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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 36: Year 4: Winter
The first weeks following Harry and Ron’s return to England were nothing short of wonderful. The weather steadily grew colder, but no one could remember the last time so many days had gone without the sun being blocked by thick rain clouds or fog, and the leaves turning yellow and red only made London prettier. Nothing seemed to be able to interfere with Ron’s cheerful mood – he couldn’t remember his bed ever being so comfortable, food ever tasting so good, or ever having so much fun just hanging around the flat with Hermione. Not even hearing about Narcissa Malfoy’s letter upset him too much; sure, he was angry over the fact that the two Malfoys had cared more about getting what they wanted than about Hermione’s feelings, but he was surprisingly supportive. Quite honestly, he may have supported Hermione’s decision not to go back to being Draco’s friend a little too wholeheartedly, but Hermione simply let it pass, and complained instead about Ron’s newfound habit of Apparating from room to room inside their flat, because according to him, all the walking he had done in Finland had been enough for a lifetime.
Meanwhile, Harry and Ginny dedicated their time to wedding planning. They decided to go with an April wedding at the Burrow, and Mrs Weasley was beyond thrilled. In fact, both Ginny and Harry discovered that it was impossible to have a conversation with her anymore without it somehow ending up being about wedding.
At the Auror Office, most of the Aurors were working on one thing only: finding a way to get the Finnish woman who had betrayed them to speak. They had her in custody, but she refused to answer any of their questions, and because she was not of British citizenship, International Wizarding Law forbade them from using Veritaserum on her. Therefore, Gawain Robards had remained in Finland, where he was working on getting the Scandinavian Ministry to do it for them, but so far, they had been unexpectedly reluctant.
The days of October flew by in a blur; not much changed at all as everyone turned their calendar pages. Things stood still at the Auror Office, and Gawain started talking about having Harry go visit the Scandinavians, as his influence might help persuade them easier. When he wasn’t working, the wedding took up most of Harry’s time; Ginny insisted he had nothing to complain about, though. It seemed like everyone around her refused to talk about anything else with her, whether it was her mother, her teammates, or Hermione, and she often fled over to Luna’s house in the evenings to escape it all. She found it much more relaxing – and amusing – to listen to Luna and her father’s dinner conversations and browse through Xenophilius Lovegood’s folder of ideas for upcoming articles in the Quibbler (which had decreased in popularity again after the war, and judging by the article ideas, Ginny wasn’t too shocked about it).
Much to her surprise, though, Ginny found that Luna still talked a lot about Rolf Scamander, the young man whom she had met during her travels. Apparently, they still wrote letters to each other, and Luna acted as though she was expecting to see him again soon. Ginny, who had always thought that Luna would be the perfect match for another one of their friends, subtly tried to mention Neville’s name every now and then, but other than asking how he liked being a professor, Luna didn’t have too much to say about him.
Without any of them really noticing, October passed into November, and the first snow fell over the now bare trees in England. In fact, it was on the very day that Hermione saw the first snowflakes that winter, that it happened – that thing, which woke everyone from the doze they had been in since the middle of September.
Hermione was walking home from work when she realized that it was snowing – normally, she’d use the Floo System or Apparate home, but she really enjoyed walking. Especially since Mrs Weasley’s birthday party the previous weekend, when she had been complaining about how cold it was getting, and Audrey had taught her a spell that made both her coat and her scarf secrete warmth. Since then, walking in the cold was a lot more pleasant, although Hermione couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor Muggles around her, all of whom seemed to shiver and shake as they hurried along the busy streets.
She had stopped by Ron’s office before leaving the Ministry, and he had told her not to wait for him, as he had so much to do. Therefore, Hermione knew that she was looking forward to an afternoon in an empty flat, and it was this knowledge that made her decide to go and visit her parents instead of continuing all the way home.
The Grangers lived in a nice neighbourhood in the suburbs of London. The houses there were quite small, but pretty, and white picket fences and well-raked lawns completed the idyllic look. It was snowing there too, and Hermione smiled to herself as she imagined how lovely and Christmassy it would look once it was all covered in white.
As soon as she stepped up on her parents’ front porch, Hermione heard a meowing sound from inside the house. She smiled again and opened the front door just as Crookshanks entered the hallway. While she bent down to untie her shoes, the cat started rubbing against her legs.
“Hi there,” mumbled Hermione affectionately. “Did you miss me?”
Crookshanks looked up at her with an almost accusing look on his squashed face, and Hermione sighed and petted the top of his head. “I know I’m terrible for leaving you here,” she told him. “But you’d never be able to go outside if you lived with me. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”
And besides, she thought as she straightened up again, it probably wasn’t a great idea to have Ron and Crookshanks live under the same roof. Of course, the pair got along a lot better since Ron no longer had Scabbers, but Hermione had a feeling they were both still holding a grudge against each other. Especially Ron, she thought and rolled her eyes while walking further into her childhood home, Crookshanks in tow.
“Hello!” she called as she entered the living room. “Is anyone home?”
The silence that met her confused her; the door had been unlocked, and she couldn’t imagine her meticulous parents ever leaving home without locking it. She was just about to take out her wand and start searching the house when someone appeared in the doorway to her parents’ bedroom.
It was her father. Something about his appearance startled Hermione, and she eyed his clothes, but he was wearing what he always wore – brown trousers, and the collar of his white, neatly ironed shirt sticking up over the neckline of his grey jumper. As she turned her eyes back to her father’s face, Hermione then realized just exactly what was different about him. He had been crying – she could almost see the traces on his cheeks where the tears had run down, and if that was not enough proof, the redness in his eyes certainly was.
“What’s wrong?” she said immediately. “Did something happen to Grandma? Is she…?”
Mr Granger shook his head, and just as Hermione was about to open her mouth again, her mother came out of the bedroom as well. If Hermione had been worried before, it was nothing compared to what she felt when she looked at her mum; Mrs Granger wasn’t crying. In fact, she looked surprisingly composed. Which wasn’t a good sign at all – she was always the one to freak out when something happened, while her husband remained calm. So what could it possibly be, that had Mrs Granger so unruffled, while Mr Granger cried?
“Sweetheart,” said Hermione’s mum and reached out a hand towards her daughter. “Let’s sit down. There is… there is something we need to talk about.”
As the little family sat down – Hermione in one of the armchairs by the window, and her parents in the couch across from her – a strangely familiar fear started growing inside Hermione. It was a feeling she had lived with for a whole year, if not longer, before Harry had finally defeated Voldemort. The fear of not knowing what was to come; being on guard without really knowing what she was trying to protect herself from.
“Tell me,” she begged her mother, because she knew that her father wouldn’t be the one to say it.
Mrs Granger smiled, but it wasn’t a real smile, because it wasn’t happy. Then, she took a deep breath that made her chest expand, slowly exhaled and said:
“I’ve found out I’m sick, honey. I have cancer.”
It was the strangest thing, because Hermione watched her mother’s lips move, and she heard the sounds that came out of her mouth, but it was as if her brain couldn’t piece it all together. She couldn’t take it in, and so she fled into that one part of her mind, which was so comfortably stable and immutable and fixed – the logical part. Reason.
“They’ll treat you,” she said. “You’ll get better. They’ll remove it, and you’ll live another forty years, won’t you?” When neither one of her parents replied, Hermione gulped and added, in a voice that seemed much thinner than before: “People survive cancer nowadays, right?”
When she had been six, a boy from school had teased Hermione about her abnormally large front teeth, and she had been crying when her dad had picked her up that day. Her father had told her that her teeth were perfect the way they were; he was a dentist, he had pointed out, so he should know better than some six-year-old bully whose parents hadn’t raised him right.
“I love your teeth,” he had assured her. “Don’t worry about it.”
Two years later, when Hermione had been six, she had accidentally burnt a girl’s hand. Poor Rebecca Webb had been trying to convince Hermione to come play outside for nearly fifteen minutes, but Hermione had insisted on finishing her book first. When Rebecca had reached over to tear out the pages of that stupid book in frustration, Hermione’s anger had resulted in some involuntary magic and blisters all over Rebecca’s hand. When Mr Webb had come to pick up his daughter from the Grangers’ a few hours later, Hermione’s mum explained how the girls must have snuck into the kitchen and turned on the stove. While he dragged his daughter outside and over to the car, Mr Webb had yelled at her for doing something so ill-advised, and Hermione had turned to her mother and whispered:
“But that wasn’t how it happened, Mum. It was one of those strange things again, but I promise I didn’t mean it…”
“I know you didn’t, sweetheart,” had Mrs Granger replied. “I’m just not sure that they would understand. But don’t worry about it, okay?”
And here they were now; Hermione was twenty two, but she still wanted – no, she needed – to be told not to worry. That everything would be fine.
“Some people get better,” said her mother instead, “but I’m afraid I won’t.”
As with all things, everyone quickly realized that Emily Granger’s disease hadn’t stopped the clocks, and the neighbourhood where she and her husband lived was soon covered in snow, and it looked lovely and Christmassy, just as it had for the last twenty five years. On Christmas day, the pair left the idyllic little street with the pretty houses and twinkling Christmas lights, and came with their daughter to the Burrow. There, a festive spirit and happy faces fought hard to overshadow the constant presence of ‘cancer,’ the mutual awareness that seemed to hover above their heads and hang over everyone’s shoulder. It was as if every other topic of conversation was constrained, whether it was wedding plans (a subject that couldn’t be discussed without the bride-to-be sighing and yawning very loudly), Bill and Fleur’s baby (which, judged by the size of Fleur’s belly, seemed like it could pop out any second now), or one of Percy’s incredibly long and equally boring expositions on all the reasons why the Scandinavian Ministry aggravated international cooperation by refusing to work with the Brits.
And yet, as the night progressed and darkness fell over Ottery St. Catchpole, Ginny had to admit that Mrs Granger’s cheeks looked a little less hollow in the light of the Christmas tree, that Mr Granger’s laughter sounded more and more sincere, and that Hermione relaxed more next to her for every minute that passed. Glancing to her side, Ginny watched as her best friend debated vigorously with Percy about ways to best solve the Aurors’ issue in a diplomatic way, and when Audrey said: “Wow, Hermione! Have you ever considered becoming a politician?” Ginny could see a twinkle in her friend’s eyes that hadn’t been there for weeks.
An outsider looking in through the window might not have seen anything other than joy; there was Harry, rereading the letter that Neville had sent them, telling them all about life as a professor and Christmas at Hogwarts. Next to him in the couch sat Mr Weasley and Charlie, both of them laughing loudly at something one of them had just said. Much to the rest of the Weasleys’ joy, Charlie’s visits had been a lot more frequent since the end of the war. Ginny had been very surprised to hear that he was coming home for Christmas, since he was also coming to her wedding in April, but she was beyond happy about it.
Bill and Fleur were sitting across from Harry, Charlie and Mr Weasley, Bill with his arm around his wife’s shoulder, and Fleur with her hands resting on her belly. Both of them were smiling as they watched Victoire, who was skipping around the room, chasing the large snowflakes that came flying out of the tip of George’s wand.
Ginny smiled at her niece as well before turning her eyes back to Harry. He was just folding Neville’s letter and putting it back into the small envelope when he seemed to sense her staring at him and lifted his head. His lips instantly curled into a smile as their eyes met.
Suddenly, someone started pulling at Harry’s trouser-leg, making him turn his head to the side. Victoire must have grown tired of the snowflake game, because she was standing right next to him now, smiling adorably with her blonde curls pulled back from her face with the help of two glittery clips, and her hands playing with the hem of her deep purple dress.
“Where’s Teddy?” she asked.
“He’s not here today,” Harry reminded her. “He’s spending the day at his Granddad’s house. We got to see him yesterday, though, remember?”
“But I want Teddy to be in my Granddad and Nana’s house!” said Victoire angrily and crossed her arms over his chest.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said and bent down to pull her up into the couch. “You’ll see him another day, Vic.”
His words made Victoire’s lower lip tremble, and she climbed into Mr Weasley’s arms and started sniffing quietly. Fleur smiled and shook her head.
“Zose two ‘ave really become inseparable,” she said. “I’m sure zey will be best friends when zey are older too.”
“Yes,” Bill agreed. “I hope you’re right. But don’t cry about it now, sweetheart,” he told his daughter. “How about we ask if Teddy wants to come over for a play when we get home tomorrow?”
“You are such a softie,” Fleur complained. “You’re spoiling ‘er.”
“It’s Christmas!” Bill argued. “I don’t want her to be sad on Christmas!”
“Okay,” Fleur said, “but you’ll ‘ave to watch zem yourself, zen. I can’t chase after two little children in zis state.”
“You do realize that you’ll have two little children of your own once that baby is born, right?” George asked as he summoned a chair from the kitchen and sat down amongst the others.
“Yes, and by zen, I won’t be pregnant anymore,” said Fleur, and after struggling to change her position for a few seconds, she sighed and added: “I really can’t wait.”
Mrs Weasley let out an excited squeal at the thought of the baby actually being born, and then she quickly rose to her feet. “I’m going to put on some tea,” she said. “Is anyone hungry? I could whip something together…”
“After the dinner we had, I doubt anyone in here will be hungry before New Year’s Eve,” said Charlie and grinned at his mother.
“I can put the kettle on,” Ginny offered. “Just sit down and relax, Mum.”
She rose to her feet and went out into the kitchen, where the smell of turkey, Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes still lingered, and where the radio was still playing Celestina Warbeck; Ginny noticed that the music was strangely muffled now, though, and she strongly suspected that Fleur and her imaginative spellwork had something to do with it.
“Need any help?”
The voice made Ginny smile and turn around, with the large kettle in her hands. Harry was just entering the kitchen, his hands nonchalantly stuck into his pockets and his eyebrows raised as he waited for her to answer his question.
“I know I’m a terrible cook,” Ginny said, “but I think I can handle putting on some tea. Believe it or not.”
Harry laughed, walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I believe you,” he said softly. “I suppose I just saw the opportunity to get a little alone time with you, and decided to grab it.”
He bent his head down to kiss her, and Ginny hastily put the kettle on the countertop before wrapping her arms around Harry’s waist. When they broke apart, she looked up into his almond-shaped eyes and smiled again.
“Merry Christmas,” Harry replied. “Can you believe that by this time next year, we’re going to be married?”
“Assuming I don’t change my mind before April,” Ginny said. “Or you, for that matter.”
“I won’t. I can’t wait for April,” Harry said, pulling her closer again.
This time, however, Ginny slipped out of his grip, grabbed the kettle and continued doing what she had come into the kitchen to do. Meanwhile, she cast a glance at her fiancé over her shoulders and raised one of her brows.
“Don’t tell me you’ve become like everyone else I know,” she said, “and that we’ll only ever be talking about the wedding for the next four months.”
“Don’t worry,” said Harry and shrugged. “I realize that doing that probably would make you change your mind.”
He smiled quickly and turned away to get teacups out of one of the cabinets, and Ginny felt a twinge of guilt inside her. Abandoning the kettle once again, she marched over to him, grabbed his arm and forced him to face her.
“It’s not that I’m not excited about it,” she promised him. “I can’t wait either. And I want everything to be perfect, and for it to be the best day of our lives… I’m just not as interested in flower arrangements and centrepieces and colours of napkins as most people seem to think I am.”
Harry grinned. “The fact that you’re not only makes me want to marry you more. Like I said, don’t worry about it.”
Ginny nodded and turned back to the stove. “I love you,” she said as she heated it up with her wand. “A lot.”
“I love you a lot too, Gin. Now will you please stop worrying about my feelings and actually finish making that tea?”
A few minutes later, the two of them headed back towards the living room; Harry walked a few steps behind Ginny, watching as she balanced the large tray of teacups in her arms (she had stubbornly refused to let him help her with it, and he suspected that it was her way of making up for the little soppy, romantic moment they had just shared). He grinned to himself and was just about to walk into the room and take his place in the couch next to Mr Weasley again when a voice stopped him.
“Harry? Can I have a word?”
Harry turned around to see that Bill was just walking out of his old bedroom, and he stopped to let his soon-to-be brother-in-law catch up with him. Bill brushed his long, red hair away from his face – which, much to Mrs Weasley’s dismay, was now covered in an equally red beard. Harry assumed that Bill had let it grow because it covered parts of his awful scars, but Mrs Weasley complained often and loudly about how it made her eldest son look like even more of a slob.
“What’s up, Bill?” asked Harry once he was finished pondering on his friend’s facial hair.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while,” Bill confessed as he leaned against the wall across from Harry. “Because… because I owe you an apology. I never told you how sorry I am for the way I treated you when you and Ginny were broken up. I know it was a long time ago, but I was a complete prat and you didn’t deserve it.”
Harry smiled. “Water under the bridge, right?”
“Maybe,” Bill said. “But I still wanted to tell you. And I also want you to know that I know how good you are for Ginny. She’s never happier than when she’s with you.”
Harry, smiling again as a strange, warm sensation spread inside him, felt his cheeks flush a little as he nodded. “I really love her,” he said.
“I know you do,” Bill replied. “And there’s no one I’d rather see my sister get married to.”
The two men smiled at each other before turning their heads down in an almost simultaneous movement. An awkward silence crept in between them, and after clearing his throat a few times, Harry finally broke it by saying:
“Maybe we should get in there before the tea gets cold?”
Bill hurriedly agreed, and the two of them scurried quickly into the living room, as if the temperature of their tea was the most important thing in the world, and as if one flick of their wands couldn’t reheat it instantly, if needed.
While Bill and Harry helped themselves to some tea, Hermione brought two steaming cups over to her parents. Mr and Mrs Granger scooted apart to let her sit down in between them, and as she sank down, her father placed an arm around her shoulder, and her mother lowered one of her scraggy hands to place it on her knee. Closing her eyes, Hermione tilted her head to the side and let it rest on Mrs Granger’s shoulder, where it fit as perfectly as it always had, despite the fact that the shoulder was a lot more protruding now than it had used to be.
“I love you, sweetie,” Mrs Granger whispered, and Hermione opened her eyes again. She hated it when her mum did that – when she said those words with such eagerness in her voice, as if she was scared she wouldn’t get the chance to tell her again.
Something shiny caught Hermione’s eyes, and she blinked as she watched the golden bracelet she was wearing. Her mother had given it to her that same morning, and now, as she inspected the thin, simplistic chain and the perfectly shaped little charms that dangled from it, Hermione knew she would probably never take it off.
“You know,” said her mother, who must have been looking at the bracelet too, “your grandmother gave that to me once. When I graduated from University… I can’t believe I didn’t remember to give it to you when you left Hogwarts…”
“I don’t mind,” Hermione interrupted. “I do love it, though.”
Mrs Granger grabbed her hand and squeezed it, and although neither one of them would say it aloud, they were thinking the same thing: they couldn't know whether or not Hermione would ever have a daughter, but they did know that if she would, Mrs Granger wouldn't make it to her graduation and see that bracelet be passed on to adorn another wrist.
A/N: I'll gladly confess to being a broken record, and thank you again for reading this story. It's just amazing that sites like this one exist, where we can actually share stories with each other, because before joining this site, I never let anyone read anything I had written. And the most amazing thing to me is having a dialogue with all of you. It's been almost a year since I posted the first chapter of this story, but even after all this time, each review you leave makes me so happy, whether it's positive or negative feedback, because I'm so glad that I get to hear what you think. Thank you so much for taking the time to do it. I doubt this story would be half as good without your help, support and encouragement!