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Chapter 4: Boggarts in the Attic
Three years further on...
Harry checked the address on the piece of parchment the dispatcher at the Aurors office had handed him before they headed out. He heard the pop of Ron appearing behind him, having apparated out of the office just behind.
"This the place thenm yeah?" Ron questioned, squinting to make out the numbers over the door frame.
"Looks like it."
"I can't believe we're out scaring things out of cupboards," Ron grumbled. "Two of the most productive aurors in the office and we're doing the equivalent of a muggle fireman pulling a rabbit from a tree."
Harry chuckled, he got great amusement from Ron bungling the muggle figures of speech that Hermione still used at home. "You mean a cat from a tree, mate. And you know the drill, all the aurors have to cycle through desk duty and get the calls as they come in. And we're lucky that Thackery pulls the strings for us to only have to do it once a quarter. Everyone else pulls this rotation once a month."
"Well, there should be some benefits to having done in Voldemort. C'mon, let's get this over with. What was the complaint, again?"
"Older woman, complaining of something rattling around in her attic crawl space. Not sure what it is. Maybe boggart, maybe ghoul? Dispatch asked us to take a look."
"Maybe it's also a figment of some old bat's imagination. Well, then, let's get this over with."
Harry and Ron headed up the walkway. Though he put on the business-like front for Ron, Harry was feeling equally impatient with desk duty today. He was hoping that Ginny would have been able to owl him at the office after her healer appointment. They had both been shocked when last week, the potion had turned green, indicating that Ginny was pregnant again. They were thrilled, to be certain, just not something they were expecting so soon again after James. He was only 6 months old, for Merlin's sake. Harry was dying to say something to Ron, but wanted assurance from Ginny first that everything was looking ok. He was hoping a message would be waiting for him when they returned.
Ron rapped impatiently on the door. "Ma'am? Are you there? Aurors!"
A very slight, stooped woman with long grey streaked hair opened the door. "Oh, hello boys. Yes, I'm hoping you'll be able to take a look at what's making the awful racket in my eaves."
"Not to worry, ma'am," Ron deadpanned in his best serious auror voice. "We'll take a look."
Harry rolled his eyes at Ron's tough wizard act, wondering if Hermione had got him more muggle police films to watch with Arthur on the DVD player she'd purchased for him last Christmas. "Can you point us in the right direction, ma'am?" Harry asked politely.
"Wait a moment," the woman said, peering closely at Harry's forehead. "You're not..."
"Fraid I am, ma'am. Not to worry, though, they didn't let me skim any corners in training. I'm sure we'll be able to take care of whatever is making that noise straight away. Now, if you please..."
"Right, of course... right this way."
She led down the narrow hallway and pointed to the pull-down attic stairs overhead. "Up there. Hear it?" There was a loud banging. Ok, Harry thought, not a figment of the old bat's imagination. "I'll leave you gentlemen to it, then. I'm sure it'll be no trouble for Harry Potter and Rob Weasfield!"
"Ron Weasley," Ron mumbled under his breath. "But of course you get his name right."
Ignoring Ron's bruised ego, Harry reached up and pulled the attic stairs out. A cloud of dust invaded his lungs and he started coughing violently. "Well, then," he gasped, trying to recover his breath. "By all means, mate, ladies first."
Ron shot Harry a murderous look and started up the creaky ladder to have a look. Harry could hear various muffled curses from overhead as Ron groped around the crawl space, trying to determine what was up there.
"Oh for Merlin's sake, Ron, here. Lumos." Harry tossed his illuminated wand up to Ron.
As soon as the light entered the space, Ron let out what Harry could only describe as a scream, followed by some attempted stuttering. "Riddi-- riddic...I can't! Harry!" Ron yelled. Wandless and therefore defenseless, Harry struggled to join Ron on the ladder to see what had caused such a reaction.
Harry could just see into the attic when he saw what appeared to be Hermione, weeping hysterically and clutching her abdomen, the word "WHY?" on her lips. Harry knew instantly that this was a boggart, and that Ron was seeing his worst fear... something wrong with Hermione. Harry couldn't piece together just what, and didn't have the time.
"Accio wand!" Harry cried, and his illuminated wand flew back into his hand. "Riddikulus!" he called confidently, aiming the spell squarely at the phantom Hermione. The shape shifted from the sobbing figure to one lecturing Ron about the finer points of table etiquette in the 18th century muggle French court. Harry couldn't help but laugh at such a figure, and as Ron was able to join him, the boggart melted away.
As they descended the attic staircase, Ron looked shaken to his very core. Seeing Hermione hurting had always been his Achilles heel, and when it had happend so many times before, it was hard for it to not seem lifelike.
"You alright there, mate?" Harry intoned, averting his eyes to give Ron a moment to pull himself together.
"I'll be... it'll be... just give me..."
"You know, it's getting on in the afternoon. I doubt anyone would much mind if we skive off a few minutes early, grab a firewhiskey before heading home. Not like there's time for another desk duty call today, anyway."
Ron took a shaky breath in. "Yeah, alright then. And anyway," he said, giving Harry the side eye, "not like they'd fire Harry sodding Potter or his sidekick, Rob Weasfield anyway."
"Just head off to the Leaky and I'll meet you there in a bit."
Harry, after explaining to the woman that yes, it was perfectly normal for his partner to scream like a small girl and it was indeed perfectly in line with standard auror operating procedure, arrived to the Leaky Cauldron with a pop, and joined Ron at a small table near the fireplace. He ordered a pair of firewhiskeys from the barmaid, and turned to Ron while they awaited their drinks.
"So," Harry said as casually as possible, "Mind filling a bloke in on what that was all about?"
Ron rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Well, I don't know how to say it, but..."
A million things flashed through Harry's mind. Ron was leaving Hermione. Hermione was leaving Ron. They'd finally had the row to end all rows and it was over. Harry braced himself for what he might do if his two best friends in the entire world, if James's godparents, broke up.
"We can't get pregnant," Ron finally blurted out. "Well, Hermione can't... at least that's what they think... I don't know."
Harry breathed a slight sigh of relief. Not remotely what he was expecting. "I didn't even know that you were trying," he said. "I guess I just figured with Hermione's big lawyering career that, you know, you were waiting."
Ron sighed. "No, actually, we've been trying, or at least not NOT trying, since we got married." Blimey, thought Harry. That was three years ago! "In the last year, we've really, erm, stepped things up in that department," Ron stammered, his ears turning a deeper red than his hair. "Hermione has read every blasted book in both the muggle and wizarding worlds about it, but no matter what or, erm, HOW we try, nothing's working. We've progressed to getting healers involved, and Hermione even thought about seeing a muggle doctor. But given what seems to be the cause of it all, we're not sure a muggle doctor could help."
"The cause?" Harry questioned.
Ron stared intently into his whiskey tumbler to avoid Harry's eyes. "The healers think... well, they're pretty sure anyway..."
"Ron, just get on with it!"
The words rushed out of Ron. "They think it's old spell damage. They're not sure if it's from when she was tortured by Bellatrix, or it might even go back to the Department of Mysteries where she got that scar on her stomach from. Either way, they don't know if they can reverse it. It might have left her... well, us, actually... unable to ever have kids."
Harry sat stonefaced at this revelation. He couldn't believe that all these years later, his friends were still paying the price for everything that they had done for him. If it weren't for him, Hermione never would have been at the blasted Department of Mysteries, or Malfoy Manner, or gotten mixed up in any of this at all. They'd given up so much for him, and now, they might have given up ever having the family that Harry knew Ron wanted more than anything.
Recovering his voice, Harry tried to offer some small comfort. "Ron, I don't even know what to say, I..."
"Not much too say, mate," Ron said sadly. "That's why we didn't tell you. We figured you would just blame yourself for it, when anyone with any sense knows it's not your fault. But you're Harry Potter, so reason stands you'd think it was, just the same."
"It is, in a way..." Harry trailed off. Merlin, he thought, will there ever be a moment in Ron Weasley's life that I have nothing to do with?
Ron waved his comment away with his hand. "Don't be foolish. Anyway, she was going to the healers' today, to see if the latest round of potions and counter-curses has made any kind of difference. Guess that's why I was a bit more on edge than usual today, waiting for some kind of news."
The healer. Harry's heart sank. He knew that Ginny and Hermione saw the same healers at St. Mungo's, so there was a fairly good chance they ran into each other that afternoon. And Ginny, not knowing anything about what Ron just told Harry, would have likely passed onto Hermione why she was there, and...
Oh bullocks, thought Harry. This must be the world's worst timing.
"Speaking of the healer, Ron... well, I'm going to look like a right wanker at the moment, but since I'm guessing Ginny will have told Hermione and you deserve to know what you're walking into when you get home, yeah... well... Ginny's pregnant. Again."
Ron's eyes widened in disbelief. "But James is just..."
"Six months, yeah. A bit of a shock, to be sure."
Ron closed his eyes for a moment before abruptly standing up. "Listen, mate, I'm sorry. I just... I have to go. If Ginny did tell her, well, I imagine Hermione's a right wreck, and I need to... yeah, I just..." Ron looked like he might cry, right there in the middle of the Leaky Cauldron.
"No, for sure," said Harry, nodding his head. "Give Hermione my love, will you?"
"Thanks mate, yeah. I think I'll drop by George's shop and floo home, shouldn't apparate like this..." And with that, he turned and left, leaving Harry alone at the table. Harry gave a heavy sigh, gulped down the rest of his firewhiskey, and apparated home.
Harry walked into the kitchen of their cottage to greet his wife. He expected a happy Ginny brimming with news of the healer appointment. What he found was a right brassed off Ginny, slamming pans onto the hob and muttering under her breath.
"Gin?" Harry offered tentatively. "Everything alright there, love?"
Ginny spun around to face Harry. "Well, no, Mr. Potter. Everything is NOT bloody well ALRIGHT. My supposed BEST FRIEND, Hermione, completely blew me off today at the healer's office. She was leaving as I arrived and when I shared the news, she didn't even offer a congratulations, she just ran off!"
Harry closed his eyes. He had willed himself to forget the tragic intersection of the Weasley temper and pregnancy hormones. Something that would slightly irritate Ginny under normal circumstances was enough to send hexes flying when she was expecting. How the bleeding hell did Arthur do this SIX TIMES? Harry wondered to himself.
"Yeah, about that, Gin, I had a chat with Ron today..."
"And what did my right prat of a brother have to offer about his wife's appauling behavior?"
Harry stared down at the kitchen table. "Hermione was at the healer today because she can't get pregnant. They've been trying for awhile, three years, really, and it's not happening for them. I imagine the news was just a bit... overwhelming for her. I could barely bring myself to tell Ron."
Harry looked up expectantly, imagining Ginny overcome with sadness at the news of her closest brother and closest friend being unable to become parents. What he saw was Ginny' anger reach an all time apoplectic high.
"WHAT the BLEEDING HELL, HARRY! SHE'S MY SODDING BEST FRIEND AND WON'T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT SOMETHING THIS MAJOR! I HAVE HALF A MIND TO HEX HER BACK TO HOGWARTS!"
Harry sighed. "Ginny, they couldn't... they couldn't tell us because of me."
"What on earth do you have to do with what goes on in Ron and Hermione's bedroom, Potter?" Ginny shot back, narrowing her eyes. "I know you're close, but seriously?"
Harry shook his head. "No, Gin, it's just... the healers, they think there's spell damage. Maybe from the Department of Mysteries, or more likely from when Hermione was tortured at Malfoy Manor. They're not sure if they can fix it. This might...this might be all my fault."
Harry had barely finished speaking when he found himself hit with one of Ginny's famous bay bogey hexes. He gave out a yelp as the bogeys circled back and attacked him. "Ginny!" he cried. "What the bleeding hell..."
"Harry Potter, I am sick to TEARS of you taking responsibility for anything and everything that happens in other people's lives! WILL YOU JUST DROP THE NOBLE MARTYR ACT!"
"Can you drop these bogeys first, for Merlin's sake?"
With an angry wave of her wand, Ginny called off the hex. In a voice that was far too calm for the display that had just concluded, she said icily "Harry, my best friend on the planet, not to mention my own flesh and blood brother, couldn't tell me they were going through something this hard because they were so hell bent on protecting you from feeling guilty about it. Honestly, Potter, get OVER yourself." And she turned on her heel and left the kitchen, dinner forgotten.
Harry flopped onto a kitchen chair with a sigh. Though perhaps Ginny's filter was slightly more porous due to the pregnancy hormones and, well, the rage, he knew she was right. He ran his hands through his characteristically rumpled locks, looking a bit more worse for wear today. Fourteen years after they'd met on the Hogwarts Express, and the Golden Trio's mission was still protecting bloody Harry Potter. No matter what Ron and Hermione were going through, Harry was still number one on the priority list. And he felt like rubbish for it.