She could feel it coming all day: the dull throbbing at her temples, the tightening at the back of her neck. The headache had started after an hour-long conference Floo and then had worsened when she skipped lunch to collect Joanne and Kathleen at Enid Macmillan's birthday party.
Kathleen's wails of protest had only added to the pounding pain in Hermione's head. Joanne had been sick at the party so Eloise, Enid's mother, was perfectly right in Flooing her at work.
Hermione sighed and tipped her head on the back of the settee. If she could just lie here with a compress on her eyes, maybe she could head off a migraine.
She could hear Kathleen scolding her twin in the next room. "I don't know why I had to leave because you threw up all over Mrs. Macmillan's shoes!"
"I didn't mean to!" Joanne whimpered.
Of course, Joanne always got sick when she was excited, but Eloise didn't know that.
"Too much cake," Kathleen taunted.
Joanne was crying in earnest now. "Kathleen!" Hermione called. Her own voice felt like a thousand anvils falling on her head.
"Yes," Kathleen said sulkily.
Hermione turned to glare at her daughter and pain exploded in her skull. She didn't need to wait for it anymore: her migraine was here. There were streaks of light all around the curly red hair of her daughter.
"Never berate someone for being ill," she whispered as firmly as she could. "Joanne couldn't help it."
"Mum! It was such a fun party!"
Kathleen's eyes widened and her protests died on her lips when she saw her mother take out her wand.
Ron, Hermione thought, I need Ron.
"Hermione! I got your Patronus!"
She moaned and wished she had the energy to tell him what was wrong.
"Daddy! Mummy's not feeling well." Kathleen sounded scared instead of sulky.
Ron took a deep breath. "I think Mummy's having a migraine."
"Oh, no!" Joanne squealed. Hermione thought her head would crack open at that shriek.
"Is Mummy going to die?"
"It's a bad headache," Ron explained. "Mummy isn't going to die." Then he added so only she could hear, "Although she might wish for death right about now."
She would have smiled except it hurt too much.
"What do we do?" asked Kathleen, self-possessed once again.
"A willow bark potion and rest," Ron answered. Hermione could feel herself being levitated off the settee. "I'm taking Mummy up to bed and I want you two to pick up the sitting room while I make the potion. And no fighting."
Hermione thought that was asking a bit much.
"Sorry it took me so long," Ron whispered, after what seemed like hours later. "We were out of willow bark."
"What did you use?" she asked.
Her eyes flew open in alarm.
He sighed. "Of course I didn't use that. I Floo'd Mum. She didn't have all the ingredients, either. Luckily Fleur had this already brewed."
"What's in it?" She was too tired to remember what was in a migraine potion.
"Willow bark and some poppy juice," he answered impatiently, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"But poppy juice is an opiate."
"Yes." He put a warm hand under her neck and slid his arm around her shoulders to lift her to a sitting position. "Drink up," he said holding a goblet to her lips with his other hand.
"But I'll sleep all day," she protested, her lips pressing against the hard metal of the cup.
"It's two days before Christmas!" She tried to push the cup away, but she didn't seem to have any strength left in her arms.
"When you wake up, it will be one day until Christmas," he said, tipping the cup so that she could taste the sickly sweet potion against her closed lips. "I should give some to the girls while I'm at it."
"I have too much to do." She moved her chin so quickly that some of the potion spilled on her face. She hardly noticed since that sharp motion had triggered more screaming pain in her skull.
"The presents are bought, the tree is up, the food is in the pantry," Ron said, mopping her face. "What else is there to do?"
"I have to clean the house and finish the baking. And I haven't done laundry in three days and . . ."
"Drink up," he said, "or you're going to need more than a day to get over this."
"Sorry." She drank her potion. Before she drifted off she thought she heard him say that no one should have to apologize for a migraine.
She woke up in the dark with Ron snoring lightly next to her. The horrible pain was gone, she realized with a sigh of relief.
"How long did I sleep?" she whispered to the clock on her bedside table.
"Eleven hours, my lady," the clock said. "You fell asleep at five past one in the afternoon and it is now five past twelve in the night."
"What day is it?"
"The twenty-fourth of December, my lady."
Christmas Eve Day. Merlin help her.
She shrugged off the covers and realized that she was dressed in the gauzy summer nightgown Ron had always liked. She smiled. Trust him to put her in something so inappropriate for a cold winter's night.
She sat up, testing the pain in her head. So far, so good. She would nip into the kitchen and start the bread. Then, while the dough was rising, she would nap on the settee. By morning the cinnamon buns would be finished and she wouldn't be too far off of her schedule. It was a holiday at the Ministry anyway, so she didn't need to worry about work. But the house would still need cleaning . . .
"Don't even think it," Ron said, turning to lie on his back and looking up at her in the dim light. "You were planning on leaving this bed in the middle of the night to do something ridiculous."
"Baking bread is not ridiculous."
"Not if you own a bakery, no."
"Ron, this has to get done."
"Sweetie, we've done a lot together at mid-night." He put a lazy hand on her stomach. "I believe we made the girls at midnight. We took Norbert to the highest tower of Hogwarts at midnight, we had a rousing row at midnight after the Yule Ball."
"No, we didn't."
"We didn't have a row?"
"Yes, we had a row." Hermione smiled. "You didn't come with us to deliver Norbert, remember?"
"Right." She could almost hear him grinning. "I was there to make the girls, though."
She laughed. "Yes, you were."
"My point is that those things were important and mattered. Bread doesn't matter."
"It does," she insisted. "This is Joanne and Kathleen's last Christmas before they go off to Hogwarts. I want it to be memorable."
"They won't remember bread, but they'll remember that this was the first Christmas you let them help."
Her breath caught in her throat as she realized he was right. The girls had been begging her for days to help with the various tasks, but she had shooed them away like they were small children getting in the way.
"I'm right, you know."
She ran one finger down his nose. "I know." She slid down the pillows until she was lying on her side, facing him.
"Hermione capitulates," he said with a smile.
She giggled. "Where did you come up with that word?"
"From you, of course." He slid his hand down the curve of her hip. "I like it. Capitulate. It sounds dirty."
"It is not a dirty word!"
"Hmm. If Hermione capitulates then I don't have to ma–"
"Ron!" She tried not to giggle. "Now it does sound dirty."
His laugh was smug as he moved a little closer and started playing with the ribbons on the front of her gown. "What else was in that potion?"
"You tell me," she retorted even though it was hard to maintain an air of studied indifference with his hands brushing against her.
"I don't know. Mum got it from Fleur."
"Your favorite sister-in-law," Hermione said without heat.
"She is." He propped himself on one elbow and threaded his free hand through her hair. "And only because she gives you a good idea – like this nightgown – every now and then."
"Non-existent, see-through nightgown," she murmured, wondering why she bothered to feign indifference when it was the only thing she ever faked with him. It must be some sort of reflexive defense pattern stemming from her school days.
She shivered as he pressed his mouth against her neck and moved ever so slowly down to her collarbone. So much for reflexes and indifference and long-standing habits.
Then she pushed him gently away. "I don't have a plan for tomorrow."
He smirked at her. "Ask yourself: what would Fleur do?"
She smirked back. That was a game she and Ginny used to play long ago to mock Fleur and Ron knew it. Then she frowned as she realized that Fleur was never in a hurry or tired, that her children were well behaved and that Bill was a very happy man in spite of his cruel injuries.
Sighing, she traced the familiar laugh lines around Ron's mouth with one finger. When was the last time she had really looked at him? His eyes were still that gorgeous blue, his mouth just as kissable. Ron deserved to be as happy as Bill and she deserved to be as happy as Fleur, she decided with a lighter heart.
"First, Fleur would put her husband in the magical world's version of traction," she said with a provocative smile as she tugged at his t-shirt.
He grinned and peeled his shirt off in a matter of seconds.
"Then Fleur would have a lie in the next day whilst her husband and children started the bread dough for the first rising." Her nightgown followed Ron's shirt to the floor.
"When Fleur finally woke up," Hermione continued, "she would praise her children and her husband to the skies, and shape the dough for the second rising." She ran her hands over his shoulders and down his chest. "Then she would drop a delicate bit of lingerie on top of the cauldron of laundry that her husband had started."
He smiled as she tugged at the waistband of his pajama bottoms. "Then after the buns were baked, her husband would whisk the children off to his mother's."
He pulled her on top of his warm chest. "Then they would do several quick Cleaning Charms before they took a nap together."
She paused to enjoy the sensation of her skin against his. "In the evening everyone would noticed how pretty Fleur looked because she was so well –"
They started to move together. "Rested," she finally said.
Much later, Ron sleepily remarked, "I think you have a plan, sweetie."
"Hermione, Ron said you had a migraine yesterday," Molly said, touching her arm with concern.
"I did," she admitted. "But that potion helped. And thank you for taking the girls today."
"I enjoy them so. And you're positively glowing." Molly beamed at her.
"We helped with the buns, Grandma!" Kathleen said. "Mummy had a lie in this morning and Daddy and Joanne and I made the dough."
Kathleen was glowing, too.
It had been a good plan, Hermione thought, smiling over her head at Ron. The house was clean enough, the buns were tasty but a little lopsided, and she had a happy family again. The next time she was headachy and overworked she needed to remember those four simple words: what would Fleur do?
Someone tugged at the sleeve of her robes. It was Joanne. "Mummy, I feel sick."
"I can 'elp," Fleur said from behind her.
"Jo'an, you must zit down 'ere," Fleur commanded. "Now pinch the top of ze nose like so."
Fleur conjured a peppermint stick. "Now breathe in ze smell and then out." She patted Joanne on the back. "Very good. Six times. Slowly."
Hermione could see her daughter's shoulders relax and her color return.
"Now I tap ze forehead with ze wand, like so."
Joanne opened her eyes in amazement. "I feel better."
"My Michelle – she had – what do you call it?" Fleur looked up at Hermione. "Ze nervous stomach?"
"But Michelle's a prefect!" Kathleen blurted. She had stood by her twin during the entire procedure.
Thankfully, Fleur didn't show her amusement. "She still gets the nervous stomach even though she is prefect." She looked sternly at Kathleen. "Everyone is showing ze stress now and again. Your mudder – " She indicated Hermione with a negligent flip of her hand. "She has ze headache – no?"
"I've never seen you stressed, Aunt Fleur," Kathleen said, crossing her arms.
"Kathleen! I don't like your tone!"
Fleur flashed Hermione a sympathetic glance over her shoulder. "Michelle also had ze back-chat at dis age." Then she turned to Kathleen. "When I have ze stress, my 'air does not curl." She shook her head dramatically. "Dat is when I know to rest."
Kathleen nodded and flicked Joanne's shoulder. "Do you want to watch Michelle play chess against Grandpa?"
"I'll have to remember that trick," Hermione said after the girls had left.
"My cuzin, Marguerite – she is ze one teaching me dis." Fleur shrugged. "It is all in ze thinking, no?"
"She is older and a very wise woman – my cuzin. Often I ask myzelf – what would Marguerite do?"
A/N: This story originally appeared in my Live Journal. Thanks to Sherry for the beta. I promise a long story for all of you in the New Year!