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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 62: Year 7: The Figure in White
The wooden gate was squeaky, the kitchen the same orange as when they had first seen it, but somehow, as Ron and Hermione walked into their new house the same morning they were moving in, Maple Crest (named for a maple tree up on the hill behind the house that Mr Perkins had cut down years and years before) seemed flawless. The garden was still rather untamed, but the rose bush around the corner of the wooden house was still alive, and with all of the Perkins' clutter gone from inside, the place seemed bigger than before. Finally, Ron thought as he directed the five large cardboard boxes holding Hermione's books into the living room by pointing his wand, they would have enough space for all the bookshelves that had taken up half their living room back in their flat in London.
In fact, they had decided to use one of the smaller bedrooms as a library - something that Hermione had dreamed of since she was a little girl, and something that Ron deemed temporary ("There's only four other bedrooms, after all. And we'll need the space once the kids start coming along.") (Hermione had snorted and said that they could have more than three kids the day it became possible for Ron to be the one giving birth.)
Secretly, she was jumping with joy, though. She sometimes thought back to the Ron she had gone to school with and compared him to his older self, the version of him she was now married to. He had the same long nose and fiery hair and stubborn ways, but he was so different too. He had been so scared of his emotions back then - or anyone's emotions, really - especially the ones concerning Hermione. At times, she had worried he would never catch up with her, because she had been ready to be with him long before he had shown even a little bit of interest. But there they were now, together, moving into the house she hoped they would spend the rest of their lives in; the house where their children would learn to walk, where they would both grow old and perhaps a little grizzly and crooked.
Hermione's father was there too, and Harry, Ginny and James, and George, and Bill and Victoire. The moving team, Victoire had named them, before deeming herself the boss of the party. She looked like she was having a splendid time where she was standing with one foot just inside the front door and the other out on the steps leading up to it, her silver blonde hair caressing her shoulders as it moved along with the late August winds. She was pointing her fingers and shouting orders at the others, who chuckled and shook their heads at her, but let her go on as she pleased.
Ron walked into the living room to find that Hermione was busy sorting her books into alphabetical order, not noticing that a grinning George was messing them up again when she wasn't looking, and Mr Granger was wiping his hands and looking contently at the work he had just finished - hanging Ron and Hermione's wedding photo above the fireplace. Something in his eyes changed as they paused on his late wife's smiling face in the picture, and Ron felt his own gaze draw to Hermione. He knew how much she wished that her mother could have been there to see their new home. The day she became pregnant, she would want nothing more than to call her and tell her the news. How unfair it was that she wouldn't get to.
"Oi," said a voice suddenly, making Ron look up and realise that his eldest brother had just entered the room too, carrying a pile of clothes over his shoulder and raising both his eyebrows. "You don't expect us to do all the work and let you stand here and daydream, do you, Ron?"
Ron smiled. "Sorry. I'll come help. Hey, Hermione... I wouldn't turn my back on George, if I were you."
He and Bill left the room again just as Hermione yelled, "Geo-orge!" and George yelled, "Tattler!" Both brothers laughed before parting ways - Bill headed into the master bedroom to drop off the clothes, and Ron hurried back out the front door to get another few boxes inside.
"Good job, Uncle Ron," said Victoire cheerfully as he stepped past her. He stopped to ruffle her hair and smiled.
"You too, love," he said. "Thanks for coming with your dad to help us out today."
Victoire grabbed his arm and pulled at it until he bent down. Now that they were about the same height, she cupped her little hands around Ron's ear and whispered:
"Actually, Daddy made me come. He says Mummy needs to rest now that she's got a baby in her tummy again. So we left Dom at Nana and Granddad's house and I came here."
"Well, it's still very nice of you to help," Ron said, straightening up again with an amused look on his face.
Outside, the sun was warm of summer but the winds hinted of the next season waiting on the doorstep. Ron didn't mind it much; he had never been much for sunbathing, and he liked the way everything changed colours in autumn. Somehow, it was as if there was still a sense of excitement inside him programmed to wake up when September crept close. Even though he hadn't been a student at Hogwarts for years, it was a time of year that made him think of good things.
As the sun seemed to move closer to the ground, the moving team gradually dissolved. Harry and Ginny returned home for James' nap time, Victoire and Bill headed for the Burrow to get Dominique off Mrs Weasley's hands, and George and Mr Granger walked up the road side by side after waving goodbye. Finally, there were only Ron and Hermione, and without speaking as much as a word to each other, both of them rushed into the orange kitchen and started filling the table with different plants and seeds and potion ingredients.
"Tell me again how it works," Ron asked, and Hermione paused, looked as though she was about to roll her eyes, but changed her mind and smiled instead.
"Once we're finished brewing it, we'll look out for the smoke," she explained, for the third time that day. "If it turns red, that means I'm pregnant. If it goes blue... We have to keep trying." She flicked her wand and made a large kettle sort out of one of the kitchen cabinets before landing in front of her. "So," she said, "shall we start?"
"You'd better do it," said Ron nervously. "I'll get it wrong, I know I will..."
There was new sort of flutter in both their stomachs as Hermione started brewing the potion, one that reminded them both of their wedding day, or of that very morning when they had taken their first set of bags and moving boxes to the new house. Somehow, this feeling was more intense though, stronger and better, because they knew that afternoon may be an afternoon they would talk about for years and decades. Maybe one day when their child was getting married, they would talk about it in their embarrassing speeches and make the bride and groom laugh and roll their eyes, and maybe it was the afternoon that would change absolutely everything.
But before an answer was visible in the smoke, something interrupted them, something silvery shaped like a stallion galloping straight through the front door and halting in front of the table, where Ron and Hermione stood waiting for Gawain Robard's Patronus to speak.
"Ronald," it said, "the Auror Office needs you. The Malfoy family have detected an intruder on their property and we have reason to believe it is the murderer you're looking for."
It seemed later in the year at Malfoy Manor; the air was crisper, a few stray leaves had already turned red and yellow and crunched under Ron's feet as he walked, and though it was not quite night time yet, it was darker than back home. From his spot between the trees, Ron could just make out the gates leading into Malfoy Manor standing tall and cold at the end of the woods. Behind them was the shape of the large, proud house that Ron knew still haunted Hermione some nights - he shivered too at the sight of it and made his eyes keep moving. The black silhouette of three birds high above moved across the dark blue sky, but apart from that, everything was still. Ron breathed slowly, feeling his muscles tense and his heartbeat fasten. Perhaps he wouldn't have to tell another mother that her son had died tonight. Perhaps there would finally be an end to these pointless murders that wouldn't change the past, no matter the number of lifeless Death Eaters the Aurors would have to bring into the Ministry.
Suddenly, before he knew he was doing it, he had raised his wand, and an incarnation was already on his tongue when he felt the tip of another wand press against his throat. He wanted to squeeze his eyes shut and not see, because it was over, he had lost, and all his eyes could picture was Hermione in the orange kitchen and her pregnancy test...
And then a disappointed voice announced: "Weasley? What are you doing?" and Ron turned his head to look after all.
At the other end of the wand pushing at his throat was Draco Malfoy. Ron exhaled slowly, feeling a sudden urge to laugh at the fact that for the first time in his life, he was happy to see him.
"You called for an Auror, didn't you?" Ron said.
"My mother did," Malfoy corrected him. "She swears she heard something... I told her I would handle it, but she insisted on sending for help."
"You can go back inside, if you'd like," Ron offered. "I will let you know if I find something."
"No, I'll come," Malfoy insisted, and the two men stood in silence for a while, unsure of what to do next, until Ron finally said, "We will walk in a circle around the house," and started doing so. The crunching of leaves behind him let him know that Malfoy was following order.
They saw nothing for a long time. The sky grew darker and the woods quieter, and neither Ron nor Malfoy said a word. They trotted on in silence, both with their wands ready at their sides and adrenaline pumping through their veins. Ron thought of Hermione again, and of the morning he told Mrs Carrow about her daughters, and of the old man in Diagon Alley with the faded Dark Mark on his wrist, dead on the same day his master had fallen but six years later. A few steps behind him, Malfoy was thinking of his friend Theo, who had dined with him and Mother that Christmas and hardly spoken all night. He remembered Adrian Pucey drinking his body weight in Firewhiskey the night they all found out about the Carrow twins. And he thought of his own mother, jumping at every strange noise, kissing him twice each morning before he left for work, as though she worried he would not be home again, and the look on her face each time a strange owl landed on their windowsill, for what if it was about Father? Even he wasn't safe in his cell in Azkaban.
It was Malfoy who saw him first; he froze, and felt as if the blood in his veins did the same, because the figure looked almost angelic at first, so bright that he might have been glowing. He was dressed completely in white, his cloak stroking the fallen leaves as he strode forwards, slowly and patiently. He had a white hoodie over his head and when he tilted it backwards, it became evident that an equally white mask was covering his face.
The figure raised his wand in an instant and Malfoy only had time to shout No! before he had waved it. The hex missed Ron by an inch. The next one hit him and sent him flying backwards. Malfoy felt his fingers shake as he tightened the grip around his wand; he knew whom the figure was looking to kill. It wasn't Wealsey.
"Confringo!" He shouted.
With a swift flick of his wrist, the figure had redirected his curse, which missed Ron, who was just crawling to his feet, by a few inches or so. The explosion still sent him stumbling backwards again and he screamed out in pain as the flames licked the side of his body and face.
Again, the figure changed direction on Malfoy's hex. Ron screamed out even louder. In a split decision, Malfoy turned his head to look at him - there had been a time when he had thought differently, but by then he really did not want to be the person whose hexes became the end of Ron Weasley - and then he felt his wand slide out of his hand and he watched in horror as it flew straight into the white gloved hand of the angelic figure whom, it seemed, would be the last thing he would lay his eyes on.
Everything slowed down at once, as the white figure straightened up, his eyes hidden behind the mask, though Malfoy could still feel them on him. He felt strangely calm. It wasn't how he had imagined that everything would end, and he knew his mother would probably never recover from losing him, but he did not fight. He let his arms drop to his sides and waited. He focused on breathing in and out, tasting the air in his throat and blinking as he watched the figure raise his wand a final time.
And then there was a shout, from behind Malfoy, and flashes of light made his eyes hurt. It wasn't Weasley; he was still on the ground. Besides, he should have known that his mother would keep fighting for him long after he stopped.
Within minutes, Narcissa Malfoy had the murderer armless and backed up against a tree with the tip of her wand pressed into his chest. She was breathing furiously as her son walked closer to her, picking up his own wand on the way, which had fallen to the ground in the midst of the hasty duel that had already come to an end.
"Check on the boy," Narcissa told her son, who hesitated before turning back around and walking over to Ron. Moments later, he had pulled his old classmate to his feet. Dark red stains were growing on the front of Ron's robes, and a terrible sound was coming from somewhere deep down his throat for each breath he took, but he simply pressed one hand against the largest wound on the side of his neck to stop the bleeding, and started walking determinedly towards Mrs Malfoy and the murderer.
Things were quiet again, apart from Mrs Malfoy's heavy breathing and twigs and leaves breaking under Ron's feet as he stumbled forwards. He pressed his hand tighter to the wound on his neck and tried to ignore the pulsating pain as he finally stopped in front of the white-hooded man, his free hand shaking visibly as he reached forwards to pull down the hood and unmask the figure.
Dennis Creevey blinked in the light of Draco Malfoy's wand, which had just lit up to reveal the face of the person so full of hatred that he had become something else completely. He was no longer the little boy who had followed his brother Colin around Hogwarts just waiting for a chance to talk to Harry Potter. The face staring defiantly at Ron now was not the same face of the twelve-year-old who had been beaming with joy at the secret meetings with Dumbledore's Army. There was something different in his eyes now that had never been there before; something darker that may have got in there when he lost his brother, or when he watched his mother cry as she cleaned out Colin's old bedroom, or at the quiet dinners at home now that they were only three. Perhaps it was his father's new habit of drinking way too much since losing Colin that had made Dennis' stare so dark, or the persecution of Muggles and Muggle-borns he learned of every day at work - or perhaps it was the strange kind of relief he had felt after the first murder, when he had stood in Marion Nott's living room and watched her lifeless body on the floor and known that it had been right, that it was far less than what all the Death Eaters deserved. And it was just the beginning of what he had planned for them.
"You," said Ron after a long silence. "I don't believe it."
"You don't?" Dennis' voice was sharp. "Because I think you do. I think you understand it too."
Ron was starting to feel a little lightheaded, but he did not avert his eyes. "I couldn't understand something like this," he said.
Dennis laughed, though he did not sound very amused. "Don't you wish that you hadn't caught me just yet? That I had got to the man who killed your brother before you could stop me? I know you want him dead."
"That's not going to bring Fred back. Or Colin."
"They don't deserve to go on living, when our brothers can't!" Dennis exclaimed. "They are getting fresh food and water in the same cells that they let Muggle-borns starve to death in. Or they walk free, like you people," he added, his eyes growing even darker as they moved to Narcissa's face, and then on to Draco's. "Like nothing ever happened."
To Ron's surprise, Mrs Malfoy lowered her wand and took a step backwards. "What you've done," she said, "makes you just as bad as we ever were."
And she turned around and started walking. Malfoy called out, "Mother!" but she did not stop.
Ron was still staring at Dennis, as if expecting him to turn into someone else any second, because he could not believe it was true. He could not imagine this thin, tall boy - because he still looked like a boy, with cheeks as smooth as a girl's and the same eyes and nose as his older brother - carefully placing Marion Nott's wand back into her pocket, taking a last look at her lifeless stare and turn around and leave her flat. He could not believe that it was Dennis who had snuck into Azkaban and modified every memory on the high security floor but one, for Egerton Nott's memory was no more. Ron tried to imagine Dennis leaving the feast at the Hogwarts reunion and sneaking up behind the Carrow twins, not even looking them in the eye as he murdered them, but no, he couldn't see it, not for the life of him...
Hours later, after getting back to the Ministry with Draco Malfoy's help, handing Dennis Creevey over to Gawain Robards, and allowing a Healer brought over from St. Mungo's to fix up his neck, Ron returned to his new house, still a little dizzy after losing so much blood, to find Hermione already in bed, a heavy book open on her lap and a faint smile playing on her lips.
"What took you so long?" she said, and then she must have noticed the look on his face, because she straightened up and closed her book with a bang. "What happened?"
"We caught him," Ron said.
"We know him." Ron's voice was hollow, and he moved closer to the bed and sank down onto it. "It's Dennis Creevey. He murdered all those people. He... he said he thought I would understand. It was like he expected me to thank him."
Hermione pushed herself closer to him, so that she could wrap her arms around his side. He felt her fingers on the spot on his neck where fresh skin was covering his wound. "Did you get hurt?"
"I'm okay," he assured her. "And I'm pretty sure it's thanks to Malfoy."
He told her about what had happened in the woods outside Malfoy Manor, and Hermione did not let go of him once as she listened. When he finished speaking, she just leaned her head against his and said,
"So I guess we're even now. Me and Draco."
Ron turned his head to look at her. "What do you mean?"
"I always got the feeling he felt as though he owed me something," Hermione said, "because I defended him when it turned out he didn't deserve to be defended. But after what he did tonight - he may have saved your life, Ron..."
Ron snorted. "I wouldn't go that far," he said, and Hermione might have rolled her eyes at it another time, but now she just leaned forwards and kissed his cheek. "All that matters is that you're okay," she said.
Ron turned around so that he was facing her. She looked so beautiful - her hair was still a little lighter than usual after the good summer they had had, and her eyes were glowing like gold in the light of the oil lamp on her bedside table.
"What about you?" he said. "Are you okay? Are you...?"
She bent her head down, away from his gaze. "I'm okay," she said. "Not pregnant, though."
She looked almost guilty, and Ron grabbed her hand and lifted it to his lips, kissing it softly as she looked up at him again. "You will be," he said. "We haven't been trying very long at all. Don't worry about it, okay?"
"Okay," she whispered, like her mother had once whispered to her father. They had never told her about the years they had spent trying to get pregnant, the hormones her mother had taken, the negative pregnancy tests that had felt like a punch in the abdomen each time they looked at them. Perhaps, if she had known, Hermione would have been more worried than she was, but she just fell back to her pillow and laid pressed to Ron's side as they fell asleep, thinking about Dennis and wondering if they should have known already when they were in school, if there was something they could have done to make him better. Far from them, in the gaol at the Auror Office, Dennis Creevey fell asleep thinking he was good. They had stopped him too soon, he thought as he crawled up on the thin mattress on the floor, but he had done well with the time he had been given.
A/N: Hi everyone! It's been a crazy couple of months for me. You travellers out there will know what I've been through - first jet lag, then living at hostels, moving into my new flat, waiting on the wi-fi connection to start working... Let's just say there's been little time to write. But here we are. No more excuses, just this new chapter. I would love to hear your thoughts on the big reveal. Was the murderer who you suspected? I did put a few hints in earlier chapters, but I'll admit they were very subtle.
Thank you, as always, for being so supportive and patient and just amazing in general. It's more than I deserve xxx