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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 42: Year 5: Worry
An outsider looking in through the window of Ron and Hermione’s flat would see a set up for a perfect Sunday. A roast had been cooking in the oven since early that morning, four plates and glasses and the nice silverware had been placed on the table along with a small vase of newly picked flowers, and Hermione was just putting the finishing touches on Ron’s favourite lemon cheesecake, which she was planning to serve for dessert. From an outsider’s point of view, she appeared to have all the ingredients for the recipe of a perfect Sunday.
Of course, an outsider wouldn’t know of Hermione’s deep desire to grab the cheesecake and toss in the rubbish bin, just so that Ron wouldn’t get to enjoy it. They wouldn’t know that she had had to take off her watch because she hadn’t been able to stop staring at it, wondering if her lousy twit of a boyfriend would even show up before her parents. And from outside the window, they wouldn’t be able to see how she bit the inside of her cheek over and over to keep from bursting into tears at the thought of what she would tell her parents.
Yes, Mum and Dad, I know I invited you to have lunch with Ron and me. I don’t know if he’s forgotten, because he wasn’t in bed when I woke up this morning. No, he didn’t tell me last night that he was going somewhere. Yes, it happens all the time lately. Yes, I have started considering the possibility of him having an affair.
“God damn it!”
After messing up the icing of the cheesecake a third time, Hermione threw the spoon she had been using in the sink with a painfully loud cling! Blinking away a couple of annoying tears that managed to slip past her stubborn decision not to cry, she then walked over to the kitchen table, sank into Ron’s usual spot, and just stared into the wall.
She didn’t really think that Ron was cheating on her. He wouldn’t. No one cheats on a girl with a dying mother.
But what if he had actually met someone else? No one breaks up with a girl with a dying mother either. So maybe he had fallen in love with someone, but hadn’t found it in his heart to break up with Hermione… And now he and his mistress were sneaking around in an attempt to spare Hermione’s feelings, but they were really making everything a billion times worse.
“Stop it,” Hermione said out loud. “You’re letting your head spin out of control.”
She knew better than to start imagining things that weren’t real. She knew Ron better than that. The only thing she didn’t know was what she would tell her parents when they would show up and ask where he was.
Just as she was about to head over to Harry and Ginny’s house just to see if they would know the answer to that question, the front door opened, sending her rushing out into the hallway, her cheeks flushed with a mixture of relief and anger.
“Where have you been?” she hissed as soon as she rounded the corner and saw Ron, who was kneeling down and untying his trainers. “I wake up and you’re just gone! I had no idea where you were, and my parents will be here any minute...”
“I told you,” Ron said. He was taking an awfully long time with the laces of his left shoe. “Jack asked me to come with him and look at broomsticks this morning. I asked you a couple days ago if you wanted me to be home and help with the cooking…”
“… to which I said no because you’re absolutely useless in the kitchen,” said Hermione sourly. “But you didn’t mention anything about broomsticks.”
“Well, you’ve had a busy week,” said Ron, still fumbling with his shoelace. “It must have slipped your mind.”
“So I’m supposed to buy that you went with this Jack guy – as in Jack Marwick? You hate him!”
Ron was just pulling his shoe off when the doorbell rang behind him, and he straightened up, span around without meeting Hermione’s eyes and opened the door again.
“Mr and Mrs Granger!” he said cheerfully. “Good to see you.”
“Oh, Ron,” said Hermione’s mum as she stepped over the threshold and pulled Ron into her arms, smiling at her daughter over his shoulder. “How many times must we tell you to call us Emily and Michael?”
“Sorry, old habit,” said Ron as he proceeded to shake Mr Granger’s hand.
Meanwhile, Hermione took a few steps towards her mother and gave her a hug. Feeling her bony shoulders and gaunt figure in her arms, Hermione forgot for a moment to be angry with Ron. It was as if her mother was slowly dissolving in front of her, as if she had shrunk a little more every time they met.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Mrs Granger mumbled, her breath warm against Hermione’s cheek.
“Hi, Mum. Are you feeling all right?”
“I can’t complain.” Mrs Granger smiled and took a deep breath through her nose. “It smells amazing, dear,” she said. “I’m really hungry.”
At the table a few minutes later, Hermione chose not to comment on the tiny portion of food that her mother managed to finish. She didn’t say anything else to Ron about his strange behaviour and laughed along with her parents at the jokes he told. She listened on her father and boyfriend’s serious conversation about the latest Auror mission and John Dawlish’s murder, and just as the subject of the trials against the most recently captured Death Eaters came up, she felt a small rush of excitement for the first time since that morning.
“Speaking of Magical Law,” she said, interrupting Ron in the middle of the sentence (which she didn’t feel bad about at all). “I’ve got some news to share. I’m leaving my job.”
“What?” said Mr Granger in surprise. “How come?”
“I’ve been promoted,” Hermione said. “I mean, I couldn’t have been prouder of the work we’ve done in the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. The sub-department for protection of creatures such as house-elves is really proving effective… But I was called into Kingsley’s office last week. You remember him, don’t you – he’s the Minister for Magic. He asked if I would consider transferring to the Department for Magical Law Enforcement to be in charge of the rewriting of the ancient magical laws that benefit purebloods and discriminate other people. You know, people like me.”
“That sounds like an amazing job, darling,” Mr Granger said. “And a very important one.”
“It is,” Hermione nodded, unable to keep from smiling.
“Yes,” agreed her mother, “it sounds like something you were born to do.”
“It’s all thanks to Ron’s brother Percy,” Hermione told her parents. “He already works in Magical Law and he was the one who recommended me to Kingsley.”
“I always knew you’d do something great,” said Mrs Granger, leaning forward to place a hand over her daughter’s.
The topics of conversations that followed were light and happy; Mr Granger described in detail how Crookshanks had befriended their neighbour’s female cat and jokingly said that if the friendship would lead to any little kittens running around, he would bring them all to Ron and Hermione. (Of course, Ron objected passionately against this idea, saying that Crookshanks hated him so much that he’d probably pass it on to his offsprings.) Ron told his girlfriend’s parents about all the cute things Victoire had done when he had last visited Shell Cottage, and Hermione told the others about how Gwyn Stayner, her former boss, had nearly burst into to tears after hearing that Hermione was leaving the department.
For a brief moment, Hermione actually forgot to be upset with Ron; she smiled widely as he imitated his three-year-old niece, and it wasn’t until the two were alone in the kitchen, Ron doing the dishes and Hermione cutting up the dessert, that the anger from before came back to her.
“Don’t think for a second that you won’t have to explain yourself once they’ve gone,” she warned him as she pushed the knife through the soft layers of the cheesecake. “You keep on lying to me Ron, and I will find out why.”
Ron paused his motion so that he held the dishbrush out in the air – a piece of foam was just falling off it and ladning on the rug when a loud thud from the other room startled both him and Hermione, their heads flipping simultaneously towards the door that seperated the kitchen from the sitting room.
“What was…?” Ron began, but Hermione was already half way there, and so he dropped the dishbrush and followed her.
He had expected to see a chair that had fallen over or one of Hermione’s hundreds of book that had fallen from the crammed shelves, but that wasn’t the case. Just as he rounded the corner, Hermione was sinking to her knees next to her mother, who was sprawled out on the floor, her eyes shut and her head supported by a very pale and shaky Mr Granger.
“She just passed out,” he said in a trembling voice. “I just…”
“She’s all right,” said Hermione sternly. “She’s breathing. Ron, will you call an ambulance?”
She found herself surprisingly calm – although her heart was racing in her chest, she had no trouble forming the words. Her mother was going to be fine; she had probably just stood up too fast and her blood hadn’t had time to rush up to her brain. But as she watched Ron fumble with her father’s mobile phone, realizing that he didn’t know how to unlock it, let alone how to call for an ambulance, she jumped to her feet to do it herself, and that was when the thought slipped into her brain, the unthinkable one, the one she had buried in its very back for months.
Maybe the day she dreaded most was close now.
Ginny was trying very hard to do what Oliver Wood was doing successfully next to her – smiling at the ocean of journalists that were seated in front of them, and keeping from squinting to avoid getting blinded by the flashes of the hundreds of cameras clicking and capturing her every move. On her left, Gwenog Jones was doing way worse than Ginny, holding up both her hands in front of her face to protect her eyes, and probably ruining most of the photographs she was in. Ginny giggled as she wondered how her captain, who had been one of England’s best Quidditch players since before Ginny started school, could still be so uncomfortable in front of the press, and then she turned her head forwards again, towards the short, fat journalist with a long, plaited beard in the front row, who had just risen from his chair to ask the first question of the day.
“Mrs Potter,” he said, spinning his quill between his sausage-like fingers. “Can you describe what it’s like being married to Harry Potter?”
“I’m sorry,” said Oliver Wood loudly before Ginny could answer, “but this is a press conference concerning Quidditch. I hardly think that question belongs here.”
“Mrs Potter, our readers are just curious…”
“It’s wonderful,” said Ginny sourly. “Now, let’s talk about the upcoming Quidditch season, like Oliver just said.”
A witch wearing horrifyingly pink glasses raised her hand. “Miss Jones,” she said. “What do you think was the main reason your team lost its spot at the top of the leading board towards the end of the last season, and how are you going to avoid making that same mistake this year?”
Gwenog straightened up in her chair and had only just opened her mouth when a wizard in the back called out:
“Mrs Potter, have you and your husband discussed having children? Can we expect to see little Potters run around here anytime soon?”
“I repeat, only Quidditch-related questions,” said Oliver sternly. “Gwenog, go ahead and answer your question.”
“Right,” said Gwenog, clearing her throat. “I was just about to–“
“It has to do with Quidditch, though!” protested another of the journalists. “We – and our readers – only want to know if this team will keep its star Chaser around, or if she is planning to give up her career to have children.”
“Of course she’s not!” Gwenog snapped, slamming her fist into the table and making both Ginny and Oliver jump in their seats. “You said it yourself – she’s a star! One of the best in England! It’s only a matter of time before the national team will seek her out. Only a fool would give that up at this stage.”
“Rumour has it she’s already pregnant!” said someone else, whom Ginny couldn’t make to as she was blinded by all the flashing lights. “Is that not why you got married so young, Mrs Potter?”
“No, it’s not,” said Ginny, her cheeks heating with anger. “We got married because we love each other. Outrageous, isn’t it? Now, let’s go back to talking about Quidditch. I believe my captain has a question to answer – the kind that all of you should have come here to ask. Gwenog?”
Ginny was happy to walk out of the room and away from the cameras and prying questions about fifteen minutes later. Her cheeks were still flushed with anger as she scurried after Gwenog and Oliver through the corridors under the Holyhead Quidditch Arena, and she was so deep into her own thoughts that she nearly bumped into the other two, who had stopped just outside Oliver’s office and interrupted their chatting as they smiled at Ginny’s absentness.
“You’d better not be dreaming about those little Potters,” Gwenog warned her and didn’t wait for a reply before adding: “I must go. See you both at practice tomorrow night.”
As soon as she was out of sight, Ginny turned to Oliver. “I’m sorry about what happened in there. I mean, you probably don’t want to hear about…”
“… about you and Harry?” To Ginny’s surprise, her ex-boyfriend was smiling. “Don’t get me wrong, Ginny, I was heartbroken when you got back with him. But I got over it.”
“Oh,” said Ginny, who didn’t know why she was so surprised. “Yeah, I guess… it has been two years.”
“Exactly,” Oliver agreed. “And I’m seeing someone else.”
“You are? That’s great! Do I know her, by any chance?”
Oliver laughed at her enthusiasm. “No, you don’t,” he said. “But she’s pretty amazing. It might actually be the real thing. I’ll wait a couple years before I propose to her, though. I’m not mad, like you and Harry.”
“We’re not,” Ginny protested, and Oliver laughed.
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “I do hope you’re not mad enough to be dreaming about those little Potters yet, though. You really are an amazing player, Ginny – it would be such a shame to give it up so soon.”
Ginny could feel pity wash over her as she took in the serious look on his face – there was something indescribable in his feature, a mixture of deep yearning and well-masked jealousy, and she reached out to put her hand on his shoulder. “Do you miss it?” she asked, and Oliver shrugged and attempted to smile.
“Of course I do,” he said, his voice suddenly darker than before. “It was… I loved it. But I’m fine. I’m just saying that you should appreciate it for as long as you can.”
“I will,” Ginny promised, and the two exchanged a smile – a genuine one this time – before going their separate ways, suddenly scared of the silence between them. Despite the rather uncomfortable ending to their conversation, Ginny was happy to be talking to Oliver again – she didn’t love him, but she had missed his company, and it was nice to see that their friendship may have survived the past two years after all.
It had been a busy day at the Auror Office, and it was with a slight headache that Harry could finally stack away his parchment rolls, put the lid on his bottle of ink and get out of his office. The new trials had been keeping him busy lately, so almost two weeks worth of paperwork had been piling up on his desk until that morning. Rubbing his forehead, he absently grabbed his bag from the hook behind the door, turned out the lights and locked the door behind him. He nodded at Justin Finch-Fletchley, who was just passing him, and turned around to head out to the fireplaces before anyone would catch him and keep him at work for any longer than needed – he really couldn’t wait to get home.
He had only taken one step, though, when he walked straight into someone, cursed inwardly and took an instinctive step back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
His voice died out when he saw exactly whom he had bumped into. Her hair was shorter than when he had last seen her, but her skin was as pale and soft looking, and she was still as pretty. Cho Chang’s cheeks turned slightly pink as she met his eyes, brushing a stray of her thick, black her away from her face.
“Harry,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
“It must have been years!” said Harry. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” said Cho and nodded, as if to reassure herself that it was true. “And you? I read about your wedding, of course – congratulations!”
“Thank you,” Harry said. “We would have invited you, we just…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Cho lightly. “I understand. Even though it has been ages since anything was going on between the two of us.”
“It has,” Harry agreed. “So what are you doing nowadays? What brings you here?”
“Oh,” said Cho, her cheeks turning a darker shade. “I’m a Healer, at St. Mungo’s. And I’m here… I had a meeting. I got engaged, you see,” she said, holding up her left hand to show a large diamond ring on her finger, “to a Muggle. And I had to seek permission to tell him about… my gifts… before we get married.”
Harry whistled. “I hope he takes it well.”
“So do I,” said Cho. “It was really nice seeing you, Harry, but I–“
“Hang on,” said Harry suddenly, his eyebrows furrowing as he tried to put the pieces of what Cho had said together. “Did you… that doesn’t explain why you’re in the Auror Office. You should be upstairs, at–“
“Yes,” Cho interrupted him, “I just took a wrong turn. I was just about to go back.”
“Okay,” said Harry, his eyebrows furrowing as he thought of the extent of his old friend’s wrong turn – after all, the office she was supposed to be at was three floors further up than the Aurors'.
“Maybe you and Ginny would like to come over for dinner one day?” Cho suggested. “Once I tell Pat about magic, he’d might like to meet you.”
Then, promising to owl him later that week, she flashed him a quick smile, which Harry couldn’t help but interpret as nervous, and headed off the same way Harry was going. Instead of hurrying after her, Harry lingered behind for a few moments, giving her a headstart as he thought it so obvious that she was trying to get away from him.
It was about twenty minutes later that Harry stepped into his and Ginny’s house, pleasantly surprised by the smell of vegetable soup coming from the kitchen, where he found his wife bent over a large pot on the stovetop, her wand in one hand and a thick recipe book that he recognized as Mrs Weasley’s in the other. He was surprised not only because Ginny was actually cooking dinner, but also because it smelled so utterly delicious – after all, as much as he loved her, she wasn’t much of a chef.
“Wow,” he said, capturing her attention as he leaned against the doorframe and watched her with a smile on his face. “Your mother would be so proud if she saw you right now.”
“Don’t tell her,” Ginny begged, the corners of her lips twitching slightly. “I wouldn’t want her to expect me to actually help her cook when we’re at the Burrow.”
“As if she’d ever let you,” Harry grinned and walked over to the cabinet behind her to get out glasses and bowls and lay the table. On his way past her, he placed a quick kiss on her cheek, making her smile as she pointed her wand to the pot, mumbling an incarnation that seemed to make its content stir itself.
“How was the press conference?” asked Harry as he walked past her again, this time without sneaking a kiss and while balancing two glasses and bowls in his hands.
“Okay,” Ginny replied. “Except for the fact that none of the reporters were interested in talking about Quidditch. They only asked questions about you and me, what it’s like to be your wife and when we are planning to have children.”
Harry laughed at the look of annoyance on her face and she sighed as she waved her wand again, making the pot soar up from its spot at the stovetop and land on the middle of their dining table, right next to a vase of little, yellow flowers that Victoire had picked and come to drop by that weekend – accompanied by her father, of course.
“But let’s not talk about that,” Ginny said. “How was work? Busy day?”
“Boring day,” Harry admitted as he pulled out his chair and sat down. “You’ll never guess who I ran into on my way out though!”
“Cho!” said Harry. “Cho Chang.”
“I know who Cho is,” Ginny said, raising an eyebrow. “And was it nice, seeing her again?”
“Sure, very nice,” Harry said. When Ginny’s eyebrow shot up even higher, he let out a laugh and added: “Oh, come on! She’s a nice person. She said she’d have us over for dinner sometime soon.”
“You didn’t say we’d come, did you?” Ginny asked, her eyes widening at the mere thought of something so outrageous.
“Of course we would come. I think your judgement may be a little clouded when it comes to her – it actually was nice to see her,” Harry said, and now he had completely forgotten about Cho’s rather suspicious behaviour and vague explanation as to why she was at the Auror Office. “Did you know she is a Healer now?”
“Well why don’t you go have dinner with her then,” said Ginny sourly, “I wouldn’t want to sit in between you two and listen to how nice you both think it is to see each other again.”
“This is just ridicolous,” Harry said, shaking his head and trying to keep from laughing at her jealousy. “I went out with her once and it’s been what, six years?”
“But you were in love with her,” Ginny said.
“And you were in love with Dean, but he was there for my stag night all the same. You were in love with Oliver Wood, with whom you spend half your waked time, and you don’t hear me complaining about it!”
“Well for the record,” Ginny said while furiously pouring soup into Harry’s bowl, “Oliver has a new girlfriend. So there’s no reason for you to be upset about that.”
“And for the record, Cho is engaged!” Harry retorted. “And even if she hadn’t been, you and I are married! Do you seriously think you have anything to be worried about? There’s only you, Gin. I love you.”
Ginny, suddenly embarrased for her childish behaviour, stared down into her own still empty bowl as blood rushed to her face. As much as she hated to admit it, the press conference had bothered her for reasons other than the fact that she liked to keep her private life private. It had reminded her so much of the time just after the war, when every magazine in England had published articles about her and Harry, and how much damage it had done to them back then. Everything was different now, but she couldn’t deny that the prying journalists had woken a fear somewhere deep in her chest – the fear of losing Harry.
Now, looking up and meeting his eyes, which were still full of anger but also something else, something softer, she reached over the table and grabbed his hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know all that. I love you too. It’s just been a long day.”
“Well, luckily for you,” Harry said, all the anger suddenly gone from his face, “I love every part of you. Even the absolutely mental ones.”
Then, laughing at the mixture of offence and amusement on his wife’s face, he grabbed his spoon and started eating, and they enjoyed their dinner as if the row had never happened.
A/N: As much as I love this new life I'm living, I wish I wasn't so busy all the time, and that I'd have an extra couple of hours a day to just dedicate to this story. Thank you so much for being so patient and understanding, though. And thank you for the millionth time for reading and reviewing this story. It would have been nothing without all of you.
I'm making it my mission to reply to at least five reviews a day until I get through them all. Just know that I read every single one and that you will get your response eventually, if you are waiting for it. Sorry for being so slow! Hopefully I'll see you again with the next chapter sooner rather than later.
Any theories on Ron's strange behaviour, by the way?