Chapter 34 : Year 4: Plans and schemes
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Yes, Ginny thought sarcastically as she browsed through her parents’ calendar, it really was a brilliant plan. As if it wasn’t enough that she hadn’t heard from him since he left three days previous, or that every time the engagement ring on her finger caught her eyes, she found herself wondering if a wedding ring would ever actually join it… if he’d make it home this time.
Ginny constantly found herself fiddling with the ring, going back in her mind to that last moment before the news of Finland had ruined it. She and Harry had stayed at platform 9 3/4 for another hour after his proposal; she had conjured a mattress of soft moss in the middle of the petals covering the floor, and they had laid down on it, looking up at the enchanted branches that were their roof, and just talked.
“It’s my parents wedding anniversary,” Harry had told her, and he had showed her the inscription on the ring. Ginny couldn’t quite remember the exact words he had used next, but he had said to her that she was the only person he could imagine giving his mother’s ring to. Instead of replying, Ginny had leaned in and kissed him; she knew that he had understood her gratitude even though she hadn’t spelled it out to him.
Then, she had said: “I’ll tell you this much. This ring is the only heirloom that will make it into our wedding. I am not going to wear my mum’s old dress, no matter how many times she begs me.”
This had made Harry laugh. “Deal,” he had said. “Do you know what kind of a wedding you want?”
“Growing up, I always imagined having it at the Burrow,” Ginny had admitted. “I know that’s what both Bill and George did, but I thought their weddings were really nice, and I–“
“The Burrow it is, then,” Harry had interrupted. “And you know… I always imagined living in a house when I’m married. I think we should get one, before the wedding. My parents wouldn’t mind it if I spent the money they left me on a house, right?”
“Well, you don’t have to pay for it yourself,” Ginny had said determinedly. “I’m a professional Quidditch player, you know. The pay is all right.”
“Okay,” Harry had smiled. “You know, maybe we can even give Teddy his own room in our house! Of course, we’ll have to save a couple of bedrooms for our future children…”
Ginny had bitten her lip and smiled at his comment. “Our future children, eh? Tell me more about them.”
“I’m thinking that we’ll have three or four,” Harry had said. “Preferably boys. And we’ll play Quidditch with them in our backyard, just like you used to do…”
“Just boys?” Ginny had said, raising an eyebrow. “I grew up in a house full of men. Don’t I deserve to have a couple of daughters after putting up with that?”
“Hm,” Harry had responded while turning his head to look at her. “Maybe you do. But I wouldn’t know how to raise a girl! Boys would be easier, because I am one, and we already look after Teddy a lot… Besides, everyone is always saying how hard it is for a dad to watch his daughter grow up. Don’t I deserve some peace and quiet in my life, for once?”
“You’d hate peace and quiet,” Ginny had said with a grin. “You’d get bored after a week. How about we agree to just let nature decide the gender of our children? There’s not much we can do about it anyway.”
Looking up, Ginny realized that she wasn’t in fact back at King’s Cross Station with Harry, but in her mother’s kitchen, and everyone was looking at her, waiting for her to say something. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t catch that.”
Her mother crossed her arms over her chest. “I said: how about a winter wedding? We could decorate with large snowflakes, and everyone will be home for Christmas anyway. Charlie said he’d might even bring a girl this year!”
Ginny shook her head. “And risk having Fleur’s water break in the middle of the ceremony? I don’t think so. And Harry and I have already talked about getting married here, in our backyard. We won’t be able to do that if there’s snow everywhere, will we?”
“So Harry actually had an opinion about it?” Angelina asked as she looked up from the pile of cut-outs from Witch Weekly that she had been assigned to go through (it was an impressive pile; it seemed that Mrs Weasley had started to cut out anything wedding-related sometime during the middle of the 70’s, and never stopped since). “Wow. You’re a lucky girl, Ginny. Every time I asked what George thought about something he told me that the only thing he’d do was show up. The rest was up to me.”
“I’ve always been told that the bride and groom should do half each of the preparations,” said Luna, who was standing over by the window, looking out at the spot where both Bill and George had tied the knot. Her long hair was tied together with a piece of purple yarn, and she was dressed in a strange-looking, fringy creation that made Ginny think of a hay bale. Now, she turned around and smiled sympathetically at Angelina. “If they don’t, that usually means that the marriage won’t make it past the first five years.”
Angelina looked depreciative, but dived back into the pile of cut-outs instead of replying. Meanwhile, Mrs Weasley placed a kettle on the stove and put the tip of her wand to it, quickly filling it up with water. “Ginny,” she said for what must have been the third time that day. “Can’t you at least consider wearing Grandma Prewett’s old wedding dress? I wore it, my mother did, and her mother, and it would be such a shame to just let it go to waste… you’d look so lovely, I know you would! And I know it’s a bit more traditional than what you might have had in mind, but…”
“A bit more traditional?” Ginny said. “Mum, it’s from the nineteenth century! And I don’t care how many of our relatives have worn it, because it’s still hideous!”
Mrs Weasley looked a little hurt, but she shrugged and nodded before turning back to the stove. Then, perhaps feeling Hermione’s eyes on her, she lifted her head again. “Maybe you’ll wear it, dear,” she said. “When you and Ron get married.”
Ginny put down the calendar and placed an arm around Hermione’s shoulder. “Don’t promise anything,” she warned her. “That woman has the memory of a… a…”
“A Crumple-Horned Snorkack?” suggested Luna helpfully.
Ginny smiled. “Let’s just say she might as well be a living Pensieve,” she said. “She never forgets a thing.”
Hermione laughed along with the others before turning back to the long piece of parchment in front of her, which was full of her own neat handwriting. But instead of picking up the quill and continuing to write down names of people she thought that Harry and Ginny would want to invite to their wedding, she thought of Ron. Perhaps she would consider wearing Mrs Weasley’s old wedding dress… if they ever would get married. She wasn’t sure if Ron would ever settle the matter and actually propose to her, and it worried her a bit. Sure, they were still young – she was twenty two and he was twenty one – but they had been together for four years, and there had been no break in their relationship like the one Harry and Ginny had had. And sure, they were already living together, but Hermione would never hear Ron talk about their future. Not even after their best friends got engaged did he mention something about the two of them ever doing the same thing. Of course, Hermione knew that he loved her, but she also thought that it would have been nice to get it confirmed. Most of all, it would be nice to get at least a hint from Ron that their relationship would eventually go the same way as Harry and Ginny’s; she didn’t need to get a ring on her finger tomorrow, but she wanted to know that it would happen one day.
“How about April?” Mrs Weasley said, waking Hermione from her thoughts. “The garden always looks nice in April.”
Ginny thought about it for a few seconds before nodding. “Yes, I like that idea, Mum.”
“And have you thought about bridesmaids?”
“Well, I already asked Hermione to be maid of honour,” Ginny replied, exchanging a quick smile with her best friend before continuing: “And there’s Luna, of course. And Angelina, I was your bridesmaid, and I’d love to have you as mine…”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Angelina quickly. “I was okay with being in my own wedding, but I think I prefer to just watch.”
“Alright, if you’re sure…” Ginny answered with a shrug. “I think Harry is going to ask George to be one of the groomsmen, you know…”
“I’m sure,” said Angelina and smiled. "George is a big boy; I'm sure he can manage standing up there without me."
“I’d like to ask Heather too,” Ginny continued. “From the team. And it would be great if we could include Teddy in some way. Mum, do you think he could be the ring bearer?”
“I think that would be lovely,” her mother replied. “And how about Victoire as the flower girl? She’ll be old enough, don’t you reckon? I remember when my cousin Finn got married, and they had a little girl spread rose petals all the way down the aisle before the bride - it was lovely.”
“That sounds perfect,” Ginny said. “Hermione, we could have the same petals that you and Harry had put at the platform when he proposed! Right?”
“Of course,” Hermione said, smiling at the excited look on the redhead’s face and ignoring her own concerns – she wasn’t going to rain on Ginny’s parade, no matter how concerned she may have been for hers and Ron’s future. Besides, she was quite sure that if Ginny had been able to read her mind in that moment, she would have laughed and told her that she was just being silly. Perhaps, she thought as her gaze flickered to the Weasley family clock and Ron’s hand on it, which was still pointing to ‘travelling,’ she should really be worrying about what might happen in Finland. She wasn’t used to not being included; during their Hogwarts years, she had always been right there, in the middle of the heat of the battle. Sitting at home and waiting was new to her, and she hated the silence in hers and Ron’s flat, and the fact that she couldn’t quite express her fears to Ginny, because she didn’t want to make her friend feel any worse. In fact, she had caught herself wanting to talk to someone else earlier that day, when she had been sitting in her office and writing a letter to one of the Wizarding families who was still refusing to let her come talk to their house-elf. In that moment, she had wondered what Draco might have told her if he had still been working with her, and if maybe, just maybe, it would have made her feel better.
Ron’s feet hurt. Every step he took was torment, and he felt like every rock or tree root he stepped on cut into his sore soles. To make matters worse, he had accidentally set his right foot down in a hole filled with water a short while ago, and so one of his trainers was soaked. He would have got out his wand and dried it, but it was tucked in under the many layers of shirts and cloaks he was wearing to shield himself from the raw, damp, cold air, and he was sure that the others wouldn’t wait if he stopped to try to take it out. He was already half a step behind the others; he struggled to keep up and was quite scared of the thought of losing sight of Neville’s back in between the large, tall trees that all looked the same, and the densely grown thickets all around them.
Since arriving at the Scandinavian Ministry three days earlier, the group of Aurors had done nothing but walk. One of the Finnish Aurors had taken them to a spot that, in Ron’s mind, seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, where she had left them after announcing that they wouldn’t be able to get any closer to the Death Eaters’ head quarter with any magical means of transportation, as they suspected that the Death Eaters were tracking the area.
“Wait,” Ron had said after hearing this. “How are we supposed to get there, then?”
The Finnish woman, whom Ron had considered quite pretty until that moment, smiled and tipped her head to the side, as if she was talking to a child when she responded: “You walk, of course.”
And then she had left them. Ron had started to question her credibility, thinking that she was just trying to lead them astray. He didn’t understand why none of the Scandinavian Aurors were coming with them, but Harry and Seamus had laughed at his concern when he had put words to it.
“You’re just mad because you’re tired of walking,” Harry had grinned.
And rightly so, Ron had thought bitterly. Now, as he looked around, he sighed heavily before increasing his speed – he really didn’t want to fall too far behind. If he’d get lost here, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever find it back. This wasn’t just an area with trees growing closely together, and there were no separate elements or plants. It was a forest, melted together into one being after hundreds, maybe thousands of years of growing. Roots, stretching towards each other for so long that they had become part of each other; moss, not growing upon but with the trunks; the soil and the sun, far up above that thick roof of branches and needles, maintaining the life in this one of the few places on earth that was still completely untouched by man.
There were no paths to walk on, only uneven ground. Every other step, Ron was sure that he would fall and land head first on a rock or a thick root, deviously hidden beneath a layer of soft green. All of his attention as he walked was turned towards wherever he was setting his feet, and all he was thinking about was how long it might be before Gawain or Dawlish would decide that it was time for another break. He had tried humming for a while, but quickly grew sick of hearing his own voice. Now, all that could be heard was the sound of little twigs breaking underneath everyone’s feet, the occasional swish of the branches above their heads as a breeze swept by, and Jack Marwick’s never-ending whistling.
Ron was just thinking that his feet must be bleeding when he realized that everyone else had stopped a few yards ahead, and that Gawain had transfigured a small rock into a chair, and a smaller one into a footrest, complete with a midnight blue padding.
Not even bothering to get out his own wand to do the same thing, Ron sank to the ground right next to Harry, leaning his back against one of the smaller tree trunks. Just as his head touched the bark, something jumped onto him, and he flew back up to his feet and started wagging his arms around, his eyes closed as something sharp kept poking him right next to his eyebrow.
“Get off me!” he yelled. “Get off, get off…”
Suddenly, whatever thing was on his face was gone, and he peered suspiciously with one eye still closed, looking around to see what had just happened. Harry was standing next to him, holding a tiny creature between his fingers. Ron recognized it from Care of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts; it greatly resembled a stickman, and its long fingers (which were probably the sharp things that had just tried to poke Ron’s eyes out) were twitching, trying to get Harry to loosen his grip around one of its bark-like legs.
“A Bowtruckle, is it?” asked Seamus curiously, stretching his neck to see better from his spot by Gawain’s feet. “It probably lives in that tree.”
“Yes,” said John Dawlish, who was still standing up, “and they’re very protective of their habitats. You’d do best not to intrude, Weasley.”
“It’s not like I knew I was intruding,” muttered Ron, but he started groping for his wand in order to conjure a chair like the one Gawain was sitting on, rather than testing his chances with another tree. “I don’t exactly fancy getting my eyes poked out…”
“So what are we having for dinner today?” asked Jack Marwick, who had been in a bad mood ever since their mission had started – Ron suspected it might have something to do with the fact that out in the forest, he couldn’t keep his hair soft and wavy like it usually was. The way Marwick kept smoothing out his hair, and his annoyance when he had seen his own reflection in the shiny clasp of Neville’s winter cloak, only strengthened this theory.
“Same as yesterday,” Dawlish said, hustling one of his bags. A clicking sound hinted of the many cans he was carrying in it, all of which were full of compressed, rather tasteless meals. They weren’t exactly good, but with his stomach constantly growling for food, Ron would have found anything delicious.
“We might as well sleep here tonight,” said Gawain as he looked around. “Harry, Ronald… would you mind taking a look around, to make sure we’re alone? And cast the protective spells?”
Ron, who had just made himself a very comfortable-looking chair out of two rocks and a little bit of moss, frowned at having to walk even more, but followed Harry without complaining.
“Do you think the girls will be worried?” he asked as they walked further away from the others.
“Probably not as worried as your mum,” Harry answered while raising his wand to cast the spells. “I hope they’re not,” he added as he began walking again a few moments later. “Hopefully, they're keeping each other busy.”
“Yeah,” Ron agreed, grimacing as he climbed across a large rock and put all of his sore muscles to use. “How long do you reckon it will be before we get to go back?”
“It all depends on how things go, I suppose,” Harry answered. It was getting late, and darker – Ron couldn’t quite distinguish his mate’s facial features when he turned around and continued: “Gawain said we probably don’t have that long left until we’re there. That’s when it all begins. I mean, we don’t even know how many Death Eaters will be there, or how well protected it will be…”
“I know,” Ron said and nodded, even though Harry was no longer looking at him. “I just… I miss home, you know? I miss Hermione.”
“Yeah. I miss Gin, too. She is…” Suddenly, Harry fell silent.
“She’s what?” Ron asked, but Harry didn’t answer.
“Do you hear that?” he said instead.
Ron looked around – the tall trees were getting spookier by the minute, as darkness took over, and he felt a strong urge to turn around and go back to the others. A loud crack nearly gave him a heart attack, before he realized that it was Harry who had made a sudden movement and broken a branch in the process. Then, without warning, Harry started to run.
“Where are you going?” Ron called after him, and then he started running too. “Harry!”
But there was no reply; just the silhouette of Harry’s tall, skinny figure as it disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
As darkness fell over England too, Hermione and the other girls left the Burrow to go back home. She returned to a dark and empty flat and wished again for Ron to come home; if he’d stumble in through the door right in that moment, Hermione thought as she turned on the light, she wouldn’t care about his lack of commitment, and she’d never get upset over their relationship moving slower than Harry and Ginny’s again. If he’d only come home, right now… She stared at the front door for a few seconds before joggling and shaking her head. It had only been three days, after all; it wasn’t that much, and it would probably take a little longer before she’d hear from him. They’re fine, she told herself inwardly as she went out into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. Of course they won’t have time to send letters. But if someone had got hurt, I would have known it by now.
With her teacup in one hand and a book in the other, Hermione walked into her bedroom. She changed into her pyjamas and braided her hair before crawling in under the covers. She had just got comfortable when a tapping sound made her lift her head; she knew instantly that an owl was at the window, and she practically flew over to open it. Could it be that Ron had actually written to her, after all? She stroked the bird’s beak quickly before taking the envelope that was tied around its leg. As soon as she saw the writing on it, her heart sank into her chest – she would have recognized Ron’s penmanship in a heartbeat, but this wasn’t his. Without giving up completely on the hope that it might still be news of their mission, though, Hermione quickly tore the envelope open and began reading the letter.
To Miss Hermione Granger,
I am probably the last person you expected to receive a letter from, just as I never expected to find myself here, in my kitchen while my son is sleeping, writing a letter to you. And yet, when it comes to my son I often find myself doing things I never thought I would, going to lengths I never thought I’d reach. So here I am, writing this letter, of which he shall never now, but a letter that I have to write nonetheless.
I’m sure you know what happened to our family after the war. My husband has spent nearly four years in Azkaban now, and Draco and I have struggled to get by without him. Do not think I am looking for pity here; I know that we brought this on ourselves. We chose the wrong side, and this loneliness, this solitude, is the price that we pay. It has brought my son and I closer together – that’s what you do when times are hard, isn’t it? You turn to your family.
However, there is one family member to whom I have not been able to turn until very recently. She was about your age when she decided to turn her back on us. I was younger, still at Hogwarts, and it broke my heart. I felt so betrayed, and yet, I admired her strength. She had always been my hero, but when my father told me to hate her for it, I did. She didn’t come to his funeral, and Lucius reinforced that sense of hate inside me by commenting on it. Shortly after my graduation and my father’s death, she had a baby – a girl. I never wished to see my niece until Draco was born, and I felt an unexpected urge to compare him to his cousin, to discuss motherhood with the younger of my older sisters. Yes, of course that’s whom I’m talking about – my sister, Andromeda. But you are known to be clever, so I’m sure you figured it out after my first line.
You see, I may think that I lost a lot during the war, but then I think of my sister, my childhood hero. Before this war, she had a husband and a daughter. During it, she gained a son-in-law and a grandson. Now she’s left, widowed with an orphan boy to raise and no family left. It has been growing in me ever since the war ended, the desire to speak to her, to mend the family bond, and to reach out a hand to her after all these years. But I know my sister. I know her pride, her stubbornness, her inalterable ways. And none of them would as much as consider accepting that hand stretched out in her direction.
This knowledge is what led me to do what I did; the knowledge that it would take more than an apologetic facial expression or a pitiful smile to make her open up her door to me. That’s why I asked Draco to reach out to you – that way, when I finally reached out to Andromeda, I hoped she would have heard that Draco had changed, and so my chances of getting a fresh start with her were much bigger. Please, do not blame Draco for any of this – he did it only because I asked him. He took that job in the same department as you, and he approached you with the intention of making you see a different side to him.
If you feel that you need to tell Andromeda about this letter, then do it. If you think she deserves to know the truth, then give it to her. But know that I only did what I did with her best interest at heart; that I wanted her to have a family again. We are the only ones left. And I missed her so.
Draco has resigned from his position at the Ministry, and neither he nor I shall bother you again. If you do tell my sister about this, I ask only that you will be there for her, be that family, which she no longer has, to her. Help her out with the child, and support her in her grief. If the opportunity comes, do tell her that these stolen weeks we’ve spent together, being sisters again, will be forever treasured in my heart.
I wish you all the best, and I hope you can understand both Draco’s actions and mine. Our intention was never to hurt you, and I am only writing this letter because I suspect that Draco did not have to pretend to be your friend.
A/N: Firstly, I must apologize for how long it has taken me to get this chapter done. I can mostly blame it on being sick, though; I was in no state to write at all, but I'm finally better, and the chapter is finally finished! I'm really sorry for keeping you waiting.
I know that some of you were sceptical to the idea of Malfoy working at the Department for Magical Creatures, so hopefully that all makes a little bit more sense now. A lot of questions will be answered in the next chapter, like why Harry is suddenly running away from Ron, and how Hermione will react to Narcissa's letter. (And it won't take me weeks to get it finished, I promise.)
Thank you so much for continuing to read the story! Your support continues to amaze me, and I can't thank you enough. As always, I would love to hear that you thought of the chapter. :)
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