As Ron reluctantly dragged himself towards wakefulness, he heard an odd, wet-sounding cough. The strange hacking gargle was remote, and slightly muffled. Although he was still sleep-befuddled, Ron listened carefully.
Within seconds, he was wide-awake, his heart dancing to an anxious beat. It wasn't a repeat of the half-heard noise which brought him to full wakefulness; it was the lack of any noise at all. The silence meant that there was no one next to him. The peculiar, but wonderfully reassuring, "pfhhh" noise Hermione made when sleeping was absent.
Concerned, Ron rolled onto his side for final confirmation. Opening one eye, he glanced across the bed. He was right of course; there was no sleep-tousled mop of brown hair next to him. The crisp white pillow adjacent to him was indented with her imprint, but empty. He was alone. Wondering how long she'd been gone, he stretched his hand onto his wife's side of the bed; it was cold.
Another unpleasant gurgling noise drifted into the bedroom, and Ron realised that it came from the bathroom. The initial noise was followed by a diarrhoeal series of splashes, and a gasp. Sliding quickly out of bed, and hitching up his pyjama trousers, Ron padded rapidly out into the corridor and cautiously approached the not-quite-closed bathroom door. Peering through the crack, he saw the soles of her feet; she was kneeling down in front of the loo. As he stood uncertainly outside the door, wondering whether he dared enter, he heard her cough.
'How are you feeling, Hermione?' he called.
'I've got my head down the toilet, you bloody idiot,' said Hermione weakly as she gasped for breath. 'Take a guess!'
On hearing her heave, retch, and spit, Ron cautiously pushed open the door and looked inside. His wife was crouched on the floor, her head over the bowl. One hand was on the floor, supporting her; the other was flailing upwards in the direction of the box of tissues on top of the cistern.
Hermione's pink camisole top was tight across her back, clearly showing the curve of her spine as she crouched uncomfortably on the floor, and his wife's pale blue pyjama trousers had slipped down a little, revealing a distracting amount of bum-cleavage. Ron closed his eyes for a moment, and forced his mind away from urges which he knew were wholly inappropriate under the circumstances. Padding to her side, he picked up the tissue box, and held it under her flailing hand.
Hermione grabbed a tissue, turned her head away from him, and began wiping her face. Ron crouched down alongside her and gently ran his hand down her back in an attempt to comfort her.
Feeling better?' he asked.
'No,' she snapped, shrugging and shaking her torso in an unmistakeable gesture. Ron removed his hand from her back, and stood.
'Morning sickness,' said Ron.
'Gosh, Ron, you are so clever! I didn't realise I'd married such a genius,' she said sarcastically. 'I'm pregnant, it's morning, and I'm being sick. How on earth did you manage to work that out?'
'I didn't know,' he protested. 'I was worried when you weren't in bed…' he said.
He bent forwards, trying to look at her face, but she turned away from him. She was definitely in a mood with him; he recognised the signs.
'Harry told me that Ginny didn't really suffer from morning sickness.' Despite his brain's desperate attempts to stop it, Ron's mouth continued to pour forth words which would annoy her.
Hermione spat into the toilet bowl, wiped her mouth again, and lifted her head.
'Well, good for Ginny,' snapped Hermione, glancing up at him with angry dark-ringed eyes and snatching another tissue from the box he still held.
'Didn't you sleep well?' he asked.
'No, but you did,' she told him viciously. 'You grunted like a pig all night.'
'You should have woken me,' Ron protested.
'I tried,' she said angrily. 'I kicked you so hard that I hurt my toes. But you just rolled over and kept on snoring. It's your fault that I'm tired and feeling dreadful.' She gave a final belch, shuddered, and mopped her forehead with yet another tissue.
Ron looked worriedly down at her. 'Perhaps we should go and see a Healer,' he suggested.
Breathing heavily, Hermione laboriously struggled to her feet; Ron reached out and helped her up. She took the hand he offered her, but the moment she was upright she shook herself free from him. Looking a little unsteady, she leaned forwards, flushed the toilet, and again turned her back on him.
'I'm not ill, Ron,' she said firmly. 'I'm pregnant. I don't need a Healer. This is simply my body making a few adjustments. It's only my hormones adjusting themselves. I need to clean my teeth, get showered and get into the office. I have an important meeting today and I need to prepare for it.'
She was speaking forcefully, but she spoke to the wall, not to his face.
'You don't have to go to work if you don't feel well enough,' said Ron.
'I do, Ron. You know I do. I can't possibly miss today's Wizengamot meeting,' she said firmly. 'I'm fine! I've been sick, that's all. It's nothing serious, honest.'
'Then why won't you look at me?' he asked. 'You've just told me that you haven't slept well, you should…'
'I've been sick, Ron,' she snapped. 'I feel dreadful, I look dreadful, and my breath stinks.'
'I don't care,' he told her, gently putting his hands on her hips. 'You always look good to me.' He glanced down and hitched up her pyjama trousers for her. Before she could shake herself free of him he squeezed her bum and kissed the back of her head. Sliding his arms around her waist, he slowly slid them upwards.
'Ow! That hurts, Ron,' she snapped. 'For Merlin's sake, just get out and leave me alone.' Her body was rigid and her fists clenched. 'Let me get tidied up in peace and don't fuss.'
'Okay,' said Ron, releasing her and sighing. 'I'm only trying to help, Hermione.'
'Well you aren't helping; you're simply being an idiot, as usual!' she told him.
Ron gritted his teeth; he knew that there was no point in continuing, not unless he wanted to start a real argument. 'Sorry, Hermione,' he said.
He left, quietly closing the bathroom door behind him. 'Bloody hormones,' he muttered as he slouched despondently back to their bedroom to get dressed.
After carefully draping the fluffy blue towel around her shoulders, Hermione examined herself in the mirror. There were bags under her eyes, and her lips were dry, cracked and very pale. She looked dreadful. She felt dreadful, too. Her breasts ached. It wasn't simply Ron's clumsiness, they were swollen, hard, and sore to the touch. Worse than that, her stomach continually roiled and churned like a stormy sea. She successfully fought down the rising bile, but she could still taste it. She cleaned her teeth for a second time, cursing the fact that even the toothpaste tasted unpleasant.
'Great,' she muttered to herself.
Why today, of all days, she wondered. She had been suffering for a few days, unable to keep anything down, and it was getting worse. Her meeting was, quite possibly, the most important of her career; she'd simply have to find a way to cope. She needed to be ready. Make-up would hide most of the visible signs; as for the nausea, she would simply have to manage it somehow.
She opened the bathroom door and stepped out from the soft scents of soap and shampoo into a pungent and powerful pong. The smell hit her like a sledgehammer. Her stomach lurched as the odours assaulted her, and she again fought down the urge to retch.
'I'm making breakfast,' Ron called from the kitchen.
'Merlin, Ron! Are you deliberately trying to make me sick again?' Hermione shouted back. 'The smell is making me want to puke.'
'You have to eat something, Hermione,' he said, peering out from the kitchen. 'You hardly ate anything last night. I've taken the fat off the bacon, and the egg yolks are runny, just how you like them.'
'I … don't … want … anything … to … eat … Ron,' she told him, emphasising every word as she scampered down the corridor to the refuge of the bedroom. 'Just leave me alone!'
Closing the door to keep out the smell of cooking, she sat at her dressing table and read "What to Expect During Pregnancy" while waiting for her stormy stomach to settle. After a few minutes she felt a little better, so she folded the page corner to keep her place and began to prepare for her day. She covered the bags under her eyes, and applied some colour to her pale lips, using a lot more make-up that usual. Her hand reached for the perfume bottle, it was her favourite, and very expensive; Ron had bought it for her at Christmas. However, as she looked at the bottle, even the thought of that smell made her feel ill.
Turning away from the dressing table, she turned her attention to her clothing. After fastening up the sober dark blue pinstripe business suit she'd selected for the occasion, she examined herself in the mirror; she would do. Readying herself for the smell, she opened the door.
To her surprise, the smell was gone; Ron had somehow removed it. Her husband was fairly good at household spells; Molly had expected all of her children to help around the house.
'I'm going straight to the office. Bye, Ron,' she called as she walked past the kitchen. She ignored his pleas that she try to eat something. When he dashed into the lounge after her, carrying a plate of dry toast and a glass of water, she picked up a slice of toast in order to placate him and promised that she'd drink something when she got to her office. Avoiding his puckered lips, she waved him away without a kiss, picked up a handful of Floo powder, and stepped into the fireplace.
'Ministry of Magic,' she said.
Ron's parting words, 'Please drink something, Herm…' were lost to her as she vanished into the green flames.
'So it's agreed, then,' said George. We'll sell the business, give all the money to charity, move to Outer Mongolia and live as hermits for the rest of our lives.'
'Fine,' said Ron distractedly. He was reading the book he'd brought in to the office with him, and didn't even lift his head.
George picked up his latest invention. It was something which he'd intended to ask Ron about, instead, he simply threw it at his brother. The bright red ball hit Ron on the forehead, bounced off, did a graceful arc, and began bouncing up and down on the top of Ron's head.'
'Damn it, George,' said Ron, looking up in annoyance as the ball avoided his swatting hands and continued to dance on his skull. 'Why did you do that?'
'What's wrong, Ron?' George asked. 'You might as well not be here, for all the use you are.'
'I'm worried about Hermione,' Ron admitted.
'It's only morning sickness,' said George. 'You told me that when you got here. Is she throwing things? Is she swearing a lot? Is she threatening to feed you with Puking Pastilles so you can suffer like she is?'
'No, because she's not Angelina,' Ron told his brother, still trying to catch the ball.
'What does the book say?' George asked.
Ron gave up in his attempts to catch the red ball as it bounced on his skull, and stared worriedly into the face of his brother and business partner. 'She always uses a bookmark, you know. Sometimes more than one if there's something important, something she wants to be able to find again. She's been reading up on…' he hesitated. 'Miscarriage.'
'Bugger off,' said George. He waved his wand, and the ball returned to his hand.
'Bugger off, get lost, leave. Go!' ordered George. 'You know why you're worried, you idiot! Sort it out. Take as long as you need. Anyway, when you're like this you're about as much use as an ashtray on a broom. Don't come back until you've sorted this out. Sod the Wizengamot, just go! But, before you do, what do you think of the ball?'
'It's like you, bloody annoying. What's the profit margin?' asked Ron as he pulled on his coat.
If we sell them for ten sickles we'll make six profit.'
'Excellent, got a name for it?'
'The Bonce-bounce-ball,' said George.
'Ron Weasley,' said Ron as he walked through the ministry security arches he'd helped to design. The security witch on the other side checked her display, making certain that he was who he claimed to be. She beckoned him forwards and pointed him towards the reception desk. Nodding politely at her, he strode across the Atrium.
'Welcome to the Ministry of Magic, sir. How may we help you?' The young wizard at the desk was barely out of his teens and his remarkable, purple-tinged black hair was parted at the side. It was so long that it obscured one eye, and hung lankly across his cheek.
'I'm here to see Harry,' Ron told him. 'I'll need a visitor pass, please.'
'Harry…' the young man looked up curiously. The false smile on his face was replaced by confusion. Ron watched as the young man tried to figure out who Harry was. Finally, realisation struck. 'Do you mean Deputy Head Auror Potter, sir?' he asked hesitantly.
'Harry,' Ron confirmed, nodding his head. So much for fame, he thought ruefully. It was seven years after The Battle, and this kid with the silly hairstyle didn't have any idea who he was. It had been different when he'd been working alongside Harry in the Auror Office.
'Do you have an appoint…' the receptionist began.
'Look, just give me a visitor's pass, please,' Ron interrupted angrily. I know where I'm going. I used to work in the Auror Office. I'm…'
'Ron Weasley, Order of Merlin, First Class,' a friendly voice called from behind him. 'His wife works in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, too. Give him a badge, Leo. I'll take him up to the Auror Office.'
'Yes, Healer Rathod.' The young man nodded nervously, causing his hair to fall forwards and cover both eyes.
'Thanks, Parvati,' said Ron, tapping his foot impatiently as the youth waved his wand over the card.
'Why do you want to see Harry?' Parvati Rathod asked.
'I don't, not really,' he admitted, snatching the visitor's badge from the young man's hands and turning to greet his former classmate. 'I want to see Hermione, but she's in a meeting with the Minister, and…'
'And if you'd told Reception "I want to barge into the Minister's Office to find my wife," you'd never get anywhere,' said Parvati wisely. The floppy-haired boy behind Ron whimpered worriedly. Ron ignored him.
Ron nodded, and took a good look at Parvati. She was in uniform. The long, bright green, almost cloak-like trench coat she was wearing signified that she was not merely a Healer, but a Healer attached to the Auror Office. Having a duty Healer on standby was one of the many innovations Harry had introduced, but Ron was surprised that Parvati was still working.
He hadn't seen her since Harry and Ginny's New Year Party, and her belly had ballooned since then. He stared at the bulge protruding from her open coat, and wondered if Hermione would get so big.
'Bloody hell, you're enormous, Parvati,' he told her. 'You look ready to pop.'
'Thanks, Ron,' she said sarcastically. 'I'll probably get bigger. I've still got more than a month to go.'
'You're looking good despite your size,' he said, trying to retrieve the situation.
'I know what you meant, Ron,' she told him as they strolled towards the lifts. 'But really, if you don't want Hermione to hex you, you need to be careful what you say, and how you say it. Particularly when she's as big as I am.'
'When … or if…' muttered Ron worriedly.
Parvati grabbed his arm, and pulled him to a halt. 'Tell me,' she said. He hesitated. 'Now,' she ordered. He did as he was told.
'It might be nothing, Ron. She reads about everything. Perhaps that's simply the page she finished on,' said Parvati gently as they walked from the lift and strode along towards the Minister's Office. 'From the symptoms you describe, it certainly sounds like morning sickness.'
'That can be serious, too,' said Ron. 'I read that, too. It was on the page after the section on…'
He couldn't say the word miscarriage, Parvati realised. Ron was white-faced and shaking. His anxiety had been obvious the moment she'd seen him. He was deathly pale. His freckles were more obvious than ever, they were islands of orange on a sea of milk. Ron had convinced himself that something was seriously wrong. Parvati took a deep breath and calmed herself down. Ron's anxiety was palpable, and highly contagious. But, Hermione was a genius; she wouldn't ignore her own symptoms, would she?
'It will be okay, Ron,' she said, trying to reassure both herself and him. When they reached the door to the outer office of the Minister's chambers, Ron stepped forwards and pulled it open for her. 'Morning, Brenda,' she greeted the Minister's secretary cheerfully. 'Is Mrs Weasley in with the Minister? I've brought…' She got no further, the door to the Minister's office burst open.
'Brenda, Hermione's collapsed, we need a…' He stopped and stared at Ron and Parvati. 'A Healer, and Ron,' he said, astonished.
Ron gave an anguished howl and dashed to his wife's side.
When Hermione opened her eyes, Ron was sitting at her side. Her head felt as though it was stuffed with cotton wool. She tried to sit, but she was too weak to move.
'Ministry,' she whispered.
'Don't worry,' he told her. 'The Wizengamot approved the formation of the Authority for the Rights of Sentient Entities. Although Harry and I changed the name you'd proposed. It will be the Sentient Entities Rights Office instead. You were always rubbish at acronyms, Hermione. I mean, A.R.S.E.? What were you thinking? S.E.R.O. is much better.'
'Who?' Hermione began. Her throat felt strangely numb, and talking was an effort, but Ron knew what she was asking.
'Harry gave your speech, not me,' he said. 'I wasn't going to leave you, was I? I stayed with you. You're in St Mungo's.'
'What?' Hermione restricted herself to a one word question.
'You fainted, that's all. It's nothing serious. Severe morning sickness led to dehydration. I…' he stopped, and decided against saying "I told you to drink something." 'It's a good thing Parvati and me were there. Parvati got some fluids into you, and got you straight here. The Healers are going to keep you in overnight, just to make sure. And I'm staying here, too.'
'Why was I there?'
'I picked up your pregnancy book from the dressing table. I was wondering what you were reading about. You'd folded the page. I panicked.
'Why?' she asked again.
'I panicked. I blame the alphabet. The section just before Morning Sickness was all about Miscarriage. I… Bloody hell, Hermione… Mother and baby are fine… The Healers have checked you out,' he reassured her, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. 'It was just me simply being an idiot, as usual.'
'But you're my idiot,' she reassured him, squeezing his hand. His tears, she knew, were tears of relief.
If anyone is interested, this is the third in a series of one-shots I call "A Guide to Rose-growing". The others are Conceptions and Conversations. I'm not sure what the next one will be about, but the one I'm intending to call Contractions is some time off. :-D
Also: this is my first attempt to write something for the HPFC forum. I have probably tried to enter it into far too many competitions, but "shy bairns get nowt", as my Gran used to say.