Disclaimer: Don't own a single one of these lovely characters, unfortunately.
Summary: Post-DH, pre-epilogue, canon compliant. This is pretty much as the title implies, a turning point, a hesitation, a stepping forward.
Author's Note: Written for the first Support Stacie Fanfic on Demand Author Auction, for gioiamia, who deserves a heck of a lot more than this for all she's done.
“What the hell are you doing sitting here?”
The moment the tight blackness of Apparating was gone and he’d gotten his bearings enough to see that Ron Weasley, his best friend of many years was indeed in the very last place he’d looked for him, Harry had started yelling.
“Are you mad? You can’t just disappear at a time like this! What’re you playing at saying you’ve gone for a coffee and then not coming back? Hermione’s going mental, thinking something’s happened, and sent me to fetch you, and this really isn’t the best time to stress her out, if you hadn’t noti—”
Harry cut himself off when he realized that Ron hadn’t so much as glanced at him since his appearance in the room.
“Ron? Ron, are you listening to me? Can you hear me?” Harry’s anger on Hermione’s behalf took a half-step back as concern for her husband suddenly took precedence. He waved his hand in front of Ron’s ashen face, then snapped twice close to his ear—Ron’s glassy eyes didn’t so much as blink. Harry wondered for half a moment if he’d been Petrified, but why on earth would someone Petrify him and leave him sitting on the edge of his childhood bed at the Burrow was beyond him. Any other day he might have assumed it was a sibling prank, but not even George would try and pull something like that today of all days.
Having run out of ways to snap his friend out of whatever trance he was in, he settled on his last resort—punching him across the face.
That got a reaction.
“Oi!” Ron yelled, jumping up in a defensive stance by default. He rubbed his jaw as he took in Harry’s appearance. “What the hell was that for?” he demanded, balefully.
Some of Harry’s ire came forward again. “Call it on behalf of your sister,” he said, shortly. “Ron, you’re my best mate, but if you miss the birth of your first child Hermione will have your head, and Ginny will have mine, so let’s get a move on.”
Harry turned to take the lead back, but with a groan of springs, he realized Ron had sunken back onto the mattress. “I can’t go back there,” Ron said, sounding like the idea was ridiculous.
Harry spun around in confusion, and his patience was wearing thin. “You’ve got to come back with me, Ron. Right now. Come on.”
“I can’t do it.” Ron shook his head, looking desperate. “I can’t do any of it, Harry.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. He didn’t like the way this was headed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean… a baby! It’s just… not possible.”
“Er… it’s a little late for that, mate.”
“But I can’t do this!” Ron said, looking miserable. “It’s a bad idea… She’s having a girl, d’you know that? I can’t do it, I don’t know crap about girls!”
Harry glanced at his watch. According to the healer, the baby was going to be born in less than an hour and a half… at most. And that included the time that Harry had already spent looking for Ron—at his and Hermione’s place, at Harry and Ginny’s, at the Ministry, and even at a few pubs. He hadn’t seen Ron in a state like this since his wedding day, and he wasn’t entirely sure that he had enough time to talk him out of it.
But what else was he going to do? He certainly couldn’t bring Ron back to Hermione like this, whatever the case.
He sighed, and sat down. “Everything’s going to be okay, Ron. It’s gonna be fantastic, in fact. You’re gonna be a dad!”
“I don’t know how to be a dad! I’m just getting used to uncle. I’m good at uncle. You get to give them back at night with uncle.”
“Trust me on this, Ron, you’re not going to want to give them back when you’re a dad.”
He waited for a moment for his friend to take strength from that, but instead Ron dropped his face into his hands. “What if she’s chosen wrong?”
“Hermione!” Ron said, as if the answer were obvious. “What if she’s chosen wrong, made a mistake? She should’ve chosen Viktor sodding Krum, at least she’d know he’d be able to support her no matter what happens.”
“Now you’re out of your head if you think I’m going to believe you really think that for even a minute.”
Ron ignored him. “I’m barely holding on in the Auror department, as it is, and most people still think it’s just because I’m your friend I even got in in the first place.”
“No one thinks that, Ron,” he snapped. “And you’ve got your own bleeding division, what are you talking about?”
“I don’t think Kingsley’s been impressed by my results lately,” he said, bleakly.
“But he knows about Hermione. And Kingsley wouldn‘t fire you over a few weeks’ shaky numbers,” he said, reasonably.
Ron shook his head, but switched back to his prior train of thought. “And how am I supposed to be a dad? I don’t know how to be a dad.”
“Nobody does! I didn’t know before James, and he’s turned out okay so far.”
“But you had Teddy to practice on. And besides, you’ve got boys,” Ron reminded him, as if it were a different species. “If it was a boy I might do alright. I was a boy. I can’t think of a single little girl who even likes me. Even Victoire thinks I’m rubbish.”
Harry hesitated. “Victoire might not be your best example of a normal girl,” he said. Bill and Fleur’s little girl was lovely, and sweet-tempered most of the time, but she may as well have had ‘princess’ tattooed on her forehead when she was born. “Besides,” he started, fully aware he was reaching at straws, “you helped out with Ginny a bit, when you were younger…”
Ron snorted. “You’re right. What am I worrying about, I’m practically a professional.”
Harry sighed. “Look, everybody’s afraid when they become a dad, alright?”
“You weren’t afraid with James.”
Harry scoffed. “Are you kidding? I was terrified. Partially because—no offense, but your sister can be a bit intimidating. And I didn’t know what the hell I was doing with James. I just… bungled it along, like I always do. And you’ll do the same. But right now, Hermione needs you. She can’t do this without you.”
“Yeah, she can,” Ron said, in an old argument Harry was used to by now. “She’s Hermione, she can do anything.”
“She can’t do this,” Harry insisted. “And she shouldn’t have to. That’s your kid, too. You’ve got to pull yourself together and get back there.”
“Hermione’s been preparing for all of this since the minute she found out,” Ron went on, still seeming to only half-hear the things Harry was saying. “Researching like mad, you know how she gets. Bringing home stacks and stacks of Muggle and Wizarding books alike. Kept trying to get me to read all these ‘how-to’ books and I’d tell her I would just to shut her up, you know, but I never did, and now she’ll kick me to the curb when she sees how rubbish I am at it all.”
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his friend’s melodrama. “No, she won’t. Look, no matter how many books or how many sodding hours she spends looking up facts and figures, Hermione isn’t that much more prepared for this than you are. In fact, if I know her, she’s probably scared out of her mind.”
That seemed to jolt Ron a bit. He even turned to look at Harry. “Hermione?”
“Hermione’s from a Muggle household, like me. She may have gotten to play auntie, but coming from experience, that really doesn’t make up for having grown up in in the Wizarding world. There was loads of stuff that happened with James that took me completely by surprise, but Ginny was completely used to it. Helped me keep my head on my shoulders. And you know how much Hermione hates going into a situation she doesn’t think she can handle.”
“She can handle this,” Ron insisted.
“She doesn’t know she can. She’s counting on you to help her through it all.”
“You think so?” Ron asked, starting to look like he was ready to be convinced, maybe. Harry took it as a sign of encouragement.
“Definitely. And besides… scary as it all is, mate… that first moment? Better than anything you can possibly imagine. You don’t want to miss that.”
Ron swallowed and shook his head in agreement, though he still looked fairly pale.
“Look, you can’t focus on the what-ifs and the mistakes you think you’re going to make, because… they’re just going to happen. And they happen to everybody and that’s how you learn stuff. You’ve got to just focus on now. Focus on Hermione and…” he paused for a moment, curious. “Do you have a name picked out?”
Almost automatically, Ron’s shoulders eased up and his face softened as he nodded. “Rose. Her name is Rose.”
“Well, Rose is going to be the luckiest little girl, ever. ‘Cause she’ll have my two best friends as parents.” He waited a moment before adding, “If we get back in time and Hermione forgives your sad arse.”
Ron winced, but this time it was in a more familiar, knew-he’d-buggered-it-up sort of way. He scoffed. “That’ll take some doing. She’s gonna kill me.”
“Luckily for you, I think she’s a little more focused on life at the moment.” Finally Ron’s determination seemed to be overcoming his fear, and he clapped his friend on the shoulder, encouragingly. “Hermione needs you.” He stole a glance at his watch. “And we’ve got to go… Now, if not sooner.”
Ron ran a hand through his hair, but stood up, looking more or less ready. The clearest indication that Ron was more or less recovered was his last words to Harry before they Disapperated.
“You ever tell Hermione that thing I said about Viktor Krum—I’ll kill you.”
They fairly raced each other back to Hermione’s room, but Ron’s longer legs had always been an advantage to him there. As Harry came up, he heard Hermione yelling, “Ronald Weasley, where have you been?!” before he saw from the doorway that she’d collapsed in tears. Ron was right there, mumbling apologies and comforting her.
Harry hesitated at the door. He’d been prepared to go in and claim victory in his husband-retrieval efforts, then with an odd sinking feeling realized that it wasn’t really his place to enter. He’d had moments where he knew it was best to leave Ron and Hermione to themselves before, of course, but they’d still just been Ron and Hermione, then. Their time together had never really changed their Ron and Hermione-ishness much at all, around him, at least. But something here was different.
It was stupid, he realized. They’d been married nearly as long as Ginny and himself, and of course he did have Ginny, and yet still there was a small piece of him that was jealous. Being in Ron’s room at the Burrow—the room they’d spent so many summer nights in, staying up taking about Quidditch or how stupid the Dursleys were, or what their next plan was going to be... he hadn’t realized until today how very far he’d come from all of that.
His life was infinitely better now—he was able to have a life, in the first place, and have a family and not have to constantly worry about any of it. But he couldn’t deny that some of the closeness had been lost, without his realizing it. He thought of a couple years back, when Ron and Hermione had announced to him that they’d bought a cottage, and the news had made his stomach jerk, and he hadn’t known why. He knew why, now. There had been a time when major decisions had depended on all three of them, when their lives had literally been in each others’ hands.
Of course he was grateful that their lives didn’t necessitate that anymore. It was just…
Well, this was much bigger than buying a house.
He was being ridiculous, and he knew it, but the truth was, Ron and Hermione were now on a path he couldn’t follow. It was theirs, and theirs alone. And while the logical part of him was thrilled for them, there was a little, tiny part of him that wasn’t.
“I’m going to kill him,” his wife’s voice came grimly as she appeared at his side, wrapping an arm around his waist.
“No, you’re not,” he said, temperately, only half in the moment.
“And what do you know?” Ginny said indignantly, eyes flashing.
Harry wrapped his arms around his wife and rested his chin on the top of her head, pleased that despite her temper she snuggled into him. This was his, at least. “I know where he’s been.”
Ginny huffed slightly. “Where did you find him, anyhow? Down in the pub, buying rounds for a room full of strangers?”
“Aren’t you thinking of the wrong brother?” he asked, thinking of Bill after his son was born. “No, he was at the Burrow, actually, just sitting in his room.”
Ginny looked up in surprise. “At the Burrow?” And then as understanding reached her eyes, her expression softened to one of bemused affection. “My stupid brother.”
He took hold of himself enough to notice the absence of clinging children. “Where’re James and Al?”
“Dad’s taken them to George and Angelina’s. They’d been here all day, they were both about dead asleep.” After a moment, she seemed to take in Harry’s half-glazed expression. “Are you alright?”
“Hm? Yeah, of course, it’s just…” he glanced vaguely in the direction of Hermione’s room, but didn’t finish his sentence.
She didn’t seem to need it, though. “Things won’t change that much, you know. Even if we are all real adults now. You didn’t change that much when James was born, did you?”
Harry made a noncommittal noise that sounded vaguely like “hrmn.”
“Ron will still be Ron. Lord knows Hermione will still be Hermione.” She grinned.
“Only now when we get together for dinners or brunches the kids will all play together and we’ll actually be able to talk to our friends. And we can have Potter versus Weasley games of Quidditch, and I’ll get to watch you play uncle to another little Weasley, which I have to admit, I like rather a lot.”
Harry had to admit, it sounded pretty good when she put it like that. All the Weasleys and Potters growing up together… just the way it should be. The way it always had been.
Rose Eleanor Weasley was pronounced to have a very healthy set of lungs some twenty minutes later. The glimpse of Hermione that Harry got before her mother and Mrs. Weasley had shooed him away so she could rest, had seen her looking exhausted, but radiant, if not still slightly annoyed at her husband.
Ron looked like he’d just won the Quidditch world cup—by way of a few bludgers to the head.
Harry waited around in the background until most of the other relatives had had their chance at the baby and eventually dispersed, after Ginny had given Hermione a hug and gone to pick up the boys, and Mr. Granger had come by insisting that the grandmums needed a proper meal and whisked them away.
Molly had grasped his arm as she passed him near the door, giving him a tired smile and murmuring, “Dear Harry,” as she left.
Rose was asleep at the moment, so the room was quiet, with just the four of them left. Harry cleared his throat, overly loudly. “I guess I should go… give you two some time…”
Hermione glanced at Ron and rolled her eyes a bit, producing a smirk from her husband. “Go on, Harry, come and hold your niece for a bit, why don’t you?”
Harry came forward, but hesitated a moment longer, and she laughed at him. “She’s just a baby, Harry. You should know your way around them by now.”
Harry could almost feel brimming over from Ron as he carefully placed his daughter in Harry’s arms. It was strange enough to look forward to his two best friends having a kid together—it was something altogether different to see a tiny, scrunched-up mish-mash of their features up close. She had one little wisp of reddish-brown hair at the very top of her head that made Harry grin.
“What do you think? She’s brilliant, eh? Gorgeous, just like her mum.”
“If you think saying stuff like that’s going to get you off the hook, you’ve got another think coming,” Hermione said, sleepily, but she didn’t sound half as angry as she meant to.
“She’s beautiful,” Harry agreed.
Hermione’s hand found his and squeezed it. “I’m glad you could be here, Harry,” she said. And then, a bit more testily, “Both of you.”
Ron cleared his throat, self-consciously. “Yeah, well… me too…” Then he cleared his throat. “Really, Harry, thanks. For being here. And, you know… the other.”
“Yes,” Hermione said, smirking a little, as she accepted her daughter back from him. “The other.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Harry said, his heart feeling warmer and more at ease than it had been since he’d arrived back at the hospital. “Look, I should go. Al’s kept Ginny up the past couple nights and she could probably use some sleep. You get some rest too, yeah?” Hermione smiled and nodded. And then to Ron, “Take care of them.”
Ron ducked his face down, and Harry just saw the corner of a shamed smile. “Yeah, I will.”
And Harry left, alone, but not shut out. That, he knew, would never happen with Ron and Hermione. And he could see it, all the little Potters and Weasleys growing up together, trips to meet the Hogwarts Express together, Christmases, birthdays, all the cousins, all the parents. Yes, things were different, but things had changed before. And in truth, it’d been a long time since his life had changed for anything but the better.