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Chapter 27 : A Long Time Coming
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“Rose! Don’t forget to dust the top of the mantle!” Nana Molly called down the stairs after me.
“I won’t!” I yelled back. Feather duster in hand, I sighed as I manually dusted the den. I couldn’t wait until my seventeenth birthday, then I'd be able to do all the cleaning magically. As far as I was concerned, May couldn’t come soon enough.
The Burrow was in a constant state of movement since we arrived. I blinked as I realized it had already been three days. Time certainly flies when you're put to work. Roxy was with me in the den, collecting rugs to be dusted in the yard. I'll admit I didn’t envy that job. Swatting at a bunch of old carpets was sure to give even the shapliest witch a sore shoulder, not to mention all the dust! My cousin grunted as she hefted the dusty roll of carpeting up over her shoulder...but that was the most she ever complained, unlike like the rest of us who had transformed into a bunch of whinging twats the moment the word 'cleaning' had been proposed. I guess Roxy had more reason to be pleased with the situation… excluding Fred, of course, but I he didn’t look at the situation as much of a blessing, not like his sister at least. Must have been the difference in sex.
It was rather lonely in the room with Roxy gone. She wasn’t much of a talker but that was fine by me. Cleaning was a horrendous chore but having some company made it go by more quickly somehow. I looked at the bookshelves and shook my head-- they were in a terrible state. Weilding the feather duster, I tackled the wall of romantic classics Nana Molly loved to read. As I swished the dust feathery implement over the dusty tomes, a brightly colored book binding caught my eye. Pulling it from between its companions, I read the title: The Minister's Punishment. The cover depicted a witch bending over a large desk in barely there robes with a man in Ministry robes ogling her from behind.
Nana Molly! You naughty granny.
“What’re you looking at?” A loud voice spoke up behind me.
I jumped and the book fell to the floor face up. “Shit! You scared me Al.”
He didn’t respond. Instead he leaned down to pick up the dropped book.
“Interesting choice, Rose." Al snickered. "And under Nana and Grandpa’s roof-- very bold of you.”
"Shut it!" I hissed, snatching the book from his hand and shoving it back on the shelf. "I hope you’re in here to help.”
“Actually I was skiving off on gnome tossing," he admitted with a weary grin. "Thought I'd take a little break from all the madness.” Plopping onto the couch, his feet thunked as they hit the wood of the tea table.
“Oh, no you don’t," I reproved. "If you’re in here you’re at least going to help out." I tossed a rag at him and pointed to the wall of books on the opposite side of the room. "Get to work."
Al pulled a face. “Come on Rose, give a guy a break.”
“Nope.” I pointed to the shelves again and watched as Al slowly peeled himself off of the sofa. moaning and protesting all the way.
“So, have you heard the news about Seven yet?” He said after a a few moments of dusting.
I rolled my eyes-- he as such a girl.
“What, that he’s a wanker? Yeah, I already knew that.”
“No, that he's dating Annie now.”
I stopped dusting and turned to look him. “As in Annie Wentworth?”
“Yeah, pretty sick right?” Al shook his head.
“I can’t believe them!” My mind was racing. How could she? How could he? I'd known Annie since we were in diapers. Her mum was my dad’s partner for years and we were supposed to be friends.
“Sorry, Rose, but I thought you were over him.” Al wrinkled his brow, an expression he only donned when genuinely concerned. My shock was obvious but I didn’t think it let on to my wounded feelings. Evidently I was wrong.
“No, I am over him," I assured him, "it’s just. That’s just…that’s just…it’s sick is what it is. I mean, she’s Annie.” I fell onto the couch that Al had recently vacated.
I did not care about Seven, truly I didn’t...but how could Annie date him? How could she do that knowing how badly he'd hurt me this year? I mean, she didn’t even know if I was over him yet! Granted, we hardly talked anymore...but still. There's a code most girls abide by and she totally broke it. And Seven! What an arse. He knew she was my friend and I'd bet anything he was only dating her to get to me. Boy, would I love to say it didn’t work but then, that'd be a lie. I was miffed...but only because I knew he was using her and that made him a super arse.
Al came and sat down next to me. “Sorry Rose. I thought you'd think it was funny," he said quietly. "I mean, yeah it’s Annie and I know that you love her and all, but she's so…well, so Annie.”
I didn’t respond. My head was too full of my own musings, not to mention anger. I decided it was time for a break. I hadn’t written to Scorpius since we’d gotten there so I took this as an opportunity to do so. If anyone would understand how I felt, it'd be him.
“I’m going to go lay down for a bit, I said absently and rose from the couch. "See you at supper.”
“Rose…” Al’s voice trailed after me but I continued on up the stairs.
By the time I had reached the room I was sharing with Dom, Lucy, and Molly my head a complete jumble of emotions. I just needed to sort them out, then I would be okay. So I wrote to Scorpius and apologized for my lapse in communication. I explained what was going on with Nana Molly and then I let the flood gates burst. All of my irritation and hurt at what Seven was doing with my ‘friend’ Annie spilled out onto the page in a torrent of ink. I felt numb byt the time I was finished and found I had written three feet of parchment, all in small if illegible handwriting. Hercules was perched by the window and ready to go, so I borrowed Dom’s owl and sent all my frustration away.
It truly had been cathartic and I did feel much better. Not enough to go and finish the den but enough to lay on my bed and fill my head with thoughts of Scorpius rather than Seven and Annie. Scorpius was really great. Maybe I should just come out and make things official. Maybe things were supposed to be this wonderful. Maybe we were soul mates and I was just pushing him away. I couldn’t be sure but there was one person I thought could help. Aunt Ange. She, if anyone would understand my hesitance. I mean, it had taken her, what? 18 years to say yes to Uncle George. I still couldn’t believe they were actually going through with getting married. Of course, Nana Molly was over the moon about it.
It was practically impossible to get a moment alone with the woman of the hour. Nana Molly was scurrying around her at every second, asking her opinion on the flowers, the china, the music...I even heard her ask Aunt Ange if she preferred Uncle George to wear boxers or briefs. All right, maybe she didn’t ask that, but I wouldn’t put it past her, especially after discovering her naughty reading material.
I finally got my opportunity to talk to Aunt Ange the day before the wedding. Her mum and Nana Molly had taken the day to get ‘freshened up’ and though Aunt Ange was supposed to go with them, mum and Aunt Ginny suggested they all go out together instead. Apparently, Aunt Ange preferred a Hen Night to ‘freshening’ herself. I caught her in the backyard just after dawn, leaning against the fence and looking out at a pasture of blue bells.
“Morning,” I said as I strode up beside her.
“Morning,” she replied before taking a sip from the coffee mug cradled in her hand. “What are you doing up this early?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” This was true-- it had been impossible to sleep with Dom's snoring and my fear of Lucy and Molly covering my face with gnome dung or something. “What about you? Nervous?”
“Nah, I’ve been ready for this since we were kids.” She smiled as the sun's rays peeked over the treeline and the light hit her face in a wash of bronze and umber.
“Really? Why’d it take so long for you to say yes then?” Had I been speaking with Aunt Audrey, I'd probably get told off for being impertinent but, Aunt Ange wasn't bothered by my inquiry.
“Because your Uncle George wasn’t ready," she declared.
“Um, not to be a nay-sayer but, wasn’t he the one asking you to marry him since you guys had Fred?” I rejoined with furrowed brows.
“He was, but that doesn’t mean he was ready.”
“How do you know? I mean, how do you know when someone is ready for something…serious?”
Aunt Ange turned away from the sun's vibrant rays and cast her shimmering gaze in my direction. “Come, let’s have a seat.” She walked away, not looking back to see if I would follow. Obviously I did.
As she reached a small copse of trees, she sat down on a crude log bench built by my Uncle Charlie. It had all of my dad’s siblings names etched into the wood.
“When we were in school, George, Fred and I, we played on the same quidditch team,” Ange said after a moment.
“Yeah, I know. You were a chaser and Uncle George and Fred were beaters.”
She looked at me in a silent yet gentle rebuke. I took the hint and bowed my head.
“As I was saying, we played on the same team together and we were all friends," she picked up where she had left off. "Then, in Sixth year Fred asked me to go with him to the Yule Ball and I said yes. From that point on, Fred and I dated on and off for the rest of the time we were at Hogwarts.”
Ew! Aunt Ange had dated Uncle Fred? Her husband-to-be’s dead twin brother. Isn’t that against some kind of law?
“I know what you’re thinking Rose and it's why no one really ever discusses that bit of history," she averred. "It isn’t what you think so stop giving me that face and listen.”
I un-scrunched my brow and did just that.
“Fred was great; he was smart, funny, always good for a laugh. We had a good time together but I never felt a real connection," she admitted. "I knew I would never be first in Fred’s life, which was fine. I mean, we were young! So while your Uncle Fred was off preparing to make it big in the joke industry, your Uncle George and I got closer."
Aunt Ange's face split into a bittersweet grin. “Don’t get me wrong, George was doing the Joke Shop thing too but, he always managed to find time to hang out with me and, for that I considered him one of my best friends.” Pulling another sip from her mug, she made a sour face and placed it on the bench beside her. “I hate cold coffee.”
I nodded in agreement-- not that I actually drank coffee or anything.
“Anyway, when Fred and I split that last time it became apparent that I didn’t want him back." She bit her lower lip and looked down at her feet. "I will always love Fred-- he was a wonderful person-- but I realized that the reason I didn’t want him back was because I had fallen in love with George.” She began tracing the lines of Uncle George and Uncle Fred’s names etched into the bench beside her. "Those were bad times, as you well know. I'm sure you have heard plenty about them. Voldemort was so strong and we were at war." Aunt Ange straightened up, a determined look on her face. "My father was a muggleborn and was killed shortly after Voldemort’s rise to power. My family went underground after that but my brother…” Aunt Ange pulled a deep breath and turned to face the sun, “my brother and I disobeyed our mother and went to fight in the final battle at Hogwarts."
I stared at her in admiration as she went on.
“John was two years older than I was and he'd been training to be an Auror," she proclaimed proudly. "He was brilliant...but Rookwood was better. He fell that night alongside your Uncle Fred.”
I watched as she wiped the corners of her eyes, catching the tears before they had a chance to slide down her cheeks. I looked up in an effort to stymie the tide of my own tears.
“George and I couldn’t help but comfort one another," she whispered. "We kept our relationship a secret at first because we knew what kind of reaction we would get. I wanted to wait and make sure that we would last before broaching the subject with everyone but, of course that didn’t last long." Aunt Ange shook her head in exasperation. "Your Aunt Ginny is far too sneaky and has a big mouth.” She laughed and the sound came out like a snort, but I found it endearing.
“I still don’t understand," I replied. "If you two were in love, why did you wait so long to get married?”
“Because, your Uncle George wasn't ready.”
“But how did you know?” It came out all whiney and annoying and I almost thought Aunt Ange cringed at the sound, or maybe that was just me.
“Every year during Christmas time your Uncle has a drink for his brother Fred, or rather, he has several drinks," she stated. "And every year he comes home and asks me the same question: ‘Do you ever wish I were Fred?’" She looked at me with a warm smile. "This year he didn’t."
With a shrug and a laugh, her face brightened and reminded me of the smile she wore when we spoke at Chirstmas. It made my heart swell and, even though I didn’t get the chance to ask her about Scorpius, I found that her story had helped.
Sleep had been eluding me all night as my thoughts kept wandering to Scorpius. Ruminating over Aunt Ange's story, I considered what she meant by knowing when someone was really ready. I now felt that I was-- I was ready to be happy with Scorpius.
I had just fallen asleep with the resolution in mind when a loud crash from downstairs jolted me back awake. I shot up and tried to calm my racing heart as I listened for what it was that had jerked me awake. I heard a thump, a stifled giggle, and a loud ‘shhh’. At first I wondered if Lily was trying to sneak out but, then remembered how mum and all the aunts had gone out for a Hen Night. I decided I had to see what they were up to-- it’s not every day you get a chance to see your elders all sloppy.
Winding my way around my sleeping cousins who were sprawled throughout the room, I gingerly opened the door. From the top of the stairs I could see a glimpse of the kitchen table and Aunt Ange was sitting at the end with her head resting in her crossed arms.
“I’m much too old for this.” I heard a voice whisper/shout. I was unable to identify who it was so I snuck a little further down the stairs.
“Psh, Herminoe, we are still young and in our prime!” That was definitely Aunt Ginny, easily identifiable by her lack of whispering. “Now where is that baking pan?”
“You’re not really thinking of baking anything? It’s nearly three in the morning and we have a wedding to go to tomorrow!” My mum’s whispering was getting louder.
“You bet your arse I am!" Aunt Ginny practically bellowed. "I’m starving! Now hand me that bowl over there.”
“I don’t see this going very well.” My mum giggled.
“Have a little faith Hermione.” Then I heard some more clanking and cupboard doors being open and shut.
“Can you believe Audrey danced on that bar? I never would have thought she had it in her.” Mum had lost all pretense of whispering now.
“I know!" Aunt Ginny snorted. "I wonder if Percy knows he married a tart?”
Both of them burst into a fit of giggles.
I heard a thump and then a chair being pulled out. “So, Hermione, now that we’re alone are you going to tell me what Astoria Malfoy said that made you turn white?”
“Shh! Angelina’s still here.” Mum went back to ‘whispering’.
“She’s completely out. Now spill.”
My mum responded but I couldn’t really make out what she had said. Apparently she had finally figured out how to whisper properly.
“She didn’t!” Aunt Ginny obviously had no qualms about speaking aloud.
“So, what’re we listening to then?” A voice piped up behind me and I spun my head around so quickly, I nearly pulled a muscle.
“Shhh.” I whispered to Al as he sat down on the step beside me. Massaging my neck, I turned back to the kitchen in order to glean more about what Scorpius’ mum might have said.
“What a cow" Aunt Ginny proclaimed. "I can’t believe she had the nerve to say something so ridiculous. As if you would ever go back to that snake husband of hers.”
“Ginny!” Mum admonished, “keep your voice down! Draco is not a snake, regardless of what you might think of him. He is a good man.” Thankfully mum went back to her horribly loud whispering.
“Yeah, right," my aunt mumbled. "Anyway, she's still a cow for accusing you of that.”
“She didn’t accuse me, she accused Rose.”
“Like Rose would ever stoop so low as to date a Malfoy.”
I wish I could have seen the expression on my mum’s face because it takes a lot for Aunt Ginny to apologize for something.
“Okay, okay...I’m sorry," Aunt Ginny said quickly. "I didn’t mean that you stooped. Anyway, I don’t think it’s true. From what I understand, Rose is still hung up on the Deciles boy.”
There was a bing, a shuffle and then, “Damn, these brownies smell delightful.”
Mum sighed. “I don’t know Gin, it could be true," she rejoined. "I know they're friends but I’m just not sure what it is I'm supposed to do about it. It’s certainly not the ideal situation and I don’t even want to think about what Ron will say when I tell him.”
“You can’t tell Ron!" my aunt hissed. "He’ll go mental! Wait until you even know if it’s true or not. Now try this.”
There was a mumble. “What? I can’t understand you Hermione.”
A large gulp and then, “I said…I suppose," she replied. "Maybe I can work on him slowly, get him used to the possibility. That way, if it is true Rose won’t have to bear the brunt of his anger.”
“And how do you feel about it?' Aunt Ginny asked. "I mean, if what Astoria says is true you could end up being in-law’s to your ex!”
“Mostly, I feel that Rose can be with whoever makes her happy, but then part of me- a small part- thinks this will end in disaster," Mum confessed. "Draco and I have hardly spoken in seventeen years and if they're really serious, we are bound to have to meet again." She blew out a heavy breath. "I just don’t wish that kind of tension on Rose’s relationship. It’ll be bad enough dealing with her father, let alone Astoria. I mean, there's no reason she should think this would bring Draco and I back together but, the fact that she does makes me question how accepting she would be of my Rose. No one should have to pay for their mother’s past.”
My heart was racing. I looked over to see Al’s mouth hanging open in surprise and I gave him a weak smile. He just shook his head, mouth still wide.
“Very diplomatic of you Hermione." My aunt's voice was filled with sarcasm. "Now tell me how you really feel.”
“I just did.” My mum’s whisper had all but gone. “Ow! Fine, I’ll hate it. Okay? It will make things awful for me. I hurt Draco very badly back then and I don’t like being reminded of that. I know it's been a long time, but some wounds don’t heal very cleanly and this is one of them. However, regardless of how I feel, my daughters happiness is what matters most.”
I decided I didn't want to hear anymore so I looked at Al and gestured up the stairwell. We rose slowly and crept back up together. I thought about going back into my room but, with Al on my heals I doubted I would get away with it, so we went up to the attic instead. Even though the ghoul had died, or whatever they do when they exist no longer, no one ever seemed to like being in the attic. For that, I didn’t fear being overheard.
I looked around at all the clutter that had amassed up there over the years-- boxes, various school trunks with my Aunt and Uncle’s names on the front, and a broken owl cage perched atop a stack of old books with a Blond wizard smiling on each of the bindings. I turned to see Al not a foot away from me, mouth still agape in shock.
“So I’ve been seeing Scorpius for a couple of month’s now.”
There, I'd said it. It was now out to someone in my family.
“Why would you hide it?” Al finally managed once my confession had time to sink in.
“You heard them Al! Mum and Scorpius’ dad used to be…married,” I practically gulped the last word out.
“Well that’s just…weird.”
I sat down on Uncle Percy’s old trunk as the enormity of what I just heard dawned on me. “I know,” was all I could manage to huff out.
“So what’re you going to do?” Al sat next to me on the trunk.
“I don’t know," I said and stubbed a finger at him. "But you can’t tell any of the others okay, Al? Not until I figure this out.”
He was slow to nod.
“I’m serious. None of your gossiping about this. This has to stay between you and me.”
“I promise, I can keep a secret you know.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
“Does anyone else know?” Al asked.
Al looked a little hurt that I had gone to Tabby before him.
“She figured it out, I didn’t tell her.”
“She is a sneaky snake that one.” Al laughed and I realized how nice it was to share my secret with him. Because of the break-up with Seven, I felt like I hadn’t gotten to spend a lot of time with Al this year. I knew it was my fault-- I had distanced myself from anything that reminded me too much of the relationship-- but I was over him now and I wouldn’t let his memory get in the way of my relationships any longer.
“Yes, yes she is,” I responded and laid my head on his shoulder. I was glad that Al was on my side, no matter what else might happen.
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