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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 19: Year 2: St. Mungo's
It’s funny, really, how little a good morning says about how the rest of the day will turn out. A sky free of clouds is not a promise that the storm will keep away, nor is a peaceful moment any sort of preview of the moments that will follow. All in all, Ron and Hermione had had a fairly good start of their day. Ron had been in a great mood for weeks, mostly because of the fact that Hermione’s visits to Harry had been a lot less frequent since the incident after his night out with Neville and Seamus. Hermione no longer tried so hard to convince Ron about Harry’s innocence, which meant that their intense fighting had been played down to their normal bickering.
Ron’s good mood wasn’t the only positive thing about the day: spring had finally arrived in its full glory and decorated England, once again, with newly budded flowers and leaves, sunshine, and blue skies. During lunch hours, Ron and Hermione strolled down Diagon Alley, had ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. When they returned to the Ministry, they still had a couple of minutes left before their shifts would start again, and so they each made a cup of tea before Hermione returned to her office, and Ron headed down to the Auror Office to assist in Dawlish’s duelling class.
Hermione had just taken the first sip of her tea when there was a knock on the door. It opened shortly after, and her colleague, Armand Sylver, stepped over the threshold.
“Hermione,” he said. “Gwyn sent me – the files you needed are waiting for you in her office.”
Hermione immediately set her cup down and jumped to her feet. “Brilliant!” she said.
Since they were heading in the same direction – Armand’s office was situated in the same area as Gwyn Stayner’s – they began walking through the corridors, side by side.
“Just out of curiosity,” Armand said. “Why do you need to see the files of all Hogwarts students with magical parents?”
Hermione smiled. “I know it sounds a bit strange, but it’s nothing like that. We’re creating a directory of all families with house-elves, and I had to start somewhere.”
The two colleagues stopped outside their boss’ office. The door was suddenly flung open, startling both of them, and the Head of the department stuck her head out and smiled at their shocked reactions. “Miss Granger!” she said. “I’m glad you’re here – these have been taking up all the space on my desk…”
She waved her wand, and two giant boxes, stuffed with parchment rolls, soared out of her office. Hermione thanked her, waved goodbye to Armand and headed back through the corridor with her wand raised to point the files in the right direction.
She smiled to herself while closing the door behind her – there were few things in the world she enjoyed more than diving into a new project, planning, structuring, and then finally, getting the work done. She sat down in her chair, reached for the teacup that waited on the desk and took another sip of it. She had time to notice the fact that the temperature was just perfect now – it had been a tad too hot before – and then, without warning, her throat closed, refusing to allow in the air she tried to draw into her lungs. Seconds later, the room around her disappeared, everything went black, and when the back of her head hit the stone floor, she had already lost consciousness.
Mr Weasley’s sharp voice interrupted Ron, who was just giving advice to one of the new trainees, whose opponent kept disarming him every time he even opened his mouth. Seeing the concerned look on his father’s face in the doorway, Ron excused himself and hurried over to the door.
“What’s going on? Is everything okay?”
“Will you step outside with me for a moment?” Mr Weasley asked. As soon as he had closed the door behind them, he continued: “Don’t panic now, Ron, but it’s about Hermione. She’s in St. Mungo’s; she’s been poisoned.”
For a few seconds, Ron was paralyzed. He struggled, but was unable to move a single muscle; his father’s face faded from his view along with their surroundings, and the only thing that existed anymore was a voice inside of his head, screaming. No, this is not happening. I am not losing her. Didn’t we agree that I would never have to feel like this again? That I’d never have to worry about this again?
Mr Weasley’s hand landing on Ron’s shoulder brought him back to reality. “Mum is already on her way over there,” he said. “We’ll go too, okay?”
Ron nodded rigidly, and although later he wouldn’t remember how they got from the Ministry to St. Mungo’s, they made their way to the closest fireplace. A grey-haired wizard met them in the arrival hall of the hospital, and somewhere in the mist that surrounded Ron, his mother’s voice called for them:
“Oh, Arthur! Ron! Have you heard anything yet?”
And then they were walking again; the wizard was saying something, but his words were solely for Mr and Mrs Weasley’s ears, as Ron’s were insusceptible. There seemed to be people everywhere around them; Ron only caught glimpses of their faces as they rushed passed him – or was it the other way around? Was he the one rushing? One face was old and wrinkled, another one covered in deep, black wounds; a third one stood out among the others – the face of a small child, staring up at him, her brown eyes so painfully similar to Hermione’s. Will I ever see them again? Will they look at me like that again?
“Ron. Ron!” his mother called. Someone was shaking him.
He blinked. They had reached Hermione's room now – she was lying in a bed in the middle of it, her eyes closed and her skin so incredibly pale that for a minute, he was sure that she was dead. Only the sight of her chest, expanding and contracting with her every breath, reassured him that she wasn’t.
The grey-haired wizard spoke again. “Some of our finest healers are already brewing an antidote,” he said. “It’s such a rare poison, though – most of them have never come across it before. They’ve only managed to slow down the proliferation, but they will need to eliminate it completely.”
“Are they optimistic?” Mrs Weasley asked.
“She should have woken up by now,” was the wizard’s only response.
While they had been talking, Ron had walked over to Hermione and knelt down beside her. He enclosed her hand in his and leaned in over her to place a kiss on her forehead.
“We’re here,” he mumbled. “Me, mum and dad. And you are… you are going to be fine. I know that you are.”
His eyes were fixed on his girlfriend’s face. She was so still, so peaceful. Nothing about her appearance indicated that a deadly poison had planted itself in her blood or that it was infecting a new cell of her body for every second that passed. Suddenly, her eyelids fluttered; he waited for her to open her eyes, but it never happened. He wondered if she was dreaming, or if it had been an outlet for her pain.
“Who did it?” Mr Weasley asked. “Do you know who it was?”
“No,” answered the other man. “We think that someone added something into her teacup, but that’s all we know.”
“I’ll figured it out,” Ron whispered to Hermione, for only her to hear. “I promise you, they won’t get away with it.”
Ginny had made herself comfortable in Oliver Wood’s couch. Her feet were resting on the coffee table (of course, she planned to take them down before he came out of the bathroom and saw her – she was no savage!), the Daily Prophet lay open on her lap, and the incredibly soft pillows that Oliver’s grandfather had sown constituted her headrest. She was currently waiting for Oliver to get out of the shower, after which he would take her out to lunch for their “first official date,” as he had put it. At first, Ginny had been reluctant to commence anything with him, but then she had decided that if nothing else, it would at least take her mind off of Harry. And besides, she enjoyed Oliver’s company too much to be able to turn him down. Since breaking up with Harry, she had been more self-conscious and insecure than ever, and she had been convinced that she would develop some grim trust issues, but it wasn’t like that with Oliver. He made her feel completely relaxed, and he even managed to make her stop comparing herself to other girls and just accept the fact that he thought she was beautiful.
The sound of the bathroom door opening made her turn her head, and just a few seconds later, Oliver entered the living room, dressed in a pair of jeans and a blue shirt, water still dripping from his hair and onto his broad shoulders. He smiled obliquely at her before turning his eyes to the window.
“Didn’t you hear that poor owl?”
Ginny followed his eyes, and she gasped at the sight of the dapple-grey owl that sat on the window sill, faintly bumping its beak against the glass to try to get her attention.
“Errol!” she said, jumping to her feet. “That’s our family owl!”
She felt her stomach drop at this realisation. Errol was so old that her parents had stopped using him to send their letters – not only because he rarely succeeded in delivering them, but also because they wanted to spare him the trouble (as Ron so delicately had put it, they were “waiting for him to kick the bucket, so they can buy a new, decent owl instead”). Therefore, Ginny knew that whatever message they had to her must be something urgent, or they would never have sent the poor bird on such a long journey.
When Oliver opened the window, Ginny took a leap forward to take the parchment roll that was tied to Errol’s leg. She tore off the string that held it together and unfolded the little note.
Hermione has been poisoned. Meet us at St. Mungo’s.
“Oh, dear Merlin!” Ginny exclaimed.
Quickly deciding not to waste a second on explaining what was going on, she threw the note to Oliver and rushed out into the hallway to put on her shoes. Her fingers were shaking so much that she couldn’t tie her shoelaces, and she didn’t notice that Oliver had followed her until he bent down, gently pushed her hands away and did it for her.
“We’ll have lunch another time,” Ginny rambled. “And it would be great if Errol could stay here for a couple of days – he’ll probably die if we try to send him back to the Burrow so soon, and I-“
“Ginny.” Oliver straightened up and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Calm down. I’ll go with you– you shouldn’t Apparate in this state, anyway.”
Shooting him a grateful look, Ginny grabbed the arm he stretched out towards her. A few very uncomfortable seconds later, they were standing outside St. Mungo’s. They hurried inside and were ushered to Hermione’s room, where Ron and their parents were waiting.
Ginny rushed over to Hermione’s bed. Tears burned in the corner of her eyes as she turned to her dad. “How is she doing?”
She bit her lip. Hermione might have had her moments of being annoying, strenuous and even a pain, but she was also Ginny’s best friend. Gaylene and Heather from the Quidditch team might be more undemanding and easier to be around, but Hermione was the one that Ginny had always turned to. They had gone through so much together, Hermione had been her source of advice when it came to Harry throughout the years and…
Harry. Ginny cast a glance over her shoulder and felt a twinge of guilt at the sight of Oliver, who was still standing in the doorway with a concerned look on his face.
“They still don’t know,” Mrs Weasley said. “We just have to wait.”
Mr Weasley, who had followed Ginny’s eyes to the door opening, was the first one to notice that his daughter hadn’t come alone. “Oliver Wood? Is that really you?”
Oliver stepped into the room and reached out his hand. “Mr Weasley. It’s been a long time.”
“It really has! May I ask, though, what you are doing here?”
Oliver’s eyes darted over to Ginny, who hoped that staring intensely back at him would make her message come across: Don’t tell them, not here, not like this. Oliver had only opened his mouth to respond when the door opened behind him, and the blood froze to ice in Ginny’s veins.
Harry met her eyes for a few seconds that passed much too quickly; then, they swept across the room between her parents, Ron and Hermione. A small wrinkle formed on his scarred forehead at the sight of Oliver, and he cleared his throat: his discomfort was nearly tangible.
Mrs Weasley was the first one to break the silence. “Harry!” she said, stepping closer to him to pull him into a hug. “Are you eating properly? You’re so thin!”
“I’m fine, Mrs Weasley,” Harry mumbled. “How’s Hermione?”
Mrs Weasley let go of him, but one of her hands remained on his shoulder. “We’re waiting,” she said. “The healers are working on an antidote, but what we really want is for her to wake up.”
As Harry turned his eyes to Oliver, Ginny stiffened. She may not have wanted her family to know about her and Oliver, but she definitely wasn’t ready for Harry to find out about them.
“Oliver,” Harry said. “I must say, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
He reached out his hand, and Oliver smiled as he shook it.
“Well, you might have heard that I work for Quality Quidditch Supplies now? We’re actually involved with the Holyhead Harpies, and I was watching their training when Ginny received Mrs Weasley’s letter. I thought that someone should come with her, for support.”
“How nice of you,” said Mrs Weasley warmly, and Harry nodded and turned away.
Ginny felt as if an electric current ran through her body when he met her eyes again, and her cheeks heated. Oliver was nice – he was kind, thoughtful, and he had never cheated on her. So why was it that out of the two men standing in front of her, it was the one who had lied to her, who had broken her heart and chosen another girl over her, who had the strongest effect on her? Why was it his chest that she wanted to lean her head against, his arms that she wanted to be held by? Somehow, she was convinced that if he’d only tell her to, she would be able to relax and believe that things would work out, even with Hermione’s life in danger and the hovering feeling of helplessness that weighed them all down. It shouldn’t be like that, and yet, she couldn’t deny that it was the truth.
Darkness had begun to fall over town; the tree branches that had been swaying outside the window all afternoon were now hidden in the evening gloom, forcing Harry to focus on something else than the flowing movements of the light green leaves that were just inches away from brushing against the window.
Hermione’s condition had not changed. Angelina, George and Bill had all stopped by to see her, but they had left again. Mr Weasley had had to go back to work, but Mrs Weasley, Ginny and Oliver were still there. And Ron, of course – he hadn’t left Hermione’s side, not even to get something to eat. Harry wasn’t sure what Oliver was still doing there – after all, Ginny had all the support she needed now, in the shape of her mum and her brother.
No one had said anything in a long time. Ron still refused to acknowledge Harry’s presence, and not even Mrs Weasley managed to overcome the tension in the room in order to hold a normal conversation. At least Bill hadn’t been able to stay very long – the dark look he had shot Harry had actually scared him, and he had been very relieved to hear that Fleur and Victoire had needed the eldest of the Weasley siblings to come home only about twenty minutes after he had arrived at St. Mungo's. The encounter with George had definitely been more pleasant – he had even winked at Harry before hurrying back to his shop in Diagon Alley, and Angelina had showed off her engagement ring and even given him a hug, despite the dark look it earned her from Ron.
Suddenly, a mumble broke the silence; Harry quickly got up on his feet, and Ron leaned forwards to look at Hermione’s face. She blinked a few times before opening her eyes. “Ron?”
“Hermione!” Ron’s voice cracked. “How are you doing?”
“I don’t know what… Harry?”
“Hi,” Harry said and walked over to the other side of her bed without meeting Ron’s eyes. “You’re in St. Mungo’s. You’ve been poisoned.”
“What? I just remember-“
“What do you remember?” said Ron eagerly. “Do you know who did it?”
Hermione shook her head. “No. I just remember coming back into my office. Everything else is blank.”
“Did you see anything suspicious in there?” Harry asked. “Had anyone been in there? Did you have any visitors this morning?”
Hermione shook her head again, but Ron gave a start with an almost triumphant look on his face. “Malfoy!” he said.
For the first time, Harry looked directly at him. What was he talking about?
“Hermione,” Ron continued, “it can’t be a coincidence that someone poisons you only a few weeks after we bumped into Malfoy in Diagon Alley!”
“Stop it, Ron,” Hermione said. “It couldn’t have been him – it’s not like I had anything to eat or drink around him, is it? And like you said, it was weeks ago! Surely this was something that happened today?”
“Yes,” Mrs Weasley said. “It was something in your tea. And you might not be Draco Malfoy’s biggest fan, Ronald, but you have to admit that he has shown a new side of himself since the war ended.”
“That’s just more of a reason not to trust him!” said Ron, who was beginning to get worked up. “That’s what he wants us to think – that he has changed! But no matter how many rules he follows now, he still has the Dark Mark on his wrist!”
“I’m with Ron,” Harry said. “I don’t trust Malfoy, and I think that we should have someone from the office look into it.”
Ron met his eyes. It was hard to interpret the look on his face, but Harry could still guess what he was thinking. Thanks, man. It doesn’t change anything, though. You still broke my sister’s heart.
“We should,” Ron said. “Mum, someone should tell the healers that Hermione’s awake.”
Harry took a few steps back and sank back into his chair. Would Ron ever forgive him? And if the answer was no, what would that really mean for Harry? He wouldn’t be able to maintain a proper friendship with Hermione, either. And that meant that one single, stupid mistake would cost him his girlfriend, his family, and his two best friends in the world. A single, stupid mistake that never would have happened in the first place, had it not been for that article in the Daily Prophet.
Harry glanced over at Mrs Weasley. Over the years, she had taken the role of the mother he had never had. She would have become his mother for real the day that he and Ginny would have got married. His gaze wandered on towards Ginny. Her eyes were fixed on the floor a few yards in front of her, her fingers were tapping impatiently against one of the chair legs, and her fiery red hair hang below her shoulders. Harry couldn’t remember her ever looking more beautiful, and he could feel his eyes fill with tears at the mere sight of her. How was he supposed to ever stop loving her? How was he supposed to find someone else who could compare to her? Despite Neville’s daily suggestions on ways to win her back, it seemed hopeless, as though he had really lost her. As though she would never forgive what he had done. Just the thought of it made him shiver, and he forced himself to tear his eyes away from her.
What was it about him that always had him ending up alone? Every time he came close to having a family, they slipped away from him. His parents. Sirius. Lupin. Ron and Hermione, Ginny, and the Weasleys. Maybe the scar on his forehead wasn’t the only sign of a curse he carried with him. Maybe he was doomed to be alone.
A/N: Every time I respond to a review you leave me, I worry that I haven't expressed my grattitude well enough, and that you don't see how much I really apprecaite it. The same goes for these Author's Notes that I attempt to write after each chapter. Well, in case I have failed before, I just want to tell you once again that I am so thankful, and that you make me so happy just by reading this story, and even happier by taking the time to letting me know what you think of it.
Well, Harry certainly isn't in a happy place right now. What do you think about Ginny? Does anyone agree with Ron that Malfoy must be the one who poisoned Hermione? Let me know! :)