Ron lingered for an hour after closing, not because he had to, but because he hadn't worked out what to say to Hermione when he got home. He wanted to explain but he didn't want to make the situation worse. Finally, when he couldn't come up with any other excuses to delay, he Disapparated and returned home to find her in the parlor staring at the fire.
"Hey," he said, coming into the parlor from the kitchen. "How was work?"
"Uneventful," she said without looking up.
"Good. It's a bloody nightmare when your work is eventful." That got him a half smile.
He sat down in the other wing chair and sighed. There was nothing to do but go ahead and get into it. Small talk wasn't going to get him where he wanted to be. "Do you remember what you said to me at the World Cup?"
She looked at him. "What I said about what?"
"What went on in Amsterdam."
She frowned. "Not specifically."
"You said, 'I'm not proud of it, but it happened. I can't take it back and I can't change it. I've learned to live with that. The question is, can you?' So, I guess now I have to ask you the same thing."
She blew out a long, frustrated breath. "I'm not planning on leaving you if that's what you're asking. I just…I guess I'm trying to wrap my head around the scope of it. I mean, I saw the gossip columns. I assumed you were sleeping with some of those women. I just didn't realize it was all of them."
He frowned. "It wasn't all of them. It was some of them. Honestly, I had a lot of short relationships. I'd go out with a woman for a couple of weeks, or a month or so. Inevitably, you would ruin it."
She arched an eyebrow at him.
"I talk in my sleep, remember?"
"And there were some one-night stands, but sometimes I'd have a one-night stand and then a few weeks later do the same thing with the same witch. There were women I just hooked up with whenever we were both available."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Let me guess. The waitress this morning was one of those women."
He blushed. "Yeah."
Hermione shook her head. "Great."
"I know," Ron said, sighing. "It's like I told you before, I substituted sex for alcohol."
Hermione rubbed her temples with her fingertips, trying to ease the tension headache that was starting. She didn't know how to feel. On the one hand, she understood the desperation to push away the pain and if Ron used sex to do that, well, she understood that too. Although, she hadn't done it with quite so many partners, she'd certainly done it. On the other hand, she felt like a fool. How many women did she encounter on a regular basis that had slept with her husband? She knew he wasn't her husband at the time and that it wasn't fair to think of it that way, but it still felt like he'd lied to her somehow. If only the magical community was larger, or if Ron wasn't such a pure blood nutter who never mixed with Muggles, it wouldn't feel so personal. All those women diffused through the entire UK population or even just London's wouldn't feel so invasive, but in the magical community, there just weren't that many people. It felt like he'd slept with every woman their age in the British Isles. She blew out a frustrated breath.
"What?" he said quietly.
"I'm just trying to get my thoughts and feelings sorted. That's all."
He cleared his throat. "Look, it's not like I went around bragging or anything. I'm not proud of my behavior. I'm not ashamed of all of it either, but I'm definitely ashamed of some of it. My relationship with the woman I brought to Harry and Ginny's wedding was…well…it was just horrible. She thought we really had something and I was just trying to get back at you." He shook his head. "I'm deeply ashamed of what happened with her. After her, I didn't do that. I didn't even attempt a real relationship again until I started dating Michelle almost two years later. In between, I made sure every woman I was with understood that I wasn't looking for anything serious. If they were okay with that and just wanted to have fun, then I was fine with that. If they wanted more, I didn't engage, which still makes me a rake, but at least I was an honest rake."
"Were you ever...rough with any of them?" The question surprised her as much as it did him and it hung between them for a moment.
"No," Ron said.
She wasn't sure why that hurt to hear. "So only me then."
He closed his eyes and nodded. When he opened his eyes again, they were glassy with unshed tears. "Only you."
She looked away from him, blinking back her own tears. "Good."
"There's nothing good about it." He sniffled behind her and she turned to see him weeping into his hands. She sat there without touching him and cried silently next to him.
Ron wiped his face on his shirt sleeve. "The truth is, you've had the best and the worst of me. It's all yours. I'm sorry I've burdened you with the worst of me, but I swear I've spent our entire marriage trying to make it up to you."
She wiped her face with her hands. "I know and I appreciate that. I really do. I'm just…this has been an exceptionally bad week in what has been an exceptionally good marriage. We'll get past this. I just need a little time to sit with it."
"Do I need to sleep in the guest room?" he asked, wrinkling his forehead in concern.
She smiled. "It's not as bad as all that."
Relief came over his face. "Good. I don't like to think of you sleeping alone right now."
Hermione nodded. The nightmares were brutal. "Me either."
That night, Hermione woke from a nightmare that, once again, left her fleeing the room. Ron grabbed dressing gowns and went after her. He found her pacing in the living room in front of the fireplace. He held out her dressing gown and she shrugged it on.
"I have got to get a grip," she said breathlessly. "I can't keep waking up like this. I can't keep waking you. We've both got work in the morning."
Ron pulled on his own dressing gown and sat down on the sofa. "You can wake me as often as you need to."
She blew out a frustrated breath and resumed pacing. "I don't want to. I'm sick of this. It was so hard to get to where we are now. I feel like I've been dragged backwards."
"What can I do?" Ron said softly.
"Nothing," she said blinking back tears. "There's nothing to be done. I just have to wait it out. How am I supposed to do that?"
"How did you do it before?" Ron asked, but then instantly regretted it. He already knew the answer.
"Well, I didn't do it sober," she cried and dissolved into a kind of desperate weeping. Ron stood and took her in his arms and held her as she sobbed against his chest.
Hermione didn't notice, but Ron heard the sound of someone Apparating into the kitchen. Only two other people could do that unannounced: Art and Harry.
Ron turned to see Art come into the parlor. He looked cross until he saw his parents and the state of his mother. "What's happened?"
Hermione stiffened in Ron's arms. She quickly wiped her face and backed away from him. "Art, what are you doing here. It's after midnight."
"Emma and I had a row and I thought we could do with some space."
Hermione cleared her throat. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"What's wrong," Art said.
She shook her head. "Nothing."
Ron and Art both gave her incredulous looks.
"I had a nightmare. It was upsetting. What did you and Emma row about?"
He quirked his lips, clearly trying to decide how to answer. After a moment, he looked at Ron and said, "About whether or not I should meet your other son." He looked back at his mother. "What are you having nightmares about?"
Hermione twisted her lips in exactly the same way Art had. If it hadn't been such a tense moment, Ron would have laughed. The two of them were so similar sometimes it was startling. She cleared her throat again. "Those memories you found in my potions cabinet. I put them back in my head."
"Oh," Art said. "Why?"
Hermione glanced at Ron for reassurance, but he raised his eyebrows in surprise. He couldn't believe she'd said this much. He had no idea how much more she should divulge. "Because, I almost died. I didn't want them floating around out of context after my death and having you or someone else finding them and putting them in a Pensieve."
"And they're giving you nightmares."
"There was a reason I took them out in the first place, Arthur. I take it Emma thinks you should meet Denis."
He frowned at the change of subject. "Yes. She said I was spoiled because I was an only child and that I shouldn't be such a baby about it."
Ron and Hermione glanced at each other.
"Oh, is that right then?" Art said, clearly irritated. "You lot think I'm spoiled too? Well, if I am, whose bloody fault is that? I didn't choose to be an only. You should have had more kids. Everyone else in the family did."
Hermione blanched and sat down hard on one of the ottomans.
Ron gave Art such a hard look he stepped back a pace.
"It was a miracle I managed to have you and it wasn't easy," Hermione said quietly.
Shocked, Art sat down on the end of the sofa. "What do you mean?"
"I was on bed rest for weeks and you still came early. And it was…" She put a hand over her mouth and shook her head.
"Brutal." Ron put a hand on her shoulder. "I almost lost both of you," he said grimly.
"Why didn't I know this? No one's ever said—"
"It's not an easy thing to talk about," Ron said. "And you both survived and thrived and we focused on that, not the bad stuff."
Art sat silently staring at the fire for a minute. "Was that one of the memories?"
"No," Hermione said. "Because it had a happy ending."
"I always thought I was an only because Mum was," Art said.
"No. I couldn't have any more children. Too much magical damage." She leaned over and touched his face. "And I don't think you're spoiled. Frankly, I don't think it matters one way or another if you meet Denis. It's important for your dad to get to know him. It's not critical that you do. You should do what you want."
"Actually," Ron said. "I think you should meet him."
Art and Hermione both looked at him with the same surprised expression.
He cleared his throat. "Look, your mother was an only, so like you, she has no experience of siblings, but speaking as a man with five brothers and a sister, I'm really glad to have them. I'm of the opinion that the more family you have the better. Obviously, I'm closest to Ginny and the twins, but all of them matter to me, and there is nothing like a crisis to illustrate just how important that support is. I know you can't have the kind of relationship with Denis that you would've had if you'd grown up together, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy having him as a brother. I mean, he's an only too. This is an opportunity for both of you, and as a guy with five of them, I can tell you brothers are pretty great."
Art ran his fingers through his hair and scratched his head. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to meet him."
"As it happens, he likes Quidditch," Ron said.
"Oh yeah? Does he play?" Art asked.
Ron smiled. "Yeah. He played Keeper for his house team at school."
"Really?" Art said, smiling. "Like you then."
"Probably better than me," Ron said. "Anyway, I was thinking of getting tickets to Saturday's Canons match. If you're interested, the three of us could go."
Art nodded. "Okay. I don't have any plans for Saturday."
Ron gripped his shoulder. "Good. I'll check with Denis and get tickets."
"Alright then," Art said. "I guess I should be getting back. Emma's probably cooled off by now. Besides, it looks like she's getting her way."
Ron nodded his head sagely. "Always the smart move."
Hermione scowled at him. "Oh, please."
Art smiled. "I'm going to head back." He kissed his mother's cheek and Disapparated.
Ron sat down across from her and sighed. "Want to go back to bed?"
She shook her head. "I'm wide awake."
"Yeah," Ron said. "Me too."
Hermione waved her hand toward the fireplace and it ignited. She shifted from the ottoman into its chair and put her feet up. "What a night."
Ron sighed again.
They sat silently looking at the fire for a few minutes before Ron said, "Can we talk about Margaret for a second?"
"The waitress at the Leaky Cauldron."
"Oh," Hermione frowned. "Why?"
"I just don't want you to be weird about her."
Hermione arched an eyebrow at him. "Seriously?"
"Margaret's alright," Ron said.
"Well good for her," she said.
"Good for me, actually," Ron said.
"Are you trying to piss me off or trying to hurt me? I can't tell." Hermione said sharply.
"Neither," he said. "I'm trying to explain something about that time, about what it was like to be me without you."
Hermione's expression softened. She sighed. "Alright, go ahead."
"First off, I never actually dated her. I would have, but she didn't want to be seen in public with me and she didn't want anyone to know about us?"
"Why?" Hermione said, suddenly offended on Ron's behalf. "You're a war hero."
"And a pureblood," Ron said.
"Isn't that supposed to be a good thing?"
"Not to Margaret, although she's a pureblood too."
"I'm lost now," Hermione said.
She married a Muggleborn before the war. I can't remember his name, but he was in Percy's year. They had a kid, a boy, and she was pregnant when the Death Eaters started rounding up the Muggleborns."
"Mudbloods," Hermione corrected.
"I don't use that term, you know that," Ron said.
"They did," Hermione said.
"I know, but I don't," Ron said again. "Anyway, her parents disowned her for marrying him and it didn't matter that she had two kids and no husband, they didn't take her back, didn't help her in anyway, so she got a job at the Leaky Cauldron and tried to make ends meet."
"That sounds rough," Hermione said.
Hermione shook her head. "Shouldn't that have been all the more reason for her to date you?"
"Why? I didn't have any money then. It's not like I could help her financially and it embarrassed her that I was a pureblood. I think she felt like it was dishonoring her husband to be with me."
"Then I don't understand how you got together in the first place."
"Right," Ron said. "That happened about three days after you left."
"I didn't leave. You kicked me out," she said hotly.
"I didn't kick you out," Ron protested.
"Yes, you did! You fucked me on that table and then you said all kinds of mean things to me and told me to leave."
Ron shook his head. "I didn't mean that. You know I didn't mean any of that."
"Yes, you did," Hermione argued. "You absolutely did. You might have regretted it later, but in that moment, you absolutely meant it."
"Then why did I wake up with you on top of me?"
"Because…I didn't want our last time together to be so…I wanted it on my terms, okay?"
Ron looked at her. "Yeah, okay. I get that."
They stared at each other for a long moment.
"So, you were saying, three days after you kicked me out…"
"Okay," Ron said. "I got really drunk at the Cauldron. Margaret got me home."
"And stayed the night?" Hermione said.
"No. We never spent a whole night together. She stayed for a shag and then went home."
"I guess you weren't too drunk to fuck," Hermione said acidly.
"Have I ever been?" Ron asked dryly.
"Not to my knowledge," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Right, so the next day I went by to see her at work and she set me straight on exactly what did and didn't happen and what could and couldn't happen in the future."
"Oh," Hermione said.
"She had a lot of rules, but I respected them. Sometimes she'd show up at mine, sometimes I'd show up at hers, but only very late after I knew she'd put her kids to bed. I never met them, but…"
Ron cleared his throat. "I paid to put them through school."
"I put them through Hogwarts."
She blinked at him. "And you never thought to mention this until now."
"No, because it wasn't relevant to you and me."
Hermione's face went white. "Did you keep fucking her?"
"No! Of course not. I've been completely faithful to you. You know that."
"Yes," he said firmly.
"And they aren't your kids?"
"But you put them through school."
Hermione sat back in her chair and stared at the fire. "Why?"
"Because she couldn't afford to. Look, she saved me from crawling back into my cups on more than one occasion. I couldn't help her out financially then, but later, I could, so I did."
"And she let you?"
"Sort of," Ron said.
"What's that mean?" Hermione said, looking at him again.
"I paid the school directly and I paid Flourish and Blotts directly for their books and Madam Malkins directly for their robes. Margaret got sent owls from all three places telling her the tuition was paid and that their books and robes were ready to be picked up."
"Does she know you were the one paying for all that?"
Ron shrugged. "I have no idea if she knows it was me or not. I never told her and the school and shops were instructed not to say. If she's figured it out or suspects, I don't know. Of course, they've long since graduated, so it doesn't matter now anyway."
"So, you just stopped seeing her and then decided to pay for her kids to go to school?"
"Yeah. After we got back together at Christmas, I went to see her at the Leaky Cauldron to tell her I couldn't see her anymore. She said okay and that was that."
Hermione arched an eyebrow at him. "Really? That's it? No scene, no yelling?"
"It wasn't that kind of thing. It was just pub chat and occasional late-night sex. Nothing more. We were both clear on what we were doing so we were clear when we stopped too."
"You're better at that than I am," she said.
Ron snorted. "Yeah no kidding. I just thought you were mad when you left. I wasn't completely sure we'd broken up until I saw that photo of Krum wiping whipped cream off your nose."
"What?" Hermione said.
"You know, the first picture of you two that appeared in the paper."
"I took one look at that picture and knew you were sleeping with him, and I was right, wasn't I?"
"We were just having cocoa," Hermione said. "We were fully dressed in winter coats, hats, boots, gloves, the whole kit."
"But you were already fucking him."
She sighed and frowned. "Yes, but if it's any consolation, I messed up my breakup with him too."
"It isn't, but out of curiosity, how did you manage that?" Ron asked.
"When he showed up at the Burrow Christmas Day, I thought we'd broken up in Miami and he thought we'd just had a row. He was there to makeup, hence the flowers."
"Wow, you do suck at breakups."
She rolled her eyes. "No one is good at everything."
Ron smiled at her. "You're better at more things than most."
She chuckled. "Maybe, but when I'm bad at something, I'm spectacularly bad at it."
His smile broadened into a grin. "True. You're a nightmare on a broom. Lucky you only had to break up twice."
She smiled back at him. "Very."
He reached out and took her hand. "Are we okay?"
"I think so. Is there anything else I don't know about? Are you spending thousands of galleons to feed orphaned dragons in Romania because you slept with one of Charlie's coworkers?"
Ron laughed. "Yes, but that's the last thing, I swear."
Hermione laughed too.
"Seriously though," Ron said. "I make other charitable contributions, but none of the others are that personal."
"You know, Quidditch for Kids, Fantastic Beast Fund, Magical Malady Consortium, and of course, the Hogwarts scholarships you set up."
Hermione nodded. "All worthy causes."
Ron nodded. "What about you? Are all your galleons accounted for?"
Hermione smiled. "Yes, such as they are. I don't have quite so many to manage as you. I do maintain the same contributions to charities my parents gave to though."
"Really?" Ron said. "I didn't know you did that."
She sighed. "I felt like the charities shouldn't suffer because my parents died."
"So, what are they?"
"Mostly international dental programs."
"Of course," Ron said, smiling. "Muggles and their teeth."
"Well, it's not like they can fix problems with a simple spell. Dental health was my parents' life's work. And…there was also a local shelter for battered women that my mother supported."
"Oh," Ron said, his smile disappearing.
She gave him a sympathetic look. She knew she'd touched a nerve, but they'd been speaking so honestly with each other she didn't want to leave it out just to spare his feelings. She'd never considered herself to be one of those women anyway. She'd left when he got violent and she'd been powerful enough to stop him if she'd wanted to. That was really different from the situation the women in that shelter had been in. "My mother felt strongly about that one. She volunteered there. I did too a few times on breaks from school."
Ron nodded. "Important cause."
"Yes." Hermione squeezed his hand. "I'm knackered. Let's go back to bed." She stood and tugged his hand and he followed her upstairs. She waved a hand and the fire and candles went out behind them. Upstairs in their bedroom, Ron flicked his wand and the beside lamp lit. Hermione pulled off her dressing gown and slid under the covers. Ron did the same and rolled on his side to face her. "I'm so tired," she said.
"Me too. It's like I'm too tired to sleep though."
She nodded. "Exactly."
The V-neck gown she wore showed the top of the scar between her breasts. Ron touched it gently with his index finger. "It's finally faded back to white."
"Yes," Hermione said.
"You know," Ron said with a curious intonation, "I don't think I've ever seen you without it."
Hermione shook her head. "That can't be true. It isn't. We went swimming in the pond when I came to the Burrow for the World Cup. I didn't have it then."
"Ah," Ron said, "But you wore a demure one-piece bathing suit that came up quite high, unlike that trashy little string bikini Ginny was running around in."
Hermione laughed. "I was surprised your mother let her wear that."
"Who could stop her?" Ron said grimacing.
"True," Hermione said, smiling. "Well, I'm sorry I didn't wear a sexier bathing suit back then."
An odd expression came over Ron's face.
"What?" Hermione asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing."
She arched an eyebrow at him. "What?"
"It's not important," Ron said.
She sighed. "Seriously? After everything we've talked about for the last few days. Just say it."
He opened his mouth, but then shut it.
She raised her eyebrows at him.
"I was just wondering if Viktor did."
"If Viktor did what?"
"Saw you before the scar."
"Oh, um." She thought for a moment. "Maybe."
It was Ron's turn to arch an eyebrow.
"No, seriously, I'm not sure. I mean, when we were in school there was a bit of groping, but I never had my top completely off. There were a few buttons undone though, so maybe. Why?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. It's just you and I, we're so banged up."
"It's hard to get through a war without a scratch," she quipped.
He frowned at her. "We got a damn sight more than scratched."
She rested a soothing palm against his chest. "I know. What's wrong?"
"It just doesn't seem fair sometimes. The things we went through. The things we did and what it did to us."
She patted his chest. "I don't think it's fair or unfair. It's just what happened. You have to let it go."
"I can't. I can't stand that I hurt you. I can't stand that you were ever afraid of me."
She frowned at him. "I wasn't."
He gave her a disbelieving look.
"I was not afraid of you," she said enunciating each word. "I was afraid of me."
"What?" He said, clearly confused.
Hermione blew out a slow breath. "I couldn't raise my wand against you."
"I know, but—"
"Shhh," she said. "Listen." She closed her eyes for a moment and blew out another calming breath. "When that Death Eater broke my leg, I was so…angry."
Ron opened his mouth to say something, but she pressed her fingers against his lips to silence him. "I didn't even have my wand. It flew out of my hand when my leg snapped, but I flicked my fingers at him and sliced open his neck. I didn't even think before I did it. It was a gesture born of pure rage. I lay there with his blood raining over me and all I could think was that I'd murdered him with little or no effort or forethought."
"It wasn't murder," Ron protested. "It was battle. That's different."
"I know, but I was there. I know what I did and how I did it. He hurt me, so I made a gesture so sleight he never had a chance to respond to it and then he was dead."
Ron frowned at her.
"So, when you started getting so angry because you couldn't keep a clear head and basic spells were difficult and even working the till at the twins' shop was too hard because the math kept slipping away from you, I pulled back, which just seemed to make you angrier, and the drinking just made it worse. I didn't engage, couldn't engage, because you were still recovering and I knew it was frustrating, but it's like you were hell bent on provoking me. I think I stopped speaking because all I wanted to do was scream at you. You were getting in my way when I was trying work and I knew I couldn't respond because I didn't feel entirely in control and I was afraid I would hurt you." She leveled her gaze at him and trembled slightly. "I mean really hurt you."
He shook his head. "You would never."
"I was scared I might, because there were times I wanted to. I was pretty messed up then." She closed her eyes tight against the memory. "That last night when you held me down on the table, I was so furious, I scared myself, so when you told me to leave, I thought I'd better, for both our sakes. I just didn't realize it would play out like it did."
"So how long did you think it would take?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I thought we just needed a little distance. You needed some time to get yourself together, cut down on the drinking, go back to the healers. I needed some time to calm down. I thought a week or two apart, a month at the most, and we'd be fine."
Ron frowned at her. "You were sleeping with Viktor before a month was up."
"Because I was drowning. You told me to leave, but then when I did, there was absolutely no contact, even when I sent you a Christmas card. What was I to think except that you got what you wanted?"
Ron pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "I thought you were better off without me. I was afraid I was going to be that muddle headed forever."
"The healers said that it would take time," Hermione protested.
"Yeah, but they didn't say how much and it seemed to go on forever."
She cupped his cheek in her hand. "I know."
He shook his head. "It doesn't matter anyway. We managed to put it right. That's what matters."
She nodded. "Yes."
He pulled her hand to his mouth and kissed her palm. "How are the other two?"
"What other two?"
He smiled. "Scars."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Fine," she sat up and pulled her gown over her head. "Look for yourself." She lifted her arm so he could see her side.
"This is still pretty red," he said.
"Well, it's the worst one, so it stands to reason it would be the last to settle down."
"Let me see your back." She turned for him. "This one looks a lot better. It's white again. He leaned forward and pressed his lips between her shoulder blades.
"Was asking about the scars just a ploy to get me naked?" she teased.
"Yes," he said and continued kissing his way down her spine.
The rest of the week was fairly uneventful. When a reporter eventually caught up with Hermione she was as blasé about Denis as Ron had been. At home, things had settled down to their normal routine. Even the nightmares had eased up. She had them, but she only woke Ron one time, and didn't flee the room at all. It was the best sleep she'd had since restoring the memories.
On Saturday, Ron took Denis and Art to the Cannons game. For the Cannons, it was a winning season in which they'd won as many games as they'd lost. In what Ron considered to be a be a major miracle, as well as a sign from the universe that he was meant to have a day out with both his sons, the Cannons won the match. It took all day and into the night, but they won in the end. He took the boys to the Leaky Cauldron to celebrate with the other Cannons fans. After much reliving of the match, and way too much ale to safely Apparate, Ron suggested they all walk back to the house.
It was late when Hermione heard them come in. She was in her study but ventured out because of the racket. The three of them were singing the Chudley Cannons fight song. Denis didn't know the words but that didn't seem to bother any of them. "Oh my," Hermione said.
"Hey!" Ron shouted as he ran over and picked her up and swung her around. "We won!"
She laughed. "That's great."
"It is! Isn't it! I took my boys to the game and they bloody won!" He swung her around again.
"I'm so glad. Now please put me down."
"Oh," Ron said, looking at her as if just realizing he was still holding her. "Right." He set her down. "Then we went to the Cauldron and had some ale."
"Quite a bit of ale from the smell of you," Hermione said suppressing a smile.
Ron's eyes widened. "Oh. I'm sorry. I shouldn't've."
Hermione patted his chest. "You're fine. Have you had anything to eat?" she asked the three of them.
"Only bar snacks," Art said.
"Crisps," Denis said. "And some sort of crackery sticks."
"Bombay mix," Ron clarified.
"I must've eaten a kilo of that," Denis continued. He looked around the room. "Is this your house?"
"Yes," Hermione said. She turned to Ron. "Exactly how much ale has he had?"
"I'm not quite sure," Ron said, scratching his beard. "But I don't think he's a big drinker."
Denis looked vaguely green.
"That way," Hermione said, pointing him toward the powder room.
Art snorted as Denis ran.
Hermione frowned at her son. "Really?" She went back into her study and into the potions cabinet and came back out with three bottles. "You two," she said to Ron and Art. "Go get Winky to make you something decent to eat."
She walked to the powder room and tapped gently on the door.
"Yeah," came the weak reply.
She opened the door a bit. "You alright?"
"Yeah, just sick."
She held out the orange bottle in her hand. "Take a swallow of this and the nausea will stop."
He did as he was told. A moment later, he sighed. "Thank you so much."
"You're welcome," Hermione said. "Now you have a choice. You can take a dose of this, she held up a purple bottle and you'll have intensely painful cramps for a minute, but then you won't be drunk anymore, or you can go to bed and just take this hangover potion in the morning." She held up the little brown bottle. "What's your preference?"
He got slowly to his feet. "I don't think I can Apparate back to the Three Broomsticks so I guess I'll take the purple one."
She smiled. "You don't have to Apparate. You're welcome to sleep here, but if you don't want to, I can take you side-along to Hogsmeade."
He raised his eyebrows. "Uh…"
She smiled. "Not to worry. I've done it hundreds of times, but if you're uncomfortable with that, I understand. I suppose we could put you on the Knight Bus, but really, if I were you, I'd just stay here."
"You're sure that would be alright?" Denis said warily.
"Of course," Hermione said.
"Well, alright, I guess I'll do that then."
"Did you want something to eat before you go up? Dry toast maybe?"
Denis nodded. "That sounds good." He followed Hermione into the kitchen where Ron and Art were happily consuming a full English breakfast.
Hermione shook her head. "I don't know how you two can eat all that drunk. Winky," she said to the little elf. "Can you fix Denis some dry toast and a cup of weak tea."
Winky smiled warmly. "Yes Miss."
Hermione and Denis took seats at the table. "Denis is staying the night," she said.
"Right," Ron said. "He's too drunk to Apparate and he'll hurl on the Knight Bus."
"You're not eating?" Ron asked her as Winky put the tea and toast in front of Denis.
"I ate dinner hours ago," Hermione said.
Ron looked at the kitchen time clock which was next to their family clock. "Oh, it is late." He looked at the family clock and an odd expression came over his face. Hermione wondered if he was thinking about adding another hand for Denis. Currently the clock had four. One for her, one for Ron, one for Art, and one for Harry. They were all pointing to the home position. Next to her Denis had finished his tea and toast and yawned broadly.
"Come along, Denis," she said. "Let's get you settled for the night."
"Goodnight, Denis," Ron said.
Denis smiled at him. "Goodnight."
Art lifted his chin at him. "Night."
"Night," Denis said and followed Hermione.
She led him up to the top floor of the house where there were three bedrooms. Art's room was her childhood bedroom at the end of the hall. She put Denis is the first room on the right which used to be painted pink when she was child. Now the walls were done in a neutral clay color and the bed had a dark blue quilt that Molly had made for a bedspread. "Here you go," Hermione said. "The loo is through there." She pointed to a narrow door on the opposite wall from the bed.
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley."
"Call me Hermione. Everyone does. Mrs. Weasley is my mother-in-law."
Denis smiled. "Alright then."
"If you need anything, just call for Winky, she'll come right to you." She pulled the little brown bottle out of her dressing gown pocket. "Drink this in the morning and you'll be right as rain."
"You're welcome," Hermione said. "Goodnight." She went back downstairs to the kitchen where Ron and Art were finishing their dinner. She sat down and frowned at them. "Really? You had to get him drunk first night out?"
Ron looked sheepish. "I didn't mean to. Everyone was just having such a good time after the game."
"Who knew he wasn't much of a drinker?" Art added.
Hermione scowled at him. "And since when are you such an expert?" she snapped.
"Um, I'm not, really," Art said and quickly looked away. "It's not as though you can't knock them back," he muttered.
She frowned at him and gritted her teeth. He had a point, although it bothered her that he knew that. She'd always tried to be discreet with her drinking after Art was born. "Well, I'm not knocking back anything these days and you'd be wise to curtail your own drinking. We don't have the best history with alcohol in this family."
Ron hung his head.
"Are you going to your grandmother's tomorrow?" Hermione asked changing the subject.
"Yeah," Art said. "Emma and I are both going."
"Good," Hermione said. "Are you taking Denis?"
"Uh." Art looked uncomfortable. "Am I meant to? I thought he was going to the all family dinner next week."
Ron nodded. "That's the plan."
"Oh," Hermione said. "Alright then. Well, to bed with you both. Art stop and get hangover potion out of the cabinet before you go up."
He stood and leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Thanks Mum."
"And don't drink so much," she admonished.
"Yes Mum," he said cheekily and went to her study.
"Come on," Hermione said. "Let's go to bed."
Ron followed her. "Do you have any of that stuff that sobers you up?"
"The antidote to mild poisons? Yeah, but you don't want that. The cramps are intense."
"But only for a minute," Ron said. "Come on, give us a dose."
She looked at him. "Why? You're not even that drunk. You've sobered up considerably since you got home."
"No. I'm still drunk. Give it."
"Ron—" she started.
"I don't want to be drunk in bed with you. I don't ever want to do that again."
She started to say something but then thought better of it and pulled the purple bottle out of her dressing gown. He looked stricken that she already had it on her. "I offered it to Denis," she explained.
Ron took the bottle and went into the en suite. She noticed he Impreturbed the door so she wouldn't hear him if he cried out from the pain. She sighed and pulled back the covers on the bed.
A few minutes later he came out and kissed her on the cheek. "Right as rain," he said. He smelled of toothpaste.
"It was fine before," she protested. "It's not a big deal."
He sat on the side of the bed and took her hands. "It is to me."
"Fine," she said. "As long as you're doing it for you and not because you think I need that."
"I know. I needed it."
She squeezed his hands. "Alright. So how did today go aside from the Cannons winning."
"Really well, I think. We mostly talked Quidditch and watched the match but there weren't any discernible snags."
"Good," Hermione said. Art and Denis getting along was so important to Ron, she wanted it for him.
"Honestly, I think you not being too bothered is what brought Art around. You're his mum. If you'd been hurt or offended I don't think he would've had anything to do with Denis," Ron said. "And the same is true with me and Denis. If I said anything against Ester, he'd be done with me. Not that I have anything bad to say anyway. I barely know the woman and what I did know twenty years ago, I liked."
Hermione rolled her eyes but not in a serious way. "Does it concern you that Art isn't taking Denis to the cousin dinner tomorrow?"
"Nah," Ron said, moving over to his side of the bed. "He needs time to talk all this over especially with Clive and Devin without Denis standing there. Besides, I don't want to push either one of them. I'm letting Denis set the pace with me. I wouldn't even have brought him back here tonight except I didn't want him getting sick alone in his room at the Broomsticks."
"I feel bad he's staying there all on his own. It must be expensive and kind of lonely."
"Well," Ron said, "now that Ginny knows he's her nephew, he gets the friends and family discount and I'm picking up the tab."
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
"He doesn't know that yet."
"I don't want him to feel beholden to me," Ron said. "Like he has to spend time with me because I'm covering his room, but on the other hand, he is my son and it seems wrong for him to spend all those galleons out of his measly intern salary."
Hermione gave him an amused smile. "You're all in, aren't you?"
Ron shrugged and smiled. "Yeah, but he doesn't need to worry about how daft I am. I know I may never see him again after this summer. He may not even want a Christmas card relationship. I mean, I know I'm his father, but I'm not his dad and I would never try and push that on him, but whatever he's willing to offer, I'm willing to take. I just…" He sighed. "I feel so bad about the whole thing. Not that I know how I could have made it different and had it work out."
"Yeah, I know that feeling," Hermione said with a sigh.
He looked at her. "I know you do. That's part of what I love about you."
She wrinkled her forehead. "How's that?"
"I love that you can look at bad things that happened in your life and turn them into compassion for others. Not everyone does that," he said.
She gave him a warm smile. "Thank you."
"Nah," Ron said. "Thank you." He kissed her forehead and she snuggled against him.
"I love you so much," she said. "You know that?"
"I do. I love you too. Lucky we're married. It'd be terrible to be this in love but stuck with other people." He meant it as a joke but it struck a nerve and he could feel her tense up.
She didn't trust herself to say anything. She knew he was only joking, so she just nodded. He pulled her closer and said "Nox" to douse the light. She thought about tomorrow. Sometimes, when Molly hosted all the grandchildren without their parents, Ron's siblings had an informal get together on their own. The host rotated and attendance did too. Tomorrow Bill and Fleur were hosting, and generally Ron and Hermione skipped more often than they attended when Bill and Fleur hosted. Because Gabrielle was Fleur's sister, she and Viktor were invited whenever Bill and Fleur's turn came up. Sometimes they attended, sometimes they didn't, sometimes Gabrielle went on her own. In the fifteen years that the family had been doing these rotating dinners, Hermione had only run into Viktor a handful of times. She didn't know how she felt about the possibility of running into him tomorrow. "Do you want to go tomorrow?" Hermione asked quietly.
"I think we should," Ron said. "We've missed a lot of family time since your accident."
"I guess that's true," she said.
As if he could read her thoughts, he said, "Besides, Gabrielle just had the baby a couple of weeks ago. They might not even come," Ron said.
"That's true," she said.
"So, we'll go then?" Ron asked.
"Of course," Hermione consented. Family issues were weighing heavily on him right now and she wanted him to get what he needed. Besides, it wasn't like there was ever a problem with Viktor. Someone who didn't know their history would likely think she and Viktor barely knew each other.