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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 28: Year 3: Forgiveness
A few minutes after leaving the ballroom at the Ministry, Hermione stepped into her own office and turned on the lights. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to it, and then she looked around. She quickly walked over to her desk and began re-organizing her already well-organized things. As she did this, tears begun flowing from her eyes again – this time, however, she made no attempts to wipe them away. Why didn’t Ron believe her? Why didn’t he trust her? They had been together for a long time, and they had known each other since they were eleven! Shouldn’t he have known by now that she wouldn’t lie to him?
A knock on the door made her lift her head. A few seconds later, Draco peeked in. “I saw you running away,” he said. “So I followed. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Hermione nodded and straightened up. “That’s nice of you,” she said. “But I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.” Draco stepped into the office, closed the door behind him and leaned against the wall. “You can tell me, you know.”
“It’s Ron,” Hermione confessed. “He’s really having a hard time accepting our friendship. And now, for some reason, he thinks I have feelings for you.”
Draco snorted. “You don’t, do you?” When she shook her head he began laughing. “Well, thank Merlin! That would have been so weird.”
Hermione laughed too, before letting out a sob. “I really don’t know what to say to him anymore,” she said. “I don’t feel like talking to him at all right now.”
Draco’s eyes darted to the large clock hanging on the wall above the door. Then, he smirked and said: “I would tell you to worry about him next year. But you… you should probably go and find him. You two want to be together when the clock strikes twelve, right? No matter how much of a git he’s being.”
“Or we could just stay here,” Hermione said, resting her elbows on the desk and her chin in her hands. “And let him suffer for a little longer.”
Draco smiled, and then he shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “I mean, I honestly don’t want him to dislike me. And I wouldn’t exactly like someone who kept my girlfriend from me at midnight of New Years Eve. Go find him. You’ve only got about fifteen minutes left.”
Hermione lowered her eyes. Staring at her own hands, which rested on her lap and played with the hem of her dress, she thought about it. Draco was right. She was only making things worse. Had she really just suggested that the two of them would stay up in her office until the party was over, simply in order to punish Ron as much as possible? Perhaps, she thought, Ron wasn’t the one who should be punished…
She lifted her head. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks, Draco. I just… I just wish he had been here to see this side of you.”
Draco shrugged, walked over to the door and opened it. “Go on,” he said. “The clock is ticking.”
Hermione nodded and walked past him out into the corridor. Just as she was about to scurry over to the elevators, she stopped and turned around. Draco was just closing the door to her office, and now, he turned his head to meet her eyes.
“I hope Tracey comes around,” Hermione told him. “She’s really missing out.”
And then she left.
Less than a minute remained of the year as the Ministry guests gathered on the dance floor, not to dance, but to count down the seconds until midnight. The band had stopped playing and formed a semicircle around the singer and her magical microphone, and they had already begun:
“Twenty seven seconds, twenty six…”
All around Ginny, people were counting along with the music group. She was standing in between Harry and her parents, looking up at the ceiling. Normally, it was beautifully painted in gold and white, but the colours had begun to fade, as if the roof was slowly turning transparent. At first, this had confused Ginny, but then her father had explained that it had been done every New Year for as long as he could remember; they turned the ceiling see-through, so that everyone would be able to see the fireworks at midnight. Now, if she squinted, Ginny could see the dark blue sky and the stars through the white and gold ceiling.
As she watched the sky become clearer and clearer, Ginny thought of the new year that was almost there. She was sure that it would be better than the last one for many reasons, but the main one was currently holding her left hand in his and laughing at something that Mr Weasley had just said. Then, he turned towards Ginny as the chanting “… fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…” drowned out Mrs Weasley’s admonition at her husband’s equivoque.
“You know,” Harry mumbled into Ginny’s ear, “you really are the most beautiful person in here…”
“I have to disagree,” she replied while wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Eight, seven, six…”
Ginny looked into Harry’s eyes. She wondered if his mother’s eyes had had the same effect on his father as Harry’s had on her. The green colour was so intense, so beautiful that she was filled with a bubbly happiness that no one else had ever managed to bring out in her. And the best part was that those eyes radiated that same special happiness and love each time they looked at her.
“Three, two, one… HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
In that exact moment, it was as if the sky exploded and was replaced by a wave of golden, red, blue and green sparks, rippling across the dark blue ocean that was the sky, leaving behind burning streaks of light that etched themselves onto Ginny’s retinas and reappeared each time she blinked. It was beautiful.
Ginny smiled. “Happy New Year, Harry.”
“Happy New Year.”
And as they kissed for the first time in 2001, Ginny couldn’t think of a better way to start the year.
Hermione was running. She was breathing heavily, her heart was beating rapidly in her chest and her feet were slipping on the icy ground, but she didn’t stop. There were people everywhere, all over the streets and the sidewalks; they were nicely dressed, excited, drunk…
As she ran, Hermione scanned the streets with her eyes. Each time she spotted a red-haired man who was about as tall as Ron, her heart took a leap, but each time the man in question turned around, it sank back down into her chest. She had seen him leave, but where was he now?
Then, suddenly, as a middle-aged couple and their two children stepped out of the way, Hermione saw him. He was leaning against the wall of a house, his shoulders shrunken and his arms crossed over his chest, as if he was hugging himself; as if he was searching for comfort in his own embrace, since it was the only one available.
Hermione ran across the street. She could hear the screeching of car brakes against asphalt and a horn tooting as she stumbled forwards, but she only saw Ron’s face; he was lifting his head at the sound, and his eyes widened in shock. Only moments later, she was in his arms – the car had missed her.
“Bloody hell, Hermione!” Ron shouted and let go of her. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
They were standing on the sidewalk now, facing each other. Hermione was still short-winded, and her pulse was rushing even faster than before – this time, it was a result of her nearly getting hit by a car rather than just running.
“I wanted to find you before midnight,” she said.
Ron’s facial expression softened. “Didn’t you hear them?” he asked. “The fireworks?”
“We missed it?”
Ron nodded, and Hermione bit her lips. She knew that her cheeks were still tear-stained, and perhaps flushed from running, that her hair was a mess and her eyes red and swollen, but it didn’t really matter. She just wanted him to look at her.
“Ron,” she said, and then she continued, louder: “I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I know that I’ve been acting like a lunatic lately, especially when it comes to Malfoy. But I’m only doing it because I love you, and I’m scared of losing you.”
“I know,” Hermione responded. She took a step closer to him. “But even if Draco had been in love with me… even if he had been Snape, and I had been his Lily… you’re my James.”
Ron smiled. Then, he grabbed her hand and they started walking back towards the Ministry of Magic. As they passed a group of young teenagers, trudging slowly along the sidewalk in an attempt to create a distance between themselves and their parents, who were walking a few yards ahead, (every now and then, one of them would turn around and shout: “Hurry up, please!”) it started snowing.
“We’ll stop fighting,” Ron promised as they turned their head backs to watch the little flurries swirl down from the dark night sky. “I’ll stop being jealous, I promise. I guess it’s just that I still haven’t figured out what it is that makes you want to be with me.”
“Well, it’s not your self-perception,” Hermione grinned. “But I think it’s for the best. You’d be intolerable if you knew the effect you really have on me.”
January passed in the blink of an eye. For Harry, it was a slow month at the Auror Office, with very few crimes and very little action. For Ginny, it was intense Quidditch Trainings in Holyhead, trying to avoid any uncomfortable encounters with Oliver Wood (this was mostly successful, except for the one time they literally bumped into each other, exchanged a few polite phrases and rushed off in opposite directions, both of their faces burning red with humiliation), and packing up everything in her cottage. About three weeks into the new year, she was finally ready and, with a little help from George, Angelina and her parents, she moved all of her things to Harry’s flat. She absolutely loved setting up her things next to his – picture frames that didn’t quite match his, but in a charming way, books, trinkets and cushions.
After one rainy afternoon in Holyhead that had washed away parts of the unbelievable amount of snow that had fallen over the holidays, Ginny returned to Harry’s – no, hers and Harry’s – flat, completely exhausted. She stretched out on the couch and yawned; she should have been home hours ago, and she would have been, had it not been for the fact that they had lost the Snitch in the rainstorm. The entire team had been forced to stay behind for hours, flying around and searching for it. By the time Ginny’s friend Heather finally caught it, everyone had been so tired it was a miracle that they managed to scrape together enough energy to return to the dressing room, shower and go home. Somehow, they had done it though, and Ginny sighed in relief when the door opened only a few minutes after she had landed on the couch – Harry was home early, which meant that he’d be able to cook dinner that night.
“Rough day?” Harry asked as he entered the living room and sank into one of the armchairs.
“Rough training,” Ginny answered and opened her eyes. “How was work?”
“Brilliant,” Harry said. “Theresa Thent let us watch Berenson’s trial, and then we arrested a group of old wizards who were selling unicorn blood in Knockturn Alley. Fieldwork is so much better than just sitting at a desk all day.”
“It’s also more dangerous,” Ginny pointed out. “You’re being careful, right? Was there any trouble?”
“They fought back, but they weren’t very gifted,” Harry answered with a grin.
He stood up, walked over to her and squeezed himself in between her and the armrest of the couch. “So what do you want to do tonight?” he said. “Do you want me to cook you dinner and then head straight for bed?”
Suddenly, Ginny sat up. “I’d like that,” she admitted. “But there’s something I’ve been thinking about… you know how I ran into Audrey in Diagon Alley yesterday? It hit me that she and Percy hasn’t seen this flat yet. I mean, you’ve had Ron and Hermione over hundreds of times, and George and Angelina, Mum and Dad, Bill’s family… but Perce has never seen the place where I live. I know that he can be boring, but…”
Harry had already risen to his feet. “I’ll send him an owl and invite them over.”
Ginny shot him a grateful look as he hurried out into the kitchen. He knew how much she had been thinking about her relationship with Percy lately. Truth was, things hadn’t quite been the same between them since the Battle, the war, Fred’s death… since Percy left the family. Just thinking about it made Ginny sad – even though she had laughed the loudest at Fred and George’s jokes about Percy, even though she had been as annoyed as anyone at his pompous, stuck-up mannerisms, they had been quite close when she was younger. There had been times when Ron and the twins hadn’t let her join in their games, when Bill had been away and Charlie was too busy with his many girlfriends. At those times, Percy had been her source of comfort. Ginny was quite sure that none of her other brothers had known about it, but when she had walked into Percy’s room, her lower lip trembling and her eyes full of tears because she didn’t have anyone to play with, he had always put down his books or essays and let her sit on his bed, while she had told him stories or complained about Fred and George or Ron. Of course, Percy hadn’t had much to say about it, but he had taken the time to listen, and Ginny had often thought of it as their secret bond, their special moments that no one else got to have with him. Then, when he left the family, he also broke Ginny’s heart, and even though he had made up for his mistake, things hadn’t gone back to the way they had once been between them. Ginny missed it, and she had wanted to do something about it for quite some time now.
Percy and Audrey arrived a couple of hours later, dressed up and bearing gifts (a book titled Maximize your utility – spells and charms to reach your prime while saving time; Ginny was sure that Audrey had picked it out, and she was also sure that neither she nor Harry would ever read it). Harry had spent the afternoon preparing a tomato soup, and Ginny’s stomach growled loudly as the four of them sat down at the kitchen table to eat.
“It smells palatable,” Percy said as he lifted his spoon.
“I didn’t know you could cook, Harry,” said Audrey.
“Mum taught him a little bit before he moved out,” Ginny said. “Besides, I’m worthless when it comes to cooking, so he really doesn’t have a choice.”
“You only think you’re worthless because you have no patience!” Harry protested. “You know, she gave up on it completely because she burned the food one time!”
“It was more than one time!” Ginny said.
“We can say that, if it makes you feel better…”
“Wow,” Percy said, shaking his head at the two of them. “I’m surprised you can go on like that, Harry, without bats flying out of your nose by now. My sister must really love you.”
Harry and Audrey laughed, and Ginny rolled her eyes.
“I can put up with Harry,” she said, “because unlike our brothers, his mocking me hasn’t been going on for twenty years…”
“So you’re saying that in twenty years you’ll hex me too?” asked Harry, raising one of his black eyebrows.
Ginny grinned. “I’m saying that you shouldn’t mock me too much.”
“By the way,” Audrey said while placing her glass of water on the table. “Did we mention that Victoire knows how to say Percy’s name now?”
This made Ginny squeal with excitement and forget all about the previous subject of conversation. “Oh, what if she says ‘Ginny’ the next time we’re there? Harry, can we go tomorrow?”
The others laughed, and Harry shrugged while standing up to start clearing the table. Percy immediately rose to help him, but Harry stopped him.
“Why don’t Audrey and I take care of this?” he said. “You and Ginny can wait for us in the living room.”
Percy followed Ginny out of the kitchen without questioning this, and the two siblings sat down by the coffee table. Percy began talking about something he had read in the Daily Prophet that same morning, and Ginny interrupted him.
“I wanted to talk about something.”
Percy fell silent. As Ginny took a deep breath, she became very aware of everything that went on around them; the sound of running water coming from the kitchen, where Harry and Audrey must have started doing the dishes, the clock on the wall was ticking loudly, and the lines of frozen water that covered the window behind Percy’s head – the snow had begun melting, and drops of water had been running down the glass all day, but as the sun had set it had got colder, and those tiny rills had now frozen and created a striped pattern across the window.
Percy’s back was straight and his hands were clasped together and resting on his lap – even his way of sitting was neat. Ginny smiled as she turned her attention back to him.
“I don’t think we’ve ever talked about the time… when you went missing,” she said. “When you left the family. I don’t know if you agree, but I’ve felt like things never went back to how they were with you and me since then. You might not remember… but I always turned to you when I was alone, or upset… you used to–“
“Of course I remember,” Percy said, placing his hand on her forearm. “I was secretly very proud of it. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but we used to argue about who was your favourite brother. Bill always said it was him, because he’s the eldest, Charlie said he was the ‘coolest,’ Fred and George were the funniest… And Ron was closest to you in age. Every time they talked about it, I thought of you coming into my room all of those times…”
Ginny smiled. If she were to take a wild guess, she’d say that competing for the favourite brother award had been Fred and George’s insane idea. She shook her head at the thought of such a conversation, and then Percy continued:
“But I know it’s not like that anymore. I know that I betrayed the family, and you, and…” He swallowed. Ginny noticed that something was gleaming in the corner of his eyes – was he crying? “It should have been me,” he said. “I know that it would have been easier on all of you if I had died instead of Fred.”
“What? Percy, I–“
“No, it’s true,” Percy said. “You had already come to terms with losing me, hadn’t you? So it would have been easier if I had been the one to die… if Fred had been the one to have dinner with you tonight…”
Now, tears were flooding into Ginny’s eyes as well. She couldn’t believe that Percy was even considering the possibility of those words being true; how long had he carried those thoughts with him? She reached over and grabbed his hand.
“Perce,” she said. “None of us wanted Fred to die. But none of us, even for a second, wanted you to die instead of him! Do you really think we loved him more than we love you? That it even crossed our minds that he… No.”
“Maybe you didn’t love him more,” Percy mumbled. “But you liked him more.”
Ginny shook her head vigorously and squeezed his hand. “It doesn’t work like that. And you can’t go around thinking that it does. You know… I forgave you three years ago, for leaving us. Maybe the problem is that you still haven’t forgiven yourself.”
“But how do I do that, Ginny?”
“If the rest of us found a way to do it, I’m sure you will too,” she answered. “And by ‘the rest of us,’ I mean all of us. Including Fred.”
Percy blinked and reached up a hand to push his glasses further up his nose. “Do you really think so?”
Ginny leaned in towards him to give him a hug. “I don’t have the slightest doubt about it.”
A/N: So this chapter took me a little longer than usual, but I just couldn't get it right. I'm still not completely happy with it, so if you've got any comments on it, please share them with me! I'd love to get some feedback. And, once again, thank you so much for reading this story, and for being so incredibly kind and supportive about it.