Running the Gauntlet
Early the next morning, Ron sent an owl to Art and Emma inviting them both for breakfast, so he and Hermione were surprised when Art showed up alone.
"Is Emma not feeling well?" Hermione asked.
"She's fine, but she decided to stay home and get revisions done."
Hermione raised her eyebrows and Art's cheeks went pink. "We upset her with our arguing yesterday," she said to Ron.
Ron nodded. "Sorry son."
"Yeah," Art said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah."
Ron sighed. "Can we talk about this before breakfast? I've got other awkward conversations I've got to have today."
Art glanced from one of them to the other and then looked at his feet.
"Okay," Hermione said. "What did you hear?"
"Um," Art said. "Well, I guess I was walking upstairs when Dad said he didn't sleep with your friends."
"Oh," Hermione said. "Okay."
"And then you said—"
"I know what I said." She looked at Ron whose eyes were huge. She sighed. "Do you know what the Poacher's Curse is?" she asked Art.
"Hermione?" Ron said, alarmed.
"What?" she said, turning to him. "Do you want him imagining something worse or do you want to just tell him the truth?"
Ron shook his head. "I don't want to have this conversation at all."
"So, what? Memory charm?" Hermione asked.
"Maybe," Ron said.
"What?" Art shouted. "Absolutely not!"
Hermione looked at Ron.
"Fine," Ron said.
"Go look it up," Hermione said to Art. "Go look it up and understand this: that it was done to us, it was a violation, and it could have been a lot worse if say some other animal had been caught in the same spell, like a deer, or a bear, which is what it was originally designed for. The Poacher's curse is very dark magic and over the centuries has resulted in some horrific deaths."
Art nodded. "All right."
Hermione sighed. "Did Emma also hear our argument?"
"No, I walked upstairs to see if the coast was clear. She was still in the library."
"Good," Ron said.
"This probably goes without saying, but I would prefer if you didn't share that particular piece of information with anyone, even Emma, assuming you haven't already."
Art shook his head. "I haven't. I wouldn't. I wish I didn't know."
Ron nodded. "Us too."
Hermione looked from her husband to her son. They both had red ears. "Let's eat," she said. "I'm famished."
Breakfast started off awkwardly as Winky put a full English in front of each of them. There were three copies of The Daily Prophet in the center of the table. They each reached for one. After a few moments of reading, Ron said, "Are they seriously talking about substandard cauldrons again?"
Ron turned to her. "I bet you a hundred Galleons Percy is involved."
"Why would Uncle Percy be involved?" Art asked.
"His first job at the Ministry," Ron said.
Hermione smiled as Ron told Art about Percy's early obsession with cauldron thickness and how he'd puffed himself up over the issue. She continued to scan the rest of the paper until she reached the gossip column. "Shit," she exclaimed.
Ron and Art both put down their papers and stared at her.
"You're mentioned on page six," she said to Ron.
"What?" Art asked.
Ron flipped through the paper to the gossip column. "Bloody hell!"
Art scanned the page as well. At the top was a blurb that said simply 'Is this man Ron Weasley's love child?" Below that was a picture of Denis taken on the street. There was no additional information just the question and the photo.
"That's just great," Ron said, slamming the paper down on the table.
Hermione sighed. "It's not as if you're weren't already planning to talk to the rest of the family today anyway."
"Yeah, I know, but I wanted to do it on my terms, not The Daily Prophet's."
Art shook his head and stood. "I should go."
Hermione stood and kissed his cheek.
"Bye son," Ron said and they watched him disappear.
Hermione looked at him sympathetically. "I guess it's time."
Ron sighed. "Right. Let's go tell the family I have another son." They both Disapparated to the Burrow.
They spent the day helping Molly with things that needed to be done around the property. She never mentioned the gossip column and Ron decided not to bring it up either. He wanted to wait until after dinner while the family was still sitting around the table to tell everyone about Denis. At least this was the sibling only dinner. His mother had decided years ago that Sunday dinner with the entire family every week was too much. Now one Sunday a month was the entire family, one Sunday was just siblings and spouses, one Sunday was just grandchildren and one Sunday was now just great grandchildren.
Once again, as Ron began to explain the situation, Hermione kept her eyes down and her mouth shut. When Ron was finished with his explanation a hush fell over the table.
Finally, Molly spoke. "So that poor boy has been without a father all this time."
"No," Ron said. "Ester married someone when he was little. Sounds like he had a really great dad."
"Well, that's good then," Molly said.
"So," Bill said. "He'll be here all summer?"
"Until the end of July," Ron said.
"Will you be bringing him to Sunday dinner then?" Bill asked.
All eyes turned to Ron for his answer.
"If it's okay with all of you and it's okay with him, then yes, I'd like to do that."
Molly looked at Hermione. "Are you alright, dear? You haven't said anything."
Hermione smiled at her. "I'm fine. If you all want to meet him, and you should, he's a lovely young man, it's fine with me."
"So, you've met him then," Angelina said.
"Yes. He actually bears a remarkable resemblance to your John, but his personality reminds me more of Art."
Everyone gave her sympathetic looks.
Hermione smiled again. "Look, I'm not angry about this. We weren't together when it happened. Ron wasn't told. It is what it is."
The others began to look at each other as if trying to gage if they thought she was being truthful.
"So," Ron said. "How does everyone feel about meeting him? Mum?"
"Well," Molly said. "If he's family, he's family. I reckon he's welcome to come to Sunday dinner."
The rest of the family took their cues from Molly and agreed.
"Great," Ron said. "Then I'll ask him if he'd like to come next Sunday."
"What are you going to do about the gossip column?" George asked.
"Nothing," Ron said. "I can't control what they print."
"Right," Fred said, "but you're going to have reporters trying to get to the truth of it."
Ron glanced at Hermione.
"There's no point in denying it," she said. "Why would you want to do that anyway? He is your son."
"Right," Ron said with a sigh.
"Excuse me," Hermione said, rising from her seat. She went in the house to use the loo. When she came out she noticed the door to Ginny's old room was open and went inside. This was the room she'd always slept in at the Burrow until after the war. She went to the window and looked out over the gardens on the opposite side of the house from where everyone was at the table. A few gnomes shuffled around in the vegetable patch.
"Hey," she heard Ginny say. She turned to look and Ginny shut the door behind her. "How are you holding up?"
Hermione turned back to the window. "I'm fine. If you think about it, it's nothing to do with me really."
"Come on," Ginny said sympathetically behind her. "It's me."
Hermione couldn't look at her as she wiped a stray tear from her cheek. "I'm happy for him. He always wanted more children. I know it's not the same as if he'd been involved the whole time, but this is better than nothing."
"He didn't have nothing. He had Art and he had you."
Hermione sniffled. "I know. But he wanted more children and I couldn't give them to him."
Ginny put a hand on her shoulder. "I assure you, Ron is thrilled with the life the two of you made. He doesn't want for anything."
"He wanted more children and so did I," Hermione said quietly. "Not as many as Fred and Angelina—"
Ginny snorted. "Because that would be mad."
"But two or three," Hermione said. "So, Art wouldn't be alone like I was. I wanted him to have siblings."
"Clive and Devin are like brothers to him," Ginny said. "You know that. The three of them are thick as thieves."
Hermione nodded. "I know. Don't mind me. I'm just wallowing in self-pity. It'll pass. It's just with all those women, I can't help wondering if Denis is the only other child he has."
"Ah," Ginny said. "Well, it doesn't matter. None of those women could hold a candle to you."
Hermione looked at her, arching an eyebrow. "Oh please, did you see Ester."
Ginny shook her head. "No."
"She's incredibly beautiful and she's high in the Kenyan Ministry of Magic. She's like my healer, Michelle Cabrera, smart and beautiful. I'm lucky he didn't marry one of them and have a half a dozen kids."
Ginny smiled. "But that couldn't happen could it? Because he never stopped dreaming of you."
Hermione shook her head. "What the hell was wrong with him?"
Ginny chuckled. "Same thing that's wrong with all of us when we're in love."
"Yeah, I guess." Hermione smiled.
Ginny gave her a mischievous look. "So, you never woke Viktor calling Ron's name?"
Hermione snorted. "I don't talk in my sleep."
"Smart," Ginny said. "We should head back down before someone comes looking for us." Hermione nodded and followed her.
She and Ron didn't stay long after that. They were both exhausted, so they Apparated back to London.
"Do you want some tea?" she asked as they reappeared in the kitchen.
He shook his head. "I'm going to go downstairs for a bit."
Hermione asked Winky for a cup of tea and some biscuits before she followed Ron. She assumed that when Ron said he was going downstairs, he'd meant to his workshop, so she was surprised to find him standing next to the large globe in the library with his wand out and a spell book open.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I've got to know if there are any others," Ron said. "Revelio Conceptus."
"Wait," Hermione said, "That's not—" but it was too late. Five glowing lights appeared on the globe, three in the UK, one in France, and one in Kenya. One of the UK lights and the Kenyan light were green. The other three were red.
"I don't understand," Ron said.
Hermione sighed. "The spell you wanted was Revelio Paternitas."
Ron shook his head. "I don't—"
"The green lights are Art and Denis."
"But." His mouth dropped open. "Does that mean? Shit." He sat down on one of the overstuffed reading chairs.
"It doesn't necessarily mean anything," Hermione said gently. "The pregnancies might not have been viable and were just reabsorbed or they were miscarriages—"
"Or they were aborted," he said. "I'm a monster."
"No, you're not. That spell is a blunt tool, it doesn't tell you the details."
"I was," Ron said. "Otherwise those women would have told me they were pregnant. What was wrong with me? I thought I always remembered the charm."
"Mistakes happen, Ron. Like I said—"
"Stop it!" he snapped.
"Stop what?" she said, taken aback.
"Stop making excuses for me."
Hermione shook her head sympathetically. "Ron—"
"No seriously," he said scowling at her. "Why do you do that? You're always so quick to absolve me of responsibility, but you never forgive yourself. Why is that?"
"I love you," she said simply.
"But you don't love yourself?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Well, I…"
"That's it, isn't it?" Ron insisted.
She stood there blinking at him. "I don't hate myself," she finally answered.
"Anymore," Ron finished for her.
She shook her head. "No. Not anymore."
He sighed. "What was the plan that night you ran into Viktor."
"What?" Hermione said, thrown by the question.
He looked up at her with red rimmed eyes. "Seriously. What was the plan?"
"What did Harry say to you?" Hermione whispered, shocked that Harry had said anything at all about this to Ron.
"He told me you were thinking of offing yourself. Is that true?"
She sat on the edge of the other reading chair. "I don't know. Maybe."
"But you had a plan?"
She didn't look at him. "Yes."
"What was it?" Ron asked.
She shook her head.
"Tell me," he insisted.
She glanced at him and then closed her eyes. "I considered getting drunk on Christmas morning and slitting my wrists in the tub."
Ron swallowed hard. "Bloody hell, Hermione."
"Who knows if I would have gone through with it?"
He reached for her hand and gripped it tight. "When have you ever not followed a plan unless a better one came along?"
She blinked at him.
"Viktor was the better plan," Ron said for her.
"Yes," Hermione agreed.
"You slept with him that night, right?"
Hermione sighed. "Very early Christmas morning actually. It's not like he was a stranger. We dated for the last half of fourth year and corresponded for years after."
Ron nodded. "I know. I'm not judging. What you did was a damn sight better than what I did. Once I dried out I just substituted sex for alcohol."
Hermione shook her head. "You did what you needed to do to get through it. I did what I needed to do. We both made mistakes, hurt ourselves, and other people, but we survived. And better still, miracle of miracles, we found our way back to each other."
Ron smiled. "That made Harry so happy."
Hermione chuckled. They both said at the same time, "And that's the most important thing." They chuckled.
Ron sobered. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," Hermione said.
"Why were you so different with him? You went out, danced, partied. You wouldn't do any of that with me."
Hermione sighed. "Lots of reasons."
"Like?" Ron prompted.
"Like, when you and I were together I was still in the trials for the Department of Mysteries. I was swamped with studying. The trials were already over when I started dating Viktor."
"Okay," Ron said. "What else?"
Hermione shook her head. "I don't want to get into this."
"I think we need to. I think it's been unsaid for too long. I think it's time you put some of the blame on me, Hermione. You've carried it alone all these years. Tell the truth."
She frowned at him. "Fine. Viktor never stopped to get drunk on his way home and then came in and insisted I go back out with him."
Ron nodded. "Right. What else?"
"Ron," Hermione said.
She blew out a frustrated breath. "I felt like part of the reason I lost you was because I shut down. I didn't want to make the same mistake twice."
"That makes sense," Ron said. "What else?"
"What do you mean what else? Nothing else."
He cocked his head. "Come on. Even I know the biggest reason and you haven't said it yet."
She clenched her teeth.
"Say it," Ron said. "It was twenty years ago. We were barely out of puberty. We'd been through a war and suffered horribly for it. We sacrificed ourselves for each other and for Harry. And in the process saved the world. We have a solid marriage. We've raised a son together. We're strong. It's just us here. You can say it."
A tear slipped down her cheek. "I could go out with Viktor because I trusted him not to get out of control…"
Ron looked at her willing her to say it out loud.
"And because he never hurt me," she finished.
Ron blew out a long slow breath. "There it is."
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose and then rubbed her temples. "Why exactly is it so important to you that I say all this?"
He squeezed her hand again. "Because you never have. Not to me. Not to anyone else. All those years you let the papers say all those awful things about you, when one simple interview would have gotten them off of your back and on to mine."
"You don't know that it would have worked out like that," she said.
"But you didn't even try to explain your actions."
She frowned at him. "And neither did you."
Ron shook his head. "No. No, I didn't. I should have. I should have said that I was a great prat, a drunk, and an asshole, but I didn't. I didn't even tell the family, although if they didn't know before, after Harry and Ginny's wedding, they knew that you didn't just walk away."
"I would never do that," she said softly.
"I know," he said. "The day after the wedding when George came home he gave me such a bollocking things got physical."
Hermione looked up. "What did he say?"
Ron shrugged. "Nothing specific. He came home that morning, Harry and Ginny had already left on their honeymoon and the rest of the family was having breakfast and he tore into me. He kept saying 'what did you do' over and over again."
Hermione wouldn't look at him. "What did you say?"
"I told him to mind his own bloody business and then I shoved him and things got pretty rough. It took the other four to break us up."
"I didn't tell George anything about what went on between you and me," Hermione said.
"Are you sure?" Ron asked. "You were pretty drunk."
"I'm positive," Hermione said firmly.
Ron sighed. "I should have taken you home myself, but I had Willa to deal with and I'd already been so awful to her at the wedding, I couldn't leave her to make her own way home."
"How gallant," Hermione said dryly.
Ron snorted. "He was really cross with me for a long time whenever you were mentioned."
Hermione smiled. "I always have liked George."
"So, what happened?" Ron asked.
"Nothing exciting. I really couldn't hold my liqueur back then. We took the Floo here and when we stepped out of the fireplace I promptly threw up. He had his hands full getting me upstairs and into bed.
Ron raised his eyebrows.
"Oh please," Hermione said. "He took my shoes off and got me a gown before he went home." She blushed slightly.
Ron sighed. "I should have fessed up when George asked. I should have gone and gotten you and explained that the drinking was under control and that I would never…" He shook his head. "I wasted so much time being such a bloody coward."
Hermione shook her head. "Don't do that. Don't second guess. If you'd done that then, we might not have been ready. It might've wrecked everything for good. It happened the way it happened because we were both ready for it. That's all that matters."
Ron stood and stretched his back and ran his fingers through his hair. Hermione stood too. He reached for her hand and she stepped into a hug. He held her tight, resting his cheek on top of her head and feeling how small she was compared to him. It made him sick to think he'd ever hurt her. It bothered him that he'd buried it so deep he hadn't thought about it in years and had gone on as though it had never happened. He kissed the top of her head. "Can we please go to bed?"
She looked up at him and smiled. "Of course."
He took her hand and she followed him upstairs.
The next morning, Ron suggested breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron before work. The Leaky Cauldron banned reporters from bothering patrons, so it was merely a matter of running the gauntlet outside to avoid them. They were early and the Inn wasn't busy when they arrived. Since no one knew they were coming there were no reporters waiting and they were seated immediately. Margaret, a waitress who'd worked there for years, brought them a couple of menus and poured them each a cup of tea.
"How are you two this morning?" she asked.
"Fine," Ron said smiling at her. She smiled back. Hermione noticed the exchange and looked at Ron who was looking at the menu. As if he could feel her eyes on him, he lowered the menu and looked at her. "What?"
Hermione frowned at him. "You slept with her."
His eyebrows shot up. "Well…"
"She's been serving us meals for years and you never thought to mention that you'd seen her naked."
"Um," Ron said. "Well…"
Hermione slowly looked around the rest of the room. Other people had started to come in. A lot of them were roughly their age. She looked back at him. "How many of these people have you slept with?"
"People?" Ron sputtered. "None of the men, Hermione."
She rolled her eyes.
"That was a curse," he hissed.
"Whatever," she grumbled. "Fine, how many of these women."
Ron opened his menu again and glued his eyes to it. His ears were crimson.
"So many you can't even look?" Hermione said incredulously. "That's," she leaned back in her chair and looked around the room. "Wow."
"It wasn't about me," Ron grumbled, still not looking up.
"Oh really? Who was it about then?"
"Harry," Ron said flatly.
"Harry?" Hermione said, cocking her head. "Harry made you sleep with loads of women. How's that exactly?"
"He wouldn't sleep with them. He only wanted Ginny. So, there were all these women desperate to sleep with the great Harry Potter only he wasn't having any of them."
"And there you were," Hermione finished for him.
"Right," Ron said. "There I was."
"So, for three years, you just took Harry's cast-offs?" she said, frowning at him.
"Not always. I do have my own merits."
She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Well, that's just great. Now every time I go into a shop I'm going to be wondering if you slept with the woman at the till."
Ron didn't say anything.
"Oh, for heaven's sake." She stood and stormed out.
He sat quietly finishing his coffee before he followed her out. He left more than enough Galleons on the table to cover the check.
Someone must have informed The Daily Prophet that she and Ron were eating at the Leaky Cauldron because there was a reporter and a photographer waiting outside. Hermione frowned and Disapparated to the Ministry of Magic's main entrance.
Ron was not so lucky. He had his mind on other things and just walked right out the front door of the Cauldron without noticing who was waiting.
"Ron!" the reporter said. "Can you tell us more about your first son?"
He sighed and started to push forward. He was a big enough man to plow through just about anything, but instead, he stopped and faced the reporter. "He's a great guy."
"So, you're not denying he's your son?" the reporter asked, clearly shocked.
"No. Why would I?"
"Er," the reporter didn't have a response for that. Before he could recover, Ron told him to have a nice day and walked down the street to his shop.