'You skiving git!' George yelled when Ron finally strolled back into the office they shared. '"I'm just going to tell Hermione about the Portcuff contract," you said. "I won't be long," you said. That was three hours ago!' To emphasise the fact, he pointed angrily at the clock on the wall.
George's attempt to bait his brother into an angry response failed. The grin on Ron's face was more powerful than a protection spell and George's anger simply bounced off. Undeterred, he tried again.
'You're supposed to be my business partner. You should be setting an example to our staff. You should be professional, mature!' George raged. 'We've just had a surprise inspection by the Ministry, and you weren't here! The Sentient Entity Rights Division wanted to make sure that our house-elves were happy, and where were you?'
Ron simply shrugged his shoulders and beamed happily.
'You were with your missus, the woman who wrote the laws which inflict surprise inspections on hard-working people like us. What the hell have you and Hermione been doing for three hours?' George demanded. 'That's what I want to know!'
The grin on Ron's face got even wider, and the gleam in his eyes got wilder. George suddenly had second thoughts.
'Wait, I've changed my mind, I do not want to know what you've been doing for three hours! Don't tell me,' George ordered. Ron ignored him.
'We've been to St Mungo's, George,' Ron said. 'I'm taking the rest of the day off.'
'St Mungo's! Why? What's wrong? Are you ill? Is Hermione ill? If you've been to hospital why are you grinning like…' George's brain finally managed to interrupt his babbling as it came up with an explanation for his brother's gormless grin, one which fitted all of the facts he now knew, '…an expectant father?' he asked quietly.
'We're pregnant,' Ron confirmed both George's guess and his oft-stated opinion that his brother was both sentimental and stupid.
'Both of you?' said George sarcastically. 'Are you telling me that you're pregnant with Hermione's baby, Ron?'
'Don't be ridiculous, George,' said Ron. 'That's obviously a biological impossibility!'
'Biological impossibility? Merlin! Marriage has done you no good at all, Ron. You're even starting to talk like her!'
George pushed back his chair, stood and strode around his desk. He looked up at his younger, taller and thinner brother, threw his arms around him, and pulled him into a bear hug. When George finally let go of him, Ron was gasping for air.
'However, astonishingly, it appears that you're not completely useless,' said George, chuckling as Ron noisily refilled his lungs. 'Congratulations, Ron. It's about bloody time; you're last again, unless, of course, Mum can somehow get Charlie to reproduce. Of course, she'll have to find a girl for him first. Are you going off to tell Mum and Dad?'
'We're going to tell Hermione's parents first, and then we're going to The Burrow,' said Ron. 'Hermione wants her folks to know first. After all, this will be John and Jean's first grandchild, so it seems fair that we tell them first.'
George looked worriedly up at Ron, and Ron instantly read his meaning.
'I hope Mum won't be annoyed that she's not the first to know. I mean it's just … well … Mum and Dad already have six grandkids. And because Audrey's well into her second trimester it will be seven by the time little Valentine arrives. We thought…'
'Well into her second trimester.' George interrupted. He tried to pitch his voice as high as Hermione's, but failed. 'Your wife really is a bad influence on you, Ron. I'll tell you what Audrey is! She's in the pudding club again, she's up the duff, or, as Mum would say, she's got a bun in the oven, and so has your missus! Trimester!' George shook his head in contemptuous disbelief and then raised a quizzical eyebrow. 'And "little Valentine," are you serious? Do you know that it's a boy already? Valentine? Valentine Weasley! Hermione will never let you get away with that name,' he added, shaking his head incredulously.
'If she's a girl, she'll be Rose,' said Ron. 'But Hermione doesn't want to know which we've got.'
George strode across to the ornate drinks cabinet behind their highly polished oak meeting table. Grabbing the cut glass decanter of Firewhisky and two matching tumblers, he placed the tumblers on the table and poured out a generous measure for himself and his brother.
'Well, congratulations, Ron.' George handed him the tumbler and raised his own. 'To Valentine Rose Weasley.' He tapped his glass against his brother's. 'May he, she … or it … be as clever as your wife, as sneaky as you, and as red-haired as us.'
'Thanks, George. To our Valentine baby,' said Ron, smiling as he, too, raised his glass.
'You do realise that babies do nothing except eat, puke, cry, and fill their nappies, don't you?' asked George. His eyes gleamed. 'In fact, you'll need lots of practice wiping dirty bums and changing stinky nappies. I'll let you borrow Fred for a few weeks if you like.'
'I'm sure Angelina would have something to say about that,' said Ron.
'Yeah, "Tell Ron he can keep the smelly little sod," probably,' said George, grinning. 'Remember last May, when I was turning up for work after only two hours sleep? Remember how unsympathetic you were? I hope you suffer, Ron! I will really enjoy watching you suffer the way I did.'
'You didn't have any problem getting away from work early, then?' Ron asked. He had Apparated into the narrow alley they always used when travelling to Winchester, and had been surprised to discover that Hermione was already there.
'I didn't have anything important to do today, so I had my PA rearrange my meetings,' said Hermione. She wrinkled her nose, and stared accusingly up at her husband. 'You told him, didn't you?'
'I…' Ron considered lying to his wife, but realised that it would be both futile and foolish. Instead, he nodded and decided that it would be sensible to find out how he'd given himself away.
'How did you know?' he asked.
'I can smell Firewhisky on your breath, Ron,' Hermione told him. 'You went to your office to let George know that you were taking the rest of the day off. And you weren't supposed to say anything else. Because the moment one Weasley knows something important, the Weasley Wireless Network begins to broadcast, and they all know within hours.'
'I couldn't help it. George guessed,' said Ron wrinkling his forehead and pursing his lips in an attempt to appear contrite. 'And he promised that he wouldn't tell anyone.'
Hermione shook her head. 'He's a Weasley, Ron. "I won't tell anyone" doesn't mean what it means for most people.' Her face creased into a huge smile as she continued. 'It's a bit like when Dumbledore used to tell Harry not to tell anyone; certain people don't count. In George's case, he is probably telling Angelina right now. He'll tell her not to tell anyone else, but Angelina and Fleur are spending a lot of time together, because Fred is only two months older than Louis. So Angelina will tell Fleur and she'll tell her not to tell anyone, and Fleur will tell Bill, because he's her husband, and Bill will tell Charlie, because he always tells Charlie everything. So, your mum will know within the hour, Ron.'
'Sorry,' said Ron as they stepped out from the alley and onto Jewry Street.
'It's okay, Ron,' she said as they strolled up the quiet Winchester street. She smiled up at her husband and hugged him. 'It's less than an hour since we got the confirmation, and you've still got that silly grin on your face. George isn't stupid. It's not an easy thing to keep secret, is it? I think Mum will guess too, the moment we see her.' She stopped, and turned to face him. As he looked down into her deep brown eyes, Ron saw the anxiety and worry welling up inside her. Her face had fallen into her "pre-exam" look, a look which, since their school days had been seen only rarely, usually on the days before a job interview. It was a look he associated with swotting and nerves, and the need for reassurance.
'We're having a baby, Ron,' she said. 'We've talked about it for so long, and we've tried for so long, since before Dominique was born.'
'And now, it's happening,' Ron said. 'It's perfectly natural, Hermione. Mum and Dad did it half-a-dozen times. It's nothing to worry about.' He stepped in front of her, placed his hand under her chin and gently lifted her face skyward, leaning forward to kiss her.
'Are we ready for this, Ron? It's your birthday! We're only twenty-five. What about my career? What about your career? How will we manage?' she asked.
'Mum and Dad managed to raise seven kids on Dad's salary, Hermione,' Ron reassured her. 'We're well off, in fact, we're very well off compared to Mum and Dad. But even if we weren't we'd manage. People do.'
Hermione threw her arms around his waist and hugged him, resting her cheek on his chest. 'People do, don't they?' she agreed. 'Let's go.'
They walked along to the end of Jewry Street, turned right onto North Walls, and strolled the last few yards to the yellow brick Georgian terrace which was their destination. Ron was reading the brightly polished brass plaque affixed to the one side of the porch wall "North Walls Dental Practice, Jean E Granger BDS (Bris), John H Granger BDS (Bris), Stephen A Jubb BDS (N'cle)", while Hermione pressed the intercom button opposite.
'North Walls Dental Practice,' a female voice said brightly.
'Hermione Weasley,' she told the metal grill. 'I'm here to see Mr and Mrs Granger.'
There was a moment's silence. 'Do you have an appointment with one or other of them?' the voice asked. 'I'm afraid that you're not…'
'No, I don't have an appointment,' said Hermione. 'I'm their daughter. And you are obviously new.'
'I'm not supposed to…' the girl began nervously.
Ron pulled his wand from his jacket and waved it at the door. 'Oh, look,' he said loudly. 'Whoever was last to leave the dentists obviously didn't close the door properly, Hermione.'
Hermione gave him an exasperated look, but pushed the door open and led the way along the pale grey corridor to the door at the end, which a large sign announced to be "Reception".
The receptionist, a young girl barely out of her teens, looked up worriedly when they entered.
'Mr and Mrs Granger are both with patients,' the girl began. She got no further, because at that moment the door leading through to the treatment rooms opened and John Granger walked in.
'I'm sorry, Mrs Cooper,' he was saying. 'But the NHS would not have paid for white fillings in this case; amalgam is a cheaper and more durable option. If you want the amalgam in your molar removed and replaced, then it is cosmetic dentistry, and you'll need to pay.'
'If you want to discuss costs, please speak to Helen,' said John Granger firmly. He steered the woman to the receptionist.
'Mr Granger,' the receptionist began, looking worriedly toward Ron and Hermione.
'My daughter and her husband are here, I've noticed, thank you, Jessica.' John Granger pushed his hand through his thinning, curly brown hair and gave them a slightly worried smile. 'Hello, darling, hello, Ron. What brings you here? You don't often visit us at work, and never without ringing first.'
'Where's Mum?' squeaked Hermione urgently, her voice catching in her throat.
'She's with a patient, I assume,' said John Granger, he looked worriedly at his daughter. 'What on earth is the matter, Hermione?'
Hermione burst into tears and ran into his arms.
'What in the world…' he began, holding her tightly. He looked anxiously at Ron.
'How does the title "Granddad Granger" sound?' Ron asked.
John Granger's face went blank. He was normally a quick witted man, but he seemed to be struggling to process Ron's words. His eyebrows scuttled to meet each other above his nose, and then shot up his forehead as realisation struck. He stared at Ron then down at his sobbing daughter, and then back at Ron.
'Yes … baby…' Hermione sobbed into her father's chest.
'Granddad,' he said thoughtfully, and lapsed into silence. He continued to hug his daughter with one arm, but lifted the other to once again run it through his hair. The brushing motion started lower than it usually did, Ron noticed, and the ball of John Granger's thumb swept past the outside of his eye. If there had been the suggestion of moisture there before, it had gone when he lowered his hand.
'We need to tell your mother,' John Granger said.
'Tell her what,' Jean Granger asked from the doorway.
'Hello, Grandma, perfect timing,' her husband told her.
Jean Granger squealed, and burst into tears.
This is the second in a series of related (but hopefully standalone) one-shots I've decided to call "A Guide to Rose-growing." The first is called Conceptions. The third is Concerns.