None Too Careful
The next morning, Ron left for the Three Broomsticks just before nine. Art and Emma hadn't come down yet. Hermione puttered around in her study until nine-thirty when she finally heard them descending the stairs. She walked into the kitchen to find Art and Emma already drinking coffee. Winky put eggs and soldiers in front of everyone and a large cup of tea for Hermione.
There were two copies of The Daily Prophet on the table and Art reached for one but Hermione put her hand down on the papers first. "I think we should talk," she said firmly.
"I understand that finding out that your father has another son wasn't easy to hear. It wasn't easy for me either, or for him, for that matter, but like it or not, that's the situation we're all in. Now, if you don't have any desire to meet Denis, that's entirely up to you, and I can respect that. However, it's not your place to sit in judgement of your father. Do try not to be so sanctimonious moving forward. It's an ugly trait."
Art shook his head. "How could he be so stupid?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Really? You've never gotten caught up in the moment and forgotten the charm? Not even once?"
Art glanced at Emma who looked away. "Well," he said, "but Dad should know better."
"Your dad does know better, but he wasn't your dad then, was he? He was only a few years older than you are now. Accidents happen. This one resulted in a young man who seemed intelligent and quite poised for his age. I'm sorry you don't want to meet him. He might look like John, but he reminded me of you."
Art shook his head. "I don't know Mum."
"It's not as if you have to decide right now. He'll be here for a couple of months."
"Yeah, alright, I'll think about it."
"Good," Hermione said. "So, what do you two have planned for today?"
Emma looked at Art and raised her eyebrows.
"We have tickets for a concert this afternoon," Art said. "And then we thought we'd come back here."
Hermione smiled. "Good. I told your father I would go with him to talk to Harry and Ginny."
"How do you think that will go?" Art asked.
Hermione shrugged. "I guess we'll find out." She dipped a toast soldier into her soft-boiled egg and bit off the end. "Winky, these eggs are perfect."
"Yes Miss," Winky said.
"I don't know," Art said, in a teasing tone. "I think Perry makes them better. He puts more butter on the toast."
"Perry puts too much butter on the toast," Winky said with a disapproving frown. "Topper doesn't put enough."
Hermione smiled to hear Winky talk about her twin sons. Perry lived with Art and Emma at Emma's flat. Topper lived with Harry and Ginny's son, Clive, at his flat in Hogsmeade. Unwilling to disagree with Winky, she just nodded her head. She knew who buttered her toast.
After breakfast, Hermione Apparated to Hogsmeade and made her way into the Three Broomsticks. She was surprised to see Denis at a table alone with a tall black woman who could only be his mother leaning over him shaking a piece of parchment in his face. "You leave your mama a note, a note to tell her you're going half way around the world!" she shouted.
Denis seemed both shocked and chagrinned. "Mama what are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here? What are you doing here? What do you possibly hope to accomplish?"
Ron stepped out of the hallway that lead to the toilets. "I reckon he wanted to meet his father."
Ester looked up and her mouth dropped open. "Ron?"
"Ester," Ron said grimly.
"Oh, you foolish boy," Ester said to her son.
Hermione looked around the room at the other people eating in the dining room. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and were staring at Ester and Ron. "Perhaps we should take this to Ginny's office," she said. "I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
"That's a good idea," Ron said. "Stan, can I have the key?"
Stan Shunpike, who was behind the bar, didn't hesitate to throw Ron a ring of keys.
"Come on," Ron said.
Denis, Ester, and Hermione followed him upstairs to Ginny's office. They could hear conversation resume behind them. Ron opened Ginny's office and they all stepped inside. They all stood staring at each other as Hermione closed the door behind her. She whispered, "Impreturb."
"Well, this is a fine mess you've made," Ester said to Denis.
"In all fairness," Ron said. "I think you made this mess, Ester. Why didn't you tell me you were pregnant?"
Ester clenched her jaw. "Who is this?" she said pointing to Hermione.
"That's my wife," Ron said.
Ester looked askance. "Well, she would be why then."
"What?" Ron said.
"You were married, Ron. I never wanted Denis to know I'd had an affair with a married man."
"No, I wasn't," Ron said.
"Then you were dating. You were something. You called another woman's name in your sleep. Harriot, Hilary, something, it was a long name."
"Hermione?" Hermione asked.
"Yes," Ester said. "That was it."
Hermione raised her hand. "That was me."
Ester glared at Ron.
"We weren't married then. We were broken up. She was with someone else," Ron said.
Ester shook her head. "Well, I thought you must be married, so I didn't tell you."
"Why didn't you just ask instead of letting him grow up without a father?" Ron said angrily.
"I didn't grow up without a father," Denis said.
Ron looked at him.
"Mum married Oliver Kimani when I was four-years-old. He was a great baba."
"Oh," Ron said. "Well, that's good then." He looked at Ester. "Did he come with you?"
Her face fell and she shook her head. "No. He…"
"He was killed," Denis finished for her. "By a rampaging Erumpent. He grabbed a child to get him out of the way and was gored through the side. The horn went right into his heart. He died instantly."
"I'm so sorry," Ron said.
"That's awful," Hermione said.
"It's been couple years now," Denis said sadly and from the look on Ester's face, she still felt the loss deeply.
Ester shook her head. "Enough of this." She turned to her son. "Do you really mean to stay here all summer?"
"Uncle Kingsley got me an internship at Gringotts. I told you that in the note."
She frowned at him. "That is not how you tell your mama you are going to a foreign country for the summer."
"I'm sorry Mama," Denis said, "but I knew if I told you in person, you'd try and talk me out of it."
"You and I need to talk," Ester said firmly. "Just us."
"Alright Mama," Denis said. "I have a room here. Follow me."
Hermione opened the door and closed it behind them. She looked at Ron and tried to suppress a smile.
"Oh, don't look so smug," he grumbled.
"You talk in your sleep," she said.
He shook his head. "Yeah, and that has cost me more than one relationship."
She nodded. "Okay." She opened the door and stepped into the hallway with Ron following.
"You're going to be unbearable about this, aren't you?"
She chuckled. "Maybe."
Ron sighed. "I guess we should go talk to Harry and Ginny. You know she'll hear about what happened downstairs as soon as she comes in. That's if Stan hasn't already sent an owl to tell her."
They headed downstairs and took the Floo to Harry and Ginny's home in Godric's Hollow. The two had initially lived in Grimmauld Place, but they decided it would be nicer to raise children in Godric's Hollow, so they'd rebuilt Harry's parents' house.
Harry was reading in the parlor when Ron and Hermione stepped out of the fireplace.
"Hullo," Harry said, looking alarmed. "What are you two doing here?"
"We need to talk," Ron said. "Is Ginny around?"
Just then Ginny walked into the room carrying two mugs of tea. "Oi," she said. "What are you two doing here?"
"We need to talk," Ron repeated.
Ginny handed Harry his tea. "Can I get you a cuppa?"
Ron and Hermione both declined and they all sat down. Ron cleared his throat. "Uh, Stan's probably going to have a story for you when you go in this afternoon."
"Oh?" Ginny said.
"You have a guest staying at the inn, Dennis Omandi."
"Yeah," Ginny said. "So?"
"You might have noticed he looks a lot like John."
"He does, yeah." Her eyes widened.
"He's my son," Ron said.
Harry's eyebrows shot up. "How's that?"
"Bloody hell, Ron!" Ginny said.
"I didn't know about him until yesterday. His mother never told me she was pregnant," Ron said.
"And his mother is?" Harry asked.
"Ester Omondi. I met her in Kenya when I went for that international business conference ages ago."
Ginny looked at Hermione who hadn't said anything and whose eyes remained down. "How old is he?" Ginny asked.
"A couple years older than Art," Ron said.
"So, you two weren't together," Harry said.
"Of course not!" Ron said.
Hermione put a cool hand on his forearm. "Ron."
"Sorry," Ron said. "I know this is shocking and I'm sorry. But you know I would never cheat on Hermione."
Harry scowled at him. "So, why is he here? Did he come all this way just to meet you?"
Ron explained about Denis' summer job with Gringotts.
"Are you going to…is he…how is this going to work?" Ginny said.
Ron took a deep breath and then blew it out. "Well, we've already told Art and I'm planning on telling the rest of the family tomorrow at Sunday dinner."
Ginny's eye's widened. "Are you bringing him?"
"Of course not," Ron said. "How much contact he ends up having with the rest of the family will depend on what they want and what he wants. Mostly, I think he just wanted to meet me and this internship was his only opportunity. Honestly, you're probably the only member of the family that will see him on a regular basis because of where he's staying, but if that bothers you I can set him up at the Leaky Cauldron."
"No," Ginny said. "Of course not. So far, he's been a perfect guest. There's no reason to move him. Mum's going to go mental, you know that, right?"
Ron sighed. "Yeah, I reckon she will."
"She won't," Hermione said softly.
They all looked at her.
"Not with me sitting right there. I can't promise she won't tear you a new one the next time she gets you alone, but no one will go after you with me sitting there."
"She's right," Ginny said. "No one is going to say anything too brutal with Hermione there." She frowned. "Except me. So why didn't she tell you?"
"Well, aside from the fact that she lived in Nairobi and I lived in London, apparently she thought I was married. She didn't want her son to know she'd had an affair with a married man."
"Why would she think that if you weren't?" Ginny said pointedly.
"Because, I talk in my sleep sometimes."
"Yeah," Harry said. "You talk a lot of rubbish in your sleep, so what?"
"Apparently, I said Hermione's name and Ester assumed I was with her." He glanced over at Hermione whose eyes were still downcast but she had a slight smile on her face. Eager to keep her happy, Ron said, "And for the record that's why Michelle and a half a dozen other birds broke up with me, too."
The four of them talked for a few more minutes. Ron was relieved when Hermione said they should go. He could tell she was still amused that he'd called her name in his sleep the entire time they were broken up. The house was empty so Ron decided to try and wipe that smug smile off her face. "You come with me," he said, taking her hand and leading her up to their bedroom. He was a bit surprised when she didn't pull away, but he thought perhaps she thought, like he did, that they needed this. Even though the events leading to Denis' birth happened ages ago, it still couldn't have been easy for her to sit next to him as he explained it to Harry and Ginny. Knowing they'd have to go through it all again tomorrow was agonizing. He needed to put all that aside for a moment to reconnect with her. He winked at her. "You're entirely too pleased with yourself about me talking in my sleep."
"Laugh it up," he said as he closed the door behind him. He pulled her back against him and nuzzled her neck, kissing and gently biting. She sighed against him and he smiled. He pulled her thin summer T-shirt over her head and slid his hands up to unlatch her bra. She turned around in his arms and he leaned down to kiss her breasts as he unbuttoned her trousers, slipping them down with her kickers.
"Someone's in a hurry," Hermione said.
Ron scooped her up and laid her down on the bed. "Not really," he said, pulling his own T-shirt over his head.
When he lay down beside her, she reached for him, but he caught her hands. Holding her wrists firmly in his hand he pulled her arms over her head. "No touching for you today, cheeky girl."
"No talking," Ron said, and covered her mouth with his. She squirmed beneath him and tried to pull her arms down. He held her tighter, familiar with this game. It wasn't until he found himself slammed against the wall and Hermione shouted, "Stop!" that he realized this wasn't their usual play.
She rolled out of bed and ran to him. "I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"
Slowly getting to his feet, Ron rubbed his head. "Bloody hell, Hermione."
"I'm so sorry," she repeated.
"What was that for?" He noticed she was rubbing her wrists and wanted to kick himself.
"Please don't hold my hands like that."
"I'm sorry," Ron said. "I didn't think. We've done that so many times, but I should have thought."
She shook her head. "No. No. It's fine. I should have said something from the start. I could see what kind of mood you were in. I thought I'd be okay. I'm sorry."
Ron sat down on the foot of the bed. "You don't have anything to be sorry for. I should have thought about what I was doing."
"I threw you across the room. I definitely need to be sorry about that."
Ron chuckled. Hermione wasn't a tiny woman by regular standards, but she was tiny compared to him, and she still wasn't back to her normal weight, not that it mattered. Her magic more than made up for her size. She'd blasted him across the room as if he were a feather. "I needed throwing. I'm okay. Are you okay?"
She nodded, but she was still rubbing her wrists. He took her hands in his. "Are you done here or would you like me to make love to you? Very slow, very gentle love, and you can put your hands where ever you like."
She nodded. "I think I'd like that."
Late that afternoon, Ron received two letters. The first was from Ester. She wrote that she was going back to Nairobi and that Denis would be staying in London for the summer. She apologized for not giving Ron the benefit of the doubt and telling him she was pregnant all those years ago. She concluded by saying she hoped that he and Denis could get to know each other. The second letter was from Denis asking if they could get together sometime the following week. Ron responded to Ester that he appreciated her letting Denis stay and to Denis with some suggested dates and times.
Art and Emma returned from their concert and Ron told everyone he was going out for a bit and he'd be back in a few hours. No one thought much of it when he took his broom. Ron liked to fly and would often fly just to clear his head if he was trying to figure out a thorny issue at work or sort through something that upset him. He thought it best not to mention to anyone that he was going to Dorset to see Viktor.
Ron knew where Viktor lived, but he'd never actually been to the house. It didn't take him long to find the stately home tucked into lush green lawns surrounded by thick woods. It was a home befitting an international Quidditch star turned winning coach. Viktor and Gabrielle lived there with their daughters. Ron landed on the lawn and walked up to the massive front door. As he did so, he contemplated what it would be like to live in a big place out by itself. He and Hermione could certainly afford a place like this, and yet they remained in her parent's old townhouse in London. The townhouse was big, but it wasn't a mansion. He couldn't help wondering if perhaps Hermione might like something a bit grander. He knocked on the door and a house elf opened it.
"Hi," Ron said, cheerily. "I'm Ron Weasley. I'm here to see Viktor Krum."
"You are not on the schedule, sir," the house elf said.
"No," Ron admitted. "But please tell Viktor I'm here and that I only need a few minutes of his time. It's a family matter."
"Wait here," the house elf said and disappeared.
Ron leaned his broom against the stone wall of the house and turned to look out over the broad front lawn. There was a fountain in the center and some topiary shaped like Snitches, Quaffles, Bludgers and hoops.
A few minutes later the door opened again, and Viktor stepped out, closing the door behind him. "Ron?"
"Hullo Viktor," Ron said.
"What's happened to her?" Viktor said without preamble.
"Nothing," Ron said. "She's fine. Well, mostly fine."
"She put the memories back in."
Viktor raised his eyebrows. "After all this time? Why?"
"They were in bottles on the desk when Gabrielle—"
Viktor shook his head. "No."
"Yes," Ron said. "She was contemplating putting them back in and had them all out to try and decide which one to put in first."
"I don't understand," Viktor said. "She's gone without them all this time."
"Well, what happened at the Ministry got her thinking about what would have happened to those memories if she'd died."
Viktor nodded. "I see."
"Right," Ron continued. "So, for the first time she's having to live with what happened in Bulgaria."
"Ah," Viktor said. "So, why are you here?"
"I need to know what the medical report said. She says she asked you to burn it, but if it had been me, I would have read it first. I'm hoping you did that."
Viktor nodded. "I did."
"And?" Ron said.
Viktor looked away from him and out over the lovely garden. "From what the report said, they kept her bound and gagged and used her for target practice."
"What?" Ron said.
"Every conceivable jinx and hex as well as a few curses. She was barely recognizable as human when they brought her into the hospital in Sophia. It took a lot of counter-spells to put her right, and some of them were just guesses. She was on several potions for weeks afterwards."
Ron put a hand against the wall of the house for support and closed his eyes. "Bloody hell," he whispered. "At least you were there for her."
"Actually, Todor came and got her from the hospital and took care of her for the first few days, until I was released from the hospital. As I understand it, the Aurors came and took her memories the next day to try and identify the assailants."
"Right," Ron said. "So, she never lived with those memories." He pushed his fingers back through his hair. "I can't stand the thought of someone hurting her."
Ron frowned at him. "You think this is funny?" There was dark edge to his voice as he rose to his full height.
"No." Viktor said, bristling. "Far from it. I just think that's odd coming from you."
Ron scowled at him. "What are you talking about?"
Viktor glared at him. "The first time I had sex with her she had a deep bruise across her bum that looked like someone had taken her against a table and was none too careful about the edges. There were bruises on her arms that looked like someone had held her down. Are you saying that wasn't you?"
"No, of course not. I would never…I always have my hands…" An image flashed in his mind of her against the table in their old flat above the twins' store. He shook his head.
Viktor gave him a withering look. "So, you're saying she was with someone between you and me. Someone cruel? Really? Hermione? I don't think so."
"Of course not," Ron said. "I…" He closed his eyes. "She told you?"
Viktor frowned. "No, but looking at her body that first night, I knew. She didn't have to tell me."
"Fuck," Ron said, he leaned back against the wall and slid down into a squat. He ran a hand down his face. "She must have hated me."
"I don't think so. She seemed mostly embarrassed that she'd let it happen," Viktor said.
"Why didn't she throw me off?"
"I wondered the same thing," Viktor said. "She is certainly formidable enough to handle you."
"And then some," Ron said. He pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten all this.
"You know, while I wasn't that surprised that she left me, I was surprised that she went back to you."
Ron felt the statement like a physical blow. He rubbed his eyes. "I swear I've never hurt her like that again."
"Good," Viktor said grimly.
"I love her," Ron said without looking at him. "I feel like I've always loved her, like I was born loving her. You know what I mean?"
Viktor shook his head. "Not in regards Hermione. Granted, she is an extraordinary witch, but we were never that close. I think we both knew our relationship came with an expiration date. Stubbornness is probably what kept us together as long we were."
Ron looked at him.
"If Gabrielle left me," Viktor explained. "I would be devastated. When Hermione left, my pride was hurt more than my heart."
Ron cocked his head. "You didn't miss her?"
Viktor shrugged. "I missed some things about her: the easy side-along Apparition, the steady supply of Portkeys, some of the discussions, this and that."
Ron frowned at him. He was pretty sure he knew what this and that referred to.
Viktor shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away.
Ron felt sick. He got to his feet. "Look," he said. "I'm sorry to have come out here unannounced. Thank you for telling me about the medical report."
Ron had initially intended to Apparate back home, but he decided to fly instead. Awful things were running through his mind and he needed to clear it.
As he flew through the darkening sky, Ron tried to think when things had gone so pear shaped. He tried to pinpoint when he'd gone from loving boyfriend to giant git, when he'd stopped making love to her to only fuck her instead. He had been so pleased when Fred and George offered him the flat over the store for low rent while he worked in their shop. Ron had been so excited to tell Hermione that they could move out of the Burrow and into their own place. She'd seemed happy, but in that subdued way she'd had since her parents were murdered. Crookshanks had been dead a week and was buried in the back garden at the Burrow, but Ron thought perhaps he could get her a kitten once they got settled and he had a few more Galleons in the bank. He had grand plans for their life together. He'd started saving for a ring. He had wanted so badly for them to have a normal life, to celebrate their survival, to be happy and whole again. But they hadn't been happy or whole, neither one of them. He had disappeared into a bottle and she had disappeared into the trials for the Department of Mysteries. At first, he'd been supportive of her desire to be an Unspeakable, but as the trials dragged on for months, he'd been more and more derisive about the whole process. She'd tried to explain that if they could just wait it out a few more months they would have more money coming in. Things wouldn't be so tight. Even if she didn't make Unspeakable, the magic she was learning would open a lot of doors for good paying jobs. Ron had felt that as a dig. He didn't make enough to support them. He wasn't good enough. He drank more; she worked harder. He got meaner; she got quieter. By the end of their relationship neither of them were themselves. That whole last night popped unbidden into his head and he had to land his broom for fear of falling off of it. Now that it had resurfaced, he couldn't stop remembering taking her against the table, not lifting her to make sure she was clear of the edge, just roughly pushing her against it. He remembered gripping her arms as he thrust. He remembered stumbling away from her and falling across the bed when he was done. He remembered waking up with her on top of him, kissing him, slowly, gently, like she was memorizing every inch of him, and maybe she had been, because she didn't touch him again for three years. A shiver ran through him. He closed his eyes and Apparated home.
When Ron appeared in the foyer, he could hear Hermione talking to Art and Emma.
"No," she was saying. "Don't think about your wand. Think about the magic. See the wound closing."
"I'm trying," Art said. Ron could hear the frustration in his voice. "Besides, it's just a pinprick. I'm not sure it counts as a wound."
"Baby steps, Arthur," his mother said.
"So, you're telling me, if you had a bleeding gash, you could close it on your own with a wandless nonverbal Episkey," Art said, disbelief obvious in his tone.
"Depending on where it was and how bad it was, yes."
"Bollocks," Art huffed.
Ron knew what was coming and couldn't get into the room fast enough. As he was saying, "Don't!" he heard Hermione say, "Diffindo," and saw a cut appear on her forearm. Blood began to drip on to the floor.
"Dammit, Hermione!" Ron shouted.
She blinked and the wound closed.
"Bloody hell, Mum," Art said as Emma gasped next to him.
"Language Arthur," Hermione admonished. "It's a very useful spell. Practice. You might need it one day to heal yourself or someone else in a situation when you need to stay quiet." She cast a cleaning charm on the floor where the blood had dripped.
"Hermione," Ron said softly.
"What?" she said. "He doesn't believe half of what I say unless he sees it for himself."
Ron just shook his head.
"Are you alright?" Hermione asked. "You're quite pale."
"I'm fine," Ron said. "My wife is crazy, but I'm fine."
She frowned at him. "He asked me to show him my most useful wandless non-verbals. Episkey is very useful."
"When did you learn to do that one?" Ron asked, grimly.
Hermione shrugged. "Ages ago."
"What?" Hermione asked, confused by his tone and sudden interest.
"Why did you learn it to do it wandlessly?"
She shifted her weight to her other foot. "I don't know. Why do I learn anything? I just wanted to know. It's useful."
Ron shook his head. "When exactly did you learn to do it wandlessly?"
"I don't know what you're getting at, but I don't remember."
Ron frowned at her. "I think you do and I think you know exactly why you learned it."
Art's eyes shifted from parent to parent and then to Emma, whose eyes were wide with anxiety. "I think we'll go downstairs to practice in the library," Art said. He and Emma couldn't get out of the room fast enough.
Hermione shook her head. "What's gotten into you?"
"I went to see Viktor."
"You what?" Hermione said, surprise registering on her face.
"I wanted to know what that medical report said."
Hermione sighed. She sat down in one of the wing chairs. "I wish you hadn't done that."
"Why? I wanted to know, so I wouldn't do anything else to upset you."
"I told you, I don't remember all that. It's just the binding that bothers me. I'm sorry about this afternoon."
"Don't," Ron said. "Don't say you're sorry."
"But I am," Hermione said, confused by the sudden fierceness of his words.
"But you shouldn't be. Why didn't you stop me before?"
Now Hermione was completely confused. "Before what?"
"When we were together," Ron said.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione said. It was clear from his pained expression that he was very upset.
"When we lived above the shop. When things went bad. Why didn't you stop me then? I know you could have. Did you just heal yourself and keep going?"
Hermione's mouth dropped open, and for a moment she didn't speak. Finally, she said softly, "Ron, that was twenty years ago. Why are you bringing it up now?"
She blew out a calming breath and answered honestly. "Sometimes."
Ron dropped to his knees in front of her. "Why didn't you cast me off? Why would you let me hurt you?"
Hermione looked up at the ceiling and then closed her eyes. "I thought if I did that, it would destroy us. You weren't yourself. I wasn't myself. I thought if we could just get through it, we'd be okay."
Ron put his head in her lap and wrapped his arms around her hips. "You should have stopped me," he whispered.
She sighed. "It was a long time ago. I don't understand what brought this up."
"It was me," Ron said, his head still in her lap. He wouldn't look at her.
"I don't understand," Hermione said, running her fingers through his hair.
"I told Viktor I couldn't stand the thought of someone hurting you and he snorted at me, which pissed me off. I thought he was implying you deserved it or something, but of course that's not what he meant at all."
Hermione's hand stopped moving and Ron could feel her stiffen.
"When I said something, he said the first time you two had sex you had a deep bruise across your bum from being taken up against the edge of something and then I remembered, I did that."
Hermione pushed him off her lap and stood. "I will kill him."
Ron, still on his knees, looked up at her. "But by then you could do a wandless non-verbal Episkey, so why didn't you heal that bruise?"
She pressed a hand over her eyes and didn't say anything.
"This is ridiculous. It's ancient history. I'm not talking about this anymore," she stormed out of the room and Ron got to his feet and followed her. "Hermione," he called after her.
She stopped in the hallway and turned on him. "We just found out you have another son. I just realized that you apparently fucked every single available witch in the magical world. That's enough to deal with without bringing up all this rubbish from ages ago!"
"I didn't fuck every available witch," Ron said meekly.
"What?" Hermione shouted.
"No one from our year in Gryffindor and no one from Dumbledore's Army."
She gave him a withering glare. "So, I'm to be what? Impressed that you denied yourself maybe twenty women."
Ron shook his head. "No. I just wanted you to know I didn't sleep with your friends."
Hermione laughed. "My friends? Let's see, one of my friends is your sister, so good job there. And my other friend you most certainly did sleep with and so did I."
Ron's face went crimson and his mouth dropped open. "That's not fair!"
"We're being fair now?" Hermione shrieked. "You just talked to Viktor about sex with me! That is so…so…atrociously wrong!"
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
She screamed at him in frustration and stormed upstairs, the air crackling around her. This time he didn't follow for fear of the repercussions.
"Dad?" he heard Art's voice behind him. "Emma and I are going back home."
"Good idea, son," Ron said without turning around.
Ron gave Hermione two hours before he ventured upstairs to their bedroom to try and talk to her, but he found their bedroom door sealed with both locking and silencing charms. He returned to the parlor. At dinnertime, Winky brought him beans on toast, but he didn't eat much of it. Hermione didn't come down for dinner at all, and as far as he knew, she hadn't called Winky to bring her anything.
It was midnight, when he heard her come downstairs. He didn't go to her, since he thought she might just be interested in getting a snack in the kitchen, so he was surprised when she came into the parlor. She leaned against the doorjamb. "I left you, because you told me to go. I didn't heal the bruises, so I wouldn't go back. Not being able to sit down without pain is a very good deterrent."
Ron nodded. "I'm so sorry."
Hermione turned to go.
"Hermione," Ron said.
She turned back around.
"Why on earth did you ever come back to me?"
She sighed. "I wanted you back. Not whoever that was those last few weeks. As long as you were that prat, I had no interest in being with you. Viktor and I may have had our issues, but it was better than living with you in that flat over the twins' shop."
"How did you know I wasn't still that prat? How did you know it wouldn't start all over again?"
"Because you were sober at Harry and Ginny's wedding. You brought that girl, but you were sober. You were also sober at Seamus and Lavender's wedding. You were insufferable, complaining about my smoking, but you were sober. I was drunk for all of that, but you were sober. Then when you showed up at Harry's, when Viktor and I were having dinner with him, you apologized, and although I pretended not to, I knew exactly what you were apologizing for. You'd never done that. Finally, at Christmas, after we'd spent the night shagging and you were so…well…you were you again. We were almost us…and I thought…maybe…just maybe…and then there you were with that ring and the things you said…and I felt safe again. And I was right, because in all this time, you've never once…" She shook her head.
"You didn't leave Viktor for me," Ron said quietly.
"I never said I did."
"Because we were done. The surprising thing is that it lasted as long as it did. If all the things that happened early on hadn't happened, I doubt we would have lasted six months. But they did happen and…" She shook her head. "He has a strong sense of duty and he's very paternal in many ways. I needed that for a while, but as I got stronger, I started to chafe against it. In the end, I left Viktor for me. The fact that I got back together with you was a happy accident."
Ron nodded. "I'm so sorry."
"You've said that repeatedly. I believe you. I forgive you. I forgave you for all of this a long time ago. Dredging it up now is…unnecessarily cruel to both of us."
"I wish you'd thrown me into a wall twenty years ago. I really do."
"I wasn't strong enough then. I mean, I had the magic. I just didn't have the heart." Every time she'd considered it, she'd see him take that curse for her. The one that knocked him out, split his face open, left him unconscious in the hospital for weeks and muddleheaded for months after. She could still see the white of his jawbone and all the blood.
Ron looked up at her. "I love you so much. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you were willing to give me another chance."
Hermione nodded. "No need. I know exactly how you feel."
He stood. "Can I?" He held his arms open.
She nodded and stepped into them. He pressed his cheek to the top of her head and pulled her closer.
"I hate it when we argue," Ron whispered into her hair.
She nodded against his chest. "Me too."
"I think we're going to need to see Art tomorrow," Ron said.
Hermione looked up at him. "Oh?"
Ron cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I think he and Emma might have caught the tail end of our hallway argument."
Hermione pressed her forehead to his chest. "Bloody hell."
He chuckled with embarrassment into her hair and then she started to laugh. When they had both settled down, Hermione said, "Seriously though, how much do you think they heard?"
"I don't know, but let's hope it wasn't much."
"Right," Hermione said, a sick feeling forming in her stomach.
That night, Ron kept waking up to disturbing dreams about hurting Hermione. Every time he would doze off he would be back in that flat over the shop. He sat up, breathing hard and wiped his face with a shaky hand. Hermione stirred next to him.
"I just keep remembering times I think I hurt you."
She sighed and sat up. "It was a long time ago."
"I just don't understand why I would do that. I love you. I loved you then."
"Do you remember what you said to me after Todor's funeral?"
He shook his head.
"Not surprising. You were quite drunk."
He looked at her in alarm. "Did I—"
"No. Of course not. But you said, 'they hurt us bad and then we hurt each other' and that's exactly what happened."
"But you didn't hurt me," he said, shaking his head.
"I did. Maybe not physically, but I shut down and I shut you out. Almost every day for years, you and I talked. We talked about everything, but then at the end of the war," she shook her head. "I just didn't have the words anymore. It broke me, Ron."
"I know," he said softly. "I should have been there for you. I should have helped you."
"You couldn't." She took his hand. "You were broken too."
"I should have been stronger than that."
"Harry and Ginny got through it intact."
Hermione smiled. "But they aren't us and according to both of them it wasn't as easy as it may have looked from the outside."
"But they did it. He didn't take his problems out on her."
"No, but she didn't shut him out either. Sometimes, I didn't speak at all for days."
"I know," Ron said. "But you never turned me down when I wanted to touch you, so I thought maybe we were okay and you just needed time."
She nodded. "I know. I thought so too."
"But then it just seemed to get worse."
She shrugged. "I just couldn't pull out of it. Why it didn't occur to me then to go get help, I don't know. Instead, I focused all my energies on trying to be an Unspeakable, because it felt like magic was the only thing I really understood. Everything else seemed to be crumbling around me."
Ron nodded. "I felt like that too, only I didn't have the Department of Mysteries to focus on."
"So, you drank."
"Right," Ron whispered. "And when I drank—"
"Sometimes you got mean," Hermione whispered back.
"I'm so sorry."
She sighed. "It was such a long time ago and since then you've been a kind and loving husband and father. I'm sorry all this got dredged up for you, but it's in the past." She slid back under the covers, snuggled next to him, and kissed his chest. "Let's leave it there."