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Chapter 4 : Chapter Four
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“Are your cupcakes still safe?” Hermione asked, getting out of the car and picking up the two bottles of French wine she had selected methodically for the occasion.
“They look to be,” Ginny replied, smiling at her sister-in-law. It had been Hermione’s suggestion to carpool rather than use the Floo Network or Apparate to the party. If anyone would notice a little smudged frosting, it would undoubtedly be Fleur.
“Good,” Hermione said. The two women approached the cottage, and Ginny grinned as she caught sight of her brother chasing his oldest daughter around the beach. She felt James tugging at her hand and relented, letting him go join the other children.
Fleur sported carefully tousled beach hair and natural-looking makeup, but her expression betrayed the stress that planning the birthday party had caused her. She moved quickly around her small kitchen in a blue lace dress, checking the oven, stirring the vegetables cooking on the stove, and darting back and forth from the refrigerator to the counter. When Ginny and Hermione walked in, Ginny spotted Fleur’s mother sitting at the head of the table, talking endlessly to Fleur about how she should send Victoire back to Paris next summer to make influential friends and meet people on the board at Beauxbatons. Her chatter blended in seamlessly with the light French tune playing in the background. Next to her, Arthur Weasley was entertaining Ron, Molly and Rose with a squeaky rubber duck.
When her mother looked up and caught Ginny’s eye, she immediately stood up, embracing both her and Hermione in one fell swoop. “Girls! You’re finally here!”
Ginny smiled, giving her mother a hug back with one arm. Over Molly’s shoulder, she noticed Fleur turn around, exposing a growing belly. She looked slightly impatient, though she attempted to mask it with a smile. “Did you bring the cupcakes?”
“Yeah, they’re here.” Ginny handed the pan over.
Fleur inspected the cupcakes, frowning a little. “You frosted them?”
“Sure. Otherwise they’d just be like sweet muffins.”
“I was going to do it. I bought pastel colors and sprinkles.”
“I’m sorry,” Ginny said, biting her lip. She had tried too hard to please her sister-in-law, whose grace and experience still made her feel like an inadequate little girl. Still, the cupcakes had turned out beautifully, and Fleur seemed busy enough without having to finish them off. In fact, judging by the smell, her roast was about to catch fire, a fact that Ginny gingerly pointed out to her now. As Fleur flew over to the oven, saying a few choice words under her breath, Ginny sank down next to Harry and took the baby from him.
“He’s getting big, dear,” Molly commented, patting Ginny on the hand with a slightly wrinkled smile. Ginny returned the gesture, turning Albus around so that he could see his grandmother better. She and her mother had a very close relationship, and in times like these she was especially thankful for that. No matter how beautiful and accomplished the women were who married her brothers, Ginny could count on always having a special place in her mother’s heart. It was a comforting thought.
“How are things going? Did you see Dr. Wesclox?” Hermione whispered from behind her, where she was unloading the wine into the pantry and away from the children.
Ginny turned around, letting her father distract Albus with silly expressions. She nodded at Hermione. “It’s okay. She’s nice. I enjoyed talking with her.”
“Good,” Hermione replied. She looked expectantly at Ginny, as if she hoped to hear more of what happened during the conversation with the therapist, but Ginny said nothing more, pretending to watch Fleur tossing the salad in front of the counter. Ginny wasn’t even sure she wanted to continue therapy, despite having already arranged a second appointment, and she really didn’t feel comfortable sharing the details of the prior evening with anyone, not even her well-meaning sister-in-law.
Bill paused outside the window, picking up a delightfully squealing one-year-old Dominique and cradling her playfully over one shoulder. “Are you going to have a commentary in the next issue of the Prophet, Gin?”
“I’m not sure,” Ginny said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable under so much attention. Still, she was grateful to Bill for giving her an excuse to change the subject.
“Ah, well, I’ll keep an eye out for it,” Bill replied, moving away and putting Dominique down—though not before turning her on her head briefly.
“I think it’s much better for you, Ginny. I’m glad you aren’t up in the air anymore.” Percy’s voice came from the corner by the door, where he was helping his daughter Molly scrape the sand from her shoes. “If you take a bad fall or break something, your career is over in a minute. Writing is much more stable, I’m sure, and safer.”
Ginny forced a smile; she knew her brother meant well, but he was a bit overzealous when it came to exercising his cautious opinion. She blamed it on not having anyone at the Ministry or Hogwarts to boss around anymore.
Molly’s attention now turned to her new granddaughter, and Fleur began conversing with Hermione by the stove about any possible connection between the unpleasant symptoms she’d experienced with her current pregnancy and the gender of the baby. Charlie came in from the beach and sat on Harry’s other side, showing him photos from the dragon preserve and talking excitedly about his new idea for a program to breed cross-species babies. Just as Fleur began setting the side dishes down on the table, Angelina and George came in, taking the two remaining seats at the end of the table. Ginny resisted the urge to go over to them and demand to look at Angelina’s beautiful diamond engagement ring. She still found it hard to believe sometimes how George made so much money doing such a fun, seemingly easy job.
The family enjoyed a delicious lunch of salad, soup, braised roast, and vegetables. Afterwards, Hermione and Ron’s bottles of wine were opened and the cupcakes were passed around. Fleur even begrudgingly admitted that Ginny frosting the cupcakes ahead of time had saved her valuable minutes in the meal preparation process. Between the wine and the crowd in the tiny cottage, however, Ginny’s stomach had begun to hurt. As the children argued over who would get second cupcakes, she wrapped her sweater closer around her and walked out to the shore.
The wind lifted Ginny’s hair off her shoulders and sent a slight chill rippling down her bare legs. She was alone on the beach, as it was the time of year when people on holiday reluctantly went back indoors and put away their swimsuits for the season. She removed her shoes and let the sand fill in the gaps between her painted toes as she walked past many sets of circling, child-sized footprints. Ginny smiled wryly, remembering when she once played on the sand in Egypt with her older brothers. Like now, the breeze had quickly ruined any remnant of their presence that day.
She came to a stop close to where the waves were breaking, already anticipating the autumn chill in the water. As Ginny stared at the horizon, where the sun shone weakly against a backdrop of gray clouds, she couldn’t help but recall the frightening image of the diary waiting for her on the attic floor. Despite turning it over time and again in her mind, she could not identify whose handwriting had soiled its first page; at times she was confident that his handwriting had looked much different, but sometimes she was troubled by the fact that she no longer possessed any evidence of her possession, no way of confirming or rejecting her worst fear. Harry had locked up the attic, reassuring her as he did so that she didn’t need to worry about going through their things until the children were older and she had more free time, but she did not know what had become of the journal. Hopefully it was gone.
But what I am going to tell the therapist? she realized, feeling a surge of panic rising up in her chest. She’ll want to know why I haven’t been keeping track of my progress, and I’ll tell her everything, I just know it, I’m so weak…
Clenching her fists at her sides, Ginny took a shaky breath. This time, her inhale and exhale didn’t feel as good as the cool wind on her skin. She wondered if maybe it would feel good to just put her feet in the water, to wash off the sand and let the cold sensation distract her from the flush that decorated her chest and neck.
She stepped forward, flinching at first when the cold water touched the tips of her toes. Still, she moved further into the water until her feet were completely covered. Ginny could feel the waves gently tickling her feet, and she continued, not noticing the hem of her dress beginning to soak up some of the water.
She was mid-shiver when something rough caressed her legs, weaving past her with the slightest brush of skin. Ginny froze. She looked down at the water, but she couldn’t see anything. It’s only a fish, she told herself, but what she had felt had larger scales than anything likely to be found this close to the shoreline. Ginny closed her eyes, willing her thoughts away. She had just wanted peace and quiet—
Everything went black.
She fell backwards, smacking the palms of her hands against a hard surface. When she looked down to check her wounds, she saw dark stone underneath her and bloodstains on her wrinkled Hogwarts robes. Ginny looked up and stared wildly at the ornate stone figure before her, mouth wide open as if to swallow her whole.
No, please, it can’t be.
A roar bounced from wall to wall in the Chamber of Secrets, the water surrounding her sloshing back and forth to match it, and for a fleeting moment Ginny begged for a Gryffindor lion to come to her rescue. But no savior came this time, only a monstrous green serpent with a flickering tongue and—
Ginny moved backwards, shielding her eyes with one hand and propelling herself along with the other. Her whole body hurt, and she wasn’t sure if she could walk, but she ignored the pain. She had to get away, to force the snake to miss when it struck.
Just as the basilisk paused and readied its aim, however, another roar sounded, and waves came crashing down all around them. Ginny did not even have time to thank the fates for sparing her life and putting space between her and the serpent’s fangs. Her mouth, still half-open in shock, filled with water. The last thing she felt was her body lifting off the floor, the cold sinking into her bones with a sick sense of finality.
“Ginny! Ginny!” Harry was screaming her name.
She opened her eyes to see her family standing around her. The sounds of children playing and her brothers arguing about Quidditch were gone. Ron released his grip on her shoulders, and Harry stared at her in shock from his place down by her feet.
“Sweetheart, it’s not safe for you to go out that far by yourself. The waves out here are powerful,” her father said, frowning down at her. His face looked quite pale.
“Yeah, last week a riptide almost got Victoire,” Bill said with a frown.
Ginny felt the flush return to her chest, only this time it was due to embarrassment rather than anxiety. She felt like a little girl again and had to actively resist the urge to complain about being treated like a baby. “Is that what happened?” she asked, coughing and spitting some seawater out of her mouth.
“I guess. You were drifting out to sea. Ron barely caught you before you went under.” Hermione was holding Albus with James standing shakily at her side. Ginny had to clear her mind of jealousy, seeing her sister-in-law standing there with barely a hair out of place. Was she the only one who didn’t have her life perfectly together?
They shrouded her in a blanket and—to Ginny’s combined relief and humiliation—Harry announced that he wanted to take his wife and children home to rest. Ginny didn’t even have a chance to put on a polite air and thank Fleur for inviting them to such a lovely party. Harry coaxed her into Side-Along Apparition, the two of them cradling the children precariously between them as they went.
He spoke as soon as they touched down inside their kitchen. “Are you all right?”
“Sure,” Ginny said, trying to regain her composure. “I was lucky. I’ll be okay.”
“It’s just that last night was a bit rough for you, too—the thing with the attic.”
“I know. But it’s really all right. I’ve just been a bit stressed, being a new mum again.”
Harry moved over next to her, gently taking her hand. “Well, there’s no need to worry. You’ve done a great job with James so far and Albus will be no different. Take whatever time you need during the day to relax. It would only take me a few minutes when I get home to cook dinner and clean up the house if you needed my help.” He kissed her cheek softly, causing a delicate shiver to run pleasantly up her spine, and Ginny immediately wished the feeling would last. “You deserve to take some time for yourself, Gin. If you want to talk about anything, I’m here for you.”
“I will, I promise,” she said, squeezing his hand for good measure. “Thanks, Harry.”
“Why don’t I see about putting the boys to bed? They’ve had a full day.” With a sad-looking smile, he moved upstairs, cradling the baby and taking James by the hand.
When he was mostly out of earshot, Ginny sighed. She wished she could just find the courage to tell him the truth about what had been happening. Maybe I’ve kept it for too long, though… maybe he’ll think I’ve gone mad. Maybe he’ll be cross with me. She settled into a chair at the table, staring absently at the dark clouds forming outside. They’d surely play host to a wicked fall thunderstorm tonight.
She moved her arm into a more comfortable position and brushed something on the table. Looking down, she noticed a letter with her name on it. She looked back up at the window, which she now noticed was open. The owl must have come earlier. Putting aside any irrational fears, Ginny tore the letter open.
I’d love to meet for tea and chat. Perhaps you have some insider secrets you could share with me – I used to follow your games when I was at Hogwarts. Just send a reply with a suggestion for the time and place and I’ll gladly meet you there.
Looking forward to seeing you,
Hillary B. Essex
Ginny smiled, happy that the day hadn’t been a total waste. She felt far too tired to think about making plans with the young Chaser just yet, but she would need to put on a good face and work hard if she wanted to get her article into the paper.
She folded the letter back into the envelope and took it upstairs, passing Harry as he told James a story about slaying a mountain troll in the girls’ lavatory and walking into her office. She opened the desk, putting the letter next to Dr. Wesclox’s card. Perhaps, she thought, it would be best to give therapy another try. Even if she couldn’t reach a point where she could feel comfortable telling Harry the whole truth, she could at least vent her feelings safely and emerge feeling more composed. She was not about to tarnish the successful, talented image Hillary once had of her. Ginny locked the drawer non-verbally, intending to get some sleep that night at last.
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