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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 73: Year 8: Little Brother
If there had been a spell to pause time, Ginny would have probably cast it a hundred times that morning. She certainly could have used a break from the pain, which had been going on and off for almost nine hours by the time they finally made it to St. Mungos in the early hours; she had wanted to pause time before that too, when she had kissed James goodbye and handed him over to her mother, who was going to look after him while they were gone. Ginny wanted to hold him for hours then, hold him and kiss his sweet little face and savour the little time they had left with only him.
She wanted to take a little longer to just watch Harry’s face when the Healer handed him the baby, the way his eyes were shining with tears and joy and his lower lip trembling as he bent down to kiss their son’s smudgy, purple face.
Ginny wanted to pause time and make the first time she held Albus last forever, so that she could memorise how tiny his nose was and the odd, squashed shape of his head, which had just been pushed out into the world. And his cry, his beautiful little cry that had caused her heart to double in size the moment she heard it—she could have sat there and listened to it for weeks, if only time had not passed so quickly.
If there had been a point in either Harry or Ginny’s life when they had been hesitant to cry in front of others, it was long forgotten when Mrs Weasley brought James in to meet his little brother for the first time. By the time the rest of the family started dropping in, both their faces were streaked with tears and their noses red. Harry thought his entire chest was going to burst as he watched James reach out a hand (“Gentle, James, gentle,” Mrs Weasley mumbled behind him) and pat Albus’ little cheek as softly as he ever could.
When Hermione came in to hold her new nephew, she cried almost as much as Harry and Ginny. She was shaking so much that Mr Weasley walked over to put an arm around her, as if to keep her steady.
As she watched, Ginny felt a sting of guilt in her chest. She interpreted Hermione’s reaction as jealousy; and perhaps it was, but not in the way Ginny assumed. Hermione resisted the urge to place her hands on her own belly as she allowed Mr Weasley to take Albus off her. She was not jealous that Ginny had had another baby, but because she wished her own baby would be that big, big enough to survive on its own, should it need to. She was still six months away from holding her child; from knowing it was going to live, and it seemed like an eternity.
She sat down on one of the chairs that stood lined up against the wall and watched as Fleur leaned over Mr Weasley’s shoulder to get a good look of the newest member of the family. The last time a scene like this had taken place, Hermione realised, was when Fleur had Louis almost one year earlier, the very same night that Ron and Hermione’s son had stopped existing.
Hermione had spent the last months waiting restlessly in her house, still on bedrest and very miserable. Every little thing she felt, whether it was an itch, a tiny ache or dizziness, made her hold her breath for a few seconds, as if expecting the entire world to crumble to pieces, like it had last October. And each time it didn’t, she would close her eyes and picture Harry and Ginny’s little boy, whom she imagined would look just like James as he grew up, at age eleven, pulling his red-haired cousin into an empty department on the Hogwarts Express. She imagined them pressing their noses against the glass window as they waved goodbye, and Ron crying, though he would pretend like he wasn’t. And then the train would take off, and Hermione saw herself fall to her knees on the platform as someone said:
“What do you mean? That was just Harry and Ginny’s boys in there. You don’t even have a child.”
And she thought perhaps it was true, because the train was turning a corner and disappearing out of sight, and if she couldn’t see her child anymore, or that freckled nose pressed against the window, how could she tell if it had ever been real?
“You okay?” said a voice into Hermione’s ear, making her jump as Platform 9 ¾ faded from her view and she returned to the delivery room at St. Mungo’s.
She turned her head to the side and met Ron’s eyes; she hadn’t even heard him enter the room. She nodded, and he reached over to touch her cheek before he went to sit next to Ginny’s bed. Hermione watched his face as Fleur placed Albus in his arms; Ron’s bottom lip was shaking, and Hermione had to bite her own to keep from tearing up.
“Can I come see him again later tonight?” Ron asked Ginny as he stroke his nephew’s forehead with his thumb. “I wish I could stay, but there’s something I’ve got to take care of right now.”
“Of course you can,” Ginny said, yawning as she leaned back against the bedrest. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Ron kissed the top of Albus’ head before placing him back in his mother’s arms. Then he glanced at the golden watch on his wrist and stood up.
“Is everything okay?” asked Harry, who was sitting on the other side of Ginny’s bed with James on his lap, and Ron shot a quick look at the baby again before nodding.
“Yes. Don’t worry,” he said. “I promise I’ll come back after work, Gin.”
Hermione hurried after him as he left the room, and caught up with him just as the door shut behind them.
“Are you okay?” she asked, and grabbing his arm and making him stop and turn towards her.
“Yes, there’s nothing for you to worry about,” he said. “It’s just work, everything is fine.”
Hermione nodded. “You just looked like you really wanted to talk to Harry about something, but not now, because he’s just had a baby and you don’t want to tear him away from that. And I think–“
She interrupted herself mid-sentence when she spotted two familiar figures a little bit further down the corridor. Hermione smiled and waved, and Ron chuckled as Teddy leapt forwards to wrap his arms around Hermione’s waist.
“Two babies!” he shouted gleefully, “in one single day!”
Ron raised an eyebrow. “You know Aunt Ginny only had one baby, right, Teddy?”
Just then, Andromeda caught up with her overly-excited grandson, greeting Ron and Hermione with a quick hug each before she bent over to ruffle Teddy’s (currently) turquoise hair.
“Draco and Astoria haven’t had their baby yet,” she reminded him. “But they’ve gone into the hospital too because they think it might happen today.”
“Draco and Astoria?” Ron echoed.
“Yes, she’s not really due for another few weeks,” said Andromeda, “but they came in last night after she had been having contractions for a while.”
Hermione had to force herself to keep smiling until Teddy grabbed his grandmother’s hand, sighing impatiently as he pulled her along with him towards Ginny’s room. They rounded a corner and disappeared out of sight, and Ron took a step towards Hermione, leaned in and kissed her cheek.
“Please, tell me,” she begged him, and Ron smiled.
“I would, but I haven’t got time.”
“We can talk on the way,” Hermione insisted.
Ron raised both eyebrows. “What? You’re not going to the Ministry, are you?”
“I’m three months along now,” she said in a lower voice. “The Healer said I could.”
“I know he did. But you said you didn’t want to risk it. That you might as well stay at home for a few more weeks…”
Hermione hooked her arm with his and began walking towards the fireplaces, forcing him to come with her. “Yes, but since you’re acting like this,” she said quietly, “whatever you’re not telling me must be very important.”
Ron shrugged, finally giving in, and they walked in silence the rest of the way. When Hermione arrived in the atrium at the Ministry of Magic, he was waiting for her there, and they continued their quiet walk to the lifts and then through the Department for Magical Law Enforcement, past Hermione’s workplace and on towards the Auror Office.
“Ron!” said a voice as soon as they entered through the high stone arch. Seamus Finnegan shot Hermione a surprise look, but didn’t question her presence. “He’s still in your office,” he continued. “Won’t talk to anyone else but you.”
Ron and Hermione continued walking. As they did, Ron leaned in close and whispered into Hermione’s ear, “Remember the little boy who went missing a while ago?”
She nodded. “Has he been found?”
“Yes,” Ron said. “By his mother. In their own backyard.”
“Really? How did she explain that?”
“She didn’t, really,” Ron said, stopping outside a door with a brass plate next to it that reaed Ronald Weasley, Senior Auror. “I had a funny feeling about her since the first time I met her. When I got to work this morning, Topher’s father was here to see me. You see, the boy is a Squib. He was taken from the Muggle school he was attending at the time. And last night, he picked up a wand and was able to perform a couple of spells with it.”
Without giving Hermione any time to process this information, Ron proceeded to open the door and step inside. She followed him and found a middle-aged man sitting on one of the wooden chairs by the desk. He had small, tired eyes, which widened at the sight of Hermione, and curly, black hair long enough to brush against his shoulders as he turned his head quickly towards Ron, who was just sitting down across from him.
“You brought your wife?”
“She’s here to help,” said Ron calmly. “And she wouldn’t be if I didn’t trust her completely. Now, I haven’t had a chance to fill her in, so maybe you could explain to her what you told me this morning.”
“Please, do,” said Hermione. “I’m Hermione Granger-Weasley, by the way.”
“I know,” replied the man, smiling faintly. “William Fernsby. My son, Christopher—Topher—disappeared almost two months ago. Didn’t return to his class room after lunch one day. And none of his classmates had seen him disappear. I don’t know how you’re supposed to act when your son goes missing, but my wife seemed unmoved by the whole thing. I thought maybe she was in denial, that the only way she could cope was if she just went on as if nothing was wrong.
And then last week Topher came home. He was there when I got back from work last Thursday, sitting in the kitchen with my wife. I thought I was dreaming. Mary told me he had simply strolled into the backyard a few hours earlier. He couldn’t remember anything, so I figured whoever took him must have wiped his memory. But why would they just let him go? He wasn’t hurt. It was like he had never been gone.
My wife wanted the Aurors to stop the investigation. She kept saying, ‘He’s home now, that’s all that matters. Let’s just be thankful for that and leave it be.’ I didn’t want to. I wanted whoever took him to be held responsible, but I finally caved after a few days.
Everything was fine until last night. After dinner, I think it was, Mary said to Topher, ‘You should show your dad what you learned earlier today.’ And he got up on his feet, grabbed her wand from the table and made his plate fly over to the sink and begin washing itself.
We knew Topher was a Squib years ago. Mary tried to deny it for a very long time, but we reached a point when she couldn’t do it anymore. She took it so hard. She left her job for a while and just… she would lie in her bed for days, and refused to eat or talk to me… ‘Don’t you realise this means we’re going to lose him?’ she would scream at me, over and over. She said the statistics didn’t lie, and most Squibs end up leaving their families to live in the Muggle world, because they can’t stand to be around all the amazing, magical things and never truly be part of it.
It took almost a year before she went back to work. She was an entirely different person, as if someone had lit this flame of passion inside of her that I hadn’t seen since the kids were little. And she spoke of things—I only thought they were theoretical, I couldn’t have known...”
Mr Fernsby fell silent, and Hermione took a few steps forwards to sit down next to him without taking her eyes off his face. His cheeks were slightly hollow, as if he hadn’t eaten well in the last few weeks, and his fingers were shaking as he reached up to scratch his chin.
“What did she say?” Ron asked.
“She said the only reason Squibs exist is because we marry Muggles. I was very surprised—we never supported You-Know-Who’s cause, but it was like she had forgotten. I told her having Muggles in our family is nothing to be ashamed of, and she went on to talk about dominant and recessive genes, and how sometimes a mutation occurs, and two magical people can have a Muggle child. And she kept on saying that we were going to lose Topher, that he wouldn’t want to be part of our family anymore. All she wanted was for him to be able to go to Hogwarts with his older sister Cynthia. To live in our world.”
“What is it your wife does, Mr Fernsby?” asked Hermione.
“She’s an Unspeakable. And I think she has somehow found a way to turn Topher into a wizard. I just… I need you to tell me if it’s safe,” Mr Fernsby said, reaching over a shaky hand to grab Ron’s. “Please. He seems fine now, but what if he’s not? I never would have let her try something like this—I don’t mind if he’s a Squib, I really don’t—I just need you to make sure that this magical gene she has given him won’t end up hurting him.”
It had been the longest day Ron could remember ever experiencing. He and Hermione had tried to get access to the Department of Mysteries all morning, but had been told over and over that the only one authorised to enter, other than the Unspeakables themselves, was the Minister for Magic. Kingsley Shacklebolt, who still held the position for another month and a half, was visiting the Magical Congress of the United States of America. Hermione had sent him a message, but they doubted it would reach him before he would begin his trip home the following evening.
Hermione had spent most of the afternoon pacing back and forth inside Ron’s office, mumbling things like, “Kingsley will never allow it. He won’t allow them to do this to children…” or, “But someone clearly authorised this. It must have been before Kingsley’s time. He can’t have known about this!” And then, suddenly looking a little frightened: “But if we elect the wrong person in the end of November, maybe they will authorise these… these experiments!”
It was pitch black outside when Ron left the Ministry, finally accepting that there was nothing else he could do before the Minister returned to England. He had advised Mr Fernsby to keep a close watch on Topher, and was walking slowly through London now, breathing in the cool September air as he steered his steps towards St. Mungo’s.
Only Harry, Ginny and little Albus was there when Ron showed up. Harry was asleep in one of the puffy armchairs by the window, but Ginny was awake, lying on her side and just watching her new son where he lay quietly beside her.
“Wow,” she said softly when she looked up as Ron entered the room. “You look even worse than I feel.”
“I haven’t had the best day,” Ron admitted.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He smiled and shook his head. “I think I just want to hold my nephew for a while, if that’s all right with you.”
“Of course it is.”
Ron pulled up a chair to sit next to the bed, and gently picked up the baby before leaning back and holding him to his chest. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of him, and for a moment, he forgot to worry about anything else in the world.
When he opened eyes again Ginny was looking at him, and he smiled again. “Guess what?” he said.
She shrugged. “What?”
“Hermione is pregnant again.”
And Ginny’s eyes filled with tears for about the hundredth time that day, and even though everything was sore and she would rather not move, she had to push herself up on her elbows so she could reach out and touch Ron’s arm. Ron didn’t realise he was crying too until his tears began dripping off the tip of his long nose, and Ginny squeezed his arm tightly.
“I’m so happy for you,” she said.
“Me too,” mumbled Ron. “Don’t tell anyone, though. I’m not sure if I was even allowed to tell you.”
Ginny grinned as she wiped her cheeks with the sleeve of her dressing gown. “I won’t,” she said. “I’m sure Hermione’s got enough reasons to be annoyed with you as it is.”
Ron grinned back at her and sniffed. “Probably, yes.”
“How far along is she?” asked Ginny.
“Three months,” said Ron. “Which is apparently a good sign. Most miscarriages happen in the first three months, and we’ve made it past that.” He hesitated before adding, “That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared, though.”
Ginny nodded. “I know. I’ve been really scared this time around too. But everything turned out okay. Maybe it will for you too.”
Ron glanced down at Albus. He was breathing quietly, his tiny little chest rising and falling every few seconds, and one of his little finger twitched in his sleep, as if he was dreaming. Ron reached up his hand and let his index finger trace Albus’ little chin, and his cheek, and his head which was covered in black hair that would probably be as untidy as Harry’s one day. Yes, he thought and closed his own eyes, maybe everything will be okay.
A/N: Happy New Year! Here's to hoping this year is better than the last...
And I just have to acknowledge that I posted the very first chapter of this story the day before New Year's Eve in 2012. Which means it's been four years now. How crazy is that? Back then I would have never imagined that I would still be working on this in 2017. I didn't think anyone would read it either, let alone read it and enjoy it. So even though you may be sick of hearing it after four years, thank you again for reading, for reviewing, and for being so very kind every chance you get! XXXxxxx