A/N: I don't own Harry Potter, any of its characters, or anything else J.K. Rowling can lay claim to. Enjoy! Also, thanks to my beta.
A soft but chilly breeze swept a wayward lock of unruly hair across the young woman's face as she briskly walked down the sidewalk towards the forbidding building towering before her. Even though the groundskeepers had endeavored to make the path as cheery and bright as possible with daisies, marigolds, and some flower she couldn't recall the name of, they just seemed to laugh at her, to plunge her deeper into a self-induced guilt as she neared the building. She pushed the doors open, pausing only long enough to allow her eyes to adjust to the dim, fluorescent interior lights before moving to her left, the heels of her shoes making clipped echoes as she neared her destination.
The young woman slowed as she came to room 23. The door was slightly ajar, and she could hear snippets of conversation interspersed with bursts of static. Her father was flipping channels on the television again. He always was more content to just watch different things pass him by than to focus on one program for a full hour. Straightening her jacket and attempting to smooth her hair with her clammy hands, the girl pushed the door fully open and took in her father's surroundings.
He was alone in the room, and held the television remote loosely in his right hand. Both of his arms were connected to intravenous attachments of some kind, and though his emaciated figure was almost swallowed up in the bedding, he radiated an uncanny inner strength from his position in the middle of the room, propped up against three pillows. He turned his head ever so slightly as she stepped into the room, alerted to her presence by the tapping of her shoes.
"Hermione," he said warmly. "I'm glad you're here."
She moved a few steps closer, a wave of uneasiness overtaking her. This is ridiculous, she told herself. He's your father – you've known him all your life – why be afraid of him now?
Because you don't want to blame yourself for his death, a little voice in the back of her head taunted.
"I'm not going to bite you, sweetie," her father said, turning the television off with a click. "Come and sit with me. I was beginning to think that I hadn't quite got the hang of using owls for messages after all."
Pulling her handbag onto her lap, she lowered herself slowly into the chair to her father's left. Hermione began to rummage through the bulky bag, pushing aside her wand case, a book on Transfiguration, her wallet with both wizarding and Muggle identification inside, and a slim notebook holding her latest research notes, before her hand closed on a flat square box. Lifting it out, she handed it over to her father, feeling a little better as she did so. "A peace offering of sorts," she said softly.
Her father pulled the lid off the small white box to find four round chocolates inside. He chuckled, and popped one into his mouth. "I'm probably not supposed to be having this, but something tells me that even if I could get a chocolate IV, it wouldn't be quite the same." He turned his head towards Hermione and met her gaze. "I'm really glad you came. I was beginning to think you were too caught up in things to come and bother your old man."
All the guilt of not being with her parents as much as she could have for the past three years burst forth again, overwhelming her. He wouldn't be in the hospital if you'd have bothered to spend some time with him while at university. You know magic can cure early stages of most cancers – but not advanced, never this far. He's dying, and it's your fault. An angry tear rolled down her face, and she swatted it away, infuriated with herself and her past actions.
"I remember once when you were only four that you were playing doctor with me and gave me M&Ms to take as pills," her father said, pretending not to notice his daughter's near-hysterics. "And then you came home for the summer ten years later and were so excited to tell me that chocolate is used as a cure for contact with evil magical creatures. This may not help my body much now, but the fact you brought me this is more than enough for my soul."
Hermione shivered when he reached out and patted her knee. Even through her loose slacks, the tubes attached to his arms felt like unearthly appendages to his hand, –as though he'd already left her and this world. "Cheer up, sprite. This isn't so bad. I get all the jelly and ice cream I want," her father grinned, looking tired as he leaned back against his pillows. Hermione jumped and let out a small giggle as he did so. The tubes had brushed against the side of her knee – her most ticklish spot.
"That's the sprite that drove me crazy when she was little," her father said, satisfied. "All she needed was a good tickling."
"Hey!" Hermione objected. "There's nothing wrong with being ticklish! And there's no way you could say that you did that on purpose, Dad."
"Perhaps not, but you'll never know, will you?" he teased, his dulled eyes regaining some of their old sparkle. "That's part of the reason I wanted you to come, you know. There're so many things your mother and I never got the chance to tell you because of your war, and our jobs. We always took other people's children more seriously than our own – at least their teeth – until you'd gone off to school and it was too late."
Hermione began to protest, but her father struggled to hold up an enfeebled hand, weighted down by his drip tubes, his current lifeline. "We are both to blame. Your dear mother and I when you were younger, and you more recently. We had things to take care of – you were struggling to help rebuild a world after a major war, whereas your mother and I were trying to save a struggling practice and raise our most precious gift as well." He sighed, and looked to his right, out the window, for a moment. The daisies were particularly vivid from where he sat.
"This room reminds me of the day you were born. We were here for what seemed like years because you were as stubborn as you always are about being born on your own terms. We went though three doctors because they kept getting off their shifts and you still hadn't arrived. Your mother wasn't too pleased about it, either."
The nurses attending to Charlotte Granger were surprised at the woman's quiet fortitude. She had been in the hospital room for days due to complications with her pregnancy, and once the contractions had begun, she had barely made any noise above a whisper. Grimacing, the pretty brunette grasped the hand of one of the nurses as a fresh wave of pain washed over her. They had put her husband in the next room, forcing him to take some sleeping pills and rest – he had already been awake for almost seventy-two hours, and at the rate the labor was going, he wasn't going to miss anything important if he rested for six hours.
One of the neonatal care specialists came in to check on Charlotte as she lay in the hospital bed, half-heartedly flipping through a magazine between the waves of pain which wracked her abdomen. She found the bright colors appealing – she had long since taken her contact lenses out because of exhaustion, and the tiny, sterile delivery room she occupied was sparse and dull white. Charlotte clenched her hands against the bed, crumpling handfuls of crisp, starched white hospital bedsheets in each hand. Her magazine slipped off her chest and onto the chilly tile with a slapping noise. She whimpered softly, but it was still loud enough to alert one of the nurses from their station across the hallway from her half-opened door.
"Mrs. Granger, are you all right? How far apart are your contractions now, dear?" The nurse looked at her with a sympathetic look, but her sweet voice was more annoying than soothing. She had a small, pointy, plastic-looking nose, with which she stared down at Charlotte.
"Getting much closer. Could you try to wake my husband? I don't want the babies born without him." Her face twisted up in pain, and the nurse paged the doctor with the phone at the station before going in to see if Raymond Granger had slept off the sedatives. When she returned, the doctor was taking measurements on Charlotte's dilation and running tests on her vital signs.
"Your husband will be here shortly, Mrs. Granger. Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable?" the nurse asked in the same sickly-sweet voice as before. Shaking her head no, Charlotte looked out of the window at the haphazard pattern of lights made from the last few residences with people still awake after midnight. It was now the 19th of September, and she had been here over a week. She had worried herself almost sick during her long week here, and didn't know how much longer she could last before having a breakdown. After two second-trimester miscarriages, she was both nervous and excited about making it to term with her children.
Raymond stumbled into the room just as the doctor finished taking her vital signs. "Hello, Mr. Granger. I'm Dr. Bethany Joseph, and it seems I'm the third to take on this case." The petite, dark-haired woman reached across Charlotte's swollen belly to shake Raymond's hand, and continued, "Charlotte, your vital signs are stable, if a little stressed due to the complications. However, the children are having problems, and I'm terribly sorry, but we cannot save both of them."
"What? Why not? What's wrong with them?" Charlotte lost all traces of composure and let loose the loudest sentences the nurses had heard her utter during her whole week there.
Raymond grasped his wife's hand and looked into her honey brown eyes, searching for something. "It'll be all right, Lottie, I'm sure. We've wanted children for so long that… something just has to work out." His face held a hint of sadness, but he grasped her hand and stared down the doctor. "What's wrong with the twins? What are you saving them from?"
"The girl has already entered into the birth canal, but she's in the breech position. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but the boy's umbilical cord is wrapped around the girl's neck. The girl is the stronger of the two, but she won't be able to be born with that cord still around her neck. Unless they are born in quick succession, they both will probably be stillborn." The doctor was quiet for a moment. "Because the girl is already moving into the cervix, a Caesarian section is now impossible. I'll let you think this over."
Charlotte's eyes glistened with tears while she and Raymond alternatively asked questions about the other complications. Is the girl strong enough to survive? Are they both fully formed? What happens if the girl comes first? Can you rotate them?
Ten minutes of crying and deliberating and two centimeters of dilation later, Charlotte Granger tearfully whispered, "Cut the boy's cord, so that my daughter may live."
Hermione was stunned. She had always wished for a brother or sister to keep her company when her parents were away at work, or to play with when they were doing house and garden work she wasn't old enough to help with. They were loving, certainly, but it took a lot of attention to keep up with a five year old Hermione Granger. Sometimes they just couldn't give enough of it. And now she finds out they killed her twin brother? Her stomach twisted and she felt a wave of nausea come over her.
"You didn't," stormed Hermione. "You couldn't have! How could you sit in a hospital room and decide to end a child's life just minutes before it was to be born? How could you?" Hot tears escaped her eyes, and she angrily swiped them away.
"Listen to me, Hermione, it wasn't an easy decision to make! But I thought you needed to know before no one else is around. We had a funeral, we buried him next to your mother's grandparents back in Scotland. We named him, and he was blessed by the hospital chaplain before he was taken away. Matthew Patrick Granger was born ten minutes after you, stillborn."
"But why? He should have been bigger and stronger than me, he should have..."
"We asked your Madam Pomfrey about it when you were in the hospital your second year at school. She thinks you were magical and he was not, and the magic in your cells was drawing more of the energy and nutrients to you, but since he was a boy, the difference in development was not as great. Not a wonderful explanation, but it makes sense."
Hermione exploded, but not after a flick of her wand and a carefully placed Silencing charm. "Great! Now my magic's to blame for everything. I'm a murderer all around." She sunk down into her chair and sobbed, leaning forward to press her forehead against the cool metal edge of her father's hospital bed as she cried.
Even though his IV would occasionally get caught on her ear, Hermione was soothed by her father's gentle smoothing of her hair. She listened to the humming of the machines as he kept speaking, slowly at first and then faster and faster, as if he had to get everything off his chest while he still could. "We had you so late into our married life because we couldn't ever get pregnant. We tried so many things, and when your mother finally did take the chance with artificial insemination, she felt like she was cheating life somehow.
"That's probably how you ended up having a non-magic twin, since you were all in petri dishes at one time. But that always bothered her a little bit. We were so determined to have children, and we had so many hard times before you came along. And she was thirty-five once she had you, and too old to have any more children. We made a decision between a certain single child, and an unlikely set of twins. We just welcomed you as best we could as our little miracle."
Hermione snorted. "You think you weren't playing god, deciding which child would survive? It's sickening!" She stopped, realizing what she had said. Even if her parents had made choices she wouldn't it didn't mean they were bad people, or to blame. "This is all because I'm a witch. None of this would be happening if I weren't magical."
"Ssh, my sprite. You don't mean that." Raymond Granger took his hand away from her head and allowed her to sit upright once more.
"I do too!" she exclaimed. "Matthew wouldn't have died. Mum wouldn't have been killed while I was away at school because she was the Muggle mother of a witch. You would be cured..." She swallowed an angry sob and looked away, out the window. "It's all my fault," she mumbled.
A look of sad and terrible realization came over her father's face. "Hermione, do you think I want you to be different? I'm happy with the way I have lived my life, and especially proud of what you have become, and what you are. I'm spending a wonderful afternoon with my wonderful daughter, and we're getting everything out into the open so I can go to see your mother knowing that you know what we did and why. And you can stop blaming yourself, too.
"You have no reason to believe that your magic could have cured me," he said, seriously. He reached out for her left hand with his, and their fingers clasped each other's. "Just because it works on wizards sometimes doesn't mean it would work on a Muggle who has lived a fulfilling sixty years. I've seen my little girl develop into an outstanding young woman of whom I can be very proud." He smiled, and shifted his hand slightly.
Their wedding rings hit with a small clink. Hermione thought of the day she changed her name to Weasley, and realized that even though she blamed herself for everything happening now that was wrong, she would have always been living the wrong life if it was without Ron. "Maybe you're right, Dad. Magic is good for some things."
Staring into the small diamond Ron had presented her on the day of her graduation from the Rosalind Franklin Medical Research Institute, Hermione recalled how he had been sweating from the July heat instead of nervousness, and was able to speak more eloquently than she at the time. She'd always thought he'd be a bumbling fool when it was time to propose, but she was wrong. Of course, she'd found out later that he had a modified, two-way Extendable Ear that allowed Harry and Ginny to coach him through every move.
They had all laughed it off; the war was over, they were all young and in love. It felt like a magical time, even though they were around magic daily, and it ran through their veins. Their wedding was no spectacular affair, but it was wonderful nonetheless, and the mere memory of it made Hermione glad she was where she was in life.
Somewhere in the distance, a piano was playing quiet interludes as four young women and an older, red-headed matron added the finishing touches to the bride's makeup and hair. Hermione was dressed simply in a long, figure-hugging satin gown that barely touched the ground when she walked, or rather floated on the cloud of happiness she had been floating on all morning. Never a fan of lace and frills, she had a simple white ribbon in the brown curls that fell loose underneath the small, simple veil.
Mrs. Weasley was acting the part of the mother hen as always, crying over Hermione as if she was going to lose her. It was silly, really, since she was marrying into Mrs. Weasley's family, not out of it, but she was glad of the sentiments, especially since in her own mother's absence. Ginny was acting as her maid of honor, and she and the other bridesmaids were lining up in their pale blue gowns, each tailored to the individuals' taste.
With a hug, Mrs. Weasley departed when Charlie came to escort her out to the garden where the ceremony was to take place. Lining up behind Luna, Ginny, and Catherine and Vanessa – two girls she'd grown close to at Franklin's Institute – Hermione grasped her father's arm. He kissed her cheek lightly and smiled at her. "You look beautiful," he told her, tears glistening but not falling from his eyes. "Just like your mother when we got married."
Hermione smiled sadly. "Do you think she's happy, wherever she is now? Would she approve of Ron and his family? Would everything be all right?"
Raymond patted his daughter's hand as the wedding march began to play from beyond the dressing room doors. "I'm sure she'd love Ron and the Weasleys as much as I do, sweetheart. I'm going to miss my baby girl coming home for the summers, you know. You'll have to visit an old man and his dental practice," he joked.
Stopping suddenly, Hermione threw her arms around her father. "Daddy, I'm sorry." She was close to crying, but knew that Ginny would scold her for looking like a raccoon on her wedding day. "I never meant to ignore you and Mum, I really didn't."
Her father looked shocked when she pulled away. "It's not anything you did on purpose, sprite. Your mother and I were always been proud of you, even if we weren't able to see all of your accomplishments firsthand. We were especially proud of your determination to fight for what you believed in during the war. You probably saved more people than you know because you fought instead of hiding at home."
"But if I'd been at home..."
"Then they would have killed you, too. There are days that I wish I'd been there too, but I know she was happy with life, and didn't regret anything except perhaps not getting the chance to spoil grandchildren rotten. You have to live with what life gives you, sprite, not just work around ways to change it with magic." He kissed her cheek and looped her arm through his.
They walked out of the dressing room and into the garden where the small party had gathered for the wedding. Hermione could see their friends from Hogwarts among her friends from Franklin's and Ron's coworkers in the Department of Magical Games and Sports. And, of course, a sea of redheads up near the front. Hermione smiled as she saw Tonks, who had turned her hair Weasley red for the occasion.
Then she saw Ron. Her stomach did a flip akin to the gymnastics it had done when she first realized back in her second year that behind the bungling facade, there was the kindest, most caring person she'd ever find. Her father sat down with Molly and Arthur, and Ron took her hands. Hermione felt alive, and would never give this back for anything. Life has given me Ron, and I don't ever want to give that away.
She didn't remember much else of the day – it was a blur of bliss and giddiness. She recalled the twins tampering with the food at the reception, and Harry and Ginny stealing the show on the dance floor, and twirling with her father the way she did when she was very young. Before she and Ron departed for their honeymoon, her father grasped her hands and kissed them. "Be glad of what you have, and don't dwell on what you don't. If you can do that, you will always have a good life, sprite." He winked, and left them to Disapparate with two small pops.
Hermione sat in silence, watching the array of lights and displays on the machines blink and flash. Her father had fallen asleep just a few moments ago, and seemed to be a bit restless. She pressed a cool cloth to his head, and he relaxed a bit, though awakening. Blinking, he turned his head to look at her.
"You know, sprite, you'd think that at least one side of me would be feeling better by now," he said. Seeing her puzzled look, he continued. "Well, if this side," he held up his right hand, covered in medical tape and plastic tubing, "is the drugs, and this side," he squeezed her hand with his left, "is the liquefied food, then it reasons that my right side should be mutated and numb, and my left never hungry again," he joked.
At the stern look from his daughter, he frowned. "Hermione, you need to learn to live with what you're given. I'm happy with where I've ended up, and I'd rather have my last memories be filled with laughter with my daughter than with tears and guilt. No one is to blame for my illness, just like no one is to blame for you having magical powers or for making your Ron's hair that hideous shade of orange when he was a baby."
"Stop blaming yourself for the choices you've made. You haven't purposely done anything wrong, and you never know what would have happened otherwise. There's no point in living for what-ifs, sprite, you'll never live for what is. You're happily married, have a job you enjoy, and loving friends who would do anything for you if needed." He smiled at her, and closed his eyes as he adjusted his position to be more comfortable.
A few seconds passed, which turned into minutes, which became half an hour. Hermione began to doze off, jerking her head up every time her chin reached her chest. Flashes of memories with her father kept invading her mind, and it was beginning to be difficult to keep the past separate from the present because everything was so vivid.
Sitting in his lap, being hugged while he taught her to read. Coming home from the first day of school in tears because the teacher hadn't assigned homework and her father sweeping her into his arms and making something up for her to do. Cooking mother's day brunch with her father and forgetting to turn the oven on for the biscuits, so Charlotte received lumps of dough. How he used to watch her do her Hogwarts revision, and she would explain things like Potions and Herbology to him because they weren't too dependent on magical abilities to study. Her graduation from Franklin's, and how he had tears in his eyes as he showed her the framed 5x7 photograph of her mother he had brought along – she would have liked to have been here, so I brought her along, he had told her.
Suddenly, Hermione jerked awake, unsure as to why. Her father was awake again, and reaching out for her hand. "I want you to promise me something," he said in a strained whisper. "Promise me you won't be guilty about things you can't control any longer. Promise me you'll live life happily because you are blessed, not sad because sometimes things don't go the way you expect. Life is much better if you can't wave a magic wand and fix it." He smiled, and continued, "but that doesn't mean I want you to give up being a witch. Just... be happy."
Tears sprung to her eyes and she leaned over to kiss his hand. "I promise, Daddy. I promise."
"Good." He closed his eyes and visibly relaxed. "I love you, sprite. I'm going to sleep some more now..." he trailed off as sleep claimed him.
Hermione sat there, grasping his hand tightly and with big, sad tears escaping to roll down her cheeks occasionally. After about five minutes, a wave of resignation washed over her as the beeping from one of the monitors became a long, uninterrupted pitch. A straight line was registering on the heart monitor. Gathering her things, Hermione kissed her father on the forehead and straightened his sheets as a nurse rushed into the room.
"It was peaceful, and he was happy," Hermione said, both to the nurse and to herself, as she exited the room. The daisies outside suddenly didn't look so bad, after all.
The day would have been unbearably hot if it hadn't been for the strong breeze that whipped over the hills and around the trees. Leaves were flying every which way on the ground, being swirled around in tiny vortexes before falling back to the earth. A woman walked through the small grove of birch trees, carrying a bundle in one arm. Sunlight streamed through the branches, dappling the soft grass with speckles of brightness.
Stopping at the edge of a meadow dotted with wildflowers, the woman sat down and leaned against a rock with letters carved into it. "Hi Daddy," she said.
Raymond Granger was buried at the edge of a small cemetery near the old family property in Scotland, next to his wife Charlotte and his son, Matthew. This was Hermione's first visit after the funeral and burial, but she had not forgotten what he meant to her, or the promise she had made. She and Ron were happy, and she was taking the guilt she had felt about her parents' deaths and turning it into something constructive – a halfway point between the Muggle and magical worlds for Muggleborn students to see their parents during Hogsmeade weekends.
"This is Rylan, Dad." She hugged the bundle in her arms tighter to her chest. Her son was three months old and the light of her life. "I wanted to name him after you, but I know how much you hate juniors and repetitive family names. 'Everyone should have their own name, because everyone's unique,' you once told me. So I gave him your initials instead. Rylan Jacob Weasley, and he's as beautiful a baby boy as anyone could see."
"I'm keeping your promise, Daddy. We're happy, and I'm glad you're with Mum. I know you're proud of your grandson, and if Ron's anything like Molly, we'll have a few more for you to smile down upon from wherever you are."
She closed her eyes and let the warm sun wash over her, ignoring the breeze that whipped her short hair into her face. Rylan was sleeping in her arms, and a wave of motherly love crashed against her heart. Smiling, Hermione raised her face to the sky and felt the cool stone against her back, the grooves of the chiseled letters leaving a mirrored imprint of her father's name on her skin through the thin blouse she wore.
And if she thought about it hard enough, she could almost feel him hugging her like he did all those years ago, when she sat on his lap, and he taught her to read.