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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 26: Year 3: Understanding
The sound of a door opening inside the house sharpened each one of Harry’s senses; suddenly, he could hear Ron’s breathing very clearly, the floor creaking as Hestia shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and the wind, rustling though the old house with a ghostlike sound. He noticed the fact that a drop of water wound its way down the window behind Ron – in the few minutes since they had stepped inside, it had started raining – and that the watch on Hestia’s wrist had stopped almost exactly ten minutes ago. Making a mental note to point it out to her afterwards, he lifted his head just in time to see the blond man reappear in the hall, pushing a little girl in front of him. She looked absolutely terrified as she stopped in front of the three Aurors, and the man, Roman, straightened his back and smiled.
Hestia bent down towards the girl. “Hello, dear. Can you tell me what your name is?”
“Julia,” the girl whispered.
“No!” said Roman sharply, making her take a step away from him and burst into tears. “What did I just tell you?” he roared at her. “Tell the nice lady the truth, Viola. Your name isn’t Julia, now, is it?”
“Mr Berenson,” Hestia said. “I suggest that you let the girl go and come with me to the Ministry. If you could just-“
Roman shook his head vigorously and stepped in between her and the child. “No,” he said again. “No, you can’t take her! You can’t!”
“It must have been horrible,” said Harry in a surprisingly calm voice. “Going through what you had to go through, I mean. You lost your child in the most brutal way possible. But can’t you see what you’re doing to Julia’s parents? You’re doing to them what Greyback did to you.”
Roman twitched at hearing the werewolf’s name, and then, without warning, he hid his face in his hands and started sobbing. As he sank to his knees, Julia became visible behind him; she was crying too, her big blue eyes wide and glossy and her thumb stuck into her mouth. Quickly, Hestia walked over to her and took her hand.
“I just couldn’t leave her,” Roman cried. “She looked just like my Viola… I couldn’t…”
“Boys,” Hestia said. “I want you to take Julia back to her parents. Mr Berenson, you’re going to have to come with me to the Ministry.” She knelt down in front of Julia and placed her hands on her shoulders. “Do you see these nice men, dear? They’re going to take you to your mummy and daddy now, okay?”
Julia nodded. Her lower lip was trembling as she looked insecurely up at Harry, who smiled and reached out a hand towards her. She grabbed it, and both she, Harry and Ron turned towards the door. Ron had just pushed it open, however, when he stopped and turned around again.
“Are you sure you’re fine on your own?” he asked Hestia.
“Before we leave,” Ron insisted. “Give her your wand.”
Roman finally looked up. He looked older than he had done before, with lines of tears covering his cheeks and such pain in his eyes that just the sight of him was almost painful. He nodded slowly, and reached into his pocket. Both Harry and Ron stiffened in those crucial seconds before he had pulled out his wand, and then they relaxed as he held it out towards Hestia, who smiled at Ron as she placed it in her own pocket.
“Thank you for looking out for me,” she told him. “You’re a good partner.”
Ron shrugged before he, Harry and little Julia stepped out into the rainy afternoon. They began walking across the rampant lawn to get out of the area that was blocked by the Anti-Disapparation Jinx.
“We just have to walk for a little bit,” Harry told Julia. “Come on…”
He felt slightly panicked because of the fact that tears kept streaming down her face, and he had no idea how to cheer her up. He knew how to comfort Teddy when he had lost his stuffed little wolf cub or fallen on the ground and scraped his palms, but how was he supposed to give comfort to a child who had just been abducted? He sighed in relief when Ron dealt with it instead of him; he stopped in front of Julia and crouched down with a smile on his face.
“Do you want to ride piggyback?” he asked her.
Julia hesitated and looked at Harry, but when he nodded encouragingly she smiled back at Ron and climbed onto his back. He straightened up and began skipping forwards, which actually made the girl giggle. When she also revealed that she really liked horses, Ron shrugged, neighed and shook his head, which of course only increased the giggling. Now, Harry was laughing too – he had to fight the urge to mock his best mate for acting so silly, because truth was that he had definitely succeeded in cheering Julia up.
“I think that’s far enough,” Ron said. “Now, we’ll go to see your mum and dad, Julia. Does that sound good?”
Harry pulled out his wand and was just about to disapparate when Ron said:
“Wait! You have to take her! What if I splinch her?”
Harry furrowed his eyebrows. “What if I do?”
“You never do that!” Ron said, bending down so that Julia could set her feet on the ground again. “Hey, wouldn’t you rather go with Harry?” he then asked. Without allowing her to respond, he clapped his hands together and smiled. “Fantastic! Go on, then.”
Julia walked over to Harry, who felt a nervous gutter as he pictured one of her small fingers being left behind, or perhaps half her body; what if he’d end up really hurting her?
“How does it work with children?” he asked. “Should I just hold her hand, or…?”
“Mum and Dad always used to pick me or Ginny up, and then do it,” Ron said. “Just try not to fall over her when you get there, okay? Fred and George always swore that happened to or great-aunt Muriel when she was little, and that she hit her head badly… it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.”
Harry laughed and picked Julia up. “Have you ever apparated with your mum or dad?” he asked her. She shook his head. “Okay,” he continued. “Do you know what? Just close your eyes and hold onto me, and it will be over in just a few seconds. It’s a little scary, but you don’t have to worry. Are you ready?”
It really was over in seconds, and then they found themselves standing in Diagon Alley again, with all of their body parts still attached in the right places. Ron appeared just a few moments later. The crowd of people on the streets may have decreased a little bit in number, but it was still quite difficult to get through, especially since everyone was pointing at them and talking loudly, all of them desperate to get a glimpse of both Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and the girl they had just rescued. They practically ran over to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes to escape their nosey questions and curious glances, and both of them sighed in relief as soon as the door closed behind them and the bell above it gave out a jingling sound.
Julia’s parents must have heard the fuss from outside, because they were already rushing to the exit. Harry quickly set the little girl down on the floor and watched as she literally dived into her mother’s arms. Her father kissed both her cheeks before walking over to shake hands with Harry and Ron.
“I can’t even express my gratitude,” he said. “And of course, it’s an honour to meet you… I have to ask. Why did he do it? Why did he take her? Did he… did he hurt her?”
“No, I think he was good to her,” Ron said. “Really. The thing is that he had a daughter who looked a lot like Julia–“
“–only she was murdered during the war,” Harry continued. “By Fenrir Greyback. I think he just lost it when he saw Julia; it was as if he thought that he was getting her back.”
“And Greyback didn’t just murder her,” Ron said. “He practically tore her to pieces. Who wouldn’t go mad after something like that? Thank Merlin that he’s off in Azkaban now, where he belongs.”
A few hours later, when Harry and Ron were back in their office at the Ministry, Hestia knocked on the door to it for the second time that day. This time, however, she wasn’t as stressed; she simply sat down in one of their chairs and leaned towards the backrest, stretching out her arms over her head.
“So, Mr Berenson is in the gaol, awaiting his trial,” she said. “Sadly, we can’t let him off the hook simply because he has a good reason for acting crazy. Despite of what he’s gone through, he still kidnapped a child.”
“Yes, of course,” Ron said. “But I still feel bad for him.”
“So do I,” Hestia nodded. “These things can be quite difficult to handle, especially when you’re new out there. I just wanted to make sure you were both okay.”
“Yeah,” said Ron. “I’m fine.”
“Me too,” Harry said.
“Good, good.” Hestia stood up again. “You know, I have a method for dealing with it. When I meet a man like Roman Berenson, I just try to think of how grateful we all should be that we have our loved ones. He lost his wife to a disease, and then the only thing he had left of her – their child. If anything, it reminds us that we should appreciate what we have. And not waste any time having silly arguments or holding grudges. It’s not worth it, is it?”
Harry watched Hestia’s face as he let her words sank in. He watched her, but he barely registered the fact that she was now rising to her feet and leaving again. He waved back when she waved at him, but he had no idea what she was saying, as he was too busy thinking of Ginny.
What if he’d lose Ginny tomorrow, or in fifty years, even? Wouldn’t he regret holding a grudge? Wouldn’t he wish that he hadn’t been acting so cold towards her over the last couple of weeks? Wouldn’t he regret not telling her every day that he loved her? What did it matter that she had slept with Oliver – all that mattered was that she had come back to him, and that she had chosen him in the end. Or perhaps all that mattered was that he loved her, and that he wanted her to know that.
“Are you heading homewards?” Ron asked, interrupting Harry’s thoughts.
“Actually, I think I’m going to go to Holyhead,” Harry answered.
“Yeah. I get that,” Ron said. “I really want to see Hermione right now. We’ll talk tomorrow, then.”
“Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As Harry stepped out of the fireplace in Ginny’s cottage a few minutes later, his heart was pounding in his chest, as if he was meeting her for the very first time. Calling out her name, he brushed the ashes off of his trousers and sank into the brown leather couch in her living room.
“Harry, is that you?”
Ginny’s voice was coming from upstairs. Harry flew up to his feet again and was just about to head up to her when she appeared in the stairs, dressed in a knitted sweater and a pair of jeans. She wore her hair down, and she didn’t look like she had any makeup on, and still, she was more beautiful than ever to Harry. He walked over to her and grabbed her hands; much to his surprise, he could feel his heart flutter at the touch of her skin, as if he hadn’t touched it a million times before.
“How was work?” Ginny asked.
“I’ll tell you all about it,” Harry answered, “and I want to know about your training as well, but first, there is something that I need to say to you.”
Ginny looked worried for a second, but then she nodded. Harry could feel her grip around his hands tighten as he continued:
“I love you. I love you and I really want things to go back to normal between us. I know I’ve been difficult–“
“No one’s blaming you, Harry…”
“–but I’ll stop that, okay? I love you so much, Gin.”
Now, Ginny smiled. Taking a step closer to him, she wrapped her arms around his waist and looked into his eyes. “I love you too.”
Ron had, over the last couple of months, found that fieldwork took a whole lot more energy than office work, and he had got used to being exhausted when he came home in the afternoons. It seemed that spending hours of being constantly on his toes, prepared for whatever was to come, drained him of all his energy, and he was usually too tired to do anything at all after leaving work. Once, after an unusually intense Thursday, he had made the poor judgement of thinking that he’d still be able to focus enough to apparate home. Thankfully, he hadn’t splinched himself, but he had ended up a few miles outside of London, in the backyard of a very confused old Muggle couple, who had been out raking leaves when he had popped up and nearly scared the life out of them. He had been forced to modify both of their memories before giving apparating a second try and swearing inwardly that Hermione would never know about the incident. And, of course, he knew better than to tell George – or any of his siblings, really; he knew that they would have never let him forget it.
On this particular day, Ron decided to learn from his past mistake and used the Floo System to get home instead. Despite having stayed at work for a little bit longer than usual, he returned to an empty flat. Normally, he would have loved to just lie on the couch and relax, perhaps even take a nap, until Hermione would get home, but there was a sense of guilt inside of him that wouldn’t allow him to do that. Truth was that he had handed off a lot of the work at home to Hermione lately, and while she hadn’t complained, he knew that it wasn’t fair. As tired as he may be, she had a job too, and he was sure that she didn’t exactly look forward to cooking dinner or doing laundry at the end of each day. Hence, instead of lying down or relaxing, Ron walked out into the kitchen, determined to have dinner ready by the time she came home.
His determination quickly turned into uncertainty as he stopped in the middle of the kitchen and looked around. Where would he begin? What would he cook? His mother had insisted on giving him cooking lessons before he was going to move out, but somehow, he had wriggled out of it (an accomplishment that he deeply regretted now, as he walked over and opened one of the kitchen cabinets, in search of something that might be of help).
It was then that a book on one of the shelves on the opposite wall caught his eyes. His initial thought was: is she really using the kitchen to store books too? Doesn’t she have enough bookshelves in the living room? However, he quickly realized that this wasn’t just another thick, boring, informative book like most in his girlfriend’s collection; it was a cookbook! In other words, it was exactly what he needed.
Opening the book with a sudden eagerness, he flipped through the pages until he found a recipe that looked fairly simple, while also delicious, and began picking out ingredients from the fridge: onion, minced meat, potatoes, vegetables… Soon enough, the entire countertop was full of food, bowls and pots; Ron grinned at the thought of his mother’s face if she had been able to see him in that moment.
Around fifteen minutes later, Ron was far from grinning. The sauce had boiled over and covered the entire stove, and some of it was dripping down on the floor, creating small, brown stains all over the rug. The meatloaf in the oven was black; Ron burnt his hands when he took it out, cussed loudly and practically threw it into the sink, after which he held hid fingers under the tap, letting the cool water sooth his irritated skin. Just as he was beginning to feel a little better, the front door opened and a voice called:
“Hello! I’m home!”
Before Ron had the chance to set his last minute plan (finding his wand and making the whole mess disappear) in motion, Hermione entered the kitchen. Trying to look as innocent as possible, Ron slowly turned around to get a look at her face.
“Dear God,” Hermione said, her gaze wondering from the burnt meat to the stove, and onwards to the ruined rug on the floor. “What… what have you done?”
“I was just trying to cook dinner!” Ron said. “But this bloody recipe isn’t working!”
He closed the cookbook and pushed it away; as if bad luck was haunting him, it fell over the edge of the counter, hit the floor and broke in two.
“Oh, bloody hell!” said Ron furiously and bent down to pick it up, but Hermione rushed over to him to stop him.
“I’ll fix that,” she said, pulling out her wand. “Reparo.”
“Why are you so late anyway?” Ron asked. “It’s almost half past seven!”
“I know, I’m sorry about that,” Hermione said. “Draco and I stayed late at work to finish our report. How was the mission?”
“Draco and you? You’re kidding, right?”
Hermione shot him a stern look and sighed. “Don’t do that again,” she asked him. We have talked enough about him. Since when am I not capable of judging a person’s character?”
“Since now, apparently,” Ron said. “Hermione, he’s a Death Eater! Doesn’t that say more than enough about his character?”
“Actually, Draco and I talked about that,” she replied and started cleaning the spilled sauce off of the stove. “He was against it all along. He was just really scared, and pressured… Besides, his situation was–“
“No situation justifies what he did!” said Ron angrily. “Just look at Snape – talk about being in a difficult situation. But he did the right thing!”
“And so did Draco,” Hermione argued. “At Malfoy Manor. Harry says it too, that Draco helped us out that day. Do you want me to lay the table?”
Ron pulled out the drawer that held knives and forks so hastily that a few of them fell out and nearly impaled his toes; clumsily, he threw them back into the drawer and continued.
“Let me get this straight – you’re actually saying that one action, one simple action, is enough to make up for everything else he’s done? As you may remember, he was the one who let Fenrir Greyback into the castle the night that he gave Bill that scar across his face!”
Hermione stopped her cleaning and turned to look at him. “Ron, I’m not going to have this discussion anymore. You don’t have to agree with it, but it’s not up to you to decide whether or not I'm going to believe that he’s changed.”
“That’s enough, Ron. Are we going to eat this or not?”
Ron sighed and looked at the disaster he had created in the normally so neat and tidy kitchen. “Do you think that it's edible?”
“Sure,” Hermione said. “We’ll just scrape off the top layer of the meatloaf... and there’s still a little bit of sauce left in the pot...”
Neither one of them said a word as they filled their plates with food, unless Ron’s grumpy muttering counted as words. Then, they sat down at the table and began eating. As soon as she had taken her first bite, Hermione let out a sound of surprise.
“Wow, Ron… this is actually really good!”
“Really?” said Ron incredulously.
“Yes, really. Thank you so much for cooking tonight.”
“I felt bad,” Ron said, “because I have contributed so little around here lately. I didn’t mean to make such a mess, of course.”
“We’ll clean it up after we’ve eaten,” Hermione said, now with a smile on her face. “I really appreciate it, Ron. And it really was good.”
Ron, choosing not to comment on her tone of surprise, simply smiled and nodded. Things certainly were a lot messier when she wasn't around, and whatever the reason for her tardiness had been, he was happy to have her home.
A/N: Yes, I'm going to say it again because no matter how many times I've said it I feel like it's not enough: thank you so much for reading this story. It's incredible for me that there are people who willingly read what I've written. When you take the time to leave a review and let me know what you think of it, that makes me even happier. You really are amazing. As always, I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on this chapter. :)