“Merry Christmas!!” Ron called, opening the door to The Burrow and heaving an enormous sack full of presents behind him.
“Merry Christmas, dear,” Molly responded, coming in from the kitchen to greet him. “Where are the others?”
“They’re coming,” Ron said easily. “Rosie forgot her favourite doll so they went back to get it, but they’ll all be here in a minute.”
“That’s good,” Molly said fondly. “And how’s it all going at home?”
“We’re working through it,” Ron said, plonking himself down in an armchair and using his wand to direct the gifts from his oversized bag to underneath the Christmas tree. “Hermione found a counsellor who’s really helping us sort through a few things. I’m still in the spare room, but at least I’m home again.”
“Well I hope you learned your lesson,” Molly said sternly. “You wouldn’t like it if she did that to you.”
He shook his head fervently. “Definitely not,” he agreed. “No, I’ve definitely learned my lesson, Mum. Thanks to you and Dad as well,” he went on. While his parents had been careful not to interfere, they had offered support when he was going through his darkest time. Not support for what he’d done, but support for him as a person. It had done him the world of good.
“Uncle Ron!” A high-pitched voice rang through the house and five-year-old James Potter soon appeared and flung himself on Ron’s lap. “You’re here!” he shouted joyfully, and Ron couldn’t help but smile back. Kids didn’t know when grown-ups had gone through a hard time, and it was hard not to be affected by James’ enthusiasm for the season. “So, where’s my present, Uncle Ron? What did you bring me?”
“Steady, steady,” Ron said, laughing. “Presents happen after lunch, you know that. And no, I’m not going to tell you what you’re getting. That would spoil the surprise.”
James looked earnestly at him. “I won’t tell anyone you’ve told me, honest,” he said quietly. “I’ll pretend to be surprised and everything. Please?!?!?!”
“Nice try,” Ron told him. “But no. And look, here’re your cousins.”
Hermione and the kids had indeed just shown up, Rose with her doll in her arms, and Hermione gave Ron the smallest of smiles, one that gave him hope that she was indeed in a good mood with him today and she might even be more receptive to the idea of truly re-starting their marriage. They were followed shortly by Albus and Lily, who appeared to have been playing hide and seek, and Harry, Ginny, Molly, Arthur, and Charlie.
“I brought dessert, too,” Hermione said to Molly, reaching into her bag and bringing out an unusually large food storer. “Is there room in the icebox?”
“Not really, dear,” Molly said with a grin, clearly trying to make sure that all remained as normal as possible, “but that’s okay. We’ll just put a Cooling Charm on it and it should be fine.”
Charlie was looking at the size of the container and the bag it came from. “Undetectable Extension Charm?”
Hermione blushed a little and nodded. “I got the hang of them in that year we spent out of school,” she explained. “Very useful, I must admit.”
“You’ll have to teach me,” Charlie said generously. “I’ve never got the hang of them.”
Hermione looked surprised. “Really? But they’re easy. Here, let me show you …”
Al and Lily had managed to convince the rest of the kids to join in the Hide and Seek they’d been playing as a way of passing the time until lunch and, more importantly, the presents that would follow. Ginny made the most of the distractions to sit down on the arm of Ron’s chair.
“So, what’s happening with the baby?” she asked quietly.
Ron coloured. “It was a boy,” he said, equally quietly. “She called it Atlas, of all things. I didn’t get a say in that because I’ve opted out of fathering.”
“Atlas Parkinson?” Ginny stifled a giggle. “Well, I guess I’ve heard worse names. Did you hear what Malfoy’s kid is called? Scorpius. I mean, really, that poor child.”
“I’m to drop around Christmas and birthday, that sort of thing,” Ron went on. “Kind of like an uncle who shows up occasionally. I don’t think he’ll be told who I really am.”
Ginny nodded. “It might be easier that way,” she admitted. “But you’ll still get to see him grow up.”
“Yeah, kind of,” Ron agreed. “It’s not an ideal situation but it’s okay. And most importantly, Hermione’s okay with it. That was the sealer, really.”
“How’s that going?” Ginny asked sympathetically. “You seem to be doing alright.”
Ron nodded. “It’s coming along,” he said. “I think she’s starting to trust me again. Which is good, because I’m sure as hell never doing anything like that again.”
Ginny grinned. “That’s the spirit,” she said. “Well, I hope it works out for you. Both of you.”
Ron sighed heavily. “So do I, Gin,” he said with feeling. “So do I.”
Pansy sang her son to sleep and, finally, turned to her mother. “He’s happy now.”
“He’s a dear little thing,” her mother said fondly. “But it’s Christmas. Where’s the father?”
Pansy blushed. “He’s coming over tomorrow,” she admitted. “Busy today.” With his own family. But she didn’t say that, because her parents didn’t know who the father was. And Pansy intended to keep it that way.
“Hmmm.” Mrs Parkinson sniffed. “Too busy to spend his son’s first Christmas with him. Some father you’ve picked, love.”
“I’m happy,” Pansy insisted. “I’ve got Atlas. That’s all I need.”
“If you say so,” her mother said dismissively, and Pansy knew that it was only a matter of time before she started getting pressured into settling down again. Now she had the baby, her mother could see no reason for her not to get married and get a mortgage and everything else that came with the territory. And Pansy didn’t want that. She was happy with her life.
“So who is this man again?” Mrs Parkinson asked.
Pansy smiled. “Never you mind,” she said in a tone that made it clear that this was a question she would not be answering. “He’s a good man with good genes. And that’s all I need, isn’t it?”
Mrs Parkinson sighed. “If you say so, dear,” she said again. “If you say so. Now, since he’s asleep, are you going to help me with this lunch?”
Pansy grinned, planting a soft kiss on the sleeping baby. “Sure, Mum,” she said easily. “What do you need me to do?”