Chapter 14 : The Truth Comes Out
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The Truth Comes Out
I hated hospitals.
They were too white, too clean, and much too busy for their own good. Don’t get me wrong - I love a good crowd, but when diseased and magically-altered beings are stumbling, vomiting, and causing general mayhem in every which direction, I tend to be a little less receptive and much more stand-offish. I wasn’t claustrophobic, but there was nothing appealing whatsoever about the possibility of contracting dragon pox from a wizard who fancies himself as the wizarding world’s next big thing.
But my dislike for hospitals went much deeper than being turned off by crazy people running around the halls, proclaiming to be a dragon or a butterfly or something equally ridiculous. People died here, in the place that was supposed to cure all of their problems. Or, at the very least, alleviate their pain. But even hospitals like St. Mungo’s, a place brimming with magic, couldn’t stop death. I myself wasn’t afraid of death, but I couldn’t say the same thing for the hundreds upon thousands of countless souls that had perished within the walls. I hated to think of others in pain and suffering, and to know that these halls had seen so much of both…it was a hard concept to swallow.
Almost as hard as the fact Mara’s child - sweet, innocent Jack - was one of those unfortunate souls.
It was suffice to say that when we appeared on the sidewalk just outside of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, dread pooled in the pit of my stomach and quickly spread throughout the rest of my body, weighing down my limbs. If I was feeling like this at the sight of the intimidating building, I could scarcely imagine how Mara must be feeling.
As if on cue, she went limp in my arms, slumping face-first into my chest. “Whoa,” I said, tightening my grip around her waist and drawing her closer to my body. “You okay there?”
She made a noise at the back of her throat that sounded like a positive confirmation of my question, but I couldn’t be one hundred sure. Unsatisfied, I frowned. “D’you need a minute to catch your breath?”
This time she reacted. “No,” she mumbled into the fabric of my shirt. “S’fine.” She pushed herself out of my arms and stumbled backwards. She threw an arm out to the side to steady herself and tried to walk through the huge store front window, but her feet slipped out from underneath her and she pitched forwards.
I caught her before she collided with the glass. “Obviously,” I said, giving her a look that (I hoped) resembled one of my mother’s stern glares, “you’re not.”
When she met my eyes, a spark of defiance flared through her brown eyes and she stepped out of the circle of my arms, her steps surer, levelled. “I need to find Jack.” Her tone was defensive, but her gaze was challenging.
“I know that, Mara, but you can’t very well find him if you can’t even walk a straight line.”
She narrowed her eyes into dangerous slits. “Then I’ll crawl.”
Rolling my eyes, I wrapped my hand around her arm and pulled her to my side. She opened her mouth to protest, but before she could so much as utter a single syllable, I was walking us through the glass, shivering subconsciously as the liquid feeling of the glass passed over my face, my shoulders, and the rest of my body.
As suspected, it was a zoo. There were witches and wizards with all sorts of bizarre ailments sitting in the plastic chairs that outlined the room. Some had arms growing out of the top of their heads while others were sporting bright pink and yellow polka dots on their sink. The most noticeable was the young wizard who squawked like a crow every time he opened his mouth. Had it been under different circumstances, I would’ve stopped and observed all of the peculiar cases, but the moment I could only think of Mara, and getting her to Jack as fast as possible.
“Come on,” I said, dropping my hand away from her bicep and taking her hand; my fingers threaded with hers out of instinct. At least, that’s what I told myself as I pulled her towards the front desk.
The moment I laid eyes on the welcome witch, I felt a wave of sympathy towards her. There were deep grey shadows underneath her dull blue eyes, and she looked as white as a sheet. When she saw us approaching, the corners of her mouth fell into a barely-there frown and her shoulders sagged as if saying “Oh great, more people to scream at me.”
“How may I help you?” she asked, not bothering to adopt a cheery tone and a fake smile.
I could tell that Mara appreciated her honesty. “I need to find my son.”
The corners of the witch’s mouth tightened, and I could tell that she was holding back a smart-ass remark. However, she was obviously perceptive enough to swallow the comment and not irritate Mara, a lesson that I had yet to learn even after all these years of being her best friend. “What’s his name?”
“His name is Jam - I mean Jack,” she glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and dragged her tongue across her lips, a tell-tale sign that she was anxious. Her eyes flickered back to the welcome witch. “Jack Longbottom.”
She muttered something under her breath as the welcome witch turned towards an intimidating stack of papers and, using her wand, began to separate the stack into piles and search for the correct file. Mara stared at me like she was trying to see through my skull. I sent her a questioning look, which made her sigh in relief. Confused, I shook my head and was about to make a joke about her attempt being futile when the welcome witch let out an exclamation.
“Aha!” Her face looked alight with…well, not happiness. I doubted that anyone could be truly happy when working the welcome desk at St. Mungo’s, but she appeared pleased by the rate of her success. Thinking that Mara would be pleased as well, I tossed a look at her, only to see her brow was furrowed and she was tapping her fingers on top of the desk impatiently.
“Let’s see here,” the welcome witch said to herself, scanning the paper with her fingertip. “It says that he’s on the third floor -”
Mara pushed away from the desk and took off like a bullet down the hall, most likely in search for the lift.
“Wait - Mara!” I called out after her. She didn’t stop. I chewed the inside of my cheek before turning my attention back to the welcome witch. “Room?”
“309. I hope your son’s okay.” The welcome witch smiled.
If there had been time, I would have corrected her. Instead, I returned the smile, muttered a quick thank-you, and sprinted after Mara. For some reason, as I ran, my stomach felt lighter, the dreadful feeling dissipating. There was no logical explanation for it, so I decided to ignore it.
When I rounded the corner, Mara was punching the button mounted on the wall, a furious expression on her face. Once again, she muttered under her breath. It sounded like a continuous stream of curses, but as I drew up next to her, I realised that she was saying the same two words over and over again.
“Come on come on come on come on come on.” And so on and so forth. She sounded as though she was about to cry.
My voice was low, tentative, when I spoke. “Mara?”
She shouted unintelligible words, jumping out of her skin. She refused to meet my eyes. “Jesus, James, don’t do that to me!” She slapped the button again.
“Sorry. He’s in room 309.”
Mara stopped mid-slap. “Thanks.” Then she brought her foot back and kicked the doors of the lift in frustration. The metal doors, mind. “Shit!” she exclaimed, grabbing her left foot and hopping in place with her right.
I placed my hand on her elbow to steady her, trying my hardest not to laugh. Our current predicament was hardly laughable. “That was stupid of you.”
A growl escaped her. Before she could retaliate, the light above the lift changed from red to green and the bell dinged merrily. The doors slid open, revealing an incredibly crowded space. I swallowed nervous.
Did I mention that I disliked small spaces? No? Well, earlier when I said that I wasn’t afraid of enclosed spaces - yeah, I lied. I was claustrophobic and I didn’t like how many people were crammed inside such a small compartment. What if there were too many people in the lift and it couldn’t handle the weight? It might operate on magic, but even the most supportive spells failed sometimes.
Turning green around the gills at the prospect of falling to our deaths in a tiny compartment, I turned towards Mara, sending her a pointed look. “Wouldn’t you rather take the stairs? You saw how long it took the lift to get down to the ground floor. Imagine how long it’ll take to get to the third!”
Mara ignored me and grabbed my hand, pulling me into the lift after her. I took a deep breath, my muscles going taut. I was being ridiculous. I knew that much. The lift would be exponentially quicker than the stairs and the stairwell had walls that seemed to encroach upon your personal space, but at least there was oxygen. At this rate, we’d die before we got to the third floor.
Of course, just as soon as this thought passed through my mind, the doors chimed their merry little jingle and the doors open. Before I could so much as breathe a sigh of relief, Mara was jerking me out of the lift and down the hall. For someone who claimed not to be athletic, she was running really fast.
As I wasn’t paying all too much attention to my surroundings, but still silently thanking God that I had survived the lift ride, when Mara skid to a halt in front of a room. I slammed into her back, sending us both careening towards the floor. We must have made a lot of commotion because people were sticking their heads out into the hallway and sending us scolding looks before retreating back into their caves.
Everyone except for Neville Longbottom, who looked as though he had just received the Dementor’s Kiss.
I felt the blood in my veins turn cold. There was an icy hand grappling with my insides, twisting them into a complicated knot and squeezing. Wordlessly, I nodded and pulled myself off Mara, extending a hand to her. As expected, she ignored it and struggled to her own feet. She took one look at the hollow expression on her father’s face and fainted.
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch her before she hit the ground and she knocked her temple against the edge of a stray cart. Dropping onto my knees beside her, I took her chin between my fingers and turned her head to the side, inspecting for any wounds. There were no cuts, but an ugly bruise had already started to blossom beneath her skin.
“Ouch,” I hissed, letting her head fall back to the side. A clump of hair fell into her face and I absently brushed it away as I turned my eyes to Neville. “How is he?”
He didn’t respond. He lowered his gaze to his feet, his shoulders sagging dejectedly.
That wasn’t a good sign.
It didn’t take very long for Mara to come back around. She blinked in confusion and asked why her head felt like it had been bashed in by an angry hippogriff. I tried to explain, but she seemed to realise where she was and why she was there before I could get the words out. Batting my hand to the side (I had been tracing the deep purple bruise while I waited for her to wake up), she pushed herself to her feet, her face as white as a sheet.
As her dad had been standing in the doorway quietly observing his daughter, she stumbled towards him and collapsed into his arms as soon as he wrapped her up in his embrace. Though her face was pressed into her father’s shoulder, I could still hear her gut-wrenching sobs. I could still see her shoulders shaking.
Neville led his daughter into the room, nodding at me to come along. I froze, unsure of what I should do. This was a private matter - a family matter. But hadn’t I always considered the Longbottoms as an extended leg of my overly large family and vice versa? I stood in the middle of the hallway and fidgeted stupidly with my hands. Mara was my best friend. I was sure she would want me there for support.
But, I chided myself, she’s got her mum and dad. And this is her son, not her great-grandmother. This is much closer to home.
I shook my head at Neville, dropping my gaze to the floor. They disappeared into the room.
Sighing heavily, I backed up into the opposite side of the hall where a series of highly uncomfortable chairs were arranged against the wall. Just as I dropped into the chair, my body crying out in relief, Mara’s wail punctured the otherwise still, silent air. My head thumped back against the wall as my eyes drifted closed.
Somewhere near the bottom of my stomach, the icy hand gave a painfully strong yank and forced upwards, wrapping its glacial fingers around my heart. It squeezed and I gasped, feeling utterly breathless.
It wasn’t an hour after our arrival at St. Mungo’s when I saw them at the end of the hall. Furrowing my brow in confusion, I rose to my feet as they drew near. “What are you lot doing here?”
“We came as soon as we heard,” Dad said as Mum stepped forwards to hug me. I accept her embrace graciously, thankful for the familiarity of her arms in such a stiff, uncomfortable place.
“How’d you guys know where to find us?”
Albus raised an eyebrow. “Please tell me you’re joking. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re Potters. When we make demands, people don’t ask questions. They just obey.”
“Albus!” Mum exclaimed, looking scandalised but sounding less than pleased. Dad turned his face into his shoulder and coughed.
“What? What did I do?”
Mum sent him a look. “This isn’t funny!”
“So I can’t make a joke just because we’re in the hospital?” He scoffed and shook his head. “Merlin, you people are ridiculous. I’m only trying to lighten the mood.”
“Well, it’s not appropriate!” Mum scorned, placing her hands on her hips. Her resemblance to Grandmum Molly was profound. Albus shrank back, silenced.
“But it’s appreciated,” I commented, smiling at my brother.
He winked in response. “I knew you could use a pick-me-up. You looked absolutely miserable out here in the hall. Can’t say that I blame you, though, given the situation. How is the little man, anyway?”
The smile slipped from my face and I frowned. “Not very well,” I sighed, passing a hand through my hair anxiously.
My brother’s green eyes, which were usually bright and vivacious, became muted and dull. Dad’s jaw tightened and Mum gasped. “Have you gone into see him yet?”
I nodded. “Just once,” I answered, throwing a glance at the partially closed door. My frown deepened and I lowered my voice, shuffling closer to my family. “It was after the healer had made her rounds to see how the treatment was going. According to Neville, they’ve got him on about five different potions. The vomiting has stopped, but he’s still got an one hundred degree fever and the swelling hasn’t gone down.”
“Swelling?” Dad repeated.
“His throat swelled shut, which is why the healers think it’s an allergic reaction.”
I shrugged and averted my gaze to the tiled floor.
Mum put a comforting hand on my arm. “Don’t worry. They’ll find out what it is, love.”
My stomach tightened, my insides twisting in dejection. “But what if they don’t?” I asked earnestly, surprised by the sudden onslaught of emotion. Were those tears prickling at the back of my eyes? Was my breath hitching in my throat? I had only seen Jack on a handful of occasions, a quick glimpse here and a little smile there. So why was I feeling this way towards a child I hardly knew? And why did I feel justified in my emotions?
“They will, James,” Dad replied reassuringly. His voice snapped me out of my thoughts, helped me regain my focus. “Though they might not always act like it, the healers are very competent and know exactly what they’re doing. In fact,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they are going through Mara’s medical files right now to see if she has any allergies or if any medical conditions that may be genetic.”
It made sense now. The emotions - they existed because of Mara. I was more worried about my best friend and how the situation was effecting her than the well-being of an infant. Or that’s what I tried to tell myself anyway.
“Yeah,” I agreed, clearing my throat and bobbing my head. “You’re probably right.”
Just as silence threatened to suffocate us all, Mum said, “Right! Well, I’m going to see if Neville or Hannah need anything. I’m sure they’re exhausted.” Her smile was tight, which made the lines around her eyes more prominent. She knocked softly on the door and waited for a response before disappearing into the room, Dad following behind her, ever the obedient puppy.
“Aren’t you going to go in?” Albus questioned, tilting his head to the side and regarding me curiously.
“I don’t want to impose.”
Albus rolled his eyes. “We’ve known the Longbottoms since before we were born. Her parents are particularly our aunt and uncle! Mara is your best friend, for fuck’s sake! I highly doubt you’d be imposing.”
He was right. For the love of God, my little brother was right. He might be immature and he might spend entirely too much time with our cousin, Fred, but he was also very intuitive. Even if what he said was a bit obvious.
“So…are you going to go inside or lurk around out here?”
I stared at the half-open door, wondering if Jack was all right. If something was wrong, I would know it. Mara’s sobs would trigger my attention. The thought was bone-chilling, but true. There was no reason for me to go inside the room. Not when she had her parents and now my parents to keep her company. I didn’t want to crowd her.
“No,” I answered finally, shaking my head. Albus began to protest, but I silenced him with a look that was probably vaguely reminiscent of our mother. Scary thought, that was. “There’s only a certain amount of people who can be in a room at any given times and I think four is the limit.”
“Then kick Dad out.”
“But what about Mum?”
“What about her?”
“Well, what if Mum starts crying? You know how I am around crying women!” I knew I was grasping at straws, but for some reason I didn’t want to go in that room. Mum and Dad were free to visit with Neville and Hannah all they wanted because this wasn’t happening to them. Sure, it might be their grandson in the tiny hospital bed, but it was happening to Mara. My best friend. And I had no idea what I would say to her when she turned to me for comfort. I wasn’t even sure she wanted comfort from me. Why else hadn’t she so much as looked at me when I went in there earlier?
Albus stared at me long and hard for a prolonged moment of silence. He raised an eyebrow and then shook his head. “You’re believable,” he remarked, purposely knocking his shoulder into mine as he brushed past me into the room.
Once he was out of sight, I heaved a heavy sigh, pushing a hand through my hair and marvelling my pigheadedness.
The Longbottoms may not share any genes with the Weasley-Potter clan, but they were still considered family. Because of this small, otherwise inconsequently fact, the small corridor quickly began to fill up with various members of my family.
Lily was the first to arrive, thoroughly flustered and eyes rimmed red. When I asked my little sister how she knew what was going on, she said that Mum had left a note on the kitchen counter and that she sent an owl to Rose, who, in turn, promised to send word to her parents.
“You told Uncle Ron!?”
“Yeah,” Lily said, sending me an odd look.
“Are you mad?” I shouted, outraged. “Why’d you do that?”
“Because Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron are just as good of friends with the Longbottoms as we are,” she responded, her voice rising in volume. “I thought they ought to know that Jack was in the hospital! I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”
“It’s a big deal because Uncle Ron is going to send an owl to Grandmum Molly and she’s going to tell everyone in the whole damn world.”
Lily scoffed. “Stop being so overdramatic. She’s not going to tell everyone. She can’t write that fast.”
“Ha ha,” I deadpanned.
My little sister gave a huff of annoyance as she regarded me with stern eyes. “Whatever,” she sighed, rolling her eyes before she barrelled past me into the room. The darkness of the doorway swallowed her up. The little twat.
I was right.
Soon after Aunt Hermione and Hugo showed up (Uncle Ron had been at the office finishing some last minute paperwork, which made me wonder why my own father was at home), inquiring after Jack, the Weasleys started to come out woodworks. Albus and Dad came out of the room so Hermione and Hugo could go inside, but Hugo remained in the hall, sitting with me, Albus, and Dad. Uncle George, Aunt Angie and their children, Fred and Roxie, were the next to arrive, the men’s arms laden with various Weasley Wizard Wheezes products.
“For the little guy,” Uncle George said as he shoved a Canary Cream into my hands. “I figured we could cheer him up!”
Smiling stiffly, I tucked it in my pocket and fold my arms over my chest, leaning against the wall.
Aunt Luna and her husband were quickly followed by Aunt Audrey, Uncle Percy, and Molly.
“Where’s Lucy?” someone asked.
“Oh,” Molly replied a bit breathlessly. “She took the lift and it got stuck between floors. So we took the stairs.”
There was a brief lull in the crowd before Teddy and his family arrived. He was holding onto Dora’s hand and the little pink-haired toddler struggled to keep up with her father as he marched down the hall. Next to Lily and I, Teddy was one of Mara’s dearest friends, so it didn’t surprised me when he went into the room, leaving Dora with Aunt Audrey, who loved the little girl to pieces despite the fact she’d (inadvertently) broken Percy’s nose. Victoire dropped into the chair next to me, stroking a fussy Remy’s hair away from his face in an attempt to quit his soft cries.
To say that it was chaos would be an understatement, but while it was annoying to have to repeat the story over and over and over again to my family, I welcomed the distraction. I could only hope that Mara’s own thoughts were preoccupied and not focused on her sick son. As soon as the notion passed through my mind, I realised that it was ridiculous. He was her son. Of course he was going to occupy her every thought.
My family members went into the room in groups of two or three. When Uncle George and Fred meandered into the room with their pockets stuffed to the brim with joke products, a frightened Molly following them apprehensively, small bouts of laughter floated from the room. None of which sounded like a child’s laugh.
It could have been hours or minutes later, time didn’t have much of a meaning, before Mara came out of the room. She was accompanied by her mother, Teddy, and a witch in bright green robes. That’s odd - I didn’t remember seeing a healer go into the room. Though her eyes were bloodshot and she kept sniffling, when she passed me, she flashed a brief, albeit restrained, smile and continued down the hall.
“They’re probably going to the tea room,” Victoire said as we watched them disappear around the corner. Once they were out of sight, Victoire yawned widely and shook her head. “Merlin, tea sounds wonderful.”
“D’you want me to go get you some?” I asked, pushing away from the wall, thankful for something to do.
“Oh no, James. That wasn’t a ploy to trick you into getting me some tea! I’m fine for now.”
“Are you sure? Because I could go for a cuppa myself.”
Victoire had always been easily persuaded. Perhaps that was why she was married to Teddy and not some other good-looking bloke.
As I trekked up the stairs - there was absolutely no way I was taking the lift if Lucy got stuck in one - I realised that I really could go for a cup of tea. My stomach felt hollow, like I hadn’t eaten anything for days when, really, it had only been hours since Sophie and I had gone out to lunch before the wine tasting.
A knot formed in my abdomen at the thought of my fiancée. No one had thought to tell her where I was. And even though I knew I was setting myself up for a dastardly argument, I found that I couldn’t care less. At the moment, the only thing that mattered was that ruddy cup of tea.
I was about to push open the door when I heard their voices.
“No,” Mara said sternly. “We can’t. I can’t.”
“Why not?” Hannah Longbottom demanded. “This is your son, Mara!”
“Mrs. Longbottom, please,” an unfamiliar voice said. It must be the healer, I realised, listening closely. “There’s no reason to start an argument between yourself and your daughter. While I know this is a very stressful time, this is her decision to make. As the mother and primary custody holder of James -”
“For the last time,” Mara interrupted rudely. “His name is Jack."
“My mistake, Miss Longbottom. As I was saying, since Mara is the primary custody holder, she is the only one who can approve any medical action pertaining to the health of her son. And if she doesn’t want to ask permission from the boy’s father for access to his medical records, then she doesn’t have to.”
“Tell her about the risks, Healer Benson!”
“I already have,” Healer Benson said smoothly. “But ultimately it’s your daughter’s choice.”
“You’re being ridiculous, do you know that, Mara?” Hannah exclaimed heatedly. “You’re putting your son at risk because you can’t swallow your pride and just tell him already! For Merlin’s sake, James deserves to know that he’s the father!”
Several beats of silence passed as mother and daughter glared at each other. Mara opened her mouth to speak, but it was my stinging voice that cut through the hollow silence that had engulfed the room.
A/N: Please. Don’t kill me. It will hinder the amount of updates you receive. As always, review!
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