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Chapter 2: Coming back
Sunday afternoon, July, 2042
To any Healer passing by in the corridor outside Arthur Weasley’s room at St. Mungo’s Hospital, Molly Weasley would appear to be asleep in the chair next to her husband’s bed, but she wasn’t; since Ron and Hermione had left about an hour prior to that moment, she had been sitting with her head rested against the wall behind her and her eyes shut, just listening to her husband’s cheerful humming. He had not remembered her at all today, but there was something familiar about the tune he was singing, and Molly had somehow convinced herself that if she could just figure out what song it was, everything would feel a lot better.
She knew that most Healers wouldn’t understand why a woman her age would prefer to spend the whole day at the hospital, watching over a husband who didn’t even know she was there, rather than resting in the comfort of her own home, but as of lately, Molly took every chance she got to stay away from the Burrow. Even being faced with Arthur, who was still himself and simultaneously gone, was better than the loneliness there and the painfully bittersweet memories enclosed in the oblique walls and creaking floors.
Without warning, the combination of Arthur’s humming and the thoughts of the Burrow entwined, and Molly remembered something – a moment, lost in a lifetimes of others, but suddenly clearer than ever in her mind: she and Arthur were in the orchard, it was the middle of September, and they were two months away from welcoming their firstborn into the world. Molly was sitting on a blanket in the shade under one of the apple trees, her hands resting on her huge belly. Every now and then, she was forced by the early autumn winds to lift one of them and brush a stray of hair away from her eyes, which were fixed on Arthur. She was laughing while he was balancing on an old wooden box, stretching his long arms to their breaking point in an attempt to reach the ripe apples, which were, of course, growing on the highest branches.
“Do we have to taste the apples today?” he asked, glancing at his very pregnant wife over his shoulder. This quickly turned out to be a mistake, though, as the wooden box began moving and nearly toppled when he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Molly’s eyes twinkled as she responded: “I just thought it would be nice to make that apple pie you’re so fond of. I mean, I won’t have much time once the baby is here…”
And she giggled as Arthur nodded determinedly, a new gleam lit in his eyes as he, perhaps with newfound inspiration at the prospect of having one of his favourite desserts, grabbed one of the steadier branches and lunged himself up. Molly, letting out a shriek as his feet lost touch with the top of the box, tried to jump to her feet – of course, given her condition, it was more of a climb, and once she was finally standing up, Arthur was safely on the ground again, his pockets stuffed with deep red, perfectly ripe apples.
Molly, having returned to present time and Arthur’s room at St. Mungo’s, blinked away a few tears and tried to remember if she had ever got to making that pie, but if she had, the memory of it was gone from her mind. She opened her eyes and looked at her husband, realizing that he had stopped his humming. He certainly wouldn’t remember. She bit her lip before defiantly closing her eyes again, as if that would take her back to that day nearly seventy years ago, when her life had been more than memories and nostalgia.
It had been months, years even, since Arthur’s mind had started getting a bit foggy. Of course, back then it had only been occasionally, and only concerning the little things; he’d forget that he had already told her of something he had read in the Daily Prophet that morning, and repeat himself, or he’d get surprised when she announced that the children were coming over that night, despite the fact that she had told him several times before. But to Molly, it didn’t matter how long it had been, how much time she had been given to adjust, for she would never get used to idea of losing Arthur. Yes, she truly felt as though she had lost him, more so than ever now that he was having one of his bad days, because who was he, really, if he remembered nothing of his life?
Molly was sure that she would have burst into tears, had it not been for the fact that a knock on the door interrupted her in that very moment. Lifting her head, she realized that the Healer from that morning was back, her curly head seemingly floating in the air, as her body was hidden behind the door.
“I’m sorry to disturb,” she said. “I just wanted to check if everything was alright in here.”
“Yes,” replied Molly monotonously. “Thank you.”
“Artie?” the Healer said, glancing over at the man in the bed. “How are you doing? Any more chest pains?”
Molly flinched, as always, at the nickname – no one had ever called Arthur that, other than his older brother Bilius, in his occasional attempts to annoy him. But the Healers here had adopted the nickname, and they said it with affection; Molly would never get used to hearing it, though. To her, her husband would always be Arthur.
“Oh, I’m quite alright,” answered the man in question now, nodding vigorously as if to stress his point. “It’s a lovely day, and I’ve got Miss… Miss…” His eyes darted over to Molly. “I’m sorry,” he said, “your name seems to have slipped my mind…”
“It’s Mrs,” Molly whispered, tears once again welling up in her eyes. “Mrs Weasley.”
“Right,” Arthur said, turning back to the Healer. “… Mrs Weasley, here to keep me company, so I can’t complain!”
He winked at his wife, who let out a sob, and the Healer shot her a sympathetic look.
“Oh, and I almost forgot,” she said, “your son is here.”
“Ron? Did he forget something?”
“No, not Ron,” said the Healer. “It’s George. Should I see him in?”
“Yes, please,” answered Molly, just as Arthur let out a sound of a surprise:
“Did you say Ron? That’s funny – I’ve got a son called Ron! Can you believe that coincidence, Mrs Weasley?”
Molly’s eyes widened, and she couldn’t help it; a glimpse of hope awoke somewhere inside her, and she leaned forwards, reaching for Arthur’s wrinkled hand. She just wanted to feel those long, firm fingers close around hers… but as soon as she touched it, he pulled it away, his eyes narrowing as he looked up at her.
“Do you… do you remember Ron?” Molly asked, but only a blank face met her this time, and her question went unanswered. Fortunately, the door opened again behind her and distracted her from bursting into tears over this, and she bit her lip and turned around, determined to greet George with a smile.
Not unlike his younger brother, George had grown old very fast. He had always been quite short and stocky, but was now even shorter and stockier, and his back was slightly curved; Molly thought that it might be a result of the many years he had spent bending over his desk at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes working on new inventions, before his daughter had taken over and allowed him to retire. Of course, George didn’t seem to have fully understood the concept of retirement – it was very rare that a whole day passed without him paying Roxanne a visit to give her some unsolicited advice or offer to lend her a hand out in the shop.
Now, as George smiled back at his mother while trying to stop his eyes from flickering over to his father, he pulled his fingers through his thinning hair and walked over to her to give her a quick hug. “The Healer told me he’s not doing very good today,” he said, still refusing to actually look at the old man, curled up in such a pitiful state and locked away inside his own shaded mind; the same person, who had once been George's hero and guidance.
Molly’s heart ached worse than ever as she watched her son’s face. She knew that George had a hard time, perhaps even more so than his siblings, accepting what was happening to Arthur. Whenever someone brought the subject up at family dinner, he would often find an excuse to leave the table, and sometimes he would come with his mother to St. Mungo’s, only to stare out the window the whole time without even trying to get his father to talk. But as it turned out, today was a day that a conversation between the two would start without George’s help – it was his father who said the first word.
“And how are you?” he asked politely, smiling in a way that made him look like he was surprised that he still knew how.
“I’m alright, Dad,” George mumbled. “How are you?”
“Oh, splendid!” said Arthur cheerfully. “You look so much like my son,” he added.
“Oh, yes, you’re his splitting image!” Arthur continued. “His name is Fred. Do you know him, by any chance?”
George’s eyes flew over to his mother for a second, and Molly, who hadn’t been able to stop tears from welling up in her eyes, sniffed while nodding encouragingly at him.
“Yes,” George said, turning back to Arthur. “I do know Fred.”
“A charming young boy,” Arthur said. “He gets in a bit of trouble at school, of course. Professor McGonnagall sends us new letters each week telling us of their pranks.”
“Is that so?” asked George faintly. He was, by all appearances, struggling not to burst out crying, and Molly took a few wobbly steps towards him, reached out and grabbed his hand.
There was a mechanism inside of her that she simply couldn’t turn off, an unstoppable urge brought to life in her every time she saw as much of a glimpse of the old Arthur; it lit up a spark of hope inside of her, and she found herself unable to resist clinging to it with all of her might. For this reason, she would always try to get him to remember more whenever he mentioned anything from their life together – like earlier, when he had said Ron’s name – despite the fact that she knew that in ninety nine cases out of a hundred, he wouldn’t come back, no matter how hard she pulled.
But even though Molly knew that another incomprehensive answer or empty stare would tear at her heart a little more, and at George’s heart, she still asked:
“What about George, Arthur? Is he being good, or is Professor McGonnagall writing about him too?”
Molly could feel her son tense next to her, and she dared not look in his direction. She knew that Arthur remembering Fred but not him would only hurt him more, but she found it impossible not to ask – she was just about to turn to George and give him a comforting hug when Arthur made a strange sound, making her freeze in the middle of her movement.
Her husband’s eyes had widened, and his fingers, which had been twirling the sheets for the last couple of minutes, started shaking. Then, both his hands flew up to his chest as he drew in a wheezy breath, his chest expanding slowly with an awful sound. Molly’s stomach flipped over as she watched him, and she found it impossible to move, or open her mouth and call for the help that she knew he needed; was he dying now?
“Dad,” said George, and Arthur’s widened eyes flickered towards him. “Dad, just relax,” George said, “just breathe… We’ve got to get help! Mum, we…”
And he turned to see his mother’s frozen position, stared at her for a few seconds and then rushed over to the door. Molly didn’t hear the sound when he opened or closed it; she heard only that terrible sound coming from her husband’s chest as he tried, once again, to take a deep breath. His eyes kept roaming around the room, and his hands were pressed against his chest, as if he was trying to keep it from exploding. His face was getting paler, and then, suddenly, he stopped moving. For a terrifying second, Molly thought that he had died; she had already started to scream when he moved again. His eyes, finally controllable again, fixed on her face, and he reached out a hand towards her. Molly stumbled forwards, and she couldn’t remember the last time her wilting body had allowed her to move so quickly.
She sank into the chair next to his bed, reached out both her arms and grabbed his hands, and he clung to her with surprising strength. It was as if the familiar touch of his skin was all that Molly needed to be able to calm down and breathe again. She looked at Arthur, and he looked back at her, and he whispered something that she couldn’t quite make out.
“I’m sorry, dear,” she said. “I didn’t hear you.”
He opened his mouth again. “Mollywobbles,” he whispered, and Molly could feel the warmth of her own tears as they began rolling down her cheeks.
“Yes,” she said, “it’s me.”
Arthur’s lips curled into a smile, and before letting his head sink back down to his pillow, he added: “I’m so glad that you’re here.”
And Molly knew. Already before the pillow was compressed by the weight of his head, she knew that he would stop breathing, that his tomorrow slowly faded into nothing while hers turned into a blend of different shades of blue. His grip around her hands loosened, and then he was gone.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading this. If you've got a minute to spare, I'd love to hear what you thought of it! :) There will be one more chapter of this story!