly, does Draco win?' Hermione asked.
'He gets to be an official Ministry contractor again! It's what he wanted, isn't it?' Ron grinned. 'And we get an extra two hundred galleons profit from Malfoy. It's the best birthday present I've ever had.'
Hermione decided that it was time to change the subject. She reached into her drawer, placed something on her desk, and looked at her husband.
'What's that?' asked Ron. His crowing was halted and he stared at the slim test tube. His face first confused, then curious. Finally realisation struck.
'Is … are … us?' he babbled, unable to speak for his excitement.
'It's a home pregnancy test kit, Ron. I'm only a day late, but I'm pretty regular and…'
'It's blue! We're having a little boy!' He kissed her.
'Blue means pregnant, Ron,' she said, shaking her head in disbelief. 'It doesn't tell you what the sex is. And it's only a kit; it isn't one hundred percent reliable. We need to go to St Mungo's to arrange a proper test.'
He kissed her again.
'Sod Malfoy, and really, who cares about a couple of hundred Galleons? This could be my best birthday present ever!'
This is the first in a series of related (but hopefully standalone) one-shots I've decided to call "A Guide to Rose-growing." The second is called Conversations. The third is Concerns.