A/N: Once again, thank you to everyone who read and reviewed the last chapter. I know I say this just about every time, but I really can’t thank you enough for all of the support you’ve given. Hope you enjoy the chapter!
Using the telephone was still a relatively new experience for me. While some of my family members were very Muggle-technology forward, I wasn’t. Maybe it was because Dad was a steadfast support of owl posts or because I hated talking to James, who thought it was necessary to shout into the mouthpiece and blow out my eardrum. Regardless, I didn’t like using the telephone, despite its many conveniences. Mum had tried on many different occasions to change both our minds, but we couldn’t be swayed.
That is, until two days’ ago.
When Dad caved to Mum’s demands and bought a telephone, it was hard not to look upon him without feeling an overwhelming wave of shame; he never held out very long against Mum, but his attempt was feeble at best. Half arsed. He even paid a Muggle to come install the phone line - and Dad’s a cheapskate! I was shocked into silence.
It took me a few days to realise that the only reason why he had given his consent. Somehow, Mum had convinced him that something might happen to me while they were working diligently at the Ministry. Something dastardly. Though I’m not sure why she picked now of all times to bring up the phone issue. I had handled myself over the past seventeen days without incident, so why should she all of the sudden be concerned for me?
“He could fall and hit his head, Ronald,” Mum had argued, a fierce expression on her normally gentle face, “and he would have no way of contacting emergency services. Or us! How would you feel, knowing that you were responsible for furthering your son’s handicap?”
The way she talked about me, like I wasn’t even there, you would think that I was a paraplegic, doomed to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, not an inadvertent victim of a stray Bludger.
When I told her this, Mum launched into hysterics, saying that this wasn’t a laughing matter. “I’m being serious, Hugo,” she had growled, waging her index at me. “You could forget to turn off the stove after using it. Or leave the water running in the bathroom. Or - why are you laughing? This isn’t funny - RON! DON’T ENCOURAGE HIM!”
I suppose I shouldn’t have laughed at her. Not only was it rude, but it deepened her frustration and when my mother gets up, she cries. And yells obscenities at my dad because, according to her, it’s “always his fault.” Seeing as how I hated being on the receiving end of her angry shouts, I had agreed with her. It’s not like Dad bothered holding his own against her. After a few well-paced insults and a very convincing but unnecessary speech, Dad had yielded to her request, which put him back in her good favour.
I hadn’t been so lucky. She gave me an earful and forced me to do the dishes. Without magic. Had it been any other situation, I would have protested, but I hadn’t wanted to further her anger. She might have blown up if I had. Of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t whine the entire time. Because I did. I wouldn’t be the son of Ron Weasley if I didn’t complain about manual labour. After all, what other purpose did House Elves serve?
Since the installation of the telephone, I had been slowly going mad.
At first, I had been hesitant to use the phone, but I accepted its presence on the end table. However, the first time it rang I nearly jumped out of my seat, spilling my bottle of butterbeer down my front. As you might have guessed, following the incident, I became a little less accepting and more aggravated with the damn thing. And that was before Mum started ringing every five bloody minutes to check up on me.
I was nearly twenty-five years old, for Merlin’s sake. I was more than capable of taking care of myself. The only reason why I had moved back into the house was that the healers insisted upon it. Said I should be in an ‘encouraging environment’, though it was more suffocating that a small, padded room could ever be. Especially now that I couldn’t shake Mum’s presence even when she was at work.
When the Ministry had gotten telephones, I had absolutely no idea. But after the fourteenth call in the span of a half hour, I’d had enough. Of the shrill ringing, the short bout of silence following each ring. The oncoming headache. Mentally vowing to wring the neck of whomever had the idea to get the ruddy things installed, I picked up the phone and barked into the receiver, “Would you stop bloody calling? I am not dead nor am I in the process of dying! Goddamnit, woman!”
The otherwise dead silence was ruptured by a tense cough. “Uh, Hugo?” the deep voice of my sister’s boyfriend asked. “You okay there, mate? You sound a bit - er - hassled?”
I chuckled shortly, far from amused. Annoyed was more like it. “I’m fine, Teddy,” I said, kneading my forehead with my knuckles. “Sorry for biting your head off. I thought that you were -”
“Your mum,” Teddy finished. “I understand. She told me that she’s tried calling over two dozen times without an answer, so she came over to my department and asked if I would give it a go. She was so distraught; I couldn’t very well refuse her.”
“Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that my mum asked you to call me while you were working?”
“In all fairness,” Teddy chuckled, obviously tickled by the disbelieving annoyance in my voice, “I’m on my lunch break, but essentially? Yes. She did.”
A long stream of curses fell from my lips as I banged the receiver against my cranium. Perhaps not the best idea for someone with memory loss to do, but I was beyond the point of caring. At the moment, anyway. I probably wouldn’t be feeling so self-righteous in an hour’s time when I couldn’t remember my own middle name.
“Merlin, this is getting ridiculous,” I said, heaving a heavy sigh. “She’s been calling the whole damn morning. You’d think after the second response of ‘I’m fine’ that she would give up and wait for me to call her, but no, not my mum. She’s too vigilant for her own good.”
“Aunt Hermione is only concerned about your health, Hugo. You shouldn’t be so hard on her.”
I rolled my eyes. “She’s standing over your shoulder, isn’t she?”
“How did you guess?” he asked, his words coloured with mirth.
“I could hear her breathing.”
There was a slight pause. “Really?”
As much as I loved Teddy (platonically, of course. He is my sister’s boyfriend, after all. Brave man, selling his soul to the devil) he wasn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed. At least not when it came to picking up on sarcasm. But he didn’t have to be, what with his devastatingly good looks and arresting charms. I hated people with easy smiles and infectious laughs.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and pulled a large breath in through my nose. “Just give the phone to my mum. I’m sure she’s pissing herself with anticipation.”
“She is,” Teddy laughed, the sound of his squeaking chair drifting over the line. There was a small bout of shuffling, which I assumed was my future brother-in-all passing the phone off to my mum. It was a generally accepted fact that Teddy would marry Rose; he was the only one crazy enough to put up with her antics. Before he relented his grip on the phone, Teddy said, “Oh, and Hugo? Tell Rosie to call me when she gets in, all right?”
The temptation to sigh exasperatedly was great, but I resisted it, settling on another eye roll. “Yeah, okay. I’ll let her know.”
More shuffling followed by an impatient and, quite frankly, shrill exclamation of “Hugo Alastor Weasley!”
Shit. She had used my middle name. I was in trouble. “Yes, Mum?” I said meekly.
“Why haven’t you been answering my calls? I’ve been worried sick about you! For Merlin’s sake, do you know what such high anxiety can do to a woman my age?!”
“Shut up, Hugo. Now is not the time to play cute. You’re in big trouble, young man.”
If she even said “wait until your father gets home”, I was going to laugh. Loudly. And most uproariously, too. While that remarked worked with Uncle Percy’s kids and even Uncle Bill’s, it didn’t with the rest of the Weasley children. Especially the children of Ron Weasley, the biggest sap in the book. Dad might not have cared for too many things, but he loved Rose and I more than anything else in the world. Maybe even Mum. And Grandmum Molly’s cooking, which is saying something.
“Mum,” I began, saturating my voice was sugary sweetness. “I’m sorry. I really am. I would have answered the phone, but I haven’t been feeling very well today” - that was a lie - “and the constant ringing gave me a headache.”
“So you repeatedly ignored my calls instead of telling me this?” She scoffed, and I imagined her shaking her head, passing an aggravated hand over her thick, bushy hair. “I would have stopped calling ages ago and actually got some work done if you had told me. Instead, I’m up to my neck in paperwork and I’ve pulled out about a third of my hair in my worry!”
The comment slipped out before I could rein it in. “At least no one will notice.”
Luckily, Mum was used to these sorts of immature comments - you couldn’t be a member of the Weasley family and not become immune to them - and she ignored it. “There’s some Headache Remedy in the bathroom cabinet. Why don’t you take a teaspoon and get some rest, okay?”
“All right, Mum. I will. Bye.”
I moved to hang up the phone, but before the receiver touched the base, I heard Mum shout my name in a frantic voice. Raising the receiver to my ear, she said, “I almost forgot! Since things didn’t go as we would have liked with Mitchell -” she spat the woman’s name as if it was poison - “I’ve set up an appointment with another healer at St. Mungo’s.”
“What!? Mum, I thought I told you -”
“You will not raise your voice at me, Hugo!” Mum growled into the phone. Even though she wasn’t in the room, I closed my mouth and sat down in the armchair next to the end table, feeling thoroughly intimidated. “Now, his name is Peter Docket and he’s supposed to be very good.”
“That’s what you said about Mitchell,” I muttered under my breath.
“Your Aunt Ginny referred him to me. Apparently, your Uncle Charlie was treated by him after an unfortunate accident with a Pygmy Puff and a hippogriff herder.”
“Anyway,” Mum continued dismissively. “Long story short, he helped your uncle recover from his short term memory loss in only a few weeks’ time. So, what do you say? Are you interested?”
The pleading note in Mum’s voice was unbearably evident. As much as I wanted to say no, I couldn’t let her down. Not again. She had been so sure that Healer Mitchell was the answer to all of my problems. But she had been wrong and this was her way of making up for it. Her way of fixing things. I tried to ignore the feeling of mushy warmth in the pit of my stomach, but couldn’t. I may complain about Mum’s overbearing qualities, but in all reality, that’s what made her such a good mother. And I couldn’t very well turn her down. Not when she was my number one supporter of doing whatever’s necessary to recover my memory.
So, with a heavy sigh, I gave my consent and despite my unease, I smiled, if only because I had just made my mum’s day.
& & &
As I eased through the pliable glass of the storefront and meandered towards the lifts, inclining my head in greeting to the familiar faces behind the welcome desk, I realised that I was too comfortable in this environment…and then a middle-aged brunette witch winked at me as I passed her in the hall.
All right. Scratch that. Perhaps ‘comfortable’ was the wrong word. I wasn’t comfortable at all. I felt awkward and unsure, like a wide-eyed eleven year old about to board the Hogwarts Express for the first time. My palms were sweaty and my stomach felt queasy. The only difference was that Mum wasn’t holding my hand and Dad wasn’t trying to hide his tears behind a cough. For some reason, the thought of a teary-eyed Dad and a strong, supportive Mum brought a smile to my face; they made it easier to breathe.
Thank God Rose isn’t a Legimens. She would give me hell for this. Probably call me a poof or worse and tell me that I could borrow a pair of her shoes any time I liked as long as I asked first, like she did throughout the duration of my first year, just to spite me. And because she had lied to her friends and told them that I was gay.
The lift stopped on the third floor and an older witch with skinny ankles and a chunky necklace around her neck smiled in greeting. Her teeth were large, even by British standards, her canines unnaturally sharp. I prayed to Merlin she didn’t notice when I shuffled a few inches to the left in an attempt to press myself against the oak panelled wall. Thankfully, she didn’t and, aside from the semi-creepy smile, the ascent to the fourth floor was quick and painless. She nodded rather than smiled at me as she departed, heading towards the Janus Thickey Ward.
When the woman was gone, I sighed, partially because I was glad to be rid of her pointy teeth, but mainly because an overwhelming wave of guilt crashed over my head as I walked by Healer Mitchell’s door. A part of me wondered whether or not she knew Healer Docket well enough to know the patients he treated and if she would feel betrayed by me for going to her colleague next door.
Shaking my head to myself and muttering about how ridiculous I was being, I raised a fist to knock on the door. However, before my fist connected with the wood, the door swung open and, lo and behold, there stood Healer Mitchell. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun at the base of her neck, diamond studs glittering ostentatiously in each earlobe. She smiled tightly at me, her eyes flashing briefly, before she looked over her shoulder and said, her voice icy, “Your patient’s here.”
Karma, kill me now.
A tall man with dark brown hair, a stubbly jaw, and oddly light green eyes appeared over her shoulder. Unlike Healer Mitchell, whose eyes narrowed and darkened when they fell upon me, Healer Docket’s brightened and he smiled. Gently nudging her out of the doorway, he extended a hand. “You must be Hugo Weasley!”
“Er, yeah,” I replied uneasily, my gaze flicking from his kind face to Healer Mitchell’s annoyed expression. “That’s me. Feel free to call me Hugo, though.”
If possible, his smile widened. “Then, please, by all means, call me Peter. I would hate for the formalities to be so severe that you’re not comfortable enough to address me by my first name.” He chuckled to himself, casting a pointed look at the slim blonde to his left. She fixed a sharp smile on her full mouth and laughed once, a shattered, irritated sound. “Well, don’t just stand there - come on in! There’s plenty of room for you in my office; trust me.”
He moved out of the doorway so that I could enter, but before I crossed through the threshold, Healer Mitchell slithered past me into the hallway.
“Where are you going, Becca? I was under the impression that you wanted to observe my group therapy session.”
Healer Mitchell flinched, her jaw tightening. “That was my intention, Pete, but I’ve just remembered that I have an appointment at noon. So, can’t. Love to, but can’t.” Her smile was bitter and not at all apologetic.
“That’s a shame. Today’s group is large than usual and I could have used the extra help. Oh well, I suppose Hugo and I will manage somehow.” Quite unexpectedly, he clapped me on the shoulder and laughed.
Her gaze met mine and she quirked a brow, the bitterness of her mouth tainted by amusement. “Oh, I’m sure you will. Mr. Weasley is very…eager to please.” Tucking a loose lock of hair behind her ear, she turned to her colleague. “See you, Pete.” She winked at me, then sauntered away.
“So, Hugo,” Healer Docket started conversationally, another inhumanly happy smile on his face. “Are you ready?” He started walking before I could answer. I followed out of uncertainty.
“Er - I suppose?”
“There’s no need to worry. You don’t have to participate,” he assured me as we turned a corner and headed down a smaller hallway. There were two heavy metal doors at the end of the hall, a keypad of sorts attached to the adjacent wall. Healer Docket pressed a series of buttons and something beeped. Seconds later, the doors opened and he breezed through them. Again, I followed. “I wanted to give you the chance of observe the average session before you make any commitments.”
“To my treatment program, of course,” he clarified easily, almost as though he was expecting this question. “You see, I don’t think it’s fair to ask my patients to jump headfirst into treatment without knowing what they’re getting themselves into.”
“Oh,” was all I could say as we rounded another corner. “Well, that’s…nice of you.”
“That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. Anyway, we’re here.” He indicated the door on the left. “Do you have any questions before we go inside and greet the gang?”
The words fell from my lips before I could stop them. “Do you guys have jackets?”
Healer Docket threw back his head and laughed, once again clapping me on the shoulder. “You know, Hugo, I think you’re exactly what we’re looking for in our group.” He flashed me a disarming grin before he pushed the door open, marching purposefully into the room.
I remained stationary, lingering just within earshot so that I could hear what Healer Docket was rambling about. He told them how happy he had been with their improvement, with how well they were gelling together in the sessions, and how he hoped their joined progress would continue so seamlessly. My mind drifted in and out of focus as my eyes roamed every inch of the tiled floor, studying the cracks between the black and white squares.
“…and now, I would like you all to give warm welcome to our newest potential companion, Mr. Hugo Weasley.”
Good Godric, I knew this man was an optimist, but did he really have to go full-out trivia show announcer? Rolling my eyes, I took a hesitant step into the room, keeping close to the doorway in case I needed to make a quick exit. There was a spattering of polite applause and even a whistle from the back corner. When I lifted my head to look for the source, I paled. It was June Benedict - the woman who had sexually assaulted me the last time I was here. She caught my gaze and grinned wolfishly.
I averted my eyes to the ground, wishing it would open up and swallow me whole.
Merlin help me.
“All right, all right, settle down,” said a chuckling Healer Docket. “That was a very nice welcome. I’m sure Mr. Weasley appreciates it.” He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and smiled. It did not make me feel any better. “You can take the seat next to Mr. Wallace, if you’d like.”
I nodded and shuffled towards the seat to my immediate right. The moment I sat down, a lanky man with wide, piercing eyes and dark brown hair leaned over and asked, his voice barely above a whisper, “Do you believe in unicorns?”
The question was so random that I forgot to laugh. My eyebrows rose at their own accord. “Um - yes?”
I cut my eyes over to Healer Docket to make sure he wasn’t paying attention. He wasn’t. He paced back and forth, his hands clasped behind his back, as he delivered a motivational lecture. The words “you can do it if you put your mind to it” were the only ones I heard. Swinging my gaze back to the frightfully skinny man at my side, I shrugged. “Because they’re real? I don’t know.”
“How do you know that they’re real?”
“Because I’ve seen them.”
“You’ve seen a unicorn?”
“Yes. Why? Haven’t you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Did you go to Hogwarts?”
He blinked at me, tilting his head to the side and studying me with his abnormally round, vividly blue eyes. It was unnerving, being under the intensity scrutiny of a strange, especially one who was inquiring after the existence of unicorns.
“So…did you?” I prompted, my curiosity getting the better of me.
“Go to Hogwarts?”
“Of course I did.”
“Then how have you never seen a bloody unicorn?” I hissed vehemently.
“Oh, I see.” I expected him to elaborate, but he merely smiled serenely, turning his attention back to Healer Docket.
Grunting in frustration, I folded my arms over my chest and glared at the notice board at the front of the room. Fliers of every size, shape, and colour were pinned to the board. Some of them had flashy phrases while others changed, never repeating the same message twice. I stared at each of them, looking at the words without reading them. And I continued to stare at them until the session was over.
“Thanks for a great session, everyone. I hope you take Regina’s words to heart and think about your actions before you commit them,” Healer Docket said. “I’ll see you all at the same time next week!”
There was a chorus of chair legs scraping against the tiled floor followed by a wave of chatter as the patients conversed amongst themselves. Knowing an opportunity when I saw one, I grabbed my jacket from the back of my chair and slipped my arms into the sleeves, preparing to make for the door. However, before I could so much as take a step, they were on me.
“Hi!” Benny greeted enthusiastically.
I jumped, startled. “Oh,” I breathed, regaining my composure little by little. “Hi. Is June with you?” I looked over his shoulder, scanning the immediate area.
“No,” he answered. I heaved a sigh of relief. “She wanted to come over and say hello, but she’s under strict orders from both myself and her healer not to come near you.”
“Really?” I tried not to sound too hopeful. “Why is that?”
“It triggered a relapse in her treatment.”
I frowned. “A relapse?”
“Yeah,” Benny nodded. “The healers had managed to get her up to the year 1985, but when she bumped into you in the hall and you - er - landed on top of her, it took her back to the 1960s when it was -”
“Free love all around,” I finished, suddenly feeling very guilty. “Her comments make sense now.”
Benny clapped me on the arm. “Don’t feel too bad about it. She relapses more often than anyone else on the Fourth. Anyway,” he said, slipping his hand into his pocket. “I’ll let you be on your way. I don’t want to make June too jealous now.” He laughed.
I hummed in agreement and watched as he walked towards the older woman, who, once again, winked at me. Ignoring the unpleasant shivers creeping down my spine, I turned on my heel and headed out of the door as fast as I could. I was almost to the lifts when someone called out, “Mr. Weasley!”
Circe be damned, what was it with today and people bothering me? At this rate, I would never make it home in time for dinner and Mum was making spaghetti Bolognese.
Groaning, I reluctantly turned around to see a young, brunette woman approaching me. Her dark brown hair was thick and frizzy and pulled back into a high ponytail that swung back and forth as she drew nearer, clutching a small brown something in her hand. Even from a distance, it looked vaguely familiar. She appeared vaguely familiar, too.
“Hugo Weasley?” she asked, the faintest trace of a Welsh lilt in her voice.
“Yeah.” I stared her, trying to figure out why in the name of Merlin’s grandmother I felt like I knew her. “Do I know you?”
She laughed gaily and smiled, her cheeks dimpling. “I wouldn’t say that you know me, but we have seen each other before.” When she saw the confused expression on my face, she added, “In the lift a few weeks back. We were both headed to the same floor?”
The recognition dawned on me instantaneously. “Holy shit - you’re Crazy Lift Girl!” I blurted.
She crossed her arms over her chest and raised a brow. “Is that what they’re calling me now?” There was no accusation in her voice. She didn’t sound angry or offended. Quite the contrary, she sounded and looked amused, an impish smile on her face.
“Damn!” I slapped a hand to my forehead. “I didn’t mean it like that! Honest.”
“It’s okay,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I’ve heard much worse. I’m Gwen, by the way. It’s lucky that I tracked you down - I think I have something that belongs to you.”
Wordlessly, she held out the small brown something in her hand and my eyes widened.
“My wallet! I don’t remember losing it!”
“That’s because you didn’t,” she said, disapproval colouring her words. “Benjamin Keyes stole it from you. See, he has a…compulsion, so to speak, to take things that don’t belong to him, even if they have little to no monetary value.”
I raised a brow. “You mean he’s a kleptomaniac?”
“More or less, yeah, he is.”
“Huh,” I sighed, turning my wallet over in my hands. “I didn’t even know that it had gone missing.”
Gwen chuckled, her eyes wrinkling at the corners. “That’s because he is very good at what he does. Did he pat you on the arm or touch you during the time you were in contact with one another?”
“Now that you mention it…”
“Want a word from the wise?” she asked rhetorically. “You might want to consider exercising a little more caution around the patients of the fourth floor until you know what they’re here for. It takes some time, but once you know, it’s easier to relax.”
“Oh, well, thanks, I guess. For returning my wallet, I mean,” I clarified. “And for advising me.”
She smiled again, jabbing the button that summoned the lift. “No problem. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m one of the best resource guides here.” She gave a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders and delved into her jacket pocket, removing a bright red scarf.
As she wrapped it around her neck, something flickered inside of me. A spark of recognition. Of remembrance. A brief flash of honey yellow was accompanied by the sound of tinkering laughter and the sensation of a warm breeze. The smell of the outdoors was tangible. The world spun. As soon as Gwen disappeared into the crowded lift, however, the feeling vanished and I sighed, my entire body sagging forwards. I punched the button in frustration and cursed, burying my hands in my hair, trying to remind myself that even the smallest bit of progress was better than nothing at all.
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