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Chapter 32 : Year 4: Unintended disclosures
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One particular morning, about a week in to the new month, Hermione stepped into the lift and prepared to let it take her up to the fourth floor, where she was supposed to meet Draco and complete the first draft of the House-elves’ Working Conditions in Wizarding Homes. However, she cast a quick glance on the watch on her wrist and decided to step out of the lift already on the second level and pay her boyfriend a visit in his new office.
At first, both Harry and Ron had been hesitant to the upgrade in the Auror Office that meant that they would no longer have to share a room; they had both tried to hide it, but Hermione knew them too well not to see through their mock excitement. In reality, they had been like two schoolboys who were upset because they weren’t allowed to sit together in class anymore. After a while they had warmed up to the idea, though, and Ron had been talking about his new office all week; Hermione thought it only appropriate that she stopped by to see what all the fuss was about.
Smiling at the sign next to it that read Ronald Weasley, Auror, Hermione raised her hand and knocked on the large wooden door. Again, she glanced at her watch, but she was sure Draco wouldn’t mind waiting a couple of minutes, especially not considering how understanding she had been when he had overslept two days in a row a couple of weeks earlier.
The door to the office opened and interrupted Hermione’s thoughts, and Ron’s smiling face appeared before her. He stepped aside to let her in, and she gave him a quick kiss before turning around to look at the room.
It was big, even bigger than the one he and Harry had shared, with a large window behind the desk. By the opposite wall stood a big, sturdy bookshelf, holding all sorts of strange objects. Hermione recognized a few of them from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ defence objects collection, and she smiled before letting her gaze wander on. A photograph caught her eyes and instantly filled her heart with warmth; it was of her and Ron, standing on her parents’ front porch in the middle of December. Snow was piling up by their feet, and Christmas lights twinkled above their heads – Hermione could still remember the terrible, biting cold that day, but their faces gave nothing away. There was nothing but joy and happiness in their features, which was why it was one of her favourite photos of the two of them. The fact that Ron had placed it on the middle shelf, as if he had given it a place of honour, made her feel even better about it.
“I love it,” she said, turning to Ron who had sunk into his desk chair. “It’s really big, and… it’s nice. I can see why you have been bragging about it non-stop since you got it.”
“I haven’t been bragging!” Ron protested, and then, in a softer voice and with his ears slightly reddened, he added: “Okay, maybe a little bit. But you’re such a big shot over in your department, I felt like I had to-“
“It’s really nice,” Hermione said, sliding an arm around his waist. “Do all Aurors have such nice offices?”
Ron seemed to grow a couple of inches as he responded: “No, not all of them… you should see Saxby’s – he’s new, like us, and his is really small, and it smells like a troll has lived there!”
Hermione grinned – she was going to let him have his moment. She knew that he had always felt overshadowed, overlooked, like he came second in every race, whether it was with his brothers or with Harry. That was why she didn’t mind his bragging; she knew that he wasn’t trying to be cocky. He was just really proud of himself, for once, and she was definitely not going to ruin that.
“I should get going,” she said after looking at her watch for a third time. She hesitated for a moment before adding: “I think Draco is wondering where I am.”
Draco Malfoy had been a touchy subject ever since he had started working with her, but after the row she and Ron had had about him at New Year’s Eve, things had improved. Ron was making an effort not to talk badly about him, and she had distanced herself a little bit from Draco and their friendship. They still got along well, but for his birthday in the beginning of June, she hadn’t knitted any scarves. Instead, she had collected money from all of their co-workers and bought him a cake, which they had all enjoyed together after lunch that day.
“Yeah, I suppose you shouldn’t keep him waiting,” said Ron now. Hermione could tell that he was struggling to keep his tone casual, and she appreciated it.
Taking a step towards him, she stretched her neck, placed her hands on his arms and kissed him. A rush of warmth spread through her at the touch of his lips, and it went on through her body and all the way out into her fingertips. Then, they let go of each other and exchanged one last smile before she was out the door.
As expected, the corridor two stories up, where her office was located, was quiet and empty. Normally, Armand Sylver would have stuck his head out the door as soon as he heard the sound of footsteps, and she’d get held up for a couple of minutes by his chit-chatting. Amos Diggory would most likely run from office to office in search of the Head of the department, Gwyn Stayner, and the door to Abigail Aldwinckle’s office would be open, as it prevented her missing out on any possible gossip. However, they were all on vacation, and Hermione couldn’t help but enjoy the silence, and the fact that she could walk through the corridor without being interrupted by Armand’s “Hermione! I was hoping I would run into you!” or Amos’ “You haven’t seen Gwyn by any chance, have you?” or Abigail’s “Have you heard what that woman did…?”
As she walked further down the corridor, Hermione noticed that while Abigail’s door was closed, another one was open – her own. She was just about to hurry through it and apologize to Draco for being late when the sound of voices stopped her. Her curiosity set in and she stopped outside the door, leaning forwards in an attempt to hear what was being said.
“… a shame for your family, that is!” The voice was dark, but Hermione was fairly sure it belonged to a woman.
“Oh, come on,” replied another voice. This one was familiar – it was Draco’s. “She’s actually quite nice to work with.”
“Yes, but what would your father say?” the woman argued. “He’s in Azkaban, serving time for standing up for his beliefs, and his own son is–“
“I’m not saying that I like working with Granger,” interrupted Draco quickly, his tone suddenly both colder and dryer. “She’s… I mean… Did you know that her boyfriend thought that I was in love with her?” He snorted scornfully before continuing: “As if I’d ever look at her that way. She may be nice and all, but she’s still a Mudblood.”
Hermione, realising that she had been holding her breath for the last minute or so, leaned back against the wall as she exhaled. She was mortified but unable to stop it when tears welled up in her eyes and began rolling down her cheeks; she couldn’t help but feel betrayed, naïve, and almost pathetic, because maybe she should have seen it all along.
But she hadn’t seen it. She had given Draco a chance, and even defended him to those who had thought it foolish. She had been so convinced that he had actually changed, that she had got into fights with Ron over it, and even gone to Draco for advice afterwards. And now it turned out that Ron had been right all along, because she was still a Mudblood, and Draco was still a Malfoy.
“I suppose I should get going,” said the woman now. “Send your mother my best, and remind her that you’re always welcome to stop by for a cup of tea…”
Hermione didn’t have time to react before two people had stepped out into the corridor – a middle-aged, short woman with curly, grizzled hair, and the tall, slim figure that Hermione knew as Malfoy’s. The woman stared at Hermione and her tear-stained cheeks for a few short seconds before turning her head and marching away down the corridor. Draco was just about to reach out and close the door after her when he saw Hermione too, and his silvery eyes widened as he froze in the middle of the movement.
“Hermione,” he said, “I don’t know what you heard, but I–“
“I heard enough,” said Hermione, wishing that her voice hadn’t sounded so frangible, “to tell you to get out of my office right now.”
“But you don’t understand,” Draco said. “That was one of my father’s old friends… Mrs Fawley… I had to…”
“You didn’t have to do anything,” said Hermione, pulling out her wand and pressing its tip against his chest to make up for the fact that her voice was still weak and shaky. “Are you going to leave voluntarily or do I have to hex you first?”
Malfoy held up his hand in a defensive position while backing out the door.
“But,” he said suddenly, “our project! The House-elves’ Working Conditions!”
“You can tell Gwyn that I can handle it myself! Just get out!”
Malfoy did as she said, and as soon as the door was closed behind him, Hermione stumbled over to her desk chair and sank into it, covered her face with her hands, and cried.
Ginny had looked forward to two things all day – spending the afternoon with her entire family, and her mother’s cooking. People often said that having a birthday got a lot less fun once you hit a certain age, but if that was the case, Ginny hadn’t reached it yet. Of course, when she had been little, the excitement had mostly been about getting presents, and now it was more about the people she got to spend the day with, and the fact that her mother would serve anything she asked for at the party. Hence, the lovely odour of chicken pot pie hit Ginny as soon as she stepped out of the fireplace in the Burrow, making her mouth water. She had barely set her feet down on the floor before she had been pulled into an almost rib-crushing hug.
“Oh, Ginny,” sobbed Mrs Weasley as she let go of her daughter. “Twenty years old! I can’t believe it… my youngest…”
“No happy birthday wishes today, then?” Ginny asked, raising one eyebrow just as Harry stepped out of the fireplace behind her.
“Harry, dear!” said Mrs Weasley, ignoring Ginny’s snide remark. “Did you sing for Ginny this morning?”
“Yes, he did,” Ginny said. “We had a lovely morning. Despite him being tone-deaf and all.”
She grinned at the dismayed look on Harry’s face, and he retorted with:
“Hey! How can you tell if I’m a good singer or not, when you are tone-deaf?”
In that very same second, the squeaking back door interrupted them, and George and Mr Weasley stepped inside. George nodded at Harry before staring in surprise at his younger sister.
“Gin! I had no idea that you’d be here!” he said. “What’s that, Dad? It’s her birthday? Well, aren’t I lucky? I just happened to take a walk around Diagon Alley during lunch yesterday and buy her a gift.”
“Did you now?” interrupted Angelina, who had just turned up behind them. “You’re not going to get any credit this time – I’m the one who picked it out, Ginny, he’d never be clever enough to come up with it…”
A grin spread over Angelina’s face as she brushed a wisp of her long, black hair, which had fallen out of her ponytail, out of her eyes. Ginny only had time to smile quickly back at her before a group of other people entered the room and began showering her in hugs, happy birthday wishes and gifts. Meanwhile, Mrs Weasley slipped back out into the kitchen to continue her cooking, and one by one, the others followed. Ginny was just about to leave the living room as well when green flames flared up in the fireplace behind her and made her turn around. Bill was just stepping out of it, and Victoire stooped forwards between his legs, grinning up at her aunt. Ginny bent down to give the little girl a hug as new flames arose. Only seconds later, Fleur stepped out onto the wooden floor.
“’Appy birzday, Ginny,” she said.
“Yeah, happy birthday,” Bill said, flinging out an arm that landed around Ginny’s shoulders. “Sorry we’re a bit late, but the Floo System isn’t quite as fast as Apparation.”
“Why did you use it, then?” asked Ginny as the four of them went out into the kitchen, where the rest of the party were waiting. Most years, Ginny’s birthday dinners were held in the garden, but after spotting a few suspiciously dark clouds on the August sky, Mrs Weasley had decided against it this year – she hadn’t wanted to repeat the mistake of Ginny’s tenth birthday, when they had invited a whole bunch of cousins and friends and sat down outside, only to be soaked by pouring rain before anyone had taken as much as one bite of the dessert.
Ginny’s question went unanswered as everyone greeted the new arrivals. Victoire, most likely deciding to make the fullest out of having everyone’s attention for once, started to dance and spin around in circles. As her relatives started clapping their hands, her dance moves became more and more intense, until she slipped and fell backwards. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to get hurt; she simply crawled back up on her feet, pointed both of her index fingers at her stomach and said:
Mrs Weasley, who was the only one, except for Ginny and Bill’s family, who hadn’t sat down at the table, put down the large salad bowl on the countertop and bent down next to her granddaughter.
“Do you have a baby in your tummy, dear?” she asked.
Victoire nodded proudly. Then, she span around, pointed at her mother’s stomach and called out the same thing: “Baby, baby!”
Bill and Fleur exchanged a quick look, and Ginny gasped. “Really?”
Bill took a step towards his sister. “Ginny, I’m sorry… we didn’t want to tell everyone on your birthday…”
The rest of his sentence was left unsaid, as Ginny had interrupted him by launching herself forwards and wrapping her arms around him. She was beaming with joy as she took a step backwards a few seconds later.
“You’re having another baby!” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to tell us? That’s the best birthday gift I can think of!”
George had left his seat at the table and was now slapping his eldest brother’s back with a grin on his face. “You just can’t keep your hands off your wife, can you?”
“George!” scolded Mrs Weasley. Then, her face softened as she turned to Bill and Fleur, tears already forming in the corners of her eyes. “I am so happy for you! When is the due date?”
“In ze beginning of January,” Fleur answered. “We are really ‘appy too!”
“We explained it to Victoire last night,” said Bill, casting an amused glance at his daughter, who was still dancing around by their feet. “You know, how Mummy has a baby in her tummy. And she quickly decided that she did too.”
Mr Weasley chuckled, rose to his feet and bent down to pick Victoire up. She immediately wrapped her arms around his neck and placed a smacking kiss on the tip of his nose.
“Grandpa,” she said happily. “My grandpa.”
“My little Victoire,” Mr Weasley replied with a smile on his face. “Are you excited to have a little brother or sister?”
Suddenly, Victoire looked very serious. She shook her head vigorously.
“But of course you are!” argued Percy. “It will be fun, to have someone to play with–“
“No!” interrupted Victoire. Her lower lip started to tremble, and then, she burst into tears. She reached out her arms towards Fleur, who took her from Mr Weasley’s arms and began hushing. “No brother or sister,” cried Victoire, “please, Mummy!”
“But eet is going to be fun,” Fleur said softly. “Eet is really fun to ‘ave a little brother or sister. We will get to bring ze baby ‘ome with us, and you can ‘elp me pick out clothes, and sing to ‘im or ‘er…”
“Bu-but,” Victoire sobbed, “who will sing to me?”
“I will,” Fleur answered. “And papa. We’ll sing to you and ze baby. We will have time for ze both of you.”
Victoire leaned her head against her mother’s shoulder and nodded.
“Great,” said Ron quickly. “Now that we’ve settled that, can we please eat? Congratulations on the baby, by the way. It’s not that I’m not happy for you, I just… I’m starving. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and I–“
“Don’t worry, Ron,” Bill said as he sat down next to Angelina. “We know how these things work with you – food first, and then you’ll share our happiness.”
Ginny laughed loudly at the comment before joining the others at the table. Her father sat down across from her, leaned over the table and placed a hand on her arm.
“So… did you get any special gifts today?” he asked, his lips curled into an indecipherable smile.
“Well… yeah, I suppose,” Ginny answered as a wrinkle formed on her forehead. “Teddy gave me this really cute drawing…”
“No,” said Mr Weasley, “I meant… did Harry get you anything special?”
Next to Ginny, Harry coughed loudly. Ginny turned her head to look at him while furrowing her eyebrows.
“Dad,” said George, “are you really asking her if she got it on with Harry this morning? That’s quite a weird thing to ask your child, isn’t it?”
Mr Weasley looked terrified, and Ginny could feel her blood rush to her face, colouring her cheeks dark red. Harry’s reaction nearly made her giggle, though – he instantly pushed his chair a couple of inches away from hers, and when she looked over at him, he refused to meet her eyes.
“Of course not!” said Mr Weasley, whose cheeks were as red as his daughter’s. “That’s not what I was asking about…”
Like all other members of her family, Mrs Weasley looked both embarrassed and uncomfortable as well, and she seemed to be fighting an internal battle – one part of her wanted to yell at George, and the other wanted to spare her husband the humility by quickly changing the subject. She hadn’t decided on which side to act on when she opened her mouth, and felt like the words formed themselves as she said:
“Fleur… would you rather have a boy or a girl this time? Have you thought of names yet?”
“No, it doesn’t matter… well, per’aps William is ‘oping for a Mini-Bill again?” Fleur said, casting a glance at her husband.
Bill shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “Last time I thought I wanted a boy, but then we had Victoire… so it really doesn’t matter to me either. Whatever we have, that is what I’ll want.”
“Well, how about that,” George said, playfully pinching Ron’s arm. “If Mum had been that reasonable, you may never have been born!”
“What do you mean by that, George?” said Mrs Weasley, her eyes narrowed.
Much to her surprise, Percy stepped in to defend his brother. “Oh, come on,” he said. “It’s quite obvious that you wanted a girl… so you kept going until you had one.”
Mrs Weasley’s stern gaze wandered between her sons as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll have you know,” she said, “that each one of you is equally desired. I have been blessed to have so many children, and I’ll always be grateful for it. Were your father and I thrilled to find out that Ginny was a girl? Yes, of course! But it doesn’t mean that we wanted her more than any of you boys.”
“Can you please tell ze story of ze day Ginny was born?” asked Fleur, placing a hand on the barely visible bulge under her blouse. “’Ow was it, when you realised zat she was a girl?”
“Well, we had both started to think that we didn’t have the genes that you need to have a daughter,” Mrs Weasley said with a smile. “We didn’t bother to get any clothes for a girl, thinking that the baby could just inherit his brother’s old ones…”
“And I was responsible for everyone else when you and Dad went to St. Mungo’s that day,” Bill remembered. “Just imagine, being in charge of three-year-old Fred and George – I still think I deserve a medal for keeping them from burning down the house or something. And there was Ron to look out for as well – he was only a year and a half, and he wouldn’t sit still for one second. And of course, Charlie was no help at all!”
“Yes, I remember that too!” Percy said. “You yelled at me when I went up to my room to read, and I wouldn’t have dared to go against what you said, like Charlie did…”
“That was a good thing,” said Bill. “If you hadn’t helped, Mum and Dad probably wouldn’t have had a house to bring the baby back to!”
“At the hospital, when the healer told me it was a girl…” Mr Weasley cleared his throat before continuing: “I thought that she must have been mistaken, so I asked her to check again… and then I walked over to the bed to tell Molly…”
A small trip down memory lane turned into a two-hour journey, after which most of Mr and Mrs Weasley’s children returned to their own homes. Harry and Ginny accepted Mrs Weasley’s offer to stay a bit longer and have another cup of tea, but Ron and Hermione decided to follow Ron’s brothers’ example and head off.
The two of them walked from the Burrow, to get out of the Non-Disapparation zone, in silence. It was getting darker outside, and the air was thick and muggy, as if a thunderstorm was lurking around the corner. Hermione sped up, and Ron did the same; neither one of them wanted to still be there once it started to rain.
Since they were walking in silence, Ron had a lot of time to collect his thoughts. Fearing that the whole thing with Malfoy earlier that week had upset Hermione more than she wanted him to know, he had decided that he had to get her to talk about it. Each time he had tried to, however, Hermione had simply cut him off, hissed at him, or quickly changed the subject. But his previous failed attempts didn’t stop Ron from giving it another try when they returned to their flat that night; hence, instead of going straight to bed, which was what he felt like doing, he followed Hermione into the kitchen, where she immediately began cleaning the dishes that he had left in the sink that same morning.
“I can do that,” Ron offered.
“It’s fine,” said Hermione shortly. “I don’t mind doing it.”
Ron shrugged, pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. “So, another baby,” he said. “That’s exciting, right?”
“Yes, really exciting!” answered Hermione, her voice a lot softer now. “I’m so happy for Bill and Fleur – and for Victoire. It will be great for her to have a little brother or sister to play with. I can tell that she gets really bored whenever Teddy is not around. Being an only child, I know how that can be…”
“Yeah,” Ron mumbled. Then, he took a deep breath and said in an attempted casual tone: “So… any signs of Malfoy at work today?”
Hermione turned her head to meet his eyes. “You already asked me that, when you got home today,” she said. “The answer is still no.”
“And you haven’t asked Gwyn about it? Maybe she knows something… maybe he resigned?”
“I really don’t care,” said Hermione, turning back around and continuing to frantically scrub the remains of scrambled eggs off of Ron’s plate. “In fact, I’d love it if he just never showed his face at the Ministry again…”
“But you were friends,” said Ron tentatively.
“No, we weren’t. I thought we were, but no. Will you please just let it go? I’m sick of talking about him; like I said, I really don’t care where he is.”
She placed the clean plate in one of the cabinets, turned around and walked out of the kitchen. In the doorway, she stopped and turned around. “Are you coming to bed, or are you going to sit there all night?”
Ron sighed and stood up. Maybe she really didn’t care about Malfoy and what she had heard him say, but he still found it strange that she was so untroubled about the whole thing. To him, it seemed like it was just a mask that she wore to disguise the fact that she was really heartbroken over having been proven wrong when she had put all of her faith in someone. A yawn interrupted Ron’s thoughts, and he turned out the lights in the kitchen before following Hermione into the bedroom. He was almost positive that she would need to talk about it at some point, but he was terribly tired, and there was always tomorrow.
A/N: As always, I want to thank you all for reading my story. As I'm writing this, it's the second most viewed story on this site during September, and that just blows my mind. I would never have even considered the possibility of so many people wanting to read something that I have written before, and it makes me feel so proud! Also, thank you so, so much for the continuing support! You really do give me all the energy and encouragement I need to keep on writing, and I don't think I can explain how much I appreciate it.
If you've got the time, please let me know what you thought of this chapter. I really do care a lot about your opinions - for example, I have decided to change some things around and bring in a little action/adventure to year 4, because a few of you suggested it. So thank you, both for encouraging and supporting me, and for helping me make a better story (because I do think that it will be better this way). You all deserve the biggest of hugs!! :)
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