Chapter 21 : Church Doors
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great ci by KatDaniels here at hpff :)
Chapter 21. Church Doors
«Congratulations, Miss Granger. You're pregnant.»
I still wouldn't quite believe it.
«Are you sure?»
The Birth Healer arched an eyebrow. «Yes. I do know about these sort of things you know. It's not my first time.»
«Sorry...» I mumbled and leaned my back against the oddly comfortable chair. The position of my legs were degrading of all women, but it didn't help for the fact that it was actually comfy. «I'm just...» I sighed, but didn't finish the sentence.
«I know that sigh,» the Birth Healer said, and sighed herself. «You know you can talk to me, right? It'll be Healer-patient confidential.»
I chuckled at this.
«It's a very long, tiresome story. Without anything close to a happy ending.»
«Listen, I know that you, being famous and all, don't think you can confide in many people, and I get that. But you don't need to feel like that with me.»
«You know who I am?» I raised my head and looked at the young Healer in front of me. She couldn't have much been older than I myself, now that I thought about it.
«Who doesn't?» She smiled at me. And a sense of comraderie was formed at that moment.
«Yeah. Good point.» With a groan, I took my feet down from their awkward position. «Well, if you've heard of me, then I guess you also know who Draco Malfoy is?»
«Yes.» She quinted her eyes at me, then they suddenly popped open and her mouth formed a perfectly round O. «Are you saying that... That this baby is his?» she whispered and sat down on a chair across from mine. «Blimey.»
«Yes, it is. But that's not all...»
It was a long story. At the end of which, we found ourselves hugging.
«I feel so sorry for you,» Laurie, that was the Healer's name, whispered as she hugged me tighter. And if I hadn't been so out of touch with reality lately I was sure that I'd cry at this moment. But I was, so I didn't.
«Yeah. Thanks,» I muttered, and hugged her back. I really did like her. And when I left, I walked out of the building actually feeling less of a walking corpse at the thought of just having made a new friend.
I'd taken up the dangerous habit of walking aimlessly about London lately, and was doing that again now. My mobile was turned off, my wand in my back pocket where I could easily feel its comforting pressure, my mind far from empty.
In my head, fleeting thoughts came and went with a dreadful rush, not really dwelling long enough for me to pick up on any of them. But one thought I found myself having to forcefully push away was something Harry had told me at a dinner a few days ago. It was said so matter-of-factly. In such a careless manner. The only one who noticed my reaction, or lack of one, was Ginny. We hadn't talked much about what happened, but I had let her know that I'd ended it with... With Draco. She knew better than to bring it up again.
How I loved that girl.
But Harry, not knowing about what had been going on between his best friend and his former nemesis, had blurted out at dinner that Draco had started working for the Ministry again. That he was currently undercover somewhere in Africa. He said he couldn't say more, but didn't neglect to tell us that it was a most dangerous mission. And after saying this, he had turned to me and asked me if I knew something about why he'd quit the job at the publishing house.
Ginny answered for me, and I just nodded along with whatever she was saying, even though I didn't hear a single word of it.
Trafalgar Square. I was standing right in the middle of it. And the date on one of the billboards was bouncing out of its screen and attacked me.
September 26th. It was the 27th tomorrow.
But how could that be?
How was it possible that I hadn't realised the date today?
I turned on my phone.
Dear Merlin. I had about a million messages and missed calls from everyone. With brisk steps I walked away and ran into the nearest empty alley, turned on the spot and magically appeared in front of the inn.
I could see the roof of the church in the distance, and it would have given me chills if I hadn't been occupied with running into the lobby of the small, intimate inn.
«Welcome to The Bartley Inn, how may I -»
«Hi, I'm Hermione Granger, I'm getting married at Bartley Church tomorrow and I -»
«Oh, so you're the missing bride?» the older lady exclaimed and turned around to call for her husband. The two of them obviously owning the inn itself. «Arnold! Arnold, she's here!»
«Who's here?» I could hear an older man reply, not really interested.
«The bride, you silly goat.» She rolled her eyes, but when she didn't hear footsteps she tapped her fingers impatiently on the desk in front of her. «Arnold, get out here this minute!»
With low grumbles, I could hear the man named Arnold appear in a doorway behind the lady. «What?»
«This is the bride. Take her to her room.» She then turned to me. «The others have been mighty worried, my dear. But you're here now, and that's all that matters. All is well now.» With a sigh, she began ushering her sleepy husband in my direction and pointed to the stairs behind me. «Get a move on, you lazy man. Oh, and your parents are in the room next to yours, but they said to tell you that they've gone to bed. Awfully long trip from Australia, you know,» the older lady told me, sending me an accusing look.
«And I'll tell that sweet redheaded girl that you've arrived. You just follow Arnold. He'll show you to your room. You can't stay in the same room as that charming lad of yours. Oh, no. You can't sleep in the same bed until you're married, can you? Even the thought of it is -»
«Woman, would you please stop chattering the poor lass' ear off and let her go?» Arnold was sick of his wife's never ending blabbering, and I had the urge to smile. But it was over before I knew it.
The lady turned her heel, nose in the air, and marched away into the room next to this one.
«Women...» he muttered under his breath and signalled that I were to follow him up the stairs. Without another word he showed me to my room. It was small, but filled with fresh flowers and with a view of a beautiful orchard and, in the distance, the church I was going to attend tomorrow. If I still had a heart, it would surely have been jumping out of my chest at this point. Instead, I felt sick again and walked calmly over to the small bathroom and emptied my stomach. This had by now become some sort of a routine. As a matter of fact, I was so used to it that my movements were mechanical and I acted on auto-pilot. It was much better that way.
When I was done I washed my face with some cold water before walking to the bed and letting myself fall on top of the soft bedspead.
There was a small knock on my door. I didn't answer. Ginny didn't care if I answered or not, though, and came waltzing in anyway. Her belly was now so huge and ripe that I was afraid she would go into labour at any moment. And that was a definite possibility, actually, considering that she was over a week past her due date.
«Where the hell have you been, woman?!» she hissed as she closed the door behind her.
Answering would imply that I cared, something I didn't, so I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't mad, or annoyed, or even sad – I wasn't anything. I just didn't have anything to say.
«You know I've had to cover for you the whole day?!» Ginny had one hand under her huge stomach in order to stabilize herself as she walked over to the bed. With grunting noises she sat down beside me. «Where have you been?»
«I saw a Birth Healer,» I told her in a monotone voice. As I said, I didn't care. All I wanted was to calm Ginny down, so her water wouldn't break all over the bedspread. It was a nice bedspread. With embroided flowers. Very soft.
«Today? What did she say?»
I knew that somewhere there was a part of me that loved her, I just couldn't find it at the moment. So I gave in and decided to answer her questions.
«That I was pregnant.» My words were coming from a place far away. Or so it sounded to me, because there was a distance between myself and the outside world. I didn't even recognize my own voice as it faintly echoed around me.
«How do you feel about that?»
Something I did feel, however, was Ginny's eyes on me. And I suddenly had the urge to say something, so I did. I opened my mouth and words were actually coming out. This surprised both me and Ginny.
«You know when you've blown up a balloon?» It was a question that didn't require an answer. Nor did I get one. «But then your fingers slip and it flies out of your hands, so you watch it as it randomly spins about the room before finally dropping to the floor, all shriveled and empty?» I drew a quiet breath before continuing. «If you replace the balloon with my body, and the air slipping out of it with my life, you'll have some idea of what I'm feeling.»
«Hermione...» Ginny looked at me, then lay her back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling just as I did. And there we lay. «Hermione,» she repeated. «Don't do this.»
«I have to.»
«No. You really don't.»
«Martin is the better choice. The wiser choice.»
«For who? Because it's certainly not for you.» After breathing heavily for a second, she continued in a choked whisper, «I'm scared for my friend. I miss her.»
I didn't answer. But Ginny didn't mind. She knew I'd heard her, and that was enough – for now.
«Love...» she sighed, «love is cruel, isn't it?» I didn't answer this time either, so Ginny decided to try to make me smile. I could sense it in the way she slightly shifted her position on the bed. «It's right up there with hangovers and diarrhea.»
Mission accomplished. She'd made me smile. It wasn't very visible on my face, but I could still feel it, and Ginny noticed it with a gleam in her brown eyes.
«You know what? Forget love. I'd rather fall in chocolate.» After turning her head so she could look at me more closely, she smiled mischievously. «There is no love sincerer that the love of food, you know.»
«And it can't make you pregnant either...» I said against my wishes, and immediately regretted uttering those words.
«About that -»
«Don't want to talk about it,» I stopped her before she could say anything else, and she seemed to understand that. For a few moments, at least.
«I don't get you, Hermione,» Ginny said in a confused tone. «I don't see why you would want to give up the love of your life because of -»
«But doesn't it bother you?»
«No,» I lied. I really meant yes.
«Liar,» she scoffed. «It has to bother you. At least some part of it. So come on, tell me. Tell me something that bothers you. And if you do, I promise you'll feel better.»
Little did she know that I wasn't feeling anything at all. But I gave in, caved, and told her some fraction of the truth, some small version of the extent of my buried worries.
«... That he's out there. And might be falling in love with girls that aren't me,» I said. But I knew that it wasn't true, Draco would never fall in love with someone the way he had with me. It was just as impossible as me falling in love with someone that wasn't him. The thought was borderline comical.
«And..» I wasn't sure if I should say this or not, but I swallowed the doubt and began talking before I changed my mind. Some part of me needed to say this aloud. «If something happens to him when he's on one of his missions, then... I'd never forgive myself.» Invisible tears were streaming down my face. But they couldn't be seen - they didn't exist. «It would be my fault, Ginny.»
«What?» Ginny lifted her torso up and was supported by her elbow. «Of course it wouldn't -»
«Yes. It would. He would never have gone back to that job if it hadn't been for me.»
Ginny didn't have an answer to this. And it wouldn't have mattered if she did.
«Why can't I feel anything, Gin?» I asked suddenly, and Ginny's eyes welled up. «I'm just... empty. I can't feel a thing.»
«You're in shock, I think.»
«I don't know.» And I really didn't.
«And I think you're just pushing your feelings away because you know that if you don't, it's never going to stop hurting. So you're just trying to protect yourself from pain.» Her eyes were so tender as they looked at me now and I had to turn away. «They'll catch up to you one day, you know.»
«I don't want them to,» I argued, my voice monotone despite my strong words. «I never want to feel.»
«It's only human to feel, Hermione.»
«Then being human is exhausting.»
Ginny chuckled softly, and leaned in to kiss my forehead. I let her do it too. The tender act was comforting.
«It's okay to miss him, love.»
«No. It's not. I cannot miss him.»
«You can't resist love, it's too hard. It conquers all in the end-»
«Don't say that!» I interrupted and jumped up from the bed. Her saying those words had brought along so many haunting, painful and strong memories. I could feel something inside me crumbling. The lack of emotions lately had made me unprepared for when I finally did feel something. While tapping repeatedly on my temples, I tried desperately to force him out of my head. I couldn't start remembering moments with him now. Reliving them was the worst thing I could do at this time.
«What is it? What did I say?»
«Just shut up!»
Ginny did as she was told. Something I'm sure she had never done before in her life, and I doubt she'd ever do it again. What she did do, however, was get gingerly to her feet and walk slowly over to me. Panting, I sent her a warning look. I wouldn't let her get too close. I knew that if she tried to hug me, I'd exoplode.
Ginny seemed to already know this.
«Take it from me,» she began in a whisper and locked eyes with me. «You can never run away from what you feel. Especially love. It's impossible.»
«I'm not running away,» I insisted, allowing myself to say one more thing before I closed my mouth permanently. «I can never run away... Because he's always on my mind.»
«Maybe,» Ginny said and her brown eyes smiled sadly at me, «maybe if you can't get him out of your head, he's supposed to stay there.»
I didn't answer her. And didn't realise that she'd gone until I heard the door close.
Now that I'd taken the first step onto memory lane, I couldn't stop myself from swimming, bathing, drowning in the vast amount of moments I'd shared with him. They seemed to fill my entire life, because I couldn't remember a time before him.
And before I knew it it had become morning.
My wedding day.
Four second inhale, four second exhale.
«Are you ready, Hermione?» My mother knocked on the door to the bathroom. «Darling?»
«Yeah, Mum. Be right out.»
I took one last look in the mirror. I'd decided against wearing a veil, I don't know why. It just felt as though it was choking me, and this caused me to violently rip it off only seconds after putting it on. I wasn't wearing much make-up either, because somehow that felt suffocating as well. It was all I could do not to rip off my entire dress. It was uncomfortably tight in the stomach-region, and I had to hold my breath in order to get it buttoned all the way. Ginny had helped me through the entire process, but I'd chased her out of the room when I, three minutes ago, had to throw up my intestines. Now that I was alone, I savoured the few moments I had to myself before I had to leave this safe space and walk over to the church. The green mile.
I had to smile at my dark comparison.
«You're going to be late to your own wedding, my dear.» My Dad. Always having to be half an hour ahead. Because we weren't really that much behind schedule. Besides, weddings never start on time. And I'm the bride, arent I? And they can't very well begin without me.
I was a bride.
I wasn't engaged anymore, not a fiancee. I was a bride. And soon... a wife.
Four second inhale! Four second exhale!
«What could possibly take so long?» I heard Dad mumble to Mum, and it made the huge knot in my stomach let up a bit. Seeing them again had been surprisingly uplifting. I hadn't seen them for almost a year, considering that after they'd moved to Australia they decided they loved it so much they couldn't bare the thought of leaving. Of course, we talked on the phone all the time, but it wasn't the same.
With shaky steps I grabbed the elegant bouquet of white lilies and unlocked the door, forcing my lips to widen into a smile.
«Oh, 'Mione,» Dad exclaimed. «Darling, you look wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.» His eyes were watering, and I had to look away. But my Mum was looking at me with the same emotional expression, so I was forced stare at the wall behind them.
«You really do, my dear,» she agreed and lifted a finger to the corner of her eye, trying to dry away a tear without disrupting her make up. «Enough of this. You're going to make me lose my face.»
I smiled at her, and leaned over to kiss her lightly powdered cheek. After which Dad did the same to me, and then offered his hand for me to grab. I took it and began walking.
The church wasn't far away, actually it was too close. It felt as though we hadn't even taken a single step, and then suddenly it was right in front of us. Almost jumping on top of me. Devouring me entirely. The chatter from inside was adding to my reasons for not breathing, and all I wanted to do was run inside only to grab Martin's grandfather's inhaler. No other reasons for entering the church came to mind, though.
That was probably a bad sign, wasn't it?
«There you are!» Ginny was standing on the steps leading up to the narrow church doors. «Finally.»
Mum and Dad took me in each arm and was about to lead me up the steps and through the entrance, but I froze.
«Ehm, Mr and Mrs Granger, could I just have a moment with your daughter? It's just some Maid of Honor stuff, it'll only take a second.»
Mum and Dad exchanged strange looks, but agreed and vanished through the doors after reassuring me that they'd be waiting for me right inside.
«It's not good for your baby when you don't breathe.»
«Not so loud!» I hissed and looked around, but there were nobody there. We were the only ones.
Ginny checked her watch with furrowed brows, looking a bit stressed.
«I only need a few seconds,» I said, trying to persuade myself to not stay longer than that. «Don't worry, I'll be inside in a jiff.»
«Oh, yes, that's fine,» she said absentmindedly and looked around. «I'll just meet you in there then, alright?»
I nodded. Ginny kissed my cheek before giving me a last look.
«You look very beautiful.»
With that she wobbled up the stony steps and disappeared through the doors of the church, and I could hear again the impatient mumbles on the other side. Waiting for the bride to enter.
I might as well just get it over with.
After taking a few more breaths with my eyes closed, I felt as ready as I ever would and took small uneven steps towards the small stair.
That was when I heard it. At first I wrote it off as a car having engine trouble, but then I remembered that there weren't any roads nearby. And the noise had appeared just a few feet behind me. So I turned around.
The air was back.
My heart was beating.
The balloon no longer lay shrivelled and empty on the ground, in fact, it was so full it threatened to explode.
Draco didn't say anything yet, but watched me in silence.
It was me that broke it.
«I couldn't let you do this.»
How come I felt more alive at this moment than I'd done in all my life? And yet, I couldn't say anything.
«Do you know that nobody can get me as angry as you can?» he began, and I noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the rubble on his cheek and jaw, and realised that his clothes were covered with orange dust. «But,» he sighed and took a step toward me, «nobody makes me as happy either.»
I didn't realise I was crying until I felt tears hitting the skin on the uncovered part of my chest.
«Life doesn't make any sense without you. I don't make sense.»
«I-I have to go-go, I-I-» My knees were buckling beneath me, and I had to grab the railing on the stairs to regain my balance. «I can't, I ju-just, I..»
«You can't marry him, Hermione.»
«Yes, I can,» I insisted, feeling a sort of anger toward Draco. Why, I had no idea. «And I will.» But I couldn't move an inch. My stomach was in uproar again, and the tight dress was pressing uncomfortably at the very spot it was churning.
«Come on, even Ginny saw that marrying that bloke would be the biggest mistake of your life, so why can't you?»
«Ginny?» I asked and furrowed my brows before it dawned on me. «She called you, didn't she?»
«Of course she did. She rang me last night, beside herself, worried sick about you -»
«I thought you were working undercover somewhere in Africa?» I squinted my eyes at him, one hand on the railing and the other protecting my queasy insides.
«I was, but I have an emergency phone, you know, in case Harry needs me suddenly. I'm guessing he gave her the number.»
I snorted, but had to keep my mouth shut at the moment because I could feel the sick creeping up my throat.
«She...» He took another step toward me. «She also told me that she had her reasons to believe that you didn't really want to go through with this thing, and...»
«And what?» I said through clenched teeth. «What did more did Ginny tell you?»
«She said that you had to tell me something, something important, but she refused to say what it was.» Another step, his eyes searching for something in mine now. «But I can guess.»
«By all means. Guess.» Short sentences were my best friend right now, and I swallowed hard to keep the nausea at bay.
«Hermione,» the whisper cut through me more than if he'd screamed, and he walked slowly over to me. He was within reaching distance. All I would have to do was stretch out my hand and I'd be touching his arm.
He sighed, stared at me intently and didn't even blink as he began speaking. «Are you pregnant?»
And it came rushing over me - just like Ginny said it would. But it wasn't all pain, it wasn't all throbbing, unbearable hurt. There was something sweet about it. I realised that I was more than happy that he'd found out. Thrilled, even.
«Yes,» I choked out between the quiet sobs, and wanted more than anything in the world for him to hold me. But he didn't move. It was as I thought; he wasn't ready. He was freaking out.
«Why didn't you tell me?»
«I didn't want to make you feel obligated to stay with me-»
«Obligated?» With a quivering lip, he reached over to me and hesitated for just a second before letting his hands cup my face. He closed the distance between our two trembling bodies with a swift movement, and I sobbed hard when I finally felt him against me. «The only thing I feel obligated to do is to make you understand that nothing would make me happier than to take care of you and our baby.» My heart was beating as though it had never been broken, and I found myself sobbing and smiling at the same time. «I've only known about this child for less than a minute, and I already love it as much as I love you.»
Tears mixed with chuckles as I looked up at him. His glorious eyes were sparkling like they'd never done before. Certainty coloured his cheeks a pink that suited him, and he kept smiling down at me.
«Do you see now?» he whispered, and I could feel his warm breath on my skin. «Do you see how you're supposed to be with me?» There was a pause where he leaned in closer, and his lips widened into a loving smile, the blue diamonds permanently locking themselves to my soul. «I love you, Hermione.»
«And I love you.»
He was so close that the distance between our lips were much less than a second away from each other, but it felt like an eternity.
It was like I said before.
There are many different kisses, but this one... This was one that someday someone would write a book about.
I wrapped my arms around Draco's firm, safe body and felt whole once again. But if I just for a second had opened my eyes and looked up at the doors of the church, I'd see Martin standing there, a single tear trickling down his cheek.
Oh, yes. That just happened.
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